Back in the Saddle

Write. Every day. Whatever. No matter what. Write. Write every day.

Apparently, once I fall of the wagon, I fall hard. I’ve had numerous ideas for posts in the last couple years, even started banging out early drafts of a few of them, and never got around to finishing them. I’m looking at them just below the box I’m typing in, wondering if any of them are worth finishing at this point, since they’re largely dated. No idea. May go back and give each of ’em a once-over just for the sake of it, and maybe save anything promising.

Write. Every day. Whatever. No matter what. Write. Write every day.

I carry a notebook around with me most of the time so I can jot down thoughts and ideas, nuggets of inspiration and whimsies, and, since most of the time my hands are full of baby these days, the notebook doesn’t get much use. The spine, stiff from lack of stretching, desperately in need of some book yoga to loosen it up, get it feeling like a BOOK again. I used to be really good at scrawling random musings in a notebook. Even had one where I played with the format of HOW I wrote all the time, writing upside-down, solely around the edges of the page, spiraling into the center. The kind of shit you do in your twenties that you think makes you “edgy”.

Write. Every day. Whatever. No matter what. Write. Write every day.

I spend more time writing posts on Facebook, ranting about politics (which I did this very morning) or making amusing comments on the latest Onion article (a venerable, worthy institution, one for whom I would love to write someday if I could only remember how to be that funny). I do, apparently, make several friends’ day with my efforts, so it’s not a total loss. But I’m not really saying anything, not generating any thoughts of my own.

All that’s about to change.

Don’t worry, I’m still gonna post articles from the Onion, because they’re funny as hell and some of the most painfully accurate satire there is these days. Can’t live without that. But I’m losing my own voice, and I can’t have that. So that’s why I’m repeating this little mantra.

Write. Every day. Whatever. No matter what. Write. Write every day.

That’s my challenge to myself. Whatever it is, write it. This blog. Plays. Screenplays. Prose, Poetry. My own brilliant satire, whenever I come up with some. Turn the goddamn TV off and write. Put the kids to bed and write.

Oh yeah, I have two kids now. Pretty much anyone who follows this blog is already aware of that. One’s asleep in his crib right now, and the other is outside playing with his dart guns, so I’m stealing a few minutes to get to it and write. I love my boys so much it hurts, but they’re a lot of work, and it makes it hard to do the other work that matters to me, too. But

I’ve always tended to be pretty stream-of-consciousness when I write; too much structure up front stifles me, and if I know exactly were I’m going at the end, I often lose interest in getting there. But, I live in Los Angeles now, and scripts need to be tight, well thought out, and usually of a certain length. I ain’t too old to learn new tricks. So, my professional work is gonna be tightly plotted (with room for improvisation and inspiration), and the other stuff – like this blog – is gonna wander.

But I’m still gonna talk about the things that inspired this whole blog-like thing: I’m a dad, I’m a men, I’m a lot of things, and I’m gonna continue to explore them and write about them. Fatherhood, manhood, guns, movies, fart jokes, books, Star Wars, sex, comedians, politics (once in a while, if I can keep the vitriol down). Anything and everything. and beer. DEFINITELY beer. I’m turning this blog into my little notebook that I thought was so cool. And, I’m gonna start writing in that notebook again, when my hands aren’t full of baby. Damn, he’s big.

I ALSO wanna take a moment to recognize all the new fathers I know from the past year. Whatever was in the water, we all drank it, and DAMN, there are some amazing new creatures in the world because of all of us gettin’ naughty. Congrats to Eric, Dan, Kahlil, Colin, Jonathan, Joey Bag-o-Donuts. I know there’s more, and I apologize for not being able to remember your names right now, but , as you all know, baby brain ain’t just for women anymore. Welcome to the brave new world of raising a responsible human being. You’re about to earn your grey hairs.

I ALSO wanna open up this forum to all the dads I know, new and old, and invite you post your own musings on manhood with me on this page. Basically, let’s start talking about it together. I’m happy to moderate, if anyone’s interested. If not, I feel ya, I’m tired all the time, too. But I’d love to hear from you. No rules on content, format, whatever – you wanna write a play about being a dad, bring it. I’ll post it. Whatever’s on your mind. If you’re so inclined, this is a place to let it all rip. I’m sure you’ve got something to say, so let me know if you want to say it here.

Write. Every day. Whatever. No matter what. Write. Write every day.

If we keep it up, sooner or later we’ll write something worth reading.

 

P.S.: Next time, I’ll write about my new baby boy. Stay tuned….

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The Flood

So I’ve been planning to restart this blog for a while now, and I was about to post this on Facebook as a status update when I realized just how long it was going to be. I figured this was a better place for it.

Fellow Nashvillians have been posting the story from the Tennessean about today being the anniversary of the 2010 flood, and I thought I’d share my own experience of that weekend. Hard to believe that was five years ago.

This is what I remember about the flood:

On Saturday, May 1, I attended a meeting of the Board if Directors for People’s Branch Theatre, the small company I was Artistic Director for, at which we voted to shut the doors on the company. We met at the offices of a board member on Nolensville Road between Antioch and Brentwood, and the rain has already begun to pour. As we wrapped up our meeting and headed out, reports were already coming in about washouts along I-24, the exact corridor I would need to use to get back home. I decided to take what I would later come to find out (after living in LA) are called surface roads, following Nolensville Road all the way back into town to the I-40/I-24 junction and Lebanon Road, which I then took to McGavock Pike and all the way into my neighborhood off of Pennington Bend. The rain never let up that entire day and most of the next.

Sunday morning, May 2, the rain finally abated, and Julee and I loaded our six-week-old son into his carseat and took a drive around our area to see what shape it was in. Keep in mind, we lived right off of the Cumberland, and we were aware that downtown was already getting dangerously high (in fact, downtown may have already suffered some of the flood damage; I can’t remember exactly). We drove down by the river behind us to the boat inlet, and at that point in time, while much higher than normal, the water level was still a good twenty feet below the surface line. Two Rivers Golf Course had been pretty much submerged, and we were in awe of what had happened. We returned home with little more thought about it, glad that the worst seemed to be over. However, we kept the news on all day as weather reports continued to come in.

As the day wore on, reporters continued to talk about rising water levels in downtown, and that there was still more to come. Julee began to ask whether or not we should consider packing a bag and heading out, but I honestly did not believe anything would happen. That evening, as it began to get dark, Julee received a phone call from another employee at the Nashville Children’s Theatre who happened to live in the subdivision next to us that they were being evacuated from their home due to rising water levels on the Cumberland. They had two small children of their own and had just moved to Nashville from Atlanta, so they had no family in town, and they wanted to know if they could possibly stay with us for the night if necessary. We said sure, expecting them to come over soon if the worst happened. I still believed we were safe in our house.

Within a few hours, police cruisers were circling thru out neighborhood advising residents to leave their homes, as the river had rested its banks and was continuing to rise. Our colleague’s neighborhood had already been evacuated, and her home was several feet under water.

Our son was six weeks old.

We quickly packed clothing and some essentials into both of our cars – computers, valuables, photo albums. I moved some other electronics upstairs into the upper bedrooms to minimize whatever damage I could, and we loaded our two dogs and our son into our cars and headed out of the neighborhood. Our next door neighbors had decided to stay, and he told me he would check in with me as the night wore on.

We lived in Donelson, and my mother lives in Hermitage off of Old Hickory Lake, so we tried our best to get to her home, but Lebanon Road was shut down due to flooding at Central Pike. We couldn’t get to her at all. I knew she was safe (thank god for cell phones), but we were suddenly stuck with no place to go. The only friend we could get in touch with lived in Madison, and he welcomed us to come for the night. The only problem: it meant driving over the Cumberland. With no choice, we headed in that direction. Thankfully, due to the large shipping traffic, the bridges over the Cumberland are very tall, so there was no chance of the bridge itself washing out. As we crossed, however, we were astounded (and rightly terrified) to see just how much the water had risen. It’s hard to describe, because it just seemed overwhelming. But you’ve seen the pictures on the news, and I have no doubt there will be stuff about it all day long. You remember it, too.

Anyway, we made it across the river and to our friend’s home without incident, and we slept poorly that night. The next morning, we went the back way along Old Hickory Blvd to my mother’s house, and we stayed there for the next several days. I was working on a project with Tennessee Repertory Theatre (now Nashville Rep – things change in five years), and since our neighborhood was on the way back to my mother’s house, I decided to stop and see what had happened. I still have the footage from that visit on my camera.

Our house was fine. Perfectly fine. It sits on a small knoll, and the ground behind us was purposely constructed as a large ditch for runoff in case of such an event, and the ground sloped away from us on the other side of the street. The water came up around our block on both sides, but the ditch and the knoll ensured that, even if the water had risen to that level, it would have run off on the other side, and the worst we would have suffered would have been flooding of our crawlspace. We got lucky. The people behind us had at least three to five feet of water in their homes. Our next door neighbor was also fine, and he was extremely good-humored about it all. From the upper bedroom window in our house, I shot footage of our backyard, only the very back corner of which had any water in it at all. Like I said, lucky.

But here’s what I remember most, and I have the footage to back it up: two men in a small fishing boat cruising up and down the streets of our neighborhood, trying to help anyone they could. Our neighborhood has a boat parking lot, and these two guys and other like them pulled their boats out and got to work. I heard they had pulled someone down from their roof and brought them out to dry land. It was incredible.

And, of course, this happened all over the city. Thousands of people got busy helping each other out, however they could – rescuing others from danger, tearing out ruined wallboard and insulation, trying to save whatever possessions they could. I helped a neighbor around the block whom I had never met do this to his house along with what seemed like every other person on the block. I loaned him my extension cords for the fans he used to try and dry out his crawlspace, and I learned later when he brought them back that he and his wife had moved into the neighborhood at the same time we did. They had, in fact, looked at our house, and since we had already beaten them to it, they had bought their current one, which had happened to be the only other home for sale in the neighborhood at that time. We had looked at that house ourselves. Had things turned out differently, he might have been helping me gut the soaked fiberglass from my floorboards. Again, lucky.

Across the city, people lived up to the idea of the Volunteer State. It was incredible. Julee went to the Red Cross emergency station set up in Donelson to see if she could help out, and she was told that, since so many people had already begun helping each other, there was very little for them to do. And of course, the T-shirts began to fly (I still have my We Are Nashville shirt), and it made me and everyone else very proud of my hometown. All of this, of course, was somehow overlooked by the national news services, a fact later made very clear about two days later by Anderson Cooper on his own show, but the one thing that was remarked upon the most by the time the story did air was that Nashville got to work and helped itself out.

I no longer live in Nashville, but it’s my hometown and always will be. I’m not particularly proud of a lot of the reason it HAS made national news in the last five years, but I am proud of the fact that everyone was impressed by the fortitude, good will, and volunteer spirit of its citizens. This was us at our best, and it’s something worth remembering.

It’s also important and relevant to this blog for another reason I’m proud to be from the South – we know how to do shit. We can get things done. There’s a large element of self-reliance that is very much a part of growing up in the South. Ironicallly, it’s something I resisted for a large part of my earlier life, but once I embraced it, I can’t believe I ever wanted to deny it. I’ve posted about this before, so I’m not gonna rehash, but I can do things with my hands, and I’m forever grateful for it. I can also use my mind, and I’m even more grateful for that. I can put the two together, and that’s the best. And it’s something I intend to pass on to my son.

Actually, to my sons.

Yeah, we’re having another baby later this year. Another boy, and it’s gonna be another thrilling adventure. But I fully intend to make sure that both of my boys know how to build things, how to fix things, how to make things. Whether it’s a table, a song, or a book, I want my boys to make things. I want them to be capable of doing things so that, if they’re ever in a situation like this, they can get to work. And even tho they’re growing up in California, they’ll always be a little bit from Tennessee.

Oh, and I also plan to keep writing this blog regularly again from this point on, so I hope you’re still with me.

http://www.tennessean.com/picture-gallery/news/local/2015/04/30/the-flood-of-2010/26518085/

 

Handy Man

Ryder helps me “fix” things sometimes. For instance, recently he helped me fix the runners on one of the drawers in his chest. He’d tried to climb on it a month or two ago, and it bent the metal runner arm and had to be replaced. I only did one side, however, and somehow a few days ago the other side bent and the drawer came out again. So, another set of runners later, plus some extra screws to hold the pieces in place above and beyond the ones that came with the pieces, and hopefully the drawer won’t break again.

Ryder helped me by holding the screws for me. It took some work, at first, because he decided it would be more fun to drop the screws under the chest. After a few tries, he held onto them just fine and would hand them to me one at a time when I asked for them. Not the first time he’s helped me fix something, and it won’t be the last.

It’s funny to think about, because I know how to fix a lot of things around the house. I did not, however, learn how to do them at home. I did plenty of chores at my house, but fixing things wasn’t part of any of them. I lived with my mom, and I saw my dad on weekends. When he and I were together, we did as much fun stuff as possible, so we never really broke out the tools. I did spend a large chunk of my childhood summers riding around in a van with my dad helping him clean carpets, but again, we didn’t fix things.

My dad gave me a giant set of tools for Christmas when I was seventeen. I honestly didn’t know what to do with most of them. I mean, I knew what they were for, but I had no real desire or intention to use them. Mainly, they just sat in the garage, forlornly collecting dust, patiently awaiting the day when I might decide to use a 7/16 socket wrench to adjust something. In college, I hated my hours in the scene shop because the power tools were just so damn LOUD. I worked in the costume studio instead, partly because that’s where the girls were and partly because it meant I didn’t have to go in the scene shop. I went out of my way to avoid learning any more about tools than I absolutely had to. I was gonna be an actor, dammit, I didn’t NEED to know how to do anything else!

Cracks me up.

After grad school, when I had no idea how to get work as an actor, I floundered for a while. I began to realize I didn’t know how to DO anything else. I applied for various temp jobs with no success, and I spent a miserable year or so waiting tables at a shitty Tex-Mex restaurant, drinking way too much, making way too little, and hating life. I wasn’t doing anything I enjoyed or wanted to do, I was just getting by, surviving. Then my roommate (who also worked with me at the restaurant) waited on a man who was a contractor and who was looking for employees, and we both went to work for him, doing home renovation.

It literally changed my life.

In the first month, I learned how to build a deck, use a reciprocating saw, a hammer drill, a band saw, pneumatic tools, and some basic plumbing and electricity. I can sweat copper plumbing, I can lay and finish hardwood floors and tile – I rebuilt a master bathroom suite from the floor joists up, including installing a free-standing shower stall AND a marble jacuzzi tub. Over the next year and a half, I painted houses, I laid linoleum flooring, built gazebos, poured concrete, rewired switches and outlets, and installed replacement windows. I suddenly knew how to DO shit. I became confident in my hands, in my ability to start and to finish a project – I learned how to fix and to build things. Very manly.

More importantly, I understood two things: first, the value of knowing how to fix things. Til that point, I had changed the oil in my truck a few times myself, but that’s about it. I laid hardwood floors in my mother’s house and my grandmother’s house. I saved them over a thousand dollars each in labor. I installed new sinks and fixed the toilets in my mom’s house. I helped friends who had bought a house refinish their floors. I saved plenty of people I know lots of money by knowing how to do these things. Second, I understood the satisfaction of completing a project on my own, of seeing it thru from start to finish, dealing with hiccups and snags along the way. It reminded me of a show – of starting rehearsal with just the script, and putting all the pieces together until opening night, when the finished product was put onstage for everyone to see. It was truly eye-opening. I found the joy in the work, and it made me better.

After a few months, I started auditioning for shows again, and before long I was an actor again. My roommate and I were both cast in a community theatre production of Biloxi Blues, and we ended up building the set for the show, too, using tools loaned to us by our contractor boss. A year or so after that, and I was on my way to working as a professional actor, and over the next several years, I supported myself between acting gigs doing various carpentry gigs. When I ran a theatre company a few years after that, I always helped load in and load out all the sets and even designed and built a couple as well. When my wife and I bought our house, I gutted and remodeled out master bath, repainted every room, installed ceiling fans and light fixtures, and ripped out and replaced the French doors on the back of the house. I had some help on some of these things, but I did the majority of the work myself. Even the drywall, which I hate. I had plans for an extension of our deck in mind when we decided to move to California instead. I was able to make our house truly OUR house.

Even out here in LA, I’ve replaced a faucet, tweaked the toilets, and built movable gate pieces for the driveway to close off the backyard. I’m constantly fixing things, it seems, and I owe it all to my time as a carpenter. It has made me feel like a man. Confident, capable, and prepared.

So I love it when Ryder helps me. I let him play with my screwdriver sometimes, and he “fixes” things like the screws on the glider. He likes to use my tape measure to “measure” things. Once he’s old enough, I’ll teach him how to use a saw, how to hammer a nail, and how to measure twice, and cut once. I guarantee he’ll know how to fix everything I know how to fix before he goes to college.

There’s a distinction between an artist and a craftsman. I came across this idea reading about two of the greatest American playwrights, Arthur Miller and David Mamet. Men who wield words like tools, knowing exactly what they’re trying to accomplish and how to get there using those tools. Miller himself was also an accomplished carpenter and woodworker, and Mamet has written extensively on the joys of using his hands to make things. Mamet also states in one of his essays that he considers himself a craftsman, not an artist, and expounds on his disdain for the use of the latter. Artist has always made me cringe a little, too, because it (unfortunately) carries pretension on its back. Craftsman sounds solid, hard-working, dependable, and, above all, shows results. In reality, the two terms aren’t that different, and I think there’s a third term that bridges the gap between them: artisan. Artisan can be accused of leaning towards pretension itself, especially when used to describe cheese, but the historical meaning of that word bears me out: one who is both an artist and a craftsman, able to conceive and execute creative ideas using a well-developed set of skills.

So maybe I’m an artisan dad. Who the fuck knows what that means?? But I like the sound of it, and it’s only a little douchey. In any case, I want my son to be good at everything, and being able to fix shit falls under that category. We pass along what we know to our children, so that they can pass it along in turn. I’m looking forward to seeing what skills and abilities Ryder develops and has an affinity for, and I intend to encourage him to know how to build cool, useful shit along the way. And stop that goddamn faucet from leaking.

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother

I want to talk about the word “brother” and what it means to me.

I’m an only child. I’m the only child of an only child. As a result, I value my privacy and my alone time. I’m used to having my own space for at least a small part of every day. It’s one of the reasons I’m sitting out on my porch right now as I write this – I appreciate solitude and the opportunity to think, reflect, and let my mind wander. It’s when I get my best writing done. I’m uncomfortable, in fact, writing when there’s even someone else in the room – doesn’t matter what the content of whatever I’m writing may be, I just don’t like anyone looking over my shoulder while I’m doing it. It interrupts my thought process. I become hyper aware of the presence of another and it makes it hard to focus and get the job done.

That being said, I love my friends, and I love their company. I get antsy if I don’t get to spend time with the people I care about, as well. One of the things I miss about my early adulthood was the freedom just to drop in on a friend and hang out, go out, drink, talk, laugh, whatever – no plans, no intention, just dropping in on a whim and being welcomed. Those days are pretty much gone, as adult life takes over and everything has to be planned and scheduled – even spending time with those same people now can take months of coordination to actually occur. Granted, my oldest friends now live two time zones away, so it’s understandably more difficult to just pop by (in fact, not one of them has done it yet!), but even seeing my local friends usually takes a series of emails, texts, and messages thru the Face to get put into iCal and synced onto the phone. Ahh, the good old days….

But friends are important to me. Possibly moreso than some people, and this is due, I feel, to the fact that I’m an only child. My friends are my surrogate family, and I mean that in the most honest sense. I have a handful of men in my life, most of whom I’ve known for more than two decades, whom I call my brothers, and I know full well what that term implies. It means a bond as strong as blood, and in some cases, stronger. I’ve got one friend whom I’ve known longer than anyone else, and he’s my brother. ┬áNot only does he know where the bodies are buried, but he’s the one who brought the shovel. Metaphorically speaking, yeah, but if I needed it for real, he’s the one I would call, and I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that he would come running, shovel in hand. Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci, standing over the trunk of the car in the middle of the night. Brothers, man.

Male bonding is a powerful thing. I’ve been told by various women that they have a more difficult time establishing and maintaining close friendships because they’re raised to be more cautious of one another, that each of them is out for herself, and that it takes a long time for women actually to become solid true friends. I don’t know if this is a generational thing or a specifically cultural phenomenon or what, but I’ve been told this by more than one woman that I’m close to. Men, by contrast, can share a few (okay, several) beers and be fast friends by the time the tab arrives. Or by the time they pass out. I’m oversimplifying, to be honest, but it does seem that it’s a lot easier for men to open up and to trust each other.

The bond of friendship between men is sacred, is holy. Loyalty is one of the things that truly seems to matter to men of all kinds. If a man puts his trust in you, he expects it to be returned, and he can be devastated by betrayal. I know, I’ve had it happen to me. But when a friend is a true friend, it’s an amazing thing. It’s extremely intimate, and for some men, it’s the most intimate they can be with another human being. That’s a subject for another blog, but for some men, it’s true.

It’s left over from the days when men had to rely on each other to survive on a daily basis – it’s the same spirit of camraderie that exists in men who serve together in the military. When you have to depend on the man next to you to keep you alive, you get pretty close. And you tend to remain close, especially if you’ve been thru hell together. It’s a powerful, beautiful thing, and I hope that there’s a female equivalent. I really do.

My son is an only child. He may not remain one forever, but it’s possible. And in either case, I want him to learn how to trust other men and to form these bonds of friendship. They’ll carry him thru hard times and lift him even higher during great times. And it doesn’t matter if the man in whom you would entrust your life has even a shred of the same DNA as you – all that matters is that you get each other, that you’ll be there for each other, you’ll know each other’s secrets, weaknesses, strengths – all that matters is that he’s your brother.