Baking the World a Better Place

Why baking, you ask? I mean, cooks get all the love. Chefs get groupies. They’re the improvisers, the “dash of this, touch of that” sensual sweethearts of the culinary world. Bakers are kind of the equivalent of the super nerdy girl who does the chef’s homework in the hopes that s/he may someday notice that without her glasses she’s kinda sexy (totally random side note — I want to make a movie where the super hot girl puts on glasses and the man goes “why Ms. Murple, you’re smart!”)

And yes. I have a touch of OCD. Like, legitimately. The more anxious I get, the more organized my sock drawer is (another side note, we must discuss bullet journaling in another post!) Baking appeals to the part of me that likes cause and effect. Especially when the world feels out of control. Here is a hobby where, when certain principals are applied, the outcome is fairly predictable. There are moments of surprise — like yesterday I discovered that when an oven is hot enough, a sheet of thin parchment paper will ignite rather rapidly. Like, rather dramatically burst into flames. So that was fun. And sometimes the surprises are un-fun. Like the cake that sort of sunk under the weight of too much frosting. It was salvaged. I almost always find a way to salvage — with yummy baked dough and chocolate flavored sugar butter, there’s going to be a way  to put it in your mouth even if it’s not pretty. But more often — because SCIENCE (which is mostly real, Mr. Trump) — there are principals at work that yield good to great results.

And the truth is, the better you get at understanding those principals, the more you can play with the bits that don’t make things rise, brown or melt. You can riff. You can be all jazzy and sexy with your baking, damnit.

But I think the reason I love baking so, so much is that it is the opposite of writing in a lot of ways. What I do for a living is try to make something personal and unwieldy fit into a corporate model. I work for big money-making entities that don’t just want something good, they want something good that sells and connects with as many people as possible. The problem is, what’s good to me may not be good to you. For instance, the older I get and the more I write, the more I love ambiguity (see my post on same) and the less I like exposition (I was never a big fan but now I’m almost allergic to it.) I love mystery and letting the audience take different things from what I do. The film I am finishing now — the first I’ve ever both written and directed (!) — is called To The Bone and it’s a kinda funny/serious movie about an anorexic young woman (played by the luminous baker and also actress Lily Collins) and her journey as she tries to get better. It’s very loosely based on my own experiences. Some parts are pulled from my life directly, other parts are made up. I bring it up because I love that people watch it and have quite different ideas about what they saw and what it means, depending on their lives. And men and women seem to experience it very differently. The world of disordered eating is much more familiar to women. So they are more oriented. But I really encourage people to see what THEY see in the movie. To take their own meaning from it. In that way, I want it to feel more like a yummy stew made by an improving cook. The viewer is an active ingredient in it. What they take away depends on what they put in.

But big money making corporations aren’t as fond of improvising. For good reason. In the new world that is “content providers” as opposed to the big 4 networks, every channel or streaming service is marketing to very specific audiences. They do “demos” and “optics” and they want to make something that appeals to those folks — oh and everybody else in the entire world if you can. So as a creator/showrunner, I answer to them. I try to wrangle the creative process and provide a product that is “good.” But again, what does “good” even mean?

Last season on Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce (season 2) I wanted, very much, to show Abby go through a hard time and kind of lose it. This, by the way, was influenced by Bravo’s own research that affirmed my experiences and those of my friends  — women are feeling on the verge of a nervous breakdown too much of the time. We’re pushing ourselves to be our best selves in every fucking area and we’re about to break like brittle sleep-deprived twigs (can twigs be sleep-deprived? Note to self: google that shit.) That’s why women could relate to Hillary Clinton pushing through an illness and nearly collapsing. We’re all about to collapse, sister! And we feel like we can’t afford to stop either. Last year me and two other female friends with big jobs and big kids fainted. All for different reasons but the common thread was — we were pushing it and not listening to our bodies. So Abby’s dilemma felt real and relatable and funny to me. But according to the “demos” and the “optics” some of the audience found Abby too unlikable and too sad. She went through too much hard stuff. I got the experience for my character that I wanted, but maybe I didn’t give the audience enough sweet with the savory. So was it “good” or “bad”? In the end, it depends on what you’re watching the show for and what you bring to the table. I mean,  I definitely make mistakes, and more is revealed the more distance you have from something. But the bottom line is, the experience of art is highly subjective. Even commercially made art for big money-making entities.

Know what’s not nearly as subjective? Cake.

Most people like cake. Maybe not carrot cake. But most cake. And cookies. And pie. It fills the house with warm, comforting smells. I share what I bake and it makes people happy. It feels like handing somebody a slice of love. It’s simple.

Unlike writing.

So baking is the yin to my yang. I love them both. I need them both. They each teach me daily about being a person. And they help me reach out and connect with other humans. Which is what it’s all about.

Love, words and cookies.





Op’pin and Ed’ing

So I got the opportunity to write some pieces like the ones below for Newsweek and Cosmo, coming soon. That’s why I’ve been a little absent. Believe me, I’m still a big mouth who thinks I should share.

Oh, and I made pie. Apple. Tomorrow, pop tarts with the leftover dough.

And we sold DIETLAND! Get to write about where and how soon. When that show goes into the room — gonna be so happy. The source material seemed like a surreal fable, and then Trump happened and made it all so real. I feel like I have him to thank for closing our deal. Oh, and Sarai’s great novel.

More more more. xo


The Problem with 11

I’m coming around to a new way of thinking about this election. It may be the best thing to happen in the political/cultural landscape in a long time. It’s prompted tremendous discussion everywhere I go. Personally, it’s forced me to seek less biased news sources, forced me to examine preconceived notions and so much more. And the extremism of the far right is shedding light on a group of Americans who feel so impotent and undervalued that they’re willing to support almost anybody they believe exists outside the realm of the Washington elite. As with all things, change is messy and scary. Maybe even a little bit dangerous. Ultimately, I hope this election gives rise to a viable independent party that represents an alternative to “insider” Democrats and Republicans. It’s clearly time.

It also got my 14-year-old son to engage with me on his political opinions and the places he gets them from. We’ve spent a lot of time talking. And we watched Chris Ray Gun. A lot of Chris Ray Gun.

Understand — I’m 52. You’re likely hip to Gamergate and such. Me, I’ve been only vaguely aware until now.

It was new for me to see how fed up with the “Tumblr Social Justice Warrior” world some people are. And to be honest, watching some of this stuff myself, it’s hard not to see their point. There’s the girl genuinely harassing her (partly Asian) Lyft driver because she objects to the culturally insensitive Dancing Hulu Girl figurine on his dashboard (she actually says something like: “do you not care about, like, the whole continent of Hawaii?”) There are the Yale protests demanding the ousting of a beloved professor and her husband who merely suggested that the college was overstepping by trying to dictate “offensive” and “not offensive” Halloween costumes to the student body. There’s the woman who literally screams that she’s been abused by a dumbass dude who will only give his name as “Hugh Mongus.”

You may agree that some of the things described above are offensive.  And I absolutely understand that we are a culture awash in racist, sexist, gender biased, homophobic language, imagery and action. And that stuff should be called out. The problem, in my opinion, is when every single offensive is an 11. Like on a scale of 1 to 10.

I have the same problem when people only write at 11. When a writer is so enamored with their own voice that they can’t help imbuing every sentence with “look what I can do!” — it ends up overshadowing  what’s real in the scene. For instance, while I enjoyed a lot of the movie Juno, the aggressively self aware, too-smart-for-school dialogue had me wanting to bash myself in the face with a hamburger phone. We did a lot of stylized dialogue in Buffy, but some people just talked like, you know, people. In Juno even the guy at the minimart was “home-skillet-ing” like a motherfucker. Sorkin is another writer I think is brilliant when restrained. But too often he’s just doing verbal cartwheels and screaming like a five-year-old at you to PAY ATTENTION!! Everything is pitched at the same rabid level, so almost nothing lands. Instead of relating and finding our own moments of revelation, we’re bombarded with personality.

Sometimes the best way to get somebody to lean in is to whisper. To write simply. Recently I had a character just say “I’m sad!” at the height of a charged argument. That’s it. The conversation changed — because this character wasn’t the type to talk about his inner life much. It had impact.

In the case of encountering offensive people or things, if everything is an 11 it can undermine the message. When a guy making a sophomoric joke about his dick gets the rape whistle response, nobody’s listening when the whistle gets blown for actual rape. It all comes off as equal. And it’s just not. The level of vitriol and outrage over every single thing is starting to make some people like my kid — a smart, genuinely kind guy — wonder if all feminists are hysterical and all “social justice warriors” have no common sense. In some ways, these well-meaning folks seem to be demanding an Orwellian world in which speech is controlled by the horde and college students are so infantilized that they’re not trusted to pick their own Halloween costumes. Actual productive dialogue in this atmosphere is stifled, because even those who genuinely want to do right are so afraid to offend — they clam up. Again, none of this is to say that marginalized people don’t have reason for outrage and sometimes small things can bring it up. But character, degree and intention have a place in the conversation.

Of course, liberals haven’t cornered the market on this stuff. It’s true of the right as well. I mean, Trump lives at 11 and only his fellow extremists can really defend him. Other people may vote for him, but it’s not because they respect him.

I’d argue when writing or dealing with the — way trickier — real world, 1 through 10 are essential if you want to make your point. “Hugh Mongus” might merit  a “seriously??” or perhaps a “grow up.” Or — don’t engage at all. Chauvinists, bigots and and trolls love the power we give them. Maybe, in some cases, walking away is the strongest response.

Sometimes the quiet, not the storm — is where the power is.




Unless you’re write code for a living or some other science-y “medical medical” thing, it’s the enemy of truth. A couple’s therapist I saw (soooo many shrinks. I think I’ve had more shrinks than men)  when I was a couple used to go “ANNNNnnnnnnd?” when one of us would make a blanket statement about the other one like “she’s always thinking about baked goods instead of my needs” or “He’s always thinking about me not thinking about his needs” — as a way to remind us that MORE THAN ONE THING CAN BE TRUE AT THE SAME TIME.

It’s a concept. All my favorite writers live in the grey, rather than the black and white. People are both good and bad. Situations have up and downsides. A decision isn’t ever perfect, just shades of who-the-fuck-knows?

And I’m finding that discussions of politics aren’t served by binary thinking either. This article made me dwell on this. It’s pretty great.

Some stereotypes play into things that are kind of true. Or true-ish. But I think they’re usually just ways of constructing a world view that has some kind of order.

The messy middle is where much of life falls. It makes sweeping generalizations way less fun. But it’ll make your writing way better. And maybe make you a more compassionate human. Bonus.


Quitting to Start (part 2)

Then something amazing happened…

Or not so amazing. Maybe it was utterly predictable. I asked myself what exactly I was crying about. Was it because, after years of trying to score a big sale, I was humiliated over having it all add up to nothing more than a lot of good Hollywood stories, one script on a cancelled show — and some jars of face cream as empty as my bank account? Or was it is because I knew how long it would take to get a psychology degree and establish a practice? Or maybe it was just that becoming a psychologist was such an utter cliche for a failed writer.  My “understanding of the human condition” and experience with mental illness — having it, living with it — hardly made me special. My barista had a more harrowing past than I did — he didn’t think that qualified him to get paid to give advice.

But that wasn’t it. I was crying because a voice inside me — clear and final — said, “suck on it, Marti Noxon, all you want to do is write.”

That hadn’t always been the case. When I was around 12, a hippie friend of my hippie mom read my palm. She told me I had “writer’s thumbs” — and that was what I was going to do. Write. (When I was much older, she also told me she had seen a pronounced break in my life line. Which was an alarming portent. She was right, but more on that another day…)

I was pissed. How dare my stupid, hobbity thumbs consign me to such a drab profession? My dad was a documentarian. He wrote gorgeous narration over all kinds of animals doing all kinds of things like screwing and getting poached. He seemed happy enough. But I vividly remembered my mother telling me that he wrote a novel once. He worked on it for years. And when he was done he was so unimpressed and/or ashamed of what he put in those pages that he burned the one and only copy. That sounded like torture. I already had plenty of self-loathing. I didn’t need to labor over new things to hate about myself. Besides, my low opinion of me made me a rampant approval seeker — an aspiring sparkle pony. I wanted to act or sing or do something that required all loving eyes on me, please.

But years later, my thumbs made me write a screenplay. (Actually, having no money did — I couldn’t afford film for my thesis project at college, so I wrote a script.) People liked it. A company optioned it. And I was like — “hot damn, this is easy!”

But it wasn’t easy. I got trapped in an endless cycle of almost-but-not-quite. That optioned script never got made, of course. Neither did the 10 or 15 other scripts I wrote after my one miraculous sale. And the writing itself was grueling. Most days my aforementioned self-loathing sat down at the computer alongside me and cheerily informed me of my stunning inability to make words goodly. Other days I’d finish a draft and get a huge high. This was the one. This one was the ticket to my sparkle pony dreams. Move over, Joss — “is that even a real name” — Whedon! That next big sale was mine.

A day or so later I’d read again and…deflate isn’t even the word. I’d implode. My work wasn’t working.  And I didn’t know what the problem was. Just that the stories didn’t feel like the stories I loved. There was a plastic, forced quality. I didn’t want to see it — but there it was. I wasn’t a fan of mine.

Fuck my fucking fortunetelling thumbs. The hippie told me I’d be a writer. She never said I’d be a good one.

So discovering that I wanted to write, that it felt inescapable, was kind of a shocker. I’d put in so many hours, studied and procrastinated and tried and stopped and tried again. But I didn’t know until that moment that it had become part of me. A part of me I was unwilling to abandon.

I asked myself the next logical question. “So if you’re resigning yourself to a life as           full-time assistant, part-time writer of things that aren’t very good and don’t sell  — what next?”

I decided that I’d been writing for Hollywood for too long. I was writing to sell, striving for that undeniable log line. As much as my chatty inner  voice — let’s call her Lady McButtpants, loved to tell me the profound ways in which I sucked, she also enjoyed telling me I needed to write for the marketplace. So while my stuff was often clever, it was also clearly calculating. (I mean, I really think “Mrs. Doubtfire But She’s a Ghost” could of been something. But besides that.)

The good news — I literally had nothing to lose. I decided I would strive to write about the things that were vexing me, the things I found delightful or sad or just plain weird. I would try to quit”clever.” If clever happened, fine. But honesty was what I was missing. In my life and on the page. And when Lady McButtpants piped up, I’d tell her to put a sock in…her pocket. Since, being  a butt in pants, she has no mouth.

See what happened there? I got amused by La Femme Butt Pants. I saw her. We had a little chat about where she puts her socks. Sophomoric and indulgent. But getting lost taking dictation from the endless cast of nutbags in my head — that’s what freed me. Having fun.

That’s what writing started to be a lot of the time. Fun, escape. 

I find escape in cruel anthropomorphized trousers. And raw exchanges between characters who are each equally and passionately committed to very bad plans. In conflict and talk about boogers. And best of all — in an unexpected moment, a nugget of truth so raw it feels like I’m trespassing on the characters.

I quit living for outcomes and starting living for capturing the world as I saw it on paper. I wrote bedtime stories for myself. And my writing came to life. Within a year I got the job on Buffy. With Joss Whedon. My favorite fake-named person ever.

I quit, and then I was finally able to start.

Quitting to Start (Pt. 1)

About 22 years ago, I was sitting on the floor of my apartment, trying to fill out an application for graduate school. I was 30. I was almost six years sober, and my body was healthy. I had a good job as an assistant to a great writer, Barbara Hall. I had a rent controlled apartment in Santa Monica. I could walk to the beach. I was dating a nice guy. And I was crying like a little baby.

I’d reached the end of my rope trying to make it in Hollywood. I was done. I’d sold a script years earlier, on a show I worked on as an assistant. I thought it was the beginning of my career. I got a check for more money than I’d ever seen before. And because I didn’t know how to manage money, and my self-esteem was in the toilet — I spent it all on face creams, mocha ice-blendeds and some dumb stuff too. And worse, I didn’t get more work as a writer.

I got an agent, but every script I wrote stalled. I’d get encouragement, but never a sale. And I was writing to sell. In those days the big fish for writers was selling a spec feature or a pitch for millions. I remember vividly reading about this young hot shot, some guy named “Joss” — he of the pretentious “whatever” name, my envy told me — who seemed to be selling hot script after hot script for stupid amounts of cash.  All the writers I knew were chasing that golden ticket, a bright shiny future that hinged on one genius logline only a sentence long. Often they were hybrids — “Frankenstein meets Remains of the Day” or “Flashdance meets Patton” (okay I made those up but you get the idea.)

My nadir in this pursuit was the pitch — “Mrs. Doubtfire, but she’s ghost!”. I wish that was one of the fictional ones. But no. My rabid desire to prove to myself  — and my dubious parents — that I was a real writer had made me so desperate to sell, it had turned me into the stuff of my nightmares. A hack. A pandering hack. The kind who read the trades and seethed with jealousy over some wunderkind named “Joss.” My friends from college and high school were lawyers and doctors and getting married and having lives — and I was still asking my boss “do you want fries with that?”

Nobody was taking me seriously. My agent has suggested he’d work harder for me if I slept with him. (More on Hollywood Harassment in another post — but for now suffice to say I left that agency and ended up at a c-list place down the road… ) I felt like whatever chance I’d had — I’d blown it.

So there I was sitting on my floor, wiping snot from my upper lip and trying to decode the financial aid forms in front of me. I’d already been rejected as an applicant for the California Highway Patrol (again, that’s another post) — my Heather Locklear fantasies were in tatters along with all the others…

And that’s when something amazing happened. That’s the day I became a writer.

(Part 2 coming soon!)







Dirty Talk in the Room Where it Happens — the writer’s room.

The room. It’s Valhalla for most aspiring writers. It was for me. You work your ass off. You write and write and, if you’re tenacious and a little bit lucky, you get a job on a writing staff.

When I got my first job on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I was petrified at first — fuck, I was petrified the whole time I was on that show. Happy. Challenged. Amazed. And petrified almost every single day. I’m prone to anxiety — shocker — a lot of writers are. So I was petrified of Joss and David Greenwalt, of the other writers, the actors, the set… Even ordering lunch was a taxing chore in the nest of bees that is my busy brain.

But most of all, I was petrified of the room. Sticking your neck in a room full of smart people? With ideas that mostly got rejected — and at worse mocked…? Fuck that. But the room became my happy place. My safe place. One of the few places I wasn’t petrified. Because Joss and David made it okay to say anything. Literally ANYTHING. For the first time in my life, I could reveal the darkest, most politically un-correct thoughts that tend to run through my head on a blacklisted ticker tape, and it was okay. It was encouraged. I have never laughed as hard as I did in that room. Sometimes I cried. And sometimes I was ashamed of the black, poisonous honey my brain bees were spewing. The only times it got dicey were when goodnatured teasing cut too close to the bone, and somebody started to feel like a target. I’ve learned that’s the limit in a room. Everyone has to understand that they are, at base level, there because they are appreciated and respected. If that starts to change, things go bad and fast. So it’s a case of constant monitoring — are we so far into the weeds that somebody is getting hurt?

Why play that hard? Why risk it? The reason to cut that close to emotional wounds is evident in the work. That’s where the good stuff is — in those hurt places and weird secrets we thought nobody else could hear or relate to. That’s the stuff of great writing. But getting there can be scary and everyone in a writer’s room is at risk of feeling too exposed. So the job of policing that space becomes whoever is the person with the most power. If the showrunner is in the room, it’s them. If the headwriter is in charge — they’re up. For sure, I don’t always get it right. And in some cases, like on UnReal and now on Girlfriend’s Guide, I’m balancing multiple projects. I work remotely a lot of the time. That makes it harder to know what the dynamics are. But everyone knows the value of digging into the dark stuff.

What made me think about this today? How many times I have had to stop myself from tweeting a “grab her by the pussy” joke. If I were in a room today, it would be a race to see who could deploy it first and most effectively. The smart, patient one will wait until folks have got the obvious jokes out of their system, and then drop it like a bomb at the perfect, most unexpected moment. Because that shit is almost as funny as it is teriffying. Donald Trump is a Santa Claus for comedy writers, drama writers, grocery list writers — “Milk, Eggs, Kale, Handful of Pussy, salt…”  See?  Irresistible. I had people over to watch the debate the other night, and one of the invitees replied to the inevitable “what can I bring” question with “I’ll grab a handful of pussy on the way over.” I laughed out loud. Then the floodgates were open and it was on. And there were men making these jokes along with the ladies. It was okay because we’re a close group and I know these folks to be profoundly dedicated to equal rights for all. Like, “put your money where your mouth is” type of dedicated. These are some badass justice fighters, sans capes.

But now I’m wondering… Donald was partially joking with another human dumpster fire when he said what he did. He was trying to get another man to laugh. He was bragging. He was serious, but only half. If we didn’t know that the things he said are just the tip of a fetid, hateberg floating in a sea of crazy — would policing the awful things people say when they think they’re in private be crossing a line?  I mean, obviously, the man is running for the highest office in the country, possibly the entire world — and he’s policing the fuck out of Hilary with the help of the KREMLIN so I think the answer in this case is obvious. But what about the rest of us? It’s a slippery slope and it scares me a little bit. I don’t know the answer. I’d love to know what you, my perhaps nonexistent readers, think.

(Pussy, pussy, pussy. PUSSY. Jesus, it’s gonna be a while before this one is out of my system.)