In the next few weeks, I will apply to the HarvardWood mentorship program. HarvardWood may have the douchiest name of any alumni organization in existence, but it’s a great resource for the struggling writer. Not all Harvard grads have instant success when they set out to find a job in the arts. For every B.J. Novak…
There’s a D.A. Housman…
I’m not saying I’m at a disadvantage. I’m incredibly lucky that I got into Harvard. I’m just saying that the degree doesn’t equal an automatic job on The Simpsons. Almost every would-be writer who wasn’t in the Lampoon spends their days hoping for a break. And wishing we were in the goddamn Lampoon.
This is especially true if you spent your first three years after graduating
partying and fucking around playing sports in Israel.
That being the case, you’d think I’d work diligently to put forth the best mentorship application possible. I would be foolish not to, when being accepted means getting to meet with a real, live, working writer. That’s a huge deal when you’re looking for any nugget of wisdom that might kickstart your career.
Yet, last year, the deadline snuck up on me. I wish I could say I got distracted because I was focused on cleaning the chewed up gum off my boss’ desk, or wondering why the building at my old job let us use the stairs to walk down to the lobby, but not up from the lobby. But really, I was just lazy. And one evening in September, it hit me that the application was due at midnight. I started at eleven.
I had one hour, and 300 words or less, to describe why I wanted a mentor. Here’s what I came up with:
“Michael Bolton. Doris Kearns Goodwin. George Harrison. Stephen Ambrose. What do they all have in common? They enhanced their natural talent by brazenly plagiarizing from those who had better ideas than them.
No one questions that the above people are incredible artistic talents. Does that mean they are above cherry picking a quote, a melody, or a line in order to punch up their latest piece of work? Hell no, it doesn’t.
I truly believe I have ability as a writer. In order to get my big break, I just need to get close to someone, study them, learn their habits, seek out some of their more obscure work, then incorporate their words directly into my script.
Sure, I can just start stealing from any number of famous people. But my goal is to really get to know my mentor. I want to be able steal not just his words, but the basic essence of his creative spirit.
The fact that Michael, Doris, George and Stephen are all still working and respected is further testament to the power of “borrowing” work from others. There might be an initial slap on the wrist from the public, but anyone who is anyone recognizes that selective stealing takes just as much boldness and ambition as actually generating original content.
If you are still questioning my motives, just know that Dr. Martin Luther King himself was found to have plagiarized portions of his doctoral dissertation. I harbor no illusions of being a Dr. King. I just want a mentor who will allow me to study him. Very, very closely.”
Unsurprisingly, this sarcastic, kind-of-clever-but-not-that-clever, approach didn’t net me a mentor. Thus, I will do things differently this year. Time to be earnest!