Saturday, May 19, 2012

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…
~ Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

After four years of hard work, my first feature film, MODEL MINORITY was finally making its World Premiere at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival in May of 2012. And in the midst of the screenings, celebrations and awards, my dearest friend, mentor and touchstone, Kym Wells, quietly passed away much too young, after a year and half of fighting the good fight against brain cancer.

I had the opportunity to say good-bye to her and told her everything I needed to say, everything she already knew: that I loved her as dearly as if she were my sister by blood, that she was always the one I turned to for advice about life and art. She introduced a young, sheltered girl from Las Vegas to the musicals of Stephen Sondheim, the movies of Preston Sturges and the art of the French Impressionists. She was a tall, beautiful fair-haired Canadian girl, and was the first person I met who never saw a person’s color, only that person’s soul. She once asked me and our friend, Silvia, who was Latina, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be ethnic and exotic-looking?” When we laughed, she genuinely didn’t know why. She leaves behind her African American six year-old son, Nicky, whom she adopted through the Children's Bureau of Southern California.

She was one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever known: playwright, novelist and screenwriter. I would not be who I am today, had I not had Kimberley Wells in my life.

I will miss her every day.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


My first memory of waking up from a nap: my brother, Eugene, bursting into the house in his wheelchair: “Aw, kawaii desu ne!” (Japanese for “Oh, you’re so cute!”) Me, bottle in mouth, curled up on the couch. Life was good.

In high school, my favorite naps were five minutes long, before leaving the house for dance class every day. And of course, the best were the immoral, ill-begotten naps during the films in history class.

In college, there was the most-of-the-day nap, the one you took after you stayed up all night cramming for a test and then went out for breakfast.

A few years ago, I was shooting ER during the day and the film, “Mighty Joe Young,” all night. I’d leave ER around 6 p.m., go home, grab a bite, kiss my husband and my kitties and go to the MJY set around 7 p.m., work all night, napping in between shots, leave the set around 5 a.m., go home, shower and head off to ER at 6 a.m., work all day, napping between shots, leave around 6 p.m. and start all over again. Those were fitful, short, dull naps, not refreshing at all. I had one day off when I went to the health food store and asked the clerk for something to give me energy. “Bee pollen? Do you think that would work?” I asked. She looked at me like I was insane. “How about some sleep?” she scolded. Luckily that only went on for a couple of weeks.

Working on ER, I napped every day at lunch. Get up at 4:30 a.m. to be at the set at 5:30 a.m., work until I dropped at lunch time, stagger to my trailer, plop onto my couch to nap. Among the many things the crew of ER taught me, one of the best was that there was no shame in napping. Lucky for us, we were working on a medical show. At lunch, the set was a hushed, darkened nursery, crew guys and gals asleep on every gurney.

Types of naps:

The Morning Nap, when you get up super early and can have the luxury of going back to bed for a few minutes.

The Lunch-Time Nap. (See ER above.)

The Mid-Afternoon Nap. At your desk, in a chair or on a couch, fully clothed. Being fully clothed is a very important part of the Mid-Afternoon Nap, it helps you feel like you’re getting away with something. Of course, a swimsuit and a beach towel are the seaside equivalent of clothing, which counts if you’re lucky enough to be taking your Mid-Afternoon Nap on a beautiful beach somewhere. Then you’re REALLY getting away with something.

And there’s my favorite, the Quick Nap In Front Of The Television, after dinner, before bed. You are fully clothed (see Mid-Afternoon Nap above), you have yet to clean up, brush your teeth, get the kids ready for bed (according to my friend, Mai), get your things ready for work the next day. You’re gearing up for that last big hustle and bustle before the …

Ultimate Nap. Bedtime.

Of course, these naps aren’t to be taken all in one day. I’m all for self-care, but even I admit that would be too indulgent. And you risk the dreaded Over-Napping Headache, when your brain is fuzz and you think you’re developing early-onset Alzheimer’s: “Besides Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger, you know the guy who starred in that movie with them, he won the Oscar, oh God, what was the name of that movie?”

Napping implies you’re doing something naughty, luxurious, lazy. Doing something selfish, just for yourself, by yourself, isn’t regarded as productive. Yet, sometimes I think we get sick so we can take legitimate naps, because somehow it’s okay to take a nap when you’re not feeling well.

I say naps are good. Naps are necessary sometimes. Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bill and Hillary Clinton, all famous nappers. I catch my forty winks proudly with all of them. Of course, there are those who look disdainfully at me and say, “I don’t nap. I can’t fall asleep during the day.” And to them, I say, call me lazy, call me a sloth, call me anything you want, I really don’t care. I’m not ashamed to take care of myself, to honor my need to, um…yeah…you know what? I’m a little tired. Let’s resume our conversation in a half an hour or so. After I take a nap.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Art for Art's Sake or This Guy Art is a Big Fan of Mine

We went to the Walt Disney Concert Hall to see Joshua Bell. The hall is stunning in its beauty and design, completely overwhelming.

I saw a documentary about the famous Frank Gehry, the designer of the Disney Hall. He would walk around his massive studio, filled with assistants and designers, pick up pieces of cardboard and bend them into different shapes. He would tape them together and leave them on tables, like my cat leaves his little paper sculptures around the house. Then the designers and assistants would scurry over and begin the execution of his designs. What struck me was his ability to create without fear. Just create. No self-doubt. No wracking insecurities. And at his level of success, people clamor to help him achieve his vision. I admired his ability not to let his previous accomplishments choke him. I’ve seen so many artists, actors, writers and musicians reach a certain level of fame and freeze, unable to create anymore.

I’m creating my own art every day, but I don’t have assistants following after me, picking up the little crumbs of my creation. Except for acting, music and dancing, the rest of the art I do--writing, directing, drawing--is only for Art’s sake. Does that mean the art I haven’t been paid for yet doesn’t exist? Most of the time, I feel extremely grateful that I have been making a living as an artist for so long, yet I'm not so famous that I fall under the pressure of extreme public scrutiny. I'm grateful that I can call myself a working artist. I’m grateful that some of my art is only for Art’s sake, for my serenity and peace of mind. My cat and I can make our little works of art and still get rewarded for our efforts.

Of course, it’s dangerous to compare Frank Gehry’s outsides with my insides. There will always be someone more successful or less successful than me, someone better or worse than me. And who knows how Frank Gehry feels in the dark of the night, when he stands alone at his window, worrying about whether or not he can create, whether or not his brain and his body will help him perform, whether he will ever get another chance to indulge in his art? Because designing the Disney Hall is a once in a lifetime experience. Motivating myself as an artist is a daily activity. And a gift.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Famous People I Saw At The Grammys

I went with my husband, Boney James, to the Grammys last night. He was nominated for Best Traditional R & B Song, which he lost to Beyonce. Oh well, he was in pretty good company. And so were we! I'll try to remember everyone we saw.

Starting with Colbie Caillat. Before the pre-telecast, she was on stage talking to the director about something and my 11 year old niece squealed, "There's Colbie Caillat!" I had told her not to be shy, if she sees a celebrity she likes, she should ask them for an autograph. So we ran over to the side of the stage and I took her picture in front of Colbie. Colbie noticed her, my niece waved shyly and Colbie came over, asked her name, asked MY name and shook our hands. I said, "Do you want to ask for an autograph?" My niece's hands were shaking as she took her autograph book out of her purse and Colbie asked her name and signed it. Colbie Caillat wins the prize as Nicest Celebrity of the Evening.

Mick Fleetwood was funny, he wasn't wearing his glasses, so he kept handing the envelopes to Colbie to read. Roberta Flack looks FANTASTIC, she's 73! Hope I look that good when I'm her age. Taylor Swift was there, accepting her first Grammy, but when my niece wanted her autograph, the bodyguard pushed her out of the way. She's ELEVEN, for God's sake! That was unnecessary. So besides the famous people we saw onstage, here's the others: Neil Young, Paul Williams (he's very tiny), Annette O'Toole and Michael McKean, Kenny G (he and my husband shook hands), Shawn Colvin and Tracey Chapman sat behind us, but they weren't together, Shawn had her daughter and I think Tracey was with her partner. Weird Al Yankovic, Kathy Griffin with her tour manager Tom, who, with a worried look on his face, was carrying a large tote bag and Kathy's long silver sequined train, so she wouldn't step on it with her 7-inch heels. Carlos Santana, Maxwell, Alice Cooper (Rob Halford from Judas Priest hugged him. I wanted to hug Alice too.) Booker T. Jones (who sat next to my husband and chatted all night), Jay-Z, Harry Connick Jr., Jeff Bridges (who my husband thought was Kris Kristofferson). Seeing all those celebrities in one place was weird and surreal. And wickedly fun.


I spend a lot of time waiting. I didn't really think about it until I saw a picture posted on a friend's Facebook page. She is a writer/director and she was waiting in an office lobby for an appointment to pitch an idea. On her Facebook page, she posted a picture of her view of the slightly open office door, nice French Provincial desk, lots of movie posters everywhere. Just looking at the photo, I could smell the room: new carpet, paper, microwave popcorn, office dust, actor/writer/director sweat and fear. For many years, I've spent a lot of time in those rooms, psyching myself up, calming myself down. Waiting has become such a normal part of my life, I don't really even think about it anymore. Until I saw Jan's post. So this blog is going to be about my job as an actor, a writer and a director. But it's also going to be about the stuff in between. The waiting. The stuff they don't tell you about in college or report on "Entertainment Tonight." The part that separates the girls from the women. The part that can drive you crazy, make you a better artist or force you to move to the suburbs of any state that's not California or New York.

Last year, I finished a 15 year stint on the television show, ER. I've been busy submitting my work to screenplay contests and potential managers, looking for directing gigs. I'm collecting a crew of producers, actors, cinematographers to help me direct my first feature. I'm making a very low budget film of my script, "Model Minority," which was a finalist for the Sundance Feature Film Labs twice. I was waiting for green lights, which came and went and came and went for several of my other scripts. "Perilously close," as my friend Lesli puts it. But I decided to take the advice of a filmmaker I met in London, when my first short film, "The Shangri-la Cafe," played at the very last BBC Short Film Festival. It was late at night in Leicester Square, right outside the cinema that had just shown our films. We didn't have anywhere to go, we were all Americans, all feeling weird and jet-lagged, too excited to sleep, talking about films and filmmaking. I said, "That was fun. Hope somebody lets me make another film." And one of the other filmmakers said, "You don't have to wait for permission, Lily. You're a filmmaker. Go make another one." So here I go.