by Lori Twichell*
You might have clicked on this link expecting a review of the movie. I saw the movie in December and since then, I have been trying to sort through a review in my head. I knew I wanted to write something, but I realized that I don’t want to talk about the script and the music and the costumes. So I decided to just share from the heart. Be warned. It’s long. It rambles a little. If you don’t make it to the end, no hard feelings. I just needed to do this.
I went to go see The Greatest Showman when it had only been out for a week. I was already hearing fabulous buzz about it through my friends and social media, but I had studiously avoided reviews, extras, and behind the scenes clips. I wanted to go into this screening completely uncluttered and clean. No pre-conceived notions.
The lights went down and a personal message played from director Michael Gracey and Hugh Jackman thanking us for coming to the film. I’ve spent years in this business telling people that the personal touch makes all the difference and in this case, it definitely worked. Both of my teenage daughters gave little excited squeals and applauded at the end of the message. I felt it too. The heart and passion from both Gracey and Jackman was plain on the screen in that moment. Nice touch.
The theater went dark and the movie started.
I was entranced in the first 20 seconds. Jackman had me in the palm of his hand. My heart was thrumming along with the beat of the score and I knew that I was ready to go wherever he was going to take me. I admit it. I was smitten.
And then, sitting there in the darkness of a movie theater, the unexpected happened. It wasn’t P.T. Barnum on the screen. It was me. I was on that screen.
Let me back up a bit. From my earliest memories, I knew that I was just a little bit different. Not outwardly and not in a scary sort of way. But I never really saw the world the same way that others did. I was an only child. My parents both worked long hours, so I was often alone. Books were my best friends. I could carry them everywhere with me and in return, they took me on the best adventures. This escape eventually grew to stories playing out on television and in the movies. In my play, Barbie fell in love with Han Solo (who wouldn’t?) and R2D2 was their butler. Wonder Woman traveled to Battlestar Galactica in her invisible jet and helped them find a home. And with these fictional friends, I wasn’t quite so alone in the world. My mind was constantly running through possibilities. Stories. Adventures.
Growing up, the constant refrain from the adults around me was that I lived in a fantasy world. I couldn’t come to reality. I’d never make anything of myself because I couldn’t understand how the world works. I was over the top. Too intense. Too passionate. I thought too much. My conclusions about these statments became that I was too much.
Every night I lie in bed
The brightest colors fill my head
A million dreams are keeping me awake
A million dreams, a million dreams
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all it’s gonna take
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make
And there it was. I was stunned.
I studied writing in college. I earned two degrees. (Both Creative and Technical writing – so I had something to fall back on. I was repeatedly cautioned that the creative side would inveitably fail. If I wasn’t cautious, I would indeed, become a starving, broken artist.) My first jobs in radio started to shed some light on the idea that maybe I could do something with that brain. That creativity I had was different. And maybe, just maybe, that difference was okay.
Fast forward a few years and people began to seek me out for that creativity. I started a marketing company that specialized in doing the unusual. I don’t follow other people’s plans and I didn’t with my company, Beyond the Buzz. I do the different. The unusual. I was at the cusp of viral marketing before it was even a term. I got to work with actors, and filmmakers and other creatives.
I even wrote a movie. Now, I’d been writing for years and been paid to write television commercials, radio promotions, print. I’d script doctored, collaborated and worked on both film and television projects for years. I’d even wrote several plays that had been produced. But this was my first solo gig writing a movie. It was just me. Lead writer. Lead Creative. And that movie got produced. Do you know how rare that is? It went into production shortly after I finished the script. Seriously, in my world that does not normally happen.
Then, just two weeks after filming wrapped, I was diagnosed with cancer. Really? Not just your every day cancer that you hear either. It was a really weird kind of cancer – in my tongue. I didn’t smoke or drink. I was overweight but active and healthy. Everyone in my life was stunned. Even my doctors were surprised. (It’s wonderful to hear a shocked doctor say, “Why, you’re completely healthy other than the cancer.”) And I had to have part of my tongue and the floor of mouth removed. I had 8 surgeries in just around 11 weeks. I couldn’t physically speak or even make sounds for about nine months. I didn’t eat anything at all for over a year. I was, quite literally, silenced. But inside that silent world, my brain just kept rolling with ideas. It seemed cruel. My wrist didn’t work (they used my wrist to rebuild my tongue) so I couldn’t type and I quite obviously couldn’t speak. All of those ideas just bottled up inside my head.
My business partner called me in the middle of my treatments. He knew I couldn’t talk, so he told me just to listen. He’d had a meeting and he needed a script. He knew I was in the middle of cancer hell, but he told me that no one else could write the script he needed for this project. He was right. The story unfolded in my brain in living color. I couldn’t stop myself. I typed the script with one hand between radiation and chemo treatments. And I breathed a little easier. My body was messed up. Broken. But my brain was still in there. I hadn’t lost that part of me.
After months of surgeries and hospitalizations and treatments, I got the all clear from my doctor to go back to work. I came back to a quiet, dusty business. I work for myself. An entrepreneur. There was no one else to pick up the workload during my illness. That’s something no one tells you – when you work from home, you don’t get sick days. My clients had all moved to other companies. Many were still friends and encouraged me through my journey, but they needed work that I couldn’t give them. My website was out of date. There were new viral trends and new social media outlets to learn. I was woefully out of touch. I still couldn’t speak clearly so no phone calls. I was sporting a trach and very large raw scars so no video conferences. Typing was one handed at best. Things in my business felt rusty and broken. I felt rusty and broken. I wondered if I’d ever get back to the momentum I’d had before my diagnosis.
Fast forward again and I’m sitting in the movie theater with tears streaming down my face.
I see it in your eyes
You believe that lie
That you need to hide your face
Afraid to step outside
So you lock the door
But don’t you stay that way
When the world becomes a fantasy
And you’re more than you could ever be
‘Cause you’re dreaming with your eyes wide open
And you know you can’t go back again
To the world that you were living in
‘Cause you’re dreaming with your eyes wide open
So, come alive!
In the past year, I’ve been undergoing another new journey of discovery. Learning who I am and what I need to be at this stage in my life has been powerful. Enlightening. Scary. And there’s some light breaking through.
By the time Keala Settle stormed the screen with This Is Me, I was already a mess.
I am not a stranger to the dark
“Hide away”, they say
“‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts”
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
“Run away”, they say
“No one’ll love you as you are”
But I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me
After seeing the movie, I went home and devoured everything I could find. Videos. Interviews. Behind the scenes. I even ordered the soundtrack before I left the movie theater. Yeah. I had it bad. I was head over heels in love with this film. One of the interviews I watched explained that Jackman had worked for over seven years to get this movie made and even that touched me. It’s been four years since my diagnosis. The script I wrote during chemo is still out there. It’s still alive. Four years. And yet meetings are still happening. I am getting phone calls about it regularly. People are still interested. A lot of those around me have tried to make me see that this far along, it probably won’t get made. Maybe it won’t. I don’t know. But if it takes Hugh Jackman seven years to get a film this beautiful made, then I’ve still got time. And a lot of hope. (There’s a reason I refer to myself as the obnoxious optimist.) Listen, even if it doesn’t ever get made, writing the script has gotten me through some incredibly difficult moments of my life. It was therapeutic for me. It was good. It IS good.
I am the teeniest, tiniest little cog in this industry. I have no illusions about the size of my role in this business. Hugh Jackman has no idea who I am and he probably never will. But I want to thank him for making this movie. For crafting a beautiful dream and sharing it. For not giving up.
As for me, I’m paid to write. To create. Every day. I am a working, professional writer. I’ve even added professional speaker to my resume. (Really? Doctors have said they didn’t know if I would ever speak again and now I get paid to speak to people? God is too cool in the way He works things out.)
And you know what I’ve learned? I’m not too much. I’m not too passionate. I’m not too intense.
I am brave.
I am bruised.
I am who I’m meant to be.
This is Me.
Lori Twichell is the owner of Beyond the Buzz Marketing, Fiction Addict and Radiant Lit. She is a screenwriter, speaker, and she homeschools her three kids. You can catch up with Lori and find out what she’s doing at her website, www.loritwichell.com.