Photos courtesy of Claudia Grazioso

How I got my “yes” back

by Claudia Grazioso

“We want the juicy.”
“It has to be noisy.”
“Bring the sexy.”
“This is big, we want huge.”

Those are notes I have heard again and again over the last few years. I am naturally none of those things. Instead, I am one of those writers whose story sense veers towards, shall we say, “succulent” as opposed to “juicy”, and “firmly worded” if not exactly “noisy”. I have nothing against “juicy, noisy, sexy, huge”. I just don’t think that every idea needs to be that way, or even should be that way.

But recently “juicy, noisy, sexy, huge” was seemingly what everyone wanted, what every story had to be. I started to think about kindergarten, and how the teachers at my kids’ school took care to balance the classroom: older kids, younger kids, boys and girls, introverts and extroverts. It made sense: who wants to be locked in a room all day everyday with wall to wall extroverts?

Over the past few months, something happened that has never happened before: I started giving up. All of the ideas I had, all of the stories I wanted to write, I discarded because I determined they were neither juicy nor noisy, sexy nor huge, so what was the point? For the first time in years, I was excited to write nothing. And on that happy note, I left for vacation.

And then something happened: away from the never-ending din of “no” and “not juicy, noisy, sexy or huge enough”, or perhaps just ensconced in the quiet, unplugged world of small beach towns and humid nights and morning curtains bloated with wind, I started to write a story exactly the way I saw it. Not broad. Not salacious. I was no longer wrestling with how to shoe-horn in a serial killer or a character to top the antics of Any Given Kardashian. It was just a story, one I had wanted to write months ago.

And a few days after I started, something else happened: I gave up. And it hit me a day or so after I stopped writing, that I have become something I never thought I would be: a writer who no longer writes. At some point the “No” and “Here’s what the story has to be if you want to sell it” had taken over. I used to be a writer who wrote because writing, however torturous, made me happy. Completing stories, giving my characters voice fulfilled me in some indescribable way that nothing else in my life did.

But for the past year, most of my characters were abandoned, most of my stories discarded an act or two in. Instead of writing, I was struggling to generate (to paraphrase Woody Allen) “concepts” that I hoped would garner enough enthusiasm to become “ideas.” At some point, I had become a different kind of writer. One I never imagined I’d be.

KayakingOutside our annual beach rental, my children played on the sand. Like most children, they are dreamers. One of my daughters is especially determined to make those dreams a reality. Earlier in childhood, she spent countless hours trying to fashion robots from cups and tin foil and toothpicks and duct tape, only to collapse in frustration when they failed to behave as robots, to take commands and communicate. And as my daughter has done field-testing on each new invention, I have come to spend a fair amount of time comforting her when the initial test runs failed. And maybe all of that comforting, all of those crying jags, all of that naïve despair led me to be a different kind of parent. One I never thought I’d be.

Last week we were on the beach, my daughter and I, and she told me that she was going to build a witch castle. She envisioned a secret bridge network fashioned from driftwood, and a crab carcass roof. And she was planning to build it close to shore, so the waves could come close and she could float boats to it. She was delighted with the idea that she would be able to play with it throughout our vacation, that it would be her special hand crafted toy.

I quickly pointed out the obvious flaws in her plan. Where would she ever find enough driftwood pieces to construct this lattice and bridge network she envisioned? And maybe she would be better off finding the crab carcasses before attempting to build this roof because I doubted there would be enough to achieve the look she was after. In fact, she should rethink her vision for the roof. And finally, and most importantly, a storm was coming in. It was going to rain, and surely the rain and the rising tide would wash her structure away before morning. There would be no toy. There would be nothing to play with. What was the point? You’ll only be disappointed.

My daughter looked at me plainly, though I could see frustration tugging at her face. “I really don’t like it,” she said, “that every time I have an idea, everyone always tells me why it won’t work.”

There was a frozen moment between us, and I felt emotion swell in my chest. For a moment, I thought I might cry. “I know,” I said, suddenly firm and resolute. “Me neither.”

And I told her to go for it. To build her witch castle, and that I couldn’t wait to see it. And she did. She spent hours building it, and it grew from a witch castle to a witch compound, with multiple buildings, connected by more driftwood than I thought I had seen on the beach all year, and festooned with a plethora of crab carcasses courtesy of the hungry gulls who were, suddenly, always near by. She topped it off with an assortment of witch characters, fashioned from rocks and different colored seaweed.

As I watched her, I wondered when I had become the writer or even the person who abandoned a vision because it didn’t fit the dictates of others. The obvious answer is “When I had kids” and was suddenly acutely aware of a market place and its demands and the necessity for earning a living. But also, I think it happened slowly: I had finally internalized that “No” is the smarter move, and it always will be. No is safer, it’s almost risk-free. But just as kindergarten teachers realize no one can thrive in a room filled only with extroverts, what writer, what person can thrive in a world devoid of “yes?” There has to be yes. Even if you’re the only one saying it.

Up in the sun porch, as my daughter ran around building her witch compound under darkening stormy skies, I opened my journal, and started to write again, the story I had started earlier. And I was writing it for the simplest reason, and really the only reason that has ever truly mattered to me as a writer: because I wanted to.

And I would love to finish this with something grand: Reader, it’s a masterpiece!

But no. I am still working on it, still listening for the characters, still mulling its small twists and truths. It is still entirely unknown and quite possibly will remain so to everyone except me and a few close friends.

But I can finish with this: The day after the storm, my daughter and I walked down to the beach, to the end of the cove to see how the witch compound fared in the storm. It was rain battered and smaller, but the driftwood bridges and lattices had withstood the wind. The witches’ hair had dried somewhat, but the dead crab roof was still in tact. The stormy tide had lapped all around it, right up to its doors.

But reader, it was still there.

Claudia Grazioso

About Claudia Grazioso

Claudia Grazioso is a writer in Los Angeles. She has written for most major studios and networks. She confesses to a insatiable addiction to reality television.

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