I have meant to blog so many times in the past year, but as you can see if you check this joint out, well, ever, that hasn’t happened. I forgot how busy things get when you’re on the staff of a TV show and you’re also trying to have a life around it. So I’m sorry, blog, for neglecting you.

But now that I’ve had some time to process the “Allegiance” experience, I wanted to write this to share my whole crazy journey with you guys.

Just under a year ago (literally, by about one week), I got a call from my agent that George Nolfi, the creator of “Allegiance,” wanted to meet with me. I had read the pilot early on in staffing season and loved it, put it on my wish list, and hoped I’d at least get in the mix for it. And just like that, I was.

My main goal at the meeting was to not geek out about talking to someone who had co-written “The Bourne Ultimatum,” which, if you know me, was a challenge of epic proportions. But I managed. George’s passion for the show and his excitement about doing TV were wonderful to be around, and I came away from the meeting wanting the job not just because it was another staff writer job and thus I could continue to be a working writer, but because I could feel, in my gut, that this was going to be a great show to be a part of.

I was not wrong.

Because George directed an astounding five episodes of our show (including the pilot), he was steering the ship from New York (where we shot) a great deal of the time. That meant I spent most of my writers’ room life with our other two EPs, John Glenn and Rashad Raisani. If any of you ever get to work for these guys, do it. They are great bosses. If Rashad is reading this right now, he probably just made a face at me because he hates the “boss” word. But I only speak the truth. If John Glenn is reading this, he’s probably just shocked I am doing something other than watching TV.

Our writers’ room was a great mix of folks at all levels, and a place where hierarchy wasn’t important, good ideas were. I’m also proud to note that I again worked on a staff with multiple female writers – four this go-round – so as scary as those numbers are about women and minorities not being hired on shows, don’t let them discourage you. Some folks get it.

Because this was my first experience in a writers’ room, it was a little intimidating at first, but I fell in love with it quickly and completely. While I was working on my outline and script, I came into the office every day so that when I took breaks, I could run down to the room and see where the story was going without me, and I honestly couldn’t wait to get back full-time once my pages were in. There’s something so incredible about knowing that even if you only know part of the fix, someone else will ride that wave with you and help fill in the rest of the connective tissue till the whole idea works. And then that moment when you all know, “Yes, this is our episode!” and you can send it off to outline… yeah, that’s pretty great.

Of course, sometimes it turns out that’s really not the episode – but then you all fix it together. TV writing is a team sport, my friends, and that’s never more evident than when everyone has to roll up their sleeves and figure out why something isn’t working when you were all sure it would. But that’s the beauty of the team part — someone solves this timeline issue, someone digs up new research for a different take, someone comes up with a new in to the scene, and voila — episode fixed!

I was fortunate enough to be at “Allegiance” long past my initial twenty weeks, and so I was there when our premiere numbers came in and left us all disappointed. I’m not sure I’m over that yet. But we still had work to do and a finale to finish, and so that’s what we did. I am so glad for our whole cast and crew that we got a chance to finish telling the story of the O’Connor family and give it a real ending.

One of the best things of all to happen was that the episode I wrote aired right before our cancellation, and my mom got to watch it on her very own TV in her living room. That was pretty awesome.

Despite our being off the air, I am happy that the fans “Allegiance” did have are getting to finish the ride online at NBC.com and On Demand, where the network is releasing the rest of the episodes. The finale will be out next week, and I hope people come away feeling like they had an intense, interesting run to the finish line with Alex, Mark, Katya, Natalie, Victor, Sarah, and Sam.

A few things that were extra great about this whole experience – I got to write more lines for my buddy Kenny Choi, who I worked with on “Ironside”; I got to help plot all kinds of evil things for Giancarlo Esposito, who I’ve loved since “Homicide,” to do as our big bad of the season; and I got the chance to work with my friend and a great editor, Phil Fowler, who I met while I was a closed captioner and he was an assistant editor over on “Grey’s Anatomy.”

But the best thing is that there are people on this staff that I will know the rest of my life. Whether we work together again or not, some of them are stuck with me… so in case they didn’t know that, fair warning. That’s what y’all get for being awesome.

I’m smack in the maelstrom that is staffing season once again, and so when I know what my next adventure is going to be, I’ll make the time to update here with the news. In the meantime, if you’re running back and forth across LA on the meeting-go-round as well, good luck! And if you want to be, make sure you’re up to date on all the writing program deadlines and getting those applications and scripts out there.

There are no guarantees that once you get a job as a TV writer it’ll last more than twenty weeks or longer than a season… but while you have it, I hope it’s the best job you’ve ever had. So far, I am two-for-two.

Here’s hoping number three is just around the corner… and just as great. But maybe a season two next time?

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So with one big life change behind me — moving out of the apartment that’s been home for a decade and into my friend’s house — it’s time for another. I gave notice at my job today and will be leaving closed captioning at the end of the month.

Obviously I do so with great hope that my next job description is “TV Drama Writer” but with plans already set as to what I will pursue to pay the bills if, God forbid, that doesn’t happen. (PLEASE, TV GODS. Seriously!).

So why now? Because I think you just know, deep down in your gut, when your life needs to change. You feel it, it nags at you, and finally, you have a choice… ignore it and stay stagnate or take the risk and change it.

My move is part of what’s allowing me to do that. Knowing I have a safe place to land and a roof over my head makes it easier to risk being unemployed for a short period of time, and while the rational, responsible, grown-up me is already doing minute calculations of just how many bills can get paid for how long without another paycheck… the part of me that knew it was time to do what was best for me is totally at peace.

I was also certain it was the right time and the right decision because no argument could make me doubt it. Sure, I’m a girl who likes nice things (See my numerous posts about shoes and massages on Facebook), and it could mean sacrifices ahead. Those cuts and slashes to my lifestyle could go far deeper than the trivial. But none of that seemed worse to me than NOT changing what I knew needed to be changed.

And thus… a letter of resignation is submitted, my agent and my manager are hard at work trying to help me find my gig, and I am unpacking and cleaning and getting yet another fellowship spec finished up and breathing deeply for the first time in a very long time because I know that I’m doing exactly what I need to be doing.

So what will I take with me from this long road I’ve walked in the closed captioning biz?

Hours and hours studying some of the best writing on TV up close and personal. I’ve had the pleasure of working on shows from awesome folks like David E. Kelley, Mike Kelley, Shawn Ryan, and Andrew Marlowe to name a few, and I’ve learned so much from how each show runs, how it’s assembled, what changes are made from VAM to Final cut, and from seeing shooting drafts become completed TV episodes. I always joke that this job was a master class in pacing and dialogue structure, but one I got paid to take.

Post people work hard, y’all! Unsung most of the time and forgotten when it’s glory time by and large, these are some dedicated, smart, fun people. I’ve worked with some great ones and some not so great ones, but they’ve all taught me a lot about how I want my post production staff to run when I’m finally the showrunner. I’d tell you which show has the best post production staff in TV… but I don’t want anyone hiring them before I sell a pilot and steal them away from where they are now 😉

How much harder and longer can I work when I feel like I can’t type another word? A lot longer, and a lot harder… because no one’s deadline cares how tired you are or how sore your hands are. Get it done, get it out, get it on the air. Oh, and that power outage in Hollywood that meant “Ugly Betty” still had to be at the network by 6 a.m. Pacific even if we weren’t getting final video till 2am or later? Just one of the fun adventures of delivery deadlines.

In a larger sense, I take away some important truths about myself as well, perhaps none more important than an acknowledgement of my own strength, determination, and ability to do what needs to be done to balance my work life and my personal life… a lesson learned after allowing one to grossly overtake the other.

And I have learned that in the hardest of times, when I’ve been knocked down and have nothing to hold on to, I can find a way to stand up and move forward.

So forward it is… to what, we’ll find out in the coming days. But I’m fortunate to have friends and family willing to support me through it emotionally and spiritually, and while I may not be able to say I’m doing this without fear, I can say absolutely that I am doing it with total confidence.

One last note… my new roommate (aka one of my oldest friends in LA) bought this for our house. It’s kind of our mantra for the months ahead. Let the adventure begin!

wakeupsmiling

In the midst of staffing season, a little life reality check on what matters beyond having a job you love and following your dreams… family. My niece is getting married in less than two weeks, which seems impossible to me, and yet… here it comes.

You can imagine she’s heard a lot about being so young and is she sure and couldn’t they wait a little while because, well, that’s what folks say these days when you’re under 25 and getting married. And they’re good questions to be sure. But I have to admit, I didn’t ask any of them.

The truth is, I’m a little in awe of her. This beautiful young lady that is so much of everything good that our family had to offer is ready to jump into the idea of sharing her life. And sure, she’s young, and maybe that makes it easier because the baggage she’s carrying around is a little lighter. But she’s also hopeful and certain and confident. She’s all the things you’d hope someone would be when they decide to walk down an aisle and promise to love and cherish forever, because wow… that’s a lot to promise.

She has faith in love and a belief that things can work out. Not in happily ever after… so much as choosing to be happy and working to stay that way.

I’m a true-blue marriage-phobe to this point in life. Not because I don’t think it’s awesome… I know some folks who have great marriages… not perfect, but great, the kind of relationships that make you realize the effort you put in is worth it. But the whole faith in love thing is a little harder for me.

So yeah… I’m a little awed by her bravery and her strength and her heart. And I’m sure to be a crying mess when I watch my brother walk her down that aisle.

And I can’t deny, I’m hoping a little of that faith rubs off on me.

I mean, it certainly can’t hurt, right?

I know, I know, I disappeared from the blog!  The overtime at work combined with the awesome-but-hectic Writers on the Verge schedule has kept me hopping, but I was determined to write some kind of entry before the year was out.

I’m not a resolution type of person.  I feel like I set goals all the time, and they don’t get bogged down with the implications of January 1st and a new year, so rather than think about what’s to come, I thought I’d take a minute and think about the five best things I did in 2011.  Some of them were fun, some were about hard choices, but all of them helped make this a huge year of change and growth for me that I am incredibly grateful for.

1.  Mother’s Day at the Greek

My mother isn’t really a concert person, but I felt a very strong urge to do something really memorable for Mother’s Day this year.  I was worried that when I proposed my great idea, she’d turn her nose up at the whole concept of coming to LA for a girls’ night out.  So imagine my surprise when she said yes… and not only agreed but was excited about the prospect.  So I scored us tickets to Wavefest at the Greek Theatre, which in a few short years of patronage has become my favorite LA concert venue.

We had our moments to be sure… she does not like having to walk anywhere, and it’s always a walk, even from the new unstacked parking, and she refused to stand still while I tried to find our way back to the car, leaving me terrified she’d fall in a hole along those terrible dirt patches and make me rush her to the hospital (both typical conflicts when Mama Levy and I are out together; that’s just how we roll).  But those little downs were nothing compared to the ups.  She thoroughly enjoyed the E Family, one of the main draws because we both love Sheila E.  And then she became an instant fan of Macy Gray, who is a phenomenal live performer.  It was a great night; well worth the effort it took to make happen; and a memory I know I’ll hold on to forever.

2.  Farewell Modesty Blaise

When I was 13 years old, my mother bought me my first Modesty Blaise book… “Last Day in Limbo.”  She bought it largely because she was tired of hearing me go on and on about some clearly important moment in my teenaged life and sent me off to find a book to read so she could enjoy her own trip to the bookstore, and since it was the only book I asked for, she couldn’t say no.  Neither of us knew that she was introducing me to my favorite fictional character of all time.  In the years since, I have hunted down both classic copies and new printings of every Modesty Blaise adventure and even have a collection of some of the comic strips.  But a few years ago, one of my best friends bought me the final collection of Modesty Blaise short stories, and while I tore through the majority of the book within a week or two, I left the final story unread, knowing that the end was really the end.

But this year, I was in this great groove of finishing things and moving on and letting go (more on that later,) and so I picked up “Cobra Trap” and finally… finally… read the last story.

It was a little heartbreaking to be sure, and I am incredibly sad there will be no new Modesty tales to come.  And yet I’m so grateful that Peter O’Donnell made the choice to end his character’s story in his own way and let her go.  Because one of the main reasons I’ve always loved the way he writes her is also the main reason I think no one has made a good adaptation in film or TV of the material… everyone else focuses on Modesty’s badassness–her criminal history, her physical strength, her ability with weaponry, her use of sex to get what she wants.  But O’Donnell always perfectly balanced all of those elements of Modesty with the very complete woman who survived a hellish childhood and emerged determined to live a full life.  She loves, deeply, built herself a family of treasured friends because the world had stolen away whatever biological connections she’d once had, and her later life, spent largely saving strangers and her loved ones from all kinds of nefarious characters, is rich and as often tinged with laughter and the ridiculous as it is shrouded in danger.

But now I know how Modesty’s story ends.  It suited her.  And thanks to the vivid books he left behind, Peter O’Donnell has made sure that just like Sir Gerald and Willie Garvin, I can always find her when I need her.

3.  Writing. Portfolio. Explosion.

Considering there have been years where I worked upwards of 65 hours a week, I used to feel pretty darn good about myself if I got one solid spec out in a year, let alone two.  So this year, thanks to the inspiration from the CBS Writers’ mentoring program and the demands of the NBC Writers on the Verge schedule, I got myself kicked into a new gear. (It didn’t hurt that my life just demanded I cut back on work hours and hover somewhere around a much more livable 48-hour-a-week range).  So I will exit 2011 with four specs and three pilots and two other pilots in stages of plotting and/or outlining.  And I can’t wait to see what my brain and keyboard conspire to come up with next.

4.  Balance, balance, and more balance

I was born with a workaholic gene, and while it has been of fabulous use to me during the years I was working my way through school or taking on a ton of responsibility that required a lot of sacrifice at my various jobs, it has tended to make it hard for me to just throw my hands up and say “yes, I want to do that” sometimes when my friends want to run out for a spur-of-the-moment happy hour or when a great opportunity for adventure appears out of nowhere.

This year, I made a promise to myself I’d do better; and I did.  I found enough Saturday evening dinners and Sunday morning brunches to stay in touch with my incredible friends, I got better at texting for the friends who love to communicate that way, I gave in and bought the last-minute tickets to see Idina Menzel (also at the Greek) for my birthday because I deserved it, and even if I had to cut down a workout from 60 minutes to 30 because of some other personal or work demand, I gave myself credit for doing the 30 minutes and stopped lamenting what there wasn’t time for.

Balance made some very hard days in 2011 much easier to endure because I had the reserves to get through them.  It made it easier to come to terms with letting my baking business go because my writing career is simply demanding too much of my attention (which is to be celebrated and enjoyed, believe me!).  And when a day was really bad… I let it be bad.  Because I knew the next day, I could take a deep breath and start all over again and maybe that day would be better.

I’m going try to do even better in 2012.  I sense some travel in my future… because in 2011, I also FINALLY got a passport.  Yeah, I have no clue how that never happened before, but now it’s time for some stamps!

5.  Embracing the New

This past year has brought so much new into my life… new demands, new people, new interests.  And I am welcoming it in and trusting that who and what are meant to stick will and that everyone and everything else will provide the lesson meant to be learned and then become a part of my past.

If you know me, you know that’s kind of revolutionary in my way of thinking.  Because new isn’t always my favorite thing.  But this influx of energy and experiences has been so important to me this year, giving me chances to be there for others, to find out how can I payback some of the kindness that’s been given to me, to enjoy the strength of some new shoulders to lean on when I need them, and to broaden my universe through the relationships that have come my way.

 

There’s a promise of a lot new to come in 2012… beloved nephews who are now old enough to drive, a niece who owns a wedding dress and is eyeing a “Mrs” at the front of her name, and another staffing season looms.  So thanks, 2011, for all that you brought to the party.

2012… what you got for me?

 

Once, an acquaintance of mine overheard me telling someone a story about my favorite football coach.  When I was finished, she asked, “how exactly does someone end up with a favorite coach?”

I explained to her that football is one of the true deep loves of my life, and that while I admired many players and had a few beloved teams, yes, I did have a favorite coach because he’d not only changed the way I looked at the game, he’d changed the way I look at my life as a person and as a writer.

Tony Dungy is a man who lives in faith, and I respect him immensely for it even if my own relationship with it can best be described as “rocky” and “under construction.”  But he’s one of those people who walks the talk that comes out of his mouth, and as such, he coached both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Indianapolis Colts in the manner in which he lived… quietly, thoughtfully, earning respect by giving it, and by instilling a sense of discipline in those around him.

He didn’t scream at people to get them to do what he wanted, he didn’t curse at officials or badmouth management, even when he had good reason.  In fact, there were times I kind of wanted to see him lose it, but just when you’d think Coach was finally going to lay into a player who was putting self ahead of team — one of the biggest sins you can commit in Dungy football — he’d just get this look of utter disappointment on his face.

And his players would tell us in interview after interview… disappointing Coach Dungy was the one thing you never wanted to do.  I remember one player saying he begged coach to yell at him after getting into some off-field trouble, but that calm voice remained steady, and the player said he’d never felt worse in his life.

I’ve often posted on Facebook after an episode of “Friday Night Lights” where fictional coach Eric Taylor was especially awesome that every kid should have a Coach Taylor.

Every kid should have a Coach Dungy, too.

Coach had lost his job in Tampa for not having the killer instinct, but found a job in Indy because Jim Irsay wanted a man to lead the Colts on and off the field, and he more than got his money’s worth.  And still those rumblings began again, because every year it seemed the Colts just had to finally be ready to win it all and then every year, they came up short.  So there it was… Dungy will never get them to the Super Bowl… Dungy’s too conservative… too nice.  Dungy doesn’t have the killer instinct…

Then the world reminded us there were more important things than trophies and win-loss columns.

When James Dungy took his own life at 18, Colts fans mourned with the Dungy family as best we could, but we all knew that they were facing a tragedy we couldn’t even begin to imagine.  And yet there Coach stood, delivering a eulogy for his son that celebrated the gift of the 18 years they’d received with James, and somehow lifting up everyone around him on what was surely one of the most difficult days of his life.

And then Coach went back to work, and the Colts didn’t make it to the Super Bowl.  In years past, that would’ve left me cussing out my television and hating on whoever had beaten them, wishing them defeat at someone’s hands so they could get what they had coming.  But in January of 2006, when the Colts went home, it felt like a relief… Coach could be with his family, the players had time to grieve the kid they’d known so well, and we could all just take a moment to hope that everyone left behind who had loved James would be okay.

The next year, Coach Dungy returned to his team, and the Colts returned to the playoffs.  But there was no week off in the 2006-2007 playoffs, no dominance that screamed the Colts were a shoe-in for the AFC title game.  First there was a wild card game against Kansas City; then the Baltimore Ravens, who routinely made it their life’s work to beat Peyton Manning to a pulp, but somehow… a win; and then… the New England Patriots, who lived to destroy the Colts’ playoff dreams.

The Colts were behind the majority of the game, and I couldn’t imagine that the team and the fans had come this far to not make it to the promised land once again.  My heart ached a little at the thought of watching Coach Dungy have to shake hands from the losing sideline again… not after he’d come back, not after what his family had sacrificed for him to have another shot at the big game.  And then one of my closest friends, who is also a huge football fanatic, said to me, “Just have a little faith.  You know they can do it.”

So I had a little faith… and just said over and over again, “they can do it.”

And they did.

Now I’m not trying to take any credit for that… no magical thinking here.  What was more important was the reminder from my friend.  The Colts had done everything the way they believed was right for them… they had followed Coach Dungy’s lead, held firm to their philosophy of how to win, and they had earned that win with every second of hard work they’d put in all year… in all the years since Dungy had come to Indy… through that final whistle.

Their belief was rewarded even bigger on February 4, 2007, when the Colts took home the Lombardi trophy and made Tony Dungy a Super Bowl winning coach.

And what in the world, you ask, does all this have to do with me, my life, or writing?  Well, it has to do with what I learned by watching Coach Dungy walk through his coaching life back from his assistant days with the Minnesota Vikings, which is where I first became acquainted with his coaching philosophy.  You don’t have to be the loudest, you don’t have to ignore everything else in your life except the job, you don’t have to listen when people tell you that you have to change who you are to get where you want to go if you’re sure who you are is the best person you can be.  You can instead keep working and moving forward and doing what you believe in your soul to be right.  And even if it takes a little longer… it will still get you to where you wanted to be all along.

This last year of my life has been filled with more excitement and optimism and more stress and disappointment than any year I’ve lived so far.  I like to think of it as the featured roller coaster in “Niceole Land,” and the ride is poised to continue.

But when it starts to feel like… well, like the downs are little more frequent than the ups… I think about Coach Dungy and how he got to where he wanted to be by doing the things he believed in his soul to be right.

It might take a little longer… but I’ll get there.  And I’ll still be me when it happens.

If you want to read something both entertaining and full of inspiration, pick up “Quiet Strength” by Tony Dungy.

As far as I can tell, everyone I know has been victimized by what I like to call “mom’s favorite phrase.”  Of course, most of us have a different one to relate… a mom’s response to how you dress (You’re really wearing that?) or how you do your hair (Did you see that on some TV show and think it looked good?) or that thing she says that makes it seem like she lives to embarrass you (Oh, I know she doesn’t like it, but I’m her mama, so I get to call her “baby doll” no matter how old she is.)

My mother’s favorite phrase is guaranteed to lift my shoulders to my ears, tense up my neck, and make me clench my teeth.  “I could be dead by… (insert necessary time frame here).”

–We try to plan a visit to my brother’s family in the fall.  “But I could be dead by October.”

–I invite her to spend Mother’s Day with me in the city.  “But I could be dead by that weekend.”

–A friend invites her on a road trip to Nevada.  “Well, she wants to go in April, but I could be dead by April.”

Why is that the phrase I wish I could get some higher power to permanently ban from usage where my mother is concerned?  Well, because frankly, I don’t like to be reminded that there will be a day when she will be dead by…  I know it’s inevitable, I know it’s the way things are supposed to work, but really, who wants to think about that?

She gets mad at me every time I remind her she’s not allowed to say that to me, and tells me that I take everything she says too seriously.  I’m sure that’s true to some extent.  She is, after all, the person who could pronounce a death sentence over my social life for days, week, and months at a time for an 18-year period of my life… I learned to take what my mother said very seriously during those 18 years.  And I know that what she really means is, “yes, let’s make plans, but just know that things can change and don’t get mad at me if they do.”

Recently, though, I’ve had a new thought about the dreaded “dead by” phrase.  And I think it’s bothered me my whole life not just because every time she says it, an image conjures of a world without my mother in it, but because those words have always sounded like a reason not to do things… not to make plans or chase a dream.  Instead of hearing it the way she meant it, I heard, “why bother?”

As I worked on my pilot “Thin Air” and as I struggle through the outline for my latest, I’ve realized that’s the question that interests me most about all my characters.  Why bother?  Why would I bother to write them?  Why would you bother to watch them?  What is it that makes them say “to hell with that, buy the plane tickets and let’s make the plans”?  And what makes them shake their heads and say “why bother”?  Exploring those issues with my detectives in “Thin Air” and with the driven and yet incredibly vulnerable McKellar family in the “in progress” script has led to whole blocks of writing time spent self-debating why a son comes home to a father he no longer believes in and why a daughter can’t begin her future until she confronts the worst moment of her past.  It’s finding those answers that reminds me, I’d do this every day for the rest of my life, even if no one ever paid me (but really, someone should pay me!)

As it turns out, for all my moaning and groaning about it, even when my mom says IT, she usually gives in and makes the plans.  Oh, there’s a lot of bitching and me having to plead and sometimes get a little snippy, but we usually end up on the plane to my brother’s, or she comes to the big city for a week of shopping and running around crazy with yours truly, or she accepts her friend’s invitation and goes on the road trip, which leads to her annoyance when I tell her to remember to call when she gets where she’s going (Since when do I have to call you?  I am the mama here).

Because sure… things can change, plans can blow up, and the risks… oh, torturous!  Technically, she’s right.  She could… we all could be dead by… but making the plans… making the plans means we hope we’ll still be here… which is why I like to think she always ends up making them.

And you know what she never says it about?  She never says it about the day she gets to see “written by Niceole Levy” on her TV screen.  She has definite plans to be here for that.  And I’m plotting away at this laptop, doing my best to deliver.

 Let’s make the plans!