Monday, January 31, 2011

Progress Report on Digging Holes

It's about zero degrees outside, and I am gritting my teeth as I have abandoned the digging of writerly holes in the last three weeks, just as I began in earnest. It seems that no matter how smart I am about getting myself to work, life steps in with other ideas. Distraction. Do farmers also deal with this kind of distraction or is the thing of bearing down necessity what keeps them going? What makes me think I don't have necessity bearing down on me? If I don't plant my proverbial peach trees, I certainly will never enjoy the pleasure of picking a peach.

The context is this: My daughter caught the monster winter cold. She was quite pathetic in her illness -- couldn't breathe, went through five boxes of tissue in a few days, achy, sore throat. The only thing she could taste was Theraflu; which is the nastiest taste in any comparison. She couldn't sleep, couldn't think, couldn't read, couldn't study, and we live in a small apartment, and my desk (a.k.a. my orchard farm) is right in the living room. When children are sick and home and in the living room watching endless Disney shows, there's no writing going on. When my child, and this is testament to how sick she was, develops an addiction to "Bonanza", maintaining any line of thinking from what to cook for dinner to how to start a screenplay is near to impossible.

Then at the same time my son was bullied at school. Actually, this has been building for months and finally exploded. There were meetings with the teachers, calls to the parents, and dealing with co-parenting differences in how to turn this situation into a learning experience. There were long talks with my son about what he felt needed to happen. There were discussions with my husband about whether fighting back is an option for my boy, with me having been a victim of domestic violence and truly believing that violence is not the answer, and him being a black man in America believing that a man has to be ready to fight back. There were discussions about the damage done. There were discussions about the importance of boundaries. There were discussions with other mothers about how we want our boys to walk in the world. There was a lot of drama.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to put this into the context of my beloved extended metaphor - planting peaches.

The closest I can come to the frustration of it is that my fields have been in a deep freeze for the past few weeks...something that approaches permafrost. There have been a few days here and there where the sun shone and got my hopes up, but alas, all I managed to do was surface work, something like raking. The thing is the ground is frozen, as a friend pointed out jokingly.

I could start swearing. I made my plan to work. I filled a calendar with milestones I wanted to reach. I had a good first week at the task, and then boom. The other thing this feels like is falling off a diet. I have been known to try hundreds of different diets in an effort to feel better primarily and then also to lose weight. When I start the diet, it's kind of hard for a few days, but then I get into the swing of it and I feel so great. It doesn't seem to matter which diet I'm on, they all have had a few days of greatness. Then when I'm enjoying the glow of it, I am tempted by something and I cave sooner or later. If I'm going wheat-free, then it is a piece of challah with butter. If I'm on high protein then it is a ridiculously high carb treat. You get the picture.

I swear. The only things that could possibly tempt me away from writing on schedule are my kids.  I swear. I put off everyone else. I begged out of every other obligation. But, when it comes to my kids...I swear. Once the door was opened by my sick child, however, every other obligation came pouring in. Suddenly not one but three social invitations came in. People needed their Tarot cards read (my other occupation). There were students to be seen. I was invited to start teaching again. I accepted them all, retracted, accepted, and gave into not writing in the end. And here I am a month into "my productive year" with one short story and two poems and the very, very beginning of a screenplay developed (which for me is not saying much because I can do this much in a day if I give myself a day).

A sane writer would simply call this a setback. Those are also the people who lose weight, keep it off and stick to a diet because it is their lifestyle choice. I'm not one of those people. I'm struggling just to dig development holes and suffering from the distraction of other things, anything really. If I were dieting I would have put on the two pounds I lost the first week, and gained an extra 10. But, I'm a farmer looking through the steam hole I breathed into the frost-covered window thinking about how I'm going to talk myself into going out there to start digging those holes again, and ready them for peach saplings. I'm a writer looking for a way to get back to developing a screenplay that I've lost track of completely. By the grace of the Divorce Gods, the kids are with their dad tonight, because tomorrow is a snow day, and I have to get to work already...

Monday, January 17, 2011

revisiting patience for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent.Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today I was confronted by benign impatience. It was meant to be harmless, poking fun at the serious history lesson of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the fact that we the people got this extra holiday. It seems not everyone is on board. The Governor of Maine changed his mind about it, as did many others. Why, if we have a black President, do we need to be reminded of our heinous, racist past all the time? Why indeed? Wouldn't it be so much better to simply put the holocaust behind us? Wouldn't it be so much better if we forgot the time when women were legally beaten by their husbands and didn't have the right to vote in this country? Wouldn't it be better to forget that the children of America once worked in sweatshops? Wouldn't it be better to wipe the memory of every mining disaster that ever happened?

These were not necessarily overtly racist, bigoted people posing this question about MLK Day, and unintentionally implying all the rest. Their world works for them and they assume we're pointing fingers, I suppose, when we say, "the work is not complete."

They would like for us to say something else like, "Good job! Your world is such a great example. It's enough simply for you to live well, to teach your children to live well,  and to isolate yourself from the things that don't seem to be working, as if they are stinky piles of offending garbage." Of course, we cannot say that. Then they attack the principle of the day on the grounds of truth. It seems to be getting worse.

There are many people still left behind. What's with that? Worse yet, it seems like there is a new crop of virulent racist, misogynist and classist groups emerging. There are conspiracies and domestic terrorists, and there are drug wars and high unemployment. There are homeless people in America. There are CRAZY people with guns. There's SLAVERY in this day and age, in America, for goodness sakes. What's with that, if Dr. King did such a good job? Why shouldn't we ignore history? Fat lot of good it does for us if no one ever feels better.

The movements of Dr. King, Mahatma Gandhi, and others in the pursuit of non-violent change had one major thing in common: patience.

So, I've been trying to explain to myself why I believe that we should stay on course with revealing our history and putting neon arrows over the suffering of today. As one friend, Libby Pratt, said, "Silence only enables the oppressor." Talking about our true human condition and acting upon it comes down to patience. Not benign, inactive patience, but patient struggle.

It seems to me that it is no longer socially acceptable in many circles to be overtly racist, sexist and classist. People dance around their own beliefs about superiority apologetically when they slip up, but for the most part know, even in their discomfort with it, that it is questionable to believe in anything besides equality. Some are simply trying to talk themselves into agreement and some really do believe the tenets of equality. The places where it never is mentioned, liberal places and conservative places alike, are a bubble of believing that these real inequalities and injustices no longer exist and so when the media takes a few weeks at the beginning of the year to shine the light on unpleasant memories and present terrible realities, the people living in the bubbles literally have to experience their own denial. It's really disturbing to anyone to have to acknowledge one's own denial and the remedy for it often is, like a hangover, to get back to denial as quickly and seamlessly as possible. We are, as a culture, drunk with denial.

The other thing about these behaviors becoming less acceptable on a broad scale is that people who adhere to them are becoming increasingly isolated. Their worlds exist under the radar of popular culture. This is both good and bad. It's good because the balance seems tipped towards edging these distorted belief systems out of society. It's bad because if they're hiding most of the time, then we feel comfortable being half asleep about their existence. We feel justified in believing that they're outnumbered therefore irrelevant. They are not irrelevant. Not only are they very dangerous, they are our own shadows. Full of fear, angered by the perception of loss of opportunity, they're arming themselves to the teeth and they thrive on hate. Until we bring them into the light of loving kindness and acceptance (notice I did not use the word tolerance), then they will continue to frustrate our denial with shoot-outs at the local grocery stores.

Patient struggle is all that it implies: not easy, not quick and possibly never-ending. Patient struggle is what I do in order to write. Patient struggle is what parent's routinely do to teach their child as much as they can before sending them out into this difficult world. Patient struggle is what Dr. King was about. We cannot afford to be impatient.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Peach Orchard Pt.1

The Peach Orchard Pt.2

Monday, January 10, 2011

Digging Holes

You've got to dig holes to plant an orchard. You have to plan it out. The holes have to be so deep, so wide and near enough to some water and light to have it all make sense. The initial task is to make decisions. Once you start digging a hole, you really, really do not want to have to fill it up again without something going in there besides dirt.

This may be my first challenge.  I am not a writer challenged by ideas. I have an idea all the time. It's not as if I can carry an idea around forever though. It'd be like carrying around a peach tree sapling. "Oh, hey! Look at what I've got: a peach tree sapling." Yeah. Great. Moreover, you know what happens to peach tree saplings that never are planted. That's right. They die. Ideas that never get planted die, too. Imagine if we writers learned not to worry so much about ideas, and instead focused on how to put them in the ground and start developing them? Of course, that is kind of the gift of the screenwriting craft...being called a craft. It implies there is a way to plant the idea, and if I follow this way, dig this hole, then I can simply plant this idea there and it will grow -- like a Southern California garden. Dig hole, drop plant - bloom!

The thing is that digging holes is not that much fun and the rewards look like a far piece away. It's oh so much more fun to carry around a tree sapling and its grandiose promise. Digging holes is hard work. I am facing the fact that even though I know how to work hard, and I have worked hard, hard, hard for others digging all manner of holes, digging holes for my own ideas is somehow much harder. I'm trying to figure that out. Why can I dig a hole for someone else's ideas, peach trees, and yet be such a ... refusnik on my own damned holes. I don't mind working hard. I love nothing more than to set things up for other people's ideas to flourish. That's what I've done my whole "professional career," but do it for myself? Har.

Julia Cameron wrote something about this in her famous tome, "The Artist's Way," that I read years ago. It goes back to that fear of success/fear of failure complex. It is like hitting ROCKS when I'm digging holes. Bam! My shovel bangs against something hard, something that has no give. Bam, bam, bam! Frustrated banging of my shovel may chip the immovable stone, but the rock isn't going to move. So...what does someone digging holes have to do to dig out rocks? 

Of course, a hole-digger has to dig around the damned blocks of igneous scrap to loosen them from their hold on the earth. Guess what? A writer has to sort of do the same thing while developing the beginnings of a story and a block appears. Sometimes these are exercises in futility, going round and round. I can dig a place for the main idea for quite a while and seemingly make no progress, but suddenly, one little area of the story comes alive, entertaining moments between characters, a place of origin, the back-story, and the block wiggles. If I keep on making my way around the wiggle, start moving the block into the wiggle, it gets easier to imagine that the block won't be there forever. 

That's what I'm doing right now. I'm working in the wiggle room of some holes.