30 December 2008

the new Greatest Song Ever

"El Rey de los Chingones", by Chingon (Robert Rodriguez's mucho-macho soundtrack band).

King of Badasses, indeed.

If this doesn't make you wanna ride into the sunset, then there's something seriously wrong with you.

28 December 2008


I gots it.

That mood or state of mind where you metaphysically just sit in a puddle of tepid gutter water and make half-hearted splashing slaps as you blow a long lazy raspberry,


I have stuff I could be working on -- should be working on -- but right now I am just flat-lining on the old give-a-shit meter.

I'm sufficiently self-aware to understand the seasonal nature of this problem -- I always tend to get the blahs around Christmas time (nothing new there) -- but increasingly there's the issue of the movie biz mostly rolling up the sidewalks from Thanksgiving until Groundhog's Day, the threat of another damned strike, and the inevitable trough between wavepeaks of furious self-motivation and momentum.

On the bright side, I know this dark phase will end, and I have a sneaking suspicion that it will end sooner and more abruptly than some might suspect, as there is... well, "a lurking potentiality" out there which is so absurd that it defies specific mention at this stage. Let's just say "sometimes, a miracle is exactly what the doctor ordered."

So, 'til then, we stay the course, dig deep, and muster what final reserves of strength we have available. Help is possibly on the way. And if not, then to hell with it anyway.

Hopelessness remains our best hope.

23 December 2008

FEED me, Seymour!

Still one of my all-time favorite Christmas movie moments:

Merry Christmas, you weasels.

19 December 2008

a new post

I'm Indian leg-wrestling The Blahs right now. Don't much feel like writing or doing anything, and that's not a useful or productive state in which to be on the last day of quiet before the kids begin a few weeks of Christmas vacation (oh, EXCUSE ME-- "Winter Break," as we'd not want to offend anyone... ).

I have two open scripts on my monitor desktop, and every time I go to work on either, I become acutely aware of the sound of the clock ticking, which would not be that curious except that we don't OWN any ticking clocks, which makes me wonder if perhaps my self-conscious is again childishly mocking me.

The weasely bastard.

It's not helping one bit that as I wander around the Intra-Webs all I see is dumbth and stoopidity in full flower, as the morons are ouy in force and intelligent comment and genuinely amusing observation seems on vacation somewhere for the seventeenth consecutive month online (which equates to something like 11.2 years in non-web/non-dog years).

Like Auda Abu-Tai, I feel anxious -- I must find something of honor..."

I'm wondering if perhaps a round of vomitous inebriation might not help.
puddle of fun B

08 December 2008

a sound worth hearing

Right at the 3:23 mark, I break into a stupid grin every single time.

At least, I have all twelve times today.

[And for anyone who just doesn't get it, this is a rare fully restored Soviet YAK-3 fighter from WW2, as once upon a time flown by... well, "a girl I know."]

04 December 2008

Holy crap! It's DECEMBER?

I'll happily confess to not minding the calendar as much as I might out, but still, this happens to me every year: a new year rolls around, and plans are made, and expectations set, and then a bunch of stuff happens, and I look up and bingo it's Pearl Harbor Day and I'm wondering "What the hell happened to April? Did we have April this year? WHO THE HELL CANCELLED APRIL AND WHY WASN'T I NOTIFIED!?!".

Criminy. 2008 is damned near in the rearview and I'm still trying to get used to not writing "2007" in the date area of what checks I still write.

It's a funny thing, the way life feels these days. Chalk it up to some sort of Zeno's Paradox of Middle Age, but it feels as if every day -- every week, every month, every year -- is sliding by with ever-increasing rapidity, while at the same time progress seems to be slowing down. Everything takes longer to happen, except disasters and fuck-ups, of course, which always play out at 45rpm in a 33rpm world (that's an old-school shout-out to all you wrinkled bitter farts who remember those sepia-toned times when music was not downloaded and pterodactyls still ruled the skies).

Before I even finish this post, we'll be well into 2009 and wrestling with taxes ("We had income last year? For real? When!?!") and dealing with Spring Break plans and then baseball season and then end of school craziness and then of course summertime is always a sea of craziness, what with kids home for months and plans and camps and swimming and grassfires and satellites raining down and god only knows what other sweet hell gets served up this time around and then my god school is starting and we have to get ready for that and then football and dance and scouts and campouts and AFF09 and Halloween my god we need to find pumpkins and have them carved within the next 85 minutes and this turkey seems drier than last year's and didn't we get your cousin a wine rack LAST year for Christmas and holy crap it's 2010? Really?

What happened to 2009?

I need a nap, except I fear the Van WInkle Effect and waking to find flying cars and domed cities and 14,000 unread emails waiting for my attention.


I need a nap. And a beer. And a donut. And a hug. And a lottery win.

24 November 2008

it happened again

So I ship off the revised totally polished campy monster-comedy to the agents, and I am working on another piece they want to see, and things are fine, and then I see a word that makes me stop, look up and choke with laughter over a really really stupid (yet brilliantly so) idea for yet another really stupid schlocky comedy monster script.

And now I can't NOT think about all these stupid scene ideas that keep popping into my brain.

Oh bother.
B (whose mind does in fact 24/7 remain a raging torrent flooded with rivulets of thought, cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives, so bite me)

16 November 2008

where did the writers go?

Anyone else notice how it seems as though a great many more blogs have dried up?

The term "blogosphere" used to refer to something relevant and interesting. Now it seems like an archaeological expression to describe a now-extinct group of tenuously connected writers and blogs. Where I used to be able to hop online and find 15 or 20 interesting screenwriting related blogs to look at, now I can count the number of actively updated such critters on the fingers of Albanian hand. IOW, maybe 6 or 7, tops.

Looking at Zoetrope (which takes an effort and a strong stomach...) I see there are now something like 50 scripts up for reads, where two years ago I remember people complaining when there for "just" 150 such options.

The Nicholl Fellowships seem to have peaked at 6400 or so entries three years back, but recent extries topped about around 5200 or so -- 20% drop in three years.

Now, surely this is not all bad news -- there was always a lot of chaff and crap mixed in with the decent writers, and losing some of the weedy undergrowth just gives more room and opportunity to those who remain (or survive) -- but it's a creepy feeling to go online and find so many sites with tumbleweeds where there used to be bustle. Emptiness where there once was excitement.

Who's still going strong out there? Give me some suggestions, people. It might be nice on occasion to see someone else still loin-girded and battle-dressed, ready willing and intent on marching triumphant through the gates at some point.

Cuz right now it's starting to feel really quiet and lonely.

13 November 2008

terrifying and brilliant

Anyone curious to get a better handle on the current and ongoing cataclysmic implosion of the major investment institutions in this (and other) countries would do well to spend 10 or 15 minutes reading The End, Michael Lewis's incredible insider's view of the spectacular rise and more spectacular collapse of the sub-prime lending industry.

Lewis, best known for the now-classic Wall Street exposé Liar's Poker, walks us through the past ten years of staggering naivete, arrogance, hubris, greed, indifference, and (ultimately) stupidity which has damaged the US economy to the tune of a half-trillion dollars.

And counting.

That’s when Eisman finally got it. Here he’d been making these side bets with Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank on the fate of the BBB tranche without fully understanding why those firms were so eager to make the bets. Now he saw. There weren’t enough Americans with shitty credit taking out loans to satisfy investors’ appetite for the end product. The firms used Eisman’s bet to synthesize more of them.

Here, then, was the difference between fantasy finance and fantasy football: When a fantasy player drafts Peyton Manning, he doesn’t create a second Peyton Manning to inflate the league’s stats. But when Eisman bought a credit-default swap, he enabled Deutsche Bank to create another bond identical in every respect but one to the original. The only difference was that there was no actual homebuyer or borrower. The only assets backing the bonds were the side bets Eisman and others made with firms like Goldman Sachs. Eisman, in effect, was paying to Goldman the interest on a subprime mortgage.

In fact, there was no mortgage at all. “They weren’t satisfied getting lots of unqualified borrowers to borrow money to buy a house they couldn’t afford,” Eisman says. “They were creating them out of whole cloth. One hundred times over! That’s why the losses are so much greater than the loans. But that’s when I realized they needed us to keep the machine running. I was like, This is allowed?”

-- Michael Lewis, on Portfolio.com

Amazing stuff.

(And props to Greber for flagging the article in the first place)

12 November 2008

old is the new new

Sometimes you stumble across a line of a song that just... fits.

Well, when you're sitting there
In your silk upholstered chair
Talking to some rich folks that you know
Well I hope you won't see me
In my ragged company
You know I could never be alone.
--"Dead Flowers," (The Rolling Stones)

Funny how things work out.

Everything which was reviled shall over time become revered.
obliquely oblique B

08 November 2008

odd thoughts upon waking

So I wake and trudge to the computer after the usual pit stop at the coffeemaker for a mug of liquid sanity.

I plop into my chair and onscreen I see what I left there last night: the final few pages of the goofy monster action-comedy which I will turn in to the agents this week. As I skim some lines, I chuckle at some of the gags, and in the quiet of the early morn before all the kids have crawled from their burrows and begun their daily routine of pot-clanging and whistle-blowing an odd little thought wanders past:

"I'm not bad at this."

Ordinarily I'd grab the lapels of such a thought, pull its shirt over its head to blind and restrain it and then pistol whip the vainglorious notion into a bloody crumpled heap in some back alley, but today... this morning... I find myself in a bizarrely tolerant mood. Instead of going all Sonny Corleone on this compliment, I sip my coffee, snork back the morning snot, and pretend to be mature and tolerant.

And I notice one of a few small Post-It notes I have arrayed around the margins of my monitor:

"Fuck it -- I'm good at this. This is fun."
-- Harvey Weinstein

I sigh a bit. Simple truths are hard to come by, and not always entirely welcomed with open arms.

05 November 2008


That's the percentage turnout of eligible voters I am seeing estimated for this 2008 election, a number which would mark the highest since Nixon-Humphrey in 1968.

So, on the one hand, "yay" -- we seem to have increased our participation tremendously.

On the other hand... 62.5%? Is that really all we can muster?

welcome to the new post

This is the new post.

It replaces the old post.

The new post is improved.

The new post is filled with good things and wonderfulness. All things are possible with the new post.

Because it is new.

And therefore better.

The new post exists in a plane above and beyond and all around and just a little bit below and to the left of all previous posts.

The new post gives Hope. And warmth. With no CFCs. With no muss, fuss, or significant threat of global thermonuclear annihilation.

All criticism of the new post is based upon fear. And lies. And non-traditional accounting methods.

The new post is both 25% peanuttier, and 100% peanut-free.

The new post creates a paradigm shift through breakthrough synergy. Magic elves might be involved in this revolutionary proprietary process. Or they might not.

The new post does not explain itself.

This is the new post.


04 November 2008

VOTE, you pathetic weasels

After all the insipid bellicose inane political dipshittery smeared 'cross the web these past few dozen months, you'd think there'd be no need to put foot to ass to remind folks to set aside the Cheezy Poofs and waddle down to the local fire station or elementary or library or wherever to help choose the next leader of the free world. But among the various points we'll see reported as part of Election 2008, we're sure to hear some depressing stat such as "51% of the eligible voters cast ballots this year," which leads me to want to deliver a friendly word of commentary to that other 49%:

"Suck it."

I'm sure there is a handful of folks for whom NOT voting is a legitimate course, some small percentage of voters whose circumstances have conspired to render them truly unable to do their civic duty and help the rest of us decide which charisma-challenged public servant will serve as the whipping boy for the 45-48% of folks who support the "wrong" candidate, but in this day and age, with Early Voting and Mail-In Voting, it seems beyond tragic to look up and see so many people still content to sit at home catching up on Tivo'd QVC highlights rather than thankfully embracing that little slice freedom bought for them by two and a half centuries of men and women standing up to secure and defend the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Even in this modern technoriffic age, money talks and bullshit walks, children, and today the time has come to let the currency of your vote do the talking which our Constitution defines and defends.

If you have voted or will vote today, then I lift a glass to you regardless of your politics or party: "one nation, indivisible."

And if you can't bring yourself to give even that tiny bit of service to your nation -- to your community, to your tribe, to your children and heirs trailing forward into perpetuity -- then to hell with you.

God Bless the United States of America.

01 November 2008

dance of the progbars

There are (apparently) two or possibly three human beings on this planet for whom the left margin progress bars of this site hold fascination and intrigue. A few times a year I will get an email from one or another of these fine (but CLEARLY entertainment starved) people, asking "So what's up? When are you gonna update those progbars!?!"

So, for those folks, as well as to publicly commit and obligate myself and thereby create a scrotum-shriveling amount of personal pressure to produce actual results, I offer this update:


QUEEN, aka "LILYA", is (in the technical sense) "out there" in Hollywood. It's been slipped to a few very specific managers and agents of a few very specific actresses, and was actually requested (!) by one actress I'm pretty sure 98% of your are familiar with (a request which prompted a rushed but small tweak to the script in order to better accommodate this actresses... "specifics," shall we say. No significant response from anyone, but neither have we drawn any "oh good GOD that was awful! Ick! IIICCCKKK!" Which, I guess, is a good thing.



It's done, trusted readers have given a thumbs up, and the title still totally kicks (I swear -- I'd think this could sell based upon the title and tagline alone, which is why I remain so protective and secretive), but the piece still is just not quite screaming in tune just yet, at least not for me. The reps slipped an early copy to a well-known prodco, and the comments back were overall extremely positive but included one odd story note which (IMO) doesn't even connect to the script, yet it seems enough to have stirred some paranoia loose in the minds of my reps, so they've held back sending it elsewhere until I get them a "new" draft.

Given the comatose business climate for newbs right now as well as the late date on the fiscal calendar, I'm in no huge rush. I've done numerous passes to improve and tighten the piece, and will likely do at least one more in the next few weeks in order to have this thing totally locked down and rocking hard for 2009 shopping.



Still do not have a title that makes me pound a tabletop and go "THAT'S IT!", and am still not 100% in love with the piece in its current form. This started as a co-written project for a specific cable TV development weasel, but the weasel disappeared, the co-writer and I drifted in different directions, and then when we negotiated a "divorce settlement" I took the piece even farther from where it had started. I still love a great many aspects and elements of this project, and it's sufficiently readable that it's been entered in a few contests -- Austin, Nicholl -- and actually fared decently in the latter, making the second round and then barely missing another advance, but in all honesty this needs at least one more serious pass before I can start to think of it as ready to show to serious players.



This is the one the agents seem interested in seeing next. The story is commercial, has not been done (well) in a long time but is the clear descendant of a legendary movie, and is far closer to my "sweet spot" than the Nicholl piece ("LILYA") which grabbed me some love in the first place. Rudely and vaguely semi-autobiographical, I currently have enough notes and ideas for at least two and a half movies of this sort, so the problem is picking the best ideas and then forging them into a single perfect blade.

The piece has been bugging the hell out of me all year, as i know it's wanted, but I've been wrestling with getting a firm and proper handle on the tone and control of the story: a pointless recollection of insane offenses and vulgarities might be amusing in a JACKASS context, but it's not a proper narrative. This past week however, I had not one but TWO rather huge breakthroughs: 1) I stumbled over a fun (and annoying!) technique to give me an extra channel in the mix (don;t ask-- I'm babbling), and 2) I found a ridiculously laughably insanely perfect title that suddenly gives the piece a real face and a real tone, even for people who know nothing BUT the title (and, as with other great titles, no I am not the hell sharing...).

I've reworked the opening scene, love what I am seeing, and have started playing with a few other scenes that were already in the can, so this one is probably the one that will (or should...) be getting the major attention and effort right now.



Of course, since I am a very bad boy, I will also be stealing time and steam for this project: a rather large and ambitious epic adventure of the sort not best worked on by un-produced nobodies. This is a period action-adventure thing spinning a fictional (and improbably) story based upon actual historical events and characters, but it has some theme and tone stuff going which gets my blood going like few projects have (aside from LILYA, which stirred a very similar emotional craving). I can see this one more clear in my mind than anything else I am thinking about writing, and I can visualize long sequences of scenes and shots and set-pieces, like I am remembering a movie I've already seen repeated times, so clearly there is something speaking to me here.

On the down side of the ledger, this would be another sprawling period piece requiring major talent support for it to ever take off, and it's tonally an odd balance right now -- somewhere in the no man's land between LAST OF THE MOHICANS and PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN (lighter than the former, heavier than the latter). But oh... to perhaps see the opening and closing shots on a huge screen with Dolby Surround... glorious... GLORIOUS!


Project: "TWELVE DAYS"

Just got back a week or two ago from the Screenwriters Conference at the 2008 Austin Film Festival, and it was great as ever. Especially great, however, was the weirdly consistent note being sung by a host of disconnected producers and manager types as they all clamored first and loudest for (drumroll...) romantic comedies. The RomCom, for years now sort of an out of style beast, suddenly seems to be making one hell of a comeback in terms of popularity among producers, at least if the half dozen requests for such I received are any indication.

Apparently -- and this angle was repeated to me by at least 4 different Hollywood players -- the whole "gore-nography" craze (SAW, HOSTEL, etc.) seems to be playing itself out, or at least down, and what audiences (and therefore producers) now claim to long for is some nice light uplifting fare. Which is not totally surprising, I guess: if your home is slipping toward foreclosure and your 401 just lost 40% of its value and your son just lost his job as a mortgage securities broker and now lives with you as he works as a WalMart greeter, apparently you're more likely to enjoy a story where two people fall in love and live happily ever after than you are a story where some suburban dude is kidnapped, strapped to a table and dismembered by strangers using meat cleavers. Go figure.

So I am back on the RomCom chain gang, and trying to get this long-stagnant idea (which exists in truly awful first draft form) back to speed and headed toward some form of enjoyable readability.


And then of course there's the usual oddball assortment of other ideas and pipedreams which slow circle my mind like the Oort Cloud, but those are so remote and irrelevant for now that we'll just leave them for some other ranting update.

Bottom line: 2008 seems a washout in terms of useful selling and marketing, so it's best now to turn attention and effort to having as much firepower available to bring to bear on the start of the 2009 selling season (Mid-February). My hope -- my goal, my quest, my goddamned mission -- is to have a stack of undeniably cool and worthy scripts on the agent's desk by Valentines Day, so that I might then call and say "I am coming to town. Get me some meetings and then stand ready to ink some deals, as by God I'm taking scalps this year."


(I mean, what the hell? It beats sitting around wallowing in self pity over the holiday season, right?)

31 October 2008

a sudden slack in the suck

Sometimes, just as Hope seems a thing which you no longer even have the option of abandoning as it seems increasingly plain that Hope already long ago abandoned you, the shore break of a sea of troubles subsides for a moment and in bobs a corked bottle tossed your way by the Great Uncaring Universe, and inside you find some silly damned note scribbled carelessly in jumbo crayon, and you can only shake your head at the hateful way Dame Inspiration continues to tease and taunt you like that evil hot cheerleader bitch who wears those chartreuse wispy-thin nylon running shorts and always somehow manages to drop her pencil and smile back at you as she bends sloooowly to pick it up right in front of your desk as you are struggling with the final essay on the exam which might yet pull your flatline GPA back to something just barely acceptable.

Oh, and don't even pretend you don't know what I mean, you scabby lying bastards -- you know it only too well.

I am working on some crap and suddenly a metaphoric metamorphic rock flies through the open side window of my mind and a TITLE -- and I mean a really good damned one, the kind so good it makes you laugh and giggle and clap and run around the back yard with your arms out as you make zooming airplane noises perhaps complete with machine gun sounds -- appears before my bleary eyes.

"Oh... My... God...," I moan, shattered by the wonderfulness of the title. "That totally freakin' works."

And I have that flickering demi-moment of totally Naive Joy, and then that sliver of a moment is triple-bitchslapped to the pavement by the sudden impact of Cruel Understanding as I realize how the sheer GREATNESS of this title instantly and inevitably creates an unshakable obligation for me to actually DO something with the title, almost like someone has left a sick kitten on my doorstep.

And instantly the slack has passed and the suck then resumes, full force and extra crunchy.


28 October 2008

make of this what you will

...but I find myself playing "Woodstock" by CSN over and over and over lately.

Actually, I understand it just fine, and it relates to a long slow simmering mega-post which yet might not see the light of public day.

You, however, remain free floating in cognitive limbo.

And we've got to get ourselves back to the Garden....

AFF 2009

Screenwriter's Conference: Thursday 22 October – Sunday 25 October

Get there.

got passion?

Was reminded last night -- while coaching a bunch of 8 year olds in fall baseball, of all places -- of what value I place upon "passion."

Not the clichéd overwrought flimsy disposable kind that gets squirted around like squeez cheez on the afternoon soap operas, but the more classical old school poet-warrior sort more akin to the original Latin root of the word, where "passio" meant "righteous suffering."

I'd missed the last two games for my squad -- one as I was out of town for a week for the Austin Film Festival, and then this past week as I was away leading a Cub Scout campout -- and in both games the team was reported to have played "flat." We won the first of those games, but not with the usuall verve and flash. The second of those games we lost 2-1 in a game where we managed 18 strikeouts in 18 at bats. In other words, the opposing team did not once field the ball or make a play -- we simply struck out every time (versus a pitching machine that throws strikes 80-90% of the time!). We rolled over and took a pointless loss against a team we'd easily manhandled earlier this season.

Last night our guys seemed flat again, and the first three innings showed us scoring zero runs, managing only two hits against 8 strikeouts (in 11 at bats).

And thus the team got The Return Of The Loud Guy.

I'm not some gung-ho "winning is the only thing" sorts of coaches, especially not in fall ball which is designed and intended as an instructional league. I rotate my players -- good and bad ones -- every inning, and everybody sits an innings, and everybody plays infield at least an inning or two every game. yes, this often costs us hits allowed and sometimes runs allowed, but my job is not to win imaginary trophies and championships in instructional league. My job is to teach these monkeys how to play baseball better.

And for me, you cannot engage in a sport (or any activity where there is competition and failure and heartbreak and joy and the requirement of focus and work and sweat) without that magical ingredient, passion.

So in the third inning I did something I've not had to do for a season or two: I told all the parents to walk away from the dugout, and then I barked once as my team to get their attention. After a second, they all became very quiet and saw that i was not wearing A Happy Face.

"Don't talk -- just raise your hands to answer me. Who's wearing a Red Sox jersey right now?"

All the hands went up.

"Who's wearing a Red Sox cap?"

All the hands went up.

"Who wants to turn in their jersey and cap and leave this dugout and not come back? 'Cuz that's the way you guys are playing."


"We've got maybe one more trip through the order. Those guys over there are laughing and having a great time 'cuz you guys don't seem to care enough to even try. That's not what you've been taught, and that's not how you know to play. If you want to wear that jersey, and wear that cap, and sit in my dugout, you'd better start playing like you care about this team. Do you get it?"

"Yes, coach!"

"When they hit the ball, we catch the ball. When they run, we tag them. When we see a strike, we bang it. When we move, we move fast. Head in the game -- heart in the game. Every pitch, every play, every inning, every game. You got it?"

"We got it!"

"Then show me. Hats and gloves -- hit the field. NOW."

I'd like to say our team rallied for a thrilling comeback win. We didn't. We lost 9-1, but we did win the final inning.

Our post-game talk was calm and positive, and I thanked the guys for remembering how to play the game the way they are supposed to, but I also reminded them that it's waaaay too easy to fall back into the pattern of being lazy and uncaring.

"Here's the thing, guys: I don't care about the score, or who wins or who loses. What I care about -- what makes me come stand out here on a cool October night and scream and yell and stomp around -- is helping you guys understand how much a little effort and a little heart can do."

Afterwards, a few parents snuck over to thank me for tearing into the kids. That always surprises me, as I half-expect some of these parents to say "we don't really like Little Jimmy ever having anyone suggest that he's not perfect as-is." Instead, they seem oddly appreciative that some weird big stranger is (gently) tearing their kid a new one... even while that kid clearly never gets any remotely similar message or treatment at home.

And yes this relates to writing.

Actually, it relates to pretty much everything. Something I've noticed increasingly in recent years is the way that passion -- intense focused effort and desire -- seems more and more rare, especially among younger males. It's as if the very notion of intensity and passion is somehow an ugly thought, and that we were meant to spend our lives in some sort of stuporiffic waking coma, where we smile politely and just let whatever happens happen, with nary a thought, word, or care.

Fuck that.

There are things in this life worth working for. Worth fighting for, and suffering for. In fact, I dare say most all of the truly good and worthwhile things we might ever have opportunity to pursue fall into this class of thing: something worthy of passion.

And I'm to the point where I very much distrust any adult incapable of summoning some real passion for something in their life. Life is too amazingly cool and potentially brief to sleepwalk through your one turn on stage. Find something you care about, and then care 'til it hurts, Throw yourselves into things with gleeful reckless abandon, and stay connected to that delicious child-like joy that comes from a really awesome wipeout. Make a mess. Make a crater. Make some noise. Make a bit of a fool of yourself. Pain don't hurt near as bad as do shame or regret. Go hard or go home.

So, the moral of today's pomposity is "passion: it's a good thing." It will serve you well, and at the very least will scare the hell out of a good chunk of those you find yourselves competing against.

Get some.

23 October 2008

AFF 2008 in stream of subconsciousness replay

Drizzle on the road into town ... late arrival, early traffic ... Jamie made his flight ... Driskill smells like home ... Shawna Shawna Shawna ... Ryan and Crymes in the lounge ... calling Robyn "Tori" ... Howdy, Mr. Beal ... Lisa and Jude ... calling Tori "Robyn" ... Deborah totes a big bag ... chicken enchiladas at Iron Horse Cantina ... bock me, amadeus ... heinous accusations of snoring ... a line around Starbucks ... a new room again for registration sign-in ... Julie O at the airport ... Tina Richey Swanson Jingleheimer Schmitt.. Jimmie Miller and shepherd's pie ... John Turman ... Mikey exists ... new phone charger ... pear cider and quesadillas at Buffalo's ... loved Hollywood Shuffle, Mr. Townsend ... Driskill Hotel Bar ... opening night party at Mohawk ... what's Vivi smiling about? ... stay thirsty, my friends ... Emerson Max and the Boston Ponytail ... Shane Black and the fine art of reluctantly sincere hetero man-hugging ... another pint of Guinness ... Big Jon from St Louis ... Linnea hates to like me ... Aren't you Mr. Moosecock? ... Maggie Biggar has a cute laugh ... Dawn the cool Philly Producer Babe ... everybody wants a romcom ... Julianna Ferrell ... Mikey is a nappin' machine ... Starbuck me ... Dan Petrie and Terry Rossio flanking Polly "Yukon" Platt ... KASDAN! ... John August knows a lot of stuff ... fish tacos at Marisco Grill ... Mizzou in the hizzy ... telling Terry I'm stealing his woman again ... Brian Anderson appears ... a pint of Fireman's #4 ... what's Vivi smiling about? ... "MUY TAI, MUTHERFUCKER!" ... Turman and Shane and Rossio ... Lauren and Dave! ... the other party sucks ... beer me, Sean ... why, thank you ... be quiet, Tori ... evenin', Mr. Skerritt ... a beer? For me? Well, if you insist ... that'll do, Mr. Cromwell-- that'll do ... another beer? well, OK ... the new circumcision is looking good, man! ... woman are cool ... Moosecockier: this time, it's personal ... gooooodnight, ireeeene ... more throw pillows than square feet ... early sure comes early here ... "is that a banana and a granola bar and a cellphone in your pocket, or are you just really hung?" ... Farrell and Soderstrom do a really good job ... what the hell kind of name for a grown-up is "Kiwi" anyway? ... leading the lunch parade to nowhere ... chicken schwarma and a "Focus" VitaminWater ... the magical mystery room on the second and a half floor ... LAWRENCE FUCKING KASDAN! ... Big Chill and Battletech ... weeping to meet your hero ... Kring and Rossio and Turman and Black oh my ... the French Legation and BBQ ... Jana Kramer is freakin' gorgeous ... gimme a green bottle this time ... what's Vivi smiling about? ... Bever, BBQ, and beer ... howdy, Mr. Weingrod ... Englebert the Bull seems lost in thought ... damned t-sips ... free Dos Equis with half of the Fabulous Benson Sisters ... sure, I'll drink another beer with you ... buried 'neath an avalanche of babes ... waving off attempts to be rescued from being buried 'neath aforementioned avalanche ... closing night at Buffalo Billiards ... "how did you lose FIVE women at the same time?" ... Moosecockiest: The Final Chapter ... Dawn on the sofa, Terry on the windowsill ... bodypainting and windmills and things better left unseen ... "sounds interesting -- you have my contact info, right?" ... last man to leave ... aloha, Max ... damned t-sips ... "sure she's still awake -- it's only 2 am, right?" ... "OK, so maybe that was not the best idea of the night..." ... did anyone ever figure out who that dude with us was? ... "it's 5:30 am? for real? oh shit..." ... falling into bed exactly as Mikey is getting up ... the goodbyes begin ... a three and a half wheeled cab ride to the Hair Of The Dog ... bailing on the Hair Of The Dog and walking back ... best secret brunch buffet in town ... Turman and Thorne give really good panel ... Seth and a lukewarm veggieburger ... hugging foreheads over a babygrand ... winding down at the pita place ... Shane Black preaches and we all sing HALLELUJAH ... "you, sir, are a fuckin' rock star" ... "when are you coming to LA?..." ... "And now it's time to say goodbye... to the summer..." vs "this is the end... my only friend, the end..." ... "you're MARRIED?!!!..." ... some good friends hugged, some makeup smeared, some sleeves schmutzed ... "time to turn back into a pumpkin for another 361 days..." ... "we gotta find a place to meet this year..." ... some friends into cabs, some friends to the airport, some more weepy goodbyes ... a long drive home in silence, wanting to burn every second into hard long term memory ... total and complete exhaustion ... what were those dates for 2009?....


AFF 2008. Yeah, I was very there.

22 October 2008

and then... darkness

I am so tired I can hardly believe it.

It's not surprising or unusual or unprecedented: I routinely go to Austin (Film Fest) and switch on to some sort of nitro boost where I can rage for the entire event on 2 or 3 hours of sleep per day, but as soon as the final gun sounds I complete that drive home... Bretty needs a recuperative coma.

So the blog posts post-Austin are slow in coming this week. Apologies, except, I'm not really sorry. None of you pissants is putting even the thinnest sliver of coin into my Super Dennis jeans, so you can just sit there and wait.

slumber luvin' B

20 October 2008

Austin: notice of safe return


Well, the Austin Film Festival -- or, more properly, the Screenwriter's Conference portion of the AFF -- has again come and gone, and I am back at home on the real world.

The conference was, as it has always been, a bizarre and surprisingly affecting experience. I know some folks -- even some of my friends who were there and experiencing the very same moments -- will scrunch their eyebrows and wonder "what the hell is he on about THIS time...", but for me, the AFF conference truly is a miraculous ride. It's never so much about the technical learning as it is about the revelation and self-discovery and re-dedication that goes on during and as a result. To hear people whose work and career and dedication you respect and admire and envy and stand in slack-jawed awe for... and realize that they are nothing at all very different than you are, and that they have many of the very same demons and dreams as you do... is a wildly affirming and inspiring thing.

At least it is for me.

I'll not launch into an overlong review and babble-fest of all the arcane minutiae and miscellania of this year's conference -- that will come soon enough -- but I will say this: I love that event, and I will keep coming back so long as there is any possibility for me to make such happen.

09 October 2008

the choice is clear

After due consideration, the editorial board of a bucket of love now stands ready to endorse a candidate in the looming Presidential debacle:


[this message paid for by CREAP -- the Committee to RE-Animate the President]
sick of politics B

03 October 2008

juggling 17 balls... in a stiff wind

That's how it feels right now.

Fall baseball is underway, and after the confusion and rescheduling caused by Hurricane Ike, we're forced to have 3 games in four days to start the season, with no time for review or learning after the first game or two -- hardly the best or preferred way to run 'instructional" league baseball.

Scouts is also scrambling to make up for missed and jumbled time in the unexpected week-long "hurri-cation," so suddenly all sorts of events have been compressed and rescheduled, adding more confusion.

School is fumbling to make up the lost week, with homework and assignments seemingly running at 25% overdrive right now.

And then last weekend one of our two family vehicles died on the side of the road, and despite a great factory warranty and an expensive extended warranty, it took four days (not at the selling dealership) to basically find that we needed to RE-tow the car back to the selling dealership if we were going to get ANY sort of attention to the relatively minor issues, so here we are on DAY FIVE of trying to coordinate insane daily and nightly logistics for a family of six.

Meanwhile, the expected and repeatedly promised return phone call from The Agent has yet to materialize, the director/producer who claimed to want to hire me for a gig is not responding to phone or email, SAG-AFTRA seem eager to have a strike of their own (and thereby deny me yet a few more months in which I might maybe finally be allowed the privilege of being ignored by major studios and producers...).

The mower is acting up. Weeds are creeping into the backyard. Fire ants are mounting an autumn offensive. Garage and home are a disaster area. And I need to get back into shape.

Oh, and Austin Film Fest is coming up in less than two weeks, and now even THEY are starting to annoy me with their uncharacteristically shabby treatment of pro writer pals of mine.

I had a beer the other night, and I didn;t even enjoy it.

Yes -- things are that bad.

24 September 2008

wrestling the rubber croc

For reasons which are simultaneously exhilarating and exasperating, I am forcing myself — at psychic spearpoint — to get back into the routine of regular serious useful writing. It's been a weird and frustrating year so far, and a lot of stuff seems to have not so much stalled as just hung up, as if it's in need of Force Quit and Restart ("Is it doing something? Or is it just sitting there frozen? What's the real difference?").

But now I am back well and truly Into The Shit, and as I try to get this goofy campy monster project back up to speed I had this weird image to visually analogize what this feels like: wrestling a rubber crocodile in a low-budget movie shoot.

I'm exhausted from fighting this large and ridiculous thing. To make anything look or seem right I have to keep a straight face as I do what in any other moment or context would be a series of really overly broad and ridiculous actions. I have to make it seem totally real and sincere, yet do so with the knowledge and understanding that everyone who ever sees it will understand that it is NOT totally real and sincere, but is in fact totally ridiculous. And after every take, every pass, I get to re-set and prep myself for another run at this ungainly inflatable bad boy.

"Great, great -- now, once more... THIS TIME WITH FEELING!"

rubber reptile rangler B

21 September 2008

misery loves company

McSweeneys.com hosts DFW remembrances and thoughts.

It's a strange sort of grief I am wrestling with here. I never met David Foster Wallace nor can I claim that he ever read a word or note from me, nor can I claim that he somehow saved me from myself. But I do know that for most of the past 20 years his work had served as a sort of beacon, a light in the darkness which gave direction and showed that there is some order out there, some purpose and point to slogging forward -- somebody else made it through to the other side, therefore so might you.

The best line I can think of to describe how it feels to think of DFW right now actually comes from a movie:

"I have to remind myself that some birds aren't meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up DOES rejoice. Still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they're gone. I guess I just miss my friend. "

Reading through those notes of and to Dave, I realize how I am not alone in hating the word "goodbye."

19 September 2008

where an odd circle completes itself

Pardon the double posting today, but I stumbled into a rather propitious moment of synchronicity and feel honor-bound to acknowledge it.

The earlier post today was about online bloviation and the sad comfort most all of us feel about braying our thoughts out to the world.

A previous post this week noted the tragic (IMO) passing of writer David Foster Wallace, a man most folks universally hailed as one of the modern geniuses in American literature.

As luck would have it, I ran across a full text of DFW's epic brilliant commencement address to Kenyon College, where he grabbed the graduates by the lapels and demanded that they stay ever-vigilant against intellectual and emotional laziness and self-absorption; that human tendency to always presume happily that whatever we believe is of course correct and proper.

When I read the address (cited in its entirety below), I find myself almost cheering at numerous points as Wallace repeats ideas and concepts and philosophies I have long held near and dear, ideas and notions I arrived at through the course of bizarre decades of self-analysis and recrimination and abuse.

I find address to be one of the more brilliant and beautiful things I have ever read.

Commencement Address to Kenyon College
from David Foster Wallace
(given May 21, 2005)

If anybody feels like perspiring [cough], I'd advise you to go ahead, because I'm sure going to. In fact I'm gonna [mumbles while pulling up his gown and taking out a handkerchief from his pocket].) Greetings ["parents"?] and congratulations to Kenyon's graduating class of 2005. There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"

This is a standard requirement of US commencement speeches, the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories. The story ["thing"] turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre, but if you're worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don't be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance, or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning.

Of course the main requirement of speeches like this is that I'm supposed to talk about your liberal arts education's meaning, to try to explain why the degree you are about to receive has actual human value instead of just a material payoff. So let's talk about the single most pervasive cliché in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about quote teaching you how to think. If you're like me as a student, you've never liked hearing this, and you tend to feel a bit insulted by the claim that you needed anybody to teach you how to think, since the fact that you even got admitted to a college this good seems like proof that you already know how to think. But I'm going to posit to you that the liberal arts cliché turns out not to be insulting at all, because the really significant education in thinking that we're supposed to get in a place like this isn't really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about. If your total freedom of choice regarding what to think about seems too obvious to waste time discussing, I'd ask you to think about fish and water, and to bracket for just a few minutes your skepticism about the value of the totally obvious.

Here's another didactic little story. There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says: "Look, it's not like I don't have actual reasons for not believing in God. It's not like I haven't ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn't see a thing, and it was fifty below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out 'Oh, God, if there is a God, I'm lost in this blizzard, and I'm gonna die if you don't help me.'" And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. "Well then you must believe now," he says, "After all, here you are, alive." The atheist just rolls his eyes. "No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp."

It's easy to run this story through kind of a standard liberal arts analysis: the exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people, given those people's two different belief templates and two different ways of constructing meaning from experience. Because we prize tolerance and diversity of belief, nowhere in our liberal arts analysis do we want to claim that one guy's interpretation is true and the other guy's is false or bad. Which is fine, except we also never end up talking about just where these individual templates and beliefs come from. Meaning, where they come from INSIDE the two guys. As if a person's most basic orientation toward the world, and the meaning of his experience were somehow just hard-wired, like height or shoe-size; or automatically absorbed from the culture, like language. As if how we construct meaning were not actually a matter of personal, intentional choice. Plus, there's the whole matter of arrogance. The nonreligious guy is so totally certain in his dismissal of the possibility that the passing Eskimos had anything to do with his prayer for help. True, there are plenty of religious people who seem arrogant and certain of their own interpretations, too. They're probably even more repulsive than atheists, at least to most of us. But religious dogmatists' problem is exactly the same as the story's unbeliever: blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn't even know he's locked up.

The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too.

Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness because it's so socially repulsive. But it's pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.

Please don't worry that I'm getting ready to lecture you about compassion or other-directedness or all the so-called virtues. This is not a matter of virtue. It's a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being "well-adjusted", which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.

Given the triumphant academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default setting involves actual knowledge or intellect. This question gets very tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education -- least in my own case -- is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me.

As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about quote the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.

This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.

And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let's get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what "day in day out" really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I'm talking about.

By way of example, let's say it's an average adult day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging, white-collar, college-graduate job, and you work hard for eight or ten hours, and at the end of the day you're tired and somewhat stressed and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour, and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there's no food at home. You haven't had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It's the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be: very bad. So getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there, the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it's the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping. And the store is hideously lit and infused with soul-killing muzak or corporate pop and it's pretty much the last place you want to be but you can't just get in and quickly out; you have to wander all over the huge, over-lit store's confusing aisles to find the stuff you want and you have to maneuver your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts (et cetera, et cetera, cutting stuff out because this is a long ceremony) and eventually you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren't enough check-out lanes open even though it's the end-of-the-day rush. So the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating. But you can't take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college.

But anyway, you finally get to the checkout line's front, and you pay for your food, and you get told to "Have a nice day" in a voice that is the absolute voice of death. Then you have to take your creepy, flimsy, plastic bags of groceries in your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left, all the way out through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive, rush-hour traffic, et cetera et cetera.

Everyone here has done this, of course. But it hasn't yet been part of you graduates' actual life routine, day after week after month after year.

But it will be. And many more dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines besides. But that is not the point. The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don't make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I'm gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it's going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.

Or, of course, if I'm in a more socially conscious liberal arts form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic being disgusted about all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV's and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks, burning their wasteful, selfish, forty-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper-stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest [responding here to loud applause] (this is an example of how NOT to think, though) most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers. And I can think about how our children's children will despise us for wasting all the future's fuel, and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and selfish and disgusting we all are, and how modern consumer society just sucks, and so forth and so on.

You get the idea.

If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn't have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It's the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I'm operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world's priorities.

The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it's not impossible that some of these people in SUV's have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he's trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he's in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way.

Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket's checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.

Again, please don't think that I'm giving you moral advice, or that I'm saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it's hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won't be able to do it, or you just flat out won't want to.

But most days, if you're aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she's not usually like this. Maybe she's been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it's also not impossible. It just depends what you what to consider. If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won't consider possibilities that aren't annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're gonna try to see it.

This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship.

Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it JC or Allah, bet it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.

They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving and [unintelligible -- sounds like "displayal"]. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

I know that this stuff probably doesn't sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don't just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.

The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

"This is water."

"This is water."

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.

I wish you way more than luck.

Amen, hallelujah, and damn you for leaving early, Dave.

too much noise

I s'pose it's the other side of the coin.

I was just watching a cool little vid over on MySpace (and no, I'm not posting the link-- if you can't find MySpace without me having to hand-code a damned convoluted link into HTML code, then what business do you have with a modem any damned way?) where Diablo Cody was interviewing John Cusack in an odd little 4 minute tete-a-tete shot over someone's rustic dining room harvest table, and Cody (it just sounds too strange to refer to a funny woman as "Diablo") was remarking on how cool it is that with the blog culture you can just sidestep "The Man" and say what you need to say.

And that all sounds great, and of course in my half-distracted state some portion of my brain is doing like Cusack was, just sorta absent-mindedly nodding passive agreement out of politeness, until a few minutes later when I poked my head into one of the (too) many discussion boards I lurk on and found a bewilderingly active series of arguments about... utter bullshit.

Now, I'm not going to describe which board I am referring to. Nor will I describe the debate itself, as that would only help to specify which circle of erstwhile "friends" (and that's the online kind, and not the real kind) has the strongest cause to feel insulted and slighted. Instead, I'll keep it vague enough that pretty much ALL of my discussion board "posses" (yes, I am phat with a P-H) will now glare at me, abso-damned sure that I was talking about THEM.

My point -- and, again, I do have one -- is that this ability to sidestep The Man (as Cody described it) is a double-edged sword. Yes, with the internet we ALL now get to express our opinion without first having to gain support and approval. But is that really so all-fired wonderful?

I'm not so sure.

I think a strong case could be made for the value of gatekeepers and doormen and judges of all stripe, those folks who stand as the intellectual equivalent to the amusement park clown painting telling us "you must be THIS TALL to ride this coaster!". In the old days, when dinosaurs walked the earth and journalists still worked on that quaint substance once known as "paper," the opinions which managed to make it into print for dissemination had all been first vetted by someone whose vocation it was to, ya know, write and shit.

Nowadays online we get flubbering blubbering 4 pound essays on foreign policy from people who in real life are not qualified to cut their own meat.

Don't call me a fascist (or, if you do, at least have some specific factual support or a solid claim on being understood as joking friend) -- I am not saying that people do not have a right to an opinion on any bit of philosophical tinfoil or intellectual twine which grabs their fancy for any span of seconds. Instead, I am saying that just because someone has an opinion does not mean that anyone else should have to suffer listening to it.

There is so much absolutely worthless drivel posted online these days -- almost always under the protective cover of "opinion" -- that it truly boggles the mind when you pause to consider it. Think about how self-absorbed and lazy we have become that we feel greater need to spend three days arguing about Lindsey Lohan's latest oddness than we do in helping people in our community affected by some natural disaster. More drive to slapfight over who is the best BATMAN than we can summon to actually improve our own lives or those of anyone we know or see. More fire in the belly to argue Coke vs Pepsi than we have to achieve some long-hidden dream.

There is so much we could do.

But instead of actually doing it, we blog about it.

Hell yes, irony noted.

18 September 2008

warning: you are now reading an UN-verified blog

So says FaceBook.

For reasons which totally escape me, I am listed in their Blog Network (no, I do not know what that means), but even after verifying that yes I am the author of this here bloggish thing, and even after some folks agreed that yes I am the author of this here bloggish type thing, and even after sending out the requisite emails and invites and twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, apparently I am still not full and totally verified (and no, I do not know what that means, either), so I am putting it to you fine folks to rescue me from this possibly unfortunate state of affairs by going over to FaceBook and operating the various foot pedals and hand levers and oral appliances and nasal inserts in whatever particular manner is required to finally completely amazingly verify me so that I might commence to enjoyifying the rare and glorious benefits, rights, benefits and honors attendant with such shimmering gold-framed status (and no, I do not know what that means, either).

Still -- thanks.

I think.

14 September 2008

r.i.p.: david foster wallace

It's hard to explain how sad his (apparent) suicide makes me feel.

I've read a lot of DFWs work, but I will not try and describe him in terms of his place in the hall of American letters -- there are others of far more secure academic standing who can (and surely will) do that far better than I'd ever manage. Just glancing at the names most often mentioned in comparison says all one needs to know about the man's stature and standing: you don't get compared to Joyce, Pynchon, or Coover lightly or without hellacious cause.

Instead of trying to explain Wallace by what he was everywhere else, I'll instead say what he as for me: easily the most volcanic and thrilling wordsmith I have ever had the pleasure to read.

While I can't claim to have loved his every work -- his epic modern classic INFINITE FEST, for example, seemed like it was defiantly in need of a tough editor, and Wallace was just curious to see if anyone had the balls to say so -- I can state this much with conviction: never did I read anything from David Foster Wallace where I didn't (at least a few times and usually very many) just smile and shake my head in jealous marvel at the way the man could make words dance on the wind; where I didn't say to myself "man, I really need to sharpen my A-game unless I wanna look like a dyslexic chimp by comparison"; where I didn't want to just stand and scream "NOW THAT'S HOW YOU MOTHERFUCKING SLING THE LANGUAGE AROUND!"

The guy was a walking bag of contradictions: raised in "Normal, Illinois," he became the Next Great American Literary Legend, yet he seemed absolutely dedicated to shooting holes in his own legend as often as possible. He'd pen travel articles for magazines even as he was working on epic literary works. He could make make a totally average member of the pro tennis tour somehow seem heroic and tragic, then pen a piece of literary criticism where he made all modern fiction seem like the most flimsy and useless waste of ink ever attempted. He was the hermit king who avoided all acclaim and notoriety, opting for a horsehair shirt teaching post in Pomona -- Pomona! -- rather than a comfy endowed chair at some storied ivy draped "name" institution.

And this past week, at age 46, for reasons not yet clear, he decided to hang himself and deny us any more of his wild brilliance.

All I know is that it will be a long long time before we're likely to have anyone with his rare skill -- his ability to somehow seem both sacred and profane, profound and mundane, romantic yet nihilistic, all even in the same sentence -- pass our way again.

God, how I will miss the chance to see what else he might ever have written. It surely would have dazzled, that much I know for absolute certain.
selfishly sad B

Hurricane Ike: The Aftermath

Well, we came through pretty much unscathed. Some slight trivial amount of water on the floor (the backdoor was apparently unable to totally hold back 8 hours of rain driven by 80 mph winds), but nothing else.

Some neighbors had some wall planking torn away, exposing the attic and the interior ceiling of the kitchen, but a bunch of us jumped in to staple up tarps and boards to seal it as best could be managed. Some fences down, and across the road the ext neighborhood over had some houses lose their shingling.

Lots of trees toppled. Lots of signage and awnings are laying in parking lots or in streets or in yards. Lots of fences shattered and splintered. Streets choked with debris and leaves, but truly horrific damage locally (we're 30 miles due west of downtown, and caught a less ugly portion of the storm). Schools are closed on Monday at least, and advisements coming for possible extended closures.

In Houston, 2 million people are without power. We lost ours for about 20 hours -- as the storm came on, then through the night and into the day after -- but now have lights and working refrigerators and blessed sweet heavenly air conditioning.

Roads are dangerous due to glass and nails everywhere, so sightseeing is dangerous, gasoline is in short supply, power lines are down all over, cars are stalled out, water remains over key sections of highways (especially through downtown and to the E and S), phone and cell service is erratic. Stores report problems with supplies, refrigerating, and lighting. Ice is a commodity some people will physically fight over (I had to help calm down two gents about to get physical over the last 5 pound bag of ice at Target).

Galveston looks to be a total mess, but since I still have no satellite service for the TV (winds apparently knocked the dish out of whack), I'm not seeing the live local coverage that might give a full picture.

What's wild is to look on the internet and see that for most of the country, life goes on as normal. What seems like an "end of the world" event for us in the Houston area is largely a regional concern. Some of us were talking over beers in the driveway yesterday, worried that Sean Penn and his rescue boat were having trouble getting to town, as nobody has yet seen the actor attempting to again render aid in his outboard-powered U-boat.

But hope springs eternal.

11 September 2008

Not the post I had started

I actually had another post started when I realized I'd rather just mention this stupid damned 'Hurricane Ike" thing.

As I write this (Thursday afternoon, 11 Sept 08), there's a Category 2 storm out there bearing down with a projected path right over the top of my house (seriously: we might get to take the kids outside to look up through the eye and then scurry back for cover-- fun!). By the time this beast makes landfall, she'll likely be bringing sustained winds of 115 mph or so, which means by the time the storm covers the roughly 90 miles from the shore to my house, we'll likely still be having 70 mph sustained for 8-15 hours, along with the usual insane torrential rains -- somewhere between 6 and 30 inches worth.

Unlike Rita, which, coming as it did on the immediate heels of the Katrina debacle, scared a few million Houston area folks to panic onto the freeways, creating a nightmare of jammed up traffic which thankfully was spared all but a tiny bit of the storm, this time, this storm seems to be getting a nice steely eyed calm and level headed degree of proportionate fear. People are prepping, but there's none of the wide-eyed panic seen with Rita.

Hardware stores have long lines of people stocking up on plywood and sheetgoods to protect windows, but there's no mad crush.

Gas stations are running low and sometimes out, but resupply is happeneing. I was just at the neighborhood Shell station, for example, where I'd seen a line of cars getting their tanks topped off (always a good idea in such situations, in case you HAVE to go and go now...), but when I pulled in all the pumps were empty-- sold out. I bought a drink, and as I started my car I saw a tanker truck-- followed by a half dozen expectant cars and vans following him to wherever he was delivering -- so I quickly slid in to a pump and waited the 7 minutes til he was offloading to the tanks. I got the car filled and by the time I left, there were 50 cars lined up out into the streets.

As I was paying, I asked the manager how much they'd sold.

"We took 8000 gallons this morning, and it was gone by lunchtime. That's another 9000 gallons he's giving us, and it will probably be gone before dark."

We've stored everything that could be lifted by the wind and sent flying through a windshield or window.

We have food. Flashlights. Water. Ice and meat in the freezer. Canned goods, extra bread and crackers. A radio that works.


School is cancelled tomorrow and all events cancelled through the weekend. I hope we wind up bored out of our minds, but I worry that we'll have more than enough excitement.

So for now, we pretty much sit here, kinda marveling at how normal and calm things are -- beautiful sky, light breeze, a little warmer than normal -- and watch the radar updates as a huge roaring bastard of a storm chugs right at us from somewhere just over the southeastern horizon.

05 September 2008

change is what's comin'

Sometimes our external climate mirrors what winds blow within.

Yesterday morning we had our first cool front of the year. I awoke to find blue skies, a nice breeze, and temperatures hanging around 70 degrees -- a radical departure for the oppressive mildew-matic stuff we get in Houston from late April until... well, October, usually: temps in the mid 90s, humidity fluctuating damply between 50% and infinity, with a two MPH breeze straight up (I am often reminded of the line about Vietnam: "the wind doesn't blow -- it sucks."). 30% chance of mostly afternoon thunderstorms, some possibly severe, with the possibility of localized street flooding.

I love Texas and I actually like that oppressive summer weather in the same perverse way that Green Bay fans love the Antarctic conditions at Lambeau on a frozen January evening. It's a test, where the weather gods cull the righteous from the wimpious.

But heroic endurance can get a tad tiresome after months of just standing there, sweat spraying off you like a sprinkler, as your scalp crackles and cooks like bacon and your eyes slowly dry up into raisins rattling in your eye sockets and every breath feels as though you had to wrestle it through a barber's towel pulled fresh from the steamer basket. I mean, I can take it -- no problem no complaints -- but sometimes it's nice to be reminded that all things change, turn turn turn, etc.

My point -- and, per usual, I have one, though it's slow in coming and obscured to the point of invisibility -- is that regardless of how well you can adapt and endure, it's important to not become so blasé and jaded and detached from things that you lose all track of time, of the need to adapt and evolve and move forward.

Yes, this is analogy, kids. Or allegory. Perhaps metaphor with a light drizzle of allusion.

I was reading a great -- and I do mean fantastic -- piece in Harvard Business Review (hey-- I'm classy and shit!) where Ed Catmull, one of the co-founders of PiXAR Pictures, discusses "How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity". (Seriously-- go read it. Now. Take notes.)

One of the (numerous) brilliant strengths PiXAR boasts is a now-fully-ingrained institutional wariness of complacency -- the tendency to start feeling proud of how great and smart and wonderful you are and to then lower your guard against stupid mistakes and clumsy blindness to important advances, improvements, and changes:

"[W]hen continual change, or reinvention, is the norm in an organization and technology and art are together, magical things happen."

-- Ed Catmull, founder, PiXAR Pictures, in Harvard Business Review

Catmull is speaking about companies and organizations, but what's so brilliant about his essay is that the concepts and advice are every bit as sound and efficacious for use by individuals. Just as companies and organizations (and governments) can become prone to hubris and dangerous belief in their eternal infallibility, so can people. Me. You. Them.

I coach a lot of youth sports (and no that's not a non sequitor. One of the things I most love about coaching kids is their malleability, their openness to change and improvement. Sure, they often think they know how to do something, but they also are young enough to still be very attuned to the concept of education and change. You can still teach kids new things, and they still are largely ego-free in their willingness to accept these lessons and bits of advice and suggestion.

One of the hallmarks of "maturity" is that day when your brain starts to close off the gates to new ideas and starts to say "OK-- we've learned enough. Stop sending us new ideas. We don;t want or even need any more of them. We're perfectly content to sit here and run using the system and software we have in place."

Now, if you imagine someone sitting there using an Apple IIe computer, running software from floppy disks and looking at a monochrome monitor, you easily understand how this refusal to adapt any further can lead to real problems and even potential dangerous inability to function.

Yet most people seem incapable of looking at their own actions and attitudes and patterns of behavior with that same degree of objective detachment. They don't want to recognize that they've become complacent, or lazy, or that they have strayed badly from the course they intended to follow.

So lately I've been getting that itchy feeling in the pit of my soul. I've often described it as that restlessness that a wild goose must feel when that first cool breeze hits and some part of their brain starts signaling "time to think about heading south."

Time for change.

And not all change has to be Earth-shattering or so dramatic that anyone else even notices. Sometimes even tiny mid-course twitches to the helm are enough to affect a course change that makes a huge long term difference.

But you have to remain open and aware to the possible needfulness of such changes, major or minor. You have to stand willing to give your precious damned Ego a timeout and send it to its room for fifteen minutes so the adults can have A Serious Conversation. Sometimes we have to take stock of where we are, what we are doing, what we are pursuing, and honestly -- objectively, with cold-hearted ruthless detachment -- say "here's an area where we can do better."

It's been an interesting year for me. But nothing is "done" or "over" or even "achieved." Life is, as ever, what comes next, and I either keep chugging relentlessly towards constant improvement and progress, or I become a freezeframe in the ongoing movie of my own life. Work habits need a hard analysis and review. Dedication needs a review. Commitment needs to have its tank topped off. "What am I doing, and why? What is the goal, and what is the plan to achieve that goal? What am I doing which might be impeding me from achieving these goals? How can I do better -- BE better?"

Tough questions, mostly because corrections require change, and change is scary and takes work, and as a general class of beings, humans are lazy, cowardly, and self-deluding.

Change. Either you embrace it, pursue it, long for it and demand it and chase it down with voracious tenacity, or you stand at very real risk of becoming a sad and static cliché, incapable of adapting to the world as it exists around you and slowly moves forward without you.

Onwards, my pretties.
self-improvement via self-loathing B

01 September 2008

blah -- never mind

I had another post almost ready.

About writing. And websites. And politics. And people (mostly the stupid kind). And hurricanes and New Orleans and complaint and hindsight and dedication and respect and music and kids and love and chili and beer and the end of hope and the beginning of same and regret and pride and toenails and Yo Yo Ma and two-cycle engines and at least three other holistically connected topics, and my god it was a thing of rare beauty and wonder, and it might well have changed not only your political view but your personal grooming habits and choice of beverages as well.

It was just that good.

But, I decided to delete it and post this instead.

Yes, I have my reasons.

No, you may not have those reasons.

You may instead just marvel at the wonder and spectacle of all which might -- maybe -- have been.

Time to make PBnJs x5.

27 August 2008


Austin Film Festival contest shows no love to your intrepid narrator, dinking me this year in the first round.

Looks like I picked the wrong week to give up senseless fits of pointless violence....

26 August 2008

ya know, *I* had an idea once....


"Oh, really? Tell us about it, Bob."


The 2.3 people who still pay attention to developments around here are surely not even the tiniest bit interested to know why things seem to have been moving so slowly of late. But on the bright side, I had an idea today which might -- maybe -- help jumpstart a long-stalled project.

No, that's not really Earth-shattering stuff, I know, but still. One works with what one's got.

17 August 2008

bea arthur sex tape

There are some bloggers who seem to post crap just to draw attention and hits.

Not interesting posts, or amusing posts, or relevant posts, or insightful posts, or even competently reasoned or written posts, but instead posts which contain a lot of stuff, and often a lot of keywords.

I think I'll try and be one of those folks. To hell with making sense or justifying the existence of the blog. I'll just bang cymbals together and scream "BADGER! BADGER! BADGER!" until a crowd gathers, and then I'll take my bow and bask in my newfound glory and attention.

big bucks no whammies B

14 August 2008

shameless self pimpage

Sometimes I toss off a phrase which I glance at in my rearview and smile at, thinking "OK, that was not bad."

Like today, in a discussion of what a writer is "allowed" to do in writing a screenplay:

"There are no screenplay police -- only screenplay vigilantes."

Back to your lives, citizens.
self-adoring B

11 August 2008

long live sport

I love the Olympics.

I know a lot of folks seem bored by The Games, and some folks can be so annoyingly nationalistic as to become nauseating, but for me one of the most purely beautiful sporting moments is that odd 5 minute highlight reel now assembled and played at the close of every Olympic broadcast, where we see a parade of Olympic glories (and sometimes heartbreaks) set to Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." Yeah, yeah, Super Bowl and World Series and World Cup and whatever, blah blah blah... those are all professionals playing at the peaks of long well-publicized careers, with decades of pampering and pay behind and usually years more ahead.

But in the Olympics we get Nobodies. Anonymous people from anonymous places, often competing in sports we never even acknowledge except for these once-every-four-year events where we will sit and tolerate some swimming or decathlon highlights as we wait for the Dream Team to play.

I love the nobodies. Because every time you see someone lining up to compete in an Olympic event, that's a human being who has set their jaw with steely resolve and dedicated years of their life to answering a question most humans will always remain too timid and terrified to ever ponder: "how good can I be? Where is the absolute limit?"

Pushing one's self in pursuit of epic greatness is not something most people have the stomach to try. The ego cost is usually too great: It sucks to be shown -- conclusively, harshly -- that you're just average. Or maybe even worse. Instead, we mock those who dig deep onto reserves we lack. We ridicule the focus and dedication required to improve from the 99.9947 percentile to the 99.9983 percentile.

How razor thin is that difference? About 8 one-thousandths of a second, if Sunday's 4x100 Men's Freestyle Relay is any indication.

Everyone probably is aware of US swimmer Michael Phelps. He is a freak of nature, a condor-winged naturally-gifted talent with an unnatural drive to improve. He's on a chase to collect 8 golds and become the greatest collector of Olympic hardware in American history. He has huge endorsements and requests for appearances on all the shows and magazines. he is the Golden Boy of swimming right now.

But how many people can honestly say they'd hear of Jason Lezak before Sunday night?

Sunday, Lezak swam the anchor leg of the 4x100 relay for the US men's team. The French team was near-universally expected to win. Even Rowdy Gaines, former Olympian and commentator for NBCs swimming coverage at The Games, admitted "I've worked this race on paper a hundred times and I just don't see how the US can outswim the French-- they are just that good."

But there's a reason we actually run the races and play the games rather than just award medals and trophies based upon what the stats and numbers tell us is "supposed" to happen. Because we -- we, the less focused less committed less involved folks on the sidelines -- will never truly know when one human being is going to take a deep breath, step forward, and say "to hell with what is supposed to happen. Right now, right here -- I AM history."

If you did not see Sunday's epic race, check the video below. Words will not describe the just plain amazingness of it.

On the final turn of the final leg, the US team trailed the French team by roughly three quarters of a second -- a full body length -- with the French riding to certain gold on the back of the world record holder in the 100 freestyle, Alain Bernard. Bernard had expanded a small lead into a near-impossible lead with just one pool length to go. The commentators covering the race were saying there was no way to chase down Bernard, the world's fastest sprinter.

Except someone forgot to tell Lezak. With half a pool to go, Lezak unleashed what swim experts are already calling the most amazing and impossible surge ever witnessed. Suddenly, without any rational explanation, Lezak started closing. Fast.

Phelps and teammates watching from the finish line were screaming for Lezak to find one more calorie of strength. The announcers were screaming "THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE!" Even Bernard, a "right breather" who turns his face over his right shoulder to breath between strokes, could be seen turning to his left underwater to steal a glimpse at what was totally completely and in all ways inconceivable -- "oh my God -- here he comes..."

Bernard, already the world's fastest-ever in this event, broke his own record in the race, covering 100 yards in a blistering 46.6 seconds, only the third time any human being had broken the 47-second mark over 100 meters.

Lezak? From some never expected corner of his heart, he summoned forth the insane effort needed to swim a 46-flat. Three quarters of a second better than Bernard's record. Lezak lunged forward with his last bit of strength to touch the finish 8 thousandths of a second before the mighty Bernard, and nobody in the building could quite believe what they had just seen. The French stood staring at the final times with a totally stunned expression, as Phelps, Gale and Jones flexed and howled with pure unfiltered screaming joyful wonder.

Lezak? He panted in the water, seeming too spent even to lift his arms to accept a high five. He had no strength left to celebrate.

He'd left it all out there in the race -- one insane impossible unbelievable unforgettable race.

"The whole thing was remarkable," said Orjan Madsen, the German head coach. "It was one of those moments where you just sit back and say, 'Jesus Christ.' If I wouldn't have seen [Lezak overtaking Bernard] with my own eyes, I wouldn't have believed it."

Long Live Sport.