• Sunday, December 30, 2012
  • 2012

    This was a great year for me, validation wise. This was the first year where I thought to myself- this isn’t just a three-year project of love, this MFA. This writing thing- this playwriting, screenwriting, TV writing- this is something I could do for life. And get paid for! This was the first year where I honestly believed that I can do this. Like, as a responsible, non-delusional adult.

    Highlights-

    In February I got to attend the regional Kennedy Center’s American College Theatre Festival in Ogden, Utah, where my ten minute play Fumes and Plumes had a staged reading. Adventures included renting a car and driving for an hour in the pitch blackness of Utah freeways to the house of a stranger I found off the internet, and meeting awesome and incredibly talented theatre students from small towns and community colleges in Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii and California.

    A Nice Indian Boy won second place in the East West Players Face of the Future Playwriting Contest, and got a staged reading in March at their theatre. The audience gave it a standing ovation. Which felt amazing.

    Forget Sex had its workshop production at USC and was well received. I had the best time working with my director Chris Fields, and our stage manager and cast.

    The Arrangement made it to the semi-finals of The Nicholl Fellowship, one of 129 scripts out of 7100. That was pretty thrilling.

    I wrote a one-act children’s play in rhyming verse, the first draft of a screenplay, the beginnings of a solo performance, a TV drama spec script, a few ten minute plays, completed the 31 plays in 31 days challenge in August, and performed stand-up a couple more times this summer.

    2013’s going to be pretty great. And terrifying. But pretty great.

  • Monday, December 24, 2012
  • Half stories from India

    I’m currently in Chennai for winter break, my last academic vacation for a long time. Possibly forever. I have a complicated relationship with home, but right now, it feels amazing. One season a year, that little sliver of time in December and January, Chennai’s weather is so forgiving and so extraordinary that you overlook all of its flaws.

     Image

    When my cousin had his pre-school admissions interview (which apparently is a thing), the teacher asked him a bunch of routine general knowledge questions, including- “What does a cow eat?”

    “Paper,” my cousin said wisely.

    Apparently the teacher was horrified, and marked him wrong, which kind of perfectly sums up everything that is terrible with the Indian educational system.

    Yesterday I accompanied my parents to the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association to buy tickets for the upcoming India-Pakistan match on Sunday. The line for the tickets was enormous, less than an hour after the windows opened, and it wrapped itself around the stadium.

    We were going to buy the upper level tickets, though, and so we walked right into the TNCA and up to the empty window, and bought five Rs. 5000 tickets.

    On the way back to our car, we passed a street sweeper who had noticed us walking in. My mother had asked her- what are these things on the ground? Is it broken glass, or flowers? My mother thought it was broken glass, my father insisted they were flowers. It was a discussion. The sweeper said she didn’t know.

    She was surprised to see us leaving so fast. Did you get the tickets? she asked my mother. Oh yes, my mother said. How much were they? the sweeper asked. You could see my mother get thrown, for about a half-second, and then she said- Too much money.

    My dad, possibly nervous, chimed in, There’s one month’s salary down the drain!

    Not for him, of course. But one ticket would be equivalent to what she makes in a month.

    What was remarkable about this exchange was that it even happened.

    I don’t know how much people of privilege here in India viscerally experience their privilege. In LA, I’d be part of the very long line wrapping itself around the huge stadium, waiting for hours, possibly the whole day, possibly not ever getting to the ticket window. Here, I just spent a street sweeper’s entire month’s salary on one ticket, and it’s not a sacrifice for me, it’s an indulgence.

    Last night I had a sleepover with of my best friends, my old writing partner, and one of my muses (all the same person), and we talked and talked in helpless bewilderment about how shitty it is to be a woman in India.

    It’s been a miserable couple of weeks in the news. I was thinking of how the gun rights issue was framed by the NRA lobby- in terms of culture, not legislation. It’s gun rights, not gun control, it’s about tradition and freedom and an American way of life. The protests in Delhi are about legislation- let’s enforce the death penalty for rapists- instead of talking about the culture of patriarchal violence that seems so inescapable, so inherently woven into the fabric of everyday life in India.

    As my friend pointed out, what is the use of a political/legislative/judicial solution when the vast majority of Indian women have no access to the courts to begin with?

    It’s about Indian mothers and sons, probably. Most likely. I wonder how many rapes and beatings and murders would continue to happen if the perps knew that their mothers would disown them. That their mothers would never stand for it. I wonder how many wives would continue to be burnt if their mother-in-laws defended and protected them, and treated them with respect. I wonder how many men would dare inflict harm on a woman if they knew that would get them thrown out of their own home.

    In order to establish some sense of power in their own home, mothers coddle and infantilize their sons, creating a co-dependent relationship, alienating their daughters and daughters-in-law. They do this out of desperation, because it’s not like they’re equal partners with their husbands. Their sons in turn treat their wives like crap, and their wives then perpetuate the same co-dependency on their own sons, and so on. Men rape because they can, because if a woman gets raped she’s disowned, if a man rapes, his mother will defend him.

    After the Newton massacre, one of the desis I follow on Twitter announced that he’s never going to bring up a family in America. But is India any better, really?

    What I’m reading: The TV Writer’s Handbook, The Big Sleep, Reading Like A Writer.

  • Friday, December 14, 2012
  • Other Desert Cities

    I’ve been catching up on This American Life episodes lately, and finally got around to ’Red State Blue State’. Many TAL episodes are hard to sit through (I had to give up on the one about the Dakota Indians Massacre because it was just too horrific), and, to my surprise, so was this one. Families and friends being torn apart because of their political beliefs.

    And it was interesting observing my own visceral reactions as I listened to the episode. I know- I intellectually know- that a lot of my resistance to conservative philosophy and talking points is not just because I’m sure I’m right… but also because I would hate to be wrong. It is a pride thing. Your beliefs define who you are. Asking someone to change their beliefs- to re-evaluate them- is personal. It is an attack on their being. And it keeps us all from truly growing.

    One of many things I love about being close friends (and practically sharing a brain) with a devout Christian playwright intellectual is that I’m reminded over and over again to never dismiss anyone’s beliefs out of hand, just because they’re different from mine. But I also know I’m scared to delve too deeply into what my friends and family actually think and believe. It’s hard. It’s hard to accept difference, because it all feels so personal. All the  time.

    Tragedy In Connecticut: Deadly Shooting At Elementary School

    This morning my throat has closed up, as it tends to do, when I’m faced with something overwhelming and incomprehensibly awful. My throat is closed up from despair and anger. I am chafing at every use of the word ‘tragedy’. Tragedies are for earthquakes and cancer. Tragedies are unavoidable. Calling this a tragedy absolves us of any responsibility.

    One of the great things that I love about this country- which the TAL episode illuminated- is that we do care about ideas so very much that we are willing to let them define our lives and our relationships. To paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt- small minds discuss people, average minds discuss events, great minds discuss ideas. This is a country of ideas. And- as the TAL episode also talked about- most people absolutely approach problems from an honest place of good intentions.  Is there any way to allow our good intentions to supersede our pride, our need to be right?

    How can we talk to each other in a way in which we don’t dismiss each other?

    This is NOT a ‘senseless tragedy’. This is not merely ‘sad’. ‘Thoughts and prayers’ don’t do shit. How do we solve our problems? How do we get better?

    I saw Other Desert Cities last night. It came so close to being a wonderful play exactly about this- how do we love people who are different from us? How does a liberal child love her conservative parents? How do we live together? How do we understand that we all (most of us anyway) come from a place of truly good intentions?

    And then the second act ‘twist’ shot that all to hell. So disappointed, Robbie Baitz. So disappointed. These are not easy questions, these are not answerable questions, and a ridiculous last minute deus-ex-machina that undercuts your entire premise is not the solution.

    Okay. Something better. My Megan Kelly quote of the day (I’m building up a collection)- "I loved him. I was in love with him. I mean… not romantically. I wanted him to be my uncle.“

  • Tuesday, December 4, 2012
  • Lessons from traffic court

    It’s kind of funny that an event that has absolutely nothing to do with theatre or TV or writing should give me the impetus to post, but I had a bizarre day yesterday. An uncomfortable day. I don’t often fail spectacularly, or let myself get put in profoundly uncomfortable situations, but that’s what happened yesterday in Downtown LA’s Metropolitan Traffic Court.

    A year ago I got a traffic ticket that I believed was both unfair and excessive (who doesn’t), but I was really convinced that it wasn’t my fault. And so I decided to contest it. It took nearly a year to get to trial. And after an agonizing 4 hour wait in court yesterday, I finally got to get up and present my side of the story, in front of the cop who cited me, and the judge could barely stop herself from rolling her eyes before she declared me ‘guilty’. My voice was shaking as I spoke. The cop’s testimony had been incomplete and I believe incorrect- and I wasn’t expecting that. In trying to suss out what he was trying to say, I must have failed in actually explaining myself.

    And I don’t know why this was such a shock to me. I was really so convinced that the judge would understand why I did what I did, or at least reduce the fine, or something, because the truth is that’s just how my life works. Stuff usually goes my way. Most of my failures are not quite so public. In front of a bunch of strangers. Making me look like an idiot.

    It’s not like I’m George Clooney and the world bends over backwards to give me what I want (or so I’ve heard). I just know my strengths, and I stay within my comfort zone, and I rarely fail because I rarely enter worlds I know nothing about, like, say, traffic court.

    So that’s one thing.

    The other thing I learned was this- before the long morning of trials began, the cop who cited me met with those of us who were there to contest his tickets (four of us to be exact). And he tried to encourage us to plead No Contest at the top and get guaranteed traffic school. Would traffic school reduce our fine? No. But it would get the citation expunged from our record. Why was that important? Because it was very very likely we’d get another citation in the future. Inevitably.

    In this own words-

    “There’s no possible way you can know all the rules of the road. Every time you get behind the wheel, you’re probably breaking some law or the other. You just haven’t gotten cited yet.”

    This… blew my mind. Basically there are so many rules, that most people don’t follow because we drive instinctively rather than THEORETICALLY, than it is possible for a cop to pull us over at any time under any pretext and cite us for something.

    And from the way I observed the court proceedings occur yesterday, the only way you can successfully contest a ticket (without documentary evidence such as photographs or video recordings) is if the police officer screwed up on a technicality in the paperwork. Otherwise, the court will side with the cop’s testimony over yours, if testimony is all that you have.

    It is really depressing to think about how screwed up the system is, especially since traffic tickets are issued willy nilly at the end of the year just so that the cops can fulfill their annual quota (I got mine in December of last year). It’s depressing to think of how much time I lost yesterday because I can’t just pay such a huge fine without at least trying to do something about it. (And this was in addition to another four hours I lost in court two months ago simply to declare that I was contesting the ticket. Not to mention $20 in parking.) Several attorneys stood in place of actual offenders yesterday, because people who have money can use it to save time. People who don’t have money, lose a lot of their time instead.

    And this is a lesson I never would have viscerally learned in such a way if I were still living in India. In India I would have a driver and any traffic ticket would be paid without a second thought because money was never anything I ever worried about. Over here, money is what I think about all day, all the time, and it’s one of my biggest sources of stress.

    And despite being a minority grad student living as frugally as I can, I’m still, even in this country, much better off than most of the people I saw in court yesterday.

    What does this have to do with being a writer? Nothing, I suppose. Except that more failures like this will probably make me a better one.