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!!

Pardon the Interruption

Everybody just relax! Take a breath. And think. Is this how we want to experience life? Is this the future?

I’m talking about this revolution of continuous virtual connectivity. I love the fact that I can stay connected with people from high school, my family, and comedians all in the same place. It only gets uncomfortable when my Aunt Audrey and Chris Rock gang up on Bill Carrigan. So what if he’s a little over-enthusiastic about his new phone.

I thought I had it under control with facebook and twitter. But, twitter never stops. Facebook updates are quick reads until you realize you’ve spent an hour paging down. And now that I’m exploring tumblr, wordpress and pinterest, I find myself tabbing between sites, depending on whether I want a quick joke, a picture, a thought-provoking essay or a lesson in self-righteous judgment (repost if you agree!)

Then, there’s the fact that I have another career that pays the bills. My work requires diligence with emails all day long - from 7am for East Coast requests, throughout the day, and then many times ending with an event that could go as late as 10pm.

With all the distractions and multi-tasking, I find myself living on the edge. That, and the caffeine. I don’t feel like I can really control my time or my brain any more. If I’m not careful, I lose track of time and find myself at the end of the day trying to account for where I was. I hope there are no dead bodies out there waiting to be discovered.

I believe the core of this problem comes from our changing chemistry. The social networking sites create little chemical bursts every time you connect with someone or get a positive response to your posting, and then your brain follows it back over and over for another hit. I think some scientists have even proven it’s officially addictive. And the self-induced interruptions multiply exponentially. So, now when my wife and I retire to the bedroom for some television, we could be sitting in bed for an hour before we realize that the Japanese language channel has been playing – we’re both so busy surfing on our iProducts. Point of fact, I checked my email, facebook, and twitter twice while writing that sentence!

My attention span gets split into half a dozen different directions at once like an octopus on the high beam.  I can’t pay attention to anything more than 3 minutes now. And the span grows ever shorter. I know this is a common problem. I’ve heard similar stories so often that it’s become our generation’s version of talking about the weather.

Yesterday I saw a puppy having a blast, despite the owner’s intent on ignoring her so he could read his newspaper. Maybe he spent the previous 10 hours with the dog and just tuned it out. Or, maybe he’s just a cranky old man who doesn’t want to spend time or money on proper training. But, that didn’t stop the puppy. Yap, yap, yap, yap, yap, yap, yap, yap! So cute. So much energy. So many barks. Okay. That’s enough now. The dog wasn’t slowing down. Someone shut that dog up already! Facebook is that little puppy. If I don’t get a grip soon, I might leave facebook in the hot car with the windows up.

The future promises nothing but more of the same. Kids text during live conversations with other people, while watching YouTube on the computer and updating their facebook status, with the television on as background. Is this multitasking reality the next step in human evolution? We simply need to add a permanent cell phone mic to our tooth, contacts for our eyes with a Google Goggle feed, and brainwave-activated head sensors to send text messages to our dogs. Will our brains step up to function at a higher level of consciousness? Or, will we lose our ability for longer moments of connection with each other?

Phase II Web Series Production Update

I’m referring to this latest production of the BABY TIME! web series as Phase II. I shot the pilot in 2010, and it took a year and a half to get through the post process. I decided to create a few more episodes with the very limited amount of money that I’ve been able to save. I don’t have enough for the whole series, so I’m shooting Episodes 3 - 6, and that has become lovingly dubbed Phase II.

The script was re-written a few times, due to the inability to bring back one of the previous cast members (sorry brother-in-law Max, but you’re out of the series). I re-developed one of the other characters, Cabbie Joe, to take the place of Max as the annoying buddy that tags along with our control freak father-to-be.

Another successful round of casting for the Baby Time! web series barreled through my schedule on June 4, 2012. Many fantastic Chicago actors took the time to meet me at The Den (a wonderful theater space in Bucktown that is available for rent). Although the competition dragged the decision-making process into a 6-day affair, the dust settled onto the following super-duper cast:

Cabbie Joe - Vince Clark

Drunk Tom - Sean Bolger

Drunk Steve - Mark Czoske

Officer Spence - Rob Glidden

Sebastian - Tiffany Yvonne Cox

Patrick - Harter Clingman

Reggie - Carly Robinson

Prego - Brooke Breit

Then, I finally made it to production this week, shooting 2 episodes on 6/21, 1 episode on 6/22 and 1 episode on 6/24. The cast produced stunning performances - filled with real human drama, and therefore quite hilarious. Once I get the footage from my amazing DP Camrin Petramale, I can pass it along to my editor (which could be me). The difference this time compared to the pilot: I’m ready to move forward fast, so hopefully the finished episodes will come soon enough.

Eclipse of a Milestone

I experienced an eclipse of milestones the other day. That’s when all your projects reach a major goal at the same time. Usually, when I hit a milestone such as a completed draft, it means it’s time to turn to the next project, so that draft gets some breathing room and some perspective. But, in this case, all current projects (including my TV pilot, feature screenplay and web series) reached a logical simultaneous breather. Unfortunately, I looked directly at the eclipse, and now my inner critic is blind and even more surly than when I crafted that trumpet sculpture collage in 8th grade.

Then I remembered that I’ve avoided blogging for almost a year. How silly! Without blogging, I’m missing an opportunity to feed my ego by talking about myself. I may have spent many pages of this blog exploring parenting to tie into the new parent aspect of the web series. But, I still have yet to explore another big element of this series, which is the actual adventure – the race across town, and the characters that get in the way.

Whether it’s self-exploration or self-sabotage, I have to admit that I still identify in many ways with the control-freak nature of the father-to-be in Baby Time. Like Richard, I look at every obstacle in my daily life with confounded frustration. The only difference: his goal of getting to his wife in time for the birth is much more noble compared to my goal of getting to Trader Joe’s before they run out of cheddar cheese slices, or home in time to see 30 ROCK, which – let’s be honest – will be on my DVR and on demand anyway, so what’s the big hurry?

In fact, I originally wrote a sketch called BABY TIME back in 1998 to explore my issues of control. If you want to geek out on script writing, you can read the rough (very unfinished) first draft of the short film here. You may even recognize some of the original seedlings of ideas flushed out in future episodes. The writer was a much younger and immature version of me. But, in many ways, I’ve never completely shaken that annoying childish perspective that everyone in my way is an idiot.

Take for example, the simple task of driving anywhere in this wonderful City of Angels. I can only assume the founders of the city were referencing those adorable innocent-looking children that sprout horns and a pitchfork when their parents become engrossed in self-serving conversations. So many angels – so little patience. As far as I can tell, most drivers seem like they don’t have the skills or self-awareness required to operate heavy machinery – but I have high standards. Is it too much to ask for drivers to start driving the moment the light turns green? And don’t get me started on left-turn lights. They have a limited time period, you know. Believe me, I consider writing a common sense rule book for drivers all the time. But, I fear that the research would send me to a dark place from which I might never return – at least not without renovating my concrete patio with a more firm mix of stone and human bones.

It only continues once I get off the road. I get frustrated whenever I see people without even a trace of problem-solving skills or self-awareness. Like the tech ‘experts’ at Best Buy who never make it past “I don’t know” to the ridiculously simple next step - “Oh, wait, I have a computer right here. Let me find out.” It’s only one brain synapse away! Or, people who use a public restroom without paying attention to their own mess-making – when only they have the intimacy with themselves that makes them uniquely qualified to clean it up. I can only assume that busy, selfish parents and an underfunded education system are to blame.

So, I’m using this milestone eclipse to issue a challenge to myself. Re-energize the blog. Continue to explore my inner child and my control issue on a more regular basis. And, channel my dark side into a constructive exercise. Then, I can avoid the weight of responsibility that would force me to clean up my own mess that always tends to follow a crime of passion.

Awards Seasoned

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending the Independent Spirit Awards (the Oscars of low-budget films). Although I didn’t win anything, nor could I be honored just to be nominated, I was happy to sit at table 514 with my coworkers and an odd mix of contest winners and architect boyfriends.

And, of course, today is the Oscars - a good time to review the films of the past year. I had to look up all the releases from 2011 on the Internet, because I could barely remember any movies prior to what’s currently playing. It was clear why: so many of the movies from last year were indeed forgettable and unremarkable. And then there were the movies I can’t believe that I still need to see like HUGO, THE ARTIST, THE HELP and MONEYBALL. Ultimately, I’m not prepared to make a top 10.

So, I thought I would share just a few that I enjoyed:

THE TREE OF LIFE

Some find this movie really annoying, and at times enraging. I mean, the gall of this filmmaker to spend so much pointless time filming kids running through a sprinkler?! But, those scenes worked for me in a big way, because it was the best visual representation of what memories feel like. Especially what I remember of dinosaurs.

BEGINNERS

Romance. A dying gay father. A talking dog. I highly recommend it.

EXTREMELY LOUD, INCREDIBLY CLOSE

A kid travels throughout New York City looking for clues to keep him connected with his father who died in 9-11. Yikes! If you think this is a 9-11 story, you won’t like the film. I considered it more of a kid adventure movie, which is why I happily went along for the ride.

WARRIOR

I’m not a sports fan. But, I am a fan of family dysfunction and redemption.

I don’t think that any of these films could be considered a perfect movie. In fact, I prefer someone make a new movie with the best parts of these movies. Like an adventure about a guy fighting his brother over his talking dog while they travel the five boroughs looking for their gay dead father in strangers’ sprinklers. THE LOUD TREE OF WARRIORS BEGINS. Not a great title, but I argue it sure beats Extremely Loud…

None of these films will win best picture, and yet, they accomplished something that seems rare these days. They gave me an emotional experience. They were stories about family connection – dealing with the complications of knowing people so well, and yet not knowing them at all. And it deals with how we choose to remember our parents and our childhood. And that’s why they worked so well for me. They didn’t cover any of the specifics from my life. It would be quite comical if you put my brother and I in a Mixed Martial Arts ring. Although I’m pretty sure he would win based on his “playful” punch on Christmas. But ultimately – each one of these films reminded me on a visceral level of the deepest parts of my relationship with my family.

One aspect of my relationship with my parents centers around their consistent support. They came to every concert and awards ceremony, and even awards ceremonies during concerts. I remember receiving an Honors award for History from some Marine dude. I don’t really remember why I received the award. I wasn’t a particular prodigy in History. Math was more of my subject, but where was some Navy guy with that award? Anyway, I received that award during a concert at our sister school Resurrection (again, what exactly was that Marine dude doing there? It wasn’t even my high school. Very suspicious.) And then, we left mid-concert to drive across town to our other sister high school Marillac, so I could perform a monologue as a dog. I can see why they were so proud of me. History. Music. Acting. I was a renaissance dog.

That’s why one of my inspirations for the Baby Time web series and the films I’m writing is the idea that my parents will see something I made, and get some satisfaction – some sense that quitting my lucrative engineering career wasn’t the waste it seemed to be.

Maybe I’ll eventually receive a major award. You can bet I’ll be sure to thank those who helped me get there – my agent and Harvey Weinstein.

By the way, here’s some other decent to very good movies I saw: BRIDESMAIDS, THE MUPPETS, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, WIN WIN, RANGO, SOURCE CODE, SUPER 8, LIMITLESS, DRIVE, THE MUPPETS, CARNAGE, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 4, SHERLOCK HOLMES 2.

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?

Xcellent Xmas Xdition

Traditions define most of my childhood. Outside of the daily routines like nickel lunch milk cartons and beatings from the local bully, each holiday carried a unique set of expectations — from the annual blowing up plastic models on the Fourth of July, as well as the Easter hunt for a good hospital after Grandma collapses from exhaustion. Through all the holidays, pranks with my cousins kept us particularly cheery. My fondest Christmas memory involved tricking our parents into thinking we were breaking Grandma’s fine china. Good times.

Eventually, the traditions evolved as the family structure changed. I resisted the changes at first. I clung to these rules that seemed to define the very culture of our family (when in reality, they merely defined our tendency to form habits). My resistance even led to my first major fight with my wife. After only five hours of Christmas at my Grandparent’s house, she wanted to leave — outrageous, right? I mean, we hadn’t even started the scotch-fueled poker game, much less put out the leftovers for the third meal of the day. So, I avoided her, ducking from room to room for at least another two hours until I could get my paws on a beef sandwich. Later that night, she spent more time letting me know what I did wrong than we the time we spent at the party.

It only took a few years of therapy to realize that her complaints were reasonable. I finally opened up the door to new traditions. In fact, for a while, I embraced the creation of new traditions so much, I didn’t want any of them to remain traditions. Why not do something different each time to avoid feeling stagnant?

That ill-conceived tradition didn’t last too long, though. Creating original experiences each holiday quickly exhausted me, and I went back to accepting some traditions as a comfort. After a busy year, I now understand the benefit of some habits that give the holiday a little structure.

So, here are some photos to document a few of my current holiday traditions:

Santa-palooza at the Willowbrook Ballroom with the Outcast Jazz Band (nothing like playing jazz in a Santa hat!)


My lovely office view for the self-imposed daily writing retreat at Caribou Coffee


Senior citizen-style dinner on New Year’s Eve (i.e. 4:00pm or earlier)


My niece Sydney and Goldie keeping secrets from me (you can totally tell they’re spreading vicious rumors!)

 

Our annual intervention with Sensation after another “snow” bender


Goldie’s driving shift during the annual road trip from Los Angeles to Chicago

 

Happy New Year to all!

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.

Blog in Crisis

Recently, I found myself worrying about what would become of my blog. I had finally finished production on my web series pilot. I started working with a professional editor to make the first 2 episodes really pop. I finished a draft of the rest of the series – 21 episodes total with a length of around 5 minutes each. I even met some people who might consider buying the series. The BABY TIME website seemed like perfect synergy – fun comedy sketches about a guy who can’t seem to reach his wife before she gives birth, and a blog about my wife and I as we consider whether we should become parents ourselves – an exploration of real parenting issues with satire and a personal touch.

And, then this summer, my wife and I discovered that we aren’t really that interested in rushing into parenthood, and that we may be okay with not having children at all. We decided to join the cool Aunt and Uncle Affiliate Program instead for a while.

But, how could I possibly continue to generate content on a blog if we were no longer exploring the topic that fed the blog’s premise? I would only be able to see my nieces and nephew twice a year – not really the kind of in depth relationship that would generate good material. I began to consider the possibility that this blog no longer served any purpose.

One friend suggested that I make it up – not in a James Frey kind of way – but by telling a playful, pretend version of my experiences, and how my fake kid might magnify that already hilarious situation. And, while I haven’t ruled this option out, I’m not completely sold on the idea of committing to a pseudo-reality. Such story telling would require additional research and character development on top of the already exhaustive soul-searching that I pursue to produce the in-depth content that you have enjoyed in previous blog entries.

So, where does this leave the blog? Is it over? Do I put the first episode online when it’s done, and use it solely as a writer/director calling card? Do I just move on the next project, lessons learned? Do I go back to Chicago and get a job with my dad and brother-in-law at the utopia-like car leasing company Wheels, Inc? After all, they have decent benefits, and quite a family picnic every summer from what I hear.

Well…

Sometimes when you talk about a topic like parenting for months and months, research, brainstorm, and focus so much energy that your mind starts to see yourself as a parent, life has a way of delivering that energy right back to you. And in my case, it came via United Flight 129 at 10:35pm on Saturday, September 25, 2010.

LAX does not quite work as a hospital delivery room, although the stark bare walls may fool you. We paced in the arrival room for a few minutes, until we finally welcomed a brand new girl into our world – our teenaged niece. And, if we are lucky enough, she will stay with us until she graduates in 2013. Instant family, just like that.

Blog problem = solved.

The History of a Filmmaker So Far

I’ve been attending the Los Angeles Film Festival this week, including a Symposium on Marketing and Distributing your own film – mostly tools and case studies on getting your films in front of people, and how to make a living without selling out. But, that’s the topic for another blog. The discussion excited me and exhausted me at the same time. Overall, it led to some self-reflection, and I discovered a connection between my drive to make films, and the question of having a family.

As a kid, I was sure of 2 things: 1) I was going to have a big family, and 2) I was going to be an actor. I even wrote a paper about acting in 1st Grade, which must of put my parents on high alert status. (I used to blame my mother for being anti-dreamer, until I discovered that her father lost his life savings investing in a fake record company. And when I think of how I must have unwittingly pained her when I signed up for the Columbia Record Club, practically rubbing each new record album in her face…) Films were already influencing me. Sure, STAR WARS was an amazing event, but it was INDIANA JONES that pumped my blood beyond the tipping point and jazzed me about the possibilities of living an adventurous life, becoming a cool hero, and carrying a whip. That spark continued on through the 80’s. But, then came Python. Suddenly, silly was the new hip. Like many fans, we imitated the sketches of Python often, but that was only a gateway drug to writing my own sketches, creating such classic characters as Mr. Pilgrim and Cliché Man. It wasn’t long before my love of comedy and my love of movies fused together as conjoined twins.

I went to Engineering school because I seemed to like math, but the classes didn’t excite me at all. However, I knew what was expected of me as a middle class Chicagoan with a work ethic – get a job. So, I worked at Andersen Consulting. I was miserable, but I couldn’t figure out why. If I showed any spark of individuality, it showed up in my performance review, and even led to some meetings of concern. So, I made corporate America my enemy. The more they tried to professionalize me, the more felt like I was working for “the man.” I had a purpose in life – fight for the justice of the worker!

Then I met my wife, who showed interest in my creative side, so I took a Screenwriting class to impress her. Before I knew it, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. And, as I dove deeper into the art and craft of filmmaking, I soon realized why I loved movies. They could hold true power using emotion and story to inspire new thoughts and perspectives. Perhaps I could some day affect an entire worldwide audience. My mother always said one person cannot change the world, but I still intend to prove her wrong!

So, what happened to my goals as a child? I’ve been exploring becoming a parent, but I have to admit it’s not a burning necessity. So, why did I lose that drive? I’m realizing that filmmaking seems to fill the gap that used to drive my need for children. For starters, the day-to-day process of making films parallels parenting. Film projects are called “my baby,” filmmakers “put a project to bed,” and a producer can drive his assistant to “cry like a baby.” In a broader sense, a film can have a life of its’ own much like a matured son or daughter. A good film could go out into the world and develop relationships with large groups of people, engaging them with laughter, tears, and excitement. A good film could provoke discussion and thought. A good film could carry on my name and ensure a decent place in history. After all, who wouldn’t want to be immortal? I certainly feel that even in death, I still feel the lasting presence of both Frank Capra and Larry Fine.

Truthfully, if I wasn’t pursuing this elusive career, I would have no doubts about raising a family. In fact, I would probably need a child to focus my creative energy, assuming I would be the same exact person, except with a hidden sadness worthy of a Lifetime movie. I would be some sort of empty-hearted middle manager, completing tasks and reaching goals for the sake of a corporate objective. Boring and sad - a sadness that is matched dollar for dollar in some 401k.

But, I am not that person. I don’t want to end up like the miserable millions who numb themselves with corn starch and reality dance shows to forget that moment when their own reality of raising children stomped on their hopes and dreams. I was always a different kind of person. The signs were always present, even if they stayed under the surface for many years. Much like when I put on a dress for fun, and my parents sat me down for a concerning talk about homosexuals, they must have seen seen some red flags when I wrote that acting paper in 1st Grade.

Eventually, I had to come out of the closet. My family hoped I would go to school, get a job, and have a family - the “normal” life path. However, when I realized that my desire to make stories and capture them on film wasn’t going away, I had to admit that the rumors were true. I had to admit to myself first, and then to my family: I am a filmmaker.

And although that meant a lifestyle change, and some new shoes, I think my family has finally accepted me for who I am.

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

Blog14 Cover

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.

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

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.

Web Series Project Update

The BABY TIME project has made some recent progress. If you’re at all interested in the process of making movies, I hope to add some elements to the web site that document the process. In the mean time, here are some recent updates:

Casting

I’m very excited that the roles for the pilot have been cast. These are some amazing actors and I look forward to collaborating with them:

RICHARD - Brian Boland

ANNA - Cassandra Bissell

CHELSEA - Barbara Robertson

MAX - Dan Kenney

THELMA – Sara Sevigny

SOCCER MOM - Roni Geva

GUNMAN - James Allen

THE PITBULL - Dan Granata

Production

The shoot is scheduled for May 6, 7 and 10. Locations include my parents house in Morton Grove, my cousin’s condo in Lincoln Park and my sister-in-law’s apartment in Rogers Park. I also am still looking for a typical Chicago apartment building foyer, but I may have run out of relatives. Thanks to everyone who has been so gracious to allow the use of their location so far. Also, a big thanks to my cousin John Gallegos who is helping produce the series with me!

Series News

Yes, the episodes must be funny and each stand on their own, but I really want the entire series to work as a full story that could play as a feature film. So, I submitted a rough draft of the entire series (22 episodes) to the Film Independent Screenwriters Lab.  If accepted, I will have some the support of some amazing experts to improve the script and my craft as a writer. However, I also want the content to be flexible, so as I work on the main story line and the character arc, I plan to easily switch out sketches when research and collaborations with friends and people involved in the project inspire new ideas.

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:

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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.

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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.

Pre-Production, Fun and Romance

Today I celebrated Valentine’s Day with some fabulous take-home sushi. The take-home dinner may not seem like the ideal romantic date, but my wife and actually prefer the cozy meal in front of a fire and a great movie to the crappy service we’ve grown to expect from Los Angeles eateries. Besides, I gave her a very thoughtful card, and according to Hallmark commercials, that can fill the holes in anyone’s empty heart.

Jackie does prefer to eat at home, and she could see from my zombie-state that I needed to recover from my very busy and productive weekend in Chicago. Here’s what really went down:

First, I held my casting session for the BABY TIME pilot on Friday. Some of my ideal actors were not available. However, lucky for me Chicago is bursting with talent. I did see a large number of actors that turned out some great performances from a quick 1-page scene. And, I was relieved to find myself laughing at the scenes that I wrote. You never really know if something works until a good actor finds the subtext between the lines to carry a scene. Very encouraging. It’s all part of the magic of collaboration.

Next, I met with my cinematographer Darryl Miller. We went through the script to discuss the basic visual design. He was hugely helpful with suggestions and solutions, including his addition of a hilarious visual joke to the story. Another fun example - he converted one of my camera movement ideas into a much better visual motif that will help represent my main character’s flaw while adding tension to the narrative. I love the simple approach of his idea: 3 quick shots of the main character walking instead of one shot. We extend his traveling time, emphasizing his control-freak frustration in not getting to his destination quick enough, while lengthening the tension for the viewer. It’s a nice subtlety that people won’t notice, but can improve the texture of the story - it’s perfect! I so appreciate these little improvements - another example of the collaboration process in action.

Then, I played another one of those fun Outcast Jazz Band gigs at Hackney’s in Palos Hills - a musical collaboration. I actually paid attention to the music, and played respectably. Much to my delight, many of my friends who normally rush home after the gigs actually stayed to hang out. We closed the place down in a splendidly social way. Unfortunately, by the time I returned to my parents house (Che Gorski Bed & Breakfast), I could only get 4 hours of sleep before my flight the next morning.

I love capitalizing on every moment of the day, but it tends to add up, which made for a hazy Sunday. Lucky for me, my supportive wife Jackie provides a daily inspirational fuel, which makes my marriage my greatest collaboration to date.

Break's Over

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

THE DAILY SCHEDULE

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Do I really want to share my time with a baby? Do I want to sacrifice my own important life for the creation of a new one? Important things I do each day during the week:

Sleep - 7 hours

Procrastinate - 1 hour

Write - 2 hours

Work - 8 hours

Commute - 2 hours

TV - 1 hour

Chows - 1 hour

This schedule leaves only 2 hours to devote to the baby. So now, I must face the inevitable sacrifices. Obviously TV will be the first to go (but you and I both know that I will still attempt to watch my shows while burping and changing). But, that only counts for an extra hour. Then, I’ll have to sacrifice some of my writing time, which will make me bitter and resentful. On the other hand, I find I’m least funny when I’m happy, so that one’s a toss-up. If I’m lucky, I can remove the hour of procrastination. Or, better yet, the baby will be the new procrastination! And sleep, from what I understand, will also go away. I guess that’s when your dreams literally disappear.

So, I’ve managed to add 5 hours of time. I’m sure Jackie will be more than happy to spend the other 19 hours handling the baby by herself, right?

Okay, after successfully avoiding 3 good swings from Jackie’s fist, but catching the last upper cut squarely in the jaw, I needed to take a break from being conscious. However, it gave me some time to ponder the additional elements from last week’s schedule that could make having a baby plainly irresponsible:

1) Stress about mediating between my client and my coworkers to make sure everyone is happy about microphones (8 hours for the week)

This situation presents an opportunity for the baby to experience some real life trauma when it needs loving from an emotionally drained father. I can pretend everything is fine, but the baby will know. It’s sensors will record the fear and confusion to store it away for future use. Then, some day, my adult child will freak out when someone sings karaoke, or someone offers a microphone. And my child won’t even know why.

2) Reading a guide for personal finance (6  hours for the week)

Forget the fact that I won’t even be able to consider the idea of conducting self-improving activities post-birth. The new knowledge I gained this week about my financial mistakes and ignorance should be proof enough that a baby will be sorely deprived of many needs. The lack of finances for a baby will have to be covered next week…

3)  Sensation Seizures (5 hours for the week)

Sensation had 10 seizures this week. I imagine my baby delighting at the first sight of a Sensation seizure, as it looks forward to many hours of playing with the dog that likes to dance. But, once it runs like a demonized hound across the room, blind and confused, knocking over my baby and creating it’s first scar on the corner of the coffee table, it will realize the terrifying truth that the dog is not into music, but more into Satan. And, my baby will enjoy a lifetime of nightmares!

4) Movies at Work (2 hours for the week)

Okay, I have an unusual benefit of working at a theatre. I can watch a movie during my work day, without any negative repercussions. In fact, I would’ve spent an additionally 6 - 8 hours watching movies at work last week if I didn’t have the seizure problems. But, how could I justify seeing a movie at work, while my wife is at home with a screaming child? Now that I think about it, if the child screamed all day, I would probably desperately need a movie to prevent myself from going postal. Jackie would probably want to join me, too. Goldie and Sensation may be able to baby sit once in a while - they are very loyal and protective - although the screaming may trigger another seizure cluster.

All in all, my reluctance when it comes to giving up my time appears to prove my mother correct - I am selfish. But, I like being selfish. It’s fun. However, I admit I would feel guilty for spending so much time on myself if a baby comes. I might be forced to change. I might even learn from the change. Or, I may just harbor my resentment for years, fight with my children, and die unhappy and alone.

I understand that approach works just as effectively as not having children in the first place.