Category Archives: Musings

Crowdfailing, Selfcess

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So, originally the post I had written about my gofundme.com campaign was one describing my sheer discomfort about asking people for money. I felt like I was begging. Much like how I suppress outward expressions of anger, for fear of being perceived as the angry black woman, I didn’t wanted to be perceived as the lazy charity case either. Upon hearing my worries one of my twitter friends told me not to think of it as begging, but as crowdfunding. Crowdfunding, yeah, I can do that.

I made a decision to ask the social media universe for help. With a knot in my stomach and apprehension in my heart I pulled my big girl panties up over my boobs, yes, they’re that big, to ask for retweets of gofundme.com/BillieJeanVK. When the first retweet came through I felt like I had won the lottery. All but one of the lovely tweeps who I asked to retweet me did. Even though it resulted in zero new dollars, I felt like it was a personal victory. I climbed up on my soap box and shouted that I needed help. Others took up the shout saying I was worth helping. Amazing.

Even though as an adult I know there are people who enjoy me as a person, being an outcast my entire life has made me afraid of anything where I find out what people think about me. There are times I worry that someone will think I only want them for what they can do for me. I forget what I have to offer and withdraw. I become a wallflower, waiting for someone to ask me to dance.

Putting myself out there, asking for what I want, is difficult for me but I work on it every day. I do this for myself and for my career. I must convince myself that I deserve to want to be president and not just first lady. I deserve to be heard and understood as the smart, talented person I am.

Sixty dollars raised so far of a goal of two thousand. I suck at crowdfunding but I’m doing better at asking for what I want. So here goes…

I want you to support me. Financially at gofundme.com/BillieJeanVK if you can. Or help by reading my scripts and giving notes. Or introduce me to neat people who will be an asset to my life or my career. By telling me if I am going overboard with asking for things. (Everything seems like too much for me right now, so it will be helpful if I have someone to tell me when I actually am being as annoying as I feel.) And most of all, by being your non-jerky self.

In return, I will walk through doors, hold out my hand, and open my mouth. I will welcome no, instead of dreading it. Most of all, I will never again be the one preventing me from achieving my dreams.

ESCAPE a story of the suicidal

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When you’re deep in the bowels of depression, that’s what the idea of suicide is to you, escape. All you think about is the end of your pain. To me it was the endless running in my brain of foreign thoughts. Of how good it would feel to just stop thinking. How good it would feel to stop having to live with this evil soup in my brain that made life a torture.

I had spent the last year and a half having genetically modified mouse cells intravenously added to my blood stream one a drop at a time, or shooting them into my belly through prefilled syringes. The infusions and injections did their job. My body was limber and pain free. But my mind. My mind fought each of those microscopic cells like a born warrior willing to give its own life for the eradication of the enemy. I stopped taking the biologics and let my body fall back into ruin because that pain was so much easier than the hell in my head.

When I was taking the drugs there was a tiny part of my brain that was able to stay afloat just enough to let me know that the thoughts I was having didn’t really belong to me. I know there are people whose entire brain is submerged and I don’t know whether to feel good or bad about that. They’re in constant pain but they don’t know anything else, so that gives them some measure of protection. My therapist says that the highest risk of suicide is when the person is getting better. When the depression is at its worst one finds it hard to get out of bed, much less find the energy to plan and commit suicide.

The only reason I’m alive today is because of my mom. I knew that if I killed myself it would devastate her and she might not survive. I had no desire to take her with me. Thank god I understood the damage that I would do to her, because I didn’t understand the damage I would do to everyone else who knew me. A suicide is violent act. Like a suicide bomber, it damages everyone around you.

In my group therapy, there was a beautiful woman in her fifties. We walked together on the way to our cars, we exchanged numbers. She called me. “How are you able to laugh while you’re in so much pain?” “I don’t know.” “But what are you doing?” “I’m doing all the work they give us. I follow-.“ Buzzzzzzzz. She’d hung up on me. I sighed and waited to see her at group. When I asked where she was that next group, I was told she had moved to a more intensive group. Oh good, I thought. She needed it. Three months later a former group member runs into a current group member and tells him how he saw her obituary in the paper.

The rumor burns through the group like wild fire. She’s dead. Our group therapist confirms it that night. She never left our group for another. She killed herself. The what ifs tumble through my brain along with every tool therapy has given me. My recovery is most important. I am not responsible for other people. You can’t save everyone. My conscience mind says, “It wasn’t your fault.” My unconscious runs through a series of pictures; she hangs up the phone and picks up the pills, the rope, the gun. If I had just called back she wouldn’t have been able to hold the phone and her weapon of choice at the same time.

Every suicide brings me back to that buzzing on the phone and the bomb that followed, exploding guilt and shame through my heart, her husband’s heart, our therapist’s heart, and the heart and head everyone that knew her.

It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t my fault.

May she rest in peace. It wasn’t her fault either.

Earth and Fire

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I’ve never told you you’re a bad writer. That you are wasting your time and ink on reams of paper. I never have, but someone will. Whether they’ve seen your writing or not, someone might tell you this. Someone has told me this but I didn’t listen. I didn’t listen because I know who I am.

I am a writer.

Whether anyone ever buys a story of mine or not I have to write. That’s my truth. That is the ground I stand on. I had to learn to dig my toes into the dirt and let them grow roots so I can stand on my own even when others try to push me over.

Most of you that have met me know I laugh loudly and share freely. I’ve been told I’m trying too hard to be happy and personable when the truth is, I wasn’t trying at all. I was just being me. Unfortunately, when I’m around someone I admire I get quiet. I suppress all the bouncing and blurting in an effort to seem normal, only to amplify my awkwardness. The entertainment business, especially in LA, will try to tear you down for your differences. Don’t let it. Know who you are and what you’re willing to do. Stand in that truth and never let the fire in your belly, your passion, consume your humanity.

Fire can burn off the old to make room for the new. It can also, attract people to its warmth or send them running in fear. The earth can feed you, comfort you, and be the foundation to build on. But if you let others chip away at it, erode it, it will bury you.

As I talk to all of you, my fellow aspiring screenwriters, I talk to myself. I know these things I’ve shared with you these last weeks, but I have not lived them. There have been times I have let my fire be snuffed, stood still as dirt was shoveled on top of me. I don’t want to do that again. I know I have learned my lesson, but now for the scary part, to live it. I am preparing to live it. I will live it. This is my year. Is it yours too?

I wish you all luck but more than wishes I urge you to be prepared. Not only with your craft but with your soul.

This is the last of the life elements I’m posting. It took me so long to post this one because it scares me the most. I am still figuring out where I draw the line, and how far I’m willing to color outside of  it. I will treat myself gently if I fail. I will forgive myself and try again.

Try again.

 

 

 

Water

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My beloved fellow unestablished creatives, watch this video of Ava DuVernay’s keynote speech. No really. Watch it now. Link doesn’t work? Cut and paste the URL at the end of this post. I’ll wait. If you don’t have time for the whole thing watch from minute 6:45 to 21:30.

If you’ve ever been to an event with people who are where you want to be in the industry, you know what’s she’s talking about.

At times, desperation has clung to me like wet clothes. I’ve been around people who have power in the business where I’ve felt like I’ll drown if that person doesn’t give me a hand up. Sometimes, I’ve let myself drift away with the current because I’ve felt unworthy of their regard. Other times, I’ve flailed and splashed hoping to get their attention. When I finally did, I realized I had only succeeded in making them think I’m not OK in the head. There are times when I thought I was being safe, a fly on the wall. I’d go still at the fringe of a conversation and stare as I listened. I realize now I’m too damn big for no one to notice me. I was more like a dead body floating by than someone you’d want to invite to swim with you.

Some of us realize we’re doing it but don’t know how to stop. Some of us never realize how bad we stink of desperation. And for too many of us at the core of the desperation is failure. Sadly, we believed we failed to sell our script or make our movie because the right person has not seen our talent and championed our greatness. But really we’ve failed because we just aren’t good enough yet, and we will only be good enough by doing it again and again.

For so long, I’ve noticed that Hollywood runs from desperation. I’ve never quite understood why until I watched that video. I thought, don’t they see this person’s passion? Their commitment? No. What they see is that they will have to put their energy into that person with no guarantee of getting back success. There is only so much energy anyone can give. Lifeguards won’t carry you where you want to go, so why should the industry elite?

Learn to swim in the pool so that they know if they give you a flotation device you’ll be able to survive in the ocean on your own.

 

http://theblackboard.blcklst.com/forums/topic/ava-duvernays-filmmaker-keynote-address-at-2013-film-independent-forum/?utm_content=buffer51b8f&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Sheets in the Closet

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Sheets in the Closet

As you know, Donald Sterling, the owner of the NBA Clippers, was forced out of the closet as a racist asshole by a secretly recorded conversation between him and his girlfriend(?). Now let’s get a few things straight. Yes, secretly recording someone who you say you love is a dick move. Yes, once the recordings were released, what was said on them is fair game. And no, the shit storm that people think they’re raining on him isn’t effecting him any more than a single turd would .

The people who want The Clippers players to abandon the team until Sterling is replaced as owner haven’t stopped to think who gets hurt by that. It sure as hell isn’t Sterling. If the NBA is able to wrestle ownership from his cold dead hand, the team will have to be bought. So, the players would not get paid and fall out of shape while Donald Sterling gets millions of dollars from the sell.

If he had never been around black people, never been their friend, I’d say he might be able to change. But the problem with people like him is, you can never change their mind, and anything you do to hurt them hurts you just as much.

I don’t know why the NAACP sent Sterling his money back. There is no way I would have given him back a dime. Every bit should have gone to innovative black entrepreneurs so that one day, his place as a decision maker would be taken by a new black millionaire. That would make more of a difference than a returned check.

Sadly, the majority of people think that racism is confined to utterances of the “N-word.” We can see this by the recent decision of the Supreme Court to allow the eradication of affirmative action. No black person could truly get a chance under someone like Sterling without prompting.

Truth be told, being called Nigger has never been as damaging to me as someone I trust revealing their prejudice. I know every one of those players was shocked that this man that they thought they knew and, probably, liked, felt that they were not his equals. It’s that shock that is the worst part about his kind of racism. I have never trusted anyone that has called me Nigger, so I was never able to be truly hurt by them. For those of you who can’t understand what I mean, pretend that upon meeting someone the first thing they said is how beneath them you are. That they hate you. Imagine they told you that you were not worth breathing the same air as them. You would be taken aback, wonder how they could think that when they don’t know you, but you’d move on with your life without them in it. You would never let your guard down around them, much less, share a part of your soul.

Only you can hurt yourself more than those you let into to your life as friends or loved ones.

The best piece of advice my mom ever gave me was never to lend anything I can’t afford to lose. The second was never do anything you have to hide your face for. Donald Sterling’s mama should have told him the second one.

I’m not your mama but I’m telling you anyway. If you’re about to do something you would never do if your peers would know about it, listen to yourself and don’t. It’s not right and you know it’s not right. Otherwise, you would smile for the camera… or the recorder.

I’M MAD at the lessons you’ve taught (pt 2)

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When I was at the Austin Film Festival a professional screenwriter hit on me. He asked me if I would be moving back to L.A. and I said yes, when I sold one of my screenplays. He sighed and said that’s never going to happen and walked away. At the same time I was reeling at how horrible his  game was, I pondered what made him think that I would never sell a screenplay? He had never read a single word I had written. The only thing he had to go on is my appearance and somehow my appearance said to him that I would never make it. Why?

At every turn screenwriting requires me to be more than who I am. I am not a natural salesperson. In my life as a woman, I’ve worked hard to learn that if a man doesn’t want me, I don’t want him either. One of my problems making it in the industry is I don’t care who you are. It would be nice if I was a gold digger. They are despised by a lot of people but they get things because they know how to make themselves valuable to people who can get them what they want.

Most women, are taught to be the best person we can be and then wait for someone else to see our value. Since birth we are taught not to sell ourselves. To stay off the pole and to save ourselves for someone who loves us. We are taught to understand passion and inspire passion but never to sell ourselves.

When I am passionate about something that I know I can do I will run myself into the ground making it happen, but I don’t know how to prove that to you. I’m trying to learn how to be more aggressive about selling myself but most of my attempts come out awkward and desperate, much like as if I was forced to sell myself on the street corner. (I’m telling you I would be the worst whore ever.)

For me, the solution is that if you see that I am passionate about something, but I don’t sell you on it that well, give me a chance anyway. I won’t disappoint you.

I’M MAD at the responsibility (pt 1)

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I’m Mad! I’m mad at you and you and you and especially, more than anybody else, I’m mad at me because I’m having a hard time letting the noise go.

In the last couple of weeks I haven’t wanted to be a screenwriter. Ironically, it’s because of all the talk of underrepresentation of women and women of color in the entertainment industry.

We… and this is part of the problem, we are thought of as a we. We are expected to write certain things. We are expected to deal with our issues and yours too.

Unlike a man, when I tell a story of a human being I am supposed to represent all human beings in a fair and equal manner. Well guess what? Fair and equal is boring. Fair and equal is not the human story, is not anyone’s human story.

In one of my thrillers, the woman starts out weak and adrift because she wants to turn her life over to any man, even if he’s an asshole. This is the kind of woman I want to slap in the face in real life but in the story she has to start there to grow. But, as a woman, I am forced to think  what it means that people see this squishy limp noodle as a representation of women. Am I harming women by acknowledging those like her exist?

When I began my western I spent days trying to force women into the narrative. It’s based on a true story and if you’ve ever researched the 1870s the mentions of women that aren’t simply listed as the wife are a thousand to one. I had to travel to Arkansas to purchase a 713 page out of print book to find a single page of a woman who was not mentioned as someone’s wife or daughter. History represents us little more than walking uteri, so how do we balance that with what true life was? I also have to worry that I haven’t been able to find a voice in this story because there is no white hero. Can I make a movie with a black main character without a white hero? Outside of blaxploitation films it has never been done before. I get nervous and fight with myself over the truth of it. The only thing I should have to fight with are that there are no heroes in this story at all, there are no solutions either. It’s only a man struggling with who he is and how that fits into the world around him. In a western that should be enough. But I am a black woman writing this so will people except that it’s enough from me?

Every time I choose not to make a main or supporting character black or a woman I wonder if I am failing my people. I switched from prose to screenwriting because I was an actor searching for parts. In an interview, John Leguizamo said as a person of color if you have the ability to write it is your power, your way to break in. He did it, Whoopi Goldberg did it, and so could I. When I became disabled and was no longer able to act the stories I wanted to tell were so much bigger than movies I could star in. The color, weight, sex, of the person depended on the history they needed to be in this spot on this day.

I get mad that I’m a stereotypical woman writer who does not do giant stories where the goal is to blow up as much stuff as possible. I love those movies but I’m no good at writing them.

How do you get more women in the business? Stop telling them why we need them in the business. Forcing us to be the hopes and dreams of billions of people is too much.  I can’t take care of everyone else, I’m too busy trying to take care of myself.

Maybe all this talk of more women is as simple as considering us for a project when you think the writer being a woman, or black, or disabled, is not needed. As writers, we are already asked to deliver a story that will speak to the human race. Even though we may choose to, we shouldn’t have to speak for the subset of millions of people we belong to as well. Consider us because we are writers and we have stories tell and not because you think you know what those stories are.