Two weeks post movie making, and I’m still forgetting things. Summers are odd anyway, with the double-X portion of our family at home more, although this is even odder; since our senior pastor is on sabbatical, JK is holding down the fort at church and thus gone a couple of full days every week.
My life, on the other hand, is starting to feel familiar. There are still chores that need some attention, particularly a wet spot in my neighbor’s yard and that sagging piece of fascia on the roof that absolutely-no-ignoring-it needs to be replaced before it starts getting wet again. The rest seems manageable, and it’s nice to have that old van gone from the driveway, and the lawn is still mostly weeds, and weeds are easy if annoying. I’ve let the blackberries take over the backyard but you know: They would have anyway.
Now we just wait out the weather, trying to appreciate the sun and warmth for as long as we get it (some say it’s looking like through September), get the ducks in a row, prepare for a new school year for the missus, and…something else?
And while my daughter seems to think it would be a great idea if I just flew to Austin right now and stayed for the duration, becoming her personal baker and domestic daddy, these weeds won’t pull themselves. But there was enough plaintiveness in a text message the other day that I knew what she needed.
I have no idea why these cookies have developed a following, other than that they taste good. I know, right? But they’re chocolate chip cookies, which are hard to ruin and much harder to improve on, and why would you? Sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, butter, chips: You’ve probably done it, one way or the other, and you know. Chocolate chip cookies: It’s what’s for whenever.
Still, they have fans. What secrets go into these aren’t really secrets: Use good ingredients, don’t overmix, and then stick the cookie dough in the fridge and forget about it for a few days. That’s it. Let it sit until the fats seep into the flour. Easy to write, hard to do, but that’s it.
So I mixed up a batch on Sunday and baked yesterday, and with luck they’ll arrive in Austin tomorrow, still good.
And I’ll arrive in Austin soon enough, just before or after another male of my lineage. And that makes the movie biz look pretty superficial, as fun as it was.
One week following our wrap party for “Winning Dad,” after which Julie and I headed off for a belated 30th wedding anniversary mini-vacation, and home looks pretty good. Aside from a wet spot under my neighbor’s backyard, which I’m going to assume is a small leak in my crumbling water line, although our usage is actually down. More digging in my future, at any rate, but I’m not looking at that.
I’m looking at just the relief at this experience being wrapped, and the fact that we made it to 30 years of marriage with no limbs lost. Both adventures, both good, both with more stories to come.
I have discovered the it. If it comes up in conversation, you now know where to go. I’m your source.
We’re too casual about it, I’m thinking now. I’m not usually fussy about pronouns, but I’m making an exception here. I think we all could be more careful.
I’ve spent the past three weeks immersed in a completely new experience, or several new experiences, or one big new experience divided into subsets of newish experiences. Something new, anyway.
And familiar at the same time, of course. I used to act a lot, and I acted in a couple of student films. I took a class in college on Radio and Television Acting, the radio part feeling nostalgic even then (late 1970s) and the TV part mostly focused on hitting marks and watching videotape of yourself not hitting them.
But there was enough there, along with just being alive for 55 years and not unaware, that I felt comfortable making a movie. This was a small, independent film that wouldn’t involve dozens of crew members and makeup calls and trailers to retreat to while waiting for set-ups, all things that might disorient me. It actually wasn’t unlike what college friends and I did when we first came to Seattle; while we made the rounds and studied the upcoming seasons of major theater companies, we went ahead and put on our own damn show. A couple of them, even, which had a fair amount of success.
So I understood immediately, although that didn’t keep me from being impressed. A production company was formed and incorporated, actors were found and cast, crew members were solicited and hired. The screenplay was rewritten, the Kickstarter was kickstarted, the equipment was rented and the bills were paid. A garage door slowly slid open to reveal me, in jeans and a green polo shirt, my first scene, just walking. I could walk. None of this was disconcerting at all.
It wasn’t smooth, though. I did little the first week or so other than grunt, walk up and down stairs and in and out of rooms, tossing off a line or two of dialogue, most of it terse. My time was coming but it was slow, and in the meantime I began to feel inadequate, awkward, unsure. You study the next day’s scenes, learn the lines, say them under your breath a few dozen times, then walk onto a set and speak them aloud for really the first time, immediately following “Action!” The cameras are moved, adjustments are made, and you do it again, maybe a few more times, then everyone moves on. No one sits down later and debriefs, rehashes the day’s work in an attempt to make it better; it’s over, done, forgotten. Moving on. Feedback would have been less than a luxury; it would have been pointless. Do better, do better.
Eventually, I think, I did. I learned more about this character, got a little more comfortable with how he held himself, and the lines got longer. We went out into the woods a week ago, set up tents and made a fire, pretended to be in the mountains and drinking beer around the flickering and crackle, and as my character relaxed so did I. As I told my colleagues that night, I haven’t had a drink in a long time and I don’t miss it, but sometimes I get a little nostalgic for the ambience that you only find in those situations. And here I was, drinking water from a beer bottle, and it came back to me then, the casual articulateness of people relaxing together, no alcohol necessary. You can just pretend, and I did and I felt better.
I drove up to Diablo Lake in the North Cascades last Thursday, a nice drive on an unusual cloudy day, a couple of hours on two-lane roads and switchbacks, and then sat in the car for an hour or so while we waited for a rain cell to pass by. We then filmed the climactic confrontation scene, our scene on the mountaintop, where pain and fear are released from their cages and everyone behaves badly. We’d already had a dry run at this, but this time we were ready. Set-ups were made quickly, the scene was divided into segments, the camera moved, the actors acted, and at one point the clouds shifted and we glimpsed a stunning mountain peak in the distance, like a blessing. Do better, it said, and we tried.
I drove home that night, down the mountain in the dark, both hands on the wheel, pitch black, switchbacks on my mind, and still I was relaxed. It was getting easier, and it was almost over.
There was only one scene left, really. No dialogue, just a man alone with his demons, sitting at the water’s edge in his truck, screaming at the frustrations, at the damage he’s done and the pain he’s caused, at his own pain, and at the absurdity of his life at that very moment. We waited until after 10pm, when the full beach finally emptied, and then we set up and checked the lighting and the sound, got into position and oh, yeah, you know what’s going on in this scene, right Chuck? Mm-hmm.
I had to lose it. That’s all. That’s what was going on. This guy had to lose it, and I had to react as honestly as I could to him losing it. You know what I’m talking about. He just sort of lost it for a few moments, all alone.
And now I understand about it.
And about other things. About how we build our own cages with our own actions, how we get used to them until we can’t imagine a world viewed without bars, and how hard it is to leave and how necessary even so. Eventually you need to let go and let God, or however you formulate that, and sometimes you have to just lose it first.
So I did. As an actor, I mean. It wasn’t cathartic for me, although I suspect there’s been some catharsis. There was screaming, though, rage and frustration and silliness and relief, and at the end of that I understood that when you lose it, this is what it is.
Er. Your voice. My voice. Gone. More gone than I ever remember. I don’t even squeak this morning, 36 hours after the fact. I went the entire day, yesterday, not saying a word, only mouthing a few. My larynx was let out of its cage and then ran away, which is always a possibility.
And whoops. We’re reshooting a scene on Thursday, something I approve of, one that didn’t go nearly as well as I wanted the first time.
I imagine my voice will show up again. If I don’t see positive signs today, I’ll start being proactive, honey and tea, any and all home remedies, although vocal rest is still probably the best idea.
But I have been to the mountaintop, now, and I have seen the wrap party. It’s been an adventure and a lark and a hassle and a pain, and this part will soon be over. Someday all this work will be assembled and you can see it, if you want. In the meantime I’ve got pictures and memories, and with any luck I’ll eventually have a voice again, at which point I’ll probably have more to say.