Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Hashtag Can Change the World

I often wonder if I'm doing enough to affect change. To make the world a better place. To help people. To do my part.

This isn't just some fleeting thought as I look at a Snapple lid (is that still even a thing? Random quotes or zen musings on the underside of Snapple lids?!). This is something I honestly spend time considering. I wonder if I should go into a different line of work. If I should go back to teaching full-time. If I should do more to be the change I want to see. And it's hard, because I truly love what I am working at professionally. But I often wonder if it's enough. Or trivial. Or inconsequential. 

When I moved to Los Angeles I knew I wanted to be a screenwriter. I also knew it would be difficult. A hard profession to break into. During my first week of film school at UCLA a professor told my lecture class that it was harder to break into screenwriting than it was to become a professional basketball player. I've never forgotten that. This is the majors. This is the show. This is where only the best and brightest get a chance to shine. 

And so I thought if I worked hard enough, was good enough, eventually my efforts would pay off. And I've put in the time. I've done the work. Nine years worth. Hundreds and thousands of hours at my desk writing. Countless more hours at classes, workshops, applying, strategizing, networking networking networking. And yet I had no idea that my gender, that being a woman, would be a part of the equation. That being female might make it SO MUCH harder to get in the door in Hollywood. 

But it has. 

In the last few years I've become hyper aware of the lack of diversity in this business. Both in front of and behind the camera. Both on the page and on the screen. Consider these statistics: 

  • In the top 100 grossing films of 2016, women represented just 3% of cinematographers, 4% of directors, 11% of writers, 14% of editors, and 19% of producers. 
  • In the top 100 grossing films of 2016, females comprised only 29% of protagonists. 
  • During the 2015-2016 broadcast network TV season, women accounted for only 27% of all individuals working as creators, directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and directors of photography. 
  • During the 2015-2016 broadcast network TV season, 98% of programs had no women directors of photography, 91% had no women directors, 78% had no women editors, 76% had no women creators, 71% had no women writers, 26% had no women producers, 26% had no women executive producers. (Women and Hollywood)
So it's not that I have to just try and break into the industry. It's that I have to break into the 24% of the industry I'm allowed to be in. Or invited to be in. 

Yeah, that's disheartening. 

But... change is happening. It's slow and it's hard and it's often two steps forward, eleven steps backward. But it's happening.

And I'm a part of that.

For several years now I've been talking about this issue to everyone who will listen. In person, on social media, yelling it from the rooftops, reposting articles, sharing my entertainment choices with the world, letting it be known how important it is for all of us to watch and read and listen to stories written and directed and produced and created by women. By people of color. By anyone who has traditionally been shut out of the storytelling world. 

And on Sunday something happened that told me all my yelling has not been for naught. 

After church I was chatting with friends. Several male friends to be exact. They were asking me questions about the web series and we got to talking about movies and TV in general, we talked about Wonder Woman specifically and before I knew it, in two different conversations, two of the men brought up the hashtags I use on social media. 

One of the guys said his consciousness has been raised so much by my postings and now he pays attention to the whole movement of #awomanwrotethat. I smiled and was so proud and so excited. I couldn't believe that I had actually raised someone's awareness. I had affected change. In such a tiny way. But in such a real way. And this twenty-something guy now pays attention to the entertainment world around him in a different way. I could not have been more thrilled. 

Then a few minutes later the conversation widened, added a few more people, and we got to talking about Wonder Woman. And as soon as the title of the movie came up, another male friend shouted out, "#awomandirectedthat!" and smiled broadly at me. Seriously. How freaking cool is that?! 

Change does not come easily. It does not come quickly. But it does come. It always comes. And on Sunday, I saw how something I had done, something I had instigated with my friends, changed their minds, changed their lives. They now realize that this idea that's so important to me, is important to everyone. Women's voices need to be heard. They need to not be silenced or left out of the conversation. 

Monday morning on set we had a few moments of downtime. We were waiting for the last crew member to arrive and the set grew quiet. And I took that opportunity to share the story of what had happened Sunday after church. We are a crew of ten working on this web series and we have eight females and two males. We are not the norm, and we all realize this. But as I shared my story, to encourage all of us in the work we are doing, and the importance of telling stories that a woman wrote or produced or directed or edited, I looked around and saw a new norm. I saw the future. The future is change. And the future is brighter because of it. 

A story can be so much more than a story. A perspective can be a world of difference. A sentiment can change a mind. A hashtag can change the world. In fact, it already has. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Couch - Day 1

Last Friday was supposed to be the first day of school, Christmas morning, the day vacation begins. But it was delayed. Our director had the stomach flu. And so, Monday became all those good things wrapped into one day. Our first day of filming on our web series, The Couch.

The first day of shooting, right before the first shot!
I packed my bag the night before. I printed out my script. I got my camera all loaded. (I am the onset still photographer!) I didn't sleep very well. I got up early. I dropped Angela at school just after sunrise. I drove to the Valley. And I got to the house where we'd be shooting all day. And there were people there.

The sound mixer. The script supervisor. The director. The director of photography/set designer/homeowner extraordinaire. Then the producer/lead actress arrived. And the other actress. And the production assistant.

Eight of us arrived for work that day all because Ayelette wanted to make something and I created something. HOW COOL IS THAT.

I really can't get over it. Seriously. I kinda hope I never do. The idea that as a writer, I am creating worlds. Creating lives. Creating stories. Creating emotions. The idea that as a writer, and particularly as a show runner (which I am not, yet), I am creating jobs. Creating opportunities. Creating work.

I am still a little bit in shock.

The day began with a 7am call time. I left set about 5:15pm. And yet? It felt like I'd been gone just mere moments. And? Days. At the beginning of the day I was anxious, nervous even. But within minutes of being on set I felt at ease, at home. There was work to be done, questions to be answered, things to be written, ideas to be bandied about.

Know this about Hollywood, the writer is not always invited to set. The writer is not always welcome on set. I've heard tales of writers who can't watch the movie they wrote because it's no longer their vision or because of how they were treated. And yet, I've heard the opposite too. There are filmmakers and directors who insist the writer be involved every step of the way. Particularly in television where writer is queen. And I've experienced it too. In my Hollywood adventures I've been welcomed with open arms, lauded as creator. I've also been shooed away, the door physically shut in my face, calls unreturned and uninvited to the process, deemed simply the writer. Someone unnecessary in the next step of the evolution of the process.

But this has not been the case on this project. I've been included and included and invited and deferred to. I've been celebrated and acknowledged and I cannot thank my collaborators enough. Monday would not have happened without every single one of us in that room.

I had different jobs on Monday. I took it upon myself to come up with affirmations for the set chalk board that would be in the shot. I used the chalk and channeled my best seventh grade teacher handwriting. I volunteered to be in charge of the clapboard, changing the scene numbers with the chalk I kept in my pocket, and clapping in front of the camera before each shot.

I also watched everyone else do their jobs and tried to learn from them. We had a first time director, a first time producer, a first time director of photography, a first time script supervisor. I asked questions during downtime and made notes. I want to soak it all in so I'm ready for next time. So I know how things are happening, how I can help, and how, maybe, at some point, I can tackle directing and producing.

Apart from soaking in all the new activity around me, I tried really hard to enjoy the moment too. To revel in the reality that these actresses were speaking my words, my story, inhabiting my characters. It was amazing to hear the crew laugh at lines I had written alone at my desk not knowing if they might sound funny or odd or off. It was amazing to watch these actresses telegraph the story that I thought was completely make-believe but upon watching it play out time and time again, made me realize perhaps it's a bit more personal than I might have previously thought.

Katy (director), Linda (script supervisor),
Meagan (director of photography)
I didn't want to leave the Valley Monday evening. In fact, after we wrapped (meaning the actors were finished with their part), four of us crew members sat in the backyard and took a few moments. We were all exhausted, mostly mentally, from the day, from the week, from the months of preparations. But we were all, and I'm just speaking from observation here, really excited.

We talked about the day. We talked about the trials. We talked about how we only ended up finishing one scene instead of the planned two. And we discussed the script. They asked questions about my choices, about my stories. They talked about how we'd portray different parts during upcoming filming days. And when we headed to our cars, the director told me how grateful she was to have me on set.

I know every experience will not be this perfect for me. I know I will not always be welcomed into the fold quite so readily. I know I will not always see my story portrayed quite so unfiltered on the screen. I know I will not always look around the set and see that I am surrounded, almost completely, by amazing women.

But I will always remember.

And I will always strive to recreate it. Because that's what I do. I create.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Red Converse with my hospital gown

Everyone wears their red Converse under their hospital gown, right? Right.

This was my view Tuesday afternoon. I had a lovely bed smack to the side of a busy hallway in the Glendale Adventist Emergency Room. I'm not complaining. I didn't want my own room, hell I didn't even want my own bed but they insisted. See if you get your own room, you're probably sticking around. And I didn't want to stick around.

I was there to get an ultrasound. I made an appointment with my primary care doctor because my right leg has been more achy than usual, a teeny tiny bit swollen around my sandal and occasionally painful. It had been about two weeks of this and I was done. So off to the doctor I went. She wanted an ultrasound immediately and the best way to get that was to send me to the ER. I'd spent the morning running around volunteering at Homeless Lunch and yet, they decided I couldn't walk to the ER. So I got in the wheelchair and they pushed me around the corner, up the ramp and into the connected hospital.

It was all supposed to be routine. They even slid me in the ER exit, instead of through the entrance, once I was registered. The nurse didn't even bother with blood work right away. They had me put a gown on just for the test. Which I had. But then...the doctor came back by. And I have to tell you, this ER staff was efficient and great. The doctor came by and said I'm calling a vascular surgeon and your hematologist.

And that's when I realized me and my red Converse weren't skipping out the door with just a quicky ultrasound.

A co-worked dropped Angela off at the hospital after work. We waited. We waited some more. And then? The doctor returned. He wanted to do something preventative to stop another pulmonary embolism because, in his words, some people don't have the best...and he stopped. I knew where he was going. Most people die from pulmonary embolisms. I did not the first time. He wasn't so sure I'd be as lucky the next was what I was getting even though he wasn't saying it. But the surgeon and my hematologist concurred that the new clot the ultrasound had picked up could very possibly be an old clot that was calcifying. That was good news. Right? Right...well, it was news.

The ER doctor sent me home, a bit begrudgingly. He'd wanted to admit me but he sensed he would and nothing would happen and they wouldn't put in a vascular screen (or more accurately, a vascular umbrella) as he hoped and they'd send me home in the morning. I thanked him profusely for his vigilance but gladly swapped my giant gown for my jeans and t-shirt and got on the road.

Wednesday morning Angela and I arrived at my hematologist's office, under direction from the ER doctor. I didn't have an appointment and we were armed with books and snacks and prepared to wait all day to be seen if necessary. But the sweet nurse was expecting me, having taken the ER call the day before, and ready to hear what was going on. I saw the doctor in just over an hour and we talked about the news.

My hematologist didn't want to take action just yet. She believes that the clot may be old, and if so, the blood thinner I'm on is doing it's job. She said a screen doesn't always work and sometimes causes more problems than it fixes. I don't want that. So the news? It's that I might have a new clot. And I might not. I'm to be aware of pulmonary embolism and clot symptoms and go to the ER if they appear or appear to worsen. I'm to continue my meds as I await the results of a new blood test and a study of this week's ultrasound and the 2015 ultrasounds. I can do that. I can wait. I can exercise and drink more water, the only prescriptions I left with Wednesday afternoon. But...

The news isn't what I hoped. I had hoped for nothing. For all the doctors to say you're fine. Or maybe you have a sciatica problem as the ER doctor so hopefully suggested just after ordering the ultrasound. But the news isn't terrible either. It could be so much worse.

But that doesn't stop the fear or the panic or the anxiety or the dread. That didn't stop me from bursting into tears in the waiting room after my appointment yesterday. (I'd worn mascara telling myself I couldn't cry while wearing it, and yet, I did.) That didn't stop me from sobbing in the Kohl's parking lot half an hour later as we debated lunch options. That didn't stop me from imaging I couldn't breathe last night as I did health-related paperwork. That didn't stop the PTSD. That didn't stop the terror.

It will subside. The feelings of anxiety will go away, I know this, logically. They'll lessen over time. They're better now than they were yesterday at this time. They're worse when I'm not busy or when I let my mind wander. Thankfully I have Angela. We played board games last night and watched baseball. And then I read until late, until my eyes physically beat my brain to the sleep finish line. Thankfully I have projects to keep me going. I spent hours on the phone this morning with my friend Tami talking story and script. Thankfully I have volunteering. This afternoon I spent time at Ang's school, where I got so many hugs and lunch and bakery treats bought to celebrate me. I am so lucky. So thankful.

The anxiety will subside. It will get better as my body does. Walking up inclines is harder now than it was several weeks ago. This is due to the clots, whether new or old. It's a reality but I'll still walk up them. Because the hill might be steep but it's still my path.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Reading the year away

I love my iPhone. It's rarely out of my sight. (Though I do leave it charging in the living room when I go to bed.) I am constantly checking Twitter, Facebook, reading articles, taking photos, texting. It's great. I can answer email wherever and whenever. I can play games on it. I can read books on it. I can track my calories and my steps. I use it to remember when I got my period last month and what the name of my blood disorder is (gun to my head right now, I could not remember the entire name).

And yet...

I've been trying to step away from it more. I've been trying to read more. Take more breaks.

This has a lot to do with the election. This has a lot to do with the state of our world. This has a lot to do with me.

In January I promised myself I'd read more books. I already read lots of articles. Lots of magazines. Lots of newspapers. But I'd found myself buying books and stacking them on the shelf and meaning to get to them and then not. Because two hours later I'd still be on Twitter. So I made myself a promise.

I've done well this year, so far. I started re-reading A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn. I read it chapter by chapter at my desk, slowly, with a pen and a highlighter, as if there will be a test. Because I think there will be. It's the future of our country, the test.

I've read a bunch of novels, which I love. When Angela was in San Jose for her STEAM conference I found myself reading all night, saving our favorite TV shows for when she got home. And I devoured two books. Just this past weekend I read an entire novel, Sweetbitter, and started another. There is nothing better than a book you don't want to put down, well maybe a book you don't want to ever end (I'm looking at you The Hate U Give).

I've also been other nonfiction, including The Sixth Extinction, which Angela and I read out loud together. We passed the book back and forth beginning the night we lost power, and read while we cooked, while we cleaned, while we drove, while we laid in bed. It was great. We had to look up words and we had to end chapters early sometimes to talk about what we'd just read. And now we know a lot about the current bat crisis in this country, among other things.

But you know what another result of reading is, besides learning about climate change and history and the drama of life in a fictional restaurant (read Sweetbitter, trust me)? Wanting to talk about what you've read. Or what you've learned. And that can be hard because despite that smartphone in my pocket, I sometimes feel disconnected.

So a couple of weekends ago I headed off to the Los Angeles Times Book Fest. I was excited to hear some of my favorite writers speak. To learn directly from them. And learn I did.

The first panel I attended was entitled "Activists on the Front Lines". Matt Pearce, reporter from the LA Times moderated (he's one of my trusted sources, I like to not just follow journalism but journalists in particular). Cleve Jones (writer of We All Rise, creator of the AIDS quilt project and so much more), Ron Kovic (Vietnam War vet, writer of Born on the Fourth of July), L.A. Kauffman (activist since the 60s), and Wesley Lowery (Washington Post reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner).

During the hour they talked I was so impressed with the stories I heard. With the truths they told. I clapped, I cheered (when Jones talked about how unions helped get Senator Catherine Cortez Masto elected in November -- I phone banked for her!) and I wrote something down...

Pearce, Jones, Kauffman, Lowery & Kovic
"We have to do a better job of using popular culture" to get the word out about activism, said Cleve Jones at one point in the discussion. 
I wrote this down in my phone (another smartphone use! Notetaking!) and kept looking at it over the next week. I often struggle when I write fiction or screenplays to balance between message and story. It can be a hard tightrope to walk. But one I want to do a better job of. I want to remind people that stories have truth, and importance. They influence people. And I love that Jones brought this up.

Then I was lucky enough to grab a standby ticket to attend Congressman John Lewis' discussion. He was there to promote his graphic novel trilogy, March, about the history of civil rights in this country. Except Rep. Lewis didn't talk during his hour, he preached. What he reminded all of us in that huge auditorium was,
Congressman Lewis
"If you see something not right, not fair, you have a moral obligation to get into good trouble." 
Roxane Gay & Alexander Chee
I ended my day at the Book Fest by spending an hour listening to Roxanne Gay talk with Alexander Chee. Gay is an English professor, a nonfiction writer, a fiction writer, a screenwriter and a comic book writer among other things. I read my first collection of her work last fall and immediately became enamored. She pushes me to think critically, and to read diverse voices. That was certainly a theme for my day at the Fest. Hearing from authors who have strong, proud voices. Who have stories to tell. Who have knowledge to share.

Now, don't think I've given up watching television or movies or listening to music or anything you'll find on the home screen of my iPhone. I still fit it all in, but I'm finding the more I read, old fashioned paper books, or even pick up my old Kindle (which I carried with me to San Francisco with several books) the happier I am. The more I'm out of my own brain and into someone else's. The more I learn, the more I want to learn.

Last Friday night Angela and I found ourselves in the independent bookstore in our neighborhood. We were there to hear some of my favorite screenwriters and television creators speak about the Business. And it was a great night. But you know what made it even better? That the event took place in a bookstore. The kind where employees tack up notes next to their favorite books. The kind where people encourage you to browse by displaying books you'd never have found on Amazon. We left with a copy of a middle school-geared autobiography on Elon Musk for Angela's new STEAM program. And she got a discount because she inquired about the middle school reading club. Because they like teachers at our little bookstore.

How great is that.

Tell me what you're reading. Tell me what I should read next. Tell me what I should put on hold at the library or what I must buy right now with my Target gift certificate. Share with me. Because reading is so much more fun when we get to share about it.

An artist I saw working at the Book Fest

Friday, April 21, 2017

A new project!

Back in September of 2016 I came across a posting in a Women in Film Facebook group. In the post, Ayelette, an actress, was looking for collaborators. She wanted to produce a web series. She was looking for a writer, a director, etc.

So I responded to her posting.

And last Friday I sat in a rented room at a place called Space Station and watched as she read with a whole host of actors auditioning for roles in our web series. OUR WEB SERIES.

To say I'm still a bit in shock about the whole thing is an understatement.

Back in September Ayelette and I talked about what she was looking for in a partnership. She wanted to tell a good story. She wanted to have fun. She wanted to work with other women. I wanted all of the same things. And so after our initial FaceTime chat, I got to work. I was starting from scratch, not an unfamiliar place for me but a place that takes some time to dig out of. See, I have to build the hole and the shovel and the person to use it all before I can dig out.

There were more conversations. There were a lot of emails. But the cool thing is, Ayelette gave me time and space to create. And it was a pretty great feeling to know I was writing for an audience that wasn't just me and my little circle of readers. She was pretty committed to making this series.

I finished my work this winter. A premise I crafted, characters I envisioned, all down on the pages of seven scripts. And then Ayelette got to work.

Yes, I've had hope before. Yes, I've been excited about projects. There've been table reads, staged readings, pilot development, even that short film made for Lifetime that didn't go anywhere. But this is something more.

This is someone renting the casting room at Space Station. This is actors, who've had real work in real movies and shows you've heard of, coming in and reading scenes I've written.

That was the most surreal part last Friday. As I settled in between the director, Katy, and Ayelette, to watch the auditions, I didn't realize at first that they'd be reading scenes from the actual scripts. I mean I should have, that makes the most sense, but I didn't. And then the first actor started to read. He was a man in his 70s, saying words I wrote for a character in his 70s. I couldn't stop smiling.

Me & Ayelette
I also couldn't stop smiling because Ayelette and Katy immediately took me into the fold of the casting session, they included me, as if it was the most natural thing in the world for me to be there. And, just to let you know, that's not always the case for us writers in Hollywood. In my limited experience in this business I've been brushed aside as "just the writer" several times. To be fair, I've been lauded as "the writer" as well but you never quite remember the good as well as you remember the bad.
Ayelette, Katy & me

And so, by the end of Friday, they'd cast several parts of the series. They're still looking to fill several other parts of the cast and crew. But it's happening. There's a weekend in May when shooting will begin. And I cannot explain how excited I am that I'll get to be on set.

I've learned to be a bit more hesitant in my celebrations of good news when it comes to my writing. Things happen and then things don't. Things fall apart much more quickly than they come together. But this one...this one is moving right along. And I can't wait to share it with the world. Soon...

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

I went to Planned Parenthood for the first time in February...

Two years ago when I found out about the blood clots and the blood disorder and I spent most of that year being sick and then recuperating, I experienced something interesting right alongside it all. I experienced people, medical professionals mostly, being way more concerned about my gynecological health than I thought they should be.

Now, please, everyone -- keep reading. Don't be scared. Don't think my story isn't for you because you're a guy or don't want to hear about my personal issues or think this might not really pertain to you. 

Because, trust me, it does. It does pertain to you. Because you a member of this society. You have a vested interest in our world. And making sure our world is healthy, and people are cared for, is important. For all of us. 

It was my first visit to a general practitioner after my hospital stay. I'd been assigned a 40-something male doctor downtown Los Angeles. My mother took me. I was barely able to walk, I wouldn't drive for over a month, it was a rough day. I was most concerned about having another pulmonary embolism. About the blood clots that had taken up residence in my legs and groin. About the pain. About the panic attacks. About my high blood pressure because of all of the anxiety. I was barely keeping the tears in. (I cried about five minutes into my appointment.) I wasn't well. And yet one of the very first questions this new male doctor asked me was did I plan to have children.


That's right. He wanted to know if I wanted kids. And I think I said yes. I'm not sure. He followed that question up very quickly with an inquiry about the date of my last pap smear. 

Now let's be honest here. I could barely remember my own name. I was on pain killers. I was having my parents and Angela help me walk to the bathroom. I was terrified that when I went to sleep at night I wouldn't wake up because I'd throw another clot in my sleep. 

I didn't give a fuck about having children that day. 

I still had pain that was almost unbearable. I still had panic attacks multiple times a day. I wasn't thinking about anything other than staying alive. (This was weeks, maybe months before I'd finally be diagnosed with the gallbladder issues. That was a big part of the pain. That doctor never did catch that issue. My acupuncturist did and I had to press the doctor to order the ultrasound and then when he brought me in for the results he refused to come into the exam room. Literally would not face me. I could hear him tell a nurse the answers to my questions in the hall. But he wouldn't see me. I never saw him again, thank god.) 

But I left the office that day with a prescription for a pap smear and an appointment with an OBGYN. 

Over the next few months I'd see a bunch of specialists. And without fail, I'd walk in and sometimes the receptionist, sometimes a nurse, would ask, when was your last pap smear. And I'd be all, well, um, I have this blood disorder I'd like to talk about first. And it was just last week, thanks for getting all up in my business.

It became a running joke. I'd let my acupuncturist know how many medical professionals had asked about my pap status that month. I swore up and down these offices were getting government kickbacks for signing up women to have their annual exams. I pondered starting a drinking game where I got to have a bottle of wine every day I was asked. 

And eventually, just a mere month or so after that first appointment, I went in for my annual exam. To the new doctor I was assigned by my health insurance. And it was horrible. 

I have never felt quite so violated in quite such a fashion. 

If you've never been involved with a gynecological exam, let me just say, it should be as respectful and painless as possible for the woman involved. I've had fine exams by doctors who just get down to business and it lasts mere minutes. I've had longer appointments by midwives who explain everything and talk a lot. Those are fine too. But this particular exam? 

There were between six and ten other women in the room -- who I assume were all medical professionals. I do not know but I hope this is true. No one introduced themselves to me. I was all alone with a stupid tiny, paper gown on, my feet in stirrups, when they all walked in the door talking and never shut up. The doctor, maybe, poked around and informed me I had a polyp and that meant I might have cancer and as a kicker, she'd broken it and I might have to have the pap smear redone at a later date because of the blood. 'Cause CANCER is the word you want to hear in that physical and emotional state. I had no idea what a polyp was and now one was bleeding inside of me. 

It was over quickly, thank god, and I got dressed and left and literally never went back. I decided to live with whatever was in me and I focused on getting other parts of me better. 

That should not have been the outcome. 

If I was a friend of mine, I'd have wanted the best gynecological care in the world for me. I'd have wanted that polyp out and that cancer checked and all my questions answered. 

But that's not what happened. 

And so here we are almost two years later. I'm fine. I live with the blood clots. I've lived with the polyp but it'll come out next week via the hands of a very sweet, funny, caring new OBGYN I insisted on after that horrible experience. But it took time. It took time to feel comfortable enough to demand I had the right to a better doctor and medical experience. 

And it's that whole long, drawn out story that's still not over that delivered me to Planned Parenthood in February. 

After the election in November, I was in a bad place. I was distressed. I felt useless. I felt like most days I had no voice and even on days I had one, no one could hear me when I screamed. And I felt like I had to do something to change that. And so I did. 

In December I signed up to volunteer at Planned Parenthood. Me and a lot of other people. And that's how I found myself playing get to know you icebreakers with an incredibly diverse group of men and women in the Planned Parenthood boardroom one Wednesday night. We talked about why we were there, why we wanted to volunteer, and how frustrated we were with the world around us. And we all agreed we could do something about it. 

And that's what I've been doing every other Wednesday since then. Trying really hard to feel useful. Trying really hard to make sure that people, women AND men, get the health care they deserve, from an organization that is doing it's best every single day to care for our communities. 

It's not hard. It's stuffing envelopes for four hours at a stretch. I get to help out some really great women who are handling the health care plans of patients. Today I stuck return labels on 500 envelopes. I made copies. I unjammed the copier. I folded letters and brochures. I added my day's tally to the board. I felt like I was a part of making the world a teeny tiny bit better. I helped out. That's it.

But it felt amazing to be useful. Each week when I go into the office, I get a little peak at what happens within Planned Parenthood. I get to see that each month literally thousands of people are receiving health care. Women AND men. And trust me when I tell you this, it's not all abortions. I wish everyone could know this. I mean it is, partially, and that's important. So important. But it's also so much more. 

It's disease prevention and treatment. It's blood pressure checks. It's cancer screenings. It's vasectomies. It's education. It's a chance for people to be cared for and helped and not be made to feel less or worse or that they don't matter. I know exactly how that feels after my experience at that terrible gynecologist's office. And I never want anyone to feel that way. And I never want anyone to go without health care. And Planned Parenthood provides both of those things. 

Health care can be scary. It can be confusing and expensive and hard to get. But Planned Parenthood, despite all of the political issues surrounding it, is thriving. It's serving people. And I love that I get to be a teeny, tiny part of that. Of making the experience of being healthy better for people. Because we all need to have better health care. We all need to be taken care of. We all need to be concerned with people getting what they need to stay alive, and to thrive. That's a human issue. One we all sometimes forget is about people, not about policies or budgets or politics.

Those doctors I first encountered after my hospital stay for the blood clots were concerned about me having children, and about me getting a pap smear, which in retrospect, is still kinda weird but I also kind of understand. It's important. But we need to remember that health care is important for everyone. Of every age. Of every race. Of every gender. Of every socioeconomic status. Of every creed. PERIOD. END OF SENTENCE. Health care is important for everyone. 

And volunteering at Planned Parenthood makes me feel like I get to help remind people of that. That I get to be heard, even if I'm silently sitting in a cubicle stuffing envelopes. My voice is back, and it is strong and it's getting a workout. And just a little paper cut or two. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Hurry up, April!

Valentine's Day this year was a really good day. I took muffins to Homeless Lunch for the volunteers. I got some writing done. Angela and I watched comedies all night and ate the Mini Eggs my dad had picked out and sent us for the holiday. We talked about our spring break plans and started to get excited.

But then February 15th, just after 6:30am I got a text message. I was still in my pajamas, barely awake. Angela had gone to school early to meet with her new teachers as she does most Wednesdays. The text said, I'm okay but the car is totaled.

I called and called and didn't get through. I texted. I got dressed. I finally got through. She was fine. Her car was not. The other person was fine. His truck was fine. I got her location and I left the house in my car.

The day changed. It was supposed to be my first time volunteering at Planned Parenthood. I had to cancel. We called State Farm and got a tow truck ordered. The police declined to come help. We had to find a place to park my car during street cleaning while we waited. We found one, blocks away and got coffee on the walk back. I called our acupuncturist who answered before the phone even rang, I swear. "Sarah Knapp, what's going on?" We don't call Trace, we text. We call only when it's important. She knew.

The tow truck driver eventually came. The car would head to the Valley, an hour away. We headed to Trace's. Angela was treated. We ate lunch, rested for less than 20 minutes, and then drove to the Valley to sign papers. We drove home and dealt with insurance.

And we've been dealing with insurance and the accident ever since. Barely a day has gone by without multiple phone calls or crises. It's been exhausting. And made us reconsider our spring break plans. But then we decided, no, the show must go on!

And so we set to planning. Maybe the best part of vacations. It's all that ANTICIPATION! I love it!

We're going to San Francisco.
In the summer of 2015 we visited San Diego because while I'd driven through the town on many occasions, I hadn't really gotten to sight see there like the rest of my family all has at some point. And well, we live in California just a few hours away so why not. And now, well, the same thinking applies. Yes, Angela and I have been to San Francisco, once almost 10 years ago but that trip turned out to be a little less than idea.

Our first night there we ate at a Ruby's Diner and I got food poisoning. Or the flu. Who knows. But I was sick. Oh so sick. The kind of sick you do not want to be when you are in a new city in a new state staying in a hostel in a room with your sister and friend, sharing a bed with your sister, and have a communal bathroom down the hall. Alas...

We made the best of it. I tasted some sourdough bread Susie and Angela brought back to me after their daily excursions. I walked down Lombard Street after driving down part of it made me almost throw up in the car. And I rallied by the end of the trip enough to go to Alcatraz and enjoy the heck out of that day. But the rest...a sickly blur. And so? We're going back. 

This time we'll take the train up the coast, something Angela's been wanting to do. We'll catch the Amtrak at Union Station and go all the way to Oakland. We'll stay in a Holiday Inn right in the city. We've already reserved our seats on the Big Bus so we can make the most of looking like tourists and use it strategically as relatively cheap transportation all over the Bay Area. We'll take a half day motor coach tour to Muir Woods and hike among the giant redwoods. 

We're taking walking tours of neighborhoods. We'll eat breakfast at a place my mom's friend swears we must try. We'll trek to a bakery I found in an article of Bon Appetite that I ripped out of the magazine. We'll get cheap tickets to a Giants game because baseball season will have just begun! And on our last night in the city? 

We'll see Hamilton.

Yes. Oh yes. It's a sold out show almost every night it's in the city. People are flying up there from LA to get a chance to see it. And yes, we paid dearly for the experience on StubHub. But we will see Hamilton. And we're beyond excited.

Since listening to the cast recording last summer it's almost all we listen to. In the house. In the car. We know the words, the key changes, the story by heart. We've read the book. I have the Chernow biography next to my bed. And on our last night of vacation, we'll be on the floor in row AA at 8pm. 

So yes, there's some anticipation.

Yesterday we spent the afternoon pouring over the tour guide and the map I bought. Angela finally gave in to the reality that yes, I am drawing on the map with permanent markers. I've found our hotel, the theater, all the restaurants and tourists attractions and then outlined the bus routes. And the cable car route! Because it's going to happen this time, I'm going to ride a cable car! 

So here's to spending less time worrying about car accidents and insurance claims and buying a new car and more time looking forward to new adventures! Hurry up, April!