A Hollywood Screenwriter

Advice from the Help Desk

Melissa Doherty, Frill no. 3. 2010, oil on board. 10” x 10”.

This is the third print installment of Kristin Dombek’s advice column. Questions can be sent to askkristin@nplusonemag.com.

Dear Help Desk,

When I started reading the first installment of the Help Desk, I assumed its title and contents were ironic. Halfway through, I realized that much of what you wrote was breathtakingly sincere. By the end, I found that almost every sentence could be read as either ironic or sincere, in the same way an optical illusion can be seen as a young woman or an old hag, but not as both at once. Either way, you wrote so deeply and extensively about each question, I found myself wanting to ask for your help, perhaps just to have you think so attentively about me, too.

However, as I thought about a question to ask you, I felt anxious. I began to worry that my problem would seem neither cleverly ironic nor lyrically sincere. What if you brushed off my question with a dismissive remark? What if, because you have so many questions sent to you, I got no response at all? It was this fear of your indifference and my inconsequence that helped me finally settle on the right question.

I have shared writing credit on several relatively high-budget movies, all of which were critical and box-office failures. I’ve realized, in midlife, that despite earnest dedication to my craft, I am ashamed of the work I’ve been involved in. None of it represents what I value artistically or politically. None of it expresses anything I think or feel. Worse than that, I fear that I’ve spent most of my fifteen-year career empowering shallow and immoral people to create cruel and witless films.

What I pine for is the same wry but authentic connection you make with the people who ask for your help, and I envy your satisfaction (as I imagine it) in moving your readers the way I was moved while reading the Help Desk.

How, as an artist, do I shed my failures and begin again? A Hollywood Screenwriter
Dear Help Desk,

A lot of literary/academic/political/artistic types seem to have a proclivity toward things like depression, anxiety, manic episodes, et cetera. Along with this, most literary/academic/et cetera types tend to end up dating each other. Any advice on how to support a partner who deals with depression and anxiety? Best, Worried and Supportive
A tweet

Love Dombek’s advice, but will it be a Miss Lonelyhearts situation? Worried about Kristin @kristindombek @nplusonemag
Dear Hollywood Screenwriter,
Worried and Supportive, and Worried About Kristin:

Miss Lonelyhearts opens with our advice columnist only fifteen minutes from his deadline, beleaguered by questions that he used to find funny — the advice column was supposed to be a joke — but no longer does, questions that seem “stamped from the dough of suffering with a heart-shaped cookie knife.” He has nothing written but one bullshit sentence: “Life is worth while, for it is full of dreams and peace, gentleness and ecstasy, and faith that burns like a clear white flame on a grim dark altar.” But he hasn’t even chosen a question yet. He pauses to reread some, tosses them into his desk drawer. It doesn’t matter which question. It’s all the same money trouble and violence and desperation, but he’s run out of words. He’s taken it in, their despair, until it is like a stone in his gut. The joke is on him. The copy editor comes by, asking for the column, but he’s got nothing yet. Shrike, his editor, looks over his shoulder, complains he’s saying the same thing over and over. “Why don’t you give them something new and hopeful? Tell them about art. Here, I’ll dictate: ‘Art Is a Way Out.’”

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