Sunday, August 29, 2010

DAVID MILLS - Writer, Producer, Friend, and one of the best people I will ever know...

Tonight the Emmys forgot to honor the memory of my friend David Mills so I thought I would share my thoughts about him here. He died on March 30th of a brain aneurysm and I have missed him every day since - for so many reasons.

He was an incredibly talented writer both in print journalism and for television. He won two Emmys and wrote for some of the best television series ever aired on the tube (NYPD Blue, ER, Homicide: Life on the Street, The Corner, Kingpin, The Wire, Treme). He was also a huge fan of television and it was so much fun to talk to him about shows that we grew up watching - he remembered Gigantor! He was an amazing repository of television history.

I met Dave at Spelling where he had a deal after he'd sold the pilot for Kingpin to NBC. The network wanted it to be a primetime Sopranos and it could have been except that they screwed the pooch when it came to airing it. I was working with Mark Frost at the time and David was a huge fan of his writing on Hill Street and asked me if I would set up a lunch. We became friends, connecting through our shared love of music, specifically all things P-Funk. I ended up working with him because one afternoon I was oversharing with his assistant about breast augmentation (mine), and he rounded the corner to find my boob in her hand. He turned bright red, but the next day asked me to help him out with a scene that took place in the plastic surgeon's (portrayed wonderfully by Brian Ben Ben) office in Kingpin.

He asked me to come with him to NBC to work on Kingpin as a researcher, and took me into the writer's room where he mined my life along with everyone else's - and those drug dealers I dated in the 80s, while still bad choices (but never boring), finally proved to be good for something other than trouble.

David loved writing from real life stories. He loved the way people talked and was an astute observer of the subtleties and nuances of how people communicate with each other, the words they choose and the way they put them together. After he died, when I was helping his family pack up his house here in Los Angeles, I found notebooks filled with scenes he'd overheard out in the world which he'd written down; a mother talking to her kids in the airport, a couple having a fight, etc. He was fascinated by people and the things they do and say. He appreciated the duality of light and dark, saint and sinner, the conventional and perverted aspects that co-exist in an individual life.

I went with David to Warner Bros. on his three year overall deal and while we were there I got to know this very private man very well. I learned his quirks and witnessed so many acts of kindness and generosity that no one really knows about. David was one of those rare individuals who would step up to help others, people whom he'd never met who would ask him to speak to a class of aspiring writers, or to read something they'd written, or for words of advice. In my experience this is not a business where those who've achieved the level of success that Dave did are accessible to people, much less willing to actually help them. Not only that, he was generous in his appreciation of the talents of others and made sure to tell them, to acknowledge them and to thank them. That said, he never pulled a punch or blew sunshine up your butt. If he didn't like what you did he wouldn't tell you otherwise, though he wouldn't talk trash about it behind your back. He was the kind of guy who'd say it to your face.

He was my biggest fan and read everything I ever wrote here. He encouraged me to write my first script. Then he read it... and made me do a page one re-write because he said it could be better. He was right. After we left Warner Bros. we continued to be good friends and he would trek out to points far and wide with me on food adventures. We continued to share music finds - he made me mixed CDs that I loved because he had excellent and eclectic taste in music and every one of them is like going on a journey or listening to a story. He tolerated my fussing at him about taking up smoking in his late 40s and not exercising enough and generally nagging him to take better care of himself. He pushed me and encouraged me constantly to write and to write and to write.

He was a great writer, but it was not always easy and effortless for him (is it easy for anyone?). It was so important to him that every scene move the story forward and that it be real. One of the things that I loved about his writing was that he would never settle for anything less than excellence. He was never lazy about his writing. He would go underground when he was writing, holing up, working through the night, walking and thinking, eating crap food and ultimately coming up with gold. When I watched Treme I could hear Dave's voice in certain scenes and in the episodes he wrote and it is so damn sad that I can't tell him how much I love it.

I miss being able to tell him about the bizarre things I see, the conversations I eavesdrop on, the great song I just heard - old or new. I miss being able to ask him what he thinks about everything relating to politics, culture, race. I would love to know what he thinks about Glenn Beck. I miss eating and drinking with him. I miss reading his blog - Undercover Blackman - which was almost as good as having a conversation with him. It made me think, it made me laugh, and sometimes it intimidated me because the back and forth in the comments got so heated. Dave would never back down from a duel of ideas and opinions.

After he died I read all the articles about him recounting his amazing career and talent. Some referred to him as shy or introverted or quiet which are not words that I associate with Dave. He was smart - the smartest guy I know. He was honest and operated with a level of integrity that is rare in this life and even rarer in this town. He was funny and had an awesomely sharp sense of humor. He was a lot of fun and loved to play - he had the whole Kingpin office playing Password and drinking Margaritas every Friday at the end of the day. Some of my best memories of Dave are of sitting on the floor(me, not him) in his office playing CDs and sharing our favorite music and telling the stories about where those songs landed in our lives. I know that this is the gift of our years of close proximity in that bungalow at WB, and the blessing of our connection, because he was a very private person when it came to his personal life.

To me the word that most accurately describes David is passionate. That passion made him great. I saw his passion in everything he did and for everyone and everything he loved. It wasn't overt and out loud, it was from a deep place inside him. He was a rare and unique soul.

In the late 80s/early 90s David published a zine called UNCUT FUNK. In issue No. 3 he wrote the quote below in his Letter from the Publisher. When I read it I can feel his excitement and passion for what he was doing, and it's like he's still here talking to me, to all of us who got to know him, even to those who didn't. At this point in time you could insert the name of any project he worked on in place of UNCUT FUNK because this was the place he was coming from when he wrote:

"Thanks so much for getting your hands on this. And let me tell you, this is what I had in mind for UNCUT FUNK from the start, and I just know it's gonna knock y'all out! Forgive my immodesty, but at this moment I'm pumped to the limits of my soul, full of the glory of being able to transfer an idea from my head to yours. Let UNCUT FUNK seep into you, each word a sperm searching for something to fuse with so you can go forth and give birth to something positive. Then do me a favor back and put something on paper yourself and spread it around. It's definitely about that printed word!..."

I take solace in the fact that when he died he was in a very good place in his life. He was writing with one of his best friends - David Simon, living in New Orleans, a city that he loved like home, surrounded by great music, fabulous food and good people, doing something that he loved and when he went it was quick. He didn't suffer.

But I miss my friend so much. Every day.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


My friend Heidi needs a kidney and as it happens I'm fresh out of extras. When she and I talk about her situation my heart goes out to her because she has worked so hard to get herself into a tranplant program and to keep herself healthy but as she continues on dialysis it will get harder and harder to stay healthy and stay on the list.

I'm posting a letter that I wrote her recently because my hope is that someone might see it here and pass it along, or share her story, and somehow that person out there who feels moved to donate will find her.

It's not for everyone I know, but if you read this and it moves you to want to do something (but you're not up for living donation) - sign your donor card. It's such a small thing to do and it could literally save a life.

Dear Heidi,

I have been thinking a lot about you over the last week. My friend Jim Crumby was killed in a motorcycle crash on August 6th, he was 53 years old. It was shocking that someone so young would just be gone, leaving a son. Yesterday I went to his funeral and spent the day remembering him with his family and friends.

I'm thinking of you lately because your situation is similar. It may not be happening as quickly, but it's still happening.

Truly I don't want to be negative or dramatic, because you know I believe/know that you will get a kidney transplant, but I also wanted to acknowledge the struggle that you are experiencing and tell you that I feel a level of dread when I think about your future if you don't get a kidney. No one wants to watch someone die.

You do a great job of not dwelling in this reality and, in fact, you have been amazing in your tenacity with regard to getting yourself on the transplant list - going through open heart surgery could have killed you, but it didn't. Instead you are doing better and better. The setbacks you experienced earlier this year with the falls and broken bones might have discouraged, or even ended it for someone else in the same situation heath-wise, but you just kept going.

You truly are the unsinkable Heidi Nye.

I think that because Janet has offered to donate it might seem to others that you are out of the woods, but you and I both know the reality is that you need a kidney from a donor with O positive blood type. A paired donation is still available and possible, but it is not a foregone conclusion.

The facts are that you are one of 85,000 people waiting for a kidney in this country and because you have O positive blood your wait will be longer as that is the blood type that can give to anyone.

That puts you at the literal end of the line.

You have been on dialysis for 18 months already and although it may seem that one can live forever on dialysis that is not true, the reality is that dialysis doesn't do much more than clean toxins from the blood, it doesn't provide the hormones or electolyte balance that are necessary for true health.

The average survival time on dialysis is about 5 years. This means that you will continue to have health issues, which means that you may be removed from the list if you decline in any way.

Although this reality is grim you continue to live your life to the fullest, traveling to Paris and to your cabin in Nova Scotia. You persevere through the medical system, advocating for yourself in a way that amazes me. You do everything you can to keep yourself healthy and you hold on to hope that the kidney will come. You remain engaged in the world, writing, serving on the board of the Alliance for Organ Donor Incentives, being open to a loving relationship and, as always, you continue to be a great mother and friend to your son, Aaron.

I'm writing this to you because I want you to know that I understand just how dire your situation is. I hear you when you share with me how discouraging all of this is and how alone you feel and you have every reason to feel that way.

I want you to know that when I share with people about donating a kidney to a friend (or as I think of it - participating in a miracle) I also tell them about you. My hope is that you will share this e-mail with your friends and acquaintances so that they can share your story with their friends and acquaintances. My prayer is that there is someone out there who may feel moved to donate, as I was, and that they would donate to you and change your life.

I know this is possible because your neighbor Janet has already stepped up and although she was not a match and it didn't happen, it opened the door to possibility.

While living donation may not be something that most people would consider doing, they CAN sign their donor cards. No one likes to think about dying when they are young and healthy, but if it happens becoming a donor can create a blessing out of a tragedy.

I am always available to answer questions about living donation and my experience being a donor so please feel free to send anyone who might be interested my way.

Hang in there - love you,

Friday, July 09, 2010


Now that school is out and the 4th of July has passed it feels like summertime. I know that's not really all one word, but this particular spelling reminds me of those days between one grade and the next when all I had to do was loll through my days and play with friends until the street lights came on.

Since I've been laid off that feeling has come over me again. Not because I am lolling around, but because the job market sucks and the economy sucks and it seems like a lot of people are kind of in this groove of staying home and spending time not spending money.

It's a good thing.

My childhood summer days were spent during a much simpler decade when there were no computers and very few channels to watch on TV. When I write things like that I cringe because it's so, "back in my day" old lady speak. Still the reality is we did spend our days a lot differently than kids do now for those very reasons.

In the pre-teen years the days were spent at the beach, or playing in the street - literally. We would put on plays and recitals that we forced our parents to attend. We made refreshments and donned chenille bedspreads and played Heat and Soul on the piano. We passed the time hanging out in the kitchen playing Kings in the Corner and drinking sweet iced tea with Kami's mom or hung out in the bowling alley on league day, or we went to the Plaza theater with snacks that were purchased at Plaza liquor next door, to see Disney films.

When we were not yet 16 but older than 12 hours passed while floating in the pool listening to Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne and smoking cigarettes we snuck out of Laura's mom's purse. We'd hitch hike down PCH to the beach and spend the bus fair our mother's gave us on Abba Zabbas and Big Hunks. The same guys in an orange van with shag carpeting on the walls and ceiling picked us up and brought us home every day so it never felt dangerous, and we'd listen to Houses of Holy on the 8-track player as loud as the volume would go. The Ocean was my favorite song. At night we went to play raquet ball at this guy Rick's house - his dad had converted the garage into a regulation court. Or sometimes we'd pool our money so there was enough to buy three tickets into the drive in and squish three more into the trunk with the lawn chairs which we'd take out and set in a row between two speakers. On the nights that there were parties located only the coordinates of the streets - Monlaco and Studebaker - we would pimp beer outside of El Dorado Liquor. A six-pack of Bud Talls would get two people nicely buzzed and if there was a keg that was even better. When there were no parties we would usually hang out at Laura's house because her parents never bothered us and we would play records and read magazines and smoke and talk. The summer was my favorite time to read. I would go to the library and check out stacks of books and actually have time to read them.

The summer seemed to last forever and it's been a long time since I've felt that relaxed. I'm open to getting a great new job, but if it doesn't happen until school starts I'll be okay with that.

I'm going to the library to check out a stack of books and it will be bliss to have the time to read them.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

FIREWORKS on the 4th

I was up in Santa Ynez for the 4th with Peggy and Ron and the rest of the family. It's hard to believe that a year ago Ron and I were recovering from surgery. This year we all went down to the Mission in Solvang to watch the fireworks show.

I love small town 4th of July celebrations, the parades, the kids, the vintage cars and marching bands. Because Solvang is in the middle of a verdant and fertile valley there was also farm equiptment and the 4H club! I think that next year they should have the wine growers represented with free tasting booths at every corner.

There's also a large military population in Lompoc and there were a lot of families from the base at the mission grounds where they'd had a carnival and BBQ directly after the parade and before the show. As I watched the rockets strafing into the sky with the loud whistles and trails of smoke, something that I could see through the camera lens, it made me think about all the people living under skies where the explosions are real.

I've never been a fan of fireworks because they're loud and they kind of scare me. In years past I have huddled with the dogs in the house. This year, maybe because I was trying to take pictures of them, which was way more challenging than I thought it would be (it's all about the timing), they didn't bother me as much, but the whole time I couldn't help thinking how grateful I am that they are a form of entertainment and not the real thing.
And I said a prayer that those people in the military all over the world will stay safe from the real fireworks.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

RIP David Mills - I will miss you my friend

Thursday, March 04, 2010


Lately I've been chanting this to myself. Now I have a tune I can hum!

Monday, January 11, 2010

(word origin)
O.E. bereafian "rob," from be + reafian "rob, plunder," from P.Gmc. *raubojanan. A common Gmc. formation (cf. Du. berooven, Ger. berauben, Goth. biraubon). Since c.1650, mostly in ref. to life, hope, loved ones, and other immaterial possessions. Past tense forms bereaved and bereft have co-existed since 14c., now slightly differentiated in meaning, the former applied to loss of loved ones, the latter to circumstances.
Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian.

For the last week I have been feeling this acutely. Our friend Jacob was killed last Monday night in a tragic, horrific accident. We found out on Tuesday when we had lunch with Gudren who asked if we'd heard what happened.

When she said the words, "Jacob was killed last night." I had one of those moments where I completely disconnected and although they registered I refused to believe that they were true. Because I didn't want them to be true, because they couldn't be true.

Jacob was one of those people who was so completely present and joyful in every moment that it is impossible to grasp that his spirit could be extinguished. Just the day before he had come up in a conversation we were having about emotional intelligence. He might not have been the smartest guy about some stuff, but he was full to the brim with emotional intelligence.

He was born and raised in Israel and he had served in Shayetet 13 of the IDF. He moved to the US and married an American girl and they adopted two kids, who had a bit of a rough start, but who were very blessed to end up with Jacob and his wife. He was a contractor who did excellent work in marble, tile and granite and the buildings and civic centers he worked on span Southern California.

None of that really expresses the essence of Jacob though - he was one of those people who lived life full out all the time. To talk with Jacob was to make a connection, even if it was just 10 minutes. He was completely, 100% real - all the time. He was philosophical and loved to discuss human behavior. He was onto himself which doesn't mean that he did everything right, it just means that he knew himself and he was comfortable with the man that he was so he could accept and appreciate everyone else where ever they might be.

He truly lived out loud and had the very best time. Every year he had a giant 4th of July party with a ton of people, live music and fireworks. Not fireworks as I've always thought about them - sparklers in the street and a couple of cones that blow different colored showers - but fireworks that you are more likely to see at a park. The kind of show with aerial explosions that the fire department supervises. These things were launched straight up from a wooden structure a little ways down the street and they exploded high over our heads as we sat in lawn chairs and on towels on the neighbor's lawns and sidewalks. The whole neighborhood was there so no one was going to call and tell.

He was a force of nature whose aim was to have a good time and find the happiness in every experience, in every moment.

And now he is gone. His death is so much more tragic because it didn't have to happen. Last week he picked up a container full of granite from India at the port and took it up to his yard. He and his employees were unloading the 5 tons of granite and he went into the container (if only he hadn't). The load was secured only by a couple of nails (if only he'd checked). There was a shift of weight which caused the 5 tons of granite to move crushing Jacob against the wall of the container (if only he'd been able to get out of the way).

Rescue was called but he was pronounced dead at the scene. Then they had to wait for a crane to come to lift the load off of his body.

It is a cruel irony that this man whose spirit was indomitable and ebullient despite the harsh economic realities that have us all bowed, who was happy no matter how bad things got, was literally crushed.

And he's gone.