25 February 2006

two twenty five oh six

T'is a gray rainy day.

Drizzle slides down in greasy drips, and the everything seems a shade too dark, a touch too cold.

I just spent an hour staring at the cursor as it blinked steadily, moving nary an inch, defiant in its abject refusal to do one more thing than I told it to do. You’d think that after all this time the damned thing would at least once or twice offer to kick in with a word or two of its own, but instead it just blinks and mocks me.

“You call this ’writing’?”

I feel a need—an aching physical need—to put some sort of words on paper (or phosphor, but let’s not quibble, not yet) on a day like this. I have no other pressing obligations anywhere other than here at this keyboard, where I know I owe tens of thousands of words to a variety of causes, clients, and concerns.

Yet for all that, some part of my conscious brain whines that it’s just not in a mood to write, which of course pisses me off, for I absolutely subscribe to Gurney Halleck (from the book and movie DUNE) when it comes to moods:

“Moods are for cattle and love-play, not for fighting!”

And writing is more akin to fighting than most people would like to believe. Both are martial arts where planning and preparation can often out-perform ability and raw strength, where the unexpected can lay waste to your plans, where creation of victory usually demands the destruction of things won and created by previous victories, and where nobody really likes to talk much about their ignominious defeats and spectacular disasters. (Curiously enough, both are activities which most sane people avoid whenever possible.)

If I were a writer who let my writing happen only when my “mood” was right, I’d probably have a grand total of five or six pages to my credit, lifetime.

‘Cuz writing is hard goddamned work. People who disbelieve or disagree with this have (in my mind at least) never really bothered to try writing. And when I say “writing” I don’t mean scribbling a greeting inside a birthday card, or leaving a note next to the coffeepot where your spouse/kids/cleaning woman can find it later. I mean actual writing, where you start with a pile of blank pages or a raw document, and you end up with a story: an obvious lie that people happily accept and believe even though they know it’s a lie.

It’s hard work because building a Universe from scratch ain’t easy, folks. It’s the sort of thing that’s usually left to gods, delusional psychopaths, and writers. [Supply your own punch line there—I’m busy making something vaguely like a point.]

So here I sit, while the real world just kinda sorta stares off into steely drizzly space, forcing myself to put one word after another. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot. Right foot. At some point you look back and realize that you’ve made some progress.

Because as often as not that’s how writing gets done. You don’t sit around and wait for the “mood” to arrive, wrapped in pretty paper and tied with a satin ribbon. That’s kinda like saying the way to start a family is to sit quietly until a stork lands on your windowsill and leaves a baby. It might have happened once, somewhere, but for the rest of us, it takes work. Labor. Dedicated effort to achieve a defined goal.

And right now all I can seem to do is just stare out the window.


Why There’s Never Much Going On Here

Despite the total lack of visible verifiable curiosity on this point, suddenly I felt a need to offer a few words of explanation for the erratic infrequent addition of content to this blog.

The simple truth is "I just don’t much care about this blog.” I tend to post lots of places, often in small smart alecky bits and pieces, and if anyone were ever to know when and where to look to find these little dribs and drabs of intellectual jetsam, the resulting pile would in many ways approximate a traditional blog.

Odd little comments upon daily observations and exasperations. Hurried updates and reports on the current status of various activities and interests. Hyperbolic commentary and criticism about movies and music and politics and fashion and other such pointless concerns. Thoughts and theories about any number of inane topics upon which I have no real expertise or credibility.

You know: a regular blog.

But when I turn to this little page—when I focus my mind upon “OK, let us now bang our little cymbal for what two or three people who might have paused to see the show this month”—I get that weirdly self-conscious feeling which makes me painfully aware of just how much bullshit already is slopped up out there, and then I suddenly feel kinda like I do when I catch myself almost ready to toss a paper napkin out the car window while cruising back from a burger run.

“Don’t add to the mess, you jerk.”

I’ve started probably three times as many posts as have ever actually been posted here. More often than not, I get to some point very near the end of the draft and suddenly I hear myself saying “oh, shut up already!”, at which point I quickly hit {select ALL} then {DELETE}.

And this the word is saved at least one more unneeded stupid uninteresting self-absorbed blog post.

You’re welcome.

15 February 2006

I Ain’t Got TIME to Bleed

Often I hear other writers make a claim which sounds so bizarrely alien to me that I have trouble understanding exactly what is meant:

“I can’t think of anything to write about.”

Now, I happily lay claim to a healthy-sized bucket of faults, shortcomings and inadequacies, but lacking ideas which interest me has (so far) never been a problem. If anything, my problem is the exact opposite: I usually have a half-dozen cool ideas and writing projects tugging at me like wolves, stretching me in every direction all at once. Right now, f’rinstance, I’m trying to slog through the first draft of a new rom-com, but I am also finger-painting notes and ideas for a rather odd comb-genre project which seems to have attracted the interest of another movie buddy, plus I am still tweaking notes and ideas to further improve last year’s war drama which needs to be polished and sent out to make the marketing rounds, and I also have a pretty damned entertaining partner-written rom-com which needs one more good rewrite if it is ever to be truly worthy of consideration and notice.

That’s just on the screenwriting front. In other writing I have a pair of local columns I need to get busy with, and I have local contact who wants me to com e in to talk about all sorts of writing projects he needs for a pair of startup companies he’s running. And then there’s this silly waste of time and energy. Mind-boggling though it be, I actually get a then but steady flow of emails from folks who claim to wish that I’d put more content onto the web in this blog and in other odd sandboxes where I sometimes cavort.

Meanwhile, Real Life remains as ass-munching beast clearly hell-bent to wrestle me to the ground so that I might more easily hop up and down on my bloody lifeless carcass. A quick run-down of the responsibilities and duties and commitments on the kid-rearing front would sound like some exercise in self-congratulatory hyperbole, so instead I’ll just say “I’m dealing with a lot of shit right now.” Believe that or not—no big whoop.

Yet I read and chat with other writers whose biggest complaint seems to be a lack of things to write about?

And half the time I feel like saying “here, take these ten ideas which I know I’ll never have time to consider or play with.”

Writers block? Christ on a cracker—you might as well talk to me about time travel or anti-gravity. What I need is a 35-hour day so that I might more easily get to all the stuff I need and want to deal with every damned day, but that seems a tad unlikely at this stage of the game.

So instead, I’ll just keep on keepin’ on same as ever, staggering and swaggering forward one clumsy day at a time, trying to balance a twelve foot tall pile of ideas and projects and dreams, trying not to get too pissed if every once in a while one falls off the heap and lands with a crash.

March or die. No sleep 'til Compton. There'll be time for rest in the grave.


12 February 2006

The Dragon Returns: another Cluster Headache cycle begins

Today I sit and ponder a curious question: “Who else in my little extended online social circle is blessed (as am I) to suffer the randomly cycling recurring trip through hell known as ‘Cluster Headaches’?”

Don't know what a cluster headache is? Lucky you!

Cluster headaches are a medically recognized group of headaches which (duh) usually occur in clusters — often around the same time every day for days or weeks at a stretch. They are marked by excruciating pain — women who experience them have described them as similar to and often worse than the peak pain of contractions during natural childbirth — centered behind one eye. An episode usually comes on with little or not warning, lasts 30-45 minutes, then disappears as quickly as it came. Common side effects include spiked blood pressure, sensitivity to light, sudden sinus drainage (usually from the side of the face where the pain is centered).

The fun part is this: medical science still has basically zero idea what's going on in these headaches, as yet no medication or treatment has been found which is at all routinely effective, and methods for preventing an attack are as likely as not to have no effect or even increase the likelihood of attacks.

The best part? Once one of these hell-storms on the mind starts screaming behind your eye socket, as you writhe and whimper in total fucking agony you also get to suck on the happy thought that "this shit is going to be happening routinely for the forseeable future."

Want to see what one looks like? Here's a movie (QuickTime, six minutes) showing some poor bastard in the throes of a full blown cluster headache episode.

I watch that movie and get a mildly queasy feeling, as I am all too fucking familiar with what he's feeling. In fact, I had an attack (not quite as bad as his, I think) last night. I was sitting there watching the Olympics, when I got what is (for me, at least) the scary early warning sign that The Shit Is A-Coming: I get a weird fluttering sensation in my right ear-- like a butterfly trying to get out of my ear canal. At that stage I now know to start battening down the hatches— I ran upstairs and made sure the kids were occupied and told them they were NOT to come talk to daddy for the next half hour or so unless they heard bloodcurdling screaming like he as hurt, and then I drank basically as much water as I could stand, I tossed back a handful of Advil (which might as well be Tic-Tacs or marbles for all the good they do—I have never found any medicine which helps at all), put on my shoes and headed into the backyard to pace around.

For 45 minutes I stomped around my backyard in the cold, in the dark, whimpering, tears streaming down my face, fighting the urge to pick up something—anything— and just... smash... destroy... rage. Any woman who's gone through childbirth (or man who's watched it up close and personal) knows the sensation: the pain is just so damned all-consuming that you have this deep-down reptilian instinctual urge to tear into something.

Headache sufferers sometimes use the "Kip Scale" to quantify the pain they are experiencing:

KIP SCALE for describing Headache Pain

Pain level 0
No pain, life is beautiful

Pain level 1
Very minor, shadows come and go. Life is still beautiful

Pain level 2
More persistent shadows

Pain level 3
Shadows are getting constant but can deal with it

Pain level 4
Starting to get bad, want to be left alone

Pain level 5
Still not a "pacer" but need space

Pain level 6
Wake up grumbling, curse a bit, but can get back to sleep with out "dancing"

Pain level 7
Wake up, sleep not an option, take the beast for a walk and finally fall into bed exhausted

Pain level 8
Time to scream, yell, curse, head bang, rock, whatever works

Pain level 9
The "Why me?" syndrome starts to set in

Pain level 10
Major pain, screaming, head banging, ER trip. Depressed. Suicidal.

My little funfests seem to cap out at level 9+ but never go all the way to max 10. Cluster headaches are sometimes referred to as “suicide headaches.” I've never been suicidal during or due to one of these attacks, but I am not at all surprised to hear that there are folks who slide just a few ticks further. As seen with people who leap from burning skyscrapers, sometimes in a crazed panic a human will consider ANY damned way out of the pain.

Yeah, it hurts that bad.

I started getting my clusters in my late 20s. The first time was wild—at first I though “wow, so this is a migraine, huh?” (note: cluster headaches and migraines do not seem to be at all related). I just had this sudden unexpected roaring air raid siren of pain behind my left eye, and 40 minutes later it... just... went.. away. Like a hurricane blowing past. What got scary was when the same thing happened again pretty much on regular schedule every day for the next 10 days. And THEN, the cycle stopped. I was to the point by then that I was already starting to plan my daily schedule around the attacks: trying to make sure that I was going to be at home, not in the car, not in a social situation where I would suddenly morph into a fucking werewolf right there in the middle of the scene. But the attacks stopped.

"Yay!" I thought.

Then, about two years later, I get a fluttery feeling in my right ear, and ten minutes later I am curled into a fetal ball on my bed, feeling like I have a 300 pound man balancing atop a golf ball on the backside of my left eye socket as he blows a tugboat horn continuously for a half hour. Again, the cycle of attacks lasted a little more than a week, then just stopped. Again a few years later, here they come again.

And this has been my pattern since then: a week of daily bouts with the Gates of Hell trying to build a toll road through the inside my brain, then 24 or so months of calm and quiet.

Over the years I’ve done some reading and researching, looking for anything which might help reduce the frequency or severity of these episodes.

Diet seems a huge part of the puzzle, at least for me. I notice that I seem less likely to experience a cycle if I try to not routinely over-indulge in caffeine, nitrates, and other weird chemicals which might ramp up the heart rate and BP. A few years ago I switched to decaf iced tea as my daily drink of routine and have noticed a definite lessening of both frequency, length, and intensity of attacks. When the cycles start, I pretty much swear off all alcohol, red wine, sausage and hot dogs, trying to stick to healthy stuff as much as possible., Like many, I’ve found that consuming huge amounts of water during attack cycles seems to help shorten the period and intensity of the attacks. Walking around alone in the dark seems better than laying alone in the dark, but in no situation I have experienced is it all comforting to have anyone with me when I am in the grip of a cluster headache attack—I become genuinely concerned that, blinded by the pain, I am going to throw a punch or attack someone like a frightened animal.

Some people claim that oxygen helps (the man in the movie linked above can be seen sucking on an oxygen bottle), but I’ve never tried that. Cold compresses on the neck and/or forehead sometimes feel good. I’ve found that if I treat it like a birthing experience, I can at least ride the pain and not be totally flattened by it: breathing exercises, mild distracting exercise, understanding that there is a far shore to this ocean, and you will get there if you just hold on and don’t totally surrender to the pain.

What’s wild is that so few people seem to know about these bad boys. Whenever I start describing the experience and sensation, there are a fair number of people who think I am making this up for some reason, or that I am exaggerating, or that I am over-dramatizing some regular more familiar “normal” condition like migraines (interesting fact: migraines seem to affect women in roughly 4 out of 5 cases, whereas cluster headaches seem to affect men in 4 out of 5 cases).

These things are real, and they are no exaggeration, and apparently 0.1% of the population gets to enjoy them.

So I guess I’m just a lucky guy.

So if you encounter me at some point in the next few days and I seem as if I am ready to explode in a homicidal raging fit, it’s nothing personal. Really. And I’ll likely again be right as rain in 45 minutes or less.

‘Til it starts again the next day.

03 February 2006

A Funny Thing Happened...

...On The Way To The Daily Bitchfest


I’m not sure how or why, but I seem destined to blunder into odd and sometimes wonderful opportunities.

Last year, for example, I called up a local magazine and talked my way into a writing gig with them. I sent some samples, they seem tickled, and the plan was for me to get my feet wet filling in some articles left for grabs and then start moving into a more specifically-voiced sort of gig—possibly some sort of recurring column sort of thing. The pay was good, the mag looked professionally done, but as time went on it became painfully clear that I was never going to be allowed to cut loose and do anything fun or interesting. As the article assignments started to get duller and more infrequent, I finally just stopped chasing leads there.

Months went by as I chased always elusive screenwriting glory (it’s now “a dull glow over a distant horizon”, improved from “a mystical land known only in legend and song”), and then of course I found myself having weekly slapfights at the Rezoning Committee meetings for the local school district. There I happened to meet the editor of the OTHER local magazine, and I, being the shy unassuming timid little delicate squash blossom of a wallflower that you all know and adore, stopped her in the larking lot one night and said “so why the hell haven’t you ever called to have me write for your little magazine?”

Ten minutes of pleasant convo later, she slips me her card and says "We need to talk. Call me after Christmas.”

So, a few emails and submissions of sample materials later, I am wondering if anything is going to come of it. I try to call, and she’s always on another call. I send emails, but draw no response. I was about to give up much more hope when yesterday my phone rings. Caller ID tells me it’s the magazine.

The OTHER magazine—the first one.

Turns out they are now following through on a story idea I pitched to them last spring—an amusing look at the life of the Stay At Home Dad. I was hoping to write it as a semi-silly first person essay, and while the editor initially agreed that it sounded like fun, as we got closer and closer to the pub date, it started morphing (at her behest) into just one more boring dull lifeless interview with local dullards type of thing—the kind of story which I just hate. So I pulled off the gig, saying it wasn’t what I’d signed on to do, and we went our merry way.

‘Cept NOW that magazine has revived the idea, except this time they’ve assigned some new girl to write the thing, and they gave her MY name as a contact for interview IN the article. So instead of writing a piece wherein I get to be a silly snarling SAHD, they’ve now decided to let some she-hack pen a piece wherein she talks to me as a silly snarling SAHD dad. The big diff, as I see it, is that THEY claim my idea and SHE gets the paycheck.

BUT WAIT—this is all just prelude to the real story.

TWELVE MINUTES LATER I get an email from the magazine.

The second magazine—the one run by the lady from the Rezoning Committee meetings, whom I’d badgered in a parking lot.

“So, are you ready to start writing?”

So I call Editor#2 and she says “loved your samples, and we’re hoping to have you pen a recurring column where you just sorta snarl and spit about whatever you like.”

OK. This sounds like A Cool Thing.

“OH... and we also purchased [a local sports news-monthly], and were thinking it might also be fun to have you do some stuff there, maybe a first-person thing where we send you to try different sports or experiences and then you write about it in a silly fun way.”

OK. This sounds like Another Cool Thing.

After some sputtering and stuttering, we agree to agree and then agree to work out the details ASAP.

So now I’m sitting here jotting down column ideas, and also trying to think of some fair and reasonable number to throw at her for “terms” ($$$) for these paired gigs.

Frankly, I’m too stunned to really think clearly about it just yet, so I am asking folks I know to offer suggestions or advice if they have anything useful or experience-based to offer. What seems a fair and reasonable number to use as payment for a pair of 500-100 word essays every two months?

If you have serious suggestions, drop me a line: brettman(at)consolidated(dot)net.

I’ll be in the backyard, making offerings of thanks to the gods.
stunned but not entirely displeased B