Take it or leave it.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


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I once had the misfortune of requiring a root canal. The tooth in question, a molar in the upper left side of my mouth, had recently had a cavity, which the dentist filled, though not without irritating the nerve root and introducing bacteria therein. Thanks much, Dr. Mendelovitz, you schmuck. Kidding. Mistakes happen, even among the UCLA-trained.

But it was at the endodontist in Beverly Hills that I had the unique privilege of viewing a man completely at ease with himself and in love with his profession. His name escapes me, but what zest for life, what gumption and verve was on display for me to see while he drilled into my tooth and extracted the nerve fibers. It also helped that the procedure earned him over a grand in cash. This doctor (as the Hang Over films tell us, dentists are doctors too), with his gelled hair and toothy grin, delivered the news to me that he could "save the tooth" with the profundity of someone announcing the existence of intelligent life on Mars. 

I honestly cannot remember when I've felt so enthusiastic about anything in life as this endodontist felt about rooting around in my mouth. Like the endodontist, I had taken a graduate degree in a medical specialty, but treating diabetes and heart disease as a family medicine practitioner never gave me any joy. It was always grunt work. The moment I entered the hospital each morning at around 6 a.m. I was already itching to leave. The irony is that while the medical profession provided a lucrative career doing something I found depressing, writing screenplays, enjoyable though it was (and sometimes still is) never earned me a dime.

Be that as it may, I don't think I've ever enjoyed creating anything as much as the endodontist enjoyed saving my tooth. And now I'm back at square one. Doing what I (somewhat) enjoy, for free and for an audience of one, thanks for reading. The term writer-turned-doctor-turned-writer is a long way of saying I'm just confused. 

Perhaps I am like the protagonist in the Russian novel Oblomov, fitted to appreciate art, rather than create it. Incidentally if like me you are plagued with ennui, lack a spring in your step, or find life futile or frustrating at least some of the time, peruse the Russian classics. Your life is peachy compared to what you'll find in the pages of such novelists as Tolstoy and Pushkin. In them, every character is a victim of unrequited love. Dreams are dashed. People are betrayed. Misery is drunk to the dregs. Petty officials labor tirelessly to afford a new coat only to have it stolen and then die. In fact, practically every character dies at the end of these books, often unexpectedly and from some obscure and unnamed illness. 

Life in 19th century Russia, the life that furnished Gogol and Turgenev (and let's not forget my favorite, Dostoevsky) with material out of which they fashioned their masterpieces, sure was bleak. And yet everyone takes themselves so damned seriously. They march around in a huff, take offense at the drop of a hat, challenge each other to duels, etc. In a miserable world, where you are beaten down and berated at every turn, it would seem that self-importance is one's most valuable asset. And this was before the advent of root canals!

Really, I set about writing knowing I'd never be a conventional success, as in making a living off putting words to page. And still I went about it. I traveled to Brazil in the late 90s to write my first romance based on my own amorous adventures knowing it would never see the light of day, but also to drink beer and have loose sex. So I knew what I was getting into, I guess. Was failure my fate, or is it that I refuse to put enough of myself into any written work requiring me to sit at a desk longer than an hour or two, conveniently the time it takes me to compose these blurbs for you. 

Recently I was rebitten by the screenwriting bug and dashed off two scripts in swift succession, each requiring about a month of my time. Neither is very good. The first of the two, about a fading novelist who fakes her own death in a desperate attempt to increase sales of her forgotten books, I sent to a pretty actress I had happened to see at the Groundlings, that comedic troupe that stages gigs every Saturday night in West Hollywood. Patty seemed flattered that I had chosen her to play one of the leads. She promised to send me notes after reading it. I never heard back. Not even after I wrote her a second time saying that by starring in my movie she could be the next Kristen Wiig! Either my work is crap, or it's so good the bitch is speechless. It's fun to dream. Maybe she saw through my shameless attempt to score a date. 

The second script I can't even bring myself to finish, at least not today. I can't even summarize it in a sentence. I can only say it's a love story. Like every great movie, but this movie of mine is not great. So why write it? To occupy some time, I guess. Get the creative juices flowing (down the drain).

If I were really motivated I'd write a thriller on geoengineering, since conspiracy theories about how "they" are poisoning our air are all over the Internet. But I lack the gumption! Every creative endeavor makes me yawn. I refuse to lose myself in any work. Because I myself am my life's work. To spend 10 hours a day slaving away pasting post-its on a peg board when I can be out swimming and running and eating Swiss chard just no longer appeals to me. I don't want to be pasty and with a paunch. And so I hereby leave award-winning screenplays to the Charlie Kaufmans of the world. Because that poor sucker really looks like he could use some help. The writer of such classics as Being John Malkovich and Synechdoche, New York has more money than I will ever see, and critical claim, and a wife, but he looks as sad as the hoary Russian novelists of yore. Maybe Mr. Kaufman should read their work. Or mine. Both are good for laughs, and either way your life won't seem nearly as bad as you once believed.

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