After...oh, what's it been? 15 years? of blogging, I'm entering the newsletter fray with METAFORIA. You can read all about it and subscribe here. New issues come out on Mondays, and if you subscribe, they'll appear right in your inbox.
I wanted to write down this memory, and this is the form in which it came out. When I write about my mother, I tend to write about the loss of her (I have a lot to say on the subject). This is about something she gave me –something good, I think – but something nuanced and complicated, as things between mothers and daughters cannot help but be.
No More Tears
When I was maybe 8 or 9
I sat crosslegged on the gymnasium floor
all the school attending I don’t recall what
a row of teachers just behind me
and one of them paid a compliment
to the smooth, sun-burnished hair
that hung down my back
“Look how it shines!” she envied, and
the other women clucked in agreement
I turned, smiled and said thank you
surprised to be singled out,
told that any part of me was lovely to behold
And ever since then, I have known
I have known that my hair is beautiful
Just this morning, I remembered:
Every morning before elementary school
my mother sat behind me
and she brushed my knotted, wavy hair
She sprayed it with No More Tears
She smoothed it with V05
As I whined, longing to break free
Growing up, my most important toys were my dolls. We talked constantly, but none of them made a sound. When I think of the recorded sounds of my early childhood, it's all on cassette: my beloved Teddy Ruxpin, my children's songbook with accompanying tape, the little shows, skits, and songs I recorded on my own. I loved the Fisher Price record player music box, where changing or flipping the colored plastic records determined what song played, but I didn't have one of my own. As I got older, memorable sounds came from games, like my Bop-It key chain. Or, above all, the game MALL MADNESS, which said things like "There is a clearance...at the...sunglasses boutique" from a little speaker box in the center where players swiped their play credit cards to score points (come to think of it, MALL MADNESS may be capitalism's greatest triumph in the indoctrination of a generation).
Remembering these and/or other toys (and the sounds they made) was a delightful part of researching and writing this, my first episode of Twenty Thousand Hertz. But the research didn't stop there. I walked down toy aisles and listened to the toys shout sweetly at me. We all know how far technology has come in the past few decades, but we (or at least, I) don't often think about how those advancements trickle down to change everything around us...even toys. Now I can't stop thinking about it!
I could go on at length about what an honor it is to contribute to 20k, a show that I have listened to and enjoyed for years, but if you get into the show's back catalog, you'll see that it speaks for itself. May I humbly suggest starting with today's episode, "Noise 'R' Us"? :D
Just a few short days in advance of my Sweet Valley Diaries Podcast's 2nd Anniversary (the Cotton Anniversary, in case you're picking out a gift), the Season Four premiere is now live and streaming on all your favorite platforms. Or, if you prefer, right here:
Season Four starts with Book #31, TAKING SIDES, and features as its guest reader the fantastic actor, director, and acting teacher Tim Redmond. While starting at the beginning is always appreciated, I've been working on a very sketchy cheat sheet for any would-be listeners who'd like to jump on board at Stop 31. For the past 30 days on my Sweet Valley Diaries Instagram, I've been counting down (or, rather, counting up) the first 30 books of the Sweet Valley High series via haiku. So whether you're new here or you just need a refresher on the soapy nonsense of Sweet Valley, CA, you can take a look at these 30 brief poems and...well, perhaps you'll come away more confused than ever. But at least you'll know some character names!
Don't forget, the Sweet Valley Diaries have been around in blog form since 2006, so there's plenty of longer-form literature to get you up to speed as well.
The show is set up to be a delightful gossip session between friends, and producing it is a joy. Thanks to everyone who listens, writes in, chimes in, and tells a friend. Hold on tight now, because things are going to get bumpy in Sweet Valley this season.
L.A. is jam-packed with fantastic actors, but our theater scene is overshadowed by the entertainment dominance of film and television (sometimes literally, like by the giant FYC billboards that tower over every major intersection in the city...there are definitely theaters under some of those billboards!). I have learned over the past few years, however, that there is a wealth of excellent and creative theater happening across this sprawling metropolis. And, five years into my residence here, I am thrilled to say that I am a part of that happening!
At Los Angeles's storied Andaz Hotel on September 27th, 28th, and 29th, at 7:00pm and 9:00pm, my two-person play, A MERE CONCEPTION will be performed by the blisteringly talented people at InHouse Theatre Company. InHouse specializes in site-specific productions, and A MERE CONCEPTION is set in a Las Vegas hotel room. Short of driving to Vegas, what could be more appropriate than putting on the show in a hotel on the Sunset Strip?
See you at the theater hotel room!
I am afflicted. At some point this week – a week that I’d been thrilled about and looking forward to, one which felt full of possibility – something soured. I’ve caught some kind of jealousy disease. Emerald Fever.
I’ve noticed a few symptoms over the past months. On a recent trip to visit my dad, we watched an episode of Close Up with The Hollywood Reporter which he’d saved to rewatch with me. My dad tells me about this show all the time, rightly assuming that I’d find the topic interesting and the conversations enlightening. But I never watch it on my own. The episode he’d saved, “Comedy Showrunners”, was excellent and even a bit provocative. I was engaged and entertained, but toward the end, I heaved an involuntary sigh. My dad clocked this and asked what was up. I told him I’d tell him later.
Later came that evening, when we watched “Drama Showrunners” episode. I spoke up, intending to simply share a curious personal discovery I’d had during the earlier episode, one that was proving itself again presently. But by the end of the sentence, absurdly, I was fighting back tears. “Instead of watching these people talk about writers’ rooms and industry experience and feeling excited about being there myself, all I feel is how impossible getting there seems.” The phrase I’ve been using for the past few months, the one that feels most apt, is “banging on a locked door.” That’s why I don’t watch the show at home. It makes me feel sorry for myself. Then that makes me feel small and petty.
Of course, I am not outside the industry. I have worked in the film and television industry for over five years; I went to one of the top film schools and learned the ropes from experts. I even helped develop a show that, god willing, will air on Netflix in 2020. And yet, the career I came out here seeking feels as distant as ever, if not (somehow, impossibly) more so. All I want is to be paid to do a thing that I’m really quite good at. But I simply cannot find the path forward. More and more, I worry that the path does not exist.
The truth is that the path both does and does not exist. On the one hand, searching up and down for a tried-and-true “way in” to where I want to be has led me time and time again back to the starting point. On the other hand, any journeyway between two points is technically a path. Just because I can’t see it doesn’t mean I’m not traveling on it.
This is the great irony, the one biggest way that real life is proving to be much different than the life we are prepared for in school: for most goals in life, you can’t make your way there by planning.
In the meantime, while I second guess the existence of my destination, I grasp at straws thinking of other, clearer roads I might walk to somewhere else. I read. I become jealous of romance novelists. I think, “maybe I should write a romance novel.” I listen to podcasts that are not my podcast. I become jealous of other formats, of more successful podcasters. I think, “I have lots of ideas for other podcasts. Maybe I should make another podcast.” I walk the streets of Los Angeles, obsessed and enchanted by the art that covers so much of the city. I become jealous of muralists, jealous of big, blank walls. I think, “maybe I should paint a mural.”
And all of this sounds great. What I want is to do all of it. But also, I want to be told I can. Also, I want time to crack wide open and allow me to live multiple lives at once.
What sucks the most about this Emerald Fever is that I know better. I know that I am blessed in many ways. I have things going on; I’m doing my best. And above all, the bittersweet, undeniable constant: I am an ambitious person, I love to learn and grow, and I will never be satisfied1. There is no end to get to; it’s all path.
Emerald Fever and her sister maladies — burnout, impostor syndrome, self-pity – will come and go. And whenever they come, I will try to return to gratitude and the sure-fire exorcism technique of putting words on paper.
1 I’m not even trying to quote Hamilton here, but that song makes me weep every time because of how deeply I feel it…it’s hard to distinguish from the general background weeping I do as soon as the soundtrack starts, but trust me, there’s another layer to it.
For the 20th anniversary of my mother's untimely death, I wrote this story, my first on the Medium.com platform.
A while back, I stumbled across a single, incomplete sentence I’d written in a journal. It was a thought I’d hoped to incorporate into an essay I never got around to completing. I’d written, “the kind of person who puts no stock in horoscopes but still credits her inherent mysticism to the fact that she’s a Pisces.”
No doubt about it: I was describing myself. Perfectly.
Few incomplete sentences could sum up the dichotomy of my inner life more succinctly – the tempestuous head-butting between the concrete and the ineffable, the known and the unknowable. The idea that the stars could predict our futures seems patently absurd. And yet, when I first read a detailed description of my star sign’s traits, I was old enough to know what I was like, and wise enough to see that it was a description of me, with few exceptions (I don’t seem to be prone to addiction, thank God, and I don’t run away when I feel unappreciated. Or wait...do I do that? Maybe I DO do that!).
So, it is with no small amount of sheepishness that I confess here that yes, I sometimes peek at my horoscope. I don’t want any predictions about how my week is going to go — I will roll my eyes derisively at such foolishness (unless it predicts something I really want, like when that old Iranian lady read my coffee grounds – something I did NOT ASK HER TO DO, for the record – and made some swell predictions about what my love life would look like in “one month”). But if the astrologer/writer is doing the new-agey thing where she gives each sign vague advice based on their star-prescribed personality, well, I often take some pleasure in those. After all, regardless of whether, as a Pisces, I have in fact traversed all other Star signs at least once in my past lives (I think Linda Goodman says something like that), there’s no denying that I have a Pisces personality.
But enough about me. All this is just to say: here is some inspiration I got this week, and don’t hate me just because some of it supposedly comes from the celestial orb.
1. ) The coffee shop near my house always posts a great horoscope that comes from I-know-not-where. Last week, while pouring half and half in my cold brew, I took a look and laughed out loud.
This is not a horoscope; this is a succinctly worded summary of my most fundamental existential crisis.
In my college years, when in the throes of an anxiety attack (these could last hours or days or weeks), I would sometimes feel devastated by the specter of an unexpressed thought, for if not voiced now, doesn’t it die forever, unheard by anyone!? Now blissfully free from that level of dramatic angst, I still feel the pull to share and the concern that if I don’t find my medium, if I don’t make the time, if I don’t work hard enough, I will not be living my calling.
On a less writer-y, more interpersonal level, earlier this week I mentioned in conversation that I often advise friends to address a conflict by opening the lines of communication. That way, they can at least attempt to set the story straight, both in their own minds and in the other party’s. Earlier TODAY I found myself giving just that advice, acknowledging that my perspective might be skewed because to me, absence of communication (and the corresponding absence of control over your own story) is “like torture.”
This communication imperative manifests different questions depending on which lens of our lives we view it through.
As a writer: What stories can I tell? What stories can only I tell?
As a helper: What wisdom do I have to offer the world? Is there something I have to say that might make a positive and lasting impact on even one person?
As a human being: Am I harming myself by keeping something secret? Or by choosing to say something false, closed-hearted, or judgmental? Who does my silence help? Who does it hurt?
As a creative: HOW am I going to speak out? How can I share what I’ve seen with the world, be it my own little world or the world at large?
2. I have recently become enthralled with The Cut (I have about a million ideas for their wonderful recurring feature, “I Think About This a Lot”). Perusing it this week, in between the fashion pieces and the firebrand editor’s letter about this moment in Feminism, I found what looked like a soothing and ethereal horoscope section, by “Madame Clairevoyant” (Claire Comstock-Gay). I clicked. I was rewarded.
Now these were some horoscopes! Nothing concrete, just some soothing words that tap into our insecurities and seek to hush the sniping of our inner monologues. I even read some of the others, and while they didn’t feel quite as apt, I still found them to be encouraging. Which is really all I’m asking for from the Internet.
Read me clearly: I do not believe that Madame Clairevoyant knows my inner struggles. But I DO believe that it doesn’t matter how inspiration and fortification come to us as long as we are spurred on by what we’ve seen, ready to accept the magic this world has to show us. Almost as if in answer to my nagging concern about making the most of my every moment and saying all the words all the time, here was something that rang just as true: I can give myself permission — we can all give ourselves permission — to explore, to take our time, and to simply be alive.
Which brings me to…
3. Brian Andreas. The power our words have to inspire a stranger. This stranger, whose art enthralled me from the funky gift shop in Valparaiso, Indiana that we sometimes visited after church; whose books of poetry I bought as graduation gifts for my tight-knit group of nerdy, arty highschool friends; who is still creating art that now comes to my eyeballs via Instagram on my iPhone - a device and an app that were the stuff of science fiction at the time I first lay eyes on his work. The fact that this stranger’s stray thoughts still shake me as if from slumber, 20 years later. I feel like this recent post of his, which had such an effect on me, ties all these ramblings up quite nicely. No stars required.
Every Tuesday night for nearly a year, a small group of friends and I had played bar trivia at one of West Hollywood’s oldest, smelliest bars. On an average night, the skimpily-clad waitresses at this dank, storied hell-hole might serve paleo salads to a cross-fit class afterparty in the back, pitchers of Coors to a shaggy-looking couple shooting pool, and burgers to incognito celebrities sitting at the bar. In our year of weekly patronage to the place, my groups’ celebrity sightings have included Robert Pattinson, Chris Rock, and a One Directioner. The blonde one. On the extremely popular trivia nights, you can add to that unfathomable sea of humanity a smattering of birthday girls, socially awkward old men, nerds and wannabe-nerds of all stripes.
As if all this weren’t eclectic enough, it’s also a sports bar. Televisions hang from every corner of the bar’s highly-cornered interior, broadcasting a mix of whatever is showing on ESPN and ESPN 2-10. This cornucopia of sports-package programming draws even more people to the already-crowded bar during any kind of playoff season, and should one of these games fall Tuesday Trivia night, finding a seat becomes a full-contact sport of its own.
Never in a year of Tuesdays was the Table Dash more challenging than during the 2015 NBA finals. The Clippers were out of it, and the Lakers were nowhere near it. But Golden State, California’s last hope, were set to win it all if they could only take down LeBron James and his supporting cast. On the night of game three, trying to snag seats for eight, we arrived early for trivia to find the place as crowded as we’d ever seen it. It was the fourth quarter; we’d have to wait out the game, at which point tables would clear as the clientele shifted from jock to nerd. Some of us stood outside with the smokers while a few of us floated awkwardly in the narrow passage between the front door and the seating area. After several minutes of dodging harried waitresses and drunk Warriors fans, I shifted to a spot in front of a young couple’s booth in an attempt to get out of the way.
The couple was seated side by side on one part of the booth – whether for intimacy or a better view of the TV, it wasn’t clear. Very aware that I was standing conspicuously in front of them, I asked if I was blocking their view of the game. When they said no and asked if I wanted to sit down in the empty half of their booth, I decided to go for it. They seemed nice enough, and it would allow me to stop worrying about finding a table, as the group across the aisle was about to leave too, meaning my friends could swoop in, no problem.
Over the next 15 minutes, I surprised myself with my own energetic friendliness. I learned that my new tablemates were visiting from New Jersey; like me, they were rooting for Golden State out of ill will for LeBron; and the woman of the pair was a hairdresser whose lavender hair had just been dyed that shade earlier that day. The highlight of our brief encounter came when I told them that I was trying to make it as a screenwriter. The purple-haired woman looked at me earnestly and said, “You're going to make it. I truly believe that you get back the energy you put out into the world, and you have such a positive energy.” As if that ego boost weren’t reward enough for my stranger gamble, after the couple left and my friends sat down, I was congratulated for my dedication to table getting and my prowess at friend-making. Trivia night began with me feeling like a real champion in this little game called life.
It was one week later, on the heels of this social success story, that I met Joe. It was the night of game six of the NBA finals, and we came to the bar ready to do battle in the seating wars that we were sure to find there. The first wave of our group made a miscalculation, snagging a four-top that had no nearby seating prospects for the rest of us. The game ended – Golden State won the championship – and the sportsfans began to pay their tabs and finish their beers. I was on the lookout for someone leaving, and my eyes landed on Joe. To be honest, he was hard to miss. He was a hefty, middle-aged, white guy, red-faced and seated by himself at a booth, an empty beer glass and a giant pizza box on the table before him. The people at the table across from him had just left, and he'd been sitting there looking like he’d been ready to leave for the past 10 minutes. My friend Nick slid into the newly empty booth, but it wasn’t big enough for our whole group. Dammit, I wanted this dude’s neighboring table.
So I went in, leaned over to this puffy man and, as politely as possible, asked, “Are you leaving soon, or are you staying for trivia?" He turned to me slowly, uncomprehending. But hey, it was loud in there. So I asked again: are you leaving? He said that he was, but made no move to depart. When he added, speech slurred, that I should sit down, I hesitated. But then I thought of the week before. I thought about what a wonderful, friendly, warm hearted person I am, that kind of person who gives strangers – even dazed, bloated strangers – the benefit of the doubt. So I sat, just perching on the booth’s edge.
My left butt cheek had barely touched down onto the vinyl when Joe jerked his head across the aisle to my friend Nick, who stared ahead at the front door, completely unaware of Joe. The din of the crowded bar made it difficult to hear anyone more than a couple feet away. "Is that your boyfriend?” he slurred. He must have seen us talking before.
Already second guessing my benevolence toward odd strangers, I lied. ”Yes, yes he is,” I replied, trying to sound like it was obvious.
"You guys having good sex?" Joe, the total stranger, then asked.
I should have walked away. Instead, I forced a pivot. “Were you rooting for Golden State?” Very clever.
“No," Joe pouted. I nodded, disappointed that my attempt to change the subject had run aground. But hey, I thought, maybe he’d get up and leave now.
Joe did not get up and leave. He stared at me with a sloshed blankness. "How is the pizza here?" I shouted, pointing to the giant box before him. The to go box. TO. GO.
He shrugged his shoulders. It's pizza. He offered me a piece, but I declined. He patted his ample stomach, adding, “You can probably tell I've had a lot of pizzas.”
What is the appropriate response when a fat, drunk stranger asks if you can tell that he's fat? I pretended the question was about pizza. "Oh me too. I'm from Chicago. We have all kinds of pizza."
"You're from Chicago? I'm from Chicago!" Of course, I thought of course this doughy drunk guy in a striped polo shirt is from Chicago. "What high school did you go to?”
When I explained that I went to high school in Northwest Indiana, he told me his four kids went to Culver, which is a kind of fancy prep-school in the area. I knew a girl who left my seventh grade public school class to attend Culver, so I told him I was familiar with it. “Culver’s the fuckin’ best school,” he asserted.
I was relieved to find that this pervy loner guy was perhaps not such a pervy loner after all. Here he was, an out of town visitor, an Midwesterner, a proud father of four. I learned that he was also a businessman who financed films. When I told him I was a screenwriter, he handed me his business card and said that I should email him. And sure, he phrased it by slurring ”If you don't e-mail me in the next twenty four hours, you're dead to me," but still, this encounter was starting to seem like a real networking win for me. He took at piece of pizza out of the box and handed it to me, and this time, however reluctantly, I took it.
Across the way, our friend Russ arrived and started talking to Nick. I ate my slice of pizza slowly, refusing multiple times when Joe tried to offer me another. Instead of getting up, he ate another slice, so now we were both sitting in the booth eating his leftovers straight out of the to-go box. I propped my chin up on my hand and watched Steph Curry thank God and his teammates on the nearest corner television, out of things to say to Joe and hoping he would decide to head home already to sleep it off.
"How do you do that?” he asked me.
“What?” I replied, genuinely confused.
“Sit so still like that. And make that face. Like a model.” Oh shit. Had he just gotten drunker?
“I'm just watching TV." I forced a polite smile and, instead of turning back to the screen, began trying to will him to boredom telepathically.
Joe took a deep breath, "I'm just going to throw this out there…" he began.
I was suddenly struck by that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when bracing for terrible news, like the death of a loved one. What the hell was this man about to say to me?
“Is there an amount of money…that could be exchanged…and you’d go back to my hotel…and we'd…have sex?”
I wonder what face I made. I can guess, but my brain temporarily shut down for a moment, so now I can't be sure.
“Say, $500? $1000?” He was starting high, which was peculiarly flattering.
“I don't think so.”
‘2000? 3000? 5000?”
Look, I get that those are large sums of money, and I am poor. But I mean it when I say that there was no part of me that was even remotely entertaining the idea of having sex with this man, ever. Or, to be fair, with any man. I could consult the short list of celebrities I lust after — Dan Stevens in Downton Abbey. Theo James in…Downton Abbey. Possible Regency Fetish aside, if you offered me $50 to have sex with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, I’d tell you to keep the money so that I could actually enjoy myself. Some women might get off on being paid for their services; many more find the act fundamentally transactional, and thus might as well get paid for it. I am neither one of those types.
“6000?” I just kept shaking my head. I sneaked a look over to the first group of my friends, seated in the corner on the left. Not one eye was on me. I turn to the guys across the aisle to my right, shouting silently "Are you getting any of this?" But the bar was beyond noisy, and they weren’t even glancing in my direction. Clearly (or so it seemed to me in the moment) I’d created a monster out of my own independent friendliness. These dudes were SO not worried about me and my ability to look out for myself. I loved and hated them for it.
“7000? Seriously? Still no? Why?”
“I think you’ve got the wrong girl.”
Joe stopped at $50,000, finally getting the message through his loaded skull. I think we both knew that there was never a chance that he’d actually pay me $50,000 for sex; it was more that he needed to know that there was a price at which he could buy anything he wanted. When I still did not assent, Joe took a dejected, momentary timeout before telling me that the whole thing had been a kind of thought experiment. A joke, really. ”She said she do it for $1000” he said, pointing to a passing waitress who had not stopped, or even glanced, at the table since I'd been there. “I'm happily married to a wonderful woman. I've got four kids.”
“I remember. They go to Culver.” Drunk as he was, this response still seem to make him nervous. I pretended to believe that his indecent proposal has been a joke from the beginning. I laughed and nodded, feeling like I had passed some kind of cosmic test and desperately trying not to picture this man's tiny penis. Then the people at the table behind Joe got up and left. I could move to that table and be a bit closer to one faction of my group, or, if my friends moved to it, they could be closer to me. It was after 9pm by now — trivia set to start any minute — and I had a decision to make: should I continue to sit across from this man who had now proven himself to be every bit the pervy loner I had once feared him to be, or should I abandon my post, thus rendering the entire ordeal a complete waste?
“So there’s really no chance we’re going to have sex?” Joe then asked, as if trying to help me with my decision.
"Sorry," I said, standing up."Thanks for the pizza." I still had the stale crust in my hand.
“I am trying to play trivia with my friends, and we want to sit together,” I explained. A hurt look crossed his face, as if he was just now learning that I’d been waiting for him to leave ever since I first asked him if he was leaving soon.
“Can I at least have a kiss?“
“Sorry,” I sighed, exasperated. What had I done to deserve this?
“Fuck you then,” was Joe’s charming rejoinder.
I threw my purse into the adjacent booth. "Watch my bag,” I hissed to Russ and Nick.
“Everything ok?” Russ asked me, suddenly aware that I was looking flustered. I just shook my head and rushed off to the bathroom, wanting to be as far away from this stranger as possible. Once in the bathroom, I suddenly felt very dirty. I hurled the tasteless pizza crust into the trash with violent disgust. Why had I even taken it? I didn’t want it. Why had I even sat down? I was just trying to be nice.
When I returned to our new table, Joe was still sitting there in front of his pizza box. He left a few minutes later. He probably wouldn't remember any of this in the morning. But I would.
I debriefed my friends on the encounter. Reactions were divided sharply along gender lines. The boys were over the moon about the unreality of it all. One of them asked me why I didn't take Joe up on his offer, laughing when I answered that it would have meant missing trivia; another said that once he saw I had scored a piece of pizza, he figured I must've been doing pretty well for myself. The girls, however, bought me a milkshake and gave me hugs, telling me how sorry they were that they hadn't noticed I was in trouble. And you know, both sides were right. Being asked to join the worlds oldest profession, if only for a couple of minutes, had been both horrible and hilarious. I was both traumatized and kind of flattered. I mean…$50,000?
We came in second at trivia that night. I was tasked with saving the gift card we'd won, and I stashed it in a purse pocket, right next to the business card Joe had given me. When I pulled both cards out the following week, I noticed Joe's card was double-sided. An investor service was listed on one side, a commercial real estate firm on the other. Under his name, on both sides, were the letters “CEO.”
* * * * *
Is there a moral to this story? I don’t fucking know. I don't want it to be "don't talk to strangers." For one thing, that puts the onus on me. Is it my fault a Midwesterner got drunk alone with his pizza and tried to pay me for sex? Had I been “asking for it” by my mere willingness to sit down at his table? The sweet couple from the week before hadn't tried to sleep with me, and they were from New Jersey!
So let the moral be this: Don’t get drunk alone in public if you’re a total asshat. Don’t try to pay people for sex unless they bring it up first. And when in Los Angeles, be prepared to put up with some weird shit in the name of finding a goddamn seat at the table.