A bit about ME…
For as long as I can remember, if you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up the answer was “a wife and mother.” Mind you, I had – and continue to have – a lot of other goals along the way. For example, when I was 8-years-old I decided that besides being a wife and mother I also wanted to be a freelance commercial artist. It is very telling to look back and see how much of my professional life has been guided by the same three words I chose to define myself while still at the starting gate of my Wonder Years.
I knew that I must be involved in the creation of art. I didn’t know what medium would best fit me in later years, but when I was young I excelled at drawing with colored pencils and painting with water colors. I grew up in New York City, blocks away from a medieval museum and constantly sought emotional refuge from a traumatic childhood by wandering amidst the illuminated manuscripts, listening to Gregorian chants. I was to The Cloisters what Eloise was to The Plaza – a self-appointed princess whose emotional void was driven by an overcompensating imagination. Yet, surrounded by the fine art of the Unicorn in Captivity tapestries and the ornately sculpted representations of Heaven, Hell and humanity, it was the earliest source of commercial art – illustration and graphics – that overwhelmed my senses and drove me toward popular culture. Most important of all, I knew who I was and how I would best be able to live my life. I would never thrive in the nine-to-five world as an employee. I was always destined to work on my own schedule and in my own time.
Decades later, I am a wife and mother – happily married with three almost grown sons. Along the way, I have had some amazing professional experiences as a writer, a television personality, a teacher and a media expert. Now, it is a hybrid of all the worlds I have inhabited that brings me to the creation of this website.
In the late 1970’s, after attending theater, film and communications programs at the University of South Florida and Columbia University, I was accepted into the Director's Guild Training Program on my first application. A brief conversation with a visitor on the set of my first film resulted in an introduction to the producer who would introduce me to my first agent and hire me for my first assignment writing for network television...andthat's how Hollywood works. Apparently, its how life works, too, because my journey has been defined by first times and non-sequiturs.
In the early years of my career, I wrote episodes of network television for Hunter, Jake and the Fatman, True Confessions, KnightRider, Hart to Hart, The Love Boat, and Foul Play. In the 17 produced credits I accumulated as a screenwriter, nine of my first drafts went right into production without rewrite from me or anyone else. (That’s a really big accomplishment in an industry that pays more people to rewrite than to write.) I decided I needed to find a hobby that would help me unwind after a long day of writing, so in the evenings I did stand-up comedy. Before long, I was a regular performer at nightclubs including The Comedy Store, The Improv and The Playboy Club (where I was conspicuously overdressed).
The first half of the 1980’s was an amazing time for stand up comedy – pre-Comedy Central – where comedy clubs with a cover charge and two-drink minimum were the best way to get a laugh at the end of a hard Yuppie day. Jerry Seinfeld didn’t have a show yet, so he, Larry David and Michael Richards hung out in the back rooms and corridors of the clubs, formulating their future. Andrew Clay was doing John Travolta impressions because he hadn’t found the voice of “Dice” yet. David Mirkin hadn’t been hired to write a single word of television, although he was headed toward a decades-long run as the writer/producer of The Simpsons. Bill Hicks hadn’t gone to London to find himself. Robin Williams was already staring on Mork & Mindy, but he might show up on any night of the week to jump on stage and do a half-hour set. And Sam Kinison hadn’t yelled yet. Fact of the matter is that I met my husband through Sam – who, at the time, was working as the bouncer at the door of The Comedy Store. Sam had bummed some spare change from Bernie and they struck up a conversation, bonding over the fact that they were both from Peoria, Illinois.
Eventually, I gave up the glamorous life of entertaining drunken audiences in smoke-filled rooms to marry that Peoria boy – not Sam, Bernie. By then, Roseanne was on stage at The Comedy Store. We were both wearing oversized coveralls, but only one of us was pregnant.
My life took a huge left turn when our first son, Matthew, was injured by medical malpractice at birth. At first, he was given no chance of survival. Trust me when I tell you, you never forget the exact moment when a neonatologist and a nurse stand in front of you and say, “Go home and we’ll call you when he dies.” In what would ultimately become the defining moment of my life, I told them: “If he has two hours to live, I’m going to spend it with him – and he has a million dollars of insurance from the Writers Guild Health Fund, so I want you to make sure he’s not suffering.” Suddenly, the doctor’s eyes lit up. “I’m sorry, I thought he was a paper patient,” she explained, “there are so many things we can do.” That is also the absolute moment when I became an advocate of single-payer health care…but I digress.
Matthew spent five and one-half months on life support in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. My husband and I literally moved into the hospital and stayed by his side. During that time, one RN dropped him (right in front of us) and another RN “force fed” him until he went Code Blue. While he was recovering from that, a first-year resident – just months out of medical school – exposed him to a deadly virus that nearly killed Matthew and left him permanently disabled. By the time it was all over, two huge transformations had overtaken my future. On the one hand, I had become an activist against medical malpractice and for enhanced disability rights. On the other, my career as a television writer had been yanked out from beneath my feet.
In a city and an industry where everyone wears colored ribbons for the cause du jour, where celebrities run and walk and dance and do whatever it takes to raise money for all kinds of charities, no one was willing to hire me to do the job I’d done so well before my son was injured. Compounding the problem was the fact that Matthew’s medical bills exceeded $1.1 million. The Writers Guild Health Fund paid $868,000 and dumped a quarter of a million dollars of debt in our laps. As if that wasn’t enough, Matthew’s health was so precarious that he’d become a regular with the paramedics. At one point, Bernie and I had to perform CPR on our dining room table while waiting for them to arrive. Oh, yes, I almost forgot to mention the icing on the cake. Within the first five years of Matthew’s life, we had two more sons.
This is the chapter of my life where the “freelance” drive became more important than I’d ever expected it could be.
I continued to serve on Writers Guild committees. It gave me something to do that had nothing to do with my son’s medical problems. I kept hoping that the visibility of my presence would help other writers feel comfortable that they could hire me and I could deliver for them. It didn’t quite work out that way. I was even elected to and served a two-year term on the WGA west Board of Directors, but my television writing career was over by the time I took my seat in the board room.
At the same time, I devoted myself to making the world of special education less hostile and more productive. I was appointed as a Commissioner of Special Education, to The Community Advisory Committee on Special Education, and to the communications committee of The Chanda Smith Consent Decree. I pushed to get laws changed and I put a bad doctor out of business. Yet, all of this was done as a volunteer and I needed to find some kind of income to help support my family.
Mind you, I am blessed to have a husband who makes a living. Early on, Bernie told me that if I was willing to live on his income I would never have to take a job I didn’t want to do. It was an exceptionally liberating gift that enabled me to be a full-time stay at home mother while working a bunch of part-time jobs (that never added up to a full-time income) in the hours that our sons were at school.
Foraging for paid employment while juggling an infant, a toddler and a preschooler with multiple disabilities is a lot harder than one might expect. It was never about whether I could do the job well – it was always about why someone else assumed I wouldn’t be able to do the job well. I learned that when people asked how my sons or my husband or I were doing, the only answer they wanted to hear was “we’re fine and everything’s great.”
The fact that I had a graduate degree enabled me to teach at the university level. In the early 1990’s, I helped pioneer the field of Mediated Instruction and Distance Learning at California State University Dominguez Hills. It was the dawn of the age of the Internet, so I designed and taught the first university accredited online course in screenwriting for CSUDH. I partnered with professors from USC and UCLA to create an on-line program in Entertainment Industry Technology for the Extended Education division of CSUDH. I designed the curriculum and taught Entertain.Ment – the first university accredited course in writing and producing LIVE INTERACTIVE programming for the Internet, overseeing the first LIVE INTERACTIVE student production that included participants across the US and as far away as Malaysia. I also taught screenwriting and advanced video production in the classroom at CSUDH and Loyola Marymount University.
But the most exciting and fulfilling opportunity during this time enabled me to write and present more than 200 hours of LIVE television for two educational series: American Society & Television and Mass Media & Society.
During that same time, I wrote an article for a new, struggling screenwriting journal that some fella was publishing from his kitchen table. That article turned into a number of articles, then a column, a promotion to Contributing Editor and ultimately the position of Associate Publisher of Creative Screenwriting Magazine and The Screenwriting Expo. When I left Creative Screenwriting Magazine and Screenwriting Expo – after being with it for 13 or its 14 years in existence – the business had grown from a kitchen table venture to a multi-million dollar operation that surpassed all the competition to own its niche.
As I launch this website in the Spring of 2008, my sons are nearly grown. While they still need their mom to help manage the day to day details of their lives, they also need the space and freedom to become independent, productive young men. So now it’s my turn. I get to pick up were I left off, revise my direction a bit and grow into a new chapter of my professional life. I’m still a freelance commercial artist at heart, but my creative medium has become all things digital. Welcome to this Moms Digital World.
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