Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Chapter Four - Part Two -- Swamp Cookie

It's been harder to write this "chapter" because it deals with uncomfortable feelings. Discomfort is such a challenge to admit. We're expected to be decided and firm by the time we're in our 40s right? Instead I find myself less decided than ever. My certainty seems to have vanished just about when I turned 40, just when I needed to be certain. Instead, I became more and more experimental until I experimented my way out of an 18 year marriage, into tango, and into a new love. That has taken so much space and time that my career has not had much attention at all and no certainty. I couldn't, for instance, be certain that I wanted to write screenplays for certain, or if it was just something I was convinced of by virtue of relationships.

My writing has always been so much an internal process. Case in point, this blog. These are the scripts I can remember writing:

1. Knock and Wait Awhile (an adaptation of a Cold War novel -- completed in 1989 just when the Wall came a tumblin')
2. Java Jive -- a lame story about a coffee house on an island of intrigue (this one was entirely an experiment)
3. Squeegee -- an autobiographical coming of age story (not about Princess Di, but trying to reconcile the fantasies of a child with the realities)
4. All Nations -- a prince and pauper story about a rich kid who accidentally catches the wrong summer camp bus to the derelict camp for inner city kids in So. Central LA (did I feel like I'd gotten on the wrong bus in my life or what?)
5. Spy in the House of Normal -- my first attempt at writing about domestic violence(no one who read it could believe that a victim of domestic violence could walk around acting normal in the world, HAR)
6. What Women Want (not the Mel Gibson flick) 3x -- three versions of the Lady Ragnell Sir Gawain tale, one was set in Arthurian times, one in contemporary, and one in the wild west all with the premise that a woman really wants to simply be in charge of her own life and be accepted as she is (this was in the more and more conscious years of the failing marriage)
7. The North Face -- a writer-for-hire job, for the ex and his financier, about love, betrayal and a murder taking place on the North Face of the Eiger. (this was the last straw of the marriage.)

I'm pretty sure there are others, but I've put them out of my mind. I can tell you there were another dozen ideas that are in various stages of development. I've learned so much about screenwriting from these experiences. Each script was a teacher. Each script was a gift.

I feel frustrated that this field I'm in hasn't been successful (defined by a production of one of my scripts) and the temptation is to think, "this just isn't for me," or "this field is damaged beyond repair." But, I feel even more frustrated to see this empty, pristine, wet, muddy field and know that I could plant it with some seeds again and with everything I've finally learned maybe, just maybe it will grow this time.

I've been living in a swamp of emotions about writing scripts because my scripts have been primarily processing the experiences I was actually living through in one way or another, and through it I couldn't really see it. I couldn't put it together. I couldn't get the lessons of my own stories. I hadn't the perspective or the ability. I grasped at the truth, but since I had been committed to living in a fantasy I suppose part of me simply did not want to look at what I was really saying. So, of course, I couldn't even read my scripts when I finished them. They made me miserable across the board.

I love the quote from "Illusions" by Richard Bach, "The IS ain't no swamp cookie," and the reference is that God doesn't stay the same, unmoving, but instead circulates, moves and breathes. My field cannot become a swamp. I have to figure out how to channel the flow of emotions, rather than sinking in them.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Chapter Four - Part One - Mud

Now, I feel pretty good about that higher perspective of this field I have found myself working in. I can see it for what it is so much better when I am standing up, instead of sitting amongst the clods of resistance and weeds of distraction. I still see them. They haven't vanished like a cartoon garden, but they aren't EVERYTHING. I've got my clod-busting hoe, and my rake with teeth to get them cleared out. I feel like taking a survey of the field, a walk to get a real feel for its potential.

Then guess what happens? It starts to rain. The smell of the wet soil is intoxicating, overwhelming in every way. I imagine myself wearing Wellies to deal with the mud because I'm fast sinking into -- what is this -- emotional distress. My heart hurts like a huge car-washing sponge being squeezed out over a bucket. Why, just when I start feeling like there is hope, would I be overcome by a storm of emotions?

For the past year, even as my life has steadily improved on so many levels -- my kids are thriving, I am very much in love with my husband (approaching our first anniversary), have been stable financially at least, have cleared out so many distractions -- I have been mourning very deeply the loss of so many fantasies and dreams that I had been fully vested in. All of the choices that I made that I thought were so smart, that led me to here, this empty field of mud and weeds. I feel wrong. I feel embarrassed. I don't feel like faking it anymore, and so I've moped around a lot in a drizzly way. And, while I can't tell you how thankful I am for my kids and my lover man, and so many other gifts, I have felt like I SHOULD BE MORE than I am and that has created a field of mud.

You really can't plant in mud. It's a big sticky mess. You walk along in it, and get up to your knees in no time. Believe me, I've tried. I've started several screenplays this year, a book about screenwriting, and well, you can see the blogs. Not a thing can grow in this morass. I must have some sober drying out. I must have some sunny days at some point.

I've concluded that you can't really force the sun to shine. Sure you could do a bunch of artificial stuff to move emotions to some new expression. You can affirm your contentment until the cows come home, but if you don't believe it then it doesn't stick. The drizzle returns and pretty soon there's more mud. Right now, it is raining outside, and I'm thinking about what I would do to stop it...nothing...there's a time for rain. There is a time to mourn, when it is safe to feel one's grief even if we'd prefer not to, and to feel it is as nourishing as a good rain is to a field. I'm really sad about a lot of things that have passed that I never grieved for at the time because it wasn't safe to be so raw. I'm safe now, and that's a good thing even if it means mud.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Chapter Three - Part Three - A Bird's Eye View of the Field

The red-winged blackbirds are back with their strange twirps that sound something like an old-fashioned modem connection. On my walks with my dog I love to hear them, and see the flash of red when they fly from branch to branch along the creek near my home. They are busy all the time. They are communicating constantly, and, it seems to me, they are unconcerned by any challenges that might hamper their progress -- bigger birds in their space like pigeons, ducks and geese, predators like hawks and owls, off-leash dogs barking at them or any other creature that comes along. They are purely focused on whatever their task is and they're working it and have this wonderful team of each other. I'm jealous of that team. I so want to be hanging out and cheerfully being helpful and of service, but I don't think I'm really a red-winged black bird even though I admire them so much.

Another bird comes here every spring too and stays much of the summer. He or she is alone, standing at the edge of the lake and the creeks. She watches a spot for hours, slowly lifting one leg so as to create as little ripple as possible in her observation. That's more me. I'm more like a Heron. The Heron isn't the most graceful flyer. You see these long legs splayed out behind a rather stout body and the head and neck pulled in like the nose of a paper airplane, leading with its sharp beak. It flies, though, high enough to make it from some warmer climate over the foothills and maybe even mountains to here, and here it stays flying from waterway to waterway, and managing pretty much on its own. The life of a writer is in heron's story.

What does my clod look like to this heron, I wonder? Ha. Not even an issue. There is so much more to look at in the field besides this one clod that has me obsessed. That screenwriting is an uphill fight against statistics is a mere fact. That there is this broad desire to tell the story that changes and deepens the way others think and feel about the world is just the dirt that the seeds will grow in. There is so much more going on in the field besides this clod of fear about how to balance survival with time and money. It's simply just a thing that's sitting there, and from up here, my hoe can easily chop that sucker up for what it is -- an old illusion that for some reason I got attached to along the way. Yeah, there are lots of useless little pebbles in this clod of fear, but there's a lot of dirt, too. The gifts of those pebbles were the minerals that were going to help nourish the dirt with a sustaining drive to succeed, but they got all stuck together and useless, and now they have to be broken apart and moved out of the field.

The desire is the dirt in my field that's been laying fallow for so long. That field wants to grow something sustainable and nourishing. The Heron flies over the field and only sees the dirt. Hmmmmmmmm.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Chapter Three - Part Two - Having a Good Hoe

Who knew the importance of having a good hoe? It has to be weighty, but not too heavy. It has to be sharp. The handle has to be well-cared for, to prevent splinters. In order to separate the rocks from the clods one needs the right tool, and that is a good hoe. And, you have to be unafraid to really use it. No timid poking around is really going to do the job. Eventually you have to let its sharp weight fall on the subject clod to break it up or move it aside to be tossed out.

This is my weekly horoscope from Rob Brezny (Free Will Astrology), my favorite astrologer: VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): The Great Wall of China is the largest human construction in the world, stretching for almost 3,900 miles. But contrary to legend, it is not visible from the moon. According to most astronauts, the Wall isn't even visible from low Earth orbit. Keep this in mind as you carry out your assignment in the coming week, Virgo. First, imagine that your biggest obstacle is the size of the Great Wall of China. Second, imagine yourself soaring so high above it, so thoroughly beyond it, that it disappears. If performed regularly, I think this exercise will give you a new power to deal with your own personal Great Wall of China.

Maybe the fact that I figure what I need is a hoe of great proportions to deal with this clod is wrong? Maybe I need some new perspective about screenwriting, that I've never had or never paid attention to before. I need to see beyond the statistics, and somehow get at where this endeavor really belongs.

Rising above the dismal, impersonal statistics, and above the desire to write the thing that changes and deepens the way others think and feel about the world, I'm wondering what to look at. Those are pretty general and broad and feel nearly impossible in their challenge. Like the Great Wall of China from down on the ground, they seem to go on in either direction for as far as I can see. I'm not high enough, am I? I can tell because I'm giving the impossible a lot more weight than I'm giving my hoe.

Sigh. How am I going to get far enough above these fears to make them smaller and less important so that I can make a wise choice in view of the wide world rather than just the fear?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Chapter Three - Part One - Rocks in the Field

I'm sitting here looking at my resistance to screenwriting. It's such a big sucky clod in my pretty empty field. Is it a rock, I wonder, and not soil at all? Banging away at my resistance to screenwriting may at, age 45, not be the best use of my energy and skills. I hate giving up on things. I am still mad at myself for not making my marriage full of domestic violence and emotional abuse actually work out. No matter that it was clear it was never going to work out, I still hate feeling like a quitter. There are still remorseful moments even though my peace quotient is 100% better, and I love and am attracted to husband number two whole-heartedly. I just hate being a quitter. Though to be honest, I've also quit a number of occupations and friendships over the past year, that somehow, suddenly I realized were never going to be what I thought they should be, and so quitting and turning in a new direction IS AN OPTION TO CONSIDER.

I actually had to write an email to a good friend of mine who is a wonderful psychologist to ask him if he thought I was going crazy because I was rapidly dropping so many things out of my life. He assured me that this behavior was a normal part of the process of realizing my true self. And, I have a quote above my computer that says, "When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need." - The Tao.

I am beginning to be able to wrap my head around this notion. For so long I have invested more heavily in the past than in the present or future. I have hung onto things, people, and ways of being like a freak hoarder, so that I could barely walk into the present without dragging these things unconsciously on my shoulders and hips. I said I would do it, so I'm gonna do it is the motto I had even when I got signals (like having my head pounded against the floor -- hello?) that sticking to something bad was futile and degenerate in every way.

Why, I have wondered, would I do this to myself? I have been too afraid of change for some reason. And, yet I'm a natural risk-taker, too. I've moved across the country several times, I've tried new and challenging things, I've walked away from many things and towards many others. Yet, there are essential things that I've stood by, that turned out to be bad ass stupid. It seems I may be addicted to pain. I'll tell you this, that if I feel a requisite amount of pain then I tend to be bound to that pain in a way that is harder for me to break the bond to that than, say, if something is boring or annoying.

Is this too psychological? Let me say then that, metaphorically speaking, I've finally started throwing the rocks out of the field. That's what tilling and plowing are for, after all. The rocks are plentiful, and not bad in and of themselves, but they're doing nothing to make the soil better for tender, young seedlings. I haven't yet decided whether screenwriting is the rock itself, or if it is merely a clod that is around the rock of something else holding me back from finally planting a high yield crop.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Chapter Two - Part Three - Clod Building or Busting?

The resistance of this clod is indeed insanely stronger than I am, and I have considered many other options. I feel like David next to this Goliath clod of resistance. It is so outsized to my strength that I don't know that there is any way to bust it up, but dang it, I'm going to try. It isn't even like when I was a kid I would lay on the lawn dreaming of one day being a screenwriter. I stumbled into screenwriting because my ex-husband wanted to direct movies, and I thought it would be neat to be partners at some level (the fact that we're divorced ought to be a clue about that logic).

I have always wanted to write. Why? Because I like to read, of course. I love to read stories that transport me to other worlds. I love plays that bring to life episodes of change in a few lives. I love to read essays and articles that make me think. I love to read poems that make me see this world in a new way. Loving to read, led me to want to write. Lots of people love to read and don't want to write, and so I can't really explain why I thought to make the leap, but I remember reading some books when I was my son's age, or my daughter's age and praying that someday I could write that way. That way was for me defined by one thing: the story changed and deepened the way I thought and felt about the world.

A great movie can do that for me, too. Can't it do that for you?

In fact, my other childhood dream was to act in movies because I felt like a great performance did that one thing: changed and deepened the way I thought and felt about the world. My father convinced me that it was the writing, not the acting that did that for me, but I didn't completely believe him until I met up with my ex-husband and stumbled into screenwriting. Once I had just the slightest understanding of the screenwriting craft, I was hooked by the notion that a great script could do that one thing: change and deepen the way people thought and felt about the world. I've never been about subtlety. I had stars in my eyes because I also saw a world that was becoming less and less literate, and thought to write screenplays would be to reach the most people. Har.

Back to reality. Hardly anyone reads a screenplay even if it is an Oscar-winning screenplay. As I worked in the industry longer, I understood that the screenwriter is the low-man on the totem pole, because literally, no one but the cast and crew reads the work. Maybe other screenwriters will read a successfully produced script because they want to see how a writer did it, but your average kid in the library is not going to pick up a screenplay, or now, rent it for their Kendal. Screenwriting is the first basic part of a huge collaboration with dozens, if not hundreds of collaborators. Just like most people who admire a building never look at its blueprint, so is it that most people who watch and love a movie never read the screenplay. The best a screenwriter can hope for is 1.) They'll direct their own scripts, or 2.) Their screenplay will attract top-notch talent and 3.) That top-notch talent will interpret the screenplay as it was intended.

Argh. It feels like the clod is growing in resistance as fast as I bust it up. Where are those inevitable points of weakness in this clod? Can it be that even after 20 years of consideration I haven't yet found out how to make this clod into fertile soil I can plant a seed idea into? It is possible that I am finally reaching a turning point in my life where I look at this clod and toss it out of the field instead of breaking it up because, God, I am sick and tired of pounding away at its resistance. Of course, I understand that the resistance, the clod, is in my heart not out there somewhere. So, now, I believe I will simply sit down and contemplate this clod and wonder for a while.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Chapter Two - Part Two - The Heart of the Clod

This part of the clod is so hardened and big to me that I don't think one blog entry is going to even make a dent on it, but here goes.

Choosing to write screenplays is a ridiculous proposition at any time in life, but particularly in middle age. The entertainment industry is very young or very old. Middle agers who haven't made it have moved into other industries. Middle agers who have made it tend to orient themselves young and not really acknowledge that they are, in fact, half-way through their blessed lives. So, when confronted by a middle-aged writer, telling a middle-aged story, they cringe. I know middle-aged screenwriters who go to great lengths to look 20 years younger than they are, and sometimes they really succeed. It's not pure vanity. It's survival.

So we're left with the older and the younger majority of Hollywood. The older Hollywood moguls understand that they just want to hang out with their friends. They've paid their dues. They don't have anything to prove. They just want to have fun finally, and working with hungry middle-agers holds zero appeal. The younger Hollywood has everything to prove. They want to make the big discoveries, create their teams, be the edgiest and most commercial creators in THE UNIVERSE. Being around writers who are their parents' age gives them the creeps.

Every year there are tens of thousands of screenplays written. How many movies do you see per year? Yeah. The ratio is pretty bad for screenplay to movie. And, STILL, there are bad movies made and distributed. It's not fair or pretty. There is nepotism and pure dumb luck at work in screenwriting. On average about 400 scripts get bought per year. Okay? Do you see how ridiculous it is? Each studio actually has a roster of screenplays that are already in line to be developed, and they're looking for specific ideas to fill in the few blank spots they have, and they don't advertise what those items are in any organized fashion. If you're lucky enough to have an agent or manager, they might hear a clue over a lunch conversation, but that's about as much information as you're going to get as a writer, and most writers don't have agents.

The sobering reality is this: screenwriting is a shitty career until you make it. I haven't really made it yet, though by the standards above at least I've worked for pay here and there along the way which in any other industry would look like failure, but in the screenwriting trade makes me nearly a star. I can't be sure that it isn't my own fault that I haven't hit the mark. Frankly, I've been distracted. It's taken me years to understand screenwriting's nuts and bolts. I started off backwards, ready with the writerly style but no nuts and bolts. And, I resisted those nuts and bolts. I resented them. Part of my delight in writing has been the act of discovery, but honestly it just doesn't work in screenwriting very well.

So, what this has to do with the heart of the clod is that mostly while I've pursued screenwriting I've had to work other jobs to survive. I feel like this split in my focus has been my excuse for not making a real go at it for years. I literally have had the fantasy that somehow I would get a whole year sometime to do nothing but write screenplays. OMG. When will I grow up?

You hear of actors who have gotten down to selling their furniture in order to eat ramen on the floor while they wait for the audition that will finally prove them a star. Well, I understand this, but I have two kids, a mortgage, and I'd like to be doing something for the world I live in. I am down to my bills and I can't cut anything else out without switching our diet to ramen. I have to earn a nut, a pittance really, to cover our bills. When I worked in Hollywood I could have earned this small amount of money in three days a month. But, now out here in the hinterlands it looks like I have to earn a million dollars! The pay scale is so bad here for Colorado writers that working at Starbucks looks like a better option.

So, why continue to pursue this insane dream?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Chapter Two, Part One - Clods of Resistance

I'm thinking about what my biggest resistance to writing my heart out has been. There are so many! How do I possibly choose the biggest one? They all seem so big! So, maybe I just choose the clod of resistance that is closest to me at the moment: abject fear.

Yeah, I know. We have nothing to fear but fear itself. I'm afraid of that fear like nobody's business. I'm sure as I break down the fear, I will see it is made of lots of tiny fears all stuck together like hard-tack soil. It seems impossible to pound it apart. So, I'll start on the edges where the fear is most vulnerable to contrary facts.

I'm afraid, for instance, if I really spend my time writing that my kids won't love me anymore. They'll see that mommy is checked out, busy and otherwise occupied. They'll suffer through meals of macaroni and cheese instead of five-course hand-made delicacies. They'll have to learn to do laundry, do the dishes and pick up after themselves. They won't be able to occupy the living room (because that's where my desk is also) watching endless hours of TV at will. They'll have to learn to entertain themselves. OMG!

This edge of the clod is breaking up fast. For one thing, when my kids see that I'm writing, the fact is that they get very excited and start writing themselves. I've seen this phenomenon repeatedly and so I believe it. And, all those things they'll have to do for themselves? Wahoo! Isn't that what I'm supposed to be doing for them as their parent anyway? Sure they'll resent me for a while, but in the end I know, know, know that they'll thank me for it. Besides, to be honest, they prefer Kraft Mac & Cheese and Pigs 'n the Blankets to sage and orange salmon.

I'm afraid that my lovely husband will not help me once he discovers that my writing really means that the laundry may not be done, the house may be a mess, and meals may get very simple. Hmmmmm. He and I both need to lose weight. He already helps with the laundry. The house is a mess anyway, and if it gets worse may prompt some assistance from he and the kids. This edge of the clod is going bye-bye, too.

Here's a harder part...I'm afraid if I write I'll never make enough money to survive...ooh hoo, this is getting more at the heart of the fear clod...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Chapter One, Part Three - Tilling and Plowing

I'm looking at the fields of dirt...What do I see? Big clods of mud in need of constant weeding is what I see. A couple of weeks ago it dawned on me: tilling and plowing. You don't need to know what you're going to plant in order to till and plow the field. This is about where I am at because at the end of the day I still have some issues with the fact that I don't have a full harvest right this minute. However, in reality I'm still not ready to fill that field up either.

I understand that tilling and plowing is still not planting seeds, but it is good work to break down resistance, clod by clod. After all, it feels like I've been laying around in my writing for a long time. I'm stiff on the surface and all mushy below the surface. It is good work to dig down deep and bring up nourishment from the darkness. It's good to rake out what is still in the way. There may still be some amendments to add to the soil (like maybe I could read a few of the how-to-succeed-as-a-writer books I've collected and let collect dust over the years). The enjoyment of making some order out of chaos is real.

I still have NO IDEA what the seeds are going to be, but I am content now with this exercise of tilling and plowing and preparing this piece of me until the seed packets arrive. I feel EXCITED, in fact, about my own potential, for the first time in probably 14 years, since before I got pregnant with my daughter. I'm starting to feel RESTED actually which is kind of the first time since it seems like high school that I haven't been frantic to figure out the plan. And, I feel ready more so now than before, 14 years ago, because I can tell you that any fields I had to offer then were choked with weeds as I was a great hanger on to all things past. I didn't understand about soil preparation at all. I didn't get that all of these "goals" I had actually took time to prepare for and that the preparation wasn't something that could be truncated. I had NO PATIENCE with myself when I was younger. I barely have enough now.

I realize that somehow some people managed to figure all of this out in their twenties, but I was too busy living in a fantasy world to listen or get to work. Now I am purely relying on the people who say "it's never too late," and hoping that's not a bunch of hoo-haw, because I see that if it took a year of doing nothing, it could well take a while to prepare the fields for the seeds, and maybe I'll actually have to go through a catalogue (make a list) of seeds and CHOOSE what I want to work on. It's a lot slower than I thought, but as I think I said, I really have to do something that I can sustain for the next 20-30 years, not any more of this scrambling to plant a small patch of beans in a weed-filled field far from irrigation -- which is how my previous existence feels now. It feels like the past was that crazy. What was I thinking? So, that's why I have to have people around me who support the apparent lack of progress for a while, and why I'll be there for you, if you want me, and can stand to share in the joy of soil preparation.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Chapter One, Part Two - Fertile Soil

What's been going on while I haven't been doing anything much? Guess what? The world did not stop spinning, just because I did. Life went on while I didn't even pay attention sometimes. As I lay prone in my fallow field, it rained, the wind blew, snow fell, and it got quiet. I mean it got really quiet. The chatter in my head actually slowed down enough to feel quiet. If the sun came out I dutifully went out into the dirt and weeded it, but that's it, and it was quiet, and when I closed my eyes I saw nothing but the negative images of those weeds.

This is not to say there wasn't a constant push-me, pull-you struggle going on. Everyone around me had to adjust to having a person in their lives who refused to play the game. My kids had to do with less. My husband had to deal with my sometimes raw emotional self-flagellation when we were alone because I couldn't bring myself to do more and saw that my kids had to put up with less, we had to put up with less because of it. My endless guilt was no party. So, perhaps laying prone in a fallow field is not the perfect metaphor for everything that went on. But internally, that's what it felt like. It felt a lot like giving up, and I had friends walk away from me because I couldn't offer anything else. I walked away from most opportunities that would have at least kept me busy even if they didn't really ever pay off because they simply weren't something I could imagine tending for that long.

The weeds were one thing that I did. I had a single goal to help at least one of my writing students finish a script for the Nichols Fellowship this May. That was a service obligation I cared about and had volunteered for and so, I kept up with that. I volunteered for the schools and drove kids to play dates and activities when I could muster it. I cooked nearly every meal, shopped for groceries with grave frugality, walked my dog Lucille two to three times a day. I ate too much chocolate and let my hair grow. I watched tv shows. I know! It sounds pretty good! But, for an ambitious person it was near torture to be honest.

I transitioned into a new life and the landscape changed a lot when I finally sat up and looked around. Blinking, this is what I saw: hills of fertile soil. It had been so long since I saw fertile soil, pristine and weeded, ready for planting, that I hardly recognized it. When I first looked at it, I was filled with despair. "Empty! Nothing is growing!" I shamed myself with that and pounded my head against it and went back to sleep for a while longer because I couldn't see the emptiness for what it was in fact.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Chapter One, Part One - Fallow Fields

Therefore, I risk the roll of eyes to say this: this is one of those "fallow" periods -- you know -- when you let the fields sit without anything but shit on them.

I hereby give you permission to not know, to not do, and to even let parts of life slip away (only do it with a little bit of satisfaction -- like dropping off a load at Goodwill). You do what you have to do to survive, but otherwise let it all go. I have, and it feels, finally, like a choice.

For the past year, I've been merely eliminating weeds in my personal and professional life. Lots of weeds. I've just stopped feeding relationships that constantly made me feel bad, for instance. I've stopped chasing writing jobs I know I'd hate, and jobs I'd be bored by, and have learned to live on nearly nothing, fumes really. I've determined to eliminate teaching classes for a while until I have something new to share. I'm not exactly brave about this, but in the end though it seems crazy, it feels right. However, it looks like I've been carrying on on the surface, running my kids around, getting married, getting pregnant, having a miscarriage, teaching, social networking -- still for the most part I've been withdrawing from the action that I'm used to because I was not enjoying ANYTHING most of the time.

Having been a person who had NO boundaries before, I've been erecting high walls with barbed wire lately. I will not let anyone into my life right now that is waiting for my next fabulous idea, plan, etc. There aren't many people who can take it when you answer the question, "What's up?" with "Not much," and you really mean it. I have a new appreciation for folks who don't have to explain the world, have a plan or achieve. I think Facebook and social networking in general is causing a crisis that hasn't been addressed -- which is now we all see where everyone has ended up and it just sucks sometimes. Like hit my head against the wall sucks.

But then, I look at what I was stubbornly dealing with: an abusive marriage for 20 years, moving like 20 times, supporting everyone, excuses, of course excuses that I created without end. I have had some interesting experiences...blah, blah, blah...but I CAN look at my kids and feel that it was worth it for them to come into the world, my world. I CAN see that I've finally landed in a relationship that accepts me as I AM (and that is a fallow field covered in shit right now), even when I still have trouble with that myself.

I've not been active in my ambitions because they felt false this year, and I determined to stop trying to figure it out, to stop trying to make everything fit when it didn't fit. Every fine idea I had has gone mostly un-acted on and eliminated really. Sure, this has happened before unconsciously, anyway, because I was so busy filling up my life with excuses, but this time I’ve chosen to not pursue things I “ought” to pursue, in favor of not doing anything at all. I can see now it is better to choose to eliminate weeds than to choke the fields with too many crops, that may or may not be suited to the conditions.

Want to know what the result of this weeding and sitting has been?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Episode Review

This is the beginning of a new phase of my life.

I am honest, honorable, and act with integrity. LIFE LOVES ME.

I bless the gift of disappointment.

Any mistakes I make are merely stepping stones on my pathway.

I allow myself to think big dreams.

Giving service is my highest priority.

Patience is my spiritual practice.

All my work is of the highest quality.

I have faith in myself and the process I am going through.

I am finding my own voice.

I teach only what I have learned for myself.

I am becoming an expert in my field.

I am incredibly successful.

Today I create a new life, with new rules that totally support me.

It is easy for me to walk through new doors and I am always welcome.

With these declarations, and my approach to them, I hope to make a difference with my writing. Writing requires practice. Like any muscle in the body that hasn't worked that much for a while, a gentle routine is required to build up endurance, and strength. These episodes are like walking on the treadmill for fifteen minutes when you've been sitting on your butt for more than a year or two.

It takes courage for me to make the first step towards greater commitment, and I'm summoning all of mine to make this step. I have let go of nearly everything, but writing, so that I can see it is the one door I've been avoiding opening seriously for years. I may have peaked in, or even stuck my toes through, but truly I have avoided walking in through this door for a long time. Now the time has come and I am afraid of failing, or of being mediocre even. It is a visceral fear because I have eliminated all of the Plan Bs and Cs and Ds. There is nothing to fall back on anymore. I can say that even as I write this, my mind is making lists of alternative routes around the door. ("I could just get a job at Starbucks," "I could start teaching classes at the Y," "I could try to get into a teaching certificate program," etc.), but today I'm resisting that voice of reason and I'm risking it all to write.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Episode Fifteen

It is easy for me to walk through new doors and I am always welcome. This is such a dense statement. Ease, new doors, and feeling welcome. It used to be that I worked with the idea of "effortlessness" as a concept that I wanted to use as the driver. If it was easy then it was good. It did work for me to a certain extent, allowing me to focus on abundance and gratitude and all those things that the New Age tells us are important. I was always looking for the path of least resistance.

So, this is what I learned are the drawbacks of such a philosophy: 1.) Just because it is effortless doesn't mean that it is something I want to do actually. 2.) Not making an effort and yet experiencing success led me to feel worthless. 3.) Effortless is boring monotony.

"Easy for me" can be seen more specifically if we emphasize "for me" rather than "easy". What is easy for me is to take risks for what I want in life. It doesn't mean that the work of that risk is easy. These new doors lead to lives I never imagined in my wildest dreams, and even when I feel afraid, it is easy for me to put my hand on the knob and open the door and walk through because I know at the very least, it won't be boring. Remembering that LIFE LOVES ME, I know that whatever is on the other side of the door will fully embrace my entry and that I am welcome right away, and if I do the work then I will belong.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Episode Fourteen

Today I create a new life, with new rules that totally support me. Since this is the new phase of my life, I am creating it. I'm no longer simply accepting the haphazard lot I ended up with and grinding on with the rules I was handed. What I found out was that that haphazard lot, was a HAZARD, and the rules were not about me at all. The new life is likely to be odd at first because I'm so used to living through a rear-view mirror. Always looking backwards has led to a lot of crashes, you know? The rules were a strange combination of cultural taboos, superstition, magical thinking and propaganda. At least let me establish that at the moment I feel like I'm looking in the right direction, and have simplified enough to be able to sort through a few rules that I actually value.

I've been listing many of those rules in this series. What I can add is that the rule that is most important to me is knowing that LIFE LOVES ME. With this simple rule, I can walk the talk believing that it is worthwhile to life itself if not to anyone in particular. There is no need to seek approval because I am already approved of just by the fact that I am still alive. Though I may make daily, moment-to-moment mistakes, I know that life's love of me means that I cannot err on the golden pathway.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Episode Thirteen

I am incredibly successful. Whew. I'm quite certain by the most basic American standards that I look, appear to be a complete failure. Financially, I can say I've experienced moderate success for short spurts. However, basically most of my life I have struggled to make it enough of a priority to really gain solid ground on that mountain. I've worked for enough financial successes to know that it takes absolute commitment to make a whole lot of money. It's the kind of focus I'm not sure I'm really interested in at the moment. Though I do conclude stability is an extraordinary goal I chase.

So how can I measure "incredible success" and thereby make this statement confidently? Besides eminent wealth, "success" can be defined by the accomplishment of a favorable or desirable outcome, and "incredible" means that it is too extraordinary to be believed. This makes me laugh. I'll tell you why. Today I went shopping with my daughter with a very, very limited budget. She took her own babysitting money and some gift cards she's been saving since Christmas. She spent it all. With what she had, she was frugal and wise, and careful in her choices. She did not whine at me to give her more, and she was quite graceful in her gratitude for what I could give to her. Is this not exactly the essence of "incredible success" in parenting? My own "lack" has provided her with more wisdom than I could have ever paid for.

In the meantime, I can also say I am incredibly successful in the pursuit of my truth and I feel I'm getting closer everyday to actually accepting what I know to be true for me. Willingly, I give up having the stuff, if only I can get down to what I believe will serve humanity the best way I can. I know that a word of encouragement during a hard moment, or a clap of applause for a tiny triumph of my friends and acquaintances means more to me than being able to take them out to dinner or buy them a gift. I'm paying attention. I'm incredibly successful in paying attention. That's what I do as a writer and as a human being.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Episode Twelve

I am becoming an expert in my field. What is my field? My field seems as if it is screenwriting. I've been after that for a long, long time. I even have the nerve to teach it, and I am nearly certain I've helped many people understand the craft of screenwriting better than they would have otherwise. So, if this is my field, then I really know that the litmus test for expert screenwriting is the production of the screenplay. It isn't even getting paid. I've been paid lots, but the illusive production credit, the credentials that one needs to be able to claim finally have been limited to what I can only call "home videos". So this declaration is a challenge for me and yet I'm going to say it, "I am becoming an expert in my field," and find a way to understand the truth of it.

My thought is to not focus on "field" or "expert" and instead focus on "becoming". This is the gentle word and the task of work in this statement. Becoming suggests at the evolution of expertise and fields. This accepts that there is always more to learn. There is always a challenge ahead. There are always stepping stones, or mistakes to discern. I can attest that I am adding more and more information to my understanding of my field.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Episode Eleven

I teach only what I have learned for myself. This is a challenge for me as I also believe the adage – “You best teach what you most need to learn.” However, I believe this affirmation goes along with practicing patience. Often in the past I’ve shared what I thought was the most poignant wisdom only to have it hit the fan and come back into my face. So, all I can teach is what I’ve learned by my own experience, and I can only do so by sharing those experiences and perspectives that I have of those experiences (which often change over time).

There is nothing worse than a person in the midst of youth teaching about old age. Sure they can have opinion based upon observation of old age, but of old age they know nothing of real value to anyone. Or someone who has read a book that excites them and espouses the wisdom of that book without having actually practiced it themselves. There is no way to have every experience there is to have, and so there is not any use in claiming to understand anything fully from our singular perspective.

Over many experiences in the past, I can only conclude that the most we can contribute to any conversation with another is half. If we are not willing to accept that their knowing is as valid as our own, then we should keep our mouths shut. This I’ve learned in the school of hard knocks. It makes me think again of the gift of silence and how important it is to be willing to listen.

It is only by accepting that our wisdom is limited to what we’ve actually experienced that we have anything to offer at all, When we accept that those we hope to teach have something to teach us , then we let go of all notions of superiority and get down to the business of learning even as we teach. Think if every parent experienced their children as their teachers, even as they embodied the example of their best learning, what a world we could have!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Episode Ten

I am finding my own voice. Seems ludicrous that I shouldn’t know my own voice since I’ve been writing for more than 30 years, and don’t you know there is a constant chatter going on in my head all the time? However, we live in a period where the volume of others is at maximum. We also live in a time that fails to understand the importance of silence, of loneliness, of not having something stuck in one’s ears all the time.

For me it has been necessary to actually silence the world for a while. The requirement for quiet has come after several years of incredible life-changer choices and experiences. I know that there are those who feel that I’ve become rude or that I’ve abandoned my duties, but I know this is not the case. It has not been an easy choice to opt for silence, but it is the only way I’ve been able to come to this point of just starting to sort out my own thoughts, put them through a sifter and find out which ones are dust and which ones are poppy seeds. Listening to silence has been the most instrumental tool in finding my own voice.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Episode Nine

I have faith in myself and the process I am going through. Faith is such an interesting concept because it suggests “blind” without saying so. I would suggest that faith requires careful observation and is not blind at all. Having faith in oneself is easy when everything is progressing apparently, and much more difficult when at a stuck place, but having faith at the stuck place is the more important expression of faith.

I really appreciate the Biblical story of Job. I like the double-entendre of “Job” and “job”. It is a story about faith at its roots and it is a story about the work faith is when the job isn’t easy. Job is plagued with challenges and well-intentioned advice for many years. He appears to lose everything that he appears to value except his faith that it is all part of the life he is meant to have and that he will survive the consequences by living with integrity, honor and honesty. He has faith in God to see him through it all. There is nothing that can shake his belief that LIFE LOVES HIM, and that drives the fallen angel Lucifer mad.

Having had some apparently good times, prosperous times, abundant times and having experienced the worst of times, loss so painful I thought it might kill me, and true worry for the basic necessities of life, I can say with courage that I have faith in myself and the process I am going through. I fully understand that another word for faith is job, and that means I have to work with whatever comes along with the belief that LIFE LOVES ME regardless of appearances. I have faith that it is all neutral in truth and that what’s good today may not look good tomorrow and has nothing to do with the real stuff of life, and vice versa.

Observation of a whole lifetime will make it clear that everything that happens balances out in the end. To me faith finally comes down to accepting that life is essentially neutral, neither good or bad wins out for anybody in the end UNLESS one can be grateful for the whole process of it. So then we'll leave this experience either feeling our faith was justified, or we'll leave this experience feeling that there was no reason to have faith. I'd choose the former over the latter any day.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Episode Eight

All my work is of the highest quality. This is true, right? When we remember that mistakes are learning opportunities, and that we’re practicing patience, then we understand that “highest quality” may not actually equal “perfection,” which is what I used to think. I’ve always admired the Navajo rug weavers who purposefully made mistakes in their work, at least one, so that it was understood that only the Great Spirit could evoke perfection. It was then an act of the highest respect for both one’s own work and the Great Creator to admit that perfection was never the goal.

Letting go of perfection is the first step towards being aligned with the notion of “highest quality” in my opinion. Then what our goal becomes is “I’m doing my very best,” followed by, “and that is the highest quality.” Craftsmen know that we are not mechanical beings and that the little flaws that occur along the way are exactly what makes each piece unique and ultimately valuable. Artists know that each mistake leads to a new perspective of a work. I have always aspired to live a hand-made life and that necessarily accepts and expects imperfection, that becomes special to the heart and soul.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Episode Seven

Patience is my spiritual practice. The emphasis here is on the word “practice.” I once wrote a poem that started, “I am not a patient person, like red sassafras rising with gracious tradition…” and that’s pretty much still my story except that I am, at least, aware that I’m supposed to be patient now, when back then I was rather proud at my impatience. Back then I was upholding a tradition in my family history of leaping first and looking later. Now I see what impatience has cost me, and it is not as pretty as that red sassafras on ice.

How am I to practice patience when impatience has been my creed then? Sometimes I just want to scream at the pace of things in this world. It’s not that I’m an early bird. It’s more that I am a late bloomer…I’m still a tightly wound bud and I’m just a little afraid that I’m not ever going to bloom again. But, it’s something I have to face. There is no forcing things to happen in life. I'm like that weird flower in the London Arboretum that blooms once in twenty five years.

I am infinitely patient with most people. I give second, third, twentieth, and more than a thousand chances to others. But, to myself, lucky if I get one chance at a new activity. Learning is painful. This makes me think of my short stint with Argentine Tango. Oy! Imagine a lovely lady dragging the poor guy around the floor – yes backwards, high heels and blind sided. That gives you an idea of my level of patience, but by the end of my time in tango I learned to wait…a bit. And, I appreciated the outcome of that waiting so much that it has been a lesson that spilled into the rest of my life. So, I PRACTICE patience, and I pray that someday I will master it…someday…someday...

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Episode Six

Giving service is my highest priority. This is an easy one for me. In fact, what I’ve found over the past few years is that I am not motivated by self-service at all. Or at least that was how I interpreted the idea of service. I cannot make myself take care of myself for me, but I will do it if it helps me take care of my kids or my husband or some other responsibility I’ve taken on. Service to others has been my highest priority…but is this what the quote is saying? Certainly, it doesn't mean being a slave to service for no reason.

By now you may have figured out that everything is a mind game of perception for me, but really listening to each phrase with detailed precision is something I've always done. Giving service is a concept that infers others, does it not? Somehow, though, this has allowed me to short change all of my dreams big and small in favor of doing for others. Is service merely “doing for others”? Indeed by definition, it is, but in idiom it means to be helpful, and that is probably how I’ve thought about it most.

Lately, I have come to realize though that being helpful is tricky because what is best for almost anyone is for one to help oneself. That seems to be the only way help sticks for me. It turns out that being helpful serves my own sense of well-being almost more than any tangible outcome of the service has been. Helping others dissolves the illusion of separation, and reinforces my connection to everyone else, the greater self.

Even still, some of my help over the years has turned out to be a big mistake, ur, a stepping stone on the pathway. So as a gift it is negligible to any one but myself unless with a right mind I realized that service was more about creating an environment for others to help themselves. Giving this kind of service to others, to humanity in general, is my highest priority because through this giving of myself then I help myself on the pathway from one stepping stone to the next. Grin

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Episode Five

I allow myself to think big dreams. Lately I’ve been withdrawing from the world. Almost as if I’m fasting from everything and everyone who I once filled my life with frantically in an effort to steady my dreams. Now, my air and my water are my kids and my husband. I’m really at bare minimum most of the time. A part of this fasting has been to cleanse my brain of dreams that I took up over time that might not have been my own entirely. I want not to have to defend dropping them to anyone else, as I am having a hard enough time with my own discernment.

I’m trying to get down to the nut, to the pit, to the seed idea. It’s not so much going back to what I wanted to be when I grew up, as it is finding the action that swells me up with enthusiasm now. What I have found is that most of the things I come across are too small to inspire me to action. I am looking for the impossible dream, the dream that is so big it will challenge me for the rest of my life. I want to want to "Climb Every Mountain."

I have some contenders incubating right now to see if they hold up, or if they can sprout, or if they’ve been dormant too long and need to be added to the compost. I’m searching for the dream that contributes beauty to the world, serves humanity somehow for a long-time, and that is worthy of all the mistakes I’m likely to make on the path. These dreams will change lives, and that's what they're for after all.

It is a narrowing of an aperture on dreams that have been left on panoramic view for far too long, but it is still not narrowed into wide-angle, yet. You see when you're looking through a panoramic viewer then everything seems small and insignificant except when it is all together. A focus on a few big dreams and then each one gains stature. I finally realize that I can't do everything in the panorama, but I can do a few big things well. Big dreams are the ones that have the potential to sustain and maintain a life for a lifetime, and perhaps others beyond.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Episode Four

Any mistakes I make are merely stepping stones on my pathway. What are mistakes? This question is so important for a perfectionist to ask because the feeling of abject horror at making a mistake is real. I've learned bad habits in my life, mistakes in and of themselves, that tell me that mistakes I make define me and prove that I am worthless, that my dreams are mistakes, that someone else, anyone else can do it better than me. So mistakes are a real issue and feel not like stepping stones. So how can I say "Any mistakes I make are merely stepping stones on my pathway," when I'm sure those stepping stones are going to be slippery and prove than I can't even walk on the pathway? Phew.

I believe rethinking mistakes completely might be the ticket for me. I am determined to simply see them as learning experiences, so that if I slip I can get up again. What if the whole danged pathway is filled with stepping stones...what if the mistakes are ultimately the path that leads me to self-realization? Then the inevitability of mistake after mistake happening is unavoidable, as I truly do believe, but not terrible. What did James Joyce say? "Mistakes are the portal to discovery."

Some of the mistakes I’ve made are so monumental that they’ve changed whole families, multiple families, forevermore. Reconciling those learning experiences can be a challenge, but it seems a must. The pathway is littered with them, and they're all golden somehow if they are the pathway itself. Those mistakes are indeed the yellow brick road. If I'm going to celebrate being on a new path then I could even treasure each mistake that trips me up as a reminder that I'm on the path to self-realization. Tell me, does this make sense or am I just talking silly talk?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Episode Three

I bless the gift of disappointment. Let’s not confuse love with getting everything we desire. That would lead us to believe that there are people who are more favored by the Universe, and cause us to wonder why we suffer failures so often. What if we just could stop wondering why things happened the way that they do, and instead focus on this moment, and this one, and this one? Even the moment of disappointment becomes acute, powerful and incredible with that kind of focus, and, more interestingly, easy to let go of finally.

I discussed this topic with a friend who has surely experienced many disappointments in his short, so-far life. Still he remains motivated and went so far as to say that disappointment was the most necessary ingredient of success. For me disappointment may be the training ground for determination. Disappointing circumstances spur me to understand more than I understood before and the gift of having that understanding is what I need to change my own paradigm. Disappointment may loosen my grip on habits that don’t work, and led me the wrong way.

Disappointment is always cause for self-reflection and a reason to practice self-forgiveness. While it is uncomfortable, disquieting and even painful, disappointment always leads to a better pathway to triumph. Disappointment can become the rungs of the ladder we climb to the stars.