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(looking for) the heartbreaker

It has been more than two months sitting at the little white table in the living room, writing. Pushing out pages, fixing these pages, living with these pages then waking up and chewing them apart again, then adding on a new section. It is a mill, grinding the raw ideas down to a fine powder that may somehow rise and become bread. Or it may not. So many thoughts begin with "what if". What if they get stuck in an old elevator? What if she is not home when they come the first time? What if she is coming back from the market and passes them on the stairs? What if the driver is older? Or younger? What if his brother shows up instead? The questions are greater than the results on the page, the dialogue is whittled down to nubs of something recognizable.

There are cold cups of coffee, emails that go unanswered. The light comes and goes, and most of the work is done in the dark in more ways than one. Cooking dinner helps. Playing some guitar helps. If you are not careful you forge…

work sets you free

As I began working on the script for each episode of Blackbetty, I named them first. The titles are ironic, even cryptic, and they help me immensely. I knew I wanted to create something audacious, something that would make people uncomfortable at times. The election was underway then, and I saw a massive shadow reaching its fingers around the world, knowing no matter what the outcome, we had already arrived at a very dark time. 

The characters presented themselves. I listened to their thoughts, as their embarrassing private lives unfolded on the living room table where I work. Some were bleeders. Some were pretenders. Some were piss and vinegar madmen. Some were just lost. I had scribbled a page of titles to work towards, matching each character to one of them. I don't really know how it happened, but I put "Work will set you free" on this list, the famous phrase that hovered on the gate that lead into Auschwitz. I had just learned that this phrase was not a Nazi concoction, but one that they had lifted from a book by a man named Lorenz Diefenbach. They had stolen this handful of words, using it in a case of bitter irony, perverting its original meaning with a sneer at optimism. I wondered to myself, sitting at that table, the sun growing low in the afternoon while E hammered away at her homework in the next room, while a pot of chicken soup bubbled away in the kitchen. What if I reclaimed this phrase? Or at least, what if I tried to. 


I was in rooms with a number of jewish people last week, a guest at their quiet family gatherings. In their innocence, some asked me in broken English about Trump, hoping I would say something positive. The Russian news tells its own version of events, and that is all they have heard. When I pointed out that Trump's supporters are spray-painting swastikas on houses, on the brick walls of the art school I attended, their mouths fell open. They had no idea. It seems impossible, but yet it is true. The paint does not lie, the same as a gate, the same as the people that built them, and the men that stole that naive phrase.

At home, late that night I wondered again if I had gone too far, if my attempt to infuse this phrase with new meaning would make people furious. In the story, a young man is asked to work far beyond his means. He is no hero, just a mechanic that lives with his mother. There are countless reasons for him to take that all too familiar step back, that quiet move, hoping things will somehow get solved all on their own.

We all know that rarely happens.

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