Archive | January, 2011

Creating Shorelines

28 Jan

I’ve been thinking a lot about attitude. One of those inspirational posters I used to read always said, “Your attitude determines your altitude.” I think to some degree this is true in my own life. I’ve been learning this lately with my word, “joy”. If my circumstances stay the same but I make an effort to change my outlook, things look quite a bit brighter. The situation might not have changed that much to an outsider, but I have changed my response to my present circumstances which makes all of the difference.


There’s a way to make a decision to not let things affect you as much. Some people call it setting a “boundary.” The other day I heard to it referred to as a personal “shoreline.” As I’ve been thinking about beaches non-stop, “shoreline” sounds great to me and much more friendly than a “boundary.”


So, I’ve started to set some “shorelines” in my life. I’ve begun to tell people “no” when I need time to myself. I’ve realized when I start to over schedule, take notice of it, and begin to take steps to change. Sometimes, like this week in particular, I become overcommitted and realize it too late. But so far, the steps I’m taking are simple enough that after weeks like this, I can easily assess what I need and try again.


I’ve started taking a few hours each weekend to clean up my room (which has actually been really freeing), and then I take some time to go to the beach and just sit still for a few moments. For me, there is nothing like it. Keeping my clutter at bay and then releasing my thoughts, feelings, and just the stressful state of my weeks at the beach has been nothing short of water to my soul. I’ve begun to give myself permission for things like hot baths, runs, walks around the neighborhood, laughter with friends. I’m becoming less harsh in my inner monologue. I’m learning to trust.


It’s a slow process but a worthwhile one! Note: Story is important. I think that my story is unfolding before my own and everyone else’s eyes. It’s unexpected. It’s surprising. It takes turns and twists and sometimes it involves heartbreak, amazing moments of revelation, and days when God just breaks through and shows me who I am and who he wants me to be. It’s all part of the journey.

My Crazy Night, Part 2

23 Jan

After the talk, I was nervous. During the Q and A, I’d heard Mr. Abrams discuss JJ and how he hadn’t actually encouraged him to be in the business. Wow, I’m so glad JJ actually went ahead and became the mega-branded triple threat (producer, writer, director) he is today.

Part of me wanted to ask a question but I thought in person would be better. I was mustering up the courage. It was weird because I haven’t gotten this starstruck in a really long time. My mind went back to that time when my best friend chased Owen Wilson down the street and I chastised her for it. Okay, I wouldn’t be that girl. When the Abrams’ finally emerged from the theater, I was hovering near the table with the fruit skewers and the cookies and I had a cute little box of chinese chicken salad that I was trying to down.

“Okay, we’re going over, right?” I asked Cara. But I was scared. I thought I needed her to go first. I kept telling myself that they were only people. We walked closer. I looked into Mr. Abrams eyes, shook his hand and said,

“I’m Melissa. I have to tell you I really love your son’s work. It’s been highly influential to me.” He smiled and mentioned that he was just working with JJ earlier on a trailer for his next project, “Super 8” (with Steven Spielberg as producer, starring Elle Fanning and my favorite, Kyle Chandler, from “Friday Night Lights”).

I realized later I only had a limited time with him, but somehow I started rambling on about “Felicity” and how it was on my first year of college and how I had come to LA from Chicago and could totally relate.

“Oh, with Keri, yes,” Mr. Abrams recalled.

“The thing with that show was that they were always saying “I’m sorry” for everything,” he said. I agreed. Somehow he got distracted and started talking to someone else.

Meanwhile, Cara was talking to Mrs. Abrams. I eagerly introduced myself and told her the same thing about how her son’s work meant the world to me. We talked about passions and she said that JJ loves what he does. And if one day he stopped loving it, she would want him to find what else he loves and do that. We talked about starting with something we thought we loved but feeling freedom to change to something else. She encouraged Cara and I to love what we do because, “you only have today!”. She was very down-to-earth and nice. I was appreciative. When we finished talking to her, she patted my arm in a sweet way and shook Cara’s hand.

I was floating on air. I should have given them my card, but I didn’t care. I had made a huge step and I had conversations with the parents of someone whose work I’d been following and loved since the early 90s. In retrospect if I would have told them about my weekly “Alias” gatherings or “Farewell to the WB” party, that might have been over the top. So I’m glad I kept mum.

I had the courage, after that, to network. I suddenly loved Penn State alumni functions more than USC’s. I talked to another panelist about what hot spec scripts to write and what it was like to be a producer in Hollywood. I even asked the University PR guy about the piece I’d heard on “This American Life” about Penn State being the #1 party school and found out that he was the one who had permitted Ira and the gang to come! (He had wanted to admit the problem of alcohol abuse and try to have people see that it was a problem at all schools, not just Penn State. If you can, you should listen. It’s a good one!). I talked to an architect grad and found maybe the only other person at the event who went to USC and not Penn State. Overall, a successful night of putting myself out there.

The night only got better when Cara and I drove to Bergamont Station to see our friend, Grace, who works with a publication called Slake. They were having a party over there and several of our friends were a part of it. The crowd at Slake was way different. Overly artsy, some hipster, and definitely more pretentious than the Penn State gang, the crowd browsed art and sipped the free signature cocktail of the evening. We mostly caught up with some friends and then I adjourned to the next room to talk with my friend about the JJ parent meeting.

Soon after that, Cara wanted to go to another gallery to see some more art. The art itself was somewhat disturbing. I can’t explain why, but I felt this strange vibe after walking around that gallery. That’s where I saw the lady with grass coming out of her hair and everyone in that gallery was dressed in loud outfits. We didn’t stay long. The best part was what happened when we came out.

There it was: The Grilled Cheese Truck. I’d heard about this truck and always wanted to try the food. As I approached the line, I realized it was probably cash only. NOOOOOO! I had just given my roommate my $20 that I’d been carrying around for emergencies like this one! I read the menu. Did you know that the Grilled Cheese Truck has a grilled cheese with MACARONI AND CHEESE in the middle of the sandwich? I know. I didn’t know either. I LOVE macaroni and cheese. Like LOVE it. It’s one of my joys in this world and I often get made fun of by friends and family for it. Cara and I started talking about what I was going to do. I dug through my purse and found a checkbook and $1.25. Enough to buy a side condiment.

“Maybe I can write one of these people a check and they will spot me?,” I wondered aloud.

A creepy guy with a nub of a ponytail heard me. I did not make eye contact. How badly did I really want a grilled cheese? I tried to be nice to him, but I decided I wasn’t going to ask him. That would just be weird. Good choice because he kept staring at me and Cara was about to tell him to take a picture because it would last longer. A couple next to me needed a menu. I got it for them. We discussed the Cheesy Melt, as it was called. I was hoping that maybe there would be a credit card machine in that truck. Suddenly before I could make my decision about what to do, the guy from the couple handed me seven dollars. I couldn’t believe it. WHAT?! No way. LA was just voted the rudest city in America? Clearly this guy wasn’t included in that poll. I was amazed. I was so happy. This was the best night ever. After giving me the $7 he walked off into the crowd and I couldn’t even thank him properly.

NOTE: If there’s anything I love more than macaroni and cheese it’s FREE food. I raid Costco for the samples. I hit groceries on Friday. I clip coupons. I love free food.

I gave the girl in the truck $1 of my free money. Pay it forward? HECK YES! As soon as I had ordered, they closed the truck! I was the last person to get a grilled cheese that night! NO WAY. You can imagine how grateful I was.  JJ’s parents, free grilled cheese with macaroni inside? WOW. Night to remember. Thank you, Lord, for such an amazing experience! I found joy last night in unexpected ways. WHOO HOO. Keep it coming!

My Crazy Night Part 1

23 Jan

I’m always up for an unpredictable adventure so when my friend, Cara, asked me to go to her alumni event for Penn State, I said yes. It was all the way in Westwood and I let her drive us there in her 1991 Geo (which sounds like a prop plane when we’re on the freeway, by the way). I had a feeling it might be a good networking opportunity because she had mentioned there might be some film people there. We got there early and the turnout was okay, but I felt awkward and a little like a fake because I was at UCLA for a Penn State event and I’m a USC alum! I tried to blend in. I noticed everyone looked a little bit like they spent time in the midwest. My kind of people, or at least they used to be. (Cara told me later that Pennsylvania is not the midwest, but a Mid-Atlantic state). I laughed. I’m from Chicago and these people looked midwest to me. Not that that was a bad thing! It was actually quite refreshing from the usual LA hipsters and people who try to prove they are artistic by weaving leaves into their hair. (More on those types later).

Anyway, everything was going along swimmingly except for when Cara left me to go the the bathroom. I picked up a nearby magazine about the Penn State Communications program and stared into it, feeling a little lame. Then Fran caught my eye. A short woman with salt and pepper hair, Fran immediately asked me what I did. I talked about the documentary I’m editing. I told her I wanted to produce. She was a curator at the Getty doing work on photography exhibits. It sounded fascinating and she was talking about how everyone has to go to Petra before they die. I was thinking Petra might be that place that Indiana Jones has to follow the Nazis to in “The Last Crusade.” It’s in Jordan. I know that much. I really tried to make a favorable impression on Fran, but really I just wanted to sound somewhat intelligent. Somehow we got onto the topic of smoking in China. Fran was concerned with pollution there and told me Shanghai and Beijing were quite terrible in terms of breathing conditions.

Shortly after, Cara returned and the three of us went into the theater where the panel was about to begin. As the President of Penn State started introducing the distinguished guests, I started to pay attention to their credits. When he got to the last panelist, my jaw about hit the floor. I was starstruck as I put the name together. “Jack Abrams. These days he says he’s more of JJ’s father to most people.” Wait, what?! JJ? JJ ABRAMS?! ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?! I almost wet my pants. I know that you might think that that’s a total exaggeration but I’ve been a fan of JJ Abrams since “Regarding Henry.” “Felicity” changed my life. Sydney Bristow felt like my older sister and I wanted nothing more than to be her. I once got my hands on an original copy of an “Alias” shooting script when I was working at ABC and someone had left it on the ABC bridge where they were shooting. I still have it. JJ’s script he wrote for “Superman”? Own it. “Lost”? Um yeah. Saw every episode. Twice. Opening night of “Cloverfield,” I was at the theater. I’ll watch anything with his name on it. I thought “Mission Impossible 3” was the best and freaked out when I got to see Keri Russell back in action. I’ve been a JJ fan since before JJ was JJ. I’ve converted many of my friends so that they, too, are now JJ Abrams fans. I used to sneak onto the set of “Felicity” not to just see Scott Foley or Scott Speedman or even Keri Russell, but to catch a glimpse of JJ! JJ makes me want to write and produce! He’s his own brand and I knew he would be before he was! I would take casual walks passed the “Alias” office which later became the “Lost” writers office in hopes JJ would see me, tell me how brilliant I am, and hire me on the spot. That didn’t happen but now I had a chance! Now I had a shot. I was in the same room as his parents! They probably know him so well! I started sweating. Everything went blurry. I had to talk to them. Was this going to be like that time Steven Speilberg came into my class and I really wanted to ask him a question but totally froze up? I hoped not…

Stay tuned for Part 2 of MY CRAZY NIGHT!

My Mini Movie Reviews!

19 Jan

This holiday season, I’ve found solace in something I’ve done since I can remember: seeing movies. This is always the best time of year to see movies, in my opinion, because tis the season for Oscar contenders! Not only did I receive two free passes to AMC for my birthday, I also accidentally forgot to take my Netflix account off hold and it automatically renewed itself.

“Black Swan” was twisted, ironic, and like most of Aronofsky’s movies, has images that stick with you days later. I’m still seeing Natalie Portman looking crazily at herself in the mirror or the physical rash she developed as she descends into the darkness that is her role as the Black Swan. The whole movie has a creepy vibe that left me chilled despite my three layers of clothes I wore to the theater. Wonderfully acted by Portman and her supporting cast, especially Barbara Hershey, this movie put a face to perfectionism and made me take a cold, hard look at the things I try to make perfect. After seeing Black Swan, I realized that “being perfect” definitely has it’s price…Obession, multiple personalities, psychosis, oh my! I would not recommend this for the squeamish (there’s blood) or those who don’t like disturbing images. This isn’t “Center Stage” but from what I’ve heard from dancers who have seen it, this movie is a pretty accurate look at what some dancers go through. Aside from the disturbing parts, it’s fascinating to take a look in the mind of someone who will do anything to get her dream.

I recently saw another movie that gave a different look at how far dreams can drive you. It’s called “Testing Life,” and it’s by my friend, Carolyn Von Petzholt, a German filmmaker who now lives in Los Angeles. The film’s main character is Ana, a young wannabe actress, who wants to come to Hollywood to learn acting. The problem is, she needs money and decides to become a lab rat who tests medicines so that she can make her airfare. Ana’s dream drives her so far that she starts to question it. Like Black Swan, questions of how far one can and should go for a dream were raised.

I was excited to see “True Grit” because of the cast and of course, the Coen Bros. I heard that the girl who played the avenging 14 year old daughter looking to bring her father’s murderer to justice was terrific. And she was! She easily made this movie and it was easy to see that while she was in search for a US Marshal with “grit” who would be able to help her find and capture her father’s murderer in Indian territory, it was she that had the true grit after all. Who doesn’t love a good western with a good story and great characters. It was a little tricky to get past the dialogue (it seemed stilted when the characters would totally avoid conjunctions, but that was intentional based on the book).  What I liked most about it was the journey from total disregard to mutual respect that each of the main characters had to take in order to accomplish their goal. I found myself sad that it was over.

“Another Year” was Mike Leigh’s latest movie that I just happened to see because I had a screener copy. SHHHH! It followed around an older loving couple (which you don’t really see too much anymore) through the seasons of the year. The film explored their relationship with a codependent friend, Mary, who kept becomming more and more pathetic throughout the seasons. By the end, I was just plain sad for her, but it was a greatly acted and written movie, if a little slow in parts. Still, the characters are what made it. I really wanted to take Mary to therapy though.

There are so many more movies I still want to see. “The Fighter.” “Secret Sunshine.” “Tangled in 3D”. Maybe soon!

Stories From A Playground Today

17 Jan

I held you up there in the tree, your little hands grasping so strongly to my shoulders. The fear in your eyes and voice told me that I could never let you go or all the trust we’d built in the last year or so would be shattered. So I did all I could to hold you there. I sat you in your new favorite place until you felt safe and could grab tightly to the fence by the tree. When others came to claim your spot, I moved you for a moment so you wouldn’t get stepped on but then put you right back there. When another kid tried to permanently sit where we had decided to place you, I had you wait. Because sometimes in life we have to wait to claim our sweet spot.

I pushed you on a swing. It was never high enough for you. You wanted to fly. I was worried you’d get scared but I kept pushing you. I think you knew I’d never let you fly out of the chair.  You didn’t get enough of the swing. Even though you were tightly locked in and had your own procedures for how swinging ought to be, when you let go and let me push you, you had the most fun. You could have stayed all day.

I buried you in sand, careful not to get any in your mouth or eyes. When other kids came to disrupt us, I shooed them away and told them they couldn’t throw sticks at you, especially when you were buried. Under that sand, it was heavy and cool. Somehow you didn’t mind all of those grains finding their way between the layers of your clothes and deep into your shoes. The sand was a safety blanket from the world even though it felt heavy at the time. You stayed put until I could take a picture to remind you someday of what it was like for me to bury you. Then we dusted you off and you were free again to play.

You decided you wanted to play with the group of girls you’d never met. I suggested we find out their names and ask them if you could play with one of their Barbies. You agreed and were cheerful, telling them your name and asking them each what their name was. I was proud of you when another girl you did know came up and wanted to join you and you immediately offered her the doll that you had just been given. You shared. It was natural for you. The other girls were a little aghast. Maybe they weren’t used to sharing but they got used to it when you modeled it for them at the tender age of four. I suggested we all play together and thought to myself how amazing it was that a Korean American  girl, a Latina American girl, an African American girl, and a Caucasian American girl could all play together at once on Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. I think MLK would be proud. He might even smile to see that all of the Barbies were different colors too.

-Thanks to Sophia, Caleb, Noah, Chloe, and the other kids for all that you teach me whenever I get the chance to learn from you.

Almost Joyful

13 Jan

I’ve decided to claim joy as mine this week. Somehow, I turned a corner. All of the massive family drama, financial unrest, anxiety, too many things to get done and not enough time, friends going through rough seasons, outpouring, not being able to say no to people, wanting so much but receiving so little, betrayal I felt in friendship, and frustrating grief I’m still feeling almost did me in. I’ll be honest, I was feeling really low last week. Maybe it was because I declared joy as my word and so what else should I honestly expect? When you make a bold step like that, it’s normal to experience setbacks.

I think it was when a few girls from the small group I lead gathered around me that I started to realize yet again how love is manifested. It comes through people. It comes in small moments when you feel seen. It’s a break in the clouds, more gas than you thought in your gas tank, a beach on an overcast day.

I laughed and it wasn’t in my head anymore. It was out loud. It was real. It was a reminder that it’s  okay to be me. The strange thing about grief is that you can’t bottle it all up inside or else you’ll burst. You can spend so long thinking you’re okay and pretending you’re just fine but you aren’t. You have to admit that to someone once in awhile. They have to know that you aren’t as strong as you want to be yet. Yes, you’ll get there but not quite yet. You don’t want to test the ice because it hasn’t frozen all the way through yet and if you walk on it too soon, it will crack and you’ll fall through, never being able to find your way to the surface.

I don’t have it all figured out. I may never. I journey through this life trying to realize that I’m only a passerby. I’m not here permanently. I wait in the dark night and the stars comfort me.  Sometimes you just need a security blanket. Or a friend to ask you a question. Sometimes I need to remember that I’m not invincible and I don’t need to be. Sometimes my strength comes in my vulnerability. I’m sad sometimes. But life is out there waiting. It’s waiting for me to find the joy in it. It’s not easy. I have a lot on my plate. Sometimes it all seems like way too much. And I trick myself into thinking I have all of this time. I don’t. We don’t. We’re here and gone.

I think about Tucson. How did that happen? At a Safeway. I go to a grocery store almost every day of my life for one reason or another. I think about that little girl and all of the hopes she had. She just wanted to see her congresswoman.  I think, I have to feel joy in life if only for her. She wont’ get to experience it here on earth. Don’t I owe it to her? I didn’t know her, but I should enjoy my life. To not would be a sad state of affairs. I heard a TED talk on 1000 Awesome Things. I want to know awesome things. I want to live awesomeness.

Not quite there. But starting to emerge. Not quite. Almost. Getting closer every day. Like an athlete who can’t play quite yet but is resting so that when she gets back in the game, she amazes everyone. Even herself.

The Emerging Me

8 Jan

There’s a time when I remember who I am or rather, who I want to be. There are moments when I sit back and let her come through. All of her laughter, all of her tears. She wakes me up in the middle of the night with her memory. It washes over me like a lavender bath. She smiles broadly. She is afraid but not scared. She likes a good joke and laughes at herself on many occassions. She reads a lot and soaks up knowledge as if she were a sponge. Her eyes are a deep blue and shine through to her soul. Her passions overwhelm her at times because there are too many of them to count. She likes those moments where life seems so succulent that it becomes amazing and too much all at once. Joy is her friend. Mirth is her food. She’s honest and true to herself and isn’t afraid of what others think. The strangest things come out of her mouth but most of the time they are really hilarious. She makes connections and doesn’t forget to breathe. Panic attacks don’t define her. Worry does not strangle her. Self-doubt has not crept its way into her subconscious and so it does not determine her actions. Instead, she is free. She is herself. She likes people and all of their idiosyncricies. She sees them all differently and appreciates their various perspectives. Her life is filled with purpose and she loves deeply and truly and freely. She lets life be its messy, wonderful self and she doesn’t mind that sometimes it keeps its outcomes hidden. Because like a winding road through the mountains, life’s curves keep her guessing and make the ride worthwhile.

There are times I see myself as God created me to be. There are times I dream of a me that’s deep within but still stays hidden until I let her be. On days like today when I ride bikes on the beach and remind myself of what it’s like to take my hands off the handlebars, breathe in the cloudy beach air, and sit and laugh, I grow closer to her. She is there. Always there. Waiting to emerge. Hoping I’ll let her come out and frolic for a little while. Today I gave her permission. 2011 will be the year when she is rediscovered. And she will be my joy.

An Alternative To The New Year’s Resolution

1 Jan

Me feeling joyful way back when

For the past three years, I’ve stopped making New Years resolutions. I know myself and as a recovering perfectionist, I know that I would make this really exhaustive and impossible-to-accomplish list about all the things I want to change about my life. I definitely have those things. I walk around with them all of the time and the challenge this year has been to tell myself that the thoughts in my head aren’t always realistic or helpful. Managing the destructive self talk has been a skill I’m only just learning how to develop and I hope to bring that into the next year.

Three years ago, I discovered after my friend Jessica, in North Carolina, started doing it along with her church. The concept is, instead of making resolutions, you find a word that will be your theme for the year. That one word can reach through many areas of your life and can really help focus what it is you want to get out of the next year.  A couple of years ago, I chose the word “release” because I felt that there were a lot of things that I needed to let go of. Last year, the word was “trust.” Wow, did I ever have to learn that one! I had to trust God that I would get a job, which was provided. I trusted that I should go to the Czech Republic and that the funds would come in (they did!). I trusted that I would be able to shoot a documentary when I didn’t have any trained filmmakers and three flipcams and a mini DV (we have the footage, I’m now editing it). I trusted that when my relationship ended that the grief wouldn’t overwhelm me and that my community would be there to support me (it was better than I expected!). Whether it was a family issue, deciding to lead again, or in my lonliness, I trusted. Despite the fact I don’t know what’s going to happen in 2011,I know it’s going to be okay because now I have a new sense of trust. The one word helped quite a bit.

When trying to figure out a word in 2011, I finally landed upon “joy.” I knew it was my word because the word you choose is usually one you fear as well as are excited by. Joy is scary for me.

How can I have joy when I’m struggling with anxiety? How can I have joy on those days when the grief gets to be too much? How can I have joy when there are so many options with how I should spend my time, which passions I should choose to pursue, which people I should invest in, and when I’m feeling so overwhelmed?

Then I realized that joy for me would be a present emotion. It wouldn’t be about the past or the future, it would force me to focus on this moment. This moment. I spend so much time wondering about the past and trying to predict the future, it’s nearly impossible for me to have joy when faced with regrets, worry, anxiety. And joy is something that is a huge part of my faith, or at least it should be! As a Christian, I’m called to “delight” myself in the Lord. And I so want to do that.

There have been moments of joy in 2010 but there need to be more in my life in 2011. I have to choose to not let anxiety rule my heart. I have to choose to believe that joy is contagious and surround myself with joyful people. I need to know that if I am joyful despite my circumstances, I’m living out of a place where God wants me to be. I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for grief. But I’ve done grief. I’ve done sadness. I’ve done disappointment and fear and have had tears that would fill a bathtub. It’s time for joy. It’s a choice. My one word is joy. JOY!!! J-O-Y. Let this year be full of it. May I overflow with it. May my life look different next year because of it. May God meet me in the hard places and give me that gift so that I may then extend joy to others. May I reclaim that part of my personality this year.

1 Peter 8-9 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Looking through a large peephole into the future...

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