A Creative Life

Every life is a creative life because how could it not be?  We are literally creating every moment we live based on what we do or don’t do.   

Each minor or major or in-between choice leads to another, and then another, until before you know it decades have gone by.  The very act of living means we are making something that has never existed before.

Us.

Whoa Chairy

That was not meant to reek of new ageism, even though it does.

And no, we are not in an episode of This Is Us, now in its final season in case you have somehow managed to not be assaulted by NBC/Universal’s currently relentless marketing blitz.

I will miss Milo and his denim jacket

It is merely to state, and own, that we humans are ALL creative beings.   That is to say every one of us, according to the latter’s dictionary definition, has an imagination and an original idea(s).

Which has nothing to do with what is commonly referred to as talent. 

I’m reminded of this with each hour I’ve spent watching Peter Jackson’s irresistible Get Back, an eight-hour documentary of the documentary that chronicled the 1969 Beatles’ creation of their iconic Let It Be album (Note:  Somehow now weirdly being streamed only on Disney Plus).

Does this make them Disney… princes?

It also tugs massively at the heart with the passing of international screen icon and humanitarian, Sidney Poitier this week.

Just as it nostalgically takes us back to any number of seminal artistic triumphs we’ve enjoyed that were created by people like film director Peter Bogdanovich and songwriter Marilyn Bergman.

Thanks 2022. 

And no, it doesn’t matter that the combined ages of the last three is 268.  Or that it we added in Betty White last week we’d be at 367. 

A tough week!

Not to mention where we’d be at if we included the two long-deceased Beatles.

Talent is a natural aptitude or skill in a certain area that, in its extreme form, gets developed far beyond an ability to just merely do something well. 

Cultivated in the right way and at the right time it can transform our way of thinking, entertain us beyond belief and, in rare circumstances, change the world. 

Often for the good and, sometimes, even for the bad.

… and whatever this is

Jeopardy’s current $1,000,000 champ Amy Schneider, a trans woman, has begun to change our perception of who becomes a champion, and not only on a game show.

Our most recent former president, leading a movement that’s huckster-ized fantasy into fact and earned him more than a billion dollars in donations, leads the most anti-Democratic movement in the history of the U.S.

Dark vs. light.  Light vs. Dark.  

And who said the Marvel Universe isn’t relevant?  (Note:  Okay, I have).

… and don’t ask this guy. #ImwithMarty

But let’s stay with the light for now.

Watching The Beatles in their messy creative space amid all that footage, as any aspiring artist should, the level and ease of their talent is their least surprising quality.  In fact, it’s a given.

What’s more fascinating is observing just how young, goofy and utterly, humanly flawed each one of them are.

– Paul’s smart, boundlessly creative and so up it’s annoying. 

– John broods, cuts through the bullshit, does weird voices and likes very much to do drugs. 

– George, the youngest and perhaps wisest, desperately wants to be heard but seldom is.

– Ringo, loyal and unfazed by everyone, is up for anything except for all the unnecessary drama.  When that happens he clandestinely exits the room.   

Ringo (and his shirt) is just here for a good time!

Watching them you think, is that… it???  They remind me of my high school or college friends but with more colorful clothing. (Note:  I’d buy a copy of any one of their shirts off the rack and wear them tomorrow if only someone had the brains or talent to reproduce them.  And so would you).

This, of course, is the point.

My experience with the uber talented is not only are they all quite human, both good and bad, but that in real life, they can be so down to earth, surprisingly normal (or expectedly, abnormally normal) that, frankly, it’s shocking.

Sometimes it works!

I was fortunate to meet Sidney Poitier some years ago at restaurant because a friend knew him and he invited us to sit down at a large table of his family and friends.

I figured to myself, Oh Steve, (Note: This was before my Chair days), don’t say anything stupid and DO NOT, under ANY circumstances, react to how handsome you think this 80 year-old man is.

Well, before I could process all that and several minutes into various smaller conversations around the table, Sidney suddenly puts a hand on my shoulder, looks me in the eye and says, So Steve, what do you do?

Me, trying to keep my cool.

I mean, it’s like he was interested.  Though, wouldn’t any stranger at a table be if he was seated next to you and there was a lull in the conversation?

Actually, not necessarily, which is part of what made him who he was.  He was just a guy with extraordinary talents.  He knew it, I knew.  That was a given.  But he also was a mensch, had a life and was a lot more than that.

As for Bogdanovich, I decades ago I worked on his movie, Mask.  To this day, he knew more about film than any one I’ve ever met and was not shy about proving it in every conversation.

Plus so many neckerchiefs (and only he could pull them off!)

That and his toweringly intellectual way of speaking could come off as high-fallutin’ and rarified.  Yet get him on the topic of his late, murdered girlfriend, Dorothy Stratten, whom he’d just written a book about, and he was no different than any grieving uncle who’d just lost the love of his life.

It wasn’t affectation.  It wasn’t a pose.  It was simply a truly messed up guy who had been through it and would never be the same.

None of which changed the effete public persona he liked to present to the world and came so naturally to him.  When I ran into him some years later in Westwood on my way to a movie he’d just seen, he greeted me with a huge hello and called from across the street:  I’m doing a picture at Metro!  Give me a call!

Um… what?

Metro, I thought?  Metro?  This was the late eighties. MGM hadn’t been Metro in, um….well…forever?  Nevertheless it was as real and as human and inviting as a guy like him could ever be.  That is, happily greeting a young man he had formerly employed by name and publicly inviting him to come see him at… Metro! 

What you learn about talent over the years is that it doesn’t replace anyone’s humanity or raise it to a different level.  It is only one more characteristic for a person to create a life that reflects who they are based on the choices they have made and will make.

Choosing wisely, or more to the point, authentically, is the key.

Lulu – “To Sir, with love”

Thirtysomething for Twentysomethings

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Fame is fleeting.

Someone first coined that phrase but I’m not sure whom.

What I do know is that it has been repeated enough to become a cliché.  And that it’s what people in the biz tell you, or their therapists tell them, or perhaps you tell yourself when you receive no resounding public recognition for what you perceive to be your outstanding achievements.

Oh, don’t feel bad, even if you became famous it wouldn’t last.  I mean, even the mega millions you would have been bound to make probably wouldn’t last.  Not to mention all the good will – and jealousy. Uh, yeah, that’s true.  Think of it this way – since it looks like you’ll never be famous, chances are no will ever be that jealous of you and you’ll be free to live your life away from intense public scrutiny.  That’s something, isn’t it?

Well, one supposes it is a sort of bad form to not be thankful for even the smallest of life’s blessings these days.  Still, the above logic is more than a bit challenging.  For example, should we all be grateful not to be Carrie Underwood this week after the fairly scathing reviews she received from the media as Maria Von Trapp in NBC’s live three hour broadcast of The Sound of Music? Certainly, no one wants to be called: A snow globe with scarcely any flakes or Swiss Miss Maria. Or to have their work critiqued with phrases like: To say that Underwood was no Julie Andrews is one of life’s greatest certainties or…It was the speaking that did her in. 

Snark 101

Snark 101

On the other hand, SofM was a ratings bonanza for NBC that provided the network its best Thursday night numbers in almost 10 years.  Not to mention, Ms. Underwood is an internationally known, multi-platinum recording star with many buckets of millions and a seemingly quite happy marriage to a very, very good-looking hockey player (Note: Yes, nobody knows these things for sure – and the latter can be either a blessing or a curse — but still…look for yourself).

Ugh.. seriously?

Ugh.. seriously?

The cynical among us, and I might detect a few in the room – certainly in the room I am now alone writing in – might easily prefer the one authentic quote I was able to dig up about fame.  That one comes from that well-known lover of humanity, the diminutive and dead French dictator of more than three centuries ago– Napoleon Bonaparte.  Quote:

Glory is fleeting…but obscurity…is forever.

Wow, that’s a bitter pill to swallow, isn’t it?  Or it would be — if it were true.

Last week, I attended a sort of public writer’s salon. It wasn’t exactly like what you read happened at Gertrude Stein’s house on the Left Bank of Paris almost a century ago.  But it did take place in L.A. at the Writers Guild of America’s multi-purpose room. So there is at least, on a sliding scale, some small smidgen of street cred.

Mr. Thirtysomething

Mr. Thirtysomething

Richard Kramer, one of the original and lead writers on the seminal 1980s TV drama thirtysomething – a one time renowned TV series that was about nothing other than the behavior of a group of friends long before Seinfeld, Dawson’s Creek and Gossip Girl took that type of low concept idea and ran it through the post-modern, too hip for the room, Snidely McSnide, comic/soap opera blender – was on hand to read from and talk about his recent novel, These Things Happen.  He also brought along three very well-known actors from thirtysomething – Melanie Mayron, David Marshall Grant and Peter Frechette – to sit beside him, reminisce and read other various parts of the book, now in development to be a cable series at HBO.

Melanie (second from right).

Melanie (second from right).

David and Peter (and the famous morning after scene)

David and Peter (and the famous morning after scene)

It is interesting to note that when I spoke about some of the evening to my students – all juniors and seniors in college – none were familiar with this once quite famous television show (Note: didn’t their parents watch the tube?  Did not one of them ever Google the phrase 30something or even 20something  to see where they came from instead of just being annoyed by them?).  Well, perhaps none of this is surprising.  But what also momentarily took me aback was that not one (that’s zero) of them had even heard of Ms. Mayron, Mr. Grant or Mr. Frechette.

That is, until I mentioned …

Mr. Grant was a writer on both Brothers and Sisters and Smash and is the showrunner for the new upcoming HBO comedy series about three young gay men living in San Francisco.

… and that Ms. Mayron is the prolific television director of such ABC Family shows as Pretty Little Liars, The Fosters and Switched At Birth.

(Note: Mr. Frechette, over the years a favorite actor of mine who earned two Tony nominations since thirtysomething for such plays as Eastern Standard and Our Country’s Good, is still quite well known in the theatre but, times being what they are, doesn’t quite register on the faces of young, aspiring TV and screenwriters.  Still, two out of three ain’t bad).

David, Melanie & Peter... or who?

David, Melanie & Peter… or better know as: who?

What does all this tell us?  That fame is fleeting but at least none of the four artists onstage has faded into total obscurity?  Well, not exactly.

After the actors read aloud from Mr. Kramer’s novel it couldn’t help but strike the audience just how good they all still were at the craft of acting – even when they were sitting in chairs reading from a book – and how infrequently audiences are ever given the chance to see them perform their craft on film or in television.  When they were asked if they missed acting both Mr. Grant and Ms. Mayron nodded yes even before the question fully landed.  Mr. Grant willingly shared that it was only when he realized he couldn’t get arrested as an actor anymore that he began writing full time and though he thoroughly enjoys being a working writer and running a show, his ideal job in old age would be to be a journeyman actor – “to just come, do the job that I love, and leave.”

Ms. Mayron mentioned being lucky enough as a young actor to study with Lee Strasberg and offered how often her acting skills come in handy when she’s on the set as a director “moving actors around — I guess that’s what I do now.” To illustrate her point, she and Mr. Kramer spoke of her days before the camera and how in her Emmy-winning role on thirtysomething she always had to be doing something in a scene in addition to saying her lines even if it meant unbagging groceries or pouring numerous packs of sugar into a cup of coffee in a particularly emotional moment. I love good writing, she noted, but the truth is – it’s equally about behavior.

This made me smile as both a writer and writing teacher because it is one of the basics I try to teach my students and stay true to myself in my own work as a screenwriter – and even in my own life.  The idea that it’s not so much what is being said but what is not being said – and that what someone does is much more meaningful than what they intended to do or even say that they will do.  And it was also not lost of me where I first learned all of this — acting class. (Note: These principles were later reinforced during years of psychotherapy, but that’s the subject of another discussion entirely).

Aha moment!

Aha moment!

Additionally, it should not be lost on anyone that fame and recognition can have something to do with great art but they needn’t necessarily.  Ms. Mayron, Mr. Grant and Mr. Frechette, who is still a working actor – are as good or better than they ever were as performers, even if they are not receiving the kind of recognition or opportunities to show their craft that they once did.  One could argue that they should but one could also argue for world peace, an end to Congressional gridlock or for NBC to stop doing live musicals with leads from other mediums who don’t have the chops to pull it off.  But none of those are likely to happen either.

Towards the end of this evening a friend a few years older than me who knew quite well of all the people onstage turned to me and whispered, It’s hard for everyone. isn’t it?  It was really a rhetorical question because, at this point in time and after decades in and around the business, we both knew the answer.  And sure, it’s a resounding YES.

Keep on pushing!

Keep on pushing!

But hard doesn’t mean impossible.  It only means difficult or challenging.  Well, is anything worth having not some of those at various points in time?

To put it another way, all of the people onstage that night figured out ways to be new, creative versions of themselves without falling into a pit of despair over the fact that they couldn’t keep doing exactly what they always did in exactly the same way and expect the same result decades later. That’s not about striving for fame or lamenting obscurity but merely taking stock and doing the work in any form that you can.   Aside from watching an ill-advised network redo of a beloved movie and stage musical and dishing about it with friends, there are so few guaranteed pleasures in life.  But this, it seems, is one of them.  Despite the number of people you have watching you do it, or anything else, on any given night.