The Sweet Spot:
A Conversation with Nick Pinkerton
by K. Austin Collins
“Cinema isn’t equipped to redeem our world and life as lived on it,” wrote critic Nick Pinkerton recently, in an essay for Reverse Shot, “but it does have a marvelous capacity to reflect upon both, lifelike while also presenting life in a sharper key, with the piercing focus that comes of choices regarding compression, selection, omission, and addition.”
Great films, merely good films worthy of our continued apprehension, and even bad films that we cannot seem to outrun despite ourselves, endure through these compressions and omissions. They remind us that cinema is its own life form: humanoid, maybe, and tantalizingly lifelike when appropriate, but alien just the same. That is the appeal. Good film criticism helps us take stock of our own close encounters. I have felt myself drawn to the criticism of Nick Pinkerton over the years, accordingly, because I always walk away from his work feeling a little more sane—reassured in my belief that films are uncontainable animals, that they are completely beyond me, and that it is the job of the critic to sustain and encourage and live with this strangeness rather than to tame it.
Nick has been writing criticism for over twenty years—and much of that writing has been in these very pages. And now the critic has become the artist. The Sweet East, his first feature-length script, directed by cinematographer (and Nick’s longtime friend) Sean Price Williams, is gracing screens in New York, L.A., and elsewhere—the list is growing. Over beers in the West Village, we caught up about all of the above and then some: getting The Sweet East on more screens, the critical urge to be a hater (or not), and Nick’s long career as an indispensable voice at the movies.
K. Austin Collins: So, The Sweet East is releasing.
Nick Pinkerton: Yeah. We have at least one week at IFC, and then we're going kind of city by city, street by street, block by block. We’ve had sufficiently good tidings from this first week, and I think that's opened some doors for us, but it's a fucking dogfight for every screen. And I'm not totally unhappy about this, because when the movie was just a glimmer in my and Sean's eyes, [we thought] we’re gonna tour this like Black Flag, we’re gonna get in the fucking van and we're going to go to like Wheeling, West Virginia, and play it for eight people. Because I think it’s not too bold of a statement to make that the distribution and exhibition system in this country, as in many other countries, is not very favorable to small films, and it's a snowball's chance in hell, but we really are trying to find ways to get outside of conventional thinking about how to get this thing in front of people.
KC: Yeah, something I never liked is the way that, at this time of the year, a lot of attention is on the five movies in the Oscar conversation, and other things suddenly cease to exist for people. By people, I mean entertainment journalists: the people providing coverage and shaping the conversation. There's this winnowing of attention that I really hate.
NP: I should say Utopia, our distributor, begged us not to go with the December release. And they wanted to hold on to it for Spring. They thought that there would be better opportunities. And for whatever reason, we wanted to get the ball rolling. But you know it's New York, Toronto, Baltimore, Philly—we’re kind of just staying fairly close to home, and then January, February, we expand significantly.
KC: There have to be college campuses where people will come out.
NP: It’s becoming very clear to me that for U.S. art houses for so long their bread-and-butter has been boomers, and I think post COVID a lot of those people aren't leaving the house as much; I think a lot of them are also obviously dying off. And I think after having had that as a sort of safety, that you always knew you could put out some like Dame Maggie Smith movie and rake it in—
KC: Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 5.
NP: Yeah, exactly. And that's not our demographic. And I don't think they really know how to tap that demographic.
KC: What I've picked up from other friends trying to release smaller films right now is that they're being reached out to by people running film clubs on college campuses, where it seems like people do foster connections to cinematographers like Sean, writers like you, actors like Talia, and they feel a little bit emboldened by social media and by the fact that the local art house might not be playing these things, so they feel like they can reach out.
NP: I think about my friend Sierra Pettengill, when she was touring Riotsville, U.S.A. A lot of her best experiences were, like, some like anarchist collective, clandestine screenings in the woods. How much more satisfying is that than like, yeah, I'm in a room with 15 seats in the Quad? For Sean and myself, we really would love to be able to access as many of those kind of alternate screening spaces, because that shit is super important to us. I always dreamed of a cinephile culture that had that punk house network. And I think there are a lot of these spaces that have cropped up even in the last ten years, in part because of the disintegration of traditional art-house distribution. To be able to forge connections—that would be a very exciting thing to do.
KC: Yeah, and to not let the narrative be about the death of all these things. It is sad to feel like the options in those theaters aren't great, but there are other worlds where people are still very interested.
NP: In some ways just how fucking bad it is almost gives one reason for optimism. It actually has to get better at this point because I don't think shit can bottom out anymore, and at the same time they're filling the house at Light Industry. You know you go to one of the rep houses around New York, not only are the audiences healthy, they look different than they did 15 years ago, in terms of diversity, in terms of everybody not being 65 years old. And that's cool, you know in this absolute maelstrom of shit that is one thing I look around and think maybe we’re not completely licked at this point.
I periodically take teaching gigs at Eugene Lang College. And this is a tiny sample to draw from to make any larger conclusions, but I'd start every class asking people what they've been watching. Three or four years ago everything was like some streaming, true crime garbage, and Jordan Peele movies would get people excited, but that was about it. This last time they were watching movies again, and while I think part of what might be happening is streaming fatigue, also I think these kids are getting hip to the fact that these companies don't really have an interest in allowing them access to the things that they're interested in, and that you can't be beholden to a streaming service if you want to get the widest array of options. So as weird as it sounds coming out of my mouth, I actually kind of like Gen-Z, I kind of think they're cool. I don't know, maybe watching gross art films on 35mm is so uncool now that they've actually gravitated toward it, like it’s the most transgressive thing that you can do.
KC: I was just thinking about how important it is, in the context of so much cultural amnesia about cinema, to have reminders that there are actually people who are curious to seek out the actual truth of these things, to be skeptical when a company like Disney says, “this is the first queer whatever.” For young people to have more access to the broader history is so crucial to me.
NP: Some years back teaching a Hong Kong cinema class, and I played Yes Madam, with Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock. And it went over gangbusters, fucking obviously. And at the end of the class, one of the students was like, “You know, I read recently that Captain Marvel was the first female-centered action film without a romantic subplot.” And I’m like Jesus fucking Christ. And this isn't a dumb kid. This is just somebody who's been buffeted with willful disinformation. These various corporate behemoths create narratives in which they have flung open all the doors and all the old bad gatekeepers of yore have been vanquished. And it’s fucking bullshit.
KC: It very much is about being able to say that you were the one who let this person in. With Michelle Yeoh, in particular, I've been thinking a lot about her Oscar campaign, which drove me crazy. Not because of her, because I think that she was speaking from a place of feeling like she was finally getting her due. I get where it's coming from in terms of saying, yeah, I have been an international star for decades. But with journalists and critics—it drove me crazy to see people who should know better pretending that Yeoh has not had a fairly momentous career.
NP: Yeah, it’s like—is Gerard Depardieu’s career My Father the Hero and Green Card?
KC: Again, it's amnesia to me. It's weirdly political.
NP: Well, it’s this veneer of progressivism. If you unpack it at all, I don't think you quite get the full implications of how condescending it is.
KC: There are entire film industries throughout Asia! And those films are a huge deal there and elsewhere. I think part of the doom and gloom that I feel is that as a critic—and I wanted to ask you about this—how do we not relegate ourselves to the position of just correcting this genre of public narrative, which is so limiting?
NP: That's a great question. I've been working on something for the Substack for months. There are a couple reasons it's delayed. But among other things, it's just a comprehensive jeremiad of what's going on, why everything sucks, and what sucks. It’s just exhausting, and I dread looking at it. I think this has for the last couple of years been a big time-suck, looking at these kinds of systemic breakdown issues. And it's not a really fun place to dwell as a writer. So, I hope to get this out of my system relatively soon.
KC: After stepping away from doing criticism full-time, I found myself thinking about when I feel tempted to step back in. I catch myself not just wanting to be a scold. And it's hard because ultimately, one thing that feels very important is to advocate for the things that people aren't talking about enough.
NP: I've been fortunate to be in a position for the last few years where I get to pick and choose and I get to practice a criticism of enthusiasms, and that's ultimately much more fulfilling work for me. However, when you see the story being twisted in directions that it ought not go or a certain amount of license being taken, it's difficult not to get your dander up and want to wade into the battlefield.
KC: I also think there’s this culture of people attaching themselves to art, and it's become so personal that I've become wary of critiquing things in casual conversation, because I feel like it hurts the person's feelings in a way that I just don't want to deal with. And I struggle with that.
NP: It's interesting, because I find that very often the people who have those kinds of wounded responses when you express disinterest or dislike in some cultural products that they're attached to, I find so often the product is the most ubiquitous thing. It's like the Marvel babies who go into conniption fits any time Scorsese open his mouth. Like, what the fuck do you guys want? You control the entire culture, like will you only be happy when there's not any kind of minority voice? As somebody who spends my free time listening to extreme Japanese noise, I’m like yeah this is horrible sounding, most people wouldn't listen, and I understand that!
KC: Some of the pieces of yours that stand out to me the most are the ones where you're defending something that is unfashionable to defend, like Welcome to Marwen or Downsizing. I feel this way about Richard Brody too actually, but he defends things that I'm surprised by in a different way. Then the kneejerk response is to call it contrarian. And my sense is that this is not what's on the mind of the person writing the piece.
NP: I always rankle at that word because people who are not doing what the majority of people are doing are not always in the wrong for doing that. Any time accusations are thrown about, particularly like when we're talking about the more unfashionable corners of film history and the idea is like, oh yeah, you’re just watching that to seem cool. And it’s like, yes, I'm watching Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Michael with four other people in Anthology Film Archives because that's the coolest thing I could possibly do. I'm gonna get so much pussy from this. Give me a fucking break. The moment you seriously committed yourself to one aspect of culture or another, you've effectively cut yourself off from, like, 98% of humanity.
KC: I got yelled at once online for saying that I kind of liked Batman Forever (1995), because I miss when Batman movies were colorful and stupid and gay as shit. Jim Carrey in a onesie! I don't think it would have been crazy to say one liked Batman Forever in 1995. But saying that after the Chris Nolan Batman movies had entered the culture, I was made to feel like I was only looking for attention, like that's the only motivation that one can have for being fond of a tentpole style that’s no longer en vogue.
NP: When you’re flinging about accusations of canting hypocrisy, it's a very weird rhetorical device, because what the fuck makes you honest? I believe people like Oppenheimer. I believe they do. Their taste may be shit, in my opinion, but when you just start flinging around, you know, accusations of disingenuity, it puts you on very shaky ground. I tend to believe people have the enthusiasms that they say they have.
KC: In addition to contrarian, people throw around pretentious, which I hate. One that I hate even more, because you see it from critics, is didactic. When I think about, for example, the early Spike Lee films that I love, politically they can be very didactic, very intentionally, forcefully so—the kind of didacticism that surpasses just telling me what I already feel. Seeing Radio Raheem get murdered in Do the Right Thing is extremely powerful; it also has basis in reality. The “I Am Malcolm X” ending of Malcolm X—this is didactic, yes, but it’s way more cogent than the Oscar-winning version of that film that liberal Hollywood would have preferred to see.
NP: Films say more than they say. Does Do the Right Thing posit that racism is really bad? Yes, it does, but it also says quite a bit more than that by virtue of the fact that it's a whole film. A thing that I've noticed in some of the writing and chitter chatter around our movie is a recurrence of, “Oh, what's it trying to say? It's kind of hazy what it’s trying to say.” And I’m screaming quietly inside my own head, “Dude, if I wanted to say something, I would open my mouth and the words would come out.” That's not what one makes a movie for. You make a movie to go beyond the expression of simple concepts. And in the case of Do the Right Thing, it gives a visceral quality to things that you understand and know to be true, but what one has thought often but never said.
KC: I think we lose that nuance when our responses to art are mostly ways of announcing our own moral goodness or badness.
NP: Well, I think in many cases there is a sort of inferiority complex that certain culture writers have, where they want the subject they’re covering to be more important than it actually is. And I say this as somebody to whom books, films, music, painting are all incredibly central parts of my life. But whenever I see somebody write something to the effect of like, this is the movie we need right now, it's like, no, I need water, food, shelter. However important these things are to me, I don't think that they're life or death things, and that's what's appealing in some ways, and part of what was interesting about art is that among other things that you can take these volatile elements from the world around you and explore them and do that in a way that is not going to cause an enormous amount of damage. And you can certainly make the argument that there are films, folks, etc., that have caused real world damage, but in the main, I think, being a filmmaker is a rather better occupation than, like, an arms dealer.
KC: One of the anxieties I always had as a critic was missing the arrival of something exciting and new in the moment. You don't want to be the critic who got something wrong because it was ahead of its time. I think about Ebert not liking Kiarostami. I think that's embarrassing, but shit, I don't know, would I have been on the right side of history with Taste of Cherry?
NP: I guess I’ve had the luxury of never tormenting myself too much about that, in part because I have a fairly healthy sense of my irrelevance. It's more a matter of explaining something to myself and hopefully doing it in such a way that is engaging to somebody else, but I've never had any sense that anything I've done has moved the needle one bit. I suppose there are times that I've tried to throw my weight behind something, because I've believed in it very much. Like with Peterloo.
KC: Peterloo hive. It will have its day.
NP: And I tried to write as though it did matter. But ultimately what I write I feel is between me and my god, and if I missed the boat, I don't feel like I've done anybody all that terrible a disservice. The forces that I'm able to muster to come to the rescue of any given movie are fairly small. And really how many critics have that ability at this point?
KC: My experience has been that the way that critics matter is not so much public facing; it’s what a critic says at a festival, about something that may not have distribution yet, that matters.
NP: That’s very true. I would say for smaller films, yes, a Times review, for example, still makes a difference. There are areas in which a critic can still put their thumb on the scale, but ultimately a lot of what goes into decision-making—as to whether or not one sees a movie—is aggregator sites and just how dreary is that? Good review or bad review, and by that I mean well-written or badly written, well thought-out or badly thought out—they all go in the same grinder and it's a fresh tomato or a splat. Who knows how real any of this is. But if Bonnie and Clyde comes out today, do you still have Pauline Kael leading a cavalry charge, or is she that one fresh tomato in a sea of Bosley Crowther splats?
KC: It’s not optimistic for the importance of critics in that sense, no.
NP: But I mean, that part of things ultimately doesn't bum me out that much because, again, my attraction to the thing is always more of a hobbyist attraction, a way to kind of extract more and to sort of draw out the experience of the film and get deeper into it, to get closer to it, and I just never really thought that I was really changing hearts and minds. I was clarifying things for myself, so the thought that it's a less relevant profession than ever before doesn't bug me that much. I've never really suffered from the illusion of being all that essential.
KC: I'm curious about how your attitude to this stuff has changed since you started writing, because I was reading what you recently wrote for Reverse Shot on [Friedkin’s] The Hunted. What was poignant for me about that piece was that—first of all, re-reading things that I wrote even a year ago, let alone five or twenty years ago, is mortifying to me for all kinds of reasons that you play out in the piece. But also because of the difference between who you were then and who you are now. It is interesting to think about how our attitudes for this stuff shift. Did the person writing that Hunted review 20 years ago aspire for it to matter? Or is that something you never thought about?
NP: Definitely not. The thing that really struck me most, to my displeasure, was one of the things that I see it in a lot of writing by younger critics and I saw it very much in that piece, which is that when you're 22, 23, as I was then, there's this inherent insecurity and wanting to appear to be more comprehensively cultured than you are. And not fessing up to blank spots for education and consequently overreaching. I think a long time ago I sort of purged myself of wanting to express myself in criticism from some kind of guru-like height. Honestly I don't know how much more intelligent I've gotten, but I've at least gotten past pretending to be particularly intelligent.
KC: The thing that really resonated with me was that you had only seen two other Friedkin films at that point, yet you felt empowered to dismiss him. When we're starting out, there's this ease with which we feel like we can be dismissive. And the agonizing thing is that so much of this, for many people, comes from a familiarity with the party line about a director, not from serious due diligence done on the critic’s part. Ideally, you grow to question the party line on things, especially when we’re talking about how professional critics have tended to write about, say, trash. But until you do the work on your own, the going consensus is a convenient shorthand.
NP: This is something I often have occasion to bring up in the Young Critics Workshop I've done in Belgium. I have a feeling that a rather universal thing for the young aesthete is that you sort of start out by defining yourself in terms of oppositions. I'm this; I'm not that. I'm JMW Turner; I'm not Constable. I'm Biggie; I'm not Tupac. Then once you’ve kind of ripped yourself into this certain kind of set of kneejerk responses, part of the fun of getting older, if anything about getting older is fun, is calling yourself on your own bullshit and, you know, going in to see, like, Arundel Mill and Castle by Constable and going, "Why did I think I had to not like Constable to like Turner? Where did this even come from?”
Contrary of what's often thought about the critic's occupation as some bloodless hatchet man hater, I'm trying my level best to try to find a way to take something with me from whatever I’m encountering. I remember years back, David Bordwell was visiting Museum at the Moving Image where there was a full Mizoguchi series on. And Princess Yang Kwei-fei was playing, and he said something to the effect of, “Yeah, that’s the one I haven’t found a way to appreciate.” And I like that, you know?
KC: I always admire the people who are able to do the artist/critic thing, because if I were writing a script, I don't know how I'd be able to silence the part of me that's too aware of other people and too beholden to the masterworks.
NP: I've always kind of assumed nobody was paying attention, which has been, I suppose, liberating in a way, and even now understanding where I am in the larger ecosystem of the culture, I'm just an atom in a very, very vast pool of things. I certainly tried to be beholden to my idea of what was interesting or potentially would make an interesting film, but in terms of reception, that would have felt like purest science fiction at the point when the initial writing was happening and then by the time it started to come together, there’s not really much time to consider expectations.
KC: I've had director friends try to strong-arm me or “strongly encourage” me to get into screenwriting. I struggle with the idea of having this thing that I labor over and having to be okay with it being completely morphed.
NP: With The Sweet East, I was on set the entire time. Not that I was calling shots, but I was available. And I would have always assumed that that was going to be the case. And it, to me, was a great way of working, and I don't have any experience of any other way of working. I felt participant throughout the process. I knew I wasn't the final arbiter of anything, but I knew I had a voice, which was a fantastic way to work. When people have asked me, was it what you expected? Was it your vision? No! It's much cooler and weirder, because all of these people came together, and we had a gang bang and produced this child that has some of my features and some of Talia’s features and some of Jeremy's. I've been a writer for nearly 20 years now, and I am in some aspects of my life control freaky, and I think the nice thing about writing is it's your thing. I mean you have a little editorial back and forth, but ultimately, it's you, good or bad. And I've had that experience. I'll continue to have that experience. And I enjoy that experience. But that gives me my dose of total control. And part of what was exciting about this experience and working at Metrograph with Annabel and the rest of the editorial crew is being a forty-something man learning to play well with others and collaborate. Life's fucking long, so it's nice to actually have some new experiences.
KC: Was this your first time being on a set, seeing how things work?
NP: No, I was in a film production program at Wright State University. I dropped out after three and a half years, probably because I was having a mental breakdown but never really processed that at the time. But yes, I have a fair amount of practical experience. I think the reason I kind of backed my way into film criticism is precisely because I had a glamorous idea of what a life in cinema would be that involved me being in a fairly prestigious position on set. And at a certain point I realized I was in a very nice but rather obscure program outside of Dayton, Ohio. And there were not a great number of easily seen passages that would lead from there to the place that I thought I wanted to be, whereas writing about films—you need a laptop, you know? All of this sort of industrial mechanism of filmmaking and the money, etc., that was just all so fucking far away when I was 22 years old. When you're picking out a vocation and you're 18, you’re like, “I’ll simply be an auteur; I'll just do that!” And you never fucking actually held a camera before, or anything like that.
KC: You were already into films, caring about films when you were younger. Were you watching art house stuff, or mostly pop stuff?
NP: When I was very young, I watched a ton of Kaiju movies. I loved Laurel and Hardy so much. I had weird taste for a little kid. Like weird little old man taste. And a lot of the things that are super important to ’80s babies are just totally alien to me. By the time I was rolling into adolescence, by the time I was like 12 or 13, I was getting more serious about films and got into the pretty usual starter kit stuff, like Stanley Kubrick, etc. But also part of it was that the early to mid ’90s with the Tarantino moment happening, there’s a kind of higher visibility for like, you know, grindhouse movies, kung fu movies… When I was 13, 14, 15, in the city of Cincinnati, there was still a functioning for-profit repertory cinema. My mother was living outside of Washington D.C., where there are two functioning for-profit repertory cinemas. The Key and Biograph, as well as an incredible video store in Old Town Alexandria called Video Vault. The cinemas were not going to be around much longer, but I did catch the tail end of a slightly more robust film culture that extended beyond New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, for which I'm very grateful.
KC: I'm always curious about people’s formative movie histories. In my case, you know, we grew up in a household where we went to the movies every weekend.
NP: You're a Jersey guy, right?
KC: Yeah, I'm from Jersey. And there was a local art house in, I think, Westfield, maybe 30 minutes from us. But I really didn’t become aware of that until films like Lost in Translation or In the Bedroom were getting awards buzz. My theatrical-release life was beholden to the tentpoles: I have very clear memories of seeing Jurassic Park, Apollo 13, Men in Black, Independence Day and the like in theaters, or of watching movies on the Westerns channel, TCM, and TBS Superstation. I had an aunt give me a stack of Almodóvar movies and Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy, once, but for the most part it really wasn't until college that I took a class where someone was like, “All right, you need to know about Terrence Malick,” or “You need to know about Tarkovsky.”
NP: I think our age difference really shows here, because when I’m 11, 12 years old, indie cinema is something that normal people are talking about. And it's a blessing and a curse because I think it really in some ways sort of fucked up my expectations for what the world was. When you're hitting puberty and the most popular thing at the moment is Nirvana and it rules, and Richard Linklater is being discussed on, like, Entertainment Tonight, and you have this weirdly canted perspective, like, oh, how awesome, for the rest of my life popular stuff is also going to be really interesting! And then a year goes by and you're listening to Marcy's Playground on the FM radio. It’s a real hoodwink.
KC: My mother was very Gen X, MTV generation, in the sense that she didn't belong to one genre of anything. She grew up in a moment where everyone appreciated a wide range of genres, because if it had music videos, or if it was on MTV, she was interested in it. Thus I grew up loving U2. I think a lot about this, because it is so important to me that people feel like everything is available to them, everything is for them. I want the kid who likes Marvel movies to also feel like they can watch Godard and also feel like Barry Jenkins movies can be for them.
NP: No, I mean, it's interesting, because I've been reading a lot of books about Japanese independent music and Japanese underground music. And one of the things that really struck me when talking about particularly Japanese punk is the people who are gravitating toward punk and latter-day extreme noise, etc., there wasn't this hard break or this perception of or a narrative of a hard break where it's like, "Oh, it's bloated, prog rock." It's like, no, these are all people who are listening to Hawkwind and listening to free jazz and stuff. And just because of this sort of very different cultural context, none of the kinds of narratives that existed about these sorts of rivalries or these oppositions between these various music existed.
KC: Are you reading the reviews of The Sweet East?
NP: Uh, skimming.
KC: Is it hard to do that?
NP: I will say we've been treated well, generally. Yeah. I don't really, ultimately, if I'm looking it's only because I'm having to kind of set aside certain reactions that I want to be able to formulate responses to, and also, it's so fucking sad, Kam, but I watch the fucking Tomatometer, because that's ultimately important to the viability of the film. And there have been some well-written things about the film, and those are gratifying and enjoyable to read, but it's pretty pragmatically done at this point. I think there have been some nice on-the-fly pieces, but these are sort of consumer guide–style reviews which are not the sort of criticism that I've ever had much use for, and I feel like at some point someone we’ll do something a little more in-depth that will have sat with it a little longer, and I think if I'm going to learn anything I don't know about the movie, that will probably be the piece that does it.
KC: One of the game-changing moments in my career as a critic was when a director reached out to me about something that I'd written that was critical. They were so nice about it, and it didn't change my opinion of the film, but there was a shift in me internally: like, there are people on the other side of this, there is a need to reckon with what you actually know and what you don't know and how you ascribe intentions about all these things. You, as a critic, don't want to be beholden to the idea that the producers and the director and these people are reading it. But on the other hand, it's a matter of being clear with yourself about what your actual terrain is.
NP: Yeah, that's a good way to put it. That's exactly the thing. I think this is certainly the case when I was younger, but I had a certain weakness for, like, if a movie really didn't agree with me to necessarily draw from that that there was something iniquitous about the person behind it and get on like an ad hominem tip in the way that I wrote about it. And I’d probably have a great time if I hung out with Darren Aronofsky. I'm sure he's a good guy. I'm just telling you I don’t fuck with the movies that much. And trying as best as possible to know my terrain and stick to what I know, which is the work itself, the response that I have on the work. And perhaps there are things outside it that I can't know definitively and content myself with that.
Photo credit: Leia Jospe