As I prepare for a trip to Pittsburgh later this week, I find myself in the midst of an existential crisis. While it’s always fun to visit distant family, I still find myself sighing at the prospect of I.C. Light and “yinz” instead of “y’all”. Plus, there’s the inevitable feeling of inadequacy returning to the city of my youth, not having quite reached that writing career pinnacle yet. Wonder Boys (DVD/Download), that fantastic adaptation of a Michael Chabon novel, is exactly what I need in my life right now.
There are many things that draw me toward Wonder Boys- the story of a washed up literary giant who’s struggling to find his footing again. As Professor Grady Tripp, Michael Douglas becomes the teacher every writer wishes they had. Funny, encouraging, eccentric, he treats his students like the contemporaries they are. Tobey Maguire gives a quirky performance as his depressed, brilliant protégé James Leer, and Robert Downey Jr. turns on the manic charm as book editor Terry Crabtree. For cinephiles like me, the movie is a dream, filled with Marilyn Monroe references, and classic film trivia galore. I also love that it satirizes the pretentiousness of the literary and academic worlds, with Michael Douglas as a messy antidote- prowling his car through slushy grey streets, dead dog in his trunk, weed in the glove box. It’s just…. so Pittsburgh.
To me, one of the great things about this city is the constant dichotomy between old and new. Sure there are trendy lounges and hip hotels now, but there are still dive bars in the hills where James Brown impersonators like Vernon Hardapple hang out. As an ode to his pregnant baby mama/cocktail waitress Oola (who never forgets a drink), while watching Wonder Boys I recommend drinking a Double Dickel on the Rocks.
Double Dickel on the Rocks
2 oz George Dickel No. 12® Tennessee Whiskey
Pour whiskey in a glass filled with cracked ice. Top with lemon twist.
While I struggle to find a place for my latest manuscript (even if that place is buried inside my desk drawer), and I begin working on the next one, I have to remind myself that it’s not about recognition or seeing your book in an airport bookstore, or that coveted interview on NPR. It’s about the act of writing. As Professor Tripp says, “Nobody teaches a writer anything. You tell ’em what you know. You tell ’em to find their voice and stay with it. You tell the ones that have it to keep at it, you tell the ones that don’t have it to keep at it too… because that’s the only way they’re gonna get to where they’re going.” As I return to Pittsburgh, I feel comforted and encouraged by that advice. I haven’t arrived yet, but at least I know where I want to go. Cheers!