The Sacred and the Desecrated

The Rockies, Greece & Ireland
The Rockies, Greece & Ireland

One evening, while cruising the wine-dark sea off Psathura, a deserted island in Northern Greece, I thought that an epiphany was at hand.  This may have had something to do with the heat and the ouzo, however, because that epiphany proved as evanescent as the breeze and remained unknown.

What happened in Psathura isn’t unique though, this sort of encounter with the world’s majesty that transcends the everyday and seems sublime.  It’s happened to me at other times as well: in the Rocky Mountains, and on the Sea of Cortez, and upon the wavering greens of Western Ireland.  It’s occurred on bicycles and horses and surf boards.

It’s likely to have happened to everyone who chances upon this post.

I thought of these encounters when I heard this quote from the Kentucky poet Wendell Berry: “There are no sacred and unsacred places; there are only sacred and desecrated places.”

Those few words have changed my way of thinking.  Like our innocence, every place we encounter is indeed sacred unless proven otherwise, and we trespass upon the sanctified daily.  It’s a humbling, lifting and affirming way of passing through the world.

And I’m beginning to think that was the epiphany that hung in the breeze off Psathura.

You can buy ‘THE LAST ISLAND’ here.

‘Pitching and Kissing’ (Meeting Producers with my LA Agent)

My agent organized pitch meetings with a few production companies.

“Make it short and sweet,” he said. “Just give them your f—ing pitch and see if they bite.“

“So you know,” he added. “The more important they are, the worst dressed they’ll be. You meet a d—–bag in a Speedo and flip flops, their last film probably made a 100 mil. Meet a s—head in a suit, their last film was probably seen by less people than one of your f—ing plays.“

I went to the meetings. No one was wearing a Speedo. I did meet with one guy in a Hawaiian shirt and board shorts. True enough: he was the development guy for a comedy team with a string of hits.

The last meeting went like this.

Pitch Meeting

An office in Santa Monica. Impressionist art, movie posters, a red couch. I’m ushered into a conference room.

Their development guy is maybe 25, wearing black jeans and a Talking Heads tee-shirt. The usual small talk. I mention CBGB. He thinks it’s a government agency.

Eventually:

D-guy: I read that script.

David: I thought I was here to pitch it.

D-guy: You are. But I like to read the script before people pitch it so I already know what they’re going to say.

David: What’s the point?

D-guy: It’s like when the police ask questions that they already know the answers to.

David: Am I a suspect?

He coughs out a knowing laugh.

D-guy: Your only crime is a screenplay that feels like it was written in the 80’s.

David: When the Talking Heads were big?

He lets it slide, or else hasn’t yet realized that he’s wearing their shirt.

D-guy: If you’re going to write something like this, it has to have a modern feel… say like the Bourne series.

David: I see. You mean the Bourne series based on the books written by Robert Ludlum in the 80’s, right?

End of meeting.

Back at my agent’s office, I tell him what happened.

Agent: You gotta learn to kiss a–, David.

David: I don’t do that very well.

Agent: It’s not hard. I do it every day. All my clients are a—holes. Want to learn how to kiss a–? I’ll show you.

He walks around the desk and kisses me on top of the head.

Agent: How hard was that?

You can buy ‘THE LAST ISLAND’ here.

hollywood_break

Reflection

On a trip to New York City last month, I strolled over to Fifth Avenue where the Scribner’s Bookstore building is located.  I could have made my way blindly, since I’d taken these exact steps five days a week for almost four years.  Now, nearly twenty years later, I could almost see my younger self reflected back as I peered into the storefront window: a drowsy commuter in an ill-fitted suit, dreamy and impatient and uncertain.

But this wasn’t an instance when, to borrow F. Scott Fitzgerald’s words, “the fulfilled future and the wistful past were mingled into a single gorgeous moment.”  Rather, it was an occasion of less transcendence as I realized that the future at which I’d arrived and the future for which I once hoped would, in fact, never be mingled.  And I’m not so sure that in these days of rapid technological progress such a mingling is possible anymore.  Yet it seems that we can’t help ourselves from believing so.  For what else is a dream, but the hope that the wistful past will become the fulfilled future?

Scribner’s, the eponymous retail store of the publisher of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe, was once the architectural manifestation of my dream.  The large and severe squares of glass fronting the building, the stoic, marble staircase and book-lined walls were, to me, a promise and an answer.  I visited every week, in rain and snow, and amidst the sirens and taxi cabs and homeless men.  I imagined having a book of my own in the window of that cathedral.  One day, I wanted to be able to point and say, “I wrote that.”

But the novel was slow in the making.

In the meantime, I married, moved to Europe, had a family and settled in California.  I wrote stage and screen plays and enjoyed some success, but it was a novel I desired – the novel being an unfiltered communication between writer and reader and possessing a permanence and immediacy that those other mediums, vibrant as they may be, lack.  So the novel was always there, the Ithaca that for more than twenty years called to me… and that I finally wrote.

My journey had been a long one.

Now that my novel is to be published, the Scribner’s building no longer exists as a bookstore.  I’d known that, of course, but last month I needed to see the building once again, to reinforce the understanding that no novel of mine will ever appear in its window.  That it’s unlikely that any novel by any writer will ever appear there again.

But whatever sorrow I felt at having been too long in the writing was overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude.

For as I stood there, twenty years gone from the dreamy commuter I’d once been, I realized that in some small way I was confronting the wisdom of the ages, wisdom that’s as old as Homer (by way of C.P. Cavafy): the Ithaca of Scribner’s Bookstore had given me the journey, without it I may have never set out.  But it has nothing left to give.

That’s exactly as it should be, because by now, older and possibly wiser, I should have understood what all such Ithacas mean.

You can buy ‘THE LAST ISLAND’ here.

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Below is a video of Sean Connery reading the poem ‘Ithaca’ by C. P. Cavafy, with music by Vangelis.  It’s a little over four minutes long and worth every second.