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A Late-Blooming Writer on the Complicated Business of Time and Television

A: Have you been writing songs?

Q: Yeah, and my aspirations are similarly sincere even though I’m doing it sort of publicly. I have no interest in playing out or making a record.

A: That will be the movie version, but go on.

Q: Have there been times over the years where your interest in it or your energy for it waned and you thought about changing tracks?

A: A couple of years ago when the strike happened and I was out of work for however long that was, I wanted to try something different, that’s all. I didn’t want to just write another pilot. And as in most changes in life, it was born out of a lot of angst and frustration and hitting a certain wall. And I did quickly find an answer to that, writing this young adult novel, which is ongoing and is a really different flavor of writing, a very different challenge.

Q: Tell me about that.

A: Writing prose is something I had never done and it’s very different than writing screenplays. So that really rejuvenated me and got me over a hump. Maybe because it takes the pressure off it a little bit to have another thing, another gradation of writing that I’m doing in different style. And a new challenge. I’ve got to say that’s a really fulfilling thing to just try something when you’re hitting those walls. It’s equivalent to musicians who have been writing, whatever, Irish rock, for 20 years, and then they just try to do a Brazilian album.

Q: What’s the experience of aging been like for you generally?

A: It goes through fits and starts. I’m in a good space now, but I have honestly over the last 10 years had a lot of anxiety about it, and in two forms. One is in terms of feeling like I’ve been on shows where I’m 20 years older than everybody else and it has been uncomfortable. Right now for whatever reason it’s not uncomfortable. When I was on “Heroes,” particularly, it was a much younger, hipper kind of crowd, and I didn’t like seeing myself in that way from their eyes, seeing me from their perspective as this old guy.

Q: Was that how you believed they were seeing you or do you have evidence that that’s how they actually did see you?

A: The former. I have no evidence.

Q: Did that distress or discomfort about being older than a lot of people affect your ability to write, to do your work?

A: No, that’s the funny thing. My scripts on “Heroes” were really strong and everybody thought they were some of the best. But nonetheless, when I was sitting around with all these 28-year-old Harvard graduates I felt honestly that I sort of couldn’t keep up, like when you’re at a party with people you feel are essentially smarter than you. I felt like I couldn’t keep up with the conversation and there was more anxiety about that. By the time you’re thinking about what one guy said, we’ve already moved on two steps. Like, they were making a little joke about the door, but now we’re talking about the window. And I’m still wrapping my head around something to say about the door and then I realize, oh wait a minute, everybody else is talking about the window.

Q: So you felt like you were moving more slowly.

A: Yes.

Q: We do slow down. I mean, our brains slow down. That’s scientifically proven. They’re better in other ways. I mean, we make connections more effectively as we get older, but speed is not our friend.

A: No, that’s true, and in television, in the writer’s room, there’s a high priority on speed. And so I’m getting less valuable in what I can contribute in that way. I mean it’s weird –

Q: — so this is not ageism. There is really a disadvantage to being older.

A: Yes, I think there is. I mean luckily there are two sides to the job because you’re in a room and then you’re off at the computer. And I do feel that I’m still delivering really strong material at the computer, and on this show as well, I have to say my two episodes, I think, are the two best of the season. And I think most people would agree with that, even though at lunch today I’m basically silent when everybody else is talking pop culture and making jokes. Part of it is just the references, like they’re into all these bands and all these movies and they go out to clubs. I haven’t been at a club in 20 years. It’s just a different lifestyle.

Q: Do you find ways of compensating for and coping with that?

A: Yeah. I try to just, you know, savor my victories, because honestly a lot of the time over the last 10 years I’m very anxious about it. And I do feel like I don’t think as quickly. I don’t remember words. I often kind of get to a sentence and can’t remember the word or can’t remember the name of some person we’re talking about. There’s a lot of actual information to keep in one’s head when you’re doing 10 episodes. I can write my episode, but then somebody will come up to me and say, “I’m writing episode 110 and in episode 106 in that scene in the car we move the car to an elevator,” and I can’t remember what episode 106 was or what the scene in the elevator was. And everybody else is nodding and I’m doing some fake nodding like I understand what’s going on. So yeah, it’s definitely a problem. So far I’m surviving it by just working off my strengths.

Q: What else can you do?

A: Right. But again, I think there are, as you said, some advantages to the older mind. I understand certain technical aspects of writing television shows that bring value to the work I contribute.

Q: And you’ve got experience and depth and all the things that we amass as we get older. Wisdom. Perspective. Certainly when it comes to characterization, I would think that that would be an advantage.

A: And structure. I mean, I’ll read a script and something happens and I’ll say, “You know what, this should not be in act three, this should be in act two.” I don’t know why I know that, but I do. And a younger writer doesn’t really see the structural overview of those things.

Q: So maybe it takes a proverbial village.

A: Maybe. Hopefully. I hope they keep the old guy in the village and don’t set him off on the ice floe. I mean, right now, today, it’s all good. And I’m working on a show that values me, but I also do sort of feel like every job now could be my last, in television particularly. That was honestly a lot of my motivation for trying to write the young adult novel, too. I felt like maybe I can segue into something that could have a little more of a lifespan.

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