Equanimity Required

Update on the re-fi saga: It looks like it’s back on the table. I went back to the bank, and it seems they overlooked something that threw things back in my favor. Which was awesome. When my loan rep told me, I was ecstatic.

Then, as I walked back to work–I realized that the profound, even debilitating, disappointment I’d felt the week before was due to the fact that I had let myself get ecstatic before. I’d engaged in future thinking, not just counting, but reveling, in my chickens before they hatched. This was fun, but engaging in the emotional high was what had opened the door to the emotional low.

Finding the correct amount of future thinking (my own made up term that for all I know means something else entirely) is a difficult thing. Certainly it’s required for motivation. Motivational speakers and authors say that you need to visualize your future to solidify your goals and galvanize your movement toward those goals. But at the same time, over-engaging can be destructive to those same goals. While Paul seems to relishes future thinking, and it doesn’t seem to raise too many demons for him creatively, I’m not the same way. I have to play a little game with myself, averting my eyes from possible futures. If I look at my hopes and dreams too directly, the intensity of hope vs fear paralyzes me. I do better work if I lay out a few steps at a time, and then walk the path with blinders that block out the pie in the sky.

In screenwriting, the thing you most want to do is ramp up the audience’s hope vs fear for the protagonist. This is the primary tool for creating engagement. So it’s perhaps ironic, or at least amusing to me, that in my own life, I can’t stomach the emotional engagement enough to be my own protagonist. Disfunctional? Maybe, but on the other hand, when you watch movies, the protagonist is almost always yanked out of her daily life. While she might escape from aliens or mobsters, or prevent the world from blowing up, she can’t, at the same time, balance her checkbook or get her daily quota of pages written.

So over-engaging in hopes and fears, is kind of counterproductive in this way, especially if you are dealing with outcomes that you can’t control. I can work to set something in motion, but in the end, it’s not my call whether I get approved for a loan or not–and obviously, the verdict can change overnight. While I have to continue to take every step I can to achieve a desire outcome, to over-engage in hope of the desired result, or flail in the fear of the opposite only makes me vulnerable.

So this was the conversation I had with myself as I walked back from the bank, and it turned out to be timely conversation, because late this evening (I’m delaying this post to comply with confidentiality), I checked my email, discovered I’m a semifinalist for the Amazon Studios annual prize for best script. The prize, $100,000, would be a life-changing amount at this point.

I could start itemizing how, but I won’t.

Because the more I engage in the hope, the more I can already feel the sense of loss when I don’t see my name on the finalist list, or whatever comes after that–and that’s not a good place for me to be, when what I need to do, in the big scheme of things, is write.

I’m happy that when I checked my email tonight, I was writing. And I was working on the project that is in the competition. That felt right, as if being on that semifinalist list is an outcome in itself– it’s symbolic of the opportunities I already have with this script.

I was also glad I mid-writing session when I saw the announcement, because when I am writing, writing feels like the first thing–and everything else feels secondary. Thus the impact of the announcement was mitigated, which I prefer. That’s a relationship I hope to sustain between my writing, and all the worldly things that surround it. Not because I think that’s morally better, but because of my particular make-up, which doesn’t have a big tolerance for excessive highs and lows.

(P.S. If you know me in real life, please don’t congratulate me on my semi-finalist status yet–I’ll be trying not to think of pink elephants. After I get axed, I’ll let you know, and feel free to tell me how great it was to get this far–I think so too!)

Happy New 2012!

Very low key New Year’s Eve with family, a great dinner plus games, and fifteen minutes of cringing at the Carson Daly / Ryan Seacrest filler conversations before watching the ball drop.

It’s 1:10, the hubby and roommates are at a party, and I’m already in my new leopard-spot flannel pajamas in bed with my kindle at the ready.

A pretty good final day to the year–turned in a quasi-game-plan-thingy to Ed Saxon for a new draft of Children of Others (I had promised something by end of December), went to the gym, drove to San Gabriel for $15 massages with my brother, returned to said dinner and games at my sister’s house.

SOOO many wishes for 2012–but tonight’s not the night for lists…tomorrow-B can take care of that.

Good fate and fortune to you all in the brand shiny new New Year!

Busy, Good Day…(also an Amazon Studios Post)

Ahhhh….almost 1AM again. I wonder what life would be like with a regular eight to nine hours of sleep instead of five and a half. And still, there’s so much I’d like to do with my day even now. I want to watch The Fugitive, I want to read this new book I got, and I would even like to clean my office and pay some bills. As well as write this blog. It can’t all happen, because I am almost falling asleep as I write this–but perhaps I can work my way to the end of a post about my day…

Umm…I wrote that on Thursday night–and never made it to the end! Now it’s Saturday morning–I’ll try again.

Thursday morning was one of the few that I woke up and couldn’t immediate fall back into a deep sleep–probably because of the extra adrenaline running through my system, born of anxiety and nerves. I had a meeting with some folks at Amazon Studios to get their notes on my script, Children of Others, that won their best script contest last month. I was nervous because I had gotten some comments in advance, and wasn’t sure how prepared I should with a new “take” on the material. I was nervous because the meeting was in Sherman Oaks, and with my bad sense of direction, I can get lost in the valley, and somehow being late seemed a mortifying prospect, and I was also nervous because I’d recently found out that Ed Saxon was going to be at the meeting. He was one of the judges of the competition, so it wasn’t completely out of the blue–but when you meet people who have produced films you really admired, you can’t help but want to make a good impression.

But I found that once I got in the door (on time), my anxieties about things like impressions faded away. The offices (the ones in LA, not the ones in Seattle) feel like an optimistic start-up, cubes and conference rooms scattered in a large, largely empty space that they share with IMDB. Not many frills. It felt like people had more things to do than decorate. The woman who answered the door when I rang the bell didn’t know who I was (I think she might have been from the IMDB side), but before I even sat on the couch next to the messy pile of magazines, my contact, Michael, emerged from a cubicle and greeted me. When they asked me if I wanted water and I said yes, someone brought it to me in a disposable cup, instead of a bottle. These are all things that made me feel comfortable and in a familiar element. Polished-looking people at polished reception desks as soon as I walk in doors always make me want to check for holes in my sweater.

We did the normal chit-chat then talked a lot about the world of the story. This was really fun. We talked about backstories of certain characters, and the universe and rules–and there were some notes about improving the flow and the build of the story, and adding in some bigger, better moments. I’m actually looking forward to sitting down, listening to the recording of the session (even though I have a tendency to listen back and think I sound crazy) and working with the material with an eye to solving specific problems. And when I say problems, I mean less like flaws–though I’m sure there are plenty, and more like an equation.

The problem–as with so many things in my life, is–when?!
As soon as I left the meeting, the craziness of life resumed. Before the Amazon meeting had been scheduled, I had already made an unchangeable advisement meeting where I would choose and get clearance to take a class next semester. There wasn’t enough time to get back to school, so I had to pull off the road and do the meeting on the way-since navigating the 101 to 110 interchange while talking intelligently is not one of my skill sets. Work, of course, was about catching on the half day I had missed. After work I went to yoga class at the gym–which is on the opposite end of campus, followed by an event for the class I am currently taken–again on the opposite end of campus.

The event was a panel with various writers who are on faculty for the MPW program (this is the department where I’m taking my classes), talking memoir. One of the panelists was Bernard Cooper. He had been one of my class choices at my advisement meeting earlier in the day, but I had gone another direction. Listening to him speak however, he was so articulate and thoughtful, I went home and emailed the adviser asking if I could change my mind. She called the next day to say there was one spot left, she my class next semester is with him.

Yesterday was a full day. I have some craziness with work, so I worked til six, when Paul picked me up for dinner and another literary event, followed by a movie–and I’m about to leave to do a little “in service” time today as well. Because of writing, I generally try to avoid extending my day job into the weekends, but some aspects of the particular project I’m working on–which is not secret, just too big to explain here–have deadlines on Monday, and I can’t trust that a constant flow of visitors to my “reception desk” won’t make Monday fly by without my being able to achieve them. Tomorrow is already booked end to end, so I fear this afternoon is my only writing time–and that’s only if, once again, I decide to avert my eyes from the state of the house!

Amazon Studios: Um…I won.

Which is awesome. I’m super grateful. I’m interested to see what happens next. I want say more profound things about that but all the profundity has been squeezed from my brain by sleepiness.
I will say that I am thinking about the money in my waking moments that aren’t dominated by expense reports and filing…Should I use it to to plug up some leaky holes in our financial boat, some holes in other people’s boats–or– is it possible I can figure out how to use it to carve a few extra hours out of the day?

Amazon Studios, An Unexpected Turn of Events

A couple of weeks ago I received a letter from Amazon Studios saying that Children of Others had reached the semifinalist round in its Best Script contest. Yesterday they announced the five finalists, and my script was among them.

A kind of fun thing about the contest is that you can actually read the work of your competitors. I woke up early this morning and read two of the other four scripts in the mix. Both were well written. One I loved and one I hated.
The one I hated is called The Hipster and The Schoolgirl. The dialogue was witty, and the characters were stylish. If you like Quentin Tarantino and other guys who fuse gory violence with humor and style, then this is the script for you. Not so much for me. While I liked Pulp Fiction, I waited eighteen years before seeing Reservoir Dogs, because the ear thing sounded like the kind of things that would give me nightmares. When I got invited to a retrospective last year, I figured, “hell, there’s been a lot of episodes of 24 since 1992–I’m sure that ear thing people kept talking about probably isn’t even a big deal now.” I was wrong. That scene with the ear, along with almost the entire movie Seven, are pieces of cinematic entertainment I could happily have waited another eighteen years to see.
I was originally planning to read only one script this morning (I have writing to do, don’t ya know) but the first script left me so agitated and disturbed that I had to read the next one just to get the taste out of my brain. I read In the Silences, and it was exactly the kind of movie I love. The real world with a sci-fi/fantasy twist, heavy on characters and relationships. Think Source Code or Adjustment Bureau. I looked up the writer, who has a blog here. Another piece he has on the Amazon site won the Best Sci-Fi/Action Script award in a previous month.

As for Children of Others, I did a rewrite back in June that I tried to enter for the July deadline, but somehow the upload didn’t take, so this was first month that the new draft was considered. I was surprised, because I guess I’d started to feel that my script was just swimming in a vast ocean of other scripts–which is not untrue– but the recognition reminds me that there are readers out there whose jobs are to man the life rafts and search for for the living, so if you can keep splashing water, there’s always a chance to get rescued.