I am always, always trying to better myself. Or at least I have been since Tuesday, when I began to take serious stock of my taunting list of New Year’s resolutions. It’s an ambitious package: weight loss, moral refinement, apologies (so many apologies), washing bedsheets. I feel for Obama when I realize none of this will be accomplished within the span of four years. But perhaps futilely, I’m determined to make at least a little headway in my quest to become “the best Henning possible.”™ Up first? Gettin’ educated.
While they’re probably teaching Sex Ed earlier and earlier these days, it’s still a lie to claim “all we really need to know we learned in kindergarten.” I get the allegory – we should all share, be kind, and use restrooms. I support all those things. But to borrow another t-shirt-approved cliche, “learning is a lifelong process.” Brains new and old should be regularly stimulated, given something to do. That’s why we have Sudoku! Reader’s Digest! According to the degree framed delicately as a flower in my bedroom, I have been educated at the collegiate level. (I know, thanks!) But have I learned all I need to know? Can Bible Theory really help me do my taxes? There’s gotta be some room left upstairs. It was in this spirit of continued education that I recently sat in on an introductory class at the Gotham Writers’ Workshop.
Actually, it was in the spirit of “nothing else going on that night” and “it’s free” that I signed up for the class, an introduction to screenwriting focused on thinking visually. Nothing I didn’t know before (while far, FAR from an accomplished screenwriter, I took more than a few courses at school and own, however unread, Robert McKee’s Story. I’m currently working on something I’d describe as a mix between Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Beetlejuice); I just thought this would be entertaining. The instructor dove right in.
“I’m going to describe a few scenes, right, and I want you to tell me what movies they’re from, okay? Yeah? Alright, first: ‘a lone female swimmer struggles against an unseen underwater antagonist.'” We all say “Jaws” because everyone has seen Jaws.
“Very good, very good – you guys are quick! Okay, nex- and this is a bit trickier, so – next one: ‘A father and sun play a game of catch on a moonlit-‘”
“Field of Dreams,” everyone yells in unison. Then The Godfather. Then Run Lola Run, a little harder. Five movies in, and the voices in the class have whittled down to just a few besides my own. Both the strippers in the room (I swear) haven’t said anything for a while. The last clue:
“‘A man stands naked with a guita-”
“Pink Panther… A Shot In The Dark.” The voice sounds almost exasperated, put off to have responded to so obviously PEDESTRIAN a question. I find the source. In front of me sits a caricature of a caricature: ripped zip-up hoodie, skinny jeans, ironic (trust me) surfer cut.
… Converse All-Stars.
The instructor is impressed with the response. “Very good, very good! That usually throws most people.” Caricature looks up from the manga he’s been doodling for the last ten minutes.
“I’m not most people.”
Fucking shoot me. More by-the-books bon mots:
– “While I agree that film is primarily based on the sensations of seeing and hearing, aren’t we discounting smell? I mean, think about John Waters and his whole Odorama concept. I think it’s almost ignorant to dismiss the other senses.” (To which the instructor, bless his patient heart, reminded Caricature that as a writer you have to use the tools at your disposal. And not your nose.)
– “You asked us to use only two characters in this exercise, but is that at all true to life? I think it’s almost criminal to try and constrict the imagination like that.” (To which the instructor said “it’s just an exercise” and stealthily rolled his eyes when Caricature returned to his paper.)
– “Leonard gently put the chicken down on the table, then went back in the kitchen to grab the bottle of wine. ‘You drink red, don’t you, Karl?’ Out of the corner of his eye, he could see his date unfolding his napkin… admiring the linens… attending to a stray hair. He looked gorgeous. ‘Do I ever!’ he called. ‘It’s good for you, you know. Heart disease prevention and everything.’ Leonard poured the both of them a full glass, even slightly more liberal with Karl’s. Returning to the table, he handed the raven-haired beauty his glass. ‘Here’s to – whoops!’ In his haste Leonard had spilled almost half its contents into Karl’s lap. ‘So clumsy! Let me get that, sweetie.’ He dabbed his thigh with a napkin, soaking up the wine. ‘Karl, I am so sorry, really I am.’ Their eyes met. ‘It’s – it’s fine.’ Leonard continued working, eyes locked with Karl’s. Breathless. For what seemed like forever they remained silent, Leonard still applying the napkin. Then: ‘I need to make it up to you, Karl. I owe you.’ His date quietly smirked, a look of recognition on his face; he was happy to play. ‘And what do you propose, Leonard?’ Leonard stood up, grabbing Karl’s hand as he rose. They were pillars, obelisks erected in tribute to love; passion. Nothing could fell them. ‘This.’ Their lips met. Electric tenderness enveloped the two, as though birthed for the first time in Leonard’s dining room.” (To which the instructor checked his watch and encouraged us to check out the GWW website for class listings and pricing.)
Like I said, learning is absolutely a lifelong process.