IRENE accepted, beautiful and bittersweet

Bittersweet victory is not unusual. Accomplishments are often hard-won, satisfaction often comes at a cost. On August 26th of this year, at 3:15pm PST at the Blue Mouse Theatre in Tacoma, WA, that cost will be the absence of one of the greatest champions of independent art I have ever known, and the impetus behind the production of IRENE: Mollie Mook-Fiddler.

Mollie, my lifelong friend and partner in all things good and mischievous, was meant to be with us on set in Silverton, CO, in June of 2016. She was meant to have picked me up at the Durango airport, drive me over the horrifying pass to Silverton, lead production meetings with me, help me dress the set, she wanted to learn camera work under IRENE director Sinjin Jones’ mentorship, we were meant to have drinks at Montanya and catch up and laugh until it was too late to walk through the streets of Silverton without seeing a nighttime bear rummaging through the dumpsters, as we did the last time she and I created art together in Silverton.

A phone call a week before the production put an end to all those plans. Her cancer had returned and she was compelled to fight it, in her way, with all her knowledge of the disease and with all her might.

Still, the production went on. There were a few texts back and forth to let her know all was well. Producer and A Theatre Group secretary Louis King, also a dear friend of Mollie’s, was my go-to for long talks over wine in her absence. We set the shoot. And then we shot. And the brilliant performances from actors Rebecca Krebbs and Ben Mattson, the extraordinary control of lighting and framing in direction from Sinjin Jones and the dedication of sound and camera team James Richard Padilla and Tressa Lynne Smith all took my breath away. The result was an absolutely beautiful 10-minute short film, IRENE.

We submitted it to one festival, The Destiny City Film Festival. This was the festival that, several years earlier, awarded IRENE’s inspiration, BLUE BUNNY, the best short script award in its screenwriting competition. There was a meaning and a weight behind our submitting it there. And it was accepted.

So now IRENE has its first laurels, and we have something to show Mollie that we succeeded in her physical absence, though her spirit was constant, even as she fought for her life. We will have to trust that, somehow, she knows.

In November of last year, we lost Mollie.

In one text she sent me while I was in Silverton, she asked that I visit a ‘secret waterfall.’ “Sinjin knows where it is” she texted. Shooting and cutting and editing a film in less than three days, however, does not leave much time for a trip to a waterfall. The week came and went and I did not see the waterfall. “It’s okay,” she texted. “I’ll take you there next time.”

There would not be a next time, but now I know how to find my closure in the wake of her passing and how to, really, find her. A goal of mine for the summer of 2018 is to return to Silverton to, among other things, visit the secret waterfall.

When I do, I will wear the ring she left me, a 1970s Navajo piece that she must have remembered I admired. And I will wear her lipstick. Far and away, the most certain I have come to her actually no longer being with us physically on this planet is when I held her lipstick in my hand. One tube half-used, one yet unopened. I will forever be grateful to her husband for having the strength to send that to me.

A huge congratulations to the IRENE team, a giant thank you to A Theatre Group, to The Animas Bed and Breakfast for hosting us, and endless love to Mollie for being who she was, who she still is, and for bringing us all together.

The Hilltop Action Coalition, Offering a Unified Voice in the Community

My son Ellis is not necessarily an easy kid. School was difficult for him from the beginning. Not for lack of desire to learn, definitely not for lack of ability. More for lack of patience, for the visceral need to control situations. More for his symptoms of ADHD, though we’ve never managed to get him diagnosed anywhere ‘on the spectrum.’ His former inability to make a day at school WORK was never for lack of my trying to figure out just why it was so hard for him.

After the horror that was our attempt at kindergarten, I home-schooled him for two years but, in classic Ellis-style (sensing something before I do), he knew at age 8 that he needed to be among other kids. So we tried again. I can’t tell you, especially now (as I am now a Special-Ed para-educator with Tacoma Public Schools), how frustrated I am that his third-grade general education teacher gave up on him so easily, and am, in retrospect, amazed at how hard I had to fight to learn about the program (TLC, Therapeutic Learning Center) that would give him the support he needed to stay in school for full days. Before that, I received phone calls EVERY day to pick him up, get him off school property. Once I arrived to find the (now former) principal restraining him by holding his wrists in the corner of her office. He once told me that, when he finished his work early and told his teacher he was bored, she dumped his desk and said “clean that up, now you have something to do.” I have had a difficult time not reaching out to that particular teacher personally, to let her know just how far he has come.

Last Friday he, an avid writer at home, read an essay he had written on his vision of the future of Hilltop, a historic, and storied, Tacoma neighborhood, to a large group of strangers at the Inaugural Hilltop Action Coalition Luncheon. He was among four students, all who had submitted to the HAC writing contest, that were asked to do so. He had never done anything like that before, he was nervous, I watched as he self-calmed then read it with only slightly, and understandably, wavering authority to a wonderful, supportive crowd. The look of pride on his face when he was finished, as he returned to his seat in the wake of applause, was something I’ll never forget. The other students were equally amazing, and there were tears in the room, for pride and joy in this movement to, not simply maintain, but sustain and uplift this special corner of Tacoma, Hilltop.

The Hilltop Action Coalition is a place to connect the Hilltop community with the services and benefits available to them. It is also the venue, virtual and, in this case, literal, for those who may have a more difficult time finding their voice among misunderstanding, presumption and unfairness.The HAC was that for my son.

This was another step in his journey to rebuild his self-confidence, broken as it was after being called a ‘bad kid’ and a ‘problem student’ for those who did not take the time to look deeper the way his current educators do. The way Hilltop Action Coalition did when they invited this ‘problem student’ to address dozens of supporters, Tacoma fixtures, community members, etc., at their luncheon.

For this, I thank them. Here is the transcript of Ellis’ speech, written solely by him, age 10:

2025. The future of Hilltop, nobody knows… what will happen? The beginning of the end, the end of the beginning. Like me, it will not stay the same.

My school, McCarver Elementary, is new, but also old. Renovated about six months ago, it is the daily education spot for many students and, of course, me, also growing up with Hilltop after stressful days and nights in the Park Place neighborhood.

I am in TLC and attend one hour daily regiments of general education, having gone through three schools that were not a fit: Fawcett, Roosevelt, Stanley.  At last, I found McCarver.

Whatever happens, I know I can rely on Hilltop.

I feel, in 2025, Hilltop will be more loved, more like its intention. An incentive is what the readers think I’m hinting at, but it is not that. It is not about profit, but determination. The only incentive is Hilltop itself. I believe in a future foundation of support for Hilltop. Foundations of support are not plentiful, in fact there are very few compared to those only caring for and supporting themselves. Hilltop supported me and, no matter what, I will support Hilltop. The real money-maker is what is in the heart…

Ellis, pictured with Kristopher Brannon (Tacoma’s The Sonics Guy) and actor/filmmaker and writer Gregory Marks. Ellis is holding a copy of the Hilltop Action Journal. In their quest to give EVERYONE a voice, the Hilltop Action Coalition published every single submission to their youth writing contest. Bravo!

Here is a link to a beautiful short video about Hilltop that brought down the house.

The Yellow Hat has Been Unpacked

I have a yellow crocheted hat. It usually makes its first yearly appearance in mid-to-late September. It is THE only thing that makes the end of summer somewhat bearable.

With the arrival of fall, I revisit some favorite beach scenes. I might have to find another one to paint so I can lose myself in summer as winter threatens arrival.

 

Mike one-ups Wes Craven – Trust Me, He’d Say the Same Thing

Horror director Wes Craven died today, Sunday, 8/30/2015. This is news I would have shared with my friend Mike. The text convo (because, I think, in text, it’s a ‘convo,’ not a ‘conversation’) would have gone something like this:

ME:  WTF!? The Freddy Krueger guy died!? I can’t deal.

MIKE: Condolences. But I never really liked horror films. LOL.

ME: It’s FREDDY KRUEGER!

MIKE: My job is scary enough.

ME: Good point. Let’s watch Caddyshack tonight. OH WAIT. We live 1200 miles apart.

MIKE: Next time we get together. Send me some stuff to watch tonight at work. And no spoilers about MasterChef.

And then I would have sent some recommendations of stuff for him to laugh at during his night shift as a jailor.

The only trouble is, Mike passed away yesterday, one day earlier than Wes Craven. So I can’t text him about it. I mean I could, but I don’t know if my plan covers the next world. What I do know is that there are going to be many moments ahead during which I am moved to tell him about something I watched that he would like, or tell him about something I ate that he would like, or tell him about something that was going on in my life that I just need to talk about. He was there for all of that. And he shared his life with me in that way too. Mike and I were friends.

Mike and I graduated from high school together. I (first) remember him from Senor Johnson’s Spanish class in seventh grade. In fact, oddly, Mike holds a strange distinction in my life as one of four people I remember seeing for the first time, in fact, I remember what he was wearing! A grey sweatsuit! Senor Johnson had called him to the blackboard to answer some sort of question and I remember him begrudgingly doing so. When Mike and I connected many years later (he sparked by his interest in my movie recommendations and I sparked by my interest in the green chile recipe he posted on Facebook one Christmas three or so years ago), I told him that I remembered that. Guess what I got for my birthday? A grey sweatsuit.

Mike was thoughtful like that, and loved connection with others above all material goods. He also loved chicken wings. And beer. And baseball. And his dog Max. I painted a portrait of Max for him that he framed and hung in his apartment.

He remembered a print I liked when we went to Powell’s Bookstore in Portland, OR,—it read “Write drunk, edit sober – Ernest Hemingway.” He had it sent to me. He treasured a late evening we spent gossiping in his Cousin Paula’s basement one night, drinking cheap wine I’d packed in my bag (for the train journey) and a bag of Skittles my son had tucked in there as well, and sent me the same wine along with a 2lb bag of Skittles to enjoy during the Superbowl (Marshawn Lynch! Beast mode!).

In January, Mike, tragically, had a good friend who was killed in a traffic accident helping a woman with her stalled car. I made this rough video for him because he loved when I sang (even put up with me karaoke-ing!) and I sang this song at my stepfather’s memorial years earlier. He told me he loved the video and that he knew the moment at which, during the song, I had trouble not crying. He said he thought I was looking right at him at the end of the video.

It’s odd to me that, now, this song applies to Mike.

This all happened far too fast. I received a message from his sister a week ago today that he only had a few days to live. The most recent text message I’d received from him indicated that I shouldn’t worry but that he’d had his lungs drained after “puking blood.” That message came two days earlier.

And then silence.

My last text to him (before I received the message from his sister) was “Miiiiiiiiiiike?!  Bueller? Bueller?”

On Friday morning, thanks to the surprise kindness of a mutual friend from school, I flew to Denver to see him in hospice. I don’t know if it was denial or dumb hope but I didn’t really think that I was flying in to say goodbye. I sat with him as he slept or at least as he lay there on the bed not talking, eyes closed. But as I talked to him and held his hand, though he felt very far away, there were slight attempts at squeezing my hand back. Attempts at moans. Still, it was difficult for me to find him, difficult to connect the Mike I knew to the vulnerable, naked, body, still breathing, moaning, trying to communicate, unable to, responding to the many visitors, basketball and football players I hadn’t seen since high school (MY GOD, their eyes all looked the same as they did 23 years ago), Mike moaned each time someone spoke to him. I wondered where he really was in the room. I felt like he was somewhere above me.

The only time he opened his eyes was when I told him that his hair was ‘getting too long.’ Mike would regularly send me selfies of when he would shave his head, accompanied by “I shaved my head tonight, as I do.”

And yesterday, Saturday, I arrived at the hospice 30 minutes too late. It was instantly clear he had left us. His family stood outside his room. I walked toward them, asked his sister “is he gone?” and was met with a hug and tears. Hugging his father was like hugging him, Mike, their bodies were like carbon copies, and their emotions were equally strong and clear. His mother was also strong, tears in her eyes. I was amazed by her fortitude and her generosity in comforting ME.

I asked if I could go in the room and say goodbye.

I walked into the room and it was buzzing. With his energy. He was all around me. More at peace than I’d ever seen him alive, as we, when we would get a chance to meet, would sit across from each other and talk about happiness and life. Those conversations were, truly, never about peace. Unless they were about how each of us would endeavor to find peace in our lives.

But yesterday, as he lay there, already passed, I found it was easier to talk to him, even easier to hold his hand, really, than it had been the day before and in fact, maybe, it had ever been. I thanked him, told him how much I would miss him, and let him know if he felt, you know, like haunting me at any point that would be cool too.

But, as I know, he never liked horror films, so I’m pretty sure he just, somewhere, smirked, and went along his way in search of humor.

And, I hope, peace.

 

 

 

Blue Bunny – It’s ALL Happening

Tomorrow marks the first REAL for reals it’s really happening pre-production meeting for my short script BLUE BUNNY. So, yes, it’s all happening.

In a way, it feels like it already happened. When I received an email from screenplay competition director Brook Ellen West that my short script BLUE BUNNY had taken first place at the Destiny City Film Festival, it was already more than I had dreamed of or hoped for when I wrote the script. This was one of those scripts that truly fell from the sky. Quite literally, I couldn’t sleep one night, and these characters started talking to me. And I’m so glad they did. Because once they started talking to me, they didn’t stop. Then Tacoma-based director Rick Walters got hold of the piece; hand-picked by the festival to direct a professional reading of the script, he assembled a tour-de-force cast. At that point, the characters were truly talking to me. Through these incredible artists. Audience members approached me after the reading to tell me that these actors had brought them to tears. During a staged READING? This speaks to the talent that was on that stage. 

I think one of the successes of BLUE BUNNY is the fact that I instantly fell in love with the main character as I wrote. Shane. This embittered, entitled ex-con lead is an anti-hero, the kind that makes me just want to give him something between a hug and a good shake. And maybe a slap across the face to wake him up. And hopefully, that’s (metaphorically) what he gets by the end of the script. He’s so flawed, he’s so in need of understanding. Which is something we can all relate to. Brook Ellen West put it perfectly when she introduced the reading with the question “Is there anything lonelier than feeling misunderstood?” I think not. Shane maximizes that angst, the poor-me feeling of ‘no one gets what I’ve been through.’ At the same time, Shane can’t just expect redemption. He can’t just assume understanding is his. He’s been held responsible for something awful. But, without any spoiler alerts, how much of that responsibility has he actually accepted or assumed?

Last week, award-winning DP and Director James Winters joined BLUE BUNNY director Rick Walters and me for some hot dogs at Tacoma’s The Red Hot and by the end of the meeting we were toasting to collaboration. I’m honored that these talented folks are willing to hitch their stars to my wagon in bringing this project to life.

Tomorrow we begin breaking down the script. I’ve been brought on as Production Designer, partially due to my past experience in Set Decorating in feature films in LA and, probably, partially due to my repeated “please, please, please can I be Production Designer?!”  I’m bringing my famous soy chorizo sloppy joes to the meeting. It seems like the right thing to do.

Stay tuned for the next installment! I’m about to get way more savvy about things like fundraising and, of course, temporary tattoos…I’m not sure the actor playing Shane wants to get all method-ey with the prison tattoos that factor in the story.

Here’s a shot just after the reading – what a moment. I’m looking forward to many more.

(credit for those top three beautiful photos goes to Ben Slavens who photographed the Destiny City Film Festival and who I hear shoots some pretty mean video too)

Selective Synchronicity is Cheating

I recently tweeted this: Pointless synchronicities are like lame super powers. More trouble than they’re worth. #whyohwhy

To which my sister replied: @jenprange I highly disagree about synchronicities. God’s a comic.

My retort: @Ravie13 Well, I hurt my head trying to figure out a Yelp synchronicity yesterday. Good one, God.

I waited for the lightning bolt (how dare I call God out on Twitter?!). It arrived jarringly in the form of the realization that I was cheating. How can I pick and choose which synchronicities are meaningful, and which are not?

Recently I experienced one for the books. Running through the alleyways of Tacoma toward Wapato Park, against the blaring of my Kick Ass running mix, I filled my mind with all sorts of daydreams and positive visualization. Among those mental images was the feeling of joy I get when I think about The Falls. I go all out on these visuals, by the way. I see scenes from the script on the big screen. I envision the right actors holding the script in their hands. Embodying the words. I see an Oscar on my nightstand.

As I envisioned MY Oscar on MY nightstand, here is what I nearly tripped over in an alleyway in Tacoma. 

What are the odds of nearly tripping over a novelty Oscar statuette in an alleyway in Tacoma, WA? An alleyway I had just run through not 45 minutes earlier (at which point it wasn’t there), AS I was daydreaming about Oscars?

Obviously, this has a cosmic meaning.

But what about less exciting and astounding synchronicities?  Don’t they just become relegated to the category of coincidence, no grand label of ‘cosmic significance’ for them?

Last Wednesday I learned how to make shrub. Surprisingly I, no stranger to cocktails, had never heard of shrub before. I’ve now seen it or heard it referenced five times at least since last Wednesday. Why? What can this mean?

When in doubt, I like to make a mental list of past seemingly meaningless coincidences that have resulted in unexpectedly meaningful forward movement in my life. In doing so, I’ve found the key is to not rely on ‘The Universe’ coming along to take care of things for you. Know what you want and take steps, even baby steps (better yet baby steps!) toward it. Action is the fuel behind intention. Synchronicity is like those little lights that lead to the front of an airplane toward the exit. “You’re heading in the right direction.”

Maybe the point of (even seemingly pointless) synchronicity is simply to keep us aware and searching for connections. Kind of an exercise for the senses and the mind. Anything that keeps me wondering makes me happy.

Another thing that makes me happy is The Oscars. Which are happening today. My little friend, pictured above, will hold court on my coffee-table over my nerdy printed out sheet of nominees and the bottle of cheap ‘champagne’ I bought to drink while I lounge around in pajamas and watch the ceremony. Mind you, I didn’t go for the cheapest champagne (I coughed up at least $6.99), and those pajamas are the satin-ey kind, not the cotton ones with bleach stains on the knees. I do want to send the right message to the Universe after all.

 

Not to Contradict Geniuses or Anything, But…

From Alain de Botton’s book Essays in Love: “Every fall into love involves [to adapt Oscar Wilde] the triumph of hope over self-knowledge. We fall in love hoping that we will not find in the other what we know is in ourselves – all the cowardice, weakness, laziness, dishonesty, compromise and brute stupidity. We throw a cordon of love around the chosen one, and decide that everything that lies within it will somehow be free of our faults and hence lovable. We locate inside another a perfection that eludes us within ourselves, and through union with the beloved, hope somehow to maintain [against evidence of all self-knowledge] a precarious faith in the species.”

I read this excerpt on brainpickings.org and found it, in my humble opinion and with copious respect to both de Botton and Wilde, to be somewhat inaccurate. Or at least incomplete.

Instead of the idea that we hope to find in others a more perfect version of ourselves, I offer that we already see the beauty in another’s imperfection and we then love in order that the other person may get a glimpse of his or her (necessarily flawed, as we all are) perfection through our eyes.  Love, after all, feels more like the sharing of a sense of beauty and less of  desperation or self-loathing or of turning a blind eye/dusting over our own flaws. I posit that attention paid to lack in ourselves, in fact, precludes our ability to really love. That giddy love energy comes from meeting on a level in which one recognizes something amazing in another, the other feels it and for however long this glimmer of shared beauty can be sustained, however long they see it and believe it too, therein exists ‘in love.’

What happens when the subject of love stops sensing, stops believing, in this vision? Once one person loses the trust they had in the other’s vision, failure follows. After that, it doesn’t matter how many times that person says he or she loves the other. The trust has gone. Once it’s discovered they’ve lost faith in the other’s reflection of their beauty, that bond begins to crumble.

I do, regrettably, agree with de Botton’s opening claim, that falling in love involves ‘the triumph of hope over self-knowledge.’ Pessimists might consider the use of the word ‘triumph’ as tongue in cheek. Maybe even optimists would, because I think we all know, somewhere deep inside, even as we are falling into that blind hope and swirling energy of newly connecting with another, that there is no getting out of love unscathed. So why do we do it? It’s that delicious experience of suspended disbelief that begs the question how much of the joy and reward of love actually depends on being loved back. Is being in love really more about the surprising and temporary joy of believing in magic, allowing for a minute that there exists a time and place where the swirl might remain?

When the swirl stops, it stops short. Emotional whiplash occurs. Scars. But the resulting scars tell a story that we carry with us into the next battle. Begging forgiveness for the comparison of  love to dung, dung is the best fertilizer, is it not? The most beautiful vegetables I’ve ever grown were ones fertilized with my mom’s chickens’ poop. There can be no growth, no transformation, without shit. Consider the pain of birth. Think of the forest fire, destroying in order to clear the earth for new growth.

As Haruki Murakami wrote:  ”When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person that walked in. That’s what the storm is all about.”

Ultimately, I’m not even sure whether my take on why we love wholly contradicts that of de Botton and Wilde. Maybe the excerpt above is just missing one tiny element, that of reciprocation. As much as I believe loving someone or something can just be its own reward, there is no denying the bliss/wholeness that comes with having it returned. Maybe it is precisely the fact that as we are able to find others ‘perfect’ despite their flaws that opens our hearts just enough to perhaps finally find those same flaws lovable, if not yet perfect, in ourselves. Thus the co-dependent (and which-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg) relationship of self-love/ability to love another.

In that case, I disagree mainly with this line: “We fall in love hoping that we will not find in the other what we know is in ourselves.” I have loved only after having accepted my own “cowardice, weakness, laziness, dishonesty, compromise and brute stupidity.” When I see the same in others, I feel complete and human, and hope that they do too.

My Version of Thanks

Color me guilty. I didn’t participate in the Facebook Thanksvember…I’m not even sure that’s what it was called. Something to that effect? I’m not a monster. I genuinely smiled when I saw others expressing thanks for their kids, their homes, their lives. I was happy to see a chance for people to look for and ‘status update’ the good in the place of the usual snarky ironic observation that typically comes through my newsfeed. Not to point fingers. I have also sought the easy laugh from my FB BFFs…I too have posted stuff that expresses my disgruntle in a ‘humorous’ way when, ultimately, I’m just looking for someone to commiserate. Why look for such commiseration when we can seek co-celebration?  How sad is it that I just had to make up that word?  Is there a word for that already?

So. Boom. Here is my Thanksgiving-esque blog. Why not.  What am I most thankful for?

I wanted to pick one — ONE — all encompassing thing, and I think I found the thing that makes me the happiest to be alive. Because it really is the umbrella under which everything huddles.

And it’s this: the capacity to love.

There you have it.

I love.

I love smells and colors and food and music. My sister laughs when I tell her that one of the things I love most about my favorite city (Los Angeles) is the trash. Even the trash in LA is beautiful. I don’t know if it’s the way the sunlight hits it, or if it’s the reflection cast on it from surrounding pink stucco, or the sound it makes when folks root through it looking for recyclables in the wee hours of the morning. I just love it.

I love people, I love stuff people do, I love stuff people make, I love ideas people have.

I love people. Sue me.

It’s just that, humans can be pretty rad when they use their powers for good. True, sometimes those powers are used for evil, but it seems like the former is somewhat more prevalent than the latter. Happily, sometimes humans even use their powers for the stupendous. Most engrossing to me is the passion and love for extremity that seems to run rampant when folks are in the zone of wholly enjoying the art of being human animals.

This guy dancing.

This love story.

This observation of a human nearly destroying himself for the love of excess.

This song that made me fall in love with someone for the first time.

This image (below) that I’ll be in love with until I get around to painting it. Then I’ll fall in love with the next one.

Friends, separated by thousands of miles, that love enough to meet once a year to sing in the mountains of Montana.

This example of the power of human creation.

And this (explicit) one.

The fact that dogs love people. That’s a big one. (Why the heck do dogs love people so much?!)

 

This love for everything and everyone is relatively new to me. Until about seven years ago I was really angry with people, circumstances, myself. And had been for a couple of decades.

Five things opened my eyes to the special nature of human beings and why even the shittiest people you meet are the most amazing creatures.

  1. I had a child.
  2. I lost someone I loved dearly.
  3. I began writing seriously, which requires paying attention to *why* people *do what they do.*
  4.  I gave up worrying about what other people thought about me.

And those are in order. And they had to be.

Here’s the funny thing about people:

Dogs don’t run away when I freak out with joy over them, petting them, loving them and praising them. But people often do (although, with people, I generally hold back on the petting). My enthusiasm and excitement for and my interest in the magic and talent and ins and outs of people I meet, their expression, their history, their personas, their beings, my wanting to tell everyone about them, often scares them away. What have these people been taught? What are they afraid of, being praised, appreciated? What have they experienced to make them run in the other direction? I hope I find out what it is so I can teach my son the opposite.

So people may have a thing to learn about allowing themselves to be admired and loved. And that was actually my number five, if you noticed it was missing.

5.  I learned to accept love from others.

Not easy, but huge.

Don’t let this last daunting challenge cause you to miss out. There is no rhyme or reason why people love and admire one another. That’s the beauty. People do things that display the depths of the human soul and heart and brain and all expression in all sorts of appreciable form.

Everything from my son’s art (left)…

…to his favorite classical piece, Camille Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals.

Fascination (the fancy word for geeking out) might even be considered a form of expression. It might just be my forte.

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. — Rumi

 

 

 

Cardboard Hearts and Happy Mistakes

Sometimes I hope the aliens really are watching us. I hope someone or something out there sees the bizarre and poignant things humans can do. This desire of mine makes itself known during moments in which I feel just so proud to be one of this weird species, populated by those with the hopeful potential to create and observe and feel. Sometimes really extremely sensitive and talented human beings manage to capture emotion and observation in some form of art for the rest of us to witness. And in those moments, I tremble. Blinded by giddy awe, my power to analyze these works of art may leave something to be desired, but my capacity for feeling, on maximum overdrive most of the time anyway, becomes moved to the point of sudden clarity. All it takes to really set it off is the right trigger.

One such trigger was this little number:

BOOP BEEP.

A humble and forthright, simply, beautifully and tightly shot short that played at the (20th Annual!!!) Austin Film Festival last month. I was, almost literally but not quite, dragged (okay, ‘encouraged’ is a more accurate description) to the shorts program in which it played by friend and talented director/actor/awesome person Peter Michael Dowd who had his own film in the festival (short doc THE KING OF SIZE). Peter had met the filmmakers behind another short playing in this particular program. A program called, unbecomingly (at least to me) something like ‘FAMILY MATTERS.’  Family programming is not normally my cup of tea.

Still, I went. And I spent the next 24 hours thanking Peter. And I spent the next few weeks stalking BOOP BEEP filmmaker Murphy Gilson. Because the first thing I knew, as soon as it ended, all 5 minutes and 18 seconds of it, was that, if I didn’t see BOOP BEEP again, soon, I would probably die.

BOOP BEEP is described on its wonderfully comprehensive Facebook page (you can watch tons of ‘making of’ vids there!) as: ‘…a handcrafted  love story about a lonely little robot who tries to win the heart of the girlbot next door. It’s a homemade film which attempts to eschew perfection in favor of the beauty of happy mistakes. At its very full cardboard heart, this film is about childhood wonder and how simple things can be magical.’

HAPPY MISTAKES. That’s it. That’s the special ingredient. The secret weapon. The unpretentious yet wildly imaginative design of the ‘bots. The sensitivity and wry humor behind the set decoration (the camera pans by a copy of STEEL MAGNOLIAS during the opening credits, just one small example). The viewer gets the sense that the magic of the production wasn’t wholly by design. That it was guided by sudden inspiration, last minute ideas, by a sense of fun, by a ‘hey, that makes sense!’ sensibility. With all due respect, because I can imagine that crediting serendipity may come across, unintentionally, as a back-handed compliment to hard-working and seasoned filmmakers.

But if I could front-handedly slap any filmmaker across the face with a compliment it would be Murphy Gilson. The craft behind this film captures that sense of serendipity and magic in a way that is simultaneously palpable yet invisible. An admirable feat. When I contacted Gilson on Facebook to freak out all over his film, to congratulate him in all my heartfelt yet sycophantic glory, I didn’t realize that he was already an award-winning filmmaker for his short PARTIALLY TRUE TALES OF A HIGH ADVENTURE.  And, in fact, as I write this, I notice that just hours ago, it was just announced on Facebook that BOOP BEEP won Golden Reel Award Winner at the 2013 Nevada Film Festival.

Awards and laurels aside (and there are a lot of laurels: Austin Film Festival, San Diego Film Festival, Nashville Film Festival, the list goes on…), one gets the sense, when watching BOOP BEEP, that it was not created out of anything more than a love for creation. A need for expression. An uncomplicated desire to repair something in the viewer (and perhaps in the filmmaker, if I dare?) in the same way that the male robot finds a glimpse of something compelling enough to make him duct tape the grate, upright and ready, across his chest after seeing the glimmering female robot across the street. Readying himself for the next, new, possible step.

In a film with this level of honesty and beauty there is often found a moment. A moment tantamount to a plane taking off or a roller coaster beginning its slow click-click-click up some impossibly vertical hill. In BOOP BEEP there is such a moment, during which you know you’re about to go on an emotional journey. For better or for worse. And there’s no hiding. The simple and ‘handcrafted’ (as described) robots ironically echo this ‘oh the humanity’ sense, with the same hodge-podge and taped together emotional gravity that, if you’re lucky, you remember life felt like as a pre-teen (and if you’re really lucky, life still feels that way). When everything had so much hope yet felt so tragic and monumental. And one smiling, shiny (robot) at the bus stop across the street could change the day and just maybe your outlook on the rest of your life.

Playing at The Beverly Hills Short Film Festival at  Busby’s in Los Angeles, on November 23rd at 3pm. Like the BOOP BEEP Facebook page for more screenings.

Best Intentions

I have a dear friend who keeps the word ‘intention’ near him while he works. He’s an extremely talented writer with a moving curiosity for and notable understanding of human nature. Despite this and his command of the tapestry of screenwriting, it’s taken awhile to get to a point less static career-wise than the years he’s spent building his collection of work.

Sometimes when we commiserate (or maybe I’ll use the word ‘muse’) over FaceTime about the roller-coaster that is being a writer he holds up the word ‘intention’ to the tiny iPhone camera,  blocking out his face. What I appreciate most about this is the fact that the word is printed in ballpoint pen on a piece of Steno notebook paper. It’s not etched in a shiny river rock. It’s not embroidered in cursive on a throw pillow. It’s not spelled in old typewriter keys in some form of 3-D collage (though, that sounds pretty cool). It’s completely unaffected and simple. Begging for him to test pens on the same page, just asking to be crumpled up in anger and re-written, illustrating in its simplicity how constant and renewable intention is.

I was reminded of this the other day. A few months ago I met a new friend at a screenwriting seminar in Austin, Texas, and naturally set about stalking his Facebook page. Among his photos was one of those images I knew I just had to paint. If you’ve followed my blog at all, you know I have an obsession for images of things that are either in the state of being built or of being destroyed. Over the course of this fairly recent obsession, I’ve lost a bit of the human form in my work.

But there it was!

A breezy beachy shot of my new friend and some companions bent over the beach, toiling over a sand castle. A slightly more lyrical scene than the image of the crashed Blackhawk helicopter in Joplin, MO, that I’d recently painted, but somehow, despite the blue skies and sand castles, it avoided being cloying or precious, portraying, instead, focus and industry. I had to paint it, but resolved to paint it only as a study, a hesitant attempt to bring people back into what had become more architectural work.

Like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or this:

 

 

I’ll admit it. I was nervous about painting people again.

 

I gave myself an out, told myself my intention was only to ‘study’ the image in paint. To make this concept concrete, I, without design or premeditation, did something I have never done. I sketched the figures in Sharpee directly onto the canvas first. Instantly, the fear of ruining the image or the piece was gone because, in my mind, I had already ruined it.

I started working on it.

 

I could have stopped here and almost did. But something made me keep going.

 

 

 

 

I finally became so lost in the image that I forgot about the black lines of the Sharpee, forgot about trying to cover them, I even forgot about following them.

 

 

And the final result:

 

It ended up being one of my favorite pieces that I’ve painted. And even with the black lines showing through (more obvious in real life than in the photograph here), in a weird way I think they add, show motion in the image, and remind me of the power of imperfection.

If I had been more honest with myself, I would have admitted that my ultimate intention with painting the image was expressing the feeling it gave me. Expression, all the way, not just a way to get the image out of my head and onto a canvas. Not just a tool to combine my ‘old stuff’ with my ‘new stuff.’ I had given myself something of a pass. But…intention is deeper and greater than we know, and if you let yourself get lost in it, it’s stronger than our conscious minds and is, better yet, smug in the face of our cowardly inner critics. It’s like a friend that knows us better than we know ourselves.