Onward and Upward

This weekend we finished post-production on a short film, No Time for Romance. It’s a fourteen minute short about a pregnant wife who must decide to stay with her live-in boyfriend or prepare for the end of the world. It’s really about much more than that though: the rising nuclear tensions and the effects it has on a relationship with differing views.

My producing partner and I shot the film earlier this year. It’s been a long time coming. The production didn’t go as planned and the audio was a mess. There were disagreements on the script (that never fully felt complete by the time of filming). In short, we learned a lot.

Upon finalizing and exporting the film, my partner expressed how much he liked it. How good it felt to be done. I felt the same way, but differently.

I replied, “No one will watch it and we’ll make more. Onward and upward.”

He agreed. This might sound complacent but it’s the opposite.

The film won’t win Oscar. And it most likely won’t launch our careers into quitting our jobs and becoming full-time moviemakers. We had a story and we wanted to tell it. Did it come out EXACTLY the way we wanted? No. But that’s okay. Few things do.

I have boughten into this idea/advice from filmmakers like Mark Duplass (and others) whose motto of “just make movies.”

Every project is another lesson for the next one. We have other projects in the works, both together and separately, my producing partner and I. Writing is the same way. With every project you learn something, you get better, you home your voice, your practice.

And as much as we’d love the fame and attention for our projects, the likes and the shares and the views—we know it’s not about that. It can’t be. If it was, we would have quit a long time ago. It’s about the work, the process, the collaboration, the storytelling.

Just write. Just paint. Just workout. Just sew. Set your goals but know it can’t be about the outcome. It has to be about the work.

When facing that lurking feeling of creative self-doubt, born from resistance, waiting to devour all of your dreams and ambitions—Theo Roosevelt said it best:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Come join us in the arena.

This isn’t our first film and it won’t be our last. The next one will be better, and the next one better than that. Fail again. Fail better.

Check out the film here:  No Time For Romance

Thanks for reading. Always be writing.

 

-REH

Tequila And George Jones

My father left us last June. I overheard my mom one night talking about him screwing another attorney from his law firm. She stills call him after she’s had too much wine. She doesn’t know I know, but I can hear her crying through my bedroom wall.

Now, I don’t see my dad much. Sometimes he’ll text me and send me checks in the mail. I look at his law firm insignia in the right corner, knowing that his job was the reason he’s not with my mom anymore. So when I cash the checks, I have no remorse.

I never felt like my mother was the best wife to my dad. She would sometimes throw away entire meals if he complained even the slightest. She would run upstairs and my dad would look at me and ask if I wanted to go out.
We would find the nearest fast food restaurant, order some cheeseburgers, and milkshakes and sit in the parking lot. We would watch people walk in and out and laugh at them. We would do voices imitating them and all the things they ordered. When I got older he stopped taking me when my mom got mad. He instead grabbed his keys and left by himself. When I get married, I’ll be a better wife than my mom. But I’ll be sure to marry a better man than my dad.

I’m seventeen and he’s been gone for seven months. My mother doesn’t throw her food away when I say I don’t like it. She just says “Well that’s all we got.” And then I eat it. She had to get a job at the super market and works second shift. I’m pretty sure my dad is still paying the mortgage and most of our bills.

Once in awhile, me and my best friend Becky Saunders will go visit my mom at the supermarket. At the moment, Becky is really all I got. Becky has her own car and she’s really pretty. She’s brunette with long hair, and thick in all the right places. All the boys drool after her. It’s amazing we’re friends at all because freshman year I told everyone she stuffed her bra with Kleenex. She took revenge by pulling me down by my hair in the hallway between classes. She spit in my eye and everyone cheered her on. We both were suspended. My mom was mad and my dad just shook his head.

Sophomore year, Becky and I both tried out for the basketball team and got cut. Becky couldn’t run as fast as she used to. Her boobs were too big, so it was hard for her to move her arms. I was cut because I was no good. Becky and I bonded over the idea of being left out. I forgot about her spit and she forgot about me spreading rumors. Becky was fun, but I found her obnoxious at times. At the lunch table, she would laugh extra loud. The boys would turn and look at her. That’s when I found her to be the most obnoxious.

Becky always made me feel invincible. The way she would talk to boys with such confidence. She would flip them off and smile. They would laugh and gawk at us as we walked away. They were mostly looking at Becky, but every now and then, I’d hope they were looking at me too. I was always thick in the wrong places. I was seventeen and I realized that my chest would never fill out. I hoped guys would notice my brown eyes before they’d notice my flat chest.
Once in the eight grade, Jason Woolworth told me I had pretty eyes.

“I really like your eyes.”

We made out by the swings. The next week at school he told everyone I was a bad kisser. He was sent to juvenile detention the following year for stabbing his step dad with a fork. I haven’t heard much about him since then. Jason was my first and last encounter with a boy. It made me sick to my stomach to think about that. I didn’t want Jason to my last.

It was Thursday night, we didn’t have school tomorrow for teacher planning day. It was to be a long weekend and Becky and I were on our way to see my mom at the grocery store. She was going to give me some money to see a movie. But we weren’t going to see a movie. We needed the money to buy alcohol.

“How do you feel about your mom working at a grocery store?” Becky was driving.
“I don’t know. It’s whatever.” I said.
“I mean, how do you guys pay rent?”
“We don’t pay rent. We own the house.” I looked at her. Her eyes stayed on the road.
“Well, what about taxes or whatever?”
“My dad still helps us out.” I looked away.
“You should ask him to pay for that boob job you wanted.” Becky turned to me. I looked at her sternly. She smiled. And laughed.
“I’m just kidding!”

She was referring to something that happened a couple weekends ago. We did four shots of Rumchatta in my basement. She took off her shirt and I saw her bare breasts. Then she told me I should do the same thing. Then we started talking.

“Why can’t mine be as big as yours?” I pleaded.
“I got these from my grandma.” Becky cupped hers in her hands.
“What do you think about a boob job?”
“What? Are you thinking about getting one?”
“If I had the money, maybe.”

She burst into laughter. I put my shirt back on. She made me feel stupid. I passed out. At any moment she gets an opportunity to bring it up, she usually does.

We pulled into Shannon’s Market and went inside. My mom was helping a black guy who was holding a little girl. The little girl was crying and my mother bagged their groceries. The place was slow. I saw my mom’s manager sweeping some cereal by the pop and bread. The black guy and his daughter left. Becky and I went to her register.

“Hey mom.”
“Hey, honey. Hello, Becky”
Becky smiled. My mom was never a huge fan of Becky. It was the way Becky just helped herself to a drink or a snack without asking.

“What time is your show?”
Becky looked at me for an answer. “Eight.” I said.
“What are you seeing?”
I looked at Becky for an answer. She slung her keys around her index finger and said “Something scary.”
“Are boys going?” My mother pried.
I shrugged. Becky smiled. My mom smirked.

“Well I close, so I won’t be home till midnight. Lock up when you girls get home, please.”
She reached into her apron and handed me a twenty. I smiled, thanked her, and Becky and I scrambled out of the grocery store.
Our plan was to drive to Homer, the town next to us, use Becky’s fake ID at this gas station, buy some tequila, go back to my house, get drunk, watch a movie, and pass out.

“Guess who just texted me?” Becky asked.
“Maybe you should concentrate on driving.”
Becky tossed me her phone and smiled. I looked. The contact read Jake Mills.
“He’s an asshole.”
“I’m not dating him. He’s hot.”
“Didn’t he graduate last year? What’s he doing texting a high school girl?”
“Stop being a prude. Text him back for me.”
Jake Mills was the guy who wore the letterman jacket. Rumors were he screwed the Spanish teacher, Mrs. White, when he was a junior. They did it in the closet after school. She got fired and he continued on to be an all-state baseball player. Besides that, I hadn’t heard much of him since. His text to Becky read I’m with George Jones, you girls wanna hang out?

“He’s with George Jones.”

George Jones was the funny guy in my American History class. I always laughed at his jokes but he never noticed. He drove his mom’s red mini van to school and the guys would pick on him about it. I remember Cindy Boyles blew him at a dance in the bathroom last year. Everyone slut shamed her and she was never the same. George played wide receiver, he once caught a pass and almost fell into me and my friends and as we watched the game from the grass around the field. Other than that, I don’t know too much about him.

“He’s cute.” Becky said.
“Becky, you know how much trouble I could get into?”
“They’ll be gone before your mom gets home.”

I shook my head and handed her the phone. She used one hand to drive and the other to text him back. Half of me wanted her to lose control of the car so we could go smashing into a tree. I would be dead and I wouldn’t have to deal with George or Jake tonight. Then they would read about us in the newspapers. Jake and George would say to themselves, those were the girls we were trying to fuck, damn, too bad they’re dead now. I wonder if they would remember my face without having to look at the picture.

Getting the fifth of tequila was no problem. The woman who ran the cash register on Thursday nights was either drunk all the time or had a crush on Becky. It was hard to say.

The ride home was uneventful. The guys were supposed to arrive at my house at 9:30. I was going to let them in through the walk out door from my basement. If my mom came home, they could easily escape, no problem. Part of me thinks my mom would be relieved to know boys liked me. Maybe then she would stop feeling so bad for me.

The guys arrived right on time. Becky went out to greet them. I stayed on the couch. I found some plastic cups and set them on a table along with the fifth. Downstairs we had an old rear-projection big screen. It only got a couple channels with the antenna but I doubted they wanted to watch TV. My basement had a laundry room and old drop ceiling. My childhood friend Tiffany Wells and I used to play house down here. We would pretend like we needed to cook for our pretend husbands. We took bowls of water and blades of grass from outside and made soup. She stopped coming over so much after her mom shot herself. She turned goth and started smoking cigarettes behind the buses at school. Tiffany was the first person to tell me about sex. We were eight years old.

“It’s when two people get inside each other and squirm around.” She told me one night during sleepover.

I know what sex is now. But I’m just as much a virgin as I was then. Becky and the guys came in laughing. Jake wasn’t wearing his letterman, but instead a leather jacket. His hair was wet, slicked to the side. He was the way I remembered him. Dark haired, with a rough face, like shaving wasn’t a priority. He had nice eyes and broad shoulders. George looked much cuter than I recalled him looking in class. He had blonde hair, with toned cheeks, and was skinny. He wore a red collared shirt. I remember reading that red is the color most associated with sex. Maybe that’s why he looked so cute.

“Hey Cecelia,” George said.
“Hi.” I politely smiled from the couch.
“Cecelia, you know Jake?” Becky asked.
“Not really.”
“How you doing?” Jake gave me a head nod.
“Fine.”
“Can I use your pisser?” Jake asked me.
“Sure. It‘s upstairs. I can show you.” I got up and then Becky interrupted me.
“I’ll show him. Come on.” Becky led Jake up the stairs. George sat next to me. He looked around. His eyes met mine in the reflection of the big screen TV. I didn’t know what to say. And I knew Becky and Jake weren’t going to be back anytime soon.
“You do the homework yet?” I asked.
“Homework?”
“For American History.”
George chuckled. “I didn’t even know we had homework.”
I felt stupid for bringing it up. But it wasn’t like he was trying too hard. His light hair looked good. A bang fell just perfectly on his forehead. Almost like Elvis.
“You want to do a shot?” I grabbed the fifth.
I cracked open the fifth. Tore the gold paper off and poured some into the plastic cup. I tipped it back. I wanted to impress him.
“Hey, what are you doing?” He said.
I coughed a little bit. “What?”
“You have to cheers.”
I smiled. I laughed. He was flirting with me. I think. I tapped my plastic cup against his.

“No, no. You have to have something in there to cheers with.”
I poured some more. We cheered and tipped our drinks back. We did three more shots and talked about the time Dylan Ferris got so mad in American History class he started to cry. George had this nice laugh that made me laugh. He was funnier when it was just him and me. Then the laughing stopped. I was drunk and he leaned in and kissed me. His tongue broke my lips open and I tasted tequila. His hands went down my leg and for a second I was worried about my mom walking in. Then I was worried Jake had finished doing Becky and they’d come down. They would ruin our moment. I closed my eyes and tasted more tequila.

His hand pushed up my shirt and his fingers danced on my stomach. I started to breath heavier and uncontrolled. He stopped and pulled away. He smiled at me.

“Everything okay?” I asked. He didn’t say anything. He grabbed the fifth, poured some more, and tipped it back. I waited. He turned and crawled on top of me. I let my weight fall into the couch and him in between my legs. He kissed my neck and his hands went up thigh to my butt. He felt good on top of me. His body pressed into mine. I had never felt the weight of someone on top of me. It felt nice.

His hands left my legs and went up my shirt. They were cold and I felt goose bumps forming on the back of my arms. A chill went down my back, his tongue touched my neck, and his hand groped my breast. Suddenly, I had an impulse to push him off.
I sat there. I crossed my arms. I was drunk, lightheaded and the room spun. I looked at him. He was staring at the big screen TV .
“Sorry.” I said.
He looked at me. He shrugged and got up.
“It’s cool. I’m going to get Jake.”

George dashed upstairs. I could hear frustration in his footsteps. They reminded me of my mother when her and my dad were arguing. Then I heard murmurs of conversation. I looked at the fifth. It was half gone. Two sets of footsteps crossed the floor above me. The front door opened and closed.

A moment passed. Becky came down. She sat down next to me. Her hair was a mess. There was a smile on her face, one of success. She took a shot of tequila and then poured me one. I tipped it back. I turned on the big screen TV and we watched Everybody Loves Raymond. I passed out first. When I woke up the next morning, Becky was gone.

I didn’t hear from Becky for the rest of weekend. My mom worked Friday night and Saturday night, so I didn’t see her either. On Sunday, she made breakfast and then took me to buy a new pair of jeans. I was nervous about Monday. I was nervous about history class. I didn’t tell Becky anything about George. She never asked. I was mostly worried George telling everyone how I couldn’t handle my body being touched. How I acted like I was still in eighth grade. They would question my sexuality and wonder why I’m not like Becky Saunders, or Tiffany Gates, or even Brittany Kovacks. Those girls got all the attention and all the cute boys to buy them chocolate and give them rides home from school.

Monday in American History class, George wasn’t as funny as he usually was. He didn’t say anything to me and I avoided eye contact. That was that. And at lunch, Becky told everyone about how she screwed Jake Mills on my mom’s bed. I wasn’t happy about that, but it had already happened. I was mostly just relieved to know no one knew anything about Thursday night.

When I got home after school, I got a check for forty dollars from my dad. I signed it off to my mom and she gave me some cash. I texted Becky and told her I got some more money for the weekend. She sent back a smiley face.

Sometimes I have dreams.

It was a dim morning. The time of the year when the sun starts coming out a little bit later, in the last part of summer. It’s an odd transition and noticeable to someone who wakes up as early as I do. The pain came with force, right to my head. It happened so quickly I thought I was dead. When I came to, a bright light shined in my left eye — a police officer, with a mustache and an earring in his right ear. I remember thinking, police officers aren’t supposed to wear earrings. Blood trickled down to my chin; it crossed my lips without entering my mouth. The blood wasn’t warm, but cold, and the stiff early fall breeze only emphasized its journey down my face.

I woke up when I knew it was safe. A fuzz of blankness was the last thing I saw. Like when the TV signal goes out, and you’re left with just noise.

Always be writing.

-REH

She Came Late at Night

She came late at night, with a dozen roses and a bucket of water.

At first, one can assume the water was for the roses. A bucket is an odd choice, but what else could she have it for?

I didn’t ask right away, as it was so late. I had to be up early. She had to be up early. I let her in and I rubbed my eyes dry. “What are you doing here?” I asked.

She responded after a long pause and told me to follow her upstairs.

The water shook with her steps. A trail of water was left behind. At this hour, I couldn’t find the energy to complain. So I didn’t. We sat on my bed and she handed me the flowers. I soon realized the flowers were the exact same ones I had given her three weeks ago. See, three weeks ago was our four-year anniversary of dating. Naturally, I got her flowers — It’s what she expected. It’s what everyone expects.

“Are these the same flowers?” She nodded yes. “But how? How are they still so fresh?” I asked.

She replied, “It’s in the water.”

(Sometimes I write short fictional stories with no real ending)

Always be writing.

-REH

The day I broke the chain.

2 years, 3 months, and 13 days.

It was a Monday. April 14th.

When I started this blog more than two years ago, I blogged about something called “Don’t Break the Chain”. It was a writing technique practiced by comedian Jerry Seinfeld. It was simply a promise to oneself to write every day. Using a calendar and a red marker, you cross days off that you wrote, creating a chain… Hence DON’T BREAK THE CHAIN.

And on April 14th 2014, I simply forgot to write. And now the chain is broken.

I woke up that morning I realized what I had done.

Before I get into what followed, I should put some context into why I think I broke the chain.

It had been two months since I had worked on a specific project. There were a lot of changes in life and for some reason I was hitting walls with creating anything new — thus I had very little inspiration when it came to writing. Early drafts of scripts sat on my desk, and I couldn’t find any ambition to do rewrites. Perhaps the two years of striving, had worn me down — that’s my excuse anyways.  Without the inspiration of a new fresh project at hand, I began to journal to continue my goal of writing everyday. But then one day, I forgot to. Writing seemly took a backseat — something that didn’t occur for over two years.

I woke up that morning feeling nothing by guilt. I began to over think the reason why…

Perhaps it was sign to give it all up. Stop all struggling and realize I’ll never make it. And that’s how I felt.

“What do I have now?”

There was a blank space on my calendar and I felt broken. The feeling didn’t last for long though. Because I knew, I had to be tough. It was just one day. I had still conquered quite a bit and achieved what I wanted for those two years.

I simply kept writing the following day. I started a new chain on April 15th.

I’m still struggling to get back in the groove of things — and quite honestly don’t know why that is. Some days I’ll work on the rewrites that I have put off for so long. Other days I’ll journal just to cross off the day.

Since breaking the chain that one time, I’ve done it three more times. It doesn’t hurt so much anymore…

And that hurts that it doesn’t hurt so much anymore. When did the writing become so stale and when did the dream of being a successful, working screenwriter become so distant?

It’s hard to say I suppose. But at this point, there is no turning back.

It’s like I’m waiting for that break and that inspiration again. I’m waiting for that moment of rejuvenation and reason to start working hard like before.

I don’t know when that will be, but I’m confident it will come sooner than later.

Or I could just not wait and make it happen myself…

We shall see.

But what I have is two years of major progress in my work. What I have now is another streak to continue, another goal to reach, and another reason to write more and better. I just have to sit down and do it.

Always be writing.

 

-REH

 

Don’t write to live. Live to Write.

It’s not easy to write. Don’t get me wrong…

But it is easy to sit in the chair, sip coffee, and type some dribble into a word document.

I think I’ve been in this desk chair for the majority of the last two years. Sure, my writing has improved and I’ve gotten a lot done…but I’ve also missed out on a lot. And I’m just now realizing this.

Some of the things, I’m glad I missed out on. Choosing writing was the right choice. Other things, I regret missing out on. Finding the balance between writing and life can be difficult. Both need effort.

Recently writing has become hard for me. I have hit more walls than I ever have. My routine has been off and my work has slowed.

BUT I still write everyday. And all those walls have forced me to approach writing a different way…

Now, I write on a whim. With no real schedule. Now it’s true, I haven’t gotten much work done. But the work I am getting done appears to be really good — for my standards anyway.

Let me go back to where I started hitting walls: Now I must state that I don’t believe in writer’s block — mainly because it has never been an issue for me.

I finished a first draft of a script in October. I usually always have another project to move onto next, but this time, I didn’t — that was my first wall. So I began to search out other alternatives for writing. I realized I was bored with writing screenplays, so I was open to anything — perhaps a novel. Or I was going to blog more. Writing short stories or opinion pieces…

None of which I did. Instead I began to journal everyday. And eventually through the journaling a new story started to appear. For the past two months I’ve been working on a new story.  Notes here and there — pages are starting flow and I feel good about it. But my approach is way different than my previous 17 screenplays.

Not only do I think the writing is good. But this is the most personal story I’ve ever written, and I’m enjoying the writing to the fullest extent.

I have changed my tactics for one reason. I was bored.

Now with this new tactic, writing on a whim and writing a story that’s personal and meaningful…I have more time to live. More effort is put into my life outside this desk. I feel alive when I write and before I write.

The work shows that.

Writing less. Writing better. And living to write. Not writing to live.

There was no doubt; my writing was becoming numb writing. It was a job and I treated it like a job. My passion was fading. And my change of tactics couldn’t have come at a better time.

The pressure is limited. The pages are slim. My routine is seemly fucked, but suddenly the passion for writing is back.

Always be writing. Everyday.

-REH

Go back to where it all started.

When a good idea comes, I write it down. Eventually the really good ones are turned into a screenplay.

But all these “good ideas” are placed into a folder on the computer.

Often when I begin my outline, I copy and past the very first notes into another word document where I can continue to build the idea, thus leaving the very first starter note as is.

So one long night….
I went back to the starter ideas that were turned into screenplays…

What I found:

Most of the time the notes don’t even apply to the screenplay anymore. But I did find that they are filled with meaning and substance.

On the good screenplays I’ve written, that meaning and substance stuck.

On the bad screenplays, the meaning and substance was clearly lost. Probably in the shuffle of structure, characters and the basic to-do list of a screenplay.

I was also inspired by a lot of the notes. They actually brought on new ideas, which I quickly wrote down. I realized that these starter notes were crucial. I wrote them down for a reason. It’s what inspired me in the first place. And when I write a new story, I need to remember where it all started — where it all came from.

Go back and review your free flowing thoughts. I think you’ll find something. I know I did.

Always be writing. Everyday.