Stand

Do you remember when you were really little, before you understood the complexities of the world, and the national anthem would play. You would stand tall and straight, with your hand over your heart. There was such a feeling of pride. America was the good guys. We were a shining light in the darkness, and it felt so good to be on the winning team.

On Sunday night I turned on my TV and just happened to land on the playing of the national anthem for the game that night. Despite intending to watch another show, I stayed on the game for a few minutes to see what the teams would do. I watched the camera pan across the kneeling players, linked arm in arm. What I noticed more than anything, was their faces. They weren’t celebrating their jab at “the man.” They weren’t mocking. If anything, they looked pained. They took no joy in what they were doing.

There’s no doubt in my mind that when those kneeling players were kids, they had the same rush of pride I did. How painful to no longer have that pride. How painful to have your naivete eroded away as you grew up and watched your country let you down, finding out that the light doesn’t burn so brightly for you if your skin is dark.

I’ve heard commentators rail about how ungrateful these players are. They’ve been given an opportunity to make millions of dollars by this country. How dare they protest anything?

I agree that this country has given hem an amazing opportunity. They were so very lucky. Many, not all, but many of these players come from poor families and poor neighborhoods. Their schools are underfunded and overcrowded, so education is not necessarily a way out. They have the option of making a quick buck through crime, and that seems pretty appealing when there are no jobs. But that quick buck will probably lead to jail and maybe even death. Then they discovered they had a remarkable physical talent that rich people love. Suddenly there was a way forward and they paid for it with years and years of sweat and punishing hits that may eventually turn their brains into monsters living inside their skulls.

Now they have reached the pinnacle. They are playing professional sports and being paid very, very well for it. Having achieved so much, what kind of men would they be if they didn’t look back to their friends, families, classmates, and neighbors who weren’t so lucky to be gifted with physical ability. There’s no golden ticket for any of them. Their life will be lived in a cycle of poverty where they can die for wearing a hoodie at night in the rain, or for selling single cigarettes. They aren’t kneeling for themselves. They’re kneeling for the people from home.

But, that Travon Martin kid was known to smoke pot. He was no angel. Yes, and so do a whole lot of white high school kids. Do you think their parents would be cool with a neighborhood watch guy killing their kid and then the media smearing him? Being a teenager is hardly a crime deserving of death. And that Eric Garner was flouting the law by selling single cigarettes. You essentially commit the same crime when you take part in an office pool, pay someone under the table, or fudge a little on your taxes. Those are equal crimes in that the government is cheated out of some of its income, except you’re comfortable with your crimes, but not so much with a poor, black guy trying to hustle up a few more dollars for his family.

How, in good conscience, do you stand with pride to honor a country that leaves your family, friends, and classmates lying dead on the street. How do you feel a part of this country when the very citizens who should stand beside you in unity, mock your children and their deaths? Why are they required to respect military service when we don’t respect their service? Black soldiers, who fought for this country, returned home to find they didn’t have the same rights they fought for in Europe. Or when they get home from Vietnam and discover that cabs won’t pick them up because they can’t see the marine uniform and only see a n*. We refuse to respect their service, but dadgumit they better know their place and respect ours.

There is no disrespect in their protest. They’re not flipping off the anthem, or wandering around talking, laughing, and slapping each other during it. With our history to black people, they’d probably be justified in doing that, but they aren’t. They are doing their best to say, “Yes, I am grateful for this country and the opportunities it’s provided and I’ll do that by being silent and recognizing the anthem is being played, but I am also recognizing that the country could do better to live up to its ideals. And I’m asking it to do better. For my friends. For my family. For my people.” It’s a beautiful compromise in a painful situation.

I have no doubt these players would love to stand with pride when they hear their country’s anthem played. Who wouldn’t? But to do so at this time would be a lie. And they’re so terribly sorry they’re interrupting your entertainment to inform you of the injustice they live with. The thing is, if this country would have united and stood with them when Sandra Bland was arrested for DWB and died in jail, and call out the injustice, they wouldn’t need to kneel. If this country would unite and call for bad cops to be removed, and bad policing practices to end, they wouldn’t need to kneel. If we would unite in trying to find a way out of the cycle of poverty, they wouldn’t need to kneel.

If you want these protests to end, than stand.

Stand with them, so they don’t have to kneel.

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1st Anniversary

February 20th was my 1 year anniversary of my last day of working for CBS. For many of my coworkers it was a sad day. Had it ended 10 years earlier, I would have joined them in their sadness. As it was, I had stayed too long and there was nothing but joy and elation knowing I would never drive onto that over-crowded, parking-spots-barely-wider-than-a-Prius, cars-parked-just-inches-from-each-other-so-you-have-to-wedge-yourself-into-whatever-door-opens-wide-enough-to-get-into-and-climb-over-the-seat parking lot. That was if you actually found a spot on the lot. Always fun walking past all the empty executive spots and parts of the parking area filled with trailers and set storage as you hiked in from the public lot nearby. That way you were sure to arrive at your job, having been reminded that you had absolutely no value to the company. Even the sets got better parking.

But of course the parking wasn’t the real issue. That was just more irritation that made an already unpleasant situation even more unpleasant. Lack of opportunity was the real issue. My naivity of the business led me to think a network job would provide more opportunity for upward mobility than freelance. Oh, foolish me. It would have been hard to turn down the steady work, but if I knew then what I know now, I would have. I had made those hard decisions before. When I was just starting out and desparately needed a job, I turned down steady work in a bookkeeping firm, and an exciting job as a green room attendant at the Columbia Records recording studio. It was hard, but in both cases I knew it would not lead where I wanted to go. If I had known the truth about where the network job was leading (nowhere), I have no doubt I would have turned that down as well.

I definitely would have turned it down had I known they could use me as a daily hire, with no rights or job security, for 20 years. If I had a problem I would go to the network and they would say, “You aren’t an employee. We only hire you for this production. Go talk to them.” And if I went to the production company I was told, “You don’t work for us, you are hired by the network, go talk to them.” I existed for 20 years in no-man’s land. At any time they could have called me, without severence or notice and said, “Your services are no longer needed” and that would have been that. Instant unemployment. Nothing I could have done. This could happen if the host, a producer, or even director decided they didn’t like me, or something I had done. I’d seen it happen to others. One wrong Facebook post, one wrong comment made to the wrong person, one bad mistake, and we would hear, “It was best for the show if Mergatroid pursued other opportunities.” Then we quietly went back to work hoping it wasn’t us next time.

Late night television was also the absolutely wrong field for a dramatic writer. There were no connections to be made that could move me forward. If I wanted to be a comedian, or a sitcom writer… perfect. There was also very little creativity, and what little opportunity there was for that was guarded more carefully than Golem guarded his Precious. So for me it was a mind-numbing monotony of monologue jokes, comedy bit, guest intro, guest intro, music or comedian, close. Night after night after night after night after night for 20 years.

The culture on the show was also difficult for me. Rather than pulling together so that we could get farther together, from day one, lines were drawn and groups were set against each other. Resentments and jealousy ate away at the fabric that should have bound us together. Others have talked of such different experiences in the business, and I often wonder how my career would have turned out if I had been part of a tight-knit, supportive team.

But knowing none of that, I jumped into a Late Night Network job with all the optimism of the country girl I was. It took me 20 years to extricate myself, and that was 10 years too long. By then my career was pretty much over. There just aren’t too many women over 50 who break into television writing, if any.

Despite the joy of that last day on February 20, 2015, I was crying when I drove off the lot. It was also our Executive Producer’s last day in the business. He was being lauded and honored… and rightly so. He had an amazing career. However, it wasn’t lost on me that my last day was met with deafening indifference. 25 years in the business and nobody cared. It hurt a little. Oh, who am I kidding, it hurt a lot. It was a sucky way to leave.

Regardless, it was the right thing to do. The year since then has been magnificent. I am free! I am no longer working in a job whose main goal is to make a few people at the top rich. I am now working in a job whose main goal is to, yes, make enough profit to stay open, but equally important, our goal is to help people be physically and mentally well. The job doesn’t follow me home. It doesn’t stress me out so much that I can’t write when I have the time. and that has allowed me to get 45,000 words deep into the best work I’ve ever done. On my job I am given credit for my work. At least so far my boss hasn’t denied I exist and claimed that she does it all herself. Sometimes she even spontaneously thanks me for things, not just waiting until I make a mistake to acknowledge my existence. Imagine! Oh wait, I don’t have to anymore. There are opportunities to be creative with marketing and writing articles. There are also silly ways to be creative in decorating the studio and dressing up the anatomy skeleton. I just can’t seem to get away from working with skeletons. In every way, despite the huge downgrade in pay, I have gotten a huge promotion.

While there’s clearly a lot of bitterness in this post, I know it is beginning to fade. One of the things I found delightful about my fellow Missourians – few ever ask me what I did in LA. Because of that, I rarely told anyone about my life in Hollywood. I didn’t want to talk about it, or even think about it. I just wanted to bury it. However, a year later, the stories are starting to leak out. It gives me hope that eventually I will remember more of the good than the bad. Because honestly, it was quite an adventure for this South Dakota farm girl, even if it didn’t turn out exactly as I’d hoped.

Happy freedom anniversary to me.

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