I’m staying home today. I have a haircut appointment at noon, because I have a lecture to present tomorrow. Then a 4:30 meeting with the Chinese writers. So I decided to use my own vacation day to stay at home. Barely 8 o’clock, there was pounding against my wall. The construction workers started their day’s job. But I’m uncharacteristically undisturbed. A great time to practice Zen, right?
Yesterday evening was the screenwriting class I enrolled at UCLA Extension. It was much better than the previous two sessions.
I thought the instructor was high-strung. During the break by the water-cooler, we had a little chat. She was juggling so many balls—
She was teaching two evening classes.
She was also taking a YA Novel writing class through UCLA Extension. The deadline was 12 hours away. She wanted to turn in 30 pages, but she only had 10 as we spoke.
She was also working on a rewrite. The deadline was three days away, the Sunday. But she hadn’t started yet.
All the while, her 98-year-old mother back in Ohio was not doing well. Struggling.
Her other industry friends had projects announced on Deadline.com. But now, the people she wanted to give scripts to were all busy with their own stuff.
“That’s the life I’m dealing with.” She shrugged with a sad smile. I wanted to give her a hug. Because I know that face. I am that face.
I was critical of her in the first two classes. Because she was giving an unfair amount of time (50 mins out of a three-hour class for a dozen students) to a 65-year-old woman who was adapting the Holocaust memoir written by her parents. To be frank, the woman had a low screenplay IQ. She had an even lower EQ. I was on the verge of losing it. I bit my tongue and stared at the clock. I stormed out of the class the second we were dismissed.
The instructor said she stayed until 11:15 PM?! last time for the woman. I told her plainly, “Set some boundary.” I suddenly had more empathy towards her than I had known in me.
After the break, I pitched my old-new story. It was the first feature I wrote at UCLA. I got some really interesting notes. As soon as I got home, I watched the reference movie they mentioned, Stand by Me (1986).
I thought the class level was beneath me, at first. But yesterday from the table read, I found two guys were pretty good writers already. One had impressive action beats. Another had a fantastic ear for dialogue.
Although I didn’t bring in new materials last night, I got new ideas from the group. I did it by simply showing up. (Hat tip to Seth Godin’s blog post on “Showing up.”)
But it didn’t just end there. The “dialogue guy” emailed me through the course platform later, saying that he also wanted to apply for UCLA’s Screenwriting MFA program next year and asked if he could ask me some questions regarding the program.
It was a really thoughtful email. He explained that I was the only one he knew that went to this program most recently. He seemed sincere and respectful. Immediately I replied. I gave him my cell and email address. Of course, next time in class, we would talk more. I would even approach him if he didn’t. He showed me two things: bravery and sincerity.
Funny thing about reaching out. I’ve had many, many of those situations, mulling over how the recipient would think of me. But guess what, there is nothing I can do. The worst case scenario is no. But these days, you would probably get a ‘no response’ response at best. so what do you have to lose?
You never know.