Well, today I went and got my car serviced, packed my suitcases up, and prepared to start my cross-country drive on the morrow. But alas, Winter Storm Q appears to be cock-blocking me hardcore, and it seems I’ll need to delay my departure one or two days unless I want to get caught in a hardcore mountain shitstorm.
Anyone who knows me well knows that I can’t stand delays. When I have a mind to do something, I tend to want to do it right away. In general, I operate my daily life with about as much patience as a Jewish mother of five on Black Friday. It’s a problem. I’m working on it.
Anyway, because I’m a crazy person, it occurred to me that Mercury is about to go retrograde. And those of you who know that I have no patience also probably know that astrology is a hobby of mine. I started studying it a couple of summers ago when I had too much time on my hands. I think I was drawn to it because I have a thing for symbolic languages in general. For example, math was always the subject I struggled with most in high school (shocker), but when I got to college and took symbolic logic (the study of reducing verbal sentences into equations of symbols), I got the highest grade in my class. My brain seems to work better when I start with abstractions and generalities and work backward to conclusions.
I myself don’t really know if I believe there is any actual legitimacy to astrology. On the one hand, it is one of the most ancient “religions,” and it does make some sense to me that the arrangement of the universe when you enter it has some bearing on why you’re there in the first place. On the other hand, it’s a bunch of wacky animal symbols with absolutely no basis whatsoever in science. Although plenty of scientists through the ages have dabbled in it and been hesitant to discount it entirely. Einstein (another fan of symbolic languages) is said to have been among them. Though people also say Einstein was schizotypal…and was so spacey he would get in the shower with his shoes still on.
….Which is completely something I would do.
Whatever the case, I like astrology because I see it as a valuable practice in self-assessment. To me, whether there is any actual truth to it, the very exercise of comparing what the stars say about you with what you feel about yourself is a worthwhile endeavor. Modern Western society does not value internal, personal reflection as much as other societies around the world, and I think that’s a shame. We are so busy doing all the time that we hardly ever stop and say “okay, wait a second; who am I and what is my purpose in life?” So I suppose my point is that at the very least, astrology supplies a framework for delving into these questions on a very personalized level. To me, it doesn’t really matter whether or not it’s “real” if it prompts a person to ask themselves the important macro questions.
Also, it’s just a totally fun, ridiculous thing to know about.
Anyway, I’m actually (and rather secretly) a pseudo-expert in this crap. If a person gives me their birth time and date, I can read entire natal charts with impressive accuracy (personality traits, early family life, traumatic experiences, what sort of person they’ll marry and when, career direction; all that shit). Roll your eyes all you want, but when people find this out at parties, the eye rollers are always the ones who nevertheless saddle up next to me on the couch and ask for a reading Why? Because people are interested in themselves, and because deep down, even the most hardened cynic secretly wants to believe there is an order to things. It’s valuable to have a skill that caters to those human desires. And anyway, does it make any less sense than believing some guy who turned water into wine was the son of God and now controls all the shit in your life? Sorry Christians; I still love and respect you. Just saying.
But I digress.
Anyway, Mercury is about to go retrograde from Feb. 23rd – March 17th. Even people who don’t dabble in the astrological “sciences” have often heard of this infamous phenomenon. Mercury retrograde occurs three times per year for roughly a month each time. It refers to periods throughout the year in which the planet Mercury appears to be moving backward in the night sky. Of course, it does not actually move backward, it only appears to from our vantage point on earth. During Mercury retrograde, anything having to do with communications, electronic devices, travel plans, and contracts tends to go fucking haywire. Laugh at me now, but watch what happens. It totally blows. Computers crash, flights get delayed, phones stop working, miscommunications abound (“I didn’t get your email,” “UPS lost the package,” “I want out of my contract”).
And travel plans always experience some kind of hiccup.
So I sort of expected that something would screw up my original itinerary for a trip planned for Mercury retrograde. And it’s really no big a deal; in fact it led to a huge breakthrough for me in my work in a totally roundabout way.
One of the things I really like about astrology is that all transits, retrogrades, what have you, exist as potential energy, rather than as fixed, fated circumstances. Like everything in life, it is what you make of it. Even with a generally pain-in-the-ass situation like Mercury retrograde, there are positive ways to channel that energy. The retrograde is a good time to go back and edit things. During Mercury retrograde, we’re encouraged to take a Mulligan on shit; go back to a previously abandoned project, rehash an important conversation that went wrong, take a new position with a former employer, renegotiate an important contract. Those are all positive uses of the prevailing reverse energy in communications.
So naturally, as I have a couple more days of sitting on my ass twiddling my thumbs before I can blow this popsicle stand, I started thinking about how I could use the retrograde in some productive way with my work. As I stated in my last post, I’ve been trying desperately to settle on a new writing project for when I get home, but nothing really felt right. There were plenty of projects I had previously conceived of that I considered going back to, but none of them were quite “it.” The main problem was that there were a few different options and I sort of wanted to blend them all, but didn’t really know how.
Then, boom, it came to me in a dream last night like a bolt of lightning. I get a lot of inspiration from my dreams. Sometimes they feel quite a bit more real than my waking life.
Anyway, the details were hazy, but in the dream, I was at my desk drafting a script, only for some reason I was working on two different laptops at the same time. When I woke up, I couldn’t remember exactly what I had been writing, but I knew it was a love story, which seemed a little unexpected for me, but surprisingly right once I thought about it.
I woke up from this and I literally bolted upright from bed when it hit me. Somewhere in my brain, I solved a problem I’ve been working out in my head for months, and now I know exactly how to move ahead. I know it sounds pretentious and melodramatic, but as an artist, when something like that hits you, it gives you that heart-in-your-throat-love-at-first-sight-across-a-crowded-room feeling. It’s exactly like being giddy over a new love interest; it’s almost impossible to think about anything else for a little while. It’s the best romantic void-filler there is; better than Hagen Daaz or Ryan Reynolds movies or sassy brunches with the girls. You don’t miss romance when you’re into a project. Honestly, I don’t even miss sex when I’m really into a project, and I think we’re all aware of my, ahem, healthy libido.
But I should get to the point. For about a year now, I’ve been wanting to write a full split-screen film or a novel that diverged in time from the middle of the book** (apparently, yes, I am including footnotes in my blog now). This is a motif that I seem to keep coming back to and playing around with in various formats: inverted or non-linear narrative structures. I like to mix up beginnings and endings, mess with time, order of events, etc. Why?
Because my own brain works in retrograde.
What I mean is, I’m clearly right-brain dominant. As I’ve said before, my intelligence is almost all intuitive; I’m a dot connector. I think in associations and connections rather than step-by-step processes. This is the reason I like symbolic languages, abstractions, analogies, jokes; I enjoy the challenge of finding a common thread between two seemingly disparate things. It affirms my internal sense that everything is actually part of one big whole; that division is just an illusion we experience so we get to feel the joy of unity on the rare occassions we experience it.
And in my writing, this sort of naturally manifests as a preoccupation with connecting parallel storylines. And examining the ways in which the past informs the future, and vice versa. Because yes, the future does influence the past, or at least our understanding of it. How many times in life does something happen that makes you think back to a memory and attribute a special significance to it? All the fucking time. We all do this, whether we admit it or not. Someone enters our life, or we land the perfect job, or we move to a distant city, and we think back to all the events that came before and think “so THAT’s why that happened.” And what this really points back to is this internal desire to believe that there is a rhyme and reason, some kind of order, to our lives. That even if God is indeed a “watchmaker,” as posited by Dawkins and the like, at least he is checking his wrist every so often to make sure things are ticking along.
…and no, I don’t smoke weed. What goes on in my head on the reg is already too much.
Anyway, these are big ideas, but they form the basis of my entire aesthetic as a writer. The boiling down process is tricky, and the question is: how can I diffuse these big ideas into something simple, accessible, human, relatable? Because personally, I believe 2 things about art: 1) If you’re not doing something new, you’re better off doing nothing. And 2) The true test of whether you’re doing it right is whether an uneducated drunk in a small-town bar likes it. All good art is, is truth. All it takes to be a good artist is complete, fearless honesty. If you’re totally honest, everyone gets it. Everyone.
So these are my two aims when I write something with the aim of production. And until I had this dream, I had been struggling with how to fit all this into the right niche. Because I wanted to move from “fearless and personal” to “fearless and universal” on my next project, which I think is a natural evolution.
And right now, I want to write a love story. My heart wants to. Not a canned, predictable, charming rom com, but a painfully real, down-to-earth love story. About real, imperfect people.
And I’m doing almost all of it in split-screen, moving backward in time. It’s ambitious, yes, but it’s in me to write.
This is going to take a whole fuck ton of pre-writing and microscopic structural planning. But here’s what I’m envisioning:
(Finally getting to the point) —->
The opening scene (in a normal, unified screen) is a busy city street corner. A man and a woman walk toward one another, then accidentally bump into each other on the corner. There is a moment of stunned recognition, after which one sentence is uttered by one of them, but we have no context for it yet and the meaning is unclear. Then, from that moment on, the screen splits vertically and our man and woman are in rewind, walking backward down the city street and backward into their own stories. From the point where the screen divides, their individual stories are told next to each other, in split screen, simultaneously backward in time.
When I say “backward in time,” I mean in past episodes that nevertheless move forward in time in the individual scenes themselves (e.g., dual scenes from January 2005. then dual scenes from October 2004, etc). Trying to do it all backwards would be totally incomprehensible and stupid.
Literally every scene will relate to the one next to it; their individual narratives in constant conversation with one another. They are living parallel stories in different circumstances, in different lives, in different ways, but the themes and the symbols are always mirrored in some way if you look closely enough. For the most part, dialogue will be taking place only in one of their stories at one time. simply in the interest of audience comprehension. But ideally, I want to have at last a few scenes where dialogue is going on in both scenes at once, and it is interrelated. By this I mean, our female lead is having a conversation with her friend on one side, and our male lead is having a conversation with his friend on the other at the same time. If I can pull this off, the conversation(s) can be construed as either two separate conversations between two people, or as one large conversation between four people. I love leaving that open to multiple interpretations and different levels of understanding.
Anyway, we go back in time with our characters for the majority of the film without knowing the backstory between the two of them until the end. They change jobs, they move to different cities, other love interests enter an exit, and all of it makes sense when we get to the end of the film, which of course was the chronological beginning for them. Only when they meet in the past (again, at the end of the film, because we’re moving backward in time) does the screen become unified once again. The last line of the film will be the line that gives context and meaning to the first. Remembering what was said when they run into each other at the beginning, the audience will know how their story ends based on the context given in the last line of the screenplay, at the beginning of their relationship.
I know it’s hard to wrap your head around, but I really believe I can make this work very well in order to tell a love story in a brand new way. Because when you tell an old story in a new way, it hits your audience harder, has a much greater emotional impact. I think the service artists provide to the world is refreshing things; taking stories we think we already know and making them new again. Transforming hardened adults into children for a moment by taking something familiar and making it new again.
Anyway, I love the idea of this project, but the unconventional format has raised difficult practical problems. I draft scripts in a software called Final Draft (the industry standard for submissions; and that shit is not cheap, it cost me $250 when I first moved out here). Anyway, Final Draft has a “dual dialogue” option for when characters are meant to talk over one another, but no option that would fully accomodate a project like this. I could do it in Microsoft Word if I did it in landscape format, but it would take forever to format it myself as a screenplay, and even then, it still wouldn’t look professional.
BUT, if I worked on two laptops simultaneously in Final Draft, like I was doing in my dream, it would work. I could write both scripts (because I’ll need one for the female lead’s story and another for the male’s) in direct correlation with one another, moment to moment, shot to shot, with the level of specificity that I want.
Anyway, the working title I have for it is “Retrograde,” because of course, that’s exactly what the story is doing, and what inspired it in the first place. So yeah, that is the long, drawn out, rambling story of how my silly interest in astrology and abstract connections inspired my next project. Which is crazy. The whole thing is crazy, I know that. But lots of people who do new things are considered crazy until they’re successful at it.
The level of detail on this is of course going to be painstaking, and this is a project that will no doubt take a few months rather than a few weeks. That’s okay with me, as I’ll almost certainly have that long. Once it’s complete, I’m going to register it with the WGA and upload it to something called “The Black List,” which is a website created several years ago for producers wanting to cast a wider net for talented screenwriters that are either unrepresented or living in “the flyover states.” The Black List has produced some serious successes, even Oscar winners, in recent years. Actually, Diablo Cody, who is one of my favorite screenwriters, got her start through the Black List when she submitted the screenplau for Juno. Anyway, there are tons of writers out there and I’m very realistic about my odds, but the nice thing about the Black List is that it’s very reputable and is also a relative meritocracy. If you upload and pay $50, you’re guaranteed a professional reader who will give you notes. You know your stuff is getting seen. Your challenge is to make it so good and so stand-out that it can’t be ignored.
All of this is probably interesting to no one but me, but that’s never stopped me from writing a blog post about anything before.
But I’m excited, because this idea is the product of months and months of turning various ideas over in my mind, and now I’ve arrived at an answer. If I’m not too exhausted, I’ll probably start the prewriting process in my hotel rooms on the road, but when I get home, my first priority has to be my health and levelling out. And being with my family will help me with that, because if I were out here on my own, alone in my apartment, I would almost certainly fixate on this script, stop sleeping, and swing myself into a mania trying to get it all out. The falling in love analogy is totally apt here. You know how when you’re just falling in love, you can’t sleep and you’re high on it and you don’t want to think about anything else? It’s obsession, right? The same thing happens to me when I get into a new project. This is great in the sense that I get a reprieve from actual romantic longing in my own life for a while, but in the process of my work, I almost always forget about my bodily/daily living needs.
I know this sounds (again) melodramatic and pretentious, but t’s nearly impossible to hold down a day job when you’re enslaved to your muse. And I don’t want that anymore. This is the habit I need to break. It’s almost like an addiction in that way. I don’t want it to consume me anymore; I want to tame it.
Anyway, this is the perfect time to learn how to manage my “habit”: go home for a while, have my own space to work, allot myself two hours a day, and force myself (or someone else) to stop me after that point. It’s all about rhythm, and I just have to adjust mine. Live in my body a little more instead of my head all the time.
Because right now, I’m hypomanic. For sure. Look at all this shit I just wrote and how fast my thoughts are racing; it’s obvious. But maybe if I can get on the right med regimen with the right life habits, I can have it all. I can have my bolts of inspiration AND a normal, happy, steady life. Maybe if I just go for a run instead of hitting a bottle of Jack, I can have everything I want. I can bring it all into balance without completely losing anything. I can have relationships with people instead of just my work and myself.
And maybe not. Maybe something’s gotta give, or something has to get dulled a little in order for me to have that. And maybe that’s a trade-off I can accept. All I know is, I’m totally open-minded, I’m ready to start a new life, and I’m ready to be better than I’ve ever been.
And I’m really excited about this project.
…Aaaaaand unfortunately, it’s too late for a run here. Maybe some living room yoga…
Fuck it, where’s the NyQuil….
**Chapters 1 & 2 would start in the physical middle of the book, diverging at a specific point in time. All the odd numbered chapters would move chronologically backward in time toward the front cover of the book, while the even numbered chapters would chronologically forward in time toward the back cover of the book. I had envisioned this structure for a memoir and tentatively titled it “Inside Out,” as the reader would literally read the book from the inside out. I wanted to employ this structure not just as a neat trick, but as a new twist on the classic American coming-of-age novel where we watch the protagonist grow as a person from the first chapter to the last. What I liked about telling the story in this way was how the contrast in character development grows ever more stark as the reader moves outward; with the penultimate chapter serving as the physical and chronological end of the story and the final chapter serving as the physical and chronological beginning of the story. Further, chapters 1&2, 3&4, etc., would all be thematic mirrors of each other, even though different plot events are takig place. I know it may sound rather out there and inaccessible, but I think my down-to-earth, conversational style saves it from pretension. I may still use this for my memoirs when I’m old enough to write them, which I am definitely not.