Pinpointing the exact moment I knew I wanted to be a writer is kind of fuzzy for me. It’s kind of like puberty: the awareness that all these weird experiences are adding up, but you don’t fully realize it until you look down one day and your C-cups are busting out of your training bra and it’s excruciatingly difficult to do any sort of physical activity without sweating profusely, making your face a most heinous battleground that your bottle of Clearasil clearly can’t cure.
While my inception story typically begins with Lisa Frank notebooks and my penchant for soap operas as a child, I think the real tale began when I was eight years old. As a mandatory assignment for third graders at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, we had to participate in the city’s Young Authors competition. While other students complained and made up excuses to go to the principal’s office during writing time, I pulled my finest No. 2 pencil out of my Spacemaker and began to pen a work of brilliance. In my best cursive, on my extra-wide-ruled paper, making sure not to make any mistakes (because everyone knew even the lightest eraser stroke would tear that paper in half), I eloquently put my vision into words. “The Blue Goo,” a poignant mystery/suspense story with themes of friendship and personal hygiene, was about Bridget, a young girl who becomes friends with a glowing-blue-glob-turned-alien that her father accidentally created in his science lab/their basement (admittedly, an idea taken by mashing up Flubber with a Goosebumps book I had recently read). On the day of The Big Announcement, I sat on the edge of my seat, nervously jiggling my feet against the tennis balls on the legs of my chair. The PA system crackled. This was my moment. I waited, clutching the straps of my purple L. L. Bean, pulling them closer to my chest. And then there it was. “And the winner of this year’s Young Author’s Award is Jessica Hines for her story, “The Blue Goo.” I awaited the applause. I awaited the glorification. And just as I was about to smooth my brown plaid jumper in preparation to stand and curtsy, the kid sitting next to me puked. All over his desk. All over the floor. And just like that, my crowning moment was soiled.
And I think that’s when I looked down and realized my dream was to be a writer.
It’s an amazing thing to realize a dream and vehemently pursue it. For me, this dream has driven me for two-thirds of my life. Not only to be a writer, but to be known for my writing. Known for entertaining with my bold and questionable observations. Known for inciting stifled snickers at my wild inappropriateness. Known for bringing people together through painfully honest humor. I was destined to be a sitcom writer.
There’s a rush in it all. Recklessly doing everything you can in order to fulfill what you truly believe is your calling. Constantly composing yourself to say “fuck you,” as politely as possible when people tell you to look at things realistically and more responsibly. Reminding yourself that you’ve hyped this up so confidently, and if you fail, everyone will be waiting to say, “I mean, I’m not going to say I told you so, but…”
“Well, I truly appreciate your concern. That’s sweet. Fuck you.”
I had my dream tucked in my back pocket — where my wallet would be if I hadn’t spent all of my money on this crazy dream. Ironic and fitting. I firmly planted my feet in every step I took forward, no matter how big the risk, because my goal became tangible.
I found a graduate program that seemed surreal — classes for spec scripts, classes for pilot scripts, classes for sitcoms and dramas and TV movies, classes in development and production, classes in everything I once thought was just a distant thrill, but had now become so real. I was going to make it, because there was no other option. Over a hundred thousand dollars in debt, because I was going to fight until I wrapped my fingers around that dream and felt it squirm in my palm.
I landed in Los Angeles for my last semester of school; it was the pilgrimage to my Holy Land, the mecca for TV writers and producers. I was convinced by all of my professors and all the people who supported me through the entire process of my graduate program that it was a done deal: I would write something brilliant, graduate, send it off to every small production company and big network and talent agency in Los Angeles and immediately land a job in a writer’s room somewhere. It was that easy. It had to be that easy if I worked this hard, right? I had been busting my ass to crank out new ideas and new writing over the course of a year and a half. I had received so much positive feedback and so much encouragement and felt that I had prepared myself for success. Effort and persistence are the things that get you somewhere, right?
Los Angeles was a country of its own. Everyone you bumped into on the street was trying to be “in the industry,” as everyone refers to it. Everyone had some sort of connection to a cousin’s friend’s dogsitter’s step-uncle who was the CEO or director or producer or sound guy who’s still working his way up the chain. I went into it bravely, knowing no one except the 8 other girls in my graduate program who also made their pilgrimages, in hopes of similar dreams. I loved the work I was doing: assisting a small production company in their development department, reading freshly churned scripts from budding writers, just like I hoped to be, and deciding whether or not they had potential, and passing them along to the higher-ups if they did. Kind of like a guard to the Pearly Gates of Hollywood, except less glamourous than it sounds. I learned what companies were looking for. Who they were looking for, rather. Most of these writers were fed through the weeding out process by that weird-but-reliable, several-degrees-of-separation step-uncle, and here were their scripts, sitting on a desk in front of me at a REAL production company. I would be lying if I said more than 5% of them were even worth the snide comments I jotted in the margins. But they had made it. So why hadn’t I?
I networked. I made connections. I had talent that I was waiting to share. But the thing I quickly learned was that seniority and ass-kissing beat talent, 9 out of 10 times, and that 1 remaining time? Fucking step-uncle. I had planned to job hunt in preparation to stay after my semester was over, in case by miracle, someone had seen my potential. All the open positions that I could have realistically been offered were for production assistants (imagine your version of The Office Bitch, and multiply it by 72, and then add the irrelevance of your existence, and you’ve got the picture). Making $11 an hour to get 17 coffee orders, and then having to go back to Starbucks a second time because you slipped and fell carrying the first 17 drinks because no one in the entirety of Los Angeles County has the decency to lend a hand. I started to envision my future. Coffee carrier for three years, mail sorter for two years, assistant to the CEO for three years, and then if someone happens to stumble upon one of my scripts, writer-for-hire for two more years, and then I’d be 33 and goddamn tired of pursuing this fucking dream and living paycheck to paycheck, only to be defecated on. Every. Single. Day.
Even if I had wanted to grit my teeth and get through it, my student loan money had dwindled by the end of the semester, and I had less than $1000 to my name. Well, if I’m being honest, I actually had -$123,000 to my name, but let’s not dwell on the deterioration and ruthlessness of the American higher education system. My bank accounts were empty, my motivation was thwarted, and the dream I had held onto for so long had been unmasked and revealed for what it really was: Just a game of luck. And I refused to be the joker.
So I left, and moved back home. And it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
I am not a quitter, if that’s what you’re thinking. I played the game and went all in, but I guess my hand for that round just wasn’t good enough. I wouldn’t trade any of the experiences I had, because I would not have ended up here: at home in my comfortable, slow-paced Kentucky, with the love of my life who supported all of the endeavors that went along with this unpredictable journey and our obnoxious dog who has a proclivity for dirty socks and underwear, at a job where I get to work with my mother every day and make a livable salary that allows me to put a small chink in what I owe the DOE every month, and with the pride to admit that I put my dream on hold because I wasn’t ready for it, and I don’t think it was quite ready for me, either.
It’s an amazing thing to realize a dream and vehemently pursue it. I know my love of writing started somewhere among vomit-covered linoleum, and my desire to pursue it went on hiatus somewhere around empty pockets and the fear of perpetual Office Bitch-dom. I’ll never give up writing. It’s become part of me, and a gift I’m thankful for every day. The ideas for sitcoms still swirl around in my head, infesting my right-brain in totality. Sometimes I’ll scribble them on pieces of paper or type them out as notes on my phone, just as little reminders that the embers of my dream are still burning, should I choose to breathe life into it once again. And there’s nothing wrong with that.