The End of an Era

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When I was younger I worried I’d never work in the television industry because I couldn’t live in LA. I had no reason to believe this other than the fact that I’m pale and it’s sunny all the time in SoCal. So I quietly folded that dream into a paper football and flicked it into the far recesses of my brain. I focused on my other dream—becoming a political speechwriter. I went to college in D.C. and I loved it and then… I took screenwriting classes.

I told myself it was just for fun. And those classes were fun. They absolutely helped me become a better writer even though the scripts I wrote for class were terrible. I learned how to critique and how to share my work and to be humble. Then I graduated with my degree in political communication and started working at a law firm and that was that.

For the most part, I hated working in the law firm. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have. The hours were great, the job wasn’t demanding, and I had great benefits. But I was 23 and it was my first full time job and I knew that I wasn’t going to stay. I signed on to work for two years, knowing that after that time I would go to grad school, and that’s what I did.

I used the two years I worked there to save money, and write, and decide what I wanted to study. It felt like all of my friends got their Master’s in Public Health and I’d seriously considered getting a M.A. in Library Sciences but… it wasn’t exciting. I didn’t think my passion for books would be enough to get me through the curriculum. But I thought of something that would.

Sometimes I wonder if getting an M.A. in Television-Radio-Film was a terrible, self-indulgent idea, but I know it wasn’t. It did what a lot of artistic post-grad programs do, they give you time to create. The short films I made were Not Good, but I learned so, so much. The program gave me time to brainstorm, and take honest criticism, and write creatively with deadlines. And it gave me the push I needed to finally move to LA.

For two years there have been a few drafts in my folder with titles like “Moving to LA” and “Finding a Job” which, while not creative, I thought would be helpful. A series of posts about the weird, unexpected parts of moving out West, like how a lot of apartments don’t come with fridges and the beach is gray and overcast every June. But I never did and now it feels too late.

When I got to LA I knew how incredibly difficult it would be to set up in a new city. Or, I thought I did. I had done it for college and again for grad school, but I was wrong and that’s hard to admit for someone who loves to be right. It wasn’t any one thing that made the transition hard, it was a series. Individually, I conquered them. Collectively, however, they got to me. It was hard to find a job, to mesh with my roommates, to commute 45min each way while working 11 hours a day. It was discouraging to go weeks, or months, between jobs or to have a job that demoralized and tired me out. It was trying when, one by one, my few friends in the city moved away. It was difficult to come to terms with my mental illness and then to do something about it.

But I did all of those things! I got the job, and then the next one. I moved to a new, better apartment in a more central location with a roommate I liked and got along with. I went to therapy and tried my hardest to take care of myself. Through all of this I was writing. Or trying to write. And that whole ‘tortured artist’ thing is crap. I have never hurt more than when I tried to force myself to work long days and then go home and write, to hit deadlines, to do work that I was proud of. The more time went on, the more drained I became.

Giving notice that I was leaving my current job was one of the hardest, scariest things I’ve ever done. It hurt because, for the first time, I’m leaving a job I truly love. I wish 16-year-old-Molly could see me now. In therapy. On antidepressants. With a strong group of friends that I love with my whole heart and finally feel loved and understood and free to be Most Moll. Working in the TV industry.

The same day I gave my notice I was on a conference call with one of my favorite writer / television creators of all time. I wrote a little note to myself that says, “You’re quitting your favorite job today. That’s hard. It’s probably going to suck. But remember the love you got today. Remember that you got to be on a conference call with [redacted]. He was cool and had great opinions and was supportive of his writers. It put a giant  smile on your face. Treasure that.”

So after two years in LA I’m packing up and moving back east. Not to my parents house, or my hometown, but hopefully somewhere that finally feels like home. Somewhere that it rains, and is near friends, and gives me time to write. I’m taking my antidepressants with me.

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Television Tuesdays: Are You The One?

Love competitive dating shows? Are You The One is the cross between The Bachelor and Real World you didn’t know you needed. Honestly, I thought I would hate it. I’m so glad I was wrong. It’s the perfect outlet to set your worries aside because you’ll be way too busy yelling at all the dumb decisions the cast members are making. The new season premieres Wednesday, August 15th at 10pm on MTV.

Every reaction is somehow more dramatic than the last

Overview

10 men and 10 women are put up in a dope house in a beautiful location for 10 weeks to find their perfect match. The twist is, each person in the house has been pre-matched by expert matchmakers before they arrive and, through the course of the show, must figure out who their match is. They can’t have any pens, paper, or electronics that could help them keep track of any potential matches. If, by the end of the 10 weeks, all of them have found their perfect match, they split a million dollars. If they fail, no money and, potentially, no true love.

Each episode sees two or three couples going on a date after everyone competes in a Survivor-like challenge. Sometimes they’re answering trivia questions about their housemates, sometimes they’re completing feats of strength or athleticism, and sometimes they’re just eating something nasty.

While the winning couples go on their dates, everyone left in the house votes on which of the dating pairs will go into the Truth Booth, basically a free opportunity to find out if one of the couples is a perfect match. It’s the only way to guarantee that a pair is a match and, if they are, they leave the house and get to stay for the remaining weeks in a Honeymoon Suite.

At the end of the episode, there’s a Match Ceremony. On alternating weeks either the guys or the girls call out who they think their perfect match is. They lock in until everyone is chosen, like dodgeball, and then the number of correct matches is revealed via beams of light. Whatever you’re picturing, it’s even more dramatic. If there are no correct matches during the match ceremony, they ‘black out’ and lose half their money. If all ten are correct, they immediately win the game.

I’m sure you can imagine what goes on in this house: a lot of drinking and hooking up. Everyone is so blindsided by finding their perfect match and falling in love, sometimes they forget to play the game. Confirmed ‘no matches’ sometimes hook up to the detriment of the house, because then they’re not looking for their perfect match. It’s frustrating to watch because JUST USE SOME STRATEGY. But with nothing to write down their tactics, and everyone constantly drunk, it’s easy to lose the thread.

I never expected to like this show. I’ve never seen The Bachelor and I don’t care for Big Brother or The Real World but somehow it works. I get stupid invested. I yell at the idiots when they refuse to play the game correctly and cheer when a couple with a lot of chemistry is a match.

There are a few drawbacks of the game. It can be hard to get to know some of the cast in just ten episodes. This season while watching the finale I found myself saying “Who?” at a girl I could’ve sworn I ‘d never seen before. And because the teams are divided by gender the show is super straight.

Are You The One is the trashy reality dating show I didn’t know I was missing but I’m glad I gave it a shot. It’s ridiculous and rowdy and a lot of fun.

The Other Kind of Writing

I’ve been thinking a lot about the different kinds of writing that I want to do. Not just in my career (although that, too), but day-to-day. Mostly, I’m trying to decide if I want to get back into journaling. I say ‘get back into’ like I was ever dedicated or consistent. My journal never looked like the ones you see on Instagram, pretty and adorned, full of perfect lettering, bursting with color, and filled with pictures both pasted and drawn. My journal was just a hardbound book filled with flowing black ink and imperfect cursive and I’m kind of terrified to open it again.

I have three old journals, actually. Two of them scare the crap out of me. One, my favorite, is a hokey little book that was gifted to me by a friend of my mom’s and I covered it with an old book cover—the elastic kind you begged your parents to buy for your textbooks so you didn’t have to cover them with brown paper bags—and it looks silly. It’s filled with dreams. Not aspirations, but actual things that I dreamed at night. It stretches back to 2007 and has hundreds of dated entries. Once, I even made an index. That book hasn’t been updated recently, but I do have an ongoing note on my phone filled with dreams so I’m sure one day I’ll sit down and add to it even if it will never be complete.

The other two journals, they’re the real ones. They’re what you think of when you hear the word journal. Books of thoughts and feelings. Mine are from 2009-2015, roughly my college years and spanning into grad school. As much as I want to revisit my past self, to see what I was doing, what I was thinking, what I felt needed documenting, I don’t know if I ever will. I have no clue of the specifics, but I know they’ll be full of the pain, and confusion, and depression. They’ll be full of sentences like “I’m sad but I don’t know why” and I don’t know that I’m ready to face that.

Because I’m moving soon, I’m parting ways with my therapist. Recently, I’ve noticed that I don’t really know what to say when I go into our appointments. I’ll prattle on about my life, but I can no longer see the Big Issues that I need to address. There is no doubt in my mind that I still have those Big Issues, they’re just not as obvious to me as they were a year ago when I started therapy. I have more tools under my belt, and a fancy name for my depression (dysthymia—basically instead of going through bouts of Major Depression, I am low-key depressed all the time. To be diagnosed you have to have the symptoms basically daily for two years. Once I had a name for it and knew the symptoms more intimately, I realized I’d been dealing with this since I was 16). So all of those years of journals, those are from the time that I was depressed but didn’t know it for what it was and I don’t know if I’m ready to see just how much it affected my life.

I wonder if I’ll miss anything by not opening the journals again. Are there happy moments I’ve otherwise forgotten that would be nice to revisit? But I don’t think that’s the case. I only ever remember opening them up and pouring my soul into them like I was Ginny Weasley baring herself to Tom Riddle, when all of the feelings rumbling about inside of me were going to erupt and I needed a way to let them out that wasn’t (just) crying into my pillow or on the phone to my mom (or both. Usually both).

Those journals were my therapy before I was willing to go out and find an actual therapist.

Maybe I won’t open them, after all, I’ll just continue to tote them around every time I move, like the rest of the baggage I carry around with me every day. But they aren’t just baggage—they’re evidence of my perseverance and my growth. No matter what, I don’t think I’m ready to throw them out .

Pitch Wars Retrospective

I feel like this is a long time coming, but also it’s difficult to write because I still haven’t left Pitch Wars behind. Actually, I’m not sure I ever will. The revision period was slated between September-November, but here it is, April of the following year, and I’m still revising.

If you’re reading this as you try to decide whether or not you should enter Pitch Wars (or Author Mentor Match, or Teen Pit, etc.), my advice, for whatever it’s worth, is to go for it.

I entered Pitch Wars with no expectations. I submitted a YA contemporary manuscript that was near and dear to my heart, but that I knew was riddled with problems. But the moment had come: no matter how much I stared at the document, knowing there were some things that really needed fixing, I couldn’t figure out what those things were. I knew going in that the biggest win in even entering Pitch Wars was the community, and I wasn’t disappointed.

When I got requests from mentors I was pleased, but shocked. I walked around telling myself, “This doesn’t mean anything, the mentors each got 100+ submissions, don’t get ahead of yourself.” But already I was glad I had entered, because it meant that even though my manuscript was far from done, I was on the right track.

[Note: This isn’t to say if you don’t get requests you’re on the wrong track. Contests like these are difficult because mentors choose projects based on what they’re drawn to and what they know they can help fix. Some entries are already in great shape! Some need more help than the time frame allows for. And some weren’t picked just because a mentor could only choose one project. This is a game of chance, friends. Keep trying.]

When mentor picks were finally announced, I was visiting my parents. I refreshed the page while sitting in a rocking chair on the back porch. I saw my name in a neat little box and promptly flipped out. My heart raced, I couldn’t stop smiling, and when my mom and I got to the grocery store, I found myself frantically pacing up and down the milk aisle, trying not to scream or dance. Twitter flooded with notifications of who else had been chosen and it was so easy to be happy for all of my mentee class but I felt for those that hadn’t been picked. I spent the rest of my visit home excited and ready to work.

Then I got my edit letter and had to go back to my day job, where I was working from 8:30am – 8:30pm. My commute was terrible. I had no free time to myself and on the weekends I was mentally and physically exhausted. There were other things at play, too–my living situation, my mental health–and I didn’t know how to cope. My mentor had sent me a wonderful, thoughtful, encouraging edit letter and I froze.

I tried to write and revise. I made a gameplan and figured out how much I needed to revise by day to stay on track. I deleted and re-wrote and outlined and even when I sent the revisions to my mentor I knew they weren’t enough. We talked through the changes that still needed to be made and I agreed with all of them but all of the other aspects of my life were catching up to me; suddenly there were too many balls in the air and I never learned how to juggle.

I was adamant that I would participate in the agent round. I swore I would have my revisions done by the time my month-long extension was up. And then the agent round went live and… I didn’t get any requests. It was a little disheartening, but I also felt relief.

Suddenly, there wasn’t a time constraint on my shoulders. I could focus on the billion ways I needed to get my personal life together, and enjoy the Christmas vacation I’d be taking from work. I left the job that was making me miserable and let myself breathe and found the joy in revising without the pendulum of deadlines swinging overhead, inching ever closer.

Feedback from beta readers in the 2017 mentee class just hit my inbox. They’re brilliant, insightful notes that I’m incorporating. While waiting for feedback I happily drafed a new project. The waiting was good; it forced me to slow down, get perspective, and collect my thoughts. It gave me time to update my agent spreadsheet, and work on my query. It gave me time to breathe.

Throughout the Pitch Wars process I found the writing community I’d been searching for. They are such a wonderful, creative, supportive group and I’m lucky to be among the 2017 mentees.

I don’t have any regrets about entering Pitch Wars. I wish my personal life had been a bit more cooperative and that I’d had a better support system in place outside of the PW community. I’m not sure I really anticipated (or could have) just how beneficial that would be.

But with time and perspective, I’ve gotten a better understanding of my writing process, of revisions, of craft. I better understand what works and what doesn’t. I can see more clearly what my flaws are (what do you mean I can’t just rely on plot and character, I need actual conflict?) and as I draft, I can see how my writing’s grown.

All of the roadblocks and challenges that cropped up in my personal life also helped give me perspective on what I’ll have to work around when there are actual, contracted publishing deadlines looming overhead. I’ve gotten better at predicting how long I need for certain parts of the revision process, at anticipating my needs.

Pitch Wars was challenging in ways I never expected, but so was my life. I’ve come out the other side stronger–as a person, yes, but especially as a writer. I know better what I need, how I operate, and I understand how much having a support system, an entire community, at my back can help. I’m constantly in awe of how talented my peers are, and grateful for their support.

Maybe my Pitch Wars manuscript won’t be the one that gets me an agent, or lands me my first book deal. But I’ll always love it for showing me I’m on the right path.

I’ll Be Your Girl

The Decemberists came into my life when I was at my most emotional self: my freshman year of high school. Everything was new and shiny and I felt everything so deeply. I still have a vivid memory of getting into my mom’s car after school and putting in the CD of Castaways & Cutouts, that I’d undoubtedly checked out of the public library, and hearing Leslie Anne Levine. It’s been over a decade and I can’t think of another song that makes me so immediately melancholic. While some songs and artists from that year have been tainted because they were introduced to me by my first boyfriend (freshman year was full of milestones and big feelings), for some reason The Decemberists escaped that shadow. Maybe because I already loved them more deeply than I would ever feel for my then-boyfriend.

On this, the day of The Decemberists’ new album, I took the opportunity to reflect on their new songs, their new sound, and how they make me feel:

1) Once In My Life: Starts strong with some Castaways vibes. Wait, no, more like Crane Wife. If you haven’t listened to their single Everything I Try To Do, Nothing Seems To Turn Out Right this is like that but more mainstream. I love the lyrics even though they’re simple. I can already picture myself jamming out to this driving down the coast or crying on any highway. I never really need chorus / background vocals, that’s just not the music I skew toward, and we could cut that out and make the song about half as long. It’s still going on my driving playlist though.

2) Cutting Stone: I was not ready for the tonal shift between songs. This could fit on Her Majesty except oh, with synth. So far I’m declaring this album Crane Wife’s Synth Sister.

Two thoughts between tracks: these lyrics seem more simplistic than in the past; I want to read the longest essay that’s like a vein diagram of Daniel Ortberg and The Decemberists and their imagery/storytelling. 

3) Severed: Starts with me thinking I’m about to enter like Tron or some 16 bit game. There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance between these tracks, it’s like someone bumped the knob that tuned the synth and accidentally put to much techno in it. I do enjoy the way the synth lulls me into thinking the song isn’t nearly as dark as it truly is. Also, I’ve had enough exposure therapy to this that I think it’s finally growing on me.

4) Starwatcher: I’m imagining this song playing out in like 16th c England for no reason but I could make a short film about it. It would have like Month Python aesthetic but be about like Galileo. He mentioned a laundromat so yes exactly like Month Python, just an anachronistic short film that mixes ancient and modern times.

5) Tripping Along: Strong acoustic opening. I’m already falling deeply in love with this. This is some Classic Decemberists; the tone is making me cry. It’s fine. I’m fine. A single tear rolled down my face when he sang “what messes are we” I’m just so glad this band is still in my life 13 years after I first heard them they are tied so tightly to my emotions. Just abandon me here.

6) Your Ghost: Another aggressive tone shift. I wasn’t prepared but I’m also into this song now that I’m over the shock. And not just because I’m a ghost. I’m getting like v subtle Beatles vibes. (Again, I don’t need the female chorus.) This reminds me of the haunted boardwalk level of Mario Kart 64. Or like Bowser’s Castle. I enjoy this as a Decemberists song and part of the album but I don’t think it’s one I would single out to listen to a lot unless it was  Halloween or I was in a particular mood/need it for a playlist.

7) Everything Is Awful: Is this going to be 2018’s anthem? It’s such a joyous calling out of how shitty our collective lives are. I can only listen to this super sparingly but I’m glad it exists. The cognitive dissonance of the major key with the lyrics is perfect, I’m pleased with this. “Kindly keep it down, I’m just trying to get some sleep.”

8) Sucker’s Prayer: Very classic rock intro. This is a solid jam. In the middle of the song I screamed, “OH MY GOD HE’S GONNA EDNA PONTELLIER!!!!” This song is depressing but perfect. This song is Good. Excellent guitar solo, we rarely get that from The Decemberists. Colin’s really hitting close to home with this one.

9) We All Die Young: The intro sounds like the Black Keys. [There are SO MANY tonal shifts in this album. I feel like the transitions could’ve been better.] Too much reverb/distortion for me. Oh this doesn’t fit them at all. They sound like they’re trying to be someone else. Shut it down. The discord is rough and my ears done like the scratchiness. I really want to skip this song and somehow there’s still 2 minutes left. They combined two of my least favorite things: children and background vocal choruses. And a sax solo?! Are they trying to lose all of my goodwill? Make this stop. I’m in pain. Drag my body into the sea I hate this. This is the opposite of ASMR; I’m so uncomfortable. 

10) Rusalka, Rusalka / Wild Rushes: The piano intro gives me some Kid A era Radiohead vibes so obviously I’m in. This is like California One/The Youth and Beauty Brigade + The Island. It’s gorgeous, I want to sink into it. I don’t know what to say about this except I feel like I really needed it and I’m glad I have it. Really transports me back to their older stuff.

11) I’ll Be Your Girl: Yes. Yes yes yes. Fuck. Goddddddd. I don’t even dislike the xylophone break this song is magical. It’s healing my soul.

Favorite songs:
1) Tripping Along 
2) I’ll Be Your Girl
3) Rusalka, Rusalka / Wild Rushes 
Honorable Mention: Sucker’s Prayer

MY ALBUM RANKING:

  1. Castaways and Cutouts – first Decemberists album I ever heard and will never not make me an emotional wreck and nostalgic in the best ways for all of the emotions I used to be able to access
  2. Picaresque – so many classic jams
  3. The Crane Wife – the first album I ever bought – same day as The Killers’ Sam’s Town
  4. What A Terrible World, What a Wonderful World – Honestly surprised it ranked this high?
  5. The King is Dead – I really hate Rocks in the Box which I think is hurting it here, but overall none of the songs were that memorable to me?
  6. Her Majesty, The Decemberists – nostalgia really gets me, okay?
  7. The Hazards of Love – artistically beautiful but I really value just being able to listen to a whole story in one song. I don’t have the patience/attention span for this
  8. I’ll Be Your Girl – there are songs here I’ll really grow to love but a) it’s too new, and b) the rest of the album sucks

Listen to the entire album here: https://open.spotify.com/track/2MiX5yjl5t1W4HgM6zTbDC

 

Pitch Wars 2017: #pimpmybio

I’m in the middle of a ton of different writing projects, so what better time to enter my first Pitch Wars? I’m submitting a story I’ve written about here a lot (remember when What’s Up, Wednesday? posts were a thing?) and always affectionately referred to as That Golf Story. Now it’s shiny and polished and actually has a title: No Matter How It Starts.

It’s a YA Contemporary about Carter, a 17-year-old with aspirations of playing golf in college. Everything’s going according to plan until her moms decide to move before her senior year and her new school doesn’t have a girls’ golf team. Instead of giving up or throwing a fit, Carter tries out for the boy’s team. It’s a fun story that’s got everything: the enemies-to-lovers trope, pranks, secret make-outs, a garage band, a diverse cast, and a lot of golf.

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Like my main character, I also played golf on my school’s varsity golf team, the only difference is that I got to play with the girls all four years. I still play whenever I have the chance but haven’t found anyone nearly as fun as Carter’s new teammates to share the course with.

For potential mentors: I have a BA in Political Communication and an MA in Televison-Radio-Film (okay, so maybe I watched too much of The West Wing when I was growing up). Which is to say that I’m used to thinking creatively but also practically. I have a pretty good sense of pitch and marketing, but definitely need the help to polish and present my work. Having written multiple screenplays, I’m used to getting constructive criticism and I’m not afraid to take my mentor’s advice to heart and work hard to make my writing the best it can be.

Aside from studying and working in tv, I also write about it on occasion. I currently contribute to The Televixen. Previously, I wrote recaps at Off Color TV (covering Parks & Rec, The Newsroom, The Mindy Project, and Teen Wolf). I grew up in both Alabama and Ohio but my favorite place to live is Washington, DC. Aside from YA books, I love college football, black coffee, Captain America, and oxford commas.

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Me, hitting a shot I thought landed in a bunker but actually stuck the green.

Television Tuesdays: The Good Place

The Good Place isn’t trying to be another Parks & Recreation, though both shows share a creator. It’s happy to be a weirder, more surreal cousin. It’s easy to see how the two are related, but they are also fiercely independent. What they have in common: both are beacons of warmth and humor on days when you can’t remember what it feels like to laugh. The Good Place just finished its first season on NBC.


The premise alone – the eternal afterlife in which you exist after your death – might not seem like it’s for you. But the show has so many layers, there’s something in it for you, I promise.

At times the show can seem too surreal, too fantastical, especially in the first few episodes as the it finds its footing. The overly-fake CGI and preposterousness were a little off-putting but are definitely worth enduring. Hold on. Keep watching. Because before you know it you’ll be thinking about existentialism and ethics. What kind of good are you doing in your life? Are you living life to the fullest? What, exactly, would your version of The Good Place look like and how would your perfect house be decorated?

Maybe you don’t want to consider the ethics of your daily life. I know I don’t. But the show doesn’t force introspection, it’s too busy making you laugh. You feel good because you’re probably a better person than Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) was when she was on Earth. Or you think, “If Tahani made it into The Good Place, I definitely will. At least my altruism isn’t done just so I can brag”.

Despite making it into The Good Place, the main characters that populate it are all beautifully flawed in such relatable ways. Chidi can’t make a decision to save his after-life. Tahani’s kindness is a performance. Eleanor is the voice in the back of your brain that speaks before you can censor yourself. And Jianyu, well, he’s something else entirely.

It’s a weird show, but it’s meaningful and it’s good. It’s hard to discuss without spoiling the show and the way that the season unfolds is worth watching on your own.  The character growth is gradual and the relationships built between the characters feel organic. It carefully balances on the line between providing an escape from the real world and forcing yourself to confront your own reality.

I could go on. I can’t stop thinking about the depth and layers of friendship between Eleanor and Chidi. I could, and someday might, write a thousand words on how The Good Place is one of the most brilliant takes on a dystopia I’ve ever seen. It will take a very long time before I stop picturing Adam Scott as his character, a representative from The Bad Place. The Good Place wasn’t brilliant right out of the gate, but it had a brilliant first season. It’s definitely worth giving a chance because it’s one of those rare shows that’s delightful to watch.