Thursday, February 22, 2024

I DON'T MEAN TO MAKE IT ALL ABOUT ME BUT THEN AGAIN I DO

Sometimes, oftentimes, now times, I wake with this feeling of existential dread. Or what I think existential dread is. I get up early, almost every day. Usually it's around 5:30, but on days off I might not manage to get out of bed until 6:30 or even 7:00. Not that I don't wake up. The waking time is so ingrained in my soul I just wake up. Then I lie there, thinking about... everything. Life and meaning and death and worries and money and friends and theatre and jobs. Does any of it matter? Do I matter? Have I made the right choices to get here? 


I suppose it's kind of stupid, crazy, and wrong to do so. 

But there it is. 

What's strange is I think I love being alive more than almost anyone I know. I love the warmth of the blankets over me when I wake and ponder. I love going downstairs while Lisa sleeps, making coffee, the world still dark, the heater coming on, getting my journal out. This morning, even with my usual companions of questions about what it all means, I am at the same time I'm glooming and dooming, I am reveling in the luxury of being able to do so.

I am so spoiled.

There are so many parts of this world, so many people, where getting up, putting the kettle on, and feeling lost and confused for a moment would no doubt be a miracle. We have a world full of angst, danger, hunger, and uncertainty. 

But I do feel these things, and have to honor them, deal with them, seek perspective and move on.

My life is like my writing. At times effortless, at times impossible. But always sustaining my soul. Even when it's not so great. Even when it is repetitive, derivative and dull. When none of the characters surprise me, the plot feels predictable, and I find no wonder. 

Oh, who am I kidding? I love all of it. I love being a version of Eeyore for a bit, because most of the time I am the Pooh. 

And yes, I realize I just wrote that I am the shit.

Well, sometimes I am. 

I am not short, but kind of fat, and proud of that.


I am writing today for many reasons. But one of the best is that a friend, a former student who I don't get to see so often because they had the audacity of growing up, sent me a text with a song they thought I would like to listen to while writing in my blog.

I think that's the one of the best things about writing. Because, now and then, when the Writing Gods are generous, you can manage to say something that resonates with at least one other human being. 

And now I feel better. 

Here's that song. It's Voyager by boygenius. 




Monday, February 19, 2024

ALL MY TOMORROWS

I get all sorts of emails, from every possible place. I have over 180,000 unread emails, most of them semi-spam shit about some product I once looked at or bought, some show I should see, a political plea for money, and on and on. Truly amazing amount of bullshit, floating out in the ether, waiting to be read with the hope I will send money or do something like that. I also get a lot of news articles, announcements, and helpful hints on how to live my life. I can't blame all the sites that send me these things. And I'm not talking about my junk folder, which I rarely look at. Junk folder is like the junk drawer we had in the kitchen when I was a kid. An overstuffed thing full of odd devices, old recipes, broken buy maybe save-able doo-dads. To put your hand in it would be to hazard getting cut, or a finger eaten by some strange beast living in the upper regions of that drawer, in the area impossible to get to because the drawer was always broken and could only open so much. 

But I digress.

Today, I opened one of those random emails in my regular inbox. (Email, for those of you who only use Insta or Snapchat to communicate, is an old timey way of sending electronic messages to one another.) In that random email was a thought of the day. I've been getting these for a few months now. Fairly certain I clicked something, somewhere, and thus the daily emails from somewhere with this salient thought:

"What you do today can improve all your tomorrows"

Wow. That's some deep thinking there. And, as obvious as that is, worthy of a Hallmark card or poster in a primary school office, there's is truth in it. A truth I often manage to forget, ignore, ridicule in blog posts, or down right actively try to ingore.

Today, I can work on the outline for the pilot I've been working on for a few years now. Or the opening monologue for the podcast I wrote that is recording in the next few weeks. I can memorize lines for a show that I am in that goes up next week. Clean the house. Take a walk. Call old friends. 

So much.

Yet, here I am, on a chilly Monday President's Day, still in my pajamas well past nine, finishing a blog post I started around 7 but left to go make coffee, discuss the finale of True Detective: Night County with my wife, put on some tunes, contemplate getting Bagels at Rosenbergs. 

I have tools to improve my tomorrows. And my todays. Farting about, interacting with my wife, listening to music, walking through the neighborhood. This is important stuff too. Maybe it's not what I do, but how I do it, and how I let that inform my ideas of what is worth while, that counts. That improves things.

And I am all for improvement. But what does that mean? More money? A cleaner house? Getting that screenplay sold? Is improvement more about being able to get the most out of this shockingly short life? 

Yeah. 

That's got to be it. 

So. Today, I'm going to try and be alive. All day. 

And hopefully that will improve all my tomorrows, yesterdays, and todays.

Here's a song. It's really weird, and I found it on an Instagram post. It's  Prisencolinensinanciusol by Adriano Celentano. Listening to it will make all your tomorrows better.



Tuesday, February 6, 2024

WANDERING THE NIGHT COUNTRY

Home with Covid this week. Almost seems retro. Like most of life, it is surreal and odd, perhaps an illusion or dream a butterfly is having. Of course, this could be the Covid talking, deceiving, tricking. In any event, I am stuck at home, and so I am finally putting away the last of the Christmas decorations, catching up on shows I need to catch up on, writing projects, and the final edit of my latest short film, which is a combo short film that stands on its own and a proof of concept, meaning a short meant to indicate what a feature version of this would be like. Plus I have to do a new draft of a podcast episode that is set to record in the next month with an air date sometime in the fall. A scary tale of the North Woods.


I'm rambling, like a lost hiker in a strange forest.

And I like it. 

Shows I am catching up on:

The Traitors, on Peacock. It's a reality show set in a Scottish castle where a bunch of terrible people, most of whom have been on other reality shows, perform various tasks for money, and have to contend with the fact that there are secret traitors in their midst, plotting their demise. It's sort of a glorified version of the game Mafia, which I have played with many a theatre class over the years. The show is hosted by Alan Cumming. It's really fun, the scenery is beautiful, and Alan Cumming is just the best. As a bonus, the castle is just north of Inverness, which we were lucky enough to visit last summer, and one of the great joys in life is seeing some place you've been to on tv. 

True Detective: Night Country, on Max. This is a fucked up story about a bunch of fucked up people in a fucked up part of the world, which I am quite familiar with. Alaska, land of the Midnight Sun and Midnight Souls, lost people who either have had their entire culture and history violated by intruders, or the intruders and their progeny, who mostly live their to be as far away as possible from wherever they came from. I'm sure there are happy, well balanced people up there. I just didn't meet that many. Especialy way up north. It's where I found my father when I was 28. A huge, dangerous country. The show is chock full of the supernatural, alludes to things like the Dyatlov Pass Incident, Murder, and mythology. The writing is tight, the imagery creepy and beautiful, and I can't get enough. 

The podcast episode is based on a short play I wrote a while back that has since morphed into a pilot I am currently working on. The pilot is totally different, but the podcast is basically the play mooshed into a radio play format. It's titled "Alma's Anomalies", and is about a pair of slackers, ill equipped in every possible sense of the word, who journey to the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior in the hopes of resurrecting a ghost. Sadly for them, they succeed. The story is set to air on Coffee Contrails. More info to come soon.

The short, Burning the Old Man, is based on my play of the same name. The play has been my most successful writing project to date, and has been produced all over the world, in NYC, Prague, Sao Paolo, and various other places. It even had a run a few years ago up in Boulder at CU, which was conveniently located for me. The short takes the soul of the play, boils it down to its essence, cooks it for a few months at a high heat, and now is ready to serve. It is the first film from McSquared Productions, my new film company I've formed with my great friend Tim McCracken.  It features an original score by Bob D'Haene and Matt Vogel, who are fucking awesome. More info on that soon too.

So, my thought for the day, as I sit, housebound and wanting to get out, is this. I think we manage to keep our minds closed to most of what is going on, most of the time. We create our explanation of existence, which seem to be variations on either "the world is terrible" and "the world is fantastic", all the while ignoring events as they unfold in real time. (if such a thing as time exists. I'm going with our existence being real, for the sake of this blog entry) The world has all sorts of shit in it. good and bad and bold and beautiful. Music, nature, violence, sorrow, death, birth, and on and on. We bounce through it all, and I think we need to experience it all completely, with as few filters as we can manage. I realize sometimes we need to keep some of it out. But I think we keep too much out too often. 

Now that I've written that down, it doesn't sound as deep as it did while I was laying in bed ruminating. 

Ah well. Two songs today. Into Dust by Mazzie Star, which was featured in episode four of Night Country and which I first came across while dealing with my mother dying. It both comforts me in the loneliness and makes me want to cry yet again. The other is Hallelujah by D'Haene. It is featured in the short of Burning the Old Man. Enjoy.





Sunday, January 14, 2024

MAYBE ALL THIS CRAZY WEATHER MEANS SOMETHING

And another Sunday arrives, freezing cold. Like below zero cold. Like, what the fuck is happening with the weather cold? I am not sure how anyone can continue to pretend that the world's climate- our world, the place where we live and walk and go to the mountains and beaches and skip and have general fun when we can- is in crisis mode.

Is it denialism, fear, subservience to the powers that be, some odd form of Stockholm  Syndrome?

I like this planet. I think it's rather beautiful. I like winter to be cold but not crazy. I like snow capped mountains, clear skies, animals running free. All that. I'm what you might call a nature boy.

I also like summer to not be one long session of sweating, watching the world wither. Smelling smoke in the air, sometimes from fires that are gigantic, so massive that even though they are thousands of miles away, the smoke makes its way to my neighborhood.

So why isn't Climate front and center in the upcoming election? 

Whomever wins, this is important. 

It is not a hoax. And saying it is doesn't make it so. I can go outside. I can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. And every one of my five senses tells me, on a daily basis, something is wrong. 

What is it going to take? An army of Lorax, leaping out of the all too many tree stumps out there, driven mad with frustration, running through the street, screaming "I am the Lorax, fuckers!" while gleefully decapitating everyone that come across?

I'm cranky today. I think I have a cold coming on. 

Be that as it may, I want you all to consider our little planet. I want you to cherish it. 

Because I'm selfish. I love my planet. I want to to be around for as long as possible. Yes, millions of years from now, it will be engulfed by the Sun. So what? Just because we are all set to expire one day doesn't mean we sit around smacking ourselves in the head with a hammer.

Okay. Rant over. For now. Watch some football. Grab a cup of coffee with someone you enjoy, or alone. Read a book, a graphic novel, the tea leaves. Do something for yourself. 

And enjoy.

Here's a song. It's Jack White doing a cover of Mother Nature's Son by The Beatles. 




 

Monday, January 8, 2024

SINK THAT FUCKING BOAT

I'm standing on the shore of Shaver Lake, California, high in the Sierra Nevada. It's the last full day of Camp Chawanakee. I'm 14 years old, surrounded by hundreds of fellow Boy Scouts, watching my troop lose, by a lot, in a row boat race. The boats are these metal row boats we all use to get our rowing merit badge, and can also check out during camp to head out to Thunderbird Island. There are about ten boats in the water. The race is to row out with a crew of four to a buoy in the lake, circle it, and come back. My buddy Jay is in the boat. He's two years younger than me, but my best friend. We met on a kayak trip, discovered a mutual love of the Stones, the Kinks, and other stalwarts of what is now called classic rock but was to us back then simply music we dug. Jay is the funniest kid I have ever met. And always does shit you would not expect. He looks like a miniature businessman to me most of the time. Short hair, horn-rimmed glasses, a resting face that looks like he is considering the stock market. But he is the antithesis of that. He is the kid who will convince you to sneak out at night and toilet paper someone's house. To sneak a beer out of the parent's fridge. And the entire time, you laugh your ass off as you do something that will for sure get you in trouble. For instance, once, while we were hanging out at his folks place, he thought it would be fun for us to take his dad's Cherokee Chief out for a spin. He was 12, so of course he drove. How we didn't get noticed and pulled over is still a mystery to me, but a lot of the grown-up world seemed crazy then, and still does to this day, so it wasn't all that nuts. When we finally returned to his house, his father was waiting for us in the garage. And we lived to tell the tale.


So there I am, on the shore, watching Troop 339, the pride of the Pioneer District, getting lapped by several other boats. 

And I see Jay look over at the boat in the lead.

And I know exactly what he is planning to do. 

Because when you're tight with someone, that's how it goes.

Jay puts down his oar, stands up, and leaps out of the boat, swims to the winning boat, grabs the side, and manages to flip it over. The scouts in the boat leap out, into the water, and the winning boat is now upside down. 

Everyone in the race is able to swim, and are all wearing life jackets, so we are fairly certain no one is going to die. 

There is a moment of silence, and then the entire crowd roars with laughter. It's just too funny not to. I don't know why. Maybe it's because something about the look on Jay's face makes it clear he isn't a sore loser, he is just not having it anymore. He sees the ridiculousness of his situation and has decided to change it. 

The kids from the now upside down boat swim over to Jay's boat and flip it over.

In an instant, everyone in the race is out of their boat, flipping other boats over and howling with joy.

I have this image burned in my brain of Jay standing on the back of the boat he flipped as it sinks into Shaver Lake's murky depths. His hands are raised over his head, and he is, for that moment, a God of Chaos here on Earth.

And we lived to tell that tale too. It probably helped that the lake wasn't too deep where the race took place, and all boats were retrieved. 

Some shit you just can't make up.

So now, it's here. Today. And Jay is fighting another ridiculous situation. One involving cancer. And I want him to leap out of his boat and swim and sink that fucking boat. 

If there is anyone in this universe who can do that, it's Jay. 

Here's a song. It's Jumping Jack Flash by The Stones.




Sunday, January 7, 2024

New Year, Goals, Worries. New Odyssey.

A New Year. Lots coming up. Shows. Short Film. An election that could lead to the end of America. All sorts of shit. I'm directing seven plays between now and June. Producing a large budget show that goes up end of June. Teaching playwriting at the Denver Center. 


Life, as always, chugs along. Sometimes, of late, I wake with this feeling of existential dread. Like, what is the meaning of any of this? Which I know is not productive. As far as I can tell, my little brain is not equipped to process, figure out, or solve the Riddle of Being Alive. Still, now and then, I get the blues, the why-am-I-here blues. And I think. And play Greig or Simon and Garfunkel or Phoebe Bridgers, and go through it. 

And what's really amazing, and to me miraculous, is that this simple act of allowing my self to wallow in self pity and dread for a bit sort of exorcises those demons. It douses the vampire with sunlight. 

It gets me going again.

I do not know how long life is, for me or anyone else. I don't know why we are here, or where we will go, if anywhere, once it's time to do the Mortal Coil Shuffle. I just know I love it here. I love clouds and music and dogs and cats and coffee and friends and my wife and my home. I love writing stories, and showing kids how to pretend to be a goblin in the Battle of the Five Armies. 

I love all of it.

I don't think this makes me heroic. I am fairly certain I was just born this way. 

And I must be a bit of an egotist, because I write about all this in my blog sporadically, and in my journal every single day. 

I wouldn't do it if it didn't make me feel good. But does doing something to feel good justify it? I suppose that has to be taken on a case by case basis. 

So.

2024. Goals. Resolutions. Hopes and dreams. All that jazz. 

I hope to read more books. I'm reading a new translation of Homer's The Odyssey by Emily Wilson that is just fantastic. I hope to use it to fuel one of my new projects, a pilot set in the world of another project, Lunatics and Assholes, that I really love. 

I hope to finish the color and sound of my new short, Burning the Old Man, which is a proof of concept for a feature that I made with my dear friend Tim McCracken. We shot it in the fall, mostly down in Gunnison, and it was fucking awesome. Is fucking awesome. Once it's done, we plan to enter it into several film festivals, and also send it to some producers we know, with the goal of getting funding to make the feature. All we need is someone to put up 500K to 10 million. Which seems absurd, yet there it is.

How did I get to a place where that kind of money is in the mix? No idea. But I won't question it. I'll just move ahead, hope for the best, and keep writing, directing, producing, teaching. Being me.

I hope to travel more. Going to Edinburgh last summer reawakened my wanderlust. The world is not one oyster, but a constantly refilling, huge bowl full of them. And they come in all sizes, and flavors. And I am famished.

I hope to go to more theatre, see more movies, hear more music, hike more paths, dream more dreams.

And I hope to write on this blog at least once a week.

Okay. That's now a thing. I will write in this blog once a week.

I now go off to make breakfast, get ready for tech rehearsal, then work on script for new show about Shakespeare, then hopefully catch a few more episodes of The Offer, on Paramount, which is an amazing show and I encourage you all to watch it.

Here's a song. It's Northern Attitude by Noah Kahan & Hozier. I dig it. 



Monday, October 2, 2023

CRAZY, DAUNTING, AND PERFECT

So a while back, my good friend Tim, who I have known forever and who is one of the few people on this planet I trust completely without question, and someone whom I love completely, suggested we make some movies together. This sounded both crazy, daunting, and perfect. So I said yes. 

Or, to be more exact, "Fuck Yeah!" 

We had worked on many projects in the past, from a nine hour, three part  theatre adaptation of East of Eden at the Western Stage in Salinas to a production of Richard II in NYC to my first, and up to that point only, short film, Strong Tea. He was also the lead in my most successful play to date, Burning the Old Man.

That's us in the photo above. Back in the day. Young and crazy. NYC. Cigarettes and beers after a long day slinging hash between acting gigs. Having the time of our lives.

So, there we were having coffee at one of our haunts here in Denver, talking about life and theatre and film. Tim had just made a movie, Publish or Perish, that is kicking ass in the festival circuit and is now available to stream on Amazon. I was in the middle of yet another script- a pilot I was finishing before the deadline for the Austin Film Festival. And that's when Tim popped the question, so to speak.


Yes, I used the phrase "popped the question", the classic phrase for proposing marriage. Let's face it. Making a movie is a commitment up there with marriage. You pledge your heart and soul. For it to work, you have to bare your soul. Be vulnerable. Improvise when problems arise. Be flexible.

So he asked, I said yes, and then it was time to think of a project.

We wanted to make something that could be both a short, and also a proof of concept for a full length movie. And we wanted to take advantage of where we live, with all this natural beauty surrounding us. 

And Burning the Old Man popped up almost immediately.  A story about two estrange brothers taking their father's ashes on a road trip to Burning Man, as per his dying request. Their relationship with their father was difficult, and their relationship with each other even more so. As such, their road trip is full of recrimination, anxiety, and tension, with a tragic sense of loss tuck under a veneer of comedy.  Tim had played Marty, the older brother in the original play, and we both felt he should do so again. 

So I wrote up a script, we kicked it around,  adjusted the story as needed, gathered a crew of dedicated geniuses, and set some dates.

And the magic began. We kept having things happen that just seemed to be signs we were doing the right thing. A friend offered us a hotel up in the mountains to use as our base for the main stretch of shooting. Another friend just happened to live in that same area and offered to scout locations. 



And what locations! Colorado is so pretty, so majestic and huge and full of wonder. And most of the time,  I manage to not see it. But not on the shoot.

I really wanted to just talk about this one moment from the shoot today. It happened at there rocks in the high desert, during the climatic moment of the movie. These two brothers, who have been bickering like children for the past 24 hours, have ended up on this precipice, screaming at each other and having a tuh of war over the bag containing their father's ashes. As written, the bag rips open, the ashes fly, and the brother's dumbfounded at what their stupid fighting has wrought, stare at each other as their father's remains float away. 

On the day of the shoot, we were all a bit tired. We'd shot for 14 hours the day before. Drew, the actor playing Bobby, the younger brother, was not feeling well. Even so, we were all amped. We were making something that felt good, felt right. Felt like what we had all chosen to do with our lives. 


And we get to the scene. Now, to prefect, we had talked a lot about the brother's relationship the past few days. How underneath all the hurt and anger there was a deep love. A heartbroken love. A longing to connect like that had once been able to effortlessly but now seemed impossible. 

So we get to the big moment. The point when the bag rips and the ashes fly. 



The first take, a long shot, goes great. We get a safety shot, then move in for a closer shot. 

And when the bag rips, Drew almost falls off the rocks. For a moment, I think "Shit! I just killed Drew!" Everyone freezes.


Except Tim. 

He instinctively grabs Drew, pulls him up. And then, in character, Tim impulsively hugs Drew. Or rather, Marty impulsively hugs Bobby. We keep rolling. Nobody on set is making a sound. But we all feel connected to what is happening. Bobby tries to break free of the hug. Marty keeps hugging. It's really touching and sad and real. After a beat, Bobby hugs his brother back. 

And we all start hotting and hollering. Something had happened. Something unexpected but totally real. 

Then everyone looks at me. "Do we keep it?" they all ask, in various ways. It is quite different than the ending as written. Changes the trajectory a little. But it feels so right.

And I have to make a decision. It's my script. I'm co-director of this with Tim. Also co-producer. It's my call. 

And I go with it. Tweak the script slightly. 

We finish. And it is clear to me that the movie has now become more than it was. 

And that I am learning more than I could have possibly hoped for when we started making this movie.

Now we are in post. Editing. Mixing. All that type of thing. 


We hope to send it to festivals. To show it to some producers who will shower us with money so we can make the full length film.

But no matter what, I have gained from this experience. 

Here's a song. It's one of my all time favorites. Pale Green Things by The Mountain Goats. 






I DON'T MEAN TO MAKE IT ALL ABOUT ME BUT THEN AGAIN I DO

Sometimes, oftentimes, now times, I wake with this feeling of existential dread. Or what I think existential dread is. I get up early, almos...