Wednesday, February 09, 2005

"You don't sing, Georgia. You can't sing."

The movie: Georgia, 1995 (Barbara Turner, screenwriter, Ulu Grosbard, dir.)
Who says it: Georgia (played beautifully by Mare Winningham) to her sister Sadie (Jennifer Jason Leigh)
The context: Georgia, a famous and successful singer, releases years of pent-up jealously, resentment, and bitterness at her younger sister wanna-be, who craves Georgia’s approval more than anything else in the world.
How to use it: Hopefully, never. It’s the thing you say to someone when you mean to let the air out of their heart, to use a mixed metaphor.

Recently a handful of manuscripts have come my way from folks who want to write business books. Some are promising and some aren’t. Thank goodness I’m not an editor any more, since you spend so much time rejecting people. And it’s never fun. Sometimes when I read something that’s neither very good nor very bad I wonder whether it makes more sense to encourage the person to work really really hard on this not-so-thrilling idea; or to be overly discouraging so as to prevent them from working really hard only to end up with something that they still can’t sell, or which just isn’t great.

Of course there’s another dynamic here to consider. The person passing judgment always has something at stake. Mare Winningham as the movie’s title character Georgia is just devastating when she hits her sister with this assessment. It’s partly true—Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Sadie as a car wreck on stage, albeit one who takes the risks her safe yet Angel-voiced sister doesn’t. But at the same time, she hits Sadie with this charge because she’s tired and fed up and at some place in her heart jealous of her, and this simple assessment carries the weight of a blow.

We all have some kind of source for these judgement. I may have a few years of experience in this writing game, but hey, I’m just as eager for validation of a few projects I’ve got in the works. I try to read material with a careful eye towards what’s there on the paper—what can be plainly seen as working, and not-working. What the text promises, and how well it delivers. I try to avoid judgements (unless of course the work is fabuloso.) I wish for the same from readers of my stuff.

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