riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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New Essay on Modern Loss

Friends,

I’m happy to announce that my essay is up on Modern Loss. Please check it out: http://modernloss.com/forever-girls

Thanks for the support, as always.

Niva


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20 Reasons to Love Your Day Job

On the heels of my last post about not complaining, here is a fresh perspective on why you should love your day job, from the obvious to the not so obvious. (Okay, so “love” might be too strong a word.)

1. Regular Pay Check – Even if it’s not enough to live on, it’s probably more than unemployment pays.

2. Benefits – Along with #1, this is the reason most of us stay: paid sick days, paid vacation days, healthcare, 401K, etc.

3. Paid Jury Duty – Technically, part of #2 but I feel like it’s such a perk it deserves recognition. I recently got a jury summons and asked HR how many days (if any) would be covered. My company pays TEN days of Jury Duty. Granted, if I get chosen and the trial lasts for months, this will only cover two weeks, but that’s better than nothing!

4. Taxes – Sounds odd, but (if taxes are necessary) I actually appreciate that one third of my paycheck is taken out for me. Left to my own devices, I’m not sure I’d have the willpower to put that much aside.

5. Free Air Conditioning and Heat – I live in Los Angeles and it’s freakin’ hot here (this morning 87 degrees Farenheit at 8:30am).  Better to sit in the cool air conditioning at work and not rack up my own electric bill.

6. Free Food – Someone’s always leaving something in the kitchen or conference room. Last week some execs left the conference room early and we assistants descended on the sandwich trays like a pack of hyenas. This morning there was a banana on the kitchen table (snagged it!). The other day there was an entire bag of Clementines (delicious!).  I try to ignore the cakes, pretzels, caramel-covered popcorn, chocolates, bagels and other treats people leave.

7. Lifetime Supply of Girl Scout Cookies – If that’s your thing.

8. Free Condiments – Salt, pepper, sugar, fake sugar, oil & vinegar, ketchup, mustard, relish. Let’s not forget the free toothpicks.

9. Free Tea, Coffee and Filtered Water – Free water, people! Bring your jugs to work.

10. Free Stationary – Do you know how much paper costs? Me neither.

11. Free Office Supplies, Fax Machine, Scanner & Copier – The less said about this the better.

12. Free Toilet Paper – Okay, I’ll stop with the free stuff (but it does add up).

13.  Mailing Address That Isn’t Your Home – Definitely has its advantages.

14. Phone Number That Isn’t Your Home or Cell Phone – Also has its advantages, especially if you have caller ID.

 15. Free Internet Access – Not that you should be on the internet at work, but just in case you need to do some research… you know, for your boss.

16. Structure to Your Day – Let’s be honest, if you didn’t have a day job, would you get out of bed at the same hour, take a shower and dress up every day? Actually, I do know a journalist who wears a suit when he works from home, but that’s because he might have to rush out for an interview. Personally, I find the structure helpful. Sometimes it feels like cattle punching in, but at least I know where I need to be and when.

17. Personal Interaction – In this digital era, it’s nice to actually see real people every day. Plus, in my experience our co-workers are often super supportive of our creative pursuits. When one of us actually breaks free, everyone celebrates.

18. Holiday Party – The one day a year when we’re allowed to drink and dance at work. Yay! (More of these would be nice.)

19. Time Away From Spouses, Homes, Children & Pets – We all love our families and homes, but isn’t it nice to get away from them for several hours? I know I get a lot more done when I’m not with my dog, next to a refrigerator, couch, bed or television. In an ideal world (when I no longer need a day job), I would still work in an office away from home.

20. Motivation – Having a day job might be feel soul-sucking, but that just gives you even more reason to pursue whatever does fulfill your soul. If your job makes you angry, use that to motivate yourself the hell out of there!

And as a bonus:

21. A Day Job Provides Stability So That You Can Take Risks – You might be stressed at work, but you’d be even more stressed if you were unable to pay your bills. As this Forbes.com article says, the best time to look for a new job or opportunity is when you have a job :  “… You can take your time and if a great opportunity comes up you can take it if you want or you can wait for the next one.” You’re in control.

Do you have a day job? 

What are some other aspects that you appreciate?

 

 


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Can You Stop Complaining? (Seriously)

Years ago, one of my closest friends, a former cheerleader, called me to announce that she was going to stop complaining for a month. “That’s great,” I responded. “But maybe try 24 hours first and see how it goes.” We laughed. But she did pretty well. To this day, she always leads with the good and looks on the bright side when it comes to the bad. I adore her.

Other friends are the opposite. They lead with the negative — and stay there. I adore them too, but can only tolerate this up to a point. It’s not that I don’t understand hard times, depression, job/partner/life/money dissatisfaction. I DO. But once I feel a person has sufficiently vented (30 minutes is about all I can handle), the “fixer” in me starts suggesting things they could be doing to alleviate their situation.

“Have you thought of this or that?” I venture. “Well, no I haven’t actually,” the person responds. With some people, the conversation then moves towards a more positive direction. With others, it quickly veers like it’s avoiding a pothole, then continues in the same direction. Blah blah blah… another 30 minutes go by. This is usually when I hit the speaker button, place the phone down, and start checking my email. Wrong, I know. (Would it be better to abruptly say goodbye?)

Of my least favorite pet peeves (littering, bad driving, ogling, to name a few), chronic complaining is right up there. I don’t mean the kind of complaining that we do with co-workers around the water cooler, or those conversations with our closest confidantes where we get things off our chest and/or ask each other for advice. I also don’t mean the kind of venting people do when they’re grieving, getting divorced, dealing with a new baby or any other major life change.

I mean the kind of chronic complaining people do about situations they could actually change if they wanted to, but don’t.

You know the type I’m talking about. If not, this is how you spot one:

Friend complains to you about something. You listen and empathize.

Friend complains again about the same thing. You feel bad that they’re still dealing with the same issue and offer suggestions that might help.

Friend complains a third and fourth time. You start to wonder if the person considered (or even heard) any of the advice you gave the last time.

When the friend continues complaining about the exact same issue(s),  you realize this person isn’t looking for answers or helpful suggestions – she doesn’t even want to fix her problem(s). She’s a chronic complainer who wants you to listen to how miserable she is (and if you don’t listen, then you’re not a good friend). She is like this because she’s 1) seeking attention, 2) looking for ways to justify her unhappiness, and/or 3) unable to handle other people being happy or doing well (both trigger her internal “miserable” switch).

Of course, to suggest such a thing is preposterous. No one wants to be miserable, right?

Wrong.

I recently overheard a mother tell her daughter on the phone, “The doctors told me I don’t have the kind of cancer that’ll kill me, but come on. We’ll just see.”

(Really? Okay.)

I think some people are uncomfortable with optimism, or don’t feel like they deserve to be happy, or can’t be satisfied with what they have. They always want more/better, and the grass is always greener over there. Or they continue to think of some past period of their life as “the good ole days” when the truth is, they probably complained just as much back then (about other things).

I admit, I’ve had chronic complaining moments myself (it’s not uncommon to disdain in others the same traits we disdain in ourselves). Remember my optimist friend? She would always listen patiently while I rattled on about everything bad in my life. Then she’d give me practical advice and point out the good things too, all of which I appreciated. To this day, I always feel more upbeat after talking with her, even if I was upbeat to begin with.

Another friend and I still complain to each other, but we’ve jokingly nicknamed our bitch marathons “The Depress-offs,” a la a competitive game show. So, we’re actually bitching and laughing at the same time.

In general though, I try to complain less than I used to. Part of this is watching someone die young of a terrible disease and feeling like what the hell do I have to complain about? Also, Kaz would often remind me that the best way out of depression is ACTION, and I follow that advice as much as possible.

At the writing seminar I mentioned in the last post, the instructor said to us, “What if you were to accept your current life and be happy with the way things are right now?” Everyone gasped.

He quickly explained that he didn’t mean giving up on our dreams and aspirations. He meant hitting the pause button on our perpetual moaning, choosing to acknowledge – and be in – the present, and being grateful. We were alive. We were sitting in a room with a bunch of fellow writers and new friends. The sun was shining. We had homes to go back to. We had pets/children/spouses/friends who loved us. We were unique.

We went on with the weekend feeling more positive and energized. Nothing had changed, and yet everything felt different.

At drinks, later that night, someone asked the instructor, “So, what are your dreams? What do you want to do?” He smiled. “I’m doing what I want to do. I’m here with you right now.”

Do you think you could stop complaining? Have you ever tried?

Tree at sunset (photo: @nivaladiva)

Tree at sunset (photo: @nivaladiva)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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What’s New

It’s been a while. I won’t use the excuse that I’ve been busy because you’re all busy too and keep blogging. I will say that I took a freelance writing seminar in late March that sort of rocked my world, in a good way. In no particular order, these are some changes I’ve made in the past six weeks since the seminar (and last blog post):

New Routine

I now wake up at 6:00 or 5:30 a.m. and write until 7:00 a.m, every week day. I don’t always write, sometimes I just stare at the computer and think about writing. But things I definitely do NOT do are: 1) check my email or get on the internet, 2) clean the apartment, 3) pay bills or do anything administrative, 4) wash the dishes, 5) check my phone. This time in the morning is my sacred hour, when everyone, including the dog, is asleep and quiet. I love it.

Another change is that I no longer sleep with the phone (and alarm clock) next to my bed. The phone sleeps in the kitchen, so when the alarm goes off at dawn, I have to get out of bed to turn it off. There have been a few mornings when I’ve stumbled back to bed. But after staring at the ceiling for a few minutes, I got up to write.

Besides more/better writing time, I naturally wake up earlier now, even on days off. I’m more punctual to work. I feel more satisfied with my day because, even if I get nothing else creative done, at least I’ve had this hour. I watch less television and go out less during the week. On more than one occasion I’ve used “I have to be in bed by a certain hour” as a reason to decline evening invitations.

New Diet

At the writing seminar, I was asked to choose “a personal experiment I’d like to try for 30 to 365 days.” I chose not drinking, not spending money, and not over-eating. The day after the seminar, I quit drinking alcohol.

I honestly didn’t know if I could do it. I’d been drinking either a few beers or half a bottle of wine almost every night.  I’m not exagerating when I say that not having alcohol in the house used to make me antsy. The thought of not drinking really scared me, and the first week was tough. Tougher still are social engagements like going out to dinner or a party. The thought of going to brunch this weekend and not having a mimosa makes me sad. I miss drinking socially more than anything. On the other hand, I like being more present and less groggy.  I think it’s made waking up early a little easier. Originally, I’d given myself a 30 day limit. It’s been 37 days now. I’m not saying I’ll never drink again, but for now, I’m going to keep refraining.

As an experiment, I also decided to cut out sugar, and more recently wheat, dairy and caffeine. Again, very scary (especially caffeine). I’m now eating mostly protein, vegetables, fruits and nuts and drinking water or tea, occasionally a non-alcoholic beer. Like alcohol, I thought I couldn’t live without caffeine, but the weird thing is I actually feel more awake and energetic. I’m also less moody. I’ve heard people say these things before, but when you start feeling them yourself, it’s a bit of a revelation.

Oh, one last benefit of not drinking alcohol: it saves money.

New Social Media 

Not as important as routine and diet, but still relevant – I’ve started to be more active on Twitter (@nivaladiva) and less active on Facebook. Twitter was a challenge to figure out (I’m still figuring it out), but what I’ve learned so far is that engagement is key, as is providing information and not being afraid to voice your opinions about things that matter to you. You can learn a lot from the news feeds and other people, including job opportunities. I know people who have landed jobs that they learned about on Twitter. It’s not all about following celebrities.

New Toy

I bought a Suzuki s40 Boulevard motorcycle. More on that in another post.

New Work

No, I haven’t quit my job (yet), but I am revving up the freelance writing. Just this week I sent out my very first pitches to two publications. Working on the next set of pitches now. Feels both scary and exciting to put myself out there, but I’m determined to forge a writing career in more markets than just film & television.

New Travel

I took a few days off from work around Easter to visit family in the Bay area. Good practice for road tripping with Ruby at a later date. One thing about traveling with a dog, you end up spending a lot more time outdoors.

Not sure what this is, but looks like a huge "N" to me (Crissy Field, San Francisco)

Not sure what this is, but looks like a huge “N” to me (San Francisco, CA)

Ruby meeting the Golden Gate Bridge (Crissy Field)

Ruby meeting the Golden Gate Bridge (San Francisco, CA)

Meadow in Redwood Regional Park (Oakland)

Meadow in Redwood Regional Park (Oakland, CA)

Redwoods in Redwood Regional Park

Redwoods in Redwood Regional Park (Oakland, CA)

Bench in Cesar Chavez Park (Berkeley, CA)

Bench in Cesar Chavez Park (Berkeley, CA)

Close-up of bench

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature. Life is a daring adventure or nothing.”             – Helen Keller

Ruby and her sunset (101 Freeway rest stop)

Ruby and her sunset (101 Freeway rest stop)

 

 What’s new with you?

 

 

 


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A Mother’s Will to Live

Yesterday (March 18) was my mother’s birthday. She would have been 78 years old. She died at age 56. My mother had been seriously ill at different points in my childhood, so I had contemplated her death many times, beginning at 5 years old when she needed her first open heart surgery. Not that I understood what “death” meant at that age, but I was aware of the possibility that she might not come home.

Somehow though, miraculously it seemed, she did come home… over and over, after every operation. By the time I was 22, my mother had beat the odds so many times, to my young mind she seemed almost invincible, like a frail old tree that has managed to survive multiple natural disasters.

For this reason, despite her history of bad health, it was a shock when one day three weeks after my 22nd birthday, she collapsed in front of a neighbor’s house while walking the dog. Two hours later my brother broke the news, and I too collapsed (he caught me). It felt as if the entire world had been yanked out from under my feet.

My mother was the anchor and center of our family, the one person my siblings and I knew we could always turn to and rely on, a constant and unwavering source of unconditional love. She was an artist, music lover and world traveler.  She went back to college in her mid-40’s to finish the degree she had abandoned when my parents married. She finally learned how to drive after they split up twenty-five years later. In the year before she died, she and a high school girlfriend did a European road trip, visiting Switzerland, Italy and Germany. She also visited New Orleans for the first time, and returned saying she could move “in a heartbeat” to either New Orleans or Florence, Italy.

She spoke English, Hebrew and German fluently, the latter only with older relatives. It always surprised me to hear her laughing with her aunts, or saying something under her breath to her brother, in German. She once told me that she liked writing poetry in English more than Hebrew (her native tongue) because English had so many more words to choose from. She loved movies, literature and laughter. A few of her favorite authors were Philip Roth, Toni Morrison, Sonia Sanchez, James Baldwin and Somerset Maugham.

She was beautiful: rosy cheeks, jet-black hair (later, salt & pepper) and deep blue eyes framed by beautifully arched eyebrows. Her only regular beauty regiment was applying face cream and plucking her brows. She never wore a stitch of make-up, and she never died her hair. She was opinionated, but also fair-minded and wise. My older siblings and their friends would often seek her counsel. Me being the youngest and barely out of the rebellious teenage years, seeking her counsel (and listening to it) was still relatively new. We were just beginning to make the transition from the traditional mother/daughter hierarchy to adult(ish) friends when she died.

As cliche as it sounds, there was something special about my mother. She once found a shiny bauble on a Tel-Aviv sidewalk, only to find out that it was a diamond worth over a thousand dollars. The boyfriend of a friend, upon meeting my mother for the first time, gave her the crystal necklace he was wearing off his neck. His girlfriend urged her to accept. Strangers, children and animals were all drawn to her.

Hours before she collapsed, she had received, separately and completely by coincidence, wonderful news from both of my siblings, news that she had been waiting years to hear. My last conversation with her was a bit more tense (something I still regret), but we did speak about the college film I was directing, and I knew she was proud of me. My siblings and I have a theory that, with all the good news she heard that morning, she might have died of happiness.

We never asked for an autopsy because we felt like her body had been through enough, but her doctors had their theories. They also revealed their genuine surprise that she had lived as long as she did. These men of science credited her will to live as the reason. 

Physically frail but iron-willed, she left her mark on the world.

My mother and me

My mother and me


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A Life Worth Living (Daily Prompt)

Yesterday, I ran into a colleague and fellow writer in the hallway at work. “I gotta get outta here,” he said, shaking his head, “THIS year.” “Me too,” I responded and raised my right hand. We high-fived each other and parted in opposite directions back to our assistant desks. 

When I interviewed for this job, my late husband Kaz had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and we had just become engaged. We had no idea how long he would live, let alone work. We needed another steady income, support network, all the benefits and stability that come from a regular 9-5 gig.  

The following year, as life became a swirling storm of stress, unknowns, and emotional highs and lows, my boring assistant job became an oasis. A place where things were normal, where my responsibilities were easy and banal, even pleasantly (at the time) mind-numbing, and where the stakes weren’t life or death. I was so grateful, I started baking things and bringing them to work. Even Kaz was surprised by that. I worked full-time throughout his illness until he went on hospice. Then I took several weeks of personal leave. I returned to work three weeks after he passed away. May 2014 will be my four year anniversary, the longest I’ve been at any job.

I had wanted to quit immediately. After seeing his young, vibrant life end so short and so quickly, my soul screamed for a more purposeful existence. The banal, mind-numbing routine that I once appreciated now seemed like a dead-end, and I suddenly realized everyone I worked with was miserable. But I could no more leave my job than I could lift a car. Grief was like a choke-hold, making me physically weak and mentally delirious. Depression lead to a complete lack of motivation. Even after the depression lifted, I still felt utterly confused as to what do do with my life.

I can’t say any of those reasons are why I’m still here now. Now, I’m basically biding my time, building up my arsenal and stockpiling my supplies for the day I eventually leave. Ever since the Vermont residency, I’ve been slowly but consistently making progress towards my career goals. In the past six months alone, I have accomplished the following:

Made an exploratory trip to Georgia and new contacts, completed a new director’s reel (you can see it here), took a television pilot writing class and a seminar on how to write a film business plan, continued writing memoir and received valuable notes from a trusted/respected colleague, wrote a new bio, continued developing feature film screenplay and received notes on that too, joined several professional organizations and started networking again, applied to two fellowship programs, did my taxes (early!), started Tweeting (@nivaladiva), accrued almost 2,000 followers to this blog, and almost 1,000 followers on Instagram (@nivaandruby).

Life has been hectic lately, and it’s about to get more so. I recently blogged about dating, but honestly, that’s not a priority right now. What matters most to me, other than my health, family and friends, is my career. Call me crazy, but I don’t want to work merely to pay the bills (which this job barely does anyway). I want to enjoy and be mentally and creatively challenged by my work. I want to work with people who inspire and push me to be a better artist. I also want to make significantly more money than I do now.

My finger has been on the “quit” button for some time now and pretty soon, I’m gonna pull the trigger. It’s scary as hell to think about what will happen after that. I literally wake up nights thinking: “I know how I plan to make money, but will that plan actually work? Can I make enough money?” The optimist in me says “Yes! Just stick to the plan.” The doubter in me is tied up and gagged until further notice.

In response to today’s Daily Prompt: If You Leave


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Who Is Responsible for the Death of Sarah Jones?

[Photography by: Randy Thompson]

[Photography by: Randy Thompson]

Have you been following the accounts of the tragic death of camera assistant Sarah Jones? If not, read this Hollywood Reporter article, which details for the first time how the incident unfolded using descriptions from other crew members who witnessed it. Warning: reading this article will make you queasy with disgust and anger. It did me. And like many in the film industry and beyond, I keep wondering how in the hell did this happen? And who is responsible? Is it the Director? Producer? Unit Production Manager? Assistant Director? Location Manager? All of the above?

There are two schools of thought on who is ultimately responsible for a film. The first is that the director is responsible because he (or she) is the film version of the Ship Captain, War General, Leader of the Free World, i.e. the person with whom the buck stops. At the beginning of most movies there is title that says, “A (director’s name) Film.” And if a film bombs, usually the director gets the brunt of the blame.

The other school of thought is that the producer is ultimately responsible for a film. After all, it’s the producer who accepts the Academy Award for Best Picture, the producer who finds the money, and the producer who can hire and fire the director, the actors and just about anyone else. If the film is a studio movie, the only one who can fire the producer is the studio. If the film is an independent, most likely, no one can fire the producer.

But a film is the director’s vision. The director controls a film’s artistic and dramatic aspects, and visualizes the script while guiding the technical crew and actors in the fulfillment of that vision [Wikipedia]This means once a film is put into production every creative decision comes from the director. He consults with the department heads, but the director has the final creative word.  

Then again, the producer (or studio) has the final financial word.  A Unit Production Manager is usually hired by a film producer or television producer and is responsible for managing the production and regulating the costs of delivering the expected film or television show on budget at the end of principal photography [Wikipedia].

Let’s look at it from another angle. Before that fateful day two weeks ago when the crew of Midnight Rider assembled to shoot a dream sequence, this is what probably happened in the days leading up:

– The location manager scouted more than one train tracks and took pictures of each to show the director.

– The director chose the tracks that run over a 110-year-old bridge over the Altamaha River, in Wayne County, Georgia. At this point, if not before, the location manager would have informed him, “These are live train tracks.” To which, the director probably replied, “I want to shoot there. Figure it out.”

– The location manager attempted to get a location permit for those tracks. The permit was denied (most likely because it’s a live train track).

– The location manager informed the director that the permit was denied.

– The director, in consultation with the producer(s), assistant director and/or cinematographer, decided only those tracks would do and suggested, “Let’s shoot there anyway, guerilla-style.” (According to Hollywood Reporter article, he’s done this before.)

– The producer then approved this decision to shoot on a live train track without a permit.

– The crew was informed the morning of the shoot where they’d be filming that day, and what they should do in event a train came hurtling towards them, i.e. “run for your life.”

On top of that, these additional things DID NOT happen:

– The producer didn’t ask for a schedule of the trains that use those tracks, or calculate how often they come through.

– The producer didn’t inform the train company there would be a film crew on the tracks that day.

– The producer didn’t insist a production assistant was stationed a few miles away to keep a look out for approaching trains (which might have given the crew more than 60 seconds to get out-of-the-way).

– The producer didn’t give the crew a choice of whether or not to participate in this risky scheme.

– The producer didn’t hire a set medic or railway safety personnel (the latter, probably because he knew they had no permit). 

The bottom line is they never should have been there in the first place. The fact that they went ahead anyway and took no extra precautions is what really gets me. It’s unthinkable and unforgivable because it could have been avoided. If only someone had said, “No film or director’s vision is worth putting people’s lives at risk. These are not the only train tracks in Georgia. Let’s shoot somewhere else.” (I know for a fact that every producer I’ve ever worked with would have absolutely said this to me.)

Time will tell who is ultimately held accountable for this tragic fiasco. The director Randall Miller is also listed as producer, along with 11 other producers, co-producers and executive producers. 

Meanwhile, a bright, energetic, hard-working young lady is dead — and for what? 

RIP Sarah Jones.


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Margaret Mitchell, I Heart You

Margaret Mitchell House plaque

When I visited Georgia a few weeks ago, I spent the few hours I had in Atlanta visiting the former home of Margaret Mitchell, author of a little book called Gone With The Wind. (Spoiler alert: if you haven’t read Gone With The Wind or seen the movie, don’t read any further.)

A lot has been written about Gone With The Wind and not all of it pleasant, primarily because it’s full of racial stereotypes and takes a nostalgic look at the Old South, a subregion of the American South that included the States represented in the original thirteen American colonies (Virgina, Maryland, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia) [Wikepedia].

The Old South was deeply attached to – financially, culturally and emotionally – the institution of slavery. The reality is those were the good old days for millions of White men and women who were born into that world. We could spend all day arguing about the merit (or lack thereof) of this point of view, but that’s not the point of this post.

This post is about a work of historical romance fiction that was published in 1936, won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1937, and contained one of the strongest and controversial literary heroines ever, Scarlett O’Hara.

It may seem strange, but when my late husband died I thought of Scarlett. I thought of her often actually, for a number of reasons.

First, she was twice widowed. Second, she was hell on wheels to live with. If we’re being honest, she was a bitch, especially early on. Immature. Selfish. Stubborn. Rude. Opinionated. Jealous. Resentful. Angry. Manipulative. Mean. The list goes on.

She had a conflicted view of herself in relation to the “angels” in her midst, women who could do no wrong in her eyes… her mother Miss Ellen and her best friend/nemesis Melanie (Hamilton) Wilkes.

She lost a helluva lot at an early age: her parents, her home (for a while), her world, her husbands, her child, and her love.

She was a survivor and incredibly shrewd. The girl knew how to use what she had to get what she wanted, and she never gave up.

And in the end, right as she’s having an epiphany about what an idiot she’s been for so long, the love of her life walks out on her.

I related to all of it.

I remember thinking of the last scene, Scarlett on the stairs, sobbing, proclaiming her determination to overcome this crushing heartbreak by going home to Tara… and wondering, “What happened after that? How did she pull herself together? What did she do at Tara? Where’s my ‘Tara’?”

Ironically, for as much as I love the book (and movie), I knew absolutely nothing about its author Margaret Mitchell. I didn’t know her mother died when she was 19 years old, or that she herself had been widowed once, and divorced, before marrying her third and final husband. I didn’t know she wrote Gone With The Wind after suffering a severe ankle injury that kept her relatively immobile for a few years. I didn’t know it took her three years to write the 1037 page book, and she never wrote another afterwards. I didn’t know the first section she wrote was the last chapter, the only house she ever bought was for her housekeeper (Margaret rented apartments her entire adult life), and she was an avid Red Cross volunteer during WWII.

I didn’t know that she died at the age of 48 years old, four days after being hit by a speeding car while jaywalking in Atlanta.

I recently came across the letter Margaret’s mother, president of the Atlanta Woman’s Suffrage League, wrote to her on the eve of her own death from a flu pandemic. Margaret was en route to see her, but didn’t reach her her in time to say goodbye. This was the letter her brother handed her at the train station.

Margaret Mitchell, 19 years old

 

January 23, 1919

Dear Margaret,

I have been thinking of you all day long. Yesterday you received a letter saying I am sick. I expect your father drew the situation with a strong hand and dark colors and I hope I am not as sick as he thought. I have pneumonia in one lung and were it not for flu complications, I would have had more than a fair chance of recovery. But Mrs. Riley had pneumonia in both lungs and is now well and strong. We shall hope for the best but remember, dear, that if I go now it is the best time for me to go.

I should have liked a few more years of life, but if I had had those it may have been that I should have lived too long. Waste no sympathy on me. However little it seems to you I got out of life, I have held in my hands all that the world can give. I have had a happy childhood and married the man I wanted. I had children who loved me, as I have loved them. I have been able to give what will put them on the high road to mental, moral, and perhaps financial success, were I going to give them nothing else.

I expect to see you again, but if I do not I must warn you of one mistake a woman of your temperament might fall into. Give of yourself with both hands and overflowing heart, but give only the excess after you have lived your own life. This is badly put. What I mean is that your life and energies belong first to yourself, your husband and your children. Anything left over after you have served these, give and give generously, but be sure there is no stinting of attention at home. Your father loves you dearly, but do not let the thought of being with him keep you from marrying if you wish to do so. He has lived his life; live yours as best you can. Both of my children have loved me so much that there is no need to dwell on it. You have done all you can for me and have given me the greatest love that children can give to parents. Care for your father when he is old, as I cared for my mother. But never let his or anyone else’s life interfere with your real life. Goodbye, darling, and if you see me no more then it may be best that you remember me as I was in New York.

Your Loving Mother

The Margaret Mitchell House and Museum

The Margaret Mitchell House and Museum

Gone With The Wind was published 17 years later.

What struck me the most about the Margaret Mitchell house was its size. From the outside it looks like a comfortable home. But Margaret and her husband lived in a tiny apartment on the first floor. Their entire living space could have fit into most modern living room/dining room areas. To think that such an epic story was typed on a small typewriter in such cramped quarters over the course of three years. It just goes to show that imagination knows no bounds and is arguably the truest form of survival.

Margaret Mitchell's desk

Margaret Mitchell’s desk


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Alive and Well

Hey good people! A quick word to say sorry for the extended absence. All is well on my end. It’s just been a crazy time of too many things happening at once… including multiple classes and a trip to Athens, Georgia! Lovely, small, quaint town, beautiful University of Georgia campus (lots of columned fraternity houses), amazing food, very friendly people. I wanted to check out Atlanta too, but only got to spend a couple of hours there. Next time I’ll go for longer than 2.5 days.

Hope everyone is good. Can you believe the year is almost over? I can’t! 

More soon. Peace.

 


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Missing The Clarity of Love and War

It’s been 2.5 years since Kaz passed away and though I’m better than I was early on, I’m still not back to feeling 100%. There are many reasons for this and many manifestations, but the one that keeps kicking me in the shins is my inability to focus. I am distracted by everything: music, television, food, my phone (gateway to the internet), computer (gateway to the internet), dog, friends, family, colleagues, even my own thoughts.

How to Focusby John T. Roosevelt (www.rsvlts.com)

How to Focus by John T. Roosevelt (www.rsvlts.com)

It’s more than just a lack of focus. Planning ahead in any concrete fashion is challenging, as is staying motivated.

Part of the issue is having a lot going on: full-time job, personal life, dog, film script, television script, book, blog, networking, and now a job search. I’m not working on everything at once, but the time I do spend on creative pursuits feels thin and scattered. Progress happens so slowly it’s almost imperceptible. I keep thinking of the metaphor: How do you eat a whale? Answer: One bite at a time. 

But it’s more than the whale too.

A friend recently told me, “We can only concentrate on three things at a time.” In her case, she has her day job, her personal life, a part-time job and one creative project.

Another friend is producing an independent film (extremely time consuming), while trying to get multiple other projects lined up, maintain her personal life and take care of her dog.

Yet another friend is balancing a day job, her art career, a family (including two teenagers, husband and dog), and staying connected with her artistic, professional and personal community.

Each of these women manages her time and priorities to accomplish a great deal on a daily basis, even more on a long-term basis. Each is driven by Love and Passion. I know because I used to be like them… when Kaz was alive.

In the two years before he got sick, I produced and directed three music videos, a full production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, wrote a feature screenplay, worked for three months as an assistant editor in Mexico, and one year as a production manager in Los Angeles.

During the first half of his illness, I managed to write a spec television script. In the second half, I could only manage to write in my journal. But I continued to work a full-time day job while being his caregiver… and being his caregiver became my focus.

As I’ve mentioned before, there were aspects of caregiving that felt like  production, except this time it wasn’t a music video or film – it was life or death. This time I wasn’t motivated by ambition and creativity, but by the desire to keep Kaz alive, and us together, for as long as possible. Nothing had ever felt as important. While others resigned themselves to the inevitability of the sinking ship (including Kaz at one point), I was hell bent on keeping the ship afloat.

Of course, the ship did sink. And ever since, I haven’t cared about anything as much. I haven’t given up on my life or dreams, by any stretch. I do strive forward in my own hap-hazard kind of way. But what still eludes me is the fire-in-the-belly passion and laser focus that I felt during those days of intense highs and lows, when every day felt like a battle and a gift, and every moment agonizingly precious. Do I need life or death stakes to stay motivated? I hope not.

In any case, the new ship remains docked while the Captain struggles to chart the best course. It’s just me and my dog on this ship, and as much as she helps to keep me centered, in no way does she (or our current existence) compare to what was. Nothing could possibly compare to that.

It’s selfish to miss the days when Kaz was sick. I don’t miss them. But I do pine for the passion we felt. The clarity of purpose. The empowerment that came from being pushed to our limits and not falling apart. The inspiration of watching each other be so courageous. Neither of us had ever felt so alive or focused as in those days of love and war.

One day I will experience that clarity again. It might be the day I quit my job. It might be the first day of production on my next film. It might be the day I look into my child’s eyes. But this day will come, and when it does, I’ll be ready.