Posting our card for those who have not seen it this year. Wishing all our friends and family a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
I love Xmas break. I spent my early hours this morning reinventing what prisons should look like in the future, and over breakfast I invented a coding environment and programming language.
How’s your morning going?
He’s in his room just now, playing some game with his friends. It’s the weekend, and they are having fun, blowing off steam. They alternate between fiercely competing against each other, and just as fiercely defending each other, switching between the two extremes according to some arcane teenaged methodology that I cannot come close to fathoming. All I know is it works for them and so we let them at it. It is after all, the weekend.
During the week, however, we’re all business. The school he attends is hard. They pride themselves on the number of kids they send to Berkley, so its an “all hand on deck, everyone mans a gun” work load. I have some quibbles with this approach, but it also gets results. His writing has rapidly improving, the stuff they discuss in class is top notch. If it wasn’t for the pitiful peach-fuzz on his face, and his complete inability to do anything for himself, you’d swear he was in college.
As parents we spend our time alternating between being happy cheerleaders and cruel taskmasters. “Great job on your paper, son,” we say. “Can you think of something more to add?” we say. “Did you finish all your homework?” we say. That last one is on heavy rotation on our house. I must say it fives times a week. Usually at the same time I tell him its time to go to bed. Finishing all of his homework is a thing.
But there are some things I say even more, and with more fervor. One of these is, “Did you remember to save?” Since I work exclusively on computers, I have a lot of horror stories associated with not saving files. Believe me, I could go on for hours on the topic, and have. Unsaved files are the bane of my existence, and thus I cannot abide it when my son does the same. Every time I walk into his room and see his five nicely written paragraphs of homework, something he has slaved over for the past two hours, and see that the title of the document is “Untitled 1” I want to fly into a rage.
Of course a rage does not work with him, anger just shuts him down, so I have to try and be calm about it. So I end up saying the same stupid words over and over, “Dude, you need to save your files.” He hears the words, but he doesn’t listen. That being the prerogative of teenagers everywhere, for all time.
And sure enough, this Friday on a single essay test that was worth a healthy portion of his grade for three different classes, he decided type madly for 40 minutes before attempting to save. This in spite of constant and fervent admonishments on our part, and some strong language from his teachers that very morning. By now you can probably guess where this is going; sure enough the program crashed, and he lost all of that hard work.
To his credit he didn’t cry or whine. He started up the program again, and started typing furiously. This is how I know some of the things we teach him are sticking; he got right back on the saddle. But he didn’t think to raise his hand and let them know he had a technical issue, and its doubtful the school would have done anything anyway. Their pretty fierce at this school. They expect the kids to listen to reasonable demands, and they don’t have a problem punishing stupidity.
So while he’s playing in the other room I very much want to fold him in my arms and tell him everything is going to be okay. But we have also taught him to be honest about the world and his chances, both good and bad–fortunately that lesson has stuck–so he knows everything is not going to be okay. He’s going to have to live with the consequences of his actions, and so will we.
But now there is something I can no longer say to him. Never again will I mention file saving. Oh sure it would feel righteous to say, “I told you so,” but since when has that helped anyone? It would only cause him more pain, and frankly it’s unnecessary. If fucking up his grade for three classes isn’t sufficient to change his behavior, then there is nothing I can do.
So I love him, and I listen to him play, and I say nothing. And that my friends is a kind of headache that is almost too sweet to bear.
I just finished up a story called The Clever Girl. I’m really happy with it as it represents a huge step forward in terms of my writing process. I wrote the story and finished it. Then working with my writing partner completely rewrote the story, going from 8k words to over 18k in the process.
For the past year and a half I’ve been deconstructing my writing process, really trying to find ways to envision my work better. It’s been a long struggle, and quite a bit of the past year has been grim in terms of how I felt about my work. But all the hard work I believe is starting to pay off. I have a new found respect for the “work” or writing, and I find I am no longer trying to just rush through a story. Instead I am actively looking for ways to make it better and better.
It is exciting, and yet far lest hectic. Less happy teenager and more happy adult. Anyway, we’ll see what Amy says. Fingers crossed.
I had the most wonderful of experiences the other night, of all things while coming home from work. It really is a fun story, but to tell you about it I need to explain a few things for those who do not live in Los Angeles. Please bear with me as I set up the story.
For starters, the first thing you need to understand about LA is that we love our stories. Between the film industry, the television industry, the gaming industry, the music industry, and even our growing fine arts industry (because it is an industry) there are hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people living in LA who create the stories we use to entertain ourselves. We all work to make the stories you like to read/see/play/buy. Just to give you an idea of the reach of these various entertainment industries, consider the block where we live. Its a solid middle to upper middle class neighborhood in the middle of the valley. On this small block of 18 houses lives an advertising guy (me), an actor, a television director/writer, a explosions/special effects expert, a mid-level manager who is also a screenwriter, an advertising director/producer, and an accountant. All of us making money as a result of our participation in the entertainment industry. That’s 6 out of 18 houses that get their money from entertainment.
But its not just a money thing. We also consume the stories we help to create. We read books, watch movies, binge watch TV shows, listen to albums, play games, all of these things and more. We do this because the creative process is not a one-way experience. It requires input to maintain itself. So we consumer what others make because it drives us to make more and better work.
So we make stories and we consume stories. But there one more way we interact with stories, and this is by far the biggest and most important one; we become them.
For example, consider the lowly film school graduate, of which there are legion in this town. She comes to this city to learn how films are made, and in the process of her studies will make some films herself. She will become an expert at the various directors and their schools of filmmaking, she will consume art films, and foreign films, and even begrudgingly tent-pole films, and she will always be working on her own small projects. She’ll be writing or directing or producing, or editing, or even just holding the microphone on someone else’s movie. She’ll be involved in something. Why? Because this is how one moves up the ranks of filmmaking. But there’s one more point here about her experience, and its the most important part. During all of this schooling, and work, and part time jobs, and driving all the fuck over town, and holding cameras or microphones, she will also be dreaming. And what she dreams of is a very specific story, the most important story of all, the story within the story; the story of her success.
Success stories are by no means limited to film school graduates. They are essential to every person who comes to LA to make stories. Everyone you meet who works in the various entertainment industries will have one. Mind you, success stories are not just limited to these industries, one might say they are endemic to ALL humans. But the success stories that are endemic to those working in entertainment are very specific, and all follow the same trajectory. They are all the Horatio Alger variety. A lowly filmmaker comes to the big city, works hard, receives a lucky break, and creates a piece of art so explosive and so important her pin is forever stuck onto our collective cultural map.
So endemic are such success stories that down here we don’t really talk about them. They are simply assumed. If you come to LA to be a (fill in the blank) you come here to fulfill your success story. Everyone gets that. Mind you, we do other things. We all come down here to work, and we work on something, because lets face it, someone has to pay the rent. But under all of that work and hustle is a story, and its such a powerful story that it gets girls and boys living in far off places to leave the comfort or their well-known worlds and travel to a city full of dirt, and crime, and cars (dear God do we have a lot of cars), all in an effort to fulfill that inner story. To take part of a larger story. To become a story itself.
Think about it. Who is Tom Cruise, or Oprah Winfrey? Who is Steven Spielberg, or Jean Cocteau? Who is Beyoncé or Tom Waits? Who is J.K Rowling or China Miéville? These are not people to you. You do not know them. You don’t really know almost anything about them. So what is it you do know? Their story’s. That’s it. When you read about them you’re not really reading about the person, you’re reading their story. When you watch Tom Cruise act, you don’t really think you’re seeing the real man behind the face. Or when Beyoncé sings about loosing a lover you don’t really think she just broke up with her husband do you? No. Do you really think that when Sting has a few beers with his mates they call him Sting? Of course not. We all get that we’re experiencing a story, that the person we’re looking up to is not really a person but a construct. A thing. That thing then is a story. And not just a story, a myth.
So we’re not just talking story here, or even story; we’re talking myth. Myth is the underlying story to this town, it is the gas that moves the cars of our collective egos, and you cannot understand this town or its people until you can understand that.
With that in mind, I will now begin with my story.
The other night I was coming home from work. It had been a long 10 hour day at the office. The kind where you eat your lunch at you desk because you’re working against the clock. We finished up at 8:15, but I stayed longer to eat dinner. (For those that don’t work in the industry, yes they often buy you dinner, but only because they need to to keep working). So at about 8:45 I requested an Uber ride. Within minutes my driver Fabion (call me Fob) showed up at the building near LACMA and the Tar Pits, and we were off for the valley. As with happens with Uber, the service will often see if they can double up on the ride. In this case Uber told Fob to pick up a guy named Dave in West Hollywood. So maybe 10 minutes later were stopped at some intersection in West Hollywood on a street covered in two-story apartment buildings dating back to the 30s and 40s. Suddenly the back door opens (I’m a front seat kind of guy) and not one but two men get in. They are Dave and his best friend Brent.
Dave and Brent are highly sociable, so we’re not even 100 feet into our trip when one of them says, “Hey front seat, what’s your name?” Before long we talking and carrying on like you do with strangers who are affable. Its the verbal equivalent of smelling each other’s butts to see what you’re made of. In this town it means talking about the entertainment industry, which really means talking about your dreams. Except, as I noted above, we don’t really talk about our dreams as they are implied in every conversation. So instead we talk about what we’re working on, which is a nice round about way of talking about your dreams without really stating them. (I know, its weird, but its how this town works. If you openly tell people your dreams you are immediately seen as a tyro, an amateur. You are a rube, and so wet behind the ears that no one except other rubes will believe in your success story. And everyone knows success stories have to be believable to work. That how they roll. So the serious professionals don’t talk, they do.)
Normally this is not my favorite topic of conversation. Probably 90% of the work I do is on television shows or movies that are so boring or so minor that you will have never heard of them, and unless you are a deep insider you will probably not care. Mind you, the checks go into my bank account the same as those from big name movies, but the social cachet I earn from the work, that is to say my rank as a “player” in this town, is not strengthened by such meager projects. So when people hear what I do for a living and immediately follow up with, “What are you working on,” I usually have to mumble something sad and pitiful sounding. But as it happens, right now I have a couple of nice aces in my hand thanks to some friends who called me in on a couple of tent-pole movies. All that to say I can do some serious name dropping.
On this particular occasion I really didn’t have to do that. Not 30 seconds into a description of one of the pieces I did for Jurassic World, we came to the corner of Hollywood and La Brea. High in the sky on that corner is a 14 x 48 billboard I did for the upcoming Will Ferrell series called Ferrell Takes The Field. So all I had to do was off-handedly say, “Oh that’s one of my pieces,” and I instantly tripled my street cred. Boom.
But, as I was about to discover, I was soon to be outgunned. Not only outgunned, but totally blown away. And completely and incredibly happy to be so.
Dave and Brent it turned out, had some street cred of their own. And it wasn’t that weak ass, second-hand shit I was passing out either. It was the pure thing. The Real Deal. The stuff that dreams are made of. We’re talking pure, 100%, USDA, success story. And it was joyous to behold.
Dave and Brent, it turned out, had just made a big pitch that day. They’d walked into a room full of 8 or 11 Television Executives (each with their own big salaries and fancy new cars) and ha d sold the shit out of their TV comedy series. “Basically,” Brent said, “we did 30 minutes of intense stand up in the biggest room we’ve ever played.”
“Yeah,” Dave added, “I’m not kidding when I say this. It was the most important room I’ve ever walked into.”
The two writers were roommates and had been busting their asses for the past three and a half months, working hard every day, coming up with every funny and off the wall idea they could throw into their show idea called Manhood. Then when their agent had scored a meeting they went in and sold their idea. Sold it hard. Sold it successfully too because they left that room, some 45 minutes later with a huge check and a contract to write a pilot. They had three months to write the Best Pilot Ever, and deliver it with another pitch to the same executives. If that went over well then they’d be given and even larger pile of cash and they would actually film their pilot. And if that worked, well the network might just buy their series. And then they will have made it. If the series sells. If the people watch it.
So it was a big day for them. They had made the first step on the story of their success, and they were full of the same excitement and energy as if they had won the lottery, which is a very real sense was what they had done. They had won the story lottery, and they were on their way up, because that’s how stories work. Whether it would take them up to the rarefied air of stardom, or down the wicked road of perdition, no one can say. But they were on the first step, and ready for the next.
But dig this, Here’s the crucial part. They were not just making stories, they had now become one. Their success had become a story of its own, independent of their actions. A story that would ripple that night through family and friends, and slowly in ever wider circles throughout the industry. Even to such far flung places as your mind, for this very thing you’re reading right now is essentially a ripple of that larger story wave. That night when they talked about their work they were speaking success story, in its purest form. Straight from the story mines of heaven and drenched in the beautiful humility of luck.
See they didn’t have to talk about their dream. They just talked about their work, and the dream was inherent in the work. Which is the best story of all.
And deep in the middle of they telling, drenched in the beauty of their own success story (which they were obviously editing as they went because that’s what good writers do) there was also the tinniest glimmer of humanity, and all because I threw in a wrench into the gears. See these type of success stores are wonderful and all, but they are often way too impersonal. And I don’t like impersonal. I like to travel with real humans and listen to real problems. So while they were going on about the room and the show, I asked them a crucial question. “Did you call your mothers?”
“Well,” they said breezily because they were still caught up in the success, “We called our agent first, and then our partners.” Then their tone changed, and a bit of the real boy came out from behind the successful men, “But yeah,” they admitted, “we called our mothers.”
So after they left (Fob dropped them off at a bar on Ventura) he and I just sat there silently the rest of the way to my house. All we could say was, “Wow.” Nothing else would do. It was an incredible experience, and we both felt deeply lucky just to be near it. We had seen a success story, just at the moment of its birth, and it was a beautiful thing to behold. I hope their mother’s are proud.
Rule #1 in a non-existent series of bad advice for writers.
When you (as a writer) introduce a character to a reader, it is like introducing them to a new friend. But that character won’t really become your reader’s friend until you give that character a goal. Once you give him or her a specific goal to direct their actions–they need to avenge their father, they need to kill a monstrous whale, or even they need to get home to their family–it is at that point that the reader will start to anticipate that character’s actions. And that is the point of stories. We live to anticipate.
I’ve been working recently on a time travel story. Its the one I finished last week, as least finished the first pass. (as I’ve discovered, the first pass is only the start of a story.)
So last night I had a dream in which I was telling someone about that story. And then I told them about the other time travel story I had written. The second one was completely different from the first; different protagonist, different plot, different everything except perhaps they both exist in the same fictional universe. It sounded really cool, better and shorter than the first one.
When I woke up this morning I realized I had yet to start on that second story. Probably because I hadn’t even thought it up yet. Even now all I can remember is that I thought it was really fun, and it featured a female protagonist. In my dream the story seemed completely familiar, exactly like any story I’ve written. I could tell right away it was one of “mine.” Only of course it has yet to be written.
So was it dream from the future? What do you think?
People who know me know that at times I am critical of our government. Obviously I think being critical of how your country works is important. I know there are others who think we should love our country, accept it the way it is, and be uncritical of it. To them I say this:
I think you should love your country like you love your children.
Now that’s a pretty general statement, with a lot of wiggle room for interpretation, so let me take it out of the general and into the specific.
For those who do not know, my wife and I have been married for almost 17 years, and between us we are raising a child, a boy who is at the time of this writing 14. For the most part, loving our son is easy. He’s a good kid, does well in school, has a lot of empathy, and tries hard to do well. That doesn’t make him perfect, that just make him easier to parent when he isn’t. And let me tell you, no child is perfect. The truth is, almost anyone can parent a child that does well. Its when your child doesn’t do well that marks the difference between a good parent and a bad one.
For example, imagine if your child is having a problem at school; say they come home with a D or an F on their report card, If that happens a good parent isn’t going to sit around and say how much they love their child. No. They’re going to get involved and fix the problem. Getting involved may mean talking with the teacher, hiring a tutor, changing the child to another class, removing outside stimuli (like video games) that are distracting them from their homework, or a whole host of other solutions (including ironically, doing nothing). It almost doesn’t matter what the parent does, or even if they make mistakes (they will), what matters is that they make the attempt towards a solution, and that they target each solution to be specific to the child and the problem. This is because every good parent knows that if you love your child, and they’re experiencing a problem, its your job as their parent to fix it. They also know that if you don’t fix the problem now, its going to grow into an even bigger problem further down the road.
In the same way, loving our country is easy. For the most part America is an amazing and wonderful place. Living here is easy, especially when compared to almost every other part of the world. Its easy here to make a living, easy to make friends and form families, and if things go bad, easy to reinvent yourself. That doesn’t mean things are perfect here, or that you are guaranteed to not experience difficult times, it just means its easier here than most places.
But what if your country is having a problem? What do you do as a citizen? Well just like a good parent, a good citizen understands that ignoring your country’s problems doesn’t make them go away. They know that if you want to fix a problem you have to roll up your sleeves and get involved. Getting involved may mean anything from posting something on a social media site, to writing your political representatives, to attending a rally/protest, or even going to jail. All of these things, and more, might be part of getting involved. It almost doesn’t matter what a citizen does, or even if they make mistakes (they will), what matters is that they make the attempt towards a solution, and that they target each solution to be specific to the government agency involved and to the problem.
And just like with parenting, the truth is that almost anyone can be a good citizen if the government is doing well. Its when your government isn’t doing do well that marks the difference between a good citizen and a bad one. And also, just like with parenting, ignoring a problem usually means it will only get more costly to repair when you finally get around to it.
“But wait,” some of you might be saying right now. “What makes you think I should parent my government? My government is the one doing things to me, not the other way around. Its not my child. I didn’t give birth to it. Why should I parent it?”
Ah, but you see, you are the parent. Every time you vote you help to give birth, even in a small way, to our government. Our government truly is of, by, and for the people. This is the nature of democracy. Every time we vote we give birth to a new child, a new government. Just like with our flesh-and-blood children, this doesn’t mean our government is perfect (its not), or it will always treat you well (it won’t), or that you will always feel the government that won the election accurately represents your interests (it often won’t). But its still your government. Even when your government acts like an unruly child, it is still your government, warts and all. Exactly like your child is still your child, even when they act like a jerk.
Some of you might say, “But wait a minute, Eric. I didn’t vote for X,” (whomever or whatever X might be) To those I say, too bad. It doesn’t matter who or what wins. If the election was legal, then the winner is the winner. That’s how we roll. If you don’t like the result (and there is no law that says you have to like our government) then get involved. Do more. Work to fix what you think is broken.
And just so we’re clear, throwing up your hands and saying, “But the government is all corrupt,” (or broken or useless, or part of the illuminati, or any other message of helplessness that people say about our government) doesn’t cut the mustard either. You may feel completely helpless against the onslaught of the government. And if you do I will say to you, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” (because I am sorry). But I will follow that up with, “that still doesn’t change anything.” You see, there is no law that says you have to feel like you can make a difference about our government. (You can, but you have to get up off you ass to do so. Sometimes lots of times up off your ass.) Assuming your feeling are important actually gets in the way. How you feel is insignificant. Besides it will change anyway. Its what you do that matters. So do (or do do, whatever floats your boat), but don’t feel.
Finally, some of you might say, “But wait. I can’t be a parent. I don’t vote.” To those I say, “Fuck you.” And I mean that. People have died so that we might have the freedom to choose who represents us in our government. Would you ignore those deaths because you have to get up a little earlier to vote, or have to leave work a little earlier, or vote on your lunch break? Would you pretend those deaths didn’t happen because registering to vote takes some effort on your part? Seriously? If you live here, if you’re a citizen, voting is NOT and option. It is the bare minimum standard by which you should measure your citizenship. If you’re not up for that effort, I have no respect for you.
I just typed the word “End” at the bottom of a story. Its not the end of the story, there’s a lot of work still to go with this one, including finding a title I like, which is exceedingly rare for me. But overall I’m very happy with the story, which is the important part, and I’m raring to rip it open and dissect its structure like a crazy 19th century scientist waving a scalpel and a thesaurus.
Now I need to find a way to celebrate.