While lying on my couch watching a Hallmark holiday movie yesterday, knowing full well that the renovation of the old inn, the connect with the hot lost love, the distance with the parents, and whether or not the grand Christmas show would happen were conflicts that were all going to be resolved in one beautiful shiny package, I wondered why these films are so important to me.
I write crime thrillers. Stories about badass female cops taking on white supremacists. Women who may be living tragically trying to survive. Adults trying to heal what haunts them from their childhood. My multiple tabs of research on my computer include weapons and FBI profiles on the psychology of killers, impact of intergenerational trauma, history of slavery and how Native tribes grieve losses, the impact of extreme alcoholism on the nervous system and death. I also have tabs opened about shoes, Goodreads, the perfect boyfriend cut blue jean, Facebook and holiday cashmere sales. And my Pinterest, of course, which is all beautiful homes of the southwest and inspirational photos of nature, or rocky canyons showing how light plays and dances on horizons.
So, maybe I just answered my own question about why these movies.
Maybe it’s because the grief of the missing parent is slight. Dusted like the powered sugar on the cookies. The lead is a widow with perfect hair but has only one or two moments of near tears about her grief. Or one of her parents is dead but she only remembers him or her by staring at an ornament for a second. Just a second.
Maybe it’s because after the hard work where she’s overlooked or almost betrayed by a co-worker or has a tiny but not crushing or memorable even, aggression from her boss, she always has it worked out so the bad guy gets fired, she gets the accolades, the promotion, and the next big gig.
Maybe it’s because the tiny towns are filled with nice folk who hand out gingerbread cookies and cakes and the trees are decorated so beautifully, I can only sit in awe at the production team, the designers and art department. Maybe it’s because these movies are shot in a bright light so even what could be a shadow is washed out and can’t hurt us.
Maybe it’s because the music is that sweet mix of musak, pop and holiday classics and since it’s past Thanksgiving I can hear it but come December 26th it must all go away.
Maybe it’s because I have a new excuse to eat chocolates because they go perfectly with holiday movies.
Maybe it’s because my childhood Christmases weren’t anything like the trials of the kids whose single parent finds the perfect new step-dad who turns out to be Santa.
Maybe it’s because these films are about belief and God’s plan woven with sparkly threads of hope and maybe we need all that these days. And that’s why I’ve made the commitment to watch at least one a day.
I’ve been stating to people lately “I”m so grateful I’m an artist.” Which is comes much later than that first statement, “I am an artist.” – which I had to give a lot of thought and contemplation years ago when I did that mid-30’s change of life thing and started writing. But once I embraced that and began to build a life around honoring my writing, I still didn’t feel the gratitude of having this calling. Even when I attended school, working towards my MFA’s, which I know statistically for a COC of a certain age (Chick of Color at 40-something…hee hee) puts me a small percentage of all people in this country earning degrees at that level, I still didn’t really fully feel the gratitude.
It’s now been 14 years since I started writing. Playwriting, prose, and now screenplays, I’m a storyteller and this is just a short list of what Art Does For My Soul:
1. Art feeds my imagination. Like a child playing make-believe, I get to imagine worlds, people, scenarios, winning wars and creating joy.
2. Art helps me figure shit out. I can give my characters my flaws, my insecurities, my anger, my hurt and let them figure it out on their journey so I can live a life in reality in peace.
3. Art gives me a vital purpose. This is a calling. It is. Just as we all need doctors who love to heal, lawyers who believe justly in the law, teachers who love a student’s mind, I’ve been really blessed to hear this calling, I love writing and knowing what I”m suppose to contribute to this world.
4. Art teaches me about who I want to be. The layers of my complex characters show me what I want to change in myself and what needs nurturing.
5. Art has created a community. For as much as writing is an individual act, in my head, at the page, for the amount of time I spend in my robe with tea by my window in the mornings, I also have an incredible community of writers, filmmakers, poets, novelists, journalists, painters, designers, musicians…the list is long of the creative minds in my life.
6. Art simmers down the prickly past. When old wounds burst open, or an old fear grips onto my heart, hijacking my day, art gives me a way to work it out. I write letters, draw, paint, fill journal pages with stickers and swirls of crayon marks. I write stories of badass women who kick the shit out of the bad guys while they heal their own pains.
7. Art lets me be selfish, in a healthy way. I’m a caregiver. Loyal to a fault and that hasn’t been a healthy trait. Extreme caregiving was about seeking approval and intense need. My art makes me explore what’s happening in my head, what’s making my heart ache, what’s bringing me joy. And helps me balance what’s self-care and what’s for everyone else.
8. Art means daydreaming’s cool! I never got in big trouble in school as a little girl for daydreaming in class. I was a pretty good student. But I do remember times being told to pay attention. I remember being asked where my head was and the shame of that. I never told anyone what I dream of- about my mom, about my family not being so damn poor, about being someone special and important. One of the hardest thing for me when I was a little girl was admitting I even had dreams. How dare I, right?
9. Art sustains my family. Art brought my husband into my life. We met as members of the same theatre company and our friendship grew out of working together with kids, telling stories over beer. And years later, when my daughter chose art school for her education and SFAI chose her, we couldn’t have been prouder. Art is woven into the foundation that holds my family together. And that same art has made us all better for our extended families. And now art, making films, has created Through the Wilderness, LLC, our film company.
10. ART IS PLAY! In this photo the lamp illuminates the little girl spirit who hangs out on my desk in the mornings, waiting for me to show up and play.
I am so grateful for being an artist. So today’s Toast! is to Art And What It Does To My Soul.
What does art do for yours?
Today’s Toast! goes out to the movies we watched that made us cheer, cry, talk about, reenact, stare open-mouthed at the screen! For me- my list includes Die Hard, When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, National Lampoon’s Christmas and Thelma and Louise. (yes, the list of great movies is WAY long) but this one…Thelma and Louise- before USC SCA, I would read the shooting script of this film while watching the film. I LEARNED so much from this film. Not just about elements of screenwriting, or incredible believable character arcs, but I also learned about “loving the movie watching experience”.
I watched this with my sisters when our girls were little. We laughed, we cheered and oh, how we cried. It just dawned on me- I might have fallen in love with southwest from watching this film. hmmm….that will be a different topic for a different blog.
My goal- is to make films that can stand that same test- that will make you laugh (okay…I’m not funny but ya know…for the sake of whatever literary thing I’m attempting…I had to repeat the phrase….) but… make you laugh, make you cheer, and Oh, make you cry.
What movies do this to you?
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.
…like proclaiming I’ll blog everyday and then not doing that on the second day! Lol!
Creatively, yesterday I did lunch with my friend. Loved doing lunch with her. We talked shopped and laughed and teared up and I got closer to a resolution on one project, got inspired to keep writing another and had a moment to reflect on how our creative paths are completely different. Everyone’s is. Comparison will stop you in your tracks, knock your ass back.
What matters the most is to keep moving on that path. However you can. Crawl, skip, bounce, scurry, run, roll…just move your ass down that path! Stay true to the dreams and know that the process is the gift.
Too many times to count I said “I don’t want to do anything else.” I want to make movies. I want to write for television. I want my stories to be told.
So the Toast! for yesterday goes to grand creative gestures that motivate movement. Also Toast! to to amazing creative girlfriends who believe in your dreams and appreciate with love how much you believe in theirs!
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?