5.04.2013

All Quiet at the Best Western Burbank

I started writing my first screenplay while literally under fire. At least that's the way it felt visiting Dubrovnik at the tail end of the civil war. Working as travel writer at the time, I was there with some well-meaning congressional sub-committee or another bent on helping the city re-build its tourism infrastructure just a tad prematurely. For one thing, once the Serbs bombed the power plant for what seemed to be sport, no electricity was to be had, not even at the finest hotel.

We toured shelled out castles and imploded museums, visiting shrapnel-riddled churches guarded by decapitated Jesuses. Daniel Day-Lewis, in his bravest performance ever, dodged sniper-fire -- along with snickers from battle-scarred locals judging him pretty goofy, under the circumstances -- to stage Hamlet on the ramparts. Seized by the tragicomedy of it all, I sat alone in a waterfront bar, turning the sweat-dampened pages of my reporter's notebook to scribble the bones of a classic wartime satire.

Yeah, not so fast.

All these many years later, just when I've finally regained the luxury of writing at home, my television set broke. I was thinking of cutting it off anyway to save on the cable bill, since I never watch anything but Jeopardy, Chopped and the live trial of some oversexed murderess who'll probably end up V-logging in hiding after the bombshell verdict. Disparate as my programming choices may seem, is each not the stuff of high drama?

Will the geek grab the cash? What about the chef who lost his finger in a head of escarole to save the family diner? Will the twat Tweet from the gallows?


Though I'm not at all sure how to go about my day without the most basic of creature comforts, the fact is comfort is anathema to the serious writer -- even an out-of-work Hollywood writer with the hard-won humility to use that term very loosely. The point is, if drama is born of conflict, why are we writers always fighting it tooth and nail?

“It is easy to write," goes the quote most often credited to Ernest Hemingway. "Just sit in front of your typewriter and bleed.” The fact that these words have been claimed by no less than fourteen subsequent writers should tell you something extra about the brutality of our ragtag little militia.

As with any battle the career soldier will somehow learn to survive, a bout of writing gets easier once the adrenaline kicks in.


There does come that magic moment, once I'm deep enough into a story, when the characters will capture my fingers and deliver the story on my behalf. I wouldn't say peace washes over the land, but there is detente. For now, anyway, I am where I'm supposed to be, doing what I'm supposed to be doing.

As for learning to live inside the green zone of my mind without surrendering to an onslaught of daily distractions, maybe I don't need a battalion of extraneous characters buzzing around the home front once I get  my own brigade of imaginary friends primed to come out and spar. All it takes to charge on alone into the unknown -- all it's ever taken, now that I think of it -- is feeling okay about turning my back on my real friends, past and future, along with the new husband I never married, the home we never bought and the family we never had.

Like I say, folks, war ain't pretty. War is war, war is hell and war happens for a reason, not the least of which is it makes the best movies.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to write one of those here in the idyllic suburbs of Southern California. Right after I call the junkman to haul off the corpse of the dead TV -- and take a quick look online to see if we've got a verdict on the whack job with the boob job tearing up the airwaves.

3 comments:

  1. Steve Mielczarek3:11 PM

    Let me ameliorate your distemper. You will be dead soon. I don't mean this as a threat: please, just a clinical insight. Um, I still love you. Or, so I say.

    ReplyDelete
  2. So they all say, my friend. Get in line.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Seriously, thanks for being a commenteer. I think it's just the two of us reading this crap so there's that.

    ReplyDelete