The Internet is Us.
I’ve always pictured the Internet as a city. Nestled between every possible landscape you can think of – snowboarders on the mountains, surfers down at the beach; hamlets and villages dotted along the outskirts for the organic farmers and quaint collectibles; and districts of varying stages of growth and decay seated against one another. Fancy district names like Facebook Quarter, Bloggers’ Cafe, eBay Multiplex, jostling with the hip and trendy Downtown Google+, and Crowdfunding Market. Just a mix-match landscape where every personality type, belief system, and political agenda are accounted for in a growing, living metropolis.
I have been using the Internet since 1994. Back then, the Internet was a small bustling town with muddy track roads, a few horse-drawn carriages and a handful of sheriffs. It was the wild wild west meets George Orwell’s Lord of the Flies. A landscape ready for anything – reckless and lawless. People flocked to the Internet like it was a side show. Snake oil salesman slithered around the naive. There was a great psychological impact from this “new fangled technology” as people slipped from a world based on the physical and senses, to a world that relied on the mental and emotions.
The beauty of the Internet lies in its hoarding nature. It keeps everything. You may have moved on from that teenage angst riddled blog or Myspace page, but the Internet cherishes it, the precious. It has an in exhaustive claim over every memory. The wilderness may have grown mature foliage over it all, but the Internet keeps it safe.
As a writer, one of the greatest benefits the Internet provides, is other writers. We need other anxious writers to keep our anxieties in check. In 2000, I walked into the virtual studios of a still active, high-profiled production house, that runs a warehouse for writers, storyboard artists, actors, musicians, and pretty much every aspect of creative production in film. It was a melting pot of LA types, WGA-wannabes, working story editors, independent filmmakers, actual WGA writers with their first credit, and networkers building their network. Here, the pretentious, the egotistical, the understated, and the anxious all came together with one thing in mind: getting noticed.
Amongst the forums, the chatrooms, critiques and reviews of this warehouse, lay a labyrinth of Offices: private member created areas where you and your closest friends in the virtual studios could share thoughts, talk about whatever you wanted, or put together a pre-production budget and plan for that script you just received good reviews for.
Like any pretentious, egotistical, understated and anxious writer around me, I had my fair share of discussions, reviews and Office hobnobbing. And like many of them, I struggled to come to terms with what it was I was doing. Whether you write novels, or plays, poetry or scripts, you have to make peace with the process before you can exhaust it.
Let’s face it, there’s an angst-riddled writer in all of us.
It was in these virtual offices I found myself a few weeks ago, after many months away. I have found myself making an annual visit over the past few years, keeping in sporadic contact with only a few names I used to see almost every week. Some are living the dream, and others, still chasing it. The virtual studios are still bustling with activity, but it is a new season of angst-riddled, pretentious, and understated writers. A season that has become verbose in the ways of the Internet, with far more tools around them, and a wider capacity for independent filmmaking.
Whenever I make this self-professed pilgrimage, it’s like a holodeck takes over. I find myself wandering down one of the less visited hallways of the studios. There’s a hum from far away – the distant hallways rife with activity, unfulfilled dreams, and exuberance. Down my hallway, there is the echo of footsteps, discarded filing cabinets jammed with manuscripts, scattered papers, brass brads, and on occasion a solitary figure at a desk clacking away at a typewriter. I may offer a small wave through their open doorway as I pass-by, but otherwise, the lights flicker, the walls are neglected, and most of the doors are shut.
There is one office door that I know will still be open. It hasn’t been shut for over seven years now, sort of left unlocked, open and inviting by the owner for a small group of writers who had very little in common with one another except perhaps their various stages of “living the dream”. And for some, the LA Lakers.
The office belongs to Chef Dave. A once upon a time story development executive who dropped his Big Studio gig to pursue his passion: culinary school. Despite his switch in trades, Chef Dave still wrote, gave advice, shared music trivia, talked shit, and generally hung out as a genuine good guy. If you were webbing yourself in a ridiculous coat of doubt and insecurity, Chef Dave would turn around and tell you, with the utmost love and respect, to get your head out of your ass and play the game.
When I was cutting my teeth on script format, Chef Dave and I had intense conversations about story. Characters, films we liked and why we liked them, and sometimes we would talk about our own scripts. Sometimes these conversations would end in Chef Dave hustling me to send him a treatment or script; other times they would end with a random argument over football.
Chef Dave sent me brass brads as a hint. They came with a copy of Final Draft, and a book.
I won’t say the book changed my life. At the time, I read it, absorbed it, and carried on. Years later, and I appreciate the book for a lot more than what lies between the cover. In his book, Dennis Palumbo writes about the “Buddy System”, and from a recent article he reiterates:
In Hollywood—perhaps, next to politics, the thorniest patch of all—the creative types I know seem to gravitate naturally toward a buddy. This is usually, but not always, another person pursuing the same creative endeavor. Writers tend to buddy-up with another writer, directors seem to feel that only another director understands their concerns. The same seems to hold true for actors, composers, designers, whatever.
The point is, what most creative people seek in a buddy is someone who understands the vocabulary of the town. Who’s experienced the particular joys and pains of pitch meetings or auditions. Who themselves have suffered through endless re-writes, humiliating call-backs, and the pain of having a treasured years-in-development project suddenly go from being green-lit to a bright, blinking red.
Someone who, to put it simply, gets it. And, perhaps more importantly, gets you.
Chef Dave was a buddy. When I visit his office, there is very little left within it. The filing cabinet carries a copy of Aristotle’s “Poetics”, and there are some scribblings here and there left by the few of us who still visit – usually on that same sort of pilgrimage. Chef Dave didn’t live out his culinary exploits. Like his favourite writer, Ernest Hemingway, Chef Dave’s relationship with the vices of a writer cut all of that short. We all found out through an email from his brother. There’s a soft emotion that fills his office. Tragedy brings that out in people. Suddenly, everything has a soft light, a soft remembrance, a quiet emotion. Scribbled a year before he passed, is a final note from Chef Dave. It highlights some of his inner thoughts as he spent five days in a hospital connected to IVs.
I am just a writer. My favorite writer of all time? Ernest Hemingway.
I was on a hospital bed, dying. My brother laughed at me as I was hooked up to three IV’s. I asked him to help me go the bathroom but he was too busy playing video games on his GameBoy. I pissed on myself.
I am just an artist, a writer, and now a certified culinarian.
I love my brother. But I wonder if he loves me as much I do him. He’s addicted to junk food, his whore wife, and video games.
I was in the hospital for five days. I did not sleep for five days. The entire time I wondered if I was a real writer or just a fraud.
We engaged in some funny hijinks, me and my bro. We ran around the Cedars-Sinai ward smoking cigarettes and getting chased by security guards. Then just for chuckles we smashed in a wheerchair.
But what really wounds me the most is the fact my own brother joked (in a flippant way) that I was going to die. And I honestly was dying.
Five nurses had to jump-start my heart because I was dying. All I thought about was why did my brother taunt me? Why did I piss myself?
I dreamt about Papa Hemingway. I wondered what he went through as he was dying.
Chef Dave wasn’t just a buddy. He was one of those guys that enter in and out of your life – the genuine people, who, like you, are plagued by uncertainty, self-doubt, and are in need of a buddy. They have this “thing” about them, and you remember them for this. Because at the time, you didn’t have that same “thing”, but perhaps it would wear off on you. Or maybe it woke-up and every time you recognise that “thing” you think of them.
The Internet is like that. It collects all the “things” and keeps them so they’re not forgotten. Sometimes the Internet keeps onto Viagra spam, but that’s because it has a sense of humour. It too knows when you have to get your head out of your ass, and play the game.