What’s Going On (Work Stuff)

In a previous post, I talked about having three jobs on the horizon and fearing that instead of lining up consecutively, that they would all land concurrently.

Reader, of course that happened.

The “main job” is a producing gig for a large toy company. I’ve been enjoying it even more than I’d anticipated. While it’s primarily business presentations, these involve some short toy demo videos, the creation of which allowed me to be on a set for the first week or so, which always feels like a coming home. The next phase has been working with the quite large logistical puzzle of arranging schedules for all events that are happening. This is the realm of the Executive Producer, who has been doing this for two or three decades, but I’m getting a close-up look and the chance to problem-solve as I transcribe information to various documents.

This stuff might not sound exciting, but it’s all NEW, and learning new stuff releases dopamine. Throw in some some important deadlines for stakes and you have a kind of dopamine, adrenaline, endorphin cocktail —one I’ve been riding high on that for the last week.

Dopamine highs are fun, but also “dangerous,” in that what comes up, must come down. When dopamine levels rise, the brain senses you’ve been getting a lot, and gives you less. So after high-dopamine experiences, one can experience a “crash.”

This is very familiar to me. A play closes, a shoot ends, I turn in a draft or leave a party. I’m feeling good… and then there’s a feeling of emptiness, and very quickly (for me at least) that emptiness fills with ANXIETY. I second-guess, question, relive mistakes or social mis-steps.

Even this weekend, I’m experiencing this on a small scale. I made a mistake on Friday, born of newness, and the EP had to pull me back. It was something that won’t be hard to adjust in the future, and I think was fairly small but in my head I wonder was it small? Maybe it wasn’t small!

Going through this, I’m grateful that over the last week, even with early call times and late nights, I managed to maintain my 20- minute morning meditation sessions. They don’t “fix” my feelings, but they help me step outside my experience. They’re like a little “time out” where I can remember that what I’m going through is cyclical and the “stakes” for getting things wrong or right are partly of my own creation. I remind myself to keep the importance of things in proportion, to work hard, but protect my health by pacing myself, to value a learning mindset over beating myself up. And to choose kindness whenever there is opportunity.

What’s Going On (Random Life Stuff)

Welp, I’ve let a couple months go by without posting, and now enough has happened that it’s difficult to pick any one thing to talk about, so I guess I’ll just ramble and see what comes out.

Right now, Paul and I are babysitting for our three and a half year old nephew. It’s a fun age to spend time with kids because they tend to be very loving and enthusiastic about the familiar adults in their lives. But it’s also an age where they demand lot of attention. Today’s original plan was to arrive around 6pm, and our assumption was that we’d eat and play and nephew would stay up an extra hour or so (that was a big deal when I was a kid!), and be asleep around 8:30ish. My original plan had been to work on one of my current gigs —story for a digital comic— for a couple hours in the afternoon, and then a couple more after nephew went to bed.

It turned out we actually needed to come earlier —around 3pm. When we got there, my brother-in-law informed us, that because it was special baby-sitter night, there were no rules! Our nephew had permission to watch TV or play as late as he wanted, etc… and they had let him have an extra long nap in preparation.

I’m sure you see where this is going…

At 3pm, our nephew was literally shrieking in excitement at our arrival. He couldn’t wait to show us his new plastic black widow spider.

The beloved Black Widow Spider

Eight hours later, we’ve played about a hundred games that involve hiding the spider, going for walks with the spider, building a cushion cave for the spider, playing “the floor is lava” with the spider. My nephew informed me at one point that the spider has “had a very good day.” It’s going on 11pm now, and I can report that while the spider’s battery seems to be depleting, my nephew’s energy is unflagging. Right now, he and Paul and the spider are watching You-tube videos set to repetitive carnival-like music and I’m stealing some laptop time to write this and send grateful thoughts and psychic reinforcement to all parents, teachers and childcare providers in the world… (more tomorrow).

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.

Why I’m Writing This on a Plane to Argentina

Dec 5, 2021

Wait, you’re probably thinking, Is she “literally” on a plan to Argentina, or is this going to be one of those posts where “flying to Argentina” is some weird metaphor? The answer is I am typing this on an American Airlines flight that just took off from Dallas Fort Worth, and in nine and a half hours will land in Buenos Aires.

The plane is full, it’s dimly lit. Some folks —including my traveling companion—have already taken their in-flight drugs and are sleeping, chins to chests. Glowing screens on the walls show our flight path, and more glowing screens on the seat backs silently play commercials, episodes of Ted Lasso, and movies with car chases and fight scenes. One contented baby is sleeping in the seat in front of me, while one discontented (and incredibly strong-lunged) baby cries across the aisle. It’s okay. I’m wearing earplugs.

But you don’t care about any of this – you’re wondering why I don’t get to the point and tell you why I’m on my way to Argentina. I’m procrastinating because the answer is a little embarrassing.

It’s because an astrologist told me to.

Some background:

A few years ago, a friend (who’d been having some good luck in love, career, etc,) told Paul that she had been consulting an astrologist, K, who specialized in Solar Returns. The idea has something to do with looking at the position of the stars when and where you were born and somehow using that information to calculate where your “best stars” are for any given year. The astrologist then recommends where on the globe you should spend her birthday, in order to mitigate transits that might be unlucky, and optimize what can be optimized.

That was the first year that, for our anniversary, Paul got us readings from K. I can’t say I exactly believe in the astrology, but I do believe in affirmations, and it seemed like taking a trip with one’s goals in mind is a strong affirming action. And it could also be fun. At the same time, it always feels a little “out there” to spend a lot of time effort and resources on an astrology trip… at least for me, if something feels too frivolous it becomes more stressful than fun. Paul is someone who takes big swings more in stride. He sometimes enjoys something more because it verges on the ridiculous!

For the last few years, things worked out in terms of our personalities. The first year I had the option of making a road trip to Eureka, California, while Paul went to Japan. The next year, I took a two hour flight on Southwest to Loreto, Mexico, while Paul journeyed to a small town in Italy. Last year, because of the pandemic, we told the astrologist to just give her best shot within driving distance. I got Goleta, California (near Santa Barbara) while Paul took a longer trip to Arizona.

But this year, when our recommendations arrived, the tables had turned. K noted that that even if Paul stayed in Los Angeles, it would be “neutral,” though he might improve his horoscope with a fairly easy trip to Hawaii.

But after that she said:

For Barrington the choice is much more difficult. She will have very bad transit trends for health this year (Saturn for about 4 months puts health at risk), so we need to do ASR possibly very protective for health and without dangerous values! In view of the heavy transits, I would like to offer you the best possible horoscope for health protection and throughout the US there are NO places that are completely safe! This means that I could NEVER make the positive prediction with birthday 2021 in the US (too bad stars).

Then she offered up my BEST options, which she said would be “VERY protective for health, with success in all kinds of projects and extraordinary benefits for human relationships and love, money and carrier.”

They were specific cities in:

Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina and Guyana.

The second best choice was in Barbados, which she said was protective for health, projects and relationships but with some stress for money with extra expenses throughout the year, (apparently because of Mars in the 2nd House—something astrologers will understand but not me). A third option was Guam. Lastly, she included Boston, although she described this as “NOT a completely safe horoscope. I can only propose it as a ‘less worse’ emergency solution.”

None of these were the kind of easy, inexpensive trip I was hoping for. Distracted by other things happening that evening— like watching our Creepshow episode for the first time and doing fun prep for a morning colonoscopy—I put it out of my mind.

Until, twelve hours later, I received the completely-out-of-the-blue cancer diagnosis.

Which certainly felt like a coincidence right after the big health warning. In several years, K has never been quite so specific or adamant about health. I figured it couldn’t hurt to explore the options. And, of course, planning a trip is more fun than planning a cancer journey…

Our friend Brazil didn’t have time for a road trip to the recommended city of Curitiba, and said he wouldn’t recommend trying to drive there from Sao Paulo during monsoon season.

Guyana—just a hop from Miami—was the closest and cheapest, but it had big red travel advisories for both Covid and a huge recent crime surge.

But then my friend, A, said, “I’ve been thinking about going to Argentina.” She speaks much better Spanish than me, and has a friend in Argentina who wants to show us around his city, which is midway between Buenos Aires and my “magic birthday destination” of Bahia Blanca. We’ve been friends for a long time, but have never traveled together and the idea started to seem more fun. Clearly, I’m at a place where the future is feeling uncertain, so… why not?

I’ll say again that I probably don’t believe in astrology, specifically. But from experience, I have to acknowledge that sometimes the universe gives you enough little pushes.

And that’s why I’m writing this post on a plane to Argentina!

The Whole Screencraft Screenwriting Interview

The folks at Screencraft (they run the contest that I won earlier this year) recently sent me some prompts / questions about my screenwriting journey in order to cull testimonials from my answers. They managed to find a few uplifting snippets to use in their Instagram / Twitter posts — and kudos to them for that, because even though I made real efforts to be positive, some of these answers feel a little… dark. However, I seem to have arrived at a point in my life/career where young hopefuls ask me for insights and advice, so for what it’s worth, here are the prompts and my answers in their entirety.

  • What did you find were some of the biggest obstacles to your screenwriting career goals?

Before I went back to school for writing, I was a freelancer who worked on various shows and events, one gig would always lead to other gigs. You work with people, they get to know your personality and work and then either request or refer you for another job. I got used to that. But after I graduated from my writing program, I took a full time day job that was separate from the industry I wanted to be in, and I think I really gave up an advantage by removing myself from the daily view of people who were in the industry. I see the question come up a lot among early career writers — “Is it better to stay close to the industry, even at the expense of writing time, or to get a day job that lets you practice skills and generate material?” It’s a tough call! At the time, I had reasons for making the choice I did, but purely in terms of career-building, I can see how stepping away from the path had some costs.

  • Was there ever a point when you felt most rejected? 

If anyone out there is unaware, it’s probably good to know that the entertainment business is the business of rejection. After your dreams get dashed the first few times, I’ve found that all the rejections kind of become a blur.  But I’m happy to tell you about my most recent example:  I gave a new script to someone who I really needed to like it — a gatekeeper — and they didn’t like it. At all. A big door that I’d hoped would be opened instead slammed in my face. It’s clear in my memory because it was literally a couple days ago and I’m still recovering as I write this.  But at the same time, I’m aware that even having a relationship with a gatekeeper who’s willing to read my work and give their honest opinion is a privilege —one that took me years to achieve, and that many people don’t have — so I never forget to appreciate it.  A rejection of one’s work is still an affirmation of one’s existence!  

  • Are there moments when you think about giving up. What motivates you to keep going? 

In terms of ever making my living by screenwriting, I’d say I think about giving up six days out of seven. My escape strategies are a running joke with friends—I literally have tabs open in my browser right now for “how to be a UX writer.”  But thus far, I’ve kept going, and I think there are a couple reasons why:  The first is that I somehow always have one more iron in the fire. Like right now, I have a pitch being considered at a company for a project I would really-really-really like to do, so I’m waiting to see what happens. And while I’m waiting, I’m working on other things, so by the time this project doesn’t work out (or maybe does—this could be the one —manifestations welcome), I’ll have something else to hope for. The second reason is a little more “woo-woo” which is that I deep-down believe that this is where my gifts lie, and that someday I’m going to be part of making something awesome and meaningful, if I can just find my way to it.

  • Where are you currently in your career? Anything that you are excited about?

I’m at a place in my career now where it’s easy to feel frustrated, because time passes and I’m still side-hustling to support my writing when I want my writing to support itself. But, I’m also in a place where I once aspired to be: I’ve had representation for a while, and recently added a TV agent to the team! And I’m celebrating my first produced TV credit (with writing partner Paul Seetachitt) — an episode of Creepshow that came out last month called “Time Out.” It’s gotten a lot of complimentary reviews, which is validating. These things give me hope that I’m getting closer to where I want to be.

  • What drew you to ScreenCraft and how did the competition help you?

A good friend who knows that I also write short stories sent me the link to the ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story competition. At this point I’ve largely forsworn writing competitions, but for some reason I decided to enter… and it worked out! I got to meet with one of the judges which was my first one-on-one meeting with a showrunner and was exciting for me. And while I already had representation, the buzz surrounding winning the Grand Prize inspired my reps to send the story out, and I think was key in their decision to add a TV agent to my team, which is something I’d really been wanting for a long time — so that felt like a victory.  I’ve really appreciated that Screencraft has a team of real people who have checked in on my progress since the contest. They’ve pushed me to evaluate those things that any writer can and should control — like online visibility and professional outreach —  and encouraged me to be accountable and level those up. 

  • What advice would you give to your younger self as a writer?

Now that I sometimes teach writing, I’ve realized how much I appreciate students who make the effort to show me who they are — I don’t mind if it takes a few minutes after class. It’s enjoyable, and it makes it easier for me to write a recommendation or refer them for an internship or whatever. Being on this side of things makes me look back and think about how often in my life I’ve made the choice to  “not bother” someone higher up the ladder than me instead of taking that little risk. If I could advise my younger self (without disturbing the time-space continuum), I would say, “Be braver sooner. You’re a joy, not a burden.” It’s probably good advice for my older self as well.