While lying on my couch watching a Hallmark holiday movie yesterday, knowing full well that the renovation of the old inn, the connect with the hot lost love, the distance with the parents, and whether or not the grand Christmas show would happen were conflicts that were all going to be resolved in one beautiful shiny package, I wondered why these films are so important to me.
I write crime thrillers. Stories about badass female cops taking on white supremacists. Women who may be living tragically trying to survive. Adults trying to heal what haunts them from their childhood. My multiple tabs of research on my computer include weapons and FBI profiles on the psychology of killers, impact of intergenerational trauma, history of slavery and how Native tribes grieve losses, the impact of extreme alcoholism on the nervous system and death. I also have tabs opened about shoes, Goodreads, the perfect boyfriend cut blue jean, Facebook and holiday cashmere sales. And my Pinterest, of course, which is all beautiful homes of the southwest and inspirational photos of nature, or rocky canyons showing how light plays and dances on horizons.
So, maybe I just answered my own question about why these movies.
Maybe it’s because the grief of the missing parent is slight. Dusted like the powered sugar on the cookies. The lead is a widow with perfect hair but has only one or two moments of near tears about her grief. Or one of her parents is dead but she only remembers him or her by staring at an ornament for a second. Just a second.
Maybe it’s because after the hard work where she’s overlooked or almost betrayed by a co-worker or has a tiny but not crushing or memorable even, aggression from her boss, she always has it worked out so the bad guy gets fired, she gets the accolades, the promotion, and the next big gig.
Maybe it’s because the tiny towns are filled with nice folk who hand out gingerbread cookies and cakes and the trees are decorated so beautifully, I can only sit in awe at the production team, the designers and art department. Maybe it’s because these movies are shot in a bright light so even what could be a shadow is washed out and can’t hurt us.
Maybe it’s because the music is that sweet mix of musak, pop and holiday classics and since it’s past Thanksgiving I can hear it but come December 26th it must all go away.
Maybe it’s because I have a new excuse to eat chocolates because they go perfectly with holiday movies.
Maybe it’s because my childhood Christmases weren’t anything like the trials of the kids whose single parent finds the perfect new step-dad who turns out to be Santa.
Maybe it’s because these films are about belief and God’s plan woven with sparkly threads of hope and maybe we need all that these days. And that’s why I’ve made the commitment to watch at least one a day.
I’ve been stating to people lately “I”m so grateful I’m an artist.” Which is comes much later than that first statement, “I am an artist.” – which I had to give a lot of thought and contemplation years ago when I did that mid-30’s change of life thing and started writing. But once I embraced that and began to build a life around honoring my writing, I still didn’t feel the gratitude of having this calling. Even when I attended school, working towards my MFA’s, which I know statistically for a COC of a certain age (Chick of Color at 40-something…hee hee) puts me a small percentage of all people in this country earning degrees at that level, I still didn’t really fully feel the gratitude.
It’s now been 14 years since I started writing. Playwriting, prose, and now screenplays, I’m a storyteller and this is just a short list of what Art Does For My Soul:
1. Art feeds my imagination. Like a child playing make-believe, I get to imagine worlds, people, scenarios, winning wars and creating joy.
2. Art helps me figure shit out. I can give my characters my flaws, my insecurities, my anger, my hurt and let them figure it out on their journey so I can live a life in reality in peace.
3. Art gives me a vital purpose. This is a calling. It is. Just as we all need doctors who love to heal, lawyers who believe justly in the law, teachers who love a student’s mind, I’ve been really blessed to hear this calling, I love writing and knowing what I”m suppose to contribute to this world.
4. Art teaches me about who I want to be. The layers of my complex characters show me what I want to change in myself and what needs nurturing.
5. Art has created a community. For as much as writing is an individual act, in my head, at the page, for the amount of time I spend in my robe with tea by my window in the mornings, I also have an incredible community of writers, filmmakers, poets, novelists, journalists, painters, designers, musicians…the list is long of the creative minds in my life.
6. Art simmers down the prickly past. When old wounds burst open, or an old fear grips onto my heart, hijacking my day, art gives me a way to work it out. I write letters, draw, paint, fill journal pages with stickers and swirls of crayon marks. I write stories of badass women who kick the shit out of the bad guys while they heal their own pains.
7. Art lets me be selfish, in a healthy way. I’m a caregiver. Loyal to a fault and that hasn’t been a healthy trait. Extreme caregiving was about seeking approval and intense need. My art makes me explore what’s happening in my head, what’s making my heart ache, what’s bringing me joy. And helps me balance what’s self-care and what’s for everyone else.
8. Art means daydreaming’s cool! I never got in big trouble in school as a little girl for daydreaming in class. I was a pretty good student. But I do remember times being told to pay attention. I remember being asked where my head was and the shame of that. I never told anyone what I dream of- about my mom, about my family not being so damn poor, about being someone special and important. One of the hardest thing for me when I was a little girl was admitting I even had dreams. How dare I, right?
9. Art sustains my family. Art brought my husband into my life. We met as members of the same theatre company and our friendship grew out of working together with kids, telling stories over beer. And years later, when my daughter chose art school for her education and SFAI chose her, we couldn’t have been prouder. Art is woven into the foundation that holds my family together. And that same art has made us all better for our extended families. And now art, making films, has created Through the Wilderness, LLC, our film company.
10. ART IS PLAY! In this photo the lamp illuminates the little girl spirit who hangs out on my desk in the mornings, waiting for me to show up and play.
I am so grateful for being an artist. So today’s Toast! is to Art And What It Does To My Soul.
What does art do for yours?
One of the greatest gifts I have in my life today is time. Really. I don’t say it often enough. Now, I’m well aware that many folks can’t say the same. I want to be really really clear- this is not a boast. There is no bragging or entitlement going on here. There were many years of my life when I didn’t feel like I had any time- not enough to get everything done that I needed to- screw what I wanted to get done. Forget about it! (been binge watching Sopranos so that phrase is now part of our household vocabulary…along with more creative ways to say “fuck”) Anyway…I was a single parent for 14 years, working full-time, in grad school for many of those years (got 2 masters…then got my 3rd when Peter came into our lives) so this concept of “time” has always been at the top of my wishlist.
Not so long ago I was having a hard time accepting this gift of time I was given to write so one gorgeous Minnesota morning in my in-laws kitchen, my father-in-law told me that I had spent so many years of my life working really really hard for everything. I grew up really poor. Came from and survived some tough places (that’s another blog entirely) and I raised my daughter by myself for 14 years. He said that he thought maybe it was time for someone else to take care me. And I cried. Shit, I’m crying now thinking about the love and support my family, The Jensens and the Parshalls have given me. Have given us. So in turn, I’ve now got time to take care of myself. Whoa! (again…sounding like a Soprano’s cast)
Today, I get to create my days. Now, don’t get me wrong- most days I still feel like I didn’t have enough time to get everything done I wanted to. Projects are still not done, I still haven’t had lunch with every amazing person I said I wanted to meet with, scripts and books aren’t read, big housecleaning projects not completed, etc… But making that list of what I didn’t do isn’t my focus today. It can’t be because that would undo what time has just given me.
I just finished a detox. Dr. Oz’s 3-Day Detox. I didn’t tell anyone online about it because that would make me feel more accountable than I was willing to be. Seriously! What if I didn’t complete it? What if I ran screaming to my kitchen round bout mid-3rd day, shoved a piece of bread in my mouth, slammed some… I don’t know..Sapporo and finished it off with a full 6 ounces of dark chocolate? That was highly possible. Shit, that’s always possible.
But I did it. I skipped last night’s smoothie cuz my lunch one took two hours to drink and my snack didn’t happen til 6:30 but I did it. Sure, last night, I was whining bout some food I was planning to eat today and Peter asked me if it was on that Dr. Oz list and I said, pointing at my smoothie, “Hey, fuck that shit. This detox is done tomorrow and he can’t tell me what the fuck to do.” (Sopranos..man, I love that show!) I took a huge swig of my water and tightened my blanket around me to make my point. Peter thinks I’m cute when I’m tough so he blew me a kiss.
But seriously…through this detox, I got to sit. Each day I slowed down. I met one deadline for a revision on Blessed (now in pre-production) and I hope my director digs it. I finished a book, Defending Jacob, and started Joyland by Stephen King for my book club. I watched Season 2 of the Sopranos and multiple movies and sitcoms (but I tend to watch alot anyway…studying- that’s another cool gift of this creative life..) And I journaled and thought and sweated.
What I discovered is one- detoxes are to jump-start, to clear and make room for health, for change, and I’ve been doing that for quite awhile now. A few years with intention. It hasn’t been easy. My ass is tired! But I’ve already been doing what the detox is meant to do and I’m doing it well.
Two- food wise, for all my joking about food and pastries and well…shit, the name of this blog is Toast! which is truly a deep addiction, I eat fairly well. We shop organic, Farmers Market in Silver Lake on Saturday is a ritual. In our house, we don’t have much processed food besides my Weight Watchers Popped BBQ chips- so damn good. And I already LOVE kale. There wasn’t anything on that list of food for the smoothies that I didn’t already love to eat.
Three- It’s always time to make a change. Start right now. You didn’t. Okay, that’s cool. You can start..now! NOW!
and four- I have time. I can race through my day feeling harried and upset cuz my to-do list is way too long, or I can accept what I can get done, making sure that I’m always including time for myself on that list. And here’s the beauty of checking that off that list…it keeps me in gratitude mode for the gift of time I have now.
So, today’s Toast! goes Taking Time to…Detox…to taking care of yourself, to change, to clear, to good health, to a better you.
Today’s Toast! goes out to the movies we watched that made us cheer, cry, talk about, reenact, stare open-mouthed at the screen! For me- my list includes Die Hard, When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, National Lampoon’s Christmas and Thelma and Louise. (yes, the list of great movies is WAY long) but this one…Thelma and Louise- before USC SCA, I would read the shooting script of this film while watching the film. I LEARNED so much from this film. Not just about elements of screenwriting, or incredible believable character arcs, but I also learned about “loving the movie watching experience”.
I watched this with my sisters when our girls were little. We laughed, we cheered and oh, how we cried. It just dawned on me- I might have fallen in love with southwest from watching this film. hmmm….that will be a different topic for a different blog.
My goal- is to make films that can stand that same test- that will make you laugh (okay…I’m not funny but ya know…for the sake of whatever literary thing I’m attempting…I had to repeat the phrase….) but… make you laugh, make you cheer, and Oh, make you cry.
What movies do this to you?
…like proclaiming I’ll blog everyday and then not doing that on the second day! Lol!
Creatively, yesterday I did lunch with my friend. Loved doing lunch with her. We talked shopped and laughed and teared up and I got closer to a resolution on one project, got inspired to keep writing another and had a moment to reflect on how our creative paths are completely different. Everyone’s is. Comparison will stop you in your tracks, knock your ass back.
What matters the most is to keep moving on that path. However you can. Crawl, skip, bounce, scurry, run, roll…just move your ass down that path! Stay true to the dreams and know that the process is the gift.
Too many times to count I said “I don’t want to do anything else.” I want to make movies. I want to write for television. I want my stories to be told.
So the Toast! for yesterday goes to grand creative gestures that motivate movement. Also Toast! to to amazing creative girlfriends who believe in your dreams and appreciate with love how much you believe in theirs!
So here I was thinking I’d have a hard time coming up with topics, but thinking about what to “toast” in my life is actually…overwhelming. There’s so much to choose from. I can “toast”…my husband, Bird, my incredible child, motherhood, all the mommies out there, movies I saw this weekend: Iron Man 3, or my new tv mystery obsession Top of the Lake, (why isn’t EVERYONE watching this??!!) my friends, public libraries, popcorn, hugs, tacos with Motown playing in Echo Park Friday night…or I could go deeper and “toast” creative energy, spiritual guidance, healing, shit…I could “toast” my shrink. Actually, I do “toast” her everyday. Let me tell ya!
But here’s what keeps surfacing to the top of what I want to, need to “toast” today….
Anti-wrinkie, firming cream.
Seriously. I’m just grateful to this amazing product. Not sure if it’s working yet, but I feel like I’m a wee bit more in control of…my face by using this product. I don’t deny my age, never lied about it. There’s no need for that. I have accomplished alot, most likely the hard way, so if I was to shave ten years off my age then I’d what…hide something I’ve done in my past? (And yes, there are some things I could hide…probably should… to protect the innocent) But how can I say I’m younger when my daughter is 21 and I’m so freakin proud of the young woman she’s become- and I didn’t have her when I was a teenager. Which is also something I’m proud of. Statistically, where i come from, who we were in the small town I grew up in- poor, brown… it was probably a given that one of us would be a teen parent and we were weren’t. And let me be clear- that is not a knock against teen parents. I know plenty and I feel we need to be providing support to all our teenagers, and if they bring a child into this world, they need us even more. Okay, wow, that would be for another blog post…because I write about teen moms… But back to the “toast” at hand…
Here’s a confession – I test the people I come in contact with sometimes. Not the folks who know me and know how hold my child is, but others, I just meet. I will admit that I find a way to work it into conversation that Bird is 21 to see their response…I wait for them to say, “Whaaat? You..? No! I would have thought you were in your 30’s…” And then I grin and force a blush and say, “Oh, no. I’m 47, but that’s the plan…” And I laugh like I’m cool, free and totally freakin okay with my age. lol!
So this morning’s “toast” is to my new anti-wrinkle, firming face creme. I put it on with love for my skin. I rub it in asking it to work it’s magic.
But then my second “toast” is to aging, to recognizing all one’s accomplishments, and celebrating a full life on one’s journey.