Wednesday, January 1, 2014

"Where Do I Rank?"

You know how like when you’ve got this tiny particle of food stuck between your back teeth and it’s driving you crazy, so you dig at it obsessively with the tip of your tongue until you finally get it out? 

That’s me, with teeth, but also with ideas.  I keep digging and digging at some unresolved question, till I finally dislodge it from my confusion, although unlike with the teeth example, where hopefully matters are taken care of… I don’t know, the worst for me has been a couple of days, there are questions that have been stuck in my brain for decades, and remain there as of this very writing. 

But I keep working at them, some might say tenaciously, while others might apply a more aberrant descriptive.  What would I say?  I’d say let’s move on.

Last week, I was examining the idea of artistic adjudication, proclaiming in one post how stupid it is to pit works of art against each other for competitive purposes, and in the next post, insisting that sometimes comparisons of artistic achievements are entirely appropriate, ultimately asking my readers to bail me out and help clarify what I’m talking about.

What do I think I’m talking about?  That I can answer with confidence, because I was present when the inspiration for the original post caught my attention, which was this. 

Not long ago, I received an e-mail announcing a special Writers Guild event – the screening of the new Martin Scorsese movie The Wolf of Wall Street, after which the movie’s writer would be interviewed by Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner (who I know from consulting on the Ted Danson-starring sitcom Becker, on which Matt was a {not entirely happy} writing staff participant.)

When I saw the announcement and Matthew Weiner’s name associated with it, the first thought that came to my mind was – and I am not at all proud of this –

“That guy’s better than me.”

In a flash, I “got” why I was worrying about competition and artistic adjudication. 

It was fundamentally about me.

(Note:  Self-absorption in blog writing is not an entirely unwelcome condition.  I find that it injects an energizing intensity into the process.  Also, with virtually every blog post, I am receiving a previously hidden message from my unconscious, and I, at least, am excited to know what it is.)

Finally, the issue smoldering beneath the surface – an issue hardly reserved for the post facto “Retirement Years”, it was always in the air – raised its insistent, albeit considerably less than “brag-worthy”, head:

“How good was I?” 

When I consider my abilities, I am not talking about my blog writing, which I shall investigate tomorrow.  I am thinking exclusively about my television-writing career.  This question has haunted me from my earliest days working in Canada, although less so, since my competitors were primarily amateurs taking time off from their “day jobs” as surgeons and psychiatrists.  The concern whispered more intensely in my ear when I met up with the “Big Boys” down in the States. 

“Am I good enough to participate at this level?” echoed the debilitating, self-doubting loop in my head.

Once my insecurity was assuaged by regular employment, the demonic drumbeat evolved into,

“How do I measure up to the professionals around me?”

At first, when I was writing for The Mary Tyler Moore company, I suspended my judgment, understanding that my superiors were older and more experienced than I was, and also that, in an effort to satisfy them, I was assiduously following their template.  I was always trying to write like they did.  How could I possibly outdo them at their own game?  Imagine if they tried to write like me.  They wouldn’t even come close.

The thing is, when I got to create my own series, it turned out that, although not without refreshing flashes of Pomerantzian uniqueness, especially in the pilot writing where I had the time and opportunity to experiment, for reasons, both creative – I am less original than skillfully derivative – and temperamental – being substantially risk- averse, I was not programmed to venture too far afield – though my “Created By Earl Pomerantz” productions were relatively successful – over the years, I got three of my series on the air – none of them were, as a fellow writer once correctly observed,


Why does it matter how good I was?  It doesn’t.  But as Teyve sang to Golde in Fiddler on the Roof when she finally responded to his query, “Do you love me?” with “I suppose I do”,

“After twenty-five years…it’s nice to know.”

My overall assessment?

For over a quarter of a century, I was an active participant in the Major Leagues.  Not a “Hall of Famer”, but a consistent and respected professional.  Did I hunger to be the best?  Who doesn’t want to be the best?  But in the end, I had to relent, and accept my position as “One of the better ones.”

Any mentally healthy person would be content with that evaluation, and move on. 


It is unlikely I will ever stop digging at it with the tip of my tongue.  
Today, I acknowledge the anniversary of my mother's passing, who died two days after my father, but with a separation of fifty-nine years.


JED said...

I'm starting this new year by telling you how much I enjoy your blog.

Your blog is a lot different than most blogs. While it starts, like most do, with personal stories and remembrances, you take them to another level. Your posts usually have a universal theme that resonates with those of us that read your blog regularly. You joke about being self-centered but all of us are. Your talent is getting the rest of us to be interested in your "personal" stories and to care about the things you write about. Sometimes, I'll start reading one of your posts and then realize that I am going to be thinking a lot if I continue reading. I'll then stop and read it later when I have more time to get involved with your story. Other blogs are easier to read in the sense that you don't have to think too much when reading them.

As I said, we are all self-centered and love ourselves but fortunately for us, you also love your neighbor as yourself and that's the second great commandment!

Looking forward to another fascinating year of reading your blog,
Jim Dodd

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I guess what your post makes me wonder is: does it *have* to be "was"? What about the present and future?

I'm thinking you maybe meant assiduously instead of acidulously and "none of them were" instead of "none of them were not"...but I'm nit-picking now.