For When You Need a Little Perspective

Wake up, ready to start the day. Lay around in bed until 7:30am (wow, that’s late for the person with an infallible internal alarm clock that thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to be up at 6:15am every morning).

Roll out of bed and peer into the empty refrigerator. “I really should put some effort into grocery shopping.”

Grab a juice box, hand delivered by the mailman from an Amazon order. Shopping made easy.

Open up your laptop, pull out your (gifted) iPad, and somehow lose two hours of your life to clicking and scrolling.

On Netflix, sink into a BBC series that you’ve seen a million times. On Facebook, notice several friends have achieved some career/home/life accolades and make sure you feel SO BEHIND.

The facebook encounter will get you in a tizzy, so much so, that you must immediately seek out an edible item made primarily of chocolate to soothe your case of the grumpies. You make it to Starbucks, pay for a chocolate croissant and smush it into your face in the time it takes to inhale three solid breaths.

Then, feel guilty because you’ve started today with sugar and carbs instead of healthy, non-dairy, non-gluten, non-taste-organic, “Los Angeles typical” fare.

Spend too much time in your day fretting over the submissions you’ve made to various entertainment festivals, fellowships, and competitions. It’s not un-like waiting to hear back on college admission. You submit. They take way longer than you thought humanly possible to decide, and either accept or reject you with a short note mentioning how steep the competition was and how everyone can’t make it in.

You putter around, wasting gas, but feel ok about it because it’s improving your overall mental state. Plus, you drive the Prius so can be a tiny smug about sending less emissions to float over our heads in the smog-ridden-valley that we call home.

You recall that this Sunday, you’ll be nannying so that your bosses can head to the Emmy’s and you wish YOU were going–you’re tired of watching the industry from behind the diaper bag. You want to be a PART of it beyond keeping the kids of the actors and agents and producers safe and sound while THEY work.

You brainstorm ideas for a new film project while you drive, but lament the fact that you can’t write anything down because TWO HANDS ON THE WHEELS, PLEASE. And buying a tape recorder to talk into would just feel silly.

Half the day is wasted away, so you start to feel guilty about that, too.

Why does it always seem like the walls are falling in and you’re not getting the opportunities you need in order to break into your chosen field?

Why is life so hard?

Why can’t it be easier for YOU in particular?

WHY YOU?!

And then…you get this text message from the other nanny at your new job:

Can you please come to work for me.

(…)

I  have to go home, to Guatemala.

(…)

They killed my nephew, his wife, their child, and I’m taking the next flight out.

Your body goes numb but you text back that you’re on your way and you jump into your car. You guide your fancy hybrid car onto the street. You lift that over-priced cup of coffee out of the cupholder and note that your belly is full. You turn on the music through your bluetooth feature from your expensive iPhone. You note that, though you live in a city with a history of crime and gangs, it’s possible to walk down the street in your part of town without the threat of getting shot. You note that your family and friends are safe and sound in suburbia or in other big cities–still safer than in 90% of other countries in this world. You listen to the music, realize that you have a wonderful and privileged life, and can’t believe how fitting the first song you hear is:

Would you please take me away from this place
I cannot bear to see the look upon your faces
And if there is some kind of god do you think he’s pleased
When he looks down on us I wonder what he sees
Do you think he’d think the things we do are a waste of time
Maybe he’d think we are getting on just fine
Do you think he’s skint or financially secure
And come election time I wonder who he’d vote for

Ever since he can remember people have died in his good name
Long before that September
Long before hijacking planes
He’s lost the will he can’t decide
He doesn’t know who’s right or wrong
But there’s one thing that he’s sure of this has been going on too long

Do you think he’d drive in his car without insurance
Now is he interesting or do you think he’d bore us
Do you think his favourite type of human is caucasian
Do you reckon he’s ever been done for tax evasion
Do you think he’s any good at remembering people’s names
Do you think he’s ever taken smack or cocaine
I don’t imagine he’s ever been suicidal
His favourite band is Creedence Clearwater Revival

Ever since he can remember people have died in his good name
Long before that September
Long before hijacking planes
He’s lost the will he can’t decide
He doesn’t know who’s right or wrong
But there’s one thing that he’s sure of this has been going on too long

Ever since he can remember people have died in his good name
Long before that September
Long before hijacking planes
He’s lost the will he can’t decide
He doesn’t know who’s right or wrong
But there’s one thing that he’s sure of this has been going on too long

27 Trips Around the Sun– A Short and Feisty Birthday

Oh, my LANTA. I can’t believe it’s been 27 years since my eyes first beheld the harsh lights of the hospital delivery room. I came out screaming and yellow, since I happened to have jaundice. I spent plenty of time in a tiny little incubator to “get things moving” and that’s the last time I spent anytime in something resembling a tanning bed.

This is the first birthday where I actually feel “old”– I can’t really explain it, but I no longer feel like the spring chicken I always thought I was. Yes, I will look back at this blog in 50 years, using the wifi connected micro chip imbedded in my skull, and laugh at the thought of considering 27 to be a geriatric age. But–man–I’m at an introspective time of my life where I look back on all that’s passed and think, “Back Then was a long time ago.”

I miss the days of going to Taco Bell with my best friends before Girl Scout meetings, of the elation I felt on the first days of elementary school, and I miss the feeling of invincibility that tiny little Short and Feisty used to radiate. From my teenie tiny stature, I could be anything I wanted to be and do anything I wanted–I just had to grow up a little more, learn a little more, and wait for the future to come to me.

Now, to be honest, all I feel are limits.

I hate to Debbie Downer my own birthday, but I’ve always been a realist. I’m feeling the limits of my spinster hood (no joint finances, no kids, no house with a washer/dryer in unit–I want the washer and dryer more than the rest, no shame felt), I’m feeling the limits of Hollywood (knocking on your door, suckas, won’t you consider opening a crack?), and I feel the limits of my sanity working this Nanny Day job with children trying to test me at every moment. BUT–

and that’s a BIG BUT

along with these limits, I’ve been able to see a tiny stream of light symbolizing what could be if I tried a little harder, waited a little longer, and stopped watching so much damn Netflix!

So here are some random positive epiphanies that I couldn’t have come to at 26 that I am now experiencing at 27:

  • Though lacking a nuclear family for which I am the boss/dictator/queen head of household, I am abundantly wealthy in family, friends, and friends that are family. I’ve got a ton of tiny babies to send love to, from a distance (unfortunately), and friends who patiently counsel me through some really difficult moments. I’ve got more true friends than I can count on two hands and two feet!
  • I’m still in LA–one of the toughest parts about breaking into the entertainment industry is learning how to survive in NYC and LA: two of the most expensive places to live in the US. But my former full-time work schedule allowed me to save up enough and find a job that allows me to cut back on hours and actually write more. It also puts me in a position to audition more if I ever strike gold twice and find another elusive agent.
  • I’ve stopped actively looking for Mr. Right. If that bastard wants to show up within the next decade, great. After that, all bets are off because I’m becoming a COUGAR.
  • My anxiety levels have plummeted since quitting my celebrity nanny job–I’ve learned that I’m definitely not suited to working underneath a “type A” Nanny Mom Boss. I know too much about children to be micromanaged! As a result, my quality of life has skyrocketed.
  • In the last year, I paid off both my student loans and credit card debt–in full. With the exception of my car loan (a big exception!) I’m living debt free and it’s incredibly freeing.
  • I’ve been researching several lifestyle changing opportunities that I could pursue while also pursuing acting/writing. I’m not at a place where I feel I can share them with the world, but I’ve told a few friends and family and have largely gotten support. I’m excited about the possibility of them, and I desperately need to have life goals separate from Hollywood.
  • I ran two half marathons last year–HOLY CRAP I RAN TWO HALF MARATHONS IN THE LAST YEAR.
  • I’m alive. I’m breathing. My body is (mostly) fully functioning. If that isn’t potential for greatness, I don’t know what is.

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“Retreating into Nature” -OR- “Cabin Writing? Hell yeeeez”

*This blog post was written last Friday November 14, 2014 from a cabin in Lake Arrowhead, CA. It is the first post of a series of posts written at a self-imposed writer’s retreat.*

For the past couple of months, until really recently, Id been suffering from some intense writer’s block. My blog lay dormant and unloved. My screenwriting projects sat solemnly piled on my coffee table, silently begging me to edit them. I ignored them and watched more Netflix than I care to admit to on so public a forum as this.

(Are we noticing a theme in my life, yet? Netflix may be one of the greatest Technological Wonders of the World, but addiction to it can honestly be crippling.)

I tried to get down to the heart of the matter and find out why my creative machine stopped clanking. In the end, I determined that it was equal parts exhaustion, distraction, and lack of willpower—all three also equal parts depressing. Hoping to cure all three by honing in on one, I focused my attention on escaping from distraction.

Fast forward to this weekend and a cabin in the mountains near Lake Arrowhead. I needed cheap, yet safe and comfortable, and two of my friends were willing to accompany me on my journey. Using the website AirBnB, we were able to locate a one bedroom cabin with a sleeper sofa and two inflatable mattresses (which we don’t intend to use) for just over $100/person TOTAL: 3 extended days (we are allowed to check in early and leave later because no one booked before or after us). All we needed to do was bring food (or plan to eat out at one of the many local places). Best of all, there’s no wifi in the cabin so there will be minimal surfing of the internet while trying to type.

We made the two hour trek outside of Los Angeles and found ourselves at the foot of a gigantic mountain. Silly geography-ignorant me had no idea that Big Bear/Lake Arrowhead was at the top of a horrendously tall peak (over 5,000 feet above sea level). This does not bode well for a driver who doesn’t “really do heights”.

This is courtesy of the internets–no snow is currently on the peaks.

5,000 miles above sea level later, I found myself trying to navigate curly winding roads at the edge of a cliff while also trying to catch my breath in the thinning air. I was second guessing my decision until we encountered our sweet new digs.

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Holy moly. Talk about quaint, and welcoming, and picturesque.

Check out these sweet pics!

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(CLEAN!) Bathroom!

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Sweet California King Bed!

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Well-stocked kitchen!

After unpacking a bit, we made a trip into “town” for some groceries, moscato wine, and blueberry beer (Lord, please never let me become diabetic because then I’d have to quit alcohol altogether).

The people in the store were more than friendly and incredibly helpful—especially Rob in the wine section and a handsome young gentleman that helped us with the beer.

Back at the cabin, we decided to tackle the fireplace. We wanted a roaring fire in which to toast our marshmallows for s’mores and because I needed ambiance to write. Two out of three of us were Girl Scouts with only one of us actually learning any camping skills (me) so I set about starting everything up.

I stacked the wood, found the matches, and went outside for kindling. That’s when I realized that it’s a lot damper 5,000 miles above sea level and most of the detritus I intended to use wouldn’t light, catch, and hold the fire. We tried, anyway, to very little success. And we were out of luck in finding something like a fire starter or lighter fluid, etc. People don’t really store that sort of thing in an area known for forest fires.

Then we noticed a small gas handle sticking out of the side of the fireplace. This was confusing for all of us as we had only previously seen a wood fireplace or a gas one (both of which I know how to operate). I quickly Googled this phenomenon with the limited cell reception I had on my phone and found out that some fireplaces have a gas pipe to help get a fire started. And then this happened.

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Glorious accomplishment.

And now, I’m sitting by the fire typing this, and other work, wondering why I didn’t make a reservation for the rest of my life.

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Reading the Real Piper–“Orange is the New Black”

I avoided watching the hit Netflix show “Orange is the New Black” for a really long time after fans and friends began raving about it. The reasons are manifold, as is usual for my reasoning behind protesting hit shows, but here are just a few:

  • I dislike that a show that FINALLY features a cast with both white women and women of color sharing equal screen-time has to take place inside of prison–an awful trope for people of color,
  • I don’t like watching shows where one character is so dominant over another that the threat of sexual violence is always looming (important to consider when prison rape by guards is present and frequent in every prison setting), and
  • I have a horribly irrational fear of going to jail.

This last bullet point probably has to do with the fact that:

  1. As a small child I battled Kleptomania and was always told that my sticky-fingered ways would land me there, and
  2. I’ve watched more “prison lockup” shows than is probably healthy for one person. I’ve basically participated in my own twisted version of “scared straight” by watching mini-docs, TV shows, and reading articles about life in prison that make incarceration seem like a fate worse than death.

But one Sunday afternoon, my friend Elizabeth had me overcome all of my foibles and we sat down to watch one episode (that quickly spiraled into binge watching 5 of them).

But this post isn’t really about the show, much as I love it and most of its characters (don’t get me started on my loathing of Daya and Pornstache). This post is about the text that the show springs from–a memoir of the same title written by Piper Kerman. It details the before, during, and after of her 15 month sentence at Federal Correctional Institution, Danbury in Connecticut.

To be completely honest, I’m not actually reading it (bad English major, bad!). I’m listening to it on Audiobook on my hellacious Los Angeles commutes home.

In the beginning of my journey through Real Piper’s “Time”, I got the most joy out of drawing comparisons between her experience and that of Piper Chapman from the show. I was sad to see that the character inspiring Piper’s love interest, Alex Vause, isn’t as strikingly sexy as her real life counterpart (making TV Piper’s crime more of a crime of passion) and she isn’t really present beyond the explanation of the crime and again toward the end.

Real Piper has a fiance named Larry, just like TV Pipes, but this Larry is much more likeable than the character portrayed by Jason Biggs. I can root for real Larry. TV Larry helps me rationalize, justify, and cheer for TV Piper’s infidelity. Many of the characters from the show can easily be identified as inspiration for people in the book–Yoga inspired by “Yoga Janet”, Red inspired by “Pops”, Pornstache inspired by “Gay Pornstar C.O.”, etc. And then there are some real life women from the memoir that offer hints and sprinkles of parallels to their TV characters like Pennsatucky, who cracks me up onscreen and wrenches my heart in text. Her story is so much more moving in the book and you won’t find much comedy in her predicament.

Although Real Piper doesn’t have the same crazy situational drama as her TV counterpart, her stories detailed on the page are just as captivating and just as intriguing. You get a real sense of the monotony associated with 15 months in a correctional facility. Inmates take pleasure in concocting recipes featuring stolen goods from the kitchen in two designated microwaves. Real Piper feels a tangible pride in her “Prison Cheesecake” recipe that I suspect I’ll eventually try to recreate using only the methods she mentions. Crocheting is a big deal at Danbury as are card games, reading, and blasting music way too loudly from their tiny radios, much to the chagrin of their neighbors. Keep your mind busy, stay occupied, or your thoughts will drive you insane.

Upon her arrival, Real Piper is exhorted not to make any friends (which seems ludicrous considering she’ll be locked up for more than a year). I’m glad she doesn’t take this advice because she has a powerful way of describing the relationships between these women. The victory over a long-awaited GED is given the pomp and circumstance of a PhD graduation because the woman earning it put in that much time and effort. Every inmate erupts in cheers and celebration and I was rendered a blubbering mess in the driver’s seat parked on the 101.

The pain and anxiety associated with a fellow inmate’s release rattles Real Piper to her core on more than one occasion. Can you imagine longing for a friend to remain incarcerated because you love them so much, so you’re less alone, and because you know things on the outside will be different? There are even times when these relationships cause Piper’s deeply ingrained beliefs and life practices to be put into question–whether it’s shedding the stoicism that she’d been prescribed at birth in favor of showing human emotion or cheating on behalf of a fellow inmate’s college coursework.

Real Piper also does an exemplary job of making me care about the injustices of the prison system and her website continues to further her work on Justice Reform. These girls, some as young as 18, are thrown into the system and then let back out into a world far more perilous than prison. They’re given no support in finding jobs, in finding housing, in finding money to simply feed and clothe themselves. It’s no wonder they wind up back in jail with three square meals a day, a bed to sleep in, and clean clothes to wear. The word of a prisoner means squat when thrown up against the word of a correctional officer, who is ofttimes her abuser. Filing complaints against them is an exercise in futility. Real Piper makes it clear that not all correctional officers are evil, but the ones that are feed off of the dominant/submissive relationship that they’re paid to be in. The red tape is astounding–one girl due for release is denied on the day of her departure because the license plate on the car of her family members is different than the one on her paperwork. She has freedom snatched from right under her nose and is made to wait weeks for a second release date.

My biggest takeaway from this memoir is this: The focus of the United States’ penitentiary system isn’t to reform the prisoner into a contributing member of society; rather, it’s to punish them for (sometimes) incredibly petty crimes with lengthy minimum sentencing laws. The crimes committed by most of the women in a minimum security prison like this one most likely aren’t crimes that would lock someone up for life. So why not make the effort to teach these women how to function successfully earning money a living in a legal way?

NO MONEY, I know, it’s the root of every argument.

But isn’t it more cost-effective to invest in the front end instead of spending 10’s of thousands of dollars on the same people being re-incarcerated because they’re not set up for success? I have a feeling this isn’t the end of my lesson on Justice Reform…

The Real Piper Kerman

It Would Be Easy–Some Introspection

It would be easy to blame exhaustion from work for your lack of motivation in your creative pursuits.

Vegging out on the couch watching entire seasons of past-hit televisions shows doesn’t take any effort at all–so when the Netflix red loading screen is calling your name, you haven’t been one to turn it down. Working a 50+ hour work week chasing two very active children around Los Angeles is enough to make even the most stalwart human ready for a month-long nap

It would be easy to throw in the towel after being handed a big fat bag of rejection. 

What is the artist’s life if not one rife with rejection. Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab [FINAL ROUND] turned out to be a “no” for this year. And a sketch team audition didn’t garner a call-back. News of both happened on the same day within mere hours of each other. That’s enough to make anyone want to bury their head in the sand.

It would be easy to shut down the computer, close the notebook, and let Writer’s Block have control of your creative process. 

When that blank page is staring you in the face–when you make excuses not to work because your favorite pen is out of ink and it’ll be a while before you can get back to the store–when you tell yourself that everything you’ve ever written has been absolute junk so why bother? Most people wouldn’t bother–most people don’t bother.

It would be easy to constantly compare yourself to others–to find your shortcomings in other’s successes. 

When you’ve surrounded yourself with other aspiring industry nerds–when you’re inundated with the flood of media glorifying those that have done the things that you want to do— one can’t help but lose perspective. That tiny little devil on your shoulder whispers tantalizingly in your ear: “If you give up now…I’ll buy you some cake to enjoy while you drink your cocktail of coconut rum and the tears of your unaccomplished goals”. Who could resist such an offer?

It would be easy to pick a more secure/safe/certain path. 

You’re really good at working in retail. You’ve helped raise so many babies over the years, surely, if you just found a guy [not even Mr. Right, but Mr. That’ll-Do], you’d make some awesome little offspring to drive to soccer and ballet and whatever other activity you chose to live vicariously through them. Surely.

It would be easy to pack up your car and move back east. 

Out of LA, back to where you won’t spend a majority of your wages on rent. Back to a place where you can live the rest of your days trudging to the movie theatre wondering what would have been–yelling at the actors on the silver screen “I COULD’VE DONE THAT BETTER”. Where a solid lead ball will drop into the pit of your stomach every time you think about how you surrendered because it was too “hard” and because you were too “tired”.

But you’ve never been the one to do that which was EASY.

Someone tells you “No” and “Can’t” and you immediately spring into action–it’s not simply that you must prove yourself to THEM–you must prove yourself to…well…yourself. You wrote a spec script and got an actively working sitcom writer (for your most favorite show on the entire planet, no less) to give you some valuable feedback. While he gave you a ton of notes to work on specifics, he also gave you some words of encouragement: “You clearly know what you’re doing in terms of joke writing…You really get the characters voices!…You know how a 3 act story is structured, etc.”. You aren’t shooting blanks, at least, so keep aiming at the target.

You came to Los Angeles with a goal–an astronomical goal–but you chose it for yourself. The only one that’ll be disappointed in your failure to achieve these completely fabricated life missions is YOU. If you want it, go get it. So get to work!

[And for God’s sake, go take a shower.]

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