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.

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.”

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!!

HBD TO ME!

SCAN0051

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!

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!

The Cheesing of Superman

In my teens, my cousins and I travelled to Wisconsin out of sheer boredom. We drove randomly towards strange-named small towns – our favorite was Muckwonago - and then video taped our misguided attempts to be funny in each town. We interviewed store clerks and pretended we worked for A&E. We thought we were so clever and mischievous! In reality, the result was more of a travelling Lawrence Welk show compared to the shocking stunts on YouTube coming from today’s youth. But, how could we dare treat these very welcoming Wisconsinites with anything less than respect? It would be unconscionable in the face of their unabashed kindness! Plus, we have relatives in Fondulac, and we couldn’t risk the embarrassment to the family name.

I lived a very sheltered childhood. We pictured ourselves as true rebels in this journey to all the “M” towns of Wisconsin, at least when we compared the trip to our day-to-day life of growing up in the suburbs of Chicago. For the most part, life was stable. Our parents stayed married. Our schools were safe. The only gang at our high school, was a group of geeky writers who wrote about a pretend gang – I know because I was a proud member of The Marauders. The only excesses at our high school parties consisted of shooting up too many chocolate chip cookies and dropping our inhibitions with streams of sugar-fueled sexual innuendos. But, my parents stayed involved in our lives, even when we did not want them there. They found a good balance of work and family time that was required for raising a family. I will not apologize for my luck at being adopted into a loving family with enough tenacity to stay in the game for twenty years consistently - to build our character and self-confidence enough to get through college and out into the world.

Unfortunately, a majority of today’s kids arrive in pre-school and kindergarten already behind in development. According to my favorite research book about children, “The Irreducible Needs of Children:” from the very start of life, children require sensitive, nurturing care to build capacities for trust, empathy and compassion. These interactions with care-givers teach communication and thinking, concepts of time and space, compassion and caring. Then, as they continue to develop, experiences must be tailored to the individual differences of each child. Each stage of development requires certain experiences – like interactive play and negotiations for social cues, and pretend play, opinion-oriented discussions and debates for creative and logical thinking.

 

But, these days, who has the time for all that?

The average 21st century family with the same social status as my family faces a much tougher battle for survival and success. Statistically, salaries for middle class have remained stagnant while the cost of living has continued to rise. And if you’re poor, every day poses an uphill battle. How can we expect a parent to work multiple jobs and still have enough time to provide much needed direct emotional contact with their kids? My parents didn’t really understand all our homework, but they were around to help us maneuver through the social struggles and emotional battles required to learn how to be a person, as well as the valuable skills of polka dancing.

Today’s society has all but made that sort of support a luxury item. Then, they get to school, and wonder why they cannot grasp the basics. Teachers must steer classrooms as big as 40 kids around icebergs of emotional issues dragged from home and language barriers. And the school system sets up standards for learning without the appropriate resources to accomplish the learning goals effectively. By the time kids reach high school, many believe that society has given up on them. It’s no surprise that children are failing in record numbers, and we all know the most effective way to solve problems in America: find a scapegoat!

I was fortunate enough to see WAITING FOR SUPERMAN as part of the Los Angeles Film Festival last year. I became enraged by one premise of the film: if only we could fire the bad teachers, everyone would start graduating! At the same time, my wife had just been let go by her public school due to cuts in arts spending in the district. At one point, they offered to keep her at the school, with her same paycheck, but not as a music teacher. That plan would put her in various tasks from shuffling papers to sweeping, but NO MUSIC FOR THE KIDS. God forbid she be caught whistling. Clearly our school system is broken. And the dysfunctional aspects of the unions have not helped.

I wanted to tie together my feelings about the premise of bad teachers in WAITING FOR SUPERMAN, and the attack on unions in Wisconsin. But, I failed several attempts. Ironically, I don’t have the education or mental capacity to complete that thesis effectively, mostly because it would require research, which would mean reading.

I’m conivnced I hvae dyslxeia (Sorry, I couldn’t resist). I’ve never been properly tested, but I do see letters switched all the time, and I often type letters and even thoughts out of order. When I’m editing my writing, it’s almost comical how I can cut and paste paragraphs in a different order, and suddenly the thoughts flow much more effectively. I can read, but only with time and concentration. I’m not one of those people who can sit in a talky café and relax with a good book, unless I’m using that book to shut up the opinionated trust fund baby next to me with a good swipe to the head.

I’m not complaining. I’m astonished to realize how my struggles with reading have impacted my choices in life. I believe it was my need to switch letters around that helped my brain adjust quickly to math, which led to my degree in Electrical Engineering. It was my instinctive switching of letters that made me piece together ideas and thoughts that don’t normally go together in a funny way, which led to my study of comedy at Second City. And finally, it was the pain with reading that drove me to make up my own stories, build my creative thinking muscles, and pursue the visual medium of film.

So, I proposed some ideas to my wife, a wonderfully brilliant teacher of music, to show how ridiculous the discussion of firing more teachers.

My theory: arguments to blame bad teachers changes the subject and prevents us from tackling the big issues. Don’t get me wrong – we’ve all experienced our own Mrs. Crabapple who happily let Ralph teach the class from time to time. But, labeling teachers as cartoon characters dismisses the reality that most people become teachers because they want to teach. They want to help kids learn. I doubt that anyone spends the time and energy to get a teacher certificate thinking “I can’t wait to be a teacher! Think of the luxury of an exuberant average salary of $45,000 while I coast through the system and eventually blow-off all classroom preparation. Suck it tax payer bitches!”

To my surprise, she actually thought that more teachers should be fired. If the administration followed the process of evaluation correctly, I wouldn’t have to worry about her job, since she’s already outshined her coworkers in so many ways – and I’m not just saying that because I need her to walk my special needs dog once in a while. But, she quickly spotted the real issue that I had been dancing around – namely, this argument is a waste of time. It’s like the computer in WAR GAMES, except this war involves Fox News fans with talking points. The only way to win is not to play.

Unfortunately, this line of reasoning highlights a real concern: the possibility that years of emphasis on national testing has prevented a large majority of Americans from developing critical thinking skills — so much so, that people believe corporate-funded propaganda as absolute fact without asking questions or thinking for themselves.

If that’s the reality of our current discourse, then reasonable people should not waste any energy discussing politics at all. Whether we wait for Superman, or we try to be Superman as a collective societal force, we face some serious kryptonite in the form of hypocrisy driven by greed. And those average, working Americans who feel cheated by the Wisconsin unions don’t even recognize how badly they are being cheesed. A very smart and strategic group of people have effectively hijacked the emotions of these patriots and fed them with little Dairy-based cubes of misinformation, thus tainting the dialog. Believe me, I’ve tried a few conversations via Facebook with my conservative acquaintances, but they always end painfully. I can only hope that some day reason and perspective enlightens them before their minds melt into a complete fondue. 

Although, I’m not sure I want to be in the vicinity on that day. You think they’re angry now?

Teen Problems - What a Disappointment

Our niece has been living with Jackie and I for a month now. She goes to school where Jackie teaches, and has taken true ownership of our second bedroom. I must admit that all my expectations of living with a teen have turned into one big disappointment!

Where to begin?

I’ll start with my biggest problem. She’s a good kid. Where are all the fights? Where’s the drama? Where are the slamming doors? Shouts of “I hate you!” followed by more slamming doors? Where are the tears? The threats? The emotional wailings of immaturity? I’ve been cheated out of the high entertainment potential of teen guardianship. She’s polite. She adjusts quickly when plans change. It’s quite frustrating.

And another thing! She’s smart. When I learned an impressionable young mind would be stumbling through time and space at my house, hungry for any morsel of learning she could find, I delighted with plans to teach and coach her using my vast life experience and breadth of knowledge. No need. In fact, she’s so wise for her age, when I do try to spout out some life-changing brilliance, she doesn’t protest. Instead, she knows it’s much easier to listen politely, and thank me. But, that’s when I notice the look in her eyes that says, “Poor Uncle Dan. He tries so hard. At least he means well.” She doesn’t even have the decency to call me out and school me on my lame attempts to make a difference in a young person’s life! Talk about ungrateful.

Finally, what makes all this even more excruciating: even if I could instigate some sort of dramatic behavior, I couldn’t blog about it. After all, how could I put any of her ups and downs out in the public? It would be a violation of her privacy.

My wife and I are left with only one technique that seems to work in affecting our niece. This surprisingly easy method consists of doing what we were already doing before she showed up at the airport. In other words, we can model for her. I’m proud of how my wife and I relate and negotiate through our daily life. In that respect, being a teen guardian has been eerily simple.

Of course, as we get to know her better, and spend more day-to-day time in the same house, we’re bound to run into some challenges. But, I’m confident that we have a uniquely strong position as the aunt and uncle – close enough to help, but not so close that we use each others’ issues as weapons to dig each other into a ditch of endless emotional distress.

In other words, the promise of the melodramatic teen-in-residence rollercoaster remains a wonderfully huge disappointment.

Parenthood International

It always starts the same way. You spend several years bonding with your friends. Maybe it starts in high school, where you steal the principal’s car and return it painted pink. Or, you pull all-nighters in college cramming with your dorm buddies, battling the confusion you created yourself with the mix of caffeine, nicotine and alcohol in your blood. Or, in my case, you join a big band, and you find yourself naked in a hot tub with dudes showcasing their goods like it’s no big deal. Through common experience and struggles, you build deep friendships.

Then, they start a family, and something changes. They smile like they slipped out of a giant pod in their basement – they joined the “program.” As more kids start showing up in photos, they begin to wonder why you haven’t joined the program. My friend Vince loves to taunt me every chance he gets to give up my efforts in Hollywood, as he attempts to lure me with the “excitement” of starting a family and getting a regular job back in Chicago. These family advocates seem to have a quota for how many friends they can get to become parents. I’ve finally realized why they are so persistent. The Parenthood Program is a pyramid scheme.

Think about it. Once they join, they have nothing but amazing success stories to share about the rewards of the Parenthood Program. They do touch on the hard work, but it’s downplayed to be sure. It’s a solid sell. As they show you the tee-ball and beach trip photos, you genuinely look at each one carefully. You think to yourself, “boy, they all sure seem happy.” You begin to share the excitement of their lives, and it almost seems like a reasonable way of life. Then you try it out. You baby-sit. It’s the same reason you buy Amway cleaning spray from your brother-in-law — you want to be supportive. But, over time, they increase the pressure to become more involved. They want you to sell the spray yourself. They want you to join the Parenthood Program.

Meanwhile, I’m not really in a place to start a family. Although I’m afraid the limited window of opportunity for the Parenthood Program could be closing soon, I also recognize that switching gears right now is not realistic. My wife will be traveling this summer for training, and then starts a new job in the fall. I’m focusing all my efforts on making something valuable out of the web series and other comedy projects in my developing arsenal. We’re just too into our own, happily self-centered paths right now. So, we decided this week to commit to a different plan for now – the cool Aunt and Uncle affiliate program.

The beauty of this opportunity contains all the bonuses of the Parenthood Program with none of the hassle: fun outings to the amusement park or museum with nieces and nephews, 3D movie afternoons, or evening fireworks shows, and drop them off any time. And, as a bonus for joining at this special time, we will be able to take advantage of Jackie’s new job as a high school choir director. We will have plenty of opportunities to chaperone a whole class of kids on trips across the state for choir competitions. Again, we gain the advantages of the Parenthood Program, but retain the option to leave any time.

Please consider joining our new Aunt and Uncle affiliate program: it’s like a vacation time-share in parenting. Or, at least come next weekend for my presentation at the airport Hilton.

The Little Things

Happy Mother’s Day! A special shout out to my mother, Estelle, even though I will have to relate this message directly, as the mere mention of blogs and social networking brings an immediate head-shake and the you’ll-all-be-sorry speech. And, of course, a warm heart-filled appreciation for my wife Jackie, who is the mother of our 2 chow chows.

I blame marketing alone for the opening of two mother-themed movies this weekend: BABIES and MOTHER AND CHILD. One of my screenings at work last week showed the latter, and I took the opportunity to watch it before knowing that the film told the story of an adoptee and her birth mother. So, as someone who has been considering finding his own birth mother, the story effortlessly tossed my emotions around like a beach ball. I highly recommend the movie, but don’t watch it if you plan to interact professionally with co-workers and clients during the credits.

The film encouraged my quest for my origins, but at the same time, it deepened my appreciation for my adoptive parents. It reminded me of the difficult journey they pursued to adopt me, and the years of loving me despite all of my emotional outbursts and rebellious insanity. And, I noticed that the story hit me hardest when it triggered memories of the little moments in my family journey.

When discussing the pros and cons of raising a family, parents always say, “It’s the little things that make it all worth it.” Of course, those stories don’t always start out so wonderful. One couple talked about the hours and hours of screaming and crying over a lost Sponge Bob eraser. I quickly filed the story under “Cons,” until they marveled how the tension of the day washed away when bed time arrived, and they saw the “angel” sleeping soundly – what?! So, the “Pros” of having kids is that they eventually sleep? Or, perhaps the difference between terror and bliss is the eyeballs.

Over time, though, I’ve realized that perspective is the ultimate secret of parenthood. For example, before having children, many had my experience - crippling fear of all the changes and uncertainties of parenthood. But, the after-birth experience receives consistent praise as “the best - life-choice - ever!”

Most people just have children without thinking twice. My cousin warned me not to think too hard, or I will end up without children. So, it seems that all my concerns should be ignored, and trust that “the little things” will make my morbid list irrelevant. And the perspective will be the measure of my memories.

Regardless of whether I raise my own family, I will always have my own little things to remember, such as how my mom called me Uga Mugga. Or, how she used to get me a glass of milk in the middle of the night. Or, how it feels to dance the polka with her.

And, I continue to create the little moments with my mother to savor and appreciate. And in that spirit, I will now go tell my mother how I honored her publicly in cyber space, and then I will sit back with a cup of coffee, and enjoy the moment of another you’ll-all-be-sorry-for-Facebook speech.

PARENTAL CONTROL: HOW DO WE ALLOW OUR KIDS TO MAKE MISTAKES WITHOUT LOSING OUR COOL?

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My family loves to argue. They argue about why someone went downstairs instead of upstairs, or why someone left the milk on the counter as opposed to the table, or even how someone could forget the keys were in their hands the whole time - expending excessive energy clearing up miscommunications on trivial logistics. However, they all agree that I have control issues. I’ve always wanted to control the situations and people around me – my brother’s interaction with other children, my parents’ perception of me, my wife’s dishwasher loading procedures…

I can’t let this dishwasher issue go. I know many couples argue about this topic so often that an extra power rinse cycle couldn’t jet the stale smell from the words hanging in the air. However, my advice to couples everywhere would be to stop wasting your energy on the topic. The success of a dishwasher cycle is not just a matter of opinion, but science. Of course, each dishwasher unit performs differently, but once you know your unit, finding the proper dish, bowl and utensil configuration should be elementary. Unfortunately, my wife uses a more creative and artistic approach to loading, such that no 2 loading configurations are the same.

I owe my authority on the subject to my organizational skills. I have spent much of my life looking at the world as a grand Tetris game. I have been filling in slots, moving objects around, and advancing levels by rearranging my furniture, restacking my closet, packing bags for trips, and negotiating through traffic. And, I’ve used my mental joystick to restore order to more than just storage and driving. This grand skill of organization works for ideas as well – posing strange combinations of thoughts and self-reflective suggestions until a solid solution or philosophy forms itself in my head, like a snug puzzle of squares and rectangles that become one singular block of comfortably symmetrical and smooth notions. And that’s how I convince myself it is an absolute truth.

So, yes, my mind is programmed to engineer the perfect combination of Pyrex, Fiesta Ware and Corning Ware. Not only does this flaw/skill yield an efficient and clean kitchen, but it also delivers a jolt of adrenaline to know that everything is in its’ place. I am least helpless at that moment. Over the past few years, I have worked hard to let go of some of these control issues, but they still pop up. After all, it feels so good to control!

Now, if we decide to throw children into the picture, my control issues become more significant of a problem. Especially since I believe that children learn best when they are making mistakes. I adopted this belief while working at Cognitive Arts – an interactive training company started by a professor at Northwestern University. We designed the training around the concept that the brain is more open to receiving information when a mistake is made. And if children are working in a safe environment, they will explore more, learn more, and learn faster. But, I see many parents anxious to keep their kids safe, protecting them from the evil dangers of mistakes, and even shaming them before they get near a mistake. This approach tends to make the children not want to even try in the first place.

I understand that instinct, and I worry that I would fall in that trap very easily with my control issue. And what’s worse, this issue is not my only issue that could easily traumatize my children. It only takes one incident, one slip-up, and that tiny moment in my child’s entire span of life becomes the calling card as the kid heads into adulthood, either blaming me directly for damaging them and sending them to therapy, or worse, subconsciously changing the way they think that might prevent them from future success.

I’m not sure it’s worth all the effort to create a new life when it seems so easy to mess them up. How does it work in real life? How do you control, I mean protect your children while letting them explore? Let me know.

BULLY FOR YOU

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Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!

I definitely remember my childhood in the role of the eternal geek, not the bully. But, I couldn’t be happy as a typical run-of-the-mill geek. I had to stir in a sense of activism. After all, I instinctively recognized the ridiculous nature of cliques. Why break people down into groups and ridicule each other? Each person should be respected as a unique individual, especially by the age of 10. I purposely distanced myself from the “cool” group and took a stance. I became a self-righteous adolescent preaching about acceptance and equal justice for all 10-year-olds! I can’t understand why any sane child wouldn’t appreciate my brilliant forward-thinking message of peace and hope.

Some experts believe that politics on the playground is a natural part of adolescence that develops complex thinking. The process helps kids understand feelings and relationships in relative terms to others and contributes to the definition of an inner self.

On the other hand, it creates stupid-face meanies!

I had several characters that I remember fondly as my bullies, and now I shall name names:

Marty Fenton and Patrick Dunn

I remember these 2 as a team. And, even though Martin is now my Facebook friend (and a genuinely nice guy from what I can tell), I remember many times during recess where these boys would tease and taunt me. Sometimes, Patrick would kick me with his new steel-toe boots for fun. Of course, I have no memory of what brought it on.

The Partipillo Twins

Sounds ominous, but they were actually girls. They didn’t bully me, so much as they emotionally shunned me. When the school newspaper was surveying kids for their favorite band, we were called out of class. They said Journey. I agreed, saying I liked Journey, too. Then, upon hearing my answer, they looked at each other and then asked to change their answer to Foreigner. Definitely Cold as Ice.

And an honorable mention to Karen Strohmeier, who quit the bowling team when she found out that I was on the team. Luckily her brother was on the team, so he could share with me her reasoning for quitting. Girls using their power to make you feel worse than insignificant is more scarring than a steel toe to the shins.

Ed Sagritalo

I’m still not sure why he didn’t like me, but he always seemed bitter and angry with me. He would trip me and knock my books off the desk in high school. It made me nostalgic for grade school.

Luckily for me, I was in a gang in high school. It wasn’t an actual gang, but instead a small group of geeky writers that would write stories about ourselves as if we were a gang of special force-types. We were the Marauders. And we gained some fame when Ed decided to “expose” us in the school paper. Then we suddenly became kind of cool, which ticked him off even more. One day he was particularly furious thinking about me, but he could find me, so he picked a fight with fellow Marauder Mike Carey (who we called Madman). In fact, he punched Mike in the face, to which Mike responded by laughing. At that point, Ed freaked out and I don’t think he ever bothered me again. Too bad I missed the whole episode, but I replay a cartoon version in my mind whenever I feel blue.

Brian Lovett

If I had to pick one bully from childhood to remember, Brian Lovett proved to be the most prolific. He chased me from at least 4th grade through 8th grade. He would call me names in gym class and on recess. The first incident I can remember was in 4th grade, when he beat me up during recess. I think it happened several times, until I became so furious, I decided to do something about it. As the bell rang, and we ran back to class, I stopped him. He was still laughing. And, I punched him in the eye. It was so satisfying, even when he ran crying immediately to tell the teacher what a bad boy I was. I sat outside the classroom as a punishment, but I was so elated, it didn’t matter.

Unfortunately, it didn’t solve anything. The following year, after he continued to tease me, he challenged me to an after school fight. I remember walking back to the school grounds, singing the Beatles’ “We Can Work it Out” because I thought I could reason my way out of a fight.

By the time I arrived, thirty-five other kids had shown up for the action. And, all but 2 came because they wanted to see me kick Brian’s butt. They were my fans - ironically, most were kids I didn’t even know. But, they didn’t like him, so that was that.

I still tried to reason with him, “let’s talk about this.” But, he smelled blood. And we fought (more like wrestled). Not too long into the match, my neighbor Ronny Fortman jumped in and started to help. Within seconds, he had dislocated Brian’s collarbone (as Ronny was several years older). The kids cheered me on as the victor, and then everyone cleared out as the principal headed towards us. Being the “good” kid, I somehow felt I should stay and face him. I cried and explained how I didn’t want to fight, but he just told me to go home. I like to think that he didn’t like Brian either.

And then, even after that fight, Brian continued to instigate trouble with me through 8th grade. I would explain that I wasn’t about to ruin my good reputation, as indicated by my good behavior Blue Certificate every semester. But, that’s exactly what he wanted. So, he teased and teased. I would either ignore him, or explain to him that I was going to ignore him. That blue certificate still gets me jobs to this day - good thing I stayed out of trouble.

Luckily we went to separate high schools. And I only saw him one more time in college. I was riding the elevator with my fellow trumpet friend David Rubin, and Brian got on the elevator. I didn’t recognize him, but David was kind enough to “introduce” us. I just smiled and said “we may have met before,” but he acted like he didn’t know me. Now that hurts.

You Spot It, You Got It

For many years, I continued to remember with pride my years of passive resistance under the intolerance of the “cool” groups of Chicago suburbia. However, hints of my own incidents have come to light as I’ve become more honest with myself about my history. In fact, I bullied quite a bit myself:

- Brad Wildi: I joined forces with other musicians to play a concert we called BRAD AID – a benefit to raise money to help Brad lose weight. I thought it was good-natured ribbing. However, despite the fact that Brad was not actually fat, it ended up hurting his feelings. It was a good concert, though.

- Beth Casey: She was mentally challenged. And that is not a put down, but a scientific fact. And somehow, I found it acceptable to imitate her for humor sake. I realize it’s sick and wrong. Hopefully, she didn’t ever hear me, but I’m sure Jesus did.

- Josh Ament: He made fun of my freckles, so I put him in a garbage can. However, seeing as he was four and I was ten, it probably wasn’t a fair match.

- Ronny Fortman: According to my mother, I complained for a while about how he was teasing me, but when she went into the alley to scold him, she instead found me teasing him. I guess it went both ways. Ironically, he would come to my rescue years later in the infamous Brian Lovett fight.

TBD Gorski

Will my son or daughter be a bully? Or, will they have to come up with clever ways to avoid the taunting? Naturally, my kid will be smart (with Jackie’s genes), so of course, the other kids will be jealous - odds are good the offspring will follow in my geeky footsteps. I can only hope that I provide the correct level of support to allow my future child to make it through the confusion and cruelty of adolescence successfully.

And so, this blog continues to force me to explore uncomfortable issues from my childhood. And, I’m feeling extra pressure not to screw up my kids. I can’t help but think my blog may be bullying me.

Anyone got any good bully stories (as a child or an adult)?

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

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.

My Parenting Bible

As I prepare to direct the BABY TIME pilot, I’m researching parenting and child development, and my new bible is The Irreducible Needs of Children: What Every Child Must Have to Grow, Learn, and Flourish by T. Berry Brazelton, MD and Stanley Greenspan MD. 

Here is an overly simplistic summary of the needs discussed in the book:

————————————————

1) The Need for Ongoing Nurturing Relationships

Children require sensitive, nurturing care to build capacities for trust, empathy and compassion. Emotional interactions teach communication and thinking, using emotional cueing for problem-solving and regulating interactions. They also lead to an understanding of concepts of time and space. Additionally, compassion and caring for another can only come through experiencing the intimacy and consistency of an ongoing love of someone in our lives. The authors recommend steady consistent care-givers who are never out of the line of sight during waking hours.

2) The Need for Physical Protection, Safety and Regulation

Areas discussed include toxic substances before birth, support in child birth, education about early pediatric care and nurturing, plus societal support for all new mothers and basic security.

3) The Need for Experiences Tailored to Individual Differences

Adjustments must be made to fit the individual. Not just activity level, but also physical differences like sensitivity to touch and sound. The authors found that nature decides the way a particular child takes in sensations, comprehending them, and then organizing and planning action, and nurture can act like a key in that lock that can open up the nature of that child to see their full potential.

4) The Need for Developmentally Appropriate Experiences

Each stage of development requires certain experiences. Some require more practice, and therefore moving on without mastering builds a bad foundation.

The basic stages:

-         Security and Ability to Look, Listen and be Calm (early months)

-         Relating: Ability to Feel Warm and Close to Others (4-6 months)

-         Intentional Two-Way Communication without Words (6-18 months), which allows for future cooperation

-         Solving Problems and Forming a Sense of Self (14-18 months)

-         Emotional Ideas, which allows them to form images of what they want and need, and substitute ideas for action.

-         Emotional Thinking (2 1/2 – 3 1/2), which allows them to build a bridge between ideas on an emotional level – underlies all future logical thought.

-         Triangular Thinking – Age of Fantasy and Omnipotence (4 1/2 – 7), which allows them to grasp more complicated relationships and build a wider range of emotions.

-         The Age of Peers and Politics (7-8), which opens them to group dynamics and the reality of life in shades of gray.

-         An Inner Sense of Self (10-12)

5) The Need for Limit Setting, Structure and Expectations

Limits are learned based on need to please – a combination of fear and desire for approval – as well as modeling morality.  And, expectations help provide the child with broad goals – like learning and discovering as a result of fulfilling curiosity. Children who feel unique and special develop a set of expectations for themselves regarding relationships and career that feel meaningful rather than just trying to carry out someone else’s agenda.

6) The Need for Stable Supportive Communities and Cultural Continuity

Stable, integrated communities that can embrace diversity while providing structure and support for families and children need to be achieved. Currently, families with the multi-risk problems – with years of ingrained helplessness, passivity, suspiciousness and avoidance –  tend to avoid help and become more self-destructive. Ideally, an outreach model could creates a working relationship between care-givers, child care providers, early interventionists and parents – changing from a deficit or failure model to one that values the strengths of the parent – which would encourage parents to become more involved.

7) Protecting the Future

Looking at the bigger picture of the world, we are connected by fear of nuclear weapons, ecological disasters and biological challenges, a world economy and greater communication that forces us into an automatic interdependency. Only common solutions can reduce the fear.

————————————————- 

The book highlights some of the basic problems that need to be resolved in our current systems if we hope to provide children with the best chance to survive and thrive. Unfortunately, children are not really a priority right now.

I’m not really in a position to help improve this situation in any direct way, but I do plan to include these ideas in the background of the episodes - making fun of those that don’t prioritize these issues, and illustrate the ridiculousness of a world that results from carelessly churning out children without attending to these basic needs.

One example is my sketch about the feuding homeless drunks. The basic premise is 2 dirty, smelly, abusive drunken fools who fight over an insignificant piece of property, eventually reconciling with each other, and revealing a shocking aspect of their tight relationship that prevents our hero from catching a much needed cab. These misfortunate misfits of society demonstrate the basic need for love, while showing how the lack of basic life skills can make a simple disagreement a real burden in living.

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.

Limits of Creativity

I love to brainstorm. No, I crave it. When I brainstorm, I can be playful, crazy, ridiculous, disgusting, immature, extreme, and make myself laugh. No one says “no” to me - it’s all yes, yes, yes, like an orgasm of the psyche. Of course, if I’m not careful, I might say “no” to myself once in a while when my internal editor appears. I curse my internal editor, and the years of growing up as a human being in this society that creates the doubts, fears, and disappointments of the little man who thinks he knows better inside my head.

At the same time, I can’t help but rejoice over my ability to study my own writing and give myself constructive criticism. If used with the right mix along side brainstorming, I know my writing will thrive. I like to think that my taste has been fine-tuned over the years from influences such as Monty Python, Kids in the Hall, Second City, and the Simpsons, as well as the Coen Brothers, Mel Brooks, John Hughes and the family Reiner. So, using my powers of analysis on my own work will hopefully result in something that — at very least — works. 

Of course, the downside of thinking is the paralysis of analysis. Yesterday, I spent a good 2 hours debating whether my new Google Voice phone number should be 56-GORSKI or 333-CHOW. Unfortunately, 4-NEUROTIC was taken.

Naturally, I eventually reach the same crossroads in every project - where the 2 sides feed into each other. I begin to analyze myself to determine if I’m allowing myself to be creative enough. When is creativity best served by analysis, and when does analysis have enough creative material to get started? What’s the balance?

I began this project because I wanted to explore parenthood without giving direct examples of parenting issues. I also wanted an excuse to write a bunch of comedy sketches.

So, I designed a simple premise: our hero wants to get somewhere, but something keeps stopping him. And what better goal for someone exploring parenthood, but to get to his wife who is in labor? It’s a clean formula to set the stage for each week’s struggle. And, each challenge he faces can explore a different issue of parenthood.

But, is it really the best formula? This week I thought that maybe I rushed into it. Why did I stop there? Is the premise too simple? And how can I keep coming up with topics for the blog?

So, I did some more brainstorming to see if I should change the premise of the series:

- What if the hero is kidnapped by a baby who talks like a gangster that takes him around the city to see all stages of parenthood - good and bad examples - like a ghosts of parenthood present and future?

- What if I make the series more loose in structure, such that each week’s episode has fun with a different topic, but there’s no throughline story?(Like one week discusses the issue of dealing with drug use, which leads to a sketch about a drug-dealing dog, and then the next week starts with a discussion of bullies, which leads to a sketch about people who bully their way with acts of kindness that are unwanted)?

- What if the series consists of a different dream each episode that covers the days of his wife’s pregnancy and gives a surreal slant on the issues of child rearing?

While these ideas could become something with merit, I still can’t help but trust my original instincts: simple is always better. And so, I move forward with the guy who wants to get across town in time to see his baby born.

But, even though I’m in the process of developing 10 decent episode ideas, I’m still struggling with the first episode. After all, it needs to be hilarious above all else so it can help secure funding for future episodes, it must introduce the concept, the story and the characters clearly, and it must be less than five minutes if I expect anyone to take a look at it.

I guess at some point I will have to quit, or just pick a draft an hope for the best. The same could be said for the question of whether or not I should have children. I’m going to have to make a decision at some point.

Unfortunately, that decision can’t be changed or written off as a good learning experience. No brainstorming can can cure a lifetime of regrets. In the end, what if I fail? What if my kid faces the same fate as some of my previous film projects — sitting alone and ignored on some external hard drive, unloved, forgotten and replaced by the joy of  my newest baby project? What if the premise of me as a father is a flawed premise?

I have to admit the premise may be flawed. But, that idea for the time being is still in development.

Homework

I spent some time tonight re-formatting Jackie’s master’s thesis paper. I’m thrilled that she sits on the edge of graduation, after years of grueling work - with only the unpredictable whims of her professor standing between her and freedom. But, it gave me a flavor of being in school again. And, of course, a flash to the future of working through every grade level all over again with my question mark of a child. Initially, I thought, “well, that’s the end of that.” But, then I realized I should probably explore the subject a little bit before turning in my final grade. Let’s break it down into the various subjects…

HISTORY

My parents used to ask me to help my brother with his homework. I held certain strong opinions about the best way to provide help - namely, to guide him into learning and understanding the material without giving him the answers. Unfortunately, his concept of how we should proceed seemed to be slightly different - perhaps even in direct conflict - namely, he just wanted the answers. And so, I have many memories of the typical for older brothers like me - the threatening, screaming, beating, chasing and choking required to get through that process. And once my parents made my brother stop his violence, he eventually learned.

History: D -

MATH

I hear that the volume and complexity of homework load has increased over the past 20 years. Judging by my nephew and nieces, I may have to brush up on my high school math just to get my child through grade school. And with the higher standards, you would think that children should be learning more, but in reality, it really seems to stress them out more than anything else. Not to mention the cost of education. If you want a halfway decent education, plan on spending big bucks on grade school and high school, and then get in deep debt for college.

Math: D +

POLITICAL SCIENCE

The current state of education in this country s-u-x that mirrors our class system. Poor and middle class settle for public school where resources force large class sizes and federal money is rewarded to schools based on unrealistic test scores. One of Jackie’s schools is failing this NCLB because many of the kids are ESL (English Second Language). Those kids are not at the level they should be from the very start. Some upper middle class and rich then have an option to find a quality private school with better resources and a better education. A negative side effect of membership in this luxurious educated club: either lifelong depression from realizing how the world really works, or lifelong blind ambition to take over the world in the name of Jesus Christ. Some believe (including me) that the educational system has been altered so that middle class and poor kids are taught just enough to get them a middle manager or low income job, which keeps the status quo. As a result, the majority of Americans who get through school can work a job that keeps them busy enough that they don’t have time to challenge the corporations running our country, and only comfortable enough to think they are happy.

Poli Sci: C

PHILOSOPHY

And when I dig deep into my thoughts on school, I eventually bump up head to head with my complete disrespect for the philosophy branded on American children in every grade - the concept of competition . It’s a system that supposedly uses human nature’s need to “win” as the engine to create progress, growth and innovation. The only problem is that winning often involves preventing the other person from winning more than they are preventing you from winning. It’s a flawed system. I’ve seen far too many examples of collaboration that result in the kind of progress, growth and innovation that blows competition’s model into the dust - leaving “competition” crying for it’s mommy, begging collaboration to show mercy.

Philosophy: F -

LITERATURE

Maybe it’s time for me to create a new story for myself. Maybe it’s time to become a hero in my own life’s journey and cross the threshold into the adventure. Maybe I should train my kid to think differently. Take them off the grid. Go live in the woods. Become some kind of liberal rebel mumbling over my tree branch and berry soup about my hate for the ‘state.’ Of course, that approach will leave my child no choice but to rebel, and how do you rebel when you’re bathing in a stream and feasting on squirrel? You become a hard-lined conservative.

Literature: C+

MUSIC

Next year, the arts program will be eliminated from all California public schools. No more music.

Music: F - - -

FINAL ASSESSMENT

It looks like the topic of education is getting a solid “D.” I guess we’ll have to send it back through the same grade again. Maybe it has learned a lesson.

Bottom line, I conclude that homework makes you hate thinking, which makes you hate growing, and ultimately leads to a robot life drinking the Kool Aid. In fact, I probably shouldn’t be creating new children, but eliminating them. It might help the bottom line, and then maybe California will reinstitute an arts program, and maybe Jackie will have a job after all next year. I guess I better polish my gun, and head down to the local school. But, which kids to get rid of first? I know, I’ll start with the rich bastards.