About Michael Ostrowski

Novelist and screenwriter with degrees from Boston University and Emerson College who lives in Hawaii. Aloha and mahalo in advance for reading my work! You can order a copy of my new novel here! https://www.inkshares.com/books/lost-in-the-fog

Aloha 2019

“We may be through with the past, but the past is never through with us.”                                 -Narrator (Magnolia, Screenwriter: Paul Thomas Anderson)

“Another year you made a promise
Another chance to turn it all around
And do not save this for tomorrow
Embrace the past and you can live for now”

        -Great Big World (Songwriters: Ian Axel / Chad Vaccarino)

 

I’m a big proponent of setting goals and living deliberately to achieve the life you want.  I’ve been devoted to that (sometimes faithfully, sometimes half-assed) ever since high school.  That being said, when I look back on my life thus far, I’m so grateful things didn’t work out exactly how I envisioned.

The detours, the asides, the meanderings, the deviations, and the circuitous routes have made me who I am.

I love the line “embrace the past and you can live for now” in the song I quoted above. In our rush to start anew, many of us want to forget about the previous year(s) and just charge forward. That might work for some, but I think it’s a bad practice.  Certainly don’t dwell on the past (whether it was good or bad) so you’re living in blind nostalgia, but I highly recommend shaking its hand, honoring it, and remembering its joys and lessons.

Once you embrace the past, go ahead and make those New Year’s Resolutions, set those intentions and goals, and bust your ass to make them a reality.  I wish everyone the success they search.  But please keep a big picture view on your life as you embark on this journey.  Enjoy all the steps along the way and pay attention to every second of it.  Fall in love with the moment and the process.

I present to you my life as a public service announcement.

I’ve been trying to be a professional, full-time writer for more than 20 years.  I’ve had some successes, lots of disappointments, and on January 9, 2019 I’ve yet to achieve this huge life goal.  However, when I look in the mirror, I see someone with a big smile on his face.

Many years ago I lucked into a wonderful full-time job that I continue to enjoy.  If I could get into a DeLorean with a flux capacitor and go back to 1998 when I moved to Los Angeles to become a screenwriter, I truly wouldn’t want to change anything.  Because if I found the success I desperately sought back then, I would have missed out on getting to know the hundreds (maybe thousands) of amazing people I’ve been lucky to meet in the last two decades.

In a sense, I feel like Moonlight Graham in Field of Dreams.

In 2002 one of my scripts almost got me to my ultimate goal … “it was like coming this close to your dreams, and then watching them brush by you like a stranger in a crowd”, as Burt Lancaster said in the film. When it didn’t happen I was devastated.  It took a long time and many dark, gloomy days to get over the disappointment.  But I eventually made peace with it, moved on, and let my life take a divergence.

I’m glad that happened.  I’m also proud of myself for not giving up on my dream, for continuing to write scripts, short stories, plays, articles, blog posts, and novels.  I love the process, and I’ll never stop writing and submitting my work.

I’m hoping my new novel Lost in the Fog will be my big break.  But if not, I’ll keep trying.

On that I’ll share with you a picture of my journal from December 31, 1998 written from 1200 North June Street in Los Angeles.  1999 didn’t bring the success I sought, but it sure was a hellva lot of fun.  Let’s all party like it’s 1999 2019.

 

If Only In My Dreams

SSPX0210

All those songs are right … it is nice to be home for the holidays.  In 2018, according to AAA, nearly seven million people in the United States will travel via air during the next couple weeks to see family and friends.  Over the last twenty years I’ve boarded many planes during the holiday season, and my journeys have gone smoothly.

Except once.

In December of the year 2000 the Travel Gods had a good laugh at my expense.  What follows is the journal I kept back then on planes, in various airports, my parents’ house in Lynn, and my apartment in Los Angeles.  I always thought what I wrote was pretty funny, and I had visions of publishing a David Sedaris type article about my misadventures (I had recently read his SantaLand Diaries).  Unfortunately that never happened.

Eighteen years later, I present these journal excerpts to you as my last blog post of 2018.  Happy Holidays and I hope you enjoy!

________________________

December 24, 2000

FL 2677 to Phoenix (America West Airlines)

1:44 pm PST

In my seat and waiting to take off for the first leg of my journey.  I should be thankful I made it on this plane.  The morning started off quite poorly.

The fire trucks were a bad omen.

I somehow wake up just after eight am after drinking with Bradleigh and the crew all night, throw a bunch a clothes into a bag, and survive the fifteen minute walk to the subway station with my suitcase.  Tired and weary, I am still on schedule.

But when I arrive at the Hollywood & Highland Metro station, there were flashing lights and fireman clomping down the stairs and police sirens in the distance.  I didn’t smell smoke and nobody stopped me, so I descend towards the tracks on the escalator.  I used the automated kiosk to pay my $1.60 fare and wait for the 9:20 train.

The night before I sat in a booth at The Formosa Café and got laughed at after divulging my plans to take the LA Metro to the airport.  My friends looked at me as if I claimed I would get there via a pogo stick.  I sipped my Manhattan and said confidently:

“The Super Shuttle is twenty-five bucks.  A cab is about forty.  And none of you drunks are going to get up that early and drive me.  I’m broke and the subway is less than two dollars.”

Nobody believed it was possible.  And when I explained the logistics, the red line to the blue to the green and then a quick shuttle, they thought it was all a joke.  There was general disbelief a subway line even ran under Hollywood.  I assured them it did, and that I had mapped it all out online the day before.

After the bar we all ended up at my place.  I had planned on packing for my trip home to see my family, but then the tequila was taken out of the freezer.  Not too many hours later, the buzzing of my alarm clock was terrifying.

But bag in hand, I had made it to the Metro tracks.  LAX was about an hour away.  It was the morning of Christmas Eve, and I stood on the Hollywood & Highland platform waiting for a train that would not come.

metro-hollywood-highland

Had I not been so hungover, I likely would have realized my plight.  But the night before I gave into my roommate Bradleigh and went out for a Christmas Eve-Eve Party.  It started at our apartment on June Street, went to the Formosa, then to Cat & Fiddle, and finally back to where we started.  It ended sometime around five am with a group of us watching American Beauty.

The 9:20 train didn’t show, and then it became 9:40, 9:45, and 9:53.  I heard yelling down the other end of the tracks, and it sounded like someone was saying the station was closed. My adrenaline had spiked, and I walked back upstairs to investigate.  The voice was coming from an MTA employee.  He was informing people not to go down to the tracks, but neglected to share this information with the poor slobs on the platform.

I raced up the stairs to Hollywood Boulevard and hailed a cab.

I cursed myself for not arranging a Super Shuttle.  This trip home to Boston was already going to tax my meager bank account, and my $1.60 mass transit ride had turned into a forty dollar cab.  I’ll need to cross someone off my Christmas list.

Getting out of the cab I was horrified at the scores of people on the curb and inside the terminal.  My plane would be leaving in about forty minutes.  I scanned the area for an airport employee who did not look like he would stab me if I asked a question.

“I have an e-ticket and no bags to check,” I said.  “Do I have to get my ticket here?”

“No, you can go right up to the gate.”

Nine of the greatest words ever spoken.

lax_sign

(Author’s 2018 note: It’s hard to remember that in the days before September 11th, anybody, regardless of whether they had a ticket, could go to an airline gate.  While it was nice to be greeted by family and friends right off the plane while traveling, it also meant every nut imaginable could prowl the terminals asking for “donations”.  While there certainly were legit charities at LAX, you were normally solicited by dozens of weirdos. Every time I would think of Leslie Nielsen in Airplane!  And on that day my confusion was heightened by something very new to me back then, the e-ticket.)

I purchased my tickets online, first time ever for me, and I didn’t even print a receipt.  There was nothing to prove I was supposed to be flying to Boston for Christmas.  If I wasn’t so hungover, I probably would have been very nervous.

Checking the monitors my flight seemed to be the only one not delayed.  I figured it was karmic payback for the cab.  But when I got to the gate the earlier Boston flight wasn’t even boarding.  I was delayed, despite what the computers said.  But I still needed my ticket.

In the mass of people there seemed to be an amorphous line.  I squeezed into it.  There was a good chance I would be shunned at the gate.  I hadn’t even called to confirm the ticket I bought online from William Shatner’s Priceline.com over a month ago.  Maybe this wasn’t even in the right place.  Was it Northwest or America West or Southwest?

And what if my name had been deleted by some computer in, say, Backwater, Utah?   I could hear some smarmy guy explaining, “Sorry, sir, no Ostrowski’s on our list.  In fact, we don’t even have any Michael’s”.

Panic would set in and I’d be too weary to do anything.  Muttering to myself and heavy drinking would soon follow.  I would curse Captain Kirk to the day he died.

But I showed my ID to the woman at the counter and she gave me a boarding pass.  I wait an hour or so (I’m still on track to make my connection to Boston in Phoenix), and eventually got to my aisle seat on flight 2677 to Phoenix on America West Airlines.  Writing in this journal has already eaten up a lot of time.  I’ll eat my snack mix and then continue as we’re about to land.

Wheels down now for the approach to Phoenix….

It’s close to two o’clock Pacific time, and we’re thirty minutes before my plane to Boston.  Lunch would be nice, but not enough time.  Thankfully the gate I’m landing at will be right we’re I’m taking off.

…..Later On

4:06 pm

Still in Phoenix

“Flight 2824 to Boston- obviously we’re experiencing a delay.  The plane has been clean and catered and the pilots are ready for departure.  We just need a crew.  There will be a slight delay while we locate them.”

-America West Announcement

The delay in Los Angeles wasn’t much of a problem.  Whether waiting in LAX or Sky Harbor…it’s still waiting.  But we’re nearing 4:15 pm and they haven’t begun boarding.  Another announcement just informed us the crew would be here shortly “from the break room”.  The person using the PA is obviously pissed at his fellow employees.  For such raw honestly in an airport must be done out of spite.  Passengers are a cranky lot by nature, and this just gives them live bodies to vent their frustration.

At the gate across from me a shouting match is going on.  Well, not really a match.  It’s more of a one-sided verbal tirade from a female customer.  I wonder if the crew on her flight got adequate rest in the employee break room.  They’re surely going to need it.

“Once again we apologize for the delay”.

Airports just bring out the worst in people.  Like freeways and World Wars.  Mostly I find them a creepy necessity.  Thousands of strangers each desperately wanting to get somewhere/anywhere and most willing to step over babies and shove the elderly to do it.  And then there’s the airplane food.

“Your choices for dinner tonight are Salisbury Steak or Walnut Chicken Salad.”

I hate walnuts and Salisbury Steak reminds me of Elementary School.  But all I’ve eaten today is snack mix.  I get the beef and a beer.  1,854 miles to go.

….Later on

11:00 pm EST

It’s been a family tradition to gather at my great aunts’ house on the night before Christmas.    Afterwards I would go to Ditch’s and drink Irish whiskey and see friends from high school.  I’d never missed either of those events despite living on the other side of the country for the last three years.  Tonight the streak ends.

Fuck you, America West.

N834AW_Airbus_A.319_America_West_8401797394

*******

December 30, 2000

2:30 pm

Logan Airport, Gate 43B

A great trip home, but I now must get back to Los Angeles.

With a king hell bastard of a snow storm closing in on Boston, I’m here at the near empty America West terminal.  On the news I hear of delays and cancellations and all sorts of airport trouble, but somehow, someway, FL 2188 is on time.  The madness of LAX a week earlier has been transplanted to the tranquility of Logan.

But it’s a little too quiet.

There has to a problem.  My good ole friend shitty luck tells me that.  He’s an asshole so I want to ignore him, but unfortunately Mr. S. Luck is usually right.

Although this could be a karmic bone thrown to me for leaving (and losing) $300 worth of CDs on the plane from Phoenix.  I really don’t want to relive that situation…thinking about it makes me want to scream.  I called the airline and spoke to several people, but nobody could locate my CD carrying case (Author’s 2018 note: we were still around a year away from the iPod being released…it was devastating to lose all that music.) 

What is certain is that I’m missing both wild card games.  There’s no damn TV in this mini terminal.  No food, no stores, no magazine racks either.  I’m not even sure there’s a bathroom.  I could walk over to the American one and see how the Colts are doing, but that’s just inviting disaster.

Well…the trip home?

Great seeing my mom, dad, sis, bro, nephew, brother-in-law, grandparents, and friends.  I got to spend a lot of time with everybody and I’m truly lucky to have so many wonderful people in my life.  But of course that makes me not want to go back to LA.

The play (SantaLand Diaries) and the museum with my Mom were great days.  My nephew Nicholas is almost two-and-a-half, and was much more receptive to me than my last visit and he actually said my name.  Ditch and I had a good time drinking at Uno’s and The Border Café.  And I got to toss back some pints with Mark and Scott at The Beantown Pub, then later at Nua Tua (a new Irish Pub that was cool).

I also watched the Pats game with my Dad (a close loss to the Dolphins, finishing the season at a very disappointing 5-11) and talked sports with Jeff.  I met Mark last night to see the new Coen Brothers’ film “O Brother, Where Art Thou” (which was great) at the new Fenway Cinemas.  And like always, Boston looked amazing despite the cold weather, and made me realize how shitty LA really is.

Back to Hollywood.

David Sedaris Christmas

… 2:36 pm PST

FL 2188

At the back of the plane all by myself.  Haven’t been on a plane this empty in along time.  It’s quiet and I have space…not too much else you can ask for on a cross-country journey.  Well, if a really cool and pretty girl was sitting back here … and we had a great conversation and then ended up becoming boyfriend-girlfriend.

Let’s be reasonable.

I think it would be wise to declare my life a disaster area and try a different approach.  Because what I’m doing now just ain’t working.  But is that the absolute truth?   Is this is all “destiny”…part of some bizzaro plan that’s never been shared with me?   I moved to LA two and a half years ago, and I’ve got nothing to show for it.  I can’t believe it that’s my plan. I need to make things happen.

Shit, I’m tired but I can’t sleep.  Even with nobody in any of the rows surrounding me I can’t get some Z’s.  But I’m going to try again.

 . . . 7:38 pm

Sky Harbor Airport

Fucking Eh.

I get out of a damn blizzard in Boston and now I might not get to LA because of fog.  We were 30 minutes early to Phoenix, but now have to wait least an hour delay with a high chance of cancellation.

The Travel Gods are straight up giggling at me.

Although it’s a dump, I just want to get back to Hollywood.  I’ve been up since 5 am Pacific Time and I’m getting a headache.  They’re announcing our fate in a few minutes.  If I didn’t have to work tomorrow it’s no big deal.  But I do.  And this whole situation, for lack of a better cliché, sucks ass.

 . . . 8:30 pm

Gate B6

They say my flight, most likely, is going to take off.  But they changed gates.

From gate B26 (where I was) to B6 (where I needed to go) is a long ass walk.  My flight is delayed to at least 10 pm, and they make you trek all the way through the damn terminal to wait for a plane that still might not leave tonight.

My other option is Burbank.  That leaves at 10:30 pm and “supposedly” there is no fog there.  For all I know there’s hail and locusts.  Burbank would be a cheaper Super Shuttle to Hollywood.

I’ll wait until 9 to make my decision.

Shit, it’s not 8:30 it’s 9:30.  Lousy Phoenix and their disregard for Daylight Savings!  I thought we were on LA time.  I’m going to try for the Burbank flight.

…..On the Flight Back to LA

I’d like to think I looked like OJ running through the airport in those old commercials.  But most likely I resembled Culkin’s family in “Home Alone”.

After going all the way to Gate A9 for the Burbank flight I was told I had to go to Customer Assistance if I wanted on that flight.

“Can’t you just put me on?” I asked.

“No.”

“But, the computer—”

“I can’t do it.”

Screwed.

I’ve seen Jamie, my good buddy and an AA employee, do it many times.  But she wouldn’t take the 5 seconds to help me.

Screwed.

The line is deep.  I’ve been waiting in it now for 15 minutes and I’ve moved nowhere.  At this rate I should be at the front in . . .well, never.

Somehow I make it to the front of Customer Assistance only to find out the flight is full.

The woman there offers some hope when she says, “But they’ve lifted the fog ban in LA and I think they’re boarding now.”

I am nowhere near B6.  So it’s come to this.  I’ve been up for 17 hours, my nose is running, my eyes watery, the last meal I consumed was reheated Salisbury Steak, and now I have to RUN halfway through Phoenix if I don’t want to spend the night here.

I make it one minute before they close the doors.

We’re in the air I hear for about twenty minutes and we get this gem of an announcement:

“We don’t want to get your hopes up.  We might have to turn around and go back to Phoenix.”

Luckily that doesn’t happen.  We somehow are able to land in the fog and the whole plane is clapping.  But I can’t see a thing out the window and I’m not at all convinced we’re at LAX.  We taxi on the runway forever.

….Later on

1200 North June Street

Los Angeles, CA

Beer in hand, time to finish this crazy story.  If I wasn’t so broke I would have taken a cab.  Instead I had to take the Super Shuttle, and just before we’re about to leave it’s just me and a woman going to the Westside.  The Super Shuttle is great for those of us on a budget, unless it’s full and you’re one of the last people to get dropped off.  But here it is, after midnight, and hopefully I can escape with just one other passenger.

Nope.

Four more people squeeze in just before we’re about to take off.  Guess who’s the last stop?  My laugh scares several of the passengers.

I take the elevator up to my floor, and I truly expect to come home to a robbed apartment.  But when I open the door I find everything exactly as I left it.  Bradleigh’s working and won’t be home for a couple of hours.  There’s three Guinness in the fridge and I plan to drink them all before going to sleep.

Photo424

Time, Hope, and the Friendly Ghost of 2004

“The years shall run like rabbits …. all the clocks in the city began to whirr and chime: ‘O let not Time deceive you, you cannot conquer Time … In headaches and in worry, vaguely life leaks away, and Time will have his fancy, tomorrow or today.”

–  W. H. Auden, from As I Walked Out One Evening (1940)

Before Sunrise

Jesse (Ethan Hawke) & Celine (Julie Delpy) at Cafe Sperl in Vienna from “Before Sunrise”

I first heard the above poem while watching Before Sunrise in 1995, and while I could write for hours about that amazing film and its two outstanding sequels, tonight I focus on another topic.  The Red Sox – Yankees Rivalry.  Even more specific, how it’s almost impossible to believe it’s been fourteen years since those teams last met in the playoffs.

Tonight Boston beat New York and celebrated in Yankee Stadium just like they did in 2004. Exciting, amazing, and as a lifelong Red Sox fan, still in so many ways hard to fathom.  And while I was extremely happy and I made several toasts, I had one question that kept coming back.

How did 2004 become 2018?

When I rewind time fourteen years, all the way back before we broke the so called 86-Year Curse of the Bambino, the first thing that comes to mind is hope.  The team’s unofficial slogan in those days was Wait Until Next Year.  In 2018, this is difficult for a lot of people to understand.  Today the Sox just beat their biggest rival again, have three recent championship trophies, and the decades long image of the lovable loser has been completely transformed.

But in 2004, most people believed the Sox had as much chance of beating the Yankees and winning the World Series as Charlie Brown did in kicking the football.

Although I was a child in ‘78, I remember Buddy Bleeping Dent’s homerun off of Torrez and Yaz popping out to lose to the division to the Yankees on the 163rd game of the year.  As a teenager in 1986 I experienced a whole new level of heartbreak when the ball went under Buckner’s legs in Game 6 of the World Series (our first appearance there since 1946), and we eventually lost in seven to the Mets (another damn NY team).

Flash forward to 2003 and The Curse became a lot more real when the Red Sox would lose the American League Championship Series (ALCS) to the Yankees in agonizing fashion.  It was like taking the feelings of 1978 and 1986 (as well as 1999 ALCS defeat to the Yankees) and pumping them with performance enhancing drugs.  When the current coach of the Pinstripes hit that walk-off homerun off beloved knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in Game 7, it was truly the nadir of my misery.  I was simply too young in ’78 or ’86 to get it.   Soul-crushing was not a word in my childhood vocabulary, as you just don’t have a firm grasp on the concept of time when you’re young.

In October 2003, I was on intimate terms with time and I was devastated.  The hangover from the Game Seven loss lasted for months, and I wondered if I was going to become one of those pessimistic people who always expect the Red Sox to lose.

Thankfully that didn’t happen, and I never gave up hope.

We signed Curt Schilling in that off-season as well as closer Keith Foulke (not having a shutdown reliever for the 9th inning was a big reason why we lost to the Yankees).  We added these two huge pieces to an already amazing team, and 2004 had lots of promise. I was still living in LA when the season began, but by late summer I had moved to San Francisco.

It was a very important time for me personally, and I’m so glad the Red Sox success back then mirrored mine.  I not only began an eight year stint in one my favorite cites on the planet, I started writing my novel Lost in the Fog, and commenced working at a job that would give me a career in hospitality and human resources.  After experiencing failure in Los Angeles trying to make it as a writer, it was so wonderful to find these victories in San Francisco.

A lot has happened in fourteen years.

I’m not going to lie … I still take the Red Sox and the rest of my teams a lot more seriously than I should at my age.  But I can truly say that I’ve “grown-up” since 2004, and I no longer let the losses affect me as much as they once did.  Yes, I experience complete joy when my teams win championships and utter despair when they lose them, but I can put everything in better context now.  I let the joy linger for longer periods of time, and I make sure the gloom only stays briefly before I put it in the past.

This year’s Sox -Yankees playoff match-up was exciting, and I was so happy tonight when we won the series in an old-fashioned stress-job.  We were up by three in the bottom of the 9th, and while Craig Kimbrel was shaky, he eventually succeeded.  After the Yankees scored two we finally got the last out on an excruciatingly close play at first base.  This is an outstanding achievement for the team and a terrific memory for me.

But it never quite approached the emotional level that 2004 had.

How could it?

Fourteen falls ago the Red Sox had not won a World Series since 1918, were on the brink of being swept by their biggest rival, and were losing by one run in the 9th with the greatest closer to ever play the game on the mound.  And then a speck of pixie dust got blown our way.  Millar worked a walk, Roberts pinch ran and stole second, Mueller drove him in with a hit, and then Big Papi, the greatest clutch hitter in the history of the game, hits a walk-off homerun in extra innings to extend the series at least one more day.

It was electrifying, and it gave us hope.

I can remember exactly where I was and what I felt at every point in the ALCS in 2004.  I was in a bar at SFO for Game 5, having missed most of it while flying back to San Francisco.  But I watched all the innings unfold from the 8th to the 14th when Big Papi hit the single to score Johnny Damon for the win.  The guy next to me, a Yankees fan, said arrogantly to whoever was listening, “who cares.  We’ll win it at home next game”.

Game 6 I watched at Dave’s in San Francisco on 3rd Avenue, which unfortunately no longer exists.  The owner of the bar grew up in Boston and was a Red Sox fan, and there was memorabilia all around the place.  A few years later I got to meet Dave, and we had a lot of great conversations about New England and the Sox.  Helluva guy, and I hope he is doing well.  That night we jumped out to a 4 run lead on the Yankees and Keith Foulke was able to close it out to force a historic Game 7.

20151211_154347-COLLAGE

No team in the history of baseball had even made it to a Game Seven after being down 0-3.  Such a possible scenario had happened 25 times before.

For this legendary night I left work early and made it home in time for the start of the 2nd inning (on the West Coast the games began around 5 pm).  I considered watching it at Dave’s, but I knew I needed total concentration with full sound up and no distractions.  The night was going to be monumentally amazing or soul crushing.  I just couldn’t be around strangers.

It was October 20, 2004, almost exactly one year from Aaron Bleeping Boone and that terrible ALCS loss to the Yankees.  I remember saying “another Game 7, how could this be happening again?”  Sitting there in my apartment on Elm Street, I was praying it would not be a nightmare.  If we lost, I wasn’t sure if I could endure it.

Losing again to the Yankees would have been Dante’s “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate“.  In English, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

I doubted I could even handle the stress of a close game.  Just thinking of another extra innings affair gave me what Hunter S. Thomson used to refer to as “The Fear”.  Although in my early 30s then, if that happened I was sure my hair would have been shocked into pure gray.

Thankfully it didn’t.  The Red Sox scored early and often at Yankee Stadium, and Joe Castiglione’s call of “Grand Slam Johnny Damon” is one of the best things I ever heard.   We got up 8-1 after four innings, and by the time it ended, the scoreboard would read Boston 10, New York 3.  We would then sweep the Cardinals for our first World Series title since 1918.  The Curse was reversed.

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The End of the Curse (October 20, 2004)

On some nights I have to remind myself it wasn’t all a dream.

Nearly a decade and a half later, how cool is it, in a world where everything changes instantly, that the century plus year-old Red Sox – Yankees rivalry is still going strong.  With due respect to that team over in the Bronx and all their titles, this year we were better.  And I hope in the next three or so weeks we can roll out the duck boats on the streets of Boston and celebrate our fourth World Series title this century.

But if not there will always be next year.

Back Where I Come From

“Who are you?  Who, who, who, who?  ‘Cause I really wanna know – who are you?  Who, who, who, who?”

-Lyrics by Peter Townshend, recorded by The Who (1978)

“Back where I come from, where I’ll be when it’s said and done. And I’m proud as anyone, that’s where I come from.”

-Lyrics by Mac McAnally, recorded by the artist in 1990.  Covered and popularized by Kenny Chesney in 1996.

 

Culture, heritage, knowing where you come from, and who you are.  These are subjects that fascinate most people, and I am no exception.

A few years ago for Christmas, my Mom gave me the Ancestry.com DNA kit.  She had already done it, and had been conducting a lot of research on her family’s side (Howard) as well as my father’s (Ostrowski).  I gladly spit in the little tube and mailed it back, with the anticipation of finding out if the oral narrative about my heritage matched with the hard science.

Insert Jeopardy Theme ….

I had grown up thinking on my mother’s side I was about 35% English and 15% Irish, and on my Dad’s I was 25% Polish and 25% Italian. I always liked that, and identified with my mutt background.  I felt I could easily morph into different personalities, and I attributed that to my mixed heritage.

When Ancestry sent me the results, I discovered my DNA was even more jumbled.

But here’s the caveat … we tend to think of our heritage in terms of countries.  But in doing so often forget that World History is super complex, and geographical lines have been drawn, erased, and redrawn countless times over thousands of years.  Maps of even just 30 years ago (can anyone say Berlin Wall) are completely obsolete. New countries are born while others vanish.

Okay, enough of the history lesson … here were my DNA results:

ancestry pic

My biggest takeaway from this … I’m European A.F.

It’s clear when you’re talking about your DNA, it’s tough to pinpoint your genome to a specific country.  But you can look to regions of the world.  When I analyze my results, they’re not wholly different than what I had thought (English, Irish, Polish, and Italian), but there’s a lot more going on.  Having ancestors from Scandinavia was the biggest surprise (no relative had ever talked about a Nordic background), and then there was France, Spain, and lots of the former Soviet Union countries.

But of course DNA is only one piece of the puzzle.  If you want to get more specific about your family’s background you need to search available records, whether they be birth, death, census, voting, immigration, or anything else recorded by the government.  Sometimes these are available, but the further you go back in time the more difficult they become.

With my family, my Mom’s side has been in the United States for around two hundred years, and therefore she has yet to discover (and she’s tried really hard) specifically where in Great Britain & Ireland the family came from.  Disappointing, as that would be great to know.

My Dad’s family has been easier to trace since the roots in America “only” go back to the early part of the 20th Century.  I can say with certainty the Polish side comes from Sońsk & Grabowiec, where the Italian side (LaMonica) emigrated from Torrevecchia.  Knowing this, I’d love to visit those places and reconnect with my roots.

(Both photos courtesy of my Great Uncle Daniel Ostrowski, who has done outstanding research on the family and has graciously shared it with us)

While all of this historical detective work is extremely cool and interesting, there’s another side that says, is any of this truly essential to my life?  Does knowing where my family came from hundreds of years ago tell me something critical about who I am now, in 2018?  Does it affect me as I go about my day?  Those are tough questions to ask, and I’m certain we could all create arguments for either side.

After thinking this through as many angles as possible, I find myself in the camp that heritage does matter … however with the disclaimer, “up to a point”.  This realization was actually surprising.  When I started this blog post, I originally figured I would say that DNA searches and delving into your ancestry were entertaining and had some value, but essentially it was all just parlor games.

But that didn’t happen and it wasn’t my conclusion.

I love the quote by Carl Jung: “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”

I think Jung is correct and that we all need to take responsibility for our present and future.  We also shouldn’t let the past solely define us.  If you have character flaws to improve, take them seriously and work on them.  Throwing your hands up without making any effort to fix yourself because “you and your family have always acted that way”, is a lame excuse.

That being said, we’re doing ourselves a great disservice if we forget and ignore our past.  I look no further than my own backyard as proof.  In Hawaii, the culture has a deep respect for not only their living elders, but for all their ancestors who have passed generations long ago.  And this manifests itself in an immensely strong sense of community, which is one of my favorite things about living here.  People care about not only their own backyard, but for all the islands.

That doesn’t happen without knowing who your family was, and where you came from.

So I’ll end this post with circling back on the name change for the relaunch of my blog.  It went from “Under Diamond Head”, which is very specific to Hawaii, to “Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys”, which references an old Polish Proverb.  I live in Hawaii and I’ve never been to Poland, but I’d like this blog to find a middle ground.

I intend to explore all the cultural and family influences from the towns my ancestors grew up in to the one I live in now.  Thank you for reading, and I hope you’ll join me in the ride as I publish more blog posts.

Something Just Like This

This is something like a Superhero Origin Story.  But without Spiderman or Batman or insert any of your DC or Marvel favorites.  Like Chris Martin said, you won’t see Camden Swanson (the main character of my novel  Lost in the Fog) on that list.

The story I’m about to tell might be inspiring to some, or a cautionary tale of procrastination to others.  I guess it all depends on perspective, and I’ll let you be the judge. This is the long, strange journey of how I came to write my new novel Lost in the Fog.

Back in 2003, after six years of trying to sell my screenplays in Los Angeles, failure had gotten the best of me.  I was frayed, discouraged, and I needed a sabbatical from my life.  I had just published A Model Community, my first novel, which was both exciting (it was pure joy to hold my book in my hands) and disappointing (I wanted it to be my big break, but that never happened).

It wasn’t a fiscally responsible decision, but for my overall health I knew it had to be done.  I quit my job, took a crazy and circuitous 5,000 mile solo trip across the country (that’s a story for another time), and spent five months back in my hometown of Lynn with my family and friends.

I eventually returned to LA in November of 2003, but with a bank account several notches below barren.  I needed a job, and I was open to anything short of pornography or fast food.  But despite having a B.S. in Journalism and a Master’s in Film & Television, nobody would hire me.  Monster.com, headhunters, temp agencies, and sending applications all-around town yielded nothing.

Six weeks into the search I finally got a call back.

It was for the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena.  The Gallery Attendant position paid just slightly over minimum wage, and I would be required to wear a tacky blazer and a striped tie and stand for hours and hours at a time.  I happily accepted.

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At the Norton Simon Museum the workforce consisted mainly of retirees and art students, and I was neither.  We weren’t the official security of the place (there was an actual team of trained officers), and instead were called gallery attendants.  Our essential job function was to stand innocuously in a corner and make sure nobody touched the art or leaned on a wall.

After my first shift of standing in several corners throughout the building without talking to one person, I was ready to quit.  My back and shoulders ached, my mind was numb.  I’d been a bartender for years and had no problem being on my feet or enduring the physical requirements of the job, but it was the lack of movement and interaction with people that was daunting.

But I needed the paycheck, so I stayed.

After a few weeks I got used to being a gallery attendant, and it soon became my new normal.  I even began to enjoy my job.  After years of frantically running around behind a bar at warp speed, I saw great value in this meditative calm.

I also began my informal education of art history, and every day I made a point of learning about the various pieces in the museum.  At the end of our shifts they even let us take the audio guides when it was slow, and this was better than any class I took in college.  My stint at the Norton Simon put me on a path of dedicated fine art education that continues today.

Then there was my little black marble notebook.

Back then I used to carry around this 4 ½ by 3 ¼ inch journal, which I used to scribble down whatever crazy thought cascaded into my mind.  In 2004 there were lots of them.  At the bar or on the train or even at home when I couldn’t sleep, I would take it out and write.   I also kept the notebook in my pocket while I stood inert in the galleries at the Norton Simon, and used it whenever I found myself alone.

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On the first day when I wrote in the journal while on the clock, I figured (since there were cameras everywhere) I would be told to stop.  I’d only been working there a few weeks, and if confronted, I was planning to feign ignorance.  I had never been shown a rule that said you could not record your bizarre musings in a 4 ½ by 3 ¼ inch journal.  But none of the managers at the museum said anything, and with this tacit approval I wrote every shift in that small black book in empty galleries.

Sometimes it was about the Norton Simon paintings and sculptures, but often there were strange forces working inside my head that told me to scribble down nonsense poetry.  While I always believed in my ability to write journalism, fiction, and screenplays, I had never aspired to be the next Dylan Thomas, Langston Hughes, or Emily Dickinson.  But while standing there in my Buddha-like trance in an empty gallery surrounded by Botticelli’s, Reuben’s, Van Gough’s, and Matisse’s, I was compelled to write these insane poems.

Here is one from April 2004 that I wrote during a shift:

It’s all in the medulla oblongata, she claims

If you wanted radioactive jelly you should have asked/

Don’t cost nothing

These searing head plays/

Keep licking the toads

Cause she plays checkers for breakfast

No, I was not drinking or smoking anything funny or had suffered a head trauma that day.  These were the kind of bizarre thoughts that would pinball around my brain in an empty room full of priceless art treasures.  And yes, since I’m sure you’re asking, I did wonder if I was beginning to crack-up.

And then one day a thought arrived that wasn’t a kooky poem.  It was a fragment of a premise for a mystery novel, one involving an art heist. I quickly took out my tiny little black marble notebook.

The idea for Lost in the Fog came to me while standing post in the Renaissance Room while looking at a Botticelli.  It was a painting called “Madonna and Child with Adoring Angel”, and while I’d studied the picture many times before, something that day ignited a creative spark.   The museum was about to close and it was so quiet and calm.  The opposite of that would be yelling and violence, and my mind conjured up a group of thieves busting in and trying to steal this Botticelli.

I immediately knew this could make a good story.

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I still find it hard to believe it all began back in 2004.

That year and the next (when I left LA and moved to San Francisco) I wrote about 150 pages of Lost in the Fog.  But I soon got very busy with my new career (human resources for a large hotel in Union Square), and abandoned the novel.  It was four years later in 2008 I picked it up again, and I set a goal of writing five hours every Saturday and Sunday.  I stuck to this and had a first draft completed by Labor Day.

After reading through the manuscript upon completion, I knew, like Hemingway said of first drafts, it was shit.   But I loved Camden and Veronica (the main characters), and I believed had something special with the story.  The plan, back in 2008, was to let it sit for a few months and then come back with fresh eyes and rewrite it.

In January of 2009 I started working for a new company, and next thing I knew it was September (a whole year after I finished the first draft).   I had done absolutely nothing with Lost in the Fog.  And then it was 2010, and I got a promotion and then another in a short amount of time.

Lost in the Fog never left my mind, and being a professional writer was still my dream, but with my new successful career at the hotel I abandoned it.  I just could not muster the energy after work or even on the weekends to begin the massive rewrite the novel needed.  As much as I loved my job and the people I worked with, my creativity began to fade in proportion to my success in the hospitality industry.

Flash forward to 2012 and I ask my company for a quasi-sabbatical to rewrite Lost in the Fog.  They gratefully grant this request.  I begin doing contract work for them at various hotels around the country, but in-between my assignments I’m allowed weeks of free time to work on my novel.  This makes me very happy.  That year I revised Lost in the Fog half a dozen times, and in October I had a draft to send off to agents and publishers.

Then in November 2012, my company sent me to Honolulu, Hawaii.

My temporary assignment was to spend a month to help transition our new 839 room hotel in Waikiki.  I figured I would go and do my job, enjoy the island in my free time, and return to San Francisco to devote myself to getting Lost in the Fog published.  It seemed like a great idea.

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Woody Allen once said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans”.

The temp gig at the hotel became permanent, and while it was not part of my plans, I am extremely grateful I stayed here.  Hawaii could be the best place I’ve ever lived, and the people I work with are all amazing.  I feel so lucky to have a job that I enjoy doing, and to be at a place where I feel like I can make a positive impact on people’s lives.

But I was never been able to forgive myself for abandoning Lost in the Fog.

Whenever I thought of my novel, which was often, it caused deep feelings of regret.  While I had certainly been consumed with work, there was no excuse I had done nothing with Lost in the Fog after settling in Honolulu.  No excuse at all.

The calendar flipped to 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016, and I still had done zilch to sell the book I had started in 2003.   Through the years I had probably sent out a total of 10 query letters to agents, where the advice is to do hundreds if you want a chance to garner any interest from agents or publishers.  Out of the only 10 I sent, not surprisingly, I received a perfect percentage of thanks, but no thanks.

Rejection stings, whether it’s in your career ambitions, someone you want to be your significant other, or your art.   It was all I ever got with my screenplays in Los Angeles.  Any psychiatrist will tell you I didn’t put Lost in the Fog out into the world because I feared it would receive the same fate.  I self-diagnosed this phobia many years ago, but I could still do nothing to fix it.

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And then three months ago my great friend Todd told me about the publishing house called Inkshares.

A middle ground between self and traditional publishing, they seemed a perfect place for me to publish Lost in the Fog.  And the fact that Inkshares has a collaboration with United Talent Agency (UTA), one of the top agencies in LA, made it even more intriguing.  All I needed was to get 250 pre-orders of my novel.

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Thanks to all of you, I have accomplished that goal.  But as amazing as that is, I still have a bigger goal to attain.  250 pre-orders will get you published and your book is available to purchase online, but with no marketing/promotion and just basic editing by Inkshares.  But if I can get 750 pre-orders or be one of the winners of their annual Launch Pad Contest, I will receive full publishing/marketing/promotion and Lost in the Fog would be sold in bookstores.

The Top 3 in unique pre-sales are automatic winners, and I’m currently in second place in the annual Inkshares Launchpad Contest.

Contest Leaderboard 7.16.17

The contest goes until November, so there’s still a long way to go.  I would be so thrilled to be one of the winners, and for Lost in the Fog to be sold in bookstores around the country.  It has been my ultimate dream for as long as I can remember.

For those who have already pre-ordered Lost in the Fog, I have immense gratitude for you.  For those who are thinking about getting a copy, I would be so grateful if you did.  It’s only $10 for a Kindle/Nook/Apple copy, and only $20 for a printed one. You can pre-order Lost in the Fog here:

https://www.inkshares.com/books/lost-in-the-fog

While the road to publish Lost in the Fog has been a meandering thirteen year trip, it’s one I’m glad I was able to take.  You can view my story as something that compels you to accomplish your goals as soon as possible, or else a comforting one that rewards patience and perseverance.

It’s all up to you.

Lost in the Fog Book Trailer

Hi All,

I’m very excited to share with you the trailer for my new novel “Lost in the Fog”.  Thus far I’ve received 226 pre-orders of my book, and I only need 24 more to fulfill my obligation with Inkshares to receive publication.

It’s impossible to describe how grateful I am for all the support I’ve received, but I will say thank you, merci, and mahalo!

I would be so appreciative if you can help push me over the top to the goal of 250 pre-orders.  “Lost in the Fog” is set in San Francisco and is funny, dramatic, and will keep you turning pages to figure out the mystery of who stole the rare Matisse sculptures and why!  The link is here and I hope you enjoy the trailer.  Thanks!

https://www.inkshares.com/books/lost-in-the-fog

The Case for La La Land

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La La Land won seven Golden Globes, the most ever by a single film in history.  It also garnered fourteen Oscar nominations, tying the record for that, and won six.  It was my favorite film of 2016.

Because of all those factors, and others I’ll explain later, I had to take a second, more critical look at La La Land.  Many of my favorites have been nominated for Best Picture, but the only one I saw in the theater that ever won was The Hurt Locker.  That made me think…had I just been charmed by La La Land or was it really that good?

After my second viewing tonight, I actually loved it even more.  La La Land is really that good. The montage that ends the film is pure magic, and overall I can truly say it represents everything that is great about the movies.

After watching it on Blu-ray tonight, it also got me thinking why the film, which was originally praised by critics and audiences,  received an inordinate amount of nasty backlash just before the Oscars.  One of the biggest disses was an article that appeared in USA Today called “The Case Against La La Land”.  I will always have complete respect for everyone’s opinion (and know that dissent is not only healthy but important), but I think the person who wrote the piece just didn’t get the film.

Unfortunately that article was just the beginning…there were others that mushroomed up just before the Oscars, which led to the surprising defeat of La La Land for Best Picture.

I’m all for varying opinions, especially when everyone is fawning over a film, and it’s always a good idea to take a second, more critical look.  If it’s deserving, someone should take a few whacks at it.  We should routinely question why the public have anointed anything “great”.

One of the arguments against La La Land, which I’d seen in a few articles, was that the main characters are thinly drawn.  At their core, Sebastian and Mia have real, tangible goals that they are passionate about achieving.  In drama, if you can make an audience believe that and also get them to root for their success, you have real, three dimensional characters.

You also don’t have to shove exposition and backstory about down the audience’s throat to make characters real.  I’m on the Hemingway side that its actually the opposite . . . if you tell the story right and true, you can leave many things out and it will make it stronger (the “Iceberg Theory”). The goal should always be (no matter how you go about it) to get a viewer to connect emotionally with a character.  If that’s accomplished then the writer, director, and actors (and everyone else who worked on the film) have done something special.  And Mr. Chazelle, Mrs. Stone, and Mr. Gosling did something special.

I also completely disagree with the argument that many of the songs are “lackluster and dull” (quoting that USA Today article).  I bought the soundtrack on iTunes the night I saw La La Land and the lyrics and music are excellent (“City of Stars” is something Cole Porter might have wrote back in the day).  I still listen to it.

Maybe the majority of today’s audiences just can’t grasp musicals.  Granted, it’s quite odd to see people just randomly break into song and dance.  Or even if you can accept musicals for what they are in theory, a lot of people don’t know how to properly critique them because they don’t have the necessary knowledge/history of the genre to do so.

For whatever reason I have always loved musicals (Singing in the RainAn American in Paris, and Guys & Dolls are three of my favorite movies).  That being said, the first time I saw La La Land, as I was watching the first two numbers (“Another Day of Sun” and “Someone in the Crowd”) I was thinking “This is a bit weird” . . . here’s  a musical and I don’t know the songs.  That gut reaction is because we’re so used to singing along with musicals that have been around for a long time.

La La Land is completely new, and has original songs.  Most people who come to thefilm have never heard any of the music.  Would critics have preferred the scenes to have been scored with songs from “Grease” or “Hairspray” or “My Fair Lady”?  I certainly wouldn’t.

I haven’t seen Moonlight yet (I really want to), and it very well may be the better film.  But . . . and this is a big question to ask . . . why does Moonlight’s story rate higher on the importance scale than La La Land?   Yes, it certainly seems more dramatic and intense, but should that matter?  To me film transcends race, color, creed, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, and all other categories you can name.

I think Richard Linklater (through the character Jessie) said it best in Before Sunset:

“So when I look at my own life, you know, I have to admit, right, that I’ve-I’ve never been around a bunch of guns or violence, you know, not really. No political intrigue or a helicopter crashes. But my life, from my own point of view, has been full of drama. And I thought, if I could write a book that, that could capture what it’s like to, to really meet somebody, I mean, one of the most exciting things that’s ever happened to me is to meet somebody, to make that connection. And if I could make that valuable, you know, to capture that, that would be the attempt.”

With movies (in my opinion), the goal isn’t to judge which character had it “harder” in life . . . in the La La Land vs Moonlight comparison of course it would be the latter.  We should be examining drama, plot, characters, emotional connection, how it makes us feel . . .  the heart of filmmaking.  Yes, the stakes need to be high in order for a movie to be considered “Important”, but love and pursuing your dreams and passion and giving your all to whatever makes you feel alive, will always be some of the most important stories we can tell.

Either I was smiling at the magical dancing/singing/music/cinematography of La La Land, or I was astounded at how good the performances were, or I was hit with a dizzying nostalgia at my own days of trying to succeed in Hollywood.  The film is extremely entertaining, but more importantly the subtext is rich and it has a lot to say about dreams, ambition, and the choices we make in life.  It also isn’t spoon-feeding you a “message” . . . the film wants you to make your own opinions and thoughts about the price you pay for following your dreams.

If you haven’t seen La La Land, I highly recommend you check it out.