Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Call Any Vegetable ...

(Which is pretty much how I'm feeling these days) ... Or ask any writer who's freelance about the joys of freelancery. And they'll tell you, if they're honest, about the phenomenon known as "feast or famine."

There are times when the phone doesn't ring. (Or vibrate, or squeal like a pig, or play the opening from Ravel's Bolero, or do any one of a thousand other bizarre novelty tones that are supposed to charm other people, but instead generally just ensure that you get the entire seat to yourself even during rush hour.) No one wants to talk to you, to hear you pitch those great ideas in your head, like Neville Chamberlain being trapped in the bunker with Hitler or King Arthur revived as a 21st Century superhero, or even General U.S. Grant getting a talking horse just before Shiloh, which is comic GOLD, those Philistines! (especially with Justin Timberlake as Grant, trust me, it's not like he's fending off casting agents with a pointed stick these days.)

And no one calls. And no one calls. And no one calls, day after day, until you're perfectly willing your own self to squeal like a pig if it'll guarantee you an assignment. You're at the point of desperation where you'll stand on a street corner and hold up a sign that says "Will
work for Disney."

And then the phone rings. It's not much money, and even less time, but you'll do it, if only to alleviate the boredom. And then the phone rings again. And again. And you grab all the work you can, because who knows when it stops this time it might never ring again, and finally,
when the smoke clears you realize you're standing atop a mountain of assignments like Conan, only that ain't a naked Brythunian slave girl wrapped around your leg; it's a killer deadline.

So -- guesss which state I'm in right now.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Long, Long Receding Crawl Ago, In A Bookstore Not Terribly Far (I Hope) Away ...

The latest STAR WARS book (STAR WARS: Shadow Games), has been out for a month, and is already on the NYT Bestseller list. This, obviously, makes me happy. I just got Maya's 1st draft of The Last Jedi, which is reading great so far (about halfway through). And another book project is going quite well also.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Say Something

Just post something, damnit. What's the point of having a bloody blog if you're not going to use it?

Problem is, I can't just dash something off quickly. It takes a ridiculously long time to enter data; it's taken nearly four minutes just to type this much. As I've said before, the operative word is triage.

I simply have no time to write anything that doesn't have money at the other end. Even with Medicare, the bills are outrageous. Everything takes so much longer ....

And, of course, all this leads inevitably to a black hole of depression bigger and deeper than Sagittarius A.

Sigh ...

Ten minutes.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Climbing Out Of the Pit

My daughter just spent almost a week up here in Santa Barbara while Debbie was away at a retreat. I had a procedure that upgraded my DBS stimulators, which, after a decade of use, were down to the dregs. Mallory came up to work on a project with me and to simply be here if needed.

I am profoundly grateful to her -- she's everything a parent could want in a child; hard- working, good at her craft, and non-judgmental.

I'm much more gradually shedding the effects of the anesthesia this time; it has really slammed me. The stim units are on, but they still need to be fine-tuned. It's very hard to work, both because I'm so slow and limited in movement, and because it's hard to think.

I am getting better ... But slowly. Oh so slowly ...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

I Have A Good Reason

Sorry for being off-blog for so long: I was sick. (Word of advice: if you have Parkinson's, try not to get Herpes Zoster--AKA shingles--on top of it; not that it'll do much good if you've had chicken pox as a child). The two can potentiate and intensify each other's symptoms; the upshot being that I was pretty much useless for over a month, what with the being almost paralyzed and the treatments (The worst being a "5-4-3-2-1" steroid run that leaves you as wrung-out as a washcloth.)

I'm pretty much recovered by now, save for what seems to be permanent nerve damage in my upper back. Of course, I'm also severely behind in my work. Oy.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Heart OF Gold

In order for my physical to be complete, I had to have an EKG. But my 2 brain stimulators were causing interference. Fortunately, there was alternative: A cardio ultrasound.

This, friends and bloggers, was an amazing experience.I watched my heart beating, the valves opening and closing, the contractions ... wow. Just -- wow. We tend to think of our bodies' interiors(I do,anyway)as a mysterious jumble of viscera, with little pattern or purpose. How many people know the location of their spleen? Hands? (It's below the right lung.)

In fact, until I was six or seven, I thought of my body's interior as a sort of undifferentiated lump of gray. This hypothesis seemed totally reasonable to me; after all, that was the color and consistency of any number of cartoon characters' innards after being sliced, diced, filleted, chainsawed, etc., no? QED, then.

Best of all, I learned that my heart is healthy. No aortal or ventricular fib, no murmurs, no unsightly yellow buildup. I asked for a copy of the readout so I could prove to my ex that I really do have a heart.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Watch This Space

I'm awaiting an appointment for yet another procedure that will relieve my sciatic nerve pain (IhopeIhope). Until then, the only position that doesn't cause chronic agony is lying down, which severely reduces my typing speed. Consequently, I'm falling behind on deadlines and have to triage my time.

This all boils down to, I'll be back as soon as I can.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Going Ape

Ape shall never harm ape, according to the Lawgiver. Fortunately, this injunction doesn't keep apes from making a helluva good summer movie.

Rise Of the Planet Of the Apes is flat-out terrific, in every way: utterly believable FX, bravura acting from Andy Serkis and the other mo-cap performers, restrained direction and best of all, a sharp script with solid emotional arcs that the actors can really sink their teeth into (sorry). A few sly nods in the direction of the original in reprisals of signature lines and situations (my personal favorite: the orang-utan's named Maurice)ice the cake just enough without being cloying. A few small annoyances such as the lazy trope of the sadistic handler are unfortunate, but not enough to ruin the film by any means.

"Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's," as the saying goes -- in this case, fulsome praise. I said up top that Rise Of the Planet Of the Apes is a helluva good summer movie. I was wrong; it's a helluva good movie, period.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Make 'Em Laugh

Of all the problems and difficulties this disease has cursed me with, one easily stands out: it has made me mute.

My voice has gradually faded from normal over the past 5 years to a faint, hoarse croak that's just about unintelligible on my better days; on my bad days I can barely produce the faintest whisper by (it feels like) screaming at the top of my lungs.

It's worse than being mute, actually. There are times when I'm just loud enough to be understood, which, of course, is like being teased with it and then having it yanked away. The irony is that the two DBS procedures I had years ago, which did an excellent job of quelling my tremoring, also evidently zapped my brain's speech center.

I used to be, if not the life of any particular party, at least intermittently entertaining. I could give as good as I got, usually. I once, in a duel of wits, got Jay Leno to admit a draw. (Probably an off day for him, but still ...) I have, on occasion, come unsettlingly close to understanding the rudiments of string theory. (Maybe.) I mention all this, not to brag, (well, not entirely), but to give you an idea what it's like to be the same person on the inside and have to endure nervous sidelong glances from restaurant patrons who apparently think you're on the verge of soiling yourself.

I still have quick comebacks and bon mots that constantly spring to mind when I'm in a crowd. The only difference these days is that no one hears 'em but me ...

Friday, August 5, 2011

Existentialism 101

For 99% of the history of the human race, we were composed of and confined to small, insular tribes that were deeply, intrinsically suspicious of each other. .We were also trying to make sense of the apocalyptic events that nature kept throwing at us, apparently out of random fits of cosmic pique. And during these millennia our gray matter was developing at an incredible pace.

One of the more clever stunts our forefathers's forebrains conceived was the ability to imagine the future, as well as the ability to project ourselves into it. As far as we know, we're the only animal that lives in four dimensions instead of just three. True, many higher mammals and primates remember the past and anticipate the future; but as far as we can tell, only humans can imagine themselves as part of future scenarios. And this created, as so many, many things in life do, an apparently-irresolvable paradox. It was always there to bedevil us, whenever we got a moment's respite from the dire wolf lurking just outside the cave door, or the rockslides, the floods, fires, etc. It was the ultimate existential conundrum: Why are we born into a savage world, where everything is bigger, stronger, faster, and considerably more dentally enhanced than we are? And then, just as we start to maybe feel like we're possibly getting a grasp on the situation, we die -- either by becoming a hot lunch or, if we're "lucky", slowly, by decrepitude and disease.

A way had to be found to deal with this dilemma. And a way was found -- a rather clever one, it must be admitted, which not only mitigated existential meaninglessness by postulating an afterlife, but also rolled in the grim scenarios of nature that previously had had no explanation.

It seemed simple enough: the truly great ideas always are. All the inexplicable and frightening things of life were wrapped up, neat and shiny, into one conceptual truism that had the unmistakable stamp of authenticity on it: Simplicity. Anything this easy, this elegant, had to be right.

And the Great Truth was this: Anything beyond our ability to understand was "The will of the Gods."

"The will of the Gods", (known later as "The will of God", proving that even deities aren't immune to corporate downsizing), wasn't an enormous hit from the git-go, especially among those who either knowingly or unknowingly transgressed the ever-growing thicket of laws, customs and rituals. These hapless ones were usually tortured in some spectacularly unpleasant manner and finished up by being burned at the stake, stoned to death, drawn and quartered or numerous other ways, all of 'em quite nasty. Nevertheless, the notion of an invisible, all-powerful and all-seeing sky-parent, stern and reproving at best, psychotically genocidal at worst, was strangely compelling. For one thing, the whole thing made tribal conquests more possible by giving the faithful the gumption to go the extra yard for God's sake. In fact, the new rationale worked so well that eventually it became i genetically coded into certain people by natural selection. These new priests, sacerdotes and other "keepers of the flame" were hardwired to fiercely believe in one of the most elaborately-constructed fairy tales of all time; to believe and to protect. For many centuries the guardians of the mysteries were by and large a positive force on society, if only because they gave people a reason to not fear death -- at least, not unless it was delivered by the bloody hands of the Brotherhood.

But it isn't positive any more.

We've surpassed ourselves. As far as the processing power of our neo-cortices goes, we're like David McCallum in that "Sixth Finger" episode of The Outer Limits; from the neck up we're sporting these big ol' veiny craniums, but from the neck down we're still Alley Oop. Deep, deep down we're still savages walking the veldt, but with one vital difference. It's one thing to lob sticks and stones across the water hole and maybe concuss A. afarensis and a couple of his cousins -- it's quite another to toss ICBMs and drone missiles over the horizon to annihilate entire nations.

And yet it isn't. In fact it's easier to push a button and decimate a continent than it is to beat another man to death with an ass's jawbone. The only real difference is that the guy with the jawbone has to get up close and personal, has to feel the other man die. Other than that, on a very deep level, it's the same thing, as long as God is on your side. And that, of course, is the big problem with God that no one seems to get: An omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent being is on everyone's side.

I hope the basic gist is coming through here, because it's as simple as extinction: we can't afford belief in God any more. The stakes are way too high. A child playing doctor with a toy stethoscope may be charming; that same child with a vial of real smallpox is terrifying. The Middle East wasn't exactly humanity's brain trust way back when; Yahweh would've done better to have burned His bush in China, where they at least understood the idea of abstract mathematics as a way to learn a bit more than just how many sheep the other guy had.

These are the stakes:

In 1950, the physicist Enrico Fermi once ruined everyone's lunch by asking one of the most troublesome rhetorical questions in astrophysics:  "Where is everybody?"

The Fermi Paradox, as it came to be known, is simply stated: it cites the apparent contradiction between the high probability of extraterrestrial civilizations' existence and the lack of contact with such civilizations. The question has only gotten more salient and puzzling with the discovery, in the last decade, of a huge bevy of exoplanets. With an abundance of earth-like worlds in our galaxy alone, the chances are overwhelming that life must have developed on a significant portion of them. If even one other civilization made it as far as we did, they could have seeded the entire galaxy in less than a million years. A million years sounds like a long time, but it's really not. The Milky Way is over thirteen billion years old; almost as old as the universe itself. A million years -- a million centuries -- is nothing.

Once SETI began listening, back in the early Sixties, we had every expectation of hearing the radio waves from Out There buzzing, humming, stridulating, vocalizing and otherwise communicating. We expected to hear juicy galactic gossip. Instead we heard -- nothing. The lonesome interstellar equivalent of crickets chirping.

So where is everybody?

There are a few hypotheses -- my favorite is the Prime Directive, AKA the Zoo Hypothesis, which should be fairly self-explanatory. But there's also a more sinister one, which I think of as the Gauntlet: each civilization, sooner or later, inevitably reaches a crisis point in which they either run out of energy and food and return to barbarism (if they're lucky; if they're not, it's straight to extinction), or they make it past the crisis and enter a technological utopia.

Judging from the signal-to-noise ratio out there, it seems that utopia is rarely achieved. But hey -- no worries; I'm sure there's a Special Place reserved for societies asinine enough to exterminate themselves in the name of imaginary deities.

I'm just not sure that it's Heaven.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Feeling Kneedy

My body continues its series of no-holds-barred attacks on me; a few weeks ago I was on a business trip, and,, that evening, I sat down on the hotel bed. You wouldn't think such an innocuous action would invite immediate and drastic punitive action, but make no mistake about it; Parkinson's is a stern and unforgiving taskmaster. It loses no opportunity to remind me of who's in charge. This time was no exception; I heard (and felt) a large CRACK!, and when I tried to move my leg, couldn't help but notice that my kneecap, instead of occupying its usual position, was jutting out at a 45 degree angle. From this I deduced that I'd dislocated it. Well, that and the intense pain.

(I don't know why the medical terminology is "dislocate". Believe me, you have no trouble finding it. It hurts like a motherfucker.)

Anyway. I wasn't in a position to snap it back myself, so the hotel called First Response, who immediately cut my favorite pair of pants to shreds so they could splint me. I had a long ride in an ambulance, and a longer still stay in the ER. I was annoyed that they didn't empty a bag of morphine in my arm before popping my knee back, but I didn't want to look like a wuss, so I only screamed a little when the ortho moved it back. Believe me, it's nothing to how I'll scream when I get the bill.

This was due (big surprise) to the PD. It has the curious ability to make my muscles both weaker and stiffer. (The Latin name for the disease is Paralysis agitans.) I've noticed lately that every time I feel myself losing my balance, I instinctively snap to rigidity, and all my joints and muscles hyperextend. In the long run, this isn't good. In fact, it ain't all that much fun in the short run either.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Random Memory

I got to direct Leonard Nimoy once.

I was a writer-producer on a prime time animated series named Invasion America, for Steven Speilberg and Harv Bennett. Harv managed to convince Nimoy to do a limited run as a character. Nimoy agreed, provided that he'd be in and out.

So, of course, Steven didn't like the performance. Nimoy, who was only supposed to be there for four episodes, kept being brought back to do the role again. He tried to be gracious, but it was obvious he wasn't enjoying himself.

So one day we were working our asses off trying to get a reading, and we just couldn't get it the way we needed it from him. It was a short line, which means it's actually harder to get the reading right. We didn't want to just give it to him, cause that would be like saying you can't act. But he was getting increasingly surly.

So we're in the booth, trying to think of a way to get the read from him. Then I had an idea. I opened the mike and said "Lee, gimme the line and raise one eyebrow while you read it."

He nailed it, one take.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Haven't had one of these in awhile, so I thought it worth mentioning ...
I just had a short story fall into my head.

I've been a working writer for the past 30-odd years; primarily in television, at first, now mostly books and film. Since I tend ofttimes to focus on the more ... unpleasant ... vicissitudes of my life (we all do; it's a human thing), it's good to be reminded that the word "vicissitude" can connote something positive as well as negative. The word itself is neutral.

It's true that one of the biggest curses of my life has been being inflicted with Parkinson's Disease. It has devastated me, both mentally and physically. And it will ultimately destroy me.

So it's good to remember that I've also been fortunate, enough to do what I love most to do for pretty much my entire adult life. In that respect, I've been incredibly lucky. (And I'm not saying some kind of karmic balance is being addressed here; one in no way evens out the other. Obviously, the best life would have been the life of a writer sans PD. I'm just saying that it's good that I had the courage to go for it. Otherwise, I might've been just some guy who worked at some anonymous job all his life and wound up with a chronic degenerative disease. That would have been truly awful.)

As for the short story idea, I've poked at it, driven it around town a little, and it seems pretty solid. So, as soon as I get a chance, I'll write it. It won't be right away, though -- I've got two books under contract that need to be finished first.

It's good to keep a sense of perspective about life ...

Friday, July 22, 2011

Green Lantern flickers

Although I've decided to confront the fact of my disease in this blog, that's not all I'll be blogging about. I also won't shy away from the fact that I've made extremely bad decisions about other things. Such as going to see Green Lantern of my own free will.

I've never known what to make of Green Lantern as a superhero. Conceptually, he always struck me as better villain material -- especially with that whole charging the ring with a Coleman knockoff from Big Five and a "Power Oath" that smacked obscurely of some type of cryptofascistic dialectic. Not only that, but he had a ridiculous weakness -- he was powerless over the color yellow. Even in childhood I knew that you made green by mixing blue and yellow, so it seemed to me that this could've been thought out better.

Of course, even the Silver Age Green Lantern's jaundiced view of the color yellow paled against the absurd limitation of the power ring worn by the Golden Age Green Lantern. His was powerless over anything made of wood. That's right -- wood. (I don't know if this includes plywood or wood-grain plastic.) I'm thinking of stopping by the drugstore, picking up a box of number 2 pencils and making 'em both my bitches.

As for the movie ... Save your money for Captain America. With the madness going on in Washington currently, it's likely the closest you'll ever get to seeing what this country might've been ...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Living With The Monster

So I've lived with this beast for nearly 20 years, now. The first 10 got steadily worse, until I had what was then a relatively-new operation called DBS (a sorta generic acronym which just means "Deep Brain Stimulation" -- which could be anything from a procedure done in black-and-white with the accompaniment of electrical arcs crackling from Van de Graaf generators, to just really good porn). What it does is squelch the tremoring and lack of balance, and just sort of generally slow the whole process down. How it does this, they don't have a clue. Nor did I -- I just wanted my life back.

Which I got. For about another 5 years. At which time things really started to fall apart.

But I'll talk about that the next time. I've to pace myself -- while I might happily chatter away here all day long, there are lots other things that demand my attention. And I'm not moving that fast, any more ...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tech Wars

So ...

Once this blog was finally up and running, I could finally breathe a sigh of relief. Finally I had someplace to post TO.

But that was too easy, of course.

It seems that the browser I was using (Firefox, which has never given me the slightest bit of trouble before), simply became hysterical at the notion that I could have another blog. I finally gave up (on Firefox), and am now using a browser I've never heard of: Atomic Lite. It seems to work -- so far. I'm not resting easy until I'm sure it's posted and others can see it.

There's nothing like a few setbacks on the Internet to bring out the existentialism in one ...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Long Road ...

I've been living with PD for more than a decade now,  and the onset was sudden and at a relatively early age. Where I was and where I am are vastly different, and it is my hope that this blog might help others who find themselves beset with this illness.