Not only is this new Muse incredibly inspiring, he seems to be really, really good at keeping my butt planted in my chair; not letting me run away from my desk every 14 seconds to do something really stupid in my never-ending efforts to avoid having to focus on tedious work.
Yes, I finally, finally, finally got all those notes turned in to Peitor in LA re: the adaption of my screenplay, Tell My Bones, into a stage play.
I finally just sat and fucking did it. It took 2 days of typing up bullet points at my desk in my un-air-conditioned bedroom that was over 90 degrees and really humid.
A couple weeks ago, I had read over all my notes from my in-person talks with Helen LaFrance, and I had re-read her private hand-written diaries, that are sometimes difficult to decipher and hard on the eyes. I had highlighted all the things I knew I wanted to remember, but whenever I would sit down to turn all those highlighted passages into a (long) list of bullet points for Peitor, it just felt mind-numbing.
Mostly because I had already done this process once, for myself, when I wrote the initial screenplay. It took a whole lot of mind power back then to sift through all the moments of her life and create what I felt was a seamless, beautiful story that captured her essence; her life lived. And that script did really well in the important contests, and won in its category in a film festival up in Cleveland. So it is hard to un-think what I already created re: Helen’s life, but the screenplay is just not working at all for the stage.
So I knew I really did have to start from square one, and Peitor had been so selfless in getting up at the crack of dawn, when he was on that vacation in another country, in another time zone, just to help me try to stop floundering with this project. I was embarrassed that it took me so long to complete it and turn it into him. But I finally emailed him the file around noon yesterday, and, like, a nanosecond later, I got a text from him on my phone: “Got the file. Don’t worry. Projects like this can feel overwhelming. Did it help you to go through this process?” Nothing about: why did it fucking take you so long?
And yes, it truly had helped me. When I read over all the pages & pages & pages of single-spaced bullet points that I had collected for Peitor, I realized that the story of Helen’s life was still wide open. I could come at it from so many ways now. I was free from the boundaries of the original script I had created.
Between my Muse keeping my butt in that chair, and the selflessness of a really dear, long-time friend, I felt just so loved. I really did. And most importantly, I felt really excited about tackling this stage adaptation again.
Then, I took some time to start streaming some episodes of that other TV writer’s work. This was recommended to me by a producer in LA who really loved my CLEVELAND project but is not going to help produce it because he has projects right now that are too similar, both on Broadway and in film. But he recommended this particular show to me from the other TV writer (from about 10 years ago) and said that if I used that construct, the CLEVELAND project would really pop.
Well, this other TV show is really violent, not something I have the stomach for, but I watched every single moment, every frame, because I didn’t want to miss what the producer might have meant. Three-quarters of the way through the first show, bam, it was all right there. I immediately paused it and played the scene again. Wow, This is what he means. I totally, totally got it. When I transposed it in my mind over the brothers in my own show, it suddenly made everything really intense and the characters came even more alive.
Of course, this means I have to re-write the pilot yet again, and then tweak the show bible, yet again, but if I can nail this tone and this dynamic, the show is going to be incredible.
And I really was just overwhelmed by how considerate that producer was, a man who doesn’t know me at all, only “knows me” by my writing from having read the project; a man who is not going to produce it because he doesn’t have the time, but who took the time to figure out what would put the script over the top and then wrote and told me what to do (and added let’s get coffee when you’re back in LA). No way on earth did he have to take the time to do that. I was grateful when he wrote to me with that input, but then, after seeing the show, I was positively floored by how precisely he had nailed it.
So many producers have been interested in this project, gang. So many. I think I first wrote it in 2013. And yet so few have taken the time to come up with any kind of a vision for it, to help put it across. Certainly Bohemia Group has. It took me a year of revisions, but they helped me create an incredible script that quickly became too expensive for them to make on their own. Which is why we’re looking for other producers with access to larger budgets. But when you want access to a larger budget, the concept itself has to then become a little bit larger.
When I first wrote the pilot, I sent it to a producer in LA. I mailed him a hard copy to his office. I didn’t know him, he didn’t know me. He called me the minute he read it and said, This is great. Thank you for sending it to me. Really. But then he also said that his agent wouldn’t let him produce it because I was unknown in that business and no way, no how, do I have it in me to be a showrunner. But he invited me to come out to LA so that he could introduce me to some other producers, who weren’t quite as successful as he was, who didn’t have as much at stake, but who needed good projects.
So I went out there. And it was awesome, the response my project got. But what sticks with me so clearly is driving with that producer in his really expensive convertible on the LA freeway, the top down, a beautiful evening is on its way; he has his expensive sunglasses on; his expensive gold watch. He has been the head of several top movie and TV studios in the course of his career, has been a producer since before I was born. He’s happily married and doesn’t have a sleazy bone in his body. He looked over at me while he was driving and he said, “You are a really good writer, Marilyn. You know that, right?”
Sometimes I do.
Nowadays, I look around at this crazy really old house that I love, at this crazy really old town that I love, and I think to myself, I’d better be a really good writer because nothing is selling and I’m flat broke now and I just bought a house…
And of course the trip to my dad’s didn’t help. Over lunch, I said, “I know I owe you money, Dad. I want you to know I haven’t forgotten. I just don’t have it right now.” But, inside myself, secretly, I know I’m broke now, but I’m also super-duper happy because for some inexplicable reason I now have an incredible Muse who’s knocking it out of the park. I have a cellphone full of notes about my own life that are just too beautiful.
My dad looked at me across the table, sort of expressionless because he knows full well I owe him money and he knows full well I don’t have it. “What are you going to do if you get sick? You’ll lose everything.”
Jesus. Thanks for that head’s up. “I’m not going to get sick, Dad. I’m really, really healthy. And I’m really happy right now.”
“But you’re not selling anything. You’re not making any money.” No, not yet, I’m not.
But I come back home to my crazy old beautiful house and the Muse is waiting for me — I can literally feel his energy in my room. He’s been sort of just going over the extensive notes of my life while I was gone. He says, “You know, you’re kind of a lucky duckster yourself. You have had sex with some very pretty girls in your lifetime; you know that? Some very pretty girls.”
Yeah, I do know that. And I wrote about them, and those stories sold really well. Keep on selling, in fact. All over the world.
And then I suddenly remember a very pretty girl that I had sex with — in my dad’s house. I had completely forgotten about that. Blocked it out, more likely. We got caught. Up in the guest room. While I was “just visiting.” “This is how you respect me? You do something like this under my roof?” Me: “No, Dad. I wasn’t thinking.” Him: “Are you some kind of lesbian?” (Back then, he could barely get this word out because he despised gays.) Me: “No, Dad, I’m not a lesbian. She’s just my girlfriend.”
And, it’s of course, remarks like this coming out of my mouth that have always short-circuited my dad’s brain because they simply do not make sense to him. He wasn’t able to understand how a girl could have sex with girls and not be a lesbian. At my wedding to Wayne, after having barely spoken to me for years, my dad comes to me and says, “I’m really surprised you’re marrying a man, Marilyn. I thought you were a lesbian.” Me, in my super femme, Cinderella wedding gown, having to say at my own wedding, “Dad, I’m not a lesbian.” (And of course, Wayne standing right there, wishing it were that simple — me, and all those girls, and me not a lesbian; me being more things than even he can possibly manage, and he still said, “I do.”)
That time, though, my dad, dressed in a very expensive suit, had a look on his face like he was really, really, really trying to understand me. On my wedding day.
I’ve spent a lifetime trying to understand me, so I know how it feels. I woke this morning, again at 4:20 AM, and the Muse was there. The morning was dark, quiet, exquisite. And I thought with relief that I’d finally turned in my notes, that I’d finally made time to start streaming that other writer’s TV show. And I remembered how charitable everyone is with me, and I saw love everywhere.
This is a new feeling for me, gang. I had been in a very loveless place for such a long time — it had felt like for my whole life and it probably was. I fought so hard to survive it, to rise above so much abuse. And I did rise above it, but I had no idea how to love.
I cried a little then, because I was angry at myself for letting so many dead years slip by me. I am almost 60 years old. But the Muse was right there. Don’t cry about it. Lives like yours can feel overwhelming. Do you think it helped you to go through this process?
And I was smiling again. Feeling so much love. It sure fucking did. Then I turned on some music. A little Tom Petty, as is my habit these days. Life is so good, gang.