Perseverance

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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.

When Mute is not an Option

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My father seldom scolded me as a child but I do remember there was one instance when he threw up his hands, thoroughly exasperated, when I constantly answered him back on a subject I felt strongly about.

Dad:  You always have to get the last word, don’t you?

Me (in protesting voice):  No, I don’t!

Needless to say, this character flaw has continued into adulthood – as everyone who reads notesfromachair is aware of.

On the other hand, is it really a flaw?

There are many schools of thought on the art of having opinions and knowing when to voice them.  Admittedly, I have learned to zip it through the years if only to conserve the much-needed energy I know I’ll require in order to face the larger fight.  Yes, you find as time goes by that you can’t possibly engage every battle and, even if you could, your overall number of losses would inevitably increase even if the total stats in your win-loss column remains impressive to everyone else.  That alone can drive you crazy, as any fighter of any kind will tell you, myself included.

And when in doubt.. practice makes perfect!

And when in doubt.. practice makes perfect!

Still, what I have not learned nor have any interest in acquiring knowledge of is the ability to remain silent when that little voice in your head tells you it is imperative that you speak.  This is not the same voice that demands that you curse someone out, punch them in the nose or insult their parents, spouse or child when something or someone annoys you.   It is the wiser, more measured voice that implores you to fight back because you know this is a battle that must be fought or a voice that even in small measure has to be heard in order to counterbalance the misinformed, moronic or simply wrong-headed views of another person, group or even nation.

Such circumstances came across my computer screen any number of times this week (as they often do) and I spoke out – loudly, softly, directly, calmly and angrily, depending on the situation.  See, what I’ve also learned is that you can modulate your tone depending on who your audience is and how effective you plan to be in persuading the opposition to your point of view in the argument.  Contrary to what I used to think, that’s not called compromise or selling out your passion or values – it’s simply referred to as– GOOD STRATEGY.  (Or is it “stategery” – GW Bush).

Let’s look at some my examples in a category I like to call:

Nut Bag Fringe & The Religious Crazies (not a band) or The Extreme Right Wing

A common misconception

A common misconception

As a gay person, each day presents numerous challenges in the art of energy conservation and reigning yourself in.  Of course, this is the case for any member of any minority groups fighting for its rights as well as for the friends who love and support them.  But with the recent US Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality and the country’s now majority view that members of the same sex have the right to tie the knot, opposing factions have intensified their anger and attacks.  It’s akin to the barely coded and/or totally racist attacks against President Obama and African-Americans at large (Note: Any more comments on inner city laziness, Congressman Paul Ryan?) have had to endure since we elected the first Black man to lead the United States (or in this case – a man who is half-Black) in our more than two and half centuries of existence.  (Note #2: It might be worth recalling that during our first century African Americans couldn’t even vote and were considered “slave property” in many of these United States.  Those in the industry doubting this need merely to pop in their DVD of this year’s best picture Oscar winner, 12 Years A Slave).

Okay, no metaphor is perfect and perhaps I am overstating the comparison here.  I mean, we gays were never enslaved – only discriminated against, arrested, periodically beaten and just every so often killed by our oppressors.   But that in itself is a nice segue into the first of two public statements this past week that needed my answering.

#1: In a nationally-aired radio interview, Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (D-MN) tried to defend the just vetoed Arizona bill (SB1062) that would have allowed any business to refuse service to any individuals said business choose not to serve on the basis of religious grounds. Said Rep. Bachman:

There’s nothing about gays in there (the law).  But the gay community decided to make this their measure. 

The thing that I think is getting a little tiresome is the gay community – they’ve so bullied the American people and they’ve so intimidated politicians that politicians fear them – so that they think they get to dictate the agenda everywhere.

boo!

boo!

Now, you can think Rep. Bachmann makes a whole lot of sense or is a whole lotta crazy but the fact remains she is a five-term Congresswoman and has a key position as a member of the House Intelligence Committee (Note: Uh no, not joking) overseeing the CIA and the rest of the United States’ intelligence activities.  She also won the Iowa straw poll in 2012 in her bid to run for the US presidency as a nominee of the Republican Party and speaks for a significant group of religious conservative power brokers within it.  Therefore, any member of any outside group ignores her at their own peril.

What needed answering – as I did on web comments and am doing right here – is Rep. Bachmann’s classic fact distortion about the Arizona bill. Yes, the bill is worded in such a way that it does not specifically name gays and thus allows merchants to refuse service to any people they choose on religious grounds. (Note: As if that makes it any better).  But what she leaves out is the reason for the bill to begin with and the primary cases cited by numerous lobbying groups in support of it.  And that would be Elane Photography vs. Willock – a case in which a Christian wedding photographer was sued for refusing to serve a same sex wedding.  Similar cases involving bakers and florists who chose to refuse gays and lesbians as customers have also been cited.

Don't forget we're also dealing with this logic

Don’t forget we’re also dealing with this logic

This is classic political manipulation akin to pending laws trying to limit early voting, decrease voting hours on Election Day and enforce stringent voter ID laws in states where no overwhelming voter fraud exists or time cutbacks are needed (e.g. Florida, Wisconsin, Florida).  But what is certainly well-known in these states is that the African American and other poor or minority community members – people who overwhelmingly vote for Democrats –  vote early, have limited time on Election Day and frequently don’t have driver’s licenses to easily identify themselves.

Now, as Aretha Franklin once sang, Who’s Zoomin’ Who?

#2:  Here is a story very prominently quoted nationally this week and displayed on a website sponsored by Norman Lear’s watchdog group, People for the American Way:

Oliver North: GOP Must Oppose Marriage Equality Like It Fought Slavery

In an appearance at CPAC today, Oliver North denounced President Obama for treating military service members like “laboratory rats in some radical social experiment” and “apologizing” for America. North insisted that the US “has nothing ever to apologize for, not once” in its entire history.

Later, North said that the GOP must remain firm in working to ban marriage equality and abortion rights just as abolitionists fought to end slavery, warning that “if we as conservatives cease to be a place where people of faith and those who believe in strong moral values can come, we will cease to be a political force in America.”

For those under 30, Oliver North was a key member of Pres. Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council in the 1980s before resigning in the arms for hostages scandal of Iran-Contra and is now a best-selling NY Times author, popular conservative commentator and host of his own television show on the Fox News Channel, War Stories with Oliver North.

Remember me?

Remember me?

When my longtime companion posted the North piece on Facebook this week with an angry comment, one of his Facebook friends, who incidentally is a gay man, commented that “political discourse would probably be less apoplectic if the left didn’t spend so much time publicizing extremist statements by right-wing loonies and if the right didn’t spend so much time doing the same by left-loonies, neither of whom were in positions in power.”

Oh, I so beg and begged in print to this guy, to differ.

OK.. maybe not this aggresively

OK.. maybe not this aggresively

When fringe talk gets national attention and begins gaining national power it is the very definition of political discourse to engage with it – much like a military man like Col. North would do and is doing.  It is imperative.  It is a requirement.  Yes, it’s tiring, but if you are so moved in opposition it is your obligation to answer back and not leave such exaggerated, misinformed statements unchecked.

Rather than dissect each of former Col. North’s arguments point by point, let’s limit it to his comparison of religious conservatives fighting against the right of gays to marry as something akin to the abolitionists who were trying to end slavery.  So the logic goes that allowing gays to marry will somehow enslave religious conservatives?  And those fighting in support of the religious conservative, anti-gay marriage views are akin to those people who wanted to abolish slavery and free the slaves?  How will gay marriage enslave religious people in the same way that African Americans were enslaved?  (Note: Doubters from any industry can rent or download 12 Years a Slave from Netflix and find the correct answer.  Which is:  They will not).

I think the jist is... see this movie!

I think the jist is… see this movie!

See, this didn’t take much time at all.  And it only took me mere moments to answer this guy online with it.  Maybe it changed his mind, maybe it didn’t, or maybe it gave someone else who was on the fence something to think about.

Well, as they say, both Rome and marriage equality weren’t built in a day.  Nor is any cause that gets your goat, or any point the voice inside tells you is worth fighting for or against.  In any arena, playing field, social event or family gathering and on any subject – personal or otherwise – that you know needs your support.  I can’t believe I’m going to end with a sports metaphor but when in doubt think of what hockey great Wayne Gretsky once said:

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

…And I don’t even like hockey.