i’m going through a rough patch in my life, i’m in film school and
it’s not what i wished it could be, my girlfriend isn’t what i thought
she would be, and living on my own isn’t what i hoped it should be.
i’ve taken comfort from listening to your podcast and i just wanted to
share my appreciation with you, the podcasts are both insightful and
inspiring and that’s the kind of thing i need most in my life when i
feel so devoid of ambition.
I was just turned on to The Tobolowsky Files by a friend yesterday. I am simply amazed by it. I love your stories and I love your story telling.
Thus far I have listened up to the episode about your mother (hence the title of the email). I must say, I was standing here, doing my Wii Fit routine while listening, and when you guy to the end, I wept. I stopped working out and wept.
I wept because you obviously love your mother, and I wept because it reminded me of the year I spent living with my grandmother. I’d like to share that story with you, if you don’t mind. I want to share it, so you know that you’re not the only one who had those moments, I guess, or maybe it’s because I feel a connection to your experience. I don’t know, but you can be the judge.
I lived with my grandparents for the last month of my grandfather’s life, and the last year of my grandmother’s. I will never forget the feelings I had the days they died. My aunt suggested that I make sure to say my goodbyes to Grandma, of course I already had, but the look in her eye… I knew I had better say it again. So, I did.
About three or four hours later I was at work, in a bank at the time, and my leg started vibrating. I was with a customer. I couldn’t do anything, but I knew it was my father, and I knew what it was about.
We had a line out the door, but after I was done with that customer, I stormed out of the branch. I checked my voice-mail. It was Dad. He simply said, “Well, you know what this is about. Call me back.” I called him back, “I already know what you’re about to say, but say it anyway,” I said. “Your grandma died a few minutes ago,” came the reply. I thought it was fitting, the way my father was as blunt as he’d always been.
My grandmother was a rather blunt woman. Not rude. She just couldn’t be bothered by beating around the bush. When my grandfather was dying, one night she said to him, “Don’t leave me here alone Chas.” I thought to myself, “I may never know how she feels right now, but I’m sure I’ll know how Grandpa feels one day.” My aunts had already said, “You can die, you can die,” and all that spiritual, “for some reason I matter to you as your experiencing the worst pain in your life.” stuff. I never bought into it, so after my grandmother went to sleep, I went to my grandfather and told him that I love him. Then I leaned in closely and quietly said, “You can leave whenever you want to. It’s your choice and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” It was an odd thing for me to say, but I said it.
At about 5:30 the next morning, so about five hours later, my grandmother barged into my room (Actually their office. I was sleeping on a cot on the floor), and said, “Your granddaddy’s dead.” Then she walked out to leave me in the dark, sitting up, completely awake with nothing to say.
Well, to make an overly long story short: Thank you for sharing your stories. I look forward to hearing many more. I hope you enjoyed mine.
About a week ago, I wrote you about the episode of The Tobolowsky Files, telling you how the stories you told had affected me deeply, and made me want to call my mother. I recieved a response from you about it, and an hour or two later, made that call. I ended up taking the family up to visit her for Thanksgiving, and had a wonderful time, despite my mother’s terrible cooking. I don’t know why, but I thought you’d want to know that I did indeed act on your advice.
I have been an avid listener of The Tobolowsky Files since the very first episode. From the beginning I found myself wondering why I felt such a connection to the stories you tell, and, after the most recent episode (The Middle Chapters) I finally began to piece together exactly what that connection is.
The first part of the equation is the voice in which the tales are told. It is a style I enjoy listening to, and often employ myself in my writing. I have been told I am somewhat long-winded (so I apologize in advance for the length of this email) and I tend to make many digressions in my prose, sometimes with the result that, after writing something out, I will discover that I have told an entirely different, yet related story purely in parenthetical phrases, and that this secondary story is nearly as long as the main narrative. This is something I do not only when writing, but when speaking as well, and it drives my wife nuts.
The second reason I feel such an affinity for your stories has to do with a theory I developed a while ago, which is incredibly over-simplified, and probably complete nonsense. Nevertheless, it runs somehting like this: there are two different types of people, and they can be seperated by the type of hardship they face in their lives. There are those who are defined by tragedy, and those who identify themselves more by the misfortunes that have befallen them (okay, that seems like a pretty bleak view of the world, and I realize that it is incomplete, and that there is some overlap. It is not a perfect theory by far, but bear with me, I think I have a point coming up somewhere).
First of all, let me define my terms. When I say “tragedy” what I really mean is something fundemental to human experience, some event that is terrible, and heartwrenching, but is straightforward enough that most people will, at least on a superficial level, be able to relate to it, and that most people will be able to understand, in broad strokes at least, after just a few words. “Misfortune” however, is a word I use to encompass all those details, and those events that are unique and slightly weird which we all experience, but many of us don’t want to ever talk about. They are often the stuff of comedy and farce, and if they can’t be used to tell a funny story, they are discarded by most people. Misfortunate events are often difficult to describe in one sentence, and are unique to a certain person in a certain time and place. Tales of misfortune are detail-oriented and often take more than a few words to tell. They often involve some feeling of awkwardness and a source of conflict that is not easily described, and is almost always completely out of the person’s control, even though that person ultimately has to take responsibility. In other words, they take some explaining.
I am constantly trying to explain myself, usually to people with confused or disbelieving expressions. Nothing seems to ever happen to me that can be stated simply- every event in my life, at least to my mind, seemes connected to a long string of complex and unlikely preceding events, and any time I try to tell anyone about anything that has happened to me, it makes absolutely no sense except in the context of those previous events. It’s a matter of perspective sometimes, I suppose- like the difference between trying to explain the plot of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” versus Tom Stoppard’s “Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” . Maybe I’m too often a bit player in the performance of my own life? It probably doesn’t help that I am a decidedly strange person, and that my thought processes often seem to run at some weird tangent to the way most people’s do. This constant explaining has lead to intense feelings of awkwardness and exasperation, and I often become flustered and anxious at the prospect of answering simple questions- filling out forms is particularly difficult, as there is invariably some list of multiple-choice type options, none of which seem to apply to me, and never enough space to write out the complete answer to any of the questions.
From your stories I surmise that you have a similar relationship with perspective- your stories often contain some huge concept, much larger than yourself, and seemingly unrelated, that somehow, by the end, fits in perfectly with your own personal story. So that what could have been just another clever anecdote becomes a facet of some universal theme, and a sentiment that may have seemed trite and cliche is suddenly personal and profound when seen from the perspective of your experience.
Oh, and some of them are just quirky and interesting and fun. Not everything has to have some deeper meaning.
All of this, in a very long-winded, convoluted way, explains why your stories interest and touch me so deeply. None of them are simple, none of them can be purely defined as tragedy or comedy or instruction or entertainment, all of these elements are present in each. They are honest stories, raw and unabashed. You inspire me each week, by affirming my belief that nothing is ever as simple as it seems, and by displaying a courage I can rarely muster by facing each of these strange, awkward situations you’ve found yourself in. By finding, it seems, a contented, relaxed attitude toward life and some degree of success while doing something you obviously love. Its more than I have yet been able to accomplish, what with the anxiety and awkwardness and the constant explaining.
And this, I think, is why I feel such a connection to your stories- each one is a long and winding road, with many complex detours and switch-back turns. The scenery is abstract and alien, the pace erratic, but the guide is comforting, familiar, and confident that the eventual destination will make the whole journey make sense. It’s sort of holistic, sort of Zen, and wholly entertaining.
Thanks for enduring my ramblings, and for all the stories
Good Morning Mr. Tobolowsky,
I just finished listening to another great episode of TTF and feel very compelled to write you and just say thank you.
Since your first guest spot on the /filmcast I’ve really been taken by you (I don’t mean that in a creepy way). And I was very excited that you guys have launched TTF. I have made almost everyone in my family sit down and listen to a number of your episodes and everyone is always glad they did.
What I want to thank you for is not just your entertaining stories but rather the hope you have helped restore in me. You speak with a humble confidence that pierces through and gives a prime example of how people, in general, should be. You have given me hope that amidst the chaos, sometimes good people still get breaks and you don’t have to sell your soul to make a buck. Honestly, From what little I know of you, you are a perfect example of what I would like to become in the entertainment industry one day. Down to earth, Willing to impart into others, Family man, Dream chaser, making a living doing what you love. Bravo.
I know it must sound like I’ve got such a crush on you, but really I’ve just been very inspired and I’m so grateful that someone like you would take the time to share such amazing experiences and life lessons in such a kind, fathering way.
I am a musician with big dreams of working in film and telivision but have not had any sort of luck. But you have inspired hope in me and I thank you so much for that.
So Thank you Stephen Tobolowsky. Whether you know it or not, you are sowing seeds of perseverance, inspiration, and wisdom into a generation (and industry) that so desperately need it.