Riding Bitch

The daily musings of a writer.


Finding Freedom Within Order

Creative folks want need to be creative in order to function, much like an athlete needs routine exercise. We need to work in our office or studios, without interruptions, without noise (unless that’s your thing), without worries. We need physical and mental solitude, freedom, and space, within which our imagination can soar and the divine spirit of creativity can flow.

Pablo Picasso, Photo credit: Edward Quinn

Pablo Picasso, Photo credit: Edward Quinn

However, unless we’re Picasso or some other mega-successful artist who can hire nannies, maids, bookkeepers, gardeners, dog walkers, and so on, we have to take care of all these and other responsibilities ourselves. We might even have to work a day job until we make a living from our creative pursuits. Many of us find ourselves spending all of our time just trying to survive and manage our households, less time on our art, and very far away from “solitude, freedom, and space.” If we’re not willing to abandon our families, pets, jobs, or creative passions, what can we do?

One of my favorite quotes, originally sent to me by my sister (who got it from another person) several years ago: “Be regular and orderly in your life so you may be violent and original in your work.” What does it mean to be regular and orderly? Let’s break it down step by step.

Before doing anything else, you must get organized. Get a filing cabinet, some folders, paper clips, stickies, stapler, tabs, whatever you need to sort and order all the paperwork of life. If you work in a large office, you could always “borrow” some of the smaller stuff (just don’t walk out with a filing cabinet or shredder). Once you have your supplies, go through all your papers and

Throw shit out. You might think you need a hard copy of every bank statement and bill, but in this digital age you absolutely do not. Almost everything can be found online, which means you should throw out (or shred) the hard copy, including any random piles of articles, recipes or directions you printed out months ago. You can find it online.

Create piles. Whatever paperwork you keep, put in piles: automobile, children, medical, pet, mortgage, legal records, etc, etc. You might end up with six piles. You might end up with twenty. If you end up with 100 piles, something is terribly wrong. Remember, you should only be keeping what cannot be found online.

File the piles. Put the piles into folders, label the folders, store the folders in filing cabinet, put filing cabinet aside. Congratulations. You just created a lot more space and peace of mind.

Create a budget and schedule of expenses. This could be as easy as looking at your monthly bank statement and seeing how much money goes where/when. Make a list and consider programming your online calendar (or your phone) with reminders of when certain bills are coming up. Your expenses shouldn’t be a mystery and bills should never come as a surprise. You don’t want to think about money (or the lack of it) any more than necessary.

Create a personal schedule. It doesn’t have to be militaristic, but plan out your average day from beginning to end, even if you never refer to it again, just to see how you’re using your time. See if you can “schedule” some creative time into your day or week, then inform your family, “On this day(s), from this hour to that hour, I am not to be disturbed.” Post your schedule where everyone can see it, and stick to it. If necessary, lock your door to keep intruders out. If your intruders are too young to be left completely alone, then schedule your creative time for when they’re asleep, doing their homework, or not at home.

Create a long-term schedule. This could be a month, six months, one year, five years, or all of the above, but doing this will help you determine how to prioritize your projects and manage your time. Are you working towards a show, application or publication deadline? Where do you see yourself in three years creatively? What do you need to do to make that happen? Work backwards and set your deadlines. If you have no specific goals for now, that’s okay too. Sometimes we simply need time and space to think.

Create your work. Once you’ve organized your papers, taken care of all the mundane “life” stuff, informed your household of your schedule, locked your door and taken a moment to soak in the reality that you are FREE to create now… do your happy dance, set your spirit free, let your imagination go wild, be bold, and take risks. This is YOUR time.

Happy creating!


The Love of Cinema

Do you remember your first movie? Mine was STAR WARS. At least, that’s the first movie I remember seeing. I was 6 and 1/2 when it came out in May 1977 and went to see it with my father and brother. Everything about it was awesome and new and I believed all of it, from C-3PO and R2-D2, to the creatures in the bar, to Darth Vader (who scared the shit out of me).

The next year I went to see a very different kind of movie with my mother called THE LAST WALTZ, Martin Scorsese’s documentary on The Band’s final show. It might seem strange to take a 7-year-old to see a film about coked-out musicians but I’m sure my mom was thinking about the music… Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchel, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison and countless others. When the lights came up she turned to me and said, “Want to see it again?” I did. We sat through the second showing. Then she bought the soundtrack and played it every weekend for the next 10 years.

In 1979, my older brother and sister snuck me into a screening of ALIEN, which makes me laugh every time I think about it. I’m not sure either knew what it was about when we snuck in. For most of the movie my sister was covering my eyes while squealing beside me, but I could still hear it and I still saw that infamous scene with John Hurt because neither my sister, nor anyone else in the world seeing it for the first time, saw THAT coming. To this day, it’s one of my favorite films.

Around the same time, I became obsessed with musicals. From the Busby Berkeley spectacles, to the fantastical WIZARD OF OZ, to the romantic WEST SIDE STORY and THE SOUND OF MUSIC, to the grittier HAIR and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, to the super corny OKLAHOMA, MARY POPPINS, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN and so on. It didn’t matter what year it was made or the genre. And if Barbara Streisand was in it, forget about it.

As I got older, my mother started taking me to an art-house theater in Philadelphia where we saw foreign films by Truffaut, Fellini, Antonioni, Kurosawa and Bergman. I remember walking out of a screening of AUTUMN SONATA (about a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship, played by Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann) saying with a sigh of relief, “I’m so glad we’re not like them.”

I grew to love certain directors, especially Martin Scorsese, Sidney Lumet, Milos Forman, Stanley Kubrick, Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski, Ridley Scott, Billy Wilder, Terrence Malick and others. Each had his own style. Each brought out the most amazing performances from their actors, music from their composers, editing, production design, costume design…

It wasn’t until college that I considered making a film. That was a task for other, far more glamorous people, who lived very far away in a place called Hollywood. I never thought I’d be living there. Once I learned the basics of the craft I wanted to study film in NYC where my idols Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee worked and lived. But those schools didn’t accept me, so I went to the school that did. I thought film school was heaven. Imagine seeing the epic Sergio Leone film ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST or the beautiful Caroll Ballard film THE BLACK STALLION (both in all their 70mm widescreen glory) for the first time in a pristine theater with only 10 other people… and then talking about them

Cinema has changed over the years. I’m rarely blown away by a film like I used to be when I was young. I admit, I also don’t go to the theater as much. But I’m trying to get in touch with it again, trying to reconnect with that initial thing I loved about movies… to be transported to another world, to be enlightened, to feel compassion for characters I would normally never meet in real life or never love, to feel a togetherness with the other people in the audience, to witness the unique vision of the filmmaker.

I’m trying to remember the difference between cinema and movies, as so eloquently explained by the director Steven Soderbergh‘s in his recent keynote speech at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival:

“The simplest way that I can describe it is that a movie is something you see, and cinema is something that’s made. It has nothing to do with the captured medium, it doesn’t have anything to do with where the screen is, if it’s in your bedroom, your iPad, it doesn’t even really have to be a movie. It could be a commercial, it could be something on YouTube. Cinema is a specificity of vision. It’s an approach in which everything matters. It’s the polar opposite of generic or arbitrary and the result is as unique as a signature or a fingerprint. It isn’t made by a committee, and it isn’t made by a company, and it isn’t made by the audience. It means that if this filmmaker didn’t do it, it either wouldn’t exist at all, or it wouldn’t exist in anything like this form.”

Do you like movies? Was there a film that made a big impact on you?


The Drama of Directing

[This post isn’t meant to be a political discussion but an insight into the role of director, to which I am re-acclimating after a three-year absence.]

As some might recall, this past Saturday was the table-read for the play I’m directing this year. It was the first time our two actors were in the same room, along with the playwright, the producer, the producer’s assistant, the stage manager and myself. The two actors are fairly well-known, recognizable men who have worked with the likes of Spike Lee, Julie Taymor, Taylor Hackford and many others. As thespians go, they are heavyweights, and their participation in the staged reading will help us get the funding for the full production.

The play is about two former Black revolutionaries who reunite after not seeing each other for 10 years. One has become a white collar professional now living in the suburbs with his wife and children. The other hasn’t changed at all since the 1960s/70s, literally stuck in a time warp. He’s called this meeting because he believes the political climate is now ‘code red’ (i.e. the revolution is about to jump off) and President Obama isn’t safe. The only people who can truly defend him are people like themselves. The play is called The Last Revolutionary.

After the actors read it and we all congratulated the playwright on his fine words, one of the actors announced that he wouldn’t be able to do the staged reading because this was a “pro-Obama” play. Then the other actor said he wouldn’t do the staged reading if the first actor wasn’t involved. Our attention focused on Actor #1, who went on to passionately explain his views which can be summed up as follows: “Obama hasn’t done shit for Black people in this country.” The actor was especially irate about the situation in his hometown of Chicago, where 22 people were gunned down the weekend before and nobody heard about it.

After much back and forth about the merits and counter-arguments to this viewpoint, I brought the conversation back to the PLAY itself and specifically, the upcoming reading.

Was Actor #1 refusing to do the staged reading because of his personal political views?

Yes, he answered.

Do artists always have to agree with the views of the pieces they work on?

Absolutely, he said.

Okay, so what if we took out the word Obama and just said The President?

Actor #1 said he would do the reading if that change was made.

After more discussion, the playwright agreed to think about everything and we all agreed to reconvene in a few weeks.

Last night I had a discussion with the playwright that felt as delicate a balancing act as walking a tightrope. Writers are generally very protective of their work, especially in theater, where the writer is Numero Uno (unlike film). And this playwright is no different. He is an award-winning, highly produced, highly respected playwright with a reputation and his integrity to uphold. His concern is not only with his work, but also with the perception that if he makes any changes it’s going to look like he did it to appease the actor. He has a valid point.

But if certain changes actually serve the drama of the play, maybe it won’t look like that or maybe it won’t matter, I told him. Personally, I believe the play would benefit from more disparity between the two characters. If one character views the President as the iconic symbol of both the President and the first Black President, deserving of respect and protection… and the other character views the President as a slimy politician who has betrayed his own people to get into power, that would be a highly dramatic, controversial and thought-provoking encounter, especially if both characters are former Black revolutionaries.

The playwright said he heard my passion and would think about it. Whether I made my case enough is yet to be seen. I will support whatever the playwright decides to do. But this is part of directing, seeing the bigger picture and communicating it clearly, passionately and non-dogmatically. At least, that’s my M.O.

It feels like I’m flexing an old muscle, sore but good.


The Ties That Bind

Well, that was exciting. In the past 24 hours the blog has had over 1400 views, almost 100 new comments, close to 80 new followers, all from 20 different countries. I am humbled, grateful and slightly overwhelmed to say the least. Besides being a boost of confidence, these numbers feel like a cosmic reminder, of sorts, that Grief and its sister Love strike a universal chord. I am stating the obvious, of course, but for a reason.

All my life I have been drawn to work which encourages a feeling of universality, of oneness. This is why I fell in love with cinema, because of its ability to bring people together. Movies, music, literature, paintings, the arts in general, all have this ability to make us feel and experience something deeper than our differences. In the past few years, I’ve struggled to regain that inspiration and motivation, but the past 24 hours helped.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by, especially those who left comments. While I’m sorry that we have to deal with loss, it is a part of life as they say. We may come to experience it in different ways and from different perspectives, but the underlying theme is that people everywhere, regardless of race, religion, nationality, politics, sexual orientation, etc., have experienced love and loss on some level. We might not speak the same language or have anything in common, but on these very deep and personal matters we can relate to one another.

My last thought on the Freshly Pressed experience is actually a sentence I once used at the end of a movie trailer: Sometiemes the ties of humanity can bind even the worst of enemies.

Tomorrow it’s back to Industry Friday and thoughts on television writing.


Arthur Miller’s Note

Following up to “Musical Memory Lane,” this was the note written by the playwright Arthur Miller to young writers that is behind glass in the lobby of the Scholastic Publishing building. It is one of the most inspiring messages about art I have ever seen, and the perfect send-off for tomorrow’s journey to Vermont.

To be an artist you will need to be lazy and hard-working, a liar and a truth-addict, a patriot and critic of your country, a nice person and a disgusting one, and on and on. If you can contain your contradictions and find a way to express them, you may with luck be an artist. Good luck.

5/17/97 – Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller note

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Observations from NYC

Every time I visit New York City I tell myself I will move here one day, the sooner the better. People often assume I’m from here (apparently, I give off a “NY vibe”), but I grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia. Still, I feel connected to the city. I’ve been coming here on a regular basis since I was a child, first with my mother, who used to bring me to visit friends and family, and  always managed to squeeze in a visit to the Guggenheim, Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney or one of the other major art museums.

When I was around 12 years old, my older sister moved here for graduate school and we would come to visit her. By the time I moved to LA to attend graduate school, my mother had passed away and my older brother and most of my childhood friends had moved away from Philly, so there was less reason to go back. It also held tons of memories that I found too painful to relive on every corner of every street. I sort of left and never looked back, opting to visit NY on school breaks. I thought I would move here after graduate school, but LA has a way of seducing you and keeping you comfortably nestled in her bosom, especially if you’re in the movie industry.

This is not to say that I don’t love LA. I do, more than I used to. It’s a beautiful city, and California is a stunning state. Maybe it’s a West Coast thing, but it still feels like a land of opportunity, like anything is possible. It feels newer, brighter and fresher than the East Coast. And of course there is the weather, which is a cliche but nevertheless, a factor in adding to the “brightness” and overall easier lifestyle.

One of my regrets is that my late husband and I never came to NY together. He was from Washington D.C. and that’s where he went every Christmas. I tried to get him to come to NY for a few days so I could show him the city but it just never happened. So, I would come without him. One time, I called him from a taxi speeding down the BQE at sunset (from which one can see the entire Manhattan skyline). “I wish you could see this,” I told him. “The city is gleaming!” He never let me forget that word, gleaming.

I’ve noticed more things about NYC on this visit, like the dog parks don’t have small and big dog sections, but offer just one large space for dogs of every size. Someone told me there’s a sectioned dog park near Prospect Park, “but no one uses the small dog side.”

More people talk about Hurricane Sandy here (for obvious reasons), especially in my sister’s neighborhood, where friends lost houses, cars, businesses and lives. Everyone seems to have either been affected or know someone who was. My nephew lost a classmate to the storm, and one of the oldest bars in Brooklyn, a cultural and historical landmark, is still struggling to re-open.

People walk on the sidewalks more than in LA (not a pedestrian city). Museums, cafes and bars are packed. There seems to be a diner or coffee shop on every street, and it feels more diverse, though this might be because everyone’s closer to each other. There is definitely an energy to this city. Then again, there is an energy to LA too. It’s just different. Like different pulses.

I’m looking forward to seeing what Vermont is like, to not being in a big city. I imagine it being much quieter, perhaps with clearer, more starry, skies.

Speaking of skies, yesterday I went to the Ann Hamilton show at the Park Avenue Armory, an amazing building which I had never been to before. The material in the middle of the space seemed to be parachute lining – or perhaps silk. People swung on swings which were attached to pulleys that lifted the curtain up and down in a constant, gentle movement, like waves. It was magical.

Anne Hamilton show
Ann Hamilton show2