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Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep… My PRAYER?

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GOD… Shmod…

I’m sorry if my words and irreverence are hurtful or disdainful to you.

I don’t want my blog posts to cause anyone pain … truthful (from my perspective) but not painful.

As a child, I was taught to kneel next to my bed, hands pressed together beneath my little chin, and pray to God…

And now I lay me down to sleep…

… before climbing under the covers for the night.

For the next hour, I’d anxiously lie there, blankets pulled up over my nose, hoping that no Where The Wild Things Are monster would crawl out from under the bed or burst through the doorway and cut me into pieces and eat me.

I was an anxious child. I had my own Calvin and Hobbes world.

Sleep would eventually descend over me like a drifting parachute and I was safe from the imaginary devils inside my head for another day.

Whew! Prayer answered.

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Happily, I made it through the omnipresent – artificial – dangers and survived into adulthood where the only – real – monsters that exist show up on CNN routinely.

I’ve told you before that I’m not a believer in an omnipotent deity… male, female or any other non-binary choice.

It’s not a big deal and I don’t want to write evangelically atheistic rants like Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins.

I respect the desire and need for religion…the salve of poverty, war, disease,  interpersonal hell… I wish it wasn’t necessary, but I understand its basis and the comfort it gives to millions.

I don’t want to judge others and their beliefs just as I don’t need or want someone hovering overhead judging me… we all have reasons for our weaknesses and faults. I judge myself pretty harshly and that’s all I can handle.

If I was a devout believer I’d probably be a better person.

I’d probably be more like Lauraine the head lady that I work with when I volunteer to chop and slice and dishwash at the Penticton soup kitchen.

Lauraine is a pious Catholic with a lively sense of humour and a Mother Teresa-like aura of warmth. She treats every person with dignity and respect and sees the inner good that so often doesn’t show on the outside of troubled people, which is everyone.

Lauraine knows I’m a non-believer but if I ever have a difficulty in any area of my life she assures me that she’ll pray for me or my loved ones. And even though I don’t believe it will have any direct impact, I feel good inside knowing that she’s sending some positive vibes.

I don’t believe in a God, but I do believe in the power of individuals to make a god-like difference for those in their circle of influence. Lauraine is real and affects my world.

Also, my inspiration doesn’t flow through the Bible, the Sutra, the Vedas, the Quran or the Torah, though each carries a wealth of wisdom.

Wisdom and understanding is cached away in a multitude of places other than religious texts. Hopefully wisdom informs beliefs.

Sometimes we come to believe in something as an accepted fact even though there’s no rational or sensible underpinning to that belief.

I was reminded of this natural human tendency when I saw a replay of perhaps my most favourite segment of television ever, of course written by one of my very favourite screenwriters, Aaron Sorkin, in the HBO series The Newsroom.

It’s a Shakespeare-style soliloquy spoken by a fictional TV news anchorman (Will McAvoy aka Jeff Daniels) during a university debate.

A young female sophomore student asks a seemingly simple question that everyone in the room takes for granted has an obvious underlying truth.

 

There’s a humungous lump in my throat right now.

Now you might ask where am I going with this whole ramble about prayer and I guess the answer is a simple… I’m not sure.

McAvoy’s monologue is filled with observable facts that would have us examine our belief in the “apparently obvious”. My biases align with his rant. His words are my prayer.

Powerful words delivered with eloquence.

I get it. Prayer is powerful. Prayer makes us weak and strong at the same time.

I love the sense of reverence and historic wonder I feel when I stand or sit in a church, a cathedral, a synagogue, a temple, a mosque.

I love the sound of the archaic words, thou and whence and messiah, and the swell of pipe-organ music reverberating off high arched ceilings.

So, even though I miss the halcyon days of kneeling next to my bed and talking to something or someone greater than my tiny mortal being, I can’t truly recapture those moments of prayer with the same innocence and sense of awe.

The only prayer that exists for me now is the active voice in my head that observes and confers and sifts and debates like crazy.

It’s the godless prayer of observation and wonder, confusion and fear, respect and admiration, love and desire, hope and optimism.

If I should die before I wake… well, I guess the monster under my bed finally got me.

Monster under bed

 

 

 

A Simple Sunny Day Conversation

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… muddled darkness still filled the winter-chilled room when I slid back into my dream …

William Goldman, Nora Ephron and Aaron Sorkin sat in a haze of talkers’ block, frustratingly biting fingernails and pulling hair over a discussion of how… how and why they write their movie screenplays.

Yes…

THE William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, All The President’s Men, The Princess Bride),

Yes…

THE Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, Julie & Julia) and

Yes…

THE Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network, Molly’s Game).

Three spirited and gifted talents, hardworking Jewish folks, mystically wired to type out brilliant lines of cinematic dialogue that the world slurps up like delicious soup from a beautiful pottery bowl in the sunshine.

…………………..

Butch Cassidy: Do you believe I’m broke already?
Etta Place: Why is there never any money, Butch?
Butch Cassidy: Well, I swear, Etta, I don’t know. I’ve been working like a dog all my life and I can’t get a penny ahead
Etta Place: Sundance says it’s because you’re a soft touch, and always taking expensive vacations, and buying drinks for everyone, and you’re a rotten gambler.
Butch Cassidy: Well that might have something to do with it.
William Goldman

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…………………..

Just like in the movies they wrote, the conversation flows like silky sap from maple trees in early spring.
 .

Why do we bother writing if it’ll all just be rain down a drain when we’re gone?’

‘And why am I trying to write lines coming from people who are smarter than me? I don’t think it can be done.’

‘Sure, and why do we make tasty foods to eat when the basic building blocks of healthy life don’t require any flavour, or at least pleasant flavour?’

All so serious.

Nora smiled and sighed loudly. Shaking her head, she tilted up to the royal blue, squinting into the sun beating down on them as they sipped margaritas on Sorkin’s back patio overlooking the resonant Pacific on California’s coast. A slew of gulls squealed and shrieked over the waves.

Guys, this is silly. There is no reason to writing.’

‘There is no reason to life. It just is.’

‘Stop obsessing about why and enjoy the trip, the process.’

You can never have too much butter – that is my belief. If I have a religion, that’s it,‘ she added, not knowing why.

Nora was always so grounded. So sensible. Or maybe it was the tequila-tainted inebriation talking.

But of course, Nora is dead and has access to metaphysical ideas and thought that the rest of us here on earth can’t see yet.

Except dreams.

Dreams allow us that delicious fusion of combining life with death, truth with fiction, oil with water.

…………………..

Sally (on faking orgasms): “Nothing. It’s just that all men are sure it never happened to them and all women at one time or other have done it so you do the math.”

Nora Ephron

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…………………..

People don’t talk in real life like they do in the movies. That’s the beauty of what we do.’

Real people don’t kidnap couples from the side of the road and boldly declare, “We’re Bonnie and Clyde. We rob banks!” Never been said outside of a movie theatre.’

Yeah or … “You can’t handle the truth! Son we live in a world that has walls, and those have to be guarded by men with guns. Whose gonna do it, you, you lieutenant Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury, you have the luxury of not knowing what I know, that Santiago’s death while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence while grotesque and incomprehensible, to you, saves lives.” ‘

‘That’s true, we can’t write the boring stuff, but we can take conversations and make them sound alive, believable as if it really happened just the way we wrote it. Audiences want to believe’

Believe, huh? No one believes or cares that we wrote crap for years that no producer or studio would touch.

…………………..

NEWSROOM’s Will McAvoy (to college students proudly calling America the greatest country in the world): “There is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re seventh in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies.”

Aaron Sorkin

Newsroom .jpg

…………………..

Aaron jumped up and after a slight wobble, arrowed himself back into the house, returning just as quickly with a thick, yellowing manuscript in his hand.

‘Look, I wrote this screenplay for Warren Beatty years ago. It’s called Ocean of Storms. It’s embarrassing. There’s no music in this. It’s totally missing any rhythm. I wish I could write it from scratch all over again.’

‘Shit you guys… I’m dead … Sleepless no more… so listen up while you can.’

Nora leaned forward, scanning the faces of both men. Goldman and Sorkin straightened in their leisure chairs, looking all the part of schoolboys in short pants ready to be chastised by the wise schoolmarm.

‘We all want instant perfection. You want a meaning to writing or life? I’ll give you my secret. Free, keep your dimes in your pockets.’

‘You do what you do well and know that it will never be good enough.’

‘You write and you write and you get a teeny fraction better, maybe not every day but at least every year or every decade. And you capture joy like children’s marbles knowing that your abilities and understanding are tiptoeing up a mountain who’s peak is in the clouds and you’ll never see the peak no matter how high you climb because the little secret is… there is no peak.’

‘All you do is keep making the mountain higher and higher like you’re some Godless one who can build their own mountain. And once in a while you stop climbing and look around at the beautiful scenery below because the higher you climb the more magnificent the view becomes.’

‘We’re all a bunch of Shakespearean fools, or insecure Charlie Brown’s. The climber one day stumbles and falls, but the mountain still stands there for others to ascend and make larger.’

The limey margaritas tingled and settled inside in a soft, mellow pillow…

… my dreamy haze was lifting in early morning light as, in a muted unusual moment, all three, the great dialogue communicators, sat quietly, reflecting on a simple, sunny day conversation.

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I … Movie Maker

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FADE IN:

Stinky, salty sweat all rinsed away, I was walking out of the gym the other day with my friend Ray.

We were BS’ing as we do, when I said, Ray, if I was reborn, I think I’d grow up to be a moviemaker.

Ray roared a belly laugh when I said that. Ray laughs at most everything anyone says.

People love Ray because he makes them feel good. Ray is ice cream and chocolate and sunshine and rainbows blended in a milkshake. Ray is the puppy dog you always wanted. The world needs more Rays.

I love movie theatres and movies. I love the hush and the darkness and the hot, salty scents and the anticipation of what’s to come.

As a kid, I loved visiting the Capitol and the Palace theatres in Hamilton and the Stoney Creek Drive-In theatre.

I loved watching Bonnie and Clyde and Bullitt and Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music and Fred McMurray in The Shaggy Dog.

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Today I love going to my local movie theatre and munching on popcorn and watching Maudie and Passengers and 12 Years A Slave and Dallas Buyers Club and Inside Out and Lincoln and The Martian and Julie & Julia.

Even a bad movie inspires me in some way.

Inspiration is my TNT. Inspiration gets me off my ass.

Inspiration made me plant a tomato seed when I was 8 years old. Inspiration made me begin training to complete an Ironman race. Inspiration made me write a song and sing it before an audience. Inspiration made me fly to Peru and learn Spanish on Machu Picchu’s doorstep.

Inspiration is always the first step.

The creative energy and dynamism that comes together in a movie is akin to Elon Musk designing and building a battery-powered car.

I sit in awe. It’s beyond my ability as an outsider to comprehend.

And yet. I feel the welling of inspiration.

It’s the same with most every talent or occupation out there. Watching from the outside, we scan the magic and wonder how anyone can learn the skills needed to make it appear effortless.

And it’s OK to sit in awe. It’s OK to watch in awe. It’s OK to be inspired.

For a while.

But inspiration is only the beginning. Inspiration is the easy part.

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A really robust life is one where we don’t spend all of our time as observers. The noisy magpies outside my office window know it, even though they’re sitting in the tall pine trees observing me.

And so, to that point (and apropos of last week’s blog about TRY), even though I’ll almost assuredly never be a moviemaker, or at least one you’ll ever hear about, I’m signing up for an online course called:

Aaron Sorkin: Screenwriting

It’s on the masterclass.com website and it may be total bunk but I’m innocently optimistic.

I’ve been an admirer of Aaron Sorkin’s for years.

I loved his writing on TV’s West Wing, The Newsroom, Sports Night and in the movies A Few Good Men (“You can’t handle the truth!”), Moneyballand The Social Network.

Sorkin writes rapid-fire screen dialogue like no one else. Sorkin defines intelligent, cutting wit.

West wing

Why shouldn’t I emulate the ones whom I admire and respect?

If I was starting over again, I’d watch movies with a more critical eye, observing and drilling in on the tiny points that make brilliant shooting stars flash in our heads.

Bittersweet background music, or the slight welling of moisture in the corner of an actor’s eye, or warm amber light striking the heroine’s face at just the right angle are those tiny points that transform shitty garbage into golden treasure.

And just as deeply profound lyrics make a song memorable for generations, so too does great film writing.

We’ve become so accustomed to watching great moviemaking and writing that we often don’t appreciate the talent and energy, the drive and inspiration, the millions of tiny details that make us laugh, or cry, or think deeply about something that we never knew existed.

We watch and grow in microscopic increments.

Movies, like books and music and art, are AMAZING human creations that we routinely take for granted. It’s only in the past dozen years or so that I’ve developed a deeper appreciation for the skill-set that has us fall in love with a story on screen.

So this week, I’ll begin a minor new adventure as I share some time with Aaron Sorkin.

I’ve reached the scintilla point, an instant in my timeline, where the sense of inspiration is insufficient. The building coitus interruptis feels a need for completion, a release from the energetic tension.

When Ray and I leave the gym exhausted next week, we’ll chew through the headlines of the past week in our banter.

And when he laughs and brings up an intriguing account of someone he met at the brewery pub where he works, I’ll say, “Ray! That’s a really cool story, can I write it into a screenplay?”

FADE OUT.

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… Who Do YOU Love? …

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HELP WANTED:

Mentor needed for middle-aged hack seeking inspiration and all-round creative abilities.

Love-Story with rose

Forget the ad above, the job has been filled already, although I haven’t called the winning candidate to congratulate him just yet. Or to tell him the pay rate sucks.

This is a love story.

And I’m really sorry to tell you …  there will be no sex involved (unless you’re up to something while reading this), just unrequited adulation.

…………….

A fortuitous flame burns hot as molten lava, it pours over the upper surface and spills into the world for us all to see and revel in its heat and intensity. This is the nature of genius, whatever its form — scientific, artistic, athletic.

Each of you and I either has, or should have, a mentor(s), someone we admire and who will help to draw out the genius that exists in us all in some way, waiting to break free.

Ernest and Judd — NOT a Love Story

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Recently I wrote of my half-love — half-loath of Ernest Hemingway, both on a personal and a professional writing level. I don’t particularly like the person he was, and I don’t love his writing style or subject matter either. However, he has been a mentor to me in my writerly attempts to use slightly more spartan phrases to make a point — Like this. Or this. And then he was dead. The end.

Earlier still I wrote of my disdain for Judd Apatow,  the writer and producer of many ManBoy movies. Pandering to the lowest levels of body-fluid based humour jettisons him off my list of potential mentors. I want cleverness and intelligent wit, not baseball bats bashing through my boy’ish farts.

…………….

So. Enough negativity.

Today, it’s time I told you about someone I love.

Don’t we all observe someone else and say to ourselves, “Wow, I wish I could do what Janice does. I wish I could be just like her.” Of course we hate them for it, but we love them at the same time.

I’ve contemplated others frequently throughout my life and daydreamed I was as good at writing, interacting with others, running marathons, public speaking, painting scenery, picking up hot girls, thinking analytically, and on and on.

This isn’t bad. This is a really good thing to do so long as we don’t spend our entire journey from birth to death merely admiring, and not acting.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so we should flatter the hell out of our lives and imitate like crazy until we’re great at something, anything … except perhaps bank robbery or being a U.S. Republican Congressman.

And the time to start is today. Right now.

…………….

I LOVE YOU Aaron Sorkin

kristin-davis Aaron sorkin

Not only are you brilliant, but you get the hot chicks like Kristen Davis too…

.

You’ll never know it Aaron, but I’m taking you on as my mentor.

I’m way in love, I’m smitten, I’m besotted with your writing, always have been. I relish your ability to compress massive, idea-rich thoughts into one or two irony-dripping sentences. How did you get to be so frickin’ brilliant?

I want to do a Being John Malkovitch and crawl inside your gifted little head and see how you do what you do because it’s beyond my meagre abilities to see it from here on the outside.

Whoa, stop right there.

       Did you really just say:Who the hell is Aaron Sorkin?”

  • The Newsroom
  • Moneyball
  • The Social Network
  • The West Wing
  • Sports Night
  • Charlie Wilson’s War
  • A Few Good Men

What do these TV shows or movie titles have in common? They were (or are, in the case of The Newsroom) all screenwritten by Aaron Sorkin.

Here are a couple of soundbites of his writing from various broadcasts, spoken by fictional characters of his making:

We [America] lead the world in only 3 categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies. Now none of this is the fault of a 20 year old college student, but you nonetheless are without a doubt a member of the worst period generation period ever period, so when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”  

……….Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom

You can’t handle the truth!

……….Jack Nicholson, A Few Good Men

— Casey: How am I conversationally anal-retentive?
— Dana: Let me answer that question in four parts, with the fourth part first and the third part last. The second part has five subjects–
— Casey: All right, all right.   

……….Peter Krause, Felicity Huffman, Sports Night

I’m an alcoholic. I don’t have one drink. I don’t understand people who have one drink. I don’t understand people who leave half a glass of wine on the table. I don’t understand people who say they’ve had enough. How can you have enough of feeling like this? How can you not want to feel like this longer? My brain works differently. […] I don’t get drunk in front of people. I get drunk alone. […] You think it has something to do with smart and stupid. Do you have any idea how many alcoholics are in Mensa?”

……….John Spencer, West Wing

Jack Nicholson-you-cant-handle-the-truth

Aaron, if you had only one memorable, witty, hilarious, ironic statement in a TV episode or movie, I’d be relatively impressed. But no, you pile them bang bang bang, one on top of the other until my head is spinning with the messages, sent in riotous, quirky fashion.

Aaron Sorkin speaks in a voice that obviously resonates strongly with me. Watching, listening and imitating people like Mr. Sorkin will make me a better writer over time just as paying close attention to the easy way that Barack Obama speaks will help me connect just a tiny bit better with those around me. We’re swimming in a pond of potential positive mentors all of the time.

I want you to be great at something. So what I’m asking of you is to be vigilant. Pay attention.

Mentors can be people, things like movies or books, or the world and everything that surrounds and inspires us. The right mindset puts us in a place where a towering Ponderosa Pine tree can energize someone in some way.

The world is jammed with potential geniuses, including you, but I’m learning more and more that genius is far less about genetics and far more about ridiculous amounts of hard work, self-belief, focus and perseverance in the face of setbacks.

There is romance and love in greatness. My love affair with Aaron Sorkin can be yours, and with whomever you desire. No Help Wanted ads are necessary.

And if you ever get pulled up on charges of stalking, you can forget I ever said any of this.

Great to Start