Put on a happy face

A novelty here at TRUE LIFE! Thought I would divert the conversation for a moment away from my narcissistic ranting and talk about, well, writing. ‘Cause apparently that’s supposed to, you know, be kinda important to me and all.

This is an email exchange between my new friend, J, and I. He’s a great guy. A pretty prominent non-fiction writer whose also had op-ed pieces in “big” papers and such. He’s a working writer.

What he isn’t, however, is a screenwriter. Yet, his wish is to turn the story he’s talking about into a screenplay (whereas it started as a novel, but felt like a novel was the wrong medium to tell the story). Though it will likely look more like the blind leading the blind than enything else, he has asked me to help him navigate through the screen storytelling maze. And in exchange, when I am ready, he is going to help me work through “The Bottomless Pit” (ah, yes, kids…someday. Someday…).

We sat for a few hours last week and chatted about, among myriad other topics, the screenwriting form. More on that another time because it will take thousands of words to have that conversation. Suffice to say, though, I was quite the shaman that day, going on about screenwriting as “religion”… You’d have had to be there. Yet, It all makes sense when you think of the zen nature of following the pattern and working within the form–the screenwriting construct, if you will.

And, like religion, the form is a man-made construct. A “context”…is that the right word. More appropriately a vessel in which to contain and give shape to the very personal and intangible “message”…? Is that the word? Or do I say the “art”? I dunno right now. But that thing, of course, is not man-made. That thing is like the faith. (Right, Pigger?)

Anyway…that’s not what this conversation was about. Hopefully, it won’t bore you to tears. Enjoy.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

From my friend J…

Hey Bill,
. . . .

I thoroughly enjoyed coffee at Nina’s last week, and I was energized by our conversation. I’ve acquired Doc Hollywood and am enjoying it. I love Michael J. Fox, but I’m after something richer, something deeper, but similarly quirky. Sort of Local Hero meets Sleepless in Seattle meets Bridges of Madison County. The coming of age of a middle aged man. Let’s do some scene mapping. Back at Nina’s?


From me…

Also re: Doc Hollywood. I hear ya and agree. Thought, however, that it would be a good structural example. It feels something like what you’re trying for. And remember, if it IS a RomCom, as they call them, BRIDGES should be less of a model than SLEEPLESS, which is a lot more like DOC HOLLYWOOD.

Talk to you soon…B


From J…

And yes, it is a RomCom. Let’s take that form and cook it. Why are dramas always richer than comedies? And Bridges was a bore, actually. Screenplay was great; movie stretched like sands of time blowing aimlessly across the desert….



From me…

Re: “richness” in drama vs. comedy. That’s a question for the ages. Remember, though, that comedy is tragedy pulled inside out.

The beauty of comedy, I believe, is that it is pure subtext. It’s almost passive-aggressive in nature because it says, “I am in pain, but I am going to do EVERYTHING I can to NOT let you know I am in pain.” There is a richness in that, I think. It is, however, a different richness. Almost, I believe, a deeper one.

Drama wears its emotions on its sleeve. With comedy, the real message is more deeply embedded and obscured. So much so that its easy to take its that message–and its impact and effect–for…granted? Or at least to miss it on a conscious level because of the more subtle and transparent (with seems odd, considering the very overt and opaque nature of most comic storytelling) way it operates on our being.

I mean, in the movies, look at anything Charlie Chaplin ever did. I am tempted to say he invented film noir (a stretch, I know. I am not serious, but bear with me for illustration’s sake) because of the underlying sadness and, more to the point, existential hopelessness that is ever-present in his stories. Yet, we laugh our asses off every time he gets booted in the ass and falls on his face. The Tramp is a deep guy. He is Everyman turned on his head, with big shoes and a bowler hat. Or maybe more accurately, Sisyphus, except replace the boulder and the mountain with that damned banana peel (though–speaking of sad sacks–I believe that was probably a Buster Keaton invention, evolved from Vaudeville), perpetually underfoot, ready to lay the poor chap out on his back again and again.

Of course, the problem is that comedy can be ruined just as easily as drama, I believe. The deeper point can be missed or ignored, just like it can in drama. It can be hackneyed, just like drama. It’s just that–I don’t know…do we forgive it more easily because we still get a chuckle? And perhaps the presence of so many BIG MOMMA’S HOUSEs–these saccharin confections–deadens our senses somewhat to the qualities inherent in the…well, more quality comedic stories.

I just keep thinking Neil Simon and everything that man ever wrote. THE ODD COUPLE. It could have just as easily been a straight piece. But the magic was that it wasn’t. He spun it around and because of that, he was able to say some pretty hard things for the time (and some hard timeless things, too) that would have either fell flat or simply been too uncomfortable and hot to handle if said with a straight face or without his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. Of course, that’s another benefit of this gift of humor, isn’t it? It helps us say the hard things. It knows, however, that a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down. And thank God for it.

Then again, what do I know? Just noodling for myself as much as for anything else. Can you say freakin’ dissertation?

Just got off the phone with J. Thurs. is a go. see you then…B

– – – – – – – – – – – —

P.S. And no…I still don’t have a new shift key. I am simply suffering. For my art. For you. For this TRUE LIFE. Aren’t I deep?

…Yeah. I know what you’re thinking. “Not necessarily, Bill, but it’s sure getting deep in here.”

Have a good day, all. I head back to the Apple Store today to order the new key. Will keep you up-to-date on the progress of this very important journey.

key shift

When the shift key came off, she felt bad. i was away. when i returned, her eyes fell as she apologized for “breaking” my computer.

she didn’t break it, of course. no need to apologize.

the key was already lost…long before she ever touched the thing.

it was broken–at the very least lame, ill–for awhile. it was the kind of thing that was obscured from our sight, however, and each and every keystroke was a round of russian roulette. in which chamber death resides is not ours to know. but it’s there. it is the only certainty.

what the final keystroke was, therefore, not the breaking. it was merely the physical dislodging. it was impetus, the catalyst, triggering the corporal transformation of the board overall. a final kiss to send the shift key off to the next place. and to propel the rest of the board and its writer toward providence–and the next story.

and, appropriately, it required her touch to nudge the thing into finality. that’s what it was. plain and simple. it was, in fact, a moment of beauty. a moment of healing.

and so the writer took gently the shift key in his hands. he held it for a moment longer, and then he put it away.

he didn’t mourn. that time had already come and gone.

instead, he turned his gaze forward. the notion of “replacement” seemed absurd–a pratfall of a thought. only a key of some form, of course, could appropriately fit this empty space. but its precise nature seemed somehow unimportant. no, that’s not true. important, but not worrysome. for he was now in blissful free-fall, operating on faith, that the safest of landings was in store for him. that the one–the perfect and right key–would be there when he touched down.

and so it was.

and it was more than a key. it was possibility in his hand. it was all things gloriously unexpected. it was more than happiness. it was more than he imagined.

and it was still forming.

he held this new key in his hand. and he cherished it, this wonder in progress, full of knowing. this new key–it was the one, the perfect fit.

so don’t frown, my darling. don’t fret. it’s a gift, this thing. this happening. it’s nothing less than wholeness. given unto the board. given unto this TRUE LIFE.

nose to the grindstone…

We’re trying a new thing here at true life central. it’s called typing in all lower case. courtesy of my missing left shift key. you never know just how much you use that little bastard until it’s gone.

just like all things taken sorely for granted, i suppose.

note to self–object lessson learned here.

i gotta get to the apple store. hopefully, tomorrow afternoon sometime. for now, though, i’m kinda having fun being lower case man. i feel so bohemian. not sure why that would make me feel that way. ’cause i am such a rebel, i suppose. yeah…such a rebel. you run with that, lower case man.

my issue du jor: (this colon brought to you by your right hand shift key, as are the parentheses. go through the exercise…you’d be amazed how much you don’t use the right shift key)

this embarrassment of riches that is all the freakin’ work i got on my plate right now. some of it screenwriting, some of it other stuff–meaning freelance writing. you know, the stuff that brings in money right now. working through it. being disciplined enough to work through it–slog through some of it. because it’s all interesting, but it’s not all very fun. not all very inspiring.

and that’s the stuff that’s taking up my time and my brain right now. and though the “good stuff” is still close at hand, it remains on the vine, good and ripe, waiting to get picked. quite ripe, in fact. wait too long, i fear, and it’s gonna spoil. because that’s what stuff like that does.

and, of course, i am a little disappointed. i am still waiting to hear about gigs and agents from my recent la excursions. and every day that passes, i admit that my heart sinks a little. my hopes. for this round, at least. but as much as i wish i could rush this, i realize that it is going to move at its own pace. i can’t force it. i simply gotta do what i gotta do and roll with it.

and what i gotta do is i gotta write. my stuff.

but i struggle, see. ’cause trudging through this other stuff. it takes a long time. not so much because it’s hard and time-consuming–well, it is that–but because i don’t really wanna do it. and i put it off. shove it away into a corner of my mind until it stinks to high heaven and simply won’t be ingnored anymore. but i gotta clear that crapola away before i can really dig into the sweet stuff.

oh, well. that’s what this is about, this true life post. an avenue into my putting my nose to the grindstone. clearing away the boulders to get to the gems. lube up the machine, fill ‘er up with gas, and crank over the starter. get plowin’ ahead. i might as well roll up my sleeves and get to work, eh?

this is the time where being a “professional screenwriter” just seems hard. behind all that is fun and sexy and cool is this–life. true life. and all the stuff that comes with it. like money, or lack there of. and responsibility. and limited time. and limited brain power. and procrastination. and the daily struggle against it. it is, plain and simple, hard work.

and these are the impediments to creative thought.

and yet they are all who i am. and what life is. which is what my art is.

so you need ’em.

okay. enough noodling. get your freakin’ nose back to the grindstone, true. break’s over.

yeah…yeah, boss. i hear ya.

An embarrassment of riches

I don’t know whether my good friend and indie film producer par excellence, Al Klingenstein, coined this phrase or not. It feels like one of those catch phrases that’s been there all my life, hanging out in shadows, waiting in the wings, feet shuffling, ready to spring on stage as soon as it hears its cue. The cue, apparently, was a conversation had whilst strolling along West End Avenue, heading home after a Saturday morning work-out, just prior to piling into the “Mercedes Benz of minivans” and road-trippin’ it up to the Woodstock Film Festival.

Al and I were doing what Al and I do: bein’ a couple of armchair philosophers, the smartest and wisest guys we know, puzzling through the mysteries of life, the universe, and everything. And being all about the love.

As we padded along, Al was talking about when he met his wife, Katherine. Well, more specifically, when and how they decided to marry. As is most often the case with such romantic fare, the story was a colorful one—the full spectrum, black and white and everything in between. But he concluded the tale, in TRUE Klingenstein-ian fashion, quite matter-of-factly. He looked ahead, eyebrows raised is if in question, shaking his head—not as if in denial or in trying to convince himself, but rather as if it was a revelation, a surprise to him as much as to everyone else.

“What can I say, man? My life…it’s an embarrassment of riches.”

I looked at him, and what could I say? Nothing. Because Al was right. On the whole, the guy’s life is a rose garden, constantly unfolding, ever in bloom: fragrant, colorful, beautiful.

Here’s the rub, though…I believe his life is that way not so much because he’s the beneficiary of random karma resulting from favorable stellar alignment. I mean, sure, Al’s had his share of good fortune, but so have we all. But it’s not as if his little garden doesn’t have its share of irritating thorns, whose blood lust demands the occasional taste from the finger pricked. I believe his life is that way mostly because he tends his garden carefully and lovingly, and, cliché as it sounds, because he stops to smell those proverbial roses from time-to-time.

There is so much I respect about my pal, Al, but this is what I respect the most. It’s part and parcel—no…it IS his humanity. He’s about the most human guy I know, and a helluva gardener. I’ve learned a lot from him.

In my new life—with my kids, and my friends, and this new career, and in particular, with this “enormous love”, as Robbye coined it—I find this phrase dropping into my conversations constantly. As if, now that it’s made its big entrance, it is ravenous, starved for the energy of the crowd, the glow of the footlights. It is, in fact, quite the big, ol’ ham. And so it pops in for a cameo in nearly every scene of this little production I call “life”. “Ta da! Here I am! Go right on ahead, folks…applaud at will!”

What’s different? I don’t know. Life, to be certain, isn’t the crisis-ridden affair it once was. I get that. I wouldn’t say, however, that it is, on the whole, “easier”. I don’t think life ever is. I don’t believe it is designed that way. I will go to my grave shouting from mountaintops that it is designed to be “worth it”, certainly. But easy..? Not so much. And thank God for that. I mean, where’s the fun in “easy”?

Whereas once I saw primarily thorns, today I see the blooms.

That is the difference.

So…what can I say, man? I raise my eyebrows. I shake my head. My life? It’s an embarrassment of riches.

Thanks, God. Thanks, friends and family. Thanks, kids. Thanks, Robbye.

Thanks, Al.

One dog, slightly used…

The subject line of the email I just sent to my lovely Robbye about my not-so-lovely dog, Elvis. Below, the salient portion of the email body:


After this morning, I swear I’d PAY someone to haul that yellow bastard away!

Okay…I really love him. But I was PISSED! I get home, and what do you think I find? You got it…the pork roast that I put in the fridge to thaw last night..? F’ing torn apart all over the living room floor. I almost blew a gasket.

I stayed mad at him for about an hour. Of course, then, while I was doing email on the couch, he comes up and worms his head onto my shoulder–a hug. He was apologizing. So I hugged him back, and he climbed up on my lap for another hug. And I chastised him, and he looked back at me as if to say, “I know, Daddy. I’m sorry. I’ll try to be good.”

Who can stay mad at that?

Turns out, I can’t. All I can say is that little shit’s sure lucky that he’s family. And that he lacks balls for which to be strung up by. ‘Cause after this morning, I swear to God I would do it.

…Yeah. I know. Big talk. Crusty shell, gooey marshmallow inside.

It’s a case of Elvis simply being too smart for his own good. He can open the sliding glass door in the living room (not that he’s mastered the ability–or gives a flying crap about my heating bills enough– to close the thing), but now the fridge, too? What next? I’m waiting for the day I spring some deadly trap as I walk into the house. As I lay there, gasping, heaving my final breaths, eyes wide in terror, he will be there…quite the different dog. No hint of the goofy, gangling, drooling mutt I love.

“Ah yes, ‘Daddy’…how easily are those supposedly in power blinded by their percieved superiority. Well, now we know better. Don’t we?”

I don’t need to say anything. I don’t need to nod even…not that I could if I wanted. My blood, pooling and cooling on the floor at my feet says everything Elvis needs to hear.