Big Cars, Billy Joel and Coming to Terms with “Pressure” – My Shuffle Synchronicities Guest Post

My friend Dave has this interesting Substack newsletter you can subscribe to (for free!) called Shuffle Synchronicities where every morning he shuffles his Spotify playlist and then talks about whatever song comes up, also staying alert for possible synchronicities — or connections with his own life.

He invited me do a guest post, and here it is: Shuffle Synchronicity Guest Post!

Here’s the first paragraph to draw you in….

In an era before airbags, seatbelt laws and child-car-seats-built-like-padded-exo-skeletons, my father possessed an impressively modern, before-his-time anxiety about shit that could happen to his children on the roadways. When my sister and I went on combined-class field trips in grade school, he made our teachers put us on separate buses, so if one of his kids died, there’d still be one left. When he saw teenagers showing off in their small, sporty cars, he’d say, When you kids start driving, I want you in the biggest, heaviest car on the road so if you get into an accident with that idiot, you’ll survive.

Eight Things I’ve Been Doing in the Last Six Weeks

It’s a beautiful sunny Sunday in April and this blog is officially neglected. The problem with neglecting things — like your student loans or cleaning the kitchen junk drawer is that the longer you leave it, the more daunting it feels to come back, which makes it take even longer – so when you do, the interest has grown into a house-sized demon and all those ketchup packets have been tinged with brown and gotten stuck together with leaking soy sauce.

(Fun fact: Due to the pandemic there is a nationwide shortage of ketchup packets. Heinz has promised to increase production to make up for the 12-billion packet shortfall. They could have just asked us for the contents of our kitchen drawer.)

So it is with maintaining a record of one’s life on a blog — there’s too much to catch up on. But I’m gonna try to hit some highlights:

  1. Getting Vaccinated! Just the first shot so far. It’s Moderna. I went to a drive-thru site at Dodger Stadium. I get my second one in a couple more weeks! Here is a rather boring one-minute video of that:

2) Learning to use TikTok. I could have simply embedded a video above, but I wanted to give you an example of item #2, which is that I’m learning how to use TikTok. It’s for my own curiosity, and also research for a screenplay that I’ve started where social media plays a large role. I have mixed feelings about TikTok-ing, as it is interesting to me in theory, but I only have about a six minute scroll tolerance before I feel like my brain is going to bleed! I’ve learned that TikToks can be as long as 60 seconds, and also that 60 seconds feels MUCH longer that it sounds. For instance, the above video is 58 seconds, and it basically feels like eternity. I need to add “editing” to my repertoire.

3)Starting a new screenplay. I’ve been delaying for a long time — I’ve been working on other things — like work for clients, short stories, polishing older work — all good causes, but it was still getting to the point where I was beginning to worry if I could still write a feature from scratch. To put and keep this project at the top of my priority list, I joined not one, but TWO writing groups where I have to turn in pages, and it’s feeling good to push through it.

4) Winning a contest. My short story, “Shell,” which I’ve noted in previous posts was a semi-finalist and a finalist, did go on to win the Grand Prize in the Screencraft Cinematic Short Story Writing Competition. I won some money, and the folks at Screencraft have been really nice, talking to me about my career goals and even introducing me to a showrunner who was one of their judges. (For anyone reading this in the future, you can this story, as well as 29 other horror stories by women writers in The One That Got Away: Women of Horror Volume 3.

(Fun Fact: The One That Got Away was ordered for an English class at Butler University, and so seems like it will be discussed by students in a college class, which I find exciting! Also, Butler is located in Indianapolis, very close to my home town, and my sister and several friends attended back in the day.)

5) Meeting with my first showrunner! In all my years of trying to get established as a writer, I have been fortunate to meet with a number of executives at companies, but never with a showrunner, which has been a source of some frustration. Executives are awesome in that they offer to develop a pitch or a project with you — however that development, though fun and exciting, is seldom paid. Executives generally can’t hire you to work on an established TV show. The person who can do that is a showrunner. I have dreamed of working on a show — but my chances of that are slim without ever meeting someone who might potentially, hire me on one! So, even though this particular showrunner isn’t currently running a show, it was still a momentous benchmark, and he was super complimentary of my story, which was edifying.

6) Celebrating my 20th wedding anniversary. Worthy of note, though it was a very normal day. At this point in time, I think most of us cherish normal days! As usual, Paul and I both worked from home at opposite sides of the apartment. I bought him (i.e. “us”) some new cutting boards and a cake carrier, and he gave me permission to use him as my TikTok test subject — he’s definitely hoping that would never come to pass, but I vow it’s going to! In the evening, we finished Season One of Ted Lasso, which is just as freaking heartwarming as everybody annoyingly kept saying it was. Maybe even up there with Schitt’s Creek. If you haven’t seen it, go ahead and get the one-week free trial of Apple+ and binge it, then come back and thank me.

7) Adding yoga back into my life. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have been pretty faithful about going for daily walks, but largely gave up the diligent yoga practice I had maintained for over a a decade. I’ve known it was a loss, but just hadn’t figured out how to work it back in to my routine until my friend, Gina, sent me a link to this Morning Yoga Challenge: 10 min of Morning Yoga for 30 DAYS. For me, it was perfect — bite-sized morsels that didn’t seem too time consuming or painful. Each episode also has an affirmation to carry through the day.

8) Reading some great books. One of these was Kindred, by Octavia Butler. A continuation of my informal Octavia Butler project that began in December of 2019 when I read Parable of the Sower. In the last month or so I’ve also read (listened to) Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, and The Fact of a Body, by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich. The book that really blew me away though, was Assata: An Autobiography, by Assata Shakur. If you know only a little about her, it might be how she was chained to her bed in the hospital after being accused of killing a police officer on a New Jersey turnpike in the 70s, and it might seem like dark reading. It was not — this woman is full of light and gratitude and wisdom. Honest about her own blindspots and awakening, educational about the great numbers of sneaky and unjust things that happen in our country and elsewhere. At the same time, she manages to be flat out entertaining. The chapters alternate between her time after she was arrested and imprisoned and her life up to that point, beginning in early childhood.

I’m sure there are a couple things I’m missing — but eight is a good number. Hope everyone is enjoying their spring!

I Might Start a Vlog…

Guys, I’m thinking about starting a vlog. It’s not something I’ve considered before because I don’t love being on camera or speaking spontaneously and especially for the style I’m thinking about it will require camera and editing skills far beyond what I have. I can already envision the amount of media collection and organization that will be called for, and I know I will want to kill myself. But still, I’m thinking about it.

I think it’s because I have two things going on simultaneously in life right now:

  1. In my freelance “content creation/consulting” career, I’m working with a client who is considering adding various types of video content to her business.
  2. I’m writing a fictional screenplay where the main character is a YouTuber/Influencer.

The result is that I am researching, reading about and watching more YouTube vlog-type content than ever before. And I’m thinking… “this looks interesting!” It’s kind of like personal essay, kind of like blogging, and kind of like documentary…

Would it be fun, or just a ton more work? Actually I can tell it would be a ton more work. Would it also be fun?

More as this story develops.

This Is US… I mean, RESEARCH

This Is Us Research…

this is us banner

I have always loved to watch TV, and read books. Yet both of these activities tend to be tinged with guilt. Probably because, for most of my childhood, whenever I was doing these things, I was avoiding other things I was supposed to be doing, practicing piano, doing my homework, sleeping.  As time passed, and I became my own internal mother, it was easy to insert just about anything into the supposed to be slot.  Cleaning, arranging my sock drawer, doing my taxes, spending extra time at work.

And when I became a writer, it got even better. Because it’s super easy to counter almost ANY activity with “should be writing,” and get a nice little guilt buzz from it. (At this very moment,  as I’m blogging, I’m feeling guilty because I should be writing.) So, even though watching and reading are necessary components to what I do — I’m pretty much hard-wired to feel guilt.

There is, however, a (partial) guilt-loophole. This is, if I go to a meeting, and the producer or executive references a book or a show, then it’s like homework.  It’s research. Watching or reading it becomes the thing I should do, which is awesome. I get to read comic-books, young-adult novels and books on eclectic subjects, all without my guilt-alarm ringing!

A couple of weeks ago, in a meeting, someone mentioned that a show I’ve been pitching has structural similarities to This is UsI’d seen a few episodes early in the season, and — in the context of the conversation, felt like a slacker because I hadn’t kept up. So now, with permission, I launched vigorously into watching the rest… and fell in love.  I binged-watched the rest of the season over about three evenings and cried so much I had to go buy a new box of Kleenex to get through the last night.

Part of what makes the show so effective is how it often parcels out emotional bombshells and surprising reveals very lightly in terms of its story-telling.  No big set-up or announcement, just a passing reference to something the characters already know but the audience doesn’t. So there’s this tone of, Oh, by the way, did we not mention that… “These people you’ve been watching are siblings.” “This happened in the past, not the present.” “This person is dead.””This person was married.”

These reveals immediately prompt questions that don’t get answered right away — as they discuss in this Variety article.

It’s a really neat trick, and I’m planning to go back and study it when the season ends next week.

I like this quote from the article, where they talk about how the creator pitched the show:

He did say that over the course of time, he would always have those big moments and those big hooks and surprises and reveals, but that they wouldn’t have to be every week because once you’re invested in these characters, a smaller moment could feel as big as those huge moments once you’re totally engrossed in the stories of these characters’ lives and the decisions that they make.

Once you’re invested in the characters, and engrossed in their stories, a smaller moment feels bigger…