THE GOOD STUFF

By Stephen Jay Schwartz

“Would you rather vomit out your eyeballs or your nose and ears?”

My nine-year old boy has taken to asking such questions lately.  It reminds me of that scene in the movie “Parenthood” when the kids are in the back seat of the car singing disgusting lyrics to favorite camp songs, and Steve Martin says, “This is what we get for sending them to that expensive summer camp?”

My wife and I both chose to vomit the nose and ears and keep the eyes.  I realize that I’d rather vomit the whole shebang than lose the hair.

It’s been heavenly coming home from work every night to spend time with my family.  For years now I’ve been doing the day job then going to the café to spend another five or six hours writing.  And my weekends have been ten to twelve hour writing days.  But the second book in my two-book deal is done and when I come home now I see my wife and my kids and there’s simply nothing else I want to do but hang with them.

I’ve been playing chess with my nine-year old and he kicks my ass every time.  I finally got one win from him a couple weeks ago and I’m holding onto that feeling with everything I’ve got.  I don’t expect to be able to beat him again.  It was a fluke, it took all my mental energy and I didn’t have a clear thought for days after.  The kids have also got me onto their internet game-making site called Playcrafter.  They design and publish these cool little video games, and now I’m part of their world. 

And I’m just listening.  Hearing what they have to say, on a whole host of subjects.  My eleven-year old reads Scientific American and Discover and Night Sky and he tells me about the shrinking stars and inflationary expansion of the universe and the evolution of species and String Theory and I don’t understand half of it.  They tell me about the world of their Imagination, which is an actual creation, a story they’ve been building between themselves for years.  They add characters and adventures and they’ve put together this long family tree that covers a half-dozen generations.  They spend some time every day on this, and it’s like watching “story improv” to see them going at it.  I told them someday we’ll put all of that into a cool, YA book, written by them, with the help of their parents. 

And they both take violin lessons and, home from work yesterday, I watched them, with their long hair pulled back to keep from getting caught in the bows, and I felt warm and wonderful inside, with the rain pounding on the roof and the labradoodle like a lump of black sugar at their feet.

This time is fleeting.  I have to begin work on a proposal for my third book, which will be a standalone.  And I have to sweep up the mess of my life, what fell between the cracks while I wrote the first two.  There’s a foreclosure in the works, and maybe a bankruptcy, and the likely, looming loss of my day job, and more and more and more.  What I’d really love to do is make a clean break and go straight to writing full-time, which is what most of us would like to do, I’m sure.  Maybe a writer-in-residency program at some artist colony, a place to keep myself and the family for six months or more.  If anyone has any ideas…I’m all ears.

I’ll take my time on the book proposal.  I don’t want it to get in the way of daddy time.  I know that, soon enough, I’ll be back in the trenches, with deadlines and page-count expectations hanging over me.  My boys will see me with my head buried in the laptop and they’ll wonder what happened to the guy who used to end up at the bottom of every dog pile. 

Tonight, instead of burying myself in research, I’ll curl up on the couch under a blanket with the wife and kids and watch “The Witches of Waverly Place,” or my favorite, “Phineas and Ferb.”   Their world is simply much more fun than anything else I can think to do.  Sure, there’s a lot of crying and stomping of feet.  But, once I’m done, the kids always find a way to make me laugh.  We’re in that perfect, magical time, the time when kids actually want their parents around.  And their perspective is always refreshing.  We’ve had a huge “Happy Birthday!” banner on the wall for two years now, because the kids didn’t want to take it down.  Because, as I’m told, “it’s always someone’s birthday, somewhere.” 

They keep the Peter Pan in me alive.  I don’t ever want to take them for granted.  After all, this is the good stuff.

 

36 thoughts on “THE GOOD STUFF

  1. Cornelia Read

    Ach, Stephen… I am so sorry about the money woes. I hope that all works out, that you get the big bucks for your standalone proposal, and that the day job lasts as long as it needs to.

    And your children sound magnificent.

    Reply
  2. PK the Bookeemonster

    Stephen, even though things may seem out of control in some areas of your life, you sound like you are aware of the important stuff. 2009 was a really sucky year for me but out of it came good like self knowledge and knowing the important stuff. Sometimes we get these kick in the pants to get our attention and get reminded of that. The subtle hints apparently didn’t get through. 🙂
    Now go do things you love and be with the ones you love., but you knew that already.
    Have a good Friday.

    Reply
  3. Robert Gregory Browne

    Stephen, sorry to hear about the financial pain and potential loss of a job. I’ve been around for a while, however, and even when things look a bit bleak, we survive somehow and keep doing what we have to do.

    I propose that Murderati start a writer’s colony. We all become the faculty, invite aspiring writers from all over the world to come stay at our compound in Hawaii. For a nice fee, of course. 😉

    It sounds to me like you’ve got a couple of great kids and a wonderful family life, and it sounds as if you’re taking the time to savor it. And, in the end, that’s what’s most important.

    In the meantime, keep the faith.

    Reply
  4. Louise Ure

    I love the two-year old Happy Birthday banner. That’s even better than the Christmas lights that stay up all year in the most authentic of Mexican restaurants.

    And Stephen, you’re just the coolest Dad.

    Reply
  5. Karen in Ohio

    Times like these, you find your center, and those things and people most precious to you, or you crash and burn. It sounds as though you’ve hit the grace note here, Stephen, and are appreciating your family as the truly important part of your life. And the part that nothing can take away from you.

    Those boys have the imagination and the brilliance to do anything they want to do, it seems. Bravo to you and your wife for having given them the environment in which to dream, imagine, and strive. Things will work out the way they are supposed to; they always do. Peace.

    Reply
  6. Gar Anthony Haywood

    Stephen:

    It’s funny, but with one or two minor exceptions, your life experience isn’t much different from mine. I’ve got a 9 year old and a 7 year old, and I feel the same way about my kids, and the time I spend with them, as you do. You know that old expression, "Don’t sweat the small stuff"? Well, everything else OTHER than your wife and kids ARE the small stuff. Hang in there.

    Oh, and I’m right with you on Phineas and Ferb — but I-Carly is a much better show than The Witches of Waverly Place…

    Reply
  7. Zoë Sharp

    Hey Stephen

    I always try to remember that growing old is mandatory, but growing up is optional. It’s why I still jump on the back of the empty supermarket cart when I’m taking it back to the stack and ride it across the car park. That doesn’t get you funny looks at all …

    Hope the financial side comes right for you soon.

    Reply
  8. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Thanks for the warm wishes, everyone. I’ll ride the tough times out…like Zoe on the shopping cart. By the way, you don’t get strange looks when you do that kind of stuff in L.A., Zoe. For better or worse.

    Gar – I-Carly, huh? Hmmm….I’ll have to ask the boys about it. I used to be a Spongebob fan, but the show’s writers seem to be phoning it in lately. Just keep me away from Hannah Montana and Sweet Life on Deck….eck. Oh, another big favorite – the something House of Imaginary Friends, I forgot the title, but it was a great one. I’m sure you’ve got bootleg copies of it yourself.

    Cornelia, PK, Robert, Louise, Karen…it’s so nice to hear your words. I know I’ll look back at this in a couple years and see it as that hard, yet wonderful period of life. If it were just me, I could live in a dumpster. But I hate to drag the family through a mess. Yet, it also feels like, in-between lives, I wrote the scenario for this life and I filled it with drama and escalating action, leading to a happy third act. I’m in Act Two, so I should expect this stuff.

    Reply
  9. Brett Battes

    We’re an iCarly (fist knock with Gar) and Sponge-Bob household. iCarly for the girls, and Sponge-Bob for my son, who I think knows the words to every episode.

    Hang in there, Steve. You are on the right path…you’re just in the process of shucking your old life…it doesn’t all fall off at once, but eventually it’ll all be behind you.

    Reply
  10. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Foster’s HOME of Imaginary Friends…I knew I’d get that right eventually.

    Thanks, Brett. I know you’ve gone through all of this before, too. It’s good to see that you survived yesterday’s onslaught. Man, that was an avalanche! It was fun, though, wasn’t it?

    Reply
  11. JT Ellison

    Brett’s right – there’s pain that comes from metamorphosis, but think of the shiny butterfly you’ll be when you shed the chrysalis! The love of your family will see you through – keep focused on them, and it will all work out.

    And a writers colony – I know there’s one up Cornelia’s way, but I don’t know the name of it.

    Reply
  12. JD Rhoades

    Brother, I know how you feel. Last year was the pits, financially. We didn’t face foreclosure, but we were hanging on to our health insurance by our fingernails. Lot of sleepless nights there.

    But, as you’ve discovered, kids are the anodyne for worry…even though they’re the reason for most of it! Funny how that works.

    Here’s my wish for more moolah AND more face time with those we love, for all of us.

    Reply
  13. Karen in Ohio

    Stephen, the kids will be fine. Trust me on this one. I grew up in the most cataclysmic household of all time, with all sorts of crazy disruption, and it makes kids stronger, especially if they have a strong bond with their parents. And it sounds as if your kids do.

    If nothing else, one of them might grow up to write about it, a la Jeanette Walls.

    Reply
  14. toni mcgee causey

    Man, Stephen, I’ve been in that financial pit where you are, about the time my two boys were the same age as your kids. It’s amazing the things we can survive. And thrive, in spite of it all.

    Both my boys were sort of aware the economy here had failed badly (the rest of the country was doing okay, and people were fleeing Louisiana in such huge droves, there were waiting lists for U-haul trucks.) But you know… we remember mostly hanging out together, and laughing and having fun, going to their school events, and finding creative ways to solve problems.

    It sounds to me like you’re on the right track. Fingers crossed for you that the financial stuff miraculously ease off, soon, and that you can keep enough time to keep your kids’ company. That was a great gift to me, back then. I even realized it in the moment, but I look back now and those moments were golden. It’s why our family is so close, now.

    Reply
  15. villavillain

    I’m sorry to hear about your financial woes. There are a lot of people in the same position, and the rest of us teeter there sometimes. It sounds like you have strong kids, and what’s a house without cool kids, anyway? It’s not the house , it’s the home, and you’ll all still be together in an apartment or wherever. You’re not dragging them – you’re all in it together, and it will make them stronger. Of course, do we really want stronger kids? Mine seem to be awesomely strong already…

    And, yes, "Phineas and Ferb" is the BEST! "Secret Show" is pretty cool, too. Unfortunately, no-one has pushed the Sprouse twins overboard, so I’ll be suffering a little longer.

    Reply
  16. Allison Brennan

    Zoe, you ride the shopping cart too?

    Stephen, been there, done that. I think creative types might have more money troubles because money isn’t something we think about all the time–it’s sort of the means to an end. Or, maybe it’s the housing market. We have a house we can’t sell. But we can’t walk away, either–we’re neither rich nor poor, we’re in the middle–which means they can come after our current house and we’d be screwed for years. But we don’t have the money to refinance–we’re not upside down, but they won’t refinance a second house unless there’s more than 20% equity. I want to scream. So we’re renting it out, but we’re still short every month.

    One of the best compliments I’ve gotten from my kids is, "You’re not like other moms." At least, I like to think it’s a compliment . . . I don’t spend enough time with my kids, and I don’t believe in the quality time crap (like a "quality" hour is as good as an entire day watching them swim?) But I do stuff they want to do–play video games, bake cookies, watch their volleyball or soccer or football or basketball games, or watch iCarly with them for the umteenth time. And the two older girls and I have our tv nights were we watch SUPERNATURAL together, or BUFFY–we’re nearly done with Season Four. Before BUFFY was VERONICA MARS, another great show to watch with younger teens. Especially girls. And I think one of the greatest things is that they are all their own people, they have their own ideas and imaginations and strengths.

    And Stephen, my 8 year old son retains everything like a recorder, helps his pre-algebra 8th grade sister with math (much to her frustration), and still thinks farting jokes are the best.

    Reply
  17. Tammee

    What an amazing post. I was just envying your life when you got to the financial ruin part (That’s what my friends and I call it…lol). I guess the thing I have to say is that despite all the tough parts, you still have an enviable and joyful life, and that’s the light at the end of the tunnel. You have something to emerge for and you will. I have been crawling through the tunnel and this year I can finally see a sliver of light and it feels tremendous. Keep crawling and enjoy the violin music on the way 🙂

    Reply
  18. anonymous

    Oh Stephen. You have really touched us this morning. I wish I could think of something I could do for you. My brother told me yesterday that he thinks he is losing his home. He is out of work and can’t make mortgage and health insurance payments. He said he was thinking of moving to Belize or India, where he has friends and can live on pennies a day. But he and his wife are older and his kids are out of the house. I am helping my nephew through his final years in college because I can’t bear to see his education suffer. I wish your publisher could think of a way to help you keep your house…….protect and preserve one of it’s assets, so to speak, but I guess things like that only happen in the movies.

    I know of other authors who are scared that they have to make a living at their writing. This always surprises me. To the naive, uninformed and oblivious public, writer’s are seen as romantic, self-assured, successful and awe inspiring. It never occurs to their readers that they might be struggling with financial woes or health issues or tragedy or death or marital problems. We look at the Stephen Kings and Michael Connellys and think that they are the standard success stories. It just isn’t so. I guess J.K. Rowling had a tough go of it before she became a legend. Maybe she would be a good one to talk to.

    I think the stories that your kids have developed could DEF be great YA material. Maybe you’ve got some Harry Potter stuff brewing there that should be tapped. NOW!

    "Sure, there’s a lot of crying and stomping of feet. But, once I’m done……" You are a sweet dad with a gentle humor and my heart is aching for you now.

    Feeling helpless………..

    Maybe some day you could include a picture of you and your kids. I would love that. Something haimish (that’s Yiddish for cubby-wubby-womby) but I understand the desire to protect them and keep them close.

    Sigh

    Reply
  19. pari noskin taichert

    Stephen,
    I think you know I’ll be looking for a job in the coming months. Not quite as dire as what you’ve described but definitely in the ballpark. So I feel some of your pain and pray that the financial worries resolve with minimal difficulty, that the outcome is actually good rather than upsetting.

    I had my children later in life and cannot think of anything at all that gives me as much delight as being with them and watching them grow.

    They bring me joy and renewed purpose every day.

    Reply
  20. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Listen, everyone….thank you soooo much for this incredible outpouring of sympathy. But I don’t want this to become a pity-fest. Times are tough for everyone and, overall, things are really great in my life. I think what I wanted to say in my post is that, despite the troubles, things are good, and that all comes from family, from having the wonderful, supportive family I’ve got. And so I’m thankful. And I’m damn thankful for having a community of supportive friends and fellow writers in Murderati. You guys are good, good, good. And, listen, there’s a price to pay to get that first book published. We, as authors, have determined that we are willing to pay that price, up to a point.
    So, I’m here by choice, to some extent. We’ll all get to the next step, in time.

    Reply
  21. Alexandra Sokoloff

    This is the kind of honesty that separates the pros from the wannabees – thanks, Steve.

    Yes, anyone who’s wondering – you have to know that there are going to be some hard times if you pursue a dream. It takes faith, risk, relentlessness and endurance.

    And heart.

    And obviously you have enough for all of us, SJS. Lucky, lucky kids and partner, and it sounds like they all know it.

    Reply
  22. F.I.

    I don’t know what your job situation is. Your film production company? Your screenwriting? Is this what is falling apart? My friend, Andy Ruben (whose father, Aaron just passed) is teaching at the Academy of Art Univ. in SF. He is instructing in motion picture and television studies. He lives in San Francisco so he must be making a living. It’s more expensive up here than SoCal, though not by much. Could you teach? I am thinking that the health plans and retirement benefits are good, is all, and allows you time to make films and write. Or is that too humiliating? My brother-in-law is an assoc. producer on Old Christine but he probably can’t do anything for you. He is still kicking himself for giving up his directing job on Frazier to go with a George Wendt show that died. Life decisions. OY. Maybe you should look into life in Portland, Oregon where it is more affordable and you could still do what you do.

    It is the house thing that is worrying me. And Allison’s plight, as well. I feel like there is something that we all can do about this but I don’t have the resources. I HATE not being in control, ya know? It’s not right to sit back and watch a "friend’s" life in chaos.

    OK. Enough.

    I am a sappy idiot.

    One question: Has Boulevard been picked up for a movie?

    Reply
  23. Ev

    Dear Stephen,

    "They keep the Peter Pan in me alive. I don’t ever want to take them for granted. After all, this is the good stuff."

    It really is. Keep your eye on that and the rest will fall into place (and hopefully, soon. I’m sorry for your stress). Thanks for the smile and the reminder.

    And happy writing–a new book!

    ~ Ev

    p.s. The birthday banner is the best!!!!!!! 😀 I love that kind of interior decorating.

    Reply
  24. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Hey, FI – I left the film biz a few years ago and took a "day job" so I could get a consistent paycheck while I write. It’s the day job that is fluctuating now. I still have aspirations to direct films, but that time will come when it comes. I’ll have to start small – an inexpensive indie or two.
    Teaching is definitely not beneath me – I’d love to teach, and I love San Francisco (it’s the setting for my second book). I only have a BA, though, and I know that folks with PhDs are getting turned away. But I’d love an in, so if you have a name, I’d definitely follow up on it.
    CAA is taking out Boulevard to try to set up a TV series. I’m waiting to see what happens. That, of course, would be the best thing to happen. We’ll see what the next few months brings.

    Reply
  25. F.I.

    OK. I have my orders. I will try to find out if Andy can do anything for you. Private schools don’t require the PhD. Sure it helps, but Andy doesn’t have one. Best thing on his resumé is that he made Poison Ivy with his partner Katt Shea starring a young Drew Barrymore. Maybe it is because of his father’s name in the industry? Who knows. Andy mostly made porn films for most of his career.

    I have a connection in Portland for UO and PSU. I’ll check into that. They love film up there. Ya know….high school level isn’t too bad, either. The benefit package, again.

    Fingers crossed on TV Boulevard!!!!

    Reply
  26. F.I.

    Just queried Andy and a few other people on university faculties. I’ll let you know. Don’t want to start emailing and such if it dies right here. You don’t have time for unproductive correspondence.

    Later

    Reply
  27. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Thanks, FI. The more I think about it, the more I’d love to be teaching in San Fran. Such a creative city. You should e:mail me regardless, so I can get your e:mail address and we can correspond. Again, I appreciate it!

    Reply
  28. BCB

    Stephen, I just hate it that you’re going through this financial crap. But I love your attitude — toward the financial stuff and also toward parenting and just plain living. In lieu of being able to actually do anything tangible for you, I’ll be sending positive thoughts in your general direction. (Hey, don’t underestimate the power of my thoughts.) (Sorry, Brett’s bad parenthetical influence hasn’t yet worn off.) I know without a doubt that someday when you’ve achieved all the wonderful things destiny has planned for you, remembering this time spent enduring the lowest of lows will allow you to cherish and savour your success more fully. May it happen soon.

    Hang in there. I have faith in you and all your abilities.

    Reply
  29. billie

    Stephen, I’m a day late but wanted to say I loved this post, and also – University of Texas-Austin has a 6-month writing residency that includes a small ranch house out in the hill country plus land to roam, and you can bring your family. They also pay a stipend. I think you have to demonstrate some association to Texas – either by living there for some period of time or working on a project to do with or set in Texas. I would LOVE to go, having lived in Austin for nearly 4 years, but couldn’t take all my animal family with me. I do think you can take dogs/cats though!

    Reply
  30. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Awesome, Billie! I will look into this! I actually spent my first college year in Denton, Texas, and my sister currently lives near Dallas. I might be able to derive some sort of association there. And Austin is THE place to be in Texas. I am definitely going to follow up on this.
    THANK YOU!

    Reply
  31. johnmdirector@yahoo.com

    Schwartzensteiner, so beautiful to see that you’re in the moment and creating such a loving and respectful reality aside from the financial stress. According to physics the realization of the moment unites all dimension in the time/space continuum. Dimensions are considered independent components of a coordinate grid needed to locate a point in a certain defined space. The experience of living in the moment can actually bend the time space continuum. Thus, an hour of conscious realization can actually seem like like far longer because it actually is longer. By making time for the things you love, you are actually making time in a parallel universe/dimension! It also creates reference points that or can then be reassembled, particle by particle throughout eternity. What you’re creating is beyond good stuff, it’s GREAT stuff that will endure eons.

    Reply
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