Read Me, Seymour!

October 3, 2020

Author Unknown

You’ve written three novels. After years of toil, most of it pleasurable (an apt definition of writing), enduring countless maybes, the quite interested and even an option from Hollywood, you ended up self-publishing. Not the happy ending you envisioned, with heady book tours and glowing reviews on myriad websites. But parking your books on the computer like an old tax return? No fucking way.

“Years of effort” is actually an understatement. You’d spent decades on these novels. High art or not you knew they were high concept. Your first, The Last Generation imagined a world bereft of children, slowly dying out. Yet, and this was the kicker, nothing else was wrong. For the remaining shrinking population, life simply went on. What does this last generation do with itself? Your marketing line: It’s not the end of the world, just the end of us.

Your second novel is a modern fable about God and advertising, The Happy Soul Industry. In it, God, frustrated by a world lacking belief, puts an angel on earth to find an ad agency in order to market spirituality. In the third act all hell breaks loose.

Your third story, Sweet By Design is a romantic comedy (!) about a disillusioned gay man and an aging female socialite, brought together on an improbable road trip.  This one you wrote to prove you could be whimsical and, being honest here, entirely commercial. Whatever your motivations and inspirations, you never worked harder in your life than on these three books. In doing so, you developed a keen appreciation for even the shoddiest novels at the airport bookstand. Readers who weren’t writers would never comprehend, couldn’t possibly, the effort required to scribe 300 pages of anything. Thinking. Rethinking. Writing. Rewriting. Losing weeks of content. Fighting demons. Overcoming doubt.  And then, when you honestly thought it was finally done, the painful discovery of a typo on the very first page, then another and another, a repeated paragraph – How did that happen?  How many more things were wrong?

To be continued…

(If interested in any of these books please click on the links right side of this blog!)

Welcome to Armageddon

September 25, 2020

“I’m going to tell you a true story, okay?”

Callie is looking at her phone but you know she is listening. You are driving her to rehearsal. She has a big part in Les Miserables. She plays the grown-up version of Cosette. Though you saw the movie you don’t really remember the story. Victor Hugo is not your thing. Being a musical, Callie has been practicing her song for weeks. You’ve heard her belting out lyrics from her room, in the shower, on the trampoline in the backyard, which she pretended was a stage. You couldn’t tell if she was good or not but her enthusiasm was infectious. It gladdened you to see her so passionate, so happy. Many members from your family are coming in to see her perform. Hundreds of other people as well. The tickets cost money and this is a real show. Up until yesterday Callie had been totally psyched.

One of her “friends” had disrespected her online, insulting her singing skills or some other shit. Usually a brick, Callie had been wounded.  Your wife told you as much. Now you felt it in your daughter’s sullen demeanor.

So you tell her a story…

“Before you were born,” you begin. “Back when I was coming up at my agency in Chicago, we were preparing for this huge presentation. It was my idea we’d be showing. I had written all the copy. And I had the game to go with it. I knew what I was going to say and how I was going to say it. I had my shit down.”

Callie looks up when you curse. Good. You had her attention. No easy feat with a teenager.

“Anyway, the night before I rehearsed my bit in front of the team. I get done. My colleagues are pleased. One even clapped. Then the head account person –the guy who deals with the client- he proceeds to crap all over my work. He’s not happy with the creative, he says. It’s shit. I’m dumbfounded. Where did this come from? He’d seen it before.”

Traffic on the 101 is heavy but it allows you to turn and look at your daughter. “The guy says to me, in front of everybody, if you present that work tomorrow it will be Armageddon.”

“The end of the world?” Callie asks. “What did you do?” Callie’s eyes are one of her most beautiful features, big and blue, and they are wide open staring at you.

You laugh. “I told him I would make changes. That I’d do what he wanted.”

“That sucks,” your daughter says.

“It would have sucked,” you say. “Had I listened to him. The next day I delivered my presentation just as I’d planned it. My work. My way. And I fucking killed it. When I was done the client cheered.”

“Really?”

“Damn straight,” you say. “But the story’s not over. After the meeting ends, everybody’s shaking hands, patting each other on the back. I walk over to the account guy who’d dissed my work. He thinks I’m going to shake his hand. I look him right in the eyes, and I say, ‘Welcome to Armageddon, asshole.’”

Almost missing your exit, you swiftly change lanes. So caught up are you in the tale.

“Wow, that’s a great story, dad,” Callie says. “It’s all true?”

“Every bit, sweetheart.”

At the red light, you look at Callie full on. The middle child, she’s the sassy one. The daughter that gives your wife the most trouble. You choose your words carefully. “If people disrespect you or your work that does not mean you have to listen to them. Just be…”

The light turns green and you move the car forward. The word comes to you.

“Devastating.”

AA teaches that redemption comes from being of service. Letting go the bondage of self. This is true. Yet redemption also comes by shattering the chains from the bondage of others. You want your daughter to believe in herself, even when others don’t.

In the parking lot, Callie thanks you for driving her to practice. But you sense something deeper. You can see it in her eyes.

The fierceness has returned.

You watch Callie as she marches toward the theater, joining her other cast members. When she was a toddler, she had refused to walk upright, instead choosing to tread on her knees. The pediatrician had concerns. Your wife was worried. It’s not normal, they said. But you knew her day would come. And in your mind so did she.

The world is a stage and you just gave an important player some badass direction.

Sometimes Grace

September 22, 2020

Leaves in the pool…

You always try and view the Program through the eyes of a newcomer. Though many members feel otherwise, for you listening to the old timers has limited value. The rawness of someone in his first 30 days is why you keep coming back. You haven’t had a drink in 14 years and gave up pills soon after. You are looking for someone new. You slide back in your usual seat at the Living in the Solution meeting at the Loft, a small but airy room over the rec center atop a hill in Strawberry. You have a diet coke in one hand and three chocolate chip cookies in the other, both qualifying as “lesser addictions.” You have many more of those.

Joan, a 70-year old former model and fashion entrepreneur, is sharing about the ongoing struggle with her sister. She loves and hates the woman in equal measures.

You can relate.

Despite animus, Joan and her sister do not desire to break off relations. Instead they fought, enduring the pain each inflicted upon one another. Choosing it over abandonment. You guess sisters are different that way. They are bound in ways you’ll never understand. Your wife was tight as hell with hers.

At first you didn’t like Joan. She came off like a bored, rich lady in Marin (which she was); her petty shares struck you as “leaves in the pool.” She lamented the men who took over her company when she was too drunk to run it. Even though they had paid her millions. She cursed her sister for not giving her enough credit in building their fashion empire then blamed her for the drinking that lost it. Then there was the dog she almost ran over in her BMW, while drunk. Other indignities half remembered. Joan spoke in a drawl that made her sound both queenly and oddly still drunk.

This bothered you until it didn’t.

You came to realize that all difficulties were leaves in the pool: Yours, hers and everyone else’s. People fell in and out of love or had others fall in and out of love with them. Lost family and money (“romances and finances” as they said in AA) and more and so on. All was petty. But if a thing made you drink it might as well have been the apocalypse. You were wrong to have judged Joan. Furthermore, you had judged her wrongly. In a lovely turnabout, you and Joan became close. Developed a rapport. You admired her. She hadn’t relied on a man to get all she’d gotten. Despite the wine and cocaine (her drugs of choice), she’d done well for herself, by herself. She’d earned her house in Tiburon same as her seat in AA. Now you are glad to see Joan when she comes in the door. You save her a seat next. You smile at the smell of her perfume.

At the Loft, most of the regulars are at least 50, many much older. Words of death and dying take up evermore meeting time. Yet, Joan seldom goes there, another reason you liked her.  As for the specter of death, you’ve come to believe that if one is serene it too is just a leaf in the pool. But most people are not inherently serene. And you are no exception.

Joan concludes her share by saying she’s grateful for the “sometimes-grace” she’s received while dealing with her sister. It’s an ongoing struggle, she says, as most struggles are, but she is overcoming her resentment, and is staying sober, one day at a time.

Sometimes Grace.

This is what AA is all about. When things go sideways or even well, you don’t drink or use drugs. You keep sane. You know peace. You look forward to living another day.

Despite your troubles, the leaves in your pool, you’re glass is almost always half full. You are strangely happy. Was this grace? Unlike many AA’s, you doubt that it’s God. But you are certain the Program has something to do with it. People like Joan.

This afternoon, you don’t share your problems. Instead, you talk about your wife in favorable terms. “We have been married over 20 years,” you say, with genuine wonder in your voice. “And we have stayed that way, for better and worse. Through it all.”

For the record, you are petrified of death. How it will come for you. What you will have missed when it does. All the things you will never know. Those are the leaves in your pool.

Eagles, Kings & Royals

September 5, 2020

West of you was trouble, turf battled over by Latin Eagles, Latin Kings, and a hillbilly gang called the Simon City Royals. Most every garage was tagged with graffito. It got worse every block. When the Cubs nearly did something right in 1969, Wrigleyville was a war zone. Latino gangsters literally stood on the sidewalks taunting fans or worse. If there wasn’t a game there was no reason to be there. If and when you ventured that direction, to catch a bus or visit the arcade, you stashed lunch money in your sock and a few bills in your pocket to pay off the muggers.

You’d accumulated a hodge-podge of friends, misfits like you, who hid in books and hobbies, and still others more doomed by their circumstances. Some would join gangs or defy them, always fighting or fleeing. Together you were a group of electrons in an unstable atom. Catching fish in the lake. Avoiding being caught in an alley. God only knows what glue held you together. Comic books. Films. Music. But soon came liquor, pills and weed; those false prophets that caused you so much pain while pretending to soften it. And through it all, those alluring and delirious creatures from distant, unobtainable shores, sirens that beckoned you to this day: Women.

More soon…

Twist & Shout

August 31, 2020

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Back in the day, sucking my thumb…

Madly dancing with your mother and brother, Meet the Beatles circles the turntable, its iconic sleeve lying on a bronze carpet next to the stereo. You’re not sure the song, Twist and Shout? The memory is faded. Like home movies before smartphones. Technicolor. Monophonic. Giddy.

Your mom is pretty, with super short hair like Mia Farrow or Twiggy. You and Jess wore it long like Beatles. You know this more from photographs than the memory itself. You wish it were more vivid, less fleeting. Five years old, you had no idea a revolution was sweeping the country. Who killed the Kennedy’s? Viet Nam. You only remember dancing. That it was giddy. Your father wasn’t there. Fleeting.

15 pounds overweight, maybe 20, pigeon-toed, a mop of brown hair you seldom combed, you have a favorite sweatshirt and loose fitting cords, from the Husky Collection at Sears. You didn’t care about appearances, not yet. You even tolerated correctional shoes. You were happy, in this brief lull, which constituted your childhood.

The impact your parent’s divorce had on you would come soon enough, in waves and aftershocks. For now you saw your father on weekends and that seemed good enough, special even, with its inappropriate Saturday night movies and boozy football parties on Sunday. Your mother was both easy and difficult to be around. She saw many doctors, went to group therapy. But she knew how to cook like a French chef and you knew how to eat. Her bouts with depression, fits of madness, you did not see it then. Or chose not to.

To be continued…