Friday, February 02, 2007

Something to write for: The Coppola Theory

There’s a theory about art and artists.

Kids get in the way.

They take up time. They take up energy. They take up money. They change your life focus.

Then there’s another theory. I’ll call it the Coppola Theory because he’s the first one I ever heard make it.

And that’s that kids make you better. Faster. More urgent.


When my wife and I got married a year ago, we knew we wanted to have kids. However, we were both still working and, because our jobs had us separated on a temporary basis, we weren’t in a hurry to get going (plus, you try getting pregnant with 3,000 miles between you).

Naturally, as we planned to move to LA, we hoped that by finally living in the same place we’d be able to start the family we’d always talked about – but even then, we were cautious.

We were both going to need jobs. And a place to live. And cars. And… well, you get the point.

Plus, I really wanted to take a stab at film and TV, which meant breaking into a new field from my bread and butter career: advertising.

But I was certain I’d find work. And all the rest would follow quickly.

Then I moved. And work was not easy to find. And it was more expensive than I thought. And then there was the housing problem – which I’ve already blogged about.

Things came to a head the weekend in November when Heather came down from Ashland to look for a place with me. It was a tough couple of days for us. I was particularly down since my worst employment fears were being recognized. And she was upset by the lack of livable housing that we seemed to be confronting.

The subject of kids and starting a family came up when one potential landlord (who is now our landlord) asked us if we were planning to have a baby anytime soon.

I didn’t hesitate.

“Oh, god, no,” I said flippantly. “We have other things to do first. Like a find jobs, a place to live. Stuff like that.”

Heather brought up my response later that evening. Apparently she was worried that we were not on the same page.

I backpedaled.

“What I meant, was, uh, that right now, in the immediate moment, while I don’t have a job and it doesn’t look like I’m going to sell a screenplay or get a staff job on a TV show anytime soon, and well, the ad agencies don’t seem like they need help, well, I don’t think it would be a great time to have kids, cuz, you know, well, uh, do you think it would be good?”

A very very very long conversation ensued.

And, of course, we, uh, well, you know what we did.

About a week and a half later, I got the call that landed us the address at Sunset. And the same morning, an invitation from Clubbed Thumb to go to New York and work on my play, Beyond the Owing – about two people struggling as artists under huge grad school debt.

All this made me happy and so I went up to Ashland to celebrate Thanksgiving and then to NYC to workshop my play.

And, boy, was the workshop intense. In fact, I was quite worried that I was going to embarrass myself if I didn’t write better faster when I got call one night from Heather that started: “I have to tell you something…”

Now, I don’t know what it has felt like for others when they were told they were going to be a parent, but me, well, there was a little thing that started at the top of my head and shot down through me like a field of soothing electricity and there I was born all over again myself right there in a studio apartment overlooking West 43rd Street between 8th and 9th Avenues.

I mean, I was like, Shit. Happy happy happy shit, but Shit.

I don’t know how long it took me to stop smiling (though my wife claims that I went back to my dramaturgical issues within 10 minutes), but I do know I felt there could be no greater event, no more positive a thing than being told I was going to be a dad.

Until my first sonogram, that is. (The above is the second, most recent sonogram.) I watched in disbelief as a doctor pushed and poked my wife’s flat belly looking for something that could, potentially, some day be a child but for now would look like a grey pea. It was a miracle perhaps that the doctor could find it – but when she did, well, the look on my wife’s face was maybe the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

Part wonder, part fear, part joy, part love, part true amazement.

On arriving in LA, two friends who’d had a child only a few weeks before recommended a doctor in Beverly Hills and I got another look at that expression.

Only this time, it came with a heartbeat.

(There was also some prodding and poking required that I had to turn my head from since, if I was looking, I’d have had to have kicked the doctor’s ass but good. After all, here’s only so much a man will let another man do to his wife before such displays of macho-ness are required, regardless of the medical degree from Stanford.)

I’m pretty sure the doctor turned the volume up real high, but even without that, I think the Notre Dame marching band drummers couldn’t compete.

We’re due in August.

And despite all I’ve written here, it still hasn’t quite sunk in. (I told my wife this weekend something like, “When the baby arrives in 9 months we’ll – “ and she interrupted me to point out that it would only be 6 months. Doh!) But I’m reading books, er, well, a book and asking about prenatal vitamins and thinking about my job search in a totally different way.

But I’m still a writer.

And now, to all the other changes in my life over the last few months, I have another thing to prove with words.

That I can be good enough with them to make a good life for someone I’ve never met yet, but who I’m completely and totally responsible for.

Which makes me a Coppola Theory acolyte.


This photo was taken 24 hours after H told me I would be a father.


Mark said...

Congratulations Malachy. My wife and I are expecting our first child as well and your story follows the basic contours of our journey almost exactly. We're both in the arts and have heard countless people say "Oh, I wanted to be in the theater too, but then my kids came along and..." It's terrifying to hear that. I worried about it for the first three years that we were married.

But, gradually, after the long talks you mention, which I know so well, I reasoned that those people were full of shit. Everyone has got some bullshit excuse for why they stopped pursuing their dream, or why their life isn't what they thought it might be. Yes, we expect that money will be tight, logistics will be problematic, but our child will see firsthand his or her (we are going to be surprised) parents doing what they want to do with their lives. That, coupled with the large amounts of friends we're lucky to have, that come with this theater thing, should offset some of the challenges somewhat.

I actually heard the Coppola Theory articulated by Neil Pepe on a panel we went to which focused on having children and a career in the arts. It was really refreshing to hear someone say that having a child had focused them more on their work ("now, when I'm at rehearsal, I really have to be present, because there's no additional time to be parceled out" was the gist of it).

I have been reading a lot of books and trying to amass as much knowledge as possible. (Nicolle is due in April, so we are in the homestretch.) One book I particularly recommend is The Birth Partner. Congratulations again - that is such great news.

Catherine said...

Oh. My. God! Congratulations!!!

Dave & Fandy said...

This kid will have the only advantage in life that matters...great parents.

Love to the three of you.

Tim said...

Congratulations! Awesome news.

The theory makes sense. I don't have kids, but I freelance. You'd think that when I wasn't busy with work, I'd be a playwriting fiend. But it works the other way: When I'm super-busy with work, the little time I get for my playwriting is much more focused and productive.

My guess is, when you have a day job and a kid, the few hours you carve out for play/screen writing each day will be ultra-productive.

And if I'm wrong, at least you get to go play with a kid.

P'tit Boo said...

Congratulations !

Look at Dan !!! He's got two of them.
And Dup is having one too .
Wow, it's like all the playwrights are having babies !
Oh you mean, that's what we, humans do ?
Yes, that and destroy the planet .

Can you tell I am in a weird mood ?

Nonetheless, congratulations !!!
I am 35 and my clock is ticking. This gives me hope that maybe no one is ever ready and you just do it, you know.
Kinda like writing a play.

J.D. said...

Congratulations! That's exciting. Hey man, you're a writer. It yells out from your blog. You'll always be a writer. I wish I had read the 'Coppola Theory' twenty years ago. We make due with other people's kids. Not the same. :) Hang tough and tender, Malachy. ODAT.

Malachy Walsh said...

Mark, thanks for the good words - and CONGRATS to you. I joke with Heather that theatre will be barred from the house and a career in engineering will be encouraged, but of course, that's bull. And your point about your own child seeing its parents do what they love is why.

Cat - Thanks. And we will visit when we come up to SF....

Dave, Fandy - You are too kind, as always. And we're still working on the housewarming basket!

Tim, I believe there will be a lot of playing with the kid... A lot.

P'tit Boo - H is 37. You've got time.

And finally, JD - Yeah, that Coppola Theory is good. But it does sound like you've adapted quite well. We'll see how I/we do.

I'm still incredulous about it. And that's good.

Adam said...

WOW!!!!!! BIG CONGRATS!!! I'll see you next mondya and congratulate you both in person.

Don R. Hall said...

Congrats, brother!

Malachy Walsh said...

Thanks, all.... It still feels good. And scary.

In the best ways.

Kreisler said...

Congrats-ah-frikkin'-lations! That's wonderfulawesometastic! Yes yes yes!!!

malachy walsh said...

Mr. K...

Thanks man. And when are you and your Mrs. going to take the parental plunge?

erin gillespie said...

a belated congrats from a second cousin-once-removed, or something like that (erin in NC). we were sent a link to your blog from my gma from your dad about peter's show and i've been reading your blog for the past half-hour--so interesting! congrats on all the cool, awesome things you are doing now. can't wait for the baby--it will be so adorable! and you already look like a dad in that pic, i dont know why, but you totally do! AND---an august baby is the BEST KIND, i should know (august 9). anyway, see you later!