**the following is the speech I gave to my Marketing and Advertising course. Thought I’d post it here.
When I was in the fifth grade, I was going to marry Neil Patrick Harris. We were going to live in a mansion in Beverly Hills with our two children. Right across the street, my childhood best friends, Catherine and Amie, would live in their mansions with their respective husbands and children. Our families would be the best of friends and for a career, I would be an Emmy Award winning screenwriter having recently won an Emmy for having the number one comedy. I have a little bit of that for you tonight and I’d like to share with you that speech that won over my Barbie Dolls, Cabbage Patch Kids, Pounds Puppies and Care Bears:
“Oh my G-d, thank you so much for this honor. I really did not expect this. I thought the other nominees would totally get it…..their shows are amazing. Okay, so I’d like to thank my family, my husband and kids, the cast and crew, my friends and NBC….”
So why am I sharing this story? What’s the point?
Obviously, there will be no love story for Neil and I. Catherine lives in Santa Monica. Amie lives in New York and I have yet to pretend I’m shocked about winning an Emmy for Best Comedy.
Dreams change and with the Self-Marketing of your dreams, so do you. So do I.
“People don’t change. If anything, you get more set in your ways as you get older. Not less.”
That’s a quote from author Sarah Dessen and while I adore her Young Adult fiction writing, I don’t adore this quote. I would challenge this quote and say people do change. They change their dreams, their friends, their beliefs, their identities. Every single day, people look at the broken parts of their life and make a decision to put the broken back together and to make that change because broken people don’t have to remain broken.
My career path has broken down at thirty eight years old.
It’s a dusty path littered with close calls, excessive emails, wasted money, two Masters Degrees in Marriage and Family Counseling and Elementary Education, discarded vision boards and snack wrappers that clearly point to the patterns of an emotional eater.
It’s an empty, blindingly bright road with the sounds of past employers echoing overhead and it’s lined with doors. So many doors, knocking, kicking, striking, punching, pounding on each one until the correct one opens.
It’s been seventeen years since my college graduation and I still have yet to experience finally knocking on the right door.
Maybe this door, the one I’m knocking on right now might be the right one.
I’m changing again.
I got my Masters in Marriage and Family Counseling in 2003. I tried working as a school counselor. I was twenty five and after a quick stint working as a script supervisor on what could possibly be considered the worst reality show ever called, Chains of Love. I had actually left my PR job because I thought this could be the right door. The show and I’m not lying was about six men chained to one woman or six women chained to one man. It was like Elimidate meets The Bachelor/Bachelorette but instead of someone not getting a rose, they were eliminated by being unchained from the group. I am not joking. I wrote down everything they said and after the show was over, I went back for that Masters in Marriage and Family Counseling.
Yet, being a school counselor was not the right door.
I remember two moments in particular where I thought another change was in order.
First was an eighth grader sitting in my office and I had to inform her that she would have to repeat the eighth grade. Her expression blank, she shrugged and seemed rather unaffected. I realized I was more upset than she was.
Second, was a six year old girl describing to me how she watched her father in the bathroom kill himself and she saw his body because she had been in the bathroom when he had pulled the trigger.
I brought it home. I cried. I wanted to do the eighth grader’s homework to hopefully change her circumstances. I wanted to go back in time and get that six year old away from that bathroom.
While I decided this may not have been the correct door, I took valuable tools that could help in any job, any field. I learned how to read people. Often times, what a person doesn’t say is far more important than what they do say. Knowing what the client really wants, knowing your audience is an essential skill for being an effective writer. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a cover letter, an ad campaign, a book, a grant, a screenplay, a text, who are you writing it for?
After getting my first Masters, I obtained a Masters in Elementary Education thinking this might be the better door. This led me to getting a teaching credential that would help me work with kids that have special needs. I’ve worked with students across the spectrum. I’ve taught life skills, behavioral skills, academic skills. I’ve worked as a Resource Teacher and an Educational Therapist where my job was to tailor a lesson to a student who needed more help. I wrote IEP’s where I needed to create learning goals, I assessed where students were in the learning process.
Yet, there was always a nagging doubt that this was not right. I love working with kids. I love understanding their minds. Kids don’t see hate. One of my favorite days in the school calendar year to work with children is when a school day falls on September 11th.
Because the kids I work with don’t remember it. Much like how November 22nd is just a day on the calendar for those of us not around in 1963, September 11th to today’s youth is simply a day on the calendar. That innocence, that excitement of just looking at everything for the first time or imagining a world bigger than them.
Hey, did I ever tell you about the magical jungle gym that’s at an elementary school in Encino? It’s quite impressive actually. It’s where the kindergarteners have recess. In that playground, there’s a jungle gym set that comes with the monkey bars and swings and slides…..and a steering wheel. Now, to the grown up eye, it’s a steering wheel that does nothing but not to the five year old mind. No, no, with the turn of that steering wheel…..they’re suddenly at Disneyland, at the movies, on a pirate ship, on a rocket ship. They’re ninja turtles, Elsa and Anna, Batman and Superman, Mario and Luigi. They’re princesses, superheroes, their imaginations take them to the ends of the Earth and beyond.
I tell this story to show that when working with the imagination of a child, the ideas, the marketing, the writing, it’s limitless. Math, Language Arts, science, history, they take the world, the messages they’ve taken from their screens and make them more than you can possibly imagine so if the imagination of a child is limitless….
Why are there so many limits for adults?
When did these limits get put in place?
When looking at job applications, there are limits. How many years experience? Degrees? Letters?
What happened to taking risks? To believing that a jungle gym could take you to the moon….if you just believed?
I never tell students how hard it is. I have been promised tickets to every conceivable awards show, concerts, New York Fashion Week, a Superbowl or two, anything because I don’t tell them the truth. I let them dream and believe with every fiber of their being that showing at New York Fashion Week is as simple as saying the words. When you’re under eighteen, you don’t need to know the truth just yet.
It’s the belief, that dream that you can marry a celebrity and get an Emmy that keeps kids going and keeps them believing they can accomplish anything. That no path is ever really broken when you’ve gathered the tools to fix anything.
I guess I should talk about the writing.
That’s another part of this crazy intense path of broken career dreams.
I wanted to be a writer and in college when a professor called my writing bubblegum, I knew immediately I needed to write and market myself to a younger crowd.
My senior thesis in college was a twenty two minute sitcom about six single friends that lived in Los Angeles called, Together.
Yes. I know. Yes, you have seen that show before. It was called something else.
Now, I had no help on my senior project in terms of an advisor. Professors looked at my production notes and went, “alright, well, it’s not really our thing but okay.” But I knew I had a formula that worked and not just ‘cause it was blatantly ripped off from a formula that was currently on the air at the time. Although, there’s a reason that formula works. People will always enjoy shows that remind them of hanging out with friends.
When I showed my film at 1a in the Pitzer College theater, it was a hit. The greatest compliment I got was from a kid who told me that he didn’t own a television and hated television but if my show was on the air, he’d buy one just so he could watch it and no, I did not tell him he could probably watch a version of it at 8 o’clock on Thursday nights on NBC.
Years later, I would stick to that same feeling of knowing who I was writing for when I rewrote Grease. I was working at a summer camp for kids with severe special needs. These were and are kids who cannot function in a general education environment. They have autism, emotional disturbance, they are the kids that are unfortunately cast aside and considered forgotten, their voices silenced because they have a disability that diminishes their credibility. I made it appropriate for teenagers, rewrote the songs, added funny lines and I had people say to me, “I think you made it too hard for them” or “oh, they need it simpler” and I said they didn’t.
They hit every note, remembered every line and were phenomenal actors. They didn’t need it simplified. They didn’t need limitations. They already had limitations and this performance was like their version of taking a jungle gym to the moon. It doesn’t matter what obstacles or hurdles they have, if you know you have the tools, limits mean nothing.
While getting my Masters Degrees and working in education, I have never stopped writing.
I wrote spec scripts for Lizzie McGuire, Sex and the City and of course, Friends. I put them in mailing tubes and put Hershey kisses in them with a note that said if you don’t enjoy the script, enjoy the chocolate.
From a Fan Fiction story I wrote, I wrote a Young Adult fiction called Choose about the aftermath of a school shooting. It received five manuscript requests. I am currently working on another fiction story about addiction. I am fascinated by people who manage to succeed even when their lives have broken down.
I have written about dating and relationships for Thrillist and about being hearing impaired on HelloGiggles, I have written for other people’s blogs and created my own. While my path is crooked and a little broken, it’s fixable because the tools I’ve gathered have made me an asset to any job. I’m also hearing impaired so I am resourceful. If you’re lucky enough to have an impairment in middle school, it’s kind of a required skill.
Look, if MacGyver can open a locked door using dental floss, a piece of paper and a vacuum cleaner, I can certainly have a successful writing career with a BA in Media Studies and two masters degrees. With the tools I’ve gathered, I’ve learned nothing is ever truly broken. There are more doors to be knocked on and eventually the right one will open.
Will it be yours?