This Is What Happens When You Procrastinate

I never considered myself a procrastinator.  I do my taxes (eventually).  I change the oil in my car (when the red light comes on). I even balance my checkbook (sort of). I never thought I had a problem with putting off to tomorrow what should have been done yesterday. That’s until I took a recent trip down memory lane and faced the truth.

Memory Boxes and the Surprises They Hold

We all have memories tucked away – old photographs, baby items, awards from school days, or an old valentine or two.  Memory boxes can be beautiful, like this one I found online:

Here’s what mine look like:

I’m partial to Tupperware. I stash them all over the house: under beds, inside closets, out in the garage. Hidden away, they’re out of sight and out of mind. I never remember exactly what’s in them; I just know I don’t want to ever throw them away.

I started going through some of those memory boxes a couple of years ago when I decided to write my book.  I was looking for the journals and notes I kept when I had my meetings with Michael Jackson, when we worked on the Peter Pan film script together.  I found what I was looking for in those Tupperware archaeological digs. I found something else too.  Something I wish I hadn’t.

Some Memories You Just  Want to Forget

The memories were stratified – like layers of soil deposited one section on top of the other, each year buried by more recent times. Underneath the years of screenwriting came the tour guide memorabilia. My Universal Studios name tag, a patch from my uniform, photos of trams, tour guide friends, and a family of four I had almost forgotten about.

This was my view as a tour guide at the front of a Universal Studios tram.  These were the tourists on one particular day, and one specific tour. I had a roll of film I wanted to use up so I brought my camera to work that day and took a few random shots.  It was just a quick snapshot, nothing special really. I didn’t think twice about taking it –  until the family in the front row approached me at the end of the tour.  I don’t remember much about them except I think they lived in the Midwest.  They seemed like nice people, soft-spoken, and polite – out-of-place there at that big Hollywood movie studio.

The father asked me if he could have a copy of the photo. He wrote down their address and handed it to me with a dollar. He didn’t want me to have to pay the postage, he said, holding the dollar bill out to me. That wouldn’t be right, he added.  I felt strange taking that money.  Something inside of me knew there might be a problem – a premonition, perhaps. But I smiled at this family, not wanting to let them down, and I took the dollar anyway. I tucked it into the back of my camera case, along with their address, and I promised I would send them the photo.

That was many years ago.  I eventually left Universal Tours; I started acting, became a screenwriter, a wife, and a mother. We moved and the memory boxes with all their contents moved with us. I had forgotten all about that photo until two years ago when I found it. Obviously, I got the film developed –there was the photo at the bottom of my memory box as evidence: I had never sent it to that family.

It was  a long time ago.  I had long since lost the name and address of that family.  There was nothing I could do it about it, I reasoned with myself.  And yet,  I couldn’t bear to look at the faces in that photo. They were a nice family that trusted me, that gave me a dollar to send them a memory. And I had obviously forgotten, or put off doing it. My life had grown complicated, packed with new responsibilities (as lives often do) and with each year more reasons piled up for why that photo never was mailed. I’d broken a promise, and there was nothing I could do to fix it.  No one likes to be reminded of how they’ve failed.  I threw the photo in the trash two years ago, and tried not to think about it again

And then a few weeks ago I started this blog.

Call Me a Cock-Eyed Optimist

Years ago there wouldn’t have been a way to find these people.  But now we have the Internet, and it gave me an idea:  Why not put the photo on my website for everyone to see it? Maybe somebody might know somebody who knows somebody.  And, maybe six degrees of separation later, we might be able to find this family. Stranger things have happened in this world: runaway dogs travel thousands of miles to get home, and lost wedding rings miraculously get found. I’m somebody who likes to believe in miracles, so I searched around in that memory box, found the negative, and printed a new photo. It’s well over thirty-five years ago so those girls are all grown now, with families of their own probably. Here’s a close up, so take a good look – especially if you live in the Midwest. Iowa, maybe?  Illinois, Indiana, Ohio? I’m thinking it could be Minnesota.

Maybe this family never thought twice about the fact the photo never was delivered, that it didn’t show up in their mailbox, or their tour guide never sent it.  But I look at that father, and his eyes seem to stare directly at me. I screwed up. And I can tell by the way he’s looking at me that he somehow knew it would happen.

This is the best I can do to try to fix it.

Are You an Introvert (Or Am I Too Much an Extrovert for Asking)?

Introvert Poster You might have seen this sign on Facebook over the last couple of weeks: “How to Care for Introverts.” It lists twelve rules, from respecting an introvert’s need for privacy to never embarrassing them in public. As a recovering agoraphobic, I appreciate the sentiments. I know what it feels like to be an introvert. I’ve struggled with agoraphobia for years; I write about it in my book.  I’d like to say I’m recovered, but a recent panic attack at our local Albertsons makes me hesitate. (Not that anyone could tell I was in a panic. But more of that later.) I’m not sure you ever completely get over agoraphobia, but you can learn how to live with it.  And living with it is one way you can get better. It’s a little bit like a dog chasing his tail: he’s never going to catch it, but at least the exercise is good for him.

At a recent book signing in my hometown, during the Q & A part of the evening, my cousin approached me and slowly leaned over to whisper in my ear.  It’s one of those moments you fear in life, something unexpected that makes an agoraphobic think twice about leaving the house. There I was, standing in front of a good-sized crowd and my cousin was about to tell me something obviously quite private. In my breast-feeding days, I would’ve feared my blouse was leaking. Nowadays I was sure something was opened, ripped, stained, or missing. My mind was racing at the possibilities, and none of them were good.  I held my breath, and as the room grew silent, my cousin whispered softly in my ear.

“Are you better?”

The fact that I was standing in front of 50 people, and I wasn’t home in my living room, should’ve been answer enough. But as I looked out at all the faces of everyone now wondering what-the-heck my cousin had told me, I suddenly understood her dilemma.  How could an agoraphobic stand so comfortably in front of a room filled with people? I’m sure I must have looked perfectly comfortable – the last person anyone would’ve guessed was a recovering agoraphobic. Or an introvert.

Introvert or Extrovert?  Do We Have to Pick Sides?

You can’t always tell who’s the introvert in a room.  Oh sure, with some people you can.  But why is it important that we know that? Those suggestions for treating an introvert with respect and sensitivity maybe aren’t bad suggestions for treating everybody in the room that way –  not just the one sitting alone in the corner, or the shy person who never says a word. You’d be surprised how many of those people you think are so cool and collected, skating through life with ease, are really filled with so much doubt, fear, and low self-esteem.  Sometimes it’s the braggart, the person speaking too loudly and too much – the one that seems to fill up the room, sometimes in more ways than one.  How do we know which side they play on, or how comfortable they really feel?

Some of us suffer from “selective extroversion.” There are times when we slip into an extrovert’s personality in order to deal with the world. I do it sometimes; it’s helped me get out of the house.  My social self takes over – the tour guide part of me.  But I had to learn to be that tour guide – it didn’t come naturally.  Universal Studios almost didn’t hire me because the tour director said I was too shy.  I told him I was an actress, and once I had a script and learned it, I wouldn’t look shy at all. I just needed to know my lines and play the role.

Everyone plays roles. We certainly do at Halloween. You choose what to wear, what character you want to play, and you decide when you want to play it.  We may not really be that princess, or that jester that the world sees on October 31st.  It’s all just acting. But sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s really the costume or just the person underneath it.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote a wonderful short story called, “Who Am I This Time?”  It’s about a character (Harry Nash) who is painfully shy – an introvert who never interacts with people. Except when he’s cast in a play, and then he takes on the personality of the role he’s playing.  It’s the only time he can go into the world with a sense of purpose and identity.  So who was Harry really?  An introvert? What if you met him at a party when he was playing Stanley Kowalski in “Streetcar Named Desire?”  Or you were at a PTA meeting with him when he was playing the lead in “Julius Ceasar” or “Othello?” You can’t really tell, can you?  Not just by looking.

Maybe those twelve rules should apply to everyone.

Welcome! Can You All Hear Me in the Back?

I’m a writer.

I’ve been one of the lucky ones to make a career out of it – out of screenwriting, actually. It didn’t happen right away, but once I was hired to write one film project, they started hiring me to write more.  I wrote a book about it, about what it’s like to be a screenwriter in Hollywood.  One of the reasons I wrote it was because most people have no understanding of what it is that we do.  They think the actors make up all the dialogue and we write down what they tell us.  I wish it was that easy.  But no one really seems to understand the nature of our work. I had a meeting at an unemployment office several years ago – I wanted to transition to writing multi-media content. The employment counselor behind the desk (well aware of my writing résumé) smiled politely as she told me, “Oh no, dear. You can’t do multi-media – You have to be creative to do that kind of work!”

Nobody Really Understands What a Writer Does.

I’m not sure I understand it either.  I know what’s expected from us – creative content.  But I’ve never understood the kind of magic that happens from that first creative spark that moves our hand to reach for a pen or a keyboard until some switch inside of us finally turns off.  What we are left with is truly a miracle.  I don’t care if you’re new and untrained, or if you’ve been published, acknowledged, and paid.  It’s a miracle because not everyone can do it, and creation should never be taken as commonplace, or easily accomplished.

Like everyone else who has gone to Hollywood, screenwriting wasn’t my first job in the town of broken dreams.  I started as a tour guide at Universal Studios

That’s a photo of me just off to the side – dressed in the red, white, and blue polyester-blend jacket and hot pants. There’s a photo of the tour tram at the top of this blog’s page. They look different now – the one in the photo is the style I used to ride in when I gave tours.  8 hours of non-stop talking in the summers when the park was brimming over with tourists. I was responsible for shepherding two hundred tourists in every tram, and every tour.

Tour Guiding Is a Lot Like Writing.

You tell people stories, you inform, you entertain, you keep the people focused, and wanting more.  It’s not as lonely as writing because you can always see the people there in front of you.  You can tell what’s working and what’s not by the smiles on their faces, and the attention in their eyes.

“Can you all hear me in the back?”

They answer you.  They connect.  And that was the joy in doing the job – people were listening, and they wanted you to go on. That’s what’s missing in writing – that immediate reaction from another human being. You don’t get that from a solitary reader holding your paperback, or viewing your words through a window of pixels.

So I Started this Blog.

I’m slipping back into my tour guide role again – reaching out  (I hope) to an eager group wanting to be entertained and informed. I can’t promise daily content.  That magic of writing doesn’t necessarily visit a writer every day.  But when it comes, I promise to share it with you.  And in the meantime, let me know you’re out there.  Leave a comment.  Email me, if you want.  I will always answer.  Please let me know that you can all hear me in the back.

(To read my post recent blog post, please click here…)