"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Thursday, August 30, 2012


I'm always learning things about myself, things that surprise me. I suppose when I stop learning, or stop being surprised, I should just pick out my coffin.

Last weekend, I learned one of two things: either I am a professional writer who sets the terms under which she creates, or I am a foot-stomping diva.

Here's the story...

For a few years, I've participated in the 48-Hour Film Festival. It's kind of like a weekend version of Project Runway/Top Chef/challenge show, where teams compete to produce a movie in a 48-hour time period. At 7 p.m. on Friday, you're given the genre, the name and occupation of a character, a prop, and a line of dialogue. At 7 p.m. on Sunday, you hand in a 4-7 minute movie that contains all those things.

I'm the writer. I spend Friday evening hashing out the story with the director, then creating the script. Then I go home and let everyone else do their jobs.

The fun part of this for me is the challenge of creation. I'm given a bunch of disparate pieces and the vision of the director, and somehow, I make it work. As anal as I am when I'm writing my novels, I love the spontaneity of this exercise.

This year, I was excited to write the script, that is, until Friday came. Our air conditioner was out (in 90+ degree heat), and trying to read my current manuscript through my cataract was giving me an insane headache. I was hot. I was sweaty. I was in pain.

It's possible I was a little cranky.

Nevertheless, I told the director I'd write the script, so I drove for two-and-a-half hours to the meeting spot, taking as much pain medication as my body could tolerate and stopping for coffee in the hope caffeine might help.

Once I got there, I found that I had collaborators. I can think of several authors/writers I'd love to collaborate with. These people were strangers. Not bad people. Not bad ideas. Just strangers, with whom I could not get in sync. It was hard to think through my headache, much less listen to a bunch of ideas spoken in purposeful voices.

At some point, I realized we were going to brainstorm all night if I didn't stop and start writing SOME kind of story. I snapped like some little toy dog in designer booties, listened to what the director wanted, and wrote his story.

Everyone wanted to change this little thing and that little thing, and at one point, the whole script threatened to become a camel (that's a horse designed by committee) and I had to defend my work. This included chasing people away from the computer, where they were deleting lines and adding new ones. Finally, I changed enough to please the one person I always answer to: the director.

It was after ten o'clock when I drove two hours home. Let me tell you, driving on the freeway in the dark when you have a cataract is an exercise in terror. I arrived home feeling like I'd been rode hard and put away wet.

Throughout the weekend, I kept hearing snippets of how the filming was going. Apparently, it went super-uber-well and everyone loved the movie and they were incredibly proud of their work.

They also, apparently, didn't use the script I wrote.

I don't believe in time wasted. Time is always spent learning lessons. By the time Monday rolled around, I had decided what the weekend had taught me. I am officially retiring from participation in the 48-Hour Film Festival. I don't feel angry. It's not a tantrum. I'm just either a skittish writer who is incapable of collaboration with strangers, or I'm a full-scale diva who has demands.

Or I should have stayed home this year and nursed my ailing head.

I'm a little surprised by the whole thing. I believed I liked collaboration. I thought I'd always be up to writing these scripts. I believed I wasn't a foot-stomping diva. Who knew?

Oh, well. As my friend, Robin, would say: you say foot-stomping diva like it's a bad thing.


Tameri Etherton said...

You are NOT a foot-stomping diva. Even if you were, like Robin says, that's not such a bad thing. You are terribly gracious in this post. I would've been hurt, humiliated, angry, a tad upset that I drove over four hours in pain just to be replaced, etc. It's your honor and dignity in this post that makes you not a foot-stomping diva.

You took away a valuable lesson from this weekend. Do not drive at night with a cataract.

Okay, that was supposed to be some light-hearted humor. You're amazing. Jus' sayin'.

Gayle Carline said...

HA HA, in retrospect, I didn't think the whole cataract problem through. Of course, I'd be driving back up the 5 from San Diego in the dark. Of course, there would be long stretches of very black road with no lights except for oncoming traffic. Of course I would be holding my right eye closed so my left eye could see the lane markings. And of course, in my attempt to stay safe and drive 60 mph in the slow lane, I would still have people running up my little minivan's butt to try to speed me up.

Meh. Maybe I'll just surrender to my diva-liciousness. My only regret is, I didn't wear the tiara.

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