Tuesday, September 6, 2011

It Would Be So Nice If I Was Here

Some years ago, I was at a party with a former fiance* discussing future plans with my mother's cousin, regarded as an aunt by my brothers and sisters as befits the relationship she and my mother shared.  This aunt of mine was often the only person in the room to cut through the fat and get down to the meat of the matter.  We told my aunt that we were putting off our wedding until we'd saved enough money.  "There's never enough money," she countered without pause.  "Never."  She took another drag from her cigarette and added, "Now that that's out of the way, what's stopping you?"  She'd rolled right over our roadblock and now expected us to charge forward without delay.  This same aunt, as my family became adults and parents and homeowners themselves, grew into a confidant for the rest of my siblings.  I didn't have her phone number.  It's not that I didn't like her or wouldn't have spoken to her, it just never occurred to me to wonder what she'd think about a situation.  I think she found me inscrutable anyhow, she rarely addressed me in person without someone else there, as though she thought no matter what was discussed, she'd better have a witness.

The look my aunt would get in her eyes, the narrowed stare as though hoping to adopt x-ray vision and look right inside my head for clues, is a look I've seen many times in my life.  I don't think I'm particularly mysterious.  In fact, I've often shown my cards and blown whatever advantage I've had over others, choosing to disclose rather than withhold and finding afterward that I wished I'd been a better puppet-master.  I've been labeled publicly as arrogant, and I've been told I'm the most modest person folks have ever met.  I've been both uncaring and incredibly giving.  Aloof, friendly.

The true answer probably lies somewhere in the middle, but in looking back on these opinions, the more negative the opinion of me, the more extroverted the opinion-holder.  Those who hold court wherever and whenever just don't get me, because I'm their polar opposite.  Don't get me wrong; you can spin me off into the lengthiest of ramblings if you push the right button.  The problem is, people don't always find the right button, and when they have, sometimes they'd glanced it with their elbow as they were passing by on the way to what they really wanted to discuss.  I'm not an all-topic conversationalist.  It's not that I don't have an opinion.  It's just that I don't assume you'd find my opinion interesting enough to discuss, and the reason I think that is because much of the time, I can't find your opinion interesting enough to discuss.

Don't confuse this with misanthropy, although I'm guilty of having momentary ambitions toward becoming a misanthrope, particularly on the 6 train when standing between a music lover with $2 earbuds and someone using their cell-phone to seed their contacts with their mundanity.  It's just that small talk, the mother tongue of social engagements, is pointless torture for me.  If I ask you about the weather, it's because I want to know whether one should put on a sweater before leaving the house.  I'll make the attempt to pick up your loose threads of chatter; I'll tell you what I've heard from family in the southland about current weather trends down their way that may turn north, I'll chime in about the latest movie I've seen if it relates to your anecdote about seeing last weekend's #1 hit, I'll compare music libraries and try to get you to divulge the one song on your iPod you wouldn't want your friends to know is there, and I'll gladly discuss your kids and their activities, mainly because I'll want to discuss my kids and get my brag on (my kids are pretty awesome, you'd brag too).  But if I walk into a room and there's a spot where everyone is gathered to hear what that one guest is soapboxing about, I'm going to get within earshot to make sure he's not saying the building is on fire and we all need to get the hell out, and then I'm going to find the crudité.  

I've always been that person that at first wondered why people didn't think the way I did, then tried hard to think like they did and finally tried to be comfortable with my own way of thinking.  I didn't put a label on myself, I've been mislabeled enough to distrust the very idea.  However, my wife stumbled upon an article that's eight years old, yet speaks to me as if written this morning.  Rather than slapping me in the face with shame, the article let me know it's not some personality defect to not love to be surrounded by people at all times, that this isn't some bad mood to get over.  The article also intimates that while people who think the way I do are in the minority generally speaking, we're in the majority in creative fields.

Society is dictated by those with the biggest mouths.  That's not me.  That won't be me.  I'm not an extrovert.

I'm an introvert.  It's not an obscenity, not an insult.  My brain fires a different way and allows me to do different things than most people do.  I think writing is one of them.  It was certainly a comfort when I was younger to be able to sit and write for a few hours, write assignments, stories, essays.  Adults aren't "supposed" to do that.  We're not "supposed" to go off to another room and be creative.  We're not supposed to be contemplative, to sit quietly.  We're supposed to be sociable, go out to a club, go to the movies, gather our friends for a beach bonfire like some goddamn beer commercial.  Clearly the philosophers of old were wasting their time, they should have been shaking their booty instead of sitting on their ass, thinking.

The bottom line is this: Everyone gets a fair shake from me.  I have made it a tenet in my life for a long time to accept people for what and who they are, because I truly believe you can't change people, they're always going to turn out to be what their chemistry and upbringing has made them.  There are always exceptions, but let's be honest, how many exceptions do you see on a regular basis?  That's why they're called exceptions.  So, everyone gets a fair shake from me.  If we become friends, that's terrific.  If you think I'm arrogant or aloof, you'd better have hard evidence, because telling me what I'm thinking ain't gonna cut it.  You're not going to read my mind if you don't understand the language.

* About that former fiance - It struck me as I typed that phrase that you don't really hear people talking about failed engagements all that much.  I mean, they happen, I'm not that unique. I guess it's the stigma we usually pin on failure, like you must have done something wrong in order for the relationship to have gone south.  The only thing I did wrong was get engaged to the wrong woman.  Failed marriages you hear about, sure.  What was I supposed to do, get married and then find out she'd been unfaithful?  I guess that's another way I've been thinking differently than most people.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Can't You See I'm Workin' It Out?

I used to host a show on my college radio station dedicated to showtunes.  It ran on Sunday nights and had been running for years, so it had a great following with lots of requests.  I'd get a call every week for "Workin' It Out" from They're Playing Our Song, the musical that starred Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz with a book by Neil Simon, lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager and music by Marvin Hamlisch.  I had heard of the show, but hadn't seen it or heard the album until that first call.  With a three hour show to fill each week, I was happy to play a song from that listener's favorite show each show.  In the song, Klein is working on composing a song while Lucie Arnaz is trying to collaborate and juggle her personal issues at the same time.  Hey, I never said the inspiration for this blog was original.

When I was blogging over at The One Year Push, I had an interaction with a reader when I'd pretty rashly decided to stop blogging and whined about not having reader feedback in a long while.  That reader said a few things that struck me personally, and I copped to the criticism because he/she was right, I didn't have the right to whine about not getting feedback when I wasn't showing much progress in my goals.  I wasn't progressing, and the blog showed it.  I went on with it a bit more, changed the storefront and tried some more without pressuring myself to post on a regular basis.  Up until a few months ago, that's where things stood.  I'd taken a break from blogging and from writing, thinking perhaps that I'd be better off then at focusing on work and family.

You can see this coming, can't you?

Nope, it didn't work.  I didn't feel the fulfillment I'd feel when reading back a scene that had just burst out of me.  I'm not going to find much fulfillment at work (yeah, who does), but I do at home, my family is incredible and is the driving force behind me getting back to writing.  Plus, someone I'd worked with in the past has become a producer and has been encouraging me to give him completed work to show to his partners.  He's just read a treatment I've written and liked it a great deal.  I've got other ideas I'd left in the dust that deserve better treatment, so I'm brushing them off and writing new treatments.  Aside from my old colleague, I've got a few other people in the industry I haven't shown any work to, so once I've got a block of items to be read, I can go to them as well.

I'm more hopeful than ever that I can make an honest run at this.  I just have to keep myself pushing harder than before.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Maybe it's good that it doesn't make sense, because what if it did?

Life is what happens when you plan to keep blogging.  My initial interest in keeping a blog was to write about keeping balance between work, family and writing.  While I hope I've been good at keeping my family as the major priority, work has been unrewarding lately and I haven't been able to concentrate to write much (more on that some other time).

My son is now six and my daughter is three.  To say I'm enjoying them would be an understatement.  I'm an unapologetic enthusiast, the president of their fan club.  I've been involved in scouting with my son, even volunteered to lead his den and just spent more time than intended building his pinewood car for the pack's annual derby.  My daughter treats each moment like she's Auntie Mame, living to the fullest extent she can muster, always smiling, talking, laughing.  We're having a great time.

My wife has a friend, someone who'd been in the same field as she, who also has two kids roughly the same age as ours.  I've never met this friend, never met the kids or their father, either.  It will sound odd to you, but today I am thankful I have not met them.  I don't know what they look like when they smile or laugh.  I don't know how tall they are, how they line up walking together as a family.  I don't know where they go to dinner all together on those nights when they're all out together and it's suddenly too late to go home and cook.  I don't know how their voices sound, whether they find themselves joining in when one of them hums a song.

I'm glad I don't know them because right now they are experiencing a pain I never want to know.  They've lost their six-year-old son, lost him after four years of incredible bravery and heart as he fought against an equally incredible and aggressive cancer.

Six-year-old boys aren't supposed to fight cancer.  They aren't supposed to inspire strangers with their fortitude.  They are supposed to play dodgeball and video games, build a race car with their father.  Little sisters aren't supposed to wake up one day without their big brother, go solo in their childhood where once there was a partner.  Parents aren't supposed to plan memorials for their child, they're supposed to plan where their child will spend their school day.

This does not make sense and it will go on not making sense.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Hello, My Friend, Hello...

Just after midnight at the end of the workweek here on the east coast, and it's perfectly understandable that a moderately hip guy like myself can let the lateness of the hour and the fatigue of the week affect him so much that a little unintentional Neil Diamond quote slips out.

It's been a summer of family outings, trips to the ballpark, Saturday morning tee-ball followed by afternoons at the beach.  I've enjoyed my family's company very much these last few months.  My son has just entered the first grade and is determined to be more grown-up (don't rush it, kid) and my daughter is approaching the age of three with the demeanor and attitude of a kid four times her age, plus my wife and I have just celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary, which also marked ten years to the day since we first met.  I am truly blessed beyond what I could have dreamt of for myself ten years ago.

I have been writing, albeit that form of writing that can best be described as spitballing and is often referred to by others as daydreaming.  I came up with the endings of a couple of specs I've been breaking and can now fill in the gaps moving backward, which is a departure for my usual approach of spilling out the toy chest and tearing loose with abandon.  I've (big surprise) never been a disciplined writer, this has always been my downfall, but I'm planning to use the gaps I'm able to take during my work day to wrote more efficiently.

As I was thinking along these lines, I stumbled upon a listing for this book on Amazon: The Coffee Break Screenwriter.

Okay, now let's rewind about three or four years when I started renewing my ambition to become a produced screenwriter.  I had already created an account at Zoetrope when it first hit the web, had a couple of specs under my arm, and had little idea how to proceed, but one thing I did know was I hated how many books I'd purchased about screenwriting.  I hated how other writers championed their chosen screenwriting guru like they were facepainters at an NFL game.  I even tried starting a group on Zoetrope called "Screw You, Guru" where people could vent about ridiculous adherence to hard rules, especially when those rules dictated and informed your script with the same formula that you'd seen in countless movies.  I'd vowed back then never to buy another book on screenwriting.

Why the change of heart?  Isn't the first thing they tell you about fixing a problem is that the first step is realizing you have a problem?  I have a problem using short bits of time to work on my writing.

I think I'll pick this book up.  Hell, it beats spending ten minutes doing a crossword.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Better Late Than Never

I wasn't going to enter the Nicholl competition this year.  I hadn't been focused about doing a polish on the script I'd thought I'd submit and I didn't feel like I had the time to do it justice.  I went out to a movie on Saturday night and put the whole thing behind me.


When I went online Sunday, I read that the application site had undergone some major outages the night before and that the submission deadline had been extended.

The regret I'd been suppressing won out.  I took a look at my last draft and found it tighter than I'd remembered.  I made the additional changes I'd wanted to make, read the script through again and made the PDF.

The extended deadline was 3 PM Eastern time.  As I uploaded the script, I saw the clock on my computer switch from 2:59 to 3:00.  

I would have felt bad over the next year if I hadn't gotten one in there, but I think next time I'll shoot for the early deadline.

Friday, April 30, 2010


Three weeks ago, I was working on a new blog post about handicapping the Nicholl Fellowship. I don't know a thing about picking winners, but I thought it would be provocative and fun to check into past winners and see if there were any predictors to be found, a way to gauge what's likely to win and what isn't.

I was a couple of paragraphs in when I got a text from my brother. Our mother had been rushed to the hospital.

My mother, aside from her many fine qualities, was a dedicated smoker, as most people from her generation look to have been from her photos of parties and nights at the Copa. She had started in her mid-teens and continued for 45 years or so until her lungs were so wracked that she often spoke through coughs and we could understand.  Twelve years ago, she started having serious breathing issues that eventually turned out to be chronic obstructive pulmonary disease with a congestive heart disease chaser. She was prescribed a prolonged steroid treatment that went on longer than it should have and one day her body just flat out stopped working. She was on a bed in the hospital with no time to get her parish priest to her side, so the hospital chaplain read her the last rites as we, her children, watched in stunned silence. Then we waited and waited for an end that didn't come. She finally stabilized and within two days was sitting up and ordering us around. She had a long rehabilitation and returned home after several months. Over the years there have been returns to the hospital followed by increased needs at home; an oxygen tube, a part-time aide, a walker. Some days we'd show up at her door to find her full of pep; some days she'd just sit, unable to get to her feet without help.

The years in between were very good to me. I met my wife, we had our two children, I moved from a creative but stagnant career into a few more interesting and worthwhile fields, all things I could not picture for myself at the point when my mother first fell ill. Had my mother died twelve years ago, she would not have been able to see my bride walk down the aisle toward me; would not have answered my calls when I needed to vent as my wife and I butted heads with hospital staff during the labor process when my son was born; would not have seen how much my daughter resembles herself at the same age, a curly blond with piercing blue eyes.

The years since her initial crash have had so many medical interventions that my mother decided a year ago, once she was determined to be worthy of hospice care, that she did not want to be revived should she falter again. She spoke with us all, her five children, then to her teen and adult grandchildren. She gave us each tokens from her life and started us on the road to prepare for her death, which she believed would come within weeks if not sooner. It came as no surprise when she somehow graduated from hospice care to just needing a part-time aide again. Her aide would share movies with her (I was floored this past Easter Sunday to find a bootleg copy of Avatar in her bedroom) and help her with sewing projects. On Easter, Mom presented us with a blanket she'd finished for my daughter. We weren't expecting to visit her for Easter, we had plans elsewhere, but we drove over to her house afterward as a surprise to her and the rest of the family, some of whom also had not planned to be there but somehow changed their minds at the last minute.

Three days later she was in the hospital, having collapsed in her living room. Her aide, although familiar with my mother's wishes, having read the DNR and placed it with the rest of her medical information, called an ambulance anyway. Once at the hospital, she was tubed and sedated. We were shocked, but hoping there might be some hope that with minimal intervention from that point on, Mom would have a chance at recovery. When the sedation was ramped back to gauge her capabilities, she took the opportunity to non-verbally request that the tube be removed. The doctors convinced her to allow them two days to process how she'd respond to minimum treatment. She had severe pneumonia in both lungs and looked to have had a heart attack that was curbed by the internal defibrillator she'd been given a couple of years back.

After the weekend passed, the doctors crunched the data. They called my oldest sister, my mother's health proxy, and asked to meet us all the next morning. We didn't need to stretch to figure out what was going to happen next. We met at my mother's bedside the next day to hear that she was not recovering and they had determined she was capable of deciding whether to allow or deny further treatment. A short time later we met with the hospital's risk management specialist to see whether we had any objections to this plan. We didn't.

For all the hospital dramas you've seen, you'd think there were more doctors than nurses. Everything happens with at least one doctor there, usually two or three. When someone dies like my mother died, surrounded by family hoping the patient will be comforted by their presence and touch, there aren't any doctors. There isn't an improvement to life to be made, nothing to be saved. Doctors don't dally in the intensive care ward, they move like butterflies, alighting briefly before disappearing into the sunlight. The last medical professionals to help my mother were two nurses, one of whom had been tirelessly helping her since her admission. They moved her up on the bed, sitting her up as best they could, then removed the breathing tube, replacing it with a mask providing oxygen, the dial for which the nurse turned up to the maximum. My mother had collected nurses in her previous hospital stays, often getting visits in one ward from personnel from another ward, leading to our confusion when we'd arrive to find nurses there on a social call alongside the nurses assigned to her care. My mother collected people from all over her life. Since I'm the fourth of five kids, I thought the people I'd see along with her in school or at a doctor's office or in a supermarket had known my mother from past visits or from an old neighborhood, but she usually had just met them and was already laughing and sharing stories. I meet new people like I'm administrating a leper colony, so my mother's gift for making strangers her own remains a phenomenon to me.

Just like she had done before, my mother stayed in the game, leveling off and breathing on her own, able to communicate with us, her eyes opening a bit to take us in, her five children expanded to nine with the sons- and daughters-in-law there, all of them embraced by her as though they were her own. Her levels remained the same for two hours before they spiked and then fell suddenly. Alarms were pinging urgently, but instead of a few people running in to intervene, one nurse came in to switch the monitor into Comfort Mode, silencing the alarms, hiding the readings, and she left without a word to us. When my mother died, we each had a hand extended to touch her. Skeptics will tell you there is no way to tell without instrumentation when a life passes. I can only say that we felt her leave, and I can only hope we helped as she left.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Previously on Three Chainsaws

I lost my e-mails last week. 4757 messages in my inbox. At first I thought it was just the application being balky. After all, I know what I'm doing, I'm a computer technician, I service hundreds of users for a living, this couldn't be a user error, couldn't be my error, never never never.

My mantra since I started this job has been this: It's always the user. Sure, it's not politically correct to think that, but 99 times out of 10 (that's not a typo, I mean 99 times out of 10), the problem begins with the user. They've modified something intentionally or through a misunderstanding of how things work and then they call for help. Thank God they screw up, or I wouldn't have this job. When I saw my mail had disappeared, though, my mantra was off having coffee and I figured it was a software problem.

Ever play one of those damned Facebook games? The kind where you need to accrue friends who aren't actually friends?

Don't play those damned Facebook games. I added my e-mail address to a list of people looking to amass a lot of friends who would make up the ranks of their virtual mob with their own virtual avatars. Eventually I lost interest in the game, but I kept getting requests to add friends. It turns out my e-mail address was then added to a larger list on a blog created for people to harvest addresses to invite to join their mob or their farm or their harem or whatever, with the added bonus that since the listing is available to anyone on the web through that blog, any spammer can pick up e-mail addresses with zero effort, so now I've been getting a ton of new spam.

After putting up with these messages one-by-one, last week I decided to set a rule in my mail client. Being such a handy computer technician, I made a rule that would move any of the e-mails associated with that mass listing into the deleted items folder...Aw, the hell with that, just delete them completely, I don't need to review those! I set the parameters to weed out those messages, then added the caveat that if the sender isn't in my previous senders, torch the message.

Except...I set the rule to sort out those messages, then told it to verify that the senders WERE among my previous senders, and instead of making sure both criteria were met, I made the rule work if either of the criteria were met, effectively targeting Every Single Message. At least I know the app works.

Luckily for me, I was able to get most of them back, but decided I'd take the opportunity to sort through and get rid of that which I did not need. Out went the newsletters from a bargain site I've never purchased anything through. Out went the weekly tech tips newsletters. Out went the almost-endless string of notification e-mails from Facebook telling me exactly what it would tell me when I logged on next.

I was left with a huge amount of e-correspondence with the wife (I've saved every last one, honey) and a great many e-mail addresses I hadn't seen in a long time. In sorting through these, I found a few responses to a callout here two years ago for legal advice. I'd been discussing optioning a script to a producer so that he could in turn shop several projects to some investors he needed to pitch in a hurry before they left the country a few days later. Yes, it sounds like just as solid a plan as it did back then. I might as well have gotten that excited about buying a lottery ticket. I didn't know the whole story then, however, all I knew was what the producer was telling our mutual contact: The investors had $25 million to spend and wanted genre projects set mostly in one location.

I have a script that fit that bill, a genre story (sci-fi/horror) set mostly in one location (a hospital), so at the urging of our mutual contact, I sent the producer the script. He let me know later of his intent to sell the investors several projects that were already packaged. He wasn't going to produce, he wanted to secure the deal for 10% of the investment. I was supposed to be the producer. After adjusting myself to this development, I took the leap and let him know I was fine with the change in roles, but the deal would have to be for 5 percent. He responded that he'd try to just sell the script for that five percent, which he didn't seem to realize was a different deal to try to make entirely. It will come as no surprise that the whole thing evaporated in the space of a few days.

I revisited the chain of events while reading through these e-mails, and one of the messages came from someone with a market research group, a very encouraging and insightful e-mail reinforcing my suspicion that the figures the finder was floating were way over the norm. Something about the message caught my eye this time around.

The sender's address was the very building where I am now working two years later.

About eight months ago I moved downtown in a new position as an onsite tech for the advertising/PR corporation I work for. The work is at the same time more tiring and less mind-numbingly boring than my previous position. My days are usually very busy, but there are also stretches where I can work at my own pace and there is something new on a daily basis. I like it, mainly because I can gain experience that will keep me employable. The job services three large companies based in the building, but there are other smaller companies in the building I don't serve, this market research group must be one of them. How could I not have noticed this before, I thought to myself, I'd been in the building a few times over two years before I moved here and had been giving phone support to the users here. Hell, I've even been on the floor the sender worked on when the e-mail had been sent.

Seeing this link between my present job and the blog made me think seriously about Three Chainsaws for the first time in months. I opened up the blog, read through a bunch of entries, tried to remember what I was thinking back then. It will come as little surprise that screenwriting has not been a priority lately. That chainsaw was placed down gently and occasionally started to make sure it still turned over. I've still been working very slowly on a couple of things I'd mentioned here:
  • I hammered out a rough outline and revised a treatment for the animated movie idea I mentioned here in anticipation of meeting people last year at a videogame press event for a major animation studio. I met the studio's story supervisor and he politely shot me down before I could even bring up the idea of making them a pitch, but he was otherwise encouraging and made me incredibly jealous of the creative culture they've developed in-house.
  • I've been revisiting two ideas I had years ago, one for a western about a gold rush town's dying days, the other a romantic comedy that I only started looking at again because I figure it can't be any worse than the releases that have been ripped apart by critics over the last year or so.
  • I edited the trailers for two independent films that have been well received on the festival circuit in the past few months.
So even though I haven't pursued producing at all, I figured since I've got this one response from someone who may have advice if I get a package together, maybe I can see if their company is still in this building...

Hey, wait a minute. I work on Park Avenue South. This reader works on Park Avenue. Same building number, totally different neighborhood. It doesn't mean I can't make contact, but makes it a lot more unlikely that we've met in the elevator.

At least now I've got the blog back on my mind, and I think I have things to say.