Monday, November 7, 2011

How television brought me to New York City

 At some point towards the end of the summer I began a relationship with comedy television. Saturday Night Live, Jimmy Fallon, Louis CK, Tina Fey, The Lonely Island boys. I spent nights watching shows, taking volumes of mental notes on what's funny, what's not, what causes some skits to work and some skits to flop. I read a huge book about the history of Saturday Night Live called Live from New York. It's around 500 pages of excerpts from writers and performers, and I read it in four days, calling my dad from time to time to discuss Belushi and Akroid and Chevy Chase's unwelcome return as host.

I took my dog on walks that lasted for hours, circling the muddy hole in the earth that used to be a duck pond out in Lake City. The dog chased the last of the late-molting, lamenting ducks as I listened to Moth podcasts and the Tobolowski Files, stories of Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Comedy television, and television related books and podcasts, replaced my former interests of eating, exercise, and friendship.

I was raised without a TV. My family didn't own one. I passed my years of kid hood playing with blocks, reading books, and building forts. I was a good student, killed it in extra-curricular activities and demonstrated robust social skills. I don't mean to brag, but I did win the Jump Rope for Heart all school competition at Pomfret Elementary and was elected mayor of the treefort village my fifth grade class constructed behind the playground. So yeah, back then, God did give with both hands. But all of these wholesome activities away from the television were setting me up for failure. The type of failure that befalls macrobiotic-raised kids when they grow up and discover cake. A sugar soaked free-for-all followed in no time by morbid obesity.

A cautionary tale: my sister and I playing outside in Vermont, haplessly missing vital programming on The Children's Network.
Even after high school when I could exercise free will, I remained abstinent. Through college and for quite a few years after, I remained that person who shook my head when there was a TV in a restaurant and said things like, "I wish I could tell that waiter to turn that thing off and do us all some good!" And now, thanks to Hulu and Youtube mixed with frequent periods of unemployment, I've finally arrived. About 22 years behind everyone else. I go to work and say things like, "Did you guys see that SNL sketch about Monica Lewinsky? Hilarious!"

As the hours of SNL piled up behind me and my climbing muscles atrophied, I comforted myself with my involvement in Soul Pancake. A year ago last summer, I discovered The Office. I rented a big stack of The Office DVDs and some confetti cake mix boxes as ammunition against a heart wrenching break up. I had no job, no place to live and very little direction. As I saw it, my only purpose to be on earth was to take care of my 2003 Subaru Outback, which I considered to be my one meaningful possession. Also my dog.

Alone in Vermont, I spent each day hiking to the same field, and all evening watching The Office. Or maybe I spent each day reading US magazine and all evening watching The Office. But if that were true, then where did this photo come from? 
Either way, to my utter surprise, I was very happy. Inappropriately happy, given my pathetic young life.

After I'd watched all the Office episodes and all the Office episodes with commentary, I started searching for information about the show on the Internet. Because I'm creepy and I'll turn the Internet inside out to get the info I want. The search led to Rainn Wilson, who caught my attention because he went to University of Washington, my Alma mater. That led to Soulpancake, which led to me becoming a writer for Soulpancake, which recently led to Oprah. So, that went well.

By the way, here's a never before seen photo of Rainn, Holiday and me. Pretty awesome, huh? What a great eyebrow I have.
So back to the current fascination. This time around, it wasn't a writing job that came out of my online trolling, it was improv. After a thorough background check of all current cast members of SNL, it was revealed that improv, in particular Second City in Chicago, the Groundlings in LA or Improv Olympics in New York, was the preferred ticket to studio 8H. So I signed up for an improv class here in Seattle. And that led to real live interactions with other humans and a talented, caustic, darkly hilarious teacher who'd studied at Second City. Tuesday nights were given over to little backstage classrooms, acting games and laughter shared with 20 other people, which is admittedly nicer than laughter alone under the covers with a computer. 

Improv was great but as always, I like to take things to the next level. Of course you've read my insightful, poignant piece "Ten Levels Of Everything". Here's an addendum:

Level Eleven:
At level eleven, you become in expert in wanting something so bad that you become totally miserable. You make huge life decisions based on goals that are almost guaranteed to be unobtainable. You prefer listening to music tracks on repeat for hours, if not days, at a time. Orange juice mixed with beer replaces coffee for your morning beverage.  

I'm totally the mayor of level eleven. At two in the morning when I close my laptop after a couple hours of 30 Rock I never think, Sleep time! I think, I must move to New York. I start worrying over real estate. Fortunately, in a rare moment of clarity, I decided I should first visit New York before looking for a sub-letter for my room. 

When I saw that BlogHer and Penguin Publishing House were hosting a writing conference in New York City, I jumped at the opportunity. I signed up before I had the money to pay the registration fee.

This is where my good luck began. I announced here on my blog that I was going to this conference and if anyone was thinking of donating, now would be a fantastic time. And they did! Donations from readers covered a good portion of the registration fee. Then BlogHer wrote me and said they were offering a discount on the conference and I got the rest of the money back. Now there was the plane ticket to New York to grapple with. For this I had no answers, no plans except finally taking out a credit card. Then one morning, just as I was beginning to panic, a reader emailed me and said he'd like to give me his frequent flier miles to get to New York. And just like that, I had a flight. A non-stop flight, by the way.

To the extent that I write about scrape ups and rejection letters and being mistaken for a midget, I do recognize the great fortune in my life. How heartening it is to have people support me like this.

So, I was off to New York. I had this idea that if good luck found me during my visit, I'd start making plans to move. I didn't think this would happen; I thought for sure I'd get squashed by the city, lost in the subway, elbowed in the face, run over by a truck. But, just to make life utterly confusing, good luck turned on like a faucet the moment I touched down in Newark. For five days I found myself in a pile of roof top parties and impossible coincidences. I shot through the city in a daze, rode beneath Manhattan and over the bridge to Brooklyn, met with agents and editors, ate little spears of quail eggs with other writers, saw live improv and collapsed each night in the tiny apartment of a handful of friends across the city.

New York! I'll be the first to admit, I never saw this coming.


Anonymous said...

I'm really not surprised that you had good luck in New York City. I can see you thriving in that city!
(A reader who will donate as soon as she can.)

Melina said...

Thank you, what a nice thing to say. And right now, kind comments like the one you just left are what I really need the most,'re good.

Sabertoothali said...

Don't do it! Stop the NYC madness.

Melina said...

It might be madness. But still.

Kate Austin-Avon said...

"Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard; live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft."

dig this chick said...

I remember one of the first comments you ever left me (maybe the first?) Something about how you knew I'd realize my crazy goal of landing a camper van and tons of money to support my family on a central-south america journey?

I remember it because we are cut from the same cloth, sister. Open yourself to live and it pours into you. That's what you did in New York, that's what you do with your writing. Of course it worked out (the plane ticket! the conference! awesome).

So so so so happy for you and can't wait to hear more. I wish I could text you or something.

Steve said...

Sometime it's not luck, it's skill. Of course most of the time it is just luck (AKA a series of fortuitous coincidences that one might be inclined to add a narrative to if they were the type to do so).

I like the eye brow.

Melina said...

Dig, yep I remember that comment I left. I am still certain that you'll be hitting the road with M, R and A in tow. And I think your book might come out of it. Of then it could be your 3rd or 4th book.

Same cloth we are.

Melina said...

Steve- yeah, it is my eyebrow! Famous eyebrow! Look for it on page 6.

Karie said...

Dude, I love you. And I love your writing. I'm upset we couldn't hang out more. The trip was too short! I think we need to take a random trip somewhere. Dang it.

Karie said...

Jealous of the eybrow pic, by the way.

Melina said...

Karie- Trip was too short! Totally agreed. Want to take on NYC again at some point??

Melina said...

Kate- and after Northern Cali, and after New York...we can return home to Vermont.