Last night I was sitting in an armchair in a hallway at school, waiting for Screenwriting class to start. I was tired and cranky, looking over my script pages and cleaning up some formatting. I saw Bob Hedley, and I said, “Hey, Bob!” he said, “Hey, how’s your semester going?”
I said, “Great, I’m having twins!”
The look on his face was of total shock and amazement.
I realized that because I was sitting down, wearing a heavy baggy sweater, with my coat tucked around me and my laptop on my lap, I probably looked about 18 months pregnant with quadruplet quarterbacks, so I said, “With scripts. I have two scripts to write this semester.”
Relief washed over his face, and mine as well. Sheesh, you can’t kid around with that pregnancy shit.
This semester, I’m working on two scripts, and it is a lot like being pregnant. Before I get a ton of shit from all the mommy bloggers out there, let me give you some examples.
–The mind-body connection is FIERCE. Can I eat that bowl of pasta, or will it make me too sleepy to pound out more than a couple of pages?
–When I get to be able to sleep, it is Very Important. I have to organize my sleep schedule around what the work wants.
–I only want to wear the baggiest clothes I can find. More layers means less availability to others, as if I’m trying to insulate my own thoughts. I keep a pile of black sweaters and favorite jeans in a basket next to the bed, so I can grab something to wear as soon as I wake up. One day a week, I wear sweats, and wash my black sweaters and favorite jeans, and hang them on the line to dry. It looks like disembodied hipster ghosts swaying in my back yard.
–I have to plan my day based on how much walking I have to do, and how much I need to carry. If Vince needs the car on a day when I need to carry my laptop and my books in my backpack, I know I need to pack ibuprofen for the extra back and thigh aches later, and snacks.
–I carry these ideas with me like a 40-pound weight all the time. They always want a little bit more. Does the next scene want more puppets, or more cake? Or I’ll see or hear something which makes me think of something and then I have to write it down, RIGHTNOW.
–Hyper-sensitivity and mood swings. Oh God, the leaves are so beautiful! Jumpin’ Jesus on a pogo stick, do you believe he said that? The world is ending, I can’t find my earbuds! And so on.
–Stopping what I’m doing to use the toilet feels like an invasion on my time and energy. Sure, biologically pregnant women feel like they have to pee all the time, because they do. I feel like I have to pee “all the time,” because I’M BUSY. The bladder does not conform to the schedule I’d prefer to impose.
–I have a due date, at which point, either the scripts will be finished, or from my womb untimely ripp’d. *
Of course, I don’t have the benefits of biological pregnancy that women do. Nobody’s given me a shower and brought me prezzies, no one’s told me I’m beautiful or glowing. I just hope that when these scripts are finished, plenty of people will want to play with them.
Here’s what’s going on.
I have one play about mental illness, The Wreck of The Alberta, and I’m not ready to describe it much more than that. Okay, it has puppets and cake. This makes me want to a) make puppets, b) bake cake. The cake is, specifically, a diet soda cake. I have made this before, and it’s delicious. However, I would cheat the recipe with an egg white to bind it up a bit, because it’s also a messy cake. I’m working with Ed Sobel on this, and it’s made him laugh a few times, so I can confidently say that so far the play doesn’t suck. His bar for quality is very high, however, and I can confidently say that he is not letting me get away with average work. One day he said to me, “This scene is clever, and it’s kind of funny. But it sounds like a Lindsay scene. It has all the things you usually do. I know you can do better than this. Go rewrite it.” and I limped away, grateful. and I rewrote.
When I get this work finished, I am so going to make puppets and bake cake. I am going to sew and bake like nobody’s business. I will frigging have a puppet and cake PARTY.
The other script on which I’m working is a screenplay for a Western. This breaks a lot of new ground for me, because I have never written a screenplay before, and I have never written a Western before. It’s tentatively titled The Legend of Hot Shot Annie, and it’s an origin story intended to have future episodes, about a young woman who goes from being the pampered and well-educated daughter of a Wyoming cattle baron to being an outlaw in the Johnson County War.
To prepare for this, I’ve done a lot of reading. Recommended to me by actress and muse Jennifer Summerfield (aka Trillian Stars), was the book Letters of A Woman Homesteader, by Elinor Pruitt Stewart. Her story takes place a good 15 to 20 years after the one I’m writing, but it’s rich with detail and compelling. Not only do you get a visual sense of the beauty of Wyoming, but also a diary of this woman’s daily activities. She hunted wild game, kept house, mowed fields, arranged marriages and filed homestead claims in a bureaucratic shark tank. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants an escape and a reality check. I also read The Wyoming Lynching of Cattle Kate, which has been very helpful in showing not only what women in late-19th-century Wyoming had to deal with in terms of obstacles, but also the political and social landscape of the Johnson County War.
To get a sense of language and pacing, I watched The Quick and the Dead, which I enjoyed more than I expected to, and a lot of Deadwood. The latter is vastly entertaining, but I’m learning more about how cable dramas are structured than about the Old West. It’s no wonder that the biggest response to this show has been “OMG THE PROFANITY,” because the writers use it to the point that it loses all its power and makes you stop listening. The former was also vastly entertaining, and more feminist than I would expect a Hollywood movie with big-budget stars to be. In terms of gaze theory, especially, it really works: Ellen/The Lady is constantly under the visual scrutiny of the female townspeople, and the way they squint into the camera puts the viewer on edge as much as Ellen feels responsible for their potential future.**
In all this work, I’m breaking new ground personally, because it’s making me push past my normal tolerance for writing. Normally, I love to write, but these pieces have gone to the point where I stopped caring, hated them, but had to keep going, and finally found new reasons to like them. They haven’t quite earned my love yet, but I’ll finish them. I probably won’t love them until I hear them read by actors. Rose Fox sent me the most wonderful novel writing progress chart, by Maureen McHugh, which I have saved on my phone, and I see it every morning on my way to school and work, and it keeps me sane.
That, and Lindt Chili Dark Chocolate. I read an interview with Joss Whedon about How To Be Prolific where he said, “I have a reward system. I am the monkey with the pellet and it’s so bad that I write almost everything in restaurants or cafes [so] that when I have an idea, I go and get chocolate.” I thought, okay, if it works for him. So, I keep bars of Lindt 70% Cacao or Chili Dark Chocolate around and give myself squares of them after every few pages or so. Writing goes much better with chocolate. I can write without it, but I don’t write as well and I get really grouchy. What’s a bad idea, though, is Ghiradelli Dark and Sea Salt Caramel chocolate squares. Those things are an orgasm in a snack. After one of those, I need a nap.
So, anyway, that’s where I am and what I’ve been up to. and hopefully I’ll have some results soon. I don’t know how much more of this I can take.
*Much like Macduff, but I seem to recall that he did pretty well for himself. Macbeth, Act 5 Scene 8.
** It’s a good thing I work in a library. Librarians are awesome. They are the warrior-poet-guardians of our society.