Friday, June 13, 2014

Five Things: Coming Back Down to Earth

It's been a big week for my family. This is that story.

1. Annie
Watching my daughter Hannah play the lead in her school’s production of Annie Jr. this past weekend was a profoundly intense and surreal experience.  

Hannah as Annie
We worked on the play for months.  Sally took charge of props and Prop Direction while Hannah’s sister Emma ran lines with Hannah every weekend starting back in February.  The play has eleven or twelve scenes, and Hannah’s character was in almost all of them, so we encouraged all that practice.  Not only did we want to make sure Hannah wouldn’t forget what she had to do, we knew that the rest of the production needed her ready to rehearse.  Hannah also sang a half-dozen songs, with Scene Three (“Tomorrow”) essentially a solo mixed with a bit of dialogue.  

Hannah worked to be ready for her moment.  I saw her working, I covered for Sally when she and Hannah had to be at school for thrice-weekly rehearsals, and I tried to be encouraging whenever I could.  Still, this was not my show.  I just sat in the audience, a proud parent watching his child perform.

That’s what made it weird.

I’ve been on the other side many, many times.  I’ve had successes in my life, had supportive parents standing behind me, had people take note of things I’ve done.  I didn’t think that this time would be much different, but it was.  When we got to the auditorium Saturday night, and I saw all the cast pictures up there with Hannah’s in the center, it blew me away.  Not just because they’d built the show around my daughter but because it came off so successfully with her at the center.  It really worked!  Hannah’s cast photo made her look like a star.  Seeing it made me want to see her in the play.  The whole thing was as impressive as it could be and it was built around Hannah and a few of her friends.  It was crazy!

I already wrote about the performances Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.  As Hannah and I waited around Saturday before the show, I was reminded of the lull between heats and finals at big-time swim meets.  Hannah had that same nervous energy I remembered having from when I was swimming and knew I had to compete later in the day.  We talked about it.  She’s got some room for improvement as she continues to grow, but managing these moments is a real challenge even for experienced competitors. Eli Manning is excellent in the clutch.  His brother is famously excellent all other times.  It’s a tough skill to master.

Hannah was ecstatic after the show Sunday.
Hannah rose to the occasion.  She was exceptionally good Sunday afternoon.

I’ve never been the biggest fan of Hannah’s desire to be a star, and I have this feeling that if, against all odds, she actually succeeds in becoming a famous recording artist, she’ll learn that fame is a mixed blessing at best.  She enjoyed being in the spotlight past week, but Stratford is a small town, and this is elementary school theater.  She performed in front of a very friendly crowd.  It was still a big-time moment, and I’m not taking anything away from it, but it’s not like she’s about to cut a record deal or anything.  That said, I’m personally satisfied because I feel like Hannah has finally learned a lesson that I’ve been trying to teach both my kids since the day they were born:

Lots of people have talent.  Success comes from hard work and practice.

Hannah has talent.  She’s learning the process of harnessing that talent.  That’s what I wanted out of this experience.  I’m proud of her dedication.  

I’ve seen Hannah sing on stage many times, but this was the first time I’d seen other people celebrate her at this level.  It was quite an experience.  I feel like I’m still processing it, still deciding what I think of everything that happened.  What makes me proudest is the way she came through at the end.  She got up there and really nailed it in front of God and everybody.  That was something to see.

2.  I’m trying not to be pissed at my parents right now.
They really missed something special this weekend.  Seeing Hannah up there, watching as the whole school went crazy over her and her cast-mates…  That was amazing.  I’m sorry my folks missed it.

Both my parents died stupid, voluntary deaths.  If I had a nickel for every time I asked my mother to quit smoking, I wouldn’t need to worry about my kids’ college fund.  Similarly, they say alcoholism is a disease.  You know what else is a disease?  Diabetes.  If you know someone who has diabetes, and they die because they refuse to get treatment, you’ll be left wondering what the Hell they were thinking.  That’s how I feel about my father and his alcoholism.  I don’t blame him for struggling with addiction.  I blame him for refusing to confront the problem and get help.  He was a better man than that.

My folks made choices, and choices have costs.  The cost this weekend was missing Hannah’s first Big Moment.  There’s not a damn thing I can do about it, but it still makes me sad.  I’m trying not to be angry, too.

“A battle between... Jack Daniel's and [its] smaller rival George Dickel... is being waged over who has the right to label their drink as following authentic Tennessee style. It's among the epicurean battles being waged around the world over what food and drink should carry special status as local and unique.

British-based liquor conglomerate Diageo PLC opened a heated legislative fight earlier this year seeking to overturn the state's newly established legal definition for Tennessee whiskey that has been championed by Jack Daniel's, which is owned by Louisville, Kentucky-based Brown-Forman Corp. Among the new rules are requirements that whiskey must be aged in new, charred oak barrels in Tennessee and filtered through maple charcoal prior to aging.

Jack Daniel's whiskey is made and aged in Tennessee. Diageo's George Dickel whiskey is also made in Tennessee but stored in neighboring Kentucky.”

Jack Daniel’s distillery is some eleven miles from my grandparents’ old house.  George Dickel is even closer than that.  One of the happiest memories I have from when I was a kid is touring the cave that sits atop the hill where Jack Daniel’s spring is located.  My grandparents and I toured many of the caves across the southeast, but it seemed unique and special to have one so close to where they lived.  Unfortunately, they’d closed the cave tour the last time I was in town, so I couldn’t take my kids.

Beyond that, this entire issue seems like an idiotic form of corporate extortion perpetrated by the Tennessee State Legislature.  Also, I can’t help wondering what possible benefit Dickel derives from distilling its whiskey in Tennessee but then shipping it to Kentucky for storage.  Doesn’t that just add a step?

They’re probably shipping it fifty-five gallon drums or something and then processing it Kentucky for storage in those special oak barrels.  I’ll bet they tried to consolidate their US operations in Kentucky, and that’s what caused Tennessee’s legislature to pass a law revoking their special “epicurean” status.

It’s not just a comic convention anymore, now it’s “New York Super-Week”, a celebration of all things pop-culture from October 3rd through the 12th.  I guess that’s okay, especially since New York City is already an ongoing celebration of movies and theater, but I can’t help wishing they’d keep the focus on comics.  

Yes, comic culture has taken control of movies and TV.  We’ve had something like a half-dozen comic movies this past year, and many have been among the biggest grossing movies that year had to offer.  Television is following with shows like Arrow and Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, a raft of new DC Universe properties coming this fall, and Marvel’s Daredevil coming to Netflix in 2015.  They’re even making a Hellblazer TV show!  Geek culture is everywhere.  

And yet, I still think of comics as a separate and unique medium--and not one that’s overwhelming its corporate parents with sales.  When I used to write comics, I often felt like you couldn’t swing a dead cat in the industry without taking out three screenwriters trying to make their comics simply as vehicles to get their movies made.  I myself did some work for Platinum Studios, and that was their whole business model.  They didn’t care about comics.  They cared about movies you could use comics to make.  To Platinum, comics were a way to get financing.  But comics aren’t just a way to get financing.  They’re the world’s oldest storytelling medium.  They’re that happy combination of visual and literary art that allows for complete, unparalleled storytelling.  Pictures and words.  What’s not to love about that?

Comics are worth celebrating on their own merits.  They don’t need movies and TV and stars and all that other bullshit.  That stuff is fine if it fuels the industry’s continued existence, but when I go to a comic convention, I don’t need a bunch of distractions.  The medium itself is exciting all on its own.

5.  Rewriting
I’ve seen a bunch of quotes lately from authors saying things like this:

“I don’t write particularly well, but I’m a great rewriter.”  

Those people amaze me.  I’m rewriting my book--I don’t think this is some huge secret--and the process has been exhausting.  Granted, I just changed my process, so maybe that has something to do with it, but still…  They say every sentence in your book ought to drive your story, that you should choose every word carefully.  I’ve finally reached that place, but it’s taken a level of attention to detail that is almost painful.

I don’t know if anyone’s going to care about my book’s characters or plot.  Folks may find the dialogue wooden; they may think the scene and story structure don’t work.  They may miss the point of the story entirely.  Those things are very hard to judge as a writer.  The language of the book, though, that’s terrific.  It’s simple and direct, and it punches where it’s supposed to punch.  I was a little worried that editing that tightly would cut my “voice” from the narrative, but that hasn’t happened at all.  Instead, I realized I’d let myself get into too many bad habits.  Cutting all the crap from the story made the emotional parts hit a hundred times harder.

I’m dying to show it to someone.  I’ve been giving pieces of the work in progress to my kids, but they aren’t the most sophisticated audience, and Sally’s time is even more tightly scheduled than mine is.  I may eventually run the finished book by one more batch of test-readers--not because I want feedback but because I simply want to share my work with my friends--but that’s months away.  It doesn’t do anything to satisfy my need for immediate gratification.

What are you gonna do?  Writing is a lonely occupation.

It’s Father’s Day Weekend.  The northeast has been rainy all week, but the sun’ll come out tomorrow.  Tri Club has practice, and I personally plan to swim and then maybe run.  As an athlete, I’ve been lazy as can be for the last two weeks.  

My friend Ben is having a barbeque in the afternoon, and my kids and I are going to try to hit a monster-movie double feature if we can--Godzilla and How to Train Your Dragon 2.  Hannah claims that she doesn’t want to see How to Train Your Dragon 2, but I’m hoping she changes her mind when she sees me and her sister headed towards the door.

Anybody else got anything planned?

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