Start Now.

So many things are happening, and it feels faintly dishonest not to say anything, just the residue of singing like a canary about every trivial detail in my life for the past 14 years in public.  But more to come, let’s say, and probably a lot more, and probably some of it borderline obnoxious and easily ignored. You take your chances.

I lost a contract with a client that provided a boring but nice income that paid a lot of bills, allowing me to write, which paid only a few bills. And after all of these years of being at home, keeping an eye on the little kids and now the one big man who still needs me, I wonder if at 56 I’m unemployable.

And the whole thing makes me sort of giddy, which I can’t explain except to say that when the future, even at my age, becomes the only good idea worth dwelling on, that means I’m living life in the right direction. Not that poverty is a fun idea, but we’re not near there yet. I just lost a job. It happens. Especially right around this time of life. And I disliked that job a lot.

I wrote a new book, and it will be out soon, and there some of the borderline obnoxious behavior might come in. Not to pay the bills; hard to do that this side of John Grisham. Just making people aware, and just to write about things that are important to me, things I’ve seen, things that have happened and surprised us by their capacity to inspire resilience.

Resilience just means staying alive, anyway, and here I am. Adventure time, as a friend just said. Not going away soon.

The Heart Knows

My wife had an outstanding visit with her cardiologist yesterday, which is too much information but then I have a point to make.  I don’t think she’ll mind a little invasion of privacy.

Four years ago she had a heart attack.  Just sang a high note and sent a chunk of atherosclerotic plaque heading up her left anterior descending coronary artery, which as coronary arteries go is kind of important.

It made no sense, given her lifestyle, but family history can stick like gum to your shoe, and sometimes wander into your circulation in bad ways.

She was fortunate, for several reasons.  Some impromptu vascular work-arounds formed, which can happen, feeding her heart enough blood through collaterals to keep the damage to a minimum.  She had a stent placed.  Her cholesterol and blood pressure, already perfectly normal, were tweaked by modern medicine until they became the vanguard of secondary prevention, considering that a couple of other arteries had some family history hanging around, too.

Her numbers are outstanding.  Her cardiologist is as happy as cardiologists can be, I guess.  She was disappointed in her recent stress test, feeling out of shape and lacking endurance, but as Dr. Heart pointed out, the whole idea was to stress the heart.  Hers came through with flying colors, winning medals and putting its hand over itself during the national anthem.  Forget the lab tests next visit.  Start walking if you feel out of shape.  But your heart?  In good shape.

Another reason she was fortunate is that during the work-up for this mysterious chest pain during the high note, it was discovered that she had bilateral breast cancer.  It was oh-so-early, requiring only lumpectomies and radiation therapy, although combining those two things – stent placement and the required anticoagulation with general surgery, during which one very much wants blood to be clotting normally, thank you very much – got tricky.  Doctors were talking to each other a lot.

Oh.  And MRIs were tricky, because of the metal stent, and she is required to have frequent MRIs because (hope I’m not boring you here) nine months before her heart attack she had surgery to remove a brain tumor.  You can’t make this stuff up.  You really wouldn’t want to.

One more thing.  The early signs of the brain tumor, which essentially consisted of her going blind in one eye, coincided with her job description changing and her health insurance leaving.  As you might remember from the Dark Ages, insurance companies would not sell you health insurance for preexisting conditions.  For good insurance reasons.  Not good financial reasons, not if you’re us.

And we were financially exhausted by then, by a couple of crises, one fairly minor involving my health, and one very major involving my son that was so expensive…Look.  We don’t earn that much money.  Except for a brief period in the early 1990s, when I had a business that was humming along profitably, we’ve just been a couple of people who’ve managed to keep it together by working lots of jobs, mostly self employed.  Just a couple of entertainer types who had to live in the real world like everyone else.  We could have done much smarter things, and made far fewer mistakes, but go ahead and change the past if you’re able.   I don’t really spend that much time on it.

We avoided bankruptcy through the kindness of family and friends, through the innocent prescience of buying a house in this area in the late 1980s, when houses were cheap, and through a little-known but incredibly valuable early benefit of the Affordable Care Act, long before most of it went into effect, that eventually got her (albeit very expensive) health insurance.  After the fact, of course.  Or after some facts.  After some MRIs, at least.

Old story.  Common story, even.  Forget it.  That’s just the set-up.

I will say, though, that before my wife’s medical problems, but following my son’s, I had the job of riding shotgun with my daughter as we traveled from Boston to Santa Fe, where she had a summer singing job and also was planning on getting married.  As I looked at the route, I asked that we take a little southern detour and swing by Atlanta, where several old friends lived.   Because I thought that might be as close as I’d come.

So we did, and we stayed that night with Allen and Teresa O’Reilly and their two boys, graciously putting us up for the night, saving us a hundred bucks or so, feeding my daughter some hard lemonade, which she really needed, and letting Allen and I reminiscence about our days as college roommates and actors.

I’ll link at the bottom to a column I wrote 10 years ago about Allen.  There’s a more pressing story here.

As there are pressing stories everywhere.  Here is the saving grace of living in a world in which people have it worse than you, in which people suffer and you feel helpless: Sometimes you can make a small difference in a story you know about.

You can read about the O’Reilly’s story below.  You can also read my column, and learn some history.  What none of this will tell you is that these are some of the best people I know, some of the most talented.  These are educators and actors, and trust me: These are my people.  I live in this world, or at least in the suburbs.  I am only an a casual decision away from being in their shoes.  Maybe you, too.

Lots of places and people need your help.  I can’t make that decision for you, of course, and wouldn’t want to.  I just wanted to point out a story, one that’s personal to me, for many reasons.  Bad things happen to good people.  I promise you – I promise – that good things happen also.

And sometimes your heart will surprise you.


Learn about the O’Reillys and help here.

Read “The Sweet Swing of Success,” my column about Allen, here.

What Dreams May Come






















Any serious “Star Trek” fan (let’s be fair; we’re all serious) knows “Amok Time,” the premiere episode of the original series’ second season, the one in which the breakout star of the series, Leonard Nimoy as Spock, shows his illogical or at least biological side. He gets really horny, in other words, entering pon farr, the mating season for Vulcans.

And, for you unserious people, he returns to Vulcan, only to have his bonded mate reject him in the only way she could, by instigating a challenge duel to win her…whatever. Soul. Matehood. Vulcans are hard to understand.

And blah blah blah. Oh, wait. Unserious people, I forgot about you. She chooses Captain Kirk as her champion, knowing even if he wins the battle he won’t want her, and if Spock wins he certainly won’t be interested since she challenged his right to become her mate. Very logical.

Anyway. Kirk doesn’t die (duh) but it appears that Spock kills him, and T’Pau, the head Vulcan or whatever, expresses her remorse, even if passively.

“I grieve with thee,” she says.

I want to say this, quite a lot. It seems so much more personal than “Sorry for your loss,” and still formal enough to sound authentic. I swear, I’ve come this close. I grieve with thee, I want to say. Because I do.
Sometimes, anyway. When your pet dies, when your grandma dies, when you suffer. When you grieve. When I know you, and care, and suffer in solidarity with you, muted grief but still grief. You know what I’m talking about.

I have grieved for a week now, sitting my Presbyterian shiva for a movie star who was more. I wrote a column for this week, mulling all over this over, writing little of it. How we react to the deaths of people we don’t know, just know of. The impact certain people, particularly performers and other creative types, have on our little, uncelebrated lives, accepted and ignored for the most part until they leave us.

And this was so, so different. He didn’t die at the right time, as did Elaine Stritch and Lauren Bacall, to be missed but mostly celebrated. He didn’t die in an accident, or after battling cancer.

But he battled something, and I suppose it’s good that we talk about that. A friend mentioned to me the other day that she’d read more people die every year from their own hand than in war, a fact that stunned her. It sort of stuns me.

I have nothing to add, though, to the devastation of depression so dark that the only light seems to be death. No experience with that at all.

But I grieved, as I went about my business, for this man who made a career out of joy, bringing it, sharing it, celebrating it. I knew him from the beginning, spotted him on an HBO showcase and laughed like crazy, then saw him rocket into stardom so quickly that it was bound to end soon.

It didn’t, though. There was one point, and maybe following his second film, “The World According to Garp,” when I wondered if he wouldn’t surprise us all by turning into a superior actor, whose range and depth of characterization would rank with DeNiro and Brando and Olivier and Hopkins. He just seemed to have so much of everything.

Except hope, as it turned out. That is why I grieved. I know a little about hopelessness, but not this kind.

I never saw him become that kind of actor, by the way, but that’s just an opinion from a constant watcher. Maybe I couldn’t let loose of Robin Williams to find his characters, or maybe he couldn’t. There just seemed to be too much of him to hide, as brilliant and moving as he was in so many films.

Which, paradoxically, made me admire him more. Once again: He specialized in joy, even if he had trouble locating it within himself. I’ve watched very few of the tributes or old interviews, because I’ve seen them before. I was a Robin Williams watcher, and I got used to seeing his thoughtful, ruminative, quiet side.

For me, this brought him out of rarefied movie star air and down to a level I could relate to, a bit. It made him more human. It certainly made him mortal, and he certainly was.

As I wrote in my column, my first reaction to the comments I saw from my younger friends upon learning of his death was, “But he belonged to us,” those of us who were there at the beginning, but that passed quickly when I remembered. I saw him in Altman’s “Popeye,” a bravura performance, in a theater, but also in “Jumanji” and “Hook” with my kids.
He truly belonged to all of us.

I’m moving on now, my shiva over, but he will always cross my mind, and I suppose yours, too. He belonged to all of us. I grieve with thee. Find joy, now, him and us. It was his legacy, I suppose, and would that it were said of me.

The Day Before

In the fall of 2034, Throwback Thursday will be institutionalized by the sitting U.S. President, who quite possibly will be standing when she does it.  Or at a walking desk.  Sitting will be smoking by then, discouraged and sneered at and lectured against by medical professionals, who will always be moving, making our eyesight even worse.  And it’ll be bad, by then.  Too much screen time, usually spent sitting.

There will be sitting ghettos, in alleys and under eaves and 30 feet from the entrance to anything, where recalcitrant (and myopic, of course) sitters will lounge around, telling stories or just trying to stay out of the rain, and for God’s sake sitting for a few minutes.

Anyway.  #TBT will become law.  It will become the Sabbath Day of social media, but we won’t call it social media.  We will just call it life, and once a week we will pause to reflect on the past.  The present may not be all that good.  So we look backwards, as poets do, and those who don’t may be suspected of other bad habits, some of them sedentary.

In the meantime, we don’t need no laws, and we can still sit.  So this is Throwback Thursday.  I hope someone is stuffing a turkey, somewhere.  It deserves celebration.

We’re just getting started.  We’ve only now started producing this first generation of natural archivists, babies who will have access to multimedia documentation of their entire lives.  “What was I like when I was little?” will be a punch line, a silly joke in a society that keeps everything, and if it’s a serious question then Siri will handle it, quickly and efficiently.

But while we wait 20 years, we can desperately search shoeboxes for fun photos of earlier times, when “Full House” was a hit and hair was big and nobody had phones or indoor plumbing.  Pictures of us, probably.  When we were thin.

In honor of this uninstitutionalized TBT, then, I just wanted to make an observation.

A year ago, on August 7, 2013, I got my Chromecast stick in the mail.  It wasn’t that big of a deal.  Still isn’t.  Although we use it all the time to shoot stuff from our phones and tablets to the big screen.  Fun.  But that’s all I come up with for a year ago.  Today.

But tomorrow?  When it’s not Throwback Thursday, just Plain Friday?

That day, we shot the last scene for “Winning Dad,” in a small apartment in Ballard, then moved down the block to MacLeod’s for a wrap party.  It wasn’t wild and crazy, but still fun.  We made something, together, and now our part was done.  Other parts had to be finished, but most of us wouldn’t be involved.

So I will throw back to a year ago, but tomorrow.  The parts I don’t want to remember (those pants, that shirt) are long gone, if preserved.  The rest of the parts are special, and here’s how special.

It changed my life, making that film.  In small ways, to be sure, but significant ones.  I relearned that I need to be part of a group of like-minded (if, in this case, much younger) people, all aiming for a common goal.  I realized eventually, after the fact, that the happiest times in my life were spent doing things like that.  This is only remarkable when you understand I’ve worked alone, mostly, and at home, mostly, for a quarter of a century.  So relearning was necessary.

I also, apparently, need to make this point.  Some of you are wondering, a little anxiously, why you haven’t seen “Winning Dad” yet, and I will explain.  If it were a bad or even mediocre piece of filmmaking, you would have already.

I’m not saying it’s going to save the world, or change it.  Just that there seems to be enough quality that came out of those 24 days of filming that timetables shifted.  “Winning Dad” is not a blog post film, to be published immediately following the last period, and a quick spellcheck.

So there will be more news, probably in a couple of months, maybe sooner, and maybe that will just be that it premieres and then moves into the contemporary distribution world, removable media or online streaming.  Or there could be a delay; a slight chance, but for a good reason.

But eventually, sure.  You can watch it.  You might be all meh or blah or ho-hum, or whatevs, but it won’t be hidden.  Films take time.

I just wanted to note it, a day early for TBT.  We finished 366 days ago.  We were relieved, and grateful.  There were some hugs.  The weather was nice.  The company was warm.  It changed my life.  It made me a better person, and I sit as little as possible these days, just in case something else happens, because a year ago something did.

The last day of filming, August 8, 2013.

The L-Word

There is more life in this house, always a good thing.  Not only is the Rev. Missus off for the summer (from the university; she gets to keep her other two jobs) and returned from nearly two weeks of Texas (enough for most people), but we have a Russian Blue as a permanent visitor.  The carbon dioxide output in this home has increased by some degree, and everyone’s sleep has been a little off, but all are adjusting.

Including Lorenzo, which was this cat’s name when my son made his acquaintance at the local animal rescue shelter where he’s been volunteering twice a week for about a month now.  It’s part of a program to integrate him into the world, get him out of the house and eventually into a job, but he’s had a leaning toward the feline part of our community for a while now.

So Lorenzo grabbed his heart and hung on, and soon we were down there, adopting him and losing sleep.  The sleep thing was only the first couple of nights, as we got used to him wandering.  But we relive it.

The Russian Blue is an intelligent, quiet, friendly breed, not that we knew anything about that.  John just fell in love.  But it’s nice to know.  They also live a fairly long life, sometimes up to 25 years, so since Enzo is 5 this all just about worked out as well as it could.

So aside from a few doors that now remain closed (mostly the basement; even I could get lost down there for days), our lives seem the same, just mildly enriched by another life form.  As with Shelties, the breed of our much-missed Strider, Russian Blues tend to be shy around strangers, so he won’t be an annoying cat.  Just a creature to keep John company and the rest of us dancing, stepping around cat toys and occasionally sneering at spiders, who quite possibly have met their match.  All good here.


The fireworks yesterday seemed louder and longer, and I hid under headphones while the others did pretty much the same.  My neighbors got a little aggressive, but I remember having a young boy and doing sort of the same thing, and they’re good people.  If they want to blow stuff up once a year, and clean up the next day, I can live with that.

Still, we’re surrounded by big events, including the huge show on the lake across the street, and honestly?  I outgrew fireworks.  I just did.  If they disappeared I wouldn’t miss them.  If I had to trade daily firework displays and leaf blowers, though, it might be a hard decision.

And as opposed to many dogs, Lorenzo seemed to handle the war zone fine.  Just camped under the table and looked bored.


So summer begins.  We already had one fairly warm day (high of 94 in Seattle, mid-80s here a little north of the city) and the weather people are saying more of the same, on the warm and dry side for the duration, which is fine.  Snow pack is fine, no drought here.  Eastern Washington is always another story, but there’s always another story.

I have several, in fact, but they tend toward the personal at the moment, and also unfinished.  Let’s just say it’s anticipatory in many aspects, wondering what might happen, and also almost entirely dependent on me, so we’ll see if I feel like writing about them.  Or writing at all.  I may be evolving.  For all you know.  I could start doing watercolors, or sculpting, or running marathons.  At this age, possibilities and limitations blur into something that vaguely resembles curiosity, and I’ve always been curious.  Which, being a human and not a cat, feels like a good thing.

Nope. Heard Of Him, Though.

The Blue Fairy Moment

For a year, from the first day of summer 2012 through the last day of spring 2013, I wrote a journal.   No one has read it.  No one would want to.

It was a whim, a nod to compulsion that probably wouldn’t hurt and who knew?  Might have produced something interesting, at least to me, although so far that’s not really the case.  It started as just data, mostly to track the days in case we had freaky weather or something interesting happened.

And something did, right away.  There’s this, for example, from June 23, 2012.

I had a bad cold and/or a sinus infection that week, something that was draining me and left me feeling fuzzy all the time, so my memory is fuzzy.  Another reason to journal, maybe.

But I can practically guarantee you that this first meeting didn’t inspire any fantasies of filmmaking.  It was vaguely interesting but I mostly considered the whole idea sort of absurd, and expected to decline.  Arthur needed a real actor.  Not a once-actor.

By the middle of July, though, I was on board, although it felt so far off that the whole notion seemed abstract, barely past daydreaming.  Maybe it would happen.  Maybe not.  We’d have a whole year, anyway, to figure that out.

In August I met the rest of the cast – Megan and Jake; I’d first met Ellen 20 years before – to take some photos for the website.  In November we filmed a short scene (I was a voice on the phone only) for reasons I now can’t remember, but that’s when I met Julia Bruk, who would end up as our Director of Photography; Kjell Hansen, who ran sound on that first day and ended up wearing so many hats Arthur made him an associate producer; and Case Barden, who’d serve as producer.

And there were more meetings and lots of emails and video chats and back-and-forths, and then it was summer and we filmed, and then we were done.  I’d stopped journaling by then, and I didn’t feel fuzzy at all.

I’d check in occasionally, visited Arthur in his editing suite one day, did the sound studio work, etc.  Eventually I’d watch entire scenes, although most of the film (and a lot of the actual filming) remains unseen by me.

And I never saw Paris.  Absolutely not.  Not even close.

It’s not like I knew much about the indie filmmaking world anyway.  I understood there were film festivals.  I understood that there were film distributors.  I understood that we were small, very small, so small.  Barely a budget, no name actors (although Ellen would change that dynamic quite a bit, becoming suddenly a celebrity from being the voice of probably the most iconic artificial intelligence since HAL 9000, GLaDOS in the video game Portal), no publicist, no potential distributors, and a few rejection letters from festivals (after one pass at a full edit; there would be five more.  More to come).

And here we are, all the same.  US in Progress, devoted to pushing American independent filmmaking, partnering with the Champs-Élysées Film Festival in Paris over the past three years, picked Winning Dad as one of four films in postproduction to present to European distributors and others.  Never saw it coming.  Glad it came.

So we sent our film and its creator to France, and the news was fun.  A good response, lots of it apparently, and lots of help and advice.  From what we can tell, given our exhausted leader’s brief but emotional posts on social media.

And at the risk of dipping into the metaphor pool and finding the same old stuff, it not only feels affirming but life-giving.  We made the damn puppet.  In order for it to come alive, somebody had to see it.  And now somebody has.

Winning Dad is a real movie.  We knew that.  It’s still nice to say out loud.

Inside The Bubble

I had a meeting scheduled for 2:40 yesterday afternoon.  I was thinking about it on Wednesday, and suddenly realized that the main reason we set the meeting up for that day was to assess something that was supposed to have happened, but as it turned out got postponed.

I’ve already lost you.  Never mind.  I canceled an appointment, which meant that I didn’t need the car, which meant that my wife didn’t have to get up early and take a bus into Seattle.  She could just drive and come home after her last class if she wanted.  It’s a busy time for your college professors, in this area, as classes are ending and finals approaching.

If she had taken the bus, she probably would have hung around longer.  Done some grading.  Taken her time.  Waited for the right bus to get her home, after I was back from my appointment so I could pick her up at the Park and Ride.  I mean.  It’s not hard to graph out.  She would have still been there.

Not that I’m doing this.  Even if we get to make the what-if rules and only change one fact, that she didn’t leave the campus of Seattle Pacific University and was still there when Aaron Ybarra entered Otto Miller Hall and started shooting, we can’t really construct a scenario where she’s anywhere near the line of fire.  It would have just meant that she would have been there a lot longer than she intended, in lockdown with the rest, probably comforting and doing the things she’s trained to do.

So what-ifs don’t bother me today.  Not worth my time.  She left before Ybarra started shooting.  That’s how it happened.

What bothers me today is the callousness I read yesterday afternoon on social media, even some mild joking.  A 19-year-old young man, probably a freshman or sophomore, went to school on a beautiful Seattle spring day, and now he’s dead, and his family is doing the what-if thing and are grieving and in shock, and some jerk on Facebook is making comments that sound light-hearted, even?

What bothers me today is it really wasn’t callous.  It was just removed.  The way I’m removed when I read horrific news, much worse news than we had here yesterday.  Santa Barbara was worse.  Sandy Hook was so much worse.  Virginia Tech, and so on.

What bothers me today is that for a few hours yesterday, I got stuck inside the bubble of proximity terror.  I was on the SPU campus last weekend.  My wife has taught there for years.  It’s a small school, a tight community, a family.  She sat with her phone and her iPad and the local news on, and waited to hear from her students.  Students who very well could have been in Otis Miller Hall.  Before we knew everything, before we knew anything.

It made me think about empathy, and how it works in a constant-information world.  Nobody was being callous yesterday, or desensitized.  They just didn’t know anybody involved, and they’ve heard this song before.  Many times.

So I learned what it’s like to be on the inside, just a little.  To see familiar streets from the copter shots, barricaded and swarming with law enforcement.  To see familiar buildings with stretchers outside, waiting.  To completely shut down for a few hours, waiting for news, processing horror, processing relief.  Processing proximity.

This was close to home.  I just have a feeling home got a lot bigger, and the news a lot more personal, and the empathy a lot more intense.  Next time it won’t be here.  It’ll just feel like it.

Seeing In The Dark

Late at night, when I was 12 or so, lying in bed and waiting for sleep, I discovered that closing one eye turned even the darkness blurry.  I think I just wondered about this for a while, then brought it up one day to my mother, who had me stop by the school nurse to get a quick eye exam.

Half of my world was, in fact, blurry.  Bad vision was nothing new in my family, with the exception of Dad, who only needed reading glasses when that time came, as it always does.

Glasses back then were pretty basic, with nothing much changing over the decades.  I got a pair of black-rimmed Clark Kent glasses, and of course I hated them.

And of course I had one eye with 20/20 vision, which meant I compensated and could see fine without the glasses, which I wore as seldom as possible.  In a couple of years wire frames were the fashion in eye wear, and I liked those better.  Still, there were plenty of times when I ditched the glasses.  Sometimes I wore contacts.  Sometimes I just relied on my good eye, knowing it was bearing the burden of binocular vision, and evenually it got pretty bad too.  Still, look at my wedding pictures (some 13 years after the first pair of glasses) and nope, no glasses.  Maybe contacts, but I remember still being comfortable even driving well into my 20s without any correction at all.   A little squinting at road signs, maybe.

Because of my astigmatism, I needed special contacts, more expensive, and aside from that brief period (it seemed) when I could wear contacts 24/7 for a week at a time (do they still make those? Or did people go blind and they stopped?), I just wore those same basic 1974-era wire rim frames, with one deviation in the 1980s when glasses got VERY BIG and weird.

So this past winter, as I was in Austin with my daughter and whining about the need to make changes of all sorts, she first suggested I get my hair cut shorter (turned out fine), and after that she brought up new frames.  Just update the old guy a little.

That’s the picture you see above, assuming you’re at the actual blog and not reading this through a feed.  And, in one of those funny life things, I picked pretty much the pair I had in the seventh grade that I hated.  It’s sort of like broccoli.  We reevaluate.

They’re heavier, making it less easy to slide up and down to read small print (I’ve stuck with single-vision lenses, even though I’ve needed bifocals for years, because I work so much on the computer, big monitors, and thought it wasn’t worth the trouble.  I just take them off to read at night).

Sort of forgot about my phone, though.  I get messages and there are no arms long enough to read those without moving those heavy black glasses, so maybe an error was made there.

Or maybe LASIK.  Or, since I have incipient cataracts, very early but predictive, I’ll just wait for an internal lens and a quick surgery.

It’s less of a deal than I make it, but more of a deal than it was, and just funny that it turned out to be such a throwback.  And the broccoli is just a tiny bit clearer.

It’s Alive

Still here.  Still just working on what to say and how to say it, as always.  You could always check some past columns to make sure I’m still alive.  Although I am.

In the meantime, here is the boy, 10 days shy of 8 months old.  Who knew?