Cable News Cardio

You know how you slow down when you see an accident on a highway even though you don’t want to?  Well, that’s how it feels watching The Impeachment Trial of Donald Trump.

Still, I have to specifically hand it to my cable network of choice, MSNBC.  They’ve brought it.  The last thing I wanted to do this week was to hear the guy’s name, see the stuff that passes on his head for hair or hear about anything he’s ever done/does in the past, present or foreseeable future.

We bow down to the national treasure that is Rachel Maddow

Still, I couldn’t turn away.  Not for barely a second.  I even found the ONLY treadmill at the gym with on Friday afternoon that had a small screen turned to guess what…MSNBC!…. during THE key climactic moments late Friday afternoon.

It was meant to be.

Or so I reasoned to myself when I got off the machine I was on and hiked three rows down to see more of what I’d been watching since 8am that morning and every morning for the last seemingly 52 days.  Only this time there were merely images with subtitles.   NO. SOUND.

WHYYYYYY

Oh yeah.  I couldn’t figure out how to plug my headphones into the thing.  But even that was okay.  The subtitles were being done on the fly and I got most of the abbreviations.  In fact, it became fun to figure out which commentators were which WITHOUT THEIR words ALWAYS being identified.

Suddenly, I was running at record speeds, in elevations that I hadn’t been in months, trying to play a NEW guessing game.

Oh, yes, that sounds EXACTLY like what Nicolle Wallace would say because she knows the inner workings of the White House!

Sure, that’s former Senator Claire McCaskill’s incisive commentary.  It’s not only smart but a bit snide.

Claire’s for real, guys.

 And wait, she’s actually…texting with members of the Senate in real time??? I was right, I gleefully proclaimed to myself as I bobbled my water bottle and it sprayed all over my gray Lululemon workout shirt from six years ago that somehow is still holding up.

OMG, it’s like having a spy behind enemy lines, ready to dish to your side in a down and dirty way.  Yay Claire!!! 

Then, trying to figure out who’s talking to whom on the crowded Senate floor from far away, I suddenly hear Claire excitedly saying: That’s Lamar’s (Sen. Alexander (R-TN) bald spot

 …as we were waiting to determine whether he was going to cast the third possibly dissenting Republican YAY vote to finally HEAR a few witnesses (or even one) on the issue of impeachment in the Senate trial (Note: He didn’t).

Twitter gets it

Forget that the NY Times had just reported former Trump advisor John Bolton’s upcoming March book has him proclaiming in print that Trump did indeed hold up gazillions of dollars in foreign aid to Ukraine unless the country investigated Hunter Biden and his dad Joe Biden, Trump’s chief rival for the presidency at the time.

I was almost equally as riled up that Claire seemed to be on the verge of some sort of hirsute-ish scoop!

Of course, once reality began to kick in I sort of began to crash.

But some moments later, just when the hope for any live witnesses at this quickly becoming kangaroo court was lost, the powers that be at my channel cut to Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer live as he gave a short statement proclaiming that the Senate voting not allow new witnesses or documents at this trial was a…PERFITY???????????????? 

HUH WHAT?

What the f-k does that mean????  Suddenly, I felt so let down by my friends on the panel who only moments before were seemingly my only friends in the world because they were the only ones still with me through all this who never seemed to mind me ranting and raving (Note: Forget they couldn’t hear me) cause they were, too.

Oh, and dumb.   Thoroughly let down and now DUMB.  So, so DUMB.

Then, Brian Williams, like the God he is, jumped in and quipped re: Schumer’s perfidy:

Hey, I bet he wishes he could take that word back!

After which Claire and Nicolle laughed.  And laughed.  AND LAUGHED!!!

Thank God.

Sweet relief

I felt even better when, I think, Chris Matthews noted that it was Harry Truman who always recommended you don’t use 10-dollar words but nickel words if you want to really get people to listen to you.

Sure, I’m mangling the quote a little but that was the gist of it since I couldn’t find the actual one.  Though I did find out the definition of perfidy.

per·fi·dy

noun: perfidy; plural noun: perfidies

deceitfulness; untrustworthiness.”it was an example of his perfidy”

Since this whole week was all about perfidies I now very much admired Schumer for bringing it up in the first place.

Every time he uses a fancy word, the glasses get lower

Until Nicolle (or was it Brian or Chris? – I’m not sure who it was at this point) announced another revelation from the Bolton book just unearthed by the NY Times. 

Apparently Trump’s White House lawyer Pat Cipollone, the guy we’d been watching co-lead his no-witnesses defense all week by proclaiming Trump NEVER demanded we withhold money from Ukraine to benefit his re-election campaign, WAS ACTUALLY IN THE OVAL OFFICE MEETING WHEN TRUMP DEMANDED we withhold money from Ukraine to benefit his re-election campaign.

Well, I thought Nicole was going to lose it along with me.

I think we were all Wile E Coyote in that moment #help

Luckily, I was off the treadmill by then and watching this via a flat screen TV I found in the weight room that happened to also be tuned to her.

Lest you think I go to one of those blue state, elite snowflake gyms, know that’s not quite true.  It’s a 24-Hour Fitness and it costs me $120 per year.

And occasionally some screens are tuned to Fox.  Until I complained about it and never saw that channel on in MY GYM again.

At least not on my watch.

Lizzo – “Good As Hell”

Screenplay by… Adam Schiff

Everyone likes a good story.

But what is a good story and how do you construct it?  Then, how do you tell it?

I brought my students to a panel this week at the Writers Guild Theatre that featured the 2020 WGA nominees for best screenplay.  Overall, they had a great time listening to writer-directors Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Rian Johnson (Knives Out) and Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story), as well as the screenwriters responsible for Joker, The Irishman, Booksmart and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, among others, talk about how they do what they do.

Allow me to sweep up all those names you just dropped

Even if they aren’t always the best at speaking in person about it, these women and men know a ton about story construction and how to seduce an audience through visual, verbal and other means.  They are tasked daily with figuring out what makes people tick and give them a computer screen, a piece of paper and/or a camera, you would undoubtedly be dazzled by what they come up with.

In the last 12 months, many of you already were.

But as they spoke, I couldn’t help but think of another former screenwriter, my congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA).  On that very night he had just spent hours on the Senate floor, as the lead House manager for the Impeachment of Donald J. Trump, trying to convince a recruited audience to vote for the removal of a president many voted for and still continue to support.

For those disgusted with politics, think of it like the nasty studio head purposely test marketing your new movie (Note: The one he hates) before a hostile audience he gleefully assembled in order to determine whether it will be released or not.

Or just think of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell…doing anything at all.

The purest definition of #ShtEatingGrin

The screenwriting skills of Rep. Schiff, who back in the nineties actually moonlighted as a screenwriter (Note: He received an offer from film producer Nick Weschler (The Player) to option his crime thriller The Minotaur while working as an assistant U.S. attorney) were on great display all week.

Though he had a lot of help from six other extremely articulate fellow male and female managers in proving his case, he was the one principally tasked with how to structure and execute the narrative they were about to perform.

Is it any wonder then that he chose to start with a quote from Alexander Hamilton and end with another from Atticus Finch?

My 15 minutes will never be up!

Too much a reach?  Consider that Rep. Schiff was primarily trying to put pressure on a handful of senators to allow key witnesses Trump had previously refused to allow testify before Congress to at least finally be heard.

To do this he had to not only construct a legal narrative but present his case in a way that the public could understand so they might also apply some outside pressure on their representatives to hear those stories and vote in favor of impeachment.

So what better way to prove his case to them than to quote Hamilton, the only Founding Father to have a musical named after him that is currently an international phenomenon, one that has grossed more than half a BILLION dollars on Broadway alone, has more than 20 touring companies worldwide, a Pulitzer Prize for drama and a record-setting 11 Tony awards.

… and here’s a #ShtEatingGrin that is deserved!!

I mean, when Congressman Schiff starts out by likening Trump to the type of charlatan none other than HAMILTON warned us about, a man unprincipled in private life… bold in his temper… known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty… to flatter and fall in with all the nonsense of the zealots of the day it carries some weight, right?  Not to mention it doesn’t hurt when Hamilton also characterizes that man as someone who, much like Trump, could only be trusted to pursue his own interests.

Which is to say nothing about Atticus Finch, hero of THE great American classic novel, To Kill A Mockingbird.  That’s the same one that none other than Aaron Sorkin recently adapted into a hit Broadway play that is just about to start its own two-year international tour.

BONUS: Ed Harris with Hair!

Every writer knows the moral weight Atticus Finch’s words carry when we seek to convince an American audience (or any American) to use the common sense their parents taught them when they were kids about the differences between right vs. wrong.  But it takes a screenwriter’s knowledge of both drama and the audience they’re tasked with seducing to know where to place it.

Gotta say as a screenwriter and teacher of writing myself, I was incredibly pleased my very own congressman was smart enough to give the Atticus quote his key ACT THREE moment in the Trump case.  Especially when Schiff himself confessed on the Senate floor that as a young lad he first heard those words from his own father (Note: Just as Mockingbird’s own writer Harper Lee had heard them her own Dad, fictionalized as Atticus).  To drive the point home further, Rep Schiff revealed that he even attributed Atticus’ words to his own father before learning years later they were actually being passed on to him by his very moral Dad only because he had taken the time to actually READ the classic story and PARENT with it. (Note: Nice touch when speaking about the well known to be NON-READING Trump).

This will be the worst school trip ever

But that wasn’t all.

As one watched Rep. Schiff and his colleagues unspool the case against our ELECTORAL COLLEGE POTUS (Note:  Full Confession; I was riveted to my DVR), it was hard not to once again recall the WGA event.  Particularly that moment when Greta Gerwig told the audience that it was only because she found out LW’s writer Louisa May Alcott managed to hold on to the copyright of her novel at a time when women were mostly powerless, that SHE was able to come up with the boldest female empowerment moments for Jo, Alcott’s heroine, in this new movie version.

Greta deserved Betta #saoirseknows

This idea of digging deep into the facts and constructing your narrative around real actions your main character takes (or took) rather than claims he/she makes was also on display with each Trump video clip Schiff and his posse unspooled on the Senate floor as they were crosscut with evidence of the true real-life contrary actions taken by Trump and documented by staff, cabinet members and in some of his own candid audio tapes in the House managers’ presentation.

It also brought to mind Rian Johnson’s confession about tricks he uses as a screenwriter as he plans his stories for ultimate dramatic effect.   He freely confessed that 80% of his writing process is outlining and structuring his story just as The Irishman’s screenwriter Steve Zailian’s admitted that in order to figure out how to execute every film story on which he’s hired (Note: See his IMDB page and be impressed) he needs a plan and OUTLINING is a good way to come in with a PLAN.

First note in outline: This line must appear every 10 minutes

No wonder after the über-outlined case against Trump unfolded on that very first day even arch adversaries like Sen. Lindsey Graham took Schiff aside and privately shook his hand at the intricately planned and structured way in which he laid out the story he was telling, convincingly taking the senators, step by step, through the Trump narrative HE had decided to tell in order to prove his case.

Of course as everyone in Hollywood knows, particularly screenwriters, you can do everything right and still not get the results you want.

Think of that film recut at the last minute (Note: Orson Welles’ Magnificent Ambersons).  Or consider that terrific cult movie not released properly that first time around (Note: Harold and Maude or The Rocky Horror Picture Show) that had to be rediscovered months or even years later because their messages were sabotaged by the arbitrary moment in which they were determined to first arrive.

Once upon a time this film was a box office bomb

I can’t help but worry whether this will be the case for the storytellers in the Schiff posse, no matter how well constructed and executed their narrative might be.  Particularly when I read this sobering statistic in the Cook Political Report:

A majority of seats in the U.S. senate represent just 18% of the country. 

This means that ANY hope for a majority vote on any one issue in the Senate could conceivably be SUNK by a GROUP OF SENATORS accounting for UNDER ONE FIFTH of all voters in the country.

In other words, the will of more than EIGHTY PERCENT of the country that agree with my Congressman, and me, on the Trump of it all, could EASILY be ignored in the next week.  Or even two or three.

You got that right, Sutton.

This is not the Hollywood ending Schiff or anyone on the WGA panel that evening would write.    But, and not to be a downer, it is also important to remember that for all his wisdom at the end of To Kill A Mockingbird Atticus LOSES his case.

Will we settle for an ending to a similar story that took place almost a full century ago?

Or will we create our own narrative?

Hmmmmmm.

Original Hamilton Cast – “My Shot”

It Begins

One of my resolutions for 2020 was to not get sidetracked by what ifs and to stop worrying about things I can’t control.

Don’t give me that look!

Aside from personal issues of life, health and death, that includes everything from who will win at the Oscars this year to the harrowing prospect that Donald J. Trump could be re-elected president of the United States.

Three weeks into 2020, I’ve already broken my vow.

Don’t judge me!

And not just once but many times over.

Still, hope springs eternal and not only because Quentin Tarantino was given Oscar’s precursor, the Golden Globe, for best screenplay over Noah Baumbach’s overrated Marriage Story.

No, what gave me hope this week was the pomp and circumstance of the Senate hearing that inaugurated the impeachment trial of Donald John Trump.

Let’s say that again.

Actually, let’s allow the actual words of the Sergeant of Arms in the U.S. Senate to say it for us:

Hear ye, Hear ye, Hear ye –

 All persons are COMMANDED – to keep silent on PAIN OF IMPRISONMENT– while the House of Representatives is exhibiting to the Senate of the United States articles of IMPEACHMENT- AGAINST – DONALD JOHN TRUMP – president of the United States…

Pete Souza’s shade really cannot be matched 🍑

Now, I’m not one for pomp and circumstance.  In high school, I finally found a real excuse not to stand up for the National Anthem due to my opposition against the Vietnam War.

Even in elementary school I remember thinking it was silly to put my hand over my heart and pledge allegiance to a ….flag?  I mean, what would THAT prove when no one could know what I, or anyone else, was really thinking?

Not to mention that to this day, whenever I see anyone bow before the Queen of England I’m still one-step short of appalled. A crown?  A scepter?  …Really?  (Note:  And yeah, that was the sound of me cheering the no longer Royal Harry and Meghan, for flying away to Canada and choosing to live in our real world of multi-million dollar endorsements.  Well, sort of).

She drives! She’s free! #ohcanada

Still…I could watch the pomp and circumstance, the formality, and the antiquated ceremonial loveliness of the invocation to the formal Senate trial that inaugurated Trump’s impeachment on Thursday every day on a loop until Quentin Tarantino’s OSCAR win for best original screenplay on Feb. 9th.

In fact, here it is now!

Hands up, baby hands up!

I suppose this makes me a bit of a hypocrite along with 63 plus million other American voters.  But after three years of immigrant kids in cages, our leader’s embrace of murderous, authoritarian world leaders over our long held allies (many of whom stood by our side in times of devastating war, most recently after 9/11), and a list of daily lies, corruptions and/or general nastiness to support his frail ego and questionable financial empire, the formality of a public ceremonial Trump guillotine in a court of law is looking pretty damned good.

Excuse me while I enjoy my tea

Our steely, and it turns out quiet prescient Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, recognized this when she finally agreed some months ago to skillfully open charges of impeachment against our Electoral College POTUS, though not for any of the aforementioned insurrections that enraged me (Note: And I would imagine “she”).

Rather, it took a rock solid case of Trump using his office to withhold billions of dollars in much needed foreign aid to a small country (Ukraine) in order to pressure them into helping him win re-election (i.e., dirt that could scandalize the potential Democrat most likely to run against him and beat him at the time, Joe Biden), that finally crossed the line.

It’s happening, it’s really happening

Rather than anger or hubris, her motivation – and lest anyone doubt it look over her many statements opposing impeachment over the last three years – were the guidelines set down by our Founding Fathers over two centuries ago in the U.S. Constitution.

As she explained to Bill Maher on his HBO series Real Time over the weekend:

…He (Trump) used the office of the president to try to influence a foreign country for his personal and political benefit and in doing so he undermined our national security.  He was disloyal to his oath of office to protect the Constitution and he placed in jeopardy the integrity of our election.  So really, he gave us no choice…

Earlier on, some of the charges, violations of the law, I said ‘he’s not worth it.’  But once he crossed that bridge it wasn’t a question of HIS being worth it.  The CONSTITUTION was worth it.  He HAD to be IMPEACHED.

My religious moment of 2020

Yet lest any of us think Speaker Pelosi, is above gloating just a smidge, it is worth noting that when asked what she’d say to Trump if he were watching, she smiled slyly, looked straight into the camera and proclaimed:

You are impeached forever.  No matter what the Senate does, it can NEVER be erased. 

That was Nancy D’Alesandro — a woman raised in a political powerhouse family where her father was mayor of Baltimore and later it’s Congressman, and her brother became city council president and later mayor — who was speaking.

A woman who not only understands the Constitution but is a maestro in the mixed martial arts of politics.

She doesn’t get sidetracked by what ifs or people and things she can’t control.

She simply stays in the moment, studies her options and then takes appropriate actions the way she sees fit, letting the chips fall where they may.

Yes she can

She also claims, and I believe her, not to HATE anyone.

One day, when we all grow up, we might to take a collective resolution to stay in the moment and be more like her.  In the meantime, let’s focus and at least try to do it until Tuesday, November 3, 2020.

Lou Reed – “This Magic Moment” 

The Time Being

Watching throngs of handicapped people in wheelchairs and with breathing tubes being forcibly dragged out of Congress’ hallways by police was quite a sight.

America 2017. #forreal

As they waited for a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over a new health care bill (aka Trumpcare) that would never materialize, the rest of we Americans were being treated to images straight out of….Hulu’s Handmaid’s Tale?….Mad Max Fury Road?…or fill in the latest dystopic film or television series (limited or not) of choice.

No, I’m not exaggerating. And there’s a reason this kind of programming (aka content) is popular right about now.

If our lives at the moment were a dystopic film or television series – and who is to say it isn’t given we have a reality star POTUS – one can only imagine what will follow. Certainly you don’t need to be a writer to consider the various options:

1- Police will begin to drag ALL protesters forcibly away, make protesting illegal, and then punishable by death, and then seize EVERYONE’s assets until a superhero comes to the rescue.

2- A superhero – or mere human movement – will spring up and defeat those drunk with power in a bloody, prolonged third act that will cost the studio too much money but is deemed necessary for commercial appeal.

The cheaper and more effective option #VOTE

3- Law enforcement – aka the status quo – will realize they’ve gone too far and back off in the name of decency and benevolence. (Note: Know that this is the most unpopular choice in any development meeting and always deemed woefully undramatic no matter how you try to sell it to them with clever dialogue and intricate plot twists even they didn’t see coming).

4- Self-preservation and arm-twisting will kick in and some sort of compromise will be reached. No one will be happy but society will continue and no blood will be shed. For now.

If we choose #4 – and certainly American history usually bends in this direction, it’s called the kick the can down the road compromise of choice – you will know we aren’t living a real life version of The Truman Show.

Although this is how I feel watching the news every night

Of course, that will have sidestepped the issue at hand (Note: This week it’s health care – a few months ago it was immigration – another month or two hence it could be…well, anything) – for the time being.

The time being is what intrigues me at the moment. The spaces between the monumental fights and events. It seems to me that is really where most of us live unless we’re thrill seekers like Sebastian Junger, icons like Martin Luther King Jr., or someone who believes a $6000 suit, a bad comb over dye job and all the money and power in the world hide who we really are from the vast majority of the world.

It’s hard to know how to behave for the time being. Just what do you do other than go about your daily life?

– Some of us (ahem) have taken to alternately rant and worry

Just being real

– Some of us donate money, take to the streets and yell (or worse) at anyone who disagrees with us or even gets in our way

– Some of us drink too much and party too much as if we’re the uber bourgeoisie and it’s about to be the uber French Revolution (Note: Which indeed it may be)

– Some of us pay this no mind at all and wonder why the rest of us bother

I have done all of the above except the latter. Correction, I’ve even done the latter for at least a few seconds here and there over the last six months. But no more.

… and well other times

Which means I’m left with A LOT of time being to fill even though it feels like my time – and all of our times – are running out fast.

I read a script this weekend that’s a comedy about a man dying of cancer. Apparently, it’s going to be made with a big star and by a major studio. I say apparently, because, as we know, nothing in the world is definite and this applies to the nth degree when it comes to a greenlit movie.

Anyway, in this screenplay the person with the fatal disease takes on all kinds of behavior usually deemed outrageous in an effort to get the people around him to live a little. He’s not really mean to anyone – well, except to some hypocrite he works with who, strangely enough, happens to be in a wheelchair (Note: Think real advanced affirmative action via non-stereotypical character development, an actor’s field day) – and somehow this becomes the key to….

Danny boy… you sure you want to retire??

Well, I don’t want to spoil it in case it gets made. Let’s just say it doesn’t so much solve his issues but makes everyone else around him think a little bit about their own time beings – though as far as we know it is only for the time being. The rest could or would but probably won’t be answered in a sequel.

In light of what happened this week with the many affirmed demonstrators who took to the halls of Congress in fear that they literally will die given the proposed Medicaid cuts Republicans are asking for – I initially had trouble with the new trope of handicapped hypocrite.

On the other hand, lots of other marginalized people in the story were valued and nothing too terrible happened to him that he didn’t deserve and we didn’t want to happen.

The worst of me wants the worst to happen to those manipulators who are full of themselves and only out for themselves.

Arch enemies #couldnthelpmyself

The best of me wants to protect people who are not as able-bodied or advantaged as myself even when I don’t necessarily agree with all of their actions.

But what happens if both those options are embodied in exactly the same person?

Do you go high? Or do you go low? Though really, it’s more about what I’ll do or you’ll do – that really being the collective we. Meaning it’s really ALL about the collective WE.

… or perhaps just the ROYAL WE #thecrown #alltheemmys

More likely you, I and thus “We” will reach some sort of compromise and kick the can down the road in the name of survival. For the time being at least.

As all of us, you and I rant, rave, drink, tune out and/or make jokes about it all.

I can think of no better way to usher in a new unenlightened age.

For the time… Well, you get the point. Though it’s anyone’s guess if WE do. Or ever will.

For the Time Being – Edie Brickell & the Gaddabouts