Sunday, August 30, 2009

geek for machines

Here are some of the photos I took while on my recent trip to Amsterdam.

If you haven't been to Amsterdam before, the most remarkable thing about the city are all the bikes. (Forget the pot smoking and prostitutes; what's so remarkable about that?)

These bikes were those locked up on the south side of the city's central train station.

I'm a geek for machines.


I have a horrible sense of direction, so I started using the canals to help me to figure out where I was on the map. Apparently this is better for me than a GPS screaming "YOU ARE HERE!!!" in my hand.

When I took this photo, I was thinking about how green the water looked, even against (or because of) the green of the boat.

I should have gotten closer, because what caught my eye were the letters on the sides of the buildings on the other side of the bikes.

As I walked away, I also wanted to take photos of the guys in the coffee shop on the left side of the frame, but I am too shy to take photos of strangers. You know what they sell in coffee shops, right? Well, this one wasn't filled with white guys with dreadlocks and stupid looks on their faces who look like they have been wandering ever since Phish stopped touring. These guys were the old guys you see hanging out at the local barber shop in Queens.

Lines and corners and big beautiful windows. I coveted those apartments with floor level windows overlooking the canals.

There were some buildings that jutted forward, either because their foundations had shifted or because of the shifting of the buildings around them. Or, likely, both.

It's like a movie set, isn't it?

My pictures are about shapes and textures and lines. I would love to take photos of the textures and lines of people's faces, but I tend to travel alone (primarily for business) and, like I said, I'm too shy to take photos of strangers. I need to invest in a good telephoto lens so I can do it without them seeing me.

Okay, that sounded creepy.

Friday, August 28, 2009

where the wild things are

I tried to tweet about this, but 140 characters didn't do it justice. 826LA, the LA branch of the organization I asked folks to make donations to, is going to be doing a "special preview screening" of the new Spike Jonze film, "Where the Wild Things Are" on October 1 in Los Angeles at the Arlight Theater to raise money for the organization.

Dave Eggers, the film's screenwriter, is the founder of 826National.

If you want to see the film and participate in the Q&A after the film (with Eggers, Jonze and actors Catherine Keener and Max Records), it will cost you a well-spent $75. If you want to mix and mingle at the after party, your ticket will cost you $200.

Tickets are going fast. I'd like to be there. If you get a chance to go, come back and tell us how it went.

I am still waiting for my check from the New York Post so I can send my donation to 826. I'm hoping it's in my mailbox when I get home from Amsterdam tomorrow.



Wednesday, August 26, 2009

patience and fake plastic trees

I'm going to write a post about the insanely funny, embarrassing, I didn't know I was starring in a bad romantic comedy experience I had tonight.

But I'm in Amsterdam, it's 12:30 am and I need to go to beddie bye so I can go to a meeting in the morning.

Tomorrow.

For now, I give you Jeff Tweedy singing Radiohead. Because that's a spectacular thing.

Update: I think I'm going to let that really, embarrassing thing die and not tell the story. For now.



Thursday, August 13, 2009

stops and starts and flows

This comes down on Sunday, but it's an interview I did on BBC Radio on August 7. I like it because they asked me to read the blog post in full.

When I write, that's how I edit. If it sounds good out loud,
if it feels good on my tongue, than it passes muster.

I'm a fan of the rhythm of words, of how punctuation and the use of paragraphs (is there a word for that?) creates a cadence of stops and starts and flows.

Do you read your stuff out loud too? With the door closed or with an audience in the room?

I have the door closed.

Fast forward to 1:16:00 if you want to listen.

Update: The BBC piece is no longer available online. But they sent me an mp3 file and I've posted it to Vimeo.
Is it just me or is it really slow?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Making Lemonade

This is a film (Lemonade) about people in the ad agency world who lost their jobs and found something better on the other side, including their happiness and an unexpected new sense of self worth.

Yeah, I work in the industry. Don't read too much into it. Read THIS into it. If you're not doing what you want to be doing right this very minute, you might want to reconsider.

I'm getting this out there for a Twitter friend, the film's writer and co-executive producer and former agency ACD. Watch it. He's a good man, that Eric Proulx (@eproulx) and I think he might be doing what he was meant to be doing all along.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Sincerely, Alison Byrne Fields

Okay, so yesterday scared the crap out of me.

The phone calls and emails from reporters and literary agents and movie producers and the thousands of comments from John Hughes fans that I wanted to acknowledge and respond to? More than I was prepared to handle — literally and emotionally. Individually, you guys are great. Collectively, I wanted to crawl under my desk and curl up in the fetal position.

I'm shy. No, really.
Sure, I mouth off on Twitter and I can pull off a client meeting, but I get anxious when I'm the center of attention. I'm a private person. I'm an honest and forthright person, but I have always been very cautious about what I share — and with whom.

Beyond that, my correspondence with John has always been an important part of my life, a chapter that informs who I am today. Putting it out there to be analyzed and critiqued risked the possibility that some of the beauty that I saw in it would fade. I've always pushed my clients to be willing to listen to criticism and, for example, allow negative comments to be posted on their Web sites, but right now, I want to delete the comments from the (very very few) who chose to sully something lovely and innocent with their ugliness. As I said yesterday on Twitter — in one of my less eloquent moments — "People who say mean things suck. Kindness feels better — to you and to me."

And the condolences. I don't feel like I deserve those. John's wife, his sons, his grandchildren. They deserve your condolences. Think of them and, if you're so inclined, pray for them as they get through this difficult time.

Mostly though, I was scared I was betraying John. Would he want me to tell these stories? Was it wrong to talk about his phone call? He was raw. Was he trusting me with something and did I not show that trust the respect it deserved? Would his family or friends think I was betraying his trust to get the attention I never wanted in the first place?
I do not want to be known as the woman who revealed why John Hughes left Hollywood. John Hughes wasn't Deep Throat and I'm not Carl Bernstein — or Bob Woodward.

What was amazing about this experience — besides all of your kind comments — was hearing from John's sons. As I told both of them, it is very obvious to me that the generosity their father showed me was something they have both inherited. Thank you, John. Thank you, James.

So, a few things.

I'm not doing any more interviews. Okay, maybe one more. Rachel Sklar got in touch last night and I like Rachel. I'll talk to her and maybe we can do something fun together.

The blog post will be reprinted in full in tomorrow's New York Post. I received a very small fee for allowing them to do so and I am going to give that money (plus some extra) to 826 National, an organization that works with young people (ages 6-18) and teachers to encourage writing. Because of John's encouragement of my writing and the encouragement that many of you have given me to write, it seems fitting. I'd like to ask each of you to do the same or to consider volunteering.
826 National has locations in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Ann Arbor and Boston.

I checked with the Hughes family and they support this idea and encourage you to also consider giving to the American Heart Association or Northwestern Memorial Hospital in John's memory. $10, $20, anything you have would have an impact (remember, it's the little things.) If things are tight and you don't have any extra money and you are in the Chicago area, please consider volunteering for the Northwestern Memorial Hospital. I am confident they would welcome your support and it would be a lovely way to demonstrate your admiration for John.


To all of you who have written to me on Facebook and Twitter to thank me for the post, I am sincerely appreciative for your graciousness. And for those who have encouraged me to keep writing, thank you. It is the thing I like to do most in this world and I guess I just got a major kick in the pants to keep at it.

My apologies to those of you who have asked to be my "friend" on Facebook, but that space is for people I already know. Please don't be offended. Most of the content I post on there wouldn't make any sense to you anyway. It barely makes sense to the people who know me. You can obviously follow me on Twitter, which many of you already have chosen to do. But just know that I'm not always "beautiful" and "touching." Yeah, I mean, I am hardly ever "beautiful" and "touching." I'm kinda grumpy.

The moral of this story? Speak up, believe that there are people out there who will listen. And if you have the opportunity to be the "listener"? Listen. You have the power to change someone's life. Oh, and another thing. Do what makes you happy, according to your rules. Stay true to your values. I'm going to try to remember these lessons myself.

My friend Spike said it would be over today. Doesn't one of you want to make a wacky video about your cat? I hear those are really popular.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Sincerely, John Hughes


I was babysitting for my mom's friend Kathleen's daughter the night I wrote that first fan letter to John Hughes. I can literally remember the yellow grid paper, the blue ball point pen and sitting alone in the dim light in the living room, the baby having gone to bed.

I poured my heart out to John, told him about how much the movie mattered to me, how it made me feel like he got what it was like to be a teenager and to feel misunderstood.

(I felt misunderstood.)

I sent the letter and a month or so later I received a package in the mail with a form letter welcoming me as an "official" member of The Breakfast Club, my reward a strip of stickers with the cast in the now famous pose.

I was irate.

I wrote back to John, explaining in no uncertain terms that, excuse me, I just poured my fucking heart out to you and YOU SENT ME A FORM LETTER.

That was just not going to fly.

He wrote back.

"This is not a form letter. The other one was. Sorry. Lots of requests. You know what I mean. I did sign it."

He wrote back and told me that he was sorry, that he liked my letter and that it meant a great deal to him. He loved knowing that his words and images resonated with me and people my age. He told me he would say hi to everyone on my behalf.

"No, I really will. Judd will be pleased you think he's sexy. I don't."

I asked him if he would be my pen pal.

He said yes.

"I'd be honored to be your pen pal. You must understand at times I won't be able to get back to you as quickly as I might want to. If you'll agree to be patient, I'll be your pen pal."


For two years (1985-1987), John Hughes and I wrote letters back and forth. He told me - in long hand black felt tip pen on yellow legal paper - about life on a film set and about his family. I told him about boys, my relationship with my parents and things that happened to me in school. He laughed at my teenage slang and shared the 129 question Breakfast Club trivia test I wrote (with the help of my sister) with the cast, Ned Tanen (the film's producer) and DeDe Allen (the editor). He cheered me on when I found a way around the school administration's refusal to publish a "controversial" article I wrote for the school paper. And he consoled me when I complained that Mrs. Garstka didn't appreciate my writing.

"As for your English teacher…Do you like the way you write? Please yourself. I'm rather fond of writing. I actually regard it as fun. Do it frequently and see if you can't find the fun in it that I do."


He made me feel like what I said mattered.

"I can't tell you how much I like your comments about my movies. Nor can I tell you how helpful they are to me for future projects. I listen. Not to Hollywood. I listen to you. I make these movies for you. Really. No lie. There's a difference I think you understand."


"It's been a month of boring business stuff. Grown up, adult, big people meetings. Dull but necessary. But a letter from Alison always makes the mail a happening thing."


"I may be writing about young marriage. Or babies. Or Breakfast Club II or a woman's story. I have a million ideas and can't decide what's next. I guess I'll just have to dive into something. Maybe a play."

"You've already received more letters from me than any living relative of mine has received to date. Truly, hope all is well with you and high school isn't as painful as I portray it. Believe in yourself. Think about the future once a day and keep doing what you're doing. Because I'm impressed. My regards to the family. Don't let a day pass without a kind thought about them."


There were a few months in 1987 when I didn't hear from John. I missed his letters and the strength and power and confidence they gave me and so I sent a letter to Ned Tanen who, by that time, was the President of Paramount Pictures (he died earlier this year). In my letter I asked Mr. Tanen if he knew what was up with John, why he hadn't been writing and if he could perhaps give him a poke on my behalf.

He did.

I came home from school soon after to find an enormous box on my front porch filled with t-shirts and tapes and posters and scripts and my very own Ferris Bueller's Day Off watch.

And a note.

"I missed you too. Don't get me in trouble with my boss any more. Sincerely, John Hughes."


Fast forward.

1997. I was working in North Carolina on a diversity education project that partnered with colleges and universities around the country to implement a curriculum that used video production as an experiential education tool. On a whim, I sent John a video about the work we were doing. I was proud of it and, all these years later, I wanted him to be proud too.

Late one night I was in the office, scheduled to do an interview with a job candidate. Ten minutes or so into the call it was clear that he wasn't the right guy, but I planned to suffer through.

Then the phone rang.

1…2…3…4…a scream came from the other room and 1…2…3…my boss Tony was standing in my doorway yelling, "John Hughes is on the phone!!"

I politely got off the phone with the job candidate who was no longer a candidate and

Hit. Line. Two.

"Hi, John."

"Hi, Alison."

We talked for an hour. It was the most wonderful phone call. It was the saddest phone call. It was a phone call I will never forget.


John told me about why he left Hollywood just a few years earlier. He was terrified of the impact it was having on his sons; he was scared it was going to cause them to lose perspective on what was important and what happiness meant. And he told me a sad story about how, a big reason behind his decision to give it all up was that "they" (Hollywood) had "killed" his friend, John Candy, by greedily working him too hard.


He also told me he was glad I had gotten in touch and that he was proud of me for what I was doing with my life. He told me, again, how important my letters had been to him all those years ago, how he often used the argument "I'm doing this for Alison" to justify decisions in meetings.

Tonight, when I heard the news that John had died, I cried. I cried hard. (And I'm crying again.) I cried for a man who loved his friends, who loved his family, who loved to write and for a man who took the time to make a little girl believe that, if she had something to say, someone would listen.

Thank you, John Hughes. I love you for what you did to make me who I am.

Sincerely, Alison Byrne Fields.