Viva La Vida (Or, Death And All His Friends)

May 31st, 2008

Coldplay rehearse for 2008 MTV Movie AwardsI’m sitting next to Charlize Theron in the fifth row of The Gibson Amphitheater when the string section walks in.

Coldplay, a little matchy-match in their quasi-revolutionary, epilette-laden outfits, tear into the hook: four synthy chords and a house-inspired beat. Behind them, naked, desaturated Romanesque soldiers storm an ancient gate. The stage, once cast is deep blue, turns a fierce red.

Aaaand… cue the tympani.

Drummer Will Champion lays his mallet into the deep, copper kettles, then strikes a small church bell.

Chris Martin paces the stage on the balls of his feet, straining his neck towards the high notes.

I hear Jerusalem bells a ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
For some reason I can’t explain
I know Saint Peter won’t call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world

Before the last chord rings out, MTV Movie Awards Executive Producer Mark Burnette swoops down the aisle, making a seersucker jacket (collar up, of course), ripped jeans and Chucks punctuated by one of those tattered Israeli scarfs look pretty rock ‘n roll. Nine colleagues follow him, crowding around Martin in a semi-circle.

An hour later, the entire stage has been re-arranged.

Which is roughly when it occurred to me that I am releasing my new CD, “The Invention Of Everything Else,” on the same day Coldplay is releasing its “Viva La Vida (Or, Death And All His Friends).”

‘Huh,’ I thought. ‘Not exactly a Kanye vs. 50 Cent scenario.’

I share this insight with my colleagues, reporter James Montgomary and producer CJ Smith, excuse myself, turn towards Ms. Theron’s placeholder image. I brush past her, break through the doors, and make way into the California sun.

Without Love It Ain’t Much

May 30th, 2008

The Glamorous LifeOk, so here’s my super-glamorous life on location at the 2008 MTV Movie Awards, part two.

It’s 10:27. R.E.M. — my favorite band of, like, all time — is performing exactly 2.4 miles away at The Hollywood Bowl. For a minute, I considered jogging over there (Driving in L.A.? Not so fun.). And then I got back to work.

‘Cuz it’s like Comedy Central up in here; one comedic elephant-in-the-room after another. Which explains why I’m still tethered to my laptop at 10:29.

Not that it’s a total loss. I’m watching “Juno,” like, a year after everyone else. (I got choked up when Jennifer Garner hugged Jason Bateman and it dawned on me that I still have a week to go before I’m home with Abbi.) And I just had a delicious chicken tortilla salad. And I have a bowl of strawberries for desert because Rosie, the woman who took my room service order here at Hilton Universal City, talked me into a healthy desert (the apple pie would’ve been far better).

So in lieu of a full-fledged update on life in the basement of the Universal back lot, here’s an excerpt of what we’ve been up to here courtesy of my other day job, The MTV Newsroom Blog:

Tila Tequila handicapped the Best Kiss Award.

All-American Reject Tyson Ritter took us to celebrity hiking hot spot, Runyon Canyon to give us the (pooper) scoop(er) on “House Bunny.”

We un-earthed this fairly-embarrasing 1987 audition tape from 2008 Generation Award award recipient, Adam Sandler.

We crashed the Movie Awards Writers meeting.

Verne Troyer tought our own Top Model, Kim Stolz, the art of living large in L.A.

Tim Kash tackled Rodeo Drive and In-N-Out Burger.

We snuck these two Movie Award shorts out of the edit.

Josh wrestled “Transformers 2” casting news out of The Rocker and Rainn Wilson.

World Extreme Cagefighting Featherweight contendors Urijah Faber and Jens Pulver to handicap the Best Fight nominees.

Some hard-working producers got William Shatner to explain his 1992 MTV Movie Awards Spoken-Word Performance.

Tim caught up with “The Foot Fist Way” star Danny McBride, writer/director Jody Hill, and a little-known producer named Will Ferrell. (Tim says that punk’s not going anywhere, and fast.)

We got mani/pedis with “House Bunny” stars Anna Faris, Emma Stone, and Katharine McPhee. (Tyson Ritter’s in that too.)

Kim began soliciting questions for “Twilight” stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart. Because you crazy kids love you some “Twilight.”

And while you’re lending a hand, she also needs your help picking her red carpet dress.

All those celebrities notwithstanding, here’s the best part of every day. As I’m running down the hill for my morning jog (I have a triathlon in, like, three weeks!), I pass my colleague Jim who’s riding the $250 bike he bought for the week up the hill. When I get back, I pass my colleague (boss, actually) Ocean who’s just getting in from surfing in Santa Monica.

That’s it. That’s the fun part.

Then this.

Goodnight, Hollywood Boulevard

May 29th, 2008

Sunrise Over BurbankInvariably, every time an event like the 2008 MTV Movie Awards pops up, I’m on the receiving end of all sorts of comments about how cool, glamourous or sexy my job is.

So let me set the record straight.

True, I woke to the sun rising over Mountain Wilson. And yes, the air smells like flowers.

True, I am working on the back lot of Hollywood’s second-oldest studio (Jack, Harry and Albert Warner — the Warner Bros. — founded their soon-to-be movie empire in April, 1923, just three few week’s prior to Carl Laemmle’s Universal Film Manufacturing Company). Desperate Housewives is shooting next door. Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” house is a three-minute golf cart ride away. And there’s a Hot Topic at the Universal City Walk.

And I’ll grant you that the guide books would have you believe I’m in sunny, glamourous Hollywood.

The fact is, though, we’re in The Valley. It’s more “Pulp Fiction” than “Sunset Boulevard,” more “Boogie Nights” than “A Night At The Roxbury,” more “Brady Bunch” than “Beverly Hills Cop.” This is the place of strip malls, radioactive suitcases and repo men, not red carpets, paparazzi and premieres. Close, but not quite.

My Awesome OfficeUniversal City (which, were it not for the studio itself, would be Burbank) is all “Valley Girl” and Vivid Video (in fact, The Nation’s Foremost Flesh Purveyor was within view of my first room here at the Hilton Universal City — the one with a still-fresh pool of purple vomit between the queen-sized beds).

My MTV News colleagues and me (that’s me, Supervising Producer Ryan Kroft and Vice President Jim Fraenkel in our subterranean hovel), though, are crammed into cold, barren, fluorescent-lit, off-white basement crypts. I hear the sun is shining outside, and the commissary across the street is lovely — if only I could get out of my seat long enough to grab lunch.

My primary objective here is to assure that MTV News Online is in synch with MTV News on-air. When, for example, our own Tim Kash bags a news brief in the In-N-Out Burger drive-thru, it’s my job to be sure a blog entry makes it onto the site. Or, rather, sites. Where MTV News was three entities when I started in 1996 (on-air, online and AOL), we now count more than thirty “platforms.” From cell phones to blogs to syndication partners, our job is to be everywhere all the time. By Sunday’s awards, we’ll have posted some 100 articles, blog posts and video segments.

Meanwhile, just past the “Jaws” stop on the tram tour, MTV is putting together the 2008 MTV Movie Awards. For now, there’s little more than a credentials tent, some satellite trucks, production trailers, and — according to my pal (and fellow ACK appreciator) Craig Goldstein (with whom I stood on a bridge in Miami drunkenly facing down Hurricane Katrina before she turned truly ugly) — some 4000 feet of ethernet cable connecting it all. Construction on the red carpet (gold, actually) begins tomorrow. We’ll be rockin’ come Sunday. I may see it for, oh, twenty minutes or so.

Such is my lush life.

The Bathroom!Now, that said, granted a few concessions (like my wife’s presence), I think I could live in a hotel room forever. I moved my desk to face the mountains. I have two beds, in the events I tire of one of them.

And all things considered, I could get used to coming home to fresh towels, dry cleaning in the closet, a made bed, and toiletries arranged just so (Can you see that!?! My contact case is in perfect geometry with the washcloth!).

What’s more, I’m a huge fan of room service. Tonight’s salmon salad (with macadamia nut crusted filets, mango, papaya, and avocado in a citrus vinaigrette) was pretty good. And today’s special sorbet (raspberry) is still chilling in the mini-fridge.

So if you’ll excuse me, I have four hours of sleep to catch before I wake up at 4 a.m. Heaven forbid my body adjust to Pacific Time.

It Never Rains In California (It Pours)

May 28th, 2008

Raining Jane & MeTrue, my life has unfolded differently than I might have planned (or dreamed). Tonight finds me at Universal Studios Hollywood (more Burbank than Hollywood, really), not on the road like my pals The Nadas or Raining Jane.

Fortunately, though, I receive the occasional email from my rock ‘n roll pals.

In fact, Raining Jane cellist, guitarist and vocalist Mai Bloomfield and I have been corresponding quite a bit of late.

You’ll recall Raining Jane as that terrific LA-based folk/pop quartet with whom I played a bit in Des Moines. They were kind enough to share their stage with me, and capable enough to back me up on a few of my songs — none of which they’d ever heard, but all of which they nailed. One of those was “Breathe In.”

As I was brainstorming “The Invention of Everything Else” (due June 18 on Authentic Records!), then, it dawned on my to ask the ladies to sing back-up on the song as they’d done so beautifully in March. Which is when I began emailing Miss Bloomfield.

A few months later, we appear poised to pull of some sort of Internet collaboration. She’s got my rough tracks, and — if she can get her operating system (OS) fully-functional — is going to get the ladies to sing four-part harmonies on the song. Plus, technology permitting, Mai is dropping a cello onto “How To Be Alone (Or, The Astronaut’s Lament).”

So we email periodically. The fun part isn’t talking about “The Invention of Everything Else,” though. It’s Mai’s stories from the road. This one came yesterday:

What a day… We are in a tiny town outside of Seattle where we came to our friend’s bar to celebrate a good friend’s birthday. It was flashbacks to a bad early college scene, one of which I’m grateful I never partook in as it would have been something out of a frat house movie scene (and there were no frats at UC santa cruz) in which everyone crashes the night in the apartment above the bar accompanied by a sink full of orange puke. Um… Gross. The light is, that we’re with some friends who are visiting from out of town. But I do sort of feel like we’re in a strange ghost town locked in a bar – where um, we just ate breakfast, and are now playing pool with coffee and the local old folks who have just wandered in for what, we don’t quite know. Oh, and we woke up to a flat tire on the van which was cute. But since we had no where to go, it was a perfect time for AAA to come. So, here we are, the morning after, still at the bar. Guns ‘n Roses is blasting, the bloody Marys are flowing, and I found a spot of sunshine cause I just realized they have wireless! In fact, I’m about to work on my OS. Nerdy! I know, but it makes me happy.

So, cold coffee and dirty dishes at dive bar in Seattle? Or a honor bar Heineken and a house salad in Burbank? Not sure who wins that one.

Correction: I am sure who wins that one.

You do, when “The Invention of Everything Else” drops come June 18th.

Sing To Keep Your Demons At Bay

May 27th, 2008

Jamie Leonhart & MeGood thing Jamie Leonhart told me she taught voice after I roped her into singing a few songs with me for “The Invention Of Everything Else” (due June 18th from Authentic Records!); had I known in advance, I might not have had the nerve to ask.

I first came to know of Miss Leonhart as we prepared last winter’s “A Family Holiday” Benefit CD. Her’s was the smashing duet with former Undisputed Heavyweight, Mr. Casey Shea, a totally-classic yet thoroughly-modern rendition of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” It was the sound of two greats tossing off a performance as warm as cocoa after a day of sledding. Jamie’s voice was resonant, playful and lived-in like few of her contemporaries.

A few days prior to the benefit’s release, Tony insisted we catch her show at Rockwood Music Hall. She and husband Michael were the real deal, popping from piano to guitar to harmonium, and from jazz to rock to folk, all effortlessly and with grace. It was a thing to see (and envy).

And so, when it dawned on me to cover John Prine’s “Killing The Blues,” I immediately thought of Jamie.

God bless her, one month of periodic pen pal-ing later, there she was at my doorstep. Her harmonium had sprung a leak, but her vocal chords were ready. Instead of jumping into work, though, we sat on my patio and talked a bit.

Which is when I found she taught voice.

A bit of context. I don’t remember discovering that I could sing. I just always could, and people always responded positively, so I kept doing it. So it may not surprise you to learn that I’ve had very, very little vocal training. With the exception of a few hours in high school preparing for the lead in “Pippin,” my voice pretty much just does whatever it does by itself. I don’t have any idea what controls it, or how it stays on pitch or forms some of the sounds it forms, it just does. I don’t know how to sing right, I just know when it sounds wrong. Which is no way to make a career (or sideline, as the case may be).

I don’t lose a ton of sleep over my lack of training, but there are times when I’m sensitive to my weaknesses, like the occasional sharp or flat, or the fact that I have no way of describing what I’m doing or replicating something twice. Which is doubly awkward around a woman who has breath control like an opera singer, but a voice like a jazz chanteuse.

I know I wrote that one-take sessions only happen in “Fame” and “Once,” but I was wrong. Jamie jumped in the closet, got some levels in her cans, and nailed it song after song. In addition to “Killing The Blues” (in which I asked Jon to mix her like “some sort of apparition floating above the song and its meaning”), Jamie sings on “Promise” (I realized she’s proxy for the object of the song’s affection, not to mention one of the firs positive manifestations of the feminine in fifteen years of songwriting) and “Breathe In” (injecting a little Middle Eastern flavor into the choruses).

What’s more, though, Jamie’s totally together, totally chill,and totally sweet. When she wrapped her parts in well under an hour, she then shared a good portion of her Saturday night sipping margaritas and talking politics, culture and life with Abbi and me. After she left, I told Abbi, “People like Jamie are the reason I came to New York City in the first place.”

As I mixed down her takes afterwards, I laughed at our mid-song banter. Here I was self-deprecating at every turn.

“Sorry, I’m a little flat on this one.”

“Eh, this lyric kinda’ sucks.”

“Ooooh… that was a clunker note.”

But Jamie wasn’t having any of it. She reversed me on every point, saying only sweet, supportive and positive things. And then, when the appointed time came, she opened her mouth and unleashed some sort of velvety, vocal heaven. And everything was better for it: my song, my voice, and me.

Wait ’til you hear.

Mixing “The Invention Of Everything Else”

May 24th, 2008

airstereo.jpgJon Locker, bless his heart, seems to be remaining calm.

The Nadas’ bassist (and bonafide producer) is mixing my new record, “The Invention Of Everything Else” (due June 18th from Authentic Records!) at his Sonic Factory Studios in Des Moines.

As you might guess, it’s a not an assignment to be taken lightly, as my OCD manifest pretty significantly when my face is on the thing. Which it will be, when I get around to that part.

For now, though, the process involves notes, and lots of them. Jon uploads a few mixes at a time to his FTP site, I download ’em, strap on my headphones, push play, and close my eyes. Then I listen again, jotting down notes about stereo separation, levels and the like.

I imagine these notes are a bit detailed for Jon’s liking, and I wouldn’t blame him. In fact, when I discovered today that there’s a live stream of the studio, and I clicked on it and heard him joking with the guys, I quit out almost immediately; I didn’t want to hear him mock my most recent novella. Because unfortunately for Jon, I know just enough about ProTools to be dangerous, but not enough to be great. Together, though, we sound pretty bad ass.

The mixes I’ve heard so far — five of the intended thirteen tracks (10 on the CD, three online-only bonus tracks) — sound amazing. Insane as I may be making him, Jon’s really killin’ it. By the end of this weekend, he’ll have all of my rough mixes. By June 1, the whole thing’ll be shipped off to be mastered in Dallas.

Here, then, for your obsessive compulsive enjoyment, is a copy of yesterday’s mix notes (as well as an insight into the track list):

HOLY SHITE, Jon, these mixes sound amazing!!! Awesome work on vocals. Drums sound great. It sounds like a record! Seriously, awesome. :) Thanks, dude. With these notes, I think this batch’ll be all set!!!

GIVING UP THE GHOST: AMAZING! Sounds summery, huh?
1- Vox: Feels like the verse and chorus levels are still a bit off
2- Tambourine: 10% less overall
3- Solo: 5% less overall? Feels a little out of the blue.
4- Maybe more reverb on vox so that solo doesn’t sound too out of the blue?
5- Keys: 10% less overall
6- No “1,2,3,4” at beginning (you probably knew that).
7- Can you make that keyboard fade at end of break into last chorus a little smoother?

TRYING TO TELL YOU: F*ckin’ killer. Almost done.
1- Can you mute Ross’ guitar in the intro?
2- Can you go further on that compressed-drum sound idea? Make it even more AM-radio sounding?

PROMISE: Be patient with me on this one; I wrote it for Abbi and my pal Chris played it at our wedding ceremony. :) It’s important. Drums and vocals sound great. Chris’ solo works! Key pads work! But…
1- There are two arpeggiated guitars in verses, can they be at about 20% left and right and then…
2- The strum guitar that’s currently on the right should be more centered and half as loud (let the keys and arpeggiation carry the tune.
3- No “1,2,3,4” at beginning (you probably knew that).
4- Sounds like Tony’s bass is making weird string sounds in chorus. Anything you can do about that?

CHASING SOMETHING: 99% done!
1- Love Ross’ sounds! Let’s save em for after first chorus. And have em span the whole space (they’re panned pretty right).
2- Can you put all of the instruments in the same sonic space as Ross? More subtly, but similar?

WONDERWALL: You made it sound awesome! Love the percussive choruses.
1- Do you think the first note (the low E string) is weird? Should I re-track that? Can you ProTool it?
2- Can you slip the bass about 15% more to the left (sounds too right to me)
3- Do you think the last three syllables of the last backing vocal (“wonder wa-a-a”) sound sharp? Maybe mute em? And main vox can sing last line (“You’re my wonderwall”) solo.
4- Fade that beeyatch. Maybe from 330-345?

BOYS OF SUMMER: Wow! You salvaged it! No one’ll ever know we were half in the bag and tracked it at midnight!
1- You sure about that one shaker (the overhead)? Maybe 10% less?
2- Drums seem wicked loud, like 10% too loud.
3- You can remove my background vocal screaming (at 1:01-1:11); I was just goofing around. :)
4- Vocals seems too close, too clean
5- Backing vocals 10% quieter and 10% more centered
6- Will you make Tambourine 10% quieter and exactly opposite of backing vox (so on left)?
7- No “1,2,3,4” at beginning (you probably knew that, ha ha).
8- Like your breakdown section! Can you keep the original acoustic line, then use that affect line ring behind it about 20% quieter (more subtle)?

XO, Benjamin

Stay tuned for how just how the whole thing turns out…

“Mister Rogers & Me” Applies To Independent Film Week!

May 23rd, 2008

EnterI don’t know much about gambling, or numbers, but I like to think that submitting our Independent Film Week online application at precisely 7:11 is somehow fortuitous; these two seem pretty good together.

In addition to two DVD screeners, and a $60 entree fee, the application called for a 25 word logline, 60 word synopsis, 500 word summary, and 500 word artistic statement. Here’s what I came up with.

LOGLINE: American’s Favorite Neighbor, PBS icon, Fred Rogers, sends a young MTV producer on a quest for depth and simplicity amidst a shallow and complex world.

SYNOPSIS: An MTV producer’s life is transformed when he meets the recently retired host of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” Fred Rogers. Friendship with the PBS icon sets the young producer on a hero’s quest to find depth and simplicity amidst a shallow and complex world through conversations with Susan Stamberg (NPR), Tim Russert (“Meet The Press”), Marc Brown (“Arthur”) and more.

Please visit “Making ‘Mister Rogers & Me'” to read the rest of this blog post.

A Swift Kick In The, Um, Butt

May 23rd, 2008

I tend to wedge my training in between a whole bunch of activities, lately: post-production on a documentary, mixing a new album (due on Des Moines’ own Authentic Records June 18!), a career that’s turned alarmingly demanding, domestic duties, and an iota of a social life. Still, I do pretty well getting everything in on five hours of sleep and, on a good day, coffee, a Balance bar, and a decent dinner.

This week, though, it all came crashing down. The dark, small hours of Wednesday night found me in the fetal position, crawling from the bedroom to the bathroom and alternating between shivers and sweat. I’d tell you it felt like someone kicked me in the butt, only it was more painful than that, and in a far more vital location.

The week began well enough, though.

My wife, Abbi, and I ran a 10k race in Central Park Saturday morning. Then I repaired to the studio.

Sunday morning, I rode up and over the George Washington Bridge, tagged New Jersey, and turned around. Back home, I tossed in a quick 5k run along the Hudson River. Then I repaired to the studio.

I gave myself a break Monday morning, then put in ten hours at the office, and four hours in the edit.

I ran four miles Tuesday morning, worked twelve hours, edited the film until 1am, then slept four hours, woke up Wednesday, and did it again.

Which is when the trouble started.

Wednesday morning was off like a shot. By 3pm, I realized I hadn’t eaten anything, nor rehydrated after my run. Worse, I’d had a tall cup of coffee. Which is when I started cramping. By the time I got to my apartment (having called off that night’s edit despite the fact that we had a looming deadline), I was doubled over in pain, nauseas, and dizzy.

Thanks to my wife’s kind and patient nursing, a few rounds of much-needed vomitting, and a few conversations with The Man Upstairs, I endured that dark night of the soul (and believe me, I’m only hyperbolizing slightly).

In the moments of greatest pain and despair, when all I wanted was to feel normal again, I thought of this triathlon, and my annual New York City Marathons, and how vulnerable I am as I approach them. This thing stopped me dead in my tracks.

As the sun rises on Friday, now, I have a renewed understanding of my limits.

So you’ll forgive me if I take this morning off.

This blog post was first published as part of The Des Moines Register’s Hy-Vee Triathlon training series.

The Miracle Of Suffering

May 22nd, 2008

Sicko“I think you’re gonna’ have to throw up to feel better,” he said matter-of-factly.

The morning began at the iTunes music store. Such is my voracious appetite for substantive public radio podcasts that I’d already burned through “This American Life,” “Studio 360,” and two episodes of “Fresh Air” on my twice-daily, fifteen-minute commute — and it was only Wednesday.

Browsing the options — “A Prairie Home Companion,” “Bill Moyer’s Journal,” “Radio Lab” — left me cold (maybe because two of the three denied my “Mister Rogers & Me” interview requests, maybe not). I was drawn, though, to “Speaking Of Faith.”

“Speaking Of Faith” airs early Saturday mornings here in New York City. I often hear the tail end of Krista Tippett’s broadcasts in the quiet moments I spend in the kitchen before Abbi wakes. Her non-denomination, existentially-inquisitive show always inspires me. In fact, last December, an interview with Reverend Jim Wallace moved me to write this blog post on my “Making ‘Mister Rogers & Me.” And just a day or two ago, I was updating Abbi on Chris and my progress on the documentary. We’ve cut nearly twenty-six minutes of the film thus far, four minutes more than the average network half-hour show.

“Someone asked me today how I imagined this project ending up,” I said. “And I thought of that radio show I like, ‘Speaking Of Faith,’ and thought maybe I could do some sort of younger, hipper, more thirtysomething television version of that. Yunno, half hours where we meet interesting, substantive people like Bo Lozoff or Ira Glass.”

Little wonder, then, that I was drawn to download the episode, and stepped out the door. In the bright morning sunlight of Tenth Avenue, I discovered that the episode featured Vietnamese Zen Master, Thich Nhat Han. I first learned of him from my mother, who gave me the mystic’s seminal work, “The Miracle Of Mindfulness” in college. I was a little young to get him then, I think, though I still remember of his metaphor of doing dishes mindfully — washing each fork and plate with complete presence in the process and the moment — but usually fail to do so.

When you breathe in your mind comes back to your body and then you become fully aware that you are live, and you are a miracle. And everything you touch is a miracle. The blue sky, the face of a child. Everything becomes a wonder. And so you need to breathe mindfully to get into touch with all of these things, and that is a miracle. Because you come to understand suffering, and the role suffering plays in life. And you know how to make use of suffering in order to build peace and happiness.

It is like growing Lotus flowers. You cannot grow them normally. You have to grow them in the mud. Without mud you cannot have Lotus flower. Without suffering, you have no way to learn how to be understanding and compassionate.

That’s why my definition of the kingdom of god is not a place where suffering is not. Because I would not like to go to a place where there is no suffering. Because in such a place they have no way to learn understanding or how to be compassionate. In the kingdom of god is a place where there is understanding and compassion, and therefor, suffering should exist.

Suffering and happiness, they are both organic, like flower or garbage. If a flower is on her way to becoming garbage, then garbage can be on her way to becoming a flower. That is why you are not afraid of garbage.

As Wednesday afternoon became Wednesday evening, it dawned on me that I hadn’t eaten anything but a bran muffin and cup of coffee. Worse, I’d run four miles without rehydrating. This on two nights of four hours of sleep each. I jammed a balance bar into my mouth, and dashed off to a meeting.

Afterwards, as the newsroom emptied out, I found myself growing weak and dizzy. Everything between my belly button and knees ached. I closed the door to my office, and laid down on the hard floor.

‘This,’ I thought, ‘Is not good.’

By the time I hit the street, a cold drizzle was falling on Times Square. Weakness was turning to nausea. My abdominal pains had doubed me over. Miraculously, I found a cab, and collapsed in the back. Speeding towards home, I called Chris to tell him I couldn’t make our last night in the edit. Fourty-eight hours to go on our Independent Film Week deadline, and I had collapsed before the finish line.

“Don’t worry about it, man,” he said. “I had that a few weeks ago. I think you’re gonna’ have to throw up to feel better.”

At home, I slipped into a hoodie and sweats, and climbed into bed. My clock radio read 7:16. I lay there in a fetal position, tossing and turning and trying in vain to find some way of relieving the pain: Stomach, side, back; nothing worked. As the sun fell outside my blinds, I was alone in my empty, gray apartment, groaning and grimacing and wishing the pain away.

By the time Abbi got home, I was crawling to and from the bathroom in a maddening routine. First, a wave of nausea and sweats would drive me to the bathroom where I would lay on the cold, marble floor trying to throw up. Then I would be overtaken by uncontrollable shivers and crawl back to bed, where it would all start again.

I have endured some physical pain in my life. I had hernia surgery when I was nine-years-old, broke my wrist when I was ten, and, when I was sixteen, spent three nights in the hospital with a face like the Elephant Man’s when my jaw was broken by the captain of the football team. And I’ve been nauseas, cramped, weak and dizzy before. But this, Dear Reader, was something else.

The night dragged on agonizingly slow, and through it all, I found my mind wandering all over the map. While I assumed I had food poisoning, some sort of 24-hour bug, was dyhydrated or just plum exhausted, I imagined the worst: stomach cancer, kidney infection, appendicitis. I thought of Thich Nhat Han, and tried breathing deeply. In the small hours of the darkest night, I promised God I’d anything He wanted to let me feel better. Somewhere around midnight, I finally threw up. Three times. And then, finally, drifted fitfully off to sleep.

When I woke up this morning, I felt just a little bit better. Call it 50%. I stayed home until around noon, struggled to put down a few spoon fulls of chicken soup, then trudged into the office for an important meeting.

It’s nearly eight o’clock now, roughly twenty-four hours after the whole ordeal started. The sun is setting over the buildings on Eleventh Avenue casting a beautiful orange glow on the apartment. And I almost feel normal.

I spend a lot of my life racing from one place, one event, one goal to the next. I like it that way. And I count on my body — on me — to keep going, to keep delivering, and meet my demands. In the deepest, darkest moments of my suffering last night, I began to imagine my death as I never had before. In that moment, I was truly and deeply frightened; I’m not sure I have the courage to endure that kind suffering. I imagined the loved ones I know who have died, and appreciated their courage. In my suffering, I found some compassion and understanding. In my pain, I found some healing. And in the morning, I found a little faith.

“Mister Rogers & Me” In 25 Words Or Less?

May 20th, 2008

edit2.jpgI’ve been drafting our Independent Film Week application as Chris fine tunes our submission.

We’ve made some elegant revisions tonight, including the addition of a cute piece of footage of Ethan and me, some evocative driving b-roll, and a song by Davy Rothbart’s brother’s band, The Poem Adept, “Bear & Raccoon” (though we haven’t officially asked Peter’s permission yet).

Thing about non-linear editing is that there’s no track record of what was, only what is. The project evolves before our eyes. That is, when my eyes aren’t on this blog.

Anyway, other than the usual information (age, rank, seriel number), the application — which is due in roughly 72 hours — calls for five major items: logline (25 words), synopsis (60), summary (500), artistic statement (500), and bios (100 each). Right now, I’m 3/5 through.

The summary’s not ready for prime time, though — being that it’s approaching midnight and I’ve been moving since 7am — so here’s what I have for now:

Please visit “Making ‘Mister Rogers & Me'” to read the rest of this blog post.