Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Insomnia solved a problem for once -- scriptwriting may ensue

Last night I accidentally turned lemons into lemonade (there has GOT to be a better phrase for that). After a brief bout of insomnia, I may have solved a writing problem I've had on the back burner for years.

After having hit the sack at a reasonable hour (a first this week)I woke up, bright eyed and bushy-tailed, at 3:00 am. Before I knew it I was downstairs watching movie previews on Netflix. Dammitall, such a waste of a good discipline moment. Due to my movie-watching, I was in a cinematic headspace when I went back to bed. I lay in bed, starting to sleep, when a problem I'd been chewing on for (embarrassingly enough) 12 or so years started to solve itself. The problem of how to turn my experience of being on the road, hoboing, and jumping trains into a storyline. Better yet -- into a screenplay. There WAS something positive about sitting in front of my computer, drooling and half asleep, for an hour and a half in the middle of the night!

I'll lay out the story first, then describe the idea.

A series of events led me, when I was 20 years old or so, to a huge burst of freedom and adventurousness. I had broken an ill-conceived engagement to be married (sweet woman tho she was, I was too young and finally realized it), and was overwhelmed with an urge to get the hell out of here. I decided to Vision Quest (Hanblecheya) in the desert that spring. I also began working off the debt I had accrued from both school and the relationship. I had already met a poet/mountain man type guy named Ross (I have been giving him the pseudonym Russ in my Fire Lookout Blog and this morning decided to just use his real name) who shared my passion to be out of doors and was going to be joining me in the Vision Quest that spring. He would also, it turns out, be joining me on the road 6 months later.

To cut the story short for this post, we did the quest and it was amazing. Beyond amazing actually, completely life-altering. After that, I was planning to throw a futon in the back of my little ' 79 Datsun pickup and go to the South West to see what I could see. When Ross found out about my plans, he said "Well, I'm going to the SW this next winter too -- only I'm going to Mexico first, and I'll be jumping freight trains instead of driving once I'm back in the states." That sealed it -- he and I left town that winter with $400 bucks each and were gone for 6 1/2 months. There were many adventures, of course.

I was mulling over the screenplay idea as I lay in bed. I've never written one, only small (real small) stage pieces. The idea to turn this period of time into a screenplay has been around since right when Ross and I returned to Portland in '92. The first mention was from a Cherokee man we were studying with at the time. He said, after hearing some stories about the trip over lunch, "you guys need to write this journey up as a screenplay. You don't even know what you experienced yet -- writing it down would teach you a lot about your experience." That was the last thing I expected to hear coming out of his mouth -- screenplay? Also, lately The Wife has been mentioning that I aught to get my writing into screenplay format so I can "keep her in a matter to which she is accustomed." Writing this blog has only increased her insistence. So -- between all the movie watching and these thoughts, screenplay writing was on my mind as I tried to get back to sleep.

The realization I had last night was how to start and stop the story for a serviceable writeup/memoir. How to frame the story. It was always a huge conundrum for me, writing from my own life, how the hell do you start? Everything in your life leads to that moment, so how much back-story do you give, and what back-story? This event leads to all the events in my life after it, so where do I stop? What is the cutoff? I've known for a long time I wanted to write this portion of my life up, either as a series of short stories, or a novel or even a screenplay; and this problem was one of my major hurtles.

The solution to my problem of how to frame the story is Ross himself. He was the catalyst for a lot of the action that ensued in this period of time. He deeply affected me through not only introducing me to many authors (Gary Snyder, Barry Lopez, Thomas Merton, and Wendell Berry to name a few), but by being a disciplined and serious writer. He was my original inspiration to take writing seriously. As a character, he is complex and mysterious. Through the course of our traveling together, despite all that happened, I learned very little about him. He lived very close to the chest.

I outlived Ross. He died young in a single-car accident outside Big Bend National Monument in Texas a few years ago, and so remains a mystery. Investigating his personality and our friendship is a perfect entrance and exit to this story. Maybe starting with the funeral and working through flashbacks, maybe something different. However I approach it, using his character to start and stop the time-line works better than anything I've considered before.

I fell asleep very excited by this idea.

Enjoy your day,



Shocho said...

Write first, analyze later. Once you get it all on paper, then you can frame it and rework it.

Sounds like a terrific story! I'm sure lots of folks would like to hear it.

Marty said...

I have a little of that in me too, but from a different direction. I spent a good bit of my youth reading scifi, anything I could get into my hot little hands. Long story short, I have an idea for a book in my head, but it is just getting it down on paper. Lord knows, as much as I bitched about the shitty stories I read I probably suck at it too, hehe.

Bpaul said...

In the end, writing entails sitting down... and WRITING. That's where I am with this project -- as Shocho intuited.

Same with you Hal -- er Marty :-) Eventually writing entails writing.

This blog is a warm-up for me. Or at least it's intended to be. I won't wait til I'm out of school to start either, because I have no idea how long this school thing is going to take.

Thanks for the responses guys, I figured that post was a bit long to get much readership.