Stuck In An Elevator With Stephen Spielberg…

The Elevator Pitch

So I had a conversation with a Publisher recently regarding the book I’m currently working on. One of the things that popped up was the idea of ‘The Elevator Pitch’. I had never heard the phrase before so she enlightened me and sent me on a crazy, zany journey behind the keyboard.

So you find yourself in an elevator, and you realise you’re standing beside Stephen Spielberg, and you think to yourself:

‘How can I pitch my book/movie/screenplay to this legend in the time it takes the elevator to reach his floor?!’

How on earth does someone like me, who seems to naturally thrive in the field of long-form writing, leap over the fence into the field of ‘The Quick Pitch?’ Well I am always the guy in every conversation awkwardly shuffling in frustration, screaming in my head: ‘Get to the point! Get to the point!’; I have little time for inane small talk; I have even less time for stupidity or empty rhetoric; and I’m the guy who never answers his phone for the simple reason that conversations bore me unless they’re deep, thought provoking or hilariously funny. When my wife makes the mistake of calling me on my cellphone I answer by saying:

‘Hello? What do you want? I’m busy. Hurry up. Ok I’ll sort that. Love you. Bye.’

My friends are always aghast at how blunt and to the point I can be in ‘conversation’ with my beloved little wife. My wife loves it though. She says it reminds her that I’m still honest and direct, even when faced with the danger of sleeping on the sofa. So yes, I can manage quick and to the point. When it comes to something I’m passionate about though… I get lost in a world of verbs, adjectives, rhetoric, prose, fanciful imagery, and oceans of colours never seen before in any painting, sunset, or rainbow. When it comes to my Personal Treasure I am protective, passionate, and aware of every intrinsic little detail… and to me every one of those details is an important piece of the bigger picture. So how on earth do I condense my dreams and visions into a presentation that can be delivered between floors in an elevator? Thus begins the familiar inner dialogue between my Higher Self and my Lower Self:

“Shit, how do I pitch MY idea to a genius like Stephen Spielberg?!”

“Come on, you’re in natural waters when you’re swimming through the waves of long-form writing, and that’s pretty damn difficult for the average bear. How hard could it be to change gears? How hard could it be to drive a little differently today? Forget your ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ ways and get your Steve McQueen gloves on. In fact, put that Long-Form Limo in the garage, park her up, and break out the Mustang. Forget Cruise Control today old friend, you need 0-60 in about 5.3 seconds. Get that V8 engine fired up. You have an Elevator to race.”

“Steve McQueen… now there’s an icon if there ever was one. There’s a man who was a ‘man’ in every sense of the word – handsome, classy, rugged, cool, calm under pressure, and a guy who thrived at high speed.”

“Yes, yes, he was great, and we know you have a fondness and kinship with the old days, the old cars, and the heroes of yesteryear, I know, I know. Get your head in the game and get that Mustang into first gear, dumbass. Close your eyes, empty your mind, and think what you would say to Mr Spielberg first.”

“Oh right, yeah, the race. Well I’d probably open with:

‘Listen Senior Spielbergo, I want you to do for me what Spielberg did for Oskar Schindler.’

If he laughs then I’ll know he gets the reference. If he doesn’t laugh then I’ll get out at the next floor. I mean come on, do I really want to pitch my Personal Treasure and share my innermost dreams and visions with someone who isn’t a Simpsons fan? I think not.”

“Hahaha yeah, that’d be a hilarious opener. I reckon he’d laugh at that one, especially if you nailed your Mr Burns voice. But seriously, just in case he’s in a bit of a mood; let’s say he’s maybe just came from Comic Con and he’s spent the day listening to movie quotes from a bunch of nerdy Sci Fi fans, what else could you say? What would be YOUR truth?”

“My truth? Oh that’s easy – ‘Mr Spielberg, in 1981, I watched Jaws on a small television, in a small living room, in a small house, in a small town called Carrickfergus, in the small country of Northern Ireland. That house also had a small bathroom with a small toilet. After watching Jaws I was afraid to sit on that toilet for months, such was the fear of water that your movie instilled in me. Your work terrified me and set afire my imagination in ways I didn’t know possible. It was a tough few months but it was worth it to still have that imagination, and the connection to stories and imagery that I have nourished and fed every day since watching the movie. Thank You for that, sir. I’m all cool with the toilet now and I still have the imagination.”

“Hahaha I remember that! That was your first introduction to Calisthenics. You held yourself over that toilet in a perfect L-Sit like a pro! I thought we possibly had a budding career in Gymnastics. You were so determined that Jaws wasn’t gonna fly up the u-bend and catch you by surprise. It still makes me laugh. What a Dumbass.

So lets say that introduction gets his attention, and hopefully gets a chuckle or a smile. What would you tell him about YOUR work? Come on, think.”

“My business head would take the ‘Ask Him Something He’s Not Expecting’ approach. That one we read in Tim Ferriss’s ‘Tools For Titans’ book. You know, the approach of asking something that the Mentor in the scenario hasn’t ever been asked before, something that will make him think and catch him by surprise. I’d probably go with:

‘Mr Spielberg, do you ever wonder where the ideas and the visions come from? Like with Jaws, did you ever sit and think ‘Where is this all coming from? Why am I obsessed with this subject matter and why is it setting me on fire?’ Hopefully that would strike up a deep thought or two and open up the door to a dialogue with some depth and kinship.”

“Nice, yeah, that’s nice. A guy who produces work as prolifically as he has is bound to have asked himself that question many times. He’s definitely been down the Rabbit Hole a time or two. And if he responded? If his energy seemed open to more conversation?”

“Well my next question would be: ‘Mr Spielberg, I know this is maybe a tad personal, and maybe a tad lame, but did you ever come close to giving up on a project? Did you ever get really close to the edge on any of your movies? Did you ever get pushed so hard by the creative force within, and all around you, to the extent that you thought you couldn’t take it any more?’

“Hmmm, that’s certainly taking it up a notch. You really do go for the throat when your back’s against the wall don’t you?”

“Is there any other way?”

“Indeed. Now let’s visualise this dialogue all going well so far. How would you start talking about YOUR WORK!! I know you’re hedging. I know you’re stalling. I know you’re avoiding the elephant in the elevator. And I know why.”

“Oh really? And why would I be stalling, and wasting an opportunity?”

“Because you don’t like to look at people for what they can do for you. You don’t like the feeling that you’re being crass by working an angle on someone instead of just being nice, and polite. You don’t like selling yourself. You don’t like to hassle people when you meet them in hypothetical elevators or on figurative aeroplanes. You stood right beside Joe Elliott from Def Leppard on a bus round London Gatwick Terminal, and then you stood right beside him in the airport, and you didn’t even so much as say ‘Mr Elliott, I’m such a huge fan and have been for years, Thank You for your music.’”

“Come on, you’re starting to sound like my wife! He was standing with his wife and he had a baby in his arms. Why would I hassle him? Remember when Ebony was born? Remember how protective and aggressive I would get when anyone even approached me while she was in my arms? It was cool enough for me just to be standing beside him. I’m sure he didn’t want to be hassled by anyone.”

“Oh yeah, the ‘New Daddy’ days. You thought she was gonna break in half unless you didn’t shield her from everything and everyone. She’s sixteen now, over six feet tall, and she’ll be kicking your ass in the gym soon. See how things turn out? Things aren’t always the way you think they are. You cried every day dropping Autumn off to Nursery and look at her now – she’ll be six feet tall in no time and she’s a dynamo of carefree energy and light! I dread to think what you’re going to be like on Autumn’s first day of ‘Big School’. We’ll have to meditate deep for weeks leading up to that!

“Jeez, don’t remind me.” *insert terrified Emoji*

“How can you possibly know what anyone else wants? You’ve barely scratched the surface of what YOU want, and that’s after 43 years of trying to figure it out! Stop assuming and start Ascending. That guy might have been in a dull mood that day with all the transfers and travelling. Maybe a quick reminder that he’s a bonafide Rock God might have brightened up his day. You may even have been able to talk about your own music and your own aspirations for recording and producing. For God’s sake he has a Recording Studio just a few hours drive from your house. A quick ‘Hello’ can turn into anything. Start saying ‘Hello’ more, you idiot.

“Anyway, stop procrastinating and get to the point. Tell Mr Spielberg about ‘Sleepwalkers’. And don’t you even think about telling me that procrastination is just proof that you’re a real writer. Stop playing with the fox and the cat, Pinocchio. You’re a real boy so start acting like one.”

“I guess then I’d tell him a quick story from childhood…

Ok here’s my real Elevator Pitch:

I remember a day, almost 30 years ago, when my R.E teacher, while preparing the class for our R.E exam, was drumming into us this one particular phrase. He had spent what felt like the entire day drumming this single phrase into us. The phrase was an explanation of the Parables of Jesus and why He chose to teach in Parables:

‘Jesus taught in parables because they acted like slow releasing fertiliser. Their meaning would become clearer through generations, and the illustrative nature of them would stay in the minds of generations long after he had taught them. Remember that term: ‘Slow Releasing Fertiliser’’

He seemed to be looking directly at me every time he said it. I was the crazy, wildly behaved, unruly, comedian of the class. Why he was looking at me so seriously that day I have no idea. I remember writing the phrase down and memorising it. I felt sure he was telling us an answer to a question that was going to pop up on the exam paper. Imagine my surprise when nothing remotely similar popped up on the exam paper. No question appeared that this phrase was the answer to. What I do know for sure though is that he is one of only three teachers who truly inspired me in my school life. What I also know is that the phrase has stuck with me for years.

Fast forward twenty eight years to a few months ago. I had started Blogging and had set up my own website to host the Blogs. It was a place for me to get the crazy, creative demons out of my head and onto paper. Oddsocktherapy.com is literally my cavern of exorcised demons. It is the dungeon where I lock up the voices that keep me awake at night; the cage where I chain the howling wolves that distract me during the days when people are trying to have normal conversations with me. It’s also my attempt at reaching out and helping anyone as messed up as I once was (or still am?).

The Blog got off to a great start. I was writing a Blog a week and had committed myself to keeping things regular and regimented in that respect. As I started to up my game I decided to set myself the challenge of writing Seven Blogs In Seven Days. On Day Four of that challenge, at around 11pm, I realised I hadn’t fulfilled my quota for the day. I didn’t feel like writing at that point. My wife had came home from work, I was tired from a few late night gigs, and I just wanted to settle down and watch mindless TV with my wife and my beloved Beagles. Then the disciplined inner voice shouted to me:

‘Get the laptop out and fire out today’s Blog. You know the rule: ‘You do anything like you do EVERYTHING’. If you don’t complete this task then you can’t take yourself seriously the next time you set yourself a task.’

So I got the laptop out, opened it up, and just started to type… and type… and type.

When the typing stopped I looked up from the laptop in a daze, squinting my eyes, and turning my head from side to side to shake off the intense concentration that had consumed me for what felt like a few seconds but had actually been an hour. I scrolled to the top of the page and got a shock, and a surprise when I read a bold Title Page with the words:

“Sleepwalkers

by Ross Alexander”

I was slightly confused, a tad giggly, and almost felt like I had just come round from a deep meditation or a deep Regression Therapy session. I read on to see what I had written and I was immediately drawn and tethered to the words on the screen before me. A brief foreword which read:

“The Sleepwalking Human is like a man who wakes up in a strange place with no memory of how he got there. His first reaction is panic. Then comes confusion. Then he starts to take in his surroundings, and slowly he starts to embrace the somnambulism one bit at a time until he forgets he was ever awake… to the point that even waking from earthly sleep is an experience he loathes throughout his entire life… until he Awakens at last.“

Ombaloo

(circa: Unknown)

I’ve never met this Ombaloo person, nor have I read any of his books, but I liked what I was reading so far. I quickly heard a voice inside my head (one of the many) saying:

‘This doesn’t look like a Blog, this is something else.’

So I read on and started to read the opening lines of what would become Chapter One of the biggest passion project that I could ever imagine myself undertaking – which is a bold statement considering I am also working on another book and two musical passion projects which also have that ‘Where Did This Come From?’ vibe running through them. For all intents and purposes though, it turns out that what I had written at 11pm that Summer’s night was to be the first page of what was actually the map to my Personal Treasure…

Now, I could wow you with claims of ‘This book was channelled. This is actually something that channelled through me.’ and that could maybe stir up some intrigue or stir up some feelings of ‘Is this guy for real?’ I can’t be so bold to tell you that this book was indeed ‘channelled’. I have read books like that and I have believed the Author’s claims. I am the guy who’s open minded enough to believe or at the very least ponder any claim of truth from any individual. Alas, I’m not spiritually intelligent enough to discern something like that for definite with regards to my own work to the extent that I would ‘hang my hat on it’. What I can tell you for sure though is that I genuinely have no idea where this book came from. I have worked on it fluently, obsessively, and possessively but without any fear of deadlines or any fear that I wouldn’t be able to complete it or resolve it – quite the opposite in fact. What I can tell you for sure is that somehow, on my laptop, a world has been created – a world we all know; a world we all don’t know; a world we all remember; and a world we all somehow forget. Sleepwalkers has been, and continues to be, the most exciting and outlandish experience I have ever been absorbed in. I have no idea how the story ends and I have no idea where the story goes in between. All I can tell you is that every time I dive in to these waters I dive from a greater height and I swim in a deeper current. It’s exciting for me every time I read back what I have written. I feel like I’m reading a story that I’ve never read before. I am excited to see how it ends and where it goes. It feels like the book is going to be part one of a Trilogy – that’s my gut feeling, but we’ll see.

What I can also tell you for sure is that lately, if you were to have a conversation with me, I would be there, I would be conversant, articulate, and charming, but I would most definitely not be totally Present. I am swimming so deep in the waters of this book that I feel like I am constantly flitting between two worlds. My wife will ask me a question and it will take me five minutes to answer her. She’ll watch me, amazed, as I sit staring into space for minutes, then she’ll chuckle when I come back to planet earth and be able to answer her question even though it didn’t seem like I could have possibly heard it. I am learning to enjoy every minute of this creative process and yet still detach myself from the anxiety and worry of the final outcome. That is no mean feat for a guy like me – a guy who has spent the biggest part of his life battling depression, anxiety, self doubt, and self loathing.

The lesson of ‘detaching from the outcome’ is one of the many lessons I learned from someone I class as a mentor and a teacher – Dr Wayne W Dyer. His teachings have played a major part in my ascension from worry to love, from self doubt to self belief, from self poverty to self worth. I still have days where I can hear a faint whisper of:

‘Who are you to be writing a book? What another waste of time this is going to be. Get real, loser.’

It’s a faint whisper though, where once used to reside a roar. The faint whisper is quickly drowned out by affirmations and thoughts of pure love, again inspired by Dr Dyer’s teaching. I know it would be wrong to say that the book I am writing is the result of one man’s teachings – I know now that self love means self acceptance of self credit (for want of a better phrase) when appropriate. What I will say for definite though is that Dr Dyer’s books and many other publications and podcasts have been the flame that has lit the touch paper.

‘The fireworks of a man’s soul can only wait in quiet patience until the Blessed Flame decides it is time for them to explode in all of their beauty.’

Ombaloo

(circa: Unknown)

Sleepwalkers is the first of many books that I know for sure are ‘in me’. My first book was started under similar circumstances and written in exactly the same flow and bizarre ‘where did that come from?’ feeling. It’s a self help book aimed at Dads and aimed at teaching every normal guy out there how to be a Rockstar Dad. It’s autobiographical and is simply me writing from my experience as a divorced Dad of two daughters. It’s funny, deliciously and harmlessly irreverent, down to earth, and really entertaining to read. I pressed pause on that one when the writing stopped flowing – life took me on a strange trip which involved some crazy lessons. Many stories for another day. I know I’ll go back to that book when the time is right. I let my eldest daughter proofread it at the time of writing and she said it was the best book she had ever read, and so different than anything she had ever read. The fact that she was absorbed in Shakespeare and Poetry for her English exams may have played a part in that reaction but to see a teenager so engrossed in something I had written was such an exhilarating experience.

Lately, when I have frequently asked myself where this Sleepwalkers book has come from; and when I ponder what it is I’m actually saying in these pages, I have been more and more frequently reminded of that ‘slow releasing fertiliser’ metaphor. I’m not writing parables, nor am I telling anyone anything new. I am simply weaving stories in the best way imaginable by telling them in a way that will stick in the mind like a stubborn seed; a stubborn seed that will hopefully one day bring a lesson or a Truth to fruition.

If I were to sum up Sleepwalkers in one sentence (or two)? Easy:

‘Imagine you found a handful of pages containing random writings from Darren Aronofsky, Stephen King, and Quentin Tarantino… Now imagine those writings were arranged into a book by a Soldier, a Preacher, a Musician, and an Angel…’

The Publisher at the start of this story said something along the lines of ‘So I’m getting ‘Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas meets Self Help.’ Am I right?’ That made me chuckle and that is a pretty accurate description of what you will be holding in your hands when Sleepwalkers hit the shelves… come on, you know you’ll be dying to get a copy. *Hello Mr Cheeky Smile Emoji*

I’ll leave you now in the capable hands of the Storyteller as he introduces you to one of the Sleepwalkers… Thank You for your time, your energy, and your attention.

Namaste…

Ross Alexander

Sleepwalkers:

Act One:

Wake Up Dead Man

Jared’s eyes opened… when I say ‘opened’ I mean his eyelids pulled apart with all the finesse of a mouse being pulled from one of those humane traps. You know the one’s I mean – the sticky residue you leave on a piece of cardboard with a tasty treat so that when the mouse comes for the treat he earns the surprise bonus prize of being stuck to the cardboard. Much more humane than a quick death at the hands of wood and metal, otherwise known as the classic mousetrap. I remember our home having an ‘epidemic’ of little mouse immigrants back when I was a boy. Those little dudes were coming from everywhere and making little immigrant homes in every nook and cranny of our house. My Grandfather laid down humane traps and caught them all one by one.

It was one of the few mornings I woke up early and didn’t have to be trailed from the sheets like a drug dealer on the wrong end of a noon raid. Of all the mornings that I had to get up early it was the morning when my Grandfather was ‘emptying the trap’. It was like a scene from Dexter. There he was, hammer in hand, taking aim. The little mouse was stuck to the cardboard, half driven to insanity and half dead due to a night spent trying to escape this humane trap. A sheet of plastic had been laid over it to minimise the mess – Dexter’s Killroom was before my very eyes years before Dexter even existed. It was like I was witnessing a Mafia hit. I was afraid to breathe, I was afraid to speak, I was afraid to close my eyes. The hammer raised up to the air as if it was an extension of my Grandfather’s hand, with all the grace and drama of Cain’s hand raised against his brother. Down it came with the force and uncharacteristic finesse of a tornado making a perfect landing into a teacup… bye bye mouse… we hope you enjoyed your stay and we hope you’ll rate our humane wake up call with a 5-Star review.

Jared’s eyes peeled open with such reluctance that it was as if the little mouse had enjoyed a much better night than he himself had enjoyed. They peeled open so reluctantly that it hinted at Jared’s fate, although not yet known, being as humane as the sticky cardboard… don’t forget to leave a 5-Star Review.

“Where am I? Shit, seriously, where the fuck am I?”

Nothing looked familiar, nothing smelt familiar, nothing felt familiar.

Breathe, think, panic, no don’t panic, breathe, think… think…”

His head was racing and his eyes were slowly taking in colours without detail, and light without form. He could feel the alluring array of smells, familiar yet strange, sickening yet intoxicating. If he had any clue where he was or what he’d done… or even how he had ended up here in the first place he would have assured you that he had never done anything like this before. You would have believed him too, such would be the conviction in his voice.

“Black, extra cream, extra sugar sound about right?” Jared didn’t know much right at that moment, hell he couldn’t have told you his name or date of birth at that stage, but he knew how he took his coffee… even though he wasn’t quite sure if he’d ever even had coffee before.

“What’s ‘coffee?’”

“You put in quite a night Mr Loverboy.”

“Loverboy? Is that my name? Where the fuck am I?”

“I have sausage, bacon, steak, eggs, and toast ready for you. I expect you’re hungry. Oh and there’s fresh orange juice too – not too much now, we know fruit juice should be taken in moderation with all those nasty sugars lurking in there. Don’t worry though, you can have all the dead animals you can eat with no nasty health side effects to worry about. I think you’ve earned some animal flesh.”

Something was off. He still hadn’t peeled his eyes fully open, and he still didn’t know where he was but something smelt wrong, or felt wrong, or sounded wrong. He couldn’t put his finger on it. He couldn’t discern which one of his senses was tingling or what it was tingling about.

“‘All the dead animals you can eat?’ Where the fuck am I?”

As the smells wafted in from the kitchen and the coffee aroma caressed his awakening senses he could feel his eyes opening with more ease. He could see the woman standing before him: tall, slim, elegant, beautiful, and with a body that made him want to sew his eyes shut so that this vision would be the last thing he ever saw. The coffee was effective; the smell of the ‘animal flesh’ wafting in through the bedroom door was distracting him with uncontrollable salivation; but the vision of the beautiful creature before him, wrapped in the shirt he assumed he was wearing the night before, hair tousled with that ‘driving with the hood down all day’ look, and enough curve on display to make him think he’d died and gone to heaven – that was the thing that was keeping him from losing his shit and ‘waking up’ for real.

“Where the fuck am …”

“…Who cares, dude, check out that body.”

“Who the fuck are you?!”

“I’m Me. I step in to take control when you forget who I Am.”

“Is everything ok, hon? You seem a little distracted. Would you like to eat breakfast on the beach and watch the sunset?”

“God, even her voice is distracting. This has to be a dream, or the afterlife.”

Jared wouldn’t have been able to articulate the meaning of the word ‘Dream’ or ‘Afterlife’ at that point, but he sure did feel like he was in one or the other. Maybe the fates were the same but with different names. Words are only words after all.

“Wait a minute… Sunset? How long have I been here? Where am…..” 

That’s when she took his hand. That’s when the allure became fixation. That’s when even if he knew who he was at that point he instantly would have forgotten anyway. She led him out of the bedroom and into a large living room where he stood staring at a wall that seemed to go on forever, made entirely of glass windows, every one offering the same breathtaking view. The wall of never-ending scenic beauty was rivalled only by the wall of Tv screens on the opposite side of the cavernous living room.

She whispered softly into his ear – it felt to Jared like like she was performing some mystical, forbidden sexual act with just a few words and a well placed warm breath.

“We can watch Tv later. Let’s go eat breakfast on the beach and watch that Sunrise.”

“We can watch Tv later… let’s go eat breakfast on the beach and watch that… hey didn’t you say suns…”

“Shhhh… follow it…  just keep walking…”

“Wha? Follow i…”

“Shhhh…walk…”

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