This column was originally posted February 14, 2011. I decided to re-post it to look back, to remember how just a short four years ago my career was… well… read and see. Many of you know what I walked through. Many don’t. I never want to forget. It keeps me humble and grateful. Thank you to those who have been with me all these years.. it has made being where I am today that much richer.
At 21, I joined the Writer’s Guild and for the last 21 years I have never stopped writing. I haven’t always been paid, but I’ve never stopped. I’ve never swayed from my dream and I’ve never left the business.
But after getting taken down with pneumonia, sweating through pajamas, bed sheets, hallucinating I was at a Justin Bieber concert, seeing exactly what my eyebrows look like when they haven’t been plucked, realizing just how many cobwebs there are on my ceiling and getting evening visits from the ghosts of winter’s past, I came to a conclusion.
I need a job.
A real job. One with outfits and name tags and maybe plastic gloves for handling the meat and fries.
Clearly, the whole “writing” plan is not going as I had hoped. I made more money the summer of ’83 when I babysat the little French boy who lived up the glen than I did last year. And I got yummy French dinners to boot!
No, I had to take a long hard look at my career—something I do on a daily basis and no doubt has led to me getting so ill.
I decided to look up the word career in the dictionary. It said, “a series of jobs that mark a person’s progress in the profession or work they choose to do.” Then I looked up progress in the dictionary. It said, “advance, develop, move forward.”
Okay, final analysis (other than I love dictionaries) — my said career is not showing progress.
So, now what?
First, I fired my agents. That’s right, told the biggest agency in Hollywood (starts with a C ends with an A and has an A in the middle) that I quit. What’s the point of being with a huge agency if your career is not progressing? I walked out of those offices for the last time (but not without a complimentary bottle of water).
Next, I told some of my nearest and dearest I was quitting. It was time. It didn’t matter how much I loved writing I could not do it another day. I want more for my daughter — like a college fund. I can’t play the lottery of show biz anymore.
I thought about all the writing that I’ve done, all the stories and characters and words I have scribbled throughout my life and how they live on shelves, in notebooks, computers, disks, boxes, storage bins, even napkins — all hidden away.
It’s an amazing thing to devote a life to something that no one will ever know about.
Okay, no more tears, screw it. I surrender! I give up! I failed! MOVE ON!
I haven’t put a resume together since 1990 when I applied for a job in New York at Jenny Craig (mainly for the free food). I mean, what do I say? Something tells me the manager of Barnes and Noble will not give a rats ass that I wrote Son-in-Law for Pauly Shore.
I could put down the fact that I got married, had a baby, and got divorced — I mean, that’s work. Walking through those three things was the equivalent of working at a crisis center, a pre-school and a Sandal’s resort in the Bahamas (in that order).
Where do I look? I can’t waitress because I’m notoriously clumsy. I can’t be a bartender because I would no doubt give alcohol poisoning to the customers. Florist shop? I know nothing about flowers. Clothing store? Possible, but I’d be competing with girls half my age and size.
And then there’s the whole single parent thing to consider. I have to get a job that I can work around my daughter’s schedule. I can’t afford a nanny. The last and only time I hired a nanny was when I was writing for Gary Unmarried and let’s just say she was making far more than I was (and we even got her a small gig on an episode!). In fact, I bet she’s still making bank on those residuals.
So, what can I do? I can microwave just about anything. I can do laundry like nobody’s business (putting it away is another story). I’m great at cutting my cat’s nails without getting too mauled.
And then it dawned on me — I love washing my daughter’s hair. Love the whole salon thing. Shampoo, conditioner, combing through the tangles. And even though she says, “Mommy, please, I’m 9 now. I can wash my own hair,” I beg her to let me.
So, that’s it! I’ll see if I can get a job washing hair. It’s a start, right?
Reinventing yourself at 42 years old is not easy. I looked up reinvent in the dictionary. It said, “to make over completely. To bring back into existence or use. To do something again from the beginning.”
I’m ready to bring myself back into existence or use. What that will look like I have no idea. But I’m open. Willing. And somewhat relieved.
There’s a power in surrendering a dream. And in a business where I have felt so incredibly powerless… I’ll take it.
(Author’s note: today I have a job as a writer, a college fund for my daughter and a script that had been sitting for 10 years on a shelf made and starring Eddie Murphy. I still love dictionaries and doing my daughter’s hair when she will let me. Above all, I learned that I am not my career. I am far stronger than that. xo)