California Dreamin’

I have two (almost complete) sets of California friends. They come with a mismatched collection of knick-knack memories, some I keep on the bookshelf by my desk and some I keep tucked away in plastic bins in climate-controlled storage space.

My own experiences while living in California were fraught with disaster, personal and impersonal, natural and man-made. At our law school graduation, the student speaker gave a shout out to riots, earthquakes, and fires. Oh, my!

I left California in a hurry, vapor trail style. I moved so quickly, I left a lot behind, and I’m not talking about all of my stuff that was looted (is that really a verb?) from my fractured apartment in the Valley. Maybe it was CHiPs, and Simon and Simon, and Hardcastle & McCormick, and Van Halen but I had wanted to live in California for as long as I could remember. From 3,000 miles away life looked more special there. The interstates were freeways. The cars were convertibles. There were surfers—surfers!—bobbing in the waves with the dolphins all along the Pacific Coast Highway.

My reality didn’t match my childhood imagination, but, even after everything, I did fall for California. Dysfunctional, co-dependent, and anxiety enabling at times, but still…

When I fell, I fell hard. Few days pass where I don’t tell someone a story from those days. Even fewer days pass when I don’t remember how those friends helped me through some of the most challenging times of my life. We were silly and ridiculous and serious and committed. We shared $44 hotel rooms in Vegas and survived a hippie cleansing ceremony huddled in tents at Buttermilk Boulders. We briefed hundreds of cases and survived a lot of Socratic questioning. The star filled nights in Joshua Tree made us question our own relevance in the big, bad universe and also question our decision not to stop in Twentynine Palms for pizza before setting up camp. These moments, and, more importantly, the people populating them, are the existential building blocks of my career, my law practice, and my adult life.

A couple of years ago, I went all LL Cool J and went back to California. Not full-time. No more condos in Thousand Oaks or rented rooms in Malibu for me. This time, I was closer to Joshua Tree, baking in the desert in the Coachella Valley. I spent days workshopping stories and more nights staring at the stars. I ate what my friend calls “the best chili in the world” at Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown, a movie-set ghost town in the high desert and, chili aside, one of my favorite places on the entire planet.

I made new friends, writers, who share my passion for words and stories in a not-altogether-different way than my lawyer friends. The ability to craft a narrative, string together facts into a cohesive and meaningful story, is something all of my friends share. We believe in the power of shared experience, empathy, and the humor of humanity.

This week, as I drove through the giant flakes of a snow shower here in New York, I listened to Diana Krall’s haunted version of California Dreamin’. I was overwhelmed by how much I missed my friends in California (and the ones I made there who now live all over, many in places as snowy as here.) All of them. Both sets. The ones I see and talk to and the ones who are packed away in the time capsules of my life there. It is not about the weather—even though I wouldn’t mind a walk in the sunshine of Palm Springs or the misty coastal layer of Malibu today. It is about who could take that walk with me. The people who knew me, and stayed with me, and stay will me still, at my worst, most vulnerable, most creative, most fragile times.

Collectibles lose their value when you take them out of the package. Unwrapping those friendships and those memories, like that John Spartan from Demolition Man action figure, threatens to decreases their value as sure as driving a new car off the lot. But the chips and the breaks, the yellowed crack of glue where something has been put back together, are the scars of a life lived. Lived, if not well, completely. And with a reckless disregard for resale value.

Better Living With Bravo

bravoLonger-than-I-want-to-think-about ago, Bravo fundamentally altered the television landscape with Queer Eye for The Straight Guy. It seems crazy now how shocking that title was for basic cable and how five gay experts giving a clueless, straight dude a total makeover could be so revolutionary. But it was. And it wasn’t just the straight guys that benefitted from Carson Kressley’s advice on zhoosh-ing or Ted Allen’s smarts about food, wine, cheese, and all things gastronimical. We all did.

And so it went. Show after show, Bravo taught us about fashion and design and real estate.

Then came the Real Housewives. The Housewives seemingly don’t have much to teach us. If Queer Eye was reformative, the Housewives are performative. In Orange County they are intent on making sure we know they are businesswomen, not just blondes in body-con dresses. In New York, they pride themselves on philanthropy (SO MANY charity functions) and European titles. In Jersey, they are all about family, which they will tell the cameras, but not their actual families, who they may or may not be speaking to at that moment.rhlogo

On other reality shows, particularly with ones with contestants and prizes, at least one person will say, “I didn’t come here to make friends.”

Not the Housewives. Oh, no, no. They did come here to make friends. At least that’s what they want us to believe. The illusion is that these women get cast together on a show and become instant besties who eat lunch (usually by sharing an appetizer or a small salad) or meet for a glass of wine to talk about their problems. “Can we talk?” is heard at almost every gathering. Throughout the season there will be alliances and feuds, heartbreaks and goopy cameos from the House-husbands, but you can generally count on some season finale, fancy dress party where they kiss, even if they don’t make up. Then there is the ubiquitous reunion show where each woman is called to the (red) carpet for all of the snarky backhanded comments she made in her interview segments (remember the confessional on The Real World?) or the aired footage where she talked about someone behind their back. The season will end with a toast and on we move to the next city, the next season, the next set of women.

For all of the bluster and plastic surgery, there is something to be said about accountability here. While I am always amazed at the things these women will say and do WHEN THEY KNOW there are cameras filming (sometimes BECAUSE THEY KNOW cameras are filming), I give them credit. Whether they want to or not, they have to own what they say about each other. If one starts or spreads a rumor about another one sleeping with someone’s husband, it’s all there for everyone to see and Andy Cohen and the legions of Housewives super fans are going to call her on it.

What if we all lived our lives like the Bravo cameras were watching? What if millions of people were watching as we repeated the story we heard at the nail salon about the guy from the place doing that thing he’s not supposed to do?

I have been on both sides of this equation. I have been the person humiliated and hurt by things people said about me. I have also said things, and repeated things, that I wish I could take back. The temporary surge of superiority is no salve for the sting of shame and embarrassment.

Recently, I spent time with a friend whose life has been upended by hurtful gossip; gossip that went beyond kibitzing over a cup of coffee into the world of real-life damage. There have been phone calls and awkward talks and tears. Relationships have been shattered. Feelings weren’t hurt; they were trampled.

The story I heard upset me more than I would have expected. I am angry and sad. I am disappointed in people who are my friends. I am ashamed of the times I have gotten caught up in email flame wars or back-room back-biting.

So this year I’m adding a new resolution to my list: Live like the star of my own Housewives franchise. Sure, there won’t be many cocktail receptions on yachts or glam-ping vacations in Montana, but maybe I will take a beat before I speak. Maybe I’ll hold myself accountable for the things I say about other people. Maybe I won’t have to wait for Andy to run a clip package of highlights before I own my own shit.

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Glossy Eyed

I went into Barnes & Noble this morning for no particular reason.

Elite athletes engage in pre-visualization before they compete. Me? I engage in pre-rationalization before I go into a bookstore. “You could buy that non-fiction book. The one about China that won the National Book Award last night. It must be good. And no one should feel guilty about buying that book. Understanding China is super important,” I said to myself. “Or maybe that short story collection.” I don’t read short story collections, so buying one couldn’t possibly be self-indulgent.

If you pre-rationalize, you are always ready with an excuse (or excuses) for the book (books) leaving the store with you.

Using my advanced pre-rationalization skills, I was able to walk right past the Build Your Own Darth Vader kit and the book about knot tying that comes with its own length of sturdy white rope—both of which could make for a bitchin’ Saturday afternoon. Or ‘gifts’: pre-rationalization code for things I buy for other people but end up deciding to keep for myself (or read before I give it to them.)

Turns out, I couldn’t remember the name of the China book and I didn’t feel like asking. (It’s Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, & Faith in the New China, by the way.) I couldn’t work up any excitement for the short story collection. So I went to the magazine section.

Have you been to the magazine section of the bookstore lately? I hadn’t. The racks are overflowing with weird and oddly-specific publications. Everywhere I turned I kept hearing Jerry Seinfeld in my head asking “What’s the deal with that?”

Better keep an eye on Robert E. Lee

Better keep an eye on that Robert E. Lee

The Civil War Monitor. What are you monitoring? Seems that one is pretty much done and dusted, even for me, and I’m from the South.

How about the new-agey health/yoga/meditation section? Three magazines had cover stories about 10% Happier, Dan Harris’s excellent book about how meditation has transformed his life. They seem to be about 100% happier that someone in the main stream media—someone who is ON TV—will be in their magazine. Sting and Trudie can only be on the cover so often, I guess.

Experience Life?

Experience Life?

Also, in the health section, behind the Dr. Oz magazine with the headline that read something like Eat Anything You Want – Even Cake! was a particularly ironic rack where the WeightWatchers magazine was placed right next to something called livehappy. Take it from me, those two DO NOT go together. (In the picture, you’ll catch a glimpse of What Doctors Don’t Tell You. I DID NOT open that. My active imagination keeps me up at night without visual aides, thank you very much.)

Hey there, Deter Jeter. Nice list.

Hey there, Deter Jeter. Nice list.

There was actually a magazine called List It! At $9.99 it includes such compelling material as Top Ten Fictional Animals and, as you can see from the cover, 6 Things Taylor Swift Always Has In Her Fridge. (Side note: Does anyone remember The Book of Lists? I remember it being in lots of people’s bathrooms in the 80s.) My best guess is this magazine is for people who would read BuzzFeed all day but don’t have the internet. This is really sad for them. How will they know which Lord of The Rings character they are? (Samwise) Or what city they should actually live in? (London) Is there a magazine called Quiz Yourself!?

There were special issues about Star Wars and The Hunger Games and even a Rolling Stone all about Tom Petty. There were breathtaking design magazines and magazines for songwriters and quilters and knitters and woodworkers. And Dog Fancy and Cat Fancy and People where the “Fancy” is silent.

I drooled over many food magazines, including the amazing Lucky Peach, which had cartoons of lobster rolls. There are snapshots from vacations I will never take in AFAR’s “Not Your Typical Islands” issue and thoughtful articles I will never read in The Economist.

* le sigh *

The magazines blew my mind. So many stories, so many pictures, so many words.

I didn’t buy any. I couldn’t decide. Next time I’ll have to prepare: “It is important to know how to cook chicken five different ways in under twenty minutes. Everyone has to eat.” Or “I read Dan Harris’s book. But if I don’t read this article about his book I might be able to be 11% happier. That one percent could make all the difference.” Or (the best of all) “I have to buy this magazine. My friend Maggie has a piece in it.”

 

 

5 THINGS YOU MUST HAVE NOW

Like that headline? Do you feel like you’re reading Buzzfeed? Would you rather be reading Buzzfeed? Okay, don’t answer that one.

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Yeah, I’m gonna need those TPS reports…

Yesterday, the tire pressure warning light came on in my car. (I learned after an hour of internet searching it is abbreviated as the TPWS. Now we know. Now we can sound cool on the auto repair message boards. Of which there are many. Trust me.) “Check Left Front Tire Pressure” is what the dashboard said. So I checked the pressure. It seemed a little low so I put in some air. The light didn’t go off. I checked the pressure again. Still okay. The light still didn’t go off. So, you know, not okay.

Today I went to my local tire store. A pleasant young man greeted me when I walked in. I told him my story and he said he’d take a look. I pulled into the bay and he checked every tire.

“Well?”

“The back left one was kinda low. But I put some air in. They are all evened out now. Should be fine.”

“But the light! The light! It won’t go out.” I said, sounding like Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight.Gaslight-14

“It will now.” He had a Ron Swanson confidence that I thought might be premature.

“But yesterday…It didn’t go out.”

“It will now.”

I cranked the car. No light. Problem solved, at least for now. Turns out when I had my tires rotated a month ago they didn’t reassign the TPWS sensors so when my car said “left front” it actually meant “left rear.” Who knew my car likes subtext?

With that, my own Ron Swanson charged me nothing and sent me on my way with just a friendly smile. (You’re right, we still don’t know WHY the tire was low in the first place, but that’s a problem for another day.)

On the way home I got to thinking about the value of having somewhere to go when I needed help with that tire. That thinking lead to this list, in no particular order, of random everyday things that are invaluable and important.

  1. A trustworthy auto mechanic/tire guy. Hopefully, you don’t need them a lot but when you do, you really need them. And you need to at least feel like you’re not getting ripped off. I remember a gotcha piece John Stossel did once on Dateline about a tire place in Cherry Hill, New Jersey that was charging for work they didn’t do. I thought of that piece EVERY TIME I drove by there. I also might have cursed at them in my head.
  2. A reliable alarm clock. It doesn’t have to be a clock. It can be a phone or an iPad or a rooster outside your window, but when you need to wake up at a certain time, the only way you’re going to get any sleep is if you are confident that your alarm will go off. I had someone who worked for me once whose father called him every morning to make sure he was awake for work. He was a twenty-six year old annoying spoiled brat with a law degree, but I’ll be damned if he didn’t have a system.
  3. Extra batteries. Don’t let the remote control die on your watch. (Probably best to include phone chargers here too.) Power to the people.
  4. Quarters. If you were like me, you spent a large part of your late teens and early
    This is what a pay phone looks like.

    This is what a pay phone looks like.

    twenties hoarding quarters like a doomsday-prepper squirrel. Without quarters there was no clean laundry. For a while, quarters are what it took to call from a pay phone. I no longer have to stock up for the Wash N Dry, but I try to always have quarters on me or in my car. You need them if you want to put air in the tires (see above) or use the vacuums at the car wash. You can buy a diet Coke from a machine if nothing is open and you can use them to pry open your waterproof phone case. You can even flip one to settle a dispute or a bar bet. Quarters? Good.

  5. A good quality jam. A song that you love SO MUCH RIGHT NOW and can listen to on heavy rotation. This song will change. It has to change. Today it might be All About That Bass or Barracuda or No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn. Tomorrow maybe its Wild Side or Jolene or Poker Face. Doesn’t matter. But its your go-to when you need a pick me up or a slow me down or just proof that somebody somewhere some time felt the way you’re feeling right now and wrote a song about it. Or just laid down some wicked beats. Whatever. Rock on, man. No shame in your game.

So…that’s my list. I hope this advice has been helpful. I hope you tuck a quarter or two somewhere in your car.

And me? I’m the one in the car next to you singing along to the radio.

A Tale of Two Books: Outlander and Gone Girl

I have been thinking and talking a lot about adaptation over the past few weeks. Between Outlander and Gone Girl there is a lot to be talked and thought about. About what works, what doesn’t, who gets to stay, who has to go, and how to tell the same story maximizing the strengths of different mediums. My friend Maggie and I did weekly debriefs after every episode of Outlander and I won’t admit to how many text messages have been exchanged on the subject, but if this were Card Sharks I would recommend you say “I’m going to have to go higher than that,” to the number that originally popped in your head. (Read Maggie’s post about Outlander here if you’re interested.)

It is probably important to say right up front that I loved Gone Girl when I read it last summer and I only read Outlander in preparation just before and right after the series premiere. I have only read the one book. (I did start, but didn’t finish, the second one. There are eight books total.) While I have an ongoing love-affair and word-crush on Gillian Flynn’s wicked Nick and Amy Dunne, let’s just say that if my feelings about the Outlander universe were a Facebook status it would be “complicated” or just display the “Ask” button.

Outlander-TV_series-2014For Outlander, Ronald D. Moore, the amazing showrunner who brought Battlestar Galactica to TV, said in an interview with Variety that he always intended to do a very “faithful adaptation.” According to Moore, Chris Albrecht, the CEO of Starz, said, “make this show for the fans and trust that anyone who’s not a fan will be swept up in the story the same way all the readers were.” He has, for the most part, been true to his word, at least as much as a person who has only read the book once can tell. Also, it seems, Outlander book-fans are mostly pleased. Diana Gabaldon also seems,by a quick review of her posts in a CompuServe forum–the same CompuServe forum where she originally posted early drafts of the first novel, thrilled. (That’s not a typo. Yes, a CompuServe forum. Those still exist.) She even appeared in the show, with a speaking role, in “The Gathering” episode.

My question is how do people who hadn’t or haven’t read the books feel? Or how about someone, like me, who frankly didn’t like the book itself, but thinks the idea of a TV show with these characters could be compelling? In answer to the first, my friend who hasn’t read the book abandoned the show after three episodes citing too much voiceover (which is often text taken directly from the book) and a disjointed, muddled story. This is far from a scientific sample, but I don’t know anyone else who is watching on their own that hasn’t read the books.

In answer to the second question, I keep watching. And I watch closely. It’s become a project of sorts. I read articles and interviews. I listen to Outlander podcasts. (Including one called The Scot and the Sassenach, where the original premise is that she’s read the books and he hasn’t.) I do this for two reasons: 1) I’m interested in storytelling and craft and how that differs between books and television, and, 2) So many really smart people in my life LOVE these books and I’m convinced I must just be missing something.

My conclusion after a grand total of eight episodes is, well, I don’t know what. The television production is breathtakingly beautiful, well thought-out, and well constructed. It might as well be a Visit Scotland! promotional film for the Highlands. The costumes, set and art direction are phenomenal. The acting is real and compelling. The characters and settings are engaging. The story? Well, it’s…okay. It kind of moves along like the book that I didn’t very much care for. And it does that on purpose. And I’m bothered by that. But, I think, I might be the only one. No one else seems to care.

So, after this experiment of mine with Outlander, I did have some reservations going into the Gone Girl movie. The book is not a sprawling, multi-book epic with thousands of pages spanning time and generations, so it should be easier to adapt. But it was also a long, twisty book with a lot of time spent in the character’s heads, sort of like the first Outlander book. And, even though I am very clearly a Gillian Flynn fan (I HAVE actually read all of her books—there are three), it is complicated to adapt your own work. Thinking about all of the editing and revision that goes into a novel and then going back and doing another round. Well, that’s just hard on the brain.

gone girlI was in my seat on Saturday ready to love Gone Girl, but willing to admit I might just love it because of the book and Flynn. But I didn’t have to love it for anything other than the movie on the screen. It is weird and mysterious. Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, who collaborated on the score, and David Fincher really seem to get each other. So, I starting thinking about why (discounting for my experience with the source material) this worked for me so much more than Outlander. I tried to “unpack my feelings” as Maggie would say and I also started digging around on the internet.

 

Flynn said this, in Rolling Stone:

It boils down to the plot, which moves everything (and is very hard to disassemble too much) and making these characters believable so you can go to the crazy places that the story goes.

I kind of approached it…I was a writer for 10 years for a weekly magazine [Entertainment Weekly], and had spent so much of my time having my 1,000-word piece suddenly be a 200-word box, and having to disassemble it and create it as a new thing. I think that helped me be pragmatic about it; I sort of had a ruthless, “I killed my darlings” approach to it.

David Fincher commented on NPR that if everyone who had bought the book came to the movie and brought a plus one the movie would probably lose money. So the movie had to be a property that stood on its own, with or without the loyalty of the fans of the source material.

Those approaches show in the final product. They boiled the book down to its essential materials and then built it back up. And built it differently. And didn’t worry too much about the fans of the book.

Now, I recognize that movies are very different from TV. Flynn and Fincher just have to convince people to show up once. Moore and Outlander have to keep the audience coming back. Diana Gabaldon has, according to Google, sold over twenty-million books, so if a tenth of those people–and only those people–watch Starz on Saturday night, the show’s a hit. If the same percentage of Flynn’s readers go see the movie, that would be a major problem.

But, even so, in my (as previously stated–minority) opinion, the Outlander adaptation is at its best when it’s more like the Gone Girl adaptation–loyal to the source material but not beholden to it. Adaptation, in the context of movies and TV, strictly speaking, is the alteration of the source material to make it suitable for filming. In a basic, literal sense, doing what is necessary to make the book fit in a visual medium.

But adaptation has another meaning, the biology one, that says that adaptation is “a change or the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment.”

Outlander and Gone Girl are both successful adaptations, if success is judged by the definitions above. I would just argue that Flynn and Fincher’s adaptation is more organic, more primal, more evolutionary. This is a new species of Dunne.

That, to me, is much more interesting.

 

 

Wildness is a Necessity

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The Park Loop Road : Acadia National Park


Enigma (noun) : a person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand.

My love for our National Parks is an enigma. My own backyard, which is admittedly lovely, is saturated with Tiger mosquitoes and nasty ticks this time of year. My natural walking speed is somewhere between stroll and mosey. If you ever see me running, send help, because I’m being chased.

But when I’m in one of the National Parks—even one that has mosquitoes and ticks—I become a person with durable wool socks, Helly Hansen hiking shoes, and Deep Woods Off.

My phone stays in my pocket because, even if I have cell service, I don’t want it. I stop to look at meandering brooks or tiny fish darting in and out of the long grasses on the shoreline. I’ll sometimes sit on a rock that is not necessarily suitable for sitting but perfectly suitable for thinking.

I gaze on scenic vistas and imagine how it must have been for people a hundred, two hundred, or three hundred years before to, like me, experience mountains so tall their summits are hidden by the clouds themselves, or see ancient echoes of glaciers, or stand in an seemingly endless deserts for the first time. I feel closer to the writings of Muir and Thoreau.

Aerial View of Fort Jefferson on Garden Key and Bush Key  Source: National Park Service

Aerial View of Fort Jefferson on Garden Key and Bush Key Source: National Park Service

I have had the outstanding good fortune to visit many of our National Parks. I often say I am one of the few people to have visited the Dry Tortugas, home to a Civil War fort two hours by boat off the coast of Key West, and Denali National Park, home of Mt. McKinley a little more than two hours drive north of Anchorage. (This declaration, of course, is based on no actual data whatsoever, other than my own NPS humblebrag.)

I have seen the Joshua Trees in the California desert and the giant redwoods of Sequoia in the California mountains. I have listened for the ghosts of the Founding Fathers at Independence National Park in Philadelphia, PA, and read love letters between John and Abigail Adams in Quincy, MA.

Photo Credit: Bob Moffatt Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Photo Credit: Bob Moffatt
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

The cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde are miraculous and ancient. It is no mystery to me why the colorful slot canyons of Lake Powell in Arizona are so often used by filmmakers as a stand in for Mars. (Watch some of Taylor Kitsch in John Carter if you want to check it out. Don’t watch the whole thing. There are way better things you could do with your time, like watching Taylor Kitsch in Friday Night Lights.)

It is without hyperbole or exaggeration that I can say that Zion in Utah is literally one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Acadia GuidebookRecently, I visited Acadia National Park in Downeast Maine for the first time. My most excellent guidebook, Acadia: The Complete Guide, by the most excellent James Kaiser (who also has a great guidebook for Joshua Tree) referred to Acadia as “posh” amongst its National Park peers. And that’s true. As National Parks go, Acadia is privileged in both time and place. It grew from the tireless work of two wealthy Bar Harbor cottagers and has benefitted greatly from the generosity of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and now his son David. We happened to pass David Rockefeller on our trip along one of his father’s carriage roads. It isn’t every day that you see a scion of one of America’s wealthiest families doing exactly what you’re doing: enjoying the clear air and the beauty of the Maine coast on a late summer afternoon. Especially considering that David Rockefeller is nearly a century old. But there he was. And there we were. It was strange and comforting all at once.

I love, without reservation or qualification or even a whiff of irony, our National Parks. I am thankful for the men and women who work the keep them open and accessible. I am thankful for people like Muir and May Mann Jennings and the other early conservationists, scientists, and advocates that made these parks possible.

I am thankful for interpretive guides, short information films, dioramas in visitors’ centers, and detailed topographical maps. I am thankful for Ken Burns’ The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.

I learned early on the park cliche to leave only footprints and take only pictures. I unabashedly take much more than pictures. I take with me the peace, grace, and power of the world around us. I take stock of our collective history, my personal present, and our uncertain future.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life. Awakening from the stupefying effects of the vice of over-industry and the deadly apathy of luxury, they are trying as best they can to mix and enrich their own little ongoings with those of Nature, and to get rid of rust and disease.”

— John Muir, Our National Parks, 1909

 

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park

 

Listening to Silent Bob

The things that made me want to write and made me believe I had stories to tell are not things that get a lot of respect in the literary world or make me cool.

Here, in no particular order, are some of those things:

I'm not even supposed to be here today.

I’m not even supposed to be here today.

  • Kevin Smith’s movies Clerks and Mallrats.
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and all related texts by Douglas Adams.
  • Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding.
  • Fargo Rock City by Chuck Klosterman.
  • The television shows Burn Notice and Arrested Development.

 

Several years ago, my friends and I got tickets to a Q&A with Kevin Smith at the Merriam Theater. There were expletive-soaked stories and lurid and graphic tales of sexual proclivities. Anyone who knows who Kevin Smith is would expect nothing less. What I didn’t expect was that some random dude would ask a question that would literally alter the course of my entire life.

Random dude: I want to be a writer, but I don’t know how to get started.

Smith: If you write, you’re a writer.

That’s it. It’s just that simple.

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I took this picture!

I have written about this before. I have talked about how that one simple answer lodged in my brain like the ear worm from Star Trek II:The Wrath of Khan. It whispered to me in my waking hours and screamed at me in the middle of the night when I tossed and turned and fretted and worried that I had missed my opportunity to do the thing with my life that really meant something to me. Somewhere along the line I had gotten the idea that my ideas weren’t serious enough or the things that inspired me weren’t important enough.

But I could write. I could be someone who writes.

So, let’s just say, when Silent Bob speaks, it behooves me to listen.

Today, I saw Kevin Smith again. The idea was that he and Jason Mewes (aka Jay and Silent Bob) would talk about their new book Jay & Silent Bob’s Blueprints for Destroying Everything at The Reading Room in Bryant Park. But Mewes is sick and didn’t make the trip from California. So what happened was another Q&A with Smith. But instead of a crowded theater in Philadelphia, this one took place in a leafy corner of the park in the shadow of the New York Public Library building—the one that I can never look at without thinking about Ghostbusters.

For an hour and a half, Smith took questions about his show Comic Book Men on AMC, Clerks, Dogma, Batman, Ben Affleck, and Ben Affleck as Batman. As he had in Philadelphia, he talked a lot about creativity and self-expression. He is a strong proponent of the podcast as a medium and as a way to capture the stories and moments with the important people in your life. “Everyone has a story to tell,” he said. “Just because you’re some random dude in New Jersey doesn’t mean you don’t have something to say.”

Since I saw Kevin Smith the last time, I have gotten an MFA in Creative Writing & Writing for the Performing Arts. I have a couple of published credits to my name and I’m working on a couple more. None of that is easy. There are lots of roadblocks and lots of gatekeepers. Smith talked about that today, too. “Don’t wait for someone to tell you what success is,” he said. If you feel good about what you’re doing–“if your side of the street is clean”–then keep going. Try. Just give it a shot. “You don’t have to wait to be invited into something awesome.”

Sometimes, you are lucky enough to come across the thing you need right when you need it. For me, the inspirational lightning has struck twice in the form of a guy from Jersey with a foul mouth and jorts.

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Thank you, Out of Print Clothing.

So, I write. I am a writer. And I’m going to keep on writing.

And I’ll wear this Hitchhiker’s Guide t-shirt while I’m doing it.