Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Howell Premiere of The Couch

The theater is on Grand River in Howell. It's where I grew up seeing first run movies a few weeks after they premiered in the fancy theater on Grand River in Brighton. It had one screen and good popcorn. 

One of my most favorite memories of the theater is going to see SPEED with my Grandpa Jim Boutell. I was 16. I hadn't seen a lot of R-rated movies (there was no internet or Netflix back then!). But Grandpa picked me up in his truck (I think Angela was there, I can't recall) and we headed down to the theater. We settled in to watch the film. I can tell you exactly where we were seated. And then Grandpa headed out for a moment. And then he came back - with a huge trash bag filled with popcorn. They were going to throw it away, he said. And so we settled in and ate. And ate and ate. And I saw a knife shoved in a guy's ear and I was hooked...

And then on a Tuesday night in December I got to see the title of something I wrote up on the marquee of the Howell Theater. It was so cool. And then I got to witness a couple hundred of my closest family members and friends settle in with their own popcorn and enjoy something I wrote -- up on the big screen. I still can't really believe it happened. 

Wesley crew
My parents high school crew & mine!
It was quite the night. We filled the theater. People who knew my parents long before I was born came. Friends I haven't seen since I graduated from college arrived. A large contingent of my Wesley family showed up, from my WMU days. Family drove in from across the state. Friends of my family who I didn't even know knew I wrote a web series showed up. A dear friend from when we were babies brought her daughter to have her first experience in a movie theater. I really was something. 

We showed the entire series and people clapped and seemed to enjoy themselves. And that's what it was all about. Encouraging people to come out and spend some time with some interesting characters and share in their stories and enjoy themselves. I love that it happened. I love that I helped that to happen. In the theater I grew up in. In the same theater I saw SPEED in. How cool is that???

So thank you to everyone who was there with me that night. Thank you to everyone who wished they could have been there that night. Thank you to my friends who have encouraged me and loved me every step of the way. I wish my Grandpa could have been there but I know he was watching along with us, munching on the free popcorn the theater still sets out at the end of the night. 

And if you haven't gotten a chance to see The Couch yet, or want to see it again, just click right here. You can have that theater experience right now! 

Friday, December 14, 2018

Red carpets and bedroom offices

It's been seven weeks since the red carpet premiere screening of The Couch. Seven weeks and seven seconds. Seven weeks and seven lifetimes. Seven weeks and seven years. It seems so far away and then a moment later, I feel as if it just happened.

It was a lovely night. So many of my friends showed up. My family was there. People who've cheerleaded me on for over ten years now. For over forty years now. It really was a celebration. A celebration almost two years in the making. And a celebration that was over in the snap of a finger. It really was a lovely night. A lovely blur of a night.

As I sat there, in the pews of the church I've been a member of since I moved to California, amidst people who have loved me and encouraged me, I wasn't nervous. I thought I might be. I'd written this story, that was so much of me, so much of my life, and really none of it at all, and I was asking people to watch, to listen, to laugh, to cry, to experience a world I'd created. This was something I had lived with for so long it was almost odd that others had not experienced it until that very moment. And yet, they hadn't. I had lived with the story, and then the actors' portrayal, and the photos, and the memories, that to be there in that room was just a big exhale for me. A chance to say, this is it. This is the end of this journey. This is the result.

The first scene I ever directed,
as show on the big screen
That night, as I saw an image I directed on the big screen, in the darkened room, and then heard words I'd strung together while sitting in my bedroom wearing my pajamas, I was not nervous. But I was satisfied. This was the goal all along. This was the goal from the very beginning. From the first film school application. From the first day in the lecture hall at UCLA. From the first writer's group meeting in my living room. From the first of dozens of scripts written. From the first moment I thought, I can do that.

I know it takes hubris to say the world needs to hear my story, the world should hear my story. I know it takes a certain bit of self-importance. I won't deny that. I can't deny that. If I did, I'd never put my fingers on the keyboard or pick up a pen. I have things to say. I have stories to share. I have this world, so many worlds, inside of me and they have to come out. It's how I experience the real world. It's how I make sense of the real world. I write about it. And I want people to read what I've written just as I read what others have written and made and created.

The red carpet premiere was a celebration. It was a whirlwind. I took hundreds of pictures, both in front of and from behind the camera. I spent mere moments with people I wanted to talk to all night. I didn't eat any of the lovely food the caterers made. I rushed and rushed and wished I could have slowed everything down and spread it out over more hours, more days. But that's not how celebrations work. Because the peaks are usually tiny compared to the valleys.

And there are valleys. I always want to remind myself of that. And to share that with others. It's not all glossy, filtered photos spread across social media. It's having a terrible cold on the night of the premiere and somehow, I'm sure God was involved, not coughing even once for those few hours at the church. It's things not always going perfectly, and some people not making it even though they promised, and forgetting to take one single photo with someone who cheers you on loudly every single day.

It's the other days of the year when I'm sitting here, in my office, that is also my bedroom, and wondering what I should work on next. It's abandoning a beloved project because the news of real life is too intense to translate into fiction anymore. It's feeling behind on life because I haven't created another new finished script yet this year and it's the middle of December. It's knowing we haven't shot a single frame of our movie yet, and feeling like maybe we never will.

But those valleys are never so deep that I can't see out. And the way up is always right there. I think about what I have accomplished this year. About starting out in January on the set of a hit network show, spending three weeks learning from a wonderful director, who when I saw him again this fall, was even more kind and made me and my work feel important. I think about the table read where over a dozen actors I didn't know spent hours preparing for and then presenting my work to me. So that I could learn. And it was amazing. I think about the Film Independent classes I've taken, the MasterClasses I've listened to, the books I've read, and the work I've done behind the scenes (social media is a lot, y'all. A LOT.). I count up the hours I've spent with people I love, volunteering and socializing and worshiping and cheering and laughing and I realize how blessed I really am. I think about the movie I'm writing -- the new movie, and how it's all there in an outline and how I did that. And how I can already see the first twenty minutes and how they're twenty REALLY GOOD minutes and how I can't wait to sit in a dark room and watch this one. I think about how I'm alive. How I'm loved. How I'm happy. I think about the headaches from my blood thinner and how they remind me that the pulmonary embolism I had almost four years ago did not bury me in that valley. I think about how I get to go spend Christmas in Michigan.

And then I think about that hubris again. And I think maybe it's not such a bad thing. That by believing in myself I get to create stories that give people some joy, some entertainment, even just for an hour or two. I get to meet and work with all sorts of amazing storytellers and we get to put on a show and that on Tuesday, I will step into the first movie theater I ever saw a movie in and show more of my friends and family something I made, right up on that big screen.

I saw Speed in that theater. I saw Harry and the Hendersons in that theater. I saw Little Women in that theater. I saw movies in that theater with my sister, with my parents, with my grandparents. With people who will sit with my Tuesday night and people I know are watching from up above. I get to do that. That's a definite peak.

It hasn't all been red carpets this year. And even when it has been, there's always more to the story than what most of us see or hear about. More time is spent alone, in my bedroom in clothes I'm sometimes embarrassed to answer the door in, then dressed up and sitting on a stage talking about the craft. But that's how it's supposed to be. That's the best part of it all. If we didn't have valleys, we'd never realize there were peaks. Glorious, beautiful peaks that make the whole journey that much more beautiful.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Advent Devotion

Every year Hollywood United Methodist Church curates advent devotions on their website. Today my devotion was featured:

Isaiah 40: 6-8

This passage starts with: A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?” 

I read this the Tuesday before our devotions were due because well, deadlines are a writer’s best motivation, and then I headed out to serve at our weekly Homeless Lunch. We were busier than we had been in a long, long time. We served 123 people. We passed out shoes and clothes and deodorant and socks and leftover Halloween candy and smiles. We always pass out smiles. We laughed with our guests. We teased our guests. We hugged our guests. We prayed for our guests. And when we closed the gates for the last time at the end of lunch I looked around and wondered what shall I cry?
There is so much need in this world. So much hurt. So much sadness. So much brokenness. So much violence. At our borders. In our schools. In our churches. In our homes. I honestly sometimes can’t handle everything that I’m bombarded with. The news comes in waves that never seem to quit. The fires. The shootings. The poverty. The homelessness. I sometimes ask God how much more? How much more can our family, our community, our country, our world endure? I cry out. So many do. We cry out but we don’t know what to cry. What to address first. There’s so much that needs our attention that we become overwhelmed before we begin. And then we feel worse. We feel useless. Helpless. Heartbroken all over again. 

But then I remembered, standing there looking at the dozen volunteers hurrying around me, at the mounds of clothing we have left for next Tuesday because the Presbyterians have started a clothing drive for us, at the five sleeping bags one volunteer wrote a grant to get, that God is good. Oh so good. He reminds me at the end of this verse: “The grass withers and the flowers fall but the word of our God stands forever.” 

When there is need, God helps. When there is hurt, God heals. When there is hopelessness, God shines. When we cry out, God hears. He hears, and he reminds us of his love in so many ways. In chocolate almonds from a friend. In dry socks for a stranger. In reminding us to cry out and what to cry about and that His word stands forever. He stands forever. His love stands forever. Advent is a wonderful time to remember that. To remember His love. Even when we cry out and don’t know why. 

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Our Cruise

We read all the blog posts. We talked to everyone we know who's taken a cruise. We bought all of the medication and sea bands and helpful items suggested. And then we went on the practice cruise.

And Angela did not get seasick!

Not even a little! From the first day to the middle of the third day, it was smooth sailing. We ate, we drank, we danced, we sang, we laughed, we soaked, we napped, we explored, and we didn't get sick. But the smooth sailing did eventually end because, well...


Yes. Let me reiterate that:


There we were, relaxing on the 21+ Serenity Deck, reading and watching the blue skies as our ship travelled between Ensenada, Mexico and Long Beach, California and then, all of a sudden, there was black smoke coming from a lower deck. There was a very distinct smell of fire. There was a mass exodus of people from the hot tubs to go find their children. And then -- well, then there were empty hot tubs. And our Serenity Deck cruise employee was like, enjoy the hot tubs, they're empty now! So we did!

And then we were evacuated. And our encouraging Serenity Deck cruise employee vanished, we assumed, to go put out the fire. And while we wanted to evacuate we had these nice big, fluffy yellow towels that we'd "rented" from the Serenity Deck -- under threat of purchase if we failed to return them. But the employee who needed to mark down our returned towels in the binder was gone so...Angela activated teacher-mode and took to signing in towels. And then when all towels were returned and everyone saved that $29.95 fee, we too left what was no longer the Serenity Deck.

So, dripping wet, we moved onto the Lido Deck and we waited. And we waited. And we waited. And we heard nothing. Though we saw families who'd run back to cabins to get life vests and "go bags" (according to one father who's small child was as disillusioned as I was to have to get out of the water, the go bag was important. Both the small child and I were apathetic to this perceived fatherly victory).

But let me just say that one more time for the people in the back: LIFE VESTS WERE DONNED. But not by us. We stayed nice and soggy in our bathing suits and cover-ups. Angela announced she could swim and I wondered if I had time to go back to the cabin to get, not my life vest, but Grandma MacDonald's diamond ring out of the safe...

And when we didn't hear anything else or get any further instructions, we eventually went to our cabins and took showers and dressed for dinner. Because, well I guess everyone else looked nice that night on the Titanic so we figured we should too. (And no, it's not too soon for this joke. It's fine, now. But it was too soon for the piano player in the piano bar that night to try and get everyone to sing along to My Heart Will Go On. We shut her down. Quickly, loudly and in perfect unison).

And then there was a kerfuffle in our hall which we heard very well because by this time there was no AC in our rooms as they'd started shutting down various systems. There was some confusion as to whether life vests were simply needed in a cabin or if life vests were needed because we had to put them on. And finally, I stepped into the hall, holding my mascara, and said, "Do I need to put down this mascara wand and pick up a life vest?" And the kind employee smiled and said no and we all headed off to dinner.

Eventually the captain made an announcement, his first all week, telling us there had been a small fire in the laundry room and no one was injured, everyone was fine. We all took this in and -- well, we went on with our night. Because there wasn't much else to do. There was a formal dinner to be attended, and little did we know, our waitstaff was preparing Baked Alaska for us that they would serve complete with a dance routine that would get hundreds of us up and dancing around our tables. And then there were comedy shows to attend. And finally, last call up in the piano bar to make it to. So that's what we did.

Are we cruise people now? Well, we're not sure.

We had a lot of fun, a surprising amount of fun. It felt like Vegas but so well curated for people who like to be entertained but who don't mind limited options. We went to every show. We did almost all of the activities on board (Art show where they try really really really hard to sell you some terrible art? Check - there was a glass of free champagne at the end after all! Towel folding class where we made elephants out of washcloths even though we weren't the children it was intended for? Check - it was really fun and there were a ton of other adults there! Random dance party in the halls and lobby just because it was a Wednesday? Check - we danced our hearts out!) We relaxed in lounge chairs (though not by the pool because it was disappointingly small and filled to the brim with children) and soaked in hot tubs. We ate gourmet food and tried new things. We explored an island we've never set foot on before (Catalina, where we found a beautiful piece of Chihuly art on a second-story patio!). We didn't miss the internet or television or cell service one little bit (for the record - we made one call, to Dad, on our first day, from the island, to let him and Mom know Angela was doing great!). We made friends with people in the spa waiting room and then had casual conversations with them all week. We won money in the casino (me! And yes, just $8 on the penny slots!). We sang our hearts out at the concerts and piano bar. We laughed at the comedienne we loved. We spent so much time people watching (there are sometimes lines on cruise ships - mostly where food is involved). We won free stuff (me! A scarf at a jewelry store!). And we slept really really well each night, tired from full days of doing everything and nothing at all.

It was a good trip, a good vacation. It was a getaway, which was perfect. We're looking forward to Alaska, most likely via cruise ship. We know fires are rare and that life happens. We swam in the ocean with sharks in Hawaii. We were in Paris the day they evacuated the Eiffel Tower due to a threat. We've stood on the sidewalk outside a Vegas hotel during a small fire. Life is about risks -- and rewards.

And this reward was pretty great. I mean beside OUR BOAT CATCHING ON FIRE! Everything else, really great. Carnival is known as the fun ship -- and they lived up to their name. And every single employee we met was amazing, happy and helpful and kind. We hugged our waiter goodbye on our final evening. We wrote down the name of our room steward who chased us down the hall to gush over the tiny tips we'd left him so that we could praise him on the survey we were promised. We had a wonderful trip -- and are excited for the next!

Angela's Advent Devotion

Every year Hollywood United Methodist Church curates advent devotions on their website. Today Angela's devotion was featured.

Isaiah 40:1-5 
“Prepare ye the way of the Lord; make his paths straight…Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain shall be made low; then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed”. 

While the previous chapters of Isaiah are words of judgement, chapter 40 marks a turn toward comfort. The prophet tells the people that comfort will ultimately come through God and that we need to prepare for His arrival. Don’t pick up your shovels just yet to turn those mountains into hills and raise the valleys, God is asking us for something else, something inside of ourselves. 

As I was thinking about this passage, I got my Bible off the shelf and read more of Isaiah for context. If I am being honest, there may have been some dust. I began to think about how I am preparing for God to comfort me. What am I looking for. What am I waiting for. 

We are living in unsure times. Our country, our world is divided. I spend too much time on Twitter, absorbing all the information I can. I talk to my friends, my family, my co-workers about all the terrible things happening and how I feel powerless to stop them. 

And then John Lewis comforts me. Yes. John Lewis. In all the noise, his voice comforts me. I know that he has been through tumultuous times in our country and he continues to have faith. Faith that good will win over evil. Faith that America is a democracy. Faith that all people are equal. Faith that peace is possible. 

It is our job to lift the valleys and lower the mountains. It is our job to stand up and speak out. It is our job to pray. It is our job to read the (dusty) Bible. It is our job to prepare the world for God so that we may be comforted. 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Our Practice Cruise

This is countdown I see when I log into the Carnival Cruise app on my phone, which I've been doing every day for a week. Right now, I have just over three days before my cruise. Yes, you read that right, my cruise.

We're going on a cruise, Angela and I.

It's such an odd thing to say, and I almost feel guilty admitting it. I tell people I'm going on vacation next week and I hang my head and my voice is almost sheepish, embarrassed. And I shouldn't be. I know that. Logically. But I also know vacations are extravagant and they're for people with money and well...

But when I get past all that, I think about how much fun we're going to have (fingers crossed). Most of our vacations over the years are trips back home to Michigan, which we love. But this time we're doing something different.

We're taking a practice cruise!

What's to practice? Well, cruising for one. And being on a cruise ship as well. See this summer, my parents told us they'd like to take a family trip to Alaska. We got all excited and then we realized that the best way to see Alaska, according to anyone and everyone, is via cruise ship, from the coast, from the water. And well, one member of our family gets horrible motion sickness.

That member is Angela. Angela has had motion sickness her entire life. In cars (she sleeps to fight it off). On trains (she sleeps to fight it off). On boats (she refuses to get on pontoons now, after one summer family trip on a friend's pontoon where she begged to get off and swim back to shore). On swings (do not sit with her in the driveway swing in the summer, she will not let you swing even a little). At the kitchen table (this is totally a real thing, this summer she got motion sickness while sitting still).

The first time we went whale watching as a family, Angela didn't see any whales. She slept in the bottom of the boat, on a bench, until we made it back to shore, just a couple of hours later. The second time we went whale watching, we sent her golfing instead.

So...we come to the practice cruise. Everyone we talk to says this will be different. This ship is huge. This ship barely moves (though it moves enough to take us to Mexico or Alaska so...). But we want to see Alaska, we want to have fun and enjoy the extravagance and excitement the cruising life offers (at least that's how it looks in all of their shiny brochures). So this summer, when we poured over Alaska tour guides and websites, we decide to do a practice run first.

Angela has all next week off of school for the Thanksgiving holiday so it seemed like the perfect time. And we found a cruise, on the Carnival Imagination, that goes for just four nights -- from Long Beach to Catalina Island, then to Ensenada, Mexico, and back to Long Beach. And there's apparently a clause where if you aren't having fun you can get off within 24 hours of setting sail, so if the motion sickness sets in...

But we're hopeful it won't. We're planning to have an amazing adventure. We've never been to Catalina Island though we've heard wonderful things. A friend who goes twice a year has told us exactly what bus tour to take and where to wander. We're planning to stay on the ship in Mexico, because basically, been there done that with Mexican tourist towns, and we really want to experience the ship life. We're hoping to see some fun shows, swim a lot, eat some good food, read books, and relax!

We haven't made reservations for Alaska yet, we're going to wait and see how the practice cruise goes first, but we're excited for this first step! And grateful for a bit of extravagance in the middle of regular life. In fact, we're deep in the list making and planning for packing on Saturday and leaving on Sunday! Oh, and we got our nails done for the trip! (My first time with a gel manicure, I think the manicurist was more excited than I was!)

So I'll report back once we're safely back in Los Angeles (hopefully next Thursday, not before!). We're pretty excited to be off the grid while we're on the ship too! So happy week of Thanksgiving everyone, I'll eat a little extra at the buffet for you and I'll try to win at the penny slots! Bon Voyage!

Thursday, October 04, 2018

We will miss you Joe

Tuesday afternoon at one o'clock our merry band of Homeless Lunch volunteers boxed up the leftover clothing, crated the lonely shoes, and rolled in the carts of sack lunches we would save for next week. And then we all stayed. Normally at one o'clock we all hustle to clean up and be on our way, having spent the last four hours or so working together. But not this past Tuesday.

Instead, this past Tuesday we finished cleaning up and then gathered in the parlor in a circle, all sixteen of us. Pastor Denyse led us in prayer and then we took a moment. See, most of us aren't there all together, at the same time, on a Tuesday at one o'clock. And we weren't even all there.

But Tuesday we gathered. In community. In love. In grief. Because we had lost our friend.

Joe Abdo.

Joe was a volunteer from way back, from before we can remember. He would always be there before me and I tend to get there early. He'd be there with his name tag on already bagging lunches, counting the items off to make sure nothing was missed. And I'd stand there in the kitchen chatting until I knew I'd better go get busy. I'd move out into the parlor and work on organizing the toiletries or the clothing and eventually Joe would move out near me and start bagging cookies or crackers. And we'd chat some more.

He'd ask me what I was writing, or how my last trip was. He had amazing stories. He'd lived abroad for dozens of years. He'd written books and acted in plays and been a hospital administrator. He'd tell Andrew and I how hand sanitizer was bunk science and we'd use it only in secret when Joe wasn't looking. And I'd wash my hands more in the actual sink with actual soap and water like he recommended. Because he was Joe and he knew stuff and I listened to him.

And then a few weeks ago, he got a cold. And it turned into bronchitis. And he stopped by just long enough to say he shouldn't stay. And he'd be off. He couldn't read to his kindergarteners or help us out until he was better he said. And we all took him at his word. He often missed weeks, mostly because he was out traveling the world or off on an audition, but we knew we'd see him again soon.

Until we didn't.

Our leader, Linda, had tried to get a hold of her friend for a few days. She was getting anxious. Her anxiety wore off on me. And then two weeks ago Joe's photo popped up on my Facebook feed. I smiled. And then my face fell.

Joe's brother was letting all of us know Joe had passed away. That bronchitis had likely turned into something else or was something else and that was it. And my heart sank.

Joe was just always there. He could be cranky. He could be funny. He was intelligent and kind-hearted and a very good friend. And as we stood in that circle on Tuesday afternoon we shared all of these things. We told stories. We thanked him for his service. We bemoaned his too quick departure from our community. We surprised each other with stories of him. And we loved him. And we loved one another.

Funerals are for the living is something my mother taught me very early in life. Growing up as a member of a family with a history in the funeral business, this was not a sentiment shared lightly. It was a sentiment shared with reverence. And the reminder that people grieve in different ways. And even if you don't see the need for a funeral, or want to attend, or even want to have one for yourself once you've passed, it's not what you want that matters. It's what your loved ones want. Because they are the ones still living. They are the ones still dealing with death. They are the ones who need to process what has happened and how to go on.

Last week I woke up several mornings thinking about Joe. I never saw him outside of the context of Homeless Lunch. But I had seen him most Tuesdays for over ten years. That's a lot of time spent together. And spent together well -- serving others, conversing, sharing our stories, living out our faith. And his loss was acute. Immediate. When I walked into the parlor Tuesday morning I expected to see his face, to hear him say my name. And when I didn't? I was heartbroken all over again.

So we stood in that circle. We shared our stories of Joe. And then we ate muffins and cake and cookies. And we spent a little extra time with one another. Because ultimately, that's what we all want. More time together.

I'm sad I don't get any more time with Joe. But I'm so thankful for the time I did have with him. And that our time spent together was spent so well. We will miss you Joe.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

My smile and my new pants

On Friday night Angela and I went to Culver City to see the play SCHOOL GIRLS, OR THE AFRICAN MEAN GIRLS. It was in a theater we've never been in but have driven by at least a thousand times. (Seriously, it's across the street from our dentist and if you know us, you know we go to the dentist a lot...)

When we first entered the theater we were greeted by a woman who asked us if we'd like to write on the mirror. In lipstick.

Um, yes!

I've never written on a mirror in lipstick like I'm the scorned heroine of a fancy story! But there was a catch -- we had to write what makes us beautiful.

So Angela and I both took a lipstick and we moved to opposite sides of the mirror and we thought and we wrote.

I wrote, "My smile."

Angela wrote, "My smile."

I love that. I love that we both see our happiness, or our trying to be happy, as beautiful. Smiles do as much for me as they do for others. They help me to remember that life is mostly good. That life is happy. That I want to be happy. That life is beautiful. That I am beautiful.

But as we walked around the lobby of the theater we were inundated with information that would be touched on in the play's subject matter -- the ideas of bullying, of racism, of colorism, of beauty pageants, and the messages we are sending to our world's girls, boys, men, and women.

SCHOOL GIRLS is about high schoolers who are vying to be Ms. Ghana and eventually Ms. World Universe. It's set in the 1980s and it's fascinating to realize not so much has changed since then -- since before I was in high school.

How we are still fighting these ideas that being different is bad. That you must be white, or at least very light, that you must be thin, that you must have a handsome or well-off boyfriend, that you must fit into this norm someone came up with long ago, to be considered popular or beautiful.

I don't know many women who haven't struggled with these things at some point in their lives. I have been on some form of a diet since I can remember. Literally. (I'm talking middle school or possibly before.) And it's exhausting. It's exhausting to count points, to calculate calories, to do sit-ups, to buy the merchandise and the books, to look in the mirror and not see the results. Or worse, to see the results. Because sometimes, succeeding feels even worse.

I lost eighty pounds after grad school. It was a lot. I felt amazing. I ran down hills and around blocks and didn't feel out of breath. But I also devoted so much time to Weight Watchers and exercise that I had to sacrifice other things. I know this is true because I lived it. And it was my choice. And I was happy with it.

But slowly the weight crept back. How do I know? Because I kept track in my journal. I wrote down every pound that I lost or gained. Oh that's sad, you might think. True. But it's also reality. It's reality for SO MANY WOMEN. And probably so many men. It was reality that life changed, I got a new job, a different schedule, and I had to sacrifice something else this time.

I never thought I was beautiful though, not out loud. I'm sure others told me I was. I'm sure I heard it and maybe even thought it. But what stuck with me most was a comment made to my father, by a friend of his. He wondered if I was sick. Like really sick. Because I looked so thin, too thin.

Even eighty pounds lighter (and still a size sixteen, mind you), I wasn't right. I wasn't beautiful. I still looked wrong.

And at forty years old, I'm at a loss. I love walking. And I do a lot of it. Some days over my 10,000 step goal. I'm happy if I get 30 active minutes. But I hate the treadmill. I hate the idea of going to the gym and doing some reps on some machines and not knowing if it's worth it or not. I'm very goal-oriented, if you didn't notice. But I love that I am strong, and I want to stay that way. I love that I can hit a golf ball two hundred yards and that is mostly in part to my very large arms. But most days I do not love those very large arms.

And yet, I quit Weight Watchers, again, last week. I hadn't been on plan for months. Even though every time I put something in my mouth I think of the point value. After more than sixteen years on WW, I can't help but continue with those point value thoughts.

And right after I quit WW, I bought pants, new pants. Pants that fit. Pants that are one size up from some of my pants from several years ago. Because those old pants, while perfectly fine and cute and acceptable, are TIGHT. VERY TIGHT. They look fine but I feel so uncomfortable in them I can't focus on anything else. So I practiced some radical self-care and I bought new pants. And I love them.

Do they make me feel beautiful though? Like my smile?

Yes. They do.

Also? They make me not think about pants. Or my weight. Or being beautiful on the outside for a while. Because I've got so much other shit to do.

I've got movies and television shows to write. I've got a web series to promote. I've got people to feed and a God to worship and books to read. I've got Christmas presents to craft and an InstaPot to figure out and a couch to lie on in front of a television. I've got miles to walk while listening to my audiobooks and beloved podcasts. I've got puzzles to put together and money to raise for robot shirts. I don't have time to think about my pants.

I'm not giving up though. I have to make that clear, to myself, every day. I still choose the things that are good for me. And when I don't, I try not to beat myself up. I eat popsicles instead of cartons of ice cream. I decline the candy I tolerate but don't love. I take the stairs even though I end up winded at the top. I get up early to walk even though I'd rather a few more minutes under the quilt. I eat boneless, skinless chicken for almost every meal. I can't help it. Even if it won't change how I look drastically, I still hold out hope...

Because I want to be beautiful. The way beautiful matters to me. I want to be beautiful through my smile, under my smile, because of my smile.

I want the beauty that I want for girls and women all over the world. I want to feel strong and capable and smart and successful and most of all -- beautiful.

What makes me beautiful?

My smile.

And my new pants.