Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Animator! Carpe Diem!

Carpe Diem! 
(Part 1)

New York City. Winter, 1987.
What I like to call, with a laugh at fate, my starving artist period. You know… no work and no money… when things look black and you’re wondering if you can hold on… 
When it’s art for art’s sake because that’s all there is.
Yes, at times it’s tough to be an artist! Don’t worry, though, we weren’t actually starving all those years ago.
But we did go to bed hungry a lot.

Punctually at ten o’clock on a Tuesday morning, I passed through the elevator doors of the sixth floor and stood before the reception desk of Broadcast Arts, 632 Broadway, New York, New York.
I finally had an appointment to introduce myself and show my animation reel to someone.
Who knows? Maybe I’d finally get a job. 
“Yes? May I help you?” enquired the receptionist.
“I’m here to see Sachi,” I said. 
“Please have a seat.”
It was a relief to sit down. My leg was sore again. To make a few dollars I’d been working as a messenger for Empire Messenger Service, and all the walking I did delivering packages up and down Manhattan had aggravated an injury I’d sustained in a motorcycle crash years before. It didn’t help that I’d arrived downtown early and wanting to waste time had idled along Bleeker Street, looking at the store windows and nervously smoking cigarettes.
I rubbed my knee and tried to forget my nervousness. Or should I call it stage fright? At last, I thought, a chance to show my work… my first break in America! 
But what if they didn’t like my work? Or didn’t like me?
What if I flopped? 
I’d shown my demo reel (or versions of it, for one must keep it up to date) hundreds of times over the years, on three different continents, but never had it seemed so important as now.
Relax, Rusty, I said to myself, don’t get excited. What’s the worst that can happen? You’re already penniless and hungry and out of work. 
I looked around at the unusual reception area. It was gaily painted in primary colors giving a childlike effect. Oversized toy soldiers stood at attention along the wall and giant teddy bears dozed in the corner. One of Pee-Wee Herman’s customized bicycles [the original Pee-Wee’s Playhouse was produced at Broadcast Arts] leaned against a papier-mâché tree whose boughs held cotton candy clouds and cardboard birds… 
“Hello. I’m Sachi.”  
Up strode a small woman with a big smile and wild, raven hair. We shook hands and she led me into a nearby conference room. Inside, four other people were already seated at a large table. 
I shook hands with everyone. Upon the table were stacks of drawings and storyboards, ashtrays and coffee cups, attesting to their morning’s work. I relaxed a bit. It felt natural to be in a film studio’s conference room again, with its atmosphere of artistic commerce, crushed egos and deadline hysteria.
“We’ve got some thirty-second spots coming up where we might be able to use you,” said Sachi. “They start next month. Are you free?”
“I’m free right now,” I answered.
“Tell us about yourself.”
I told them about myself.
“Let’s see what your work looks like,” said Sachi when I’d finished. As she inserted the tape into the bulky player, we turned in our chairs and faced the large TV at the end of the table. Up flickered my work.
This was the part I hated. Sitting there in silence as my tape played. Your demo reel must speak for itself. Anything you say will only sound like an excuse. There’s nothing for you to do but sit there silently smiling like an idiot, yet somehow projecting plenty of self-confidence. 
So I sat there smiling, trying not to look as if I’d seen the thing ten thousand times before. I always saw its flaws. They laughed at the appropriate places, I noticed, a good sign. 
It’s when they laugh at inappropriate places you begin to feel the flop sweat forming…
As the tape played, I surreptitiously looked at Sachi. The expression on her face was hardly uncontrolled admiration, more like preoccupation, as if behind her eyes        she had larger things on her mind. I tried to peek at the others to see their reactions, but the angle was bad and I couldn’t see. I didn’t want to be obvious, although I don’t know why. I felt like shouting out, “I did that! Me! What do you think?”
My demo reel was patterned after a music video. I had edited about fifty pieces of film together, mostly from TV commercials I’d made, to match some non-copyrighted, up tempo music. Nothing was in context and the whole thing was only two-and-a-half-minutes long. I spent weeks editing it to the music. Then I’d transferred it to high quality video. It was quite professional looking.
“Yah. Okay. I see enough,” said Wolf, who had been introduced to me as the production manager, about a minute into my tape. Perhaps it was his accent, but I couldn’t tell from his comment whether he liked what he had seen enough of, or not. 
It’s true, though, it only takes a few seconds for a professional to tell if your work is any good. 
Ask any animator. 
After pronouncing that he’d seen enough, Wolf turned his attention back to the pad of storyboard blanks on the table in front of him, doodling with a soft pencil. He looked up now and then at my work on the TV screen.
No one else said a thing, and after what seemed like an hour, my two-and-a-half-minute demo reel came to an end.
“Whataya think?” asked Sachi to the table. “Wanna see it again?”
“No need,” said Wolf as he doodled.
“Pretty good,” said Diane, a director. She smiled and asked, “You do all that yourself?”
“My father did the backgrounds and we shared animation duties… but it’s my work,” I explained.
“It’s nicely edited,” said the editor.
“What harm can he do?” came from an assistant director. “If he’s as good as his tape?”
“What about this other thing?” said Sachi. “We’ve got to have it by tomorrow morning or camera will freak out! I say give him a chance.”
“I repeat, what harm can he do?” said the assistant director. “If his work’s no good, we don’t have to use it.”
“And we’re no worse off than we were before!” added the editor.
“Yah. Okay. Do it.” said Wolf. He looked at his watch, stood up and held out his hand. We shook. “Tanks for coming,” he said and disappeared through a side door. 
The others wished me luck in an offhanded yet not unfriendly way and bent down to their work.
“Follow me,” said Sachi, handing me back my tape.
We exited the conference room and walked down a corridor, passing cubicles where stressed-out occupants sat drawing at animation desks or jabbering furtively into telephones. 
You could feel the tension in the air. 
A deadline was looming.

   To be continued…

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Zen and the Wisdom of Blueberry Cookies

Zen and the Wisdom of Blueberry Cookies

I suppose I’d better confess
Right up front
That I’m not sure 
What blueberry cookies have to do with it.
Not yet, anyway.

Maybe we’ll find out before the end of this poem.
Maybe we won’t. 
That’s the reason I write these poems;
Anything can happen
In my search for zen!

So that I might,
Respected audience, 
Set it before you.
As I’m doing now.

To amuse or instruct.
It doesn’t matter to me.
I get paid the same either way.
(As the actress once said to the bishop.)

Yes I was sitting here, unpaid, thinking,
“What’ll I write about today?
The stupid deadline is tomorrow.
Where is my doggone muse?

Where is my zen?”

And in came my wife
With some blueberry cookies.
“Yummy! Yummy!” I thought.

But this poem isn’t about my wife,
And how yummy she is.
Which believe me is plenty!

It's about zen.
And whether we'll find any
Before this poem has ended.

“Thanks, gorgeous!” I said,
Admiring her figure
With a one-eyed leer.
“Your cookies sure look good!”

“Now, Rusty,”
She answered firmly
In her southern-belle drawl.
"Never mind all that!
Aren’t you supposed to be writing?"

Then, laughing at my lasciviousness, 
(And delighted for the 10,000th time
That I find her so attractive) she added,
"Oh no you don't!
Not this time!
What about your deadline?
Keep away from me!”

Then with a giggle she ran from the room
And left me to my cookies…
And my deadline… 
And my writing…

So, here we are.
Me, you, my wife’s cookies,
And the memory of her playful presence 
From a moment before.

All interconnected!
All flowing together 
In a wonderful karmic river
With love to guide the way.

The zen of it!

Well, I think
That’s all we have time for today.

I hope, having read this poem,
You feel better instructed in the
Mysterious ways of zen!

Don’t bother to thank me.
As I said before,
I get paid the same either way.

I fancy a few more tasty cookies.
Think I’ll go surprise my wife
With a funny little idea I’m having.

Goodbye, friends!
See you next week.
I hope.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Zen and the Pain of Being an Asshole

Zen and the Pain of Being an Asshole

I caught myself 
Being a big asshole
Earlier this week.

Oh boy! 
I hate it when I do that, don’t you?
Be an asshole, I mean.

I suppose we all do.
After all, nobody’s perfect.
It’s only human nature

To be somewhat of an asshole
Sometime, somewhere, in one’s life.
If one lives long enough,

And is shall we say lucky enough,
One may perhaps do or not do many things…
Worthy of possible regret.

What do you mean, Rusty? 
(I hear you wonder) 
Earlier this week!?

Haven’t you always been a big asshole?
Isn’t this a case, like it it is for many things, of
Once an asshole, always an asshole?

Yes, of course. But,
I wasn’t born an asshole.
I must’ve taken a wrong turn.

Back there, somewhere.

And in my defense I’d like to add 
That I’ve been left unsupervised
For extremely long periods in my life.

Probably very formative periods.

It’s happened before, I admit,
That I fall into assholedness,
And way too often too,
So I won’t argue about the always of it.

To some people
Being an asshole
Just comes easier 
Than it does to other people.

Some of us have a natural gift for it.

But always ain’t forever,
If you know what I mean.
So maybe there’s hope.

Yes, I’ve been selfish.
A real asshole.
Rude and short-tempered.
Thoughtless and angry. 


Deep down.
Inside my insides. 
A little man afraid.

(Because it’s our fears 
That make us mean,
Don’t you think?)

Yes, last week I caught myself being an asshole…
But by then the damage was done.
You know what they say;
Once an asshole, always an asshole.

(And if you don’t know what they say
Then where were you earlier?
I must have mentioned it three times by now.)

So there I was. An asshole… 
Always and forever 
As far as anyone else knew.

Even as far as I knew.
Because our actions define us, sometimes.
If we let them.
And acting like an asshole 
Makes you so, yes?

So there I was. An asshole.
To me, it was a moment of painful realization,
Again, of how

Poorly I’ve succeeded
In learning to practice a little human
Patience and loving kindness.

Oh, mother!
Sometimes I wonder if I have what it takes
To become a human being…
I keep failing time and again.

It’s not easy. 
I need help.
That’s the zen of it! 

So thank you,
Momentary lapse into assholedness from last week!
You’ve helped me see my actions
For what they were…

The fearful squeaking 
Of a cowardly old man.

Now, perhaps, with this unflattering 
Vision of myself before my eyes
I can live a better, freer life!

Growing in my zen-strength
To defeat the worser me!
To defeat myself with the very tools,

Oh irony,  
The very tools I lack the most;
Patience and loving kindness.

Ah Zen!
Your perfection terrifies me!
Until I remember your love.

Please grant me a little
God-like understanding to free me
From my imperfect self! 

To comprehend things as they truly are!
And live in a world I cannot control,
But must not fear.

To fly towards enlightenment unafraid
With zen at my immortal side
And love to guide the way!

Me and those that came before.
Now and forever.