Why We Write

January 28, 2008

Why We Write – Number 31: Michael Oates Palmer

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 8:05 am
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Number 31

Today’s piece is written by Michael Oates Palmer, who’s written for The West Wing, Shark, Army Wives, and several shows with the word “Justice” in the title.


I write because when I was six years old, my grandfather would take me to his favorite hang-out, the Stop Inn, a dive bar on the corner of a row house street in Northeast Philadelphia.  He’d let me sit on a stool and drink a Roy Rogers, while he and his cronies told stories for hours.  Then we’d stop at 7-Eleven on the way home, and he’d buy me comic books.

Because writing gave my mother a ticket out of Northeast Philadelphia, and gave her a home out in the world.  Because my father used words to try to stop a war.  Because I grew up surrounded by political posters and buttons, and because I took the UFW slogan There’s Blood on Those Grapes literally.

Because when I was four years old, I turned to my mom at Mann’s Chinese, five minutes into Superman, and told her we had to get out, the planet was about to explode.  She waited with me in the lobby until Baby Kal-El was safely on his way to Earth.

Because when I was seven, my mother would bring home reams of carbon paper that she’d swiped from her job as an LA Times reporter, and when I rolled it into the Smith-Corona, I’d hunt-and-peck little three page scripts.   Because growing up off of Franklin Avenue and Bronson, the studio lots were the mansion on the hill.

Because while I watched a lot of Diff’rent Strokes and Happy Days, I also watched hours and hours of the Z Channel.  Because I was the Greatest American Hero for Halloween when I was seven.  Because I couldn’t understand why if I loved the show and watched it every week, NBC could go and cancel Misfits of Science.

Because when I was thirteen, I read every Kurt Vonnegut novel there was, and when I was eighteen, I read every Raymond Carver story there was, and when I was twenty-five, I read every Wallace Stegner novel there was.

Because I was shitty at sports, wasn’t cool enough for the theater kids, and speech and debate was lame.  Because when I was seventeen, I wrote an article for the school paper that almost got me expelled, and did get me punched in the face on the schoolyard.  While the Vice Principal watched.  Smiling.

Because in college, I learned that music journalists got to go backstage.  Because I loved rock and roll, but was a lousy guitarist, and realized at around 21 that all of the rock critics I worshipped were having a tough time paying their health insurance. 

Because on first dates, people don’t go out for dinner and a hedge fund.  Because applause is a pat on the head.  Because Sullivan’s Travels was right.  Because aside from his father’s funeral, the only time I’ve seen my dad cry is at the movies.  Because I’ve always hoped that words would allow me to be my own best Cyrano. 

Because when the writing’s going well, there’s a high.  Because when it’s going poorly, you call another friend up, and then you can talk for fifteen minutes about how it’s going poorly, and then you talk about food.

Because it feels good to sell a script when everyone tells you it’s an impossible sale.  Because the writers’ room can either have the chemistry of a newsroom and the camaraderie of the varsity squad, or it can be as dysfunctional as Lord of the Flies.  Because while it hurts to get fired, it gives you something to prove.

Because it was one of only three things I was ever good at, I couldn’t figure out how to earn a living make mix tapes, and the third thing is illegal.

Because no matter how many times you see them, Duck Soup is still funny, The Manchurian Candidate is still jolting, Rosemary’s Baby is still scary, and, when you’ve had a lousy day, Donald O’Connor’s “Make ‘Em Laugh” bit in Singin’ in the Rain can still put you in a good mood.  Every time.

Because I started looking forward to seeing the folks I met at a random gate on Culver Blvd outside the Sony lot – Julie Bean, Matthew Carlson, Rick Groel, Sam Johnson, Chris Ord, Bill Robertson, Mike Schiff, Lew Schneider, and Wally Wolodarsky – every day at six in the morning.  Even if some mornings I didn’t get there until 6:30.  (Sorry about that.)

Because it’s therapy, and because it’s church.  Because it’s community, and because it’s solitary confinement.  Because it’s blood. 

And because, like the song goes, we did it for the stories we could tell.



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.  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.

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