I will tell you a secret. Well, it’s not really a secret, not in the scandalous way most people think about secrets. It’s a fact I prefer not to draw attention to. It is this: I haven’t written anything new in almost three years.
This fact has been nagging me and eating at my creative soul. Sure, I write an occasional post for this site, and I have spent a lot of time rewriting past scripts, but I haven’t written a new story in several years.
I tell myself I’ll start on the next script after I finish one more rewrite of ________ script. Or, I’ll think I haven’t written a blog post lately. I’ll do that first and then start on something new next week. Or, I’ll justify the lack of fresh ink on a blank page by telling myself that my idea isn’t strong enough to start writing. I must think about it more.
This didn’t use to be the case. In my “starving artist” years I wrote all the time and didn’t have any problem coming up with new ideas. In fact, I couldn’t keep up with the new story ideas that flooded my psyche. Urgency was a motivator. I was desperately trying to write my way out of the life I had.
Over the years, my life changed. Today, I have a great “day” job. I have plenty of bread on my table and wine in my belly. My life is comfortable. The problem is… comfort is poison for the creative soul.
There is a reason why the Arts District in most cities is birthed in the sketchy parts of town in low-rent neighborhoods and abandoned warehouses, not in posh communities. Struggling lives inspire art. Comfortable lives consume art.
I do not confuse wealth for comfort, though I do believe wealth makes the allure of the comfortable life harder to resist. And I am not opposed to relief from pain or ease from turmoil. It is comfort as a destination that wreaks havoc. It’s when we reach the place where we stop saying, “I’m an adventurer, looking for treasure” (Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist) that we’ve lost our way.
Writing something new is a struggle and that is exactly why I must do it. To fight with words and wrestle with characters, to quest into the dark shadowy wilderness knowing that dragons be loose carrying only the certitude that I am not sure if I have what it takes to slay said dragons. That is where my creative soul must venture.
I know it is not a comfortable place, but it is rewarding. It’s where you find treasure.
It was Valentine’s Day 2006. I had moved to LA six months prior and was still very new to the city and my new life here. To those who do not have a significant other, Valentine’s Day is just another day. This particular “just another day” was a Tuesday, not that that’s relevant to the story except to reiterate how ordinary the day began.
I had plans for my ordinary Tuesday. I would go to work, and then after work, I would meet an acquaintance of mine to watch shows at the IO West improv theater in Hollywood. My friend called me that afternoon and informed he would not be available to go to the shows that night. “No problem,” I told him. “We’ll find another time.”
With my evening suddenly free I decided to do what many people do on an ordinary Tuesday night. I decided to do laundry. I packed up a bag of clothes, grabbed a handful of dryer sheets, and set off for the Laundromat down the street.
Trips to my Laundromat were a cultural experience. I was usually the only gringo in the joint. Spanish speaking kids played hide-and-seek in the maze of washers and dryers while I watched the telenovelas on the television. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t speak Spanish. I could tell what was going on. She was mad at him. He was helplessly in love with her. She had to choose between the sultry man in the black cowboy hat or the charming man in the white cowboy hat. Lots of drama.
I finished my washing and drying and folding and headed to my car when I noticed a dog running down the middle of the road. It was a busy street and I immediately thought to myself, “Stupid dog. Get out of the--” I turned my back to unlock the trunk when I heard a thump. Then whimpers. My shoulders dropped. My heart sank. I let my clothes fall. I heard a second thump and whimpering ceased. I stood there frozen. I couldn’t look. I welled-up with both pity and anger. Pity because of the poor dog. Anger because I had to witness it. Stupid dog. I closed the trunk and got in my car and drove home.
I was unpacking my laundry, my mind in a death-pondering stupor, when my roommate entered my bedroom and made me an offer. It is important to know that I was renting a bedroom in a small condo from a young married couple. So my roommate wasn’t just a dude, he was the “Mister” of the household.
“If I gave you $20 do you think you could disappear for the evening?” The Mister dangled a twenty-dollar bill in front of me. I snatched it before I fully realized what was happening. Then it hit me. It’s Valentine’s Day. I see. “What time?” I asked. “Midnight,” he said. I left my laundry where it was, grabbed my jacket and ball cap and was out the door.
The next thing I knew I was driving and trying to figure out what I was going to do for the next five hours? There's Barnes and Noble, but I was just there the other day. I managed to kill almost an hour parking my car, walking around the block, changing my mind about where I wanted to park my car, then moving my car closer to the movie theater.
I decided on a movie, but it didn't start for another hour. So, I ended up “that guy,” the lonely guy sitting by himself at a bar on Valentine’s Day. If this were a movie, I would have met another lonely soul. I would have told her about the dog outside the Laundromat. She would have said something profound about death that would have revealed her complicated past. We would have connected and shared an evening, then gone on our separate melancholy ways. But this was not a movie. It was just me, beer, and men in tights skating in circles as fast as the can. The Olympic Winter Games were on the television.
Two pints later I had just enough cash left in my pocket to buy a movie ticket. I stumbled down the sidewalk to the AMC and purchased a ticket for one to see “Hoodwinked” an animated tale with a twist about Little Red Riding Hood.
It was myself and three sets of couples spread out in an otherwise empty theater. I go to a lot of movies by myself. I don’t mind it at all. But the nature of this night made me self-conscious. I pulled my ball cap down to hide my face.
It was during the previews that another couple entered the theater. They giggled their way up the stairs, entered my row, and slid past me and choosing seats just a few down from me. I glanced over and noticed that despite the ample seating available in the theater they opted to share the same chair. She sat on his lap. To each his own, I thought.
It soon became apparent that the couple was completely plastered. They weren’t obnoxious or annoying, per se. They simply thought everything was SO funny. Not like cute giggly funny, but side-splitting I'm going to pee my pants funny. While the sober ones in the theater chuckled during the movie this couple was in hysterics, complete with hand clapping and foot stomping. At times they pleaded for the comedy to stop and I wondered if we were watching the same movie. A tiny bit of me wanted to be annoyed at how distracting they were being, but more than that I was envious. They had each other and they were having the time of their life.
The movie ended and I headed home. When I arrived, it was twenty minutes to midnight, so I sat in my car and waited. I wasn’t about to return early.
When the clock struck 12, I got out of the car and walked back to the condo. I ran into the Missus outside with the dog. She said, “Oh my god, he paid you?! I’m so embarrassed.” I laughed it off and thought to myself, “I wonder how much I could get for their anniversary?”
Back inside the condo, I passed the Mister sitting in his boxers at his computer. “Thanks again!” He shouted. “No problem!” I said as I entered my bedroom to finish putting away my freshly laundered clothes.
That’s my Valentine’s Day story. I realize that it is a bit anti-climatic and lacking the romantic feel-good tropes of a traditional Valentine’s Day story. But as the weeks, months, and years pass I often think back to that night, where in the span of just a few hours my life collided with death, loneliness, joy, and, yes…love.
I have long pondered a word that adequately describes the whole of what I experienced that night. I couldn’t find one, so I created one: odditious. It means, “to rendezvous with the mysteries of life.”
And let me tell you, my friend, Valentine’s Day 2006 was a very odditious night.
A WRITER AND TRAVELER KEEPING THE FAITH IN LOS ANGELES