An admission

That as a former New Yorker, I am incapable of giving good, reliable directions.

Not because I don't often know the way, or don't want to share, but because I can't ever say, "No – I don't know how to get there."

Just can't do it. You ask a New Yorker, "How do I get to 486 Farblunget Avenue?" They will answer, "Um, um, um... I think it's three blocks up and on the left." Even if they have NO CLUE. Really none.

And we're not doing it out of spite. We want to help. Deeply. We just also want to be right, and informed, and know things that we feel we should know.

So if you're ever in New York and need directions: ask A LOT of people and take the average. Because most of them – no matter how definite they sound – haven't got a clue.

It's one of those weird regional things, like Angelenos inability to say no to an RSVP when they mean... no.

And it reminds me of my mom's favorite quote: Nobody here knows anything, let's take a vote.


A rave

For Doctor Who's latest two-episode festival of goodness. From the opening beats of Silence In The Library you knew you were in the capable hands of writer Steven Moffat. And that the next two hours were gonna be weird, wonderful, and leave you in tears. Good tears. Satisfied tears.

Also want to give props to the whole Doctor Who team for completely fooling me on the subject matter of these episodes. Even before the season started, they leaked all kinds of spoilers about how we'd be learning more about Who's private and (gasp) family life this season. And then they gave us the mildly crappy Doctor's Daughter episode. I felt a little gypped, you?

But no – it was all a fake-out. Silence In The Library/Forest Of The Dead were the real episodes dealing with Who's private life. And the wonderful/horrible problem of living forever while everything and everyone you know dies around you. Moffat spun a great two hours out of that theme. JRR Tolkien spent thousands of pages and a lifetime on it.

And hey, there's a cross-over: Moffat is also writing the screenplays for the Spielberg/Peter Jackson Tintin movies. Guess Peter Jackson liked his handling of the theme as well. Or vice versa.


A rant

About contractors and the requirement that we all become experts in everything if we ever want anything done right. Or done to a barely acceptable level.

I've been helping my father move to his new condo. The move-in date has been shoved back three times in the last week. But that's nothing. The whole project began over two years ago. And was supposed to be easy. Ha.

Three contractors later, the end is finally in sight. The furniture is on the delivery truck and my dad's meager belongings are packed. Except, of course, the refrigerator is still in pieces in the middle of the living room, a fine new layer of sawdust is sprinkled over everything we moved in last weekend and large, sharp contractor tools are scattered across the brand new, delicate, cork floors.

That and the bathroom lights and plumbing are still gaping holes. Sigh.

Yet these are the contractors we LIKE. The good ones. So why do we still have to stand and watch every move they make and research every article they put up and know ourselves – even if we aren't going to do it – HOW to do it right so we can tell them how? Aren't these the people we're paying to know how to do things so we don't have to?

And why do I have to know which insurance is right for me? Isn't that my broker's job? And which medical treatments I need? And which tests I should get... and on, and on, and on.

Maybe this is the real reason I love television work. You'd think the arts would be full of flaky arts types who need to be constantly watched. But, no. Studios are full of professionals who KNOW THEIR JOBS. Better by far than you do. And they DO them. Professionally.

Which makes me so very happy.


A break

I'll probably pay for this tomorrow. But today I played hooky and took my nephew to the zoo. Judging from this photo, he needed the break as much as I did.


A reunion

I just finished a college reunion: much catching up with old friends and meeting new ones. So many former classmates are working in entertainment. My sister the economist tells me this is because we graduated at the bottom of the business cycle and couldn't get real jobs.

Yay, us.

Anyway, I used to live here.


An exercise

Some excellent blogs have lately discussed the importance of knowing what the character you are writing is doing at any given moment in any given scene – and why they are doing it. Most importantly, why. See this entry, and this one.

Something else to remember about that why – it's the character's why, not yours. The scene that the character wants is probably NOT gonna be the one you give him. This is the stuff of drama: you want a fight scene, your character wants a nice, peaceful night. Tada! – conflict! characters gettin' thwarted and having to find a new way to get whatever it was that they wanted (if a comedy) or expire trying (if a tragedy). And I don't mean this in the obvious don't-have-your-characters-do-things-just-for-plot-reasons way. Sometimes the character has a damn good reason for getting into that fight; still doesn't mean he wants to fight.

Back in my acting days I found it nearly impossible to keep fellow thespians from lunging straight for that conflict – to assume that the reason we found ourselves in an argument was because our characters wanted to argue. Which is so rarely the case in life. And is not very interesting to the viewer. Even in a straight-up boxing match, you can assume the fighters want to win and you as the viewer can get involved in that. If it were just about the fighting...? Meh.

To thwart these straight-for-the-jugular tendencies, I put together an improv that helped me as the actor connect with those hopes and dreams that will, yes, eventually inspire my character to wind up back at someone else's throat:

You're an actor facing a tough scene. You think about that "what do I really, really want in this scene" question and throw out your best guess. It has to be something positive – not just "I want to leave" or "I want this confrontation to be over." The other actors take that idea, think about it in turn – and then play the scene GIVING YOU EXACTLY WHAT YOU WANT. And then some: frequently the other actors can finger your character's unspeakable fantasies a lot more honestly than you ever can. You play the scene – the situation at the start, anyway, as typically the scene heads off the written rails pretty quickly. And then you keep going until your character is so friggin' satisfied that, well, you might need a smoke afterwards.

Then you play it again for each character in turn: Claudius apologizes to Hamlet, explains he never slept with Gertrude, and falls on his own sword; Mitch answers Blanche's revelations with a deep, sensual kindness and carries her off to a fantasy castle in the sky, everyone lives happily ever after, whatever.

As an actor, the memory of getting exactly what you wanted – even if only that once – will keep you and your character going in the face of never, ever getting anything you ever wanted ever again. As a writer... it's good to remember that your characters probably wanted something very different before you started screwing with them – and that they might just fight you to try to get that fantasy back. And THAT fight is what's really interesting to viewers.


a house guest

Guess who has moved back in – on top of the rack of tomato stakes and bean poles under the eaves of my back patio? The rack of stakes and poles that I needed to USE yesterday. The same stupid bird who was there last year. Apparently the fact that I bugged her by working within feet of her nest, pulled poles right out from under said nest, got up on a stool to take pictures and investigate and was generally a nuisance every day of the three weeks it took her eggs to hatch was not enough to deter this bird.

And maybe she's right – the eggs hatched. Ergo: successful nest. Even with the noisy neighbor.


A picture from my garden

Played some hooky today in celebration of yesterday's victory... if hours of backbreaking labor in the garden can be considered celebration.

Now I can sit back and wait for the tomatoes, and peppers, and zucchini, and parsley, and basil and pumpkins and beans. And have a beer while surveying a job well done.


A cheer

Haven't posted in a couple of days – I've been busy getting something very new together. My writing partner and I just finished, polished and buffed to a high shine a one-hour horror/drama pilot we've been working on. So – yay us! On to the drinking.