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Offbeat Advice

More From a Screenwriter

Bad people do good things, good people do horrible things, everybody — extraordinary and ordinary — does the same things.

My screenwriting pal told me that he had written a piece in which a mother went to prison for [I think] burglary. People told him, “Oh no, that wouldn’t happen! That’s unthinkable. She’s a mom.” Seriously? Tell that to Child Protective Services. There are maternity wards in state penitentiaries, you know? And the ability to bear a child (and possibly take decent care of it) does not make a woman unable to commit crimes. Yet the idea is, well, unpleasant, and folks don’t want to think unpleasant thoughts so they deem it unthinkable.

Prospective audiences also have trouble believing that a killer might be very religious, a prostitute might be a perfect babysitter, or a female executive cries when she burns toast. It just seems out of character. (More on that in another post.) Serial killers eat breakfast, remember people’s birthdays, and suffer toothaches, flat tires, and overdue library books. While their crimes might generate interest, they don’t. They may commit horrific crimes, but for the most part, they are Joe Blows of little note. As Hannah Arendt noted, evil is banal.

Meanwhile, history is filled with accounts of ordinary citizens doing extraordinary things — some reported, some not. Soldiers do some heroic deeds in battle and a passerby may put out a fire and we hear about it a news feed, but all day every day regular people are stopping fights, feeding the hungry, and improving someone’s life and we will never know about it. A character who stops to give someone CPR or foil a burglary and then goes on about their humdrum day with no fanfare or even notice is not an anomaly, it is everyday life.

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Offbeat Advice

Life Truths I Have Learned From Scripts and a Screenwriter

I have a long-time neighbor and friend who is also an award-winning screenwriter. He has written screenplays that deal with murder, motherhood, loneliness, lust, insecurity, empathy, being a black sheep, being a fish out of water. While he can write horror and sci-fi, the majority of his scripts are realistic and showcase the thrills, chills, wonder, and weirdness that occurs in real life. Thus, reading his scripts — most for the screen — has brought me some revelations about life offscreen. (In the case of screenplays, art not only imitates life, it examines and evaluates and influences it.) A few things I have learned:

Conclusion does not necessarily bring closure. Situations — an unsolved crime, a family dispute, an illness — may come to an end, but that ending does not necessarily bring any answers or comfort to anyone. The killer gets caught but the victims’ families still grieve. The lonely guy makes a friend but still doesn’t find love. The alcoholic makes peace with his past mistakes but cannot stop drinking. The war is over but the winner is broke. The end of bad times may bring relief but not resolution. An ending — even one with revenge — rarely heals any wounds. This is true in movies and in real life. People may celebrate the end of a bad scene for a bit, but usually they just pick up and move on (and clean up).

When someone is horrible and you wonder what happened to make them that way, the answer is often NOTHING. Or at least nothing extraordinary. While there are people killing children or setting houses on fire due to one very traumatic event, most people are the way they are due to how they learned to handle the ordinary ups and downs in their lives. For every person who is shooting at cars on the freeway and points to a lousy childhood or some injustice or mistreatment of some sort … well, there is a successful business owner or a great teacher or other well-adjusted person who had a lousy childhood, grew up poor, and was picked on and does not rob people or melt down in public. Of course, they don’t get any press. The serial killer is way more interesting than the guy who owns the shoe store, If you scratch the surface, however, you may find they ain’t all that much different other than the store owner chose to take a more constructive path.

More on this subject at a later date … in the meantime, go to the movies!

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Offbeat Advice

A Short Answer and A Sympathetic Ear

I recently formulated some New Year’s resolutions. (Yes, this calendar year of 2019 has been challenging and a bit of a bust regarding changes I planned on making, so I am starting a new year on August 1st.) One resolution I made was to post to this blog regularly — a short post on Monday, a longer one to be posted on Thursday or Friday. In keeping with that resolution, here is my short begin-the-week post.

Life comes with problems. Some problems you may bring upon yourself, some may come upon you out of nowhere, some can be solved, some stick around the rest of your life. It is just the way it is. (See John 16:33.)

Sometimes, talking about your problems can help you deal with them better. Since you and your pals and your neighbor and the bartender all have problems too, they can relate to whatever is bugging you or at least understand why it is bugging you. So when someone asks, “Hey, how’s it going?” you talk about your lousy job or your troubled child or your bad knee or whatever ails you. It feels good to get this weight off your chest. You feel less angry, less overwhelmed, and hey! the listener might even have a helpful piece of advice. And folks just want to help one another, right?

A word of caution: Not everyone wants to hear all your problems. Or at least not every time they see you. And while it is a given that in this world you will have trials and tribulation, your troubles don’t need to be the focus of all your conversations.

If you want to live your life with some modicum of class, find a short answer to “Is everything alright?” You don’t need to say “Oh, couldn’t be better!” but you don’t need to give a detailed account of your bankruptcy either. Then find a sympathetic ear (therapist, counselor, and also prayer) to listen to your woes or find another way (journal, online board, etc. ) to let it all hang out.

Spilling your guts should not be an integral part of your daily interactions.

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Offbeat Advice

How about Giving Up Giving Up for Lent

Something has been bothering me for a few years now. During Lent, many Christians give up something they enjoy or consider important to their lives — chocolate, smoking, wine, playing video games, posting on Facebook — for 40 days to make a sacrifice as a form of solidarity with Jesus who went into the desert and fasted for 40 days. Luke 9:23 reads: Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Lent is a time of fasting and abstinence and the faithful go without something in order to commemorate (and hopefully understand) the sacrifices Jesus made in the desert. Such abstinence will bring us into closer fellowship with Jesus.

Okay, I get it. In the past, I have given up (with dubious results) everything from sweets to smoking to watching television shows. As a child, my family never ate meat on Fridays during Lent (actually, never on Friday all year round) and had little meat at all during the pre-Easter season. And you know what? Giving up something never made me feel closer to God. I understand the whole idea, but it always seemed kind of … oh, I don’t know … showy to me.

Then I heard someone on a radio show make an offhand remark about Jesus spending 40 days in the desert in preparation for his ministry. The Holy Spirit sent Jesus to the desert to reflect, to be tested by temptations (three times by Satan), and to feel what the Israelites had felt while wandering for forty years in the desert. He did all this while fasting in order to prepare him to lead followers and remain strong in the face of adversity. No, he did not pack a lunch, but the purpose of the sojourn was not just to do without but to go within himself and prepare himself for his ministry which was revolutionary — it broke down social barriers (love thy neighbor regardless of their tribe or place of origin) and offended the current religious status quo — and would require great sacrifice and strength on his part.

So while Lent is a period of fasting, abstinence, and alms giving, it is also a time of preparation. Preparing to live a more fuller life in Christ requires reflection, reassessment, and possibly adjustment of your purpose and path and how you live your days. It may include ditching some habits and thoughts. It could mean more time spent in prayer or time spent in more deeper prayer. We might want to look at how we give alms and to whom and how we incorporate our beliefs into our daily lives. And while we might benefit from abstaining from those things that make us feel too comfortable, Lent is more than just giving up your morning coffee or chocolate cookies for 40 days, only to happily resume old ways once Easter rolls around.