So I am feeling a need for a palate cleanser in my head after last week’s frankly traumatic writing. So let’s talk, months too late, about the Gilmore Girls revival, which I finally watched. AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.
SPOILERS AHEAD SPOILERS I SAY.
In addition to consuming the miniseries, I also consumed the volumes of criticism surrounding it, in particular the problems that many (including me) have with the show’s problems with race, body shaming, etc. Those were on full display: after all, those problems were there in the original show, too; they just weren’t perhaps as obvious.
In the revival, Rory is a mess, there is no other way to put it, and many writers have jumped all over it.
In the commentary I’ve read, however, even more ire has gone towards condemning Rory’s lack of professionalism on display. Here, the problems just keep coming. She thinks she has lined up a biography project of the feminist politico Naomi Shropshire (played brilliantly by Alex Kingston. Can I look like her? No? I have to be boring? FIIIIINE.) Rory had written a very well-received piece on Shropshire that got into one of the pillars of “Frack yah, ya made it” in US journalism: the New Yorker. She puts perhaps too many eggs in her basket based on this success. Doing a longer project with Shropshire is a problem because the woman is nuts and, perhaps worse, she is indecisive. “Let’s make it a children’s book,” Naomi suggests at one point. Anybody who does’t feel sorry for Rory at this point (hilarious though it is) has never done a research project.
Now I don’t know about you, but I have totally been there professionally: a position where you hit a home run, and then you think the next at-bat should be easier. And it’s not easier. It’s so not. If anything, it’s worse because more people are watching, the stakes are higher, and you’ve proven you can do it once. You should be able to do it again and again, right?
I’ve also had projects that couldn’t jell simply because every time I met with the client, they wanted something different. It’s madness, and it can happen to anybody.
Rory also makes terrible mistakes in two pitch meetings. She pushes to get herself a meeting at Vanity Fair, where she really doesn’t have any ideas. So instead of pitching, she picks up a project of theirs: profiling people who stand in line. It’s not inspiring, and she doesn’t have the fire in the gut she had when she was a kid at Chilton and could turn a story about new paving in the parking lot into an environmental elegy. She falls asleep interviewing a informant. She sleeps with another informant. She never finishes the story, squandering her chance to make an impression at Vanity Fair.
She also flubs a meeting with an upstart website named after its narcissistic young founder. This founder is a wheeler-dealer, mover-shaker type. She pursues Rory, flatters her, practically acts like Rory is her #1 priority. Rory, after the New Yorker piece, rather feels like this isn’t her gig; it’s too little-known, but then she gets desperate and takes the meeting, only to find that Young Upstart expects Rory to pitch something and sell herself–after months of being pursued. Rory is wrong-footed, and she blows it. And the Upstart blows her off. Worse, Rory starts an argument, cementing her bad impression.
Again, been there. There are tons of times in my career where I thought I was doing the other person a favor and where they thought they were doing me the favor, and I wound up on the wrong foot. Yes you should also show up everywhere in a professional context perfect and 100 percent ready to go. If you can manage that, you are probably too much of a winner in life to be wasting your time reading this blog.
More importantly, I think many, many creative people become…creatively dry. Becalmed. I certainly have, and that’s what I saw in these struggles more than a simple lack of professionalism. In the constant “what have you got for me now” demands of writing and journalism, content purveyors are like hungry baby birds never satiated. Content creators do run dry, at least at various moments, and they get tired.
Rory is a crossroads in the revival, and I have to say, I liked it very much. She is pushing 40. She’s had a lot handed to her in her early life. She came from wealth and privilege, and even if her mother did walk away from it, the wealth was always there to draw on when they wanted it. She was very, very pretty. She was bright and worked hard.
And at some point, none of those things guarantee that the home runs will keep happening as you meander towards middle age in a very, very competitive, star economy like contemporary journalism. She is feeling washed up, instead of what she is: tired and confused.
We don’t know what Jess is doing in the revival; I hope he’s still doing small-house publishing because once again, he proves to be a wonderful creative mentor, and effective creative mentors are really really hard to come by. He tells Rory to stop listening to the noise, stop worrying about whether she is a failure or not, and go back to work.
And she does. And then the ideas come.
It is very, very easy to get lost listening to the noise. Don’t blame yourself for getting lost in it. What matters is what you do when you do get lost and confused. I think some people give themselves over to it: somebody more interested in fame than doing meaningful work than Rory would have gladly done some cutesy, meaningless puff piece on people who wait in line. Sometimes, you do those pieces to keep the wolves off the door, and you just suck it up and do it. Too much of that, however, hollows you out. And one man’s meat: somebody else might have really had an insight on the line-waiters piece and really done something with it Rory couldn’t.
There is a strategic balance between taking care of business as a creative and taking care of your creative self. That balance differs for all of us, and you can very, very easily fall out of that balance. Having a creative life worth living, to me, means finding and occupying the balance that feels right, and it definitely means not beating yourself up when things get out of whack.