Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Shakespeare said, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." "A rose is a rose is a rose," said Gertrude Stein, which one might take to mean that a name is a name is a name.
So, what is in a name? Well, if you've ever had your identity stolen you'll know – more than you ever wanted to know "what's" in a name.
Some may remember the old TV show "To Tell the Truth." On it three guests would claim to be an individual who had done certain things. For example, the real Maria von Trapp from "The Sound of Music" was a guest. Then the show panel, made up of celebs of the time, such as Polly Bergen and Bennett Cerf, would give the guests the third degree, then have to choose which one they thought was the real Maria from the two impostors. Often the scrawny guy between two hunks would end up being the World War II hero or the frumpy woman next to two glamorous women turned out to be Maria von Trapp.
I feel like that with the internet. We all search our names every once in a while – c'mon, admit it. Several years ago it seemed like I was the only Paul Marks on the net. These days I'm just a grain of sand on a beach that stretches from Malibu to Alaska. And who is the real Paul Marks?
We like to think we're unique, the only people with our particular name. Which may be why parents these days seem to be going in for odd, no make that different names than what we might normally consider. They think that will make their children unique. They're wrong, but that's for another blog post. When you were in school you were probably the only person with your name so, in a sense, you were unique. Then you go on the web and search yourself and find out that you're a doctor, lawyer or even a wanted character. One way or another there's a million of you out there. Unless your name is Engelbert Humperdinck you are not alone.
Before Facebook (and still) many of my old friends have found me via my website. Which does come up if one searches Paul Marks, but more so if one puts the name in quotes. And even more if they add the middle initial "D" to their search. But at the same time comes a bevy of lawyers, doctors, scientists and a bunch of people with guitars (which may or may not be me since I do, or did, play guitar and bass – and bass seems to come up with a lot of Paul Markses too.) Even a Biggest Loser winner comes up under my name and is that something one really wants to be associated with? (Besides, how can someone be a winner and a loser at the same time?)
Sometimes when I'm looking through Google to see what my standing in the world is I feel like I just don't know myself anymore. Do I have blonde hair or black, or even blue? Green eyes, blue or brown. Am I a doctor, lawyer, writer or the man in the moon?
I think I'm coming down with IIC (Internet Identity Confusion) and you know none of us want to be iic – ick? But if I am ick at the very least I want my place in the latest DSM IV, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Who shows up when you or your friends search you? And would you ever want to step into one of your name-doppelganger's lives for even a day? Would they want to step into your life?
SO, HERE'S A CONTEST. There are six pictures in the film strip above. Some are of me, some are imposters, though they are all Paul Markses in their own right, but not in my right. The first person to correctly pick out which ones are me and e-mail me at Paul@PaulDMarks.com will win the classic Bogart-Bacall film TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT on DVD…if you're willing to give me your mailing address.
Check back on Sunday evening for the results.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Once upon a time, in a land far-far away, it's rumored that writers could actually make a living selling short stories.
Larry Dark, O. Henry Awards editor, said: "In 1918, a writer could make a living writing short stories and selling them to magazines and newspapers. In 2000, this is not the case. Sadly, the more obvious, vivid entertainments of our age do not invite audience members to think in order to understand them the way short stories do. And while literacy rates have increased significantly, the rate of literary appreciation has not. The short story has become marginalized and is read by a much smaller percentage of the American public than it was when this series began."
If you're a schoolteacher, janitor, plumber, accountant, hot dog vendor or the proverbial rocket scientist or brain surgeon, you put yourself into your job, give it your all and get paid for your efforts.
Hell, even editors and publishers like to get paid.
So why is it that so many people feel they don't have to pay writers?
What would happen if Stinky the Plumber showed up at their house to fix a leaky pipe and they said, "Well, you know, I'll see if I like the job you do and then I'll see if I have a couple bucks I can pay you." Or "I'll pay you in the equivalent of contributor's copies" – what would that be? We all know what would happen.
Or try going to a restaurant, eating a five course meal and telling them "It's good, really good, but not quite right for me" and walk out without paying. ( Of course, I don't expect to get paid for what I write on spec, but this was too funny an analogy to pass up.)
Red Smith said: "There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein." Even when you open a vein for the Red Cross and donate blood they give you juice and cookies.
Most people don't have an appreciation for what we go through as writers. The hours spent alone, no one to talk to over the water cooler (though that's changed somewhat with the internet, which is a surrogate water cooler). The opening of our veins to get to the good stuff.
So why do we give our blood, sweat and tears away? Because we want the recognition and we're willing to do just about anything for that. And the editors and publishers know it.
What would be the terrible difficulty for them if they paid us a nominal fee, just to show their appreciation and I don't mean contributor's copies. Sure, some magazines pay a fee, but it isn't livable and you'd have to sell them a thousand stories a year to pay the bills.
The old nursery rhyme goes:
Rich Man, Poor Man,
Beggar Man, Thief.
It seems to me that the tinker, tailor, soldier and sailor get paid on a regular basis. The rich man has his already (though if he's like Richard Cory it still ain't worth it); the poor man (who's probably a writer doesn't get his or her due), and, of course, the beggar man and thief get theirs one way or another. Why not us writers? Even a token would be appreciated simply to show that the editors and publishers value our efforts.
Even in my "day job" as a script rewriter I've had producers try to stiff me one way or another. One time I went to this huge, well appointed house above Sunset Boulevard. Two Jags in the driveway. Two producers in a living room filled with outrageously expensive art, designer furniture and designer water. And they wanted me to work for nothing up front, which went against the WGA rules, but that didn’t' seem to matter – it often doesn't seem to matter. It's bad enough I don't get screen credit as a script doctor, and my father still can't figure out how I earn a living, but to not get paid on top of it is a whole 'nother level of degradation. One of the reasons I started focusing more and more on fiction writing, stories and a novel I'm currently working on, was to get that name recognition. I didn't realize at the time I started I'd be trading the money for the byline.
But I guess if we write for money that makes us prostitutes so maybe the publishers and editors of these various magazines are doing us a favor by letting us suffer for our art, keep our virtue and not having us soil our reps.
To paraphrase Sophie Tucker's or Mae West's comment on being rich – or whoever you want to believe said it first – I've been paid and I haven't been paid. Being paid is better.
Ultimately, we write because we have to. We open those veins because we have no choice.