Raising the Stakes: A Mortality Tale

Posted in Diary of a Directrix
February 28th, 2010 by Devi Snively (The Directrix)

simpsonsAs any writer knows, “Boy meets Girl, Boy and Girl fall in love, Boy and Girl live happily ever after” does not exactly make for riveting cinema.  There must be stakes and those stakes must be high.  The protagonist needs to want something bad, and that goal or dream needs to be seriously threatened.

It’s a lesson of which I was reminded twice the past 2 weeks.  It began when I’d commented to a friend shortly before boarding a plane, “Man, it feels good to be happy.  I’m so into everything that’s going on these days.   I feel like I finally have the time to really do things right.”

Alanis-Morissette-Ironic-636451755So, naturally those words came back to haunt me like a cheesy Alanis Morrissette song when my plane hit some seriously nasty turbulence. Normally on such occasions I just crank up “Don’t Fear the Reaper” on my iPod and remind myself, “Que sera sera, it’s been a great run. Who am I to be greedy if this is it?”

However, as the plane knocked about this time, I actually felt a bit panicked.  I thought of the people who mean so much to me, all our plans, how much more there is left to do.  Needless to say, I arrived safely and scolded myself for the unnecessary drama my head had created.  But I also lived with a little extra gusto the next few days.

eli eye poke 3shotWhen it came time to write, it particularly seemed to help.  When life and death are on the line, as it is in our script, our hero needs to step up to the plate.  It’s not enough to merely not want to die, one truly has to desire to live.  She has to have something worth fighting for.  After struggling with one of the most challenging rewrites of my life I FINALLY completed a draft I felt confident was just about there.  I was positively euphoric.  Meanwhile trippin’, Death and I Spit on Eli all got into more fests.  Progress was made on Dolores.  I had fun reunions with old friends.  A perfect day.  I had everything I wanted.

daisiesWith everything coming up roses, the last thing on my mind was pushing daisies, until the following day.   I received some rather alarming news at the doctor’s office.

action344-girls-faint-alotA super healthy person on average, I didn’t give much thought to my bizarre fainting spell at a movie theater a few weeks back.  Women were always fainting in old movies and I always have felt like an anachronism in this day and age.  Besides, swooning’s quaint, right?  Kenny and I made endless jokes about it, but just to be safe I paid a visit to my doctor while visiting Indiana and Doc Lady found this far more disturbing than I.

Opening_EMTA technician gave me an EKG and looked positively horrified when she saw my results.  “What?  What is it?“ I asked.  She wouldn’t even look at me.  “Oh, it’s uh, yeah, I’m just gonna have the doctor come take a look at it. Standard procedure. ”  My ass!  She booked outta there like I was the plague.  Damn.  After a brief eternity, the doctor rushed in.  She eyed the results.  Doc would suck at poker, too.  She readjusted the wires, tested again.  Same results. Something was clearly wrong.

20090121180034She asked me if I get winded easily, if I feel nauseous or faint after physical exertion.  “Are you nuts?  I workout twice a day, I’m a former ballerina – I positively thrive on physical exertion.”  She acted as if she didn’t believe me, repeated the same questions worded differently as if I’d slip up and change my story. What on earth did that machine say about me – jeez!

Heroin_Chic_by_touchofdustThey told me they’d need to run a battery of tests.  Words like “heart murmur,” “weak left ventricle” and other scary sounding crap were tossed around.  They started with bloodwork, which didn’t soothe me any.  First, one nurse couldn’t find my vein resulting in multiple painful needle stabs and my new “heroine chic” look with track marks all over my forearm.  Then another looked concerned as she couldn’t even find my pulse.  One actually declared, “There’s nothing to you!” as she looked for a place to insert a needle. Egads! Am I that much of a freakshow?

0They scheduled an endoscopy and a visit to the cardiologist for the following week.  Fortunately the next few days were filled with fun distractions, but the cloud of uncertainty never fully vanished.  I felt like Woody Allen’s character in  Hannah and Her Sisters, part of me wondering if I might be nearing the end of this journey.

dick-cheney-robot-heartAnd naturally, everything around me was suddenly about heart failure – stories on TV featuring women who hadn’t realized they suffered heart attacks, unaware they were dying, Cheney in and out of the hospital with attack number 5 (is that guy a robot or what?) and a plethora of ads for heart medication for which the side effects sound worse than heart failure.  I found myself instantly plagued by a host of psychosomatic pains in my chest.  So much for my relaxing days writing in front of the fireplace.

cdr0000433287To add to the fun, prior to my endoscopy they sent me a package of instructions to prepare myself.  Stephen King wishes he could write something as terrifying.   Suddenly I wished I hadn’t seen so many episodes of House.  I’d seen Hugh Laurie and gang shove those tubes all the way down a patient’s throat and it didn’t look like much fun.  And all the weird stuff they discover about people who seemed at their prime only days earlier.  Could this really be the end?

doctors_pushing_gurneyStill, a glass-half-full kind of gal, I did my best to find the fun in it.  I’d never spent time in a hospital before so it was sort of cool to see what goes on.  hugh-laurie-08-heart-promoI got to ride around on a gurney (beep, beep!), experience mind altering drugs (whoa, Dude.  Is that my hand?) and even meet my heart during the sonogram (and my liver, too, to whom I apologized for my decadence at a cocktail party the previous eve, but the technician didn’t share my sense of humor.  Oops.)  According to Agustin, under sedation I was the life of the party, giggling like crazy and flirting with the doctor whom, in my drug-induced state,  I no doubt mistook for Hugh Laurie – yowsah! – am I right, Ladies?

0071010100JSadly, I didn’t get a souvenir picture of my heart sonogram, which was super cool to watch and hear, but I did get nifty color glossies of my esophagus and stomach which I plan to frame and hang on my wall.  Sweet!

More importantly, I’m pleased to say, the deluge of blood tests, endoscopy and heart sonogram merely proved me to be even healthier than I was a year ago and I was in good shape then.  I was declared a thoroughly “boring” patient (a good thing) other than a susceptibility to easy dehydration and the occasional odd fainting spell.

WizardOfOzTechnicolorAgustin and I left the cardiologist positively euphoric.  Though I was in no better or worse shape than I’d been 2 weeks prior, it felt like I’d been given this wonderful gift of life yet again.  Colors became more vibrant, food tasted better, the air I breathed was positively invigorating.  Suddenly trivialities such as doing taxes, missing a deadline, or foregoing a trip to a festival seemed downright petty.

super-shuttle-1World’s most bitter Supershuttle driver brought me back to the apartment.  Even he couldn’t bring me down. We’ve all had jobs we hate at one time or another, but he’d had his for 16 years.  It was mind boggling.  He seemed to have his health, no wife or kids to support – what was he doing, maintaining an existence that clearly made him so unhappy?  He talked fondly of the risks he used to take as a child – an adventurer with a wild spirit now living in a Supershuttle purgatory of his own making.  Was it all in the name of job security?  Was he afraid to risk a crappy job that made him miserable to pursue happiness and fulfillment?  I wonder how many people live the majority of their lives in fear.

gene-kelly-singin_lI took it as one final lesson from my 2-week journey.  Carpe Diem for tomorrow we may die.  It’s not a morbid notion, it simply means we should make every day count.  Nothing wrong with that.  It was sad to leave Indiana so soon, but it feels good to be back in grey and rainy L.A. again. I felt like Gene Kelly sploshing around in my boots en route to a fabulous Dolores-related meeting yesterday.  I’m off to an FX meeting shortly.  I just got a bunch of e-mails from kind strangers who saw our film at a fest yesterday.  Tomorrow, I begin yet another screenplay (3rd feature since January 1st!)  It’s a fun place to be, but it means more than ever now.

oscar_wilde_gutter_quoteIn every story the stakes must be high.  If they aren’t, the writer has failed.  We’re all the writers in our own lives.  If we get too comfortable, lose sight of the stakes, maybe it’s time to challenge ourselves a bit more.  An easily attainable dream isn’t so much a dream as a short-term goal after all.  And now, please excuse me, I have some stars to go reach for.

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