Why We Write

January 2, 2008

Why We Write – Number 8: Damon Lindelof

  Number 8

Today’s piece is written by Damon Lindelof, Co-Creator and Executive Producer of “Lost.”

 

I was listening to the news on NPR the other day and two things occurred to me.  First, only assholes feel the constant need to tell you they listen to NPR (does anyone ever say, “So I was watching the CW last night…”?) and I guess that makes me an asshole.  The second was that in the midst of listening to the story in question, I had finally figured out how to succinctly sum up why I write.  It goes a little something like this –

There’s this ninety-year old woman named Rose who, after honking her horn repeatedly at the school bus idling in front of her, decides she has much more important things to do and guns her Honda Civic around the bus.  Before she realizes that the bus was stopped for a very good reason indeed, Rose finds herself watching a freight train bear down on her and almost instantly, it smashes into the passenger side of the Civic and pushes it a good hundred feet before screeching to a stop.  Forgoing all the gory details, Rose  is pronounced dead at the local hospital and the attending doctor in the ER is tasked with notifying next of kin.  Turns out Rose’s husband has been dead for decades, but she has a couple sons and a daughter.  The doctor calls one of her sons and his wife answers the phone.  The son isn’t home, but the wife offers to take a message.  The notification ethics, however, forbid the hospital from telling anyone but next of kin about Rose’s death and so they ask when the son will be home so they can call back.  

And the wife responds “He won’t be back for two months.”   And the hospital says, “Well… do you have a number where we could reach him?”  And the wife says no, she doesn’t.  And why not?–

Because he’s in space.

As in outer space.  As in orbit.  As in one of a handful of human beings who have the unique distinction of not being on the fucking planet. 

The son, Richard, is working on the International Space Station doing repair work.   And as he floats in Zero-G, he is blissfully unaware that his ninety-year old mother has just been flattened by a train.

I shit you not.  This really happened.

And what does this family’s personal tragedy have to do with why I write?

Because to me, this is an amazing story.  And as soon as I hear it, my brain is already hammering out the scene where Rose’s other kids debate as to whether or not to even tell Richard.  The daughter, Christine, insists on telling him that mom died peacefully in her sleep and holding the grisly truth for when he’s back on Earth.  Richard’s brother Michael, however, demands they tell Richard all the gory details.  Why?  Because it was Richard’s fault she was still driving at ninety.  Michael’s been trying to get her into assisted living for over five years now and if stupid fucking Richard had just fucking listened to him, she’d still be fucking alive! 

Fortunately, I think, the decision is not up to Richard’s siblings.  He is, after all, a member of the military, so this would be a NASA issue.  And it turns out in their guidelines there’s this thing called the Dual  Plume Protocol.  The Dual  Plume Protocol, or DPP, was officially incorporated into NASA’s Psychological Charter this year.  Let me back up – 

In September of 2001, the space station was manned by three people — an American and Two Russians.  As they were orbiting over the Northeastern United States, the American called Mission Control to report that he could see (with his naked eye) two massive pillars of black smoke rising up through the atmosphere.  When they answered back, explaining that the black smoke was all that remained of the Towers, the American took a long, sorrowful pause and responded – “I wish you hadn’t told me that.”

As a result of the DPP, NASA started actually asking the astronauts who are leaving the planet what their personal wishes are regarding notifications of earthbound tragedies.  And this is like, a very detailed document because it covers everything from worldwide catastrophes (i.e. Katrina or a Tsunami) down to things that would only affect the astronaut him or herself (i.e. their mother’s Honda getting pulverized by a freight train) and it must be signed and notarized before launch. Why?  Because the emotional state and focus of these guys is critical.  They’re being sent up to perform missions on a space station and after spending millions to train them (Richard is one of three people alive who has the skill set to execute these specific repairs) it costs BILLIONS just to get them up there to perform them and the last thing NASA needs is for someone to go batshit with grief on the day they’re supposed to fix the thruster converter thigamajob.

So I’m sitting there thinking how Richard may have filled out his DPP Form…

And I realize there’s no such thing.

I made it up.

Yeah, I remember hearing about the astronauts on the space station having seen the carnage over Manhattan from orbit, but that’s got nothing to do with the story of Rose’s death.  In fact, I don’t know how many kids she had or, for that matter, whether or not they can just send an email to Richard (can you get email in space?) and dispense with all the formality. 

But where’s the drama in that?

So that’s why I write.

I write because I can’t help but make things up.

I write because I love to tell stories.

I write because my imagination compels me to do so.

I write because if I didn’t, I’d be branded a pathological liar. 

Oh, and also because I’m still trying to make my dead father proud of me.

But that’s none of your goddamn business.

 

WHY WE WRITE is a series of essays by prominent – and not so prominent – TV and Film writers.  Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform all writers during the strike, and perhaps beyond.  If you’d like to comment, or tell us why you write, visit the Why We Write WordPress site or contact us at whywewrite@gmail.com.

51 Comments »

  1. Wow, I guess I really do need to watch Lost.

    This is an amazing piece, a writer for the sake of writing. You seem to write for selfish reasons more than others, that’s a true writer (or so I hear).

    Thank you, Mr. Lindelof, you’ve started my day on a good note.

    Comment by Inar — January 2, 2008 @ 6:17 am | Reply

  2. Dear GAWD, I suddenly understand my husband better.

    This is beautiful (and not just because of how it benefits my relationship). Wow.

    I am again inspired by a visit to this site. Thank you.

    Comment by Bon — January 2, 2008 @ 6:19 pm | Reply

  3. me too..

    i love the Why We Write

    Comment by GIls — January 2, 2008 @ 6:25 pm | Reply

  4. Great read. I fell for it hook, line and sinker.

    Comment by Carrie — January 2, 2008 @ 7:06 pm | Reply

  5. Damon: You have a penchant for telling stories then adding something that you then get to go back and say ‘well, I made that up, but didn’t it make an interesting story?’

    I always thought that you did this because you thought it would be commercially successful. But I see now that you do it because, well, you find those types of stories worth writing for your own sake. The fact that other people enjoy (and are willing to pay for it) it is simply a pleasant byproduct.

    I wish more people in entertainment wrote that way. Then again, one of the better written movies lately, Juno, is barely cracking the top 5 while studio monstrosities like “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” do extremely well.

    I’m not saying the writing on movies like that are bad, but they seem to be processed so much that the people getting the writing credit really don’t deserve it… it isn’t their work anymore.

    Good luck

    Comment by Nick Catalano — January 3, 2008 @ 4:29 am | Reply

  6. “But where’s the drama in that?

    So that’s why I write.

    I write because I can’t help but make things up.

    I write because I love to tell stories.

    I write because my imagination compels me to do so.”

    I hear ya Damon and completely understand. Great story telling here. Loved it.

    Comment by roobaby44 — January 3, 2008 @ 6:40 am | Reply

  7. Damon,

    This may be little solace in your current awful situation,

    but your writing is why we watch.

    Comment by theTVaddict — January 3, 2008 @ 8:21 am | Reply

  8. If she was 90 and had her kids in her twenties, they would all be in their 70’s. The rest was great.

    Comment by flimsy sanity — January 3, 2008 @ 8:22 am | Reply

  9. [...] aktuell: Der Artikel von Damon Lindelof, einem der Erfinder von [...]

    Pingback by Seifenschreiber » Blog Archive » Der “Lost”-Chefautor schreibt übers Schreiben — January 3, 2008 @ 8:35 am | Reply

  10. Very interesting. As I was reading, I sounded very real and logical. That to me is the sign of an excellent writter. Mr. Lindelof can you now take a few minutes to dream up the last two issues of Ultimate Hulk vs. Wolverine?

    Comment by Anthony — January 3, 2008 @ 9:45 am | Reply

  11. Had the pleasure of seeing Damon speak and he is just as funny and insightful in person. Bravo.
    Oh, and here’s a good quote about why we write:

    “A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens–second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter. Millions survive without love or home, almost none in silence; the opposite of silence leads quickly to narrative, and the sound of story is the dominant sound of our lives, from the small accounts of our day’s events to the vast incommunicable constructs of psychopaths.”

    –Reynolds Price

    Comment by thespinster — January 3, 2008 @ 10:00 am | Reply

  12. I feel like I just got done watching an episode of lost. Your story was so compelling.

    Thanks Damon!

    Comment by Justin — January 3, 2008 @ 1:36 pm | Reply

  13. Very well said sir, This is a great piece. The odd thing is it seemed to be one thing and then it completely changed in the middle, but did it so seamlessly that you didn’t see it until the end.

    Comment by Marrcus — January 3, 2008 @ 2:32 pm | Reply

  14. Damn you DL. This is not helping curtail my inappropriate crush!

    Comment by jengod — January 3, 2008 @ 2:59 pm | Reply

  15. Well, I’m not your fucking father, but I’m old enough to be, and I’m proud of you. So there.

    Comment by Thom Bray — January 3, 2008 @ 3:18 pm | Reply

  16. In my family of 7 we call Lost our “crack pipe” and all but one of us is addicted! (The one that isn’t is only 7 years old.) This essay was like a little hit off that pipe. Your writing is genius! Thanks for the habit.

    Comment by Sally — January 3, 2008 @ 5:36 pm | Reply

  17. LOL. I was about to say, “that sounds too perfect to be true” and I guess it turned out I was right. Good story, though.

    Comment by John Mora — January 3, 2008 @ 6:31 pm | Reply

  18. Good blog!
    Congratulations!

    Comment by CYRUS — January 3, 2008 @ 6:34 pm | Reply

  19. Love this blog, love this post. As if I could love you more, DL!

    Comment by tiff — January 3, 2008 @ 6:46 pm | Reply

  20. Writing can be a tricky thing. Sometimes it seems as easy as breathing and other times more frustrating than going to the D.M.V. Writers are too often taken for granted in our society. They are responsible for giving us information, entertaining us, educating us, enlightening us, and eventually making us all bitter and cynical. However, it’s those times when a writer has you so submerged in their words, so entwined in the story, that the writer truly shows their worth. That my friends, is something money can’t buy.

    Comment by Crandyman — January 3, 2008 @ 10:49 pm | Reply

  21. Damon,

    Once again you’ve reminded me why I have this view of you as some sort of Demigod.
    I particularly enjoyed the line “I write because if I didn’t, I’d be branded a pathological liar.”

    But really you are one of the reasons make remind me why I aspire to enter the crazy world of Television writing…If something I wrote received the level of adoration, and mesmerization (and to extent, frustration. But the good kind….That damn island gets me every time.) that yours has. I think I could die in peace (a death that hopefully doesn’t involve a train smashing into me, or a smoke monster…)…. Thanks for the inspiration. I hope you all get what you deserve!

    Comment by Blythe Ann Johnson — January 4, 2008 @ 12:01 am | Reply

  22. It’s a shame that the television exec’s don’t realize what true genius they’re going to be missing out on… As a die hard viewer of LOST, I can only sit here, hoping and praying that the writer’s will get what they rightly deserve. You’re writing is amazing and I hope you get it sooner than later!

    Comment by Luke — January 4, 2008 @ 6:37 am | Reply

  23. I read this essay two days ago. Today, I read ab article at washingtonpost.com about an astronaut whose mother did get hit by a train.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/01/05/AR2008010502038.html?hpid=topnews
    What an eerie coincidence.

    Comment by WPost Reader — January 5, 2008 @ 11:06 pm | Reply

  24. Actually, I think Damon’s story was inspired by… never mind.

    Comment by Charlie Craig — January 6, 2008 @ 9:38 am | Reply

  25. “I write because if I didn’t, I’d be branded a pathological liar. ”

    Brilliant essay. Can’t wait to watch Lost when it starts back up again.

    Comment by fadedsilverscreen — January 7, 2008 @ 1:41 pm | Reply

  26. [...] The passage that moved me the most was by Damon Lindelof, one of the co-creators of “Lost” who wrote, “I write because I can’t help but make things up. [...]

    Pingback by Why I Write « Life In Knickers — January 8, 2008 @ 9:28 am | Reply

  27. [...] Why We Write – Number 8: Damon Lindelof « Why We Write Brilliant! Full stop. (tags: writing blog opinion) [...]

    Pingback by links for 2008-01-09 « The Ubiquitous Lens — January 9, 2008 @ 6:23 am | Reply

  28. This is the kind of story you read that you truly wish were true, so you can bring it up at parties and wow people (the NASA part, not the 90 year old killed by a train). I guess that’s what makes you great, and me a sucker. Loved every word. Thanks!

    Comment by todwick — January 10, 2008 @ 8:03 pm | Reply

  29. This is sickening
    Even more so is the adoring comments from people who could only be so vacuous as to have never formulated a thought that had been expressed on a scripted 44 minute television story arc.
    The beliefs expressed in this blog are an insipid unironic riff off Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.
    Kneel at the alter of bullshit and predictable cliches!

    Comment by Citizen — January 11, 2008 @ 6:21 pm | Reply

  30. [...] should wax poetic on Damon’s contribution (posted on 1-2-08) to the fantastic Why We Write [...]

    Pingback by EVIL PUPPET MASTERS » Blog Archive » Why Damon Writes… — January 12, 2008 @ 12:26 pm | Reply

  31. Essay 8 Damon Lindelof
    I am sitting on the other coast(Boston)….thinking when I started to read this blog of essays that they would be petty and whiny……..I stand corrected. When someone writes and captures you for that brief moment….I realize how important the role of the writer is in our society. Damon I loved your essay and hope all the writers know that America cannot wait to have them back creating moments of laughter and sadness and moments like your essay where I just said WOW!!
    RE: Comment 29 I think you missed the point it was the studio execs who Ayn Rand would have been fighting not the writers……

    Comment by Colleen — January 12, 2008 @ 5:53 pm | Reply

  32. …no wonder Lost has so many daddy issues.

    Comment by Watcher — January 14, 2008 @ 10:40 am | Reply

  33. Wow.
    Comment 20; spot on, why this writers strike, and our support, is so neccessary (sp?).
    Comment 29; lol, I just have nothing else to say.
    and to Comment 12; I totally agree!

    Comment by Lostinlove — January 18, 2008 @ 6:47 am | Reply

  34. But seriously, are astronauts notified of disasters or tragedies?

    Comment by Will — February 8, 2008 @ 1:48 pm | Reply

  35. Very good article Mr. Lindelof. “Why I write” indeed interesting. “Why we watch” I love Lost, haven’t fidured it out yet but I’ll keep watching and trying to figure it out. I think it has to do with triangulat things, Father, Son and Holy ghost etc. Thank you for a GREAT story….

    Comment by Vera Bauer — February 10, 2008 @ 7:04 am | Reply

  36. If you read the article about the actual astronaut, you will see where they say that NASA asks astronauts if they would like to know things like this while in space.

    Comment by Phil — February 15, 2008 @ 12:43 am | Reply

  37. Aside from Lost being my favorite show, I loved reading this because it’s exactly the same reason why I write. If you give me a situation and a character my mind will flood with ideas and concepts. Very specific details will come off the top of my head as I’m formulating new ideas. I can’t help it, it’s just always been how my mind works. So my outlet has always been creative writing. I hope that someday I will be able to bring a compelling story to TV as well, since that’s the medium in which I’d most like to operate.

    Comment by Mark — February 20, 2008 @ 10:12 am | Reply

  38. It’s almost as bad as saying, “There was an article in The New York Times the other day…”!

    Comment by Eileen — February 21, 2008 @ 2:40 pm | Reply

  39. Damon, you and the other writers for LOST are amazing. Your above essay is a prime example of why people like me keep coming back for more (and why we waited impatiently for the end of the writer’s strike!) I’m glad you enjoy writing, because I so enjoy watching your imagination run wild on tv every Thursday night. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gasped from shock or surprise, or laughed or cried, while watching LOST. The script and the writing on the show are simply the best. I have enjoyed the show for four seasons now, and I’ve never missed an episode. Whomever thinks up these amazingly complex and thought-provoking plotlines should be winning every friggin award there is for writing. LOST is an all-around amazing show. The actors, the writers, the cast, everyone is doing a brilliant job. This season has hit the ground running, in my opinion. The whole Desmond-Penny scenario is awesome, you don’t see enough true-love-conquers-all plotlines anymore. All the conflicted characters and their ever-more conflicted relationships are so realistic. Oh, and you write one mean love triangle, my friend. (We’ve had countless Friday-morning debates at work as to whom Kate would end up with.) Well, I guess counting Juliet it’s more of a square.. Keep up the good work!

    Comment by Tina — March 13, 2008 @ 10:37 pm | Reply

  40. [...] Damon Lindelof on why he writes. Via. [...]

    Pingback by Fresh, Hot Wastes of Time » Blog Archive » Why We Write — March 16, 2008 @ 6:36 pm | Reply

  41. I’d just like to say from down here in Australia kudos on an excellent season of Lost thus far, after honestly losing interest for a while (happens to me with the second year of a lot of hot shows – suddenly everyone’s talking about it and it’s no longer special) I got back into it with the whole Desmond predicting Charlie’s death storyline and have been glued ever since.

    “The Constant” was one of the best hours of TV ever, right up there with other episodes of TV shows recognisable by just the ep name like “Becoming”, “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, “In the Pale Moonlight” very good.

    Comment by Jason Oliver — March 17, 2008 @ 2:17 am | Reply

  42. Great piece! That’s why I write – but regretfully not professionally (yet).

    Comment by Andreas — March 17, 2008 @ 8:00 am | Reply

  43. [...] I suppose I should encourage you to watch the 24 hour free online viewing of the pilot of Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles or even the online sneak peek of the season 5 premiere of The L Word. Instead, I suggest checking out Why We Write, a series of essays by TV and Film writers. Today’s essay is from Katherine Fugate who created of one of my new favorite summers shows, Army Wives, and yesterday’s essay was from Damon Lindelof. [...]

    Pingback by Around the Web in 8 Bullets | RTVW Online — May 8, 2008 @ 11:48 am | Reply

  44. you are a badass.

    Comment by Dane — June 2, 2008 @ 3:09 pm | Reply

  45. Loved it! My kids run around playing Kate and Sawyer and my son is hiding knifes in his closet…. maybe I should steer him into writing instead :-) Thanks for a fun read!

    Comment by Katrina — June 23, 2008 @ 8:22 pm | Reply

  46. So cool. This really struck a chord with me. (‘Strummed a chord’?) I am a pathological liar, and people have actually gotten angry with me about it. What’s that about? When I make what I consider a comment so ludicrous no one would believe it, or write something on my blog that’s so insane I know people will be sniggering over it, I’m responded to with looks (‘virtual looks’?) of astonishment. ‘Really?’ I hear. And then I’m the one who’s laughing. I laugh because there’s no way they really BELIEVE ME, is there?

    So many times I have heard and repeated the truism that, ‘If (insert real event from NPR report here) were the plot of a novel it could never be published. They would say it strains credibility.’ But real life is SO much odder than fiction. And that’s why it’s so easy (‘fun’?) to get away with an interesting lie.

    Comment by Chris — June 27, 2008 @ 2:22 pm | Reply

  47. Great story and we love the show. Sorry I threw you across the pool at Phyllis Silverman’s house years ago. But I guess that’s a part of growing up. Congrats on the wedding. My wife and I are recently converted “Losties” or whatever you call them (we’re finishing Season 3 tonight and will have Season 4 complete before you restart in January).

    Eric’s Dad
    Gwen’s (Phyllis’s sister) husband

    Comment by Lowell Goldberg — August 25, 2008 @ 10:16 am | Reply

  48. Personal message for Damon Lindelof…. I just noticed your name on the screen while watching Crossing Jordan…figured it was someone else but googled you just in case…You and my son Gabe were friends during the first two years of your life in Teaneck, and for a few years after we moved… Your Mom and I shared babysitting often…We often wonder aloud what ever became of you and your family. Would be great to hear from you.

    Comment by Eileen Nahigian — December 11, 2008 @ 7:38 pm | Reply

  49. [...] the script came out,” Daniel recalled. “I was out in Maui, and (“Lost” Executive producer) Damon (Lindelof) called me and said: ‘You’re going to read something that might sound a little shocking. But [...]

    Pingback by Jim Hilll : “Lost” star finds his way to New York Comic-Con — February 10, 2009 @ 9:11 pm | Reply

  50. [...] Lost Reading: Why We Write: Damon Lindelof (<- Read this now.) Listening: A Plea for Purging – The Marriage of Heaven and [...]

    Pingback by Intern Diaries: Nathan Doyle | HM — May 19, 2010 @ 10:51 am | Reply

  51. awesome site
    very helpful
    happy new year

    Comment by janine — January 4, 2011 @ 6:34 pm | Reply


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