We had the good fortune of connecting with Parker Lemal-Brown and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Parker, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
Work-life balance always felt like a fantasy to me, even before I ever had a full-time job. In college, everything was on our phones, so the days and weeks never really ended once we got out of class. I got used to always being on, always working on something whether it was homework or networking for future work.
My dad also taught me that if you are doing what you love as a career, they only pay you to “wait between the scenes”. The work isn’t really work, because we’d be doing it whether or not we’re getting paid. That’s how I’ve always felt about writing. I never felt naturally talented, but I can always work more.
My first full-time job in LA was as an executive assistant for a TV series. It was a once-in-a-lifetime gig, but I felt like I had no skills, experience or leverage. I was “paying my dues”, which meant never turning off. I was working constantly, had health issues from stress, and lost time for my friends or family. I wasn’t alone – most of my friends also worked 60-plus hours a week. I assumed that this was normal for working adults. Whenever I wanted to take a break, another “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity would pop up that I didn’t want to miss.
On top of that, I was writing. As a writer, you always have a second job. You need to pay the bills, but also craft your projects and evolve creatively. Creating is a different kind of work – it takes a special mindset that can use up a lot of time and emotional energy. It’s not easy, especially when you’re exhausted by a minimum wage job with high expectations and long hours. Writing is difficult even in the best situations, but combined with an industry job it can cause burnout. Everyone told me that it’s a marathon, not a sprint, but I felt like I was sprinting a marathon. Taking care of myself was the lowest priority, because I was working so hard to take care of my career. Then I had a nervous breakdown at 22. I don’t always see red flags, but this one slapped me in the face. I had to slow down or else.
I’ve also experienced the other side – doing absolutely nothing. During the pandemic, I spent months between jobs. I was bedridden for most of 2021 due to surgery and then a car crash that gave me a whiplash concussion. For the first time in my life, I was forced to rest and heal my body. Nothing else. I couldn’t write or find the energy to network. That time gave me some space between who I am and what I do. I finally realized that I can’t calculate my self-worth by my success. It’s not going to make me happy in the long run.
Now, I try to set better boundaries for myself. I break down everything I “should” do into categories: do I want to do this? Do I need to? Do I need to do it now? If it’s not any of those things, I put that task back on the shelf to pick up another time. It helps keep some breathing room in my brain, which helps me be more curious and creative.
Time is an incredible privilege. I’m very lucky to be financially stable enough to have this type of time, while building a career that I love. Depending on where I’m working, this balance can be harder to keep. But I’m trying to protect this healthier mindset by setting boundaries, knowing my rights, and taking care of myself. I’m learning that investing in my own wellbeing is worth it, that my mental health needs to be my priority before anything else. I hope that the pandemic has also given others space to breathe, relax, and enjoy the things that make them happy outside of work.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Before I worked in TV, I did marketing for nonprofits and environmental activism. I’m obsessed with finding ways to make people care about each other. Empathy is the root of social change – we are more likely to help others when we feel like them. That’s what brought me back to my dream of writing TV – it’s the only medium that really creates that feeling for millions of people at once.
When I first moved to LA, I joined a lot of networking groups for women even though I didn’t identify as female. As someone who is trans/nonbinary, I wasn’t sure who would take me seriously as an artist or even as a person. The early part of my career was spent looking for people like me, to get a sense of what was “acceptable”. I didn’t want to be boxed in for my gender identity, but I also craved a community that shared my experiences and perspective.
I started my gender transition at the same time I started my career, which has been pretty surreal. There was a point where I started every new gig in a slightly different body, like a rapidly growing middle schooler. As a writer, I’m used to being pretty invisible, but being trans made me completely exposed. I was being looked at constantly but rarely seen. As an assistant, there’s also a balance between blending into the background to learn as much as you can but still owning your creative voice. A lot of my career has been that duality.
Transmasculine writers are rare in the TV space right now, as are trans characters in general. It’s dangerous when one story has to reflect an entire community. That’s why representation is so important, because it’s easy to assume someone else’s experience is universal when it’s the only one you see. My own transition was impacted by the trans characters I saw on screen – or didn’t. When I couldn’t see people like me, it made me feel wrong about who I am.
I want to bring more trans stories to the screen, especially in rural settings and in genres like sci-fi. I use my writing to explore healthier versions of masculinity, where it’s okay to be sensitive and express feelings without violence. I love time and memory, which I play with a lot in my scripts. I have a background in Neuroscience, so I like to play with senses to create a more immersive experience for the audience. In an age of short attention spans, I’m constantly thinking about how to stay submerged in a good story.
I’ve learned that the worst thing someone can say is “no”, or “not yet”. So ask for what you want. You can’t control your fate but you can improve your odds by making your own stuff and meeting people who get you. Work smarter, not harder. During the pandemic, I realized that I had hundreds of connections but only a few truly good friends. Strong relationships are always more important than random names, no matter how big. If you are in a toxic situation, it’s not worth keeping yourself there in case you “lose” a connection. You will find good people in your life who have your back no matter what. Finally – as a writer, don’t try to guess the market or write something because it feel trendy. Write the story that makes your heart explode. If you love it that much, odds are someone else will too.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I live in Glendale, so the first thing for any trip is picking up pastries at the Armenian bakeries on Pacific Avenue (either Papaya or Pacific Bake House – or both!). For a quick breakfast, we’ll stop by Muffin Can Stop Us for delicious english muffin sandwiches and horchata lattes. We can take a hike up to Debs Pond in Montecito Heights to see the turtles and a nice view of downtown, then grab coffee at Terra Mia in Highland Park.
Spend a day in Hollywood, check out the Kodak theater and gems like The Museum of Broken Relationships. My favorite view is from Lake Hollywood, when I’m brave enough to drive up through the Hills. For a fancy dinner, check out Crossroads in West Hollywood for vegan Italian food then hit up Tramp Stamp Granny’s, the piano bar built for Broadway nerds. If it’s the summer, try to catch a movie in Hollywood Forever – to me, there is nothing more LA than watching a cult film in a literal cemetery. In Koreatown, get rice cakes and soju at Dan Sung Sa, then sing karaoke next door and top it off with ice cream from Bumsan Milk Bar.
My favorite part of LA (county) is Culver City. If we’re lucky enough to get tickets, we would check out a live taping of a show at Sony and take a tour of the studio lot. There’s nothing better than being in the audience and seeing an episode come to life in real time. For dinner, we will gorge on homemade pesto tagliatelle at Pasta Sisters until we roll back to the car.
Most of my friends are from the east coast, so I always want to end with a trip to Santa Monica to check out the original Muscle Beach and swim in an ocean that won’t give us hypothermia like the Atlantic. My friends always complain about the traffic, but I still think it’s better than driving in six feet of snow.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
So many people! I’m incredibly lucky to have amazing parents, who gave me unconditional support and a very dark sense of humor. My college professor Sarah Bay-Cheng was the first person to call me a writer, and taught me about the greats in theater and film.
I’m grateful to every single writer who answered my DMs on Facebook and gave me advice or bought me a cup of coffee as I was coming up. The Time’s Up Transmasculine Cohort is where I’ve met so many amazing trans siblings, who showed me what is possible as gender-fluid artists and gave me the first glimpse of my own future. A big thank you to all of my friends who have kept me in this city, and my girlfriend Naomi for sharing all the small things with me.
Finally my siblings – my brother Schuyler taught me about easy optimism, and genuinely enjoying the good moments in life. My younger sibling Clara inspires me every day, as someone who has always been fearless in their identity way before I had the courage. I wouldn’t be where I am without the support, resources, and love of those I know. I hope to share the same with others too!
595AB31D-12BE-4806-81AC-CEA54BE6933B / IMG_4737 – Jayce Juardo