Legacies and Mentors

Updated: Mar 11


Writing down new ideas while working on the set and props.

 

I’ve been doing a fair amount of writing and rewriting on the project. Hammering out the script, such as it is, a patchwork of stories told from the perspective of someone trapped, confused, scared but hopeful. A one-way conversation between two people kept from making a true connection yet fighting to do so. It’s been a long time since I’ve written a script, and it still feels a bit clunky for the most part but things are smoothing out. I’m starting to find a flow that works and I'm really starting to remember how much I enjoy the process. I’m looking forward to having more time soon when, if all goes well, my sabbatical is approved and I devote more concentrated time to the project. Until then I will continue my juggling lessons.


Much of what I learned about writing was in graduate school. My screenwriting professor and friend Dru Vratil was instrumental in how I approached writing. Yes, there were the technical aspects, tools and formats that are expected or required, and maybe a bit of how to address those things that need to be addressed through subtlety and cleverness, how to use a screenplay to exact hidden revenge, or offer peace, I also learned how to shape words into phrases, to go beyond the meaning of words and use the words' spoken sounds to elicit meaning and emotion beyond the text. I always loved this idea, even if I don’t allow myself the time to make it come to fruition. I want to get back to this.

I’m trying to be more disciplined and consistent in my creative endeavors using what I learned from Dru and putting it into action, but there was another idea that Dru instilled in me that I carry and put into practice to this day. When I took my first class with her, it was a mixed class of MFAs and undergrads. I think it was my first semester as a grad student. I was older than most in my class, married and had a career or at least a long-term job prior to going back to get my MFA.

I struggled with the interactions in the class, the level of commitment by others and my own expectations of what I wanted to get out of the class. Of course, I was probably a bit too high on my own seriousness and dedication. One day I met with Dru and discussed the idea of withdrawing from the class. I felt that I wasn’t getting enough out of the projects and discussions. In short, I was frustrated. That’s when Dru provided not just a solution to the immediate problem but a legacy. It’s a legacy that I’ve never told her about until now. She wanted me to stay in the class, was understanding of my frustrations and offered some solutions. These solutions turned out to be exactly what I needed and together we found a way to make the class work for me. We created a solution to a problem. I finished the class a stronger writer for sure but also a better teacher in the making.

To this day all of my syllabi have a simple statement near the end. It says, “Come talk to me if you are having problems or issues related to the class. I cannot address your concerns if I do not know them.” I read this to all of my new students, and I tell them the story of how Dru provided this wonderful experience for me. Most students who struggle don’t take the time to do this, but some have, and a few times we’ve been able to make changes or find solutions to make continuing in the class work for them.

I count Dru Vratil as a dear friend but we haven’t talked in some time. I’d like to say that life just kept getting in the way but reality is that excuses have gotten in the way and that’s never good. So, this is for Dru, my friend and mentor. Thank you for giving me so much, inspiring me to be a better teacher and mentor to student. You should have been told this a long time ago.


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