In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. In other words, before God could do anything at all, he had to have words. The Australian aborigines believe that they can sing the world into existence, that the naming of things renders them real and visible. And some scholars believe that the word abracadabra derives from the Aramaic, avra kehdabra, which means “I will create as I speak.”
So abracadabra – let me create as I speak. Let me wander those aboriginal song-lines and hum into being the characters of my first full-length feature script titled EXPOSED. Here they come, echoes from God knows where (and he really does know where), uninvited, really, just hovering, floating around in vitrio, pale gollums in the shadows, waiting to be born. Well, I suppose I did invite them the instant I put my mind to the task.
And here they are, as much a part of my daily life as my lovely daughter Sophie, who seems to inhabit the script whether I ask her to or not, incarnated as Jude, a sweetly savage teenage prostitute, a vagrant, trying to make it in the Hamptons. I weave my magic wand and there she is, asleep in a field when the camera clicks and I recognize Nora, the protagonist, a photographer who has until now lacked the vision to create a meaningful body of work. Click! Jude leaps out of her sleeping bag, cursing. Click! Nora snaps the picture, Jude enraged, eyes wide, mouth open, hair flying – a magnificent demon in the summer haze, a feral, untamed child.
Abracadabra. The plot unfolds. I am obsessed. Watch me exploring the bulrushes around ponds where Jude might hide. And there I am, in the East Hampton parking lot, checking out a black Camarro – the car that her pimp will use to track her down, speeding along the LIE like a demon possessed. She has stolen his money. He has stolen her soul. And there I am on the ferry to Shelter Island, Jude right next to me, hair blowing in the wind, her snarky nose in the air while Raji, a Pakistani deli clerk at the Sag Harbor 7 Eleven, surreptitiously eyes her nipples. Behind me, Nora, the protagonist, a photographer, bursting inside but outwardly repressed, accompanying this unlikely duo on a mysterious camping trip. They’re with me as I find the right beach with the great rock where Jude will find her name written in black marker while Raji remains in a clearing to pray on his mat, bowing towards Mecca in the sunshine summer of the Hamptons. I see Nora lay Jude out in the sand, almost naked, a crab on her belly, hair floating like dank seaweed, a sea nymph. She buries Jude in sand, only a shoulder visible, rising softly like a minor sand dune.
These photographs will bring Nora the fame she craves. They will cause her to break off her romantic relationship with Walter, an antique collector who wants nothing more then to add her to his valuables and keep her on a shelf forever. And they will expose Jude to great danger. Therein lies the tension of my plot.
I have written it all. I have rewritten it 57 times. I sent the 57th draft to a hotshot Hollywood script-reader who took a lot of money to send me his “notes” on the script. A dreaded moment. He likes this, he likes that, he has encouraging words to say but I have failed to give my characters DEPTH.
I cast around for inspiration and find myself looking again at my daughter Sophie’s paintings. Her earlier works are interesting, accomplished, full of drama, vibrant color and written poetry, but they subsist on a flat plane, elements of a dream, of a life presented but unexamined. Her recent work, though, leaps a chasm, rendering with only a few strokes of a brush or a pen a damaged soul, a scene fraught with calm terror, a novel spun on a clothes line, a jaguar sauntering by. My heart shudders.
This is depth. What agonies has she suffered to arrive at this place?
Should I make my fictitious characters suffer more? Maybe Jude should have a fatal disease. AIDS would be too obvious. Denge Fever? Too contrived. Lymes Disease? Not bloody enough. Or since Raji eventually gets arrested as a terrorist suspect, perhaps Jude should be in love with him and follow him to Pakistan, where he is deported, thus throwing herself at the mercy of the Taliban. ..no, no, no. No depth there. And how about Nora? I thought her depth came from the fact that she is an orphan, bonding with the family-less Jude in a queasy motherly-daughterly relationship that is always edgy, sometimes violent and financially profitable to both. Ah Nora, the artist, the suppressed genius who has spent years taking pretty pictures of flowers and landscapes that fill her with self-loathing.
Until she encounters Jude asleep in that field – the catalyst that will propel Nora out of safety, into a danger-zone that she both fears and desires. Click! Nora probes Jude’s soul, exposes her, turns her inside out and sends her on her way, in the process, exposing herself – her own shallowness, her own superficial art, the pristine whiteness of her sterile modern home.
I write it here, yet I have failed in the script. I look at Sophie’s paintings. An old man on a bar-stool contemplates the dead bird on a stool next to him. A girl simply sits, a sketch, a nothing that makes my heart tremble. Abracadabra. My daughter has it, and I don’t.