Amanda Fortini has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, The New Republic and The Paris Review, among other publications, and is a Contributing Editor at Elle magazine. Before taking part in a Zócalo/Getty panel discussion titled “Can We Appreciate the Great Art of Bad People?” at The Getty Center, she spoke in the green room about why she loves going to the movies, the art of listening, and deciding not to become a ballerina.
What do you do to unwind?
My husband would say that I never unwind! I read, and I love to go to the movies. I’m not talking about watching Netflix, I mean going to the movie theater and get a giant thing of popcorn. I just like the experience of going to the movies. I do like going with other people, but I really like going to the movies alone.
What makes that a better experience than watching them at home?
Well, at home I can stop it for 10 minutes and get up and wash the dishes, or I can get interrupted, or I can remember the email that I have to answer. [At a movie theater] you’re in like a little capsule where it’s rude to have a phone that lights up, or to text. I would never text or answer my phone at a movie. I just love the uninterrupted, silent time. I think it’s just mainly about not being interrupted by technology, or by my own busy brain.
Anything else that you do?
I walk. I have been living in Las Vegas for the past three years. When I’m in Montana, which is where I normally live, I just go walk in the mountains, or I go up on a ranch and hike, and I’ll do it for like an hour and a half every day. But when I’m in Las Vegas, I’m in the city, and living in an area of the city that’s not particularly safe. So if it’s nighttime, which is usually when I’m walking, I don’t really walk around the city, but I’ll just drive to a casino and walk around the casino, inside the casino. So that’s my Vegas version of hiking.
Do you have a favorite casino to hike?
Yeah, I go to the Cosmopolitan! That’s my favorite casino. But I like the Venetian, too.
What career would you have if you weren’t a writer?
It would be something visual, because I’m a really visual person and a lot of the writing I do is about visual, aesthetic things. I think I would probably be a photographer. Before I became a writer I would’ve told you that I wanted to be a dancer. I was a very serious ballet dancer. But around 17 or 18 you have to make a decision. I made my peace with it. But I think I’d be a photographer, actually. Sometimes I think that what I really want to say, I wish I could just say with an image, because the way that I write is, I see a visual correlative in my mind, and I describe it—rather than it just being about the words. That’s why I like reporting, because I go out, I see it—or I have to see it in my memory, something that happened to me—and then I describe it. And I used to think it was kind of a deficit, like it added one more step to my creative process. But now I actually think it helps me write about visual things.
What’s some of the best advice you ever got?
I don’t think I was around a lot of advice-giving types of folks. The best advice that I give is that I think listening is really underrated. People often ask me, “How do you do what you do, how do you report, how do people tell you these things?” And I just think I listen. And I think a lot of people don’t listen. And I find it frustrating sometimes in conversation, or in day-to-day interactions, that people don’t listen as much. I think we’ve gotten out of the habit because we’re all staring at screens. And my husband once gave me some advice—because I’m kind of an introvert, and my tendency is to work or read or stay home or go to the movies by myself. His advice is that everything interesting in life comes through other people: jobs or opportunities. So you should not just sit at home and wait for things to happen to you. I think that advice to get out in the world is really important.
Was there a teacher or professor who really influenced your career?
Yes, there were two, actually, Mr. Murray and Mr. Tillman, history teachers of mine in high school who were also my mock-trial team coaches. Growing up, in Illinois, my father wasn’t in the picture. So they were kind of father figures, and they were coaches. And we had this tiny mock-trial team that was about eight people. And we were first in the state and we ended up going to nationals. So it was this formative thing where they really emphasized excellence and hard work. We would work like six or seven hours a night after school.
If you could time-travel, where and when would you go?
When I was a younger girl I would’ve really liked to go into the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I was just obsessed with that time period. I think there’s something really appealing to a young person, who grows up in modern society, about making your own things. It probably is really arduous and not fun at all, but it seemed really fun to me to be churning your own butter and building a lean-to, or whatever they had. There are so many interesting periods of history. I might like to be in France around the Revolution, [although] I don’t think I would want to be an aristocrat. I studied French history and literature, so almost any period in French history, I would go.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Probably Instagram. It is actually a pleasure, though, whereas a lot of other social media just irritates me. I really take a lot of pleasure in seeing other people’s images. It’s a total waste of time, flipping through the image. I try not to let myself do it. But I also do get total pleasure from it. It’s like a virtual glass of wine or something.