I just watched this TED talk by Brene Brown (thanks to Between Those Things).
I’m a total geek for TED. The internet is amazing. We live in amazing times. I press a few buttons and books come to my house. I press a few more and I get to sit at the feet of brilliant people and hear about the neat stuff they are doing. I’m not big on New Year’s Resolutions because by March they become The List of Things I’m Currently Failing At but it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to watch a TED talk every single day and write about it. Shit, I started the wrong blog!
How does any of this relate to advice columns and screenwriting?
Two years ago I took an “Autobiography & Memoir” class with the great Chicago performance artist and teacher Brigid Murphy. Here’s the class: Brigid gives you writing prompts. Using a paper journal and a pen, you scribble down a story from your past without editing or judgment. You bring the story to class and read it out loud, and the group comments on the details and moments they found most compelling. You write 10 or so of these pieces and then choose one to polish and adapt into a screenplay, a piece of fiction, or another piece of art.
What happens when I just wrote down what happened, without to be literary or to make myself look good, was magical. Reading the stories aloud told me where to cut and where to elaborate. It turns out there is a club for people who tell stories like this, and I started reading in public. I got in the habit of speaking truthfully about vulnerable topics and not feeling ashamed. My life got better. My art got better.
If you are any kind of artist, your embarrassment and pain and fear and weird gross obsessions and preoccupations and failures become the DNA of your work. Joel hides Clementine in his shame. Meg Murray defeats IT with love and with her faults.
In life, the courage to be vulnerable makes you go after what you want. Try these on for size:
“I’ve been afraid to ask you out because I don’t want to ruin our friendship, but I really like you and would love to take you on a date. Would you be up for that?”
“You think you’re being helpful when you say those things to me, but really you’re just hurting my feelings, so I need you to stop.”
“I don’t really like being a management consultant. I want to save up some money and then start my own business.”
“I can’t handle this all by myself and I need help.”
“Let’s have a kid.”
Scary, right? It’s uncomfortable to put yourself out there. What Brown discovered in her research and we all know from any awareness about our culture, when we are afraid to be vulnerable and uncomfortable, we numb ourselves. We look for certainty. We blame others. We try to pretend that consequences don’t exist. We grit our teeth and limp through another year.
Or, we take a risk. It could fail spectacularly, but it could be kind of amazing.