Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #7 – ‘Elaine the Not So Wild Mustang’

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NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to  the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.

In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.

Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.

by Larry Brody

The weather was beautiful today. Clear and warm but not too humid – yet. Two of our dogs, Emmy the No Longer A Pit Puppy and Decker, her enormous, mastiff-like son, were out in the woods, so I decided to join them. My wife Gwen the Beautiful and the rest of the dogs were sacked out in the main house, practicing, I do believe, for summer.

Emmy’s the most at-home-in-her-skin creature I know, the perfect dog on every level. Whatever she does, she does well and loves doing it. Today she was scaring up squirrels for Decker to chase. He’s not fast, but he’s got an edge the squirrels never expect: He’s a climber. Watching Decker miraculously flow up from the ground into the five foot high crotch of a tree is a magical sight. Seeing him pick a strong limb and venture out on it as far as he can go is inspirational. Soon I was climbing along after him…and then beyond him, going way too high to be safe.

In the summer, the trees are filled with needs they are quick to make known. All you’ve got to do is listen and you’ll learn your place in the ecosystem. Since we first came to these woods my job has been to strengthen the forest by taking down the dead trees and snapping dead and broken limbs off the others.

I don’t cut anything. If it has to be cut, it’s not ready. Instead, I do a lot of poking. If I prod a branch and it snaps off, then it’s supposed to snap off. If I push a tree and it falls over, then it’s supposed to fall over. If a major limb crashes down on my head and kills me, then I’m supposed to die. (So far so good. I’m still standing, and I’ve got a lifetime’s supply of firewood without ever having to rev up the chainsaw.)

The wind is a pretty good conversationalist itself, mostly creating mysteries for me to solve. Where’s that noise coming from? That scent? Are those hawks or vultures gliding overhead? The earth speaks too, sighing quietly whenever I separate dead roots from their hold on the soil. Often this is accompanied by a small cloud of dust as rotted wood at the base of a trunk dissolves into the air in reverse of the way pixie dust settles on the kids in the Disney version of Peter Pan.

The wind changed, and clouds started to gather. I followed the dogs back home, going through the corral that serves as a kind of airlock between the trees to the south and the clearing around our house. Huck, our proud-cut Appaloosa, who’s been with us since he was a colt, ignored me. He was too busy munching on the grass. Elaine, his mare, came to see me instead.

Elaine’s approach was a big moment. She’s a wild mustang we saved from the block, and has never taken kindly to any humans except Dan the Farrier, who has the gift of horse charming even though he doesn’t care much for most people. Dan suffers through conversation with humans if he must, but gets his true enjoyment out of talking quietly and sincerely to all the horses he meets.

Today, though, Elaine walked right up to me and nosed my hand the way a dog paws to be petted. I scratched her neck and gently rubbed her lips. Used my fingernail to clean out the insides of her ears. Ran my fingers through her dark mane. And she responded by pressing against my hand for more.

I value the gift of Elaine’s friendship because I don’t know how long it will last. And because I know what it means. Horses are the most sensitive creatures on this planet. Approach one when you’re tense and you’ll find yourself with a handful of trouble. But if you’re relaxed enough you and the horse can become one, bonding in a way that brings with it more warmth and comfort than the best blanket money can buy.

So I was at peace with myself and in harmony with a true wild thing today. Whatever else happens before I wake up tomorrow morning (or for that matter, even if I don’t) I can still feel pride because the weather wasn’t the only thing that was beautiful today. So was my life.

Larry Brody: Live! From Paradise! #6 – ‘Ozarks Justice’

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NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to  the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.

In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.

Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.

by Larry Brody

When Gwen the Beautiful received her summons for jury duty I freaked.

It was for not one, not two, not even three but six months. Six months of early morning wake-ups and driving into Yellville, our county seat. Interviews by attorneys. Testimony. Deliberation. Pressure. Maybe even retaliation. You know, Standard Operating Procedure in L.A.

But Gwen wanted to help insure that justice was done. So on the appointed day I took her into town and escorted her into the old courthouse, where she joined 80 other prospective jurors. I was amazed because they all were dressed in their Sunday best and no one was grousing. This definitely wasn’t the world I’d come from. I asked the Bailiff when he thought I should come back, just in case Gwen was dismissed early and could go home.

“I wouldn’t worry about that,” he said. “Judge hasn’t started his welcome talk yet, and the lawyers won’t have at ‘em till after lunch.”

“How many trials do they need jurors for?” I said.

“Ain’t but one today.”

“What about the rest of the session?”

“Just the one today is all.” The bailiff grinned at my surprise. “I’d say we average about one trial a month. Johnny Cochran woulda gone broke.”

I went on home. Gwen called on her lunch break and said she was having a great time. She was the only prospective juror who didn’t already know all the others. In fact, she was the only prospective juror who hadn’t gone to high school with all the others. But everyone had accepted her. She fitted right in.

A couple of hours later she called again, excited about having been chosen as a juror in a case of Eminent Domain. She was the first juror picked – because when the county’s lawyer asked how she felt about the government being able to seize private property she was the first person who didn’t jump up screaming, “Nobody can take my land!”

Gwen didn’t know the details yet and wouldn’t have told me if she did, but the gist was that the state had taken a house and half an acre of land for a highway bypass and the owners didn’t believe they’d been paid enough. She figured the case would be wrapped up by the end of the day because, “Everybody on the jury needs to get home in time for dinner, and nobody eats later than seven.”

Sure enough, at about six that evening I got the call to come fetch her, and heard the blow-by-blow on our way home.

“It took an hour and a half for both sides to present their case,” Gwen said, “and another hour and a half for us to reach a verdict. It was about that lot across from Sara the Vet’s office. The state paid the family that owned it $30,000. In his opening speech their lawyer said they wanted $234,000. Later he said they wanted $101,000. And in his closing speech he said they wanted $54,000. But he never showed us any evidence for any of those numbers.

“What about the state?”

“They had a witness who went over some charts to explain how they arrived at their $30,000 figure. He talked for most of the trial.”

“So what was the decision?”

“Well, four of the jurors tried to buy that land at one time or another in the past year and the rest of us all knew it pretty well because we’ve been by a million times. Two of the jurors knew the owners and liked them. Two others knew them and didn’t like them. One juror knew their lawyer’s wife. No one knew the state’s lawyers because they were from Little Rock.

“It seemed to us that what the state gave the owners was fair, but their lawyer’s cousin heard his fee was going to be $7000 so we decided the state should pay fourteen thousand dollars more so the owners and the lawyer could both come out a little ahead.”

“But you didn’t have to do that!”

“Sure we did. Those people couldn’t afford to pay for the trial if they didn’t win something. And why should the government be able to just waltz in and take people’s land?”

You can say what you want about the American judicial system, but I’m proud of my wife and her jury.

It’s good to know that in a world where everyone knows everyone else justice can’t help but prevail.

Larry Brody: ‘The Joy of Saying “No!”‘

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NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to  the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.

In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.

Live! From Paradise! #5
by Larry Brody

I just surprised myself by saying no to something, and I’m feeling kinda proud.

Not that I’m entirely responsible. Truth is, I owe my new resolve to the Ozarks.

What I said no to was work. Writing work, to be exact. Two book projects I would’ve jumped at not that long ago.

The first project was for more money than I’ve ever seen in any one place at one time. Writing it would mean I’d never have to work another day in my life. This opportunity, however, carried within it the seeds of its own destruction. First, I would be writing something that betrayed the confidence of a man who had trusted me. Second, I would have to include expose-type material that would be, in a word, lies.

Was I tempted anyway? Maybe just a little. But once I realized that my financial success here was directly related to how much I was not the man I think I am – or want to be – I knew it would be impossible to say “Yes.”

The other project was more reasonable. It was for a book about a subject I know nothing about, but I just happened to have had a student at Cloud Creek Institute For The Arts who is the world’s greatest expert in that particular field. My student spent a ton of money making a couple of videos on the subject but never tried to market them. I figured if I could get him to write the book he’d be able to recoup his investment and maybe sell the videos as well.

The only problem was that he wasn’t interested in doing the work. He wanted me to do it. “You write the book. Use my videos as research, or call me and pick my brain. Take the money and enjoy.”

That didn’t seem right. I suggested that since I’d be using his knowledge we should split the authorship and the pay. My student agreed, probably just to get me off the phone.

After we hung up, I started thinking about doing all that work. About having to dedicate three months of my shortening life to something I care absolutely nothing about. Three months of intense concentration that would take away from this column, my Cloud Creek work, and, most importantly, my family and friends. Three joyless months because I’d be working only for the money – and to help someone who didn’t want that help.

I couldn’t do it. But a friend of mine is a top journalist who’s used to working like crazy and is always behind the financial eight-ball. A dreamer who keeps hoping that “this will be the breakthrough project. The one that’ll make me. Please, God, let it happen this time…” So the other day I made the marriage between him and my student and the publisher. What happens next is up to them.

I know this all sounds strange, but I feel I’ve done the right thing. For most of my TV career I was the one hoping that “this will be the breakthrough project. The one that’ll make me. Please, God, let it happen this time…” The one who could never turn anything down. I didn’t work to live, I lived to work. And not even on whatever I was writing at the time. Oh no! The future was my focus.

I was more excited about what was Coming Next than anything Here and Now.

Can you be full of emptiness? I was. Although I felt full, my creative soul was empty. Consuming itself as I went along.

Now I’ve learned I can say no. And I think I know where. I was just talking to Dan Reynolds, head honcho at local TV station XL7-TV. He’d thought of a whole world of things I could be doing with my talents and my time. I liked all the possibilities but realized I had no interest anymore in pushing for them.

“If they happen, great,” I said to Dan. “But if I’ve got to work so hard at them that everything else suffers, forget it.”

“Son of a gun!” Dan said. “Congratulations. You’ve done it.”

“Done what?”

“Become an Arkansan. Taken on the Ozarks frame of mind!”

And he may be right.

Looking at the new me, my hard-driving friends in California might say I’ve been here too long, but I know I’m just getting started.

Larry Brody: ‘Our Friendly Neighborhood House Ghosts’

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NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to  the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.

In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.

Live! From Paradise! #4
by Larry Brody

A lot of people have asked how I got to Central Arkansas. Usually I say, “By truck.”

The fact is that for years I worked with a Hot Springs native named Harry Thomason who always talked about how his best pal Bill Clinton was going to be President of the United States and how Arkansas was the most beautiful state in the union.

After Bill was sworn in I started wondering about the rest, and when Gwen the Beautiful and I decided to leave the madness of “Hollywood” Arkansas seemed like a good bet.

My wife being from Oklahoma, we flew to Tulsa and started driving east. As soon as we crossed the border we knew Harry was on to something. We drove through Fayetteville and into the Ozarks, overwhelmed by all the rich, dark, and powerful shades of green.

Near Huntsville a realtor took us to see a hundred and fifty acres of woodland with a mostly-finished house in the center. Gwen and I especially liked the creek that tumbled joyfully a hundred yards away.

But then the realtor showed us its source. A well with a big diverter spilling into the woods. Gwen shook her head. “Why would we come all this way to live in another illusion?”

We drove farther and higher and the next day found ourselves following a winding two-lane highway into mist so thick and reflection so deep you couldn’t tell if you were looking up or down, outside yourself or within. Alongside us was a rushing river walled by high, jumbled rocks and stone-grabbing trees.

“I dreamed about this place,” Gwen said. “I think there are buffalo here.”

We stopped beside a rugged old sign reading: “Buffalo National River.”

Close enough.

We drove about twenty miles north to Yellville, the nearest reasonably sized town. While Gwen relaxed in our motel room I strolled to the town square, with its native stone courthouse in the center. Until that moment the only place I’d ever felt like I was at home was in Gwen’s arms, but I knew I was home now. I knew this town square, and it knew me as well.

The next morning June the Realtor took us to see several spreads. By lunch we knew that our decision was between two places along the I-14. Both good-sized log cabins. Both with the same acreage. One had room for all our furniture. One made us feel good.

We made an offer on the one with more room. The offer was turned down.

We made an offer on the one that made us feel good. Gladys the Seller was a school bus driver who raced her bus to the realtor’s office in order to sign before we changed our minds. The only point to be negotiated was when could we move in.

Gladys wanted us to close yesterday. We couldn’t do it until next week. To make it more attractive, she lowered the price.

June was shocked. “You’re paying less than it originally cost!”

We took the deal. And had a ranch fourteen miles from the Buffalo National River, our own mountain with the densest woods this side of Tolkien, a good-sized pasture, a pond at the bottom of the mountain on one side and a little creek at the bottom on the other. Original Settlers’ Cabins halfway down the creek side. A winding rock ridge wrapped around a quarter mile of caves.

Delly the Interstate Trucker, our nearest neighbor, was the seller’s best friend. “Gladys is living in Florida now,” Delly told Gwen and me one day. “She loves it there.”

She hesitated. Then: “She wants to know if you still like the house. Or if you’ve—“ practically stuttering now—“heard anything.”

“Heard anything?” I said.

“Gladys says the place is haunted!” Delly blurted out. “She says there’s ghosts!”

Gwen smiled. I started to laugh.

Because, yes, we’ve heard something. Voices. Talking. Laughing. Singing. Calling. Even arguing sometimes. Always from the next room, no matter what room we’re in. Or if we’re outside, from off in the trees.

I feel bad for Gladys. I’m sorry what she heard frightened her away. But Gwen and I have no problem. The ghosts make every moment a fascinating mystery. Our friends without form are the ones who invited us here.

They’re why the house feels so good.

Indie Video: ‘Video vs. Real’ by Zadi Diaz

by Larry Brody

The reasons artists turn to their art, immersing themselves in it, making it their world, vary from person to person, but as I get older and become more and more introspective, my self-examination tells me that most of the creative people I know pretty much started as I did, trying to hide from or make sense of the world through their art, although our lives have taken different turns from that point.

The 2012 video above, which I accidentally came across on Vimeo yesterday, surprised me by being the perfect extension of my thought on this subject while at the same time also seeming to sum it up.

What do you, as writers, directors, film and video makers, and human beings have to say about this?  Is your art more than a supplement for real life? Has it in fact supplanted your real life?

In other words, does Zadi Diaz’s take resonate with you?

And what about you, Zadi? Where are your feelings today? A quick googling showed me this about you via good old Wikipedia:

Zadi Diaz is the Executive Producer of YouTube Nation. She is a producer and director, known for founding the web series Epic Fu and co-hosting the podcast New Mediacracy. She has won a number of Webby and Streamy Awards.

And a further trip to google gave me this exciting announcement:

Former AwesomenessTV Exec Zadi Diaz Hired at mitú as Head of Digital Studios

Diaz previously worked as vp of programming and development at AwesomenessTV and has also served as head of content development at Disney Interactive, where she developed and produced original live-action and animated series across The Walt Disney Co.’s websites and social platforms.

So I know you’re doing very well, at the top of the ladder as far as interweb video goes. But are you happy with this? Proud of it? Or are the loneliness and alienation that form the subtext of Video vs. Real still alive in your soul?

I know this is a pretty damn personal question to ask. But you gave so much of yourself in this video that all of us here at TVWriter™ can’t help ourselves. We need to know how your life journey is going.

Are you closing in on discovering how to truly be real? Or have you moved onto other questions, big and small?

And as long as we’re talking, I’d like Zadi and everyone reading this to know that I’m kind of crazy about this vid from 2016 too: