Leases and Tippers and Bears, Oh My

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lionstigersbears

DOROTHY: I don’t like this forest. It’s dark and creepy.

SCARECROW: Of course I don’t know but I think it will get darker before it gets lighter.

DOROTHY: Do you suppose we’ll meet any wild animals?

TIN MAN: Some, but mostly Lions and Tigers and Bears.

My artist’s life is wonderful, beautiful, and also very scary, dark and creepy. When I chose this path or it chose me, I started to make sacrifices, many times putting my art above being financially secure: leaving law school, choosing more menial and transitory music jobs to make a living, all to my own financial detriment for sure. So when doing the work, living in process, perfecting my craft and hopefully showing that work, the Lease, the Job and the Taking Care of Ourselves gets darker before it gets lighter, it gets the “I’ll worry about that when the crisis comes.” The forest gets thicker and blacker, the animal noises grow and become more menacing and the thought comes to mind, “How in the hell am I gonna get through this!?” How will I pay the rent, get through this shift, and yes, ‘bear’ it all….Oh My. Leases and Tippers and Bears, Oh My.  Leases and Tippers and…well you get it.

As artists we seldom seem like we have it together. (Some seem to have it all together and we messy artists secretly loathe, worship, and compare ourselves to them. Those lousy together artist. *spit*)  We ‘untogether’ artists can seem random, scattered, unorganized, not overly concerned about outward appearances of status, seemingly not following the typical everyday norms that deem us to be keeping up with the comfortable, bland Jones’. -I see the Jones’ not as some benchmark for financial success but more as the keepers of conventional wisdom, the common denominator that makes us feel safe, like a Youtube video of three kittens playing with a ball of string or an episode of Everyone Loves Raymond. But of course the artist’s life is fraught many times with financial insecurity. So that most used bludgeon of the Jones’ is totally apropos as well unfortunately. –pulls pockets out and frowns clownishly-

Sometimes an artist’s messy life makes people uncomfortable. Many times it makes us as artists feel uncomfortable. Long story short it makes me uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable. Crawling skin and sleepless nights uncomfortable. I’ve been bouncing around subletting, trying to find a livable affordable living situation, going what it seems like from one doomed apartment situation to the next. I’ve been back to waiting tables and beating up my 45 year-old back and arches, all the while trying to figure out a way to do as much art as possible and have any quality of life. Some quality. And I do. But it is just some. Not much quality of life. ..lately. The last three to four years especially. And mostly because New York City decimated any financial security I had accumulated. So this is a sad, sad story. The ultimate cliché. ‘The sad life of the starving artist,’ ‘the aging artist,’ ‘the artist who hasn’t made it.’ Boo-hoo. Yeah, I’m heckling myself right now. (“Get a job!”)

I had an interesting conversation with a fellow waiter at my slightly past trendy Asian restaurant last night. He, 27 with a boyish look and swagger of a teenager, told me he was headed back to school next semester. I asked him what he wanted to do, always thinking people will tell me what their Dream is. Capital D-Dream. He told me he wanted to become a CPA. I asked him if he loved numbers. Me, head rested on hands, dreamily wide-eyed waiting for his poetic reply. He said nah. Nah? (Record needle scratch.) Not following a dream?! Agahst! Egads! He continued. “I don’t have a passion. I want to make money, have enough to have a house and support a family and be able to do my hobbies. That’s what I want.” He didn’t seem to be angsty at all. A sudden wash of jealousy filled me. Then the band-wagon showed up. That sounds fantastic! I remember having the same feeling. I wanted that! I wanted the simplicity of that. The conventional wants of being a human being that I denigrate in my mind so often. Why do I have a dream?! What good is following a dream if it brings so much insecurity and stress into my life? How long can I have a dream and not collapse under the pressure of it? I want a family and a house and travel and hobbies. Don’t I?

Creativity is a drug. I feel like the drug addict who has passed the point of no return, not wanting to continue without the fix of the laughter of the audience, the tears that a phrase I write creates, the elation of completing that perfect lyric or paragraph of dialogue. When I see an audience of hundreds of people react to what I have written, all the stress melts away, the clouds part and it’s all skipping down the Yellow Brick Road. I have experienced that, fortunately or unfortunately as your philosophy might have it.  So one take is that I am beyond returning to the simplicity and ease of being an accountant (or lawyer in my case,) or my perceived idea that that life has simplicity or more ease. Who knows? I know there is no fiber of my being that doesn’t want to follow a dream with a capital D. My dream that I am following, but would like to be following in a more healthy way. A dream that does not take place in the thick of the forest surrounded by Lions and Tigers and Bears. Oh My.  Oh my God I don’t want to wait on another person ever again.

I just finished my first month of Retirement Plan: Broadway! One month out of one-hundred and twenty months! The thought of all the magic I can make in that time is overwhelming to me at times. The fear that the terrain stays the same is paralyzing at times. The Leases and Tippers and Bear-ing it all. Holding up.

The Cowardly Lion’s scary demeanor crumbles when confronted by Dorothy. He spills his guts. He’s scared most of the time:

-It’s been in me so long, I just gotta tell you how I feel. I’m just a cowardly lion. But I could show my prowess be a lion not a mouse if I only had the nerve.

Dorothy, however, is content to just go home and be surrounded by people she loves. Or knows. Or settles to love. Or settles to know.  Does Dorothy have a dream? Is that the moral of the story? Be content with the simple things? Or does she not have the nerve? Why are some people born to follow a passion and others are blessed to not have to?  Dorothy is the hero of the story, no?

I guess I’m more the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Lion, than Dorothy. Does it matter what category you fall into. You just are that.

I took the steps to make the Leases and Tippers and Bears more manageable when I moved back to Philly. Yet I’m in the Kansas tornado still. And that’s Ok. Ok?  Of course I don’t know, but it’s bound to get lighter soon.

The Lazy Writer Writes a Schedule

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Famous Writing Schedules:

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Trollope wrote for three hours every morning from 5am – 8am and then went to work. He paid a servant 5 pounds extra a year to wake him with a cup of coffee.

Balzac’s work habits are legendary – he did not work quickly, but toiled with an incredible focus and dedication. His preferred method was to eat a light meal at five or six in the afternoon, then sleep until midnight. He then rose and wrote for many hours, fueled by innumerable cups of black coffee.

When Grisham first began writing, he still had his day job as a lawyer. In order to do both, he stuck to a ritual of waking at 5:00 and shower, then head off to his office, just five minutes from home. He had to be sitting at his desk with a cup of coffee and a yellow legal pad by 5:30. He gave himself a goal of writing one page per day. Sometimes this page went as quickly as ten minutes while other days required one or two hours. After finishing his daily page of writing, Grisham would then turn his attention to his day job.

Oscar Hammerstein would wake at 8 have breakfast and then go to study and write 5 hours until 1.

And Ben Franklin’s famous schedule (pictured above,) is said to be not exactly accurate but more, aspirational.  He had more lazy days than legend would like us to believe apparently.

Maynard, The Lazy Writer, realizes he desperately needs a writing schedule to accomplish Retirement Plan: Broadway! I have been consistently writing but it’s been in the mornings, evenings, then late night. This creates much stress as to when am I getting it done, how do I organize the rest of my life, etc.

SO the schedule is decreed! It it thus’ith:

WRITE: 10:00-Noon

Pretty simple. Extremely simple.  Nothing better than simple, early and knocked out of the way. No time to brood over it, just done and move on. This is what will make Maynard happy.  He can relish the rest of the day to lather himself in lazy, slovenly non-activities.

And when I’m ready in a few month to bump up to 3 hours of writing a day, I’ll adjust thus’ith.

Starts tomorrow, says the headmistress/mister in my head, who I would actually like to be a fully fleshed out person to whip me in the morning, then praise me, then whip me again, then pat me on the rump, then slap me on the hand and say “get to work!!!”

This is a light schedule with huge long-term power.

2 hours then the rest of the day walk around the apartment screaming I’m a writer dammitt and bring me my dinner tray!

And a scone please. Go

The “I Don’t Wanna” Sheet

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 My most common thoughts before I start writing are:

1) Nothing is going to happen, I will spin like a top.

2) I’m gonna mess up what I have written the previous day.

3) I am really unfocused today so chuck it.

4) I Don’t Wanna!!!

To battle this I do something that works…if I do it. I sit down and divide a sheet of paper into two columns. In the first column I write down all the strange, Lazy Writer thoughts I have in my head. All of them. Especially the crazy sounding ones. I write down all the reasons I can’t write today or my fears about what will happen. Then once that is out of my head (I usually just keep it to four or five sentences,) I start to write. After I finish writing I go back and write in the second column what actually happened. This is what it looked like today.

 Column one:

                -Feel distracted, anxious, had a hard time focusing when I woke up, so I can’t write today.

                -I don’t think I can come up with anything when I feel like this.

                -I have to start a new lyric and have no idea what to write about, so need to figure that out before I start.

 (After 2 hours of writing)

 Column two:

                -Got a decent A section and part of a B.

                -immediately thought of an old lyric I wanted to finish and went for it.

                -The creating was fine and the song is challenging but I settled into a focus

                -I paced a lot but that’s part of my process.

 

All this Don’t Wanna stuff is lies. Lies I tell myself that keep me standing still.

The best part? “I Don’t Wanna” usually lasts only five minutes.  “I Don’t Wanna” is a toddler that gets over things very fast if you ignore it.  So 5 minutes of pain for 1:55 hrs of focused writing, often pleasurable focused writing, is a fantastic ratio.

 

 

Mission Implausible: 20 plays and 20 musicals in 10 years

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(Tape recorder begins.)

-press link to start background music-

 Good morning Retirement Plan Broadway! Or as you call yourself, let’s see, ummmm -sound of rifling papers –  :Pipedreams. That’s apt.

–barely audible guffaws-

 Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to write 40 theater pieces in 10 years. –clears throat- That’s 20 plays and 20 musicals from September 2014 to August 2024…-starts giggling-  Or 2 musicals and 2 plays every year for ten years. –breaks into maniacal laughter-

 -voice regains composure- We accept this is an implausible mission for anyone. Why not even the theater titan Stephen Sondheim himself has written anything close to these numbers. (Perhaps Andrew Lloyd Weber has come closest but only by stealing music from Puccini and boring thousands into actually wanting to be knocked unconscious by the falling chandelier.) But you!? -harrumph-

Taking into consideration your considerable lack of talent, sad habitual laziness, your dismal lack of experience, an agoraphobic and technophobe’s ability at marketing, combined with your advanced age (which in your case we are predicting early onset dementia due to rampant drug use in the 90’s,) we find this mission to be…impossible.-sigh-

However, since you seem intent on not being a productive member of society, we agree, theater is the perfect fit for you! So we call your mission, Mission Implausible. Implausible not just because we agree: you cannot possibly write with such plentitude, and we don’t expect for these plays and musicals to triumph on Broadway and make you enough money to retire in the south of France to live like some Somerset Maugham character, who would clearly lack his elan, wit or taste. But because one of our secretaries handed me this quote in tears after watching some sap of a movie, written by what she tells me is a noted playright -rolls eyes- :

Philip Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.
Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do?
Philip Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
Hugh Fennyman: How?
Philip Henslowe: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

So perhaps in this mystery, although we highly doubt it, things will turn out well.  You see, if you whole-heartedly apply yourself -the minutest chance.  From Impossible to Implausible.

Just kidding! You will fail utterly and miserably and we have decided to offer you this mission simply for our own sick schaudenfraudic glee. Also I know it would surprise you, but we also enjoy a good toe-tapping showtune from time to time. (Guns, spies and bombs surprisingly have the tendency to depress .)

Happy -uncontrollable laughter -writing,

Sincerley,

The Mission Implausible Team.

 This blog post and any confidence you have in your mission will self-destruct in 10 seconds.

jim-phelps

 

Putting in the Time

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“One has no talent, I have no talent. It’s just a question of working, of being willing to put in the time.”

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This is a quote from Graham Greene. He wrote 500 words a day. He would count his words and when he got to 500, even if it was in the middle of a sentence, he would stop and say to someone, “Let’s breakfast now.” And he did this every day. Apparently this would take him an hour and a half. Sounds like a pretty good life to me.

I find myself very envious when I read this, and about other prose writers who would finish over 500 words in an hour. Musical theater composing and lyric writing takes much longer in general, and definitely longer for me. It’s finding the exact word, rhyme, and story, then fitting it to music which can elevate that. In pop music, the song can ramble along, saying amorphous things that usually no one listens to on first hearing. Pop music is about a more tribal experience of beat and texture, where the lyrics can be poetic or nonsensical (big generalization I know.) ‘Can you dance to it?’ kind of thing. There are tons of exceptions to this. But in musical theater writing, the audience has to understand what is being sung, it has to carry the story, move along the plot, and you don’t get to hear it again to get it. It has to work very ephemerally, digested fully, and then the audience can move forward. It’s like a crossword puzzle that has to make people laugh and cry. While pop music has an ‘intuitive’ bar for it to be wonderful, musical theater writing has an intellectual and emotional story telling bar to hop over. All this is just for me to whine and cry about how hard it is to be a musical theater writer and how NO one appreciates us. I’m hoping everyone feels sorry for me, so I can wallow in that and be lazy again.

Sometimes I think I would like to chuck puzzling out lyrics and trying to write interesting music, and just write prose. Seems like a much better path for the Lazy Writer: an hour and a half then breakfast! Then a few novels a year. Fantastic! Another over-simplification. And lazily I digress. Putting in the time… Regardless of how long it takes me, envious or not, it’s the same formula. And I picked three hours like a dumb ass.

The Lazy Writer does not trust himself yet. But I wouldn’t have started this blog and project if I didn’t have some little tiny grain of faith and hope, under this belly of lethargy and self-pity.

I agree, Graham Greene had no talent. Well, I really don’t know, but I started to read one of his novels and it bored me to tears, so I’ll need to reinvestigate. But I can think of many theater writers who are not that “talented,” but are so passionate and can churn out some shit faster than you can say Ethel Merman. They put in their time.

I don’t deserve any Broadway productions or TONY-riffic accolades because, frankly, I have not put in much time.  Well not much consistent time.

‘One has no talent’ is a very reassuring phrase.  Maybe it is just that easy. Maybe it can be just that easy, if one lets it.

Stones in a Vase

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Stones in a Vase

It’s kind of amazing, no it IS amazing when you ask yourself to do something – eg. start a new project, write for 2 hours, make an outline for a new play -and you do it, the “done it” becomes a “maybe I can do this,” and the “maybe I can do this” has all these magnificent chemicals that I forget about in my lazy hypnotic stupors. They make you feel all good and squishy inside. A pliable, easy , ‘anything is possible,’ just playin’ with my chew-toy squishiness. Like a radiating orange liquid that warms your stomach, oozes through you, and makes you holler, “Hello chemicals! I want to feel this way again! Yes please.”

Neil Fiore in his book The Now Habit, says “Trying to escape by procrastination will only increase your anxiety; only work will diminish your anxiety.” So the converse is, the more you throw yourself into your writing CONSISTENTLY, the more increased, consistent, warm squishiness you get to feel! Chemicals! Yum!

My lazy doppleganger, Maynard , laughs at me, pointing out all the times I felt squishy and then went back to The Kingdom of Lazyburghtonia, Land of the Pot Belly Remote Control Peoples.

So techniques to ward off Maynard?

Well one, starting tomorrow, the OFFICIAL start of my Retirement Broadway Plan, I will employ a technique I’ve used before: Stones in a Vase. (Sounds like a really bad Nicholas Sparks novel but I promise it works.) For each hour I write, I put a stone in a vase. Firstly I’m doing this because I want to focus on process. I never know how long it will take me to do a project, or if what I worked on was any good. Also, if I sit for three hours and try and nothing comes out, despite what my critical “you suck” headspace says, that is still three hours of writing, and what I’ve experienced in the past is, that three hours stuck is never really stuck, it is puzzle solving and learning. It is time spent creating, even if what I create is holes in my rug from pacing.

And more importantly there is a strange thrill about putting the stones in the vase and seeing them cumulate. It’s something tangible to attach to Process. So I can look at my 2, 4, 6 stones (I picked shiny, pearly, brightly colored stones that say “hells yes,”) and think about what I’ve accomplished, Process, not outcome. Now all that said if this f’ing Process doesn’t turn into tangible money slash success slash me on Broadway, Process can suck it.

But I guess I don’t have to worry about that for a while.

Stones in a vase.

Remember the squishyness.

 

Maynard – The Lazy Writer

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Maynard is the name I have chosen to call that personality who frequently takes over my body and says, “Nah. No writtin’ today bub. Sorry, (burp.)” I don’t mean Sally Field’s Sybil “Break glass, break glass,” personality, or Ghostbusters ‘take over my body’ personality, I mean an unfortunate personality trait of moi. Maynard is lazy. Really lazy. Like plop on the couch and watch 3 seasons of Modern Family lazy, while ordering Indian take out and only-putting-on-his-pants-to-answer-the-door lazy. I’m not sure where Maynard comes from. Is it from my parents not scheduling and directing me enough as a child? My own insecurity? A physical trait I have like the type A personality or in my case type Z for la-Zy? Or is it our own genetic predisposition to rest until we fundamentally need to hunt gazelle and gather nuts and Facebook likes to stay alive? Who knows. But I do know one of the resounding thoughts in my head when I want to accomplish a task from big to small, is, Maynard cackling, “Oh, you can start tomorrow. Better yet, next week. Or you know what , why not the first of next month? Then again September is coming up, that’s a fine, yep, fine time to start!” (TV on. Speed dial for Chicken Tikka Masala.)

So if my hubristic artistic journey into Broadway fame and fortune is to take flight, how do I tackle Maynard? Well this blog is one step. Maybe writing about how lazy Maynard is will be a way to release him and confront him. Maybe by exposing my laziness I won’t take is so seriously. And maybe by starting a blog that says what I will do, I will do it. Or the blog could conclude with 2 entries and I will have watched eight British miniseries. There’s always a good British miniseries on. Right Maynard? (Maynard is more sophisticated than his name connotes.)

So my goal, on this journey, is to write consistently: to write two hours, every day, no matter what at the beginning, and then work my way up to at least three hours a day. Ugh, three hours? (I hear Maynard groan, then fart, then guffaw.) Why three hours of writing? It might seem excessive, and perhaps it is. But I think this number comes from three things. First, I have the time right now. It basically means one less hour of TV a night. Also I am soon to be ‘lightly employed,’ having consciously started to pare down my living expenses. So soon I can do less ‘survival job,’ and more writing jobs. Huzzah! Second, I have gone way past the infamous middle age(d) mark. I think when I was 30, I stated if I couldn’t support myself by my writing by age 35, I would go back to grad school, or get an entry level job in a field my parents would finally be able to tell their friends what I “do,” or move to Tahiti and sell Heinekens on the beach. (The last one still sounds awesome.) But mainly, my urge to write, and want to support myself by writing has never gone away, and half of my life is gone, (gulp,) so why not push all my chips to the center of the table and show my hand. I am embarking on a hubristic journey am I not.  Thirdly, writing musical theater is TIME CONSUMING!  There’s the book, the lyrics, and the music; then the music notation into the computer, the rehearsing, the demos, the readings, the corralling actors, stage hands, directors, musicians to do things for free or very little money.  “Let’s put on a show kids!  And no one’s getting paid! Hit it!” (blank stares. blanket resentment.)

Maynard aside, (have a seat Maynard…he gladly does,) I have written for the last 15 years, (seriously for the past 10,) have had many things performed and produced, and think, know? I have talent. The problem is, I can go 3 months without writing and then, when I have a deadline or external project I will write obsessively and painfully. The writing desert appears again soon after. While friends and colleagues have made careers and money, I have waited tables and been a freelance musician, never making more than a few thousand dollars solely from my writing. Getting accolades but no Benjamins…

My friends who have been successful have one thing in common. They write consistently, at least more consistently than Maynard- The Lazy Writer.

“Get a Job!”

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“Get a job!” The ultimate heckle. I hear my Dad yelling it. Well, not really yelling it. Instead of some booming Brooklyn accent, I hear a monotone, very passive-aggressive WASP-y sounding voice saying, “Here son, take some money for the LSAT prep course… just try it.” “You could maybe be a lawyer and then you can follow your passions in your free-time.” Or when encountering my resistance: “I had dreams too, but you know what happened…life happened,” (This is followed by a knowing nod from his fourth wife.) And then going in for the kill, “Your generation is all gonna wind up in the poor house following your, your….bliss. What about retirement!? What are ya gonna do then? You sure as heck aren’t gonna wanna work when your seventy I can sure as shit tell you that!”

Well I did go to law school, but I took a leave of absence in the middle of my second year because, instead of falling asleep with my Contracts book clutched to my chest, I woke up face-planted in a bowl of vodka and a pile of coke. So back to my more or less destructive bliss: Music. My Dad of course retired early, financial success being his big dream, travels the world, owns stuff, likes to be president of all things with the word ‘Club’ in them.

Yeah, law school wasn’t for me. Music was always for me and now, musical theater writing is for me. It’s what I love, a love learned later in life. A love that I went back to school for. Those life-tested loves are the most secure of loves right? But Dad’s right too. What the heck am I gonna do then: Old and wizened and riddled with the regret of burning my law books on my front stoop? Seventy and binge-watching ‘Breaking Bad’ for the fourteenth time.

So thinking about retirement’s not such a bad idea. I mean it’s a good idea. No. Great idea. It just might be the best idea ever! So I know. What if I wrote two plays and two musicals every year for the next ten years,  most of them going to Broadway of course! That’s 40 shows. (Am I making a leap here, I think not.) Then retirement-smirement, duh, in ten years, with all the Broadway money, I’ll be on the French Riviera, on a rocky beach, under a blue and white-striped umbrella, nude, with extra-virgin olive oil slathered all over me, eating cockles and caviar and croque-monsieurs, snapping to my man-servant ‘Guy,’ who I insist on calling guy, cause I’m an American with money dammit and I can! for him to bring me a Lillet spritzer.

I will be retired! Retired! Retire-ment. It’s meant to be. And all my dreams will have come true cause my shows will be on Brooaad-way making tens, no hundreds of thousands a week, gross, which I get 5% of, and not to mention the tours and London premieres and concerts in Manila (for some reason they LOVE musicals there…oh wait Lea Salonga, right,) and then there’s concessions (shirts and mugs and such,) and speaking fees and casting couches. Well the last one is a little creepy but everything else.

So that’s it. Easy enough. Just write. Yeah. Just write. Broadway, then retirement. Good plan. Excellent. I’ll write 40 theater works, in ten years and live off the dividends…

Did I tell you I’m forty-five? Oh and I’m a little bit lazy. Well a lot. Lazy. And I am currently waiting tables. And I don’t live in New York. I mean I did until this summer, but I had to get out. You know the crowds, the rent, the grind, the apartment I accidentally flooded. I live in Philly now, in a room rented out by one of the line-cooks that I work with. It’s cheap- in a not so safe part of town. I think they are dealing drugs across the street. Next door too. But I am a published musical theater writer. My latest musical was in a prestigious festival and was “award-winning.” That’s what it says on my website anyway. The awards were honorable mentions, in two categories. But that’s first runner-up, no? No one has licensed it…as of yet. And all in all my writing has netted me, let’s see… Oh that is a negative number isn’t it.

……um.

Well, this plan is looking great. Retirement. Retirement: Broadway! Yep. Take that Dad.  Let’s see how this goes.

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