J BUSH

There Are No Rules

I was meeting with a high-level producer in December. We were talking about wealth inequality. He was saying how the 23-year-old inventor of Snapchat had been offered $4 billion for the company — and turned it down — and he couldn’t believe this. I can believe this. I’ve seen all the graphs that show the algebraic curves of audience attention moving to mobile. Snapchat IS more valuable than old world companies. It holds more attention. The producer couldn’t accept that emotionally. It doesn’t make sense according to how the world used to work, even a year ago (but how could Snapchat be more valuable than Instagram?).

The world doesn’t change linearly. It changes slow then fast.

I interrupted him as all this clicked together in my head — “There are no rules,” I said. “You know that from the way this town works.”

The idea that a company that makes nothing could be valued higher than companies that have actually made stuff and sold it for a hundred years is almost unimaginable. But it makes sense. Because we don’t value stuff anymore. We no longer value intellectual property. What we value is attention. Whoever marshals, aligns, focuses that attention – those people control value.

Rules informally and retroactively (and usually unspokenly) come to be understood by those who have come to dominate a given marketplace for their own benefit – so they may perpetuate the good thing they’ve got going. If you examine any set of unspoken rules that a community informally adheres to, you’ll find it helps keep dominant groups dominant and non-dominant groups out. In my own community, this looks like rules about what a director looks and sounds like – what a screenwriter is supposed to look and sound like and what they’re supposed to talk about (hint: pretty much the opposite of me – should be less female (and yes, I’ve gotten this note) should be less angry, less pointed, less sharp, less full of rage, less sad, less confused, less honest, you need to watch that edge Julie, less dwelling on thoughts of killing.

The point is – any group enjoying the benefits of the rules don’t want you to suddenly realize there are no rules – the panopticon doesn’t exist – the prison bars are in your mind – you were trained since birth to only go as far as your tether and now you never venture further. They don’t have a fucking tether and they like that you do. They enjoy countless benefits from that. Mental freedom. Emotional freedom. In a town like Hollywood – where the most ruthless and sociopathic, and less dramatically, those most willing to take risks and try new things and just ask for what they want and forge relationships with the cool people (white men) and keep testing and testing and finding some way outside-the-rules thing that just might work – those who recognize there are no rules fastest win. Rules are for white men and all others who enjoy the benefits of unconscious cognitive biases – the beautiful, the wealthy, the physically perfect. Everyone else needs to step outside that pack racing to the middle as fast as possible and instead race out to the far reaches and establish an entrenched position. And hold it with fire.

When I was home in Georgia for Christmas, I visited a 26-year-old woman in prison. She started having kids as a teenager. By her mid-twenties she had three children, received no help from their father and was basically homeless. She appealed to every social service agency for help and was denied for one reason or another. (The agency for homelessness said they didn’t see her being stable in three months so she wasn’t worth helping.) She found a job delivering sandwiches for a local sandwich shop – which is where she met her new boyfriend. When she got denied every other form of assistance – and against her own better judgment – she and her kids moved in with him. Her baby died shortly thereafter. There are conflicting autopsy reports – one says blunt force trauma to the head, the other says asphyxiation. The jury never thought she actually killed her baby – but they convicted her of failing to prevent her baby from being killed. She is now serving multiple life sentences in state prison. Her other kids have been taken away and adopted by strangers. The baby is dead. She’ll spend the rest of her life in prison – at the age of 26.

Do you think she believes there are rules? Would she have been better off with a larger perspective on the way things really work – the way rules cut in favor of dominant groups and against people like her – appearing to punish the guilty and reward the virtuous while in reality all these rules do is keep everyone in their place – the Dickensian impoverished mother of three punished for her poverty and the wealthy never ever punished for their crimes no matter what they do cuz that feels icky to us, as if we’re shitting on the American dream.

There are no rules. Nothing makes sense. Question what the world tells you – explicitly and implicitly. Jump outside the pack. Question everything.

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This should go without saying but — there are no rules in screenwriting either. Great storytelling is all that matters.

What It Means When A Producer Says They Don’t Hire Women Writers

 

As a producer, the quality of your information is the only thing you have.

 

That’s all you do. You aggregate information. You find one piece of information and you pair it with another piece of information and then that becomes a movie. Or a TV show. Or a web series. Or a new network.

 

You find one piece of information (a premise you build a show around, a book, an article, an old movie to remake, a thin joke) and you pair it with another piece of information (a writers’ room full of writers, a director you’ve been watching grow her career with indies, another idea you think will give the first idea longer legs).

 

That’s what producers do.

 

And that’s what innovation is. It’s connecting disparate ideas. The further the distance between the connections, the more innovative. The better the art.

 

So when I hear a writer/producer come out in the press saying they don’t hire women writers – what they’re basically saying is – I don’t believe in bigger groups of connections. I don’t believe in innovation. I believe in limiting my group of ideas to the boundaries of what my assumptions can tolerate. I believe in smallness, exclusivity and fear.

 

That mentality might work in the short term. But it doesn’t produce great art that lasts.

 

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If a group includes more women, its collective intelligence rises (Harvard Business Review).

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New York Film Academy takes a look at gender inequality in film

She’s Not Just Some Secretary

She’s not just some secretary.”

 

This is what one of the producers on my movie said about the female lead, three hours before we went in to do the studio pitch. We were arguing on the phone about the fact that I wanted her to have a certain job that would give her status more equal to the hero of the film – and he thought her having that job would be unrealistic considering everything she does in the movie and that it would take the audience out of the movie. So he gave her a job demotion right before the pitch, which I argued about – leading him to say “she’s not just some secretary.”

 

I spent the next couple hours timing myself reading the highlighted portions of my beat sheet – and eating anchovies (brain food) – (a fatal mistake as I would be self-conscious about my breath all afternoon) and turning over that sentence in the back of my head like a kid’s rock-tumbler –

 

She’s not just some secretary –

 

I got to the production office a half hour before the pitch. The exec who’s been working with me this whole time sat with me with our feet up on his coffee table and kept me calm. He had tried to demote the female lead for the same reason a month or two before – at 7 pm on a Friday – and I had launched into a histrionic speech that went something like “we are trying to attract both male and female audiences with this movie. And as a female audience member, I can tell you, we know when we are being patronized. We know what kind of movie this is going to be, when it’s being promoted. We see when the female lead has a lesser job and less status than the male lead – when the filmmakers and producers making it consider her less than – and we know what they think of her and us. And if this is going to be that kind of movie then I can’t be involved.”

 

Gulp.

 

In case you don’t know, those are the words of a crazy person.

 

But those are also the words of a person who is crazily dedicated. Crazily invested. Who believes in what she is doing. Who feels it. Who is leading, not following.

 

And at the time, this exec had said “Ok. I get it. I’m in.” (For what it’s worth, that’s the worst/craziest thing I’ve said to him or any exec. And it’s a sign of just how hard we’ve worked on this movie. And – he deserves hazard pay.)

 

So we’re in the production office, before the pitch. My exec friend is keeping me calm. He looks me straight in the eye and goes “I want you to know I was on your side. We didn’t even talk about it.” And I knew what he was talking about – and in fact, I never even questioned that he was on my side on that. So I proceeded to tell him why this thing about the male lead and the female lead being equal means so much to me.

 

“It’s not, like, some abstract feminism thing for me. I was raised by a single mother who had no education and worked full time as a secretary –

 

She’s not just some secretary –

 

– and all she wanted for us girls was to go to college and never have to work a desk job like her and have better lives than she did. And not only did I go to college but I went to Princeton and my first job out of college was [the same job we've now given the female lead in the movie]. And despite all that, I have felt marginalized my entire fucking life — growing up in a house of all women (already marginalized as a gender in this species) — abandoned by my father who went off and left us to sink from middle-class into poverty — abandoned by a culture that couldn’t care less about what it feels like to be less than, displaced, marginalized, disempowered always. This is real for me. Visceral –” 

 

She’s not just some secretary –

 

I didn’t know you grew up in a single-parent home,” he said. “I did too. That must be why we’re so …”

 

Sympatico?” I said.

 

We drove the golf cart over to the studio where I met another exec for the first time. (The producer was already inside.) The three of us stood around nervously chit-chatting before the pitch. Making conversation about our families. They asked about my sister, and I told them about how she’s never come to visit me in LA. How she disapproves of my risky choice to become a writer and how she’s basically waiting for me to fail and move back home. How up until recently, it’s been hard to argue with her.

 

The assistant called us in to the pitch.

 

Afterward, the producer, my exec friend and I drove the golf cart back to their bungalow. We were laughing cuz I thought the producer was mad at me cuz I kept stopping the pitch to make jokes (and once to accuse the studio exec of yawning — he wasn’t) cuz I was afraid the mood was getting too dour. The producer goes “you want the mood to be dour if your movie is dour!” Through the whole pitch he kept saying “keep going!” cuz I kept detouring.

 

But as we drove across the studio lot, the producer said “you did really really well” and I appreciated that as it was my first studio pitch ever and I was nervous as hell. And as the sun set over the soundstages and the balmy breeze blew my half-shaved hair back, I took a mental snapshot and said to myself in my head – remember this moment cuz your life is about to change.

 

And it did. We sold the movie the next day. My dream project. There’s nothing else I’d rather be working on right now.

 

But with dreams answered comes responsibility too. I just spent a week with my mom (I’m writing this on the airplane back to LA), and I was telling her about one of the many complicated aspects of studio filmmaking. I was uncertain about what to do.

 

I always err on the side of being vulnerable,” she said.

 

Mom, you’ve got to remember – screenwriting is heavily male dominated. Like 85%. Everyone already thinks I can’t do the job because I’m a woman. If I go around showing my belly, I’m going to look feminine and weak and lose all respect.”

 

Well then I guess your industry is just over my head.”

 

She’s not just some secretary.

 

No mom I think you understand it just fine.

 

 

Ask Forgiveness, Not Permission

Internet thinking and money is infiltrating Hollywood.

I found Venture Hacks’s advice for startups applicable to filmmaking — particularly the idea of giving team members freedom and responsibility over what they make. The idea is to let every person ship their work as fast as possible, then figure out what’s wrong and how to fix it with the feedback of initial users. Instead of getting stuck in internal review processes that result in layers of overview and never sending anything to market.

Freedom

  1. Ask forgiveness, not permission
  2. Do what you think is right (and be right)
  3. S/he who codes, rules

Responsibility

  1. You break it, you bought it
  2. Sweat the details and corner cases
  3. Be real
  4. Own the result

Replace “codes” for “writes” or “directs” above, and I think this is a pretty good prescription for filmmaking. In filmmaking, there are plenty of reasons why some people may not be given freedom and responsibility that does not reflect on them. But I believe if you hire the right people, give them freedom and responsibility (or let them take it), the greatest results are possible.

All of these dictums are variations on freedom and responsibility. Netflix has a great presentation on the topic. So does ValvePeter Drucker probably wrote about it 50 years ago. 

Increased Gender Equality Leads To Higher GDP

The World Economic Forum has released a new report on gender equality. What’s most interesting is the finding that increased gender equality leads to higher GDP:

According to a newly-released report from the World Economic Forum[pdf], Iceland is the #1 country in the world for gender equality, for the fifth year in a row. And that equality is helping propel Iceland and its fellow Nordic nations to new economic heights. Turns out, the smaller the gender gap, the more economically competitive the nation. Even when that nation is totally freezing.

The notion that gender equality drives development (rather than the other way round) has been so widely celebrated in recent years that it begins to seem trite. But as the newly released 2013 Global Gender Gap Index — which measures gender parity in 136 countries — reminds us, gender equity isn’t simply a matter of equal rights. It’s a matter of efficiency. Many countries have closed the gender gap in education, for example, but gender-based barriers to employment minimize their returns on that investment; Their highly educated women aren’t working. The highest ranking countries in the index have figured out how to maximize returns on their investment in women, and are consequently more economically competitive, have higher incomes, and higher rates of development.

The report notes a strong correlation between Global Gender Gap Index rankings (which measure health, education, labor political and participation) and measures of global competitiveness, as the graph below illustrates. The smaller the gender gap, the better off the economy. Perhaps it’s no surprise that less-developed nations lke Yemen and Pakistan are near the bottom of the Index. What’s more surprising is that relatively economic powerhouses like Turkey and Japan are right there in the basement with them.

Take the Philippines. It ranks #5 on the Global Gender Gap Index, higher than any other Asian nation. It’s the only country in Asia that has fully closed the education gender gap, and its labor force boasts growing ranks of women workers, especially professionals and managers. Not surprisingly, the Philippines is now the fastest growing economy in Asia, having recently edged out China (#69 on the index). There are many reasons for this, including macroeconomic policy reforms under Aquino, but the role of a large, educated and diverse work force shouldn’t be discounted; Indeed, gender parity in Filipino education and labor preceded recent economic growth.

Though not exactly analogous, something similar is playing out in the corporate world. A 2012 report by Credit Suisse found that companies with at least one woman on the board outperformed those without by about 26 percent. A 2012 report by McKinsey & Company similarly found that companies with more diverse boards boasted higher profit and higher returns on equity than others. It could be that better performing companies are in a better position to give women a chance, but the researchers at Credit Suisse suggest that simply diversifying the leadership pool can generate surprisingly positive results.

So, what are the highest ranking countries doing right, exactly?

One major factor, which the report notes every year, is that high ranking countries “have made it possible for parents to combine work and family, resulting in high female employment, more shared participation in childcare, more equitable distribution of labor at home [and] better work-life balance for both women and men.”

Meanwhile, in the United States, the notion that women could conceivably someday successfully combine work and family is still constantly under debate. Incidentally, the U.S. dropped one place in the rankings to #23 — below Burundi, Cuba and, god forbid, Canada.

This report reflects copious other research that finds that when women are included in groups at work, those groups perform better and make more money.

That the industry I work in (Hollywood) persists in keeping women out of the plum jobs of screenwriter, director, showrunner — whether through conscious or unconscious bias or a deeply systemic, old-fashioned boys’ club — whatever it is, it’s resulting in making worse product and artificially limiting our profits.

Great Ideas Look Like Bad Ideas

If you come up with a new idea and you tell your agents and managers about it, or some executives or producers you know, or your friends, and everyone loves it, that’s a bad sign. That means it’s not fresh enough. That means it’s sitting too close to the surface, too obvious, too similar to what’s already happening in the zeitgeist, in the culture.

Your reps’ jobs are to hate your really great ideas. Because they are focused on what’s selling right now and what they predict might sell tomorrow based on that — in other words, yesterday’s great ideas.

But if your ideas are really good, they’re not going to look good to anyone at first. And that’s the magic window where — if you have the courage to follow your instincts and your gut — you can capitalize on the lag time between the moment that you know it’s good and the day the rest of the world wakes up to it.

Your job isn’t to follow the zeitgeist, it’s to make it.

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Peter Thiel basically says the same thing in his class on startups:

“3. Secrets exist.

People don’t really believe in secrets anymore. But secrets exist. It’s just a matter of learning how to find them.

Risk aversion and complacency discourage people from thinking about secrets. Existing conventions are much more comfortable. But secret truths can be incredibly valuable. Importantly, they are discoverable; by definition, any answers to the questions in Lesson 2 above are secrets. Perhaps the biggest secret of all is that there are many more secrets in the world that are waiting to be found. The question of how many secrets exist in our world is roughly equivalent to how many startups people should start. From a business perspective, then, there are many great companies that could still be—indeed,are waiting to be—started.”

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Seth Godin says the same thing:

“All good ideas are terrible

Until people realize they are obvious.

If you’re not willing to live through the terrible stage, you’ll never get to the obvious part.”

London School of Economics Finds That Piracy Helps Hollywood’s Bottom Line

This new report from the London School of Economics does a great job of cutting through Hollywood’s lobbying bullshit and using numbers to make a case that piracy actually helps Hollywood’s bottom line.

Piracy Isn’t Killing The Entertainment Industry, Scholars Show

The London School of Economics and Political Science has released a new policy brief urging the UK Government to look beyond the lobbying efforts of the entertainment industry when it comes to future copyright policy. According to the report there is ample evidence that file-sharing is helping, rather than hurting the creative industries. The scholars call on the Government to look at more objective data when deciding on future copyright enforcement policies.

lbe

Over the past years there have been ample research reports showing that file-sharing can have positive effects on the entertainment industries.

Industry lobbyists are often quick to dismiss these findings as incidents or weak research, and counter them with expensive studies they have commissioned themselves.

The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) jumps into the discussion this week with a media policy brief urging the UK Government to look beyond the reports lobbyists hand to them. Their report concludes that the entertainment industry isn’t devastated by piracy, and that sharing of culture has several benefits.

“Contrary to the industry claims, the music industry is not in terminal decline, but still holding ground and showing healthy profits. Revenues from digital sales, subscription services, streaming and live performances compensate for the decline in revenues from the sale of CDs or records,” says Bart Cammaerts, LSE Senior Lecturer and one of the report’s authors.

The report shows that the entertainment industries are actually doing quite well. The digital gaming industry is thriving, the publishing sector is stable, and the U.S. film industry is breaking record after record.

“Despite the Motion Picture Association of America’s (MPAA) claim that online piracy is devastating the movie industry, Hollywood achieved record-breaking global box office revenues of $35 billion in 2012, a 6% increase over 2011,” the report reads.

Even the music industry is doing relatively well. Revenue from concerts, publishing and digital sales has increased significantly since the early 2000s and while recorded music revenues show a decline, there is little evidence that piracy is the lead cause.

“The music industry may be stagnating, but the drastic decline in revenues warned of by the lobby associations of record labels is not in evidence,” the report concludes.

Music industry revenue

musicgraph

The authors further argue that file-sharing can actually benefit the creative industries in various ways.

The report mentions the success of the SoundCloud service where artists can share their work for free through Creative Commons licenses, the promotional effect of YouTube where copyrighted songs are shared to promote sales, and the fact that research shows that file-sharers actually spend more money on entertainment than those who don’t share.

“Within the creative industries there is a variety of views on the best way to benefit from online sharing practices, and how to innovate to generate revenue streams in ways that do not fit within the existing copyright enforcement regime,” the authors write.

Finally, the report shows that punitive enforcement strategies such as the three strikes law in France are not as effective as the entertainment industries claim.

The researchers hope that the U.K. Government will review the Digital Economy Act in this light, and make sure that it will take into account the interests of both the public and copyright holders.

This means expanding fair use and private copying exceptions for citizens, while targeting enforcement on businesses rather than individuals.

“We recommend a review of the DEA and related legislation that strikes a healthy balance among the interests of a range of stakeholders including those in the creative industries, Internet Service Providers and internet users.”

“When both [the creative industries and citizens] can exploit the full potential of the internet, this will maximize innovative content creation for the benefit of all stakeholders,” the authors write.

http://torrentfreak.com/piracy-isnt-hurting-the-entertainment-industry-121003/

Now you may be asking yourself — why do you care so much? Why would you — a Hollywood screenwriter — not only be pro-piracy but feel so strongly about how important piracy is to keep the back channels of our social connections, our ability to share art and our political freedoms alive? Here is why:

Here’s the bad news: the World Wide Web Consortium is going ahead with its plan to add DRM to HTML5, setting the stage for browsers that are designed to disobey their owners and to keep secrets from them so they can’t be forced to do as they’re told. Here’s the (much) worse news: the decision to go forward with the project of standardizing DRM for the Web came from Tim Berners-Lee himself, who seems to have bought into the lie that Hollywood will abandon the Web and move somewhere else (AOL?) if they don’t get to redesign the open Internet to suit their latest profit-maximization scheme.

Danny O’Brien from the Electronic Frontier Foundation explains the wrangle at the W3C and predicts that, now that it’s kosher to contemplate locking up browsers against their owners, we’ll see every kind of control-freakery come out of the woodwork, from flags that prevent “View Source” to restricting embedded fonts to preventing image downloading to Javascript that you can’t save and run offline. Indeed, some of this stuff is already underway at W3C, spurred into existence by a huge shift in the Web from open platform to a place where DRM-hobbled browsers are “in-scope” for the WC3.

http://boingboing.net/2013/10/02/w3c-green-lights-adding-drm-to.html

So what does this mean? It means that the folks in charge of the internet’s infrastructure are buying into the corporate propaganda put forward by Hollywood’s big money lobbyists who are promoting the idea that internet freedom is dangerous and bad. However, the research finds the opposite is true — internet freedom actually helps Hollywood’s bottom line. Not to mention the basic ethics of not letting corporations control the means we have to communicate with each other. Maintaining a free internet is vital to political discourse, to artistic exchange (and yes, there have been many times when I’ve been working on a Hollywood project and tried looking up a clip online to watch for professional reference, only to find those stupid take-down copyright violation notices) and to building audience for your Hollywood product. Don’t be short-sighted guys.

Stay Open

I like looking through bins of old photos at garage sales and flea markets. I buy pictures that make me feel something.

This morning I was idly flipping through pictures — searching for feeling, meaning — and from somewhere Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” started playing –

– and suddenly I was 16 years old, camping out down by the river behind my parents’ log cabin in the North Georgia mountains (where they still live) with the boy I had a huge crush on beside a crackling campfire, listening to Bob Dylan for the first time and letting him teach me to smoke pot for the first time ever –

– and my eyes filled with tears — not because I’m sad, but because I’m human –

– because this town is constantly trying to push us toward feeling less, toward being less connected, less human, trying to thicken our skins and build our callouses and make us more cynical and more skeptical and more cruel and less trusting — like we’re naked gladiators in the arena ripping each other’s throats out with our teeth and scything each others’ breasts off and tearing arms out of the sockets till the blood gushes rivers in the sand and they’re lounging in their boxes, turning around to complain about why the figs aren’t riper –

And our jobs are not to fucking let them.

Our jobs are to lay down the swords. Stop fighting. Stop wounding each other. Most of all, stop wounding ourselves.

Stay open.

Stay open.

Stay open.

And what’s most ironic is — that’s what they want from us. The best ones know it too. They know they are simultaneously brutalizing us and then begging us to stay open. Stay soft. Stay connected.

That is the job.

I’ve tried to make my new movie as personal as possible. I’ve infused it with my own memories, hopes, desires, fears — and those of the executive I’m working with — which I’ve been extracting and infusing into this movie. Or maybe he’s been infusing his guts into it — as aware as I am of how important it is to make this movie real and vital and personal, about the shit we’re really dwelling on. It’s a big movie about extraordinary people in dramatic circumstances — which we are obviously not — but at its heart it’s about people kinda similar to us, who maybe have big, stressful stuff going on in their lives — who feel like they’re doing battle on a daily basis — and then suddenly something happens and they’re instantly by that campfire behind my parents’ log cabin when I was 16 –

I feel like part of what filmmaking is is an internal process of what I was doing at the flea market this morning — flipping through the old photos of your life — constantly scanning for what makes you feel something — then putting that in.

That’s what this executive and I have been doing for months. The more personal the better, I say. Even for a big budget action thriller. Stay open. Stay connected. Stay soft. That’s the job.

 

Future Predictions

My life has changed a lot since the last time I posted here.

Then — I was in the middle of writing an impossibly difficult movie. I was crying a lot. I was under a tremendous amount of pressure, which I’ll write about another time. I felt very alone, and I was very alone. Cooped up in my apartment, trying to rein in my focus and race against the clock to write a movie that would be ambitious for a screenwriter at any experience level, much less a first-time screenwriter.

Now — I have agents, managers, a lawyer. I spend my days talking to executives, or emailing with executives. I regret that I’m not marinating in ideas as much as I used to. But at least I’m not alone as fucking much.

So an executive mentioned that he looked up my twitter for some future predictions — cuz that’s my schtick. I tell everyone — I’m really good at predicting the future. I was the first screenwriter to pitch WIKILEAKS, before it was a big story. Most of my ideas become big studio movies or TV projects eventually. I know what’s coming. Instead of future predictions he just found a bunch of tweets about how crazy my life has been lately. So I wrote him some future predictions, and I thought I may as well share them here:

FUTURE PREDICTIONS

– neural networks (multi-layered computer networks that mimic the behavior of the human brain) will grow more sophisticated

–math-based currencies (i.e. Bitcoin etc) will grow more stable and widely used

– nanotechnology (and its risks) will continue to expand
–transhumanism (bionic adjustments to improve performance and health) will be available to more and more regular people
–the majority of crime will be cybercrime in some way
–drones will take over every area of everyday life
–manufacturing will take place in the cloud
–the internet of things (i.e. your toaster and your fridge will be networked the way my blog and twitter are connected)
–molar caps that conduct sound (instead of earbuds)
–3D printers will be in every home
–you will interact with your screens without using your hands
–as even the poor have tablets, the rich will have hand-built, custom-designed, artisanal technology
–Rapid Growth Markets like Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Turkey are where the action’s at
Watch this space for more future predictions ….

 

What If You Can’t Save The Person Who Saved You

“Do you know what it’s like to be 57 and starting over?”

My stepdad lost his job. But it’s more complicated than that – he lost his job, then fought really hard to get a new appointment. When he didn’t get the appointment, for various political reasons – it was devastating for all of us. It was like losing his job all over again.

And he is such a good man. Such a loving, kind, honest, humble, decent human.

When I was home for Christmas this year, we stopped by Wal-mart one night. A 14-year-old girl approached him in the parking lot and gave him a huge hug and told him how much his involvement in her life had meant to her (before he lost his job). She had been a participant in the drug court he had started on his own time working on weekends, fighting impossible bureaucratic and financial battles, inspiring his team to spend their own money to travel to attend training … I could go on. There are so many stories of my stepdad tirelessly, quietly working on behalf of his community.

Once at a fundraiser, he was parking cars. One person asked him if he did anything else besides park cars: “Yeah. I’m a judge.”

He was continuously finding solutions to keep families together, keep kids out of jail.

He loved his job, and he was good at it.

Worst of all – the batshit crazy guy who cost him his job was himself removed from office soon afterwards for pulling out a gun in the courtroom.

It’s hard for me to make sense of this. It hits me in a place in my gut that’s raw – where injustice lives.

I feel like everything I write comes from this place.

It’s full of rage.

And fear -

And sadness -

And helplessness -

I feel like the people who get ahead are the ones who cheat. Who connive. Who manipulate. And my stepdad is just not that guy. He’s just an honest, straight-shooter – a real salt of the earth person – probably too honest for some – with a salty wit that sometimes rubs people the wrong way, especially in rural Georgia where some people have real sticks up their asses but the vast majority don’t and are about the coolest, funniest, most wonderful people you’ll ever meet -

And I love him so much it hurts. Like, it’s painful to love someone this much. Because what if I lose him? I have way too many eggs in this one basket. I’ve got it all riding on black 21.

My stepdad saved my life when I was a child. While my real father was manipulative and cruel, distant, empty and selfish, my stepdad was nurturing, loving and attached. He has always believed in and supported my artistic ambitions.

There was a moment when I was at home at my parents’ log cabin in rural Georgia and I had just seen a novelist I went to college with on the Today Show. And it was upsetting for me. I walked out onto the front porch, where my stepdad was having a cigarette with the dogs looking out over the foggy morning woods. I told him what happened and how it made me feel and I started crying. I said “why do you keep believing in me?”

He said “Are you kidding? I’m just doing this for my Ferarri.” And that made me laugh and love him so much. And I hugged him.

And now hearing him sound so down – his voice sound so on edge – I wish I could do the same for him. But I don’t know how I can. It makes me feel so trapped that I can’t.

I sat in my car just now – parked in my carport – tears streaming down my cheeks –  hearing him say the words above – and said – “I wish I could rescue you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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