Change. Now.

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We had a signal in 2016. Vote. Don’t take a chance. Don’t run that risk.

We failed to show up.

We have seen violence exacted on people of color again and again. We’ve watched with horror, yet remained silent.

We failed to speak up.

We witnessed the divisive acts of this administration. We were told to wait it out. It won’t be that bad. We waited too long.

We failed to act.

We have made mistake after mistake, failure after failure. We have turned a blind eye and kept our mouths shut. But that ended with the life of George Floyd. The wave of pain and frustration flooded every corner of this country, and the scream that came with it bellowed:

We must change. Right now.

We don’t have a choice in this matter. The change is here. It’s happened in a moment when millions of Americans are jobless and millions more are staying home because we are in the middle of a pandemic. The American people are able to take to the streets in numbers never before seen in our history. Not just once or twice but in double-digit days. And those who are not protesting are watching. We are all bearing witness. The world took notice. The world is demanding justice, not only for Mr. Floyd, but for themselves.

There is no going back.

Peaceful protests were turned into police riots when officers began attacking citizens. These protestors were already risking their lives by being in crowds during the pandemic, only to risk physical harm by being attacked by those who were sworn to protect and serve. In their rage, officers forgot cameras are everywhere. We watched them exercising brutality without cause. Their violence can no longer be downplayed or misrepresented as self-defense. We clearly see what has been hidden for too long.

For just shy of nine minutes, George Floyd was held down with a knee to his neck. Four officers murdered a man who was unarmed and cooperative, who warned he could not breathe, who called out for his dead mother. It’s believed that for four of those minutes, Mr. Floyd was dead. For 526 seconds, not one of those four officers bothered to check on his well-being. If not for the young woman brave enough to film Mr. Floyd’s murder, this would have been another BIPOC death in police custody declared justified.

This happened after Breonna Taylor was murdered in her home.

This happed after Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down while on a run.

This happened after Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, Philando Castile and Sandra Bland. After Rodney King’s beating. After the assassinations of Malcolm X and Dr. King. After innumerable acts of violence and hundreds of years of injustice. We can stand no more.

Some people saw protests. Others saw riots. Too many focused on looting. What we saw and are seeing is the long-awaited evolution. Revolution that is so overdue. Take a moment to watch author Kimberly Jones powerfully and passionately explain:

For a country that believes in freedom, equality is a component of that which has long been missing. It is time to bring this country together on an equal field. To love and truly care for each other, as Americans. As brothers and sisters. As one.

We’re taught that politics are not part of polite conversation. We are media-trained to keep our political beliefs away from our public personae. That’s wrong. That’s how to keep bigotry hidden, the polite racism that abounds around us. The quiet part kept quiet. I want you to know who I am. I want you to understand what I believe.

I am antiracist. I believe Black Lives Matter. I want this change. I wish it had happened much sooner. I am enraged. I am heartbroken. I was quiet for too long, even when I was speaking out.

I tolerated racists in my life—as friends, as employers. It could be excused as, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” But that’s a cop-out.

Since 2016, I have been dismissing those people from my life. Sometimes quietly, more often loudly pointing out their racism before the ties were severed. It was sadly surprising to see how the election freed people to show their bigotry. But, in some ways, it was good—now I see you clearly. Now I can’t ignore that ugliness. Now, there’s no excuse. Better to be exposed so it could be called out.

I also have to examine my colorblindness. It’s problematic yet we were made to feel it was evolved and right. How it presents for me is seeing my BIPOC friends through my lens and my experience, forgetting theirs is unimaginably different and failing to open the conversation about it. It’s embarrassing and disrespectful, and only shows the blindness of my white privilege. That will change.

I will continue to point out racism each time I see it. I will no longer love the sinner unconditionally. That sin must be cleansed. I am not worried about how that will affect me as a private person or publicly as an independent author, or how that may lessen my audience. That is so unimportant.

Another small step I’ve taken is to boycott Facebook and Instagram until Mark Zuckerberg changes his policy to enforce community standards equally, removing posts that are racist and incite violence, even if those come from the President of the United States, and to ban abusive users, even if that includes the President of the United States. [The fact that this even needs to be requested makes my stomach turn.] I am nowhere near an influencer, so my impact will be that of a grain of sand. But you cannot expect a company to change if you continue to use its services. It’s easy to stay on those platforms because that’s where your friends are/your audience is, and it took a long time to cultivate that crowed. Your livelihood might be tied to it, too. And you know, so what? By staying engaged, you are allowing a racist to keep to his ways and make him even richer. I say, use your influence more wisely.

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I breakdown social media like a high school quad: Facebook is for folks who want to be popular; Instagram is for those who think pretty is important; Twitter is where the bookish kids and rebels hang out. It’s smarter. It’s harder. It’s better. If you think you’re making social change on Facebook or Instagram, when was the last time a Facebook meme did anything (except cause arguments)? What you’re typically re-posting is something that came from Twitter. Not that Twitter is perfect by any stretch; it’s trying to be better, though. Twitter is where you’ll find me, being angry and occasionally funny, and sharing information from people much wiser than me. Please connect with me there. If you’re new to it, @ me and I’ll help you out.

If you’re brave enough, maybe leave Facebook and Instagram for the rest of June, or all of July, or maybe until it changes. (I haven’t been on my personal Facebook for about two years now. Trust me, you won’t miss it.) That company needs to change. It’s time for it to evolve. It has to. But that chance will only occur if you force it.

Force it.

Find a way to make a stand because the time to take action is now. Every moment of every day from now until we have made reform.

We had high hopes for 2020. Not even halfway through it, and we have been knocked over by it again and again and again. Today, we are standing up stronger. Today, we can again have hope for 2020. It is up to us to recreate the city/state/country we call home.

We have five months until the election, another seven before we have a new president in the White House. We cannot wait. We must show up. We must speak up. We must act. We must change.

We must. Right now.

Creating Amid COVID-19

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“I thought I would have more time to write,” a friend shared during a group Skype. Four of us were catching up with a virtual cocktail hour late last week. We are fortunate, with day jobs that allow us to work from home, without reduced hours (yet) but with added responsibilities. “Once I’m done with work, I’m done,” she said. We all nodded in agreement, understanding the exhaustion, complimenting each other for looking well, if not a little worse for wear. Stress is thick as the smog that used to cover L.A.

We hoisted our glasses to each other, or at least our computer screens, toasting friendship, health and hope. We joked about our adjusted shower schedules, the odd adventures had simply by going outside, the changes in behavior—both our own and those we meet, and the shocking surprise at how many people think six feet is a subjective length. A deep discussion was had about toilet paper and our newfound philosophies of its use. There was a quip about what this administration has brought us to, but very little is funny about that right now. We found other things to laugh about. Thank God there are still things to laugh about.

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The world is weird right now. Everything is at a distance but oppressive in its weight. We try to ignore what we can as best we can. We have to. It’s a coping mechanism, a requirement to face another day not knowing how many more like it we’ll have to force our way through, bidding farewell to the concept of normal as we go.

We try to be good friends and partners, supportive to those who need us. Giving to those in need. Endlessly praying for healthcare workers, first responders and those precious people essential to our daily lives. Watching as people ignore facts and science, are arrogant with guidelines, dismissive of people’s sacrifices. Waiting for some sort of breakthrough or good news.

Those of us who create usually find respite in that endeavor. Writing, painting, dancing, cooking, knitting, singing, jamming, spinning—that was the escape. We got to go into our own world and make something. We could drown out the noise and replenish our spirit. Now? Now there’s a cacophony of concern and fear and worry and sorrow and dread and anger and impatience, and all of that blocks the intersection of inspiration and imagination. Even if we have time for our art, we may not be in the mental or emotional space to enjoy it.

Last month marked the L.A.L.A. Society’s Writers’ March, where we dedicated 1 hour each day to progress on our WIPs. I put in my time each day, which wasn’t always easy, finding myself still stuck on the first three chapters of Novel 3 (yes, still). I re-read them, tweaked scenes, changed a word here or there and usually changed it back again. The story was alive and well and thriving in my mind, but it seemed to be following the Stay Home order, too; refusing to leave my brain to make it onto the page.

I didn’t push. I know better than that. I would still jot down scenes in my notebook or several squares of Post-Its. The creativity was there; it just couldn’t get to the other side.

As soon as I went into lockdown, I made a decision to move. Each morning, the first thing I did (right after making my bed) was exercise. Mostly yoga, but there’s some Pilates, a bit of kettle bell-ing, an urban hike every so often. Rather than feeling like a chore, like something I had to do, it felt nurturing. I looked forward to it. I did it before I could see the news, before checking Twitter…but after a quick glance at the top stories on my phone (because that’s responsible). Sometimes, it was a hard twenty, others it was an hour of flow, mostly it was hitting that 40-minute sweet spot. More than exercise, what it actually was was giving time to myself. Giving to myself. Taking care of myself. Caring.

After my workout, I make tea and breakfast. Then, I sit down to work, better prepared for the stress of that. Afterwards, I make dinner, settle in and open my MacBook to write. And the writing comes comfortably. It no longer feels like a chore, like another obligation. It’s heavenly.

The other day, instead of savasana, I went into a headstand. The first one in a while. The first time trying one in my tiny space—disaster looming on all sides if I were to fall out of it and not tuck into a small ball as I went. To my surprise, it was effortless, like someone was pulling me up from my feet. I held the pose for a while. I didn’t have to think about it, analyze it or worry. Deep down, I knew what to do. Somewhere along the line, I had gained strength. Somehow, I remembered to trust myself. Trust myself completely.

Surprisingly, my writing had relaxed even though my stress level rose. I wasn’t simply sitting down to write anymore, but rushing to get to my laptop in order to get it all out. Take what has lived in my head for so long and escort it to the keyboard, onto the screen that will one day turn into a page. I’m halfway through Chapter 5 now, enjoying the writing process again.

Every now and then, I go back to that airplane lecture we politely ignore, flight attendants telling us to put on our mask first. A whole other level of irony surrounds that now, in this crazy time of COVID-19, but the simple message is one we tend to ignore: You cannot take care of anyone or anything well unless you have taken care of yourself first. We worry that will make us selfish. Not at all. Self-protection, self-caring differs greatly from being selfish.

Take care of yourself. Find a way to be kind and nurture yourself. There is so much stress and fear and worry and sorrow we are wading through; you just need a few minutes each day to take care of yourself. Allow yourself that. You’ll gain more than you realize. Then you can give even more to those you love. Including your art and muse.

 

My Year Off From Writing (And Why I Recommend It)

If you know me (either through my writing or IRL), you know that I call BS on anyone who claims to write every day — EVERY SINGLE DAY — of their lives. (No: texts, tweets and grocery lists do not count.) Because: Even when you’re sick? When you gave birth? Went to a funeral? Travelled internationally? That time you had surgery and were knocked out on drugs for a solid 24? There is no way, no matter how prolific or dedicated a writer is, that anyone can, in fact, write EVERY SINGLE DAY of their existence. So let’s not exaggerate.

But, let’s define “writing”. Is it putting words on a page, or is it mulling over the story, characters and dialogue in your brain? Because, if it’s the mulling, I suspect very few writers ever stop writing. [My best writing happens while brushing my teeth or in the shower. I should have a whiteboard mounted in the bathroom so I can more easily jot down whatever genius gems came to me while sudsy or foaming; instead, there’s a damp trail to the nearest pen and Post-It.] The story is relentless in that way. A writer’s mind is never quiet.

So, if you know me, you also know that I took 2019 off from writing (aside from the mulling). I had released three books in three years (2016-2018), and intended to keep that book-a-year pace going. I know, right? Hysterical! But I have goals, people, and a long TBW list (that’s To Be Written, in case you didn’t guess).

With best laid plans and God laughing, I hit a wall of sorts in late 2018. You see, I’m not the type of creative that can churn it out–something I learned back in my first year of film school when we were expected to create and deliver a new film each week. I just couldn’t, even if they were only one minute long (the mulling is also vital to filmmaking), and I got a little miffed that I was expected to. In response, my next short was about forced creativity wherein I filmed a dripping faucet and asked, “What is art?” then rhetorically posed, “If I shat in a box and called it art, is it art, or just shit in a box?”

You can imagine my teacher’s response, but then we had a long talk about the creative process, the point in pushing ourselves and the point of not. But I still don’t want to create shit in a box. My self-imposed deadlines were making me feel like that first year student. It was silly.

So, when I stood all kissy-face with that wall, I recognized it for what it was and embraced it. I even thanked it. Then, I pressed pause on all creative plans. My author’s ego wasn’t exactly pleased. What do you mean we aren’t writing? it would ask. Writers write! it would remind. But sometimes a sabbatical is necessary. If you keep farming the same soil, you will deplete it and, soon enough, nothing good will grow.

I began 2019 depleted. There was a little health scare (I’m fine) that took six months to get the all-clear on and, during that time, there was a good deal of reflection and re-prioritizing. One priority was enjoying life more. That meant addressing stress, dealing with fatigue and being more in my life than going through it. Time that I normally would have held for writing needed to go to other things (cooking, exercising, socializing) and that wasn’t an easy choice to make. Writers write. Stories are persistent nags. You feel like a terrible parent ignoring your offspring when you aren’t working on your book. But this break was necessary. And soon, I eased into it.

Even though I wasn’t writing, I was still an author. I had four books to talk about, the craft itself to discuss, a society of authors to collaborate with and advocate for, writerly events to attend. The writing itself was on hold, but the mulling…well, there was still a damp trail to the nearest pen and Post-it. By the time the holidays came, I was excited to get typing away again. But with a new perspective.

What that year off gave me was the chance to recharge and reconsider how I wanted my writer’s life to be. And it’s going to be slower, something that an A-type Aries isn’t exactly comfortable with. I’ll give myself an hour each day to write and/or edit and set aside one weekend a month to go deep into that writer’s cave. That leaves me much more time to commit to self-care, such as cooking and exercising and spending time with the people I love in a manner that is not distracted. Finally, I get to have it all.

On the writing front, it’s going quite smoothly. I have a new perspective on Novel 3 that brings me a lot of joy. It’s a bigger story than my first two, and that’s been a little daunting. All of the backstory wanted to get out onto the page and it was a constant battle to pare it down. Now, it’s distilled to its essence–a bonus of the mulling process.

While it may sound like I’m limiting myself as a writer time-wise, it’s actually the opposite. It’s an appointment with myself, time that is to be honored, set as sacred. Surely there will come a point when the book will take over and demand all of my free time. I’ll give in to it then. That’s all part of the birthing process. But now I know the balance I need to enjoy all facets of my life. I like how it all sparkles.

If you, dear fellow writer, feel out of balance, give yourself some time off to rediscover who you are away from the page. It is not time taken away from creation, but a nourishment of your artist’s soul. Rest that soil so it will be prolifically fruitful once more.