Inspiration Points

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 9.39.09 AM

If you’re in the entertainment industry and are particularly depressed about your career beware of the following thought as you tumble further down into the abyss:

I had hoped to inspire A LOT of people.

It’s embarrassing to admit one has these thoughts but, well, there it is.

The business part of show business is nothing if not about the accumulation of the A LOT – from audiences, to money, to attention, and to things, some of them even human.

Oh sure, we all have our own self-destructive reasons and the therapy bills that have unearthed them. But to simply inspire – maybe that’s not such a bad goal? And to some extent it is one of the almost guaranteed fringe benefits of the territory.

Just be sure to fact check those inspirational quotes!

Just be sure to fact check those inspirational quotes!

If you’re an art practitioner of any kind, anywhere, trust me at some point you will (and probably have) inspired someone – and probably more than one. You might not mean to but if the work is done right – or sometimes even wrongly – it will happen.

Of course, it might not be your work itself but your work ethic. Your determination and commitment to get things done. Though it can simply be just your output.   Whether or not it’s famous or you are. Which does not mean the famous aren’t inspiring. It’s merely to say sources of true inspiration come in all proportions and to various degrees – and in all sorts of sizes and shapes – from misshapen to minuscule to oversized. For in reality, to be or create an object of inspiration it is ironically really more about letting your work or you just be what or who it is.

I realized this long ago as a teacher and it admittedly satisfied the dark side of my “inspirational” desire. This is not conceit. Most, or at the very least, MANY teachers inspire. If you’re even halfway decent at it, it comes with the job. Usually you’re older and more experienced and your students are many young people whose specific task in those weeks and months is to learn – from YOU. It is inevitable that you will inspire one or two or more of them over the years. (Note: Which doesn’t make it feel any less good when it happens, by the way.)

Ok well we all can't be Mr. Keating #ohcaptainmycaptain

Ok, well, we all can’t be Mr. Keating #ohcaptainmycaptain

But let’s get back to inspiration and the industry that often claims it – show business. Truth be told, I never really loved the actual industry. Though I thought I did. Actually, I thought that I LOVED it. I really did. But once inside there are moments that cause it to lose its luster. While talents are appreciated and one needs a modicum level of talent to succeed (Note: Yes, even the ones you deem mediocre are way better than the mean), the upper echelon of success – the kind that comes with both inspiration and adulation – is a slippery slope. Many people who reside in this area are truly inspiring. But they also have to work hard to avoid the seductive part of being an adulated inspirer and not fall victim to the bottomless pit of it all.

Well, who among us are not up for some good seduction? There is something irresistibly appealing about anything that seduces. On the other hand, when you’re seduced into something that does not mean you are inspired by it. Being dazzled and being inspired are two different realities.

... and I call those two realities Jon and Hamm.

… and I call those two realities Jon and Hamm.

Dazzling implies being blinded – which means you are temporarily frozen. And what you are seeing is not entirely real. How can you be inspired by a reality that never existed?

Well, I suppose it’s possible, you say. This is what all the great works of fiction are about. I don’t think so. The truly great works do BOTH. They are not solely tales of smoke and mirrors. They are reflections of existence made of whole cloth. They have a weight. A ballast. They are not light and airy – though on some level, take the great romantic comedies of yesteryear – they can appear to be.

Marilyn Monroe – the movie star – wasn’t inspiring. But she sure was dazzling. Marilyn Monroe – the person – from everything I’ve read from before and after her death – truly was inspirational. And sad. Sometimes it is the trajectory of the journey – how and why she managed it – and where she made it to despite the greatest of odds against her. There is inspiration in that.

the world's candle in the wind

the world’s candle in the wind

Inspiration is not necessarily better than dazzling, by the way. Just different. Both are wonderful in their ways. What am I inspired by at the moment? I suppose Hillary Clinton. No, this is not a political ad. But really – how does she keep going at 68? How the heck does she persevere? Isn’t she, well, tired? Of the bullsh-t? I mean, if I am and you are, imagine how she feels.

I imagine Trump is not tired at all. Which is why, in my mind – dare I say it – he’s dazzling. He LOVES the show. You can see it when he speaks before large crowds. Not unlike the way Bruce Springsteen loves to play for three hour plus at a pop onstage (Note: I once saw The Grateful Dead jam for four plus hours at the Nassau Coliseum – at least I think I did – but that’s a different story).

The memories come streaming back...

The memories come streaming back…

But re Trump – a friend sent me an article about how when Hitler used to speak publicly before huge amounts of followers he’d actually have an orgasm. It feels more like that with some dazzlers, doesn’t it? Though we will never quite know for sure – or want to in this case.

Movies from the 70s inspire me. The Godfather, Network, Annie Hall and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. YES, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Watch it again as I recently did and marvel at how it was so far ahead of its time – and how timeless it remains. (Note: I get the reason for the upcoming remake but when this happens always ask yourself this ultimate question – Did they not get it right the first time?).

Oh Laverne #ihopeitsgood

Oh Laverne #ihopeitsgood

Bette Midler live always manages a moment of inspiration. Anything Gaga is bound to occasionally – even among the misses, which is inevitably why someone can be inspiring to begin with, they dare to miss. The dialogue of Billy Wilder. Omg.   Certainly the prose Jonathan Franzen. Spending years on his lyrical novels of brilliant word combinations and storytelling (Note: Did you know he had his computer specifically dismantled from internet access so he could write in a room without?) when less and less people read. I’m sure it bothers him but I doubt that’s why he writes. Likely, he does it for all the same reasons everyone does, I imagine. He has something to say and he has to get it out. It’s not a choice, really. It’s that or somehow implode.

Which I guess is the key to being an inspiration. You do what you do for yourself. Without result. And let others make the call on how they feel about it. Which, as Stephen Sondheim once so eloquently wrote, they inevitably will.

Oh – I forgot about Michael Phelps. Did you watch him swim and win his 22d (and last individual) gold medal and become what is undeniably the great Olympian of all time? You have to.

Perseverance

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 10.57.10 AM

I was flipping channels last night and The Big Chill was on cable. Though younger audiences primarily know Lawrence Kasdan as the original writer of Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back, and co-writer of the latest Star Wars: The Force Awakens, he broke out as a major writer-director with The Big Chill. In that film he told the story, along with co-writer Barbara Benedek, of a group of baby boomer friends who come together for a weekend after the suicide of perhaps their most idealistic member.

The Big Chill still has its charms, particularly its sixties style soundtrack. But what kept popping into my mind while I was watching it was a personal experience I had with Mr. Kasdan in the late eighties when I worked in publicity on a film he was producing.

The cast doesn't hurt either. #80srealness

The cast doesn’t hurt either. #80srealness

Since I’ve written about my not so great times with him once before I won’t belabor it. But suffice it to say that what specifically came to mind this time was the one moment I mistakenly happened to share with Mr. Kasdan my aspirations to be a screenwriter and the fact that I was working on a script.

After a small silence, he looked up at me through his small, wire-rimed glasses and, dripping with condescension, directly met my gaze.

And I bet you never finished it, right?

In fact, I had finished a script and was working on another one at the time. But so taken aback by his response was I that I blurted out, probably a little too snidely:

Yeah, how did you know?

I think I feared he would actually ask me to read it and he’d take it and me apart piece by piece to such an extent that I’d never have the nerve to pick up my pen again. That must be the reason I lied. Because that’s how sure I was that he would hate it on principle.

Since I was a fan of his work and respected him this experience hurt – I can’t lie about that part, even now. Because to this day I don’t quite understand why any successful and clearly talented writer would go so far out of his way to clip the wings of a neophyte. Certainly, he couldn’t have felt threatened. Did he hate me?  But what did I ever do to him?

wahhhhhhh

wahhhhhhh

Maybe I should have kept in my place and not mentioned anything, even thought we were in the midst of an interesting discussion about Hollywood and writing and he seemed to be intellectually engaged. Maybe all of the above… or none of it? Or maybe he was just having a bad day. Or maybe, just maybe, he was (is?) a jerk?

Well, we’ll never know. Because I won’t be asking and neither will you – though even if we could I doubt he’d remember.  But I did, do – clearly. Yet in all honesty I can’t say his not so subtle cut-down of me didn’t spur me on to keep working and do even better out of some perverse personal revenge.

What was that... you said I couldn't do it? #illshowyou

What was that… you said I couldn’t do it? #illshowyou

Most pros don’t react this way.  In fact, it’s usually quite the opposite. But make no mistake about it, each and every one of us in the biz of a certain age has a story or two like the one I’ve just told. We either use them as fuel or as a reason NOT to work.

Early on one has to make the decision about whether to cave or to persevere. It’s not easy and is a lifelong challenge. One can have all the success in the world for decades but at some point there is bound to be failure. Or self-doubt. Or life getting in the way. How do you get beyond it? How do you keep going forward without “caving in?”

It's all about the climb, baby. #eyeofthetiger

It’s all about the climb, baby. #eyeofthetiger

There are all kinds of reasons not to work. The house is dirty. Laundry needs to get done. There is no chance you can ever make it in such a competitive field. Your girlfriend or boyfriend broke up with you or you will be alone for the rest of your life because you don’t even have a boyfriend or girlfriend. Or prospects of a date. Not a nibble.

Your goals are unrealistic and you don’t fit into the commercial paradigm, whatever that is. Your friends are doing better than you are. Or your friends are more talented than you are – or less and they’re getting paid for doing a worse version of the work you can no longer bring yourself to do. Perhaps your family doesn’t understand you or your choices and never has. Though perhaps they used to and no longer feel that way anymore. Not to mention, who has the time for all of this anyway? Why be a dreamer in a soberingly real world?

Believe me... this is MUCH easier

Believe me… this is MUCH easier

The cruel irony is that a career in the arts – any art – is not for the faint of heart. Nor is it for everyone.  But when it is for you it is something that you know deep down. It’s a type of calling. An undeniable itch. And in reality, career is probably the wrong word. Devoting oneself to the arts but not making money or having a day job in no way means it is not your career. Because here’s the broadest definition I could find:

A career is an individual’s journey through learning, work and other aspects of life. There are a number of ways to define a career and the term is used in a variety of ways.

This is what I know about working at your craft, your art, your career: You will feel A LOT better working at it than not working at it. On your worst day, you will be a lot more exhilarated doing it than on all the other days you don’t do it and chastise yourself for not working and feeling like a failure. The truly good feeling is not something you can ever get from others. It is only the simple elation you can feel within yourself that day for a job well done. When you know you’ve tried and put in the time. Whether you’re done, on the road to something, or just simply persevered.

This girl knows

This girl knows

I’ve been teaching for 15 years and lately I’ve seen too many students get too discouraged with the journey or stop themselves before they really gave themselves the chance to get started. Yeah, we live in a particularly unstable world these days with no end in sight to the bad stuff. All the more reason to put in the time for yourself and work at what pleases you.   This doesn’t mean starving in a garret. It simply means looking at what you want your life and career to be over the long haul and doing what pleases you.

Some people call this following your destiny. But that feels like way too heavy a burden to lug around. Instead, consider it simply putting in the time and doing the work you want to do so you can get better, learn more, and improve that much more without preoccupying or fixating solely on result.

The truth is for every naysayer there’s a cheerleader. Five years before I met Kasdan I was a journalist and had a similar writing conversation with James L. Brooks. Younger people know him as one of the creators of TV’s The Simpsons but when I met him he was about to direct a movie he wrote that would put him on the map, Terms of Endearment. And had not yet written one of the best original screenplays of the eighties (or ever) – Broadcast News. Shyly sharing my ambitions with Mr. Brooks I received nothing but encouragement and questions and more encouragement. So naturally, I thought everyone would be that way. Well, they’re not. But it doesn’t matter.

The only thing that does is to persevere.