Arc of the Poet, Part 13: Fame and Fortune
A good number of great people have expressed at least some appreciation for my writing over the years. Since long ago, many believers have expressed confidence in these abilities, and I feel that their belief is essential to who I am. When I think about what’s to come for me as a writer and artist, I’m inspired by the idea of honoring each of those individuals, and all others interested in my words. Gratefully, I’ll carry on.
In the summer of 1995, I joined the production crew of the primetime NBC television series “seaQuest” at Universal Studios Florida, and began an adventure I’ll never forget, helping produce 13 episodes with a Who’s Who of spectacular production and entertainment industry talents. We were in Orlando, making headlines in all the top national trades well before the first episode of “SeaQuest 2032” hit the airwaves featuring Michael Ironside, Roy Scheider, Michael York and scores of other hot and rising Hollywood stars.
I earned my job from the prolific television producer and director Steve Beers, by committing to handling script distribution and revisions for all the producers and writers, just as I’d done for him and the other producers on “Fortune Hunter” the previous year. That show for Fox had made a big splash and also involved serious heavy hitters, but seaQuest was a phenomenon… a massive franchise for NBC, Amblin Television, Universal Television and all the other industry all-stars involved.
Engaged as the one and only “assisant to the producers, Florida” for production during the series’ third season, I interfaced directly with every person listed in each of these hour-long episodes, and many others at the networks, post-production companies, area film commissions, attractions, restaurants, golf resorts and beyond. Along with Mr. Beers, executive producers Patrick Hasburgh and Clifton Campbell were my top bosses, and Michael Ironside also joined them in taking me under their wings. Suddenly, Beth and I were part of the bona fide entertainment industry. During the weeks of September, October and November, our show made waves across America and beyond, and when we learned that seaQuest would not be renewed, along with legions of others, the full cast and crew united in our grief. We wrapped that December and went our separate ways. Most of those people I have not seen nor heard from for 15 years, but I have had some colorful exchanges with a few, including recently crossing paths with Anson Williams of Happy Days fame, who masterfully directed three seaQuest episodes that season.
During the seaQuest production, I was normally on-the-run as a subservient worker bee handling my varied chores. My industriousness caught Ironside’s attention right away, and he enlisted me on a few of his personal missions. A fellow writer, he quickly sensed my aspirations, and in him, I found an extraordinary role model, and a good friend. Patrick also afforded me a ton of unforgettable experiences, and by shooting straight with me and being my hero, he truly inspired me. Everywhere I turned during the seaQuest experience, something new and unbelievable happened… like having a conversation with Dom DeLuise, who shook my hand after meeting me and made a lovely scene for me:
“Roger Darnell. Roger Darnell! What a great name!“
In contrast, my progression as a poet during the same era was completely forgettable. The Summer 1995 issue of 24-7 Artzine carried my poem “John Wayne Dies Again” accompanied by an odd and striking illustration of a tied-up, skeletal cowboy being tormented by a nude female specter. As I continued my correspondence with the editor, he never was able to spell my name right.
Although my other exchanges with literary editors led nowhere, I still found inspiration in my growing gallery of experiences and wrote some memorable poetry. Before seaQuest was canceled, I also seized the chance to write a spec episode, in the hope that it might get produced in the fourth season. My script was read and discussed at length, and Ironside offered to work with me on it if season four came to pass. As you can imagine, following my investments of so much effort and hope, the show’s demise crushed me.
In early November I learned I had maybe a month left on the show, so as the weeks rolled along, I started searching for projects, and putting out word that I’d soon be available. Here’s something I wrote late in the evening of November 15.
for a creeping gnaw
outside my mind
trying the walls
in between now
it slams and echoes
anything is game
guards in rotation
miss the assault
through it crashes
all upon us
it’s your winner
claimed its prize
. . .
The year to follow was highlighted by a lot of fun freelance production and writing adventures, along with much more devotion to personal screenwriting projects and creative writing submissions. In the early days of 1997, I put the finishing touches on my sixth feature film screenplay, adding it to my shelf of unpublished manuscripts beside my spec seaQuest episode, two poetry collections, and a growing volume of short dramatic scripts, stories and journals.
Lightning struck for me again that February when producer extraordinaire John Melfi hired me to serve as script coordinator during production of HBO’s historic, award-winning miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon.” To my shock and delight, when I was shown to my office in Bungalow 3 at the Disney-MGM Studios, it was the exact same office I’d left back on my birthday in 1992 after working on “Flipper.”
My second tour of duty in that tiny room remains one of the most awesome highlights of my life. The illustrious writer-producer-director Graham Yost came to be a close friend and mentor then, and I also met and collaborated with Tom Hanks, Ron Howard, Lili Zanuck, Frank Marshall, Jon Turteltaub, David Frankel, Sally Field, Jonathan Mostow, Tony To, NASA astronauts Dave Scott and Buzz Aldrin, many of the world’s finest actors, and countless other remarkable and sterling human beings, on a momentous, once-in-a-lifetime project.
Beth and I had ridden enough waves by then to recognize HBO’s project as a tsunami-sized opportunity, and at the end of 1997, we packed up and moved to Los Angeles, with great expectations. January 1, 1998, was the first day of our westward relocation, and three and a half years later, we were “expecting” a baby girl, and we celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary with some other family members on a ski trip to Lake Tahoe. Soon thereafter, we packed up again and moved back East, this time, to the mountains of North Carolina. Within two months, we became parents, finally realizing who we’d been missing: Amelia, Riley, and many other family members and friends.
Before we moved to California, at a film industry party in Orlando, I ran into a friend named Tom Oakes who described what happens when a person moves to LA like so: “Whatever it is that you do, you realize that, and you go where they hire those people, and it’s like you get a ticket with a number on it. Eventually your number’s called, and then you either go to the top or you get shot out and you have to start all over again.”
I never forgot Tom’s scenario as I plugged away in LA hoping that my number would soon be called. Month after month I wondered, would my opportunity come as a screenwriter, a writer’s assistant, a producer, a poet, a director? No indeed; as a marketer and public relations executive, I was eventually able to land a job (after five excruciating months), and then begin to flourish. From there, my career progressed back to the point where in May of 2000, I launched The Darnell Works Agency as my private consultancy. Beth and I were really having a blast, living a lifestyle that was all us, and growing together as grown-ups very nicely. Although we weren’t rich by LA standards, we were conscious of our great fortune. One evening as we walked in the hills of our “Shermancino” neighborhood, we envisioned raising the children we were hoping for alongside cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents in Boone. Then we put the wheels in motion and relocated lock, stock and barrel to a place we had only visited on vacation, joining many others in Beth’s family as residents. Amelia’s birthday in August is an annual reminder of our tenure here; she turns ten on Monday.
Across each of these various phases and settings, writing has helped me to achieve focus, define my personal balance and pursue it. I wrote some more screenplays over the years, and put some effort into the idea of launching my career as a filmmaker… all of which only left a little room for poetry. My experience on seaQuest led me to feel that I could become successful as a screenwriter if I could just find the right project at the right time, and give it my best shot. While I had done okay as a video scriptwriter in Orlando and I did land agency representation during our time in Hollywood, despite my best efforts, I received no screenplay bites, nor screenwriting offers. When we left, I just decided to keep looking for the right opportunities, knowing I would need to write scripts on spec for anything I wanted to pursue. Meanwhile, I put my primary focus on being truly great as a business partner to my clients, and as a husband and father.
There have been a few interesting screen project developments over the recent years, including some that may yet play out dramatically before I’m through. Of course, the poet has continued toiling away in the margins of my busy, happy, relatively well balanced existence, so there is still more to share in this series.
For a year and a half after Amelia was born, I wrestled at night with a poetic tribute to her arrival. Up to that point, I think poetry had been something different to me; facing the weight of writing an ode to our miraculous first child, I finally signed-off on the epic wordplay I am proud to share with you below. I hope you enjoy it.
Happy birthday to you my wonderful little girl, and to your mother, I say, thank you for making the life of my dreams a reality each and every day: As your husband, I am truly blessed.
Waking up at a total loss
For where I was… slowly came awake.
Day had begun, I told myself,
Quite unaware of the day’s high stake.
John O’Groats, right on Pico Ave.,
I ate with Ted – a nice breakfast spot.
LA was totally soaking in –
I’d had good times these two days, I thought.
Morning meeting at The Village failed
To gel – although it was cool to tour.
Walking into KLCS,
Friend Brenda’s jaw nearly hit the floor.
Flying, racing up freeway ramps,
My Sebring – burgandy – made it fun
Prowling into parking lots
At Staples Center – or in the sun.
SIGGRAPH clogged all convention halls;
I searched my way through them for discreet.
Angus met me by chance – by fate?
I wonder, watching the scenes repeat.
Passing badge off to Ted in show’s
High-def HQ, the time dawned on me;
Wending way back to Sebring’s space
I panicked over how late I’d be!
LAX isn’t very close
To where I sat at fifteen ‘til two.
Getting onto that plane at three
Absorbed my thoughts; worried, off I flew.
Knifing back to the rental drop
I didn’t make any driving friends.
Pulling in – there were scores of cars
Awaiting checkers to check them in!
Glancing down at my watch again
I saw I’d thirty-nine minutes more;
Giving up, just about, I saw
The checker wave me on through his door.
On the shuttle bus, wondered why
I’d been so panicked about the flight;
I might miss it, I had no doubt,
But if I did, it was still all right.
Only twenty more minutes stood
Until my flight would be underway.
Stepping into the Delta line,
A supervisor’s help saved the day.
In my seat, calm, onboard the plane,
I called my wife just to let her know.
What a relief, we laughed aloud,
And counted hours still left to go.
Though I spoke with a gentleman
Across America, with no break,
Names are absent from memories.
He made me laugh; helped me stay awake.
Also, checking by cell phone from
Atlanta, Beth and I spoke of him.
Sounding sleepy, relaxed and fine,
The LA trip seemed a winning whim.
Seated for the trip’s last flight,
Another guy landed in my row,
We just talked the whole trip away.
His name? It slipped my mind, too, you know?
Back in Greensboro right at one,
I walked alone through the parking lot.
Aimed for home, our Acord woke up;
I paid for parking… and out we shot.
Blackness paved all the space around
The road, I found, as I made my way.
Skirting Winston and Salem fast,
The darkness stuck to this brand new day.
Music carried me over roads
That turned and rose inside ink-thick mists.
Lights showed up in the rearview, too,
To heighten drama of highway’s twists.
LA, distant by now, it seemed
A glowing gem in my darkened mind.
Feeling thrilled to have slipped away…
A victory of a sacred kind.
Climbing finally past Deep Gap,
I knew I’d sleep in my bed that night;
Knew I’d witness my daughter’s birth;
I knew that things would now be all right.
Driving back across Boone, alone,
It felt so great to be almost there.
Turns led straight back to Rocky Creek;
I got the mail — and inhaled the air!
Windows fell as I rolled by creek,
So joyous journey was ending here.
Fifty-eight after two a.m.,
I felt a tickle inside my ear.
Nearly home – the darn cell phone rang!
I answered, “Hello?” “Where are you?” came
Beth. I told her, “Almost there.” “Good,
My water broke.” I forgot my name…
Also everything else just then.
“We need to go to Lenoir right now.”
Swerving, missing the tree ahead,
I gulped, “I’m almost there. Coming!” (Wow!)
Beth had spent the last hour or more
Preparing us by arranging gear,
Packing truck with our babe supplies,
And pressing phone, dialed-out, to ear.
Calls to Delta confirmed my plane,
She’d just not gotten me through my phone,
So she kept on arranging stuff
And calling, otherwise here alone.
Ann and Chuck – also Grace and Claire –
Were with our grandfolks Dan and Lil,
In Wisconsin there, don’t you know?
My wife alone sat upon our hill.
Calmly, doing all she could do,
She thus stood by… or she paced around.
Though contractions she did not feel,
She knew our time was still counting down.
Bradley Method’s the class we took
Through Julie; made us a birthing plan!
At the time – about three fifteen –
That plan was how I was able to stand,
Move around, gather up some things
With real and practical use and get
Them and me buckled into truck –
Plus Beth’s composure, I can’t forget.
Soon enough, we were on our way
On down the mountain – back on the road!
Caldwell’s hospital beckoned us…
Through thirty miles more of twists we rode.
Time slipped by on that early morn,
We made our way through the misty dark.
Deer were walking along the road
That led, at last, to our place to park.
Weeks before we had toured the floor
Of Caldwell Hospital’s birthing ward;
Who’d have thought we’d arrive so soon?
Though Beth was sleepy, excitement soared.
Still, her water had broken, but
She wasn’t feeling contractions strong.
Settling into our room we got
To hear Amelia’s soft heartbeat song.
Learning from the admitting nurse
She wasn’t dilated much by then,
Beth prepared for a long, tough bout…
And wished she’d feel the real pains begin.
Julie’s class once more gave me fuel;
We started walking around the floor.
Timing pains as the minutes passed
Until, at last, I could go no more.
Sleep demanded I soon relent—
I made my bed in the sleeper chair.
Beth walked on as I sank to sleep;
My dreams were like some surreal nightmare.
Hearing voices, I stirred awake.
A hand extended my way and shook;
Dr. Yun was a nice young guy,
I noticed, watching the care he took
Speaking gently as ultra sound
Scanned Beth. Imagine the shock we felt
Seeing what he then found: “The head.”
Our expectations, just then, did melt.
For, you see, this position’s called
A breech, and even in that spent state,
Quickly senses became awake—
I found my feet and rejoined my mate.
Holding hands, we heard Dr. Yun
Explain that really we had no choice—
Beth would feel, he assured, no pain—
And soon we’d hear our Amelia’s voice.
Having never expected this
It felt as though our whole world was gone;
This was our “worst scenario”—
At least that’s what our first thoughts were on.
Doctors came, midwives, nurses, too—
The operation room was abuzz.
Beth was wheeled in, then given meds,
While I scrubbed up like a doctor does.
Somewhere through these activities,
I think we saw things would be okay.
Fate had thrown us an awesome curve—
But still, it was our Amelia’s day!
All the staff were true gifts from God—
We couldn’t want more or better care.
Bets were off on the costs we’d face—
And yet, we counted our blessings there.
When I walked into surgery,
I saw Beth’s face—and she looked quite calm.
Coming near, she looked up at me—
Just on the verge of becoming Mom.
“This is just so surreal,” she said—
I laughed—and peered up and over drape
Right there—out came our baby then—
With cord wrapped twice round her neck, like tape.
Then our grumpy newborn was brought
Where we could see, at last: What a sight!
All we’d done as a couple had
Paid off: Amelia May was all right.
Then they asked me to bring our girl
Toward the nursery right away.
Beth said “go,” so off we went:
Me, in my scrubs, and Amelia May.
Hitting the doors, I saw Ginny there,
Her gaze was full on the little one.
“That the Darnell girl?” came her voice—
“It is,” I said, to recognition none.
“I’m the Grandma,” she proudly said,
Just focused in on her third grandkid.
“I’m the Dad,” I then gushed her way,
At last she saw me—and laugh we did.
In the nursery, some tests were run,
It broke me in on a lot to come:
Nurses poked, then they prodded more,
I stared them down, feeling mad and dumb.
Ginny helped so by being there;
Her fingertip in Amelia’s hand
Made her granddaughter lots more calm,
And, for her son-in-law, helped him stand.
Seizing moment, I hit our room,
And called my mom to give her our news.
She was shocked – but stuck to her plans,
And said she’d leave after that night’s snooze.
After calling my other folks,
I aimed the camera – improv time!
Documenting Amelia’s birth
Though in my plans – had not been divine.
Sorta scary my form appears
Within that videotaped report,
Trying gracefully to announce
Our daughter’s here – and she’s fine, in short….
Taping that, back to nursery
I ran, with camera in my hand,
Through the glass I was motioned back
Inside — and there with Grandma, scanned.
So upset, but so quick to calm,
Our little one had her video shot.
Now shaking less, she tried to look,
But clearly, eyedrops used hurt a lot.
At this time, while we stood in watch,
Our Beth was wheeled back into our suite.
Soon I went back to let her know
These tests would soon all be done/complete.
Now is when our nurse Crystal comes
To mind—amazing the care she gave,
From delivery room until
We left; so kind, calming, strong and sage.
Footage tells the full story here:
When Crystal pushed our new baby through
Doorway into our room to give,
At last, the mother her babe, I knew
Something special had blessed this day.
My wife just bawled for a bit before
Crystal managed to pass across
The baby – then she just cried some more.
Nothing ever will ever touch
That perfect happiness; like a toy
We’d loved and lost — but then found again;
The definition of overjoy.
Grandma Ginny and Grandpa Bill
Made sure that mother and babe were fine,
Then they headed home, giving us
Darnells some make-new-acquaintance time.
Crystal also was there to make
Us very comfy, so blessed we were
Then and there. When the girls kicked back,
I forced a move off my derriere.
Beth was hip to my getaway
For rest — and then to send email out
Sharing news of our baby girl.
I kissed them both, then I headed out.
Being honest, that drive is not
A memory I can recollect;
Getting home on that afternoon,
Emotions hit I did not expect.
After showering, I’d unpacked,
Was stretching out for a few hours’ nap,
Thinking then about Beth and child,
Was overwhelmed with a sobbing snap.
Found the phone and then called my wife,
Related missing her, being sick,
Gushing pride in our child and her,
plus saying, “Know I’ll be back real quick.”
Sleep was quickly upon me then,
Arriving fast… as night seized the day.
Soon, a stirring of things to do
Awoke and put me upon my way.
First, to office to pull some still
JPEGs from video footage shot,
Post them onto the web and write
A note announcing news on our tot.
Emails went out at half-past eight:
I sent out sixty, all still archived,
Quite triumphantly telling all
Amelia May had today arrived.
Also, pointing them to the site
To see first shots of her and request
Birthday messages back from them,
To show our girl how she’s truly blessed.
Packing up, grabbed my laptop, then
I loaded up and took off again.
Super tired-out and mostly wrecked,
My mind was teeming with spirit kin.
I had triggered a lot of vibes
In sending all of those emails out;
Uncle Scott, had been spreading word
All day and night, too, as I found out.
Granny Bea, Uncle Charlie, John,
Aunt Dean, my Grandpas, other uncles, aunts,
Friends and cousins who passed away
Were all in mind in a joyful dance.
Tears were running, but on I drove,
The road in darkness and fog obscured;
Lucky me, a car’s taillights showed
My path to steer… and so, reassured.
After passing that highway’s worst,
Arriving into Lenoir’s town light,
Guiding taillights just disappeared;
I’m sure my shepherds were there that night.
Somewhere during that drive I thought
Of this – a poem on Amelia’s day…
Starting out with me, unaware,
And ending in such a special way.
Beth was holding her, swaddled tight,
At nine fifteen, when I made it back.
Nothing possibly could have made
Me any happier than seeing that.
Hugs and kisses so freely flowed…
I laid in bed with them, holding tight.
Telling Beth of the pictures sent,
I got my laptop and showed the site.
Then, the emails began to hit,
And I, again, was just overwrought.
My experience was no help
In dealing with those outpoured thoughts.
Reading notes from my mom, and Bart,
Lemays, Miss Cleff, then the Bakers and more,
Rendered speechless this normal ham,
I balled and blubbered as never before.
Soon, composure was all around,
Until a nurse came to take the girl;
Seeking to bathe her, then weigh her in,
Our flat refusal made that nurse’s hair curl.
Online love kept on pouring in,
We relished words from the Jenners plus
Zobrists… then Uncle Tommy’s laughs
And Uncle Scott’s note were priceless to us.
August 16 would see us there,
In learning mode on so many things:
Nursing, dealing with Beth’s vast pain,
the baby’s choking and Martha’s “wings”…
Gramma Lila’s arrival, too,
At end of day, when we’d all head for
Temporary place we then called home
‘Til ours was done: Ann and Chuck’s ground floor.
That night, too, Ann and Chuck would meet
Their niece… but since this poem’s about
Birthday girls’ very first day, we’ll stop
When lights in room 366 went out.
Arc of the Poet
Part 1: Life Poetry
Part 2: Tour de Force
Part 3: True Love
Part 4: Spinning Out
Part 5: Wake-Up Call
Part 6: Serious Dreams
Part 7: Home Stretch
Part 8: Feedback
Part 9: Dear Departures
Part 10: Good Poetry
Part 11: Rewrites
Part 12: Resistance
Part 13: Fame and Fortune
Part 14: Ramblings
Part 15: Being