Mother on the Orient Express: Part Seven (The Train)

(I broke the train into two parts. The first part of the train (part six of the story) is here.)

We take the long walk toward dinner. Now we’re a little less sure on our feet. Mom’s getting tired, and I’m a little tired, and it’s darker. We make it to the bar car, which we have to go through to get to our dinner car.

We open the door. It’s different in the dark, more mysterious, more like a lounge, like you’d imagine. The piano abruptly stops and — “Sentimental Journey” begins playing. And Mom’s crying again, but this time she can’t sit because we’re on our way to dinner, so she kind of sits at this stool near the head of the piano, perched like she’s about to launch into song. But she’s crying and smiling and nodding, and I’m rubbing her back and it really must have looked like she was here on a Make A Wish. Read more

inbox, part two.

Happy birthday, Anna Beth. I miss you, old lady.

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Keep your fingers crossed for tomorrow’s negotiations… and for tomorrow night’s episode of Samantha Who? — which moves to its brand-new time slot at 9pm (8pm Central)! (Following the season finale of Dancing With the Stars!)

(My life is so very very very weird.)

Want even weirder? “The Hypnotherapist” episode of Samantha Who? is currently number 28 on iTunes. It’s the first time I’ve gone to check over there. This strike is bumming me out. Which is why I decided to plow back through the inbox, to give myself a little pep talk from all y’all. With Oprah’s “Favorite Things” episode playing in the background. And coffee. Yeah, I’m pulling out all the stops before Week Four.

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[readermail]
I’m of mixed feelings here.

I’m a writer. I’ve been a writer since the moment that I first learned that the little squiggles on pages represented words and that those words could go inside of me and come out again, revealing thoughts and emotions and all kinds of things that were filled with magic and passion and life.

I’m also a ghost writer. I’ve ghost written screenplays and novels and non-fiction books. I get paid for my product, and that’s it. After that, someone else gets to do with it what they will. I merely used my talents to get the words out. (Yes, I’ve ghost written some screenplays and television shows that have earned the people who hired me a lot of money, and I didn’t see a dime of that. That’s fine, though — because I got paid for my initial product.)

When someone tells me that forty-eight percent of Guild writers are unemployed at any given time, my immediate response is: “So what?” Take a look at the rest of the country and ask me to shed a tear for the poor, unemployed writer. They’re unemployed because they want to be paid for living out their passion. The rest of the country is working at jobs they hate working at because that’s what you do when you have a family to support. Let’s face it — you think that someone like me enjoys getting next-to-nothing for writing a novel, while I’m also holding down two jobs? Of course not, but that’s what you do when you’re a grown-up.

Seems to me that a lot of the writers out there are babies.

The writers need to be careful here. As it is, more and more people are walking away from television and movies, and turning to the internet. But, they’re not turning to the internet to watch television and movies. They’re turning to the internet to watch “user content,” and some of it is really good. It’s the kind of good that might actually have gotten someone noticed if they had been able to get it into the right hands in the entertainment industry — but because the system is so closed, they couldn’t do it. (By the way, I’m not talking about myself here. That’s not my gig, but I know people who have more talent than the guys who wrote [edited to be kind — p.], that’s for sure.)

Sorry if my thoughts are rambling but I’ve been pulling a double shift and I should be in bed, but I just clicked on a link that was talking about the strike and why writers are doing it and I just wanted to share with you the thoughts of the great unwashed from Texas.

On the other hand, though, I’ll admit that I love SAMANTHA WHO and to let you know that you’ve got a talented team there.

Regards,
Richard
[/readermail]

Hi, Richard. I’ve thought a lot about your letter, and often, and I wanted to make sure to respond to it. I’m doing it publicly to show you that I really do care.

I started writing just as you did. Working on freelance projects, turning in a product and then never seeing it again, nor making any money off of it. I worked in Anime, creating the Americanized dub scripts for several series. Some made it to VHS and later DVD. They still sell them to this day. When you search my name on Amazon, it pulls up series I scripted, but I don’t get a dime off of that. But it helped me when I needed to earn enough money to come out here to Los Angeles and try to make a career out of writing. I wrote my first novel on unemployment, while hustling an assistant job for money under the table. I’ve written for the Internet for almost a decade now, and that’s money you can’t always count on. People used to tease me that I’ve got five jobs at any one time. That’s how you had to do it, to be a full-time freelance writer. To be able to afford the rent, the bills, self-employment health insurance, and all the things that come with the unpredictability of that kind of job. Was I whining that it was too hard, and was I being a baby? Not really. As far as I was concerned, there wasn’t another choice. I walked away from tech jobs. I stopped trying to make my website into an ad-blasting money machine. I didn’t give up performing, either.

But I didn’t start a family. And I had to leave Texas.

You and I made different choices in order to focus on what we had to do. We’ve both made sacrifices. We both went through hardships and financial difficulties. I don’t know you, so I can’t assume anything. I’m only going off of what you wrote here.

But here’s why I’m not being a baby. If your job was suddenly paying you less than you were supposed to earn, trying to roll back your health care and pension, and deciding which of your co-workers to supply health care and pension (namely, your upper management, but not you), and you decided to do something about that? I would fully support you. And it doesn’t matter what your career is, or where you work, or how much you make. You are entitled to a fair share of your business’ revenue.

Let’s go to the other extreme. Some jobs out there are extremely dangerous. To take them means to put your life at risk. You risk injury or even death. Does that mean someone who takes such a risky job shouldn’t complain when they’re injured? When something happens that requires health care or a pension? They knew that job was risky when they took it. Should I not feel for them when their families are struggling? When city ordinances or big business makes it harder for them to do their jobs, should I say if they don’t like it, they should get another job?

As for the Internet, and writers becoming obsolete with more and more people turning to user-created content — that’s why we’re striking. Not to save our jobs, but to protect those who will find themselves generating revenue and creating viable content for the Internet. Or soon you’ll find those same big companies owning those sites you love, and user-created content will turn into the same kind of work you and I used to do — but all of the revenue will be going back to those six companies. Do you really think it makes sense that the writers of the Emmy-award winning webisodes of The Office weren’t paid a single cent, when NBC makes money every time someone watches it?

The little guy needs someone to help them battle the big guy. That’s what the WGA is trying to do. That’s why we’re striking — not for ourselves, but for the writers that are going to be working here in the future. Most of the people walking the picket line won’t ever see the rewards of what we’re striking over. But someone who’s just starting out, hustling her ass off to make ends meet, hoping she can turn her passion into a career, hopefully after this strike is over, when she gets her big break, she’ll be entering an industry that protects her a bit more, and compensates her for the hard work and sacrifices she had to go through to be lucky enough to work.

It seems to me, the only way to be a baby is to complain without doing anything. I promise you, I’m doing everything I can to change what I perceive to be unfair. And the good news is, I’m not the only one doing everything I can. Unlike when I first started out in this business, I’m no longer alone. I’ve got thousands of people just like me, with the same drive and ambitions, all trying to reach the same goal. We’re not whining; we’re fighting.

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The Office Is Closed.

Day Three on the line. The sun comes out and hits us pretty hard halfway through the shift, so I followed the lead of another strike captain who brought Trivial Pursuit cards to the line to pass out to circling picketers.

I brought a sleeve of Pop Culture edition and shouted, “Without you, this stack of cards wouldn’t exist! If you find yourself or a friend of yours mentioned in this card, please shout BINGO, because you win!”

I’ve got fifty people on my line, give or take. Fifty random people of the 12,000 in the guild. And within an hour, we had a bingo. Christine Zander, a writer on Samantha Who? found an episode of 3rd Rock From the Sun, which was written by her as a question on the card.

Justine Bateman joined our line today. Wearing her SAG shirt, and walking the circle. Read more

Things I Had to Try Really Hard Not to Say When I Found Myself Standing Next To Jenna Fischer at a Bookstore.

1. “Oh, my gosh! You’re Pam! And I’m Pam! I mean, I’m really Pam, and you’re playing Pam, but your Pam is awesome and I’m not fictional.”

2. “How’s your back? I mean… I read about how you broke it at the upfronts. I know that’s none of my business. Nevermind. Don’t answer that, I don’t care. I mean, I care, of course I care, but I mean I don’t care that you don’t want to tell me how your back is. Do you need me to carry your books?”

3. “Hey! My name is Pam and I write on a TV show and you play Pam on a TV show where one of your co-workers is named Jim and — guess what? — one of my co-workers is named Jim! So we’re like Jim and Pam, except we don’t like each other like that. I mean, we like each other fine, as friends, but we don’t flirt or anything like you and your Jim do. We mostly talk about So You Think You Can Dance. Wait, does that mean he likes me? Do you want to get some coffee right now and talk about what we should do about our Jims?” Read more

office space

I keep planning on sitting down to write my Festival of Books story. I haven’t forgotten.

Instead: Two Office-related thoughts in my head lately.

The first was after hearing that Jenna Fischer broke her back at the upfronts by slipping on marble stairs while wearing heels. “That’s exactly what will happen to me if I ever get to go to the upfronts,” I thought. Because, come on. You know that’s what will happen, right after they introduce me as Pamlea “Camel” Riboy.

But more disturbingly, when I found out that The Rules For Starting Over had been picked up, my first thought wasn’t the one I should have had. See, the producers on that show are the ones who developed Why Moms Are Weird with me this season. And just last week I went in to meet all the other people on Rules, because they’d read my stuff. And so the first thought I’m supposed to have upon hearing that a show I met on got picked up is, “Yay! Maybe I’ll get a job!” But instead I thought, “Yay! Rashida Jones will have to leave The Office! Jim and Pam can finally be together!”

Which is why yesterday I bought five books. Because I think it’s time to step away from the television for a little while. (Just as soon as Lost and The Sopranos are over. I mean, come on!) Read more

that girl gets around

A few weeks ago I’m walking down Pico, headed toward a Starbucks, when this woman walks up beside me, asking a mailman if he’s got Triple A Plus. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Los Angeles, this means I’ve seen this woman in three different areas that are not close to each other at all. Well, it’s really about five miles, but by Los Angeles standards that’s quite a distance. Nobody walks to Pico from the Arclight! She’s got to have this city mapped out, with shifts in certain areas. I wonder how much she makes a day. And maybe she really does drive a car that she fits with a boot.

But how many times am I going to run into her in different locations in Los Angeles? Is it supposed to mean something? Are she and I supposed to go on a road trip together, or something?

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The summer before college, UT has a freshman orientation. You go live in Jester dorm for a couple of days and get used to the campus, figure out how to register using TEX, and decide what kind of classes you want to take. You also make your first group of friends, so that on your first day you don’t climb the tower. You actually know someone’s first name.

I’ve forgotten the name of my Freshman Orientation advisor, but I’ve never forgotten her face. I think her name was Alex, but I’m not sure. Alex was very cool in a Janeane Garofalo way, and in fact looked a lot like her. She was warm and friendly and really funny and I thought it was very nice of her to tell us about UT and hang out with us. I mean, she was paid to do it and it was her job, but it was still nice of her to do it in a way that wasn’t snotty. She told me she volunteered at the Health Center, answering phones to set appointments. She also worked on the Cactus, UT’s Yearbook, and since I had just finished a two-year high school yearbook stint, assistant editor for my senior year, Alex asked if I’d be interested in joining the Cactus when I got to school. After all, the office was right next to my dorm. And I’d be in an actual group, meeting more people! So, I signed up for Yearbook.

Yeah. Double major in Drama and deaf education, yearbook staff, Toad the Wet Sprocket t-shirt, living in a freshman girls’ dorm, knowing absolutely nobody, I was all set to rule the school.

My schedule — both school and rehearsal — quickly dictated that Yearbook was never gonna happen. Never. I think I went to one meeting and never returned. I didn’t see Alex, and figured she’d faded away.

I had a steady boyfriend who was driving up from Katy almost every weekend to see me. And with the schedule I was under, the course load, everything going on at once, pretty soon I got sick, and then took some antibiotics, and then, well, I ended up having to call the health center.

“Hello?”

“Hi. Um… this is… um, I think I need to see a nurse. I mean, a gynecologist.”

“You think?”

“Well, no, I know. I mean, I should. I need to.”

“Is this an emergency?”

“Well, it’s like… um… well, I’m sort of itchy, and like, sex really hurts. Like, a lot. But I only started having sex, so I really don’t know, and maybe it’s because sex just hurts, but this is like a different kind of… hurt… so… and the itching… but I’m not sick, it’s like… something’s wrong.”

And then, after a really long silence, I hear, “Pam?”

“… Alex?”

“Yeah, I thought that was you.”

I knew the voice was familiar. That semi-Janeane sound. “Oh. Heh.”

“Yeah, so let’s get you in here, pronto.”

“Okay. I kind of want to kill myself now.”

“I think you’ve got your first yeast infection.”

She was right. [And screw you on the TMI. I’ve had to live with this for years. You can suffer through it for a minute.]

So. Years pass. I see Alex every once in a while, walking through the west mall. I’d wave, she’d wave back.

Two years ago, or maybe three. I’m not sure, it was a little while ago. I’m standing in line at the Los Feliz Three to get movie tickets, and standing next to me, purchasing her own tickets, is Alex.

And this is when I do my thing so spectacularly it takes your breath away.

“Hi!”

“Um….”

“Hi! Oh, you don’t remember me.”

“I’m sorry. Do I…”

“UT! We went to UT, and you were my orientation advisor, and then I bailed on you at the yearbook, but then you totally diagnosed my yeast infection!”

“Um…”

“How ARE you?”

“I’m fine.” She, at this moment, understandably takes a few steps back.

“Do you live around here? That’s so crazy. So do I!”

“I live, you know, around.”

“Gosh, so many Texans here.”

“Yes. Well, it was great seeing you.” [understood: “YOU CRAZY PERSON.”]

So. Last month. I’m tutoring at a high school in Silverlake. We’re in the teacher’s lounge between classes getting a cup of coffee when… Alex walks right past me to go sit at her own table of teachers. And all I could think was, “Of course you work here.”

I mumbled out this humiliating story to the girl sitting with me. “You should totally go talk to her!” she said.

“Are you kidding me? She will file a restraining order.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. You would think she’d remember you, with all the things that happened to you two.”

“I think the moments were always more monumental for me than they were for her. It was my freshman orientation. My fears and anxieties. My… yeast infection.”

“Look, she’s sitting with a guy wearing a UT hat.”

“I’m going to sit on my hands, now. Please don’t let me go over there.”

This UT instinct, this absolute need to bond over the city of Austin and all things Bevo, I can’t really explain it, but I want you to know that it happens no matter what.

Last Sunday night I was the Fiona to Dan’s PTA as I accompanied him to the Writer’s Guild Awards, where he was being honored for his heroic strike efforts. We sat at a table with a lovely view of the stage, and Dan sat between me and his editing partner Greg, a man who grew up in Austin and also went to UT.

So, Morgan Freeman’s on stage, and he’s delivering a speech introducing someone who’s about to get a lifetime achievement award. And I’m thinking to myself, “Wow. I’m at my first black tie event. It’s an awards ceremony, for a guild I’m a part of. And everybody’s so pretty. And look! We’re right next to the table for The Office. And Dan and I look like prom dates.”

And this is when Morgan Freeman said, “… and he attended both The University of Texas and Columbia…”

I don’t know what he said after that. Because as Greg started clapping, I threw the hook ’em sign and went, “WOOOO!”

And this is when all of the room, including Morgan friggin’ Freeman, turned to look at me. And as Dan’s head dropped to his chest, I turned to him and immediately stammered, “You know I can’t help it and I didn’t mean to do that and it’s some kind of instinct in my gut or something because I would never do that normally and I don’t know what happens to me when someone says Austin and ohmygodi’msosorry.”

And Dan said, “Oh, I know you can’t help it. Trust me. Believe me. I know you have no control over that at all.”

I can’t keep concluding every essay I write on this site about how I shouldn’t leave the house, but come on. What else can I say after all of that?

more kleenex.

The whole “crying all the time” thing is still going on, which doesn’t make it any easier when I get letters like this one.

And thanks to Jenna Fischer (AKA “Pam” from The Office) for linking to Dewey on her MySpace page.