The Resolution Will Not Be Televised

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If you want to torture yourself, make a resolution. As Oprah demonstrated to us all during her fifth or sixth trip around the world on the weight-loss yo-yo, the easiest contract to break is one with yourself. The more rigid the rule, the more likely the snap.

All resolutions get broken eventually, which is why I resolved years ago to never make any more resolutions. This instance, of course, will be the exception that proves the rule. I am certain.

Instead, I give each year a motto; a theme aid me in focus and self-improvement.

Fifty-Two weeks ago I launched Full-Frontal Nerdity in response to my 2014 motto. My goal was to complete and post one small project a week for as long as I could keep it up, and also get over my fear of the internet. Since then I have shared fifty-six musings on science, poetry, relationships, math, writing, logic, love, farce, and life in general (oops, I already said “farce”).

Last year’s motto was Citius, Altius, Fortius (Swifter, Higher, Stronger) and in every way this year of writing has lived up to the goal. My creativity flows with more ease than it ever has, never in my dreams did I imagine I could stick to a project with such consistency for an entire year, and by doing so I have gotten much stronger in voice, skill, and will.

Now it is time for a new motto to build on in the new year. I say “build” because the old mottos never go away. It is still important for me to remember to Join the Party (2011) more than my introversion inclines me to, and to remind myself daily that Nobody’s Perfect (2013) or able to please everyone ever. Any time I feel frustrated with my career or person I still try to imagine my better version and Act Like It (2012).

This year, I hear the voice of my oldest and best friend. When we were tweens she moved away to Cape Cod, and during a visit we found ourselves stymied by tourists as we attempted to get from point A to point B on the sidewalk. Always practical and self-assured (and thus my role model from early on), she implored to the world in general, “Walk with a purpose, people!”

It remains to this day the best advice I have ever heard.

So in 2015, my motto is to Walk With a Purpose. To live more deliberately, always with a goal, even if that goal is simply to finish a really difficult crossword puzzle. No more Law & Order reruns “just because they’re on” (though I will miss you, “Cha-CHUNG”), or aimless wandering through Facebook. More reading of things I have been wanting to read and catching up on films and friends I actually want to see. That’s the idea, anyway.

To Walk With a Purpose in my career will also mean taking chunks of time to work on larger projects now and then. That does not mean the end of this blog – not in the least. But it does mean I will probably not be posting as regularly. I hope to still keep it up monthly, and it is quite likely I will have things to say more often than that now that my brain is kicked up to a swifter, higher, and stronger gear. Whatever happens, though, thank you so much for participating in this past year, and helping motivate me to live up to 2014’s motto.

I will see you again soon, on screens large, small, and in between. Happy New Year!

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?

The Babysitter Clubbing

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Let me begin by stating clearly: I have great respect for nannies. Being “Aunt Katie” for the last ten years has been one of the greatest joys of my life, and I love kids in general – I love their creativity, curiosity, innocence, and ability to get away with a level of bluntness that only ever seems to get me dis-invited from things… Kids are great; but I don’t love any kid enough to spend all day with him unless he shares some of my DNA, which brings us back to my first point: I have deep respect for nannies. Still, I am not one.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a complete breakdown. It was short – only about twenty minutes – but what it lacked in quantity it more than made up in quality. We’re talking full-on sobbing: curled up in a ball, tears streaming down, actual vocalized wails. My poor cat didn’t know whether she wanted more to comfort me or run from all the noise and convulsing, so she just kept walking in circles halfway between me and the door. Claire Danes, queen of the ugly cry, would have been proud.

Why was I reduced – albeit briefly – to such a sniveling pile of saline and mucus? Because I am not a nanny.

Earlier that day, I had swallowed my pride and reached out to a hundred or so friends and contacts for help. Times have been a little tough as I have been caught in this weird career vortex where one work source is fading out and another (better) one is perpetually delayed in its fruition. It was time to give the coffers a boost, so I spread the word about resuming my freelance editing work and asked for help with any leads. It is never easy for the overly prideful to admit she needs help, but even though it stung my ego to ask, much like after ripping off a Band-Aid I felt better once I had done it. I even managed to temper my embarrassment with a little pride that I hadn’t let pride get in my way. Have I mentioned that pride is my sin of choice?

Most of the responses I got back were along the lines of, “I will spread the word,” and, “I can’t help but I can buy you a drink!” A few people actually had leads – names of writers looking to self-publish a book or organizations in need of some proofreading or writing. Almost everyone I contacted responded to me in one of four ways: with loving support, respectful encouragement, professional engagement, or a complete lack of acknowledgment of my email (the most common, of course). On the up side, the experience confirmed that there are clearly some great people who make up my community of peers. On the down side, notice that I used the word “almost”.

One person called me right away, eager to help, and cheerfully offered to connect me with her writer friend, not for a specific editing job, not for any lead, but so I could move into his house for a week and take care of his kids while he was out of town. He needed a nanny, and it dissolved me to tears.

Look, I know it is dumb that I lost it just because of one misguided attempt to be helpful. My friend was clearly acting in good faith, with the best of intentions, and in the moment I was mortified that her kindness was met with such a negative reaction. Was this just my pride rearing its ugly head again? Was this the moment my tragic flaw would cause me to starve to death on a diet of principle? I felt guilty that this poor woman left the conversation feeling like she had insulted me (I am not proud of my reaction). But then, after all the gasping and sniveling subsided, I had a moment of clarity. The thing is, she did insult me.

I had sent out a professional missive, asking in a professional manner for assistance furthering my career as a professional writer and editor. This career is something I have tended, nurtured, and toiled over for more than a decade. It is not a fad; it is not a phase; it is not a hobby. Maybe if she had couched the offer, more like, “I know it’s not what you’re looking for, but in case it’s a matter of just really needing some money right now, I do know someone who needs someone…” Maybe then I wouldn’t have reacted so violently. But in jumping right in with, “Great news! Here’s some babysitting,” she not only assumed my goal was just to make money, but also completely denied the validity of my career.

Again, I know she didn’t mean to insult me, but then again, it is also not the first time something like this has happened to me. It is not even the first time it has happened with this particular person. For the entirety of my professional life, I have had to deal with supposedly nurturing people – friends, instructors, my former manager even – who respond to any request for help advancing my career with suggestions of assistant work and child care. They simply do not respect me as a writer. (I won’t even get into how none of them would respond to a man seeking career advancement with similar suggestions, unless that man were seeking a career as a “manny”.)

I have no idea if this form of disrespect happens more often because I am a woman – it probably does a little, but not nearly as much as would be trendy. I don’t know if it happens because my profession is a creative one, or because I look younger than I actually am (thanks again, Mom and Dad, for the great genes). I don’t know if it happens because of some vibe I am putting out there, some lack of seriousness, though in case it is I will do all I can in the future to act more like I mean it. What I do know is that, to quote one of my favorite songs (“Let Go” by Frou Frou), there really is “beauty in the breakdown.” Because in having such a completely, inappropriately hysterical reaction to my poor friend’s phone call, at least I know now that I take myself seriously. Everyone else can catch up in their own time.