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Monday Muse

Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling mixing prints and birds like the pro she is

When I think about the kind of woman I want to be as I move into the next stages of my career, lots of amazing role models in television come to mind, but no one quite inspires me like Mindy Kaling. Not only is “The Mindy Project” one of the most watchable shows out there right now, but Kaling is a bona fide #girlboss who unabashedly demands competence from everyone she works with and never apologizes for what she wants. As someone who spends a bit too much time making sure the people around me are happy and feel heard, I could certainly afford to channel Kaling more often. As she puts it: “I love women who don’t ask, ‘Is that okay?’ after everything they say.” You know what I’m getting at, right..? Is that okay?

On a purely creative level, I must also note that Kaling inspires me because her writing manages to all at once keep it real and make me feel good about the world I live in. I think her blend of harsh honesty and optimism is actually what makes the universe of her TV show one that viewers both want to watch and then crawl into, and, on some levels, I think that little universe also improves people’s lives. If I just aspire to create TV worlds like this, I think know I will do pretty well for myself.

Photo via Pinterest.

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Eyes Off You

Maya Angelou photographed by Taylor Jewell

Maya Angelou photographed by Taylor Jewell

I was not a fan of Maya Angelou when I first read her work as a persnickety pre-teen who had an inexplicable distaste for memoirs, but in the years since her words have often touched me in moments when I’ve been in need of inspiration and reassurance. Upon second reading, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings became one of my favorite books, and what woman amongst us has not somehow been moved by her poem Phenomenal Woman? Of the many Maya Angelou quotes filling the interwebs today, the one I find most moving right now is…

“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.”

-Maya Angelou

In fond (albeit sometimes fickle) remembrance, I am feeling very grateful for Maya Angelou’s turns of phrase on this day. I hope she inspires you in a similar way as well.

Image source: Pinterest.

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Inspiring Tidbits

Languid Language Loveliness

On a good day, writing feels as magical as screaming into a blasting fan on a sticky linoleum floor in the dead of summer

As I wade through a sea of deadlines, very little pay, and the labyrinthine bank of escalators that may or may not one day lead me to a successful career as a writer, I find it’s vital to take a step back every now and then to remind myself why it is I do what I do in the first place. It can be so easy to forget and to get caught up in the stresses (and, heck, even to toy with quitting because of those stresses), but when I give myself a moment’s pause I’m always reminded it’s love, innocence, and dreams that are at the core of what I do, not what’s waiting at the top of this pesky elevator bank. Since it’s such a good exercise to think about this kind of stuff, I figured I’d share just a few more of the reasons why I write…

To somehow live forever in a world that’s a cross between a secret garden and a giant library

To capture bizarre slices of life before they fade from my memory

To explain wonders of the world and invent my own mythology

To make even the very-adult and scientific workings of the world feel magical

To put dreams into words and transpose the hazy feeling of love into language

Psst: Sorry I’ve been so swamped with non-blog things and have been posting sporadically – I can’t wait to share my current projects with you sometime in the not-so-distant future. Until then, is this feeling of climbing a tangled bank of elevators relatable to you? Do you need to take a step back to gain perspective on your daily work? Or, the important question: why to you do what you do? Leave a comment.

Image sources: kid with fan, girl in library, circus seal, loch ness elephant, gears of the earth, sleep elevations by Maia Flore.

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Trouble for Women

Stack of Nora Ephron books photographed by Shelly Gross

It still boggles my mind that one of the most inspiring and influential female voices of our time, Nora Ephron, died last week. Not so long ago I would have quickly deleted that word “female,” thinking it was an insult to any artist to qualify her/his greatness by a gender, but now that I’ve spent a good deal of time pondering what Ephron’s work has meant to me, I realize celebrating the femaleness of all she leaves behind is actually a great compliment. After all, Ephron spent her career fighting her way to the top of some very male industries just so she could tell stories about women, for women, and by women. The femaleness of her blockbuster movies, such as “When Harry Met Sally,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” and “Julie & Julia” has in fact drawn women and their dates to theaters for decades, and these stories hold a very prominent place in the romantic ideals of me and almost every other gal I know. As an adolescent, teenager, and young woman, Nora Ephron’s flicks taught me to demand more for myself out of life and love, and I would dare to say her rom coms stirred something far greater in me than any art-house film ever has.

And yet, I’ve always felt a tinge of embarrassment whenever I tell people that Ephron’s classic films are among my favorites. Is this because of the abundance of peonies, diamond rings, and sculpture-filled fountains in nearly all of her films, or is it perhaps that I’m embarrassed of the very personal ways in which her movies have made me hope for that ever-elusive “something more?” I’m not sure, but judging from her 1996 commencement speech at Wellesley College, I’d say the femaleness of her aesthetic and brand of hope is no accident…

“Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.” -Nora Ephron

Although I’m sure some would argue that the material femininity and emphasis on love in Ephron’s movies did little to advance the women’s movement, I think that’s immaterial when you consider how they advanced the hopes and dreams of each individual woman who actually viewed them. Ephron’s movies depicted women who were neither damsels in distress nor emotion-void action heroines – they were instead real, flawed, and above-par-witted ladies (just like our sisters, mothers and grandmothers), who refused to sacrifice their careers or to settle for anything less than “fireworks” when it came to love. The realness and humor of these women made them equal parts entertaining and inspiring, because they always gave me the empowered sense that I could one day be like them – that I could go toe-to-toe with any man in any argument, and that a great love story was out there somewhere for me and every other gal I held dear.

Her movies showed us there was goodness and hope in this world, and that there were even happy endings as long as you were willing to work for them. As such, Ephron’s films always made me leave the theater or turn off my TV determined to work toward my own happy ending. And, when I think about this effect of her flicks, I realize I should be the opposite of embarrassed to declare my cinematic infatuation with them. Because, after all, what is the point of a movie or any other piece of art if not to inspire people to live better and work harder to make the world a more magnificent place for themselves and the people they love? Ms. Ephron’s films did this 0ne-thousandfold for viewers, and I only hope I can someday make enough trouble on behalf of women that over the course of my lifetime girls/women/grandmothers/mothers/sisters will no longer be embarrassed to to list Nora Ephron’s movies among their favorites…Have you been moved by Ephron’s films, novels, or essays? Has her work ever inspired you to make “trouble” on behalf of women? Leave a comment.

Photo from Shelly Gross’ Instagrid via Pinterest.

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Be So Good

“Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You” print

Do you ever find yourself searching for shortcuts along a journey you actually love, or looking for really simple answers to the most complex, important questions of your life? I know I’m guilty of this manic scouring/doubting/short-cutting far more often than I would like…As a writer, I am constantly trying to figure out how to “make it” and wondering, “Am I giving myself the best shot at success by doing this project, or should I work on that other one, or that other-other one that just might exponentially up my odds?” These daunting questions are all based on the idea that there is some secret to success – that if we get all our ducks in a row in exactly the right way, we will find an audience and a steady income for our lives’ works. And, this assumption is in some ways true – making solid connections in our fields and putting our work out there definitely positions us for success – but unless there’s substance, talent, and a whole lot of hard work to back up all our networking and scheming, it’s unlikely we’ll go very far. In fact, I think the following piece of advice expresses this better than I ever could…

“Be so good they can’t ignore you.” -Steve Martin

I’m pretty sure this Steve Martin quote needs to become my new mantra. Being too good to be ignored is, after all, the only surefire secret to personal success and creative fulfillment. And, the only way to achieve this is to work with the talent we have and work insanely hard with it. This is to say: looking for a secret to creative success is like putting the cart before the horse, and whenever we find ourselves drowning in these “am I doing it right?” questions we must instead remind ourselves that doing undeniably good work should be on the forefront of our minds – all else is tertiary. This is a lot easier said than done because these questions and must-make-it compulsions plague me all the time, but I will try to live with this goal of being “so good” always in mind and hard work always wearing away at my fingertips. What say you? Leave a comment.

Image via Pinterest. You can watch Steve Martin give this bit of advice on Charlie Rose (the whole interview is great, but you’ll find this quote around minute 52).

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Even If Nobody Cares

"I just want to make beautiful things even if nobody cares" print by EeeBee & Jack

Lately I’ve felt as though my creative life could use a mild infusion of irreverence…As though I could benefit from hiring a voice-over artist to whisper in my ear every now and then with reminders like, “It’s okay to spend a year writing that Gothic novel you’ve always dreamed of,” or, “Gosh darn it, stop working on the projects you think will get you noticed and start working on the ones you just plain love.” Although hiring a smooth talker for this purpose would be a gross mismanagement of funds if ever I saw one, following these words of advice, throwing caution to the wind, and approaching my passion projects with more – uhh – passion and less practicality would be anything but a mismanagement of time. And, since I’ve wandered through the past few weeks feeling this ache for some kind of catalyst to kick me in my play-it-safe pants, I could have sworn I heard a Barry White impersonator hop onto my shoulder and start cooing the other day when I stumbled across this Saul Bass quote on the glorious beast that is the Internet…

“I just want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares.”

-Saul Bass

This idea of working and doing every other thing we do for the sole purpose of creating beauty is something I’m really going to try to live by in the coming months, and I can only hope it will make me feel centered and more happy with my artistic endeavors. In the process of shrugging off (or at the very least postponing) scavenger hunts for the approval of others, I will likely produce some scripts, paintings, and short stories that will never find an audience, but – the way I see it – I’m bound to do that anyway. So, I figure we all may as well just dive into the depths of our passion projects – if we’re lucky we’ll come up for air with a piece of work that catches someone’s eye, and if we’re even luckier we’ll never feel the need to come up for air to begin with.. Are you with me? Leave a comment.

You can find the above print (in a variety of colors, no less) in EeeBee & Jack’s Etsy Shop.

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Overfloweth

Last week felt as crazy as this zigzag-painted crosswalk in the Houston Museum District

I spent Thanksgiving week in the Houston Museum District, where my days were stuffed with sculpture gardens, family gatherings, wedding celebrations, and lots of food. I’ll be honest and admit that I was overwhelmed by all the new people and platters surrounding me at first, and I devoted a lot more time to feeling gluttonous and dizzy than to feeling grateful. However, I eventually snapped out of my introverted delirium when I learned that The Laine List had just honored this site with the Kathryn Ingrid Creativity Award. There’s nothing like a little love and recognition from out of the blue to make a gal overflow with gratitude, after all, and I continued feeling thankful all week for the many amazing people out there who choose to make my words a part of their busy days. It is such an privilege to share my stories and musings with you, dear readers, whether you drop by this site anonymously, leave comments, or give me awards. While this connection with you is one of my favorite things about blogging, I’ll be completely honest once again and tell you that connecting with people couldn’t have been farther from my mind when starting this site…

You see, I began blogging more than a year ago for very selfish, career-centered reasons: I was (and still am) a struggling writer who spends all working (and most non-working) hours writing screenplays that take several years to truly finish. The looming weight of these long-term projects was really starting to get me down last September, and it dawned on me that blogging might be a good way to ensure I wrote and completed something new each day. And so, this little blog was born. I didn’t share the site with anyone in the early months, because blogging was just about me and my infatuation with those shining, finished products staring back at me from my computer screen at the end of every day. When I started getting the word out about my blog, though, and folks began reading and responding to my stories, I realized this site was about far more than just me and my daily writing quotas. It was actually about making genuine human connections by sharing experiences and life lessons with people from all around the world.

In this spirit of connections and in honor of this blog award, I figured I would share a few personal details that I don’t think I’ve ever let you in on before. Here goes…

My Secret Factoids Overfloweth

  1. I love bicycles but am scared to death of riding a bike.
  2. I listen to pop radio in the car – yup, the really commercial stations geared toward teenagers.
  3. I have a freakish memory for everything other than driving directions, which means I can recall the names, faces, and mundane jobs of people I met for a few minutes in a bar seven years ago, as well as the lyrics to songs I hear once.
  4. As a result of factoids 2 and 3, I frequently come off as a stalker and involuntarily sing along with very embarrassing music in elevators and grocery stores.
  5. I adore visiting art museums, but get far more excited about graffiti or piñatas for sale on the side of the road, which you may have guessed from all my kitsch fixes.
  6. I kill my own spiders.
  7. I never look through peepholes before opening doors, because I’m convinced the serial killer on the other side will shoot a bullet through my eyeball the moment I do so. What can I say? I’d rather be shot in the heart so I can look the fucker in the eyes.
  8. My least favorite sound in the world is the clanging of metal chains, and my favorite sound is a tie between a dog’s snore and Sarah Vaughn’s jazz riffs.
  9. If I weren’t a writer I would be a starving painter or starving opera singer. In other words, it is written in the stars that I will live on Instant Ramen for vast stretches of time.
  10. Before meeting my husband, I was pretty darn sure I’d be single forever and would simply have lots of wild love affairs with dogs, fancy shoes, Ramen Noodle salesmen, and – eventually – Woody Allen.
  11. No, I don’t think Woody Allen is attractive.

Psst: Check back tomorrow for a rundown of five blogs that inspire me. Yes, that’s right, I’ll be bestowing this blogging award on some of my favorites tomorrow…I’m also going to try to add a few more personal (and rather silly) pages like this to my blog over the coming months, so be sure to let me know what you want me to write more about. I hope you’re having a fabulous start to the week! Leave a comment.

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Wild and Precious

Excerpt from a Mary Oliver poem, print by Sarah London

This evening marks a whole week into my one screenplay/one month challenge, and I’m feeling invigorated yet daunted by the three weeks of work still looming ahead. Some ridiculous movie-making and home-related emergencies came up over the past few days that needled at me to call it quits on my challenge before I’d barely begun, but I stuck to my guns and cranked out 27 new script pages between last Thursday and this morning, and right now I find myself simply wondering what I can do to ensure I repeat this process several more weeks in a row. I suppose this means the real question I’m asking myself is this: what is it that prevents us from giving up and ensures we keep creating even when we aren’t feeling in the zone? I don’t think there’s any one right fix for everybody, but I do know that over the last week whenever I found myself wanting to quit, I slowed down and tried to remember why I was doing this in the first place.

My reasons for partaking in this self-imposed challenge were plentiful, ranging from my love affair with the story I’m writing to the grand visions I cling to of what I long to accomplish with my life over the long haul. Basically, I kept coming to the conclusion that if I wanted to share this story with the world I had to first get it out onto the page. And, there’s no better time to get a story onto the page than right here and now. Although the Mary Oliver poem excerpted above (which you can read in full via The Library of Congress) is about soaking up the simple and fleeting beauty of nature, I figured I would share it with you because the question it begs pretty much sums up the spirit that is keeping me going/writing up a storm at the moment…So, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Or, perhaps the less daunting query would be: what is it you plan to do with this one wild and precious day? Do tell! Leave a comment.

Print by Sarah London via Pinterest.

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Nature and Novels

Sunshine beaming through trees at The Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden in Arcadia, CA

My husband planned a surprise trip to The Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden this past weekend, and this quiet stroll through nature turned out to be just what I needed to recharge my creative batteries. The sights and sounds of nature have an uncanny way of doing this – I think it’s the absence of bustling traffic and the musical lilt of bird calls coupled with the rustling of leaves, not to mention the visual ways 200-year-old trees make me feel connected to something much bigger than myself. In the event that you’re in need of a little glimpse of nature to recharge your own batteries, here are a few of my favorite snapshots from The Arboretum…

Dozens of peacocks wove through the paths near the park entrance - what a sight this was to behold!

Doesn't this thick vine wrapping around a Possum Apple Tree look magical?

This tree of colorful, wispy strands of leaves reflected so beautifully in the pond and made me feel nostalgic about New England autumns

Psst: If you are looking for a slightly more task-oriented shot of inspiration on this lovely Tuesday, you might be interested in the fact that today marks the beginning of National Novel Writing Month. That’s right, in the month of November a bunch of people connect online and challenge one another to crank out an entire novel over the course of 30 days. Although my current priority is a screenplay instead of a novel, I’ve decided to use the framework of National Novel Writing Month to help me build momentum and zip through the first draft of a romantic comedy that I’ve been outlining for a while. There’s nothing like a tight deadline to spark productivity after all, and I’m excited to start writing in a matter of seconds. Do you have any projects like this that you’ve been mulling over for months but need a little help getting the ball rolling with? If you’re interested in joining me in my quest to get a big project done by November 30, just let me know and we can cheerlead each other onward and upward. What say you? Do you find deadlines or simple, thought-clearing walks through nature more inspiring? Leave a comment.

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LARKSTORM Cover Reveal

"Larkstorm" by Dawn Rae Miller, cover art by Sarah Marino

You are now one of the first people on the planet to see the cover of Dawn Rae Miller’s debut young-adult novel “Larkstorm.” When the characters and epic love stories of this book are famous, you’ll be able to say you saw this glimpse of the cover first – yeah, that’s right, you saw it even before this hauntingly beautiful image hit the presses. Pretty rad, eh?

I don’t know about you, but I get so engrossed in novels and their worlds that I feel as though a loved one has just died the moment I reach the last page. I’ve found that if I don’t keep a new book lined up on my nightstand to take its place the moment a novel or (worse!) a whole series ends, I get consumed by a sea of mourning for the dear friends I’ve just left behind. This intangible gloominess brought on by the phantom limbs of book characters can last weeks or even months if I neglect to lose myself in a new world of fiction, but I’m pleased to say I’ll be getting lost in “Larkstorm” when it hits bookstores on December 27, 2011 (if you have a digital reader, you can score the e-book even earlier on December 6). What’s better, “Larkstorm” is a trilogy, so there will be two more novels for us to lose ourselves in come spring and fall of 2012. Here’s a little snippet of what to expect from the first book of the series…

“In the years following the destructive Long Winter, when half the world’s population perished, the State remains locked in battle against the Sensitives: humans born with extra abilities. As one of the last descendants of the State’s Founders, seventeen-year-old Lark Greene knows her place: study hard and be a model citizen so she can follow in her family’s footsteps. Her life’s been set since birth, and she’s looking forward to graduating and settling down with Beck, the boy she’s loved longer than she can remember. However, after Beck is accused of being Sensitive and organizing an attack against Lark, he disappears. Heartbroken and convinced the State made a mistake, Lark sets out to find him and clear his name. But what she discovers is more dangerous and frightening than Sensitives: She must kill the boy she loves, unless he kills her first.

Are you as excited as I am to read this series? What do you think of the cover? When reading a new novel, do you picture characters the way they look on their book covers, do you paint your own images of them in your mind, or do you envision the actors who will eventually play them in movies? Do you also feel an emotional attachment to the people and places of novels the way I do, and do you feel a sense of mourning when a good book ends? I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment.

Psst: You can learn more about “Larkstorm” on GoodReads, Dawn Rae Miller’s blog, or by following dawnraemiller on Twitter. You can also explore the artwork of Sarah Marino on her illustration-packed website. Don’t forget to spread the love and follow Coté Writes on Facebook and Twitter, my darlings!

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