Sunday, August 23, 2009

My Luncheon With Megan


Another sample of the missus's handiwork.
It's even crazier in real life.



These days my favorite song to play is the old Dylan number, When I Paint My Masterpiece. The Hon. Richard Talleywhacker and I do it G-C-D, and I'm enough of an amateur to take real pleasure in improvising to that chord progression.

So the song has been running through my mind quite frequently lately. Which has had me thinking about the whole idea of masterpieces. The word 'masterpiece' usually refers to an exceptionally well-done work. But that ain't what the word means.

A masterpiece is a work executed by a journeyman that is of sufficient quality to demonstrate to your teacher that you have mastered your craft. When you paint your masterpiece, you've graduated. You're no longer a journeyman. You're a master.

I bring this up because yesterday I had lunch with Megan McDonald. More than any other one person, Megan is responsible for the fact that I'm a writer. While I've written about this elsewhere, I don't think I've blogged on the subject.

I've always figured I'd be a writer eventually, but art wound up capturing my attention in my early twenties. It presented a more gratifying level of challenge -- it was hard as hell but I could see myself improving. Writing? I always figured that was easy. That on some level I was entitled to be a writer regardless of whether or not I actually wrote. And the people around me had the same feeling.

Imagine my shock when I found myself writing professionally, only to discover that writing was a bitch and a half and I wasn't any good at it.

I'll spare you the details -- I started in on them and they threatened to hijack the post. But just before the turn of the century, I sold an idea for a web cartoon to a company called Mondo Media. That was where I met Megan.

At this point I had written one solid short story and had a stack of manuscripts at home but nothing really finished. Nothing disciplined. So when I was confronted with the need to actually write scripts? At first, I choked. Big time. Megan was the one who held my hand during the development process, teaching me about scriptwriting and story structure and so on.

She and I hit it off well. One day she was complaining about some of her co-workers, so the next time I came in to the office, I brought her an ice-pick with a chunk of cork on the tip. This wasn't casual; I loved that ice-pick. It reminded me of Red Harvest. But sometimes you just know when somebody needs something. She's also the one who I referred to in my Chili con Carnage recipe.

Anyway, my show foundered, and the quality of the scripts was the reason why. I was just getting a handle on them when I was shut down. But Megan turned around and gave me a regular assignment writing Thugs On Film. She also brought me into a few other shows. If Mondo hadn't shut down production in the wake of the dotcom crash, I'd probably still be working there. Basically, I got paid to learn the rudiments of writing.

Megan is a pro. She's worked as a story editor and script reader for years. She's got a few scripts under her belt, and has gotten some notice with them. Honestly, she's been someone I look up to. She's one of my teachers, you know? A particularly important one. In addition to the support and aid she gave me personally, I wouldn't have joined a writer's group if I hadn't read the interview with her at the above link. And if I hadn't joined a writer's group? I wouldn't be a writer now.

Since then, we've seen each other periodically. We talk about getting together a lot, but you know how that goes. And we've given each other critiques from time to time.

So Megan wanted me to look at a movie proposal she's working on, and after I gave her some of my thoughts she asked if I had anything for her to read. So I sent her the first four chapters of the novel.

If I had wished for a particular reaction, it would have been the one she actually had. The word 'saleable' was prefaced with about six 'so's. She felt that it wasn't just fiction, it was literature. When she finished the first four chapters, she was actually angry with me for not sending her more. And when I told her how complimented I was that a working pro would turn to an amateur for advice, she said, "You're not an amateur. You're a professional who hasn't been paid yet."

I need to tattoo that on the inside of my forearm for ready reference in case I experience a failure in nerve at any time.

It was a great lunch. Beer and burgers at Triple Rock, our typical conversation -- we now have matching troubles at either end of our spinal columns so we had good commiseration, war stories, and advice for one another. Messing with her movie idea was a blast -- I ain't telling you nothing, but this is a movie that should be made. And the fact that I was able to make a contribution really felt good.

Hell, Megan even paid. And since I didn't know she was gonna do that, I drank as much as I wanted to, instead of being polite and only having one. What a pal!

When I walked home, I found myself in an oddly elated mood. It wasn't just the fine, fine brown ale. And it wasn't just the praise. When I pinned it down, it kind of took me by surprise.

I felt as though I'd graduated, in an odd sort of way. I'd presented my teacher with my masterpiece and it was accepted. I'm not a journeyman any more. The student has become the master.

Someday everything gonna be smooth like a rhapsody when I paint my masterpiece

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