The Pain Principle

This is a blog post about an acting class, a play being turned into a screenplay, and some flying Chihuahuas.

I had acting class two nights ago.  I love my acting class.  My acting class is my therapy, social hour, Barbie dream house and spiritual retreat in one three-and-a-half-hour time slot.  When I come out of my acting class all I want to do is act, but the next day, well, I have to write.  Correction: I don’t have to, but that’s what I do, right?  I’m a writer.   And yet I crave that instantly gratifying experience that gets me out of my head and ends with people applauding.  Or saying “Cut.  Nice job.”

I am turning a play of mine into a screenplay.  It’s not easy — and by that I mean the writing.  Any writing, lest we forget.  To sit alone and let these characters of our own making speak, especially if no one really cares if they do or not — no easy feat.  And this has been particularly tough for me.  It’s not just that I’ve had a taste of a storytelling process that doesn’t involve one of the most dangerous people I know (me) playing with one of the most dangerous weapons I know (my brain) — it’s that I’m still waiting for that flow, that zone.  And forty pages in, it’s nowhere to be found.  The usual sinister ramblings of the writer mind whisper in my ear: the character is boring.  The story is boring.  The tone is off — one minute flip, the next maudlin, depending on my mood.  And the worst: how does this in any way contribute to the general good of the world?  Particularly if this gridlock puts me in such a crappy mood that I’m pissed off at everyone I come into contact with?

So yesterday, having had one too many of such moments, I decide to shake things up and really contribute.  Give back.  I don real clothes, as opposed to sweats, and head to the animal shelter to volunteer.  This is where the Chihuahuas come in.  I go to help an organization fly twenty of them to New Hampshire where they’ll be adopted as opposed to euthanized.  On the car ride over, I consider the possibility of “taking a break” from writing and devoting my life to being of service full-time.

Anyone been to the county-run animal shelter lately?  Let’s just say it’s not for the overly sensitive and highly hormonal.  But I help.  Get my clothes dirty.  Give and get love and do my best to implore each of those little creatures to hang tight, because a beautiful life is on the other side of six hours in a cargo hold.  I also run into the bathroom every half hour to sob my eyes out.

Three and a half hours later — as long as an acting class but not quite as euphoria-enhancing — I come home.  I uncork a bottle of wine to put things in perspective.  It dawns on me: Who am I kidding?  I can’t put the pen down.  I’ll wrestle this script to the ground if I have to.  Besides, while I certainly think volunteering is a fantastic way to spend time, isn’t this my contribution, my gift to the world?

If I had to find a moral to the story — and being a writer I always try to — I’d say that in some way we writers are like those flying Chihuahuas.  We sort of have to sit with the discomfort and understand it’s not a permanent state.  Somewhere on the other side lies something beautiful.

Or not.  But we have no choice but to go through it.  Or we die.

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