Cults, Community, and The Heidi & Frank Show

advice, storytelling

The roar of my neighbor’s un-mufflered pick-up greeted me in the carport. She got out and told me she was going to a live broadcast of her favorite pirated internet radio show – The Heidi & Frank Show – at the Hooter’s in North Hollywood. She strongly encouraged me to come.

As appealing as that sounded, I had to regretfully decline. However, I was struck by her zeal in proselytizing on behalf of Heidi and/or Frank. I’m from the rural South, so I’ve been on the receiving end of my share of well-meaning invitations to church suppers, youth groups, baptismal founts and lock-ins.

It wasn’t till a while later when her truck roared up – backwards (she always backs in) – when I noticed a giant “Heidi & Frank Show” banner covering the entire back of her truck gate – that I realized the full extent of her Heidi & Frank conversion.

“Where’d you get that banner?” I asked.

“I had it made,” she said. “To support the show.”

This was like lightning striking me dumb, the idea that anyone could care so much about Heidi & Frank – who, from what I’ve gathered online appear to be a couple of profane idiot-whisperers (“Topics discussed on today’s After Hours: tweets out of context, downs, swollen lady bits, fly hair quests, and lit hickeys… it’s radio worth watching!”) who specialize in the kind of community-building first espoused by the Hitler Youth.

I was blown away by my neighbor’s banner – by the idea that anyone could care so much about a show, feel so identified with and invested in a *money-making corporate enterprise* as to spend her own money to help advertise for them – till she drove up a while later with her new Heidi & Frank mudflaps.

That’s when I realized – isn’t this a goal of anyone who makes stuff, who tells stories for a living and depends on the enthusiasm and support of others to help spread those stories around? Don’t we all want our listeners, our blog readers, our T.V. show watchers or movie watchers or novel readers to feel so invested in and identified with our stories they create their own mudflaps on their trucks, to extend those myths those mud-encrusted-rubber couple inches further into the world?

I guess we can all learn a think or two from Heidi & Frank, and not just about swollen lady bits.

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I’ve spent all of 60 seconds studying this Heidi & Frank, but seems like they’re following the cult leader’s handbook:

  1. People are put in physical or emotionally distressing situations [Hooter’s in North Hollywood]
  2. Their problems are reduced to one simple explanation, which is repeatedly emphasized [I’m listening to Heidi & Frank.]
  3. They receive what seems to be unconditional love, acceptance, and attention from a charismatic leader or group [this is the logline of any radio show]
  4. They get a new identity based on the group [my neighbor feels so identified with the show she used her own money to make a banner for her truck to advertise for them]
  5. They are subject to entrapment (isolation from friends, relatives and the mainstream culture) and their access to information is severely controlled. [the more they listen to Heidi & Frank, the less contact they have with the outside world]

 

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I’m reading

 

Co-Sign

storytelling

Hollywood Hills © by djjewelz

I hadn’t talked to my dad in a few months because I was buried in script-mode. So I almost forgot just how crazy he is.

The point of the call was just to catch up – as I drove to a doctor’s appointment across town. But since all I’ve been doing for months is writing, I don’t have a lot to catch people up on. So I told him what I’m excited about – which is that I’m thinking about buying a house.

I asked him if he would consider co-signing a mortgage with me, since I don’t exactly have two years of stable job history. (One of the many perks of being a writer.)

I don’t even feel like trying to put down here all the crazy things he said. Like when he kept bringing up his divorce from my mother – and how we and all the lawyers keep going after him for everything he’s got. (If that were true, how did he end up on the sailboat, and we ended up with our lights cut off?)

In the midst of sobbing and trying to make sense of this craziness – I forgot I was actually on my way somewhere.

I think I’m posting this because I want to remind myself some day – in case I forget again – that I can’t keep treating him like a normal father. Because he just doesn’t want to be that for me. He refuses. He’d rather pathologically lie – claiming his credit is too poor to co-sign for me (p.s. he owns a Ferrari), claiming he was hit so hard by the recession he’s had to dip into his retirement (p.s. he “retired” a few years ago – isn’t “retirement” when you “dip into your retirement”?), he’d rather go on meaningless angry rants about how he doesn’t cheat people and walk away from mortgages the way all these other scumbags do –

I remember I had an appointment but I forget where.

I kept trying to pin him down as to why this innocuous (to me) request made him so upset. The way I see it – if co-signing the mortgage isn’t something he feels like he can do or wants to do, all he has to do is give me a normal reason (or not), be nice about it and move on. I don’t see the need to get vicious, cruel, and mean about it. To rip apart and belittle every part of what I’m doing (including the city I’ve chosen (Los Angeles), my chosen career, my idea to get a roommate to help off-set the costs of home-ownership (“you don’t think that would look ridiculous and weird?” any weirder than my own father refusing to co-sign with me?), and everything I know about the real estate process.) Oh and he managed to compare me to my sister (who has owned a house with her husband for a few years in a vastly cheaper market) – making the implication both about my being single compared to her, and their joint income being more, and their joint job history being stable – and I just wanted to scream at him –

I am single because you have mistreated me my entire life.

I didn’t say that – but I did say variations of –

Don’t you get – the way your father treated you – that’s how you’re treating me. 

And –

You want to know why I don’t call you or visit you ever? This is why. Because this is what awaits me on the other end. Would you call you? 

I keep driving and driving – maybe if I just keep moving I’ll see it when I pass.

He wanted to know why I didn’t ask my “mother and father” (stepfather) to co-sign. I was like “you’re the one with the mansion and the yacht out back – seems obvious that you would be the one with the great credit.” He said something like “you treat me like shit. The only reason you ever call is because you want something from me.”

I pull off to the side of the road. I give up.

 

 

*

I went to my first Overeaters Anonymous meeting last week. I don’t know yet if it’s right for me – though my experiences clearly resonate with those of OA. However, I started listening to this podcast of OA speakers. And I am ob-sessed. I listened to Martha O. (12/17/11) tonight – who described getting cancer while bulimic, and looking forward to how thin she’d be. There’s something about how honest and raw these people are – how much I relate to what they’re saying – I just can’t stop listening to them.

See Your Own Trouble Reflected

advice, storytelling

lynda barry card w/ purple paint spatters © by xinem

… [Lynda Barry] told a story about the neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran, who helps patients experiencing phantom-limb pain. Barry discussed one patient who felt that his missing left hand was clenched in a fist and could never shake the discomfort — could never “unclench” it.

So Ramachandran used a mirror box — a compartment into which the patient could insert his right hand and see it reflected at the end of his left arm. “And Ramachandran said, ‘Open your hands.’ And the patient saw this” — Barry opened two clenched fists in unison. “That’s what I think images do.

“I think that in the course of human life,” she continued softly, “we have events that cause” — she clenched her fist and held it up, inspecting it from all angles. “Losing your parents might cause it. Or a war. Or things going bad in a family.”

The only way to open that fist, she said, is to see your own trouble reflected in an image, as the patient saw his hand reflected in a mirror. It might be a story you write, or a book you read, or a song that means the world to you. “And then?” She opened her hand and waved.

I read this article about Lynda Barry – who became a writing and creativity teacher when the market for her comic strips dried up.

I was pretty troubled in college – and whenever people (people like the other girls in my eating disorders recovery group, for instance) would suggest to me that writing was therapeutic for me – I thought this idea was bullshit at best.

However, I do think writing has a cathartic quality – not in a confessional, I’m-making-my-audience-my-therapists! way. Rather, in the way Barry describes above.

If something has caused you to close, cave in, get smaller – writing about it, creating around it, reflecting it in the world again and again – gets you bigger again.

via Cartoonist Lynda Barry Will Make You Believe In Yourself – NYTimes.com.

Provoke Anxiety

storytelling

I don't know what nationality this werewolf perched in London is, but I have to think he's American.

If I were to make blog t-shirts, the first would say PROVOKE ANXIETY.

This feels like a founding principle to me – of the way I write, the way I live, the way I encounter the world.

If I’m doing something that doesn’t make me anxious – that doesn’t make me delay, worry, perseverate, talk about it endlessly – it doesn’t feel worth doing.

I don’t want to waste my time feeling safe and comfortable.

I provoke anxiety – in myself, in others – because that’s where art lives.

Art is anxious. Not safe.

 

In an effort to take you behind the scenes here on the blog, I bring you a picture of this blog post being written -- in the lobby of The Hoxton, London.

 

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I’m listening to Julie Klausner’s amazing podcast “How Was Your Week.” She really loves the things she loves (1970’s stars, animals reading her book, musical theatre, reality T.V.) — and helps you love them too.

 

 

Don’t Stare At One Thing For Too Long

advice, screenwriting

I took this pic yesterday while writing at a Soho pub. This image feels so London.

One of the many bad habits I have is I tend to spend too much time staring at one thing.

I’m thinking of scripts and novels right now, but I’m also thinking of life.

I freeze. I hesitate. I spend way, way too long staring at the same thing – when I should just keep moving the minute I realize I don’t know what to do.

Because doing nothing is almost always worse than doing anything at all. When you’re moving, you may be moving in the wrong direction – but it’s easier to figure that out when you’re doing something, when you’re in motion. Because when you freeze, you stop course-correcting, you lose any sense of your bearings. You forget where you are.

Worst of all, when you freeze you send yourself and the world the message that yeah, you shouldn’t be going anywhere. This spot right here feels safer and less uncertain than any random direction you might pick. And since staying in one place is far less anxiety-provoking than moving, you feel a sense of relief. But it’s illusory relief, akin to the relief you may feel when you refuse to get out of bed in the morning. Yes it feels better in the moment, but as your life and your work grind to a halt, your losses far outweigh the temporary comfort.

It’s the same with staring at the same beat in a script for too long – or staying at the wrong job or relationship or whatever it is – it feels better in the moment, but it can be subtly, silently devastating.

Any moment in your writing (or job or relationship or whatever) requires some thought, yes. But you know when you’ve paused too long. And when you do, make yourself go somewhere else, try a different spot. You’ll have a million excuses for why you can’t or don’t want to, but also you can just try it and see how it feels.

This is the outside of the pub pictured above. I'm in love with all the window boxes and hanging plants everywhere in London.

 

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I’m reading Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox. It’s an entertaining ethnographic study of what makes the English tick – the perfect thing for my hostess to give me to read during my first visit here in London.

Story By vs. Written By

advice, screenwriting, storytelling, T.V. writing

Questioned Proposal © by Eleaf

 

Someone asked me to answer this question on Quora, so I thought I may as well throw it up here:

Question:

What is the difference between story writing and screenplay writing for movies?

My answer:

There is no difference.

People who don’t know what they’re doing or are not particularly confident in their screenwriting will go on and on about structure and formulas and hitting this goalpost at that mark and blah blah but the fact remains –

A screenplay is a story told visually (and with some dialogue). There is absolutely no other difference. It’s just a different style of telling a story (through pictures, sounds and spoken words rather than written words).

The more you focus on telling a story (rather than hitting all the goalposts the books talk about) – the better off you will be.

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I would also like to recommend this answer to the same question by Mark Hughes. He gets more into the nitty-gritty of the “story by” vs. “written by” credits.

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Today’s “What I’m Reading” is a “What I’m Listening To” –

I really love podcasts. There’s a handful that I listen to every episode they do. I’ll try to post about all of my favorites, but today’s favorite is “Extra Hot Great” – a podcast by three true lovers of T.V. and movies and all things pop culture. (They are Tara Ariano, David T. Cole and Joe Reid). They’re funny, insightful, and best of all they infect you with their love and sense of ownership over wonderful (and some terrible) things to watch.

 

London, or, Fear of Happy

storytelling

Night London Panorama with Full Moon © by Dimitry B

I’m going to London for a month.

I’ve got to turn in a script first, then I’m going. Because I can. Because this is the kind of thing I always fantasized about as a child – this is what I thought my life would be like. And so far, for the most part, it hasn’t been.

But something big shifted inside me this year. Maybe it was that I got so sick – (I’m feeling a lot better now, thanks to some good doctors and a ton of work on my part) – but all of a sudden I just got on a really gut level how important it was for me to make myself happy. How, if I don’t do it now, no one will do it for me. How I can’t just wait for it to happen.

Even a few months ago I would have laughed at the idea of *me* leaving L.A. for a month. But what if I miss something amazing! I never would have done it.

But then I got really sick – and felt really alone – and suddenly the prospect of missing something amazing in L.A. felt a hell of a lot less scary than the thought of missing my entire life – the thought that if I didn’t do something drastic, now, I might never have the kind of life I always just assumed would be mine.

Believe me – I know it’s not possible for everyone to just leave town on an impulsive whim. But I think it’s more possible than you might think. I used money as the excuse for far too long – telling myself “you can start doing what you want when you have more money.” But I think that’s an excuse, because at a very deep level I needed to not move forward. I’m trying to figure out where that need came from – possibly knowing that my father would reject me if I did pretty much anything to benefit myself or make myself happy?

But my father has already rejected me, countless horrible times. So why does this childish voice inside me keep insisting that if we just do it better this time, it will be different? If we just freeze and stay needy and stop growing, he’ll have no reason to be upset.

So I’m going to London.

And my question is – what’s your London? And why aren’t you going?

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I’m reading
Great mystery novelist.

 

 

Every Dialogue Line Is A Punchline

advice, comedy writing, drama, jokes, screenwriting, T.V. writing

 

Project 4(Barbara Kruger) by KelsIZbwnage

I want every line of dialogue I write to land like a punchline.

Even in the most serious, least funny stuff I write — I still strive for that rhythm. Each line sets up the next. And each line has to land. And if it doesn’t, you tighten it (by cutting off the top of the line, the first half of the sentence, which the eye skips over anyway) — or you cut filler words — or you reorder the line so that the highest-impact word falls last. Or conversely — you reorder the line so that it falls away, it’s a throwaway, the intensity and conviction of the words and the speaker drop from the start of the line till the end. And this is a kind of punchline too, where we suddenly look at the speaker, knowing there’s a story there. He’s the butt of the joke. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s not.

What we’re talking about is a way to make your dialogue rhythmic, musical and responsive. Just make each line feel like the punchline to the joke that was the last line. I’m not saying make it funny — I did this in death scenes in my Iraq pilot. Ok maybe there was a little humor there, I don’t remember.

Just make it punchy.

 

My Interior Life Is Richer Than Yours

advice

taken on July 18, 2010 in Cambara do Sul, Rio Grande do Sul, BR.by Sabor Digital

“I just think to look across the room and automatically assume that somebody else is less aware than me, or that somehow their interior life is less rich, and complicated, and acutely perceived than mine, makes me not as good a writer. Because that means I’m going to be performing for a faceless audience, instead of trying to have a conversation with a person. […] It’s true that I want very much—I treasure my regular-guyness. I’ve started to think it’s my biggest asset as a writer. Is that I’m pretty much just like everybody else.”

This is a quote from David Foster Wallace, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

Because this is the fight for writers, for artists — to get really ok with the idea that not only are we not special, that the more we dismantle the mountains of acute perceptions and rich interior lives and complications that we believe make us special, the more we connect with those around us, the better we get.

When artists feel like we’ve eaten enough shit, been kicked down enough, we push ourselves back up to standing by assuring ourselves that no matter what — these idiots aren’t artists. They can misunderstand and power-play and fuck stuff up and control and deride the shit they don’t understand — but at the end of the day —

My interior life is richer than theirs is.

It’s like we’re embattled, always, playing king of the mountain of depth and connection and aliveness and despair.

This is why we cycle between superiority and inferiority — because the minute any true artist feels better than others, whether it be in depth or output, she knows enough to know that very position makes her the worst.

You can’t truly believe you’re the best if you’re an artist, because being an artist means questioning, disbelieving, wondering, feeling acute doubt.

No one can ever have a richer interior life than anyone else. To be human is to have a rich interior life, and to claim yours is better is to lose a little humanity.

Because being an artist means abdicating your specialness in favor of your commonness. Your ego wants you to be special, and demarcated, and showily, painfully different. Your ego wants you to have a richer interior life than anyone else. Bragging and self-deprecating are two halves of this coin. Anything that says “look at me! I hurt and you wouldn’t understand.”

But the point of art isn’t to rub people’s faces in stuff they wouldn’t understand. It’s to convey stuff everyone understands — as instantly as possible.

It’s pretty easy to make art about your own rich inner life — it’s all right there, waiting to be harvested. And it’s all about you — your favorite subject!

But the fight for artists is to understand that what’s common is more interesting than any of your rich inner life bullshit. The fight is always to connect, to realize how unimportant we are, that 98% of my rich inner life is contained in all of us.

You become an artist when glimpses of our rich interior life begin appearing all around you.

Bushcast Episode 4: You Are Not Alone

storytelling, women

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=os7z7KYV6F8

This is my contribution to the You Are Not Alone project. It’s sort of like the It Gets Better project, but instead of talking about what it’s like to be bullied for being gay, this is about talking about what it’s like to be sexually assaulted.

This story is about an upsetting sexual experience I had in college. This story is a good example of how grey and muddy these cases can be. If you’re blacking out drunk, how much can consent can you really give? If I, a relatively empowered young woman at an Ivy League school, felt this much shame and personal responsibility around what happened — and never said anything to anyone, not in any kind of accusatory way — it’s hard to believe that less empowered women are reporting what happens to them. Where is the line where we start calling something sexual assault? I don’t consider this assault, since I gave consent in the moment, and yet I was so drunk I couldn’t see. I feel traumatized by this experience to this day.

I alluded to this story in this post about my father abandoning me, making the point that my worst secret (abandonment) is the shame that leads to the rest — that’s what leads to eating disorders and blacking out drunk a lot in college and winding up beneath two football players.

Talking about it helps. Once I share stuff here, it hurts less, and I find it far easier and less charged to talk about in the world. When I alluded to the football players in that post above, that felt very dangerous, because that was one of the bad secrets. Then I knew I would have to tell the story here some day. Now is as good a time as any. I’m a storyteller.