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the lost years

I spent almost 25 years living alone in New York. There might be a moment on a shoot, when it became clear we would be running late. Phones were slid from pockets, as the crew had hushed conversations with their loved ones. That solemn, apologetic tone was the same no matter who was talking as they answered the question "When will you be home?" I had no one, nothing but an empty apartment and some dirty dishes. I had half-written books, and guitars leaning against the walls. There was film in the cameras, waiting to be developed.

I have almost no memory of these years now.

Right now, V is sick. Nothing terrible, but enough to stay home and parade around the apartment in her favorite pyjamas. N is cooking various treats for her, unable to predict which one she will actually eat. The doorbell rings, and it might be a doctor visiting from the local clinic but it is her sister. The rooms are full of conversation and fresh cups of coffee. I try not to step on the toys that are a…

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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