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letters from near and far

letters from near and far

The last time I was jealous

March 3, 2021 • By

A friend from a former kids lit writing group published her first book this week. That means a draft I’d read way back when has become a real, in-the-flesh book.

And she’s not the only one from that group finding success. Of the five of us that were in it, the other four now have agents, and most have at least sold a first book, putting them on track for publication.

Along the way, I realized I was doing the bare minimum to stay a member of the group, knowing full well I had the potential to do more… and I just wasn’t. Even after a writing retreat to Palm Springs to polish a half-dozen manuscripts, it became clear that not even a binge effort could coax back to flame a spark that was spent.

So I stepped back and left the group.

The “what-ifs” of scenarios where I’d stayed in the group, committed to reading and writing more regularly to end up following a similar trajectory are pretty easily shot down when I remember how uneager I was to put the time into my own work, how hesitant I was to engage with second drafts and problem lines while they all kept at it, polishing, writing, reading, and working away. 

The difference was clear to me and that made my decision easy.

Back when I was fresh out of college, my roommate, also fresh out of college, had already sold a screenplay. Then he got hired to write on a TV show.

I found out the news about the time that I was in full “do everything” mode – wake up at 5a to longboard to the pool to swim, drive across LA to be a PA on a daytime talk show, stay after work for two hours at a local bookstore to nurse coffee and revise my Simpsons spec script, then come home to run for an hour – and I couldn’t handle it. 

All I thought I saw was a peer lucking into things. Every night I came home he was playing board games, laughing, and having fun, while I was so much more visibly working. Then,  somewhere in between me commuting two hours and eating lots of packages of pretzels on stage and collapsing at home into a shared bedroom, he got hired to write.

The difference between us was not clear, and that made me jealous.

I couldn’t believe it. I want to say it pushed me even harder, but instead, I fell asleep mad, slept through a swim workout, and got to work late the next day (where my days were spent in a chair in a room just off the back hallway with low lighting reading celebrity gossip magazines looking for factoids that could be gabbed about between two stars pretending to be friends on national television so I don’t know that I was even missed, necessarily).

Soon, though, I started to see the work he was putting in. I heard stories of the time he’d already dedicated. It started to make sense.

If I was jealous then (which I was) it was not just because it was him succeeding in a realm I wanted to succeed in, it was because I didn’t have any idea what he’d done to get there.

Not in the same way that I do now with my kid lit friends who are publishing books that still exist as drafts in the dark corners of my inbox.

And it doesn’t have to be that way, of course. I could just not be jealous.

But can we really reason away a feeling?

Better, it seems, is looking at the source of those feelings. From what I knew about the people who’d put in the work, they’d found success. 

So are there really overnight successes, then? I doubt it. 

Most of the time, those people are living in the unfun, boring, tedious world of creating and revising, trying and failing, deleting and creating. 

Then something hits. A movie comes out. A book is published. A play has its debut. 

A moment of joy, a moment to exhale, and a moment in the spotlight, then it’s back to the work.

(Which, really, is its own joy.)

If there is jealousy now, it is only admiration of those who have found a calling worth sticking to, and have put in the time to learn and grow to deliver ever better work. 

On Sunday night, I emailed a draft to two readers of a new project, in a new medium. From a spark of an idea last March, through a summer of writing, and a winter revising, it is perhaps the most time I have put into any project.

It is not likely very good, but maybe one day it will be better. 

And in making it better, I hope to get a little bit better, too.

(Even if I still get feelings, sometimes.)


letters from near and far

How To Write The Best Craigslist Car Ad Ever

August 27, 2020 • By

I didn’t set out meaning to write the best craigslist car ad ever. 

In fact, I didn’t set out to write an ad at all. 

All I had was my car and a ticking clock. I leave next week to move to France, after all, and there’s no spot here to leave it.

Not wanting to engage with sixteen years of history, my first and only thought was just to leave it at a Carmax, then to take whatever low-ball valuation they had offer, and to move on. 

Yet with the gentle suggestion of my father to try, and a Sunday night to think back on a car I’ve been driving since before I could legally drive, I found myself thinking about what it meant to finally say goodbye.

91 replies later, including the following…

… and it seems like I’d hit a nerve.

(Or I’d priced it too low.)

Either way, I think I figured it out. I think I know now the secret to writing the best craigslist card ad ever.

At least, I’ve narrowed it down to two things. Two possibilities.

The first?

Own a car for sixteen years, let it be the car that takes you on your first date and drives you to your first job, that you practiced guitar in at your first lunch break during your second internship before driving to see her after that first day, that carried all your worldly possessions after you graduated to your first apartment, that guided you safely back from the desert after you and your roommates’ first festival experience, that carried enough handmade pesto pasta to make your first charitable catering gig a success, that … well, that was a part of nearly every moment you had in becoming an adult person in the world.

Or… just tell the story of your car. Give people a little something beyond odometers and oil changes. 

In re-reading my little ad, I recognize it’s not perfect. I don’t even know if it’s good. But I’m happy I was able to send my little green Honda off into the world with one last fun moment together.


P.S. Here is the original ad:


letters from near and far

On The Move from LA

July 11, 2020 • By

Here I am, at the park across from the apartment where I’ve lived for two years, waiting on a blanket for a friend to get here and help me with this cronut and this muffin while I wait for my apartment’s property manager to give me the heads up that there are no longer people meandering through my apartment, judging the wall of whimsy that hangs over the couch.

I’ll be leaving this one-bedroom, the birthplace of the 15fiftyfive dinner parties, at the end of the month, driving and camping across America for two weeks, staying with family in North Carolina for a time, and then moving to France for a year to study for (and, ideally, receive) a Masters in Tourism at the Sorbonne.

(I say all this with the practiced pragmatism of the COVID-19 era where all plans are subject to change, and any existing plan is pronounced with a silent but capital-A *Asterisk*, knowing full well there exists a likely timeline where I end up living in North Carolina for a year, freelance writing and brewing beer, because the US decided to shut down every border in every direction without advance notice, nullifying all visas, passports, postcards, and streamed versions of The Trip.)

With that, I’ll also be leaving my job of five years as a senior producer on a daytime talk show.

It’s a lot to take in, especially when all I want to do right now is eat this cronut.

Mostly, I feel good. Sometimes, I panic. But that passes. Ice cream helps.

I’ve thought about this decision from a few different angles. The creative one (I can write stories from most anywhere, so an apartment in Paris seems okay), the interest one (given the tour company I got the chance to help launch in Rwanda, and volunteering at wineries in France, international tourism has been in my purview for a minute), the language one (you mean, I could speak French instead of just studying it?), the wine one (settling the eternal box v. bottle debate), the distant one (I miss her), the television one (I will miss it, and the kind, ambitious, weird people with which I’ve had the pleasure to work), the financial one (an exchange program of words for nickels), the flaky layered pastry one (I don’t like them, but maybe pastry immersion will help me overcome that aversion), the lack of Griffith Park one (binging now, while I can), the culinary one (I think I’ll learn to make sauces), the a year-is-a-lot-of-time-when-you-think-about-it one (it is a lot of time, when you think about it).

I’ve said I’m never not surprised by the difference a year makes, but I’ve said that within the relative comfort of knowing more or less where I’d be in a year. Now, I don’t know what next July will be like, what I’ll be doing, or where.

It’s far from a sure thing, this idea of studying tourism when the world is shut down. It’s far from a sure thing, this idea of becoming a better writer by leaving behind a job in which I wrote constantly. It’s far from a sure thing, this idea of not knowing what the next year will bring when I had a contract telling me exactly what the next year would bring.

But despite all that, mostly, it feels right and I feel good.  

I’m ready to put in the work to see where this all goes. With plenty of ice cream along the way.

Sincerely,

Alex

P.S. Here’s that cronut I talked so much about, evidence that I am already meeting flaky pastries half way.

IG

I like Los Angeles a lot. Like, a lot a lot. 

… but despite that deep affection (and, at times, unrequited love), this is my last month here for a little while. It’s a fool’s errand to sum up 14 years in a single Instagram post, so I’m not going to try. From meeting Kia on Day 1 at UCLA (and eventually telling him I’d never have clothes as fancy as his) to hiking with DLV and Megan this morning and sharing a cronut with Sarah this afternoon, these first few chapters here in Los Angeles have been thoroughly satisfying, complete with flaky crusts and filling friendships, and now, a cliffhanger (there are more details in the letter linked in my bio, if you’re into that kind of thing). To the friends, coworkers, and trails that have made my first stint here in Los Angeles such a treat, I thank you.

I owe many of you emails and phone calls and park beers, and we’ll make that happen over these coming weeks. Mostly, though, I just want to say thanks.

And I sure will miss Los Angeles a lot. Like, a lot a lot.