Thursday, December 28, 2006

Final Thoughts for 2006

I've been taking a lot of stock of my life over the past few weeks. 2006, while being 100% better than 2005 for us, creatively-speaking, really tried to go out kicking and screaming since the beginning of December, unleashing a lot of hell upon us. I'll refer everyone to my previous blog, which details the absolute worst day of my entire life and kicked off a chain of, while not tragic, per se, certainly annoying events. But that's the way most years seem to go out, so I'm trying to take it all in stride.

2005, as I've mentioned, was one ball-kick after another, and I vowed that 2006 would be an improvement. And it was. We shot 3 1/2 really stand-out projects this year (High Stakes, Abattoir, Blood Bath and our upcoming Retreat which will be finished by the middle of January). Put on a pretty decent convention, put out four really great issues of Sirens of Cinema, and set the ground-work for what might be an even more successful 2007.

2006 saw me drift in and out of a number of part-time jobs, most of which ended due to my conflicts outside of gainful employment. But this December, I landed something that is not only paying me consistently, but also wound up being terrifically flexible, ensuring I won't have to quit or inconvenience anyone when Amy and I have to travel out of town for shoots, conventions, etc. (It's so flexible, I went to work last Thursday to be told that the entire office was closed from the 22nd to the 2nd, so that was a pleasant surprise.) What's better, I actually enjoy the work. Yeah, I have to drive an hour and a half to get there, drop Amy off at work, then walk two miles across the City of Shattered Dreams and Tumbleweeds that is Pittsburgh, PA, but that's going to ensure that I will also get back into shape and lose some of the full-time writer's physique I've acquired from sitting on my ass every single day for the past five years.

And I'm slowly relearning how to accept happiness. It will take a lot of work, and a possible new and nifty prescription of American medication (the chemical solution to life's problems) to get back on track, but I think I actually made some headway today.

It's my biggest problem right now: suspicion of good fortune. I live with the constant fear that I am standing on a big white 'X' and any time something good happens, I'm convinced that it will immediately be followed by a falling piano. It's gotten to the point that any amount of good news has me not only knocking on wood out of heathen superstition, but coming to feel in my heart of hearts that the good fortune will be, at any moment, snatched away from me anyway so there's no point in actually celebrating. In short: I've conditioned myself, Pavlov-style, to reject happiness like a mismatched transplanted organ. I replace any good feelings, as quickly as I can, with suspicion, dread and, usually, anger.

And quite frankly, I'm tired of feeling this way.

I've counted here, many times over, how this self-fulfilling prophecy has worked for me. I celebrate a script deal, then watch it slowly turn to shit in the hands of others. I complete a project, then dread that it will be poorly-received, rejected, etc. And I have to ask: is this fate's doing, or my own karmic sabotage? Is optimism truly an invitation for luck to vanish? Or is my pessimism simply taking over the minute a smile creeps onto my face?

So I tried an experiment today.

Yesterday, we took our car in for a simple alignment and oil change. The whole job would have cost $50 tops. An hour later, our mechanic calls with this question: "Did you know your oil pan is cracked and that your car is officially undrivable?" Our $50 quick fix suddenly became a $400 nightmare. We're only a few days past Christmas, folks; we got no money to cover this very necessary expenditure. So last night, while I tried to hang out with Don and Jeff, both of whom stinging from problems of their own, I wallowed in worry and doubt and fret.

This morning, we discovered that my first paycheck from the new company had come in just before Christmas and I hadn't opened it. Inside, minus taxes, was about half of what we need to cover the car. (The other half will arrive in a matter of days from one of the companies I do publicity for.) Even better, I discovered that I'm making roughly a dollar per hour more than I initially expected from this new company.

Now the experiment: I allowed myself to be happy about this turn of events. It was fortune. If I'd opened the mail on the day it had come, we'd have spent the money already - either on other bills or on more presents for each other or... well, the list is endless. In any event, it would have been allocated for other things. We found it at just the right time. I gave myself exactly one minute to worry - was the phone going to ring and announce some new car problem? Would our second car's wheels miraculously and simultaneously blow off in all four directions needing a replacement to the tune of my first paycheck right down to the penny? The minute passed. Nothing new and disasterous happened. I had, it would seem, sidestepped the 'X'. The piano didn't fall. So I relaxed.

This wasn't easy for me. Being raised Catholic, martyrdom comes very easily to me. I considered the above a very big step in my becoming a new human being. One that will actually allow himself to be happy.

I don't know if anyone's noticed, but I can be a bit of a bastard. I know, I know, it's hard to believe. I don't take compliments well. I have mastered the Ninja style of Sarcasm and use it in both defense and offense. I'm narcissistic, self-loathing, edgy, jumpy, raging, egotistical and tend to lash out at those I love and refer to it as "affection". And God (or whoever) help me, I'm trying to change. Mellow at the very least. I'm tired of smashing bones on unyielding walls when frustration pushes me to the breaking point. Mainly because my breaking point is getting easier and easier to reach any more. Hence the grey hair, the TMJ, ragged nails, and steel cables connecting my neck to my shoulders. T'ain't healthy. But I'm trying.

So my New Year's resolutions have nothing to do with the sit-com cliches. I just want to work on making 2007 work better for me than 2006. Again, professionally, we already have some wheels turning that could translate to some really exciting projects including a new feature, the possible sale of two past features and the possible appearance of yet another of our past features in dollar stores across the country. Sure, there are a lot of "maybes" in there, not a lot of "is"s, but they're all steps in the right direction. There's a lot of potential for "woo hoo" in there. I'd like to actually feel the celebration when they happen. And you'll notice, too, the "when" there. Because, for the love of God (or whoever), I'm very, oh so very, tired of "if"s.

So the big white "X" be damned. Imaginary fate piano be damned. I'm going to try giving optimism a shot. I'm going to try very hard to not turn every corner prepared to duck a punch. I'm not so naive to know this isn't going to be difficult. I'm fully aware that I'm talking about undoing years of conditioning, Catholic and White Guilt and plain old modern day pessimism. Just because I wear a lot of black doesn't mean I want to go Goth, emotionally.

So bear with me, me, because you're in for a hell of a battle, I think.


I'd like to leave 2006 with a collection of random thoughts:

- Driving across the McKees Rocks bridge the other day, I noticed a Pro-Life abolitionist standing at the light wearing a sandwich board. On it was a photo of an aborted fetus, in a circle, with a big red line through it, like a "no smoking" sign. I realized I never see any pro-Choice people doing the same sort of thing. What would the Pro-Choice equivalent to that sign be? The same picture of the same dead baby, only with a "Thumbs Up" next to it?

This thought got me giggling all the way across the bridge. Which is what made me realize, yet again, that I'm a very sick individual. And that thought made me proud.


Speaking of "no smoking", two restaurants are suing the City of Pittsburgh - with backing money from RJ Reynolds, no less - over the recent city-wide smoking ban. And I applauded the suit, feeling more than slightly greasy that I agree with any stance that RJ Reynolds "Big Tobacco" is taking.

I don't smoke; I hate smoke. It makes me physically ill. I hate the way I smell when I come home after a day spent with smokers. I needle my smoking friends and thank them for the cancer whenever they light up around me. I think it's an idiotic habit. And I insist that if they're allowed to smoke, I should be allowed to chronically masturbate. (And it makes me uncomfortable when they tell me to go for it right there in their living rooms...)

But I never want to be the guy who tells someone what they can and can't do. I ask that people don't smoke inside my house. Everyone I know who smokes respects that. Most of my smoking friends will point their smoke away from me as much as possible. But if this ban goes through, what's the next thing to go? Table salt? Alcohol (again)? Noisy children? (Actually, that last one isn't such a bad idea) Once you outlaw one thing, other things follow. It's a dangerous path, this smoking ban, and I want to see it eliminated. If I end up in my grave because of second-hand smoke-induced cancer, at least it came from the lungs of my friends and at least I wasn't rescued by the Gestapo.


Dane Cook isn't funny. I'm sorry everyone. And the Original Kings of Comedy are none of the above. Redneck humor can go away now too. We already have pro wrestling, what do we need Larry the Cable Guy for?


The title of the movie Invincible annoys me. It's about a guy named "Vince", so I'm sure Hollywood thought it was being clever by naming the film Invincible. Really, what the title is translating to is The Inability to be Vince. It was a dumb idea, guys. For Christ's sake, think!


I'm tired of cute talking animal movies. I thought after Barn Yard and Flushed Away and Over the Hedge that everyone else was too. Then Happy Feet came out and we're back in that rut again.


Freedom Writers
... how many times are they going to make this movie? Dangerous Minds, Take the Lead, Step it Up, Dead Poets Society ... Teachers, could you just have a positive influence on your kids and take pride in that? Stop writing books about the experiences. Please. Just give us a decade or so to recover, okay? We're all still stinging from Pay it Forward.


The Star Wars Trilogy was released, unmolested, on DVD around Thanksgiving. All is finally right with the world. We can finally stop holding our breaths in fear of what Lucas may do to us next. We got our childhood back...

Until next year,

Mike Watt

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Today I had to kill something

I woke up this morning, aching and recovering from a cold. I took out the garbage, fed the horses and discovered our dog, Zoya, attacking a deer.

Deer are everywhere down here. They live on our property - especially during hunting season; they seem to know we don't allow hunting on our 30 or so acres. We dodge them every day on the road. Five years and we haven't hit one yet. I'll stress yet so as not to jinx myself. People consider them nuisances, which is fine.

Got the dog inside, inspected the deer. She was hurt, obviously, and lying in the ditch where we'd found our other dog, Lilly, a few years back. The deer must have been very hurt as she let me not only get within a few feet of her, but let me touch her. Not the smartest of moves, but I'm an animal person.

Amy called, told me to keep the dogs inside because there was a deer lying in front of our mailbox. "Nope," I said. "She moved." Tufts of deer hair lined the trail where she'd dragged herself to what she thought would be safety. Amy had seen her this morning. Drove the the Waynesburg police station - found it locked. Tried the county office. It was wide open, but no one was there. She called local then state police, who promised they'd be out. No one came.

I went back out, sat with her a bit, dragged some more cover over near her so she'd be hidden from any random dipshit driving down the road. Living in a rural area, folks get overzealous with their rifles around here. Saturday, while filming, some drunken assholes saw some deer in our neighbor's yard and started shooting at them from their car. And at our horses and Ralph's sheep in the process. Those were the assholes I wanted to protect this deer from.

I left her some of the horse's apple chips and went back inside to get some work done. Bill gets up around 9:30. He hunts. He'd always been my go-to guy when wounded animals appeared in the past. I've never even killed mice rescued from cats. Except for one raccoon and one suicidal chipmonk, I've never even hit animals with my car - despite the fact that I live on a pitch-black road. And I've always managed to avoid deer. But I knew it was inevitable that this deer would need to be put down.

About nine am, I hear a rifle shot outside my house. Running out in boots and sweatpants, I discover a guy about my age with a scope rifle, barrel resting on the ledge of his truck door (steadying his shot or expecting the deer to return fire?). He fired again and took a third shot just as I came out. An older man--don't know his name but recognize him from some of the very few community functions we'd attended and who obviously knew us--came around the car to me. "How many fucking shots are you planning on taking?" I demanded. The deer was already wounded and lying fifty feet away in a ditch and this asshole needed THREE SHOTS?
"Sorry, didn't know you were home," our neighbor explained. Then explained further that his son-in-law had overshot the first bullet, but the second put her down and out of her misery. "What was the third shot for?" I wanted to ask, but didn't want to talk further. Part of me was glad that she was down and at peace.

They drove away as quickly as they could - not even bothering to check on her. I went over to do that.

And she was still breathing. And still struggling. And the bullet hadn't hit anything vital.
And she whimpered.

I ran into the house, called Bill and asked him to come up as quickly as he could. Since I'd woken him up, it was going to be a few minutes. As I called Amy, in a rage at our stupid fucking neighbors, I loaded my .45. The same .45 I've used as a prop for the last two movies. The one I've pointed at all my friends, unloaded. The .45 I've used for target practice, failing to hit any target under five yards. I went outside.

She was still whimpering. Bill was still a few minutes out. And I knew that if her wounds from the car were so bad that she'd been unable to get away that this new pain couldn't possibly be any worse.

But she was whimpering. And breathing heavy. And then she looked at me.

I don't know how to kill deer. I don't know where their hearts are.

I put the gun to her head, between her ear and her eye, looked away and pulled the trigger.

I know it was the adrenaline that made her try to get up. The blood stopped flowing almost immediately, so I knew she was dead. I know the movement was reflex, the body shutting down. But it felt like I sat there forever to wait for everything to stop. It was only a minute or so, but time really did slow down as I waited for this poor animal to die. And I hated myself - for pulling the trigger, for having to, for crying while I did.

I sat there with my hands on her, waiting with her. Stupid, sure. But I had to. I couldn't make myself walk away from her.

Bill pulled up a minute later, checked my shot, assured me that it had put her down at once. That it was a good shot. Never once cajoling me for crying or being upset - not that he would have, but others around here would.

He helped me move it across the road to the other side of my property, where nature could take over. Foxes and raccoons have to fatten up for the winter and it was better than letting her rot on a landfill somewhere.

Her rear leg was shattered - I could feel the bones grinding as I hefted her up, afraid the meat was going to tear away. There was at least one compound fracture. Whoever hit her ran over her leg and kept going. It had to have been agony for her for the last three or so hours.

Let me tell you, it would have been easier for me to open fire on our dumb-ass "helpful" neighbors than it was to pull the trigger on that poor deer. I've never killed anything before. Never wanted to. Right now I'm sick and I'm angry and I know that there are more than a few of you out there that think I'm a royal pussy right now, but I don't give a shit.

Today someone put me in the position where I had to put a gun to a living animal's head and pull the trigger. I had her blood cool on my hands. And that's going to be with me. If not for the rest of my life, then for the rest of the day. And this isn't how I wanted to spend my day.