A New One Every Day

Every year around this time, hordes of people band together to announce their goals for the new year. I have been among this group many times before and have almost always failed to follow through with a lot of what was personally shared. As I sit here, beer in hand, on the brink of staring 2019 in the face, I could easily say “Not this time. I’m doing it. I’m signing that manager, losing that weight, landing that front flip at Rockin’ Jump as my kids glowingly watch.” But I won’t. Not that I don’t feel those things are attainable. But if goals like this are only birthed as part of the ushering in of a new year, like mine almost always were, they may never be fully achieved, if even remotely attempted.

January 1st has always been an interesting date to me. And every year when making my list of things I wish to accomplish, I’m forced to ask myself “So what the fuck were you doing this whole time then?” Until they’re more, words are shit. They’re vanity posts like a picture of a plate of food at an expensive restaurant, or a text message to your mom promising to call her more. But for some people, January 1st can happen at any point. There’s no countdown to change for them. They see the clock only as a barometer by which we measure time itself, not the energy wasted to pretend like we can defy it. We can’t. A period came when making year end goals almost started to feel counterproductive to me.

This is clearly an internal struggle and may not apply to anyone reading this. But for me, getting to where I want is the challenge, and no set amount of resolutions are going to get me there. It’s all about the fucking work, and the abandonment of everything in your world that distracts you from it, playfully tapping your left shoulder while laughing on your right. This is by far my greatest enemy. And one that kicks the shit out of me nightly. There’s the old adage “Time flies when you’re having fun.” The HBO show Six Feet Under offered a different view when Nathaniel Fisher Sr., while talking to his son Nate, asserts “No. Time flies when you’re pretending to have fun.” This stayed with me for years. But time doesn’t move fast at all.

Time isn’t just a gauge we examine while doing other shit. It’s the gauge that tells us whether or not that other shit was worth doing in the first place. There is nothing more perilous. It relies on absolutely no one. But everything we do and every goal we make relies on it. It’s just there. Moving along. But we forget how much of it we actually have until the moment we realize how much of it we’ve wasted. There’s a great scene in Die Hard With A Vengeance where John McClane and Zeus Carver are driving a taxi through New York City gridlock trying desperately to reach the location of a soon to be detonated bomb. Zeus cleverly suggests that what they need is a blocker that can cut a hole through the traffic like an offensive line in football.

McClane makes a phony call to dispatch claiming that a man has been shot nearby. After some daring maneuvering, weaving in and out of a maze of commuters, McClane finds his way behind the responding ambulance and follows it as it parts the traffic like the Red Sea, clearing a path for them. That ambulance is time and John McClane and Zeus Carver represent the people fully aware of it, careening past the others who idly sit and allow opportunity to slip by. I’m not making any resolutions this year. As previous years would suggest, it obviously means shit to me when I do. I either commit to the work or not. Or I’ll be sitting at my desk next December 31st writing another post about all the hours wiped clean. I’ll see you then.

The World Belongs To Kayla Day

At one point or another, we’ve all felt awkward and alone. Begging to fit in. Middle school is ground zero of this phenomenon, where your education is often eclipsed by all the weird little things you’re learning about yourself, be it from actual experience or simply years of painful observations. The movie Eighth Grade, staring Elsie Fisher, is about these moments. Fisher plays Kayla Day, an awkward teenager who makes vlogs on YouTube where she spews self help advice on a range of topics, most notably “how to get yourself out there” or “how to be confident”, advice I feel even pretending to be qualified to give at that age demands some respect. But Kayla isn’t so much offering advice as she is trying desperately to understand it all herself.

At the helm of the Fisher household is Kayla’s single dad Mark, played to precision by Josh Hamilton. This dynamic struck a different nerve all together with me, triggered I suppose by my also being a father. The authenticity of the scenes between Mark and Kayla accentuates so perfectly the unease of their world. This lasted throughout the entire film. A scene toward the end had me suppressing tears of sadness and also a gripping sense of fear for what my wife and I can almost surely expect. The two have a “unique” bond, albeit painfully distant at times. There’s a moment during a family dinner where Kayla comes off as the villain in the relationship, though truthfully, makes sense. I mean, aren’t we all geared to be annoyed by our parents, and in turn, destined to annoy the piss out of our own kids? I’m inclined to say ‘yes.’

One of the most impressive things about Eighth Grade is its execution and handling of the subject matter. The cringe worthy moments we see Kayla endure are not uncomfortable merely due to shock value, but more so because it all feels so goddamn relatable. When we come across art like this, be it in film, literature or even a painting, what makes us recoil the most are the memories they evoke. Films like this not only invite us into their world, but make us confront our own in the process. The balancing act that director Bo Burnham achieves in his feature directorial debut is incredible. This movie was hilarious at the right moments, sad at the perfect ones and heartfelt at its most needed.

There were so many times I recalled my own experience from middle school while watching this movie. Sure, I am not a teenage girl. Trust me, I know. Nor was I equipped with the advantages or handicap (depending on how you look at it) of having Snapchat and Instagram to guide my way. But I was an awkward teenager nonetheless, aching to fit in. I tried to be cool. A little TOO hard at times. I did things so people would like me and if they didn’t, wondered why. That eventually changed once my confidence began to grow but it never happens how you imagine it will.  And like Kayla, I too was very curious about my body.

I would daydream about what the touch of a girl might feel like. I won’t go into details of my first encounters with girls but I can tell you they were certainly not the most fluid of moments. They were embarrassing. But I learned from them. And it’s those very memories that made me root for Kayla even more, anticipating what the future has in store for her, which is exactly what great films do, make you think about a character’s journey far beyond what is shared on screen. I may be gushing. But it was difficult for me to find a flaw in this damn thing.

With social media being such a critical component of the grade school experience, it makes me wonder what this means for the growth of our own kids. I thought about this constantly. I didn’t have Facebook or even access to the internet when I attended middle school but that didn’t hinder my ability to relate to the characters in any way. If anything, it made me sympathize for them even more when considering the world social media has created for today’s youth. It’s like an impenetrable wave of over exposure that in a way has cheated our kids of gradual evolution. Friendships born from digital seeds rather than organic ones. Online acquaintances and emoji fist bumps. It’s a scary time for a kid to grown up in, on so many different levels.

What makes Eighth Grade so special is the hope it conveys in the fog of this uncertainty. In addition to the vlogs Kayla records for her audience, she makes short videos speaking to her future self which she tucks away in a time capsule. It depicts a young girl without a clue of what the future holds, excited for what it may.

Heroes And The Rabbit Hole

It almost seems like an afterthought. The idea that one day, you’ll come face to face with your heroes, those magical figures you hold well above the stratosphere of reason. Of worth even — a celebrity, musician, writer, scientist. You ogle at them on the silver screen and magazine covers, watch them perform your favorite songs on stage, maybe one you listened to the first time you had sex, attempted suicide or did coke in the parking lot of a Toys “R” Us. These moments stay with you for the rest of your lives. They clutch your heart with steel talons and cut you with dull knives. They’re not trying to hurt you. They just do. And if you’re lucky, change you.

I turned 44 on September 23rd. I’ve come to terms with aging. Having kids does that, as you practically gain three years for every one your children turn. Parent Years, I guess. To celebrate the day, my wife Josephine purchased tickets for us to see Gaz Coombes perform at The Swedish American Hall in San Francisco, the once frontman of the British band Supergrass who I have followed for over twenty years. Following the band’s split in 2010, Coombes went on to launch a solo career. He was in the middle of a world tour supporting his latest release, World’s Strongest Man. As my wife and I talked over drinks about life, kids and the disintegration of time, the feeling of having to piss quickly came over me, a common occurrence when I drink at any kind of event.

I left to use the bathroom as she waited in a small room across the bar. I swung the door open and was greeted by none other than Gaz Coombes himself, strangely cheerful and operating as if no moment in life is ever an accident. In the blink of an eye, I saw every experience flash before me to which his music created the soundtrack. The fact that this was happening in the doorway of a men’s restroom made it all the more bizarre. I stood there mute as I tried to register the moment. It never occurred to me that something like this could actually happen. In a glorious display of inelegance, I finally blurted out “oh man, you’re awesome!” He smiled and thanked me for the compliment at which point I realized I was basically holding him hostage in the doorway of the bathroom.

“I thought I would know what to say to you if I ever met you” I mumbled, expelling further mouth farts into the air, moving aside to give him room to pass. “It’s okay, mate” he quipped. “The bathroom is where exciting stuff happens, doesn’t it?” He tipped the brim of his hat (the coolest thing ever) and vanished. I turned to face Josephine where we cordially exchanged “what the fucks?” while laughing hysterically. It was not a moment I was expecting, but one I’m glad we experienced together. We returned to the bar and tossed another round back to commemorate the moment.

As I look back, I know that this was a moment that could have landed on either foot, with my walking away from a total fucking asshole or the porkpie hat-wearing angel of a man with whom I had just met. I was reminded of an episode of Growing Pains when Jason Seaver takes his son Ben to see his favorite singer in concert (played by a very young Brad Pitt) and learns after the show, while eavesdropping on his dressing room door, that he’s just a dick. With Coombes, I like to think it was the latter. However, some people, myself included, have had to accept some hard truths recently about people with whom we once held in such high esteem.

One person that comes to mind is Bill Cosby. I watched The Cosby Show with my parents when I was a kid and have fond memories from that time. His stand up aside, which admittedly I’m only partially familiar, his show had a way of addressing certain issues while steadily anchoring you, bringing things to the forefront that you may have thought about but never verbalized. Or knew how to. For someone young and impressionable, those moments are crucial. Family Ties and Growing Pains were among other shows that had a similar, if not more profound impact on me.

Watching the shit storm that unfolded in the wake of the multitude of brave women who came forward with stories of sexual assault at the hands of Mr. Cosby was appalling. We have a tendency to erect these figures above all else and when stories like this come crashing down, it’s ourselves we can find caught in the wave, if only from the confines of our homes. But what happens when the values you felt you shared with someone, hero or not, turn out to be complete and utter bullshit? Or the way in which their lives and verve may have encouraged you to embark on a path of your own? Can we still be inspired by terrible people? Can we still find color in black hearts?

For his always insightful Creative Minds podcast, my friend Chad Hall recently interviewed poet and humorist Mike McGee, where this topic was discussed. For McGee, being a huge Cosby fan and identifying him as an early influence, learning of Cosby’s decades worth of abuse against women was a hard truth for him to stomach. It’s a gripping conversation which asks the question: Does an idol’s behavior impact the value of the art said idol creates? And if so, to what degree? And following the discovery of such horrors, can we still be influenced by their work? Although I was a fan of Cosby’s show, there are other artists for whom over the years I have developed a far deeper admiration — Thom Yorke, PJ Harvey, Charlie Kaufman and Martin Scorsese to name a few.

Would a terrible act committed by these people deter me from ever again finding beauty in their work? The truth is, I really don’t know. I guess it would depend on the act itself. This makes me a hypocrite, I suppose. Make no mistake, there is no defending Cosby’s actions, or Harvey Weinstein’s for that matter. These men are beyond redemption. This type of behavior should never be tolerated or hidden from the public and with the recent surge of growth and support for the #metoo movement, hopefully never will. The crimes committed by these men have left an ever illuminating trail of shit over their careers and personal lives, not to mention the emotional and physical agony their actions have caused.

But does my admiration for films that Weinstein’s company produced or for others, proved vital to their release, make me an enabler in some fucked up way? Does that, in itself, make me a bad person? By supporting the art, am I supporting the behavior? Sure, Harvey Weinstein didn’t write or direct Pulp Fiction or Trainspotting (distributed by) or create any of the characters whose lines I’ve memorized and during drunken conversations about film, recited for my equally drunk friends. But should Weinstein’s involvement in the films themselves lessen their influence? It’s movies like these that made me want to become a screenwriter to begin with.

Comedian Sarah Silverman recently commented on the accusations against her longtime friend Louis CK, of whom I am also a fan, and found herself in a boiling pan of criticism as a result. Here I am talking about a performer who’s made me laugh from time to time while she’s dueling internally with the knowledge of someone she’s loved for years having behaved in this way. Poor timing aside, I don’t feel she was trying to justify her friend’s behavior. It just serves to prove that this is conduct that affects so many people. I feel a burning sense of sorrow for anyone who has had to endure this kind of abuse but like everyone else, celebrities accused of these heinous acts deserve to be held accountable. But where does it lead?

Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee surrounding now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s alleged assault of her was a turning point I feel. And despite the ever dividing misogynistic views and hate-fueled rhetoric of our President, my hope is that progress remains, even in light of Kavanaugh’s eventual confirmation. There’s no doubt to be had, we are raising our children in a dark time, in a nation splintered by a leader who cautions young men of accusatory red flags as opposed to simply encouraging those very men to act fucking appropriately.

But it doesn’t end here. We can move past this. Incite change. Yes, people along the way will disappoint us. Sicken us even. Some of them may be people we’ve idolized. Or still do. Some may be family and friends. And if and when that happens, priorities will demand our attention.

This is not a blog that achieves resolution. Or even an answer to the question raised earlier.  Would my admiration of someone be averted by a shitty act of villainy by their hand? Be it physical or not. Or would their influence simply become more difficult to recognize? I heard someone say once that it’s not necessary to agree with the whole of a person in order to find worth in a part of them. Although I can’t say that I fully agree, I can certainly understand where this point of view is coming from. And as I stated earlier, I suppose it depends on the act itself. I’m not a perfect human being. I just know that I can be better. Victims deserve justice. And abusers deserve to befall it.


RAINN and the Joyful Heart Foundation are just a few of the many organizations out there dedicated to supporting victims of sexual assault. Come forward. You are not alone.

An Engine In A Bottle

As a parent, the moment comes when you realize you've been beaten. You peruse the scoreboard amidst the thunder of applause and marvel at just how many points life has on you. On one side, there are moments of bliss, when you're teaching your children to read, to be respectful to others or simply wipe themselves properly. On the other are the days of complete hopelessness, where impatience and exhaustion collide and the bolts rust and crack as they fall to the ground and trigger a fury for which only children seem to be responsible. You scorn them and watch as their tiny eyes sink.

You wrap yourself in guilt, questioning your own existence and prowess as a parent, or human being. It's a natural behavior. People are not perfect by any right. And having children doesn't inherently make you a better one. It just makes you question more how you handle and react to things that have almost become assembly line occurrences. You fuck up constantly. And when you're done, reset and focused, you fuck up some more. It's a chain reaction of repetitiveness and self doubt, a cloud that follows you that you realize is a balloon you’ve been holding this entire time. And it's the greatest feeling some of us will ever know.

Pregame

Our son Samuel was born on September 16th, 2011. He was our first child and arrived after a strenuous couple of days in the hospital, the result of a dangerously low level of amniotic fluid. My wife's doctor had made the decision to induce him, a procedure that seemed to last for months, while in reality only lasted 2 days. I stood by my wife to comfort her through the process, making dumb jokes and being as nervously unhinged as any father to be could. But despite the terrain of eggshells informing my every step, my heart bubbled with anticipation. We couldn't wait to meet the little guy.

We were scientists awaiting the outcome of an experiment, thinking we had just taken the best parts of each other and stitched them together like our own little Frankenstein. Being at the hospital three weeks early, our time there fell on the day of a baby class my wife and I were scheduled to attend. With her basically strapped to a bed, I chose to go at it alone. I remember thinking "well, it's not like she's going anywhere, and I'm here so why the fuck not?" I entered the room, partnerless, and welcomed a surge of awkward stares from each set of parents, a mental survey of this creepy asshole on limited sleep carrying a notebook and stupid look on his face.

At the instructor’s request, each couple introduced themselves, a sort of tell all prelude to the group. When it finally got to me, the entire class shifted in anticipation. After announcing my name, my voice singed with dread, I revealed the reason behind my loner status, that my wife was in bed three floors above as nurses medically solicited our first born son. You couldn't hear it, but the collective "Ahhhhh..." it inspired was evident. With the bones in my hands trembling, I opened my notebook and the instructor began. I had officially become a father.

Here He is!

Sammy was born the following evening. Everything I remembered about being a son was instantly forgotten once I welcomed one of my own. A new life awaits your instruction. Your rules. Your mistakes. A pinball of bad decision making, which you think a simple "I love you" will somehow fix. Or worse "I'm sorry." But as a parent, being remorseful is endless. It can be the only emotion you feel at times. You try your hardest to study the rulebooks but none of them are written in a language you understand. They're doused in scribbles you yourself have created. You move backward in time, write a chapter, then return to your normal state trying to grasp what it all fucking means.

None of it makes sense. But you fall madly in love. You crumble when you hear your child laugh for the first time, melt when they call your name, be it "daddy" or "mama." And you scar from fear that it will all be taken away from you someday by the hands of decision or circumstance or ninja assassins. When our son Joseph was diagnosed with cancer in 2014, for which he would undergo a year of chemotherapy, the lights went out in our world and Sammy, as a result, became the middle child of a pair. Naturally, attention glides to the sick one, sick brother, sick grandson, sick cousin. Not that Sammy was left out in the woods. At all.

But the warmth to which he had grown accustomed was temporarily cooled by the weekly Wednesday trips to the Bass Center at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital between Jojo and dad, an outing to which Sammy was only invited twice. A child will fight for attention. Strangle it if they have to. As parents, we did the best we could to level the playing field. But a sick child mars your understanding of the concept. We raised a glass after Jojo's final treatment arrived and every post treatment scan came back clear. But we noticed a rattling that had been awakened in Sammy, an anxiety that started to chip away at the bottle in which it was housed, and the behavior at school and home that aroused concern.

His teachers often spoke of a high academic propensity that would be eclipsed by a rabid mobility that could rival The Flash. We feared ADHD as a possible diagnosis, an opinion quickly disputed by his pediatrician. To him, Sammy was simply a four year old boy. Regardless, we wanted answers. As Sammy advanced to Kindergarten, we noticed some of the same behavioral tendencies emerge. Stuck, we decided to have him evaluated by a therapist to further identify the causes of behavior that may or may not have warranted concern. Was he just a four year old? Or were we right to travel the route we did? For me, it ended with the same shitty idea. Did I move from one son having been faced with cancer, to another battling some sort of "misplaced" fucking anxiety? I didn't know.

Fortunately, the ADHD card was folded. An anxiety feathered Sammy's daily routine, but we made the efforts to curb it. At least that's what we told ourselves.

The "better" Does Come

For the past 2 years, we've enrolled Sammy in baseball, a sport for which he seemed to have a natural appetite. We thought it could assist with some of the behavioral habits we saw, or could help filter them somehow. The joy comes in seeing his excitement every time he steps to the plate. It's been almost six months since his last therapy session, and although it's not something we’ve put aside, every improvement we discover is encouraging. But we're the core of that change.

We tell ourselves we need to reset, to stop yelling, be more focused on the positive and create an environment of steadiness. But it's difficult, and sometimes feels impossible. My heart bursts from the thought of my boys. Of my family. I know I need to work on my patience, and stretch the fuse as long as I can, so when the moment comes again when I look up at the board and think that we’ve been beaten, I'll know there's still years of this game left to play. And I look forward to them all.

Sammy at a recent baptism lunch.

Sammy at a recent baptism lunch.

Rewrite, Rewind, Repeat

This past February, I met with a script consultant, someone my coach suggested I work with as part of our plan this year to get my screenplay "industry ready." These terms. If anything, I'll at least have a knapsack of critical phrases in my arsenal. Returning home from a long weekend in Lake Tahoe with the family, I anticipated walking that Monday afternoon into an avalanche of criticism, the kind of notes that take an ax to every idea you've ever had, or at least the ones you once fondled with pride. Writing a screenplay can be grueling and the necessity of quality feedback, good or bad, is something every writer has to learn to accept.

Everything you read about how astonishingly bleak a pursuit a career in screenwriting is and how stacked against you the odds are is maddening. You sit in a chair, face the nude visage of a blank screen and type away. Aimlessly at times. You can be soaked in pride at the start of the night and by the end you're ringing your dreams from a towel. It's a struggle every self-proclaimed writer faces: the work itself, and the initial reaction that very work inspires, be it your own or someone else's. But that feedback is critical. As hard as it may be to swallow, it's what chips away at the wall you've built around yourself to reveal the confidence that finally allows the veil to be lifted. It just never comes that easily.

the meeting

As the call with my consultant approached, I still had to decide on a place to take it. I wanted somewhere quiet. Hearing the not so subtle outbursts of our three year old son Joseph while absorbing why my character arcs and plot points are a bunch of horse shit was not an appealing image. Although a Starbucks seemed possible, and only a little trite, I chose a pub and the alluring calm of an empty weekday patio. All roads led to Britannia Arms on Almaden Expressway. What better spot to welcome the slaughter of my ego.

At the hand of luck, or fate (not something I truly believe in) there was not a single person on the patio that day. I was completely alone, my notebook, iPad, phone and total willingness to day drink being my only companions. I had never spoken to a script consultant before so I didn't quite know what to expect. Although I had done a ton of research on professional readers and listened to many a podcast about the various things consultants tend to focus on, I went into the meeting exposed. We covered plot, structure, characters, tone, motivations and the overall writing itself.

What was only meant to be a 90 minute session lasted almost 3 hours. Where some notes she gave me were certainly hard to stomach, others validated the time spent ogling a computer screen. We set a deadline for the revisions and agreed to come back together at a later date to review the changes. As I write this, having met my deadline while Die Hard (of course!) plays On Demand, I feel a wave of excitement come over me. I could easily be detecting the sour whiff of an impending rejection, like a dog barking before an earthquake strikes. But whatever it is, it will be the result of hard work.

So Where does It Go?

After watching the almost always maligned Academy Awards and seeing artists I admire recognized for their work, I play dress up in my head and fantasize about where this road could lead, and when the high fades into reality, where it also never will. Society loves to tell you the things you want to do will never happen. But what if it did? That's the question every person should want to answer for themselves, no matter the intended goal. What if I fail? What if I'm laughed at? What if I'm forgotten? None of these questions are more terrifying to me than “what if I never fucking tried?” If real life were a horror movie, that question would be my masked killer. 

I’ve written about this before so I wouldn't blame anyone for thinking that I'm repeating myself. But the world can be a puppeteer if you allow it. It will thrive on your indecision, pulling at your veins to influence your every fucking move. If you've seen A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (with one of the greatest scenes ever) you know what I mean. Do the unthinkable. Open the door and embrace the criticism. Sharpen every knife yourself that aims to stab you. Before you know it, those blades will dull themselves. But listen. Learn everything you can. Keep your art in motion. Sing. Write. Dance. Paint. Whatever your passion may be. Do it. Don't wait for it. It will never wait for you.