Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Manzanar orphans

Why were there orphans at an internment camp? It seems absurd, but like all Japanese-Americans living on the west coast during WWII, they were considered a threat to national security.

Tonight was a non-writing night, so I spent it reading about the orphanage at Manzanar and looking at photos with tears streaming down my face while my poor wife kept coming over to tell me to stop looking at depressing photos.

There are multiple layers of tragedy here, but there's also love and joy and hope if you look closely enough. There are always good humans who find ways to help one another when the world takes a dark turn. I think what they surely meant to the lives of these kids who were dealt such a crappy hand at birth. I think how much better the world is because of them. Love really does trickle forward, bit by bit by bit. 

Saturday, March 28, 2020

We'll get through this

I'm sitting cross-legged in my big leather club chair, which is the best chair in the apartment for writing. I'm trying to finish my fifth manuscript in five weeks by tomorrow night. All five are Dr. Seuss-themed, and all five are scheduled for publication next year, so we're on a deadline.

Four of them, including this one, feature the Lorax. This one is about the joys and benefits of planting a tree, for early readers. The other four are about volcanoes, gardens, beaches, and oceans.

Jo is next to me in our antique rocking chair, watching the latest news about the coronavirus.

Whiskey, the bad cocker spaniel, is at Jo's feet, chewing on a bone. Bailey, the good cocker spaniel, is sleeping peacefully on the sofa.

Ethan is home from college for the rest of the semester. He just poked his head out of his bedroom to wonder aloud whether Socrates actually believed that Greek gods were real.

Sam is also home from college, but is now with her mom in New Jersey; she'll stay there until this is over.

We're not freaking out. But it's stressful in a below-the-surface kind of way. I believe we'll survive the virus, but I worry about staying employed, I worry about the freelancers we've had to cut, I worry about all the shops and restaurants on Amsterdam that may or may not reopen when this goes away. I worry about my parents. I worry about Jo, and Sam, and Ethan.

We will plant a new tree.
We will have lots of fun!
In fact, we may even
plant more trees than one!

I need a word that rhymes with habitat. "Where it's at"?

It's comforting to be sitting in my big leather chair, escaping into Seussian rhymes, surrounded by people and dogs that I love.

Monday, March 2, 2020

I will catch you up

It's Dr. Seuss's birthday. But I'll get to that in a minute.

First, I have a new job. That is good. It's a promising start-up with great people. I spent much of 2019 not having a job, which was also good--until around November, at which point paying the mortgage took precedence over the writing of my novel. I'll finish it in 2020, I promise.

Here I am projecting startup culture:

Second, Jo and I are enjoying watching the Iowa Hawkeyes have a great wrestling season. Or I should say I'm enjoying having a great wife. 

And yes, we do get out of the house occasionally...

Last but not least, I'm writing some books for Dr. Seuss. I'll elaborate as soon as I have some physical proof. In the meantime, here's to employment, go Hawks, love and kisses to my bride, and happy birthday, Dr. Seuss.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Who I wanted to be

I wanted to be Jim Henson. I admired his creativity, his silliness, and how he leveraged those into television shows that touched millions of people. 

I wanted to be Woody Allen. I admired the fact that he wrote, directed, and starred in a new movie every year. I liked his self-deprecating, absurdist humor. I liked that his movies were small and personal and about human relationships rather than gun battles, UFOs, and explosions.

I wanted to be Steven Spielberg. I admired the fact that he directed BIG movies, often with gun battles, UFOs, and explosions--but always ultimately about human beings.

I wanted to be Chevy Chase. I admired the fact that he was a TV comedy writer, and a performer, and--at least in those first seasons of SNL--he embodied coolness.

I wanted to be Dr. Seuss--albeit a younger version, with cooler glasses and a T-shirt instead of a bow tie. I loved how he could rhyme and draw in a style like no one else. The Sneetches and Other Stories was my favorite book as a kid.

What happened between then and now goes something like this:

I went to NYU film school. I was an intern for Late Night With David Letterman. I worked as a production assistant for The Dick Cavett Show and Lifetime Network.

But being a production assistant sucked. It wasn't like being Steven Spielberg. It was answering phones, hauling props--the antithesis of creative fulfillment.

At age 24 I made myself a deal. I'd work a few extra years at the end of my life, when I was too old to do anything fun. In the meantime I'd move to Iowa to train with Dan Gable and the Iowa Wrestling team. I'd run and wrestle and sweat and lose and win and celebrate with teammates and tube down the Iowa River and kiss pretty girls. And I'd keep doing it until I placed at the national freestyle wrestling championships.

It was crazy, but it worked. I'm so glad I did it.

During my final year at Iowa, at 28, I applied to grad school at Yale. I figured I ought to at least try, because if I actually got in, how cool would that be?

I graduated from Yale at 30. I had loans to repay, and I couldn't be a production assistant again even if I'd wanted to. No regrets.

I got a job as a research manager at A+E Networks and helped launch The History Channel. It was interesting, but I felt nothing like Woody Allen. Does anyone really grow up wanting to be Sumner Redstone?

Digital media seemed like a good way to claw back some creativity in my life, and I sensed it was the future. So I left network television to go to a digital start-up. It failed.

I went to other media companies, other start-ups. All have been interesting. Most have paid the bills. None have made me feel like Steven Spielberg.

But I continued to write, and when I became a father, my interest turned back to people like Jim Henson and Dr. Seuss.

I wrote a children's manuscript. I shopped it around. And around. And around. An editor said, "Do you have anything else?" I wrote something else. The editor liked it. It became a book. I got an agent. I wrote more manuscripts. More became books. 

I have seven books now. #8 is coming in a few months. #9, #10, and #11 are coming in 2021, and all three are Dr. Seuss-branded. That's about the coolest thing that's ever happened to me, aside from the love of the humans in my life.

Anyone who is completely happy with their life probably isn't trying hard enough. Very few people actually become princesses, or superheroes, or famous writers or directors. Frankly, I haven't met a lot of people who still say they want to be Chevy Chase, let alone Woody Allen. 

At the end of the day, the thing I'm most proud of is being a husband and a father. I never thought too much about those things growing up. But life is short, and so much of it is veneer, and if you don't focus on the truly important things you're going to find yourself old and alone, and you've really missed the essence of what being a human being is all about.

But beyond that, I'm proud of being a children's author. Even if I never get rich doing it (hint: unlikely), I feel like I clawed and clawed and clawed my way back to something I envisioned for myself in my youth, which is being paid to be creative. And I don't mean creative like being a copywriter for Marlboro. I mean creative like I write something, and it's published, and it has my name on the cover.

I feel a secret glee every day knowing that I write children's books. I feel kinda like Dr. Seuss and I both go to the same dry cleaners.

Monday, January 20, 2020


We just dropped off Sam for her final semester of college. 

Love is the most important thing you will ever do. It’s more important than where you work, how much money you make, or what you accomplish.

Love is about what you’ve given to others to make their own lives happier and more meaningful. Just like your parents did for you, and your grandparents did for them.

The fundamental need we all have, beyond food and shelter, is love. It’s the fuel that sustains us through difficult times.

We should spend time every day thinking about the people who have loved us the most. Then we should spend even more time every day trying to be a person who has loved someone else the most.

That has always been my goal with Sam and Ethan. Now it is also my goal with Jo.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Naughty Ninja launch party

We had a launch party over the weekend at Books of Wonder on the Upper West Side. My editor, Kelsey Skea, was there, plus several friends and neighbors. Books of Wonder was great in setting up and promoting the event. 

And of course, Jo is the greatest--she even wore her pearls :)

Some pics:

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Starting a new decade

2010 was a long time ago. Which bodes well, because with time rushing by so quickly these days, I need to feel that 2030 is a long ways off.

In the past ten years I had seven children's books published, with four more in the pipeline. That would've amazed me to know that ten years ago. I would've thought, "Wow, I must be so rich now."

I married a wonderful woman who gave me a second chance at life and love. That would've confused the hell out of me to know that ten years ago. But I feel very blessed, given the range of alternative ways things could've gone. It was touch-and-go there for a while. I will never take love for granted.

I watched my two wonderful kids blossom into young adults. That would've made me feel very proud to know that ten years ago--and also make me breathe a sigh of relief. You just want them to turn out okay. You don't want to feel like you screwed them up too badly. Check.

I have mixed feelings about my media career over the past ten years. I could've done a better job at that. I could've risen higher, made more money, found more career satisfaction. Somewhere along the way--in fact, probably about ten years ago--it morphed from being a core part of my identity to just the way I pay the bills. 

That's probably fine, other than having an embarrassingly poor retirement portfolio. Many of my job experiences over the past ten years make for fun cocktail party conversation ("Did I ever tell you about the time I worked for the crazy Cayman hedge-fund guy?" "Did I ever tell you about the time I ran"). 

But I never had the urge to run into the streets and whoop about it. I often have that urge as a children's author. And a husband. And a dad.

Finally, I should disclose that my running pace has declined markedly over the past decade. And my feet hurt when I stand up and try to answer the doorbell. But I'm not trying to make the Olympic team, so no complaints.

Given all the possible outcomes over the past ten years, I'm happy enough with this particular version of the space-time continuum. 

So bring on the '20s!