Just coming back from a mini-vacation. Didn’t write a bit. Ideas came from every angle though. Crying kids in lines for bumper cars who try to shield their mother from her new man’s embrace; A lonely old, muscular man with a beard, and fanny pack eating cheese pizzas; A giggling vet from Iraq with a prosthetic leg, holding her fiancee’s hand while she tests the warmth of a pool with her natural born leg. Ideas come from everywhere if you remain open to them. I worry sometimes that the most memorable ones will escape me if I don’t write them down immediately. This time around, each held tight to me as I drove down the Florida Turnpike, coming back, later on, at home, with little provocation. I wrote them down and then thought, now what? Yes, the ideas stayed with me. What required more goading was acknowledging past achievements that have lead up to screenwriting about such ideas. This was made apparent by fellow FAMUan Brod Boyd (more on him later).
Back in 2005, while I was just starting grad school at Florida State University, I had written a sitcom TV series called Off 7th and Garvey. Although it had the humor, I based it off of some serious issues I was enlightened of and explored while I matriculated through FAMU. The main setting was a barber shop/salon called the Atriarch (the midway point between patriarchy and matriarchy) which was being run by a couple who had just broken up. They struggle with dealing with each other for the sake of their business, their employees, customers and surrounding community the love them dearly. With over 70% of black children being born to unwed mothers, I saw this as a means to deal with some serious issues. With 7 being a number for perfection and Garvey representing pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey’s achievement of amassing the largest following of black worldwide, I knew I was on to something. A FAMU student named Irwin “Moon” Miller was the director. Kevin Fleming was on hand with execution (an assistant director, if you will). We had a cast of FAMU students and people from the surrounding community. I loved writing for that show. Brod had come over to my place and explained to me just how ahead of our time we were back then. We had planned to air it on the FAMU TV channel and if not, on the internet – somehow – which means we were thinking of webisodes long before a youtube or anything existed. I wrote a full season. We were a production company and didn’t know it. Miller and Brod set up the scene locations, Miller directed. Fleming worked out the small details. Tene was there with her bohemian, maternal energy. Permits were secured. Conflicts were resolved. Brod was right; We were kids, still in school, handling business.
Off 7th and Garvey come to life.
I had to ask myself what had I learned since then that made me hesitant to develop ideas that refused to leave me alone, write treatments for existing shows, compete in contests and screenwriting fellowships. The answer was clear, institutionalization and fear. I took some rejections in that arena personally way back in grad school, a cardinal sin in every way. I narrowed my vision, hunkered down and matriculated through grad school, resigning myself to a respectable future as a professor and nothing more. After all, I was by then married and had a child. And then another. I was being a grown up, taking an L in the dreams department for the greater good. That doesn’t sit well with me now. It damn sure doesn’t feel and sound as noble as it was once did. I let the system get to me. I took that damn blue pill. After talking with Brod, I realize that the more I speak of this journey in screenwriting, the more I sound to others like someone who has never tried anything artistic before. In fact, I’ve never even mentioned doing Off 7th and Garvey in any of my resumes or vitae. I need to work on acknowledging the strides I have made over the years towards this endeavor. The only way I can do that is by not becoming too comfortable with academia’s respectability. Talk of portfolios, retirements and pensions has put a slow ache in my bones and makes the nerves skittish upon confronting innovation. Back then I was too young and dumb to be scared out of my dreams. Now I’m too old and wise to be. I need that red pill to start questioning what I’ve been accepting about my life, my potential, since then. I’m going to make the red pill in the Matrix movie my background screen on my phone and computer. Time to start taking that thing like a damn multivitamin.