Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Boy Meets Shit Weasels

Submitted by by Melinda Murphy

I gave up on script writing last summer. While setting a personal record on unemployment insurance, I went nuts and decided to become a novelist. This was probably a good career move. I’ve got something new to put down on the welfare form under “occupation.”

I remember living with my brother in central Washington state in the late seventies when he went through the first of many novelist periods. He said, “Kid, you can write your tome, smoke pot, buy a big house, pass out drunk in your own pool, and everyone will think you’re a genius. And then you can just fuck off for five years between books because you’re blocked.”

It seemed like an agreeable lifestyle and not too different from what my brother was doing right then, minus the big house and the pool. He had a medium-sized shack in a crappy suburb and the only large body of water was the mosquito-infested Yakima River three blocks away.

So in the relentless heat of August 2002, I ploughed through what turned into a 230-page (single-spaced) contemporary romantic drama. Mind you, there’s a whole lot of classical literary references, a la Bridget Jones’ Diary and Jane Austen, I have yet to work into the novel - about thirty pages worth of Shakespeare. Every time I crack a copy of Shakespeare, I have a sophomore English class flashback where my teacher is yelling because none of us read Brutus’ speech the night before. I set another personal record - I cranked out the first rough draft in about twenty-three days. That’s right, not months or years, but days. Psychologically, the whole thing quickly turned into the same creative experience I had when I wrote the spec script, My Island, in the summer of 1998. I’ll try and explain.

First, it helps greatly in fiction writing if you’re deranged, depressed, or preferably, have split personality disorder. A good dose of abuse during childhood always helps. I became the characters. I felt what they felt, struggled with their obstacles, fell in love, perished, and got second chances just like them. It’s sort of like a psych student empathy lab without the other people. It was exhausting. I’d stop writing between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. and go to bed with unwritten dialogue ringing in my head. I forgot to videotape re-runs of Buffy. I forgot to comb my hair.

When it was done, I gave the mess to a half dozen friends. I got mixed reviews that I’m still dealing with in therapy. Overall, everybody thought it was good but rough. There was this weird separation anxiety afterward, like I’d had a relationship with the novel and it had come to an abrupt end. The novel had skipped town, darted out the door when I’d gone to sleep, gotten on a bus, Gus. I couldn’t even have a successful relationship with imaginary people.
So it’s interesting that this last movie season seemed to pick up the cumbersome idea of writers and their inner demons and run with it...for about three feet.

One of my favorites was Neil LaBute’s Possession, which was based on the Booker-winning novel by A.S. Byatt about a fictitious Victorian novelist with fluttering lamb chop sideburns who has an affair with a lesbian (okay, people person) poet. LaBute (who used to be an indie film darling before he actually started making a living as a filmmaker) once again waded deep into unfamiliar water and, despite what those sniping prigs at The Guardian newspaper said, did a bang-up job. I like his work. I hated, hated, hated In the Company of Men simply because no deaf woman alive is that stupid, but I liked his other flicks. Your Friends and Neighbors was flawless in an ferocious sort of Harmony Korine way and Nurse Betty pushed and pulled at stereotypes.
In Possession, smoldering Jeremy Northam and elfish Jennifer Ehle struggle with writing but mostly just sex and the fairytale idea that two writers can live and love together without heaving typewriters or pitching ink bottles at each other. Oh, and they totally skip the whole Victorians-didn’t-bathe-much issue. I heard rumors that guys dragged to this film on dates actually stayed awake through two-thirds of it, but those were only rumors.

A few weeks back, The Hours premiered, trumpeting the arrival of a movie that looks at women writers and how they deal with sex, the heaving of typewriters, and that whole split personality thing I was talking about earlier. This was sort of an update on Julia, the film where Jane Fonda wandered around with a bottle of gutrot under one arm and complained to Jason Robards, “I need to write!” Nicole Kidman put on an impressive prosthesis, Julianne Moore became even more manic-depressive than she was in either of those P.T. Anderson’s films, and Meryl Streep was a freaked out New Yorker who shopped a lot. Half the characters smoked like chimneys (apparently that’s what writers do when they’re not pinning those inner demons to the mat, they’re becoming emphysemic) and Virginia Woolfe became just another apprehensive suburbanite who missed the smog of London. The Hours will probably roll off with a wheelbarrow of Oscars.

Of course, not just writers, but the novels they create have been the fodder for films good, bad, and mediocre for ages.

After watching these films I read two books by contemporary, pulp fiction writers; both extremely successful. One is one of the most successful fiction writers of all time. The first was Clive Barker’s twisted horror-erotica Coldheart Canyon and the second was Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher. Barker is so determined to see his made into a film, he dropped enough names in the book to fill the Shrine Auditorium. In Coldheart Canyon, all the A-list stars from the thirties are sexual deviants and both Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt are “present” when the lead character has a meltdown at a Malibu party. There’s the obligatory asshole studio exec, the morally lost talent agent, ad naseaum. There’s also some good character description, although the book is cumbersome and the lead, Todd, steps out of character halfway through without so much as a backward glance at his motivations. I’m certain Barker, another ex-pat Brit now ensconced in balmy Hollyweird, has already had his first sit-down with someone at Fox or Universal about Coldheart Canyon. So I’m thinking now the whole novelist thing is probably a good idea. Not really the back door into filmmaking, but not quite so thoroughly beaten a path as spec scripts and the whole script contest merry-go-round.

King’s Dreamcatcher surprised me. He was back to his “aw shucks” Maine roots again and the tried-but-true buddy story. He eternally takes us all down memory lane, ever since River Phoenix and company brought the short story The Body to life in Stand By Me. In King’s literary memory, the music was better, the soda was sweeter, and the friendships were always true, a la the maudlin Hearts in Atlantis. This must really hit a nerve with baby boomers; he’s worth something like thirty-five million and, as my college writing professor said years ago, “King never misses a house payment, ever.”

The nice thing about Dreamcatcher was I got caught up in it in a chilly winter night, fat pulpy novel kind of way. You root for the flawed heroes from the get go and the bad guys are nicely over the top, though a few are just average Joes who’ve gone astray.

Of course, the movie rights to Dreamcatcher were optioned before the ink on the front cover was dry. Lawrence Kasdan filmed it in British Columbia last winter and it’s slated to hit American theatres at the end of March 2003. (British Columbia in January? Kinda like sending the cast and crew of The Mummy to Tunis in July.) And - this was a thrill to those who read the book - there will be special effects bad guys. That’s right, America’s favorite author has envisioned the ultimate movie baddy - shit weasels from outer space. No vamps, no demons, no E.T., just full-on shit weasels.

King has inspired me. I’m no longer snubbing mainstream movies or novels. Now if I can just incorporate a few shit weasels into my romantic drama...maybe boy meets girl, boy meets...shit weasel?


Anonymous said...

Everyone has days when they are down, worn out, treating anxiety and just not feeling all that happy.

That's OK, you need to have days like this, otherwise how would you know when you are happy. You need to have something to contrast your happiness with. What is black without white?

Even though you know that sadness (treating anxiety) is a part of life, let's try to make it a small part of life.

With that said, here are a few tips to help you feel better when you are feeling down in the dumps. They are easy to do, easy to practice every day and they work!

1. Stand up straight, sit up straight. When your body is in alignment your energy can flow and when your energy is flowing freely, you can flow.

2. Smile! Yes, just smile. Easy to do and effective.

3. Repeat positive affirmations. Things like "I feel good", "Positive energy flows through my body", "I see the good in all".

4. Listen to some music that you like. It doesn't have to be anything specific, just something you enjoy. Certain types of music work better than others, but experiment and see what works for you. Studies have shown that Classical music and new age music work best.

5. Take some time out for yourself, relax and read a book, do something for yourself.

6. Meditate. Meditation is an excellent habit to develop. It will serve you in all that you do. If you are one who has a hard time sitting still, then try some special meditation CDs that coax your brain into the meditative state. Just search for "Meditation music" on Google or Yahoo and explore.

Our outside work is simply a reflection of our inside world. Remember there is no reality just your perception of it. Use this truth to your advantage. Whenever you are sad, realize that it is all in your mind and you do have the power to change your perception.

These tips will lift you up when you are down, but don't just use them when you are sad or treating anxiety . Try and practice them everyday, make them a habit. You will be surprised at how these simple exercises will keep the rainy days away.

On a final note, if you are in a deep depression that you can't seem to shake, please go see a doctor. This is your life and don't take any chances. treating anxiety

Anonymous said...

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Here are some helpful hints for type of stress …

A simple hot compress applied to the face is very soothing to those throbbing aches and pains of a blocked sinus, while a few drops of eucalyptus oil on a handkerchief can provide welcome relief for similar conditions. While supplements of vitamin C, D and zinc will shorten the lifespan of a common cold, a hot lemon drink is also extremely good. And be sure to cuddle-up in bed when you have a cold, as it will make the body sweat out the germs.

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A smear of Vaseline or petroleum jelly will do wonders for those sore lips and nose that often accompany a cold.

A 'streaming cold' where the nose and eyes water profusely, can respond to drinking onion water. Simply dip a slice of onion into a glass of hot water for two seconds, then sip the cooled water throughout the day. Half an onion on the bedside table also alleviates cold symptoms because its odor is inhaled while you sleep.

People prone to catarrh may find that chewing the buds from a pine or larch throughout the day will clear up their condition in just a few days.

Do you suffer from sore eyes? If your eyes are sore from lengthy exposure to the sun, try beating the white of an egg and then spread it over a cloth and bandage the eyes with it. Leave the preparation on overnight. Soft cheese (quark) is also a good remedy for this condition.

For those unpleasant times when you suffer from diarrhea, two tablespoons of brown vinegar will usually fix the problem. Vinegar can be rather horrible to take, but who cares! The problem is more horrible. Vinegar can usually be found in most people's cupboards, so you don't need to worry about finding someone to run to the shop for you in an emergency.

Sleepless? Instead of reaching for sleeping pills, which can quickly become addictive, try this: Drink only caffeine free tea or coffee starting late in the afternoon.. Go to bed earlier rather than later, as being overtired tends to keep people awake. Make sure the bedroom is dark and quiet. Use only pure wool or cotton sheets and blankets. Polyester materials can cause sweat and make you thirsty (if your child constantly asks for water throughout the night, this could be the reason).

And don't watch those scary movies just before retiring! If you still can't sleep, make a tea of lemongrass or drink a nightcap of herbal tea containing chamomile. It's easy to grow lemongrass in your garden or start a flower pot on the balcony for ease of picking. Simply steep a handful in boiling water for five minutes. Honey may be added for a sweetener.

Of course there will be times when you do need modern drugs, so if these simple remedies don't have the required affect, be sure to see a health care professional.

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