W*nt

I put a timer on my life in LA.

Subconsciously, in subtle, but subverting ways, and because I thought that wanting to be here, wanting this life, this spot, this experience, needed to be justified in order to be valid. Then, and WAY WORSE, I realized, it wasn’t just LA I had put a timer on – it was EVERYTHING.

Somewhere along the way I made my DESIRES something I had to prove valid.

Something I had to justify wanting at all.

Over the summer, my family spent time back in Texas. A lot of time. More than we expected. And it was good, and joyful, and meaningful for us to be close to our families again, living alongside them and seeing all the changes, laughing, crying, complaining about the heat. But it also opened my eyes to something surprising.

I WANT to live in LA – and not because I don’t love Texas. Not because I don’t long to be near my family. Not because LA is better — life is much more complicated than better or worse. And it wasn’t because I want to MAKE IT. It wasn’t for any other reason than…

I wanted this – that’s it.

I choose this place. This journey. We all choose it – my husband, son, and I.

And we don’t have to validate our choice.

I don’t have to validate it and I don’t need a timer.

I never DID.

I only thought I did because…

I thought WANT was a dirty word.

Like NEEDING is better. Like SUPPOSED TO is somehow more justified or noble.

As if something deemed noble — like a calling, like a destiny, like a purpose — is better than wanting it and going for it and that’s it. Want is not inherently selfish — though, yes, it can become that way. Just like money is not evil, though many evil people seek it, acquire it, misuse it. Same with power. Same with fame.

WANT is desire, and passion and drive. WANT is why we keep going when supposed to, need to, because I should, dies on the vine.

And also…

Choosing is scary AF.

Because when we choose, we say goodbye to option B through D. We can’t keep daydreaming about the what if because now we’re living the RIGHT THIS EFFING MOMENT.

Choosing means saying yes everyday even when we want to throw in the towel. Choosing means not blaming anything, or anyone, for the shit along the way, because WE chose, and we DID have other choices — we always have other choices. It’s scary because..

What if we choose from that want then what IF we are wrong?

The day after I got back to LA, carrying all this new WANT, and CERTAINTY, and HELL YES, inside me, I went shopping with my friends. It was one of those afternoons where you talk deep and long while winding through Bloomingdales, trying on make-up and dresses and dreams, where you end up sipping Rose at an outdoor cafe, bathed in sunset and satisfaction.

It was the kind of day where you choose something just because you can. I chose Jimmy Choo sunglasses. I am really happy with my choice.

me

What you want can be yours. You just have to CHOOSE.

And then you have to be willing to live that choice everyday.

 

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On This Day

memory

One thing I love about Facebook, (and there are many things I do not love about it) is the memory notifications I get in the mornings. Sitting with coffee on my couch, cool light slipping in between the blinds, my son snuggling up under my blanket rather than getting his own, I will often use that lazy time to check those reminders.

Today, I have memories from Brooklyn, Texas and, from last year, the day our boxes arrived to fill our new apartment in LA. Scrolling through them, I remembered each very different stage, and for the first time ever, there was no melancholy, no sting of loss or missed opportunity, no feelings of sadness or anger.


In July, it will be seven years since my family moved to Brooklyn. My son was about to turn two. A cherub child with wide, sparkling blue eyes and white-blond hair, learning words and still using a pacifier to cope with the world around him. My husband would take the subway to work in an open-concept office, in an old warehouse building, between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. I would use my son’s nap time to write my first novel, learning by doing, and doing doing doing again. We would all go through high-pressure change in the two years living in that city. We would all leave the city feeling a little bit lost.

In March, it will be five years since my family moved back to Texas. My son would soon turn four. A tiny superhero who had left cars and trains and his pacifier behind for super villains and dance fighting and playing pretend. My husband would work in an office, tucked in a corner of our wood-shaded home. I would write my second novel perched above the trees, and it would be better because practice makes imperfect things a little less shabby. We would all go through slow, sometimes painful transformations in the four years living in that house on the hill surrounded by trees. We would all leave the forest feeling a little bit braver.

Two days ago, was the one year anniversary of my family moving to Los Angeles. My son will soon turn nine. A sweet-natured but sharp-tongued gamer with a massive playlist and a lot of big, weird, and wild dreams of his own. My husband works at a desk he built with is father, in a sunny corner of our living room, and at night, on the weekends, he writes a screenplay with me on the couch. I revised my third novel, rewrote a screenplay and began another two, write a book with my friend, and all the unfinished stories inside of me, on the page, in drawers and notebooks and my imagination are bursting to be told imperfectly, perfectly because they are mine. I do not know what we will be when we leave here, or if we will ever leave, because none of that is a memory, it’s a story we’re all still writing.

I am not always good at feeling settled with myself. My choices. My own character arc. I get restless and flustered, my confidence wobbles and becomes false, my faith that I can achieve my goal (or that I should actually ever achieve it) falters. But isn’t that just part of it? Isn’t every moment of failure the beginning of something new?

santam

 

 

The Art of Goal Making

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I’ve been thinking a lot about goals. What they actually are. How we achieve them if they are dependent on outside forces. Where we draw the line in our pursuit and shift the goal so we can find success. I’ve been thinking a lot about it because, from the outside, it looks like I must have a lot of goals. But recently I realized, I don’t.

Before you roll your eyes and point to my Instagram, listen.

Eleven-years-ago, I was a receptionist at a title company in Texas. I vehemently despised this position. People irritated me. Having a boss irritated me. Making cookies for house closings, irritated me. I was irritated about getting up in the morning, and irritated about going to bed at night. The job was a means to an end. My husband was in school full-time, and we needed the income until he graduated.

What I really wanted was a baby. I didn’t actually know if I could ever want anything more.

It was an all-consuming desire that turned into an unachievable goal.

Every month I wasn’t pregnant, my mind whirled with fear. All the trying in the world (and believe me, we tried A LOT) wouldn’t make it happen. I did everything right. I ate well. I cut back on caffeine. I was active. I spiraled and spiraled. All around me, friends jubilantly announced pregnancies, sent photos of sonograms, cried happily into the phone. I wanted to be happy for them, obviously I did, but there was a tiny, barren place in my heart where true joy for them, and real hope for me, went to die.

And, oh yeah, I still really hated my job.

During that year, I began working on a screenplay I’d had in my head for years. And even though I still had the desire for that baby, and even though I still wanted to burn the cookies and tell off my boss, I began to want something else, too. I didn’t yet have the words for what it was or the courage to say it allowed, but I was changing. The goal still mattered, but it wasn’t the only goal.

Ten years ago, I was fired from my job as a receptionist. They were downsizing and looking for fat they could trim. I literally volunteered — I might as well have been Katniss. My husband was about to graduate, we had some savings, he’d get a job — whatever. We agreed it was the right time.

Free from my desk job nightmare, I threw myself in writing. I finished the screenplay. I began planning something new. And the week before I found out I was pregnant, I had a straight up gin martini and told my husband I was glad I hadn’t gotten pregnant when I wanted to.

I had found peace in the pursuit.

At no point in this journey did I consciously alter my goal. Never did I make a declaration— privately or otherwise — that I didn’t care anymore about being pregnant. I never stopped pursuing it, even though there were times I really believed giving up would at least lead to some inner peace. I continued to do my part, which, let’s face it, was super fun, and somewhere along the way I stopped holding so tight to the when.

It wasn’t until my son was two-years-old, that I genuinely started to imagine a life as a writer. I’ve talked about this before, but I made some serious missteps in my goal setting there. Because, I made the goal something totally outside my own ability to control, and I have spent years undoing that. I’m still undoing it.

The goal is the work — the creative life. Everything else is external, and in case you didn’t know, you have no control on the external. You cannot make an agent love your book. You cannot make a publisher buy it. You cannot make readers run to bookstores or download it on their Kindle.

You cannot make anyone give a shit about you. It is more important that you give a shit about yourself.

Love the hell out of your work. Write the book, the screenplay, the poem. Take your time. Do all the work. Learn all you can about the work. Love every minute even when that particular minute majorly sucks. Then, take a seat, have a gin martini straight up, and thank God you didn’t get it when you wanted because look at all you have learned along the way.

You never know when it’s going to change.

All the Dreams

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I’m going to tell you a story about why I write for young readers. Years ago, before I had my son, moved to Brooklyn, or ever wrote a YA novel, I wrote one act plays for kids. They were produced locally, and I always ended up directing for lack of anyone else stepping up. During that time, I met and worked with a slew of 7-12 year olds who had never acted or read a script in their young lives. They didn’t know they could or should.

When I was a little girl I wanted to be famous. My mother and father were familiar with big dreams, so they encouraged me, but parents are usually the last person you want to hear from when you’re young and ambitious. It would have been something to have a teacher, or a cool, successful artist, a someone other than my parents tell me I should keep shooting for the stars. In spite of that, I never lost my drive, though occasionally it did get waylaid.

While writing for and directing these kids, I uncovered heaps of hidden talent — kids who went on to become YouTube famous, stars of high school plays, dreamers of other big dreams at top tier colleges.

A few months ago, while visiting Texas, I ran into one of the girls I’d plucked from shyness and set center stage. She’d been twelve at the time, with long brown hair and a tiny button nose, and she’d never been asked to sing in public before, never been under a spotlight. I had a gut feeling she could sing, and so I promised her she wouldn’t regret singing during her audition. She landed the lead role in the play. A lead role with a difficult (original) solo. She’s now a senior in college, a stellar violinist about to graduate with a music and vocal major.

As we talked, reminiscing about that special time all those years ago, she said, “I just want you to know, if you hadn’t made me play that role and sing that song, I would never have studied voice in college. You showed me it was an option.”

Even writing this now, I’m tearing up. I’m thinking how my certainty we should always do the very scary, big thing created an opportunity, her trust that I would protect her in the room gave her the confidence, but her talent carried her onto the stage. She was always gifted, she just needed someone to provide a spotlight.

I am not a teacher. I know teachers must know how this feels, much more profoundly than me. But in that moment I knew, my investment in that child had paid off in ways I never imagined. And it was so incredibly worth it.

This weekend I spent time with my friend Sara Biren— a fantastic writer and award nominated author —and her two kids. Actually, mostly her two kids. I was in town for a Book Awards ceremony to honor Sara, but now that I’m homebound, I wonder…maybe I was in town for her kids, too.

I talked to her daughter about the possibility of traveling the world, of never limiting yourself to a safe and obvious path. We filmed a YouTube video. I talked to her son about becoming a filmmaker, discussing themes and shot composition. How he’s not getting off with any excuses that he’s too busy or it’s too hard. How his love of movies is more than entertainment.

We are never too old to pursue our dreams. We are never too young to believe they can one day be real.

We sometimes do need a push in the right direction.

Learning to Drive in LA

fear liar

When I was a teenager, I failed my driving test three times.

Yeah. 

I mean, even after I took a six-week driving course and had loads of behind-the-wheel practice. The reason? My utter and complete disinterest in precision. Like, turning into the correct lane, always putting on my blinker, not changing lanes in an intersection—you know, life saving factors. But, even when I managed all that on the second go, I could not parallel park to save my life. Or in this case, pass my test.

On the third and final shot, the instructor testing me was an older man who had not enjoyed teaching me over the course of my training. He’d — more than once — told me to get out of the car and walk off some steam, which, for a girl with a hot head, was like turning up a boiler.

I withered inwardly when he approached the car. Shit. May as well give up now. But, I was determined, and too stubborn, to ever go down without a spectacular fight. I got in the car. I would ace this test just to spite him.

I received two marks right off for technique. He goaded me with snide remarks, red ink on the page. Then, as you can probably imagine, my blood began to boil. By the time he was testing my parking, it took everything in me to keep going. And, unsurprisingly, I failed to parallel park.

I began to cry. I am an angry crier, but also I was deeply disappointed that the freedom attached to that driver’s license was out of my reach. I needed that freedom. I needed to be able to roll down the window and fly over country roads, my music blaring, a cherry limeade from Sonic in the cup holder. I had plans.

The instructor turned to me, took off his bottle-cap glasses, and rubbed his watery, gray eyes. Stop crying, he said. I’m going to pass you.

I furrowed my brow. Too suspicious to be happy. Still too pissed off to stop crying.

I can’t have you in my class for another six weeks, he said, and then he smiled. But please be careful. You are not a good driver. 

This was not kindness, and in that moment, I didn’t care. I got what I wanted, and he got the last word.

It was only years later, after multiple car accidents, after crying — and lying — my way out of speeding tickets, after having my ex-boyfriend and my brothers, my parents, my friends, fellow shitty drivers, and, yep, constantly myself, reiterate this declaration over my driving, that I realized how thoroughly I had internalized this limitation.

I was thirty-two-years-old, we were thinking of moving to LA, something I had dreamed of doing since I was a little girl, and I wasn’t sure I could handle driving in Los Angeles.

When I would imagine LA, my thoughts would trail, fast, to the honking traffic, the zipping between lanes, the confusing off-ramps, the millions of people on the road all fighting to get somewhere, maybe right where I was also trying to go. There was no subway like New York City, no tube like London. LA was sprawl reached best by car, and I was not a good driver. 

It had been years since I’d gotten in a car accident. Years since a genuine ticket. (Okay, there was that one for speeding where I rage cried at the police officer to no avail.) I was not a bad driver, not anymore, but still I believed nothing had actually changed. I was sixteen, failing my driver’s test and being given a pity license, all over again. I never should have been allowed to drive. I would never be a good driver. It didn’t matter that I was so much better now.

During the debate over where we would live, I was talking with my LA friend about my hang ups. I was not saying that I couldn’t drive. I was not saying that this, more than almost anything else, was why I didn’t want to go.

She asked me, point blank: Is part of your hesitation about having to drive in LA? 

Yes. Squeak.

You’ll be fine. You can drive as well as anyone else here. You’ll learn. 

Wow. What an asshole. How dare she state my fear out in the open like that and make it sound so completely surmountable? (FYI, this is what good friends do.)

Confronted with the truth about a lie I’d bought into for most of my life, I actually laughed. Out loud. Dismantling an argument you’ve been making for why you CAN’T do something is liberating. CAN’T should be a dirty word. CAN’T is the word that stops motion.

When we did finally move to LA, I knew I had to get in the car and drive. I had to use Siri for guidance and I had to take it slow, and it was okay that my hands were shaking. Only by DOING IT would I ever overcome. Whether I thought I could or not. And I did. I did it one little trip at a time. I did it over and over until I turned into one of those assholes barking at the idiot without their blinker on changing lanes in an intersection and speeding through a school zone.

The lie had been true long enough. Once I stopped believing it, I suddenly was actually a very good driver.

Here is what Learning to Drive in LA has taught me: The only thing stopping me, is me.

Get out of your own way. Let go. Drive with faith and when the fear paws at your mind, flip it the finger and get on with your journey.

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High Anxiety Day

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Here is something you may not know. Since my early teens, I have battled anxiety and OCD. Maybe, before that, there were symptoms — signs I coped with the world in a different way. I was little, and I was good at playing pretend, so I can’t be certain. It was a different time, and diagnoses wasn’t easy to come by.

The battle began in earnest, though, when my family moved away from Texas when I was thirteen. It felt as if the bottom was falling out of my life. In one fell swoop, I had lost my best friend, my support system, and the only place I’d ever called home. It would take years for me to get a grip on what was happening to me. Even longer to own my recovery.

But that’s a long story, and today is not a good day to tread back over it. Why bring this up now? I woke up this morning and knew: today is a high anxiety day.

This is what that can look like:

When I got out of bed, I felt heavy. My chest was tight, my skin hurt. The sound of my son’s voice seemed far away. I couldn’t close my eyes again because my thoughts were racing, wouldn’t settle on any one thing.

When I drove my son to school, the world was too bright. Cars were changing lanes too close me. Pedestrians were too near the curb. My adrenaline kept spiking, and my hands were shaking.

When I dropped my son off, I thought of how many parents drop their children at school and never see them again. How horrific a thought, and how shitty I was for allowing myself to feel the way I was when so much bad was everywhere, so nearby. I hugged my son, held his hand. He humored me because he’s intuitive, and maybe he needed it a little, too. I told myself that.

When I got home, I was in a fog. I knew what was happening and I felt powerless to stop it.

I cleaned the living room. Put on laundry. Made the bed. Cleaned the kitchen. Stay moving, stay ahead of it, that’s my mantra. I cried when the floor got some soapy water on it.

I started making dinner that was supposed to go in a crock pot. I had gotten the wrong potatoes, and one of them had roots on it. I had to cut that off. I mused over how no matter how hard I scrubbed, I couldn’t seem to remove all the dirt.

I questioned the recipe, mistrusted the portions, wondered why the author had used different forms of measurement for the same kinds of root vegetables. Pounds, Milliliters, Grams. PICK ONE. I was agitated, for a second, that was better.

I pulled out the crock pot and loaded the now cut, rootless, and stupidly measured ingredients in. I worried they wouldn’t fit. They did. I couldn’t celebrate the victory like I’d like.

I plugged in the crock pot, put on the lid, and realized this was not a crock pot, but a rice cooker. That would not work. Dammit. Why had I thought this was a crock pot? It’s not even the right shape. My throat felt like it was going to close.

I began frantically searching for the crock pot. Through the depths, a memory emerged. Me, cleaning out the kitchen before we moved from Texas, claiming I did not need to bring the crock pot at all.

I began to cry. It was easy. Every nerve had already frayed somewhere between waking up and that moment. It wasn’t hard to believe that my sudden lack of crock pot would be my eventual undoing.

I realized, through my tears, that my tea had gotten cold. I guess I had made tea somewhere in there, probably as part of my OCD attack plan, and forgotten. For a second, that felt like a tragedy and then —

I could heat it back up. I could pour it out. I could choose a different tea bag. The world of that cup of tea felt limitless. Slowly, my ribs stopped trying to squeeze out all my other organs. I could breathe again.

My adrenaline slid back to neutral. I turned on the kettle, pulled out a fresh tea bag, and decided to cook dinner on the stove and fuck that recipe it was shit anyway. I DID NOT need a crock pot.

Anxiety and OCD do not look the same on everyone. For me, they look like a roller coaster, full of hills and loops, rocketing motion and sudden stops. Most of the time I’m not on the ride. Not now, not after years learning to cope and facing my fears. That doesn’t mean I am not still occasionally in the line, or like today, buckled precariously in and imagining all the ways the coaster could kill me. Like today, I know I will be on the coaster for a while. I am past the worst part, but not in the clear yet. That’s okay.

Some days are harder than others. Pretending they aren’t won’t help. There isn’t any one way of coping, but coping and caring for yourself in the midst of it all, is a must. Reach out, whether to a friend, by writing a strongly worded critique of a recipe (which you don’t send but feel vindicated by nonetheless), or crying in the kitchen while your husband stands nearby knowing that’s better than touching you right now.

Remember: This does not make you weak, or wrong, or less.

Remember: You are not alone.

Remember: Eventually, this too shall pass.

 

 

 

 

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Cusp

Everyone gains perspective at the end of a year. This time is tailor-made for reflection, soul-searching sipping chamomile, curled in a sweater, tucked under blankets. When you live in Los Angeles, it looks a little different. It’s sunny, with flip flops and frayed shorts, a chilled glass of bubbly, and a pair of sunglasses slipping down your nose.

The feeling, though, is very much the same.

Every year we are alive, we face new challenges to our way of life. If we are lucky. If we are really living. We make gut-wrenching choices. We take dangerous steps, make bold moves on the living chess board of existence. We do and feel and touch moments we never have before.

2017: I woke a beast.

In January, I broke my knee cap. It was my breaking point. Faced with confinement, I faced off the secret, quiet, creeping feelings my insides had refused to divulge to me until that moment trapped on a bed with a planet for a knee.

There was a certain writhing beast that I had never let loose. It awoke in that quiet place and did not go back to sleep. Not for most of the year. Not until I made a sudden, painful, life-altering choice in the middle of December. Not until, finally, I was brutally honest with myself, unafraid to look away from what I knew I really felt. Only then did the beast bow it’s head, subdued for another season.

2017: I fought for my future.

In November a longtime friend asked me, does Los Angeles feel like home?

No. I said. Nowhere does. Nowhere can.

This is the truth about being restless: you are always, forever, in search. It is not unhappiness, though it feels that way sometimes. It is a quest.

When you believe you are made to do more, you cannot live with anything else. It makes you unbearable. The person in the room that never sits down. The one with a million ideas. The one with a drink in their hand. The one looking out the window, or over a shoulder. It is never about where you are, it is always about where you could be.

For me, the search has to stop. For a moment, at least, I need to be right where I am, living without running. The way to the future is wriggling to life today. I don’t want to miss it.

2017: I let people in.

I wrote a book this year that felt like putting my heart on a page. It felt violent and vulnerable. It revealed me. It contained me. It was me.

I took an acting class that was a stare down with the past. It was me in a room with strangers living for a moment without a shield. It was terrifying and altering.

I fell in love with my friends. Women who saw me and loved me and listened. Women who would not let me settle. Women who are my allies and confidants and partners.

I listened to my son cry and my husband fume as my family leaped toward a new life. I let them be who they needed to be and I learned to live with myself while they did.

2017: I made choices.

Hard ones. Fast ones. Painful ones. I am living with every single one. I am still alive.

Soon we turn over the calendar. We countdown. We sing and cheers and make commitments to next year us. If you asked me what 2017 would look like last year I would have given you a very different answer.

What do we know, then, about our future?

All we know is today.

Therefore:

Live mindfully, with purpose. Let yourself believe in magic. Let others in on the journey.


What about you?IMG_4983

 

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