Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Screenwriting Class

Well I went to my first screenwriting class. I worked late and did some fine dining at the Taco Bell, and got to the community house way too early. What can I say, I was excited!

I've always liked the vibe of Birmingham, and when I got to the Community House the lady at the desk told me that my class would be in "The Library" and I could go in there and wait.

The room was like something out of a movie: wood paneled walls with a fake bookcase, chandeliers, and a gnarled wood conference table polished to a high shine. I loved it that we would be in a place with atmosphere, and I settled into one of the pointy-backed chairs and set up my notebook and papers with the work I'd already done on my screenplay.

I sat there and looked at the empty chairs and imagined what kind of people would soon come in and fill them. Maybe some super-cool Quentin Tarantino types, or the undiscovered genius of a Charlie Kauffman. I wondered about the instructor. There was a short bio of him in the course catalog, it said he has written award-winning screenplays and had many things produced. He could be my link to the Hollywood insiders. I hoped to make a good impression. Maybe I shouldn't have brought my Taco Bell cup in here.

The first person to join me in the room was an older man named Pete. He was telling jokes that didn't make sense and talked too much, in a nonsensical way. I could tell that he was the kind who distracts the teacher and dominates discussions to lead them off topic. Great. Crazy Pete.

Then the teacher and the rest of the students started to fill the room. There were all kinds of problems with registrations and late-comers, and lots of confusion before the class finally got going, way late.

There was a round-table of introductions and of course I was far off in my predictions of the kinds of people who would be joining me in this class. The majority were senior citizens. Bobbling old ladies and stern old men. Some unemployed people, a security guard, and an unusually large amount of lawyers. None of them were glamorous Hollywood types.

The instructor seemed like he knows his subject but kept getting distracted and had no idea how to keep control of the too-large group. I guessed that I may have over-interpreted his Hollywood connections and later went and looked him up. It turns out that he has done writing for documentaries but the one screenplay he wrote was never produced, and I think the award it won was one of those contests that you pay to enter so that you get enough credentials to qualify to teach an overpriced community ed screenwriting class.

Towards the end of the session he had us go around the table and tell about our main character and what their motivation was. He started on the side where Crazy Pete sat, so I would go next to last. I listened patiently as each person droned on about the sort-of idea that they kind-of had for their story. None of them had a main character or any idea what motivation was. Or any knowledge whatsoever about plot structure. Which I know for a fact is taught in the fourth grade. I decided that they ALL were crazy, and that if the teacher kept letting each of them blabber on like that they would never make it to me before the class time was up.

With just minutes left on the clock it was finally my turn to talk and I proudly stated my main character's clearly defined motivation, and then as a bonus I showed them the line chart I'd made that plotted out all the major turning points of my story. They all looked at me like I was crazy. And then we were out of time.

OK. So maybe their vision of a glamorous future Hollywood screenwriter hadn't been of a super-geeked middle-aged housewife/former engineer who eats at Taco Bell. I guess we'll all just have to accept each other for who we are, (crazy) and get on with it. That's alright.

Even though this class didn't live up to my too-high expectations, I am still excited about having the motivation to finish this screenplay I am writing. I have to write a treatment and character outlines for next month, and I'm looking forward to doing it.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Aim High

Well now a couple of weeks have gone by at this new job, and I am only now starting to become productive at it. As I figure out things or finally ask the right questions, new information is revealed to me, that, if I had known it from the start, would have gotten me productive much sooner. So the ramp up has had a pretty low slope. Which hasn't kept them from coming at me with impossible due dates for things I could have gotten done already if anyone had bothered to show me how.

So it's kind of a crummy job and the place is pretty seriously screwed up. It's stressful, BUT:

-The days go by very quickly

-I don't really mind it all that much.

Somehow, having this crummy job isn't bothering me like you might think it would. Maybe it's because I know it's temporary. This job has clarified for me that this isn't something that I want to do for the long term. But since it isn't for the long term, I can stand it. And getting paid and being busy right now "in this economy" is something to be grateful for, so I am.

And although this job has more than enough frustrations with it (today I couldn't help myself from asking if there was a Task Code for "Futile Searching") I'm noticing that there is a difference from the way I felt when I was back at GM. That difference is the prevailing sense of despair that I felt for the last few years I was there. Maybe that had something to do with the feeling that I was in it for the long haul, until retirement, and whenever things went bad I knew there was an element of it that would affect me in some way for the rest of my career. It all just built.

But when you're a temp, the possibilities of the whole world are out there ahead, full of potential. I'm not burdened with worries about what's going to happen to the company, or how to get to retirement, competing for promotions, getting enough exposure to management, all of that. I only need to get through each week, and then there's this:

Yeah, I have the best neighbors in the world.

That's a double-barreled frozen Margarita machine, and it knows how to make the aggravations of the week gone by disappear very

And there's another thing that makes a temporary crummy job easier to live with.

It's the hope that there's something better out there for me, and doing something that makes it seem like there's a chance of getting it. Even if it's a very small chance. Some people I know get that from playing the lottery. They can handle anything as long as there's a ticket in their pocket that symbolizes the opportunity to hit it big.

I've never been one for the lottery, since I don't like the odds, but I have something going now that gives me the feeling like I can dream big.

That would be my screenplay.

Back in November I had this idea for a script that I thought was really good. So I went to the library and checked out some books on screenwriting, and started writing it. Then I hit a wall, and stopped writing, and those books sat here on the counter accruing overdue fines.

But, I happened to have mentioned this project on Thanksgiving to my cousin Marisa, who happened to think of me when she was browsing through the schedule of course offerings at the Birmingham community house, and she decided to send a link to a course called "Finish Your First Screenplay in 6 Months." She sent it as kind of a joke, but I kept thinking about it.

The course is once a month on Monday evenings for 6 months, and it is a little pricey for community education, but I just went and signed up.

And now I have a dream. Instead of being a former engineer in a crummy temp job, I can imagine seeing my name flash up on the big screen after "written by:"

I can envision myself holding a check for $150,000 for the rights to produce my story. Heck, if I'm going to dream, let's make that a million!

Hey, there's me, accepting my Oscar for best screenplay, while I smile down at George Clooney sitting in the audience of stars.

I do understand that tens of thousands of screenplays get submitted every year, and something like a couple dozen of them ever get produced. I know. But I've got my big dream now, and I'm really looking forward to going to the first class this coming Monday. It makes me happy. And even for the price, those odds are still better than playing the lottery.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Newbie Jobbie

I went to this new job thinking that if I could quickly get past that "new person" fog of cluelessness, and get set up with the access and equipment that I needed, then getting busily to work would be a welcome change for me.


I know from my own experiences and seeing how contractors were often treated at GM that things don't often go that smoothly. Still, I chose to go in with a hopeful and positive attitude about it.

When I got to the lobby at my designated time I found an anxious looking woman sitting there. I took a guess and asked her if she was starting a new job today. She was, and I introduced myself and learned that her name is MaryAnn.

After quite a while a very rushed man whom I had interviewed with came out and led us over to a busy woman named Robin who then led us to Jessie and told her that she would be responsible for orienting us to the job that day. Robin left and we sat down with Jessie, who looked unsure of what to do. I thought she looked extremely young and asked her how long she'd been with the company.

"Oh, I'm just an intern!" She told us and explained how she'd be going back to school in February. I suggested that she show us how things are organized in the online system and any procedures that she knew of that were published online. We did that for most of the morning had probably exhausted most of her knowledge. I suggested that we find Robin and ask if there were plans to set us up with computers, desks, and access badges.

Robin was still seeming very busy but she did say that she thought someone had put in orders for computers, and that she knew of at least one desk in the area and maybe there was another one somewhere else that could be available. We walked over to the known open desk and I quickly surveyed the area. There was an actual window nearby, and a man across the aisle who was tall with white hair. I thought of good old Bob. This guy looked too grumpy to ever be singing me showtunes but, still, there's comfort in the familiar. When Robin asked who wanted this desk and MaryAnn paused I quickly jumped in and said I would take it! Assertive Melinda!

I later felt slightly guilty when poor MaryAnn was shuffled around to different desks in a faraway part of the building. I decided that I would try to be helpful to her however I could, to make up for it.

I ended up having to sit at my nice new desk without a computer trying not to look useless as all of the busy people around pretty much ignored me for the next two days. I hated that but tried to focus on the positives as I found them:

-The building was kept at a comfortable temperature for doing desk work. How nice it would be not to shiver in my coat trying to type with numb fingers!

-There is a fully stocked supply cabinet! I tried not to stagger backwards in shock as I was invited to take what I needed from the selection of post-its and pens, something they had stopped offering at GM in response to some lucky fool's cost savings suggestion.

-The parking is awesome, this is a building with sort of spread-out wings and there are parking spots all around. I could look out of one of the windowed doors and see my car waiting happily for me just outside. Then I noticed that someone had parked an identical Blue Saturn VUE right next to it. I have decided that I will find out the owner is and they will be my friend.

-This place is only slightly closer than where I used to work but somehow it cuts out the worst part of the drive and my commute is a good 15 minutes or more shorter. Also there are less people on the road these days. Now the drive feels reasonable as opposed to unbearable, even when we got hit with a big snowstorm on the second day.

I continue to be unclear about the reporting structure around there, and have not been able to see any kind of org chart. Back at GM that was always the one thing everyone wanted you to know was who-reports-to-who, even if it was in some zany basketweave matrix. To a some people that was the only thing they needed to know. I guess I can figure it out somehow.

I did eventually get a computer and start to understand what my job will be and how to do it. MaryAnn is still waiting for hers. I've been showing her the things I learn when I can. I'm kind of glad that this is only a short-term assignment. I'm even more glad to have That First Week behind me, and looking forward to finally getting to do some productive work.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Just so Jeffrey

The boys have been out of school since December 18. I have enjoyed being able to spend this much relaxed time together as we've worked our way through the holidays and celebrations. I have been especially appreciating Jeffrey. I already know he won't be a cute little kid for much longer, and I want to cherish every moment with him while I can.

I was watching him and noticing the way he gets when he is super-excited about something that is coming up. He was like this of course right before Christmas, and I saw him doing it again yesterday as he anticipated his cousins coming over for ice skating and a game of nerf wars. He gets all jumpy and antsy, like he can't concentrate on anything other than what he's waiting for. Like he's just about to explode with the anticipation inside of him. I like to say he's all "bursty" with excitement, if only that were a real word.


Yesterday he was outside with his dad and brother shoveling off the ice to get it ready for skating. It was very cold out at that time. When he came in all pink cheeked and shivery, he announced to me: "It's so cold out there I have booger-sicles!"


Over the break he has been doing a lot of skating on the frozen lake behind our house. At first he was joined by his usual companion Jarod from down the street, but then a new boy starting coming out there, named Alex. I am friends with Alex's mother and we had been hoping that our sons would eventually form a friendship, so I tried to encourage it.

"Jeffrey, do you like spending time with Alex? He seems like such a nice boy, and I think he does well in school too, just like you!"

"Yeah, better than being BAD and STUPID like Jarod!"

Oops. There I was trying to be subtle and encouraging, only to be smacked back with blunt and derogatory. Of course I explained to Jeff that he shouldn't say that kind of thing out loud about anyone who is also his friend. Regardless of what he thinks is true.


We went to Target and there was a bird flying around in the store. Jeffrey was enchanted with the idea of it. He saw it land on a rack of clothing and went to see how close he could get. This led to lots of speculation about pooping on the merchandise, what in the store would make good nesting material, and how on earth the employees would go about catching it. (Nets from the fishing dept?) He is so much fun to be with, wherever we are.


A couple of nights ago the boys had been asleep for a while and I decided to see what was on television. Unfortunately, the last person to watch the thing had left the volume way up, so I was greeting with a blast of noise that lasted until I could stab the remote enough times to delete all those volume bars. A few moments later a sleepy eyed Jeffrey came shuffling down the stairs. I asked what he wanted and he said:

"May I use the restroom?"

I think that he had been dreaming about being in school, and was talking to me as if he was still there! I gave him permission and he went into the downstairs bathroom, and then came to me for a hug and then went on back up to bed.


Then this morning we were eating waffles and Jeffrey looked up at me and asked if I was nervous about going to my new job next week. I was touched that he was thinking about how I was feeling about the changes coming up, rather than just how it all would affect him. I tried to answer his question in a way that he could relate:

"Yes, I am nervous. I'm worried about being able to do the work, and having to learn so many new things, and meeting all the people there and whether they will like me."

We talked a bit more about how it was kind of like going to the first day of school, and then Jeffrey said:

"Maybe you can bring a bag of chips."

I wasn't sure what he was talking about now. I asked if he meant that eating the chips would make me more comfortable or something, and he explained:

"Everybody likes chips, so you could share them there, and make friends!"

I love this little guy so much that I could burst!