From the devastating loss of a loved one, to job loss and medical issues in the time of Coronavirus, I have personally dealt with trauma and loss from many angles. Despite all that, people around me always compliment me on my sunny attitude and ability to get up when I’m knocked down. I want to help you use your struggles as a means of unleashing your creative power not only as a way of healing yourself, but as fuel for your creative career.
My partner and immortal love, a highly gifted musician and singer, a multi-instrumentalist, and a person of color, died suddenly. We’d lived very happily together for twelve years. He was a writer too, and sometimes we played music or we sang together. He composed songs just for me.
When he died, I couldn’t eat, sleep, write, or enjoy anything. I started smoking heavily again to calm myself. I thought it would stop me from losing my mind. But of course, it didn’t work. I did lose my mind. I became literally crazy from insomnia and grief.
My cousin came up with the idea to send me to North Africa for a long stay to process my sadness and grief, and be inspired anew. He chose a lovely apartment in Tunisia for me.
Tunisia is a former French colony, which doesn’t mean that everyone automatically speaks French. Only the educated classes do. But for me it was perfect. I could speak French fluently, and I’m a polyglot anyway. Learning a new language is easy for me.
I bought a small book of Arabic phrases and vocabulary. Every morning, the people from the supermarket next door were the first victims of my new self-taught vocabulary. I hope they enjoyed my efforts. I always told them something funny like, ‘I do not know’, ‘I do not know, either’ or ‘I do not have time for you’ in Arabic. I always had their laughter on my side.
At the countryside with part of my “substitution family”
When I told them I was a screenwriter, they were incredibly pleased because writers are traditionally held in high renown in Tunisia, because of their reverence for French literature. As it turned out, the owner had two sons, one of whom was a photographer, who did some filmmaking, too.
My grief was sometimes so extreme that I could not be alone. I sat with them many times. They made me laugh so hard that my belly hurt. Never in my life have I experienced so much authentic love from strangers, who treated me like a family member.
So I promised my lovely neighbors to change the bad image the world often has about Tunisia - that Muslims from there are either criminals or terrorists. An internet cafe was only two minutes away. One of the employees, Khadija, became my new best friend. I used her beautiful name later for my writing. I began a short script about my exciting experiences, mixing it up with a story about a badass Arabic woman who escapes an abusive criminal boss, to flee to Europe to get a cure for her ill little sister, who has the name Khadija.
My point is that you can use periods of grief and loss as spurs for your creative energies. In Tunisia, I connected meaningfully with the kind people around me, listened to their stories, absorbed their humor. I could write it because I could feel it.
Me with Khadija at the Internet Cafe in Tunisia
When I came home, I continued my work on that script, but something was lacking. I felt I’d lost my family for a second time when I left Tunisia and the friends I made there. One day, I went to the library and encountered a guy I’d known for many years, though we’d only ever made small talk. We started chatting and he asked me if I had time for a coffee. I said yes, and we went to a nice café not far away from the library.
Later, I asked him if he wanted to join me for dinner at my home, he agreed, and never left! By the end of 2019, we were engaged, and later, in 2020, married. We had our marriage in the beautiful, famous blue Mosque here in Hamburg, Germany just two months ago.
Despite the loss of my first partner, I never closed my heart and mind to the possibility of love - nor should you. Love is what connects us and is in itself a creative springboard for the greatest expressions of art, poetry, screenplays, and novels. In order to experience love you must embrace grief. It’s good to recognize that both these powerful emotions can be cathartic.
The Blue Mosque in Hamberg, Germany
While I continued with my script, I was on social media more than ever before. In March, I met a horror writer from Las Vegas who wanted to turn his novel into a script. We started chatting about this. Despite offers from other people, he wanted me to be the one to do this amazing work. I love to adapt, I must confess. I really love it so much.
We made a deal that when I delivered my first ten pages for his script, he would pay me as agreed. And then Coronavirus hit. The guy lost his well-paid day job (in a casino), and I lost the writing gig.
Me and a friend in a traditional costume in Tunisia
Three months ago, I had an appointment with a dentist. I was suffering from toothache. He examined me and found out that an untreated cyst had deeply infected my whole lower jaw. I had to have an emergency operation because the infection had spread and damaged my heart.
This goes to show that drama is not just for stage and screen! It can, however, become the kernel of a new piece of work, writing it down, even just in a journal or daily diary (which is how many writers start) is a useful way of dealing with trauma.
When the pandemic lost me my keenly anticipated writing gig, I told a film composer friend of mine that it had always been my dream to teach screenwriting. “Why not give it a try now?” he said.
I also decided to entertain my film business tribe with some cool music. In the nineties, I had been a DJ at private parties, so I decided to go remote and restart it on Facebook. Many have reached out to me to say thank you for the music. Among them was a young director from Los Angeles who also writes screenplays. We chatted and I told him I teach screenwriting. He became my very first screenwriting student.
Although I didn’t find a new well-paid job, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I love teaching. And I have confidence in the universe. It is always in flux. Time cannot stand still.
Things do get bad, but they do also get better. Have faith in that, take courage; above all use your life as inspiration.
Christina Patjens is a former pharmacist, has started a private education in screenwriting from 2012 to 2016 at Marie Amsler, a Swiss screenwriter specialized in linear drama who has worked for Bavarian Television and ARTE. She has finished a script adaptation for a horror short. She has written; a short script dramedy, short script thriller, short script crime-detective. A feature crime-detective is in development. She works since May 2020 as a screenwriting teacher and edits, revises, and proofreads comics and graphic novels. She has translated some poems in English, French, and Spanish. She's a published author in various anthologies with poems, prose and short stories, and an artist for photograms, screenprint, and object collages.
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