Archive for January 2014

“I’m Still Here”

January 22, 2014

Damn, it’s been a long time since I posted anything in this blog. The “I’m Still Here” song title from Stephen Sondheim’s Follies musical was sitting in my WordPress drafts file since the beginning of the new year after I watched the documentary, Six by Sondheim on HBO. I recommend every writer see it because what he talks about can apply to just about any genre — music, books, scripts — anything that involves putting together words to achieve a desired effect or emotion. It’s also inspiring to hear his story about how his less than ideal childhood (mom had serious shortcomings as a parent) placed him in an ideal place for a budding young musical talent to be living — right near the home of Oscar Hammerstein. He became friends with Oscar’s son, and the famous lyricist/playwright became his mentor and surrogate father.

What really moved me though was toward the end, when Sondheim recalls Oscar’s parting inscription on a photo of himself. He wrote to Stephen, “Thank you for being a friend and a teacher.” Sondheim got choked up telling the story. Here’s this great man who taught Stephen so much about music and writing… and yet he thanks the pupil for teaching him. And Sondheim goes on to explain that’s why he creates art — it’s his way of teaching. He doesn’t have children of his own, and when asked if he ever did want kids, he sadly replies, yes. What he misses is that opportunity to teach a child about the world and life. Instead, music and writing provides that outlet for him. I can identify with that. My wife and I decided before we got married that we didn’t want to have kids because of our own less than ideal childhoods and parental problems. Yet I’ve always loved learning, and writing has been my way of sharing what I’ve learned over time.

It’s why I continue to write screenplays, work on novels, and publish the occasional blog post, despite my lack of mainstream success as a writer. Sondheim says teaching is really about opening up minds to ideas and seeing things in a different way. Is there a better definition of art than that? My favorite part of writing, and now producing my local TV show, is the research and interviews I conduct. I’m curious by nature, thirsty for knowledge, always eager to challenge the commonly accepted viewpoint or prevailing wisdom. And I’m still here, a survivor like the character in Follies, who’s lived through a lot while being able to maintain a sense of humor about it. (There’s a fun, quirky version of the song in the documentary performed by Jarvis Cocker which is riveting.)

Anyhow, after all these years, I actually decided to make a New Years resolution to spend at least an hour each day working on a new writing project, and I’ve been keeping to it thus far. Part of my latest inspiration came from a “free” seminar about how you can learn the secrets of becoming a best-selling book author. But as hokey as the come-on was that preceded the sales pitch by the self-help guru, I actually did leave with some good advice that I’ll share with you in my next post — absolutely free!