This is the weekend of the 48 Hour Film Challenge. It’s a glorious task where a group writes, films, edits and turns in a movie in 48 hours. I’m working with Forcone Films. This year we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to sets and actors. Now it’s on my shoulders to write a script. About what? WHO KNOWS?!!?! We won’t know the genre until we pull it at 7:00 pm.
Y’all, pray for me. Burn some sage. Shake some bones. Conjure up some good Muse Mojo for your girl here. Get my brain meats pumping.
I couldn’t sleep. My head wouldn’t shut up so I didn’t get a very good night’s sleep.
I have three alarms to insure that I wake up in time to catch the bus. I have Alexa programmed to go off at 4:45 a.m. and then again at 4:50 a.m.
My husband’s alarm goes off with a annoyingly cheerful chirp at 5:00 a.m.
Except it didn’t.
I woke up at 5:26. SHIT. That means I can’t make the bus. Okay. No biggie; I’ll drive in.
I take a shower. No time to wash my hair. Throw clothes on, have some coffee and out the door.
I get to work. Notice there is a weird white smudge on my black pants. Damn.
My head feels like it is full of cotton. I can’t focus, can’t wake up. I feel like I’m running late even though I’m not.
I forgot to fill my thermos with coffee and figure that tea would suffice. I check my bag. All I have is decaf.
I figure a snack will help. I use up the last of my quarters to get a Snickers. I push the buttons and the vending machine vomits out a bag of peanuts.
I can’t eat peanuts.
Okay, that’s how we’re going to play this, Universe?
So, I laugh.
Lunchtime comes. I discover that I grabbed the wrong frozen dinner. It’s spicy meatballs and spinach. Fuck it. I microwave it, decide to take my chances.
I pull it out of the microwave….nope. There is NO WAY I can stomach this shit.
I push my bank account closer to the brink and go get a sandwich.
It was raining so I check to see if it has stopped. I look outside and no one is wearing jackets or carrying umbrellas. So I follow suit and leave my umbrella behind.
You see where this is going, right?
It’s raining. I’m wearing sandals.
So, I laugh.
Because sometimes that’s the only defense you have. Just laugh. Realize that you have no control. And it’s okay. This is nothing. It’s annoying but it’s nothing to get your shit in a bunch.
It’s just one of those weeks. I really shouldn’t complain. It’s not like there’s been anything majorly wrong. No one I love is dead. No one is sick. I don’t have any money in the bank but that’s not unusual. My car is running and I have enough gas to get me through until my next payday. My fridge is empty but my wine rack is full.
See? I really shouldn’t complain.
But it’s the little pricks that bring down a lifeboat.
All I have to do is open up my internet browser, check the news and see that my little pricks are nothing like the gaping wounds in so many other people’s hearts. Missing children, murdered loved ones, the sick and the dying, the hopeless.
What do they say? All it takes is a mosquito on your scrotum to teach you that violence isn’t the only way.
And a death by a thousand pricks isn’t the worst way to go.
Last weekend, I learned the Enemy’s name and, more importantly, how to kill the motherfucker.
I was at Mysteries in the Midlands, a mystery writers conference in Columbia, South Carolina. It was a cozy (in more ways than one, which I’ll get into later) affair. It started with a lovely dinner at the Palmetto Club with the moderators, panelists and other bigwigs attached to the event. I was there as the +1 with my sister in law, Beth aka Jaden Terrell. So, since I was there as her arm candy, I was on my best behavior. No cursing, no farting, no politics and nothing too terribly macabre.
Well, 2 out of 4 ain’t bad.
Most of the writers there write cozy mysteries, stories where the violence happens off screen. No sex. No or very little swearing. The murders are cocooned between dinners, neighborly visits and garden parties as a delightful amateur sleuth figures out clues.
A very polite crowd. In spite of their craft.
I overheard a woman admonishing a man because he said, “Shit”. I was perplexed. Everyone at this table conjures up and plots murders, no matter how clean and civil, they are still MURDERS, and you’re all up in this guy’s grill for saying shit? Bitch, if thoughts are as dangerous as actions, every motherfucker at this table should be in prison.
But, as a +1, I kept my tongue still.
The next day, I went to a panel about Neuroscience and Creativity. A fascinating 90 minute lecture about how your brain works while being creative.
This is where I learned about The Enemy.
Get this. Your brain weighs around three pounds is about as big as both of your fists. Go ahead. Make two fists and put them on top of each other. That’s roughly your brain.
Now, see that bit that is around your first knuckle? That is where your prefrontal cortex is located. That piece of cerebral property is where YOU live. That controls all you know, think and how you see the world. It is your ego. All your hopes, dreams, fears and loves. Right there.
All that rest, merely a support system to keep the meat covered skeleton you live in working.
Now, here’s the thing. according to a bunch of people in white lab coats who study brain meats while, when you are being creative guess what piece of the brain is completely shut down?
The Prefrontal Cortex. That little piece of you. The ego. The self editor. The voice that says “Shouldn’t you be doing something else?” It shuts down. It shuts the fuck up.
The White Coats say that when this PFC shuts down, creatives are able to access what they have labeled, The Flow. That really cool feeling when you are knees deep in a story and everything falls away? Time. That headache you had. Hunger. Fear. Anxiety. All that shit no longer matters because you are in The Flow.
And that cool feeling? That is your brain is rewarding you with a download of dopamine and serotonin for your troubles.
Sweet, sweet dopamine.
But to get there, you have to shut down the Pre-Frontal Cortex. The enemy.
And that bastard won’t go down without a fight.
I asked the speaker, “Is it possible that the Prefrontal Lobe doesn’t want to be shut down? Like a toddler not wanting to take a nap. Is that where procrastination comes from?”
So, how do we access The Flow?
Lots of ways. You can just sit down and start writing. Just write nonsense (like this blog! HA!). Or take a walk. Sweep. Do something physical. Anything that diverts the Enemy until you BAM! hit it where it lives, put it to sleep and get that sweet, sweet Flow.
Or, much like the way I’m doing it (right now!), you can take a more chemical approach.
Neuroscientists have determined that it only takes 0.07 Blood Alcohol Content to put the sweet baby prefrontal cortex to sleep. A smidgen under the legal definition of drunk.
I turn 53 years old today; I have $25 dollars in the bank.
In many people’s perspectives, I am not doing this whole adult thing very well.
I have to disagree, sweetie.
Let me list the reasons:
I am healthy. Other than a slight touch of hypertension, which is a result of genetics and beyond my control, I’m doing really well physically.
I struggled with depression and anxiety my entire life. I have that shit under control now. Sure, the Black Dog howls every now and then but, fuck that mutt. I hold the leash, bitch.
My marriage is stable and solid. Probably more now than ever. We have grown up together and are partners. I have his back and he has mine. What more could one want?
My children love me but, more importantly, they like me. They enjoy just hanging out with me. I respect them as adults and they do the same with me. They’ve come to terms with having a weird mom and now actually relish in it. It’s a point of pride that their friends are jealous of our relationship.
My writing career is still chugging along. Sure, I don’t have an agent yet or on any big Book Lists but Past Nik would be amazed at all that we have out there. In the past 6 weeks, I have put out 4 titles. FOUR. And, most importantly, I am working on other stories. With even more ideas in the wings. My creative juices are flowing, baby, even if my estrogen levels are flatlining.
So, in spite of only having $25 in the bank, I’m rich.
There are many out there with fatter wallets that would envy such wealth.
We’ve chosen a profession that doesn’t pay well. At least, that is the reality for the majority of us in the inky trenches. The last royalty check I received was less than $10.
Woot Woot! Ice cream is on me! But only the cheap brand, okay? I’m not pulling in Breyer’s kind of lettuce.
So, unless you’re like my friend, Dana, who is an oncologist searching for the cure to breast cancer, or you’ve got a Sugar Daddy/Mama Patron, you’re working a crappy day job to make ends meet.
You’re not alone.
I have thirty years of crap jobs listed on my resume. Only two of them were any fun. The rest were all minimum wages for minimum effort. Hell, if I were to time slip back into that part of my life, I probably wouldn’t even remember how to do most of them.
When I got the gig where I’m working now, my boss took me out to lunch and said words that I’ll never forget: “98% of this job is just showing up. So, just come to work, do your job and don’t go crazy like the last one did.”
Like the last one did? Oh, it’s one of THOSE kinds of jobs.
But, here I was, nearly forty years old, transplanted back to Tennessee, starting over from scratch, in yet another bullshit job that was going to take me nowhere.
I had a decision to make. I could either slip into a dark depression OR I could use this time to write stories.
I won’t lie; I fell into a depression. It’s my default mode.
But I think it was that Big 4-0 birthday that pulled me out and gave me the kick in the ass to use this time wisely.
I’ve been here for 15 years. I come to work, I do my job and, in the downtime which makes up 75% of my day, I write. I’ve been blessed with Time. And I don’t take it for granted.
So, don’t let your day job make you feel less of a writer.
The next time someone asks you, “What do you do?” look them straight in the eyes and say:
“I create worlds from nothing but ink scribbled onto paper. I make people laugh. I make people cry. I give people hope when they are sitting in a hospital waiting room as their loved ones fight to survive. I tell children that there are monsters in the dark with sharp teeth and ripping claws who want to eat them and then I tell them how to kill them. I provide diversions for people when they are sitting on the bus or sitting on the toilet. I am a writer. I am the bridge between Mythos and Logos. What do you do?”
Recently a friend on Facebook posted a challenge: Name something dumb you believed as a kid.
Oh, gurl. Let’s start with Kindergarten.
I was asked to play an Indian in the Thanksgiving Day play. I freaked out because I thought that feathers grew out of Indian’s heads and, ergo, I would have to grow feathers out of my head. I became so hysterical about the idea of growing feathers out of my head that my mother had to take me out of Kindergarten. Yeah. I was a Kindergarten drop out. Something my mother never let me forget.
I also thought that when a person died on television, they used terminally ill patients so they could have a shot at stardom or people on death row as part of their sentence.
I was told that if you sang at the dinner table, Satan would drag you down to Hell. This idea plagued me. I worried what would happen if I accidentally started humming a tune at the table? Did that count? I could envision the linoleum of the kitchen floor bubbling from the heat as the hellfire cracked through, opening a hole so that Satan could drag me down to Hell. Someone also told me that if you heard someone calling your name three times, and if you answered it, Satan would drag you down to Hell.
Satan turned out not to be the great threat I imagined he’d be.
I believed that bats turned into people. I had seen it in an old black and white movie and that made it real as far as I cared. I was 7 and tried to check out a book from the school library about bats to further research the phenomenon. The librarian said the book was too hard for me and challenged me to read it. I did and that got me slapped in gifted classes and my road to Nerdom was solidified.
When I was 9, a babysitter told me that according to Ancient Tennessee Law, if you found a horse in the field and it had no saddle, you could take it home. Well, we happened to live in a stone cottage that was surrounded by fields. And, I knew where there was a horse. My cousin, Mandy and I went out today, put a rope around the horse’s neck and took it home. My mom and aunt came home from a beer run to find a horse in the garage. I remember her screaming, “THEY HANG HORSE THIEVES, NIKKI!”
She made me take the horse back, Ancient Tennessee Laws not withstanding.
My grandmother, a backwoods country woman so don’t judge her too harshly, once told me that if you took a sponge, you could “wash the color off a black person and they’d be snowy white underneath” because it was the ‘mark of Cain’. As a kid, that idea fascinated me. I desperately wanted to sneak into a funeral home and test it. Ya know. For science.
As I got older, I was a diehard believer in all things weird. UFOs. Aliens. Loch Ness Monster. Ghosts. Bigfoot.
When I was in elementary school, I started up a Monster Hunters Club. We entered a Cryptozoology exhibit in the yearly science fair. We won an Honorable Mention. My teacher, Mrs. Tarkington, even allowed the club to perform a play where Trent Ridley put on a furry parka, we hunted him down and then autopsied him, throwing guts and bones into the classroom.