Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I feel the earth move under my feet



Or not. Although it is unusual to experience a magnitude 5.9 earthquake in Richmond, Virginia, it is apparently not unheard of, since that's what just happened.

I was sitting at my desk when the shaking started, and my first thought was that the kids were horsing around in the playroom next door. I was about to yell, "What's going on in there?" when I remembered that they were playing outside. Then I thought it was the spin cycle on the washer, because it had that rhythmic sort of chugga-chugga-CHUGGA quality to it, and I was trying to remember if I had put anything heavy (like a comforter) in that last load. THEN, finally, it dawned on me that it was an earthquake and I was like, 'Holy shit!' and ran outside to see if the kids were okay.

And they were. They are. We're all fine.

This was, by my count, my fifth earthquake. Or fifth that was big enough to really count for something, I guess. I lived in Southern California for seven years, and during that time there were countless little ones, little trembles that made you sort of cock your head like a dog listening for a whistle and go, "Was that...?" before you moved on with your day.

But the ones that I distinctly remember as Events are as follows:

1) Rawlins, Wyoming - I was in fifth grade, so it would have been 1984 or so. My reading group and I are all sitting around the half-moon shaped table, with our teacher sitting in the little cut-out on the flat side. She accuses us all, in turn, of being the naughty kid who is kicking the table hard enough to make it shake. This is tough for us, because in my reading group we are the nerds, the well-behaved Lisa Simpsons of our day, and to be accused of acting out is highly unusual for us. And then we all realize that it's actually an earthquake. (Which is highly unusual for Wyoming.) One of the walls of the school cracked, I remember, making a neat zig-zag right along the fault lines of the mortar between the bricks. Other seismic events that year include my parents' divorce, which I found out about from one of my teachers, when she asked me if I was okay, and I was like, "Yeah. Why?" and she told me. Gotta love a small town. (Or not.)

2) Los Angeles, California - The first of my three L.A. quakes (1999?) comes in the middle of the night, approximately 2 a.m. I wake up disoriented, wondering why my bed is moving one direction and I am moving the other. A couple pictures on my desk fall over and I realize what is going on. I rush out into the hallway where my grad-school roommate has just emerged from her bedroom. We smile goofily at each other and she yells, "Earthquake!" like a soccer announcer yelling, "Goal!" We are strangely giddy, as it's the first one for both of us since moving to Southern California, and it somehow doesn't seem like it's serious enough to warrant panic. A couple small aftershocks keep us awake the rest of the night, but other than that, nothing else really happened.

3) Los Angeles, California - The second quake comes in 2000, during the day, while I am at work at HBO in one of the twin towers of Century City. The entire development team is sitting around the big table in the conference room having a meeting. The NYC branch of HBO has recently merged with the LA branch and all the NY execs have moved out to LA within the last couple months. When the quake hits, every single LA exec is sitting calmly at the table waiting to see how bad it will be, and every single NY exec is underneath the table, freaking out. The building is on rollers and is built to withstand quakes (the tower is triangle-shaped, which apparently helps in quakes because every wall has a stabilizing vertical beam exactly opposite it, whereas a square or rectangular building shakes more), but because we are on the 36th floor, there is a queasy sort of time-delayed swaying sensation happening. Like, the bottom of the building is moving one way, and 30 seconds later the movement ripples up to the top of the building and we sway in the opposite direction. That one went on for a LONG time, but again, it never really seemed like we were in terrible danger. After it stopped, the NY execs took the rest of the day off. The HR department instituted regular earthquake-preparedness drills after that and we all had the chance to purchase an earthquake "kit" at a special discounted price.

4) Los Angeles, California - The final big quake I experienced in L.A. was also the most severe. I had just recently found out that I was invited to the Emmys, and was in the mall shopping for a strapless bra to wear with my fancy dress. I had just come out of the dressing room in Victoria's Secret and gotten in line to buy my bra when the shaking started. There was a big fancy crystal chandelier directly above my head, and I remember staring at it and being amazed at how far horizontally it was swinging during the shaking. The suspending chain seemed to be almost parallel to the floor at one point. Bras and panties were falling off of the shelves, people were screaming, some dust started to come down from the ceiling, and I remember being like, 'Great. This is where I'm going to die? In a Victoria's Secret? Suffocated in a giant pile of lingerie?' That was the only quake strong enough to make me doubt that we would be okay. But then, the shaking subsided, everybody picked themselves up, offered each other some shaky smiles and just went on with their day. Other seismic events that year included 9/11, which postponed and then downgraded the Emmys from Black Tie to Business Casual, so I didn't end up wearing the bra, or the dress, at all. (I don't mean to be flippant or blase about September 11th, but I figure there's nothing I can tell you about that day that you don't already know.)

5) Richmond, Virginia - 2011. Ten years since my last quake, I almost don't recognize what it is. Now I kind of feel like I do when I see a couple or three highway patrolmen on the interstate in a short space of road, pulling people over for speeding. Does that make it more likely that I will see another one? Are they out in force, handing out tickets galore? Should I be extra careful to obey the speed limit so I don't get nabbed? Or is it less likely that I'll see another one, since I've just seen a few in a row? Is the probability of another one lower, because there are only so many highway patrolmen out there? Hard to say. Should I be relieved that my family has safely experienced a "major" quake here in VA and from here on out it will be even more unlikely that we'll get another one? I mean, this one happening at all was pretty fucking unlikely, right? Or does having one big one mean another one is now more likely to occur? (I mean, aside from aftershocks and all that.) Hard to say.

Maybe I'll dig out that old earthquake-preparedness kit.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Everybody's working for the weekend

I, through the gracious consent of my husband and the superior knowledge of my friend Elena, was able to go on a two-day writing retreat this past weekend. E and I drove two hours and checked in to a lovely old Southern home overlooking the James River with grand porches running the length of the first and second floors. We brought our own food, our computers, and the essentials for clothes, etc. and then we did nothing but write, eat, pee and sleep for the next 48 hours. It was heavenly. (I also, with the assistance of Jim the Songwriter who was also there on retreat, retrieved a five-foot-long black snake skin from a tree outside my window and brought it home for Nolan. You know, like you do.)

I worked on my screenplay for Night Tour, which I had previously, I don't know, not abandoned, but stopped working on in any meaningful way about a year ago. And taking it out again and really trying to buckle down and FINISH THE FUCKER reminded me of why I quit on it before. It's a mess. There's a lot of good stuff, if I do say so myself, but there's also a ton of chaff, and it needs more than just a weekend writer's retreat to fix, sad to say.

I was thinking about it again because I recently sent it to a friend-of-a-friend (who I hope will now consider me also a friend) whose opinion I respect, and he really enjoyed it. He thought there was something worthwhile there, and it got me excited to work on it again and really try to make it work this time. So I dove back in, and spent a goodly amount of time re-acquainting myself with the world and the characters. I only wanted to write an ending, which it didn't (and still doesn't) have, during this retreat. I figured that was reasonable. Just finish it, however you can, and then go back and try to fix all the other problems.

And I couldn't. I tried, but what I ended up doing was kind of like a logic problem from a book of puzzles. You know, the ones that are like "Five friends live on Walnut Street. Tom lives in a red house next to the house with the tire swing. Mary's house is not next to Sally's house." and blah blah blah so you have to try to figure out who lives where. Doing that with my script. Trying out different possibilities. If I do this, what happens then over here? Can I combine these two scenes? No, because then that line of dialogue that refers to the other thing that happens will come too late. How about if I move this over here? Hmmm...

No! You know what it was like? It was like building a house out of Legos. Not the big chunky Duplos but the little intricate fuckers that only come in red, yellow, blue, white, green and black, with a big green plate to build it on. My screenplay was 3/4 of a Lego house, built really tall for some reason, with ragged edges of bricks and no fourth wall (no pun intended). So, looking at it from the outside after having been away from it for a while, it was like, "This should be a snap! It just needs to have those last few pieces tacked onto the end. Maybe stick a window in that other wall. No problem!" And I got all enthusiastic and ready to tackle it, and then discovered what most 6-year-olds already know: You can't just cut a window into a Lego wall. That's not how they work. First you have to take off all the pieces that are above the ones you want to remove. Then you have to smooth out the edges by pulling off all the pieces that stick out and replacing them with ones that end where you want them to in order to form the shape of the window. Then you put the top layer of bricks back on. And sometimes when you pull one brick out, three other bricks are stuck to it and you accidentally rip out a whole section when you only meant to trim. So it ends up taking a lot longer than you thought, and you keep fucking up the parts you don't mean to by taking out other pieces, and sometimes you don't even have a brick with the right number of dots on it - you need a six-er when all you've got are fours and eights. You know what you need to put there, but you don't have it, and what you do have won't fit.


So I didn't finish it. But I'm not giving up. I will keep plugging away.

Thanks for reading.