The end of one year and the beginning of another is a time to make resolutions, to set goals and leave bad habits behind. As I stood in the middle of a crowded dance floor this past December 31st, surrounded by friends and people I’d never seen before in my life, I took stock of my goals for 2009 and tried not to think about the fact that I had no one to kiss at midnight.
Instead, I thought about the fact that I’d done so little writing over the past year. I’d been lazy, and now, on the eve of a new year, I had a chance to start things off fresh with a renewed sense of resolve.
But where to start? What to focus on? Which classes to take? I couldn’t very well ask myself. I, like my fellow Writers’ Program advisors, was on vacation.
With the start of the new quarter coming up on January 5th, I decided to take the last few days of my holiday to let life and my own personal advisors help me find my path…
*Names have been changed to protect the innocent
“We should write a play together,” my roommate Boris said on the evening of January 1st.
We were walking down Fairfax Blvd in Hollywood, our breath thick like cigarette smoke in the cold night air.
“Have you ever even seen a play?” I asked.
He narrowed his eyes at me, hurt. “Chicago.”
“Who did you see in it?” I wasn’t convinced.
“Uhh,” he muttered, “Richard Gere?”
I shook my head at him as we approached the large blinking green sign that signaled our destination. “Why do you want to write a play anyway?”
“So we have something to talk about at the bar,” he said as if it was the most logical thing in the world. “So it’s not so obvious that we’re there to scope out girls.”
“Are you serious?”
“Absolutely,” he said.
I considered this for a moment. Writing a play might not be such a bad idea, actually. It would be good dialogue practice and it was a medium I hadn’t tried before.
“It should have people arguing about something,” I said (We’d just seen Doubt).
“Whoa, hold it,” said Boris. “Save it for the bar.”
After an unsuccessful evening out, I decided to sleep on the playwriting idea and see what the second day of 2009 brought me. I didn’t have to wait long.
“I have the same resolution!” my friend Natasha, a successful copy editor, told me over an afternoon breakfast. “I’m going to write a blog!”
She nodded vigorously. “I made a new year’s resolution to start writing more – more consistently, more frequently, more rigorously, etc. To just WRITE.”
“So I thought a blog would be good for that because: it would be fairly informal, writing a little bit every day on a topic of interest to me and it’s a good motivator, since in my mind, my ‘readers’ would be expecting regular updates, and, if I keep that in mind, I’ll be motivated to keep writing.”
“That sounds great,” I said, nodding again. “What’s your blog going to be about?”
Natasha stared at me. “I, uh, I…”
“Yeah?” I asked.
Her brow furrowed and she eyed me with an expression not unlike my roommate’s.
“I have no idea,” she said. “I thought something would just come to me.”
So, perhaps blogging wasn’t the best idea. What would I write about every day? Who would be interested in reading the daily ramblings of a program assistant in creative writing?
“I don’t think I’m interesting enough for a blog,” I said.
Natasha nodded her head, a gesture that I hoped meant she was sympathizing rather than agreeing.
“Well,” she replied, “you do live in L.A. Why don’t you write a screenplay?”
Why not write a screenplay?
I forced myself to get up early the next morning. January 3rd, my last carefree Saturday before returning to work. I packed my laptop and headed up to a coffee shop on Melrose, craftily beating the crowd so that I could get a seat by one of the precious power outlets.
The computer flashed on and I began to type with a knowing smile of satisfaction on my lips. I could totally be a screenwriter.
Soon, I had company.
“Can I get you anything to drink?” a tall barista wearing thick-framed black glasses asked as she walked up beside my table.
“I’m writing a screenplay,” I answered.
She cocked her head at me, confused. “That’s great, but can I get you some coffee?”
I wondered, what do screenwriters drink? Was that a really stupid question?
“Caramel latte,” I said. “And a blueberry muffin.”
“Coming right-,” she broke off as her eyes traveled to the glowing screen of my computer. I watched her scan over the text and grew uneasy.
“Can I suggest something?” she asked, finally.
“Sure, I guess,” I said, turning red before the suggestion even left her lips.
She leaned over me and highlighted the block of text that I’d just finished writing when she’d arrived. It must have been at least twelve lines. She then hit the delete key and typed something in quickly.
“There,” she said.
I looked at what she’d done. All of my words were gone and replaced with:
EXT. BARCELONA STREET – NIGHT
“But, but,” I stammered, “what about all my pretty words?”
She smiled at me with something like pity.
“Maybe you should write short stories,” she suggested. “Or a novel.”
I left the coffee shop soon after, defeated by my inability to be brief and to the point or just the fact that I didn’t know screenplay structure. I thought back to the piles of white paper hidden underneath my bed, all that remained of the many half-finished short stories and discarded novel outlines I’d laid to rest along the way. 2009 was supposed to be about expanding my horizons, about trying something new, something poetic and inspiring.
There’s nothing poetic or inspiring, however, about the Sunday before you have to go back to work. Instead of thinking about writing, I spent my last day of freedom trying to avoid the nagging truth that responsibility was about to come flooding back into my life.
On Monday, January 5th, I climbed aboard the 720 Wilshire Rapid Bus on my way to work at UCLA Extension. As I stood holding onto a handrail, I watched the weary faces of my fellow travelers and let my eyes wander up to a purple sign plastered against the roof of the bus.
“This is Just to Say,” I read aloud, “by William Carlos Williams.”
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold.
The words were so simple and yet so beautifully put together that I had to smile despite the early hour and my destination. Maybe I could be a poet! Oh, to inspire joy and pain and laughter with just a few spare words. Now that was art.
A fellow rider must have noticed me reading. He leaned in close to me and snickered, “Guy writes about fruit. They call that art. Ha!”
Before I could respond in defense of fruit, the bus came to a stop and I found myself spilling out onto the busy streets of Westwood Village. I could see the UCLA Extension building rising up in the distance. It was time to go back to work and I was still no closer to making a decision.
What kind of writer will I be in 2009? A playwright? A blogger? A screenwriter? A writer of fiction? A poet? I haven’t quite figured that out yet but I’m glad to be part of a place that allows me the opportunity to choose. The choice is there for me and for everyone who comes to the Writers’ Program.
Right now, I’m leaning toward playwriting. No, not to help me pick up girls, but to explore a new form of expression that I’m not familiar with. To experience the art of something that has a life of its own, that exists in the moment and evolves with every performance.
Well, maybe it’s a little bit about picking up girls…
Happy New Year and Happy Writing in 2009!
Daniel Sanchez is the Program Assistant in Creative Writing Onsite and Online.