Professional Courtesy

Getting canceled on because you are not Spielberg is a frustrating fact of this business.  Even for Spielberg. I wonder who cancels on him though.  Maybe his wife, Kate?

“Sorry, Steve.  Something came up.  So whatever life changing thing you built up in your head, molded into a fantasy of I’ll-never-have-to-worry-about-ANYTHING-ever-again- magic bullet… it’s gonna have to wait.   Till after the holidays.  We’ll get something on the books then.”

And Poor Steve waits.  And waits…  And waits some more. The new year rolls in and he wrestles with calling, or not calling, and finally breaks down and calls.  “Ohhh so Sorry, Steven. But Sundance is coming up.”

Steve plots his own demise.  Takes the deep dive into the Existential.  The aftershock from the fall of an empire and climate change bounce off his torment  like an insane game of flaming ping-pong.

And then, the logical, well-grooved, and professionally dubious excuses pile up in a series of back-and-forth e-mails and texts:

Pilot season, then pilot pitch season, then the up fronts… a trip to New York to visit a client. 

“But thanks, Stevie, for checking in; we will try and squeeze something in for early next week.” The calendar itself becomes the buck.  In that vague sort of hand off way.  “Try me on Monday though.”

There are always these built-in delayers, the industry gargoyles to dissuade the meek from peddling their wares.

Ah, but blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth….

My solution after years of working-at-not-working-so much-that-you-can’t-work-on-what-you-should-be-working-on … is to get to the no as fast as you humanly can.    You can only hold your breath for so long under water before you black out and sink.   Thus is the nature of the balancing act.   And I forget it all the time.  But that is the thing about balance; it is a series of corrective measures.

Maybe all us snowflake lefties out here in the California Republic can learn from what our detractors call in to AM radio and rant about our main problem.  Is that we are too polite.  In our quest not to hurt anyone’s feelings and do no harm, we maybe… do.

But then again, the great myth of this whole seventh level of hell is  that Hollywoodlanders tell themselves this is unique to them.  One of the great dividends of this blog, is learning that these practices translate to D.C., in law firms, academia, and anywhere there are dynamics of power and the legend of exceptionalism.  I know this to be true, because you tell me so.

I’m sensitive to this cruel yet polite game of shuffleboard, because my life has been lived in reverse.  I was once on the inside.  Or so I thought.  And now I’m not… what’s the word they use… TRENDING.

Yeah.  Trending.

And if you are not trending, you are what… in exile?  Exile.  From what?  Now we’ve gotten into the real landscape of the unknown.  Who hasn’t felt exiled?  From a loved one.  Themselves. By circumstances beyond their control.  My ancestors crossed an ocean, others follow a migrant trail.  Some argue life itself is a form of exile because we are exiled from a heavenly state of bliss the moment we are born.  Paradise.  East of Eden.  Or the border, if you can see it, when the tear gas clears.  They say the devil loved God so much, he was forced to live in exile from that which he loved out of punishment for that misguided love.  So, hell is the ultimate exile.

And Big Bill Shakespeare played with the theme of exile more than any other theme.  Even more than revenge and love, jealousy, and power.  Exile.

So, here’s to all my fellow Island dwellers on Arcadia or wherever it is we inhabit.  Let’s make sure to be nice to Caliban and set Ariel free.  And take time to look around in wonder at the magic place we have been shipwrecked on and remind ourselves that it is not the hell we think it is.  But quite the opposite. Life does that.  Storms come and deposit us on strange isles as we all try and forge our way through the dark and make our way back home.

But to take it back to the matter of poor Stevie and his vacuum of creativity, why doesn’t Steve just tell’em all to fuck off, shave his head and go to India or something to write a book about it?

Problem is, we take it, most of  the time.  Out of fear.  Because we don’t want to be perceived as … difficult. Pushy.  We have an agenda maybe, we ourselves aren’t even aware of.

There’s a fear lurking under it all. That drives us.  Luckily, my line of work allows me avenue to deal in human motivation and examine causes and conditions. So I get the side benefit of learning about my favorite subject, me.  It’s shocking for how much time I have spent thinking about me, how little I do, in fact, know about me.  It has come hard.  Self reflection.  In this world of smoke and mirrors and constant refreshing and updating and trending and liking. God knows, the news cycle gives us plenty of distraction and easy targets to blame.

“Journal? The world is literally melting, polar bears are eating their young and you want me to journal?”

I think that’s the greatest evil wannabe thugs like Trump have done – is robbed us of our own accountability.  Like all black holes, we get pulled into orbit and lose all perspective till we crash or bounce off into the void of space.   These Mad Kings bloated in toxic gravity whisper their prison sentence and rent space between our ears even more than they tie up the news cycle.  I’m not saying we can’t leave the opera house in a frenzy and storm the palace, like they did in Italy some years back… But so-called kings come and go.  The oceans rise and further still, maybe the thing is, as it usually is: to change our perspective.

Maybe we are not made for this constant exposure to things beyond our ability to control.  Maybe we are allergic and it makes us sick.  Maybe it cuts into time we can better spend looking in.  I don’t know, I’m no expert.  I’m just a dude who is trying to be a dude in this crazy world and learn what good will is for me.   Whatever that means.  Times of great upheaval have always been times of great spiritual growth for humanity.  We know that to be true because of when Tao was written, when Thich Nhat Hanh went to Plum Village, or Martin hammered shit on the door.  Maybe that is the opportunity this sinking boat provides.   A chance for in-sight.  In this world of automation. And ever-increasing rate of acceleration where our very relevance is threaten

Hold on a second, that’s Steve calling.  I have to get back to you.

Insert holding music here.  Electronic strings bending familiar Christmas melodies into digital code cutting through static….

Ok.  I’m back.  Where was I?

Power and exile and ways to cope with the inevitable.  Got it.  Here’s the thing.  Steve, and me and people like us, we hold ourselves hostage.  To these dynamics.  We give our power away.  Or I do. Cause I want that golden sticker.  And “they” know we do.  So the agreement is formed.  Until it’s broken.  And then everything changes.  And changes quite suddenly.  There was a guy I was fortunate enough to know before he passed.  Shelly Weiss.  He was a doo-wop song writer.  Though you wouldn’t think it to look at him.  I only knew him briefly while he was doing battle with cancer and losing.  He used to say, “there’s never a wrong song… just the wrong room.” 

Our problem, or mine, has mainly been continuing to knock on the door to that same room.  Even though clearly no one is answering. So, I put my ear to it with a glass, try and pick the lock, go around back to the window, hire a locksmith, teach myself to be a second story guy, and so on till eventually, by no cause of my own… a door opens down the hall.  Right behind me.

It happens every time.  The only catch is, as my friend Biff  likes to say… you can be in the hallway a long time.

So get comfortable. But not too comfortable.  And wait in peace.  From that peace, intuition is born.  And we need that more than ever.

 

Sancho Panza Fails at Chemistry

My brief tenure as a chemistry teacher was predicated by the scientific principle commonly known as the Doherty Constant:

If I can figure it out, so can you.

Problem was I never did.  Although inspired, it was unfounded and would never appear in the Annals der Physik.  In addition to never being independently validated, it simply didn’t work.  And didn’t take long to disprove either.

I didn’t even need a particle accelerator or one of those Bunsun burners.  I just needed time for my folly to reveal itself.  You could graph it at home or make it a pie chart if you like.  But don’t expect extra credit.

Here’s what happened.  After balancing chemical equations, my head started to implode.  Specifically, around the temples– and all order was lost… at least on a molecular level.  And in classroom decorum.  Things eroded from there– as they tend to do with Teenagers the moment they smell weakness.

The Doherty Constant was just me organ grinding a little of the clever to compensate for how woefully ill-equipped I was for the gig.  I was kind of like the Junior Officer at the Captain’s Wheel the night the Titanic smacked into that block of ice.

If your kids were in my class, please accept my sincerest apologies for the role I played in leaving them behind.  If we lose this tech war with China.  It will be all my fault indeed.  I never could quite wrap my head around Avogardro’s number.   Just kept thinking of guacamole.

But, hey, everybody knows there is a teaching crisis.  Or maybe not everyone knows.  If you don’t, now you do.    In short, it’s bad.  And now some people want to give these poor teachers guns, too.  There are good people.  Many.  Working real hard.  For way less pay than they should be getting.  The inevitable usually ends up happening.  The system or the kids break them or they burn out.    I don’t think this was the case ten, twenty years ago, but it is now.  It’s an epidemic.  Much like meth fires in corn towns.

Hence why I ended up in a chemistry class to begin with for longer than a day.

Need.

I got a battlefield promotion to head up the Chemistry Department for a semester – granted there was only one teacher, me: because the entire Science Department was out on maternity leave.  No joke.  Babies were contagious.  The school did it’s best to shuffle internally sought out competent educators to fill-in and ended up throwing me in there with a syllabus and an internet password.

Need.

It’s not that I didn’t care or try.  I was just incompetent.  Like Pancho as a squire.  Luckily, I was just proctoring.  The teacher I was filling in for on a long-term basis was handling things remotely.  And doing a rock star job of it.  All while managing a newborn with health complications.   She was on paid leave but still chipped in where she could.  But in military terms, our position would prove ultimately indefensible.

The kids were just too smart.

There was this student with dyed hair who had the nerve to be really smarter than me; she knew it, I knew it, we both knew we knew it…  Thankfully, she pitied me.  But one day, she needed help.  She asked a question she knew I didn’t have the answer for.  Knowing I didn’t want to lie to an impressionable mind and figured the best move was like what they say you should do in prison, don’t front.

I offered; “J__, I got nothing.”

And then, she said, “It’s okay, Mr. D.” and proceeded to google it.  That’s when I saw the hope.  The great hope of this generation we are failing.   The ones who  will inherit this mess.

Our mess.

There it was.  Hope.   As she started going from table to table to share what she knew.  Not in that cheating way – but to show how it is done.   I even tried to learn.  The whole class pitched in.  But my brain started thinking of baseball and unicorns and pizza even before the calculators came out.

I can’t do much.  None of us can really.  We can  encourage.  Think that’s what teaching taught me.  That we can’t do more than encourage a love of learning.  Grit.  And curiosity.  To share our good effort.  And none of that is measured on a standardized test.

I learned recently from a friend who is a school administrator that the origins of the public school system are directly tied to the manufacturing of consent to keep the pipeline feeding the factory with young workers.  That the original public school charter was to teach discipline and obedience.  Hence, the bell.

There’s a book out there about it, but I can’t recall it’s title.  Not because the system failed me, but because I’m too busy trying to convert atomic mass to volume and all I can come up with is guacamole.

 

 

Maxi Pads under my arms et al

So I was pissing next to Marc Maron and we were taking turns making fun of someone who wasn’t there to defend himself and I asked him why he made a podcast.  He said it was either make a pod cast or kill himself. We laughed.  He shook. Zipped. And said:

I’m serious.

Marc was in Ducks.  Ducks 2.  But he was cut out because he scared the Ducks as a valet.  I was there that day.  It was his first on set.  I think it got him his Union Card.  He was a mess.  We reminisced about it.  And here he was doing me a solid by getting me a day on his show.  It helped get me over the hump for health care that year.   I was shocked that he remembered who I was.

I was trying not to act like it was a big deal, that’s what most of Hollywood does.   We downplay.  Oh yeah I piss next to people who interviewed the president and Carl Reiner every day.  And he remembers who I am to boot. It’s like a tire pump for the ego. You know that thing we all pretend we don’t have till it is bruised.

I have a friend who is on a certain picture right now by a – let’s say famous film maker who is known for his mood swings and inflated budgets that could be the GDP of a small developing nation.  Someone gave him the advice (my friend): “So, don’t look ___ in the eye.  Ever. And one more thing.. don’t let him smell the fear on you.”  Then, he walked away.  Hollywood  is way more primal than we would ever care admit to ourselves.   It is made up of Alphas who roam like lions in what used to be the Santa Monica Mountains that determine when the rest of us eat.

Evidently, this director guy fired one helpless dude in a American Apparel hoodie and skinny jeas just because he didn’t like the look of him. Primal.  Maybe a change is gonna come.  Maybe the patriarchy has left nothing but scorched earth with its unsustained knuckle dragging.  Who knows.  Above my pay grade.

Oh, by the way, if this comes across like I’m name dropping, I am.   It’s a blog.  I can do that.  Cause it’s my blog.  But just to counterbalance any sense that I am shallow, I’ll offer up this penance: the truth was, I was trying to get Marc to leave so I could unbutton my shirt and pad down the sweat under my arms.  I didn’t get pit pads.  That’s what wardrobe calls those maxi pads they stick to shirts.  I sweat a little more than what is “normal” when I’m nervous. Evidently, it is a real medical condition.  Which if I think about it enough makes me more nervous and sweat more so I won’t think too much about it.  But it is a thing.  I guess, maybe Botox is supposed to help. But the idea of me on Botox … I don’t know.

Ah, the shame sweats.

Makes me think of back in freshman year high school… feeling sweaty and itchy and pulling at my topaz polo shirts too big for me to hide my increasing frame- needing under shirts.  Doubling up layers on a hot day to maximize the shame.  Amazing I got anything done I was so worried about lifting my arms.

So yeah, Marc was talking about the joy of interviewing his heroes.  The genius of the idea that he just wanted to listen to his mentors, give them a place to share their wisdom, be seen and heard.  These forgotten giants who now are put off to pasture.  All because– his career was a floundering vessel, and he didn’t want to shoot himself.   So… catch this: he thought of others who would be gone soon.  A miracle by many Hollywood standards.  Not the least of which is that it caught on.

I was waiting for him to quiet so I could wipe my arms and then find a way to wiggle in some kind of “would you listen to a song, read my work thing” in a nonchalant way that didn’t reek of desperation.  A casual ask they say.  Besides, there had to be some kind of statute of limitation in how long you can be in a public restroom with a minor celebrity.

I remember a friend was on set playing a sidekick to someone like Toby McGuire — it wasn’t Toby McGuire, but lets call him that.  They were on location.  Him and “Toby.”  He felt like he was this famous person’s friend; in addition to being the “Toby’s” character’s best friend in that Felini sort of way… My friend confessed that he thought he somehow mattered more cause this important person who could Tweet with JayZ wanted to spend time with him.  I mean, he was embarrassed to admit it. That he fell for it.  The whole shiny thing.  All that time in the dojo with his Zen teacher and he was back feeling like he was invited to the cool table only to be made fun of.

It was like Almost Famous.  They went bowling together.  Told deep personal stuff – and he felt important cause he knew Toby’s secret and why he never fucking blinked and his eyes were so big – and he fell into the submarine mentality trap;  that the nature of our work creates a false sincerity/intimacy from the cocoon-like environment and constant boredom.   My friend  was shocked and dissapointed when “Toby” never returned a single call after they got back from Michigan.

But they’d always have Michigan.  Apple picking.   And you know… apple picking.  Small talk is just that.  Don’t mistake it for friendship.  We’re all just on our best behavior trying not to get black balled.  And in my case, looking for pit pads or some napkins.

He said he felt silly.  Dooped.  (My friend).  He thought they were close.  (He and “Toby”).  We all want to be friends with stars.  Problem is, stars – at least the celestial bodies need a lot of negative space around them and tend to have gravity that kills.

It makes me think of HURLYBURLY.  That’s a play they turned into a movie which I think was an excuse to justify Sean Penn’s love of sugar or something.  His character goes on about how it makes our life feel more alive; all the shit we eat tastes a little sweeter, if we can say with assurance that we know someone important, who is not a slave to the same laws of society we resent.  There’s little Sycophants and outlaws inside us all.  We’ve all done it. And paid the price.  I remember a friend saying his kids play with Sean Penn’s kids.  And Mister Penn cooks them breakfast.  C’mon, who doesn’t want to get breakfast made by Sean? I’d like to think he’s more of a rustic french toast and eggs guy.    Tell me you’re not thinking about Sean Penn cooking your breakfast.  Right?  Maybe that’s the thing that got The Orangeman in the White House.

Oh, I took it there.  I did.  I’m a writer- I deal in suprise turns for a living.

Makes sense.  And it’s not a real stretch… even before this scum stain chum bucket left his golden toilet bowl and started squatting in the White House – it’s been an accepted fact that most Americans vote for who they would want to have a beer with.

I don’t want to get all Aldus Huxley but the nature of our reality has changed.  Maybe that’s why we like the zombie shows and keep trying to figure out what the fuck The Man in the High Tower is all about every week.

But before we fall down the rabbit hole…and ponder the nature of the multiverse, I can honestly say, that Marc Maron… he’s a stand up dude.  Literally.  He does stand up.  But you get what I mean. Authentic. And being authentic amid those demands is a high-wire act.  So I tip my hat.

Now, if he would only leave so I can use some of that paper towel dispenser to wipe the shame from my pits.

Like my friend, I emailed Marc after and never heard back.

So are you still acting?

Just don’t say it.  Ever.  Not to me or any of my peers.  We’re damaged enough by whatever hole in our personality  drove us to hop on this crazy circus train to begin with, so please don’t ask.   Or if you do, be prepared for an answer that could come out with a mix of venom or self-pity; depending on the status of our relationship with what we do is that day.  You see, the average Creative spends ninety percent of their life looking for work, and the other ten percent bitching about getting the job they now feel they can’t complain about.  I recall a friend who was active in union politics a while back describe that we had both had decent years – made 18,000 or so in income as an actor and because of that 18,000 grand – were in the top like three percent of our field. It was staggering.  Imagine a Doctor in the top three percent of their field.  They make more than 18,000, I think.

I’m a lifer.  And have been all in since way back.  This is what I do.  Tell stories.  Share light on the human experience.  Play dress up.  Make the funny.  Pull the rug out. Shien the light, make us all feel more connected or… etc.  I aim at truth, and hit it every once in awhile.  If I could do something else I would.  Trust me, I tried.

But I digress.  The point is, please, don’t ask that question.  It’s kind of like going to a sausage factory… you can’t un-see what you see and there will be a faint odor following you in and out of your car for a few weeks after.

Makes me think of Dizzy G saying when asked what jazz is, “if you have to ask, you’ll never know…” or something like that.

It’s okay.  You have no idea.  Nor should you.   Just for a matter of reference, I will say that when an actor or writer or Creative blah blah blah…. gets asked this dreaded question in casual conversation, they feel automatically like they are not doing enough, or that their whole lifestyle is under scrutiny (if they are anything like me, that is).  I’ve done this too long and would rather not defend my life to a complete stranger.  This is especially true with those of us who grew up in public.  On TV.  Commonly known as Child Stars.  There is this myth that if you haven’t seen us on TV, that we don’t exist.  That we ceased being altogether.  John Prine wrote a few great tunes about it….”Jesus, the Missing Years” and “Sabu visist the Twin Cities Alone.”

I won’t get into the role I, and others like me, play in our collective nostalgia, but let me assure you I am real.  And the answer to your question is… why the f–k does it matter?  Not what you wanted to hear?  I’m sorry to tell you the true nature of the Easter Bunny,  but a life in the arts is rarely, if ever, a straight line.  And the only fair I know of is in Pomona.   Maybe that’s the thing in our culture, this myth of a meritocracy – the illusion that we can pull ourselves up into success by our grit and can-do attitude alone.  But the reverse side of this is dangerous.  It creates distorted perceptions of success and purpose.  And worse… expectation.  Which then pollutes things downstream, creates inbalance in society and within individuals with songs in their hearts.

Life is a creative act.  The rest are bells and whistles and things we take out to dust once in awhile.

I have long since stopped mistaking my accomplishments for my successes (thanks to the mentorship of a few people who took the time to right my boat).  I know my accomplishments.  I can measure them.  See them.  They are within my control.  They have turned me into what I am today.   I’ve been feeling this call to arms lately to speak in defense of all of us out here in The Wilderness keeping the faith.  Maybe to simply remind you, you are not alone.  You’re not alone, even when you feel vain, bitter, disillusioned or envious of friends, then angry at yourself for being bitter or resentful or petty or envious – trying to eat your way through rejection, feeling hopeless that it’s a permenent state of catch 22 and you wish you didn’t feel in your heart of hearts that you had to create, or worse, you got what you felt like you wanted or deserved only to learn you didn’t want it or need it at all and now you have to pay a lawyer.   I love what Matt Damon says, “if I can talk you outta doing this in one coversation, you’re not cut out for it.”

So yeah, that’s what I’ve been up to since I wore a Duck Jersey.

Not what you wanted to hear?  Well.  What would you like to hear if you’re the one out there asking that question?  Would you like to hear me describe the personal work I did in my early adulthood and still do to make sure I remember that I am not my IMDB page.  How I had to grow up as an adult because I spent my youth playing adult?  Would you like me to list the disappointments, near misses, aborted projects, squandered opportunities, hip pocketed disasters, dangling carrots,  exchanges with bottom feeders, near law suits, time wasters, describe the endless string of stop gap jobs, or that I once almost played the second lead in the My Girl Two sequel? No.

It’s interesting how many times I’ve been asked that.  One of the common phenomenon that comes as a result of these sorts of interchanges is the look of disappointment when I answer.   And I’m not sure if that dissapointment stems from me not having robbed Blockbusters or that I’m not living out of a van down by the concrete river like one of my oldest child actor friends (till he lost the van in a meth deal gone bad) or if it is that I am not famous.

Ah, fame.  An un-calibrated metric, indeed.  This cult of personality has reached a new height in our constant live feeding of our daily lives.  It has infected us all.  Myself included.   Nowadays, it’s not enough that you can do a job, you have to be able to generate enough social media following to bring your fanbase to a project.   Ugly truths indeed.  Things I try to sidestep on this road less travelled.

I have taken great pain to craft a life that allows me space and time to wonder where it is leading us all though.  What I do is what I do.  It’s not who I am.  I know that sounds like the back cover to a self-help book steeped in Western-Easternism, but it is true.

Right now, I’m close to a few things – twenty years in the making – that could turn out or not.  That is the nature of my job.  It is speculative.  Uncertain.  But it does not define me or validate me.  It does not mean I am better or worse.  All this time in the circus has taught me deep down in the pit of my stomach certain truths about the nature of uncertainty.  Security.  And who and what I really work for.  In the end, it is my relationships with people, friends, loved ones, colleagues that matter most. Quality time spent.   That is my Zen.

I had an agent named Tim Stone who told me when I was a pudgy-twenty-something-year-old-cherub that could still pass for a teenager, that i wouldn’t work again till I was forty.  That the best thing I could do for myself was get a life.

He was right.

What he meant, or what I believed he meant, was that I had to grow into my heart and soul.  Catch up to my voice with real human experience.  I would like to find Tim again and thank him for his prophecy.  Timing is everything.   And it’s the in between that matters.  The dashes.  Years back I looked at artist I admired and pondered those periods in betweenn credits and thought about what they were doing then.   Had they gone to see Yoda?  Walked the Camino?  Those are the moments that define us.  And from those experiences- truth can be forged.