Thursday, March 13, 2014

CALIFORNIA, CENTRAL COAST: December, 2009 (Part 6)

That night we ate linguine in orange sauce and hamburgers and drank red wine in a cozy Cambrian restaurant. People wore shiny paper hats to celebrate. Large groups filled other tables. Their laughter free and loud rang over us. Us, in our bubble.

We carried our bottle of wine back to the motel, where I slipped into pajamas and a scarf. We took plastic cups and in the dark cut through a forest of cypress pines to the sea. A full white moon shone down on curls of ocean foam. The night air, crisp and cool, rang with the sound of waves crashing off the rocks below us.

We settled on a bench and filled our cups with wine.

Here's to 2010, William said, raising his cup.

To whatever it brings, to whatever happens and to being together when it does, I answered.

We smushed our cups together.

I leaned on the rough wood railing and peered across a sea both deep black and lit by the light of the moon. I wanted the dignity of getting married and was receiving so much more. Because of William I had seen cities far across this ocean. Because of him I could spend time in an elementary school yukking it up with kids and the Bard. Because of him I could write books.

William will tell you he has a "because of Mel" list but that's his to say. Of course I know the list but that's all I'm sayin'.

We know people will always watch movies and read books — perhaps not in theaters and perhaps not on paper, but the audience is out there. We dream of that audience and we share those dreams out loud to each other. Because of William my dreams don't sound so farfetched and ridiculous.

As I looked out on New Year's Eve of 2009, I pictured a small boat out a sea. A boat formerly with a single occupant, but now with two people. Two people using oars to cut over those waves and row forward, ever forward.


Since 2009 William has cut fourteen projects. In August 2014 Mel's book TEACHING WILL: What Shakespeare and 10 Kids Gave Me That Hollywood Couldn't will be published by Familius.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

CALIFORNIA, CENTRAL COAST: December, 2009 (Part 5)

For two nights we stayed in a one-room cottage at a bed & breakfast inn. We picked up a rotisserie chicken, salad and wine from a local grocer. A storm broke and rain pattered our roof. As we sat on our bed and ate I was reminded of our bed-top picnics at the Excelsior Hotel in Rome. Another winter, so long ago now. A winter when I waited to be married. A winter when I didn't know what to do with my life.

We slept 12 hours a night in the silence of our redwood grove. In the morning I opened my eyes and straight above us, through a skylight window, I gazed up the trunk of a redwood tree that appeared to be miles high. We were sleeping at the base of one of nature's best.

We continued south along the coast to Monterey and into the small town of Pacific Grove and a 19th-century inn. Our room's walls were covered in flowery paper, a claw-foot tub sat in the bathroom and the bed stood proudly with four posts. Corny, but sweet nonetheless.

We walked to the Monterey Aquarium and ate lunches in a hippy-dippy restaurant right out of the seventies, with its mint tea and hummus. We took long walks along the coastline and studied the cottages of Pacific Grove. These houses sported historic placards bearing women's names. This, I later learned, was because their fishermen husbands of yesteryear couldn't be trusted to come home safely from sea and the women needed to hold those deeds or find themselves on the street.

From Pacific Grove we traveled further south along the Pacific Coast Highway, with its dramatic views and sheer drops to a crashing sea. I drove and William clicked his shutter out the window. We stopped to watch sea lions and otters playing in the ocean. Wind whipped across our faces and the sun shone bright. We snacked on pretzels and sandwiches and by late afternoon we were north of San Simeon, viewing hundreds of elephant seals sleeping, fighting and nursing their babies along the beach.

On Moonstone Beach in Cambria we checked into a sixties-era motel with sloped high ceilings and a fireplace in our room. The following morning we were up early for a tour of the Hearst Castle. William clicked off a lot of shots and I looked far off across green fields and a blue ocean in the distance. The air was warm and clear. It was December 31st.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

CALIFORNIA, CENTRAL COAST: December, 2009 (Part 4)

William had learned to trust my travel plans. Look, if you're not going to marry an ideas guy, at least marry a go-along-with-the-ideas guy.

I pored over guides and checked out spots online. I put together a ten-day trip that would turn into a marriage of travel and vacation. We would be on the move, as I defined travel, but so would we be still and quiet in places worthy of contemplation and relaxation.

We spent two days over Christmas with William's brother, wife and three small children. It was gift-filled, food-filled, laughter-filled and screaming overloaded kids filled. On that high-pitched note we drove off to explore our state and our state.

We traveled along curvy highways with deep forests on either side of us and stopped in a National park to hike in a redwood forest. William's parents had given him a fancy digital camera for Christmas and as he clicked away at squirrels and trees I walked ahead into the deep silence and piney air of the timberland. We passed occasional fellow hikers but mostly we were alone.

What would the new decade bring? I wondered and walked the pine-needled ground. What was important? I looked over my shoulder at William and saw a man, content. The dismay of the New Orleans job had waned. Our summer had been spectacular together, in our house, with our pets and writing. Peace, purpose and creativity in balance.

The camera immediately transformed William into a man observing. This was new. In the past if I squealed when spotting an unusual cornice on a rooftop, William would roll his eyes. Now he was studying and appreciating.

You know, we better super-enjoy this time, I called to him.


Because you will work again. You'll be super-busy and we'll wish for days like this.

You think so?

I know so.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

CALIFORNIA, CENTRAL COAST: December, 2009 (Part 3)

Every year since we first visited Hawaii in 2005, William and I had managed to fit in return trips to the islands. We tried out the Big Island, Maui, and Kauai again. Vacation had become a regular word in our lexicon...until 2009, when we had to change, a little. William couldn't find work for ten months and we had to cut back.

We hunkered down in our house. We ate in most nights. Restaurant meals were a treat. I didn't buy new clothes, which wasn't a big loss since I don't like shopping and I spend most of my time in blue jeans or pajamas anyway. We watched television, played Scrabble and I wrote.

William went to a few Dodger games and I went to the movies. Some days we worried that it would be always thus and how could we possibly maintain? The economic picture worldwide continued in a bleak fashion. At school, the Shakespeare Club children exhibited their own signs of stress by lashing out, or showing sadness and depression. At home, their parents and caretakers were juggling the possibilities of homes and jobs lost.

Steering these kids into a comedy lightened the emotional load somewhat but I worried about them as much as I considered the future for us at home.

Even then we realized we were among the lucky few with food on the table and a roof overhead. As autumn approached and winter set in we decided to find an alternative to Hawaii.

Let's explore our own state, I suggested.


I don't know...maybe up the coast. Have you ever been in a redwood forest or to Carmel or San Simeon, for example?

Maybe when I was a kid...I don't remember.

People come from Germany to see our coastline. Let's go.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

CALIFORNIA, CENTRAL COAST: December, 2009 (Part 2)

And Susan laid out her idea that I should start a blog about the Shakespeare Club in order to build an audience. She said, I think we submitted the book to publishers too soon and in the wrong climate. This story is not a Bush-era book; it's more an Obama-era book.

I blinked and blinked again. We were into year two of not selling this story and yet she wasn't dumping me? I listened to Susan, full of optimism, chat about publishing reinventing itself and people continuing to read in even greater numbers and where my book would fit into the bigger scheme.

Outside the restaurant, crowds bustled up and down Ninth Avenue. The sun shone on this day in June. Taxis honked and look, a dancer off to class and maybe a singer off to rehearsal and soon I would be off to start a blog.

William helped me set it up. I chose Elizabethan wallpaper for the site and started to write. I selected accompanying pictures and William took case of editing and layout. We went to yoga classes together. For a couple with few surface interests in common, we leaned on each other like two sheets of plywood forming a roof.

I knew enough about the realities of a career in writing to know there isn't much money in having a book published. There could be, down the line, if it was a success and if you have an agent who has a passion for ancillary rights, but simply writing a book and having the luck to get it published ain't going to make you rich.

I never became an actor to get rich, and I succeeded. I was on a similar path with my writing career. I wrote because I had to, as I had acted, because there was little choice. The craving to communicate simply exists and the need is for audience.

From the first week that my blog was published I had audience. One, two, three and then a thousand hits. I'd been writing screenplays and television scripts for years with no audience and then writing books with no audience and now, out there in the universe, strangers were reading the stories of my willing little kids into the world of William Shakespeare.

That summer I also noticed something:

When I wrote, the prickly itchy heat on my neck stopped.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

CALIFORNIA, CENTRAL COAST: December, 2009 (Part 1)

In May of 2009, the Shakespeare Club performed "Twelfth Night." William pitched in by making CDs of music and sound effects for the show, grabbing lunches, and, most importantly, taking me out for an obligatory margarita or three after a long day of performances.

I'm so proud of you, Mel, he said as we clinked our fancy glasses together.

In June I attended my fourth year of the writers' conference and my second annual lunch with my agent in New York City. As I walked through Manhattan on my way to the restaurant, I prepared myself for a breakup. One could hardly blame her for writing me off. I imagined she might say something like, I miscalled this one and because of the way publishing is these days, your book is simply not right for any shelf or any market, anywhere.

And I would be sanguine, professional and walk away gracefully. Hell, it's not like I hadn't had tons of practice with rejection in my acting career...except that...I was hoping my writing would make up for those busted acting dreams, that I would find an audience again and—

I opened the restaurant door to face my agent.

There she sat, elegant and calm, as usual. If she was about to wield an axe she certainly looked cool about it.

Let's talk about a plan, Susan started.

A plan? I gulped.

Where was she going with this? I was ready, my shield was shiny and my lines were rehearsed. A plan?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

NEW ORLEANS: April, 2009 (Part 13)

At the end of my afternoon in Algiers Point, I blithely took the ferry back to Canal Street, innocent of the story I would later learn. I settled in for a final dinner of oysters on the half shell and a glass of Chardonnay. This was my last night in the city.

The next day, I flew home haunted by the week I'd spent in New Orleans, a magical conundrum of history, decadence, music, food, culture, ethnicity and politics. A metropolis of writers, artists and culinary geniuses offering more sensory indulgence per square foot than almost anywhere I'd ever traveled. And yet....

Will the destroyed neighborhoods be rebuilt? Will its citizens come home?

Some believe New Orleans' time is up. They wish the city would entirely rot in its current location and relocate inland to what they think is safer, higher and newer land.

But ask a chef or a trumpeter, a poet or an architect, and they'll likely shout a resounding "nay" to the notion of abandoning the Crescent City. I unabashedly side with those voices. For me, New Orleans is a city where all things are possible — including rebirth.


Once back home in Los Angeles, I drove to my in-laws' in order to retrieve our pets, to deliver thank-you gifts and to have a necessary conversation.

When William told his parents how his latest job had ended, there was a pause and his father voiced an idea.

Maybe it's time to find another career, he said.

It was a short conversation. William was already devastated by the course of events and this was the last suggestion he needed.

I need to tell you both something, I started, as I sat with my father- and mother-in-law and our cups of tea at the kitchen table. Your son is gifted. It's a rare thing to make a living doing what he does.There will be no career changing. He needs our support.

They listened. I give them lots of credit for that.

I know you're concerned about security but let's face it, we're all watching the news and seeing employees pour out of Manhattan skyscrapers carrying cardboard boxes with their personal belongings. I'm not certain, in these troubled times, if security exists anywhere.

Well, people will always want to see movies, his mother offered.

That's true, I agreed.

His dad nodded and sipped his tea.

William and I are in the arts, I continued. The upside of that choice is that we're always prepared for unemployment. It's not pleasant but neither is it a terrible shock when it happens.

I didn't get into my angst at being into year two of my book not selling. I figured they could only stomach so much truth at one time and I was feeling like a pretty big loser when it came to what I could only loosely call my writing career.

It's a terrible business, show business, his mom said and shook her head.

She was getting the picture. The whole picture.

I stuffed Stinky and Scrabble into the car, gave a final thank you and drove off to start a new chapter with William. A period we would call unemployment or, as it was now whimsically called in the press, funemployment.