riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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My Rural Fantasy

When I first arrived in Los Angeles, an eager 24 year old film student, my life fantasy was to make meaningful, financially successful movies that would be nominated for awards and win little gold statues. (Yes, I used to fantasize about my acceptance speech. Every film student does.) These days I have a different fantasy.

I yearn for a life with fewer distractions and more opportunities to dig deep into the things most important to me, and I also yearn for a life with a lower cost of living and a lower need to earn a mountain of money. A rural environment provides all of these things. – http://www.thesimpledollar.com/why-i-prefer-living-rural/

Catskills roadEver since living/writing in Vermont in January of this year, I have fantasized about moving there. If not Vermont, then some other rural environment where there are seasons, real people, animals, open skies, long stretches of road without stop signs or lights, less traffic, and less noise. And not forever, for a year or so. Enough time to detox from 18+ years of living/working in Hollywood, finish writing my memoir (and a couple of other projects), and reacquaint myself with Me.

It could actually happen.

A friend has a spacious, sun-filled, second floor apartment for rent in a big, old house located in the Catskills area of New York State. Two bedrooms, large eat-in kitchen, plus a living room. There’s so much space, I could rollerblade from room to room. There’s so much light, there might be too much light (a problem I’d love to have). It’s 30 minutes from Albany, and 2.5 hours from New York City.

[breezyhillinn.com]

[breezyhillinn.com]

The rent is cheaper than what I pay now and includes utilities. Forget about the cost of moving there for a moment. The cost of living there would be far cheaper than living in Los Angeles. Plus my friend/possible  landlord lives in NYC and only comes to the house every other weekend. So most of the time I would be alone (with my dog), ideal for someone who wants to write all day.

So what’s stopping me? Well, money and fear.

The whole point of the move would be to focus on writing, not to spend ten hours of my day in some office, or in my car commuting to work. If I were to take a year off to go live in a small town, I would live off savings for a few months, then look for part-time work. How realistic this is, I’m not sure. When I was young, I used to do all kinds of work – shovel snow, clean yards, babysit. I even worked as a horse carriage driver, where I had to clean and tack up my horse and carriage before and after a 10-hour shift. (You know you’ve been working an office job for too long when you start reminiscing about shovelling horse manure.)

Horse and Carriage [queenvictoria.com]

Horse and Carriage [queenvictoria.com]

But I wouldn’t mind doing something completely different than what I do now (executive legal assistant), or what I’ve done in the past (production manager, assistant editor, writer/director/producer). Maybe I could be a part-time farmhand, helping to pick crops and/or take care of animals. Or I could run the cash register at a local coffee shop. Or help paint a barn. Or find a way to make money writing (gasp!).

Then there is Fear. What if I get there and hate it? What if I get cabin fever and go crazy? What if the house is haunted? What if I don’t like being alone all the time? What if I still find it hard to concentrate because now it’s too quiet? What if I can’t find any work anywhere, use up all my savings and end up homeless in the Catskills?!

I recently shared my rural fantasy with a friend who’s leaving Los Angeles soon for her hometown of Pittsburgh (for the much more noble reason of being closer to her ailing parents). She thought it sounded like a great idea, “As long as you’re not running away from something. Because if you are, whatever it is will be coming with you.”

Wise words. Obviously, if I were to really do this, I would have to think it through very carefully and come up with a ship-tight plan. Right now I’m still in fantasy mode.

For more insight into the city vs rural debate, click on this cheeky yet informative article by Heather Long and Jessica Reed at theguardian.com.

Heather’s reason #5 to move to the country:

You don’t get suspicious when people are nice to you. People say hello and “how are you” and generally mean it. You go to the grocery store and have a decent chance of seeing at least someone you know. Your doctor actually calls you back the same day you call with a concern. People don’t size you up constantly based upon your job, social status or income. Volunteer work isn’t something you do for your resume. You feel a part of a genuine community, not just one peon out of millions.

Jessica’s reason #3 to move to the city:

The entire world is (almost) on your doorstep. I don’t know about you, but it would be a shame to die on the way to the hospital – or give birth on the side of a road. Which probably won’t happen in the city. You can order anything from online stores and – miracle! – receive it the next day. Museums, galleries, libraries are easily accessible, a lot of them free. And food: enough said. Who likes to have the choice only between a grim pub serving dismal burgers or fish-and-chips and the local Subway branch at the back of a derelict mall?

Have you ever moved from city to country or vice-versa?

[apartmenttherapy.com]

[apartmenttherapy.com]


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What It Means To Be 84

My father turns 84 today. How is he spending his birthday? By driving across country in his new Porsche, naturally. He bought it a couple of months ago on a whim and promptly described the experience of driving it as “like being in Heaven… without dying.”

Hard to argue with that. Though the Porsche has drawn different reactions from the family. Some think it was a huge waste of money – money that would have been better spent on his grandchildren’s college education, or invested in some stable but profit-earning entity, so it could make more money.

Others think, “Wow, good for him. Let him have fun.” The man has worked hard all his life and never been able to treat himself to something this luxurious. He’s lucky to be of sound body and mind, both of which he sarcastically attributes to “clean living.” To his credit, he did quit smoking in his 40s (half his life ago), and has exercised for at least 30 minutes daily ever since, swimming at his local pool. Despite his remarkable tip-top shape, one can sense that The End is on his mind.

“The Grim Reaper keeps calling and getting the wrong number… but one day he’ll get the right number.”

“I’d rather enjoy the Porsche now, then wait till later and have my funeral in a Porsche.”

What does it mean to be 84 years old in America?

It means you were born in 1929.

For the first 16 years of your life, the only President you knew was Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd U.S. President  1933-1945 [photo source: Wikipedia]

Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd U.S. President 1933-1945 [photo source: Wikipedia]

You were a child of the Great Depression. Your parents either stayed rich, starved, or worked several jobs so that you wouldn’t starve.

Your main source of news, sports, and entertainment growing up was the radio.

You were 9 years old when Orson Welles narrated the radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’s novel The War of the Worlds, which suggested that an alien invasion was currently in progress. 

War of The Worlds by Orson Welles [photo source: skepticalteacher.wordpress.com]

War of The Worlds by Orson Welles [photo source: skepticalteacher.wordpress.com]

You can still remember where you were when you heard the news about Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. You were 12 years old.

The USS Arizona burning after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor [photo source: wikipedia]

The USS Arizona burning after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor [photo source: wikipedia]

You were a teenager during World War II.

If you joined the service, you were either in the Korean or Vietnam War.

If you’re African American, no matter where you lived, you undoubtedly experienced some measure of Jim Crow laws, whether having to sit in the back of the bus, drinking from a different water fountain, sitting in a different section of a restaurant or movie theater, or being harrassed for marrying a White woman.

I Am a Man march [photo source: legendsofamerica.com]

[photo source: legendsofamerica.com]

You might have chosen to escape such laws by moving to Canada, Bolivia,  Israel, anywhere but the United States until things changed.

You were 32 years old when Yuri Gagarin became the first man to successfully orbit the Earth in 1961.

Yuri Gagarin [photo source: wikipedia]

Yuri Gagarin [photo source: wikipedia]

You remember where you were when John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and Robert Kennedy were assassinated.

You might have had to move back to the States in the 1970’s because your wife got sick and the States had the best healthcare.

You might have stayed married for 25 years, before separating from but not divorcing your wife, so she could remain on your health insurance.

You worked a job you hated until you retired at the age of 67.

You reconciled with your estranged adult children at the age of 70.

You were 79 years old when Barack Obama became the first Black president, a day you never thought you would see in your lifetime.obama

Now, you’re 84 years old with near perfect health, save for the pacemaker, and 100 % of your mental faculties. Your parents, siblings, colleagues and most of your friends are long gone. Of course, you get a Porsche and drive it across country to see your children and grandchildren and this great big country. 

If not now, when?

[Photo source: James Mayfield, roadloans.com]

[Photo source: James Mayfield, roadloans.com]


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The Journey of a Thousand Miles

People sometimes describe death as a “transition.” Grief is a transition too, from life with the loved one to life without the loved one. Depending on the person, it might or might not take long to learn how to function without the lost loved one, but it might take a very long time indeed to thrive again. We’re simply not the same people we were when our loved ones were alive.

I am nowhere near the point of thriving. I am functioning. I’ve been functioning at different levels for the past three years (including the year Kaz was sick), from very high, to running on fumes, to barely able to get out of bed, and now at a less-than-average level of drudgery. I have indulged much and exercised little, always telling myself I’ll deal with it later, I can only handle so much at once. Well, the time has come to deal with it. The other day I wrote about self-imposed change and trying to accomplish what was on my old vision board. If I am to change anything in my life, first I need to change myself.

Number one on my list is exercise. I need to move more. When Kaz and I were dating we used to cycle up to 30 miles every weekend. I was swimming at one point, hiking and doing yoga. But all activity has dwindled in the past couple of years. These days walking my dog doesn’t really count as exercise. Neither does taking her to the dog park. I need to break a sweat on a regular basis, get my heart rate up, make my lungs work harder, build up my stamina and strength. These shoes are the first step.

New kickls

I bought them yesterday after doing some research on good running shoes for women. Time will tell how they perform on the road, but when I tried them on they felt like walking on cushioned air. In a strange coincidence, right before I left to go buy them, the person behind the blog milerunner.me started following my blog. His blog is all about running a mile every day, no more, no less, just one mile every day, 365 days a year. I don’ t know if I’ll be doing that, or how long I’ll be running at all, but I’m already finding his blog informative and inspiring.

Number two on my list is alcohol (as in less of it). For the past couple of years, I have been drinking almost every night, not litres of vodka mind you. My preferred poison is wine. I’m also a fan of beer and lately of Jameson, the Irish Whiskey. That stuff is delicious. I don’t have a drinking problem (go ahead, roll your eyes), but I do admit that on the few occasions when I’ve tried to cut back, the longest I lasted was four or five days. It doesn’t help that on my favorite TV shows, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, House of Cards, Game of Thrones, everyone’s always drinking. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched Don Draper pour himself a drink and thought, “that looks good, I’m going to join him!” Luckily, three out of four of these shows are going away soon. Then I’ll only have to deal with the show about bootleg gangsters in the Prohibition era (sigh).

No wonder I’ve gained weight in the last few years. I’m not one of those women who puts a whole of stock in weight – I think how you feel is much more important. But I feel shitty, and my weight is a concern. I am 5’3 and, as of this afternoon, weigh 198 lbs fully clothed. If you saw me in person, you probably wouldn’t believe it because my body carries the weight well (I’ve been blessed with hour-glass porportions). Nevertheless, according to this chart, a woman of my height should weigh between 111 and 147 lbs. Even if I were on the higher end, that’s still 50 lbs lighter than now, and therefore a health risk.

As the Ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu famously said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

How are you feeling these days? Do you exercise?


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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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To Vermont or Not to Vermont

This post is a bit of “thinking out loud.” I have a big decision to make based on some recent news.

The good news is I’ve been accepted for a 4-week writer residency at the Vermont Studio Center starting in January. http://www.vermontstudiocenter.org

The bad news is I can’t bring my puppy Ruby. My day job might not grant me a leave of absence. VSC offered me a partial fellow, so it costs money. Boarding/traveling with Ruby will also cost money.  (Regarding travel, I just learned that all the major airlines except United ban Pit Bulls and other “dangerous breeds.” I guess I’ll be flying United if I go.)

To Vermont or not to Vermont, that is the question.

On this morning’s drive to work, I thought of my late husband Kaz, who used to tell me the following when faced with decisions: “Write out the pros and cons, see which list is longer.” I never actually did it though, not literally. I would think in my head of the pros and cons and end up making decisions based on emotion (to good and bad results).

This time I’m going to honor him by taking his advice.

The Pros

  1. I get to write for 4 uninterrupted weeks in Vermont. I could finish my book and/or write something new. I can also continue blogging.
  2. I have wanted to leave my day job for some time, but only if an opportunity presented itself. This might be it. 
  3. VSC is a prestigious institution and would look good on the resume (good for future residency and job applications).
  4. I would meet other writers and artists, connections that could help in the future.
  5. I would get out of LA for a stretch, another thing I’ve been wanting to do.
  6. I would get to see my East Coast family around the holidays and they would get to meet Ruby. (I would board her in Brooklyn across the street from my sister, or in Vermont, 3 miles down the road from the Center.)

The Cons

  1. Going to Vermont would cut into my savings by approximately 15%.
  2. If I don’t get a leave of absence and quit my job, that would be very scary.
  3. Certain family members would give me a hard time about quitting my job (if it comes to that).
  4. Flying with a dog is also risky and scary.
  5. I would have to figure out a lot of logistics (what to do with my apartment, car, dog, etc.) in a short amount of time. That will be stressful.

I’m pressed to think of more cons. Can you? It seems like most of them are fear-based, justifiable fear but fear nonetheless. Maybe it’s a matter of getting over the fear and taking a calculated risk? Would I be crazy for leaving my job? Any thoughts or advice would be appreciated.

Btw, when I presented this dilemma to T last night (refer to “Friday Night Frights” for who T is), she lowered her chin and looked at me as if over a pair of invisible glasses. “I don’t even know why you’re questioning it, Niva.  You’re obviously going.”

Gotta love T.