The Thousand Steps

•September 19, 2019 • 1 Comment

Now that I’m leaving my payroll job I’ve been trying to make a step-by-step guide to help train or re-train anyone they decide to pull in to cut checks once I’m gone. As it turns out, this is a nightmare. It takes about a million steps to navigate the system and it is all done with key commands. Not all of these are intuitive. Does this step require going to the list entitled “Check” under the header “Client” or the sub-list entitled “Checks” under “Templates”? Do I need to hit “F10” to select this option or do I hit “Enter” or do I hit “End”? How can I tell if it’s working? How do I know which lines to delete and which lines to add details to?

It took me months to learn all this. I remember being TERRIFIED of it in the beginning. I didn’t have a clue how the program was structured or how to fix any issues or what to do if there was an unexpected variable like withholding for dues or a miscellaneous reimbursement.

Now I can do it so fast I do it by counting key strokes instead of reading the screen. Arrow arrow arrow Enter Down Down Down Down Enter Enter Down Right Down…

I’m realizing now just how much information I’ve accumulated over three years, which doesn’t seem long considering the volume and considering that about six months was spent learning a completely new system that was subsequently abandoned.

To be fair, some of this information is kinda Dummy information: once you know how to navigate to the invoice program, for instance, you won’t need a refresher every time. But it needs to be in there for someone who is coming at this with zero experience. The document is over thirty pages long already, and I haven’t even gotten into any of the variables like other work states or union checks yet. It’s going to be yet another monster magnum opus, but at least it has pictures. And I know someone will read it, LOL.



•September 17, 2019 • 1 Comment

I had two different scripts submitted in the Austin Film Festival screenplay competition. One of them moved on to the second round in the drama category, and the other one didn’t place in a meaningful way. I mean, I haven’t officially gotten the Notification of Regret about it yet, but the shortlist was posted last night and it wasn’t on it, so I’m assuming that means I can expect an email that begins with the word “Unfortunately”.

The script that advanced was the script that I wrote for a USC grad student’s thesis project. I’m pleased that it placed well, but don’t really feel like I can take much credit for it since I was working off someone else’s concept and characters. It was a genre piece: nominally “steampunk” but with elements of dystopian sci fi. I leaned towards the kind of rollicking, pulp adventure of an Indiana Jones movie: heavy on the exciting set pieces, without going too deep into subtlety or subtext.

The other script was fully my own original: a coming-of-age comedy that came together in a way that I was proud of. It felt stronger than any of my other work and I expected it to do well, even if I didn’t think it was likely to win outright.

It didn’t place meaningfully in the Nicholls Fellowship Competition earlier this year and I was a bit stung: it was better than the previous script is submitted and that one had placed pretty well, why hadn’t this one? I got the reader notes a month or so later and they had a few useful pointers, but neither one seemed to have had any strong objection to it. So I couldn’t blame the readers: it’s not like one person had hated it for some reason. It’s not like the notes were politely trying to couch disdain in complimentary language.

I thought maybe it just hadn’t been the right kind of story for a Nicholls audience: too weird and lighthearted maybe. Not enough wrenching angst. I had hopes that it would do better in AFF, and felt hopeful after hearing that the other script was a second-rounder. If a swashbuckling genre adventure could place well, surely an ensemble comedy would be well received.


… Right?

I’m baffled, frankly. Is my judgement of my own work really that inaccurate? The people who beta read the script for me had nice things to say, so I’d been reassured in my assessment at the time. It’s not that I think it was such a phenomenal work of staggering genius that to be overlooked was an insult that requires pistols at dawn, but I didn’t think it was that bad either. And by that bad I mean: of too poor of quality to rank in the top twenty percent. I mean, for all I know it could be ranked exactly at twenty one percent- or it could be the script everyone secretly holds up as the example of Things Not To Do. How on earth did I go wrong? What’s more: how did I not know that the work wasn’t going to measure up? I try to be pretty realistic about my weaknesses, and I genuinely thought this was a great little script. I still do. I’m still proud of it, but it’s easy for this kind of thing to get under my skin. Am I just fooling myself? What other things have I been fooling myself about? Who am I to say my work is good if other people aren’t agreeing with me?

It’s a slippery and subjective slope. I’m trying not to think about it too much: it’s only two contests, after all. In this competition alone it was up against 11,000 other scripts so there was a lot of competition. But still… The other script did well, why not this in one?

At any rate, I guess I need to take myself down a peg and give my work a good long look to see where I can improve.

Beach Run

•September 16, 2019 • 1 Comment

The Curmudgeonly Lion flew home to Chicago to surprise his mom for her birthday, so I was left without adult supervision for the weekend. I spent the days vacillating back and forth between Responsible Adulting and Imma Do What I Want. Weed whacking the backyard, turning in the recycling, cleaning the house and rolling up our jar of loose change fell into the first category, while binge watching the Good Place, grabbing coffee with an old collaborator, going running on the beach and eating half a rotissere chicken straight off the bones beast-style feel into the second.

Oh, and I learned that I’ll happily stay up until damn midnight if I don’t have a responsible grown up reminding me to go to bed.

So it was a busy weekend.

The highlight, to me, was going running on the beach. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for months. I even made one not-quite-successful attempt back in April which was somewhat derailed by the fact that the stretch of beach I’d chosen was not equipped with a significant length of path and I spent most of my time trying to navigate around breakwaters and traffic.

This time I would be smart: I knew there was a paved bike path down in Santa Monica and I suspected that I could probably follow it pretty far if I timed things right. At first, I thought the obvious time to do it would be after driving the Curmudgeonly Lion to the airport in the morning: I’d already be down at that end of the city and it was likely to be cool and uncrowded. It was the perfect plan except for one thing: the flight was before dawn and the coast was still pitch black by the time I got there. Aside, of course, from the dazzling full moon which: while gorgeous, did not lend itself to the safety of a lone female runner on an unfamiliar stretch of path. I was forced to admit that it was too dark even for me, and I aborted the plan and went home.

All day long I debated with myself: did I really want to haul myself all the way back out there just to go for a run? It was a fifty minute drive one way and it was a hot, sunny Saturday at the end of the summer: it might be crowded. And parking…

In the end I decided that it was worth it: I’d wanted to do this for months and this was my chance to do it. If I left right then I could get there and still have half an hour until sunset to run. So I put on my running clothes and headed out the door.

The drive wasn’t short and parking wasn’t cheap, but I made it to the beach and the sun was still high enough to give me plenty of time to run. I made my way to the path and headed north, headed into the golden blaze of sunset. I told myself that I’d run along the path until thesun touched the horizon and then is run back while it set and while I still had a bit of twilight to find my way. It was a perfect time of the day to be out and running was easy and fun. I didn’t know how far I was going (I mapped it afterwards and it turned out to be about five miles round trip) which was a new experience: typically I’m extremely aware of just how far I’ll going when I run. It was like visiting a strange culture: everyone was so tan and active. I wondered what they must think of me: white as sea foam, trotting along in their midst.

When I made it back to the car I decided to walk out to the water line to dip my toes in the surf while I cooled down. It was the hazy purple of near-dark by then, but it seemed only right, having come this far, to make it to the water. I stood barefoot on the wet sand and stated out over the waves and just tried to Be Now for a while and to let the ocean wash away the anxieties and frustrations and insecurities still gnawing at the back of my mind. I wanted to absorb the feeling of being present there on the edge of the world at the end of the day and being at peace with it.

I felt better.

I hope it will last.

Ten Down

•September 13, 2019 • 5 Comments

I finally finished editing a chapter of my novel that needed some streamlining. I’ve been working on it for several weeks and I don’t think there’s a single part that I didn’t pick apart and run my grubby little hands over before putting it back together again. Characters were cut. Darlings were killed. Action was simplified. Unnecessary dialogue was trimmed.

When all was said and done I’d managed to trim about three pages of text. That didn’t seem like much, but when I pasted it into the larger document I discovered that I’d trimmed ten pages off the total page count, and I was only as far as Chapter 4.

It’s still a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things: the total page count is still over nine hundred pages of awesome, but the fact that I was able to trim so much bulk out of so few chapters feels reassuring. Maybe I’ll be able to wrestle this into a manageable wordcount after all. The challenge has been thrown down.

I’m hoping to submit this manuscript to a few mentors for Pitch Wars. I want to believe that it would be eye catching for a mentor to want to work on, but I worry that the word count might scare them away without reading any of the prose. A part of me is already wondering if it might be worthwhile to divide the story into a trilogy, although it’s not written in a genre that lends itself to serialization. I’m wondering whether it’s worth submitting only the first third to the mentorship program to try to get a sense of whether or not it will stand on its own. I worry that to not submit the whole script might seem disingenuous: like I’m trying to “sneak” a big project in under the guise of a reasonable wordcount, which isn’t my intention at all, but I’m not sure if it would count for our against me.

The novelists dilemma: artistic vision vs commercial viability.

Anyway, it’s a marathon not a sprint.

New Model

•September 12, 2019 • 3 Comments

There’s a new model of bus that has been rolled out along my route. It’s clean and shiny and it still smells like factory plastic and I hate it.

The new bus is shorter than the old one. The raised portion in the back, where I like to sit, no longer includes any inward-facing seats: all the seats are front facing. As a tall person, this means my only option is to sit with my knees wedged up against the seat in front of me. Correspondingly, this means that trying to work on a laptop is an exercise in elbow management and wrist flexibility. I don’t ask for much out of my work space, but I do need at least enough room to get my elbows behind my laptop: it’s the chief reason why I can’t get any work done on airplanes and it’s the reason why I always sit facing inward on the bus.

I’m doing my best to adapt. In truth, I might only be riding the bus for another week or so: when I change jobs I’ll be driving for a few weeks until get used to the new commute. So far, I’ve tried sitting sideways on the seat (uncomfortable and impractical) and I’ve tried moving to one of the rearmost seats which has slightly more leg room and seemed to be a reasonably acceptable workaround, depending on availability.

I suppose in the scheme of things this is a small gripe to have: it’s a nice new bus, after all, and I won’t have to put up with the inconvenience for long, but I’m still annoyed.

Real Feel

•September 11, 2019 • Leave a Comment

The word went out among my co-workers about my impending departure, so I’ve been fielding well-wishes all afternoon. It’s nice to be congratulated so much, but at the same time it’s surprisingly a lot of work. Up until now it all felt a bit dream-like, as if getting a new job were just something that I’d been thinking too loudly, but which wasn’t really real. Now it feels real.

Aside from that, my day to day routine hasn’t changed much. The actual work is the same. The commute is the same. The writing is the same, although I’m finally closing in on completing the rewrite of the chapter I was editing. I managed to cut a couple pages out of it, but I’m a little surprised that I didn’t manage to trim more volume. It’s one of the longest chapters in the book, but I only managed to trim about two pages. I’m going to give it a read-through on the bus ride home to give it one last comb-through, so maybe there will still be a few more trims that I can make.

This probably isn’t the world’s most interesting post: I’m still in a strange, transitional head space and I don’t quite know what’s on my mind these days. I’m somewhere between trying to focus on being present and trying to not think of anything at all lest I get swept into a feedback loop. With luck I’ll be back to my old self soon.


•September 10, 2019 • Leave a Comment

“Well, I have good news and I have bad news and it’s the same news.”

I recited the words in my head like a mantra; as if I was afraid that I might forget them. I’d been reciting them all morning, working up the nerve to walk into my boss’s office to actually say them. I’d planned to do it right away in the morning, but didn’t want to ambush her right the minute that she got in. Then I thought maybe I’d do it on my way to lunch when things were likely to be quiet, but when the time came I thought that maybe it would be better to put it off until afterwards: that way I wouldn’t be doing it on an empty stomach.

It had been easy to procrastinate.

“I have good news and I have bad news and it’s the same news: I’ve been offered a new job and I need to put in my two weeks notice.”

Why were the words so… slippery? Why was I so afraid of having to say them? It felt important for me to say them in person: I liked my boss and respected her, and an email felt like a cowardly way to break the news. I’d follow up with an email, of course: it was already written and saved as a draft in my email server so that I’d have a paper record of it. But saying the words was hard.

Oh, yes, by the way I got a new job: a production assistant position on a Paramount Animation feature in the script and editorial department. I’d taken a half day a few weeks ago in order to interview, and the offer came in like a breath of hopeful sunshine just before the weekend. I didn’t want to tell anybody about it until the paperwork was signed: afraid that if I spoke my good fortune too loudly that something would happen to take it away from me. But I felt a sense of relief: as if I were being released out of some kind of suffocating box where I’d been struggling not to tear myself apart with frustration.

I finished my lunch, screwed my courage to the sticking place, and forced myself to do the deed. My boss was sweet and disappointed to see me go, but not surprised.

“We had an inkling.” She said: either from the the fact I’d been taking afternoons off a lot lately, or from the fact that I could be seen crying uncontrollably at my desk on a regular basis. I’m pretty sure my co-workers refer to me as The Crying Girl behind my back, but I suppose that’s better than The Farter or The Nosepicker. They’re all perfectly nice people, but they can be as shady as a grove of oaks.

So I unlocked a level of adulthood: giving a formal two weeks notice to an employer. Before this, all my jobs had been temporary, self-employed, volunteer, academic, seasonal or project based.

Once the deed was done, I felt a twinge of guilt: I was leaving a good job: the work was easy, the stress level was low, the co-workers were amicable, and, of course, my boss was lovely. Other employees had been at the company for decades, and it was easy to see where the loyalty came from, it was a good job, it just wasn’t good for me.

A part of me is nervous about the change: I’m going to be plunged into a completely different world with completely different people and a new commute as with new responsibilities, but a bigger part of me is glad- I’ve needed this change for a long time. Maybe now I’ll be able to escape the feeling of being trapped in a holding pattern. Maybe now life can begin.

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