Happy #TrainYourBrainDay

Did you know that pretty much every day is a social media holiday? These are basically just prompts for generating “content” for businesses. I should possibly start using them more for this blog, as 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, and then I tell myself if I can “just get this done” I’ll feel more grounded again, and then, when I’m all the way gone, 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.

Podcast Coming Soon

In upcoming weeks, you’ll be seeing a new tab on this website. I’ve had the plan for awhile to make a landing page with some of my short stories and essays, but had been dragging my feet. Or maybe not dragging my feet, I was just running around in different directions — but it was on my mind.

Part of the delay was that I had to work through some trial and error: I had an okay microphone but my “sss”s were hissing so I needed to order a pop-screen;  I had time allocated to record, but the neighbors decided to do construction right outside my office, etc. I got an Adobe subscription so I could do an edit, but my computer isn’t up-to-date enough to run it the latest version of Adobe…

But then my brother announced he was moving back to Los Angeles. Lucky for me! He has the skills and equipment I lack. As soon as he finished painting the walls and re-assembling his home studio,  I jumped to the front of the line before he got too busy. 

It’s been going well, but I’m discovering learning curves in new areas. This is the first time in a long time that I am “the performer.” I recently went back and re-recorded the first episode because when I listened to it, it felt a little lackluster and I realized it was because I wasn’t committing  to doing different voices for everyone’s dialogue. I think it felt a little silly so I only half-committed — and half committed is half-assed.  Listening to myself, I realized that there’s a reason it’s easy to get caught up in audio books and LeVar Burton Reads, and a reason it’s harder to get lost in the The New Yorker Fiction Podcast (although I listen to it still). For fiction, I like hearing actors who bring things to life, so I re-recorded to try to come closer to that bar, even though it’s out of my comfort zone.

The next hurdle is picking a “podcast host.” I can post episodes from this WordPress site for free, but they seem to be part of the blog post — and because I also blog about non-podcast things, that might be a little weird. I’d like to have a separate landing page, and, it turns out, my tastes aren’t as cheap as I’d like them to be. It costs not to run any ads, costs to have a pretty picture next your player  (also, I need to design the picture for the player).

Too late to make a long story short, we’ve got three in the can now.  I’m still figuring a few things out, but it’s coming soon!

IMG_5396.JPG
Greg adjusting the first episode.

Here is our theme song!

Who Ya Gonna Call? Gumbusters

I just got back from my summer travels. First stop was New York City. I got to see some family and friends I hadn’t seen since my last trip five years ago. I stayed in Manhattan but traveled almost every day to Brooklyn, which gave me a chance to check out some day-to-day action in the city.

One day I saw this guy; IMG_4440

Once I saw it, I became aware of the myriad dark blotches on the sidewalks and streets and realized they were old gum. Kind of crazy. I’ve never noticed that in LA — maybe because we have less pedestrians? Though now I need to look more closely the next time I’m in a neighborhood with more foot traffic.

Who pays this guy?  The sidewalk in this picture doesn’t seem to be associated with any private business. Maybe he has  contract with the city. I found this video online, but it doesn’t address that question.