Thursday, October 23, 2014

Creativity: The David O. Selznick Theory

GWTW Publicity:  Leigh, Gable, Mitchell, Selznick, De Havilland

David O. Selznick.  Producer in “old” Hollywood.  Said to have added the middle initial for flourish and musicality.  In many ways, the master mind behind 1939’s groundbreaking Gone with the Wind (GWTW).

He was also a man who got invested in the seemingly unimportant details like lace trim on petticoats and pantolettes.  Items that didn’t particularly matter to a movie audience.  One of the actresses playing Scarlett’s sisters recounted a story in the documentary about making GWTW.  She basically pulled Mr. Selznick aside and told him he was wasting a ton of money and time including this level of workmanship on their costumes.  In almost any shot, no one would even know it was there.

You’ll know it’s there,” he reportedly said.  “Now finish getting fitted.”

Mammy helping Scarlett dress

The creative mind knows more than it shows.  There is always a backstage we don’t get to see from the audience.  The producer believes in nuance that is layered.  Ready to be peeled away if the right moment comes (i.e. a telling scene between Scarlett and Mammy).

I was chatting with a coworker the other day, and she also happens to believe writing is important to sanity.  Editing, we agreed, is both the bane and blessing of every writer.  Sometimes we edit even before the words make it onto the page.  Hours of research may yield only a paragraph.  We may know the full case history of every character before we ever introduce them to someone else.  I’d call it all a calculated risk.

It’s like sewing lace on an antebellum petticoat, the whole time asking yourself if anyone will ever even know.  The labor?  The love?

It’s an intimate process, but it must be done.

Somewhere out there, someone is asking “why?”  Because if you’re going to commit to this act of creativity, you have to COMMIT.  You have to pull a Selznick and have your characters wear fine lace undergarments while you schedule a huge fire.

Yes, a fire.

First of all, you have to schedule a fire is because you have to clear the way for new production.  In GWTW, there’s a huge sequence around the burning of Atlanta.  In the 1930s, however, CG was not as sophisticated as we’ve grown accustomed to.  Based on the lace anecdote, you shouldn’t be surprised when I tell you that Selznick wasn’t going to be fine and dandy with some miniatures being burned or an artistic rendering of faux flames at work.  Instead, the solution was burning down sets of previous films, creating nearly 2 hours of footage for the famous scenes.

That was different twist on “out with the old and in with the new.”  Or as (arguably) Faulkner said, “Kill your darlings.”  No previous labor should stand so powerful in your mental landscape that you can’t set fire to it for the sake of building something new.  As one of my mentors would say, “cling loosely” to those darlings.

A word of warning however:  don’t expect to get off scot-free.  You may lose something in setting fire to the old stuff.  That little fire stunt cost the GWTW project roughly $25k.  And residents in surrounding areas were calling the fire department in genuine worry; they didn’t know it was a planned burn.  In essence, stripping away the old doesn’t come without a price or misunderstanding bystanders.

The second reason for that enormous fire is as a backdrop for new action.  A beneficial corollary of burning down old movie sets was that Selznick’s crew could then build new sets for the rest of the film.

Consider it Gestalt in action.  The fire and lace interludes become a part of the producer.  If nothing else, it is added to his repertoire as something completed in the past and therefore possible in the future.  Even better, it leads his imagination toward a blank slate.  A freshly installed playground for …

Matte paintings.  Interior sets on GWTW didn’t have ceilings; they were all matte paintings.  This allowed Selznick to propagate the embarrassingly elegant (to Margaret Mitchell) vibe.  He was going for visual extremes.  Realism wasn’t a priority unless he wanted it to be.  What producer would claim any different?

Tenuous, step-by-step on the wire is the life of a producer.  Let's get real:  creator.  By most accounts, Selznick never flourished again quite like he did in the furnace of GWTW.  If we’re honest, we can only guess why.  It doesn’t matter though.  Most of those subsequent films are inconsequential to the average person.  And so I will leave you with one thought:  if you were only remembered for one thing you did, would that be enough?

Think about it.

Selznick with Leigh at the Academy Awards

Sunday, October 19, 2014

If Food for the Stomach, Why Not the Mind? (Asking One of the Dead Greek Guys)

Let me ask you a question.  If you knew your oatmeal was laced with arsenic, would you continue to eat it?  That may seem too loaded a question, so let me put this to you a different way.  If you found out kale was actually as unhealthful as high fructose corn syrup, do you think people would continue to eat it as we do now?

If we really thought about it, the logical next step would be to discontinue eating it.

Now look at the same topic again from a different vantage point.  When someone repeatedly drinks too much, they’re said to be addicted.  This carries the threat of bad health and death from complications.  The same goes for smoking.  The same goes for any behavior that can be dubbed addictive.  These are widely accepted precepts.

Next I’ll turn your attention to the idea of entertainment.  Music.  Books.  Games.  Movies.  These are meant to engineer “fun.”  They facilitate “escapism.”  And me—well, I’m a creative type who loves to encourage my imagination.  Imagination is how I get those deep thoughts churning for the writing I love so well.  I’ve got a doctor’s excuse, right?  And if this escapism is actually killing my soul?

Oh, we’re not supposed to think in terms like that.  We must keep things light, fluffy, and as full of substance as cotton candy.  But cotton candy rots our teeth, which are designed to slice through meat and break down vegetables.  I’m probably getting too esoteric, so I’ll break it down in blunt terms.

Think of a time when you watched a movie right before going to bed and had a dream with some of the same ingredients as the movie.  (For me, a recent example was dreaming about being operated on after a House marathon.)  The escapism lingered in my mind.  It affected me even after the fun was over.

People ask me all the time:  “Why no R-rated movies?”  “Why don’t you listen to secular music?”  And you know, sometimes, I don’t feel like I have a solid reason.  Recently, however, my resolve was renewed.

I read a book that has been lauded for about 20 years; it’s currently enjoying success on a cable mini-series.  It was so highly touted that I thought I’d give the author a shot.  Being an 800-page epic, I knew it would keep me occupied for a while.  The first 200 pages were slow going, but things got intriguing after that.  Then, I started noticing something:  the negative, bad events in the story lingered in my mind like a trauma that happened to me.  Scenes echoed in my head like the words of a top-40 song in department stores.  It felt like everywhere I turned my thoughts led back to that same garbage.

I felt like I needed to spring-clean my mind.

Some ask, why no R-rated movies?  Because I can’t unsee what I’ve seen.  Because I can’t put my brain in a bath and Calgon-away the memories of something that injures my humanity.  Because I have been down that road before, and I know it doesn’t lead anywhere good.  Scattered from beginning to the end of the Bible, I read that the faithful will see God’s face…  I want that.

Some ask, why no secular music?  Because words have power.  Words I say and words I hear.  If Mark Twain could live a month on a good compliment and I’m charged with speaking life to people around me, I can’t intentionally pour a deadly poison in someone’s ear.  Because the ear tests words the way the tongue tastes food (Job 12:11).

Some say, why not continue if you have already begun?  Because I will not continue to eat arsenic-laced oatmeal.  No, I cannot put my mind in a bath and receive a convenient case of amnesia.  But Jesus can cleanse me (i.e. Luke 17).  When I call His name and ask Him to wash away the filth I invited into my mind, my mouth, my life, He washes me.  Just like He did with the lepers along the road.  He says the word, and it’s done.

“Go.  The opposite direction you were going before.”

When I get whirled around and disoriented.  When I start walking on the old road on purpose.  He meets me and says, “Go.  The opposite direction you were going before" (i.e. Prov. 24:16).

Friday, October 10, 2014

Name, Rank & Serial Number

Kids have the greatest knack for being literal, causing you to question how you communicate, explain, teach.  A couple of the absolutely brilliant boys I mentor heard me say a phrase one night, and all of a sudden, I was explaining something so much bigger than just the literal –and they were getting it.

The phrase was “name, rank, and serial number.”

For someone like me who grew up with ex-military around, the meaning is  as innate as the verb to be.  Not so for these 10-year-olds.  They have lived their years in San Francisco, probably with little exposure to military speak.  How to explain it then…?

I didn’t want to talk to them about Guantanamo Bay or ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State.  I didn’t want to talk in more terms they wouldn’t understand.  I didn’t want this to be a moment when their curious eyes glazed over because the boring adult couldn’t teach them.--  Oh, I knew what I didn’t want.

Deep breath.  And the briefest call to God as I dove in.

“Name, rank, and serial number?  It’s like when you’re a soldier and the enemy catches you.  Sometimes they want to find out stuff, so they ask you a bunch of questions.  But you’ve been trained to say the same thing over and over:  name, rank, and serial number.

“So if Satan comes and asks, ‘who do you think you are? You’re nobody,” you can say, ‘I’m M--.  I’m a son of the Most High God, and He has a plan for my life.’”  I turned to look at the other boy.  “And you can say, ‘I’m J--.  I’m a son of the Creator of everything that ever was.  He made me in His image, and I’ve been chosen to show you who He is.’”

Even as I write this, it seems like a lot for a kid to comprehend.  But in reality, they can handle more spiritual meat than we give them credit for.  These growing guys got it.  The conversations we’ve had since then show that they get it.  So regardless of whether someone tells them they’re not cool or not good enough or whatever, they’re learning that because God’s word is always true, they don’t have to worry about the lies.  They’re memorizing their identity in Christ.  They’re letting Him etch it into their hearts and memories.  Each day, they’re learning what it means to know who they are.

I could do with a little refresher myself sometimes.  “I am Valonna, daughter of the King, Who brought me out of misery to bring me into joy” (Deut. 6:23).

Friday, March 28, 2014


The piece you're about to read is one I wrote about a year and a half ago.  I was going through a ton of change, heading to a new level in God.  Giving Him things I’d held very tightly.  God had me taking prayer walks through different parts of the city.  On one particular walk, I knew the destination at the beginning, but partway through, I felt like God was telling me to take a detour.  It didn’t make sense to me, but I figured, “hey, I’m following God, so I might as well follow Him this way too.  What’ve I got to lose?”  So I made the turn, and it quickly became apparent that I was actually going to get to my destination sooner than the previous route would have got me there.  In my spirit, I could hear God telling me, “See?  You’re worried that the detour is taking you farther away, but it’s actually bringing you closer to where I want you to go.”

That conversation inspired this, which I read at a Coffeehouse Fundraiser for the 2014 Philippines Mission Trip.

*     *     *

You’re so very near me.

We’re standing beside a precipice, so close to the edge, I think one deep breath might send me flying.  The deep breath before the dive…

You look at me with protective pride and say, “My daughter.”

You look at me with jealous fervor, “My bride.”

You whisper to me, “My protégée.”

Here I stand, emboldened by awe.  My God, my All in All.

You look at me, and I remember who I am, who I want to be.  When I look in Your eyes, there’s an ache in me that only sinks deeper as I draw closer.

You hold Your arms wide to hug me tight to Your side.  You hold Your arms wide to keep the world at bay:  “Nothing will snatch you from Me,” You say.

You clutch my hand and gently… insistently… pull me along this path I can barely see.  I ask you over and over where we’re going.

            It’s when I’m quiet I can hear you say like a lover, “Trust Me.”

It’s then You stand behind me, so close I can feel Your lungs expand with each breath.  You cover my eyes with Your hands.  I can feel Your right foot move forward, so I step with my right leg.  Not too far, partly because Your grip on me is firm, and partly because I don’t want to lose contact with You.

            “I trust You.”

I can hardly hear myself say it.  Again, with more fortitude.  “I trust You.”

Off to the side, I think I hear something.  What is it?  Some attacker?  A harmless animal?  I turn my head toward the sound, but Your fingers guide me back to center.  There’s a din up ahead, and fear of that sound makes me bristle, but You’re still right there.

            You are undeterred.

            I am locked into step with You.

            We are stepping forward.

“Oh, God, what’s going on?  I need to see where I’m going.”

“No, you don’t.  Trust Me.”

Something inside me starts to resist You.  Why can’t I see?  I have a right!  How can I show others the way if I don’t know how to describe the landmarks?  Before I realize what I’m doing, I’m prying Your fingers away from my eyelids.  I NEED to see what’s up ahead.

Just as one eye gets a peek, I hear Your voice in my ear.  There’s something there…in Your voice… like You’re more determined for me to make it than I am.  Your voice:  it’s not loud, but it’s so… strong.

            It makes me pause.

            “This is the way.  Walk in it.”

This is the way?  Something like a wave of certainty floods through me, and I’m suddenly so anchored in You, the edge of this cliff no longer taunts me.

How can I deny You?  I know how You see me.  You see worth in me when no one including me sees any.  You call me Wanted when I am rejected and forgotten.  No, to You, I am Wanted.

Walk in it?  The fear barking all around me grows quiet at Your command.  When we stand this close, there is nothing that can drown out Your words.

How can I deny You?  You love me and call me Loved when I KNOW  I am unlovely.

You, who teach me when I am dull and confused.  You tuck me next to You and explain mysteries.  To You, I am Confidante.

How could I deny You Your heart’s desire?  To walk with me on this perilously narrow trail, too insignificant to be called a road…


            “If this is the way, I will walk in it.”

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Hope Rising

This poem was featured in an multimedia art gallery for the 2013 Christmas Celebration at Glad Tidings Church.

Deep night
On a voyage just begun.
She looks down at her baby’s face…
A journey to a new town for a labor she’d never expected.
Strangers all around them:  nameless shepherds and anonymous nobles.

They were here to worship her Son.

She couldn’t have imagined this night.
She sensed there was more to unfold.
It would explode like a star in the sky
                                                                              Years from now?
She could only wonder, and so she
                                                                               these things in her heart.

* * *

She walked toward the garden
Clutching spices in her hands.
She fought the heaviness,
The sickening numbness that engulfed her heart.
She still couldn’t believe He was gone.

She didn’t know that His eyes were trained on her approach.
How He loved her, this frail human in His repairing grasp.
His eyes warmed as He thought how she would
Live and
               Love and
                               Speak of His heart to others.

She stumbled closer to the tomb,
And He remembered how He’d
                                                                           them all
             —all the unlovely and unlovable ones—
      as He stumbled under that cumbersome cross.

It wasn’t on the pain He focused
—that was only a fickle torment.
No, He lingered on the plans His Father had for their future.
                          those plans as though they were for Him.

She looked up into His face and gasped, seeing a stranger.
She didn’t know Him yet.
But then, the world had only begun to know Him. 

Hope had risen like a beacon star in the night sky.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

What Does My Worship Look Like?

What does my worship look like?

It has to look like more than a mere song and dance.  “I will not offer to God that which costs me nothing.”  It costs me girlish ignorance.  It costs my abdicating a task.  Instead, I find myself getting dusty, sweaty, and climbing scary heights.  I give up service, not because I’m scheduled to do it but because someone else needs it.

God, You want worship from a willing heart, one that counts the cost at the outset but doesn’t meditate on it every step of the way.  So, God, help me give to You something I have that You want.

A heart willing to die for You.

Is that so foreign then?

We say we’re dying for water or chocolate or fill-in-the-blank.  Sometimes we even say we’d die for You.  A death that is entirely too figurative for Your liking.  You’re looking for a heart that feels like it’s dying if I don’t aim to please You.  Maybe that’s the key.  It’s doesn’t matter as much what the target of the arrow is as where I stand when I shoot it.

Do I stand on a plain of thorny discontent?  Worship is pleasing God.  “Grumble, grumble, murmur” almost guarantees missing the target.

“Here is my heart.  It hurt to pull it from my chest, but here it is, God” means He smiles.

He accepts.

He meets.

He exults.

He gives me His heart in turn.

I will not offer to God that which costs me nothing.  Joyfully, I will delight in giving Him my heart.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Reflection: In the Mirror

Maybe none of you have these moments, but I do...

The ones where you look in the mirror and see something completely different and separate from reality...

Since the beginning of the year, I've lost about 2 sizes, which isn't a huge amount.  The more remarkable part for me is that I still sometimes look at my reflection in shock.  I'll put on a tried and true shirt, look at my reflection and exclaim, "What happened?"  There's real consternation there.  I think I enjoy the idea of "shrinking."  I even have goals in the back of my mind of shrinking further.  But truly, there's a disconnect somewhere.

I think it happens a lot for us girls, where we get accustomed to being overweight or of sub-optimal beauty, and we look for that in the mirror.  When we see something else staring back at us, we're surprised.  Even if it's good.  Even if it's real.  It reminds me of what a dear friend astutely said once:  "Someday, someone's going to tell you who you are, and you won't be shocked . . . ."

So I got a bit of money for my birthday, with strict instructions to buy myself some new clothes that don't fall off.  To Goodwill I went with my astute friend, shopping for new jeans and maybe a top or two.  I took 2 pairs of jeans into the fitting room, and seriously doubted my eyes when it didn't look like my butt was sagging.  The pants looked good.


Friend confirmed the jeans were winners.  Now to search out shirts . . .  and again I enter the fitting room, expecting lackluster or even bad results.  But no, Friend assures me both options are great.  "It doesn't make me look dumpy?"  I ask.  "No," she answers with an eye roll.

Foiled again by ye olde self-image.  I went into that fitting room expecting to see a girl who didn't fit the clothes.  Yeah, the old self is supposedly dying.  Daily.  But I really think this thing gets resurrected daily--if not momentarily.  In short, I'm losing weight, but I'm keeping it on the inside.  Might as well keep only funhouse mirrors around, for all the good real ones do me.

How utterly ridiculous.  Counter-intuitive.  Counter-productive.  Counter to reality.  Someone (another astute person in my life) asked once, "Isn't it wonderful when our experience aligns with reality?"  Wouldn't it be great if the girl in the mirror were the same girl we saw there?  It's still something on the horizon, and it is my hope that your self gets reflected on the outside, undistorted.

I remember (from my brother's tutelage) in the DC universe that Bizarro is the distorted clone of Superman.  His skin is gray, and his "S" emblem is backwards.  He uses Tarzan English, and he's usually depicted as more than a little dense.  He is Superman's less than mirror image.  You name it, Bizarro is less than the epitome that Superman represents. . . .  This should be sounding familliar to you.  Don't take the metaphor too far, but sometimes we see ourselves as Bizarro when our loved ones see Superman.  We are our own worst critics, right?


Now for a startling maneuver:   we look in the mirror, saying, "I am beautiful.  I am lovely" (If a Man Answers, 1962).  Shocking, I know.  We might start to believe it.  Our blind spots might shift from their current locations.  We might see loveliness even in bad lighting and unflattering angles.  It's just shocking enough to turn our reflected world on its ear.  And that's really all we're trying to do:  make our reflections match reality.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011



The chorus word God tells His people.  Remember who He is and what He's done.  Remember who they are in relation to and because of Him.

Um, me too.

I stand convinced I've been struggling with my identity so much for so long becuase I forget.  That also lines up with what God told me last fall:  Don't keep finding out who you are only to forget again.

I run around forfeiting my territory and my rightful claims on God's promises.  As a result, I go grasping for any facsimile that looks good at the time.  I'm left weak, bitter, adrift.  No wonder James 1:5-8 cuts me like a knife.  It's meant to.

No wonder I feel abandoned.  I've haven't been left; I've left.  That's the crux of the issue.  I run over every parcel of land, screaming, "God's left me.  He's failed me."  The fact is, I've deserted the place He prepared for me, where there is shade from the sun and cool water to drink.  If His embrace is my shield (Genesis 15:1), I've left His embrace over and over.

Then I get attacked.

When I leave Him, peace leaves me.  I'm open season for old attacks:  rejection, anger, pride, doubt.  Wow.  I don't know that I've ever seen it this starkly before, sans altar experience.  I've somewhat identified parallels between my relationship with God and Gomer's with Hosea.  Ouch.

Create in me a clean heart, Oh God,
And renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from Thy presense, Oh Lord,
And take not Thy holy spirit from me.
Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation,
And renew a right spirit within me.

"When the pattern is right, the glory will fall." --Joe Oden

God, I want a new pattern.

Taken from a prayer written on 27 March 2011.