Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Agony of Discretion

There’s No Secrets This Year - Silversun Pickups (mp3)

To keep your secret is wisdom; but to expect others to keep it is folly. -- Samuel Johnson

I wrote something funny, and it cannot be shared.

I had this incredible, awesome, cathartic experience of scathing creative comedy, borne of a mere two hours of feverish and obsessive work, and the product must be locked away like a kidnapped child, never to be revealed to the world.

It all started when a friend of mine created an amusing video as he lamented his own pending 40th birthday. He has been so paralyzed by this birthday that he disappeared into his computer and started creating a movie to manage his anxiety.

He used this site called, where you can create short movies using one or two characters from more than a dozen different genres. Each genre has a handful of scene choices and a dozen or so characters. You pick one or two characters and a scene, and you start. You create the script. You add hand gestures and sound effects and body movements. You can even micromanage the camera angles.

If you’re curious, here is his brainchild:

Fate had it that my friend sent this video to me immediately after a frustrating series of interactions with coworkers and fellow administrators at my school. Making a “humorous” video out of his own anxieties seemed to have helped him, so I figured I should dive in and find my own humor catharsis as well.

And I did.

I signed up. I picked perfectly unidentifiable characters, sat them in a school office setting, gave them perfectly unidentifiable names, and used them as amalgamations for the personality glitches and shortcomings of five or six different coworkers, including myself. I made up names of schools that were only barely similar to our own schools. Every single thing I did guaranteed that no single person at my school could possibly accuse me of targeting them.

But then I did an awful thing. I showed my wife.

I’d been holed up in my computer room, giggling maniacally, and I let her watch as I proofed an early draft.

“Kinda funny?” I asked. “I mean, it’s not Daily Show material, but it’s kinda funny, right?” (You see, my wife doesn’t laugh aloud at stuff that comes through on a TV screen. She laughs at people, at conversations, but she doesn’t ever laugh aloud at a TV or computer.)

“Oh, it’s funny. It’s very funny.”

“So what’s wrong?”

“You’re going to lose your job.”

“Oh come off it. That’s silly. There’s absolutely no way anyone can connect this to me or the school,” I said.

She looked at me, shaking her head.


“I’ve said my part. You’ll lose your job. Good night. Love you.”


“The minute you send this to anyone, it’s got your name attached to it."

And she was right, of course. The essential part of my beautiful creation is that the only way I can share it with anyone is to tell them, and the only way to tell of such creations in a digital realm is to email them, Facebook them, tweet them. And in all those realms, it’s all too easy to trace these things right back to my doorstep, to my paycheck, to my pathetic and desperate attempts to claim I didn’t have specific people in mind when I skewered them in my cute little movie.

That I’m one of those getting skewered wouldn’t be much of a good defense as I packed up my office and polished up my funny resume.

So instead of getting to share my fun creation, it sits hidden in a virtual drawer, and I know what it is to have that secret drug addiction, that secret lover, that secret murder weapon. I created my own personal Jack Bauer emergency in the form of a stupid silly expose on the idiocy of school administrators. I armed the device, and all I can do now is keep it locked away and try my best to guard the door.

Even though what I want so badly is to let people in.


As always, there’s a silver lining. Before this week, I never understood how to write a screenplay, or true dialogue without novelistic exposition. There was some disconnect in my feeble skull. But with XtraNormal, it makes sense. I can write dialogue and test it out. Yes, it’s poorly-enunciated, kitschy computer voicing, but just moving that one step into verisimilitude gives me loads of confidence and has me hungry to keep writing more.

I’m about to finish the second in what is certain to be a series. This one was inspired by summer reading programs.

I probably can’t show that one, either.


troutking said...

unless you shared it at a certain weekly after work beerfueled ritual, thank you very much.

Bob said...

I know you can't show it and I know I didn't see it, but it sure was funny.

Here's the conundrum I see: showing it to the frustrating people involved most likely would not get you fired, might even lead to some productive conversations. But showing it out in the world and them finding out about it after the fact. Oh, yeah. That would do you in.

Anonymous said...

Is this the upcoming 40 year old birthday of a person who is in the historical field?

Jason said...

Sorry that was me with that last comment.

Jim said...

Hmmm... Maybe you could share it with someone a dozen states away who'd never show it to another living soul...?