Category Archives: Uncategorized Stuff

Friday Morning Thoughts

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So, here’s what I’m thinking about this Friday morning, while I should be crafting an email for one client, sending off completed articles to another client, and following up with a third about a project in process.

I’m thinking about Harvey Weinstein. I’m thinking about Donald Trump. I’m thinking about domestic abuse and violence. I’m thinking about the kids that become victims of abuse and violence.

I’m not getting any work done because I can’t focus on the work. There’s so much fucking noise.

But here’s the big thing on my mind.

There’s a kid in my neighborhood, his name is Ben. He’s 11 years old, and he’s about as awesome as any 11-year-old kid can be. He opened a restaurant with his parents here in town (Big Ben’s Bodacious BBQ). We met them all at their grand opening and were struck by how amazing this kid is. He’s an aspiring chef and is more self-possessed at 11 than I am at 42.

A few weeks ago, Ben lost both of his parents in what is believed to be a murder-suicide. Yet another case of domestic violence. Our community is shocked. I’m shocked. They lived about a block from us, on the other side of the Crisis Center that’s across the street from our house. They were both found dead at home after someone called the police for a welfare check.

And, of course, everyone is concerned about Ben. He’s such a promising young man, dealing with a horrible tragedy at too young an age. The community is rallying around him. Another local restaurant is hosting a benefit. A GoFundMe page has been created to raise money for his education. This kid has suffered an unspeakable loss, but the village is hugging in tight around him, and I know there are many folks here who will do whatever they can to make sure he has a bright future. It makes me feel good to know that this is the kind of community that looks after each other in that way.

But you know what else that makes me think?

It makes me think about that building that is between our house and theirs – the Crisis Center. It’s a place for children in need of shelter, safety and support. I can see it from where I’m sitting right now. But you know what? I don’t know the name of a single kid in that building.

I’m sure that building is full of kids like Ben. But I don’t know their stories. Why?

There are so many kids out there, suffering the same sort of loss or trauma, not getting the same kind of community support. What makes one kid different from the next?

And when the fuck are we going to wake up not just as a community, but as a culture, to the reality of domestic violence? The CDC reports that nearly half of all murdered women are killed by romantic partners. As a woman, you’re way more likely to be killed by a current or former romantic partner than you are by a stranger. How many millions of kids have to survive this kind of trauma before we make a fundamental change in our culture? How many more Harvey Weinsteins and Donald Trumps and Bill Cosbys are we going to have to suffer? How many more nameless kids is it going to take?

I have no answers. I can only do my part, which starts with learning more about the Crisis Center and finding ways I can help them. With hugging in tight around those in our community who are victimized (this is Gary; there are a lot).

And by calling out this behavior when I see it. Not letting the Harvey Weinsteins and Donald Trumps and Bill Cosbys get away with their behavior for so long. But even I know that is easier said than done. Our culture is still one that blames the victim and punishes those who speak out.

How much more damage control do we have to do before we finally address what’s doing the damage?

 

 

 

 

2016 – A Year for Gratitude

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I know we can all (mostly) agree that 2016 did little to boost our enthusiasm, intensify our collective connection, or even to give us hope about the future.

That being said, I am a FIRM believer in the practice of gratitude. Yes, practice, because it doesn’t feel like our default setting, as humans. It’s something we must consciously repeat to turn it into habit.

So, I cannot let 2016 pass without expressing my gratitude for certain events that made my life better this year, or helped me grow (even if that growth was kind of unpleasant). This is not an exhaustive list, but those that come to mind as I sit here quietly with hubs on this rainy, last-night-of-2016 in Los Angeles.

I am grateful that my mom’s cancer scare turned out as best as it possibly could. Sometimes it’s scary to hope for the best, but sometimes life does give it to you. Honestly, this alone could have been enough to make 2016 a good year. Thank you, 2016, for keeping my mom in good health so that I may enjoy her love and company for many years to come. My heart aches for those who cannot say the same.

I am grateful for that horrible gall bladder attack that hubs had that landed him in the ER on my birthday. It was terrible to see him in such pain for so prolonged a period, but finally getting a proper diagnosis meant finally being able to deal with it. And I’m even grateful in a way for the complications that made his recovery slow-going, because it forced me to slow down and just concentrate on being with him, in the moment.

I am grateful for my own health. I’m grateful that lump turned out to be nothing serious. I came to realize in a real way this year how, really, good health trumps everything else. Without it, there really is nothing else.

I am grateful that I found within myself the courage to make a bold move in the coming year. Moving back to Indiana has been a decision I’ve been mulling for years, and 2016 was finally the year where I unpacked all my thoughts and feelings about it and decided to stop thinking and start acting. That’s scary, but I feel more confident, and more excited about the coming year because of the big changes ahead.

I am grateful that this decision to move has been entirely mutual between me and hubs, and that his enthusiasm and positivity about our move has made me more confident and positive. It’s brought us closer together, and I’m quite excited about having this adventure together.

I am grateful for the adventures I had the good fortune to experience this year: sea kayaking off the Channel Islands with hubs and my brother, an impromptu trip to Belize, seeing the “Super Bloom” in Death Valley, visiting family in Indiana. I’m grateful that I have the means and the time to do such things.

I am grateful that my stepson is making bold choices with his life. It’s inspiring. His upcoming over-winter at the South Pole has given everyone a jolt of excitement, and I’m sure it will be a profound life experience for him.

I am grateful that my stepdaughter is turning into an amazing human being, one who acts with compassion and kindness, but who is also tough and resilient. I’m lucky to be able to see this young person turn into an adult before my eyes.

I am grateful for my friendships. They add depth and richness and meaning to my life.

I am grateful that somehow I keep making this freelance thing work, because it lets me be the designer of my own day-to-day life, so that I can pay attention to all the things that are important to me that I often could not with a more conventional job.

I am grateful for all the rejection letters I got this year, because it means I am actually writing and submitting my work.

I am grateful for all my incredible collaborators throughout the year. Though I tend to gravitate towards solitary work, I do so thoroughly enjoy the creative partnerships I’ve had the good fortune to enter into this year.

I am grateful for all the great art and culture I got to be a part of this year. Art, really, is what gives my life color and meaning.

I am grateful for all the small joys of daily life – for hot coffee and foggy mornings and kitty cuddles and hot showers and a nice, crisp glass of Viognier after a long day of work.

I am grateful, even, for the darkness of 2016. I’m finding the courage within myself to enter into that darkness, and the darkness that is no doubt coming.

The funny thing is, when I start making a list like this, I find I could go on and on and on. Gratitude begets gratitude, which makes the practice of gratitude that much more important. My intention for 2017 is to carry that practice into the New Year, and build on it.

What are you grateful about in 2016?

 

Where To Find Information About California / Los Angeles Judicial Candidates and Ballot Measures

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Since moving to California ten years ago, I’ve been shocked by how intense the voting process is here. We vote for seemingly everything, and often. It seems only a month a two goes by before I start receiving political flyers and a sample ballot in the mail. Again.

Most of the time, I feel totally overwhelmed. Most of the candidates and ballot measures we’re asked to weigh-on in, I know nothing about. And for a long time I’ve felt it’s been hard to get reliable information, aside from what is mailed to us with our sample ballot, so that I can make educated decisions.

Voting isn’t just a right; it’s a responsibility. I don’t take it lightly.

I don’t want to “eenie, meenie, miney, mo” my way through the ballot. And I don’t think you should, either. Of course, it’s your choice. It’s your right to vote as you please. But I think we owe it to each other to make informed decisions. These aren’t just offices or measures we’re voting on – these are things that impact people’s lives, some in a very direct way. I choose not to be cavalier about that responsibility.

Last night – a Friday night – I researched and completed my mail-in ballot. Do I know how to party, or what? Seriously, though, I spent a few hours looking for information online that would help me make decisions about each item on my ballot. I wish I found one central place where all that information is available, but I didn’t.

So I decided to put it together and share it with you. Now – this is information specific to California/Los Angeles, where I reside. But hopefully it will help to point you in the direction of where you might go online to find information about your district.

I’m not only including links that offer simplified explanations of each measure along with arguments for and against, I’m also including links to who or what the state or local Republican and Democratic parties are endorsing. Some of these ballot measures are tricky, and I find it helpful to know how my party feels about the issue. And who the hell knows anything about the judges, unless you are somehow involved in the judicial system?

If you’re voting third party – go, you maverick! I’m going to assume you know where to find the information you need, or that you’re smart enough to figure it out.

So, without further ado, here are the links that I found helpful:

California’s 17 Ballot Measure Propositions Explained (brought to you by public radio):

http://www.scpr.org/news/2016/10/03/65230/time-to-cram-california-s-17-ballot-measure-propos/

Voter Guide for City of Los Angeles Ballot Measures:

http://lwvlosangeles.org/files/LA_City_Measures.pdf

Los Angeles County Bar Association Evaluations of all judicial candidates:

http://www.lacba.org/docs/default-source/jeec-reports/jeec-report-2016.pdf

California Democratic Party Ballot Measure Endorsements:

http://www.cadem.org/vote/2016-ballot-initiatives

Los Angeles County Democratic Party Endorsements:

http://www.lacdp.org/endorsements/

California Republican Party Ballot Measure Endorsements:

https://www.cagop.org/ballot_measure_endorsements

Los Angeles County Republican Party Endorsements:

http://www.lagop.org/elections

While included in the endorsements links, I didn’t find a great source of unbiased information about the two Los Angeles County measures on the ballot. Please comment if you know of one, or if I missed anything that you think is important.

Remember – your vote counts! Take the time to educate yourself so you can make an informed decision.

 

 

 

Talking About Hard Stuff: Student Loan Debt

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There’s a new documentary out about Nora Ephron, made by her son. It’s called Everything is Copy, which refers to her insistence that all matters of her intimate life were to be shared in her work.

I love Nora Ephron, and I’ve been thinking about that concept a lot lately, about the need to share the intimate stuff, the hard stuff.

So as of today I’m starting a new section of my blog, a dedicated place where I talk about the hard stuff.

Why? As a personal challenge, for starters. I tend to shy away from talking about the really hard stuff. I’ve got a laundry list of hard stuff I never talk about, and I don’t think it serves me, and I know it doesn’t serve my work.

I’m also doing it because people tend to respond to the hard stuff, because they have hard stuff, too, and it makes them feel less alone maybe.

So – here goes.

I had a really bad couple of hours on Friday, and in the thick of it I posted something about it on Facebook. I was surprised at the number of responses it solicited. It’s a topic that’s hard for a number of people, it seems, and it only gets harder the older we get. And that topic is…

…student loan debt.

I spent Friday afternoon on the phone with Navient trying to work out a stupid paperwork issue so that I don’t have to pay $859 a month in loan payments. It was agonizing, and a couple of times while speaking with them on the phone I actually had to stop and breathe because I was ugly crying and my throat was closing in on itself and I couldn’t get words to come out of my mouth. Frankly, I don’t think “Keith” in India really gave a shit. I mean, poor privileged white American girl who can’t pay her bills. I get it. I would call bullshit on me, too.

My husband was understandably worried about me. It’s probably not a nice thing to see your wife hunched over, her head on her desk, sobbing to Indian Keith on the phone, not making much sense. Hubs did the only thing he could think to do – he rubbed my shoulders and told me it would be OK. Which was nice, even though I didn’t believe him.

So, here’s the thing. Here’s what’s got me so upset.

As of this moment, I owe $91,762.32 on my student loans. That’s about $20,000 more than when I graduated 14 years ago.

It’s a punch in the stomach, writing that.

I hadn’t looked up the actual number in awhile, and I thought it was about $85,000. So, yeah, it’s actually $6,000 more than I thought.

What did I buy for $91,762.32? A BFA and an MFA in Acting. Go ahead and laugh. I would laugh, too, at the absurdity of spending $91,762.32 to learn how to be a fucking actor of all things if it wasn’t such a sad and sickening reality.

I’m 40. The reality is that I just don’t make any real money working in the arts. Some people do. I have many friends who do. I’m glad for them. But for whatever reasons, whether it’s the choices I made or things that I have no control over, I never landed a really great job as an actor.

Now, I’m smart. I was valedictorian of my high school graduating class and I have an advanced degree. I could work outside my industry. I could teach. I could work in sales. I could bartend. I could work as an executive assistant. I’ve done all those things, in fact.

I’ve been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, and in it she talks about never relying on your creativity to pay the bills. She talks about the honor of having an outside job that pays the bills so that your creativity has room to breathe, that it doesn’t have the burden of responsibility placed on it.

I get that, as an idea. And I’ve tried that. For years and years and years. And you know what I found? That, at the end of the day, I was too exhausted by the hustle to have any energy left to put towards my creativity. I’m hard-working, and I’m loyal. The job I’m being paid to do will always be the one that comes first. That’s the way I was raised and it’s hard-wired into me. Compound that with living in New York and Los Angeles during those years, and suddenly the amount of money you need to just get by is exponentially higher. But you have to live there because that’s where most of the work is. And trying to have a regular job while also trying to be an actor is nearly impossible. Actors have to have spontaneously flexible schedules because sometimes you only get a half day’s notice about an audition.

All of that is exhausting, and it’s not a great environment for creativity to feel safe and welcome.

The only times I’ve ever been able to make decent payments on my student loan is when I have worked outside my industry. I remember those times. That’s when I was smoking a pack of cigarettes a day and taking blood pressure medication at 30 because I was so fucking stressed out. It’s taken me a long time to admit it, but unless I’m actively working at a creative job every day I am totally. Fucking. Miserable. It actually feels like part of my soul dies every day. There have been so many mornings where I would cry over my eggs because the thought of going to the office was so dreadful it made me feel physically ill.

What bothers me about this, is that I was allowed –  encouraged, really – to buy something, to take out a loan for something, that was probably never going to be the thing I did to pay off that loan (in fact, at least half of my classmates, maybe more, are not making a living as a working actor). Why did I borrow $91,762.32 and spend seven years of my life becoming a fucking awesome actor, if I could never hope to pay that money back by being an actor? Why was I made to feel like I was lucky to be paying so much for this education? That it was a fucking privilege to leave school with such an expensive degree?

That’s sick, and the more I think about it, the angrier I get. Normally, I’m a good sleeper. But it’s 2 a.m. on a Sunday night and I can’t sleep because I can’t stop thinking about this suffocating monkey on my back. So I’m up writing about it, because I don’t know what else to do.

My husband thinks that something is going to happen, that there are too many people like me, too many people who have crippling student loan debt, who have no hope of ever being able to pay them off, that there will be some sort of change in the future, some kind of relief. I so wish for that to be true.

But, in dark moments, I don’t believe that will ever happen. I assume I will die without ever paying this loan off. That I won’t be able to collect social security. That I will live at or near the poverty line for the rest of my life, and that I will have to work until the day I die.

Look, I made the choices that led to this. I own that. And I’m making choices now that are contributing to my debt getting bigger instead of smaller. I own that, too. I made the choice that I just can’t work another 9 to 5 office job, or worse, work in a restaurant. I’m able to make just enough money to keep myself afloat by freelancing. I write thousands of words every week for various websites. I work as a personal assistant in someone’s home. I put together pitch decks for TV shows in development. I finished my first novel and I’m looking for a literary agent. I’m co-writing a screenplay with a talented friend whose first feature is screening at the Tribeca Film Festival this week.

I act now and again when a project comes up. But I don’t pursue it full time because pursuing acting is really expensive, especially in Los Angeles. There are so many things you “have” to buy – new headshots every year, great audition clothes, regular haircuts (and colors, now that I’m getting grey hairs – can’t be old here!), casting director workshops you have to pay to attend in order to meet anyone, classes you should be taking…it’s a never-ending money-suck being an actor, and I just can’t stomach laying out that kind of cash anymore. Not when I already owe $91,762.32 for my training.

I’m actually happy doing what I’m doing. I work really hard. I’m extremely disciplined. I get up at 6:30 most mornings and am at my desk working by 8. I’m always on the lookout for new gigs, and for creative ways to make more money. And when I’m not thinking about this crippling debt, I feel pretty good. But then I remember how much I owe, and how little I make being creative, and I end up in a shame spiral, admonishing myself and feeling sorry myself at the same time. It’s a crappy place to be.

I come from a working class family. My dad was a steel worker and my mom worked in the cafeteria of my elementary school. Now she works in the floral department of a grocery store. I learned about hard work and sacrifice from them. I learned that most people work hard at jobs they don’t love. Because that’s how it is.

I have loads of shame about this debt, and that I’m still sticking to my artistic guns in the face of it. It sometimes feels self-indulgent and ego-centric and I hate myself for it. It’s safe to say I often feel tortured about being an artist in a culture that doesn’t value art. I haven’t had commercial success, and I may never have it. But I keep going because I have to, the core of who I am dictates it. All other choices make me feel awful and dead inside.

I don’t have any answers. And when I ask myself if I would do it again, if I would go to college and graduate school again, I know the answer. Yes, I would. It was transformative for me personally and as an artist. My whole experience of the world is different, richer, because of it.

But I would handle this debt differently. I wouldn’t just presume, at 25, that someday I’d book a national commercial that would pay off the debt. Because I haven’t and I probably won’t. I’d be smarter about my choices. And, frankly, I think my education should have better prepared me, prepared all of us, for what the likely reality would be. Give us some pointers on how to handle enormous debt in the most expensive cities, advice on where to find the jobs that are both actor-friendly and not soul-crushing.

I can’t go back, of course. I’ve got to figure out what to do going forward.

I do think our system needs radical change. It’s criminal how much an education costs, while the banks financing those education loans keep getting richer. But, that’s the American Way, isn’t it? The rich get richer and fuck everybody else. The banks get bailed out, but the little guys with not a cent to spare get no relief.

Alright. Well.

That’s the hard stuff I decided to tell you about today. There’s more hard stuff to talk about, and as I find the courage I’ll write about it here. It makes me feel so incredibly exposed and vulnerable and scared, but I think that means it’s worth doing.

I must be off now, for if I have any hope of being productive tomorrow (i.e. make some money to pay off my debt) I better get at least a few hours of sleep.

Be well, friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flash Fiction – Lost and Found

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Today's flash fiction writing prompt
Today’s flash fiction writing prompt

 

“Yellow. It was yellow.”

The man sat down in a dejected, broken hump, the pieces of his body leaden lumps hastily patched together. Any small shift in balance might send him toppling over. Looking at him like that made the woman behind the counter feel somehow heavier herself.

“Can you tell me where you may have lost it, Henry?” the woman asked, trying to offer up a small bit of encouragement. But really she was just trying to keep herself from drowning in the enormous weight of the moment. It was a secretly selfish motivation, brought on by endless days of burdensome encounters just like this one.

“No, I…,” the man squished up his face, trying to squeeze the memory out of his brain, “I don’t know where it could have gone.” He let out a huge sigh that smelled of sulfur and practically colored the surrounding air an unappetizing green.

The woman winced. I don’t remember the cafeteria serving eggs for breakfast, she thought to herself.

“Well, Henry, perhaps you should go back to your project.” The woman pointed to a table off to the left. A half-finished puzzle lay on top, the pieces taking shape into an idyllic, if worn, winter landscape. She wished she could will herself to that place.

The man shifted, looking quizzically to his left, as if having forgotten all about the project. A tiny squeak emanated from his bottom.

The woman held her breath, waiting for another malodorous attack, but it didn’t come. She sighed with relief. “I’m sure it will show up somewhere.”

The man hefted his gelatinous shape up off the bench and over towards the table. Each step brought forth a tiny cheep or squeal.

“Uh, Henry,” the woman called out to him as he reached the half-completed distraction. As he turned to look back at her, she held out a finger while the other hand covered the smile spreading on her lips. “Look,” she said, pointing towards him and choking back a laugh.

The man turned this way and that, but could not find the source of her sudden amusement.

“Behind you,” she clarified.

The man swung around, clawing at his flimsy gown with his great meaty arms. His torso chased his backside until he stood with his back towards the woman. There, stuffed into the crack of his bulging buttocks, was the bottom of a plastic duck, the head presumably wedged into his great crevasse.

“There it is!” cried the man as he unceremoniously plucked the ducky from his fleshy folds with a pop. “Thank you, nurse!”

“No problem, Henry,” the woman replied as she rolled her eyes and resumed counting tiny pills into small paper cups.

 

 

 

A Joyful Noise

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I’d like to welcome today’s guest blogger, Adam Hall! Adam is the founder of Homes and Habitats, a U.S.-based international non-profit devoted to the reduction of certain risks associated with increasing urbanization in the developing world. He’s also a damn fine travel writer.

Full disclosure – he also happens to be my husband. I think he’s pretty awesome.

We’ve had a visitor in our yard for the past few years, one that has hopped into Adam’s heart. He wrote a few, sweet words about it and I thought I’d share.

A Joyful Noise

by Adam Hall

Backyard wildlife
Backyard wildlife

It is officially Spring. Of course that comes with being the vernal equinox, but for us there is another marker, one that is more present and constant through the next six months.

Ferdinand is back.

He first signaled his return with a few days of chirping and croaking from a yard or two away (backyard, that is), moving closer as each day passed. We worried when the neighbor behind us chopped down their lovely shade tree (what possesses someone to do that?) fearing Ferdie would be crushed or tossed out with the arboreal detritus. And for a day we wondered. The noise and commotion must have traumatized him into silence. But then his familiar voice again drifted in our windows, and now he was definitely in our yard.

Finally, last night, we spotted him on the side of the spa. Ferdie was much plumper than when last we saw him, his soft body flowing like a boule resting after its first turn. Evidently he’s been cheating on his hibernation diet. But he is in full voice, pining for the mate who will never arrive, and provides his comforting contrast to the crickets through the evenings.

This year Ferdie has also begun calling during the day, perhaps getting more desperate as he ages. Tree frogs only live about 4 years, and this will be his fourth with us, so time is running out for his search for love. We wish him well, and look forward to being lulled to sleep by his lustful calls during the coming warm months.

Ain't he a beauty?
Ain’t he a beauty?