Despite Oliver Stone's writing advice to keep butt in chair, I can't stand it any longer. I've been working on this screenplay for too long. It's become my Monster in a Box. So to get outside the box, I need more coffee; at least that's my theory. Act Two hell is easier to tolerate with lots of creamy java coursing through my veins. Ironically, it also means I don't stand a chance of sitting in any chair long enough to peck out more than a few words.
So my ass is hightailing it to my local café, the Riverdale Perk, where they serve some good blends and the art on the walls soothes my angst. Last month those walls displayed 46 images of life as seen through my lens - a photo show I began putting together a few months earlier partly as an excuse to avoid navigating the treacherous territory of Act Two.
Just like the Fringe play I was in for eight shows in July. Both projects kept my butt determinedly out of the chair. Of course, these artistic adventures should serve to enhance my writing, and they do - up to the point where they keep me from it completely. Much like the coffee but with a higher level of nervousness involved.
A neighbour approaches as I momentarily daydream into the froth of my caffe latte to suggest that I write a script about the Bain Co-op, where we both live. "Like Coronation Street," she says. The profuse amount of gossip one hears on co-op stoops gives many residents this soap opera association. That and the architecture.
The Tudor-style townhouses were designed by architect Eden Smith in 1913 and funded by some of the city's philanthropists, wealthy businessmen and politicians who made up the Toronto Housing Authority. These gents were greatly influenced by the Garden City Movement then popular in England, a response to the overcrowded conditions of working-class housing during the industrial revolution. Its key concept was the incorporation of green space into urban areas through proper site planning.
So the co-op (which only became a co-op in the late 70s) has 260 units distributed around courtyards where children can play and flowers and vegetables can grow. With approximately 750 people on 5 acres of land, the site didn't entirely remedy the problem of overcrowding, because ultimately there just isn't enough space for everyone and their interests. I don't know about back in the early 1900s, but nowadays disputes regularly break out in the community between avid gardeners and earnest parents.
Last year one of my gardening-crazed childless neighbours came rushing out of her unit when the ball my sons were kicking about went into the garden. "You can have a civilized life," she yelled, "or you can have football!" I'm no footballer, but that day I was heard to intone: "Bring on the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders!" Fanatic green thumbs make me as edgy as Bible-thumpers.
I head home from the café. Caffeine energy dictates that I do the laundry. Now. Squinting up into the sky as if I might find writerly inspiration there, my eyes settle instead on a mysterious mirror fastened to the wall of the building on my left.
What's particularly perplexing about this mirror is that it's on the second storey and therefore of no use for combing your hair. For some time now I've wondered what this elevated reflector could possibly be for. Vain pigeons is all I've come up with.
Then I see Terry, the co-op's radiator specialist. He tells me that back when coal was used to heat the units, the boiler room guy could just step out of the boiler room doors and find the smoke stack, which is located on the other side of the building, in the mirror. If the coal grind wasn't just right, the stack emitted small particles of coal, creating billows of black smoke, and freshly-washed laundry on the line quickly became dirty laundry again. So if he didn't want a bunch of disgruntled housewives on his back, he had to change the grind pronto.
Today, of course, one does not see smoke - oil replaced coal in the 60s, and then gas replaced oil in the 80s. I move to the spot where the guy would have stood years ago to see the top of the stack, and I have a vision of the sleazy antagonist in my screenplay climbing up there in an attempt to outwit my heroine.
I take a walk, passing through one of the two medieval-looking archways on the south side of the co-op. Here I envision my heroine running through the passage, moonlight catching her shiny mane, that same evil man pursuing her.
I emerge into the lush gardens of the co-op proper. Magnificent blooms everywhere: morning glories, sunflowers, cosmos. Back at the 'mat, I throw the laundry into the dryer, ruminating on the coal-blackened sheets of yesteryear. I think about guzzling more coffee but feel the monster calling. Dutifully, I go home to my chair. Butt firmly planted, I write.