Monday, July 27, 2009

Open mind

It’s interesting to me how some things will always stick with you. There are incidents you remember clearly, or contradictions that keep coming back to you, and sometimes maybe there’s a lesson there.

Along with writing about various struggles, I have written at times about worldview, and self-definition, and that maybe it is a mistake to even try and define yourself, because you might make it too narrow. I guess another issue is having self-definition as too fixed.

One thought that has come to me many times (though I don’t think I have ever written about it) is that I feel like I got all the easy stuff out of the way early, and then it was just this plateau. I gained a lot of spirituality early, and I learned to control my temper pretty well, but the issues that I have left that need correction are really hard ones where I fail a lot.

That is mainly weight, of course. I have often berated myself for being lazy in frustration as I continually fail to make any progress, and yet, that has not felt right either. This is that sense of contradiction I mentioned. I can work really hard, with great concentration and effort and patience. Usually those tasks are something finite, where it may take a while, but I know that it can be done. I think a big issue for me has been that I have never really believed that I could lose weight.

I wrote earlier about believing I was fat long before I was really fat, and how I did not want to think about it or examine it, which was what led to it becoming true without me realizing what was happening. I think I missed another factor, relating to how people can change things with work.

Let me back up. We moved here right before I started first grade. Kindergarten was not available in the public schools at that time, but it was still pretty standard for kids to go. I did not, and so I started grade school at a lower level than most of the kids. I was expected to be slow, but that’s not what happened.

I was put in the lowest reading group, where you just had ditto sheets assembled into little booklets, with stories about a tin man and a pig, because there were no words longer than three letters. I remember wanting to know what was in all the books, and vowing that I would get promoted to Pug (the second level), and make my way through all the different books. That’s not how it happened. After maybe two weeks or so, I was moved up to Green Feet, which was the highest reading group. So, my plans for conquering all of the books were thwarted, but now I was not regarded as slow.

That was good, and being intelligent was good, but this good thing in me did not feel like it required any effort. Everything was so easy that I developed no study habits to speak of. I would take my books home, ignore them completely while I read for pleasure or watched television, and then do my homework on the way to school and before school the next day. There was only one teacher who ever really called me on it. (That was Mr. Wright, fifth grade English. Apparently he graded me on my potential, triggering my first cycle of buckling down before bad habits and procrastination kicked in again.)

I have another example to illustrate this, but it is kind of obnoxious. At the beginning of fourth grade, the English teachers were explaining that there would be three levels of spelling tests: easy, medium, and hard. After I took the first one, I asked Mr. King when we would get to the hard ones. He just looked at me, irritated, and did not answer. Somehow, I had gotten the idea that we would all do easy ones for a while, and then medium ones, and I wanted the timeline for when it was going to get interesting. In reality, we had been divided into three groups, I was in the hard one, and he probably thought I was trying to show off. (To be fair, I am not generally obnoxious on purpose.)

Anyway, the point is that I never had to work at being smart. If I got bad grades, it was my own issues with time management, but never that I actually couldn’t do the work. And, from the way things were set up, I don’t remember anyone else progressing either. There were kids who were smart, and kids who weren’t. By the same token, there were kids who were athletic and kids who weren’t, and I don’t remember anyone making the transition. It’s stupid, really, because you hear that practicing is important and that effort is important, and yet I still felt like you just are what you are.

Perhaps I owe part of my epiphany to a King of the Hill episode (I love that show). In one, Bobby was preparing for the presidential fitness tests, and he was really working hard. He ended up able to do one pull-up, but he didn’t get the medal because the requirement was three. Still, Hank pointed out all the kids who didn’t even do one, and that he could work at it again for next year. I never believed that I could do the flexed-arm hang. I dutifully tried and failed each year, but if faith without works is dead, well, maybe works without faith are dead too.

I am trying to open my mind to the possibility that there are ways in which I actually can change. I don’t think it helps to say anything is possible. A lot of things are possible, but you know, I actually can’t become an Olympic gymnast now, and I don’t believe I could have then, even if I started when I was four. That’s okay though, because I don’t want to be an Olympic gymnast.

I would like to be at a healthy weight. I have set goals for this many, many times, but really, I never believed it would happen. I need to cast of the shackles of the mind. And, I need to think and see if there are other areas where I have limited myself. I guess it is time for some goal-setting again.

Realistically, I have been doing this self-exploration for I guess about four years now, and I do know that just because you identify a false belief, you are not automatically free from it. I also know that I have gotten better, and I believe I will continue to do so. If nothing else, I am grateful to be aware, of both my flaws and virtues, and I am grateful to be happy in spite of all the problems.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


When I do these posts, I write in a Word file that I call Blog Draft, and then I copy it into another file, Blog Log. The first is just so I have all the advantages of Word while I am writing, and do not have to stay on line (less of an issue with broadband, but I have these habits stemming from when I had dial-up), and the second is so I have a backup record. After all, the blog is kind of like a second journal for me.

The reason I mention this is that a friend commented on my last post, and it did not seem to be quite in sync with the message of the last post, so I reread it. Sometimes I do come off wrong, and it's good to know when it happens.

Well, somehow with the copy and paste, a line from the previous post got in. It just so happen that it fit in perfectly well grammatically, so no alarm bells went off, and it is a step in an internal narrative, which fit in the context. However, it did completely change the message.

So, when I said I felt grateful, and protected, that was the conclusion. Being plunged into despair was from earlier. It did happen, and it will probably happen again, but at that moment I felt good, and I carried it with me for a while. I will need other reminders, but that's just life.

Monday, July 20, 2009


I wanted to write a little bit about this experience that I had Friday. Julie and Maria had the day off, so we went to the Rose Garden and then Skateworld.

The garden part was fine, but I started to be really apprehensive about the skating. I went in and got the skates and put them on, and I even started going towards the rink with Julie, but I kept feeling like I shouldn’t do it.

Last time I went skating, it went okay to a point, and I felt like I really needed to go or Julie would be disappointed, but after going around the rink I felt prompted to take off my skates right away. I thought that was silly, since it was only a short distance to the place where you normally take them off anyway, but I immediately fell down. I landed on one arm that was sore and had limited movements for over six weeks.

Still, I had been able to navigate the rink okay, and I used to love roller-skating. I would like to be good at it again. So, I thought I would try this, and if I got any promptings I would follow them right away. Only I didn’t actually, because I felt this nervousness and was just trying to brush it aside as fear. The more I tried to ignore it, though, the louder it got, until it was like an internal scream. I thought, “What am I doing? This is the prompting.” So I took the skates off, which disappointed Julie greatly, and went back.

She and Maria went out a bit, but I think I kind of ruined it for them. Maybe it was that the rink was packed with little kids, but they didn’t go very far.

While I was waiting for them, I was sitting there, a bit disappointed, and doubting myself. After all, the problem with obeying promptings is that often you never know why—you just find out the hard way if you ignore it. But I asked, and I suddenly flashed to Sylvia and her injury. She fell and broke her elbow recently, and it has involved a lot of pain, and been very expensive, and has been worse because she is overweight.

That’s about the only thing that could make my life more depressing now. The physical pain would be hard, but that would be the least of it. Having huge medical bills with no insurance or income would devastate Mom, and especially if it was the elbow or arm, or wrist, it could affect my typing when I am trying to get a lot done here. It would be really bad. And suddenly I felt very grateful and protected.

Well, I need to remember that there is inspiration and protection, and focus on feeling grateful, and listening better. These are hard times. There is no getting past that. But they are still bearable, and that’s important.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Writing update

For those of you who don’t know, I double-majored in Romance Languages and History at U of O. One of the requirements of the history major was that you take a research seminar. You would do a lot of reading, attend weekly discussion groups on the reading, and then do a 20 page research paper. It was in no way as grueling as Information Gathering was for Journalism majors, or Organic Chemistry for various science majors, but it was still a lot of work, and I found it to be very difficult. The reading and discussion was fine, but I had no idea how to write a research paper.

My seminar was African Americans in the American West. Any seminar required professor permission, which basically required the professor believing that you would not be completely clueless. This seminar was taught by Quintard Taylor, and he had been my instructor for two terms of African American History. I had also taken History of the West and of the Pacific Northwest from Richard Brown, so I was reasonably well prepared, and I liked Dr. Taylor a lot. I had even found a document that he was going to add to the selected readings for the post Civil War era (a letter written by a former slave), so my historical knowledge going in was decent.

The first thing you need to do to write a decent paper is to pick a good topic, and something that you can write twenty pages about. This is where I wavered. The first thing that sparked my imagination was a line of poetry written by a Buffalo Soldier, so I focused on them. However, since it was the poetry, I should have focused on their writings or, since the line was about empathizing with the Native Americans that they had captured, I could have written about that relationship, and the conflicts. I wasn’t thinking like that though. Professor Taylor suggested that writing about the historiography of the Buffalo Soldiers could be interesting, so I did that. I didn’t have much to say about it.

In addition, so I started off checking out lots of different books, and trying to read them all, all the way through, and that is completely impractical in a situation like this. You need to skim and see if they have anything useful, and if they do, then dig deeper. I didn’t know that.

Anyway, I kept going along, finding lots of information (too much, actually), and not writing a word, and I eventually took an incomplete so I could have more time. I finished the paper over the next term, and it was a relief, but I didn’t feel like it was anything special, and it felt more like a regret than anything else. Of course, I had learned a lot about writing a research paper, but I was probably never going to have to do it again, so what was the point?

Well, maybe there were some other lessons about persistence, taking a break when you need it, how to do exhaustive research, and following your passion, but still, it didn’t seem like a huge gain. Maybe the real lesson is that if you are really going to use a degree in history, you will be doing post-graduate work, and then you will be doing very long papers, so get ready for that.

Anyway, I have just finished something that was very difficult, and that I may never have to do again.

A few months back, I saw that a friend’s Facebook status mentioned pitching show ideas. I asked her about it, and asked if she needed any ideas, because I had two. Well, I wrote them up for her (at her request; I’m not that aggressive), and she wanted one of them further developed. Expanding the character descriptions was not hard at all. Writing the pilot episode was a little harder, because timing it right for the time slot, including commercial breaks, was new to me, but it was still not that bad. Writing out 26 episode paragraphs nearly broke me.

I don’t remember how long ago I first thought of these characters, but I’ve visited them on and off, and I know some things that happen to them, but enough things to fill an entire season? I mean, if there were five seasons I could tell you the overall arc of each season, but still, breaking it down into 26 chunks? That’s one reason I like writing movies. You do what you want with the characters and they are done. Maybe there’s a sequel, but there doesn’t have to be. The point is, I have been working on this since May, and it was late May, and this is still relatively early in July, but it’s a long time. So, what have I learned?

Well, for one thing, I may never have to do this again, but if I do, I could, and I will probably be faster the next time, because I have learned some methods that work. That is a plus. Like the history paper, it took much longer than anticipated. That was frustrating. I did have to take some breaks, because I had other projects that I needed to get done (mainly Cowrite entries, but you know), so there were some times when I wrote a lot and some times when I wrote nothing. I am getting more consistent, but there is still room for improvement.

Speaking of Cowrite, well, I did not win a single week, but I did end up being a finalist for Week 10. This meant two things. One, my name was on the web page as a finalist (seriously, you can see it: Also, I had the opportunity to submit one of my own scripts:

“Thank you for submitting OUT OF STEP. Although I thought it was well written, unfortunately we are going to pass at this time. Best of luck with it in the future.”

So, that’s a little discouraging, yes. On the other hand, that’s one person who has worked in the industry, including as a script reader, who says it was well written. Tara works in the industry, and thinks my series has potential. It has only been about a year since I completed my first screenplay, and I have had two professionals view my work, and basically completed four other scripts plus the television series. That’s not bad. (Of course, by now, I intended to be working on my tenth script instead of my sixth, but the contest and the television writing really threw things for a loop,) I would be ecstatic if I was employed and not worried about money.

Now I just really want to jump into finishing Coulrophobia and all of those other movies I have been putting off writing, but I do need to keep job hunting and, on the writing side, I really need to learn to pitch. I have four pitches coming up at the Willamette Writers Conference, and I can’t really afford it, but I did it anyway because it feels necessary. I need to make the most of it.