Monday, November 13, 2017

I burst into tears...

The first email came in August. It was that time again. Time to ramp up the planning for the 3rd Annual Los Angeles Autoimmune Walk. You'd think after two rodeos, we'd be old hat at this by now since we've had pretty much the same core coordinating team from day one. But let me just tell you, putting on an event at a public park, for hundreds of people, coordinating dozens of volunteers, trying to get sponsorships and donations, feeding people, entertaining people, keeping people safe...it's a lot. A LOT. And this is a side gig for everyone involved.

And so we had meetings. Weekly conference calls. Emails and texts that shot back and forth daily. Spreadsheets and documents and forms and social media. And we all just did it. Which is amazing. Because people who donate their time and their energy are hard to come by and they are SPECIAL.

And then Saturday dawned. Sunny and perfectly warm. The grass was green, the leaves crunchy. The trucks arrived and we set up. The volunteers arrived. It all fell into place. It was all running just as it needed to. So much so that when I saw another core coordinator, we'd look at each other and wonder out loud, are we missing something? But we weren't.

The technical and practical had been taken care of. I was wondering around answering questions and doing whatever needed to be done. And then I burst into tears...

Registration was underway, we were getting ready to hear from our first speaker of the afternoon, Haley Ramm. Haley is one of the co-founders of the Walk, along with the rest of her family. Her mother, Barbara, suffers from several debilitating autoimmune diseases. I've heard Haley speak before and she's eloquent and emotional and always has a hopeful message. I headed toward the stage area. But as I did, I noticed a mother and daughter I'd seen earlier by the bead table.

The mother was ushering her young daughter, who was maybe six, toward the stage area as well. And as she did, she said, "We are going to go hear this young girl speak. Her mommy has the same disease I do."

And I burst into tears.

Because all the rest doesn't matter. All the frustration and paperwork and conference calls while dinner was waiting doesn't matter. All the permits and people who didn't show up and the wrong color this and the too much of that doesn't matter.

That little girl's mom is sick.

Haley's mom is sick.

I am sick.

And that's what brought us all to Culver City Park on Saturday. Some of us as the sun was just warming up the day. Some of us after lunch. All of us to raise money, to raise awareness, to be together. To smile and inspire and cheer and thank and love.

I wound my way through the crowds and found my backpack and a Kleenex. I blew my nose and wiped my eyes and headed back over to hear Haley speak. And as she did, I burst into tears again.

Everyone in that park that day was there because of Haley. Because of Haley's mom Barbara. Because of that little girl. Because of that little girl's mom. Because of me. Because of all of us.

People in wheelchairs. People with shaved heads. People with visible signs of their diseases. People without visible signs of their diseases. But also? SO MANY LOVED ONES. SO MANY FRIENDS. How awesome is that?

As of today, Monday, we've raised over $40,000 for research with the 2017 Walk. That is also so awesome. That brings more tears. But it also brings joy. Because on the chains we carried during the walk (and that will go back to AARDA headquarters in Detroit to make their way to Washington D.C.) was listed the names of everyone we walked for, everyone fighting autoimmune disease. My name was somewhere in that chain as well. And so was Aunt Gloria's name. Because even though one year ago on Saturday we lost Gloria to her autoimmune disease, we still fight. We fight for everyone who fought before us, everyone who will come after us. Because until there are cures, we are not finished. We cry. We love. We walk.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Today I worked

Recently a very good friend told me she didn't really fully understand that I worked at home until she saw my home office for herself and we talked about my job. I thought about that for a long moment after she said it.

I wonder how many other people realize that I actually do work at my house. No, I don't punch a clock. No, I don't have to check in with a supervisor. No, I don't have to get in my car and find my parking pass and ride the escalator and unlock my office door.

But I do work at home.

And I don't belabor that point to make anyone regret the time they've called me or texted me or asked me out to lunch or asked me to run an errand. I do all of that just as Angela does or my mom would do. I take personal calls during the day. I jump on calls about volunteering. I run to the post office. I do laundry and make muffins and put dinner in to cook.

But I also work. I sit at my desk before the sun is up in the window above my computer screen and I get to work. Sometimes that work is ready 28 articles I've been bookmarking throughout the week. Sometimes that work is checking in on a Twitter Q & A about independent film casting. Sometimes that work is trying to figure out how a woman would shoot a gun while jumping out of an airplane. Sometimes that work is writing a biography of myself for a writing fellowship. Sometimes that work is putting my earphones on and tuning out the world and ripping apart a script I've spent eight years working on.

That was today. Today I had a relatively quick (45 minutes) notes call with Tami. We talked about my latest thoughts on a draft and some of the changes I've made. Then she said, what if...

That what if sparked a forest fire. By three-thirty this afternoon I had moved scenes around, rewritten scenes and completely changed the ending of something, including un-killing a main character. Yep, I un-killed him. I let him live. I imagine some day the actor playing the part will be pretty happy about that. One more scene. One more chance to tell a story.

Today I did some work.

Yes, part of that work was listening to the same four new Taylor Swift songs scream through my new Beats over and over again. Yes, part of that work involved me dancing in the kitchen while my beef stew heated up in the microwave. Yes, part of that work involved me doodling on a piece of paper as I read the captions on an inspirational speech video given by Peter Dinklage. Yes, part of that work involved using way too many Post-It notes to scribble and write checklists and reminders of when to do this in the script and when not to do that.

That's all my work. And it's all done here, in my bedroom. In my office. At home.

It's my job.

And it's incredible that it's my job. And it's almost unfathomable that this is my job. That wheels are turning as I work and write and dance that make it possible for me to do this job, to continue to do this job.

And I can't wait to share it with everyone soon!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

This is what 40 looks like

Forty is busy, y'all. I mean it. Today is the first day, and I'm over a week in, where I finally feel like myself. Where I feel in control. Where I feel peaceful.

The past week hasn't been bad. Not by any stretch of my imagination. It's just been busy. So? Forty is BUSY.

And that's amazing. I love it. Almost as much as I love the peaceful feeling of today.

See the week before I turned 40 I helped run the Book Fair at Angela's school for six days. And then I caught a cold. And then I took the Friday night redeye flight to Michigan to say goodbye to Elaine. I had birthday eve breakfast with my parents. And then I flew back and had a birthday dinner/last day of being 39 dinner with eight amazing friends.

And then I turned 40.

I celebrated with a boxful of cards from friends near and far, young and old, that Angela had contacted asking to shower me with words for my birthday. I went through the box for hours Wednesday night. And I am going to go through it again tonight. The people who reached out, the love in those words -- I just cannot express how much they mean to me, the people and the words. And I celebrated with my cousin Jamee and a few days of sightseeing and fun. And I celebrated with Angela, who made cake and cleaned the house, and helped friends pick out gifts and who, along with my parents, bought me an amazing gift -- a brand new MacBook. More words. More writing. More love.

I was talking with a friend today, a friend older than me, though not by much. And we were talking about where our years have taken us and how we got to today. We talked about our paths, and our people, what's made us who we are. And I said I don't feel any different than I did two weeks ago. But I do feel different than I did two years ago.

I feel freer. I feel like I have a voice and I am finally figuring out how to use it the way I want to. I am careful but I am not apologetic. I am strategic. I am myself.

I say what I want to say. I explain myself and sometimes, I don't. I write. I sing. I share. I love. I love loudly and messily and in ways some will never understand. I love those who love me. Those who can't love me. Those who don't love me. Those who won't love me. I love because in my 40 years, that's the best gift I've ever been given: love. Sometimes it's in the form of a hug or a kiss or a word. Sometimes it's in the form of a computer or a mug or a funny little magnet. Sometimes it's in the form of a letter or a cake or a shared joke. Sometimes it's in the form of a question. Sometimes it's in the form of an answer.

I am honestly astounded by what forty looks like. And then again, not surprised at all. It looks like me. It looks like life. It is imperfect and hard and wonderful and full. It is being excited for television shows on Hulu or low-fat ice cream or a meeting with a producer. It is writing something I know will be seen on a screen soon. It is believing I can do something and telling people I can do something and having them believe it too. And then doing it. It is exciting and boring and everything in between.

Forty is wearing shorts and running shoes because it's hot out and I think I look cute even if no one else agrees or cares. Forty is rewriting a nine-year-old script because I am better now than I was then. Forty is getting up at 5:05am (not 5am, those five extra minutes mean everything) to go to the gym and walk on the treadmill even if the scale doesn't budge. Forty is asking your family questions and recording their answers and listening, really listening, to their stories. Forty is knowing when to say yes and when to say no and when to say I have no idea but I'm going to do it anyway.

This is what forty looks like. And it doesn't look like anyone else's 40 and I've come to terms with that. Because my 40 is amazing. Oh so amazing.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Working from home, but not alone

Sunday morning Angela and I were making our way through the backlog of magazines taking up space in the hall basket. I trudged through my "homework" as she calls it -- Time, before getting to the much lighter Entertainment Weekly and my reward for finishing them, Bon Appetit. She perused Oprah and Real Simple and started reading to me from an article about how to be successful at working from home. I told her I didn't think I needed that particular information seeings how I'd been working at home for nine years now. But she read it to me anyway.

It included information about having a designated work space and avoiding the couch. Check and check. The couch is for lunch, and the occasional research break. And I have an office spot I love and work at every day. But what the article didn't touch on was the need to socialize while working at home.

I admit it, there are days when I don't leave the house at all. Sometimes those are good days. Last week I was on a (mostly self-imposed) deadline to finish a draft of a script. I spent several days not feeling the sun on my face without a window screen. But it was important and necessary -- I met my deadline a few hours early. And then there are days when I don't set foot in my home office/bedroom until it's time to go to sleep. Balance is the key for me.

But most days I connect with people in some way or another. I live with Angela, so in the morning and the evening we talk nonstop. But those 10 or 12 hours when she's gone? I like the quiet, for so long. But I have to connect.

This morning that connection took several forms. First, it was a phone call with my mom. The massacre in Las Vegas last night has shaken us all. So we talked about what we knew and talked about how scary it is. Then, after I hung up the phone, I heard the back gate rattle. Tomas, our beloved pest control professional (yes, he is beloved, so much so, for so many reasons!) went to spraying the backyard. I interrupted him when he passed by my bedroom window. He was startled but immediately lowered his face mask and asked if I'd heard about Las Vegas. We talked for a few moments, I learned that his wife works at a local college and he's scared for her just as I'm scared for Angela working at a school. We said our goodbyes and both went back to business.

But those connections, they are crucial to me working from home. Just as volunteering is. For over nine years I've spent most Tuesdays serving lunch at Hollywood UMC. It's almost a job to me. I feel terrible when I have to miss a week. I get reports about what I missed, I check in to make sure nothing is needed before the following week. And what I love about it most? Connecting with our guests and the other volunteers. Starting Friday I'll spend six days running the Book Fair at Angela's school. One of things I'm most looking forward to is those stolen moments of conversations. With kids, with other employees, with parents.

As a writer, I need solitude. I need uninterrupted hours of time to work. To create worlds and stories to run through them. I need time to look at photos on the internet and read hundreds of articles. I have to figure out how to tell a story before I tell it. Then I have to write it. It's a long, quiet process that's involves just me and whoever's playing on a loop on my iTunes that week.

But that solitude to work is colored and shaded and created by the time I spent connecting with people. Telling my story, listening to others' stories. I text friends throughout the day, people who need no small talk before we jump in to the matters of the day. I talk to writing partners, people who lift me up professionally and personally, people who tell me when something on the page works, or more importantly, doesn't. I check FaceBook and Twitter and Instagram way too much but again, it's a way to connect with the world, to have conversations or at least see snippets of life. I Marco Polo with my cousin Jamee, by sending video messages back and forth throughout the days and weeks. We talk about every day life, food we're cooking, walks we've taken, tears we've shed, excitement we've shared. And I wave to the neighbors, saying hello, asking about kids or mentioning the weather, because connection is ultimately, the most important thing I have in the day.

Nothing I write is created without it. Nothing I do is performed without it. Nothing I think or say lacks it. Connection with others.

Friday, when I turned in my draft to my producer, I celebrated. Not by myself because that would have been a little less exciting. I texted with my producer and she texted back celebratory emojis. I sent a Marco Polo off and Jamee and her kids cheered me that night at dinner on video. I sent texts to writer friends who celebrated with texts back. And I enjoyed a very happy Friday night with Angela. All connection. All vital to my work life, at home. And to my life in general.

As birthday month began yesterday, I started filling up a new journal in anticipation of a five year journal I got as a birthday gift five years ago being finished soon. And in that new journal I answered a question of what I want to say yes to (yep, it's a Shonda Rhimes Year of Yes journal!). Part of my answer included saying yes to being in relationship with more people, in every facet of my life. That means reaching out more, putting in more of an effort, networking more, loving more, forgiving more, being more. That means making those connections. Every single day.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Still at work on the couch

Two weeks ago we had our wrap party for The Couch. It was a chance to come together with everyone who'd worked on the web series, and supported the web series, and just hang out. We ate good food (so much food, potlucks do really bring out the best in people!), drank a little, and just talked. We had conversations as a whole group, we had conversations one-on-one, we caught up with each other and we shared a little about our lives outside of work.

Marjorie, who opened her home to us for a shooting location, gifted each of us cast and crew members
with a couch pin at the wrap party! I wear it proudly to shout to the world -- hey, watch The Couch! 
But that wasn't the end of The Couch. It isn't just, alright, that happened, what's next. This is a project that will continue for sometime. To begin with, no one's seen the actual series yet! And that's because it's not finished...

I did my part first, I wrote the entire thing. It took months and drafts and calls and lots of walking around my house and sitting in my chair and figuring out what words come next.

Then the director and the producer and the other crew members got busy. They planned and storyboarded, they set designed and rehearsed.

And then we all met at the sets. We watched as the actors did their jobs. The camerawoman did hers. The script supervisor did hers, and so on. Those were 12 hour days not unlike the days I spent at my computer in my room, writing.

Now all of the hours of footage we shot is in the hands our our editor (the wrap party was a chance to meet her too!). She'll work with the director and the producer and the script supervisor to bring what we shot into something that everyone will be able to watch on their screens.

But wait -- there's more! Just last night I learned we might have a composer for our series! Someone who loves the story and is interested in being a part of our project. Original music! I never even considered that a possibility. Actually, I didn't think about music at all. I know it's all a part of the finished project but my only thought was it probably won't be John Legend's Darkness and Light album that I listened to while writing.

So the work continues. The networking and the sharing of information and the spreading the word. I've taken to running the social media accounts for The Couch (all three!) and I'm having fun trying to share a peek at what people will see soon!

So we're all still working, we're all still excited. Me most of all. To think that there's something I wrote, something I dreamed up, out there, just waiting to jump onto your screen -- that's so cool. And what a gift! To have all of these amazingly talented people working together to bring it to life. I really can't wait to show it to the world...

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

So many voices...

I have learned something in the last few years that I never realized in my previous thirty-something years on this planet.

Diverse voices matter.

I'm not sure I ever really understood the idea that people having different voices was a thing. That your voice could be affected by your race, your ethnicity, your socioeconomic status, your childhood, your parents, your education, where you lived, who you hung out with or what you were exposed to. I grew up in a fairly small town outside of a fairly large city and yet my exposure was limited to the homogeneous community I was a part of. Yes, I heard a few voices different from my own but not enough to realize their importance or their impact.

And now? Now I crave those voices. I search them out. I applaud them. I stand up for them. I champion them. I cry when I hear those voices. Because those voices each belong to a person who has a story to tell, who has a truth to share, who has a secret to lay out, who has an experience to express.

Sunday night, as I sat in my living room watching the Emmys, I cheered and sobbed as Lena Waithe took the stage and was awarded the Emmy for comedy writing. She is the first African American women to win the award. Ever. EVER. And she's just one of a handful of women who've ever won the award at all. She's the only woman who was even nominated this year. In fact, out of all the writers nominated for Emmy awards this year, just 18% were women.

As Lena gave her speech I cried. I cried because well, a woman won! Also, because Lena's writing really is so good. She won (with co-writer Azis Ansari, who's awesome too!) for the Thanksgiving episode of season two of Master of None. It's a story she pulled from her own life, about coming out to her mother and her aunt and her grandmother. It's a story about family and love and it's funny and smart and it was so so good. And unlike anything I'd ever seen before.

In her speech, Lena said,"The things that make us different, those are our superpowers." And I felt like she was speaking directly to me. To me and all of the other women, all of the other African Americans, all of the other LGBTQ writers and directors and editors and producers and actresses out there. To all the people who've not heard their voices, or other diverse voices enough. Who are dying to hear so much more. To hear stories that are different and smart and funny and harrowing and that come from people who remind us of ourselves.

I try to surround myself with different voices. I get annoyed when I watch a show week after week (or binge) and only see male directors listed. Or notice that there's only one woman in the writing credits. I put my money where my heart is and support women directed and women written films in the theater, on opening weekend. I search out voices I might never have a chance to hear if I leave it up to chance or the main media outlets. And I do the same with my news, with my Twitter feed, with my Instagram feed, with my life. I want to experience so much more.

I find that the more I listen to voices that are not the loudest or most powerful in this country, in this world, in this industry, the more I learn. I am obsessed with Pod Save the People with host Deray McKesson and what I learn each week, about social justice, the law, history (just ask Angela, every Tuesday I regale her with all that I've just discovered). I recently watched Hasan Minhaj's standup special on Netflix, Homecoming King, and realized I need to broaden my comedic mind. (His special is seriously one of the funniest and smartest things I've ever witnessed. Could not quit smiling and laughing.) I am in the middle of reading A Wrinkle in Time, written by Madeline L'Engle and about to be a major motion picture directed by Ava DuVernay and written by Jennifer Lee.

These are all voices that are different. Different from my own. Different from what I am used to hearing. And I am in love with each. I want to hear more, I want to hear them screaming in my ears, I want to learn and explore and experience so much more...

And most of all, I want to add my voice to the mix. And when Lena mentioned that we all have superpowers, I wept with joy. I am different. My voice is different. And I will not be quieted. I will be heard. And I will listen.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Couch - Day 11

I'm not sure how to describe the ten days we've spent making my web series The Couch. Tomorrow will be our eleventh shoot day, and our last. The same crew each day, coming together, each performing very specific jobs, to make something that is completely unlike anything we've ever seen before.

Ayelette & the bear claws!
I could say it's been eye-opening. And that's so true. Last Saturday I watched as Ayelette, who's portraying our main character Penelope, performed a half-page monologue over and over. As a writer, I was conscious of the fact that someone would have to memorize, then say, and then act out the dialogue I'd written. But it didn't occur to me that nearly half a page of dialogue is a lot to say all at once. She did it beautifully and perfectly, over and over again. And then there's the bear claws. And the peach yogurt. I'd written these actions into the script months ago. But I didn't think about what would go into our actress actually eating on camera. Trust me, it's a lot. But it was fun too! To see Ayelette bring Penelope to life, to see her eat a bear claw like I'd thought about in my head back in the fall. It still amazes me!

I could say it's been a lot of work. And that's also true. There have been a few rewrites, there have been many discussions about wardrobe and actions and whether props have been procured and whether locations have been checked out. And really, my job is mostly done by the time we get to set each day. I'm still helping out whenever and however I can but it's been fascinating to learn so much about each of the jobs on set from these amazing artists. And each of them, Ayelette, Meagan, Katy, Linda, Steve, Annie, Cristina, Debbie, and Jay, have been awesome at including me in their process, sharing with me about their skills, teaching me what they can, always willing to answer questions or wait a few extra seconds because I'm slow on the uptake.

Bear claws! 
I could say it's been enlightening. I've learned so much about my writing being on set during filming. I've heard five different actors inhabit characters I created. Characters I saw in my mind, tried to describe on the page through mostly dialogue, characters I made up from the ether. And actors have become them. They've treated them with care and love and genuine excitement. I've learned what my words sound like coming out of actors' mouths. I've learned what it's like to hear some of my very personal stories and thoughts and beliefs come through the page and jump onto the screen.

I could say it's been exhilarating. Still, ten days in, I'm completely blown away by what is happening. I love being on set and am thrilled I've been able to be there every step of the way, every minute of every shoot day. To watch these actors and crew members, to be a part of this, I am beyond grateful. And I cannot wait for tomorrow. To do it all again. One last time...