When It Gets Challenging

It’s a tough time of year — the weather is hot, in the way that August is always hot, and the way that portends the ever-nearing climate apocalypse. The autumn is nigh — in the way that August always precedes the too-fast downhill slope into the holidays and the end of the year.

We’re housesitting for a few days — in a beautiful house with air-conditioning and a calm, well-behaved dog. An ideal writer’s retreat… but I am not being the ideal writer, and it makes me feel ashamed of passing hours lacking in accomplishments, and it’s too easy to make the mental jump from passing hours to passing life.

I have my reasons for minimal output, as maybe writers always do. So far, it has been yet another year of almosts, promises, feigned excitement and “contracts on their way from business affairs,” that in the end… turn out to be lies. Some innocent, others intentional — plentiful enough to have some of each. the. Another year of “free” work — which, of course is a misnomer, since it’s paid for by me…

So what should I be writing? I have two stories, a feature in need to a rewrite, and three feature outlines all begun, and I find myself in a state of paralysis, unable to make a good dive into any of them.

There is the pervasive Hollywood myth, that I am realizing is much the same as myths perpetuated by abusers everywhere, that there is some right choice, some story, that if you execute it in a way that’s transcendent– that will make the relationship healthy, that will make the abuser act not act like a sociopath. If you can just be GREAT ENOUGH, then THIS TIME all the promises will be made good on, this time you will be pulled from indentured servitude into the rosy future. if YOU can pass all the tests and reach it.

I don’t believe in it anymore, and yet… and yet. Like a seven-year-old coming to some certain conclusions about Santa, I’m still like, but WHAT IF? What if there are awesome presents that you get because you’re good? So, there’s still this irrational weight placed on choosing which project to invest in — what if one of them has the potential to be a project that CHANGES EVERYTHING and I choose another one instead? Or, what if NONE of them will change everything, but there’s a project that will give me personal satisfaction, and instead I’m choosing to chase promises and pots of gold at ends of rainbows again?

At this point, my compass is so messed up (or because it’s impossible for anyone to predict) I’m having difficulty even choosing what will give personal satisfaction. Which project will be worth the frustration of finishing a draft and realizing I need to tear it down to the bones and build it yet again?

So here I stand at a fork in the road, unable to choose which way to walk forward, waiting for clarity.

 

 

 

Beth Ann

Beth Ann (not her real name, for privacy) is the homeless lady who lives in our neighborhood. She used to perch on a brick planter near the entrance to the parking lot until the CVS asked her not to sit there as customers didn’t like. Then she moved across the street. And then, when the doctor gave her some “water pills” that make her pee a lot, she crossed another street to a bus stop bench in front of the McDonalds. The bench is probably more comfortable than the planter, but there’s no shade of any kind, so she is in full sun for the entire day.

When I come to see her she says, “Oh hey, darlin,'” and we sit and chat for a few minutes. She tells me a little about her health and doctors’ visits now that she’s approved for Medi-Cal, what the mysterious construction site on the corner is going to be (she knows from making friend with one of the workers) and how she was born in the same hospital as Mayor Garcetti and about the time that Mayor Garcetti got our of his limo to talk to her, telling her she might want to go to a shelter for the night because there was going to be a hard rain. She told him she appreciated the advice but I don’t know where she slept that night.

When I go to visit I take a few bottles of frozen water, and whatever I have on hand for food. Today I had cut melon, a slice of pizza and some thai noodles and a Snicker’s bar. Usually I try to do something more nutritious like eggs or cheese sticks or a salad, so I added three dollars rolled up in a rubber band, and resisted the urge to apologize or make excuses when I handed her the bag.

Before I knew Beth Ann by name, I would sometimes see her reading a book next to her pile of belongings, and I’d think, if I were a homeless person, that would be me. A white woman, off by herself, reading a book. I spoke to her once or twice, maybe offered a dollar, but didn’t engage too much. The reasons seem both obvious, but also are not that easy to articulate. Maybe the responsibility seemed too much — maybe I was worried I would find out things she really needed (like a room in my house!) and I wouldn’t be ready. to go that far and I’d feel guilty. Maybe she was a reminder of the overwhelming problem we have of homeless everywhere you go or look in Los Angeles now, and I didn’t want to think about it.

But then, in the era of the NextDoor app, a woman I’ve never met in our neighborhood posted that she was starting a “Lotsa Helping Hands” calendar for Beth Ann, and that if we got 14 people, everyone could stop by only once every two weeks and we would still cover every day. And that drew me in, even though we only got as high as nine and not every day is covered. I’m really grateful to that neighbor for the rather brave thing she did, courting the ire of the NIMBY’s to make the request. When I see a Beth Ann on the bench, I see “Beth Ann” and not just a problem. Even though I still feel sad for the situation, I feel hope too, that things can get better for her.

Hangin’ Out, Thinking About Partiality

(As promised at the end of my last post.)

Much of the story we pitched for ADMISSIONS is built around three families — all New Yorkers, but with different backgrounds and socio-economic resources — vying to get their children into Ivy League colleges — and making some questionable moral and legal decisions in their pursuits. 

Last year, I wrote a pilot for an entirely different series — one with a sci-fi premise where a tech guru creates an Elysium-type alternate reality and the richest people in the United States pay to transport themselves and their families into this other reality.

What do this two projects– one grounded, and one sci-fi — have in common? They are both about families, and both about family members who exercise partiality. 

Partiality — if it’s not familiar to you, as it wasn’t to me — is basically, liking one thing, person or group more than another.  In philosophy, there’s a whole ongoing conversation regarding whether it can be right to act partially and privilege people who are closer in our affections over those who are more distant.

In both my sci-fi scenario and in the real world scandal, individuals act to procure opportunities for their children.  But in so doing they are are taking the opportunity away from other, random people.

Most of us exercise some form of partiality. We feed our own children and take care of our own families first. We help our friends more than strangers. Generally it’s regarded as honorable to help our families, friends, teams, companies. We talk about loyalty like it’s a good thing — something to aspire to.

But, is it also honorable to give a job to your nephew instead of reviewing applications from other hopefuls?  Is it okay to  vote to fund the parks near your neighborhood and not  neighborhoods where other people’s kids live?  What if everyone in your group made the same choices?

It seems like classism, racism, tribalism could all descended from this type of partiality when it’s not just exercised by individuals, but groups of people.

When I think about partiality, it’s difficult not to selfishly think about how partiality  affects me. I want to be a working TV writer. In order to do that, I need to be hired by a showrunner. It’s no secret that showrunners– not just as individuals, but as a class — are partial to people they know and trust, or to referrals by people they know and trust. Since I am not neither of those things, my chances of catching my dream are diminished.

On the flip side, I’ve been hired many times — to be on film crews, to teach, to work admin — because someone knew me.  In every case, I’m guessing Human Resources could have sent a hundred applicants as good or better than I was, who probably wanted the job more than I did.  Yes, I’m a hard worker, but that’s not what got me those jobs. I got those jobs because: partiality. The people with the power to hire already knew me.

The temptation is always there to help out a friend, to make your kid happy. When is that okay, and where’s the line? If you’re a bouncer at a club, is it okay to let your friends in for free? If you work middle-management at a company, is it okay to highly refer a friend for a job? And if you have a gazillion dollars, is it okay to buy your kid a spot at a prestigious college, or buy your family a new life in an alternate reality?

 

That Time I Optioned a Book – ADMISSIONS

Here’s a fun little Hollywood-type story. Back in August, I rented the rights to the novel, Admissions, from my friend Eric, in the hopes of getting someone interested in making a limited series, a la Big Little Lies. I was excited because I could see what the show could be, but because the book had a small publisher and little-to-know publicity, it hasn’t sold a ton of copies. And because I am unknown, my attachment wasn’t really a selling point, so I was having trouble gaining any traction. Somehow, though, I was lucky enough to gain the interest of a producing team, who talked it up at their meetings and sent out packets for a few months — but again, because I neither I nor the book or its author are famous, it was hard to gain traction. However, the book was at a couple places when the story broke, which suddenly made it more timely — and finally, we got an invitation to pitch!

Which was awesome.

And a little crazy:

I got the news that pitch meeting was five days away as I was driving to one of my non-writing gigs, telling myself that I hadn’t woken up that morning with a sore throat (I had). At that point I did not have a pitch, had not read the book since June, and needed to double-bag all the food in our house and move out because our building was being tented to fumigate for termites.  So that weekend was… remember when you spent a marathon weekend studying for a really important exam while coughing, blowing your nose and staying at a friend’s house because you and your boyfriend got in a fight?  It was kind of like that! But somehow — with the help of the producers, it came together and we had a pitch by Monday morning. So. Yay!

But all of that is basically a long intro to a topic that been on my mind on and off for the past year or more which is the concept of PARTIALITY.

However, since I’m trying to do this thing where I write posts that are less than 500 words instead 1000-1500, I’ll sign off here, and pick up the subject in another post, coming soon!

Capoeira Lessons

February 15, 2018

On Tuesday I had got up for an early meeting with lots of energy. The meeting –for a non-industry job — was really interesting, and set my mind to spinning –thinking of some interesting things I could write about…

But as the day wore on, my energy dwindled.

I began to feel daunted by everyday practicalities.

And then I got a letter saying that I would not be receiving a publication award I’d been on the shortlist for …

And my short film would not be screened at a festival…

And by evening I was feeling pretty depleted and defeated.

But Paul had just begun a month of Capoeira classes at a studio close to us, and was going to a class that night. On a whim, I said, “Should I go, too?” capoeira

And an hour later I was in a brightly lit studio with new people learning new movements to the rhythm of instruments with unfamiliar names.

And I felt energized and happier again.