Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"Four Days and Not Much Longer...Let My Spirit Pass"

Reeling again.

It's interesting.  Many times throughout this process I've felt as though my fate was rising up to meet me.  So many things have fallen into my lap.  So many moments just seemed to work out.  I remember early on in the production phase feeling a fear that the story wouldn't be interesting enough.  I kept reminding myself that whether or not it would be interesting was not my problem, the filmmakers would have to figure that out.  In the end this story has proved to have more twists and turns than I think any of us bargained for.  Ray could easily make a provocative and moving four hour film at the rate we're going.

But nothing comes without a cost.

There's someone in my life who just can't be in my life.  Someone who I would liken to a tornado filled with razor blades - get too close and you're sure to be decimated. Years ago this person was a huge force in my life.  A major part of my weekly existence.  This person would swing from love to rage in a breath.  I was always the bad guy.  I was frequently yelled at, hung up on, and gossiped about.  This person would call my husband in an attempt to get him to see how terrible I was. For some reason, I lived with a constant fear that this person would leave me.  I apologized regularly and tried continually to keep this person from getting upset with me.

Three years ago I made one of the hardest decisions of my life; I walked away from this relationship.  I didn't cut anyone off, I simply stopped pursuing.  I would long to call this person, long to hear that voice even if its words were filled with anger, even if it left me crying on the floor.

It took a really, really long time for me to go a week without missing this person. Then a week turned into two, and on and on.  It's been so long since this person has been close enough to my life to damage me that I forgot just how breathless this person's unique brand of pain can make me.

In an effort to thoroughly tell the story of Booker Wright's life it was important for me to reach out to this person.  I thought that I could control the communication.  Keep it in a box so that I was never surprised, never taken off guard.  Well, Saturday morning the box exploded and the razor wielding tornado was unleashed.  The last several days I've been trying to "stay in my cubicle".  This is a phrase my girlfriend coined about 11 years ago when I was going through a rough time.  I stay in my cubicle, keep things simple, and wait for the wave to wash over me.  "Let the oceans dissolve away my past."

I think I may need a new cubicle.  Today someone mentioned my tornado and their involvement with this film and I almost started crying.

Part of me can't believe all the ways that this project has reached its tentacles into my life and reawakened wounds and family complications that I thought were long since forgotten.  The other part of me thinks, "Of course, what did you think would happen if you started digging up the past?"

I know I must sound crazy.  A few hours ago I was posting about how I finally feel excited to go back to Greenwood.  Now, I'm talking about tornadoes made of razor blades.  I guess this is the reality of this project for me.  Highs and lows.

On this next trip I'm not staying at the Flats.  I'm staying at a separate hotel.  I will literally have my own cubicle.  I think I'll need it.

Finally Getting Excited

I've written several posts about how challenging the June Greenwood trip was for me and how I feel a sense of dread when I think about the one that's coming up.  For the latter half of July I spent at least a few minutes each day trying to figure out how to tell the producer that I didn't think I needed to go on a second trip.  Then one day, with no warning, the production manager called to tell me that she was ready to purchase my ticket and that she just needed to confirm that I was traveling to and from Phoenix.

For the last couple of weeks I've been communicating (okay, complaining) about how I don't want to go back Greenwood to shoot more scenes.  So, much so that the producer expressed a concern that I may not get on the plane at all.  I don't want to be difficult and I don't want to be a problem for anyone so I vowed to him that, no matter what, I would get on the plane.  This was before all the craziness with my family unfolded over the weekend, two members of which still aren't speaking to me.  My father and I actually had the biggest fight on Saturday that we've had in 17 years.  This is hard, really hard.  

Many days the only thing keeping me from cancelling my plane ticket and refunding the cost of it to the filmmakers is that little promise I made to the producer.

But today, oh, today something wonderful happened.  It's like the clouds parted and I could once again feel the sun warming my skin.  I am starting to get excited.  I'm remembering why I started this in the first place, remembering some of the wonderful people I've met along the way, and remembering how much laughter I shared with our fun-loving, yet hardworking crew.  

Raymond, the director, asked me to write a piece about why I started this journey in the first place.  The last few days I've been remembering and trying to articulate the spark, the hope, and the connection I felt to Booker Wright four years ago when I first set out to find him.  Having a man like Booker Wright in my lineage is simply amazing.  It brings me awe to think about it.  But having a man like Booker Wright in history is equally amazing.  

People like him are rare and beautiful.  He had so much to lose and so little to gain when he told the NBC news crew how he really felt about his "relationships" with his white customers.  What he lost was realized immediately.  He was beaten so badly that he had to be hospitalized.  He also lost his job.  Some people say that he left his job because his customers refused to have him wait on them anymore.  Either way, his employment at Lusco's ended, after more than 20 years, because of his appearance in Frank De Felitta's film.  

What would be gained by being in the film was not fully realized within Booker's lifetime.  His voice was one of the countless courageous voices that helped to bring down an establishment of violence, fear, humiliation, and intimidation.  One by one, act by act, moment by moment black men and women put themselves at risk to collectively change the world.  

Thank you Booker Wright.  Thank you that I got to go to exceptional schools.  Thank you that it's illegal to discriminate against me because of the color of my skin.  Thank you that my two sons are growing up in a world that's full of hope and opportunity for them.

I look forward to returning to Greenwood to continue uncovering your story.  I am going to try, really, really, really hard to let you be human on this trip.  You deserve to be a man with flaws, secrets, and mistakes.  I know that on the last trip I fell apart at the slightest idea that you were less than perfect.  I'll try to bring more balance with me this time.  If you were perfect, then no one could imitate you.  Why would I speak out and help others or exercise boldness in my own life if those types of acts are only reserved for the perfect.

Change is not made by perfect people.  The world moves, grows, and is lead by those who, in spite of their imperfections, rise to the occasion anyway.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Word on the Street don't be interviewed for this movie...

The weirdest thing is happening.  The fillmmakers and I are going back to Greenwood to shoot some more scenes.  We have a list of over 40 people who we'd like to interview about Booker Wright and his restaurant/club called Booker's Place.  Almost every one on that list has at one time or another already agreed to be interviewed.  We (me, David, and a production coordinator) have spent the last couple of weeks contacting these people to pre-interview them and to arrange an exact time to sit down with them.

They're dropping like flies.  Don't get me wrong, many of the people who said they'd sit down with us are still planning to do just that.  For instance, GL agreed to meet with us, although after our call in July I'm not quite sure if he's going to give us much on Booker, but hopefully he can give a colorful account of McLaurin Street - the famous street where Booker's Place was located.  But Irene B., one of the eyewitnesses to the murder is back and forth about her willingness to participate.  Booker's lifelong companion is still unwilling to even let us scan photographs of him in her own home and so on and so on.

When we were there the last time there were a few sources we were having trouble reaching over the phone. So, the producer, his amazingly efficient production manager, one of the cameramen, and I spent half a day driving around in an SUV trying to find some of these people.  We did several "on the spot" interviews and the filmmakers got some great footage of me running around asking complete strangers how to find people, etc.

It looks like at least a few days this next trip may very well be in the same style.  I may need to pack fewer high heels and more flats.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Family Squared

Probably a few minutes after I wrote the previous post everything went haywire.  I won't get in to details, but some of my family members are starting to question the tone of the film. They're wrong in what they've heard, but their anger is sincere.  Lawyers were mentioned, someone hung up on me and I hung up on someone else.  People are really, really mad because they think this film will contain content that it simply will not.

It's midnight.  I want to write.  I need to write.  But I am exhausted.

I often try to remind myself why I started this in the first place.  Nothing was promised to me, just the opportunity to go on a journey in search of Booker Wright.  The filmmakers would use their resources and their time and influence to help me recreate a man who's been dead for 38 years.  That was the promise.  I, and my family, climbed on board.  Sometimes it's as if the feelings of excitement that we all had at the beginning of this journey are at the end of a rope that just never seems to end.  I pull and pull but all that I get is more rope.  The rope is coarse and thick, it cuts my hands.  I keep thinking back through the countless conversations, the interviews, the research, the people I've met.  How did we get from there to here?

Having people root around in your life, in your private memories, stirring up things and making remarks and comments about your life and your past is something else.  I am looking for the right word.  Is it painful?  Yes.  Does it produce a feeling of being out of control?  Yes.  Does it make me want to spend all day explaining and excusing every flaw, every misstep that my family members have made?  Yes.  Does it make me want to listen to slow, sad Pearl Jam songs in the dark?  Yes.

It's so easy to get focused on the discomfort of the journey.  I am holding to a hope with a death grip.  It's the hope of a completed film that makes my family members smile.  The ones who aren't speaking to me right now.  The ones who won't return my calls.  The ones who call me a liar.  The ones who clearly no longer trust me.  I have stated  my case as best I can.  I have gone to bat for David and Raymond.  Now, I think I need some room to breathe.

Every time I talk to certain family members they treat me like I'm trying to pull one over on them.  The truth is that I don't completely understand all of the choices the filmmakers are making.  Not because they haven't tried to explain them to me, but because I'm too close to the situation to see anything objectively.

There's this great movie that my oldest son loves about a little boy who's orphaned as a child and then grows up to be a wonderful scientist and inventor.  He changes the world.  The movie ends with one of Walt Disney's mottoes, "Keep moving forward."

That's my goal.  The second Greenwood trip is coming up soon.  As much as I'd like to bury my head in a hole and feel sorry for myself because everyone's mad at me, I can't.  I need to make this time extra meaningful and special for my kids because they're really going to miss me when I'm away.  And I need to gear up for the inevitable emotional drain that the upcoming trip will certainly be.

I hope that moving forward will prove to be the right move, because right now, it's the only one I've got.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Family has been the recurring theme for my week.  On Monday I had a conversation with Raymond DeFelitta about why I was so desperate to find Booker Wright in the first place.  He asked me to write a piece that would pull together how and why this journey began for me and where I am with the journey today.  The idea is to be able to use some of these pieces in voice over in the film to accurately and effectively portray my journey from beginning to end.  All week I've been mulling over what I need to write.  Yesterday I spent a couple of hours writing out my past.  I wrote about how and why I felt so lost in my family.  Much of it probably won't be relevant to the film.  It may or may not be useful for Ray to completely understand the genesis of my deep, lifelong loneliness, but it's there anyway.

Writing it all out was actually a little frightening.  In the life I have today I am somewhat together.  I rarely overreact, I can diffuse angry situations, I try to let my emotions settle before making important decisions, and I am somewhat steady. I'm very different from the little girl who grew up in the house on Tambor Road.  I love her, I would like to reach back and embrace her, but I would never, ever again want to be her.  She was so lost.  I'm not exactly sure how I was able to peel her away and grow into someone else.  It's the not knowing that frightens me.

What if I am somehow thrust back into that murky darkness?  I didn't leave a trail of breadcrumbs for myself.  There was no visible path to safety.  The only logical answer is that I made it out by the grace of God.  He lead me with chords of human kindness and he bound me with ties of love.  There were people along the trail of my past who literally saved my life without even knowing it.  They helped deliver to me the vital emotional nutrients that carried me out of the pain.  For brief moments in time, each of them were a member of the family of my heart.

On my first night in Greenwood with the film crew we did a Q&A with whites and blacks about race relations in their town.  There was a woman there who kept telling me that she knew my grandfather and that she really wanted to speak with me.  She left early so I didn't get to talk to her, but the production team got her phone number.  On my last night in Greenwood she spoke on the phone with David, the producer.  She mentioned, with inaccurate details, an extremely painful and ugly family secret that still brings great pain and humiliation to someone I dearly love.   She also went on to make some very strong accusations about Booker Wright.

The filmmakers plan to interview her on this next trip.

The producer keeps telling me that we're going on a fishing expedition.  We need to record (film) as much as we can so that when they get into the editing room they can make the movie they want to make.  They don't want to find themselves in the middle of editing a scene when they realize that they need one more soundbite to tell the story that evolved in front of them.  I have to say that I get it, but I just don't like it.  I hate that they want to interview people who, 38 years after he was murdered, are happy to tear down my grandfather.

There's another piece to this week's drama.  Someone else in my family did something terrible and criminal.  It's one of the worst things that any human being can do to another one. These acts have nothing to do with Booker Wright.  However, these acts did lead to the family member interacting in a strange and provocative way with Booker towards the end of his life.  I know this makes very little sense.  My mouth is covered with a family-made gag and my hands are tied neatly and lovingly behind my back.  Sorry, reader, I'm not allowed to let you in.

As you've probably guessed, the filmmakers want to explore and touch upon this piece of my family's history as well.  From coast to coast, my family is freaking out.

One of my family members is the sister of the man who committed the terrible criminal acts.  I get the impression that no one in her life, no one she interacts with on a daily basis, knows that she has a close blood relative who is capable of what her brother did all those years ago.  It's understandable why she wouldn't want to go on camera and talk about it today.

One of my aunts read me the riot act last night.  She no longer wants to be involved in the project.  If the film is meant to honor Booker why are we mentioning anything bad.  She believes that if the film acknowledges any of his shortcomings that those will be the only things people remember.  I could go on and on about how I tried to help her see this differently, but even remembering it exhausts me.

I honestly don't know what to do.  I'm in the middle and I feel conflicted.  Raymond and David are on one page while my family is on another.  My family actually wants creative control over what makes it into the film, but they don't understand filmmaking or how to craft a compelling story.  They can't wrap their minds around the possibility that Booker can still shine even if his shortcomings are acknowledged.  They feel out of control.  So do I.

All that I have to hold on to is my trust in Raymond and David.  Luckily, I am convinced that Booker will shine once all is said and done.  I'm quite confident that when my family sees the finished film that they'll understand the filmmakers methods and will feel proud of the product.  I just have to get them to the finish line.  

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Going Back

The filmmakers want photographs of me and images of our family from my childhood years.  For the last several weeks I've been collecting photos from aunts, uncles, and my parents.  Looking at them brings back a great flood of memories that I really don't want in my head.

In real life I'm a terrible swimmer.  If I'm in a lap pool swimming next to the wall and wearing a nose guard and flippers there's a 10% chance that I'll make it all the way across.  But in my soul I'm an expert swimmer.  I swim away from all the reasons I ever needed to find Booker Wright.  I swim hard against the current, away from the raging waterfall. I'm so good at this.  I always, always make it safely back to land.

I have a sense of foreboding about this second Greenwood trip.  I thought the emotions from the first trip were behind me.  I thought I'd come to a new perspective about this work and that I was ready for the next chapter.  But I don't feel any of those things.  Instead of swimming away from waterfall, it feels as though I'm swimming right into it.

Monday, August 1, 2011

I'm Blocked

I've promised family and friends that I'll send them a link to this blog.  Every time someone asks me where the link is I tell them that there are historical posts missing that need to be there in order for the blog to make sense.  What are those posts?  I haven't posted about what actually happened when I was making the film.  I haven't said..."this morning we went here, we interviewed so and so, etc."

Here's the deal, I don't know if I can write those posts.  Some of them are partially written and I have some sparse notes from those days.  But honestly, they're a weird fog to me.  Usually if I can't face something I write my way through it.  This is me hoping that I can deliver the "historical posts" that this blog needs by being honest with myself about why I can't write them in the first place.

I loved and I hated making this movie.  It made me think a lot about my life and the choices I've made with it.  Just a little background.  We stayed at this place called Tallahatchie Flats.  The Flats are basically (don't quote me on this) reclaimed slave shacks that have been outfitted with toilets and minimal air conditioning.  The filmmakers rented out all except for one Flat, which was empty for most of our stay.  The Flats are in the middle of nowhere.  When you look out from the porch you see miles and miles of green.  Behind the Flats there's a lake, on the other side of which are a gathering of Mississippi's amazingly tall, sheltering trees.

So, we were in a bubble.

Making this film was like going to grown up summer camp.  I went there with a plan to remember who I am, to hold on to my convictions, and to steal moments alone so that I could get centered and recharge.  None of that happened.  Every time I think back about my time there I want to cringe.

I love being in control.  At home I handle all the finances, plan the vacations, our retirement, home school my kids, coordinate co-ops, manage a duplex, cook almost every meal from scratch, and lead a ministry at my church.  I can get things done and I can take care of myself.  Or so I thought.

When I was in Mississippi I felt very out of control.  I was on camera a lot, probably more than I'd anticipated.  I had real, emotion filled moments on camera.  I'd try to forget the camera was there, but sometimes I just couldn't. I felt uncomfortable having those raw moments recorded.  I was afraid that I would say something that was true in the heat of the moment, but that I would've articulated differently after some contemplation.

Another thing that I felt out of control about was the people.  I spent way too much time with strangers.  I shared way too many thoughts with strangers.  I should've been journaling more, calling home more.  Whenever I think about the people involved with the film I feel overexposed, misunderstood and like I want to run and hide.  If I never see them again and never see this film, I think I'd be just fine.  Actually, I know I'd be fine.  I keep hoping that they run out of money and aren't able to finish....maybe I can pretend this whole thing never happened.

I know it sounds odd.  Doesn't everybody want to make a movie?  No, everyone doesn't want to make a movie.  And if anyone asks you if you want to make one then you run and hide under a rock.  Pretend to have Terrets Syndrome, but for the love of all that's good and pure, do not sign a deal memo, do not pass go, and do not get on that plane.

I wish I'd kept my butt at home.  I feel like I was so naive.

Have I expunged it all?  Can I write those posts?  I don't know...I'll find out later, first I need to make spaghetti and meatballs from scratch.  Because that's something that I can do.