Neil and the Nun is finally up on Vimeo. Much has changed since I made that film about those rascally fourth grade spies. For one thing, Marissa Cuevas, who played the always observant Suze, is remarkably grown up. She’s out in L.A., working hard to break into the film acting world.
I just passed my script along to my dear friend Allison Alsup. I have to brag about this compelling writer. In the past few months, she has won a slew of prizes for shorter works shaped from her forthcoming novel. Check out her winning fiction pieces: “Grass Shrimp” , “East of the Sierras”, and “Quick and Clever.”
This handing over creates a mixture of excitement and apprehension inside of me. While the script is significantly far along, it still needs so much rewriting to become a cohesive work.
So far, I’ve been collaborating with the smartest archeologist, anthropologist, urban planner, problem solver around. Who is this cultural fabric maven, you ask. Beth Bingham. She’s so smart. We’ve worked hours in my office and on skype to get the story where it is right now. She’s the first person I’ve ever worked with in this kind of creative capacity. I trust her with the roughest part of me.
It is a big step to move from out of this comfortable ebb and flow place with her. Putting my work in progress (which sometimes feels like a run of raw scenes) out there for others to read is not easy.
On another note –
I’ve been doing a bit of research about Jewish burial practices for the script. Their tradtions stem from the notion that the deceased must be respected and the bereaved must be given the time and space to earnestly grieve. One of the most commonly adhered to practices is to bury the deceased quickly. It the Jewish belief that to show proper respect for the dead, one must put their soul to rest as soon as possible. In tandem with this concept, they don’t utilize any embalming fluids to preserve the physical body.
Another practice that struck me is the washing of the body. A volunteer group from the congreagation (Chevra Kadisha) washes the body of the deceased. They solemnly cover the body with a simple shroud, only speaking about the tasks at hand.
PBS produced a video about this process. What touched me the most as I watched the women ceremoniously prepare the body was how very present they were. The women derived meaning and purpose in their own lives from this act of service. One of the women described this work as ‘uplifting.’ Performing the rite, allows her to move beyond whatever is happening in her day. She transends her own concerns and daily irritations. Through serving one who cannot say ‘thank you,’ her world broadens.
This week, The New York Times covered this tradtion and the Chevra Kadisha society volunteers who perform it.
Reading so much about Jewish burial tradtions got me thinking about my own Catholic ways. When my grandma died years ago, I realized how we all just knew what to do. I derived a real sense of comfort from the structured ways of interacting, grieving, and burying that were familiar to me and my family.
As I was driving to Mat and Naddie’s on Monday, I noticed a few dapper men conversing outside of Mr. Chill’s Barber Shop on Carrollton Ave.
The next day, I read about their interesting gathering in the the Times Picayune: A tie-tying event.
Lead by Andre Perry, men from the community created a meaningful bonding and confidence building experience with local high school boys by showing them how to properly tie a necktie.
I was moved by the implications of this seemingly simple gesture. Creating a ceremony to pass down this information was more than cool, maybe even transformative.
In my own screenplay, broken armed Javier attempts to reject a similar kind of action from his father. Because both of his arms are in casts, Javier is forced to allow his dad, with whom he has a strained relationship, to knot his tie.
This is the piece of music that never gets tired. My dad loves it. I grew up with it always playing in the upper room.
I chose it as the piece that compels my character Courcelle to take up violin as a child. Her mother, Glenda, unwinds at night to Lark Ascending scratchily playing on the old turntable. She crochets while she waits for her husband to come home from a gig. Little Courcelle sneaks out of bed to listen to her mother’s music floating in from the living room.
Years later, it is Courcelle’s concert performance of this same piece that ends in calamity and forces her to remap her life.
For a time, I was still on the fence about if Lark was the right piece for my screenplay, if it evoked what I wanted. Fortuitously, I overheard a violinist confide to another violinist with passion and authority that “Lark is her piece.” It really is that affecting.
Check out this superb performance by the virtuoso Janine Jansen.
The Real Work
by Wendell Berry
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
The research for my new film keeps taking me in all different directions. This site is my bulletin board, my attempt to connect all these discoveries.