For decades, Ditch Plain – a crescent-shaped surfer’s paradise located just east of Montauk village, has not only served as my ultimate spot for maximum Zen, but has evolved into a place that truly inspires me, like no other, to write and create.
Several published short stories, the text for a children’s book, and countless scenes for film and television scripts, have all been “birthed” from the lone picnic table nestled firmly at the entrance to this magical beach. Over the years, I’ve devotedly referred to it as my “Desk @ Ditch.”
Most of my visits occur right at daybreak or soon thereafter, as rays of sunlight are just beginning to filter through the nearby mounds of swaying dune grass.
When cloud cover is minimal, the movement casts thin, finger-like shadows that dance effortlessly upon the weathered grey plane. I’m rarely alone, as waterfowl of all sizes pick diligently through the clamshells and kelp that litter the sandy apron before me, seemingly unaffected by foraging dogs and their walkers. A buttered salt bagel and hot coffee are just as much my “tricks of the trade,” as are legal pad and pen.
Finding an interesting topic to write about is sometimes difficult, but not always; finding the right way to craft a cohesive story around it is a wee bit harder. I’m fond of the sentiment expressed in a simple declaration by former New York Herald Tribune writer William Zinsser, who in his book “On Writing Well” states, “There’s no subject you don’t have permission to write about.”
There you have it — something rather fearless is conveyed in that statement. I decided to test its validity by penning a short screenplay on the subject of Autism. How I arrived there was a story within itself.
It took place nearly six years ago, during a phone conversation I had with an executive producer out in Hollywood who was seeking fresh, thought-provoking content for a new internet TV series.
Prior to our call, I’d spent the good part of a week compiling a list of two dozen sure-fire, one-of-a-kind, never-heard-before storylines. I was confident that he’d bite on at least five of them, and I’d be packing my bags for the next flight to L.A.
After patiently listening to the pitches of the first two “can’t miss” plots, he stopped me cold in the middle of the third and said, “Forget about all that stuff, just write what you know!”
Sounds like straightforward, first-hand advice for an untested screenwriter to run with, yet it took a while before I was truly able to put it into practice with any regularity or sense of sureness.
I guess, because I’ve worn so many hats over the course of my lifetime (often two or three simultaneously), my ability to create and weave an interesting narrative about any one of them, let alone write meaningful, engaging dialogue and compelling action, would prove to be a bit more challenging than I’d first anticipated.
What I did know was that the world had changed dramatically since 9/11, with unchecked fear running rampant both inside the D.C. Beltway and far beyond for many years thereafter. Both personally and professionally, it was an issue that I needed to address before it would consume me whole. I began dabbling in the writings of some of the more well-known existentialists, eventually gravitating towards a more Eastern philosophy, with bits of Native American and Toltec wisdom mixed in.
Eckhart Tolle’s trailblazing work, “The Power of Now,” was one of the first to blow me away, and it soon became my go-to playbook for neutralizing fear and its many heads. It might have seemed like a bit rash and potentially disastrous decision to most (especially during a time of such apathy and uncertainty in the world), but I took the proverbial leap out of corporate America and never once looked back.
I landed in a public school classroom, filled with special needs first graders. You seriously could not ask for a more life-affirming change in perspective, on so many levels. Trading in nearly 20 years spent in the fast-paced, profits-driven business world for one where it literally could take months for students to master simple addition was beyond comparison.
It was from within this extraordinary setting (and several others since), that I developed a first-hand experience witnessing, assisting, and ultimately empowering not only the children who struggle with various challenges and disabilities, but also their families.
Wanting to address the fear and obstacles that so many of them faced, I subsequently drew upon numerous heartfelt conversations shared with me over the course of years, and wrote a piece titled “Everyone Knew” that aired as the final episode for Season 1 of the aforementioned internet TV series, which is now called Front Seat Chronicles.
Quite simply, it’s a snapshot into the life of a single mom who feels that her once stable, predictable world is beginning to crumble. We capture her sharing an emotional, pivotal moment with a compassionate, supportive coworker; soon after a panel of professionals has diagnosed her four-year-old daughter with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
There were several angles to choose from in terms of what overriding theme I wanted to convey in such an intense, limited time frame. I went with ‘you’re never alone’. Based upon the overwhelming feedback I received after the episode aired, it clearly was the right choice. Many viewers have shared personal stories of connection to the topic and theme, not only validating the path I took, but affecting me in an otherwise profound way.
That sense of coming “full circle” in sharing my life experiences, and how they may relate to many of the challenges we all face, is my primary goal for future postings in this column. A second column, titled “Season of the Sol,” will appear quarterly, highlighting an individual, organization, or business on the East End that I want to shed additional light upon, and watch them grow. This is completely apropos for next month’s Springtime honoree, the Montauk Community Garden.
As readers might know, April has long been designated as Autism Awareness Month, not only in this country, but around the world. I’d like to think that the stars were aligned when the episode “Everyone Knew” first aired online in April of 2012. I would also like to think those same stars had something to do with my first offering for Dave’s Desk @ Ditch appearing in this initial print edition of the East End Beacon, April 2017. A rather cosmic event, indeed!