• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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To Understand You Know Too Soon There Is No Sense In Trying

Okay, it’s no secret, I’m in free fall. If you’re looking for a little inspiration, click the hell out of here. I’m going through the motions of my life but I am lost. Though I only showed my screenplay to one person, it became completely clear that I had swung wide and missed. The feedback for the screenplay and the tv pilot are basically the same: drop the drama and push the comedy. In grad school, I tried some humor in some of my poems and Richard Howard asked me if I wanted to be the Fran Liebowitz of the poetry world. I’d rather be the Chris Rock, but whatever. The stars are organizing themselves in a constellation and it looks like Groucho Marx. Why do I resist the Borscht Belt in my DNA? Why do I want to write about the drain and its inexorable pull downward? Why do I wet myself watching America’s Funniest Home Videos? Why do I want to write about men and their scratchy balls, about betrayals small and large, and hurts and misfirings, and pettiness writ large. Why does death cling so dearly? Why can’t I keep it light?

Identity crisis or pity party?

50 Responses

  1. Fuck that. Follow me. I just figured out about 3 days ago that I’m going. I have no idea WHERE I’m going, but who cares. Pull up your soggy pantyhose and come on. It’ll be fun. I swear.

  2. I’m reading Twyla Tharp’s “The Creative Habit” and she writes about how important it is to figure out your creative DNA (yes, she used that term) and go with your strength, not the idea of what you think you should be. Pretty interesting book.

  3. Family dinner tonight, got through it fine, thought of you. Crashed out on my couch, just woke up and thought, “Let’s see what Betsy’s got to say.” Do you know how much joy you bring us, Borcsht Belt or not? Keep doin it, no one does it better. Keep it comin, Betsy. We love you.

    • OMG that is so true. Or “same” as the kidlets say. You are the jets beneath our Borscht Belt. And, guess what? You’re funny. So funny. “”Light” is for sissies (No, not Princess Sissies).

      I challenge you to a game of fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.

  4. I think you know who you are and what you want to write. Your subjects aren’t up for grabs. Whether you nailed them in your screenplay and tv pilot might be worth discussing. But that you want to write about the void is nobody’s business but your own. Virginia Woolf, who knew a thing or two about despair said, on a good day, “so long as you write what you wish to write that is all that matters. And whether it matters for ages or hours, no one can say.” I’d keep right on going. In fact, I’d dig even deeper.. And I’m with Kyler — I adore you.

  5. Free-falling isn’t all so bad. You’re bound to land somewhere, sometime.

    Follow your gut with the screenplay. I’m thinking you’ll land without your brain fully bashed.

  6. A happy ending is all that’s required. More than I can imagine. So I don’t write comedies. Can you, Betsy, imagine a happy ending?

  7. Some of us aren’t wired for light.

    What I don’t understand is how I can tell a funny story, and all of my attempts at humor in writing fall flat. Well, I suppose I do understand, my writing accuracy is about the same as my uncorrected eyesight.

  8. Could you write a parody of this dramatic screenplay (imagine if Mary Shelley was able to write both Frankenstein AND Young Frankenstein)? Do they both have legs? one more do-able than the other?

    Perhaps, the person you trusted with your screenplay has a viewpoint that doesn’t speak for everyone. Let another Trusted One read it – maybe even your savvy daughter!

    And if a pity party IS needed, know I’m baking tomorrow. Place your order soon.

    • Better than Frankenstein or Young Frankenstein is Roger Corman’s Frankenstein Unbound, based on the sci-fi novel by Brian Aldiss. It’s black comedy and it’s profound as hell, especially if you’ve seen it on acid. The best of comedy is what holds us by our shirttail as we lean over the precipice of despair.

      Why does death cling? It doesn’t, but how else would anything have significance in this material world if we thought all good things would never come to an end?

  9. Ah, hell, Betsy—my first full-length work (of which I’m still unjustly fond, poor mess that it is) was a dystopian oddity about a woman trying to cope with the posthumous conviction of her mother as a mass murderer.

    Almost everyone who read the first couple of chapters told me it was so funny (except my mother, who thought I might be projecting).

    So I deeply sympathize. But, you know, they say vaudeville is making a comeback . . . might be time to talk softly and carry a big slapstick.

  10. The book I have coming out in September is a young adult novel – a dark paranormal romance about Hell, Faust and skiing. My previously published books were funny mysteries. I thought I wrote this YA to be very dark, but initial Goodreads reviews say it has some way funny moments. WTF? No. It’s not supposed to be funny.

    My daughter tells me constantly, write funny. You’re not a navel-gazer, not serious, don’t have what it takes to write deep, thoughtful books. Pull out the funny and get over yourself.

    I think it’s fascinating that we can’t see these things in ourselves. I also don’t think my boobs, after reconstruction surgery, are that much bigger, but I went up an entire cup size.

    Yep. I’m a funny as hell breast cancer survivor with killer knockers. Woe.

    In other news, Betsy, have you read Micol Ostow’s FAMILY? I think you and I share a morbid fascination with the Manson family murders. This is a fictional retelling, written in verse. I’m halfway done and love it.

    • I have such respect for Funny. I write dark, no matter what I’m trying to do. I once took a comedy writing class with a famous funny guy and fell flat every single week. Barely survived it. I tip my hat to Funny. And to your killer knockers (That was funny!).

      I’m looking up that book. Never heard of it. Thanks for highlighting it.

  11. I think I get as much out of the lows as the highs and frankly am not too happy with the middles. I think it is nice to have things to look back and cry about and things to look back and laugh about.

    Which do you like better?

  12. Betsy! Identity crisis by far! Forget pity, waste of time.
    This from one who has just recently learned not to scorn her humour, who earned a book contract with it (do I cringe or feel proud), who has had husband 1 and husband 2 from opposing worlds, who can’t wallow deep enough (all my stories do death and sex in the tropics or on mountains) and who counts Shaolin Soccer and Andrei Rublev among her favourite films.
    Forget your lone reader, did you really really believe in that screenplay or write yourself off from the start?

  13. The answer lies in your goal. If you want to make millions and retire to the hilltops of your fantasy island, go for the laugh that comes easy. If you want to explore your passion, keep working on your screenplay. Art is about your soul, not about the masses.

  14. Tragicomedy. Go for it.

  15. “This above all: to thine own self be true.”

  16. Cotton candy contains no nuts, nor are any sprinkled atop.

  17. I think that funny things are, fundamentally, about the drain and its inexorable pull downward. It’s not an either/or thing. And you’re seriously going to have an identity crises based on the review of one person’s opinion? Wow.

  18. Because you are so damned funny. But it’s the brand of funny that has long and complicated tentacles that sting.. A coping mechanism honed to near perfection. And you’re funny on the page. That is so fucking hard to do. I’ve never been to a writing conference, never, where the group didn’t ask why I wasn’t doing stand-up. You said yourself to me during our ten minutes at Tin House that if I wrote like I spoke I’d sell a lot of books. I can’t. Too many years of drafting securities documents. If you write a screenplay that embodies half the humor you show here on a near daily basis, it well sell. I’d bet my first-born (actually my third) on it.

  19. The world needs comedy. I don’t know if you’re in crisis or caught up in self pity, but just seeing the fake nose, glasses and eyebrows made me smile and that’s not a bad way to start the day.
    A old guy I know said he once had a chance to make love with Marilyn Monroe. He had an erection, but she never showed up.

  20. One reader’s response? Steel yourself, show it to a bunch of people whose opinions you trust, then decide where it stands. Even publishing professionals need some version of the writer’s workshop, no?

  21. do you think you’ve hit the creative wall? the one where you dig deep and decide to do what’s true to you and, inexplicably, your writing changes, deepens? you quit caring what others think? you just write and your characters tell you things that you allow yourself to write without feeling ashamed?

  22. You might not know that the secret ingredient to a good borscht is citric acid. Vis a vis, that’s why to write humor. It can have more bite than drama.

  23. Dude, WTF? Have you forgotten everything you’ve spent years learning about Hollywood? Watch The Big Picture for a refresher course. (Or, if you insist on being more current, the entire first season of Episodes.) Or both. What if you made the female characters flight attendants? Or ghosts? No! Swimsuit models. Swimsuit model ghosts. No, seriously, go Hulu that shit. Right. Now. (Or, y’know, you could finish that Bolano.)

    Also, you dove into that cesspool headfirst and smiling. It’s always, always, always going to be a backstabby mindfuck on a stick. But if your pilot goes, you’ll get to keep an apartment at the Chateau and fly private. Prices and prizes.

  24. Isn’t the fate of most scriptwriting that sells something like what you describe? The script that needs to lose the drama and get the humor will be handed off to another writer who will do just that? Maybe I’m wrong, but scriptwriting seems like a place where the writer’s vision is going to be churned into something else along the way, maybe several times. But you put yourself in the way of this, for your vision. Could you write something that would stay yours, story, novel, poem? I know you’ve done that and memoir, too. But you write in this blog from a place nobody else gets to, where the door opens and things cross the threshold. That keeps me reading.

  25. I once wrote a play, and I took it to a session at Chautauqua, where they dissected it. I went home and put it away and started another play–which I didn’t finish. Many years later, I took the play and wrote a novel–which I am now trying to promote to literary agents just like you. And, of course, I’m busy writing two more novels. . . not plays. You’d think I would know better.

  26. It’s a long day, living in Reseda.

  27. Is humor not the highest form of epiphany? Can we not transcend the bullshit with a belly laugh?

  28. Sure, the Bible says, “Suffer Ye Children,” but really, how much suffering can one kid take?

  29. There is pain in comedy. The art you possess is the ability to break our heart and make us laugh at the same time. One of my favorite novels is Catch 22. In the same line Heller would have me laughing like hell but before the sentence ended he had me crying. Mine that part of you. You have it in spades.

  30. Borscht Belt to the left of you, Bergen-Belsen to the right.

  31. Bah, nobody likes anything. I sent a hilarious comedy treatment to a friend yesterday and instead of jumping all over it, he asked what else I had.

    Seriously, NOBODY likes anything. Not unless someone else already wants it, or it already got sold or done. Then they’ll grouse about how they coulda woulda shoulda.

  32. So, what’s the problem? Write what you feel like writing. When you’re caught in an avalanche, roll with it the bottom of the mountain.

  33. You showed it to one person and bailed? Jeeezus. I know (hope) you don’t do that for your clients. Air it out man (woman). Let some people see it, ask for some notes, put it in a draw, and do another version in three months if it comes to that. There is nothing more mutable than a script. The Spanish word is “guion,” or guide, a series of related suggestion boxes (scenes) subject to alteration, especially at the moment of staging.

  34. I say neither. I’ve come to the conclusion that life is pretty much tragically funny. I think it’s called gallows humor. No matter how hard you try, no matter all the energy we put into a ritual of some sort, all the maneuvers with a purpose which seems to try to escape the surety of our never existing again, sure as shit, some day, pushin’ up the daisy (I couldn’t figure out the plural of that flower.) On the other hand, if you’re basing your writing on popular culture, which I think a few of your commentators have also commented, I’m sorry I skim more than read, basing your writing on popular culture might be a death sentence. Maybe you should edge, since you might have the know-how, or know someone with the know-how, into some other unmentionable form of distribution. Use a pseudonym, just to test the waters. My point being maybe you are testing your stuff with corrupt, jaded, folks. But, I can’t even finish one fucking book without losing my mind, so, go figure with my advice.

  35. Black humour is comedy – I think you’ll ace it x

  36. Just did another little walk through here, and, seriously, it seems few if any of you have seen some of the crap that is on the television and in the theaters lately. I think that is parallel with trying to get published and finding out the person who wrote the story about the guy with two penises that hatched out of an egg got a contract, is earning money, and her book is on store shelves.

  37. I like heavy on the drama with a sprinkling of humor, kind of like Funfetti cupcakes.

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