Below is something Jack Grapes, LA Writer and Teacher Beyond Measure, sent in an email to his cronies near and far. Read every word reader. Have good days! esther

Hi,What a wonderful article in yesterday’s (Tuesday’s) TIMES, Calendar section, about KarenMoncrieff, who was part of the Collective a few years back. She turnedsome of her “self-indulgent” journal entries into her first featurefilm titled “Blue Car,” — about a troubled young woman who enters apoetry contest. The film was purchased in 2003 at Sundance and exitedthe festival as one of the year’s so-called buzz items. The film wenton to garner numerous positive reviews. The article in yesterday TIMESis about her second feature, “The Dead Girl,” which she again wroteand direceted. It premiered last month as part of AFI Fest, and ismade up of five vignettes, [to quote the Times reviewer] “each a delicately heartbreaking portrait ofquiet resolve and small steps forward as it follows largelydisconnected characters whose lives are all in some way catalyzed bythe muder of a drug-addicted prostitute.” The film stars ToniCollette, Brittany Murphy, Mary Beth Hurt, James Franco, etc. Thefilm opens this Friday and [again, to quote the reviewer] “has arelentless consistency from story to story, a somber, death-stainedlook at lives in stasis, in desperate need of new directions, thoughit is leavened by slight slivers of hope. For her part, Moncriefacknowledges that titling the film THE DEAD GIRL serves as a form oftruth-in-advertising and that those uninterested in the occasionallydisturbing subject matter might be better served elsewhere.”Karen is quoted in the article about realizing that films that areemotionally difficult [check out THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS if you wantto see a film that even though you know has a happy ending coming, isstill unbearable to watch, though the pay-off is wonderful] may not beeveryone’s cup of tea. She says, “I feel like I’m making films forpeople who are like me, who like to go to movies and be shaken up,literally taken by the throat and shaken up for an hour and a half.And moved and forced to look at things that are ugly, forced tocontemplate the darkest moments any of us can imagine.””Somebody asked me,” [she continues in the article], “if it would bebetter if the movie was ‘uplifting.’ And I said, ‘Well, to me this isuplifting.’ To me, what’s depressing is to see lies-on-screen, to seelives sugar-coated, a fake version of life as I know it or feel it.”Anything less than that and I’d feel like I hadn’t done my job.”There are other people who are much better at shining a light onwhat’s funny or what’s sweet. Maybe my calling is to feel deeply someaspects of human pain and grief. People making choices, struggling todo better and change, to me is uplifting.”I’m so glad to see Karen’s work getting such good notice. She’s awonderful writer who doesn’t flinch from what’s true. There’s aassumption that if you want to write something uplifting, it can’thave sadness or grief or loss in it, but the fact is, the best happyfilms chronicle a character’s struggle to overcome obstacles, and noone ever talks about seeing a film with a “happy beginning,” it’salways about the ending, the “happy ending,” like, say, PURSUIT OFHAPPYNESS, or a film like ANNA, with a “tragic ending.” But they allbegin with something difficult, both an emotional and a situationalstruggle that the protagonist finds herself in. And if you can’t learnto convey and evoke that struggle, no one’s going to relate, no one’sgoing to stick around for the ending, whether it’s happy or not. It’salways about the deep voice and the transformation line. The beststories are stories that you know deeply in your own heart, and thatmeans you have to be willing to acknowledge the truth about the humancondition, that we’ve all struggled through both emotional andsituational difficulty, and it’s how we come through that canshape the dramatic structure of whatever we write about. Readers andaudience can smell the fake, the so-called “good-writing” that is allabout writing and nothing about truth, human truth. Somehow, inschool, your teachers admonished you against writing about yourself,about using the infamous “I” and about the fact that if you’re a realwriter you make stuff up, when in fact, most great writing is about”I” and is about what the author has experienced. And when it is madeup, what is not made up is the inner emotional truth, which the authorhas most likely experienced. I may be writing about someone else, butI sure as hell know what it feels like to have your heart broken inlove. If I can’t bring that truth to myself as a writer, how the hellam I going to bring it to my character? But so many of us continue tofeel self-conscious about writing about the self, or using the truthof the self to create our stories and our characters, because some 8thgrade teacher chided us about using the dreaded “I” word, anddiscouraged us from writing about ourselves, as if, when all is saidand done, we are ever writing about anything else.My favorite cartoon is the young woman curled up on the couch writinga letter on a notepad. The caption reads: “Dear Mom and Dad, Thanks for thehappy childhood. You’ve destroyed any chance I had of becoming awriter.” The joke, of course, is that no one has had a happychildhood. Just some of us had childhoods happier than others, but allchildhoods are filled with heartbreak and struggle and sadness andloss. As parents, we try to shield our kids from that, but it’s notpossible. Whether we like it or not, they will grow up with all thetools necessary to become writers, to become artists, provided we’vetaught them to be willing to accept the losses and the griefs, tolearn to look inward and bring those truths out of themselves in theprocess of making art. And if by some chance our parents didn’t teachus that, then we had better learn to do it ourselves, or whatever itis we will write might please our 8th grade teacher, but it will notsell a copy to anyone looking to be touched by art.Hope you’re having a good holiday, and here’s to a wonderful,creative, fulfilling new year.jack

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