Category Archives: Keen Insights Into the Obvious


A couple of months ago, I entered a screenplay writing competition on a whim. They give you a genre and a topic, then you have a week to write a script of 15 pages or less. I didn’t decide to register until the very last minute. While I was looking at the competition’s web site, trying to make a decision about whether I wanted to pay the entry fee, Declan randomly pulled a book about film writing off of the shelf and brought it to me. (It was one of 300-400 books he could have grabbed from that part of the room, so it did seem oddly coincidental). Kismet! Serendipity! I was meant to do it!

Besides, the point wasn’t to try and win. It was just to write something in a format I’d never tried before and see how it went. If I was any good, maybe I’d try it for real later on, because I’m perplexed by the poor writing in a lot of movies these days. Maybe big budget films have too many editors, so by the time they get to the final copy, no one remembers what the movie was supposed to be about. I’m even starting to suspect that some big-budget films begin with a thumbnail sketch of the plot (the logline), plug in as many special effects as they can muster, and then build the script from the inside out. The result is a story that connects the way fence would, if its posts were dropped from a 30,000 feet. At minimum, they leave out the thing I need the most if I am to give a hang about a movie: character development.

I spent a little bit of time learning about screenplay formatting and reading the scripts of some movies I like. A few days later, I got my assignment. My genre: Thriller. My topic: A witness. My response: Gag! For the first six days of the seven that I had to complete the task, I didn’t write a word. The night before the script was due, I was kicking myself for throwing away entry fee money.

But then I sucked it up for a few hours, and just kept typing. I called upon the Zen writing habit that I used to be so good about nurturing in my 20s. I would open up Natalie Goldberg’s book, Writing Down the Bones, and pick her prompts to start writing and just keep my hand moving, turning off my editor and trying to find that place where writing became meditation.

I eked out a script about a pregnant vigilante in one afternoon. It was probably more suspense-like or creepy than thrilling, but I managed to finish it and turn it in before the deadline. I found out that I’m comfortable writing screenplays. And I do think that if it had a real strength, it was character development.

While I’d love to say my script magically went on to win, it didn’t. And I was even too self-conscious to participate in the discussion board critiques. But I actually came in third in my “heat,” missing the final by only one place and landing my logline in the public archives with contact information for any producer who might be interested. I’m happy with that outcome. Now, in my daydreams, someone comes along and offers me money to take that story and turn it into a feature-length script, or I come up with a new idea that helps me find an agent.

Today I watched a spider crawl into the coin slot of a parking meter, and I wondered what it would be like to live inside of a thick glass bubble that echoed with mechanical ticks and buzzes. Yesterday, Declan drew the Andromeda Galaxy on the fence out back and held a series of semi-private conversations with it. “You’re so pretty,” he told the long white smudge. Then he got into his Cozy Coupe and waved goodbye. “See you later, Andromeda.”

So maybe my celluloid dreams aren’t so unrealistic. After all, it is possible to befriend an entire galaxy, just as long as no one tells you that you can’t.

Life soundtrack: Ferraby Lionheart, Catch the Brass Ring, “Pure Imagination”
Ferraby Lionheart - Catch the Brass Ring (Bonus Track Version) - Pure Imagination

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Don’ts and dos of running a “family” festival

We decided to brave the city-sponsored “Family Fun Fest” on the waterfront over the weekend. We ran into a couple of people we knew who were leaving as we arrived and asked them how they had liked the event. Their response? “It’s kind of… a mess.”

And it was. I wonder why events supposedly designed for families with children are so often unoriginal, even a bit unfriendly towards the audience they seek? When corporations decide to sponsor these events and have an on-site presence, is their goal to actually offer a fun experience for kids, or simply to dole out logo-covered junk? If it isn’t the former, it should be. Your frisbee may or may not give me a lot of joy, but providing an authentically fun memory for me and my child will. You may not think so, but the experience is more important than stuff. And if you give me a bad one, I’m really really going to remember that.

Here is my free advice:

Rule #1
DON’T hold these events without providing a space or fun activity specifically for children under the age of five. Things that they are supposed to sit still and watch don’t count, because people under five, who are often members of families, are generally incapable of sitting still for very long. If you can’t do this, advertise that the event is for kids of a higher age.

DO come up with something specifically designed to engage the youngest people. It’s not hard. Throw down a big mat inside of some gates with some colorful pillows and balls. Get some bigger kids to volunteer to play with the little ones, because no one loves big kids as much as little ones do.

P.S. While you’re at it, make sure you also provide a space for nursing moms and babies. A tent with a few changing tables and rocking chairs will do. This isn’t progressive, it’s just logical and babies, it should be noted, are also often members of families.

Rule #2
DON’T give kids pre-drawn pictures to color. Or at least not only pre-drawn pictures to color.

DO try and inspire them to come up with some ideas on their own. Instead of giving something you think is “fun” laid out in factory form, give them a blank page and ask them to draw something they think is fun. Then praise their brilliance and ingenuity. A big open patch of road where kids could draw whatever they wanted with sidewalk chalk was one of the best things at the festival.

Rule #3
DON’T put any giveaway items out in public view that you do not actually intend to give away. This should be your rule at every event, but when children are the ones you are marketing to, the penalties for breaking this rule double.

DO try and make sure that the people who work at your booth like children and parents, and put them on in shifts, so that they aren’t worn out and disgusted by everyone as it gets later in the day.

Note: When we visited tent for the Columbus Crew – a soccer franchise that isn’t exactly burning up the ticket lines – the woman in it actually pulled a bunch of small soccer balls off of the table when Dan approached, saying “sorry, we’re putting these away, we have to save them for other events.” I’m only grateful that my two-year-old and I were far enough from the table that he didn’t quite clue into the fact that he was being denied a cheap promotional ball, especially since balls, spheres or globes are the most important things on earth. A toddler meltdown was narrowly averted by our parenting reflexes and the fact that he had a healthy nap that day. Bad form, Crew!

Rule #4
DON’T insist on having those infernal bouncy contraptions at every single event where kids may show up. If your goal is for a family to have fun together, this doesn’t cut it. It’s just a dangerous, temporary babysitter. But if you have to have it…

DO make sure that who ever runs the thing does so in shifts with big kids and little kids, or make sure that there are two of them – one for big kids and one for small ones, because small ones can get seriously knocked around just being in the proximity of a fourth-grade jumper. At least put the thing somewhere far enough away from the center of the event that it’s not there, torturing the children of parents who don’t want to either pay $1 for every three minutes of jumping or to watch their child narrowly avert death with every 11-year-old you allow in there with them.

Really, it would be better just to hire more strolling performers. Musicians, clowns, whatever. Seriously!

Rule #5
DON’T think of a family festival the same way you would think about a county fair or an amusement park.

DO try and be creative and considerate of your audience. Parents are dying for more events where the objective isn’t just a bald-faced sales pitch for stores and services. If you’re a corporation, consult educators about the activities and gear you provide.

What would you add?

Life soundtrack: Sly and the Family Stone, Anthology, “Family Affair”
Sly and the Family Stone - Anthology - Family Affair

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Interpret this!

Last night I dreamed that I was out at a club with the judges from American Idol, watching a band from Argentina. Everyone was raving about their performance, but particularly the title of their song: “I Am the Pope of Your Embarrassment.”

Then Declan woke me up. I tried to fall back asleep to find out what happened next, but it didn’t work out.

I think this song needs to be written.

Life soundtrack: Dinah Washington, The Complete Dinah Washington On Mercury, Vol.7, “Dream”
Dinah Washington - The Complete Dinah Washington On Mercury, Vol.7 (1961) - Dream

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The understanding of bliss

All weekend long at Comfest, this arch of rainbow balloons tormented Declan. The allure of the rainbow seduced him across crowds. It would catch his eye and off he’d run. Held down by two supposedly empty helium canisters, it was treacherous to toddler parents who knew that looking at the spectrum really wasn’t enough for little ones. They want to stand beneath it, to touch it if at all possible, and you’d just have to hope that you caught them before they pulled on the ribbon that held it all together and rolled the metal canisters right over their feet.

On Sunday night, the arch was attached on one end and sagging lower to the ground on the other. Declan ran in circles beneath the limp side and Dan brought it down to him. Soon, an entire gaggle of toddlers was running directly underneath the rainbow, or wedging themselves into sections where everything in their world became blue, or in Declan’s case, orange (pictured above). The laughter was infectious and constant – the most contagious display of unabashed childness I have ever seen.

But for some reason – I think maybe an older kid down the row started popping some of the balloons – the woman who had blistered her hands making the arch came up the row, upset and yelling “Let it go! This mine, get off of it now!” to, well, a lot of people who were under five years old. Even though there was less than an hour or two of daylight left in the festival, and the helium arch was flagging, she scolded Dan to let the balloons go, claiming he was preventing all of the other children from enjoying it.

This is the place where parents and people without kids often part ways. I know that before I had Declan, there were certainly times when I would have been on that woman’s side of the divide and wondered what in the hell we, as parents of wild, balloon-crazed giggle monsters were thinking. I know that I’ve put shiny objects in front of more than one little person in my time and wondered why there seemed to be no way to get them to leave it alone. If I’d put in the work that she did, I also might be too attached to watch my work destroyed, even though the arch’s death was clearly inevitable.

When a little child is one of the people you are closest to in life, and you accept their essence – their ability to sustain a state of joy – you know that there is absolutely no way that simply looking at an arch of balloons can compare to the unadulterated bliss those children had when they could run beneath, around and over them – how often do you get to touch an actual rainbow? Regaining a closeness to that simplicity is one of the most precious things about parenting a toddler, and you can often see a nostalgia for it on the faces of parents who have been there.

So I’m grateful to the woman who made the arch, I just wish that she had been able to experience some of that joy along with us.

Life soundtrack: Willie Nelson, Rainbow Connection, “Rainbow Connection:
Willie Nelson - Rainbow Connection - The Rainbow Connection

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