Back at Camp Ogama, when I turned seventeen, an age at which I could no longer be a camper, still wanting to go to camp, I applied for, and was immediately offered employment as, a counselor. When that change in status occurred, a change that had less to do with my predicted counseloring abilities than with my no longer being sixteen or under, the first thought that came to my mind was, “If I qualify to be a counselor, then the counseloring standards at this camp have gone precipitously downhill!”
In a paralleling occurrence, I had advanced in my career from scriptwriter to creator and runner of my own show, again, less because of my perceived capabilities as a show runner – there were, in reality, none to be seen – than because it was simply time for me to move up. When I did so, the identical thought immediately entered my mind:
If they’re letting me run a show, went my thinking, unchanged since I was seventeen, an egregious downgrade in the position had unquestionably taken place.
Recently, I examined my difficulties as show runner from a technical standpoint: My insistent linearity prevented me from jumping to the parts of the script that were in the greatest need of repair, but instead forced me to reflexively proceed page by page from Page One, the result being that when I got to the hard parts invariably at the end of the script I was creatively and energetically out of bullets.
Today – after which we will hopefully have a moratorium on critiquing my limitations as a show runner, as they are retroactively demoralizing and in any case unproductive, since the option of any future show runner assignments is now permanently off the menu, we will click our Explorational Gizmo a notch, to focus on the emotional component of show running. Call in the “Maturational Factor.”
(This in the hope that, as always, though the particular enterprise in question may be outside your experience, you will nonetheless still be able to identify. Otherwise, I’m just talking to myself, a behavior I do not object to but engage in sufficiently on the street. Or in the car. Until the Little Woman requires me to stop.)
I am sitting in the Rewrite Room, at the head of the table, as befits my position as “Show Runner.” (There were times when, as a nod to democratization, I located myself in the middle of the pack, though to no avail. “Responsibility” found me wherever I was. Which was my real reason for moving around.)
It is very late. There’s a lot of work yet to do, our progress that night, being distinctly, though not uncharacteristically, snailular. Writers on the staff gamely pitch jokes and “fixes.” None of their suggestions are egregiously off the mark, but since they emanate from different sensibilities, they are, by definition, “Not what I would do.” The problem is, sitting there – “The Boss” – whose job, among other chores though this is arguably the most important one, is to point them in the right direction, I am maddeningly unclear as to what specifically that direction is.
As I sit there, presiding over an, often lengthy communal silence, as my staff scours their imaginations for ideas, or, perhaps, revisits their decision to participate on my show, I find myself – thinking, yes – but also waiting. Waiting for what?
For a grown-up to arrive to show me the way.
At which point, a shattering awareness hits me:
On this show,
I’m the grown-up.
Bringing to mind the Chester A. Riley lament from the fifties sitcom:
“What a revoltin’ development this is!”
As it surprisingly often is, my reaction takes the form of an encapsulating song, which in this case is,
“The Great Imposter”
(To the tune of the Platters classic, “The Great Pretender”, which I can almost play on the piano.)
I’m the Great
Have a clue.
I don’t know
What to do.”
I was, in truth, deficient even in that role. Real imposters, like the one Tony Curtis played in The Great Imposter, and DiCaprio played in Catch Me If You Can, appear fearless and self-assured. I, on the other hand, wrapped my terror of imminent discovery around me the way Lincoln wore his shawl. Making me the worst kind of imposter you can be.
I was an imposter imposter.
I am aware that I’m wrong about a lot of things, and I may well be wrong about this, or only superficially correct, and therefore less than insightful on the matter. Feel free to offer an opposing perspective, but it seems to me, that, adopting my cousin Herschel’s practiced paradigm (“There are two kinds of bald people – those with hair, and those without hair”), there are two kinds of scared people – people who are afraid, and people who are afraid, but don’t show it.
I don’t know how they pull it off, that second group. (With the exception of those who lean heavily on external stimulants.) When I’m scared, I act scared. Leading me to believe there’s an expanded third option beyond “Fight or Flight”:
Paralytically frozen to the spot, waiting to die.
As I sat there at that head of the table, praying for “the real show runner” to abruptly materialize, with the seconds ticking away, simultaneously fast – our rewriting time was inexorably running out – and slow – unable to move forward, I felt mired in a moment I was destined never to get out of – death, with all its uncertainties, felt like a welcome alternative.
If that sounds melodramatic…all right, maybe it is.
Though in capturing the moment, it is not entirely inaccurate.