Category Archives: Musings

Hello, White People!

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Today is the day you can claim me as your black friend. So put your arm around me or better yet, I’ll put my arm around you, and we shall sing old Negro spirituals. Don’t worry if you’re an old racist. Today we celebrate, not only Martin Luther King but all the people who let you kick their asses during non-violent protests until you got winded and they had your balls.

That’s right, don’t feel guilty if your ancestors were assholes just explore the benefits of the Civil Rights Movement with the rest of us. Go someplace where you are the only white person. Someplace where if there is another white person people think you know each other. Don’t be afraid, other races do this all the time. Also, if you have kids make sure that by the time they’re four they’ve at least talked to a black person long enough to realize we’re not brown because we’re dirty white people. (Yes, children still ask me why I’m so dirty. Come on, get on this white parents.)

Hello, Black People!

Be happy. We have white friends and if we have sex with a white person it’s not a crime. (Well, at least not if you’re doing it right.) My mom’s generation went from having to step off the sidewalks to make room for whites to having a black president. So little time for things to change so much. The extreme poverty gap between the races is something that stems from that time. In fact, poverty was the next civil right that MLK was going to tackle before his death.

Think about it. Besides the institutionalized oppression, we were forced to oppress ourselves. People said things like: If you educate your black boys they will be competition for the white men. If you’re black and educated you’ll think you’re equal and you’ll want more. People who want more get lynched. For heaven’s sake, all we were doing was trying to stay alive. Now there are generations still stuck in survival mode. Unable to believe there can be more for them. Let’s not feel handicapped by what happened to our ancestors. Be proud of what they fought through to not only survive but to thrive.

Hello, Asian/Hispanic/Mixed/Native American/African/Other People!

Each one of your races has your own struggles and accomplishments. Never forget that when society seems to forget you, your stories still exist and are worth knowing.

You too have ancestors whose experiences shape your world today. Respect that and keep what’s good but don’t dwell on what they did. Live in the now.

Hello, People!

We are scary and beautiful. We are cruel and good. We are our past and our present as we strive for a better future. We are.

2+0+1+4 = 7

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(via George Takei on Facebook)

(via George Takei on Facebook)

Maybe it’s because I’m happy that I know that’s lucky. Well, I’m hoping that’s the way this numerology thing works anyway. As many of you have heard me say, 2014 is my year. I have no doubt. When I looked at the picture above, the first three words I saw were love, success, and health. That sums up my wishes for myself this year perfectly.

Maybe it’s because I’m older and wiser that I’m determined to strive for what I want. There’s no grand pronouncements this year of exactly what I’m going to do. I don’t need them. I’m going to write and network and people will come to me. I’m done with begging for people to give me a hand up. This year I’m going for a totally different tactic. Before, I only looked for friends. Now, I’m looking for mentors as well as friends. My life experiences taught me to be uncomfortable with people of power because they might think I want something. Worse, I thought they might be right. Well, who cares? …And dammit I do want something! I want to have fun talking, hanging out, and learning a bunch of crap through absorption. Hell, I don’t even have to be noticed if I’m learning. There have been plenty of times that I’ve done my best impression of the Invisible Boy from Mystery Men. “I become invisible until someone looks at me.” (By the way, that’s how I learned that Terry Rossio is not only a great teacher but a great man. At the Driskill Bar Terry taught me how to defuse an argument between two correct people with honestly hurt feelings using only three words. But that’s another story.)

Maybe it’s because I’m more experienced or just old and grumpy but I’m no longer interested in talks or articles of more women/blacks/diversity in this or that part of the entertainment industry. I say let’s stop talking and start doing. It doesn’t matter how you do it.  They did it at The Black List with the diversity opportunities they offer. They did it with Little Tin Man by making a great movie with a little person in the lead. People in a room saying let’s do this is how every revolution starts isn’t it? People in a room tired of being ready to start, instead they decide to start.

I’m starting.

Maybe it’s because you want to start too that you are going to join me as a mentor or friend or colleague. Let’s make 2014 the change for the better we all want.

So, yep. That Happened.

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IMG_1074 When you opened my holiday card you thought you got away without getting one of those cheesy year end letters from me. Ha! I only lulled you into a sense of security. Instead, I’m posting all of my year of babblings, translated through ones and zeroes, here.

My 2013 may look like a face full of pepper spray on paper, but it actually ended up being pretty great for me. This year was full of enormous changes, even though so little happened. If you go back to the post I wrote at the beginning of the year about my goals you’d think I failed worse than the levees in the Ninth Ward. I didn’t stalk Dean Koontz for the rights to The Face or find the screenwriter who is attached to the Newsflesh series and drug her into handing the job over to me. I didn’t sell any scripts or have a literary manager fight for me with a sharpened ball point pen and a broken coffee mug. Good thing none of that was essential to a year well lived.

The beginning of the year was hard. So hard, I became pessimistic and wasn’t sure I wanted to know how the rest of the year was gonna turn out. My birthday passed with little fanfare. I had to quit playing bells at church because of the toll it was taking on my body. I had practically quit every activity because of the toll it was taking on my body. I was in pain and depressed, struggling to write as often as I could between sleeps.IMG_0919

In March, I came home one night to my cat refusing to eat. She could no longer walk in a straight line and would intermittently lose control over her back half. The vet at the emergency room said there was little she could do. The medicines she’d been taking for almost two years could no longer hold back her disease. That night I held her in my arms as she took her final sleep in my arms. That week my grandma began to go downhill fast. My mother cared for her during the day and I took her during the night. As I helped her from the pot one night she said, “I’m getting in that bed and I’m not getting out again.” I laughed and said, “OK, Granny.” When I checked on her 45 minutes later she had passed away.  As odd as that may seem, the next morning began to turn the year around for me.

I knew that my cat, Emily, had gone exactly one week earlier to find the perfect couch to wait for Granny on. Every day, she had waited on the arm of our couch for Granny to come home from the daycare. Emily died so that she could be there to welcome Granny home from her life here. And Grandma? She was tired. She was 97 and didn’t want to stick around anymore. Even though I had laughed at it, she had let me know with her last words that she was ready to go. It was a story I could tell and a comfort that I could give to everyone. It was her choice to go which gave my mother and me incredible peace.

By May, my mom had finally convinced me to go to Mayo Clinic to see if they could help me with my medical problems. I was NOT happy about any of it. I was doing this crap for my mom. Well, I was until the end of the first day when a doctor there was able to diagnose a problem I’d been having for three years. The place still freaks me out but I go because I get better and better every time I do.

I started to be able to do things again. Small things to most of you but things I had fought to do in the last five years. Things like walk without a walker, climb a flight of stairs, and eat something besides rice without having to drink Sprite to keep from throwing up.

July brought a new activity. I play nerd/geek board games with friends and strangers.  I’m able to exercise again and keep a regular writing schedule. Now, I even have the confidence to make commitments to hang out with people without it being a 50% chance I’ll be too sick to go. For the first time, I’m took my nephews to a movie. It was wonderful.

The biggest thing that 2013 has given me is the knowledge that not only am I a good writer but a good screenwriter. My Bass Reeves script teased me all year. Every time I thought that I was done and there was no way I could possibly make it better it would beg to be improved. So for a day or a week, I would pause my current project to rewrite it. It’s on The Black List as The Black King. and I’m comfortable with that. The giddy excitement that I’ve felt every other time I thought that script was done is missing now. I’m hoping that’s a good sign. Soon, I will have two other scripts posted that will benefit from all I’ve learned this year.IMG_0971 (Thanks Craig Mazin, Danny Manus, John August, Scott Meyers, Lindsey Doran, Berry Meyer, Terry Rossio, and The Austin Film Festival)

I’m so happy now. There are times, I find myself wishing things would be perfect with the snap of my fingers. That scripts would flow from my fingers with ease. That my group of friends here would become as special to me as my friends in L.A. That I could see my L.A. friends more often and still keep my family close. And finally, that money would be a thing I’d only have to think about when paying my taxes. But then I remember. Long ago, I told God that more than anything in the world I would love to learn for the rest of my life. Right now, I’m thinking it’s not so unfortunate that God listened.

Rely on the Reply

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Cover of "Akeelah and the Bee (Widescreen...

Recently, my script came up in reply to an article on diversity in black film on The Black Board. Here is part of my response with other diversity in film stuff added.

I think the real reason for the difficulty getting black movies made is a lot simpler and a lot more complicated. Studies show that too often people classify their fellow humans as something so separate from themselves they have trouble empathizing with them. It took this study for me to understand why white friends would say they don’t consider me as black. That has always hurt me. I never understood why I couldn’t be myself to be their friend. The article Brain Research Shows White People Lack Empathy for Brown People and the even more relevant Why White People Don’t Like Black Movies. explains this concept of the racial empathy divide in more detail.

This is one of the main reasons that White males are the default as a story’s protagonist. We have all been trained to see things from the White male perspective from a very young age. In many places around the world, we are still taught that he is the penultimate human being. It hurts my soul when I hear people of color praising or lamenting the shade of their skin. It is easy for whites to accept films on racism. We all know where they belong in these films. They are the bad guy and also the savior. Black people would not be oppressed without whites and would not escape this oppression if not for the one exceptional, kind white person. This gives white people an entrance to the story, someone to empathize with. Where does that emotional connection begin in a film like Akeelah and the Bee?

At the Austin Film Festival this year I saw one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while, The Little Tin Man. I had no intention of seeing this great movie. Why? Because it had a little person and it said it was a comedy. I have been trained that all comedies with little people are of the dumb guy variety. The little person will be flung around and/or treated like he’s (it always seems to be a he) a prop. Many people love the Mini Mes and Jackasses of the world but I hate these gags. Maybe part of the reason people who don’t have this empathy problem still don’t go to black films is that they’ve been taught that if it’s not historical it’s all stupid race jokes, bad writing, and melodrama. We have to make more of all kinds of films so the movie going audience can be open to seeing something that will surprise them that was made with people who will amaze them.

When I Die Young

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10.2.12 028Not if. I don’t want there to be an if. I want to die young. You don’t have to bury me in satin or lay me down in a bed of roses. I know what it’s like to be old and I don’t want it. Though I do think that sinking me in the river at dawn would be pretty cool especially if there’s archers with fire. My Viking dreams aside, I’m good with being cremated in a cardboard box and having a party where those who I leave behind can eat and do what ever the heck else they want in my honor.

I know a little bit about being old because my arthritis robs my body of being ignorant of it almost every day. That old is just physical and means a lot, but nothing at the same time. Of the two grandparents I’ve had in my life both have gotten old. My grandpa died in 1988 of an Alzheimer’s that burned through his brain leaving his body untouched. This man wandered off to be found later that day having walked thirty miles. The sweetest memory I have of my brother is when he coaxed me out of my hiding place after Grandpa hit me in a confused rage. In the end he was a mute that didn’t notice when two little girls snickered over the outline of what was under his hospital gown.

Grandma is different. She has dementia. We’re pretty sure it comes from when she had her strokes. It rolls over her in waves of varying length and intensity. Like a teenager trying to find herself she’s gone through phases and personality shifts that effect those closest to her the most. Her body has not fared well. It’s disintegration causes her even more confusion. She doesn’t know what to do with her own body anymore. It doesn’t work like it used to and she is incapable of learning the new quirks she must use. Unlike Grandpa she knows who we all are and can fake a level of health for the people who see her infrequently. The memories of her past are as spotty and subject to exaggeration as those in the present. The slow erasure of the woman she used to be effects my memory of her as well. From the days before she was sick, I only remember flashes of her in the kitchen cooking. When she dies I will remember her as she descended into old age. I will only clearly remember the times when my mom, and sometimes I, took care of her. I don’t remember when it was the other way around. I don’t remember when I came home from school and she was there waiting with a meal. I don’t remember her taking me on adventures while my mom was at work. I don’t remember her letting me sneak out to the movies in the summers starting at twelve years old. I know all those things happened but the woman who stares, and smiles, and waits, does not seem like the same woman.

Soon Grandma will go into surgery to get her pacemaker replaced. A quick 15 minute procedure, but at 97 they give her a 20% chance of surviving the anesthesia. If it was up to me I don’t think I would give permission for the surgery. I would let the battery die. I would let her die. Being a caregiver to someone who is being stripped of humanity from the inside out is hard for me. Death doesn’t scare me as much as never being able to learn another thing in my life.

A couple of years ago, there was a medicine that worked for my arthritis. I danced, I worked out, I walked. What I couldn’t do was read, or write. I also couldn’t drive. I could feel my IQ take a dive and my freedom was linked to who could drive me that day. I chose to let my joints stiffen and the pain to return because I learned that without my brain fully functioning I could not be me.

I don’t know what Grandma would choose if she was still the person in the not so solid memory of my  youth. But I have made my choice. So let me die young, I have already seen old.

[The song If I Die Young by The Band Perry]

If I Die Young

Listen for Your Life!

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009The things I know about you would curl your nose hair. Don’t worry, none of it has to do with that one sex scandal ’cause I don’t care about that. Once, I had the unfortunate experience of being told, in great detail, that a performer I knew was a swinger and always had regular orgys. To this day, I can not look at the man without imagining his glasses bouncing on his sweaty face. Yeah, not cute. Most of the time the real truth about people is the thing that they really want to hide even though it’s there for anybody who pays attention. We all can know a person if we bother to listen, with our ears, our eyes, our hearts.

About once a month I pick a theme for tweets where I suggest whom I think people should follow on twitter. I do this in the hopes that people will actually be intrigued by something I said and click follow. This month I chose people who listen. Almost immediately I was struck by how difficult it was to say why I chose these people as great listeners. That they listen to me is so much more and so much less than what their ability to listen means. There is a truth in what I see in their listening that is not mine to share. When talking about those who teach one can describe that teacher’s effect on them without ever really saying anything about that teacher. But when one talks about those who listen, the most honest description of that experience is to talk about who the listener is.

Frozen by my fear of revealing a heart that is not mine, I got to thinking about listening as a large part of our humanity. Listening is a skill that so many don’t have, or choose not to use. There have been times when I have deliberately misunderstood someone as to not have a confrontation or to give them their privacy. Communication is a life skill that depends as much or more on how we receive it as give it. As writers, listening is important to creating character but it also helps understand this crazy entertainment industry. Too often the destruction of a movie begins with people who believe that the power they have means that they don’t have to listen.

In the following story the names have been changed to protect the innocent…and the assholes.

During the production of a movie, Dick Jones, an up and coming star, decides to cast the inexperienced Cutesy McGee. Everyone tries to talk him out of it but he is determined. Powerman, the studio head, had previously nixed the top billed leading woman that everyone had agreed on so I can only assume he took Cutesy McGee as his problem to make up for. In his rush to increase the star power, and hopefully the bottom line, he did not consult the director or producer before casting a Lady Star in a supporting role. Suddenly, this supporting role had to be deepened and expanded by the writer. The story suffers because not only is the supporting female role now more interesting than the leading role, but Cutesy can not help but be over shadowed by this bigger name with the now bigger character. The producer, loosing confidence in every aspect of his project begins to ignore suggestions to make it better.  He just wants it to be over. This sad disconnected overdone story is barely saved from being a horrible movie by Dick Jones’ desperate performance. When it opens, the movie under performs. Dudes flinging boogers at each other could have gotten better numbers.

(Wow, props to Doug Richardson for being able to keep things from being confusing in his blog while at the same time as keeping everyone anonymous. It’s hard.)

What would happen if people in the world stopped thinking about only themselves and started working with each other? What would happen if the people with the power accepted that they don’t have to be right? What would happen if we all started to show that we listened? I’m not sure, but I’d like to think it would make the world better.  So why don’t we each start now?

Can you hear the Cumbayah chorus playing behind this post? You would if you were listening.

The D is Silent, The ism Invisible

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"White" and "Jim Crow" rai...

Cartoon by John McCutcheon.

Let’s get this out of the way right here. In this post, I will be using nigger, not the N word. I will do this not because I use the word but because I feel that any academic discussion about language should be able to verbalize the language being discussed. Code words cheapen the discourse by constantly reminding people to censor themselves. If no one is allowed to talk about it in a civilized, educational, debate how are we going to eliminate the problem.

It disturbs me that the use of the word nigger for a pre-Civil War narrative is a cause for such anger. I don’t understand why history has to be, excuse the term, white washed. If people studied and discussed the true history of the United States open and honestly actual progress could be made on the racial divide. Because the movie I am focusing on in this post is about black slavery I will only be writing about that. However, I recognize that honest discussion is needed for the Native American Genocide, the Japanese Internment, and many other times in our history.

There has been some accusations that the word nigger was not used until after the turn of the century. This is not correct. With little effort you can find first hand accounts of slavery and they use the term as a fact of life. There are regional differences in the frequency and circumstances the word was used, but it is valid to use it for this time period. Too often the word nigger is something to scream about. To shut down any intelligent conversation and wield as a weapon. That is not OK at anytime, but is especially unwarranted regarding use in Django Unchained.

Django Unchained is violent, gory, funny, disturbing, historically flexible, and… a movie. It’s a really fun ride. There are people who have said that we should not allow slavery to be treated with anything but complete and utter reverence. Bullshit. It’s a movie! There have been all manner of movies about the holocaust and I guarantee that because of that more people have discussed, mourned, connected with, and remembered the holocaust. The guilt that many white people in the United States have over slavery combined with the historical shame and anger that black people in the US have regarding racism prevent us from doing better.

A couple of months ago on twitter a Jewish man was complaining that his five-year old had been told about the holocaust in school. He was soliciting opinions on whether he was wrong to think that was too young to know about such a horrible thing to happen to your people. Many people agreed that it was not all right and he should have been allowed to broach the subject himself when the child was older. Something about this conversation bothered me. Throughout the day, I followed the responses and was unable to form an opinion of my own in reply. Finally, I realized why. No black person in the US ever got to choose how they heard about our history of slavery or oppression by the Jim Crow laws. No black parent ever gets to choose when or where a child will learn that his or her people were considered inferior, herded, bought, sold, beat, and killed. Having few creative escapes in which to process this only internalizes it and hurts us as a society. We should embrace the art that encourages us to accept slavery as part of our past.

I actually don’t have a lot to say about the movie. It was good entertainment with some great scenes and brilliant performances. The bad guys were vilified instead of glorified. Jamie Foxx was the best I’ve ever seen him. I didn’t recognize Samuel L. Jackson until he spoke which had to be after over a minute of screen time. And to watch Christopher Waltz in character is a master class in acting as reacting. Now having seen Django Unchained the biggest problem I have with it is actually with everyone who saw it before me. Y’all so busy talking about “the N word” that you couldn’t let me know the D in Django was silent? I’ve been walking around saying Da-Jang-O like an idiot. Still trying to correct myself.

Some links to Slave Narratives:

http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/wpa/wpahome.html

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0343129/

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/19446/19446-h/19446-h.htm#Page_1