I’m here! …and other less exciting admissions

FeaturedI’m here! …and other less exciting admissions

I think it’s time I dust off this catacomb of thought. When I started it in 2010, I had just graduated college and had no idea what to do with myself. Scripted Scenes & Coffee Beans was a way to keep writing, to share with far-away friends and family, and document my journey into adulthood. A quick scroll to my “Older Joes” will show you how that’s gone.

But the absence of entries is not an absence of life. In fact, quite the opposite. My life has been bursting and brimming with substance the last three years as I’ve grown professionally and creatively and allowed my dreams to crystalize a little, and now I find myself in much the same position as I was in 2010…at the beginning of a new chapter having no idea what to do with myself. 🙂

So it seems fitting I would return here now to keep writing, sharing with far-far-away family and friends, and documenting my journey into the entertainment business as a writer.

This wasn't even taken in Cali.
This wasn’t even taken in Cali.

Moving clear across the country to pursue a dream brings with it a lot of introspection and a potent cocktail of emotion. So before I sober up and settle in with my 8-5, Starbucks, happy hour, networking, dream-building California life, allow me some transparency.

This is hard. And admitting that it’s hard is even harder. This is my dream. This is what I’ve worked for, prayed for, fought for, and uprooted for. I never said it would be easy, yet I can’t cut myself a break when the distance bruises me to tears and the sense that I’m a third wheel in my own life hollows me out from the inside.

“Great!” I say when friends and family ask how things are going. Because outwardly, they are. I have a great job (!) and generous friends who didn’t even kick me out after a month. I’ve been to some really cool places, met some great new people, reconnected with old friends, and made some quality contacts for the future. I have nothing to complain about.

And yet…

I wake up every morning, realize where I am, and say “Oh my God, I actually did it.” I actually left Virginia Beach where I was known and loved and cared for and where Hubs and I had built something of a life that, to the outsider, was only just beginning. And I dug it up and transplanted it to another planet. (And trust me, when you’re born and bred on the East Coast, California may as well be another planet.)

It’s a strange sensation because this is the fulfillment of so many dreams and the seed of so many more to come. Yet I’m not gleefully Instagramming my way through my #LAlife because it doesn’t feel like mine yet. And that’s…unexpected. Instead, I’m busy trying to make sure I’m doing enough to get where I want to go and comparing my “start” to the friends I know who have made the same jump with seemingly different results (This is an extremely helpful and healthy practice, of course).

So how am I? I’m happy, anxious, excited, nervous, confused, lonely, and above all, grateful to be here.

I’m great, but I’m homesick. I’m great, but I’m secretly scared I made a terrible mistake and will ruin everything. I’m great, but the pressure to get it right makes my chest tight sometimes.

One day, hopefully soon, the flood of photos and cutsie captions on social media will resume. But for now, I’m taking it all in and figuring it out. California, you’re like a new pair of jeans. I’m confident the more I wear you, the more comfortable you’ll become, but doggone it if you aren’t pinching my thighs at the moment.

The True Task

FeaturedThe True Task

“I know that you’ve got commitments and stressors and what’s so wrong with watching an hour or two or three of TV before bed? Nothing, of course. Except that you weren’t created to do that. And at the end of your life, you may just end up regretting finding ways to distract yourself from your true task.” Jeff Goins

Google “artistic procrastination” and you’ll find articles and blog posts calling this Hydra-esque issue  everything from “the artist’s companion” to the artist’s “graveyard.” Apparently, how an artist views it and how it affects their work is completely individual. I’m quickly finding in these free-form summer months that writer’s block refers to much more than not knowing what to write.

I know what to write.

I have ideas and projects in progress to last me another decade. Yet, last night I went for a run at the beach, cleaned my room, filed my nails (?) and went to bed. The night before, I learned six new pinup hairstyles on Youtube. And I’m boooored. But every time I sit down to write, this dread of beginning wells up through the keyboard and I find a way to procrastinate. Again. No, writer’s block is not about ideas. It’s just about finding the courage to begin.

Unbeknownst to most of the world, I’ve succumbed to this classic ailment and have been rather zombie-fied this month. Like tranquilized zombie. Sure, I might look productive: going to work, coming home, taking care of the apartment, making to-do lists and schedules, sitting in front of my laptop while hubs kills virtual monsters on the Xbox. But appearances can be deceiving, friends. It took me six days to complete a two-hour writing software tutorial because this whole other ADD person has taken over my body and shrunk my attention span down to about 20minutes.

Alright, enough metaphors. The point is, I haven’t been myself lately and it’s really irritating my type-A side. So I did what most well-adjusted 21st-century young people do when they’re facing a personal problem…

This post from Crystal Street’s archives made me feel happily justified in my Lucy-Come-Lately habits, while this post on Slate made me feel relieved that I’m not alone in my ebb and flow of industriousness. A few articles just made me feel like a worthless hack. They don’t get hyperlinks.

What I conclude from this little search experiment is that guilt does more harm than good, always. It perpetuates the distance between an artist and her work and spirals her inward to the dark places of fear and failure.

It’s enough that the administrative side of me sees all that’s scribbled on July’s calendar and what needs to be accomplished before August 19 when classes start again. It’s enough that come September I’m going to loathe having wasted precious time I could have used to take the pressure off at crunch time. Guilt won’t solve those problems of procrastination any better than filing my nails last night could make me feel productive. But maybe painting my nails will…

Just kidding.

It’s time to find better ways to cope with writer’s block and procrastination, and Jeff may have found the way for me. My “true task” is to write great stories.

Nothing delays greatness like fear.

But nothing assuages fear like a sense of purpose.

And nothing affirms a sense of purpose like doing what you were created to do.

Write.

“I am not afraid…I was born to do this.” –Joan of Arc (kind of)

See ya later, writer’s block. 😉

On the Table

FeaturedOn the Table

Well, that was an eventful year away from ye old blog. Now three semesters into my MFA in Script & Screenwriting, I’m way more exhausted and exhilarated than this time last year. I’ve written two full-length film scripts, two-thirds of a stage play, the pilot episode for a web series, and am starting in on a musical and another web series this summer in addition to some overdue rewrites. And now, thanks to an eye opening two weeks in Los Angeles, I’m taking a second look about what’s “on the table” for my future writing career.

Hollywood Experience 2013
Hollywood Experience 2013

To put into words the experience of learning a new medium in a new place just can’t be done to any satisfaction. Nevertheless, here goes:

I went to L.A. to break the mystique of the West Coast and really analyze my opinions of a city I was heretofore afraid to engage with. I was afraid I’d hate it, but I was also afraid I’d love it and be faced with the new dilemma of whether or not to make major life changes to be there.

Wilshire
Our team walking down Wilshire to where we made the magic happen.

What brought me to L.A. was an intense immersion class on television writing and production in which we experienced the lifestyle and work environment of television writers.

We had class each day learning from working professionals and then spent the evenings, late into the night, working on a web series for our university to produce.

writersroom
Making the magic happen in the room.
This looks like about hour 9 of our day.

Over 14 days, we watched a thin premise with no real characters and a swarm of ideas–some good, most bad–morph into fully fleshed episode scripts. Are they decent? Probably not at this point, but gosh was it fun to learn by being forced to crank out a beat sheet in 24hrs and a draft in 48.

Notes, beat sheet, outline, first draft.
Notes, beat sheet, outline, first draft.

I kind of fell in love.

I say “fell” because it truly was an accident. Before the trip, I’d considered television writing a non-option even though I imagined being good at sticking with characters over the long-haul and enjoying the episodic, dialogue-driven nature of television. L.A. is just too far and otherworldly to consider making a life there, I reasoned.

Ha.

Turns out that L.A. is not a place where sell-outs go to wallow in their money, or “failures” jaded by rejection flee in bitterness. Turns out L.A. didn’t eat my soul. Turns out I could feel like an artist there. In fact, for many people, it may be the easiest place in the world to feel like an artist because L.A. is a community of artists at every level. It’s a place of aspiration where everybody’s got a story to tell and what you “do” may not be what you’re really all about.

Needless to say, Los Angeles is not as scary as this East Coast girl thought it might be. We’re not calculating Uhaul rates or anything yet, but I’m not afraid to say it’s now on the table. It’s kind of getting crowded up there with New York and myriad other geographic and creative options. But it’s all related to building a life around a single question: “What then shall I write?”

More on L.A. and summer projects to come. For now, check out the trip blog I kept for the university.

All opposed, say “I”

Can I just be a rebel for a minute? As a writer, I sometimes feel obligated to embrace the elements of story as perfect, absolute, and well-defined.

But I’ve always turned my nose up at the idea of an “antagonist.” Perhaps it’s the way they teach it in small-town public schools, but I feel like I’m “doing it wrong” if my opposing force isn’t a person or group of people. The antagonist of a story can be an entity…

like the government

or the Catholic church.

But even then, those are still groups of people. They can speak for themselves and no matter how twisted or convoluted the reason, they can always justify opposing the main character. Where human enemies are concerned, fellow human characters have some degree of control over their impact on the story. Kill them. Conquer them. Or just get out of their way.

I’ve found I tend toward antagonists that humans have no illusion of control over or justification for. Illness, death, evil, nature, accident. I think the unfairness of it all makes the angst we feel for the character experiencing it deeper and more tangible.

Yes, we always need human antagonists. Bad things can’t just keep happening to everybody all the time. And we need them because they are real to us. We understand humans as antagonists. At some point in life, we all make an enemy or two. And so we enter a story with ideas about what a human antagonist can and cannot do.

But we can’t understand untimely death, or a terminal diagnosis, or what triggers domestic abuse, or a devastating tornado, or a plane crash.

These symptoms of brokenness are the true enemies of the human race. And these are the foes that make the most compelling stories. Why? Because they’re not just the character’s enemies. They are our enemies. A corrupt cop feels like the good cop’s enemy, but cancer feels like my enemy too. These universal opponents connect us to the story in ways no wicked stepmother could dream.

Punch Drunk Love

INT. BOOKSTORE CAFE – NIGHT

A young woman approaches the counter, both shoulders laden with bags. She whips a careful eye around the perimeter of the room. No outlets.

GIRL

Tall Pike, please.

BARISTA

I’m sorry, we don’t carry the Pike blend at our location.

GIRL

(perturbed)

A tall house, then.

BARISTA

That’s $1.82

The girl rummages through bag 1 and pulls out a Starbucks gift card.

BARISTA (Cont’d)

I’m sorry ma’am. We don’t take Starbucks giftcards. We’re just a Barnes & Noble cafe, not a real Starbucks.

GIRL

Well, that’s disappointing.

She reluctantly offers the barista her debit card, evidently trying to remember if she even has $1.82 in the account.

BARISTA

Thank you, ma’am. Have a great night.

GIRL

(already walking away)

Sure, thanks.

She steps away from the cafe, into the bookstore, scanning walls for outlets. Other cafe patrons dart her looks as if to say, “Sorry, kid. None here.” She is unmoved. In a far corner, she spots a lone outlet, far from tables or chairs. Her fellow patrons watch in horror as she dares to drag a table and chair to the wall with the outlet and set up shop.

PATRON 1

She can’t do that.

PATRON 2

The manager should come say something.

PATRON 1

I can’t tell if she’s dumb or just playing dumb.

Thus began my first evening writing session at the Barnes & Noble excuse-for-a-starbucks here in Virginia Beach. With a closing time of 10p.m., it is disappointingly the latest-open institution in the city that does not make its primary profit from alcohol. As you can see, the situation was less than ideal. It was only made worse by the fact that the chord to my laptop-which-has-no-battery fried out. -_-

Therefore, my writing session was conducted completely with ink and paper. I tell you, I got more done in those three hours than I would have with a keyboard and wifi any day. It’s amazing what happens when you unplug and focus in on just the story. Details and fact checks can wait. Sometimes you’ve got to boil it down to story. Now I’ve got a new script brewing and am happy to report that improvisation is good for inspiration, apparently.

In light of my little burst of creativity this week, I leave you with this article, posted by Wired4Film.com.

Ladies and gentlemen, “Write Drunk, Edit Sober.”

True Grit: A Movie Review (Spoiler FREE!)

So hubs and I have this couple we’re bffs with, and we have this whole girls vs. boys thing going on. Seemingly, every time we try to think of something to do, Mel and I have one idea we’re totally set on and the boys come squash our plans with one of their own. We battle it out and attempt to be fair and civil, but sometimes the claws have to come out. Well, this weekend the boys came out victorious and we and we went to see True Grit instead of The Tourist. Mel and I weren’t exactly stoked about seeing a western, but we love our husbands and conceded.

Movie Poster

Best. Loss. Ever. True Grit was not just pleasantly unboring; it was funny, inspiring, and wonderfully interesting. I should have known when I saw “Joel & Ethan Coen” on the movie poster, but what can this critic say? When the same genius responsible for Burn After Reading is also responsible for The Big Lebowski, all bets are off.

I was totally enthralled with Jeff Bridges’ subtle, old-drunk hilarity as U.S. Marshall “Rooster” Cogburn, and Matt Damon’s portrayal of the self-righteous Texas Ranger LaBoeuf was totally enhanced by the fact that we were watching the movie with a proud Texan. And little Hailee Steinfeld. This girl is going places. She IS the True Grit of the film and I was amazed at her performance as Mattie Ross.

Jeff Bridges & Hailee Steinfeld
Matt Damon

As exasperated with remakes as I (and I think most audiences) have become, this is an exception to the rule and a true gem among book adaptations. According to this New York Times interview, the Coen brothers took a formal, reverent approach to the story, really allowing Charles Portis’ literary vision to come through. And with that vision came beautiful language.

Really, this movie is one I would watch again and again just to learn to talk like Steinfeld’s character, Mattie Ross. Basic contractions that define modern American dialect are missing, giving the fast-paced banter a genuine, straightforward tone. It kept me captivated (and laughing at the subtlety) from start to finish. But True Grit offers so much more than comedy. Mel and I jumped out of our skin a few times (there’s no sparing the audience of the violence of a manhunt) and the end is choc full of pathos. Yep, the heart strings were well stretched. Over all, it’s a smart, inspiring movie and one worth adding to the DVD collection.

What I learned from Rachel Berry

"The gold star is a metaphor, for ME being a star."

Yep, I’m openly admitting it, I’m a Gleek. What can I say? I love the performance, the singing and dancing, the whole shebang. But my favorite part of the show is the characters’ dedication to their dreams and the raw potential they each believe will make their dreams reality. It may be high school naiveté or just good TV writing, but I don’t care. No character exemplifies this fortitude of belief better than the Diva of All Divas, Rachel Berry. Sure, she’s arrogant, selfish, ambitious, and…we’ll say feisty. But she knows what she wants and what it takes to get there.

Rachel gets up early, maintains a rigid schedule, practices daily, and keeps her eye on the ball/golden gramophone. There was a time when, much like Rachel, I had a one track mind toward becoming a writer. I knew what I wanted and was willing to do whatever it took to accomplish that goal. Now, 6+ years past high school, and armed with a writing degree, there is absolutely nothing holding me back from becoming a writer. Nothing, of course, except myself. Since graduation from ORU in May, my writing schedule has become lax, intermittent, and unfocused. But that was 2010. Now it’s 2011 and all those articles I’ve been reading on TheScriptLab and BOSI are catching up to me.

Writers write. They write like babies cry, like fish swim, like birds fly, like flowers bloom. It’s their natural order. Of course, making time to write doesn’t come as naturally, but just as babies don’t get fed if they don’t cry or fish get eaten if they don’t swim or birds fall if they don’t fly or flowers wilt if they don’t bloom, writers write because they have no other choice.

So in this new year, I have no other resolution but to be what I’ve always wanted to be: a writer. I have a plan, a schedule, and a system of accountability in place, thanks to the insane writing challenge I accepted from far-away-friend Amanda Lobo. Like Rachel Berry, I’m going to get up early, maintain a rigid schedule, practice daily, and keep my eye on the ball…which may or may not be a golden figurine of sorts.

Happy 1.1.11 🙂