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What I’ve been up to

Sorry, it’s been too long since I’ve posted. Been consumed with pre-production and crowdfunding for The Green Bench. Here’s our video on why we care. Huge thanks to the family members willing to talk on camera as well as Sharon Dunas, former head of NAMI Westside and Dr. Stephen Marder, a psychiatrist who specializes in schizophrenia.

Please watch, share, donate. Thank you. All of us working on the film are passionate about reducing the stigma of mental illness.

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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The Green Bench Film

The Green BenchI wouldn’t write the flash fiction the same way today.

A few years ago, The Green Bench was one of those rare writing events that arrived whole. Adapted into a short film, it’s a different story. The first draft I wrote was a literal adaptation – too one note, too depressing. The blessing and (if you’re not with the right people, the curse) of screenwriting is that it’s a collaborative process. Fortunately, I’m with the right people and they’ve been invaluable in shaping the film. If you’d told me even 6 months ago, I’d be writing, producing and acting in my own short film…well, beware of being coached by Craig Archibald. You may find yourself stretching into new territory.

For the short, I did more research and we had the great, good fortune to connect with Dr. Stephen Marder, an expert in schizophrenia (you’ll see him in our promo reel, coming soon). As a result, my language is changing. For example, like most of us, I don’t say “diabetics” or “arthritics” when referring to people with those diseases, so I’ve started paying attention to not using “schizophrenics” or ‘bipolars” etc. to categorize people either. Am taking far more notice in the script of the illness as it most often presents itself and not what we see on the streets – that’s a tiny percentage of the most severely ill. Despite what many movies and TV shows depict, visual hallucinations are rare. Most people with mental illness can function and many do very well. There are many high functioning CEOs, physicians, attorneys and so on with schizophrenia and other illnesses. But the stigma keeps the success stories in the shadows and this time around, I paid far more attention to the stigma and humanizing the person with the illness. Because it is an illness and should be regarded in the same way as diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis or other physical illnesses. Thanks to the collaborative process, the film version takes the audience along with the main character through the onset of her son’s symptoms.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still proud of the flash fiction and it was loosely inspired by a real-life incident I’d heard of some years back, but for film, especially with its additional visual impact, I like the step back to the beginning, to the onset, to hope, to empathy.

We start crowdfunding soon on IndieGoGo for a shoot early next year, intending to go to the festival circuit. I want you to contribute to our budget (and you can be sure I will let you know our launch date!) We need to do everything we can to diminish the stigma and let families know that others share their journey.

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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the gravity of values and time

interstellar

Opens wide Nov 7

Last night, I was very fortunate to attend the SAG-AFTRA screening of INTERSTELLAR at the IMAX Chinese Theater. Don’t worry – absolutely no spoilers here. If you like Chris Nolan’s work, you’ll enjoy the movie.

One note: there was a Q&A after with Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain. McConaughey told us they did not use green screen – Nolan had sets built, which is pretty astonishing looking back on the movie. I think the entire audience assumed it was green screen. It is definitely worth seeing in IMAX.

My big takeaway? Chris Nolan has respect for his audience. He doesn’t preach, he doesn’t condescend – he trusts the intelligence of the audience. I love that in any artist. He presents multiple viewpoints with clarity.

I’ve been considered this in light of the differences between film and television. The time constraints are very different – the actors in Interstellar had months to work on their characters. Chris and Jonathan Nolan did not need to turn the script out in days or weeks, but Jonathan Nolan does have those constraints on Person of Interest. Perhaps this is more about considering time in a new way – it is important when you as an artist explore other viewpoint with intellectual and emotional honesty. That’s missing in a number of shows on network television and in some movies, both in drama and comedy.

A small example: in comedy, funny and sad go together, but if there is a persistent undercurrent of bitterness – not a bitter character, but infused in the work, it wears on the audience. It’s not where most people want to stay. Is this another way of saying play to your audience? No. Just respect them and layer your work.

mcconaughey

seriously, how could I not include a picture of this man?

What do I mean about considering time in a new way? Take time out to explore your own value system. Seriously. Get away from your normal routine. Go on retreat. Shake things up. Know your values and take a serious look at a few other systems, especially ones that you are genuinely unfamiliar with or for which you have strong negative feelings. Once you are clear and have enough information to refrain from proselytizing, your work will be deeper and richer – we all know when an artist has respect for us. You may not hit it every time, but if your intention respects us, we love you for it.

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Dignity of the person and the character of characters

droughtThere’s been a lot of bad news this summer. Drought, unrest, domestic violence, hacking the Cloud, hacking off heads… in the 21st century. We’d hoped we would be better by now.

One of the most important things the arts can do is allow us into another person’s world. Of course, if you set out to do that, you probably won’t achieve much of anything beyond preaching to those who already agree with you. But if you’re willing to allow it to unfold as part of the process, magical things can happen.

Some are calling the leaking of nude photos of celebrities sexual assault – no – sexual assault is sexual assault. What is closer to the mark is a disregard for the dignity of another human being. Intentional humiliation is attempted murder of the soul.

Disregard for the dignity of another human being. How do the characters you create feel about that

Michael Redgrave in The Browning Version

Michael Redgrave in The Browning Version

phrase?

At their best, stories help us understand each other and ourselves. If you can tell one honestly, passionately, through writing or acting, you will affect others. Watch the actors who allow their vulnerability to shine through; think of the books that stayed with you. What was it that resonated? If you are willing to dive into your unconscious, if you have courage, if you are willing to be still and let us see, you can give that gift. Michael Redgrave shows us the secret part of himself – he allows us to see his vulnerability – and a quiet performance becomes powerful and deep.

What do you know that is yours? That thing you’re fighting. Your success. Your failure. What do you feel deeply about? Why? If you allow the real you, with all the fears and insecurities and secrets to shine through, we will love you for it. And you will make our load just a little easier to bear.

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Remembering 9/11: part of Project 2,996

Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Tower, a must-read, just came out with this in The New Yorker 

My annual repost and part of Project 2996:

Robert Halligan Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on November 15, 2001.

Robert  John Halligan
Robert Halligan, Age: 59
Residence: Basking Ridge, NJ
Two WTC, 99th Floor
Aon Corporation, Vice President

SHOPPING ACROSS THE POND

To a proud Englishman, America is a country of vexing insufficiencies. Its supermarkets know not of H.P. (House of Parliament) sauce and tins of steak and kidney pie. Marmite, sadly, remains a mystery.

Several times a year, London-born Robert Halligan, 59, a vice president at Aon, an insurance brokerage firm, would cross the pond to stock up on such indelicacies. He would cheer on his beloved Tottenham Hotspurs, visit his sprawling family, including five adult children, and drop by a specialty shop to add to the locomotive steam engine models he had been collecting since his trainspotting boyhood. Every weekend he brought the old country to his wife, Jerrie, and their son, Trevor, in Basking Ridge, N.J., by cooking a lard-loving British breakfast (sloppy bacon, fried bread, eggs splashed with grease) and Sunday lunch (roast, two vegetables, potatoes, Yorkshire pudding).

Yet for someone who clung to his British identity, Mr. Halligan flourished in America, where he moved with Jerri, his American wife. He gardened here, played golf and danced beautifully. He was a kind, solicitous grandfather of 10 with a knack for joke- telling. And here he celebrated the holiday he loved even more than Christmas: as a citizen of two countries, Robert Halligan adored Thanksgiving.

***

raja.ehtesham
Ehtesham Raja, Age: 28
Place of Residence: Clifton , NJ
TCG Software
WTC

Ehtesham U. Raja of Clifton, NJ was 28 years old when he died in the World Trade Center. He’d gone there for a conference and was in Windows on the World. He was a 1996 graduate of The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia. He had his MBA from Goizueta Business School at Emory. His nickname: Shamu, from his friends in Pakistan.

His parents, Raja Aftab Saeed and Begum Asmat Fatima, donated the land for the Arifwala Hospital, a 40-bed facility, fully equipped with diagnostic and curative services, inaugurated on January 19th, 2009. The hospital is dedicated to their son, Raja Ehtesham Ullah, who lost his life on 9/11. All medical equipment was funded by LRBT America. We have also pledged to fund the hospital’s annual operating budget. (note: the hospital is in Pakistan and fights blindness)

From the Emory Goizueta Memorial site (Ehtesham Raja ’98MBA):

“He was a very kind, caring, compassionate, loving, and intelligent person,” says his mother, Asmat Fatima. “He was respected and admired by those who knew him. His talent and sense of humor made him standout in any crowd. But it was his loving and caring attitude that always made me proud.”

Raja, born in Lahore, Pakistan, worked for TCG Software in Bloomfield, N.J. After graduating with a bachelor of science in industrial engineering from Columbia University in New York City, he worked as a security engineer at Citibank on Wall Street, then, according to his Goizueta Business School application, he returned to Pakistan to work for Citibank Lahore, take the GMAT, and apply to business school.

“He was in the best years of his life,” says Fatima. “Everything seems to be going in his favour. After years of dedication and hard work he finally achieved this status. He had all the plans to pursue his career in finance. He was full of hope for his future.”

Raja also enjoyed sports. He was a swimmer and played cricket, squash, soccer, tennis, and polo while at Columbia.

A memorial service was arranged by TCG Software. “They were proud to have him working for them,” his mother says.

“It is still very hard to believe that he is missing and lost forever,” she continues. “I have to be emotionally strong as Ehtesham has a younger brother, who is at a very impressionable age.

“[Ehtesham] knew life and lived life. His time was limited but in that time he touched so many people. . . . May peace be with him now and forever. He will stay in our hearts and memories forever.”

UPDATE from a family member: “His father was one of the best pilots in Pakistan, he died in a plane crash (somewhere in the Himalayas), his wife had to bare with not only being a single parent, but also she had to bury his medals since there was nothing of him to bury…” and then her son on 9/11. Blessings to his family and may his mother find some peace and comfort in this world.

***
Rest in peace, Mr. Halligan and Mr. Raja.Never Forget.

world trade center bombing

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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when the demons win…

Robin WilliamsA lot has already been written about Robin Williams. His exuberant talent and kindness – our grief and shock. And about our misperceptions about depression and suicide.

When I was in grad school, Marcos McPeek Villatoro gave an amazing lecture on mental illness and creativity that I wish had been recorded. He’s talked about his own diagnosis on NPR. The room filled and soon overflowed and that was the moment I discovered that most of the people around me either had a mental illness or a family member with it. Quiet, hard-working creative people coping with various storms in their brains or those of a parent, sibling, child, or partner. My mother suffered from depression and, while I was a teenager, Valium addiction. I grew up with her threats of suicide, was the one who attended the family support group at the “pain center” (back then, a euphemism for rehab) that my father would not. When my then-boyfriend’s mother asked how she was, he later chastised my honesty in answering her, for drifting away from euphemisms and mentioning Valium addiction. Shame is the real killer. My grad school mentor, Rob Roberge, has written a brilliant essay on that subject.

We owe much of the arts and sciences to the mentally ill. Sir Isaac Newton was bipolar and one of the most influential scientists ever in the fields of physics, math and philosophy and yet said of himself: “I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

It’s not news that people write stupid things in social media. “How could Robin Williams be sad with all that money and fame?” We need to be better than that. “I can’t imagine the pain…” Well, lucky you, but you have no excuse. William Styron and others have written about it. And please stop with the gloved blame – would you blame someone who had a stroke or heart attack? Just as either of those are not entirely a matter of diet and exercise (see Jim Fixx), Williams’ (apparent) suicide was not entirely an act of will – this was a storm of brain chemistry. This was not sadness, but an abyss. Williams stated repeatedly that he battled his demons in large part for the sake of his children. He fought for decades while maintaining a career in the public eye AND being uncommonly kind. He left us some 35 years of performances of astonishing range and did it with grace, courtesy, and humility. He treated people very well, no matter who they were. That is a rare and beautiful thing. He encouraged actors, comedians and improvisers – including friends of mine. He showed up at hospitals to visit patients without publicity. He entertained the troops in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. And he could have said the very same words as Newton, that he was just playing at the shore, but we know they both plumbed the depths in their own very different ways. Very different!

Robin-Williams-Good-Will-Hunting.2

as Dr. Sean Maguire

Creativity is often accompanied by some form of mental illness. There are valiant battles waged daily that we never hear about. Robin Williams’ ultimate gift, the reason he was so loved, is that he was willing to share the struggle, his vulnerability, his humanity. Watch Good Will Hunting again and look in his eyes – that’s not only the pain of a character who’s lost his wife. He let his own pain shine through and touch us.

If you struggle with depression, with a mental illness, with an addiction, please seek help. Know you are not alone. Know also that we value you and your creativity. We know it comes at a cost. And let’s do better by those who wander our streets – that should not be part of a compassionate society. There is enough challenge in treating and living with these illnesses without fighting shame as well. Fighting demons is hard enough. And sometimes, God help us all, they win.

I like this clip because it not only shows his talent, but his regard for the troops and at the very end, his kindness

 

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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a brief pause…

Thanks for your patience – been busy writing a eulogy for my brother (it was a great memorial celebration) and so on. Life should calm down and will be back with a new post soon. In the meantime, enjoy a graphic with the daily routines of creative people:

https://podio.com/site/creative-routines

Willful_IgnoranceCover2

And the last 2 days of July, you can set your own price for my novel, WILLFUL IGNORANCE

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

 
 
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