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.

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.

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!!

$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

I used to be very proud of my lawn care business. Most of my time was spent cutting the grass, with a few extra services like bushes, weeding, etc. I made around $5 - $10 per house, and by my senior year in high school, I had 7 clients in the neighborhood that brought in a weekly income of $45 per week. I paid for my own prom with lawn money ($222 - which is $436 in today’s value). Actually, that still seems like a fairly cheap prom all-in, but considering I failed to get a goodnight kiss and crashed my dad’s car, it was a good deal.

Still, I was in control of my money back then. I had a CD, which earned interest, I had a savings account, and I even had money to spend on pizza. Eventually, I found myself a salary at Andersen Consulting, and I was still able to spend money on whatever I wanted. I had a condo investment, I treated friends to drinks and dinners, and I even had money to spend on travel.

Then, I got married. Suddenly, managing money wasn’t so easy. I had to plan for 2 people, and somehow our expenses seemed to quadruple. We were spending like we were still single, and then we were spending money as a couple on top of that. Money became tight, and tension mounted. Something needed to be done at this point in my young adult life. I had to take action!

So, I quit my job.

I went back to school, took a job at a restaurant on the corner of minimum wage and no insurance. But, that wasn’t enough of a challenge, so I moved to Los Angeles with an unstable job that made even less money.

After some more stress and difficulties with money, we finally turned our situation around. We became financially stable as a couple, and started paying off our debts. We are currently in the best financial shape that we’ve ever been. So, if history is any indication, we will have to devise a way to put ourselves in jeopardy again. I know, let’s have a baby!

If we have a baby, I will see an immediate impact on the household finances. First, Jackie will want to stay home with the kid. By the way, that point is not up for discussion. I was happy to be the stay at home dad, but after the initial discussion, I wasn’t so happy any more.

So, as Jackie earns half the family income, that would be a huge cut each month. Some estimate that the first year of birth could cost $250,000! What?! The obvious solution that comes to mind first would be to increase our family income. That’s an easy fix, since we will have the advantage of a new person to share the load. Get the baby a job, keeping the little tyke busy, allowing my wife to get back to work. It’s the perfect plan. I’ll just put an ad on Craig’s List, and…

Okay. Change in plans. Jackie tells me that our baby will not be available as a laborer due to something she shouting-ly calls “common sense,” so I’ve pulled my Craig’s List ad. Instead, I will have to explore what must be cut from the monthly expenses.

Variable expenses go first:

- Dining Out: Poquito Mas es no Mas

- Entertainment like Netflix, movies, live music, coffee and medicine

- Books, DVDs, iTunes, chow porn (don’t ask) and water

Then I’ll have to cut into monthly expenses that will be soon considered a luxury:

- Cable

- iPhone service

- Power / Gas Utilities

- One of the cars will have to go

- Mortgage

That doesn’t leave us much. But, we won’t need any of these expenses. We can spend our time entertained by the baby, living in our 1 car, and eating theatre popcorn for dinner.

So, is giving up a relatively comfortable style of life worth a baby?

I suddenly remember when Jackie and I first started dating, and we offered to baby sit our niece Megan, who was a new baby at the time (she’s 14 now). I don’t think we realized that she was colicky when signed up for that act of kindness, but soon we were pulling our hair out and shoving it our ears to block out the screaming. For some reason, we thought that she would calm down by holding her near the ceiling fan (not sure which of us lame-brains came up with that scheme), and so we took turns holding her up in the air towards the fan, looking like some urban tribal shamans offering up our first born to sacrifice to the gods of air circulation. If that’s the fun of parenting that makes all the sacrifices irrelevant, then sign me up!

Why would anyone choose to change a comfortable life to hold a screaming baby up in the air for hours each night? Why would anyone sacrifice luxuries like TV, food, and chow porn? Besides, Jackie and I had the benefit of spending time with Megan last summer when she visited California. So, we enjoyed our role as the cool aunt and uncle, without the pain and suffering of 14 years of parenting.

I’m not convinced at this point that parenting is right for me. Bottom line, I’m not ready to give up the necessities. If we must sacrifice our food, clothing and shelter, I will only reconsider - as long as I can keep my iPhone.

Break's Over

Whenever I plan ahead enough, I can travel back to Chicago for another gig with my friends in the Outcast Jazz Band. During the Christmas break, we played our annual Christmas Swing Extravaganza at the Willowbrook Ballroom. It’s an old-fashioned dance hall ball room that hosts the event every year, with swing dance lessons before the big band plays.

I find the experience of playing live in the middle of 17 other creative musicians to be nothing short of sublime. In addition to playing fun music, I goof around quite a bit. Unfortunately, this time I had a difficult time staying focused due to my obsession with capturing my life on Facebook, and the performance suffered. It was easier in the 90’s to tell long stories and jokes during the measures of rests (even two beats could be enough time for a really great one-liner), but that was when we played the same music over and over. I actually had to sight-read at this gig, which means I should’ve been paying attention, not taking the above photos to upload.

As great as the fun on the bandstand, the breaks can often provide the most entertainment. With a drink in one hand, and a stolen piece of wedding cake in the other, I have heard some of my most offensive and exciting stories of my life. And in my early years, I may have even lived the offensive and exciting story myself.

For this reason, we tend to take our time returning to work. And, if we don’t police ourselves, the bridal party will eventually begin to wonder why they paid us. We once spread a break to 25 minutes, causing the mother of the bride to unleash some offensive curses herself.

So, now I must tell myself “Break’s over!” I took some time off of blogging over Christmas. I spent it fine-tuning my script for the web series first episode, location-scouting, auditioning, and then deciding that the script needs to change. Why? Because I’m not enjoying it. My analytical mind takes over sometimes, and I wind up with a tight story, without making myself laugh. If I can’t laugh, then what’s the point?

I’ve been going over the story of the whole series, and I’m battling in my mind between making a full in depth feature script, and just having fun with it episode by episode. After all, the character we discover in ourselves makes the journey all the more worth it. That sentence is an example of my efforts to use the types of poetic phrases I’ve heard before and reuse them to teach a lesson.

What’s the point of all this? I’m tired. And this is after a 3 week break. 3 weeks is not enough? Sure, I had to deal with my family. That can be exhausting. And not because we are arguing or battling some serious dysfunction. We don’t live our lives the same way, and forcing ourselves to live together for 2 weeks puts a strain as we get along.

But, I’m still tired. What did I do today? I wrote a little. I watched TV. I worked out on my new fabulous Wii Fit (thanks mom and dad!), and watched more TV. Okay, I did laundry as well, but it was a relaxing day overall. And now I’m tired. It’s 11:24pm, so that kind of explains it. But, if I had a kid, I think I would be BT (beyond toast).

Ultimately, I come back to that argument again and again - don’t have kids because I’m lazy. Nice. But, then I remember the joy of playing in the band all over as we begin playing our second set of music. So, ending the break isn’t so bad. I can find a unique life experience from the Outcast Jazz Band that has rewarded me for 19 years since I joined. It’s work, but it’s worth it.

My Two Sessions

Living in California, I am required by law to meet with a professional of some sort at least twice a year. It’s part of a set of laws created to keep the state liberal. So, I managed to do 2 sessions this week. Here are my thoughts.

Session #1: Therapy

Jackie and I met with a therapist to discuss the topic of children. We talked about what children mean to us, and the pros and cons - many of the concerns and issues discussed previously in the blog. At this point, I’m still on the fence, and Jackie still leans towards remaining cool aunt and uncle only.

Nothing really earth-shattering came out of the session. So, I guess one visit to the therapist is not going to solve the problem. That’s a $10 co-pay gone to waste. I’ll have to wait until next week. In the mean time, I managed to get my second session another way…

Session#2: Pet Psychic

Yes, it’s true. I went to a pet psychic. I am now a true Californian. And, even more amazingly, the session was conducted over the phone!

As I’ve mentioned before, Sensation has a problem with seizures, and he takes epilepsy medicine. But, the medicine makes him so sleepy, and it doesn’t stop him from having a week of seizures every month. So, we were desperate - we gave the psychic a try.

First of all, the psychic figured out that Sensation was epileptic without any hints from us. I later confirmed that my friend who recommended the psychic didn’t tell her anything about my dogs either. So, she passed that test. Then, she told us that Sensation was happy, but just sleepy from the medicine all the time. That was a relief, because when your dog mopes all the time, well, you begin to wonder.

Finally, she recommended that we do some visualization to help him. She wanted us to first visualize his brain, then look for black circles on that brain, and then erase the black spots with a blue light.

I always remain skeptical when I see psychics and spiritualists on TV. That John Edwards guy seems like a liar and a fake, and the way he speaks makes him more suited to sell condoms out of a 75 hatchback. Then there’s Sylvia Brown. She seems like she’s just making stuff up because she’s bored. And don’t get me started on the writing of “Ghost Whisperer.” Despite it’s high ratings lately, the show is too melodramatic for my tastes.

Ultimately, it’s hard for me to accept the story of someone being paid to tell you stuff you can never see or hear. I believe in the practical. I believe in proven solutions. Real stuff.

I also learned from my parents that you do anything for your kid. You look for retainers in the garbage. You drive 3 hours on a Wednesday to see a jazz concert, only to drive 3 more hours back home in time for work the next day. And, you figure out how to take care of your kid when he’s sick, no matter what.

So, when the psychic on the speaker phone gave her suggestions, and they didn’t involve the vet, I had only one question. Should the light be dark blue or light blue?

Free Stuff

Today my theatre hosted a press junket for PLANET 51. So, the press came and brought their kids. Everyone could order whatever they wanted at the concessions stand for FREE. The studio paid for it. Not a bad deal. A stampede of polite wiry blogger chicks and agoraphobic creepy 70-year-old film critics rushed the stand zombie-style to grab armfuls of gummy bears, hot dogs, carmel popcorn, and whatever else they could fit in their pockets. Some must of known the concessions would be free, because they came wearing several layers of jackets - all with deep pockets.

I can’t criticize because I have a special swag bucket to stock up on such occasions. After all, the choices included more than just Twizzlers - but also Tim Tams from Australia, and Pocky from Japan, and fancy dark chocolate, and fresh pretzels from La Brea Bakery, and fun Fizzy Lizzy soda flavors… if you’re feeling nauseous, don’t worry. Now you see the double value of the swag bucket.

But, if someone is watching, I tend to refuse gifts and kind offers as a matter of instinct. When I was offered a glass of soda as a child, I believed I was supposed to refuse it. Otherwise, I would be considered impolite. I’m not sure where that thinking started - maybe it wasn’t really soda, but a bottle with colored water to make that family look rich.

Even to this day, my parents refuse gifts all the time. Jackie and I tried to find out what they wanted for their anniversary, since their needs are difficult to figure out these days. They told us not to get anything for them. But, they won’t be getting away with that. They will be getting a large Christmas / Anniversary present. We’ll show them.

I’m learning that gifts have value, for the giver as well as the receiver. For some, it’s a chance for you to owe them. But from what I’ve heard, others actually feel happy giving. So, I might have to give it a try.

As I may have mentioned, I recently learned that some of my issues may categorize me as codependent. Apparently, codependent people have a hard time accepting gifts from others because they feel embarrassed or undeserving. So, I qualify - I have turned down gifts for years, or when possible, accepted the gift with profuse blushing.

On a side note, the more I’ve discussed the concept of codependency with people recently, the more common I’m finding these behavioral patterns. Even you may be codependent! Here you can see some patterns that may indicate you may also be a member of the codependent club: http://www.codependents.org/tools4recovery/patterns.php

I can’t blame my parents for this one, because they so rarely have a drink. So, I can only blame my grandparents or great-grandparents and their hidden alcoholism for building these behaviors into the patterns of living for my family to pass down from generation to generation.

I guess those pictures of me as a baby learning to walk on my grandma’s tavern bar aren’t that cute any more. I always laughed at those who would react in shock at those photos - they couldn’t possibly think that a baby is going to pick up any drinking habits from hanging out in a tavern. After all, it wasn’t different from a family party - lots of people having fun, eating beef sandwiches and drinking beer. But, maybe we did pick up some of the dysfunctions that they lovingly passed onto my parents.

However, I actually want to embrace my family’s past. It’s many of those imperfections that made me the quirk that I am today. In fact, without the battle of codependence and they typical dysfunction of my youth, I wouldn’t have the driving need to express myself publicly, nor the inspiration to strive to become a writer and filmmaker. It’s a well-known cliche that our struggles and challenges only make us stronger and more resilient.

So, I choose to embrace the power of my dysfunction. I choose to give my child the challenges required to give him (eventual) success. The trick for me will be to figure out what I want my kid to be, pull hard in the opposite direction of all those characteristics, and then watch as he rebels and stumbles unwittingly into my trap.

Most importantly, I expect him to learn the value of receiving as much as giving - not to make the same mistakes I made, but instead take all that he can from others. And, in a special family traditional ceremony, I will pass on my swag bucket.

PARENTING LESSONS FROM CHICAGO

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Last week, I traveled to Chicago to do some research for the Baby Time project by visiting with friends and family. I enjoyed the trip immensely, but my only regret was not stopping at Oberweiss for the best ice cream in the country, but unfortunately my dad thinks Oberweiss should be called Oberpreissed.

Here’s a summary of my findings:

- Raising children is difficult / a struggle / a challenge - Life as you know it is changed - You will make many sacrifices - The joy far outweighs any frustration - Life is way better seen through the eyes of your children

Not exactly a mind-blowing revelation. But, within these talking points that all the parents must get on their faxes every morning, I hear the difference in the details from one parent to the next. And, those differences in experience appear to be a direct result of their approach and philosophy.

Overprotective – Results in a constant stressful and helpless existence, following your child around every turn with the loving family mantra of “Watch out!” (No one claims to be this parent, but everyone knows one.)

Free and Easy – Results in a flexible lifestyle, with the freedom to eat out and socialize at will, with the children following you around. Children are rewarded for good behavior, instead of to shut them up. The plus with this approach is a well-socialized infant, but the negative is that if they act up, the outing is over immediately.

Well-Balanced – Results in a sometimes-stressful experience of watching your children screw up, followed by an opportunity to learn from the mistake. You experience the joy of living life almost entirely through their eyes, and then your reward is the anguish of letting them go off to college without you.

Overscheduled – Results in a well-balanced child with lots of extra life experience in sports, music, and other activities. You have the excitement of carting your children around like they are the rich teen celebrity that employs you.

Obviously there are many other approaches, but I had to go to the Cubs game on Saturday.

Through all my discussions, everyone agreed that Jackie and Dan would make great parents. I thank you all for your vote of confidence. On paper, I whole-heartedly agree! Jackie and I are educated and compassionate people. With my abstract sense of humor, and Jackie’s music teacher knowledge, we’d have a very stable and unique spawn. My fear is that if I don’t fully understand the weight of the stress and sacrifice that parenting requires, I might be sorely disappointed when the experience reigns down on me.

Maybe caring for dogs will help. I’ve learned compassion from Sensation, my chow. He’s got a medical problem. Any time his body is stressed, he can have seizures. And the seizures cluster, meaning he’ll have 2 seizures a day for 7 days. For the last year and a half, this happens every 3 – 4 weeks. Unpredictable, varying in intensity, the seizures cause his body to convulse, followed by chaotic confusion, and the need to run outside like a mo-fo to relieve himself (the dogs don’t like to go inside the house, luckily). The drugs calm him (like valium and chlorazopate), and he can sleep for 8 – 20 hours. That is, until the next seizure, which seems to gravitate towards 2am when I return home after an exhausting party at the theatre, or at 5am, or 7am, or 3am, or the middle of dinner. I can’t help but look at him with compassion and ask “Can I kill him now? How about now?”

I know it’s horrible. It shows that I am truly a monster. After all, if he didn’t have a high quality of life, killing him would be the compassionate thing to do. But, when he’s seizing, he’s unconscious, and if this happens 6 times, and then he has 3 weeks of normal living, that seems like he still has an ultimately quality life, right?

I think the key is to be aware of those thoughts. And hopefully, I would never have those thoughts with my own children. Besides, I think it’s better to be conscious of those dark thoughts, than to hide it deep in the subconscious and wake up one day with your car and kids in the lake.

And, a reminder of the biggest lesson from Chicago: how you look at the experience changes the nature of the experience. Parents who decide to enjoy the ups and downs show less stress. Sure, they feel pain, but when they appreciate the mistakes for their lessons as much as the successes, then they appreciate every moment of their lives, and that’s living!

GOALS OF THE BABY TIME! PROJECT

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Welcome to the Baby Time blog! The goal of the blog is to:

1) Develop a comic web series.

2) Explore the topic of rearing children to inspire episodes.

3) Decide once and for all if Jackie and Dan should have children.

We love our 2 dogs. They are chow chows. They are very independent. We can leave them for 12 hours without worrying about accidents. They only like a certain amount of attention, so we don’t feel guilty about not playing with them when we are tired.

They are gorgeous animals that get praise on every walk. They don’t bark - unless there is real danger (like a stranger in the house - the only time you really want a bark). They are loyal. They have unique personalities.

They basically have all the benefits of children without the hassle of worrying about a kid choking on a toy or growing up to murder a town.

And yet, I can’t help but take all my friends and family seriously when they say “having children will change your life — for the better.” Usually this comes right before they initiate some life-scarring trauma upon their innocent child.

When I was growing up, my main focus in life was to have a family. It’s what my parents did. My good friends were family members. And our lives revolved around the family. So, naturally having children was a foregone conclusion. Even into my twenties, my goal in life was to have a family.

Then I got out of the house and met some other people. Some happy people. What kind of happiness is this? It’s not forced. It’s not pretend. It’s not fleeting.

And something else changed. I started to explore my love of creativity. My desire to tell stories. My inner dream to make films. It’s a dream that has never gone away. So, as I started listening to my inner desires, my need to create a family faded.

I also met the love of my life: Jackie. She was not interested in having children. She got all the contact with little ones that she needed as a music teacher. She could enjoy the magic and wonder of children creating music. And then at the end of the day, she could go home and not worry about the other responsibilities of raising children. Plus, we discovered that we were having a lot of fun as a couple. We actually have a great marriage. So, it would seem that since she is the female, she has the last word on the question of bearing children.

However, as we approach an age where we either have children now, I still find myself needing to explore the topic in a more intentional way. A decision must be made. And the biological sands of time are running out of grains. And she agrees that a detailed study needs to be made before we can confidently be happy to spend the rest of our life as just the cool aunt and uncle, or if we join the rest of our family and friends in the glorious struggle of child rearing.

So, I will be exploring topics of raising children with pros and cons. I will be rambling on about the potential joys and devastations of generating humans of my own. And, I will be using that discussion to generate comic material for a web series.

I welcome all input, and hopefully by the end, I will know for sure whether or not I want children. And even more importantly, hopefully Jackie will agree.