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 response. 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.

I'm Still Here

The blog posts for this site have grown scarce. I realize this. While disappointing to me, it has not been without reason. Or at least one I feel is somewhat acceptable. The truth is, I have been working heavily on a  few screenplays I have been at for years. Every blog I read, podcast I listen to, YouTube interview I watch, tells me that there comes a time when a writer simply must let go, when the dual road presents itself and you begrudgingly choose the path that leaves a long beloved work abandoned in the dust. I am not at that moment. True, I have tinkered with this thing for some time, but I'm not there.

I have toyed with throwing it against the wall. I have growled at the screen, punched my desk, refused to feed my dog for 3 whole minutes, or just paced back and forth around our tiny living room speaking at the air. But it was all for a purpose. I wasn't and am not ready to part with it. And I can say now that it paid off. Not in the sense of an impending sale, or the announcement of a Hollywood production. I'm just proud of it. I recently hired a career coach to help guide me through this crazy fucking process. We talk every few weeks where we discuss what I'm doing, and to ensure the goals I set for myself are being met, that I'm actually doing what I set out to, which is write.

My commitment since partnering with her last month has been to finish re-writes of 2 current screenplays by the end of this year and as the new year ushers in, begin the process of completing 2 brand new screenplays in 2018. Ignoring sleep for the past few months and nearly injecting myself with caffeine every night, I'm only 30 pages away from fulfilling the first part of this goal. Come the new year, I'll meet the stark terrain of the blank page and commit myself once again. What this means is that more time may pass in between blog posts, though hopefully not too much. I will still be contributing to the blog and have a plan in place to prevent it from becoming stagnant, or just less so.

My friend Devonne Amos, following the recent launch of the first edition of his comic book series Riley And The Big Bear, will still be asked to contribute his brilliant artwork to new pieces of mine next year and has been working on an updated logo for my website. As this site has become more blog inspired, I wanted the logo to reflect that direction. That's not to suggest I won't be committed to my photography, or that new photos won't be added (quite the contrary). This change just makes sense. All things burning in the pipeline. So, my lovely friends and family, I thank you so much for your continued interest and support of this website. I'm excited about what I'll be working on next year and will eventually share with you all.

As a creator, one of the hardest things I've had to learn how to do is market myself. It's so terribly uncomfortable for me. But all creators, regardless of what those things are, need to do this. Devonne did a wonderful job at marketing his comic. I take notes from his approach. I have a few blogs burning holes in the "archives" and will post in time. I just ask for your patience. I will also be posting snippets of my screenplays, new and old, throughout the writing process simply as an exercise as I slowly crawl through the gorge of self promotion. If I annoy you, I apologize. If I don't, I'll just try harder. So again, thank you all. 

The Road Is Home To Maniacs

I am sitting in the passenger seat of our car heading northbound on Interstate 5. We're on the long road home from a family trip to Legoland and the much anticipated San Diego Zoo, both of which featured an array of impressive exhibits and rides that almost now seem like a distant memory when compared against the invasion of mind loss that is trips with our kids. Along with the hugs and laughter, there's the yelling, disciplining, threatening of toy removal and post bedtime binge drinking that have all become staples of our family vacation checklist. Those pictures you often see on Facebook of people basking in the bliss of family unity are almost cruel and just a little bullshit.

I know, because I'm guilty of the same selective advertising. But the truth is, vacations with children, for all intents and purposes, are a fucking mess. In between the joy and wonder of a child's first experience with something are the hours upon hours of brain pillaging episodes where even the sanest of parents must fight tooth and nail to manage. But manage them we do. We've been down this road before. It's like going out with a friend you know is going to get you arrested, or petting a sleeping cat on the belly. The outcome should never be surprising. It's the most expensive type of reality check there is, but we endure it because above all else, they're comprised of moments we'll cherish and remember for the rest of our lives. And as challenging as they may often be, I look forward to them every time. 

Still, writing this in my car, my dad braving the long, barren drive of I5, I question why we continue to do this to ourselves. I'm being dramatic, of course. And my wife will probably say I'm overreacting. But overreacting is a part of parenting, no matter what the situation. A scrape on the knee, a cough, a bloody nose, the mere thought of your child being bullied, or worse, your child becoming one, all drive the hairs through the silver brush. The reaction is a basic impulse. What some parents may feel is perfectly normal, others see as the end of humanity. I'm somewhere in between. But a trip with kids, where the thought of relaxation is the punchline to a sad joke, can be its own version of adult hell. And there I am at the fiery throne kneeling to it every chance I get.

history in the remaking

Last month, Josephine and I took a trip to San Diego with our two boys and my dad. It was to celebrate our son Samuel's 6th birthday, an event that didn't arrive until after we had returned. I picked up a GoPro Hero 5 Session a few days previous to chronicle the trip. As a photographer, I feel I've done a good job capturing crucial moments from my children's lives. But one thing I've failed to commit those memories to is video. Stills capture moments. Video enlivens them. Unlike most footage people share, flash cards of unicorns and rainbows isn't always what you experience. We knew where this road would lead us. With our parent checklist ready, we began.

Our first destination was Legoland, located in beautiful Carlsbad, CA. While awesome, the significance of being trapped in a world meant to appear as if built using an easily detachable brick system was not lost on me. For at times, it acted as a metaphor for the framework of our sanity, and our patience being the very Lego piece stabbing into each other's bare feet. But the boys loved the place. Despite the forum it provided for them to turn into the occasional asshole, so did we. We watched as our raving little ones ran amok with excitement, bringing a whole new level of exhaustion to the playing field. My wife and I, being the mindful 21st century parents we are, had forgotten our son Joseph's stroller at home and made every effort we could to avoid having to carry him. The park only being open from 10am-5pm (on some days) certainly helped. 

The hotel room, following the long and tiring day, was where my wife and I regrouped. As some parents can tell you, this is not possible without alcohol, and we made damn sure our investment was put to use. The battles of putting tired kids to bed is a chore all its own, as you often run into a steel wall at every turn; The zombies grunting at you in a darkened alley as they half ass every single task they're given, all while offering highly intellectual commentary of why you're the worst parents in the world for simply wanting them to shut the fuck up and get some rest. More than once, my sons announced their decision that I was no longer to be loved. But following an exhausting day in the sun and Tango & Cash having just started on AMC, I couldn't give two shits. We lick our wounds, wait for the morning to come, and start again.

It's All A Zoo!

Next on the agenda was the world famous San Diego Zoo, an enormous and beautiful park where my hypocrisy on the subject of caged animals could run free. We didn't quite know what to expect of this place, as neither of us had been there. But as zoos go, it didn't disappoint. One thing a park of this size begs to remind you of is how out of shape you really are. As the day carried on, I felt the bones in my legs spit rust as I walked, with Sammy and Jojo harnessing what felt like a perpetual amount of energy. Ever the animal enthusiasts, they loved every section of this place. It's amazing when you witness your children show genuine excitement about something that actually warrants it. That's a matter of preference, I know. But no matter how hard I tried, I could never echo the enjoyment that went into watching an episode of fucking Caillou. I'd rather sit through a family viewing of Faces Of Death.

Hearing them marvel at the roar of a tiger or the mere sight of an elephant was truly special. I wanted to bottle it up. For every shouting match we refereed, there were moments of pure joy that made it all worth it. This is the very thing we take away from any family trip we embark upon and the understanding that none of this was ever supposed to be easy. It’s during the difficult times where my wife and I have scribbled our most valuable notes. It's how we learn as parents. We steered through an emotional rainfall when our son Joseph was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma in 2014 and at 9 months old, underwent an intensive surgery that prefaced a year long bout with chemotherapy. By comparison, any challenge we face now trying to get them to brush their teeth or return to their beds in the middle of the night is an ink blot on a mural.

My dad accompanying us for the trip meant so much to me, as it emphasized the bond not only of father and son but of grandparents and their impact on our boys. I pondered this for days after we returned home, unpacking what felt like an entire closet of life while shaking the limbs from our bodies. We were back, stationed again in the war room that is our household. Tomorrow, when we wake up, our kids will be older, getting ready for their first dates, graduating from college and starting families of their own. Those are all moments to come. We'll hold on to these for now.

Our sons Samuel (left) and Joseph share a moment in front of the Elliott Smith tribute wall in Los Angeles, CA.

Our sons Samuel (left) and Joseph share a moment in front of the Elliott Smith tribute wall in Los Angeles, CA.