Five Things…

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

I haven’t used my blog as an actual journal in a few years, mainly because I’ve been writing a monthly column in the e-zine Modern Creative Life for three years and was doing something similar for the e-zine All Things Girl for several years before that. Personal essays and columns aren’t that different, and I haven’t had the need to share deep parts of myself with relative strangers lately.

But I’m sick. I almost wasn’t able to put a podcast episode together for tomorrow. I’m participating in the Dog Days of Advent, and another participant messaged me on Facebook and asked if I had something ready that she could record. The community that has formed from a bunch of podcast nerds (as one of the other participants describes us) who all commit to doing a daily podcast in the month of August and then sign on to do something similar in December is a lovely group of people. Funny, warm, bright, geeky. I’m not always terribly chatty, but there isn’t one of them I don’t appreciate.

And tonight, two of them became my – what was the term we used in the early nineties? – short duration personal saviors.

So, tonight I’m writing a right and proper blog post instead of a piece of flash-fic because it’s late, and I can’t talk (literally) and none of my usual sources for prompts are speaking to me

But the December Reflections prompt for today is “Five things about me…” (okay, it’s actually tomorrows, I’ve been using them as inspiration, not actually participating the way you’re meant to).

And the number five is resonating in my head.

The number five is a frequent number for list-posts and list-memes – five television shows you like, five things about yourself, five people, living or dead, you’d invite to dinner, five notes in the ascending arpeggios we sing in vocal warm-ups… you get the idea.

I think it’s because five isn’t an overwhelming number. Ten can feel like too many, and three is too few, but five is just right. And it’s balanced… in design you always want odd numbers of things. Five stems of irises in a vase, five candles in an arrangement.

Not to mention that humans have five fingers on each hand and five fingers on each toe.

But my other association with “five things” is from improv.  I spent years as part of the Dallas ComedySportz troupe and “Five Things” was one of our featured games. It’s a game where we use mime and gibberish to convey five activities with audience-suggested replacements. So, the activity might be cleaning a toilet, but we’re cleaning it at Elvis’s house and instead of a scrub brush we’re using spaghetti, and instead of toilet bowl cleaner, we’re using gummy bears.

So, what are five things about me. Well today, they’re:

  1. I have a sinus infection that’s settled in my ears and throat, and I can’t talk.
  2. I have very sweet friends who take time from their days to record for me so I don’t miss a day of a project.
  3. There are four dogs in the room with me, and they’re all peacefully asleep, and their breathing is the most comforting sound ever.
  4. I haven’t decorated for Christmas because we’re meant to be moving furniture around on Saturday.
  5. I’m craving salt.

I suppose I was meant to write more permanent things, but really, not much in life is permanent. And I was never much good at following rules.

*This flash-fic inspired by a prompt from December Reflections.
Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash


All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned from Improv

This essay was originally written as a lay-sermon for the Unitarian Universalist Church of Oak Cliff, and appeared in my “Sunday Brunch” column in the now-defunct e-zine ALL THINGS GIRL. It ran in January, 2010.

Photo by Vadim Fomenok on UnsplashA decade ago, I hadn’t done a lot improv. I mean, I’d done some in school, and had done some street theatre as an adult, but if you’d asked me about my future, spending several years in a professional improvisational comedy troupe would not have come up. But then, neither would have being a regular member of an audio improv show, a cast member of several audio dramas, or the narrator of an audio book.

Even so, sometime in 2003, I found myself being dragged by my friend Jeremy to the improv bootcamp being led by a mutual friend of ours, Clay. Initially, I was nervous – I hadn’t really played any theatre games since high school, and the skills that I had were beyond rusty. Nevertheless, after an intense day of both physical and verbal warm-ups, tableaux drills and basic scene-play, I was hooked.

Four years later, again at the urging of my friend Clay, I auditioned for ComedySportz on a lark because I wanted to make some friends who had nothing to do with the mortgage industry. I left the audition thinking I’d be asked if I still wanted to sign up for the class I’d initially queried them about, but the next day I was invited to join the troupe, and all too soon, I was performing every weekend, and then staying out until the wee hours of the morning talking about the show we’d just done, or about improv in general.

I had also become so much more confident in myself that I dyed my hair pink, fled corporate America for a freelance writing career, and started seeking out new opportunities to stretch myself – things like speaking in my local church, writing actual scripts for favorite audio dramas, and committing to a more active role here at ATG.

More than once in the intervening years, I’ve found myself talking improv with fellow performers, either after a show, or during a pause in a recording session – discussing how we bring improvisational techniques into our off-stage lives. Also more than once, I’ve found myself trying to explain to non-improvisers what it is I love about the art form, and more, how the concepts I’d learned from improvisational theatre can be applied to every aspect of life.

In no particular order, here are some examples:

Don’t Perform; Play.

Like many other art forms, improv is make-believe for adults, and it works best when you stop worrying about entertaining other people, and just play.

When you play, you’re less self-conscious, and more in the moment. You think faster, listen better, and are generally more responsive. It’s not about the performance, it’s about the experience. In life, we make deeper connections when we stop worrying about impressions, and just let ourselves be in the moment.

Support Your Partner.

In improvisation, we’re taught that not only is there no “I” in “team,” but that the job of each player is to make everyone else look good.

At ComedySportz, before each show, we would literally pat each other on the back, and say, “I’ve got your back,” to lend assurance that no matter what happened, no one was going out there alone. In life, we also have to support each other.

We have one world, one community, one extended family. If we don’t stick up for each other, who will?

Claim Your Mistakes.

We’re often told we learn from our mistakes, and that learning how to fail is just as important as learning to succeed. New improvisers are taught to take deep bows even when they utterly failed in a scene, not to celebrate the failure, but to celebrate the fact that they tried. Accepting that we all make mistakes helps us handle setbacks more gracefully.

Improv also reminds us that as long as we respond truthfully – with honest emotion – there are no wrong answers. True, there are high percentage and lower percentage choices, but even the “bad” choices can still lead us in new directions. Remember the words of Thomas Edison, who, when trying to develop a working light bulb, reportedly said, “I haven’t failed; I’ve found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

Pay Attention.

How many times in your life has a parent or teacher admonished you to “Pay attention!” How many times has a child implored you to “Listen to me!”

In improv, if you aren’t paying attention to your partners, you miss vital information. After all, improv is often all about endowment, and if you don’t hear someone introducing you as their husband/sister/next door neighbor/English teacher/whatever, you won’t know how best to add to the scene in progress.

In life, lack of attention means anything from hurt feelings to actual injuries (How many of us have been behind a driver not using turn signals? How many of us have forgotten to signal turns?)

Be Specific.

In improvisation, in writing, and in life, specifics matter.

Specifics are the difference between, “I wish I had some help with editing,” and “Becca, would you mind proofreading something for me?” They’re the difference between, “I’m in a bad mood,” and “I’m angry at you because you forgot to take the garbage out. Again.” It’s the difference between two people talking on an empty stage and two people at a bar, or in the park, or in the kitchen, even if the lines don’t change, and the set pieces exist only in the imagination.

Yes, And…

There’s an improv mantra, of sorts, that goes, “You can’t deny another person’s reality; you can only build on it.” The shorthand version of this – as well as being the central tenet of improvisation in general – is “agree and add,” or, in the more popular vernacular, “Yes, and.”

On stage, this means that you take whatever another improviser has given you, and expand it. It is building momentum, instead of allowing inertia.

“Here I’ve brought you a mug of coffee,” someone might say.

“Yes, and now my brain will kick into gear and I can solve the energy crises,” their scene partner might answer.

When you say “Yes, and” you’re validating what another person has said, and adding something new. In its broadest sense, “Yes, and” is saying yes to everything life throws at you – good or bad – and then adding to it. It is accepting the reality of any given situation, and then being willing to take the next step.

This doesn’t mean that finding a way to respond “Yes, and” to every situation requires you to be happy and perky.

“Honey, I crashed the car into a tree,” your spouse or partner could inform you, one evening.

“Yes, and now that I know you’re okay, I’ll find the insurance agent’s number,” you might respond if you’re incredibly calm, but it would be an equally valid response if you said, “Yes, and it’s a good thing you didn’t die in the process, because now I can kill you myself!”

Even in a less-than-positive situation, “Yes, and” continues the conversation.

Every time we try something new, face a fear, engage in conversation with a stranger, we’re really saying “Yes, and,” to the universe. Whether you’re sharing a personal essay, publishing a poem you worked on for hours, or giving your treasured short story or novel to the readers of the world, you are doing it, too.

“I’ve created this thing,” you are saying.

“Yes, and, we are going to experience it,” your audience replies.

If you’re lucky they’ll build further on that, with a comment, a review, a recommendation, or even just passing on a link or giving their copy of your work to a friend.

If I’d never done improv, I’d probably still have left the mortgage industry, but I probably wouldn’t have auditioned for audio dramas or agreed to speak in a church, or tutored a friend’s son in English (I’m not terribly child-friendly) or any number of other things I’ve done since my “conversion” from muggle to improviser.

I’ve internalized a lot of the improv principles I’ve shared today, but I still have to make a conscious effort to replace “No, because,” or “Yes, but,” with “Yes, and,” when I’m feeling grumpy or snarky or shy.

“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players,” Shakespeare wrote in As You Like It.



The play of life? It’s unscripted.

Great Writing Requires an Awesome Hat

Awesome Hats

This piece originally ran as part of my Sunday Brunch column in All Things Girl on 12 January 2014.

A few days ago, I made a post on Facebook about how while most of the country had been in the throes of a polar vortex which made temperatures plunge into the sub-zero ranges, I had been in the throes of a writing vortex. I gave the credit for my recent habit of writing in excess of 5,000 words a day to a green hat my friend Jeremy made for me several years ago.

It’s true that this particular hat has been my headgear of choice this winter, but it’s not the first “writing hat” I’ve ever had. It’s also true that was not my first-ever writing vortex, but it’s the longest, most productive such period I’ve had in probably a decade, and that includes at least four successful completions of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

For me, both the hats and the vortices began with Jo March, my favorite character from Little Women, which I read for the first time when I was six. At first my mother read the chapters aloud to me at bedtime, but eventually I grew impatient to know what came next, and I improved my reading ability so I could find out. That was the last book we read together in that way; now we just trade books back and forth.

In any case, the image of Jo with her special writing clothes on, scribbling away in her attic atelier, is one that instantly entranced me, and I’ve been using my own form of writerly cos-play to keep the muse active ever since. Sometimes that includes whole outfits; but mostly it involves hats.

My first writing hat was a black velvet beret, big enough for me to tuck all my hair into (at a time when I had long hair, even) and adorned by a red bow. At least, it had a red bow until the bow fell off, and after that I decorated it with a succession of funky pins – gold stars, silver fairies, a bar pin featuring a jazz trio – things of that ilk. I wore that hat forever, and not just to write. It was a trusty friend through my high school and college years, until I finally killed it by accidentally melting it to death with a curling iron.

In retrospect, the curling iron vandalism might have been a sort of homage to Jo March as well, albeit an unintentional one.

My second writing hat was also black and velvet, but this time it was a baseball cap. I love baseball caps because when my hair is long enough for a pony-tail, I can stick it through the gap above the adjustment tab. This one was pretty plain, but I jazzed it up with a giant dragon-fly pin. Once, I wore it to work (it was a hat-friendly workplace) and my supervisor looked at it and said, “That dragon-fly is scary. And awesome. Carry on.”

I still have that hat, but I don’t really wear it to write any more, mostly because my hair is too short for a pony-tail, but partly because that dragon-fly pin is really heavy.

When I was performing with the Dallas ComedySportz troupe several years ago, I shifted my usual headgear from hats to bandannas – do-rags in the current parlance – collecting them in a wide variety of colors and styles. My favorites include a black one with lavender and green dragon-flies, and a white one with black and gold paisley patterns. I like these “kerchiefs,” as my grandmother would have called them, because they keep my hair out of my face without hurting my scalp (like a too-tight or too-heavy pony-tail can) or being too hot or heavy. I also like them because they make pirate fantasies much more accessible, but that’s another story.

So, why am I now wearing a green hat that can be a watch cap or a beret? Well, first, my friend made it for me, and I miss his daily presence in my life, so this hat is a connection to another very cool, creative person. The other reason is that, until yesterday, it’s been legitimately cold here in Texas (and not just in a cold-for-Texas kind of way – it was 23 degrees earlier this week.), and when you keep your head warm, you retain your body heat. It’s never been a secret that I like to have cool air when I sleep, but when I’m awake and writing, I prefer to be comfortably warm, and the hat has helped keep me that way.

Unlike Jo March in her garret, I don’t use the position of my hat to signal the state of my muse or telegraph my mood, but the presence (or absence) of some kind of headgear absolutely alerts my husband to whether or not my “genius is burning.”

Can great writing be accomplished without an awesome hat? Of course.

But wearing a hat, and channeling a favorite character (even if it’s a character of your own creation) makes writing – great or not – a lot more fun.

“Every few weeks she would shut herself up in her room, put on her scribbling suit, and “fall into a vortex” as she expressed it, writing away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for till that was finished she could find no peace. Her “scribbling suit” consisted of a black woolen pinafore on which she could wipe her pen at will, and a cap of the same material, adorned with a cheerful red bow, into which she bundled her hair when the decks were cleared for action. This cap was a beacon to the inquiring eyes of her family, who during these periods kept their distance, merely popping in their heads semi-occasionally, to ask, with interest, “Does genius burn, Jo?” They did not always venture even to ask this question, but took an observation of the cap, and judged accordingly. If this expressive article of dress was drawn low upon the forehead, it was a sign that hard work was going on; in exciting moments it was pushed rakishly askew; and when despair seized the author it was plucked wholly off, and cast upon the floor. At such times the intruder silently withdrew; and not until the red bow was seen gaily erect upon the gifted brow, did any one dare address Jo.”

~ Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Sunday Brunch: That 70’s Summer

Slumber Party

My latest Sunday Brunch piece is up at All Things Girl. We’re filling the blog, while we continue to rebuild the rest of our site since it was hacked – badly – in June.

Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

If the “slumber party” was small – me and just one or two friends – we’d set up camp in my bedroom. If the group was larger, we’d take over the den or the living room. I’m sure we watched movies, but since VCRs were not yet commonplace, and DVDs hadn’t even been invented, but what I remember are the games and stories.

Slumber party games when I was seven, eight, and nine, were still pretty innocent, and the favorite thing to play was “Light as a Feather; Stiff as a Board.” There are many versions of it, and many explanations for why it becomes possible for four girls to lift a fifth using just two fingers each, but the reality is that as much as, as children, we wanted to pretend it was magic, the chant just helps to unify everyone, and the rest is basic physics.

The rest of the piece can be found HERE.

Image Copyright: creatista / 123RF Stock Photo

Sunday Brunch: Screen Dads



It’s Fathers’ Day, which means the internet is swarming with ads for power tools and sporting equipment, all of which share space with pithy articles talking about the greatest fathers in media.

I’ve noticed, though, that most of the memes which list great screen dads tend to stick with the stuff that’s so old it doesn’t even play on Nick at Night, or even TV Land any more. Not that I’m knocking Mike Brady, but I wasn’t even born when The Brady Bunch began, and not yet four when the final episode aired.

Besides, aside from a period when I wanted Scotty from Star Trek to be my father, the TV fathers (and father figures) I responded to were hardly cookie-cutter parents. The TV dads I grew up with included Charles Ingalls (Little House on the Prairie),  Steven Keaton (Family Ties) and Bill Cosby (The Cosby Show) but lately, I’ve come to realize that there are some great screen fathers (and father figures) from this century.

Who are they? Well, here are five of my favorites:

Josiah “Jed” Bartlet (played by Martin Sheen – The West Wing)

In addition to being the father of Ellie, Lizzie, and Zoey, Jed Bartlet also had this little job as President of the United States. It’s true that two of his three daughters were living independent lives, but he still had to balance country and family, with scales that were just a bit more particular than those measuring other fathers.

As well, Zoey was going to school at Georgetown University for part of the series, and living in the White House a good chunk of the time as well, which meant a lot more hands-on parenting, as in the scene where the president explains to his daughter why she’s got to have extra security:

“My getting killed would be bad enough, but that is not the nightmare scenario. The nightmare scenario, sweetheart, is you getting kidnapped. You go out to a bar or a party in some club and you get up to go to the restroom and somebody comes from behind and puts their hand across your mouth and whisks you out the back door. You’re so petrified you don’t even notice the bodies of a few Secret Service agents lying on the ground with bullet holes in their heads. Then you’re whisked away in a car. It’s a big party with lots of noise and lots of people coming and going, and it’s a half hour before someone says, “Hey, where’s Zoey?” Another fifteen minutes before the first phone call. It’s another hour and a half before anyone even *thinks* to shut down all the airports. Now we’re off to the races. You’re tied to a chair in a cargo shack somewhere in the middle of Uganda and I am told that I have 72 hours to get Israel to free 460 terrorist prisoners. So I’m on the phone pleading with Be Yabin and he’s saying: “I’m sorry, Mr. President, but Israel simply does not negotiate with terrorists, period. It’s the only way we can survive.” So now we got a new problem because this country no longer has a Commander-in-chief, it has a father who’s out of his mind because his little girl is in a shack somewhere in Uganda with a gun to her head. Do you get it?”

Lucas “Luke” Danes (played by Scott Patterson – Gilmore Girls)

Luke isn’t actually Rory Gilmore’s father. In fact, during the course of the show, he never officially becomes her stepfather. Nevertheless, he is the reigning father figure in Rory’s life, attending family parties and events (like her high school graduation) even before he and her mother, Lorelai tried dating.

Later, of course, he essentially raises his nephew Jess, and then he finds out he has a daughter of his own, April, but when it comes to parenting, Rory was really Luke’s ‘first’ child…and he even goes up against Rory’s biological father, Christopher, to demonstrate it:

“Oh, really? Well, where the hell where you when she had the chicken pox and would only eat mashed potatoes for a week? Or when she graduated high school and started college, huh? Where the hell were you when I was moving her mattress into her dorm and out of her dorm and back into her dorm?”


Burt Hummel (played by Mike O’Malley – Glee)

I knew from the start that Burt was a pretty special guy, raising Kurt alone, and supporting his son’s interests even when he didn’t understand them, but what sold me – and most of the viewing public – on Burt is this quotation from the episode “Theatricality,” where he busts his soon-to-be stepson, Finn, on the latter’s use of the word ‘faggy.’

“I know what you meant! What, you think I didn’t use that word when I was your age? You know, some kid gets clocked in practice we tell him to stop being such a fag, shake it off. We meant it exactly the way you meant it. That being gay is wrong. That’s some kind of punishable offense. I really thought you were different, Finn. You know, I thought that being in Glee Club, and being raised by your mom, meant that you were some, you know, new generation of dude who saw things differently. Who just kinda, you know, came into the world knowing what it’s taken me years of struggling to figure out. I guess I was wrong. I’m sorry Finn, but you can’t, you can’t stay here.”

Jonathan Kent (played by John Schneider – Smallville)

It can’t be easy, being the adoptive father of a future superhero, but it was always clear that Jonathan was parenting Clark and that the eventual Superman was the mask – a flip of the conventional version of the story. As Clark aged and began developing his powers, Jonathan’s life got a lot more difficult, but he still tried his best to answer every challenge with grace and wisdom, as in this quotation:

“Look, Clark, I’m your father. I’m supposed to have all the answers. It kills me that I don’t, but you gotta have faith that we’ll figure this thing out together.”

Keith Mars (played by Enrico Colantoni – Veronica Mars)

Another single father, Keith Mars is a bit grittier than the average television dad, but there’s never a doubt that he’s Veronica’s greatest ally, even when he has to choose being a parent over being a friend. Personally, I think their relationship is one of the best father-daughter relationships ever put on screen. Moreover, it’s obvious that Veronica shares his sense of humor, as well as his detective skills, as seen in this exchange from the second season.

Keith: So, senior year. How was your first day at school honey?

Veronica: Great! I beat up a freshman, stole his lunch money and then skipped out after lunch.

Keith: What, no pre-marital sex?

Veronica: Oh, yea… yes. But don’t worry dad, I swear you’re gonna like these guys.

Keith: That’s my girl.

Veronica: I missed you.

Keith: [While they hug] I missed you too. Now, where is my turkey pot-pie, woman?


These are just a few of my favorite “screen dads,” and while they’re no longer entirely contemporary, I think all of them are, at least, more relatable to modern audiences than the fathers in those older shows – even if we (well, I) still watch them when I’m flipping channels and they happen to be on.


Note: This piece originally appeared in the e-zine All Things Girl on 15 June 2014, but the original link is referenced but not archived at the internet archive.

Sunday Brunch: The Best Advice Nathan Fillion Never Gave Me



Two weeks ago, I was sitting in a darkened room at the Dallas Convention Center with about 4,499 of my closest friends. Okay, that’s a bit of an overstatement. Not the number of people, but that they’re my closest friends. Really, I knew maybe five people in that room.

It didn’t matter, of course. Why? Because it was Dallas Comic-Con. Because once you enter the doors, it doesn’t matter if you’re a DC girl in love with a Marvel boy, or a woman who thinks Star Trek is better than Star Wars, married to a man who thinks the opposite is true. It doesn’t even matter if you’re a major fan of A Nightmare on Elm Street (the original, with Robert Englund) while your husband prefers the grittier, somewhat more reality based (and I use that concept very, very loosely) world of The Walking Dead. Once you enter Comic-Con – and this is especially true in Dallas, I think – everyone is a friend; you just haven’t necessarily met them yet.

In any case, two weeks ago, on Saturday evening, I was sitting in Hall D, 4th row center, waiting with those 4,499 other people for a special solo Q&A from Nathan Fillion. You might know him as Richard Castle.  You might know him as Captain Hammer (from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog) or Captain Tightpants (aka Malcolm Reynolds, from Firefly and Serenity). You might know him as Caleb, the evil priest from the last season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you’re old enough to have watched more than just cartoons in the late 1980s, you may even remember that he was one of Murphy Brown’s many, many receptionists, which was my first experience with his work.

The Q&A started later than its originally-scheduled 6:00 pm, because Mr. Fillion is a truly nice person. He could have had his handlers stop his autograph line so he could get to the hall on time. He chose to stay, make eye-contact with each of them, and keep signing ’til the line was done. It also didn’t end on time, at 7:00, because he also chose to ensure that those 4500 people in Hall D got their full hour with him. Sure, Twitter would have exploded with nastiness if he hadn’t made those choices, but if you follow his Twitter feed at all, you’ll know that even there, he’s a pretty nice guy.

It’s rare, at conventions, for anything substantive to be asked in Q&As. It’s not that there aren’t people with really good questions; it’s that those people are usually not the first to line up behind the microphones. Most of the questions, then, tend to come from admittedly-adorable small children who ask things like, “What’s your favorite animal?” (For the record, Fillion prefers cats. I forgive him for this.)

But two weeks ago, in Dallas, a young man stood up at one of the microphones, and shared that he’d just been cast in his first television pilot. He asked Nathan (I can call him Nathan after being alone in a dark room with him, and a moderator, and 4,499 of my closest friends, right?) two things: one, to demonstrate his “soap opera long take” technique; and two, give some actorly advice.

The soap opera bit was hilarious, but the advice…the advice was amazing. And while it was meant as advice to a young actor, I found it to be as universally applicable as Natalie Goldberg’s Rules for Writing (and I’ve written about those before).

Here’s what he said:

“Just remember:  You’re there because they want you there.  You already have the job. Do your job.  You are good enough to get the job.  You’re good enough to do your job. Don’t get stressed about things that aren’t in your control.  Control what’s in your control.      Know your lines.  Be pleasant.  Do good work.”

Let’s take a closer look at those points, shall we?

Don’t get stressed about things that aren’t in your control. Even the best of us can only control our own behavior, our own attitudes, our own reactions. Sure, it’s easy to get upset about things in the world – war, crime, various social issues we feel passionate about – but we can’t fix those things. We can, and should, become informed, but freaking out over things we can’t control doesn’t help us, and it doesn’t help others, either.

Control what’s in your control. It seems obvious, right? If you can control something, you should. Either Tim Gunn or one of the former Project Runway designers who appeared on one of his shows phrased it this way: “We cannot control how we are perceived; we can only control how we are presented.” I can’t control your reaction, but I can control my attitude, and my delivery, and any number of other things. I can’t fix every social issue that I care about, but I can put my money, my vote, and my voice behind who can.

Know your lines. While this would seem to be specific to actors, I think it applies to almost everything, if you use a loose interpretation of ‘lines.’ The part of me that does improv and voice-acting doesn’t have to worry about memorizing lines, but when I’m meeting new people, I know that I have to be positive and outgoing – that meeting people’s eyes and engaging with them is a version of “knowing my lines.” It also means knowing that I can’t be as bawdy with my friend who is a priest as I can be with my friend who is a comedian. (Well, actually, the priests I know are pretty bawdy, but you get the point.) It also includes basic manners. Some of the lines we’re expected to know, are things like using ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ offering assistance without being asked, and standing back when assistance isn’t needed.

Be pleasant. As I recently wrote to a friend who asked for the best piece of advice each of his friends had to offer, “When all else fails, try good manners.” Even the toughest day or the hardest task becomes more manageable when you have a pleasant attitude. If that means getting up early so you’re well-caffeinated before you have to deal with people, then do so (that would be part of ‘know your lines’ and ‘control what you can control,’ as well). There’s a reason that saying about catching more flies with honey than with vinegar has lasted for ages.

Do good work. Nobody’s perfect. Nobody is ever expected to be perfect. That doesn’t mean we have the right to be lazy, to turn in shoddy work, or to half-ass projects because we don’t feel like pushing ourselves. I’m not saying we have to over-extend ourselves all the time either – far from it. Just give the best that you can at any given moment, and know that sometimes giving your best means asking for help or saying no.

I wasn’t expecting to hear an actor whose work I admire offer life-lessons in the middle of a Comic-Con Q&A. I know, from the reactions in the room at the time, and from the comments on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere on the ‘net, that other people were as surprised by both the eloquence and the simplicity of Nathan’s advice to that young actor, and by its relevance to people in general.

I’m still going to grumble, from time-to-time, about the lack of substantive questions in Q&A’s, or about how moderators should control the lines better (I gave feedback – extremely polite, but detailed feedback – about this to the Dallas Comic-Con organizers). But thanks to that young actor whose name I don’t know, and thanks to Nathan Fillion, and thanks to the 4,499 friends who sat in that darkened room with me, I’ve been reminded that sometimes amazing advice comes from the most unusual places.

Also? Nathan Fillion is a genuinely nice guy.

Note: This piece originally appeared in the e-zine All Things Girl on 1 June 2014, but the original link is referenced but not archived at the internet archive.

Sunday Brunch: Life Lessons from HIMYM


It’s been three weeks since the series finale of the long-running situation comedy How I Met Your Mother. Whatever your feelings were about that last episode, I think we can all agree that for any show, a nine-season run is pretty impressive, a combination of great writing, a cast that clicks, and not a little bit of luck and magic.

For me, HIMYM was never appointment-viewing, but whenever I caught an episode I was usually entertained for half an hour, and sometimes I laughed out loud (I am not an ‘easy room.’) In anticipation of the finale, then, I binge-watched every episode (thank you Netflix and Roku Streaming Stick), and as I did, I realized that in addition to being funny, smart, and well-crafted (seriously, there were jokes from season one that had callbacks in season nine), the show was also surprisingly relevant, even to people like me who are a bit older than most of the cast, and a good portion of the target-demographic.

This, then, is a list of five things I learned from How I Met Your Mother:

Being Awesome is a Choice.

“When I get sad, I stop being sad and be awesome instead… True story.” – Barney Stinson

None of us can control the way we are perceived, but we can control the way we present ourselves, and that means choosing to be awesome. You can define ‘awesome’ any way you want, but, for me, it involves confidence mixed with a little bit of audacity and just a hint of risk. As an improviser (because in my life everything comes back to improve) choosing to be awesome is just one more way of saying, “Yes, and…” to the universe.

Big Decisions Should Never be Made in the Middle of the Night

“Nothing good happens after 2 A.M.” – Ted Mosby (quoting his mother).

It doesn’t matter if you’re choosing whether or not to sleep with someone, whether or not to take a new job, or any other life-changing choice. The middle of the night is not the time for heavy reflection. Your mind is foggy and your body is tired, neither of which leaves you in optimal decision-making mode. Sure, you may be nocturnal (I am) but even so, the best thing you can do is drink some water, jot down a note to yourself (on paper or on the electronic device of your choice), flip your pillow to the cool side, and go back to sleep. You’ll make wiser choices in the morning, with a clearer head.

It’s Okay to Make Mistakes

“There are certain things in life where you know it’s a mistake but you don’t really know it’s a mistake because the only way to know that it really is a mistake is to make that mistake and go, ‘Yup, that was a mistake.’ So really, the bigger mistake would be to not make the mistake because then you’ll go about your whole life not knowing whether it was a mistake or not.” – Lily Aldrin

Sometimes the only way you can tell if you like something is to try it. This applies to food, hobbies, careers, friendships, and fashion. It probably applies to a lot of other things as well. If we don’t try new things, we stagnate, but not everything we try is going to be successful. Whether it’s a “shitty first draft,” (to use Anne Lamott’s phrase), or that bubble skirt we were in love with back in college, we have to give ourselves permission to be wrong. Besides, sometimes a mistake isn’t so much an error, or a failure, but a nudge toward a different direction.

Sometimes You Have to Just Suck it Up and Deal

“The best I can give you is a fake smile and dead eyes.” –  Robin Scherbatsky

We all have those moments when we’d rather not see people. Maybe we don’t like funerals, or maybe we can’t stomach the notion of one more baby shower when we’ve never managed to carry a child to term. Sometimes, even when we feel empty, we have to just go through the motions – just show up, and get through it – especially if our presence is important to someone we love. We may begin an event wearing a fake smile, but chance are, there will be a bit of real warmth in it by the end of the afternoon or evening or weekend or…whatever. And if there isn’t? Well, we can always go home and hide under the covers afterward.

It Really IS About the Journey

“That’s life, you know, we never end up where you thought you wanted to be.” – Marshall Ericksen

For most of us, the life we eventually have isn’t the live we dreamed of. When I was nine, I wanted to be a jockey or a marine biologist. When I was fifteen, I wanted to be the next Jacqueline DuPres, and until I was twenty I swore I would never get married, and if I did, we’d have separate apartments (I’m still not convinced that last part is a bad idea.) The point is, it isn’t where we end up that makes us who we are, it’s all the things that happen on the way. Sometimes we choose the well-traveled route; other times we opt for the whole “road less traveled” thing, but either way, life isn’t a result; it’s a process.

As for the finale if How I Met Your Mother, I’m one of the few people in my circle of friends who thought it was appropriate and perfect, especially since the signs were there, all the way through the series. Will there be another series that captures the attention and imagination of so many? Of course there will. Does the fact that television is a transitory medium meant first to entertain make these lessons any less relevant? Absolutely not. The beauty of the human condition is that we learn from every experience, even the ones that we only watch on TV.

Note: This piece originally appeared in the e-zine All Things Girl on 1 June 2014, but the original link is referenced but not archived at the internet archive

Starlight and Whalesong

Whale Encounter by Kareem Alqaq

Last Saturday, I went to see the grey whales, and got to pet one.

This morning, I wrote about it at All Things Girl.

Most of us think of humpback whales when we think of whale watching, but – at least here in Baja – it’s the grey whales you come to see, and it’s evident from their behavior that the whales are also here to see us. Quite social, it’s almost as if they’re trained. We are in the water with four other boats and there are three or four mother-calf pairs. The mothers, massive creatures that you never see in their entirety, stay farther away from us, monitoring the situation, but the calves are like puppies, going from boat to boat, rolling over to blink at you, or meet your gaze with theirs – they have eyelashes!!! – begging for skritches and belly-rubs, smiling and showing off their baleen.

Here’s an excerpt. For the whole piece, click here: Sunday Brunch: The Hottest Blood of All.

DCC Fan Days is Coming

DCC Fan Days

Just a quick update to let people know that I’m covering Dallas Comic Con Fan Days (Website: the 4-6 of October. I’ll be doing this in my role of editor-at-large for All Things Girl.

Last year, we attended as ‘just fans’, and I enjoyed it, but I didn’t spend as much time as I wanted to engaging with the actual comicbook (one word, per Stan Lee) artists, so this year my focus will be on that, and on the fan experience in general.

Dog Days of Podcasting: Sunday Brunch – Isn’t It Pretty?

Dog Days of Podcasting

Every other Sunday, I write a column called “Sunday Brunch” for the ezine All Things Girl. Regular readers of this site have seen me link to it before.

Today, for my DDoP entry, I picked the Sunday Brunch entry from 17 February 2013, and recorded it, with a bit of extemporaneous book-ending.

You can listen to the recording at SoundCloud or play it in the applet below.

If you want to read the original column, you can find it here.

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