What do Gardens, Playhouses, Cancer, Ellen DeGeneres, Iliza Shlesinger and Pinterest all have in common?

By the Power of Pinterest!!!! I HAVE THE POWER!!!!!

So this physical transformation of my back yard mirrors how my outlook on life has changed in the last few months and for anyone interested, here is the story of how my friends and family, Ellen, Iliza and Pinterest helped me do it (as a warning, this was written in ramble mode):

To be blunt, 2014 sucked for me. My job went to hell. I lost all my money plus money I didn’t have in a bad business investment. We lost our apartment and ended up having to live in the spare bedroom of a friend’s house, again. My insurance company cancelled our policy because I couldn’t make the payments. Then to add insult to injury, I noticed a couple odd patches on my skin and went to see a doctor and ended up getting a biopsy confirming I had skin cancer. But hey, the good news was that for $15,000 (which was $35,000 more than what I had) they’d cut it out. Yay?

I didn’t tell my wife, which in retrospect was not smart. And then because I never went back, a letter soon arrived from the doctor saying in typical American medical pessimism “hey do you realize you could die if you don’t get this treated?” and of course my wife saw the envelope and opened it before I got home. To make a long story short: yes, I should’ve told her everything earlier.

The Back Yard Somewhat Resembled my Life: Depressing

At the start of all this, the back yard somewhat resembled my outlook on life: Ugly and depressing

I was also fast approaching turning the big 40 years old and I had once promised my younger self that if I hadn’t sold a script, a novel or made a feature film by the time I was 40 I would throw in the towel trying to be a writer/director on feature films. So I was feeling pretty miserable overall coming into 2015 and barrelling down towards my 40th birthday.

Not too sexy looking right?

Not too sexy looking right?

Better?

Better?

And then two funny things (people rather) happened: Ellen Degeneres and Iliza Shlesinger. How you ask? Read on, read on! (me shouting encouragement for the one or two people who’ve made it this far!)

I was feeling pretty depressed on a daily basis. I was working again, but I wasn’t particularly happy because I seemed to keep getting so close to getting a film made only to have it fall through time and again. I was still working 80 hour weeks and then using the 11pm – 3 am hours to work on my writing, which was my escape. Then I’d sleep a few hours, wake up at 7am drive the kids to school and start over again. One day I saw a Facebook clip of Ellen Degeneres which was incredibly uplifting so after finishing my late night writing sessions, I added to my routine watching Ellen for 15-30 minutes most nights. I really enjoyed the positiveness that her show had and it helped me to start putting my problems in their proper perspective.

Do you know how your back feels after carrying 4 tons of wood up a hill? I'll give you a hint: ****ed.

Do you know how your back feels after carrying 4 tons of wood up a hill? I’ll give you a hint: ****ed. And this wasn’t even half of it!

Aside from crying way too many times while watching Ellen to be considered manly, I soon realized something vitally important:

No matter how bad I felt about my life right now, I was living a life that someone else, somewhere in the world right now wished they had. While I stood there bitching about my miniscule problems, I was living someone else’s dream. How self-centered and shallow.  And I kinda snapped out of it.

So I hadn’t managed to get my film script into Alfonso Cuaron’s or Alejandro González Iñárritu’s hands, but I wasn’t strapped to a torture table, in a coma in a hospital, starving in a gutter or worse. Plus I have two beautiful and healthy children, a beautiful, loving and supportive wife, and many, many amazing friends. I’ve also had some great adventures thus far. I had also managed to start getting back on my feet financially again and found a decent, if overpriced (any place in LA is overpriced) place for us to live in. Sure I had a lot of debt but I had a job again. Ok. Not so bad. Living the dream, someone’s dream. In a roundabout way, Ellen’s humor and the guests she talked with had helped me realize how blessed I was and to appreciate what I had. She also mentioned Pinterest occassionally which in my mind was “that picture thing.” Ooooohhh how oblivious I was…

It's going up!

It’s going up!

Slowly, I began to see that when you start to appreciate what you do have and what you have accomplished thus far instead of feeling like a failure, life starts looking better. And when you think a bit more positive, things start to work themselves out. It’s cliche as **** but I was finding it to be true.

The subliminal messages at my birthday party

The subliminal messages at my birthday party

Out of nowhere I found out that a friend of my mother’s happened to work for a dermatologist who took me on as a charity patient and dealt with my skin cancer and has been dealing with it in the repeated visits since for the amounts that I could afford. She also helped me shake the fear, resentment and despair the other doctor had given me.

The girl's playhouse going up

The girl’s playhouse going up

Now despite the overall improvement on my outlook in life, I was still subject to sudden bouts of depression that would come crushing down and which my wife would help me get through, but no BS: it was tough.  Then one night my wife and a friend of hers suggested we watch a comedy. I had heard about Iliza Shlesinger’s Freezing Hot on KROQ that morning and thought why not? In addition to laughing my ass off, I was left with the question: what the hell is Pinterest really? I’d heard Ellen mention it occassionally, but now with the over the topness of Iliza’s routine about it, I had to know.

Oh. My. God. Pinterest = best thing for DIY inspiration ever.

To sidetrack for a moment, I had resigned myself to the fact that I was going to hit 40 without selling a script, a novel or making my first feature movie. But damned if I was going to go into it depressed. I decided that I wanted to give my kids and my wife something special.

Now we are getting somewhere!

Now we are getting somewhere!

In the ten years that my wife had been together, she’d probably told me a hundred times that she wished that one day she could go to New York. She had also mentioned that she wished we had a place that was outside to exercise and watch the girls play at the same time.

The woman who keeps the light in my life

The woman who keeps the light in my life

And my kids, what they wanted more than anything, was two things actually: a playhouse, and a puppy. A puppy I wasn’t willing to add to the family until they were older, I’m wayyyyy too stressed out to add another kid! But a playground? Something that I could make with my own hands? Oh yes, it was on. And my wife had mentioned it would be cool to have a place outside she could do exercise on. Hee heee heeeee!!! (Insert maniacal laughter here)

The stars in my sky

The stars in my sky

Enter Pinterest which was amazing for helping me visualize and solve how to do it. I wanted to give them a beautiful playhouse and garden which they could enjoy and have adventures in, exercise and enjoy life and remember fondly as they grew older. But this was going to require a lot of planning. I measured everything out. Built a model of it.

I built a scale model with my girls to help me visualize before I built

I built a scale model with my girls to help me visualize before I built (yes I realize this should probably be at the top, but remember: ramble mode)

I asked all my friends and family to give me wood for my birthday, yes actual wood and lumber, sheesh. I asked other friends for leftover lumber on their jobsites. I looked through craigslist. I did whatever I needed to do to get my ducks in a row.

Ugh

Ugh

Then I surprised my wife with a five day trip to New York over a holiday weekend as an early birthday present for her. She had a friend there who I had secretly planned the trip with and I got them the best seats in the house for Wicked on Broadway. She could stay with her friend, and I had lucked into a cheap flight by ordering early and I figured she needed a break from work and the kids. She had earned it a thousand times over.

Not so ugh

Not so ugh

Then once she left, I got busy with it. By the time I got back from dropping her off at the airport, the lumber was waiting for me at the house and I went crazy building things like a madman. And my two little girls helped me all the way, cleaning and painting and general cheerleading. We had a blast.

Quite a change I believe

Quite a change I believe

A deck. A pergola. A playhouse. A garden. I didn’t finish it by the time my wife got back, so I had to send her away again to take another 4 days off to go to her sister’s baby shower up in Sacramento while the girls and I worked away. And…I still didn’t finish it. I learned that trying to build a playground and take care of your kids at the same time can be really stressul but we did have a blast!! I also ran out of money well before finishing, so I had to look for some work I could do on a weekend to be able to buy more materials. So I built a deck for someone else! (and beat the crap out of my back again.)

I didn't have enough money for a lot of the backyard, so I had to take another job on some weekends to be able to buy more wood (yes, no BS, I built a deck for someone else)

I didn’t have enough money for a lot of the backyard, so I had to take another job on some weekends to be able to buy more wood (yes, no BS, I built a deck for someone else)

Built!

Built!

Yah baby!!!

Yah baby!!!

The kids love their new space. My wife loves our backyard. And I feel strangely satisfied. It felt good to build this. It sort of gave me a renewed verve for keeping going. Pursuing my dreams and taking the struggle that comes with that in stride.

I’ll post up a full long form video of this whole experiment in short order, but in the meantime the time-lapse and the photos should help the curious see how I went about building everything. I’ll also put up some how-to on the videos on my other page http://www.darecinema.com.

I want to thank all my wonderful friends and family who contributed to the project by lending me tools, gifting lumber, offering advice and, well, being there for us during these trying times. And most of all to my wife and daughters who give me more happiness than I could’ve ever asked for. Every. Single. Day.

After shots

Here is how it looked before

Here is how it looked before

More after shots

Here is how it looks now

The danger of pinterest obsession

The danger of pinterest obsession

A view from the girls playhouse

A view from the girls playhouse

One last look as to how it was

One last look as to how it was

Our new hangout

Our new hangout