Tag Archives: writing

R.I.P. Cleo & Charlie

Loyal readers of this lofty blog will no doubt recall that I have written here many times over the years of my good friend Val in Brooklyn, who pens the Paws for Thought Comic strip.

She & I have been great friends since 1982, and we are collaborating on an illustrated mystery book series, The Miracle Cats. The first installment will be titled The Miracle Cats and the Case of the Purloined Passport.  We started working on the book well over a year ago. It was going quite well until all sorts of tragedies and extreme challenges began popping up in both our lives, including numerous deaths, and so the writing/illustrating of the book went down to slower than a snail’s pace.

Well, earlier this week, another tragedy struck! 2 of Val’s cats died in the same afternoon.  Charlie had been diagnosed with cancer about one year ago. In fact, my cat, Fluffy, was diagnosed with cancer a month or so after Charlie had been, but Charlie outlived Fluffy by 5 months.

Val and I have a long history of adopting and/or rescuing cats. In fact, way back in 1983, Val rescued a little black & white kitten who lived around the train tracks in Long Island City, out in Queens, NY, where Val lived back then. Val brought the kitten to live with me in my apartment in Manhattan. I named her Kitty, and she was a sickly kitty, but she lived to be 18 years old! And a very dear companion to me. She passed on December 13th, 2001.

Anyway. I digress. Val rescued Charlie as a teeny kitten. In fact, she rescued his whole family! Cleo, the mom, had 2 tiny kittens (Charlie and Pickles) and I believe they were all sort of sickly,  barely surviving under a freeway overpass in Brooklyn. This was 15 years ago. And, although Charlie was expected to die at any moment because of the cancer, his mom, Cleo, who seemed fine and healthy, wound up dying suddenly on the same afternoon as Charlie did. Completely unexpected and so very sad. Losing 2 furry friends in one day, and of course, leaving a 3rd cat, Charlie’s sibling, Pickles, to mourn the sudden loss of a whole family.

Val has several other cats, as well as a rescued dog, and many ferals that come and go in her backyard sanctuary in Brooklyn, yet it is still so sad to lose any members of our families, regardless of how many critters there are! My heart goes out to all of them.

One of these days, things will finally calm down. The clouds will pass, the sun will shine, and we’ll finally finish creating The Miracle Cats! But in the meantime, we ponder the loss and the very meaning of life, even as life goes on. Thanks for visiting, gang.

Cleo and Charlie, in the early years.
Cleo and Charlie, in the early years.

 

How to not walk away from your chair

I’ve been a professional writer — meaning that I’ve earned some form of income from my writing — since I was 23 years old. That is 33 years already, and I still battle that timeless problem of wanting to get up out of my chair and go do something else approximately every five minutes!

Today is no exception!

I’ve been at my desk, doing the revisions on Cleveland’s Burning all morning. I am making strides with it, but I am still constantly getting up from my chair and wandering around the house. Why does writing still fill me with anxiety, even after all these years?

When I hit those patches in the script where it flows, then it’s great. But most of the time, I’m hitting patches that need to be re-thought, and re-thought really carefully. There is something in that thought process that brings everything to a screeching halt, making me automatically stop everything, even in mid-sentence, and get up from my chair and walk away.

Look out the window in the living room. Lots of snow out there.

Go into the kitchen and look out that window. Lots of snow out there, too.

Then back to the desk and sit down and try like heck to ignore the anxiety of creating.

When I was a lot younger, creating was always a really, really joyful thing. When did it become so anxiety-inducing? Actually, once I moved away from New York, it became anxiety-inducing. (I had originally thought that getting out of the city and settling someplace quieter was going to be so relaxing! Oddly enough, I was really, really wrong about that. For so many reasons that I won’t go into now. It’s sufficient to say, New York is simply in my blood.)

Well, on one of my many detours from the writing-on-the-page, I once again looked up properties for sale, or even for rent, in Dutchess County, NY; took a look at the price tags; took a look at what I had in the bank, and lo & behold, the reality of those two things created a really good incentive for staying put in my chair!

Okay! My lunch break is over. Going to get back at it on this snowy afternoon in the hinterlands. And it ain’t so bad in the hinterlands. I like it a whole lot better than back in the suburbs, that’s for sure!

The charm of the hinterlands in the fall.
The charm of the hinterlands in the fall.

All right! See ya. Have a great Thursday, wherever you are. Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

Blessed & restored in the hinterlands!

Yesterday, it was cold here but really sunny. It was one of those February days in which you begin to remember how Spring feels. In fact, when I opened the front door early yesterday morning, I heard birds singing.

After tangling with Cleveland’s Burning revisions well into the afternoon, I decided to go out and take a walk. I really needed to refresh my mind and it has been months since I was able to just go out and walk. (In days of yore, when I lived in the old house, I used to walk 2-3 miles a day. I really missed doing that.)

At the end of my street, here in the hinterlands, is what I had thought was a small playground. Yesterday, I thought to myself: Self, I thought, go walk to the playground and back. Your mind will feel better!

So off I went. The “playground” is less than a 5-minute walk from my house. But when I got there, lo & behold, I discovered that it was a huge municipal park! It had 2 playgrounds, 2 baseball diamonds, a couple of paved walking paths, a huge sand lot — and tons of beautiful tall trees, rolling hills, and green grass that went on for quite a distance.

I  was so filled with joy.  It was like God dropped this amazing piece of solitude right into my lap! There were very few people in the park, partly because it was cold out and partly because it was honing in on the magic hour of Superbowl Sunday.

As I walked over hill & dale & through the wooded areas in absolute tranquility,  fondly recalling the wonderful park my Grandma used to take me and my brother to that was at the end of her street (way back in the early 1960s), it finally came to me that the reason I was struggling with the script is because I needed to take the scene I was revising and really polish it, make it sparkle, even though it will only be a few seconds of screen time.

With that realization, my mind felt free and I felt completely blessed and restored.

There is a lot about my life these days that confounds me — mostly the limbo of it. However, there is so much about it that makes me feel blessed when I take the time to stop and look at it.

For instance, my friend being willing to rent me her 2000-square foot house for next to nothing, so that I can save up money to move back to New York. (Technically, I have enough money to move back to New York right now, but it is so expensive there, I worry that I would be broke in about 2 months…) Plus, she is giving sanctuary to my colony of 8 semi-feral cats.

Not many people would do that. And not only does she allow them to live here, she actually likes them and engages with them when she comes to visit.

I love living out here in the hinterlands (in Tea Cozy Murder Club country — the other TV show I’m writing). Yes, there are farms, and cute alpacas, and cows, and beautiful, pastoral parks, but there are also book stores and plenty of non-chain restaurants, and farmers’ markets around.  So it’s not like it’s the Land that Time Forgot. It’s a little lonely, but these days, I basically need to sit in my room and write, so that’s okay.

Here is a photo of the park. I didn’t take this photo myself, I found it online. So thank you to whoever took it:

The park from the top of the hill. Looking away from the playgrounds and baseball diamonds.
The park from the top of the hill. Looking away from the playgrounds and baseball diamonds.

If you click on the photo, you’ll get a feel for the expanse of it. It is almost impossible to believe that directly on the other side of this park is a huge mall, complete with an AMC multi-plex movie theater!

All right, gang, I gotta scoot! Have a lovely Monday, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing! And remember: Everyday, in every way, it’s all getting better and better!

See ya!

Yes, we finally persuaded ourselves!

Ah, what could be better than using the royal “we”?

I do, of course, refer to myself as the one who was not only persuaded, but also who did the persuading!

I’m talking about the cold open vs. Act One issue (see post below). It finally became glaringly apparent that we were already into Act One from the top of page 2, so I just went with it and then made great progress.

One thing that has sort of stymied me, though, has been watching the new CW television show, Riverdale. That show (which I am really enjoying, although I can’t really see in what way it is related at all to The Archies…) (ha ha).

Anyway, Riverdale takes a full ten minutes in its cold open. I’ve been timing it! It feels like the show is practically over before they roll the opening credits! Even though it does a great job of drawing you well in to the storyline, as a writer, that means you get maybe 45 or 50 pages to present, circle back, and tie-up the entire  episode.

That feels way too restrictive for me, even though I love how it comes across in Riverdale.

Anyway. I got past it! And now I feel pretty confident that I will have the revisions for Cleveland’s Burning (aka Untitled Cleveland Drama) completed by mid-February! Yay! Then on to all the other stuff that needs revisions…

On another note:

Another wonderful thing I’ve discovered about living here in the hinterlands of Ohio (or in any State’s hinterlands, I’m guessing) is the ready and constant access you have to farm-fresh produce!! Wowie. I have an indoor farmer’s market within walking distance from my house. Literally, I can drive there in under 2 minutes, which means that, if I’m driving, in less than 120 seconds, I am standing amid farm-fresh produce! And in spring & summer, the outdoor farmer’s market is only 10 minutes away. (I’m a vegetarian, and of course prefer either really fresh or organic produce whenever possible, so you can imagine my delight over farmers’ markets.)

Also, I finally bought a cheap, hand-held spiralizer the other day. I love it. I made zucchini “spaghetti” last night for dinner and it was incredible. (I didn’t buy the zucchini at the farmer’s market, though. They didn’t have any. Of course, I hated to ask myself why zucchini was available anywhere in the dead of winter because the only answer that came back to me did not include the words “natural” or “organic.”)

Anyway, it was just too cool! A whole bowl of “spaghetti” that only had  about 200 calories — and 140 of the calories came from the olive oil. I ate the big bowl of spaghetti while watching a 47-year-old re-run of Laugh-In. A show I loved as a kid, and I still love it now! The sun was going down and outside of the enormous picture window in the living room, I was a bit spellbound to see how magnificent the endless sky looks when one lives in the hinterlands.

Good food. Quietude. Nature. Peace. And Laugh-In. It doesn’t get any better after a long day of re-writing a story I am really passionate about.

Okay, gotta get moving here. I’m going to leave you with a choice here today, gang:

The sublime (the song that inspired my opening scene in Cleveland’s Burning):

Or the ridiculous! (I love this song!!!) (They actually managed to squeeze it into Riverdale in episode 2!)

Okay!! Thanks for visiting, gang! See ya!

To cold open or to jump in? That’s the question!

Welcome to this rainy Tuesday in the Hinterlands!

I cannot tell you how much time I have spent on the new opening of the Untitled Cleveland Drama, once known as Cleveland’s Burning.  As is customary for me, I seriously  belabor the first few images of everything I write, whether it’s fiction or a screenplay. As I have pounded into the heads of my writing students over the years: DON’T give your reader a chance to put it down!!

By this I mean, keep your opening seamless, keep it flowing, don’t allow for a single question in your reader’s mind about what is visually happening. Be exceedingly crafty about your punctuation, as well. Anything that could cause a  reader to pause, or to question, or to consider his or her own mind, thus causing a break in the flow, is that dreaded gap wherein the book or script can be set aside for something else, indefinitely.

Because of that, I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent on the first 60 seconds of my script (also known as page 1).  Then, when I felt I finally could sign off on those first 60 seconds, I labored over the next 20 seconds, because now I can’t decide between: the cold open, or jumping into Act One? And since I cannot make up my mind about this, I go back and forth between how I want to craft those next 20 seconds…

In order to still utilize my time efficiently, I set aside my quandary and did some more background research for my character, Caleb Robinson: I watched  Stanley Nelson Jr’s documentary,  The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution.  I really liked the film and it gave me some critical dates to work with, historically. [However, it does seem that some ex-Black Panthers weren’t happy with the tone of the film, in particular, how it portrayed the dismantling of the Panthers and  Huey Newton’s demise. But there was still a lot of amazing stuff in the film for me to draw on.]

Today, I need to process that from my brain into the script, even though Caleb Robinson won’t become a Black Panther until 1967, and that’s 4 seasons away from the pilot episode. Still, you gotta craft a character from his first scene in order to keep it believable, right?

Well, on that lofty note, I have got to decide, once and for all, if I have a cold open here or am I already into Act One??? I think I will go watch a re-run of Perry Mason and see what hits the page when I’m done doing that!

Thanks for visiting, gang. Have a terrific Tuesday, wherever you are! See ya!

Best TV theme song, EVER!!

 

 

 

just saying, “hey!”

I don’t have much time these days to hang out online because I’m ankle-deep in re-writes over here –on several projects at once (!!).

Still, I wanted to swing by with a couple cute photos of my sweeties — because I always have time to take their picture!

Can you tell these guys (& gals) are related???!!!

Tommy, Weenie, & Huckleberry
Tommy, Weenie, & Huckleberry (& Joel Osteen!)

Life is rough for a cat, here in the hinterlands!

Weenie & Huckleberry
Weenie & Huckleberry

As always, if you click on the photos, they enlarge! And, yes, the cats do indeed get off the bed once in awhile, although you’d never know it from all the photos I take of them sleeping on my bed (which is right next to my desk, so I’m always looking at how cute they are!).

Life is good here. The re-writes on the TV Pilot are going well, but I am still aiming for 110% better… Also, final, final, FINAL re-writes for the one-woman musical I’m working on with the actress in NYC are nearly complete.

I still try to take one day at a time around here, but I also still keep thinking that a year from now, life is going to  be really, really different. Not sure, though, in what way.

Hope all is well where all of you are at! Thanks for visiting, gang! See ya’ real soon!

A most perfect day!

Yes, not only is it snowing here today (yay!), but all I have to do today is sit at my desk and write!!

I also have a wonderful photo of Tommy to share! It is extremely difficult to get good photos of Tommy, because she is incredibly timid and the trauma of the recent move lasted longer for her than it did with the other cats in her colony.

Tommy on the bed yesterday
Tommy on the bed yesterday

If you click on the picture, it will enlarge. And then you will see that the table lamp next to my bed is, indeed, nearly 60 years old!!

Like all the other cats in Tommy’s colony (as well as my two tame cats who recently died), Tommy is a character in my upcoming book, The Miracle Cats and the Case of the Purloined Passport, illustrated by Valerie Wares.

In the book, Tommy is “Sister Thomasina” and she worries a lot.  She often says things like, “oh dear,” and “dear me.” And, of course, she wears a nun’s habit because, in the book, she’s a church cat….

"Sister Thomasina" by Val -- but without the habit
“Sister Thomasina” by Val — but without the habit

On the “very fun” front — I needed to come up with a pen name for another book I’m writing and decided to use the Wu Tang Clan nickname generator this morning and it gave me the most AWESOME nickname EVER!! The irony screams out on several levels. It is too good to be believed. Honestly, it could not be more perfect for me, it felt like it came straight from God, and it set the tone for my whole morning. Sadly, I cannot share the name with you here because then it would no longer be a “pseudonym” in the strictest sense of the word… (If you have never used the Wu Tang Clan nickname generator, do it today!)

All right, on that note, I’ve got to go to the kitchen and grab another cup of coffee and then get some more writing done here! As we enjoy our snowy day, I leave you with the song that’s been in my head for several days running (it’s even been in my dreams! What’s that about??). Enjoy, gang!

Okay. See ya! Thanks for visiting.

These Days

I still can’t complain! Life in the hinterlands continues to delight me. That said, though, I pretty much made up my mind yesterday that I’ll hang out here in this rental house as long as it remains feasible, and then finally move back to New York.

Loyal readers of this lofty blog no doubt recall that for nearly 3 years, I was planning to move to Rhinebeck, NY, as soon as the developers decided when, exactly, they were going to tear down my old house.

That prospect was going to drag on for another 5 years, at the least, and so this past September, I sold my old house and now I’m renting a friend’s house in the amazing hinterlands of Ohio, while I focus on the TV pilots, and on a couple of books I’m writing (and, now, I’ve added writing the one-man play about Caiaphas into that mix), and try to figure out what the heck I want to do with the next half of my life.

So, yesterday, I decided.

Not only do I love Rhinebeck, but I have a couple of good friends who live there, and Manhattan is only a commuter train ride away, where most of the rest of my friends still reside.  So that’s that.

This morning, like every morning these days, I awoke about 6 am,  terribly missing my cats.  Not just the 2 who recently died, but Buster, as well, who died in September of ’13.  They were “my babies,” and now it seems like it is only a heartbeat later and all 3 of them are gone.

Even though Christmas is my favorite time of year, I’m not really celebrating this year. All my many, many boxes of Christmas stuff are in storage about 20 miles from here. I’m okay with where my life is at right now, even though it’s in a kind of limbo, still, I couldn’t help remembering all the many joyous past Christmases when my cats were still with me. For instance:

Fluffy at Christmas, about 6 years ago.
Fluffy at Christmas, about 6 years ago.

 

And I couldn’t help wondering, yet again, what life is all about.

The more I study for my ministry (which is, basically, 24/7), the more convinced I am that the “here & now” is all that exists in physical terms and that that only just barely exists. Meaning, I believe “here & now” is a construct of the physical senses that only exists for as far as our 5 senses can detect and that most of physical reality is just something we think is there, extending beyond us. The past was just a fleeting construct that somehow felt so intensely real, we can barely fight off the allure of it; and the future is a construct we imagine we will experience but never do because it’s really all just “here & now.”

I believe that immediately beyond what our 5 physical senses can detect lies the non-physical, which takes up Eternity. That we only perceive things here in the physical when we actually focus on perceiving them. Wallace Stevens described a similar idea in his famous poem “July Mountain” many years ago.

I believe we all have inner beings that have inner beings, who have inner beings, who have inner beings, who have inner beings, like a truly endless Matryoshka doll. And because of that, I feel that God truly is an unknowable, distant “Being” that is like some sort of “dream machine,” constantly, eternally, unfathomably dreaming every single solitary thing, idea, thought, person, creature, into its own “being-ness”. This is partly why my ministry is called The Edge of God Ministry — because I believe we “exist” here at the farthest edge of God, a God that never ceases creating, while we evolve into deliberate creators, learning how to dream our own thoughts into “being” until we become an inner being of someone else.

Until we all  finally learn that everything is joyful and sacred and that everything, all across the board, exists because it chooses to. Eternally. And then we leave the physical realm and focus non-physically.

Even while I can’t prove any of this, it’s still what I believe. And for me, it adds a heightened element of sanctity to all these things that mean so much to me in the physical, and that brings me joy.  And it doesn’t lessen the profundity of anything else that anyone else chooses to take joy in and bring into existence. We each define what matters to us. It’s all sacred.

And so I believe my cats choose to be here as much as I choose to have them in my life, and that only makes them all the more dear to me now that they’ve chosen to leave it.

I try to imagine how this distant “dream machine” called God could create so much love and create such an intensity of “being here” in the physical, and I remain in awe of God. And in awe of everyone and everything who chooses to come here and “Be” for awhile, multiplied by however many aeons it’s been going on.

As the sky became almost imperceptibly lighter, I knew it was time to stop missing “my babies,” get out of bed, and go to the kitchen and get a cup of coffee. Which I did. Only to bring the cup of coffee back to bed so I could continue marveling at creation.

Today, I am going to be working on my one-man play about Caiaphas, also continuing to re-learn Biblical Hebrew, while also continuing to listen to the lectures on “Jesus and His Jewish Influences,” by Jodi Magness, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania; lectures which are absolutely astounding in their depth of knowledge of the Hebrew Bible and the Jewish Apocrypha and the uncanny degree to which 1st Century Jewish Christians continued to carefully craft stories of Jesus to fit prophecy from the Hebrew Scriptures.

But it doesn’t make me love Jesus any less. To me, he grows more and more profound. What the heck was he really teaching back then that scared so many Jews and Romans, and that could make so many other Jews and Gnostics and Pagans cherish him so dearly that they were committed to making his name live forever?

I keep feeling as if I am on the verge of finding out…

So, there I sat as the sun came up, enjoying my coffee and the thoughts in my head, keenly missing my cats but treasuring them just the same, when Daddycakes jumped up on the bed and stared at me so lovingly. He’s not tame, he’s feral; now semi-feral as he is really starting to trust me — after 4 1/2 years. He is such a beautiful cat, and so compassionate. When Bunny died so suddenly, the morning after we moved here, Daddycakes cuddled up against her lifeless body; he was clearly in mourning, saying goodbye. These cats are so dear.

Remembering all this made me think of John Rutter’s lovely arrangement of All Things Bright and Beautiful, so I played it, over & over & over again, and eventually I got out of bed and resumed my participation in creating a really sacred day!

Christmas is almost here, gang! I hope you’re enjoying the lovely season. Thanks, as always, for visiting!

 

 

 

 

 

So many great projects, too little time!

First and foremost: There is more snow falling here in the hinterlands, even as I type!! Yay! It won’t amount to more than 2 inches, so it’s no big deal that later today, I will once again have to drive into town… While it’s falling, it is just so darn pretty. Especially now that most of the neighbors have their Christmas lights up.

I was assured by the director of production at the company that will be developing my TV pilot, Cleveland’s Burning, that we will begin the re-writes and development of the pilot right after the first of the year.

I’m expecting this project to seriously challenge my storytelling abilities and take a lot out of me. In other words, most of my life will likely come to a grinding halt, once I begin working on the revisions. So Val (in Brooklyn) and I decided to spend December getting back to our book, The Miracle Cats and the Case of the Purloined Passport. Since both Fluffy and Bunny, my beloved and recently departed cats, have prime roles in the book, I was having trouble writing it. I couldn’t get past the fact that both my cats had died this year, so unexpectedly. And Val’s Dad died, followed quickly by her Uncle, so things were just emotionally rough for both of us. Well, once we decided we were both ready to tackle the book again, another dear member of Val’s family suddenly passed away, so the  book has shifted to the back burner once again.

I thought, okay, I’ll make some progress on my memoirs before January rolls around. But suddenly, out of the blue, after about 14 months of researching Caiaphas, James the Brother of Jesus, and the Talpiot Tomb (in order to write my one-man play about Caiaphas in a seriously modern re-telling of his role in the death of Jesus), I sat down at my desk yesterday morning, and lo & behold, the play started coming out! Astonishing. I was so not expecting that.

My play is titled, In the Days of the Flesh. The title is taken from the Book of Hebrews, in the New Testament, and refers to the days when Jesus walked among men. It took me all day, but I got 2 killer pages done. I can’t imagine it will be finished by January, even though it will only run about 55 pages. Nevertheless, if it’s ready to come, I’m welcoming its arrival with “open laptop!!” — however many pages end up coming before the New Year.

So, on we go! And that said, I want to get back at it! Thanks for visiting, gang, and I leave you with this splendiferous Ode to Today!! See ya!