Spring is upon us. I exalt in the freshness, the light rains, giving way to long warm sunshine days, green and color everywhere. Is it possible to grow as a person? To change as a human being? To become better? I hope so. Has my life been a stagnant cesspool, where I’m just blowing wherever the wind takes me? Trying this, trying that, always afraid, trying to please people?

I’ve had the idea for this article for a week or two now, ever since I started going to therapy. But I need to finish it. One thing I’ve learned is you have got to finish the things you say you’re going to do. Even if it turns out horribly, it’s yours; own it, don’t be afraid, and put it out there. That’s what I need to do now.

Anyway, here’s the story. It was a warm, late spring evening in Hollywood when my life turned upside-down. A girl, my friend of about a year and a half, who I had recently / recklessly fallen in love with, said she wasn’t interested in dating.

I was speechless. ‘Oh,’ I said, as my brain literally shut down.

‘But I like hanging out with you,’ she offered.

‘Yeah?’ I said, with a boyish hope, but in disbelief.

This is the part where I should have accepted the fact that she wasn’t interested, and maybe we could have stayed friends. Instead, a kind of arrogance coupled with deep insecurity took over within me. I’d always valued determination and perseverance, so I thought that if I tried hard enough, I could make her interested in me. But over the course of a few months, then a year, what she thought about me became all that mattered; every unanswered text meant she hated me, and I lost all sense of who I was.

Sure, I was nominally working on a screenplay, but that was going slowly. I was unsure of myself and what I was doing. All I knew was that I wanted to be with her, and that became my main life focus.

When she said we shouldn’t be friends any more, that we didn’t have enough in common to need to be friends, I took it really hard. I thought we had a lot in common. I liked being creative, like she did. But I had put that on hold because I was so focused on her. I liked writing and making movies, but I had stalled out. I liked TV shows and movies she did: Star Wars, The Office. I thought we shared a similar skewed sense of humor, but maybe I wasn’t too good at expressing it because I was too busy being nervous about what she thought of me.

But there was also stuff she liked I didn’t, e.g. The Walking Dead: it’s mediocre! Game of Thrones: overrated! Yeah, maybe we don’t have enough in common to be friends. Also, in my mind, I was critical of her that she wasn’t doing enough to actually start going on acting auditions like she said she would, or to start writing more of her really terrific blog posts.

Once we stopped talking, I didn’t really have anyone to talk to, apart from my family. I had no more use for social media. She was all I cared about seeing anyway, and I couldn’t stand seeing her. So I took myself off completely. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat. In watching other people’s lives constantly, I was losing my  my own sense of self. I wanted to figure out who I was, without the need for likes and follows.

Now that all that was gone, I needed to dive into some new things. I had wanted to try oil painting for a while, so I did that. I just wanted to get creative again at any level where I can see the results. At first it was difficult, but it turned out to be great fun, and very relaxing. The time just flies while you’re painting, and anxieties seem to melt away. The results are instant, and tactile, and it’s oh so satisfying to push colors around a canvas and make something of it.

I found some new interests through her friendship too. I started getting into poetry more. I bought Last Night of the Earth poems, by Charles Bukowski, an author I probably never would’ve heard of otherwise. It was so down to earth, unpretentious, funny, and inspiring. His novel Post Office was great too. It has this kind of effect to inspire you to write, because it’s so down to earth.

I started writing a few of my own poems too, and just did a live reading of two of them last week, something I never thought I’d do.

I thought I’d like to start writing blogs and articles too. The way she could express herself in her blog, and share thoughts and feelings, was really cool to me. So I re-did my website, shifting its focus from boring business aspects to completely personal ones, ones that interest me. I wanted to make a really weird website. That’s one of the items I had in my iPhone to-do list: make weird website. So here it is.

I wrote my second song a couple of weeks ago, and performed it live at Sun Space with my friend Jelani this past Tuesday. I wasn’t going to post it, because it’s kind of personal, and musically it was sloppy and I messed up a few times. But I thought, screw it, who cares. Just put it out there.

I also think I’ve been growing a lot since I’ve been seeing a therapist. She recommended the book Getting Naked: Five Steps to Finding the Love of Your Life (While Fully Clothed & Totally Sober) by Harlan Cohen. It was pretty eye opening, teaching me things I’d never really thought about or learned. That there are thousands of people who will love you and be into you and want to date you, but at the same time, there will be millions of people who will not. And that you have to be okay with people not wanting to date you, even if you think you have a lot in common. I failed this test, but I hope I can grow from it.

He also talks about being ‘comfortable in your thong’, meaning, being comfortable with the things about yourself that you can’t change, and changing the things you can.

And finally, you just have to be honest and talk to people and kind of tell them your feelings if it’s going well, and be totally okay with rejection, since there are thousands of other people who could be  interested in you. You just have to follow your passions, talk to people, get in rooms with groups of people, and get to know people. That dating shouldn’t be this pressure cooker of anxiety, because it’s just about two people having an enjoyable shared experience, that doesn’t have to lead to anything physical. It’s about you figuring out who you like.

My therapist gave me an assignment to just walk up to people I found attractive and ask them, ‘what time is it?’ Then, ask for some numbers too and meet for coffee. I actually met a random girl during my friend’s band playing at the Hi Hat last week, the same place I hung out with that other girl once. And I got this new girl’s number, and we kind of have plans to meet for coffee soon.

What else? I’m trying to write more; writing with a friend to expand my Bad Psychiatrist short into a feature film; been writing a few short sketch videos, which I want to film soon, doing an improv class at Second City, and even tried stand up for the first time in a little while.

So, is growth possible? Can a person really change, leaving behind the old bad ways of insecurity and anxiety? Fingers crossed… hopefully this article is just another step in the right direction.

Two Poems

incident in the forest

down a singingly snowy trail
almost lost
too straight for my taste
hands bitten by frost

into a clearing revealed
the bird sanctuary
tonic harmony
forgotten familiarity
time despised into nothingness

little birds flitting tiny wings
land with tinsel feet
on hat and hand and fingertip
with gentle grip
they flap and buzz
and whir past your ear
and take a seed
without any fear

and then a friend
a dearest deer, not shy but sweet
takes bold steps
with hoofed feet
and mildest eyes

like the family cat
comes in for the pet
a pat on the back
a scratch on the neck
and licked my hand

through soft snowy silvery silence found
a garden of eden
where peace resounds

When you touched my arm

When you touched my arm
Butterfly wings
Gentle rain (in tree leaves)
Dewy drops (in spider web strings)
Hummingbird hums not but sings
A violin sonata
All these things enveloped me
In mist
When you zinged my heart
(without knowing it)

Worst Flight / Best Lyft

I had the worst flight of my life not long ago, coming back to L.A. after a ski trip with my family. I got into my seat, a window seat; so far, so good. I might get lucky and not have anyone sitting next to me.

Well, my luck changed when somebody put a red duffle bag in the seat next to me. I guess this was my guy. He sat down and I said, ‘Hello.’

An aside: I feel like I ought to say hello to the person sitting next to me, at least a hello. I mean, we’re going hundreds of miles per hour together on this journey, flying through the air, flying like a bird! Something mankind has dreamed of since the dawn of history. We might even die together. This is not just a bus ride.

Anyway, I said ‘hello,’ and he said, ‘hey.’

He was this trendy looking black guy, red sporty pants, lots of gold jewelry, bracelets. Then he said something I absolutely wasn’t expecting… ‘Hey, can I switch seats with you? I’ll give you a hundred dollars to switch.’

I was dumbfounded, and I looked at him quizzically. Then he said, ‘I have a neck problem.’

I thought for a long while. I liked my window seat. I like looking out the window. But, I wanted to be nice. ‘Okay, sure. You can have the seat for free. Don’t worry about it.’

He said thanks, and we switched. 

The guy on the other side, ‘We ain’t got a bad one here.’

This is when I realized my new neighbor on the right had the build of a football player. And as I’m settling in, I’m slowly starting to realize the guy I just switched with was huge too, like a basketball player. I was stuck in the middle of two giants; shoulders poking in at both sides.

The guy on my right was a white guy, mid-fifties, balding. He started asking me about the United app, since this flight didn’t have TV monitors on the seats. He was asking how he could watch ESPN. I’m thinking like, ‘uh, dude, fifteen years ago we all watched one single movie on TVs that came out of the ceiling. Chill out.’

He continued, ‘So, uh, they say I need to download the United app?’

‘Uh-huh. Once it’s downloaded, you should be able to connect to the plane’s wifi and entertainment.’

‘Is it downloading? Am I connected?’

‘It looks like it’s going, yeah. Just gotta wait.’

Bad Neck Window Seat Guy was on the phone with someone the whole time before we took off, speaking in a cool, hushed tone. I heard snippets, like, ‘So, we gonna find a place in Santa Monica?’ And later, ’What do you mean by that? What do you mean by that comment?’ And then, ‘I gotta go. We’re taking off. I’m just gonna sleep.’

After we had been flying for a while, I felt a leg creep into my space, coming from my left. Window Seat was ‘manspreading’. His left leg was pretty much halfway into my area.

I tried to push back a little with my own leg. I mean, he’s gotta feel my leg, right? Unless he’s really asleep. But who can sleep on planes? Surely, he must feel me. I’m kind of pushing against him fairly hard, but he’s not budging.

‘I gotta do something,’ I thought. I looked over; yeah, he was asleep. I tapped his shoulder. He didn’t wake up after the first tap, so I kept tapping, for what seemed like forever. Like, ‘eeee, wake up.’ I’ve never  felt so annoying.

He finally woke up and looked over lazily. ‘Excuse me, could you please give me some room,’ I motioned to his leg in my area.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said, and he moved his leg over. I breathed a sigh of relief.

‘No worries.’

By now, I could tell the guy in the aisle seat was getting really agitated with his device. And he started asking me more questions, because as a millennial, I have all the answers regarding technology.

‘Do you know how to get on the internet?’

‘Well, other than the entertainment center, I’m not sure there is internet. And if there is, you usually have to pay extra.’

‘Yeah, that’s how it usually goes.’

As the flight progressed, I can see he’s trying to check his email, and he’s just fuming and grumbling to himself.

At first I tried to read. I read a bit of Anna Karenina. Then, I pulled out the tray table, put my arms on it and kind of held it, in order to get my shoulders as far away from these two guys as possible. We were still touching, but not as much, maybe.

I took out my noise-cancelling headphones and tried listening to music. It was a playlist I have called ‘Beautiful Music,’ some soothing classical music, meant to take me away and out of this world.

But, to my despair, the guy on the window seat was awake now, and was listening to his own music. Through my noise-cancelling headphones, I could hear hear his trap music; could hear the annoying ‘ting ting’ of the high hat. I endured quite like this for the rest of the flight.

When we landed, Window Seat started watching dumb videos on his phone. He didn’t bother with headphones this time, so we all had the pleasure of listening to his videos along with him. I don’t know exactly what he was watching, but it sounded loud and obnoxious. ‘What am I doing in L.A.? Why did I even move here?’ were the questions I was asking myself.

When the seatbelt sign finally came off, and the aisle cleared, I bolted out of that seat and that plane as fast as I could. I didn’t look at or say goodbye to either of my travel buddies; I was just glad to be out of there.

Then, surprisingly, I got the best Lyft ride of my life.

His name was Norayr, and it was a regular Lyft ride; but, by chance, he pulled up in a black Lincoln Town Car. I had never been in a Lincoln Town Car before, and it was incredible. There was so much leg room, I could totally stretch out all the way. Seriously, it was cavernous; it was like Saint Peter’s Basilica in there.

A light rain fell outside, as the radio softly played Stairway to Heaven. He didn’t try to make conversation, which I appreciated. I just looked out at the raindrop spattered window, and watched all the lights and buildings go by, almost in a daze.

I got home, thanked him, and headed up to my apartment. I fell asleep almost immediately.

Where have the audiences gone?

Where do you see yourself? At the top of the box office? When I asked a friend if she had seen any movies recently, she said, ‘Do people even still go to the movies?’ Is there a place left for the cinema?

My colleague looks back with nostalgia at the films of the 1970s. ‘Chinatown’, ‘All the President’s Men’. Could these films be made today? Or, perhaps a better question, could they find an audience and be as successful today as they were back then.

Are there any good ones left? Sure, we have journalistic movies like ‘Spotlight’ and ‘The Post’. But did a large audience, a ‘Chinatown’ sized audience, see those? Should they have been made for the small screen? These were dramatic stories without fantasy elements, now to be relegated to the small screen: HBO, Netflix, Showtime.

Maybe this isn’t a bad thing. Should we just go to where the audience is? Should we embrace the streaming services, the smart phones and tablets? Should we forget about comedy features and be satisfied with the four inch screen of Funny or Die? Did the wide audience abandon the cinema, or did cinema abandon the wide audience?

I remember days of yore, before the advent of HDTVs, where people still flocked to the cinema and it was a big deal. A time when movies meant something, when spontaneous applause in the middle of a movie was a possibility, when movies weren’t overflowing with super-heroes, fantasy, sequels, toy-films, and the like.

Movies were events, with the best creating worlds unlike we’ve seen before, bringing out real feeling, and with a sincerity in the story-telling. Movies like Toy Story, an original blockbuster with memorable, lovable characters, humor, and stunning innovation put to good use. Independence Day, The Matrix, the first Spider-Man, Jurassic Park. The stories were original and felt new and fresh, the characters were likable, the stars were bigger, and the scene was set for a national conversation about a single movie. Gladiator comes to mind as a stunning piece of emotional artwork about slavery, revenge, freedom, self-sacrifice for the freedom of the Roman world.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy comes to mind as an event which presented hope in the face of evil empires, with incredible charm, humor and amazing new technologies put to good use. I remember the theater bursting into cheers when Eowyn stabbed a Ring Wraith in the face with the line, ‘I am no man!’ I remember sitting on the edge of my seat every time Heath Ledger’s The Joker appeared on screen in The Dark Knight. In those days, the villains were badder, more interesting, and the heroes were brighter. These pictures commanded attention.

Now, just like television, everything is fragmented. No single movie becomes the blockbuster event of the year; something all ages can talk about. Black Panther? My parents, my uncle, my grandma, my co-worker – they don’t like super-hero movies and didn’t see it. I saw it, and to me, it was a safe, generic Marvel movie, without personality, totally uninteresting. The only innovation was having a black super-hero… which was already done in the cartoon Static Shock. Why not give the first black movie super-hero a more interesting movie? Left behind are the mature adult audience who want more from a movie than action and punches.

The key is originality, likability of characters, and pathos. We need to see a hero who has a dream, but who gets beaten down and abused, but perseveres.. A hero with lots of personality. The Spielbergs and Lucases will soo be leaving us, and what will we have left?

Can movies still be big, but also, original and artistic and appeal to everyone? Can movies be entertainment without getting too preachy? Could Casablanca be made today, or Gone With the Wind? Lawrence of Arabia? We just need good stories, minus the costumes and punches.

Movies can become big if they are different in an appealing way. We need experimentation in cinema, because innovation is sorely lacking. With current CGI technologies, everything is possible, but in the hands of people without vision, it is useless. Without innovation, this hundred-plus year old art form may soon be on the way out.

Bigger stories that are more daring, bigger stars and personalities. American stories that are about us today and what we’re dealing with, and depict our values of liberty, equality, family, hard-working attitude, our good-naturedness, our rugged independence and optimism, and hope. Or, the loss of the American dream.

For these stories to cut through the clutter, we need stars with personality, a major studio or distributor to release it and put a lot of marketing money behind it.

Where can you find viewers? Browsing Facebook? Instagram? Twitter and Snapchat? Late night shows? Aspiring actors, directors, writers, should cultivate their fans. Fan clubs? TV ads, newspapers? Do people still read newspapers? Billboards, bus sides, radio? But all this won’t help if the acting, the story, the suspense or the innovation is missing. As someone once said on my first day of work in the film industry, ‘If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage.’

Studios… understand and take risks with your artists, open the doors, nurture your artists, and realize that a film that even if audiences reject one project, it doesn’t mean the next one won’t be great.

So where have the audiences gone? They’re still here, around, and everywhere. Limitless, in fact. But you just have to present something worthwhile, because movie and TV audiences are starving… too many options, but nothing good. So people revert to watching old Seinfeld episodes. Give them something good.

Manhattan Beach Pier

This is a long exposure photograph I took from the beach using my new tripod. I shot it during the post-sunset twilight on a fairly cloudless January night. The exposure was around thirty seconds long, and probably ten or fifteen minutes after sunset. I was able to do this because I used a B&W Neutral Density 9 filter. I had been hoping for more clouds, but it turned out pretty nice nonetheless. I shot a few panoramas too, including one during actual sunset; but this was the nicest of the bunch. I love how the colors turned out.

or, a twilight

I really love this animation…

…from Cinderella. Just saw the film for the first time the other night, and it was great. Here, the cat, Lucifer, goes mad with joy when he thinks he found the mouse under the teacup. It’s tiny little thing, and doesn’t even need to be there to make the scene work, but this touch makes it so wonderfully madcap. The animator was Ward Kimball, who always animated the big, fun, cartoony characters in the early Disney pictures. He also did the crows in Dumbo. What a talent!