Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Full-Time, Unemployed Screenwriter

So, I’m a full-time screenwriter. I’ve been trying to convince myself of this every time I’m asked to explain what it is I do for a living. You see, the thing is, I don’t get paid. I sit home every day and write. Okay, most days. I do a lot of reading, too.

I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. I attended a high school that boasts a number of notorious rappers. I once had a dream of becoming a lawyer, then making my way up to the Supreme Court. Before that, I wanted to be an actress, actually auditioning at both Erasmus High School (Barbra Streisand’s alma mater) - which I got in, though I didn't attend; and the famed Performing School of Arts - which I bombed so horribly, therefore, I didn't attend. And before that, becoming a firefighter or policewoman - even at a young age, I liked defying the odds. The biggest odds against me has been being a foster child who would make it out of the system with an education and some degree of success. You see, I’m already a winner whether this screenwriting thing ever lands me a gig.

I remember visiting a college during my junior year in high school. The moment I left the university, I knew that was the school I wanted to attend. When I presented this to my college advisor, he plainly told me that I couldn’t possibly get accepted to that college, and if I did, I would only make it two years - if that. Well, I got accepted, and I graduated with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. I don’t like somebody telling me what I can’t do - I don’t like it at all.

During my senior year at college, I became pregnant - a sort of a parting gift from my boyfriend (now my husband). I started graduate school - full, round belly. I gave birth to our daughter at the start of my second semester. Alone on campus (family housing), I nursed my daughter while completing papers and student teaching. I remember going to seek health benefits and being told that I did not qualify because I wasn’t in an approved program. In other words, I would have to quit getting my master’s degree and take a job in the park or start an educational course that taught a skill or trade. I found it just as hilarious then as I do now. It was not an option, I would find a way, and I did.

After graduating with my degree in teaching, I went back to my old high school and begged for a job. It was a mostly boys school, mostly black and mostly neglected by the system. I wanted in where most wanted out. I didn’t get hired my first try; they had an excess of teachers that year (how quickly the tide changes), so I taught somewhere else, and there I was let go because of excess (budget cuts). Having taken a year off to have my son, I went back to my old school and asked again. This time, I was hired. With a three year old daughter, an eight month old son, and a husband who was a full-time medical student, I went to work as a High School English Teacher, and that first year was hard - but worth it.

I taught for six years at my old school, even becoming the college advisor for four of them. When my husband and I decided to move further east because Uncle Sam was reaming us without the decency of vaseline, I took a job teaching in the “burbs” - a complete opposite of my first 6 years of teaching. As with everything I do, I poured my heart and soul into teaching, but I had always promised myself that the moment I became bitter, I would walk away. It was one of the hardest choices I had to make, but in the fall of 2002, I found myself leaving a career that I had worked hard to obtain. I was scared as hell.

The first thing I knew was that I never wanted to stop working with teens, and especially those that the system had left behind. I immediately went to work in setting up a nonprofit organization that would help at-risk teens. It was approved by the New York State Department of Education in 2003. It was shortly after that that I discovered this need to write, and once I was onboard, there was no getting off. I wrote and submitted, and wrote and submitted, and wrote and submitted. I still have the drawer full of rejections. When I became a finalist in a contest during the fall of 2003, I knew that this might be more than just a little hobby. So I sat the husband down and said, “I want to do this full-time”, with the understanding that I would have no income coming in. This was tough. Having been the breadwinner for the first few years of our marriage, while he attended medical school, and now having to totally depend on him financially was a huge blow to my ego. I prided myself on being independent, not needing a man to take care of me, and here I was having to swallow a huge chunk of my pride.

It’s been four years. I’ve made a few contacts, garnished a few successes in contests, and shed more than enough tears of frustration. And you know what? I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

Why did I share all this information with a bunch of strangers (or the one person who is reading this)? I hope as an example that determination counts for more than monetary success. If I never sell a script or get an assignment, I still have something that can’t be measured, and for that matter, can’t really be put into simple words.

Write because you love it. Write because it’s the only thing that makes sense in this crazy world. Write because without it, you can’t breathe. BUT WRITE. Oh, and keep reading my blog.

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