I know, I know, people are tired of hearing me harp on this – but seriously, if you’re still trying to break into TV as a writer, you should have at least one current spec that’s ready to go if someone asks you for one. Why? Because sometimes having that to prove you know how to do the job you’re trying to get – mimicking someone else’s style and voice – can make the difference between who gets the gig when it comes down to “you and one other person.” Or you might run into showrunners who insist on specs at the staff writer level. Yes – that happens.

I know your reps may be telling you no one reads them – but sometimes people do. And in this highly competitive business – have EVERY tool available to keep someone from saying no to you.

So… one current spec. Always on hand.

And if you’ve never written one – please, PLEASE write one. Because as stated above – it’s the actual job you want. So practice.

So then the question comes – but what do I spec? There’s too much TV and no one watches everything and so how do I know what to write?

Fair – and I hear you. So I took the WB Fellowship list as a starting point, polled some writers to see what they thought I should add or delete – and voila! A LIST!

I used to be the girl who watched everything – I watch much less now. But honestly, there were maybe five shows total on this list that I had to look up to see what they were. Most of them I (and many showrunners) would know well enough that we get the tone and style of the show. So anything on this list for the 2022-2023 time period should work.

New stuff will come out – but remember, first-season shows are tricky. If they’re not already renewed for S2, you may get a very short bang for your buck. So try to pick something that feels like it will stick around. It’s fine to pick a limited series or a show in its final season – just know the same applies: you get less of a shelf life from that.

And yes, there are shows not on this list – and yes, you can spec them. These are suggestions to help narrow a very large field, but the first rule of writing a spec is “spec what you love.” So if you love something not on this list, and you really want to spec it… spec it.

And one last piece of advice – if you’ve never written a show with act breaks (you know, a broadcast or basic cable show) – may I recommend doing a spec episode of one of those shows? With all the major platforms going to ad-supported tiers, knowing how to craft an act break into a commercial might come in handy.

Okay – enough preaching. Here’s the list. Write, write, write! And HAVE FUN! (I tried to delete all the stuff that has been canceled or ended recently. If I missed one, apologies.)



Abbott Elementary

American Dad
Big Mouth
Bob’s Burgers
Bob Hearts Abishola
Call Me Kat
Dead to Me
Emily In Paris
Family Guy

Girls 5 Eva

Harley Quinn

How I Met Your Father

Master of None

Mythic Quest
Never Have I Ever
Only Murders In The Building
Paradise P.D.
Reservation Dogs
Rick & Morty
Russian Doll
Search Party
Sex Lives of College Girls

South Park

Star Trek: Lower Decks
Ted Lasso

The Connors
The Goldbergs
The Neighborhood
The Other Two
The Righteous Gemstones
The Wonder Years
We Are Lady Parts
What We Do in the Shadows

Young Rock
Young Sheldon



9-1-1 Lone Star
A Million Little Things
All American
All Rise


Bosch: Legacy
Cobra Kai
David Makes Man
Doom Patrol
For All Mankind
Ginny & Georgia
Gossip Girl
Grey’s Anatomy

House of the Dragon

Interview with a Vampire

Ms. Marvel
Nancy Drew
New Amsterdam

Our Flag Means Death
P Valley

Perry Mason

Power: Book II, III, or IV
Queen Sugar

Sex Education
Shadow & Bone

Star Trek: Discovery

Star Trek: Picard

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds


Station 19
Stranger Things
Superman & Lois
Sweet Tooth
The Boys
The Chi
The Crown
The Flash
The Flight Attendant
The Good Doctor
The Good Fight
The Great
The Handmaid’s Tale

The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power

The Mandalorian
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
The Morning Show
The Resident

The Rookie
The Umbrella Academy
The Wheel of Time

The White Lotus

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan

Wu Tang: An American Saga


At a certain point in my career, I needed a sample to submit for an animated project. And I got some scripts from friends of mine to read and study and thought about writing a spec episode of the version of the animated Avengers that was on at the moment… but then I got this idea… and I couldn’t ignore it.

As you probably know if you have read my TV posts or follow me on social media, I am a huge Marvel/MCU fan and especially a devoted “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” fan. So I decided to take my idea, tie in the things I love most in the Marvel universe, and write an animated pilot.

Been thinking a lot about it lately… about how much I loved writing it, how much it still pleases me that it exists, even if no one is ever going to let me make it or pay me for it. I also think about how hilarious it is that I ended up using magic in it when I had gone on several rants in my writers’ room about why I have issues with magic in stories.

So I decided to post it here. If it’s your thing and you enjoy it… excellent! If it’s not or you do not enjoy it… well, I get that. I don’t love *every* Marvel thing either. Almost… but not quite.

So anyway, here is S.H.I.E.L.D. ACADEMY — as written by yours truly with all the love I have in my heart for the marvel that is MARVEL. 🙂

An update on Mama Levy

November 26, 2020

I’ve been wanting to write an update on Mom for a while now, because a lot has happened since my last post. But it’s been hard. Even before the world became consumed by COVID-19 and the fight for racial justice, it was hard. Because the truth of my mother’s life is that there will never be truly good news. She’s not going to get better. Not going to be cured.  We all know how her story ends, it’s just the details that have yet to fill in and take us to a “the end.”

But there are good moments. Even if they don’t always feel like truly good moments. Clarity is good.  Mom getting the right treatment is good. Her being safe is good. But all of that is almost always wrapped up in a heaping dose of bad.

Mom moved into her assisted living facility in January of 2019.  And for a while, things had a decent rhythm. We had a phone put in her room. Sometimes when she heard my voice, she was full of that rage I had gotten used to, convinced that somehow this was all my fault, certain that I had conspired to take her away from her home and lock her away.  Sometimes she was happy to hear from me. It was hard on me, but I understood that was the disease, not my mother. And it helped that she still had some joys.  My brother’s visits, which often included treats – she loves a doughnut — and sometimes meant lunches out at her favorite spot: Five Guys. She was always happy to receive a gift in the mail, even if it came from me.

It took a few months, but her anger toward me began to dissipate and then finally disappeared. Mostly, that meant she didn’t remember she was mad at me. But that was one memory I was okay with her losing. And when I flew east and went to visit her, she seemed genuinely happy to see me.

But her anger was still a problem generally. She’d get upset and say she was leaving the facility and tried a few times to walk out. So the facility staff became concerned. They suggested that maybe it was time for Mom to swap to a room in the memory care unit. We made the decision that they were right, even though we were reluctant. Mom’s personality was still so her, and the idea of her having even less freedom was hard to take. But her safety won out. And her level of care was becoming more demanding. That was undeniable. So the move to memory care was the right choice. I flew back once again, we picked out her new room, and made arrangements for the move. Thankfully it went smoothly… she has her bed, her baby doll, and her TV… really all she needs to be happy.

Then I had to go to Europe for two months for work. Which meant I was further from her than I’ve ever been in my life. I worried constantly that something might happen that meant I needed to rush back. And the times when my brother had to call with hard updates were incredibly difficult. Not so much because of the distance, but because I knew that even if I was there, standing right by her, there wasn’t much I could do to help.

The biggest news, the hardest thing to hear, also helped her. Which is the weird yin and yang of dealing with Alzheimer’s and Dementia related illnesses.

So what was it? Mom’s diagnosis changed. A doctor who finally gave her the care and attention we’d been hoping for since this started told us she has Lewy Body Dementia, not Alzheimer’s. With a side of Parkinson’s thrown in. The diagnosis made her symptoms that almost fit Alzheimer’s but not quite make sense – her delusions, her physical issues, including a stooped neck that looked so painful it made me cry, and the increasingly bad hand tremor that had left her nearly unable to feed herself.

The diagnosis also made the years before fall into sharper focus. That time my mom stopped speaking to me because she thought I owed her forty thousand dollars? A delusion, triggered by the LBD. So many of the fantastical or nonsensical things she relayed before we realized she was sick now made perfect sense… the doctors trying to steal her blood for experiments, the friends who were plotting against her, and all the terrible stories she made up about me and told her neighbors (which thankfully they never believed).

Per the new diagnosis, the doctor changed Mom’s medications. And something incredible happened. It was one of those “good news wrapped in bad” moments. Because yes, her diagnosis meant she was in worse shape than we’d even suspected. But it also meant proper treatment. My mother’s neck stoop all but disappeared. Her hand calmed down enough for her to feed herself again. And her emotional state evened out to a place where she was the most her she’d been since all this started.

We knew the improvements were temporary, because all of these illnesses are insidious bastards stealing our loved ones away one memory at a time. But it was lovely to see her regain some of herself after months of watching her fade away.

Of course, there’s always the bad of these things… and like I said, this was no exception. If we’re right about when my Mom’s illness began, based on her behaviors, she’s reaching the final year or two of the life expectancy with LBD after onset. So… *sighs* there’s that. But who knows? As stubborn as Mama Levy is, she’s going to live longer just to prove the doctors wrong.

When I saw her for Christmas last year, it was bittersweet. It was the happiest she’d been to see me since she moved to the east coast. And she remembered me – told someone I was her daughter even when I wasn’t in her sight line to give her a visual reminder. And she laughed. And smiled. And loved her presents. Especially the treats. I made her sweet potato pie bars and peanut butter cookies. She loved them. And my heart was overjoyed that I could still make her so happy. But there’s always the leaving. Leaving her breaks my heart. It will always hurt that I am not the one caring for her. I know that’s best for both of us. I know she’s getting patient care from people who understand her illness in a way I never will. But leaving her is devastating. Partly because I just want to be with her. Partly because I never know when I’ll become a stranger to her in between my visits and video calls.

In March, the movie that I co-wrote premiered in Memphis. And I had a cryfest over the fact that Mom not only couldn’t be there but didn’t even really understand what was happening when my brother and I told her.  So I took a picture of her and my father with me.  Carried it in my purse.  I know they’d both be so proud of me. If he was still here. If she was still herself. But that’s not how this story worked out and no one’s letting me rewrite it.

My brother went with me instead. Shared the moment. And it was so incredible to have him at my side.

I talked to Mom not long after. She asked me when I was coming to see her. So I started looking at flights. I had promised her more peanut butter cookies, after all.  And I always keep my promises.

And then COVID-19 changed everyone’s plans.

We have been incredibly lucky so far. My mom’s facility locked down early, and to the point of my writing this, they’ve only had two COVID cases. The staff was great about arranging video calls so I could see Mom and chat with her but staffing changes have made it more difficult as time has gone on. And of course, the illness makes it more difficult, too. Mom’s only good for about five minutes max on a video call, but it’s five minutes more than I would have without the call, so I take every minute and cherish it. But it’s obvious that she’s getting less lucid. I’m not sure if it’s just the inevitable shift or if not having us there in person to see her is making things move faster. But she can still laugh. Still say “I love you, too, Baby,” at the end of our calls.

I’ve learned to be grateful for moments and words and smiles and laughs. Every one of them matters.

Especially because the thing I feared most finally happened… one day they put me on a video call with her, and Mom didn’t know who I was. It was so obvious, and it tore my heart in two… but I had to keep it together and not break down because it would’ve upset her. So I smiled and kept trying to make her laugh and then ended the call. That’s when I saw the date… and realized it was the anniversary of my father’s dead.

My mom forgot me on the day my father died. Sometimes I want to punch the universe in its big, fat, stupid, unfair face.

It seems to have just been a bad day. She’s recognized me since… fussed at me… and she celebrated a birthday complete with a socially distanced visit from my brother and presents from me. But I have no idea when I’ll get to see her again in person.  When I can hug her and tell her how much I love her while my arms are tight around her. And that’s terrifying.

I worry every day that the phone might ring. That she’ll be sick… from COVID or the inevitable physical consequences of her illness.  That she fell somewhere and needs surgery.  That she just didn’t wake up.

I live for the idea of seeing her again. And I know there’s a very real chance it may never happen.

But I hope.  I hope for her.  For me.  I hope that I’ll get to see her do her little happy dance when she bites into one of my homemade cookies and feel her skin when I hold her hand, and that I’ll see that beautiful flicker of recognition in her eyes when she remembers who I am.

I hope.  Because there’s literally nothing else I can do.

Hey, writer peeps!

While I was moving some files onto my external drive, I decided to see if, by some miracle, I could find my applications from the years I got into the CBS Writers Mentoring Program and NBC’s Writers on the Verge.  And shockingly — I found them.

I’m not sure if this is remotely helpful or not, but I know the letters/statements of interest and the essay questions are often people’s biggest concern. So what follows is my letter of interest for the CBS program and my essay questions for WOTV. If you find some guidance here that helps you along the way, fabulous. I am not correcting anything — so forgive any typos or poor grammar.

And good luck to you all!

CBS Letter (2010):

As a female writer of color, it’s been encouraging to see both my gender and my ethnic group represented more onscreen and behind the scenes.  My ability to broaden that presence comes from a diverse life experience.  I grew up in a small town, but moved to the city to put myself through college. I’ve worked in jobs as generic as hotel operator and as intense as police dispatcher.  I come from a military family of Southern descent but was raised in California because my father wanted his kids to experience more freedoms than he’d grown up with.  It’s these elements of my history that I try to weave together to create stories that resonate for me as a 21st century woman.

One fascinating aspect of TV writing is the relationship that develops between writer and audience as a show progresses through weeks and seasons.  My motivation to study writing came directly from the impact shows like “Hill Street Blues” and “thirtysomething” had on me, and it’s my hope to someday have that same effect on viewers through my writing.  I feel that a tour with the CBS Writing mentors would allow me to put a final polish on my work and to become another flourishing representative of what a strong and capable woman of color can do in the writers’ room.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

WOTV essay questions (2011):

1. What from your background do you bring to the table as a writer that provides a
fresh perspective in your storytelling?

When I think of what I bring to my writing that is unique to my experiences, there are two main things that come to mind. One is my own experience growing up in a very racially and religiously diverse family. When we moved to my father’s last military posting at China Lake Naval Weapons Center in the middle of the Mojave Desert, there wasn’t any other family in town that looked like mine. Over time that changed, but in those early years, that sense of being so different, even amongst the ethnic group I was identified with, gave me a strong desire to write material that not only shows what diversity looks like, but also peels away the facades we put up to hide what being different in any way really feels like.

Later, after moving to Los Angeles, my years working in law enforcement and post my own involvement, sharing stories with my friends and relatives that still work on the job, I gained a very personal insight into the impact that crime has not just on the victim, but on the family of the victim, and on the people who are pulled into the aftermath, be they sworn officers, civilian personnel or volunteers exposed to some of the ugliest things people can do to one another. I try to maintain that awareness whenever I write projects involving crime or disaster and the aftereffects.

2. What television show most inspired you to become a television writer and why?

The list of television shows I’ve watched is almost too long to be admitted in public, but of all the different dramas I’ve been a fan of, the one that most fueled my desire to write television was “NYPD Blue.”

The story arc of Andy Sipowicz was one of the most compelling character studies I’ve seen, and his transformation from alcoholic racist on the verge of losing his career to a compassionate, sober husband and father, and a respected leader of his precinct was a years-long roller coaster that exemplified the kind of involving storytelling I strive for. Along with Andy’s ever-evolving story, we were invited to view every aspect of life at the 15th precinct, where things could be hopeless one week and touched by the possibility of hope the next, where the cops, lawyers, victims, and perpetrators who walked through the doors could be simultaneously heroic, human, evil, and yearning for redemption.

A scene in which Andy relates a horrifying story about a murdered child to his fiancée Sylvia always comes to mind when I think of “Blue.” It was a one scene out of hundreds, and yet it was moving as he tried to explain to her why his faith had been destroyed and how she had given a little of it back. Those are the moments I think make a great show, and it’s that level of complexity I hope to achieve every time I begin a new piece.


So it’s official.

“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is ending after season seven.

I mean, I figured – I work in TV. I know how to spot the signs. And I’m immensely grateful to have gotten past that emotional but “felt oh so final” finale of Season five when I thought it really was “The End” and gotten more time with my favorite crew of government secret agents.

The good news – we’re still three episodes away from the end of season six – and we don’t officially lose our Agents until next year when the final season airs.

But for the men and women who have made this show day in and day out for seven seasons – the end is coming soon. They’re filming their final episode. And then it’ll be time to say goodbye.

So first, I just wanted to say this…

THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I was not a true believer as I freely admit (mostly because my friends know and will call me on it if I try to front). Despite the involvement of writers I respected and talent I adored (have you seen me swoon over Ming-Na Wen? Because it happens – a lot)… I wasn’t sure I believed this new “Marvel TV” experiment would work. But I really wanted it to. And then I didn’t love it. Not at first. And I walked away like so many other frustrated viewers.

But then a few good friends of mine (take your fanboy bows here, Steve and Phil) convinced me to try again. “Just start with episode 13. If you have questions, we’ll fill you in. But I really think you’ll love it now.”

So I watched episode 1×13.


Melinda May being a total badass, making moon eyes at Phil Coulson? Fitz and Simmons suddenly more than the baby agents I wasn’t sure I loved early on? The cool twisty villain turns I’d craved?

Yep, I was hooked. It was all over.

By then the big OMGWHAT episode that followed “Captain America: Winter Soldier” had aired, so I watched all the available eps on demand. And that was that.

I was in. Thrilled beyond belief that Ward was a bad guy (because he was way more fun as a bad guy,) loving Skye growing up into a more mature young woman because she finally had a family. And did I mention the Coulson and May heart eyes, because… WHAT?!

After that, my love was true and unshakeable. People love to tease me about how much I love this show, and my response to the naysayers is: “I’m sorry. It’s not my fault you don’t know what’s good.”

And the cast just kept winning with great adds… Adrianne Palicki, BJ Britt, Henry Simmons (DO YOU SEE MY HEART EYES RIGHT NOW?!), Nick Blood, Blair Underwood (HEART EYES, AGAIN!) Jason O’Mara (MORE HEART EYES)… I mean, it just goes on and on, and they’ve all been so great.

And if you heard a very loud, joyful, ridiculously gleeful scream when Mike Peterson hero strolled onto the base in the 100th episode – that was DEFINITELY me.

Not that this show hasn’t routinely ripped my heart out. Oh, so many times… but in all the best ways. Even just recently, when Daisy (formerly Skye for those who don’t keep up and missed the name change) ran over and grabbed Melinda May’s hand when they thought they might die? I mean… I am powerless not to feel my heart swell at that mother/daughter moment?! (And May is 100% her mom. I don’t care who gave birth to her, okay?!)

It has always peeved me a bit that somehow the remarkably stunning diversity of this show has gotten the short shrift in the media. The theme of the show has always felt, to me, that “anyone in the world can be a hero” and they’ve reflected that in their choices of heroes: men and women of all ages, women of color, men of color, a gay inhuman with badass powers… and the stories about people who feel the need to attack “others” have always reflected the moral fiber of the Marvel universe to perfection: we protect the “others” because we are all living beings and we deserve to be treated the same.

Also… this show gave me Melinda May to admire – someone who’d been through unspeakable tragedy and yet opened herself up to loving this crazy, mixed-up family she put together to protect Coulson. (P.S. — a testament to the little things, when “Nat” showed up on Melinda May’s call history? Fangirl freakout: May and Black Widow are friends!)

And it gave me a host of flawed, all-too-human heroic beings who sometimes failed — and worse, sometimes gave into their worst instincts – only to find their way back to the person they wanted to be and the family they couldn’t leave behind.

And maybe, emotionally, more than anything, I want to thank AOS for always bringing that same beautiful theme that made me fall in love with the Marvel MCU, starting with “Ironman”: no matter its problems, the world is worth saving.

But maybe most importantly, I need to thank AOS for teaching this then baby writer how to enjoy the ride. The writers, producers, cast, and crew have been incredibly generous with their time on social media, at conventions, and anytime I have encountered them in public. They have shared the love and fun they had making their show with all of us who enjoyed watching it – and that is a lesson I take with me into a future without this group cracking wise on Twitter and making me laugh on Instagram.

When Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premiered, no one knew if Marvel TV would be a thing that made it and lasted. And someone had to go first – so also, I thank them for being the start of something that led me to “Cloak & Dagger” and one of the best jobs any nerdgirl fangirl writer could ever ask for. I got a piece of that joyous work experience on our show, and I treasure it like a gift someone picked out especially for me.

So THANK YOU – to everyone who has written words, marked marks, set up cameras, fed the set, hung lights, ran errands, edited footage, killed it on the special effects, figured out how to blow things up on a network budget, touched up make up, fixed some hair, designed a costume, dressed a set, dreamed up a set… and on and on and on.

Your work was loved. You will be missed. And I hope your AOS memories are wonderful for a lifetime.

<lifts a shot glass to you all>


The Story of Mom

February 27, 2019

A/N — This isn’t about writing. This is about what was going on the past two years while I kept writing — and ultimately, I guess, how words help us writers process our grief in ways nothing else ever will.

The Story of Mom

By Niceole R. Levy – a daughter

I’m in the bathroom, doing my hair. And like she often does, Mom wanders back to tell me something. This time, she has a hat in her hands. A black Stetson she wanted for years, which I bought her six months ago for Mother’s Day. She holds it up, smiling so wide.

“Did you see what my baby got me?”

I laugh. She’s famous for her weird mix ups of names and people, so I laugh and say, “You mean what I got you?”

The look on her face makes me want to cry, but I can’t. I have to keep smiling and hold it together, because in that moment, I can tell my mother is terrified. So as gently as I can, without any fear or anger in my voice, I say, “Mom. Do you know who I am right now?”


And just like that, the world shifts on its axis.

The bigger world, of course, had shifted months earlier – when Barack Obama packed up and left the White House and the new resident ran through worrisome to upsetting to terrifying in less than a year. And in the year since that fateful day, the world has felt like a dumpster fire in a lot of ways – and I’ve tried, really hard, to say engaged with it all. To fight. To care. To encourage people doing more than that in any way I can.

But I’m not going to lie. The part of the world that holds most of my attention is the human being who gave me life, raised me, and is – more quickly than I can handle – disappearing.

Looking back now, we (my brother and I) can see that it was happening for years before. Things that didn’t make sense except that, on her best day, my mother can be described as difficult, so we often just chalked the weird up to her being her.

Like when she stopped speaking to me for two weeks, then yelled at me about owing her $40,000 (I didn’t) that she loaned to me for college (she didn’t), and how dare I buy my first home without even offering to pay her back.

I told her I’d write her a check, and that stopped her ranting. She didn’t want my money. It was the principle. Which I reminded her wasn’t a real thing because she never made me that loan and had she, I would’ve paid it back. She got over it. We moved on.

Like her making up stories about how close she was to her estranged sister before my aunt died. Which I knew was not true because I had gone online, at my mother’s request, to try to find my aunt so she could reach out after years of them not speaking to each other.

By the time we were able to locate some of my cousins, it turned out my aunt had passed away. But in my mother’s head, she and my aunt were exchanging weekly phone calls and were so close before my aunt died. And when I challenged that notion, Mom got so angry she almost made me leave her house.

Like the hundred other things we dismissed as “Mom being Mom” – pretending my father wasn’t an alcoholic, making up interactions with people, ranting about politics in a way that seemed unreasonable at best, obsessing about money, imagining conspiracies everywhere she looked. And on. And on. And on. And… well, you get the idea.

I took my mother to her family doctor in the hopes of getting some help. What I found out was that she had been skipping doctor appointments for at least a year. That she was not taking her medications. And that, as was evident from looking at her, she had lost 40 pounds. She kept saying it was because she was exercising, but it was clear after being around her for several days the real issue was – Mom was just forgetting to eat.

This was the beginning of the next phase of our lives as a family – the phase where we beg people for help and don’t get it.

I involved my older brother immediately – sending him photos of her, updating him on her condition, logging unpaid bills we needed to take care of. Meanwhile, her doctor refused to give her situation more of a name beyond “likely dementia.” She wanted a neurologist to diagnose my mother. She needed blood work to figure out if my mom was taking her meds or not. She needed follow-up visits.

So I planned multiple weekend trips home to take my mom to these appointments. Because that’s what I do. I’m the kid who stayed relatively close and, for at least 13 years, has been the center of her universe. Mother’s Day, her birthday, some portion of the holidays – she got them all, along with some random visits just to say hi or do some errands or housework for her that needed doing.

It seemed manageable on some level. A nurse was assigned by the hospital to coordinate my mom’s visits and help get her to the appointments if I couldn’t be there. Our neighbor – a godsend of a woman who likes my mom – kept an eye on her and let me know if a situation was extremely worrisome. My oldest friend, who lives in town, volunteered for drop-in visits and helped keep groceries in the house because even though Mom would tell you she was driving to the store and to church – her car hadn’t left the driveway in months.

Then, Mom took me off her medical permissions with the doctor.

To say this ripped my heart out is an understatement. It felt mean and angry. It felt purposeful. But it was, I realized later, a factor of the check-in nurse asking if the information on file was still current and some made up story in my mom’s head casting me as her villain who kept making her go to doctors. So she took me off and the doctor and nurse were no longer able to speak to me.

I was powerless beyond asking people to drop in and help her.

My brother took over, growing as frustrated as me by the day because the system is not built to help you get a sick elderly parent declared incompetent. The system is there to protect the parent – and I get it. There are shitty people in the world who want to take advantage of old people who are losing their memories. But that isn’t us – and no one seems to care.

And that’s when the next phase of this story began for me. Because that 13 years of being the center of Mom’s world – it came back to bite me on the ass. Because who else was there for her to blame? To be angry with? To make up stories about – for stealing her money, for taking things out of her house, for telling people she was crazy, etc.?

Who was there to hate besides me?

I understand that the woman who says those things about me, who feels those things, is not my mother. She’s the person with a damaged brain who lives in my mother’s body. But they come out of my Mom’s mouth in my Mom’s voice. They still hurt.

But nothing was worse – nothing at all – than having to pick up the phone and call Adult Protective Services on my own mother because I was that desperate to get some kind of legal intervention to keep her safe.

It turned out to be just another thing for her to hate me for. They don’t tell you, of course, who called in the report, but my Mom’s sick not stupid – she knew. And she railed about me to our neighbor. It also did zero to help us because Mom isn’t walking around with open sores and we kept enough food in the house that the social worker decided she was “fine for now.”

Because my mother is a child of her generation and buys into the whole patriarchy mentality of “men run the family,” she let my brother take her to the neurologist. Who said her “likely dementia” was really Alzheimer’s, and my mother couldn’t live alone anymore.

Duh! That part we knew.

Now we just needed someone to help us make sure she wasn’t living alone anymore.

I wish someone had told us, “Good luck with that.” Because it feels like luck is the only thing that’s going to help us. We’re still in a never-ending circle of doctors, a lawyer, and a system that keeps telling us, “No, you need to go to this place, not that one.” We’re still struggling with the shifting sands of my mother’s memory and the rage her condition triggers. Some days, she adores us. Some days, she hates us so deeply that she locks herself away in her room and won’t come out. Some days, there are glimpses of the woman who raised us. But mostly there is just the steep, long decline of someone deeply loved who can no longer understand what love is.

The day my phone rang with news that my father had died suddenly from a massive heart attack, my soul shattered so completely – so brutally – that I really thought, “nothing in the world could ever be worse than this.” It was so unfair. The suddenness. Not getting to say good-bye. Being so far away. Needing five more minutes with him and knowing I would never get it.

I was certain it was the worst thing that would ever happen to me.

I was wrong. So sadly and dreadfully wrong. Because this is worse. Watching my Mom lack comprehension of how sick she is, lash out at us for trying to keep her safe, and listening to this smart, funny woman turn into a confused old lady who speaks in loops and twisted circles of words and memory and made-up stories, knowing there is ultimately nothing we can do to save her…

This is worse.


She loves me today.

This summer, we managed to get Mom on a plane to “visit” family on the east coast. We, of course, knew the visit was really a permanent move. It wasn’t the first option I wanted to choose, but it was the one that we had to settle on. I wanted her in a care facility close to me, but I’m alone in the city, sometimes working 12-hour days. My brother and his wife have a house where Mom can have her own room and bathroom and that’s large enough to accommodate having a care giver, because that time isn’t far off. The time when she can’t live with any of us is probably bearing down on us like a semi-truck. But we’re trying to ignore the lights in the rear-view mirror.

Mom blames me for the entire move, of course. She’s ranted more than once to the family about how I interfered with her doctors and told people she was nuts and how dare we all gang up on her and make her do what we want her to do just because Niceole said so.

This week, my brother and his wife had to travel, so I’m here with my mom. I took a freelance writing assignment so I’d have work to keep me busy just in case she refused to speak to me the entire week. (I’m on hiatus from the TV show I work on, which is the only reason I could come here at all). And I’ve been able to cook for her and visit with her and still get all my work done even though, to my great surprise and relief, she’s seemed mostly happy to see me.

I mean, the first ten minutes were her lecturing me about how I am the worst daughter who ever lived for taking away her choices and forcing her to do what I say. But then I made her baked apple French toast and gave her a new nightgown and bought a cute Halloween outfit for her baby doll (more on that in a minute), and then today… today she just was happy to have me. I spent the better part of the day just listening to her talk – weaving stories that don’t make a lot of sense but amuse her – so even when they break my heart, I listen and “mm-hmm” and nod and laugh because she needs me to.

And I didn’t say anything mean or dismissive about her baby because that’s become counterproductive – so when she went and put on the new outfit I brought for the doll, even though it was too big, it felt like she was trying to give me something. And I’m taking it – a win is a win in this situation, however small it might be.

She started carrying the doll around for comfort several years ago. We thought it was weird, but she kept saying, “I know it’s not real. It just makes me feel better.” So okay… I refused to hold it or kiss it or talk to it, but I tried not to be judgy when she did all of the above.

Then it got worse. The story changed. She’d owned this doll for a while now – I remember when she ordered it. She owns several – has a regular collection of them. But then one day she made up this story about having the doll specially made. That she sent a picture of my dead aunt as a baby to the doll company, and they made the doll custom. That it cost a thousand dollars. And she started calling the doll by my dead aunt’s name.

Warning bells all over. But also – Mom is just kind of nuts. This is a woman who once threatened to hit me with a cast iron skillet because she didn’t like how I talked to her. So, you know, volatile and kind of wacky. I was worried but tried not to overreact. She was still taking good care of herself. Paying her bills. Going to church. So it seemed fine. Not worth fighting over.

Between Mother’s Day and November 13th of last year (the second date is her birthday, so home for a visit again) – everything changed. My mom stopped going to church. Or to the store. Stopped driving altogether. Stopped paying her bills. She forgot how her cell phone worked and stopped answering it. She would prep food to cook it then forget about it and let it go bad. And after years of constantly talking about all the cleaning she had to do in her house, she stopped doing any – and the clean home I’d grown up in turned into a trash dump.

And that damn doll became a symbol of how much my Mom had changed.

The first time she insisted on taking it out in public, I thought I would crawl into a hole and die. I mean… embarrassing as hell, right? But she wouldn’t leave the house without it, and I was home for Mother’s Day yet again. I had stayed in my hometown an extra four hours just to take her to church and dinner before I left. So I let her take the doll. Because it was the only way to get her out the door. And I wanted to be a good daughter and celebrate with her, but man, I was tired of having the same three conversations on a loop, and I wanted to be done and get in the car and drive home.

Then I watched people react to her and her doll as we stood in the vestibule of the church.

When I was seven, my mom had pneumonia and wasn’t supposed to get out of bed, but I was prepping for my first communion (a big step on my path to being a super fallen Catholic.) So Mom got out of bed and took me to mass – a requirement every Sunday until our big day. But she was so sick. Hacking and running a fever. She stayed in the vestibule so she wouldn’t disturb everyone. And my mom was sick… so I stayed with her. I could hear the whole mass from there.

When our new priest – a dude I couldn’t stand already because he was a pompous ass – made a snarky remark to my mom later about keeping me from going inside properly for mass, I told him to go to hell. Right there in the vestibule of the church. And I never felt an ounce of remorse for it.

If you knew me as a kid, you know my mom was mean. The meanest mom in the world as far as I was concerned. (So totally not – but kid perspective is limited). But when my friends slipped up and commented on how mean she was, I was ready to kick someone’s ass. That’s MY mom. Nobody gets to talk shit about her but me.

So yeah, this priest snarked my mom, and I told him to go to hell. And the school suggested to my parents that I not re-enroll. I smiled all the way back to public school for third grade.

Standing there in the vestibule again in May of this year, my mom clutching that doll for dear life, seeing the reactions people had to her and her baby, I wanted to scream. I wanted to tell them that my mom was sick and to stop gawking at her. I wanted to tell the God and saints that are supposed to protect Catholics how damn unfair it is that my mother had become this sad woman who couldn’t feel safe without a toy in her arms.

I wanted to go back in time, to the first moment my gut said “something is wrong” and do something… anything… that might keep that day from ever happening.

My brother and I have lamented in depth about the window we missed… to get her to make a plan for what she wanted in her old age; to have a real conversation with her about what was going to happen if she started to deteriorate; to let her have some say in her future.

Because that’s done now. She hates it. Hates me for it most of the time. But she can’t make her own decisions anymore, about hardly anything. And it’s terrible. And I wish it wasn’t true. But it is.

I came here on this visit with one thing I had to do… I had to say to her, out loud, “everything that’s happening is happening because I love you more than anything else in the world, and I have to make sure you’re safe.”

I said it. I’m not sure if she heard it in a way that mattered.

But today she loved me. Even if she wasn’t always sure who I was.

The fear that it’s the last time… that she’ll know me, that she’ll remember she loves me… runs deeper than I can say. I’ll probably see her in a few months for Christmas or New Year’s. Will she still know who I am then? I don’t know. Things are happening faster now – she barely changes clothes or leaves her room anymore, and simple things are becoming impossible.

I snuck upstairs to write this. To get a break from how hard I had to fight all day not to cry. She came looking for me. Wanted to be sure I was safe – “all the doors and windows locked up there?” I went back down, walked all the doors with her downstairs, kissed her goodnight, and told her I loved her.

“I love you, too, baby.”

I have to leave her tomorrow. It’s going to nearly kill me.

But today she loved me. So I’m going to try to hold on to that. To remember it. For both of us.


“Call me when you get there.”

That’s what she said as she hugged me good-bye.

For a few seconds, my mom was there, treating me like her baby… worried about me traveling out in the world alone.

Tomorrow she won’t remember I was even in the house.

But today she was here. For a moment.


It’s my birthday.

I managed to get all my work done so I could take the day off – just do whatever. That ended up being shopping for some stuff for my house so I could go all Martha Stewart in the guest room and buying a new pair of shoes that I don’t need but really want.

But mid-day my mood just… sunk. Went straight from okay to shitty in about a minute and I couldn’t figure out why.

I tried to ignore it. Returned some calls, talked to some friends – figured out that my Facebook settings were still set to super strict private because of a blow up with a former friend (hence all those messenger happy bdays, which I couldn’t figure out).

But still so grumpy. So I took a walk. Cleared my head. Listened to the iPod playlist that usually helps me think up solutions to story problems.

That’s when I figured it out.

It’s my birthday. But my mom doesn’t remember.

That broke my soul open a little.

But the truth is, it’s better for her. Because my birthday has made her sad ever since my dad died. Even though she tried to pretend. For my sake. Because my birthday is his birthday, too.

“Daddy’s girl right from the start,” she always says.

Or she used to. When she could remember.

So it’s my birthday and my mom doesn’t remember. But she also doesn’t remember to be sad because it’s my dad’s birthday and she misses him desperately.

So that has to be enough.

Happy birthday to me.


I’m not sure I’ve ever missed someone as much as I miss her.

Which is crazy, because she’s still alive, but of course – she’s also gone.

The mom who I could argue with and tease and sass – she’s left behind a woman whose confusion I manage, whose feelings I validate, whose anger I take.


It’s her birthday today.

I sent her a cake because Mom loves sweets and things really don’t matter to her anymore beyond the gowns she wears all day long and the baby doll she can’t live without.

She managed a five-minute phone call – and was generally in a good mood.

It’s the first time I haven’t been with her to celebrate her birthday in so long, I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t.

Maybe not always on the day – because jobs – but always in the vicinity. Lunch. Errands. Watching a movie she loves that I hate (Hello, Easter Parade!)… it’s been our thing.

But the most I could do was send her a cake. Lemon – which she loves. And tell her I loved her.

And wonder if next year, she’ll even know what a birthday is.


They had to call the police on my mom today.

She’s been aggressive. Violent. Screaming and terrorizing everyone around her. So they called the police, and now she’s in an emergency room 3,000 miles away from me, and I can do exactly nothing to help.

She’s so angry. And so scared. And so confused.

This illness is… a nightmare.

My mom wasn’t a perfect mom by any stretch. Sometimes she wasn’t even a good one. But she deserved better than this… for her mind to turn against her and to see enemies in all the people who are trying to love her and help her.

We all deserved better than this.

Fuck you, Alzheimer’s. Fuck everything about you.


Today is Thanksgiving, and my mom spent the day with strangers in a hospital where she’s being evaluated to see what can be done to help manage her moods and the progression of her illness.

I called and wasn’t sure she’d speak to me on the phone, but she’s shifted all of her anger at me for everything to my brother for putting her in the hospital, and so for once, I’m not the villain of her story.

She’s still scared. Still angry. But she was calmer than usual when she’s in those states – so maybe something they’re doing is helping her.

But being so far away from her… I can’t even begin to describe how hard it is. Even if all I could have done was sit with her at the hospital for an hour during visiting and watch TV with her…

But I can’t be. I have career things going on that demand I be here – and I’ll see her in a month for Christmas. And yet I have no idea what that’ll mean… will she be home, more willing to let us all take care of her? Will she be in a facility where I have to visit during mandated hours? Will she know it’s Christmas?

And as always, there’s the big one… will she remember me?

Halfway through our five-minute conversation, Mom had to confirm that it was me she was talking to. And it took everything I had not to fall apart. But then I reassured her it was, and there was enough of her there, present in her mind, to give me a little shit.

Me: “I made a homemade sweet potato pie today.”

Mom: “Well, how does that help me? You’re not here.”

Me: “I wanted to try it first, but I’ll make one for you at Christmas when I come visit.”

Mom: “We’ll see.”

We’ll see… that’s our life now.

We’ll see if she can come home or has to be in a care facility.

We’ll see how long she remembers the people she loves.

We’ll see how much more my heart can break before this is all over.


I can’t remember how old I was when my mom had my Christmas stocking made. Probably around 7 or so because she was working at the community college when I was in grade school, and one of the women there made it. I loved it – a white stocking with red stripes – it looked like a candy cane, which I loved!

Then I saw the name she’d had put on it. Not Niceole, or even Nicky (which you better never call me to my face unless you changed my diaper or I changed yours), or Nic (which is always fine). No, it was the nickname she liked – POO. Not even spelled with an “h” like the adorable bear.

I didn’t want to hang it up, but everyone in my family called me that horrible nickname, and so up it went. And year after year, up it went. I’m staring at it right now because it’s up in my house hanging from the mantle. Despite how much I hated that nickname.

It’s one of the only tangible things I have from Christmases past. The stocking, my mother’s china, which we used to use at Christmas till one of the plates got broken – then we were barred from touching it until I packed it up and brought it home with me. The china’s not very useful yet since I don’t host big family dinners – so the stocking’s the thing that speaks of home and the past and the little girl who believed in Santa Claus until she got nosy and went and found her gifts early.

I wonder if she’d remember it. If I took the stocking at Christmas this year – or just showed her a picture — would Mom remember it? Or would it just be another thing that’s slipped away through one of the growing holes in her memory?

She spent three weeks in the hospital and the doctors finished all their tests and got her on meds and recommended we find a facility for her because living at home with my brother only brings out her most combative qualities. So we’re in the process of vetting places — I’m not sure if she’ll be in one by the time I get there for Christmas or if it’ll be something that happens after I leave. I just know it’s happening, with me doing what I can from here – while she’s there, without me.

The one thing my mom never, ever wanted was for us to think of her as a burden. And she isn’t. Never. Because she’s my mom. But the fear and pain around what’s happening to her – that’s a burden. It weighs me down and makes it hard not to cry when I wrap her Christmas gift and hope she’ll be able to enjoy the holiday. And then I laugh because, my mom enjoying the holiday would be something new.

Not a single Christmas in my life passed without my mother angry. At something that went wrong with dinner. At people being late. At how someone reacted to their gifts. At my dad, my sister, my brother, my sister-in-law, me… I mean, always angry.

It’s easy to remember the anger. Hers, and eventually mine when she refused to come spend the holidays with me anymore, even though she knew I couldn’t spend them in our house without my dad there. Or the fights we had over her traveling with me to the east coast to see our family – blowouts that I won sometimes and lost others. The trips were torture for me… all her bad attributes made worse by being out of her home, on a plane, and feeling like I was telling her what to do all the time. (I was, and it turns out, I had to – but at the time, I thought she was just being difficult and trying to make my life abject misery.)

But there was good, too. Things I don’t remember well because I was a kid more obsessed with presents than moments. And things that stand out. Wonderful dinners. Her letting me make the cake for the first time and being so proud of how it came out. Teasing my Aunt Joan, who then cut off all the edges of my cake because that was her favorite part. Making potato salad at 2 a.m. because she didn’t want to go to sleep in case she slept too late and didn’t get the turkey in.

Then I grew up. And I started appreciating moments more than presents. How you need to hold on to them. I remember more of those than I expected…

Like the year I was so poor that I couldn’t buy gifts for my family, so I made them, and my mom acted like the homemade poem/picture combo was the greatest gift she’d ever seen.

The time I couldn’t come home for the Christmas and my mom cried when I called because she missed me so much.

The year I scraped together fifty bucks to buy my parents a new custom painted mailbox because my mom kept complaining about how ugly hers was. She made my dad go put it up the next day.

And the year I found some of her favorite Abbott & Costello movies on DVD and we watched them all.

Her weird obsession with the books in the “Mandingo” series and how I spent hours on Amazon finding them all so she could read every single one. Which she did, more than once.

The smile on her face when I got her a new turntable and replaced her beloved Mario Lanza album, the original long ago warped by the intense desert heat of my hometown. (I didn’t look for it, but I know this one, too, is now a mangled mess because she kept forgetting to turn on the cooler and the unbearable heat in the house sealed its fate).

This year, I am, strangely, hoping for some of her anger. That when she sees the nightgown I bought her, she says something flip like, “you know I don’t only wear gowns, right?” (because I bought her one right before her birthday, too.)

She kind of does only wear nightgowns – but I’d love for her to be a little offended by it all the same.

Maybe she’ll be annoyed I didn’t make her favorite cookie.

Or get fussy about how we won’t let her watch what she wants to watch (although my brother’s house is an endless marathon of Hallmark Holiday movies, so I might be the one grousing about that.)

And maybe I won’t show her a picture of the stocking that says “POO” that’s hanging from my mantle.

Because then I can pretend she remembers it. At least for a little while longer.


I wish I could tell you it was a magical Christmas. That we got a miracle and Mom was Mom and we had one last, good holiday with her at home with the whole family.

It was definitely not that. It was… so hard. So devastating. And it left me feeling gutted.

One of the things I wasn’t prepared for is how Alzheimer’s is less a long, slow descent and more an insane roller coaster where your loved one experiences extreme highs and lows – plateaus in a spot just long enough for you to catch your breath – then dives into one of those terrifying drops (or slams into a loop) that seems to catapult them to the next level of the disease.

Every time I would go visit my mother, once I knew something was wrong, it would be to see the new damage inflicted… how she went from being a little forgetful and paranoid to not wanting to drive and making up details of her life to fit the thoughts in her head. To seeing my once heavily security conscious mother become a person who’d let strangers in the house to change equipment she owned and paid for then not remember saying it was okay.

The changes in her personality – in her behavior – and in her spirit were always obvious. Always stark. Always heartbreaking.

Over the last 48 hours, we endured one of those seismic shifts. After weeks of wandering the house at will, defiantly packing and repacking her suitcase over and over, declaring she was going home, and in general being a version of the difficult human we’ve always known her to be, Mom became frail, hunched over, and so tentative when she walks, you worry she’ll fall at any moment. She struggles to get up from chairs or her bed. And she’s scared. So terribly, terribly scared.

I had to beg her to look me in the eye today while she sat in the bathroom, shivering, with me and my niece trying to get her into the shower so we could help her get cleaned up after what feels like the first of many incidents to come. (My niece is an amazing human being, by the way. A trained nurse, I watched her care for my mom today the way she cares for her patients, and if your loved one is ever in her unit, then you’re blessed).

I had to ask her at least three times to look me in the eye. She was terrified to get in the shower – afraid she’d fall even though I’d bought her a stool to sit on. And I promised her that I loved her and I would never let anything bad happen to her. That she’d be safe. That I wouldn’t let her fall, no matter what.

She finally gave in. She let my niece clean her up while I ran around grabbing shampoo and towels and getting her gown ready. And today nothing bad happened to her.

But all the bad things are happening to her. That’s the truth of it. As much as I promise in the moment, there is nothing I can do to hold the terrible that’s coming at bay.

I gave her the nightgown, by the way. The one from my earlier passage that I hoped she might tease me about buying. At first, she barely registered it. And then when I showed it to her after she tossed it aside, she really paid attention to it and loved it. And then an hour later, in her room, she didn’t remember that she’d ever seen it.

Everything today at our family Christmas celebration today felt a little final. It may not be. Tomorrow, my brother and I are going to pick out her room at the assisted living facility she’s moving in to next month. They say we can come get her for days at home. But by next Christmas, will we really be able to do that? There’s no way to know, of course. No way to predict this horrendous disease. If the last 48 hours… last six months… last two years is any indication, we’ll be lucky if she knows what Christmas is next year, let alone is well enough to come home with us for the day to celebrate.

But there was this one lovely moment today that I’ll hold on to forever.

Seeing her great grandchildren has been very stressful to her. Partly because small rambunctious children agitate her, and partly because she can’t keep straight who they are – or who their parents are. But today, after the nightmare of the accident and the shower and the terror I heard in her voice and saw in her eyes, Mom came out of her room. And she saw my two-year-old nephew Jackson… and she lit up. She said hello to him and actually tried to pick him up (we were nearby to assist her) and had a few moments where she truly enjoyed one of the tiny humans who are the center of our family’s world.

I got a picture of Jackson listening while his Great Grandma explained something to him that probably didn’t make any sense, but he’s two, so what does he know about sense and logic and coherence in a story? He’s probably Mom’s dream audience.

Neither of them will remember it. But I will.

When I read, then saw “Prince of Tides” years ago, I was so torn apart by the idea of Tom having to be his sister Savannah’s memory because she was too fragile to hold on to the traumas that were tearing her apart. But he held all of it. Good and bad. And helped bring her back from the brink.

If only I could be my Mom’s memory. If only, by way of me, she could hold on to the stories we told around the table today or to the memories of the Christmases we spent with my dad or even the long-ago thoughts of herself as a girl with her four sisters and her parents in a New Orleans living room, tearing open wrapping paper.

I’d carry all of it if I could. If it would help her. If it meant she could feel the happiness of those memories just a little longer.

Yet all I can do is carry my own. That way, no matter what this godforsaken disease does to her mind, she’ll never really disappear completely.

But my god… do I miss her.


We picked the room. The walls are blue – she likes blue. And we found her a chair that’s comfortable but easier for her to get out of than the recliner she’s been using at my brother’s house. And we made a list of all the things she needs: two sets of bed linens, towels, a shower curtain, a phone, extra blankets, a bathroom rug, table lamp, water resistant mattress pad, cushioned mattress topper.

It feels a little like getting a kid ready to go to college – but that’s all about the future. About what’s to come. And this is about the end… making her comfortable until her brain completely fails her and takes away the last shreds of who my mom is… and then ends her life.

Some part of me dreads when those little traces of Mom disappear forever.

Some part of me wonders if it’s more merciful to wish them away so that the flashes of recognition and fear of what’s happening to her go away. Let her be in a place where the degradation of her condition and the horrible reality that she can no longer make any choices for herself is something she is blissfully unaware of – so that maybe the end of all this will be peaceful in some way to her.

Watching her disappear is hard.

Watching her struggle is awful.

Watching her be afraid is the thing that will haunt me, always.


I talked to her today for the first time in nearly a month. Why it took so long is an infuriating, boring story and frankly, I don’t have it in me… a lot of red tape and hospital logistics and getting used to a new assisted living facility and their rules.

But I talked to her today. And she sounded like… her. The UTI that made it seem like she was fading so quickly at the holidays has been treated and her movement and personality are back to… well, where they were before the day they weren’t.

She seems to be adjusting well. Likes her room. I think we were right, that being in a space that feels like hers without us there to tell her what to do is helping. And hopefully she’ll get into a good routine, and once she gets her phone in her room, it’ll be easier to talk to her.

But something’s changed forever – something I’m struggling to come to terms with.

She doesn’t need me anymore.

After decades of my being the center of her world – and her being all-important to mine because I knew I had to be there for her – she doesn’t need me anymore.

“My remote doesn’t work” – she called me.

“I want this book. Order it for me.” – she called me.

“I miss your dad.” – she called me.

Every Mother’s Day and birthday for a lifetime – some portion of every holiday period, no matter how much I didn’t want to go to Ridgecrest, or she didn’t want to come to LA or travel with me – they were spent together. And now she’s 3,000 miles away and I’ll see her maybe two, three times a year – at best.

And the phone calls. Multiple times per week for years. Then the last few, once a week, because she started getting angry about me checking up on her, so I couldn’t call too much.

Now a month can go by without me hearing the sound of her voice – and I don’t know what to do with that.

She’ll get the phone. It’ll be easier. But some days, she’ll be in that place where she hates me – remembers that this is all my fault (because I told everyone she was crazy, remember?) and on those days, she’ll hang up on me. Or not even answer the phone.

And some days, she’ll answer and talk a few minutes before she decides she’s done and says good-bye.

I always tell her I love her before we hang up. She says it back. But I’m not sure she knows it’s me she’s saying it to when the words come.

But yeah — she doesn’t need me anymore.

Not in the ways she used to, at least.

Not in ways she knows.

But I know. I know I have to remember. The days we loved each other. The days we hated each other. The ones where we did both. The way she wagged her finger at me when I was in trouble, and how she was ready to tear down anyone or anything that hurt me or made me cry.

That time she did surgery on my toy poodle’s paw – and cut up a sock to bandage him and took such good care of him even though all she ever did was complain about what a pain in the ass he was.

Watching her refuse to let the grandkids win at Sorry. Or sitting on the floor with them for hours, playing Barbies. Making paper dolls and cutting up old fabric to outfit the kids’ dollhouse.

The glee when I finally – FINALLY – got a job as a writer and I called to tell her.

The way she wanted to write an angry letter to my network when they canceled the shows I worked on – but that she loved.

The first time I took Miss Ellie to her house – and she was so sweet and good to my dog after I was scared she’d be mean, because she’d tell you any time she could how much she didn’t like our pets and didn’t want them in her home.

Her joy over every gift I ever gave her – homemade or carefully hunted down after she told me once she wanted something. Every single time, you’d have thought I gave her a diamond.

The way my father looked at her, on the days when they still liked each other, and made each other laugh.

The way she missed him when he was gone.

When I was five and had the worst stomach flu ever, and my dad wanted me to go back to school – and then I threw up all over him. But then mom came to my rescue – cleaned me up, changed my sheets – and never let my dad forget that he was wrong.

How I couldn’t wait – COULD NOT WAIT – to get away from her, and then still had to call her every few days once I moved away from home, because what else was I supposed to do?

The first year I couldn’t come home for Christmas, when she cried on the phone because I wasn’t there.

The “gas money” she shoved in my hand every time I visited, long after I really needed it.

I’ll remember that she was my mom – until time and this horrible, unfair illness stole her ability to be my mom. And that all the mistakes she made came from human frailty. Because despite my surety when I was young that she was somehow this larger than life, indestructible force of nature – she was just a person, with wounds and pain she carried with her every day.

As much as I will always hate what’s happening to her, I hope the silver lining is that the wounds and the pain are all disappearing first – that those memories are the ones seeping through the cracks. Leaving some room for the peaceful, happy, joyful, loving memories to stretch – spread their wings, and take up the space, and give her more of the things she never had enough of in her life.

I hope the last thing she forgets is my dad. That maybe somehow, the stubbornness she swears I got from him (she lies, it was both of them) will let him hold on, refusing to leave her memory until he’s the last thought she has before she goes.



Writing this has been excruciating… every time, when I get to the end of a segment, no matter how long or short, there are tears streaming down my face. I have learned not to fight them because if I try to hold them inside, it just wastes energy I don’t have. Because learning to say good-bye to my mom is taking every bit of strength I have inside me.

I have a pretty deep supply of strong, though – she made sure of that. Not necessarily in ways I will remember fondly – but that were, undeniably, successful.

Anyway, this hurts. A lot. More than I ever thought writing about it would. So I’m not sure I’m going to write anymore. Not here. Not in this way. Not about her.

She’s in everything I write, though. Every piece has a piece of her. Maybe just an attitude in a character. Or a line of dialogue. One of her funny Southern sayings that people never believe are real. Maybe a whole big messy slice of our history.

But she’s in everything. She always will be.

That’s how I’ll remember you, Mom. Always.


I’ve done a lot of posts about TV writing. But this is a post about the before… the writing I did when I was still learning how to write TV and hoping someone would pay me to do it someday.

Before I even knew it had a name I was writing fanfic. I filled notebooks with stories about my favorite characters from soap operas and prime-time shows, weaving the stories I wanted to see that had never been told by the writers who made me fall in love with said shows.

Once I learned what fanfic was officially called (from an article about the “Star Trek” fandom) well, then I knew that I was writing it. And thanks to the Internet, I had a way to post it and see if other people liked it. To my great surprise, some folks did, and so I kept writing it. And writing it. And writing it.

Oh, did I ever keep writing it.

I wrote a lot of other things, of course – because when you want to be a TV writer, you have very specific things you must be writing, like TV specs and pilots. Lots of TV specs and pilots. But whenever I got stuck or frustrated or just couldn’t make myself stare at a script page for another second, there was always fanfic to go back to.

My first big fandom was “The Pretender.” I was all about some Jarod and Miss Parker and if Steve and Craig were going to hold out on me FOREVER (I love you guys, but for real!), then I was going to write a hundred different scenarios wherein my favorite genius and my favorite badass ended up together.

Next, there was “General Hospital.” In truth, GH was technically first because I hand wrote a ton of stories in those notebooks about GH (Brenda Barrett epics, y’all) that have long since met their end during one of my mom’s spring cleaning frenzies. But in my official days as a fanfic writer, GH took up a lot of my time. A LOT of my time. I wrote mostly Sonny and Alexis fics, but also Cassadine family stories and more Brenda stories (Brenda and Jason, you guys… BRASON FOREVER!) – and then there was my other favorite Alexis pairing – Alexis and Jax. There are all kinds of other random little stories and one shots of things that caught my attention, but 90% of it is easily Sonny and Alexis.

And then there came my deep dive into the “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice” fandom. I consider them one and the same because I got into both shows for the same reason – one Addison Montgomery, legendary kickass surgeon in Jimmy Choos. I wrote Addison winning Derek Shepherd back. I wrote her making it work with Mark Sloan. I wrote her falling for Alex Karev. I wrote her with Pete and with Sam and with Wyatt and Noah. I even wrote her with Burke and the bomb guy (yes, The Kyle Chandler bomb guy.) Because Addison was this amazing woman who just wanted to be forgiven for not being perfect. And really… isn’t that what we all want?

There are for sure some other random stories from other fandoms, but these were the ones that sucked up the majority of my time.

When I became a working TV writer, I pulled all my fanfic down where I was able to because I was worried people would think it was weird or cheesy. Would think I was too much of a fangirl to be taken seriously. And then one day I mentioned it casually to another writer who admitted she had written some fic, too — and she was impressed with the sheer volume of stories I had written. And then I started talking about it more, and finally what the reaction I really got from people was “That’s so cool! I bet you learned a lot doing that” I stopped acting like it was a secret shame — and the truth is, I really did learn a lot from writing all those stories.

— I learned how to write for my whole audience. There are characters in my fics that are characters I absolutely hated on the show, but I couldn’t write them like I hated them. I had to write them for the people who watch the shows. Not to say that there aren’t a few fics in my collection where I didn’t take a swipe or two, but I quickly learned that meant I was alienating some readers. So to the best of my ability, I tried to write those characters fairly. And it was a great lesson. Because any writer who writes TV who tells you they love every character they’ve ever written equally is lying to you. Sometimes there are just a few who don’t resonate for you the same way as others. But you have to write them for the audience that loves your show. That’s your job. So practicing that in fanfic came in very handy.

— I learned that I have a type when it comes to the female characters that often pull my attention the most on a show – tough as nails, often deeply misunderstood, with demons that lead them to make painful mistakes, but who will sacrifice themselves in a heartbeat for someone they love. This is pretty evident in my pilots. They are script worlds built around women that definitely fit the description above.

— I learned a lot about problem solving. I wrote one of my most popular fanfics on a regular schedule… posted a chapter every Friday or Saturday night over a couple of months. In this particular fandom, friends would message me asking when I was going to be ready to post… so the pressure was pretty intense. And if I was stuck on a story point or a line of dialogue, well… the clock was ticking. So I learned a bit about something being “good enough” to meet a deadline. How not to be too precious with every last word and just get the damn thing done. Because that’s a lot of what TV writing is… just getting it done. You want it to be good – great – brilliant, always, but sometimes it is literally just about turning it around to get a script distributed by a certain time – so “good enough” has to do.

In my most recent writers room, several conversations about my fanfic writing led to a declaration that I should repost it all. Then I looked at how much I have. Guys, I’d need to hire an assistant just to post fanfic if all of it was getting reposted, so that is probably not happening. But I will post some of my greatest hits here on the blog as I have time to assemble them.

But here is what I’m not going to do as I repost these stories:

— I am not going to rewrite them. Not even proofing them. You get them as is, typos, formatting issues, and all. Because the point isn’t to pretend like they aren’t chock full of mistakes. The point is that I wrote and kept writing and got better as I did, and that’s why they’re still worth something to me. Each of these stories is a building block to the writer I have become, so whatever they are or were, they have value to me. The mistakes are part of that. My need to make a proofing pass just to see if I used the same word too many times in a script? I figured out that bad habit writing fanfic. And the subtle difference between reusing a line or phrase for effect and just being repetitive? I learned that from writing fanfic, too. So other than copying and pasting separate chapters into one PDF file, you’re getting what the original readers got.

— I am not going to shy away from things that, looking back now, make me roll my eyes at myself. You will see that baby writer Niceole loved her some cliched phrases like “Make love to me” and “You are the love of my life” and so on and so on. Some of my “love scenes” are so trashy romance novel in style that I honestly should have probably tried to write a romance or two back in the day… and my obsession with happy endings is rarely disrupted (though I did write a “Pretender” story once that had people ready to yell at me because it most definitely did not have a happy ending).

— I am not going to change the ridiculously pretentious names of some of these fics. Oy! I have learned a lot about titles since way back, let me tell you. But they are called what they’re called, so… laugh away.

With those rules in place, here’s the first fic I’m reposting – the Destiny Series. It’s a very early one from my “Pretender” days, set just after the season three finale when Miss Parker got shot and I had a lot of time over the summer to obsess about what should happen when the show came back. For those who don’t remember, season three was basically the season of massive Miss Parker heartbreak because she fell in love with Thomas Gates, and then he got murdered, and then she got shot by Willie Gault, and basically my girl couldn’t catch a break.

It’s long, y’all. Most of them will be. So if you’re brave or curious enough… the file is attached.

More to come…

Destiny Series Whole File

A wonderful writer I know, Ken LaZebnik, who helped found the MFA in TV and Screenwriting at Stephens College, invited me to speak at the graduate level commencement ceremony that would mark the culmination of the program’s first class. I had met these students during their first year, speaking on a panel, and I accepted the chance to celebrate their major accomplishment with them. It was an extra-special opportunity to share some of my personal experiences as a female working in the entertainment business at Stephens, which is an all-women’s college (though the master’s program does admit men as well).

As you’ll see in the text below, I found the task of coming up with something to say a bit daunting at first. And I was a nervous wreck when speech time came! But I was moved by the response of the students and so grateful to be a part of their shared experience, and I will always be happy I made the trip to Columbia, MO, for that beautiful day in May.

A few people have asked to read the speech, so I finally just decided to post it here… for what it’s worth to anyone else who might find some use in it.

Congratulations again to the Stephens graduates. They are going to do the world proud!


Hello. Congratulations to all of you, and thank you for letting me be a part of this important day in your lives.  I’ll be honest – when I was invited to give this speech my first thought was, “am I grown-up enough to tell anyone anything about what comes next?” I mean, my collection of Marvel Pop figures and comics and my obsession with “Agents of SHIELD,” would make you argue that I definitely am not. And I was a little afraid when I sat down to write this, feeling an intense doubt that I had anything to say that might matter to you.

As a writer by trade, my career-centered fear often manifests itself in “oh, no, what if I have nothing to write this time!” When I am in that place, I take the advice a good friend gave me… remind yourself you’ve done it before. So I re-read a blog I posted, hoping to inspire new writers the way others have inspired me. I happened upon this bit I had written and knew I wanted to share it with you.  It was meant to give some perspective to diverse writers… but the truth is, it applies to women, in all workplaces, just as perfectly.

In fact, in my industry, where there is so much talk about bringing diversity in front of and behind the camera, the truth is… being a woman has always been a bigger deal than my being black. If you don’t believe it, look at how few female showrunners and directors there are in TV. That is a sad state of reality in many industries, not just entertainment. Wrestling with that reality and your response to it is something you can’t avoid as you embark on your careers. And so this is the thing I wrote, for what it’s worth:

You will meet people who will see you as less than, who will think you only got the job because you fill a quota. They won’t know anything about you… they won’t know about how you worked graveyard shifts to put yourself through college and how you took responsibility for and pay thousands of dollars in student loans because your education was that important to you…

they won’t know that you wrote till 3 a.m. on weeknights and all weekend long around day jobs because that was all the time you had and you knew you had to write to be a writer… they won’t know about the twelve specs and six pilots and the dozen short stories you wrote to prepare yourself when opportunity came…

they won’t know about the literally thousands of pages you wrote that no one will ever see because they were never about making money. Their value was in making you a better writer. They won’t know these things about you… but you will. And you will show them that you earned your job by being the best you that you can be… by proving that you belong, no matter what they think. (That’s the end of the thing).

I wish I could stand here and tell you that your gender won’t matter. But it will. There is this thing I refer to as the “assumption of greatness” that follows most men into the workplace. “He got the job; of course he can do it.”

But for women, it’s somehow always a pleasant surprise when we’re amazing at the jobs we were hired to do. Have you been there? Where you could almost see the thought bubble over someone’s head thinking, “Wow, you’re pretty great at this for a girl”?  I know I have.

So as infuriating as it is, your gender will matter. Your race will matter. It’s okay to be angry about it. But you should also embrace it. Accept it. Then be who you are. Be the person that you are in the deepest levels of your gut and your heart.

Be the person your soul aches to be.

And know that most of what you need to be that person and live in her skin – those are the same tools you’ve used to get to this day, right here… graduating with a degree that you worked your butts off to get despite every obstacle that tried to derail you.

I came from a military family. Spent years surrounded by the sailors and soldiers who made up my parents’ circle of friends. Some of what I learned was about following orders and the importance of doing your duty. But I also picked up invaluable lessons in reading a room, understanding people, and how to be myself even in a situation where my views or opinions are not always welcome.

I learned to tell the difference between someone testing me with a pointed comment and someone truly targeting me with malice. I learned when I needed to fight back and when I won by just shrugging and walking away. And I learned a hell of a lot about football. That never hurts.  Nothing announces your presence in a room like reminding everyone you probably know more about football than most of the men. It’s how I stay true to myself, stand up for myself, while still being part of the group I want to belong to.

Whether you mean to follow me into a writers’ room or head into business or dive into the hard work of helping families, your task is to find out what you can do to stay true to yourself when things get hard.

Then do that.

It sounds ridiculously simple, but it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It took time and trial and error… but I learned to live in my own skin. To not take everything personally and to worry more about what I think about me than what everyone else does.

My family couldn’t afford to help me through college at USC, and to keep a roof over my head — and to do something that felt a little more important and inspiring than answering phones in an office — I got a gig as a police dispatcher, working graveyard shifts to put myself through the ridiculously expensive but totally amazing school of my dreams.

Police dispatcher. Random job of random jobs for an aspiring writer, without doubt. It’s less random if I tell you my cousin was a cop and thought my ability to stay calm in a crisis would make me great at it. He was right. I was pretty great at it. And sitting in front of that radio taught me more about the power of words than anything I’ve ever written.

“Male, possibly intoxicated, talking to passersby.” “Man behaving erratically on a public street.” Two completely different ways to describe the same call that can change the entire tone of the police response.

I became immersed in a world where the words I chose could literally mean the difference between life and death for a citizen, a suspect, or my officers. It was a heady, huge responsibility. But the perspective those years gave me was a gift. In all my jobs since, when tensions are high and people are worried about deadlines and failure and money and whether someone’s going to get fired, I am the person who says, “hey, guys… I know this is important. I know we’re all stressed. But no one’s gonna die. So let’s take a breath and figure it out.” It doesn’t end the crisis, but those words usually stir the air just enough for us to get back on task, look at the problem with fresh eyes, and find a solution without giving ourselves an ulcer.

Most of you won’t have to live through high-octane police radio calls… but you do have perspective to draw on when you need it. What did you have to say to yourselves over the past few years when a deadline was looming and your project was only half done? What did you say to your friends when they encountered the same crisis?

Whatever those words are, you know them already. They will make you the calm in the storm. They will help you stay focused when the people around you start to spin. They will help you get through a day that feels impossible. So know yourself. Know what you need to hear or say to move forward. And never forget it.

I really wish I could tell you that you’re leaving fear of failure behind you with this huge achievement. Oh, how I wish I could tell you that. Instead, I want to tell you… it’s okay to be afraid. Be afraid you’ll fail. Be afraid you aren’t good enough. Fear isn’t something to run away from.

I just started work on my fifth TV show. It’s a job I spent four years campaigning for and working toward. And then I got it. And I was elated. I had worked impossibly hard for this opportunity, and it paid off. It was pure joy. For about a day. Then I immediately felt that gnawing worry that shows up every time I have a first day of work with a new showrunner who is putting their faith in me… “holy crap, can I really do this?”

The answer is, of course I can. I have documented proof. But I never want to believe my own press. Call it being humble or wanting to stay grounded. I find that constant need to prove myself is my friend. It keeps me from thinking I know it all. That I don’t need to work hard. That I should stop studying or learning.

Your version of that fear will come for you. But this… being here today… that’s your documented evidence that you can do it. Most of you balanced work and school or family and school or family, work, AND school to complete your degrees. You have already done what felt impossible. Conquered that fear. So let it motivate you going forward.

But if it ever starts to become a burden… tell fear how awesome you are… and to take a seat, because you’ve got this.

So the big ideas I’ve danced through today are: be who you were meant to be in the world, remember your strengths by reminding yourself of the victories that got you to where you are, and don’t be afraid to be afraid. Now there’s one more. Something I think every woman especially, but every person in general, has to know as they move through the world – at work, in your relationships, in life: know where your line in the sand is.

There will be moments when you can’t let something roll off your back, where an unfairness has to be addressed, where you must speak up because you won’t be able to live with yourself if you don’t.

That’s your line in the sand.

It may be a boss or a fellow employee or a client pushing you there. And sometimes you can’t walk away. You have to say “enough”. Sometimes a fight is worth fighting.

You are the only person who can decide that.

We all have things we can take and things we can’t let go. That’s being human. And you don’t forfeit your right to be a person because you have ambition and want to succeed. You especially do not forfeit it because you’re a woman and the system tells us to smile and play nice to get ahead.

I am a mama bear by nature. And I have reached my line in the sand as a working woman a few times. Usually because an untenable situation is affecting the people around me… my co-workers, my teammates, my friends. Those are usually the fights I choose to fight.

I do it knowing there will be consequences… because there are always consequences. But there will be times when what’s right is worth that risk.  And I implore you to be the kind of people who are willing to choose your battles and fight them.

Ninety-nine times you may say this is not a hill I want to die on. That’s your choice to make. But when the idea of letting something go seems worse than anything you might face for speaking your mind… be courageous enough to speak your mind. Because it is the only way anything ever gets better.

It is the way we slowly tear down those myths about how women should behave in the workplace. In the world. It’s how we destroy the idea that a woman should apologize for demanding her worth be acknowledged or for occupying her space when someone else wants to crowd her out.

You’re all here because you believe you can do something in this world. And you already know a truth crucially important to your success. You have a right to it. Not because you’re entitled. Because you’re willing to work, sacrifice and fight for it. You’ve earned the right to succeed. You will keep earning it.

But you’ll have days where you forget that you deserve success. Days you are afraid and think the fight to climb the ladder is too hard.

I hope on those days you will remember today, when you celebrated this huge accomplishment and some crazy writer from Los Angeles crashed your party and stood in front of you and told you to go out and be who you are in the world – be you proudly, strongly, hilariously, wondrously, and loudly. Be you.

Now go show the world you’re ready for what comes next.

Find your brave

November 14, 2016

The world got turned upside down this week, and most of the people I know and love are reeling. The fear of seeing all that has been fought so hard for being undone is too real… and the reality of racism and sexism and hatred of the other surging in our country is terrifying and frustrating and disheartening.

I feel all of that. And I am so tired of having to be the bigger person… of having to work twice as hard to be thought of as almost as good (whether it’s about my race or my gender or both)… and then having to find a way to get along with the people who think that way… and the message this country just sent to me is – too bad, be ready to work even harder, because your other-ness offends me.

I’m sickened at the thought of people I love being targeted because of their name, their sexual orientation, the color of their skin, or their religion.

I’m scared.

I have friends who are marching in protests and diving in to work with organizations that are ready to fight for our civil rights in the coming years. I know writers far more eloquent than I are already penning essays and opinion pieces and providing sage advice on what we all need to do next. I am going to join in and do my part in the ways that feel right to me — I hope we all will.

I wish I had some great contribution to make to these well-expressed rallying cries. I’ve started and deleted so many posts this week… because my heart is heavy for other reasons outside of the election, from the things that come when life doesn’t stop because you got scared and confused or blindsided by the world you live in… and the words have been wrapped up in that and struggling to find a way out.

But I sat down today to try to write this because I keep having this thought and I figured if it wouldn’t leave me, it was worth something:

Find your brave.

We’re all brave in different ways. Some people march in the streets, some of us (myself included) are so paralyzed by the idea of being in a large crowd that the protest is almost more terrifying than what we’re standing up against. Some of us can write. Some make speeches. Some can volunteer to help an organization that steps between those who need help and those trying to harm them.

There are all kinds of ways to be brave. For me, from the earliest point in my life, it started with two simple words.

“I’m Black.”

I’ve spent my entire life being told by people I wasn’t related to: “No one would even know you were Black if you didn’t tell them.” To which I say, “Why wouldn’t I tell them?”

My parents made this very clear: we were Black. There was no confusion, no wondering. It was simple. So I live by keeping it simple. And I respond to the curious looks that, I’ve learned over the years, mean “what is she” by saying, “I’m Black.” I tell a story the first day in the writers’ room to make it clear so no one has to wonder. I own who I am, and I do it knowing that sometimes after I say it out loud, I will see that subtle shift in a person’s eyes… the one that says that knowledge has changed how they look at me. And then I own who I am by not caring what they think.

I recently spoke with a group of young writers who will go out into the world with the word “diverse” attached to them. They’re the diverse writers – the ones who will be different, and often a minority, in their rooms. And I think maybe I didn’t tell them this, and so I’m correcting my mistake because I owe them this…

You will meet people who will see you as less than, who will think you only got the job because you fill a quota. They won’t know anything about you… they won’t know about how you worked graveyard shifts to put yourself through college and how you took responsibility for and pay (yourself) thousands of dollars in student loans because your education was that important to you… they won’t know that you wrote till 3 a.m. on weeknights and all weekend long around day jobs because that was all the time you had and you knew you had to write to be a writer… they won’t know about the twelve specs and six pilots and the dozen short stories you wrote to prepare yourself when opportunity came… they won’t know about the literally thousands of pages you wrote that no one will ever see because they were never about making money. Their value was in making you a better writer.

They won’t know these things about you… but you will. And you will show them that you earned your job by being the best you that you can be… by proving that you belong, no matter what they think.

You’ll find your brave.

Then reach back and help someone else find theirs. Help that next young diverse writer who has climbed as far as he or she can, who just needs someone who’s done it before to help them take the next step.

Then take your brave out into the world with you.

If you see a man harassing one of your female friends… tell him to stop.

If you see someone treating someone like an “other,” tell them to stop.

If you see wrong, do what you can to make it right.

It will be terrifying. It will be hard. But it’s what makes you who you are. And it’s how we show the people who are scared to speak and to act how to do their part.

You’ll get tired. Hell, I’m already tired. And angry. And frustrated. And sometimes you’ll feel hopeless.

But you’re gonna get up the next day and do it again anyway.

Because you’re brave.

You came that way.

We all came that way.

We just can’t forget it.

When I talk TV with people, I’m never shy about heaping praise onto shows that I love. And I’ve long since gotten used to having this exchange when I bring up “Person of Interest” –

“’Person of Interest’? Isn’t that just a typical CBS procedural?”

Me: “No. It’s one of the most well-plotted serialized shows I’ve ever watched.” (And remember, I’ve seen over 1,000 TV shows!)

2016-06-21 23.19.07

The finale of POI aired last week, and I’m still strung out emotionally over it. It leaves the screen after 103 episodes. Not every single one was perfect but every single one was necessary to complete what turned out to be an amazing canvas.  And in my humble opinion, its legacy is to be one of the most underappreciated shows in recent memory.

As many of you know if you’ve read my blog before (or follow my fangirling on Twitter), I write with TV on in the background – typical latchkey kid behavior manifested in my adulthood.  This translates to writing at the office as well, thanks to my friends Amazon Prime and Netflix, which I stream in the background and listen to over ear buds while I write.  Last year, I re-watched the first four seasons of POI as my background, and even though I own all the DVDs and have seen multiple episodes several times, it was that re-watch that clued me into something monumental about why I adore POI so much – 85% of what I love about the show was put in motion by the end of episode 10. We’re talking characters, relationships, and ideas that consistently played through five seasons – including the final moments of the series – and most of it was on the board by the end of episode 10.  That cohesion over 103 episodes was accomplished without the writers dropping story points and with major cast changes to wrestle with along the way.

Within those first ten episodes, the characters became my heart when it came to this show.  This little group of four became the embodiment of the emotional struggle of everyday life… how we make mistakes and try to overcome them, how we search for redemption even if we aren’t sure we deserve it, how we look for the best in people even after we lose our way.  And they did all this while fighting the good fight for the little guy… taking down bad guys, helping people stay on the path of right when they were about to step into wrong. Even as the core cast both expanded and then lost members in heart-wrenching fashion over the years, the mission remained unchanged, and underlying every action, every episode was one clear message:

No one is irrelevant.

It might be this key point that explains my great love for this show, above the A-plus writing and great performances… POI was hopeful in a way I never expected it to be and that it turns out I needed so much.  Life mattered… good mattered… saving one person at the risk of everything mattered… and that idea propelled the entire series.

Over the past five seasons, we went on journeys to the darkest places within these characters and often found light there – John’s need for vengeance after Carter’s death inevitably brought him home, to the place Carter most wanted him to be – with the people who loved him; Harold’s battle to save the world revealed the best in those he chose as allies; Fusco went from dirty cop to hero because John and Carter and ultimately all of Team Machine reminded him who he wanted to be before the dark side tempted him.  And along the way, enemies – Root and Elias – turned into friends.  Meanwhile Shaw, the embodiment of what it meant for life to be “irrelevant” joined the team and embraced the mission in her own unique way.

And none of these characters’ pasts were whitewashed to make us like them.  Humanizing Elias by letting us into his abusive and tragic past gave us a deeper understanding of the path he chose and the drive behind the rise of his organized crime empire, but the show never tried to convince us his sins were justified. Instead it helped cement how monumental it was when Elias stood beside Team Machine in some of their most dangerous moments, even though he knew Reese, Harold et al would take his criminal enterprise down in a heartbeat if he endangered someone they cared for or one of the “numbers” the Machine asked them to save.

Root – in all her complex, twisted glory – was another character who had done dark, terrible things – had even tried to harm our beloved team – and yet her obsession with the Machine actually gave her the chance to find the connection she’d craved her whole life – both within the team and with the Machine herself.  Root found her purpose after a life of thinking people were just “bad code,” and her mission to save the Machine from all threats helped us to understand that the Machine’s importance was even greater than we’d ever suspected.

But I think the most amazing accomplishment of this fantastic show is the humanity the writers imparted upon a set of typed letters on a computer screen and a bunch of cables and servers.  The Machine was as real to us as any of the team… and our connection to her deepened as it became clear she suffered the pain of loss with Harold and Reese, that she hated the idea of failing them. As the Machine’s very personal relationship with Harold, her “father,” created conflict over the years, she became a maturing child, struggling to both find her own identity and be the “person” her parent wanted her to be. And in her ultimate act of humanity, the Machine found a way to be what… or who… she was meant to be despite Harold’s fears and reservations, even if that meant she might be destroyed.

I could literally write about specific things I loved and outstanding moments on this show for pages and pages. But what I hope after you read this is that if you watched it once and said no… or you never watched it at all, that this will make you go back and give it another chance (Netflix is your friend!). Look beyond the case of the week setup that helped us get into the world and spend time with these fascinating characters, go on a journey with them that will both rip out your heart and renew a little of your faith in the world (as much as any TV show can do that).

And if you loved POI as much as I did… if it brought you the same joy and heartache and wonder that it did me… thanks for sharing the roller coaster. And thank you a thousand times over to the wonderful writers and actors and the crew that made this show come to life… you’ve inspired me forever.