Going Pro

Learned a thing tonight: “Procrastinate” comes from the Latin crastinus, meaning, ‘belonging to tomorrow.’ That’s kind of neat, right? (The meaning, not the reality. ‘Belonging to tomorrow’ is a terrible way to feel. But I feel it all the time.)

Tonight, for a bit, I got good and pissed at myself. Wondering, WHY is this thing, which I’ve chosen as my career, which I would claim to be the thing I love most in the world, also the thing I will go to such great lengths to avoid actually doing?

I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. Writers throughout time have written about this struggle. One quote I’ve seen attributed to several different writers (thanks, internet!) is: “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” No matter who said it first, it spits the truth.

Over the years, I’ve carefully honed my ability to avoid doing the things that I know are good for me. (Because, you know, I’m a person.) If I have a big deadline approaching, it’s often the case that one of two versions of myself come out to play: One is the Super-Anxious Avoider, the other is the Over-Active Achiever. Whether I self-medicate with Netflix and naps (the S.A.A.) or with cleaning my house and tackling any other to-do on my list (the O.A.A.), I am so very good at finding non-writerly ways to occupy my time.

I am so very good at driving myself crazy NOT doing the thing I want to do.

So I get good and pissed at myself. Wondering, WHY do I do that?! Who knows. I could talk to my therapist. I could read a book on creative resistance. (They’re out there; I’ve read a few. The War of Art and The Artist’s Way and The Creative Habit are particularly good.) Wouldn’t my Super Anxious Avoider just love to spend hours winnowing out the reasons why?

The important lesson I keep learning is that no matter what, when I finally make myself sit down—sticking the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair—and put in the time, I get the work done. It’s not about waiting for a magical moment of inspiration. It’s just about getting it done.

Writing. Wine. The Warner Brothers (and the Warner Sister).

And you know what? Once I do, I always feel so GOOD. Like I can conquer the world. (Or, at the very least, the next assignment.)

You talk about this like you don’t talk about other things

So I’m taking this screenwriting class at MSU this semester. Though it’s a whole new style of writing and a big challenge for me (most of my scribbles for assignments contain the phrase “WHY IS THIS SO HARD?!” at least once), I’m really, really digging it.

For one thing, we have to watch movies as homework every week. (“Have to.” …Remember the little dog in Oliver & Company? “If this is torture, chain me to the WALL.” It’s like that.) Last weekend, I watched The Godfather for the very first time. Prior to this viewing, my knowledge was largely You’ve Got Mail based (Meg Ryan chanting, “Go to the mattresses! Fight!”). That, and just all the bits of knowledge one can’t help but glean from a lifetime of pop culture exposure. (There’s a horse head. There’s a wedding. There’s a Brando.)

simpsons_godfather_homage

I went in with an open mind, and also an honest expectation that I might not “get” it. (I mean, I’d get it, but not get it. Get it?) Turns out, I do get what all the fuss is about. It’s just such a BIG movie. But at the same time, at its core, it’s also a story about people, who want something, and are trying to get it, scene by scene. Like every movie ever.

It’s so cool to see behind the curtain of this type of storytelling. The formula/structure/rules of it all aren’t as restricting as I’d assumed. In fact, the opposite is true: You shall know the rules, and the rules shall set you free. It’s like music. Just as every song you’ve ever heard, from Mozart to Metallica to “Call Me Maybe,” is made of the same few notes, movies are built from the same basic structure.

(Aaaaaaaand I can feel myself nerding out on you. I’ll calm down.)

I was catching up with a friend last night, and he said, “You talk about this like you don’t talk about other things.” And I think he’s probably right. It’s my passion du jour, anyway. Partly because it is such a challenge. It’s fun to stumble along toward learning something new, spending a good percentage of my time at an intersection of two major personal happy places: writing and movies.

o-GRAND-BUDAPEST-HOTEL-POSTER-570Speaking of happy places, today I watched The Grand Budapest Hotel with some lady friends. Oh my, it’s a gorgeous movie. I’m pretty sure I had a big dweeby smile on my face the entire time (even after some unfortunate business with a cat and a window…). At one point, the thought crossed my mind that seeing this movie makes me feel lucky to be alive right now, because I get to see this movie for the first time in theaters. Film nerds and nostalgic hipsters for generations to come will long for times like these, when for a mere $7 one could walk into a dark room, sit in a very comfy rocky chair (good work on the upgrade, Campbell 16), and be whisked away to the clever, quirky, colorful, quick mind of Wes Anderson for a perfect 100 minutes. (He did that on purpose, right? He had to.)

I really, really dug this movie. (Obviously…It was so good, I’m blogging TWICE in the same week up in here.) I’ll try to give a short, spoiler-free explanation of why.

It’s a story within a story within a story. It’s bookended by scenes involving a young girl whom we never really get to meet, who is obviously deeply affected by a book containing the story we are about to see. But it’s also about verbal storytelling, since the second step in this nesting-doll-slash-narrative-device is one man telling a story in one sitting. And that story becomes the majority of the movie. (I just love this; I’m not doing it justice.)

I also love how Ralph Fiennes’ Monsieur Gustave speaks in poetry in everyday conversation. He responds to moments of joy or tragedy with little flourishes of verse, and it’s so delicious. And so Wes Anderson, I think. Sure it’s acceptable to write your life with dry old humdrum prose, but why would you ever choose to, when the world is full of poetry and tchotchkes and string quartets and Bill Murray?

I feel as though I have gushed enough for now. Go see it, Springfield, now that we finally can.

Spring forward.

Tonight, just now, was one of my most favorite times of day. Not just sunset; a particular type of sunset: A pre-storm, partly cloudy sunset. When everything seems a little bit lit from within. It feels like living on a movie set for a few minutes. Someone has turned a dial on the light board to juuuuuuust right. Just for a little while.

So I went for a walk. Purposefully not wearing headphones. Just a hoodie and a healthy amount of open-minded curiosity. “What’s up, neighborhood? On this 27th day of March, Year of Our Lord 2014? Got anything to show me today?”

Yes, said the neighborhood. Yes I do.
A cat eyes me from the darkness between parted curtains.
A light shines through a naked, narrow basement window.
An antique pair of ice skates hang on display beside a front door.
And the birds. All of the birds. More birds than people out on my block tonight. I have to wonder how far they flew to get here. How far they still have to go.

Feeling a lot of that tonight: wonder. Reminded just how rich and full of detail even my own day-to-day whereabouts can be, if I slow down enough to pay attention. On any given night, I might notice the cat or the light or the skates or the birds, but it felt good to try to notice them for once.

Spring forward.

On an evening that’s so unnaturally bright, it’s hard not to feel naturally hopeful. This year in particular, the coming of spring has signaled a renewing of hope to me. An end to this shitty winter. (Even my psychiatrist described it with those exact words. You heard it here first, folks: This winter got a doctor’s note and the verdict is: SHITTY.) It’s nice to be reminded by the shifting seasons that nothing, nothing, nothing lasts forever. The good times pass, so enjoy them. The shitty times pass, too, so try not to let them grind you down.

I half-remember something my yoga teacher used to say: “Because I am so rarely there, the most exotic place on Earth is where I am right now.” Tonight I’m taking time to notice and appreciate exactly where I am, right now. I’m in my go-on-walks-alone-just-because-I-can season. My oh-yeah!-I-live-in-my-favorite-neighborhood-in-town season. My remembering-to-take-time-to-soak-it-up season.

Decidedly un-shitty.