Of Doubts, Questions . . . and Lost Weekends

It was the opportunity of a lifetime, a chance to showcase his talents as he never had before.  But there was one big problem.  He rarely drank, didn’t know the first thing about being addicted to the bottle.

bottlebeginning

 

So how was he going to play an alcoholic in anything resembling a convincing manner?

These were the questions swirling through the mind of Ray Milland as he studied a novel sent to him personally by the head of Paramount Pictures.  The powers-that-be wanted to adapt the novel, written by Charles R. Jackson, into a film and have Milland play the lead role of Don Birnam, a writer whose life and career are in shambles, swamped under the heavy, unrelenting pressures of alcoholism.

millandbeginning

 

Milland hesitated.  How would he be able to master the role of the haunted Birnam?  Aside from his complete lack of understanding and firsthand knowledge of alcoholism, Milland also questioned his own acting ability.  He had been a leading man in films for nearly a decade, but didn’t consider himself to be on par with the true icons of the Silver Screen, legends such as Cary Grant, Clark Gable, James Stewart, and others.  He was a serviceable actor, a veteran, but could he pull something like this off?  No doubt the bad memories from his first Hollywood experience, fifteen years earlier, when the director berated him in front of the entire cast and crew for his amateurish and clumsy acting, were alive and playing over and over in his mind, like a movie reel gone out of control.  But despite the doubts, the nagging insecurity that wouldn’t let go, Milland took the role.

He would play the lead part in The Lost Weekend.

thelostweekend

 

**********************

Have you ever faced a similar circumstance?  Maybe it was the looming specter of a job interview, the second guessing prior to hitting the Publish button on a blog post or taking the final step to release your new book on Amazon.  Maybe it was the jitters before a first date or the unrelenting self-doubt before standing up in front of your supervisors and fellow coworkers to deliver a major company presentation.

weveallbeentheredoubtfear

 

It’s fair to say we’ve all been there.

I know I have.  I’ve felt Milland-like doubts and insecurities more times than I can count.  And, sad to admit, but there have certainly been instances when, dogged with what-ifs and self-recriminations, I backed down, failed to take the challenge, and let an opportunity pass.

One moment that immediately comes to mind took place in eighth-grade Algebra.  On the surface, it was a small thing, trivial, really, but it has stayed with me all these years.  The teacher, a blond guy with a big, beefy mustache named Mr. Edwards, presented the class with a complex mathematical problem.  “Don’t try to solve it here in class,” he warned.  “It’ll take way too long.”  He asked us to tackle the mind-bender at home that night–not for extra points, not for a grade.  Just for fun.  Old-fashioned algebraic fun.  I can’t remember the specifics of the problem.  All I can remember is that it was a rambling thing, meandering on like a twisting trail that snakes its way ever deeper into the woods.  And as I set out to solve the problem that night, that’s exactly where I felt I was heading–into some dark, uncharted territory, overrun with wild vegetation and exotic creatures never before encountered.  But I stuck with it, and, well over an hour later, came up with an answer.

algebraproblem

 

The thing was–the answer seemed ludicrous.  Again, memory fails, but it was something like: three-hundred-ten trillion, two-hundred-twenty-one billion, thirteen million, two-hundred thousand and eighty-three.  It was some ridiculous number that trailed on across half the width of my notebook page.  I didn’t understand.  I had worked so hard on it, and this was the nonsensical answer I came up with?  I reviewed my work, couldn’t find an error, but was convinced I must have made one.  No way was the answer anything close to that outrageous number.

verylargenumber

 

Fast-forward to the next day, and sure enough, old Mr. Edwards asked the class straightaway for the answer to his math problem.  No one raised their hand.  I wanted to, and I nearly did.  But all I could think of were the laughs and snickers that would result from the class, and the wide-eyed, glazed-over stare on Mr. Edwards’s face when I gave my mouthful of an answer.  So I just sat there, waiting.

Mr. Edwards smiled, as he often did, and wrote the correct answer on the blackboard.

No, I thought,  It can’t be.  But it was.

It was the precise answer I had come up with the night before.  I wanted to raise my hand then and say, “Wait!  I had that!  Really, I did!”  But it was too late.  The opportunity had come and gone.

regretiknewtheanswer

 

I wish I could say I learned my lesson so well that day that nothing of the sort ever happened again.  The truth is, nearly every time I publish a blog post, see a new review on Amazon for The Eye-Dancers, or share my work with anyone, anytime, any place, I feel the same old butterflies.  Maybe that’s a good thing, in its own way.  Maybe it keeps me on my toes.

butterflies

 

Certainly I have been beset by doubts galore concerning the sequel to The Eye-Dancers.  It is a project three years running now, with more stops and starts than a rain-hampered tennis match at Wimbledon and enough revisions and rewrites to make my head spin, and even as I close in on the stretch run, preparing to finish the first draft in the months ahead, I am nagged with questions.

wimbledonrain

 

Do the various plot points intersect and come together?  There are so many threads to the story–is it too complex, too convoluted?  Or will it read as one unified whole?  Are the characters’ motivations ringing true?  Are all the story arcs rising and falling in optimal fashion, or are things progressing without rhyme or reason?  In a nutshell, is this thing any good?

convoluted

 

The questions rarely, if ever, fall silent, the insecurities are always there.  All I can do–all any of us can do–is continue to move forward and choose to believe.

********************

When The Lost Weekend was released in the theater, the reception was positive, from audiences and critics alike.  It proved to be a groundbreaking motion picture, particularly in the manner in which it portrayed alcoholism in a frank, uncompromising, and serious light.  No film had tackled the issue in such a way before, and The Lost Weekend would inspire other movies to follow suit in the years to come.

At Oscar time, The Lost Weekend won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

And Ray Milland?  The gentleman who doubted his ability to play the lead role?

millandacademyaward

 

He won the Academy Award for Best Actor.

Evidently, not all lost projects or assignments or challenges or weekends are really lost, after all.

nolostweekendsafterall

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

 

 

39 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. sherazade
    Jul 04, 2016 @ 18:13:02

    Wellcome Back! I’ ll read it with pleasure.
    Ciao da Roma
    Sherazade

    Reply

  2. Today, You Will Write
    Jul 04, 2016 @ 18:13:08

    Reblogged this on Today, You Will Write and commented:
    Fear and doubts knocking at your door? Check out this piece by Mike, the Eye Dancers!

    Reply

  3. ritaroberts
    Jul 04, 2016 @ 18:15:27

    Brilliant post. And we have all been there. It’s all a matter of confidence in ones self don’t you think. Saw the film and Ray Milland was a superb actor.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jul 07, 2016 @ 19:30:19

      Thanks so much, Rita.:) And yes, The Lost Weekend was great, wasn’t it? You’re right about confidence. That is absolutely the key. Even when things don’t seem to be going well with a story, you have to believe in yourself and that everything will be resolved in the end. Easier said than done, of course, but such a crucial aspect of the writing process!

      Reply

  4. desertdweller29
    Jul 04, 2016 @ 18:26:33

    Very inspiring post!

    Reply

  5. cindy knoke
    Jul 04, 2016 @ 18:31:25

    Beautifully written and felt. Your writing soars!

    Reply

  6. joannerambling
    Jul 05, 2016 @ 00:11:50

    A bloody great post just so you know

    Reply

  7. Lyn
    Jul 05, 2016 @ 06:14:42

    I really liked Ray Milland – lol showing my age here. Oh boy, I can relate to your feelings I am nagged with questions about my MS. You’ll be fine Mike, The Eye Dancers was brilliant. I’m sure the sequel will be just as good 🙂

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jul 07, 2016 @ 19:26:46

      Thanks so much, Lyn! I just finished a new chapter in the sequel today. Whew. Breathing a sigh of relief. It was a very tough chapter!:) Always great hearing from you!

      Reply

  8. deborahanndykeman
    Jul 08, 2016 @ 17:02:20

    Another great post! As you said, we’ve all been there at some point. As I’ve gotten older, I don’t hesitate so much. Most of the time it’s the attitude of “What do I have to lose?” My hide is thicker now and time is short. Some things don’t seem so important anymore. Bucket list for me…read your book! Your posts are fantastic and you really have me intrigued as to the plot line of your story. Have a great day!

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jul 09, 2016 @ 19:52:42

      Thanks so much! I think the “What do I have to lose” mind-set is a great one to have, and something I am still working on.:) You also made my day when you said reading The Eye-Dancers is on your bucket list.:)

      Reply

  9. carolineturriff
    Jul 08, 2016 @ 23:38:15

    Hey as you say it is so important to seize opportunities even if you doubt your abilities. I had an interview to be the BBC’s Mexico and Central America correspondent and was the favourite to get the job. But I was worried I would fuck it up because of my disorganisation so pulled out with some lame excuse. I probably was too disorganised to do the job and maybe it would have overwhelmed me but it would have been a fantastic experience. Now I am in recovery and more organised I don’t think I would let an opportunity like that slip away again.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jul 09, 2016 @ 19:54:49

      Thank you for sharing.:) I think we’ve all been there and have all passed up opportunities.:( The key, as you say, is learning and growing and seizing the next opportunity!

      Reply

  10. sheridegrom - From the literary and legislative trenches.
    Jul 10, 2016 @ 09:40:58

    Awesome read!

    Reply

  11. Karina Pinella
    Jul 10, 2016 @ 13:46:42

    This reminds me of when I was going to write the story of a Lithuanian woman who spent time at a concentration camp. I recorded our interviews. I wrote some chapters and one day I decided to write a query letter and a short chapter to Random House. I received a reply and they wanted to see more stuff. But, I balked, choked, and died! I got scared because I was only 18 and I thought what the heck do I know about writing such a big story, so I didn’t follow through. Alas, that opportunity is gone because years later Steven Spielberg got her story and included it in a documentary about concentration camp survivors. My regret and experience in lack of self-confidence.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jul 12, 2016 @ 17:19:06

      Wow, that is quite a story! And even though you didn’t follow through with Random House, it was still quite an achievement to receive a positive response back from one of the giants of the publishing industry. Hopefully that, in and of itself, helped to give you confidence.:)

      Reply

      • Karina Pinella
        Jul 12, 2016 @ 17:24:45

        It was a 15-second shot of almost fame and then longer period of regret, which I have now gotten over it. Makes for an interesting story though I rarely talk about it unless it’s appropriate, which is rare. Too much of a “I could a been a contender” story to bring it up for no reason. It’s a missed opp is what it was and I just was too immature and insecure at that time. This is when we say youth is wasted on the young. 🙂

  12. Sofia Kioroglou
    Jul 12, 2016 @ 21:09:39

    Awesome read!Love your diction. A great piece indeed!

    Reply

  13. sheridegrom - From the literary and legislative trenches.
    Jul 15, 2016 @ 04:34:32

    Exquisite and thought provoking.

    Reply

  14. Lisa Meister
    Jul 17, 2016 @ 18:11:53

    I guess we are all plagued with self doubt, but it keeps us on our toes and pushes our creativity. Your writing is amazing, and you have nothing to worry about, except maybe doubt…

    Reply

  15. Anna Waldherr
    Jul 17, 2016 @ 21:07:27

    Nice post. By the way, Ray Milland has always been one of my favorite actors.

    Reply

  16. imaginenewdesigns12
    Sep 28, 2016 @ 03:51:02

    Thank you for liking “Happy Halloween.” I have experienced self-doubt combined with fear of failure too, and I also enjoy those moments when I have underestimated my ability and do better than I expected. However, as I get older, I am not as afraid of failure as I used to be. I still don’t like to fail and to suffer through the disappointment it brings, but I have realized that sometimes I learn more from failure than from success.

    Reply

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