Brigitte Hales

Life is like a box of… balloons at Spring Fair?

In Uncategorized on May 25, 2013 at 10:27 pm

There was a video going around on Facebook last week (found here), a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace about the realities of adult life that really struck me. And I don’t meant that in a superficial way either. There are many, many internet videos, and postings, and news clips that strike you in the moment, but don’t last much longer than that. For example, the news video from the Oklahoma tornado of the woman finding her dog in the wreckage, *on-air*, also went around last week. Very moving. I even cried while watching it, but I doubt I’ll remember it in a month or a year. Wallace’s speech will be with me forever.

For those of you who haven’t heard it (although again, I highly suggest that you click here), Wallace talks about how the day-to-dayness of adult life is centered around routine — mind numbing, soul crushing routine — and not great acts of innovation or creativity, which is what you think life is about on graduation day. He goes on to describe a typical evening’s trek to the supermarket, you at thirty-five, slinking through gridlocked streets, trudging into a crowded store with lines that are too long and screaming kids and dead-eyed cashiers. These are the moments that make up a life, he says, and it is how you view them — more than anything else — that will determine what kind of life you live.

He phrases it better, more poetically, (seriously, click here), but you get the gist. It’s not a new thought. It’s not a particularly controversial thought. But it rung my solar plexus like a bell, and here’s why:

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This is a picture of my daughter. A GREAT picture, if I do say so. One of those that slows down time, reminding you what’s important in life. It is the opposite of the moment Wallace is talking about. If you can’t stand in front of something like this and understand the meaning of things, then my friend, you are probably dead inside.

Except, here’s what was going on behind that picture:

It was Spring Fair at my daughter’s preschool, an event whose preparation required a LOT of our precious free time, and I had a ten minute break from working the ‘Duck Pond’ to shove food in my face. It was hot and I was starving, and little kids had been grabbing my ducks all morning, getting filthy, muddy water all over my favorite pair of boots. My husband and I had spent the last three hours desperately trying to switch off at our required work station so we could each spend some time with her at the event (and consume life-sustaining food, should it be necessary), but she was too sugared up to stand in line for anything, which meant grabbing a brownie from the ‘Sugar Shack’ was the only way to keep ourselves vertical. That’s why we stopped at the balloon box, because it was right next to the brownies. As I shoved a mess of chocolate into my face I decided to snap this photo because that’s what you do when your kid is standing in a box full of balloons. I’m not even sure I completely registered what was going on.

That’s parenthood, isn’t it? A thousand little chores like chopping grapes, or putting together dinner, or folding the one millionth load of laundry, while profound things are happening all around you. As a parent of a young child you are perpetually in the long line at the grocery store, overworked, bled dry, unable to see anything in front of your face but the dead-eyed cashier.

And yet, hidden in amongst all that are moments like this. The deeper truth of things, visible in the same way as the truths in Wallace’s supermarket  — through eyes that are trained to see.

But how do you train them? How do you step outside of the drudgery, the self-regenerating To Do lists, and really see anything? I don’t know. And David Foster Wallace didn’t know either. He killed himself at 46. How sad that he could speak so eloquently about the beauty in life, and not really see any of it at all.

I guess we’re all like that to some degree though. If motherhood has taught me anything, it’s that these moments of pure meaning, of the highest love and greatest beauty, are very small and hard to detect. They come and go like a gentle wind; a brief touch, and then gone. I know this in my heart, but I rarely live it. I am too tired. Too hungry. Too needful of a little time to work, to breathe. My eyes are not trained to see.

But this video has reminded me that I must look closer, look harder. And so, I share it in the hopes that it will remind you of the same. Perhaps, if we are lucky enough to catch even half of these moments as they flutter by, we can say that our life was well-lived, which may be all that really matters in the end.

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Lessons from a life un-lived…

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2013 at 2:15 am
Me and one of my best friends from AFI on the very last night of school

Me and one of my best friends from AFI on the very last night of school in 2005. The world of Hollywood was at our feet.

I was scrolling through an old hard drive the other day, when I found a document entitled, “Mercury’s in Retrograde… Bring Flowers”. I recognized the line from an essay I’d written about working in an entertainment law firm with a slightly psychotic, ex-alcoholic/drug addict who had one very big, deceased client. It was a hellacious two years filled with all kinds of strange drama, including a terrifying scare with a gangster rapper who may or may not have been planning to assassinate her, and interactions with a slew of fringe rappers with names like ‘Bus Stop’.

I’m really not kidding about that last one. At one point, I had to call ‘Bus Stop’ on the phone and spent ten minutes considering whether to call him, ‘Mr. Bus Stop’. I finally asked my boss if I could please just call the guy by his real name, but apparently he wouldn’t answer to it.

Anyway, assuming that’s what this document was, I opened it. Instead, I was greeted with this:

Chapter One: Delusions of Grandeur? Go west, young (wo)man…

 And a first line.:

I was twenty-five when I moved to Los Angeles, old enough to know better.

Apparently, this was my memoir of failure.

I have no memory of writing such a memoir, or coming up with the idea to write it, and thankfully I only made it through about ten pages. I’m guessing I discovered that writing an entire book about one’s failure to live up to your dreams — at the ripe age of twenty-six, mind you — was harder than I thought. Or else whatever anger I was experiencing at that moment dissipated. Maybe I got into grad school or something.

I don’t write much about living in Los Angeles on this blog, or my experiences as an aspiring screen/tv writer, or how to write a screenplay, or NOT to write one. I don’t think I have anything particularly interesting or eye opening to say. Besides, there are way too many how-to-be-a-screenwriter blogs already, and since I’m not currently a screenwriter, I’d feel kind of like a fraud giving advice about it. Plus, I’m not sure you can learn writing via blog anyway.

But just in case some aspiring Hollywood writer stumbles on this post because they googled ‘how to be a screenwriter’, I do want to say one thing. And it is this…

Despite the tragi-comedic tone of my ‘memoir’, I never failed at anything. In fact, I never actually tired. Yes, I wrote things. A lot of things. And yes, I got a manager and had some cool meetings where I got to park in a studio lot and walk through impressive offices. But the one thing I did not do, was really, really try. And by try, I mean explore every possible avenue no matter how terrifying.

For example, let’s say you’re at a screening of a BATTLESTAR GALATICA episode and are talking to one of the executive producers who is incredibly nice. You could use that opportunity to actually BRING UP the fact that you are an aspiring writer with a degree from a great school and a manager who would very much like to get into television, or you could do nothing. Guess which I did. Yeah, that was pretty much me for five years.

If you want to follow the path of a tv/screenwriter you have to do two things: 1) write stuff. 2) put yourself out there. Like tear of your clothes, run naked through the streets kind of out there. You cannot be afraid of who you are. You have to use every opportunity. Now, of course, that’s not to say that if I had said something this producer would have responded with, “Great! How ‘bout I get you a job asap!!” But he is a showrunner of a hit cable TV show now. Who knows where it might have ultimately led.

Obviously, you have to do all this with a little aplomb as well. You can’t just assault people in restaurants or toss your screenplay into car windows or anything like that, but kick that down a notch to something like politely asking if they would mind reading something of yours, or taking your resume (complete with amazing industry recs) in case they’re looking for some entry level writer’s assistant position in the near future.  Stuff like that.

The point is, risk looking a little bit foolish, because in the end it’s the fools who are there when the door opens, and honestly, it doesn’t open all that much. No matter how talented you are, or how many people like your stuff, that door is jammed pretty tight. Don’t be afraid. You may never be standing in that moment again.

That’s it. Lesson over. Godspeed, friends, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

The Story of Me – “Untitled”

In Uncategorized on March 10, 2013 at 3:15 am

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I see this woman at my daughter’s preschool almost every afternoon. She arrives, baby around her waist, to pick up her three year old, the middle child of three. She is never impatient or hurried. Whenever there are school events, she’s the first to make brownies (homemade, a special recipe). For last month’s Valentine’s goody bags she wrote, “You blow me away” on twenty-two heart shaped cards attached to red bottles of bubbles, one for every member of the class. Without fail, every single morning, her daughter’s hair is perfectly brushed with little barrettes pinned neatly on each side. Sometimes I stand in the shadows of the playground and just watch her, marveling at how some people just know where they belong.

My mother-in-law is a bit like this, too. She lives in a tiny New England beach town on the street where her mother grew up, and it’s pretty much where she always wants to be. When she has the money, she spends Friday nights with an old group of friends who eat at the same restaurant every week. When you ask her about the city, or the beach near her house, or the various summer festivals she’s been to a million times, her face lights up and you can see how this place and this world is just everything to her. She won’t die wondering whether she should have lived somewhere else or done something else. She absolutely knows where she fits in.

I am not this way. I have never been this way, and the older I get, the more I admire, even envy, the people who are. This is especially true now, when my book is out, sitting on publishers desk waiting judgement day, and I must figure out who I am again, in this new world where I am both Mother and Writer but without a book simmering away on a back burner somewhere. All I know is that I am not the obsessive TV writer anymore who spends fourteen hours a day in The Room, even on Sunday, thinking of nothing but words on a page. Although I am a little. And on the flip side, while I don’t send personalized Valentine’s to every kid in my three year old’s class, I did manage a sheet of stickers for each with a hastily drawn ‘<heart> Piper’ in red crayon on the back. So I guess I’m a little bit of that, too. I also still dream of living in Paris for a year. And I still want to learn Italian and write a million things and see Turkey, so how can I be all of these things? How do we distill all the things we are into one story so that we can make that story a reality?

I don’t know. I really, really do not know, and it scares me. A lot.