Monthly Archives: April 2011

ladies are unwell; gentlemen vomit

4/11/11

The Masters was this weekend, and even for those of you who don’t like golf, there was enough emotional intrigue to keep tongues a-wag-wag-waggin’. Foremost amongst my sport-minded friends was the following interview Tiger Woods gave to Bill Macatee after his last round, with the leaders yet to finish [thanks, jon! -ed.]:

Taken by itself, this vaguely uncomfortable moment doesn’t seem like much, but for a fan base that is dying for Tiger to show some contrition after a year of some pretty grisly revelations, it just feels like he’s just a dick after all.

I feel like I knew dudes like this in my latter days in Chapel Hill. Their reputations were so impermeable (in both a good way and a bad way) that they had made the inner calculation that it no longer mattered how they behaved, because the end result would be the same. One of my housemates (no, not you) was such a well-documented [insert personal flaw here] that he started being more and more brazen about it… he figured that he might as well keep doing it on the off-chance he’d get what he wanted, since he’d be called a [insert personal flaw here] regardless.

Many of you who knew me back in the heady mid-’90s may think I’m talking about myself, but I had the terrible flaw of actually caring what people thought about me, which turned many of my nights into a cavalcade of misery. I would have been much better off not giving a shit, but I was doubly cursed; I gravitated toward reprehensible behavior and I didn’t have the balls to brazen it out. But I digress.

Tiger Woods – as an untreated borderline narcissist – must figure it really doesn’t matter anymore. The public has already seen all his texts, already knows his private predilections. He might as well behave however the fuck he wants, and in theory, I agree with him.

But what he fails to grasp is that America’s attention span is gnat-like, and he could rehabilitate his image in 18 months. Hell, so could Lindsay Lohan, who, like Tiger, possesses an undeniable talent in her chosen field. I’m always amazed when certain ex-heroes fall from grace, and continue to do something incredibly stupid every 6 weeks, as though they need to feed the dickhead meter before the rehab cops come to give them a clean bill of health.

Certainly Tiger owes us nothing, and if he wants to respond to a bunch of dumbass questions with a disdainful snort, more power to him. He can tell Nike and Electronic Arts and Titleist to suck it, and rest on well-earned laurels and millions of dollars. However, America needs heroes and comeback stories almost as much as it needs cheeseburgers and oil. With a dose of humility and a laser-like refocus, he could be Tiger Woods again. Like Benjy Stone said to Alan Swann in My Favorite Year, “don’t tell me this is you ‘life-size’. I can’t use you ‘life-size’!”

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Mark Linn-Baker and Peter O’Toole in “My Favorite Year”

the worst may happen, but you can’t count on it

4/10/11

A couple of weeks back, I asked about everyone’s biggest environmental or societal fear, and I’ve found myself in a lot of related conversations since then. I started to do a little research on the most common modes of preparation for the worst, and realized two things: first, I had done most of this research already; and two, I was beginning to feel old feelings that made me tremendously uncomfortable.

People can often be put into binary equations – either you’re a cat person or dog person, you’re a narcissist or a neurotic, you’re an alcoholic or you just don’t get addicted. I’d add another such equation to the picture: some of you are inexorably drawn toward apocalyptic thinking, and the rest of you don’t see the point. I speak as someone who had been the former, but made great pains to become the latter.

When I say this, I’m drawing a distinction between those who want to be somewhat prepared for any eventuality, and those who have low-level, chronic End of Society scenarios playing out in their heads. It may sound like a rare condition, but believe me, there are way more people walking around with the weight of world-wide worry on their heads than you think.

For today, I’m going to keep this pretty general, but I’d like to say something about modern Apocalysm: it’s not worth it. No good can come of it. You may think you’re getting yourself prepared, but all you’re really doing is feeding an addiction. Something about the world falling apart resonates with something deep and broken in yourself, and I should know, because I’m guilty of it all.

Sure enough, I’ll write a blog with all the disaster preparedness and scenario management work we’ve done, but for now, this is what I’ve learned over the last decade:

• Researching your greatest fear only feeds the beast. I used to believe that as long as I scoured the internet for more information on my darkest inklings, I would gain power over them. I read every report on my subject (my bête noir was loose nukes, but yours could be superviruses, tsunamis, phthalates, Big Oil, the Mayan calendar, Republicans, or god knows what) and with each discovery, no matter how consoling or worrying, I would go deeper down the rabbit hole.

One of the smartest things any therapist has ever told me is this: “erase your bookmarks.” And I did. I stopped reading all that shit, and within days much of the black hue of hopelessness lifted. I took a vacation from it, and never went back. Guess what happened while I stopped obsessing about it… nothing.

• Besides, you’re getting shitty information anyway. There is no such thing as a disinterested, impartial source. For anything. The only place on earth that has no agenda is The Weather Channel. Every other source for your information has a vested interest in either keeping you scared, or keeping you sedated. The kicker? By your very nature, you have a vested interest in keeping yourself scared (or sedated).

• Casual apocalysm is a luxury for the childless. My brother Steve and I were talking on a long car trip last weekend, and his personal worry is of a global-currency-failure-thus-capitalism-disintegrates variety. I don’t mean to trivialize his theories, and mock his anxiety, but I do occasionally need to tell him that I just can’t worry about some things anymore.

He said, “I don’t have any children, but some of you do, and if I was raising a young child in this world, I’d be very, very concerned.” What I tried to say in return was this: once you have a child, you can no longer live in a world where they have no future. It’s not fathomable, really, to conjure a place where they don’t have the same right to a delightful, mindless childhood full of innocence, wonder and love.

Of course I’ll do whatever it takes to ensure Lucy’s safety and happiness, but nightmare scenarios absolutely must take a back seat. I’m not saying people with kids have a better perspective on the world than those who don’t (in fact, most of them will cop to being completely goddamn insufferable) but parents certainly have a different perspective, and in my and Tessa’s world, apocalysm has no place.

• Prepare what you can, then forget about it. As I said, I may be mostly cured of my paralyzing OCD-laced general anxiety disorder about the world getting pretty fucked up, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t prepared for some likely scenarios. Especially living on the San Andreas fault, if you don’t have a meeting place or a good emergency kit, you’re not learning the right lessons. More on that tomorrow.

• As always, William Faulkner said it best. Two things really stuck with me as I clawed my way back to feeling good enough about the world again: some passages by Pema Chödrön, and the speech that William Faulkner gave in 1950 when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The whole thing is heartbreakingly brilliant, especially for a man who rarely spoke in public, but these lines resonate perfectly across the years:

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man…

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baby it’s still cold outside

4/7/11

We were in New York last week for Lucy’s spring break, which led to many winter-weary New Yorkers to ask “why?” It’s true that “spring” breaks would be a lot better if there was a fightin’ chance at the weather being bearable, but apparently that was too much to ask. New England has already had the kind of winter that is making people contemplate why they put up with it, and our farm had something like 21 feet of snow all told.

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the icy remnants of huge storms still tucked away under bushes

Still, you go in the hopes you might have that lucky day, that odd gasp of spring in the middle of the drear, that one patch of sunny and 65 that hints of craziness to come, but we hit the absolute dregs-end of winter’s cast-iron clutch.

The sog, the cold mud, the sopping goo, the sluicing-down freezing rain of “not yet” and “keep waiting”. I remember these weeks from childhood through my thirties, just aching for the communist greys to end so we could pedal wildly through the neighborhood with sweaters tied around handlebars.

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a crocus dares show up through the surface…

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…as does a saucy Lupin

We left with the countryside still held firmly to the mat by a cold, dank, half-nelson of muddy peat, wishing we could stay just a lick longer, long enough to smell that warm wind curling up the berms to wake the bulbs from an impenetrable slumber, but our focus is split. We’ll have to see it in May, when we’ll enter the production late, apologizing to the other patrons as we slalom to our seats.

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Lucy and I survey the landscape from atop the Empire State Building

the virgin vault no more

4/6/11

I am embedding this video because I don’t think I’ve gotten the same link from so many sources, and well, not putting it on my blog just seems like going against the natural order.

I will say this: they are playing on the very first court I ever played basketball as an adult. I played a little in middle school and at the Mormon church with my cousins, but my adolescence was taken up entirely by sexual frustration in the pit orchestra of “Oklahoma!”

It wasn’t until I got to Carolina that I unearthed my genitalia from deep inside my perineum, strapped on a pair of Air Jordans and learned to ball – with the likes of Mr. (The) Budster, Chip “Chris” Chapman, and Jon “The Mason” Vaden. I made the freshman mistake of asking Chip why Jon was called “The Mason”, and for that I’m eternally chagrined.

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bustin’ the scoop shot against Greg Camp, while Chris Landgraff and Sean Trapp look on, Chapel Hill 1989

These were the closest courts to Lewis Dorm, right outside of Cobb, which used to be all-female. I have loved – O! How I have loved at Cobb Dorm! And these basketball courts, mere feet from the gravestones of students from the 18th century, was my first foray into the Unguardable Scoop Shot. It was because of Cobb Court and the courts at Granville that Michael Jordan had a “Love of the Game” clause put into his NBA contract, which meant he could play pickup ball wherever and whenever he liked.

Please enjoy the innocent game, future millionaires on rough asphalt, the way it was meant to be played: with friends and with abandon:

a gaffer, a best boy and a grip walk into a bar

4/5/11

I’m on the next-to-last paragraph of the outline of a new script, which means two things: I can shave half my beard off, and I can stop spending every night drifting to sleep conjuring ways of making it more complicated. When I’m writing a script, it’s more like I’m wearing it, a smear of words and ideas hanging off me like dryer lint. It’s a mode where you’re never quite “not working”; even in a rest state, you’re background-processing the piece for flaws.

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one of the rooms at our manager’s office in Beverly Hills – you could build a house out of these scripts

The beard thing is especially liberating, as I swore I wouldn’t shave until I got these two outlines done, and I’m starting to look like one of the murderers in “Deadwood”. I figure being half-complete means shaving something, so I’m thinking of going with an Abe Lincoln.

Some creatures, like giraffes, come out of the womb looking relatively normal; others, like kangaroos, begin life as misshapen globs of blind Play-Doh, squirming the millimeter miles from womb to pouch. The first crack at a script is more like the latter than the former.

So I ask… and of you got anything exciting half done right now?

the moral arc bends towards the hoop

4/4/11

Many apologies for the technical outage with the blog yesterday – apparently the non-profit group that hosts our site has not paid the bill in months, meaning a lot of sites got temporarily switched off. I was unaware such a thing could happen, but we’re back up, and on a different plan now.

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No apologies needed for one Mrs. Rebecca Lowell, who won the xtcian all-stars Tournament Challenge this year with a fabulous come-from-behind victory over many excellent prognosticators. As I said before, more than half of the top ten are women, and one of them is my wife, so I couldn’t be prouder. Who cares I was in the 38th percentile? My betrothed was in the 87.4th!

And so Rebecca gets a dram of the best scotch released last year, a 1970 Glen Grant that is an absolute stunner. Or she gets a bizarre tchotchke from Venice Beach – just ask past winners Joan, caveman, Anne, and the rest!

One more word about hoops before we declare the season absolutely over until Midnight Madness in October. I’m often defending the college game against people who think the NBA is the only basketball worth watching. I always mention the scrappiness, the heart, the love of school, the love of being young, the love of caring so much your heart could burst.

In the NBA playoffs, a best-of-seven matchup pretty much guarantees the better team moves on. In the college tournament, some crazy Cinderella can come along and charm you with a miracle run. You’ll have a 19-year-old poli sci major who will suddenly swish eight 3s in a row. It can be the most inspiring game on the planet.

What we got on Monday night, however, was a dreary display of grisly shooting, grindingly-poor offense, and a halftime score better suited to volleyball. It would have been tragic if it hadn’t been so boring, a game finally decided in favor of a school with the charm of congealed snot. Cinderella lost her shoe, lost her way, and fizzled still sweeping the fireplace. Next year cannot start soon enough!