A BAND IS A DREAM, YOU KNOW. IT’S A DREAM THAT YOU HAVE. IT’S A DREAM THAT ALL YOUR BAND MEMBERS HAVE. IT’S A DREAM OF ANOTHER WORLD, OF SOME OTHER PLACE, A PLACE THAT FEELS ADVENTUROUS, I SUPPOSE, SAFE—WHERE YOU FEEL YOU’RE ACCEPTED. AND A REAL BAND IS A VERY PARTICULAR AND SPECIAL THING. THE CONNECTIONS YOU MAKE AMONG YOUR BAND MEMBERS BECOME NEAR SACRED AS YOU GET OLDER. CLARENCE WAS LIKE A DREAM. I’D BEEN LOOKING FOR YEARS FOR A SAXOPHONIST. … A REAL ROCK N’ ROLL SAXOPHONIST IS HARD TO COME BY. YOU DON’T WANT A GUY THAT WILL COME IN AND KIND OF SLUM WITH YOU. YOU NEED SOMEBODY WHO’S AN R&B PLAYER.”
Last weekend, I listened to one of my favorite podcasts, The New Yorker Radio Hour. The host, New Yorker magazine editor David Remnick, was replaying an interview he had done with Bruce Springsteen from a few years ago. He asked Springsteen to talk about sax player Clarence Clemons, a.k.a., The Big Man—what he meant to Springsteen and the E Street Band. What I’ve quoted above was Springsteen’s response.
The idea of a band being like a dream reminds me of some things I’ve experienced. Writing is like a dream. You live in an alternative universe with characters that feel so real they are a piece of yourself. And in the best of circumstances, those dreams become the dreams of other people who are sacred to you and the writing process.
A few years back I made a short film, THE BEAUTY OF DISASTER. Thanks in large part to my co-conspirator—producer/director Nicole Gomez Fisher—a team of people came together and worked so hard on it, for next to no money. We came out the other end of it with new friends and memories of so much fun. The film went on to screen several times in Los Angeles and New York. It won an award along the way as well as a licensing deal with a cable channel. And I still feel such affection for the cast and crew.
More dream-like experiences have come to me whenever I’m with 11 very gifted writers. We were selected to be part of the very first Writers Lab for Women Over 40, sponsored by Meryl Streep. There was a pool of around 3,500 contestants, so being chosen made me feel like hot stuff for about 30 seconds.
Then the Lab immersed us in a very intensive series of discussions with mentors—most of whom verbally tore apart our scripts in an effort to show us how we could make them a whole lot more compelling. My mentors were Meg LeFauve, who would go on to become an Oscar-nominated writer for her work on Pixar’s INSIDE OUT, and producer Mary Jane Skalski, whose long list of credits includes THE STATION AGENT.
While all that tough love was coming at us, a sense of camaraderie developed between the writers, and we started referring to our group as Meryl’s Army. After we dispersed to our homes in various parts of the country we kept in touch. We’ve made trips to see each other in person, and had a lot of Zoom, phone and email discussions to critique each other’s work and laugh, cheering our successes or empathizing with darker things we’re going through. We are raising each other up. As the years go by, more extremely talented writers have joined Meryl’s Army. And the funders have grown to include Nicole Kidman and Oprah Winfrey.
My dream has become the dream of others — not just The Writer’s Lab members, but other talented writer friends as well. Their dream has become mine. They help me see the flaws in what I’ve created, how I can make my work better. And I’ve helped them too, or at least I hope I have.
The novel I’ve written, THE JUICE, is a dream that I lived for many years before it ever reached the publishing stage. That’s why it’s so exciting to have it in final form, ready for release Feb. 9, thanks to the wonderful Gwen Gades and her Dragon Moon Press. Now it’s their dream, too.
Heaven knows, THE JUICE is not perfect. I’ll always think of ways to make it better, until my dying breath, no doubt. But as Springsteen recalls producer Jon Landau telling him after Springsteen threw Born to Run in a swimming pool in utter disgust: “Sometimes the things that are wrong with something are the same things that make that thing great. As in life. That’s the way art is.”
It helps me to realize that’s true.