Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017: A Personal Year in Review


The year began in a fog. Trump was just elected. My career was moving along but felt hollow. I was being asked to a ton of meetings around Hollywood. It was an out-of-body experience. It wasn't unpleasant, just completely detached from my passion. I watched the political world aflame and felt numb. I watched my own personal fortunes rise and felt numb. I had all the material things I could ever ask for and felt...numb. Surely, this malaise was not due to a deficit or surplus of physical materials. It had to do with my spiritual practice. I prayed and meditated more. And the question I was asking myself was the same again and again: is this what I was meant to do? At one of the monthly spiritual meetings around a backyard fire, I shared with other guys this strange wan cloud.

Is this the purpose of my life? I waited for an answer. In the meantime, I accepted a request to speak at Penn State Altoona and Hampshire College. The day before Inauguration, the THIS IS US writers' room was a gloomy, low-energy affair. We were excused from work the next day and left early. I went home and immediately fell asleep. I woke up in a haze at around 8pm. I grabbed something to eat and went to the gym. The following morning I worked out and went to a bakery in search of cookies and muffins to gorge on. I stumbled upon one of the few bakeries that only served cakes and pies, so I left. I decided to try out LA's legendary Korean spas.

Now prior to January, I had heard about the healing power of salt rooms. The typical price range for sitting in one of these special rooms was upward of $100. One of my friends said that Korean saunas had salt rooms in them. I felt that there was no better time to shut down and tune out, then on Trump's inauguration. Korean saunas have an entire culture and set of customs. I was entranced by the searing hot steam rooms, the brutalizing massages, the ice room, salt rooms, and variety of spaces for different effects.

I got an email informing me that I was a finalist for the Emerald Prize at Seattle Public Theatre. I had to write a more comprehensive proposal for BLUE BOY. I thought that this might be something more in my area of interests.


I traveled to Altoona, PA to talk at a Black History event on Penn State's campus. THIS IS US had its wrap party shortly after coming back and then there was the WGA Party at the Beverly Hills Hilton. It was strange to think about where I was a year ago, versus this February.

On Valentine's Day, I got a ticket to see SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE. I got a reminder email that my proposal for the Emerald Prize was due tomorrow. The next day I wrote out my proposal and sample scenes on Leif's couch, sent them away, and hopped on a plane back to NYC.

At the end of February, I was told that there might be a contract problem with my tv agreement at Fox. I began thinking about my ennui. Even though it was coming from me, I felt like this was a chance to do something new. Okay, this is a new start. I surrendered to it. Then the floodgates opened. I had been asking myself for a while 'is this what I was meant to do? Is this it for me?' I was getting an overwhelming answer.


On March 1st Seattle Public Theatre sent me an email to inform me that I was the winner of the EMERALD PRIZE. I remember September 2016 and that first email from my agent informing me that I was nominated for the Prize...along with about 100 artists. I initially thought 'yeah right! Not going to happen."  It was a long process and at several points, I thought of not even bothering to meet the deadline. But I'm glad I did.

I also got a new TV job lined up and a ton of meetings. Shortly after accepting this gig, a few other opportunities fell into my lap. But after 9 months in LA, I still felt adrift. LA is pleasant. Cruise-ship pleasant. Summer vacation idyllic, but I was fighting the detached sensation for a long time. I missed studying Buddhism. I missed serious practicioners, new dharma, meditation retreats. In LA, most of the talk revolved around juice cleanses, sweat lodges, and communing with nature. There were many smart people in LA, many serious practitioners, and brilliant minds...but they didn't appear to be in communion with each other.  The intersectionality of genius was lost to the SoCal silo effect of experts isolated by freeways, urban sprawl, and gridlock. My opinions about LA are the same as when I lived there for a summer in between my junior and senior year at Northwestern: fun city to get lost in, easy place to work, and an uneasy place to wanderlust.

Meetings and travel organized my schedule this month. There were movie meetings, musical meetings, TV meetings. At the end of the month, I traveled to Hampshire College for a guest artist stint there along with Smith College and UMASS. It was an inspiring trip and a casual conversation about the art of the American flag and flag burning planted a seed in my head. 

I was tentatively scheduled to work on a stage musical, but it fell apart when the director wanted another writer. He wasn't willing to meet with me or hear me out. He had made up his mind on who he wanted, so the producers went with the other writer.


The rest of the college trip blended into April. Afterward, I began outlining some thoughts for the EMERALD PRIZE play. I already hated the project title BLUE BOY. I just didn't have a better name in mind at the time. This was a month of meetings and then traveling to NYC to see a ton of theatre.

I pitched a movie for Russell Simmons, and it felt like I was at the Fox Lot for an entire week, bouncing from Fox Searchlight to Fox 2000 and finally 21st Century Fox. In the end, they went with another writer for a movie project. But those are the breaks.


More meetings meetings meetings. I think I should have done a meditation retreat with this stretch of meetings. But the allure of being wanted was too great, along with a workout regime that now incorporated boxing, basecamp, Zumba, yoga, and weightlifting. My body felt like it was a finely tuned machine.


My time in LA was wrapping up. I traveled to NYC for a lot more theatre. I had a writing retreat scheduled with Erik Ehn and I was looking forward to it for months. But at the last minute, the dates were switched and it conflicted with a Buddhist teaching. If one of my main predicaments from last year was growing detached from the dharma, then this was a test of what I was really willing to do for the teachings. So I stayed in NYC for the extra days.  At the end of the month, I packed up my stuff, said my goodbyes.

I began writing BLUE BOY that was now retitled as MADE IN AMERICA. Things were moving on. I didn't feel sad, nor was I happy. I was relieved. Goodbye LA, I'll see you again...soon.


So I'm back in LA, LOL! I agreed to be a guest artist for the Dramatists Guild Conference in Culver City. It was a chance to be back for a few days, take some meetings, and hang out with other artists. I met up with Murray Hill at Cafe Gratitude.

I finished MADE IN AMERICA and sent it off to Seattle and prepared for next month's workshop.


I moved in with Murray Hill in Williamsburg. The apartment is a lot different from my place in West Hollywood. Smaller, more petite, but more personality. I signed up for Equinox. I met up with Russell Simmons and Universal Music execs about a hip-hop musical. We agreed to start work on theatre musical. I went out to Seattle for a week and MADE IN AMERICA became FIRE SEASON. The workshop experience was wonderful. The play transformed under the helm of a strong director and a great cast. By the end of the week, I thought an okay play became truly remarkable. I don't know if Seattle Public Theatre is going to produce the play in the upcoming season, but the audience was riveted. The story came together, and a new drama was written about rural America and the opioid addiction.

And then we started work on THE GOOD FIGHT. The room began at CBS's Black Rock office in Midtown, which meant a harrowing ride to work.

I expected to take celibacy vows but my Lama seemed unwilling to take me up on the offer. I decided to start dating. It was an interesting dive into NYC.

While I was in Seattle, Charlottesville happened in the news. Alt-right and Neo-Nazis marched on the town, and a leftist protester was killed. Trump said exactly what I would expect from an alt-right racist, but I was surprised that the nation actually reacted in horror.


THE GOOD FIGHT moved to its offices in Greenpoint. Now my Williamsburg plan could unfold as I saw it. I could walk to work. For the first time in my life, I walked every day to work. And then I walked home. I am clocking in at 10-20,000 steps every day. It helps make up for the reduced amount of exercise. I agreed to write a play for TFJJ at La Sirena in November.

I decided that I need to condense all my errant meetings into a monthly salon. It's more efficient and I didn't like spending a third of my time I signed on for DEFACING MICHAEL JACKSON production next summer, and RUNNING ON FIRE workshop in North Carolina in the spring of 2018.


I wrote the play for La Sirena and continued work on TV. I also did some research for a film project. I waited for a revised contract for the Def Jam musical. I got to go back home and take care of my Dad while my mother went on a class reunion. While I took care of my Dad I also wrote pages for another episode. And I'm studying dharma back in NYC. The feeling I am having isn't joy, but it is contentment. It's uncomfortable, it's growth, it's with real people who are thoughtful and well-rounded. I got to taste test the menu at La Sirena for the TFJJ fundraiser. Delicious.

I also wrote a play for New Dramatists Nocturnal Commissions. My assignment was to write about Trump's life and I had only 15 minutes. I didn't stop writing from the moment they said 'go.'


I had a vegan Thanksgiving with Ricardo in Queens. And then we played Street Fighter for a few hours, and went to see THREE BILLBOARDS... On the Monday after Thanksgiving, I went to La Sirena and experienced a magical evening in which three plays were shown in between courses, and we raised $185,000!!


I am reflecting on this year as I listen to Dave Chappelle's new Netflix special. It's been a busy year.

Reflecting on 2017:
-"The Good Fight"
- "This is Us"
- Maxamoo podcast
- NYTheatre Review
- Helen Merrill Award for Emerging Writers (look, I waited 10 months to announce this. No awards gala, no press release, but the check cleared so we good!)
- Emerald Prize from Seattle Public Theatre for new plays about America.
-"Fire Season" at Seattle Public Theatre.
- fires.
-signed contract for two play productions in 2018: "Running on Fire" and "Defacing Michael Jackson."
- wrote play for Teens for Food Justice gala that raised $180,000.
- Trump play in Nocturnal Commissions at New Dramatists.
- WGA Awards nomination
- Black Reel TV Awards nomination
-staying with Leif again and again and again. Writing my project proposal for the Emerald Prize on his couch after seeing Jake Gyllenhaal in "Sunday in the Park with George" on Valentine's Day.
- Kyle visiting NYC and trying out Michelin restaurants.
- eery Sam Shepard death prefaced by me having dreams a day before where I was talking to a recently deceased playwright about what death means.
- Sam Shepard memorial at New Dramatists.
- got to meet/pitch an idea to Russell Simmons in his mansion, which would have been a bigger deal before the past month.
- apparently, half the men in the world have been sexually harassing anyone who moves.
- guest artist at Penn State Altoona.
- guest artist at Hampshire College/Smith/UMASS/Amherst/Mt. Holyoke College amalgamation, aka the tofu conglomerate.
- Dramatists Guild Institute guest artist in LA. It was lit. Pool party shenanigans, drunk midnight basketball, great panel discussions. The Airbnb in Culver City had enough sass to supply an entire season of "Dynasty."
- was asked my preferred gender pronoun on numerous occasions and suddenly felt old.
- should've gone to Japan on a whim with a friend. Instead, I choose to be responsible and go on a bunch of bullshit meetings. I will NOT make that mistake again.
- karmic partners streamlined generic career advice into a proactive market exchange.
- started LLC
- Juilliard Drama 50th anniversary
- ran into an old college friend in a vegan coffee shop in Seattle...of all places.
- end of 3 Jewels at old space. Reopening in new space in 2018.
- "Trump won't be that bad. He'll pivot and become mainstream."
- went to first Korean spa on Inauguration Day so I could avoid all tv and media. Then I had all my skin scrubbed off by Satan.
- Purple Carrot vegan delivered meals leading to Purple Carrot lunches with friends in LA.
- guy threatening to kick my ass because I wouldn't let him kick his girlfriend's ass on Cinco De Mayo. Having other neighbors come out and form a shield around the woman until she could get into an Uber, and then watching the posse chase the guy down the street. I saw the same man a week later at a coffee shop, where he was threatening to kick someone's ass for not giving him the time.
- FIRES!!!
- went to Pasadena once. I got the gist. (a town for wypipo who find Concord, Massachusetts too spicy.)
- never eat the 2nd gummi edible b/c the first one hasn't kicked in yet, you fool!!
- handing chocolate edible to homeless man begging for toke money, and becoming Weed Jesus.
- bought Venerable Lobsang Chunzom a Christmas tree and a 'net of lights' to celebrate holidays.
- celebrated Je Tsongkapa Day...still here!
- "How to Get a Good Life" classes at 3 Jewels and Master Kamalashila!
- Kelwa!! Cocoon that!
- missing Aunt Dolly, Brian Donovan, and many friends.
- London Reconnections again and again. Is it a sign?

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