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.


  1. Nice.

    Comment by R. King — January 28, 2008 @ 1:05 pm | Reply

  2. A wonderful listing of why we should all write. thanks.

    Comment by Michael Mery — January 28, 2008 @ 1:40 pm | Reply

  3. A writer writes, brilliantly, about writing

    Michael Oates Palmer, a friend of a friend, has posted a genuinely beautiful piece about why he’s a writer. Take a moment and read. If you enjoy writing at any level, it will make your heart sing. (Even if you don’t enjoy writing, your hear…

    Trackback by The Voiceover Boblog — January 28, 2008 @ 2:30 pm | Reply

  4. Simply wonderful, I love the kid stories.

    Comment by Inar — January 28, 2008 @ 4:37 pm | Reply

  5. this was great. thanks!

    Comment by dene — January 29, 2008 @ 4:21 am | Reply

  6. Michael has pretty well encompassed the innumerable reasons for writing – and done it brilliantly. I make my living as a VO artist but have always written along my way. I was blown away, to say nothing of more inspired by this piece. Gratitude to my friend, mentor and all-around guru Nancy Wolfson for pointing this piece out to me.

    Comment by Rachel — February 2, 2008 @ 3:20 pm | Reply

  7. And a Tom Petty reference to boot. Well done.

    Comment by Kylen — February 5, 2008 @ 6:55 am | Reply

  8. I think I’m in love.

    Comment by candace ely — May 14, 2008 @ 12:23 pm | Reply

  9. Inspirational, moving, cause celebrite and let’s have lunch.

    Comment by Karen — December 16, 2008 @ 9:12 am | Reply

  10. Palmer is a pretentious idiot with a very narrow liberal experience, which he has been indoctrinated into. He writes for a very narrow slice of pretentious yuppies who are out of touch with real life. His story lines are predicable, canned cliches of life as seen through egghead yuppie eyes. His latest effort, Cupid, is so out of touch with what romance is, I am flabbergasted. However, I must say, there are moments when his story line and characters do express the views of the liberal New York daters that I have met. . .overly ambitious, competitive, narcissitic, disconnected to family, and living in new york having moved from somewhere else that they loath. The current piece above is self-indulgent “look at what a wonderful background I had” nonsense. Way to go!

    Comment by Joe Smith — May 16, 2009 @ 9:13 am | Reply

    • Joe, you’re a dipshit.

      Comment by Andrew Breitbart — August 15, 2009 @ 9:09 am | Reply

  11. Mr. Breitbart,

    Your command of the English language is impressive. What can I say to such a well thought out rebuttal of my views? You show intolerance for contrary points of view.

    Comment by Joe Smith — August 16, 2009 @ 11:24 am | Reply

    • Joe, in fairness to Mr. Breitbart, your obsession with “liberals” and “yuppies” and “eggheads” doesn’t exactly suggest that you’re open to contrary points of view, yourself. Additionally, I wouldn’t slight others’ command of the English language given your poor grammar (ending a sentence with a preposiiton) and spelling (“predicable”). But I guess criticizing you for that would make me an “egghead.”

      I wouldn’t have used the same word, but I think Andrew is right on the money: you are a dipshit. Get off the computer, and please, stick to your talk radio station or your teabag party. You’ve poisoned this website.

      Comment by Bill — September 14, 2009 @ 9:01 am | Reply

  12. […] My entry in the “Why We Write” series. […]

    Pingback by Where I’m Calling From « MOP for WGA — July 25, 2011 @ 12:27 am | Reply

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