You Blow Stuff Up


Before my dad disappeared to sail around the world when I was 11, I spent every other weekend with him. All he wanted to watch was war movies. I HATED war movies — I was a little girl. A girly-girl. Before my world exploded.

Now, all I watch is war footage — documentaries, YouTube videos, movies about Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s because I’m completing a pilot about Iraq — and thinking about turning the pilot’s cut file into a feature. But the fact remains, that I’m watching my dad’s movies now. I am awake to symmetries in my life. Motifs. There are no accidents.

My dad loved watching people blow stuff up. I love watching what happens to people when they get blown up. War thrusts our worst inwards outward. I am compelled by people losing that much, that quickly.

I posted this story on Twitter a few days ago, in which Capt. Alexander Allan discusses pictures from his new book Afghanistan: A Tour of Duty. One of his comrades had his leg blown off. His buddies found the leg some time later, wrapped in a sheet. They made sure it wasn’t booby-trapped and took it back to camp. They burned it, manning the fire in shifts. Each took his turn to say goodbye. They let go.

I can’t stop thinking of these soldiers burning the leg. Can’t stop thinking of what I’ve left behind, that needs burning.

How I Write: Dreams

drama, screenwriting, T.V. writing

Had a dream where my back was turned and someone stole my couch, coffee table and computer.

Wrote in my journal: “I couldn’t believe they were able to take such big stuff so quickly.”

This line resonated with me. I’ve been working on a pilot about Iraq that’s affecting me deeply. I felt this line spoke to my experience writing this pilot and what I imagine to be soldiers’ experiences over there.

I decided to develop a scene where my female combat soldiers are outside the wire for the first time with their Marine comrades. The Marines leave them to guard the Humvee while they rip apart a house to find an insurgent. Iraqis create a diversion on the street, distracting the females just long enough for the Iraqis to steal something big — haven’t figured out what yet. A weapon, something significant. Maybe even the translator they were guarding.

When the Marines return to find they’ve lost something their first day on the job, the females are humiliated (though they shouldn’t be considering they were never trained for missions outside the wire). The main character says some version of that line from my journal later to her girls — “I couldn’t believe they were able to take such big stuff so quickly.” In the end, this line might be too on the nose, and it’s certainly awkward as written in my journal, but for now it stands as an emotional placeholder — a way to go deep.

The scene rings early on in the script as a warning bell for what they’re going to lose on the inside.