Saturday, November 30, 2013

You Know Experience Has Changed You When...

You know that doing any serious job exploration on a holiday weekend is worthless.

You have begun to understand that spending a few dollars doesn't mean you're breaking the bank.

You see that fun is found in the improvising--you don't always need to have a plan or a goal.

You hear your kids talk about money with a sense that they really understand.

You have made friends who don't share your workplace each day.

You have learned that it's okay to take a little break--from work, from everyday responsibility, from filling every minute with parenting.

You have made peace with the fact that the challenges will still be there tomorrow, so if you're not willing or able to face them all today, that's okay. It's really okay.

Black Friday. In The Black.

On Thanksgiving, I heard a journalist say that she didn't really agree with all the uproar about stores deciding to start Black Friday sales on Thursday. While many people were arguing that this step forced employees to work instead of being with their families, she asserted that many people might be happy to work, particularly in an economy plagued by lack of work. Perhaps they did not celebrate Thanksgiving anyway, or perhaps they would happily adjust their family dinner schedule accordingly, if it meant a paycheck that included extra work hours.

I did not shop on Thanksgiving night, and despite my considering it, I did not get up to shop at 5am on Black Friday. I did, however, find myself in the middle of Black Friday crowds during the day, and, as a person who has spent the last few Turkey Days essentially unemployed, I kind of understood what the reporter was saying. For me, this was the first Black Friday in a few when I actually felt comfortable spending any money. There were no fistfights over big-ticket items, but, because it has been a reasonable work year, I could say yes to purchases I might have avoided the last few years. After years of not even wanting to go into a store for fear of spending money that just wasn't coming in, I was joyful to spend just a little time in the shopping frenzy.

I can't say whether working on Thanksgiving created a hardship for retail employees. But, as a person who spent many months over the last few years unemployed, and as a person who saw countless people heading to their hospital, restaurant, and transit jobs as I headed to Turkey Day dinner, I can say that the reporter's words rang true to me.

I didn't come out of Black Friday (or Black Thursday night) with all my holiday shopping done or with large items that I could only have gotten then. But it did feel good to be in a position to participate in the frenzy a little. And perhaps some of those unemployed or underemployed who were working felt (or will feel) a little bit of that too.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Three-Year Plans

I am not a person who has a 10-year plan. Or a five. Or even a one. I can't really even say what I'll be doing a month from now. But yearly rituals like Thanksgiving do cause a person to reflect and to look forward. And it was at Thanksgiving dinner this year, when we went around the table listing the things for which we were thankful, that I realized just how much has happened, planned or not, in these last three years. There was a Thanksgiving when presumed overeating pains turned out to be gall bladder pains (and by Chanukah--not Thanksgivukah--that year, I was having surgery). There was a Thanksgiving when I was mourning the fresh loss of my work at ABC, and a Thanksgiving when I was completely consumed with (and agitated about) finding new work.

And now there is this year. No medical emergencies, no fresh losses. Just the embracing of the new life that continues to develop each day. A life that includes work, but a healthy dose of home. A life in which I appreciate both the older-ness of my own children, and the younger-ness of my cousins' children (including a brand new one born yesterday). A life in which, at Thanksgiving dinner, I can name more things to be thankful for than the length of my turn will allow.

I didn't plan these three years, and I am not likely to plan the next three. But a year from now, or two years, or three years from now, when Thanksgiving comes around again, with or without a plan, I will likely say I am thankful to have made it through a whole new set of adventures.

Because life isn't really about making plans. It's about what you do each day, planned or not.


In a life where it feels as though things are always changing, some things never change. So, tonight, even despite all the talk of Thanksgivukah, Chanukah was upon me, and I felt relatively unprepared. No doughnuts or latkes, no gifts already wrapped, a mad scramble through a drawer full of candles. And yet, though it was late when we sat down together to light candles, it suddenly didn't matter what had or hadn't led up to that moment. We were back at something we do every year. That, too, I guess, doesn't change.

We can call things that don't change a rut, or we can call them tradition-- it's really up to us. For the short time when I was laughing at myself for being caught unawares by a holiday that has been hyped all around me, I thought perhaps it was a rut. And yet, when I sat down with my family and the candles (the first lit from the stove because, among other things, we didn't have matches), I laughed again. It was tradition--all the crazy little pieces that make our Chanukah ours each year.

And in a life where it feels as though things are always changing, it's pretty nice to have some things that really don't--things that are just tradition.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Jury Duty, Day Two

Yesterday, I was twitchy. Confined to a room full of strangers, worried about all the things I wasn't doing and about how long I'd be kept here, unable to do all those things. None of those things have really changed. I still have a full list of things I could be doing, and there is still the possibility that I will end up being kept here, unable to do all those things.

Today, however, a peace of sorts has set in. You see, while I am required to be here, to show up by 9:30 and spend as long here as I am told, that is basically all that is expected of me. I will not be judged on how I sit, or what I do with my time. I need not be in a hurry--there's nowhere to go and nothing to finish. And anything I need to be doing outside of here will just have to wait, because I am required to be at jury duty.

In a world where we are judged on just about every move we make, whether it is what we accomplish at work or how the kids we are raising are doing in school and life, how we dress, or whether we look young or old, having any time during which we are NOT judged is rare. Very rare. And, as I am finding out on this jury duty adventure, kind of lovely. I can read, or write, or just stare off into space if I want. Sure, there is the possibility that I will be called into a room to answer questions about a case, but aside from sounding like the perfect juror and having to stay a bit longer, I will experience no real consequence from my answers. And whether being kept as a juror or being turned away is the better result, neither one will be a reflection of my intelligence or my performance. Again, kind of lovely.

So, for now, I am writing and reading, and enjoying Jury Duty, Day Two. Before I know it, I will be released into that world where I am judged on my actions and performance, not to return here for another six or so years. I might as well enjoy this while it lasts.

Monday, November 25, 2013


Jury--A few days every few years--no big deal, right? Captive audience, time to read, the knowledge that you are doing a good thing even when for hours it may feel as though you are doing nothing at all. Aah, duty.

Parent-Teacher Conference--A few minutes every six months--that's enough, right? To discuss your child's progress in barely more time than in takes to say, "hi, I'm (insert child's name here)'s mom, and decidedly less time than it takes to get to the school and back. Aah, duty.

Homework Monitor--No matter how little work there is to do, it is always done as late as possible. Is the duty making sure it's done, or making sure the homework doers get a good night's sleep? That's a tough one, since the sleep will help in the short run, but the quality of homework will help in the long. Aah, duty.

The Theater--Okay, that doesn't sound like a duty. And yet, when you live in New York, sometimes you just have to make time--surrounding conferences and homework monitoring and jury duty--to leave room for theater. Aha! Duty.

Our lives are full of duties, large and small. We can let duty weigh us down or  let it lift us up--it's really just a matter of perspective. And I'll bet you can guess what my perspective will be.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Intention and Reality

I intended to get up at 7--later than normal but early enough to do things--but 7 came and went, and I was still in bed.

I intended to come straight home after I walked my brother to his train, but I was across town, and child-free, so I didn't exactly come straight home.

I intended to use that not going straight home time to accomplish some really worthwhile things. I accomplished virtually nothing worthwhile.

I intended to do some cleaning up when I did make it home. Instead, I took a nap.

I intended to use my stored up energy from taking the nap to do lots of things in the evening. I really just want to go to bed.

I intended to go to bed earlier than normal. It's already later than normal.

Sometimes intentions are just that--intentions, bearing little resemblance to reality. And while it might be good to have intentions--sometimes, accepting reality is just fine.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Claw Games

You know those machines you see in arcades (and in random places like the front of family restaurants and discount stores), where you maneuver a claw to try to grab prizes ranging from scary-looking stuffed animals to watches and electronics? Recently, my son has been obsessed with these "claw games." He watches YouTube videos of claw game aficionados (yes, people really do post those!), he shows off the assorted trinkets he has acquired in his various claw game exploits, and he bemoans the fact that the very best claw game machines are nowhere near where we live.

The thing about claw games is that the claw is designed to drop stuff. So, while it may pick up just what you want (or something you really don't), quite often it dangles said item just close enough for you to see and get excited about, but drops it before the item ever makes it to the delivery chute and your hands. You can practice and get better about making the claw deliver your prize, but you do so at a cost--ranging from 25 cents to a dollar and up per try, depending on the location and contents of the particular machine.

Like any parent who doles out money for kid activities, I caution my son over and over about believing he will ever be a big winner at the claw game. I call it a scam, a waste of his time and money. Yet, his optimism remains. He believes that he will be one of those people who wins an iPad with just a few dollar investment in claw game playing.

When I think about it, though, it seems to me that the claw game is really about how persistent you are when the deck is stacked against you. While I might consider the game a waste of money, I can't deny that the hope it inspires in my son may not be so terrible. After all, is it so terrible in life to believe that you can defeat the dragons? That you can succeed when the odds favor the other guy? Isn't it those battles with dragons that make us stronger?

My son won eleven items from the claw machine today, not necessarily because he is a claw machine prodigy, but because he went after something he wanted (passing up on other things he might have done). While it is not a talent to take him through life, perhaps it is a sign that sometimes belief and practice can get you closer to the prize.

This doesn't mean I'll be bankrolling the habit. I just might learn a little bit from it.

Routine Visitors

I have a friend who used to live in a very small apartment, but had visitors on a regular basis. She didn't mind the extra people, and as a person who knew all sorts of interesting city places, she was able to entertain visitors from anywhere. And she always seemed to have the time and energy to adjust her routine to add the visitors to her daily life.

My friend no longer lives in that small apartment, and when in New York, she is now the guest (though she could still teach me a lot about where to go here). Sometimes I get to see her when she visits. Sometimes life just gets in the way.

I often wish I could be the kind of person she was when she was in that small apartment here--able to pause my daily life to devote myself to entertaining visitors. Able to know all the best places to go and the best combination of things to do to make the most of a visit, long or short. Yet, I find that my daily life is hard to pause. Perhaps it is that I am surrounded by children with commitments. Perhaps routine creates a security that is hard to give up.

It's interesting that a person like me, who has always flown by the seat of my pants, would find security in routine. After all, wasn't I the person who had no sleeping and eating schedule for my kids when they were babies? Wasn't I the person who ended up with kids in three schools because it worked out that way (and I refused to force it to be simpler)? Aren't I the person who is constantly adding activities for us to juggle?

Routines are one of our ways to cope in a world that changes daily. While I might not be able to pause life completely, visitors are a reminder that it's okay to give up routine-and the security of routine--once in a while. Visitors (and my friend must have known this) provide us with a new perspective that trumps daily security. They allow us to see our daily world through different eyes, even just for a moment, and they are worth pausing the routine for.

And while I may not want an apartment of wall to wall people, as my friend used to have in her small apartment, I will try to remember that the next time visitors come.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Balancing Acts

Tonight I left a networking event, at which people were talking about (among other things), the challenges of balancing work and family, to meet my kids to see a play. I did not give out any of the résumés or business cards I brought along, so I will not be remembered, except perhaps as the woman who left in the middle of one of the panelists answering a question, and perhaps by a few of the non-panelists with whom I talked before the official program.

Tonight I also saw a terrific play which, for an hour and a half, transported me far away from networking and figuring out what to be when I grow up. For an hour and a half, I balanced work and family by choosing family--not just my kids, but myself as well. I may have skipped out on the networking event so that they could see the show, but in the end, I was at least as happy as they were to be there. And I guess that's what people mean when they talk about balancing work and family--being able to make decisions both for the long haul and on the spot that keep your own well-being, your family's well-being, and your potential work success in mind. It's no easier, really, than balancing on one leg, but sometimes, when you follow your instincts, it just kind of works out. Tonight was one of those times. Tomorrow, I can follow up with the people I couldn't talk to tonight. Tonight, I just get to feel as though the balancing act worked.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Special Delivery

My son's Iroquois village is finally done. It has been so in the center of our family life (and in the center of our entry foyer) this past week that it will be a little sad to send it in to school tomorrow.

Between the making and the sending to school, however, comes the step of packing it to get to school safely. It would be terrible for any of my son's work to get crushed or jostled or collapsed, so it is now up to me to find the right bag that will protect it, but fit on the school bus. That will be small enough for my son to manage, but big enough to contain the creation. The hard work and creativity may have gone into the making of the thing, but, as in life, the making isn't worth much without the delivery.

So, tonight (well, tomorrow morning, since paint touch ups were done before bed), I will be mining through the plastic bag collection my husband always considers a waste of apartment space. There may be plastic wrap, there may be aluminum foil, and in the end, there may be a cab to school because I just can't let go. One way or the other, I will make sure the delivery goes well, because (okay, I can't resist this) delivery is one of the things moms do best.

All puns aside, if you invest your time and creativity into something (and my son has), you make sure it delivers. And delivers well.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

It WILL Happen

For twenty-some odd years, I worked with a guy whose underlying philosophy was that you should approach every production day believing that you would accomplish everything that was set before you. It might be a rundown that included 70 items with a 7pm scheduled out, but as far as he was concerned, you approached it as if you would, in fact, finish 70 items by 7pm. Did it always happen? Of course not. But each time, he went in with the belief, and that belief was what drove the day. And sometimes, against all odds, we did actually finish at 7.

I knew then that his was a philosophy I agreed with. What I didn't know was how rare it was, and how much I would miss it when I went out into the world. Often believing something is possible is the key to making it happen, yet I frequently encounter people who say up front, "it can't be done." Let's face it, if you start with "it can't be done," there's no momentum to get it done. There's just a path to failure. And while artistic endeavors might take time, if there's no momentum toward getting them finished, they will be art that no one ever sees.

I don't expect every job to move at the pace at which we worked in the last days of One Life to Live (the ABC or the Prospect Park versions). But getting things done is about more than just pace. It's also about the belief that things CAN be done. And about holding onto that belief--that momentum--until they are.

Junie B. and Barbara

I was about to write about some little drama in my freelance life, when my daughter came in and told me that Barbara Park, author of the Junie B. Jones books, had died today. Which made me sad, both because of her contribution to kids' books and because of the fact that died relatively young.

While I am not a kid who learned to read with these books, I am most certainly a parent who reveled in reading them to my kids. On nights when many books might have lulled me to sleep, the Junie B. books made me laugh. She talked like a real kid, and she was scrappy and resourceful, two things I'd like to be (and would like my kids to be too). She reminded me that it's okay to question things. It's okay to speak up when something doesn't seem quite right to you. And she did it with an incredible sense of humor.

We are long past reading Junie B. Jones in our house, yet Barbara Park's death moved both me and my kids. Sometimes, someone's ability to look at life in a different way, a way that helps you understand your own, and laugh a little on the side, really makes a difference. And for some of my kids, and for many, many kids all over, Barbara Park did that while helping them enjoy this thing called reading. I'm happy that I got to go along for the ride.

Thanks, Barbara Park, for sending Junie B. into our lives.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Small Worlds

Today, as I accompanied my daughter to an audition (which seems to be becoming a frequent occurrence--I accompanied her sister to one yesterday), I ran into three different people I knew--two kids and an adult. Now, it wouldn't surprise me at all if my daughter saw people she knew, or at least recognized. She goes to enough of these things that she must see the same "kids of a certain age" over and over again. My seeing people, however, reminded me of just how small a world it is, and how easy it is for the parts of our lives to overlap with each other. I don't know the people I saw from anything acting related--they are from completely other parts of our lives. Clearly we have more in common than I thought.

What today made me realize was that I must be a lot more engaged in the world than I thought. While it seems that I move through life, wrapped up only in my own work, and my own kids, it would be hard to know anyone if I really lived that way. Having that "small world" experience was a reminder that our world is only that small if we are active participants in it. If we are concerned only with ourselves, we would never notice anyone the first time, much less again somewhere else. It is when we engage that we get to enjoy that "small world" feeling.

And that "small world" feeling feels pretty good, especially in a big place like New York City.

Knee Deep

Today, it was bark, sticks, and hot glue (Iroquois village), but truthfully, I think I am always knee deep in something. When I'm working, it's always more involving than some might think it should be (how many times have I heard "it's only a job!"?). And with my kids, it's a ride of reactions to each thing they need or want to do. So while I am not a construction or design expert, I am knee deep in miniature building materials for a school model. While I am by no means a gourmet cook, I have been known to be knee deep in smushed potato and vegetable oil making potato latkes at 6am for a class ethnic food lunch. And while I could stand back and think great thoughts for other people to execute, I'd much rather be knee deep in the trench executing them.

Because life isn't about watching from the sidelines. From where I stand (currently in a pile of nature and craft materials), it's about being knee deep.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

All That Really Matters

This morning, my son and I arrived at his school bus stop to find most of the other kids there wearing mismatched socks and outfits so "out there" that you would have thought chaos had happened in every household. And it probably had, since, as I remembered in that moment, it was "Wacky Tacky Day" at my son's school.

In our household, the only chaos was finding pants that fit and getting all three children out the door, reasonably dressed, at least a little bit fed, and with whatever lunch, lunch money, or signed note each one needed. An email about "Wacky Tacky Day" sent the day before didn't even enter my brain in those mad-dash morning hours. I was just glad we made it to the bus stop on time.

Once we were there, though, I felt terrible that my son might feel left out at school. (I guess I suffered through enough social trauma in my own elementary school life that I'm vigilant about avoiding it with my kids). I apologized for forgetting. "It's okay, Mom," he said. "Nobody in my class will do it anyway." Clearly, this was of no particular interest to him, so why should it be of interest to me? He climbed onto the bus, barely a look back, and I walked away. He had made the bus, clothed, fed, and with whatever lunch and notes he needed. And for him, that was all that really mattered. That, and the fact that his best friend was on the bus.

While it may be fine to try to do everything, and be everything, sometimes "all that really matters" is pretty simple. And sometimes, "all that really matters" is really enough.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Managing Lives

I've heard it said that managing the needs and activities of a family makes a person qualified to run a company--or at least assume some major managerial position. After all, you spend a great deal of time not only making sure the family members can accomplish all the necessary tasks (homework, eating, hygiene, clean laundry), but also making sure that the structures (metrocards, babysitters, cell phones) are there to facilitate the tasks that require off-site work. And, on the side, you are responsible for making sure all the "employees" are happy (at least most of the time). Are they satisfied with their daily tasks and assignments (i.e., schools and extracurriculars)? Are they receiving enough perks (i.e., fun foods, entertainment) to keep them upbeat? Are they being challenged to do their best (i.e., get good grades and work hard) every day?

There are days when I think that the family management skills are just about the details of getting from Point A to Point B. But then I am faced with situations when just getting from A to B is not enough. When I have to make decisions about whether Point B is worth getting to. And whether those who stay at Point A while others go to Point B will be okay on their own. Whether in a family or in a company, management is about more than logistics. It's about the people who live within those logistics, and whether their satisfaction with the logistics makes them productive people and productive members of the company (or family).

I may never translate my family management skills to heading a company, but I have certainly learned, and learn more every day, about how much time, thought, and caring go into the decisions of a manager. To build a strong company--or family--you need not just the nuts and bolts to make it run, but also the emotional  investment in the people surrounding you. It is an ongoing challenge. And one I take very seriously. And, on the good days, with as much heart as possible.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

It Was A Privilege

When the soaps were alive and well in New York, they were both a very small world and a very large one. Very small, because writers and directors and actors and producers often migrated from one show to another, and very large, because, in addition to employing hundreds of people, the shows were separate enough that you could work on one and never meet many of the people on the others. But there were always people whose names you'd hear. And you'd wonder if they were anything like the people on your show, and how your show might be different if those people were there.

As I wrote many months ago, one of the best things about working on the soap reboots was getting to work with some of the people whose names I'd heard over the years. To attach faces to names, reality to reputation. So, while I might be sad that a gig--no, a small, but large world--has gone away, I can't be anything but happy about the fact that I got to visit that world again. After all my years on One Life to Live, I'd certainly met some of the soap greats--in front of and behind the camera. But in Stamford, I got a little more insight into the world we all shared, and into the dedication of the people who came up through it, just as I did. People I finally had the privilege of working with.

Today, it became real. What we shared is over. But, thanks to a really dedicated group of people, I can say that the fact that we shared it won't ever go away.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Edit Profile

In the early dark hours of this morning, I changed my LinkedIn profile. Nothing huge, really. Just changing my headline to freelance from employed on the online soaps. It wasn't about any big announcement or any series of rumors. It was about the fact that I haven't traveled to Stamford to AD or edit those shows in close to three months. It was time.

When I pressed "Save Edits," I was shaking.

This is not a step I haven't thought a lot about. I have, in fact, asked the advice of a variety of people. I mean, when you are on the job market, presentation matters. That being said, is it better to appear employed, but on a job that doesn't really exist anymore, or is it better to appear available, when that is really what you are? It's a tough one, and the variety of answers I got made me realize just how tough.

But, apart from all the answers, I got up this morning and just decided it was time. With a few clicks, I became Tracy Casper  Lang, Freelance Avid Editor/Associate Director. Concise and accurate. After a cup of coffee and a little more thought, a little tweak to Tracy Casper Lang, Freelance Avid Editor/Associate Director/Writer. And I was done. But I was shaking.

Every time we take a step forward, we are inevitably taking a step away from something. And leaving things behind can be hard, even when you know it's time. When I changed my LinkedIn, I was taking an early morning step forward, and yes, I guess a step away from what was great while it lasted.

And, luckily, on LinkedIn, as in life, the past doesn't go away--it just drops to a different part of your profile. Where you can see it any time you choose to look. And reminisce about it any time you'd like. No shaking necessary.


A few nights ago, thanks to a reminder from a former soap friend who now works for PBS, we watched the public television presentation of the Stephen Sondheim show Company. Six months or more ago, when the performance was live at Lincoln Center, my job status was far too precarious to justify buying expensive theater or symphony tickets. Sadly, one shot events don't wait for when the timing is right for you. Happily, PBS makes it possible to enjoy theater, even when you can't afford it (okay, I admit it. I sound like a pledge drive.)

The effects of Company continue to pervade my apartment. Not only are we searching online to hear certain songs again, we are talking about certain moments in the show that spoke to us in one way or another. On one hand, it is an "other time and place" show, with references far over my daughters' heads. On the other hand, it really gets so many parts of the New York experience. And most important, it nails the contradictions of relationships perfectly.

It is not often that we watch something together, as a family. More often, we are on individual screens, enjoying separate entertainments, ranging from tennis to Slugterra to Glee. That is, I suppose, the perk of the time in which we live.

It's just nice when sometimes, we watch together. And even nicer when the "together" part lasts long after the actual watching is over.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Pressing Stop

I am sitting in a car, alone, in Brooklyn, while my kids have an hour-long piano lesson.

Anything strange about this picture? Brooklyn? Perhaps, since most of the time, piano lessons are in the sock-feet comfort of our own home. Alone? That too, since, most of the time, if it's not during school hours, it is rare for me to be alone. The car? Well, maybe, since I am certainly a person who appreciates public transportation. But what I am thinking about is the sitting.

Normally, an hour when my kids are at an activity would be filled, end to end, with whatever I could possibly accomplish. Today, I dropped them off and pressed "stop." Now, that may have been a product of time considerations on the back end. I couldn't afford to be late retrieving them, because we have a destination to race to after. And it may have been reaction to the miles worth of walking errands I did yesterday. But, whatever the reason, it felt good to press "stop." "Stop" means I can write this blog before I'm too wiped out to think. "Stop" means that I am taking time for myself, rather than giving over every ounce of time doing for everyone else. "Stop" means acknowledging that processing can be as important as doing.

Once I press "go" again, when the kids are done and we race to our next commitment, I'm sure I will remember something that I could have done for this hour. But that will be then, and it will be too late. I will have had my "stop" time, and the "something" will get done another way, even if that means I'll be racing tomorrow.

And my letting myself "stop," just for an hour, will have made it all worth it.

Carving Practice

I've been missing my daily midnight deadline more these days--evenings come quicker, sleep takes over. I could say that as I move farther away from soap life, the "soaps every day" mentality with which I started is disappearing. Mostly, I think, life, and the exhaustion that comes with organizing life for a family of five, is just taking over sometimes.

My kids are fighting this. Many a night, I hear little voices saying, "Mommy, don't you still have to post your blog?" Clearly, it has become as much a daily event in their lives as it has in mine. But they can tell you as well as I can how full the days can be. I am constantly reminding them that time management is their key to being part of activities they love (and ones they don't, but have to do) and being able to complete their homework.

While my kids may not be responsible for as many people as I am, they certainly do lead busy lives. So perhaps my advice to them is the perfect advice to myself. It's not really about how many things there are to do. It's about how you allocate your available time to get them done. For me, that might mean writing before the dishes are cleared or before running an errand that can wait. It might mean excusing myself to a quiet room (don't I always tell the kids to find a quiet place to work?) to get the job done.

In the end, time management is less about deadlines (though it's good for that) and more about making sure we are able to accomplish the things we want to accomplish. In the end, it will be fine that I published twelve hours later than planned. It matters more that I published, and that I carved out the time to do so.

I'll keep working on that carving...

Friday, November 8, 2013

Spilt Milk

Sometimes it takes the whole day to come up with something to say. Tonight, it was cleaning up chocolate milk spilled all over the counter at 11pm to get me to something.

I am not much of a night person, so no "crisis" at 11pm is a good thing. What is perhaps four ounces of milk appears to be a gallon. What has merely gone under the toaster and can be cleaned up with a few swipes of the sponge feels as though it will make the whole kitchen sticky for days.

Whether at 11pm or not, we are surrounded each day by little things, like spilt milk, that can bring us down in an instant. The bus that is late, the puddle we step in, the coffee that burns our tongue, the earring that falls out and is gone before we even realize it fell. Each day, we can be brought down so easily by one or a series of spilt milk events. And yet, that's really what most of them are--a little spilt milk that can be cleaned up with a sponge. Tiny events that can take over our lives, but only if we let them.

The sponge wiped away that spilt milk quickly enough for me to walk away and write about it, all before I fell asleep for the night. Which is a whole lot better than bemoaning some complete loss of order and cleanliness or forbidding milk ever to be poured again.

It's just a little spilt milk, after all. And who needs to cry over that?

Speaking Up

I distinctly remember when I returned to One Life to Live as an AD after having worked at Cosby for four years (this is not idle name-dropping, there's a purpose here). At Cosby, I was called upon to do things I'd never done before and to coordinate people who were, in some ways, far more experienced than I. If I was to survive, I needed to speak up, to own my position and my choices. I needed to go out on a limb and see that I wouldn't fall. On the contrary, I saw that going out on that limb enabled me to notice things I hadn't before.

So, when I went back to One Life to Live, I went back as a far more vocal AD than I had been when I left. Those survival skills that I'd developed served me well as an AD and then as a director. I had learned to have an opinion and to feel comfortable expressing it. I had learned to speak up.

As I navigate a freelance world, speaking up may not always be quite as easy. When you are constantly walking into new situations and working with new people, it is harder to know how your opinions will be received. Yet, in the end, the lessons from Cosby and beyond have stayed with me. While I do a great deal of listening and observing (because that's just who I am), I speak up when I need to. I have opinions, and I own them. I learned a long time ago that my survival--and my success--depended on being able to speak up. And what good would life experience be if it didn't help you in new situations?

These days, you don't have four years (Cosby) or 20 (One Life) to make an impression. You have about three days. Which makes me really glad that along the way, I learned that it's okay--more than okay--to say, "this is what I think." To speak up.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Can I Find It On The Map?

I am helping my daughter study for a geography test, and I am not sure what amazes me more--how much I don't know or how much she is expected to know. We certainly are isolated in our little worlds, aren't we? I mean, when I was going to Stamford each day, it felt like this long trip into the outer reaches. And yet, when I look at the multiple maps on which she has marked countries, I am reminded of how much farther things reach.

As I try to help her, I make up little stories about getting from one country to another--what direction you'd go, whether you are looking for a big or small place, and whether you are in an island kind of mood. Anything to make the process less about complete memorization, and more about relationships--what countries are neighbors, which border oceans, which are big or small compared to the others nearby.

For me, thinking in terms of relationships was the only way to have any shot at remembering the 75--yes, 75--places. But as I thought more about it, I realized that most of the things we remember, and value, are far more about relationships than about straight facts. It may well be that someone we know has the same job or background as we do, but that makes little difference, really, unless we establish a relationship around our shared interests. Where things and places in our lives are is much more relevant to us if we think about how those things and places fit into our existence. And places around the world suddenly become important to us when someone we know is affected by something in them. When we can see the relationships between places, or the relationships among people, we can understand a little more about why things happen as they do.

I'm hopeful that (perhaps thanks in part to my help) my daughter will do well naming her 75 places, even if she is muttering Mom's amusing pieces of trip advice while taking the test. And maybe I'll come away with a better sense of geography as well. After all, geography's not so different from networking and job hunting and working--and life. 

Whether it's finding yourself, or finding things on the map--it's all about relationships.

Gray Mornings

Years ago, when my daily life was different and my kids were smaller and what might have been a blog was thoughts for a book, I wrote about how quiet (and slightly dull) things were on the days when the kids had no school and I went to work. No early morning, brightly colored preschool TV shows. No little morning songs and cuddling on the couch with little people in footy pajamas.

My kids are older now. They are beyond preschool TV. Even the mornings when they are up leave little time for couch snuggling, and nobody really wears footy pajamas anymore.

But this morning, as I left home earlier, only one child to get off to school, the others still sound asleep, I may have been less stressed and less tired since I was wrangling only one kid breakfast and one kid lunch, but I was also a little sad. I voted. I ran errands. I did things that needed to be done. But as I wrote about all those years ago, the "colors" of my morning were missing. Perhaps I was better off--after all, most days, I feel as though I have lived three days by 9am. But the absence of that whole set of morning things, even if they're not as toddler sweet as they once were, had my day starting out just a little gray. And no one wants to live gray for too long.

The school day off is over (at least until the next one next week), so I will be back to a morning of chaos--short order cook, fashion police, and, if there's time, couch cuddler. And though I may be tired later, and have no time for errands, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Old Dogs, New Tricks

Let me begin with a disclaimer--I am not old, and I know virtually nothing about dogs.

Okay, now that we have that out of the way--

While "Not washed up yet" has been about the search for triumph in the face of change, it is just one piece of my ongoing adjustment to a world different from the one in which I worked comfortably for many years. Even when you are a person (like me) who likes to impress people, it's not necessarily hard to do that in a place where everyone knows you. People know your strengths and weaknesses, your baggage and your history--all the things that come together to make you the person they know. It's when you go into a place where no one knows you that the "new tricks" come into play. Your baggage is just baggage, your history is just old stories. Who you know might--just might--get you in the door, but it's what you know (or what you can learn really fast) that makes you stand out. It's not about working your way up from entry level--that happened a long time ago. It's about building new history with the new tricks. The tricks are learnable--just like the directions to that doggone cappuccino maker in my first boss's office and the best places to find gourmet foods in New York (this was courtesy of my first boss too). It's just a question of being willing to learn. And that applies to most of life, whether you're an old dog or a new one.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Rationalize Me

I sometimes wonder whether the key to a happy life is the ability to rationalize any situation. Do we say we're enjoying a job because we really are, or because that's what's available for us right now? Do we say our kid's school is a great match because, well, that's where he or she is in school and it just needs to work?

I tend to be an optimist, meaning that rationalization is my stock in trade. It certainly feels better when you can put a positive spin on things. The question is, what is more important--the rationalization, or the underlying reality?

One of the trickiest things about freelancing is never being quite sure if what you are currently doing is destined to be a long-term thing (which it would be nice to love) or a temporary one (which can work just fine without having to be the love of your life).

And since, for me, the freelancing thing is still pretty new, I'd say it's okay that it's still too early to tell.

I suppose that as an optimist (and, let's face it, as a mother of three), I have another stock in trade--the avoidance of dwelling on the philosophical questions when doing so gets in the way of just forging ahead with the realities. 

How's that for rationalization?

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Hiatus--Or Not?

Reminders come when you least expect them. Today, I went to the first Parents' Committee meeting for a youth theater group my daughter joined this year. While there was the talk of group events and fundraising that would be part of virtually any nonprofit or volunteer endeavor, there was also discussion of the activities the kids will be doing as part of the acting, singing, and dance training they will receive there. And before I knew it, I was brainstorming about who I knew from my years in scripted television who might be able to help--run a workshop, donate tickets, share theater experiences or advice. While my connection to that world seems to drift farther and farther away each day, in my heart, or my unconscious, it's all still there. I may not have seen my former colleagues in months or longer, but I still feel the connection to the world we shared. I still feel as if I know casting directors and stunt coordinators and actors and directors as well as if I had sat side by side with them yesterday (by the way, if you are any of those and would like to donate a few hours to teach some theater company kids some of what you know, let me know!)

It became clear to me today that my involvement with drama (or comedy)--whether it's theater or TV--is clearly not over. If it were, I would be volunteering to raise money and bring snacks and send emails and not much else. My twenty-plus years of working with creative people haven't ended. They're just on a little hiatus. We'll just have to see where I land once the hiatus is over.

Friday Implosion

I am forever answering the question, "How do you come up with something to write about EVERY day?" My response, aside from the "Well, I said I would, so I just do," is that just about every day, something--whether big, or very small--happens, and sparks me to write something. Tonight (well, really last night, since I fell asleep thinking through my day to find a topic), I was truly stumped. No small moments, no large ones, and no particular desire to write about rain or the assortment of breaded foods we had eaten for dinner. Either nothing really happened, or so much has happened during the week that it was Friday implosion.

Does a day of "stumped" mean I'm calling it quits? No way. Now, very well rested, I am off and running again, past Friday implosion, and ready to find--and write about--the next big--or little--thing.

Stay tuned...