Remembering Olsen: screenplay format included

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The separation from Karla affected her most of all. In , although she "felt like a terrible failure" for not leaving finished the novel, she forfeited her contract, moved back to San Francisco, and brought Karla home. Nearly 40 years later, examining Yonnondio 's 11 rough drafts and trying to figure out where she was when she wrote them," Olsen "realized that most of her best writing was done" after her reunion with her daughter Duncan In Tillie Lerner began to live with her YCL comrade, Jack Olsen with whom she had been arrested in ; they married in , just before Jack entered the military Orr 38, n Tillie had three more daughters--Julie, Kathie, and Laurie.

Between and she worked at a variety of jobs--waitress, shaker in a laundry, transcriber in a dairy equipment company, capper of mayonnaise jars, secretary, and "Kelly Girl"--and, against tremendous odds, tried to keep her writing alive. She copied passages from books she could not afford to buy and tacked them on the wall by the kitchen sink for inspiration. She seized every moment she could:. Time on the bus, even when I had to stand, was enough; the stolen moments at work, enough; the deep night hours for as long as I could stay awake, after the kids were in bed, after the household tasks were done, sometimes during.

It is no accident that the first work I considered publishable began: When the demands of Olsen's life--which included wage-earning, mothering, political activism, housework, and writing--resulted in her "having to give primacy to one part of her being at the expense of another," the children came first Rosenfelt, "Thirties" Silences m emorably records Olsen's experience and that of many mothers:. More than in any other human relationship, overwhelmingly more, motherhood means being instantly interruptable, responsive, responsible, Children need one now and remember, in our society, the family must often try to be the center for love and health the outside world is not.

The very fact that these are real needs, that one feels them as one's own love, not duty ; that there is no one else responsible for these needs, gives them primacy. It is distraction, not meditation, that becomes habitual; interruption, not continuity; spasmodic, not constant toil Work interrupted, deferred, relinquished, makes blockage--at best, lesser accomplishment. Unused capacities atrophy, cease to be. When Olsen learned she was pregnant with her second child she made an appointment with an abortionist and then, at the last minute, walked out of his office. After Julie's birth, Olsen reports, she gave up her thwarted attempts to complete Yonnondio ; although she had "fragments for another 70 pages of the novel," she had to go to work "typing income tax forms" interview.

Only her last pregnancy was "voluntary" Rosenfelt interview. Yet Olsen insists that the demands of mothering four children did not fracture her selfhood. Being female and an artist are complementary, not contradictory, she believes.

Certainly a woman's experience is not antithetical to art, despite the view expressed by Le Sueur's editor at Scribner's who rejected "Annunciation" for its "ersatz" subject matter, and Olsen's texts provide ample evidence that parenting richly fed her writing. However, since writing requires time and solitude, the practical question arises: Why did Olsen have as many as four children when she had the ambition and talent "to be a great writer" Rosenfelt interview?

The answer lies partly in Olsen's firm belief that motherhood is not only the "core of women's oppression" but an extraordinary source of "transport" for women as well Silences Children and art "are different aspects of your being," she told me. Silences acknowledges that "the maintenance of life" 34 --an activity not limited to mothers but including all who in myriad ways attend to caring for others--is often an impediment to literary productivity. Significantly, however, Silences also expresses Olsen's hope that a "complex new richness will come into literature" as "more and more women writers Reeva Olson, who was married for many years to a brother of Jack Olsen and who has been close to Jack and Tillie for over 50 years, indirectly spoke to this issue of "the maintenance of life" as both an impediment and a benefit to writing.

She acknowledged that Tillie's "involvement with people and with her children and with family. I don't think that she could have written the way she does sitting up in some ivory tower," removed from her characteristically "deep, deep involvement" with others interview.

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During the '30s and '40s Olsen was aware of "a real difference between [writers] who were 'rank-and-file,' so to speak, involved in struggles right around us," and those who considered themselves cultural activists, were in some instances funded by the Federal Writers' Project, and had the mobility to visit other countries to report on events interview. Largely because of her children Olsen could not make her writing her activism, as these childless women did, and writing could not be counted on to provide the steady income Olsen's family required. Moreover, the jobs Olsen took to support her children led naturally to a different form of political activism, Union organizing, which in turn affected her daily life in positive, practical, and immediate ways--with higher wages, better working conditions, and more control of the workplace.

As a parent, Olsen also became increasingly involved in educational issues and in the activities related to the particular schools her children attended. Class was also a barrier to Olsen's becoming a full-time writer during the '30s.

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As noted above, during her stay in Los Angeles from , Olsen had felt awkward around the sophisticated Hollywood Left or "the cocktail set," as she put it and unhappy separated from "her own kind of people. Although Olsen was attracting a lot of attention at this time as noted above , she did not feel at home in urbane literary circles. She has asked herself why she "didn't move heaven and earth to become part of that [writers'] world," since it was her ambition at that time "to be a great writer," and remembers feeling "an intimidation and wonder," based not only on gender but also on her class and "first-generation" background Rosenfelt interview.

Class identification in a positive sense also contributed to Olsen's choosing a rank-and-file existence over a "literary" life. Olsen's comments in about her working-class comrades suggest both the depth of her loyalty to them and how different from them she sometimes felt because she aspired to be a writer:.

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They were my dearest friends, but how could they know what so much of my writing self was about? They thought of writing in the terms in which they knew it. They had become readers, like so many working class kids in the movement, but there was so much that fed me as far as my medium was concerned that was closed to them.

And they loved certain writings because of truths, understandings, affirmations, that they found in them It was not a time that my writing self could be first We believed that we were going to change the world, and it looked as if it was possible. It was just after Hindenburg turned over power to Hitler--and the enormity of the struggle demanded to stop what might result from that was just beginning to be evident And I did so love my comrades. They were all blossoming so. These were the same kind of people I'd gone to school with, who had quit, as was common in my generation, around the eighth grade Now I was seeing that evidence, verification of what was latent in the working class.

It's hard to leave something like that. Clearly Olsen did not share the problem of the enlightened middle-class writer who, like Meridel Le Sueur, contemplated in the '30s how best to identify with the working class. Hers was a different dilemma: Whereas our social system defines Olsen's intellectual and professional aspirations as middle class, her personal and emotional identification remained, profoundly with the class of her birth.

Olsen appreciated the power of class origin, which, as I have argued earlier, Le Sueur unintentionally trivialized in "The Fetish of Being Outside. While Olsens writing career was obstructed byher gender and class origin, and by the demands of wage and domestic labor, the historic conditions of the '30s also pulled her from writing into activism. The Depression, the rise of fascism in Europe, the threat of world war, and the apparent success of socialism in the Soviet Union instilled a sense of urgency and possibility for radical change that competed along with everything else for Olsen's energies.

This was for Olsen a period of collective effort in myriad forms--Party meetings, union organizing, picket lines, demonstrations, leafleting--not the solitude necessary, for sustained writing. About the threat of fascism in Europe, she says,. Sometimes [in conflict] with what needed to be done at home was an international sense and an anti-war sense, the threat of war in the world We knew about Dachau very early, we knew about the concentration camps, the Left press was full of it It made my kind of book [ Yonnondio ] more and more difficult to write.

You remember how people felt after Allende? You remember how people felt after things were not ending in Vietnam, and you were so personally identified with it? It was so much of one's being You lived with it in every room of your house It was a living, actual presence and force. We had that kind of consciousness [during the '30s], so many of us Yet, as Rosenfelt points out, passages such as the following one from a '30s journal express Olsen's frustration at the amount of time required for things that took her away from writing, including political work and the necessity to write pieces on demand for various political activities: Tore it up in disgust.

It is the end for me of things like that to write--I can't do it--it kills me" quoted in Rosenfelt, "Thirties" But Olsen never entirely gave the struggle to save her writing self. Her determination to return to writing only deepened after the bombing of Hiroshima. Olsen vividly remembers one article, in what had been a series of horrific ones in the San Francisco Chronicle, that described "the ninth night," the first night without moonlight after the holocaust. Even without moonlight, the newspaper reported, the sky above Hiroshima had been eerily illuminated by bodies still burning from radiation.


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At that moment Olsen pledged "to write on the side of life," although it would be eight years before she could act on that resolve interview. In the late '40s and early '50s, Olsen was active in the international peace movement that petitioned against governmental testing of nuclear weapons. During the same period, she also worked within the PTA to oppose civilian defense maneuvers, which sent school children scurrying under desks in the absurd "duck and cover" exercises so effectively satirized in the film Atomic Cafe.

During the late '40s and '50s, like Le Sueur and her family, the Olsens were victims of the harassment typical of the McCarthy Period. In June , the night before Olsen was going to attend a human relations workshop with a stipend she had been given as president of the Kate Kennedy Elementary School PTA, she happened to turn on the radio during the broadcast of a San Francisco Bay Area "I was standing here ironing As a result of the broadcast, some of Olsen's closest friends shunned her.

Even a "beloved" next-door neighbor to whom the Olsens had been especially close for years, declared: One of the four was Al Addy, a Warehousemen's Union member whom Jack, as the Educational Director, had schooled in writing and editing. Tillie compassionately explained that Rosser's drug problem made him especially vulnerable to the FBI, which financed his addiction in return for his information and would have prosecuted him if he had refused to supply it. During this period the FBI systematically contacted Jack and Tillie's employers, and they each lost a series of jobs.

One manager cautioned Tillie when he fired her that "one had to be like the grass and be as inconspicuous as possible and bow with the wind" interview.


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When her youngest child entered school in , Olsen was at last free of some of the responsibilities of child care, and she enrolled at 41 in a creative writing course at San Francisco State. Lois Kramer, a neighbor with whom Olsen could confidently exchange child care, was also instrumental in her beginning to write again.

An unfinished manuscript of "I Stand Here Ironing" at that point titled "Help Her to Believe" won Olsen a Stanford University Creative Writing Fellowship in , even though the lack of a college degree had made her technically ineligible for admission, let alone funding. A favorite Olsen anecdote reveals how that important fellowship nearly eluded her. Have I covered my ass enough so as not to offend? It's the other These are the people that make me foam at the mouth when they leech my time and energy simply because I happen to write scripts. What is it that they do that drives me to the verge of shouting like a madman from the rooftops?

It can be summed up simply as -- Stop telling me your lame-ass movie ideas. If you've told anybody outside of the creative pool that you write screenplays, you know too well what I'm talking about. The conversation usually goes something like: I have this great movie idea! You're gonna love it. Note to that Average Joe: I'm probably not going to love it because your idea will most likely be half baked at best, but more usually, consist of one thirty second chase scene that seems uber-cool in your mind, but has absolutely no story, characters, or even anything remotely workable to back it up.

But you'll go on and smile expectantly, and wait for me to react like you just gave birth to the second coming. Fellow scribes, if you are stupid enough to get yourself into this mess by admitting you write scripts, there are two ways to deal with this - encourage or baffle. I suggest that you go with baffle. Leap onto their idea and start talking character and themes and subplots and settings, and budgets, and shooting schedules, and basically show them just how much work actually goes into a script. Soon, their eyes will glaze over and they'll make some excuse to get away from you fast.

Problem solved without having to break the news that their idea makes mating with dead horses look appealing.


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The other option, encouragement, is bad. It may seem polite, but even the smallest bit like, "Oh that sounds cool. Have you tried the onion puffs? Sure, I'll just whip off a draft and have it to you tomorrow. You'll never get rid of them. They'll track you down through a friend of a friend of a friend because you clearly LOVED their movie, until you're forced to tell them that it is totally unworkable.

Unless, of course, they have a boatload of cash, in which case, whip up an agreement and make it workable damn FAST! But most of the time, you're stuck with having to tell them that their beloved baby is DOA. It's enough to make any grown screenwriter lie through their teeth when confronted with the 'so what do you do' question. Proctologist or fireman are good cover stories. And yes, I have pulled the second off with my lb frame. But it's not the worst-case scenario. Which brings me to the point of this long winded rant -- It happens on dates too. You would think that when the potential next great lay love of your life says that they write movies, a wise person would jump all over that and use it as a chance to bond over favorite films, directors, or even actors not writers - nobody remembers writer's names.

But no, the mere mention of scripts leads to the inevitable, "Oh my God! I've got a great movie idea that you're going to LOVE! And who the hell wants bonding when you can dazzle with an idea that you slaved over for a whole 30 seconds it doesn't matter that you've been masturbating over the same idea for 12 years, it still only took 30 seconds to come up with, and it still sucks. Do guys think that their unicycle chase scene will impress me?

Or that their thriller idea will get them laid? Buddy, it sounds like a bad rip off of some really bad thrillers already losing money out there!

Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay

There is only one thing more likely to guarantee that a guy will never get into my pants, let alone see the inside of one of my scripts, and that is the movie date where they grace me with their verbal diarrhea insightful commentary from the moment the lights go down until the last line of dialogue. Not to mention walking out before the credits even begin to roll, and they don't even have to pee! Definitely not the way to get lucky with a screenwriter.

And these aren't stupid people. We're talking doctors and lawyers and the occasional bartender. I would never dream of trying to bond over new ways to deal with blood clots in the brain, so why do these dates think it's a good idea to talk shop like they have a clue what they are doing?

Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay - Wikipedia

And this phenomenon is not limited to men trying to get into my pants. Women are just as bad. Kids birthday parties, in the waiting room for annual pap tests, no place is sacred.