“My name is Odysseus; it is my birthday today and I have much to be thankful for.”For a long time, I felt I couldn’t add anything to what has already been said in books, poetry, fine art and cinema by predecessors. Not knowing my listeners’ lives and experience, how was I to relevantly inform them? I spoke accurately and openly of my own experience in my work, hoping, I would at least allow others to see how I view similar experiences of happiness, pain, joy, grief, hatred, love and God. I made commercial films and films used in schools across the land, made paintings, sculptures and some documentary films, which few people have seen but those who have seen them have been important to me.”My reticence to speak of things about which I had no direct knowledge, to people, whom, in their own ways might have more knowledge than I led me to go into other fields, for a while, building homes for poor families that respect their pride and developing infrastructure and technology that respects the environment. I authored a book explaining computer and telecommunication technologies and how this will change our communities. And in my personal life, I struggled to understand the emotional underpinnings of the way I and other human beings intimately relate. Then a perfect storm of personal catastrophes occurred all within a short period.
“First, my aortic valve gave out; it was an earlier model designed for shorter spans of life than we enjoy now. During the corrective surgery, I awakened for a minute, while my chest was being sawed. While recovering from the surgery, my fiancé left me. I’d lost interest in nonprofit work and my attempt at private development ended in losing my home and I left town in an old Ford truck with Sammy, a cat I inherited from my mother and my good dog, a pomeranian called, Bear.
“For four years, I traveled from town to town, anticipating I would find a community, where my creativity could be a contribution, where I would feel included with the love, respect and brotherhood essential to life. I lived on a modest pension from my nonprofit development work and occasional gifts of strangers of a place to park my truck and social welfare program I’d learned about in my previous work. One summer, when I was managing an undeveloped public campground in a redwood forest in Mendocino County, in exchange for a campsite, Sammy died from Lyme’s disease. A veterinarian told me it was a deer tick. A week later, Bear succumbed as well. My despair was infinite.
“My response was apathy, however, and that opened a door to my return, which is a story for another time, about Telemachus and my wife and how my unexpected return interrupted their revelry. Such stories are interesting and instructive but this is my birthday and this story is about what I’m thankful for, which is something I can contribute to those of you who aspire to write stories for plays and cinema: what I’ve learned from life that is relevant to all fiction and screenplay writing, which can empower you in manifesting your aspiration.
“When I started making radio plays in college and later, as a professional, films for children, commercials and documentaries, I was lost in the excitement of discovering how it works. It felt the same as, when opening the door of a kiln, I saw how fire transformed my handwork. As I learned more, this excitement dissipated and I grew more critical about content. The question, “Why this film?” grew more relevant as my capacity improved. I could see no reason why my work shouldn’t be compared to that of any writer or filmmaker whose work I admire. This led me to read, and to read again, the literary fiction of the last few thousand years and to read what others had said about them; to visit great museums of Europe and view fine arts; see hundreds of plays and cinema and listen to music of enduring value, all with the purpose of learning what about them has made them endure. This odyssey is what I call, my life.
“If I could sum up an idea that will empower your odyssey, it might be the name, de Maupassant. Why this writer in the galaxy of talent in all civilization? Not for his style, which is beautiful, nor originality of metaphor, which is lively, nor his technical skill, on a par with any great writer whose work has endured, but something more relevant to a particular issue. You are aware of congressional debates about media promulgating warfare and desensitizing the population to gore and morbidity. When you are considering a war story or gore, sexuality and morbidity in your work, you might first read Guy de Maupassant’s story, Epiphany. Another example, where de Maupassant is brief and poignant about sexual fidelity and sexual politics, which are go-to themes of mainstream as well as independent TV, stage plays and cinema, you might read de Maupassant’s A Wife’s Confession when you approach the subject.
“I point to de Maupassant about “Why this film?” rather than many other good writers, whose work I respect love and respect as well because of his economy. The poetry of his language, characters and stories isn’t lovelier than I see in works by Cervantes, Homer, Gilbert & Sullivan, Madeline Kahn, Dahl, Mann, Dostoevsky, Dinesen, De Sica, Chekhov, Williams, Faulkner, Hesse, Shakespeare, McCullers, Marquez and so on and so on. You may worship other stars and that is good, but the pleasure you take or that you’ve learned something from them is beside the point I’m making. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Wisdom is another matter.
“I’m grateful for the work of all these predecessors and honored to stand with you among them.”