I’ve been absent lately. I know I put up all those flags and I know that the flags do no good if I don’t return to them. The system breaks down.
But I’ve been unable to write any of the great ideas I’ve had.
Partly because life has gotten busy. But, mostly, because Chris and I have come to an impasse while writing our movie. Everything we’ve written is so boring. And, though we have a lot of lovely moments, a lot of lovely scenes, we’re not sure what it all amounts to. But the worst thing is our characters. They’re all just a bunch of nice people hanging out together while a nice person dies. And we can’t call our movie GET BETTER if no one needs to get better.
And this angst over the movie, this overwhelming need for it to be good — to be really, really good — has kept me all twisted up and terrified and unable to write.
Until I realized that terror, that angst, that need to look good. That need to be good. It’s a clue to Ellie. It’s how we mess her up. Ellie is reserved and Ellie is controlling and Ellie wants to write the story and Ellie is paranoid. And, most of all, Ellie is proud. A common tragic flaw, to be sure. But still a good one.
Maybe, when Ellie is very old, she’ll look back and realize that her whole life has been a constant battle between her enormous heart and her equally enormous ego. Her whole life. Maybe she’ll realize that heart and ego, her sympathy and her hypersensitivity, have always been flip sides of the same coin — and sometimes the coin lands on one side and sometimes the other. Sometimes she tries to heal, and sometimes she thinks only of how she’s been hurt or mistreated or misrepresented.
Maybe she’ll look back and see times when her heart told her to go, but her ego made her stay. When her heart wanted to forgive, but her ego made her wait for an apology. When her heart wanted to speak, but her ego made her hold her tongue. When her heart made her want to feel joy and friendship, but her ego reminded her that she’d been slighted.
What do we do with a character like this? What does she do?
Does she say to her students: “You must do better. You must be better. Because you are my students.” Or does she say: “You are so young. You don’t know a sonnet from a steak sandwich.
Does she say to her brothers and her sisters: “You must do better. You must be better. Because you are my family.” Or does she say: “You don’t even know. You don’t even know how I’ve watched you. How I’ve loved your big yellow head. Your slivery blue eyes.”
Does she say to her dad: “You must do better. You must be better. This is not your story. This isn’t good enough. And it’s embarrassing.” Or does she say: “Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.”