The Simple Truth

Less is more.

This is the mantra that my writing mentors taught me and that I try to pass on to those writers I mentor.  It’s tempting to hear these words to mean that working less will mean more.  In fact, it’s exactly the opposite.  It takes a great deal of thought (though not over thinking), digging and artistic courage to explore areas you find scary, embarrassing and frankly, well, private, to come up with what you see as “the truth” (or at least an artistic version of it) in any given dramatic (or comedic) situation. And then to pare it down to less, less and still less in an effort to showcase it in its most relatable and thus, understandable light.  The (not so) simple truth is by then you might be thinking – who needs this torture!  But as one mentor told me some years ago:  “No one forced you to be a writer.”  Indeed.

I was thinking about being “simple” this week when I read that Zachary Quinto — the very talented actor best known to movie audiences as Mr. Spock in the “Star Trek” reboot, to TV audiences as the villainous Sylar in “Heroes,” and to Broadway audiences as Lewis, the neurotic gay intellectual who leaves his HIV infected long-time lover of in the revival of Tony Kushner’s  “Angels in America.” –- acknowledged what many in the entertainment industry have long known but apparently many in the public were still surprised by – that he is G-A-Y.

Having been gay all of my life, what I know for certain is that publicly acknowledging the truth about your sexuality, or about anything else in your personal life, is a personal choice and full of booby traps. Although it could be simple it often isn’t because of endless internal dialogue:

What’s too much… what’s too little; why am I saying anything at all?

But by not saying this am I lying about who I am?

What good will come of this in the age of #Twitter, Facebook (hiding you), tumblr (uh…_), TMZ (bad photo), VERY high unemployment (will I lose my job?).  

The real truthy truth is words can be so easily twisted and damn it, I just want to be understood!

We feel you, ZQ

To this I say – don’t we all?  But it is in that very attempt to do so that we all, including myself stray away from the simple truth in an effort to – what exactly?  Explain what could be covered in a single line, as one screenwriting teacher once told me?  Why not just have your hero take an action, if he has to say something, make it brief because the more he says the more confused you’re making me.

I wonder if to some extent this is what happened to the quite courageous Mr. Quinto, and, I suspect, might have happened to me at 34 years old if I were a major actor and an over thinking artist – both of which I think Mr. Quinto is (and half of which I probably wish I were at some point).  Instead of simply saying: I AM GAY and I want to be honest about it, etc. etc. here is the statement currently posted on his website:

I think he said he was….wait, did he?  Let me read it again.

Good for ZQ (what great initials) for saying something. And who am I to tell him how to say it (obviously this is not stopping me).  But might it have been good, or even more good (I don’t want to say better) for what he was trying to do – which is to make a public statement about his life – to simply, say:

“I am a gay man and I want to help.  And if me living my life openly as a gay man in some tiny way helps a gay kid somewhere who is considering suicide, that’s a small sacrifice on my part.”

Maybe he could add something like, “This is a very personal decision but if all actors, young and old, came out, it would soon become not a big deal and we could get on with our jobs of entertaining people.”

If pressed he could even further elaborate: “Imagine if everyone came out?  Maybe this is not possible for everyone.  But if it slowly were to happen, I can’t help but think, or in fact know, that the bullies would be outnumbered.”

Let me be clear – EVERYONE HAS A RIGHT TO SAY WHAT THEY WANT THE WAY THEY WANT IT.  This is something I tell myself AND my students.  The issue is – what is most effective?  Being Complicated?  Being Simple?  Or something in between?

Certainly, there is nothing wrong with putting all this in the personal and political context of Jamey Rodemeyer’s tragic suicide, the “It’s Get Better Videos,” and civil equality for the LGBT community.  But as they taught us in journalism school and as James L. Brooks taught us by way of Albert Brooks’ character in “Broadcast News,” the one thing you don’t want to do when you’re trying to make a point is: BURY THE LEAD.

Meaning: how great is it when you can say what you want to say simply?  Upfront.  Clearly.  Think the inverted pyramid – who, what, when, where, why, how.  It will ALWAYS work if it’s honest because nothing works more effectively than the simple truth.  It’s the only way to counteract the bullies and the liars and the tellers or stories that deep down we know in our hearts and souls couldn’t possibly be true.

Given our current climate, one could argue simple is not best.  But remember – true simplicity is not just brief but it’s truthful – simple does not necessarily mean TRUTHFUL HONEST.  Which is where the slope gets extremely slippery and where people as smart or even smarter than Mr. Quinto, often get tripped up.  Twenty years ago when an actor I was working with as a writer (one who would soon become hugely famous and powerful) saw my wedding ring and asked if I was married, I brushed him off with a one line joke and didn’t give him the real answer which was that the ring signified the love my GAY partner and I had for each other since we couldn’t marry.  A matter of a year later this actor, who I later found out was hugely liberal and very complimentary of my work, would become nationally known for playing the part of a married man on something he produced and I realized what he was indeed asking me was – if you’re a married guy I think I’d really like to have your perspective in this next project I’m doing.  Which – I will sheepishly admit – became HUGE.

Now, there’s no way to be sure that was the case, but in this instance I think so.  So clarity, honesty, or no matter how you want to define it can cut both ways.  I don’t regret my choice (well, not too much), because it taught me something incredibly valuable.  It might seem like a risk, but more often than not the right answer is the honest and simple one.  Now don’t get me wrong, getting that job certainly would have presented an even greater set of issues and I likely would have quit or got fired because this actor was not necessarily easy.   But neither is simplicity or, at times, honesty.  Though it is always the way to go.  No doubt the latter is something ZQ will be showing us more of in both not so simple and very simple ways in the days to come.

ADDENDUM:  I can report since this writing that ZQ has personally reached out to gay organizations and committees, including one in which I’m a member, offering his help when available.  In this case, his ACTIONS speak louder than his WORDS – and that is truly rare – and something which I greatly admire.  And when it is a choice between words and actions, let’s face it – we’ll take the latter every day of the week. Bravo.

Will It Get Better?

This week I had intended to talk about something else but sometimes life gets in the way.

This week an American soldier got booed and scorned publicly at a political debate for asking a question.

This week yet another young person – in this case a 14 year old boy in Buffalo, New York – killed himself because he could no longer take the relentless bullying he endured at both his school and from his online community.

This week I publicly acknowledge – both of these events are connected because both of these young men (certainly compared to me they’re young) are (in the case of the 14 year old it’s “were”) gay.

Stephen & Jamey

This week I thought about a famous quote:  “People get the governments they deserve.” (FYI, it’s been attributed to everyone from French philosopher Alexis deTocqueville to 60s Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson and is usually intended to those of us lucky enough to live in a democracy).

This week I decided that what is important is not who said it (or any variation of it) and in what context, but rather

  1.  Is it true?  – and –
  2. Can it be applied to other areas in life?

This week I decided – the answer is – “yes.”  To both 1. and 2.

This week there are two clips I must ask you to watch and listen to.

The first is from Anderson Cooper and centers on the 14 year-old Buffalo boy, Jamey Rodemeyer.  It features footage of Jamey doing an “It Gets Better” you tube video just four months ago to encourage other gay youth to stick it out and not feel bad about themselves.  It also features footage from a right wing evangelical Christian leader proclaiming that a. bullying is merely part of growing up, and b. the opinion of a current member of the U.S. House of Representatives noting the “gay problem” and the legitimizing of this group in mainstream society is a more serious problem in this country than terrorism.  [On the latter point, I couldn’t help but think of this as the “Jewish problem” many Germans talked about pre-World War II and wondered if this Congressperson (her name is Sally Kern) was pondering some similar “Final Solution” to take care of what she sees as our current problem.  She needn’t worry in the case of Jamey – he found said solution without her.]

Watch the entire video here

The second is a short clip from the Wednesday night Republican candidates debate when Stephen Hill, a young soldier who, thanks to the recent overturn of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” respectfully by Skype (or maybe it was on a pre-tape) came out as gay and instantly gets booed.  He soldiers on (as our men and women in uniform do) and asked the candidates across the board whether they would reinstate said policy.  Needless to say, Sgt. (or Soldier?) Hill did not receive the public support or even answer he had hoped for.

And the second video here.

###

This week I was reminded of something I’ve known for a long time but sometimes choose to forget because I have a pretty good life free of this insanity – the booing of this soldier, who is far more brave than I will ever be, and the fact that not one candidate on that stage spoke up to chastise the audience for booing a man of uniform in a time of war, is undeniably connected to the toxic atmosphere that pushed young Jamey to his death and will push other young Jameys to the same fate in the coming months and years.

Can we do better?

This week I acknowledge that it’s a lot more fun and entertaining to talk about film and television and why they’re great or why they suck and what this says about us as a society and how artists can make a difference in the world.

And how you can be a great artist.

And how you can fight all the self-doubt.

And how we all have a lot more in common on that score than we are all willing to admit.

And how, as a wise person who at one point I didn’t particularly like but then actually grew to like very much told a group of people I was in from all economic backgrounds and from all over the country that — “you’re more alike than you’re different.”

This week I’m particularly thinking about this last quote and wondering whether it is really true.  Because unless I’m mistaken, it’s not unreasonable to think that Sally Kern and her kind don’t feel this way at all and, in fact, are looking at their own “solution” to some of what (or whom) they consider society’s problems.

This week I’m considering whether I bear at least part of the responsibility for not speaking up (and doing) more when something like this happens.

As some of you have been nice enough to say – I do talk a good game.   But this week I have decided to take whatever brains, talent and cleverness I have (limited though it might sometimes be) to work on a new project that will try to change things in a more active way.  (More on that at some future date).

This week I’m hoping that – in whatever small, big or in-between way you can see fit – that you can take some small or larger action and try to do the same.  Because in no way, shape or form do I think or believe this week represents who we are.  Or – what we deserve.