The creative process can be a mindfuck at times. Last time, I wrote about the ecstatic high of being so madly inspired on a screenwriting project that I was all out of whack. Even though I knew better, I kinda thought that feeling would last a really long time.
And in a certain way, it’s still there. I’m still excited about the project and had a great time talking about it yesterday with the friend who my character Lenne is based on. But I also experienced the other side of the creative process, the doubt and self-loathing, the coming down off the drug-like high of creating.
The crash came along with writing the end of the first draft of the screenplay. Maybe it was just the fact that the initial mad dash creative side of the project was over. All of a sudden, I didn’t feel excited about this project so much as terrified.
Also, the prospect of presenting it to my science class terrified me. Originally, I LOVED the idea of going in there and presenting something soooooo different from what anyone would expect. Except for two of my co-workers, no one in that class knows that I write, at all. No one knew I was doing a screenplay instead of a research project. I liked the idea of going in there and just doing something so unexpected. Unexpected because no one is doing anything like this, and unexpected because I don’t think people who know me in class would expect this out of me. Not only do they have no idea that I write, I think a lot of the topics would surprise them, too. I’ve never talked about my albinism and blindness in that class, and then there it would be, right in the first scene of the screenplay and present throughout. Plus, people tend to assume I’m sort of sweeter than I am (or that I like to think I am) so for most of the class, the ones who don’t know me, I think it would be kind of surprising that I’m writing this screenplay about chemistry tutors as drug makers and blind girls as drug dealers.
I really liked the idea of how surprising this could be. How different from everyone else’s projects. I wanted to go in there, OWN it, and blow people’s minds. I secretly wanted all these other people I knew to come to the class and sit in and watch me read it. I was proud of my project, how much I’d done so quickly, how the story wove together, all the chemistry in it, all the humor, the romance, the commentary on blindness and disability, all of it. I was looking forward to kicking ass at my performance.
Yeah, that didn’t happen.
The self-loathing and doubt set in big time. Some of it was based on actual thoughts and worries. I started freaking out about doing something so out of the box. All these people in the class were going to be presenting real research. Serious science shit. What the fuck was I thinking, bringing in this frivolous screenplay and thinking it would be epic or something? And was it going to offend these serious scientists that I was writing a story about scientists doing “bad” things? What if the prof was offended? What if they all hated it?
Oh yeah, and what if the writing totally sucked?! I knew there were problems with it. It was too long. My first scene was too confusing about who was who (the first scene is supposed to be chaotic but I knew I had written it in a way that didn’t help clear up the confusion). And whereas a few of the characters are VERY closely based on real-life people, I have two that aren’t so much, and I worried that these two wouldn’t come off as realistic. It’s funny because those two characters–Silas, the love interest, and Wesley, the bad guy chemist kidnapper–are kind of the extremes. The best male character and the worst. And I did cobble together some different traits and lines of dialogue and real-life interactions from different people to make each of them, I’m just not sure they read as real like some of the other characters do. As a writer, I know that Silas is too good and Wesley is too bad, because despite pulling some real things from real life, one is mostly made out of wishes and the other is made mostly out of fears.
What if bringing up disability stuff had really bad results? In the second scene, my character gets rejected from med school because of her eyesight and I thought, what if I read that and everyone in the class was on the side of the med school and not the character? What if I wasn’t adequately portraying that a blind person can do science? What if people really hated my character and her disastrous romantic past? What if the parts that I thought were funny just struck people in the class as horrifying?? Some of it’s so funny to me because I’m looking back in hindsight but some of it is really not cool stuff.
And the list of worries went on and on. And on and on. But it was more than these worries. They were just words to put to this awful feeling that wasn’t quite rational or thought-out but just a feeling of blind terror.
The whole day, Tuesday, that I was scheduled to present to the class, I was practically hyperventilating. Seriously. I woke up with that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, the feeling you get when something terrible is about to happen. I couldn’t shake it. At all. I was hoping for a really busy day at work, to distract me from my worry and make the time pass, but of course, it was a really slow day at work and I had loads of time on my hands to freak out and feel sick to my stomach. Really, the only relief that day was when I got to do some chemistry and take my mind off this shit.
And here’s the thing. I’ve done my share of Open Mic nights. I once did a one-woman show and read stories about my life that were a lot more revealing than this screenplay. I read about illicit relationships, doing drugs, nearly being homeless, totally lying to my parents when I moved across country, political thinking that was pretty inflammatory at the time, and so on. I read a piece about some of the darkest childhood shit at a poetry club in NYC. I read that crazy chapter Warding Off Eclipses with Sex and Music, which is full of some questionable and weird shit, to a roomful of total strangers.
So it’s not like I’m a stranger to reading my work to people. I love it. It can feel like being a rock star. I always get nervous, but this was like a whole new level. I literally felt physically sick. I couldn’t eat dinner that night. This screenplay, which is tentatively titled Sweet Acid, was the worst thing ever written by anyone, ever. I couldn’t relax. I even had a beer before class but it didn’t help. I really wanted someone to just sedate me.
I can only remember one other time that I was this out of my mind with anxiety. And that time, it took me a few days before I could relax.
So I get to class. I had asked to go last. I don’t know, with my thing being so different, it just seemed to make sense that way. My nerves only got worse as the class went on. People were presenting real science, real research. Malaria drugs. Dengue fever. Beta amyloid plaque research. Cadmium in cigarettes. My project felt so out of place and stupid.
By the time the last person finished up, there wasn’t enough time for my thing. Our presentations are supposed to be fifteen minutes and we only had about ten left. The prof asked me to go…and I chickened out. I said I would do it next week and I’d go back to doing my original project about study groups. I just couldn’t do it. And we have a few more weeks of presentations so it was easy to switch me onto another day.
Of course, I was mad at myself for being chicken shit. And disappointed. I’d been looking forward to it but I was just so nervous I could hardly breathe. Even writing about the feeling of nervousness is bringing back some of the physical sensations. And just like the one other time I felt this nervous, I had trouble calming down even after getting the week reprieve on my presentation.
So yeah, there was a pretty serious crash after the writing high. I guess in a way they were similar, both feeling high-energy and wired, just in different directions.
Now, Tuesday is approaching again. I kinda want to go back to the idea of reading part of my screenplay to the class. I’ve edited it more, cleaned it up. And the two real life people who appear in this section–Tucker and Lenne–have given their approval. I’ll have more time to practice too. Last week, I wasn’t even twenty-four hours out from writing “FADE OUT” and had almost no time to prepare my presentation. Plus the professor seemed curious enough. The question is can I screw up the courage? And why the fuck is this bothering me so much more than so many other readings of my work?
What to do? Is this a feel the fear and do it anyway type deal? Or is my gut telling me something I should pay attention to? Should I just do a boring presentation on study groups or do this kinda crazy different thing?
Writing that, it’s clear to me that I still want to read the excerpt from the screenplay. I still want to go in there, do something different, be a rock star. I just don’t know if I can do it.
P.S. OMG, my boss at the tutoring center just said she wants me to present my screenplay at our weekly student coordinator meeting tomorrow. I am almost more terrified of that. It’s a professional leadership role and I don’t know how they will react to me casting chemistry tutors as drug makers! SHIT!!!
P.P.S. Here are the other parts of this trilogy: