Daily Lenses, Daily Life

I guess I’m posting to this blog, like, once a month now? I started to post earlier this week, but then the post got longer and more involved and I realized it was an essay. So now I have this essay I’m working on. That will take a few weeks, and then maybe I’ll submit it to some literary journals, just ’cause that’s what you should do if you write a real essay that isn’t a blog post. It always take a few weeks to find the right journal, and then they  have a turn-around time of 4-6 months. If none of them want it, I’ll post here after all. You can look for it roughly around Christmas. The potential essay is  about toilets. And poop. Poop in toilets. Not baby poop in diapers or dog poop on sidewalks. Specifically adult human poop in toilets. I’m just telling you this so you can recognize the post when you see it and know I worked on it extra hard with the thought that it might be an essay.

The un-posted toilet-poop story  was inspired by an incident in my daily life. In lieu of that, here’s something else inspired by daily life:  In my daily life, 80% of my news is provided by Facebook friends who share new stories and thus pretty much shape my world view. Several of them have shared versions of this story about a woman who reported for cataract surgery, only to have the doctors discover 27 contact lenses stuck in her eye.

Since reading this, I’ve been half haunted by the idea that maybe I have a contact lens stuck in my eye. Not 27 lenses, but maybe one. My contacts are so thin and soft I can’t really see them in my eye except when I pull one with a finger and it makes a little wrinkle on my eye. I always wear my right contact lens, but only occasionally wear the left one, because the prescription is very light, and because I need my short-sighted left eye to compensate for me not having reading glasses.

When I wake up in the morning, I close my right eye and  and look around through my left, trying to determine if the world looks sufficiently blurry and sometimes, I gotta say, it’s not that blurry. This morning I circled my finger around the entire white part of my left eyeball, to see if there were any tell-tale wrinkles. Either I imagined it, or top layer of my eyeball (what’s it called?) can also wrinkle, very slightly, which is freaky.

I don’t think I have a contact lens stuck in my left eye.

But I might.

 

 

The Hollywood “No”

Last week, I went to a presentation where a speaker mentioned  that rejection imprints more deeply in the female brain than the male brain. I thought this was pretty interesting, so looked online for details but failed to find any article to corroborating this, although I don’t disbelieve her. In any case, it got me thinking about rejection.

Generally I don’t need to  consciously think about rejection because it has become such an integral a part of my life.  I have a kind of “unaware awareness” of it that is constant, but not always identifiable as an irritant. It’s like after you get used to a heavy purse, a funky hip joint, or the fact that Trump is president. After awhile, you kind of forget about it until you watch a news clip, try the wrong yoga pose, or finally clean out your purse and realize you’ve been carrying THREE full water bottles it it. It takes moments of increased or decreased pain intensity to remind you that “oh yeah, that pain has been there.” 

Currently, I have a short story out to a few literary journals. Last week I received the first “thanks, but no thanks” from one of them. We can assume that perhaps someone else is actually reading my story and rejecting it right now, as I write this.

This is actually my favorite type of rejection — a direct rejection, in writing.  

In Stephen King’s On Writing, he talks about how for a long time, he collected all of his rejection notes on a nail, until the nail got too full, and he had to replace it with a long spike.  When I first read that I found it inspiring to think of rejection letters are kind of a badge of honor — evidence that you have been to battle and survived.  I’ve not done anything so romantic as hammer a spike into my landlord’s wall, and with changing times my rejections are often delivered via email… so instead I keep an excel spreadsheet with my rejections. I also enter my occasional acceptances, and then I color code them so I can see what the proportion looks like. 

The spreadsheet has been helpful in another way — it helps me see rejection more like men are trained to see it — as a numbers game.  I can see patterns — that for every ten or twelve submissions to journals, I’ll get one acceptance. I will never forget congratulating a friend for having an essay published in The Atlantic. It was an honorable mention for a writing contest they held. She told me she had submitted it sixty times. It was rejected fifty-odd times before it placed in a prestigious contest.

What is missing from my spreadsheet however, are the less obvious rejections — the “Hollywood” rejections. This is probably because when I started the spreadsheet, I didn’t have the skills and experience to recognize them.

But then a couple of years ago, I bought Stephanie Palmer’s Good In a Room and found a really excellent breakdown of rejection, Hollywood-style.  By the time I read it I had been around long enough that I was starting to “get it,” but by no means was it a natural transition for me. Coming from the straight-forward Midwest, learning to decipher a “Hollywood no” was kind of like an Asberger’s kid having to look at flashcards of faces to decipher different emotions.  When I first got to Los Angeles, I sent a script an agent’s assistant.  She told me she “liked it, but didn’t love it,” and I thought, “Awesome. She liked it!”

Yeah…no. 

Recently, talking to a friend who is newer to the writing game, I found myself trying to break it to her that the super-complimentary email she’d received from one contact about a script, and the other friend who just hadn’t gotten back to her yet were in fact…rejections.  The conversation didn’t go super well. Maybe I should have just shared the section of the book I am about to share here.  Or… maybe, I should have just kept my mouth shut.  This, too is the Hollywood way: Time is the greatest teacher, let it deliver the unpleasant news. You don’t need to. 

But, to save you a couple years of figuring things out, I will herein share from Good in a Room*:

“No” Is Silence Over Time

Chris Kelly, a writer for Real Time with Bill Maher wrote this in a recent article (crediting Merill Markoe):

“In Hollywood, ‘no’ is silence over time. The way you find out you’re not getting the job, that they passed, that they didn’t respond to the material, that they’re going a different direction, is silence. It’s the call you don’t get.” (via Huffington Post)

Other forms of “silence over time”:

  • If you can’t get an in-person meeting at all.
  • If your emails don’t get returned in one week.
  • If your calls don’t get returned in two weeks.
  • If your script has been passed along (to a star, director, or producer), and you haven’t heard back in a month.

If you pitch to a decision-maker and they want to be in business with you, they will get in touch as soon as possible. If you haven’t heard back, the answer (almost always) is “No.”

Unless They Pay You, The Answer Is “No”

That’s the title of John August’s Scriptnotes Episode 71. John’s screenwriter co-host, Craig Mazin, elaborates:

“Unless there’s money, the answer is no. Isn’t that terrible? And it’s so unfortunate because there’s thousands and thousands — so many wonderful, creative ways for people to say no to you. And so many of them sound like yes, which is horrifying really to contemplate, but it’s human nature. Nobody really likes saying no to somebody. Nobody wants to be mean. No one wants to see that look reflected back to them.” If you’re not getting any money, the answer is probably “No.”

“No” Often Starts With A Compliment

When people in Hollywood say “No,” the medicine is typically accompanied by a spoonful of sugar. Examples include:

  • “This has a lot of potential…”
  • “This is a great piece of writing…”
  • “I love the main characters…”
  • “This is hilarious…”
  • “We love it…”

If you’re getting compliments like this, they can be true, but don’t take them at face value. Most of the time, all of these compliments translate to: “You seem like a nice person and I don’t see any reason to offend you….”

“No” Usually Ends With An Excuse

After the compliment you get the excuse:

  • “… but isn’t the right fit for us.”
  • “… but we are overbudget.”
  • “… but it would be too expensive.”
  • “… but we have another project that is too similar.”

If you’re hearing reasons like these, don’t take them at face value. Most of the time, all of the reasons translate to: “…but this isn’t good enough (yet).”

“No” = Compliment + Excuse

Most of the time when you’re getting compliments on your writing followed by an excuse about why you’re not getting any money, the actual compliments and excuses are not the truth. The truth is that they are saying: “You seem like a nice person and I don’t see any reason to offend you, but this isn’t good enough (yet).”

This is a hard thing to hear because we want to believe that the compliment is real because that’s something to feel good about. We want to believe that the excuse is real because it lets us save face. The thing to understand is that if your work was good enough, you’d at least get a “Maybe.”

This last one, by the way, is my favorite, because I love that it’s an equation: Compliment+Excuse=No. 

* When this book first came out, I paid so embarrassingly much more than its current list price on Amazon, that I feel pretty justified in quoting it liberally here. (Everything from the book is in blue font.)  

 

Some other random articles about rejection.

10 Surprising Facts About Rejection

Get Rejected More, You’re Not Doing it Enough

The List is Long but Not Insurmountable

This past Memorial Day, I did not feel like BBQ’ing. Instead I was struck with the idea that I should tackle a task that has been on my To-Do list for nigh on five years: transferring a dozen VHS tapes to a digital format so that the tapes could be discarded.

This entailed purchasing a converter box and accompanying software, borrowing a PC computer (the software doesn’t work on a Mac) and a working VCR.  There was a false start about three years ago when the VCR only played with a time-code window that couldn’t be turned off without the remote, which we did not have… The computer returned to its owner and I lost momentum… for about three more years. But the power of list is strong, and a vaguely guilty sense of obligation can push when passion does not, so for the last week I have returned to the cause.

 

The recording process entailed watching much of the content on the tapes — which ranged from boring-to-watch, to embarrassing to emotional. My mom looks like my sister. My brother has more hair. My father was alive. But everyone was also so… them. So exactly the people I know that it kind of stabs you in the heart.

I, too, sound the same and look like a younger version of myself, which is… I don’t know. I think without any evidence to the contrary, one can begin to think that one has progressed from some mild stupidity in youth to wisdom–but the person I see on screen doesn’t seem to be in need of any great advice that I might now possess…

One tape is a “video portrait” I did for my first ever video class.  I interviewed a friend for the portrait. In the interview, he says “I have lists for everything–you can ask me my favorite songs, movies, television shows, friends–anything. I probably have a list for it.” This was true — he was (and remains) someone who has always amazed me with his ability to categorize and rank his preferences for all sorts of things.

I, on other hand, do not have those kinds of lists.  I’ve taken part in a dozen writing workshops where we are asked to introduce ourselves and mention out favorite books or writers. Despite having experience that has taught me this will be the first question, I often come up blank.  I despair as password authentication questions trend away from the factual: “What is your mother’s maiden name,” toward the subjective: Who was your favorite teacher?” I don’t have a favorite song or a list of favorite songs…

I do, however, have a list of things that at some point I thought would be good to do and have become part of mental To-Do List that keeps turning up in my brain like that pair of florescent sunglasses you bought at a gas station a decade ago on the way to the beach and now keeps reappearing under the car seat.

I don’t know how many items are on to-do list, or which items are at the top.  But today, the list is one item shorter. Small victory.

 

Character Need: What they don’t know that you do…

Warning: This is going to be a craft post, likely boring for non-screenwriting nerds.

I’m reading a new book by Yves Lavadier called Constructing a Story, and I’m reading about character arcs.  One thing that we talk about in drama is character want versus character need.  The want tends to be a tangible, external, and a conscious goal–to complete the mission, rescue the kid, win the girl, etc. The need tends to be internal, and unconscious–some kind of step toward growth that the character needs to take–like coming to terms with the past, letting go of judgement or rigid expectations, opening his heart.

Separate from that, there is a narrative tool called dramatic irony which is when the storyteller reveals information in such a way that the audience has information before the character does in order to create  suspense. The audience is waiting for the character’s knowledge to catch up with our own.  Like we know that there’s a dangerous intruder in our heroine’s apartment. She comes home and starts making dinner–unaware of the danger.  It creates a specific kind of emotional engagement.

Mr. Lavandier points out that once the audience picks up on the characters need– it elicits a question in our minds. Will the character learn what we already know in order to emotionally grow? He notes that this is, in fact a situation of dramatic irony.

Once you read it, it seems obvious, I guess. But it gave me a start because  I’ve never thought about character change in those specific named terms before. The audience knows and is waiting for the character to catch up, for her unconscious to become conscious.

In life we do the same thing, kind of, but it’s less satisfying. We have friends or relatives with issues that seem obvious to us, but which said person cannot see, and we talk with or other friends or family members, about how it would be better if they could see.  In life though,  person generally don’t change that much, so after awhile, there’s not so much suspense. I suspect there are probably people waiting in vain for me to make certain discoveries in my life. They should probably go to the movies, which will be more satisfying, because in constructed fictional narratives,  people change.

Science and Stuff

Saturday was Earth Day and March for Science day. I almost went to the march, but did not. It’s okay though, because I made it a point to like all the Facebook posts of friends who did go.  (That last sentence was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek but really just makes me feel sad for reasons I can’t unpack at the moment.)

It so happens that I am reading a science-type book during treadmill sessions at the gym.

It’s called How to Defeat Your Own Clone: And Other Tips for Surviving the Biotech Revolution. how to defeat coverIt’s written by some smart bio-engineers who know stuff and write well for the layperson, so I am enjoying it.

I have a special interest in clones of late, in relation to a project I’m working on, which is probably how I stumbled onto this book online, but I think it was not clones that inspired me to buy it.

Via Amazon’s “look inside”feature, I was able to read the first few pages of the book and can across this paragraph:

“Not infrequently, the answer to an innovation’s dangers is more innovation. When human beings first started to congregate in large cities, disease grew to be such a problem that there was serious speculation that living in large cities was unnatural and unavoidably dangerous.  People were not meant to live so close to one another. Cities were a disastrous and doomed experiment in living!

Then plumbing happened.”

This interested me, both at face value — and in how it views about science as a creative problem-solving process.

In creating narrative, there’s an idea that if you “paint yourself into a corner ” you’ll be pressured into finding some amazing way out of your predicament.  So in this way you can force yourself to come up with a more brilliant solution than had you played it safe.

Sometimes though, the brilliant solution takes too long to arrive, and you have a deadline, so you just have the crumple paper into a ball, through it away, and start from scratch.

So in honor of Earth Day, I wondered which way Earth is headed. Maybe, if we keep polluting, it will force our scientists to perfect the special bacteria that can eat all the pollution from the air, or fake clouds that can patch  holes  in the ozone layer.

Or maybe we’ll have to resort to the crumpled paper scenario.  I’m not sure what the Earth-sized,  metaphorical equivalent to that is, but it seems grim.