Tag Archives: filmmaking

Toast! to a Creative Community. Yay! Writers Group!

Deadlines can be a real bitch. Anxiety-inducing, difficult..soul crushing, even, depending on where you’re at with the ebb and flow of our draft.  But deadlines are also markers.  Goal posts on the road.  So, even though I could still feel my skinned knees from crawling the rugged terrain of my writing path (this part rugged, others parts are deep waters and I have to swim, or multiple feet of snow and I struggle to get warm enough to melt the ice that’s blocking me, or open air against turquoise blue skies that I float on…yes, that last one does happen. Sometimes) This most recent deadline was hard.  But…it was for my writers group.  And I am grateful. 

My husband and I raced around yesterday morning to get my tiny house ready for guests. Clean towels in the bathroom, sweeping the floors, dusting and scrubbing and… baked oatmeal.  That’s the coolest part of  hosting writers group for me-  I make my now signature dish of baked oatmeal. Oats, maple syrup, roasted walnuts, berries and bananas, cinnamon…deliciousness that I get to share with my smart creative friends. 

Once the setting is done- furniture moved in a circle, tea brewing, table set, some 80’s music in the background (again, another signature of coming to my house)- my girlfriends arrive. Hugs. Food. Laughter. My house is filled with the beautiful energy of these storytellers.  

When we finally get to the work submitted we all put on our smart caps- using the tools and skill we learned at USC SCA and have applied to our work since then. We share books and movies as inspiration. We laugh more. We support and share.  

For me- we reviewed the half draft of High Card Trumps. A deeply dramatic film that breaks my heart to write. And out of all the notes- what’s working, what’s tender, what are the questions, I discovered that I’m so sorry for breaking my character’s heart over and over that I’m pulling her out of the toughest moments. I literally cut away and show the results. The fallout. The aftermath.  It just hurts so much to make this mother go through what she’s experiencing. She already lost one son in the war and now with Sam… she’s losing it all. Her faith. Her family. Her place in her community. She’s not just floating alone in some vast emptiness, she’s being hurled through her world without direction, without guidance. She’s being torn apart by the forces of life.

I cried.  But these amazing storytellers, my writers group, held me in this space. They teared up, too. They understood the difficulty and supported me as I told them of the emotional angst I feel every time I go to the page, that it’s so hard to keep hurting Dahab over and over. No mother should have to suffer living after her child is gone. That’s a hole nothing can ever repair. And although I don’t know this exactly, I’m blessed that my child is alive and well, I did stand witness as my sister died. My family has endured the pain of death multiple times. I’ve watched my mother suffer a grief that nearly destroyed her. I want to protect Dahab from this so the real pain happens in the cut away.  

My peers, my literary colleagues while sipping tea  with their bellies full of baked oatmeal, curled up comfy on my old furniture in the bosom of my home, they listened with love and told me that they need to see these scenes. They need to see these moments in Dahab’s life. And then they told me that because I’m a mom and I can envision my deepest fears as a mother I’m exactly the person to be telling this story. 

I’m exactly the person to be telling this story. Me. This story. Whew!! 

Today’s Toast! goes out to these women. My creative community. I wish for you all to have a community that holds you and understands you, who loves you just as you are, and for the love and gratitude you give them. 

PEACE

 

Toast! to Shopping…for creative purposes, only…I swear.

Yesterday I wrote bout five new pages, edited a few minor things and then gave myself the day to go shopping. I often do this while story brews. It’s sometimes a mindless task and not too damaging when I make sure I kick my awareness to full tilt before I actually purchase.

In this case, I was shopping for something specific. We’re going to Mexico in a couple weeks for a wedding so of course, there’s new clothes needed.  But how did this influence my creative process? How was this a part of living the creative life?

I could tell you it was wonderful and that in my head, I fixed multiple hiccups from ACT II and cleaned up blurbs of shit that currently fill my screenplay drafts.  I could spin you a tale about startling revelations of pure literary genius that struck me in the dressing room at Old Navy. I could tell you that detailed arcs of the deepest emotional journeys for my protagonist revealed themselves while trying on boots at TJMaxx. (and yes, I know, I don’t need boots for a wedding on the beach, but a girl can’t help herself sometimes) I could say that the ahhh moment of resolution appeared in a vision while I wandered like a crazed woman through The Americana on Brand.  I could say that I was so deep in thought, so enthralled with the films I’m writing in my head, that I actually walked passed IN-n-Out burger and didn’t even see it until I had crossed the street and realized I had…crossed…a  street.  Okay, this last one did happen.

The rest, though.  Eh.  Nothing major hit me. Nothing surfaced and made itself clear to me.  I still see Dahab sitting at her husband’s bedside, alone and scared. The doctors and nurses eyeing her like she’s the mother of a terrorist, wondering what’s in her bag. I see Cassidy running hard down a country road, forcing herself to look into the cornfields, unearthing the horrors of her memories that lurk there so that she can move through them to find the lost little girls. And Kiona is still holding her arms tightly in front of her, stuck, afraid to hold the infant because she’s feels like she’s barely keeping her head tethered to her grief-stained body. And Tammy…sweet sweet Tammy, I still see her with a gentle smile on her face, watching her new “friend” hum and twirl and love the life she seems to be creating for her son, not knowing what and how terrified her “friend” really is. Not knowing that her smile means love and that it could kill her.

Oh. I see. I took all women, these incredible characters of my films with me. I took them shopping. And although I struggle to make meaning of this all right now, and am distracted by the hummingbird at my window saying good morning–I bought a pair of jeans for $10. And a tiny blue dress for a hot Mexican day.  

Peace. 

Toast! to my…lymph node…?

Toast to…my lymph node…?

Am I really toasting my lymph node? And just one? Yeah, man, I think I am.

I have this one lymph node under my arm that has become the focus of my being this past month. And it got poked and torn a bit for drawing attention to itself. But it also took this writer on a full-on, anxiety –ridden, choking down panic with pastries journey that brought on waves of tears, screaming and…o man, get this…healing.

Beginning of the month I found out that my yearly mammogram revealed a lot of breast density making the mammogram possibly inconclusive.  Okay. News to me. Thank God for a new law stating results have to state this for women so we know this.  Sucks to know, though.  And a wee bit scary because if my mammogram isn’t taking the pictures I need it to, then…what next?  I spoke with my doctor, who I dig because she’s cool and smart and diligent and wears really sweet shoes. We decided I should get an ultrasound to get a clearer picture. So I did that at this beautiful women’s center downtown LA.

While I waited for Lisa, my radiologist technician to review the results with the doctor, she came back in the room and asked if I had just gotten over being really sick, with the flu or something?  I said “no.” and she said “Are you sure?”  When she left the room, I found a tiny spot on the ceiling tile and tried to focus on it. I imagined it growing larger, a tunnel, or was it more of a rock. A pebble on a beach? Or the center of a donut. Yes, it was the dark center of a donut.

Lisa came back with the doctor who explained they had found a lymph node “of concern”.  He asked again about any illness, unexplained infections, etc… And while holding a tiny towel over my breasts, I sat there and calmly said again, “no”.  He told me “maybe, probably…most likely…his best bet…it was nothing.”  Not reassuring words.  Then he said that if it made me nervous I could get a biopsy but he thought it was nothing.

First- you don’t tell a dramatist “maybe it’s nothing” and expect me to not conjure up multiple scenarios of what the Nothing really was.  Shit, you tell any WOMAN, “maybe” and expect her not to take quick tally of her life and see herself telling family, her friends, watching her hair fall out, her breasts removed… for me…the wave of fears rushed at me and I could do nothing but sit there, choking on that shit.

Over the next few weeks I’d come up for air.  I waited four days to meet with my primary doctor to review my choices which meant me telling her I had already made up my mind–I wanted that biopsy. I needed to know what was growing in me and I wanted it out. I needed to know immediately. I needed it gone.   So, she made that call to set up the procedure but due to schedules at the women’s center, I had to wait….TWO WEEKS.  Two.

Peter had an already scheduled work trip to Alaska he had to take so he left. I had a pass to the Los Angeles Film Festival, major deadlines to complete a script about a woman having to wait to see if her son serving in the army was dead or alive, and rewrite a script in pre-production about a mother haunted by an evil slaveowner who wants her son. I had stories to tell, work to do, people to see. Life to live. And the waves came.  I’d go to a film and come home and cry. I’d meet with my director and producer and drive away crying.  I was living a life that could all be swept out from under me because of whatever was growing inside of me.

I was scared and out of control in a way I hadn’t felt since my sister died years ago. I couldn’t save her, so what if I couldn’t save myself? What if I wasn’t strong enough to fight this? I spent hours reading blogs of amazing women who fought breast cancer, who did incredible healing things in their lives, in their communities, who found activism, parenthood, intimacy and healing…healing.  They healed.  And I was so scared I couldn’t do any of that.

I cried to my shrink, my best friends, my husband, my sister, my herbalist. I started saying out loud that I was scared. Inside, the fear was that I would battle this alone, that I was already battling it all alone. It grew to a mountainous size, consuming me with it’s suffocating grip.  This fear of being abandoned, of facing the hard truth that nobody really loved me would not just bubble up  to the surface but would erupt from someplace deep and shower me and my day with darkness. I ate to stop from chewing my own damn arm off, I think.

I made heart-breaking plans. I wrote the script in my head of how to tell my daughter, Bird, I was sick. I wrote the emails I’d send to friends asking for prayers for Peter and Bird and my family but begging them to not post on Facebook. I had long and angry conversations with my insurance about covering procedures. I even asked them to make sure they recorded me as I ranted one morning about the many problems with health insurance in this country and that when women like me needed them most, the fear of not being able to pay thousands of dollars for a freakin scan or biopsy or TREATMENT was like accepting a FUCKIN DEATH SENTENCE!  I shook and screamed a lot. I ate more. I went to cycle class at the gym. I didn’t sleep. I paced. I lifted weights like a dude. I watched sitcom reruns for hours at a time. And I ate more.  And I tried like hell to be present and take on what was coming my way. And I fought feeling like I was victim to that fear.

I already knew about it, that fear, it’s been around for years. Decades.  It’s a bigass monster that shapeshifts at will, that lives under my bed, in the basement through the hot furnace grid of my childhood home, that lurks outside my door, in my showers, in the backseat of my car, down the street, and watches me while I sleep.  I also knew that only I feed it. I keep it alive with my beliefs, my emotions. Life was sometimes pretty awful when I was kid and I see now that my belief was that those I love wouldn’t love me back and they’d hurt me.  I believed that being disregarded, left to be alone, kicked aside, ignored, unheard, betrayed….hurts more than being laughted at, or…hit. Cuz when you’re fighting at least you’re being seen. When you’re hit, at least there’s contact.   I believed that I deserved all that.

BUT…to not let you stay too long in the nightmares of my mind…this is what I DISCOVERED….

The BEAUTY OF FORGIVENESS.  Forgiveness is not condoning the wrong-doing done to you. It doesn’t pacify or deny the pain. It doesn’t mean that you..I am wrong for being hurt. Hurt is my emotion. Pain is mine. And underneath that pain is fear and I am doing the work to take on that monster, to squash its power, to shut its fuckin mouth…I’m doing that.  AND…I have decided that the space that pain held in my heart is mine to fill with love and peace…through forgiveness.   And truth.

So…I finally said out loud the responsibility I have for relationships that didn’t work. I reached out and got real with them. I apologized for pain that I have caused others. I made true apologies based on my need to let them know I was sorry and not a need to know if they were sorry for hurting me.  I defined capabilities and finally saw that what I wish for myself, to be heard, understood and forgiven, are the very same things that they might want and need, too.. I said “I miss you”.  I said “I love you”.  I reached out and HELD ON LIKE MAD to the fierce women in my life! I told them I was scared and I needed them and they showed up.  I didn’t just say “I’m blessed” because I KNOW that…with family and friends, yes, I’m blessed. But I wrapped myself in that blessing.  And…I was loved. Me. Go figure.

Peter came home and as I thought I was forgiving him for leaving for the two weeks, I discovered he never left me and that I was on a journey of healing at warped speed.  I had an emotional eruption, a final push to get me through this cloud of darkness and fear.

I want to see who I am on the other side.  I want to be better than who I was when this all began…and by begin that doesn’t mean just this past month but these past three years of menopause and living in pain, that means further back to becoming a wife, to when I decided to pursue a life as a filmmaker, to when I became a writer, to when I lost my sister, to when I became Bird’s mom, to when I was stumbling through life in bars and making up shit to tell folks that I thought made me cool, to when I was a little girl scared because we were alone.  I want to know who I’ll be now.  I got ready.

Yesterday, I finally found out that the lymph node is benign.   A benign recessive lymph node. No cancer. No cancer.

As a writer, this experience has made it mark on me, on my craft, I know it. I feel it. It will continue to do so as I go on. Of course, I have to quit crying, but those tears of gratitude will taper off…or  maybe they won’t and I’ll just be a fierce, writing, tear-streaked artist mama from here on out.

So yeah, man…today’s toast…?  It’s a  Toast! to my lymph node.

Thank you.

Much peace.

Toast! to FADE OUT

Ahhh… FADE OUT. Those two glorious words.  Those words that make a screenwriter finally let out the breath they’ve been holding in, that breath that has been tearing up their gut, piercing their heart, and rearranging shit in their soul.  Okay, maybe if you write… Hangover IV or some sweet romcom, the story might not hold you captive like this last draft of mine has done to me.  Maybe I’m just sharing more about a psychological problem I have but hey, I’ve got a shrink and we’re working on it. 

But writing for me is a fierce exercise in digging deep, challenging my skills and trying really hard to honor wisdom from my amazing USC thesis teacher, David Howard,  [paraphrase] “For God’s sake, don’t be boring…” 

SHIPSIDE, my latest feature has been living with me for a long time. I know these characters. I have a relationship with them. And with each revision, I attempt to deepen that. This last revision, though, was about deeper development of the antagonist.  Giving him flesh.  And because that was new and hard… (have I mentioned he’s the spirit of a notorious slave owner?) when I got to the end, when I hit FADE OUT… I sat back from the computer and felt a bubbling of emotion rising. I went to my husband, curled up on the bed and cried. 

For two days after sending the script off to my director and producer, I had to work through the emotions of what I was forced to discover to do this revision. That this horrible man was once a human with feelings, betrayals, wishes and dreams. I gave him parents and a home, all to understand how he could become the awful evil man he was.  And for me, in my process, i had to let this character ruminate in my head, and hold him in my heart, and that meant i had to let all his dark evilness come hang out, too.  

FADE OUT was relief.  FADE OUT meant “breathe, Stacey”.  

i will be writing more about Shipside, as our pre-production ramps up. I will be writing more  about creating this character and telling this story about a haunted poor young single mom.  I  plan to document the full production, the trip down south to tour plantations, to see the manacles, to look to the Atlantic Ocean and envision the ships coming over the horizon and then…because i need to see this too, envision the ships of everyone going home. 

 

i will be searching for FADE OUT in a lot of places, I’m sure. 

And maybe…just maybe in your own work, in your day, you know what this feels like? Do you? 

FADE OUT

Peace

Stacey