A few weeks ago, Gina Angelone was in the south of France writing her novel as part of an artist’s residency program. With her time in Europe coming to a close, she did what she typically would do before returning home to the LA suburbs: She visited every cultural institution she could – castles in small villages and major museums in Paris – before her flight back.
“I was sort of stuffing myself with culture and art and music, and then I thought ‘Wait. I’m going to be living in a city that has all of these things, and I don’t have to fill the stores in the same way anymore.’”
Angelone was no longer returning to the suburbs, but to a loft in downtown LA that she’d not even properly moved into before heading off to France. A few weeks before her departure, she “liquidated” the suburban home in sleepy Calabasas she’d shared with her twin sons when both left for college on the East Coast.
Moving back to the city
To deal with the massive transition, she changed her geography, opting for the culture-rich downtown life that she thrived in as a young director/producer in New York City in the 1980s and 1990s. But she also changed her creative focus. Out came the novel she’d finished 10 years ago for some tweaking and polishing and rewriting. With it, came a new set of challenges: navigating the world of book agents, learning a whole new industry and making herself vulnerable in a way she hadn’t in decades.
“I’ll have to learn to not take any of it personally,” she says, laughing. “I really feel that this is the benefit of being over 50. I tortured myself my whole life with artificial deadlines: If I do not have this and that accomplished by a certain age, then it’s a terrible thing, and my lifetime has been lost. But all of that is nonsense.”
Gina Angelone been working at a fast clip since she emerged out of her teens and entered Hampshire College, a place where she could design the kind of curriculum she wanted. She spent a few years in Paris as a result, working on a thesis on critical and psychoanalytic theory and gender studies, and also soaking up film at the movie theater. She learned filmmaking on the job, interning with a BBC producer before moving to New York where she quickly landed work producing for Fortune 500 clients.
“I was made to learn every aspect of film and video production … but for me the most important was storytelling,” she says. “How to construct a story, and how to inspire trust and likeability. When you meet someone, you immediately have to connect with the person, get the subject, elicit the story and create something meaningful.”
She produced the long-running series “Inside the Actor’s Studio” and created marketing and advertising campaigns for GAP and Calvin Klein. A corner office in the Brill Building near Times Square, a shared floor with Martin Scorsese and Lorne Michaels… Gina’s life was as full of career highlights and shoulder pads as a Melanie Griffith film. Until it hit her: Something was missing. “I suddenly realized at age 34 that kids would be a nice addition to my happiness,” she says.
She met her husband, and her sons were born in 2000. They opted for the classic New Yorker’s escape route, moving to Westchester County into an 18th century farmhouse. She still worked in the city but eventually moved to Florida and then California, where they went their separate ways.
The Suburban Mom
Calabasas was different: Gated communities, music piped in through artificial rock loudspeakers in the central plaza, a more subdued relationship with neighbors and single motherhood. She loved being a mother, the fulfillment it gave her and the structure it lent to her hectic life. She was waking up at 5:30 every morning, getting the boys to and from school, creating nightly rituals around sumptuous dinners so that dialogue could blossom and technology would never replace human interaction.
All the while Gina continued writing, keeping a dedicated daily workout practice, and making award-winning films on twin Holocaust survivors, the struggles of an Arab town in northern Israel, a documentary series on landscape design, and two web series for Disney. Gina refers to this time as her “superhero” period where it was “important to fully prioritize the kids, but also keep sacred what was critical to my creativity and model that passion to them.”
Then, over the course of the last few months her two “best friends” were on to new chapters in their lives. She and her boyfriend began thinking of a post-suburban life.
“I’ve been going so hard … now the idea is to find a balance, add a little more softness to the routine,” she says. “It’s almost like supplementing the high intensity workouts with some yoga. I feel like my body and mind are coming up for air, encountering a new environment, and not only having to make sense of it all, but also deciding how to play it out.”
Like many of us, Gina is learning to live in Beta. Her film work continues with a current project on the social concerns of urban design with world-renowned landscape architect, Laurie Olin. But she’s found her creative energy shifting more and more into her writing, and the novel she had finished so many years ago. The ticking clock went away after she turned 50 – and with it, the burden of expectation.
Risk and its rewards
“I absolutely feel that I have nothing to lose by sticking my neck out,” she says. “The worst that can happen is that my book is only read by friends, family and whoever gets their hands on it. But at least, it won’t be hanging out on my desktop, unread. That can be gratifying enough. I’ve learned to curb my expectations but also not to really give a damn about outcomes. I’m thrilled to do the work I do and feel fortunate to be able to do it.”