Thursday, 13 March 2014

An Intimate Look at Writing Samsara - A Guest Blog By James Ninness

I wrote the first draft of SAMSARA almost a decade ago. After a six to seven month stint in Tucson, Arizona, I moved to Orange County to live with my friend, Brett.

Brett happened to have a house full of creative-types who went to school with him at Chapman, a rather popular film school. There were actors and directors and writers and editors - eight or nine of us in total, all living under one roof. At any given time there were plays, films, television pilots and/or writing meetings happening in or around the house. It was a place of great creative juju.

Up to that point, I had written only short stories and poetry (most of it terrible), but the environment pushed me to try my hand at screenplays. One of the first I put out was a reimagining of a poem I wrote that dealt with endless cycles. In the poem, a character wakes up and lives the same day over and over without knowing it, like Groundhog Day without the comedy. The screenplay, however, featured five characters whose stories interlinked into a single, never-ending story that picked up where it ended, and could potentially run forever.

I only shared the screenplay with three people. Of them, one had anything nice to say about it. I hid the screenplay deep in the recesses of my hard drive and moved on with life.

I’m going to try not to spoil anything here, but in SAMSARA there are four characters who make all of their decisions based on fear: a fear of hurting, a fear of loneliness, a fear of failing, and a fear of rejection. I continue to struggle with each one of these fears on a daily basis - I think a lot of people do - but I don’t think I suffered under the weight of these fears more at any point in my life than I did in Tucson.

I moved from Tucson from San Diego after a brutal break-up. I managed to secure a job at a local coffee shop, a small studio apartment across the street from said cafĂ©, and a six-hour ride out there (I didn’t own a car at the time). My entire period in Tucson can be summed up as a series of bad decisions. Sex. Drugs. Alcohol. I went from 210 pounds to 150. It was the single most self-destructive period of my life.

I hit bottom. Hitting bottom was exactly what I needed.

When I finally left Arizona, it was only because I had no money left to pay rent and was, quite literally, about to be homeless; that’s not an exaggeration: I was holding an intent-to-evict notice on my patio, thinking about nearby places I might be able to squat. As if on queue, two weeks before I was told I had to leave the apartment, I got an out-of-nowhere phone call from Brett asking if I’d be interested in taking a to-be-empty room in his house. Serendipity.

After I arrived in Orange I stopped using drugs altogether and vowed off women, convinced that the monks had it right. A few months in I met my now-wife. She made me want to go back to school, so I did. I got my degree and started climbing out of the social shit-hole I had dug for myself. Here I am, several years later, married, the father of two beautiful girls, writing and working and loving my life.

So what made me bring back SAMSARA? One of the people I met in Tucson sent me a correspondence several months ago. In it they haphazardly filled me in on the details of their life before eventually asking me for money. Apparently this person became a stripper* when I left, then a drug addict, and then a prostitute. I’m not sure where they’re at now… I wrote back to them but have not received a reply.

I’m not ashamed to say that I cried after reading their email.

The SAMSARA screenplay was dusted off, transformed from a short film to a comic book, and eventually produced into what you can now find on Amazon.

I got out of my rut. Thanks to Brett, my wife, two friends from Tucson, and a few of the people I met in Orange County, I was able to find scrape my way out of what could have been my demise. Not everybody gets to do that.

SAMSARA was written for the people who need an immediate perspective shift. It can be hard to see our lives from the outside looking in. I still think it’s normal to fear hurting, loneliness, failing, and rejection. I do not, however, believe it is possible to escape our cycle of suffering when we let those fears guide our decision-making process. It’s terrifyingly simple to get caught up in a cycle of suck.

A little perspective can be emancipating.

*I know that friend’s journey was his or her own and this should in no way be read as an indictment of strippers as a profession leading to drug-addicted prostitutes.

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