Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Surprise! I'm A New Contributing Writer For...

Gather 'round, everyone. It's story time! (side note: Yes, I promise this will all lead to me telling you where my new writing gig is along with the link to my first article for them.)

Once upon a time, in the not-so-magical land of Los Angeles, CA, lived a young woman named Melissa (nicknamed Emmy by all who knew her). From a young age, Emmy loved writing. She loved it so much, her best friend growing up gave her the gift of more notebooks and pens (which she quickly went through) for every birthday. This was her gift until the age of 18 when her best friend -- the person she knew from the age of 5 -- moved away.

As she grew up, Emmy wondered what career path to take. She dabbled in the arts of drawing, of acting, and of music. She changed her major several times before settling on Religious Studies. Why did she pick Religious Studies? Because her heart was on fire for the Lord. She wanted to teach others about the faith she'd fallen deeply in love with. A degree in Religious Studies would open up options for this -- either teaching or doing something else. Also, Creative Writing was a harder field to break into; less stable.

Anyway, she could still write. She had started a blog on Christmas Day 2007 and had kept it up for many years. Before she even graduated, she had been published in Envoy Magazine twice. When she graduated, she began freelance writing but it was grunt work. She was paid literal pennies per word. Sure, she also got a sweet contributing writing gig for H&R Block's (now defunct) Block Talk blog but once that gig ended, ghostwriting dried up, and she found herself low on options with a student loan debt to pay off.

She felt called to write... but the field was not so kind to her. Deflated and feeling defeated, she thought it was a sign to abandon her dream as a writer. She applied (and was accepted) to a program for a second Bachelor's degree to become a speech-language pathologist. She put all her efforts into it, leaving a writing career that barely paid.

For the next 3.5 years, she tried to finish both the second Bachelor's degree and a Master's degree in  Biblical Theology. During this time, her health began to fail. The further she got into the second Bachelor's degree, the sicker she got. She took a break and tried a Master's in the topic that felt like home to her. A terrible accident and a decline in health following it forced her to take another break. With a mountain of student loans still looming -- as well as other familial financial responsibilities she chose to take on -- she decided to finish the second Bachelor's degree once more. She knew she had to be less gung-ho. She finished enough courses to get her license as an SLPA (speech assistant) but her heart was not in it and her savings were zilch (thus not allowing her to pay the $4-6k to get the  SLPA license).

She decided to give up on her own plans and let God completely take over. "Jesus, I trust in You. I will do what You want me to do" became her new motto. Facing the now crazy mountain of ($46+k) student loans (all of which she knew she could pay with an SLPA job; that's why she kept going), she stressed about how she would be able to pay it off. Providentially, for weeks before she gave up on the SLPA goal, St. Francis de Sales (patron saint of writers) kept popping into her life. She wondered if it meant she would be better of giving her writing career a second chance. It was when she decided to give up the SLPA goal that her lovely friend, Theresa, told her about an opportunity to write for a Catholic website Emmy often read. "What? Writing for EpicPew?! Sign me up!" Thus, Emmy's writing career was once again revived.

Now, she didn't actually get paid for a couple of weeks while she was on trial but she didn't care. She was writing once again! It was something she loved and something she felt guilty about letting go. Deep down, she always felt like it was what God might've been calling her to do but it was fear that kept her from pursuing it. Fear... and lack of trust. After stubbornly doing things her way, she let go and let Divine Providence take over. "Alright, God," she often said, "if you want me to do this, I will."

She loved writing for EpicPew. She let her inner Catholicism nerd run free. She also called on the Holy Spirit to enlighten her mind when she felt writer's block would keep from meeting her weekly deadline. Some articles her hits (and how!) and some were misses. It was all par for the course.

Then, one week, disaster struck. She couldn't think of anything to write! She had a looming deadline and nothing to write. Sure, she had back-up topics on reserve but they weren't what she normally wrote about. Still, she felt a tug to use one of them -- on Catholic pick-up lines -- to write that week. Trusting it was a nudge from the Holy Spirit and fresh out of new ideas, she went with it... and she quickly saw that she'd made the right decision.

The article blew up in a way no other previous article had! She was surprised -- most of her previous articles had a more serious tone to them. This article, which allowed her to explore her more fun side, was shared by Catholic publications she often read. She was humbled and in awe. "Okay, Holy Spirit! Thank you for that!" Still, a surprise lay ahead for her.

A few days after the article hit, she was offered a new writing gig as a contributing writer for a new Catholic dating website called CatholicChemistry. The pick-up lines article was just what the creator of the site was looking for. Would she be interested in writing for them? Sure!

She kept the news to herself (and a handful of friends). Then, on August 22nd, 2018, her first article with CatholicChemistry (5 Relationship Discernment Novenas) was published and she was finally able to share her news with the world!

What does this mean for the heroine of this story? Only God knows. All Emmy knows is that God continues to supply her with more writing work, making it clear that He wants her to continue down this writing path. There are, of course, more articles that have been and will be written for EpicPew, CatholicChemistry, Verily Magazine, and other places. She will share them on social media and on her blog. She will continue to write until God calls her to do something else. In the meantime, she hopes to help people grow a little more in their faith and/or vocation by what she writes...

This story has no end as it's still being written. Stay tuned... ;)

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

My Hollywood Experience: How I Avoided Becoming a #MeToo Casualty

17-year-old me near the CBS studios, January 2003.
(Note: I've had this post sitting in the drafts since March 9th but I've finally gotten the chance to go back and finish it.)

Some of you longtime readers might've caught the fact that I've alluded to having had a brief flirtation with the entertainment business in my teens into my early 20s. Those who've known me for years remember those days. I honestly don't like talking much about it because I really dislike who I was at the time... and who I was surrounded by during that time. The character of Candace (in the first Will and Lina novel) was inspired by the type of people who were in my life during this time. There was a lot of lying, backstabbing, and mental abuse that I endured from people who were supposedly my friends. Despite my hating going down that memory lane, I'm going to open up about certain things for this post.

I've talked how happy I was to have been able to escape Hollywood in time but I've never really talked about the harder things I faced. After reading all the horror stories when the #MeToo movement exploded, I was grateful that, by the grace of God, I was able to avoid some of the more traumatizing experiences that seem to be the norm with other young actresses and models.

Those who've known me for years -- since before my reversion -- know the obvious key to my not having been another #MeToo casualty: my parents. My father had the nickname "The Lord of the Keys" because of how strict he was. He drove me practically everywhere, even into my early 20s. Part of the reason for that was because my anxiety was so bad that they didn't want to risk having me get a license. The other part was that my parents were overprotective of me my entire life.

I used to hate it. I still cringe when I think about it. I knew they were worried about me and that they wanted to protect me but it was so uncool to have your parents drive you everywhere when you're a teenager. Let's not even talk about how embarrassing it was to still be driven around into my early 20s. Oh, sure, I went out with friends. They used to come to pick me up and then drop me off at home at the end of our outing. I always pitched in for gas money so all they had to waste was a bit of time driving me home.

When I had auditions, my father always took me. Even if he waited outside in the car, he insisted on taking me. Neither of my parents was keen on me entering the biz but they never stopped me from trying... so long as I understood they would not pay for any of it. If I wanted it, I had to work for it. If I wanted headshots, I had to keep working as a retail slave until I earned the money. Dad drove me to auditions but he did it somewhat reluctantly.

At that time, my anxiety was at its peak. The doctor had put me on Paxil which messed up my system. I dropped down to about 105 lbs on the medication, which is very underweight for someone who is 5'7". To give you ladies an idea: the day I turned 18 I was a size 00. Yes, that's a double-zero. I didn't do anything to avoid eating nor have I ever had an eating disorder (thank goodness!). The medication was just incompatible with my body and I couldn't keep the weight on. You'd think that someone that skinny would have no issues with being told to drop weight but... wrong! I vividly remember someone called me a "cow" once; telling me that I needed to lose more weight. I remember standing in front of him, thinking, "What the heck are you smoking?" (Yeah, teenaged me didn't mince words.)

I was told what I needed to change, physically. I was never perfect and I've never been perfect (thank goodness!). I needed to have this and that surgery. I don't know how that didn't bother me or send me into a state of depression but it didn't. I had parents who always made me feel like I was fine as I was. I had an amazing core group of friends who would voice how stupid they thought other people (especially those in the biz) were for wanting to change me. I even remember once, when I was a senior in high school, we all went to the local Carl's Jr to eat after classes were over. I had told them that someone had suggested I lose more weight earlier that week. They promptly told me I was too thin and to ignore them. That was followed by a major junk food feast for all of us. lol.

Things went beyond that, though. The closest I came to having a #MeToo moment was when I was 19. A well-known Hollywood writer on a (then) popular show tried to charm me... and failed. Long story short, I was on the Universal Studios backlot filming something that day. I had arrived early and hadn't had anything to eat at that point so I decided to have lunch away from the ruckus of the shoot. Being an introvert, a sought a somewhat secluded area not far from the backlot cafe to sit and take in the experience I was having that day.

Next thing I know, this guy comes over and starts talking to me. He had business propositions but my warning radar and the red flags went off from the beginning. I was flattered but, please, I knew better. He offered me his information and talked about how his office wasn't far from where I sat and ate. It was uncomfortable, to say the least. I had heard the horror stories of the infamous "casting couches" so I was always on my guard. I didn't (and still) don't think of myself as being this super attractive person but I knew guys with power in Hollywood preyed on young women trying to break into the biz. Strong pass, amigo. I politely excused myself and went back to where we were filming.

There were other minor blips along the years. I dated an actor in my late teens and there was mutual interest with other actors over the years but I gave myself a "no actors (or musicians)" rule for a reason. That one actor was enough for me. To this day, he's still known as "the evil poopy-diaper" (we were super mature 17-18 year-olds when we gave him that nickname) by those who know me during the time that I dated him. He's the reason why I had absolutely no interest in dating for a while. He's the reason why I made a vow to never get involved with actors, at least not in a romantic capacity, ever again. Cliffs notes/spoiler version: he presented himself as being one way (very morally upright) and he was completely different (read: utterly depraved) in private. This, unfortunately, isn't uncommon in the biz.

After years of "yes, no... maybe... I like acting and screenwriting but...", my moment had come. I had recently turned 20 years old when I was offered a contract with a top agency. It was offered less than a week after my meeting with them. They "liked" my look; I looked "racially ambiguous" and a lot younger than I was. I "photographed well." I could book a lot of different jobs. They wanted to make sure I was over 18 so I could go out for commercials and print ads that featured alcohol in them... and book jobs that would allow me to present myself as the adult I was. Yeah, I knew what they meant by that -- they wanted to make sure I was old enough to be dressed in skimpy, revealing outfits (or less) if the job required it.

Immediately, I was uncomfortable with that idea. Those who've known me since childhood known that I've never been comfortable flaunting what God gave me. It was never a "modesty" thing. My parents never told me what modesty was -- I didn't even hear the term until I was in my early 20s after I reverted -- but they did raise me to always keep myself tastefully covered. Not in a way that made me ashamed of being a woman but in a way that said that I was worthy of respect. That was what my parents had drilled into me from a young age: I was a young woman worthy of dignity and respect. No one -- man or woman -- had any right to any part of my body without my consent. The way I dressed should always reflect that respect I deserved.

Did I really want to disappoint my parents (and, really, myself) by signing a contract with an agency that had absolutely no problem pimping me out for jobs? Did I want to be objectified for the sake of selling something? Absolutely not! Even at that time -- and this was a year before I reverted to the faith -- I knew that those print ads exploited women; that they used women's bodies to sell products. (side note: See, everyone? That one Women's Studies course I took my freshman year of college wasn't a total waste, lol.) I didn't want to be just another piece of meat; another woman who used her body for the pleasure of others.

When they called to offer me the contract, I declined it. They were shocked. In fact, everyone was surprised because of how much I had wanted to act. It was my creative outlet (before I realized how much more I love writing). I just couldn't do it. I wasn't comfortable with the prospect of having to go out for jobs that made me uncomfortable. There was something inside of me that yelled, "Run fast and far away and never look back!"

My parents would've supported me. When I told them that I was just going to continue going to college and figuring out what I wanted to major in, they were supportive. In fact, my mom actually told me (only a couple of years ago) that they were relieved when I had declined the contract. My parents always allowed me to make my own mistakes and only stepped in when they thought I was going to make a huge mistake I'd greatly regret. One of my most prized memories is of my father -- a few days before he passed -- telling me he trusted my judgment when it came to guys and in general. That's how I know they didn't step in when I was offered the contract. They knew I would make the right decision when it came down to it.

I know that, despite being away from the Church, my guardian angel and the Holy Spirit were looking out for and guiding me. That inner voice that told me to not sign -- to walk away and not look back? I know that was the Holy Spirit. God had greater plans for me. I can see that now. He was preparing me for my return to the Church. Sure, my life was much easier back then. The only thing I had to worry about was homework for classes and having a ride back home from a concert I went to that week. And, yes, I've had to endure a lot since, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. Not only was I able to keep myself from having the burden of carrying around shame for something that I would've later regretted, I've come to see just how terrible that lifestyle is.

I'm not saying that everyone's experiences in Hollywood are similar but after hearing all the #MeToo horror stories and reading Leah Darrow's book, The Other Side of Beauty, I became even more grateful for the Holy Spirit's guidance from that lifestyle and all that potential danger. I can now sit here, before the crucifix on my bedroom wall, and thank God for helping avoid being another #MeToo casualty.

Before I end this blog post, I want to say that (small spoiler alert!) my third novel sort of touches on all of this -- what the acting world is like from the POV of those who live it. I started working on it last summer (June 2017), months before the whole #MeToo thing exploded. As many of those in the know will tell you, I felt a prompting from the Holy Spirit to write it after witnessing the intense idol worship of celebrities, particularly of young women obsessing over young celebrities. My novel doesn't really go there (there are no #MeToo situations in it because I didn't experience it and my novels tend to be cleaner in content) but it will touch on things I've experienced... and still experienced until recently. Even though I'm no longer in the biz (and haven't been since I was 20), I still have a lot of behind-the-scenes insights that most people don't have access to.

So that's my story. If you missed it: I avoided becoming a #MeToo casualty thanks to my parents and (really) the Holy Spirit and my guardian angel. Like I said, God had (and still has) bigger plans for me and that scene was not something that He wanted me to be involved with. I'm so incredibly grateful for having avoided so many potentially traumatic situations and will never take it for granted. Sure, some days I miss how carefree that time of my life was but I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world -- not even all the bad I've experienced since.

OH! One more thing: please don't bother looking for me in credits for anything. I've always liked using pseudonyms to keep the craziness away. That and I'm hoping to keep the past in the past. I don't want any of that craziness dug up and brought back into my life. I spent years in cognitive-behavioral therapy due to it. Let's not add to it. lol.

Alright, I have two articles and the third novel to work on so I'll be getting back to that.

I hope you're all having a lovely start of the week.

As always, thanks for reading and God bless! :D