I Interview My Favorite Writing Teacher – Terrie Silverman

For the past ten weeks, I’ve taken a storytelling workshop by Terrie Silverman of CreativeRites.com. She’s the most inspiring writing teacher I’ve known.

Luke: “When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?”

Terrie: “An actress. When I was five years old, and I saw Mary Poppins, that was it. I wanted to act, be English, and to fly.”

Luke: “Where did you grow up?”

Terrie, an only child: Every hot climate because my mother’s from Brooklyn. She divorced my father when I was an infant. He lived in Miami.

“I was born in Miami. Scottsdale. Chula Vista. And here (since ninth grade).”

Luke: “How encouraged were you to follow your dreams?”

Terrie: “My mother at an early age, I do credit her for introducing me to the arts, although try taking an eight-year old to the Old Globe Theatre to see Julius Caesar, I tried so hard to understand I just went unconscious.

“I took ballet. I was always in plays in school. The biggest thing I learned was that I would see this thing happen to my mother every Sunday night. I didn’t know the word depression but I thought it was connected to Monday morning. I learned you have to work your whole life. You better do something you love. My whole life, I’ve chosen art.”

Luke: “What did your mom do?”

Terrie: “She was a second grade teacher until she got burned out. Then she became a school psychologist, but she always wanted to be a writer.”

Luke: “What did she most want for you?”

Terrie: “To clean my room!

“To be fulfilled. To do what I love.”

“I wish I would’ve gotten guidance. I wish someone would’ve told me that it matters where you go to school. That your grades matter. I didn’t get any guidance. I didn’t get any pressure.”

Luke: “Was there any year of your childhood that was most significant?”

Terrie: “It seems that all my memories, everything that ever happened, a most exciting and tragic time, was when I was 14 and moved here to LA. My father had been ill with cancer. I knew he was going to die and so I was waiting. I was starting ninth grade [at Venice High School]. He died days before ninth grade started.

“I was the new kid in school. I always felt like a martian, being Jewish, having a divorced parent, no brothers and sisters. I though this is going to be make me more weird. Even though I adored my father, I didn’t want to tell anyone. I found that all I had to say when anyone asked about my father was, ‘They’re divorced’ and then no more questions.

“At the same time, I met this great group. And they all loved the Beatles. This was the seventies but they pretended it was the sixties and they’d sing Beatles songs at lunch. I thought, I’m not going to make myself like the Beatles just to fit in. I’d tried to do that the previous summer with Chicago with my summer best friends and I could not make myself like Chicago.

“The girl who ended up being my best friend [Liz]. One day she brought over some Beatle records. She put on the Red Album and my ears opened up and all of a sudden I could hear the bass line and the melody line and that was it. I just fell in love with the Beatles.

“I had this great group. It was the funnest time of my life. The most social time at such a pivotal age. Then Liz and I both loved Allen and then Allen picked Liz. I would always cry about that. Then I’d come home and I had pictures of the Beatles and Paul McCartney all over my room. And I’d tell Paul about Allen.

“I knew that if I could make myself older and go back in time, Paul would love me. As an only child, it was so easy to pretend.

“It was such an exciting time, even though I cried a lot.

“Liz and Allen noticed that I never talked about my father. Allen thought my father was in prison, that he was a convict, that he was in prison for murder.

“On the last day of school, we decided we would tell each other our worst secrets. So we sat on my rainbow comforter in my bedroom. Liz told me that her father dropped acid. Then I told them my father had died.”

“I adored my father. I just wanted to get to know him. I always thought of him as my prince. I could only see him summers. I’d spend all year looking forward to seeing him.”

“My parents never said one bad word about each other.”

Terrie got her BA in Film/TV from Cal-State Northridge and her MFA in Writing from USC.

Luke: “Was there a moment in your life when you realized that your life would be about writing?”

Terrie: “It’s ironic because all through school, I was paralyzed when I tried to write. It made me feel so awful. I’d get stuck. I’d cross out all the ideas I had. So many reports I didn’t turn in. In college, Mary Newton wrote all my college papers. I did the research, we’d do the research together, but I’d get so blocked. Then I’d eat so many donuts I thought I would die and then I didn’t write at all.

“It wasn’t until I sat in on a really brilliant playwriting teacher named Dennis Clontz. He’s had plays produced across the country. I decided one day that I would try the writing assignment he was giving. So I tried. And I wrote a half-baked sketch. Didn’t want to finish it. I was about to crinkle it up and throw it in the trash and he made me read what I had. And then he said, isn’t that interesting? He found something.

“At that moment, I realized all I had to do was try. I didn’t have to be perfect.

“He took me under my wing. He changed my life. He was Annie Sullivan to my Helen Keller. He helped me get out what was in my head. I had no idea I could write.

“Meanwhile, I had a horribly traumatic acting experience. I was in a fascist comedy troupe and they kicked me out, even though they wanted me to keep writing for them. I thought, I’m never going to get on stage again. If I don’t do something creative, I’m gonna die. And that’s when I went to Dennis. He said, we’d love to have you in our playwriting program. Go write a play. I cobbled something together in a week. And all the actors came up to me wanting me to write for them. I was stunned.

“Writing became the focus of my life, without donuts. I ended up going to grad school. I was like the crippled girl getting to work. I got straight As at grad school.”

Our conversation wanders.

Luke: “Did you ever feel like there were parts of life that you wanted to be in but were closed off to you?”

Terrie: “Having unconventional looks, not looking WASPy, or Euro-centric, yeah, I was always really aware of that. Nobody on TV or in movies ever looked like me. Just being conscious of what beauty looks like and not having it look like me. That’s a gender issue.”

Luke: “What movie star do you look like?”

Terrie: “Nobody! You tell me.”

I can’t.

Luke: “How big a deal was that in your teens and twenties?”

Terrie: “It goes way way way earlier than that. Little girls just want to be pretty and then you just see this is how you are supposed to look, pretty. I looked nothing like that. Blonde hair. Small nose. I am the antithesis of what you see on TV.”

Luke: “Was that like ten out of ten big deal for you as a child?”

Terrie: “Yes.”

Luke: “You can’t overstate how big a deal that was for you as a child.”

Terrie: “Yeah. You get pegged really early about whether you are pretty or not. Then you’re really conscious of what the pretty girls have. And yes, now I find out that they had eating disorders or abuse at home, blah, blah, but you don’t know that as a kid. You just look at them and think they have it and everyone loves them.”

Luke: “Where were you in the social pecking order?”

Terrie: “I was not at all popular. It was awful. I auditioned for flag girls or the drill team and I did not get in. In 11th grade, there was this girls society thing and I tried out for that. Didn’t get in. There was the Red Ladies, this Senior thing. It sounds ridiculous. Grease was filmed at my high school. The Red Ladies was this Senior thing. I kept trying.

“With the Red Ladies, they all interviewed you. It was very much like the Inquisition. I was so naive then. When they asked me what their skirts looked like, I told them I really thought looked like cocktail waitress skirts. That was it. One person stuck up for me because it was the truth. I didn’t know you had to couch everything. I was a school photographer one year and I was on the tennis team. I never had a good backhand.

“So, no. I got invited to one party. The one guy who was very sweet who asked me out, one date, once, was gay.

“I wanted to fit in and I also didn’t like all those people.”

Luke: “Did you retreat into a fantasy world?”

Terrie: “Yeah. Senior year, I started watching a lot of soap operas. My father died. It was a sad and horrible time. My whole Beatles group in ninth grade decided to be rebellious and break up. There was nothing.”

Luke: Friends?

Terrie: “A small amount of friends.”

Luke: “Did you think of yourself as a loser?”

Terrie: “I wouldn’t use that word, but I would be in that category. Yeah! Because I didn’t get asked out. Just a drag. A third wheel. Just ugly or I didn’t know how to flirt. It was very depressing. Yeah, because I could do high school so much better now.”

Luke: “It sounds like high school was the most unhappy part of your life?”

Terrie: “That’s true. I so didn’t fit in and I couldn’t figure how to. I was a drama drop-out. I had acted through school and then in tenth grade the thespians were so cut-throat. I didn’t know they were mean to everybody and they hazed everybody. I so wanted to impress them and I ended up dropping out after the first semester of drama.”

Luke: “Did you have a teacher who took you under his wing?”

Terrie: “No. I had no champions in high school. There was one teacher who really helped me. It was a composition class in Senior year. She had us read the newspaper and read the editorials. She taught me how to do the five paragraph essay. I got a B but she shook my hand because she knew how hard I worked. And then I got scared again of writing when I entered college.”

Luke: “Did you hate the people who excluded you, who didn’t accept you, or were you just envious?”

Terrie: “I tried to figure it out and I couldn’t figure it out. Yeah, I envied them and I idolized them. I probably also didn’t respect them. They didn’t seem particularly kind or even intelligent. That was also probably just girls being conditioned to play those games.

“Once you get pegged, it was like a sinking ship. To never get asked to the Prom and all your friends are. And I really thought the only way you could go to the Prom was if the person was in love with you. I worked at this clothes shop and this girl was very nice and she felt sorry for me so she offered me her boyfriend. He was going to take me. He was foxy. And I thought, no, that would be cheating. He doesn’t know me and he doesn’t love me. I can’t go with him.”

Luke: “Did you ever overhear people talking about you?”

Terrie: “At the end of ninth grade, Liz and Allen ganged up on me. I once found a drawing from our ninth grade graduation picture. I had big feet. That was when those platform sandals were really in. They drew a picture of me and my toes were hanging over my sandals. I didn’t talk to Allen for a year. Then he came back and apologized.

“I had braces. I kinda had buckteeth. They were really mean. They were supposed to be my best friends. But that’s what best friends are for.”

We change camera angles and trade couches. I have her little dog Julia on my lap.

Luke: “Did your social life pick up in college?”

Terrie: “It couldn’t have gotten any worse. The summer [after] twelfth grade, I worked for the Youth Conservation Corp. That was the funnest job I’ve ever had. It was very social. I finally came out. Finally, the dream happened. There was a guy who I thought was very cute.”

Terrie’s dog won’t stop growling at me so she takes him back.

Terrie: “The way I got to know him and I didn’t plan it, but we always had to go to the bathroom at the same time. We were always waiting at the bathroom. I thought he was really cute. Usually if I think someone’s really cute, I’ll think, he’ll never like me. Well, he liked me.

“Then there was somebody playing my part. There was a girl who always liked him in school and was full of longing and I knew she really liked him and he liked me. That was a time when I came out of my shell. It’s a skill to socialize. That really helped. That was such a fun job.

“In college, yeah, I had friends. I went to more parties. I got a new best friend that same summer [after] 12th grade. We were really close. We were so the same. That makes such a difference. We were at the same place, the same level. Both of us late bloomers. That was really wonderful.

“I did a lot of internships my last year of college and then I started working on a TV show immediately [after] college. It was called “Not Necessarily The News”, a political satire show. I feel like that was where I grew up. I worked with all guys. They teased me to death. I had to learn to get tough and to tease back. I was there six or seven years.”

Luke: “Did you start writing for it?”

Terrie: “No. All the guys I worked with, they started writing. There was no way. All I did was encourage them. I would cheer them on. I couldn’t write. It was way before I knew I’d end up being a writer.”

“I became a researcher. I was a bad production secretary. I started freelancing. I worked on a Beach Boys show.”

“I was a manager at a coffee house and then my hands went down [with carpal tunnel syndrome].”

“For a period of time, I was so scared. I thought, my body doesn’t work. How am I going to support myself? That ended up having an emotional injury. When you can’t rely on your body, it’s horrifying. I did a lot of soul searching. What am I going to do with my life? Then I thought, oh, I’ll do sign language. That looks so creative. That looks fun. Then I found out that people get carpal tunnel from that. Then I thought I’d be a speech pathologist, but it requires too much science. Then I took one of those aptitude tests even though my aunt had to come with me because I could not hold the pen to do it. That led to me thinking about writing programs. I thought, I can’t do it if I am going to go into debt. That’s just going to make my life harder.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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