I just had a bit of an epiphany I think. A bit of a self-knowledge thing that only seems to come with age and time. Here it is …
For about the past five years, maybe even ten, I’ve essentially stopped watching both TV and movies. When I do turn on the TV it’s usually to CNN or MSNBC or PBS. When I watch a movie, it’s only a movie that has the best ratings and it’s only when I feel there is simply nothing else to do. But yet I am a video editor. Currently I mostly edit short field packages for a talk and cooking TV show: short stories about people and their lives and events in their lives (caveat: on a good day). So it’s sort of unnatural that I’m really not a fan of or enamored by the industry I work in. I’ve edited everything from TV dramas, to indie feature films, to commercials, to music videos, marketing videos, TV promos, webcasts, “sizzle reels”, etc. etc. you name it. So you’d think I’d be watching TV and movies. Really, why aren’t I watching TV and movies!? The one time I watched Game of Thrones I fell asleep. Yes, an argument can be made that I want to be away from this stuff when I have free time since I’m kind of in the industry that produces it. But it’s not that, I’ve always felt that’s not really it.
At about the same time I stopped watching TV & movies I started reading more. But not books, periodicals. Mostly the New York Times, but also The Economist and other established, respected newspapers and magazines and such. And I’d be reading about topics I had no intrinsic interest in. Things like economics, history, science, technology, law. Sure that stuff is sort of interesting, but I’m a failed filmmaker, a failed photographer, a failed musician really, that found a niche in video editing. So why would I care about grey markets in Latin America? Or how oil flows in a pipeline? Or the difference between common law and case law and their impact on society? Am I just maturing and enjoying new things? Nah, I’m still taking pictures and playing guitar and coming up with ideas for screenplays. I haven’t abandoned those things.
So here’s what I just learned about myself: I’m more interested in non-fiction than fiction. Yes, you may be going “that’s it, that’s your big eye-opening moment?” But it’s more than that, it’s that fictional stories are boring to me, they’re too simple and linear. Their structure too flimsy, their twists and turns are actually rather straight and predictable to me. Non-fiction has the better stories, the better plot lines. There’s so much more nuance and detail, surprise and intrigue, real twists and turns. There’s depth.
Today a spent a few hours reading about high-frequency trading. Last week I was reading all about Bitcoin. Honestly when I was younger and even up to now Wall Street has held very little interest to me. Arguably when I was in my formative years I was rebelling against the kind of culture Wall Street created, the conspicuous consumption, the “more toys”, the competitive nature of it all. So why can I now be so interested — riveted really — by an article about high-frequency trading? Because the story, the equation if you will, is very interesting, even if the individual variables aren’t. I’ve always been lustful of a good story. And the actual world has the best ones, the ones conjured up from imagination are watered-down impostors (to mix metaphors).
So it turns out that I am sort of staying true to my core, my original interests of story and storytelling, of good narrative. I’ve just found a different source for it. And I’ve realized that the news and current events are actually stories themselves that rival anything the entertainment industry produces. You just have to be willing to dive deep, “drill down” as it’s fashionable to say now and read the long magazine and newspaper articles. News blurbs and Twitter feeds and other aggregator type outlets don’t really contain story or narrative. That’s all just headline. You need to read the 5000, the 7500, and even the 10,000 word articles. And the even longer ones too, the serial articles that tell a story that happened (or is happening) over the course of months, even years. Sometimes, if it’s really good, I’ll read like a 5000 word article more than once. I’d much rather spend 90 minutes or so reading a bunch of New Yorker cover stories than watching TV or a movie. It’s so much more entertaining.