Employed By My Ovaries

The one good thing about having pregnancy become a high priority is that, on a day when all you’ve checked off your to-do is list “do laundry” and “have sex,” at least you can feel like you’ve accomplished something.  At least, that is, until the end of the month, when you find out you haven’t.  But the rest is pretty much all bad.

It’s weird when fertility becomes an issue in your life — perhaps the salient issue.  I mean, it’s not like I didn’t know that women had increasing trouble getting pregnant as they got older, it’s just that for most of my existence, that whole thing never seemed to apply to me in any practical way.  Until I was 21, I didn’t have sex (I was a late bloomer who didn’t know how to flirt, with commitment issues.  Given all that, it’s surprising it only took that long).  Once I started having sex, my goal, like that of most young single women, was to not get pregnant.  Then it didn’t really dawn on me that I was becoming not so young for while because I was single for almost a decade, from my early 20s through my early 30s, and living the cheap freelance lifestyle — so the idea of having a baby seemed to make about as much sense as owning a boat: while I knew it was something that would be nice to have at some point, I wouldn’t know how to use it, I wouldn’t know where to keep it, and I certainly couldn’t afford it.

I only started thinking about babies more seriously after I found myself with a serious boyfriend at age 33.  By that age, maybe it seems kind of silly to call your guy a “boyfriend,” and “manfriend” would seem more appropriate, except for the fact that it sounds like a dude you’d meet on a 1970s pornography site and that most men in their their 30s, in my experience, really are still basically boys.  And the reason for that is basically the same as the reason that my relationship got pushed to extinction: a woman realizes, perhaps suddenly, that her biological clock is ticking (yes, I just used that term that is such a frickin’ cliché that that’s another reason it’s hard to believe that it really exists) at about the same time that a man who can’t make up his mind about whether he wants to have children realizes that he definitely doesn’t want to have children yet.  I, for my part in this scenario, didn’t really want to have children yet either, my career wasn’t at all where I’d expected/hoped/deluded myself it would be by that time — aka I was not getting paid to write or direct stuff, or at least not a real amount on a regular basis — but suddenly I realized that waiting for the life I’d been hoping for to really get underway before contemplating kids was a luxury I no longer could afford.  I was only a couple of years older than him, but suddenly I found myself much farther along on the road to adulthood — and I don’t really mean that as in the nice sense of finally being more ready to start acting like an adult, I mean in as in OLD, in the dark and ugly sense, as in closer to having my bodily functions break down and closer to death.  Men don’t really have to start feeling old until they actually feel old.  With women, it just suddenly hits you like a big bitch slap in the face when your gynecologist suggests that maybe it’s time you thought about freezing your eggs.

Breaking up with that boyfriend did give me a new lease on immaturity, though.  Because without him I no longer had a possibility of becoming part of the nuclear family that I wanted, I was able to forget it all and take the next few years to do a lot of things I had previously written off in my quest to make my life more stable and “adult,” aka baby-friendly.  I took advantage of the freelance lifestyle I had sought to jettison by taking long trips to Guatemala, Argentina, Chile, Peru and Bolivia.  I had flings.  I started another documentary that provided what might have been a similar, all-consuming parenthood experience, filled with much fulfillment and joy, as well as worry, frustration, and sleepless nights punctuated by crying fits (except they were mine).

When my relationship with my then-boyfriend-now-spouse developed into a serious one, however, the bioclock concerns came roaring back with a vengeance. I was 40 when we started dating, so we started having conversations about The Future waaay earlier than you would ever typically want to in a relationship.  Then I actually got pregnant the moment I went off birth control, which forced us to realize that those conversations had meant fuck all in terms of actually preparing us to have a baby.  The pregnancy ended up not being viable (at six weeks, there was no heartbeat), which sucked, but in the long run, gave us the time to have conversations that needed to happen and work toward the idea of having a baby as a couple in a way that actually meant something. 

Then, we were ready to embark on the fertility treatment process.  Although realistically, it’s the kind of wonderfully dehumanizing experience that nothing can truly make you “ready” for.  It started when we met with a specialist, who, as it turned out, I would hardly ever see again.  When you go through fertility treatment, at least at the facility where I did it, you realize fairly early on that your fate, not to mention your everyday routine, will now be ruled by 1) the faceless health care bureaucracy that tells you whether and when you can come for treatment and how much you must pay for it, and 2) nurses.  Nurses are the ones who take your blood, call you with test results just about every day for those important two weeks out of the month, give you instructions on which drugs to take and how much, give you the trigger shot that makes you ovulate and, eventually, inseminate you.  (I know, that sounds creepy, and it is kind of creepy if you think about it too much, but that’s why you try not to).  And the nurses are good at all of these things.  Plus, the head nurses at NYU are thin, surprisingly attractive older women who dress nicely, like they have somewhere to go after they spend their mornings taking care of the dozens of women who pass beneath their needles daily, and this inspires confidence.  You only lose faith in them when you encounter a problem that they haven’t been trained to handle.

“…And then we’ll see you for bloods and scans on Thursday.”

“Okay, thank you.  While I have you on the phone, I have a question.  My doctor has prescribed progesterone for after insemination.  My first cycle, I had a prescription for Crinone, but it is pretty expensive, so my second cycle, her assistant got me samples of it.  But this time, she didn’t have any, so she told me to ask the nurses, but all they had was Endometrin.   Which is fine, except I was reading the insert and it looks like the dose of Endometrin is more than twice the amount of Crinone, since I’m supposed to use it twice a day instead of once.  So I just wanted to make sure that this was correct.”

“If it tells you to use it twice a day, you should use it twice a day.”

“Okay.  But I was having some negative symptoms, like mood swings and bloating, from the dose I was taking before, so I’d really rather not increase the dose.”

“Well…progesterone is not necessary for everyone, a lot of people don’t use it, so if you take it once a day, that’s probably fine.”

“But then why am I taking it at all?”

“Well, some doctors prescribe it.  You’ll have to ask your doctor.”

The problem with this was that I couldn’t ask my doctor anything because she never seemed to have time to return my calls.  I got quite familiar with her assistant, Carla, who I’m sure she got quite familiar with the repetitive process of me calling and asking for the doctor to call me, her telling me Dr. F___ would call me on the next day she was in the office, and then my calling back to say that the doctor had never called me.  And since I probably wasn’t the only mood-swingy, bloaty, frustrated woman calling her on a regular basis, it’s easy to see why Carla’s voice had at some point reverted to an unemotional monotone.

“She didn’t call you?  Well, she’s not in today.  I’ll give her the message and she should call you on Thursday.”

“How many days a week is she in?”

“Two.  The other days she’s at her practice in Connecticut.”

So I learned to figure out the answers to my treatment questions on my own with a little help from WedMD and the zillions of online fertility forums frequented by anxious women who are being pumped with mood-altering hormones.  These folks have the same problems with spelling, grammar and punctuation that the vast majority of people who post to online forums seem to have, but they also prefer to revert to using acronyms for everything that they are uncomfortable talking about.  
“hi ladies, O day is coming up and I’m wondering if we should bd everyday or every other day. what are you ladies doing?  Also… if DH has been drinking (New Year’s Day, bowl game) does that affect his little swimmers?”

“My RE says that you should BD every other day leading up to your peak fertility and then everyday for the next 3 days during and after O. If you try too much too early, you likely have less cm and not be as interested in doing.”

“Every other starting on CD8… when you get a positive OPK you do it that day, the next and the next (so 3 days in a row) I assume if you get multiple positive OPKs you do it everyday of positive +2. Then one day off then do it one last time… then wait for BFP or AF.  So… if I had done this this cycle Id have DTD on CDs 8,10,12,13(+OPK),14,15,17 which would have totally gotten the job done AND saved me some soreness.”

O = ovulation
bd = baby dancing (aka sex)
DH = dear husband
RE = reproductive endocrinologist
cm = cervical mucus
CD = cycle day
OPK = ovulation predictor kit
BFP = big fat positive
AF = Aunt Flo (aka menstruation)
DTD = do the deed (aka sex)

I learned these terms from an online discussion devoted solely the meanings of the acronyms, because there are so damn many.  I also have to point out that sex and menstruation clearly make these women so uncomfortable that they choose to use acronyms of euphemisms in order to speak about them on an online forum where they are anonymous.

But nevertheless, the internet is helpful, and the community there helps you feel more normal about all of the decidedly abnormal stuff you have to do to try and get pregnant. You find out quickly what the different drugs are — name brand and generic — and what to expect in terms of effects and side effects: this one will make you crazy, this one will make you crampy, this one causes you to leak clear liquid out of your vagina, so wear a panty shield, but at least it doesn’t give you that clumpy discharge that you have to scrape out of there with your finger that the other one does. (And if you’re glad I told you about all that, trust me, it’s nothing compared to the joy of experiencing it first hand). Yes, as you can probably tell, you get pretty up close and personal with your reproductive anatomy. You also get comfortable sticking yourself with needles, something you probably never thought you’d do unless you’re a drug user or a diabetic, but which could come in handy later in life if you become either one of those things.

One good thing was that I didn’t have to rely on the internet for emotional support, because my then-boyfriend-now-spouse was taking part in the process and hated it perhaps even more than I did.  Every month he would have to go in to what he affectionately called “the spank room” and make his contribution.  I suppose for people who frequent peep shows and the like, masturbating in a small room where you have to be aware that many, many other men have masturbated before just seems normal, but for him, it was definitely not.

“I didn’t want to sit down anywhere, I was just looking at all of the surfaces and thinking about who, or what, had sat on them.  Then I thought maybe I would try the porn.  I really didn’t want to touch the remote, but eventually I got myself to do it.  It was pretty standard heterosexual male porn.  There was one channel of oral sex, one of vaginal, and one of lesbian.  I wonder why they don’t have homosexual male porn, they must have homosexual sperm donors…I used a lot of Purell. I’m going to take a shower.”

He did like the necessity of our having additional sex, however.  He also got involved in the internet research when I mentioned that I’d read online that sex every other day during the days before ovulation were what was recommended.

“Nope, as far as I can see, there’s no data suggesting that every other day is more likely to result in pregnancy.  Every day for that entire week is really the safest way to go.”

As far as sharing the information that you’re trying to get pregnant with others, it’s sort of a crapshoot.  I told my mother, who I knew, while she would be curious and perhaps opinionated, would handle the news with the appropriate amount of respect for my privacy, only asking about it when I brought it up.  

“So, how is that all going?”

“Oh, it’s not fun.  And it’s expensive and frustrating, and my doctor sucks.”

“Hmm.  Are you sure you want to do this?  I mean, are you sure you want to have a baby at your age?  It just sounds like a lot of work.”   

My mother, being 72 and having recently babysat for my two rambunctious nephews, was of course projecting some of her own feelings on to me, but this is pretty much what happens with everyone.

“Oh, that’s so wonderful!  You’re going to love being a parent!“

“You know, that’s great.  I mean, having kids is great.  But I often think not having kids would also have been great.  So either way, it’s not a big deal.”

“I guess all women do have that nurturing instinct, that’s why we feel like we need to do it, but once ___ and I decided not to have children, we never looked back.  We get to travel all the time, we go out, we have so much freedom…”

“But why are you doing all of this?  You should just adopt.”

“You know, we had friends when you were growing up who adopted children, and every single one of them had problems.  Developmental problems, emotional problems.  Look at ___.”

And then things get really interesting when other friends your age start considering the same options and you start sharing information.  Suddenly, the way that you used to talk about internet dating, you’re now talking about adoption and egg freezing.  Only somehow, talking about this stuff makes laughing about the 60-year-olds who propositioned you regularly or the guys who sent out form-letter flirtations (“Hi.  I really liked what you wrote in your profile.  You look like someone I’d like to get to know.  This whole internet dating thing is so strange, don’t you think, ha ha?”) seem a lot more fun, and normal, than it did at the time. 

“The first time she did the extraction I was feeling under the weather, and I knew it wasn’t going to go well, so we had terrible results.  But my FSH was really good, so I convinced her that we should try it again, and the second time we got like five or six, and then the next month we did again.”

“How often did you have to go in?  Was it tough?  How did the drugs make you feel?”

“Foreign adoptions have slowed to a trickle. Now I’m worried that with RU86 becoming legal here, it’ll be like it is in Australia, it’ll be impossible to adopt domestically too.”

“All of my procedures were covered by my insurance, but none of the drugs were.”

“We did ICI — intracervical insemination — with a midwife, it was less expensive.”

“Domestic adoption is only really difficult if you want a white baby.”  (And more than one person has said this to me).

Yeah, it’s a lot of tough information to digest about stuff that you really wish you weren’t talking about at all. 

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that women can have these conversations.  We are lucky that so many of us have these options and that we can talk to each other about them, and I think we should.  The challenges of getting pregnant or adopting a child aren’t things that should be taboo or even uncomfortable, they are just realities that a lot of us are facing at this age, at this time in history, in certain parts of the world.  But it can be exhausting.  Everything involves the kind of risk and expense that nobody wants to have to consider (not that just having a baby the normal way doesn’t involve some of that too — I read an article recently about how many health care plans don’t cover the ridiculously expensive costs of pregnancy and giving birth in this country.   I mean, seriously, do we just not want Americans to have babies?).  And if you’re really a reflective/obsessive thinker like I am, it all makes you delve more deeply into your previous choices and possible missed opportunities.  Should I have gone to law school like over 50% of my friends with kids did?  (Who knew law school and procreation went so hand in hand?)  Should I have married my college boyfriend and gotten it all out of the way by age 26 — or married-by-26 any other of the guys who I dated, or think maybe I could have dated, who are now people I see on Facebook happily smiling with their lawyer wives (is she really that much prettier than me or does she just photograph well?) and their 2-4 children?

These are the kinds of thoughts we just shouldn’t be allowed to have.  Hopefully, once you have them, you get a chance to look back on everything and realize that you really couldn’t have done anything all that differently, or wouldn’t have wanted to, because it was all kind of great, or at least it was all yours. And if you don’t entirely feel that way, at least you get a chance to get your regret-a-thon over with now, rather than when you’re 80.

I did four cycles of fertility treatments (one on Clomid and three on the hard, injectable stuff) and I didn’t get pregnant.  The anxiety and depression of the last two cycles was the worst part. That and the fact that during the third cycle, I thought I was pregnant because the progesterone gave me some symptoms. And that my doctor, true to form, never called me at the end, or ever, to follow up, or see how I was doing, or discuss what my options might be going forward.  Bitch.  But at least all of that made me truly relieved when it was over.

Now we’re still trying, but sex is free (and fun, although having to do it at the end of a sixteen hour workday isn’t so much, but then you get to go to sleep right afterwards).  It’s too much of a long shot at this point to think we’ll succeed, but giving up drinking, sushi and Advil for ten days a month is probably a good thing anyway.  And in the meantime, since we can’t really afford to adopt right now anyway, my then-boyfriend-now-spouse and I can take some more time to contemplate what we really want to do with our lives.  Maybe that’s not something I should be doing at 44 because I should have figured it all out by now, but since this is one luxury that I have as a childless middle-aged woman, I might as well enjoy it.

Shorts and Knee Socks

Some comments by Zooey Deschanel that I reblogged last week get at how complicated it can be for women represent to themselves as individuals in a feminine – or even female – way while also making it clear that we’re empowered, intelligent professionals.  I had an experience last year that has had me thinking about this kind of a lot.

Before the end of its glamorous six-season run in 2012, I spent a week employed on the television show Gossip Girl.  I work as a location sound technician, most often as a boom operator (the person who holds the long pole with a microphone at the end over people’s heads), but on that particular job I was performing the job of sound utility.  As the third position in the sound department, it’s the catchall of un-fun tasks like coiling and uncoiling cable, changing batteries and wiring actors with body mikes – which, while important, I also place in the category of “un-fun tasks” because, believe it or not, famous people don’t really enjoy it when you invade their personal space.

But my boss did his own wiring, so I had a surplus of brain space and free time.  That’s why I couldn’t help but notice when, one day, two of the other women on set – an electrician, whose job consists of powering and setting lights, and a second assistant camera, whose job, like the sound utility’s, consists of busywork like keeping notes and fetching camera parts – showed up in shorts and brightly-colored knee socks.  I had seen this outfit often enough around New York City, where fashion often trumps practicality, to know that, while I considered it ridiculous, it was a thing.  I just didn’t expect, even on Gossip Girl, to see it on women doing jobs like mine.

Film sets sound glamorous to the uninitiated, but really, they’re mostly places where time is divided between doing nothing and moving equipment around, much of it heavy.  The actors need to look good, obviously, but most of the rest of us dress for comfort and practicality.  At a minimum, this involves rubber soles and non-itchy layers for soundstage work, but when January rolls around and we’re looking at shooting 12 to 16 hours outdoors in sub-freezing weather with only 45 minutes inside for lunch, it can require foraging for wardrobe items on websites that sell to those planning a journey to the arctic. For the hair, make-up and wardrobe departments, showing up to set smart is part of their stock in trade – so I have no reaction when a make-up woman shows up for work at 5 a.m. with a face that looks pageant-ready, or when a wardrobe person walks in wearing a full denim jumpsuit with shoulder pads.  But my response to these other 20-something women showing up for their menially technical grunt work in shorts and knee socks was instant derision.

“Did you guys talk to each other on the phone before you came in to work this morning?” I quipped to one of them.

She just shrugged.  “It’s Friday.”

Granted, in the world of TV production, Friday workdays that start before noon so that they don’t go into the wee hours and become “Fraturdays” are cause for celebration.  Still, that meant they would be spending an entire day on set in something that was noticeably an outfit.

Let me explain why I had a problem with this.  In my first years in the business, in the mid-90s, I was often the only woman on a shooting crew.  This had its advantages: I got a lot of attention and the guys on set were always trying to help me do my job.  It also had major disadvantages: I got a lot of attention and the guys on set were always trying to help me do my job.  I never had anyone squeeze my ass, but I had people say plenty of things to me or in front of me that I considered pretty wrong, and I had to figure out how to handle it.  One time, a group of the guys on the set of the low-budget feature I was on were passing around a Victoria’s Secret catalogue, and one of them came over to me, opened it to a display of women in lingerie and asked, “Now which one of these would you wear?”  In that case, I knew the guy well enough to know that he did actually respect me for the way I did my job, and to give him shit about it (and he apologized).   But once, in the early aughts, I had to keep my mouth shut when I overheard the high-powered director of the commercial I was booming on quietly tell the AD that no, he didn’t actually need sound on the shot – he’d just said that he did because he liked how I looked on his set: female working professional as decorative object.

So I’ve always felt like a large part of my goal in dressing for work is just to blend in.  My typical wardrobe was, and continues to be, jeans or shorts that fit but aren’t tight and a shirt that fits but isn’t tight, in a dark or neutral color

image  <- like this.  (Don’t ask why I’m standing on a desk, that’s irrelevant.) The reason I don’t wear white or, say, fuscia is that bright colors can be distracting to the actors when you’re booming a scene, and white is reflective enough that your body placement can actually change the exposure.  The only interesting thing might be the design on the shirt, and it had to be something for which I had to be prepared for the commentary it would inevitably generate.  (Anything from “Where’s your tattoo?” when I wore my shirt bearing a logo from the Sailor Brooklyn Electric Tattoo Parlor, to “Nice cans,” when I wore the one with the image of headphones across my chest.)

As other women began to show up on set, I saw them generally following the same rules.  When they didn’t, I felt like it made it harder for all of us.  It pissed me off when a certain script supervisor would spend 20 minutes in the bathroom at the end of lunch every day fixing her make-up.  This was partly because there was only one bathroom, but also because, to me, her behavior said that looks were important, and that they were what women cared about – as if her job was to look good even when it wasn’t her job – which was exactly the type of stereotype that I felt I was fighting on a daily basis.

So, getting back to 2012, that’s also what I thought the shorts and knee socks were saying.  Until I realized that…maybe they weren’t.  As the day wore on, I realized that I seemed to have been the only one who even noticed the two women’s outfits.  I reflected on the fact that on the Gossip Girl shooting crew of 50-60 people, there were usually at least seven or eight women, and they were spread across most of the departments.  We often had women in the key positions of first assistant director, camera operator, and, sometimes, even director. This level of representation is now pretty standard, and the result is that the atmosphere has definitely changed.  Set still feels way more male than female, but it no longer feels like a boys’ club.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all fixed and hunky dory.  After 18+ years in the business, I still regularly find myself on set with some camera guy trying to mansplain my job to me like it’s my first barbecue.  But that day made me consider something for the first time: why was I the one looking down on these women for what they were wearing?  Had I so internalized the dress code that says that women have to look a certain way in order to be respected for the way they do their jobs that now I was the one enforcing it?

That’s the last thing I would want.  It’s crazy that 50 years after the publication of The Feminine Mystique, women like me are still struggling to feel like we can just be ourselves at work.  For those of us employed in an environment that has always been overwhelmingly male, it can be hard to even know what that means.  I fought for so long against being forced into the box labeled “girl” that I rejected everything in it – not by choice, but because I felt I had to.  But isn’t real liberation about being able to choose from that box what suits us?  Women like Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer say it’s on women to adjust to the male workplace in order to succeed, and for years, we have done that.  But how much are they, and I, really helping the next generation by telling them just to keep on keeping on?  How much can things really change if we aren’t making the workplace conform to us?

Those 20-something chicks would probably laugh if they heard me call their shorts and knee socks a feminist statement.  But even if they don’t fully appreciate how far we’ve come, we all still need to move forward together – and maybe sometimes they see the way better than I can.  We gave them the right to dress like fools.  Isn’t it time we let them do it?

Questions People My Age Are Tired of Answering (Or At Least I Am) In Casual Conversation

1) What do you do?
This has always been at the top of the list of problematic questions for me, or at least it has been ever since I became an adult. Granted, becoming an adult took a pretty long time since I went from high school straight to undergrad and then straight to graduate school in film, and it took me five years to graduate from there. So for the first 24 years of my life, the answer (“I’m in school in…” or something along those lines) was pretty easy. And because the schools I went to were fairly prestigious, it also sounded good, and people were duly impressed. But it was all downhill from there.

For one thing, it’s pretentious to say you’re any kind of artist, period.  “I’m a writer,” or “I’m a filmmaker” is preferable to “I’m an artist,” but even those imply that you do those things for the sake of art and art alone. Because if you were a technical writer you would say “I’m a technical writer,” if you were a journalist you’d say “I’m a journalist,” if you were a producer for “Toddlers With Tiaras” you’d say…well, maybe you wouldn’t tell anybody that, but you’d say “I produce for television” or something vague but not entirely pretentious like that, because those are all actual jobs. When people ask what you do, they mean, “What do you do for a living?” So unless you happen to inhabit that rare stratosphere of people who get paid to create, you probably can’t answer the question simply by saying, “I’m a filmmaker.” Or you can, but then the next question will inevitably be, “What have I seen that you’ve made?” and then you’ll be stuck explaining that the answer is probably nothing. Which might be okay if you were still someone who got paid to make the stuff that this hypothetical person has probably never seen. Getting paid to do something implies that someone else (the person or company that is paying you) thinks it has value.

I have gotten “paid” to “make” “films" (really videos these days but who’s counting?), so I do sometimes say that I’m “a filmmaker.” But then I always add, “and I also work in the film business,” because working in the film business is the primary way that I earn my living. Often I then go on to say, “Doing sound,” which really muddies the waters and leads to more need for explanation (as in, “No, not sound design, that’s post-production…No, not sound editing, I do location sound…Yeah, sound recording, on set.  Like, pointing the microphone at people.”) But then at least if people ask what I’ve worked on, I can talk about stuff that they’ve actually heard of, and then I can tell stories about famous people that are amusing but actually have very little to do with me personally creating things that I have to either laud or defend, and I’m much more comfortable with that.  And I can also tell them about the documentary I completed, well, nearly two years ago now, but then they ask me what I’m working on now. 

2) What are you working on now?
This is one of those questions that, in my business, you are not allowed to not have an answer to, or have the answer be, “Uh, nothing.” If you aren’t working on anything new, you have to make it sound like you’re actually working on one of the many impractical ideas you’ve had floating through the transom of your mind, often preceded by the words, “Wouldn’t it be cool to make a film about _____?”, but without any concrete thoughts about how to begin to explore said idea, or accompanied by roadblocks like, “But ___ would never agree to be interviewed by me,” or “But then I’d have to raise the money to fly to Mumbai and hire a translator,” or, “But I’m not that suicidal, so naah.” But you can’t tell people that part, you have to just tell them the crazy but cool idea and say you’re “researching.“ You certainly can’t say that you’re currently wandering around in the existential wasteland of middle age, wondering if you really want to do that thing you thought you wanted to do your entire life. Not only because that’s depressing, and waaay more information than the person who asked this question was bargaining for, but because if you tell enough people this, you really will never make another film, because nobody wants to work with a big loser, and that’s what you are, basically, if you aren’t moving and shaking, always in pursuit of what’s next. This is why one of the things you have to learn to do well in the film business is how to excel at pitching yourself and pitching ideas, aka pitching bullshit.

Mind you, I don’t necessarily mean this in a bad way.  Being confident in yourself and your ideas and being able to describe them in an engrossing yet pithy way are great qualities/skills to have. I truly admire people who are like this, and I’m proud of myself when I can pull it off. I just also know that nobody can that consistently generate excellent, fully-formed and executable ideas all the time, so, if you’re expected to do that, being able to spin crap at will becomes an important job requirement.

3) Why aren’t you seeing anyone?
It’s funny how often people would ask this question when I was single, which I was for the nine years between 1993 and 2002 and then for nearly all of my late 30s.  Variations on this theme are, “How is it possible that you are single?” or, “When are you going to get a boyfriend?”

The fact is, a stupid question is still a stupid question, even when it’s meant to be a compliment. Most people (and definitely female people) who have actually been single for any length of time realize that most people aren’t single for years by choice, and if they are, there’s still no good answer you can give to someone about the whys, hows and whens. The nicest answer you can possibly give is something along the lines of, “Beats me.” If you’re expecting more, then how about, “Because apparently nobody wants to date me?” “Because ever since I turned ___, it’s like I have an expiration date stamped on my forehead”? “Because, even though I guess you can’t see it, I’ve got a lot of shit to work out”? Or “When I finally stop only attracting assholes”? If you don’t think that any of these are answers you’d like to hear, stop asking this question, even if you think you’re being nice.

4) When are you getting married?
If you are in a serious relationship and of a certain age, you are guaranteed to get asked this all the time. Again, I don’t understand why people think it’s okay to ask this in casual conversation, because even if there is an answer, it’s probably not something anybody wants to get into. Again, what answer do you think you’re going to get? “Oh, some day”? “When we darn well feel like it”? “Never, because we actually know that this would someday result in an ugly, ugly divorce”? And think about it, what could your goal in asking this possibly be? 1) Embarrass this person or 2) Cause an argument?  Well then bravo, you’ve succeeded.  Anything else, then you’ve probably failed.

My then-boyfriend-now-spouse and I did actually just get married at the City’ Clerk’s office, and the awesome thing was that the last time he was asked this question, he was able to say, “Oh, probably next week.”  Best answer to that question ever, but not one you’re likely to hear.

5) How many times have you been arrested?
Just kidding.  Nobody ever asks me this, which I suppose says something positive/sad about everyone’s assumptions about me — something else it’s probably too late to change at this point in my life.

6) Are you planning on having kids?
When you get to be my age, this sometimes morphs into, “You’re still planning on having kids??”, but more often, it just becomes one of those Things You’re Not Allowed To Talk About, which is a totally different category of stuff that appears in middle age. We’ll get to some of those later. 

I suppose when a woman is young, before she’s fully realized that fertility is not an open-ended state of being, there’s not anything wrong with this question. But it gets increasingly fraught as you get older, ike most questions that call attention to one’s age in general. If you ask me this expecting a real answer, be prepared for a long discourse on my career, the progression of men through my life, and gory recent details of fertility treatments and miscarriages. Did you really want to know about all that when you asked? Didn’t think so.  (But for those of you who did, lucky you, because, again, we will be covering some of these topics later on).

(Asking men this question tends to be fraught in completely different ways, since I’ve found, to a surprising degree, it’s often something childless men of middle age have not really considered unless and until they’ve been prompted into it by a woman who is either their mother or their partner. So you’re opening up a completely different can of worms along the lines of, “Oh my God, should I be thinking about having kids?  Am I that old? Wow, I really am that old.  Oh shit…”  Cue purchase of sportscar and/or annexation of inappropriately young arm candy. I know this is a stereotype, but sadly it’s one that’s not really that far off base.)

7) How are your parents?
I shouldn’t really lump this in with all of the other questions, because it is actually something people ask solicitously, and in fact, some people will consider you impolite if you don’t ask it. But for me, and I think for many other people (based on what I see posted on the Facebook statuses of friends and "friends” alike), this brings up the fact that, if you’re my age, your parents are probably kind of getting up there, and that’s scary. You don’t want your parents to become your grandparents, not because you don’t/didn’t like your grandparents, but because they’re supposed to be your parents, aka, taking care of you, not the other way around. My parents are in good health and retain all of their faculties, but I don’t want to think about what could happen when and if they aren’t. Which doesn’t mean I don’t think about it, I worry about it quite a bit, but I don’t necessarily want to shower you, casual friend, with my deepest fears. And of course if the person’s parents are in poor health, you may not be prepared to hear about it. And if they’re dead, uh, yeah, oops, you should have remembered that before you asked, shouldn’t you?

I’m sure there are plenty more questions that belong on this list.  Thoughts?

My So-Called Midlife Crisis

I remember when I turned 30. I felt old, but at least I felt I had worked out a lot of my shit. Then I turned 35. I felt significantly older (somehow, being smack in the middle of my 30s meant more on an existential level than I had anticipated), but at least I had worked out way more than I thought I’d worked out at 30 – that 30-year-old me, she was NUTS for thinking she knew stuff. 40: the same, but even more so, because it was 40. 

Now, at 44, officially in my mid-40s, I have to face the fact that I officially don’t know anything about my life or where it’s headed.  So I get to feel both stupider and older – and less cute, or at least that’s the general opinion of the world at large, trust me, I feel you all checking me out less than you used to. Not everything attached to me works the way it’s supposed to any more either, I’ve got these knees and this back and this repetitive-stress-fucked neck and shoulder from spending too much of the past 20 years on my laptop and, now, my phone. And some things, apparently, like my ovaries, don’t really work at all any more.

TMI?  Well, welcome to midlife, or at least my midlife. I’m not sure how yours is going (if it is going yet, perhaps you’re just oh so excitedly anticipating it), but it seems as if I’m going through a perfect storm of the type of crap a woman my age can go through – the perfect shit storm, as it were. Now, I’m not about to go get a fancy car or some young blond arm candy or eye tucks and cheek implants in the interest of trying to somehow wrestle back the hands of time. I am feeling a little worn and in need of refurbishing, but I’m not an investment banker or Madonna, and more importantly, I just refuse to go there. The central hard part for me is that I’ve stuck with this road I’m on in terms of my career and life choices just long enough that I don’t know if I can change now, but I’m still not ready to say THIS IS IT, the big IT, what my life will look like from now on.  Hell no.

It’s not like this is a big revelation to me or anyone else.  I’ve become steadily more disillusioned with the business that I’m in, the film business, for the past 20-odd years that I’ve been in it.  Okay, that’s not really true, I think I kind of knew it sucked from the very beginning, because I considered dropping out of film school at least three times before my career even officially started, then I considered taking a real job when I got out of film school (my part time office job in financial management offered me $30K a year plus a full business wardrobe to come work for them), then I tried a couple of alternate careers along the way to now. But ultimately, I chose to be a freelancer and work in film production, doing location sound for a pittance (at first – it’s not entirely pitiable now, and as a union member I do have health insurance) in order to stay in, or close to, the work that I loved, or told myself I did. When you almost give up something that many times and don’t, it starts to feel almost providential that you’re still with it – like that man you just can’t quit, or the bad penny that keeps turning up, or the monkey’s paw…are you getting the sense that I have some negative associations with my chosen line of work?  But anyway, I don’t believe in that fate nonsense any more.  The only thing being stuck where I am means to me is that I opted, time and again, not to change things. I can’t really regret the experiences I’ve had because of my choice to be a filmmaker and have this peripatetic freelance lifestyle, many of which have been fantastic – or at least enjoyable when they weren’t fantastic, and at least blog-worthy when they weren’t enjoyable – but I can still wonder if it’s ultimately led me to a dead end. 

Look, I know it could be worse. I’m not dying – at least, not any faster than your average 44-year-old – and I do basically have my health, aside from the occasional bike accident, and persistent acid reflux, and all that other stuff I mentioned above. I’m not about to be evicted or in horrible debt, and I’m absolutely not alone, because I have a great boyfriend and family and friends. So I haven’t been placed on the curb, at least not yet. Maybe I should just shake this off and be happy instead of reflecting on everything and turning it into dark, navel-gazing commentary as I am wont to do.

Naaaaaah, where’s the fun in that? Have a seat and I’ll tell you all about it.