Friday, February 25, 2005

Nothing, If Not A Number

I'll be 40 in a little over six months. This surprises some people, who see my youthful strapping good looks and note my enthusiasm for juvenile comedy films. But it's true. I was born in 1965, the same year the Stones released "Satisfaction." More specifically, I was born in September 1965, the same month the Beatles' "Help" hit the streets. I remember where I was for the moon landing. When people ask me if I was teased as a kid when "Walk Like An Egyptian" came out, I remind them I was a senior. In college.

I recall the episode of "Taxi" where Bobby struggles with his vow to quit acting if he doesn't make it big before he hit 30. When it first aired, I was old enough to grasp the notion of adult regret and the often-futile act of goal setting. I don't remember the episode's ending but I note the irony that the actor who played Bobby was far more famous before he turned 30.

Still, I think I'll have some goals for 40, none of which I plan to give up on if they're not reached. Because heart disease runs rampant on my father's side of the family, my physical fitness is pretty important. The day I turned 35, I ran a half-marathon. Less than two months later, I had the worst bad back of my life, a herniated disc that slowed me down for half a year. I still don't know if the back problem was attributable to my half-marathon training or running, or to my violent slip on the ice of the stairs in front of the St. Paul Public Schools administration building. Either way, I'm going to start running again. And my goal is a full marathon. If one isn't available on the day I turn 40 (September 10), I'll run the Twin Cities Marathon in October. They call it the most beautiful "urban" marathon in the country. I'm not sure if that's true but they keep saying it. Over and over again. The Twin Cities Marathon appeals to me because it would be fun to go out for some night-before-the-race pasta with old friends, if they're not in China by then. Yes, invisible questioner, I'll monitor my physical condition. Thanks for watching my back.

In order to train to run a marathon, I'll have to lose weight. 25-30 pounds worth. And I've discovered the best weight loss system, one that helps the heart, melts the fat, AND makes the work day shorter. It's the walk-up-and-down-20-flights-of-stairs-twice-a-day-at-work exercise. I've been doing it for weeks. 5 pounds gone. And I know all the secrets of the southwest stairwell in my work building, still the smallest skyscraper in downtown Los Angeles. So, by May I hope to be at running weight and then it's off to the bluffs above the beach in Santa Monica, where the running trails are softer than a Stephen Bishop b-side.

Some more pre-40 goals: finish the screenplay, surf a wave on a real board, finish an Ian McEwan book, sell the screenplay, publish a story collection, go to Hawaii, and get on Jeopardy.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


I made a pact with the Los Angeles weather gods today. My interminable work day must be interrupted at lunch time with a stroll across the footbridges, broad sidewalks, and snaky short cuts of downtown's Bunker Hill district. So, at 12:30 I requested a light rain or no rain, for the next 65 minutes, as opposed to the torrential rains we've been getting lately. I got what I asked for and as my co-workers ate their tepid always-disappointing delivery Thai food, I felt a cool breeze slap me happily while eating black beans and brown rice, topped with the whitest of protein. And the rain that did fall out of the sky felt like a pleasant drip-drip shower one would choose to stand beneath in a Tuscan courtyard.

Is there anything worse than talking about the weather? About one's own lunch? About both? No. I'll change the subject to something cheery, a topic we can all get our teeth into: the selection of one of my short stories as one of 2004's 145 "notable" stories that were published online, according to StorySouth:

Say prayers to busy gods and cross slippery fingers, so that I make it to the next round - that of the final 10, to be announced March 1.

It's a little strange being all happy about a story I actually wrote in 2002, a story that was actually accepted for publication in early 2003 but didn't find its way onto the internet until late 2003, remaining posted and available for reading until well into January, thus making it eligible for a 2004 award. I mean, this is a story I wrote while still living in Minneapolis, that Ghost City with its zombie fetishists and men and women of stately demeanor. And its parade of shaky bare trees, banished to leaflessness from November to April, clip-clopping a collective shrug of bony protected shoulders.

It's a story about homeless people and statues and cemeteries. Wish it luck.

I've never had a more emotionally draining 3-day weekend. But it wasn't all rough going. There was smoked trout and "Collateral" on DVD (very entertaining) and a new card game involving the vituperation of neighbors. We'll forget the Robin Williams film. And the constant rain. And the summit meetings. And the goddamn sword. Oh, that's a reference only I will ever know.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005


The script is shaping up. Next step: note cards. I’ve never used note cards in my life. But I am stridently marching toward the note card kingdom, not looking back. I have grown as a human being.

The progress we made can be summed up (without giving away too much) as: 1) Why didn’t we think of putting B in D1 before? Character arc meshing with story arc; 2) Yes, the journalist is a device, but why wouldn’t there be a journalist?; and 3) The Airplane Hangar.

I correctly picked the winner of “Best in Show” at yesterday’s Westminster Dog Show. I knew it would be the pointer. Yes, I had a 1-in-7 chance of being right just by guessing, but I think I have a good eye.

Is it too early to organize the Springsteen for President in 2008 campaign? This is something I think about every few weeks. But I can’t wait too long before doing something about it.

I drank a drink called “Leadership” yesterday. It's so new it's not even on the website yet: It’s had an effect. I feel like taking the helm, steering the ship. I also feel like sleeping.

Monday, February 14, 2005


I’m a little less confident in the artisan cheese scene than I was Friday. Thinking it is one thing. Writing it and realizing the audience may sit bewildered and bored unless you figure a way through it is another. I think I’ll write some back story instead.

Sunday night was one of those times that the American television universe brought a galaxy of far-flung random yet mostly inspired images into my living room (the smallest living room I have ever known), leading to my first-ever moment (and it was only a moment) of falling victim to image/information overload. A sampling: the scattered sometimes genius of “Arrested Development”; the subtle perfection of a “Monk” rerun; the sideshow party called the Grammy’s in which the hands across generations and genres became so crisscrossed that you had to weep (in joy) at the whole thing but why wasn’t Franz Ferdinand up for New Artist?; the amusement but slight disappointment with the second “Blue Collar Comedy Tour” special (I maintain the first one was a goldmine of laughs) in which only Ron White wasn’t in it for the paycheck; the sight of one of my co-workers presenting research findings to interested parties on a local access channel; and the crappiest “Family Guy” episode ever.

Have you ever taken your loved one to a restaurant to celebrate Valentine’s Day (a day early because I have to go to a ridiculous post-work community meeting tonight) and the host tells you it’ll be 10 minutes for a table and instead of asking your name he asks for a code word “because it’s more fun”? And Laurel, after a little deliberation, came up with a good code word. And we went to the new age bookstore next door, to wait for out code word to be called, and I read about the relationship between persistent infections and fatigue, while Laurel perused other sections. Nine minutes later we heard the quirky host call our code word and we proceeded to have one of my top 5 vegan meals ever. Has this ever happened to you?

The 2000s are halfway over and I plan on making some lists of my favorite things and I’ll likely post them here. However, lists take time and a certain amount of desperation, neither of which I have much of these days. But I do want to express that Morrissey’s “First of the Gang to Die” is the best song of the half-decade. About as transcendent as music gets. Not a wasted moment. Transporting lyrics, a jaunty melody, a perfect chorus, and one of the greatest single moments in the history of earth (the “bullet in his gullet" moment). Every decision Morrissey makes with this song is the right one: calling his hero Hector (great name!), taking the first-person-familiar of a gang member but still saying things like “such a silly lad,” and opening his heart to the universe. I recommend listening to this song over and over and over again while slowly driving the residential streets of Santa Monica looking for nothing but internal permission to keep driving and listening.

Friday, February 11, 2005

February Rain

Earlier today I wrote "The rain always fades into a drizzle by noon." This isn't true. The word "always" should be replaced with "usually." The bottom 72% of my fine olive dress pants is as saturated with water as Colin Ferrell's acting is with feigned detachment. My jacket only goes so far. My legs are damp and cold and all this trouble was for a fish burrito (not the lunch I said I'd have, I know).

Your Own Mind

I’ve been given an assignment by the rest of the team. Act 1, scene 2. To say that this will be cinema’s most memorable scene involving artisan cheeses and the people who cultivate them is an understatement. It is also an overstatement.

The morning rain turned the rush hour sky a gorgeous shade of blue. It was like the blue you’d see on an architect’s drafting table. As I drove to work, to my left, the Hollywood Hills pulsated with Raymond Chandler’s overwritten hangovers. To my right, I swore I saw Stew making giant footprints with a paintbrush on Arlington Hill. I can’t wait for lunch. The rain always fades into a drizzle by noon. I’ll walk briskly down 3rd street, appreciating the little fountain next to the little footbridge next to the giant bank building. Fountains sound sweet in the rain. I’ll eat my tofu and brown rice and black beans on the covered patio, unless the sun surprises us. I’ll stop by this neat little cafĂ© called Starbucks. They have a logo of a lady deadhead offering fruit.

It won’t just be the cheeses. The sources of the cheeses will be in the movie too. Goats, sheep, and the poor poor cow, ignored by the ovine-preferring artisans. The girl will have red hair, her father black. Picture a dyed Lindsey Lohan and a bewigged John Lithgow. The hills will be rolling and the chasers giving chase.

I spent 1,005 dollars fixing my car yesterday. This is a lot of money but not so much when you consider I haven’t spent a penny on repairs for two years. I just put everything off. I could have been more attentive. But it’s just a car. It’s not a person.

I’m rebelling against casual Friday by wearing a tie – for only the 3rd time in a month – and my finest blue and gray striped shirt. I’m treating today like it’s Monday. No one tells me what to wear. The second darkest of the blue stripes is like the blue in Donald Fagen’s college girlfriend’s pin shot.

Tonight is Friday night. That means two things. Sleeping late tomorrow. And watching “Monk” tonight. Maybe we can get Tony Shalhoub to play Bill. Or Gil. Or whatever we’re calling him today.

I finished Bob Dylan’s autobiography recently. Although I’ve grown to accept the fact that most of what’s in his autobiography is true (I had my doubts before), there’s another issue. Why is it that the “voice” of the author of his autobiography sounds maddeningly like that of Don Delillo? I’m not complaining. Don can write. But if he wrote the book from Bob’s scribbled notes in a stack of warped Mead top-rings, then he should at least get co-authorship. Or an “as told to.” Maybe they made a deal. Bob wrote “Cosmopolis.” Don wrote “Chronicles, Vol. 1.” I hear Margaret Atwood is up for Vol. 2.

And when the girl realizes that she is the sheep, the goat, the poor poor cow, that she is John Lithgow, and the soundtrack swells and the camera pulls away swiftly then slowly, you’ll shed a little tear and understand that love is not the instrument of pain.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Conversations with Myself

We’ve nailed down the story structure. And the character motivations. And the opening scene – pre-credits, stare in awe, we’ve got you! The ending’s a tough one though. We’ll work it out.

Elevators are strange social laboratories. I just got back from my lovely daily break from the office. On the way down, the big boss – the Mayor of Los Angeles (a nickname, not a title) – signaled his desire to get out of the elevator by having his assistant shout (in an elevator) “Out Please.” Yes, I’m pretty certain he and his assistant have rehearsed this system, likely while binging on big-box cereal. Whatever happened to “excuse me, this is my floor”?

Who do I work for? The government.

On the way back up from lunch, the elevator was crowded with wet sweaty people (hot day) and the conversations were drunk with subtext. Silence was fraught with intentions. Introductions were quickly dispensed with and forgotten. “Excuse me” all the way around. Civil.

Why the blog? Well, in response to my one commenter, this is not intended as an occasional letter updating the reader(s?) on the specifics of my life. The entries will be random and interesting and hopefully (week)daily. Details will be revealed in time. Obscurity may thrust its ugly fist but will be held in check by the reward of exposition. The running theme of the screenplay will frame the content, specifics doled out like government butter. A narrative will emerge and you will bookmark Blueprint Blues.

Will there be lists and poems and stories? Not likely. Those are more appropriate for my e-mail list of 2 to 4 people. But you never know. I refuse to make rules that will haunt me. Will I rail against the system? Yes, with irony. Will I randomly praise and wistfully bemoan that which I love and miss, respectively? Yeah. Will I stop with the questions already?

I just took off my tie. The morning meeting is over and it’s all grind and toil until 4:55. Charts and graphs and text. Maybe there’ll be another entry but don’t hold your breath. Breathe.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

They Pulled Me In

I moved back to Los Angeles three years ago, determined to live outside the margins of the entertainment industry. I assumed that six years of graduate school in the Midwest taught me the value of careful career planning and the security of steady health insurance. In Minnesota, I meticulously researched and planned my future. I met my wife. We planned a wedding. We bought a house. There was a game show.

In 2002, secure in our marriage and bungalow in the bad side of Minneapolis, she threw out the bombshell. We’re getting out of this place. She wanted to go to school, in Santa Monica, California. She wanted me back in my old stomping grounds, the place that housed my biggest mistakes and the willowy ghosts of regrettable people. An hour’s drive from where my family lived. It was easier for her, born and raised in Minnesota. Time to get away from that. Of course we couldn’t really afford to move, the game show notwithstanding. And I wasn’t even close to completing my dissertation. The timing was all wrong. So we packed up and left, with our cats, in a caravan of Camry and Penske rental truck heading west in summer. Nebraska sunsets are pretty.

The first time here it was easy to ignore the pull of the movie industry. I didn’t live on the West Side. I saw myself as a poet, an academic. Job and school and girlfriends pulled me to the far-away borders of the greater Los Angeles area. But this time, we were in Santa Monica, part of the core, where movie stars live (as do gangstas and dentists and landlords and guidance counselors, it should be noted). And so when Meg Ryan sits two seats from you at a movie theater sharing Runts with her tow-headed son and when two nineties TV stars (from different shows, different genres – who knew they were friends?) pitch concepts over coffee on a terrace as you read about the Lakers and worry about the ticking clock of your unemployment benefits, you start to think “...I should write a screenplay.”

Easier said than done. You need an idea, first. And apparently you need talent – not necessarily the type of talent that gets your short fiction published in online literary journals. You need to know structure. And format. And marketing. But above all you need to write a story that can translate to the screen, a story that lends itself to collaboration because yes, there will be collaborators, more than you’d ever imagine.

Structure, format, marketing, industry conventions, terminology, font – these are all learnable. Figuring out the function of the “sweet spot” in the third act is easier than understanding the impact of specifying fixed effects in a 3-level hierarchical linear model (grad school, I’ll explain later). But that last skill I listed – writing a story that translates to the screen and invites collaboration – that’s the big one. And it’s not easy.

So, we have this idea, Laurel (my wife) and I. And we have a friend, a screenwriter/director with energy and talent and (though I hate the word that follows the right parenthesis) connections. The three of us set forth on writing a screenplay that we’re certain will be turned into a 50 million dollar movie with A-list talent. We will all make enough money for our own personal pet (collaborative) projects – my conversational indie film script about prisoners and poetry, my wife’s Enneagram vehicle, and the other guy’s character pieces (no names, no specifics for him – he doesn’t trust the internet; let’s call him Blaine). I will quit my day job, the one that finds me in a cubicle in the smallest of downtown L.A.'s skyscrapers. I will be pulled all the way in.

And what’s this about, the big movie that will catapult us into a life of work in film? I can’t tell you. But let’s just say that it involves humanity. And though the original idea was partly mine, the script we’re actually writing is nothing I ever thought I would be involved with. I love it of course.

Why are we so supremely confident? Because you have to be. And how close are we to getting it done? Not even close. It’s only been six days. But I’m in for good now. I’m part of the industry (I won’t uppercase it, don’t worry). I crave the finished product of film on the big screen. I long to be a nominee.

And finally, who is this imaginary reader asking me questions? You’ll have to answer that one.