Celebrate TRUE LIFE

IMG_1486My awesome wife.

For the past I-can’t-remember-how-many weeks now, my wife’s and my prevailing description for life has been “weird.” At times, we’ve worried calling our life at the moment that would manifest even more weirdness, but we couldn’t help it. Because “weird” is just plain the most apropos word.

Yet, not weird as in “bad.” Just strange. Odd.

The biggest factor in all this has been that my professional life recently has been a study in waiting. And patience. I’ve pretty much clammed up about the happenings in my writing life because a.) nothing’s officially “happened,” and b.) it’s all stuff that people involved really don’t want me talking about until, you know…something “happens.” Yet, there are some really cool things that are right at the finish line, just waiting for someone to say “Yes.” To give the nod to cross the line.

For those of you who know me, “waiting” and “patience” are not strong suits for me. I have, however, done my level best to rise to the occasion. And. Do. Nothing. Allow the process to unfold without mucking around in it. Well…mostly. I’ve mucked a couple of times, but I’m learning to pick my battles better.

Okay…what does all this have to do with my awesome wife and the bottle of sparkling wine in the picture?

Anyone who’s ventured onto the “entertainment industry as career” path knows that it’s a marathon. There are false starts. Setbacks. And mostly being “in the business” feels like nothing happens and nothing happens and nothing happens until…something happens. I’ve told people for years that despair has got to be the number one reason why people quit the business. It’s hard to stay positive a lot of the time, and unless you’re complete bonkers, pretty much every day you’re asking yourself, “Do I keep going? Can I keep going?” You get frustrated. You get tired. Well…I guess I can only speak for me.  I certainly do.

And after running so long on this marathon path, it’s difficult to gauge whether or not you’re “winning” anymore.

That’s been the weirdness for me lately. I just didn’t know.

The further weird thing is that, if you ask the people around me, they would all cry out in unison, “Hell, yes! You’re winning!” My manger, producers with whom I’m working, friends, people I talk to on the street. They all tell me, “You’re right there, buddy!”

Logically, I know they’re right. I’m in a good space. I’m having a good Hollywood moment that seems like it’s gonna translate into propelling my career to the next big level. I see it, and I am grateful for everyone that has helped me get here. And everything that has happened to put me in this space.

But I wasn’t feeling it. In fact, the “weirdness” was really getting to me. Dragging me down. And it’s odd…I’ve thought more about quitting in the past couple of months than I have in a long time. My friend, Karl, keeps telling me that every other pal of his who’s “made it” has said the exact same thing to him right before they rocketed into the stratosphere. That’s helped. But all I can do is pray he’s right about me. That, in this case, I’m not the exception. Because right now I certainly don’t feel like part of the rule. Ack!

And then…enter my awesome wife.

We’ve made this pact. Don’t over-celebrate. On this path, you can easily do that. There are a lot of little wins along the way that are cool, but they aren’t really real. No one’s written you a check yet, and nothing’s gone into production. They’re hopeful moments…and represent potential and opportunity and forward movement. But they’re not the finish line. One can get caught up, though, in making too much of these incremental steps and start to mistake them for the finish line. That’s the danger of over-celebrating. It can give you a false sense of security, and it can stall you. So we tend to acknowledge hopeful moments but keep our excitement in check…and I keep my ass up and my beak down and keep moving forward.

But, of course, we keep a couple of bottles of sparkling wine in the fridge just in case. For that moment when the call comes in.

When my beloved got in the door from work last night, however, she made an announcement: “We’re gonna open one of our bottles of champagne.”

“Why? Nothing’s happened.”

“That’s not true,” she said as she grabbed the bubbly and started opening it. “I was driving home tonight and thinking about all of this ‘weirdness.’ I think a lot of it is there because we’re not acknowledging what has already happened. Look at where you are, Bill. Look at what you’re doing. Look at what’s happening. You’ve done it. You’ve won, and all that’s left is the living into it.”

She got out two champagne flutes and poured. Then she handed me a glass…and raised her own.

“And tonight I want to toast my amazing husband and all of his success.”

After a speechless moment, I was finally able to raise me own glass.

“Our success.”

“Yes,” she agreed. “Our success.” Then she smiled. “Because you can’t do it without me.”

I smiled back. “I know. Nor would I ever want to.”

Then we toasted. And celebrated.

It taught us something. You can’t always wait to celebrate only at the end. Sometimes you have to celebrate the process. And the progress. Not all the time, but sometimes.

To remind yourself. Not your head. To remind your heart.

Life is good.

And it really is the journey that matters. And a great journey is, itself, cause for celebration.

After last night, the weirdness is all gone. We went for a walk this morning in the beautiful sunshine, and all we felt was free. And ready to take on anything.

Here’s to whatever comes next. Cheers!

Is a reason

Music is such an important part of writing for me. I use it for inspiration. I use it to help find emotional tone. I use it to help set rhythm and pace. And it’s my constant companion as I bang away on my keyboard.

There’s a moment at the beginning of each new script when I know I’ve “found it.” No…that’s not quite it. When I find my way in–inside the story. 100% of the time, it’s when I find the song that represents the story/script/final product for me. When the song plays, I can see the story/script/final product unfold before my eyes. And even better, I can feel it’s unfolding. And I can finally reach into each character’s heart and feel the pulsing of their heartbeat.

The latest came to me yesterday driving in my car (#1 top place for this to happen in my writing life, btw). This one was funny…usually, I have to search for the song. But this gem was hiding right out in plain sight on my iPhone playlist. When it hit me, I seriously had to just pull over and listen a few times before my vision cleared, and I could see well enough to continue on my way.

Let me be Pan

Any writer will tell you the stuff that comes off their fingertips is an extension of themselves. I’m no different than anyone else in this regard.

Sometimes, though, the connection between the words and the writer’s core takes on a supercharge and runs with scissors through said writer’s soul.  The following passage, from the script I wrote for the original stage/multi-media production, HE WHO GETS SLAPPED, was like that for me. So much of what I write is gone as soon as it hits the page. Released. But this passage sticks with me. Haunts me, even.

307425_217342001742923_1654308793_nI suppose the underlying idea and feeling aren’t done with me yet. In fact, the whole reason this blog post exists is because they creeped back in today as I was contemplating a new TV series/pilot I’m developing with the MESSAGES guys.  Well, “creeped in” isn’t quite accurate. There I was, minding my own business and trying to figure out the A plot for the pilot episode, when I was startled by a decisive knock.

So…”creeped in” isn’t quite accurate at all.

Alright…come on back in and make yourself at home.  I guess we got some more business, you and me.

Excerpt from HE WHO GETS SLAPPED script:

The MAN stands at the edge of the circus set, watching the ACTOR stew in his misery.

MAN: I remember, when I was a child, my mother telling me that I could not attend a party for my best friend. I no longer remember the details. Why and whatnot. Memory is like that…

The ACTOR rises and slowly exits through the upstage curtain. At this time (and through the rest of the MAN’s speech) the screen shows a sepia-toned montage of the ACTOR and STARLET as Hook and Wendy from their Peter Pan days…rehearsing lines, falling in love. The MAN watches the montage unfold as he speaks.

MAN: Mostly cloudy. I didn’t throw a tantrum. But I buckled over, wracked with despair. My mother demanded to know what was wrong, and all I managed to get out were these words…it will never come again. A childish reaction, perhaps, but who is more in touch with the unvarnished realities in life than those whose senses are not yet dimmed by the gathering haze?  It would never come again, and the knowledge, the brutal clarity of it, was simply too honest to bear. For in that moment was carried the most profound realization to my young soul–that each moment we live, from our first breath to our last, will only be once. And upon each step we make, the one before it is lost forever.  Is it any wonder we all should not be so affected? Memory is malleable. We can mold it to our heart’s desire. Truth is cruel, and it mocks us as it slices through our souls.

On the screen, the ACTOR and STARLET kiss. The MAN can’t bear to watch it. He moves to the wall, touches the hash marks. He talks to the PROJECTOR as, on the screen, the ACTOR and STARLET snuggle…content.

MAN: Have you invited all these people here to settle a question? Is this memory? Or is it truth? Please…let it be memory. For in the fog, rather than being the Hook, and meet my bloody demise, let me be Pan, and freeze time and preserve the moment…when we loved each other last, before it was lost forever…never to come again.

The MAN falls to his knees, anguished, as the film returns to the screen.

© Please do not reprint or distribute without prior permission. All rights reserved.

Photo: the amazing Jim Coates as “Man” in HE WHO GETS SLAPPED. If you need an actor, hire him. If you need a teacher in the Alexander method, hire him. A great actor and friend. http://www.actsup.com

Diamonds are a blog’s best friend

This little orphan of a blog turns 10 years old this year.

We’ve been through a lot together, TRUE LIFE and me. Life and death (literally).  Ups and downs. And more downs. And finally ups. Re-birth and re-re-birth.

Betrayal and forgiveness.

The betrayal is perennially courtesy of me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve abandon TRUE LIFE. And yet, this little blog always seems to forgive me. Always welcomes me back.

I’ve beat myself up over this plenty over the years. I mean, come on! Why wouldn’t I? I am, after all, a freakin’ champ in the guilt Olympics. I can find a reason to feel bad about something I’ve done with mind-boggling ease whether it’s warranted  or not. And I’ve spent more hours than I care to admit feeling terrible about how I’ve treated TRUE LIFE.

And because I am also a gold medal-level performer in avoidance behavior, my subsequent reaction is pure poetry: I simply pretend the blog isn’t there.

Of course, avoidance doesn’t work. Not forever. Slowly, but surely, I am learning that in life. When I avoid things, they don’t really go away like I wish they would. Most of the time, they fester and get much, much worse. And bigger. Then they come back and bite me right on the ass. I’ve lost so many pounds of flesh over the years that it’s a wonder I don’t need a prosthetic ass.

Okay…TMI. You didn’t need that visual. Sorry. Besides, this isn’t about my ass, anyway. And it’s not a pity party.

It is, in fact, a celebration.

Because it only took me 10 years to figure out why this little blog exists. Not bad, eh?

It’s about the learning.

Turns out my brother, Action Jackson, is one clever mo-fo. He’s the one who deserves credit for tricking me into embarking on this clandestine voyage of self-discovery in the first place. And just how did he trick me? The sneaky S.O.B. hid the lesson precisely where he knew it would be most difficult for me to see–right out in the open.

“This’ll be a really great writing exercise,” he said with all his murky clarity. “It’s gonna help you find your authentic voice.”

Huh? It’s…going…to..?

FLASH FOWARD TEN YEARS (Well, nine years and one and one-quarter months, but who’s counting?).

OoooOOOOoOOOOoooohhhhhh.

I always thought running away from TRUE LIFE, coming back to it in fits and starts, changing its poor little name, and ultimately abandoning it was a problem. Now I see that could not be further from the truth. It was all part of the learning. This whole thing–the entire blogging experience–has been an…exercise.

My fav part of one of my fav movies, THE COMMITMENTS, is when Jimmy Rabbitte and Joey “The Lips” Fagan see each other for the last time. It’s the middle of the night, and Jimmy’s walking home, dejected. Wilson Pickett didn’t show up for their show like Joey promised, and the band just imploded. When Joey buzzes up on his scooter, Jimmy lets him have it. To which Joey responds in all his cool, hip and Buddha-like wisdom:

Joey: Look, I know you’re hurtin’ now, but in time you’ll realize what you’ve achieved. 

Jimmy: I’ve achieved nothing! 

Joey: You’re missin’ the point. The success of the band was irrelevant – you raised their expectations of life, you lifted their horizons. Sure we could have been famous and made albums and stuff, but that would have been predictable. This way it’s poetry.

I got wrapped up in TRUE LIFE kinda the same way Jimmy got wrapped up in the band. What I thought I was ultimately gonna get out of the experience, namely, (don’t laugh) recognition and fame was soooooo off the mark. But I also wasn’t wrong to dive into the blog with that expectation because there was no right or wrong in the equation. There was only the experience and how it formed me. As a writer. As a person.

There was only the real poetry of TRUE LIFE, and in the end I cannot put a value on its contribution to raising my expectations in my own life, nor on how it helped to lift my own horizons. How it helped me to temper my expectations.  How it helped me to realize audiences come and go and come back again. How it helped me feel not so desperate all the time. How it helped me to modulate my message without sacrificing my voice. How it helped me learn it’s okay to figure things out along the way, even if you’re doing it in public where it feels like one of those dreams where you show up at school or work or on stage buck naked and you worry you’ve made a first class fool/ass of yourself. How it’s okay even if that happens because you live to see another day, anyway.  How there truly is no failure if you’re honestly learning a lesson in the process. How it helped me understand why I write in the first place.

I am not satisfied with where I am as a writer (and I hope I never am), but I am today a working writer in no small part because of TRUE LIFE…and, of course, that tricksy Action Jackson.

So…dear TRUE LIFE…thank you. Thank you for being there for me. Thank for loving me enough to (paraphrasing the most excellent Jason Mraz here) allow me to do some navigating and waiting patiently to see what I’d find.

I found it, thanks to you.

Now…some of you are looking up at the blog banner (look up…yeah, that one) and scratching your heads. A few of you might be smiling in recognition. To those of you smiling…yes, that’s a resurrection of the original TRUE LIFE blog banner from 2003. To the rest of you, feel free to dig back into the TRUE LIFE archives to figure out what the hell that strange tag line is all about. Hint: look early (2003-2004) and look for references to Wil Wheaton. You’ll eventually get it.

I plan on keeping this banner for awhile, and I plan on hanging around my TRUE LIFE again. After all, there are more exercises. More lessons to learn. And more tricks up Action Jackson’s sleeve…I’m sure of it.

Here’s to TRUE LIFE! And here’s to you. Happy New Year, TRUE LIFERS!

Cheers!

POTA-nova: Caesar is home

Those of you who know me personally know one immutable fact: I am a PLANET OF THE APES (POTA for those in the know) fanatic.  The 1968 original officially ranks as my favorite movie of all time, and I am even willing to sit through all four sequels and not cringe…and, in fact, enjoy the experience.

Or…let me put it this way for folks who are a little younger than I.  STAR WARS is STAR WARS, but POTA is my STAR WARS.  Get it?

I love my apes.

I’ve been amazed at how many people have emailed me over the weekend, wondering what I thought about the new RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES movie.  It’s like when you get dumped or everyone finds out you have an incurable disease.  Everyone sends their empathy and healing vibes…  “What did you think of the movie?  Hope you’re okay.  Love and simians!  [insert xxoo’s or appropriate emoticon here].”

Of course, they all know that I am still not quite recovered from that one thing that happened 10 years ago.  No, not the thing in September.  The other thing.  The July thing.  The re-UNimagining, as I called it as my friend, Mike, and I drowned our disappointment in too many Taco Bell chalupas after wasting two perfectly good hours of our lives exposed to the piece of-  Wait.  I am gonna stop right there.  The pain.  Still there.  Still deep.

When I heard they were making another APES movie, I was angry.  Really.  I know.  Seems dumb, but I was.  People checked in then, too.  Poking around, on eggshells, like they were waiting to hear some diagnosis: benign or malignant?  At that point, I didn’t know.  I only knew I was angry for having to go through the process of finding out sooner or later.

In other words, I was going to have to watch the damned movie when it came out.

As the day drew nearer, I made plans to see it with my family.  Thought I’d make a spectacle of it.  Wear my Caesar the chimp as Che Guevara T-shirt and everything.  Make it a Rocky Horror-worthy experience, ready to ridicule and heckle in equal and liberal measure.

When the day came, though, I couldn’t do that.  That didn’t feel right.  It felt…disrespectful, I guess.  More, it felt like it feels when you’re meeting an old flame for coffee years after a bad break up.  Nervous.  But curious.  Wanting to make a good impression for some reason.  And nostalgic.  And wanting to remember the good things…find some meaning and end things–at long last–on a good note.

So I didn’t see the movie with my tribe.  At 9 AM on Friday morning (yes…there was a 9:15 showing.  Cuh-razy), I forgot my morning coffee time (and my work) and headed over to the local cinema to reunite with my oldest of loves.

And what was it like?

Awkward, at first.  But as I settled into my seat and the movie began, a sense of calm, and then familiarity, and then happiness settled over me.

There are a lot of not-so-great things I could say about the movie.  There is a list in my head of everything that was wrong with the thing.  And it’s not short list.  Its biggest offense is that the storytelling is kludgy.  There are altogether too many moving parts, and the script does an amateurish job of making them function in the same machine.  The engine runs, but it knocks…and it sputters at times.  And blows black smoke out of the tailpipe.  You get the drift.  End cliches here.

But…

The sweet love that Andy Serkis and the WETA SFX folks make to create Ceasar makes it all worth it.

More, what the movie lacks in technical merit, it makes up for in heart.  For all its problems, the movie’s heart shows through, and that, too, makes it all worth it.

The movie has stuck with me in a very good way since last Friday.  And I know I want to see it again.  That’s a good thing.  I find myself pensive about it…contemplative.  That’s a good thing, too.

Mostly, I find myself remembering back to when my friend Mike and I were 10 years old.  That was the year we spent the entire 4th grade year–all of the long school bus rides, all of our sleepovers–planning how we were going to run away and steal a baby chimp from the Como Park Zoo.  We were going to live on our own in downtown Minneapolis and raise the chimp ourselves…and teach it to talk.

We were, to paraphrase Ceasar from CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, going to give our own rise to the birth of the planet of the apes.  Because more than anything, I suppose, we wanted it to be true.  I still don’t know why.  Taylor from the original ’68 movie would probably say even then we sensed that there must be something better than man out there.  I think we were just bored.  And more curious than a couple of shit-kickin’ hayseed kids from the boondocks had a right to be.

The best thing about RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is it brought that memory back to me.  It let me live in that fantasy again…if only for a little while.  Because Mike’s and my dream was the real legacy of POTA, anyway.  To unlock the audience’s imagination and get them to look at the world from a slightly different point of view.  It accomplished that in spades for the likes of Mike and me.

I mean, that’s what a good movie’s suppose to do, right?  Open a door into another world where we can escape.  Where our lives and minds are expanded, or we are at least afforded a measure of comfort.  Both, if the movie’s firing on all cylinders.  For this movie watcher, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES did all that.  I guess that makes it a good movie.

I don’t know if we’ve made the difference we were meant to yet, Mike and I.  If our living into this present is doing much to save humanity (which is the implicit message, right?  Save humanity from itself!).  But I think about a Mike and Bill in a parallel universe without POTA, and I am certain those guys don’t fare half as well as we have in this one.  And there’s still hope.  For Mike and me…as well as for the whole world.  And if not, POTA assures us that re-birth and evolution–even the simian kind–is okay, too.

So…simply…I loved the movie.  In spite of its quirks and hitches, it’s a thing of beauty.  And Andy Serkis deserves a freakin’ Oscar this time.

Long live, Ceasar!

P.S.  Ooo!  Ooo!  Yah, yah!

Pop Art Makes for the Best Snuggie

In a January 16, 1957 letter, Richard Hamilton, creator of what is universally regarded as the first piece of “pop art” (Just What is It that Makes Today’s Homes so Different, so Appealing?, 1956), concluded with, “I find I am not yet sure about the ‘sincerity’ of Pop Art.”  If the father of pop art was having a difficult time buying the genre’s legitimacy, it’s easy to see how others in the art work could and did question it.

Yet, pop art not only survived, it’s become a metaphor for our collective consciousness in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries.  Why?  Paraphrasing from H. de la Croix and R Tensey’s book, Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, Wikipedia states, “The concept of pop art refers not as much to the art itself as to the attitudes that led to it.”   The overriding attitudes leading to pop art were the rise of existentialism and relativism–our certainty that there is no longer any certainty, except that we are all kicked off this mortal coil at some point.

Any legitimacy the genre has garnered, therefore, is not from experts, but from a dazed populace whom I believe, took some comfort in a form that at least celebrated the absurdity this clash between our programming (there is an absolutely truth “out there”) and our revelation (all that stuff about there being an absolute truth is bullshit).  To this end, I submit that pop art doesn’t challenge the beholder, so much as it validates their response in the face of this schizophrenic clash of ideas.

Consider Hamilton’s Appealing.  A young and buff adonis stands almost self-consciously in the middle of his pad, a hodge-podge of all the modern trappings of life…including a stripper in tassels and a lamp shade, waiting to party.  The Tootsie Pop he holds becomes a bloated phallus about to explode, and the promise of “Young Romance” on his wall overpowers the shameful glare of the unidentified Victorian man in the painting beside it.  The whole is no more than the sum of its parts…it simply says, “Yes…you feel ridiculous in this life, and that’s okay.”  What makes homes today so different and so appealing?  Now one can laugh at the whole thing–life and convention and decency–right in the face and simply enjoy oneself…because enjoying the ride’s all you got left.