Monday, May 24, 2010
Hollywood is the one place in the world where you can die of encouragement.
I started a new job not long ago, and by "new" I mean that I am actually doing a job that I have never done before. For years, I have worked as a paralegal, in various law firms in three different cities. But, when I quit my last job, I vowed to myself that I would never work as a paralegal again. Not that being a paralegal is such a terrible thing. The pay is good. There are often plenty of intelligent people around to talk to -- often including the lawyers. And for the most part it is a job I could pretty much count on getting.
And that was the problem.
Because I had so much experience as a paralegal, and because the pay was good, and because there always seemed to be a need for paralegals, I began to believe that it was the only job I could apply for. The only job I was qualified for. The only job, period.
Except that I hated being a paralegal. Again, not that there's anything wrong with being a paralegal. Well actually there is -- it is essentially a 'go nowhere' position. You can't advance through the ranks of paralegaldom and eventually become a lawyer. Most people become paralegals for a year or two before going on to law school -- or not going on to law school, once they have seen what horrors await them. Some, however, stick it out and become 'career' paralegals, and many end up doing very well. But I felt that being a paralegal was sucking the life out of me little by little, and I had to get out.
So I did.
You know how they say "leap and a net will appear?" Well, I leaped -- or is it leapt? Anyway, I jumped. But, here's the thing -- they don't say when the net will appear. Kind of a big loophole. Oh sure, I had a master plan: I was going to sell a screenplay and make tons of money. And in fact, a couple of months after I quit my job, I had a meeting with an actual Movie Producer who told me how much he loved my script and that he wanted to work with me. It was like one of those signs from the Universe that people are always talking about. Serious encouragement. You made the right choice. Keep at it.
So I waited all summer to hear back from the Movie Producer who loved my script. Then, I waited through fall and winter. It's been three years since that meeting, and he still hasn't gotten back to me. And there have been numerous other such encounters, many of them initially encouraging, but most of them essentially bullshit. As Dorothy Parker once said, "Hollywood is the one place in the world where you can die of encouragement."
So I began to think that I might actually have to get another job. But, that meant going back on my vow. That meant being a paralegal again. And that felt like death.
I tried applying for non-paralegal jobs, but the problem with getting a job is, they only want to hire someone who has already done that exact job for at least two years already. So how does anyone ever get a new job? The other problem with applying for jobs is my resume. I basically have two things on my resume: Paralegal and Writer/Editor. I worked in publishing for a short time when I was in New York and did some free-lance work as a writer here and there. But that was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
I've had lots of other jobs, too. But they don't make it onto my resume: Dishwasher, Movie Theater Usher, Busboy, Short Order Cook, Ice Cream Truck Driver, Construction Worker, Office Manager, State Park Work Crew, Swimming Pool Tech... And some I can't remember.
Lately though, the choices seem to be getting narrower and narrower. I guess because I've always taken jobs as a sideline to my real pursuit, which was to be a writer, I've never really had what one might call a "career." And so I seem to be stuck with the same stopgap job that I accidentally fell into when I moved to Washington DC one year and was told I could easily find work as a paralegal.
But then, one day, the phone rang. It was a woman who works at a production company that makes reality TV shows. I met her through my friend Jimmy. She hired him about a year ago when his lucrative job in commercial real estate suddenly disappeared. He told me how much he loved the new job, so I said that if they are looking for anyone else, tell them I am available. When I didn't hear back after a few months, I kind of forgot about it. But then, out of the blue, here she was calling me up and offering me a job. The net finally appeared!
And I took it.
The funny thing is, the actual work I do isn't really that different from some of the work I did as a paralegal. I'm using many of the same skills and performing similar tasks. But there is one big difference: I actually enjoy it. For all those years I had been working at a job that had nothing to do with anything I care about. Now I am involved in something that fascinates me. Everything I've learned about arcane things like story beats and character arcs has become a valuable part of my resume. The time I spent teaching myself how to produce, direct, shoot and edit my short movie is now on-the-job training. All the books I've read, all the seminars and classes I attended, all those hours sitting alone at home working out plot points and creating storyboards -- they've all become applicable experience.
Plus, all of the skills and techniques I acquired while working in law firms and publishing and construction and even driving an ice cream truck have contributed to my overall understanding of what it takes to get the job done and see it through. Nothing is wasted. All knowledge is transferable.
But, best of all, I am finally at a job where there is somewhere to go. I don't have to remain in my present position forever. Who knows, maybe I could even become a TV producer.
Of course, I've been through this before. When I worked in publishing, I thought I had found my dream job, only to have it rudely taken away from me. But, for now, I am just happy to be working at something that feels right. Not just a sideline or a stopgap, but something I could do for real.
Or, at least until I sell a screenplay.