Monday, September 17, 2018

We Are Celebrating!

It's almost fall. It doesn't feel like it in Los Angeles (or in Howell either, as I look at the weather report and see photos of my parents in shorts). But alas, it's mid-September and summer has been over for Angela and I for months. We spent six weeks in Howell, and they were wonderful. We swam three times a week with my parents and their friends. We ate and drank and laughed on the patio for hours on end. We saw family and friends and caught up with everyone we miss while we're on the other side of the country. We put together jigsaw puzzles and played cards and watched baseball and played Giant Jenga. We went through old photos, we cleaned out closets, we walked and we napped and we shared milestones.

And we also celebrated.

We celebrated that the web series I wrote, and that we filmed last year, won not one but two awards at the Oniros Film Awards. The Couch won for best web series and for best screenplay. And I was beyond stunned. I was so excited just to hear that we'd been nominated! What a surprise! Honestly. I've spent over ten years applying to writing contests. Submitting for fellowships. Sending in script after script, check after check, keeping a list, crossing out those contests when I find out I've lost. It's not a big deal. Rejection is par for the course in Hollywood. I know this. I expect this. So when I found out we'd won...

Well, that was something.

We had to submit three finished episodes of our series to be considered (we'll have seven episodes total) and the complete script. They liked what they saw, and read, and so, we won. Really, quite unexpected. This is not the norm.

But it is amazing. It's amazing because the words that I wrote, several years ago now, the stories I created, are being shared. Not just between Angela and myself. Not just between my best writer friends and myself. Not just between the cast and crew of The Couch and myself. But the stories I created are going out into the world. Literally. The Oniros Film Awards are in Italy!

Also, I love that while my words are being heard and my stories are being told, our entire Couch Team is being recognized because without them, my stories are just files on my MacBook, maybe pages I print out to run my hand across. And in particular that another female is being recognized for being behind the camera.

In August, right after we got back from Michigan, we headed off to church to hear Mark Stephenson preach on the film Wonder Woman. (Yep, if you go to Hollywood UMC you get sermons about movies all summer long!) And during his sermon he mentioned some statistics I'd recently highlighted on social media -- that of the top 100 movies in 2017, only 7.3% were directed by women. That's it, 7.3%. So I am super proud of The Couch for adding to the percentage of film and television being directed by women!

Also, it was so sweet of Mark to shout me out during the sermon. He mentioned my awards and The Couch and I love how supportive the Hollywood UMC community has been and continues to be of me and all females in this business.

So we won a couple of awards -- that's great! Everyone was so happy for us! BUT...they wanted to know when the series would premiere.

Well, last week we made a big announcement! We invited the world to the premiere of The Couch! On October 25th! We are so excited!

We're going to have a big, dress up affair! We're going to have a red carpet! We're going to have a screening! We're going to have live music! We're going to have a Q & A afterwards!

My parents are coming into town for the event! My friends, even those of them who go to bed super early because they kick butt at super early morning jobs, are going to come! I've already tried on my dress! I am EXCITED!

Because something I made is going to be shared. Again.

See this isn't the first time I've shown the world The Couch. Well, technically I've shown it to my world. In July, I got my hands on some almost finished drafts of the seven episodes and was able to show them to my parents and Angela. I was so excited. And so nervous. Because that was the premiere I'd been waiting for forever. These three people - Angela, Chris, and Tom, have made this possible. Without their love and support (SUPPORT, again, for the people in the back! THIS DID NOT HAPPEN WITHOUT ALL OF THEM) The Couch doesn't happen. These people, my people, my world, encouraged me. They saw that this was the most important thing I could do professionally with my life and they let me do it. They made me do it. They didn't let me have any excuses. They made the space in this world for an artist, a writer, to write. And that's a VERY RARE gift. I know that. We all know that. And I am so grateful for that gift. (P.S. - They loved it. They are biased but they still told me they loved it. They said it looked like a TV show (yay!). They wanted to know what happens next! I said well we'll have to see if season 2 is a go...)

But now we are ready for everyone to see our show! If you're in Los Angeles, RSVP, put on your best frock, and come on over! If you're elsewhere in the world? Well, don't worry -- you're going to see it in October too! Please watch. Please share. Please enjoy. Because we made this for you. We made this to share women's stories. And we made this to entertain.


Wednesday, August 22, 2018

I Will Vote Yes, signed Angela

A guest post from Angela -- 

#utlastrong #red4ed #schoolbeutner 

If you have been paying attention to any national news in the past year chances are you have seen stories about teacher strikes. All across the country educators are taking to the streets to demand fair wages, good healthcare, smaller class sizes, funding for programs and much, much more. The fight for these things and more is currently ramping up in the country’s second largest school district. This week the 30,000 plus members of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the Los Angeles public school teachers’ union, will vote to authorize a strike. While I can’t tell you with certainty that the members will overwhelmingly vote to leave the safety of our classrooms and schools, I know that I will vote yes. 

This is not an easy decision for myself and my colleagues to make. We know that by voting to authorize a strike, we will have to follow through. We will have to walk the picket lines, go without pay, worry about what our students and families will do for child care. And knowing the ramifications, I will still vote yes. 

I come from a long line of union members. I learned early in life that unions help families survive and thrive. When I had knee surgery and when I stayed at an inpatient clinic for migraine sufferers, the union was the reason my parents didn’t have to worry about going broke paying the medical bills. When my dad retired I knew that I wouldn’t have to worry about him and my mom as they grow older because they have pensions and healthcare. I refuse to take the opportunities I have been afforded for granted. I will vote yes. 

Over the next few weeks there will be newspaper articles and stories on the television about the outcome of the vote, the mediation that will take place and whether a deal can be struck between the school district and the union. I ask that you understand the entire story. Yes, we are asking for an increase in wages. That is not the entire story. If you want to know more about educator salaries in Los Angeles I am happy to talk to you and share resources that are unbiased. We are also asking for smaller class sizes. School started this week and I know of kindergarten classes with 29 excited kiddos to one teacher. I know of a third-grade class with 37 students ready to dive into math and reading. I know of a seventh grade English class with 40 students who are eager to start their first novel of the year. And let me be clear, these teachers are not complaining, they are simply asking for help. For all of the children who deserve one-on-one time with their teachers every day, I will vote yes. 

You will be hearing more from me in the weeks to come about this fight. This past Sunday, at Hollywood United Methodist Church, Reverend Kathy Cooper-Ledesma spoke about “Living a life worthy of your calling”. I, like every member of UTLA , was called to be an educator. We work hard for our students. Unless you are close to a teacher you may not know that we don’t leave our jobs at school. We don’t stop thinking about our students who are struggling at three o’clock on Friday. We worry, we plan, we grade, we take classes, and so much more. We do not do all of this for the accolades, we do not do it for the hope that we will get a salary increase, we do not do it for the breaks. We do it because we are called. Because I want to live a life worthy of my calling, I will vote yes.  

I am product of public schools and I am proud to be a public-school teacher. No matter what happens this week or in the coming months I will not stop being proud. I will not stop getting to work early and leaving late. I will not stop worrying. And planning. And taking classes. While I fight for better schools I will ensure that the one I have is the best that it can be. I will vote yes.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Take Care of Yourself, Please

The 1st selfie
Four weeks ago this morning I drove to Glendale Adventist Hospital while the traffic was still relatively light (there is no such thing as no traffic in Los Angeles, I've been on the roads at all hours and there is always, always, always, traffic) and the sun was still burning the grey out of the sky. I parked in a nearly empty parking garage and made my way to the imaging suite in the hospital. There was one other woman in the waiting room and we both were there for our yearly mammograms. She was getting her fifteenth or something, I was getting my second. We were both done before seven-thirty and as we rode the elevator up from the basement she commented that it's good to get that done for another year. I agreed and we parted ways to start the remainder of our Thursdays.

I posted my cute curly-haired selfie from the dressing room just before I went in to get my mammogram and I reminded everyone to practice self-care and get tested when you're supposed to! Done for another year I thought. 

And then five days later I answered the phone on my drive into Hollywood on a Tuesday morning. I was sitting in traffic and was listening to a podcast and figured it would be a robo call when I clicked the speakerphone button. But it was a nurse from my gynecologist's office. 

I wasn't one hundred percent sure what transpired in the next eighty seconds. I heard that there was something wrong with my mammogram, something amiss. I heard that I needed more tests. I heard that she'd deal with insurance and get back to me. And then she hung up. My brain went into overdrive.

I know from my experience with blood clots and my autoimmune disease that I should never Google my own health symptoms. And I didn't. But I sure wanted to. 

What I ended up needing was a bilateral diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound of both breasts. It took a few days but the insurance paperwork went through and the tests were scheduled. The first available slot open was last Wednesday, the only appointment they had until later in June. And of course this was the one day I had promised to spend with Angela at school scooping ice cream for her 2000 students to celebrate the end of their standardized testing. 

Needless to say, neither of us scooped ice cream last Wednesday. Instead Angela took the day off and we spent the morning running errands, getting regular blood tests (it's a thing for me and her doctor wanted to check her out and this seemed like as good as a day as any to do it), going to the post office, and eating one of the best breakfasts I've ever had (no, seriously -- we went to Porto's in Glendale and had omelettes, which were fine, but the avocado salad and potatoes they serve with the omelettes? Pure bliss, every bite). Then we made our way back to Glendale Adventist Hospital. We searched the busy parking garage for a spot and then made our way back to the imaging suite. 

And within forty-five minutes the tests were complete. And I took another selfie. But this one I didn't post. I didn't have cute curly hair and I wasn't quite as confident with my smile this time. This one I took just for me. Because this one might have marked a completely different kind of day...

And then we waited. We waited and I told the small handful of people in my life I'd told about the tests that I still had no ideas. And we waited. And it's really the waiting that might kill us in the end, right? Because that's when we go to dark, scary places in our minds that Google could never really compete with...

And then this morning it was eight days and still no news. I felt completely powerless. Should I think about the scary things that might soon befall my life? Or should I pretend nothing has changed at all? I needed answers. I needed power. So I called the doctor's office and I was told a nurse would call me with the results. And so I waited some more. And I am so blessed to have amazing people in my corner. People who will talk to me for hours on end to distract me, people who send emails and Facebook messages to check in, people who text silly bitmojis and news stories that keep my mind occupied, even if they have no idea what's going on at that particular moment. And then I got a call shortly after noon today, four weeks from the day of that first mammogram -- everything is fine. 

The 2nd selfie
I am not sure what exactly the nurse said. I heard fine and okay and I think she quickly sensed I was on the verge of losing it because she said something like are you okay and I answered yes through a sob in my throat and we hung up. And I made my calls and sent my messages and sobbed with relief. Because not everyone gets this particular call. 

I know not everyone has the opportunity to have this level of care in the first place. I've had three mammograms in thirteen months. And I am fine. I am sobbing the happiest of tears. But I know women who can't get even one mammogram. Or can't get that second one. Or who don't want to go. Or who are too afraid of what it will mean or what it will feel like. Or what will come next. And trust me, I get that. All of it. And I know there are some people who wouldn't follow up with their doctor's office. They'd assume no news is good news. And sometimes it is. Again, the happiest of sobs! But sometimes it isn't. And KNOWLEDGE is POWER. 

In the past three years one of the biggest lessons I've learned is to be my own advocate. And when I cannot be my own advocate to reach out for help. Because there are always people who will help. But mostly, I have to monitor my own health care. I have to keep track of my own tests and collect all my own paperwork and schedule my own appointments and follow up with busy receptionists and keep copies of everything and write in my health journal in a Word file I keep on my computer and on my phone because you will always need that piece of information you didn't think you would need. 

And that's what I hope to share with others -- Go for the test the doctor recommends. Go for that follow-up appointment. Get that prescription filled. Confide in a person or two or three. Share your fears. Share your joys. Embrace the reality that this is your one life. Your one body. No one else can take care of it for you. No one else will care as much as you do about your own health. And you are loved and we all need you in tip-top shape. I tell you, it's when I'm at my darkest, in those scary places Google will never even imagine, that I am constantly reminded how much I am loved. I'll get a smiley face emoji from a friend via text. I'll get an extra hard hug from someone. I'll hear a song sung on the sidewalk outside of Homeless Lunch from a woman who shouted, "I love you!" as she skipped away this week. I'll hear the relief in a dear friend's voice when she learns that my test results are okay, not her test results, but mine. To know that my life is so intertwined with others lives reminds me of how much I have to take care of. 

There will be more health scares in my life, this is something I rationally realize. I will get sick again. I will have more panic attacks. I will lose people close to me from health problems that could or could not have been prevented. I know this. Life is hard and scary and at the end we all die. I've had forty years on this earth to come to terms with this and on the other hand, I know I never will. 

Today I will know that I am okay. That for today I am healthy and I am smiling because I just can't stop even though I am crying too. I heard voices of loved ones today. I get to write something that I made up today. I watched the Tigers beat the Angels today. I am not just okay but I am great. And I hope and pray everyone else in my life is too. And if not, take care of yourself. Please. For you. For me. For all of us. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Co-creators at the symphony

The Walt Disney Concert Hall
I have driven by the Walt Disney Concert Hall downtown Los Angeles countless times. I have friends who live on the same block. I've been to jury duty across the street and parked below the hall. I've been sightseeing and shopping and to concerts all within spitting distance of the hall. But I had never been inside until Friday morning.

Mary, one of our California grandmothers, had an extra ticket to her usual Friday morning symphony. She's offered me tickets in the past and the timing has never worked out. But this time, I thought, why not? Why not spend a few hours with her, listening to music, experiencing something new? The work would still be there the next day. The world wouldn't miss me too much if I took a little break. And so I did.

Mary arrived early Friday morning, eight-thirty-ish. I drove the rest of the way downtown and we found seats in the third row of the hall for the pre-concert event. I had no idea this was a thing. But it is! Before the symphony someone gives a forty-five minute lecture about what you're about to hear. How cool is that?

Gustavo Dudamel
Friday morning we were treated to a talk by Kristi Brown-Montesano, chair of the music history department at Colburn Conservatory of Music. She was smart and funny and full of so much information! She explained that we'd hear a Schumann Concerto, with a lot of cello, which is apparently a rare experience. She gave us some historical context and told some tales and then set us free to listen.

We climbed to the balcony and settled in. The concert lasted about two hours, with an intermission. We heard short concertos (10 minutes) and long symphonies (50 minutes). We got to experience an Argentine phenom named Sol Gabetta who played an entire concerto from memory and looked like an angel while doing it. Also, she was playing a cello built in 1730 which just blows my mind. We also got to witness the uber-famous conductor Gustavo Dudamel who I had previously only known from his picture on billboards all around town.

What stuck with me throughout the entire two hour concert was something Brown-Montesano said during her talk with us prior to the symphony's start:
We are co-creators of this experience.
I thought about that as I listened. As I processed. As I let my mind wander and then be drawn back in. I don't think I've ever sat still and listened to classical music for that long in my entire life. There was an intermission and a handful of breaks for applause but there was mostly quiet listening. I was a co-creator in that moment.

I sat there and I watched the women and the men. I counted how many people were on the stage (the sexes were pretty evenly represented). I watched as one musician cleaned his clarinet-type instrument countless times in between movements. I watched as musicians sat up straight, almost on the edge of their seats. I watched as musicians settled in more comfortably and awaited their turn to shine. I watched as the sounds blended and became indistinguishable from the piece as a whole. I listened as the songs swept me away.

And I meditated on the music. I thought about my day. I took in the experience of the room. Of the colors. Of the context. I looked around at the people I was sharing space with. I imagined experiencing this more often. I thought about writing and my own creation. I actually rewrote in my head while listening, thinking of a scene I had been playing with and wondering how the music might influence my process.

And I enjoyed myself. I let my self be there. Be with the music. Be a co-creator. Nothing else was being asked of me. I didn't have to take notes or try to solve a mystery or laugh at the right places. I just had to listen. To soak. To be.

I don't know how often I'll get back to the symphony but I do know I am grateful for the experience. I am grateful for the quiet and for the noise. For the co-creation I had Friday morning. I will take that with me into my week, into my creative process. I will listen to some Schumann and think about what I learned about him. About how he tried to do something new, despite being in the shadow of some of the greatest composers of all time. I will think about how when he got sick in his older age, mental illness taking hold, he gathered himself and asked for help, thinking more of his family's well-being than his own comfort. I'll think about how Brown-Montesano urged us not to consider his mental illness when listening to his work because the work should stand on it's own. But I will. I will think about his illness. Because it struck me that he was human, he was a man. A man who created this lovely music that so many people came together to celebrate on Friday morning in Los Angeles, so far away from his German homeland. So long after his death in 1856.

I will think about the music. The music that we celebrate. The music that informs our lives. The music that brightens our world. I will think about that and I will remember that. I will continue to co-create this experience over and over and over for it is now a part of me. A new experience that informs me and I love that.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Our future is written by all of us

17 chairs set with flowers to
represent those killed in Parkland
One of my biggest concerns in middle school was whether or not my blue Music in Motion t-shirt was clean on the days we had performances. We didn't have school uniforms so making sure my choir shirt was ready to go was a new concept for me.

That was the extent of my worries back then. As it should be for eleven, twelve and thirteen year olds.

But today? Today I stood amidst 1800 middle school students who are concerned they are going to be shot and killed on their campus. They're concerned their friends might be shot and killed. They're concerned that they'll lose the people they love because all around them people are losing the people they love.

The middle school Angela works at is a representation of the best and the worst of Los Angeles, of California, of America, of our world. Of the 1800 kids who walk through those doors every day, some don't speak English well, some don't have two parents at home, some are taking college classes, some have celebrity parents and are being taught they should get special treatment because of that, some are Christians, some are Muslims, some sit down during the Pledge of Allegiance, some are transgender, some are citizens of foreign lands, some live in big sprawling estates, some share a bedroom with multiple siblings, some are sweet and kind, some have chips on their shoulders, some cry at the drop of a hat, some fight like they're in the ring every day.

But today? On this bright Friday morning in April? They all had one thing in common. They all wanted to be safe. They all expected to be safe. Because they were at school.

But that's not a given anymore. That's not a given anywhere in our country. And these kids, they know that. They know about gun violence and the horrors that surround that. All too intimately. I didn't know a thing about guns growing up. My grandfather hunted but that's all I knew. I knew I didn't like venison but I ate it. That was enough.

These kids today, they stood up and they spoke. They read speeches they'd written. They held signs they'd painted. They spoke from the heart about wanting the people in charge to be better, do better. They spoke of Congress and working for common sense gun control. They know so much more than I did at their age. And that breaks my heart.

I stood there, amidst the students, taking photos, and listening. And crying. A boy got up to speak and though his thoughts weren't coherently laid out, his emotion was raw. He didn't want people to keep dying. A girl got up and she expressed concern that it would happen next at their school, and she was terrified of that. Their concerns, and their emotions, were so powerful. So strong. So grown-up.

The world is so much different today than it was when I was in middle school. It's bigger and at the same time, smaller. We know so much more, for better and for worse. And we have so much more influence.

These kids. They have influence. They have voices. They reminded me today to have an opinion and to share it. To use my voice. To not fall into the trap of believing I can't change the world. We all can, whether we're twelve or forty or eighty. As President Obama wrote about the kids speaking up from Parkland, Florida, in this week's issue of Time Magazine:
Our kids now show us what we’ve told them America is all about, even if we haven’t always believed it ourselves: that our future isn’t written for us, but by us.
Our future is written by us. All of us. We have the agency to enact thought. To enact action. To enact change. We all do. Kids and adults alike. Thank you, JB Bears, for reminding me of that this morning.

The leadership team who created the event

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Writing Every Second I'm Alive

The notebooks from Doris
"How do you write every second you're alive?" -- Lin Manuel Miranda in the Hamilton song Non-Stop. 

My answer?

How can I not.

Last week my parents headed out on the second leg of their road trip. They'd been with Angela and I on Abbey Place for just over two weeks. It was a wonderful vacation -- for all four of us. We had adventures every day. One day we went wine tasting in east Los Angeles. One day we watched a baby hippopotamus sunning herself by a cement pond. One day we watched a silly movie about gnomes while laying in leather recliners. One day we explored a pier and ate ice cream while shivering and trying not to be too upset at ourselves that we'd gotten us lost and driven an extra hour away from where we were meant to be (that last part might have just been me). But every day was wonderful. Every day was something new. Every day was putting together jigsaw puzzles and watching new television shows and discussing current events and eating new foods and fixing the toilet seat and doing seventy-two loads of laundry. It was life. All of it. It was our best life.

When my mother first arrived she asked if I had to work the next day. I quickly answered nope. The next day she inquired again, and I expanded my answer a bit. I didn't need to sit at my desk and write that day. I had known of their arrival and our stay-cation in Los Angeles. I had planned to turn in a draft of a screenplay the day before they arrived and I did. I had let people know I'd be away from email a bit and taking some time away from the keyboard. Just as I do whenever I go to Michigan or on any other trip.

I wanted to be in the moment with my family. I wanted to be downtown riding the funicular and at the Getty looking at the Monets. I wanted to be shopping at the mall with my mom and getting pedicures with dad and not worrying about work. Yes, a luxury. Yes, a privilege. Yes, a reality since I'm underemployed at the moment.

But I also knew that I would be writing every single day they were here. Just as I am writing every other day of my life. In the song the question is asked of Lin's Hamilton how do you write every second you're alive. Every second.

And my answer is how can I not. Because every single thing that happens to me, every choice I make, every emotion I experience, every piece of food I taste, every sip of wine I savor, every person I communicate with is all leading to the stories I tell. They are all a part of the stories. They are all the stories.

I grew up hearing the phrase "write what you know". And as a young writer, and an aspiring professional writer, this was not good advice. This was ridiculous advice. I knew nothing. I'd experienced nothing back then. Still today -- it's not enough. I need to know so much more in order to tell stories, to do my job. Because if I were to only write what I know, then I'd write about a woman who sits in front of her keyboard and daydreams and taps on keys.

But there's more to unpack in that phrase. If I don't take it so literally, that I should only write about teaching and volunteering and watching TV and cooking and doing laundry, I come to understand that writing what I know is writing about the experience of being me. It's writing about the people in my life, my connections with them, it's writing about the work that I do, and how it affects myself and others, it's writing about my emotional life, my life.

And so, every day that I got up and ran to the fancy donut store early to surprise my family or sat down in the living room while my parents did the dishes because I'd cooked, I was writing. I was having experiences in being me. I was having experiences to draw from. To use to color my worlds. To use to create my worlds.

Yesterday I started a big rewrite project on my SEAL team pilot. I'm creating new characters and fleshing others out. I'm exploring new worlds and delving into relationships I've never had. I don't know what it's like to be the President of the United States or a CIA agent or a father. But I'm going to write about all of those things. And I feel confident in doing that even though it's "not what I know". I feel confident because of all of the experiences I've had in my 40 years. In the last few years. In the last few weeks. Every day I pull from my life. From the life I live, from the life I watch others live, to write the best stories I can.

A year ago today Angela and I were on our spring break trip in San Francisco. It was the last night of our stay and we sat in floor seats in the Orpheum Theater and watched Hamilton. It was one of the most amazing nights of my life. Here was Lin Manuel Miranda taking everything from every single day of his life and creating this musical. This movement. This masterpiece. Yes, Hamilton is about Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. But it's also about being an immigrant. Being a father. Being a son. Being a scholar. Being a husband. Being a friend. Being afraid. Being strong. Being weak. Being unafraid. All things I know Lin has experienced in his life.

Being a writer is a 24 hours, 7 days a week job. It's not something I turn on and off. I may go days without putting fingers to keyboard, weeks, months even. But I don't even go a few hours without writing. Other creative types know this. And the people in my life know this. And I love that. I love the encouragement I get, to keep writing. To keep going, Non-Stop.

This past fall I got a package in the mail from one of my favorite people in the whole world, my cousin Doris. In it was an assortment of beautiful notebooks. Small, large, colorful, practical, perfect. She'd seen them in a store and knew immediately that Angela and I needed them. We needed them to write down the experiences of being us. Because we all should. I love that. So much.

We are all writing every second we're alive. We're writing our lives. We're writing our existences. We're writing our relationships. We're writing our stories. And I'm so thankful I get to write my stories into other stories for the world to hopefully one day read, and see. And I'm so thankful to open a brand new journal from Doris today and start taking notes.

Friday, March 09, 2018

A Shadow on the NCIS set

"I don't understand wanting to be at a party by yourself, I really don't." -- Ava DuVernay

I heard Ava say that on a podcast yesterday. She went on to talk about creating opportunities for others, speaking specifically of black people, women, and minorities. She talked about how this industry is social, it's all about who you know.

"Hollywood is wired like that. The real inclusion and diversity is going to be when we know each other. It's not checking off quotas of how many women and how many black people you let do the job. It's do you really know us and feel comfortable with us. And do we feel comfortable with you to be our true selves," said Ava.

Rocky Carroll & I on the set of NCIS
A few weeks ago I got an invitation to a party from one of my first Los Angeles friends, Pauley Perrette. The party? The filming of an episode of the show she stars on, NCIS. And I accepted that invitation so fast my head started to spin. I also accepted that invitation with gratitude and love and appreciation. It's not an invitation that many get. Especially not many women. And when Pauley first asked me, back in December, if I'd like to shadow a director on her show, I was blown away. Pauley is a sweetheart, this is not news. Pauley also has given me many gifts over our almost decade-long friendship. But this was a gift like nothing I'd ever been given before. And one I knew could change my life.

And so she arranged it: I would shadow Rocky Carroll, for the upcoming episode he was directing of the show's 15th season. Rocky also stars on the show as Director Vance. He's relatively new to directing (in his words), this marking only his seventh time behind the lens of the CBS drama. He would also act in this episode so I'd get to see some of both of his worlds.

It all came together quickly and I found myself on the NCIS sound stages on a bright Thursday afternoon in February, sitting in the back of a conference room, listening to the table read of the episode Rocky would be directing. Basically the actors and director and some producers and key crew members gather together and listen to the actors read the script aloud. It takes just under an hour. Afterwards I met Rocky and told him I'd see him on Friday. He said I could come in around 10 or 11am, whenever I wanted. I asked him what time he'd arrive. He said 7am. I told him I'd see him at seven.

And so began my nine days shadowing a working television director. (Each episode takes 8 days shoot, and then 1 day for the table read.) Every day was a long day. Shooting lasted for at least 12 hours each day, with our longest day being closer to 16 hours on set. Add in an hour's drive time each way for me and it made for a long few weeks. (Add in a head cold I got the first day on set and it became a little bit longer.) But in those long hours I learned so much more than I could have ever imagined.

I learned that communication is a director's best friend. In my shadowing I would literally just follow Rocky around all day long. And he was awesome about this. He'd get up from his chair and go talk to an actor and I'd follow him and stand a foot away, listening to their conversation. He'd sit behind video village (a large cart with several monitors where the director and other crew members can watch the take from the camera feeds) and talk to the director of photography and I'd sit next to them and listen. I watched as he'd take an idea from the writer of the episode or the script supervisor or the executive producer and go relay that to his team, to the camera operators or the sound guy or the actors. I was just always there, right next to him, right beside him, right across from him. I got really good about flattening myself against walls during rehearsals or being silent as I stood in the room watching a take live.

And yes, I really did just watch and listen, literally acting as Rocky's shadow. And Rocky was an amazing teacher. He said he's new to this directing thing but really, he's great at it and knows just how to go about it. His cast and crew all love him and that shows in the respect he commands in the room, a respect he wields well to tell the best version of the story possible. So often he'd turn to me and explain his thinking behind a specific choice or a shot or a decision. He'd include me when talking to other crew members, widening the circle enough so that I felt welcome to join and listen in. He'd ask me about my projects and share stories of his own independent projects.

Having only been on a few film sets before I had just the barest idea of what it takes to pull together a frame of television or a movie. But seeing an entire episode filmed start to finish was something else all together. I saw how each department had to work together, how each department really was essential in telling the story. I also saw how much work some of the shortest scenes can take to film. An eighth of a page? Oh, we'll be done in no time. Cue us sitting behind video village, still waiting, four hours later, not having shot one single frame of film. And yet? Work had been happening the entire time.

I'm still processing so much about my time on set. With all of the waiting I was able to meet most of the people on the crew and who work on the show (around 200) and talk to a lot of them about their job responsibilities. (This happened a lot at craft services, i.e., where the food was.) I got to spend time talking shots with the cinematographer. I got to talk sound with the boom operator. I got to talk bullet wound placement with the makeup artists (who have the best coffee on set in their trailer). I got to hear about the life of a guest star while talking to the "bad guys" of the week who were there just to act in this particular episode. I learned a lot from the stand-ins who literally stand in for the actors, who go through the motions of the scene and read the lines, so that lighting and all other departments can get the scene ready for the actors to do their thing. (One of the stand-ins took me to the deli/ice cream trailer my second day on set. I will forever be grateful to her for this kind, kind, gesture.) I had several conversations, and listened in on several others, with Robert Wagner, an actor who has been in this business longer than most of us have been alive. (His first IMDB credit is 1950.) I got to be a fly on the wall as the show's stars chatted about every day things and the show's crew discussed weekend plans. I got to learn from some real professionals who have made 350 episodes of television together. (Yes, many of the cast and crew have been with the show since the start, over 15 years ago, and some were on JAG before that.)

And for a few days I got to get a giant hug first thing in the morning from my friend Pauley. Watching her work was great fun and chatting with her behind takes, having her introduce me to even more and more people on set, was wonderful. But reveling in the fact that she made the effort, made the gesture, to invite me, a woman who wants to direct, to shadow a director on her hit television show, was something I'm not sure I'll ever get over.

I spend a lot of time and energy reading and learning and talking about women in film (you've seen my posts about #awomanwrotethat #awomancreatedthat #femalefilmmakerfriday etc.). About representation, about opportunity, about story, about process, about getting a shot to tell stories we want to tell, we have to tell, and about getting an invitation to the party so eventually we can throw our own parties. And this particular invitation was the best beginning.

I made some contacts I'll keep up as I move along. I learned so much that I'll carry onto my own set in the future. In fact, I took some of that onto #thecouch set last week when I got to do some directing of my own. I tried to emulate Rocky in the way that he listened to everyone around him and fostered a collaborative working environment where people felt they could share ideas and be heard. And most of all, I learned that what I have to do, as a women in film, is share my experience. Share it through my stories but also share it with other women and minorities and people in general. That's exactly what Pauley did for me, she shared her experience with me. And I could not be more grateful.

And I can't wait for the episode to air the last week of March. I can't wait to watch the show and remember each and every shot because I was present at the filming of them all. I can't wait to bother my family (my parents will be in town that week!) with the 100s of pieces of trivia I have about the episode. (See that men's room in that shot? It's a working bathroom! I'm full of fascinating tidbits now!) Stories for days. Stories from the party that are my own to share now. Because I was invited. Because Pauley didn't want to be at the party by herself either. Because when we share our worlds with others, all of our worlds grow exponentially so much bigger.