The XX Factor

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My first official writing job on a TV series was brought to me by the letter ‘X’. Specifically, the letter ‘X’ without the letter ‘Y’.

After a friend of mine from my improv days sold a pilot script, he and his writing partner were tasked with putting together a six-man staff to complete a six-episode season. They took those instructions literally, promptly hiring four male friends to join them.

A little later, my buddy randomly spotted me in a hallway after a comedy show and this is how it went down: “Oh, hey!” (Me: Hey.) “I’m writing a series.” (Me: Congratulations.) “We staffed the show already,” (Me: Awesome for you.) “but we’re thinking maybe we should have a girl in the room too, for the perspective. You’re the only girl I know who writes.” (Me in my head: This is not true. I know your friends.) “Send me a sample?” (Me: No problem.) I sent him two screenplays and was immediately hired.

As origin stories go, it makes for a pretty lame graphic novel, but I still like to tell it. Because most people miss the point entirely.

Male writers tend to zero in on the double gender standard, while demonstrating impressive ignorance; “You only got the job because you’re a woman! You’re so lucky to have a guaranteed spot at the table.”

Um, NO. I got the job the same proud way my four male colleagues got it: nepotism. But I was the only staffer with any professional screenwriting experience, and yet I was still hired last, as an afterthought, to fill a gender quota. True, my lack of a Y-chromosome was the difference between being hired last and not being hired at all, but if I had the Y-chromosome I would have been hired first without question – or probably been hiring my own staff for my own show. Hiring me to be “the girl in the room” didn’t end sexism any more than electing Barack Obama ended racism.

Most other people take an optimistic view of the story; “Isn’t it great your friend was wise enough to recognize the value of a female voice? We should celebrate him as a shining example of enlightenment!”

Again, NO. I don’t believe in showering praise on people who “choose” to accept well-established information. Like Kindergarten graduations and participation trophies, it rewards people for doing something that should have been automatic anyway. You acknowledge the universe is billions of years old? Yes, yes, you’re very smart. Now shut up. Virtually any collaborative endeavor is improved when there is an even mix of male and female voices involved. (Notice I said a mix – I may play host to a couple of confused cats, but I am well aware that this is the true goal of feminism.) My friend was right to want “a girl in the room”, but he was the kid who shows up to all the little league games only to pick dandelions in the outfield. Hardly an MVP.

So what is the point of my origin story? The “Most Interesting Man in the World” is Satan.

They say the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist. While I find that statement confusing given the number of people I see on the news screaming about other people burning in hell, the sentiment applies pretty well to sexism. The true tragedy of how I got my first TV job is the part nobody – including me – noticed.

In the heated 2008 debates about which Democratic candidate had it worse – the one facing racism or the one facing sexism – I started to finally comprehend that even though both are horrible, there is one devilish difference between them. While I can’t speak to it personally, I don’t see a lot of minorities out there who are convinced that their genetics make them inferior. None of my Asian friends think they should have less right to a driver’s license, and I don’t know any Nordic folk who believe they deserve skin cancer more than others. Racism is the devil we know, see, and call out as bullshit. Sexism is too often the devil we don’t.

Women commit as many if not more sexist acts against women than the men of this world, and we do it most often to ourselves, without even noticing. The real point of my origin story is that, despite my ability to recognize and roll my eyes at how I got the job, I walked into that writers’ room on day one NOT confident because I knew I was the only one (besides the head writers) with experience, NOT comfortable because I already knew three of the six men and had performed comedy with them as an equal, but INSTEAD thinking, “I hope I can keep up. I hope they think I’m funny. I hope I manage to pull my weight.”

I had more experience and skill than any of my male counterparts (I was the only writer who maintained her credit or was kept on for more work); I had an Ivy League education and a well-honed comedic voice; I had a solid self-respect and an enviable work ethic – both resulting from a lifetime of guidance by ideal parental role models; I was loved and loving, praised and proud, supported and strong. In short: I had every possible advantage when I walked into that writers’ room, with great hair and a cherry outfit on top.

If even I walked in assuming I was the weakest link, what chance does any girl have?

Kate Prime

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It started in high school, but it took me a while to notice. Sophomore year, my boyfriend dumped me in favor of a different girl named Katie who was perfectly willing to let him stick his hands under her shirt (I was not). I figured this was just the first in what would surely be a long string of instances where the bubbly blonde was found preferable to my brainy brunette. Little did I suspect that it was the start of a very different pattern.

Two years later, shortly before graduation, I met the boy I would believe (for the next seven years) to be my star-crossed soul mate. We remained pen pals all through college, and I visited him once. After a great week, I returned home to word that he had taken a girlfriend – someone he had met the day after I boarded my plane back east. A girl named Kate.

This exact scenario would eventually repeat itself a year or two later, with the same boy.

Because of the overwhelming survival advantage it confers, we humans are evolutionarily designed to detect patterns, even in what often turns out to be random information. Still, it wasn’t until a few years after college that I began to suspect a trend. Superman and I broke up due to irreconcilable aspirations, and with our amicable split it was easy for me to know when he had started dating again.

[Side note to all former lovers out there: we can tell when you are trying to hide something supposedly to spare our feelings (but really to avoid honesty). When your otherwise freely detailed responses to questions such as, “Where are you headed?” suddenly become vague mumblings about meeting “someone” or “a friend” for coffee, we know that “someone” is more than just “a friend”. You have a date. Just be honest – we can handle it.]

Superman’s quest for inner peace and truth got the best of him quickly, and he identified his new coffee “friend” – a girl named Kate. I couldn’t help but feel I’d been here before.

True, it is not like I have a terribly unique name. With all of the possible variations on Katherine – one of the major selling points for my parents – the odds of there being more than one in anybody’s life are pretty high. I personally have been several different iterations over my lifetime, changing my name regularly as the mood hit since childhood. From K.K. to Kay to Katie to Kate, and even Katherine on occasion, I have met the various phases of my life with the moniker that I felt served it best.

(Except for Kathy. From birth – or as close to birth as one can be and still recognize the concept of a name – I have been “Katherine-don’t-call-me-Kathy.” I have an irrational hatred as hot as the passion of a thousand Rumplestiltskins.)

But even with the impressive versatility of my name, the number of times I have been followed by a doppelnamen is unsettling. To date, I have been succeeded in the lives of former boyfriends, lovers, flirtations, crushes, and general eggplants by: two Katies, three Kates, one Cat, one Kitty, and probably a partridge in a pear tree (named Kit).

None of these replacement Kates ever lasted long – some were too young, some too crazy, and several both – but it is still enough to give a girl’s psyche a complex. Is my life some bizarre version of Good Luck Chuck, where instead of marrying the next one after me a guy only sees people with the same name? Or am I like an oxygen molecule to love’s hemoglobin – once I attach, I increase a man’s ability to attract more of me?

The naming of Kate’s is a curious matter; by my late twenties I decided to take on one last name change to reflect my reality. Like T.S. Eliot’s cats, I now have three titles – my everyday name (Kate), my fancy one (Katherine), and a third one just for me, that comes above all and remains (until now) unspoken. Want to know my ineffable, effable, effanineffable, deep and inscrutable, singular name? Just look to the top of this essay. I am The First.

Peter Panic (or, Ventricular Manslaughter)

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You know things are getting out of hand when you can utter the sentence, “I was hit by two different cars within the span of thirty minutes this morning, and that wasn’t even the worst part of my day.”

While my car’s run in with a distracted Los Angeles driver and my body’s run in with an oblivious Los Angeles parker were both jarring (literally), their impact was nothing compared to the metaphorical whiplash I experienced later that day. I came out of both accidents unscathed, but Lost Boys are far denser than cars.

Vehicular negligence is a menace, to be sure, but there is a far greater scourge plaguing our society, denting hearts and totaling relationships with abandon. There are many to blame for the blight, yet no one directly responsible, so I choose to channel my anger at Judd Apatow.

In 2003, Chuck Klosterman began his book, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs (it is great – read it), with a hilarious rant against the perpetuation of impossible romantic standards in film. He blamed John Cusack for a generation of women who will never be satisfied by the lesser reality of any actual man in their life. Well, Chuck, it is time for a harsh look at the other side of the story; you men have some ‘splainin’ to do, too.

It may be true that every woman born in or around the 1970’s will forever compare any potential suitor to the ideal that is Lloyd Dobler, but there is a new epidemic threatening the happiness of Generations X, Y, and beyond: perpetual male adolescence. If Cameron Crowe has to answer for romantic idealism, then Judd Apatow needs to burn in hell for this.

For the record, I enjoy most Judd Apatow movies. He gives good funny. But the central conceit of every one is that it is totally cool to live like a frat boy forever, because the awesome K/Catherine Keener Heigl girl will love you anyway. Just bathe regularly, and it’s all good.

Some men are born mature, some men achieve maturity, and Judd’s “men” succumb only when maturity is thrust upon them via accidental pregnancy, public humiliation, or near-death experience.

Unfortunately, there is no such Deus Ex Matura in real life, so the men who subscribe to this Judd Apatow School of Adolescence stay there, indefinitely, stunting human progress. Last decade, when Cancer #2 described his ideal relationship as one where I was around whenever he wanted company but required no thought about me or us otherwise, it was stupid but understandable, because he was twenty-three. Everyone is stupid in their twenties. It’s a given. But when a thirty-three year old (and a thirty-eight year old, and a forty-one year old) still sees that as ideal, then “John Hughes-ton, we have a problem.”

The world is too full of men in their 30’s, 40’s, and even 50’s who believe that maturity is something that happens to you, like mono, rather than something you actively choose (like mono, if you’re doing high school right). It would be one thing if these Lost Boys were content to stay at home or only date twenty-somethings who share an equal desire for “just fun”, but they aren’t. They chase the grown-ass women; they love the grown-ass women; they want to have their cake and suck at it, too.

Lost Boys want their pursuits to be successful, but without us getting “too attached”. They want to be found attractive and funny and interesting, but not have to take too much interest in return. They love to be allowed to see us naked, regularly, for months, but don’t want us to think it means anything “serious”. They want us on their arm and in their pictures, but don’t want to have to call or plan ahead to make it happen.

In short, Lost Boys want the ego boost of an adult relationship, without having to invest in it themselves. Investing takes effort, which is another word for work, and work is not “fun”.

I would love to think that lines like, “I’m just not looking for something serious yet”, and “I’ll be ready for commitment when I meet the right person” (inevitably uttered months into a relationship) are signs of insightful self-awareness. But really, they are just excuses to make the work of growing up somebody else’s job.

Why is it my job to keep my affections in check while he is free to fawn or forget with every whim? Why am I supposed to understand and respect his busy life without any effort in return to accommodate mine? Why is it my job to be “good enough” to inspire commitment, instead of him choosing to be open to it in the first place? There is no woman out there who can inspire a Lost Boy to maturity – and if there is, she’s not ending up with Seth Rogan.

So the next time you hear someone commenting about how there are so many single woman in their 30’s and 40’s, or see the press obsessing over the naked ring fingers of Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Aniston, know this:

It’s not that we are all sitting around waiting for Lloyd Dobler. It’s that Lloyd Dobler is in his 40’s now, and still living with his sister.

I Was Told There Would Be No Math at This Debate (Statistics Part II)

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Odds are, someone at some point has quoted Einstein’s definition of insanity to you: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I love this quote for several reasons, the top two being that there is no evidence Einstein ever said it and it is not what insanity actually is. Yet somehow, by people saying it over and over in hope that it is true, it has become true in our conventional wisdom. Isn’t that the kind of paradox that is supposed to rip a hole in space-time and make the universe eat itself?

The dictionary definition of insanity is being deranged or unsound of mind enough to be divorced from reality and thus responsibility. Which nicely demonstrates the root of the problem with our current public discourse – it is Einstein Nutters versus Webster Loons.

Someone needs to impose some Nurse Ratched-level tough love on the world, so here I am, with math.

Back in January, I applied Bayesian reasoning (probabilistic thinking) to relationships, in order to get a better understanding of how illogical I often am in matters of the heart. It was fun! And I started to notice something quite interesting about the math, something that has been increasingly relevant as the clash between Science and Faith has escalated.

To recap: Bayesian reasoning is a process that involves estimating the likelihood of things, then reassessing that likelihood with each new piece of information. In short – and I know this is a dirty word – Bayesian thinkers evolve their ideas over time, getting ever closer to understanding.

If this sounds familiar, it is because probabilistic thinking is how we learn. Hey, that thing on the stove is shiny and pretty – I bet it will feel good too. Ouch. Nope. That did not feel pretty. Maybe pretty things don’t always feel good. Hey, that tiger over there is really beautiful. Maybe this time… and so on. Eventually, we get a feel for the odds (or die).

The formula representing this process – Bayes’ Theorem – is simply a mathematical expression of logic at work. It centers on three variables: our original level of certainty about something (x), the probability of this new info (Ouch) if that something is true (y), and the probability of this new info if that something is not true (z). That’s it!

When we reassess in the face of new information, we simply multiply our original level of certainly by the probability that our theory is still true (xy), then divide that by all possibilities – our original certainly (x) times the probability of true (y) PLUS our original uncertainty (1-x) times the probability of the theory being false (z). In math, that reads: (xy) / [(xy) + (1-x)z]

That’s the worst of it, I promise. What I find most interesting is how the impact of new information changes the more confident we are at the outset. Let me demonstrate with an example involving something totally uncontroversial right now: birth control.

Take two people, one who is super confident that I am a good little girl who keeps her knees closed (we’ll call him “My Dad”), and another who is willing to bet the farm that I am a total slut (“Rush Limbaugh”). They are both men, because involving a woman in a conversation about birth control would be ridiculous. Now, what happens to their respective outlooks when we introduce a new piece of information into their worlds: my use of birth control?

My Dad starts out with only 10% concern that I am a floozy (x=.1), while Rush is 90% sure I am sex crazed, since I am unmarried (x=.9). Variable y is the probability that I would use birth control if I am indeed a slut, which is clearly about 95% – who else would use birth control? Variable z is the probability that I would use it if I am not. Since women are either virgins or whores, that’s maybe 5%.

When we plug those probabilities into the formula, we see that My Dad, who is faced with contradictory information, skyrockets to a new 68% certainty that I am a daughter of questionable morals. As for Rush, he goes from 90% sure to 99% sure I am easy. Had we presented them with opposite information – like a purity ring on my finger – My Dad’s fears of parental failure would have dropped from 10% to .6%, and Rush would suddenly have to grapple with a mere 32% chance of my nymphomania.

Of course, my probabilities here are extreme, but the formula holds. The more confident we are in a theory at the outset, the more devastating contrary information becomes. As it should be! If we truly think an outcome is “inconceivable” and then it happens, we either have to admit that we were very likely wrong, or accept that the word “inconceivable” does not mean what we think it means.

But a funny thing happens when confidence becomes absolute certainty: new information loses all impact. When x=1 (we are 100% sure of something), the formula reduces to y/(y+0z), which equals 1 no matter what y and z are. When x=0 (“Inconceivable!”), the fraction becomes 0/(0+z), which is always zero.

In other words, there is no amount of evidence, experience, or new information that will change the mind of someone who has absolute certainty. Proving once and for all with math that there is no arguing with believers. (Or Beliebers – ugh.)

If you got this far, you are probably tired, because math is hard. Not in the sense that it requires a Y-chromosome (I’m looking at you, Larry Summers), but in the sense of hard work. Math is work; logic is work; being open minded requires the effort of reassessment. Faith, on the other hand, is easy. Not real faith, as defined in the dictionary (“belief in something for which there is no proof”), but the Faith demonstrated too often these days: belief despite all evidence of any kind.

You want the kicker? Thomas Bayes, from whom Bayesian reasoning gets its name, was an 18th-Century minister. I think it’s time for the universe to eat itself now.

Citius, Altius, Fortius (Midius-Termius-Reportius)

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Today is July 1st, the first day of the second half of the year in which I began to blog.

Fun Fact: On the 1st of the month I say “rabbit rabbit” before anything else. My best friend tells me it is good luck, and her word is good enough for me.

Okay, technically I started this blog on January 10th (four days earlier and in a wholly different way than planned thanks to experiencing Facebook trauma the night before), but let’s round up and say today marks the end of my first six months. What self-respecting nerdist could let such a milestone pass without some sort of midterm?

Fun Fact: The worst midterm grade I ever got was an F, when I took Ancient Greek in college for (at least this was the plan) fun.

I promise to return to my more traditional a-musings next week, but please bear with me today as I indulge in some reflection and evaluation.

Fun Fact: In lieu of resolutions, I set “themes” for myself each January, to guide my year.

This started five years ago, in part because I find the evolving process of working toward a goal far more helpful than the “all or nothing” nature of a resolution. One day without hitting the gym or not biting my nails and I’m a vow-breaker? Who does that help?

Fun Fact: I am a fanatic for the Olympics.

Summer, winter, it doesn’t matter; if it is an even-numbered year, I am glued to my screen for two weeks, don’t talk to me. When I was eight, I cut my hair to look like Mary Lou Retton (and then was mistaken for a boy on the first day of school, so didn’t cut it again until age 18.) This being an Olympic year, I set my theme accordingly…

Fun Fact: 2014’s theme is “Citius, Altius, Fortius”.

“Swifter, Higher, Stronger” (the Olympic motto). This blog was started as a direct result of my 2014 goals, so I figure it is the best metric upon which to grade my progress thus far.

Citius: With the exception of my first post (which was an emotional purge written over one long night and morning), I devoted a lot of time to each piece when I first started. Tuesday is “publish” day, but I would start thinking and planning around Thursday, do an outline or draft on the weekend, write or revise on Monday, and then proof, edit, and proof again before posting.

Fun Fact: I write everything by hand first, so when I say “revise” that also means “type.”

This was comfortable, but didn’t leave much time for other writing – the stuff that actually pays. So I pushed myself to get faster (and far less precious about my work). Now, I do a little thinking on Monday night before bed, then get up and write, revise, proof and post by Tuesday afternoon. Turns out regular practice really works – and I wish I could go back to force my childhood self to practice the piano more.

Fun Fact: I also play the French horn; I asked for one for my 16th birthday instead of a car.

Altius: I could have just started smoking pot this year, but I am the one person in California whose medical condition serves as a prescription against marijuana. Instead, I will have to reach new heights other ways. In the last six months, I have pushed way out of my technological comfort zone with a new smart phone, tablet, Roku, and blog. By the end of the year, I will either have my own website or a robot.

With this blog, I have gone much farther than I imagined I could. As of today, I have just over 950 followers, and while I realize that Kim Kardashian has over 20 million for no reason other than being well endowed with both famous partners and hindquarters, I am still proud and amazed. Thank you, all who read me! (And if you could help bump me to an even thousand my compulsive side would really appreciate it.)

Fun Fact: I have also been nominated for a Liebster Award.Liebster

This is a blogger award designed to help new writers honor and promote each other. In short, it involves answering some questions, asking a few more, and (most importantly) nominating other bloggers in turn. I was nominated by Jonas Lee who, among other things, offers awesome Life Facts in his Imaginarium. In thanks, I offer him one: You are almost always within 3ft. of a spider.

Here are the eleven questions Jonas challenged me to answer:

1. You are able to scratch one thing off your bucket list, no matter what it entails. What is it? A: Attend an Olympics. Duh

2. You can listen to any band/artist (live) in their time period. Who would you want to see? A: Mozart would be cool. Plus, I think I could rock a corset.

3. If you could collaborate with any artist/author on a project, who would you choose? A: My idol is Tina Fey, but I think my other idol, Aaron Sorkin, could use my editorial eye more. Tina doesn’t need any help.

4. Would you rather live in a zombie apocalypse (Walking Dead) or an electronic apocalypse (Revolution)? A: Hands down electronic apocalypse. I already write by hand, and I know how to build a fire. It’d be like camp – with no zombies.

5. Why to number 4?A: Oops. See above.

6. Pop Tarts or Toaster Strudel? A: I have never had the latter, so I guess Pop Tarts. But with frosting (if you’re going to eat something terrible for you, it might as well have frosting).

7. Favorite smell? Fun fact: I have almost no sense of smell.

8. You can have one super power. What would you choose? A: The ability to blink any leaf blower out of existence just by wishing it. While flying.

9. What is your worst habit? A: My nun’s habit.

10. What do you find to be your best quality (physically or mentally)? A: My heart (both physically AND mentally).

11. What keeps you from having your dreams come true? A: Nothing! This is Hollywood!

In addition to answering those, I am also supposed to offer 11 facts about myself. I will let this midterm evaluation serve that purpose, though for those scoring at home, there are exactly eleven fun facts peppered throughout.

Fun Fact: I believe that everyone I meet has something to teach me, if I am paying attention.

The last piece of the Liebster Award is to nominate my OWN favorites and ask them questions. Here are my picks:

Julie Gordon – I like to travel, but this girl has adventures. Plus, she is thoughtful, and I want her to write more. See why at Wish I May, Wish I Might.

Sarah Rodriguez Pratt – Her blogging was one of my inspirations. Also, her comic strip, Totes McGoat, has one of my favorite titles ever. Check her out at That’s A Girl’s Car.

Christine Gengaro – I frakking love smart women, and this woman is frakking smart. She writes about music such that I wish I listened to it more. Read her blog for kmozart, because you can’t listen to it.

Eric Toms – I have only met him a few times, but I already know he is just the right level of irreverent. His soon-to-launch blog is described as “the best waste of your time.” I think he should launch now. Your move, Eric Toms.

Brantley Newton – Brantley is the only person on my list I haven’t met personally. He was one of the first strangers to follow me, and his whimsical storytelling at the Brantley Blog makes me smile. Keep it up, Brantley!

To you five, if you choose to accept the nomination, I ask only three questions:

1) What would be your motto for the next year if you had one? 2) Why? 3) What are your favorite Summer and Winter Olympic sports?

Fun Fact: My favorites are Gymnastics and Curling. But I love them all.

Fortias: In closing, the last six months have made me far stronger than I was at the start of 2014. My writing is stronger, and with it my mental health and professional career. As for my personal life, it has definitely been a good season for Eggplant.

Thank you, all, for indulging my self-assessment and for reading all this way. By which I mean both this post AND the last six months of my storytelling. I promise to get back to full-on nerdity next week – I am currently reading a book about the theory of relativity. You have been warned.