Ups and Downs

There is a popular new Netflix series called 13 Reasons Why that chronicles the life and reasons a teenager committed suicide via the 13 detailed cassette tapes she left behind.

This sounds depressing as hell – if indeed hell is depressing. My feeling is hell is no better or worse than any of the most awful things we decide we are enduring right now or tell ourselves in any of our most down moments.   So given how dramatic and/or ingenious we all can be when we get into one of our “moods” or down cycles, how much more imaginative can hell really be?

It’s all about perspective

Don’t write in with comments like I never thought it could get worse than Dubya and then we got Trump. Or, I thought it was bad when ‘Crash’ won over ‘Brokeback Mountain’ and then the producers of ‘Moonlight’ barely even got to pick up their best picture Oscar, blah, blah, blah…  

Those are not searing personal affronts, even though they appear to be.

And that’s the point. Not everything is personal or as awful as we can make it. In fact, almost nothing is. Things happen, we respond or don’t respond in kind, and then time marches on. No, the Chair is not getting Zen. The Chair has simply grown more comfortable with time, as all chairs do, and is trying to not waste any more precious little of it left feeling too rickety about just how hellish anything can inevitably get on a given day.

Harshing my mellow, Chairy

We’re living in unusually rocky times, says just about every other armchair psychiatrist and would be philosopher in 2017 with half a brain. That includes yours truly. Certainly, it no longer take an Oracle or a president or even a comfy piece of furniture like myself to realize that nuclear war can happen at any moment, you or I or any one of us can get hit with a car, lose a job, contract a fatal disease and instantly die, and experience all of the above desperate and alone.

If we so choose.

I used to hate when people said this last line to me in my teens. Or twenties. Or thirties. Or even…sigh…forties.

I even hate that I’m stating it now as I’m writing it.

Still, it doesn’t make it any less true.

Yes, it will and can always get worse. Just like it inevitably can and will always get better. These are not bromides. Just facts. Look at your life’s ups and downs or simply travel in an elevator for a while. Okay, dumb analogy. Or was it? I’m not so sure anymore.

… and why not stop at every floor?

Those of us who suffer from mood swings, depression, or simply dwell in the belief that we can actually make a living in the arts, are perhaps especially susceptible to this. More and more there seem to be no rules for success and failure. Certainly, it is less and less anything even relating to a straight line.

You’re too young and don’t have any or enough experience, rightly complain my students and recent grads who are attempting to get their first or second jobs. You’re too old and have too much experience at the wrong things, note colleagues, friends and relatives who fear they’ve been at it too long. And you’re just lucky you were adopted into a family that made you a Chair, says my inner voice to me almost every other day.

Yes, all of this is invariably true.

Luck and timing has way too much weight determining any of this. Ask Hillary Clinton after she’s had a glass of two of wine or beer. She’ll give you an earful now that she’s out of the woods. For the time being.

You know our girl can throw one back #cheersHills

 

But at the same time where any of us are is not solely an accident of birth or luck or timing or even hard work. It is a combination of all of those factors and more – especially when you add in the X factor.

No, the X factor is not the old adage that the cream rises to the top or talent wins out every time or you always get back what you give. That’s ridiculous. Life can be too cruel to some, too generous to others and too random generally for it to be all that.

A wise psychiatrist told me a long, long, LONG time ago that the only thing you can control in a given situation is your ACTIONS. Yeah, I hated hearing this almost as much as I loathe repeating it.   Because I know at any moment I too can hit a down cycle and it would be the next to last thing I’d want to hear – the last thing being – um, too late, you’re dead. Which of course, I wouldn’t hear anyway so perhaps it’s the last thing.

#Priorities

Meaning – there is only one solution to the inevitable existential awfulness of a current situation. And that is to take some small action, and then another, and then even a side step with the hope that your mind will drift somewhere else and you’ll forget just how awful you feel. Or – you might actually create a moment or two that might prompt something else that will create a new and slightly less depressing or perhaps more exciting opportunity for you. At something. Which in turn will then forge something else.

I’ve found this works in romance, at work and even – heaven forbid, at the gym. Right. We’re all jumpin’ to get on that treadmill after a year away. But I’ll bet most of us would if the heart surgeon told you that if you didn’t you’d drop dead in a month.

or channel your inner Lebowski #whiteRussianplease

Don’t mean to be THAT harsh. Or perhaps I do. Certainly, that’s the only thing that’s ever worked with me. Fear of death. But I’m Jewish, from New York, vain and gay. Oh, and I live in L.A. Where none of us believe we’re going to get old or die. Because we don’t look it.

Which is a start towards something positive if you think about it. But not too hard.

Notes from Methuselah

A student wrote about an older couple who were returning to their summer home and carrying luggage where one has a heart attack. We were hashing it out in class and I said, “How old.”

“Oh, they’re really old.”

“Ok, but do you mean like, Gloria Stuart in Titanic old?” (Note: The woman who was in her nineties when she was nominated for best supporting actress).

“No, but old…..I’d say, well, I guess they’re in their fifties.”

“THAT OLD!?” I say.

“Yeah.”

“You’re sure?”

“Uh, huh. People have heart attacks in their fifties.”

Long pause.

Crickets. Crickets. #awkward

“I might as well just kill myself now then,” I reply.

Pause. Then some nervous laughs.

“Oh. Well, it just seems like they’re a lot older than the other characters.”

“That’s fair,” I say. “But this couple. Are you sure they could even lift their luggage enough to move it across the room? I mean, they’re that mobile for that age?”

More nervous laughter. Then the rest of the class catches on and starts to laugh.

“And you imply with their body language that they still have sex. Are you sure that’s safe at their age?   Could they even make it into the bedroom, much less do anything?”

Don’t be fresh!

“You’re not going to let this go,” the student countered, finally amused.

“No, I don’t think so. I’m having too much fun,” I say. “And who knows how much time I have left? I better take advantage of it while I still can.”

And….scene.

Thank you. Thank you very much. #noshame

This is a fairly typical scene these days for me and many of my contemporaries. And for my older friends – not to mention my 88 year-old Dad who assures me it will only get worse. Then again, exactly what IS the alternative?

That’s rhetorical. We all know what the alternative is. So it doesn’t bear repeating.

Too much to ask?

Full confession – there was no reason a student in their early twenties should think that a couple in their fifties is anything BUT an older couple. And after my mini-vaudeville routine I admitted as much.   But what I was trying to convey was behavior and sense of clarity. Just labeling someone an older couple isn’t very specific. Unless, well…it is. But I refuse to go there quite yet. Especially at my age.

The movie Get Out positions baby boomers Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford as exactly this type of older couple – as well as the symbols of phony, middle aged liberalism. Though even middle aged is relative. As Meryl Streep, playing a fictional Carrie Fisher, stingingly retorts to Shirley MacLaine, playing a fictional version of her then sixtyish mother Debbie Reynolds, after Mom tries to claim middle age for herself in Postcards from the Edge – Really. How many one hundred and twenty year old women do You know?

I thought it was hilarious in the nineties.   But now it’s deeply funny. Tinged with a touch of self-righteous irony on the ungrateful daughter’s part.

Regular On Golden Pond over here #helpme #getoutforreal

I think this was part of the issue for me not being a cheerleader for Get Out. The kind of middle-aged white liberal I am bore no relation to the phony Kumbaya relics I was seeing lambasted on the big screen. Not that I minded the roasting. What I didn’t get was the generalities about a group of people and the seemingly unmotivated behavior based on a stereotype.

Oh. Right. That was the point. Turnabout is fair play. Still, don’t you have to BELIEVE IT in the context of the world you as a filmmaker have created? And if you aren’t specific enough to make us believe it, aren’t you no better than the long generation of movies in the past that have so consistently done it to other minority groups?

Hmm. I’m not sure whether two wrongs don’t make a right or many wrongs make a right for a few new and improved wrongs to at least even out the playing field a little. I’m going to have to think about that one.

This might take a while #brb

The trouble is you get to the point, or the age, when you don’t want to have to think too hard about that one. When I heard 76-year-old Al Pacino was going on the stage locally to play one of my favorite playwrights, Tennessee Williams, during his last creative days in a workshop production of a new play, And God Looked Away, I quickly went online and bought my husband and I two tickets at $189 a piece on a Saturday night.

My first thought: I have to see Al Pacino live onstage before he dies and I don’t care if he’s the opposite of gay and southern. It’s called acting, right?

oh, hello.

Well, I thought so. Even though he’s older and far shorter, Pacino managed to thoroughly inhabit a fading, drug-addled Williams. It felt like the essence of a real character.   In much the same way very hunky and very hearththrob-by Hugh Jackman miraculously evoked the very gay and very lithe singer-songwriter Peter Allen on Broadway in The Boy From Oz. Mr. Allen, like Mr. Williams, was one of my faves and is almost as far away from the Wolverine as, well…I am. Though not quite.

Yet mostly what our L.A. Times critic couldn’t resist sneering about in Mr. Pacino’s case was that:

“The privilege of seeing Pacino portray the aging American playwright in a Demerol haze while pawing shirtless male hustlers as reviewers crucify him for his latest flop doesn’t come cheap.”

SHADE

Hell, that sounds good to me, gay liberal that I am. In fact, I’d pay even more to see that performance again if they fix the play a bit more. At least they were on to recognizable human behavior rather than an overworked or too witty social commentary that bears little resemblance to my reality. Or, well, a reality.

Which I suppose is relative, depending on who you are and what interests you. The hope is that what we’re actually living is reality, and what’s created in our individual fictional worlds based on that reality, is actually worthy of our attentions at all.

Though one supposes it beats the alternative.

Open Books

Does anybody really want to be private anymore?  Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and their many future and inevitable iterations would say otherwise.

The idea that each of us can express opinions on a mass scale and actually be heard – well, read and seen, which are close but not exactly the same thing – feels revolutionary.  Rather than shouting in the wind, or to your family and friends, one can literally shout at the world these days and it is entirely possible that a person or mass of people that one’s never met will see, hear, perhaps even listen… but most importantly RESPOND.   Of course, not always kindly.  File that under be careful what you wish for.

Oh days of yesteryear

Still, one could argue the situation these days is a lot more preferable than it used to be.  There was a time not so long ago that one could die in frustration with one’s inner thoughts or angry outer thoughts that the world too often turned away from.  Certainly not everything one has to say or voice is important to the world but what is certain is that it is very much important to that person.

We all, each of us, have at least one thing in common and that is the desire to be heard, and in turn, hopefully, understood.  By someone.  Or many.  Why?  Well, it varies.  Sometimes it’s on an interpersonal issue with someone we know.  In other more existential moments it is on larger topics and what we believe about ourselves.  about the world, and about humanity.  And in loftier but no less meaningful moments it is about a pressing desire to proclaim what is RIGHT AND WRONG in  ALL of the aforementioned orbits.

It really is hard being the smartest person in the room

When we can’t stop shouting about an instance, an argument or an issue, it’s more than pressing.  It’s crushingly personal.  And we can’t shut up about it no matter how much we try or don’t attempt to.  This, in particular, is where a 2017 life comes in handy.  Even if one doesn’t receive a direct response (DM) there is a feeling that somehow, somewhere, someone listened.  And might act on what was said.  By US.

Oh, and by the way and on a very much-related topic – this – more than anything else – is the dirty little secret about being a WRITER.  (Note:  Though certainly, not the only one).

Was someone spying on me? #meeveryday

On a recent and quite brilliant stand alone episode of Girls, Lena Dunham’s emerging writer Hannah Horvath is summoned to the breathtakingly gorgeous and sprawling apartment of a famous writer played by The Americans’ Matthew Rhys.  It seems Hannah has written a think piece for a feminist blog about this man, one of her all-time literary heroes, and his misadventures with a series of four different college age women he mentored and taught with whom he had unwanted or perhaps manipulated wanted, sexual relations.

Hannah tells him she wrote the piece as a means of support to thousands of young women who are forever scarred by a situation of abuse at the hands of someone more powerful.  But the writer makes a powerful case that although her words are brilliantly executed by someone with rare talents, they only tell a partial story of what she merely chose to see based on second and third hand accounts that she read.  For to be a true writer, he tells her, is to not only respect all sides but to dig deeper into one’s subject and understand reality, motivation, connection and situational circumstance in order to truly determine what constitutes the truth.

At which point, Hannah and the author have their own new interaction that EXACTLY mirrors one of the aforementioned circumstances, leaving it to the audience to determine who was right or wrong.  Or if, indeed, such a thing even exists at all.

Oh how I’ll miss you, Girl #hannah4ever

There are all types of writing and each has their individual demands.  But what they all have in common are two very specific things:

1. The truth

and…

2. What the writer believes the truth to be.

Of course, there are few absolutes in the world outside of math and science and lately even those have been brought into question.  Which really only leaves us with #2 and brings us full circle.

As both a writing teacher and someone who annually reads numerous works of writing from all over the country for various grants and scholarships, it becomes joyously and sometimes painfully obvious to me that when reading a writer one learns as much about that person as one does about the issue or subject being presented.  Often more.

You can’t help but begin to wonder – why of all the subjects in the world did this person choose to concoct a story about homeless LGBT youth?  What happened in their background that provoked this individual to pen a story about a 1930s honkytonk in the southwest with such fervor?  Who would choose to devote years to telling the tale of gnome who appears to a young lad in the middle of a cornfield at turn of the 20th century Midwest?

Or a tiny sprite of a girl who loves eggos

I choose these because in the last year all three have been among the most outstanding student and professional pieces I’ve read from young, unknown authors.  And in the cases of at least two of the three (Note: I do not know the author of the third) I know the writers revealed quite a bit more about themselves than they ever intended.  And to their great credit.

I’ve quoted it before but it bears repeating that no less than six famous writers are credited with having once famously stated (and I’m paraphrasing because five of them most certainly did):  Being a writer is easy.  Just open a vein.

And add to that in less witty parlance:  There is no other way to get to the truth.

Perhaps (?) (!) that was what Margaret Atwood was doing in the early eighties when she wrote the now famous A Handmaid’s Tale – a work of fiction in a dystopian world that not only went on to become a best seller which has since never been out of print but has spawned both a feature film and an upcoming Hulu television series where Ms. Atwood herself makes a cameo guest star appearance.

And…… PEGGY!

In her story, a Christian fundamentalist movement takes over the United States -which reeks of pollution and sexually transmitted diseases – and installs a totalitarian regime that subjugates women and forces a particular class of them to serve as the term vessels of unwanted pregnancies to a more powerful group of men forcing their wills on them for what they believe to be the ostensible survival of society.

Well, of course this is a work of fiction!

Fact almost seems more surreal than fiction these days

So much so that Ms. Atwood herself penned a piece several days ago for the NY Times explaining where she was and what she was thinking when she first wrote her perennial bestseller.

As well as what she could offer as to it’s meaning in what has been promised to be a new and improved United States that will once again be great again.

It’s a curious position to be in – addressing the real possibilities of a fictional story written in the past of an unimaginable dictatorial future some believe we are headed towards in the present.  But like any great writer she demurred on how prescient she was, attempting to be vaguely encouraging without providing answers.  In the age of what we’re constantly being told is instant communication, it’s up to all of us to draw those conclusions in the present.  Loudly.  For our futures.  Revealing not only where we stand but real parts of ourselves.  Before that is no longer a possibility.

Sage Advice

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Every year I take my students to see a panel of people who wrote the most acclaimed films of the previous year. This time they included the writers of:

La La Land, Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, Hidden Figures, Arrival, Hell or High Water, and yes, Deadpool.

Lil Deady (Pooly?) getting some love.

Lil Deady (Pooly?) getting some love.

These people are all among the current nominees for this year’s Writers Guild of America awards and at the point they speak on the “Beyond Words” panel they are ending an intense series of talks, interviews and other generalized discussions about their process, their work, their careers and their futures.

But what everyone seems to really want from the possible valedictorians of their class is:

THE ANSWER.

How DID you do it? How DO you do it? What can I DO to also do it? And am I FOOLING MYSELF by even thinking that I can do it?

Getting my listening face on! #readysetgo

Getting my listening face on! #readysetgo

The panel consists of writers (or writer-directors) but you can substitute the same questions for anything, really – actors, producers, directors, cinematographers, editors and script supervisors.

WHAT IS THE KEY?

Well, it’s exactly what you think it is. You work at it. And you do it harder and more consistently and with as much abandon as you have ever done anything in your life. In fact, more so.   And chances are, you will GET THERE.

Yes, this is quite encouraging. But then — oh my. You should see the series of scared, young and old DISAPPOINTED faces in the audience.

For here is the real answer they begin to realize minutes, hours, weeks or months later if they do follow that sage advice (Note: If you prefer to stay away from harsh truths stop reading now):

You will definitely get somewhere, certainly a better place artistically. But not necessarily on a future panel that’s before you.

Maybe not in your future... and that's OK!

Maybe not in your future… and that’s OK!

And I would add this nugget of information that perhaps never crosses one’s mind. Certainly it didn’t cross mine years ago.

Perhaps that (panel) is not exactly where you belong or where you would even want to be given the compromises, sacrifices and cost of the single-mindedness it takes to achieve what you think (or may even know) are your dreams. Perhaps the work you do will be honored in some different way entirely.

This is not meant to be any more discouraging or encouraging than anything those writers told the audience of movie fans, aspiring writers or curious industry-ites who had nothing better to do on a Thursday evening than look for hope, information or just plain intellectual entertainment. But I guarantee you it is also the same truth spoken by any one of those same artists, as well as many others, on that night or on any other night on any other year.

You can take away all kinds of things when people tell you to work really hard at what you do, follow some of the rules and break others, and to listen to your inner voice and then dig in deeper.

Inspiration can come in all forms. #sarcasmworkstoo

Inspiration can come in all forms. #sarcasmworkstoo

You can be encouraged and enlightened, buoyed by the brave soldiers that came before you and succeeded.

Or you can become depressed because you know you’re already doing all of that and more and haven’t gotten anywhere close to that result.

And, in some cases, you might even become frozen with fear when you run your entire life around your brain because suddenly you realize you’ve been doing all this and MORE for years (or perhaps decades) and are so much farther away from that place on that stage than you would ever care to admit to anyone out loud, most particularly yourself.

everyone's path is a little bit different

everyone’s path is a little bit different

Well, that’s fine. All of it is fine. Except, it doesn’t mean anything. At all.

There are numerous X factors in life. And in show business, in particular, we all measure art and practicality and talent and then divide it by happenstance. For instance, did you know:

— Damien Chazelle, all of 32 now, wrote La La Land six years prior. At which point it sat around, landed briefly at a studio, was put in turnaround, and then sat around for many years more. Which prompted him to then write and direct Whiplash out of his anger to the system. Which in turn forged La La Land.

Mr. Chazelle... or one of my students? #hardtotell #stillinspirational

Mr. Chazelle… or one of my students? #hardtotell #stillinspirational

— Taylor Sheridan quit work as an actor on a lucrative TV show as he approached his 40th birthday to write what became Hell or High Water, but not before he ran out of money and moved him and his wife and 10 month old kid into a small one bedroom apartment on Sunset and Laurel. (Note: He voluntarily gave the location).

— Kenneth Lonergan got raked over the Hollywood coals when the movie he made in 2000, Margaret, languished in legal battles, was recut and even then barely released eleven years later. And didn’t direct another film until Manchester by the Sea. In fact, his friend Matt Damon said that that he brought him the kernel of the idea for the film to get him out of his funk just so his creative voice could be heard again.

And so on and so forth.

You and I and certainly few of the rest of us are likely reach the successes above with our own projects. For there is always a certain amount of timing, luck, talent, karma and cosmic grace (Note: Not to be confused with Karma) that comes into play with these things.

Sometimes timing is everything

Sometimes timing is everything

But surely if we all don’t bear down and focus in on our work, and continue to dream big – despite our experience, age, economic circumstances or emotional places we currently occupy in our lives, we will never get there.

And if we do – who knows? We could possibly surpass them.

Why does this stuff always seem so trite and cliché?

Because the very nature of clichés is that they are references and expressions of stuff we have heard time and time again that offer nothing new to our view of the world.

Which doesn’t mean they’re incorrect.

What I’ve found to be the key is exactly what WE – you and I – DO with all of this advice. Not the advice itself.

Resist the eyeroll! Stay with me

Resist the eyeroll! Stay with me

It’s the actions we take, the people we engage with and disagree with and love and scream and yell with and the art we make – based on our own reactions and experiences – that comprise the sum of our output.   Which in turn shows up on the page, in the film, on the screen, in the machine and before the next doorkeeper determined to slam that door in all of our collective faces, that can and will make the difference.

I know this because I’ve seen this and lived this. Just look around you and you’ll see it too. And then look within and start working. And let the chips fall where they may.

But if this still sounds a bit too new agey, self-helpish and yes, cliché, don’t take my word for it.

This week I also went to see 84-year-old Broadway legend Chita Rivera do her one-woman show in Los Angeles. She recalled the time half a century ago in the 1960s when another Broadway legend, Gwen Verdon, and her then husband, director Bob Fossse, still another Broadway AND soon-to-be movie legend, asked her to star in the touring company of Sweet Charity in a role created to smashing success by Ms. Verdon herself.

The Unsinkable Ms. Rivera

The Unsinkable Ms. Rivera

Ms. Rivera confesses to at first being thrilled with the offer, which soon turned to total terror knowing she couldn’t possibly fill her predecessor’s shoes. Or even come close. Until finally, she shared with us, it occurred to her:

Chita, just bring your own shoes.

I tell that to all the kids, she added. Just bring your own shoes. And it’ll be fine.

Requiem for a Dream

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Jon Hamm was in my dream last night.

No, no, it wasn’t like that.

Unfortunately.

We were actually sitting around a table with a gay character actor named Tim Bagley I had just seen on TV and I was explaining the blog to Jon. I think Tim was chiming in with great support – as all good character actors do in my dreams – telling Jon about how much he liked one of my blog posts. I was a little scared and embarrassed until suddenly Jon smiled, seemed to get excited and all was well with the world. Because suddenly he was getting up, seemingly pumped, heading to a nearby laptop to check ME out when….

I woke up.

NOOOOOOOO!

NOOOOOOOO!

Opening my eyes I wasn’t so much sad as I was disappointed –- that I wasted a Jon Hamm dream on this stupid blog, that I barely got up the nerve to speak to him and, worst of all, that I’d never ever get to find out what happened. Sure, I could go back to sleep and try to dream the dream again, but that never works out well, does it? When a specific fantasy doesn’t come true it takes a bit more work and finessing to make it happen. Which I suppose might be something to look forward to. But bottom line – I’ll never get THAT moment back again, will I?

Try again next time

Try again next time

I know this is a metaphor for how Hillary & other non-Trump supporters feel about the election and our future President-Elect-Who-Lost-The-Popular-Vote-By-More-Than-2 Million-People-And-Still-Counting. Frustrated, disappointed, powerless and scared we’ll never get the moment back again.   Scared, of course, about so many other things too, but particularly nervous that we blew our ONE shot.

We will not be re-running or reanalyzing the presidential election here because…do we need to one more time? We now have Jill Stein recounts, our personal attempts at activism and four years of arguments, discussions and commiserations with friends, relatives and enemies from which to do that. And I, for one, look forward to being called a “bigot” against working class people by many more people on Facebook because it gives ME an excuse to remind them they supported an openly racist sociopath with a very bad temper to control the nuclear codes for the next 48 months or more.   Amid gloating that if the world blows up, it won’t be on my watch or conscience. Sure, I may die – but I’ll die with a clear head.

Well if I'm being honest

Well if I’m being honest

But back to dreams, fantasies and realities.

It seems that the only way to live fully is to have dreams, even if they get altered or go unfulfilled. It gives us something to strive for and to try to create. It leads us down unforeseen paths we surely never would have gone down. Heck, it gets me out of my bed and away from watching reruns of HGTV’s Fixer Upper – a show I continue to watch even though I’m aware hosts Chip and Joanna Gaines are staunch religious conservatives who contributed money to Ben Carson – a guy who thinks you can be turned gay in prison.

LA LA LA LA LA NOT LISTENING

LA LA LA LA LA NOT LISTENING

But really, who cares about all of that when you can repurpose all those swell broken down milk cans and pieces of shiplap into soothing rooms of trendy, colorful antiques and sit at quartz countertops munching on an endless batch of freshly baked homemade cookies from a woodsy worn farm basket? I, like all the rest of you, do have my price.

Give me tiny topiaries or give me death #resistanceisfutile

Give me tiny topiaries or give me death #resistanceisfutile

Which is why it’s particularly important to keep reimagining yourself and your place in the world and not get caught up in a single static fantasy that is likely not to come true in the way that you imagined it. Never in your wildest dreams did you think the election would… Right. Well, I never ever dreamed that Tom Ford would become a writer-director of movies. And what’s worse – that he would be given money to make a film so goddawfully ridiculous and unreal as Nocturnal Animals and manage to torture the usually brilliant actors Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal and all of us with the recreation of TWO PAINFUL HOURS with not a single true moment contained within. Jeeez, there should be awards for that. Oh wait, there are.

When bad things happen to good people #Razzies. #ManyRazzies. #ManyManyManyRazzies

When bad things happen to good people #Razzies #ManyRazzies #ManyManyManyRazzies

But movies and TV do cut both ways. Besides managing to give you ridiculously unfulfilling dreams, they can spur you on to fantasize bigger – or more BIGLY – than you could have ever imagined. That’s what I did this week when on Turner Classic Movies I happened to flip channels and come in almost at the beginning of The Godfather and Godfather II – now renamed The Godfather Saga (NOTE: Who knew?). Not only are these perfect movies, or as close to perfect as the movies can get for me, they are inspiring lessons in filmic storytelling done in our lifetimes. They don’t hold back with the truth yet they spoon feed it out to us with just enough gloss, blood and archetypal fantasy behavior that we can escape and appreciate every awful moment we’ve ever experienced in our own families and cling to them in selfish glee. That, in itself, gave me a new appreciation of the environment I managed to be born into and a renewed love for each and every relative of mine (17!) who had come to my house and sat at my Thanksgiving tables (Note: Nothing Orange was served).

The only tolerable fat cat terrorizing NYC on Thanksgiving

The only tolerable fat cat terrorizing NYC on Thanksgiving

Still, this wasn’t enough to totally cheer me up once everyone had left and I unwisely decided to check social media again. That is when I began to finally binge watch a TV series a former student of mine had been begging me to check out for months and months. It’s an FX show called You’re The Worst and centers on two toxic, self-destructive people who fall in love and attempt a relationship. Boy, is that a GREAT description. And just what the doctor ordered, since I also have had a bad cold and sinus thing going, in addition to becoming a magnet for right wing Jewish hate speech.

This couple (the ones on You’re The Worst) is so absolutely toxic and uncensored that they managed to verbalize every awful, disgusting, insulting retort to every person even I never had the nerve to voice back to in that manner. All I had to do is imagine them in a conversation with every individual Trump voter I had encountered personally or virtually in the last year (or minute) and I immediately felt better – because they were also profoundly and undisputedly FUNNY. And yes, a little sad but – aren’t we all right about now? Well, most of us – I’m taking a chance here and don’t mean to leave out Red State America but at this point I have to be real about who my current audience is. As does the Democratic Party.

Living uncensored like Jimmy and Gretchen #dreamcometrue?

Living uncensored like Jimmy and Gretchen #dreamcometrue?

This is not in any way to advocate dreaming or even fantasizing nasty as a consistent diet to life because the series doesn’t either. Rather, it tries to show us what REALLY IS unvarnished, and in a humorously dramatic way. This is unlike what our current Mr. Ford does in his new, nationally released, murderous perfume ad in feature length. It is also to some extent what our current Orange President-Elect is doing. No one can accuse it him of not being dramatic and funny to a lot of his subjects audience.   But the REALITY he has wrought is one that I and many millions more of the majority voters in the country who did not vote for him, prefer was not real.

Which is why we will keep using the dreams generated by our art – the ones that already exist and inspire us, the ones we create out of whole cloth, and the ones suggested in all of our current and future Jon Hamm dreams (Note: Oh God, please let it be so) – to defeat him – SOUNDLY and ROUNDLY – and reset the course of our lives.  And, in turn, our world.

Well…hopefully.

Seven Ways to Survive

screen-shot-2016-10-30-at-12-54-13-pm

The Chair (that’s me) is on a deadline with the finish line in sight. But here’s the thing –

HOLD ON.

We all simply have to

HOLD ON!!!

The emails, the sex scandals, the WEINER OF IT ALL!!

Seriously, how do you deal with it?

Well, here’s what I do.

1 – Eat pizza – There is just something soothing about all that forbidden cheese. (NOTE: No, not cheeZE – we’re getting enough of that in the news). Dripping in deliciousness. Though I’m partial to extra crispy crust.   But there’s only how well you can do with that at home. For truly near burnt dough, you’ve got to have your own pizza oven, turn it up to 600 degrees and resist the temptation to stick your head in. Chair advice: Turn off your device of choice and leave the house.

Welp, that's one way to do it

Welp, that’s one way to do it

2- Exercise – Yeah, I know. But if anything can get you out of the house to do it, this can. It’s going to be depressing, that first day back at the gym. But you’ll feel so good when you’re done. I promise. And you’ll look that much better at the HRC victory party.

3- Sex – I’m not going there. Though I just did. But given this election cycle it feels appropriate, doesn’t it? And besides, I could have gone further. A lot further. But unlike the rest of the middle-aged to old white men surrounding HRC, I’m not a sleaze, a predator and have nothing unsavory on video of tape. I promise. Yes, I know you’ve heard that before. But this time it’s true. ‘Nuff said.

4- Rant on social media – Many people have asked me how I can stand following all of this. (Note: Yeah, That). But many more have thanked me for speaking out, keeping them entertained and generally providing commentary on what has over the months become an impossibly ridiculous real time Black comedy. Right, Black. As in “my African Americans, where are my African Americans????”

It's the little things

It’s the little things

One former student asked me on Twitter, how can you stand it? My answer: It keeps me sane. I’ve now got her tweeting about It. Well, not me – I won’t take full responsibility. But if I can provide some small inspiration in the name of sanity, Hey, I’m there. #DealMeIn.

5- Listen to your favorite female diva – In the car. And sing along. LOUDLY. In a very, very FIERCE voice. For me, this worked with the re-mastered re-release of Bette Midler’s debut album, The Divine Miss M.  Do you know that I actually did a commanding solo of both Delta Dawn and Leon Russell’s Superstar in the VW Bug Convertible going up and down Mulholland Drive? Now, how gay is that??? (Note: In a good way). Full disclaimer: The top wasn’t down. There are limits. Even for the Chair. Though not many.

BRB, getting fitted for my fins #boogiewoogiebugleboy

BRB, getting fitted for my fins #boogiewoogiebugleboy

6- Plan an election day party – You’re probably thinking, oh please, I just want this to be over. That’s party enough!! But I beg to differ. You didn’t come this far to just let it all go, did you? It’s like what I tell my writing students. You mean you’re going to hand in your final script to me without printing out a title page with the phrase of your choice, followed with BY (Fill in your name). You did not come all this way to not take some credit for all of your hard work – even if what all of your hard work amounted to is just listening. Because listening, and enduring, and listening some more, and living through this sh-t show, deserves some sort of celebration. Or are you just the kind of person who denies yourself that particular type of joy? No, I don’t think so. Not on my watch.

7- Choose your drinking game of choice. This needn’t include alcohol. In fact, it can also be your eating game of choice. Or your – anything consumable game of choice (Note: We take no responsibility for your choices and it goes without saying – nothing dangerous and no driving. You’ve seen those commercials. BUZZ driving is DRUNK driving).

I'M WITH HER

I’M WITH HER

Still, when the day comes that this insanity is over – or, at least this chapter of the insanity, make a game of it. Life is too serious and the fate of the world is too precarious to not indulge. Just a little. So once Rachel, or Brian Williams, or Blitzer, or Meghan Kelly or Chris Wallace or George Stephanopoulos or whoever the hell you’ll hear it from, announces that the U.S. has its first female president in more than two centuries – take a VERY LONG SWIG – of something. And celebrate the fact that you are alive at this time. And managed to live through it. MORE LATER.

MUCH, MUCH MORE.

PS – No, the WORST will NOT happen. Say it with me. Again. Then Again. Now – One more time. Now Rinse. And repeat your Seven Steps above.

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.