Pacing at the Starting Gate, Waiting for the Right Amount of Rain…

I am delighted to announce that I’ve got —not one, not two, but —three cool freelance gigs coming up.

JOB A is producing some product sales meetings for a well-known company.

JOB B and JOB C involve story creation for two different technology / game apps.

I am being super vague because I don’t want to jinx anything, but I’ll say that I’m excited about all three: Each one will involve learning new vocabulary (which is one of my favorite things) as well as new software (which I enjoy if it’s not overwhelming). And I get to collaborate as part of a team. I’ve been in a good mood as each of them has become more solid in the last several weeks.

The producing gig, JOB A, scheduled for mid-July to mid-September, is the most definite because it’s built around pre-scheduled events that involve multiple people and businesses, so barring some natural disaster or new pandemic surge, it will happen. I’ve spent the last month virtually “onboarding” with their third-party payroll vendor, and just received my company email address and access to their Microsoft Teams hub, so am feeling very official.

For JOB B and JOB C, the “paperwork” is still being sorted — i.e. various parties and lawyers are defining and agreeing to terms etc.

Here’s where I’m getting a little antsy and “pacing at the gate.” Both of these jobs became possibilities after meetings in early May, and are slated to happen in June. In particular, JOB B was supposed to begin June 1, for a duration of about 30 days. June 1 would have been a perfect start day, as then JOB B would have ended with a couple weeks before the beginning of JOB A, with some wiggle room if we were running late.

But, as I write this, it is June 11, and a weekend, and the paperwork is still “being finalized.” I’d have to start JOB B on Monday in order to have a full 30 days before JOB A starts.

I keep reminding everyone on my end that JOB A is not one of my usual day jobs where I can write in the evenings and go to meetings on my lunch break and pretend like I don’t really have a day job at all. JOB A will be a real, on-location, with (hopefully only) 10-hour days, production-type job that will require my full attention.

But legal departments rush for no one (at least no one at my level, but I think maybe no one ever).

Writers often juggle various jobs without their clients being the wiser or really caring, as long as the job gets done. And people who aren’t actually writing tend to act like miraculous things can happen. Also, I’ve noticed that people in entertainment are used to acting like miracles can happen, but then having them not happen, and deadlines get pushed all the time. What I don’t know is if that also happens in the tech world.

I’ve heard George Saunders say, “A cliche is a truth that has lost its luster.”
It never rains, but it pours is a cliche.
And it is true. I don’t know why.

The year so far has been a work-drought, so all the rain is welcome. But when too much rain hits packed dry earth … (you get it–that’s why it’s a cliche).

The blessing of these gigs is that 1) while they are short term, each should lead to future fun — if I can establish a good relationships, making it over the learning-curve hump and do a good job, and 2) I really want to do them all because I’m genuinely interested.

But the blessing of caring about all three will become a curse if they all — with their unique learning curves, new people, new software, and new story forms— end up landing at once.

So today’s manifestation is that the starting gun goes off on Monday… because I’m raring at the bit—And that for the next few months the rain can fall steady but not torrential.

Let’s get this party started!” says the horse.

Last Day With Colon

(On the last day before my full colectomy, I prepare for surgery)

Tomorrow is my colectomy. 

My surgery 20 years ago was what they call a “hemi-colectomy,” because it removed about half my colon. Some friends came to visit in the hospital back then and brought me a get well card adorned with a bold, graphic:

;

It was funny. I really enjoyed that. I don’t know what can graphically represent my situation after tomorrow. Maybe this? 

,

PREP DAY:

My pre-op prep started last night with a shower using a chlorhexadine soap that is supposed to block germ growth to prevent infection. After using it, you can’t use lotions or moisturizers, so I currently have elephant skin. I’ll take another shower today and another in the morning before we head to the hospital for our 5:00 AM call time.

For the rest of today my duties are: 1) Don’t eat any food that’s not transparent (which, since I’m too lazy to make yellow jello or clear broth, just means a water fast), 2) Take two kinds different antibiotics three times during the day, and 3) drink two bottles of magnesium citrate (which interestingly (to me) after 20 years of colonoscopy preps, I’ve never had before).

Halfway through this protocol, I can say that in terms of bitterness and nausea inducing qualities, one of the antibiotics is actually worse that the magnesium citrate, but we’re making it through. In between trips to the toilet, I’m prepping for convalescence, which is pretty much like prepping for a trip. Paying bills, set up an auto reply on my email, doing laundry and dishes and whatever tasks I’ve been putting off but now seem worth doing at the last minute. 

NEW VIDEO PROJECT

I’ve also been bossing Paul around, having him get some shots on his phone camera that I might be able to use later for one of the videos I have in my head. It’s possible that my newfound passion to do this YouTube / podcast thing is just my subconscious distracting me from the realities of the realities at hand, and my energy for the whole thing will be short-lived, but…

As threatened in my previous post, I recorded my first video yesterday! A video-version of my last post, “How often will I poop after a colectomy?

It was a good reminder of the joys of producing the simplest of projects. We got the camera and mic set up just in time for the tree cutters, leaf blowers and house remodelers to rise in chorus outside my office window. Once these noises tapered off toward evening, the young woman in the apartment downstairs came home with a girlfriend and they had a nice 3-hour gabfest in the room right below mine. I finally recorded anyway, with the rise and fall of their conversation — that distinct rhythm and lilt of two women in their early 20s — in the background. 

My initial takes were so rambling and disjointed that I ended up reading from script instead of looking into camera which I’m expecting to be weird and off-putting, but in the end I just loaded it onto the hard drive for “Future-Barrington-who-has-learned-how-to-edit” to deal with. The perfect is the enemy of the good enough, right? 

I’m sure Future-Barrington is going to be happy with … everything.

It’s fine. It’s all fine. I’m not worried at all!

Happy #TrainYourBrainDay

Did you know that pretty much every day is a social media holiday? These holidays can be kind of ridiculous (“Nation Grilled Cheese Day” “Walking Day”) and are basically just prompts for generating “content”. I should possibly start using them more for this blog, since the “holiday” also creates a deadline… which is something I apparently need. Once again I will share a Dr. Amy blog I wrote, because I think the topic is pretty interesting — something I would write about here if I ever got around to it. In honor of #TrainYourBrainDay, “Dr. Amy” interviews me about my Muse Brain Sensing Headband, which I use to meditate.

Ironically, as I hurriedly wrote that post about how amazing meditation is, I had also gone more than a week without meditating. How do I know? Because the Muse sent me an email telling me it had been eight days… and that might have been a couple days ago. And you know what? In that time, I’ve grown more frazzled, distracted — feeling under the gun and less able to focus. This happens gradually, then suddenly. For a few days, it doesn’t seem to matter — I’m more preoccupied by items on my to-do list. I pick some item and I tell myself if I can “just get this done” I’ll feel more grounded again, but, of course, I don’t, because it’s not about finishing the random task. Finally, when I’m on the mental skids, I remember (not for the first time) that the to-do list is never going to stop — it’s me who has to stop myself.

My New Volunteer Gig (brought to you by My Zombie Parents)

Things I don’t love to do:
1) Social Media in general
2) Twitter.

I happily collaborate on clients’ blogs, products, website content — but, thus far, I’ve drawn the line at posts for social media platforms. There are a lot of benefits to using social media, but as everyone who has seen The Social Dilemma (i.e. everyone) knows, there are also a lot of drawbacks to using it. As a writer, I particularly resent the way it pulls my mind away from a project for just a minute that turns into much longer than a minute. A study at UC Irvine (cited by almost any article you read on the topic) showed that it generally takes more than 23 minutes to get your flow back after an interruption like, say, scrolling through a SM feed.

I’m barely surviving my personal social media use: making social media part of my job seems much worse! I once worked on a screenplay for several hours a day for two years and came out strong — but after the screenplay was finished, simply maintaining the social media for our fund-raising campaign contributed to a moment of burnout that caused me to distance myself from the entire project. Last month, I had an opportunity to pitch my services to a client I would have loved to work with, but because her main goals were social media oriented, I ended up referring her to another writer.

So how did I just volunteer to manage a company’s Twitter account? Like this:

During the first week of November, I did my bi-monthly Instagram check and saw I’d been tagged in a post announcing that MY ZOMBIE PARENTS was a November “staff pick of the month” on Scriptd.com.

This was cool! Also, a complete surprise, as I had uploaded the script to the site in 2015. At the time, I’d been asked to upload some scripts by friend of the founder of the site. I don’t have much faith in any database sites. I had recently experimented with the much-touted blcklst.com and later tried Inktip. Both left me under-impressed with pay-to-play listing services. But, it was a friend of a friend, and it was FREE. I uploaded. Then I forgot about it…

Until November 2020 when MY ZOMBIE PARENTS was named a Staff Pick of the Month. That was cool. I’ve always had a soft spot for this screenplay — the first one Paul and I ever worked on together. I would be proud to share/ retweet any accolades it receives on Facebook — which, problematic as it is, is where my IRL friends are because I am old — or Twitter — where the screenwriting community hangs out.

But when I looked, I noticed Scriptd hadn’t tweeted since February. A screenplay database with Instagram, but no Facebook or Twitter? It seemed an odd choice!

Curious, I did some internet research. And came across this talk by the founder of Scriptd, (and my aforementioned friend’s friend) Denise Hewitt.

Watching this, of course, it started to make sense. Social media is time and labor consuming, and judging from this, Scriptd was likely underfunded and under-resourced. Which is a shame, because it’s VERY HARD to get your work seen in Hollywood by those who might help your project or career. Myriad contests and sites that offer to help — but always for a price. Those who have read this blog over time know that I don’t have a lot of love for the profit-making side-industry that has grown up on the backs of writers and their dreams. Not to disparage the good intentions of the blcklst.coms and inktip.coms of the world to connect people — but the fact is that they are money-making ventures and they make money from writers whether or not they help them. Last week screenwriting Twitter was a-twit with bigger writers “gifting” a month of blcklst hosting ($30/month) and reader evals ($75 / feature or one-hour script or $50 / half-hour script to smaller (poorer) writers. I’m not being sarcastic when I say it was heartwarming, which is why I feel like a Scrooge that I have to point out that that blcklst is making their money either way, and that we are all complicit in normalizing the idea that aspiring writers need to make these often out-of-reach monetary investments.

I am skeptical about how often “industry” people (i.e. managers, agents, producers) use any of these databases. Blcklst.com and Inktip are both fairly coy in how they present their accounting, and when I experimented with them a few years back, my investments resulted in description page views in the single digits and zero unpaid script views.

Can Scriptd offer better exposure than these paid platforms? I honestly don’t see how, especially without more marketing to raise awareness. But can it do as well? Given my experience, it *literally* cannot do worse. So, why not?

Because, again… Scriptd is FREE.

FREE. FREE. FREE. For writers and for readers.

As a woman, Denise’s video made me frustrated and mad for all the usual reasons. It made me feel like writing to her and volunteering to tweet for her site, even though I don’t like tweeting

So I did.

And now I’m tweeting for Scriptd!

I don’t know if this will change much — except that I will finally choose and learn to use a social media manager (like Hootsuite or similar), which is useful. And maybe I can help a few writers and actors have more visibility. I’d love it if some of those writers will be chosen for a live-read, or a staff pick, or someone will read their work and give them a boost in some way. That’s pretty much all this business is about.

So, if you have a script, put it up (for free!) on Scriptd.com.

(And if you have money or applicable skills and want to become part of making a MY ZOMBIE PARENTS graphic novel in the next couple years — let me know!)

Some context: My out-of-date Blcklst.com reviews from 2014: Parts One, Two and Three
An AFF review of My Zombie Parents circa 2015.

Life in the Time of Pandemic (March 13-20, 2020)

By Friday, March 13, all students had been advised to leave campus until March 31st — if possible. The end date feels arbitrary, will they all fly home and return two weeks later? I guess the truth is that nobody knows. The faculty receives a query from our department chair asking us to report if our classes were on track to move online by Monday. The university seems to mobilize faster than I would have guessed. They’re negotiating with the software companies to expand licenses directly to students. The dozen emails I send to university tech support got quick responses.

From California, friends are sharing pictures of bare shelves at the stores where toilet paper and household cleansers would be stocked. One sends a picture of a truck with toilet paper being guarded by police, but at our Family Dollar, there are still paper goods — though fewer cleansers — no more Clorox wipes. Though we’ve been encouraged not to have large gatherings, no one has yet said anything about small gatherings. We’re reading the first articles about social distancing, and navigating what this means. Our yoga studio is still open, sending us messages to say they’ve decreased the number of students per class, and are ramping up their cleaning and sanitizing. If we don’t use equipment, we figure, we’ll only be touching our own mats. Our county still has no documented cases of community spread, so on Saturday we go to class.

We also have plans, in place for over a month, to have dinner with another couple and their son. The fact that we don’t know them well makes it seem ruder to cancel. I check to see if they still want us, and our hostess seems not to have even considered otherwise. Their house is beautiful and large; it’s not hard to keep some distance for most of the pleasant evening. When it ends, our hostess hugs me, which feels strange after a week of bumping elbows. “Oh, we’re still hugging!” I blurt in surprise.

“Yes, of course,” she answered.

The need to make things smooth overtakes our group. Paul hugs our hostess two, and I hug her husband. No one is scared. Everything’s all right.

The following day (Sunday, March 15), I’ve made a “study date” with another teacher, to figure out how to make online quizzes for our students. “Should we go?” Paul and I deliberate, and decided we will. I bring my Clorox wipes, which are already something of a joke between us.

I’d assumed their family would be doing some form of distancing, but when we arrive, their youngest is having a play date with two other little girls.  They run around the house as normal.. The older son, newly driving, came and went, picking up food for us. “Wash your hands!” his mom reminds him as he begins to unpack the food.

Coming home Paul and I feel we have felt for the boundaries of our comfort level, and found those boundaries. We agree we’ve made the last of our home visits, and that for us, social distancing, like online classes, will begin in earnest the next day, Monday the 16th.

Sunday night the democratic debate features Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders hooking elbows instead of shaking hands, and standing at podiums placed six feet apart. The news that night announces that both Los Angeles and New York are tamping down on bars and restaurants, limiting them to food delivery only. In California Gavin Newsom asks everyone over the age of 65 to sequester themselves. One journalist notes that the democratic debate, between two candidates in their late 70s, would be in defiance of that request if the debate were to take place in California.

On Monday, the stock market drops by 8% and trading is temporarily halted for the second or third time–I’ve lost track. l realize that while we have food, paper products, and cleansers, in our temporary rental we have none of the over-the-counter medications that accrue over years, so I walk again to the Family Dollar and purchase a motley collection of cold medications and acetaminophen.

On Tuesday the 17th, UF announces that, instead of possibly resuming March 31st, classes will remain online for the remainder of the semester, and into the summer. There will be no commencement ceremonies in the spring. 

“I guess if everything is online, nothing’s really keeping us here,” says Paul.
“Should we just go early?” I respond.

We discuss the pros and cons. It could save us a month of paying rent in two places, which is appealing. At the same time, the situation in California looks crazier than Gainesville. There are also complicated logistics – how and when to make a forty-hour drive across internet-less terrain when we’re teaching a combined fifteen hours a week online, plus grading and correspondence? With the car packed to the gills, where should we sleep? Our presence might endanger the friends along our route, and hotels, if open, seem undesirable.

We table the discussion as I’m still organizing my first Zoom class for that afternoon, as well as an online pitch and an online midterm using an online proctoring service for Wednesday. On Wednesday, as I scramble up various technological learning curves, the news cycles around me: the stock market tanks again, the president proposes a billion dollar economic stimulus package of which $250 million directly to taxpayers, the rest to corporations, and West Virginia reports it first case of Covid 19, meaning the virus is now in all 50 states. There are now 5800 recorded cases and 107 deaths nationwide. New York is considering instituting a “shelter in place” edict. When our temporary landlord emails to let us know that our place was now available through April, we tell him we’ll stay through April 24, the day after our classes end.

On Thursday, Italy is front and center in the news. Their death toll has passed 3000. In California, Governor Newsom orders people not to go out. A friend of Paul’s to combat his own anxiety, invites people to read War and Peace with him — aiming for 50 pages a day. I order it for my Kindle.

On Friday we embark on what feels, in this new world, like an exciting outing: A trip to the GNC to buy zinc lozenges, to a sporting goods store to buy small hand weights (since our gym and yoga studio are both now closed) and to the grocery store. In the strip mall that houses the GNC there’s a line outside the Trader Joe’s – it’s our first sighting of a store admitting only a limited number of shoppers at one time.

The GNC is sold out of zinc, so we make a call and visit the location that still has two boxes – the one in the indoor mall. At the GNC we stand at a distance from the cashier, then exit through the mall, walking past dozens of closed and empty stores. We don’t stop to window shop at the few that are open, and are careful not to touch anything. At one of the small tables in the center of the mall, two women, leaned their arms on the table’s surface as they talked to each other– their faces a mere foot or two apart. They appear relaxed, feeling none of our trepidation.

A few more calls locates a sporting goods stores that is still open. We find a bottle of Purell at the entrance with a sign asking us to sanitize our hands on the way in. Inside, the middle of the store is empty. The clerk tells us most of the weights and home gym equipment have been sold.

At our final stop, Publix, a friendly worker wipes down and sanitizes the carts as they’re returned. Inside, someone is mopping the floor. There’s music playing. Feel It Still by Portugal. The Man — Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks now… For a moment I suddenly felt buoyant. It feels good to be out, to be pushing a cart and skipping with the music in the wide, clean aisle between freezer cases full of options.

And then the feeling and our trip is over. We’re home, with no other excursions to look forward to. One of my students has written to say that where she is, with her family in Miami, there are more cases than in Gainesville. With family member who are immunocompromised, much of the shopping falls to her, and if would help if she were able to predict her classwork. This hits me deeply, knowing that there have been some unannounced assignments in her class. I spend the rest of Friday and most Saturday – which is today – editing and publishing assignments for the rest of the semester. It doesn’t feel heroic, but I guess that my part in this, as a teacher, is to offer what stability and support I can… to do my job. And I want to. As someone familiar with being underemployed, I keenly feel my good fortune at having a job I can still do during this time.