I am tired.
I spent the early hours of this morning walking from Queen and Carlaw all the way home to my home in the Annex. It took me an hour and a half, and by the end my feet and knees were ready to give out. Lately, that's all I've been doing is walking long distances. I have to. I can't really afford the TTC. But I don't complain, because that won't help anybody.
Yes, I walk to and from work every time I work, which is nowhere near often enough. Usually my shifts are cancelled. You see, it's January, and no one goes to restaurants in January. So my 25-hour work week quickly looks more like five. That's if I'm lucky. It's not my fault though. Honestly. My managers think I'm doing a fantastic job, and the kitchen has even offered to help me out on occasion (to no avail). They call around and try to find me shifts at other places in the company. No one bites. They want full-time availability. Though I'd imagine it would be difficult to find someone content to live off of one shift a week a slightly-above-minimum wage. But I don't complain, minimum wage is relatively high here, and I am fortunate to have managers so supportive.
Finding more work is exhausting, you know. I read a statistic in the paper that our local unemployment here in Toronto is above 10-percent now. Highest in the province. Complete with supporting anecdotes from people who've been sporadically employed since the banks collapsed four-plus years ago, sending out "hundreds" of resumes to uninterested prospective employers who likely saw over a hundred applicants that day with identical resumes. Once again, I'm told I should move to the Land of Milk and Tar Sands, also known as Alberta. But the arts jobs and connections are here. The majority of my friends are here. My life (such as it is) is here. Still, I don't complain. I can hear people's voices in my head, telling me to "keep your chin up! You won't get anywhere with that attitude!"
That dream job is another kettle of fish. I've always been into things that no one else on the planet would care about doing. This means I usually end up finding ways to do it all myself to avoid relying on others. Well, music isn't easy to do that way. It's all about collaboration. I have great friends, don't get me wrong. I love them and they have done great things for me. But if I've been itching to make music or jam, getting people together to jam is kind of like trying to pull teeth out of a rabid dog's mouth. People have jobs, they have other interests, many have significant others (and an alarmingly increasing number of them, in fact). And I don't like to pressure people too hard, because that just pushes folks away. So I tried to get into writing. Well, I'm writing now, no? Well, I meant more specifically scriptwriting for television. I actually went to college for TV broadcasting so I could put together a webseries myself, or at least get connected enough to get the work and resources together to do so eventually. It's just too bad that I still have yet to get anyone to read the damned scripts I put together for this webseries. After sending them out, I'd hear weeks of "Oh I'll have a look later" and "I was busy, I'll check it out tonight". Three months later, nothing. It's hard to improve something with no feedback. So I just stopped investing time into it. No sense complaining, you can't control what others do!
This would all be a lot easier time if I had some sort of companion or someone to rely on. Quite frankly, seeing all your close friends coupling up is a nice feeling. It's good to know your friends are able to find people as awesome as they are to share their lives with. It's also nauseating to be around as the perpetually single friend who hasn't been on a second date in six years. The patronizing of well-intentioned friends who reassure you of how awesome you are, and reassurances that once you learn to love yourself and have the right attitude, someone great will come along, are bad enough. But the realization that the woes of coupled friends in your financial situation are tempered by a curious lack of urgency thanks to requiring a smaller income to make ends meet (not to mention the need for only a one-bedroom apartment), the ability as such to take their time to find "the right job” without the pressing concern that you’ll end up destitute if you don’t start making more than $10.25 an hour soon, and even the simple emotional lift one gets by having that rock to comfort, support, and assist you in lifting you out of that hole you fell into. It’s not as easy when you have to chisel your own steps to get out. But I don’t complain, because whiners aren’t sexy, and no one wants to date a negative Nancy.
However, dating is an impossibility when you haven’t for so long and feel like you have nothing to offer. I am not the most clever, the most ripped (though all this walking and whatnot has made the pounds fall off me at a surprising rate), or the most forward (I’m cripplingly shy with guys I fancy). I don’t have money to make myself look the way I’d like to, and I find I tend to get along better with straight men more often anyway. I expect self-confidence, or a distinct lack thereof, plays a part in this, though the preceding paragraph should have made that self-evident. Suffice to say, I’m romantically crippled, and have been for a very long time, and I’m tired of that too. But I don’t complain, because I don’t feel like being a magnet for pity, and that would be even more of a turn-off, anyway.
Reading all this, one wonders: Why do I keep going?
And to them, I simply have to say: Because I have to. I have this stubborn belief in my agnosto-socialist little brain that I can’t seem to shake that I have something I need to do on this planet, and I had better do it before I get off. It colours everything I do, and in spite of all the crippling fears, the self-deprecating humour, the tendency I have to give up on myself, I have conquered a lot of things, and I’ve fought very hard to stay the course.
I have had fantastic friends who have helped me out at my lowest, given me a roof over my head when I would have otherwise been living under a bridge, helped get me work when I felt I was unemployable, and reminded me that I am a caring, kind, and talented person who has great things to contribute to the world. I thank them for their kindness and their encouragement.
But sometimes I can’t help feeling trapped and helpless. I can’t help but resent the successes of my friends, and regret the mistakes of my own from my younger, more sheltered years. Opportunities laid in my lap, and were squandered by my own idiotic notion that I knew better than anyone else.
A friend told me yesterday that this generation doesn’t understand how easy they’ve got it. As a gay man at 50, he’s struggled through some of the hardest struggles one can face in life as a white Canadian. But he came out the other end of it, and has a great life because he powered through those struggles. Sometimes I have to wonder, if everyone has dues to pay, when will I stop having to shell out? But I stop myself from complaining, because he’s right. You can power through these struggles, and come out the other side a stronger, better person for it. And that’s just what I have to do: Push a little further.
But boy, am I ever tired.
Firstly, I saw this off SON's forum. Fascinating and especially relevant today. I shall reprint for all of you (...one of you), and it's fascinating how even 13 years ago, network interference and the stupidity of plot-based, shock-and-awe writing was ruining the dramatic serial. Here it is:
What's Wrong With Soaps? By Robert L. Schork
Former daytime pros offer their sometimes controversial theories.
Paul Avila Mayer (Ryan's Hope), John Conboy (Young & The Restless), Bridget Dobson (Santa Barbara), Pat Falken Smith (Days Of Our Lives, General Hospital), Peggy O'Shea (One Life To Live), Al Rabin (DAYS), AJ Russell (GH), Henry Slesar (The Edge of Night).
They blamed OJ, before that it was cable, then talk shows took the rap. For the past decade, like a bad game of Clue, the networks have indicted an endless parade of suspects for the crime of killing their soaps ratings. Unfortunately, the real culprit wasn't Professor Plum or Colonel Mustard, but the disenchanted viewer. The crime wasn't committed in the conservatory, but in the dens and living rooms of America. And the weapon of choice wasn't a lead pipe or candlestick, but the remote control.
What went wrong? To be fair-there are no easy answers. Certainly, the advent of cable channels-with viewership now divided among upwards of 100 channels- and women moving into the workforce have contributed to viewer erosion. “that's just an absolute fact that the audience has more choices, that women work and their VCR's are blinking 12 o'clock,”comments Al Rabin. But external forces not withstanding, how are soaps themselves contributing to the problem? Since they posses the experience of insiders but the candor and perspective of outsiders, some of daytime's foremost innovators were asked to attempt this elusive soap diagnosis. What's wrong with daytime?
“There is too much homogeneity”, Henry Slesar says. “you can go from one soap to another and pick up the same kind of story. Soaps would benefit from being distinct from one another so that people know they're tuning in to a different drama. There's a great deal of story recycling from one soap to another, because of the recycling of writers and producers. If I see one more evil twin...!”
The soaps now on the air have such diverse premises and histories, yet they are now so homogenous. Why is there no 'product differentiation'? “I suspect the reason is because of team writing”, Bridget Dobson says. “The most intense, best soaps are the ones where there is one strong headwriter who takes full responsibility. “Without that, you tend have it homogenised”
Pat Falken Smith declares that “the breakdown in soap writing came when the the networks got angry at the tyranny of the head writers.” Long ago, the networks would hire only a head writer who would hire his or her own staff, “I was making $2.5 million a year and I had to pay writers out of that. When they got cheap and did away with the big head writers, they made a terrible mistake.” Today, all members of the soaps' writing team are employed directly by the show and/or the networks.
Creatvity by committee is a problem cited repeatedly. “Writing by committee makes it so pallid”, Dobson explains. “It's taking something that used to be chilli and making it oatmeal”.
John Conboy says that shows sometimes recycle stories intentionally. “When I was at CBS, I can remember a very well known executive demanding that I do a story that was being done on another show, that had been told on that show skillfully for six years. He demanded we do it. We had to bend the character in order to do it, and it was a disaster. I was young and I wanted the job. Had I not needed that job, I would have said some interesting 4 letter words.”
Conboy's story illustrates another problem: character assassination. Time and time again, characters are manipulated to fit a particular story, instead of the story being written to fit the characters – and that spells trouble.”If you give a leading lady a gun and have her blow somebody's brains out, and the audience knows that woman would never even pick up a gun or load it or fire it,you've jusy lost half of your audience in one day.” Conboy says. “You bring a new writer in. he gets all the back issues of soap magazines to read what happened to all these people the last 100 years, and the more they change them – their point of view or the direction of the show-the more likely the show will fizzle out”. Dobson agrees. “It's so terribly important to protect the integrity of the characters. It was a terrible experience to return to Santa Barbara after the lawsuits were resolved and find the characters had been decimated. It was impossible to bring them back.”
Falken Smith states simply: They're destroying characters. On DOOL. They've made the leading lady a monster who had glowing green eyes-isn't that crappy? I see this Marlena character as totally destroyed. She's been the one important woman always...she's a psychiatrist, and she gets possessed. It's phony and it wrecked the character, which is unforgivable. If you are going to do this type of story, pick a new character, but don't bastardize the good character you have by doing that.”
Rabin cautions that such bending of character can cause viewers to tune out by making them think.”Oh, I don't have to worry about these people because they got them into this predicament unbelievably...so they can get them out unbelievably.”
Arguably,several of the problems outlined are merely symptoms of a larger, underlying problem: interference and micromanagement by the networks and executives. “they bring it on themselves,”Peggy O'Shea says. “what's wrong with the industry is mostly people in power who don't know what they're doing, who don't know a thing about daytime. A very attractive young woman(executive) said a variation on. “I don't know why they hired me...What is this? I'm not even American. I've never watched as soap before.” And another said,'I don't know soaps, but I was a reader in something, and I just feel like a pig in sh____ here.' Well, she should; she's ( at the time this interview was conducted) running a very major soap. Oh, yes, and then there's one who's going to be teaching soap opera writing but hasn't seen soaps before, so she has to study them before she can teach how to write them.”
Many say network executives have stifled the creativity of those getting paid to be creative. O'Shea says,”it's fun to sit in on a story conference. You can bounce things back and forth, and if it's just the writers, you can go.'nah',but if P&G is sitting there ,and you're putting your kid through college you don't go 'nah'. So you sit there and try to make sense of it, for hours, and then you have to go write it up.. and the executives lose their objectivity because they can no longer look at it and say the story isn't working, because it was their idea.
”They're going to be in on writers' meetings. They're going to help plot, they're going to throw their Cincinatti morality on you, O'Shea continue,”One of them actually said to me,'How is it that one man can love two women at the same time?' all I could tell him was, 'If one man can't love two women at the same time,we should hang up our hats,we're out of business. This is a soap!' You don't need somebody giving you his fantasy, or what he would do if he were the writer. You're looking for a very specific dramatic moment, you don't need someone from Procter & Gamble giving you his latest nightmare.”
Paul Avila Mayer agrees. “All of us write our early fantasies. Claire (Labine) and I happened to have very comfortable fantasy lives; her early childhood and mine were compatible. She can start a sentence and I can finish it. But when we get the network executives, and they would want us to write the ideas that seemed good to them – meaning the ideas that would answer their emotional needs from their early childhoods. You couldn't explain to them that their fantasy life ,which seems so right to them, wasn't helping our show. Because we didn't want to write about their mommies, we wanted to write about our mommies. That's what I found most deplorable,having other people insist I write their fantasy life.
Slesar explains, “You are trying to hold onto your job and please the people who control you, and that's not the way to make a creative effort”.
“If the network executives really aren't trained writers, they tend to want you to write according to the latest polls”, Dobson adds, “and like President Clinton. You tend to do flip-flops as the polls change. So you're scared for your job. We used to call it writing on eggs – you don't take the risks, you don't take the strong stances, you're afraid...and it's not a good way to write a soap.” Conboy offers an explanation for executives' motives: “It's job justification for most of these people. They have to justify the fact that they're collecting a salary.”
Those interviewed also blame network executives for two other strategic errors:the use of gimmicks for short-term ratings boosts, and the lack of development and training of new creative talent.
“ Look at Ryan's Hope,”O'Shea says. “It started with a very romantic, lovely idea. Here's Irish Catholic Mary Ryan, who's not going to sleep with this attractive newspaper man until they're married. That's what the audience wants to see, and the show won every award in the book. And then ABC come along and make Delia fall in love with King Kong. Can you believe it? It had to be the network...I can't believe it's Claire. She's not a drinker, so it isn't like she got plastered one night and said, “Wouldn't this be fun? Somebody at the network said, 'It's sweeps time, let's get the ratings up.' Another gimmick, and it started the downslide.
“Same thing happened when they brought on movie stars. Sammy Davis adored OLTL. He wanted to be on OLTL. I said I'd love to have Sammy Davis Jr as Sammy Davis Jr; that's wonderful! But please don't take my ficticious town that people believe exists, and give me Sammy Davis Jr, whom everyone knows as Sammy Davis Jr, playing a gambler – all my stories are shot to hell. And it was painful for us. He was charming and he had fun. But he ruined the integrity of the town. The ratings went up for a week. It took away from credibility. You no longer believe Llanview exists because Sammy Davis Jr came in,” O'Shea insists.
Just as outlandish gimmicks and flights of fancy aren't the solution, these soap veterans believe going too far in the opposite direction- with gritty, slice-of-life,reality based drama- is also a recipe for disaster. AJ Russell recalls,”I had a remarkable experience. I turned on GH for the first time in a year, and I was amazed to find a young man lying in bed with AIDS. Now my estimation of this is we are going backward, to what, Irna Phillips? I'm sure you would not get hooked if all you had to watch was tears and sobs. Nothing will dissuade from the belief that daytime is fantasy.
“I don't care how relevant an AIDS story is,” Conboy says. “It took this boy eight months to die on GH. Guess what? We all knew the end of the story. It wasn't a shock that they weren't going to make him better in the last 24 minutes of the show. The audience is not being entertained by an AIDS storyline because the result of an AIDS storyline is that you are going to die. There's no upside. Everybody in the world is praying to God that they don't get it. It's very difficult to tell that story and entertain.
“Life is tough enough”, agrees Dobson. “I don't want to bring more tragedy into my life by suffering as I watch the screen. Certainly we've killed off people, but not by inch-by-inch suffering. It's the death knell for ratings. We've done it and we've learned from our mistakes. They're tuning in for entertainment,not to grieve. Rabin learned from such mistakes on Days as well. “We did a story where Mickey was in a mental institution, and John Clarke was phenomenal. He was just great, we thought we were doing this great story, the critics did, too, but the audience just turned away, because it was too realistic.
O'Shea adds,”I agree with Samuel Goldwyn. If you want to send a message. Go to Western Union. Writers frequently get pressured from organizations asking us to please write a story for public awareness, and they would offer a little award or something at the end. They should buy an ad in the New York Times. When you do slice-of-life you're going to put your audience to sleep. Nobody seems to know that.
So what does the future hold? There is a strong agreement that the industry's troubles will only deepen over time if it doesn't take a more active role to develop new creative talent. Conboy says,”there's no training ground for writers today in daytime. Writers should train writers. It shouldn't be some person who comes to the network to train writers. Training them for what? All headwriters have different styles.”
Because soaps have existed for so many years, there is little in the way of story that has not been done in one way or another. Although the experts disagree on how precisely how to make something new of the same old,same old, there is one thing they all agree: Love is the thing. Romance is the engine that propels drama, and as long as people care about the thrill of romance, they will probably want to watch it unfold on soap operas.