Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas 2008!

Every Christmas we write a Christmas letter and include it with our Christmas cards. Because there are so many people who only read the blog, I repost it here on Christmas Day.

This year, the Mrs. wrote the letter with very little input from me, and it shows. No spelling or grammar errors. No secret subliminal curse words. No photos of children crying.

We are going to be with family pretty much non-stop from Christmas Eve through New Year's Day, so there will be very little internet/blog time. After the first of the year, though, there may be some more. And possibly pictures.

Hope you have a Happy New Year. See you in 2009! Here is the letter:

Merry Christmas 2008!

Recently we wrote this letter from underneath the city’s annual coating of ice. We now pass it along to you, Internet Friend, even though it’s now considerably warmer.

It’s 25° (F) and sleeting outside. Traffic’s a mess. What better time to curl up with a warm laptop and let you know how much we are warmed by having you in our lives?

Now’s the part where we’re supposed to give you the readout of what happened this year. In the macrocosm, of course, it was a year a lot of people will want to forget. But in our own world, things went pretty well.

Big blessing of the year: RT didn’t have to travel except for fun. For a consultant in a we-all-travel-up-to-100% company, that’s amazing.

CT took 12 months off from boards, politics, volunteering, and zoning, in order to get some sleep. RT celebrated this by immediately getting onto the board of the Dallas Screenwriters Association, where he is beloved by his peers & works hard. CT goes to DSA meetings with him to practice her schmooze & gaze admiringly at RT. He had some scenes in the monthly DSA scene readings (if you’re in town on a Tuesday, give us a call). He’s also working on a book of screenplays, with the encouragment of his DSA friends. (For the backstory on this, visit RT’s “26 Films” blog at .)

SALON continued! ( Hosted 2 jazz concerts (January and August), and wayyy back in February we had a lovely piano/oboe classical concert. Pleased that our little community of music appreciation continues to appreciate. Hoping to audition some new SALON musicians in 2009. Had trouble finding a home with a piano for a Nov/Dec SALON, but got to hear the musicians perform at a local Episcopal church instead. They were amazing.

This year was a pretty musical year. We renewed our subscription with the Dallas Opera (highlight of last season was Tosca; the best so far this season was probably Die Fledermaus). Interrupted by some sinus infections, CT began working with a Belorussian pianist (from Minsk!) on the Rachmaninov Vocalise and a song by Mike Capps called “Easter Wings” on text by George Herbert ( ). Hopefully you’ll get to hear this stuff in 2009, either live or recorded.

RT also had a musical year. Within a few weeks of 2008’s advent, we owned Guitar Hero 1, Guitar Hero 2, AND Guitar Hero 3, with all the instruments and electronical accountrements appertaining thereunto. Our living room looks like a rock rehearsal. We added Rock Band 1 (without the drums) during the summer. He is quite the shredding axeman now. Everything from Stevie Ray Vaughan to Guns N Roses to Eric Clapton to Metallica pours out of our speakers. He jumps into the air while shredding and is more fun at parties than ever.

Other musical highlights: hearing Alison Krauss and Robert Plant live on tour. (Amazing show, very interesting musicians) And the Ft Worth Opera’s festival season: Turandot.

Travels took us to:
– Albuquerque and Santa Fe, NM for our 5th anniversary + catching up with Seretha/Stan & family
– Chicago, IL for Filmspotting meetup, Seattle for RT’s annual company holiday party
– Houston for time w/the Eppersons (now displaced by Hurricane Ike)
– Atlanta/north Georgia for a family reunion.
CT also went to San Diego, Las Vegas, and San Antonio for conferences.

Oh, and CT’s old trusty steed finally died at the ripe old age of 15 (~180,000 miles). Her Prius made its debut in our garage in October. It’s getting about 51.8 mpg, city and highway. Just in time for gas to go on sale for half price.

Please drop us a line and let us know what is going on with you as well.

In these volatile times, we wish you an energetic, healthy, blessed, and providential 2009.

More of us on the internet:

CT on Twitter:

CT on Delicious (fondly remembered as

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Passive-Aggressive Guide to Giving Christmas Gifts

Every holiday season, millions of people review their Christmas gift list and ask themselves, "Why am I getting THIS person a gift again?"

Our lives are filled with people that we don't really want to gifts to, but feel contractually obligated to do so. Maybe it is your least favorite niece or nephew who accidentally spilled Kool Aid on your beautiful leather couch. Maybe it is the co-worker you secretly don't like, but you're getting gifts for everyone on your team so you have to get a gift for this person, too. Maybe it is someone close to your significant other and you've never quite figured out what it is your S.O. sees in this person.

It doesn't matter; what matters is that you have to buy a gift for someone you don't particularly care for. It is a tough place to be, but this guide will help you find the perfect gift that is both passive and aggressive at the same time.

The main thing to do is to not think of gifts as objects - think of gifts as a message. A message that says, "I am supposed to like you and do something nice for you, but my heart is not really in it. So I am honoring the letter of this gift-giving law but not the spirit." There is a deep vein of tacky in everything about Christmas for this sole purpose. Tacky Christmas ornaments. Tacky Christmas clothing. In fact, Paul McCartney let the world know how much he passive-aggressively hates it by penning the worst song ever and then associating it with Christmas.

The key to being passive it to avoid the "watching with glee as the person opens the present" experience. You don't want to see the flash of disappointment as someone opens an ornate package only to find it contains tube socks. Well, maybe you do, but if this person also doesn't like you, the passive-aggressive gift might lead to a fight, and the whole point of being passive is that you want to avoid a fight while remaining as annoying as possible.

By hiding from the gift opening experience, it opens the door to writing the passive-aggressive note. The passive-aggressive note is a long-honored tradition by people who pride themselves on being "helpful" in quotes when everyone knows good and well they just want to be as grating on the nerves as possible.

Classic example - For Christmas, give a person a Diet Book with a sweet little note on the cover page that reads, "I know you have been struggling for some time, and I just wanted to help. Merry Christmas!"

This example accomplishes so many things at once:
  • It takes on the veneer of being helpful.
  • It is really snarky and more than a little insulting.
  • It is personalized.
Personalized gifts are KEY to being passive-aggressive. Everyone gets tacky gifts from their passive-aggressive friends. But truly passive-aggressive people simply REGIFT the tacky present. The best way to block the regifting process on a hideous present is to personalize the hideous present.

For example, a Christmas sweater with a big goofy reindeer on it can always be re-wrapped and sent to your Uncle Murray next Christmas. HOWEVER, a Christmas sweater with a big goofy reindeer AND a monogrammed name of "Mitch" on it... Well, Mitch, you are stuck unless you have a kid with your same name and you want to punish the poor child.

Because children receive the most presents at Christmas time, they also receive the most passive-aggressive gifts. Ask any child how they feel about getting clothes for Christmas and you will hear a heartfelt tale of woe. It is possible to take passive-aggressiveness up a notch, however by giving children wonderful gifts that are sure to drive their parents insane.

For example, give the child a book of knock knock jokes. Or, better yet, give the child a set of drums. Or a collection of fun silly polka songs. The success of Barney the Dinosaur comes directly from passive-aggressive relatives giving presents to the children for the sole purpose of driving the parents beyond the border of nutsville.

In fact, a lot of industries are based on passive-aggressive gifts. The impulse buy aisle before every check out counter is a hotbed of passive-aggression. Nothing quite says, "I didn't think of you until the last minute, so here is a can of peppermint bark," than waiting until the last minute and buying a can of peppermint bark.

So there you go. Buy something crappy. Dress it up. Personalize it. Write a passive-aggressive note. And then run far, far away.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Photographic Evidence of the Most Recent Post

Thanks to the diligence of my mother, who still has some of my artwork from first grade, the picture of me and the mop was discovered.

The photo is in bad shape with lots of scratches on it. I tried to tweak it a little so you can see all of the details. In this one, I lightened it so you could see the dress.

This one I darkened so you could see the detail of the line drawing on the face.

Yes. Dork runs deep in my blood.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

How Legends are Made

I once told my Anonymous Male Cousin how the family legends grew around him. "When you were a kid, you did all sorts of cute-but-crazy stuff. You climbed up and subsequently fell off kitchen counters. You left the family Thanksgiving dinner, only to show up minutes later with your pants and underwear around your ankles, asking someone to help you snap up. You climbed out of your room window and ran away from the babysitter.

"Everyone told these stories about you. And when you grew up, people only told stories that aligned themselves with the earlier stories. No one knows you have a philosophy degree. No one knows how involved you were in student government. All we know is that you fell 50 ft. off the side of a mountain because you also fell off the kitchen counter tops when you were three. You already set up the legends that would define the rest of your life before you started kindergarten."

I say this because, in some real respects, he didn't know what he was doing when he was a kid starting family legends about him. Just like I had no idea what I was doing when I started a legend about myself.

Thanks to the power of Facebook, I am reconnecting with several people from my high school. And every once in awhile I get the same question. Sometime the person doesn't remember me very well, they can't quite place the face, but they remember the one big thing I did that no one else dared to do.

Sometimes I wish the questions were about other areas of my high school experience. "Aren't you the guy who placed second in the State Journalism Contest?" Or "Aren't you the guy who gave that speech at the National Honor Society where you said, 'No one wants to have good character because at an early age we are told good character comes from eating Brussels sprouts?'"

No. They all ask the same thing.

"Weren't you the guy who took a mop to prom?"

Yes. I took a mop to prom.

In keeping with a long personal tradition of putting faith into completely faithless women (a tradition shattered by my loving wife), I asked a young lady to prom. A young lady who promptly forgot about the commitment and made nebulous other plans for the same evening. And then this forgetful soul decided not to really communicate this forgetfulness to me until mere hours before I was to pick her up.

Left in the lurch like this, I did what any sane person would do. Put a dress on a mop and ask my brother to draw a face on a piece of paper that I could tape to the mop.

And then I went to prom, danced until my heart was content, and got my date home by 10.

One of the reasons we were home by 10 was because the two post-prom parties I had been invited to suddenly decided to un-invite me as soon as they saw my date for the evening. I mean, it is totally cool to dance next to a guy and his mop while "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" blasts in your ears, but to be seen with the same guy and his mop in a party afterwords... that crosses a line.

I know I am a strange guy. And I know it takes a lot of bravery to be friends with the strange guy, especially in high school. That night was one of the few times I have seen my strangeness outpace other people's bravery. I learned that people, even your close friends, can tolerate eccentricity up to a point and then after that, you are on your own. Like all lasting wisdom, this has helped me in the long run, but at the time... man, it hurt.

That night is a little bittersweet for me. I was handed lemons, made lemonade, and then came away from the experience feeling like I had been kicked in the teeth.

Until a few weeks after prom, when we had our senior assembly. All of the Seniors got to go to the auditorium and be entertained with a slideshow of our Senior year set to the timeless music of Garth Brooks. And there - smack dab in the middle of it all - was a picture of me dancing with a mop.

And the crowd cheered.

And the legend began.

Part of me wants to set the record straight - this was nothing more than a bold and audacious move by a lonely guy with nothing who couldn't catch a break on an important night.

But another part of me just wants to let the story stand as is - this one time, this dude took a mop to prom and it was totally awesome.

So, yeah, I did something legendary. And for the rest of my days, a certain group of people will know me only as That Guy Who Took a Mop to Prom. I don't mind. I'm just glad I didn't have to fall 50 ft. off the side of a mountain to get there.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Wedding Photos Scattered Along Garland Road

This is what I get for walking to Starbucks instead of driving like most people in Dallas.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

When Someone Asks Me to Post, How Can I Refuse?

So Tera tagged me on her blog.

In case you don't want to read the picture, here are the rules:

1. Link to the person who tagged you and post the rules on your blog.

2. Share 7 random and/or weird facts about yourself.

3. Tag 7 random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs.

4. Let each person know that they've been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

At first, I did not know what to say. So much about me is completely normal, sane, and unremarkable in every way. But, you know, I was TAGGED with an internet thing, so I might as well give it the ol' college try.

1. In my notebook, I have about two pages of Facebook statuses I plan on using to entertain my Facebook friends. Examples of statuses I have used include, "M. Robert would have gotten away with it if it weren't for those meddling kids," and "M. Robert is sponsored by viewers like you."

2. When I was younger, I thought skin color/race could be transferred from person to person. It wasn't until after I started kindergarten that I realized I would not eventually get to be a cute little African-American kid. And, yes, I was sad about this.

3. I have a Texas accent that comes out when I drink or when I pronounce the word "nuclear." And yes, I do pronounce it the same way W. does. I have worked on this, but to no avail. I totally recognize this makes me sound like an idiot.

4. I memorized every line of The Muppet Movie when I was younger and my brother and I would perform huge chunks of the film for anyone's amusement with each of us acting out all the parts. I could probably still do the Doc Hopper French Fried Frog Legs jingle if you asked me to do so now.

5. I have never worked in the food service industry. I have done just about everything else, including retail sales, janitorial services, professional writing, hospital work, crude Flash animation, training videos, and house painting, but not food service.

6. The first professional author I ever met was William H. Armstrong, the man who wrote Sounder. He signed my copy of Sounder and wrote a nice little note in it for me. I was in second grade and did not appreciate the experience until I was much older.

7. Whenever I get tagged or sent something I have to perpetuate, I break the chain. And, yes, I have done this to poor Tera before.

Monday, December 01, 2008

10 Ways for a Screenwriter to Procrastinate

Now comes the time of year when I double-dip. There are a lot of things going on right now - the end of the semester, the looming holiday, etc. And, as much as I hate to say it, this blog will be neglected like that irritating guy in the office probably was when he was a child.

With that in mind, I am placing on the blog an article written for another publication.

As some of you know, I am on the board of the Dallas Screenwriters Association. One of the benefits of being on the board is that I get to write an article for every DSA newsletter about whatever the heck I want to write about. So here is the article I am submitting. When it appears in the newsletter, it will be edited and refined into something sweet and dainty. But for now, I present it in the raw, crude form.

10 Ways for a Screenwriter to Procrastinate

The end of the year is a time to reflect on what you have accomplished and look forward to what you plan to do in the upcoming year. Being a writer, I tend to procrastinate more than the average person. But being a creative writer means that I can invent wild and wonderful ways to explain why my procrastination is really a productive use of my time. So instead of making a set of ten New Years resolutions, I am making a list of ten great ways to procrastinate.

1. Creative Screenwriting podcasts
Creative Screenwriting magazine is a great way to read interviews, script analysis, and industry news. The magazine also offers a series of downloadable audio interviews with prolific screenwriters like Charlie Kaufman, Paul Haggis, and the Coen Brothers. Senior Editor Jeff Goldsmith asks insightful, interesting, and entertaining questions.

2. The Treatment Podcast / The Business Podcast / Martini Shot Podcast
KCRW is the Santa Monica-area public radio station, and they feature many radio shows (also available as free podcasts) that focus on the entertainment industry. While the radio station offers quite a bit, three shows in particular stand out head and shoulders above the rest.

The Treatment is a one-on-one conversation between host Elvis Mitchell and notable writers, directors, or actors.

The Business is a weekly summary of entertainment industry news as well as in-depth interviews on certain business aspects of the industry (for example, foreign sales, video on demand, etc.).

Martini Shot is a short, sweet, funny view of what it is like to be a working television comedy writer.

3. Self-reliant film / HD for Indies
For those of you who are passionate about digital film cameras and cinematography, or for those of you who want to your cinematographer about the latest tech toys, this is the website for you. Written by a group of working editors and cinematographers, it goes into great detail about the nuts and bolts of filmmaking. The Self-reliant film website focuses on all aspects of production from creation to distribution while the HD for Indies website focuses primarily on camera technology.

4. Screenplays Wanted
While not updated nearly enough for my tastes, this is an aggregator blog for companies or organizations that are seeking open submissions for screenplays. Think of it as an open job board on the internet.

5. LinkedIn
Part of being a writer is being a professional. And part of being a professional involves networking professionally. LinkedIn is a social networking website (like MySpace or Facebook) but it focuses strictly on business networking. Update your resume, connect with business partners, look for work, and recommend people with whom you have had positive working experiences on this website.

6. Trigger Street
Kevin Spacey’s pet website project is a place for people to upload their screenplays and have them evaluated by embittered, frustrated screenwriters. Ha! Just kidding. This website allows people to join, review screenplays, and upload their own screenplays for review. The advice is free, and sometimes is not the best quality. However, if a writer ever wants to go through an experience akin to getting notes from a studio, this is the place to go.

7. By Ken Levine / Jane in Progress
Writers write, and some of them write blogs.
By Ken Levine is the blog of veteran television and comedy writer (as well as former DSA guest speaker) Ken Levine. Mr. Levine has written for such shows as M*A*S*H and Frasier.
Read about his trip to the DSA here:
Jane in Progress is the personal blog of Jane Espenson, former writer and producer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and current staff writer for Battlestar Galactica. She has great advice about the craftsmanship of writing and she also lets you know what she had for lunch that day.

8. The Simply Scripts website
This one is recommended with caution. Many of the scripts offered by the website are not scripts at all, but instead transcripts of the film (dialogue only, no stage directions). It also hosts a series of unproduced screenplays. However, if you sift through all of that, there are some legitimate screenplays available for download. If a writer uploads earlier, rejected draft on a personal website or if a studio releases copies of the screenplay to the public in hopes that it will generate Oscar buzz, the Simply Scripts website links to it.

9. The Graveyard Shift
For those of you who are fascinated by police dramas and police procedurals, this website, run by a retired police officer, gives insight into the details of what it is like to work on a police force. Learn about fingerprinting techniques and how CSI labs really work.

10. Hulu
Now that you have been productive on the internet for a few hours, take some time to watch some free television and film on the internet. Remember, when you watch six episodes of 30 Rock, it is not goofing off, it is research.