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Not me, her

In 1987, I found myself trying to write about a high school girlfriend that had been molested by her father when she was a child. I was 19 years old, struggling to find my way through a screenwriting assignment about delivering character. The idea was to describe messy young love between two Sid and Nancy want-to-be's. But that failed, as I could not stomach oversimplifying her complicated past, events that shaped her life as a 16 year old with a mohawk, a smart mouth, a lingering stare. I understood that I had to start at the very beginning.

No one wanted to hear the story. When it was my turn to read in class, it even came to be that some of the other students asked to stand in the hallway before they heard another description of what happened in that lonely little house in the middle of nowhere. I was trying, and failing, and trying again to get things right, to explain how this happened, how it could happen to this girl, how this man found his way to acts of selfishness and d…

the hardest thing

I used to call it the magic thousand dollars. I was twenty-one, fresh in New York living in Greenpoint before you could buy Thai food there, when everyone spoke Polish or maybe some broken English and I was the minority. I had a friend named Sal, and he was getting divorced. He asked me if I could lend him some money, so he could try to find his own place, try to pull his life together. I gave him much more than he expected, that even thousand. He did not know what to tell me. I remember his hands, frozen in mid-air, his jaw loose in his face. But Sal was tough, did not want to talk about it after that, just that the money would come back as soon as possible. It did, less than a year later, a crisp check written out to me, a hushed thank you. It was easy to help him. Almost thirty years later, I begin to understand how hard it is to ask for help.

That thousand dollars, it never stayed with me too long. Another friend, another tough moment and I sent it away. I imagined it circulating New York, like some ultra-karmic collection of birds. It went on like this for almost twenty years until I suddenly needed it back. And it came. 


Two weeks ago, I began a crowdfunding campaign for an episodic narrative project. I could call it a book of short stories that happen to be little films. I made a video, sitting in a chair baring myself to the naked eye of the camera, then edited it, seeing my face as not mine any more at some point. I wrote long explanations about where the money would go, what the challenges would be. I pressed the launch button in the middle of the night and went to sleep. When I woke up, there was already one pledge. My elbows jumped, as if I had knocked my funny bone against the wall.

Like many creative people, I spend a very long time thinking about something before I begin to make it. It is an insular, meditative experience and a lonely one. Just the idea, and me going to buy milk, or sitting on a bus, maybe scratching notes on a napkin in an airplane. When I am ready, I tell N about it, on a quiet Saturday night at the kitchen table with just the light over the stove on, us sitting in the shadows, our hands close together. I watch her face. She asks questions. She helps me understand what I want to do. It becomes ours then.

Eventually, the real work begins and I only share bits of pieces when I think they are working. This crowdfunding has turned me on my head. I find myself talking to a universe of people, with nothing but the raw ideas, a few little tests, and me rambling until I think I have explained it well. It is already terrifying, and I think of Sal. I think of the way he looked at me, and begin to understand what he must have felt. It is completely overwhelming.





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