The writer was in despair. For a year and a half, he had been trying to write a script that he owed to a studio, and had been unable to produce anything. Finally, he started seeing a therapist. The therapist, Barry Michels, told him to close his eyes and focus on the things he was grateful for. The first time he did this, in the therapist’s office, there was a long silence. “What about your dog?” Michels asked. “O.K. I’m grateful for my dog,” the writer said after a while. “The sun?” “Fine, the sun,” the writer said. “I’m grateful for sun. Sometimes.”
Michels also told the writer to get an egg timer. Following Michels’s instructions, every day he set it for one minute, knelt in front of his computer in a posture of prayer, and begged the universe to help him write the worst sentence ever written. When the timer dinged, he would start typing. He told Michels that the exercise was stupid, pointless, and embarrassing, and it didn’t work. Michels told him to keep doing it.
A few weeks later, the writer was startled from his sleep by a voice: it sounded like a woman talking at a dinner party. He went to his computer, which was on a folding table in a corner of the room, and began to write a scene. Six weeks later, he had a hundred-and-sixty-five-page script. Six months after that, the script was shot, and when the movie came out the writer won an Academy Award.
Michels, in the words of a former patient, is an “open secret” in Hollywood. Using esoteric precepts adapted from Jungian psychology, he and Phil Stutz, a psychiatrist who is his mentor, have developed a program designed to access the creative power of the unconscious and address complaints common among their clientele: writer’s block, stagefright, insecurity, the vagaries of the entertainment industry. “The Jungians I’ve always been uncomfortable with, because they kind of drift,” Stutz says. “They say that the dreams will tell you what to do, and that’s bullshit.” Instead, he and Michels tell their patients what to do. Their brand of therapy is heavily prescriptive and not always intuitive. “I had one guy who was terrified of public speaking,” Michels says. “He had to learn to make more passionate love to his wife. If he could expose himself to his wife and really let go, I knew he’d be able to speak publicly.” He hands out three-by-five index cards inscribed with Delphic pronouncements like “THE HIERARCHY WILL NEVER BE CLEAR.” His starting rate is three hundred and sixty dollars an hour.
Michels is fifty-seven and trim, with a clipped beard surrounding his mouth and silver hair that ripples back in waves from a high forehead. He looks uncannily like Barry Landes, the psychiatrist on “24,” who was patterned on him by Howard Gordon, an executive producer on the show and a former patient. Michels’s manner is meditative; to illustrate his points, he draws slow circles in the air. He rarely swears except during sessions, when he says “fuck” constantly—as in “Fuck, yeah,” “Fuck, no,” “Stop being such a fucking baby,” and “Shut the fuck up”—a habit that can shock patients used to coddling and, in some instances, is a sympathetic mirroring of their speech patterns. At times, his language is just a matter of expediency. When P. K. Simonds, a self-effacing writer, got his first job as a show runner, a managerial position, on “Party of Five,” Michels said, “P.K., you need to be a much bigger bastard.” Simonds, too, wrote a Michels character in homage.
Michels’s office, in West Los Angeles, is spare, and generically therapeutic in its décor, with a black leather couch and, on the walls, carved wood African masks, along with his diplomas: one from Harvard, which he attended as an undergraduate; one from Berkeley, where he went to law school (he worked at a white-shoe firm for a couple of years before quitting, at the age of twenty-eight, and going to Europe to play guitar on street corners); and one from the University of Southern California, where he earned a master’s in social work, in 1984.
As he finished his training, Michels, already disenchanted with what he felt was the passivity of traditional therapy, met Stutz, who became his supervisor. In the course of their work, Stutz, a transplant from the Upper West Side who had recently arrived in Los Angeles, introduced him to his unconventional approach, a series of tools and principles, often illustrated by stick-figure drawings on index cards, which he calls “the information.” He showed him how to make the drawings and weave connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena (driving buzzed and problems at work; mistreating assistants and marital discord; going to matinées on weekdays and writer’s block). The two share a facial-hair style, and a habit of closing their eyes when explaining something recherché. Overhearing Michels talking to a patient on the phone, his wife, Judith White, a Jungian psychologist, once pointed out that he did therapy with Stutz’s New York accent.
For the past several years, Michels and Stutz have been collaborating on a manuscript tentatively titled “The Tools.” If “The Secret,” a best-selling self-help book, promises riches through manifestation—think about a pile of gold and one will literally appear—“The Tools” represents a prosperity gospel better suited to a patient base that repeatedly encounters humiliation and failure even as it is conditioned to expect life-altering windfalls.
Patients are told to visualize things going horribly wrong, a strategy of “pre-disappointment.” The tool for this, which Michels and Stutz teach to those who are hoping to win an award or who are about to submit a script for approval, involves imagining yourself falling backward into the sun, saying “I am willing to lose everything” as you are consumed in a giant fireball, after which, transformed into a sunbeam, you profess, “I am infinite.” Needless to say, neither therapist relates much to the wider analytic community, and both suspect that the techniques would be met with consternation. “My method and orientation are radically outside the mainstream of my profession,” Michels told me. “I like being a little bit of a maverick.” On a low bookshelf at the far end of his office sits a Carl Jung action doll.
Paging through his calendar on a recent afternoon, Michels enumerated the week’s appointments. “Writer, director, entertainment attorney, actor, investment banker, agent, writer, writer-director-producer, guy who works peripherally in Hollywood—let’s say catering,” he said, for the sake of discretion. According to a former patient, “His waiting room was like the red carpet.” Michels has treated warring agents from the same office and opposing parties in a creative dispute, who may or may not know he’s counselling the other side. Many report feeling a prickle of eagerness and curiosity when a green button on the office wall lights up, indicating the arrival of the next patient.
Once, in a previous office, Michels caught an agent patient wooing an actress who had the next appointment. “I was, like, ‘Get the fuck out of my office!’ ” he said, but he wasn’t really mad. “That’s the agent just being an agent. They’re relentless. There’s something in me, I think it’s my father’s entrepreneurialism, that admires the chutzpah.” Michels’s father manufactured furniture; his mother, late in life, became a therapist. They brought up Barry and his sister in West Los Angeles, and their best friends were Rod Serling, who created “The Twilight Zone,” and his family. Serling gave Michels his first lesson in writerly discipline. When the families took vacations together, Michels noticed that Serling woke up every morning at five or six to work and did not emerge from his room until eleven.
Paparazzi have sometimes staked out Michels’s building; some years ago, he got nervous about the amount of attention a celebrity patient was attracting, and transferred the patient’s file to a bank safe-deposit box. A few days later, he arrived at work and found the place trashed: someone had thrown a brick through the window, torn apart his file cabinet, and left without stealing anything. Now, for extra security, he assigns high-profile patients aliases like P. G. Wodehouse, John Milton, and John Keats.
The writer-director-producer Adam McKay started seeing Michels about four years ago, around the time he opened a production company with the comedian Will Ferrell. (They make movies and run the Web site Funny or Die.) He soon discovered that he knew a number of other patients. “Many’s the time I’ve gone to see him and seen someone I know in the hallway,” McKay said. “It’s, like, ‘Wait a minute, you go to Barry?’ I’ve seen one of my colleagues here, one of my agents. It’s like a brotherhood.”
McKay’s presenting problem was a fear of the red carpet and talk shows, which aggravated a neurological condition he has called “essential tremor.” “My existential nightmare is ‘Charlie Rose,’ ” he told me. The first time he went on the show, promoting “Step Brothers,” he had a panic attack and started to shake visibly. “People are, like, ‘Oh, my God, are you all right? Do you have Parkinson’s?’ You think no one will notice and then you read the comments online, and people are genuinely worried, or, worse, they’re making fun of you.”
Michels gave him an index card bearing the mantra “YOU ARE MARKED TO BATTLE THE FORCES OF JUDGMENT” and one with a drawing of a stick figure radiating arrows to symbolize the internal seat of authority, which McKay keeps in the visor of his car. Michels taught him a tool called Cosmic Rage, which entailed his shouting “Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!” in his head to a roomful of faceless critics. (Kelli Williams, a patient of Michels’s who plays a psychiatrist on the television show “Lie to Me,” told me that when she does her version of Cosmic Rage she just pretends she’s running lines.) After McKay finished his next movie, “The Other Guys,” he said, “I decided, I’m going to do every bit of press on this. Fuck it.” He visualized the worst-case scenario and told himself, If I get shaky, I get shaky, who the fuck cares. “I did Jimmy Fallon, the red carpet, all the press junkets where you’re filmed a hundred times, and I did great with it,” he said. “But for some fuckin’ reason ‘Charlie Rose’ got me again.” During the show, which also featured Ferrell, he forced himself to engage in the conversation, even as he started to tremble. He said, “I talked to Judd Apatow about it and he said, ‘That’s because you know President Clinton is watching.’ ” McKay still sees Michels once a week.
“My buzzer looks like I’m a hooker or something, ’cause the button is completely worn out,” Stutz told me, when giving directions to his apartment, which is also where he sees patients. The apartment, in a run-down brown stucco building on a residential street not far from Michels’s office, is a two-bedroom, with a tiny, mustard-yellow kitchen, a small living room that doubles as a waiting area, and a balcony where shyer patients have been known to hide until it’s their turn. Stutz’s patients—C.E.O.s of companies, high-level producers—hate the place, and complain constantly. “One guy said he was going to buy the building and evict me,” he said. “There’s a rumor I have this huge estate in Bel Air or something.” Stutz, who is sixty-four, lives alone, and believes that his monastic example can be therapeutic. “Part of what we’re doing is to get this result-free attitude,” he said.
But simply being a Stutz patient confers status. He charges up to four hundred dollars an hour and hasn’t taken a new patient in years. Mark Levin, a writer-director who has been working in the business for twenty years and seeing Michels on and off for fourteen, understands it this way: “Oh—you got to Hollywood before me, because you see Phil.” (For a number of years, between other projects, Levin and his wife, Jennifer Flackett, have been working on a movie in which six filmmaker patients each make a segment about a character based on Michels.) Stutz’s patients have won so many Oscars—twelve or thirteen, he told me, reluctantly—that he has developed a coping strategy he calls the Stutz 96-Hour Academy Awards Principle, which postulates that by Day Four life sucks again and no one knows who you are, so you might as well get over it now. His credo for writers is “KEEP WRITING SHIT, STUPID.”
Stutz is thin, with a haunted look; he wears his pants tightly belted above his hips. When he came to Los Angeles, seeking a milder climate for the chronic-fatigue syndrome that then afflicted him, he hated it. “I was pissed off when I saw that smog,” he says. “I saw everybody in the morning driving to work through the smog and I thought, These fucking people are crazy. Six months later, I never noticed the smog again.” This gave rise to a principle that Stutz calls Ceaseless Immersion—the idea that it’s easier to live with painful conditions if you accept them.
Stutz had no patients, and so he cold-called established therapists to ask for referrals. Every day, he’d force himself to approach the scariest person on his list, an undertaking that he described as eating “a death cookie.” Most rejected him, but he found the process generative. “The risk you take has a feedback effect on the unconscious,” he says. “The unconscious will give you ideas and it wants you to act on them. The more courage you have when you act, the more ideas it will give you.” Over time, Stutz began to build a practice among entertainment-industry people; for a number of years, he held workshops in his apartment that were attended by actors like John Cusack and Hank Azaria.
Hollywood psychotherapy, when Stutz arrived, was divided between the classical Freudians, who had started coming West in the twenties to treat nervous stars and studio heads, and the followers of Jung, whose arcane symbology appealed to the arty spiritualist impulses of the locals. Jung’s school of thought, particularly his belief that universal archetypes—the Mother, the Father, the Hero, the Maiden—play a role in humanity’s collective imagination, found purchase with the industry’s storytelling class. The assumption that a universal archetype will hold universal appeal has been proved at the box office: George Lucas famously credited “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” by Joseph Campbell, a follower of Jung, as an inspiration for the “Star Wars” franchise. The allure of Jung’s ideas persists. To celebrate the recent publication of Jung’s “Red Book,” an illuminated manuscript full of paintings of mandalas and snakes in which Jung recorded his investigation of the archetypes inherent in his own psyche—a document so bizarre that his heirs kept it in a bank vault for twenty-three years, perhaps for fear it would damage his reputation—the Hammer Museum held a series of talks. Helen Hunt and Miranda July were among the featured speakers.
At the center of Michels’s practice is the Jungian figure of the Shadow, the occult aspect of the personality that Jung defined as “the sum of all those unpleasant qualities we like to hide, together with the insufficiently developed functions and the contents of the personal unconscious.” In “Memories, Dreams, Reflections,” Jung describes a dream in which he was out on a windy night, cupping a tiny candle in his hand. “I looked back, and saw a gigantic black figure following me,” he writes. “When I awoke I realized at once that the figure was a ‘specter of the Brocken,’ my own shadow on the swirling mists, brought into being by the little light I was carrying.”
As the liaison to the unconscious, Michels says, the Shadow is the source of all creativity and agility in life, business, and art, which he calls “flow.” “If you can really know your own Shadow, you start to know the Shadows of everyone,” he says. “People who can write that way start to articulate universal themes, which not only makes them more successful on that level”—in other words, commercially—“but it’s a more gratifying endeavor.” In Hollywood, mentioning the Shadow can draw a look of recognition, followed by instant camaraderie. “It’s like we all went to the same school,” one of Michels’s patients—seven of whose good friends also see Michels—told me. “As in, ‘Oh, you went to Princeton? What year?’ ” Talk of Michels’s services spreads through productions, casts, and groups of friends. Howard Gordon says, “Outside the military, I can’t imagine too many collective communities sharing that kind of professional help.”
Michels asks his patients to relate to the Shadow as something real, which can be coaxed from the cobwebbed lair of the unconscious into the physical world. The process, as he describes it, is spooky, a kind of daylight séance in which he plays the role of guide. In “The Tools,” Michels tells the story of “Jennifer,” a model who lobbies to get her child into a fifteen-thousand-dollar-a-year kindergarten but is too ashamed of her self-described “trailer trash” origins to talk to the other mothers, whom she views as “a superior race of Range-Rover-driving goddesses.” The secret to her crippling sense of inferiority lies with her Shadow, which she must accept and integrate into her public self. “I asked her to close her eyes,” Michels writes. He goes on:
“Go back to the parents’ meeting where you froze up; re-create all those shaky feelings you had.” She nodded. “Now, push the feelings out in front of you and give them a face and body. This figure is the embodiment of everything you feel insecure about.” I paused. “When you’re ready, tell me what you see.”
There was a long silence. Jennifer flinched suddenly, then blinked her eyes open. “Ugh,” she said grimacing. “I saw this 13 or 14 years old girl, overweight, unwashed. Her face was pasty and covered with zits . . . a complete loser.”
Jennifer had just seen her shadow.
If the Shadow has a flesh-and-blood counterpart in the hierarchy of Hollywood, it is the writer: a pasty loser, whose suggestions are constantly being ignored or overruled. “No one looks to the writer to make the decisions,” one of Michels’s writer patients said. “You’re trying to fulfill everyone’s expectations. They think of you almost as an arm to do their thoughts.” “We’re like carnies, always out there trying to sell some idea,” another writer, who sees Michels, and whose husband, also a writer, sees Stutz, told me. It can be a frustrating, demoralizing job; scripts are bastardized to the point of being unrecognizable, if they get made at all. According to Michels, “Writers always feel beaten up. They always feel like an underclass. How do you maintain a sense of self in this environment?” In sessions with writers, Michels listens to pitches and plot lines, an attentive, albeit paid, audience. He reassures them that they are “off-the-charts smart”—a turn of phrase that some are surprised to learn does not exclusively pertain to them. He has occasionally been known to read scripts and, he says, “I give pretty good notes.”
To help a patient avoid freezing during a pitch—a problem that Michels attributes to trying to hide your Shadow from development executives—he’ll tell him to reassure his Shadow with the words “I love you and I care more about you than I do whether this pitch sells.” That is step one. Then he must invite the Shadow into the conference room, so that together they can address a silent scream—“Listen!”—to the assembled suits. “What it does is assert our—me and my Shadow’s—authority and right to have something to say,” Michels says. The third step takes place afterward, when, regardless of the outcome, the patient thanks the Shadow for its time, so that it knows the ego wasn’t just using it to get money. For writers, the analogy is clear: give the Shadow the respect you long for.
Then, there is Dust, a super-technique, good for the red carpet, auditions, and any situation in which you want to impress people. It involves pretending that your audience is covered from head to toe in dust—“a nice, thick, two-inch coat of dust, like you’re going up into an attic and everything is covered, it’s been up there for eight months,” Stutz says.
Molly Newman, an established television writer who started seeing Michels after a pilot she had written did not get green-lit, told me she used Dust when pitching to a roomful of executives. “I have radar for what people are thinking of me—Do-they-like-it-do-they-like-me-am-I-doing-it-wrong-oops-I-lost-’em.” She recounted going to the FX network to try to sell a half-hour character-driven comedy. “You walk in and there’s the head of the network and three development people and your agent and a junior agent,” she said. “They all sit down, there’s thirty seconds to a minute of small talk, and then it’s Now go! And you have to describe your idea and tell the story of what your pilot script is and how the series would progress and who the characters are—and make it sound like the most exciting idea in the world.” All the while, she said, she pictured her Shadow at her side, emanating light, and everyone else in the room blotted out by dust. Michels told me he had also used Dust with a creative executive whose boss was such an irrational screamer that she couldn’t speak to him unless she imagined him caked.
By far the most common problem afflicting the writers in Michels’s practice is procrastination, which he understands in terms of Jung’s Father archetype. “They procrastinate because they have no external authority figure demanding that they write,” he says. “Often I explain to the patient that there is an authority figure he’s answerable to, but it’s not human. It’s Time itself that’s passing inexorably. That’s why they call it Father Time. Every time you procrastinate or waste time, you’re defying this authority figure.” Procrastination, he says, is a “spurious form of immortality,” the ego’s way of claiming that it has all the time in the world; writing, by extension, is a kind of death. He gives procrastinators a tool he calls the Arbitrary Use of Time Moment, which asks them to sit in front of their computers for a fixed amount of time each day. “You say, ‘I’m surrendering myself to the archetypal Father, Chronos,’ ” he says. ‘I’m surrendering to him because he has hegemony over me.’ That submission activates something inside someone. In the simplest terms, it gets people to get their ass in the chair.” For the truly unproductive, he sets the initial period at ten minutes—“an amount of time it would sort of embarrass them not to be able to do.”
One recent afternoon, Michels put on his glasses, pulled out a file, and began to leaf through a pile of yellow legal-pad pages. It was a difficult case—a writer who had been blocked for two years. He was a type Michels sees frequently: someone vacillating between thinking he is God’s gift to mankind and thinking he is garbage. “Mmm, now this is interesting,” he said, looking at his notes. “That voice, the voice that says ‘I’m shitty’ or ‘I’m above this,’ is going to increase in volume the closer you get to actually doing the deed. You have to anticipate it, label it, and reject it every time it comes up.”
The voice belongs to what Stutz refers to as Part X, a deeply primitive dimension of the personality he identified after he began to work with show-business patients; its characteristics are petulance, rage, arrogance, hypersensitivity, a sense of victimization, and, above all, a resistance to process. Michels explains it by invoking the behavior of a two-year-old. “It’s the part that’s pounding on the table because nothing’s good enough,” he says. “They’re saying no to everything, even the color of the sippy cup—unacceptable. Most of us grow beyond the expectation that life will meet our needs in every instance. Some don’t. That’s the head of the studio, the head of the agency, or whatever, pounding his fist on a table and saying, ‘God damn it, somebody is going to pay for it!’ It’s the part of the ego that is so egotistical it believes it’s God, king of the universe. At every moment, the universe is telling him, ‘Sorry, bub, you’re not God,’ and he’s screaming, ‘No, you’re wrong and I’m going to prove it to you!’ ”
Of course, in a certain environment—around indulgent parents, say, or yes-men—Part X can be effective. “It’s not only that there’s more of it in Hollywood—it’s that there’s more reward for it,” Stutz says. After years of practicing in the industry, Stutz subdivided Part X into the Seussian categories Type 1 and Type 2—Type 1 being most people, who must conquer their X in order to succeed, while Type 2 never works on himself and gets away with it. One of his patients, a well-known actor, explained this to a younger actor he met in rehab, saying that they were both Type 1, hence the need for rehab; the younger actor took this in and asked, “How do we become Type 2?”
The novelist Bret Easton Ellis told me that he went to see Michels after he moved to Los Angeles to help with the production of a movie based on one of his books. The situation had grown sour—he was no longer speaking to his best friend, Nicholas Jarecki, with whom he wrote the screenplay, and the director, he felt, had misinterpreted the material. After working with Michels for a few months, he called Jarecki and invited him to a makeup dinner. Jarecki brought along his friend Sharon Stone. Ellis recalls that when the dinner conversation turned to the work that he had been doing with Michels, Stone interjected, “Barry and Phil and all that Shadow shit, all that Part X shit. I love my Part X, I’m not letting go of my Part X. Fuck Barry!”
Back in the office, Michels turned over another sheet of legal paper and, referring to the blocked writer, said, “He was one I taught Reversal of Desire to.” Reversal of Desire, Michels says, helps a patient face something he’s avoiding, and involves another silent scream—“Bring it on!”—addressed to an imaginary cloud of pain. While pushing into the center of the cloud, the patient says, “I love pain,” and then, “Pain sets me free.” For this writer, Michels said, it was the pain of focussing on writing when he was at his computer. “Just the little pain of when you’re writing and you really want to flip over to the Internet, which writers always want to do,” he said. “And that little pain of No, I’m not going to do that, bring on that pain.” In addition, Michels counselled him to embrace the pain of not flirting. “For a lot of guys, seducing and having sex with a woman symbolizes an exemption from process,” he said. “Sex is almost like magic—I’m there, I’ve made it. It’s the ultimate accomplishment, especially for a writer. They spend all their time alone. They usually have little—I mean we all do—feelings of inferiority. That’s going to cure it all in one fell swoop.” Reversal of Desire worked on a number of levels, Michels said. “We used it not only to get him to write and face the pain of not seducing women but also to understand pain better, because one of the criticisms of his writing was that his characters weren’t deep enough. He couldn’t quite connect to their pain, because he was avoiding his own.”
Another population on whom Michels uses Reversal of Desire is agents. “The typical agent is a very likable person with the attention span of a flea,” he says. “Agents tend to be very pain-averse and pleasure-oriented. They’re on the phone, writing an e-mail, texting, and maybe reading a script. It’s a little bit painful just to focus on one thing at a time. You get a boredom and itchiness, a feeling of ‘I don’t want to do it.’ ” But this, Michels knows from talking to talent, is alienating, and often the reason an actor or a writer will seek new representation. Sometimes, with agents, Michels starts by prohibiting them from bringing their BlackBerrys into their children’s rooms when they are putting them to bed.
A writer went to see Michels. “I don’t want to do this thing where you have to write it down,” the writer told him. He blamed the screenwriting software Final Draft for the tedium of crafting a script. “You press this button to get to Character and then the margin changes. It’s all in Courier. It’s all sanitized and the same and that aspect of it is antithetical—”
“That’s your enemy,” Michels said.
“What is my enemy?”
“That attitude,” Michels said. “You understand why? Because it’s a given. It’s like a lawyer who says, ‘I love the law, I love the research and the writing and the documents—it’s just that fuckin’ judge, I mean what the fuck, why’s he there.’ ”
Michels said that in order to love his work again the writer had to break down. “It’s really your ego that resists the form that is the accepted form.”
“No, I hate the fuckin’ form,” the writer said. After a while, he added, “I have such a knee-jerk reaction against authority.” He explained, “The selling of a script and the expectation that comes with it is a manifestation of authority. They’ve given me money, I have to satisfy what they think.”
“Here’s the secret,” Michels said. “You’ll stop rebelling against authority when a part of you—spiritually, we call it your higher self, but I don’t care what you call it—has so much faith in the breakdown-leading-to-breakthrough process (and it’s been through that process so many times) that it doesn’t really care that much about the external authority. In a sense, it has substituted the authority of process for the external authority.”
The writer said that it always seemed to him that if writing was too hard it wasn’t right. “Rocky,” after all, was written in just a few days. Michels tried his theory again. “There’s this cycle of death and rebirth even in the space of a single lifetime, and, if you can endorse the death, say, ‘Bring it on, I have to break down before I break through, I have to die before I’m reborn,’ then the process in a weird way actually gets simpler, because you’re not fighting.”
“Right,” the writer said, uncertainly, and then, more forcefully, “There’s a large degree of fuck ’em. Forget what they’re paying me, what they mentioned in an offhand e-mail.” He said he was going out of town. “Hopefully, in two weeks’ time, I’ll be back here, reporting, ‘I just spat out a first draft,’ ” he said. Michels reminded him to have faith that being stuck would defeat his ego, making room for the Shadow. “The green light is on,” the writer said, cheerfully ignoring him. “It’s time to go.” ♦