Friday 13 July 2012


I have written a short masterpiece.

By the time you've read this, it will probably be in a cinema (although re-written as a superhero movie).

Read it HERE.

Care to share?

Thursday 12 July 2012

Interview with TV Sitcom Writer JAY KOGEN

'FRASIER' was always my favourite sitcom. I adored the characters and the sense of humour, but most of all: I loved the writing. It was the first show where I got obsessed, by trying to figure out how they crafted all the episodes. And like any show, as the seasons flew by --- some episodes were better than others. And one thing I noticed in later seasons -- is that most of my favourite episodes were written by a guy called Jay Kogen.

So it's exciting for me, years later, to be interviewing a comedic writer who played a big part in my writing interests at quite an early stage. He's also written episodes of 'THE SIMPSONS', 'EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND' and 'MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE', and much more. 

This is an extensive interview with a Hollywood screenwriter who has been in writing rooms alongside some of the all time great comedic writers. We speak in depth about the process of putting together a pilot, writing for a show -- and by focusing specifically on one of his great 'FRASIER' episodes, he explains exactly how an episode makes the journey from the pitch to the screen. A fascinating insight into writing for television with a hugely talented writer: JAY KOGEN.

KID IN THE FRONT ROW: You’re doing a pilot right now, is that right?

JAY KOGEN: I’m just finishing a pilot, yes.

How’s it going?

It’s going well. I think so – every pilot I’ve ever done I thought was going well. I liked them all. I always fall in love with the pilot. Rarely do you do it and think ‘oh, this sucks’. You always do it and think ‘this could be a show, this should be on TV!’

How about when you look back at them like a year or two later, do you still think the ones that didn’t work out are great, or do you see why they didn’t work out?

Sometimes I can see why they didn’t work out. I also see what was good about them. I also see the flaws in them that I saw when---- everything I do still has flaws – I see flaws in everything. I saw flaws in ‘The Simpsons’, I saw flaws in ‘Frasier’. I see flaws in all shows. 

But I definitely see the flaws. And the things that we didn’t get right always come back and haunt me when I look at them again, as well as the things that we got right. 

How much of those flaws, when you look back, are about the writing, and how much of that is all the other elements like the casting and directing, and all the different things---

Y’know. It’s hard to say. Some of the flaws were bad writing, true. Some were good writing, or things that were funny on paper that could not be realised. And I’m not sure whose fault that is --  maybe that’s also the fault of the writing-- writing things that look good on paper but can’t be reproduced by actors on camera. 

Sometimes there are things that were great on the paper but the actor just didn’t hit it or the mood just wasn’t right or it was a physical or visual joke that didn’t get realised properly. So, it’s all a mix. 

Do you think you can always tell when you’re casting, do you always know if the actors are right? Like, I’ve cast people where—you’re convinced they’re right for it… and especially with comedy, when it comes down to it, it’s those little tiny subtle things in your writing isn’t it—that actors can’t always nail –

It’s one of those things where, when your actor can’t do the joke you wrote, you’ve got to change the joke. If you’ve cast them right, they can be like 75-80% of what you thought they could be. And maybe you have to change the writing 20%, or change the writing 10% and goose them 10% to be more in the direction you want, but nobody’s going to be exactly what you want. And writers always make the mistake of thinking they’ll find someone who will do the work just the way they heard it in their head. That’s a huge mistake, because things are often better than the way we heard it in our head. And we let a human being take a stab at it and put their own creative spin on it and it’s better. 

How long have you spent on this pilot so far – how much of your life has it taken up? 

Well, it’s a long process, and it’s not taken up 100% of my time this time, but it’s been about a year and a half.

So of course, if that doesn’t last, it’s pretty heartbreaking right?

Yeah well, I mean, y’know, you’re getting paid for that time, you’re getting paid to do the work on it, so it’s your job. But the heartbreak is that you think there’s so much potential there that is squandered when the show doesn’t get picked up. And odds are – your show will not get picked up. You start off at a network that’s doing a hundred pilots, you’re one of a hundred. Of those pilots – ten will get picked up. Of those ten scripts that get picked up, like three become shows – so few. Your odds are very low going in. It’s better than a regular lottery but it’s kind of a lottery. 

This pilot you’re creating at the moment – did you write it all yourself, or did you have a writing staff?

I did write it all myself. 

Is that your preference? 

I like working with partners. I like writing by myself. I like a combination, it depends. I find that working with people helps me in different ways. It gives me good perspective, it also gives me deadlines. When you’re working with somebody, you can’t slack off as much. 

So with a show like ‘Frasier’, where the characters and style have already been long established by the time you wrote your first episode. How do you combine staying true to what the show is and also getting your style on the page – 

How do you get your style on the page? You don’t! Your job, when you’re doing ‘Frasier’, is to write the kind of shows that the people who run ‘Frasier’ like. And if you don’t like the kind of show that ‘Frasier’ is then you shouldn’t work there.

So like, I didn’t run that show – I worked on it. The most essential boss in that environment was Christopher Lloyd. He’s really smart, really funny – he really knew his characters. Others were there, like David Lee; the creators of the show – but not full time. Chris Lloyd was there full time. And you had to appeal to Chris Lloyd. You had to make your story pitches and joke pitches and moments and edits to be what he likes. So you would pitch things that you thought would go down well with Chris, and that’s your job. Your job is to edit out all the things that you thought were funny but would not go well with Chris. And go to the things that he would like, because we’re all there to make that show. And the longer it takes, the more energy we use; that’s bad. We should only be using our energies to do things that are in the realms of possibilities to get on that show. 

Looking at a specific episode, the one you won an Emmy for, ‘Merry Christmas Mrs. Moskowitz’. That episode, for example, was that an idea that you had pitched? 

That is an idea that came about in a room with a lot of people. It wasn’t my idea that I had brought to him. It was an idea that came about in the room. We wanted to do a Christmas episode, and I think the idea that Frasier pretends to be Jewish may have been something that I pitched, or it may not have been; I honestly don’t remember. But the outline came about, y’know, we pitched the story and the outline; and there was actually a day of outlines that I missed. I came back and some of it had been worked out without me and some of that I had to learn and embrace and we changed that, but it’s funny how it all fell together. And then it was my job to take that outline that we agreed on, and that specifically Chris liked and that the show creators then approved. And then I had to go and write it out into a full outline, y’know, like a fifteen page kind of mini-script --- and then that gets looked at and changed, and then edited, and then they say go ahead and write the script and then I wrote the script.

And then that script went to the room, and it got changed and punched up and fixed. And then it went in rehearsal and the actors took a stab at it and they made things better. And some things got changed from there, and it went through a lot of different processes. So the idea that I want to dissuade people from, which I don’t think is true, at least in most shows, is that showrunners are looking for that magical voice, that is completely different from theirs, to put into their show. I think they’re looking for a magical voice that’s complimentary to theirs, to put into their show; and something that maybe they might have thought of themselves or were pretty close to it – cause that’s what they’ll put on. And so, my job when I wrote ‘Frasier’ and that particular episode, was to write a good version of ‘Frasier’. Many of my ‘Frasier’s’, I think, were broader than some of the others, cause I’m probably a broader writer. I didn’t write a lot of the French farce episodes of ‘Frasier’. I didn’t write too many episodes where it all took place in one room the whole time.

But then that episode was mostly in the apartment, when they were in and out of the kitchen –

Yeah, but a lot of it is physical, and people dressed in costumes, and singing – and it’s more broader than snarky; I dunno. It seemed different.

What writers have influenced you the most?

Well my father, he probably influenced me the most, in all ways (Note: Jay's father is the great comedy writer Arnie Kogen). Ray Bradbury who just died was very influential to me. I’m not sure he was influential to my comedy – but he was definitely influential to me. I loved Ben Hecht, incredible. So many great writers --- Billy Wilder and I.A.L Diamond. Jim Brooks. Sam Simon, great writer, has influenced me a great deal.  The guys I have worked with, who’ve trained me, they’re my most heavy influence, definitely. 

When you finish a first draft of something, who do you first show it to?

Lately I’ve been showing it to friends. I used to never do that. I used to only show it to the people I was working with. I show it to my wife – sometimes she’s sick of reading my scripts. I show it to my Dad sometimes. I get a lot of input, and usually the things that change are the things that I agree are kind of iffy – and sometimes my Dad will say “This is horrible,” but I’ll love it – and I’ll keep it in any way. You don’t change the things that you’re sure about. You only change the things that you were kind of iffy on anyway. 

What about --- having a Dad who is such a great writer – in comedy as well. You say he’s a big influence for you, but at the same time, has that ever added any pressure on you as a writer?

Umm, pressure to me, hmm.

I can just imagine, having a Dad who is such a great writer – I can just imagine it could be hard also, I don’t know.

Well I’ll say, it was a great advantage to me to have a Dad who is a writer. I think I got a big leg up in a lot of different areas. One of which was seeing how writers work. Another was knowing people in showbiz, already, when I wanted to be in show business, I had connections, when people who come from --- Minnesota, have to work a long time to develop connections. So when I wrote a script and was ready to show it, I had people to show it too. It didn’t always help me, but it is certainly a big leg up. So that was very helpful.

My Dad was not encouraging of me becoming a writer – he was actually discouraging of me becoming a writer, so that was kind of unhelpful, in some ways. 

How old were you when you knew you wanted to write? Did you always know that was what you wanted to do? 

I started out wanting to direct movies, and I still do – but I was an actor, and was a bit of a stand up comedian for a short while, and I did some other things. And writing was only one of the things that I thought I might be able to do. I don’t love the act of sitting alone and writing – 


I like working with people. Writing is hard. So, I was not drawn to it instantly. But I did start writing in High School with some friends. And I showed some things I wrote to my father, even in Junior High, when I was quite young I guess, y’know, fourteen, fifteen. And he was, y’know – pretty honest about how bad he thought they were. He didn’t like them, and he was not really impressed with my writing and didn’t think that it was a field that I should necessarily head into, for a number of reasons. One, I don’t think he thought I was particularly talented at it, and the second is, the life of a writer is pretty precarious, and you don’t really necessarily want that for your kid. So it was a mixed bag. But eventually he came around. 

When did you first write something that really gave you the confidence to know that you had something, or perhaps it gained a certain recognition, do you remember what that was? 

You know what, I mean, once again ---- I like everything I write. Even the scripts I showed my Dad, that he didn’t like, I liked! I thought they had potential. I think that everyone who shows you a spec script--- nobody turns it into you and says “y’know, it’s not very good,” they like it! I liked the stuff I wrote.

But the first thing I wrote that actually got strangers excited was, I wrote with a pal of mine called Wally Wolodarsky, we wrote a spec script for a show called ‘It’s Gary Shandling’s Show’. This is before 'The Larry Sanders Show' – on ShowTime, and we were runners, P.A’s on that show. And we thought, ‘we could write this show’. 

So we wrote a script, and we showed it to the show. And they thought it was okay, but then we showed it to other people and they thought it was much better than okay. The people on the show thought it was okay but they didn’t do anything with it. And then they sort of said, maybe we’ll give you guys an assignment. So we waited a year for our assignment, and that never came.  And so we wrote another spec for the show hoping that they’d buy that one, and they didn’t buy that one but we showed it to Sam Simon who was a consulting producer on ‘It’s Gary Shandling’s Show’ and he liked it enough to show it to the people at ‘The Tracy Ullman Show,’ and we got out first opportunity to pitch a sketch there. We pitched a sketch, they bought it, we wrote it, and then they hired us on staff. So that’s how we got our first job.

For someone who is outside of the industry – sitting in their home in Minnesota, or wherever – writing their scripts, do you have any advice? I know this is a very typical question. 

If you’re in Minnesota writing ---- write. And eventually you have to get out of Minnesota, and you have to go somewhere where they’re actually making movies and TV shows, or whatever it is that you want to write. So you’ve got to go to New York or Los Angeles or Chicago or someplace where there’s an active community of people actually making this stuff. 

I’m sure Minnesota or Minneapolis has an active theater community but I don’t think it’s the same as the New York theater community. And I don’t think their television is the same as Los Angeles television community. There are places to go where your skills are needed and wanted, but you have to come out and meet people and socialize in order to get those scripts that you are writing read. 

Let’s talk about movies. You said you’d like to direct for film – is that something you see long into the future or something you want to realise soon? 

Well, you know, it’s a slow process – but I’ve been directing things on TV for a while, so we’ll see. It’s a matter of getting the right movie. And low-budget enough that someone will give me a chance. And a script good enough that someone will give me a chance to direct it.

So it’s not something you’d want to write yourself – to write and direct your own movie?

Yeah. That’s how you’d have to do it. I have to write a script, and then say, “you can only have this script if I can direct it.” And they’ll say “great, we’ll pay you nothing.” And I’ll have to say “fantastic”.

Ha, Yeah. 

And then go do it. 

So have you already written the material you think you’d like to make, or?

I’m writing a couple of movies right now and any of them could be something I might be able to direct, we’ll see. I always have too many projects at the same time, which is a problem. So I can never, really, fully, devote myself to any one of them—because it’s always a mad dash to finish a bunch of things. 

How does that come about – is that ambition? Or self-destruction? Or that you’re getting so many offers to do stuff?

I think I’m afraid of being out of work. So I constantly generate projects, and I say yes to a lot of things, that I like. And I get offers sometimes that are nice or something, and sometimes I just generate my own things. I constantly wanna be--- I’m also, I may be a bit ADD. It requires me to have other things on my mind. It helps if I have one project to do if I’m also occasionally thinking about something else, so that my mind isn’t always concentrated on the one thing – so I can go back and forth. 

Do you find you get distracted by all the Facebook and Twitter and websites – are you one of them or ---

Oh absolutely. My phone, and texts and games and ‘Words with Friends’ –

‘Words With Friends’ is the worst. 

I have the ability to waste time doing just about anything. Deadlines are really helpful to me. 

So you need them set externally do you think? 

Yes. It definitely helps. 

So – the pilot you’re working on right now. Can you tell me anything about it, or have you got to keep it under wraps at the moment? 

It’s about a guy who is raising his nephew – they’re like, an odd couple, where the uncle is Oscar and the nephew is Felix. 


So they’re an odd couple--- the kid is super-smart and the uncle is somewhat stunted in his maturity—that’s the basic story. It’s for Nickelodeon, they’re starting night-time adult programming, for Nick at Nite. 

It's a 22 minute sitcom?

22 minute sitcom for adults, yeah. 

Do you think sitcoms have changed a lot in recent years? Looking back now at like ‘Frasier’, ‘Friends’ and, or – ‘Seinfeld’, I still love them and they’re still hilarious but that feels like an old style of sitcom now, do you think it’s changing somewhat? 

Well --- I’m trying to think. What’s the new style? ‘Big Bang Theory’? I think they’re just new shows, not new styles. ‘The Big Bang Theory’ is basically the same tempo as ‘Friends’ and ‘Seinfeld’. They had lots and lots and lots of different scenes. Lots of short scenes. And ‘Big Bang Theory’ does that. 

‘Modern Family’, which is a single-camera sitcom, is very sitcom-y, by some of the people that made ‘Frasier’ – and it’s very funny and smart. I’m trying to think of how it’s different in essence from something like ‘Father Knows Best’ which was 60 years ago. 

Maybe it hasn’t, I don’t know. It’s just a sense I got – that I thought I’d just throw out there and see what you think. 

I think references change, looks change, tones change. The essence of what it is kind of stays the same. I think sitcoms roll out of favour sometimes and come back into favour. People get bored, it becomes predictable. But eventually, when good acting and good writing come together, y’know hopefully people will show up and watch it. 

Definitely, yeah.

But not always. 

So what are you up to today – working? Writing? 

I’m waiting for the notes from the network on the last cut of my pilot. And then today should be the day we lock it! 


And then we start to put the post-production effects, sounds, colours---- and format it so it looks like a real TV show – so then we send it back to the network and they put it in front of a test audience.

That was the end of the interview. We continued speaking for a few minutes about Jay's questionable 'Words with Friends' tactics (I won't share them here, as they may harm his reputation). I'll keep you up to date in coming months with Jay's sitcom and any news of the feature films that he seems destined to direct. Exciting! 

Care to share?

From the Scrapbook - The Ghosts Of Past

Care to share?

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Notes, Thoughts and Pancakes

1. I used to be king of the rambly email. Now it's condensed for Twitter, and it's not that interesting. I need to write a long messy email to someone awesome.

2. 'Frasier' was a great show.

3. Still not happy about Nora Ephron leaving us. But the aftermath has been beautiful. Why do we wait until people are gone before we share the magical stories?

4. Pancakes are wonderful.

5. I re-designed the site. Did you notice?

6. Today over pancakes we discussed Kevin Bacon. But we didn't eat any bacon. We also discussed Danish films.

7. I don't understand the Republican's position on healthcare.

8. I don't understand Republicans.

9. If you are coming to London for the Olympics, bring an umbrella.

10. The Rio Cinema in Dalston is marvellous.

11. Often in moments of boredom, I look at something in front of me, like, a bench, or some trees, and write something on the spot. I guess it's just to keep me practicing. And for some reason being able to write about nonsense seems worthwhile, somehow.

12. Not that I'd bother writing about trees.

13. Here's what I wrote about trees:

I have not climbed a tree in a long time. I have also never been climbed on by a tree.

Do trees never think of getting their own back by climbing onto humans when they're standing still? And don't tell me trees don't move: back in 1989 one fell over and nearly landed directly on my head.

There have been very few legitimate incidences of trees climbing people. There was the famous one in 1973, when a willow tree climbed onto an unsuspecting man who turned out to be a discarded waxwork of Neil Armstrong. There was also the tree which attempted to crawl up Pierce Brosnan in 1993, but lost its footing around the kneecaps.

Whether the trees will ever find the courage for another attempt is unknown. One hopes that if they do succeed in climbing humans, they will also branch out into jumping off of them.

14. 50 Shades of Grey. There, I said it. This is the last time I ever wish to speak about it.

15. Hype overpowers reason.

16. My most listened to this week:

Bob Dylan - Girl From The North Country
The Waterboys - Girl From The North Country
John Mayer - Comfortable
David Gray - Babylon
Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra - Love's Theme

17. I absolutely love the film 'Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist'

18. What resonates with you is what matters. Not what the critics value. Once you're dead, you'll just wish you had loved what you loved.

19. Every now and again you meet someone who proves beyond all doubt that human beings are be fantastic.

20. Conversation:

BOOK #1: "I'm great."
BOOK #2: "Read me, I'm much more fascinating!"

21. You can only take responsibility for yourself and the people you have kidnapped.

22. What does artistic integrity mean?

23. My headphones broke. I bought some temporary ones for 2.99. They sound terrible, apart from songs by The Rolling Stones, which sound great!

24. You spend your whole life desperate to hear "I love your writing" and then she finally says "I love your writing", and unfortunately it's the most you'll ever get from her.

25. 'The Swell Season' is a MUST SEE documentary. It's about Glen Hansard and Marketa Iglova, stars of 'Once.'

26. 'Beautiful Girls' is a perfect movie. Amazing cast!

27. Peter O'Toole has retired. One of the greats.

28. I get so engrossed in foreign movies that when I look away, I get confused by the fact I no longer understand the story --- eventually I realise, I've been reading subtitles the whole time.

29. Would you rather have a drink with Jeffrey Tambor, Eugene Levy or Richard Jenkins?

30. I want to meet Bill Murray and have him announce publicly that I am one of his dearest friends.

Care to share?

Tuesday 10 July 2012

8 Boys, Girls, Men and Women From The North Country


Jerry was 62, which wasn't old. At least, he didn't think so. But it was old compared to when he was 22, which he still thought he was until the doctor sat him down in a small blue room at 61 and told him the bad news.

He had weeks left on this planet, and he knew it. He had so few joys left come the end. The main one was the visits from his daughter Mandy with his Granddaughter, Ellen. The other, was listening to Bob Dylan's 'Girl From The North Country' repeatedly. He'd always been struck by how beautiful the song was. As death knocked on his door, the meaning changed. It amplified.

"I'm a wonderin' if she remembers me at all." That lined killed him then, and it was literally killing him now. His time was up --- and she could be absolutely anywhere. Did she remember him? Did she think about him at all? "She was once a true love of mine," he thought. On his deathbed, he realised that life is not a romantic comedy. He also realised that it's not because life is harsh, but because he never told her how much he loved her.


Her 14th birthday was not a great one. Jerry, whom she loved more than anything, was gone. She hid in her bedroom -- refusing to talk to anyone. She had secretly stolen his CD collection from the hospital. She was desperate to find that song that he kept listening to again and again. She needed to hear it, it was the only way to be closer to him.

When she found it, she recognised it immediately. It sounded like life itself. The opening lines -- "Well, if you’re travelin’ in the north country fair, where the winds hit heavy on the borderline" -- they sounded like heaven to her. She didn't know what the North Country Fair was, but it was where she imagined Jerry being.

She put it on a CD for Thomas. He'd ignored her last two CD's, but now she understood: boys don't want to hear lots of love songs, it freaks them out. She decided, with this CD, to keep it cool. The boys at school had been teaching her all about indie music, so this time she felt a lot more confident and in the loop. She knew that, if he gave it a chance, he'd listen to it. She just hoped he made it as far as 'Girl From The North Country', because then he'd know who she really was.


Ellen handed him the CD and he said "thank you", awkwardly. Why she kept giving him music, he didn't know. And it always sucked. Why was she always pestering him? He didn't have a clue.

When he got home from school, he put on the CD. The tracks flew by - it was a mixture of cool and predictable indie rock songs that Thomas was barely paying attention to. He was too busy messaging Jennie Fendell on Facebook, asking about her bra size.

And then 'Girl From The North Country' came on. "What the fuck is this shit?" Thomas screamed. He took out the CD and threw it across the room.


Dear Diary,

I was looking for my shoes, the ones that go with my pink dress. They were, of course, in my brother's room. It's not that he likes wearing girls shoes (at least I don't think so), but that my Mother has a bad habit of putting shoes in only the wrong places.

The shoes happened to be place on top of a CD, which had a lovely drawing on it -- which I think was done by his girlfriend, Ellen. He doesn't admit that he has a girlfriend but I think he does. She always looks at him really funny and I think the way she looks at him means she loves him. It's like the look the girls gives the boys in the movies just before they end. You know that look?

Anyway, the reason I am writing to you is that I discovered a song! It's called 'Girl From The North Country' and I am almost completely sure it was written ABOUT ME! The first time I heard it, I cried for seven whole minutes and at least nearly all of the tears ended up on my shoes.

My parents love me, but they don't understand anything about me! Bob Dylan does. If you don't believe me, listen to the song. I want to be in love with him but I just looked at a picture of him and he is a ugly and probably a bit old. But I think maybe he could afford to buy me a lot of shoes.

If you don't mind me being completely honest with you: I am almost always completely depressed and alone. But this song makes me feel understood. It feels like he's singing about the world I dream about.

(Girl From The North Country)


Yuusuf was in England for the first time. The trains were big, and packed full of people who knew what they were doing. Yuusuf didn't know what he was doing. He was insecure about his English. He was great at reading it, and writing it -- he just wasn't very good at speaking.

He tried his best to fit in. He noticed a bizarre thing happening on the tube. It went like this: a man would read a newspaper, and when he was finished, he'd place it on the little space between the back of the seat and the window. And then someone else would pick up the newspaper, and begin reading it. He thought that this was lovely and kind and the exact opposite of what his brother had told him about English people on the tube.

Wanting to join in, he reached behind his head to pick up a newspaper. Unfortunately, it wasn't a newspaper. It was more like a notepad, a journal of some kind. He opened to the front page. 'Maggie's Secret Journal'. He knew immediately that it was private, and that he should not read it.

He flipped to the final page. It was a girl's diary. Some kind of love letter about a pink dress and shoes. Yuusuf was bored. But then he read the bit about her finding a song. He loved the romanticism of it. That the poor little girl thought the song had been written just for her.

He felt a strong urge to hear the song. But how? He didn't have a computer or an iPod or a CD player. He needed an internet cafe.


They tried to kick Yuusuf out of the internet cafe. They thought he was trying to cause trouble. It was Najwan who saw what was really going on -- the guy was just frustrated. Najwan lent Yuusuf his headphones, and everything worked out okay.

Everything apart from the fact that Yuusuf ran out of the internet cafe while crying his eyes out. What the hell was that guy listening to?

Najwan looked at Yuusuf's screen. 'Bob Dylan - Girl From The North Country'. Interesting. He put the headphones on and had a listen. It was hard to get into, at first. This was not Najwan's type of music at all. But he kept listening.

But then a line GOT him. "Please see if she has a coat so warm, to keep her from a howlin' wind."

Then he found another version on YouTube, it was Bob Dylan with Johnny Cash. And that line hit home even more. "Please see for me if she's wearing a coat so warm, to keep her from the howlin' wind." It reminded him, of course, of Haneen, his beautiful ex-girlfriend. He couldn't handle the break-up, even from such great distances. The line brought home all the complexity he was feeling in his heart. He had this painful feeling that kept him awake every night. It was the feeling that Haneen was only a day or two away from meeting someone new - and that broke his heart. The anticipation, of someone else who would make sure she was staying warm -- how could he live with that?

(Drawing by Wintersnake)

Tanja was annoyed with herself. For all of her liberal beliefs and 'love everyone' attitude; she really hated the Pakistani guy she was sharing a hostel room with. He was loud, and he insisted on having two hour phone calls in the room that always coincided with when she was trying to read. She caught these prejudiced thoughts flying through her head and she hated herself for it. Maybe everyone is a little racist, deep down, she tried convincing herself.

But she hated that Pakistani guy.

And then one night; something unexpected happened -- Najwan decided to read, as well. Peace in room 14b! Tanja sunk into her Bill Bryson book and Najwan sunk into 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows'.

It was a perfect night. And then Najwan put on some music. Why does he have to ruin it? wondered Tanja.

And then she listened. She'd never heard anything like it. It was like an honest confessional - a bitter love letter to someone long gone. She imagined it was how Marta would sing to her. That's what was so tough about the break up -- she had no idea what Marta felt. No idea what any of it meant.

She didn't have her girlfriend, but she had this song. It was filling the gap better than anything else she'd found.

"What do you think this song is about?" asked Tanja. 
"The love of my life," said Najwan.

Tanja smiled. She had the feeling she had just found a soulmate.


"She's amazing. You have to come to the gig," typed Caren.

Sarah knew she would have to go. Caren was good at not really giving her a choice. It would be yet another average gig by an over-hyped singer song-writer. BORING!

The hype surrounding Tanja De Vries was bordering hysterical. Hysterical, at least, within their social circles. Sarah was comforted by the fact that even if the three song set sucked, at least the performance was in a book shop, which is Sarah's favourite place to be.

It didn't take long for Sarah to admit the truth: this girl was good. The first two songs were original compositions, 'Me Hidden Under Me' and 'Truthful Lies' - and they were beautiful.

"I'm going to end with a cover," said Tanja. "This is for anyone who's ever lost a true love who is no longer their true love but who is actually still completely their true love."

It was a solo acoustic rendition of a song that Sarah knew very well. She never liked it all that much -- but Tanja was reinventing it, making it her own. Tears began rolling down her face. How could one song capture everything about life?

She thought about everything she'd lost. Everyone who was gone. Everyone who meant something to her that she'd allowed to walk out.

'See for me if she is wearing a coat that is warm, to keep her from the howling wind'. What a beautiful line. She couldn't help but think of her husband, wherever he was. She was comforted by the fact that, whatever woman he was with now, he was probably too selfish to make sure she had a coat to wear.

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