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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Full of Thanks

A year ago for Christmas, a friend of mine gave me a gratitude jar. Every time I was grateful I was to write my gratitude on a slip of paper and put it in the jar. At the end of the year, I could look back over everything for which I was grateful. I’m sorry to say that jar stands on my bookshelf empty. (Sorry, Tana.) However, it is not because I was not grateful. If I’d actually followed through, the jar I was given couldn’t possibly have held all the paper slips I would have put into it. A gallon jar, maybe.

I am so very thankful. Lately I find myself thankful for the most basic things. We’ve had some rain, and it made me so grateful that I can afford a warm and dry home. This is not a “yada yada yada, I need to try to be grateful” thought. I am sincerely thankful for the financial resources to have rented a decent house. That has not always been the case. There was a house in LA that I loved simply because it was a house with a yard and I’d been living in apartments. House is being generous. It was a shack. The roof leaked. There was missing siding, and that, combined with the cracked drywall, meant that there was a breeze in my bedroom. No central air or heat. No insulation. Threadbare carpet. Mold under the curling linoleum. I lived that way for 15 years because it was the only way I could afford to live in a house in LA. Now I appreciate a home with a solid roof and walls, and the ability to pay for it more than I ever would have if I’d never lived in that shack.

I am thankful for the people here who welcomed me as if I was a friend who’d been away for a few years and had come home. Uprooting 25 years of life and starting over is absolutely terrifying. They made it seem effortless. I am grateful for each and every person who has graced my life with their friendship and made me feel instantly at home.

There is immense thanksgiving for a job I love. Six months ago I was struggling to learn the names of our clients and put them together with faces. Now I know the names and faces, and enjoy seeing them whenever they come in to work out. Work is a constant flow of friendly faces sharing stories, jokes, and laughs.

Even more, I am thankful work provides variety and outlets for creativity. Years ago I was watching an episode of the Daily Show where they were saying goodbye to a producer who was moving on to another show. Jon Stewart described how he started at the bottom, was really good at what he did, and they thought, “Huh, I wonder if he’d be good at this, too. And he was.” And that happened over and over again until he was producing. As he told that story, I literally started to sob. That was the experience I thought I would have at CBS. I thought when I got to a national network, and people saw me as hard working, responsible, and pleasant, they’d think, “Huh, yeah, she’s good at prompting, but I bet she’d be good at this, too.” And up, up, up and away I’d go. Instead what I experienced was, “She’s really good at this thing and other people aren’t always so good. She’s dependable. She does whatever we ask. Since it makes our lives easier if she keeps prompting, let’s make sure she keeps doing that.” It felt like such a betrayal, though I’ve since learned that’s standard operating procedure there. Why, I have no idea. Seems very short sighted. Anyway, I am now in a situation much closer to the Daily Show.  Yes, some of my duties include taking out the trash, invoicing clients, collecting money, and answering the phone. However, I know on any given day I might be asked to write a press release, or design a flyer, or take on a task that my boss believes I can handle even though I’ve never done it before. Shoot, they even got me to be on camera in a comedy sketch. Work is challenging. There are possibilities. Having been without it for 20 years, I am so thankful for that!

The list could go on and on and on and on and I could probably do a paragraph on each thing I’m thankful for. I’ve come to realize that the things I’ve listed here, and many others, are all the sweeter because I have been without them. So, the very final slip of paper I’d put in this year’s gallon jar of gratitude is for those periods of lack. It’s not something I could have done at the time, but now I see that they have given me much of my joy today.

So, today I am full of thanks… and pumpkin pie… but mostly thanks. May you be as well.

And Tana, next year, I promise… I’ll start actually filling the jar.

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