Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Forgotten Christmas Movie

What is your favorite Christmas movie?  There are so many good ones.  I think if I asked my children, Elf might get the nod.

The unofficial list
Here’s an unofficial list from me:  It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story (“You’ll shoot your eye out”), National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Miracle on 34th Street (two versions to choose from), Elf, Home Alone, The Santa Clause, The Polar Express, A Christmas Carol, White Christmas, and of course Die Hard. Did I miss your favorite?  Since it is Christmas season, I’m sure you’ll forgive me.

A Hollywood angel and a touch of Billy Wilder
Maybe you thought of The Bishop’s Wife. Most people don’t think of this one; it’s a somewhat forgotten movie.

But it’s worth watching just to see Cary Grant play a charming angel who humanely terrorizes David Niven. Did you know that one of the four writers of the script was Billy Wilder, the same who won four Academy Awards and wrote Sunset Boulevard, The Apartment, Double Indemnity, and Some Like it Hot!

In the movie, David Niven plays a Bishop who learns from Cary Grant that the people inside the cathedral are more important than the cathedral itself. In the end, Cary Grant writes the Bishop’s sermon for him. It’s a wonderful sermon, and it’s my message for this holiday season.

The empty stocking
“Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking. Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child's cry. A blazing star hung over a stable and wise men came with birthday gifts.

“We haven't forgotten that night down the centuries.  We celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, the sound of bells, and with gifts. But especially with gifts. You give me a book; I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer, and Uncle Henry could do with a new pipe. We forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled—all that is, except one.  

“And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. It's his birthday we are celebrating. Don't ever let us forget that. Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most, and then let each put in his share: loving kindness, a warm heart, and the stretched out hand of tolerance.  All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.”

Sunday, November 30, 2014

3 Keys to a Sunny Work Climate

A long time ago, in an office far, far away, Bart Snarf—a disgruntled co-worker of mine—declared: “Who needs a sunny work environment when it is easier to make it rain and get everyone muddy?  Besides, it’s fun.” Bart did enjoy it until one day his bottom was bounced out the door.  Today, I’d like to respond to Bart by commenting on his (and my) three favorite techniques.   

Bart blaming me
1. Blaming
I know blaming comes naturally, Bart.  When something goes wrong, find the culprit and cast blame. That keeps the focus off of you and even gives you a (false) sense of superiority. You should have followed Bixby’s example. Remember Bixby?

He was our first corporate manager right out of college. When something went wrong, he’d ask for a clear definition of the problem.  I remember you telling Bixby once in earshot of everyone: “The accounting is wrong and it’s all Dave Trottier’s fault.”  But Bixby didn’t acknowledge your accusation; instead, he asked you and me to find a solution.    

Let me tell you, Bart, I felt relief and some empowerment in being part of the solution. And I knew inside that Bixby knew that I, indeed, was to blame. In other words, I was still accountable for my work, but without the shame and humiliation.  And that was motivating for me, and the beginning of the end for you.


Bixby’s continuous use of the problem-solving approach freed employees to come forward when they goofed, and your blaming eventually stopped.  There was a greater sense of teamwork and more was accomplished.  Bart, for more on squashing the blame bug, read this

2. Taking things personally
My inner child crying out to Bart
This trick is closely related to blaming because it’s about avoiding being blamed. And, yes, I remember your excuse: your parents were monsters that bit the heads off of rats for amusement.  I get that, but most everyone has some level of defensiveness as a leftover from childhood.  We all feel your pain, but what can a wounded soul do?

You have free will, Bud.  That means you can do what you want.  You can choose to not take things personally and assume that good will is intended by the other.  Change the perception.  Bixby would love you for it.  Often a comment is not meant personally anyway.


For those remarks that are intended as personal, when you respond as if they weren’t, that patient response may disarm your attacker.  In any case, you make yourself free and independent.  Wow, imagine that!  And remember, if you lose your cool, you lose.  If you’re still with me, Bart, and want to learn more about not taking things personally, read this.

3. Having to be right
It’s confession time, Bart. We’ve all painting ourselves into the I’ve-gotta-be-right-no-matter-what corner more than once. The solution?  Avoid getting emotionally invested into your “rightness.”  A key to this is to not be so cocky in the first place.  Rather than “You idiot, the answer is X,” say, “I believe the answer is X; what do you think?” 

And then reason with the other.  Be persuasive rather than punishing. Use a friendly or collegial voice tone rather than a superior (know-it-all) voice tone.  Only the strong seem to be able to admit their weaknesses, and I’ve seen you bench 350.  Now do it emotionally. Bixby smiles on those that do. For more on this issue read this.

For families, too?

What’s that you say? Your kids blame you for everything? Maybe, it’s time to do some re-framing and see situations differently than you have in the past.  

Imagine a family environment (or office climate) where members focus on solving problems (rather than blaming), assume good will from others (rather than taking things personally), and consider the views of others (rather than always having to be right).  Bart, it’s time to let the sun shine in...and keep living.

Friday, November 7, 2014

How I Became Perfect (Or: How I Quit Perfectionism and Started Living)

How would you like to read the first two chapters of my brand-new book?  


My name is Dave T. and I am a perfectionist.

www.keepwriting.com/perfect
Somehow, in my wonder years, I acquired the idea that unless I was perfect I was not acceptable, I was not lovable, and I definitely did not deserve a trip to Disneyland. 

I came to feel in my many moments of imperfection like a hopeless case.  I would set high standards for myself, then fall below those standards, then feel guilty and resolve to try again.  And the cycle would repeat.

And there was that scripture, memorized in Sunday School right out of the Bible: "Be ye, therefore, perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is Perfect."  You’ve got to be kidding me!  That put God's seal of approval on the idea that I had to be a flawless gem of a guy with my fingernails perfectly cut and cleaned. And yet how could I be perfect?  After all, even though I am a “little lower than the angels,” I'm still a mortal.

Part of the problem was my step-dad’s drill sergeant demeanor.  His verbal chastisements were more effective than a cattle prod in the buttinski.  I heard that Ralph’s dad down the street had one of those. 

I began to obsess about things I could be perfect at:  Tying my shoes with the bows perfectly the same, keeping my toys perfectly organized in the toy box, not spilling a gram of food off my plate (in deference to the starving children in China), and making sure our cocker spaniel Fleacheck was fed every night by 6 p.m. And every morsel of dog food had to be removed from the can. An infraction of my myriads of petty laws would result in guilt feelings that felt like street sludge in my stomach. It didn’t set well and it didn’t age well.

And because I could never gain the approval of my step dad, how could I possibly gain the approval of God?

My pursuit of perfection turned me into a neurotic prisoner of my own design.  I had to make sure I removed my belly button lint before stepping into the shower.  If not, it might begin to accumulate in the pipes, causing a blockage, and eventual flooding.  And I would burn in Hell for it.  The thought of burning in Hell would make me sweat, requiring another shower and another lint removal ritual, lest I offend someone. 

And then the willful sinning. One day in Mr. Stewart’s fourth grade class, I changed my score on a math test from 98% to 100%. My buddy Butch saw me do it. He just said, “Who cares?” Didn’t he understand?  After all, anything less than perfection, and I stunk like doggie dung.

It took me a long time to learn there was a huge difference between the perfectionism I was adopting as a lifestyle and the perfection Jesus called me to.  It took me a long time to find the combination that set me free.  That secret was revealed to me in Los Angeles, the City of Angels, back in the mid-1980s. For me, it was a time of ponderous personal difficulties and wondrous workplace intrigues.


Today, I share that secret with you.  And, as a bonus, I will tell you how I became perfect.


My troubles began when I arrived late at work on May 5, 1986, breaking my perfect on-time record of 221 consecutive days.  That’s especially unforgivable to someone who had just been promoted to Executive Vice President. 

As I rushed into the foyer, I nearly ran into Ms. Bertha Bundt, who stood impassively holding a little notebook and some forms.  “Mornin’,” I said cheerfully.  She responded with her usual air of scolding superiority.  “I’m sure the Boss will want to hear about this. I warned him you were too young and irresponsible.” 

Ms. Bundt was a 55-year-old pit bull and Barbie-doll combo, whose sole mission in life appeared to be ripping employees to shreds, and she had been on my back ever since my promotion.  No one had heard her say a positive word about anyone.  To make matters worse, she was vaguely reminiscent of my step dad.

And yet, if anyone was perfect, it was Ms. Bundt.  Her clothes were perfect, her jewelry was perfect, her make-up was perfect, and her desk was the only desk as neat and perfectly clean as mine.  Her hair was perfectly molded into a giant beehive shape.  I always imagined a rat named Louie lived there and whispered wicked things to her. 

And now there I stood before the tall painted monster, two minutes late.  

She sneered at me. “I’ll make a note in your file.”  She jotted that down.

Up to now, I had put up with her steamrolling tactics and bullying. It was time to put my executive foot down. 

“And I’ll make a note in yours,” I said playfully while retrieving my brand-new Sony microcassette recorder from my pocket.  “Let’s see.  Away from her desk monitoring the parking lot while missing important calls to the Boss.”  I clicked off my recorder with a triumphant flair.

My insubordination momentarily stunned her, but she quickly recovered and narrowed one eye as if the other held a monocle. 

“You’re not going to get away with this, young man.  I’m the only one here authorized to keep files on people.”  Her angry finger wagged like Louie’s imaginary tail in her pompadour. 

“You mean the files with the swastikas on them?  My files have little pink hearts on ‘em.” I was as sweet as synthetic sugar.

Your files! What files are you talking about?” she screamed in a file frenzy.

I was matter-of-fact. “My files.  I have one on you and one on Louie.”  This was the first time I’d mentioned Louie to her, but I felt the moment was…well…perfect for it.

“Who’s Louie?” she demanded, momentarily confused.

“Don’t deny you don’t know Louie,” I said with feigned shock, glancing at her hair-do. Wow! She must have added an extra layer of lacquer to it.  The face below her hair was turning magma red, but before Ms. Bundt could erupt again, I quickly added, "By the way, the Boss said you'd give me the combo to the safe." 

Now the safe combination was the symbol of power at RB Metals.  Only the Boss and Ms. Bundt had it.  And this was no ordinary safe.  It was like a giant walk-in closet with shelves for important documents, certificates of authenticity, gold and silver medallions, and other valuables.

She changed the subject. "You have some forms to fill out."  She slapped a pile of forms in my hands and sashayed away.

I quickly glanced at them. "I've already filled these—“

"—Then fill them out again.  We need everything updated."  She didn’t look back.

I started after her, but just then, Born Again Ben strolled by and pulled me away, muttering something about a meeting. 

Ben was once a long-haired New York drug-addict until he found what he called “Twelve Steps.”  Now, he was our clean-cut marketing guy here in sunny Southern California—tall, gangly, and relaxed.  And being from the East Coast, he wore only traditional business attire and shined wingtips.  “Dave, you need to be more careful.”

“You mean with Beelzebub’s Banshee.  You’re probably right.” 

He chuckled as we stopped near the giant walk-in (and locked) safe.  “Don’t let her get to you,” he said gently. 

“I kept my cool,” I defended.  “No big deal.” 

 “Well, she got Lana demoted yesterday.”

“Demoted.  We do that here now?”

“Actually, she demoted Lana herself.”

I was only mildly surprised.  Ms. Bundt always made sure that anyone who crossed her paid for it, and Lana had gone to the Boss with a list of grievances from Operations. 

“Accused Suzy of siphoning off extra coffee yesterday. Said, ‘you’re not getting away with this.’” Ben laughed and continued, “Look, for years, Ms. Bundt has been the boss’s right arm.  She’s his executive secretary.  Suddenly, you’re his executive vice president and you’re his right arm.  That’s two executive right arms.  She kinda has to get rid of one of them, and it isn’t hers.”

I involuntarily grabbed my right arm, and then I noticed some lint on my suit coat and quickly brushed it off before Ben could notice the imperfection. 

“She feels threatened.  Just stay cool and do your job.  Remember, she has her allies.”

Born Again Ben had a point.  Even though the Boss liked me and I felt pretty secure, Ms. Bundt was a force to be reckoned with.  Nevertheless, I dismissed the thought of impending danger. 

I worked an extra hour that day, and it had nothing to do with Ms. Bundt’s terrorist network.  I had felt compelled to make up for the two minutes I was late that morning. After all, I had broken my perfect record and the guilt slag from that had not properly digested. It was time to set new goals again….

This is ridiculous, I thought.  I shouldn’t have to feel like Judas Iscariot for being late to work.  I was growing weary of being the perfect little Mormon boy.  Something had to be done, and whatever it was, I’d have to be perfect to pull it off.  That would be my new goal!

Later, when I was home, I grabbed my Bible and re-read Matthew 5:48.  There it was again—that command from Jesus to be perfect.  And then I noticed something I had not seen before, something amazing!

If you’d like to read the remaining 9 chapters, including the part about how I became an illegal alien, for super cheap ($5.95 for physical book; $2.99 for ebook), click here now.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Bald Is Beautiful

Would all the women within the “sound” of my blog who like comb-overs on men please
stand up?  Ah ha!  Just as I thought—no one.

Are you listening men?  Because one thing is certain—bald is beautiful!

Not only is it beautiful, it is masculine.  Embrace the truth with a man hug!  Have you ever heard of female-pattern baldness?  No.  It’s called male pattern baldness, which is why ancient Samarai warriors shaved their heads to look more “manful.”  You got that, Bro?

Marketers attempt to make you feel less attractive so they can sell you hair treatments and product.  You don’t need no stinkin’ product.  You need a buzz!  And I’m not talking about ten successive cans of Dr. Pepper.  I’m talking about a #1 attachment to hair shears. 

Bald and balding men, attention!  Chest out, stomach in, chin up, and your male-pattern baldness shining like a glorious manly orb.  What woman would not like to get her hands on one of these hunks?  



Men, be fearless and be bald!  Stand up for the Sacred Masculine and get a buzz!  
You’ll save some money, assert your macho, and keep living.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Get Hip with the New Hip

Don’t be left behind!  The New Hip is in!  Now you can be part of a growing grassroots movement.

I used to be so un-hip; it was embarrassing.  But recently, I realized that things have changed and I was riding the crest of the New Hip.  No longer do I hide my face at parties or take out the garbage with a mask on.  Here’s what went down. 

As a screenwriter, I have had difficulty the last several years finding time to write because my script consulting business has kind of taken over.  But I just finished my most recent screenplay, so I called a producer friend of mine. What follows is an unofficial transcript of the conversation.

“Got a new script, Dawg. Totally counter cultural.”

“Sounds great!”

“Yeah,” I said, “There’s no sex, no profanity, no F-bombs, and no violence, although the possibility of violence is implied.”

“Say what?”

“Even better, it doesn’t have an edge.”

“It’s gotta have an edge.”

“Nope.  It’s probably a G, maybe PG.  I wanted to see if I could write something family friendly with just one set that still had a rising conflict leading to a big showdown that didn’t involve explosions and car chases.”

“That’s not counter cultural!  You’re full of sh—“

“—Uh-uh-uh,” I scolded.  “You don’t need to swear anymore because it’s old fashioned.” And that’s when the epiphany came.  I felt like one of the Beach Boys: I had caught a wave and was sitting on top of the world.

My producer friend countered: “Now wait a minute. You’re trying to tell me your script is hip without an edge.  That’s not counter-cultural.”
"I am a warrior of the New Hip!"

“But it is counter cultural.  What’s the culture today?  Think about it.  Rude and crude, anything goes.  If there is one thing that runs counter to today’s culture, it’s my little script. I am a rebel, bucking the system, a hipster of epic hiposity, a voice crying in the wilderness, a warrior of the New Hip, a—”

“—You’re an idiot.  And your script won’t sell.”

“Doesn’t matter.  I had a ton of fun writing it.  Besides, it can’t cost more than twenty-K to shoot with just one set; maybe some indie dude will want to produce something with moral values.”

“Moral values!  Moral values!” And he was about to profane, but found the best substitute words he could think of, bless his heart: “Holy Barfaroni, don’t tell me you’re talking about traditional moral values.”

“They’re coming back, Dawg.  At least the good ones are. In fact, good is good again.”

My friend laughed out loud.  “Good is bad box office, Dave, so don’t send me the script.  But I gotta admit…it was entertaining learning I’m old fashioned and un-hip. Wait ‘til my publicist hears this.”

“Great talking at ya, bro.  Peace, love, and keep living!”

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Frugal Househusband

I found a little treasure the other day, a book published in 1833 entitled The American Frugal Housewife.  Of course, a book with that title would be burned in the streets today.  I purchased it because (a most humble confession) I often engage in housekeeping (or househusbandry) activities.
 
Courtesy Busacca Gallery - www.busaccagallery.com
The nature of “frugal”
The word “frugal” has become a somewhat homely word, a cast-off from ages past. Today, I reinstate it and hope for your spirited approval. 

Mrs. Child, the author, defines frugal as “the art of gathering up all the fragments, so that nothing is lost. I mean fragments of time as well as materials. Nothing should be thrown away as long as it is possible to make any use of it.”  Ah ha, so this is how quilts came to be: patches of excess cloth sown together.

In the spirit of Mrs. Child’s advice, I keep old shirts as rags for dozens of purposes. As I thought about that, I felt good about myself until I got to the part in the book about plucking turkeys and keeping the feathers to make fans and using every part of a slaughtered pig.  On to the next chapter!

How to shop
The shopping advice is priceless. Quote Mrs. Child: “If you are about to furnish a house, do not spend all your money, be it much or little.  Do not let the beauty of this thing and the cheapness of that tempt you to buy unnecessary articles.”  I would add, don’t go shopping at all; instead, go to a movie.  That’s my definition of frugal.

Here’s a gem: “Those who are under the necessity of being economical, should make convenience a secondary object.”  I guess that’s like saying buy what you need, but not what you want.  Separating true needs from mere wants is a difficult but productive activity.  For example, I truly need season tickets to the Utah Jazz and BYU football.  My wife thinks those are wants.  Doesn’t she understand?

Converting kids into productive citizens
Here’s great advice on child rearing: “A child of six years can be made useful and should be taught to consider every day lost in which some little thing has not been done to assist others.”  Amen to that.  I tell my kids that we got them so that we could have some slaves to help around the house, so could you please take out the trash.

Mrs. Child waxes bold when it comes to education:  “In tracing evils of any kind which exist in society, we must be brought up against the great cause of all mischief—mismanagement of education.  If young men and young women are brought up to consider frugality contemptible and industry degrading, it is vain to expect they will at once become prudent and useful when the cares of life press upon them.”  I’m bringing this quote to the next PTA meeting.  Wait a minute.  Could it be that she’s talking to me as a parent, and not just to the local school? 

Maxims for health
Mrs. Child’s health tips are to the point.  “Rise early.  Eat simple food.  Take plenty of exercise.  Never fear a little fatigue.”  No, donuts and soda pop are not simple foods.  Onions are a simple food.  I enjoy onions with almost everything; it’s the misunderstood vegetable, as I am sure Mrs. Child would agree.  In fact, on page 116, she recommends “a raw onion” as “an excellent remedy for the sting of a wasp.”

She even has tips for horse health. To keep the flies off your horse, put indigo weed around the saddle horn or wash the horse with pennyroyal.  And that costs nothing or close to it.


As a final tip, she says ear wax is good for chapped lips (on you, not your horse). That explains why I often have my little finger in my ear.  And certainly ear wax is the frugal choice over expensive lip balm, chapstick, and lip gloss. A penny saved is a penny earned.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Music in You

I sat next to a good friend who was about to conduct a church meeting to start in ten minutes.  Together, we faced the congregation.  A piano stood directly behind us.  We were in mid-conversation when someone started playing.  I stopped talking.  The music was beautiful. 

I turned to my friend and said, “Ah Gretchen is back from her trip.” 

He looked back to see if I was correct, and was astonished.  He said, “How did you know?”

I replied, “Because most people just play the notes; Gretchen plays the music.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Senior, said, “Many people die with their music still in them. Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it, time runs out.”

I learned a lesson from that, one that I have not always applied.  Whatever you do in life, don't just play the notes and go through the motions. Play the music; play the music that is in you…and keep living!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Great Paradox of Creativity

NOTE: This is an excerpt from my recent handbook, Double Your Creativity in 3 Hours

When my college creative writing teacher asked me about my sloppy essay, I explained myself in clear terms: “I am a writer.  Therefore, I must be completely free to create.”  It sounded reasonable then, and maybe you agree with me now.  After all, the “right brain”—the inner artist—operates at peak creativity when the “left brain”—the inner critic—is otherwise occupied or relaxed.  Thus, it only stands to reason that we writers are most creative when no constraints or restrictions are placed on our writing.  Right?

Well...not necessarily.

The great paradox is this: Constraints cultivate creativity. 

It’s true that your inner artist may grow frustrated by intrusions from your inner critic, but outside parameters are just the challenge your right brain relishes.  Imposed parameters can be inspiring!  Even children do better with reasonable limits.  Stay with me on this.

A lesson from Hitchcock 

Psycho is considered one of the greatest horror films of all time, and yet there are only two acts of violence in the entire movie.  Alfred Hitchcock and screenwriter Joseph Stefano were not allowed to show nudity, nor could they show a knife actually penetrating a body.  Gore was not allowed either.  In the now-famous shower scene, the nudity is implied, and the knife is juxtaposed to the body, but is never seen entering the body (or apparently entering the body).  The Hershey’s cocoa swirling down the drain terrified me as a child. 

In a word, Hitchcock & Stefano were forced to be creative in how they wrote and shot that scene.  The constraints helped create a classic.  Today, there are no or few restrictions to the horror genre of film, and what do we usually get?  More and more blood and guts, with little creativity.  The art has not advanced.

Certainly it is possible to be creative without restrictions.  You’ve experienced that in your own writing.  That wonderful creative flow transports you to Writer’s Nirvana.  But constraints can be helpful, too, and even fun.  When I originally wrote this piece for Writer’s Digest, I enjoyed the challenge of whittling it down to 800 words.  In so doing, I found myself refining my little opus so that I better connected with my readers (I hope).

Editors, publishers, and producers—oh my!

Have you ever felt blocked at one time or another by the thought of editorial restrictions?  Perhaps the constraints reminded you of an overly critical parent or a past nasty authority figure, but they can inspire you if you let go of your initial resistant reaction.  With a little re-thinking and setting aside the negative emotions, the block you feel becomes a veritable stepping stone to better writing. 
           
Much of the great music of the past was commissioned; the composer didn’t initiate the project and was confined to the musical forms of the time.  Even hip-hop and rap adhere to some form or format.  Everything artistic has two components—form and content.  The creativity comes in how you craft the content within the restrictions of that form.  Yes, and sometimes the writer transcends that form.  Dickens wrote The Christmas Carol as a newspaper serial that later became the classic book. 

Perhaps, the most restrictive writing form is the sonnet.  Yet, some of world’s most beautiful poetry comes in sonnet form.  I remember the pain and joy of writing a poem in iambic pentameter.  My college creative writing teacher assigned me to write something worthy of the great poet-writer William Wordsworth.  It took me 14 hours to write 14 lines, but I’m a better writer for it.  In addition, three magazines paid me to publish it.  And even though it wasn’t worthy of Wordsworth, it was terrific for Trottier.

Fun with a strait jacket

Years ago, an independent movie producer paid me a paltry sum to write a screenplay.  She gave me a list of twelve parameters, including one car crash with two late model cars, one burn (that is, one character had to be set on fire), and the limitation of just one outdoor location within 50 miles of Los Angeles that was not a building.  I felt so confined.  It wasn’t until I slapped my face a few times and accepted her parameters that the writing process became both a challenge and a joy.

Michaelangelo saw himself as, first and foremost, a sculptor.  When Pope Julius II commissioned him to decorate the Sistine Chapel with frescoes, he was not initially interested or inspired.  And yet, he changed his attitude and the result is considered one of the world’s great works of art.

Do you want to improve your creativity?  Develop and encourage your inner artist and embrace constraints as you would a trusted friend or nurturing parent.  That fresh attitude may free you to be the best writer you can be.

Double Your Creativity in 3 Days: a guide for writers and other fun-loving humans may be purchased at Amazon.com ($7.16 paperback; $2.99 kindle edition) or at my writing web site.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Micro Dating - a new strategy for today's busy couples

My wife and I stumbled on a revolutionary new concept the other day.  Due to the time pressures of work, chauffeuring kids, and doing chores…we were finding that getting together—just the two of us—was becoming more difficult than standing on my nose while writing a blog during a Category Five hurricane.

Then, a miracle happened! 

One day when we realized that we were both free to drive our daughter to flute choir, we decided to have a micro date.  So after dropping our little piper off, we peeled out high-fiving over our precious freedom.  We treasured our 40 minutes together browsing at the bookstore.  Love bloomed in the best-sellers section.  

Love finds a way

But we didn't stop there.  Just the other day, we found 17 minutes and 29 seconds to “take a turn of our estate” (translation: meander through our one-fifth of an acre yard).  We smelled the flowers, watched the bees, picked some tomatoes, and kissed under the maple. And then I sang a verse of “Precious and few are the moments we two can share.”  

Now you can mirco date, too!

Are you having trouble finding time to date your spouse?  Try micro dating, and make every spare minute count. All you need is love.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Superiority of Dogs over Cats

Let’s settle this cat/dog debate right now by taking a little quiz. It's multiple choice, so even cat lovers should be able to at least a couple right. 

• Animal that can catch a Frisbee in midair: a) dog, b) cat, c) beaver.

• Animal best equipped to help police search for a criminal through a swamp: a) cat, b) dog, c) giraffe.

• Animal known for keeping burglars away: a) dog, b) cat, c) box turtle.

• Animal that will bring in a newspaper on command: a) cat, b) dog, c) platypus.

• Animal that will pull a travois [Native American wagon]: a) dog, b) cat, c) really buff bull frog.

• Animal with the most Reader's Digest accounts of saving children from drowning: a) cat, b) dog, c) Cornish game hen.

• Animal that will jump out of a boat and bring back a duck: a) dog, b) cat, c) musk ox.

• Animal that has been shot into space: a) cat, b) dog, c) small elephant.

• Animal least likely to get stuck in a car's fan belt: a) dog, b) cat, c) another cat.

• Animal best suited for savaging door-to-door salespeople on command: a) cat, b) dog, c) pit hamster.

• Animal most likely to drag its owner out of a burning house: a) dog, b) cat, c) snake.

• Animal most likely to guide the blind: a) cat, b) dog, c) bat.

• Animal least likely to claw the stuffing out of your furniture: a) dog, b) cat, c) cougar.

If you answered dog in over 10 instances, you are brilliant and probably overqualified to be a veterinarian. If you answered cat even once, you have difficulty coping with reality.

This quiz is excerpted from Robert Kirby’s column in the Salt Lake Tribune, 8-4-98, with slight revisions and additions by Yours Truly. Image is from http://neat-pets.blogspot.com/2013/07/dogs-and-cats-common-problems.html.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

How I Became Dr. Format

I never set out to become Dr. Format.  Oh, no.  In the mid to late 80s, I was a responsible young marketing executive and doing good work. 

One day, my Muse, Betty (Greek for “get along little dogie”), whispered to me, “Teach.  Write.”  I whispered back, “Let me think about it.”

So I thought about how much I enjoyed teaching marketing to employees and colleagues.  And I recalled how years before, I had made a Super 8 film with friends (just like in the movie entitled Super 8) which won a local film competition.  That led to a screenplay with the same friends called Zorro, the Comedy Adventure.  I contributed little to that script because I was at my real job being responsible, so I didn't receive a writing credit when the eventual film was released: Zorro, the Gay Blade.    

So Dave, what did you decide?

I followed Muse Betty’s advice, and in my spare time (“Sorry, Boss, I can’t stay late tonight”), I earned an M.A. in 1987 at Goddard College (Vermont) by writing two theses.  One thesis was a script and one was a business plan for The Screenwriting Center, later to be named keepwriting.com. 

Years later, I surreptitiously got the script into the hands of Richard Walter (UCLA MFA Screenwriting Program Chair), who, in exchange for an undisclosed amount of halvah (his favorite treat), referred me to a non-WGA signatory agent who got it into the hands of Disney execs.  Readers of The Screenwriter’s Bible will recognize this script as The Secret of Question Mark Cave.  Yes, that one.

Four Disney producers wanted to produce it, but Donald “Doggone it” Deline passed on it.  Not all was lost, however; I still had a shot at a development deal for the sequel to Honey I Shrunk the Kids.  When the title was first mentioned, I responded with unbridled enthusiasm, “Honey, I Faxed the Kids!” They liked it, but I said, “Nah, it’s not visual enough; you’re probably going to have to blow them up” (which is exactly what they ended up doing).  And then they mentioned the Muppets.  I loved the Muppets.

So I prepared a 20-minute pitch and treatment for a Muppet hockey story.  They loved it.  Jim Henson, who was in New York, approved it.  A few days later Mr. Henson died (September 16, 1990), and so did the deal.  In fact, his death effectively dissolved the relationship between Disney and Henson.  A huge abyss between the two companies formed and I fell headlong into it...without my agent.

But Dave, you promised to tell us about Dr. Format

I’m getting to that.  Okay, to cut to the chase, I’ll tell you that I used “Cave” as a sample script and got a deal writing Igor’s Revenge, which was produced but not distributed.  I sold a couple of other scripts as well, including my only farce, KumquatHercules Recycled enjoyed an extremely limited direct-to-video release.  And The Penny Promise won some festival awards and was distributed.

When I started teaching screenwriting classes and workshops, a curious thing happened.  Nearly half the questions from budding writers were formatting questions, and the only formatting book available at the time (by Cole and Haag) was sometimes difficult to understand and apply to spec writing. 

I concocted a plan.  To hush all the formatting questions so I could spend more time in class with pure writing issues, I wrote a 36-page formatting guide entitled Correct Format for Screenplays and Teleplays.  And I took it to The Writer’s Computer Store on Santa Monica Boulevard. 

I parked my Super Beetle and stepped in.  They sold gargantuan personal computers which contained a full 8 megabytes of disk space.  And you could choose between the white typeface or the fashionable orange typeface.  Anyway, due to my previous marketing experience, I saw an opportunity because a lot of screenwriters bought PCs at that store.  I asked the kind and gentle people there if they wouldn't mind taking some copies of my formatting guide on consignment.  They did, and the guide was a hit! 

So Dave, did you get rich?

Nope, but I learned two things: 

Number One: That formatting is an integral part of screenwriting and needs to be understood to be an effective screenwriter.  My formatting guide was helping writers understand that and write better screenplays. 

Number Two:  That my marketing background helped my writing and teaching business.  My workshops became more popular.   In fact, I traveled to Hawaii 17 times to conduct workshops at the University of Hawaii. I grew to love the “high concept” of “Dave takes business trip to paradise.”  Take that, Mr. IRS agent!

In the meantime, ABC TV was about to produce my feature A Window in Time starring Scott Bacula, but got cold feet when the ratings for a time travel TV show dropped.  You can buy the Kindle version of that script for a measly amount at Amazon Kindle.  At about the same time, I secured a development deal with a small production company in "The Valley" for The New Musketeers.   

Then, on a singular cloudy day, a ray of light pierced through my skull, and an idea formed in mind: “Heck Dave, you read the Bible just about every day.  Why don’t you write one?”

So I did. 

But I couldn't find a publisher.  I kept hearing, “Dave, a screenwriting book [by Syd Field] has already been written.  One book for this market is plenty.” 

I retorted, “But mine is not a book.  It’s a ‘bible’ consisting of several books, including Correct Format for Screenplays & Teleplays.

Still no action, so I self-published TheScreenwriter’s Bible in 1994.  That’s twenty years ago today!

Dave, don’t tell me you took it to you-know-where?

Yup.  By this time, The Writer’s Computer Store had become The Writer’s Store. 

They agreed to add the “Bible” to their shelves. That helped me convince other independent bookstores and one chain (Borders) to stock it in the L.A. area.  I love L.A.!  Eventually, Silman-James Press agreed to publish it.  To date, over 300,000 copies have been sold. Thank you, oh kind and gentle people at The Writer’s Store! 

Sometime later, I was told that The Screenwriter’s Bible was one source used to create ScriptThing, an incredible formatting application.  They even sent me a free copy.  I no longer needed Muse Betty; I had ScriptThing.  Later, ScriptThing was acquired by the Write Brothers, and it became Movie Magic Screenwriter, one of the two major script formatting applications in the industry.

By this time, I was enjoying teaching so much that I began to teach college credit courses for the University of California at Irvine and the University of Phoenix.  In the year 2005, I was honored with a distinguished teaching award.

In the meantime, I optioned A Summer with Hemingway’s Twin, but was finding it difficult to find time to write because my teaching had evolved into professional script consulting.

Dave, stop bragging and get on about Dr. Format

Okay, okay.

To be honest, I don’t remember when the concept of Dr. Format first entered my mind, probably while delivering “bibles” to The Writer’s Store, but I can’t prove that.  Maybe it was when Muse Betty returned to me.  I don’t know.  But here is what I remember.

The first screenwriting publication (to my knowledge) was The Freelance Screenwriter’s Forum, published and edited by expert horsewoman and literary genius Shelly Mellott and others.  The first issue was available in 1989.  I was among the first contributors to the publication and sometimes brainstormed with them about the publication’s direction.  They eventually created a new publication (in 1997) and used the name I suggested: Script Magazine—the first magazine devoted to screenwriters.  And I was a senior writer without actually being a senior. 

Shelly wanted a column on formatting and I decided to call myself Dr. Format.  At the time, I thought the column would last two years tops.  I mean, how many formatting questions can there be?  Somewhat not surprisingly, Dr. Format continues to answer questions right up to the present day.  Perhaps you have one you’d like to ask.

Whether you do or don't, keep writing…and keep living!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Hanging Up My Cleats

Another soccer season is in the books (see article below), and so I’ve decided to hang up my cleats for good.  After decades of playing baseball and softball, coaching boys baseball for 6 years, softball for 1, and soccer for 3, it’s time to turn my attention to other things, such as writing my memoirs and eating desserts.  I’m thinking of starting with a brief history of my rotator cuff.


Don’t think that I am over the hill; actually, I’ve plummeted down it.  And I must say, I’ve enjoyed watching boys grow and develop skills over the years, especially my son. I didn’t know a lot about soccer at first, but I was willing to look like an idiot so my son could play.  It’s been worth it.  After today’s game, I received a nice card from a boy thanking me for coaching him for two years. And inside was a $10 Subway gift card.  I held back my tears, but my nose blew.  Out with the hankie. 


In all of our lives, there are endings and beginnings.  Life closes a door, and God opens a window.  I think I feel a little more alive when I can do something worthwhile that involves other people, even if I look like an idiot. Keep living!

WOLFPACK RIDES TSUNAMI TO VICTORY

American Fork (AP).  After being defeated by the Tsunami earlier in the year, the Wolfpack ended their season with sound, skillful play in all areas and a powerful left-footed goal by Peyton Sampson at the 21 minute mark.  The Wolfpack defense was like a powerful dike that refused to let the Tsunami overflow or even leak through.  An aggressive offense had numerous shots on goal, supported by midfielders that, like Energizer Wolves, just kept on going.

The Wolfpack finished with an 8-4-2 season record and remained after the game for photos and interviews. According to midfielder and defender Alex Trottier, “Defeat was not an option.”  They were also honored with donuts by the Matt Jackson Press Club and received trophies for their sterling play. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Magical Chocolate Bunny

The crime

“Who ate the last chocolate bunny?”  It was like a voice crying in the wilderness.  One of my children appeared to be in terrible pain.

So I asked, “Did anyone accidentally eat the last chocolate bunny?”

Everyone shook their heads.  “Wasn’t me.”  “Not I.”  “Don’t look at me.”  “What chocolate bunny?”


“Did anyone eat it on purpose?”  The responses were the same.  Hmmm, what to do….

The investigation

Since every single face, especially mine, was adorably innocent in expression, and knowing that children are completely incapable of fibbing, and further understanding that my wife would only eat it if it were made of dark chocolate, I meandered through the kitchen, Inspector Clouseau style, looking for clues. 

Soon, I noticed that the lid was off the red jar where the chocolate bunny lived and there was just the tiniest trace of chocolate on the door knob of the door that led outside.  “Ah ha!” I said with a start.

My wife was getting a kick out of this and almost started laughing. And then I explained to everyone what obviously must have happened. 

“Clearly, the bunny in question was afraid someone was going to eat him, so he hopped out of the red jar and onto the floor.  From there, he leaped with super-rabbit strength and managed to turn the doorknob.”

“He’s a magical bunny!” my wife quipped.

“Yes, he is, or was.” 

“Was?” someone asked.

The case is closed

“It rained last night.  Heavily.  The bunny only got as far as our driveway when he started to melt. I think you will find traces of the bunny–“

“--The amazing, magical chocolate bunny,” my wife added.

“Yes, indeed.  And right now, he is so amazing that there are bits of him all up and down our street, and that means we now live on a…magical street where most anything can happen!”  I waived my arms like a fairy godmother when I said “anything.”

You, dear reader, might think that my conclusion is far-fetched, but you are mistaken.  Surely you don’t believe a member of my happy family accidentally gobbled up that poor chocolate bunny in order to stay alive during the long rainy night?  Impossible!  What’s that?  I was nowhere near that red jar last night. 

May your day be as magical as ours, and keep living!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Toilet Paper Panic of '79

1979.  Gas shortages.  And rumors of other kinds of shortages gripped the nation.  Well, maybe “gripped” is the wrong word; maybe “gave rise to reasonable concerns” is closer to the truth.  In short, we were nervous.

Humiliated in public

One night during this “nervous” period, I shopped prudently at a large grocery store.  Among my purchases was a case of toilet paper.  While at the cashier’s station, the woman behind me spoke rudely to the teenager behind her, and she made a snide remark to me. “Hey Poopy Pants with the lifetime supply of TP, get a move on.  Ha! Ha! Ha!” 
  

My measured response

This inspired my dark side, and you’ll have to forgive me for my devilish comeback.  I picked up the case of toilet paper, hugged it, and laid it on the cashier’s conveyor belt; then turning to the woman with feigned innocence, I whispered confidentially, “Did you hear about the toilet paper shortage?”  

Mischief, thou art afoot! 

Her eyes widened and she jerked her cart out of line and trucked towards the toilet paper aisle muttering, “Toilet paper.”  Others got the idea, and the panic was on.  A glance backwards revealed several shopping carts clearly exceeding the speed limit in a race to the toilet paper aisle. I wasn’t counting on this reaction, so I skedaddled out of there.

Once outside, I peered through the window.  The toilet paper aisle was now jammed with carts, and the rude woman wrestled the teenager over a case of Charmin Ultra Soft.  I smiled with perverse delight. 


There is a moral to this story, my friends.  People panic easily, so it is a good idea to have a supply of food and supplies on hand before shortages or an emergency occur.  Keep living!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Paradox of the Plan of Happiness

Draw a circle at the middle of a piece of paper.  That represents you and a precious gift God has given to you—your agency or free will.  Now draw a sun at the upper right corner and some rain clouds at the lower left corner.  The sun represents true happiness and freedom.  The clouds represent bondage, outside discipline, and unhappiness.  Now draw an arrow from you up to the sun and another arrow from you to the rain clouds.

This is how we began a recent Family Night at our house.  Our kids were fixated on the brownies we were going to make afterward, but gradually, through the use of questions and the assurance that they would be able to lick the spoon and brownies bowl afterwards, they became more and more interested in the following ideas.  

The two paths

We are free to choose two paths.  The path of discipline and responsibility leads to true happiness and freedom. Once we see that, our attitude about that path can become positive and even joyful.  The other path leads to outside discipline and/or a form of bondage or addiction to drugs, habits, or negative emotions.  The outside discipline becomes necessary when we don’t develop inner discipline.  I gave my kids an example: “That’s like Mom sending you to your room until you can find the inner discipline to be as sweet as a frosted brownie.” 

God influences and encourages us in many ways to be responsible, but we sometimes give in to tendencies and temptations that take us the wrong direction, that take us away from God and true happiness.  “Now,” I said to my children, “I’d like to ask you a key question: which is the easy path?” 

The paradox

Which path is the easy one?  My kids were certain they knew.  Obviously, the lazy path is the easy path.  My wife responded, “Well, it is the easy path…at first.  Eventually, it becomes the hard path.”  Yes, the easy path is the hard path—that’s the paradox.  The responsible path ends up being an easier road.    

Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Does that mean following Jesus is easier than sitting on your buttinski eating brownies?  I think it means that He helps us bear up under our responsibilities through his grace. It also means that when we find ourselves going the wrong direction, we can turn around and move forward.  That’s repentance. 

A prisoner repents

We have a friend who currently resides in a state penitentiary.  He did something that was wrong and lost most of his freedom for awhile.  He’ll tell you that it’s hard being a prisoner.  Fortunately, one reason Jesus came to earth was to set the prisoners free.  We can repent of non-productive choices and get on the right path, the path of happiness and freedom. 

Here are the words of my friend, the prisoner: “I have no problem now working hard. I believe in doing what I can, with what I have, where I am at.  I have learned that we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”  That’s his attitude now.  He wants to work and be responsible because he knows it will make him so much happier.  Now listen to him describe the attitude that created his problems and led him down the wrong path:

“I used to be a slacker.  I could not keep a job because I would not show up on time or perform poorly on purpose.  Now I see that even a tiny job in prison is something to appreciate.”  It seems evident that the lazy or irresponsible path can become the hard path. 

At this point in our family discussion, one of my children said, “When I am honest and do my chores, it feels like the sun is shining inside me.”  I couldn’t think of a better conclusion, so I said, “Let’s have a prayer, make some brownies, and keep living. 

Note: The quote from the prisoner is by permission.  “The Statue of Responsibility” is a related blog entry and the first entry on this blog.