A carrot haired* rodent arrived in the world on June 26. Her name was Nicole. She was born in Chicago and felt Chicago running in her blood. Her dad did not get the memo and worked at hopsitals in assorted downstate Illinois towns on weekdays, dragging her along. My younger self viewed downstate Illinois and eastern Missouri as the most boring places on earth. "Like, ew!" my bored baby self would have said.
* How? Unsure, because neither of my parents had orange hair in childhood, or...ever.
As a youth, I declared to people when they asked what I was going to be when I grew up the truth. A "pirate black and white movie star princess." I would sail the high seas in the daytime. For my main job, I was going to be an old movie star like Marilyn Monroe and her friends, because my younger self thought Marilyn Monroe was BFFs with all the actresses she co-starred with. I thought Marilyn and pals made every aspect of their movies: writing, music, costumes, hair, makeup, set design, and of course, the acting. Little me absolutely misunderstood. What I thought she did was a real job called being a movie director. And, a film score composer. We'll get to that in a pinch.
As a youth, I liked playing GameBoy and SNES, known as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. My favorite game series was anything with Donkey Kong, and I loved playing computer games like Monkey Island. I used to find all kinds of books laying around at home, the library, anywhere and read them. Some were about DOS commands, apparently! My mom proudly loves reminding people how I once corrected an insurance salesman and fixed his malfunctioning software by inputting the proper DOS command. #LOL
I loved Hayao Miyazaki movies because my great aunt gifted them to me when she came back from her travels in the original Japanese. Any moment I went over to my great aunt and uncle's home was a blast! He married a lovely lady from Okinawa, so as you can imagine, I was heavily involved in both Midwestern and Japanese cultures and cuisines at once. She also encouraged positivity, much as if I were in Japan, so I had to do things like play piano, practice my flute, paint when she gifted me a paint set, learn about trees, or blow bubbles in her backyard. You had to have a perfect balance of work and fun. Origami was a major pastime. Always with a Roald Dahl book afterwards.
Back then, I was really into children's literature and learning about science from books made for kids. I loved books. But I also loved retro TV shows I took in with my cartoons and retro cinema. That Girl. Bewitched. Mary Tyler Moore. I'd poof my hair up and, starting when I was 7, dye my hair! I went blonde like Elizabeth Montgomery and deep brunette like Marlo Thomas. Hair dye at a young age isn't really the best hobby, I get it, yet when you think about it compared to smoking ciagrettes or the stuff other children start doing young, it's really harmless.
Going to the mall as a child getting free samples of grownup makeup, like red and pink lipstick, made me feel all the more like my favorite old film stars. I'd part my hair on the side, finger wave it, and pretend I was Jessica Rabbit, until I began dyeing it and wanted to be Veronica Lake, or whomever else made my day back then. I've never once felt like, "Yeah! I'm a girl, cool!" but me playing dress up was fun and made me feel special, like I was playing with dolls but on myself. You'd never have expected it from someone so geeky like me.
My family often took me to hotels, sometimes but not always to attend medical conferences, anywhere for a week to nine days. Whenever I was at a gift shop, I loved getting treated with an activity book. There were things like how to make lanyard bracelets, DIY pottery, anything activity based. A deck of cards with questions you could ask people on airplanes. Silly things. I loved playing tennis on a skyscraper terrace, a roller blading machine, the children's museums in every city, the adult art and science museums, and so on. I joke that I was BFFs with the mummies at the St. Louis museum! The zoos, oh yes, those were always amazing. I to this day love animals and conservation.
My lifelong love of going out to restaurants begin in childhood. Whenever I had a boring day, meh day, bland day, any day gone unhappy or tedious, a good meal at a restaurant made it all so much better. I was photographing my food before the web knew what a selfie was. People then thought it was a goofy habit. Today, all of you are imitating the younger me, haha, with your blogs and social media accounts! If I weren't living this life I am today, I would be a chef like Emeril Lagasse, Thomas Keller, Nobu Matsuhisa, and my other career role models because food, like film and music, is beauty, a perfect blend of art and science.
Because everything is a blessing in disguise as I later learned, the fact everything on my downstate weekdays was so boring to me caused me to obsess over learning about my great loves like computers, music, and film. There was nothing else to do! I took art classes in elementary, yet my true love was music classes. And wow, did I love music. My music teachers, both vocal and for stuff like flute, private lessons and classroom style, gave us your standard music lessons, Disney galore, classical standards by old dudes like Rachmaninoff, and by popular demand, basically anything ever written by Hans Zimmer or John Williams. The lovely Mr. Zimmer owes me McDonald's French fries for life due to the amount of music I have had to practice originally written by him. And, I had one teacher who every week made us sing Mary Poppins tunes. And you wonder why today, I'm so cheesy.
A-ha! You're curious about the other side of me. That naughty side, my sarcastic side, my rebel half. My parents had no rules about me watching R-rated films nor listening to rap music on my borrowed Sony Walkman, a hand-me-down from my dad. My Walkman looked like that one from Guardians of the Galaxy. Gifted with a Vanilla Ice cassette for me to bounce like I was "Ice with a brand new invention!" I loved tagging along to action and adventure movies my dad liked or watching them on HBO. One time, an elderly man gifted me a copy of E.T. asking what movies I liked. I said something about my dad letting me watch Leon: The Professional. He seemed really surprised. But in truth, I loved action and adventure films like I did my standard children's audience movies like Matilda.
My favorite movies growing up were anything Disney because I loved the songs and funny animal characters or the weird-cool guys like Aladdin's genie, any sci-fi or action movies I ever saw like the Alien series because I thought Sigourney Weaver's character was the most awesome woman ever on screen and who I wished I could have been on a fictional adventure, and must I say enough? Anything from the days of old Hollywood and/or Cole Porter. Oh, Cole! I loved learning about Midwestern people like him, Walt Disney, and others who made it big in entertainment because that meant I too could do the same.
I remember the days when I was 10. Titanic had come out. The score was big, and I thought to myself, "Why can't I do that?" Not the movie. The film score. I felt like the stuff one day rolling up to school. My music teacher said we had to have learned something for the keyboard! And you bet I busted in there playing the Titanic theme. He asked if someone had taught me it. I said, "No, I learned it myself!" like the snob I was.
Snobbery is a kid thing I'm thankful I grew out of. Several music teachers told me I had to learn humility if I wanted to really be a film score composer when I grew up. True story, I once got demoted from my flute chair position for being a snob with my ability to do fast paced chromatic scales.
Back then, I crafted original lines to my teachers like, "Why would I practice anything? I don't want to play other people's work. I'm gonna write music for my movies, and soon, all the people you teach will have to spend their lives playing my music." As I said, I'm glad it was a phase! Can you imagine me speaking like that today?
When I learned about famous music names of the past, they always had to basically act as director-screenwriters for their opera productions in the day. You had to as a composer. There was not a question of, "May I write the material and have someone else pen the stage acts?" I wanted to do that in modern day Hollywood when I was older. When I was 11, I purchased a sheet music notebook a Barnes & Noble bookstore and tried writing just about anything on paper, DIY style, using whatever I'd been learning in flute training. Some of my early composing really sucked. Some did not. Nowadays, it's so much easier cheating on the computer. When I was 11, I did not have a MacBookAir. I had pen and paper.
Whenever I told people, more openly starting around seventh grade, how I wanted to be a composer and a filmmaker, winning Oscars for both, they either laughed or told me, "You'll be a great actress!"
People don't tell young boys, "You'll be a great actor!" as if whatever someone just told you is irrelevant to him. They buy young boys a camera and film books.
The worst time happened to me when I told a non-music teacher in ninth grade. She laughed hysterically as if I told an amazing comedy club routine. After that point, I introduced my future goals as "TV journalist" or everything else. Or, yes, "actress." Anything but what I really wanted to do.
Sure, when I was 10, I was inspired by the big excitement from the Titanic score that I could without a doubt someday be a filmmaker and compose the music for my movies. The movie I credit most to inspiring me to want to be a filmmaker when I was older, the moment in time when I knew this was not a phase young people go through, was when I was gifted a DVD of Gladiator. Nobody had wanted to go with me to see it at theaters. The first thing I wanted to do was watch it again the next weekend! When I got the DVD, my younger self was so blown away by this powerful tale of a man out for revenge. Wow, could you believe it!? An epic adventure just like the old Hollywood productions I loved!
When I learned as an adult it was almost somewhat the real story of Branko Lustig, the film's producer, a real man who was in the Holocaust and had every aspect of his life taken from him, that moved me so much. I decided then and there that almost every great movie I have ever seen has either a grain of truth or is almost entirely based on a real story.
Gladiator is a tale of someone getting what he wants by never giving up nor losing his sense of pride. He has every reason in the world to kill himself or in some respect let the bad people win. He never does. My personality on screen if there were a fictional person would be someone like Maximus. Never before, never again, have I ever seen a movie that describes a person with exactly the personality I was born with!
The score is so beautiful, the directing by Ridley Scott so perfect. Everything is amazing. And, right after the movie came out, I remember buying a copy of the score along with the other CDs I wanted by hip hop and pop artists in the same hand!
I used to think I was totally weird about this one movie that reached out to me as a youth until I watched Steven Spielberg's HBO documentary special about his life. In it, he talks a lot about how he wanted to watch Lawrence of Arabia all the time, much like I did with Gladiator! For anyone I meet who says it's boring, I explain, no, you need to watch it start to finish uninterrupted to learn why Maximus is out for revenge and understand him!
Going back and forth from Illinois to NYC for free moments had a major effect on me. I started going out to stuff when I was 14 and more often as time went on. From the moment I went to the VMAs to see Justin Timberlake debut as a solo act, I was hooked. I attended the opening not of an envelope but an e-mail, whether it was in NYC or anywhere.
The correct answer to that was, "Anything that can get my foot in the door so I could become the filmmaker who also makes the music to the movies I direct, and also, perhaps doing the film scores to other people's movies if I get lucky!" because whenever I attempted to cross over into my entertainment goals, I ran into drama-rama like a filmmaker stealing my composing theme when I was 20. He had a more mainstream composer remake it. Karma was totally on my side because his film flopped at the box office.
People sometimes ask me why I've never been photographed, and I have to say, I was! When I did, they never ran my photos. And, most often, nobody wanted to photograph me at the lamest opening of an envelope anyway because I was not walking arm in arm with a publicist. That, my friends, separates a socialite or celebutante from everyone else, the many young people doing the same thing: a heavy PR team making you D-list famous, and/or someone declaring you worthy of being photographed.
Being freed from prison, I mean high school and college, enabled me to do this somewhat. I quit regular high school one month into it, working my magic with community college credits used as high school credits. Some of my community college work was done via distance. I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin when I was 19 and was mad I was delayed a bit from doing it at 18, but what the hey. Freedom is delicious! I'm the bad one in these relationships. It wasn't the higher learning institutions. They were awesome. It was me. I can't stand any school.
People interpreted this like, "Oh! Wow! She's so brainy!" To which I say, "How did you know I'm secretly this comic book villain? Brainy! Absolutely, thank you!" But not for school. I was so bored by school and the student life there. To me, once you go out to real events, the idea of a high school party comes off like filing your nails millions of times in a row. There's no point. And, when I see the realistic depictions of high school with amazing shows like 13 Reasons Why, clearly, I wasn't missing out on anything.
When I was 14, before Google made the world go nuts with people Googling prospective dating material, I fooled people into hiring me to write for places because they did not know I was a minor! Years later, when I was 21, I was the youngest freelancer at The New York Daily News. I have freelanced for a bunch of places. The paydays aren't fancy. The experiences, though, are super awesome. I've gotten to do so much through meeting people and prove the importance of having a side hustle where what you look like does not matter...
...and that conflicted a bit with modeling, where all of your work revolves around what you look like. I was never a supermodel. Few are. I did get signed with several NYC modeling agencies when I was 21 and go from there. I have modeled for some legitimate brands, primarily within the beauty realm and most often, as a hairdresser or makeup person's guinea pig for his or her look book so, yes, he or she could book work for folks like Vogue photoshoots. Most of the time, if I worked, it was because I was the second choice. Or third, fourth, fifth... They called me in whenever someone else got sick or was too hung over to show up. Of course, I was always available! Due to the erratic pay and job bookings, tied with my desires for filmmaking and to always be someone's first pick in a career profession, I quit pursuing modeling in my late 20's.
When people question your abilities and mind's talent so frequently, you misunderstand. And, through sadness, you soon believe the only option is keeping things to yourself. Shying out when someone brings up Pedro Almodóvar movies or animation. Not saying you really want to make amazing movies and all the reasons why when someone asks if you want to work in entertainment. No, the most people thought I was going to do was end up as a Z-list model if ever who "marries well" and has no brain. A Stepford wife raising kids somewhere with her forgotten goals.
People think you shake hands with someone and get hired. I can tell you from personal experience, meeting people does not mean you will get a job be it in modeling, media, or whatever you dream of. I've met so many people, and unless you are someone's significant other, side chick, relative, or in some way meaningful to them, they will not hire you. I heard everything. People asking me why I wasn't married. Me going in for a job and getting asked out. Everything bad. Every cliche that could be attributed to being born female was pinned onto me, and I, oh yes, was asked about it until I got so sick of it, I wanted to run away from the false image people had of me and didn't know how.
My only choice was to pave my way in life and, surprise, make my own movies. But how? When? What could be done? I felt lost.
Sometimes, I feel like my parents deserve an award for living with a human version of Pixar's Dory the fish and successfully raising that person into an adult human being. As someone who always dreamed of making live action and animated films, I decided the only way to make the stories within my heart was to learn how to animate everything myself until I got it right. When you're like me and the proper combination of intellectual meets silly, you shouldn't run away from who you are and instead opt to harness your natural personality into a dream job.
I had no real plan where I would show my animated shorts. All I knew was I was working on them, and somehow, I would actually learn what I was doing enough that people knew what I was drawing. I did, and do, lock myself up with my laptop, animating forever until I nail it.
In the fall, I learned about a grand opportunity for newbie filmmakers like me: Amazon Prime would let you show your films anywhere in the world, pending they met a few specific requirements, and give you a built in audience! Now armed with a plan, I began remaking all of the previously animated work I had begun on. My skills now sharpened from about two years of messing up and seeing what did and did not work for my DIY animated shorts, I now had a new plan and inspiration. Because people were really going to watch my four animated shorts I was animating all by myself, I better step things up!
Thanks to Amazon Prime's good will towards new people like me, I made my second goal to create entertaining Hollywood and music themed journalism for Amazon. My first video journalism experience you can watch on both YouTube and the Amazon streaming service itself was a visit to the 2017 Austin Film Festival.
In June, I released my first ever rock vocal single, "Skyfall." This was a milestone for me because prior to this, I only had instrumental music releases. I intend to somehow cover both hip hop and rock music and get to show off my wide octave range. I am naturally a contralto but can do higher notes with some practice! Releasing music makes my life worth living. The ultimate goal is to additionally act and sing in films like Ryan Gosling in La La Land!
Pizza Delivery, my first animated short, premiered on Amazon Prime globally in July via my own Lucky Pineapple Films. The cast acted out the film in three languages: English, German, and Japanese. I didn’t stop there. Keep up with my Amazon Prime channel to see exciting new additions all the time!
My side hustle includes book publishing under Lucky Pineapple Books. My most recent release I am proud of as a publisher is Di Riddell's Beyond Abuse.
The MY LIFE section will continue to be updated by yours truly as I live, work, and love. Stay tuned!
I can't rewrite my life story to impress you or take away things I would have changed. All I can do, and you can too, is change the future!