Saturday, March 11, 2006
The Very Idea
Sometimes I wonder why I bother.
All right, that's a lie. Of course I know why I bother, but I need to toss a little self-pity around first, the way a sumo wrestler throws around a handful of sand before a match.
My latest crisis du jour started off innocently enough last week when I had what I thought was a four-alarm genius idea for a screenplay.
I get ideas or pieces of ideas all the time but rarely do they slide into my head with the ease and simplicity of this particular gem.
I was riding the No. 3 train back to Brooklyn listening to the various lines of thought rattle and criss-cross through my skull when this idea came to me, and, I'm telling you, it was a beaut.
I told my shrink about it and he is an aspiring writer, too, and he liked it so much he promised not to steal it. I'm not going to relate the idea here, but, trust me, it was sweet. Or so I thought.
Okay, a few days go by, it's Wednesday and I'm working from home because Mary, my dad's aid, is sick with a sinus infection and I skip over to my home-away-from-home page, www.imdb.com, a.k.a. the Internet Movie Database.
This site has every pertinent fact about every movie or T.V. show ever made. Every name is linked, so if want to find out more about a particular actor, writer, director, sound guy or caterer, all you have to do is click on to the name and you're on your way.
It Was a Dark and Stormy Night
It's a movie freak's best friend and worst nightmare. Once I log on to that site, I can't seem to get out it. I'll check out one person and then I'll see another actor or screenwriter and I'll click on his or her name and before you know it I've gone down the rabbit hole and two hours have gone by.
I like to tell people--and myself--that I watch very little T.V. That's true, but if I'm spending all those hours surfing the net, dredging up tons of "information," the vast majority of which I will not retain for more than a day, well, hell, why not park my keester in front of the boob tube with a bag of Cheetos and waste time the old fashioned way?
But that's for another time. On this particular day I was tracking down the career of a TV actor I like when I found a short film he did in 1999 and read the plot summary. And there it was: my screenplay idea with someone else's name on it.
All right, let's get real. If you going to write, you have to be ready for this kind of thing. It's a rite (write?) of passage, really, a reminder that there are other brains out there, other voices trying to be heard.
But this one really hurt. This story was so me I didn't think there was any way I'd lose it to someone else. I was so hot on this idea, my first attempt at a romantic comedy and it was born, dead and buried in under a week. My poor little ego was battered, as I assumed that only a genius like me could come up with a script as great as this.
Apparently not. It felt like I was in a circus tent and someone just kicked away the pole. I'm flapping around here in the dark looking for something else to prop up all this billowing canvas.
I didn't do much the rest of that day in the way of writing. I surfed the net even more, only I didn't try to make up excuses for doing it, like calling research while looking at the "Girls Gone Wild" site. I just did it and hated myself for it. I am a good Catholic boy, after all.
I crawled into work the next day and kept my head low. I felt overwhelmed by everything--my job, the looming tax deadline, outstanding bills--everything looked like an insurmountable problem to me and when I put them together it seemed like all the dark forces of the universe were aligning to make me miserable.
Now I suspect this viewpoint may be a little severe. I don't think the gods are clearing their appointments just so they can play bean bag with my sorry ass. But it makes me wonder why I should bother being a writer.
I've never had any of my fiction published nor a screenplay produced. Why go on torturing myself?
So I look at the alternative: come home, eat dinner, watch TV, go to bed. Repeat until death. Hmmm...you know, that's not really doing it for me either.
I went back to my shrink and we talked about a similar experience he had while writing his thesis. His advisor esstentially told him he could either jump off a bridge or get to work on something else. I'm afraid of heights, so I don't think I'll be doing any gainers off the Verrazzano any time soon.
At the very least, I'm glad I didn't write the complete screenplay. All I have is a page or two of notes and snatches of dialog, so it's not like I poured my life into this thing.
And there's still some material here that I like: my hero's life of misery at a dead end job, his exchanges with his crew of loser friends--these scenes are all well-written, if I do say so myself. And it looks like I'll have to say so myself at this rate.
Say A Little Prayer
On Friday I was feeling a little better and I got into the office to do my morning ritual.
I file a story every night and I'm always concerned that I've made a mistake or missed something and I'll be greeted with a steaming pile of vicious e-mails when I switch on my computer at work.
I always carry my mother's mass card, which bears an image of St. Martin de Porres. I prop the card up in front of my computer, praying that, please, please let there be no mistakes in today's story.
I screwed up one item big time and I had people writing the most brutal things, like I was deliberately trying to mislead them. Get a grip, losers, if I wanted to screw you over I could do much worse.
These nightly stories are real grinders: short hits about various companies that are really the business reporter's equivalent of the police blotter. I'm on a tight deadline and I'm not what you call a natural business writer.
I shouldn't pray for this kind of thing. World peace, famine relief, the end of the Bush Abomindation, these are all things worthy of prayer, but asking for divine intervention on a job, in a business where mistakes are a part of the game, well, that seems like an all mighty waste of the Almighty's time.
But I still do it. On Fridays I pray especially hard, telling the Lord that I really wanted to enjoy my weekend and no worry about whether or not I'll have a job on Monday morning.
This Friday I set up my St. Martin mass card when I spotted a business card on my desk. It turned out to be my shrink's card, though why it was on my desk, I don't know, but I inadvertently (are you getting this all down, Sigmund?) set it next to St. Martin.
For a second I was worried someone would see my shrink's card and spread the word around the office that I was a psycho. But I liked the juxtaposition of the Catholic saint and the Jewish therapist, forming my own little altar. How can I lose?
On Saturday, I wailed my problems to my bud Hank, who could probably charge me for therapy sessions for all the whining I do whenever we hook up. First he reminded me that I've gone down this road before, with me complaining about losing an idea, and then he told me that an idea is one thing, but the execution of it is quite another.
There are plenty of movies about relationships, he said, but that ones that stand out have something that draws people to them. And, of course, he's right.
We had gone to see this Russian fantasy film called Night Watch, which was a trip. The filmmakers tried much too hard to make the thing look "cinematic" but it had more raw energy in it that the last five films I've seen put together.
I got a little head start on the entertainment. While waiting for Hank outside the theater, two middle-aged man on the ticket line started shouting and cursing in each other's faces.
They were nose-to-nose, spewing rage in all directions. One man was with his teen-age son and the other was with a woman I assumed was his wife, who kept trying to pull him away.
I'm not sure what the problem was, but I think one man said something about a parking space, indicating this bout may have been a road rage incident carried over to the pedestrian world.
Whatever the cause, it was very disturbing, and while I'm sure these men both thought they were "standing their ground," they looked ridiculous. And one of them wound up sitting in front of us. Hey, maybe there's a script here...
I met up with my other bud, Sal, who wants to make a movie based on a one-act play I did. Sal is so full of drive and positive energy he just about glows in the dark. I read a quote today that said "genius without hard work is worthless" and Sal is the living embodiment of these words.
You can shoot Ben-Hur in your head, but if you don't get up off your rear end and starting making contacts, shopping your idea around and even bugging people when they don't want to talk to you, you great idea will never leave your cranium.
Sal is out there non-stop, doing whatever he has to do to turn his dream into reality. A few hours with him, combined with Hank and, of course, the shrink, and I'm ready to jump back into the snake pit.
So, yeah, I do know why I bother: because it would bother me a hell of a lot more if I didn't bother, if I gave up and watched reality shows and crime dramas until they carted me off to the old age home. I'll work on other scripts and stories and whatever else and I'll keep going until I find the right combination to get my work out there.
And if that doesn't work, there's always sumo wrestling. Wonder how I'd look in one of those little diapers.