This year I decided to do two versions of a year-end newsletter. This is the one I sent at the end of November to entertainment industry contacts and folks from that arena. It is work-focused, accentuates the positive and politely doesn’t mention the negative. Privately, I think of it as the “Everything is Awesome, I’m Awesome and You Should Hire Me” Edition… Enjoy!
Happy End-of-Year Greetings!
2022 was a topsy-turvy year, but there was still good fun to be had.
WORK: I was super-happy for opportunities to use my writing and production skill sets this year by:
Writing my first DIGITAL COMIC. Based on I.P., it follows an ex-mobster’s adventures in the afterlife.
Crafting mythology and lore for a VIRTUAL REALITY GAME where you are transported to a magical island to learn to meditate. (With frequent collaborator Paul Seetachitt.)
Producing VIDEOS and LIVE SHOWS at a major toy company.
CREATIONS: It’s always a burst of dopamine to see one’s creative work have a life out in the world:
TIME OUT, my segment of Creepshow (written with Paul Seetachitt), was featured in Shudder’s ads for the show and immortalized as a comic book in the hands of the six-foot animatronic Creep sold for Halloween!
Two original works (a pilot and a short story) were optioned by production companies who pitched them this year.
Flash fiction, MY HULK appeared in Altered Reality Magazine.
GIRL, WOLF, WOODSMAN will be published in Santa Monica Review this spring. A short story that imagines Little Red Riding Hood’s life after she’s “saved from the wolf.” There will likely be a live reading, and I get paid in unlimited contributors copies, so let me know if you’d like to be on the list for either of those!
I am coming out of the closet as a Solar Return traveler. That’s a person who lets an astrologist recommend where in the world she should be on her Solar Return (aka birthday) to optimize her horoscope for the coming year. This year’s destination is Samsun, Turkey! In two days, I’ll be on a plane to Istanbul.
2023, LOOKING FORWARD:
Two pieces of fiction and three specs didn’t make it to the finish line this year. If I can pull them across in 2023, I’ll feel great satisfaction.
There’s a sweet horror short we’ll be trying to get in the can.
Work-wise, I’m fortunate to have a couple “holds” for jobs on the books, but also have some stretches where I am available. Need someone in or around a writers room (temp / sub or freelance)? Production support for an Indie-film? Or something new and interesting? Give me a shout!
Sending you my warmest wishes for satisfying work, whimsical adventures, health, happiness and love in the coming year!
I spent a frightening portion of the last few weeks prepping an application for the Universal Writers Lab. For readers who aren’t aspiring screenwriters, a lab like this is essentially a miracle ticket — a salaried, year-long fellowship where the participant receives mentorship while developing work with producers, execs, and others, all combining to hopefully provide a springier spring-board into the industry than the participant has experienced thus far.
Applying to opportunities like these are moonshot endeavors, as usually only half-a-dozen are chosen from many applicants. To give you an idea of how many – a couple years ago I prepped an application for similar lab, but when the application portal opened, there were so many applicants it overwhelmed the submission portal. Ultimately the organizers capped the number of applications at 4000, leaving an uncounted number of people left over. Such is the glamorous life of an aspiring Hollywood writer!
I can tell that the organizers of the upcoming Universal lab really tried to cover all their bases, detailing what to name documents, what formats to use, word and page counts, font size, line spacing and even how to address the optional referral letters.
But it’s impossible to predict all the pain points. Because the third party submission portal had no way to save an in-process application, I lost my work three times. Coming to the end of the application the third time, I was getting excited about the nearness of the “submit” button, when I discovered the final “question” was actually a form that needed to be downloaded, hand-signed, scanned, uploaded AND sent to my agent for their hand-signed signature as well! A bummer of a surprise on get on a Saturday night, though it would have been more of a bummer to get it on the Monday evening it was due.
Such administrative oversights land harder in the context of the feelings raised by filling out applications in general. For me, the whole application process calls my life into question — when I’m asked for referral letters, I wonder why I haven’t cultivated have a larger network and more intimate relationships? When tackling the essay prompt, I question whether my life experiences or thoughts could possibly be “unique”! The 15-year limit on work history on the resume is a reminder that few see the life experience of older applicants as having value or relevance. Same for unpaid labor. Although the focus of the initiative is diversity and inclusion, my projects with diverse collaborators didn’t qualify for mention because they were the most difficult to find money for. Overall, the application process is a prolonged reminder of the chasm between where I am and where I want to be, which in turn causes me to self-interrogate — do I think that wanting something badly makes me worthy? Worthier that the 4000+ applicants with their own stories to tell?
At a certain point the overwhelm is too much, I have to give up on these questions. Work continues, even on wrong side of the chasm, and it has its own rewards: For me, the rewards of making through this application are that I finally created a complete project list with loglines that I’ve been needing for ages. I revised a treatment. I re-opened a feature script that broke my heart last year and realized my heart is mended and I have the distance to revisit it again. And I wrote a 750-word essay that would live a better life as a longer-winded and more introspective 1500 blog post — so ya’ll can look forward to that.
I think I’ve cryptically referred to the “digital app” company I’ve been doing a project for… To be less vague about it, I’m working with a company called Macroverse. Today, as part of a virtual Web3 Comicon event, I’ll be on a panel where Macroverse reveals it’s upcoming releases, including the series that I am writing on, called Sal Bones. You can access it as a livestream on YouTube, here, at 4:30 PM (PST) today (Sunday, October 9, 2022) or see the recorded version later.
I’m not sure how many projects are being introduced, if I’ll actually be called to say something or if I’ll mostly nod and smile. I’ve been watching several of the other events over the past couple days, and feel like I’m getting a slightly better sense of what “Web3” means, and how storytelling might evolve if it comes to pass.
I am delighted to announce that I’ve got —not one, not two, but —three cool freelance gigs coming up.
JOB A is producing some product sales meetings for a well-known company.
JOB B and JOB C involve story creation for two different technology / game apps.
I am being super vague because I don’t want to jinx anything, but I’ll say that I’m excited about all three: Each one will involve learning new vocabulary (which is one of my favorite things) as well as new software (which I enjoy if it’s not overwhelming). And I get to collaborate as part of a team. I’ve been in a good mood as each of them has become more solid in the last several weeks.
The producing gig, JOB A, scheduled for mid-July to mid-September, is the most definite because it’s built around pre-scheduled events that involve multiple people and businesses, so barring some natural disaster or new pandemic surge, it will happen. I’ve spent the last month virtually “onboarding” with their third-party payroll vendor, and just received my company email address and access to their Microsoft Teams hub, so am feeling very official.
For JOB B and JOB C, the “paperwork” is still being sorted — i.e. various parties and lawyers are defining and agreeing to terms etc.
Here’s where I’m getting a little antsy and “pacing at the gate.” Both of these jobs became possibilities after meetings in early May, and are slated to happen in June. In particular, JOB B was supposed to begin June 1, for a duration of about 30 days. June 1 would have been a perfect start day, as then JOB B would have ended with a couple weeks before the beginning of JOB A, with some wiggle room if we were running late.
But, as I write this, it is June 11, and a weekend, and the paperwork is still “being finalized.” I’d have to start JOB B on Monday in order to have a full 30 days before JOB A starts.
I keep reminding everyone on my end that JOB A is not one of my usual day jobs where I can write in the evenings and go to meetings on my lunch break and pretend like I don’t really have a day job at all. JOB A will be a real, on-location, with (hopefully only) 10-hour days, production-type job that will require my full attention.
But legal departments rush for no one (at least no one at my level, but I think maybe no one ever).
Writers often juggle various jobs without their clients being the wiser or really caring, as long as the job gets done. And people who aren’t actually writing tend to act like miraculous things can happen. Also, I’ve noticed that people in entertainment are used to acting like miracles can happen, but then having them not happen, and deadlines get pushed all the time. What I don’t know is if that also happens in the tech world.
I’ve heard George Saunders say, “A cliche is a truth that has lost its luster.” It never rains, but it pours is a cliche. And it is true. I don’t know why.
The blessing of these gigs is that 1) while they are short term, each should lead to future fun — if I can establish a good relationships, making it over the learning-curve hump and do a good job, and 2) I really want to do them all because I’m genuinely interested.
But the blessing of caring about all three will become a curse if they all — with their unique learning curves, new people, new software, and new story forms— end up landing at once.
So today’s manifestation is that the starting gun goes off on Monday… because I’m raring at the bit—And that for the next few months the rain can fall steady but not torrential.
When it comes to habits, the key takeaway is this: dopamine is released not only when you experience pleasure, but also when you anticipate it. Gambling addicts have a dopamine spike right before they place a bet, not after they win. Cocaine addicts get a surge of dopamine when they see the powder, not after they take it. Whenever you predict that an opportunity will be rewarding, your levels of dopamine spike in anticipation. And whenever dopamine rises, so does your motivation to act.
It is the anticipation of a reward—not the fulfillment of it—that gets us to take action.
Atomic Habits, by James Clear, p 106
I’ve been thinking about anticipation in our society. About how dopamine keeps flowing for a person who believes a reward is coming—and how capitalism is great at instilling belief in rewards by showing us other people receiving rewards and selling the idea that with enough work, it will be our turn, or at least our children’s turn. And, if that seems too obviously unrealistic, Christianity offers the back-up belief that rewards will be offered in the life to come, if we are good.
For our economic system (or those who profit by it), it’s good for people to believe in capitalism, religion, or both because it keeps them anticipating a reward. If people stop anticipating— because they stop believing the reward will manifest, or in the value of the reward — their dopamine levels could drop to such an extent that (like the rats mentioned in my previous post) they stop working. Which would be bad, because everyone striving for their individual rewards within the system, is the system.
The pandemic has shown, in a small way, how when people can’t / won’t service the system, it becomes inconvenient for the people who need a new bathroom vanities, cling peaches or car parts, and it also becomes threatening to the people who normally profit from all these transactions. I’m far from the first to theorize that in order to keep things running, the system might ultimately have to provide rewards of actual value — like workplace safety, higher wages and maybe some other things, like respect and appreciation for one’s contributions and skills…etc.
Oops — I think most of that was a tangent. The real topic of this post (of course) is me.
Who am I? I’m a subset of people: i.e. a writer, existing in a subsector of the capitalist system: i.e. the entertainment industry. The rewards I want are the same boring things most people in my industry who aren’t sociopaths want: creative opportunities, a living wage, functional work relationships, etc. For a fair while, I’ve sustained myself with the anticipation of obtaining these, because I had some belief that it was possible. Like its parent system, Hollywood is great at saying “look at all these other people getting treats—if they can do it, you can too!”— and also selling the idea that if you are just good enough, God (or someone) will pick you and lift you up to heaven (or at least higher up the food chain). You can anticipate this happening at any moment…Dopamine!
The thing is, one starts to lose one’s ability to anticipate a bright future if this keeps happening:
Please know, that, within my field, I am in no way unique and this football-yanking happens to lots and lots of people, all the time. So this is not a plea for sympathy, inasmuch as a preamble for some self interrogation, wherein I ask:
Who’s at fault in the situation pictured above?
Is it Lucy, for being a jerk? For sure. But. Is it also Charlie Brown? Why does CB repeatedly come back to Lucy and her ball? Doesn’t he have any other friends who treat him better? Is Lucy so much more glamorous and interesting than those friends? Or, is Lucy his only acquaintance with a football, and a football is the only kind of ball he wants to kick?
What’s with Charlie Brown’s obsession with that dumb football anyway? That question is facetious — I know the answer. He feels like he’s meant to kick that football. If he could just have that one chance, where the ball didn’t get pulled away, and his foot could connect — he can feel in his bones how that football would go flying! (And once that ball was in the air, the world would know, and soon he’d have his face on a cereal box or at least be kicking footballs everyday for money. It’s just one kick between him and living the dream!)
But who are we kidding? It’s in Lucy’s nature to pull the ball away. Like the proverbial scorpion who has to sting, or like Jessica Rabbit, who’s just drawn that way, Lucy is literally incapable of not fucking with the ball.
So the question becomes, what should Charlie Brown do now? I mean, shouldn’t he try playing some other game that doesn’t include Lucy? Like baseball or soccer, or Yahtzee? Or maybe he could start mowing lawns, and just buy his own football?
Hell, he could start a lawn-mowing franchise and eventually buy a whole football team. By then he’d be past the prime for football-kicking himself, but he’d likely have friends who are more loyal than Lucy, clients who truly appreciate (and pay for) their evenly-cut lawns, and co-workers who invite him to BBQs and their kids’ birthday parties where they share inside jokes and compare lawn mowers.
Possibly, he could have a happy life with plenty of anticipation and dopamine despite never kicking a football!
Ugh, I just passed 1000 words! I didn’t want to do that. How can I wrap this up? Okay, here:
Capitalism is deeply flawed but seems poised to persist.
Given the fact that I’m not Neo, and can’t unplug from the Matrix, I need to live in it. (Matrix=capitalist system. I didn’t set up that metaphor in this mini-essay, but it’s so commonly used I don’t need to, right?)
Within the capitalist system, my stubborn commitment to football kicking (i.e. screenwriting) seems increasingly likely to end with me living underneath an overpass (at least between police sweeps), while Lucy / Hollywood forgets I ever existed and doesn’t feel the least bit guilty.
However, Hollywood is just one subsector of the big capitalist machine, and if I can quit sulking about the not-getting-to-kick-the-football thing, I could look for a different sector that doesn’t lead to the whole overpass scenario.
And in the process, I could even look for a sector with work-life balance, respect for my skills, and getting compensated happily and fairly instead of grudgingly and as little as possible. (I don’t know if this place actually exists, but what is life without a search for mythical lands?)
All of which would help renew my faith in humanity and the capitalist whole reward system, which would reset my ability anticipate good things, triggering the release of dopamine…