The Pre-Birthday Post: What Success Actually Looks Like, Part 2




Part One is here

The “helper” is good at her job. She tells me to get in the shower and she’ll deal with the guard. She’s been efficient thus far, so I head off to the shower with my arm-full of stuff and my bag of soap and multi-sized towels.

After my shower, I feel like a new woman. The helper returns and we wipe down the stall until it looks good as new.

When I’m dressed, I return to hospitality suite alone while my helper goes off elsewhere to, I guess, help other folks in need. She tells me there’s yet another hospitality suite down the hall, one with food. Good, I haven’t fed myself in about 14 hours. She tells me when I’m done with my make-up, I can meander on down that way. Perf.

I hole up in the bathroom, spreading my “tools” out on the counter, then climb up onto the counter and sit cross-legged on it to face the mirror. A make-up artist wasn’t in the budget and it wasn’t coming out of mine. I can’t beat my face with the skill of a good professional yet, but I can manage to look better than presentable if I have enough time. This time, I have two hours. (I won’t need all of that.) I blast Raheem DeVaughn on my from my iPhone while I get the job done.

Fast-forward. It’s almost showtime. The helper returned to take me from the hospitality suite to the convention center. My hair’s still big, so I’m immediately recognizable*, and from a distance. People begin to swarm around me and ask for pictures. My helper politely declines for me and promises there will be an opportunity when I’m on the step and repeat, where I’m headed.

The step and repeat is occupied by some folks who are locally famous, but I don’t recognize. I’m left off to the side, outside of the ropes, and I’m being swarmed by people who want to take pics. Saying “yes” is the right thing to do and I usually don’t mind. The only time I do is when I’m either a) out with my mother and certain friends who get highly annoyed by it; or b) when I’m about to go on stage. Striking a pose and the right smile 20x can be mentally exhausting and throws me off my game. Here’s the issue: if you take one, you have to take them with everyone who asks. I haven’t been doing this long enough to learn how to decline politely and without someone getting offended. I don’t know that there is a way to so.

My helper, helps… until a major black male bonafide celeb shows up and trumps my “I got next” spot. He’s a tall, wide, strikingly attractive man in a room full of three thousand women.  My helper gets a little star struck by him, as does everyone else. It’s like I’ve been doused in a cloak of invisibility, and I am thankful.

The actual appearance on stage goes well. The audience is engaged and laughing, and for the Q&A, there are plenty of questions. That means my colleagues and I killed it and the organizers are happy. There will be no conversations about duties unfulfilled  when it’s time to pay the balance of my check.

Once I’m at my actual hotel—way off site for reasons I don’t understand--  things go well enough. My friend, a New Yorker living temporarily relocated in the South for school lives an hour away and is on her way to see me. When she arrives, we drive around until we find a Cheesecake Factory and binge on avocado egg rolls for my only meal of the day.

We stuff ourselves into –itis territory and she decides to crash in my room and drive home in the morning. Fine. My flight is at 9AM. The organizers are sending someone to pick me up from the hotel in the morning and I’m sure I’ll be up before her so I remind her to check out on her way out. I promptly pass out.

My alarm goes off in the morning and my girl is in such a deep sleep that it doesn’t wake her, which is good. She’s got her own stressors, notably mid-terms and she’s been studying non-stop. I shower and dress with as little light as possible and head down to the lobby at 7:30 AM to wait for my ride— who never shows up.

I text my contact for the event at 7:45AM to ask about the driver. She says she’ll find the person.  She texts me back to say she’s really sorry, but she doesn’t know where he is. No solution for how I will get to the airport. This isn’t New York where I can just step outside and hail a cab at the closest corner. I have to call for one. The hotel attendant says they usually come in about 15-20 minutes. Um… I don’t have that long. I’ll miss my flight.

I go back upstairs, wake up my exhausted friend and ask her to drive me to the airport. Of course, she can. She throws on her clothes in a hurry, stumbles downstairs half-sleep— I know that feeling too well— and speeds me off to the airport.

I make my flight with time to spare. (Thanks, boo!) I never found out what happened to that mystery driver. And this time CBW shows up on time, and at the right airport. At least that part of this journey was a success.



*For anyone wondering why I’ve had braids so long, it’s a (not-so-great) "disguise". Most people don’t recognize me without my hair. I love meeting readers and viewers, but I’m also an introvert and it can be overwhelming.

The Pre-Birthday Post: What Success Actually Looks Like


A few weeks ago, I wrote about finding my “fire” again—not as easy as one my think. It involves being honest about somethings that make me uncomfortable and turning down some opportunities that would make me financially comfortable, but compromise my integrity (further). That post ended on hopeful note, something like, “with effort, we all get to be who we want to be…”

A woman who read that noted, “that’s just not true.” She followed up to say that assessment was easy for me to make because I’ve been successful at everything. If she was standing in front of me, I would have laughed. Hard. Actually, that’s just not true. I responded to let her know the only reason anyone’s success looks consistent is because the losses usually happen behind the scenes. For every professional win that’s public, there are always more “Ls” in private. For every clichéd cool, calm, collected appearance in the spotlight, there’s madness behind the literal and figurative curtain.

People have been labeling me “successful” lately. (I know. Me and my First World problems, right?) I’m flattered. But that’s not how I view myself. You see accomplishments.  I still see the things that I wanted that I didn’t get. I see looming deadlines, the never-ending demands, negotiations, and decisions, and the 50-million things that I haven’t done that I’m supposed to be doing, including dropping Don’t Waste Your Pretty, which I’ve pushed back releasing . (Another blog post for another day.) I live through the disappointments and the insanity for a hard won, well, win here and there. Success, whatever that is because I haven’t figured out my definitive definition of it yet, doesn’t look like whatever I abstractly imagined it would be, what it will be. Success is rosy. My life is chaotic.

For instance….


I fly into NYC on a red-eye, which means I land at 7AM. Plane sleep doesn’t really count as real sleep, so I’m only half -awake when the plane lands. Before I got on the plane, I cancelled the car to pick me up from the airport because I’ve been gone for the better part of two weeks and CBW wants to see me immediately, so he'll pick me up. Perfect… sort of.  For the first time in his entire life, he shows up somewhere on time. But he’s at JFK. I’m at LaGuardia.

I head to the unusually long cab line for this time of the day and I'm freezing. I spent the last two weeks in leather jacket or no jacket weather, and now I’m in wool coat weather wearing leather. Great.

I finally get a cab. Something about the way the driver is, well, driving, makes me feel nauseous on an empty stomach. Greater. The up-side here is that CBW beats me to my apartment and, God bless his sweet soul, has laid out sleep clothes and pulled the covers back on my bed. He knows the routine for when I get back after a long work trip. I greet him “hello” and “good night” at 8:30 AM. He puts me to bed and leaves for the office.

By 1PM, I feel human again. I fart around the house, willfully attempting to do nothing, because for the last two weeks I’ve been required to be doing something all day everyday— and tonight I’m required to do something else. At 5:00, I get dressed for an awards ceremony that I was supposed to get ready for at 4:00. Of all the people receiving awards, I’m pretty sure I live the closest to the venue. It’s at the Brooklyn Museum and I could run there in 10 15 minutes if I really wanted to. And still, I am the last person receiving an award to arrive, damn near 30 minutes late.

The ceremony goes well. I rely on the reserve of energy I’m been storing all day like a bear in hibernation so I can have a burst when I accept my award. My speech goes well too. I talk about Spike Lee and Nola Darling and why I moved to Brooklyn. I talk about how I worked really hard for years trying to be known and seen and professionally, and how everything  actually took off  almost immediately when I stopped trying to be noticed, and started filling a void. Basically, I became useful. The audience laughs and claps at the appropriate times. I win.

After the awards, I’m exhausted. But a really good friend who is from Brooklyn but lives out of town showed up at the awards to support me. She wants to do dinner, and she won’t care if I yawn through it. She just wants to hang out with me. I have great friends and I neglect them more than I do CBW because I'm always alternately working or hibernating.  It's a sore spot between me and, like, everyone. I feel bad about that and I don't want to that girl.. again. So all three of us go to dinner and I kill two figurative birds with one stone.

I stay out too long because time flies when you’re having fun, and I will suffer for it. It’s 11PM when I get home and I still have to pack. The following morning, I have a 6:30 AM flight to host another event in the South. I’m in bed at 1:30, up by 4:30. At the airport by 5:30.

I arrive in the South around noon in tights and Jordans. (You did not think I traveled in dresses, did you?!) The volunteer from the airport picks me up and says she’s taking me to the hospitality suite at the hotel where I can hang out until showtime.

Hospitality suites have food, and chairs, and occasionally liquor. They’re comfy. But they don’t have what I really want. No, need.

I swear I’m not trying to be difficult. But I’ve been on the road since 5 AM. I took two different planes to travel a thousand miles to show up for an appearance on this so-called “celebrity* panel” at this very lovely event where I will take loads of pictures that will be all over social media. I will also sit on this Southern stage in front of hundreds of people looking at me and I will need to be “on”. That means consistently smiling, witty, attentive and funny. To do all that, that means I need to be at my best. And that means I need another  shower.

“Um… does the hospitality suite have a shower?” I ask the driver.

She says she’ll check. The answer is “no.”

I don’t get it. I mean the convention center is attached to a hotel. Get a room, let me borrow someone’s room who is working this event and is staying here. I mean, my manager specifically asked that there be a place that I can shower, so it’s not like this is an out-of-the-blue request. And I just flew in for an event. Am I being unreasonable?

I decide I’m not and insist, firmly but politely, that she find me a shower. The events team puts a few people on this task, including a “helper” who has been assigned to work with me.

The helper, a very sweet woman, tries to live up to her job description. She quickly has a solution. She goes to the front desk, gets bars of soap and towels of varying sizes and brings them to me in the hospitality suite where I am the only person waiting. She says I can “wash up” in the bathroom.

Um. No. I can’t. I mean, I can, but I won’t. But I appreciate that she tried it. I insist, again, on a shower. Back to the drawing board.

Twenty minutes later, there’s a new plan. And a shower. An adjacent building has a women’s bathroom. The hotel attendant takes us to it. There are a row of 10 toilet stalls, and at the end of said row, there is a handicap bathroom with… a shower. It’s the equivalent of showering in Penn Station, but like clean. I can smell the bleach. And there is flowing warm water from above. Whatever. I’ll take it.

I’m unpacking my suitcase and not yet in the shower, when a security guard, a Black woman, enters the bathroom. “Uh, ma’am,” she begins. Nothing good ever follows that opener.

She says the hotel attendant should not have brought us here. This building is not a part of the hotel, and Black woman talking to Black women, she keeps it 100: “ I will lose my job if my supervisor finds out you're in here,” she adds. “I’m sorry, but you can’t use this bathroom.”

As much as I want a shower, I don't want one bad enough to put another Black woman's job at risk. Fuckkkkkk. I accept defeat and that I will have to go on stage for my big, fancy panel unfresh. If this is “celebrity” life I want to go back to being "regular."

Part 2: Soon come.


*I don't and won't refer to myself as a "celebrity." If I didn't earn the title from writing, I won't accept it from having cameras following me around. That's not a talent; it's an experience.

From the Inside Looking Out (aka The Belated Birthday Post) Part 3 (of 4)

images My producer works an insane schedule. My trip to L.A. was last minute- two weeks out—in the Hollywood sense of the world, so she had to squeeze me in. She invited me to a monthly networking house party in Venice Beach, a gathering of womenfolk in upper echelon Hollywood. They get together to build and hash out how to make things happen in their male dominated industry.

I walk up to the house and think “this is it?”

I’ve made a hobby out of house porn, and Venice Beach is a star. I make a point to drive through the neighborhoods and marvel at the properties each time I visit LA.  I’ve never been to this side of Venice though. I was expecting spectacular and massive. This is… not that.

Or so I thought. I open the front door and step into Wonderland. There’s an expensive manicured yard with tea lights twinkling everywhere. The “house” has no door. You just walk right up and into the living room. This is why “they” tell you not to judge books by their covers.

To call the dwelling a “house” is to be remiss. It’s more like those honeymoon bungalows you see in luxe vacation pics of resorts in Tahiti, except this place is surrounded by grass, not water. Most of the house is open-air. The Master bedroom doesn’t have doors, just curtains and it opens to the dining room which is covered by a patio, but has no walls. There’s a massive fire pit in the back yard and everyone who’s not in the kitchen is crowded around it.

I hang out here making small talk with very nice strangers until my producer arrives.

I’m uneasy. Not because I’m the only Black girl or don’t know anyone. I’ve been in these situations plenty of times. Pay a compliment, ask a question and you make a new friend. I’m… off because of a conversation I had with my manager earlier in the day. My worry about the hold up with the scripted contract has gone from a dull roar to loud scream inside my head like the one my upstairs neighbor makes when she argues with her husband. Something is wrong. And now, it’s not just me thinking it. My manager thinks something is up too. She wants to make some calls.

My producer arrives shortly and is introducing me around the room. I’m meeting people with jobs I never thought about, but should. The lady who owns the house offers her job description as, “I do research.” I’ve done research for a living. The hourly wage was good, but nothing that would amass the wealth for a house like this. She works on period films and she’s the one that gathers all the nuanced details so that when historians watch films they don’t complain about how the director got it all wrong. It turns out she was a researcher. She recently opened her own research firm.

I meet another guy, an energetic spirit, and former New Yorker who when hearing I’m from New York asks me, “do you know Russell?” He means Simmons. I can’t figure out why the *** he thinks I would know Russell Simmons. Is it because of the circle of people in this room are that well connected and I must be to if I’m here? Or he just wanted to name drop? (I don’t know Russell, but I’ve met him a few times because I worked for his magazine for awhile and have been to a few private parties at his homes because my wife worked for his foundation for years.) This guy was a graph artist who met Russell—just Russell— in the early Def Jam days. Russell liked his art, so he hired him to do all the album covers. Think of an iconic album cover from the early 90s. This guy designed it. He now makes films. I look at the glitter on his pinky ring and think I  should have paid more attention in art class.

As I'm introduced around the room, I notice that people are really really impressed that I’m an author/journalist/blogger. “Writer” in LA means scripts. Who actually writes for magazines and pens books? This girl does. I’m not "a writer" on the West Coast. Here I'm seen as a content creator aka "Talent." (I have to do a separate post on the distinction. It’s… weird, it loosely, everyone begins to talk to you like you've never read a book and treat you like a demi-god, and it's why so many celebrities get screwy about their place in the world.)

We talk… and  talk… and talk. Hollywood networking involves way more bullshitting that New York. In NY, we want to know what you do, we quickly evaluate how that resource can be utilized (short or long term) and we engage or curb conversation based on that evaluation. Unless a collaboration can be done immediately, we exchange business cards and move on. Only the ex-New Yorker has whipped out a business card thus far.

My producer and I are now talking to an Asian lady and a white lady, which are only significant because of what happens next. My producer has big hair. Mine is braided up. The Asian lady, a friend of my producer, says to her randomly, “I like your hair better when you wear it normal.” She means straight.

I nearly choke on my wine. The white lady looks appalled.

“Yeah, this is normal. I’m Black,” my producer says, then she deftly begins to talk about her latest work project.

We move on from them and start talking to another woman. If it seems like this is dragging on, it’s because it is. This is beyond not wanting to make others "uncomfortable" by being the only Black girls who sit and talk to each other. We’ve been here for over an hour, and the only one-on-one conversation we’ve had was in greeting each other.

Something’s up.  My head hurts. I attribute it to the wine—red—that I’ve been nursing all night. I sit at the outdoor dining room table, bored, and munching on olives, which are my favorite thing in life. After twenty minutes, I’m about to call it a night and excuse myself, but then my producer takes the seat across from me as the room begins to clear out.

“So how’s it going?” she asks.

I read people for a living.

“What’s wrong?” I ask directly. I’m out of small talk.

She sighs heavy, stalling. “I heard you talked to [your manager] today.”

I nod. "I did."

“You’re concerned about the project?”

I nod. “I am.”


Shit. I don’t know if I said it out loud or not.

“The network has decided to pass on our project.”

I freeze and stare at her. The worst has happened and my mind goes empty. I had the feeling. I’d tried to hope my way out of it. No, really, I lied to myself.

I start calculating all the time—not even the money— I’ve wasted. All the sacrifices, all the pissed off friends I haven’t called back. All the times I’ve skipped parties and events to sit on the phone with lawyers or talk to the ducks at the park for my sanity or stared at the ceiling listening to Alice Smith wail, “where are you going with your life? What kind of chances will you take?” All the nights of insomnia. All the plans I had for my show and the nuances I wanted to make for the world about coming of age living while Black and female. All the ego I invested in having a story deemed worthy to be re-told on TV.

I flew to close to the sun and I’ve been kicked back to earth.  I blew it. I fucking blew it.

“They said they just decided to change direction. You didn’t do anything wrong,” my producer says, reading my mind.

She’s been through this before. It’s business, not personal. But it’s not her life story—her— that just got unceremoniously rejected after a year of negotiations.

“Okay,” I say, if only because I’m not trying to be any more socially awkward than I am.

And if I don’t get out of my head I’m going to lose it right here in this fancy wine and cheese and olives party. And not like angry lose it like I did the time I yelled “fuck you” in a blind-rage loop at Mr. Ex on the steps of the Brooklyn museum*. I’m not even mad (yet). This is pure hurt. Deep down, past the white meat to the bone.

I had bronchitis once, and until the meds ran their course, every time I coughed, sharp pain would spread through my entire chest all the way out to my shoulders. I would double over, squeeze my eyes closed and count until it passed. I’d deep breathe myself back into stability, and panting through tears, I’d remind myself “you’re going to get better, D. It takes time. You just have to get through it now.”  And then I'd pant some more til all the pain was gone. That’s what this feels like and that's what I want to do. But I can’t do that here.

I don’t know what that “okay” sounded like or what the look on face is revealing, but my producer asks me if I’m all right.

“Yeah,” I say in my breezy Diana Ross on stage talking to The People voice. “I’m… fine.”  I'm fooling no one.

She looks at me with pity. “We will find another network,” she promises. “It’s a great book. We’ll get it on TV, D. It will happen.”

“Ok,” I say nonchalantly, reaching for my clutch.

"Do you still want to pursue getting a show?" she asks.

I don't mean to, but I shoot her a side-eye. I can't even process this shit right now.

“I gotta go. I'll call you.” It's so very LA of me, but it’s T- 10 before I spazz.

She nods. “Can I hug you first?”

I nod because to decline would be rude. It's not her fault my dream died.

We both stand and she gives me the mama hug she knows I need, even if she has no children and has less than ten years on me.  Her hair smells like Black girl nuts and berries.

I stifle a sob as I pull back and dash out the house, offering a hurried goodbye to her and to the hostess. I start crying before I get out the yard. By the time the door to Wonderland closes behind me, I’m in a full on wail in the middle of the sidewalk. I walk down the poorly lit street to my truck with tears and snot dripping down my face. I don't feel like wiping it, so I don't.

I get behind the steering wheel of the truck and try to pull myself together for the 40-minute drive back to my hotel in Hollywood. I lean over the steering wheel with my arms wrapped around myself trying to hold me together. I'm talking to myself, saying it's going to be okay. It's going to be okay.


I sit up, breathe in and out deeply like I tell my coaching clients to do. And sit still with my eyes closed. A feeling of failure comes over me again. I cry soft tears, and then I cry so hard my body jerks and then I bend over and sob. I feel like Carver from The Wire after he dropped Randy off at the group home. He tried so hard to do the right thing, and in the end all the effort didn’t matter. Life isn't fair, but I want it to be anyway.

I completely boil over  and fight the steering wheel.

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When I’ve finally exhausted myself,  I sit in the car biting the skin around the cut I’ve made to my right hand between my ring and pinky fingers to apply pressure and stop the bleeding. With my left hand, I fumble with the phone and call CBW.

He gives me the same speech the producer gave. It’s gonna be okay, blah, blah, blah. My manager calls on the other line. The producer called her to tell her she gave me the bad news. I think the producer  added that I freaked out because my manager sounds worried.

I insist I’m fine even though I'm not. There's nothing she, or anyone can do about it anyway.  My manager is giving me the "success is a marathon, not a sprint speech” again, and is promising me this isn’t the end. She assures me I'll make the money back and then some. She's got some life on me, she offers, and she's made bad decisions that are just like setting money on fire, and she's always made it back.

It's not about the money. It's about the dream.

I start the engine, say “okay” where socially appropriate so she’s not any more worried.

I drive back to the hotel thinking of where to get a drink or a drug, maybe both.


Part 4: Maybe Monday?

From the Inside Looking Out (aka The Belated Birthday Post) Part 2

Screen Shot 2014-01-18 at 2.30.16 AMIt took forever for both of the contracts from the two different networks to come. They arrived the same day, which was oddly enough, the same day I published last year’s birthday post. Without even asking, the network for the scripted show sent an additional contract offering a “consulting producer” position. More or less, it guaranteed that I would have some input in the show. I know the nuances of my world as described in the book; they didn’t. I would fill in the knowledge gaps. That made me happy. My book, A Belle in Brooklyn, is my baby, the physical embodiment of a dream I wished for when I was 12. It took 20 years to make it come true. The additional title  meant I would be there to guide my book through her next steps.

It sounded too good to be true because it was. The main contract was standard, which is to say that it heavily favored the network. They wanted to own everything related to A Belle in Brooklyn, including my URL, the logo, the name “A Belle in Brooklyn”, and anything else “Belle”-affiliated, including any merchandise. Oh, and if the show ever made it on air, I couldn’t write a sequel to the book for approximately ten years and even then it couldn’t use any “characters” that I wrote about in the original book again. In laywoman’s terms, it meant that I wouldn’t be able to write about my life anymore.

I wanted a scripted show so bad that I actually  (and reluctantly) considered this.

I found a lawyer who used to run the legal department at another major network who told me a show would cost me, but I didn’t have to give up that much. It would also cost me financially. The lawyer knew the ins and outs of the business and even with a hook up, she was expensive. If I was lucky, the option rights for the book would cover what I would pay her when she was done re-working and negotiating with the network to get a contract that wasn’t asking for my soul.

In the end, I spent what the option clause the contract would have paid and then some—and never got anything in return. I sat through hours of phone calls at the most inconvenient of times. I was doing a speaking engagement in Colorado and instead of prepping, I was in my dressing room on the phone with my lawyer for an hour going over the latest contracts right until I walked on stage. I would go on vacation and stay  cooped up in my hotel room going over contracts. CBW would come by to visit, and I'd be sitting on the phone with my lawyers. I was on deadline for writing assignments, talking to my lawyer instead of cranking out essays, and watching the minutes move on the clock thinking about how much it was costing me and how pissed my editor would be if I missed my deadline… again.

There was also another lawyer to handle the contracts for the other network. That contract required the same level of negotiation. I would get off the phone with one lawyer and get on the phone with the other. Occasionally, I’d sit on the phone with both of them as they ironed out details and rights to make sure the contracts didn’t conflict with each other. I totaled the price of one of those hour- long calls once. I could have bought a pair of Louboutins.

Two TV deals on the table should have been heaven when I’d just been complaining about none. But I was in hell.

The time commitment to negotiating the contracts and the learning curve was killing me. The stress made me unbearable to be around or carry on anything but the most basic of conversations. I spent most of my time talking to producers and managers and lawyers and they were all throwing about terms that I’d never heard and percentages that I had no clue whether they were good or bad. My manager would bring up concerns in the contracts that I didn’t even know I was supposed to be concerned about. I’d asked to be kept in the loop of all the negotiations so I could learn the ropes, and I’d jump in and ask the most mundane of questions. Everyone always filled me in, happy to help. But at 33, I perpetually felt like a kid listening to the adults talk and no matter how hard I tried, I just wasn’t getting it.

A little bit of that feeling goes a long way. When you spend so much time feeling like most inadequate person in the room, it starts to affect the other rooms you go in. I couldn’t write the same. I started looking up words that I knew the meaning to because I wasn’t sure I was using them in the right context. It would take all-day to write competent articles when it used to take a couple hours tops to make something borderline profound. I’d be scared to push the Send button to my editors with fear someone would write back “um, what is this?” And then that actually happened which messed me up even worse.

I was going crazy. I debated with actual seriousness saying “f*** it” to both contracts and writing all together.  I told this all to Tariq who confirmed I wasn’t crazy, just scared and overwhelmed.

He pointed out that I was doing it right. I’d hired the best to advocate for me. I’d assembled an amazing team of women (as a testament, whenever anyone in the business asks who my lawyer, manager or producers are, I’m met with an impressed look after I answer) and I should just let them do their jobs.

“It will all work out,” he promised. I wanted to believe him. I wanted to believe in myself. But I’d negotiated away so much of what mattered to me and I’d been in over my head so long and I’d felt so damned dumb, I wasn’t sure who I was anymore.


The negotiations for the scripted show took longer than the time to finalize the reality show, tape it, and it was damn near about to be announced when I finally got a final word on what I’d started to think of as “my show”, which didn’t even exist.

I’d realized months before that something wasn’t right with the scripted deal. I’d pushed the feeling down, blaming my outsider-ness and lack of understanding about the way Hollywood operates. It’s a “hurry up and wait” schedule, I was told. “It’s fine. Everything’s fine.” Until it wasn’t.

I should have listened to myself.

I got the news soon after I’d hopped on a plane to LA to get away from New York hang out with my friends, put in face-time with my team and most importantly, to check on my “baby” cousin, a 20 year old from NOLA who wanted to be an actress. She’d bought a one-way ticket headed West a month prior to chase her dream, a move I didn’t fully approve of.

I took her to dinner in Century City the first night, the same way my relatives and friends of my parents did for me when I moved to New York. I remembered what it meant to have a concerned adult present with a listening ear, and a meal at a decent restaurant, something that had become a luxury. And I'd planned to tell her  she should go back home, get her business in order, and return when it was.

In so many words, she told me she was broke, and at the bottom of the totem pole, but she was where she wanted to be, in LA, and just taking that first step toward her dream despite all the (massive) problems-- like not having a car in LA--  that came with it. She was happy.

I remembered being that girl. In my version I sat on my parents back porch with a Master’s degree and no job, praying “God, just give me a chance to compete. I can make it if I get a chance.” My parents didn't want me to go. I got an offer paying next-to-nothing for a government job in NYC, moved and took a second job where I worked 13 days straight, two days off for a year. My parents thought I was crazy. I was living my dream.

I realized as she talked that I would have been a hypocrite to give her the “you should go home” speech, and I figured she was hearing it from everyone else anyway, the same way I did. It meant a lot then-- and now-- for someone to say,"I'm in your corner" when I felt like no one was.  So I told her I was and gave her a “you gotta want this like your life depends on it” soliloquy. It ended with, “balls to the wall, baby. But not, like, balls, because you don’t have balls, cause you’re a girl. Maybe boobs... Boobs to the wall! That sounds painful. But you know what I mean, right?”

I added, "oh, and that means taking the bus."

She nodded at me across the table and said, “I want this… more than anything, B.”

I smiled at her the way the grown ups used to smile at me at dinner. I always thought it was pity for me being broke and naïve in a big city and dinner was an act of charity. It was actually them remembering their own journey as I spoke, remembering it fondly and recognizing how far they’d come from their own beginnings. I think they were also enjoying the hope that still flourishes in people who haven’t been in over their heads long enough to fear drowning. I certainly was and I was getting more out of that dinner than she was.

For the first time in months, I actually didn’t feel crazy. I actually felt... happy.

The following week, baby cousin sent me a selfie from the bus. She was headed to an audition, and yes, she got the job.


Part 3: Soon come.

From the Inside Looking Out (aka “The Belated Birthday Post”)

tumblr_lxk1yv9gFJ1qafsilo1_12801Confession: I write mostly about pop culture now because it’s interesting. What we gravitate to or are repulsed by reflect the gauge of what we deem acceptable for our culture, our (sub) communities, ourselves and others. I also write about it because it’s an easy pitch to editors even on the most serious of sites because it gets way more clicks than anything news-y that doesn’t have the dual function of being outrageous, shocking or scandalous. People say they want depth. What they click on says otherwise. But mostly I do it to avoid talking about the ish I really want to say.

Last year’s birthday post was about a TV venture I was nervous about, one that highlighted what’s practically every person’s greatest fear: not being good enough. In retrospect, everyone thinks I was writing about signing on to a reality show.

I wasn’t.

That option was on the table. But there was another contract in play, the one that kept me up at night, talking to ducks at the park, and myself in mirrors.

A popular cable network that everyone could readily identify for its coveted appeal to women 18-35 made an offer to turn A Belle in Brooklyn into a scripted TV show. Remember when I wrote about flying out to LA and everyone said, “soon, soon”? It was for that.

I partnered with a writer and a production team who had been pitching “The Project” as a neat little package. “Quickly” – or for LA anyway— we had our first bite, and at one of the networks on our short list of “dream places” no less.

The network wanted to meet the following week, so I booked a last minute ticket from NYC to LA and spent way too much to put myself up at an expensive hotel because it was the only other option than places that looked liked critters would crawl the walls at night.

The day of, I was too nervous to drive and thankfully my manager picked me up.  “The team” and I went to lunch before the meeting to go over our pitch a thousandth time and I don’t remember what I ordered other than it smelled good and tasted like wood, which is attributed to my state of being and not the chef. I tried not to drink too much water or tea because I thought I’d end up having to pee at the most inopportune moment, ie, in the middle of the meeting.

I tried to seem calm because I was the newbie and the youngest at the table and I didn’t want to come across like an ingénue even though it’s exactly what I was and everyone knew but played along with me anyway. I listened as the vets around me talked matter of fact-ly about the difference between shows with two-cameras or three and felt stupid that despite cramming for the ins and outs of TV writing and production for months, the basic concepts still escaped me. I hated that I had to rely on my manager to explain every little thing like she was talking to a three year old because I knew next to nothing. And the only reason I didn’t let my pride get the best of me is because of what happened to Stringer Bell in Season 3 of  The Wire.

I’m convinced that The Wire provides a metaphor for everything that happens in life. This is no different.

Stringer tried to flip his drug money into something legitimate: real estate. And he was in way over his head because he didn’t know the business or the players or even enough to ask what he didn’t know. Before his unceremonious exit when his past caught up to his present, he asked Levy, his lawyer, about the process of being a real estate developer only to discover he was being jerked along all along. He’d found himself trapped between two worlds-- "too good" for one, not good enough for the other — an existence that has plagued me in my quiet hours since I left my day job. Yes, still.

I know how to write—a magazine article, a book, a blog. I’ve been a good writer since high school—but not even the best in my class—and I breezed through English classes, and most of J-school. I’ve spent more than a decade practicing and executing so I can write uninspired and have the skills to crank out something above competent on deadline. I understand print and web, and books (most people don’t know I spent 5 years as book editor).

Learning to be a life coach wasn’t a walk in the park – 8 months, 10-hour training days over the course of those months—but it was graspable. Decent journalists know how to get to the meat of a story. If you know how to help people find their bottom-line, it’s a natural transition.

But at the time, I knew nothing about TV (and I still have a lot to learn). I studied, I read. But anyone who’s ever been to school knows that there’s a vast difference between what works in theory and what does in application and most of what makes you successful on the job, is the stuff you learn on it.

So me and my theories and my dry mouth walk into the network conference room with my writer and my producer. We’re sitting at a long wood table surrounded by glass walls talking about the unique experience of being a single Black twenty -something woman in New York. We’re seated opposite a “mature” white woman with a gigantic rock on her finger and her assistant who I pegged as gay, ie, two people who have no idea of the world we’re talking about.

My writer does her song and dance, I do mine (breaking away from my rehearsed speech with the hope that I can do some alchemy-like trick of converting nervous energy into intelligent passion), the producer does hers and the white woman and her assistant nod occasionally and sporadically jot down notes.

Frankly, they seem bored. At the end of the meeting, Network Lady says she’ll “be in touch”, which I interpret as “you’ll never hear from me again”.  In my head, I immediately start calculating  the money I wasted coming out here and then we go on our way.

My team and I all go out for “celebratory” drinks after. The producer notes that we ran over our allotted time and weren’t hurried out is a good thing. I think she’s grasping at straw to make me feel better.

The vets are talking and I’m thinking about the security of my former day job. I’d been gone a year then, working tirelessly—  sometimes publishing 8 stories a week for 5 different sites—  as a freelancer and continuing to promote my book at panels and other speaking engagements. Instead of being introduced as “author of A Belle in Brooklyn” or "blogger", I’m always referred to as “former editor at The Magazine" first.  I tried to write my way out of that  and it  didn’t work. My hope is that if I can land this scripted show, I can be “[Belle] of A Belle in Brooklyn” and maybe that will be enough to quell the voice in my head that comes in the dark hours that keeps me up at night, and riding my bike at first light to the park to see the ducks (yes, still). It says, “you are not good enough on your own” and on bad days I believe it.


Less than a week later, I’m at the Arise fashion show at the Lincoln Center. I’m enamored with the Ozwald Boateng line going down the runway as much for the men as for the cut of their wares. And too, this is a bit of a Moment. I swore when I left my previous job that I wasn’t going to be invited anywhere again. My last week at The Magazine, I’d received a fancy invite to the show and sat in a fancy section with all the editors who when described in media always get their name bolded. I relished that afternoon because I thought it would be my last time there.

But a year later, I was back, not in a fancy seat but a seat nonetheless. It was a small feat, but one that gave me a temporary, but welcome reassurance that everything was going to be okay. Someday.

After the show, I checked my phone as I headed out of the auditorium. There was a missed call from my manager. I checked my VM, then called her back. She said she had the producers and the writer on the other line. She’d conference me in.

I thought the worst. My legs haven’t wobbled since I was in my early 20s and that was over a man, but just like that it happened again in my 30s. I walked back to the seat and sat, waiting for the worst, telling myself that it was only one network and there were others. And we’d only pitched one place, and there were more. And a “no” just meant I wasn’t asking the right person. Basically all the stuff that’s true, that most don’t believe in the worst moments, but say anyway to keep themselves from feeling shitty or falling apart.

“Demetria?” my producer asked when I was on the line with everyone.

“I’m here,” I said.

“The network called,” she said.

Simultaneously, I suck in my stomach, close my eyes, and press the phone to my ear preparing for the worst and hoping I don’t fall apart in front of all these well-heeled people.

“They want to option your book!”

Hol-lee fuck!

I teared up, which in retrospect I think of my body's way of releasing all the angst I didn't know I was holding on to. I couldn’t say anything more than, alternately, ‘Oh, My God!” and “Thank you!”, as much to God as to my team. After a good minute and change of that, my producer realized she wasn't going to get anything useful out of me right then, told me to process it all and call them back.

She’s a vet who has sold plenty of shows. This is business to her.

It was a dream for me.

Except it never came true.


Part 2: Soon come.