Thursday, April 28, 2016

The perils of paying attention.

You know how they say if you're not angry, then you're not paying attention? Is there an end to that statement that warns you that if you start paying attention, you're likely to become so enraged that you won't be able to sleep, and you won't be able to talk without crying, and there is nothing else you think about except the glaring injustices you are now finally seeing? 

I don't remember reading that part. 

I have been quiet here. I have been too angry to write. I've been too full of despair, felt too isolated. This started back when Hillary lost Michigan. The things that people were saying about her enraged me, and in that moment I could see the presidency slipping from her, and I couldn't help but wonder what would be different if she were a man. (Please note: I'm not arguing that she lost MI because she's a woman.)

Right after that, we watched American Crime Story, and it was the Marcia Clark episode. I haven't stopped thinking about it. It wrecked me, and I don't know if I'll ever actually find the words to talk about it here.

Then, I heard a fact about how Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has two Oscars all to himself but only one woman in the history of the Academy has ever won an Oscar for directing. Let's just say the population is split 50/50, men and women. Shouldn't the Oscars reflect that, just a little? And then I had a dream where I won an Academy Award for directing, but the Oscar itself was modified to look like a cartoonish woman, and it wasn't made of solid gold like the real Oscar - it was plastic. Winning the award was considered just as prestigious, but I was being given the Lady Oscar, not the real Oscar. And in my dream, I tried to reason with myself that I still won an Oscar and I should be happy, and this shouldn't be a big deal.

And then I was driving Maddie to school one day and a thought popped into my head that unless abortion is legal, women have no choice in parenthood but men do. Once a woman is pregnant and denied access to abortion, she is saddled with a child. A man can just bolt. I've always been pro-choice, but I'd never thought about it this way. It filled me with rage.

And then I read this article about how if Bernie were a woman, he'd never have gotten this far, and if Hillary, as a woman, were as "revolutionary" as Bernie, she would've never gotten this far, and the only way she DID get this far was to play the game the way it's supposed to be played, and that Bernie has been able to play the game differently because he's a man.

And then I saw this. In case you don't feel like clicking, it's a link to a Bernie Sanders event called "Bern the Witch."

And then all of these injustices started popping up in my head. When you're a fat teenage girl, you're mocked and teased and made to feel like you're supposed to be something else, something better. When you're a fat teenage boy, you're encouraged to play football. Unless you're an effeminate fat teenage boy - and then you're mocked and teased and made to feel like you're supposed to be something else, something better. When you're a guy and you don't shave, you look rugged and manly. When you're a woman and you don't shave, you're a man-hating hippie.

When you're a woman running for president, you have to show up with makeup on and hair done. You have to pick an outfit strategically - it's not just a necktie you have to worry about. You have to be careful to not raise your voice, lest you sound "shrill." People talk about your fat thighs and your small breasts. Forget your experience - you are reduced to your parts, and to an idea of what a woman should be.

Generally speaking, I have been lucky. My mom raised me to not depend on men, ever. She raised me to not depend on anyone, so I never have (although I have eased in quite comfortably to the role of silent partner when it comes to bill-paying in our household). I was a theatre kid/band geek in high school, so my male friends were mostly gay, or super intelligent, or both. I have worked for the past 10 years for a company run by two women, full of more women than men.

Still: I have suffered on account of being a woman. I have been told to smile by men I don't know. I have been whistled at. I have received unwanted sexual comments. I have been afraid. I have felt less-than, because I don't look the way I think I'm supposed to look, the way men want me to look. In the field as a director, I've been surrounded by men, sometimes men who don't respect me because I'm a woman, men who will question my authority or knowledge, but who would never do the same to a man. I've been treated poorly by men who do not find me sexually desirable - men I've WORKED with.

I have never been raped. I am one of the lucky ones. Years ago, I had this notion that I would never be raped because men didn't want me enough. That is a seriously messed up way of thinking on so many levels, borne of decades of not feeling attractive, of seeing what is considered beautiful and noticing that I don't fit into that.

Somehow, for most of my life, I have ignored most of this, or I just haven't let it bother me. I've just accepted it as part of my life. But lately, the egregiousness of it is consuming me. I don't know if it's in such stark relief now because there is a woman running for president, and it's clear to me how differently she is judged than her male opponents, or if because there is at least one male running for president who openly despises women. Maybe it's because I now have two young girls I'm raising, who look to me to learn how to live in this world, who already have their own ideas of what is feminine and what isn't, who will only learn more as they get older how unfairly women are treated. Or maybe it's because finally, at 37 years old, I know for certain that I am worth the space I take up, that I have just as much to offer as any man does, that if the boys get to play, then I get to play too. Maybe it's because I finally understand that there is no wrong way to be a woman, so the kind of woman I am is the right kind of woman, because there is no other option. I guess it's never too late to learn this.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Checking in

Right when I finished my 30 days project, I was faced with a looming deadline on a script at work, which took up every minute of my time at work and at home. And then, I was faced with a crisis where I switched from just a feminist to an Angry Feminist (it started with the Marcia, Marica, Marcia episode of American Crime Story), and since then, I've been full of rage and asking everyone when the new planet will be ready, so that I can leave this place and take only the wonderful people with me. 

Bloggable things have happened, but I've been too angry to write about them. One would argue that I should write about the stuff that makes me angry. Well, I tried, and I couldn't get it to sound not-insane. So instead, let me give you a run down of just a few things that have happened over the past few weeks that I want to remember:

1. For a while, Maddie was saying "BINGO" instead of "jinx." We told her the word is "jinx," but she can't remember that, so now she says "JENGA!" It's the best.

2. I asked Isabella what she wanted the Easter bunny to bring her, and she said, "Candy! And a note. I want the Easter bunny to write me a note." Okay.

3. Election coverage was on, and Maddie said, "Why is there never a girl president?" That was about 2 weeks ago and I haven't stopped hugging her. 

4. I'm really excited for March to be over. These primary Tuesdays are killing me. 

5. I received an honorable mention for the story I submitted to NYC Midnight. I hated the story I submitted, but it got me writing again, and out of 40 entries in my heat, 5 moved on to the next round and 3 got honorable mentions. I'm trying to remind myself I don't suck. This helps. 

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Day 30

Yesterday was day 30 of my self-imposed 30-entries-in-30-days. Here is what I learned, in no particular order:

1. Perfection is not even worth my time. I wrote 24 entries, not 30. I started to panic about it when I realized I was more than 2 days behind. But then I reminded myself that hey, I've written more in the past month than I have in the past year, so let's focus on that.

2. People like reading what I write. Some entries were more popular than others, and it wasn't always easy to predict which entires would be popular. Also, it was surprising to me to see who WASN'T reading - and by that I mean who didn't comment on Facebook, or who didn't "like" any of my entries, or who didn't even notice I was writing more again. I didn't take this as judgment - it was just very clear that more people OUTSIDE my circle were very much interested, and were supportive and excited to see I was writing. So... I don't really know what to make of that. But my takeaway is that I do have an audience, and while it's important to me to write for myself, it's nice to know people want to read.

3. None of us are baby geniuses. A friend said this to me a few weeks ago and it stuck with me. I have this underlying fear that because I can't write The World According to Garp, I shouldn't write anything at all. First of all, that is nonsense. Secondly, it is not even a unique thought. It's such a boring and common thought, so I'm trying to shut that up, and I've realized that my writing is something that will get better with practice, as opposed to writing it off as "not good enough."

4. I am a writer. This is more a reminder than a realization. All I need to do to hold on to this title is write. I don't need to get published, I don't need to be perfect, I don't need people to tell me I'm good. I just need to write.

5. I need to think like a writer. This is probably the biggest change over the past month. The more I make time for writing in my life, the more I think like a writer - I see more, I listen more, I'm more curious, I'm more empathetic and understanding. This all makes the writing come a little easier, and it starts to feel like it's easier to write than to NOT write (which is something Julia Cameron promises in The Artist's Way).

6. The "why" is important, but not always necessary. I have a constant conversation in my head about WHY we tell stories, and why we feel compelled to create. This kind of goes with number 3. The why is definitely important, but not having it should never prevent me from writing.

7. I have no idea what kind of stuff I want to write. My go-to is short fiction. But sometimes I want to write a novel. Other times, a play. Other times, a screenplay. Sometimes, a web series. It's okay to not know... but I plan on spending the next few months working on various things to try to figure out what it is I actually love.

8. Any kind of creativity fuels my writer-brain. In the past month, I have sketched at least two things, I have taken more pictures, I have colored with the kids and on my own, and I even helped Maddie write a book. This is all stuff that feels ridiculously good, and it fuels the fire in my head. So no matter what, I need to keep creating.

9. No one is making the rules but me. This is tricky - I do best under deadline and when people are counting on me. I'm terrible at holding myself accountable to ME. But I have to exercise this muscle. I can't let it become atrophied again. So... I don't know how to do this other than to just keep showing up. We'll see how that goes.

Thanks to everyone who read and encouraged me to keep writing. It's working.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Epipha-what?

"Should you fail to pilot your own ship, don't be surprised at what inappropriate port you find yourself docked."

-Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

It's that time of year in Los Angeles when the whole city smells like jasmine. It can get overwhelming at times, but when it first starts happening, every year around this time, it is nothing short of delightful.

Every year when this happens, it makes me think of when I first moved here, and it fills me with nostalgia and dread. How have I been here this long? How have I let this much time pass, and I'm still not doing exactly what I want to be doing?

I think I've finally - FINALLY - reached the point in my life where I actually believe I am capable of doing what it is I want to do, and I don't have to wait for someone to give me the opportunity. I'm finally seeing that the only thing I lack is motivation and belief in myself, and if I can just get past those, I can do all of those things I think are impossible.

My life is good. My ship isn't where I thought it would be, but it's not in unfriendly waters, and my ship mates are supportive. I'm taking small steps to right the course. It might not be immediately productive, but it feels way better than just trusting the night stars.

Monday, February 29, 2016

The effort.

This:

"If you are going to be a writer there is nothing I can say to stop you; if you're not going to be a writer, nothing I can say will help you. What you really need at the beginning is somebody to let you know the effort is real."

-James Baldwin

My hesitant little goose.

What's funny about adopting a child as a baby is you actually get a front row seat to the nurture vs. nature debate. What makes us who we are? How much of it is what is running through our veins and how much of it is what we see and learn from the world?

Isabella came to us when she was a few days shy of 8 months old. She remembers no other life. We are her parents. She knows she grew in another woman's belly, but she knows this like she knows her eyes are blue. There is no opinion attached to this fact. It's just part of her story. (Up until about a week ago, I think she thought everyone gets adopted at some point. She asked Gina, "Mommy, what was your name before you got adopted?")

Despite the fact that she has none of my blood running through her veins, I look at her and how she sees the world and I'm reminded of myself as a kid. She is curious and insightful. She is happy to entertain herself quietly, writing out letters or coloring or looking at books. Where Maddie is strong and athletic, Isabella is observant and intellectual, and would prefer someone else do the athletics, thank you very much.

But more than all of this, she is so CAREFUL. And this - this is where she and I seem like we must be biological mother and daughter. I'm not saying she never gets hurt - she is the clumsiest kid I've ever seen - but wherever there is clear danger, she is not interested. When we let them play in the street (with close supervision - don't worry, I'm not THAT terrible of a mother), Isabella will run to the side of the road when she sees a car two blocks away. "CAARRR!!!!!" she'll scream. Our street isn't heavily traveled, so about 70% of the time, that car is going to make a turn and not even come down our street. But she isn't taking any chances. A few weeks ago, Maddie rode her bike down a set of steps. This wasn't intentional, but Isabella just would never have let this happen to herself. She has a near blanket-refusal to ride her bike down hills. "TOO FAST!!" she will scream, terrified. There is a kid roller coaster at Disneyland that we rode, and seriously, it is the littlest roller coaster ever. She SCREAMED the whole time, clearly convinced her life was about to end.

Part of me revels in this about her. This is how I was when I was a kid. And guess what? I never broke a bone. I didn't drink until college. I never skipped school. I never lied to my mom. I was always aware of danger, and I never put myself within reach of it. I was every mom's dream, and I'm not just saying that.

On the flip side, I feel like I missed out on a part of development by never having a rebellious phase. I was never daring. I'm still not. And I don't love this about me. And I don't want Isabella to be afraid. (I am very much not worried about this with Maddie. In fact, I wish Maddie were afraid of anything at all. She's not.) I want her to be careful, yes, but I don't want her to be so timid she misses out on all of the cool stuff life has to offer her.

We went tubing this weekend with another family. We all wanted to go down the hill together, which means four tubes (each parent with a kid on his or her lap) attached speeding down the hill. Isabella was not interested at all. She knew this multiplied the chances of someone getting hurt, and she was having none of it. She didn't try to stop anyone from doing it, but she was not going be a party to these shenanigans. Everybody kept trying to convince her to do it, that it would be fine, and the people behind us in line were not happy that we were taking so long. I finally said, "No. She doesn't want to do it. It's okay. I'll go down with her." Why were all of the adults trying to peer pressure my kid into doing something she didn't want to do?!

Finally, after a few more times of going with just one adult, she said she wanted to try it all together. So we did. Almost immediately, two of the tubes got separated from the other two, and they hit the bottom of the hill first. She was in one of those tubes. When the second set of tubes landed, we hit the first set, and she got hit in the face by someone's shoulder. She wailed. I felt so bad for her - she insisted she didn't want to do it and she finally agreed and she gets hurt. Classic Isabella.

But here's where the story changes. She asked to do it again. She asked if we could all go down the hill together again. And that time, she didn't get hurt, and she had fun. I was unashamedly beaming with pride.

"You were scared and you did it anyway!" I told her at the bottom of the hill. "That's fantastic!" Her chapped cheeks spread into a huge smile.

I just hope this doesn't give her any jumping-out-of-airplanes ideas.

video

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Child-led play

One of our therapy directives is child-led play, where Maddie picks the activity and one of us or both of us play along and give her all of our attention.

I'm sure there are plenty of parents for whom this comes naturally. Maybe we are monsters for not finding time consistently to do this. But between two full time jobs and two full time kids and two separate school schedules and sets of activities and an 8pm bedtime and constant exhaustion and not enough sleep and anxiety dreams and tantrums and trauma, "child-led play" falls through the cracks.

I was home solo with the girls after work for a bit. While I made their dinner, I let them play with their (cheap, crappy Android) tablets, which is usually a no-no on school nights. But Maddie was weepy because Gina wasn't there and there were no Twizzlers, and I just needed her to remain occupied while I improvised some dinner.

I draw the line at tablets during dinner, so they both put them away while they ate. Both girls were behaving and once dinner was over, I decided to make my move.

"Maddie, I'd like to play with you. Whatever you want to do."

She screwed up her face. "Why?"

Isabella was already sitting on the couch with her tablet.

"Because we never get to play and I'd like to play with you."

"Play what?"

"Whatever you want."

"Do you want to play mancala?"

"Sure, or we can play babies or we can do a puzzle, or whatever."

"I think I want to play babies!"

She asked Isabella to join us ("You can be the big sister!"), but Isabella declined, and kept her nose buried in the tablet.

We headed into her bedroom and Maddie motioned to her babies and told me I could pick any baby I wanted. I chose Joy from Inside Out. We sat there cuddling our babies, and I said, "Our babies look happy!"

She smiled. I could tell she was tired. She cuddled her baby more.

"Maybe our babies want to play together," I said, holding up Joy to her baby. "What does your baby like to do?"

She was quiet for a minute and then said, "My baby likes to watch the tablet." Her face broke into a wide grin.

I said, "Babies don't like tablets!"

"No, seriously! She does!"

The last thing I want to do is force her to play with me. She wasn't weepy anymore, despite no Gina and no Twizzlers, so I wanted her to do whatever would keep her in that mood.

I let her play with her tablet and I busied myself with my adult coloring book. We'll try again tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Hero

We're gonna frame this one. (Please no one tell her in the future how often she ate ramen as a kid.)




Emergency

EMERGENCY
A play in one act
By Katie Papa

THE SCENE: A small house in a very cute neighborhood with good schools, but not too far from the city, and not too far from cool stuff to do... a very SCENIC place that is quiet and has nice sunsets... Okay. It's the suburbs. A small house in the suburbs.

THE CHARACTERS:

GINA: Energetic, playful, optimist. Mom.

KATIE: Annoyed, impatient, pessimist. Mom. 

MADDIE: 5, prone to fits of rage.

ISABELLA: 4, prone to weeping and clumsiness.

NOODLE: A dog.


LIGHTS UP on the PLAYROOM, a room scattered with toys, an old Ikea couch, and a flatscreen TV. Kid art covers the walls. It is 7:10pm. Bedtime is at 8, which means getting-ready-for-bed starts at 7:30. 

GINA: Hey girls! Who wants to play "In Case of Emergency"?

MADDIE & ISABELLA (in unision): Me!!

GINA: Okay, so what we do if there is an emergency?

Isabella, dutiful, runs to Gina and reaches her arms up to be picked up. Gina slings Isabella around to her back.

GINA: Okay, Izzy, hold on to my neck. Maddie, come on over!

MADDIE: (arms crossed, eyebrows furrowed) No. *I* want to be in back.

GINA: You can't be in back. You are heavier, you have to be in the front.

MADDIE: (screams her patented Bloody Rage Scream) I WANT TO BE IN BACK. (melts into hysterics)

GINA: Come on, Maddie, we practice this. Just come here and let me pick you up.

MADDIE: (Bloody Rage Scream)

GINA: You know what? Fine. Let's not do this. (she sets Isabella down.) 

ISABELLA: (starts jumping up and down) Mommy! I want to do the Emergency! I want to do it! Please!

GINA: No! I tried to do it and Maddie freaked out.

ISABELLA: (freaks out, cries, screams) Mommy, please! I want to do it! Please! (Gina walks away.) MOMMMYYYY! PLEASE!!!!! (carries on thusly for several minutes.)

Finally, Gina goes back into the playroom.

GINA: Okay, do we want to try this again? (the girls voice their approval.) Okay, Isabella, get on my back. Maddie, come here.

MADDIE: I. WANT. TO. BE. IN. BAAAAAACKKKKKK.

GINA: Oh my God. Forget it.

ISABELLA: MOMMY! I WANT TO DO IT!! PLEASE!! (wail, sob)

MADDIE: MOMMY! I WANT TO BE IN BACK! I HATE YOU, IZZY!

GINA: THAT IS ENOUGH. We're not doing it.

BOTH: PLEASE MOMMY! WE WILL LISTEN!

Minutes pass.

GINA: Okay, can we try this?

MADDIE & ISABELLA: Yes!

GINA: Okay, Isabella, get on my back. Maddie, come here. 

MADDIE: Wait! What about our stuff?

GINA: What do you mean?

MADDIE: OUR TOYS!


GINA: We leave the toys here in case of an emergency.


MADDIE: (wails) I WANT OUR STUFF! ALL OF OUR STUFF!

GINA: We can get more stuff. We can't get more US. So let's just go and practice this!


MADDIE: I WANT MY TOYSSSSSS!!!!!

GINA: Oh. My. GOD. FORGET IT.

ISABELLA: No no no no, Mommy, PLEASE! I WANT TO DO EMERGENCY!!

Both girls continue to cry. Minutes pass.

GINA: Okay, can we try this for real?

MADDIE and ISABELLA: Yes!

GINA: Okay, Isabella, get on my back. Maddie, come here. 
Okay, Mommy Katie, pretend there is an emergency!

KATIE: Quick, there is an emergency! I'll get Noodle!

Gina, with Isabella on her back and Maddie in her arms, runs to the front door, followed by Katie, with Noodle in her arms. Gina opens the door and rushes out. Halfway out the door, Maddie's hair gets caught in part of the door. Not realizing it, Gina is still moving quickly ahead, while Maddie's hair is stubbornly caught in the door frame. Maddie's head jerks. 

KATIE: Oh God. That was bad. Oh, honey, are you okay?

MADDIE, who has JUST MOMENTS AGO STOPPED CRYING ABOUT BEING IN FRONT AND NOT IN BACK: (Crying. Hysterically. Rubbing her head.)

Cuddles and ice pack on the couch. Apologies. Minutes pass.

GINA: Are ready to try it again? Okay, Isabella, get on my back. Maddie, come here. Okay, Mommy Katie, pretend there is an emergency!

KATIE: Quick, there is an emergency! I'll get Noodle!

The family rushes out the door. It's now 7:45. 

LIGHTS.