Sunday, January 25, 2009

Thick and Thin

A few years ago, I went through a huge personal crisis. I won't bore you with the details, but the resulting stress left me with a knot in my stomach the size of a baseball. When I tried to eat, I found that after a few bites I felt ridiculously full. In an effort to deal with all the anxiety I was experiencing, I began hitting the gym seven days a week. Once there, I worked out like a madman. Distracted by the complete collapse of my life, I barely noticed that I was rapidly losing weight. Within a few short weeks, 15 pounds had fallen off my already slender frame. My neighbors, friends and family members immediately expressed alarm. Was I okay? Could they do anything for me? Didn’t I think I should see a doctor? My show business acquaintances, however, only wanted to know one thing: How had I done it?

Somewhere along the line, being thin became something much greater than the sum of its parts. Here in Hollywood, there is no higher honor we can pay one another than to utter the magic words, “You’ve lost weight.” Even a few pounds count, but those who manage to drop a large amount of body fat are looked upon with true reverence; as if the newly-thin individual not only scaled Mount Everest, but somehow came back down with a PhD in Microbiology.

In reality, monounsaturated fat in not unhealthy and actually offers us protection from cancer and heart disease. Polyunsaturated fat provides necessary acids for healthy skin and assists in the development of cells. Scientists have long known that fat is an essential component for healthy brain function. If that is in fact true, then the young actresses on “Gossip Girl” must be some of the stupidest people on the planet. More and more, it seems like Hollywood’s image of a beautiful woman resembles a microphone stand wearing a large blonde wig.

When I dropped the weight, I instantly noticed a difference in the way I was perceived. In meetings, people sat a little straighter in their chairs and listened more carefully to my pitches. Clearly someone as fit as myself must be wiser, more clever, more attuned to what audiences wanted. Obviously, my boniness meant I was aggressive, determined, obsessed, motivated, unstoppable. Something similar began to happen in my social life. Small crowds began to gather at parties to marvel at the new emaciated me. In a town where it’s hard to get noticed, I liked the attention. Then two things happened that pushed matters somewhat over the line.

First, I got a gig adapting a book written by a woman who had almost died of anorexia. The last thing my obsessive-compulsive personality needed was more tips on weight loss. Next, I was cast in a reoccurring role on a TV show where I was constantly reminded by my slender colleagues that the camera adds ten pounds. As the months went by, I became a “grazer” (a person incapable of eating a full meal). Every morning, my quarter cup of oatmeal was followed by at least 90 minutes of vigorous weight training and cardio. A small piece of fish and some raw vegetables was a fine lunch. A couple of cherry tomatoes made an excellent snack while dinner consisted of bowl of lettuce with a half-can of tuna on top. In between, I flooded my system with highly caffeinated beverages like espresso, diet soda and green tea. Although, I no longer possessed any sort of attention span, it seemed a small price to pay. After all, I looked great on camera. I could shop in the children’s section of most major clothing stores. Plus I felt light and sleek (and slightly dizzy). On the down side, I was also developing a snotty sense of superiority which I secretly lorded over anyone I perceived to have more than 12% body fat.

One morning as I stood on the bathroom scale, it occurred to me that if I kept this up, I’d soon be back to my original birth weight. This alarmed me a little. My face, reflected in the bathroom mirror, appeared pale and gaunt. I looked at my rail-thin body which, between all the working out and dieting, had begun to take on the anatomical characteristics of a wasp. It didn’t look good. I felt confused. Wasn’t this what people wanted; to be thin and muscular? Wasn’t this the ideal? Having set up a merciless, painful routine for myself, I was naturally hesitant to let it go. I soldiered on until the fall of 2007 when the Writers Guild went on strike.

Now, in addition to everything else, I was walking fifteen miles a day while carrying a cleverly-worded sign in my hand. My new schedule required me to get up even earlier so I could work out and burn off all those unwanted calories before joining the picket line. Then one morning, for no real reason, I snapped. I rolled out of bed as usual at 6:30 AM and pulled on my gym clothes. As usual, I felt weak, irritable and vaguely angry. Keys in hand, I trudged out to my car, when suddenly, a long-ignored little voice began to whisper a few truths into my ear. Despite all this Herculean effort, I was no more successful. I was no more talented. I was no younger. Or smarter. I was no more content or happy. The parameters of my life had not expanded. In fact, with all these ridiculous restrictions, I had reduced the quality of my life. There was now (quite literally) less of me to go around. Something that had been hiding deep in my consciousness broke violently through to the surface. My mouth flew open and out came five little words that perfectly crystallized this moment of epiphany. “Fuck this shit!” I said. “I’m hungry!” I drove to the first International House of Pancakes I could find – where I enjoyed the single most delicious breakfast I’ve ever consumed in my life. I can still remember it.

While all the other striking writers began losing weight from walking the picket line, I started gaining. Pasta was back in my life. Sandwiches were okay again. Three visits to the gym replaced the eight I used to make. Slowly, my all-too-human flesh started to return to its previous size, shape and color. I felt better. My middle-aged body began to do what do what it was meant to do: Settle. My face filled out and something genuinely remarkable started happening. People began telling me how great I looked; how happy, full of life, handsome; calm and focused. After a long trip, I was back.

Recently, America’s favorite fat girl, Oprah Winfrey sadly felt compelled to issue a public apology for having porked up again. It left me wondering how much longer we are supposed give a shit about this. Had I been Oprah, instead of an apology, I would have issued the following statement: “I created the highest-rated talk show in the history of television. I am an influential book critic, an Academy Award nominated actress, and a hugely successful magazine publisher. I have been ranked the richest African American of the 20th century, the most philanthropic African American of all time and was once the world's only black billionaire. According to some assessments, I am the most influential woman in the world. Odd, since I was born to poor, unmarried parents, was raped at age nine and had a child at age 14 who subsequently died. Realizing my potential to do good in the world, I have put my wealth and my celebrity behind countless charitable, social and political causes and have championed education, and literacy throughout the world. And, oh yeah… Since 2006, I have gained 40 pounds, primarily by eating things that tasted good and made me happy – and I’m supposed to apologize to you about it? If you are one of those sad, jealous people who are always on the lookout for something to point at -- so that no one points at you – I’d like to suggest perhaps finding a meaningful purpose for your life as I have. However, if you're determined to go on judging a book by the size of its cover, I'd like to suggest that you kiss my hard-working, comfortably expansive, 52 year-old, billion-dollar ass. Love Oprah.”

Copyright 2008 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.
http://www.daviddeanbottrell.com/

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at www.partsandlabor.tv

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Remote Possibilities

Happily, "Parts and Labor" has brought me a few jobs writing humor pieces for other magazines and websites. This is a column I recently did for Metrosource Magazine. Enjoy! -- DB

"Remote Possibilities"

Last November, I got a little tense. It might've had something to do with our crashing economy, the approaching election or maybe it was just that seven pounds I can never seem to lose. Who knows? But the collective stress resulted in my catching a nasty cold. Feeling that I finally had a legitimate excuse to collapse, I dropped onto my sofa for a couple of days of well-earned R&R. As I snuggled under my comfy chenille throw ($63 from Pottery Barn), it seemed like the perfect time to catch up on the current slate of TV shows. After a lengthy separation, TV and I were finally ready to kiss and make up.

You see, in the fall of 2005, I did the unthinkable. I disconnected my cable. Shocking, I know, but I’d gotten sick of shelling out $78.00 a month for a service I rarely ever used. It was a little weird at first, but soon I was watching tons of DVDs and eagerly reading newspapers, blogs and many informative books. Being the conniving sort, I could always get myself invited to somebody’s house if any must-see events came up (like the finals of “American Idol” or the Academy Awards). But recently, I'd been thinking that since I supposedly work in the entertainment industry it might be a good idea to reconnect with the wonderful world of television.

I was astounded to discover how much TV had changed in my absence. In the past, I could always count on TV to relax me, lull me, put me to sleep even. But now, no matter where I clicked, something disastrous or disturbing was on. Instead of the police dramas I used to love, there were grizzly “procedurals.” Reality shows (once populated by sexy over-achievers) were now overrun by weeping fat people and screaming children. Thinking a little game show action might be fun, I tuned into “Deal or No Deal,” but watching Howie Mandel frantically dodge his disease-ridden contestants kept making me worry that (instead of a cold) I might have contracted West Nile Virus or Asian Bird Flu from one of those foreigners working down at the Starbucks. Even smart shows like “Dateline” and “20/20” now dedicated entire episodes to the probing question: “Why would these seemingly normal Midwesterners commit such murderous acts of rage?” Hmm. Maybe because they live in the Midwest. That would be my guess.

Soon, my thumb was getting sore as I frantically clicked around the grid trying to find something fun, light and (dare I say it?) “entertaining.” PBS invited me to stay tuned for an intimate (and depressing) “Portrait of Alzheimer’s” followed by a cheery program about our solar system called “The Dimming Sun.” According to TV Guide, if I tuned in tomorrow, I could catch a show about the history of criminal punishment featuring segments on “execution by wild animals” and “the most perverse instruments of torture ever devised.” Not to be outdone in the torture department, the Oxygen Network offered me “The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency.” After a few minutes of watching Janice in action, I clicked over to a program on how to survive a shark attack, but oddly could not tell the difference.

Over on the History Channel, I found “Shockwave” which could best be described as sort of tragic version of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” Here I got to watch footage of a plane crashing into a lake, a 12 year-old boy hanging from a ski lift and a gasoline tanker exploding in a crowded urban area. Deciding to give Oxygen another shot, I caught an episode of a fun little show called “Snapped” where I learned why women (when killing each other) are much more likely to shoot each other in the face.

Hopefully, I’m not turning into one of those people who can only watch reruns of “The Golden Girls," but it does feel like all the networks could benefit by lightening things up a bit. I’m not saying that everything is wretched. In fact, there are a few shows I can definitely recommend. If you want to see what spending too much time with Tony Danza and Marilu Henner will lead to, I’d suggest VH-1’s “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.” If bi-racial train wrecks are your thing there’s “Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane” and for those who dig “blond-on-blond-on-corpse” action, you should absolutely check out E’s “The Girls Next Door” ‘cause there’s nothing better than fake boobs and an 82 year-old man in silk pajamas. Hot, hot, hot.

Copyright 2008 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.
www.daviddeanbottrell.com

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at
www.partsandlabor.tv

Monday, January 5, 2009

Go, Speed Dater, Go!

I was recently invited to participate in a very popular spoken word event here in Los Angeles. It was a blast to share the stage with so many funny and accomplished writers. Just for a change of pace, I thought I'd publish the essay I wrote for the evening. Enjoy! - DB

"Go, Speed Dater, Go!"

For our purposes tonight, let’s call him “Ivan.”

I met “Ivan” at a Gay Speed Dating event held in a large barn-like structure in West Hollywood. Having just exited a ten-year relationship with a spirited Irish alcoholic, I was, at the time, seriously out of practice when it came to dating. To me, any evening that didn’t end in a fist fight or a 911 call could be considered a success. Speed dating (for those of you who’ve never done it) is basically musical chairs for desperate people. And when the music stopped, I found a cute, presentable guy sitting in the chair opposite me. He had bright eyes and a nice smile. Plus he was quick and funny. We traded phone numbers and a week later, went out on our first date.

The evening mostly consisted of me listening to Ivan talk about his newfound enthusiasm for the Landmark Forum. For those of you unfamiliar with Landmark, it’s an off-shoot of a self-help movement called EST which was quite big back in the 70’s and 80’s. To be fair, I’ve never attended any of their classes or seminars, but in the mid 1990’s, I went to a couple of meetings of a show business networking group called “The Creative Coalition” which was founded by a group of Landmark graduates. In these meetings, a couple of enthusiastic well-scrubbed “team leaders” would stand in front of the group and propose to us a series of largely preposterous ideas. Then, they would open the floor for more preposterous ideas from the audience -- all of which would be written down on a giant dry erase board. Sensing that it wouldn’t be long before the Kool-Aid was served, I didn’t stick around.

I tried to clear my head of that experience while seated opposite my potential new boyfriend, who (in case I forgot to mention this earlier) was really cute. Despite my subtle attempts to change the subject, Ivan continued to rattle on about the various levels of “Life Mastery” he aspired to. He was particularly excited about an upcoming weekend seminar that promised some major breakthroughs for everyone in attendance. Finally, we wound up back at my place and after a little more chat and a glass of wine, I politely asked if I could kiss him. He seemed sort of surprised, but gave me the go-ahead, so we made out passionately for about 15 minutes. He wasn’t exactly the greatest kisser, but he was really cute, so I didn’t want to jump to any conclusions just yet.

About a week later, it occurred to me that I still didn’t have a date for my upcoming movie premiere. Although I didn’t really think Ivan was the next “Mr. Bottrell”, he did strike me as fun, chatty and photogenic (three things I like in a movie premiere date). I decided to give him a call. I felt confident. After all, even though the movie was a piece of shit, I had written it. I knew we’d be surrounded by big stars and Hollywood power brokers, so I secretly thought that Ivan might be a little impressed. As I dialed his number, the possibility of getting laid danced on the horizon. Sure, he was a rotten kisser, but there was still lots of territory we had yet to explore.

Ivan seemed genuinely happy to hear from me. Being the polite sort, I asked him about his weekend seminar at Landmark. Apparently, to hear him tell it, he had experienced (in that brief 48 hours), a mind-blowing, soul-expanding epiphany guaranteed to alter the course of his life forever. He recounted how, in a blinding flash of self-realization, it had occurred to him that what he needed to do, from this point on, was to be completely honest at all times with everybody, about everything. I wondered if I knew Ivan well enough to point out the implications of such a ridiculous game plan, but before I could say anything, he piped up. “Which brings me to our relationship!” he said. “What do you mean?” I asked.

“Remember last week, when were sitting on your sofa and you asked if you could kiss me? And I said ‘yes? Well, I didn’t mean that. Truthfully, I didn’t really want to kiss you at all, but I sensed it was what you wanted, so I just went along with it. Isn’t that crazy? I didn’t feel the least bit attracted to you. Plus it was really hard to kiss you because of the size of your tongue. It’s so big!” “Really?” I answered. “Yeah,” he replied, chuckling a little at the memory of it. “I felt like I was going to gag a couple of times. Plus, you had garlic on your breath, you know from dinner, and I just felt intruded upon and a little violated. But the weird thing is, despite all that, I really like you. And I think it would be great if we could be friends.”

I paused. I’m a grown man. I’ve been a grown man for a long time now. That’s an important fact to remember when dealing with someone who is not -- Someone who every 18 months purchases a new self-help book because it has a catchy title. Someone who is full of “The Power of Now,” knows “The Secret” and spends half their salary on “Mastery” classes -- with the idea that something as unpredictable and baffling as human life can be tamed, bent to our will and turned into some kind of cosmic Disneyland -- where a positive attitude is the equivalent of a free pass – allowing you to ride all the rides, all day long, every day for the rest of your life -- without ever paying a dime.

I took a deep breath. “Thank you for your offer,” I said, “But I don’t really want to be your friend.” “But why?” he demanded, sounding shocked and hurt. “I don’t understand. I was just being honest with you.” “Yes,” I replied. “And in keeping with that honesty theme, I’d like to point out that you just embarrassed me, hurt my feelings and insulted the size of my tongue. Now, why on earth would I want to be friends with someone who would do that to me?” I also pointed out that dispensing unfiltered honesty was a quality frequently associated with assholes and that I doubted that Landmark (or anybody else) had a class to cover that. He told me I was being defensive, negative and was clearly jealous of his superior ability to express his emotions in an unfettered way.

As I rolled my gigantic tongue around inside my mouth, I flashed back on how I’d met Ivan. Somehow, he didn’t seem as cute now as he had sitting in that folding chair in West Hollywood. I considered trying to counsel him in a meaningful way -- To perhaps convince him that life is about building your dreams on what fate and luck have provided you, and not about embracing petty dissatisfaction as if it were your birthright. But Speed Dating is a process marked by practicality and economy. So instead, I just said “Fuck You!” and hung up the phone.

Copyright 2008 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.
www.daviddeanbottrell.com

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at
www.partsandlabor.tv

Saturday, January 3, 2009

High Resolution

According to About.Com, the top ten New Year’s resolutions made by the citizens of Pittsburgh, PA were as follows: (1) Spend More Time with Family & Friends (2) Get Fit (3) Lose Weight (4) Quit Smoking (5) Enjoy Life More (6) Quit Drinking (7) Get Out of Debt (8) Learn Something New (9) Help Others (10) Get Organized. Hmm. Those aren't bad as resolutions go, but much like Pittsburgh itself, they feel a little bland. Or maybe it's just me. Here in Hollywood, we never stop working on ourselves. L.A. is the land of unfulfilled dreams, so our citizens have lots of psychic space to fill with far-reaching self-improvement schemes. There is always some patch of higher ground that (if we can just achieve it) will surely deliver a little more of the love, money and recognition we so richly deserve. I’ve never understood why tossing out last year’s calendar is everybody’s cue to attempt some hair-raising, behavioral U-Turn. But it is.

Last week, I did a little informal survey among my friends in the creative community and was surprised to hear some of their resolutions for the New Year. One friend has decided to become less critical. Another wants to be less shy in social situations. A producer friend is determined to clear her life of all negativity (which I assume means she will soon be leaving the producing business). An actor friend of mine sent me a three-page document so crammed full of spiritual and artistic declarations it made me tired just reading it. Several of my friends said they only had one goal in mind for the New Year: To land a fucking job (any job!)

Personally, I’m not against altering my behavior. I’m a fan of change. Good thing too. 2008 (as you may have read in this blog) was a seriously challenging year for me. Change was sort of forced on me like a prison gang rape. My horizons got broadened to the point that I wound up with stretch marks. For most of us, resolutions are heartfelt, deeply personal attempts to shovel out some area of our life that got buried by an avalanche of neglect. Nothing feels better than to declare that finally, this year, for sure, we are going to attack that slag heap of resistance. Feels good, doesn’t it? And it always seems so simple at first. Then arrives the nasty problem of keeping those resolutions.

According to EHow.com, there are five concepts that will help you stay on course: (1) Aim Low (2) Don’t Overload Yourself (3) Tell Everyone You Know (4) Reward Yourself. And my personal favorite: (5) Wait Until Spring. Although they are all good ideas, I suspect the most effective one is probably (3). With that in mind, I am courageously putting my five New Year’s resolutions out there in the hope that you, my readers, can help me stick to at least some of them in 2009. Here goes:

(1) Become less political and more humanitarian. As much as I’ve enjoyed marching around with a cleverly-worded picket sign in my hand, it has occurred to me that there are some other pressing needs in the world. To this end, I just signed up to plant a few saplings with Tree People next week. There’s also a literacy program that has been calling my name for a while now.

(2) Like many paid Hollywood professionals, New Media (or “Now” Media as some smug jerks like to call it) totally scares the shit out of me. Mostly because although it invites a whole new school of creative thought, it is also utterly lacking in any sort of structure to compensate creators of that all-important “content.” It is, however, our collective future, so here goes. It’s time to just get out there make something. Nothing works in show business (or life) like “doing it.”

(3) Okay, this is a big one for me… I’m going to start reading the trades again. I hate reading them and haven’t done so in years. Why? Because they depress the shit out of me. It’s like I’m reading about a fabulous party I wasn’t invited to. My friend Don (who feels similarly) thinks a better name for “Variety” would be “People Who Are Doing Better Than Me.” The level of resentment I feel toward the trades is so virulent that it’s a clear signal there’s something here I need to address. So this will be the year I will get to the bottom of it.

(4) This is another big one: To stop waiting for the “right time” to do something. This whole “right time” theory has been disproven so many times, I can’t believe I still cling to it. In 2005, I arrived back in L.A. having just had my ass handed to me. I didn’t have the luxury of saying no to anything. I just scrambled around like a madman with no game plan other than trying to pay rent and dodge oncoming bullets. It turned out to be one of most extraordinarily fulfilling years of my life (artistically and personally). Funny how quickly I forgot that lesson.

(5) Truthfully, I’ve known for a while now that I need a hobby (other than dating alcoholics). Alcoholics and I seem to have some kind of natural GPS that allows us to find each other no matter how dense the fog or large the dance floor. I’m not saying there haven’t been some fun moments, but I’m thinking that maybe this is the year to finally buy that sketch pad, start a poker night or maybe take up archery (which might come in handy should I need to defend myself from an approaching alcoholic).

Whatever your game plan is for the New Year, I’d like to wish you well with it. If you’ll allow me, there are a couple of pearls of wisdom, I’d like to offer from my own experience. Thinking about writing is not writing. Neither is talking about it. Be willing to make lateral moves. Don’t fixate. If you are not a commercial talent, then don’t try to be one. March to your own drummer. In fact, march proudly, nakedly down Main Street with everything showing. Make an impression. In 1989, I auditioned for a TV show on one of the hardest days of my (then young) life. All I wanted was to act with integrity and I thought I did well, even though I didn’t get the job. Seventeen years (and two careers) later, I was standing in a buffet line on the Universal lot when a casting director (who I didn’t recognize) approached me and said that he had been an apprentice in 1989 and still remembered me from that audition. He promised that he would call me in for a show he was casting and he did. I don’t offer that story to suggest that I’m so brilliant or unforgettable. I offer it because I believe when we act, or write, or design, or direct with integrity, it doesn’t just evaporate. It eventually pays off. Have a great week, Hollywood. Hope the New Year brings you tons of great new ideas and a few good ways to execute them.

Copyright 2008 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.
http://www.daviddeanbottrell.com/

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at
http://www.partsandlabor.tv/