Friday, August 13, 2021

How to Cope With the Human Condition

When Robin Williams passed in August 2014, it hit me hard. Three years later I posted my thoughts (below) on FB. I hope you find it helpful. As Ram Dass said, "We're all just walking each other home." 

Depression seems to be unavoidable.  It even stalks people who had a happy childhood, perhaps BECAUSE they were once so happy and athletically inclined or good looking or effing talented, or even all of the above, because no one gets old without watching their gifts and potential, whatever they are, be slowly taken away. 

It's a cruel joke that life plays on everyone. It doesn't matter if you're on meds, or high on life, or filled with gratitude. The taking away is insipid and brutal and relentless. It's just sad.

The trick to adjusting every few years to a "new normal", as talent and potential, or just the ability to get restful, pain-free sleep fades away, is to combat sadness with new knowledge. 

Stay humble enough to remain perennially curious, and you will find joy in new ways. 

Be courageous enough to push yourself to try something you suck at. (Like not ending sentences with a preposition.) 

Help someone who seems sadder than you, if you can.

Anyhoo, that's my plan.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

My Daddy Issue

My fondest memory of my dad occurred when I was seven.  
Because he had taken 15 years of piano lessons in his youth, I grew up with a full-size grand piano in the living room. One evening, my dad played Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude, an extremely difficult piece of music, without sheet music, for some neighbors who dropped by. That is to say, he played the entire piece from memory.
As his fingers flew over the keys in a blur, my father’s brilliance was undeniable, and I was so proud to be his son at that moment.  His genius made me feel like anything was possible in my future, because I was his son. 
His three sons often fell asleep at night to the sound of him playing.  Sometimes I laid on the floor under the piano while he played, listening to it RING!

When I was older, my dad built a rowboat, from scratch, without instructions, guided only by creative instincts, his knowledge of carpentry, and his prodigious problem-solving skills.  
He handmade a set of life-size hollow wooden building blocks that hopefully his great grandkids' grandkids will get to enjoy.  

He also taught me everything about gardening.  

I’m convinced my dad could build anything, given enough time to plan it out. 
I had a good relationship with him until I became a teenager, when our relationship grew less close, which is typical of many fathers and sons.  I wanted a better connection with him, though; especially later, when I became a father myself.  
I yearned for meaningful conversations about what matters most in life, but this made him uncomfortable, and so our relationship remained stuck, at arms length, until his death.
Like any two human beings, my father and I shared certain beliefs, and we disagreed on others.  Whenever I pushed for deeper resolutions to family conflicts that arose, he would express disappointment in my tendency to “analyze things too much.”  
Understanding what makes people tick has always interested me, but like many of his generation, my dad was not fond of introspection, or of psychoanalysis, in any form.  WhatsoeverEver.
And so, he and I viewed the world, and the people in it, differently, but we also shared a tendency to assign an importance level to stuff that happens. All humans share this tendency. If kids are playing and one of them throws sand in the air, the others will inevitably decide, in a split second, whether the behavior is an act of aggression, or just harmless fun.
Categorizing stuff that happens as “good” or “bad” enables us to decide how best to go forward -- whether to go punch the sand-thrower, or to offer him another chance to play nice.  But since everyone does this math differently, conflicts happen.
We humans often interpret identical events differently, so we end up with different beliefs, which prompt us to align ourselves with different political or religious groups, which reflect the importance we assign to perceived patterns of behavior.
Anyway, because my first marriage ended in divorce, I re-examined beliefs that probably contributed to it.  I then prodded my dad to take a closer look at some of his beliefs, too, but he resisted, firmly.  
After a while, I stopped asking him to take a look at anything.  There was never going to be ANY re-examination of anything.  No learnings.  Whatsoever.  EVER.
I believe my dad loved me, but the net result of HIS beliefs was that our relationship remained at arms length.
Now he’s gone, and I must decide what importance to assign to this thing that happened – this choice he made.  What beliefs about it should I accept?  Was his choice a “good” or a “bad” thing?  
Did he want something else more than he wanted meaningful conversations with me?  If so, what was it that he valued MORE?  
Was there something I was doing that made him not want a deeper connection?  Was he right – that I analyze things too much??  Or, was my father just not comfortable letting his guard down?  Around anyone whatsoever.  Ever.
As I weed out suspicions generated by “the little voice in my head” as best I can, I know that whatever beliefs I hold about my dad’s choice will affect the way I connect with my own children, and for that matter, with anyone.  
One belief I hold is that you can never REALLY know what another person thinks, so a decision about what to believe often comes down to how much faith you have in yourself. 
By definition, faith requires a “leap in logic” that involves risk.  And risk is scary.
Being scared doesn’t feel good, so in order to feel more “in control”, I tend to give assumptions that feel good more weight.  But I also understand that “feel good” (ego-preserving) beliefs are the root cause of every conflict in the world.
The downside of living inside a moat of assumptions that keep out any “feel bad” news is that your creativity becomes crippled by the fear of validating an opposing viewpoint. You become unwilling or unable to afford making a mistake. 
Opportunities for intimacy are too risky. Arrogance and fear drive most decisions. Absolute power corrupts, absolutely. Eventually your mind becomes a fortress, with circles of defensive logic protecting core beliefs inside more circles of defense, until the center becomes, ironically, no longer worth defending; it is essentially a prison – not free.
Humans are constantly driven by fear on some level, but the good news is we’re simultaneously pulled by life-affirming desires, if we allow our "self" to notice them.  
Every human interaction is a test:  Am I safe being myself with you?

The secret to happiness, therefore, is to strive to be cognizant of actual danger while also allowing yourself to be pulled by deeper intentions.  Dwell as often as you can in spaces where you’re awake (aware of risks) but also allowing positive possibilities a chance at bat.  Real love is not possible without vulnerability.
I miss my father. He was a brilliant, well-intentioned, decent human being, who was able to teach himself many things.  He gave me confidence in my own ability to analyze and solve the problems life throws at me, and I will never regret trying to have a more meaningful relationship with him. 

Thursday, April 9, 2020

What Makes You Happy?

Ever make a list of the things that make YOU happy?  

What are the things that enable you to blissfully be the person you are uniquely meant to be?

Here’s my list of contributors to bliss.  Hope it helps you figger out your own dealio:
  • Being able to think freely about ideas and artistic visions, without time pressure or shame
  • Being able to choose what matters most to me as the focus of my energy
  • Being able to focus on a single project without distractions (having adequate alone time)
  • Having the knowledge, experience, and skills required to work efficiently and effectively
  • Having access to a variety of tools, methods, and mentors when crafting an artistic vision
  • Being exposed to inspiring examples, locations, or people
  • Helping others who share similar goals move forward in meaningful ways 
  • Being able to share and enjoy end results


I didn't think I had the bandwidth to squeeze anything else on my plate in 2010.

Then I heard about and decided I  *HAD TO*  go thru 40 hours of training to become a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) for our town, basically because I feared my family would be left "out of the loop" in the aftermath of a major quake or other disaster.

CERTS learn where the government stores supplies, among other useful poop, and in the years hence, my wife has occasionally teased me about how my "over-preparedness" has resulted in trunk space in each car being taken up by "go kits", etc.

However, it was SHE this week who SCREAMED at me while we were on a leisurely walk around the local community college, when I took a shortcut and came within 100 feet of an empty bus stop. 

Let me say that again, only more succinctly. 

My wife SCREAMED AT ME, IN PUBLIC, for walking past an empty bus stop.

She thought there might be virus droplets in the air near it.

So I understand. Peeps be going crazy, and I'm married to an actual crazy person, but I have been crazier longer. 

If you think you're prepared enough for an unforeseen or other type of disaster, take the quiz I put on my website over a decade ago:

Anger vs. Humility

When I was 33, going through a divorce took me to a pretty dark and lonely place. I’ve never felt so utterly alone, before or since.

On top of grieving over the death of a “forever” relationship, I was dealing with separation from my adorable little girl (who was almost 3). It was The Most Painful Thing I’ve ever endured. 

So I have a first-hand understanding of why divorce often drives people to the brink of sanity.

Losing time with my kid, TIME THAT I COULD NEVER GET BACK, was very hard to process without getting angry. My ex-wife’s brutal lack of compassion and unabating selfishness felt unwarranted (it was SHE who broke our vows), and it was all I could do to contain my desire to make her suffer.

(This post is kind of a follow-up to this post: )

I made it through those days one hour at a time, putting one foot in front of the other, going to and from jobs that sucked the life out of me, staying focused on the only thing that gave me hope: my little girl was healthy and happy. This was 99% of what mattered to me, and knowing that she needed me and loved me was just enough to pull me out of despair.

In the months and years that followed, things slowly got better, as I did what it took to share custody and make every child support payment on time and in full, despite personal financial and health challenges. But it broke my heart every time I drove my daughter to her mom’s house and had to say goodbye without crying.  Every.  Single.  Time.  

But she was thriving, because my ex was doing an excellent job at providing a safe and happy home for her, better than I ever could have done.  

And eventually silver linings emerged that I hadn’t anticipated, like uni-lateral decision making in the prime of your life. You never lose something without gaining something else, ya know?

I’m not a religious person, AT ALL, but sometimes shit happens that makes me question my lack of faith.  I sometimes wonder, you know, whether larger forces are at play. 

Fast forward 28 years. 

My daughter is now 31 and working in her dream job at Disney, but she was absolutely devasted by, and is slowly recovering from, her mother’s sudden passing last July (from cancer). 

Because she was between jobs (due to larger forces) last summer, she was able to spend the final five days of her mom’s life by her side in the hospital. 

At the end, with amazing courage that I can only imagine, she told her mommy that she would be okay, and she sang to her and gave her permission to let go.

And I am GRATEFUL, now, that my ex and my daughter had all that time together when she was young, because they won’t ever get any more of it. 

And I regret the time I wasted back then, choosing to be angry.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

A Worthy Epitaph

In 6th grade I had a girlfriend who dumped me for an older guy. I was heartbroken, but it didn’t phase my desire for another one. I spent much of my time in junior high and later years trying to impress girls, but I failed to snag another GF until late in my senior year.
By then I was a needy, lonely male animal. And I fell really hard for a gorgeous girl who was a year younger. My impending departure from the civilian world a month after graduation made our relationship even more intense and hyper-romantic.
Unfortunately, she also happened to be my BFF’s ex-GF. Thus I was forced, initially, to choose between my loyalty to him and my hormones. Let me assure you, deciding what to do required a lot of soul searching for several seconds.
Their breakup was tumultuous. Lots of tears all around. Her heart was literally being torn in two, and her parents were naturally very concerned about her. In the heat of it, I just learned, her mother offered her some advice.
I got a pkg in the mail recently from my high school GF, filled with pics I took and letters I wrote between 1976 and 1983. She’s in the middle of moving, and she reached out to see if I wanted them. I said "Yes, please," though with a bit of angst. (I was a bit of a cad back then.) (Really. No, REALLY.)
It is a testament to her character, by the way, and to her husband’s character, that these items have been allowed to remain undisturbed in a shoebox all these years. But I digress...
When she was trying to decide whether to go back with him or move fwd with me, her mom said, “You laugh a lot more often with Dave.”  And so, she ended up choosing me.  
We remained a couple for another year or so, before life took us in different directions, but it’s heartwarming to know that all my clowning around back then wasn’t a total waste of time. In fact, I think those words would make a great epitaph.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Brief Blog from a Bubble

It’s been 34 years since I drove west in an old beater from Delaware, with just my clothes and a stereo system, and no job waiting for me.  It was challenging to find a foothold, but I was determined to find a way.

Looking back, I’m glad I made that choice, and grateful that I found a way.

Even back in 1982, the cost of living in the SF Bay Area was outrageous, but I quickly fell in love with its temperate climate, with its proximity to both Lake Tahoe and the beach, and with its diverse range of job options, attitudes, and cuisines.

There are still moments, often near sunset, when I’m awed by the beauty of this place.  I lived all over the east coast as a kid, so sometimes I miss the change of seasons and the lush greenery that regular rainstorms enable, but I tell my kids that, all things considered, we are living in the best area of the best state in the best country on earth.

I warn my kids:  we live in a bubble and you have nowhere to go but down if you ever choose to move away, so be kind to everyone you meet, because they are probably suffering in at least six ways that you are not.

And now it is being reported that we live in the best city  of the best area of the best state in the best country on earth.

“A new report finds six of the top 10 most expensive U.S. cities to buy a home are in the Bay Area, with Saratoga topping the list.” 

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Rowing Toward Success

Finding just the right words can seem impossible when sitting in front of a blank page.  I wonder how Hemingway did it, and on a friggin' typewriter no less.

Still, I yearn to put together timeless, perfect words.  Eloquence that will fly like an arrow in the precise arc necessary to unify the heartbeats of an audience. 

Words that will keep an audience riveted precisely long enough to feel a particular emotion or understand a specific point of view.

Finding those words will be, for me, the peak of artistic success.  It is the point, way far away on the horizon, toward which I row with mild optimism. 

Of course, commercial success, which usually requires talented writing as a base, would also be nice... but whether a work stands the test of time often depends on how much money is spent to make it visible, as well as on the timing of promotional efforts

Even if these things happen just right, the effectiveness of words on a page can get muddled by layers of context and subtext, not to mention by interpretive choices made by an actor, director, or editor. 

Writing that transcends all of these factors is what I hope to put forth in the world, even though a consensus of opinion about its merits might not occur until well after I'm gone.  

I believe that whatever ultimately happens is bigger than me - that the end result of artistic efforts is unknowable by anyone - and so 
the joy I get from the creative process, from taking artistic risks, is the only payoff I should expect.

If a typhoon comes, I'm screwed.  But I do have oars.  And making it across the ocean is only possible if I keep rowing.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Remember That You Get to Choose

Shit happens, right?  When something happens that you didn't expect and don't like, try to remember that YOU get to assign meaning to whatever is happening. You get to choose how to feel.

When my first marriage was failing, I faced the situation without a support system.  I'm not a church goer, and my side of the family were all "I told you so", so there was no one for me to talk to, really.  So I ended up in a very dark, disconnected, scary place.  Alone.

The lone candle flickering in the darkness was the fact that I had a daughter who needed me.  For her sake, I chose to do what had to be done in order to move forward = not die. I found gratitude for the one thing in my life that was undeniably awesome, and I focused my attention on it, taking baby steps, minute by minute, hour by hour.

Eventually things got a LOT better.

The pain I went through then was necessary, I realize now, for me to be available for what was to come, seven years later, when I was lucky AND ready enough to start a new family, which not only healed my heart, but gave me a more compassionate view of the world and nudged me closer to my dream of becoming an author worthy of representation.

Everything has meaning if you can find gratitude. And if you find meaning, it fills you with more gratitude.  Gratitude is a wellspring of creativity.

Several years later, things were going just peachy when the financial collapse of 2008 happened, and over 90% of my hard-earned nest egg went POOF.  (I watched helplessly as my IRA shrank from over 700K to just 70K.)  When the tide goes out, all boats go down. There is no safe place to run.

I questioned why I had slaved away for almost 30 years in cubicles without windows, hoping to amass enough wealth to someday be able to finally follow my artistic passions without ending up a poverty case.  

I felt like a fool.  I was angry -- at myself, at the government, at employers, and at Republicans in particular.  I still have regrets about decisions I made.

At the time, I was devastated and exhausted, both emotionally and intellectually. Nothing made sense any more.  Logic and wisdom held no power.  As a result, I lost faith in banks and insurance companies, I even doubted the soundness of our currency.  (This is STILL the case years later, by the way.)

But when I lifted my head and looked around, I noticed that each of my kids was healthy and happy, and I remembered that THIS is 90% of what matters to me.  In gratitude I chose to move forward in life with less anger.

Funny story longer, in a "F*ck you, Universe" move, I took what was left of my nest egg, and I put it ALL into one stock that had fallen to 35 cents a share, and a decade later it was bought out at $3.00.  I got lucky.  So it turns out I will have enough to retire after all.

Until something ELSE happens that I don't expect.

Getting older can be especially depressing if you were once blessed with impressive artistic or intellectual or athletic talents that fade over time.  One of the most difficult things humans ever do is say goodbye, and though we might feel alone in our pain, we all eventually grieve for the more vibrant person we once were.

I used to be somewhat handsome, but now I look in the mirror and ask "Who the HELL is THAT?!?" 

Watching my gifts get taken away is depressing, but lately I'm finding gratitude for body parts that still function.  It's actually quite freeing to stop worrying so much about how I look. You never lose something without gaining something else.

Shit could happen in 6 hours, 6 weeks, or in 6 years. I have no idea when, if ever, but regardless of when or if it haps, it's all good.  Because The Universe is my bitch, yo.

Some Words About My Pal, Gordon Rothwell

I went to a memorial service recently for an 86-year-old pal who passed. 
When I met Gordon, he had recently retired from a career in advertising – a career path that I’ve always yearned to follow, but which I have lacked the courage and confidence to pursue. Instead, I’ve sought the relative safety of technical writing, which rewards predominately left-brain writers like me with a steady paycheck.
But the yearning to be Don Draper, to be thought of as one of the magical Mad Men, has never left me.
As we know, Gordon Rothwell was the real deal. I wanted to learn from him, and he did not let me down in this regard. I met him when a fellow wannabe screenwriter invited me to attend a monthly meeting that Gordon had organized. I remember his warm smile, as he welcomed me, and I quickly became impressed by his easygoing leadership style that was a mix of intellect, humility, and a subtle sense of humor.
It was 1998, and the internet hadn’t really caught fire yet, so Gordon could always be counted on to bring reams of printouts, from film industry magazines and books, to share with everyone at each meeting. This was a tradition that I’m sure would still be occurring, hardcopies and all, if the group was still meeting. Gordon was kind of like our very own wild-haired professor, inspiring each of us to push through the different challenges we faced with our writing projects.
I was basically a “one idea author” who had started writing a novel on an actual typewriter in 1983, and was now trying to write it as a screenplay. Over the next few years, as a member of Gordon’s South Bay Screenwriters group, I eventually finished a first draft of my first feature-length script. This was a major milestone for me as a writer, a major turning point if you will, and if I ever win an Oscar, Gordon will surely be among the first people I thank.
As time passed, we all took turns sharing our works-in-progress, and we weathered the inevitably painful feedback offered by our peers, but eventually, the importance of having awesome snacks at the meetings threatened to overshadow the writing projects we were there to critique. Yes, we were in real danger of becoming foodies, before there was such a thing. At one point we started holding meetings in a conference room at the Mountain View Library, but they had a very strict “No Snacks” policy, so I remember us all covertly sneaking our snacks in, and then having to eat them with one eye on the door...
Eventually, the real world dramas in our lives pulled each of us in different directions, and our group agreed to disband. Gordon moved north, but unlike many his age, he learned how to keep connected with us online, and he never stopped writing. Just a week before he passed he alerted me to his latest novella available on Amazon, and I am so glad now that I listened to my gut and took the time to show him some love by buying a copy and posting a review of it online. I hope those actions gave him some measure of satisfaction and peace of mind.
I will never forget the magic that occasionally happened during our meetings, when anything seemed possible – even earning a living as a creative writer. I know that the magic of those moments never would have happened were it not for Gordon. The memory of that magic is, I think, what connects us – it’s why our group has kept in touch with each other.
Gordon remains a part of who we are, and he will surely be a part of the successful writer I might yet become.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

A Thing That Happened When I Was 11

When I was 11, I saw a six-year-old girl fall off of a dock.  The dock was too high for her to climb back out, so I ran over, laid down, reached down as far as I could, and I was just barely able to grab onto her hand.  I held on until some adults heard us yelling and came to help. 

Decades later, I was standing at a backyard party with Risa, who was just three months old, in my arms, near an inflatable wading pool that was less than a foot deep. 

In the noise and chaos of a dozen parents chatting and laughing while kids splashed around, I noticed one two year old who was on her hands and knees but couldn’t lift her head above water. Her mother was actually closer than I was, but before she could react I had already stepped into the pool with my shoes on and lifted her baby with my other arm. 

The Universe put me in the right place, at the right time. TWICE. This is why I became trained in CPR and Basic First Aid so I could be an ERT member where I work, just in case a THIRD situation arises...

Recently I faced a difficult dilemma. I occasionally chat with my 78-year-old neighbor, a retired internist, when we’re both out getting the mail at the same time or hauling garbage cans to the street. 

When he complained of vertigo I dragged his garbage cans up for him. He’s a brilliant man who has spent decades diagnosing illnesses, so I was concerned, but a week later I saw him, and he seemed to be getting better.

However, about a week after that, his condition seemed worse, and he had a bump on his head from a fall. Before Thanksgiving, I began texting or calling once a day to check on him, assuming he was seeing a doctor. I offered to bring him and his wife a plate of leftovers, but he politely declined.

When I didn’t hear back for 48 hours, I went over and knocked, and his wife (who uses a walker) came to the door, so I knew he was in bad shape. She let me in and I asked if he had seen a doctor. He had not, but he promised me he would. 

As he showed me to the door, he seemed to be in a lot of pain and was a tad delirious, so we had a frank conversation about what his ailment might be. He told me “I think I have metastatic prostate cancer, and I don’t want to die in a hospital. I’ve treated patients for this, and I know exactly what tests the doctor will run and what comes next, and I’d just rather die at home, holding my wife’s hand.”

I told him that I totally agreed with his desire to die at home, but I urged him to see a doctor anyway. He thanked me for my concern and closed the door.

As I walked back home, I wrestled with deciding what to do. My father and grandfather both had prostate cancer in their late 70’s, so this was a bit of a wake up call for me in my late 50's. My grandfather died from it, but my father lived to be 88, thanks to treatment.

Because I have volunteered on workplace ER teams for years, my training was kicking in, telling me to not walk away until convinced the situation was being handled by someone with superior training. 

Yet, at the same time, I wanted to respect his wishes, to not be intrusive.

My brilliant wife convinced me to call Kaiser and speak to an advice nurse, and when I did so, the nurse arranged for a doctor to call my neighbor in about an hour.  I walked back over to tell him, but when I arrived, the doctor was already on the phone with him and had convinced him to let me drive him to the hospital. 

So I did that and assured him that we would check on his wife regularly and told him it was his turn to let others take care of him for a change.

According to his doctor a few days later, he had become unable to think straight due to extreme dehydration and might not have survived the night. Turns out I did the right thing by calling for help, against his wishes. He had misdiagnosed himself.

I was right to be a bit pushy and to remain engaged until I was convinced he was receiving care from a medical professional.

When I went to see him later, he thanked me for saving his life. I told him that, had I been working late on that day, I probably would have been too distracted to go check on him.

The Universe sometimes seems to have plans that are bigger than us, ya know?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Looky! Looky! No progress on the script, but I created a meme: