The Ring Of Fire (2017 Year End Wrap Up) #OjaiStrong

I cried in yoga this morning. I was that girl. The teacher read a piece from Pema Chodron about being uncomfortable in the “in between.” Sitting cross legged in a small room, surrounded by the scorched mountain sides, I finally exhaled. And cried. My tears were hot like my anger. The quote from Pema was about allowing the feeling of being out of control to soften oneself and fight against your instinct to be rigid and under the illusion of control.

On December 4th, I was reminded once again how I am not in control. The power was out and I was careful to not wake the baby as I walked out the front door to see if the neighbor’s power was out as well. Smoke invaded my lungs and I coughed hard. An orange glow loomed above me and I knew in that moment, we were not safe. What followed was 47 days of moving three adults, two dogs, and a baby from place to place. Hours and hours of phone calls and fighting with my insurance adjuster and trying to maintain a sense of normalcy for my baby and ultimately for myself. But it wasn’t until this morning that I finally felt the shaking inside me subside a little. I am home. We are safe. Ojai is strong.

Ojai is now living in the “in between.” The initial survival mode has now turned to a desire for healing. But we are still a long way off to getting back to normal. The battle scars on the mountains are a 360 degree reminder of the natural disaster that devastated our town. But as I look down from the mountains and onto the faces of the people I pass on the trail, I see humans beings who want to connect and say, “Are you okay? How long were you away? Is your house still standing?” Instead, they offer a vibrant smile and we cross paths knowing… KNOWING, we are the same.

Right now, it’s difficult to recall all the great milestones that occurred in 2017. I know that they happened. I have utopian images on my iPhone to prove it! My son was born, I directed my first finale, and we had the most incredible Thanksgiving holiday. Unfortunately, I can’t see or feel those those memories right now. The image of the entire mountainside on fire as we drove through it on the way to the 101 and my son is his car seat in the back, is all I can see. This is the in between. No longer in danger, not yet back to normal. And I have to find a way to soften and let go.

One little story before I go…

There’s a donkey in upper Ojai that has lived on the same property for several years, although the owners have changed several times. His name is Burrito and he’s magical. The entire property burned to the ground except for six feet surrounding the donkey where he stood. The house is gone, along with all the other structures but Burrito is still there. And he seems pretty chill to me.

I Like Older Men

For one reason or another, I’ve always been good at getting myself out of sticky situations. When Regis Philbin interviewed me when I was 8 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ucoW-RoSLBA), asking me if I had a boyfriend and that he heard he was older than me, I replied, “Yeah, I like older men.” He laughed. Even at a very young age, I had figured out humor was an excellent way of dealing with inappropriate questions. It was also my way of saying, “Fuck off! I know exactly what you’re getting at. I’m only eight but I’m not dumb, and what you’re implying is gross. So in your face…yeah- I like older men.”

But where do you think I heard that in the first place? “You like older men?” As an eight, nine, ten year old, and so on. When I got to be a teenager, it was “I can’t wait until you’re 18.” I would smile as if I was about to flirt back, “Why? So I can finally meet your level of emotional intelligence?” What they were really saying was, “I can’t wait until you’re eighteen so I can legally have sex with you.” They weren’t fooling me with their backhanded compliment. What they were implying felt creepy to me, and my survival instinct kicked into high gear.

I’m not really sure if I suppressed my sexuality as a result of this kind of predatory behavior, or if I was so determined to be a regular kid and mature at a slower rate than other kid actors I knew. Either way, I was naïve as a teenager when it came to sex, and let’s just say I wasn’t one of those young women who oozed sexuality. I prided myself in being a tomboy and holding the record for the most pull-ups in my school among the girls and the boys. I liked being physically strong and respected for my intellect, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t into boys.

When I was 14, I had only kissed one boy in real life. I hadn’t done anything else, ya know, hit any other bases. So, when I read in the GH script that I was to have a “long kiss” with an older boy when he dropped me at home after a date, I became sick to my stomach in anticipation. I showed up to set that day to find out the guy I was supposed to make out with was 22 -years old. I was 14! The boy I had kissed in real life was my same age and despite growing up on a soap opera and working with adults my whole childhood, kissing a 22-year-old man felt dangerous and wrong. He was much older than my two older brothers,and I couldn’t imagine being interested at that point in anyone my brothers’ age. During rehearsal, this guest actor along with another male actor joked around about having condoms for our date, “I didn’t get any because they didn’t have any extra large.” That was the first time I heard the word Magnum thrown around like a thinly veiled threat. They both thought they were pretty damn funny. My stomach tightened. I hadn’t even seen a penis at this point, so imagining an extra large one in my adolescence made me want to hurl. Never mind how disrespectful and inappropriate this conversation was… it wasn’t even in the script! It was the male banter and getting to know you improv. The guest actor felt entitled to make crude remarks in rehearsal with no fear of being fired. I on the other hand knew that if I made a stink about it, I’d be the one who would be fired. I’m the one who had the contract with GH. I was the minor in the situation. This was my story. And I was afraid of the potential consequences of speaking up.

Nevertheless, during the next break, I went to the fifth floor and asked to speak to the producer at the time, Gloria Monty. Gloria told me I had to do the kiss because it was in the script and to act as if I liked the guy. She said something about him being a good actor and I should be grateful to work with someone so talented. This actor did go on to do big movies, so she was right about that. Gloria mentioned that Genie Francis began doing love scenes when she was only a year older than I, and this scenario was very tame in comparison. I found out later that Genie’s character was date raped and she later fell in love with her rapist, so yeah… I would have to agree with Gloria. Very tame compared to that. Either way, I didn’t want to do it.

It was lunchtime and I couldn’t eat because my stomach was so upset. I do recall the actor trying to apologize to me, but I was so grossed out by him and I had already made my decision. My mother supported me in my decision and told me, “Let them fire you. If you don’t feel comfortable doing it, don’t do it. “ When it came time to do the scene, I refused to kiss him. With the director and the crew watching me, I stood my ground. He kissed me on the cheek instead of the “long kiss” at the end of the scene. Yes, it was a small victory on my part, but I’m sure people called me “difficult” as a result. These are the labels that are often put on young women. If we stand up for ourselves, we are called “difficult” or “little divas.” So it’s no surprise to me that to this day, young actresses are still caught up in this same type of dilemma.

When I saw the video of the Duffer brothers and Sadie Sink talk about how the now infamous kiss was sprung on her on set (http://variety.com/2017/tv/news/stranger-things-duffer-brothers-sadie-sink-kiss-1202608331/) , I became infuriated. Sadie says in the video, “I was so stressed out”, while the creator of the show goes on to say “the kiss was all her fault” and other manipulative vernacular. Sadie tries to laugh it off, but I can’t help hear the actual words that are coming out of her mouth… “It wasn’t in the script” and “I was so stressed out.” I also can’t help noticing she’s the only girl at a table with three grown men and two young boys. Matt Duffer later walked back his comments saying, “We were just teasing them. They all loved it.” After a publicist got ahold of Sadie, she changed her statement saying, “I wouldn’t’ have done it if I was uncomfortable.” But I know what I saw in that video, and no matter how you slice it, Duffer could benefit from a little former child actor knowledge. So, here goes;

You don’t understand that teasing a 15 year old girl about her first on-screen kiss isn’t funny because, well, you’ve never been a 15 year old girl. You were never a child actor, so couldn’t understand the societal pressures a young actor has to face on and off screen. IT WASN’T IN THE SCRIPT. Sadie wasn’t planning on the stress that comes with an on-screen kiss because IT WASN’T IN THE SCRIPT to begin with. Therefore, if you wanted to add a kiss, the right thing to do would have been to gently introduce it to her and her parents because she is a MINOR and kissing on-screen is a BIG FUCKING DEAL. That’s because kissing off-screenat that age is still a BIG FUCKING DEAL. After you made sure that she knew you had her back and she was totally comfortable with the idea, you should have then said to your brother and directing partner, “How can be make painless for Sadie?” Maybe you could’ve changed the framing of the shot to cut down on the number of background kids. Maybe you could’ve asked the parents to clear the set. Maybe you could’ve rehearsed it without the kiss with all the crew that is normally present and then cut down on the number of the crew for the actual kiss. Maybe you could’ve done any or all of these things. Instead, you went on the after show (Beyond Stranger Things) and teased her on camera, calling for being resistant, shaming her once again. Well… SHAME ON YOU Duffer. This is an impressionable talented young actress that has now learned the wrong lesson: Protect your older, male boss instead of yourself. Think about it, dude.

I have so much more to say, but let me leave you with this for now; the tide is rising and this isn’t right. This may seem like an innocent mistake but it’s not. It’s behavior is part of a culture that must die. As Brit Marlin explains in The Economics Of Consent: (https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/10/harvey-weinstein-and-the-economics-of-consent/543618/)… where young women are manipulated not because they are weak but because their job is at stake. But no more.

The times. They are a changin’.

To be continued…

Hey! Must be the money!

Child birth isn’t for the faint of heart. After 34 hours of labor, I ended up having to have a c-section anyway. Birth plan, smirth plan. Shout out to the nurses who kept me calm and distracted me with stories of their lives. And god love my doctor who held my hand as they wheeled me into surgery and lovingly said, “Today is just like any other day.”

It was way too bright in the operating room and the music reminded of the end of Splash Mountain after you’ve made it through the drop and all the rabbits and foxes are singing…creepy. “Is there a Kendrick Lamar station?” I said to the nurses as I hugged myself and they transferred me to the operating table. Even though one of the nurses said she’d be down with Kendrick, my doctor and I agreed that might be a little too…well…not RIGHT for this moment. We settled on the R & B station. My man came in and sat by my side when Ride Wit Ya (Nelly) blasted over the speakers. I was shaking from the anesthesia when I shouted, “Hey! Must be the money!”

Doc said, “Dad, stand up!” and I was so jealous that he could see our little guy before I could. In retrospect, my guts were on a plate, so it’s probably better I was busy rapping at that moment. A few seconds later, a blue gloved hand thrust my son in the air over the partition and I lost my breath. Like a Lifetime movie on pause, HOT, WARM blood flooded my body and I began to cry. Holy shit, that’s him. He cried. I cried. And then he was on the table a few feet away from me. My man yelled back to me, “He’s perfect!”

After what felt like a extended commercial break after a suspenseful cliffhanger, the nurse placed my son on my chest and he looked me square in the eye. Wow, he was a force to be reckoned with. All I could think was, “You’re so cute. I didn’t think you’d be so cute.” He looked at me like, “I got you mom. We got this.” A powerful little booger. Right then and there, we agreed his name would be Otis.

The ride home from the hospital was as many parents warned me it would be…SCARY. I may have had a few rolling panic attacks, wondering how the hell I was going to keep this little human alive with my body. Breast feeding is gnarly ya’ll. Yes, it’s beautiful and all that but it’s also terrifying and painful. I’d never felt so vulnerable in my life. On the one hand, I had this huge, new responsibility in my life. On the other, I wasn’t sure I could walk up the stairs to our bedroom.

I had to get used to asking for help. For a workaholic former dancer, not being able to physically do the things you want to do is like torture. I’m also very clumsy at asking for help and can come off like I’m on set asking for a dolly track when all I really wanted was for someone to hold ME and tell me everything would be alright. Before going to the doctor to get my staples out, I flung myself into my mother’s arms and sobbed. It’s true what they say about appreciating your mother when you finally have kids of your own. And of course, I’ll always be her baby.

I love my son so much. He breaks me apart and fills me up every day. Being a mother is spiritual challenge as well as a physical one. I am not in control, yet I want to protect him and teach him with all that I am. I am humbled by his patience with me and in awe of his purity. I’ve had to learn to ask for help and to receive it with grace. It’s not pretty sometimes, but I’m working on it.

P.S. Otis means wealthy… 

The Perks Of Pregnancy

I’m one of those people who likes being pregnant. One of the best things about being pregnant is that even if I’m not particularly productive on any given day, well…at least I’m growing a baby. That always makes me feel useful.

Of course there are some days when I feel trapped in my body and I’d like to strap the baby suit on someone else for a few hours while I go to dance class and twerk my butt off. For now, I relish in long walks with Jack and online yoga in my office.

I feel really powerful when I’m pregnant. My body is so smart! It knows just what to do! It tells me what to eat and when I need to rest and there is no arguing with that. My body is a BOSS. And my boobs! I bought a “D” bra for the first time in my life. I feel so voluptuous, like I finally joined the millions of women who actually have a good excuse for wearing a bra. Most of my life, I wore one more as an accessory, the purple bra strap sticking out from my t-shirt on purpose.

And don’t get me started on the men. They are so kind and generous, now that it’s obvious I’m pregnant and not just possibly overweight. It feels like male behavior toward me changed over night. I went from being invisible at times, to being the object of which brings back fond memories of when their wives were pregnant. Then there’s the door opening and the helping me with my groceries to the car, and the smiles that say “You’re beautiful.” It’s really quite sweet.

And the women! I get all kinds of great advice. Women are so helpful. Whether they have kids or not, it’s almost as if you are suddenly family and they would do anything to make your life just a little bit easier. I’ve been offered guided mediations, to play dates with our dogs, to picking up something I’ve dropped before I can get to it. Their look says to me, “You’re powerful.” It’s really quite inspiring.

The best thing about being pregnant is that you have the best excuse in the world to nap. “You’re growing a baby! Rest,” my friends say to me. “It’s the last time you’ll get great sleep  for the rest of your life,” fathers of toddlers tell me. So I nap. I nap every day and I hardly ever feel guilty about it. I place my knees over my body pillow and give myself forty minutes to take care of me.

There is always something to look forward to; the doctors appointment in two weeks, the lamp I ordered for the baby’s room to arrive in the mail, the baby kicking and squirming in my belly. It’s the ultimate project with all kinds of milestones to mark the time with. And all the while, my baby keeps growing and each day is a day closer to when I get to meet him.

Oh and there’s rocky road! If it weren’t for being pregnant, I wouldn’t know how magically delicious this substance is. Pregnancy has taught me that marshmallows in ice cream is the way to go and chocolate can cure stress. There’s also my hair! My God, it’s beautiful. It’s so thick. Sometimes, I brush my hair all to one side all 80’s like, to experience it’s ultimate fullness. I’ve noticed I’m softer and a bit sweeter. I like this side of myself and going to try and hang onto it.

And at the end of it all….if I’m lucky, I’ll get to say I have a son.

2016 Year End Wrap Up

January 1rst 2016. Stephanie and her dog Rocky met us at the Ventura Dog Beach. A place where in my near future I would be taking Jack on many adventures. But I didn’t know this then. All I knew is that I needed to heal. I was still very raw from losing my baby girl in September and even though I had hope I would make it through and eventually get my shit together, most days I felt like the odds were stacked against me.

I put one foot in front of the other, as they say, and woke up each day seeing it as an opportunity to find joy in spending time with the people I love and working on things I felt passionate about. Easy does it…

The year started off with a lot of pictures of Jack. He can’t help it. He looks good at every angle. He’s the ultimate emotional support dog, with his goofy grin and playful demeanor. I can’t tell you how many compliments this dude gets on a daily basis. 

I joined the Film Fatales and wasn’t long after, that I hosted an event in my backyard. There were 30 female filmmakers there, including Lesli Linka Glatter who humbly acted like she was one of us. God, I love that woman. We talked about creating your own content and the successes of women who had created their own TV shows. That night, I made a commitment to myself to see Hey Day through, a series I had shot a pilot presentation for in 2015.

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In March for my birthday, 13 of my closest girlfriends shared a house at the Sycamore Hot Springs and danced with a live band at the Madonna Inn. We even challenged a table of little girls to a dance off. They accepted then quickly ran away when they realized we were a bunch of drunk old ladies.  Throughout the fun filled weekend, nobody really said it outright, but this team of ladies was like my rescue squad. The amount of support and love I felt that weekend healed my heart in a way that made me think everything was going to be okay. And that I didn’t have to be stuck anymore in this story of “sadness.” My friends are magical and completely bad ass. Crap, I’m crying now. img_3074img_3149

Off I went to New York to fill my cup with inspiration in the form of the New York Art Fair. There’s something about the city that restores my confidence and plants my feet firmly on the ground. I was going to be starting another episode of Pretty Little Liars soon and I wanted some new visual references to draw from. The smells and vibe of New York City, as well as the stranger at the bar who I happen to have a fun, meaningful conversation with, always make me feel like home. The City is the first place I lived on my own, where I found my independence and where I began to understand who I could become as an artist. I got exactly what I needed.

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It was time for me to put my directing hat back on (just kidding I don’t wear a hat when I’m directing) and this time I was especially excited about the fact that there was a stunt in my opening sequence. Meg Foster told me that she appreciated my style of directing and that she was so happy to see a young woman in a leadership position on set. The cast and crew couldn’t have been more welcoming and it was a productive and incredibly enjoyable shoot. I was honored that I got to be a part of the last season on such a memorable show with such a great group of people. To add some icing to that delicious cake, a good friend of mine Sprague Grayden was in the episode. She brought me a Starbucks coffee with “Boss Lady” written on it. It was a pretty great moment. Thanks Sprague!

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The day after we wrapped my episode of PLL, I took off to Tulum, Mexico. I wasn’t there two hours before I witness a circular rainbow. The rest of the trip went pretty much like that…. a vortex full of love.  I made some new friends, the Kopacz sisters (5 of them), who are a FORCE, let me tell you… I’m so happy to know them and to have witnessed their bond as sisters. The last night, I choreographed a little dance routine for Anita, the birthday girl and we danced all night while we sweat off our repellent and the mosquitoes ate us all up! It was worth it, because we got it all on camera. Boom!img_3003

Jack and Minae fell in love.

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The best part of the summer is when my brother Manaia and niece Magic came to visit from American Samoa. We did all the dorky family stuff like go to Universal Studios, have BBQ’s and hang and eat pizza. I wish they lived closer but they live in paradise so I wouldn’t want to take that away from them for selfish reasons. Guess that means I have to go to Manua soon to visit! img_1876img_2965

I went to Hawaii with my homies and I visited my 2nd family at GH for the annual Nurse’s Ball!

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img_4617There was loss of life and new life this year. Three of my friends lost a parent. And I got to finally meet Bowie Banjo! It wasn’t difficult to predict this baby would be beautiful.  But my goodness, he’s a cutie. And so sweet and chill. Love that kid.

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While house hunting in Ojai, Jack may have picked up another girlfriend. Sorry Minae! He was just trying to get to know the people in the town. You’re still his LA girl.

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I became a producer on a much needed documentary on female filmmakers and TV Directors by Cady McClain called Seeing Is Believing: Women Direct. It feels great to be a part of a community who is literally changing the face of the entertainment business one woman at a time. These women inspire me every day.

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Oh and Hey Day got picked up by a production company! (More news on this later.)

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After much deliberation, thought and faith, me, Jack and my anonymous partner (my man) made the big move out of LA and into Ojai valley. To say that Ojai is place of healing is an understatement. I’ve been drawn to this place for the last 15 years but it wasn’t until now that I was ready to make my move and call it home. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Venice Beach changed my life for the better. I learned how to surf, put some serious hang time in with the homies, but it was time to move on.

Two weeks before we moved in, I found out I was pregnant again. And although I no longer have the luxury of being naive, I can’t help but think the timing is just perfect. Despite all the politics and the horrendous election (I just can’t right now), this year has been such a blessing. Thank you for letting me share the good, the bad and the ugly with you.

Happy Holidays! Thank you all for your support and I wish you guys a wonderful New year!