Real Love

I haven’t posted anything here in awhile for a couple of reasons: first, the person who was shooting/editing my local TV show informed me he was offered a full-time job, so I’ve been “auditioning” replacement camera people and editors the past two weeks — and wound up having to do most of the editing myself for the August episode of Career Changers TV; and frankly, there hasn’t been much in the way of new movies or TV series that has excited me enough to comment on them.

Yet I realized something important when I finished outputting my little TV show this weekend: I was happy with the work I had done. Well, let me back up — it’s something my wife said that triggered the epiphany. Over the course of 25 years of marriage, Isabel has stood by my side and supported me financially and emotionally during the tough times — rehab, then rebuilding my life and experiencing a lot of rejection as a writer. When I felt I was wasting my time pursuing my dream of being a screenwriter, she encouraged me to keep writing. Each time I fell short or didn’t win a contest, or had a potential movie deal fall apart, she was there to pick me up… while at the same time she was struggling to keep her own business going after 9/11 and the ensuing recessions. Eventually, Isabel sold her company, and found a new job after a long search. But she didn’t really love what she was doing. Still, she worked hard to be the best manager she could be for that company.

And she never complained. It hurt me though because I knew the unspoken truth was she felt she didn’t have a choice since I wasn’t making enough money to allow her to quit or take a lower-paying job she might have enjoyed more. I mean, we still had a good life — we’ve traveled and own a nice townhouse in Hawaii. But when you’re married to a writer who hasn’t sold anything, you have to make certain sacrifices. For instance, we put off remodeling our bathrooms and kitchen until this year because we had to choose between taking vacation trips or fixing up the house. Hardly Sophie’s Choice type decisions, but you get the picture. It makes you wonder if you should have changed course sooner and abandoned unrealistic goals.

What got me to thinking about all this was a piece by Owen Gleiberman in the July 29 issue of Entertainment Weekly in which he offered theories on why the glut of superhero movies was leaving him feeling uninspired. When every other movie is about characters with super powers and the stories revolve around absurd world-in-danger plots that bear no resemblance to reality, yeah, it is kind of hard to work up any genuine emotion for what you’re watching on the screen, regardless of how many hundreds of millions of dollars they spent on special effects. I just want something real, you know what I mean?

The only thing I’ve seen in the past year that made me care about the characters was Friday Night Lights. My wife and I just started watching it from Season One last year. She was so hooked on it that I had to ration out the episodes so we didn’t blow through all four seasons in two weeks… and then we had to patiently wait for the final season to be available through Netflix.

If you’ve watched the series, you’ll understand how the top part of this post relates to Friday Night Lights. It’s not just a TV show about football. It’s about family and marriage, and in the end, it’s about real love. They talk about things like buying a nicer house and what they can or can’t afford. They make mistakes. But at their core, they are all decent people who try to do the right thing. I think that’s why we became so attached to the characters. We didn’t want to see them fail. They reflected what we’d like to believe is the best in ourselves. That’s what marriage does too. It brings out the best (and worst) in us. As I watched FNL, I kept telling myself, “They’re only characters in a TV show. Stop crying, dammit!” That’s how real it seemed to me. It was that rare blend of great writing and terrific acting that transports you into their world, and it becomes your world too.

If you haven’t seen it, don’t worry about the spoiler I’m going to reveal. For five seasons, we see how the Coach and his wife support each other when they encounter obstacles in their respective career goals. But for the most part, it’s the wife who puts her career second to her husband’s needs and desires. Sure, he always says the right things about how she should do what she wants to do… then in the final episode, he has to put up or shut up when she finally says, “It’s my turn.”

I cried… all these years, my wife has been doing whatever she could to see me realize my dream. So when I started producing my local TV show that wasn’t very good in the beginning, and was barely making any money from sponsors, I felt like a loser. It felt like surrender  — I was admitting to myself and to her that chances are I’ll never sell a script or get a book deal. And this was the best I could do? Put out a low budget, low quality TV show for a channel that’s just a couple of steps up from public access television. How sad.

The thing is, that’s not how she saw it. Each episode she would see some small improvement. She would compliment me and tell me it was getting better and better. Then this past month, as Isabel watched me struggling to get the show out and trying to learn a lot of foreign jargon related to cameras, technical television stuff and Final Cut Pro editing, she kept assuring me I could do it.

She went with me to the cable station to turn in the finished show. The techie reviewed it and said everything was okay for airing. As we walked out, Isabel said: “Honey, I’m really proud of you!” I just kind of shrugged. But inside, I was glowing. This is what real love is… it’s not about two young, attractive people meeting cute, having some stupid misunderstanding, then getting back together in formulaic fashion 60 minutes later, representing a few weeks or months. Real love is like Friday Night Lights, played out over seasons and years in which we grow, we suffer, we cry and laugh. We hold each other and that’s enough.

That’s not something you see often in TV or movies, or even find in many books these days. Maybe I need to write that story for myself — and for Isabel. I know it sounds sappy, but she makes me want to be a better writer, and a better person.

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