Archives for posts with tag: Academy Nicholl Fellowships

This is one of those years that make me want to just pretend I didn’t enter the Nicholl, maybe even pretend it doesn’t exist. No entry, no results, no blog post.

But, it does and I did, so here it is. 2019 is one of the rare times when neither of my two feature length screenplay entries moved the needle at all. Not a single positive read. There’s usually at least one, often more.

There. It’s out.

This blog is intended to not only cover the good things that happen to me, but also the not so good to out right bad. The good for obvious reasons. The bad so someone else dealing with something hard in their lives may stumble across it and feel a little better being reminded that we’re not in whatever it is alone. Sometimes just thinking of even one stranger sharing our pain or disappointment from afar can make enough of a difference to actually help. From Alzheimer’s caregiving, to grief, to the events that take peripheral positions to that kind of thing, we all carry burdens. Even if the “only” burden you carry today is a disappointment, a setback in your writing life, don’t ever forget that’s a legitimate thing to deal with. In some ways it’s actually a grief within itself. We put our whole selves into our scripts and stories and novels and poems. Of course the setbacks are hard to deal with.

This year I have an “advantage”. A compressed sciatic nerve is pretty much consuming my life. That kind of physical pain can outscream just about anything else. So, I was upset about my screenplays performing so poorly, especially after doing so well other years, for a few hours, then shrugged it off and carried on, as must be done when you’re addicted to screenwriting competitions.

We carry on, while running an internal question-with-no-answers session involving a loop of “why?”, “how?”, and “when will things turn back around?”. We think and hope and wonder, and keep on writing and learning and dreaming. That’s the writer’s life. Sometimes we curse it . Hopefully, briefly. The rest of the time we love it. We live it. We make happen whatever we can. If all we can make happen is our writing world, that’s enough. Where else would we want to be?

I’ve entered a lot of screenwriting competitions. So many in fact that I can’t say off the top of my head how many years I’ve been doing it. I actually got kind of addicted to it. It’s helpful to keep yourself setting and meeting goals, keeping up your A game, and with the right attitude it’s fun.

I’ve hit some pretty high highs, as far as advancing goes, with three dramas and a science fiction, all feature length. The dramas have all been Moondance finalists, one twice, and one was a semi-finalist. Two have made the top 25% of the Page Awards, while the science fiction one was a Page Awards quarter-finalist twice and a semi- finalist once. A drama made the top 10% of the Nicholl, the science fiction one the top 15%, and they have all had several variations of one and two positive reads. Not bad at all.

So why did I suddenly put a freeze on all competition entries this year? Under slightly different circumstances I’d call it competition fatigue, reached at last. Rejection fatigue certainly plays a part in it. Between this and fiction rejections, I have endured a near constant barrage for many years. There’s a lot to be said for what the human spirit rises to when properly motivated with a high enough reward potential dangled at the end of a long, rocky road. However, bluntly put, this human spirit is exhausted.

I’ve learned that endurance tests are not necessarily meant to be endured without pause virtually forever. It is perfectly acceptable at some point to break what you’ve seen as a never ending test of talent and character into separate phases of the same journey. Interstates have rest stops for a reason.Some people are good for the long, unbroken haul, no matter how long it takes. I was. But then life throws something in that makes you reevaluate, regroup, and sometimes replan.

Life threw my mother at me. She got Alzheimer’s. I got the responsibility of caring for her. Until you face it yourself, it’s impossible to grasp what that means. As the disease progresses, so does your role in your loved one’s life. Eventually becoming completely responsible for a beloved parent is life shattering. You have to dig deep and deeper, you change into a deeply mature adult, as they change back toward childhood. I became stronger than I was, more mature than I was capable of being, and learned that words like limits and strength and courage have no real meaning, because the meanings are redifined as time passes. Love becomes redifined as well, becoming the reason for everything. As difficult as it was, I would do it again, even knowing what I faced, because such a wonderful parent deserved the best possible wind down of her life, even held submerged in the depths of the weighted enemy called Alzheimer’s.

By the time she slipped away from both of our lives, on July 15, 2016, I was more exhausted than I would have thought possible. Even as I readjusted to being only responsible for myself, I missed her every day. I still do. I rest, I recover, and I’m just so glad that I got through it.

Somehow through it all I managed to write. Not prolifically. Not really steadily. But I wrote short fiction and I submitted it. This was my piece of myself that I retained throughout. I sold a story to Analog in time for my mom, my greatest support, to know and briefly understand. I continued to enter screenwriting competitions. Eventually I narrowed my focus to the Nicholl. I entered three screenplays a year. At least one would get a positive read every year, sometimes two, at times they all did at least some little miracle of a positive read or two, occasionally not so miraculous.

A couple of years ago, I checked email on my phone in a grocery store parking lot. Hammered, nearly in public, by three responses that were not as good as I’d hoped. Okay, expected. It had started to seem that I went backwards some years. Had for a while in other years, other competitions. That was when the need for the symbolic rest area became undeniable. I entered three again last year and only one got anywhere at all, with two positive reads.

Backwards.

I don’t understand how levels of success can fluctuate so widely, from competition to competition, from year to year. It seems to be, loosely put, the nature of the game. That’s okay. I know I’m not alone in it and that I’m very fortunate to consistently do so well, for so long.

I also know that I needed a break. The moments of opening competition results emails, followed by the jolts of recognition that nothing big was happening for another year needed to be followed by a break from said moments and jolts. The realization that the sheer joy of knowing a screenplay I’d written, a story I’d told, had received two positive reads in the most prestigious, highly competitive arena in screenwritingland was overshadowed by the disappointment over the two that received none. Even though they’d gotten notice several other times. I wasn’t fun anymore. It was painful.

Somehow, stepping back for a year was the right thing to do. It lowered my stress level. It gave me a measure of peace, turning the leadup to the results announcements away from dread to a space of peace. As the time to start thinking about 2019 entries approaches, I’m doing just that. I’m not sure the fun will fully be back in the game. After going through such a life altering experience as being an Alzheimer’s caregiver, a new gravity settles over my life. It’s not always at the surface, but it colors the way I consider everything. All I can do is enjoy testing myself as much as possible, while I hope.

I can’t help but remember how much my mom loved movies, when they were coming of age together. She would be so proud if my name someday appears on that beloved silver screen. The thing about wonderful mothers, though…she would be just as proud of me if that never happens.

So, onward. Above and beyond, always…with necessary rest stops on the way toward the stars.