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I feel the world whizzing by me every day. Hundreds of channels to surf, ads to click through, headlines to scan, postings to peruse, and emails to delete, not to mention the physical highway traffic to wedge me along to my next location, where I will once again plug in and/or tune out. Breathe.

The noise overwhelms us until it becomes a static hum underlying the occasional real experiences of life. We all have our own personal noise threshold. We reach a point where we draw a line in the sand. If we’re lucky, there’s actual sand under our feet. Well, not me. I burn too easy. Very pale.

The noise also challenges me when I want to share something, like this blog post. I suspect that a good number of my friends and family won’t even see those announcements at all. Social media experts encourage you to post often, because people go online at different times of the day, but at the same time, you don’t want to over-do it to the point where your Facebook followers actually follow you to Trader Joes to thank you with a punch in your actual face.

Plus, you only get to see like eight friends on your timeline, thanks to the enigma of a Facebook algorithm that I can only imagine also determines what numbers will win the lottery. I know some of my friends really want to see what I post, but they just can’t win the Facebook lottery.

Get to the point, Dan!

Okay, already! Here’s my point. I became very targeted about my TV watching over the last few years. I don’t have time to waste on a show any more if it’s not entertaining. However, once in a while, if I like what a show is attempting, or I like the people involved, I’ll give it a little time. After all, Seinfeld famously took a couple of years to reach the right rhythm.

I ask you to do the same with me. Specifically, I want you to sign up for my email list (click the link on the menu at the top of this page). What do you get?

You get me!

Follow me as I develop my web series chops. You may have already enjoyed my Baby Time! Series. If not, you can watch the whole hilarious, unfinished series here -> Baby Time!

What can you expect? Well, my goal continues to be thoughtful, funny stories. But, more specifically, here is what you can expect over the ensuing months:

- CO-HABITS – updates for my new web series that explores the quirky habits and conflicts of long-term cohabitation.

- Blog posts - You know some of those are alone worth the price of admission -- which is nothing!

- Future series like my Christmas-themed series (the ho-ho-hos are still in development).

Think of it this way …

In the worst case, you will simply need to delete my email on occasion, unless of course your inbox has 300,000 emails sitting in it because you never delete any emails. My wife practices this habit, and it drives me insane. Delete or categorize as you go, and it will be clean! I get freaked out if my inbox has more than 50 emails in it. Does that make me a psycho? I hope not. Better check with the purple troll that I trapped under my toaster, though, just to be sure.

On the other hand, you may grow to enjoy my posts. Ideally, you will look forward to them, and perhaps love them so much that you want to send them to your friends. Of course, I hope you never share anything you don’t like. I only want you passing it on if it’s working – if you really love it.

Ultimately, I want to improve, and I want to know I’m improving as a writer and a filmmaker if people naturally want to share what I create. The more people genuinely spread the word, the more I will see that what I’m doing is working. Or, not, and then maybe the idea needs rethinking.

So, I encourage you to sign up for updates. It’s simple. Click here -> Join My Email List! I promise to only send out emails when I have something I believe in my heart and soul carries some value for sharing.

And if you’re still not convinced, I will simply ask if you can say no to this face.

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ARGUE OR AVOID

Happy Valentine’s Day! Will you be my valentines, all fellow humans of earth? Is it too much to ask every person in the world to make every other person in the world their Valentine? Not the romantic kind, but the kind of Valentine you made with glue and sparkles in Second Grade. Valentine’s Day in grade school was all about inclusion and friendship as the teachers forced us all to get along. The world needs a similar group activity.

Despite reasonable pleas of “hey, it’s the 21st century,” no one seems to want to take seriously the opportunity to advance as a society. We still seem stuck the evolutionary reaction to conflict: fight or flight, or the modern version, argue or avoid. No in between, because we are all animals protecting our territory and tribe.

Reasonable people agree that we all could benefit from a little more genuine connection with our common humanity, and a little less of the bitter instinct to embrace conflict, confusion, and chaos. Unfortunately, we stumble upon too many opportunities to throw reason out the window. Then, we end up throwing other things out the window, such as throwing screams out the car window at traffic, or shouting down someone on the Internet who believes healthcare is a compassionate human right (i.e., Microsoft Windows).

I believe compassion should be our default response to all conflicts we face, no matter how wrong it feels inside to show compassion. I struggle daily with this concept as I try to make my way through the worst traffic city in the US (according to traffic expert and gentle Wall Street critic, The Financial Times). Add a few annoyingly cautious drivers who want to make sure six lanes of traffic come to a screeching halt before they can safely merge, and I too often launch into my adult tantrum, complete with frantic arm waving and mouth foaming. I try to remind myself to love the person. Just because she is in my way, doesn’t make her less of a person. She is a human being that wants to be loved, with a whole life of struggles, mistakes, and victories. She doesn’t drive poorly because she wants to undermine my sanity. She barely even knows me.

Finding compassion will remain a challenge due to our love of arguing. Admit it. You love to argue. I know I love arguing. It’s a cinch to start an argument. Just let your emotions boil to the surface and blame someone else for it. Of course, I also hate arguing. It’s uncomfortable. It’s scary at times. Your pride is at stake. It’s the reason that so many arguments with your spouse end in hurt, confusion, and if you’re lucky, some sort of personal growth -- painful, painful, gut-wrenching, ego-crushing personal growth.

Arguing with a stranger is even worse. You’re so much more vulnerable because you don’t know if it could turn violent, especially online! That’s the worst, by the way, when the angry commenter comes through your computer screen and chokes you. You have to get a new computer, and you feel embarrassed when they stop to comment on your messy apartment.

I feel lucky in my marriage, because the love is time-tested and intentional, and the arguments are a breeze. My wife and I use a specific dialog technique to resolve the difficult issues. The process creates a structure to the conversation that slows down the argument to a crawl, while protecting each person’s vulnerabilities and emotions. It’s something we learned in therapy 18 years ago, and we still find it extremely useful and helpful. The amazing result of this process is that you feel safe to bring up deeper issues, and you both remain allies to each other instead of bitter combatants. You also discover in most cases that you are not really arguing about the issue you think you are.

Many couples default to the standard argument technique of raising voices, insulting, and threatening. Eventually someone apologizes, and perhaps they engage in some sort of, uh, activity to make-up for it. The other technique involves avoiding the issues altogether - pushing them deep down inside you until you are traumatically numb, and completely unaware that you even have issues.

The numb avoidance technique is my favorite, because it leads to the oddest behavior. People become like robots that forgot their programming instructions, meandering around the house, occasionally remembering to stock the fridge with groceries, and dazed in their American suburban existence.

My upcoming web series Co-Habits (about the absurd interactions of cohabitation) celebrates the raised voices technique, as well as the numb avoidance technique. So, you have that to look forward to enjoying!

I chose to focus on those interactions because they highlight our absurdity as a modern society. Those simple arguments contain some of the same DNA as our conflicts with friends and strangers. Despite my successes in my marriage, I still follow the numb avoidance technique when it comes to those social issues I hold dear. We can’t seem to find the “in between” – the place where we could find compassion for each other and our fellow man together. It’s too bad we can’t engage the same dialog technique for political arguments.

I suppose it’s too idealistic to consider opposing groups of people could sit down and hold a real dialog with feelings and exploration of inner motivations. Sure, it’s difficult to get millions of people in the same room for such an event, but the real hurdle would be getting everyone to open up that place of compassion required to really hear the opposing group’s experience. Plus, if everyone could somehow magically keep honest, you would quickly see the power imbalance and inequality as the real barrier. Those who change the rules so they can keep most of the money would slip out the back door.

I suspect that majority of earthlings want so many of the same basic things. If you look deep under all the rhetoric and arguments of politics, and under the complicated dramas we weave in our personal lives, it all comes down to feeling autonomous, feeling loved, and sharing our lives with those that we love. It’s what we want from our partner, and I feel it’s what we should have with everyone on the planet.

So, please, go to the Hallmark store and get a few billion Valentine’s Day packs. They’re cheaper in bulk. Pass them out – nicely – and everyone will get a cookie when the bell rings.

If you disagree with my idea, please don’t bother arguing with me unless you are willing to start a dialog of vulnerability! I’m just not in the mood!

(door slam)

#PLEASELIKEUSSOWECANSELLTOYOU

With another year of football now over, and a sufficient amount of groundwork prepared for future violent concussion-induced rampages, let's reflect on the big event - the culmination of years of training, skill, strategy, and strenuous physical endurance required to make the cut. You know where I’m going… let's talk commercials. Before I get into my take on the advertisers, I feel compelled to make a statement about the game itself. The Super Bowl is such a bitter-sweet time for me. My family had a long tradition of getting together for the game, putting money into the pool, and of course, the eating that accompanied every emotional memory from my youth. Ah, the homemade chili, the sloppy joes, the bottomless spinach dip, and the glorious chocolate chip cookies. As I got older, the tradition became even more bitter-sweet, mostly because I could drink an IPA with my cookies. Then I moved away, and the Super Bowl was no longer the same. I realized without the family aspect, the event just didn’t carry the same anticipation.

Other factors added to the demise of excitement – mostly learning about the issues with concussions, the scandals of violence, the huge amounts of money going into the owners’ pockets without proper post-career medical support for player injuries, the exploitation of college players, the hidden dangers of pee-wee football… I could go on if I wasn’t too lazy to research it. Americans are raised on the tradition of football. We all keep the cycle going. By watching the game, we essentially support all the dysfunctions of the sport.

Despite my uneasy conscience about the sport of football, I watched the game. It’s an opportunity to be social, and what better way to socialize than enjoying the best creative work money can buy. I’m one of the 78% looking forward to the real entertainment – where today’s modern storytellers go to make a buck. Commercials seem harmless, and can even be fun. But, should we say no to advertising for the same reason we should say no to football? Am I perpetuating a dysfunction of our greedy society by watching these commercials? Can we save humanity by rejecting both?

People want to have an emotional experience. We’re desperate for real emotional experiences. It’s part of the reason men love sports, because it simulates various emotional experiences without the discomfort of intimacy. A great commercial combines music, emotion, story, and style to take you to the deep landscape of your own memory and desire like a mini-movie. When done right, we get a little jolt from watching it. It holds the drama and comedy in one compact moment.

We seem to need commercials. Life is so fast that we must get our emotional experiences in 30-second busts. However, let’s never forget the whole purpose of advertising: to get our money. They need to do everything they can to use those emotions to connect us with the item in question. What’s the difference between that and a door-to-door salesman? If someone comes to the door with magazines or the gift of Jesus Christ, most people grab for a shotgun, or if you really want to terrify them, family vacation movies. But, with commercials, we hang onto them like a family crest.

Sure, it’s fun to share a good commercial amongst friends and family. Oh, how that animal made me laugh. Say it again. It’s making me laugh again. The whole camel hump day joke seemed cute the first year, but when my dad sent me his own hump day fan art using scissors, paste and crayons, I was ready to cut that hump right off.

We have the real power with advertisers. Companies NEED us. Without us, they don’t make any money. That’s why they spend millions of dollars to get our attention (talk about a sign of desperation) - they need us all. Even with the convenience of fast-forwarding through the commercials made possible by DVRs, the advertisers still spend obscene piles of cash throughout the year to impose their brand in between TV twists and resolutions. It’s the only reason that TV can make all those quality shows (as well as the other non-quality shows) – they get advertising money.

And now advertisers are trying to take full advantage of social media, with their hashtags on the commercials, and their Facebook ads in the name of your friends. Every time I see an ad for Walmart with the heading “Your friends X, Y and Z like Walmart,” I go nuts. Don’t those people know that Walmart hoards as much wealth as the bottom half of our country owns put together, and that they fight to avoid paying their workers a living wage? I guess their advertising painted a strong enough picture to cloud those realities. It’s also a reminder that we need to be vigilant. If we don’t give them money, they fail. If we all decided to stop buying from Walmart, the company would crash, and maybe mom and pop stores could flourish once again.

I’m just as guilty because I used the #withdad hash tag during the Super Bowl, even if it was only to poke fun. By the way, they really went after the dad quadrant this year. Good dads. Crying dads. And dads who let their sons die from accidents for – I’m guessing – the insurance money? Here are a few of my thoughts I put to Twitter:

https://twitter.com/DanGorski/status/562054557044178944

https://twitter.com/DanGorski/status/562054058039463936

https://twitter.com/DanGorski/status/562044616468209664

What? That commercial wasn’t for Pizza Hut? It was for domestic violence? Well, I’m assuming it was AGAINST domestic violence. It probably was one of the more effective commercials, if you weren’t socializing and everyone stopped to listen. It’s chilling to watch on the Internet from the quiet of your home office, but in the midst of all the festivities, I suspect it didn’t have the same effect, especially for the people experiencing domestic violence. Regardless, it was mostly an odd year, outside of the wonderfully awesome Polar Bear with the sombrero. So hopeful and adorable!

It’s difficult to ignore advertising online, with the hope we can get a good deal or a coupon by clicking their links on social media. Or, in the case of the Super Bowl, we just want to be entertained. The commercials have become just as ingrained in our psyche as the game itself – all part of the comfortable routine of ceremony.

I still wonder - can we shake ourselves from that comfort? Can we summon our bravery to forge a new path? If not for ourselves, then for the sake of protecting our children from concussions, or from the easy allure of a greedy conglomerate who just happens to support injustice and inequality for the sake of larger profits?

One more reason I hate advertising is because I love advertising. That’s right. I laugh and I cry. I need the 30-second burst of story. It’s a reality, but I do have a dream that some day our society can reward storytellers directly for their stories, instead of buying Tylenol for ten cents cheaper at Walmart in exchange for a sugary, manipulative commercial about home-town family values. In my dream, we pay storytellers directly, so they can manipulate us without the sales agenda.

YES, AND...

Remember when you were a kid, and everyone was enjoying a game of Ghost in the Graveyard? And along comes little Sammy Snot-Nose, who doesn’t want to play the game. Who knows why. Maybe his mom made him eat one too many meatloaf. Or maybe he didn’t get his Ritalin that day. So, Sammy starts telling people where the ghost is hiding. He trips people as they run from the ghost, and interrupts everyone’s conversation until he is the main focus. At that point, everyone is forced to stop playing to figure out what to do. Either you decide to play his game to make him happy, or you give up, go home and watch the Love Boat. At The Second City, we learned the magic of “Yes, and…” For the non-improvisers living among us, the phrase is a simple tool to help build a decent scene. When your scene partner makes a choice, it helps everyone on stage if you just play along. After all, who wants to play with a grown-up version of Sammy Snot-Nose? Your response to whatever they say or do should at the very least agree with the premise of their choice (thus the “yes”), and respect it.

For example, if they walk out saying “Thanks for the ride, Dad!” you should move forward as that character’s dad in your mind. If you responded “Don’t speak to me that way. I’m your mother!” you might get a laugh, but you’re also slowing down the dramatic momentum of the scene. Of course, excellent improvisers can turn any choice into magic. In the hands of experts, those two opposite statements could become the most nuanced and poignant satire exploring modern roles in the family or issues of transgender identity.

After a waste of time improv show full of Sammy Snot-Nose clones, the audience will most likely greet the improvisers in the backstage alley for an improvised beating. On the other hand, if everyone on stage builds on each choice instinctively, the team tends to tap into some very powerful subconscious parts of our brain, and all the crazy unique choices connect together to surprise the audience (as well as the improvisers). Thus, the magic.

To me, the ability to let go of control and say “Yes, and…” to life is the secret to happiness. The last episode of the first season (available on 9/26/13) deals with a troubled pregnant lady at a bus stop. It was a small part of the original Baby Time sketch that I wrote back in 1998. But, then I added a reprise of the character that made this week’s episode just a setup for a story payoff later. In this week’s scene, he swats her away like an annoying pest. He doesn’t have the time or patience to deal with her insanity. However, when he sees her again in the later scene, it’s a second chance to try a different approach with her. He then responds with more of a “Yes, and…” mindset, and the end result helps him realize that he’s better off letting go of his control-freak nature.

Unfortunately, I have a feeling, that payoff won’t become a reality. Episode 6 is most likely the last produced episode of the series. I’ve worked on the web series for over 3 years. I’ve learned a great deal about this emerging medium, and the possibilities. I could continue on making the rest of the Baby Time! series, but it would require a fairly large budget. It makes more sense to apply what I’ve learned to a new project that can be completed for a small budget in a shorter amount of time.

So, for now, I figured I would include the remaining story, in case you want to see how the series would end. Below is a rough layout of the remaining seasons, the characters in each episode, and the overall emotional journey of our main character Richard. Enjoy!

Season 2 (Episodes 7 – 12) During the next 6 episodes, Richard heads to Oak Park to track down the missing mid-wife.

Episode 7 - They hop on the METRA train to Oak Park where the mid-wife lives. On the train, a couple only pretending to be therapists force Richard into a very unorthodox therapy session, and still manage to uncover his hidden issues with his mother-in-law Chelsea.

Episode 8 – Exhausted, Richard falls asleep on the train, waking up at the end of the line in Geneva, IL. Cabbie Joe reveals that he has also been banned from taking cabs, so they must “borrow” a school bus from a nearby school, where two kids torment Richard.

Episode 9 - Richard finally arrives in Oak Park, but a snappy musical number reveals that the mid-wife is too busy with her dysfunctional family to fulfill her duties.

Episode 10 - Richard and Chelsea knock on doors to find a ride back to Anna in Lincoln Park, interrupting many strange characters, until a loner lends Richard a girl’s bike.

Episode 11 – While riding the bike to the EL station, Richard has a nervous breakdown about failing to get the midwife, but Anna talks him back to sanity.

Season 3 (Episodes 12 – 16) During the next 5 episodes, Richard rushes back home, but Anna is gone.

Episode 12 - Richard encounters the siren-like citizens of downtown Oak Park as they try to prevent him from leaving their perfect world, and Cabbie Joe shows up just in time to save him from being hit by the Soccer Mom’s car (from Episode 2).

Episode 13 - Richard and Cabbie Joe wait for the EL train, while two old guys complain in a very matter-of-fact way about marital problems caused by a live-in space alien.

Episode 14 – When the EL train stops for maintenance, Richard and Cabbie Joe cut through a cemetery, while a mourner begs Cabbie Joe to help her get revenge on her dead husband’s ghost.

Episode 15 - Cabbie Joe runs into his estranged father at the park, and he and Richard embark on an elaborate psychological game to borrow his vehicle.

Episode 16 - Richard and Cabbie Joe finally make it home on the dad’s golf cart, only to find that Anna has been rushed to the hospital with complications. When Richard gets stuck in Cubs traffic, all hope seems lost, until he gets in an accident and the ambulance gets him to the hospital.

Season 4 (Episodes 17 – 20) In the last season, Richard beats himself up as a failure, but some characters from earlier in the series return to help him rethink his approach to life, just in time for the birth of his child.

Episode 17 - Richard dreams about an infomercial parody selling Loopholes for Catholics – and wakes up ready to reconsider his view on control. The doctor asks Richard to convince his wife to have a C-Section, but Richard insists the doctor respect the choices of his wife and her Doula.

Episode 18 - Richard crawls through the Emergency Room of the hospital in pain past all the characters from the series, until the Father Wilczek (from Episode 2) almost murders him because he “knows too much.”

Episode 19 - Richard runs into Preggo from the bus stop again as she’s about to give birth, but instead of avoiding her, he helps her deliver her baby.

Episode 20 - Finale – Richard makes it to Anna just as she’s giving birth. The entire episode is a rock anthem with choreography detailing the birth of his baby, resolving all his conflicts, and annoying the masochistic doctor. Richard finally learns to enjoy life as it occurs, instead of living with the false notion that he can control everything.

LE DÉSACCORD ET LA VOIX

I liked 2 things right away about Jackie. 1) The Disagreement

Our first argument came when I asked for her number. I remember standing on our friend's driveway, while I stumbled over some awkward jokes. We didn’t have any paper or pen to write down her number, so I decided to memorize it. She did not approve of this ridiculous idea. The moment could have been one of those playful, flirty disagreements, except that it wasn't. Instead, we argued about it for real. Clearly, she wasn’t afraid to challenge me. A worthy opponent. Feisty. Combative. Confident. I didn’t really process any of those thoughts in the moment. At the time, I thought, “Who does she think she is?!” Ah, young love.

Eventually I reshaped that first fight in my mind as downright romantic. Cue the orchestra. Which reminds me of point number...

2) The Voice

She studied voice. As soon as I heard she was an opera singer, the cool factor of meeting her went way up. My mind filled with all kinds of crazy romantic notions of what it would be like to date a Soprano. We met as a group in the high society wheeler-dealer social club known as the Old Orchard Mall Houlihan’s. All 15 people attended that night simply so that we could meet, and when it came time for introductions, she and her roommate were introduced in the wrong order. My disappointment was immediate. Why did the opera singer have to be the tall and lanky frizzy-haired girl? Why couldn’t it be the cute girl with the gorgeous eyes? And then, seconds later the farce was over. The mistaken identity was clarified, and lucky for me, the cute girl was indeed the opera singer.

As we dated, she educated me on opera - the history, the culture, and the art form itself. My experiences playing trumpet in a youth orchestra and marching band molded my thinking on opera. Quite frankly, I hated it. As I mentioned, I loved the cool factor of dating an opera singer, but I wasn’t sold on the actual music. Why ruin some beautiful classical music with singing? Of course, as I learned much more about opera, I started to appreciate it. Her music score looked technically challenging, not to mention that she would have to sing in German, French and Italian. And the stories told grand tales of love, comedy and scandal, and that’s just in the first scene. The reality of this opera singer beat most of my expectations regarding the cool factor.

Then it came time to attend a recital. I had heard all about the topic of opera, but finally I was going to hear some actual opera. They had a little party where all the students performed. I thought I knew how an opera singer should sound. And her classmates filled that expectation for the most part. Some of them clearly had some work to do. They were studying, so I wasn’t surprised to hear some righteous clams and back-tingling voice cracks. Some showed extreme promise. But, for the most part, they all sang with a sound that I considered about right for an opera student. Then Jackie sang. Sweet Jesus Cakes! She blew them all away. I don’t mean she was more technically proficient (although she was). I’m referring to her pipes. Her vocal cords. Her natural instrument. Anyone with two ears and a human soul could hear the amazingly perfect and deeply powerful quality to her voice.

My small-minded pre-conceived notion of the romance of dating an opera singer became immediately eclipsed into oblivion by the reality of the magic and core-shaking power of her voice. Curtain Down! I still consider myself fortunate to hear that lovely voice from time to time around the house. Even if it’s just singing a little ditty about our dog.

Conflict + Opera = Sketch

I enjoy reliving the memories of those first years of our relationship – the conflict and what I learned about opera. When I wrote the original sketch that became Episode 5 of the web series (out on Thursday 9/19/13), I used many of the details I remember from her days studying voice. It’s sort of like a shout-out to those memories. Hey, memories: you don’t go changin’! Plus, I loved the idea of trouble-makers with the admirable intention of supporting the arts.

Then, when I started writing the web series script, this sketch arguing for more arts education seemed like a perfect fit, especially in light of my wife’s experiences with holding on to a job as a music teacher over the past decade. As I’ve discussed often in this blog, the public education system has proven to be a continuing challenge given the loss of financial and political support. It’s no secret that the education system in our country has been slashed and burned, and the arts are always the first casualty in the budget. Despite the challenges, my wife happens to be a fantastic teacher (teacher of the year for LAUSD in fact!), so she's managed to continue working throughout all the budget cuts.

Even if she wasn't working, no one could ever take away that stunning, heart-shaking voice -- winding its way through the rooms of our house, over our Chow Chow's wagging tail, and into my grateful ears.

It’s so romantic, it makes me want to argue.

McDONALD'S IS MY LIFE!!!!

A classic tale from the long tradition of Gorski folklore ends with the title of this blog. It’s a tale of a teen full of the lethal cocktail of angst and processed French fries. Let’s head back to the 80s, as I do often behind the tears of a broken man…. My parents made their car available to me in high school. It provided an opportunity to learn the value of responsibility and to avoid the cost of a daily bus fare. It was an 82 Chevy Malibu, two-toned, with a sweet, sweet 80’s-style boxy shape. And the radio? Well, I could only get the soul station on AM. But, I was more than happy to cruise with the likes of Cool and the Gang, Chaka Khan, Prince, Anita Baker, and of course George Clinton. Although, I eventually did expand my musical options by installing a portable tape recorder on the floor hump, connected to 2 plastic speakers from an old record player.

The deal in that first year of driving was clear. You go to school and you come straight home. You don’t go off the path, which consisted of a 15-minute drive down Dempster Avenue between our house in Morton Grove and Notre Dame High School for Boys in Niles. In my mind, I still stand by my choices on that fateful day.

It was on that day, that I made the decision to stop somewhere on the way home. Now, I ask you, if you are driving down Dempster, and you stop at McDonald’s – ON DEMPSTER – are you leaving the path? I think not! You have not made a detour, you have simply stopped momentarily on that path. And for good reason. You stopped for sustenance; to gather much needed energy for a continued safe journey – energy that helps you stay alert for the remaining 7 minutes of your trip. Admittedly, other stimuli clouded my motivations that day, because the stop served a dual purpose. It served a social purpose. McDonald’s was not just a place to gather, but a symbolic representation of freedom itself. The location was a hub of excitement – a place for some quality time with your friends, for sharing stories, and for catching the eye of girls you hope to get the nerve to meet some day.

And so, this perfect storm of new-found freedom, teen hormones and the power of a V4 engine resulted in a surprising conflict at home. My parents were FURIOUS that I didn’t follow their rules of straight to school and back. But, as I already established, the stop is technically included as a part of that straight path. In fact, we had just learned in math that a line is made up of an infinite series of points. So, using science, I could justify stopping at the gas station, Par King minature golf park, or the forest preserve for that matter, and I would have fulfilled the requirement of staying on that path.

Regardless, my parents clarified what they meant by “straight home” through a calm series of angry screams. As a teen, though, it was my duty to protest, to negotiate, and to justify. And so, after our informative and lively exchange of ideas, they outlawed McDonald’s specifically. Naturally, I had to express my outrage, resulting in the now historic phrase “But, McDonald’s is my life!!!”

We laugh about it now. It does come off as a bit ridiculous to be so passionate about fast food. Luckily, we’ve all grown past those days. Or have we?

If you think about, we’ve all seen similar insane outbursts from adults. Put a middle-aged suited man in at an airport gate with an abundance of justifications for getting what he wants, while some ticket agent must kindly inform him that he can’t have it, and you soon find yourself in the Orchestra Seating section of a full-out adult melt-down. Or, make a simple joke to your friend at 9:30pm when they haven’t eaten dinner yet, and prepare for a snippy onslaught of chirps and yelps that serve as the human equivalent of barking.

Even as an adult, I find myself slipping into that same helpless, freak-out once in a while. It feels just like the good old days of childhood. That’s the magic of a regression. All it takes is some minor trigger, often unrelated to the reality of the moment, but powerful enough to evoke some memory, and we regress.

In Episode 4 (available Thursday 9/12), we meet Cabbie Joe, who could be described as a bit immature, as well as delusional in terms of his own talents. So, when he clashes with Drunk Tom, it makes for some fun regression for them both. And it acts as another challenge for our future father to deal with feuding adult-children.

Grab a burger and fries, and check out all the latest web series episodes here.

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By the way, I’m interested in the phenomenon of regression because of how it’s rendered me helpless to my past, and created many challenges in romantic and work relationships. My wife and I learned more about the issue in a book called “Grow Yourself Back Up” by John Lee. I highly recommend it, especially if you are a parent. Aside from helping heal the past, the book can help prevent passing your old issues onto your children, and thus breaking the cycle of confusion.

MEDITATIONS ON #$@&%

Some people curse to shock. Some curse because they don’t know any other way to express themselves. Some people just enjoy feeling the curl of the tongue and the brush of the teeth across the lips required to formulate those specially categorized words. I never really cursed much growing up. We called them wallpaper words because my parents never cursed, except that one time when putting up wallpaper. As I started to pay attention, I noticed that my grandparents cursed on occasion. I still remember my shock - shock I tell you - after hearing my grandmother refer to the woman in the checkout line as “asshole.” This moment solidified in my impressionable memory for two reasons: 1) it was the first time I ever heard that term referring to a female. I honestly thought it was a male-specific word. 2) And, of course, I didn’t understand how my cheerful, old-fashioned, house-dress-wearing Nana could transform into a double-crossed kingpin.

I remember the first time I ever used the F-word. I was playing in the dirt with cars in front of my house with the other neighborhood kids. As I recall, I cleverly disguised it with other nonsense syllables so I could let it “slip” - like I didn’t even realize it was a word. None of the other kiddies laughed. They all excused themselves at once, like a bunch of henchmen calmly abandoning their colleague with the mob boss so he can put the hammer down. Next thing I knew, I had a bar of soap in my mouth. It tasted fresh, like Irish Spring!

I faced an ongoing investigation of curiosity throughout my swear-ducation in grade school. Every time I asked the other kids what the word meant, instead of telling me, they would laugh and tell everyone I didn’t know what the word meant. Even after everyone was done laughing, I would persist – okay, it’s funny. I get the joke. How ridiculous that I don’t know what it means. Yes, yes. Now, what does it mean? More laughing would continue the vicious cycle. I only remember one time getting an honest answer, and for that, I thank Paul Flood and his careful, clinical explanation of the term bufu.

As I got older, I noticed cursing everywhere - kids, parents, teachers, politicians, even priests. They all cursed. Even the professionals of the world – the consultants, the lawyers, the bankers, and hedge fund rodents - I’ve seen them all indulge in the cursing sciences.

Then I joined the Outcast Jazz Band. Musicians in school did plenty of swearing, but nothing compared to the talents of Chicago’s very own OJB! Cursing seemed to be breathing, as well as a respectable placeholder for any space between words in a sentence. But, beyond cursing, everything about their conversation was adult, from tales of drunken intimidation of cops to casual copy machine theft – not to mention the detailed sex-capades. It was a sailor’s dream, without the claustrophobia or the nausea.

Bottom line - the majority of people I have met in life – from all walks of life – they all curse. All ages. All professions. All levels of society. They all curse. Go to any high school, or probably grade school for that matter, and they have to work hard to remind the kids not to curse in the classroom. If kids don’t do it in front of their cursing parents, they do it with their cursing friends. Meanwhile, their cursing parents are cursing with their cursing colleagues and cursing clients, not to mention their cursing siblings and cursing parents. Just not in front of the children. Actually, many parents curse in front of their children, and many tolerate cursing from their children.

And yet, adult-themed shows on network television remain censored. You can see their mouths move. You often hear the beginning of the word, so your brain essentially puts it together. We all know what they’re saying. And the small minority of little kids who have managed to stay sheltered from those words will start to notice these words, and assume they have magical powers. Maybe their parents should take the responsibility to prevent them from watching adult-oriented stories on television in the first place, and then we wouldn’t have to make these weird exceptions of the words you can’t say on TV.

So, what’s the point? Why do we still censor certain special words in certain places, when we essentially live our lives without censorship. Hell, many people SHOULD censor the words that come out of their mouths - not the swear words, but ignorance in general. “We’re not really a swear-free country, but we play one on TV!” We are a society in denial.

Ironically, I don’t feel comfortable swearing. I don’t mind hearing it. I don’t typically judge anyone in my head for using such language. I don’t feel shocked by anything in movies said or done. As a writer of comedy, I need to be open to all ways of thinking and talking to inhabit characters. I have cursed in my life. Plenty of times. But, when I do it, I honestly feel inauthentic.

I especially don’t like one particular word – the word I refer to as the “S” word. It gives me the creeps when I hear it. So, it’s even more awkward when I attempt to use the word. “BS” is less of a problem for some reason, but I’m not particularly fond of it overall. In case you’re interested, I don’t have any problems with any of the words for penis, but I avoid most of the words for any part of the female anatomy. I don’t even feel comfortable with the anatomically correct words. However, I do like the “F” word, and if used cleverly, I even like the “C” word (just the male version, please). I know. I don’t understand it either. The closest explanation would be the Monty Python sketch about “woody words.”

So, this brings me to a quick warning about my next episode, in which I purposely take cursing to the extreme. I will have 2 versions: a NSFW version and a bleeped version, so you can make your own choice. I want to emphasize that I still think cursing is unnecessary. It may help drive home an emotion, or get extra attention, but it’s still the lazy man’s way of emphasizing a strong point of view. Certainly a “I hope you wake up in a pool blood from your own severed head” is a bit more interesting than “F U!” Although the latter wins with a more efficient word-count.

However, the point of the sketch imbedded in Episode 3 is two-fold: 1) Make fun of our obsession with bleeping curse words by replacing every meaningful word in a conversation with a curse word. 2) Satirize how we rely too much on curse words to express ourselves.

The emotion from the characters shows that they have a deep relationship with a long history of friendship, built around a deep dysfunctional pattern. They don’t know how to express themselves without making things worse, even though they both just want to be loved. So, I guess I’m making fun of that human pattern in all of us. And the cursing simply symbolizes our own ignorance in the repetition.

Or, if you prefer not to overanalyze comedy, think of Episode 3 as a David Mamet parody.

THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF COOL FOR SCHOOL

“One test of the correctness of educational procedure is the happiness of the child.” ~Maria Montessori

I yam what I yam. Ack ack ack ack! ~Popeye

I intended to discuss my opinions about the state of education in our country in connection with this week’s episode, since it features a mother buying test answers from an ex-principal. However, I waited until the last minute to do my homework. It turns out education as a topic would require reading, like, a ga-jillion books in order to scratch the surface. What to do? Do I cram with hopes to formulate ramblings into a blog of substance? Or, do I find a clever way to put a unique spin on the assignment, while really avoiding the assignment all together? Yes. That option always worked when I was in school. Instead of building a case with well-supported research, I will explore my own personal journey through education.

Park View Junior High (District 70)

I went to the public grade school system in Morton Grove, IL. Aside from my preoccupation with hating cliques and avoiding the usual bullies (see Blog #13), I managed to learn the basics of math, science, literature, history, and even some jazz improvisation during lunch. I felt a drive to succeed, but that drive was inspired mostly by a desire to make my parents happy.

Notre Dame High School for Boys

My entrance test scores for high school were uneven – high in math, but low in English. So, I started in the remedial classes, and they excluded me from Latin class! I was outraged. All the smart kids learned Latin, but I was stuck with Spanish. When would that ever be useful? As a result of my placement, I sailed through freshman classes, such that I felt peer pressure about doing too well. I felt embarrassed when I scored high on homework or tests, especially in front of my friends who were struggling. I felt the need to pretend I got lucky. They figured out they better move me to honors classes, but it was too late for Latin. You know what they say. Carpe Diem? Is that what they say? I have no idea, because they wouldn’t let me into Latin class ☹

I can’t complain, though. I had fun in high school – mostly in band and the other extra-curricular activities like the play and band. Plus, I was in the band. Despite my tendency to avoid my all-boys high school in order to hang out at the local all-girl schools, I learned enough to get me into the #3-rated Engineering university in the country.

“Looks like it’s the University of Illinois”

I actually felt excited by the idea of going to an Ivy League or a more Liberal Artsy kind of school. I dreamed of going to Bucknell or Brown. I’m not sure why these schools enticed me so much. Maybe they gave us kick-ass brochures. But, my parents quickly discouraged it. Tuition was a factor. Plus, my parents had no idea how I would get back and forth during summers and holidays. They didn’t have the money for flights, and I guess they never heard of a long car trip. Regardless, the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana provided an excellent college experience, mostly due to the Marching Illini. Yes, it helped finalize my identity once and for all as a band geek.

Within my rigorous rehearsal schedule, I managed to find some time to attend some engineering classes. My instincts for problem solving helped me, but I wasn’t ultimately interested in the details. I wanted immediate results. I didn’t want to have to understand the electron process in order to design a circuit, in order to process some sort of computation to solve some practical problem. I wanted to goof around. I wanted attention, and my mind was always wandering creatively, such that I spoke only in run-on sentences that jumped from topic to topic, until at a certain point, I realized I didn’t really have a point, and I didn’t quite know how to finish my thought, and eventually forgot what I was… Uh…

The Education Payoff: Andersen Consulting

With my degree, I started right away with a very respectable job in computer consulting. Everyone treated each other as professionals. We worked hard and played hard. But, still, what were we doing, really? We were helping them setup a database for keeping accounting records? Or, designing some way for e-mail to travel most quickly through a network? Part of me enjoyed geeky aspects of the process, but my attention span was always so distracted. Did that mean I never learned to concentrate? Did it mean that my capacity for complex thought was limited by my A.D.D.? Or, did it just mean that I was capable, but not passionate?

Back to School: Columbia College Chicago

After all my efforts to study and get good grades, and my determination to capitalize on my college education by embracing a professional career in a respectable, stable field like computers, I ultimately could not continue on that path. I could not force myself to pursue what seemed most prudent. In the end, I went back to college and studied film – a subject that put the butterflies back in my gut.

Lessons Learned

Now that I can reflect on my educational history, I wonder if embracing my passion for the arts earlier would have benefited me. Or, will all the distractions and tangents in my career pay off in the types of stories I tell? Did I receive an excellent education? Was it just good enough? Would I be better positioned for success in life if my parents were wealthy with connections to Harvard? Or, would an easier path have led me into some comfortable position at a law firm with no drive left to go after my passion?

When I think about it, I found so many subjects boring. Does it even matter that I spent time in those classes when I learned nothing? Do we need children to be passionate about every subject? My nephew has a passion for Japan, it’s language and it’s culture. He’s obsessed. It’s a good thing. He’s learning to speak Japanese and Korean. If we made that a required subject in school like History and Algebra, I guarantee you that some of the kids would never learn it – not because they aren’t capable, but because it doesn’t interest them. I’m also sure some kids just require a different learning style.

Ultimately, something doesn’t seem right in our current education system, but I don’t have the skills to analyze the system in depth, nor the capacity to draw proper conclusions. Therefore, I have proven that something is not right with our current education system. It has even failed to give me the skills to prove it has failed.

Perhaps the solution is simple. Create a class that teaches you one key learning skill that gives you access to all other learning opportunities. If such a class existed, I think it might be called “Google it.”

GIVE US A WEEK, WE'LL TAKE OFF THE ANGER

Blog42 Cover Stop what you’re doing and read this important message that could change your life!

-       Do you have trouble with anger? -       Do you find yourself exiting the freeway early to capitalize on teaching moments with other drivers (in the form of obscenities)? -       Do you lose all control when the hostess can’t find your reservation? -       Then do you feel embarrassed when someone glances at you in the restaurant parking lot later? -       And because you can imagine what they must be thinking, you chase them down and beat them up? And then you realize your rage has gotten the best of you once again, so you now have to find a way to dispose of a body?

If this sounds like you, then I can help (if you promise not to leave a mark). You see, I’m not only an anger management advocate, I’m also a customer!

Okay, it takes much longer than a week, so ignore the headline. I have been working on my anger for years, exploring more effective ways to communicate frustrations outside of family tradition of screaming. Apparently, yelling doesn’t diffuse the situation. Jackie will be the first to tell you that I’ve made incredible progress from our first days of knock-down / drag-out romance. I suppose she’ll be the second, because I just told you, but she would definitely agree.

For example, this weekend Jackie expressed her anxiety about something she had to do for work. Luckily, I knew of an immediate solution to her problem. Since I’m the best husband in the world, I suppose you might expect me to propose the solution in supportive, non-threatening way. But, you’d be wrong. I’m a man! And men don’t do anything gently. I snapped it at her. I find the most effective way to help someone is by adding a layer of uncomfortable emotion to the situation.

Actually, the old me would’ve layered the response with a subtle hint of rage and plenty of disproportional emotion. But, the new me? Pure restraint. For the most part. My wife didn’t really notice any subtext in my response, but I felt it – a very slight hint of something behind my casual “recommendation.”

So, a mere 3 minutes later, I felt compelled to clarify my response. It turns out that discussing my anger is a great way to declaw my frustration. I step outside myself and perform a bit of home-grown, back-seat self-therapy. It’s probably not very scientific, but it calms me down and dissolves the false notion that I’m a helpless baby. Even though I totally am!

A part of me misses the good old days when life was simple. And anger seemed to really work. Anger served as the perfect catch-all emotion. Frustrated? Get angry! Helpless? Angry! Sad and hurt? Angry and angry! As versatile as WD-40 and duct tape!

That feeling of control was just an illusion. If you have a few minutes to spare, you should check out this insightful video about anger:

http://www.upworthy.com/the-problem-facing-young-men-that-needs-to-become-a-household-conversation?g=2&c=ufb1

I further explore my anger through the control-freak main character for the BABY TIME! series. I wanted to harvest some magic from my own struggles with anger, and make fun of myself in the process. The exploration resulted in the dishwasher scene you will see in Episode 1.

Those of you with dishwasher issues know what I mean. I was once like you, but now I’m a new man. When I see the dishwasher out of order, I simply shrug and carry on. Usually.

What are YOU looking at?

SAVE THE DATE - AUGUST 22ND!

SavetheDateInvite I’m having a baby! Do you want to know what kind?

It’s a comedy web series!

I induce labor for my characters on Thursday 8/22, and then I will deliver new episode every week. I hope you’ll celebrate with me.

I’m excited, and a bit nervous. Obviously, it’s not quite a baby. If my web series were more like a baby, it would do the filmmaking equivalent of spitting-up mashed up food and plenty of whining (in other words, it would be a student film).

I am proud to say that my work has advanced beyond the infancy stage of a college film tech project. The web series forms sentences and hopefully appears to think for itself. To continue the parent-child metaphor, this project is more like a teenager graduating college. He looks like a complete product. He appears ready. He has professional actors playing characters in a story of sorts. He has a musical score. He has been shaped and corrected through careful editing. He looks like he’s ready to perform his job of entertaining. Realistically, I know he has some flaws. Some people will like him for who he is. Some may be disappointed that he’s not perfect. However, I think if you understand the context of my larger goal as a parent of all sorts of narrative comedy film project children, you will at the very least appreciate this baby of mine, and perhaps even grow to like him.

Let’s be honest. This is not my first kid, and it’s not going to be my last. I want a large family of at least 30 – 40 kids. Each kid provides his or her own set of challenges, surprises, and problems. Like parenting, filmmaking requires experimentation with creativity. I’m constantly asking myself questions throughout that process. What do I want to say? Will it resonate? Will humans understand me? Or, is this my only receptive audience?

Pretty Excited Sm

Or, worse, do people smile, compliment me, and then excuse themselves to “check on the potatoes,” which for some reason involves dialing 911?

I’ve already learned that even after you raise each film-baby, doing everything in your power to make him perfect – even then, you’re not quite sure if what you created will work in the way you intended, or at all for that matter, when he heads out into the real world.

IT TAKES A VILLAGE

I think it’s clear now that I only made this kid for selfish reasons. I’m using him as a test - a stepping stone towards making my next kid. That’s what parents do, right? The more kids you have, the more you realize the next one will be an opportunity to “get it right this time!” Well, maybe that’s not the best approach to parenting humans, but it works great for narrative comedy film projects. Persistence will make each new kid better and better, until I’m making film-babies that consistently capture you, take you on a journey and provide you an emotional experience.

In the mean time, if I want to get the most out of this kid, I need to see how he handles the real world – not just interacting with family and friends, but strangers. I need to sell this kid. Talk him up. Get the word out. Promote myself as the parent. Ugh. I’m definitely not a fan of self-promotion. It makes me feel all slimy and wiggly. I’m a sincere person. I prefer down to earth, real connections with people (but not so far down to earth that I feel like a worm or a snake.)

So, I urge you to join my party, and help participate in the process of making me a better parent for future film-babies. All you have to do is watch and share. And I welcome feedback, too! But, don’t do it for guilt. Do it for… the film-babies. (I honestly don’t want to guilt anyone into sharing the series, except maybe my family, but only because guilt is a family tradition.)

PARTY DETAILS

I’ll be hosting all kinds of extra fun around the release of BABY TIME! In fact, I’ve created a weekly schedule:

BabyTimeReleaseSched

MONDAY - NEW BLOG (Psst. Don’t be alarmed, but you’re in the middle of one… right now!) Each week’s blog will share a personal story somehow connected with the upcoming episode.

TUESDAY - RETRO BLOG Want to know what I was thinking in 2010? You’re in luck! I have over 40 blog entries over the past 3 years. No need to leave them dormant, especially when they inspired the episode or connected me to the themes or subject matter.

WEDNESDAY - CHARACTERS Meet the new characters for the upcoming episode. Some if them are on Pinterest already http://pinterest.com/dangorski/baby-time-characters/

THURSDAY - IT'S BABY TIME! A new episode of Baby Time! every Thursday for 6 weeks!

FRIDAY - MY FAMILY I know many of you are BIG fans of my tweets from my parents. So, get ready for snippets of video interviews with my family (on camera for the first time!) revealing their own parenting experiences.

SATURDAY - BEHIND THE SCENES For those interested in film production or the development process, look for pictures, behind-the-scenes stories, and more!

SUNDAY - COMMUNITY I will curate and share some other series and work by other filmmakers every Sunday.

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I look forward to seeing you there! As always, feel free to share (buttons below) or even leave a comment. Thanks!!

MUSIC: THE MUSICAL

Playbill_MusicTheMusical

Musicals helped shape my entire romantic history, from the very first overture to the climatic wedding number. Cue the orchestra!

ACT I

It all started very early. My parents loved musicals, taking us to Annie at a young age, rallying around the Grease movie experience, and obsessing their way through the Evita years. Don’t get me started on the reign of Andrew Lloyd Weber, which I now whole-heartedly regret. But, the sounds of some musical always seemed to fill the house, making my mom insist, “Isn’t it wonderful!” I had to agree as a child, partially because she was the family chef. However, seeing the performances live sealed my love of musicals. The marriage of lyrics and music, of characters and dance – it grabbed your emotions, made you laugh, and projected you out the door at the end, singing the whole ride home with nothing but hope for happy endings forever and ever. La, la, la, laaaaa!

Real life romance turned out to be a whole different monster. I always feared girls, ever since the cute brown-haired girl smiled at me during the summer pops concert at Old Orchard Mall. I didn’t have the confidence to even speak words, much less form them into sentences. I remember asking one of my classmates to go steady on the bus in 6th grade. It took a very long bus ride to get up the nerve to ask her, and it wasn’t until she was stepping out the door, that I finally compelled my body to tumble down the aisle to stop her, leaving my blood pressure in the back seat. Result: The very first of many girls who would forever like me only as a friend.

Halloween75

Even though I dressed like Superman in 2nd Grade for Halloween (complete with black hair), it was clear that I would continue to watch over the neighborhood as an infamous non-hero. Is it a blob? Is it a goofball? No, it’s  Superawkward! My lack of confidence paralyzed me into a borderline creepy state of being – a real weirdo – even without the tights.

In high school I descended deeper into shyness. Instead of talking, it was better to just stare for hours at girls. That’s why school musicals were perfect. Because as a musician in the pit orchestra, I was required to sit for many hours, playing the music over and over while they rehearsed on stage. I could set my sights on a particular crush, and then I could stare all rehearsal long. After all, we were just watching the show. Unfortunately, my pit band mates soon figured out the target of my stares, and immediately stoked the flames of my terror by shouting out her name in public, exposing my identity, and setting me up for certain confrontation with this girl. Instant mortification for my alter-ego Superawkward. The biggest flaw of non-heroes lies in the fact that their super power is also their Kryptonite.

INTERMEZZO – Go get a snack. Or read your playbill.

ACT II

I know that everyone lives through similar moments where they struggle to navigate through their hormonal changes and confusion of emotions. Eventually, most push through and triumph just like in the movies. Not me, at least not until many years later. Besides, I was much more comfortable in high school enjoying the magic on stage. I could lose myself in the story of Eliza Doolittle falling for Henry Higgins. I could escape into the escapades of Little Mary Sunshine and Captain Ranger Jim. I didn’t need to confront my fears because I could remain in the safety of song and dance.

I never was able to actually date anyone in high school (outside of one pseudo-lunch date to McDonald’s, where I used gift certificates – ugh!) Luckily, my friend Laurel enjoyed playing matchmaker. We were in a jazz singing group together (yes, we actually did “jazz hands”), and she had an ideal match in her mind. It took some maneuvering, but after hanging out as a large group during senior year, I finally managed to go on my first date with the girl. We went to see Cats. It worked, because we dated for over a year - my first real girlfriend. Unfortunately, college gave me the confidence that had eluded me – the kind of confidence often called “over”-confidence. As a result of my too-cool-for-school mindset, we broke up. Honestly, I was a jerk about it. So, in true poetic justice, no one wanted to date me in college.

Musicals continued to shadow my romantic life once I started dating. I went to many musicals, but the relationships never seemed to work out. For example:

Les Miserables – My date wanted to avoid commitment. I found out later she was dating someone else the whole time.

Goodnight Saigon – My date later wound up in a mental hospital.

Phantom of the Opera – My date broke off our engagement the previous week, but I didn’t accept it until after I took her to see this musical.

I was starting to think that maybe musicals were not the answer. Not only had all my relationships failed, but my deposit on the reception hall was non-refundable! I fell into depression. This was the part of the musical where all seemed lost. Little did I know, that at that very moment, my friend Laurel was watching Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, along with her sister and her sister’s roommate (who hated musicals, but went anyway). Laurel’s matchmaking Spidey-senses were tingling that night, so she decided to set me up with this roommate named Jackie.

Who was this mysterious Jackie? She grew up five minutes from my parents. She walked down my street to get to work. How had I never met her? I like to think that maybe we crossed paths at some point. Maybe we saw each other before the timing was right. Perhaps she went to a concert at Old Orchard and smiled at a little red headed boy. Regardless, this amazing young lady accepted my date requests, and it wasn’t long before we attended our own musical together – Guys and Dolls – a very romantic evening that set the tone for a life-long romance. Cue the wedding finale with big the song and dance number! Jackie accepted me as my weirdo self, even when I wore tights as my new alter-ego Mr. Foodlife. But, that’s a story for another day.

CHURCH~1

THE MUSIC OF THE CUBBIES

SCAN0055

I now wait for the last piece of the puzzle – the musical soundtrack to season 1 of my web series. Music will set the proper mood for each episode, and honestly, it will hopefully smooth over some of the more glaring mistakes I made throughout the process. Music will save the day – no pressure to my composer John Kobayashi.

While we wait, I can share a few stories about music in my life. Today’s story takes us back to the very start of it all. After some mind-bending, I counted back to discover I have been actively making music for the past 36 years, starting with trumpet lessons in grade school. And although I took a lot of lessons with many different music teachers, I believe I’m still in the process of learning a more valuable life lesson that lurked in the shadows of those early music days. My little kid behavior held clues of a flaw/opportunity that still challenges me in my current frustrations as a filmmaker. But, first, let’s go back to 1977 and 1978…

It all started in 4th grade with the Borg School band program. Parents and students visited the band room one night to check out instruments and pick one to play. I wanted to play trombone. It looked cool, and it had a slide that made funny sounds. It seemed different from the other instruments. Unfortunately, the music teacher cautioned my parents that I didn’t have what it takes to be a trombone player - my arms were too short. So what! I could do exercises. I could get arm extensions. I could work hard to build a trombone player belly with burping power. Instead, she recommended a trumpet. I don’t remember feeling disappointed, though. I suddenly found myself holding my own brass trumpet, and as it turns out, trumpet players have bellies too! Besides, if I felt any subconscious anxieties that people didn’t want to listen to me, then a trumpet would cure that issue right up – no ignoring me now.

Everything about the trumpet fit me perfectly. Feeling different from the other kids and out of place before, now I found myself in a band, an instant group working together. I made new friends, such as fellow trumpet player David Rubin. It wasn’t long before we realized that we shared the same goofy sense of humor (thus wasting 2/3 of our lesson in fits of uncontrollable laughter that I’m sure drove our teacher into madness). I also felt a visceral connection to music. I could express emotions on another level, and I received plenty of positive reinforcement from my family who attended all my concerts like I was the new pope.

My neighbor Brian was a couple of years ahead of me, and he already played a mean bass. I looked up to him, and we spent our summers together – so it made sense that we would start our own band. We created a fake drum set out of cardboard, and we managed to grab one of my uncle’s old hi-hats. Brian played bass, and I played trumpet. I guess I played drums too? I’m not sure how that worked, but someone had to play the drums. Why else did I spend all that time with the scissors and paint? Maybe Brian played drums? Anyway, our music was written using dashes on a blank page. For example, Jingle Bells would be written like this:

CubbiesJingleBells

I know. Insane. Especially considering the obvious – we both knew how to read music in band. So, why didn’t we go out and get some sheet music paper to figure out the notes? I have no idea. But, somehow it all worked.

We called ourselves The Cubbies (being huge Beatles’ fans, and also Chicago baseball fans). We wrote songs about the neighborhood, recorded songs on a tape recorder, and even went on tour around the block (called the Wonderful Wildi Tour). As you might suspect, we modeled much of our escapades on The Beatles. However, like Lennon and McCartney, Brian and I eventually disagreed on the direction of the songs. In our case, he wanted to do straight versions of Beatles’ songs with new words, but I wanted to create completely new songs. I became obsessed with writing truly original music. I’m not sure why I developed that notion, but I adamantly attempted to come up with new melodies for each song. It didn’t always work.

My first song was “Blue Skies are Pretty”:

Blue skies are pretty, Blue skies are pretty, With white clouds, With white clouds, There are clouds shaped like bunnies, and other funny things, I like clouds, They are nice, That’s why I say, Blue skies are very pretty!

I thought I was so original as a child, but it turned out that part of the melody was a blatant rip-off (“With white clouds” sounds like “Three Blind Mice”). I also wrote a wonderfully lyrical song called “Keep on Smiling” which I thought was so romantic and cool, until years later when I realized it was the melody from “Rocky.” Other hits included “Helicopter,” “Dice Yeah” and “Crain Street.” At least these songs seemed completely original, but mostly because I haven’t gone back to analyze them. And you can’t make me!

I thought the band lasted quite a long time – at least 2 summers, but I can’t be certain. Brian eventually acted out The Beatles experience to the point that we dressed up old pill bottles with homemade labels like “Heroin” and “Cocaine” and pretended to experience a police bust. In the end, the band couldn’t last. We burnt out too fast, like shooting stars, or maybe more like incense.

The whole experience gave me a taste of the thrill of performance and provided instant gratification – mostly because I had no idea how bad we sounded. I could write a song, and then the next day we would record it. No one in the neighborhood had anything to do with their time (pre-Internet/cell phones), so they would sit and listen to our “concerts.”

My drive for instant gratification never ended. It’s still true today. I want to see the product of my work as fast as possible. That’s the reason that the web series has proved to be quite a challenge. It took much longer than I expected, and bringing all the little pieces together to make a final product required time and patience. In the old days, I could sit down with a piece of paper, some colored markers, and throw together what I considered to be a hilarious cartoon birthday card for someone in my family. They would read it within the hour. The results were immediate, and the audience reaction always positive because of the gesture.

Soon I will be sending all my friends what I consider to be a fun card in the form of a 6-episode web series season. So, I look forward to the instant gratification that can only come with a 3-year homemade project. And then I will get back to my inner child, and make a few projects that may feel like they were made with construction paper and crayons. That way, I won’t have to wait another 3 years for my fix.

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By the way, I still get opportunities to play my horn to this day. I will be playing with The Outcast Jazz Band at Grant Park as part of the summer dance series on Friday, July 26, 2013:

http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/chicago_summerdance1.html

It’s free, so if you’re free, come get some instant gratification!

MUSIC TEACHERS ROCK

DPMHS Voice BTSI’ve bragged many times – my wife is a music teacher! I’ve felt a strong connection to music my whole life, and as a result, I believe whole-heartedly in the value of an arts education. So, I love knowing that so many kids have the chance to develop the same love of music because of my wife. She can affect these kids in a lasting way. And thanks to the shrinking financial support available for public education and growing class sizes, she can now influence up to 54 kids every hour! I’ve enjoyed seeing her students perform since she started the music program from scratch at Daniel Pearl Magnet High School 3 years ago. Back then, her class was like the Bad News Bears. Most of them had no formal musical education. The brutal sound told me so. And they tended to misbehave. They stuck garbage in the piano. They fell off their chairs for no reason. Some of them showed an unhealthy interest in the Illuminati.

Regardless, I chaperoned the group with their first awkward caroling visit to the old folks home, where most couldn’t sing on pitch, and the male singers mostly mouthed the words with only the sound of bad breath. But, since then they have made great strides with some amazing performances, including their latest promo performance for THE VOICE (more info on this later…) I feel so moved just thinking about how proud I am of my wife’s value in these kids’ lives, but I’m not crying. I have dust in my eye. Look away!

The students sense the value as well. Sure, some of them absolutely do NOT want to be in choir, but they are forced by the school schedule. However, many more of them recognize what a fabulous and special lady my wife is. In fact, they like her so much, she needs to watch what she says. If she happens to make an offhand comment about a challenging situation, she might find that her students later have taken the matter in their own hands to "fix" the situation. They want things to go well for Mrs. Gorski! They REALLY like her.

I always joke about staying in the good graces of my wife’s therapist. After all, if the therapist doesn’t approve of something I do, she has the power to make things extremely difficult for me. But, all this time the real threat lurked in a group of rag-tag teens. I now know that I need to suck up to her students if I value my well-being. Luckily, I’ve met the kids, and they seem to like me for the most part. So, I’m probably safe – for now. I guess I better stay on good behavior at home.

Onto THE VOICE – in April I managed to watch NBC shoot a promo for THE VOICE at Jackie’s school! The high school choir she conducts sang a song with the runner up from last season – Terry McDermott. I’m so thrilled that her talents are getting recognized while helping these kids. Here’s the story from the school newspaper (it’s a journalism magnet), which includes the promo:

http://www.thepearlpost.com/2013/05/21/the-voice-commercial-promoting-lausd-music-students/

And, here’s a behind the scenes video of the session from Terry McDermott’s website:

http://j.mp/10VTpKL

And finally, if you feel so moved to support her growing program, you can donate to help her build a keyboard lab at Donor’s Choose:

‪http://Tinyurl.com/caafsd7 

So, watch THE VOICE tonight! They will run the promo during tonight’s show (May 21, 2013). It will also run on 5/28, 6/4 and 6/11. It’s really short, but look for the choir that isn’t in the classroom. The other two schools are shot in classrooms, but Jackie’s was shot in the assembly room.

Then, if you see any of her kids walking down the street, put in a good word for me, will you?

HBD TO ME!

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Today is my birthday. Thank you to all my facebook friends for sending me messages. It’s such a simple little thing most of us do when we first get online each day – check the birthday list and send a little message. It takes 2 seconds. But, then you get 100 messages, and it feels a whole lot more meaningful than those simple 2 seconds.

Every year, for me – and probably for many – a birthday serves as an important milestone. It’s an opportunity to question my value in the world, to guilt myself like Schindler looking at his list – I could’ve done more! Meanwhile, on the bottom half of my glass, the full half, I have much to appreciate – a solid loving marriage, an extended family that I can tolerate, a history of unique jobs (from dressing as a nun to interviewing Will Ferrell), the glorious Outcast Jazz Band, a library of life stories which I re-tell over and over, and a library of life stories which I re-tell over and over.

Every year, the number of the age grows and becomes more daunting, but why? It’s simply a number. I still prefer to laugh so loud that people think I need medical attention. I still enjoy pulling pranks on the teacher (even though my teacher wife doesn’t always see the humor). I still love singing and drumming the steering wheel in my car. The number only holds power if you give it power. How I feel is my choice.

So today I choose to do something embarrassing at work. I won’t know what it is until it’s in the past – like all my favorite memories. But, it will serve as a reminder that we all have a choice to ignore the authoritative voice that was imprinted into our brains as children – whether it was intended to keep us safe under the care of our parents, or if it was intended to train us as good obedient workers who never question their bosses – we all have a choice to live life as our true self, as opposed to the self that we let others dictate to us.

Are you ready? Now is the time. Rise up. Summon your inner child. Live every day like it’s your birthday. Eat cake. And get into some trouble. Dismissed!

MANIFESTO DESTINY

(***Since this blog is about the editing process, I’ve included comments after each paragraph to give some extra insight into the editing process I used on this blog entry.) IMG_1467

The Chris Dorner manhunt / mutli-city tour / extravaganza came to me this weekend. I didn’t need to turn on the news as I ran my errands around the police road blocks and circling helicopters – I knew he was close. I haven’t read the manifesto, mostly because I’m afraid it will sound too much like my own journal ramblings, er, I mean writing exploration. I read through my own gibberish from time to time, and it makes me wonder if I have a mental illness. Luckily, I can retain some sanity, provided I temper my creative freedom with the gift of thoughtful editing.

(***This was the most salacious part of my weekend, making me want to tell someone about it. Plus, it gave the original blog more of a shape, which started out as just a straight-ahead project status.)

Editing provides the safety to stretch my creative muscles before figuring out what I really want to say, or if I should say anything at all. Aside from reassuring my loved ones that I am not crazy, and keeping the cops from shooting at every Mini Cooper in town, editing helps me evaluate myself, and forces me to make decisions about tone, message and take full advantage of surprising discoveries in my writing. The more time and perspective I can allow myself, the better the results. I recommend it for everyone, especially to the average blog commenter. Please!

(*** This paragraph verges on too much boring self-reflection, but the mini-cooper comment and blog commenter dig helped me convince myself to keep it.)

In reality, it requires a high volume of crazy ramblings and creative exploration to filter for a high quality piece of writing. I’m realizing that the same may apply to the filmmaking process. Pixar uses a highly tuned process of rinse and repeat with their stories. They start low-tech, and they do lots of focus testing. They make their movies powerful for an audience by trying things out on small audiences at every step. Their track record proves their model works more consistently than all the marketing-executives-green-lighting-blockbusters-based-on-movie-poster-pitches combined.

(***This paragraph was second to last until the very last editing pass. I know. Who cares?)

I’m not saying that by simply whittling down ramblings to a manageable length guarantees a genius story. All excellent filmmakers have a specific personal taste that guides their muse. I’m still learning my internal taste by what films inspire me – what makes me laugh, what puts me on edge, and what makes me cry like a little baby. Ten minutes into BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, and I was inconsolable for the rest of the film. The film really hit deep inside me, even though the film hit others with more of a deep “meh.” On the side of the spectrum, I’m not afraid to admit that I enjoyed THE THREE STOOGES movie – mostly because my wife loved it. Watching a slap-stick movie with her is pure bliss! Both movies inspire me in different ways. Of course, that doesn’t mean I can see myself making either of these movies. The honest truth? I want to make a movie that combines both elements: silly and powerfully moving at the same time. I know it’s a challenge. Some would say it can’t be done, but I remain hopeful.

(****This paragraph lacked a valid connection to this topic, but I liked the clash of these films too much to delete them. I considered just keeping them in as an example of feeding the writer’s ego, but then I discovered the first sentence, which helped it serve the topic.)

Looking back on the year 2012, I realize that producing a high quality web series with limited resources has turned out to be a long-term process, chipped away one day at a time. When I shot the pilot in 2010, I was quite naïve about what it would take to elevate Baby Time beyond just a showcase of sketch writing. As a result of my learning curve, as well as distractions like developing other projects like a TV pilot, feature script and sitcom spec script, I finally released the web pilot last year, along with 9 blog postings. I also shot and edited 4 more episodes, which will make up the rest of the first season. With only color correction and music remaining, I plan to release the full Season 1 soon.

(***This really just serves to help convince myself it’s okay that it’s taking so long.)

I learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work. I love the scope of this project, but I don’t think the quality of the material deserves the scope. In other words, I think I may have spent too much money and time for something that I wrote years ago. What I learned from the project should have been reached through a shorter project span. And I need to see my current abilities as a writer in action, not 2005 Dan. If I knew then what I know now, blah, blah, blah… But, a lesson is a lesson. So, I’m looking at this lesson as an opportunity to turbo-charge my creativity machine to become a better comedy writer and a better filmmaker.

(***I’m not saying it wasn’t worth doing. I’m very happy with seeing this series to fruition. Some of it still makes me laugh after all this time.)

My Manifesto: I challenge myself to produce more content, faster, cheaper, and in more creative formats – to take more risks and see my visions for stories take shape with more regularity. I will present more low-tech stories, and some may not work. But, I want to see more patterns, make adjustments and accelerate the process beyond script into a visual reality for public consumption. I want to make a lot of stuff so I can better know what I want to make, and then see if anyone might enjoy it.

Only then will I be able to harness my potential to make my masterpiece, BEASTS OF THE STOOGES THREE.

(***Thank you. You’ve been a great audience. Tip your servers. Yes, I do mean your IP servers.)

THE HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH

1344713366975_2498279 Can’t get enough family “together” time over the holidays? Try taking a vacation with your family. Maybe go to Disney World. Although, I can only assume you went to Disney World the week after Christmas like us, since it seemed like every family that ever existed was there.

My family of origin has never taken a Christmas Vacation. We thought it would be perfect to go right after Christmas, because we would have the dogs with us in Chicago, and there would be plenty of people in the area to care for the dogs. However, Sensation’s newest issues with Leukemia, plus the fact that he was due for a seizure made choosing a pet sitter complicated. In the end, we didn’t feel right putting that sort of pressure and responsibility on certain friends and family members, and the others, well, the others we just plain didn’t trust. We’ll let you decide in what category you think you belong.

So, we placed our dogs under the care of the Morton Grove Animal Hospital. We were very hesitant to board them because of a nightmare experience when we went with my family to Hawaii in 2008. The boarding facility we always used had new owners, and from what I can tell, they had no instincts for working with special needs dogs. I won’t go into all the details, but at one point, they were convinced that my sleeping dog was dead. Clearly, they didn’t realize that Sensation is immortal. Ultimately, we made the right choice this time, as they came back chipper and smelling clean, free of any signs of trauma. So, either the staff did a great job, or they brainwashed the dogs to think they had a great experience.

If you’ve never gone on a vacation with your family, then I can tell you right now the instant benefits of such an adventure: - You all know each other really well. So, you can really get under each others’ skin when necessary. Also, when it’s not necessary. - At the same time, you really don’t know each other at all any more. So, it’s a friendly surprise when you discover everyone wants to do something different. It’s the perfect opportunity to enjoy some soothing regression. - Every moment is an opportunity to see the humanity of your family members - especially, how everyone must eventually go to the bathroom. Just not at the same time. If you can wait until five minutes after the last person went before announcing your need to stop, then you can memorize all the bathroom locations of all Disney parks. I’ll be writing a travel book. - You are your own crowd, so you have the bonus challenge of moving your crowd through the larger crowd. A real character-builder.

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The most important aspect of the trip was giving my parents the experience of spending time with their family again, just like when we were kids. Togetherness. It never gets old. And by never, I mean day 5. But, it’s an acceptable side effect of enmeshment. If you can take your family for who they are, and not expect them to change to fit your needs – well then frankly, I don’t think you’re a family. Seriously, it’s the dynamic of regression that I look forward to enjoying every trip home.

But, if I take a healthy view on the vacation, then success is available with the right perspective. For example, if I expected this trip to be a romantic getaway with my wife, then it would’ve been a total failure. If I expected this trip to be a non-stop adventure of spills and thrills that you might expect from a world-class theme park, then it similarly would’ve been a total failure. And finally, if I expected this trip to be a quiet, relaxing escape into luxurious decompression from the hustle and bustle of a crazy work schedule, then yes, you guessed it – it would’ve been an epic failure. Except for that 2 hours at the spa. That was sublime. However, the 2-hour (5 mile) shuttle ride back from the spa successfully decompressed the decompression. I’m not complaining. I’m just saying that if I had taken the trip with any of these expectations, then I would be complaining. But, I’m not.

It never was supposed to be any of those kinds of vacations. This trip was always intended to be a mix of family together time. And in those respects, it was a total success. I’m thankful that I get along with my family, and that we can make each other laugh – even if it’s at the expense of one another. This is the kind of life my parents had always dreamed about when they grew up diving under the bed to avoid the physical punishment acceptable at the time, or slaving over a stove instead of having fun with friends. They improved on the family dynamics they faced growing up. For example, they never got to go on a vacation as an adult with their parents, unless you count that wedding in Wisconsin (which by the way included some mad crazy polka dancing, so I guess it wasn’t that bad).

Of course, we all had our low moments on the trip – like the fight over whether my brother should go back to ride the Pirates of the Caribbean after hours on his own, or when I chose to make a joke to my sister-in-law instead of helping her off the ground, which led to a fall and infected finger. Believe me, I am sorry for this lack of judgment, but sometimes comedy wins over good judgment. Actually, comedy always wins over good judgment.

On the other hand, everyone had at least one moment of getting what they wanted. My moment was the rock n roll roller coaster. That ride does not screw around. It starts fast and never slows down until the very end. Add some music in the headrest, and it’s a no-brainer win-win. I’m not a huge Aerosmith fan, but it works in darkness at 50 mph. I also enjoyed the ice cream. Bonus.

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And my mom got what she wanted – one final trip with the family to Disney World. A trip that won’t ever happen again. In fact, that was her mantra for the last few days: “this is the last time – this is it – we’ll never do this again, you know – enjoy it, because this is the last time.” What’s that about?

MRS. GORSKI! MRS. GORSKI!

IMG_0060I like patterns. I prefer patterns. Patterns make me comfortable. Patterns are safe. But, when you live life in a pattern, you wake up one day, and you’re celebrating the 4th of July, and your Christmas tree is still up. So, then you set aside 30 minutes to put the tree away, and then suddenly it’s Christmas again. Time shouldn’t be used as a reliable measure of life. Time owes me nothing, and delivers accordingly. So, I’m learning to measure life in other ways… This week I broke my usual daily pattern. I joined my wife on a journey with the most alive and unpredictable members of our society – high school students. Our destination was the Valley Performing Arts Center, a relatively new facility with amazing acoustics and surprisingly comfortable seats. We went to see a concert of The Romeros with Massimo Paris & Concerto Málaga as part of a student matinee series. Being the budget of schools these days, we had to take public transportation – 2 busses each way – making sure all 30 kids made it on and off the bus. Luckily, the only trouble-makers during the trip were the bus drivers. Boy, are those dudes cranky. The lady bus drivers were all super nice, though. I urge the LA Metro to stop hiring men.

Here’s what I took away from the field trip. First, the kids all seem to really like my wife as a teacher, which is not a surprise, but wonderful to see in action. They demonstrate their appreciation by constantly vying for her attention. - “Mrs. Gorski! Mrs. Gorski! I see the bus.” - “Mrs. Gorski! Mrs. Gorski! It’s not the bus. It’s a street sweeper.” - “Mrs. Gorski! Mrs. Gorski! I made my water bottle into an instrument!”

Second, I also must’ve forgotten how much teens consume - all day long. At every bus stop, a group just had to go into the Subway, Burger King, Papa Johns, 76 Gas station or Boba shop on the corner for sustenance – or for the restroom. “Mrs. Gorski! Mrs. Gorski! I’ll only be 2 minutes. I swear!” But, the most significant insight didn’t cross my mind until later that night.

The chamber orchestra backed up the guitar quartet for a few classics, including the Hallelujah Chorus and Ave Maria. Can I reiterate my awe for the acoustics? I was sitting towards the back of the concert hall, probably at least 50 rows back, and I heard every note on those un-amplified acoustic guitars perfectly! Then the quartet played a few songs without the orchestra – mostly Christmas carols. They concluded with a folk song arranged by the leader’s father called “Malagueña.” I recognized the song, but I couldn’t place it. But, I was singing it the whole way back in my head. Where did I hear this song? Was it on The Simpsons? I asked my wife. When you’re married, it turns out you can ask your wife any random question about your own history, and she will know the answer. She’s the expert in the Dan edition of Trivial Pursuit. In this case, it turned out to be the Jackie edition of Trivial Pursuit because she taught the song to her guitar class, and then they played it at their concert. That’s where I heard it.

Suddenly, the potential impact of the concert hit me. These kids got to see the original group playing a song live that they played live. That would be like when I saw Count Basie play “Basie Straight Ahead” in concert, or to a lesser extent, when I saw The Monkees perform “Daydream Believer.” The students know the music on paper. It’s accessible. They have witnessed the black dots and lines of the musical notes printed on the staff. They have felt their fingers on the acrylic of the strings, and tingled from the vibrations of each note. They have pieced together the flow of a musical line, and have blended it with other like-minded musicians. They even may have memorized it. The process creates a deep connection with those songs. Then, they see the professionals having the same experience, and enjoying themselves. They feel the experience shared by the audience (whether they recognize that feeling or not). It’s a potential moment of true inspiration – professional to student. It’s possible that this concert contributed to a spark in at least one student that will live with them and drive their actions for years to come.

So, where was my spark? Did I forget my inspiration? Because of the long-term nature of web series development, at least with my apparent learning curve, it’s easy to become swallowed into the pattern of the day-to-day pursuit and lose sight of the bigger picture. Why exactly did I choose a career that would take 4 years of studying, followed by 4 years of honing and developing my craft, followed by 10 more years of further studying, development and honing, with no guarantee of every making any money? Why did I feel driven to focus on comedy and specifically in the medium the moving image?

To my relief, I only needed to ponder the spark for a moment to rush back into awareness – my daily patterns only slipped the spark into my subconscious. My inner motivation remains fully in tact. This infinite spark still holds my memories of watching my current composer develop the soundtrack on the spot in a college dorm room for a dorky marching band movie. It holds moments of filming my own dorky little projects - like my first horror movie, in which my roommate is terrorized by Dave the heating and cooling guy, or my series of promo commercials for cicadas in breakfast cereal. It burns from the fuel of images I conceived in my young teen mind, preserved on celluloid and projected larger than life. The spark lives off of recordings of what I saw – not just with my eyeball, but whatever insanity was swirling in my head. I know I still have it because I can feel it as a tinge of a thrill in my stomach even right now.

The field trip journey has helped me keep my stomach’s eye on the spark-ball. Otherwise, what’s the point? More specifically, the journey reinforced my desire to measure life not by time, but by thoughts, feelings and experiences that contribute to my inner spark. They appear timeless because of their consistency – their pattern of permanence.

So, for that lesson, I have to thank… Mrs. Gorski! Mrs. Gorski!

SENSATIONAL

My dog Sensation came with a warning label. “Caution: Not Your Typical Companion Dog” All our chow friends cautioned us from adopting him. He has some special needs, and they knew it would be a lot more work than we could imagine. Specifically, Sensation is epileptic. We didn’t care. Maybe we could get special license plates. Now, I know what you’re thinking – what are “chow friends?” For several years, we were loyal members of the Golden State Chow Chow Club. We attended dog shows, organized our own dog shows, and even showed our dog Goldie in the Veteran category, which I don’t recommend. Goldie is not a fan of being shown. She just wants to enjoy her quiet life ever since she retired from the ring.

So, all our chow club friends knew Sensation well. In fact, Jackie and I had our eye on him ever since we met him as a puppy. My wife boasts that he could walk on two legs like a human. This description is a bet deceptive. He didn’t walk around on two legs in an open yard, carrying a beverage in one paw, and greeting guests with the other. Instead, he would jump up and use the fence to keep him up at our height for extended periods of time, excited to suck our scent through his nostrils with a vengeance. So, when we heard his owner had passed away (sadly by her own choosing), we jumped on our collective two legs to pick him up and bring him home.

Despite his gorgeous muzzle, and his disarmingly gentle personality, he has challenged me over the years. Seizures come every several weeks without fail, and they require a lot of attention. After a 14-hour workday, a 2 am seizure can tip me over the edge of insanity. I realize it’s horrible, but I have fantasized in those moments about letting him run into traffic. Then I sit myself down and give myself a sobering pep talk, until my smoker neighbor taps me on the shoulder to point out that I’m self-conversing out loud.

Honestly, the insanity doesn’t come very often any more, as I’ve eased into the unpredictability of his brain schedule. He is my master on those nights. Who am I kidding – he’s always been my master. But, the more I can surrender, the quicker cluster-week seems to end. It’s a good lesson in letting go (but not the leash!) His seizures don’t really bother me any more. I admire his determination. The odds were against him, but he has managed to live long beyond what might be expected for a dog with his condition. He just refuses to die.

Now that we seem to have his seizure schedule down to a controlled pattern, he enjoys a blissful existence 6 weeks in between every cluster of seizures. It’s difficult to imagine that anything else could befall him with his to live a long life. And yet, our vet discovered some lumps a few weeks ago, and immediately concluded it was lymphoma.

They conducted many tests, but the tests mostly resulted in guessing because the lumps turned out to be filled with fluid, not a cancerous tumor. Just to be safe, we met with an oncologist, who confirmed it was indeed cancer. Then, he ran his own tests, again surprised to find the lumps filled with fluid. The biopsy came back INCONCLUSIVE. At this point, I was starting to wonder why everyone is so convinced he must have cancer, especially when nobody could explain the liquid. So, the oncologist sent off a sample to a special lab. The lab finally confirmed last Friday that he does have cancer. But, it’s the GOOD kind of cancer.

The cells are indolent, which means the cancer grows very slow. And the chemotherapy has a proven track record with dogs for a high survival rate. Once the cancer is treated, it doesn’t grow back for years. So, Sensation (now 12) will most likely live the rest of his life before cancer becomes an issue again.

So, the treatment has begun. I give him the medicine that will save his life every 48 hours. As with all chemotherapy, it’s poison. Yay! I really enjoy giving my dog poison. I must wear gloves so that I don’t get any poison on myself. But, I guess having my dog ingest it should be no problem, though. I quickly get over the contradiction because the science is solid. So far - so good. He hasn’t had any negative reactions to the drug, and he still has an appetite.

Once again, the dog that was guaranteed to live a short difficult life has defied his odds. I personally think it’s his positive outlook on life.

DAY TRIPPER

Friday, I enjoyed a special day out with my wife Jackie. We’ve both been so busy that we haven’t really had time to think about spending a full day together. But, fate intervened and provided the opportunity, even if it meant 8 hours in the emergency room.

Her symptoms came on strong at 4am, and by 6am, we self-diagnosed the problem as appendicitis. Plus, an unrelated facebook posting from our sister-in-law Heather talked about appendicitis, so it seemed like maybe we should go to the ER to be safe. However, the ‘doctor’ at the ‘hospital’ suspected ‘kidney stones.’ Actually, it really was kidney stones.

With a little help from morphine and some other drugs I can’t pronounce, Jackie’s pain went from a 9 to 3, and she was able to sleep while they considered the best next steps. Although we were the only people in the emergency room at 7am on a Friday morning, by 10am, it was full, with patients sitting in chairs in the hallway waiting for beds. We shared a room with other beds. The curtains were drawn, so we couldn’t see, but we could hear a man and an old woman – both competing to see who could be the loudest moaner. All we could hear at first from both of them was “Oooh!” every three seconds – not quite in synch, but once in a while, they would manage to say it at the same exact time. Then, once every ten minutes, the old lady would add some cursing to change it up.

Naturally, I was raised right by my parents. They taught me if was curious about strangers, I should eavesdrop very carefully to determine their situations. When the nurse prepared to hook up an IV to the old lady, she warned them that they would have a problem with the IV. She admitted that she was on heroin, with her last use being the previous day. Then, they accused her of being in withdrawal, but she adamantly denied she was in withdrawal.

I saw it once before. I knew a woman back in Chicago who had a heroin problem, so I could predict her story instantly. I’m sure we all have heard a similar story. So, it will be no surprise to anyone of her path to where she sits right now:

She was most likely a woman who grew up very wealthy. She was probably an only child who never saw the neighbors because they lived too far away to reach by foot. She relied on the family housekeeper to invent games because she grew bored of the 47 board games in the closet. She was sent to a strict military / home construction contracting school. All the boys most likely mocked her because she was the first girl ever to attend in the history of the school. Then came the hammer accident to the eye, leading to her nickname of one-eyed Alice. In fact, the teasing was so cruel that she quit school early. Her parents felt sorry for her, so the put her in charge of the family-owned 7-11. It was the least profitable of all their business, so they didn’t mind if she put it out of business. But, she surprised them all and built an entire empire of 7-11s. Even to this day, you probably can’t walk into a 7-11 between 110th Street on the South Side and Dundee Road without contributing to her empire.

And yet, one fateful day, she fell for one of the Pepsi Delivery boys. They enjoyed fourteen summers of bliss cruising in his Pepsi truck up and down the beaches, getting everyone excited by the promise of cool refreshment, only to realize the truck would never stop. One-eyed Alice and her bad news boyfriend Justin would then sneak into the back door of Old St. Pat’s Church during mass, find the kitchen, and make sweet apple pies for the congregation. Unfortunately, their love was not to last. After 14 wonderful years, he got fired, and she refused to see someone without a job. And that’s when her fortune turned. She put all her 7-11 profits into a failing vitamin business scheme, and turned it around to become successful. It seemed she couldn’t touch any business without improving it. Everyone wanted her advice. She wrote a business book and started speaking around the country. That’s when an evil gang of hotel maids kidnapped her, and injected heroin in her for twenty straight days. They stole her books and got $73 on Amazon for them at good used prices. Then, they dumped her off at the hospital where she went through withdrawal.

Yes, we all know a story like this. And, it’s a good thing every human being is exactly the same, so I can draw reliable conclusions about a stranger’s circumstances. It’s a relief to know that once I get a few details about someone, I can put them into the group that best characterizes them, and then know exactly how to judge them. So, I’m sure you understand why I always empathize with the wealthy, hammer-wounded, Pepsi driver-loving, kidnapped, 7-11 owners who get heroin forced on them for Amazon used book sales.

Imagine if I didn’t know someone in this situation. Then, I might have to rely on other people’s characterizations of groups of people. I suppose that would be an acceptable alternative. I know whenever someone makes a judgment about a group of people, it’s usually for the benefit of that group, and should be trusted at face value.

Anyway, Jackie is doing well. So, I can only assume that everyone who visits the ER survives. Everyone.