riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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3 Tips for TV Line Producing

The other day I sat in on an inspirational conversation with the Line Producer of a popular half-hour comedy television show. The Line Producer is the person who “tows the line” of the budget, meaning she makes sure episodes are delivered on time and on budget. I won’t get into everything she said because they’re too specific to television production, but here are a few universal nuggets:

“Coming under budget is a bad thing because it means you’re producing scared.”

When you have a budget and deliver the episode way under, it means you’re not very good at your job. You over-estimated how much things would cost originally (i.e. inflated the budget). Then you committed the cardinal sin of not using all your resources on the screen. The studio wants a great show, a hit show. If you deliver $10,000 over budget you won’t get in trouble. If you deliver $100,000 under budget, you will.

“Line producing is like playing 3-D chess in space with math.”
As a line producer, your job is to protect the showrunner’s vision, protect the studio’s money, and keep your crew happy. You’re the one who signs the checks, so you better be sure you’re responsible for them. You have to be great with numbers, great at solving problems and managing people. You have to be comfortable making big decisions and small decisions. You also have to be willing to use the carrot and the stick.

“To be a good line producer, you must have self esteem.”
No one will believe your words if you don’t. You have to believe in yourself and your abilities. You should be able to go home and sleep well at night, not worry about your work. This isn’t to say things don’t come up. They will. But feel confident in your decisions and know that whatever happens, you know how to fix it. Believe your words.

At the end of the lecture, she mentioned having been inspired by the Robert Frost poem The Road Not Taken.

Here it is:

The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

– Robert Frost

Happy creating!


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Two Years

In honor of Kaz’s passing two years ago May 3, 2011, and since I won’t be online tomorrow, I’m reposting Mountaintop, copied below. One love.

— — —

As I continue to heal from a state of heartbrokenness, I am reminded of the phrase stated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his last speech: I’ve been to the mountaintop.”

In the context of my life this phrase means, I have known, loved, and been loved by a Good Man.

I lost this man 3 years into our relationship (before we had worked all the kinks out), 11 days after our wedding, to a horrible disease which, coupled with a devastating motorcycle accident, was simply too much to overcome.

Shortly after he passed a girlfriend said to me, “Well, at least you’ve known love.” At the time, the pain was still so fresh I couldn’t find much relief in those words. But even on my darkest days I knew on some instinctual level that she was right.

I had experienced something few people do in a lifetime, the kind of love that makes you walk on hot coals to try and save the other, the kind of love that you read about in novels, the kind of love that makes you write love letters for a year after the other dies.

For a long time, and a variety of reasons, I didn’t always feel that I deserved this love. There had been moments when I doubted or disrespected it due to immaturity and insecurity. Just as the relationship was hitting its stride, he got diagnosed with a terminal illness and everything changed overnight. As things progressed at a deliriously fast pace, a part of me began to awaken, while another part began to shut down in order for the rest of me to keep functioning.

Once he was gone, I had a volcanic eruption of heartbreak and guilt, not uncommon for the surviving spouse/caregiver/less-than-perfect partner. Though my husband had forgiven my shortcomings, I found it difficult to forgive myself. Every time I thought of a good memory, a painful one reared up in front of it, like an eclipse blocking out the sun. It took every ounce of strength to not follow him to the other side.

Another friend told me, “Just hang in there and keep breathing.” Others reassured me that one day I would feel more grateful than devastated, more happy than sad. I couldn’t imagine it, but I also didn’t give up.  He never did and wouldn’t want me to.

Now it’s been 1 year, 6 months and 9 days since I watched him take his last breath, and I can say with cautious optimism that things are better.

I am still heartbroken. I still cry. I still talk to him, write to him, ache and reach out for him. But instead of feeling like my soul has been crushed, it more often feels lifted. Instead of dwelling on all that was lost, I think more often on how to rebuild. Instead of feeling guilty for not knowing better then, I focus on being better now.

Part of this transformation is simply Time. Part of it is all the writing and healing-work I’ve been doing this past year and a half. Part of it is the continued love and support of my family and all of our friends. Part of it is Ruby, my new puppy, who literally re-awakens and strengthens my heart every day.

So, I have been to the mountaintop. And I have seen the Promised Land. I couldn’t get there with my husband, but I have looked over and know that it exists. And in the knowing is the transformation.

Obama inauguration party 1/20/09

Wedding day 4/22/11


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A Reading List for Grief (Part 3 of 3)

Wrapping up the Reading List, here are some books related to grief and/or caregiving which have been recommended to me but I haven’t read yet (all available on amazon.com):

The Truth About Death, Poems by Grace Mattern

Bitter and Sweet; A Family’s Journey with Cancer by Darcy Thiel (a guest blogger on this blog!)

Beloved on the Earth: 150 Poems of Grief and Gratitude – Jim Perlman (Editor), Deborah Cooper (Editor), Mara Hart (Editor), Pamela Mittlefehldt (editor)

Nearing Death Awareness (A Guide to the Language, Visions, and Dreams of the Dying) by Mary Anne Sanders

Death and the Art of Dying by Bokar Rinpoche

I am currently reading Madam Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (translation by Lydia Davis) and Panther Baby by Jamal Joseph. More about both in a later post.

Please feel free to keep sending recommendations or any thoughts you might have on any of the books mentioned.

Finally, here are some quotes which resonated with me from two books on Part 1’s list. I’ll refer to more quotes in other posts. Enjoy.

From MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING by Viktor E. Frankl:

“… Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

“If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering.”

“A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how.’

“Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”

“… Even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself. He may turn a personal tragedy into triumph.”

From THE ALCHEMIST by Paulo Coelho:

“Sometimes, there’s just no way to hold back the river.”

“Everything on earth is being continuously transformed, because the earth is alive… and it has a soul. We are part of that soul, so we rarely recognize that it is working for us.”

“There is only one way to learn… through action. Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey.”

“When something evolves, everything around that thing evolves as well.”

“Death doesn’t change anything.”

“’You were always a good man,’ the angel said to him. ‘You lived your life in a loving way, and died with dignity. I can now grant you any wish you desire.’”


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Balzac’s Hands

If you’re like me, you have a bunch of post-it and 3×5 cards pinned up on your office wall with certain words and phrases that you find inspirational or motivating. A few days before leaving for Vermont I posted an Arthur Miller quote which I then tacked to my wall in the Vermont office. These are some other phrases I heard during the writer’s residency that stuck with me.

“BALZAC’S HANDS”
This refers to the infamous sculpture by Auguste Rodin of French novelist and playwright Honoré de Balzac.

Balzac by Rodin in Paris

Balzac by Rodin in Paris

You’ll notice the sculpture is missing its hands, which was controversial at the time because Balzac was such a famous writer. When asked why he did this, Rodin answered, “I have been forced to destroy these hands because they developed a life of their own. They didn’t belong to the rest of the composition. Remember this and remember it well: No part can be more important than the whole.”

“SELF-TRUST”
A reporter once asked Pablo Picasso, “What is your most valuable attribute?” Picasso responded, “Self trust.”

“PREMATURE SENSE OF COMPLETION”
This is what happens when people talk about their work but never finish it, as explained by visiting author Judith Claire Mitchell.

“IF THERE WASN’T THE WORD WRITER, WE’D ALL JUST BE CRAZY”
Also said by Judith Claire Mitchell, and ain’t it the truth!

“I WRITE ABOUT MY FAILURES”
Judith Claire Mitchell quoting a famous writer whose name I can’t remember. I love the sentiment.

“I NEED TO SIT WITH MY RESISTANCE, IN FRONT OF A COMPUTER”
Said by fellow resident and published author Blanche Boyd.

“BE CAREFUL OR YOU’LL END UP IN MY NOVEL”
Written on the sweatshirt of fellow resident and published author Elizabeth Hilts.

Do you have any phrases tacked up on your wall? If you care to share, I would love to know what they are!


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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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The Writer’s Pledge

I’ve been wanting to share this with you for some time – it feels fitting to share it now, on the eve of leaving for a writer’s residency. I heard it originally at a seminar given by Brad Schreiber at the writer’s conference I attended in October. Brad is an accomplished writer/teacher/consultant with too many credits to list here, so please go to his website and check him out: www.bradschreiber.com

The seminar he taught was called Adapting Articles & Books for TV and Film, and I’ll blog that info another Friday. Below is the pledge he made us stand and recite with our hands over our hearts before the seminar began:

I am a writer.
I do not need a New York Times bestselling book.
I am a writer.
I do not need a three picture deal.
I am a writer.
I have respect for my craft,
I take responsibility for my own marketing
And if you want me to continue to be a member of this household,
I want some damn quiet around here!

Happy creating! (and more later)


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Clocking in for You

Perhaps venting the fears about the upcoming residency in yesterday’s post was the answer. The comments were helpful and encouraging (thank you). Today I’m feeling less worried. Also, at last night’s celebratory dinner, T set me straight (as usual).

“If you end up not writing, sleeping in, fraternizing and treating it like a vacation, then you’ll come back knowing this isn’t the profession for you. But I don’t think that will be the case.”

She also used the phrase “clocking in for you” – which I love.

This is the ultimate test really. Speaking hypothetically, when your time is your own, what do you do with it? How serious are you about your goals? Your art? Yourself? At what point, do you commit to your chosen path and declare yourself a professional (whether you get paid or not)? And if not now, when?

I’ve thought of my late husband a lot recently. He used to say, “don’t talk about it, be about it.” And he wore a bracelet that read Audentes Fortuna Iuvat… “Fortune favors the bold.”

When I think of all that he went through with his illness,  it still boggles my mind. He used to affectionately call me a “soldier” but he was the true soldier (literally, he had been in the Air Force).  Though he fell in the battle against cancer, he fought with honor and died with courage and dignity. 

Now, his widow sets off on a new frontier.

Forward, we march.