Don’t Panic

Dontpanic2
Today is a day that we all stare into the face of the boogey man.  Today is a day that many of us, already teetering in the day-to-day, wonder what tomorrow and the next day will look like?  And the day or the year after that.

Or we’re asking ourselves if there’s even gonna be a "tomorrow".

My mom was a child of the Great Depression, so I’ve heard my share of stories about the hardships that time inflicted on people.  Real people.  Losing jobs.  Losing homes.   Going without.  Going hungry.  On the street, even.  Lives and families devastated.

And even if it didn’t deal a death blow to you and yours, it left scars.  Ones you carried through the rest of your life.  No one was immune from that.

I’ve spent a lot of time this past weekend wondering if we’re on the verge of repeating history.  I mean, we’re damn right on the line now, correct?  True dat.

I asked myself what is the one thing I can do–the most important thing in the moment–to help maintain the integrity of our country and our economy in this hour of need.  The answer came to me in the form of the timeless motto from the great British philosopher, the late Douglas Adams.

The answer is, simply, "Don’t Panic."

And while we’re at it, there are a few other "dos and don’ts" we might wanna consider:

  • DON’T think Democrat or Republican, or one ideology or another.  Let’s face it, that’s one of the things that got us into this mess.  We’ve spent so much energy–especially over the past eight years–focusing on why we’re different than the other guy, and why we’re right and he’s wrong, we’ve lost track of the most important thing we all have in common: we’re all people.  And we’re all Americans.  At this time, more than any other, we need to remember this above all because "United we stand; divided we fail" feels pretty palpable at the moment.
  • DO cut your representatives in Congress a little slack. They know they should probably vote in favor of the recovery bill before them right now, but they’re scared to death that they’ll lose the upcoming election because they did just that.  Guess what?  They know the recovery plan is as whack as we all think it is.  But they know–like we all should know (at least admit)–that to do nothing right now is to fiddle as Rome burns.  It’s the best bad solution we have.  Perhaps the only one.  And both freakin’ Presidential candidates support it.  What else is there to say?  Send them the message that it’s okay to act and, we’re not going to hold it against them next month.
  • DO vote.  Regardless of how we got into this mess, we need to stand up
    and exercise our right–our direct tangible avenue to voice how we
    believe the country can best work its way toward recovery.  It’s time to stand and deliver as Americans.  Let’s get all Nike on those voting booths next month.
  • DO look out for one another now.  Well, all the time.  But today, specifically, when the Golden Rule might just be the most potent and profitable fiscal strategy any and everyone can employ.  I have been self-employed and a business owner for going on five years now.  I’m no millionaire, but I am keeping a roof over my head and my hat in the ring.  And "paying it forward" and "helping other people succeed" and "charging what’s fair versus what I ‘could have charged’" have served my businesses well.  Both businesses–screenwriting and professional speaking–are growing.  It doesn’t matter whether or not nice guys "finish last"…they "finish".  Crossing the finish line is, after all, what matters.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch the movie RUNNING.  ‘Nuff said.
  • Don’t worry so much. We’re gonna be okay.  And one good thing about tough times is that they serve to remind us what’s truly important–and critical–in this life.  Turns out it’s a pretty short list.

As I sat down to write this, I looked to the guy who lead us out of the last big mess for a bit of wisdom.  These word from Franklin D. Roosevelt, which seemed merely "historical" before, feel downright pertinent today.

"When Andrew Jackson, ‘Old Hickory,’ died, someone asked, ‘Will he go
to Heaven?’ and the answer was, ‘He will if he wants to.’ If I am asked
whether the American people will pull themselves out of this depression, I answer, ‘They will if they want to.’"
  He goes on to say, "I
have no faith in ‘cure-alls’ but I believe that we can greatly
influence economic forces. I have no sympathy with the professional
economists who insist that things must run their course and that human
agencies can have no influence on economic ills. One reason is that I
happen to know that professional economists have changed their
definition of economic laws every five or ten years for a very long
time, but I do have faith, and retain faith, in the strength of common
purpose, and in the strength of unified action taken by the American
people."

We can walk this walk together, folks.  We can make it through the eye needle and be even better on the other side.  If we come together.  If we stand truly united.

If we don’t panic.

It might, in fact, be the one thing that saves us.

I ):-( Dream Bill

Dreambill
It’s early.  It’ll be a little while till Robbye wakes up.  Anyone that follows her blog knows she’s been a bit of an insomniac of late.  My snoring contributes to that, and I am trying to get that under control.  It’s a difficult fight to fight, much less win, as I’m lightyears away when it’s happening.

That’s not the only reason she’s having difficulty sleeping, though.

Life, with all its promise and possibility, is a tenuous affair.  The phrase “passing through the eye of the needle” makes its way out of our mouths with notable frequency.  When all is said and done, we will be great.  In fact, despite a few nuts and bolts that need tightening, everything is great now.

But it—life itself—is a stressor…on myriad levels and in numerous forms.  Hell, for my own part, living right now feels more like the storming the beach at Normandy scene in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN than anything else.  I’m relieved simply to exit the day intact.  Taking the bunker isn’t even a consideration.

I know that this life—for all its positives—has proven to be a rough road for my beloved.  Rougher than I think was expected.  Definitely more bumpy than she deserves.

Which, of course, makes me love her all the more.  I often tell people that Robbye is the bravest person I know because she stepped into all this—the somewhat psychotic tempest that frames my existence—and she did so without hesitation.  And she stays here.  The fact that this wonderful woman doesn’t run screaming from the house on any given day amazes me.  The fact that she’s still here and that she loves me as she does lays me low.  It awes me.

Because I know that the pressure cooker of our life leaves her feeling blistered and burned at times.  I know she worries.  I understand she has fears.

Of course, she talks about them.  That’s good.  But the bigger, deeper worries and fears come out another way.  In an altogether more insidious manner.

Enter my new nemesis: Dream Bill.

Sleep is a precious commodity right now.  I am trying work the mornings to give her all she can get.  Thank heavens Boy and the dogs have been cooperating lately.  That’s the difference sometimes between 2-3 hours of sleep and 5-6 for her.  Every hour counts.  Because she not only loves sleep (as is well documented), but she needs it.  And she deserves the rest.

When Robbye wakes up, she likes to share her dreams with me.  She has about he most vivid and exciting dream life of anyone I’ve met.  Since I’m a person that rarely dreams, it fascinates me (and tires me out a little) to recount the excitement that unfolds as she slumbers.  Usually it’s fun to listen.  It’s a lot like Cute Overload…on psychedelics.

Then there are the other times.  When he shows up, and the party’s over.

Dream Bill does all sorts of raunchy and terrible things.  He disappears.  He runs off, even.  He says bad things and does even worse ones.  He’s an ass of unspeakable magnitude.  And when Robbye awakens, Dream Bill haunts her.  Casts shadows over her thoughts and a shroud over our morning.

It’s not as difficult as it used to be.  In past days we’ve logged serious time helping her see that Dream Bill and Real-Live Bill are two very different guys.  That I would never do the things Dream Bill does.

As we move farther along in our relationship, she’s more trusting this as opposed to intellectualizing it.  We find ourselves laughing about it more often than not.

Yet, occasionally, Dream Bill does something so deplorable that Real-Live Bill needs to answer for it.  Like last night.

There are times when I wish Dream Bill would take his own heat.  That I wasn’t taken to task for his crappy faults just because we share the same face and name.  He makes his bed, but I gotta sleep in it.  Which used to make me a little grumpy.

I’m learning something about Dream Bill, though, that lately has me appreciating the guy..if only a little.

Dream Bill represents—of course—my beloved’s deeper fears.  You don’t live 30+ years without gathering up more than a few of those babies, right?  And the scars we carry are, I believe, the windows to said fears.  They speak to their presence and validity.

Hell, I got ‘em.  We all do.  I think it’s part of what makes us, you know, human.  They’re part of the journey, and I’ve come to think of them more as badges of honor than baggage.

I know talking about Dream Bill’s shenanigans provides her a venue to talk about her fears and address the scars in a tangible way.  And a way to meet the fears head-on.  I realize if Dream Bill didn’t exist, we might not ever get a chance to talk about them, and our relationship would suffer for it.

So…Dream Bill.  I don’t like you, man.  You are—to put it mildy—an absolute dick.

But thank you.  I don’t know whether you mean to do this or not, but thank you for the light you shed on our relationship.  Thank you for giving us an opportunity to talk out some very important and foundational issues, which is making our life together better and our bond even stronger.

And thank you, Baby.  For your courage and for walking beside me every day.

And for your love.

Re: “What else you got?”

My good friend, Seth Talley, sent me an email this morning suggesting that I take a peek at one of the threads on Wordplay and chime in.  Thought it might be good to also post my response here, too.  Since, you know…this blog has at least something to do with…ummm…writing.

– – – – –

First off, thanks to Seth for the props in this thread. He asked me to poke my head in here, so…

Yes…yes…I, apparently, was one of the chosen few. My first script sold. Meaning the first screenplay I’d ever written.

Yes, it felt great. Still does, in fact. I got great reviews,
screened at most of the A-list festivals, and won a national award.

And you know what? That was three years ago. My career is
moving forward (FINALLY!), but I suffered greatly from "What else you
got?" ‘Cause my answer was "nuthin’."

It’s taken me quite awhile to recover from my own initial (and
humble) success. It has been both a blessing and a curse. I struggle to
get work, and I struggle to get and then keep and then get an agent. At
this time, in fact, I am without one.

Someone in this thread said something along the lines of
(pardon my paraphrase) "First time scripts sell on premise as opposed
to execution." I think this concept is profound and largely true. I
think my first script was pretty good, but I look back now on the
version that was sold and I go "oy!" The producers obviously saw
something, but I believe that what they saw were more the raw materials
that could be shaped. And, quite frankly, I think the fact that the
production company could shoot my script for a smallish budget had as
much to do with them buying it as anything.

Thank God I became friends with the head of the production
company. Thank God he graciously let me stay on and do my own rewrites.
That, my friends, is where I started to realize just how much I DIDN’T
know about screenwriting. Every day I was wringing my hands and
gnashing my teeth because trying to keep up with these folks who had
made a helluva lot more movies than me (read: any) was one of the most
difficult and exhausting experiences of my life. I am proud of the work
I did and proud of the contributions I made to the movie, but I felt so
unprepared. So behind the eight-ball all the time. I suppose I would
have felt some of that no matter what, but it was amplified to the nth
degree because I was such a newbie–even more accurately, like a
"nobie".

I look back, and I sometimes wish my path would have looked
more like Larry Kasdan’s. He kept the day job and wrote five or so
scripts. By the fifth one, he *felt* ready. Then he moved.

My path, however, is my own. I have no regrets and, in spite of
the underlying tone of this post, I know that I am one lucky
motherf*cker.

My point, however, is this–if writing to sell is your primary
reason for writing a screenplay, stop and rethink. For one thing,
writing for money (i.e., to get rich) is an oxymoron. For the
other–and this simply echoes sentiments already well-expressed
here–writing isn’t about selling something in the first place. It’s
about your passion. Your calling. All of the best writers I know would
write even if they could never make money at it. It’s nice that some of
then do, though, because it’s nice to put bread on the table, too.
That’s reality.

It’s been eight years since I told myself I wanted to be a
screenwriter. Three years since the release of RUNAWAY. During this
time, I have gotten paid a smattering on various assignments. Not
enough, however, to fully sustain me. It’s been a difficult road. Far
more difficult than I’d imagined and far, far more difficult than
*before* I sold my first script.

I’ve written five more scripts in the past three years. FINALLY
I am feeling what Larry Kasdan felt. Ready. Educated. Versed (at least
at a base professional level) in the craft. Happy that the sixth draft
of my latest script (versus my 11th of RUNAWAY) is getting great play
in Hollywood and has that high-pro glow.

Oh yeah…and by the way? Eight years is ahead of the curve in this business.

As my amazing and wonderful wife would say, "Calm the hell
down." Don’t be in such a hurry. This is a journey. A long and arduous
one. It’s not for the feint of heart. If you’re standing at the
starting line and already grousing, there’s something wrong. And it
ain’t the process.

Hopefully I don’t sound too offensive here when I serve up a
little tough love–screw your head on straight. I gotta tell you,
reading the original post left me with a familiar feeling–one that
I’ve had a number of times as I’ve traveled around the country talking
to would-be screenwriters and listening to some of them complain like
that. It’s the feeling of, "Oh…I guess that person’s not going
anywhere."

My grandpa used to tell me, "Keep your ass up and your beak
down." Keep working and embrace the struggle. Because the struggle’s
not going anywhere. It’s part of the process. Part and parcel with it.

You’ve written a screenplay…congrats! Now be a writer. Do it again. And keep doing it. Every day. And maybe…one day…

All the best to you…Bill

Bill’s Interview w/Box Office Magazine on Breaking in as a Screenwriter