Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Trailer Is Up

Today, I finished editing the trailer for the middle grade book I've been working on with CMA (Children's Media Association) over the past year. The book, Dear Journal, You're Freaking Me Out!, will be available as an e-book next week, but the trailer is up already, at https://youtu.be/ET79JP7lpbE

The book process has been a long one. What started as a set of about twenty individually drafted chapters evolved into a book that somehow had to unite those chapters. What began as a room full of people with different experiences in writing evolved into a room full of co-authors. What started as just an idea is about to become a reality.

Often, when we allow ourselves to try something new, we get a little more than we expected. At the very least, we get a little different than we expected. When I walked into that room of writers the first time, I wasn't sure what the outcome would be. It turned out to be an exercise in flexibility and a lesson in compromise. An invitation to stretch my skills, and a chance to learn from others' talents. Is the product what I expected? I'm not sure. Do we ever really know what to expect?

Early on in the book process, each of us joined a committee to work on the different non-writing parts of the endeavor. Given my TV background, it was, I suppose, natural for me to end up on the trailer committee. Yet, there were moments when I wondered how my background would really translate. Today, I understood. As the edited trailer came together, I felt lucky to be able to use my skills in a new format. I was reminded of the "try something different" approach that has helped me grow as an editor. And I discovered a new appreciation for collaboration--in this case, a collaboration that brought together carefully researched period props and costumes (thanks to my video team collaborators), eager, yet patient kids (shooting can take time), and all of our combined talents and experiences to create a tiny story that will be a worthy introduction to the book.

Sometimes, when you start something, you don't know what to expect. Today, I am excited to say that, expected or not, the trailer is up.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Season Begins

As I sat at the first little league game of the season, I found myself amazed that a whole year had passed, that somehow, we had gone through a whole summer, and half a school year, and a winter full of snow, only to find ourselves back where we were a year ago. Sure, things have changed--a different uniform, bigger cleats, longer legs for a quicker walk to the field. But in the end, we are right back where we were, a whole year ago.

There are times when I wish all of life could be like that, full of familiar outings and expected outcomes, where the colors and sizes may change, but the events remain basically the same. Where the stakes change, but gradually, so that you can keep up if you just keep practicing. Where the return on your investment continues uninterrupted, as long as you keep investing. Where you are valued, both because people knew you before and because they see you now.

Sadly, life isn't always like little league. A time of year doesn't necessarily mean a particular outcome, and practice isn't always enough. You can put on your "uniform" each day, but that won't guarantee your being able to play, much less your winning the day's game. The best we can do, I suppose, is to keep getting out on the field, no matter what the season, to keep practicing, whether we have a coach saying to or not.

As my son and I walked home, his team on the losing end of Game 1, we talked about what might be different next time. And I thought about all the things that are different since last year. The season may have begun, but in life, the game is played, differently each day, all year long.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Things Change--And Maybe That's Okay

I oversee a sleepover, dressed in fuzzy lounge pants and an old sweatshirt, my hair pulled up in a clip. I remove dirty plates and refill bowls of food as needed, and I observe activities from a distance rather than orchestrating them as I once did. I feel older and younger, all at the same time.

There are days and weeks in life that seem to take forever to get through. We agonize over the failures and long for the vacations, as if now is the only time we can even imagine. And then we hit a milestone. And we are suddenly reminded of similar milestones. It may feel as though nothing has changed this week, but a lot has changed since last year, and even more since before that. As I supervise a sleepover from my feel young/feel old distance, I wonder what happened to the me who was once in the middle, the me who planned every detail and made sure each detail came out just as planned. Did I disappear under the weight of several years of limbo, or did I simply adapt in the way I've learned to adapt to everything during several years of limbo?

My high school history teacher always said that each little thing in history or life affects every other little or big thing. So, as I observe the sleepover, I am aware that it would be different if not for the last several years, because I would be different. And I can bemoan the difference, or I can embrace it. I ought, perhaps, to feel older, but I don't. I ought, perhaps, to feel less in control, but I don't. Things change. But when we can embrace the change, even marvel at the differences it has allowed us to see, then every night can be a kind of celebration, whether we're in the middle or at a distance.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

On A Wing And A Cliche

This week began with hope--productive phone calls, successful home editing, a feeling that things were happening, even if they weren't quite the things I'd had in mind (and these days, who really ends up doing what they'd had in mind?). By week's end, what had started out bright had suddenly become dim. And I wanted to figure out why...which I did, in part with the help of a few cliches...

That's just how life is. After all, who can maintain the strong start of a Monday through five days of ups and downs?

You are only as good as your last job. This makes no sense, really. Some of my best work has been on earlier jobs. Yet, it is true that your confidence about "being good" does come from your most recent job, and as that gets farther away, it can be hard to feel as though you are any good at all.

A body in motion stays in motion. Armed with a list of what to do, anyone can spin through Monday. The trick is to keep that motion going, right through Friday.

Tomorrow is another day. It's true. It doesn't mean you should give up too soon on today, but it is a reminder that not everything you need to have happen needs to happen every day.

It's cliche, I know, but there's a reason why these little phrases have stuck around so long. And so, we move on. Sometimes, that's all you can do.

As time goes by.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Building A Schedule

The alarm rings at 5, as it has for years. There are kids to get up and out, there are lunches to be made, there is makeup to be put on, there is work to travel to. Except when there is no work.

One of the things with which I struggle most during the work gaps is internalizing a new schedule. A 5am wake up may be painful, but it is part of my schedule. Getting three kids out the door to school may be challenging, but it is part of my schedule. Dashing off to work (at any time) may be constraining, but it is part of my schedule. And when pieces of the schedule fall away, what is left can feel like half a building--a structure with no walls, a framework with no clear purpose. My daily challenge, then, becomes holding on to the walls and the purpose, when they are no longer built in to my schedule.

It might be said that the purpose now is finding new work--a worthy purpose, but not one that fills a day efficiently. It is about looking and waiting and reworking a résumé, and many days, it leaves a person with not much to show for eight hours. It could be argued that the purpose now is networking, but how many cups of coffee can a person really have in a day? It could well be that the break in schedule is the perfect opportunity for a top to bottom home cleaning and organization project. Yeah, let's not even go there.

So, as I navigate through this new daily schedule, I think back to the 7am dry rehearsals and the early edits and the late production nights, many of which I may have thought at the time were too early, too late, or too much. I think back to the squeezing in minutes to do all the things that really needed hours. I long for a new schedule but fear what it will mean. And meanwhile, each day, I find my way through a schedule full of constantly moving pieces.

The alarm rings at 5, and my day's schedule starts again. What will it be today? I won't really know until I build it.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Careful, You Might Learn Something

When you have to do something you haven't done before, you're probably learning something.

When you're thinking so hard, it hurts, you're probably learning something.

When you're just about ready to give up, you're probably learning something.

When you think you can't try any harder, you're probably learning something.

When you have to deal, nicely, with people you'd rather not have to deal with at all, you're probably learning something.

When you add a skill to your résumé or your LinkedIn, you're probably learning something.

When you take something off your résumé or your LinkedIn, you're probably learning something.

When you are knocked down, and get back up, you are probably learning something.

When you say "no," when you've always been used to saying "yes," you are probably learning something.

When you say "yes," even if you're not sure, you're probably learning something.

Learning happens in all sorts of little ways, usually when we think we're doing other things. I guess there's still a lot to be learned.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Revisions on Pink

In the production of television, there is a system for making sure everyone involved is "on the same page," literally, when scenes or lines change. Changes, or "revisions," as they are often called, are Xeroxed on pink paper, and if things change again, further revisions come out on different colors. By the time you're done shooting (particularly, in my experience, on a sitcom), the script can be an array of different colors. But if the system has worked correctly, the paper colors have helped ensure the efficient implementation of the revisions.

In life, rarely does anyone give you a colored piece of paper to tell you that things are going to change. If you're lucky, maybe you get a few clues. Or a few minutes of warning. Or a text message. Or an email. And then it's up to you to react, the best you can, in time for the "cameras to roll," "the scene to be captured," and the story of your life to turn out differently than you imagined.

I have often been annoyed by the distribution of pink pages. Either they come just as shooting begins, or they contain tiny word changes that don't seem to warrant "killing a tree," or they radically change a scene that I liked the way it was. But as revisions come fast and furious in life, there are days when I kind of wish I could see the pink pages first. They wouldn't keep change from happening, but they could at least give me a "heads up," at least make it so that everyone around me is reacting to the same pink page information. I don't mind adjusting to change--sometimes a few revisions can make the story better. But every so often, wouldn't it be nice if the revisions in your life came not by surprise, but by Xeroxed pink page?

I suppose, however, that it's up to us to listen for the word changes, and watch for the changes in action. We may not always be on the same page as those around us, but if we keep our eyes and ears open, we can actually manage life's revisions, even without the assistance of a pink page. And hey, we'll be doing our part for the environment--saving a tree and sharpening our adaptation skills, all at the same time.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Good At

When I made an educational video, I was struck by how easily the tween girls I interviewed for the video could say what they were good at. Whether it was math or writing or gymnastics (or in the case of one older girl, packing a car), they were confident and unafraid of identifying their strengths.

As an adult, I often find myself trying to be all things to all people. As I make my way through job postings, I stretch my ideas about what I might do and what I'd be good at. As I navigate through parenthood, I constantly revise my skill set to meet my children's needs. But every so often, in one arena or another, I find myself in the middle of a project that simply feels right. Perhaps I am editing a piece that just makes sense, and thus, becomes easy for me to edit. Maybe I am offered work because of my past experience and reputation. Perhaps I start out helping my child with a school project and find that I become attached to it myself. In a world of "trying to be good at," I am suddenly reminded of all the things I am good at, almost without trying.

There is something to be said for always developing new skills, for always trying to find new things we are good at, so that we can add them to our resumes, our LinkedIn profiles, or our "elevator pitches." It's important to be able to speak up for ourselves, much as those tween girls were able to do in my video. But it's also important to value the "good at's" that just are, to be able to own our strengths and to bask in them when we get to use them fully. Some days, we get little reminders of our "good at's." The trick is to use them, to own them, and then to say, out loud, "I'm good at." Even if sometimes, we are the only ones who hear.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Theater Benefit

I was a bead seller in high school. I didn't really sell beads, I just played a bead seller in a school production of Murder on the Nile. My only line was "Lapis, lady, real lapis," and if I remember correctly, I crossed the stage saying that line early in the show and spent the rest of the evening backstage. I never got much farther than that as an actor. The rest of my experience with theater was to be as a writer (a one-act in college) and as an audience member (whatever I can afford, whenever I have the time).

Tonight, I attended a benefit for a youth theater company, Polaris Productions, with which one of my kids is doing her third show. While I was thrilled to hear my daughter and the other young actors perform, I was equally as moved when some of the company's actors and volunteers spoke about what brought them there--how theater had influenced their lives--not just their lives in the theater, but their lives as confident, happy adults. Their one-line beginnings had led them to include theater in their whole lives, and they largely credited theater with making them who they are now.

So often, we--as people and as parents--focus on the long-shot nature of theater (for that matter, of anything creative or daring). Will it pay the bills? Will it get you where you want? Will it be a hard road with little reward? I was reminded tonight that sometimes, in theater, and in life, it's not just about "making it." More often, it's about allowing your creativity and your daring to help you grow, to take you places you might not have gone. Many of the children I watched tonight may not grow up to be stars of the stage. But what they are doing now will help them to be stars in other ways. Did "Lapis, lady, real lapis" begin my journey to where I am now? It's hard to say. But maybe it was the start of taking a few chances--on the stage and in life.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Time In Bottles

The recipe calls for three hours to cook, so we save it for a day when we have three hours.

The job calls for commuting or traveling or being on call at all hours, so we save it for a time when we will have enough hours to do all of that.

The parent-teacher conferences call for midday or early evening availability for just a few moments of discussing our child, so we put them off until we can manage the schedule.

It seems that every part of life is a question of managing our time--of finding or stealing hours where they just don't exist, of choosing what things are worth the time, and what things aren't, of counting hours and squeezing in minutes, just so we can get to everything we need to and a few of the things we want to. Back in high school, when I won an award for "wisest use of time," it was simply a question of doing more than just studying--of investing my energy in things that would help the school community. These days, using time wisely seems to require so much more. If I have the time to help my family or community emotionally, that usually means that I am in no position to help them financially. If I make the time to build my skills or build my base of contacts, that usually means that I am not making the time to make dinner or a clean apartment. In school, maybe it was enough to go a little beyond my schoolwork. These days, "wisest use of time" is a relative term, one that seems to require negotiation every step of the way.

Today, I took the three hours to make the recipe. I stole a few minutes to build a skill and add a contact. For a bit of time, I was there to help my family emotionally. And before I knew it, my time was up. I guess I just thank goodness that the clock starts all over again tomorrow.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Tunnel Vision

Sometime mid-afternoon, as I was attempting to plow through a day of screening and editing and job searching, a friend commented in an email about how hard it was snowing outside. I, of course, immediately turned to the window, through which all I could see was white. I had known it was supposed to snow, but though I was home and making my own schedule all day, in an apartment with giant windows, I had not seen the snow. During the many hours preceding the email, clearly I had been so buried in the computer, so immersed in my attempt to unearth new jobs and new knowledge from the screen, that I had never even turned toward the window to see what was happening.

Did I need to know it was snowing? Not really, at least not until I had to go out. But the fact that I could spend such a long time oblivious to the world around me made me worry about what else I might be missing.

When I'm working, I often lose track of the rest of things. Whether it's phone calls to be made or the passing of daylight, or simply awareness of my kids' schedules, it sometimes goes out of the range of my tunnel vision. Perhaps tunnel vision while working is a good thing. Perhaps the focus makes for a better product. But when we're in tunnel vision mode, how much of the really good stuff, stuff that would enrich our view, are we missing? A friend told me this week that one of the big "no-no's" of job searching was staring at the screen all day, believing that opportunities would come out of it to you, if only you sat long enough. Today, as I "discovered" the snow, long after it had begun, through large windows just a few feet from me, I realized how limiting tunnel vision can be. While we are simply focusing, we are actually depriving ourselves of the benefits of the world around us. Our work and our searching can both be enriched by our awareness of that world. We don't live in a screen--why should the decisions we make come only from that screen?

I'm not sure what my near future will hold, but seeing the snow "on a delay" today was a reminder that seeing my future is not just about looking straight ahead. I will be open to far more possibilities if I include the world around me, not just the screen in front of me. The tunnel may be a path to where you're going, but the surrounding view will make things--and you--far more interesting when you get there.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Growing Older, Growing Younger

When my kids were small, and my work was big, we had full-time (well, five-day-a-week) child care. Each morning, before one or both of us left for work, the doorbell would ring, and a lovely woman who cared for our children and managed our apartment would arrive. In the evening, she left us with clean counters and clean laundry and happy, well-mannered kids with combed hair and clean faces.

My kids are bigger now, and many days, my work is smaller. There hasn't been that early morning doorbell in years. I come home to long-day-weary kids and laundry and counters only as clean (or not) as I left them in the morning. We have learned how to manage mostly on our own, but as we have all grown older, there are times when it feels as though we have actually grown younger. We live in chaos some days, because there is no one to unify the many directions in which we move. We live with chores undone because we are too tired or too lazy or too overwhelmed by just getting through. We do the best we can, not bound by keeping an apartment together enough for a daily visitor and not helped by the keeping together work of that daily visitor. So, while we are all growing older, some days I feel as though I am just starting out, learning how to live on my own, discovering what I can do, and what I can't.

When my kids were smaller and my work was bigger, I felt like a grownup--managing safety and early learning and choices for little people who couldn't do that for themselves. These days, with no daily doorbell, and the participation of my now older kids in all the managing and learning and choices (just not the daily cleaning of rooms and counters!), perhaps I'm not growing older after all. Because some days, it really feels as though we're starting out again, each day taking a few more baby steps, every day growing a little younger.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lost Days and Found Moments

When you are working full-time, your days are essentially planned for you. You live by a calendar and by a clock, both of which are dictated by your work. It can be restrictive, to be sure. What you can do in your kids' schools or in your community or with your friends all depends on your work. What time will you need to be in? When will you finish? Will you be local or traveling? There might be differences from day to day, but the structure is essentially the same.

Take all of that away, and where does that leave you? I seem to find that out more often these days than I might like. In my line of work, full-time can be a part-time endeavor, leaving a person with days that don't fit that "planned for you" model, days that, if you can't plan them for yourself, get lost in the shuffle. They may be full of hours and intentions, but they can easily be lost to uncertainty, anxiety, and the assorted intrusions of a persistent world.

Today was to be one of those days. It began with a to-do list--a good start. But when the "to-do's" were hard to get done, the day somehow acquired a "not-done" feel about it--things "not done" that left me in this spot, errands "not done," despite having the time to do them, chores "not done," even though the energy for them was not exactly being used elsewhere. When I reached day's end, somehow hours had been lost, or so it seemed. Hours that I could never get back. Hours with not much to show for them.

We are not conditioned to understand lost hours, much less, lost days. We are trained, from a young age, to fill our days with accomplishments big and small, not to let our days just drift by. And perhaps that is among the biggest challenges of a freelance life--understanding that there will be lost hours--that not every day at home will result in a new revelation or a new connection, that not every day not working will bring you closer to a clean house, connection with your family, or new skills. Sometimes a lost day is, well, just a lost day. And as long as you don't have too many of them, that's actually okay. We can't all be winners daily--though we can recognize the tiny victories. We can't all accomplish big things daily, but we can appreciate the little things. And perhaps, that is what I learned today--it's okay to have lost days, as long as along the way, we also have found moments.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Means and Ends

I meant to have work that was satisfying and challenging and interesting, and by and large, I ended up having that.

I meant to work as much as possible while still being there for my kids, and I ended up being there some of the time and just meaning to other times.

I meant to learn more, teach more, be more, and as things begin and end, maybe I am ending up doing that.

I meant to make choices, but sometimes I end up having them made for me.

I meant to say "no" when it was necessary, and "yes" when it was necessary, but sometimes, I've ended up confused about what was necessary when.

I meant to use every hour, but some days have ended with me not knowing where all the hours went.

I meant to take every opportunity, but I ended up not seeing some of them until it was too late.

Sometimes, the things we do are a means to an end. Sometimes, the "means" and the "ends" are so far apart, we barely recognize them. And things just end up how they do. No matter what we meant.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

I Can't...But I Can

I can't make there be job offers...but I can keep building my bag of tricks for offers that come.

I can't make things all better at school...but I can help my kids have the skills to handle the good things and the bad.

I can't keep from getting knocked down...but I can make sure I get back up.

I can't stop time...but I can try to make the most of it.

I can't be what I'm not...but I can work toward being what I'd like to be.

I can't make my apartment look as though one very tidy person lives in it...but I can get cleaning help from the four other not-so-tidy people who do live in it.

I can't write The Great American Novel...but I can write every day.

I can't control everything...but I can control how I react to a lot of things.

I can't protect each child from every little thing...but I can be there to talk through the little things and the big ones.

I can't do it all...but, as it turns out, I can do a lot.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Benefit of the Doubt

In my last few years at One Life to Live (ABC version), I was directing sets of scenes fairly regularly. Once in a while, the scenes were enough for me to be the "director of record" on a show. Most of the time, they were just a new challenge, and a little extra money in my pocket.

I worked hard to prepare the scenes I was to direct--reading scripts before and after for context, studying floor plans and camera angles. There were things I just knew from all my work as an AD, but I appreciated the learning curve of having to figure out something new, and the experience of having to express my intentions to and talk things through with the actors and camera operators.

Now, a soap opera studio is a fairly collaborative environment. Unlike some other places where I've worked, where hierarchy gets in the way, soap opera production companies tend to welcome input from a lot of people, since the actors live in their characters, every day, often for years, the camera people work in the same sets every week, often for a long time. People in different departments just know things, so collaboration almost always creates a better product. And so when I got a chance to direct, people generally welcomed me, and I, in turn, welcomed the opportunity to collaborate in a new way.

Every so often, however, there was an actor or a crew person who challenged me from the moment I walked in the door, as if we'd never met, and hadn't worked together for years. In a world where it seemed to me most productive to start with the idea that people were good at their jobs, there were people who preferred to attack first, rather than support one of their own. It made for unpleasant directing experiences (for me and the other people working), and probably for lousily directed scenes, since creative time became "pick up the pieces" time. Perhaps it taught me to be tougher. Mostly, however, it reminded me how important it was to approach every interaction with the presumption that people are competent and doing their best--to give the "benefit of the doubt" whenever I could.

This experience was a long time ago. Whatever came of it is long over, but I think back to it sometimes when I count someone out before seeing what he or she can do. Whether it's your children or your coworkers, people aren't only what you've seen them as before. When you believe in them, give them the room to do something new, to succeed in new ways, often they do. The directing days when people judged too soon or challenged just for the sake of challenging were among my most unproductive. Similarly, the days when I don't believe that my children can accomplish a goal or that my coworkers can achieve a product become my most unpleasant ones. I wasn't afraid to work hard on my directing days, but I did want the support of the people who knew me. Perhaps that's what we all want. Perhaps that's what makes us work harder and aim higher--the support and belief of the people who know us, rather than the attack of sharks smelling blood in the water.

Sometimes that's all it takes to create success. A little hard work from us. And the benefit of the doubt from everyone else.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Leading, Following, and Just Keeping Up

Ahh, parenthood--that odd combination of getting what you want for your kids and supporting what your kids want for themselves. Today, as I watched my son at his robotics tournament, an event for which he's been preparing during afterschool sessions a few times a week, I was glad he was doing something that required thought and figuring. I was glad he was working with a team. Somewhere inside, I probably wanted his team to qualify for the next step, because we all want our children to be winners. But after a respectable performance and the fairly clear evidence that his team would go no farther, he was ready to be done. Shouldn't we stay, I wondered, to watch the closing ceremonies with the team? But he was tired (I was too), and after a little speech about team and spirit, I quickly deferred to his desire to move on with his day. For while the endeavor may have been about team and spirit, it was also about engineering and persistence. He had engineered and persisted, and he had worked with his teammates. It didn't matter so much to him whether they advanced, or whether he experienced every moment of the event. He had other "places to be," other "things to do." And somewhere in me, I had to respect that. He had followed something through--one of those things we parents want our kids to do. But, having done that, he moved on to something else--challenging me as a parent to support what HE wanted to do.

There is a fine line between leading our kids in directions we want, and following them in the directions that inspire them. Often, it makes for a pretty zig-zaggy path, and sometimes, it's hard to keep up. But I guess that's just part of what makes life interesting--every zig-zaggy step of the way.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Moments in a Freelance Life

Yesterday, I finished an at-home work project, one that had been occupying found hours each day for weeks. There were days when it seemed it would go on for months, despite deadlines that told me otherwise. And yet, today, as I had time for doing more of it, but no more of it to do, I felt an odd sense of loss, a sense of longing for this work that had filled  all those hours.

I guess that is the difference between working somewhere for someone and working at home for a lot of someones. When you're going somewhere, there is always that somewhere to go, no matter where you are in a project. When you're working on your own, you create your own walls, your own project boundaries, your own time. I always thought I would like that "your own" part, and some days, I do. Creating my own work boundaries means that I can meet buses and do errands on my own schedule. But it also means that I must make that schedule, and deal with the emptiness in its gaps, and sometimes, that makes me just long for the days of living someone else's schedule and having many fewer gaps.

There will be new projects, and new schedules, and this moment of feeling loss will pass. It's just one more moment in a freelance life.

Friday, March 13, 2015


Today, on the way to my son's bus stop, I noticed a pink iPhone on the ground. An expensive item, just lying there, as if recently dropped by someone who had to be under the age of twenty. Okay, probably under the age of sixteen.

Now, I know firsthand that things get lost in New York City. My own phone actually (though not an iPhone) disappeared into thin air a few years ago. Toys belonging to my children have left our apartment never to be seen again. It happens.

So, there, on the ground, was a pink iPhone. It would, I thought, be scooped up and "disappeared" in moments, and why not? Who wouldn't feel lucky finding the equivalent of a bunch of money as they were walking? I thought about what the kid who dropped it must be thinking--about the sinking feeling of discovering it was no longer in your pocket, the absolutely awful experience of having to tell your parents, and the sense of loss, knowing that a tiny piece of the record of your life was just gone. And before I knew it, I had retraced my steps and picked up the phone.

Once holding it, as if I had picked up a hurt baby bird, I was stuck as to what to do. I had rescued it from certain vanishing, but how would I be any different from anyone else who picked it up? With the keypad locked, it could give me little clue as to the identity of its owner. It rang as I held it, but the caller hung up too quickly to be of help. Yet, in the pocket of its case were a student Metrocard and a library card. And, lo and behold, the Metrocard had a name. And a number. Which narrowed things down to, well, probably thousands of kids with cellphones at hundreds of schools in the New York City area. But with a little luck, my first guess was the right one. And within an hour, the pink iPhone was back in the hands of its very relieved young owner.

I tend to spend a lot of time thinking I'm not too useful if I'm not making money to fund my family or not making a dinner everyone likes or not using my hours at home to render our apartment "cleaning lady clean" (not that we've ever really had a cleaning lady). Today, in the course of my hour with the pink iPhone, I felt more useful than I have on any number of days at work or at home.

Sometimes, "useful" is not about money or food or cleaning. Sometimes "useful" is just about a pink iPhone and the smile on the face of a child.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Bumps In The Road

You're motoring along, on the journey of a lifetime or just your mundane daily path, when you're forced to stop. Perhaps your tire is flat or your engine needs a tuneup. Maybe there's a sign reading "no blue cars beyond this point," and since you're in a blue car, you're stuck. Perhaps the pothole you couldn't avoid has jostled both you and the car too much for you to continue. In any of these cases, you have essentially hit a bump in the road.

Even if we don't drive anywhere, we are not strangers to bumps in the road. Most of us, however, ARE strangers to seeing the bumps as bumps. We're moving along in our lives, and we get sick, or we get fired, or we have to deal with a misbehaving child or a miscalculated bill. We come to a screeching halt on what we thought was a smooth journey, and in that moment, we are sure that the journey is over forever. We will never work again, we will never be well again, we will go down in history as "bad parent of the year." The thing is, just like the "roadblocks" we encounter when driving, the things that slow us down in life don't have to stop us forever. If we are stopped in our tracks for not being suited for or allowed in a situation, we can (and should) still move on to a situation (job, club, team) where we fit better. If we are sidelined by illness, it doesn't mean we can't get back up after some rest and medication. If our kids aren't perfect, we can revel in the fact that they are simply part of the imperfect world, rather that blaming ourselves for their missteps. If we are just feeling jostled by life, we can take a beat to get our bearings, rather than retreat from trying again.

On our daily journeys, both the big ones and the small ones, there are all sorts of bumps in the road. We can let them be permanent roadblocks that immobilize us, or we can choose to pause briefly, and then move past them. Most of us would not turn back from a trip that we had planned, just because of a bump in the road, so why is it that we so quickly retreat after bumps in the road of life? We can often get past them (and usually learn a little something about "road skills" along the way).

Got fired, got sick, got frustrated, got stuck? If you view it as just a bump in the road, there's a good chance you'll be motoring along again sooner than you think.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Walking It Off

When work ended early today, I found myself walking the mile and a half to an afterschool pickup, rather than taking a bus or a train. Perhaps it was a conditioned response, as I normally walk home from work. Perhaps it was some sort of compensation for all the days I skip going to the gym. Perhaps I figured it wouldn't hurt, in an uncertain work world, to save the $2.50 bus fare. Or maybe, just maybe, I needed to "walk it off" in a way just not possible on public transportation.

As I walked in what I'd expected to be a lovely daylight savings time evening that was really a rainy almost spring night, I thought about my day. Free of work walls and family voices, I began to process things that had happened, interactions I'd had, things I might do. Instead of watching out a window for my train or bus stop, I was focusing inside, on things that have nowhere to be when there is only work and transportation and home. And when I arrived, still on time, for the pickup, I was not the same person who'd left work. Because in choosing to walk rather than train-it or bus-it, I had allowed myself a little mind transportation, the kind of transport that most of us need, but many of us never get.

I love that I live in a city of buses and trains that can take you just about anywhere. But sometimes, getting from A to B isn't about the vehicle that takes you. Sometimes it's about walking it off, so that when you get to B, you haven't just traveled from A to B, you can really be somewhere different when you get there.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Life Can Be Messy

When you try to make a gourmet dinner in a tiny kitchen, life can be messy. 

When your kids have posters to make and science experiments to do, life can be messy. 

When the laundry gets put off because there just aren't enough hours on laundry day, life can be messy. 

When your paycheck is late, but the bills arrive in your mailbox right on time, life can be messy. 

When you're looking for work at a rate that seems far too often, life can be messy. 

When you're trying to cover all the bases yourself, life can be messy. 

When you're juggling more balls than you can possibly keep in the air gracefully, life can be messy.

When you unwrap a gift, life can be messy. 

When you eat an ice cream sundae, life can be messy.

When you give your kids some independence, life can be messy.

When you're trying to teach, or trying to learn, life can be messy.

When you put yourself out on a limb, life can be messy.

When you let yourself become emotionally involved, life can be messy. 

When you allow your life to include both celebrations and disappointments, life can be messy. 

When you leave yourself open for exciting things to happen, life can be messy. 

When you encourage the new, rather than being stuck in the old, life can be messy.

I used to think that I was striving for neat, and maybe sometimes I am. But maybe, just maybe, a little messy is actually a good thing.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Lessons From Nuns and Others

Having seen a production of Sister Act today (terrific show, by the way), I couldn't help but be reminded of an executive producer for whom I once worked who thought not much was funnier than a bunch of madcap nuns. This was part of what made him memorable, but what made him a terrific producer, and a terrific boss, were his clarity of thought, his belief that work could (and should) be fun, and his vision for making small changes that could make a big difference. I have worked for producers for longer than I worked for him, but many of the lessons that inform my work and life today are lessons that I learned from him. Things like--

1. What seems impossible might not be. I will never forget when he gave me the note to fix an actor's line fumble in the edit, which required grabbing certain letter sounds from somewhere else in the scene. Being a rather new editor at the time, I had simply accepted the flub as unfixable, and I was amazed when the fix actually worked. I have since become the champion of the stolen letter sound, and of the belief that if you want it to be, sometimes you can make it so.

2. Three cameras, two actors, shoot who's looking at you. I'm sure that many directors and producers have said this, but for him, it was a reminder that everything was doable--and that you should save your energy and resources for the hard stuff, not waste them on the easy stuff.

3. Expect a lot, and appreciate it when you get it. His standards were high, but you always knew that he saw when you met them. People like to aim high, especially when they know their efforts are appreciated.

4. If it doesn't help the scene or advance the story or the characters, cut it. We tend to get married to our words, our ideas, our original intentions. Sometimes the best thing we can do is cut them, and move on to what's more important.

5. It's TV, not brain surgery. Making it good shouldn't preclude having fun while you're at it. Sometimes the fun makes it even better.

It's amazing how people we encounter can leave us with lessons that affect us many years later. And how those lessons remind us how lucky we were to work with those people when we did.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Step By Little Step

My son poured out the tiny pieces of a new Lego set--close to 200 of them, of assorted shapes and colors, most looking like nothing in particular. An hour later, having gone page by page through the instruction booklet, we (yes, he let me help!) had created a tiny little kitchen that included a checkered tile floor, a coffee maker, a sink with a faucet, and an oven containing a tray of cookies. Who knew that you could create what really looks like a coffee maker from a few tiny little pieces?

As we finished, and I examined our work, I thought about how, page by simple page, the instruction book had taken us from a pile of pieces to this new creation, almost unimaginable when just looking at the pieces. So often, we expect to have things all laid out for us. We expect to see the finished product before we start working toward it. I suppose that here we did too, as we had the picture on the set box. But in that hour of creation, we simply followed the steps and let our creation evolve. And the results were truly amazing. It reminded me that sometimes, it feels good just to go step by step, to trust that we will get to the end, even if we can't quite see what the end will be. We won't always have an instruction book, but we can still follow small steps to get to a big result. Sometimes, the result is a major event. And sometimes, it's simply a tiny coffee maker made out of little plastic bricks.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Self-Preservation, aka Watch Out For The Red Flags

We find ourselves in all sorts of situations that test our intelligence, our stamina, our patience, our self-worth. How, then, do we know when these situations are opportunities for growth, and when they are simply red flags to make a change? I don't have the answers, really--just a few thoughts...

1. Does the situation involve people who are worth knowing, because they can teach us something, or just because they are interesting people? If yes, maybe it's an opportunity.

2. Does the situation interfere with our doing what we need to do in the rest of our lives? If yes, maybe it's a red flag.

3. Is the situation still teaching us new skills? If yes, maybe it's an opportunity.

4. Is the situation battering our self-worth? If yes, maybe it's a red flag.

5. Is the situation providing us with challenges to which we rise? If yes, maybe it's an opportunity.

6. Is the situation providing us with challenges that are, too often, impossible to meet? If yes, maybe it's a red flag.

7. Is the situation a place we'd like our children or best friend to experience? If yes, maybe it's an opportunity.

8. Is the situation someplace we wouldn't wish on anyone? If yes, maybe it's a red flag.

9. Is the situation leaving us tired at the end of the day, but still oddly energetic for the next? If yes, maybe it's an opportunity.

10. Is the situation wiping us out daily, with no opportunity for mental or physical recovery? If yes, maybe it's a red flag.

Sometimes, it's hard to practice self-preservation. But if we can learn to see the red flags in among the opportunities, at least, perhaps, we have a fighting chance.

Friday, March 6, 2015

What's New Today?

Though I worked at the same place (ABC/One Life to Live) in the same job (Associate Director) for a very long time, I can honestly say that each day was different. It wasn't just that I rotated between days "in the booth" (coordinating cameras and taking edit notes while the show was being shot), "in the online" (doing show fixes and assorted show paperwork), and "in the edit" (editing full shows and screening them with the EP). I also worked on a production team that included directors and producers so different in their approaches that the same production day in two different directors' hands could turn out as different as, well, night and day (right down to the time of night or day when we wrapped).

When I went out into the big wide world, I referred often to "the lovely combination of production and editing" that I'd had there, a combination that I was fairly sure I would never find again. I haven't found it. But what I have found is that just as I did and learned something new there every day, you really can do and learn something new every day in just about any place you are. Some days, for me, it is a new editing shortcut. Other days it is a snippet of literature from my kids' homework. Still others, it is a revelation about how to work with a new person or a new team. And on all of these days, learning something new lets you finish the day feeling as though you accomplished something.

My ABC/One Life to Live days are long gone. But one of the best things about them--the days varied enough to keep it fresh--can still inform my life. As long as I keep my mind open, and I keep asking, "What's new today?"

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Creating and Reporting

Recently, I have been spending a number of hours each week doing a new kind of work--transcribing. In this case, I am mostly adding timecode (corresponding to the video) to an already created transcript--it's a "deliverable," one of a series of written documents that distribution companies want to accompany the actual show videos. Each day, I watch the video, a few words or shots at a time, and insert timecodes matching every character speech or camera shot change, and adjust the script if the words don't quite match. As far as I'm concerned, it's a new skill in a freelance life, and for a freelancer, new skills can be even more important than new paychecks. (Well, maybe not more, but...)

While the transcribing goes hand in hand with the video watching of sorts that I do daily as an editor, I am realizing that the main difference is that transcribing requires reporting of information, rather than creating or interpreting of that information. When I am editing, each shot and shot length is a choice. Each sentence might be examined and its audio rearranged. Each effect is added to help tell the story. As I transcribe, the story is already told--I just have to report, with precision, how it is told. So, while I am finding that transcribing could definitely be a new marketable skill, I am also finding that it is a fantastic change from editing. After hours of making decisions every second (actually every few frames--fractions of seconds), I can spend time NOT making decisions, but simply reporting what I see. It is freeing.

As I gather my new skill sets--this has been a productive few months for that--I am becoming aware of the importance of varying those skill sets. Though you don't want to be a person who does so many things that no one knows where to place you, you do want to have enough variety in your skills that you always have somewhere to place yourself, whether you're in a "choices every second" mood or not.

When I went out on my own after the soaps, I quickly realized that I would likely never find again the lovely combination of jobs I'd had there. What I am learning these days is that you can often make your own combinations--ones that use all of your talents, just in different ways. The trick is giving them a try. And accepting that sometimes you create, and other times, it's okay just to report.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Put Your Mask On First

If you've ever been on an airplane, you've heard this phrase as part of the safety demonstration. No matter how often I fly, it always jumps out at me. As parents, we are, in general, conditioned to meet our children's needs first, not our own, so to grab oxygen for ourselves first, before assisting our kids or someone else's seems, well, just wrong. Yet, as I came home tonight, so consumed by thoughts of work and work drama that I was barely able to concentrate on my kids' questions about course selection and birthday details and Minecraft, I had a sudden understanding of the flight safety instructions. On the plane, if we don't ensure our own oxygen first, we may be unable to help those needing our assistance. Is it so surprising, then, that in life, when we don't resolve our own issues, we are not much help trying to resolve our kids' issues?

Perhaps when we sign on as parents, we agree to put our children's needs first. I would venture to say that most of us do, most of the time. But as my work--whether changes in it, intensity of it, or lack of it--seems to take center stage, far more than it did when I had a full-time, long-term job, I am, little by little, learning to "put my mask on first." These days, I allow what went on with me to matter, sometimes before listening to what happened to my kids. These days, I'm taking a few moments to decompress before jumping into my role as Chief Negotiator, or even delegating some of the negotiating responsibility. These days, I'm grabbing a nap on the weekends if I need to and grabbing a coffee in the morning if it feels good. Sometimes, these things mean my kids need to wait a moment for their "oxygen masks." Most of the time, these things make me better equipped to give them the "masks" and a whole lot more.

I imagine that the airplane safety instructions were developed based on years of studying human behavior and health needs. As for my own instructions, I've just looked around a little and realized what works. And sometimes, that means putting my mask on first. So that I am really able to offer assistance to others.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Love When You Can, Cry When You Have To

It's not that there's been any crying. I just kind of got this Dan Fogelberg song stuck in my head, and it occurred to me that it actually applies to a lot of things. You see, aside from loving and crying, many, many things happen in a day, in a week, in a month. Work and home situations, both expected and not, both desirable and not, seem to surround us, forcing us to process more than it sometimes seems is possible. How, then, do we do justice to everything? How do we survive the ups and downs of work? How do we manage the tasks, both significant and mundane, of parenthood? How do we keep a household running, despite things that break and schedules that change and challenges that, well, challenge us?

It seems to me that the most efficient (and successful) method must have a little of this lyric to it. In a freelance life, sometimes there is no work, other times, too much. So you work when you can. In a family life, there are schedules and emotions to be managed. So you stress when you have to. And, of course, in either life, you're best off when you let yourself do the things you can while you can and allow yourself to cry over the things you need to when you need to.

I find myself writing quite often about control and about the things we can do to feel just a little more in control of our out of control lives. Maybe Dan Fogelberg had it right--to gain some feeling of control, perhaps we simply start with "love when you can, cry when you have to."

Monday, March 2, 2015

Directed By Kids

My daughters wrote and directed a play--a musical. Not a "big musical" (for all of you Aladdin fans out there), but a musical nonetheless, complete with choreography, multiple young stars, and flowers for the directors at the end.

Obviously, I am proud of them--who isn't proud when her children do something worthy of note (it should, actually, be noted that their brother was one of their comic actors). But what makes them and the event blogworthy is not my pride in their accomplishment. It is, rather, what I learned from them in the process. You see, my only real participation in making the show happen was picking them up after rehearsals and, as the parent of a performer, making sure their brother arrived in his correct wardrobe. They interacted with twenty or so kids and those kids' parents. They wrote and rewrote. They negotiated conflicts and hurt feelings. They came up with movement that could happen in a small space. In essence, they provided a manual on management, which included...

1. Create something you're proud of and you believe in, and then invest in it.

2. Gather people who will believe with you.

3. Allow input, but not so much that you compromise your idea.

4. Give praise, not just criticism.

5. Listen. And communicate, even when you think you might be saying things people already know.

6. Understand that your team comes from all over--different team members will respond to different things.

7. Enjoy what your team makes of what you started--without them, it would still just be words on a page.

8.  Learn from the missteps, and, if necessary, step just a little differently next time.

9. Clap for your team and yourself at the end--who doesn't appreciate a little applause for a job well done?

This weekend, thanks to my daughters, I learned some things about good management that, I would venture to say, could be pretty useful in a lot of grown-up spheres. Turns out you can learn a lot when you're directed by kids.