1st Anniversary

February 20th was my 1 year anniversary of my last day of working for CBS. For many of my coworkers it was a sad day. Had it ended 10 years earlier, I would have joined them in their sadness. As it was, I had stayed too long and there was nothing but joy and elation knowing I would never drive onto that over-crowded, parking-spots-barely-wider-than-a-Prius, cars-parked-just-inches-from-each-other-so-you-have-to-wedge-yourself-into-whatever-door-opens-wide-enough-to-get-into-and-climb-over-the-seat parking lot. That was if you actually found a spot on the lot. Always fun walking past all the empty executive spots and parts of the parking area filled with trailers and set storage as you hiked in from the public lot nearby. That way you were sure to arrive at your job, having been reminded that you had absolutely no value to the company. Even the sets got better parking.

But of course the parking wasn’t the real issue. That was just more irritation that made an already unpleasant situation even more unpleasant. Lack of opportunity was the real issue. My naivity of the business led me to think a network job would provide more opportunity for upward mobility than freelance. Oh, foolish me. It would have been hard to turn down the steady work, but if I knew then what I know now, I would have. I had made those hard decisions before. When I was just starting out and desparately needed a job, I turned down steady work in a bookkeeping firm, and an exciting job as a green room attendant at the Columbia Records recording studio. It was hard, but in both cases I knew it would not lead where I wanted to go. If I had known the truth about where the network job was leading (nowhere), I have no doubt I would have turned that down as well.

I definitely would have turned it down had I known they could use me as a daily hire, with no rights or job security, for 20 years. If I had a problem I would go to the network and they would say, “You aren’t an employee. We only hire you for this production. Go talk to them.” And if I went to the production company I was told, “You don’t work for us, you are hired by the network, go talk to them.” I existed for 20 years in no-man’s land. At any time they could have called me, without severence or notice and said, “Your services are no longer needed” and that would have been that. Instant unemployment. Nothing I could have done. This could happen if the host, a producer, or even director decided they didn’t like me, or something I had done. I’d seen it happen to others. One wrong Facebook post, one wrong comment made to the wrong person, one bad mistake, and we would hear, “It was best for the show if Mergatroid pursued other opportunities.” Then we quietly went back to work hoping it wasn’t us next time.

Late night television was also the absolutely wrong field for a dramatic writer. There were no connections to be made that could move me forward. If I wanted to be a comedian, or a sitcom writer… perfect. There was also very little creativity, and what little opportunity there was for that was guarded more carefully than Golem guarded his Precious. So for me it was a mind-numbing monotony of monologue jokes, comedy bit, guest intro, guest intro, music or comedian, close. Night after night after night after night after night for 20 years.

The culture on the show was also difficult for me. Rather than pulling together so that we could get farther together, from day one, lines were drawn and groups were set against each other. Resentments and jealousy ate away at the fabric that should have bound us together. Others have talked of such different experiences in the business, and I often wonder how my career would have turned out if I had been part of a tight-knit, supportive team.

But knowing none of that, I jumped into a Late Night Network job with all the optimism of the country girl I was. It took me 20 years to extricate myself, and that was 10 years too long. By then my career was pretty much over. There just aren’t too many women over 50 who break into television writing, if any.

Despite the joy of that last day on February 20, 2015, I was crying when I drove off the lot. It was also our Executive Producer’s last day in the business. He was being lauded and honored… and rightly so. He had an amazing career. However, it wasn’t lost on me that my last day was met with deafening indifference. 25 years in the business and nobody cared. It hurt a little. Oh, who am I kidding, it hurt a lot. It was a sucky way to leave.

Regardless, it was the right thing to do. The year since then has been magnificent. I am free! I am no longer working in a job whose main goal is to make a few people at the top rich. I am now working in a job whose main goal is to, yes, make enough profit to stay open, but equally important, our goal is to help people be physically and mentally well. The job doesn’t follow me home. It doesn’t stress me out so much that I can’t write when I have the time. and that has allowed me to get 45,000 words deep into the best work I’ve ever done. On my job I am given credit for my work. At least so far my boss hasn’t denied I exist and claimed that she does it all herself. Sometimes she even spontaneously thanks me for things, not just waiting until I make a mistake to acknowledge my existence. Imagine! Oh wait, I don’t have to anymore. There are opportunities to be creative with marketing and writing articles. There are also silly ways to be creative in decorating the studio and dressing up the anatomy skeleton. I just can’t seem to get away from working with skeletons. In every way, despite the huge downgrade in pay, I have gotten a huge promotion.

While there’s clearly a lot of bitterness in this post, I know it is beginning to fade. One of the things I found delightful about my fellow Missourians – few ever ask me what I did in LA. Because of that, I rarely told anyone about my life in Hollywood. I didn’t want to talk about it, or even think about it. I just wanted to bury it. However, a year later, the stories are starting to leak out. It gives me hope that eventually I will remember more of the good than the bad. Because honestly, it was quite an adventure for this South Dakota farm girl, even if it didn’t turn out exactly as I’d hoped.

Happy freedom anniversary to me.

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The Joy of Writing

It seems my posts have been a little heavy lately, so I will change things up a bit and talk about the joy of writing. Quite often I’ll read an interview with a successful writer, and am amazed when they talk about how much they hate writing. They complain about what a painful process it is, and describe their misery. James Joyce said, “Writing in English is the most ingenious torture ever devised for sins committed in previous lives.” I always want to ask writers who hate writing why they do it if it’s so painful. Seriously, isn’t there something out there they enjoy doing more? Why don’t they do that? Just because you’re good at something, doesn’t mean you have to do it. Thank goodness, or I’d still be a teleprompter operator.

Now, I’ll admit that writing isn’t always easy. It requires a great deal of discipline, and that’s something I struggle with. There are times that inspiration seems as rare as tolerance at a Tea Party gathering, and that’s when the mental struggles begin. Am I a fraud? Am I fooling myself? Should I find a new passion? A new dream? Is there any point to this? Yes, that is painful, but that has to do with doubts, not writing.

And honestly, that’s about as unpleasant as writing gets for me. Thankfully the joys are much more numerous. First, there’s the initial jolt of a great story dropping into your brain. For me it has come while watching a TV commercial, an interview about politics, a news article, or from an offhand comment I overhear at a table next to me. When it hits, it’s overwhelming. Conversations, reading, TV, and all thoughts of anything else are brought to a grinding halt. The brain wants to do nothing more than roll that story idea around. It’s play time!

That kernel of an idea leads to the glorious question, “What if…” What ifs are fantastic! They’re exhilirating. For someone who loves stories it’s like a kid walking into a toy store and being told they can have anything and everything they want. The mind starts running down aisles and grabbing things off the shelf. Sometimes when you get something into the cart, you realize it isn’t what you want, and it goes back on the shelf, but all the possibilities are what fill those moments with utter joy.

Eventually the cart is full of all the right things and I sit down in front of the computer. This is where the work comes in. Translating that glorious idea into words that others will enjoy is hard. There are so many things to keep in mind. What voice? Whose story? Building conflict. Changing values. Character arcs. Layers of meaning. Story structure. A satisfying conclusion. You have to juggle all the elements of a story while not losing that initial spark and inspiration of the original idea.

Hard work? Yes. As painful as enhanced interrogations? Not even close, I would imagine.

The other day I’d reached a point in the story where I really wasn’t sure what came next. I hadn’t had adequate daydreaming time to figure out exactly how the villain was going to proceed with his plans. There have been times that means I just don’t write. After all, if I don’t know what to write, what is there to write? But this day I forced myself to sit and write anyway. Granted, I did my best to procrastinate a bit, but eventually I just sat and stared at the page on the screen. I put myself into the character’s place, and imagined what I might do if I were them. Suddenly, as if dropped like a gift from the sky, it was all so obvious. Not only did it make sense to move the story forward, but I discovered an entire layer of deeper meaning to add to the theme of the book. I happily spent the next few hours putting those ideas on the page and watching them come to life. Utter joy!

Yes, it was a struggle to get there, but the joy that followed from breaking through made it seem like a minor anoyance. Perhaps that’s how women who give birth feel. Perhaps there wouldn’t be that joy if there weren’t that struggle. The joy is so much greater than the pain, and I don’t understand talented writers who say otherwise. Maybe that means I’m not as talented as they are. All I know is that I’m grateful that I have a talent and passion for something that makes me happy.

Hearing the story first is a priceless gift, transcribing it for others is a fantastic adventure. Being allowed to pursue this career – all joy.

Write on!

 

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Happy Birthday to Me

Birthdays are only unpleasant if you are aren’t doing in life what you want to be doing. Even though yesterday was my first step into the second half of a century, which could be depressing, this was a very happy birthday. The increasing number means little right now.

The first half century of my life was pretty remarkable. I often think about myself as someone kind of boring. I’m just a middle-aged woman living alone with my cats. Then I think back on all my adventures and realize I have not lived an ordinary life. Running off to Hawaii at 20. A summer in Yellowstone. A winter at the Grand Canyon. Teaching city kids about nature. Showing up in LA with no experience and still managing to have a 25 year career in television – working with the biggest celebrities, sports figures, and government officials on the planet. I’ve gone caving, had the Phantom of the Opera sing to me backstage, seen Renoirs and Van Goghs in person, attended several Super Bowls, gone ghost hunting overnight on an old ship, made John Candy laugh, ridden the London Eye, chatted backstage with the VP of the United States, gone whale watching, and so much more. I’ve done things I never could have imagined I would do when I was young. It has been a remarkable ride, and I’ve said that if I die today, I wouldn’t be eligible for a refund. I’ve gotten my money’s worth.

However, most of those events happened years ago. For the past few years there has been very little adventure in my life. I went to work. I recovered from work. I went back to work. That was life. Daydreams, which were the power behind most of my adventures, stopped completely. Being a square peg in round Hollywood left me more and more insecure. I built higher and thicker walls, sure I would be rejected anyway. I collapsed in on myself, not sure who I was anymore. For the first time in my life, I understood the term, “soul sick.” No dreams, no joy, no me.

Thankfully, the soul is a resilient thing. Since leaving LA and finding myself in a strong community of friends and coworkers, my soul has returned to life. I find myself more comfortable in my skin. Confidence is growing, laughter comes easily, but most importantly, I can dream about my future again. I can imagine all sorts of exciting adventures happening… even falling in love. Anyone who knows me well is probably picking themselves up off the floor after that comment.

I feel like I’ve received so many wonderful gifts this year. My house in LA was beautiful inside, but had no view other than my neighbor’s houses and a sliver of busy street. Right now I look out across an expanse of field bordered by trees that are just starting to change into a beautiful mix of reds, golds, and greens. I’m have the time and mental clarity to be working on a novel. My commute went from an hour and a half battling LA traffic to 10 minutes on side streets of a small city. My dead-end job is dead, and I’m now doing work that matters, is appreciated, and provides new challenges every day. I went from working in a toxic soup, to one of mutual support and encouragment. What might I have accomplished in Hollywood with this support system? I went from worrying I had no future, to being able to dream of fantastic futures. A completely 180. I am so blessed.

Through a bit of planning, hard work, and a great deal of real estate luck, I have recieved the best birthday present I may have ever been given. I’ve gotten myself and my dreams back. Happy birthday to me.

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Road Trip

One of the joys of living in the midwest is its central location. Just a few hours away are numerous large cities. Also, just a day’s drive away is my old college town and my best friend, as well as numerous other friends and relatives. Last weekend I decided I was finally settled in enough to take the new car on a roadtrip and visit some people from home.

The trip didn’t start out or end particularly well. Thanks to an iPhone update, my GPS was screwy and left me not knowing how to even start. It’s a little frightening how reliant we’ve all become on technology. Sitting in my car, wondering what to do, I had to ask myself, “What did I do before GPS?” Not sure I had any maps left, I remembered Google maps, went inside, fired up the computer, and printed out my route. That got me on the road, though I was thoroughly annoyed with having to check the map instead of listening to a pleasant voice tell me a turn was coming up. We’re reliant for a reason… because technology, when it’s working, is better than no technology.

The drive was beautiful and I enjoyed the rolling hills, limestone rocks, and tree covered landscape. It stayed this way pretty much until I hit South Dakota. Now, having grown up there, I do appreciate the unique beauty it offers, but after passing through the rolling hills of Missouri and Iowa, it suddenly seemed barren and bleak. Whatever trees I saw had been neatly planted in rows after the dust bowl to help preserve land.

It was so good to see friends and family. I visited with my newly engaged niece and another one heading off for a major backpacking trip. I saw an old friend from high school, and probably annoyed our waitress by monopolizing a booth during the breakfast rush hour as we happily chatted away. Of course, any time with my best friend is amazing and wonderful. As I’ve said, Missouri would be almost perfect, if only she were here.

Despite all that, my gut feeling that Missouri was where I should move was confirmed. The whole time I was in SD I could not picture myself living there. It just felt wrong. Missouri felt right. Much of my life has been run by listening to this intuition. I’ve lost it from time to time, and generally lose myself when that happens, but it’s nice to know it’s still there. I just have to be open and listen.

The trip home was a little traumatic. The night before I left, a huge storm came through the area. There I was with a brand new car that didn’t even have it’s permanent plates yet, and no garage. My best friend selflessly gave me her garage, which was humbling. She at least was willing to accept my help with the deductible if her car was damaged. Thankfully, it was not. However, the next day I had to drive home through parts of that same storm. I delayed leaving a little and thought the worst was safely past me. I was wrong. Suddenly I was in pouring rain that was so hard I could barely see the car that was 3-4 car-lengths in front of me. I told myself if I just kept driving, I’d be clear of it in a few miles. Instead it got worse. The only way I could see that car was when it put on its brake lights. I could also see a car 3-4 car lengths behind me. I wanted desperately to pull over, but know that is how pile-ups start. As I counted the passing miles I became more and more terrified. The clouds became heavier and darker until it was almost night out. I had to keep reminding myself it was the middle of the day. I finally saw an old road that had been fenced off, but allowed me to pull my car off the road. Unfortunately, once I looked at the radar, another one of those technoligies that is valuable and I have come to rely on, I could see that if I stayed there, it would only get worse. I was on the leading edge of it, which meant the entire cell would pass over me and then I’d have to drive through it again. My best bet was to get back on the road and drive out of it. Lightning was flashing everywhere. There was probably thunder as well, but the pounding rain was so loud on the car that I couldn’t tell. And I had to pee!

The radar didn’t lie. Within about 5 miles the rain returned to normal spattering. I pulled off to use the restroom, but by the time I got out of the gas station the storm had caught back up with me. Just a few more miles of low-visibility driving and once again I was free of it. It seemed to chase me the whole way home and finally caught up about midnight that night when I was safely in bed.

I missed weather in California, and I guess mother nature is having a good laugh at me now. I had forgotten that weather could also be frightening and deadly. Then again, that’s part of what makes life exciting. Adventures are adventures because there is danger, otherwise it’s just a walk in the park.

I’ve had enough adventure for the moment. This trip seemed to mark the end of “moving” in my head – like the last box I had to check before I could say I was here. For the next few weeks I hope to settle in, write, and find my groove here. Normal life sure feels good when you survive the adventures!

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Come Along as I Leap

Not another blog!

The last thing the internet needs is yet another writer blathering on about their life’s experiences, and yet here I am, adding my voice to the cacophany. It seems foolish, because lately I keep running across internet articles that make me think we have jumped the online writing shark. Articles like – You’re Wiping with Toilet Paper All Wrong, or How to Act Before and After a Massage, or An Open Letter to my Ex-husband’s Latest Conquest Who Wants to Raise my Child. Really? Selling an article has come to that? More humliliating, that writer probably only got paid a few dollars for their work. But still, I’m joining in.

This isn’t my first chasm.

If you didn’t read the ‘about’ page, let me catch you up to speed on why you might enjoy reading this blog among the many that are out there. I am a 50-year-old woman who you wouldn’t bother talking to if you sat next to me on a plane. Trust me on that, I’ve had lots of silent flights. However, hidden behind my plain exterior are many adventures.

I grew up with 1000 acres of South Dakota prarie to roam. I spent most of those years imagining I was someone and somewhere else, so when I finally was old enough to make that happen, I went adventuring. I spent a couple of years in Hawaii (chasm 1), returned back to South Dakota before heading off for a summer working in Yellowstone National Park. That summer opened my mind to possibilities, and I just kept going. From there I worked at the Grand Canyon, where I learned about a job at an outdoor science school in California. After leading 5th and 6th graders on nature trails, and helping them deal with a week away from home, I moved into L.A. (chasm 2) to make it big in film and television. Almost immediately my typing speed and work ethic landed me steady employment as a teleprompter operator.

There I was, a small town, farm kid working with Meryl Streep, Clint Eastwood, Michael Jackson, Sydney Poitier, Bill Clinton, Neil Simon and John Candy. The list could actually go on and on and on. It made my mind spin. Pulling onto the lot at Universal or Warner Brothers was absolutely thrilling. I was living my dreams every day. Based on that early success, I was convinced only great things lay ahead for me. However, my career stalled when I took a job with the Late Late Show. With no ability to move up, and no opportunity to grow, I stagnated. Since my interests weren’t in late night television, I wasn’t making the connections that could take me where I wanted. Efforts to find my way out always got squashed. When the economy fell apart, it was even harder to leave.

A few years ago, I realized I was too old to realistically expect a writing career to take off in Hollywood.  Prompting paid a decent wage, but there was no pension or retirement waiting for me. My later years were looking very bleak. Staying where I was seemed like death, yet lying before me was empty space. I was standing at a great chasm.

This Time I’m Jumping With a Net

The game changer for me was a risk I took 5 years ago when I invested my entire life’s savings into a house after the real estate market bottomed out. The market recovered more quickly than I expected and will allow me some starting over money – a net, if you will. I decided almost a year ago that when the previous incarnation of the Late Late Show ended, I would sell my house, leave the industry, find someplace affordable to live, and throw myself into a writing career. I’m risking everything I’ve managed to accumulate all these years. It will give me a cushion that will keep me afloat for a few years, but ultimately, it will have to be my words that provide my income for my later years. I have a net, but it’s a thin one.

Enough of the exposition…

… let’s pick up where I am currently. I’ve been out of the entertainment industry a little over a month, I’m in escrow with my house, packing up the life it took me 25 years to build, and heading across the country to Missouri. A place with a good friend, a circle of supportive women I’m just getting to know, a low cost of living, thunderstorms – which I miss terribly, and lots of peace, quiet, and beauty… the perfect place to reinvent my life and allow the words to flow.

Come with me on this journey. See if I fly or fall. Let me inspire you to create the life of your dreams. Tell me about your leaps of faith. Let’s create a community that jumps in faith, believing that they will land spectacularly on the other side. Afterall, it’s not as wide as you think.

 

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