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.

The Funk.

Growing up, one of my go-to chores was unloading the dishwasher. I hadn’t thought about that in a long time, but tonight, as I was putting away a handful of silverware in my now dishwasher-less kitchen, I had this vivid moment of de ja vu. (Or, if you trust the first impulse of my autocorrect, “de ja Vulcan.”)

There’s something so comforting about such simple tasks, in those rare moments when we slow down enough to recognize them. Like a scene straight out of Our Town, I started to feel nostalgic and thoughtful over the peaceful, predictable order of the dish drawer. No matter what, the spoons go here and forks can go there, and for 25 seconds or so, the world makes sense.

Life in general has felt not-that-simple of late. Just been in a funk. Not feeling creative. Feeling overwhelmed. Worried about the future. Painfully aware of being the only adult at the Kids Table on Thanksgiving (metaphorically. My family mixes it up at mealtime. But still). Just an overarching square-peg-in-round-hole feeling that I haven’t been able to shake. The feeling gets worse when I feel like I can’t write — then my go-to form of self-therapy is gone. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a Funk.

So tonight was The Skinny Improv Christmas Party, and I almost didn’t go. Simply because of The Funk, and the digging-in-of-the-heels that takes place on the Sunday night at the end of a long weekend. But thankfully, I forced myself into the shower and into my holiday sweater and drag-queen-worthy red high heels, and I followed the truest rule of de-funkification I know: Go to the party.

The sneaky sinisterness of depressed moods is their tendency toward isolation. Staying home when you’re bummed feels so right. Yesterday’s sweatpants and tomorrow’s worries feel like the perfect excuse to snuggle in and wallow. But wallowing’s no good. You have to go to the party.

Because that’s where the people are. People who, truth be told, are just as screwed up and weird as you are, in their own ways. But everybody’s figuring it out. This group especially. Just a bunch of big ol’ dorks we are. Improv draws an eclectic mix of performers and poets and introverts and extroverts and red fish and blue fish. (A pleasant side-effect: Our White Elephant exchanges are never boring.)

So I put an end to this Thanksgiving weekend, still overwhelmed and worried, but a little less so. Thanks to the dish drawer. And the party. And the healing powers of tacky Christmas sweaters. Blessed are they.

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Forgetful/Thankful

“Well into adulthood, writing has never gotten easier. It still only ever begins badly, and there are no guarantees that this is not the day when the jig is finally up.”

― David Rakoff, who wrote books and was beloved and hung out with Ira Glass and whatnot, confirming what I suspect to be true: This whole thing does not get easier.

***

Writing is hard, y’all. My business cards and email signature might lead you to believe I think the opposite. As I am A Writer, whose living is made by working with words, I probably find writing easy. Maybe I’ve found, as time goes by, that it only gets easier…

UNTRUTHS! 

I wonder all the time if “this is not the day when the jig is finally up.” I feel, at my lowest of lows, that I did my best work when I was 17. Before the pleasures and distractions of adulthood (and the internet) took over my mind and blurred my once-sharp creativity like a thumb on graphite on newsprint.

I wonder this sometimes, when I sit down to blog and only mush comes out. Unclear, uninspired, unspectacular mush. I roll my eyes at myself. I close the laptop. I eat some Cheez-Its to dull the pain.

Tonight, I wanted to tell you a story, so I sat down and tried to tell you that story. But I was highly dissatisfied with the mushiness of the results. So I googled “writing gets harder” (this is a thing I do, Google-as-therapy), knowing I’ve read such things before, hoping to wallow in the writing of some kindred stifled spirits.

Turns out, we are legion. It sucks. And it helps. A lot.

So here’s the story I wanted to tell you. I can’t guarantee it’s not mush:

When I left work, it was already dark out (which makes me want to get straight home and into some sweatpants), but I was going to make a quick stop at Target on the way home. I even got one of my favorite parking spots — those diagonal, close-to-the-building spots. Know those spots? I love those spots.

I stopped the car and reached for my purse, only to find that my purse was not there. There was no panicky “where’s my purse?!” moment, only the knowledge that I’d left it in my desk drawer. Dammit. Without any good excuse. Not in a hurry, not on the phone, not particularly absent-minded when I left work today. Just one of those things.

I have plenty of forgetful moments in my life, but I’m not a “leaves her purse behind” kind of girl. Too much paranoia and cheapskatery in my blood for such things. So this was an unfamiliar feeling. A bit of the nakedness that watch-people describe when they’ve left their wrist-wear at home by mistake.

I was surprised to find that my first emotion wasn’t annoyance at myself or the situation, just an internal shrug and the unavoidable conclusion: I’m at Target. I have no money. Guess I’ll go home. I didn’t need anything too desperately tonight anyway, though I did really have my heart set on the pumpkin pie Pop-Tarts my coworker was raving about this week. (Pumpkin pie. Pop-Tarts.)

My second emotion was the surprise: gratitude. Because I realized, I don’t think I’ve ever really, truly known what it feels like to be without money. Aside from the minor annoyance of finding myself with only cards at a cash-only establishment, or the rather disorienting time that I managed to lock my keys, my wallet and my phone in my car while getting gas (a thing I did! College graduate, guys!), I don’t know what it’s like to be without. Not for long. Not when it really matters.

I know what it feels like to want things I can’t have, mind you. All the damn time! (Those Pop-Tarts, guys!!) But I’ve never had to make the choice between filling my plate or filling up my car. And I recognize that this makes me a very lucky girl indeed.

***

I still like this writing thing, when I make myself push through the mush. Another nice thing to remember.