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A Screenplay Inspired by Real Life Events

1616 536 Austin Barrow

Take a Peek Won't You?

So, I’ve had a lot of inquiries from family and friends to let them know what I’m working on at the moment. In the past three months, I’ve written three complete screenplays, and I’d like to share my favorite with you. This was quite the learning process for me. I basically created a MasterClass for myself in screenwriting, buying six recommended books (Story Line: Finding Gold in your Life Story, Writing the TV Drama Series: How to Succeed as a Professional Writer in TV, The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting, and Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need) on the subject, and consuming them as fast as I could. I also spent hours listening to current and back episodes of ScriptNotes with John August(@johnaugust) and Craig Mazin(@clmazin). I created workbooks, notes, and a lesson plan. I felt like a college professor all over again. All the while, I was pecking away at my stories.

All Up to Faith was inspired by my wife. She has taken a large bite of the American dream that so many of us wish we had the nerve to try. She is a successful entrepreneur, and she did it all on her own. Spa on Main opened over eight years ago and has been financially successful every year. Some years were more rigorous than others, but she has been an inspiration for me and many others as a person with drive, tenacity, and full of warm and engaging energy. She’s always full of creative ideas on how to further her work, and I guess it’s so inspiring because it’s all based on such a simple premise, to help others relax and find a little peace in their day.

Now the script is only loosely based on real events, and if you are a patron of my wife’s establishment and think you see yourself somewhere in this story … well, you may be correct. So, without further ado…

Below is a teaser (opening moments of the show before the title credits, for the uninitiated). If you find it intriguing, I have placed a link here and below to the full script, or you’d prefer a PDF of the teaser in proper format, you can find that HERE. Enjoy!

TEASER

EXT. DAY SPA – MORNING

The cloudy blue sky of a picture-perfect morning wraps around
a Norman Rockwell like downtown landscape. Flowers bloom,
birds CHIRP, and the sun shines.

One storefront stands out from the rest, covered in fresh
flowers and a classical hand-painted sign announcing “Faith’s
Day Spa,” above “OPENING DAY!”

A cheap compact car pulls into view and parks.

INT. FAITH’S CAR – CONTINUOUS

White knuckling the steering wheel is FAITH DAVIS, a mane of
curly hair, perfect makeup and a face full of fear.

Her eyes focus on a pitifully small diamond ring on her left
hand. She rips it off and chunks it in the back seat.

She takes a deep breath and exhales with a long calming sigh.

FAITH
(eyes closed)
Lord, give me the strength to
provide a perfect calming
environment for my customers,
provide for my son, and prove to
him his momma is not a pushover.
(then remembering)
Oh, and also finally to show that
peckerwood ex-husband of mine that
I can stand on my on two feet
without him. Amen.

She opens her eyes filled with joy and excitement until …
PLOP. A large creamy load of bird shit lands on her
windshield.

She looks up to heaven.

FAITH
Not the message I was hoping for
Lord.

EXT. DAY SPA – CONTINUOUS

Faith wrestles with her key in the front door. She shakes and
shimmies, trying to get the key to turn until CLICK, it
opens.

JASMINE, a young and spritely cosmetologist wearing high
heels runs up behind Faith.

JASMINE
Boo! Morning boss lady!

Faith takes in Jasmine’s messy hair, unmade face, and heels,
then she walks inside, trying to hold onto her smile.

INT. DAY SPA/FRONT DESK – CONTINUOUS

FAITH
Jasmine, you know you’re a “beauty”
specialist right?

JASMINE
Don’t pitch a hissy fit. Just gimme
five, and I’ll be as purty as a
peach.

Jasmine gives Faith a friendly pop on the behind and bounces
in her heels to the makeup counter.

The door JINGLES as it opens. Gracing them with her presence
is HOLLY, dreadlocks, flowing clothes, and yoga mat tucked
under her arm.

HOLLY
Namaste free spirits.

JASMINE
Hey there tinker-bell.

HOLLY
I told you not to call me that.

FAITH
Good morning Holly.

HOLLY
Is it?

A fidgety MAN wearing overalls yanks on the front door. It’s
stuck … again.

FAITH
Girls, be nice. First customer!

Faith assists with the door.

OVERALLS MAN
Man am I glad you’re open. Can I
use your toilet?

Faith gathers her pride and points down the hall.

FAITH
Third door on your left.

Overalls Man quickly potty walks in that direction.

HOLLY
Ugh, I hope he doesn’t want a
massage.

JASMINE
Or a pedicure. Can you imagine
those feet?

FAITH
You should treat our customers the
way you would want to be treated.

HOLLY
Yeah? Well, first, you have to have
customers.

Holly turns and walks to her treatment room with a look of
pleasure in stealing the last word.

JASMINE
Okay! How about a little spa music?

Jasmine flips on the spa sound system.

FAITH
Wait!

Loud, booming gangsta rap MUSIC fills the spa. Faith runs and
hits a button, switching it to soothing environmental sounds.

JASMINE
Faith! I didn’t know you were such
an OG.

END TEASER

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5 Steps to Creating a Work Life Balance To Do List

4288 2848 Austin Barrow

5 Steps to Creating a Work Life Balance To Do List

A couple of years ago, I was running a small nonprofit startup with eight employees, and we were ramping up to hire nearly four hundred people in the coming three months. I mean, how in the hell do you do that and keep your head on straight? I knew that my job was fundamentally about to change, and I needed to refine my life so that I could keep up with the firehose of information that was about to be permanently attached to my inputs.

It took some time, but I eventually developed a system that allowed me to find a balance between work and virtually everything else. It was a task sheet that showed me what my priorities were, week by week. I started by attempting to divvy up my day to day life into categories that I could rely on for the coming year. What were the significant activities that occupied my time? The best tool I had at the time was my calendar.

Start with your Calendar

I’m an organizer by nature. I like to keep notes of conversations, meetings, and I am very much on point when it comes to recording my daily calendar. If this is a foreign habit, I highly encourage you to adopt it.

I initially started a calendar while in graduate school at the University of Arkansas. It was the first time in my life where I could no longer hold all of the essential dates in my head for long periods. Now that could have been due to the notion that other people’s notable times would directly affect me, or it could have been because I was rapidly approaching thirty and my brain was dedicated to other tasks. Life was increasing in busyness, and I needed an outlet.

The Palm Pilot had recently been introduced as the best piece of tech to keep your to do’s and calendars in a readily accessible place. As much as I wanted to jump on board with the latest tech, I was forced to use the old school method, food and rent were a bit higher on the priority list. However, if I was going to do a pen and paper, I wanted to make sure it was of quality. I remember buying my first Moleskine annual calendar. It was red, the same as the school colors. I always relished the moment they arrived in the mail, and I began my entry process. It was a great way to review my previous year and plan the vital things in my life for the year to come.

I have since assimilated into the Apple universe and have used a good deal of my allotted cloud memory to hold on to years of calendar items. As soon as a meeting is set, I book it. If someone proposes a meeting with a date and time, I book it. I like, very much, to be in complete control of my time. I have been known to be a bit of jerk when scheduled appointments are interrupted by unplanned duties. It’s a character flaw, and I’m working on it … as scheduled.

Find the Categories of your Time

With years of data to lean on, I discovered that the majority of my time was divided into four major parts, family, stakeholders (my board members), employees, and volunteer work. So, I created categories in my calendar, allowing me to color-code each of the groups to get a good look of where I was spending my time. Visualization is an essential function when you are looking for shortcuts to creating quality tools. As an example, I’ve got a beautiful array of colors painted all over my screen at this moment as Grammarly informs me of all the mistakes I am making while writing this down. There really should be a way to turn that off and allow a free flow of ideas to be expressed uninterrupted, but I digress.

Once everything is colorized, you will begin to notice the patterns. Some of these patterns may be self-evident, but others are not. For instance, I noticed that I picked up my kids infrequently from school. With both myself and my wife working full time, this was going to be an issue from time to time. As a result, I would try to schedule personal work items during that time of the day, in the event, I had to go pick up the munchkins. Also, I saw very clearly the amount of volunteering I was committed to regularly. I knew that it was not sustainable, as I saw the interview lines stretching around the block. I had to make some adjustments to where I could spend that time, but I didn’t want to give it all up completely. So, I prioritized the more critical items and let go of those I knew would be better performed by volunteers who could fully commit to the cause.

Creating the Weekly Task Sheet

Now that you have defined the essential categories of your life, the creation of the task sheet is quite simple. Take a sheet of paper and divide it into four sections of equal size. We read left to right and top to bottom. So, I decided to list the most critical category in the top-left corner, LIFE. Secondarily, in the top-right corner, I labeled STAKEHOLDERS. The bottom-left corner held EMPLOYEES and bottom-right VOLUNTEER. With each area defined and sheet at the ready, I began to list every item I could yank from my caffeine-infused brain.

This is actually the most challenging part of the exercise. All too often, when I see people’s list, they contain phrases or shorthand that expresses an idea about a task, not the words that physically represent what you need to do to complete the job. When making your list, be specific. Do you need to think about an idea that you’ve been noodling? Don’t just write down the theme of the concept. Write specifically, “Spend time thinking about …” This is an essential step. How many times have you gathered up the two dozen scraps of paper you left around your work area, glanced at a sheet of paper and thought, “I wonder what I thought when I wrote this down?”

Now that you have your list, are you scared? I was because it was dauntingly long. Your first one is always impressive. It’s supposed to be because you just committed to a mind dump on the boss level. However, now that we are through that bit, it’s time for the next step.

Automate, Assign, Act, Omit

Go through each of these items and decide which of the three A’s you can assign. All too often, we believe that we are necessary to complete any given piece of work correctly. We are our own bottleneck in the completion of the task in many instances. Don’t get in the way of your work. Find a way to concentrate on the work that matters. Declutter the brain and you will begin to silence that nagging SOB that keeps whispering, “Yeah, but what about …”

Can you automate the task? In today’s world, there is an app for damn near everything (a word of caution, you can over automate any task by adding unforeseen work … choose carefully). Is there a system that can be put in place that better serves your time? Take bills as an example. I used to spend hours every week balancing my checkbook, reviewing all of my bills by mail, and logging into several different accounts online to make payments. All of this is unnecessary. By spending the same amount of time in a single week, I automated all of my payments to a credit card with rewards. I log on once a month, make a payment … done. The internet could be your friend here, and talk to others and see how they have simplified the regular tasks in their life.

Can you assign the task? Not everyone has assistants or manages other employees. However, if you do, is this work they can integrate into their day? Many times I have found that managers are duplicating work of their subordinates. In other instances, I have seen people that have no idea why the heck an assistant is necessary. Depending upon your position, it could become an essential part of your workflow. There are even services available online for personal assistants that work virtually on tasks at your behest. Man is it a crazy world now or what?

Is this one you have to do yourself? Then act. Make this list as short as possible. If you are going to commit to any given task, ensure that holds value for your time in the given category. 

Lastly, you have items that you can genuinely omit. These may seem hard to locate, but sincerely ask yourself with each task, “Do I have to, want to, or need to do this?” If you can answer no to any of those questions, it’s destined for the omit pile.

Once you have completed this part of the exercise, it’s time to start over. Remake your list only adding items from your “Act” list. Your refined list may still look a little daunting. I know mine did. However, if you look at each category individually, hopefully, you see that as a whole, things look a lot more doable.

Rules of the List

Okay, so I made up some rules here based on a variety of other thinkers and leaders I researched over the years. You don’t have to follow each one, but I think you will be a happier person if you do!

  1. Don’t strike through items when they are complete; highlight them. The beauty behind this simple pivot in to-do lists is that each week when you remake your list, you will see a colorful wash of doneness. It’s psychologically rewarding and will help you feel that accomplishment that we are all seeking.
  2. Remake your list every week. Make this the first thing you do before any other work is sniffed coming through your door. Don’t check email, return a text, concentrate.
  3. Copy everything undone on last week’s list on to this weeks list, but go through the automate, assign, act and omit process again. Make sure this requires your personal touch.
  4. If you didn’t complete it last week, add a number. If this is the second time it’s appeared, add a two. Keep doing this every week.
  5. Define a cutoff. If you’ve got a number seventeen next to one of your to-do’s, then insert a little reality. You haven’t completed this task in more than four months.
  6. Finally, the purpose here is to refine your time and provide clarity and diligence to your day. No tool is useful if it complicates your process.
Grave Headstone of Alexander Kieth McClung, the Black Knight of the South

Tales of Gunpowder and Smoke – The Black Knight of the South

4032 3024 Austin Barrow

Tales of Gun Powder and Smoke

So for the past several years, I have been researching this unique character, and the first time I heard his name, I knew that he must have a bizarre story. I was reading a book on famous duels, guns, not swords. Each chapter was divided into tales of various battles between two individuals. Some knife fights, but mostly it was iron and smoke. The chapter title that caught my attention was, “The Black Knight of the South.” I mean, come on, I gotta read that.

Alexander Kieth McClung was born in Virginia in 1811. He was classically educated, joined the service at a young age, resigning after nearly killing a superior officer in his first duel, and was later trained as a lawyer. The bloodshed begins after a move to Jackson, MS. in the 1830s where the young lawyer was attempting to build a practice.

Dueling was a regular practice in the country well into the early 1900s. The most famous duel was between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, and although it’s a great story (SPOILERS: Hamilton is not a good shot), I like the ones you find in the shadows. The Black Knight would earn his fame by systematically executing nearly a dozen men over ten years. I can only imagine what it must be like to be known as such a deadly killer. In fact, there is a story that later in life, after McClung had issued a superior tongue lashing, the offended party responded with a challenge, tossing his card at McClung’s face. McClung stood, offered his card in exchange, to which the challenger kindly asked for his to be returned, and graciously apologized for offending the infamous Black Knight.

His first recorded duel that ended in death was with a local lawyer and politician in Jackson, MS. The two men became foes shortly after McClung arrived in Jackson. Alexander was considered a terrible lawyer, but his uncle was the fourth Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Justice John Marshal. Therefore, he had quite a bit of clout in the legal realm. However, his opponent, Gen. Allen, broke the confidence of McClung by disclosing a private conversation. When McClung accused Gen. Allen of the offense, he struck back. Allen announced at the local bar in front of more than a hundred patrons that McClung was a liar and a scoundrel. McClung attempted to browbeat Gen. Allen in response. Allen receiving the opening that he was likely looking for from the onset of the quarrel, sent McClung a challenge, declaring the terms of the meeting.

The selection of weapons was usually the right of the one who is challenged, but Allen, secure and well known in his shooting ability with a pistol, was determined. The two men were to meet later that same evening in a grassy field next to the Pearl River. The men would be positioned eighty yards apart, given four pistols, and a bowie knife. Each gun would contain a single shot, and the blades were to finish one another off, should the firing weapons not serve that purpose.

Allen, knowing McClung was a hothead, assumed that he could win by preserving his shots while McClung rushed him in a bloodlust, firing his weapons dry. Unfortunately for Allen, he was incorrect. Later that evening as the two men began advancing on one another after the given signal, it was Allen who allowed his nerves to get the better of him. The Black Knight cooly walked towards his prey. When they were within thirty yards of one another, Allen shouted, “Now we will see who the coward is!” McClung responded, “Yes, we will.” While Allen was pulling out his knife, McClung placed a bullet in his brain.

Soon after that, the Black Knight went on a rampage of duels getting mixed up in an altercation with the Menifee family. He executed nearly a dozen of the Menifee men in a decade long feud. It is during this vendetta that we get the story of the most notable shot that the Black Knight ever made.

John Menifee, the first of many Menifee men to see the barrel of McClung’s gun pointing in their direction, was a crack shot with a short rifle. So, when the two men got into a tussle, and Alexander issued the challenge, Menifee accepted and selected his favorite weapon. McClung must have been concerned, as he was not a good shot with a rifle. They were to meet later the next day, near the same location along the Pearl River where he had finished off Gen. Allen.

The two men squared off at one hundred yards. At the signal, the two men raised their weapons and fired. It is reported that Menifee’s rifle went off first and McClung was shortly after. A moment of stillness as the rifle cracks echoed in the air, smoke rising from their barrels. Menifee slides to his knees and finally crumbles over, landing face-first in the dirt. The Black Knight had another victim.

It wasn’t just the distance that resulted in the notoriety of McClung after the duel, it was his aim. At first, Menifee’s second cried foul and issued his own challenge. Directly above John Menifee’s eyes were two holes, and the crowd thought Alexander had cheated. It took some time to quiet down the mob and judge precisely what happened. Upon further examination it was discovered that the Black Knight’s rifle ball had struck Menifee’s iron sights, causing the bullet to split in two, both entering his skull.

Stories go on through the years, exploring his exploits with women, becoming an officer in the war with Mexico against Santa Anna, and next to a Bolivian ambassador. As I continue to dig the thread just seems to get longer. I haven’t, however, been able to locate that very first book that I read about him so many years ago. I made copies of the chapter which I have carried around in a folder for nearly fifteen years, but unfortunately, there is no title or author information on the page. Just tales of the smell of gunpowder.

Grave Headstone of Alexander Kieth McClung, the Black Knight of the SouthIt took some time, and a good deal of patience on the part of my family as we drove around an ancient cemetery in Vicksburg, MS. last year. However, after a good deal of searching, we found his grave. At the young age of forty-four, he bit down on his service revolver from his days as an officer and shot himself. Rumors are he had a unique chair constructed with a split in the back, allowing his open skull to fall backward and avoid the bloody mess spoiling his favorite suit … black, of course.