Bad Backs and Mad Men


For the past 3 days, I’ve been on my back. It goes out like this at times – literally, my torso is pointed somewhere diagonally into the universe. There are spasms and pops and, if I lift up my shirt, you can see the alien nature of my body. We had to go and do our taxes this weekend, and my wife had to help me just to sit down on the subway. The pain medication I was taking was making me ill after the effects wore off, so I had to stop.

No writing. No emails. Nothing but just laying on the floor doing nothing was the only way to get better. It was intense because I always worry that at some point, it’s going to stay like this and I’ll be in alien form the rest of my life, unable to do what normally is so easy to do: Take a step without pain.

So, I laid there and watched Mad Men on my Netflix streaming for the last few days. Like many folks out there who work or have worked in advertising, I enjoyed the first go-round of that show because it allowed me to enjoy the fantasy’s of actually being able to tel clients to go back to their caves. This time around, being still and unable to move, there was something else there.

It unfolded like a symphony for me: The development of the characters, the attention to detail on the set, the subtlety of how race is treated, the underlying Atlas Shrugged themes – everything done here could only be accomplished in the format of a long series that, for me at least, is the closest resemblance to a novel there is outside of book forms. Now of course, there are the facts that everyone is so beautiful on set – it’s TV after all, and you’ll have to allow for that.

There is something so special about that show though – and this time around, even though I have seen every episode, I’m able to follow certain characters and I find myself thinking about them all – why they must have been feeling – what they want and are afraid of – and I just have to stop and tip my hat to everyone involved because they managed to do something quite impossible: The made the show real. You believe each move they all make – each word they say is coming directly from them, and lines that come from the actors mouths are so stunning at times, I find myself saying God Dam quite a bit.

“This is America. Create a job and become the person who does it.”

Stunning. Of course, I have been a captive audience the past few days, struggling to stand straight and walk to the kitchen without letting my wife know the amount of pain that randomly shoots through my spine, but still, I am in this world, watching for the hints. Writers are competing with books that influenced them: Atlas Shrugged Vs. Meditations on an Emergency.

All of the characters are mirrors of each other – exposing both sides evenly and making it difficult to judge. For me, that’s the true value of a character – not knowing what you feel for them. It’s essential to have those sides, but getting at it, making it real, is so difficult. There must be some formula for doing so, and I’d like to find out what it is. How can the characters have so much depth? That may be something I look for in real life when talking with people – searching for that depth in conversations – trying to make it real – to make each person a round character that can be fully understood and felt. Maybe that’s what writers are after in this world: Roundness.

One thinks many thoughts while on the floor with their back out. Perhaps the universe slammed me down and said: Take a moment and look at this structure. That may be the thing to look at when discovering character arcs. After all, once you provide the setting for someone, your characters can help to decide the story. People writer tales in real life – there is no script that they follow. I wonder if that may be the key after all – to create the right playground, the right characters – and then let them have at it. Today the back is popping into place.

I think I’ll be able to walk into the world pill free and function without spasms. Still though, I wonder if these long spanning shows like Mad Men or the Sopranos are the new novels – ever unfolding and taking the time to create complexities.


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