this time baby i’ll be bulletproof


As I said a few weeks ago, I spent the better part of last month in Italy, the first week being at a writer’s conference called Sirenland. I went knowing absolutely nothing about how it worked, knowing absolutely nobody, and in the end, it reshaped the way I think about conducting myself. Yeah, “youth is wasted on the young”, and epiphanies are wasted on those too old to use them, but occasionally one sneaks in whilst still relevant.

Sirenland is about writers, by writers, for writers, and yet I don’t think I took away a lot about writing – which in many ways, is the mark of true success. If you go to a comic convention and come away versed in love, if you take a class on glass-blowing and you come away knowing you must quit your miserable job… then you truly dipped your heel in sacred waters.


Dating back to 2005, in many ways, I did LA all wrong again. I never considered it a home, and never made the proper effort to forge a community. In doing so, I sank into isolation and a well-documented occasional depression that brought up frightening spectres of my ghastly days as a kid. All that shit I’d conquered at Carolina, the emergence as a popular bon vivant from the depths of despair – I felt like I was losing it again, reverting once more to an awkward pariah.

In Positano, I learned – despite years of semi-self-imposed alienation – that I could still make friends out of total strangers, speak in public, make other human beings laugh across the room. Does that seem pathetic? Maybe so, but some of us are born needing 4 ounces more affirmation than others, and I’m no longer going to pretend I’m not one of them.

Sirenland also provided a huge service: it was a place that was unapologetic about Art. The commerce side of writing could wait; while you were in those marble rooms, gazed upon by busts of Etruscan leaders, it was about YOUR FEELINGS and YOUR WIZARDRY and HOW BEST TO DIVINE YOUR TRUTH.

Back in Los Angeles, we live lives of such apology and disclaimers and endless changes being made to satisfy accountants. You can live a long time in that world and not think it affects you, but it does. Everything you experience is coated with an imperceptible sheen of cynicism: even last Saturday night, as Tessa screened our short film, she introduced it as a “trifle” and I told somebody it was “too short to find anything to hate.”

The truth is, a lot of people worked really hard, especially my wife, and we love how it came out. But that would expose us, so we hem and occasionally haw.

Not so with Sirenland, where your artistry ruled supreme, detractors be damned. I started out the week suggesting everyone could benefit from a good old-fashioned outline and a clear journey for our protagonists, but soon enough, I just basked in everyone’s visions.


A group of us became inseparable lunch and dinner partners, so much like school that old joys came seeping back. We were living in the most beautiful dorm in the world, and they made our beds.

Near the end, there was a shift in mood. Some friends had problems representing their experience to spouses back home, others bisolated into intense romances, one amazing woman expressed anger she couldn’t define, and I was certainly exhausted emotionally.

Since then, we’ve tried to define what happened: the woman thinks it was getting too “friendship-intimate” too quickly, another suggested it was the guilt of being surrounded by such opulence. For me, though, versed over years of Jartaculars and road trips, it was the knock-knock on the door of my old friend Shame.

Shame came to tell us that we weren’t allowed to be so close to your fellow tribe; that we weren’t supposed to use the Lavender Body Milk in the jacuzzi; that intense, glorious discussions like these were only for college students and drunk travelers in their 20s.

The convention was drawing to a close, Shame explained, and we were soon going to be back in our worlds, back where the only Art that matters is that which can generate income, and where your dreams take a distant back seat to those of your kids, and your goddamn job. Shame said he was going to make it easier for us, the re-entry, that he was going to grease the wheels of our spinner luggage and hold open the doors at the train station.

Shame told us it’s a cold world out there, and it’s best to keep your head low and don’t expose too much. He said nobody cares about your revelations and it was high time to get back to doing what everyone expects you to do.

Only this time I told Shame to fuck off.


18 thoughts on “this time baby i’ll be bulletproof

  1. CM

    I love the part about childhood joys. I am so glad you found this place.
    “too short to find anything to hate.”
    That made me laugh. Tessa is funny (and modest).

  2. Jenifer

    Good! I’m glad you sent Shame packing because I needed to read this. I don’t have the words to articulate how impactful it is, so I’ll just say a simple, “Thank you.”

  3. Sharyn

    Coming off a big birthday & read your post. You are a wise and good man. You & Tessa have a friend here who has not even met you fleshly, yet admires you greatly.

  4. JB

    Write books, Ian. I know the money’s in TV pilots and screenplays and all that crap, but your words get drowned out and fucked with and changed by idiot actors, directors and executives who think they ‘know better’. In the end, the words just don’t matter. A teleplay or a screenplay is just a blueprint for something else, and their brilliance is more in structure than in language. Your gift is the written word. I want to READ the stories you write. I knew from the first time I came across ‘Wednesday’s Child’ in 1986 that you had a gift very, very few people have. To be frank, I feel like you’re wasting it in Hollywood.
    There. I’ve said it.

  5. Ian

    Well, at least allow me to return the compliments and say that you folks in the comments make everything like this so much easier.
    And to single a few of you out – CM, as a published author you are certainly rocking it, and JB, you’re in a business that squanders your talent all the time, but when you actually get on stage or on film, you knock it out of the goddamn park.

  6. Amy Scripps

    “Everything you experience is coated with an imperceptible sheen of cynicism”
    thanks for pointing out that i can choose to shine a middle finger at the cynicism here. stay inspired!

  7. Caitlin

    There is a wonderful poem by Stanley Kunitz called “The Layers” that I have been thinking of a lot lately. There is an elegiac line in it that reminded me of you:
    “Oh, I have made myself a tribe
    out of my true affections,
    and my tribe is scattered!”
    Thank you for how hard you work to gather (and grow) your scattered tribe.

  8. killian

    Yes. Yes! YES!! Words applicable to dance/performance, thank you. Cannot wait to see/hear/read what you and Tessa are making next!!

  9. Carolyn

    loved this line:
    “live lives of such apology and disclaimers and endless changes being made to satisfy accountants.”
    My bread and butter is finance/ops consulting. Every gig I take I purposely and willfully bend to enhance and support the vision of the entrepreneurs/artists so the creation has the best chance to become fully manifest.
    A REAL money person is a ballast, not a hole in the hull.
    ps. So glad you are back to blogging, though your drawering was fun too.

  10. anon

    We homeschool our three kids. This was the first year, however, for the eldest (7th grade). We were riding in the car and he looked over at me and said, “I am the happiest I have ever been, Mom. I love being homeschooled.” I asked him why. This was his response: The kids that I spend time with (other homeschoolers in co-op) just don’t care about what anyone else thinks about them. They just are who they are. We talk about books, and music, and all kinds of stuff and no one ever makes fun of what anyone likes, even if they don’t like it. There is one girl who makes her own clothes, like costumes, and she wears a different one each week. She doesn’t care what anyone thinks, she just does what she wants and is happy. I love that.
    Unfortunately, shame had guided his traditional schooling experience, making all the kids ridiculously afraid to expose themselves to others. I really, really hope he remembers this lesson as he grows older and never ever diminishes who he is to others because of what he thinks their reaction will be.
    This was the toughest year doing this homeschooling gig, but his revelation just about made it worth it. Thanks for the post, Ian.

  11. Sean Carman

    Arriving in Positano *was* like walking into a dream, and in the last few days the fabric of that dream seemed to tear a little. What was going on? It was hard to understand.
    I have had a similar experience at other workshops, but SL is other workshops turned up to 11. At first I attributed the intensity of our experience to the fact that we were living like Italian kings in visually spectacular and absurdly opulent surroundings, or that by the end of the week everyone was emotionally worn out. Then I found my answer in a Penguin Classic I’ve had lying around for years that I picked up the other day for no real reason. There it was, on — yes, I’m not kidding, and I’m embarrassed to admit it, but dammit, Ian, you’ve given me the courage to face my demons so I’m going to admit that it was on, yes — page 33 of The Sorrows of Young Werther:
    “Oh my friends! You ask why the torrent of genius* so rarely pours forth, so rarely floods and thunders and overwhelms your astonished soul? — Because, dear friends, on either bank dwell the cool, respectable gentlemen, whose summer houses, tulip beds and cabbage patches would all be washed away, and who are therefore highly skilled in averting future dangers in good time, by damming and digging channels.”
    * Or, in my case, “desperate creative longing.”
    The terror of surrendering to our creative desires makes us hold them at an ironic distance, and for the past few weeks I was also under the influence of the Shame you described. It *is* spooky to stake a claim to making art that matters, to send yourself down Werther’s torrent in your little raft.
    But I’m with you. For six days we faced down our demons on the Italian coast, where the waves crashed against the volcanic cliffs and we stood on hand-painted ceramic tiles and accepted gallons of free prosecco from a man who could have crushed us under the teak hull of his luxury powerboat.
    Honestly, having done that, and come out alive, facing those demons down in L.A. and D.C. shouldn’t be a problem.


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