riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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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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Juggling and Insomnia

I usually don’t have insomnia, but last night for some reason I woke up around 1:30 A.M. and couldn’t fall back asleep. After a few minutes of staring into space, I got up and went to my home office (formerly the dining room). It was nice actually, everything so quiet.

I made myself some coffee and set out to tie up some loose ends in preparation for the writing marathon that must take place between now and the end of the year, a marathon that will take place mostly on the weekends, but possibly also in the wee hours of the morning.

There I was shuffling papers, cleaning dishes, taking out the trash, responding to blog comments, cleaning up my desktop, when the puppy came out of the bedroom to look at me like,”What the hell are you doing?” Then she turned around and went back to bed. I could have kept going, but I figured I should try and get some sleep before work. I’m on a solid three-week streak of showing up on time.

Keeping a schedule, being organized and on top of things has always been important, never more so than these days. I can’t think straight in a disorderly, chaotic environment, and there is so much to think about right now that I’m literally just trying to keep up.

The memoir is currently out to my mentor and three other people for review. While I wait for their notes, I’m rewriting the pilot I gave my manager earlier this year, and drafting a new one. I want to have two under my belt for staffing season in the spring, a one-hour drama and a half-hour dark comedy, different subjects, different tones.

I’m applying to more residencies and television writing programs, all worthy endeavors but time consuming.

I’m scheduled to revise the script I optioned in March from another writer. If I can manage it, I’d also like to rewrite a couple of my own feature scripts, but that might need to wait until the pilots are further along. My plan is to basically always be writing. When one project is being read/reviewed, I’ll be working on something else.

On top of all that, I’m also trying to “get out more,” as in reconnecting with folks in my field. Social media networking isn’t enough. I need face time with people to rekindle the personal relationship, find out how and what they’re doing, where they’re working, and let them know what I’ve been up to, etc.

I’ve thought about dating too but, frankly, between all the projects, working full-time, taking care of Ruby, and taking care of life, I simply don’t have time.

It feels a bit like a juggling act, or like being in a one-woman band. Balls in the air, balls in my hand, eyes darting from this to that, mind focused, heart pounding but trying to remember to breathe, nerves rattled but trying to appear relaxed, friendly and like this is the easiest thing in the world.

As Diane Keaton used to say in (one of my favorite movies) ANNIE HALL, “La di dah. La di dah.”

Have a great weekend, folks.


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Breaking Free of the Day Job

I’m currently working as a legal assistant at a film studio, have been for 3 years, ever since Kaz got sick. Before then, I was temping and working freelance production jobs while trying to get my writing/directing career off the ground. It’s a good thing I got this job. My boss – the entire department – was incredibly supportive. I don’t know what I would have done without it/her/them. Besides the steady pay and benefits, when things got really tough this place was like a refuge from the storm. I would come into work, bloodshot with worry and exhaustion, and be surrounded by what felt like normalcy. I was and still am lucky to have stability in an unstable time. But that doesn’t change the fact that I want out with every fiber in my being.

This is not where I’m supposed to be. I know it. My boss knows it. Everyone knows it. In fact, I’m quite sure many people wonder what I’m still doing here. Last year I walked into my boss’ office and told her, “I can’t do this anymore.” Then I burst into tears and gave her an out-date.

Word spread like wildfire. Was I really leaving? When? Why? Did something happen? At that time, it came out of the blue. Not just to my co-workers, but to my family too. Everyone tried talking me out of it, especially my father and brother. What would I do without health insurance and savings? Who would I turn to when I ran out of money? I didn’t blame them for being concerned. In fact, I listened to all their advice and told my boss I’d changed my mind. Since I had never written a formal resignation letter, on record, I hadn’t actually quit. I had faux-quit, we laughed.

Two weeks later, another assistant really did quit and I requested (and was granted) his cubicle by the window. I relished this brighter, more private work space and focused on appyling to writing competitions and residencies. Then I got accepted to Vermont Studio Center and after much hoop-jumping was granted a 5-week Leave of Absence with the understanding that, upon my return, I would stay with the company at least until May 2013. (They were afraid I’d come back and quit the next day.)

Now I’ve learned that the LOA was actually paid for with ALL MY VACATION TIME, including floating holidays. At the rate of accrual (1.5 hours every 2 weeks), I won’t be able to take a vacation day until September 2013. And if I leave the company beforehand, they will deduct the balance from my paycheck.

Sweet!

Every morning I think, is this the day? Can I make it through the end of the week? My job performance has decreased. I’m late almost every day, not on purpose but because I’m so unmotivated I’m literally dragging myself around the apartment in the morning to get ready. This, compared with how I was in Vermont, when I woke up early, went to bed late and wrote every hour in between, or more recently when I prepared for the interview so intensely.

When people complain to me about their lives, I usually say, “If you’re unhappy about something, take steps to change it.”

What can I change about my situation?

I could still quit and live off my meager savings, but then if anything majorly bad happened I’d be shit out of luck.

I could start playing the lottery.

I could change my attitude and make some difficult decisions.

Maybe instead of working, taking care of my dog, directing a play, blogging, trying to get a book published, rewriting a script and developing/writing a television pilot, I should focus on ONE thing, maybe two. Work and puppy aren’t going anywhere. So, that leaves blog, book, play, script rewrite, pilot.

It’s time to cut the fat and the bullshit. I’m going to sleep on it and get back to you with my decision.


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When it Rains it Pours

A few minutes before the end of the work day, a colleague of my boss handed me two 3-ring binders, each 4 inches thick, about 1000 pages. “I’m so sorry, but we need 5 copies of these binders.” My boss shows up behind the colleague and frowns. “Sorry…” After they apologized some more, they finally left me alone with the binders, at which I stared for a solid five minutes, speechless. Then I logged off my computer and left. (They don’t expect them tonight.)

On the way home after picking up Ruby from daycare my phone rings. My manager, calling me at 7:15pm.

“I just pulled a Hail Mary,” she tells me.

Remember the pilot I sent her a few weeks ago? It was meant as a writing sample for a TV show that’s looking to hire a new writer. But the pilot wasn’t ready. I thought we’d have to wait until next year to submit something. Unbeknownst to me, my manager (G-d bless her) sent them a couple of older scripts.

“And now they want to meet with you.”
“You’re a miracle worker!” I tell her.
“On Monday afternoon,” she continues.
“Fuck me.”
“Yeah. So, drop everything you’re doing and prepare.”

The Good News I have a meeting on Monday for a potential gig which could change my life if land it.

The Bad News is I have to spend the next however-long-it-takes making these fucking gargantuan binders. And the rest of the time watching 4 seasons of a television show (48 hours), reading up on the executives, and figuring out what I’m going to wear on Monday. Luckily, tomorrow I get my new bridge from the dentist, the final chapter of the loose tooth saga, so at the very least I’ll have a brand new smile.

I’m afraid the only way to get everything done is to take a blogging break for a few days (no Industry Friday either). I hate to do this, especially since there are so many new readers but hopefully you understand. I’ll be back on Monday to let you know how the meeting went, or before then to let you know it was cancelled (happens all the time).

Until then, think of me either sweating over a xerox machine, getting paper cuts or training my eyeballs on the computer/TV screen watching ____ . Oh, and Saturday afternoon is the table read for the play with the Two Actors.

Have a good rest of the week!


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10 Steps to a Happier Place

To make up for yesterday’s 10-bullet-points-of-kvetching post, for which I apologize to the readers and The Universe, here are 10 common sense reminders (in no particular order) of what to do when you’re down. And by you, I mean us.

1. Get Some Rest – If this means going to bed earlier, taking a nap during the day, sleeping in your car or under your desk at lunch (been there!), or asking your partner to let you sleep an extra 15 minutes, do it. It’s amazing how much better you feel when you’ve had enough sleep. Yesterday was a prime example of what happens when I’m tired. I get cranky, bitchy, whiny.

2. Have Fewer (Unrealistic) Expectations – If you’re a working adult with multiple responsibilities, if you’re a single mom (if you’re single, period), if you’re grieving, sick, or healthy and simply overwhelmed, if you’re human, then you know there are only so many hours in a day, and you have only so much energy. Be realistic. Make your To Do list as long as you want (mine is pages long) but realize you will not get to everything at once. You will get to what you can. And that’s okay.

3. Be Easy on Yourself – Do you beat yourself up about all the things you do wrong? Or the things you didn’t do, rather than the things you did? Do you compare yourselves to others and wonder what’s wrong with you that you can’t accomplish the same? Stop! This is useless energy that doesn’t help you or anyone who has to deal with you. Every person is different. No person is perfect. If it takes you longer to reach your goals than others, this doesn’t mean you’re a lazy bum. It means you’re human. And you’ll get a whole lot more done if you redirect the negative energy towards something positive.

4. Be Grateful – I know it’s a cliche, but some cliches are good and this is one of them. Even in our darkest moments, we can find something that will make us smile, if only for a brief moment. The sound of children’s laughter, the rainbow the sprinkler makes in the morning sun, the breeze in our hair, a song. Maybe it’s simply looking around and recognizing what we have instead of what we don’t, the blessings in our life instead of the curses. Again, I know this is harder said than done sometimes, but it’s worth keeping in mind. Even the unlucky are lucky in some way. The challenge is figuring out how.

5. Focus on Yourself – Not in a narcissistic way, but in a don’t-worry-about-what-he-or-she’s-doing way. Focus on yourself. The only thing on this earth that you can control is you.

6. Take Your Vitamins – Eat well, drink water, get up and move around every now and then, and yes, take your vitamins. Besides being a healthy (and these days, necessary) supplement, they can actually improve your mood and energy level. I had skipped my vitamins the last few days but this morning I took them and no lie, I feel better.

7. Be Friendly – Say hello to people that pass you by. Say please and thank you. Tip your servers. Give someone a compliment. Hold the door for a stranger. Let other cars pass in front of you. I don’t mean be fake, but little gestures of genuine kindness can make a world of difference to others and to you.

8. Watch Bad Television – Whatever constitutes “bad television” to you, sometimes it’s okay to indulge in it. Personally, I consider reality TV bad. But I admit to watching a few shows. Project Runway is my favorite. But I will sometimes leave American Idol on in the background while I’m doing other things. And more recently, I’ve been watching The Face, which is a combination of America’s Next Top Model and The Voice. Totally ridiculous but Naomi Campbell is one diva beyotch and thoroughly entertaining.

9. Help Someone – Helping others is good for them, good for you, good for the world. It can also add a sense of meaning to your life. You can never go wrong.

10. Think Happy Thoughts – I’ve always been a moody person and my mother used to say this to me a lot when I was a kid. My late husband used to say the same thing, in his own way. I couldn’t always manage it as a child or an adult, but I try and I think it’s good advice.

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