It was just before Christmas in 2006 and my daughter, Elora, had fully realized the meaning of this holiday. The stockings were hung by the chimney with the care (Kind of, I mean she was 3), the tree was up and we were ready for Santa to bring us all our dreams wrapped in shiny sparkly paper with big splendid bows.
Elora had made her list, filled with dolls and Disney princesses and this Mrs. Clause was ready! So when I arrived to pick her up after spending the afternoon with Grandma making Christmas cookies, her newest addition to her wish list was quite a surprise. I had barely made it across the threshold when she blurted out “I want a baby brother for Christmas!” Continue reading →
Bill Murray has made a career out of being someone.
He’s a someone who appears at wedding receptions for people he doesn’t know to just celebrate (if you can find the 1-800 number he uses in lieu of a manager or agent, you can invite the SNL alum to literally anything you want, really). He’s appearing in the upcoming St. Vincent about a cranky old neighbor who becomes the anti-hero for the boy next door. He’s been known to run around the streets of New York warning pedestrians about lobsters on the loose.
On July 23, gravely ill Liberian-American diplomat Patrick Sawyer flew into Murtala Mohammed Airport. He died at a Lagos hospital four days later, after exposing scores of airline passengers and medical personnel to the Ebola virus.
Ebola had arrived in Nigeria. It has since spread to other areas of the country.
I live in Lagos but on the day Patrick Sawyer delivered his terrible gift, I was an ocean away. My three children and I were on vacation at my parents’ house in suburban Massachusetts.
It was disconcerting to be far from Lagos when it was in crisis. I read articles about Ebola in the newspaper, watched reports on CNN, and tried to ignore the panicked emails from expat women I know.
My parents urged us not to return to Nigeria. They suggested I enroll the kids in the elementary school down the road, which I attended as a child.
It was tempting. The children could walk to school along the same forest path I had used. My mother would cook delicious Indian meals and my father’s wine cellar would allow me to remain in a continuous state of inebriation. At 41, I would have no responsibilities and could spend my days in the basement hula hooping and taking naps.
My children, however, were sick of America. They missed their father, their friends, and their toys. They were desperate to return. My husband, John, assured us we would stay safe in Lagos, that Ebola in Nigeria could be contained. But it is very unnatural to willingly travel into danger. It takes courage, which I lack.
I couldn’t decide whether to stay or go. And then one day my husband phoned me from Lagos to complain about our housekeeper. He had broached the subject of Ebola with Marie and was annoyed by her response.
“What do you know of Ebola?” John had asked her, intending to discuss precautions to prevent the spread of disease.
“I don’t know him,” Marie replied. “Is he Yoruba?”
“Can you imagine,” John told me, “she thought E. Bola was a man’s name! Has she been living under a rock?”
And that was how I decided it would be safe for us to return to Lagos. If Marie—my barometer for all matters West African—had never heard of Ebola, it must not be a big deal.
The kids and I arrived in Nigeria in mid-August. As we taxied to the gate, the newlyweds beside us slipped on latex gloves.
After deplaning, the passengers queued up in neat lines for body temperature scans. This was the first time I had ever seen thermometers used at an airport or anyone in Nigeria stand in a line without trying to cut to the front.
The ordinarily bustling terminal was silent. It was as unsettling as in the weeks following 9/11 when New Yorkers stopped honking their horns and giving each other the finger. I felt like a cold hand was squeezing my heart. This wasn’t the Lagos I remembered. Was coming back a mistake?
I noticed a number of people pulling out bottles of hand sanitizer and squirting their palms as we cleared customs. Suddenly every surface seemed to be writhing with toxic germs. I wished there was a giant barrel of sanitizer I could dip my children into by the ankles, Achilles-style.
We exited the airport, dropped the suitcases at home then drove around looking for a place to eat. It was 10:00 p.m. on a Saturday night and Lagos was dead. We tried three restaurants but they were all closed.
We ended up at The Radisson, a shiny hotel perched on the lagoon.
I took a seat by the water and waited for my family to join me outside. From my table I had a view of the lobby. I saw a man near the bar lurching back and forth, vomiting. Then his face tipped up and I saw white discharge covering his mouth. At that moment, John and the kids walked by him.
John was stoic. As I saw my husband and children become infected with the Ebola virus, my eyes filled with tears. We had just become a cautionary tale.
My 4 decades on the planet, my 22 year romance with my husband, and my 3 beautiful children were about to be reduced to a handful of hysterical Facebook posts and a few mistakenly pressed thumbs ups.
Then the man straightened and I saw a shiny vacuum in his hand. His back was bucking because he was cleaning. What I had thought was white vomit was a surgical mask over his mouth.
John and the kids joined me at the table. They appeared to be Ebola-free.
Our first week back in Lagos was tense. I considered offering Marie an immediate early retirement because she coughed twice in an afternoon.
Despite my anxiety, we settled back into Nigerian life. My daughter got her hair twisted at the salon. I went grocery shopping. The children spent a happy day at the pool splashing with friends.
My fear began to dissipate. The number of Ebola cases in Nigeria, meanwhile, began dropping.
Aside from the strategically placed dispensers of hand sanitizer that had materialized around Lagos, it was business as usual.
I had no way to know how severely the Ebola virus would impact our lives when we returned. My decision was a bit impulsive, perhaps, but was borne from a desire to reunite my husband with his children. And I am certain I made the right choice. This is home.
It is in moments of adversity that we see the true worth of a people. Against all odds it seems that this awful virus has been contained here. Nigeria has been tested and I’m proud to say that she has come through with flying colors.
In the end, all I suffered was anxiety, nightmares and sleepless nights. Compared to thousands of our fellow Africans, we got off easy.
There’s a pile of dishes in the sink. The bed hasn’t been made. There are a stack of bills on my desk that I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to pay. “I need to shower,” is a relevant thought but currently I’m sitting in the middle of the floor, legs crossed, laptop on my lap with a Final Draft document open – completely white except for the blinking white cursor in the top right corner. The cursor refuses to move. There are a million thoughts in my head, scenes that play in regular rotation but can’t seem to make their way from my brain to my fingers and into the document. This is the story of a writer, and how so often the hardest part of being a writer is, well, writing.
My Year of Intent was to finish my first screenplay. My goal is to have a first draft by my 25th birthday (July 4th, if you want to set off an extra set of fireworks for me, that’d be cool). I want so badly to be able to say I wrote my first script by the time I was 25. It’s an over-achiever thing. The problem is that it’s really hard and I’m behaving very much like an under-achiever, which is something really difficult for me to deal with. I’ve had really good training on how to get things done – to make schedules, deadlines, to burn the midnight oil so that it happens – but this is different. This is personal so I want it to be perfect which means I edit myself as the scenes come instead of writing them down. I am convinced that all of them won’t work before they’re even born. The truth is you have to write everything down. If it doesn’t work you can delete it but if you don’t put it down then nothing really exists. The internal struggle has created a bit of a creative depression. Or it’s quite possible that it’s an all around depression at this point. It seems a lot easier to stay in bed than to write. I’ll put those dishes in the dishwasher at some point. Right now, I feel the need to rest in a fetal position and tell myself a few hundred more times how much I suck because this isn’t getting done. I’ve been told this is a thing that happens to a lot of writers.
It’s been my experiences that these pot holes happen to everyone when they’re working towards something big. You get stuck, and the exhaustion from spinning your wheels can put you in a funk. The important thing is that you have to get yourself out of those holes. The dishes are still in the sink, but I did manage to finish the first act of my screen play, so it’s possible. Here are my tips for pulling yourself out of the creative funk.
1. Take That Shower – This sounds like basic information, but it’s important especially if you are working from home. The appeal of rolling out of bed and sitting down at your laptop in your pajamas is so hard to overcome. Next thing you know it’s 7pm and there’s no point in showering because what would you change into? More pajamas. Make yourself get out of bed, take a shower, put on CLEAN clothes (yes, this means you have to do laundry. UGH I know). Eat some breakfast. These basic routines are part of a full robust wake up system. They make you more alert and prepared. They make you feel like a real human instead of a creative zombie on a hamster wheel. I’m not kidding – making yourself wear real pants has an amazing effect on your outlook. It also makes it more likely that people will want to be around you because B.O. is awful.
2. Set Deadlines – The problem with self-appointed goals is just that – they’re self-appointed. That means the goal post can move whenever you decide. Stop that. Set incremental goals and then give yourself a timeline in which it has to be done. My friend and Intent partner in crime MeLissa told me about her brilliant system of asking herself when she thinks she can get something done in a reasonable amount of time, and then she sets a deadline of three days earlier. So if you think it’s going to take two weeks to get something done, tell yourself you really have 10 to make it happen. Set up a penalty if it doesn’t happen. Didn’t get that draft done? Bye bye potato chips. Page count wasn’t met? I guess I’ll be DVR’ing Mad Men this week. Decided not to write at all today/this week? Haha, oh buddy, those plans to see Captain America this weekend just went down the toilet, congrats! When something is at stake you are more willing to keep the ball moving. I’m fortunate enough to have a great screenwriting teacher that’s been coaching me through the process – which brings me to the next thing!
3. Find a Hero/Coach/Inspiring Person – This can take a lot of forms. For me, it’s Jon Bernstein. He teaches the classes I’m taking to help get this done (I realized that having grown up an academic nerd, literally making writing this screenplay homework was the best way to get me going). He is the loveliest person and super encouraging and his praise is like dancing in a rainstorm of sunshine and rainbows and candy. I feel like Eve the robot in Wall-E when she boots up in the sun whenever he tells me that I’ve done a good job, or that something I’ve written is funny or makes sense. On the downside, when he gives notes and it turns out I’m not his favorite thing about Earth I don’t know how to handle it. When I first started his class I barely had an outline, but I managed to improv my way through a log line and basic plot points. Then I had to given him a detailed description of my Act I plan and he wasn’t impressed. To be fair, I was still winging it and hadn’t really done the work. He told me he wasn’t compelled by the ending and there was no reason to keep watching the movie if that’s how I was going to do it. Um, what? This was life shattering news to me and the worst part was he was right. Everything he said rang true and that was worse. I could have thrown in the towel then because writers are sensitive and clearly if my rough outline of things I was planning to write was crap then there was no hope for me. But…I need Jon Bernstein to love me, because I respect him and trust his advice. So instead of giving up, I sat down at my desk and I wrote. I changed almost everything I had up until that point. Created new things. Broke up my darlings that were supposed to kiss at the end, made them miserable (because that’s what movies are until the end!) and I felt better for doing so. I felt more creative.
And that’s what a good coach does. Stephen King calls them an “ideal reader” but it’s the person who keeps you on track. They pop your ego balloon when you’re floating too high on praise instead of work. They are the ones that remind you that you are capable and brilliant when you’re down in that hole. Find your Jon Bernsteins. Find the people that are going to push you to that finish line because the most important lesson in all of this is that no one ever really gets there by themselves. (And again, it’s why showers are important).
Plus, I have to imagine that it’s sweeter to have people to celebrate with at the finish line.
They say that some things get better with age.
And then, there are some things that just stay weird.
May we present a selection of the weirdest vintage Valentine’s Day cards we could find on the internet.
We invite you to send anything that strikes your fancy on to your loved one*.
*Explanation for your choice of Valentine to your loved one not included.
I always hear that TV and film is entirely too violent. There’s a lot of sex. And that’s not even talking about the reality shows. But then there are some really excellent stories we’re left with. I’m talking about families who are just trying to make it work, whether that be in Neverland or the middle of America. Here are 5 of my favorite film families:
From the ABC show “Once Upon A Time”, The Charmings extended family includes Snow White, Belle, an evil queen AND a gold spinning imp? That’s a family I want in on. Thanks to a fairytale curse, most of the family members are about the same age (and very good-looking, but we think that is non-curse related), but the sweetest aspect of this family is how much trust they put in every member to be the best version of themselves- even allowing grandson Henry to lead them on life-saving adventures through foreign make-believe worlds.
We love the Weasleys for a lot of reasons. 1) They’re magical and a magical family of 9 can only result in craziness, which I enjoy. 2) While much of the set of Harry Potter is fantastical, the Weasley house, while certainly having elements you wouldn’t see in a Muggle home, still really feels like a large family lives there. Mix-matched chairs. Laundry hanging over stair railings. Dishes piled up in the sink. 3) With 7 men, the 2 ladies of the family (mom Molly and daughter Ginny) are both strong yet still all woman. A family that can just be is a family that I want to be in.
A family of geniuses who are learning that your brilliant brain doesn’t necessarily make your heart problems go away? That would be the story of the Tenenbaums. As independently awesome as they are (financial whiz, tennis star), this family ultimately realizes that they’re better together, even as adults. They learn that having a little fun shouldn’t be against the law and ultimately they learn that a little forgiveness (of others, of yourself) can go a long way.
The Hecks live in The Middle of America and remind people watching television that not everyone is a real housewife of a county where even toddlers drive Bentleys. Mom Frankie is regularly forgetting to pack lunches, to pick up kids, to set her alarm. Just like a real human. Dad Mike has trouble connecting with just about everyone on any sort of emotional level and each Heck child is definitely marching to the beat of their own drum. Unapologetically. Mostly, because they don’t know that they’re doing anything weird, not out of a sense of pride. Their house looks like my house. Their family bickering sounds like my family bickering. Also, I wouldn’t mind some of Sue’s outfits.
The Goonies are proof that you can pick your family. While Mikey and Brandon Walsh also have parents they love, their fellow Goondock residents are the family we remember. Sometimes it’s an Asian kid who flies through your window on a self-installed zip line. Sometimes it’s a motor-mouth brat who actually has a heart of gold. Sometimes your family is just who you choose- good, bad, ugly. They were bound together by adventure and the hope that they could make their lives their own. And I’d choose that family too.
It’s entirely possible that with a week left til Christmas, you’re already tired of hearing every version of “Jingle Bells” imaginable on the radio.
We have the solution.
Erin and MeLissa are a pair of comedians who sing songs and tell jokes in Los Angeles by way of Nashville, TN. This Christmas, they released their newest song, “Me and You Grandma”. It is a tribute to the most under appreciated holiday date you can have: your grandmother. She buys you things. She knows a thing or two about costume jewelry. She doesn’t care how many cookies you eat. That’s love.
So pause your Bing Crosby playlist.
Listen to a little bit of Erin and MeLissa.
Call your grandma.
If you need more Erin and MeLissa, visit their website, listen to their songs on Soundcloud, and follow them on Twitter or Facebook. You won’t regret it. (And we’re not just saying do it because MeLissa is part of our team, but because it’s going to make your life better and filled with more joy).
What do you think of the video? Who are you most excited to see this holiday season? Tell us in the comments below!
In a recent appearance on Conancomedian Aziz Ansari unveiled a rather unconventional holiday gift. If you’re in need of a sari – a traditional garment worn by Indian women that is also popular in many other south eastern Asian countries – he’s got quite the solution for you. Since “sari” makes up over half of his last name, and Aziz is Indian-American he’s advertising his own special take on the gown. Now you can get a sari with Aziz’s face on it! Aziz takes us (jokingly) through the process of making his specially branded saris. Our favorite part is when they use glue to smack his face on the “fine material.”
Better yet, Deepak Chopra makes an appearance to condemn the process (whoever said Deepak doesn’t have a humorous side hasn’t been paying attention). Unfortunately, even Aziz can’t put up with the ridiculousness of it. Oh well, you can still get the Gene Hackman home gene testing kit for all of your celebrity branded gift needs!
What do you think of the video? Tell us in the comments below!