Archive for the ‘depression’ category

Eyes on the Prize

October 7, 2015

I’ve been swamped with video production work, and taking care of business before my trip to New Jersey for a high school reunion, followed by a week in NYC where my wife and I will be seeing four Broadway plays. Even though I’m accustomed to high hotel prices since we live in Hawaii, I was surprised just how much it would cost us to stay in Manhattan (over $2,000 for six nights). Plus, we were paying premium prices for the theater tickets because I figured if we were going all that way, might as well get the best seats possible instead of trying to save a few bucks and sitting further back.

In any event, I should be excited about seeing old friends from NJ and my days in New York, but the truth is I was in a funk the past couple of months. After writing what I felt was some of my best stuff ever, I was disappointed when my screenplays didn’t advance in the big contests. On top of that, I had applied to a Hawaii-based accelerator program that is supposed to help develop local TV and film projects, and thought I had a very good chance to get in. I expected to be one of the chosen few… forgetting a zen saying I keep repeating to myself: When you cease expecting, you have all things.

Easier said than done! I suspect that if you are reading this blog, you are a writer and probably competitive by nature. Why else would you care what another struggling wannabe screenwriter has to say? Rather than dwell on my personal disappointments, however, I would like to share the positives that came out of my latest setbacks. Maybe it will help you deal with future rejections and close-but-no-cigar outcomes. In the past year alone, I’ve had three scripts get a fair amount of attention from producers and managers, who shopped them around — but no deals.

Anyhow, after I got the impersonal losers email about the Hawaii accelerator snub, I sulked a bit. Then I decided to play catch up on my journals. Each day I scrawl a couple of lines in a notebook to summarize highlights or low points of the day, just to keep track of my progress (or lack of it). When something significant happens or I have some down time, I transcribe my jotted notes to my computer journal entries. A funny thing happened though when I started typing up what I’ve been doing the past two months… I saw that I had actually accomplished a lot and should have been happy instead of fretting about what might have been.

For my monthly half-hour Career Changers TV show, which airs daily on Oceanic Time Warner cable in Hawaii, I had gotten to interview two Olympic gold medal ice skating champions (Kristi Yamaguchi and Brian Boitano, who had a TV cooking show and remodeling show as well) for a paid gig to produce videos about a benefit show they’re doing to help early childhood literacy programs; a week later, I was doing a story on a company started by a talented singer that offers Storybook princesses and superheroes for customized party packages; a couple of nights after that we were shooting a pro wrestling match for a segment about a local actor who runs the wrestling league while managing a self storage facility during the day; and I produced segments about energy and agriculture-related startup companies that are using innovative approaches to help make our world a greener, better place. At the same time, I was getting calls left and right from companies asking me to produce new videos and commercials for them.

Yet all I could think about was what I didn’t achieve or get because the dream of being a successful writer seems so much more glamorous and rewarding than being a mere video producer or copywriter for local commercials. What’s ironic is that the more productive I’ve become on the local level, the more rich and famous people I’ve gotten to meet and work with… and what I find is even Olympic champions aren’t really all that different than you or I once you get to know them. They put their skates on one at a time, they’re excited to be visiting Hawaii, they talk about the hard work it took them to get where they were. And then after they win the gold medal, they have to find new challenges in life. They look for meaning in what they do instead of resting on their laurels or counting their money.

It reminds me of a trip my wife and I took to Vegas when we were still newlyweds and not experienced gamblers like we are now. She sat down at a slot machine, but had her eye on another machine she really wanted to play. While she was watching the other woman plunking silver dollars into the slot, she bided her time by playing one coin at a time in the machine she didn’t want, just waiting for that woman to finish playing and move on… then my wife looked up and saw she had hit the big jackpot! Except nothing happened. No bells or music, no flashing lights. Turned out to win the big jackpot, you had to play the maximum number of coins: three bucks. Because she was fixated on the other slot machine, she had neglected to read the fine print and missed out on the jackpot right in front of her.

The takeaway is if you’re going to play to win, go all in. But don’t overlook the prize right in front of your eyes because you’re fixated on something that may only be an illusion.


Dirty Water Dogs and Stub-Nosed Monkeys

May 15, 2015

Although I haven’t been posting any updates about my screenwriting projects of late, it doesn’t mean I’ve given up hope or stopped putting my stuff out there. When you’ve been at it as long as I have, you build up a body of work. If the scripts you wrote were any good, they should stand the test of time. With experience and distance from the original inspiration or catalyst that motivated you to crank out the first drafts, revisiting old material can yield fresh insights that improve the story and writing itself.

Since my last blog entry about renewed interest in my Menehune family feature script, I’ve signed a 90-day shopping agreement with a producer who is working with a Chinese multimedia company that is making low budget films in the USA. He found my Amish horror spec, SNALLYGASTER, on the Jason Scoggins Spec Scout site (free listings) and liked it because he grew up near Pennsylvania Dutch country, where my script is set. I used that producer’s interest to prod a small prodco to get back to me on my Muslim baby/doll murder mystery suspense script — and over the weekend, their director of development read it after he got back very good coverage from their readers. Now the doll script is also being shopped to distributors through the prodco. That lead came through the Inktip weekly e-newsletters (also free). And via another Inktip e-newsletter request for scripts, I got a producer request for a big budget sci-fi spec I cowrote.

I also continue to enter screenwriting contests while I’m still eligible — that is, I haven’t made enough from options or an outright sale to disqualify me. I’m in that lull stage where you have to wait… then wait some more for news. I don’t want to jinx anything by pestering the prodcos for updates, and cling to the hope that no news is a good sign that those projects are still in play. The benefit of being a more “experienced” writer (old guy) is I don’t lose sleep over it anymore. I get on with my life. Instead of thinking about my prospects of selling, I’m more reflective of my solitary place in the universe and how small we all are in the grand scheme of things.

The other day while jogging to the beach, I counted my blessings and my mind drifted to dirty water hotdogs in New York City, where I misspent a good portion of my 20s before escaping to my present home in Hawaii. In spite of the jokes about the dangers of scarfing down those boiled frankfurters plucked out of the battered, weathered street carts, there was something I liked about the consistency and taste of those onions simmered in a red sauce that to this day, I cannot identify. It was the ideal hangover food after a night of partying and heavy drinking would leave me with less than three bucks in my wallet. No matter where the hot dog cart was — Downtown, Upper West Side/East Side, the Village or Soho — they always tasted the same.

Back then though, I never stopped to think about it much: how immigrants brought these sausages to the New Land, and renamed them for Americans; or the newer immigrants who took over the hot dog carts and introduced other foods from their respective countries; what it took for them to get that beat-up cart; where they got the red sauce recipe from — or was it sold by the originator? So, after my jog, I showered and Googled hot dogs and the red onion sauce recipe. Found some interesting tidbits too!

Snub-nosed Monkey19The dirty water dog memory stirred up a more recent image I recalled from watching a PBS Nature show about an orphaned snub-nosed monkey I identified with. I wasn’t abandoned and left to fend for myself like that poor little monkey, yet my days as a young bachelor in NYC, longing for connection and love, often left me feeling painfully alone. Drinking and partying was part of my survival mode. I convinced myself I didn’t need anyone, or their approval. In some ways, you could say it toughened me up for the inevitable rejections I would later have to endure as a writer. But damn, at the end of that nature show, I was really pulling for that cute little snub-nosed creature to find a friend and reconnect with his missing mother. And I think about that young lonely man, dressed in his business suit with day old razor stubble, savoring a warm hot dog with red onions, with no clue as to what the future might hold for him. Selling a screenplay was the farthest thing from his mind.

Virtual Life

January 19, 2015

The holidays are over, and although we’re only halfway through the first month of 2015 I feel like I’m already falling behind. Each year I vow to get off to a stronger start on my writing and life goals, but I get distracted by college football bowl games, then the NFL playoffs, while systematically emptying the kitchen cabinet of accumulated Christmas gift cookies and candies. I often find myself in a funk too after spending time with my parents and siblings, temporarily reunited for a week or so at the end of each passing year.

It’s been tougher of late because my mother has been losing her short term memory as a result of Alzheimer’s. I first noticed signs of delusion years ago, but my father insisted nothing was wrong with her and doctors kept prescribing more and more drugs to treat whatever aches or pains she complained of. Meanwhile, he was taking more meds himself to sleep and deal with his own depression. I kept sending them articles and links to scientific studies that showed how important it was for older people to exercise and do physical activities to stave off common aging problems such as memory loss. That only angered my father even more. “You don’t know what it’s like getting old!” or he’d snidely cut me off with, “Oh, when did you become a doctor?”

The latter was probably a not-so-subtle jab at me for choosing to become a writer instead of a lawyer or some better paying profession they approved of. So I stopped offering any advice or help a long time ago, since they made it clear they weren’t interested in changing a damn thing about the way they were going to live out their remaining years. They have no hobbies, interests or desires to do anything other than sit in their living room and watch television. My mother used to read a lot, but a few years ago I recognized something was seriously wrong when we were talking about a book I knew she liked and she couldn’t recall whether she read it or not. That was the last time I bought her any books for Christmas or her birthdays.

Despite my differences with my parents, at least I used to be able to talk about books with Mom. She appreciated my intelligence and interest in writing more than my father, whose reading preferences  were Popular Mechanics and Popular Science magazines. She also used that mutual interest in books as an excuse to call and complain about being mistreated by my dad. Those conversations often ended with her in tears or becoming hysterical to the point that my father would pick up the extension and start yelling at her for twisting the truth. The sad irony is now she cannot recall all those arguments and accusations, and he must endure hearing her repeat the same questions over and over, day after day, week after week, while having to watch her all the time. It must be hell for both of them.

Yet when we get together for the annual Thanksgiving/Christmas dinners, everyone smiles, acts like things are fine, and Mom even makes jokes… repeatedly, while we all pretend she’s normal. Dad doesn’t say much. I can’t tell if it’s the meds or if he simply doesn’t feel like he has anything worth sharing. We sometimes break out old pictures and ask them to talk about those times, but neither seems to trust their fading memories.

Anyhow, I’m writing this because I saw a movie review for “Still Alice,” starring Julianne Moore. I’m not sure I want to see it since it hits so close to home. However, I read the book, “Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?” by Roz Chast, and have to say, it’s one of the best things I’ve read in a very long time.  Here’s the Amazon link. It’s a comic book that is funny, honest, humbling, observant, sad and truthful about the disease of being human. If you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s, please get this book. I only wished I could have shared it with my mother.

As for my sibs, we’re all so busy with life and work, we don’t have much time to read all the books we know are supposed to be really good (I’ve got a stack from last Christmas I’m still trying to get through) so we try to talk about recent movies and TV shows we like. They’re always surprised at just how much TV my wife and I watch, but it’s not that hard to cram 6-7 hours of TV shows into 4 hours each evening if you DVR everything and fast forward through all the commercials, credits and redundant stuff. The fact is television can be a wonderful tool for entertainment, education and escapism. It can be a form of virtual life in itself.

Which brings me back to my folks and their chosen lifestyle of sitting in a dark room, blinds closed to keep the sunlight and outside world blocked out, eyes focused on the television. Okay, I can accept that. But why not make it the best experience possible then? I’ve suggested they get a better TV and offered to pay for high definition, got them a gift subscription to Netflix, and sent them recommendations on good movies I thought they would enjoy. Instead, they’re watching Fox News or CNN and banal junk.

I guess my point is, whatever you choose to do with your life, go all the way. In the end, when our memories flicker like dimming pixels on a screen, the only thing we will have are the transcendent moments when we felt we achieved something grand… be it real or not.

Chance or Fate?

May 22, 2014

Every screenplay or book has a story behind it. Some projects seem to happen magically with all the elements quickly falling into place as if by kismet. Others are a slog, taking years of false starts, periods of dormancy, spurts of progress here and there, before finally reaching the first draft finish line. And then the real work begins: fixing and selling it.

As happy as you may be with the achievement of completing a script or novel, the end results aren’t always what you envisioned — the feedback from friends or fellow writers isn’t what you hoped for. Maybe it even stings. So you enter your screenplay in contests, or send out your manuscript to contacts in the publishing biz, wait for responses… and again, there are passes, rejections, encouragement, platitudes about patience, perseverance, keeping your passion alive. Because it is or isn’t meant to be. Or all your struggles are preparation for better things to come! At a certain point, you think it’s all stupid and pointless, you grow cynical and stop dreaming big dreams.

But then you get an email — another screenwriting contest that offers you a chance to break into Hollywood! They’ll even supply you the logline from an A-list produced screenwriter with major credits. All you have to do is write the first 15 pages, and if you’re one of the Top 10 finalists selected, they will assign you a mentor to consult with you each week until that first draft is completed and submitted to their judges. If you win, they’ll fly you to Hollywood for meetings with a top management company and the A-list screenwriter! Sounds good, doesn’t it?

In fact, the writer of that new Halle Berry series, EXTANT, was a prior winner of the Industry Insider contest run by the Writers Store (different script, although Mickey Fisher credits this contest with jump-starting his success). Another recent winner, Tyler Marceca, wrote THE DISCIPLE PROGRAM through this contest, which topped the 2012 Black List and sold to Universal after a bidding war. If you’ve been reading my blog awhile, you know I advocate entering legit contests — both big and small — as a way of getting unbiased feedback, making contacts, and gauging your progress as a writer.

Yet I never entered the Industry Insider competition because it didn’t seem like my thing — I prefer to choose my own premise and the idea of weekly consultations with deadlines for turning in pages impinged on my sense of “artistic freedom.” However, if you want to be a pro writer, you must learn to take notes, meet deadlines, and produce the kind of work that industry people are looking for. Is that selling out? Kind of. But if you want to stay in the game, you have to write stuff that sells.

So when I got another Writers Store email last month about the final deadline coming up for the Sheldon Turner round (he wrote UP IN THE AIR, which I really liked, and an earlier X-Men movie) I read this premise:  A corrupt detective with one month to live tries to make all the wrongs right in a wobbly road to redemption, becoming the cop — and the person — he always wanted to be in the process.

At first, my reaction was meh. Seemed generic and familiar. Then just before I hit “delete” it dawned on me why it sounded familiar — I started a rewrite of an earlier script that had made the Nicholl Fellowship quarterfinals, but didn’t sell, incorporating notes from my former manager (Cathryn Jaymes) and her assistant (Gary Dauberman, who sold CRAWLSPACE recently and got the assignment to write ANNABELLE, the spin-off from THE CONJURING). The new version I had begun was somewhat similar to this premise.

Now this is where the chance or fate part comes in. I had just read about Gary’s sale on the Done Deal site, so perhaps subconsciously I recalled that aborted rewrite attempt… which was about a corrupt detective who finds out a Japanese fortune teller has predicted he will be the fourth victim of the Inugami (a Japanese werewolf-type supernatural creature) before the next full moon — which is about 30 days.

The problem was I wrote those pages and notes ten years ago on a different computer, using different screenwriting software. Back then I favored Movie Magic Screenwriter over Final Draft. When I began collaborating with other writers, I switched over to Final Draft and stopped updating Movie Magic. Old script files got moved around, forgotten, lost. But I kept hard copy pages, handwritten notes, clippings and script pages in folders that I couldn’t bring myself to throw out. I did locate that draft and was able to convert the old Movie Magic file to Final Draft. It was exactly 15 pages long.

I hardly changed a word, entered it a day or two before the final deadline. Then last week, got the “Congratulations!” email saying I was one of the Top 10 Finalists who will be working with a mentor over the next couple of months. It’s strange though. I was thrilled to learn I had this great opportunity to follow in the footsteps of two writers who scored big deals after their success in this contest… and I am nervous as hell about producing pages on demand as part of this process. I’ll try to post updates about the experience, but time will be tight — I’ve already been struggling to keep up with my “day job” duties of producing my little TV show in Hawaii, and doing other for-hire video projects locally. Now I’ve got to find a way to do this too!

It’s like that old saying: Be careful what you wish for — it may come true.

In case you’re interested in knowing more about the Industry Insider contest, here’s a link to my contest round page. You can click around to read other testimonials and details.

“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!

Nicholl Notes and Depressing Comedies

October 11, 2013

It’s been a rough month for me. After I got word my LOST IN THE SUPERMARKET script didn’t make it into the semifinal round, I received more bad news. Two smaller fellowship programs — one for Asian-Americans, another geared to Hawaii screenwriters — notified me I did not make their cut either. The same LOST script that scored high enough to be in the top 5 percent of 7,251 Nicholl entries did not impress readers in other contests that don’t attract nearly as many submissions. But judging at any level is subjective, so none of this surprised me.

In any event, when I get depressed, I look forward to reading books or watching movies that might get me out of my funk. Something to make me smile, laugh, see the bright side of life in general. So I had high hopes for THIS IS THE END since most critics said it was hilarious, although there was profanity and a lot of “adult” humor. They must have seen a different movie than the piece of crap I saw. Okay, at first the idea of watching Seth Rogen, James Franco, et al, playing over the top versions of themselves was amusing… for about 15 minutes. Then it became a series of increasingly juvenile bits with them screaming “sh*t… what the f@ck… f@cking this/that/you” and other unimaginative putdowns that I hardly consider “adult” in any way, shape or form of writing. In hindsight, I wonder if they even bothered to “write” a script for this movie. It was depressing to think that this is the new standard for humor in modern American films.

Which brings me back to the Nicholl Fellowships. I guess their readers are out of step with Hollywood because the notes I got back from two of their contest judges said they liked my script because they felt it was funny, yet was “very mature” and had an “adult vibe” that made it stand out. This was the first year that excerpts from the readers’ comments were sent to writers who placed in the quarterfinals on up.  They did not send the complete reviews/scores or indicate who the readers were, so it’s sort of like incomplete coverage that only focuses on the positives.

The thing I found most funny — and flattering — about the comments was that one reader wrote: “I would bet money that the author once worked the same job as the protagonist in real life.” In the script, my protag works part-time in a supermarket as part of the security staff that monitors customers for theft and other potential problems in the store… a job I never had, but did research for the screenplay. I always strive for authenticity and try to find details in my characters’ occupations that will create a sense of verisimilitude, and give the illusion I know what the hell I’m writing about.

For what it’s worth, here’s the Nicholl notes in their entirety just as I received them on a single page Word Document. If you’d like to read my script, feel free to hit me up with an email…

2013 Nicholl Fellowships – QF Readers Comments for “Lost in the Supermarket” by Rich Figel

This script captures both the thrill of witnessing a born musical talent who has gone full tilt to fine tune his ability as well as the yearning for an artist’s beloved and realization that a life of artistic passion also carries many costs.

Phil’s honesty about his own lack of sheer genius or extraordinary talent as well as his open awe for those who possess them are touching. Through his perspective, we too both admire Davis’ gift, courage and choices as well as mourn the losses these choices have cost him.

Gen is flawed yet sympathetic as we ride the ups and downs with her, through Phil’s infatuated eyes while he covets his idol’s girlfriend. The writer adds welcome complexity to this love triangle: Phil loves Davis as an inspiring mentor and longs for his gift and girlfriend yet also feels her pain in loving an artist whose music comes first.

The story builds more and the craft improves as it progresses. Phil’s honesty is disarming. The humor is funny yet also feels genuine. This story is poignant, and the writer doesn’t compromise, particularly at the conclusion.


Reader 2:

There’s a very mature and adult vibe and tone to this story that makes it stand out.  The way the protagonist comes to care about and form a friendship with the musician feels different from what we usually see and the way he falls in love with the man’s girl is refreshing— though he longs for her, he respects the musician too much and keeps his relationship with the girl on a friends only level. 

This has a simple set-up and is easy to follow yet it has special touches that make it feel unique and fresh.  Humor is integrated expertly into the story and there are some great individual scenes and moments that add to the story without necessarily advancing it.  The central conflict is subtle yet still drives the plot slowly drawing us into the action.  We can’t help but fall in love with these characters and care about what happens to them.

The characters show real depth and personality.  They are likable.  Many of them are funny and provide a nice balance to the main drama which deals with the jazz musician and his girlfriend.  The way our protagonist becomes involved with the couple is worked into the story in a logical manner.  The dialogue is great — the conversations have a smooth flow and the lines sparkle with wit and realism.

The setting is used to good effect and there are a lot of “inside” moments about the way the supermarket works — I would bet money that the author once worked the same job as the protagonist in real life.  The descriptions are good and movement and action are laid out clearly — the reader easily forms a mental picture of what is happening on the page.

There were a few typos and some minor formatting issues but nothing to get worked up over.  All in all, this is a solid and tight work that shows a lot of creativity and skill.  I liked it a lot.

Fool’s Gold

May 12, 2013

Towards the end of every month, I make the hour-long drive from Kailua to the Oceanic Time Warner Cable headquarters in Mililani to deliver my new half-hour Career Changers TV show, which airs daily throughout Hawaii. I could upload it to their FTP server, but that takes over 10 hours and truth be told, I like taking the scenic route through the lush green Koolau mountains. It reminds me how lucky I am to live in the islands — a Mainland transplant, like so many other adventurous souls who came before me in search of… I dunno, something different. Through my show, I’ve gotten to interview successful inventors, multimillionaire entrepreneurs, struggling artists, each lured by a vision or quest of some sort. No matter how rich or famous they are, the one thing they all talk about is “passion” and they all seem to be driven by the desire to explore ideas. They love going off on tangents and asking questions.

I suppose that describes many writers and screenwriters as well. Yet the vast majority of those who are trying to make it in the entertainment or book biz will give up somewhere along the way, and wonder if it was worth the cost in time and personal sacrifices — not to mention the sting of rejections, and frustration of seeing others break through with work that you think isn’t any better than your own. Career envy sucks. But on my most recent drive through the Koolaus, I was listening to an old CD mix when “Fool’s Gold” by Graham Parker came on and a wave of euphoria hit me. Waiting for that big call from an agent or producer, working on so many aborted scripts and book drafts that I’ve lost count, ever striving for that elusive success as a Writer… it’s all been fool’s good I’ve been searching for — when here I was living in Hawaii, with another show wrapped in which I interviewed a pioneer in the video game world: Henk Rogers, who got the rights to Tetris and parlayed it into a business empire that spawned the Blue Planet Founation and his latest mission, space exploration (he just got back from spending time on Richard Branson’s island talking about commercial space ventures in Hawaii)… and the day before I had been asked to speak to over a hundred young people who are part of the Hawaii Job Corps training program… and earlier in the week I had gotten approval from a federal agency in Washington, D.C., on a video I produced about human trafficking for broadcast (part of the 808HALT project)… and I realize, none of this would be happening if it wasn’t for me having the crazy idea that  I could write a movie or create a TV show.

Okay, so it’s not Hollywood. I’m not making huge amounts of money. However, I’m proud of my little Career Changers show because it provides inspiration to people who want to change their jobs or lives. When I interviewed Henk, I was worried about taking up too much of his time since I knew he had an important business appointment scheduled. So as I’m wrapping things up, he stops my cameraman from removing his mic, and says: “But you haven’t asked me about my first jobs when I was going to the University of Hawaii!” He postponed his meeting to talk about how he cleaned grease traps, and was really good at moving furniture (hmm, stacking boxes… Tetris blocks?). His favorite job was driving a cab for Charley’s Taxi because he learned to talk to all kinds of folks, which he believes is a skill that led to his business success. I’m sitting there looking at framed photos of Henk with the Obama family, Richard Branson… art work by Roger Dean, who did the Yes album covers and Virgin Records twins logo… the Russian computer that the Tetris creator used to program the very first version of the game… and he’s talking about the best compliment he ever received was on his furniture packing skills and how much he enjoyed driving a cab!

The bigger takeaway from my talk with Henk was how a heart attack in 2005 at the age of 53 changed his perspective and led to new life “missions” that included trying to save the planet by reducing carbon dioxide — something that’s been in the news again — and making a “backup” of earth life on other planets. You can see his interviews on my CCTV YouTube Channel by clicking here (second part is about Roger Dean and his involvement with Burning Man). No matter how successful you are (or aren’t), Henk’s point is we should all have our own bucket list of things that could make a difference in the bigger scheme of life. Personal achievements are nice, but in the end, did you at least try to help make a positive impact on this planet while you were alive?

Oh, damn, I’m at over 700 words and didn’t get to what I was going to write about that drive and how music also plays such an important role in our lives. When we’re down, it can raise our spirits. It can inspire us to keep going when we want to quit. We connect moments and feelings to old tunes. So I was smiling as “Fool’s Gold” faded out… and then the Grateful Dead came on with one of my all-time favorite tracks: “Not Fade Away/Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad.” It’s a live recording that lasts about 10 minutes long. Back when I used to drink and party like there was no tomorrow, I would ask DJs to put it on and I’d jump up on bar tables to dance and scream with wild abandon when Jerry Garcia tears into a soaring solo that still makes me want to get up and dance, and I was feeling so happy at that moment alone in my car I wanted to let out one more wild scream like I used to —

But it got caught in my throat. It’s been nearly 25 years since I had a drink or gotten high, and my knees won’t allow me to jump on tables any more. Still, I tried my wild man yell again and let out a scream of joy, and thought, hell… if this is being a failed writer, I’ll take it. Sometimes fool’s gold is all there is at the end of the rainbow. Then you realize, it was the rainbow that was the real treasure all along.