No more doling.

Hi. Hi again.

So this is aaaalllll an experiment, right? Which means I’m still learning shit.

Like today! Here are two things I just learned:

1) People don’t like email excerpts.

2) People like their stories intact.

So. If you were waiting for the next and final installments of that smoking story, I posted them all at once. Just click that link and scroll down to where you left off.

And if you get these via email, I’m gonna start sending entire posts instead of just excerpts. You don’t have to click anywhere. No more of me doling out the goods. You get ’em all! The posts will be longer, some of them, but there will be fewer. One a week. Maybe less.

‘Cause like, I’m not trying to “drive traffic” to my website or whatever. I don’t need “hits.” This isn’t a marketing tool. I broke up my stories as way to post consistently without getting overwhelmed, but the larger experiment of this website is for me to try to stay sane and writing regularly while I don’t have a job.

I’m paused, as they say. This is a caesura.

I’ve never really had a pause before. When I’m on hiatus for TV I’m generally trying to catch up on theatre stuff.  But no matter how well I appear to be balancing everything, I write many more TV scripts than plays. Which wouldn’t be a problem if I’d figured out how to do it without destroying myself.

I don’t know if it ever comes across on the screen, but I give a lot to my TV scripts. More than I’ve ever been asked to give. More than I keep for myself.  I give as much as I’ve ever given to my playwriting. And it isn’t healthy for me. Not from a psychological standpoint.  Not for the amount of TV scripts I need to crank out.  Not if I wanna keep my actual feet on the actual earth.

‘Cause like, there have been times I’d turn in a first draft after pulling an all-nighter, and when the other writers told me it was good I’d burst into sobs.  Like a big goddamn baby. In front of my boss, the PA, everyone.

This was recent, friends. Like not even a year ago. On a show I’d been on for SIX SEASONS.

I know it’s exhaustion and anxiety and hormones and low blood sugar and extreme neurosis and whatever… which also is bad for my health and scares my family…  and on more than one occasion my kid has woken up at 5am, seen the light on in the living room, marched over to the couch where I write, and demanded I close my computer and go to bed.

But also, I put so much of myself into a script that when my colleagues tell me it’s good, they’re validating a fuck-ton more than just my writing.

You see how that can be problematic.

I suppose at its most injurious, the act of giving that much to something that isn’t (and never will be) mine is a form of self-annihilation. I recognize the feeling. I have it often. Of wanting to pack up parts of my psyche into little parcels and mail them off into the world one by one until there’s nothing left of me. I feel a haunting peacefulness at the thought of being emptied like that.  I no longer have to judge my good impulses from my bad ones, or the helpful thoughts from the damaging. All of it is for other people to sort through now, all wrapped in smooth butcher paper and tied with jute twine ’cause I’m a crafty bitch.

Though the scariest thing for me, kinda, is the fact that I feel most connected to my writing when I am least connected to my body. Like I’ll start working at say 7pm, and the next time I look at the clock it’s 6am, and my low back is on fire and I’m shaking from hunger and my jaw hurts from clenching my teeth. But somewhere in that pocket of time, if I’m lucky, I’ve grasped at a kind of vibrating vulnerability and truthfulness that begins to sound like the moan of humanity… like, the thing that hums beneath it all… 

But I can’t always hear it. And I don’t know how to listen for it in a “normal” way. Which blows.

So while this isn’t an actual honest-to-gosh writing break because here I am writing to you, it’s an experiment to see if I am capable of…

Routine?

Grounding?

Writing-while-normal?

Self-preservation? (Yikes.)

All of the above?

(Sure.)

Ok then. Wish me luck.

Smoke.

Back when I had a blog I took it very seriously. I found it immensely satisfying to write an entire thing and publish it instantly.

Theater and TV are not like that. In theatre you labor over a thing for months, maybe years, and sometimes no one sees it. In TV the thing continues forever into the future (or at least that’s the desired effect), even after it’s been cancelled. In both cases you get haunted; either by what never was, or by what wasn’t enough.

But blog stories are gumdrops. Chomp, swallow, sigh. Gone. And another pops up right when you crave it.

That’s how I felt at the time, anyway. I forgot to write plays for a bit. I wanted gumdrops. Sourballs. M&Ms. Anything that dissolved too fast to get sticky.

This particular blog story is a kit-kat. You can break off pieces and eat ’em one at a time.


DOLING THIS OUT IN PARTS WAS A SHITTY IDEA. HERE’S THE ENTIRE VERSION.

(Originally published on February 5th, 2005 at 11pm.)

When I was eleven years old, my parents decided to take us on the only family vacation we would ever have, to Downingtown PA. They got two rooms at a motel for a week, one for the three kids and one for just them. I have no real memory of why they decided this would be a swell place to take the family. I remember them asking us to run off and amuse ourselves in the attached recreation center, or in the lobby, or with our new Colorform set, while they stayed in their room. I remember we never left the motel the entire week. It was raining.

I remember being profoundly bored. I would go to the rec center and see how many weird ways I could run on the treadmill. The Commodore’s “Night Shift” was playing on repeat the entire time, and no one was ever there. I would go there by myself most times, leaving my brother and sister behind in the room to watch TV.

On my third day there, I was surprised to find a girl standing by the Pepsi machine outside the rec center, drinking from a can.  She was skinny, face full of tan freckles, reddish-brown hair that came down to her shoulders, and a green terry tank top.  She looked me up and down. “My parents stopped here for the night because of the rain,” she said.  She asked how old I was.  “Eleven.” She told me she was fourteen.  She asked if there was anything fun to do around there. I told her about the rec center. She wasn’t impressed.

“Do you smoke?”  she asked.

I was many years from smoking, constantly living in the shadow of my parent’s disapproval.  But I was desperate for her favor. So I told her yes indeed, I smoked. At eleven years old.

“Can you get us some?” she asked.

My parents were furiously dedicated smokers, buying cartons of Vantage 100’s and lighting up first thing in the morning before their bowls of Special K. I ran up to their room and knocked on their door, waited a moment, then walked in. They were each lying side by side beneath their covers, looking sheepish.  I said I needed toothpaste, walked into their bathroom, retrieved two cigarettes from the pack they kept in their toiletry bag, and exited.

My new friend seemed pleased.  “Marlboros?” she asked.  I nodded, wondering if she could actually tell the difference. She pulled out a disposable lighter. The color matched her shirt.

It was her idea to sneak into the maintenance closet, since there were “no smoking” signs in the lobby and she didn’t want to stand outside in the rain.  The closet door wasn’t locked. We slipped inside.   I remember metal shelves, a bucket, a mop, an industrial vacuum, and no place to sit.

We lit our cigarettes.

She laughed at me as she watched me inhale.  I knew I wasn’t doing it right, but I couldn’t bring myself to imitate my parents. They held their cigarettes high up in their knuckles and gestured casually with their hands, never ashing accidentally. They sucked slowly and deeply. They talked with it in their lungs, breathing it out slowly as though they were underlining their words in thin gray sheets.

I balanced my cigarette low at my finger tips, and when I raised it to my lips I took shallow puffs and held the smoke in my cheeks for only a few seconds. Like a douchebag. She, however, smoked like a real smoker, with pleasure, releasing silvery streams from her nostrils.  This would have turned my stomach if my parents had done it, but from her it was the picture of sophistication.

We must have been talking, but I can’t recall any topics.  I do remember shit-talking my family, my friends, my school, hoping this was how one established coolness with an older girl. At any rate, she didn’t leave. She listened. She smoked.

We finished our cigarettes, me stubbing mine out half-way through, she smoking hers right down to the cotton.  She dropped it on the floor of the closet and pressed the tip of her plastic sandal down on it.  Then she flicked the lights out and I felt a hand on my breast, or what was struggling to become a breast.

I was so shocked I couldn’t do anything, not move, not breathe.  I remember feeling embarrassed that I had not yet begun wearing a bra.

She kissed me, and I tasted the ashtray of her mouth along with some candy-like residue, possibly the sugar from her Pepsi. Then she flicked the lights back on. She was laughing.  I thought I must have looked terrified, and was certain I had kissed her wrong and blown my coolness cover.

Then she said, “Thanks for the smoke.”  And she left.

I didn’t follow her.  I stood in the closet by myself for maybe ten minutes. Then I picked up her cigarette butt and exited, throwing the butts out in the garbage outside.  I walked to the rec center and sat on a broken treadmill and listened to The Commodores over and over and over, my chest burning, my mouth tasting like cinders.

She must have told me her name, but it is lost.  All the smaller details I’ve retained unmarred for twenty years like a bug in amber, but this one item is completely wiped out.  Perhaps on my deathbed a synapse will misfire and I’ll wheeze out her name.  If you happen to be there, please write it down for me so you can tell me about it in the afterlife.

Et tu, pie?

Three years ago I was on deadline when October 31st rolled around. My son was seven at the time. He wanted to be a pumpkin pie for Halloween.

The year before he was Emmett from The Lego Movie. Year before that he was Jack Skellington from Nightmare Before Christmas. He’s been Doc Brown from Back to the Future, Neo from The Matrix, and of course, Harry Potter. Like most kids, he is attracted to the cultural figures he relates to.  Inevitably he chooses male heroes because they are abundant. Not that I haven’t tried to counter that…

“Jane Fonda,” Halloween 2009.

…but as soon as he was old enough to understand that attire can be used to project identity, he made different choices. And aside from continually pointing out the gender disparity to him, I feel a bit helpless.  So when he wanted to be pie for Halloween, I was psyched. How wholesome and uncomplicated. No unconscious bias in pie. And the aspirational qualities! Sweetness, freshness, simplicity…

But unlike a costume based on a movie character, it’s difficult to render for a human body. Luckily I was on deadline and had no free time, so I spent hours researching how to make a delightful pie costume. Conceptually we shifted from pumpkin to cherry because of the color palate. The pie itself was simple enough to make (I used this as a model). The whipped cream hat proved challenging, but we got there.

And although it was difficult for him to sit normally…

… it was impossible not to pick him out amid the throngs of Harry Potters and Luke Skywalkers and Emmets mobbing the streets during trick-or-treating. His weird-ass costume was a hit with both candy-takers and candy-givers alike.  I was proud of myself for buying a glue gun to make it. I stayed proud until one rowdy parent spotted him a block away and bellowed this adorable tune at full volume (do yourself a favor and never google those lyrics).

So much for uncomplicated.