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April 19, 2001

Strike Anxiety

http://www.jewishjournal.com/articles/item/strike_anxiety_20010420

It's 3 a.m. and I'm awake. Again.

Me: We could sell the house and move to Bali! Live in a hut on the beach for six months. I'll write. You and the boys can learn Balinese dance. It's spiritual and aerobic.

Her: You could get a job.

Me: Okay. We rent out the house. Buy four backpacks. Europe! We'll show the boys castles. Read them Wordsworth and Gibbon. Sleep in hostels. A trip to remember forever. Before they're teenagers and hate us.

Her: Get a job.

Me: Let's move to the country. Live off the land. Chop wood. Carry water.

Her: Job.

One great thing about being a screenwriter is that fantasy can feel as real as reality. You can smell its lilac pheromones, touch its morning dew.

One drawback is that you are as yoked to the Hollywood gravy train almost as tightly as a coal miner is to West Virginia, and when you strike, your livelihood -- as you know it -- gets instantly obliterated.

Another drawback, as my wife has made clear, is that you can't feed your children lilac pheromones and morning dew.

It's 2:30 a.m. and I'm awake. Again.

Counting down the days until May 1. I'm trying to make plans over the voice inside my head that's screaming, "How could someone so smart be so stupid? You're almost 40. You've got no savings to speak of, two kids and a mortgage bigger than the GNP of most African nations. You walked right past the doors of Stanford Business School for four years, you putz. And for what!? Proust!? Narrative theory!? Who you gonna sell your Proust to now, poetry boy!?"

It's dark outside, and I can't bear to look at the clock. The strike doesn't arrive in your life alone. It's the lead singer in a demonic singing group. Singing bass is my father: "Law school, law school, shoulda gone to law school, boy wants to write, you can write at night." Cue my mother-in-law: "I didn't say it then, but you done my daughter wrong. Shoulda finished your doctorate, you'd be tenured instead of down and gone."

And I'm thinking about my children and how wrong they are about me. I'm not Fun-Dad the writer, who created Simon the Mole Boy, revived Twiggy for a TV film, fought anti-Semitism (from a distance) with his USA Network Erase-the-Hate movie. I'm just a soon-to-be unemployed, near-40 fool.

It's 6 a.m. The tips of the mountains are pink in the morning light.

Maybe this strike is a good thing. The truth is that though we're striking the industry, the industry struck us with "Survivor," and hard. That "Millionaire" on ABC clanged the gates shut. "Survivor" locked them. One by one the portals have clogged -- by Fox's ongoing rancid effluence of marrying millionaires, animals attacking people, by MTV burning its stars and throwing feces on its loyal fans.

My narrative craft is beginning to feel as relevant as blacksmithing. With my partner, I rewrite a movie for a network and when the praise comes, we jump on it and say, "Good. So what are you looking for now?" The executive looks at us dumbly. "That's the thing," she says. "We don't know any more. We don't know what's working."

Uh, I think, I'm not.

So my agent says don't fight the tape. Be creative. Come up with a reality show. My partner and I look in the mirrors, then at our kids, then come up with six ideas and pitch them to the teething executive at the "hot" cable network.

"They're all great," he exclaims, voice breaking.

"So pick one and buy it," I mutter to myself.

"Got anything else?" he says, against all logic and decency.

"Yeah, I got one," I growl. My agent and partner are already shaking their heads at me. "It's called T*ts! T*ts! T*ts!"

The exec leans forward, flushed and excited as if I had just admitted I was secretly a porn star.

In a way, I have just become one.

The next day I call some friends to see if there are jobs out there in journalism, on the kamikaze Web. There are, at half my annual earnings.

Sumatra, I think. Thailand. My parents' basement.

Daylight.

They're hunting Americans in Bali. My kids like their friends here in town. The dollar doesn't buy the castle tour it did a year ago.

I didn't think I could do more than write screenplays. It turns out I was wrong. Putting my head together with a friend in corporate communications, I discover than I am, in fact, a corporate communicator. I remove the "Virtual Reality Troopers" credit from my résumé and add words like "strategic," "high-performance team player" and "consistent success in new business creation." Which means I come up with ideas, potchky around plot points and pitch my heart out.

Encouraged, I drive up to my alma mater for a job fair. I'm twice as old as the other participants, but this is no time for pride, is it? I've done my homework, I've researched the companies represented, thought about their clientele, have ready critiques for their Web sites. I hurry past the high-tech booths like Hester Prynne covering my scarlet letter ("A" for arts and letters) and head for the public relations booths. Crisis control? I'm an expert already. That's the life of a writer. Media relations? Why not? Can't be harder than twisting network notes into sense.

I feel young again as I get a few nibbles. I feel old again when a recruiter exclaims, "You wrote for 'Gargoyles'? Wow! I grew up on that show."

I go home and begin corresponding with vice presidents. I contact companies that require copywriters. I finally put together the Jewish text-based writing course I've been wanting to teach for years and set up a class at the University of Judaism and at a synagogue or two.

The strike, should it strike, is a couple of weeks away. I have made myself over as thoroughly as Pamela Anderson.

As a writing instructor, I will immerse myself in topics like shalom, tov, bracha, chen, chesed and rachamim.

And as a corporate communications specialist with a writing expertise, I am now employed by a prestigious European manufacturing company and am now treated like royalty. And get this: My assignment is to write a media presentation for them explaining how their design process is founded in nothing less than truth, beauty and love.

Take that, boot camp.

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