flashing back

-- sad Keanu is only made of paper

In the faculty room of the English department, a tiny paper Keanu perched beside a Swingline stapler. He kept me company as I sipped my instant coffee and thumbed through literary magazines. The University of Miami had invited me to talk about writerly things and celebrate my former professor, Lester Goran. The name of the panel?


In the morning, I visited Tom Musca's class (He wrote the movie Stand and Deliver). The students asked a lot of questions about the writing process.

"I always lose my focus," said a serious-looking boy in the front row. He mentioned his struggle with OCD (just like me) and a sudden need to "clean the house" whenever he sits at the computer. That's okay, I told him. Forget all this stuff about "butt in chair." If you need to get up and move around, don't sweat it. That's your process. As long as you get the job done, that's all that matters. Everyone has their own process. Discover what works for you.

--art is pain

On the way out, I bumped into a student with a plastic chainsaw sticking out of his backpack. Maybe he was working on an epic zombie movie?

"I'm going over to the law school now," he said. "That should be fun."

Tom sent me a lot of excellent writing-related articles. He says that storytellers have the right to be evil. They are dirty pigs who work hard, torturing their characters because...it's their duty. And that's how characters grow.

He also quoted Linda Cowgill, author of Secrets Of Screenplay Structure:

"We dramatize how people change or alter their basic psychology when they realize their usual patterns of behavior don't work – and may even get them killed. We want to see their humanity when they put someone else's needs above their own desires."

During my break, I wandered over to the drama department. One of my favorite professors, Patricia Dolan, was stacking shoebox dioramas on a table. Each of them featured a different movie, reenacted by marshmallow Peeps. Like all great teachers, she has a unique way of looking at the world. Most of all, she has encouraged her students to follow their vision, no matter what. Easier said than done. People are quick to criticize anyone who thinks differently. It takes courage to be true to yourself.

-- Hollywood mashups with Easter candy

I thought of Patricia's favorite expression, "Follow your bliss," after speaking on the panel (along with the novelist Tom Cavanagh and business writer Hayes Roth). A girl in the audience raised her hand. She wanted to write poems and take pictures, but a teacher had discouraged her.

"He said I couldn't do it."

I grabbed the mic and looked straight into her eyes. "He was wrong."

--the auditorium's otherworldly glow

As the sun melted behind the lake, I thought about long afternoons, sitting by the water, not long ago. The breeze smelled like cigarettes and cut grass. A couple guys were strumming guitars on the patio.

If I could go back in time, Keanu-style, what would I tell my teenaged self?

That depends on whether she'd listen.

--the Alumni Center at twilight