January 30, 2010

My life is a blur some days.  This is one of them.

It’s Saturday.  I got home at six this morning.  My day started at 7 AM.  Yesterday.  A normal work day piggy-backed with a 15-hour software installation.  My fortune to be found in all this was being augmented by a group of people who are very smart about what they do and they made the task bearable.  I never broke a sweat and I never felt like I was in trouble.  I felt safe.  In capable hands.  It was a long night made longer because I’d gotten ill 2 days before.

Back up.  Rewind.

Wednesday night I was in my first advanced screenwriting class with Michael Cordell at the University of Virginia.  I’d taken his beginner’s class last year and it really turned my head around about what I’ve been doing wrong all these years.  I am no stranger to screenplay writing.  I’ve written 13 of them.  Maybe 14 or 15.  I’ve lost count.  But I’ve never sold one.  I’ve had significant nibbles on 3 of them, but nothing developed and after taking Michael’s beginner’s class, I understood why.

I have seen the incompetent writer and the writer was me.

So I’m sitting in Michael’s class.  As usual, light bulbs are coming on over my head as he speaks.  Then I felt a headache coming on.  Coupled with a mild burning in my eyes.  Flu?  Maybe.  But I’ve had the flu before and it wasn’t adding up.  I didn’t have all the necessary symptoms.  Cold?  I wasn’t sure.  What I am sure about is, the next morning, I didn’t feel well.

I went to work Thursday morning.  Clocked in for an hour.  I knew we had a long day on Friday and I was going downhill fast.  I made the smart decision and told everyone I was taking sick time for the rest of the day – see you on Friday.  I am fortunate that the small team I work with is able and ready to step in when the chips are down.

I stopped at Target on my way home and bought a box of Thera-flu and a bottle of Cherry NyQuil.  I had to show my driver’s license to buy the NyQuil.  I wanted to be annoyed, but I was more amused than anything else.  The cashier, reacting as if I was scoring morphine, said, “Wow, I hope whoever is sick in your house gets better.”

I looked at her and smiled.  “Yeah, me, too.  They’re driving me nuts.”

Once home, I used my body as a laboratory and basically knocked myself out for the rest of the day.  Woke up in the evening feeling much better.  A little clogged up, but over the weird symptoms.

Went to work on Friday morning and felt pretty good.  But as the day wore on, my head became congested, largely due to the medication I’d taken the day before, and it got worse through the night into Saturday morning even though I was pounding water with a cup of coffee thrown in every once in a while.

When I drove home in the dark this morning, it was snowing.  We’ve lived in this neck of the woods for over 6 years and during that time, we probably saw less than a handful of snowfalls and all were in the 1 – 3 inch range and they melted off within a day or two.  But a month ago, we got two feet overnight and it crippled the area – especially the back roads we live on.  That all finally melted off about a week ago.

It’s Saturday afternoon about 5 PM and we have 7 inches on the ground and it’s still coming, but slowing down.  Judy and I just shoveled the driveway and made some paths in the yard for Caesar to explore.

I go back to work tomorrow at 7:30 AM for testing of our new software.  I was supposed to be there today as well, but the weather circumvented my attendance.  Just as well.  I spent my time napping, playing with the wife, and transferring frail VHS video home movies to digital archives.

The transfer of old home videos has been a back-burner project for a few years now, but the tapes are degrading quickly and consequently the project is on the front burner.  It’s been a revelation of sorts.  I started with several from 24 years ago.

We lived in a little house in Germany and we were the only Americans in a tiny town.  Nothing fancy, but certainly cozy.  Ivan is not yet 2, still figuring out how to form words.  Judy and I are in the infancy of our marriage – madly in love with each other.  We play music and dance around the house.  I couldn’t dance then either, so little has changed in that department.  But I certainly seemed more game to give it a try.  I was slender.  Cocky.  I had auburn hair and a lot of it.

I’m juggling the archiving with other artistic endeavors.  Screenwriting classes.  Participating in a writer’s group that has helped me immensely.  Writing two screenplays at the same time.  Polishing off a short story for the annual John Grisham competition held in Charlottesville.  Getting ready to launch some more film bits on YouTube.  Preparing to book some dates to show a bunch of our films that have never been seen in public.  I’m even working in a redo of someone’s Bar Mitzvah video as a favor because I was so horrified at what the original videographers delivered as a final product.

I started another documentary about a woman who collects angels.  Martha.  Our friend Bridget thought I would be interested in meeting her.  On the surface, it might not seem like my kind of subject matter, but I’ve started to trust my instincts and if Bridget thought it might be a good idea, maybe it’s a good idea.  I visited the angel woman last Sunday morning and we had an immediate rapport.  We shot some stuff, had a wonderful conversation in her living room, and agreed to meet again when she returns from a trip to Egypt in February.  It already feels like a winner.  When we wrapped up our visit, Martha said, “I really don’t think I’m interesting or extraordinary.”  Indeed.  In my experience, interesting and extraordinary people rarely do.

I auditioned for a corporate film funded by a major corporation a couple of weeks ago.  I totally blew it.  And there was no reason to mess it up.  I’d studied the part, I was among friends I’d worked with before, and hell, it’s not like I haven’t done an audition before.  It was handled professionally, so I had to put together an acting resume stapled to the back of a head shot which my friend Kris came over and shot in our backyard and he did a pretty nice job.  I had everything going for me.  But when push came to shove, I was so over the top in front of the camera that even the people in the room who knew me had a hard time keeping a poker face.  Not to mention that the folks sponsoring the film were watching via closed-circuit.  I laughed all the way back to my car, just shaking my head at my immense ineptness.

The next day I got an email from Brian Wimer, the director.  He put together the horror movie Mantra that Judy and I were in last year.   He congratulated me on a great audition.

Great?  I was awful.  He wrote back, “Yeah, but it’s your face.”  They loved the surly guy.  And I got the part.

In Michael Cordell’s class, he explains that often your success is not something that lands with a big thump at your door.  It’s more like hundreds of small triumphs that add up to greatness.  I guess I could easily apply that to my life.  Sometimes when I’m working on just one little piece of the puzzle, I don’t feel like it adds up to much.  But as Paul McCartney once said, “When I think that all this stuff can make a life, it’s pretty hard to take it in.”

About two weeks ago, the strongest man in the world died.  Joe Rollino was 104.  He became a strongman in the 1920s and was decorated in World War II.  During his heyday working at Coney Island, he once lifted 3,200 pounds.  He was a lifetime boxer who could rip a book in half at the seam.  His friends included Harry Houdini and Mario Lanza.  He never drank.  Never smoked.  He was a vegetarian who exercised every day of his life.  To many, he was considered a mentor and father figure.

He ended up getting run over by a mini-van.

At his 104th birthday party, Joe bent a quarter with his fingers and later apologized.

“I used to be able to bend dimes.”

Every day, the world spins a new yin yang.

In Haiti today, there are millions who cry.  Some in loss, others in joy over a speck of a miracle.

This past week, Morgan Harrington’s skeletal remains were found in a remote part of a hay field south of Charlottesville.  She was a 20-year-old Virginia Tech student who vanished during a Metallica concert in October.  Her parents were interviewed on the local news and her mother said that even though they’d found closure, the pain would forever be etched in their faces.  And indeed it was.  Evident even behind dark sunglasses.

A few days ago, I found out that another of my friends is fighting cancer.  My thoughts are with her and her family in their struggle.  Another friend of mine recently tested cancer free, and I know for him, there were definitely some moments when the prognosis didn’t look good.

I have friends I pray for who have MS.  Who have been debilitated by strokes.  And an old mentor who brushed against death late last year, but through love and kindness, especially from his best friend, he should be okay in a few months.

This past week, I got lucky in the lottery, kids.

Our Boston Terrier is still chugging.  When Caesar got cancer in early August, they said he’d be gone within 1 – 2 months.  He hits the six-month mark next week.

Mantra got a rave review in France.

I saw Cheap Trick kick ass in a small venue after wanting to see them for 30-something years.

While I was at the concert, I drank a Pabst Blue Ribbon which I also had not done in 30-something years.

I stumbled across an actor who had his one and only starring role in a play of mine back in 1979.

I got an email from a longtime friend who wanted me to know how much my correspondence has meant to his ill wife.

Like Michael said, it’s the little things that add up to greatness – people and things that have opened my heart and influenced my creativity so I could in turn touch others.

This past New Year’s Eve, as we usually do, Judy and I spent the night alone.  It was a great evening.  And although I don’t have my auburn hair anymore, I made an effort to be that romantic guy I was in those old videos.  I was even game to dance a little, albeit not too cleverly.

I’m not the strongest man in the world.  I can’t bend dimes or even quarters, for that matter.  But I can remember all that has been provided for me.  And more importantly, I can be game to try to do the right things.

Time to wrap up.  Yes, I had to work all night.  Yes, we had to do some shoveling.  And yes, I’m still pretty congested.  But we put out some bird seed today and I’m drinking tea on a snowy night in a warm house and in this particular moment, we are safe.

I think I’ll go out in the living room and play some Scrabble with my best friend.

I just wanted to drop a note to all of you I find so interesting and extraordinary.  Sometimes it’s pretty hard to take it in.

Much love from the surly guy,

Dougie B.