It was just an average, random morning on Facebook, sharing funny but grammatically challenged cartoons and videos of dogs on trampolines, and whipping up pointless arguments with people I neither know nor care about, and something amazing happened.
Yes, amazing. Truly. A psychological paradigm shift, sparked by a post from my friend, author Amy Ferris, who begins each day with a gratitude post (and the all-lower-case style is her trademark, so I won’t “fix” it): “this is what i know this morning: tucked in the back of the drawer — next to the never worn lingerie (boxers, briefs), and an old pack of marlboros, — maybe there’s a dream or two that got pushed back there. deep in. and i will wager that the lingerie maybe doesn’t fit, and the cigarettes are stale with memories, but that dream, that dream you tucked away needs to come out of the drawer. you need to breathe life into it. hang it outside, give it some fresh air/fresh life… try it on again. today is ‘wearing the dream’ day.”
And I thought of my lingerie drawer, and what’s stuffed in the back — all those lovelies that no longer fit, but hey, you never know, I might wake up one day 20 years younger and 50 pounds lighter. It could happen. But what dream is tucked away back there too… too cherished to discard, but too painful to look at every day.
Ah, yes. Screenwriting.
You see, when I jumped career tracks back in 1992, from social work to journalism, it wasn’t because I no longer liked social work nor was it because I loved journalism. I realized, as I facilitated career-planning workshops for other people that my own career goal didn’t include sitting in a comfy, cozy county worker cubicle for the rest of my life. In helping other people focus on their dreams, I discovered what my own dream was: sitting at home in my underwear, writing whatever I want, all by myself, just me, my muse and I, making our own daily time schedule, with wine and cheese by 4 p.m.
The “whatever” was screenplays. Since I couldn’t see a clear path to Hollywood at the time, aside from winning Bob Dunning’s annual replace-me-for-a-day column contest, I figured that switching to a paid writing career was at least a move in the right direction. I took a one-third cut in pay to move in that direction, taking the Winters Express editor position, and figured it didn’t really matter because it was only temporary. I’d be a screenwriter someday and make up for lost financial ground later.
Well, “later” has arrived. While covering a City Council meeting last week, I realized that this month marks 20 years for me at the Express. And there I was, doing exactly the same thing I was doing the day I started. Worse yet, figuring in the cost of living, the ever-increasing cost of my health insurance, and years without a pay raise and no hope for one on the horizon, I’m also making the same amount of money.
There are no words to capture this epiphany, other than “Hand me the Scotch.”
This realization started tugging at my spirit. I have more working years behind me than in front of me. What do I want to accomplish? What can I still accomplish? I’m 53 years old, and given my age and the dismal economy, it’s not like I can jump career tracks so easily again. I’d always had this dreamy, poorly-formed idea that I would “make it” some day, but maybe I’d already made whatever I was going to make, and it would all be a downhill coast from here. Maybe this is it. This is my life — making a two-hour discussion about municipal contract negotiations for wastewater treatment into a pleasurable story, or at least something that — unlike the actual discussion — won’t make the reader search for scissors to ram through his temple to end the agony.
Make that a double, bartender.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I like my job, mostly. I like the small town tempest-in-a-teapot drama, and occasionally stirring that pot, just because I can. And there’s honor in recording our town’s history, and keeping people informed. It matters, right? I keep telling myself that it does, lest those scissors over there start to look tempting.
Sure, it matters to our town. But — does it matter to me? Is this what I set out to do with my life? The honest answer is “No.” Trouble is, I don’t know what it is that I want to do.
So, there I am, wallowing in woe-is-me-I’m-53 self-pity, and the next morning, I see Amy’s post, and suddenly remembered screenwriting was, in fact, my dream. My passion. It was the only type of writing that I ever actually studied. This journalism thing? Purely accident. I’m not sure how screenwriting got to the back of the lingerie drawer. I only know that it did. I’d long ago concluded that screenwriting was a dead dream — something in my past, not my future. Journalism was supposed to lead me there. It didn’t
But… what if I was wrong? What if it’s actually in my future, and I just haven’t gotten there yet? What if journalism is leading me there, and I just don’t realize it?
I dug out my ancient screenwriting software, ScriptThing, which ran great on a 486 (and if you’re old enough to understand that reference, I love you), and joy of joys, the company offers discount upgrades for those original customers. Mine is in the mail.
Yes, I’ve taken my neglected dream out of the lingerie drawer and airing it out, all because of a humble, hopeful little post on Facebook. Thank God I didn’t miss it while watching dogs on trampolines.
— Email Debra DeAngelo, winner of the 2012 Best Serious Column award in the National Newspaper Association’s Better Newspaper Contest, at firstname.lastname@example.org; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.edebra.com