Hopeless in Seattle: A Mythotherapy Commentary

hope

I woke up today, a beautiful sparkling day in Costa Rica, mad as a hatter. Then I just found myself crying into my pillow. My heart hurt and I had to wash my face, click on my computer and tell you why.

When I started this site nearly a year ago I had three inspirations: To encourage people to tell their stories, to help writers get published and to share what I know about writing, navigating the publishing world and most of all, to honor story as power in the world.

Most of my clients are first world citizens who enjoy many of the luxuries that most of the planet do not have the opportunity to experience: Clean and free water, electricity, watching a show before bed while eating Ben and Jerry’s, a bed, buying food on every corner, one or two Starbucks coffees in a day and money. I think it’s safe to say that my clients are mostly Caucasian, privileged in my sense of the word and writing is a luxury, sometimes a hobby and most of the time a story that is true in their lives and the telling of it will help others and heal the writer at the same time. All but one storyteller. This is who I want to speak about in this post.

Over the past two years I have been getting to know a young man in his twenties from Zimbabwe. He has a story to tell, passion for his people and his family, a large family that his mother is raising, and he has no vehicle to tell his story other than Facebook.   And in my mind the best writers are those who cannot help themselves and have to write, are roused in the night and must jot down ideas or begin a new chapter, dig into a new flash of insight or who have lived through the unthinkable and still possess a light in them and their story of triumph is the medicine the world needs. A writer who does not write as a hobby or a tangential part of life, but sees writing as their life, like breathing, is a very different animal. Emmanuel is one of those writers and storytellers. And he has gotten under my skin.

I grew up in a black and white world of the 50’s. Yes there were pink poodle skirts, bobby socks, diners, 38 records and then came the Beatles, the Vietnam War and chaos and cover-ups. But there was also growing up in the south where an African-American person was a “nigger”, when Brazil nuts were call “nigger toes” in my family, where I grew up with maids and drivers and black gardeners who pruned our hedges and clipped the grass around a four-foot metal lawn ornament of a black man holding a lantern and wearing a butlers outfit. This was my norm as a child. Then it all changed. I saw more sides of the black and white issue, as I became a teen.

My knees buckled as race riots were out of control in Watts. As front-page news was Selma and countless other towns and cities brutally murdering black citizens. I sat with my parents with our aluminum TV trays and Swanson TV dinners in front of a black and white television as JFK was gunned down and began hysterically crying as my parents sipped a vodka tonic and praised the conservatives and bashed the liberals. I became despondent when our government murdered Martin Luther King, and then the same people assassinated Bobby Kennedy. By 17 I was hopeless.

watts

The black and white issue began to eat away at my soul. Why? Because it was a human story for me. It was about people intentionally killing hope. From those days forward I was all about keeping hope alive. My hope, the hope of people in poverty, people who had so much less than me, people who had no future in our country back then because of the color of their skin. As for me I was lily-white, blonde, blue-eyed and wanting for not one thing in life.

Fast forward. I moved from hand writing letters to my congressman on stationary with my embossed initials at the top and mailing it to them by snail mail for eight cents to emailing those letters decades later. The KKK had gone underground and reappeared dressed differently. They were now corporate leaders, governing officials and not very interested in my emails. The Internet opened doors for all of us and there was a new power of the word birthing itself every day in cyberspace. Facebook shattered barriers and became a tool I would come to use religiously. Not because I wanted to simply dazzle the world with photos of my children or inspiring quotes, but because it connected me to stories around the world. I then started a Facebook page called Equilux, all about the dark and the light, all about the not so black and white issues we face. Then I met Emmanuel through Facebook and was instantly transported back to the days of my life at thirteen when life was becoming hopeless.

Emmanuel in his twenties, lives in a country in Africa that is a regime dedicated to keeping people from telling their stories, keeping people in poverty and powerless. Zimbabwe is not necessarily a black and white story though; it is a black and black story that is perpetuated by white values. Emmanuel is one of several children, the oldest, raised with the rest of them by his mother, living a life in a house with dirt floors and tiny brothers and sisters who dream of school and an easier life. Emmanuel is the only one to graduate school and who wants to go to college and follow a dream. His dream is not to get a job in IT and adopt empty western values, his dream is to go to film school so he can tell his story, his mother’s story and the story of his people. Emmanuel knows that is the only power of change for him and for his country; Words, stories and telling his truth.

If you go to Facebook and look Emmanuel Mazivire up, you will see him post photos of his family, his people and say things like “One kind word can change someone’s day” or “Do not judge by appearances, a rich heart may be under a poor coat”. He has not lost hope. So Emmanuel and I started to talk two years ago. He shared some of his writing of a story he wants to submit for a documentary on his mother and all the single mothers raising children in Zimbabwe. I posted about him and tried helping him get a basic video camera, which took six months to reach him because of how they monitor the mail in Africa. He still wishes to find a way to go to film school in the United States, still needs a video camera worthy of a documentary and is working on his writing.

So before the sun came up today I was roused by the part of me who after five decades of watching the black and white story, which is really the privileged and underprivileged story, the money and no money story, the entitled and not very entitled story and the turn a blind eye story because it is too inconvenient to know too many inconvenient truths, my heart hurt. Because Emmanuel is one in a sea of young people with stories to tell, dreams to live, love to share and who has very little means of doing so without help, without compassion, without others sharing the load. And like many I am not one to swoop into Zimbabwe on a plane with great video equipment and shoot a doc on Emmanuel and his life. Why? Because, no one can tell the story better than the person who is living it.

And I am one single mother in the world myself, privileged to live my dream, and not wealthy by a long shot. What I can do for and with Emmanuel is help him tell his story, be a voice along side of his, read his writing, coach him for free, share with people who are touched to help with a camera and support him on Facebook. But he needs more. He needs to have the flames of his hope fanned. What power each of us has to do that. He is pushing against all odds even in circumstances you or I would cry uncle to have to face. He needs a mentor, a documentary camera, a plane ticket, help for his mother, his siblings, his story. He needs to go to school, have a patron, get his video into film festivals. He needs me, he needs, you. I do what I can but as Emmanuel knows first hand…it takes a village. He is one person in a sea of stories. But as he posted last week:

few sincere words

So these are my few sincere words. There is an ocean filled with Emmanuel’s in this world, on every street corner, in Mumbai, Russia and New York City. Story is power. The power I chose to use in my world. We hold it in our hands every day and have a choice what to do with that story, sometimes failing to see that words are one of the most powerful tools we all have and only second to the power of the heart. Put the two together and we would all be unstoppable.

Note: If you are interested in knowing more about Emmanuel, helping in any way, running a Kickstarter Campaign to raise money for him, buy him a plane ticket, give him your video camera that is documentary worthy, or help me to help him please contact me personally at mayachristobel@gmail.com or write to Emmanuel directly at emmanuelmazivire@gmail.com and visit him on Facebook at Emmanuel Mazivire and send him your support. Become part of the global village.

emmanuel in school

 

Emmanuel doing some teaching.

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A Life Well Written

montage of Stewart Stern

The life of a storyteller and writer is different for the writer of books; the writer of articles, the non-fiction writer, fictionalist or historical writer. But in my opinion there is nothing harder than writing a screenplay.   In writing for film, well I have found that writing for film is simply…brutal. It is a sparse, to the point, limiting form that within a confining format has to inspire a director, producer, actor, and cinematographer to throw their lot in with a story that is only 120 tiny pages long, if your lucky, that is, to get it down to 120 pages. Every page equals one minute on the screen. Ugh.

So, when I arrived at The Film School in Seattle in 2011, and had the privilege of working with people like Tom Skerritt, John Jacobson, Warren Etheredge and Stewart Stern, I was the oldest in the class, spent 15 hours a day honing a craft I thoroughly resisted and went home to my hotel every night for a month and crashed on the bed, hungry, exhausted and wondering if screenwriting was for me.

Even before I arrived with an elite few to a screenwriting boot-camp I had two screenplays that made it on the festival circuit. But the form was like sandpaper for me and no matter what I did I could not make friends with the process. Until Stewart Stern stepped into class one day.

Now you need to know that I cut my teeth as a storyteller on movies like Rebel Without a Cause, Cool Hand Luke, Sybil, The Heart of Darkness, Rachel, Rachel, The Ugly American and almost all the movies that Stewart Stern either wrote or consulted on. I had no idea who he was but I knew that every movie he wrote was raw, real and soulful and that is how I intended to write my stories even if Hollywood wanted another Marvel Comic Superhero blockbuster. I didn’t give a shit about Superman.

Stewart Bee Lily and Brando

My time with Stewart was magic as it was for everyone in our class. He would come in with a cane at 90 years old, boxes of memorabilia from the movies, scrapbooks, film clips, letters and love notes from people in the industry. He was armed with stories about his writing career, his friendships with the Newman’s, Sally Field, every important director of his era and then proceeded to mesmerize us with the truth about what it takes to write a story like Rebel Without a Cause. He changed my life. It was that simple. He renewed my courage to write from that place the defied Hollywood and he simply made it possible for me to love what I do even when writing in a straightjacket.

This post is a tribute to the courage of writers like Stewart Stern.

Here is a glimpse into the life of a writer who changed the world with his stories. May we all have courage to be truthful, heartfelt, alive writers, who stay the course.

Paul and Stewart

On January 26, would have been PAUL NEWMAN’s  90th birthday. Lifetime best friends, Stewart so cherished his friendship with Paul. Pictured here is Paul, as Stewart’s Best Man, before Stewart walked down the aisle.

stewart portraitAnd if you want to read writing that will make you weep with it’s beauty and clarity, here is the letter that Stewart Stern wrote upon the death of James Dean.

12 October, 1955

Dear Marcus and Mrs. Winslow:

I shall never forget that silent town on that particular sunny day. And I shall never forget the care with which people set their feet down — so carefully on the pavements — as if the sound of a suddenly scraped heel might disturb the sleep of a boy who slept soundly. And the whispering. Do you remember one voice raised beyond a whisper in all those reverential hours of goodbye? I don’t. A whole town struck silent, a whole town with love filling its throat, a whole town wondering why there had been so little time in which to give the love away.

Gandhi once said that if all those doomed people at Hiroshima had lifted their faces to the plane that hovered over them and if they had sent up a single sigh of spiritual protest, the pilot would not have dropped his bomb. That may or may not be. But I am sure, I am certain, I know — that the great wave of warmth and affection that swept upward from Fairmount has wrapped itself around that irresistible phantom securely and forever.

Nor shall I forget the land he grew on or the stream he fished, or the straight, strong, gentle people whom he loved to talk about into the nights when he was away from them. His great-grandma whose eyes have seen half of America’s history, his grandparents, his father, his treasured three of you — four generations for the coiling of a spring — nine decades of living evidence of seed and turning earth and opening kernel. It was a solid background and one to be envied. The spring, released, flung him into our lives and out again. He burned an unforgettable mark in the history of his art and changed it as surely as Duse, in her time, changed it.

A star goes wild in the places beyond air — a dark star born of coldness and invisible. It hits the upper edges of our atmosphere and look! It is seen! It flames and arcs and dazzles. It goes out in ash and memory. But its after-image remains in our eyes to be looked at again and again. For it was rare. And it was beautiful. And we thank God and nature for sending it in front of our eyes.

So few things blaze. So little is beautiful. Our world doesn’t seem equipped to contain its brilliance too long. Ecstasy is only recognizable when one has experienced pain. Beauty only exists when set against ugliness. Peace is not appreciated without war ahead of it. How we wish that life could support only the good. But it vanishes when its opposite no longer exists as a setting. It is a white marble on unmelting snow. And Jimmy stands clear and unique in a world where much is synthetic and dishonest and drab. He came and rearranged our molecules.

I have nothing of Jim’s — nothing to touch or look at except the dried mud that clung to my shoes — mud from the farm that grew him — and a single kernel of seed corn from your barn. I have nothing more than this and I want nothing more. There is no need to touch something he touched when I can still feel his hand on me. He gave me his faith, unquestioningly and trustfully — once when he said he would play in REBEL because he knew I wanted him to, and once when he tried to get LIFE to let me write his biography. He told me he felt I understood him and if LIFE refused to let me do the text for the pictures Dennis took, he would refuse to let the magazine do a spread on him at all. I managed to talk him out of that, knowing that LIFE had to use its own staff writers, but will never forget how I felt when he entrusted his life to me. And he gave me, finally, the gift of his art. He spoke my words and played my scenes better than any other actor of our time or of our memory could have done. I feel that there are other gifts to come from him — gifts for all of us. His influence did not stop with his breathing. It walks with us and will profoundly affect the way we look at things. From Jimmy I have already learned the value of a minute. He loved his minutes and I shall now love mine.

These words aren’t clear. But they are clearer than what I could have said to you last week.

I write from the depths of my appreciation — to Jimmy for having touched my life and opened my eyes — to you for having grown him all those young years and for having given him your love — to you for being big enough and humane enough to let me come into your grief as a stranger and go away a friend.

When I drove away the sky at the horizon was yellowing with twilight and the trees stood clean against it. The banks of flowers covering the grave were muted and grayed by the coming of evening and had yielded up their color to the sunset. I thought — here’s where he belongs — with this big darkening sky and this air that is thirst-quenching as mountain water and this century of family around him and the cornfield crowding the meadow where his presence will be marked. But he’s not in the meadow. He’s out there in the corn. He’s hunting the winter’s rabbit and the summer’s catfish. He has a hand on little Mark’s shoulder and a sudden kiss for you. And he has my laughter echoing his own at the great big jokes he saw and showed to me — and he’s here, living and vivid and unforgettable forever, far too mischievous to lie down long.

My love and gratitude, to you and young Mark,

Stewart

https://www.facebook.com/StewartSternDocumentary

Thank you for your interest in this site and in the evolution of story.  For those who are interested I am giving a free half hour consult during the month of February,  for writers and any individuals who are seeing that their lives are something to share.  Please contact me through this site by going to the page that is listed on the home page, “Contact Maya”.  I look forward to speaking with you,

 

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