The Beardly Writer

Some write from the heart. I write from the beard.

Open & Honest Dialogue

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I want this. I want it badly. And it makes me sad that it will never happen. Not about race. Not about religion. Not about sexual orientation, abortion, politics, terrorism, capital punishment, or any other controversial or even quasi-controversial topic. It will never happen. And that’s terrible.

It won’t happen because people. We are our own worst enemy. We are walking, skipping, jumping, swimming, jazzerblading, and in all other ways contradictions.  Our strengths are our weaknesses. What makes us stronger does in fact kill us. The passion that moves people to take to the streets in protest is the same passion that deafens their ears to the opposition. We shout our opinions from our soapboxes and keyboard mountaintops because it’s our constitutional right to free speech but no one has the time or patience to shut up and listen for a minute. We are all too eager to be offended.

I have an opinion on offense (it’s my ‘Murican right). I’m not alone in this opinion, either. At least one other guy I know agrees with me. So, you know. I’m not a lone nut or anything. Ready? Here it is.

Offense is a choice.

You can’t choose to offend someone. But you can choose to be offended.

I made the choice several years ago to not be offended. You can’t offend me. You can say whatever you want. Make fun of my religion, my politics, my beard. Be as vile and repulsive as you want. I’m not offended. If I allow anything you do or say to offend me, that means you have power over me. I don’t give you the right to offend me. If I take offense, I’m choosing to put more value in what you say or do than I put into myself. I know who I am. I know my faults, my strengths. You can’t offend me because your opinion doesn’t influence what I know to be true. That isn’t to say I’m not open to learning or to adjusting what I know. In fact, offense prevents education. Offense immediately builds a wall around the offendee, preventing any further constructive exchange. That’s why we’ll never see true open and honest dialogue.

How would the world be different if we were less interested in making sure people heard our opinions than in hearing others? What if representatives from two opposing sides of a controversy could sit in a room and discuss what’s on their hearts and minds without fear of offending each other?

What if Police Officers sat down with the Black community in Ferguson and neither side had to worry about offending the other? I am in no way saying that what happened in their town, and across the country, isn’t a terrible tragedy. But for healing and progress to begin, strong people who choose to not be offended are needed. Open and honest dialogue is impossible without them.

What if pastors sat down with LGBT community members and both discussed their fears, worries, experiences, hopes, values, prayers, and dreams without fear of condemnation or offense? How many burned bridges could be rebuilt? How many wounds healed?

What if mothers against abortion could sit down with mothers who felt they had no option but abortion, and share their their hearts without fear of backlash or judgment?

I’m not saying this is a magical salve that will heal the world overnight. I’m saying that brave people need to stand up and boldly choose to not be offended. It’s a simple, one-time choice. Know who you are. Be secure in who you are. And let no man have sway over you. Choose to ignore offense and keep the walls of ignorance and separation from growing. Not just because I want open and honest dialogue. I do. But the world needs it.

The world needs it. But do I think it likely? Will I see this in my lifetime? I wish I were an optimist because I really want to say yes. But no, I don’t think so. I love being proven wrong, though.

Please, brave people, prove me wrong.

Music Corner: Father John Misty – Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)

Where Do Babies Come From?

Let’s face it. Not all babies are cute. Your baby is cute because you are genetically designed to think it’s cute so you’re more likely to protect it when the dingo comes for it. Maybe your baby is cute. Probably it is. But not all of them are. No one will tell you your baby isn’t cute, or that it’s mildly creepy looking, or that it somehow found an ugly stick in your womb and beat itself silly with it. They won’t say that to your face, or to anyone’s face. Most people aren’t that rude or insensitive. Or honest. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t advise you point out every ugly baby you see at the mall’s play pit. And not just because you’d be outnumbered by a gang of angry mothers although that’s a scary enough scenario. Social niceties, for the most part, help us get along and be productive as a society. And I’m all for getting along. But not all babies are cute. Even if we don’t admit it openly, we should admit it to ourselves.

For the record, concerning the title, no, I’m not asking. I figured that one out a long time ago. I was too young when my sister mentioned, in passing, just how penguins mate. I said something to the effect of, “That’s gross,” to which my sister responded, “How do you think people do it, idiot?” She probably didn’t say the idiot part, but it was implied. I simply shut my mouth and walked away, stunned. All in all, though, probably better than learning about it on the playground at school like most kids. Whatever. The point is, I know where babies come from. If you know me at all or are familiar with how I write, you’ll know I’m slowly working my way towards a metaphor. A weak, ill-constructed metaphor in all likelihood because perfection is boring.

I don’t have babies. Or baby. But I know what they are. I’ve held them. Smelled them. Fed them. Changed them. Put up with them. Avoided them. Run away from them. Been bitten by them. And I’m good. I’m all set. Other people’s kids are enough. I love my sister’s kids. I’m sure I’ll love my brother’s kid when I meet it. But whatever genetic impulse that convinces people to raise children, yeah, I don’t have that. The impulse to make children, sure. But any responsibility past that seems exhausting. Why anyone chooses it is beyond me.

The closest I want to get to having a baby is writing a script. No, they aren’t really that close. That’s kind of the point. But there are slight and occasional similarities, enough that I know I don’t want there to be any additional.

Babies keep you up at night. So does writing. When I think I’ve done enough writing for the day I close the laptop, maybe try and watch some TV then go to bed. Just as I’m about to fall asleep, the script starts crying out to me. “Hey! Hey you! Dummy who thought being a writer was a good idea! What if in the second half of Act II Johnny Protagonist steals a harrier jet? It worked for True Lies!”

“No, it really didn’t. And shut up, I’m trying to sleep. We’ve got work in the morning.”

“But fighter jets are so coooooooooollll!! We get to blow stuff up!”

“It’s a Romantic Comedy. Stuff’s not supposed to blow up.”

“That’s why no one buys your scripts. You should write me like a Michael Bay script. Michael Bay is the best.”

*Click-click*

“Say that again and I swear I will shoot my laptop and kill you in the process.”

“…Michael Bay wouldn’t hesitate to-”

*BAM*

And that’s why I buy cheap laptops.

Babies need to be raised. So do scripts. It all starts with an idea. Maybe you’re in bed, the mood is right, and wham-bam thank you ma’am you’ve got a great idea. Then a few days or weeks later, you realize you are responsible for this idea. It’s yours. You gave it life. It’s your job to raise it, develop it, turn it into a contributing member of society. You want this idea to be successful so it can support you in your old age. So you treat it like a Faberge egg. Gentle, careful, with all the love of a little girl tending to an injured baby bird she found in the back yard. Then one day you’re holding it up above your head with pride because it’s working, it’s growing, and then it throws up in your mouth. You realize it’s a long road ahead. Yeah, sometimes it takes eighteen years. And sometimes, like a child, after eighteen years of sweat and blood and sacrifice, it still turns out to be a disappointment.

Scripts need attention. They require discipline. When you’re not with them, you’re thinking about them. They make you happy, cry, and tear your hair out in great clumps. If someone tries to steal your script you protect it with your life. When it’s young and bright and new and someone tries to tell you it’s ugly you ignore them because they’re obviously blind. A script is a part of me, born with my DNA. And that’s near enough to progeny for me. Because unlike a child, I can sell a script when I’m done with it.

 

An Almost End of a New Beginning

In August of this year I picked up and moved to Virginia Beach to go to film school. I’m pursuing my MFA in Screenwriting. Since then, I’ve left this blog untouched. Not a week went by that I didn’t think about it, think about writing something to post here. I’m still conflicted about personal update blogs. Seems too narcissistic, for me anyway. But with only one week left of my first semester back in school, I wanted to write something if for no other reason than to shout to the blogosphere that I’m still here, still writing, still beardly.

My natural inclination is to believe I can do it all on my own. I’m a lone wolf who can take care of himself. I can best get what I want by myself. I’ve learned time and again, that isn’t true. I believed I was learning just as much about writing on my own as I could have in school. I was wrong. There is only so much you can learn from books. Often, it takes pressure, deadlines, consequences, and people building into you. It has made me a better writer. My time on my own wasn’t wasted, though. It was a foundation for what I’m learning now, a springboard off of which I’ve launched into the best writing I’ve ever done. I’m preparing to enter a script into a contest soon, details to come.

What I’m trying to say is that yes, writers often lead a solitary life. Hours alone in an office or coffee shop, toiling away at creating worlds out of 26 little symbols in the desperate hope that someone, somewhere will bring those worlds to life with their imagination. But it can’t always be like that. Writer’s need others. I know this now. I’m strengthened by relationships. My writing grows stronger because of them, not in spite of them. I never thought I’d enjoy a writing partner or working in a writer’s room. Now I love the idea and look forward to writing in groups.

Be open to change. Then when it comes, write about it.

The only thing we have…

In the summer of 2007 I went camping. It was a last-minute decision to get out and see more of the area I had recently moved to. I was new to Tennessee but an experienced camper and was excited to get into nature, if only for a night. One Saturday morning I packed a bag and drove forty-five minutes to a state campground, paid for a spot for the night, and settled in. In truth there wasn’t much to settle. I planned to sleep in my van. All I was really concerned about was leaving the campsite behind and hiking the trails. So as soon as I parked I emptied my pack of non-essentials, grabbed a bottle of water, and headed into the woods.

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Near the head of the trail were other campers, but soon enough the trail cleared and it was mostly me and nature. Having grown up living and working at a camp, I felt in my element. The woods of Tennessee weren’t too dissimilar from the woods of Ohio. I kept an eye out for wild edibles, the few I knew: buttercups, wisteria, mint, various berries, and my favorite, sassafras. In Ohio I’d often forage for sassafras saplings in order to boil the roots to make sassafras tea. But despite appearing familiar at first look, the Tennessee wilderness offered up none of these comforts from home. The ground was mostly level so the hike was easy. At one point the trail led to a dry creek bed. I followed it, my feet sinking slightly into rounded river stones. Eventually the creek disappeared underground. I tried to follow but the cave entrance was choked with sticks and bramble. I climbed back to the trail and kept going, my depleting energy supply masked by my enthusiasm for the outdoors.

An hour later I decided I’d had enough and started to make my way back to my campsite, and this is where things started to go wrong. I didn’t want to go back the way I came because I’d already seen it. I wanted new surroundings, new sights to take in. I figured I had a good sense of direction and could ditch the trail and make my way back to the camp. I hadn’t seen any “stay on the trail” signs so figured this would be a fun adventure.

When I claimed to be an experienced camper, it was a bit of an overstatement. Yes, I had been camping since I was very young, and even spent seven years living and working at a camp. I would often take day treks into the woods, leaving the trails behind in favor of unmolested wilderness. But I also knew the boundaries of the property. I knew the trails backwards and forwards. My confidence was built on knowledge and experience of the grounds. In Tennessee I still felt that confidence, but it was a lie. I knew a little about how to survive in the woods… at my camp in Ohio. I knew nothing about where I was in Tennessee. The result of which was, I was soon lost.

People make bad decisions when they panic. Panic sneaks up on you. At first, you don’t even realize you’re panicking. You believe you’re thinking on your feet, making decisions as you go. It clouds your judgment. It certainly clouded mine. I knew how to get back to camp. I had walked a straight, perpendicular line since abandoning the trail. All I had to do was turn around and walk back. I would eventually reach the trail and then I could walk out. Easy enough. But panic told me it would be better to keep going straight. Or left. Or right, maybe. Eventually, I’d find another trail that would lead me out. Or maybe I’d find a road and could hitchhike to the camp. I checked my cell phone for signal. Maybe I could call the rangers and get rescued. I dialed the ranger station, but the signal was lost before anyone picked up. I eventually did find another trail. It looked like a farmer’s access road. It led to a fenced-in field. I had to be at the boundary of the state park. I followed the path for a while, until it got too muddy to walk on. My shoes were caked in mud. I was exhausted. The sun was setting. I was out of water. Wait…

The sun was setting. The sun. I knew the trail head was east of my campsite, and the trail itself ran mostly northeast. I left the trail going northwest. If I kept the sun on my right I could walk south and find either the trail or the campground. I retreated down the path until I found the point at which I’d come across it, then headed south. I felt like I was finally making a good decision. Hope rose within me that I’d get back to my campsite and get a good night’s sleep.

Eventually I did find the path again. About that time, I also began to feel rather embarrassed. I’d made stupid decisions. I knew better. But overconfidence betrayed me. And I let my emotions get the better of me. Eight hours after setting off, I made it back to my van and collapsed. I didn’t even make a fire or eat dinner. I gulped some water and went to sleep.

Looking back, that experience was a turning point of sorts. It wasn’t a conscious decision but soon after, I started distrusting my emotions. I distanced myself from them, preferring instead the cold rationality of logic. I could trust it. It was rigid, it didn’t change. I had never been an overly emotional person to begin with. But I withdrew even further. Where I had once been sentimental, I threw away many of my sentimental keepsakes because they didn’t serve a practical purpose. I started having to fake emotional responses in social situations so as not to appear depressed. And I wasn’t depressed. I was quite happy, actually. Or maybe content is a better word. Emotions could lead to hurt. Logic and reason didn’t. They were my allies.

I feel as if this story should go somewhere from here, but that’s where it ends. There is no world-shattering epiphany that emotions are the real virtue and I should embrace them, as painful as they can be. Our culture certainly seems to be trying to tell me this, that love is all I need, that true happiness is an emotional experience. But is that true? Or does it have to be true for everyone? I’m not saying emotions don’t serve a purpose. I would never say that emotions aren’t valid, at least to a point. Emotion and logic are, in the end, two sides of the same coin. Without logic and reason, mankind would not have advanced. The same could be said for emotion because there would have been no passion to drive man forward. Perhaps my logic, too, is driven by emotion. After all, I feel as if this story should go somewhere from here. I feel.

As a storyteller I must know, be intimately acquainted with, human emotion. In order to accurately and effectively communicate the human experience I must know loss, love, hatred, bitterness, regret, desire, rejection, anticipation, joy, anger, bliss, and awe. These aren’t found in logic, but it is logical that I be familiar with them. These, and also fear. Fear of being hurt. Fear of getting lost. Fear of emotion, because it isn’t controlled as easily as reason. Fear is the thing I fear most of all. F.D.R. was on to something. And that’s why I’m writing a horror movie/book. To explore the emotion I dislike the most. To mine the depths of human emotion. To become a better storyteller. To write better stories.

Oh, The Places You’ll Go

I dropped by my sister’s house last week to visit with her kids. I had just learned about my acceptance to grad school, to the Master of Arts in Cinema Television: Scriptwriting program. I was elated! I was nervous. The school is in Virginia; I live in Ohio. My mind was preoccupied with finding a job, a place to live, and figuring out how to pay for school in the next nine weeks before classes start. On the living room floor of my sister’s house was a copy of Dr. Seuss’ Oh, The Places You’ll Go, my favorite of his books. I sat my niece down in my lap and asked her to read it to me.

“Congratulations!
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where you go.”

As she read the words written over 50 years ago in her sweet, child’s voice, I was reminded that life is not safe, it is not easy, it is not guaranteed a certain number of years, but it is the greatest adventure. And as dangerous as it is, as narrow the path, as unsure the footing, as dark the skies, I would not trade a day of it, future or past. Obstacles hurdled are medals pinned to my chest. Obstructions ahead are trophies waiting to adorn my mantel. I will go to Virginia. And I will thrive.

 

Paths

The path to becoming a writer is not a clear one.

In fact, there isn’t one.

There are many. There are as many paths as there are writers. Which is to say, a whole hell of a lot.

My path has not unfolded as I pictured it would. I daresay most writers would admit the same. This is neither good nor bad. This is the way it is.

I am on my second job in as many months. I traded in the well-paying temp job for a lesser-paying quasi-permanent one. More of a sideways move than forward. The new job gets me outdoors and active, which is healthier than sitting all day. That’s what I tell myself when my back, knees, and feet hate me at the end of every shift.

And still the writing continues. And sometimes doesn’t. Fits and spurts.

This is no quick or easy path.

And so, I am trying a new direction. Pushing aside branches and brambles in my efforts to clear the forest and reach my destination beyond; a fertile land of milk and honey and ink and time. A path I said I would not take, not yet.

Undergrad cost a lot. It was eight years ago and I’m still paying for it, and probably will be for many more years. I’ve always desired another degree, even an MFA so I could teach at the college level, but I told myself not until I could pay for it out of pocket. Well, desperate times, and all that.

Grad school. Come, let’s have a look at you.

Ghostbusters: Presented by Bombast Podcast

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Recently I was invited by my friends at Bombast Podcast to join them in discussing the 1984 classic Ghostbusters. We settled on a commentary style discussion that listeners could download and then sync to the film while watching. I had a lot of fun recording this, and I hope you’ll give it a listen. And if you’re in to movies, music, and comics, check out the rest that Bombast Podcast has to offer.

Click Here for “Bombasterpiece Theater Presents Ghostbusters.”

5 Hours

5 hours. That’s all I get. Monday – Friday. 5:30 pm – 10:30 pm. That’s my free time.

I don’t know if I’m complaining. That’s a lie. I am complaining.

Part of me wants to feel bad. Some people don’t get that much. Some don’t get any.

But I’m not comparing myself to anyone. I’m not talking about the plight of the working person. I’m talking about me.

I get up at 6:30 am, leave for work at 7, arrive at 8, work till 4:30 pm, get home at 5:30, and go to bed at 10:30.

5 hours. That’s enough, right? That’s an eternity. Lots of stuff can get done in five hours. Five days a week, that’s 25 hours. Not even considering weekends yet.

So why am I not getting any writing done?

The job may have something to do with it. I’m reading all day at work. No, really. About 7.5 hours of nothing but staring at a computer screen and reading. When I get home, the last thing I want to do is be in front of a computer, dealing with words.

I needed a job, and I found one. I’m grateful. I can pay a few bills. My basic needs are met. But meeting basic needs only allows us to survive. I miss living. I live to write. I live to create. This job is sucking the soul out of me.

I shouldn’t complain. Thousands of people would trade with me in a heartbeat. I know that. I’m blessed, I guess. But I’ve seen too many people compromise their dreams for the security of a paycheck. Where is the middle ground? How can I support myself, and yet go after my dream? Where is the job that allows me to pursue my writing? I had that job, but it came with too many other intolerable elements. Besides, it does no good to look back. I’m looking ahead. What’s next? How can I make this work.

As I’ve said, I’m not asking anyone’s permission. But right now, the only person holding me back, is me. I can’t find the motivation. I can’t find the drive. There’s always something else needs done. The lawn needs mowed. Errands need run. Other responsibilities, other demands. How does anybody become a full-time writer? How does anybody navigate this? It’s hard clawing your way from lower-middle class. Always hoping and working for a break. I don’t care about being rich. I care about doing what makes me happy and supporting myself. In that order, if at all possible.

5 hours. What could I do in 5 hours? Start smaller. What could I do in 1 hour a night? Just 1? A lot, probably. But after, and only after, I find that motivation again.

The Importance of Adventure

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When I was a child, one of my favorite movies was Without A Clue, a farcical spoof of the Sherlock Holmes stories starring Sir Ben Kingsley as Dr. John Watson and Sir Michael Caine as Sherlock Holmes. In the film, if you’ve not seen it, the roles are slightly reversed. Under the public’s watchful gaze, Watson serves as Holmes’ companion and biographer, but behind the closed doors of 221B Baker street, Watson is the genius detective and Sherlock is merely a drunk actor playing the role. I first saw the film while in 6th or 7th grade, at the same time I was discovering I loved to read and that some people made their living as writers. Had you asked me at the time I still would have told you I was going to be a paleontologist like my hero Bob Bakker, but I daydreamed at some point I might try my hand at writing, too, just as Bakker did with his novel Raptor Red. Early in the film, Caine confronts Kingsley about his most recent article for The Strand, in which Watson records Sherlock having made a mistake. Watson’s reply has always stayed with me: “A writer must write of which he knows.”

There was a time in my life I took adventures. College was an adventure for me. I wasn’t the stereotypical quiet kid in school, but I wasn’t outgoing, either. I didn’t, and still don’t enjoy many things people use to get their heart going like climbing, skiing, and  white-water rafting; basically anything that requires more than casual exertion. After high school, I stuck around home and worked a simple home-healthcare job. I decided I didn’t like working and so made my way to college two states away in Illinois, just outside Chicago. It was new and exciting. I can’t say I took advantage of everything college and Chicago had to offer, but I had fun. I poked an eye and finger out of my shell and realized it wasn’t so bad out there. Then I took a leap and spent a semester in Europe. Every weekend a new city or country: Rome, Paris, London, Budapest, Geneva, Florence, Normandy, Munich, Salzburg, Milan, Vienna, Zurich, Naples, Interlaken… It was everything it could have been. It was a bona fide adventure. Three years later, my job would take me to The Netherlands, Wales, and Tanzania. Then, after Tanzania, nothing. For the last 6 years, no travel, no airports, no adventures beyond the occasional weekend road trip. Where are the new faces and new places to feed my soul?

A writer must write of which he knows. A writer cannot write in a vacuum. True, I have grown more as a writer these last few years than ever before, but I feel I have drawn off everything my experiences had to offer. I am depleted. I need more. I need adventure.

But it frightens me. I’m older. I’m out of shape. What if I’m not as resilient as I used to be? What if I find my adventurous spirit ends at the jetway? What if I’m not up to adventure’s demands?

Life is a serious of steps. Some are baby steps. Some take us over the edge of unimaginably tall cliffs, and there’s not always a safety net. Some cliffs we tumble over blindly, while others we strap on a parachute and dive headfirst and smiling. Adrenaline junkies say they feel most alive when closest to death. When was the last time I felt alive?

I’m working temporarily at a data-entry company. I sit at a computer. I read. I type. I click the mouse. I breathe recycled air. I eat my packed lunch. Suffice it to say, it’s not an adventure. When the job is over, I think I’ll be due some adventuring. I’ll have earned it.

I have a friend going on an adventure in September. She’ll be gone for 11 months, during which time she’ll visit 11 countries. As happy and excited as I am for her, I can’t help being a little jealous. I know how hard it will be for her, but I also know the rewards are worth it. I am proud of my friend. She inspires me. Because, no matter the fear, I know I need another adventure.

We all need adventure. It doesn’t look the same for any of us. My brother and his wife are beginning a new adventure soon: they are expecting their first child in October. For others, adventure might be changing jobs, moving to a new city, buying the house of their dreams, climbing a mountain, or losing weight. My adventure is travel.

We live in a big world. I’ve been to a few places and seem some amazing things. But there’s more. More to see. More to do. More people to meet. And the more I know, the more I write.

The world and its stories are waiting for me. It’s not polite to keep them waiting.