Like everyone else who believes their doctors and not what they read on the internet, I’m still more-or-less hunkered down at home, servicing my remaining freelance clients remotely and trying, in between bouts of incredulity and despair, to remain positive enough to make constructive use of this time.
I don’t always succeed. I’m just saying I’m trying.
The Fall is the season when a lot of writing contests start making their announcements. A few weeks ago I updated to the screenwriting page here a mention that both of the scripts (a comedy feature and a sitcom pilot) I submitted to the Page International Screenwriting Contest made it to the Quarter-Finals, which I consider a “win” given how big a contest that is. Likewise, this week I was notified that the script I submitted (a sitcom pilot) to the Austin Film Fest & Screenwriting competition made it to “Second-Rounder” status, which is pretty much their equivalent of a quarter-final berth. This also keeps my streak alive in that every script I’ve ever submitted to Austin has at least made it that far. I think I’ve had six or seven “second-rounders.”
It is a small bit of personal good news in the vast ocean of bad news that we’re all living through. It would feel pretty stupid to try to make a big deal out of any of it while 200,000+ Americans have died (so far) from a deadly pandemic and many more are bound to follow. It is hard to justify sitting down and typing and trying to be “funny” for hours a day while the world is both literally and figuratively on fire. The words I manage to generate mostly seem lifeless, sub-par, and frivolous, like worrying about any kind of “creative output” is equal parts foolish and selfish. Every writer and “creative” friend I know is going through the same thing right now.
Having the time (and money) to sit and type is, admittedly, in a lot of ways a luxury and privilege… but it is also an earned privilege. Earned how? Earned by thousands of hours of writing for free, and working and performing for free, all in an effort to learn and get better. Earned by driving the same car for 20 years which, in Los Angeles, is probably considered a misdemeanor at least. Earned by helping every friend who has ever requested a “read” or some other help without hesitation or expectation.
It is also how I cope with my own feelings of anxiety and fear, and the things I don’t normally post about here on my little “hey, look at me!” website. The crisis we’re living through, and have been living through for the past four years has changed us all, and it will change the nature of our work. I hope we can all get to a point where we can look back on this chaos and carnage from a safe future vantage point. When we start to process it all, I’m sure new artistic movements will arise, the same way my beloved Dada-ists arose after the unspeakable horrors of World War One. In my darker moments though, I’m not sure how or when or even if we’ll get to that future point of safety. But I’m hoping we all do.
Stay Safe. Stay Hopeful.
From one Summer to the next. Nearly a year has passed since my last post. Even though returning visitors will notice that a lot has changed on the rest of my website here and I’ve definitely been busy, there just hasn’t been anything worth writing about when compared to the current state of the world.
As I type this on an evening where there are still curfews in several American cities and a pandemic is still claiming the lives of far too many people every day, I realize there isn’t much I can add to the discussion of a still-unfolding national horror show that even The Simpsons predicted 20 years ago. All this bad news and chaos has, more than anything else could have, really put a spotlight on the inequities in our current system and it has stripped away whatever thin veneer people were still using to pretend they were doing OK. Now the truth is out. People everywhere are struggling, and have been for a long, long time. That kind of insecurity breeds fear and clears the stage for enterprising sociopaths to set the fires of Hate burning. The current inferno we’re neck-deep in was as predictable as it is heartbreaking. The hope I’m clinging to is that this will be a real turning point in America. The times are extraordinary and the stakes, at least in my lifetime, have never been higher. …and I honestly don’t know at this point if the good guys will win or not, but it can’t stop any of us from trying. When this veil of horror is finally lifted, we better be ready with some new perspectives.
Be safe everyone. Do whatever it takes to remain hopeful. Take care of each other, and keep working.
As I continue to take my guitar and my protest song around town (and the state) I have been deep in what I’m calling my “First Drafts Summer.”
I don’t know about your writing process, but I very often get mired in the ‘notes’ stage where I keep gathering more and more information and ideas, then stashing them in too many different spots: a Scrivener file, in various folders on one of my three computers, in the ‘Google Keep’ app of more than one email address, in the ‘EverNote’ app on my phone, on scraps of paper scattered around my home… you get the idea. So many notes in so many places (all for the same project) that just organizing those is a process all by itself. A classic example: I have discovered I have 120,000 words of ‘notes’ for a novel that, when completed would probably only be about 80,000 words.
To that end, I spent a good part of the spring organizing notes & info on several projects and have spent most of this summer launching re-writes and “official” first drafts. So far I have managed to finish one new half-hour spec pilot that has needed a page one rewrite for at least 2 years, I have started drafting a long-delayed short film script and, finally and at long last, an official ‘1st draft’ of that novel with the 120k-worth of notes.
Stay at the keyboard, everyone.
…well, probably not this kind.
The year is almost over. It was a long & tricky one for nearly everyone I know. My year certainly didn’t go according to anything even vaguely resembling a “plan.”
Like a lot of (American) people, I’ve been troubled by our current political situation. The constant stream of bad news and shady “leadership” has made it difficult to be “creative.” When Democracy itself is hanging in the balance, it is tough to free the mind, climb to that creative place and try to be “funny” or “dramatic” or anything else. The news has been that bad, and constant. Like everyone else, this time around I felt like just voting, signing online petitions and posting angry tweets wasn’t going to be nearly enough to make a difference and, equally important: make me feel like I was doing all I could to effect change.
So what do you do? A couple of things:
- If you’re an old punk rocker and wannabe Billy Bragg -esque troubadour, you plug your guitar back in and take your outrage to the people. For the first time in about 15 years.
- If you’re a professional writer, you offer your services, for free, to anyone who is running against the current administration and needs your skills.
I spent the past year doing both.
This former punk rocker started playing his guitar in front of audiences again (for the first time in probably a decade and a half,) because I am once again feeling the need to be active and have my say in the world. So I wrote an anti-trump song and loaded it with all the humor and bile I could. Then I posted it on youtube under the slightly assumed name of “Tom Patrick” (two death threats so far) and started playing anywhere that would have me. It was weird playing guitar in front of people again – and without having a ‘band’ to hide behind either. Since anger doesn’t really sell all by itself, the song is a Bob Dylan-y “talking blues” that saved me from the embarrassment of trying (and likely failing) to sing on-key, and it gave me the room to vamp, improvise and connect with the audience. I’ve done a million improv comedy shows, I’ve done stand-up, I’ve done theater… but nothing makes a person (me anyway) feel more exposed, exhilarated and terrified than making noise with guitars in public. Adding music is always a good way to connect with an audience in a way that is different from stand-up or ‘essay reading’ etc. Music carries an energy all its own that people can tune in to… even a simple, “borrowed” G-C-D chord progression helps to carry your message.
I also mentioned that I spent the year volunteering my writing skills. It took some doing, but I got connected with the Dems on a National level and through that connection spent most of the past year helping Blue candidates for state offices in very Red states with their websites, “meet the candidate” videos and even a few stump speeches. I had done some of this kind of thing back in Boston, but that was a long time ago. Working with candidates was actually very exciting and I learned a lot in the process. I wouldn’t run for office myself in a million years, but I now know I am an effective political/media writer.
Of course, doing all this writing work and these shows for free means it was a challenging year cash-wise, but really, for a “creative” what year isn’t challenging? Doing the right thing is always worth it. I slept better knowing that I was doing all I could and using whatever skills I possess to get involved and try to do my best for the country.
…and sometimes, amazingly fun stuff happens. Like the show on November 3rd, just a few days before the election. Sometimes you arrive at a gig assuming you’ll just be playing guitar in a half-empty 60 seat theater with a funny ol’ tuba player, but when you get there you find it is a sold-out 60 seat theater AND you’re told that another guy will be sitting in and playing your song too. No big deal, just Laurence Juber – lead guitarist in Paul McCartney’s band, and former lead guitarist in Wings. That’s all. That is a pretty intense and intimidating situation for an old 1-4-5 punk rocker who hasn’t played any chords in public for a decade and a half, but Mr. Juber could not have been nicer and kinder. Obviously, he is used to playing with lefties. lol. If you want to see how that particular show went, click here.
Changes are coming in 2019. Hopefully that will be good news for America.
After a fun and successful (and sold out!) run in the Hollywood Fringe Festival, it was a bit of icing on the cake for Airplane LIVE to be nominated in the “Best Comedy” category. We didn’t win, but Top 5 out of well over 300 shows is still pretty good and a tribute to Chrisi’s great, original script and an outstanding cast that was a joy to direct.