Worlds In Turmoil

•September 1, 2017 • Leave a Comment

“…1959 was a very strange time, a bad year for Labour and a good year for wine.”
—Al Stewart, “Post World War Two Blues”

Although I was born in late ’59, I consider myself a child of the 1960s.

So it follows that I was a wooly teenager of the 1970s and newly minted adult in the 1980s.

The ’80s, in retrospect, was a cakewalk. I was employed for most of it (1981–1984 at the print shop, not far from my late parents’ hobby farm; 1985–1992 at a direct mail marketing corporation in Hopkins, Minn., where I then lived in my first apartment).

Although, as you’ll see shortly, by the end of it I’d declared the entire decade “horrible.”

As I’ve mentioned lately, the late ’80s was a creative watershed for me. Once I was independent, I discovered my own way of doing things: using gainful employment as a resource to my creative life and not the other way around. Had I done exactly what I wanted to do, I’m not sure I would’ve had the necessary tension I believe every artist needs to find ideas and do their best work.

All life is negotiation. It never stops being that. I see that now.

But I rebelled when I was 20, as I did when a teenager. I drank and took drugs. I was willfully disobedient and, perhaps worse, cynical. Things got ugly up until 1988.

I can now see that what saved me—the thing I loved the most and clung to in my early years—was Story. Storytelling as well as story-listening. Reading and learning. I was (and still am) a Story Sponge. I can never get enough. So, everyone was certain I’d become a journalist, maybe even major in “Broadcast Journalism,” as it was known back in the day.

In 1986, goaded by Dad to get a college degree, I embarked on a Media Studies major only to give up after a couple of courses. It just didn’t have enough story for me.

So, out went Media Studies, in went English and American Literature.

By 1989, while writing my first screenplay (that lovely, lovely story that would not leave me alone), I took classes toward a bachelor’s degree at Metropolitan State University. The ’rents were ecstatic. And I was happy to be learning new things again.

Rereading the 1989 journal, I discovered a gem of an entry from that summer, when I was deep into Act II of the screenplay draft and working night shift. What stopped me up was how much of it echoes what’s happening in the world right now.

A more complete excerpt of the entry follows, but let me first say this: I’m gobsmacked it took someone like the current holder of the office of President of the United States (he doesn’t deserve mention by name) to talk about “fake news.” Facts can be incorrect, news items can be inaccurately reported, yet marketing lies at the heart of broadcast news…

The Media Needs Your Attention. (Duh.)

So it had my attention on Monday, June 5, 1989, when I wrote this entry about that previous Sunday:

“The horrible Eighties are drawing to a close—not without a shudder—America tries to be blissfully unaware of the changes taking place in the world, and strangely I see changes taking place in my own life. Yesterday it was a beautiful sunny day—but in the news—over 1,000 young people [were] killed in Beijing, China, 800 killed in a railway explosion in the Soviet Union, where the first People’s Congress has been also meeting. The past week—the great evil symbol of the Eighties, the Ayatollah Khomeini is dead at 87 (?)—there was the first free election in over 40 years in Poland yesterday—ABC News had a special last night on all the world events which they pompously titled “WORLDS IN TURMOIL” as if (by indication of the plural) it was something which did not affect us (Americans) directly (otherwise it would have read: OUR WORLD IN TURMOIL—and made us part of it). America’s uncanny Beach Blanket Bingo Isolationism continues. My feeling is that one day soon it will all catch up with us and I’m not sure I want to be here when it does.”

Well, it has.

And I’m still not sure.

“Oh, every time I look at you
I feel so low I don’t know what to do
Well, every day just seems to bring bad news
Leaves me here with the Post World War Two Blues.”
—Al Stewart

Advertisements

The Boxes

•August 25, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I think the ugly buggers are trying to kill me.

It’s like mud-wrestling with your past. Except the mud just piles up, toweringly stupid and spectacular in its sheer mud-ness, always intimidating, sassing back: “You’ll never take me down!”

So I’ve been fighting back. Because now I have the time and resources to torch the Piles of Sorrow accumulating over the past eight years, so I can move on to better things.

And I’ve had two other thoughts on my mind lately: Why March 1989 might’ve been a before-unrecognized personal breakthrough, and how the current death of conversation affects us all.

So, conversation. It’s dead. Now you can text, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, tweet—and that’s all bullshit. I’ll go to social media to catch up, maybe, but rarely converse.

It doesn’t help that small talk exhausts me—making it and hearing it. I want to go for substance every. Single. Time.

But that preference, I discovered, exhausts people. They fear the consequences of “a deep discussion.” They feel boxed in. Can you blame them? It’s the conversational equivalent of saying, “Hey, can you come over tonight and help move some heavy furniture out of my apartment?”

So maybe we need to find a way to reinvent the art of conversation.

Because some of the most delightful moments of my life were spent there.

***

March 1, 1989.

The journal states, “…this is a critical month. I’m likely to be annoyed if I’m pestered by anyone—family or friends [as] I’ve made some headway on pages of my script, but I realize that the process can bog down at any point—I can drop whatever I’m doing in the middle of a sentence—the smallest distraction pulls me away. It’s ONLY by a sheer, square-jawed force of will that I COMPLETE anything! I’m a willing victim of daydream or reverie—I know it’s important, but I realize how lost it all is if I don’t take vision from head to hand.”

I was feeling alone, writing that goddamn draft of a movie project I had no idea would make any difference to anyone but me. I confessed to the journal:

“I don’t know if my solitude is a curse or a gift—most of the married, child-rearing couples I know would kill to have my freedom and solitude—but what they don’t realize is what I make up for in ‘quality time for myself,’ I lose in ‘social skills’ with others. …it’s where your priorities lie.”

So, even then I had boxes unopened, un … inspected.

***

Now, now, now.

You can live in the past. Or even the future. But I’m convinced the past has answers to the now. I’ve just gotta slow down and listen to what it has to say. That might be an important step toward reinventing conversation.

And some of that past could be buried in a box.

If you’re curious, you might think, “What is this? What does it really mean?”

That’s a great place to start: curiosity. When it gets jucy, it fans out. It connects instantaneously with all the other parts of your life.

[I have no idea where this is going. Guess I’ll just keep going.]

So, I got curious again. Particularly about Thursday, March 2, 1989. I picked up the journal for that year and highlighted this passage:

“There are two worlds—still. One, the physical realities—work, car, snow, rent, telephone, etc.—all operating quite well enough on their own—but not necessarily in sync with the other world—the one that always has been and forever will be—in my head. That world is varied and vast, the world of the ‘Moon’ script (as well as other scripts—why do I do that? I’m supposed to be working on one thing at a time—Moon now—but I’m always jumping ahead in my mind toward some other scene or story idea). …I wish I would defer thinking about it for now and return to the project at hand: Moon!

Here’s the deal: The Muse Is Fickle.

And the Muse is super-jealous. If you’re “occupied” with another creative idea, she drunk-dials you in the middle of the night, chockful of crazy new ideas. It’s just how she rolls.

As a creative person, I used to let her run roughshod over me. And she (including the rest of the fucking world, I suppose) does her best to keep me distracted.

On March 8, 1989, of course it had to snow. Nearly a foot of it fell in Hopkins, Minn., where I was then living. Still, I was hopeful I’d finish the screenplay and be spending my 30th birthday that November in Britain. It was early enough in the year to feel hopeful.

Now, in late August 2017, that kind of hope would make me feel downright giddy.

Here, the boxes hulk in corners, closets, filled up with musty papers and photos of people I no longer recognize. I want all of it gone. But I don’t want to fall into despair about it either.

So I’m cheered by what I wrote back on March 12, 1989.

It was a Sunday. I declared to the journal that I hated them. Now Sundays are my refuge. That Sunday I went to see a film adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit and wondered if my movie would ever be made. That day I visited high school buddy Theron Hollingsworth after he’d finished his DJ shift at radio station WLKX in Forest Lake.

We had a conversation.

You know, in person. Like humans used to do.

Then, later, I wrote in the journal:

“…the despair I’d felt all through 1987 and recognized in a different key in 1988 hasn’t held me in ’89 so far—there’s too many wonderful things to do—I feel I’m earning my wings and I want to be worthy of some future ‘inheritance.’ I don’t really know what I’m saying—I suppose in a sense I’m tired of taking ‘No’ for an answer to anything in life … it’s all too short for that.”

Amen, my young friend.

You just keep on digging out of those goddamn boxes.

To Boldly Go Where No Boy Has Gone Before

•August 18, 2017 • Leave a Comment

All-new post into editing mode and will publish next Friday. For now, this reminder that independence has its price. Cheers, Mike

Completely in the Dark

MySide_1“I’m in the middle, without any plans,” Alice Cooper sings, “I’m a boy and I’m a man.”

In the late summer of 1978, I was 18, still living at home with the Family Project and working nights at Tonka Toys.

And I didn’t know what I wanted.

Well, sorta.

You see, I wouldn’t have gotten there without the help of one Samuel Gribley and James T. Kirk—the former a 1960s Canadian preteen, the latter captain of a Federation starship in the 23rd century.

When and where I first saw My Side of the Mountain (produced in 1969), it’s hard to say. It could’ve been in Maryland, shown in class at Farquhar Middle School, or broadcast on network TV.

Sam Gribley, all of 12, lives in Toronto with his mother, father and two younger sisters. In the film’s opening scene, Sam peers through a fence at zoo animals…

View original post 619 more words

Total Eclipse of the Heart

•August 11, 2017 • Leave a Comment

New post in the draft hopper, not ready for publishing. So, in light of our forthcoming total solar eclipse, here’s this chestnut about the last time it happened, back in 1979. Enjoy!

Completely in the Dark

So where were you when the sun went out?Eclipse2

In North America, the last total solar eclipse of the 20th century occurred on Monday, Feb. 26, 1979.

Apparently it was a big deal.

The journal picks up the story: “Eclipse. …All that you buy, beg, borrow or steal. There is supposed to be a total eclipse of the sun today at 9:35 in the morning, lasting until a little before 11:00. I’ll notice the change when I walk out of History.”

PARTIAL BEGINS

Things weren’t going very well at the U. I was struggling to make it through winter quarter, and night work at Augsburg was draining. “School is really a problem,” the journal states. “I’ve got to register for next quarter today. Sunday I put my ACT loan application in the mail at Ridgedale. I absolutely can’t wait until next school year.”

You see…

View original post 506 more words

This Nobody Is Still Doing Everything With Nothing

•August 3, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I promise you: a new post in August. But here’s where joy meets work in my world, so worth a revisit.

Completely in the Dark

“…if it’s natural, something glowing from inside, shiningviciousfreizelogo all around you, its potential has arrived.”

“What Is the Light?”
The Flaming Lips

I nearly threw away this entire blog just based on what I thought some people were thinking.

Gonna let that soak in for a minute.

The thing is, I stopped writing altogether. I looked back over my shoulder. Then I started comparing myself to other writers and artists, became self-conscious, and sunk deeper into despair.

Stupid, I know.

But this—this old journal entry—kick-started it for me, even though it’s four years after the story I want to tell all began. So let’s crank up the mojo and begin there.

An Oct. 2, 1991, journal entry reads:

“Last night I had a dream about Fingerhut [the company I worked at in the late ’80s, early ’90s]. There were mongrel dogs bothering me in a meeting. I…

View original post 1,121 more words

The Lost Year

•July 28, 2017 • Leave a Comment

End of July and noodling posts for August editorial slate. More to come! Enjoy your summer, friends! MM

Completely in the Dark

The very last entry of 1982: “2 Sept. Back to work 8:30 am”LostYears1

But it wasn’t until Saturday, Jan. 7, 1984, that I picked up the journal (an all-new National 43-571) again.

So for heaven’s sake, what happened between Sept. 3, 1982, and Jan. 6, 1984?

In a letter to Abi, nearly two weeks after returning from our trip, I confessed: “My social life is an absolute sham. I feel ill and pensive. Back at work, I’ve contemplated my duties and it’s dawned on me that it makes me miserable.”

By Jan. 18, 1983, I was corresponding again with Lindsay. Apparently I’d phoned her brother’s flat from Gatwick the day I flew out. She wasn’t there, so I left a message with a flatmate. “I doubted you received the message,” I wrote, “and boarded the plane a bit dismayed—I thought I’d lost a friend!”

LostYrs2I even…

View original post 954 more words

Working on a Miss Terry (Part 2)

•July 20, 2017 • Leave a Comment

[Ed. note: Last of two parts.]

As Ellen Terry relates in her memoirs:

“No one knew where I was. My own father identified the corpse, and [my sisters], at their boarding school, were put into mourning. Then mother went. She kept her head under the shock of the likeness, and bethought her of ‘a strawberry mark upon my left arm.’ (Really it was on my left knee.) That settled it, for there was no such mark to be found upon the poor corpse…”

In 1988 I listened to as much music of the period as I could lay my hands on. Queen Victoria’s favorite composer, next to Felix Mendelssohn, was Arthur Sullivan. I was doing a lot at once, but I think the eye came before the ear on this coincidence.

I had in my library an edition of The History of Punch, the British humor magazine. As I flipped through its pages I stopped at a group photo taken in 1867 of an amateur performance of Tom Taylor’s A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing and Sullivan’s first operetta, Cox and Box, or The Long-Lost Brothers. In the photo I was surprised to find Kate Terry—and Nelly, seated next to Kate and toying with her necklace. She’s flanked by a young Arthur Sullivan and George du Maurier, while her sister laughingly turns to a teasing Mark Lemon. Arthur Lewis, Kate’s fiancé, stands in the back, eyeing Kate.

While on one of my library excursions I came across a recording of Sullivan and Burnand’s Cox and Box and listened to it. The overture is straight out of the Victorian music hall style—with a smattering of Offenbach—rollicking, cheerful, yet with an ominous undertone, like you’d hear in a campy melodrama.

In the story, a devious landlord named Sergeant Bouncer rents the same room to Mr. Cox (working days as a hatter) and Mr. Box (who, as a printer, works nights). Neither lodger knows of the other’s existence, so Bouncer gets double rent for his room. When asked about strange proceedings involving misplaced matches, gridirons, and furniture, Bouncer launches into his “Rataplan”—a nonsensical military march—just to change the subject.

Finally the lodgers discover one another and Mr. Box relates to Mr. Cox his faked suicide by drowning to avoid marrying the girl who—unbeknownst to him—Mr. Cox is engaged to marry. It gets even more complicated. Before all the characters go into a “Rataplan finale,” Box interrupts with an insight: “You’ll excuse the apparent insanity of the remark, but the more I gaze on your features, the more I’m convinced you’re my long lost brother!”

Cox: “The very same observation I was going to make to you!”

Box: “Tell me, in mercy, tell me…have you such a thing as a strawberry mark on your left arm?

Cox: “No!”

Box: “Then it is he!”

 

ANOTHER MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

By the autumn of 1988 I was buried in Research-Somewhat-Gone-Awry.

I had stacks of notes. I was afraid I’d researched myself out of writing a first draft.

That’s probably when I fell in love with the new angle of my story, straight out of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

You see, Nelly made her stage debut as the Fairy Queen Titania in March 1863, a few months after meeting Watts and Godwin for the first time. It was in a sense the first adult role she’d played, and Godwin—ever the theater aesthete—designed her dress for the performance at the Theatre Royal, Bath.

Since completing the first draft of the script, I’ve come to realize that my story is about three lives: Nelly (pictured at right, in 1881), Godwin, and Watts. In my mind, the three symbolized characters from Shakespeare’s play. Nelly begins as Puck, who somehow transforms into Titania; Godwin appears as Theseus, Duke of Athens (Architect of Industrializing Britain) and, by night so to speak, as Oberon, King of the Fairies (and Defender of the Theatrical World). Watts began to fill a less-flattering, but nonetheless important, role of Bottom the Weaver, transformed into an ass’s head and beloved of the spellbound Titania. The interrelationship between these characters/roles took on a new fascination for me, but I was determined to make more of a reference than an issue out of it in the first draft.

It’s a central metaphor to Nelly and Godwin’s relationship: the quarrel between the Fairy King and Queen and their subsequent reconciliation, which I made as Godwin and Nelly’s flight that night of October 10. Their relationship comprises the last quarter of the script, but the lines that bring them together in the first quarter carry an undertone of the elopement to come, and the working title of my screenplay:

Godwin/Oberon: “Then, my queen, in silence sad, trip we after the night’s shade; We the globe can compass soon, swifter than the wandering moon.”

Nelly/Titania: “Come, my lord; and in our flight, tell me how it came this night, that I, sleeping here was found, with these mortals on the ground.”

 

RAW WRITING

Author Peter De Vries once said: “I love writing. It’s the paperwork I hate.”

When January 1989 arrived like a bad joke, I knew I had to put away the mad research scientist role and nail myself down to some raw writing. After all, I knew vaguely where I was going, so why be afraid?

I don’t know why writers complain about writing. There has to be a reason to write. There has to be a story to tell. Although I’m suspicious of pencil-happy Pollyannas who clutch lucky rabbits’ feet and spit out screeds of paper, I also think that anyone who treasures an idea or image will get up the next morning after a blank-sheet hangover and have another punch at it. Again, it’s the story that’s important.

I spent months screening The Wandering Moon in my head and saw every scene of it as clearly as a garbage burner on a Midwestern city skyline. I knew what I had to do.

I had to write it.

In between breaks on the first draft, I dropped notes to friends in England and wrote letters in response to research queries I’d made the previous year. Then I promised myself a reward if and when I finished the first draft: I’d visit England to see my friends and tour locations in the story. I cached away some money and kept working at the draft.

By the end of October 1989, I was wrapping up its ends, like a diaper on a newborn baby.

 

DEAD … OR SLEEPING?

For two weeks in November 1989 I toured the British countryside looking for the scraps of Victorian England that remain. At the Watts Gallery in Compton near Guildford, curator Richard Jefferies told me, “We’re nearly rounding that corner for good, never to see it again…” At the end of my trip I met with Jefferies and his assistant Hillary at the gallery.

There, hung in the shadows of tourist off-season, above the gallery tomcats dozing on wooden floor grates, were the legacies of G.F. Watts—and the full-size original of his painting Found Drowned. It shows the body of a young woman lying under the arch of a bridge by a riverbank, a lone star shining in the night sky above her.

Mr. Jefferies and Hillary looked over my script and we talked about the relationship between Watts and Ellen Terry. The story was told how when Nelly left Watts at the end of the marriage, he destroyed many of his sketches and paintings of her. Hillary confirmed this by showing me one of Watts’ sketchbooks from the time of the marriage, with many pages ripped out.

We also talked about the connection with Tennyson, Knowles, and Pritchard, and Hillary retrieved from the library an edition of William Boyce’s diary. She located an entry dated Nov. 8, 1868, which noted that “the actress Ellen Terry has been found drowned and it is believed she had been despondent over some argument with her sister.”

I was amazed.

At the Ellen Terry Memorial Library and Museum in Smallhythe, Kent, I met with curator Margaret Weare and her husband Tony. In the short time I had there I went over Ellen Terry’s books, looking for traces of her relationship with Godwin. Perseverance paid off in two ways.

As I sat in straight-backed wooden chair, paging through an old notebook, Tony Weare pointed out that the drawings of tile designs and sketches of birds were in Godwin’s hand.

“You’re also sitting in one of his chairs,” he added.

The past is just sleeping, I thought. It isn’t dead.

At Freshwater Bay, on the Isle of Wight, I saw the house where Watts and Nelly spent their honeymoon. “Dimbola” as it’s still called, has been partially renovated into holiday flats. The other abandoned half awaits renovation or demolition. Up the road is Tennyson’s home, Farringford, now a hotel. I stayed there a night and tried to locate the bathroom where the photo of Nelly was taken, but the place has been so completely renovated and commercialized that it was hard to tell which room it had been.

In Bath and Bristol I toured the Theatres Royal, and at the Bristol city library I located Godwin’s theatrical column in the Western Daily Press for 1862. He began each column with Jacques’ line from As You Like It: “I must have liberty, withal as large a charter as the wind, To blow on whom I please.”

In London I stayed with my friends and met with Joy Melville, author of a biography of Ellen Terry and her daughter Edith Craig. We met at Waterloo station, and then had coffee at her flat while she looked over my first draft. I asked her: “Has anyone made a film about Ellen Terry?”

“No,” she replied, not to the best of her knowledge. “But it would be magic if it were…”

And later the same day, on an enormous whim, I wandered into David Puttnam’s Enigma Productions office, just down from the Victoria and Albert Museum. I told the secretary that I wanted to see Mr. Puttnam “if he was in.” Another gentleman, Colin Vaines, overheard my request and asked if he could help, if I’d had an appointment with Puttnam. “No…I hadn’t…” I said I had a screenplay I felt Engima might be interested in and gave him Nelly’s story in a nutshell.

“Do you have an agent?” he asked, looking at a copy of the script. “Can we keep this?”

I declined. After all it was just a draft and I was there to see if I could whip up some interest in the idea. He gave me his card.

“You’ve got a lot of pluck walking in here like this,” he said.

I left feeling like I’d taken my own swing at the Berlin Wall. Nothing can compare with the joy I felt. The film I had seen in my head, that I tried to put on paper so that others could see it, was that much closer to reality, if only a tiny bit, even if I was the only person to believe in it.

I knew others had sensed it, too. After talking with a friend about the changes of 1989, we got on to the script and its coincidences. Where had it all come from? Why this particular story, and why Ellen Terry?

“Well,” my friend said. “Maybe it’s time the world met her again.”

 
Tweak & Shout

RaineFairy's Acrostics

Through the Skylight

Publisher of quality esoteric and literary books, based in the UK

Public Field Guide

Elevating Stories About Public Land

Shadow & Substance

Exploring the Works of Rod Serling

Precipitate Flux

"As for me I reduce everything to a tumult of words" - Clarice Lispector

Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

%d bloggers like this: