I’m directing a short film. I’m starting a weekly Substack newsletter. There’s a 90% chance that by the end of the day I will sign up for a class that will force me to pitch paid publications.
All of these things have been on my to-do list for awhile, but I have not done them. But right now I’m feeling a desire to pull the trigger on these things. This desire has unknown origins, but it is not unfamiliar. It is a desire that pokes its head up very intermittently and causes present-me to set events and projects in motion that future-me will then have to navigate and carry out long after the desire to do so has beyond diminished and she is reduced to a frenzied ball of “Oh-God-just-let-me-get-through-this-and-I-will-never-put-us-in-this-position again.”
I don’t think anyone warned me that at a certain age, everywhere I turned, people would be getting divorced or getting cancer.
Or maybe I was warned and I just didn’t listen. Or I listened politely, but immediately dismissed the warnings. Which might speak to a certain hubris and youthful arrogance, but in my own defense, didn’t most aging-related things people said feel not-quite-true? Were we supposed to believe that after forty years of being a certain circumference, suddenly one day, counter to all laws of physics we’d ever learned, every stray cookie or handful of walnuts would affix itself to our middles and never again leave?
Were we supposed to believe people with creaky hips whose face fat had migrated to their necks when they said such things had happened overnight, with no advance warning—like in a horror movie or a Star Trek episode? Even now these claims seems implausible. They seem highly suss.
Which is probably why, even if someone had told me, I would have doubted other predictions: Like that our couple-friends— whose couches I’ve crashed on and whose kids I’ve played with, and who I’ve only ever known as each others’ lobsters— would decide to uncouple and unfriend.
Or like that in the space of less than a month, I would hear that my mother-in-law, my brother, the best-man at my wedding and and another friend as well — have all been diagnosed with cancer.
On this last point I understand that, given my history, I don’t get to complain about being on the receiving end of this kind of news, but I’m realizing there was part of me that believed the people I love (and thus, *I*) would get a pass, whether because I assumed I’d already paid enough dues, or because I was holding on to the willful hope of my younger self.
But it seems there are no free passes, so here we each are, with whatever burdens have been assigned to us, reluctantly suiting up for the next leg of the race.
I’m not a fan of the course, but I like the people I’m running alongside. And I’m happy it’s not the kind of race where we have to kill each other like in The Hunger Games. Instead we can cheer each other on all the way to the end
I have started this post a few times now — at the beginning of May, the beginning of June, the beginning of July –only to be interrupted by other obligations. Now it is the beginning of August…
The post I began in early July was adapted and updated from the draft I began in June:
With the July beginning, summer is truly under way… school is out for my friends who teach, the Writers’ Strike continues for my friends who are in the guild, my social media feeds are full of travel reports, and my office-worker friends are enjoying summer Fridays.
Conversely, I am heading into what will be a busy and intense couple months of production that will not end until September, when schools will be resuming, and hopefully the strike will be ending.
I’ve just had a break from Mattel producing through May and most of June — during which I’ve tried to do some writing, some adulting, and some projects — to differing degrees of success.
The early May post talked about the then-upcoming 10-day-Vipassana course I was about to embark on. But talked about it in such a detailed, in-the-moment way that I didn’t get to the meat of it before I stopped writing, so I’ve moved the text into notes for a long essay I may or may never write.
Where does that leave us?
In the heat-dome heat of August — with memories of mid-April -mid-June fast fading. The daily details are already dots in the rearview, but for my own continuity, I’ll try to record the bigger items here — before they too have faded completely.
In late April, I worked on my first non-Mattel events producing gig since I veered from that path to begin writing. It was four days working with a video crew at the LA Convention Center, and I was reminded of both the pleasures and pitfalls of intense, long days making something in a short period of time. Small crises come and go hour by hour — the morning’s concerns are eclipsed by those at noon, and all of it’s a blur by the end of the day. You meet strangers on day one, and imagine being fast ongoing friends with them by day three, but everyone goes their separate ways in the end.
In May I went to my first 10-day-meditation course in 29 Palms — which is a place very close to Joshua Tree in the desert. It is a “silent retreat” meaning one doesn’t talk to your fellow student from Day 1 until the last part of day 10, and one is meant to meditate roughly 9 1/2 hours per day. There’s no books or notebooks or phones or computers — one is left with the company of one’s own thoughts and the daily mental tasks put before one. It was both challenging and rewarding, and I’d recommend it to almost anyone who thinks it might be interesting for them. One comes back from the experience wanting everyone she knows to have the experience too, but I’ve tried not to proselytize too much. (I am attempting to bully Paul into going “before the end of the year”. He’s chosen November, in hopes that something else will intervene—which it very well might.)
By the time I returned home, I had five weeks before production work began again, which seemed like plenty of time to do some adulting, see a list of friends, finish and submit a short story, finish and turn in a writing assignment.
In the end, I did part of all these things — I made it to half a dozen doctors’ appointments, but haven’t accomplished a last few scans and tests that came from those. The short story took a much larger chunk of time than allocated — it is only this last weekend that I felt I had a draft ready to send out. The writing assignment has a draft but it’s still not ready to send out and it hangs over every weekend it’s hanging over me at this moment). I connected with some friends but not others.
hosted a new friend from Brazil for three days,
helped one housemate move out and another move in
did some solidarity picketing with the striking writers
did some yoga
gave away many items on “buy nothing”
created some video “content”
built a shelf for my office closet
saw some friends
saw some movies
enjoyed some beautiful weather.
At the end of June, hiatus ended before I was ready, and now I’m hip-deep in it at Mattel, and letting that be an excuse to put my life into minimum-maintenance mode. Opening only the mail that it looks dangerous not to, keeping up weekly with family but pushing most social invitations, healthy diet plans and writing goals into September.
Just got back from dropping Paul off at the airport. Driving home in the still-excellent traffic, I felt pretty chipper and considered starting my day early. But by the time I got home, the wisdom of getting back in my pajamas had asserted itself, and I have a feeling that by the end of this post I’ll be ready to go back to sleep.
We’re getting older. That’s the headline news, the reality that overshadows and colors other life events. Paul has, this year, added a number of white hairs to his curly mop. I’m stiff and sore in places that I never considered could be the source of pain. I make involuntary noises when I change positions sometimes, and he falls asleep watching TV.
Remember that first year or so after a certain person was elected, you’d wake up in the morning and it would hit you, oh fuck, that guy’s president, and there was nothing you could really do about it, so you’d just go about your day, doing all the things you do, but with this added awareness that would sometimes fade into the background and sometimes not? The knowledge of getting old bears some similarities.
I had a writing teacher who would talk about the acute thread of the narrative—like the two friends going on a road trip, and then the chronic part of the narrative, which is that element from the past that exerts pressure on the proceedings. Like you realize the road trip is a final hurrah before one friend ships off to war and the other friend is secretly in love but has never confessed it. I think in film school we would have called the chronic element backstory that added emotional stakes.
Backstory can be revealed in various ways—the more sophisticated way is series of small revelations deployed throughout a story, like Tar. The more efficient but heavy-handed way is thrown on the plate right at the top, like Star Wars, or more recently, Renfield.
The “has gotten old” story element can have an elegant, gradual reveal to the extent that one can hide it at the beginning — from others or oneself — so it can emerge organically alongside the acute plot points, like a character starting a new job, going on a date, or waking up in the wee hours to take a spouse to the airport and then choosing whether to chase one’s youthful ambitions or go back to sleep.
At a certain age, being old becomes not-at-all hide-able and can only work as a top-of-show element – something the audience knows about the character before learning anything else.
Anywhooo — when I wake up in the wee hours these days, this is apparently what I think about. Mortality.
When I wake up after the sun, I am less philosophical and instead think about all my little obligations and goals and how best to prioritize and juggle them.
My 3-month-long production gig ended this past week, so I’ve been reaching out to friends, adding back in some workout routines, and trying to transition my brain into writer-mode instead of producer-mode. I can feel it happening, which is a relief, but, sadly, my time away from the pen hasn’t miraculously turned me into a speed writer.
I have several writing projects on the pile and am feeling the shortness of time — not just due mortality — ha ha— but because this same job is slated to start back up the last week of June. I’m very glad to be booked ahead as it removes some uncertainty, but it also creates a ticking clock. Two months seems like a lot of time until I see how the days between now and then fill up with non-writing things:
I have another short production job next weekend / week, after which an ex-employer has asked if I can to come back to support them during the first couple weeks of May prior to a large event. In mid-May, I’m on the wait list for a 10-day Vipassana silent retreat, so it might or might not happen. In May or June a trip to Texas might be needed to help with some family stuff. Add in high school graduations, birthdays, dinners, doctors’ appointments…
And then it will be the last week of June. Two months as a fractal of life – flying by.
A few weeks ago, a filmmaker friend, E, called with an idea for a TV show. She wondered if I was interested in the concept, and maybe partnering to develop it further.
The idea revolves around a protagonist who works in a medical profession so we figured the show would be a medical drama. Neither of us is very well versed in medical dramas, so we made a list of ones we’d heard of to watch and analyze. I told E I probably wouldn’t have a lot of time before current job ended, but I’d try to squeeze in an episode here or there.
I really like the job I’m working at right now, but it’s my first foray back into production after a long time. The long days of trying to quickly assimilate lots of information, remember a lot of new people, and high social interaction is demanding. I’ve essentially given up on the idea of trying to get into the headspace to write. The hours when I’m normally half-unconsciously noodling and problem-solving a story in my head are filled with noodling and problem solving for the job.
When I am writing, I think about what I’m writing when I’m driving. If I wake up in the night, I think about how a character’s childhood impact her desire to open a dance studio before I go back to sleep.
When I wake in the night during production, I think of rehearsal plans, unsent emails, or a video I need to request.
A couple weeks ago, I came home on a Friday, not unhappy, but a brain-drained. There was no chance I was going to write, clean or socialize. I sat on the couch and thought, I guess I can make it through one episode of a medical drama.
A few years back I’d seen a scene from a show that looked interesting, called The Good Doctor. I found it on Hulu and watched the pilot.
And then I watched another episode.
Maybe I watched a third.
Paul came home from his game night amazed I was still awake.
How is it? He asked.
I said it probably wasn’t a structural model for the show my friend E and I were thinking about. In fact, our show might not even be a medical drama. But I’ll probably keep watching it, I said.
And I did.
I’ve started to think about The Good Doctor on my commute home from work, and when I wake up in the night. When I’m asleep, I have dreams that take place in hospitals, involving disturbing health conditions. Throughout the day, I’m already thinking about watching an episode of THE GOOD DOCTOR that night. When I finish too late, and it’s time to go to bed, I think, just one,it was a long day, this will be a palate cleanser. When I have an early call time, I think just one episode will take my mind off things and make me less anxious. I can’t help but notice my self-talk is the same as a friend of mine describes how she ends up having of wine in the evening that turns into more glasses wine.
In my case, the one episode turns into multiple episodes.
I’m sacrificing sleep and waking up groggy. I don’t think it’s hurting my on-the-job-performance, but I can’t say that it’s just my job that is interfering with writing and seeing friends.
At first I figured things would come to a natural end when the show ended. But it turns out there are six seasons — network seasons, not streaming. About twenty episodes each. When my production job ends next week, I’ll have about a month to do a LOT of writing, and see friends. Seventy more episodes is not going to be conducive to accomplishing these goals. But beyond these things, I can feel that my mind “hooked” like this isn’t healthy. I don’t think it’s healthy that right now, as I’m writing this post, I’m thinking about how once it’s finished, I’m going to let myself watch The Good Doctor.
So I’m plotting how I can quit The Good Doctor.
I’ve looked up the episode guide on Wikipedia and read the episode summaries for the episodes I haven’t watched yet. In the past, when I’ve seen so many the plots lined up next to each other, the obviousness of how mechanical a show is, how the storytellers keep bringing new, elements into the narrative — relatives, amnesiac ex-lovers, explosions and disasters and murders has helped me let go. Downton Abby and Grand Hotel are examples of shows I’ve given up after doing this.
But with The Good Doctor, reading ahead made me want to keep going. Which is great for a show, but not great for me. However, I have seen what I think could be an exit ramp. At the end of Season 3, a main character is going to get killed off and that a couple we’ve been waiting to get together will finally get together. It looks like a good place take a lengthy hiatus.
Wish me luck and strength.
And please pardon my typos, I’ve no doubt done a worse editing job than usual — because I’m impatient to watch the next episode of The Good Doctor🙄.