Breakfast at The Cottage: Beginning the End

Back to The Cottage

It’s been four weeks since I’ve posted. And yes I am a bit grumpy because of my lack of creative output. When I popped open my last post to catch myself up I laughed at the title – Tenacity, Tenacity, Tenacity. Where the hell did my tenacity go? Over the years, I’ve learned something about my own muse – I need to step away and refill the well. I need to focus on living life to its fullest – making the girls pancakes, taking family bike rides, building lego princess castles. It’s a choice that I make. Write or soak in the living. If I have to chose between the two, I pick living every time. No apologies. 

The well is full and so it’s time to get back to it.

A lot has happened in these past four weeks, both personally and in the world. Personally, my dog Patty is somehow still kicking. I have no idea how actually. There’ve been a few times when we’ve had our girls say their goodbyes, giving her one last loving hug. Next morning Patty is rip roaring and ready to go. But she still wakes up at least once a night. I’ve not slept through the night, probably no more than three hours a clip, since July. That’s caught up to me.  

I attended my first board of education meeting, interested in asking board members and the superintendent about their reopening plan. I’ll leave this one alone except for saying that I was disappointed. Yes in their answers, but more disappointed in my fellow parents. I was the only one there. These are not normal times. I, maybe foolishly, assumed more parents would be interested in hearing how schools will address their kids’ and their teachers’ lives. 

And as mentioned, a lot has gone on in the world, as everyone knows. I’ll leave my own personal feelings in the matter out of it. Except Biden made one statement in his speech last night that struck me, one that immediately made me think of Norman. Biden said “It is time to put away the harsh rhetoric, lower the temperature, see each other again, listen to each other again, and to make progress, we have to stop treating our opponents as an enemy. They are not our enemies: They are Americans — they are Americans.”

This struck me because of all the wisdom Norman shared, openly or just by example, the one lesson that has stayed with me is this – everyone has a right to be heard, to be represented both by law and by story, regardless of how much we may disagree with their points of view or their beliefs. If we never stop to listen, we will never have the opportunity to find out where we do agree.  

You see, it is this lesson that propelled me to write this story, to put it to paper. I hope I’ve shared all the various learnings about writing and business, and about life. But if that one lesson hasn’t come through then I’ve not achieved my goal.

Okay, okay, you’re probably thinking enough with the soapbox. Just go back to the simple story of two guys learning from one another over breakfast.

Here we go.

Norman threw down a challenge – work with him to write a pilot episode for a reality show based on his book and pitch it to my boss.  A green writer/producer teamed up with a legend/dinosaur. But I didn’t care. The idea of partnering with Norman was exciting as reason as any. Shit, what could go wrong?

So Norman and I sat at our table at The Cottage… a lot. Instead of meeting once a week, we met two or three times a week. We set a goal for ourselves – Norman’s idea. “Always give yourself a deadline and stick to it. Otherwise you’ll let it go.” The Cottage owners, in all their love of Norman, must’ve been sick of us taking up space. We leaned over our eggs and coffee and covered the tabletop with pens and notebooks and index cards and bantered back and forth writing down possible story arcs for the pilot. We decided to write three episodes and not just one so that my boss could see the trajectory of the series. 

It was fast and enjoyable and I got to see how his mind worked, how it all clicked together.  We spent a few weeks working furiously together. At one point, I had my entire bedroom filled with index cards pinned to cork boards, each card representing a different scene or character. 

When I fictionalized this in my book, I thought about what Norman worked on while at home and I built in some conflict between the two of us – fighting over scenes and plot lines, giving it some real grit. The reality is that we were cut from the same cloth and collaborated like we’d been writing partners for decades. There was little to no conflict. We had one debate – introduce all the characters in the beginning or introduce a few. We went back and forth and landed on showing all the characters in the first episode. 

One morning we had finished our breakfast and sat drinking our coffee and looking out over the docks at the fishing boats as men hosed off their gear. “You know you can’t just spring this on your boss,” said Norman. “You have to pitch her the pitch. Otherwise you’ll catch her off guard. You have to tell her what you plan to do.” 

“Shit.” 

“What?”

“Now I’m nervous,” I said. “So I have to just walk up to her and tell her I want to pitch her an idea?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Easy as that.” 

“You’re right,” I said, “easy as that. We sat back, proud of the work we had put into the pilot. I smiled at Norman. “Easy as that.” 

I was lying. I was terrified. I believed in the pitch. I believed in Norman. As much as my boss and I got along and as much as I enjoyed working for her, she still had a presence. She was the boss. She just happened to be one who could also kick my ass. Now instead of being nervous for the pitch, I was nervous for the pitch to the pitch. 

Once again, I left Norman sitting at our table, stretching out his morning. I drove to the office up in Sea Bright, went to my desk, and stared at my boss’s office. I watched her activity throughout the day, listened to when she was on calls or talking to one of my colleagues. Her door was always open. That’s how she was. I sweat. I heard her say goodbye and hang up the phone and walked to her glass door and knocked. “Hi, do you have a minute?” I said. 

“Sure. Come on in,” she said. 

And I walked into her office and sat on the chair in front of her desk. 

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