Chutzpah [🇩🇨]

This week: rocking rejection, Mourid Barghouti, Jill Soloway and diagnosis day...

Happy Friday!

And a very warm welcome to your weekend — I hope you can see beauty in the stratocumulus.

Inboxes are weird places, aren’t they? First there’s an email from your auntie Claire, then an invoice from your phone provider, followed by a petition to save the pandas and a poetry chain letter, plus six mail shots from fashion chains you last shopped with in 2007 explaining their Covid-19 policies, and now this: long form reading from your internet friend David Charles.

If email overwhelm’s a problem, here’s a wee table of contents so you can read my writing away from your inbox:

For those of you happy to be here, normal service — including the three things that have been keeping me sane this week — resumes after this photograph:

Happy birthday to everyone who has, is or will be celebrating in lockdown. Some people hate their own birthdays — if that’s you, then this might be the best one ever!

Rocking rejections: ‘I really admire their chutzpah!’

A television pitch that I helped write was passed on by a production company this week. This isn’t, in itself, much of a surprise. Rejections happen all the time in life, let alone in television. But the manner of this particular rejection was, let’s say, interesting.

To be fair to the rejector, her words weren’t necessarily meant for our eyes — she was replying to another developer who’d forwarded our pitch to her — but nonetheless, I found those words, let’s persist in saying, interesting.

The email began:

It’s nice to hear from you — thanks for getting in touch with us about this project. I certainly admire their dedication and determination with this, they’re not ones to take no for an answer are they?!

And continued:

The project wouldn’t be one for us though at the moment unfortunately […] It’s a real shame because, as I say, I really admire their chutzpah!

Sending a pitch out to television companies looking for scripts to develop isn’t usually what I’d call chutzpah and the language of this particular rejection could be read as patronising, but that would do a disservice to the truth: chutzpah is what it takes to get stuff made.

Chutzpah is exactly what T.S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock struggled with: ‘Do I dare disturb the universe?’ and later, equally as ambitious: ‘Do I dare to eat a peach?’

Needless to say, Prufrock ends his days gazing out to sea, wondering ‘would it have been worth while, to have bitten off the matter with a smile’? He’ll never know.

Chutzpah gets things moving. Chutzpah is what Prufrock needs to squeeze ‘the universe into a ball, to roll it towards some overwhelming question’.

That question, for Prufrock as for us, isn’t necessarily a cosmic one. It might be as simple as following up on an unanswered pitch I sent to the Guardian last week: I know you can’t reply to every pitch, but just checking — did you get my email?

The developer was absolutely right: dedication and determination are essential character traits — in pretty much every human endeavour, let alone the creative arts. We need to keep putting out what she calls chutzpah: a thick skin she just helped make thicker.

At the end of her TIFF masterclass on The Female Gaze, Jill Soloway, crediting filmmaker John Cassavetes, says:

The job of the artist is to inspire the people with money to pay for the art. The people with the money never want to pay for the art. They are only there to make the money.

[...] Half the job [of being an artist] is making the art and the other half is being a politician for your art and coming up with a believable, positive, forward-thinking, money-making story around why your story matters.

So what have you been rejected for recently? Follow it up: maybe with an even more forward-thinking, money-making story, or simply by trying to inspire some other person with money to pay for your art.

Now is not the time to step back into the shadows, like Prufrock, and cry out, ‘No!’:

I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two

Instead: follow up, finish the scene, be there when the curtain falls.

I Was Born There, I Was Born Here by Mourid Barghouti

Mourid Barghouti is a Palestinian poet and this memoir is full of poetic moments, lightly captured by translator Humphrey Davies (who, back in my Cairo days, introduced me to Proust):

A moment of total silence envelops us all. A moment as silent as a candle burning. A moment as silent as a letter being passed under a door.

That’s a little taste. I go into much more detail in my Books Make Books review, which you can read here. I Was Born There, I Was Born Here gives you a deep insight into life both as a political exile and as a citizen of a country under occupation.

Plus there’s a beautiful meditation on the ‘perfectly timed cup of coffee’. You can subscribe to Books Make Books and read the archive here.

Can’t even…

These three things have really helped fillip me through the week.

1/ Bobby McFerrin

Unbelievable jazz vocalist. Yep, this is all Bobby McFerrin, all with his voice:

2/ Buying (and reading) books

For a writer, it’s not terribly surprising that I should enjoy reading. But isolation has really turned up the heat on my buying of books.

Since the start of lockdown I’ve bought no less than 16 books. After all, I’m not spending money on anything else, am I?

As quizmaster last week, one of the rounds was ‘Some of my fave novels’. One person observed that they were all by men, so I put a call out for great novels by women and promptly bought the following haul:

  • Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

  • The Power by Naomi Alderman

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (who knew it was so short!)

  • To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Although I’ve probably got enough to see me through the next couple of months, I’m still in the market for cracking novels by women. I’d love to hear from you by email or on this Books Make Books thread.

SIDE NOTE: Many, if not most, of my favourite non-fiction books are by women — The Nature Fix by Florence Williams, The Choice by Edith Eger and How Emotions Are Made by Lisa Feldman-Barrett to name but three.

If I were to speculate, this might be because for some reason I’m far more likely to shell out for a recent non-fiction book than I am for a recent novel, which skews my reading of fiction to the bad old days when women — if they were published at all — had, at the very least, to pretend they were men.

3/ Ironman training, sorry — what?!

An innocent Whatsapp invitation to friends seems to have boiled over into a public commitment to swim/ride/run an Ironman race in 2022.

Inspired by vegan endurance athletes Scott Jurek and Rich Roll, I’ve started jogging really, really slowly, in a feeble attempt to build the fitness that will carry me through the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and marathon distance run. Taken individually, these are not insurmountable challenges, but putting them back-to-back-to-back inside a 16-hour window might be tricky.

Does anyone have any advice? — or, better — want to join me?

Full marks to…

1/ Jill Soloway’s TIFF 2016 masterclass on The Female Gaze

If (like me) you don’t know what the male gaze is, let alone the female gaze, then this hour-long lecture by filmmaker Jill Soloway is well worth attending. Thanks to B.G. for sending me this!

2/ The NHS — but not (only) for the obvious reason

Today is diagnosis day! Exactly twelve years ago an NHS GP told me that I wasn’t unfit, lazy and bored of life; she told me, rather, that I had an underactive thyroid.

It was that NHS GP who first looked at my pathetic jumble of symptoms and recommended a blood test. An NHS phlebotamist took the sample. An NHS lab analysed the results. An NHS endocrinologist lost his trousers with excitement and diagnosed me. And NHS pharmacists have been packaging up prescription drugs for me ever since.

So full marks to the people who are keeping me alive and helping me do fun stuff like writing this sentence. And this one, too: thank you.

3/ Kimchi

Packed full of enough microorganisms to defeat an invading army, vegans may take my cheese, may take my yoghurt — but they will never take MY KIMCHI!

I’m enjoying Laurie’s hot and smokey kimchi kraut. Next step: ferment my own.

Any more for any more?

  • If you’re interested in Covid-19 science, then there’s a new Zoe webinar to watch or listen to. Dr. Andrew Chan from Massachusetts General Hospital and Professor Tim Spector from King’s College London discuss the similarities and differences in symptoms, lockdown and testing between the UK and US.

  • Tonight at 8.30pm, The Unmakeable Show, featuring the wonderfully irrepressible Beth Granville, are doing a live reading of the fascinatingly obnoxious script for 2007 non-film Carry On London. In emoji parlance, this will be: 😂😱😂

Much love,


David Charles wrote this newsletter. He publishes another newsletter about reading called Books Make Books. David is co-writer of BBC Radio Wales sitcom Foiled, and writes for The Bike Project, Forests News, Global Landscape Forum, Elevate and Thighs of Steel. He also edits books about adventure, activism and more. Reply to this email, or delve into the archive on Thank you for reading!

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