Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Kardashians are Geniuses

I never thought I’d ever write a sentence that included the name “Kardashian” in it, much less one that included “Kardashian” and “Genius.”  But there’s a first time for everything.  

A couple of weekends ago, I went to a baby shower for a friend of mine and ended up running into a couple of people I used to work with and see every day, but whom I haven’t seen in probably fifteen years.  I guess after hanging out in a particular intersection for a while, life has a way of leading us down different streets from there.  Anyway, one of the people I ran into is named Ehrich Van Lowe, and he’s a writer/producer.  I remember Ehrich as being one of the most pleasant people I had ever worked with.  Well. Ehrich is still pleasant, and remained so, even as he ripped me a new one!  Through the power of social media, even though Ehrich and I haven’t seen each other in ages, we are facebook friends and he had been following my blog.  If anyone of you regularly follows/followed my blog and knows me personally, you know that my blogging has become a little like some other aspects of my life (dating, traveling, working) – inconsistent!  So, after asking what was up with the six month interval between a particular pair of blogs – a question I really couldn’t answer since in those six months I had managed to work on a TV series, travel to Hawaii, travel to Atlanta, sit through many a Yankee game, drink my weight in beer and watch many a mindless reality show – Ehrich went on to lambaste me (in a nice way, of course) for not being more committed.  And he wasn’t just talking about the writing – marketing and branding were also on his mind.

Ehrich’s now spending a lot of time writing paranormal novel’s for girls and he’s constantly thinking of ways to get put his book on blast – blogging, contests, you name it.  As we spoke about the power of marketing and branding of yourself, I just couldn’t stop thinking about those damned Kardashians.  I really do love to write, it’s everything else associated with it I don’t like – the hustling, the marketing, the networking.  Problem is, that seems to be 60 percent of the job.  If no one knows your name, no one knows your product, and an unknown product dies a quick death.

Now, say what you will about those Kardashians- and I have.  I mean they don’t act, they don’t sing, they don’t write, they don’t excel at a sport, they don’t even always form coherent sentences.   In fact, they seemingly have no discernible talent at all (unless you consider having a big ole boody talent, which some of my guy friends unequivocally do), but yet they’re rich and famous and seemingly everywhere.  And then I thought about it, they actually do have a talent – and a great one at that.  They know how to brand themselves and to keep their name out there, and that might be one of the biggest talents of all. 

I’ve always had this thing where I felt like tooting your own horn was boorish and obnoxious, but I really need to get over this.  The world is moving too fast.  If you don’t toot that horn, no one sees you coming.  And it’s not just a one-time toot; you’ve got to keep your hand on the buzzer.  Attention spans are so short, there’s so much out there to focus on, you’ve got to figure out a way to inundate people with that brand that is “you.”  I’ve got to change my mindset.  Instead of thinking that people are going to think I’m the most egotistical blowhole ever, I’ve got to think, “it’s a sin not to share all this fabulousness with the world.”  

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Naked And The Free

     I took a week off to visit my friend Juanesta, who’s working on a show that’s shooting in Hawaii.  Juanesta is renting a condo in Waikiki/Diamond Head.  It’s a lovely one bedroom place that has partial views of the Pacific Ocean, its shores lined with those tall graceful palm trees you think of in association with the tropics.  There’s no beach behind the property, only jagged rocks.  The currents there can be dangerous and signs abound attesting to this.  “Swim at your own risk,” “Only experienced swimmers should enter,” and more to the point “Danger!  Keep Out!”  Just up against the rocky boundary is a sturdy sea wall that allows a two foot walkway along the edge of all the buildings at this tail end section of Waikiki so that surfers and other “experienced swimmers” can go to and fro.  A short black wrought iron fence forms the only separation between the public sea wall and this private property. Behind this fence are four lounge chairs arranged under two welcoming palms.  These chairs face a westerly direction, and allow for a most breathtaking view of the sun sinking down behind the horizon and seemingly into the depths of the mighty Pacific each evening.
     I was seated in one of these loungers one morning reading “Eat, Pray, Love” (saw the movie – let’s just put it this way – next time I need a nap, I’d rather not pay 12.50 to do so) when a Hawaiian man, I’d say mid-thirties, walks by.  I mouth Hello and go back to reading.  About three minutes later, he walks by in the other direction, stopping to make polite conversation.  He is from the neighboring island of Molokai and he had heard there was a calmer beach than Waikiki, where he could just lay out without all the distractions and tan – a neighboring nude beach, because he doesn’t want any tan lines.  I tell him I don’t know of any nude beaches, he makes a little polite conversation, then he’s gone again.   But then two minutes later, there he is walking in the other direction again, a little slower, more hesitantly this time.  Now, I’m from Brooklyn, and I happened to catch the premiere episode of the newly revamped “Hawaii 5-0,” so Homey don’t play that.  My posture becomes a little more rigid, my head straighter – kind of like one of those little meerkats.  If this man is gonna try and jump this fence, I’m ready!  Right on cue, he appears once more. He stops and looks at me for a second, then leans over the fence. Okay, it is on!
     “Excuse me,” he says, “You seem pretty cool, I kinda need to ask you something.”
     “Uh huh…, “ I say.
     “Maybe if you could come closer,” he says.  “I don’t want to say it out loud…See, it’s kind of embarrassing.”
     “That’s cool, I got great hearing.  You can whisper it right from where you are.”
     “Okay, well…would you mind walking down the sea wall with me.  There’s a bit of a secluded area down around the way…”
     “Oh, hell to the nah!” I’m thinking.  “This man’s gonna ask me to perform some lude act on him.”  And I just stare, cause I can’t wait for him to finish his sentence.
     “I’m performing tonight…well, I’m in a stripping contest, which is why I can’t have the tan lines.  Anyway, you have to dance and all.  And it’s my first time…kind of an adventure, really.  And I was just wondering if you could follow me down the way and watch my act and give me some feedback.”
     “Watch your act?” I ask.  “You mean, watch you strip?”
     “Well yeah, and dance.  And let me know if it’s engaging. ”
     Well, if his act is anywhere near as engaging as our conversation, he was sure to be prize pig that night.  Blue ribbon all the way.  But, still being a cautious, untrusting New Yorker, I decline, explaining I was just about to leave to go have a look at Pearl Harbor, which was the truth.
As I drove through Honolulu, I couldn’t stop thinking about this guy.  If he really was stripping that night and not trying to lure me to an untimely death, he had a lot of chutzpah – in a good way.  I sensed no mental illness.  His eyes didn’t dart back and forth as he spoke to me.  He didn’t have an imaginary friend seated on his shoulder.  But he was free enough, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally to not only take it all off in front of a room filled with people, but also to make a most interesting proposition to someone he did not know – someone who would be judging him every moment of the way.  He was free enough to be able to put up with my critique, no matter how brutal. And how shall I put this – I don’t think either Chippendale’s or Thunder From Down Under would ever be rolling out the red carpet for him.
     In this journey I’ve been on to find a new agent and publisher for my novels, there has so far been more lows than highs.  The cold submission of query letters has so far only been met by sometimes polite, sometimes very impersonal “Thanks, but no thanks” letters.  I’m getting better at being more detached as I read them.  It pricks a little, but I file them away and do my best not to take it as a personal rejection of me as a writer and as a person.   As an artist, rejection is such a great part of what I do, the skin has to grow thicker at some point.  The problem is, it’s as if I’ve reached a safe middle, where the lows don’t really sting, but with that, the highs don’t make as much of an impact either.  I’ve become a bit desensitized.  But this man – this lovely, strange Hawaiian stripper dude desperate for an even tan, seemed to have figured out the balance. There was such feeling and emotion in what he asked, but there was a calm and freedom.  It was actually inspiring– as he seemed to have mastered being both emotionally attached and critically detached at the same time.  In other words, I could sense the highs were as explosive and colorful and full of flavor as they should be, but the lows had been anesthetized. 

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Two weekends ago, I went to my first literary conference.  It was a last minute decision as I deliberated back and forth whether I wanted to pay the three hundred and fifty buck fee I could ill afford to part with, plus pay for lodging and drinks and food and drinks and gas and drinks…you get the idea.  There were a couple of reasons I had never gone to one of these conferences before.  First of all, as big as my mouth is, it seems to become filled with cotton when I’m in the critical situation of having my work judged by committee.  I love to write, but the business of writing, not so fond of much.  I’ve also had this weird snapshot in my head of what a typical attendee of a writer’s conference looks like.  Here goes.  Remember Roger and Virginia Klarvin, the characters Will Ferrell and Rachel Dratch played in the late nineties on SNL?  They were these college professors who spoke in this affected manner, called each other “my lovah,” and couldn’t keep their hands off each other.   Roger of the full beard and thick, gray, “Masterpiece Theatre” meets “Grizzly Adams” sweater, and Virginia of the long, stringy graying hair with teenager-like bangs crowning her middle-aged forehead.   I swear, this is what I thought I’d be confronted with as they spoke of the philosophy of words and of writing.  Now, don’t get me wrong, there were a few Klarvin look-alikes running around, but there was a pretty cool variety of people.  And instead of being intimidated by people’s work, I was really inspired.  And I even read some of my own and survived the comments, both complimentary and critical.

My decision to attend came from my new 2010 motto…”Tom Jonesing it.”  What does the Welsh singer of “It’s Not Unusual,” “What’s New Pussycat?” and “She’s A Lady” have to do with my writing?  Not so much.  But I get inspiration from the strangest of places.  My poor friends have heard the story so often, they take off running when they see me coming, so I’ll try to make it short. 

Went up to Vegas last month with my friend Nat Johnson to support another friend who was producing a one-man show at the MGM Grand.  Well, also performing there…none other than Mr. Jones himself.  Tickets – a hundred bucks, so we put it out into the universe that we would score some free of charge.  Five hours later, we stumble into a bar and find ourselves sitting at a table next to Tom and his band mates.  When you work in entertainment, you often lose whatever awe you might have had when it comes to entertainers, but not in this instance.  So Nat and I sit there staring at the drink menu trying to figure out how to approach the man without making complete idiots of ourselves.  Nat, who’s got balls bigger than a T-Rex’s; Natalee, who has no problem approaching anyone and talking to them about anything; Natalee who’s done stand-up at the Comedy Store and Laugh Factory in front of hundreds of skeptical faces actually had fear in her eyes, and no amount of coaxing could get her to approach the “Sugar Daddy" himself.   Finally, after a damn it all to hell moment, I gulped down my drink, announced I was gonna “Tom Jones it” and pounced.  (I didn’t really pounce.  Just thought it sounded like a good word.  A more accurate description would probably be “I treaded both softly and hesitantly”).   But the results of my sudden bravery: hanging out with Tom and his band till 4 in the morn and scoring tickets from them to the next night’s show, where we sat in the center of the theatre at the wives and girlfriends table.

Tom Jones revels in being on stage, and the joy is transferred to anyone who has a chance to experience him.  But even more priceless than those tickets was being able to talk to Tom and his musicians about how doing what they love, how not allowing anything to shift them from the path of their passion has given them a life filled with immeasurable joy and accomplishment. 

Tom Jones strikes me as someone who throws caution to the wind and goes after what he wants; someone who, like Sinatra sang, does it his way.

None of this would have taken place had I not grown some balls and said something as simple as “hello,” to “The Jones.”  And I walked away from that weekend thinking that whenever I have a strong thought, despite potential doubt or fear, I’m just gonna “Tom Jones it.”  I Tom Jones’d that conference and now feel a renewed excitement for my work.  Balls to the wall in 2010.  Tom Jonesing it all the way.