Tag Archives: Steve McQueen

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.

Chapter Two

Back by popular demand¹ this is the second (and final²) installment of my free book preview³. So, first thing’s first, if you haven’t already, check out Chapter One. And with that out of the way, it’s on to the next chapter…

-MPMVintage Inscription Made By Old Typewriter

“We live in an age when unnecessary things are our only necessities.”
– Oscar Wilde

*

They’d escaped with only a few minor scrapes and bruises, but the car was totaled. And not even the Jaws of Life could extricate Liza from the wreckage she’d made of her senior year. It was an SAT analogy she could finally understand: trying to have a social life without having a car was like trying to finish a marathon without legs. You’re basically screwed unless a friend agrees to pick you up.

Months had passed since the accident, but Liza still replayed the infamous afternoon on a loop in her head. With hindsight, the entire scene played out like a bad public service announcement warning teenagers about the dangers of texting and driving. Well, Instagramming and driving, if you want to get technical about it.

The idea of “kissing yellow lights” started with Amanda Frazier, the unspoken but unquestioned alpha of Liza’s friend group; though, in truth, the superstition actually dated back generations. It works as follows: when running a yellow light, a driver must touch their fingers to their lips and “raise a kiss to the sky” as they pass through an intersection. By doing so, the driver not only acknowledges the good fortune of their yellow light timing, but curries continued good favor from the traffic gods.

Liza was riding bitch in the backseat of Amanda’s pristine Beamer en route to off-campus lunch when she saw her do it for the first time. And from that point forward, she — and the rest of “The Amandments”, as they were known around school — adopted the practice with an almost religious fervor.

But just as Icarus flew too close to the sun, Liza raised the yellow light bar too high. Driving home from school one Friday, immersed in a joyous, pitch perfect sing-along with that overplayed, but irresistible pop anthem (yes, that one), Liza got the bright idea to Instagram her performance. And rather than caution her against such recklessness, Liza’s co-pilot, duet partner and fellow “Amandment”, Vicki Pao, delighted in the hash-tagging opportunity.

“Do it! You have to do it!” Vicki squealed. #itstooperfect

And so, the moment Liza’s Corolla rolled to its next stop, she hit repeat on her iPod and readied her phone. By the time the light changed, the chorus kicked in, and Liza had one hand on the steering wheel and the other recording the moment for Internet posterity.

“Cause we’re young and we’re reckless,” the two girls sing-screamed with their windows down, “We’ll take this way too far!”

As they cruised through the intersection at Jefferson and Birch, their prophetic words gave way to “Amandment” dogma, as they both blew kisses to a yellow light.

“Make a wish!” Vicki squealed. #makeawish

Liza wished, as she always did, for Kevin Millichap to ask her out. It was the wrong wish.

A second later, her car plowed into the back of a UPS truck. Its brake lights had gone unnoticed amid the frenzy of documenting her Taylor Swift sing-a-long for Amanda, Kevin and her other 87 Instagram followers. On impact the Corolla’s front end crumpled like an empty can of Diet Coke, and the driver’s side airbag put an end to both the video and Liza’s iPhone.

“Ohmygodohmygodohmygod!” #omg

Vicki breathlessly strung together another twenty “oh my god’s” before the reality of the situation finally sunk in. Liza’s car was totaled. Her life was over. And Taylor Swift refused to shut her big, dumb mouth:

Cause we’re young and we’re reckless
We’ll take this way too far
It’ll leave you breathless
Or with a nasty scar

The hour that followed only rubbed salt in the wound. For starters, the UPS driver, some mustached guy named Dennis, was a real drama queen about the whole thing. He kept yelling things like, “do you know what happens if I don’t I get these parcels delivered by close of business?” and “some of us are out here trying to make a living!”

“I’m sorry,” Liza kept repeating, as she fumbled for the insurance card in her glove compartment.

When a cop car rolled up a few minutes later, Vicki’s freak out reached Defcon-4, and she started blabbering about “being an accessory to the crime.” Liza wanted to strangle her. If anyone should have understood having a brain fart behind the wheel, it was Vicki. This was the same girl who’d once ran over her leg with her own car! (The short version: in the parking lot after school, Vicki hopped out of her car to say goodbye to Amanda, but in her excitement she a) forgot to put the car in park and b) tripped on her seatbelt. Before she could get off the ground, the back left wheel had rolled into her leg, stopping the car but leaving a black tire mark that covered half her thigh. Once she realized that she wasn’t hurt, Vicki laughed so hard that she got the hiccups. #fml #smh)

Officer Fontana, who proved only slightly less condescending than Dennis, interviewed Liza in plain sight of everyone commuting home. Each car that passed got a good long look at her, including a Jeep Grand Cherokee full of four senior cross country runners, one of whom (Dustin Donlan) happened to be best friends with Kevin. The moment they recognized her, Jeff VanDis stuck his head out the back window and yelled, “Hey Liza! What can brown do for you?” #ups #logistics

The Jeep erupted in laughter as they drove off. And Liza could’ve sworn she saw Officer Fontana crack a smile at her expense.

When she finally got home that afternoon, all Liza wanted to do was curl up into a ball and cry. But even that had to wait, as her mom made her suffer through a tedious lecture about responsibility and consequences. The long and short of it was that there would be no replacement car (or phone) on the horizon and all driving (and social media) privileges were revoked until further notice. In other words, Liza would be relegated to the life of a 12-year-old Amish girl. #theamishdontusehashtags

Not having a car turned out to be the least of Liza’s problems. Life without a cell phone, and the “radio silence” that came with it, proved far more devastating. Her foothold inside Amanda’s inner circle slowly crumbled. At first, she’d just be in the dark about some inside joke that’d originated in a group text amongst the girls. Pretty soon, though, she was being left out of plans altogether. Liza knew it was never malicious, but that didn’t make it any less frustrating when she’d hear Amanda say things like, “I feel like I never see you anymore”, even though they had first and second period together four times a week. Every second Liza spent without an iPhone and every day she went without posting on Facebook or Instagram, her social standing eroded a little more. And by the time her mom finally lifted the ban on social media six weeks later, the damage was done. Liza felt like a ghost roaming the halls. A ghost with a flip-phone. That’s right: a fucking flip-phone!

Liza had used every last dime of her summer savings to pay for her now totaled car. So when her punishment finally ended, instead of a new iPhone, she’d settled for her recently deceased grandfather’s cell; the one he’d used as a glorified Medic-Alert system whenever he took a tumble in his apartment. The phone came with three numbers programmed into it: Liza’s mom’s cell phone, 9-1-1, and the deli down the street where he’d ordered a turkey and tongue sandwich from every Saturday for 28 years. It was easily the most depressing piece of technology that Liza had ever held in her hands. #ripgrandpalou

In essence, Liza had traded exile for purgatory. All she could do now was wait for Amanda to let her back into the inner sanctum. Wait for Kevin to see her the way she saw him. Wait for her idiot brother to get home from his driving lesson, so that she could beg her mom to borrow the mini-van. God knows rolling up to Devon Clark’s pre-graduation party in a Honda Odyssey was far from ideal, but it beat the alternative: a bus ride/half-mile walk combo that would have Liza smelling like she’d just crawled out of a Taco Bell dumpster by the time it was over. Surely, sweaty pits and a bus pass weren’t going to pave the road back to social relevance.

And so, Liza stared at her pathetic little flip-phone, willing it to ring. Maybe Vicki would take pity on her and offer to pick her up on the way to the party. Or maybe her mom would call in a good mood to let her know that they were on their way home. Or…

What if her mom and Caleb had died in a tragic accident? #whatif

On the one hand, it’d be incredibly sad. (Obviously). But she’d also (probably) inherit a bunch of money. (Definitely) enough money to buy a new car. Hmm…

Maybe she’d get a BMW like Amanda. Or a Tesla. With built-in GPS. And a sunroof. That’d get everyone’s attention.

And really, in the grand scheme of things, what was more important? The love of a mother and a brother? Or a shiny, new car and the social adulation that was sure to come with it?

Liza had to at least think about it for a minute. Or five. #dontjudge

To be continued…

¹Shut up.

²I can’t very well let you read the whole thing for free, now, can I?

³Almost as exciting as that free HBO preview you’d get once or twice a year as a kid. #pleaseletthismoviehavenudity

Chapter One

Dearest reader,

There will come a time (very soon I hope) where I’ll have the opportunity to share my book with you in its entirety. But in the interim, I thought I might commemorate the holiday weekend by giving you just a little taste.

Printed below you will find the first chapter. Here’s hoping that it whets the appetite… Because an entire five-course meal is on its way.

Please to enjoy,

MPMchapter one

“‘For a while’ is a phrase whose length can’t be measured. At least by the person who’s waiting.”
– Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun

*

Caleb Worthington was so sick and fucking tired of waiting. He’d been a teenager for going on four years now, and he’d spent nearly every waking moment waiting for something. There was the abstract, big picture stuff like “waiting to become an adult” (whatever that meant) or “waiting for the day he understood girls” (if that was even possible). But it was the smaller, more incremental stuff that really got to him.

Like take his first pubic hair for example. It took 13 years, three weeks, and six days for it to finally appear. And that wasn’t even the worst part. He had to wait an additional three days before the second, third, and fourth pubes decided to show up, which meant that he’d spent an anxiety-ridden 72-hour period wondering whether he’d be known for the rest of his life as “The Genetic Freak with One Pube”.

And that was just the beginning. He’d waited (quietly) for his voice to stop squeaking like a dog’s rubber chew toy. He’d waited (and waited) for a growth spurt, which had finally come the previous summer, thereby rescuing him from life as a Hobbit and (temporarily) preserving his fantasy of one day playing in the NBA. And he was still waiting for the day when he’d be able to grow a thicker mustache than his grandmother.

His life was a giant calendar that extended infinitely out into the future, each day filled not with appointments or plans, but with question marks. How long would he have to wait to kiss a girl for the first time? Or to touch a boob? Or to finish inside something other than an old gym sock? The only way to find out was to wait.

More than anything, though, Caleb waited for the day when he’d be free. Free of the daily mounds of homework his teachers threw at him. Free of a social ecosystem that he neither fit into nor understood. Free of his mom’s proprietary blend of over-protectiveness and nagging. Free of, well… All of it.

He knew it was just a pipe dream, of course. Being a teenager was like living in a totalitarian dictatorship. You went to school when you were told. You did your chores when you were told. And you spent half your fucking life waiting for the bus.

It felt like Caleb was always waiting for the bus. And today was no different.

There he stood with all the other pathetic, license-less freshmen and sophomores, watching the upperclassmen whiz past in their cars, blaring music, smoking cigarettes and reminding him of everything that he wasn’t.

And the waiting was only made worse by the relentless, late afternoon sun. Caleb’s ash-gray T-shirt featured pit stains the size of Lake Tahoe, and there was a reservoir of sweat slowly pooling in the boxers beneath his black jeans. It felt like he was standing in a tide pool.

But just when Caleb was about to reach his breaking point… Just when it felt like he couldn’t wait another fucking second… It happened.

He heard it first: the sound of the motorcycle’s engine ripping through the parking lot like a chainsaw. And then there he was, idling in front of him on his jet black TT 650 Triumph: his dad flashed a half-smile, his beard inching up the right side of his face.

“What’ya waitin’ for, kiddo?” he said. “A written invitation?”

Caleb turned to the braces-riddled freshman standing next to him: was this really happening? Her awed, metallic smile suggested that it was.

“Sh- Shouldn’t I wear a helmet?” Caleb asked, hesitating ever so slightly.

“Not unless you plan on ratting me out to your mother,” his dad smirked.

It was all the reassurance the boy needed. Without another thought, he hopped on the back of the bike and wrapped his arms around his father’s midsection. And just like that, the waiting was over.

The motorcycle shot out of the parking lot like a missile. A moment later, Caleb’s dad was weaving the bike through traffic, passing the many cars that had passed the boy just a few minutes earlier.

Caleb felt the wind in his face, and the life-force of his father radiating in front of him. And suddenly, he was transported back to his childhood. Back to when he’d sit atop his father’s shoulders – on top of the world – weaving through the crowd after a 49ers’ game.

A red light turned green, and the motorcycle took off down the Alameda in a blur.

This must be what it feels like to be a man, Caleb thought. This must be what it feels like to

Suddenly, Caleb heard the screech of the bus’ brakes, and he was right back at the bus stop:

Backpack weighing him down. Sweat pooling in his boxers. Waiting.

The bus’ doors folded opened, and the herd of the car-less began to push past him, as he stood there in a daze, trying to stave off reality for a few more seconds. He could still hear the roar of the motorcycle’s engine in the distance.

“Hey! You comin’ or what?” the bus driver shouted, stamping out the daydream once and for all.

“Yeah,” Caleb said, “sorry.”

There was no motorcycle. Of course there wasn’t. Caleb hadn’t seen his dad in almost five years.

* * *

“Did you check your mirrors?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

With each question, Caleb felt his body grow tenser. He fidgeted in the driver’s seat, avoiding eye contact at all costs. As a teenage boy, the only thing more emasculating than being given a driving lesson by your mom was being given a driving lesson by your mom in an empty parking lot – in a mini-van. It was like driving a boat. With a vagina.

“So, what’s behind us?” his mom asked.

“Huh?”

“I want you to tell me what’s behind us.”

Instinct took over and Caleb turned 100 degrees in his seat to look out the back of the car the old fashioned way. Given his mom’s tone, he half-expected to see a pack of wild dogs behind them. But all he saw was more parking lot and a few unoccupied office buildings in the distance.

“In the mirror, Caleb! Look in the mirror.”

Caleb wasn’t sure which mirror she was talking about, so he tried to look everywhere at once.

“I have a glob of mascara in the corner of my eye,” she said, leaning in to get a better look. “And you know how I know that? Because the rear-view mirror is pointed directly at me. So, I’ll ask you again: did you check your mirrors?”

Janice used a tissue to stamp out the rogue mascara. It didn’t matter whether she was in an abandoned office park or at a restaurant sitting across from (yet another) first date, Caleb’s mother always wore eye make-up. “Show me a woman with a smoky eye, and I’ll show you a man who burns with desire for her,” her stomach-curdling motto went.

“Well?” his mom said, her “smoky” eyes back on him.

Annoyed, Caleb yanked the rearview mirror in his general direction.

“There,” he said, the parking lot now stretching out behind him in the mirror’s reflection – only slightly askew.

“What do I always tell you, honey?”

Janice leaned over and tweaked the mirror another quarter of an inch. Caleb’s entire body clenched. He was ready to explode… But he said nothing.

“Caleb, what do I always tell you?”

Caleb mumbled something unintelligible through gritted teeth.

“I can’t hear you.”

“Safety is no accident.”

“Exactly. Now, let’s put the car in gear, but remember to keep your foot firmly pressed against the brake, okay…?”

Instead, Caleb closed his eyes in the hope that he might re-open them and magically find himself somewhere else. Anywhere else. It wasn’t just his mom breathing down his neck. Or the mini-van. It was simpler than that: he was scared shitless. He was probably the only 16-year-old on the planet who wanted no part of learning how to drive.

“You are such a pussy, Worthington.”

The words of Caleb’s long-time nemesis, Bryan Byrnes, echoed through his head. Bryan took every opportunity to remind Caleb of his “pussy-dom”, and he’d had more than a few chances, as the two had been classmates since junior high. Over time, the sentiment gradually drilled down deeper and deeper into Caleb’s psyche until it was no longer just a childish insult; it was an accepted reality.

“Caleb,” his mom said, “are you listening to me?”

“Yeah.”

“What did I say?”

“You said to keep my foot on the brake when I put the car in drive.”

But even that didn’t satisfy her. When Caleb finally reached for the gear shift, Janice pressed her hand against his knee to ensure that he maintained sufficient contact with the brake pedal.

“Mom, I can do it myself.”

“Go ahead. Put the car in gear, honey.”

Caleb shifted the car from Park down to Drive.

“Let go of my leg.”

Caleb’s eye-line moved from the parking lot down to his lap, as he bucked against his mother’s grip. He pushed his knee into her hand causing his foot to come off the brake pedal. The car began to roll forward.

“Put your foot back on the brake!”

“Let go of my leg!”

The moment his mom’s hand came off his knee, Caleb’s right foot rushed back toward the floor and connected with a pedal… The gas pedal.

“Caleb!”

The mini-van lurched forward with a screech. As the car picked up speed, a strange mix of adrenaline and terror rushed through Caleb’s body. A panicked Janice reached over and grabbed the steering wheel, causing the car to swerve wildly to the right.

“Brake! Hit the brake!”

But Caleb couldn’t hit the brake. His foot felt like it was super-glued to the gas. His vision was starting to blur. And all he knew for sure was that there was a baby tree encased in a cement planter rushing toward him at warp speed.

“Caleb!”

To be continued…