Tag Archives: Self-Actualization

Should I Keep Writing?

When I was six years old, I spent countless hours alone in my room playing this game I’d made up. I’d take one of those small plastic “bubbles” – the kind that held those cheap little treasures that you’d get for a quarter at the grocery store – and throw it onto my bed. A second later, I’d launch all of the stuffed animals from my sizable collection onto the bed after it. See, the “bubble” wasn’t a bubble; it was a football. And my many stuffed animals were football players involved in a free-for-all to recover the game-clinching fumble. (Obviously).

The moment the dogpile was complete, I’d slowly sift through the (adorable) wreckage and see which stuffed animal had prevailed at the bottom of the pile¹. That lucky “beast” would be hoisted into the air triumphantly, as I announced the results to the “crowd”. (Although, full disclosure: the fix was in. Kermit the Frog, a.k.a. my favorite stuffed animal, won at least 90% of the time due to his long green arms…and the fact that I always threw him on the bed first.)Kermit the Frog celebrates 50 years in show business

Now, obviously my childish antics were far from unusual. I mean, show me a little kid, and I’ll show you a tiny crazy person who talks to themselves non-stop and gets lost in their imagination. But the thing about me is, well…

…I never really grew out of that phase. It’s 30 years later, and while I no longer have a stuffed animal collection, I still spend an inordinate amount of time talking to myself², as I drift off into an imaginary world of my own creation. Sure, life (and responsibility) can get in the way sometimes, but chances are, if I’m driving, showering, lying awake in bed, or just staring off into the distance, my mind is somewhere else. It’s trying to envision a world that isn’t but could be. It’s trying to figure out how Kermit (or more likely, the current “hero du jour”) is going to emerge victorious this time. It’s trying to tell a story.

For the longest time, I saw this as a quirk — an amusing glitch in my programming. It’s only recently that I came to realize: it is the program. It’s hard-wired into the way my brain processes (and makes sense of) the world. As you might expect, this has had some rather far-reaching implications when it comes to my life…

…but the reason that it’s been coming up for me a lot lately is that it answers a nagging question:

Should I keep writing?

If you read last week’s post, you know that it hasn’t exactly been non-stop hookers and ice cream around here lately. In fact, it’s gotten pretty dark. Writing for an audience that hasn’t really materialized (yet) can do that to a person. You can start to feel like you’re tilting at windmills.tilting at windmills

So, you start to wonder… Am I wasting my time pursuing this? Am I delusional about how talented I am? Is anyone (outside of my family and friends) ever going to give a shit about what I write?

If you think about these questions long and hard enough, you can’t help but fantasize about a world where you don’t have to answer such difficult questions. A world where life is unburdened by ambition and expectation and hope. But that’s about the time that you have to face another question:

Well, if I didn’t write, what would I do instead?

And that’s where things get a little bit clearer. That’s when I remember Kermit the Frog and the pile of stuffed animals. Or writing and performing a “Wayne’s World” sketch at Lilli Milton’s 13th birthday party. Or spending all of my free time in college sitting on the floor of the bookstore reading interviews with great filmmakers. Or going five straight days without speaking to another human being, but never noticing because I was so engrossed in a rewrite of my script.

“Being” a writer? It isn’t something I do. It’s something I am. I mean, shit, an alligator can stand on its feet and ring your doorbell all day long; that doesn’t mean it’s gonna stop being an alligator.

The reality is I don’t get to know if I’ll ever be Kermit and emerge from the pile victorious. But I do know one thing. I can’t imagine a world where I ever stop playing.

-MPM

¹“Prevailed” is probably a pretty generous term to describe part of a stuffed animal touching a plastic bubble. But the stakes felt pretty high at the time.
²Although I have gotten just a LITTLE bit better about keeping that dialogue INSIDE my head.

It’s Always Darkest

I didn’t want to write this. And honestly, that shouldn’t come as any surprise, because for the past couple of weeks, I haven’t wanted to do much of anything.Depression_2014_Types_10-22-14_5PM-img_1280x720

The explanation for this malaise really depends on your point of view. A medical professional would probably diagnose me with a case of situational depression. A philosopher (and/or “The Prince of Denmark“) might suggest that I’m experiencing an existential crisis. But I’m a writer, so all I can think is, “we have now entered the ‘dark night of the soul’ portion of our story.”

Even if you’re not familiar with the terminology, you know what I’m talking about. It’s that 10-12 minutes near the end of the second act when everything – and I mean everything – goes to shit for the main character. Their significant other breaks up with them, they get fired from their job, their dog dies, their favorite sports team loses Game 7 of the NBA Finals¹, and their latest Facebook update gets zero fucking likes.

Hope is lost. Existence is questioned. And shit gets dark. Basically, it’s this song playing on a loop in your head all goddamn day²:

So, yeah, I’m having a tough time. And while my favorite team did choke away Game 7, and I have gone through a breakup recently, and I’m still not sure what will happen with my career, the thought I keep coming back to is this:

How can I be 36 years old and have so little to show for it?Dubs lose GAme 7

To be clear, by “show for it” I am not referring to material possessions like a house, or a sports car, or even a bank account with lots of zeroes in it. I’ve never really been motivated by those things³. I’m talking about the impact I’m making / have made on the world around me.

There’s a reason I became a writer. And it’s not because I was talented, or because someone in my family did it and I looked up to them, or because I wanted to trick people into thinking I was smart. I became a writer because I spent the vast majority of my childhood by myself, and I had a deep yearning to connect with other people. Writing was like a siren’s song: here was a way that I could connect with lots and lots of people simultaneously…

…and you might say: I’ve been crashing into the cliffs ever since in pursuit of that feeling. Or at least, that’s what it can feel like sometimes.

The summer before I started film school at USC, I took an old professor of mine (from my undergrad days at UCLA) to a baseball game. As we were walking back to the car, he told me the story of another former student of his who went to film school. “He spent his two years there, he wrote a bunch of scripts, and then nothing happened,” my old professor said. It was a cautionary tale. The not-so-subtle subtext was, “Just because you’re a good writer, and you’ve gained entry into the best film school in the country doesn’t guarantee you anything.”

Obviously, he was right. And I knew that, even then. But I don’t think you can set out to be successful in anything (be it the creative arts or business or anything else) without being a little delusional — without believing that, on some level, you just might be exceptional. And life, of course, has a way of leaving you just enough bread crumbs to keep you walking down such a path.

If I was some talentless hack, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this right now. Because I wouldn’t have gotten into USC in the first place. Or secured representation. Or sold a few projects. Or had a few others that came oh so close to becoming something that you actually saw on a movie or television screen.

But that old cliche about talent and hard work being the only two things that you need to succeed? It’s starting to feel like another siren’s song. A “promise” that’s lured me to where I find myself now, more than 10 years after I started this journey: dead in the water and lost at sea.doldrums

I’m standing on the deck of a ship, staring up at the sails, waiting for the wind to pick up. Because it doesn’t seem to matter how hard or how long I blow, my lungs just don’t seem capable of getting the damn thing to move on their own.

I’ve been here before, of course. Because our lives aren’t really a single narrative so much as they’re a series of stories told over time. There was that time in college, for instance, where in the span of 10 days, my girlfriend broke up with me, my car died (for good), and I got laid off from my (then) dream job of writing for FoxSports.com. Or that time I spontaneously broke down in tears at a stop light, because I was feeling so profoundly unfulfilled by my 9-to-5 job in marketing. Or that time after grad school ended, a different girlfriend and I broke up, and I spiraled into such a long and miserable depression that I ended up betting a thousand dollars on a football game just to feel something.

Having survived those experiences, I know (on an intellectual level, at least) that there is one cliche that can be believed: “this too shall pass.” But when you’re in the middle of it, when the night is its absolute fucking darkest, you can tell yourself that until your blue in the face, and it still won’t feel that way.

All nights end eventually; it’s true. But the sun doesn’t rise on command, you know?

-MPM

¹Too soon!
²Except you substitute in your name for Peter’s, because otherwise shit just gets confusing.
³Although I’d certainly enjoy having them.
Technically, I bet 500 on the game against the spread (which I lost) and 500 on the Patriots money line (which I won). So, all tolled, I probably lost about 250 bucks.

Storytelling 101: The Debrief

This, my friends, is a story without a whole lot of suspense, I’m afraid. Once upon a time, there was a teenage boy who discovered his passion for writing thanks to the encouragement of three high school mentors¹. And then, almost 20 years later (a.k.a. this past Thursday), said boy (now a man) walked back onto the campus of said high school and did his best to help 29 seventh and eighth graders discover if they might have a passion for it, too. A good time was had by all.a-good-time-was-had-by-all

So…yeah, the class went well. In fact, if first and second-hand reports are to be believed, the kids absolutely loved it². And me? Well, I had a blast. Which doesn’t make for much of a story, of course³. But there were a few fun anecdotes and details that I thought were worth sharing…

First Period

In the syllabus I’d laid out, I’d planned on having the kids introduce themselves by sharing their favorite movie (and then using those movie titles for a game). But instead, I decided to streamline things and have them introduce themselves by telling the class the story of their favorite movie — until someone could guess the title. This worked quite well, and it also let me learn a little bit about their collective taste.

Many favorites were not surprises (i.e. Finding Nemo, Shrek, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, etc.) A few were, none more so than Madea’s Witness Protection. The funniest/saddest moment came when one girl prefaced her choice by saying it was “an old movie”, and then proceeded to describe the plot of 2001’s Ocean’s 11. Great taste, but damn did I feel old. Another girl’s “old movie” actually lived up to its billing: West Side Story.

I think the biggest surprise, however, was the movies they didn’t pick. Nary a one of them named a comic book movie (no Avengers, No X-Men, No Deadpools, No Dark Knights) or a Star Wars film. Who’d a thunk it?

Second Period

From there, we segued into the definition of a story. And to pound this point home, I showed them the epic opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The verdict: it may be 30+ years since that movie came out, but that shit still holds up. They were all captivated.

I doubled-down on the movie clips by showing them the opening sequence from Up (to illustrate the importance of making the audience care about your characters). Up, of course, they recognized before I even hit play on the clip, and it was met with a chorus of groans that would’ve made you think we were about to do geometry proofs.

“But this is like the saddest thing ever!” they said in almost collective unison. But, of course, that was the point. And they were every bit as responsive to the clip once I pressed play.

Third Period

Next up was the Vernon Hardapple game, where I gave each group (4-5 kids) a picture and asked them to tell me the story of what was going on in it. This was the picture:main.original.640x0c

What they didn’t know (at least up front), was that they all had the same picture. So, it was fun to see the many versions of the story that they came up with. In retrospect, having a photo with a gun involved painted them into a bit of an imaginative corner, and the result was some dark fucking stories. There was enough death, secret agenting, and tragedy to make for a pretty good art house spy film.

The hilarious part was that the only two groups who told a story with a happy/redemptive ending were made up of all girls. But I have to say that the redemptive turn at the end of their stories was far more compelling for at least this audience member.

Break

I spent the break doing what any good teacher would do: investigating their snack choices. For those scoring at home, there was a preponderance of “bars” and a bit of fresh fruit here or there. Two other important things I learned: they were (genuinely) having a great time, and the boy who smuggled an Area 69 joke into his improv story, and was decked out in all Warriors gear, did not want the team to sign Kevin Durant.

Fourth Period

In what was undoubtedly the most successful/fun game of the day, the kids really brought it during our modified version of The Tonight Show staple, “True Confessions.” My favorite “truth or lie” interrogation centered on an Alex P. Keaton look-a-like, who was wearing an argyle sweater (on a late June day no less), and told the story of meeting former President Jimmy Carter at a book signing (no shocker: the kid was telling the truth).maxresdefault

The game’s big winner was Nicole, however, who told the story of having her finger broken at a community pool, when someone dropped a large piece of concrete on it. 95% of the class thought she was telling the truth (myself included), but that little rascal: she was lying through her braces-laden teeth. I’ll tell you one thing right now: I wouldn’t want to be that girl’s parents over the next 5-6 years, because she’s going to get away with murder.

Fifth Period

Due to time constraints (and me having a decent feel of the room by that point), we ditched The Moth-esque storytelling exercise I’d had planned. Instead, we finished off the day with some “Build a Story” improv’ing. We started with longer intervals between storytellers, and then brought things to a crescendo by having them piece a story together one word at a time. I’d assumed that the one-word-at-a-time version would be more difficult, but it actually proved much easier for them, as the pressure of only having to come up with one word (rather than multiple sentences) was far more manageable.

Bottom line: they had fun and actually learned something. For me, it was a great opportunity to engage with the creative process in a new and collaborative way. And while I think I’d likely prefer (moving forward) to work with kids a little older, I’ll definitely be back next year to do it again…

…assuming they’ll have me, of course.

-MPM

¹Many thanks to the Murder’s Row that was/is Lippi, Navone, & Thompson.
²More than a few of these reports included the words, “favorite class of the whole program”.
³At least for the blog’s sake, a major crash and burn might have been fun.
Remember, we were in Marin County, CA – a.k.a. The Whitest Place on Earth.
Sorry, kiddo, it happened! And it’s fucking amazing!
Which was confirmed when I had them rattle off the key points I’d made throughout the morning.

The Truth (and Myth) of “Write What You Know”

If you’re a writer (and even if you’re not), you’ve no doubt heard the maxim, “write what you know”. But as is the case with many pithy sayings, taking these words too literally can lead to disastrous results. I mean, let’s be honest, for most of us, the list of things we’ve experienced first-hand (i.e. “know”) would amount to one or two interesting books/movies/puppet shows at the absolute most. The vast majority of our lives are spent sleeping, sitting in traffic, eating unremarkable meals, staring at our phones, working, and having conversations with our friends and family about all of these mundane things. In other words, if your everyday life was the plot of a story you were reading/watching, you’d be fast asleep in less than 10 minutes.Calvin and Hobbes comic on write what you know

But I’m not saying that we should take “write what you know” and throw it off the end of a pier. Because there is great wisdom in the maxim if we use a much less literal interpretation. In fact, the saying might even benefit from a small re-write¹. Something like:

“Write what you know…emotionally.”

Or better yet:

“Write what you’ve felt.”

It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing a stream of consciousness novel or the next Marvel movie, the writer’s job is to explore what it means to be a human being. And the human experience is – and always will be – defined by our emotional response to the world around us. Our ability to feel things – or sometimes: our inability to avoid feeling things – is what separates us from everything else on the planet (e.g. plants, animals, mountains, oceans, Styrofoam cups, et al.) In fact, our emotions/feelings are such an indispensable part of what it means to be alive that we often project our emotions/feelings onto plants, animals, Styrofoam cups, and perhaps most famously, volleyballs.

But we don’t have to have been stranded on a desert island for four years to know what loneliness feels like, anymore than we have to be a mutant with superpowers to know what it’s like to feel alienated.Xmen poster

Because people (often) seek out stories to escape the mundanity of everyday life, writers need to construct plots that are dripping with imagination and ingenuity. Plot, after all, is what gets the reader/viewer “in the door”; whether it’s through a movie trailer or the blurb on the inside cover of a book. But aside from the occasional paint-by-numbers mystery or trashy-for-the-sake-of-being-trashy romance novel, plot is never going to be what holds the viewer/reader’s attention. Whether they’re conscious of it or not, the two things that truly engage an audience are relatable characters² and the relationships those characters share with one another.

And that’s where “writing what you know” comes into play. Because the only way to write relatable characters and character relationships that feel authentic is for the writer(s) to draw on their own emotional history.

Whenever I think about this subject, I’m reminded of screenwriter Bob Gale’s impetus for writing Back to the Future. He didn’t set out to write a time travel epic or to explore the differences between being a teenager in the 50’s versus 80’s. The idea came when he was flipping through his father’s high school yearbook, and he thought to himself, “God, there is just no way that my old man and I would be friends if we went to school together.”³

And sure, if you think about BTTF today, I’m sure the first things to pop into your head are the DeLorean, or Marty disappearing in the family photo, or Doc’s favorite two words in the English language. But I would argue that the reason that movie still holds up today (more than 30 years after it was made) is the universality of its emotional core: a boy trying to understand what makes his father (and mother, for that matter) tick. Because while none of us have ever traveled back in time, we all have parents, and I think I speak for all of us when I say that we’re still trying to figure them out.

And this, of course, is just one of about a million emotional chords that resonate within all of us. Our job as writers is simply to choose one close to our own hearts and pour it out onto the page. After all, you know what they say:Quotefancy-4904-3840x2160

-MPM

¹Just as nearly all writing can.
²Notice I didn’t use the word “likeable”.
³Of course I’m paraphrasing here.

Rewriting Step Twelve

There’s this parable a mentor of mine once shared that has always stuck with me. It goes something like this…

A man is walking down the road holding a gold coin in each of his hands. The man worked hard to earn his coins, so he grips them both tightly to ensure that a) he doesn’t drop them and that b) no one can take them from him.

A little further down the road, however, the man comes upon a field that is littered with gold coins. I mean, we’re talking like a Scrooge McDuck swimming pool of wealth¹: gold coins as far as the eye can see.scrooge swimming in money

There’s only one problem: the man’s grip on the two coins that he already has is so tight that it’s impossible for him to pick up any new ones. [Insert Price is Right loser music here.]

So, yeah, you probably don’t need me to tell you the moral of the story, but just in case the links above sent you down a YouTube click-hole that ended with five consecutive installments of Carpool Karaoke, I’ll make it simple for you: you’ll never be able to acquire more (wealth, love, opportunity, et al.) in life if you spend all of your energy trying to protect what you already have.

Sure, it’s possible that if you loosen the grip on what you have, someone might come along and take it from you. But if you trust (yourself, the world, the universe, et al.) enough to let go, you open yourself up to even greater possibilities.

I’ve been thinking about the story (and its underlying message) a lot lately, though not because I’m holding any actual gold. As a matter of fact, it’s the exact opposite: it’s what’s out of my hands that has it on my mind.

As you might recall, I’m in the familiar position of waiting to hear back about a project I’ve recently completed. And the longer I go without a substantive update, the more I can feel myself tightening. It’s not just my grip around some metaphorical coins, either; it’s my entire body slowly curling up into the fetal position, closing itself off from any potential danger or harm.fetal-man

Ashamed as I am to admit it, it’s a feeling that I’ve become well-acquainted with over the years, as it’s the twelfth and final step in “My 12 Step Creative Process²”:

Step 1 – Out of a sudden burst of inspiration (not unlike The Big Bang) comes a new idea, around which a universe of possibilities can form.

Step 2 – That universe (i.e. all of the characters and story details) slowly comes into focus over time. (*Note: this process typically proves most fruitful when I’m showering, driving, people-watching, actively brainstorming with a friend, and/or in the moments immediately after I walk away from my computer or before I fall asleep.)

Step 3 – I excitedly pitch others (i.e. friends, managers, rando’s on BART) on my semi-formed idea in order to gauge interest. (*Note: only proceed to Step 4 if Step 3 isn’t met with crushing silence and/or the phrase, “Huh?”)

Step 4 – Open a new document and immediately save it (even though it’s still blank) under the project’s working title and let a sense of accomplishment wash over me.

Step 5 – Stare at the blinking cursor atop said document until drops of blood form on my forehead³.

Step 6Masturbate furiously to help alleviate the intense anxiety I’m feeling about “having to write something extraordinary”.

Step 7 – Slowly but surely get a few sentences down on the page. And very slowly build from there…

Step 8 – …once momentum is (finally) achieved, do everything in my power to keep my ass in the chair until said momentum is extinguished (and I hopefully have some pages).

Step 9 – Finish the fucking thing.

Step 10 – Pretend to be excited about the notes given to me by others…and then very slowly let go of the idea that my story is “extraordinary”, before using said notes to help make the story better. (*Note: this will typically involve repeating Steps 2 through 9, but particularly Step 6.)

Step 11 – Release the finished product “into the wild” to see what people think and immediately commence Step 12.

Step 12 – Curl up into the fetal position to ward off any potential passes, criticism, or negativity.

It’s taken some time (and plenty of tissues), but I’ve slowly come to accept the fact that at least 10 (and probably 11) of these steps simply come with the territory. I’ve just heard too many other writers describe their processes similarly to think I’m abnormal (at least for a writer, which granted, isn’t saying much).

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Step 12. Because the truth is, if we were to personify Step 12, it would look an awful lot like the man from the parable: so worried about the bad things that could happen to him that he closes himself off to the good things that may be just around the corner.

I mentioned this a couple of weeks back, but it bears repeating in this context: we all acknowledge that creating anything of value requires an openness and vulnerability on the part of the creator; what we often forget, however, is that we have to remain open and vulnerable even after we release our creations into the world. For me, this second part has always produced far more anxiety, because it can feel an awful lot like leaving your face exposed during a heavyweight fight…or a Ted Cruz concession speech. I mean, you’re just asking the world to cold-cock you, aren’t you?

 

…or are you?

Sure, it can feel that way sometimes, especially when you’ve endured your fair share of rejection. But do I really believe that my dreams are Millhouse (weak, feeble, and pathetic) and the universe is Nelson (just waiting to beat the shit out of ‘em)? I don’t know, man. That sure makes me sound like the schizophrenic homeless guy who’s always marching up and down my street, screaming that the world is out to get him.

Isn’t it possible that the world is just a tiny bit more receptive than that? That the decision-makers in Hollywood and the publishing world, who could be reading my material this very second, are looking for a reason to say, “Yes”? That they want nothing more than to read the byproduct of “My 12 Step Creative Process⁸” and fucking love it?

Maybe I’m just falling victim to the rhetorical nature of the questions, but you know what? I think the answer to all three of them is a loud, resounding “Yes”. And if that’s the case then Step 12 has to be re-written.

It should probably go something like this…

Step 12 – Exercising as much patience as is humanly possible, slowly let the audience for your story come into focus, never forgetting to stay engaged, excited, and open. Be prepared to share even more of yourself when the time comes. And in the meantime, resort to Step 6 as needed.

-MPM

¹I’m taking some creative liberties with the parable to allow for some sweet YouTube linkage.
²Trademark pending. (But I’m confident that it’ll come through, because I have to be be the first person to ever come up with a 12-Step Program, right?)
³Shout-out to Ernie Hemingway, who I’m paraphrasing here.
Redacted for confidentiality reasons.
Also redacted.
Pun not intended, sicko.
Okay, it was intended that time. #sorrynotsorry
Trademark still pending. I’m really starting to get worried, you guys…

What Steph’s Taught Me About Writing

“Everybody’s given a certain skill set, a certain talent, a certain passion… Find what you’re passionate about in this life and work at it every single day.” – Stephen Curry

Long before he was a two-time MVP or a world champion, Stephen Curry was just a scrawny kid who found that life made a little more sense when he had a basketball in his hands. He was never The Chosen One. He wasn’t anything like Mike. And nobody – not even his own mother – thought he was destined for greatness in the NBA.Stephen curry as a kid

When he was a senior in high school, a grand total of one Division 1 school offered him a scholarship to play college basketball. Yes, you read that right: the greatest basketball player currently walking the Earth was ignored/passed over by 346 college basketball coaches, because they thought he wasn’t/wouldn’t be good enough. And this was a kid whose dad played in the NBA for 16 seasons!

But Curry refused to let rejection or disappointment slow him down. Instead, he took the sole scholarship offer extended to him (by tiny Davidson College) and continued to work his ass off. Three years later, he was the seventh player taken in the NBA Draft. His struggle, however, was far from over.

Not only was he selected by a moribund franchise (the Golden State Warriors), he spent the first chapter of his professional career hobbled by ankle injuries. Despite his talent, it was an open question whether he’d ever be able to stay healthy long enough to make an impact in the league.

But not even Curry’s own body could keep him from greatness. He just kept working. And working. And working…

…and now? Well, here we are:Steph 2 MVPs

It’s easy to get distracted by the shot-making and the ball-handling and the downright fucking wizardry, but the most amazing thing about Curry is his work ethic. His relentless drive to get better. And while you and I may never know the rarefied air that he’s reached in his profession, that doesn’t mean we can’t draw inspiration from his story. Because if you’re anything like me, you know what it’s like to have a dream; and you also know what it’s like to struggle (and struggle and struggle) to achieve it.

When I was a senior in high school, I wrote my first humor column for the school newspaper. Even now, I can still picture the faces of my classmates as they walked down the hall reading what I’d wrote, laughing their asses off. It’s probably the closest I’ll ever come to feeling what it’s like to dunk a basketball¹, because all I could think as it was happening was, “Holy shit! I did that!”

It was the moment that I found my passion.

Ever since, people have told me that I’m incredibly lucky, because some people — maybe even most people — never do. And while they’re probably right, there’s something they overlook in that calculus: just because you have a passion doesn’t mean the universe is going to wrap its arms around you and support it. Quite the opposite, actually.

The universe is like that friend we all had in college who smoked way too much pot: it doesn’t give a shit about anything. It’s not for you or against you. It just is, man.

So, when you have a dream – especially a big dream like playing in the NBA or writing a hit movie or best-selling novel – the odds are stacked against you, because there are a million other people out there dreaming the same dream. I mean, shit, most of the time, it can feel a lot like this:batman climbing out of pit

And it’s not like passion and talent provide you with some magic potion that teleports you to the top; they’re merely the two hands that can help you climb in that direction.

But there are no guarantees. No matter how much you want it. No matter how much you believe in yourself. Ascension is — and always will be — an open question, because you never know if your next foothold will support you…

…or if you’re destined to reenact the opening scene from Cliffhanger.

You may rise or you may fall, but in the end, it doesn’t matter whether you string sentences together for a living like I do or toss an orange orb through the ole basketball ring like Steph. All you can control is the work.

And if you keep working, who knows? Maybe one day you’ll fire up a (figurative) 40-footer with six-tenths of a second remaining and…

-MPM

¹Unless you count that 8-foot hoop in my backyard.

Judgment Is Calling…

I’ve spent the better part of the last two years thinking and plotting and writing and revising and editing and obsessing my way to the 330 pages that make up my first novel.

And I’ve spent the better part of the last five (ever since my life caved in on itself) in regular therapy, reflecting and conversing and soul-searching and journaling my way to becoming a person not only capable of writing an emotionally vulnerable 330-page novel, but a person whose self-esteem won’t be entirely predicated upon that novel’s success or failure¹.

Or so I thought. But then the phone rang last week, and all that hard work and self-care flew right out the window.Flew right out the window

When you’re a writer (or an actor, or really anyone working in Hollywood), your phone is like a loaded weapon: every time it goes off, there’s a chance you might die (or, at the very least, your dreams will). The phone isn’t just a communication device; it’s a career barometer. Did that producer like your pitch? Did that showrunner like your energy? Did the studio like your re-write? You’ll never know for sure until your agent or manager calls, because trust me, nobody in this town will ever give you a straight answer face-to-face².

And when you live in a world where a few chords of Marimba can signal a life-altering phone call or (another) painful rejection, you can become quite the Pavlovian pooch.Pavloian drooling dog.gif

Instead of drooling, my conditioned response typically involves some mild tachycardia³ and an adrenaline kick from my sympathetic nervous system. I also answer the phone as fast as humanly possible.

(Quick sidebar: I’ve learned that the urgency with which I answer a phone call is inversely proportionate to how secure I feel about the relationship I have with the person calling. For example, when my mom calls, I am often more than happy to let it go to voicemail. Whereas, if a girl that I’ve just started dating calls, I will answer immediately, i.e. thereby eliminating any chance of her having second thoughts, hanging up, and never calling me again.)

Needless to say, when my manager called last week (on the heels of reading my post about waiting), I answered on the first ring. And before we’d even exchanged pleasantries, my head was already spinning with the countless ways that I could improve my book. The same book that we had both decided was ready for public consumption (after the aforementioned two years of revising and editing and…)

He wasn’t calling to ask me to make changes, of course. He just wanted to give me a quick update: he’d sent the book to a well-regarded lit agent, who he thought might be a good fit to help shepherd us through the publishing world. As it had only been a couple of weeks, he hadn’t yet heard back from her, but it was a first step (on what will surely be a long journey — no matter how it turns out).

But my mind couldn’t focus on the journey; all I saw was my ship (a.k.a. my book) sailing off into uncharted waters. And I wanted more than anything to dive into the water and try to drag it back to the safety of the harbor.

“When an agent or manager reads something, they’re not expecting it to be perfect, right? I mean, they’re looking to see potential, obviously. But you’d never read something and not wanted to give the writer notes, right? You wouldn’t expect it to be, like, a finished product right out of the gate, would you?” I somehow managed to ask in one breath.

“Uhh…” my manager said, clearly unprepared for my avalanche of insecurity, “it- it really depends, ya know?”

What he didn’t know (what he couldn’t know) is that earlier that morning I’d received a text from my cousin, who’d had a chance to read my book over the weekend. His feedback was overwhelmingly positive, but he did have one small criticism: he felt like the story took a little while to get going. And, of course, me being a writer, all I could focus on was the criticism.

Distracted by work for most of the day, I was able to sweep the critique under the rug. But the moment I heard that an important decision-maker now had the opportunity to arrive at that same conclusion and tell me that she had zero fucking interest in ever representing me as a result, well… That’s when I started to panic a little.Beaker panic

Look, there’s no getting around it: when you work in a creative field, there comes a point where your work has to be judged (whether it’s by decision makers, collaborators, or audiences). But I don’t care how many times you’ve gone through it, it’s never easy. You think asking someone on a first date is a leap of faith? Try asking them to spend their time and energy (and quite possibly their money) on a story you cooked up in your imagination. That takes some serious chutzpah. Because let’s face it: no matter how great you feel about the work you’ve done, there’s always a question dancing in the back of your head:

Why do I deserve an audience? Or more to the point…

What makes me so fucking special?

Answering these questions can be a tricky bit of business for two reasons:

1) They’re inherently rhetorical, and even more to the point, self-flagellating.

And…

2) They present a false choice. The authors and screenwriters of the most successful books and movies aren’t “special”, and their stories don’t “deserve” an audience; they just find one.

Among the many prerequisites of writing anything worth sharing is an openness: to your ideas, to your emotions, and to a potential audience who might one day share the journey with you. In other words, there is no art without vulnerability.

But the thing I think we sometimes forget is that we have to remain open even after the creating has taken place. (Even when our only impulse is to curl up into a ball and protect ourselves).

We have to march right back to the edge of the cliff and leap. Again. And again. And again.leap leap leap.gif

-MPM

¹Of course, as all of that therapy and soul-searching has taught me, the definitions of “success” and “failure” are always self-imposed.

²Basically, if “The Industry” was someone you were dating, they’d break up with you by sending a text…to your friend…and have them do it for them.

³a.k.a. an elevated heart rate.

a.k.a. butterflies in my stomach.