Milestone: Eighty pushups in less than two minutes. Going for ninety.
Two months after Family Court mediation, I was in Mills College again, this time enrolled with the School of Education, pursuing an M.A. with Single-Subject Teaching Credential in Social Science, and looking like a good student filling artbook pages—but I was not transcribing lectures or the exchange between peers, I was writing script and dialogue to six feature films—simultaneously—and enjoying it.
Ode to remember Joy.
Up to then, writing was bittersweet. Conflicted. A dead end. Poetry was not satisfying. I had lost my faith in poetry, again. Damn it. And I was not going to let a woman convince me about faith again.
Two weeks prior to the semester, I read a call for short film proposals; the deadline was that day. Within 24 hours, I was one out of ten local amateur filmmakers selected by Christopher Coppola to compete in the San Francisco Bay Area edition of the six-minute Public Access Hollywood Festival. The $500 Ears XXI Artistic Achievement Award for “Asuang” went towards child support—one of my proudest moments of 2008.
I believe I would have had a good chance to win the grand prize had I accepted Social Media [my salvation] earlier into my life. The grand prize was determined by online voting. Then, my virtual presence was thin.
It should be no surprise that into my second masters degree I was very disillusioned sitting at a desk relearning pedagogy, how to teach the urban multicultural student. There’s always a level of patronization involved—it’s necessary to flesh out who knows what about the segregated classroom. I had convinced myself to settle with teaching; that it would pay for child support, keep me in the Bay Area. I had resented the manner in which I conceded: rushed back to school, no other option.
The nudge came when my HP crashed before the first essay was due. The Fellowship that was supposed to kick-in in August arrived in October and too late to salvage my semester—it would have gone to child support anyways. My regrets losing the hard drive: the hundreds of pictures of my son. Luckily, all of my film notes were on paper. So the opportunity to continue screenwriting presented itself. Sell a script and maybe I can pay someone to recover the data. Better yet, be self-sufficient. Meeting Michael Tolkin during a screening of The Rapture when I was twenty should have been a sign. Why did I not apply myself to film when I was younger? Because poetry about dysfunctional sex lives does not pay.
I credit Confessional Poetry for my education in Dialogue, exploring desire, deceit, lying, and cheating. Sylvia Plath and Anais Nin, perhaps you should have traded fates, and the world may have been a better place.
I wanted one script of the six to be collaborative so I circulated an email amongst a close knit of Berkeley friends asking for the definition of soul wound, the savaging and poisoning of the spirit, the constant mourning or the constant morning. Always dawn, and never sunset. In what form did Soul Wound inhabit mind and body? What was its source in others? Is it intergenerational? Is it generational? Is it inescapable or inevitable? Does it debilitate? Does it provoke rage or sadness? I was comparing vulnerabilities, how differently we seek calm in a bottle, in pill form, in meditation, in delirious bouts—mania or dharma dance, in leaps of faith—the suicidal butterfly prefers flying into the sun, getting there is the story everyone reads. I wanted to know how to heal, if healing is possible. If it’s a solo journey? No Dark Continent Companion required? I wanted to know if true love is only found in death: Liebestod? Or, is true love, if I can call it as such, fetish, Lustmord?
Why wouldn’t I explore the military, a natural tendency? What can be worse than a broken heart, in faith? You see I know something about War trauma. My mother is an example. That’s another column. My Veteran fathers and Veteran uncles are also examples. Then again, anyone who has closely watched my family, could pull me aside, any scream WTF? I grew up with the range of PTSD behaviors. You can say they have normalized me.
What is unexpected, for me, is this experience, taken for granted as every-day, prized in a consumerist society but easily disposable, called fidelity? Try internalizing fidelity. Try breaking up away from the normativity of internalizing consumerism. Most people can’t do it. Perhaps the same people do not understand “honor.” Remember in high school English class. Shakespeare warned of an experience worse than death. So being the literary fool, I feared becoming the Cuckold. Yes, Othello’s greatest threat: he’s nonnormative. His honor is nonnormative. A man who holds on to honor—is easily manipulated.
In my position, would I trade the Cuckold for the Veteran? One trauma for another?
Bio-Dad feared the Cuckold. For example, like many married men in the Navy’s Pacific fleet, a Western Pacific deployment meant opportunity and dread. Whatever happened in Bangkok stayed in Bangkok. But while in Bangkok, the wife, left behind, could do as pleased. The husband’s absence changes the wife’s relationship status to that of the Westpac Widow. I think Facebook should update its options. For seven months or more, she mourned in the company of other men. So you can imagine how vigilant I was for Cuckolds and Westpac Widows. My mother may be as flirtatious as hell but she did not cross the threshold. I think the divorce rate is higher in the military than in California, more so for the perceived notion, that all women exercised their rights as Widows. My mother escaped with her life for a crime she did not commit.
Should I re-enlist, at least, I would be single. Wouldn’t want to have the enemy in the bedroom too. Yeah, there lies the insurgency.
As October waned, leaving school became obvious. Script writing was feverish and my exploration into Soul Wounds made any classroom bonding difficult. By coincidence, Final Draft was hosting a Pitch festival in NYC on the second anniversary of Tom Behrman’s death. I did not attend his funeral in Maine, and because I did not attend his funeral, I still had this urge to go to the East Coast. I wanted catharsis. Maine was still out of the way, but there was NYC where he died. My third reason for going, maybe I would settle a score. Anything’s possible in a big city and I had no doubt the stars might put a man in my path and give me an opportunity hard to refuse.
Looking back at that day of pitching to Ghost Robot, etopia and Jane Startz Productions, I should be a better writer. Heck, my best pitch was delivered as a poem. No. Not a sonnet.
Who wants to make a lyric movie now? About Soul Trauma/Soul Wounds. About the road to redemption/the road for poetic justice. About the stars intervening, or not. About friends who matter/about matters of the heart. SERIOUS INQUIRIES ONLY.
The following poem is dedicated to Tom Behrman, Annie Wilner, Nadine Dabby, Sarah Mourra, Bob Hsiao, Jamie Yosha, Dylan Eret, Bettina Van Lengerich, Kendra Drischler, Mike Kim, and Emily Beall and to the things we do to find calm. We were the Berkeley Renaissance (but then that name was taken) of the late late 20th century and proofed the literary worthiness of Two Buck Chuck and Emeryville condominium pools. Warning: to conflate present and past to the point that when I read it to myself I get a little dizzy is intended.
Speculative Fiction (prose version)
At 10:30 am on the first Saturday in November, Tom Behrman flies in front of the Southbound E and for two hours closes service at 8th Avenue and 34th. I wait at Starbucks, watch The Pursuit of Happyness on my new laptop, and rehearse pitches for The Asuang of Alice Street Community Garden, Sakura, Tamaraw and The Locomotive. The day before, Tom Behrman boards the Greyhound from Maine, afterwards his family wonders what compels him to quit his meds cold turkey and take a leap of faith. I had rented Othello and Total Eclipse also from Berkeley’s Reel. Before La Guardia, my flight layovers in Cincinnati. When not talking to her mother, a Stanford psychology undergrad, in the seat next to me, peeks over my shoulder, I’m studying formats of Lost Highway and Blade II. I did this for my son as much as for myself.
Four hours after 10:30 am on the first Saturday in November, I pitch The Asuang of Alice Street Community Garden. Present day San Francisco. Recently divorced. Father of a four-year old son. True Tyding explores what it means to belong to the most loyal of colonial subjects, the eviscerated Asuangs employed as museum guards guarding Chagall’s cats, in a city that first mustered the invasion of the gulag archipelago, where Twain wept in darkness addressing a Dark Continent Companion, for calumny and calamity. What it means to be whole. What it means to speak an archipelago tongue. To explore a soul wound, what it is when it emerges from underneath to embrace.
Shortly after 10:30 am on the first Saturday in November I record the Southbound E’s velocity and brake speed, passenger apathy when reroutes are announced, then a woman feels threatened, will I post her soul on-line, demands deletion of film capture. I explain: Two years ago on this platform at this time, as a crowd thickens, Tom Behrman flies in front of the Southbound E and for two hours closes service at 8th Avenue and 34th while a father liberates his son from mosaic jogging stroller, a fire breather does not move a zebra, resigns a briefcase hangs high, the shudder rails rust. Like her I do not want anyone to track where I’ve been. She leaves me unconsoled. The night before at 11 pm the airport shuttle drives to the AMC Loews, I watch the last scheduled movie, The Haunting of Molly Hartley. My first night ever in NYC, I walk to Times Square before returning for French fries Tick Tock, I rehearse pitches for The Asuang of Alice Street Community Garden, Sakura, Tamaraw and A Maine Notebook. I am doing this for my son as much as for myself.
Four hours after 10:30 am on the first Saturday in November I pitch Sakura. August 1984, Atsugi Naval Air Facility, Japan. Eight-year old mixed-race navy brat True Tyding explores between punches what it means to be half of something and half of nothing as nuclear war looms the day after Red Dawn’s release, Ronald Reagan rehearses between Olympic medal rounds and outlaws the Soviet Union for boycotting Los Angeles? The difference between Mutual Assured Destruction and interceptors scrambling when no one laughs is a hot mic sandwiched in the knuckles of the Santa Barbara Mountains. How many heartbeats are thirty minutes, cooler heads bury beneath cherry blossoms.
Three hours after I pitch. Because of John Cho, I have second dinner after seeing Synecdoche, New York at the Empire, four sliders and fries at White Castle. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s parent in retrograde, Caden Cotard receives genius grant for genuine warehousing of parts of a whole follows daughter upbraided to Berlin and finds her brute. Will and Jaden Smith are more fortunate Gardners when bone density divides family. Why shouldn’t the mother leave also without a trace? Is Charlie Kaufman’s parallax an apt foreshadow? Can I intern much longer, write script freely, deliver loglines instead of prose, cast speaking roles instead the voice doubled over, contract than submit, anonymity brings me here to pitch when I think deviance and devious are alike and unlike. I return to the Empire and sleep through RocknRolla and count Thandie Newton twice in one day. I do this for my son as much as for myself.
Four hours after 10:30 am on the first Saturday in November I pitch Tamaraw. 1902 Binalonan, Philippine American War. Captain David Fagen, Buffalo Soldier participates in decimation, the execution of ten-year old suspected Insurrectos. He switch sides and his army of defectors black and white, Lowland and Mountain tribesmen is hunted down, while anthropologists vie for his head, Thomasites conduct underground passage of sympathizers and supplies from Manila to the front line. Think Apocalypse Now meets Othello.
Two hours before pitch I ride the Northbound C to Central Park and photograph a horse-drawn carriage and walk to the Avenue of the Americas and pray Serendipity for murder, a third reason bringing me here? Had pretense appear? I will a shank produce. Rimbaud would have done the same to stray Verlaine. His friends did not know how he relied—or was prescribed to rely. Likewise, his family did not know he had reliable friends. Those who service his mourning he met abroad. However I was absent. Regrets? The others, all Rangeley folk. At the Starbucks on 53rd, I change clothes and rehearse for The Asuang of Alice Street Community Garden, Sakura, Tamaraw, and Lake Country. I was doing this for my son as much as for myself.
Four hours after 10:30 am on the first Saturday in November I pitch: The Big Chill meets Prozac Nation in graduate school. Previously Lake Country. Previously, A Maine Notebook. Previously, The Locomotive. Tom Behrman, early thirties, Berkeley alum, Psychology grad school dropout, a self-styled Bartleby, the Scrivener, and I say this with respect, flies in front of the Southbound E and for two hours closes service at 8th Avenue and 34th prompting a pilgrimage to the New York City subway to Providence, to Maine, eleven friends search their own truth and mortality, their own meditative calm for all things disconnected, implicated, prescribed and addicted and when I say addicted, I mean addicted to all things shaping personality not in our control.
Earlier in spring, April 4, I mourn his death for the first time. Traffic stalls the Bay Bridge, westbound in to San Francisco. How easy to idle the car, step out to the railing, and leap. How can anyone reject that notion of calm, container ships tug into port, the Rincon Tower steals the sky, the new span never bridges, I can tell you how fast BART travels, 6pm in Santa Cruz awaiting sound check after graduate student conference: assassinations of Philippine journalists, on a bench overlooking the track field overlooking the Pacific Ocean overlooking time itself. Horizons collide. That I can do what he had done, do it because no one watches. Do it because our closest friends have spread thin since graduation. Do it because I am outside the world. Expelled. The impermanence of custody. Do it because no one listens to stigma and sepsis. Do it because of their moral disregard. I was doing this for my son as much as for myself.
Twenty-eight hours after Tom Behrman flies in front of the Southbound E and for two hours closes service at 8th Avenue and 34th, I travel to Portland with a layover in Philadelphia to see the stage reading of Mr. Angelo, Dan Tarker’s adaptation of Measure For Measure. Muddy Waters, BFA Film from CSUMB for whom I ghostwrote feminist-post-colonial critiques of The Piano, Smoke Signals, and Pulp Fiction provides room and board. That night I watch Californication, Dexter, and True Blood for the first time. Noon the next day, Reed College anthropology undergrad, Phoebe Long, invites me to seminar and inspires rewrite of _Tamaraw_’s leading lady, Phoebe Longstreet Nederland. At the Hauser Library, I watch Laurence Fishburne snuff Irene Jacob. I return home Tuesday night. Wednesday afterschool, my son and I watch Madagascar 2 at the Alameda Theatre. I was doing this for him as much as for myself.
There wasn’t catharsis. I did not sell a script. The man I could have killed still walks. The stars were funny that weekend. I learned Portland, Oregon has the largest concentration of strip clubs per capita.
Instead there’s a poem. Now wouldn’t that make an interesting movie? I joined the army to avoid jail. Life’s lies in the balance. Peachy.
On the other hand, pushups are calming.
The winning short film can be seen here: http://pahnation.org/theater.php?loc=bayarea08&tab=tab3&id=182