Riding Bitch

The daily musings of a writer.


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Slaying the Dragon of Fear

I had a crisis of faith the other day (actually, it lasted 3 days). It was triggered by someone offering me an opportunity of a lifetime, and me answering, YES. As soon as I hung up the phone, I thought, “Oh shit.”

I spent the rest of that day and the next two days questioning whether I had made the right decision. What had it meant to say YES? What had I gotten myself into? Was I really ready for this commitment?? The more I thought and talked about it, the more I realized I AM READY. And that all my doubts were about FEAR.

Let’s talk about Fear. A lot of people think that the opposite of fear is Courage, and that Courage is being “fearless.” Let me tell you something. No one is fearless. NO ONE. Unless they’re delusional.

Fear is natural. It’s one of the most natural emotions out there – probably every living thing on this earth feels fear at some point. It’s a self-preservation tool. Our brains tells us to fear something because it wants to protect us from danger or pain, or more complex emotions like embarrassment or ridicule.

I have a friend who admitted her greatest fear is WASTING TIME. So, it’s very difficult for her to start something new because she is afraid it will be all in vain.

One of the greatest fears we commonly have is the fear of FAILURE. What we don’t talk about nearly as much is the FEAR OF SUCCESS. You know that phrase, “Be careful what you wish for”? Fear of success is a real thing.

We’re told to envision what we want and strive for it with all our being. What happens when you get what you want? There’s a real possibility that you might freak out. And THAT’S OKAY. How you move through a moment like this is crucial.

The first thing to do is BREATHE. Don’t panic. Don’t do anything sudden. Take a moment – or a few days – to analyze the situation from all sides.

You might want to seek advice from loved ones and close confidants. But only reach out to people who know you really well and that you 100% trust to be both honest and discreet (a crisis of faith is a vulnerable moment and the wrong type of person can take advantage of that). Finally, be ready to hear what people tell you.

When I reached out to my closest friends, each one had different advice.

“It sounds like you’re looking for permission to let yourself off the hook,” one observed.

Another told me to write the Pros and Cons of my decision down and call her back. Ironically, my Cons list was longer! But the Pros were more compelling. And, on further reflection, I realized that everything I’d listed in the Cons was fear-based. And I had vowed to not make my decision based on fear.

The most consistent thing people told me was, “That’s the Fear talking.”

The most important thing is to let yourself have this moment without berating yourself. FEEL IT. Let it move through you. It’s normal. It’s healthy! It means you realize the gravity of the situation, the stakes. And it’s good to think things through.

Back to the word Courage.

The definition of Courage is doing something DESPITE your fear. Put another way, Courage is about overcoming fear. This is a huge part of drama, right? We want our heroines to slay the dragon even though they’re afraid. We want to see them push through it and come out the other side victorious. Even if they fail, it’s far more satisfying to see someone overcome their fears than not to.

And how do we overcome fear? With PREPARATION.

With the right preparation – doing your homework – you can do anything you set your mind to. After I had made up my mind to go forward, I texted one of the people I’d spoken with. She wrote back, “Be prepared.”

There is no getting around putting in the time and work. So, if you’re not willing to do that, maybe you should walk away. But if you ARE… the world is yours.

So, go ahead and slay that dragon.


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Hurry Up and Wait

For anyone still reading this ridiculously inconsistent blog, the writer’s residency in April was fantastic all around – great people, beautiful setting, comfortable, and super productive. The biggest accomplishment from the four weeks was that I “finished” a feature screenplay that I’ve been working on for years. It’s now being “packaged” by a big agency with a producer and me attached. I put these words in quotes because nothing is ever really finished and, while I understand how packaging is supposed to work, I have yet to see the process yield anything tangible. Then again, it’s early days.

I also wrote a very rough first draft of another project. And caught up on a bunch of stuff. It was one of the most productive periods in recent memory. All I did was work!

Straight out of the residency, I went to New York City and did a table reading of the feature screenplay. It was both humbling and incredibly gratifying to hear a script that’s been in my head for years read aloud by real actors (as opposed to the voices in my head). They literally breathed life into the words, and I could not have been more grateful.

As expected, when I finally came home, I sank into a state of despondency. It felt as if I had just woken up from a month-long dream… in which my only responsibility was to write, all my meals were prepared for me, my friends were fabulous artists, and all we talked about was art and the creative process and other lofty ideals… only to realize that I had never left my house.

Of course, I knew I had left the house and it wasn’t a dream, but for a while, things did not add up. My head was still in the clouds; my body was back to mowing the lawn and picking up the dog’s poop.

The moment when reality truly hit me was on my third day home when I was standing in the aisles of the local supermarket staring at all the choices of toothpaste (and everything else) wondering how the hell did I used to make such choices and why?

It took a while, but I got over it. Got back into a rhythm.

The hardest aspect of re-entry was dealing with all of life’s distractions again. One of the reasons why we go on residencies is to minimize distractions, and this one was no different. At the residency, I got into the habit of turning my phone off for long stretches and leaving it in the studio when I went to bed. Once I took it with me to dinner (in a separate building) but it slipped out of my pocket on the way. When I realized at dinner my phone was missing, I shrugged and forgot about it until two hours later when I was walking back to the studio and saw it lying in the mud.

That mindset was golden. And unsustainable.

I know a famous writer who still types his work on a typewriter and doesn’t have an email address (people contact him through his assistant). His office doesn’t have internet, and for years he didn’t carry a cell phone. All of this was designed to minimize the distractions and help maintain his focus. Of course, this isn’t feasible for most of us, but damn it sounds great, doesn’t it? (how ironic to live in a fairly quiet small town and still yearn for an even more remote environment.)

Anyway, I’ve figured out a way to make it work, keep up with my deadlines and responsibilities and still churn out pages. When I really want to focus, I do turn my phone off (after warning a few people ahead of time), and that helps.

Apart from distractions, the other excruciating factor is how much waiting is involved. As a writer, it seems like you’re always waiting for something – a meeting, a call, an answer, feedback, movement! Then when you do get that call, or that meeting, or that crucial news, there’s an immediate rush of adrenaline and flurry of activity. Because you’re excited and want things to move already and you’re scared that the people you’ve been waiting for won’t wait for you.

The fear that people will forget about you and your beloved project and (horror of horrors) move on is highly motivating. You end up rushing to do whatever it is you’ve been asked to do and turning it around as fast as you can… only to return to a state of waiting once you deliver! It’s a vicious cycle and, unfortunately, the nature of the beast. And truly maddening.

I deal with it by staying busy and having multiple projects going on at the same time. This way when I’m waiting for something on one, I’m preoccupied with doing something with the other. If writing was like dating it would be the equivalent of not waiting by the phone and pining for that person you really like because you’re out with somebody else and not thinking about them!

Have many eggs in the basket. That’s my advice. And play whatever mind game you need to, to get you through the waiting.

Now, after a long, hot (dry!) summer, it’s pouring rain and starting to feel a little chillier in the mornings and evenings. Hoping to power through this fall and get some big things accomplished. Anything to keep my mind off of the projects that I’m waiting on.

Happy writing, folks. I’ll be back soon (sooner than six months, I swear).


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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!