The View From Away: The grass is greener under foot
After two events on consecutive days last week, I suspect I may not just be from Away. I may be actually be from Crazytown.
One event was lunch with a native Californian and aspiring screenwriter who moved his family to Vermont last summer. The other was coffee with a native Mainer and aspiring screenwriter who is making the jump to Hollywood. Each one saw me as having a foot in both worlds. I came away wondering if I really have a foot in either.
"Ron" (not his real name) lived a couple of doors down from us before we moved here. He had parlayed a brilliant mind into a philosophy doctorate and a law career that gave him the freedom to focus on his true love, screenwriting. It sounds like a cliche, only this was a dedicated guy doing all the right things to give himself the best chance at success. He just hadn’t been paid for it yet, but it’s a capricious business. He had a nice family, a nice house, and he got to write what he wanted. Frankly, I envied him a bit. He had the kind of setup a lot of writers dream of.
So I was surprised when he emailed me recently to say he had moved to Vermont. We met for lunch somewhere in the middle to touch base. Incredibly, it was a 2 1/2-hour drive for both of us. I don’t get it; New England seems so small on the map (not relevant, but “To Let No Nit Go Unpicked” is on my family crest).
I was further surprised when Ron told me that our move had helped push him toward this move. After hearing about our reasons for leaving L.A., he did some hard thinking, and after some soul searching and much research into quality of life and schools, he wound up in southern Vermont. He was able to move his practice, the kids love their new school and their new friends, and he still has his life set up to write.
“Arielle,” a friend since we were classmates at USM’s creative writing program, has a passion for film. Early on, I gave her some help she probably didn’t need on a few scripts. She was eager to make her work better. She has written plays and movies. She has had them performed, often producing and directing them. They were all good and all made with local talent. She accomplished all this while holding down full-time day jobs. She has the drive and talent to be a good candidate for making the trek to Hollywood.
Ron and Arielle seemed happy about our meetings, and not disappointed with my end of the conversations. They even mentioned the possibility of doing it again. I spent both meetings with my chest in a vise.
It’s how I would wake up from a recurring nightmare I had as a kid. In the dream I was walking around in only my underpants, couldn’t find my clothes. It was only a matter of time before somebody noticed and laughed. I think it had something to do with being exposed as a fraud. Or with being a WASP. My people would rather die than be embarrassed. Or be naked.
In Ron’s case, my reaction was arguably neurotic. It was mortifying to hear that one of my life decisions had influenced another, unrelated human being. I do not need that kind of pressure. I had to breathe into a paper bag when my wife told me she was thinking about giving up her maiden name.
So the whole time Ron was describing how good the move had been, I was thinking, "yeah, they’re happy now, but how about when some agent says 'I Love your work. Too bad you’re not in L.A., where I could do some good.' They’ll be coming after me with torches and pitchforks."
You could make a case for overreaction. I say an ounce of dread is worth a pound of regret.
At least I did not influence Arielle’s decision. All she wanted to do was pick my brain about breaking into the industry before making The Big Move. Or possibly humor an old man. It’s a fine line. The problem there was my complete inability to give her some idea of what she is getting into.
Pursuing a career in show business is unique, like becoming a parent. You can’t describe the experience, only suggest things you can do to try to get the experience. So I babbled on for a while, while half of me was thinking, “I get it. You don’t want to give up The Dream. But here in Portland you get to do what you want. That’s not going to happen in Hollywood.” Except sometimes it does.
I wouldn’t change the decisions I made. They worked out great for me. But I have to admit, hearing other people talking about them, they sound kind of nuts. I think I may owe my parents an apology.