Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Business of Being Born

I watched the Ricki Lake documentary, The Business of Being Born the other day. I'm not pregnant myself, but I'm at the age where many of my girlfriends' uteruses are currently occupied with child. Pregnancy, babies and how they are brought into our world seems ever present. My friends' experiences run the gamut - from completely drug-free labors to c-section births.

All this discussion about pregnancy has me doing some gestating all my own - just not the bun-in-the-oven kind.

While watching the documentary I was completely enraptured by women giving birth in their home, but I was also struck by how political the movie felt. In general, you could feel the frustration the midwives had about the hurdles they face in trying to provide pregnant women with natural birthing experiences. You could also feel the horror that the doctors had about women giving birth in their homes. At the end of the movie, both sides seemed at opposite ends, leaving pregnant women right smack in the middle. This made me irritated.

Last night I was discussing the documentary with a friend of mine who is in her last trimester with her second child. We talked about our frustration with the lack of separation between the information and the judgement. Women who don't find themselves virulently on either side of the birthing debate seem to be the victims of the politicization that's occurring. On one side you have doctors telling you that if you give birth outside of a hospital you could, you know, die. On the other side you have home birth advocates telling you that you may not bond with your child if too much hospital intervention is placed upon you during delivery. Meanwhile, I think of my friend who gave birth naturally and my sister who had a c-section and the fact that both bonded beautifully with their babies. Both women are divine examples of motherhood and the love a mother can have for her child.

As someone who would like to have children one day, I'm left with the plea: can someone talk to me without all the scare tactics on either side?

Women's bodies becoming the crux of a political debate is not new, but with the Women's Movement at our heels, can't we all agree that women are smart enough to digest rational birth information from both sides? That with that information we can then walk away with our own, individual, informed choice?

What I appreciated most about the documentary is that the discussion was brought to the fore. Valid and important questions were certainly raised, but can we keep talking - without the heat or the judgement.

Friday, July 8, 2011

When Fear Almost Stops You

Many of you who read my blog know that I've worked as a screenwriter (and actor). About three or so years ago, I adapted a one-woman show I performed into a screenplay. The screenplay went on to become a fully produced feature film at On the Leesh Productions. Like any low-budget independent film, it took a long time to finish the movie completely. We had to take other (paying) jobs in-between editing cycles and were forced to turn our attention away from finishing the film.

Then 2011 rolled around and "For Belly" was finally done and making its way through the film festival circuit. Alicia (who produced with me and co-directed the movie) and I wondered, would anyone like the movie? Would it get in to any festivals? In the three years that have gone by since making the movie, both Alicia and I have grown and changed as artists. We've learned more and (hopefully) our skill level is higher. When we look at the movie now we see everything that, if we had a time machine, we'd go back and adjust, fix or completely change.

Alas... no time machine.

We were left wondering then... would anyone like the movie? I can't speak for Alicia, but for me, the fear was causing my stomach to churn. Once we started getting into film festivals, I relaxed a little bit. After watching the movie with a crowd of strangers - and finding out that they liked it - relaxed me a bit more. Then came the request to review it.


Part of me, a pretty big part actually, wanted to turn them down. I went into Alicia's office and told her about the request - hoping silently that she would say she didn't think it was necessary. Reading the fear on my face she said matter of factly, "Julie, it's the nature of the business. It's what you do."

I knew she was right, but the fear! The FEAR! But off the screener went.

As the weeks passed I actually found I was able to put the impending review out of my mind. And then... today... it came out: Indie Cinema At Its Finest.

Happily, it was more positive than I could've hoped and, beyond my elation that the review was so supportive, I feel like I learned something. Had it been up to me, I might have turned the reviewer down because I was afraid. I love doing creative work. I love it more than I can express (which is perhaps sad since I'm a writer!), yet no matter how many years I do it, the fear is still there - looming.

So, if I may mangle the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: do something brilliant that scares you today. You might love what's on the other side...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My Dog's Days

I don't know how many pet lovers are out there, but let me throw you a virtual hi-five if you're in that camp. I am a pet lover. I am a my-pets-run-my-household lover; and proud of it. I have a wonderfully easy cat and one of the most lovable dogs you could ever find. Through the darkness of my marriage ending, my dog, in particular, functioned as a therapy dog. The pitch of my voice would shift in a certain emotional way and she'd come running from where ever she was to give me comfort and attention.

My rescue mutt, Dyna, is going to be 8 this summer and, recently, she's had a bunch of health issues. A year ago she had cancer and this past year she's had a number of different injuries. Through it all, she remains hilarious and loving and joyful, but all of her ailments have driven home the fact that she's getting older. Her snout is grayer, she gets up more slowly and we basically have a monthly visit with the vet. It didn't help that a good friend of mine recently lost her dog who, like my dog Dyna, was a very important member of her family.

In the almost 7 1/2 years I've had her, I've obviously gotten older as well. In those years she's stood witness to some of the major events in my life like moving, getting married, getting divorced as well as an infinite number of minor things. As she gets older, I think about all the other things I'd like her to be here for, like for example, me having kids one day. I watch as my friends children play with Dyna and imagine my own children having that opportunity one day.

I look at her these days, willing her to stay young, healthy and spry and then I think, why not just enjoy the days that I have with her now and not worry about all those future moments? Am I ignoring the present days I have with her by trying to see into the future? Sometimes I feel like I'm mourning my living dog. I am someone who leaps - I leap ahead and wonder about the future. What will my life look like? Where will I be living? Will I have children? Where will I be spending my days? Then I think about this wonderful creature who I was fortunate to have in my life and I think, maybe she's still a therapy dog. Maybe now she's just teaching me to just be where I am - with her - as she takes up more than her share of the bed.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Keeping the Faith (with the help of Russell Crowe)

Recently, I watched the Russell Crowe movie, The Next Three Days. Have any of you seen it? I'd heard mixed reviews about it but I think Mr. Crowe is quite the actor and I'll often see a movie just because he's in it. Without giving anything away, the film chronicles his character's efforts to break his wife out of prison. She was accused of murder and the couple runs out of legal options to set her free. As often happens in life, I found that one of the themes of the movie collided with something I've been thinking a lot about recently: instincts and your gut.

In the film, Russell's character is 100% sure that his wife did not commit the crime she was found guilty of. Regardless of evidence, the sway of family opinion and time, he knows in his heart that she is innocent. His stronghold on his belief becomes an issue in the film and he's often left having to defend his opinion. His gut told him that his wife was not capable of the crime.

Now, I know a movie is a movie and real life is real life, but I found the tenacity with which the character held on to his instincts to be quite inspirational. How can you hold steady to your gut even when the people around you waver? How can you trust yourself? So often in life, we're asked to take a leap of faith - in our careers, in love, in friendship - but that leap of faith has to come from somewhere. It has to come from your gut. And you have to trust it in order to fully invest in your decision.

Not long ago, I wrote a novel entitled, The Breakup Face. Through a wonderfully supportive friend, I met a literary agent who read the book and loved it. He quickly took me on as a client and began sending the book out. In my gut I felt that this book would be published. I could see it. That was a number of months ago and a publisher has yet to take the novel on. I'm told by every writer I know that this is par for the course and to stick with it and keep the faith. Yet, all I can think about are ways to change the book. So now I put it out to all of you smart women: how can I prevent myself from losing steam? My confidence in the book is waning and the clarity of what I saw is growing foggy. How do I get that knowing feeling back? When your instincts tell you one thing and reality is telling you another, how can I get my Russell Crowe on and keep the faith?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Do Over!

When you're a kid playing a game, the idea of a do-over is a no-brainer. Say you're playing ball in the street and a car interrupts your game - well that would be a perfect moment for a do-over. Or, say you have a great game of badmitton going (anybody, anybody?) and the little birdie gets stuck in a tree.... what does that make? Yep, that too is a perfect do-over opportunity. You get a clean slate to start anew. How nice is that?

I've been thinking a lot about the idea of do-overs recently, though not in a sports context. Lately, I've been thinking about whether you can have a do-over in relationships. Having experienced a failed marriage, I find myself wondering how I can avoid comfortable pitfalls in my new relationship. Is it possible to have a do-over when it comes to love, or does focusing on preventing previously made mistakes keep you stuck in the past? Or worse, force you into acting totally opposite from how you did before, risking a situation where you no longer recognize yourself. How do you stay in the present with your new love while acknowledging lessons learned from the old one?

It's true that different people create different relationships, which, obviously would mean different problems. But there are some issues - communication mishaps, housekeeping issues, etc - that are familiar to everyone. I'll call them universal conflicts. This is why there are so many successful sitcoms about families. We can all recognize ourselves in one of the characters. But recently I realized that my determination to handle familiar issues more gracefully than I did with my ex has had the added consequence of bringing me back to who I was in my marriage. An argument about say, the laundry, leads to ensuing marital flashbacks. Yikes.

I'm not worried about not being over my ex or anything like that. It's more about not being over myself, or to put it more specifically, not being over who I was back then. In truth, there are no do-overs, are there? Maybe 'try again' is better phrasing. It's hard to be present and sit in who you are when you're constantly comparing yourself with who you were.

With that in mind, I'm determined to recognize the things that I learned from my marriage and then let them go. I have to trust that the lessons - the most important ones - will stick by me as I forge ahead with someone new. I remind myself that my relationship now wouldn't have been possible without the evolution of learning from the broken one.

Do over? Uh uh. Try again.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

NYC In A Bucket

List that is...

A friend of mine in my office is planning on leaving NYC for good in the next six months. She and her husband are making their way back to California where they were both born and raised. Recently, one Monday morning Melissa came in and, as you do at the start of the work week, talked about her weekend. She'd gone to see the musical, "The Phantom of the Opera." In her story, she revealed that seeing the show was on her NYC bucket list. I thought, what a great idea to have a, by location, bucket list! I don't have any plans to leave where I am, but it's feels like a great way to live in the moment and really take advantage of where you are. With that in mind, I've decided to create my own NYC Bucket list for the summer.

Here are my top three adventures:
Coney Island
Would you believe that I grew up in the New York area and have never been to any part of Coney Island? I'm a little embarrassed by it, actually. I chided my parents for it a few weeks ago. Though, in their defense I think the boardwalk was a bit unsafe when I was growing up. When I tell my friends I've never been, their eyes pop out of their head as if I just revealed I was born with a tail. My friend, Alicia is addicted to roller coasters and promises she'll go on the Cyclone with me. I might do that before I sample the food on the boardwalk, lest it reappear on the boardwalk. Potential nausea aside, this is a definite for me this summer. I promise to let you know how it was and what I did.

The second thing that I can't believe I've never done is visit Governor's Island. How have I not done this? First of all... it's an island and who in the world doesn't want to say, 'oh, this weekend, I went to 'the island'.' I know, I know, Manhattan is an island too, but you can get so caught up in your little area that you can forget this fact! Governor's Island used to house military families and one of my very good friends actually spent a lot of his youth there. In fact, while visiting this past weekend, he had the awesome opportunity to actually walk through his old home. That must have been a bizarrely emotional event. The island is now open to the public for picnicking, biking or for visiting the exhibits. This is a must-experience for me.

The third place I'd like to visit on my NYC summer bucket list is Ellis Island. We all come from different backgrounds and have different experiences of how our family tree developed roots in America. This is one place where so many people passed through with the hope of beginning anew. I've been there once in my teens, but I wasn't old enough to really take in the magnitude of the place. Now I hope to feel the energy of the building, of the island. All of the expectation that must have existed there so many years ago.

So there you have it! The big three on my summer bucket list! I promise to write when I've visited each place to let you know how it went. If any of you have been to any of these places and would like to share your experiences (or suggestions), I'd love to hear them!

Do you have a bucket list in your city/town/village for the summer?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Watching Your Past In Two Minutes

Editing all of the BLP footage that was filmed as I flew halfway around the world to get passed the breakdown of my marriage has been an odd experience. I can often see the pain in my face - the grief and disappointment behind my eyes and yet, in this episode, I see joy. Who knew that being forced to re-envision your future could turn into hanging out with monkeys? Check it out and share a time when you had to re-envision a part of your life...