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“I HAVE HOPE. FOR THE first time in years, I have hope. I’ve been offered the lead role in a new Netflix series—NETFLIX (cue confetti)—and this is no two-hander, baby. This is all about me. Well, actually it’s an ensemble, but I’m the lead and, considering the network upgrade, I’ll take it.
Granted, “taking it” wasn’t the easiest of choices. I had expressed early concerns about the pilot script. The polite term for this in acting is to say, “I don’t respond to the material,” even if the exact language might be something more like, “I’m terrified this might be trash.” But my agents had urged me to do the project because the paycheck was pretty good, the only other projects I was being offered were cheesy sitcom roles and reality shows, and they said it’s worth it to make the connection with a respectable up-and-coming company like Netflix. This seemed like good logic to me, so I signed the contract.”
“It’s October 1st when I touch down in Toronto, the cleaner, friendlier New York City I’ll call home for the next three months of my life. I arrive at my hotel apartment excited, inspired even. I’m convinced that my life is turning around, that this new job is exactly the motivation I need to jump-start getting my life on track.
I’m starring in a real show. No more kids’ shows. Kid show stars can be messes with all their alcohol abuse and bulimia. But real deals—Netflix stars—aren’t messes. Real deals have their shit together.”
“So the day I get into Yorkville, the neighborhood in Toronto where I’m staying, I begin my real-deal endeavor with a trip to the bookstore to pick up a stack of self-help books. I plow through them in a week and come up with a solid affirmation-type mission statement of a plan, a mission statement that I think sums up the gist of all the self-help knowledge I’ve accumulated over the past week.
I will focus on myself. I write the phrase in my diary and touch it five times. (This is one of my OCD tics that lingers. I also twirl every time I enter my bathroom, but at least that one’s kinda fun.)”
“I know focusing on myself won’t be easy. It will take continuous effort, time, and attention. It will mean working on my issues, facing them head-on instead of letting them serve as distractions or trying to pretend they’re less than they are. It will mean doing THE WORK. The soul-scraping introspection it takes to understand where bad habits and insecurities and self-sabotaging patterns come from and why, plus the motivation to challenge and change those bad habits and insecurities and self-sabotaging patterns even as they continue to get triggered over and over again by various life events.
I am ready to clear everything and everyone out of my life if necessary. I am ready to focus solely on myself.
Until I meet Steven.”
It’s the first day of shooting. I’m sitting in my trailer, thumbing through the scripts for episodes two through six when a terrible realization hits me.
I may be a part of Netflix’s first-ever dud. I don’t respond to these scripts even more than I didn’t respond to the pilot. The budget is lower than expected—not that there’s anything wrong with a low-budget project, it’s just that that’s not exactly the type of budget you want for a sprawling postapocalyptic drama about a small town where a virus breaks out and everyone over twenty-one starts dying. There hasn’t been a single Netflix rep present for any of the welcome-to-the-show cast and crew pre-parties, which makes no sense to me. There’s always a network rep present at those things.
I pick up the phone and dial my agents. One of them takes the call, and after I express my concerns, he explains to me that the reason no Netflix rep has been on set is because this show is a partnership between Netflix and a Canadian network called CityTV. CityTV is the production company, and Netflix is just the distributor.
Oooohhhhh. Oh oh oooohhhhh.
So this isn’t a Netflix (cue confetti) show. This is a CityTV (cue… something else) show.
A part of me wishes I hadn’t asked, that I could still be sitting here naively thinking I’m on a Netflix show. And the other part of me wishes I’d asked sooner so that I could’ve gotten out of this not-Netflix show.
I hang up the phone and sit here in my trailer, looking at my reflection in the mirror. I’m so ashamed of myself. Of my career. I’m aware there are worse things than starring on television shows you’re not proud of yet the awareness doesn’t change a thing. This is the truth for me. I am ashamed.
I want to do good work. I want to do work I’m proud of. This matters to me on a deep, inherent level. I want to make a difference, or at least feel like I’m making a difference through my work. Without that feeling, that connection, the work feels pointless and vapid. I feel pointless and vapid.
I know that if I make myself throw up right now, my cheeks will swell and my eyes will get watery and that’s gonna be noticeable on-camera. But I can’t help it. I need to. The shame that I feel is intolerable. I need my coping mechanism. I need the depleted feeling I get after a good purge. I jump up from the couch, but just then, there’s a knock at my door. It’s our production assistant ready to take me to set. Shit, there’s no time for a purge. I descend the trailer steps and follow after the PA as we walk toward our first shot of the day, which takes place outside in the middle of a snowstorm.
There, through the flurry of snowflakes and harsh winds, I see him: auburn hair, soulful green eyes, and charmingly bad posture, wearing chinos and a puffer and a beanie with a pompom at the top of it. He’s leaning against a Star Wagon trailer, with one foot resting on the tire while he smokes a cigarette—so edgy. He’s speaking on his iPhone in a combination of broken Italian and English.
“Aayyyy. Aaayyy. All right. Ti amo. Ciao, Ma.”
He calls his mother on breaks? This boy is too good to be true. He hangs up his phone and tucks it into his coat pocket. He pulls out a fresh cigarette and lights it.”
“Steven! We’re setting up,” the production assistant calls out to my new love. So Steven is an assistant director on our shoot. My heart skips a beat. This means I’ll get to see him every weekday for the next three months.
“Why are you here, Valette?” he asked.
“Here at the party?”
“No, here in Lucidel.”
“Because it’s the center of everything.” Vin said.
Elond frowned. “I suppose it is. But the empire is a big place to have such a small center. I don’t think we really understand how large it is. How long did it take you to get here?”
Vin felt a moment of panic. But Sazad’s lessons snapped quickly to her mind. “Almost two months by canal, with some stops.”
“Such a long time,” Elond said. “They say it can take half a year to travel from one end of the empire to the other. Yet most of us ignore everything but this little bit at the center.”
“I-” Vin trailed off.
With Rein she’d been all across the central dominants. It was the smallest of the dominances, however, and she’d never visited the more exotic places in the empire. This central area was good for thieves. Oddly, the place closest to the lord ruler was also the one with the most corruption. Not to mention, the most riches.
“What do you think of the city, then?” Elend asked.
Vin paused. “It’s…dirty.” she said honestly.
In the dim light, a servant arrived to remove her empty plate. “It’s dirty, and it’s full. The skaa are treated terribly, but I guess that’s true everywhere.”
Elend cocked his head, giving her a strange look. I shouldn’t have mentioned the skaa. That wasn’t very noblelike.
He leaned forward. “You think the skaa here are treated worse than the ones on your plantation? I always thought they’d be better off in the city.”
“Uhm, I’m not sure. I didn’t go to the fields very often.”
“So, you didn’t interact with them very much?”
Vin shrugged. “Why does it matter? They’re just skaa.”
“See, now. That’s what we always say.” Elend said. “But I don’t know. Maybe I’m too curious. But they interest me. Did you ever hear them talk to one another? Did they sound like regular people?”
“What?” Vin asked. “Of course they did! What else would they sound like?”
“Well, you know what the ministry teaches.”
She didn’t. However, if it was regarding the skaa, it probably wasn’t flattering. “I make it a rule to never completely believe anything the ministry says.”
Elend paused again, cocking his head. “You’re… not what I expected, Lady Valette.”
“People rarely are.”
“So, tell me about the plantation skaa. What are they like?”
Vin shrugged. “Like skaa everywhere else.”
“Are they intelligent?”
“But, not like you and me, right?” Elend asked.
Vin paused. How would a noblewoman respond? “No, of course not. They’re just skaa. Why are you so interested in them?”
Elend seemed disappointed. “No reason,” he said, sitting back in his chair and opening his book. “I think some of those men over there want to ask you to dance.”
Vin turned, noticing that there was indeed a group of young men standing a short distance from her table. They looked away as soon as she turned. After a few moments, one of the men pointed at another table. Then he walked over and asked a young lady to dance.
“Several people have noticed you, Milady.” Sazad said. “However, they never approach. Lord Ventua’s presence intimidates them, I think.”
Elend snorted. “They should know that I am anything but intimidating.”
Vin frowned, but Elend just continued to read. Fine, she thought, turning back toward the young men. She caught one man’s eye, smiling slightly. A few moments later, the young man approached. He spoke to her in a stiff, formal tone.
“Lady Renue, I am Lord Melend Lees. Would you care to dance?”
Vin shot a glance at Elend, but he didn’t look up from his book. “I would love to, Lord Lees.” Vin said, taking the young man’s hand and rising.
He lead her down to the dance floor, and as they approached, Vin’s nerves
“Mom: I miss you. When am I going to see you?
I stare at the text. It’s been two days since Ryle found out I’m pregnant. I know it’s time to tell my mother. I’m not nervous about telling her I’m pregnant. The only thing that scares me is discussing my situation with Ryle with her.
Me: Miss you, too. I’ll come over tomorrow afternoon. Can you make lasagna?
As soon as I close out the text to her, I get another incoming text.
Allysa: Come upstairs and eat dinner with us tonight. It’s homemade pizza night.
I haven’t been to Allysa’s in a few days. Since before Ryle came home. I’m not sure where he’s staying, but I assume it’s with them. The last thing I want right now is to have to be in the same apartment as him.
Me: Who all will be there?
Allysa: Lily… I wouldn’t do that to you. He’s working until 8 tomorrow morning. It’ll just be the three of us.”
“She knows me way too well. I text her back and tell her I’ll come over as soon as I finish up with work.
“What do babies eat at this age?”
We’re all seated around the table. Rylee was asleep when I got here, but I woke her up so I could hold her. Allysa didn’t mind; she said she doesn’t want her wide awake when she’s ready to go to bed.
“Breast milk,” Marshall says with a mouthful. “But sometimes I stick my finger in my soda and put it in her mouth so she can taste it.”
“Marshall!” Allysa yells. “You better be kidding.”
“Totally kidding,” he says, although I can’t tell if he really is.”
“But when do they start eating baby food?” I ask. I figure I need to learn this stuff before giving birth.
“Around four months,” Allysa says with a yawn. She drops her fork and leans back in her chair, rubbing her eyes.
“You want me to keep her at my place tonight so you guys can get a full night of sleep?”
Allysa says, “No, it’s fine,” at the same time Marshall says, “That would be awesome.”
“I laugh. “Really. I live right downstairs. I don’t work tomorrow so if I don’t get any sleep tonight I can just sleep in tomorrow.”
Allysa looks like she’s contemplating it for a moment. “I could leave my cell phone on in case you need me.”
I look back down at Rylee and grin. “Did you hear that? You get to have a sleepover with Aunt Lily!”
With everything Allysa is throwing in her diaper bag, it looks like I’m about to take Rylee on a trip across the country. “She’ll let you know when she’s hungry. Don’t use the microwave to heat the milk, just put it in…”
“I know,” I interrupt. “I’ve made her like fifty bottles since she’s been alive.”
“Allysa nods and then walks over to her bed. She drops the diaper bag down beside me. Marshall is in the living room feeding Rylee one last time, so Allysa lies down beside me on the bed while we wait. She props her head up on her hand.
“Do you know what this means?” she asks.
“I get to have sex tonight. It’s been four months.”
I crinkle up my nose. “I didn’t need to know that.”
She laughs and falls down on her pillow, but then sits straight up. “Shit,” she says. “I should probably shave my legs. I think it’s been four months since I did that, too.”
I laugh, but then I gasp. My hands move quickly to my stomach. “Oh my God! I just felt something!”
“Really?” Allysa puts her hand on my stomach and we’re both quiet for the next five minutes as we wait for it to happen again. It does, but it’s so soft, it’s almost unnoticeable. I laugh again as soon as it happens.
“I didn’t feel anything,” Allysa says, pouting. “I guess it’ll be a few more weeks before you can feel it from the outside, though. Is this the first time you felt it move?”
“Yeah. I’ve been scared I was growing the laziest baby in history.” I keep my hands on my stomach, hoping to feel it again. We sit quietly for a few more minutes, and I can’t help but wish my circumstances were different. Ryle should be here. He should be the one sitting beside me with his hand on my stomach. Not Allysa.
The thought almost takes away all the joy I’m feeling. Allysa must notice because she puts one of her hands on mine and squeezes. When I look at her, she isn’t smiling anymore.
“Lily,” she says. “I’ve been wanting to say something to you.”
Dr. Edward Hallowell, author of Driven to Distraction, says the ADHD brain is like a Ferrari with bicycle brakes: powerful but difficult to control. My ADHD makes me lose my phone, but it also makes me who I am, so if I’m going to love my life, I have to love my ADHD.
And I do love my life.
It’s June 2022, and I’m having one of my best weeks ever. My friend Christina Aguilera, my neighbor, invited me to be one of her top-secret special guests at LA Pride, and as my crew moved my DJ equipment out the door, I was so nervous and excited I left the house without my shoes and showed up at a backstage trailer in a tank shirt, velour track pants, and socks, which was even more embarrassing when I accidentally went into the wrong dressing room. Some backup dancers were in there getting dressed and screamed for joy when they saw me.
So, selfies. Obviously.
I always try to do it myself—like hold the person’s camera so it’s angled down, which is important if you’re tall, because it’s so unflattering when the angle is up your nostrils or the person’s hands are shaking because they’re maybe nervous and a bit shy, which I totally relate to, so I did that with “Loves it! Loves it! Sliving!” and all the things, and then off I went in my socks, doing this thing my husband, Carter, calls the “unicorn trot”: not fully running, more graceful than galloping, and less like skipping than dancing. I have a hard time going slow.”
“So then I’m there at Pride with Christina and about thirty thousand other people, all decked out in rainbows and sparkles, dancing, laughing, hugging, having the best time during my set, which came right after Kim Petras, who sang at our wedding last year—this beautiful ballad version of “Stars Are Blind” and then “Can’t Help Falling in Love” as Carter and I walked down the aisle—which is why that song brought tears to my eyes last week at Britney Spears’s wedding when our gorgeous angel princess bride emerged, after all those nightmare years, and floated down the aisle in Versace (because Versace, please) with that iconic Elvis Presley song, which has been sung at millions of weddings in Vegas, where my grandfather, Barron Hilton, started the whole Vegas residency trend by having Elvis at the Las Vegas Hilton International back in 1969, paving the way for Britney and so many other groundbreaking performers to flourish in that format, a perfect example of how one person’s creative vision sparks a cascade of genius that goes on and on into the future.
Another perfect example: my great-grandfather, Conrad Hilton.
Wait. Where was I?
This crowd. Oh, my god. Energy. Love. Light. Unbreakable spirit.
I’m behind the board. It’s like piloting a spaceship full of the coolest people in the galaxy. My set is structured around iconic music like “Toxic” alongside a sick BeatBreaker remix of “Genie in a Bottle” by Xtina, Queen of the Night, plus a lot of other dope originals and emixes, which I should put up on the podcast or YouTube, because this set is so much fun. (Note to self: Make playlist for this book.) I was so hyper-focused on my set (note to self: add Ultra Naté to playlist), it didn’t even hit me until I was halfway through that I had left my phone on the counter in that trailer where I took the selfies with the half-dressed backup dancers.
“I’m trying not to say fuck all the time. I don’t want to wear it out, because it’s such a good word for so many occasions. Noun. Verb. Job description. Fill in the blank. Fuck saves the day. So fuuuuuuuuuuck! Because I feel naked without my phone, and I’m super paranoid about someone getting hold of it and blasting the contents all over the internet, which has happened more than once, so thank God for Cade—best friend, guardian angel—who went and located the stray phone after I killed my set, and then we all went to the after-party Christina and I hosted at the Soho House downtown.
Now I’m home with my loves: Diamond Baby, Slivington, Crypto, Ether, and Harajuku Bitch, the OG chihuahua.
Shout out to Harajuku Bitch!”
“She’s twenty-two years old. Multiply that by seven dog years; she’s literally 154! She sleeps twenty-three hours a day and looks like Gizmo from Gremlins, but she’s still here living her best life. I know one night I’ll come home to find she’s fallen asleep forever. I’m so scared of that night, and I hate that random intrusive thought. Intrusive thoughts are my nemesis, cutting through my joy even when I’ve been part of an epic event with people who lift me higher than high and my husband is up in bed waiting patiently for me to take my bath and do my skin-care routine, which he knows I never shortcut.”
“From the time my sister and I were little girls, our mom instilled in us the value of skin care; I always feel her with me in the soothing ritual. Skin care, if you’re doing it right, means claiming a moment of tenderness in an abrasive world. You remove the mask—your brave face, your funny face, your enforcer face, your hard candy coating—and see yourself, cleansed and replenished, and it’s like, “Okay. I’m good.” You feel everything so keenly when you’ve just washed your face.
There was a bowl heaped with scrambled eggs and a bowl similarly heaped with smoking sausages. Woody ate a little, Radar ate a little, and I took care of the rest myself.
“I’ve put your possessions in Dora’s cart, and added something you’ll want to show my cousin when you get to her house. So she knows you’ve come from me.”
“I guess she’s not prone to intuitions, huh?”
He smiled. “She is, actually, and I’ve done my best in that regard, but it’s not wise to rely on such communications. It’s something you may want later on, if your mission is successful and you’re able to return to your own fairy-tale world.”
“What is it?”
“Look in your packsack and you’ll see.” He smiled, reached out for me, and took me by my shoulders. “You may not be the prince, Charlie, but you’re a brave boy.”
“Someday my prince will come,” I half-sang.
He smiled; the wrinkles on his face flowed. “Adrian knew that same song. He said it was from a moving picture that told a story.”
“Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.”
Woody nodded. “He also said the real story was much darker.”
Aren’t they all, I thought.
“Thank you for everything. Take care of yourself. And Catriona.”
“We take care of each other. Do you remember all I told you?”
“I think so, yes.”
“Follow Mr. Bowditch’s marks, be quiet, and be out of the city before dark. Because of the night soldiers.”
“Do you believe what I told you about them, Charlie? You must, because otherwise you might be tempted to stay too long, if you haven’t reached the sundial.”
“You told me Hana is a giant and the night soldiers are the undead.”
“Yes, but do you believe it?”
I thought of the big cockroaches and rabbits. I thought of a red cricket almost the size of Catriona. I thought of Dora with her disappearing face and Leah with a scar for a mouth.
“Yes,” I said. “I believe it all.”
“Good. Remember to show Claudia what I put in your packsack.”
I hoisted Radar into the cart and opened my pack. On top, gleaming mellowly in the light of another cloudy day, was a gilt fist. I looked at the door to the brick house and saw the knocker was gone. I lifted it and was surprised by its weight.
“My God, Woody! Is this solid gold?”
“It is. In case you feel any temptation to push on past the sundial and into the treasury, remember you have this to add to whatever Adrian may have gleaned in the palace on his last visit. Fare you well, Prince Charlie. I hope you don’t need to use Adrian’s weapon, but if you have to, don’t hesitate.”
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- Publish date: March 14, 2023
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