Let the record reflect that I did my very best to make this thing happen.
I’m known the world over for hemming and hawing on any and all decisions.
Given the right conditions, figuring out what I want for lunch can turn into a veritable opera of torment and self-abuse.
So just imagine the torture I inflicted upon myself when I recently received an email from the School of Visual Arts announcing a two-week screenwriting course in Rome.
The class was expensive, more than I wanted to spend, honestly, but it sounded great. You get to see Rome, work with film instructors at an Italian university, write short scripts and then—best of all—hand your work over to actors who would then perform the scenes.
I’ve taken courses with the SVA before so I know they’re a good outfit. Two summers ago I took a director’s course there and then waaaay back in 1980, I went on a two-week trip to Trinity College in Dublin for a screenwriting class with Ernest Tidyman. I met one of my best friends during that trip and we keep in touch to this day.
Rome seemed perfect, especially since I’m half-Italian. Dublin took care of Dad’s side of the family; now it was time to pay to tribute to Mom’s.
And what’s more, we would be leaving on my birthday. Now is that a sign or what?
But, of course, I was conflicted up the wazoo. It was too much money, I should be traveling to L.A. for an agents’ conference instead, I should stay in town and shoot a short film, like I’ve been threatening to do for close to a decade.
I met with Sal Petrosino, the course's director, at his office on East 23rd Street. He gave me the rundown on the program and threw in some great advice.
“Life is meant to be lived,” he said.
But I was still struggling. My shrink had me do an exercise where I close my eyes and imagine someone I really trust coming to me to help me make my decision.
I did something very similar for qigong mediation class years ago and the person who came to me that time turned out to be my mother. And now she was making a return visit.
Mother Knows Best
“What does Mom say?” my shrink asked.
“She says go,” I replied without hesitation.
“There’s your answer,” my shrink said.
So I signed up. And the second I gave the bursar my credit card number, I instantly was besieged by a relentless barrage of “what ifs?”
What if I get sick? What if my back goes out again? What if I get kidnapped by the Red Brigade—assuming they’re still in business? I’d have to buy a laptop, but what if I bought the wrong laptop?
I was playing a mental game of whack-a-mole, bashing one worry only to have another pop up somewhere else in my mind.
But that’s the thing about fear—it can adapt to any situation.
I’m forever posting all sorts of spiritual sayings on Facebook and I came across one by Jack Canfield that seems to have been composed for my benefit.
“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”
I tried to calm down and started making plans for the trip. Find a good computer, get down the suitcases, and try to be enthusiastic for Christ’s sake.
But the Comfort Zone Kid was still lingering inside me. When Sal said he was hoping to have enough people for the trip, the fearful part of my mind seized upon that sliver of doubt and fervently prayed that it wouldn’t happen.
I know—it’s insane. Who the hell dreads a trip to Rome? Anybody else would be hopping up and down at the thought of traveling to the Eternal City.
And then one day Sal called me and said the trip was being cancelled because not enough people signed up. Some of these geniuses completed the online application, but then balked when they actually to pay for the goddamn trip.
I’m ashamed to say that part of me felt relieved, grateful that I wouldn’t be breaking my precious routine. I blamed myself for the trip’s cancellation, as if my fretting had somehow spawned all varieties of bad karma.
See? It’s always my fault; even what it’s not my fault. Mamma mia!
The regret is settling in though. Every time I look at the syllabus I want to cry. This would’ve been a great experience for me.
But there’s no point in wallowing in “what ifs?” The SVA has other overseas courses and maybe one of those will work out for me. I’m determined to put the Comfort Zone Kid in a closet and make that leap to the other side of fear.