Close

Write Night

Blank

“All right, so we open with our heroine tied to a chair. She’s disoriented. Close-up of her face, there is dried blood on her forehead, pan back to reveal a gag in her mouth. She strains at the ropes, moans in fright. She looks around the room and sees its contents, wood floor and walls, creepy paintings, old furniture. A good 45-60 second establishing shot as we see how frightened and helpless she is.”

My voice had an air of drama to it as I set up the scene.

“Then we flashback to earlier in the night. We have to call her Amy Knox, right, and she has to be an investor? So she is out on a date with Jason, the handsome guy she’s been seeing, and they are having wine with a few friends, toasting Amy’s new accomplishments, a major acquisition for her non-profit. Charming dialogue, laughing, wine sips. Then we cut back to the present.”

“Wait, so there would actually be a flashback?” Amber, the gorgeous actress in her early 30s asked, applying makeup in a mirror.

I wrinkled my brow. “Um, yes. We only have one day to film all of this, right? So we can do the house stuff in the morning, and we can film the double date stuff later and then edit it together.”

“Oh, okay.” She rubbed her lips together, spreading the lipstick.

“So we are back on Amy and she’s managed to get her hands loose. She rips the gag out, considers screaming, changes her mind. Gets up and is searching the room, knocks over a candelabra. (We have to use a candlestick in this, right?) The floor creaks, the light hits the walls in frightening ways, she’s disoriented, there’s blood. The door is locked, the window won’t open, she enters the kitchen and screams. And then flashback again!”

The director, Tony, a thin man in his mid-forties, his hair tied back in a ponytail, wrinkled his nose. “The genre we drew was thriller, correct? This should be a suspense thriller. There should be dialogue. Very smart dialogue. There should be a lot of nuance and psychology behind it. Major revelations. Perhaps this woman, Amy, this is all a dream? Or, oh! Maybe she has the power to, um, see what is ahead. What is that called?”

I cocked my head, confused. “Precognition?”

“Yes! Precognition!”

“Wait, wait,” I muttered. “I’m open to ideas, but let’s finish the basic outline first. This is just a rough sketch, a skeleton I put together in ten minutes. These are just loose initial ideas we can build on.

“So Amy and Jason leave their date, and he mentions how things are going so well between them, and he asks if maybe she’d like to come back to his place, and she nods. They get to the porch and they are kissing and–”

“Wait, wait,” Amber interrupted, closing her make-up mirror. “I can’t kiss. I act in shows and plays and commercials and stuff, but that is the one thing I’m not allowed to do is kiss.”

I simply looked at her, dumbfounded for a moment, then went on. “I, okay, so it’s implied that they are kissing. And they head inside his house, where she has never been before, but there is a man in the shadows. Then we flash back to the present and she sees Jason in the kitchen, on the floor, dead, and then there is the scream.”

Tony furrowed his brow. “Wait, so who tied her up if Jason is dead?”

“The intruder. The guy in the house.”

“So there are two guys?”

“Yes!”

“Well, but, why would he tie her up?”

“We can figure that out. Maybe we never tell the audience that. Maybe he fancies her, maybe she jilted him. Maybe he’s just a robber.”

Amy interjected. “I don’t feel like I understand my character’s motivation. What is she doing there? And she just doesn’t seem to have a lot of depth. I think–oh! I love-love-love the idea of her having a dark side! What if she was secretly the killer!”

Tony picked up her idea and ran with it. “So she has precognition and she’s a killer. Do you see this picture of this creepy old tree hanging here? I have to use that in the show. She sees the tree when she’s tied up and it alludes to a larger tree outside, one that hangs down with heavy branches and–”

“And that’s where she puts the bodies!” Amy punched both fists out in front of her in enthusiasm.

Tony turned, wild with ideas. “And maybe this whole date she is on with Jason is just all in her head, and we see it play out there, and we can hear her thoughts in a voiceover, and she’s scared, and she realizes that if she never went on the date in the first place, then she would never be tied up and Jason would never attack her, and at the end she calls the police to have Jason arrested when he knocks on the door for the date because now she never goes on it.”

“Guys, I–” I tried to get back on track, seeking to finish laying out the story points I’d put on paper.

Amber slapped her leg in excitement. “Oh! And there is that creepy old church down the road! What if she is like running from her intruder and she is running through the church yard at night!”

Tony stroked his chin thoughtfully. “I do like the symbol of crosses and what they represent. Maybe we use a cross instead of a tree. Also, if we are doing scary, I love involving kids in that. There is nothing scarier. Maybe some kids are ding-dong-ditching at the house and one of them goes around back and never comes back.”

Amber pulled her hair back. “But why is she killing the men in the first place? Is this an Arsenic and Old Lace thing where she is putting guys out of their misery? Oh! We have another actress! What if instead of Jason, we have Julie? What if Amy is a lesbian, and she invites her date home and–”

Tony clapped. “I like that, very progressive. And the lesbian can confront Julie about the money she stole and then when she denies it there is a wine bottle across the head and then she wakes up tied up and gagged, back where we started.”

I had a wide-eyed look on my face when they finally turned, remembering I was in the room. I sat back in my chair, the outline papers having fallen from my grip and to the floor.

“I, wow. Just wow. Look, I think this might have been a bigger ask than I realized. We are supposed to make a 4 to 8 minute movie in 48 hours, right? We have the assigned elements, and the randomly assigned genre of thriller. And we have this old house. And I was asked to swing by for a couple of hours to help put an outline of ideas together. For a friend. But this is an awful lot of ideas.”

Amber picked up her phone. “Oh! Super sorry, but I have to go. I’m doing a photo shoot, but I’m back in the morning. If you get any of the dialogue put together, send it over, that helps me get into character. See you guys tomorrow, so excited to work with you!”

Tony sat back, propping his chair against the wall, folding his arms over his chest. “I think if we can pull an all-nighter, we can get this puppy in good shape. This is going to be award-winning shit. We just have to figure out what her precognition powers are doing first.”

I blinked, as if I hadn’t been heard at all. “I’m a writer, yes. I blog. I have a book. I’ve done comics, and I just finished a documentary. I’m not– you want a screen play–But I–I can’t hang out with you here all night to write this. I work in the morning and it’s already late here.”

“Well, if you have to run home, just load us up on Skype and we can keep chatting and generating ideas. This is the hardest part, but it always turns out the best product.”

I sputtered, my brain spinning. “But it’s a date, and then lesbians, and the candlestick, the body in the kitchen, the old church, the tree, and the buried bodies, the fundraising scandal, the-the future powers but it’s all in her dream, and–”

“And the best part?” Tony looked over, smiling a wicked smile. “We probably won’t use a lick of this. We are only just starting. But isn’t this fun?”

“I–I gotta go home. I’m sorry. I can’t help.”

A few hours later, I lay in my bed, baffled by the long evening. What had just happened? What this what professional writing was like? I closed my eyes, determined to shut my brain down, but I found myself worried about Amy, and how she was going to get out of a predicament that I’d never gotten her into in the first place.

Physician, Heal Thyself

Physician_heal_thyself

Sometimes I wonder what it would look like if I did a therapy session with myself. If I did one today, it would probably look something like this.

“Hi, Chad, thank you for coming in today. I appreciate you reaching out for help and support. You had a chance to review the confidentiality paperwork and sign before beginning?”

Yes, thank you for having me. I did review the paperwork and I don’t have any questions.

“So, let’s just jump right in. What brings you in today?”

Well, I have a pretty complicated life. I’m trying to figure out what I want to do for work. I’m co-raising a couple of sons (they are amazing, by the way). I’m having difficulty feeling grounded in my life. And dating, ugh, don’t get me started.

“That does sound complicated. Sounds like you have a very full plate.”

Honestly, it feels more manageable right now in this moment than it ever has in the past. I feel like I have it under control, except for the being grounded thing.

“What makes it feel more in control now than it has in the past?”

Well, we don’t need to spend a bunch of time on this, but it’ll help to know my origins. I grew up Mormon in Missouri in a pretty complicated family. Chaotic, lots going on all the time, lots of drama, but also lots of love. I was the family social worker from my youngest days, learned to take care of everyone else’s problems as a way to avoid my own.

“And what kinds of problems were you having?”

I realized pretty young I was gay. So despite the family drama stuff, I found a way to hide that part of myself so I didn’t have to ever deal with it. I mean, being gay just wasn’t an option. And because I acted like everything was fine, no one really noticed my struggles. I learned to hide in plain sight, even from myself.

“I could ask a lot of questions here, but you mentioned you didn’t want to spend a lot of time on that part of the story.”

Right. So, to sum up, I spent a lot of time trying to cure myself, like my religion promised I could, by being unselfish and serving God, on and on. I spent a ton of time in church, paid my ten per cent tithing, spent two full years as a missionary, went to a church college. Praying, always praying for a fix, and always feeling broken, distant, different from other men. Dated women cause I was supposed to, but was never attracted to them, not even a bit.

“Go on.”

I met Megan when she was 18 and I was 21. It wasn’t until six years later, when we had been dating for a while, that she asked me finally why I hadn’t kissed her or held her hand. I finally told her I was gay. She shrugged, no big deal, we were married a few months later.

“So you hadn’t been physically intimate with anyone during that time?”

No. And I had only come out to religious leaders. But I still did the church thing, got my Masters degree, and started working before I got married.

“Sounds like you have always had a lot of drive.”

Yeah, I think so. Anyway, Megan and I had a great marriage, except for the whole I’m not into women thing. We had a kid after a few years, and I finally started to shut down. The cure thing wasn’t working after years of trying. I got depressed, gained some weight, snapped out of it, lost the weight, and finally came out of the closet, left the Mormon church. Megan was pregnant with our second during all of this.

“My word. That must have been a very difficult period. How long ago was this?”

Four and a half years now. Things are good between us now. We moved to Utah, are raising the kids together. There was this crazy couple of years at first. Brand new out single gay male, ex-Mormon, dating for the first time, and with two kids under three to raise.

“And all the while having to work and take care of regular day-to-day life.”

Yeah, there were some rough patches, but to feel alive, you know? It was like coming up for air after years of holding my breath.

“Well, I have a million questions, but let’s bring things up to the present. How are things for you now?”

I moved back to Utah in April after working in Seattle for six months. I see my kids a ton and they are thriving. And, well, I feel like a 20 year old. I have no idea what I want to do with my life. I mean, I’m here in Utah and I’m not leaving again, they are too important to me. But I don’t know what to do.

“What do you mean, you feel like a 20 year old?”

Most American kids go through that period of discovery after high school. They ask themselves the hard questions, travel, study, go in to debt, fall in and out of love, decide what they want to do when they grow up. They make mistakes, drink and have sex and take road trips.

“That sounds fairly typical to the American 2o-something. What was 20 like for you?”

Oh, God. 20 for me was wearing shirts and ties, knocking on doors, and telling people to come to Jesus, all the while living around a bunch of 20 year old guys doing the same thing, pretending I fit in and that I wasn’t attracted to them, and praying constantly I wouldn’t be gay anymore.

“That’s a very different upbringing. And you feel you are 20 now?”

In some ways. I mean, I’m 36, not 20. I have my college education. I have dependents, and bills. I have no desire to shed all responsibility and make enormous mistakes or drink myself to sleep, or to fall in and out of love over and over.

“So clarify for me, then. How do you feel 20?”

I have no idea what to do with my life.

“Let’s jump a couple of months in the future. It’s early fall and everything in your life has gone perfectly between now and then. You have found your grounding. In fact, everything is going just the way you want it. What is different in your life then?”

Well, many things are the same. I’m here in Utah. I have my sons often. I have my friends.

“And what is different?”

I’m in a relationship that is building toward permanent. I’m making better money doing something I love.

“Anything else?”

I’m out of debt, exercising more often, traveling more. I’d feel more self-assured. But those things would come with the relationship and job, I’d expect.

“Those things you are listing, being in a relationship and working at something you love, those don’t seem that unrealistic.”

Ugh, they shouldn’t be.

“‘Ugh?’ Why ‘ugh’?”

Those are the very things that have eluded me the past few years.

“Can we spend some time breaking those apart a bit? Dating and career?”

Yeah, that would be really good actually.

“Let’s start with relationships. Tell me what’s going on there.”

I don’t know if I have the objectivity to even tell you that. The gay community is complicated. A huge portion of it is very body and sex focused, hugely focused on alcohol. And there is so much emotional damage in the community. You have all of these grown-up men with jobs and families who act like teenagers when it comes to sex and alcohol because they did what I did growing up, hiding themselves in plain sight, and now they have to make up for lost time. I know not everyone is like that, but it is a huge portion of the dating pool here. Perfect body looking for perfect body, gym, booze, sex, and on to the next. It’s exhausting.

“And where do you fit in to all of this?”

I’m… different. I don’t know. Maybe it’s having kids, or being a bit older. Maybe it’s what I do for a living or the age I came out. I just want more than that.

“Can I challenge you on something?”

Yeah, absolutely.

“It seems almost as if you see yourself as separate from this definition of the gay community. Like you are above it, perhaps.”

That stings to hear, but I can see the truth in that. I drink sometimes. I enjoy sex sometimes. I go to the gym. I had a period of ‘making up for lost time.’ I don’t think I see myself as ‘above’ so much as I’m just having a difficult time dating in that world.

“Well, it’s very different from the world you knew. Mormon kid in Missouri, missionary, college student, professional, married straight man with kids, all with this very confining Mormon standard of morals and ways to live.”

Yes! It is very different.

“So why do you think you have had such a difficult time with dating?”

Okay, instead of comparing myself to the community, let me just talk about my experience. What works for me. When it comes to dating, I’m straightforward. I share what I’m thinking and how I’m feeling. I’m bold. I’m romantic. I’m not a jump into bed quickly kind of guy, not until I feel that connection and chemistry with someone.

“Go on.”

So it tends to fall apart in one of two places. Once we have passed that whole ‘I have kids’ thing, which is a barrier to some, and once I see that a guy is stable financially and emotionally, then we get to that first date. I’m not afraid to ask someone out, and if I have a good time, I’ll ask them out again. A lot of guys seem to wait to be asked out.

“So you go out on a date, and then?”

First dates are usually coffee, dinner, a walk, something like that. Simple. Get to know you conversation. Now I’ll rule out the terrible first dates that could never lead anywhere, dates where the guy is a jerk or monopolizes the conversation or treats our first meeting as a therapy session, and the ones where the guy is a huge flake. I seem to have some sort of curse when it comes to the second date.

“You’re giving me a lot to follow up on, but let’s start there. What is the second date curse?”

When I let myself get interested in a guy, which frankly takes a lot at this point, something seems to happen before the second date occurs. Three recent examples: one guy relapsed on drugs after five years of sobriety, one guy let me know he changed his mind about dating and he just wanted casual sex, one guy–

“I’m going to stop you there. Again, I’m getting that ‘above’ thing. A second date curse isn’t a thing. Take a wider view.”

I… truly don’t know. I could be coy and just say I haven’t found the right one yet. I could say my expectations are too high. I could go internal and say I need to love myself before I can love someone else. I could get cynical and say maybe relationships aren’t for me, or successful relationships aren’t possible. To keep it simple, I guess I’m just sick to death of searching for something that consistently eludes me.

“And why are you ‘sick to death’ of it?”

It’s, frankly, just exhausting. I see successful relationships around me. Guys that have been together for 20 years, or 10, or 5, who have homes and kids, who travel together and enjoy being together. I want that. And I have no idea how to find it.

You aren’t unique in that, you know? That’s every single person on the planet. That’s every person, gay or straight or bisexual, who hasn’t found someone, or who has had their heart broken. So let me ask a very simple question. Why do you want to be in a relationship?”

For the simplest of reasons. I want someone to share my life with.

“Tell me more.”

Even though I was closeted, I was married for years. I liked that, except for the whole wrong gender thing. I liked having someone to check in with at the end of the day. Good mornings and good nights, evening walks, cuddle time, meals and family events together. Hell, having a second income was great. Not some co-dependent thing. Just someone to share life with. I want that.

“Have you had that with anyone in the past four and a half years?”

Briefly. I fell for this guy long distance for a while. When we were together, it was great. Reciprocal. Eye contact and affection and laughing and silliness. It was good. But then he’d be gone and we’d fight or grow silent. Ultimately it just didn’t work, but during those brief times we were together, it was great.

“So when it comes to dating, I basically see three options for you. One, you can give up, quit trying, and just focus on yourself. Two, you can keep putting yourself out there and trying (but maybe lose the ‘I’m cursed’ mentality). Or three, you can jump into something and just hope it works out.”

Clearly the second option is the best one.

“I don’t think your expectations are unrealistic. You want to find someone who is put together and who wants to be with you. That makes sense. You want the unicorn in the field full of horses. How do you feel right now, having talked about this?”

Relieved. Exhausted, but relieved. It’s nice to have it all out there and to realize where I’ve been screwing up. Can we talk about career a bit?

“Yes. What do you want out of your job?”

I want to make more money doing things I love.

“And what are those things?”

To be honest, I’m not sure. I feel like I could divide myself in 8 and do each of them full time. I could continue doing social work. I could teach college full time. I could write and travel. I could make documentaries. I could–

“You have varied interests, it seems.”

I absolutely do. It’s back to the 20 year old feeling. Guy enters college, takes some classes, figures out what the hell he wants to do with his life.

“And what do you want to do with your life?”

Make money doing something I love.

“We seem to be in a circle. You want money and to do something you love, but you don’t know what that is.”

That is absolutely correct.

“So let me challenge you. Try thinking of this like a 36 year old father, and not a pretend 20 year old. What do you want?”

I… don’t know. Okay. Let me think. I don’t want the life I had before, working 60 hour weeks at a mediocre job. I want to work for myself. I–

“Do you want to keep doing social work?”

I… don’t think so. I think I want to write.

“You want to be a writer?”

Yeah, I think so. I want someone to give me a hundred thousand dollars a year and I will just write and share my ideas and insight with the world for the rest of my life. I’ll be like David Sedaris. I’ll make people laugh and smile and think and feel and cry. I’ll help through words. I’m good at it, but I have no idea how to make a living at it.

“We’re all out of time for today. Let me ask what you learned today, what insights did you gain in today’s session?”

Well, I’m no different than anyone else. I’m unique and I’m looking for things that are right for me, and I should’t get down just because my life hasn’t mapped out the way I’d expected.

“Great beginnings. For next time, I want you to let yourself think of becoming a writer. One who inspires others and maybe even makes that hundred thousand a year. What would that entail and how could you make a living? I’ll see you next week, Chad.”

When you don’t know what to write

Sometimes I don’t know what to write.

I’ve made it a regular habit for me, a muscle that needs to be regularly exercised, and I have felt myself growing stronger as a writer. I even keep a list of topics I want to write about. But sometimes I just stare at the list, and stare at the screen or page, and I’m stumped.

It isn’t like writer’s block, where the writer is stymied, not knowing what direction to take a story. It’s more like a lack of current inspiration. I have plenty to write about, but I like to be in a particular mood or frame of mind when I sit down and put pen to paper, or fingertips to keyboard. I like to feel the anger, the sadness, the loneliness, or the love when I put words down.

Today, though, I just feel here. Not numb, not apathetic, not empty, just present.

The old man at a nearby table is scraping frosting off of a plate with his fingers, the last sugary remnants of his cinnamon roll. In my mind, he snuck out this morning for a treat, and his wife can’t find out because it’s bad for his diabetes.

AR-150309530

A woman overdressed for winter (it’s 40 degrees out and she’s dressed like it’s below zero in thick coat, hat, scarf, gloves, snow pants) is devouring a triple-berry muffin, and she can’t stop talking about it, loudly. “Oh, this is delicious! I had no idea you guys made muffins like this! This is the best thing I’ve ever eaten!” She’s not talking to anyone, and in my mind, she’s maybe talking to the ghost of a loved one, someone who’s been gone for months but who follows her around and only the woman can see the ghost.

IMG_8787-1024x682

A petite young blonde woman has one side of the restaurant to herself. She has an adorable little blonde baby girl with pink cheeks, and the woman is feeding her small spoonfuls of baby food. She looks at her daughter with such love and affection, like that little baby is her entire universe, like she can’t remember what the world was like a year ago when that child didn’t exist. In my mind, she has a husband far off somewhere, perhaps in the Middle East, and she’s working hard to keep everything together.

Messy-Baby-Food-Face

I realize that I’m doing it again, and I smile to myself. I am always making up stories about those around me, turning simple events into life dramas. It happens unbidden. And when I realize it’s happening I smile.

I take a sip of my coffee, something billed as a Peruvian Medium Roast, and the bitterness on my tongue is delicious. I look outside. It’s just below freezing and snow is falling loosely, haphazardly. It’s clinging to every surface, from tree branches and roofs to car bumpers and sidewalks. The sky is the same color as the snow, a rich, thick, opaque white, and only the colors of things offset it–the browns of tree trunks, the reds of trucks, the tans of buildings–everything else is white. It is its own kind of beautiful, but it brings with it a sadness, a longing for the sun. I think of my clients and how their depressive tendencies increase in a winter like this, and how the problems all seem to go away or diminish when the whiteness in the sky gets softer and the blue shows.

ceylon_winter_sky_44x71

My eyes turn back to the flashing cursor on the empty computer screen. I remember a trick I learned when I was back in high school. The teacher talked about how the best way to get started on an essay or assignment was to just start working on it. You can always go back and change something later, but just beginning a project can inspire ideas and motivation.

The blonde woman uses a spoon to wipe dribbled baby food off her baby’s chin.

The man literally licks his plate clean.

The woman with the muffin gives off an orgasmic sound of pleasure. “It’s so good!”

And I, smiling, place my fingers on my keyboard and begin to type.

Back to top