Inspiration My Life

Why I shouldn’t be like JLo and neither should you.

I wanted to be famous. So far, I'm not. And that's ok.

Many of you know I wanted to be famous. I wanted to be a famous singer like Paula Abdul and that’s what lead me to learning about and auditioning for being an NBA dancer. Two NBA teams later, including the World Famous Chicago Bulls, and here I am, 20 years later, not famous.

This morning, I woke up thinking about my hustle. I’m hard on myself, I never think I’m working hard enough, and that’s largely because I have this long list of accomplishments I’m supposed to accomplish and I’m not seeing them being accomplished!

When I lived in New York in the early 2000s, I’d wake up, run 6 miles in Central Park, work 10ish to 7ish, have drinks with my buddy Xtacy or my cousin Travis, come home and then write until 2am sometimes and start all over again. The plays I have under my belt? Written in New York.

Then I moved to LA. And being inspired by everything screen, I was sorta on fire. I wrote all the time. I wrote during breaks while temping, I wrote during slow moments while working front desk at Equinox, I wrote at night instead of going out. That’s how and when I created Brown Betties, wrote and produced my one short film, Reparations, wrote Harlem’s Awakening, my plays The Build UP and Dick & Jayne Get A Life, two other features and one other short. These things have become my canon of work. And those things were created between 2004 – 2014.

As life happens, and you partner up, or pet up, or work up, what happens to that 2am drive?

I know all about goal setting and have even ghost written blogs for others on the topic, yet it is something I no longer do. Honestly, I think that it’s because I didn’t become famous.

My goal was to become famous. This destination fueled my passions because it was an outward representation of my inner creative self. So without that benchmark hit, a milestone not reached, I think my drive went down.

Howeves, sometimes, in the pursuit of one thing, another thing is accomplished.

When I moved to LA, my career goal was to have a career like J.Lo and to be represented by her star-making manager, Benny Medina. At the time, she was acting, had deals at studios and was, of course singing and dancing. Well, when I was swiping cards at Equinox, I would swipe Benny Medina’s card. The first day I swiped his card and realized it was him, I nearly jumped over the desk to hug him, because I was so thankful to the Universe for listening to me and I wanted him to share in my gratitude. Instead, I stood tall and smiled, posing like Ms Wisconsin in the Miss America swim suit competition. My heart was beating fast, my lips were dry and my head was spinning because I frantically thought about what/how/when to tell him all about me.

Each time he’d enter and leave the gym, I’d get excited like that and then die a small death of defeat for not saying anything to him.

I didn’t feel very encouraged to engage because in the swipe moments, underneath the glow of florescent lights with canned jazz-techno music scoring this sad cinematic moment, he would barely look at me. Very busy, very busy he was.

I think about people who live in a fish bowl. They know when someone like me is staring at them just hoping for a glimmer of recognition, so instead of giving the needy person an inch for fear they will take a mile, they don’t give them anything.

I was not to be deterred. I was producing Betties at the time, BUT we didn’t have a show coming up, and I saw that as a huge problem. ‘Cause, you know, what could I show with no show? I couldn’t take it anymore, so one day, when he was leaving the gym, I ran from my post behind the desk and saddled up next to him. I gave him a flyer from the last show along with my elevator pitch to tell him all about my writing, directing, dancing, producing talents. He wasn’t impressed. Nor did he care.

I was crushed, BUT, by the end of my shift, I had picked myself back up and I found solace in knowing I’d reached a goal: I’d met Benny Medina. And I’d told him about myself.

Years later, I worked front reception at a top PR firm in LA. When he came in, I was all, “Bennyyyy. Heyyy. Nice to see you again.” I was in the lobby at the time of this encounter. There was some recognition of me on his face, but he didn’t quite know where to place me.

“Remind me, how do I know you?” he smiled.

“Equinox,” I said. Smiling big, of course.

“Oh, right,” he said politely.

He didn’t remember that I was front desk. I knew that. That was working for me. What wasn’t working for me were the phones ringing that I was supposed to answer and the fact that it was my job to announce to his agent that he had arrived. Him waiting was not worth me getting in trouble for trying to tell him how fabulous I was.

I had to retreat behind the desk. I went proudly. Head high. But, the moment I did, I became invisible again. That was the day I gave up on being represented by Benny Medina.

I met J.Lo when I was a 2nd 2nd AD on Wild for The Night that was supposed to be this insane film noir dance flick starring James Maslow and Bianca Santos. What was insane about it was how hard all of us worked and how some of us didn’t get fully paid. At Christmas time.

J.Lo was dating/not dating choreographer/dancer Casper Smart at the time, so sometimes she’d come to set. I was in charge of travelling the talent to set, so I’d sit behind Casper’s chair while he finished makeup. I felt invisible while everyone talked around and above me, while I presented myself as quite efficient with my clipboard and headset, but wanting to be a part of their spotlight. One of those set days, J.Lo’s right hand woman pulled me aside. I thought, “This is it. They’ve noticed how great I am, how I’m a real talent and this is my moment.” She handed me the keys to the ride and asked me if I could park it.

While in the SUV, feeling, you know, some kinda way, I went to my well of solace. I dipped into it and drank a big cup of it and reminded myself I’d met a goal, I’d met J.Lo.

For the sake of space and your time, I’ll get to the point. I think there are a few:

  1. In pursuing your goals, be clear on what you want and act like you’re the shit. Don’t hide. For me, I didn’t want what they had, I didn’t want to be them. I wanted to be noticed, I wanted them to see the greatness I felt, even when I didn’t see what I felt about myself. I think that is key when you’re trying to be famous. You have to act like you are the shit, but you have to know it 100% first.
  2. While working as a temp or a PA or a shoe-shine girl is honorable work that puts you in proximity of famous people while you pursue your dreams and goals, know that sometimes you’ll only be seen as the shoe-shine girl. This is the Universe telling you to do the work, get paid and get out and go do what you’re dreaming to do.
  3. Ask for what you want; don’t wait for it to be given to you. Look at our supreme leaders, Beyonce, J.Lo, Oprah — these women work their asses off, consistently. And, from what we know, aren’t afraid to ask for what they want and keep asking until they get it.
  4. Being famous takes work.
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On the set of Wild For The Night aka 48 Hours To Live, December 2014

Work.

I used to hustle.

No. I still hustle, it’s just different now.  We must realize that the hustle can change, but so must the expectation. I can’t expect to produce a canon of 5 plays and 5 books in 5 years if I don’t put in the work that requires that kind of output.

I do things. My business as a freelance ghostwriter is going gangbusters for the first time in a long time. I’m happy working with and for my clients. I’m learning a lot, I’m exposed to worlds I wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise. And I’m making money doing it. That’s super important (momma’s got a wedding to pay for). Making money is also fulfilling and I definitely want more of it.

I still want to be famous. I’m not gonna lie, I love a nice spotlight. I also love sitting on the couch with Matt and the dogs watching “Fleabag” on Netflix (really Amazon Prime). Yet, when I watch the show, I think about her hustle, I think about how much time she spends on the couch. Or not. And then I get anxious.

This past fall, I was privileged to interview Cynthia Erivo for Black Girl Nerds magazine during the Toronto International Film Festival. Cynthia was the only black actor nominated this year for an Academy Award. Sitting across from her was magic. She saw me and I saw her. Her light was inspiring and to watch her Oscar journey this past year, I saw her hustle. That life ain’t easy. But it sure looks like fun, right?

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Director Kasi Lemmons (left) with Cynthia Erivo at TIFF 2019

Every meme on Instagram tells us not to compare ourselves to others; I think I don’t have time for that. I’m too busy comparing myself to myself.

Post-Oscars this past Sunday, I woke up thinking about my drive. My current hustle. Thinking is great. It is time once again, to do. And to focus on inspiration from people who actually do what I do, write.

If you’re feeling the same, get up and get to work.

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2008. Me with Diablo Cody, Academy Award Best Original Screenplay JUNO 2007; currently she is the last woman to have won an Oscar for a screenplay.

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