Friday, May 21, 2010

Chapter Nine - Part Three - Moonlight

Moonlight is reflective, of course, and is not the source by which an orchard grows. Even so the ancients worshiped the moon's light on a dark night. I cannot imagine a more lovely vision than sitting in a mature peach orchard in the moonlight. And, as I contemplate this reflection of the sun, I happen upon a clue to my orchard's design. While I may be suffering from a lack of connection to my ultimate purpose, I can be reflective of the concepts I study and care about in the dark, even if I can't find the switch to that inner sun.

The senses play a different hierarchy in the dark. Sight turns inward, and smells and sounds take the lead. Tactile senses, touch and taste, can be challenging because using them at all requires trust in these new leaders. Confidence is shaken in darkness. Everything that once seemed one way no longer holds absolute. The dark night of the soul is something like this because the practices that were once filled with meaning seem to become irrelevant, and confidence in beliefs is shaken. It may be that all one has to rely on is reflective thinking rather than the bold initiatives of the active mind.

As I'm investigating the experiences of orchard growers near and far, and wondering how this metaphor can apply to the cerebral practices of a writer, I am struck that I am wandering around in the dark. Panic sets in when I realize after 27 entries of this blog series, I still am not certain about anything much. Could it be that my writing life died and I'm just now discovering the body? Who am I, if I'm not a writer? I have no replacement dreams waiting in the wings. (No, I can't actually imagine myself becoming a farmer.) I wait. I pray for a clue. Anything that might set me in some direction. I dreamt of this orchard and thought I had it in me, and though I've named them peaches, I don't actually know what that means.

I am looking for the ultimate writing prompt, and I look up and I see the sliver of moon peeking over the horizon. This sliver of moonlight is the hint I needed. The moon doesn't invent the light. It reflects with reverent beauty the light it dances with in the darkness. And as its wistful shimmering shines over the loamy earth, it creates stark shadows, and picks up the delicate dew upon the spider's new weaving. The fragile light is enough to make out the edges of an orchard that is coming...It isn't about me. It's a reflection.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Chapter Nine - Part Two - The Last Stair

When I was a kid, my bedroom was in the basement of this very clever house that my dad had designed for us. The logic of the basement bedrooms was all about Colorado. You see, a basement in a Colorado house will stay warm in the winter and cold in the summer. My dad, an exceedingly practical and green-ahead-of-his-time architect, reasoned that the bedrooms were the most important rooms to have "climate control" over. My mother tried to make the basement cheerful by putting this hideous red and orange shag carpeting down there. Little did they know the effect of those decisions on a 7-year old girl.

Since I had no religious training, I had only the vaguest notions of heaven and hell. For me, hell was down the basement...alone. My parents were social creatures and I often had babysitters, so I had lots of opportunities to be in the basement...alone. I couldn't even turn on the light to dispel my fears before I arrived until I'd arrived. I clearly remember standing on the stairs of that brand new house, bracing myself for the step into the dark. That moment before I could reach the light switch was the most heart-pounding moment that ever existed for me.

I feel a bit like I've been standing on the stairs of my life for a long time now. I do have the feeling more and more that once I step off the stairs and flip on the light that everything will turn out all right. It always did in the basement. I'm still alive. Neither Alferd Packer nor Baby Doe Tabor (the ghostly spooks that grabbed my childhood heart) have eaten me alive. I have since befriended many, many spiders.

It's that moment in the dark, standing on the maniacal red shag carpeting, wondering what I would find when the light went on that hangs around my shoulders. It was literally a nano second of time in my childhood day. What if...the light bulb is burned out? How do I face this darkness that hangs in front of me at the bottom of the stairs?

In my life, in my field, a dark night has been hanging in front of me. One might even say that I've been in it, in the dark moment, for years, unable to reach the light switch for some reason, paralysed by fear. Well, as it repeated itself daily in my childhood, it has been cyclical in my adult life. I was on the last stair for years about ending my abusive marriage. It seems a little insane from the other side. When I finally stepped into the darkness, and even when my worst fears were trumped by real life suffering, I survived it all, and found myself in a warm snuggly bed.

What did I depend on nightly to get off that last stair and touch the freaky carpeting with my bare feet? Determination. I became angry at fear itself for keeping me from my warm bed and inviting the ridicule of my parents. Remembering peace. I imagined how the basement would be with my dad watching TV in his bedroom, and all the lights on. Faith. I came to believe that there was nothing really there to harm me even if I felt afraid. The more faith I had the less fear I felt on the last stair. Relief. As I grew, the fear disappeared so completely that I could laugh at the unreasonableness of it with a sense of relief that has never left me.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Chapter Nine - Part One - Abject Fear

As I test the soil to see if the old connections, the old nutrients are still on stand-by in my screenwriting career, I'm kind of shocked to find that doors are still open. For a writer, having someone professional out in the world who is willing to look at one's work is sort of like having the basic soil you need to grow an orchard. What I have found is that something about my past work must have been just enough to keep those nutrients at the ready in spite of the fact that I completely abandoned the field whilst I did some changes elsewhere in my life.

The shock, that I could begin planting my orchard with the thought that there is a market out there for the fruit, is multi-tiered. For one, I can't spend forever amending the soil and wringing my hands that there is no market for the fruit. I will admit that I'm really scared. If this is an orchard, what in the world am I so frightened by? It doesn't make a lot of logical sense. Orchards in full, mature splendor are abundance incarnate. The cultivated wonder of humanity working with Divinity to create something that will more or less reliably feed a community. What's so scary?

Yet, there is this feeling in my belly, and attached to that feeling are all of these messages which I can't quite read about the future. What I can make out on the messages is, "What if...?" And, I can only imagine the rest of the sentence with the most dire"What if my trees, for some unforeseen reason, don't grow?" or "What if the fruit is stinky?" or "What if it all goes really well, and I have to tend this orchard for the rest of my life?"

You can be a "fear of failure" grower or a "fear of success" grower. I happen to be both. Perhaps, because I've had a good dose of both, neither one seems very appealing to me in this moment. I would say then that what I am most afraid of is neither failure or success, but rather I fear change. I know I can take either result if I have to, but I have to say that part of me has really enjoyed the freedom of being aimless for a while, and as I walk around my fallow field, I really appreciate the loamy, dark earth and the 360 degree views. Am I ready to let go?

Well, it is true that there's this other field where I'll be working a lot over the summer called "motherhood". I have some serious weeding to do around one of my crops, my son. I see that he's being overtaken by some distractions that are not nurturing his growth (television, attitudes and entitlements). I see that I have to nip these weeds, which are a bit out of control at the moment, in the bud so that they don't reproduce later into habits with more serious consequences. This is going to require a few months of vigilance to see him safely into fourth grade and a new teacher and new classmates for the first time in three years. I have a plan for when he's with me, and so it is necessarily limited by my parenting agreements with my ex-husband.

Therefore, I still will have some free-of-children-concerns time this summer. I also know that my lovely man will be working out in his own field a lot for a few months. I am not afraid to be alone, but I am afraid to be lonely. I am susceptible to depression. It would be a good idea for me to have a project to focus on. I've cleared my schedule of classes after mid-June and so there are no excuses for why I shouldn't freely develop the design of my orchard, and prepare for planting in August.

Still, I feel scared. Abject fear. What if...?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Chapter Eight - Part Three - Waiting and Waiting

Today, my head is filled with statistics. I happened to hear on BBC radio Thursday night an interview about the economy of the movie industry these days. It's been chattering in my brain for a few days. It doesn't sound that much different from the rest of the economy, being that if you're a big studio, you can get financing for films because you're sharing the burden of the risk. If you're an independent studio it gets more problematic, and individuals hoping to make films are back-burnered for financing for the foreseeable future. I betcha orchard financing looks about the same.

What this means is that last year 600 films were made and released (multiply that by 3 and you know how many scripts were in various stages of development), and this year 200 films were made and released. For the 200 films released this was good news because they got the lion's share of the movie-goer's dollar. Being in a recession means that more people went to the movies, too, and so the studios are actually coming out of this economic downturn smelling like roses. I bet agribusiness looks about the same.

So, that leaves me feeling I have little option but to write towards the potential market that has money to burn -- the studio. Ack. I have to find a reason in my heart to believe that a studio will be taking risks on unproven writers in the coming roller coaster business cycles. It feels hard. It feels innately competitive. It feels like I would have to focus 100% on the goal of writing the seamless script.

Am I talking myself into it, or out of it? Obviously, if I knew it was wrong or right, that would help. How could I possibly know? Hmmmmmmm. How does this feeling compare to the feeling of sitting in an orchard on a summer's day? Hmmmmmmm. Quite different. This feels more like a high-rise in a smoggy city. This feels more like grit your teeth in a cubicle and figure out a strategy on the computer screen. Hmmmmmmm. This feels like self-imposed stress, and also like a success that would require repeating it infinitum.

Though I understand the necessity of pursuing writing in such a way for many very ambitious people, for me it delivers nothing for me to stand on, to believe in. Therefore, I'm sitting down on this rock of fear I've stumbled upon and thinking of how to use it as a landscape feature rather than counting on it for any kind of nutrition. This landscape feature in my orchard represents the facts I know that simply have little bearing on what I truly want to accomplish. I can look at this big boulder and say, "Look. See? I know."

Then I can wait for the soil test to come back.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Chapter Eight - Part Two - Starting and Finishing

My formative years were made of the bickering between my impatient father and my indecisive mother. That is essentially who I have become - an impatient and indecisive person. However, I believe that our purpose on earth is to overcome our formative years, our astrology and even sometimes our destiny to forge a new path of evolution. What I have become excruciatingly aware of about my writing is that neither impatience or indecision helps one little bit. How it effects planning the orchard of my dreams is that in my mind's eye the trees should all be planted already, mature and bearing fruit, OR I shouldn't be planting an orchard at all. Then I drift to the, "maybe I should plant dates, or maybe I should forget about the orchard and plant raspberries, or I like wine, maybe I should plant a grape orchard and build a winery, too!"

One of the amazing revelations of my current marriage is that everything takes time and effort and starting is the more important effort than is finishing. All my life I have had a voice in my head saying, "Aren't you finished yet? Come on! Let's Go! Vamanos!" I know that's my Dad's and my dear departed Grandmother's voices, in stereo. I took their words and internalized them so deeply that unless I can quickly finish something, I rarely begin it. So all of my efforts have gone to short-term results, and immediate gratification. I am certain that is not the intention of their panic about my slow-moving ways, but that is most definitely the result. I love the project I can do off the top of my head so that I'm not bogged down by research and interviewing. It is no doubt why I love a good poem, which in the right frame of mind is so easy for me to write quickly, and reading them is such a fast delight.

My mother's indecisive influence is more complicated, and perhaps, is deeper seated self-criticism. She was never sure if she really wanted to be a mother, my mother or anybody's mother. She was never fully invested in any of her relationships as an adult because all of her childhood relationships disappeared through death and addiction. Her unresolved personal tragedies led her to be all about presentation and process in her work. She rarely becomes expert at one kind of art process before she switches mediums, always looking for the "hallelujah chorus" to say that she's done, and a success, without continuing a process/medium to the point where she could be a real success, and criticizing everyone who stays with one medium for their expression as being stale and out of touch, though her green envy does show through. I've certainly taken that pill and swallowed it as I wrestle with whether to stay in the field I've been working in with limited success, screenwriting, or switch to another now.

I forgive my parents for being themselves and not being particularly helpful to me. My conclusion about parenting now is that being helpful is secondary to simply being the best example one can muster to be, so that a child can evolve from a higher point on the scale. I understand that my strengths will evolve out of my parents' weaknesses, just as my children will evolve from mine. Let's not just do a do-over then! Let's give them a higher plateau. That's how life evolves on planet earth...and my goodness it takes a long, decisive time to get on with it!

If I am to finally evolve out of these habits I picked up, then I will have to do their opposite and that is to absorb the patience and decision that I have inside, and that I've projected outside onto my lovely husband. I see in him all that I must be, as I plan out this orchard of mine with a methodical, and driven decisiveness. I must stop worrying about being finished, and simply will myself to start something that will likely frustrate me and everyone else with its slowness. I know that I lost the support of most of my family years ago as I decided to step off the path of presenting a false front that was comfortable to them, and so when I experience their panic about my apparent lack of progress these days it is much more with a shrug and a sigh. My husband is a rock even in our daily struggles to make ends meet. He never asks me to hurry up and finish. He only asks that I begin. He was first in estimating the decade-long process to become expert and successful, long before I could accept it. I have a feeling I'll be forever grateful for this one important insight that I simply lacked in all of my life's experience.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Chapter Eight - Part One - Planning an Orchard

Planning an orchard from square one is rather daunting as I look at the field today. I am not a farmer. I didn't grow up on a farm. I like eating good things. I appreciate fields. I am a writer. I grew up in a family that certainly read. My father wrote columns for various newspapers in Colorado under the pen name "Big Mama World". That's as close as I come to a genetic understanding of writing. It wasn't really the formation of a writer who would naturally choose to envision a huge project.

As I research the metaphor of planting peaches I discover clues that might help me to write a project that will have a life of its own. Apparently, starting an orchard requires as much planning as writing a screenplay, or a series of screenplays require. I'm intimidated, but curious about both. Remembering this is likely a mistake, that will become a brick on my yellow brick road is tentatively soothing.

One thing that most new screenwriters fall into thinking is that they'll write a script in a few weeks, send it off and it will be bought, of course, and be in the movie theaters next year. Error! At least, I've been in the business long enough to understand that writing a script itself takes a year, and seeing it become an actual film can take a minimum of three years, and as many as ten years, if ever at all. Turns out, the same thing with orchards! So you have to have in place a long-term plan where you can survive the interim years while the orchard is maturing to a state of fruition.

For me, the comfortable amount of time to develop the kinds of stories I want to develop and write them and see them bear fruit feels like a decade. A decade??? Geez. How can that be? But, it is true. I don't really expect to see the fullness of my work expressed for 10 years. There may be initial crops in three to five years, but the full production of what I envision will take a decade at least. And, when I envision where I want to be in a decade, sitting in a mature orchard seems right.

The things I will look at in my long-term, decade long plan, are:

What is the market these days for both publishing and the movie industry? (If there is no market for fruit, guess what the farmer has to do? EAT IT!)

Who are my consumers? What are they interested in?

What can I do to improve the conditions of my fields (my creative quotient, my space, my time) so that the orchard (the new franchise) has the best possibility of growing?

How are my finances situated to support a long-term endeavor like this? What can I do to shore that up without endangering the entire project?

How can I get better equipment (new laptop, new printer, new software) to work this orchard?

Then eventually I have to look at the trees that I'll plant and their needs. I'll need to understand varieties and rootstocks that are available to me as a writer.

For writing the pollination of a project is getting it from manuscript/script form to published and produced. I don't want to plant show trees, that bloom and bloom and never produce the messy fruit. I want the messy fruit, and so I will need collaborators including agent(s), lawyers, editor(s), proofreader(s) and even mentor(s) who have some experience with this kind of project. Lots of busy bees to at some point add to the solitary writer's life.

I'll be picking these details apart in the next few months I imagine. Stay tuned if you're interested in the process...;)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Chapter Seven - Part Three - Needs of the Crop

Everything about thinking about planting an orchard appeals to me at the moment. Orchards exist in climates that I like: Tropical, Subtropical and moderate climates, near ample water and there seem to be lots of different ways of approaching planning an orchard. You can even mix species like quince and apples, for instance. You can plant orchards more like a forest, making them ecologically friendly with a more diverse environment, and still get good fruit production. Orchards, as I've tried to emphasize before, can be shared by a larger community, too. All of these are wonderful metaphors for what I dream my writing could be with some planning. Orchards can survive for multiple generations and serve as habitats for animals and birds that are losing ground to ugly housing developments. Orchards have substance.

When I dream of people reading my work, then it my hope is that the experience is something like sitting in a summer orchard, hearing birds twerp and the rustle of animals, seeing the shadows cast by leaves and branches on patches of earth and grass, feeling the breeze upon their cheeks, looking up through the deep greens back-lit by the sun, and enjoying the scent of ripening fruit. Not too much to ask, right? Living in the world as it is now, it is so easy to lose track of these simple pleasures, and my hope is that my stories will evoke a desire for more peace, even as they examine our problems and needs. For every orchard has more than one season, and every orchard faces challenges, but in the end there is hopefully fruit to share.

In China, peaches are a symbol of longevity. They originated in China as long ago as the 10th century BC. They came to the Americas on Spanish galleons in the 16th century, and were spread by Native Americans on their wanderings. The culture of peaches includes a temperate zone that encircles the earth, and they've grown in most of the places where I have actually lived. So, it is the peach that will serve as my metaphoric orchard in writing this new world. We'll see what we learn from the planning I need for this crop.

The first good thing about peaches that I see is that they need more nitrogen (fertilizer) than other crops. This is good because I've fertilized the heck out of my field. Giggle. So I hope that when I can dig up the soil and test it that it will prove to be in good condition for the kind of crop I'm thinking of planting.

Peach orchards need lots of sun and a good breeze to keep cold air from settling in on the trees. How as a writer can I bring that material light and mental flow to my practice? I suppose it might be time to think about my workspace and the mental inspirations that I let into that space. In my case, because our family lives in an apartment, and my office is in the living room, it will come down to timing. When I write I will need good light, and also quiet -- which means when the kids are around I probably won't be using the space to write. This means when the kids are around, I'll need to either write before they rise in the morning or after they sleep at night. Since my husband is a night owl, who enjoys watching anime into the wee hours, that leaves me the early morning to create a regular writing practice. It simply is what it is. If I am to have this writing dream grow, I have to commit to creating the right conditions for it. Sigh. This somewhat feels like a sacrifice, but perhaps, I need to realize it is not forever. I am not always a morning person, but I can see the logic in becoming one for the sake of this project.

There is so much to think about as I plan my orchard of writing. It feels good to have a plan, if not actual growth of the product at the moment.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Chapter Seven - Part Two - Late Spring Snow

This is my one hundredth blog as KosmicEgg. Certainly that is something to be proud of at some level. I don't have many readers, but I have always viewed the blog as a practice, a place to experiment with whatever I was thinking about. I have offered my notions about rebuilding a life after divorce at various levels (personal, romantic, and professional). It is only in March that I started an organized approach to this field.

Today as I look out at my fallow field, waiting to test it, I see a blanket of snow. This cover crop of beans that is my blog is hearty and is unlikely to suffer from the wet, slushy stuff. In fact, most likely the snow helps it in the coldest, darkest moments of the night by protecting it from the sub-freezing temperatures and harsh winds. Nevertheless, it feels like an endless delay so filled with anticipation am I about getting started on a worthy project.

What does a farmer do with such a snow? Apparently, a late spring can change what a farmer will plant. Early spring yields a corn crop, sweet and certainly profitable. A late spring asks for a bean crop, like soy beans, hearty and weather resistant. For an orchard that is already planted snow can be helpful or disastrous, depending on the development of the crop. I guess I feel sort of wise that my orchard is just a vision at the moment, because this snow is not just a literal fact outside in Colorado, it is my writer's mind, too.

Remember the snow that the Good Witch, Glenda, sent to save Dorothy from the "field of poppies"? I'm kind of hoping that this snow helps my mind refocus and re-frame the journey I'm on. And, in a way it has already. You see I've settled on the idea that my true desire is to plant this orchard. To use the metaphor of fruit-bearing trees to think about screenwriting is a specific choice. Think of me as a virtual "Johnny Appleseed" if you will. Why do we love the myth of Johnny Appleseed? Here is this happy fella, tromping through the untamed wilderness dropping apple seeds that he knew would benefit those pioneers who would follow him. It's not a one-shot wonder type of deal.

There is a simple explanation for my vision: STAR TREK. Oh ho, you say, the truth comes out. It may seem like I must have an ego the size of the Enterprise to even dream of such a thing, a franchise of characters, universes, ways of being that create more and more. However, I have to say it is simply a matter of respecting the path that I happened to walk. I figure there must be some reason that I worked in the world of STAR TREK for 9 years to the point where I was dreaming in Klingon. It is not that I want to recreate STAR TREK! No, no! Goodness no. But the thing is that I saw how STAR TREK so inspired so many people to create in that field, and it supported countless families, and inspired space travel by people who might otherwise never have dreamed of it, and it broke thought barriers and it inspired technological designs. Gene Roddenberry created this idea of a "wagon train through the stars" at just the right moment, perhaps, but he thought about it for a long time, and he nursed it along to fruition for even longer. I would like to create a project that I could tend for a lifetime and be proud of as it expanded beyond the breadth of my own mind.

Certainly, there are other franchises now that we can see as orchards - Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Twilight, Stan Lee's Creations, Dune, the Oz books, Little House on the Prairie, Star Wars, and, of course, The Chronicles of Narnia that inspired me to write some 35 years ago. Imagine how these books and films have employed so many creative people, entertained and inspired the audience...It's huge. These are the orchards of writing, where a crop reproduces itself year after year with tender care. But, an orchard does take a great deal of time to mature, and so it is quite an investment to consider. This is not going to mean the "overnight" success which I would truly love to experience.

I look out on that field covered with snow and I wonder if my plans are wise in any way. Should I plant something that will yield a crop this year, and forget about the bigger investment until I have some comfort? Or shall I forgo comfort, for not only myself but also for my family, in the hopes that the bigger investment will grow as my dreams promise?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Chapter Seven - Part One - Soil Testing

The importance of soil testing cannot be underestimated in terms of the future of plant growth in your field. You can be throwing all kinds of fertilizer and lime at the soil and it could throw your field completely out of whack. Soil must be nicely balanced in order for plants to actually be able to absorb nutrients. Adding just enough fertilizer and lime means that you're not polluting the water, and not spending more energy than you need to spend. It turns out that there is a right time and a right way to test the soil.

If my screenwriting is a field that I need to test, when is the right time to test it and what is a good test? For goodness sakes, it seems that testing the soil for a field should happen months before planting! That will give a farmer time to amend in the right direction, and re-test it in 8 weeks. Phew. Let's say I start writing my next screenplay development in June, then I haven't got ample time to change my habits. Realistically, even though spring is everywhere, my screenwriting spring is not going to realistically start until July or August. It makes me feel anxious to put it off that long, but I also can see it is realistic based upon the statistics of my time allotment now.

Apparently, if I think of planting my field with an orchard, I can sample the soil and amend it on my own time table, and in fact, really planting the trees will start in the fall. I like thinking of my screenplays as trees. Does this sound like I'm delaying starting in on projects? I know. It does, but understand that my habits circle around taking care of kids and kids take a lot of time to take care of particularly when transitioning from school to summer and summer to school. I don't have a big budget for summer distractions, like camp or day care or even paying my daughter to babysit her brother. I don't have a designated office space that is separate from where they hang out. Though I sadly miss seeing them two days a week, those two days may really need to be designated to finding some part-time income. Ack. These sound like excuses. It sounds like my field is out of whack still.

This is precisely why I can't imagine planting trees right now. I'm kind of miserable that I have not made more progress by writing these blogs almost daily. I feel like a most unproductive person as I pace around the field filled with temporary ground cover (this blog,) deep-rooted distractions (family needs, health care, and exercise) and rocks here and there. I do feel like I've drained some of the extra emotions out of the field. I do feel like there's not much here that I don't want to have here.

This is a battle of sorts with the cursed field of writing. The field seems to be winning. People are asking to meet me for coffee. I'm tempted. Social networking is a near addiction. My kids have a zillion activities to close out the school year. Politics calls with a stupid primary that looks as if it will divide the Democratic party in Colorado. I have to be vigilant about not letting these distractions take over the limited time I have for screenplay development. My walking meditations have fallen off because, because, because the weather has been strange and I've been rushing for several weeks. Because, because, because. I think "becauses" are weeds, aren't they? I really want to spray some herbicide all over everything, but I'm resisting. I'm down on my knees with my weeder and my gloves, just trying to keep those weeds clear of my field while I wait for that inspiration, the saplings I will plant. I gather a bucket of soil here and there and send it off to be tested for balance and wait and hope and wait and hope.

This soil test for writing is about testing my desire to write. Do I really want to write? Do I?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Chapter Six - Part Three -- Mulch and Microbes

Turns out that top soil needs all of the little microbes it can get. As Dante said, "The further you enter into it; the deeper it becomes." Imagine if you will that the basis of writing ideas are the size of a single-cell organism, and they live in my top soil. That means that there are less of them than there used to be because it hasn't been a very healthy environment, and I want them to multiply because I understand that without the symbiosis of their help to my bigger ideas there will be meager growth in my field.

There could be all kinds of ideas living in my top soil, if I could make peace and nurture them somehow. These are NOT the novels and the screenplay ideas, nor even the pretty poetry ideas. They're smaller, rudimentary ideas about life and interaction. If one predetermines what is acceptable and wipes out some of the interactions, then other interactions become weakened, particularly the big ideas. It is all the little ideas working together that creates a world in which the big work can be done finally.

I remember a time when screenplay ideas popped into my head almost daily. I was saturated with notions of what screenplays were to me, but through bad schooling and small allocations of resources and time, I did not nurture those ideas. I weeded out the ideas that I thought were noncommercial. I rejected the personal stories that felt embarrassing. I even avoided the blockbuster commercial ideas because I was as afraid to succeed as I was to fail. So what was left were safe projects, usually connected to something my ex-husband approved of, and all of those microbes died off from the pesticides and herbicides I was constantly applying to my work field. Then life circumstances came along and blew it all away.

So after a couple years of fallowness, some of the microbes have begun to return. Just a few, and I'm thinking, how do I encourage my mind to let the flow of ideas happen again? How do I make this field safe for microbes to just do their thing? I've been applying fertilizer, and letting some deep-rooted weeds of discomfort bring up nutrients, I've been getting control of my emotions and breaking up the soil so it can be loamy. I am still afraid of the wind of circumstances though. What to do, what to do?

How does a writer make a life safe for writing when life is not safe? My answer is mulch. A good weighty mulch of shredded tree bark and leaves, perhaps. Nature's idea is to let the wind drop a mulch over the whole earth. We're the ones that keep pushing it aside. Mulch is the ultimate security blanket for microbes. It keeps the soil from being compacted or dried out. It decays into a food source for them. It even improves the movement of water and controls the temperature.

What, in a writer's life, is mulch? The first word that came to mind was "patience". But, I do believe it is more than that. It is fiercely protecting the right to write. To defend that fragile atmosphere for writing is such a challenge. There are so many interference patterns to confront that sometimes I feel I'll have to erect a fence around my field. But, mulch is a gentler protection of the writing ideas that are establishing colonies in my field. Waiting until there is real health and vibrancy in that soil means that when I commit to a project it will have the potential for full-evolution with the support of a lifestyle that has been patiently developed by having blank, empty time and space for it to fill.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Chapter Six - Part Two - Pesticide and Herbicide Recovery

If weeds and harmful bugs are the distractions that come into a writer's life, then pesticide and herbicide are the self-delusion that they can be controlled without any effort. I've experienced heavy use of self-delusion for years and years because I believed that I could do both -- I could change the world to suit my needs and I could maintain my innocence.

It is true that I am living in an area of the country that is crazy for organic farming, but that does not mean I have no sympathy for the crop duster farming of the mid-20th century. I really get it. This is the thing: I had a dear grand-uncle, Pretty Pa, who was a crop dustin' fool. He believed in the "green revolution" of his time, having lived through the dust bowl. He knew the value of creating a reliable source of food and cotton not just for his own pockets but also in developing nations that were plagued by famine and shortages because of pests of all kinds. He knew that the consumer didn't want worm-eaten apples, or rusty grapefruits, or weavel eaten cotton. He was highly successful as a farmer, until he went bankrupt because his business partner embezzled money. He died of cancer at age 72, and had his ashes spread across the fields of the Rio Grande Valley from a crop duster.

In my own life, I knew that no one, least of all me, wanted to acknowledge that there was something terribly wrong in my life. I chose to be "practical" and put aside my aspirations, or at the most give them the smallest fraction of my time and effort, in order to hold together the external picture of the life I thought everyone wanted to see in me. I thought I had the bugs and weeds pretty well concealed with my own form of pesticides and herbicides. My habits included work-aholism, always filling my home with guests, maintaining an optimist's point of view that it would all change for the better. After I split with my ex-husband, I had many friends come forward and admit to me that they were frightened or offended by the way he treated me in front of them. I was shocked! I had believed that I'd been alone in my perceptions. I only vaguely recalled one lone voice of a friend telling me that she didn't think that he was the right man for me. In fact, I sought out friends and therapists who would agree with me that the marriage could be saved rather than friends and therapists who could help me face reality.

What I suffered from was the idea that with mental pesticides and herbicides I had kept under wraps all the insidious bugs of domestic violence and distractions I was creating from the eyes of my consumers. If no one else could see it then it could be reduced and reduced until finally I had magically thought it away. What I created instead was a toxic, wiped out top soil where very little could grow anymore, and a lot of it could just blow away. And it did. I went bankrupt, I lost control over where I would live, and I nearly lost what was most important to me, my children. These experiences were not unshared, my ex-husband mirrored them in his own way, and frankly I don't think either one of us has fully recovered, but he has presented that external picture of recovery whereas I have refused to put forth the idea that all is resolved and I'm just fine.

In fact, I'm flabbergasted by the expectations of friends and family who believe that I should be plowing forward as if nothing had ever happened to me. Their impatience has caused me to isolate myself at times. It's not that I want to wallow in this field that has questionable top soil, too much water at times, and that I never want to plant anything again. It's just that I realize that rushing to fix it is what got me into the mess in the first place. It takes a thousand years to naturally replace one inch of top soil. Can the world give me a few years to get my bearings? I don't want to completely abandon myself in this moment when I might actually recover what I lost track of in the past.

On the other hand, I'm sure there are those who think I've rushed into my second marriage to fix my top soil. They would be wrong. My sweet husband is the most patient man on earth I think. He knows I'm broken, and loves me anyway. We don't put on airs that everything in our lives is hunky-dory. We're not investing in anything but learning to accept each other on our own terms. He's sacrificing having all sort of bachelor-style toys to support my growth, though he points out whenever I project my guilt onto him that he does nothing that he doesn't want to do, and I believe him. I am inspired to truly grow (from the inside out) in order to be there for him when he needs me should that ever happen. It's just a totally different scenario, and it isn't always comfortable for me because it means I can't project a perfect picture to friends and family who would prefer it.

In fact, it seems I am digging deeper and deeper into my own discomfort in order to finally truly arise. Like some deep-rooted weeds that mine the depths of the soil and bring up those minerals and nutrients to the surface, I have to watch the growth of my discomfort and nip it in the bud before it becomes a reproductive weed. Naturally a deep-rooted weed helps depleted soil in a way that nothing else can, so can discomfort point force me to recognize myself and heal. Only when I accept all of myself will I be writing from a greater Source, and delivering the greater message I know I am capable of delivering.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Chapter Six - Part One - Top Soil

Yesterday winds clocked over 70 miles an hour in my area, and so I looked up the Dust Bowl of the 1930s to understand how wind affects fields. It turns out that farmers lost 5 inches of top soil over most of the arable farmland in America during those terrible dry times. It takes 1,000 years to build one inch of top soil naturally. We know so much about soil composition now because of the hard times of the past, and so of course, we've built up the top soil once again in record time. There are farms. There are growing things.

Sometimes I feel like my adult life has been like a dust bowl. It blew away a lot of the natural goodness and now I am spending a lot of time painstakingly rebuilding the top soil of my life. It opens me up to criticism from some work-a-day people that I'm not doing enough. That hurts my heart because I generally put in a full 18 hours a day of constant work. I rarely sit with my family to play a game. I haven't had a vacation in five years. The pressure to produce is quite something to deal with when I know that I am still unprepared, and so I work to ready the soil by daily work.

Some of my work is housework. Some of my work is taking care of sick kids. Some of my work is cooking dinner for my exhausted husband. Some of my work is volunteering for the schools because I can't give them money right now. All of that work does double duty as a practice of consciousness, and I am in constant gratitude for the moments when I am fully occupied with tasks to be done. But, a hell of a lot of my work is dealing with waste inside my brain and turning it into fertilizer and compost for the top soil of my writing field.

Those empty moments when I deal with nothing but the memories of disappointment, and turning them into the gifts they are, by conscious shifts in perspective is the harder work. As a writer, I do this because my goal is to write about the process of life. It sometimes looks like I'm just walking the dog, or just putting quotes up on Facebook, but I assure you at the end of the day I've contemplated my work and know that only I can judge it as worthy or not. The work is not paid work, but it is work nevertheless. It causes great discomfort for many people close to me to watch me do this without any tangible results. I know that to write what I truly want to write, I must write daily, and for long periods of time, but right now I don't have the top soil for that, and so I'm amending the soil every day with exercises like this blog, like planting little annual flowers of poetry to keep my connection to my intuitive writer's mind, and I pray that my grand idea (and actually I do have one) will finally find a place to be planted that can support its growth. I am learning everyday to trust my process and see that I am supported to do this work, and I am grateful.


Hope had become
A thin and brittle branch
Upon which she perched her life.
Without talons, gripping
That view of the world,
She looked unsteady, unsure, and felt it.
Still she insisted on clutching,
Half out of the fear of having to return
The weight of her life to
A trunk she could no longer perceive,
And half out of the pride
That she’d managed so far.

Inevitably, the branch would break
Because wisdom was not in that roost.
Time does not run backwards, and this is
The thing about tree-climbing:
Inching back feels more dangerous
Than falling.
So hope became a fantasy.
Clinging to the unwise choice, she
Dared not

Refusing to recognize the conditions
She found herself in, kept that false
Security something like a nest,
But left her immobile,
And quickly becoming petrified,
Like ancient rock buried in living tissue.
The slightest disagreement in the balance
Of her needs and desires
Splintered hope further and no duct tape
Encouraged new growth on that branch.

Until she could desire
No more than she needed
And even that was too much
Until there was nothing to do but breathe
Into the SNAP that would,
Finally, plunge her to the ground.

The fall seemed long.
The wind rushed against her.
She wished for wings, for the branch
That had once held her so erratically.
Other branches grabbed at her
Tempting her with promises, but
She kept on falling until the falling
Seemed like all there was to life.
Giddiness took over, laughter spilled
Out of the thrill and she wondered
At how high she’d gone on
Pure fancy,
And if she’d ever have a vision again.

Rock bottom seemed more
Vague than she’d expected.
In fact, she was never sure if
She’d actually hit it, but rather
Had been caught by the twisted roots
Of her vast tree,
Like a net for a trapeze artist,
A welcome surprise.
Oddly, she lay prone, looking up at the
Peculiar path of her fall and wondered at
The Light that now shone through the
Thick of leaves and sticks.

Her hands,
Feeling the gnarled firmness beneath her, stung,
No longer numb to her situation.
Her lungs lurched towards oxygen.
Her face,
Wet with sap and tears,
Did not smile for once, and
For the first time in a long while,
Allowed instead the truth
Of her concern to reveal itself,
As she reached for the bits and pieces
She thought were important.
And, she found her illusory collection
Had been reduced to
Only what she loved,
Her children,
Her body
And her mind.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Chapter Five - Part Three - Field of Poppies

One of the hardest things about writing for me is staying awake. Is that a bad thing? I start out very excited about whatever I'm writing but there comes a time when I hit the "field of poppies," as Dorothy did in "The Wizard of Oz." Of course, as in that wonderful book, my sleepiness is well-timed to my nearing an important moment or realization. I have been journaling for long enough to know that when you want to go to sleep on yourself then that's the moment to force yourself to stay awake and find out where your thoughts are going on the yellow brick road.

Ironically, in the field of poppies only two parts of Dorothy's mind are able to stay awake, and one part is quite on the verge of rusting solid. The body goes to sleep, the inner child goes to sleep, the courage goes to sleep, but the heart and the mind force themselves to pull it together and stay awake until a change in the weather. With the Emerald City just on the horizon, and the end of the yellow brick road nearing, the thing that undoes a writer is sleep. This is where that old-fashioned notion of self-discipline comes into play, but finally it may be that a writer has to seek out some help.

Now, I hate asking for help more than just about anything in the world. I want to do it myself by now. I want my writing to be my own voice. I want to finally be through with writers groups and classes and how-to books. But, when I am overwhelmed by sleep it begins to occur to me that it may be time to ask for some feedback. Even if that feedback is cold as snow to wake me from a spell and get me back on the road, it may just be time to do the terrible, terrible thing of opening myself up to the world and crying, "Help! Help! Help!"

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Chapter Five - Part Two - Land Use

Filling my field with poetry seeds feels a little bit like growing flowers. It's nice. It's pretty, but, but, but, other than making my life beautiful for a season how is it going to help my sustainable future? Can I afford not to worry about it? This should spell out how jittery I feel about my writing. Often I find myself wanting to abandon the field altogether, for a job in the city, but I've always found myself thrown back into the field, and so this time I'm going to try to stay in it until I know what the land is good for, and if I offer anything that can be sustained there.

So, I suppose I could go Dutch. I could imagine myself as the great tulip grower. The tulip has been my personal symbol since I was in middle school after all. Anyone who has seen my signature has seen the crazy scribbled tulip "trademark" at the end and speculated about it. Maybe all along I've been meant to plant pretty flowers. Have you ever seen fields of tulips? They are amazing. When I lived in Oregon I made a yearly trip to see them near Salem. Fields and fields of tulips of every size, shape and color. My favorites are probably the French tulips with their elegant long stems, their pointed turned-out petals and often variegated colors.

Interestingly, tulips don't grow very well in Southern California. That's kind of funny, isn't it?

Here's a poem I wrote last fall about screenwriting:

Double-Edged Metaphor
Copyright © 2009 Amanda Morris Johnson

Follow a flowchart down
Through the thicket of films already made
You’ll find the stones of this chart
Well-marked, well remarked, will tell
You everything you ever wanted to know
About writing a screenplay.

Of course, it will ruin movies for you.
Like stale popcorn, the craft actually
Sticks to your teeth unavoidably
And there you are picking at them at every showing,
Sometimes for days, and longer,
While you consider the rationale.

Yet what is a movie without popcorn?
What is a script without this well-timed craft?
What is a thicket without a lot of trees?
You’re told under the florescent grow lights,
It is a duty to ingest the stuff so that everyone
Is happy at The End when the girl gets kissed.

The thicket, the films that crowd
Un-weeded, robustly around your brain
Are timed to be fully-popped.
Perfect white kernels, variously flavored.
But, being a thicket, include many bags
That are full of un-popped kernels.

I rather like the un-popped kernels.
Who is to say they are unrealized trees?
Small, hard, and brown, their refusal to pop
Wins my admiration every time. Maybe they
were supposed to challenge the mouth
to actually chew on them for a while.

It’s the burnt kernel, the stinkin’ overcooked
popcorn that smells up a place for days like a forest fire
Leaving its layer of ash on the window sills,
Making you rewash that once clean pile of laundry
Ruining the whole damned bag that
Rages through a perfectly good thicket of films

And before you know it, you find yourself
Unable to bear watching the bag
Inflate in your microwave of a brain
Forcing you to leave the flow-chart,
The timer, and the copse for poetry that
Will never make you six figures.

It is tulip season on the Front Range in Colorado. They are hardy, withstanding wind storms, and snow. When I see them in their bright colors, then I know the hope that was planted last fall is paying off.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Chapter Five - Part One - Soil Survey

The assumption may always be that we just know what kind of plants will grow in a field, perhaps, because that is what grew there before. However, this kind of thinking leads to all sorts of cultivated disasters in farming and I believe, to use the metaphor, in life. If a field is planted over and over again with the same crop eventually there is a depletion of the nutrients that particular crop needs. The crop that once thrived in a plot of land, now is lack-luster. One can stimulate the soil with added compost and fertilizer. Or one can let it be fallow for a time. But, before one starts planting the crop again, a soil survey must be conducted to see what might actually grow there.

For a writer this survey may indeed be critical. Lately I've been finding the need to write poetry supersedes my desire to write screenplays. Perhaps, this is going back to my roots. It is possible that all my resistance to writing poetry has finally given out. It's funny because in my prior marriage I could hardly write poetry at all. The most I could do was go back and edit some over long poetry from my college days. For the last four and a half years I've written more poetry than I did in the previous 20 years. Yet, I don't know that poetry is a crop that can sustain me as a writer. In fact, I tend to believe that poetry is like one of those alternate crops that feeds the soil by taking different nutrients. I do wonder if I should go ahead and plant the whole field with poetry for a while until I know what I'm going to write about. At least, I know that poems grow here...

Here's a poem I came across when I cleaned up my desk area yesterday:

If Noah hadn't listened to God's insane request
Presumably he would have drowned, as would have all
The two-by-two creatures that were carried within the Ark.
But, we know this isn't true and so we wink.
It takes more than a flood to wipe out life as we know it.
Mother Earth regenerates in spite of floods, freezes, attacks
From outer space, or closer-by explosions and She
Continues to reproduce life, sometimes not as we know it,
From the brink.

In fact, She seems to improve herself with every
Domestic abuse, and when the going gets tough, she grins
With her hands on her ample hips, swinging through space,
In her elliptical sojourn around the sun, singing a
Glorious gospel, "I may be small, and I may be blue,
But just watch me as I overcome this, too." She licks
Her wounds and lets the serpent take her in a sun-warmed
Embrace and new life fills the hills and the valleys
and the oceans deep.

Back to Noah, his awkward relationship with God, and his
"Rescue of life". When Ham, his son of darkness, notices
That Noah is naked and lazing around on the couch
After their rough adventure -- who can blame him -- Ham sees
that Noah, his father, is only a man after all, and not that
special, and he is ashamed. Noah is nothing but a drunk sleeping it off.
Is God embarrassed by his partner in crime being indisposed?
He curses who? Ham, of course, the proud observer of ordinariness,
the ancestor of all slaves.

A notion that has been used to justify slavery throughout
The ages since. Read between the lines and you will discover this:
We are all Ham's prideful descendants, limited to the illusion of
Our own superiority. Enslaved, we fear the dark, and
We hide our true nature with fig leaves, or Togas, or
Coco Channel's little traveling suit with snake-skin shoes
And matching handbags, a snub to the self-knowledge we've misused.
Mother Earth shakes with a mixture of patient laughter and dismay,
Sunning her naked self.

So we've arrived squarely on dry land to be what?
To be slaves to our own misunderstanding and illusions.
Our grim desire to be important and retain a false
dignity in the fields of Mother Earth and her extraordinary
Self is the sickness we've been carrying since before
That flood, and God is in cahoots with Her in showing
Us just how disposable we are over and over again
When we don't respect honest work and rest with equal ease.
God loved that naked, drunk man who listened to the Word
and worked without presumption.

Who knows the meaning of a poem, but God and Mother Earth in cahoots? It's not as easy to digest as a movie, but at the moment I suppose I feel less inclined to be easily digested. I have snippets of visions about what I'm here for and a poem seems to express that so much better right now than struggling to make sense of it all for a larger work. So, as I survey this field I have determined to plant some nurturing poetry for a season (an undetermined amount of time) and see how that goes to feed the larger vision.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Chapter Four - Part Three - Soil Consolidation

I think possibly that my field is suffering from soil consolidation. You may laugh at this writer who takes a metaphor to the enth degree but looking at my writer's life over the past 20 years, it is rather easy to say that I've been working underneath extreme pressure. Extreme pressure on soil, such as heavy equipment or even a glacier, makes soil compress to such a degree that it cannot absorb rainfall or nutrients. This increases soil erosion. Plants have a difficult time getting started because the minerals in the soil are so compressed there is little space for air and water. Beneficial earthworms can't get in there to move things around and help those new ideas.

The heaviness of my adult life feels like a bulldozer sat on my field for years. Every time I tried to plant something, the abuse increased, the space to focus on my own work decreased and the little plants barely evolved. Apparently soil recovers from this kind of compaction only with a balance of moisture, mineral and fauna. I was correct in believing that tillage is one of the answers, and that there needs to be a dry spell where emotions are not overwhelming the creative voice. But apparently, fauna are just as important. Earthworms must be introduced to aerate the soil on a regular basis -- to mix things up. What is the metaphor of earthworms to a writing practice?

This is what I think earthworms might be: studying new and alien ideas, but also space and time. Because earthworms are obviously not soil during their productive lives, but then they do become the soil itself, and in their productive lives they are mainly creating air gaps and paths for the root systems of plants. Julia Cameron, in The Artist's Way talks about "an artist date" where one is supposed to go out on a weekly basis and do something new for an hour to feed the inspiration of said artist, as a reward system and also a seed gathering system. I think that is certainly something to consider. I also believe that if the point of the earthworm is to create space and air in the soil, then part of what a writer must do is to create space and air in the mind somehow. I'm not sure filling the mind with ideas is exactly going to do it for me. In fact, it feels as if emptiness is what I'm seeking.

Meditation has always been a struggle for me, but perhaps it is because I really didn't understand what the purpose of it was. Now, if I think of meditation as a practice of earthworm-ing my soil then perhaps I can be more focused and determined to create that emptiness the sages espouse. I have a hard time sitting still for very long even though most people experience me as very calm. When really tasked to sit and do nothing I feel I will jump out of my skin. My thought of the moment is that I will have to walk first, as a pattern of meditation, and then move towards sitting in emptiness. That may seem like a cop-out. It is however the best I can do at the moment.