Riding Bitch

The daily musings of a writer.


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Residency Anticipation

It’s the weekend before leaving for the writer’s residency and I’m starting to feel both excited and nervous. It’s been 9 years since I attended my first (and only, until now) residency. I went to the Vermont Studio Center for the month of January 2013. Ruby was a six-month old puppy back then and I’d only owned her for a few months, so I decided to bring her with me and put her up at a local daycare. I managed to write a few posts about the whole experience here and here. Then there was this post about my front tooth becoming “dislodged” mid-residency. A reminder that anything can happen.

Ironically, what came out of that residency was less about my writing at the time, and everything to do with my life. There is a direct link between my time in Vermont, my first time living in the rural Northeast and first taste of the “writer’s life,” and my decision to leave Los Angeles and move to New York. It took me a year and a half to make it happen, but that was my goal – to live in a quieter place and to write full-time. It was the first real clarity I’d had since Kaz had died nearly two years earlier.

So much has happened since then.

Today I live in my own house in a small town not far from the new residency location. I also happily write full-time (though still struggle financially). I’m very familiar with both the country life and the writer’s life. One might wonder, why even go on a residency? Why is it necessary to uproot yourself and live without your dog for 4 weeks?

All I can say is that life can be extremely distracting, and sometimes it’s good to hit the re-set button.

I’m looking forward to having less distractions, to not having to grocery shop, or cook every night, or really go anywhere. My only daily responsibility will be to keep my space tidy, do my own laundry (on site), and occasionally cook for the other residents, since the chef is only there Monday-Friday. Of course, I will miss my dog (terribly!) but not having her around will also be less distraction (and I know she’ll be in good hands with a relative).

I’m looking forward to being energized and inspired by a new location, to meeting new people, to exploring and indulging my curiosity away from the hustle and bustle of every day life, albeit in a small town. There’s something to be said about being away from your “normal” life and normal you.

At this point, there are only two things that are potential worries. I’m worried about the bed being comfortable and my ability to sleep well. I also wonder who the other five artists (that I’ll be spending these 4 weeks with) will be and if we’ll all get a long. Chances are we will, but one doesn’t really know for sure until it happens.

In the meantime, I’m in the midst of preparing to leave – and preparing to work. I did end up getting the notes I wanted and needed on my feature screenplay, so I know what I need to do for that project. I also plan on writing the first draft of a television pilot, as well as several essays. In fact, I have a long list of things I want to accomplish at the residency.

This morning I walked with a good friend who’s also a pretty well known artist – she is the one who inspired me to start applying to things again. She’s been on many residencies throughout her career, and her advice was simple:

Go at your own pace. Work hard but also give yourself room to experience, be in the moment, and follow the muse. Get to know the other artists. You might make great friends, you might not. Go for long walks and enjoy this special time.

I’m excited for the adventure. And proud of myself for taking my craft seriously enough to devote this time. I know it will be fruitful in one way or another.

The most important thing is that I remain open to the experience and listen to my intuition.

Happy creating, everyone.


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Writing on (Self-Imposed) Deadline

Last year I had an epiphany about a spec script that I’ve been writing for a while. I decided to change half of the story’s setting and delve deeper with the main character’s arc. This meant a complete rewrite and restructuring. Which I knew would take a while. So, I applied to a bunch of writer residencies for this year.

I explained in the applications that my goal was to come out of the residency with a draft that was ready to *go* (i.e. be sent to talent, shopped around for funding). I further explained that between the time of applying and the time of the potential residency (a six month period), I would be doing at least two full rewrites, the intention of completing the last rewrite at the residency (as much as scripts are ever really complete).

I went ahead with this plan without knowing if I would be accepted anywhere.

The first rewrite was difficult, to say the least.

I had to basically take the script apart, add a bunch of scenes, and then put it back together – all while keeping it the same length, which meant other scenes had to go. It was a grueling process. I went hunting for scenes from previous drafts, I wrote new scenes, I took out the voice-over narration, I put it back in, I took it out again. For a minute, I actually thought I would turn the screenplay into a television series! It was MESSY.

As the holidays approached, I finally (thankfully) gained some clarity and put together a decent enough draft that I could submit to my writers group for feedback by the time it was my turn in early January.

The writers group loved it and said “it’s ready to go!” Of course, they still had some notes.

After that, I was busy with production for about six weeks, so I couldn’t address their notes right away. This ended up being a good thing because it 1) gave me time away from the script (important), and 2) gave me time to think about their notes.

Also, in mid-January, I learned that I was accepted to one of the residencies! My starting date would be March 30, so I had roughly three months to do the next draft and get another round of notes before leaving.

The ticking clock got louder.

This time, because of all that was going on with this other project, I knew that I would only have a two-week window to address the writers group notes. My goal was to share it with my screenwriting friend in Los Angeles and get her feedback before leaving for residency on the 30th.

I reached out to my friend to confirm that she could do this, because who knows what her own writing schedule was like. If she were working on deadline, there was no way she would be able to read my work and get back to me within a week or two. Luckily, she was available.

So, a few weeks ago, I started in again… slowly at first, tweaking here and there. Then last week I got more into it. I had given myself a deadline of March 15 at the latest, but really wanted to finish by Sunday March 13.

And folks, that’s what I did.

On Sunday evening, I emailed my friend the new draft. Mother Nature helped by dumping a big snowstorm on us over the weekend, which was very conducive to writing (see below pic of our walk in the storm). Will my friend like the script? Will she tell me to throw this out and start again? Who knows. The point is that I accomplished what I set out to do, and I did it on deadline, albeit self-imposed.

All this to say, that I’m proud of myself for planning things ahead of time and taking my writing so seriously. I juggled a lot to prioritize this project and stuck to my self-imposed schedule.

Most of all, I’m proud that I prepared for this residency without knowing if I’d be accepted. I forged ahead as if I would be accepted. And now, I’m exactly where I said I would be.

I’m trying to adopt this “as if” approach more often. Act as if whatever it is you’re going for is going to happen. BELIEVE it will happen. PLAN for it. WORK towards it.

If it doesn’t happen, you’ll be that much further along with whatever it is you’re doing.

And if it does happen, you’ll be 100% ready.

Taking a break from writing to play in the storm.


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Single + Happy = Superpower

Funny how lately my (very intermittent) posts are all about relationships, because today I want to talk about being single. The topic came up yesterday when I had coffee with a relatively new widow (her husband died 2 years ago) who admitted that, while she misses her husband, she’s adjusting to her new life just fine, thank you very much. Not surprisingly, she is also an artist. So she was was already accustomed to spending large amounts of time by herself.

When the subject of dating came up, we both admitted to not being interested enough to go looking for someone. “Who has the time?” she shrugged. I agreed, “If it happens naturally, organically, and it’s easy, I’m all for it. But I’m not wasting time seeking out a partner. I have too much to do!”

It’s not just that we’re busy with our creative pursuits. It’s also that we don’t feel the need for a partner.

Personally, I’ve never been one of those people who always needs to be in a relationship. I’ve pretty much mastered the art of living alone and being perfectly content. My friend remarked that this is usually something men struggle with more than women, but I don’t know.

I know A LOT of people who are miserable alone. If they’re not in a relationship, they feel like there’s a void in their life, like they’re inadequate, and they’re lonely. Worse, like there’s something wrong with them.

I look at these people probably the same way the religious look at me – wishing they could understand and feel the amazingly empowering feeling of being single and happy. It’s like a superpower.

We all know the benefits of being in partnerships. But people don’t talk about how great it can be to be single too, especially as a woman. So, here goes.

When you’re single, you are in complete control of, and need not consult anyone else about, your time, your living space, your schedule, your finances, your body, your life. You are totally autonomous. An independent state. No discussions or compromising necessary. You want to do something, you do it. You don’t want to do something, you don’t. The only person you answer to is you.

Of course, the flip side is that The Only Person You Answer to is You! Some people don’t like that kind of pressure, they want to discuss things, get input, share the responsibilities, and so on. And I get it. When you’re single, you have those discussions with friends, family, and therapists.

When you’re single, you can focus on your passions without interruption and distraction, other than those of every day life (which can be significant). This is something I think about often.

I’ve always admired relationships between artists where there seemed to be a real symbiosis, where the artists respected each other’s work, and actually made it better. The couple that comes to mind is Joan Didion and her husband John Gregory Dunne (if you haven’t watched the documentary Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold, you should – here’s a review about it).

Of course, Didion and Dunne had their issues, but their partnership seems to have been one of immense respect, a partnership of equals. They were both writers. They edited each other’s work, supported and understood each other. They gave each other the requisite space to create. They worked in different ways, but also shared a similar rhythm. They spent lots of time apart, and then came together. They could exist in the same space without speaking, and they could also have long discussions. They cherished alone time, but were also quite social and threw (apparently wonderful) parties.

If I were ever to be in a relationship again, that is the type of relationship I would want. Anything less is just a waste of time and energy.

In the meantime, I’m rocking the single life and happy! I focus my energy on taking care of myself, my dog and my house, on being a good friend and a good community member, and on being as creatively productive as possible. I spend a lot of time by myself (with my dog), but I also socialize a lot, host frequent dinners, and make a point of keeping in touch with people.

I do not feel like I’m missing anything by not being in a relationship.

I had a great love, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. But now that I’m alone, I’m good (and as any of you who have followed this blog for a while, you know that did not happen overnight).

I do not need a companion to feel loved, valued, worthy, legitimate, or safe. I make myself feel those things, and in doing so I feel more powerful, more capable, and more content than ever.

There is power in the number one.


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Can One Have a Family Without Drama?

There’s no other time of year that reminds you just how single and childless you are than the Holidays. Everybody else spends the Holidays with their partner, children, parents, siblings, grandparents, and/or in-laws. Single people like myself spend the Holidays with families too, just not our own families. Oh, we might be related to the people seated next to us at dinner, but we enter these family gatherings as a guest, and then we leave. Sometimes we leave feeling sad and pining for a family of our own. Other times, we leave feeling relieved and confident that we’re the lucky ones.

Lately, I’ve been debating which of these scenarios is more appropriate – having a family of my own, or being alone. I have mixed feelings about both.

Despite having a traumatic childhood, my idea of “family” has always been a positive one. My father was a volatile man, but also loving (in his own way), brilliant and extremely witty. My mother was calmer, a good listener, a pillar of emotional strength, creatively inspiring, and also funny. I would often tell her that I not only loved her, but I also liked her, which always made her smile. Likewise, if my siblings and I weren’t related and met as strangers, I’m sure we would still be friends. That’s a good feeling.

It was also a good feeling to have a partner, to love, to be loved, to be in love. It was a beautiful experience to be supported, to laugh with someone (to be able to make them laugh), to care for each other, to be able to confide, to share the wonders of life and discover new things together, to feel like we weren’t alone in this world, to know that we had each other’s back.

Not that being in a relationship was all roses and butterflies. In fact, it had its fair amount of drama, even before my late husband got sick.

Several months into our relationship, when we’d started letting our guards down a little more, I remember Kaz saying that he considered his Home a sanctuary and that all the world’s drama should stay outside (his diplomatic way of telling me to not bring my bad moods inside). I understood this on an intellectual level, and it sounded great, but it didn’t seem very practical.

Having grown up with all kinds of drama inside the home, I thought that was normal. Not necessarily extreme rage, violent outbursts, police being called, and people locking themselves in the bedroom for days, but the open expression of unhappiness and taking one’s bad moods out on others. I actually thought that’s what “home” meant – the freedom to shake off the shackles of societal pressures and behave any way you want. What a relief to come home and just be unhappy without pretending!

Suffice it to say, I don’t think like that anymore.

Growing up, being a caregiver, watching someone slowly die, dealing with multiple losses and years of grief, as well as years of living and writing alone, has all shifted my attitude. I don’t just want drama left outside my home, I want it as far away from me as possible.

It’s strange – all the aforementioned experiences have made me less prone to worry and less sensitive to insult, but far more sensitive to my immediate surroundings. Someone can break something in my house, and I won’t get upset. But if they raise their voice for any reason, I cringe.

I don’t like emotional outbursts, I don’t like complaining, I don’t like it when someone is moody, I don’t like loud noises, I don’t like negative tones of voice, I don’t like rudeness, I don’t like it when someone talks too much, and I really don’t like it when someone interrupts my work (which feels like an invasion of privacy).

I like peace and quiet. I like rooms with doors (that I can shut). I like being alone and not having to talk to anyone. I like having my own space. I need my space. I like being free. I like not having to deal with anything other than myself, my dog, my house, my work. (I’ve written about some of these themes before: protecting my head space, living the solitary life, and being alone vs. being lonely).

All of which brings me back to the central question: can one have a family without any drama? If not, is it better for someone like me to be alone? Or is some happy medium possible? Maybe separate offices, separate bedrooms, separate houses?

This reminds me of the painters/partners Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera who lived and worked in two houses that were joined by an elevated bridge. There’s actually a term for this kind of relationship now – it’s called Living Apart Together (LAT). And apparently, it’s growing more popular.

I know couples who live in the same house and have studios/offices on separate floors or away from the house altogether. I know couples who live in different cities. And, of course, there are couples who live in the same house, sleep in the same bed, work in the same office, and are perfectly fine despite being joined at the hip (I don’t get it).

I know families who are having all kinds of problems with their children: obesity, lack of appetite, anxiety, depression, personality disorders, drug problems, and more. And more than one couple that’s heading for divorce (the Pandemic has definitely not helped).

Maybe the answer is to find someone who doesn’t create or bring a lot of drama, and is wonderful enough to endure whatever drama arises. The right person will be someone who helps make it easier, not contributes to making it worse. Because, honestly, I don’t think life is possible without any drama.

Being alone might minimize it, but it’s certainly not a shield. As we all know, anything can happen at anytime. And living apart might help, but not necessarily (and might not always be possible).

Anyway, it’s worth thinking about. I hope to one day find the right situation, the right balance between togetherness and apartness, union and individuality, freedom and commitment. It would be sweet to host our own holiday gatherings, invite family to join us, and then to be left alone again. Alone but together.

The Museum, House and Studio of Diego Rivera and Friday Kahlo (photo source: Pawel Toczynski)


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On Invisibility

In my last post, I mentioned feeling invisible sometimes. How and why does this happen?

To start with, I am the youngest of three in my nuclear family (five, including the siblings I didn’t grow up with). Apart from my mother and I, everyone else was a Leo: strong, bossy personalities. Being the youngest meant that I often wasn’t old enough to engage in the many serious conversations my family had concerning my mother’s precarious health, my father’s emotional abuse, my parents’ failing marriage, and so on. As a result, I grew up the kid in the room listening to the adults – a quiet observer.

Growing older, I would add my two cents when I could, but by this time a dynamic had been established that was difficult to undo. I would always be the youngest, least experienced, least knowledgeable. It’s not that my opinions or demands weren’t respected, they just didn’t carry the same weight.

On top of that, my father’s emotional abuse drummed into my young, developing mind that I should just sit there and not talk back. After all, what can a child say to a raging adult man? Not much. The few times I did try to speak up, I was shot down so forcefully to make me quake with fear. Thus developed the habit of accepting and even internalizing bad behavior.

Later in life, I would also (except for a brief period) be the unmarried, predominantly single, and childless member of my family. I don’t care what anyone says, but people who are unmarried and childless are not taken as seriously as people who are married and have children. Full stop.

It’s not surprising then that I get along with strong personality people, and that strong personality people get along with me. The problem is that, inevitably, these personality types act as if their lives, issues, and dilemmas are more important than mine, as if I’m there to simply listen, as if I’m not actually there.

I can’t tell you how many times people have gotten into my car, or entered my house, or showed up at some agreed upon meeting and just started talking about themselves, as if picking up a conversation that we were (not) just having. If they ask me how I’m doing, it’s only perfunctory, not a genuine inquiry into my well being. Because as soon as I answer, the conversation turns back to the other person.

When I do bring up my own issues it tends to feel like an imposition, and I rush through it, aware that the other person only has a finite amount of attention to spend on subjects that don’t revolve around them.

Then there are people who feel as if they can behave in any way around me – I guess they feel that comfortable. But they’re wholly unaware of how uncomfortable I am with their behavior, and of little to anything outside of themselves.

I don’t blame anyone for these situations. If anything, I blame myself.

The fact is around certain people, I revert to being a passive person who tries to avoid conflict at all costs. This doesn’t mean that I never talk about myself, or behave loudly, or make bold statements. But when faced with a stronger personality, I retreat.

When someone is loud, I am quiet. When someone continually talks about themselves, I listen. Sometimes I play a silent game where I wait to see how long it takes the other person to notice that I haven’t said one word. Believe it or not, some people just keep on talking.

I tell myself, it’s not worth saying anything because that’s just who they are, and they’re never going to change. When I have tried to set boundaries, or point out bad behavior, people usually become defensive, or they’ll say they hear me and then forget the next time we’re together. So, there’s no point in bringing it up.

Except years of not saying anything, not standing up for myself, not telling people to shut up and listen for a change, has caused a well of emotions to build up. I’m at the point now of avoiding certain people because I just can’t take it anymore, I won’t take it anymore, and I don’t have the energy to confront them.

Instead, I choose the company of people who do see me, who do listen, who do notice things and pay attention, who reciprocate, who are aware enough to have genuine conversations.

By the way, the flip side of all of this is that the ability to be silent, retreat into the background, and just listen and observe, can be a very useful skill – especially if you’re a writer. When people just go on and on, I take mental notes. I notice more than they ever will, more than I’d like to, frankly.

This is what makes me a good writer. And a good director.

And, I hope, a good friend.

This is also what I meant by using my “writing voice” more often.

I don’t know why, but I can write things that are difficult to say out loud. Writing helps me organize my thoughts and fortifies my soul. So, I will keep going.

PlHave you ever felt, or do you ever feel invisible?


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Invisible No Longer

I was really triggered this recent Thanksgiving holiday. I spent the week with family and found myself in the middle of an emotional storm. None of the family drama was aimed directly toward me, but it still brought up feelings of loneliness, lack of self-worth, loss, and sadness. There were moments of levity, camaraderie, laughter. But underlying it all, for me at least, was tension, a forced sense of obligation to this ridiculous tradition, too many words not being spoken, a suffocating heaviness.

I dealt with my discomfort by over-eating, taking the dog for long walks, and drinking a lot. When I was out with the dog, I’d end up inexplicably crying in the park, the beach, my car. I kept asking myself, Why am I here? Who can I turn to?

On Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, I ended up turning to Twitter. People told me to start drinking as early as possible. I did – and it helped. I set up a table in the den and made whiskey sours while watching 80s movies like Private Benjamin and Ruthless People.

The thing is… I’ve just decided to stop drinking, so I can’t rely on that tactic going forward.

Saturday, November 27, 2021 was day one. Of how many days I don’t know. I’ve decided not to put an end date for now. All I know is I don’t want to drown my feelings anymore, or numb whatever it is I’m numbing. I don’t want to feel as if I can’t control how much I drink. I want to know what exactly triggered me this past week (what triggers me in general), and I suspect the only way to do that is to not drink and pay attention to how I feel. I am doing this publicly to help keep me accountable.

Another thing I know is that I must return to this blog and write more often, daily if I can manage.

For a long time now I’ve been operating under the philosophy that if I had any energy to write, I should pour it into my work and not “waste it” blogging. What’s the point of blogging anyway?

Originally, this was a grief blog, a way to express how I was feeling about losing my late husband Kaz and to connect with others who might understand what that was like. Then it morphed into somewhat of a diary of a writer trying to rebuild her life after loss, moving across country, adjusting to life in a rural small town, discovering new hobbies.

After a while, I stopped wanting to write about grief. Then my father passed away, followed by my brother, and a part of me became too numb to express my true feelings. I still haven’t dealt with these losses, especially my brother, with whom I was very close and revered more than any other.

There was a period when I was afraid to be political on here, scared to say what I really thought about what was happening, because this was a grief blog – not a political one.

I no longer care about any of that. I’m tired of feeling invisible. Like people think they know me but they really don’t. Like my voice is not being heard, or isn’t loud enough. Like I’m not using my voice at all.

My voice – my writing voice – is literally all I have to offer.

It’s also my way of dealing with anxiety. My way of healing, of self-therapy, of expression. It is, quite frankly, my salvation.

In the spirit of giving thanks, I’m grateful for this tiny little piece of real estate in the matrix. No one to edit or give me notes. No permission needed from anyone. Total freedom (for now, anyway).

A couple of new “house rules”: I’m only sharing posts here and on Twitter @nivaladiva . Comments are welcome, but I will not be engaging in responses at the moment. Finally, if you know me in real life, it’s okay to let me know you’re reading, but I don’t want to talk about the blog.

Thank you. More soon.

Being safe is about being seen and heard and allowed to be who you are and to speak your truth.

Rachel Naomi Remen


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Dreaming of Zelda

I recently watched the Amazon series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. It’s about a 1950s housewife and mother who decides to try and make it as a comedian in an extremely male-dominated field. It took me a little time to get into it, but the show’s endearing quality grew on me. And I love its style. Mrs. Maisel’s parents (the Weissmans) live in a beautiful Upper West Side apartment with multiple bedrooms, bathrooms and sitting rooms, a fireplace, a grand piano (seriously, their apartment is to die for). My favorite part of their life, however, is their Polish housemaid Zelda.

Zelda does everything – she cooks, cleans, shops, answers the phone, wraps the gifts, hires extra help when needed, and probably more. The only thing she doesn’t do is drive. I’m not sure if she lives with the family, but she’s always there, in the morning to hand them their first cup of coffee and at night to clean up after dinner. She doesn’t say much, but her presence is felt. The more I watched the show, the more I noticed her, and thought about her, and started to wonder what it would be like to have a Zelda.

In my life, I’ve experienced Zelda only fleetingly, and never at full capacity. At some point in my childhood, I remember my mother hired a woman to clean our house every other week. When Kaz was very ill, a friend sent a maid service to help clean our apartment once a week, which was extremely generous and greatly appreciated.

The closest thing to a full Zelda experience was when I went to a writing residency at the Vermont Studio Center several years ago. For four blissful weeks, my only responsibility was to clean my clothes (at the local laundromat). Everything else was done for me (and the other residents). My day consisted of walking to the mess hall for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the rest of the time writing in a private office. It was HEAVEN.

Many art and writing residencies are like this. The whole point is to provide you the time and space to focus solely on your work. It’s such a luxury.

I have a writer friend whose husband does most of the cooking, shopping and cleaning. She used to do these things when he worked, but now he’s retired and they’ve sort of switched roles. She writes all day and comes down for her meals. He takes care of the house. Luckily, he truly enjoys cooking and is very talented. It’s a beautiful thing.

In my house, there is no Zelda, or version of her. There’s only me. Before the pandemic, I had a woman come to clean my house every other week, and a dog walker come twice a week. I was working full-time and would come home on my lunch hour to walk the dog on the other days. Then I was let go. These days, the dog walker comes one afternoon a week (Fridays) and walks Ruby with other dogs, which is good for all three of us.

But if I had the money… you better believe I would hire a Zelda. Maybe more than one – like one for the inside and one for the outside (a gardener). I hope that doesn’t sound terrible – I love my house and know how lucky I am to have it. I just sometimes wish I had some help taking care of it, because everything takes so much time.

I’m fantasizing here… but if I had a Zelda, I wouldn’t have to clean the house, or shop, or do the laundry, or cook every meal, or perform any type of maintenance. I wouldn’t have to mow the lawn, or remember to take out the trash. I could sit in my office all day (writing, of course) and know that meals would be ready when I come down, the house is clean, the dog is walked, the yard is tidy, and absolutely everything is taken care of. What a dream!

This might actually be why I’m working so hard – to be able to hire my very own Zelda one day.

Then again, I can imagine having a Zelda could be a little addictive, and possibly a never-ending cycle.

Like, if I had a lot of money, I would probably get a bigger house, with land, on which I’d put a bigger garden and more animals (I’ve always wanted a horse). Eventually, I might want more than one house, or a house with a guest house. And a pool, and possibly a pond.

Who’s going to take care of all that if not a small army of Zeldas? Can you imagine? It actually sounds like a headache and terribly excessive for one person.

The irony is that, except for certain tasks, I rather enjoy doing most of the chores. I get a strange satisfaction from washing dishes, which I do first thing in the morning. It’s like starting the day with a clean slate and a sense of accomplishment. And I absolutely love to cook. It’s a hobby actually. As is gardening. And of course, you all know how much I love hiking with my dog. So, I don’t know… maybe a part-time Zelda to help with things would be ideal.

Or maybe what I’m really craving is a life partner. Someone to help shoulder the burdens of life, do the chores with, and so many other things.

If you have a Zelda, or partner who helps maintain things and makes life a little easier (btw, I’m not equating a maid with a partner), I hope you realize what a blessing it is. One day, I’ll get there.

In the meantime, I’m fine taking care of myself and my house and my dog on my own.

And to relax in the evenings, I’m re-watching the series Downton Abbey, which is, of course, completely over the top with Zeldas doing everything and then standing silently in the room pretending not to listen to your conversation (weird). But as Chance the gardener (Peter Sellers) said in the moving Being There, “I like to watch.”

Have a great week, everyone!


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Knowing Yourself as a Writer

Last week was interesting. On Tuesday, I received notes from my managers on a television pilot that I’ve been writing for several months. At the end of the meeting, they asked me if I could turn the script around by Friday. “Next Friday?” I asked. “No, this Friday.” I said Yes, even though Friday was only three days later, and I was supposed to drive to NYC on Wednesday and return on Friday. I wasn’t 100% sure I could do it, but I was pretty sure… if I stayed calm and approached the next three days with focus and discipline.

To be fair, the notes weren’t extensive. Some were just tweaks, but a couple were definitely more than that. They would require research, new scenes, and new dialogue. And the whole script would need to be tweaked to accommodate these new scenes.

I started that afternoon after the meeting by going outside with my dog and just thinking about things. I wrote nothing for the rest of the day except some ideas on a yellow pad.

Wednesday morning, I transcribed the notes from the day before (I record these meetings on my phone, so I can listen to them later). I organized the notes into “easy fixes” and “not so easy fixes,” and for the rest of the day, made as many of the easy fixes as possible, checking them off as I went. In the afternoon I drove to NYC, using those three hours to again think about how to approach the rest of the notes. That night, I didn’t write. I ate dinner, watched TV with my family and fell asleep.

Thursday morning, I got up early, made my coffee (I’d actually brought my beans and french press to guarantee there would be no hiccups), and did research for the two new scenes I had to write. By mid-day I was ready to start writing for real.

Now, I don’t know how other writers work, but before I get into my draft with any structural or character changes, I first make those changes in the outline and character breakdown. I need to see the changes from a birds eye view. Only when I’m comfortable with how the changes look, feel and flow in these two documents do I open the screenplay.

So, I spent a couple of hours working on the outline and character breakdown, then another couple of hours working on the actual draft. Before taking a break to run errands and eat dinner, I printed out the script and put it aside. After dinner, I read the new draft, made notes, then spent a couple of hours that night revising.

Friday morning, I tweaked everything again, several times. I debated sending it before leaving, partly to get it off my shoulders and out of my mind, partly just in case something happened to me on the drive home – at least the draft would be delivered! But my instinct (and several wise Twitter followers) told me to wait until the EOD. Why rush?

Friday afternoon, I drove back home, arriving around 5pm ET. I still had 3 hours before EOD in Los Angeles.

Before unpacking, I printed the script AGAIN, read it, tweaked and tweaked (it was a good thing I waited). I emailed it to my managers at 7:00 pm EST.

And that was that!

I’m not sharing all this because it’s a big deal. It’s really not. But last week showed me that I am getting better at knowing for example: how long it takes me to do things, how best to approach the task at hand, how to stay organized, how to not panic, and so on.

Will the managers like the new draft? Who knows. It’s all part of the process. I’m just happy I did what I said what I would do. And happy that I’m getting better at knowing myself as a writer.

Have a great week, everyone!


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Introducing… Nellie

Hello, people! I took a semi-break from social media in order to concentrate on writing. But I’m back now and want to introduce you to someone. We’ve actually known each other for as long as I can remember, but lately, we’ve became reacquainted. Her name is Nellie. As in Negative Nellie, and she’s the voice in my head that tells me I’m terrible!

Let’s back up a sec.

First of all, I’m pretty sure everyone has a “Nellie.” I imagine artists and creative types can especially relate – maybe surgeons and airline pilots less so (I hope). But I think everyone (who is not a narcissist) has experienced feelings of anxiety, self-doubt, nagging insecurities, that “voice in your head” that tells you you’re not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, talented enough, young enough, you have no idea what you’re doing, you should just give up on whatever it is you’re trying to do… and so on. (Any of this sound familiar?)

There are periods in life when this voice gets louder and has more control over you, and other periods when the voice gets quieter, or you’re able to ignore it better.

Like for example, when I was younger and just starting out as a writer, I was often racked with these feelings of unworthiness, even when I was receiving accolades. And in romantic relationships? Fugghedaboutit. Basically, guys were dating Nellie.

An old therapist used to try and encourage me to self-soothe by just “observing” this black cloud of swirling insecurities (I hadn’t named her yet) that followed me everywhere I went. But that felt like observing my own shadow, and often like observing my own brain, which I wasn’t very good at. Back then, Nellie actually got me to do things, nothing terrible, things like send someone too many texts, or send an email when I shouldn’t have, or get upset about things that didn’t really matter.

Then, I don’t know, things changed. Maybe it’s growing up. I know for a fact that all the losses I’ve experienced have changed my perspective. I am more driven, care less about certain things, and have tried incredibly hard to balance out my internal anger towards the Universe with internal GRATITUDE. When you’ve lost a lot, you develop an “I have nothing more to lose” attitude towards life, because… you kinda don’t. And you tend to appreciate what you still do have even more.

BUT… Nellie never went away. With all the anxiety of this past year, she’s actually had a resurrection of sorts. The difference is that now I recognize this Bitch a mile away.

Let me describe Nellie to you. Contrary to what you might imagine, my Nellie is not a chain-smoking, mascara-smudged, hard-hearted stone-cold fox. She’s the opposite. She’s a demure, cardigan-wearing, passive-aggressive, hand-wringing worrier, who likes to knit or crochet when she’s really beside herself. She loves me, or she thinks she does. So, everything she says is “out of love” and “concern.” Her main concern is that I not get hurt or disappointed.

Typical conversations with Nellie begin with her gently saying something like, “Do you really think that’s a good idea?” or “Are you sure about that?” or “Maybe you should stop and reconsider the consequences…”

When she’s feeling especially righteous and full of conviction, Nellie will say things like, “Sweetie, you know I’m saying this only out of love for you, but I really think you should consider that you’re… too fat to wear that now… too old to pursue that particular career… not quite talented enough to finish that project… ” ETC. ETC.

And when she REALLY wants to crush my soul, she’ll pause her knitting and look at me from the corner of the room with a sad but loving look and say, “Dear, I think it’s time to face up to the fact that nobody actually likes you. They’re all just… pretending.”

Oh Nellie. Bless your heart.

What I’ve learned over the years is there’s no point in arguing with Nellie. She’s always going to be there, and she’s never going to change. She is, indeed, my shadow. And just like my shadow, she is also not in control. I am.

So, knowing that Nellie is a thing, and knowing her purpose, it’s easier to deal with her. Often, I do this by lovingly telling her to Shut The Fuck Up. Or hitting the MUTE button, so even though her lips are moving, no sound is coming out.

The truth is if I listened to Nellie, I’d never put myself out there as a writer. I’d never try or start anything new. Never finish anything. Never take any chances. Most importantly, I’d never listen to my TRUE VOICE.

My passionate, wild-haired, creative, burning-the-candle-at-both-ends, work-hard-play-hard, creative spirit who is in constant motion, sometimes jumping on imaginary horses and charging ahead, sometimes diving underwater and swimming amongst the coral, sometimes just sitting quietly in meditation listening to the chirping birds and wind rustling through the trees.

My creative spirit is free, bold, loud, courageous and strong – and no Negative Nellie could ever squash it. Deep down, I think Nellie knows this, which is her insecurity.

There’s power in recognizing that Nellie has no talent of her own, no purpose in life. She’s simply a vessel for FEAR. And her fear of failure is equal to her fear of success. It’s fear that motivates her. And that’s okay. As long as that I don’t let her fear control me.

So, I don’t mind Nellie so much anymore. I mean, sometimes she gets on my nerves, and (I won’t lie) occasionally she still gets the better of me. But most of the time, I’m able to ignore her.

I yell across the room, “Not today, Nellie!” To which, she shrugs and goes back to her knitting.


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Pandemic Projects

So much of how we deal with these crazy times depends on our circumstances: where we live, whether we’re employed or not, essential or working from home, and what our family structure is, whether we’re partnered, single, with or without kids.

I happen to be single, without children. I own a house and live alone in a small upstate NY town. When the pandemic hit in full force back in March, I was sent home to work, but there wasn’t much to do, so I had a lot of free time on my hands.

Lockdown rules said we weren’t supposed to leave our homes for anything other than groceries, medicine, essential work and walking a pet. In those early days, the virus was raging through New York State, especially NYC, where my sister and other family members live. I was so sick with worry most of the time that I couldn’t concentrate on anything. In fact, I felt paralyzed.

Then my dog ran off more than once after critters (once, I actually had to circle the block in my car to find her). And this set me on a path to fence my property, which was the first Pandemic Project.

The fear of losing my dog, and the desire to protect her, was a powerful motivator. Luckily, Lowe’s was an essential business. The store became my go-to spot other than the supermarket. I set out to build an inexpensive fence in the back and front yard, mostly by myself, with a friend helping me when I needed an extra hand.

At the same time as the fence project, I started getting my garden together, buying plants, pots, soil, mulch, building beds, planting, mulching, and, of course, making countless  trips to Lowe’s. When I was working on the fence or the garden, I didn’t think about anything else. After a few hours of physical labor, I would be too tired to worry, at least for a little while. I was in my yard every single day, rain or shine, working working working. Both projects took me, on and off, about two months to fully complete.   

In the evenings, I zoomed with friends I hadn’t talked to in a long time, with family members. I watched movies. I wrote. And I started reading again.

Reading was a Big Deal because I hadn’t had the mental concentration to read a book since my brother died two years ago. The book that changed that, which I picked up two months into lockdown, was Alex Haley’s 800-page novel ROOTS. I could not put it down (more on this seminal book in a later post). After that I read the dystopian novel STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel, about life after a pandemic. Also couldn’t put it down.

Looming over these other projects was my screenplay, which I’ve been working on for a long time and decided to finish this year. Since, lockdown forced me to be home all the time, I figured this would be the perfect opportunity.

It was rough in the beginning. Being so terribly worried about family and friends all over the country and world was not conducive to writing. But I tackled it like all the other projects, a little bit at a time. There were days when I would tell myself, “all you have to do is write for one hour.” I would set my timer, silence my phone, turn off the WiFi, and begin. Inevitably, at the end of the hour, I would want to write for another hour, and another…. Then, when I could see the progress and the “light at the end of the tunnel,” it motivated me even more.

I finished the first official draft in May and sent it to my representation in Los Angeles. I completed a second draft in July (based on their feedback), and now I’m waiting for notes that will, no doubt, lead to the next draft. Each draft gets me closer to my goal.

I guess the thing that’s helped me deal with the pandemic the most is staying busy, and staying CREATIVE.

My advice to others struggling to stay productive during these times is to:

  • Have goals, no matter how small, and work towards them
  • Tone down expectations; realize that everything takes longer than usual these days
  • Avoid negative people and toxic energy like the plague
  • Avoid anyone or anything that doesn’t feel right, period
  • Go out of your way to be kind and forgiving to yourself (and others)
  • Get outside as much as  possible, while avoiding others
  • Change the scenery if you can; go somewhere new, even if just for a few hours
  • Talk to someone, a therapist or confidant, or write down what you’re feeling
  • Read, read, read, read, READ
  • Exercise in whatever way you can, stay hydrated and eat healthy
  • Stay in touch with the people you care about
  • Limit how much you listen to and read the news; take social media breaks

What has helped you? I’d love to hear about your Pandemic Projects.

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