Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Mouse and the Alphabet

Recently I was a finalist for the 2010 Disney/ABC Television Writing Fellowship. This was awesome. I didn’t get it. This was less awesome. But as the poet said:

'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

By the same logic, it’s better for me to have been a finalist and not received the fellowship than never to have been a finalist at all. So here are a few good things to come out of the experience, my favorite failure to date:

Reconnecting. The semi-final round required me to list references. Between that and contacting a few friends to ask for advice, I necessarily renewed some relationships. And since I had to go to L.A. for the final round interviews and it was too cold to sleep in my rental car, I got to take advantage of a friend’s air mattress. If I hadn’t gone out to L.A., who knows if I’d have ever connected with that air mattress?

Confidence.
Like many writers I know, I oscillate constantly between feeling like I’m the best (!) writer (!) ever (!) and the stupidest idiot ever to stupid idiot. Fortunately neither feeling is correct. But achieving a modicum of success helps validate my passion for this Sisyphean quest I’ve dubbed a career. Especially for my supporters. And detractors. (I’m not naming names, but you know who you are. Bill. Gates.)

In N Out.
The best burgers anywhere are at this privately owned regional chain. No restaurants farther away from their meat processing plant than it takes for a supply truck to drive in a day. I’ve been to L.A. three times, but I sort of pretend like I’m an In N Out expert. I was shown that this is not the case when I tried to order what the guy in front of me ordered. They were fries with stuff on them. I assumed what they were and said, “Chili fries, please.” The girl said, “What?” And I said, “Those things.” “You mean Animal Fries.” “Yes. Of course that’s what I meant.” Then, to prove I was not some uninitiated rube, I ordered an “Animal Coke”, which does not exist and was therefore not served to me. But I’m pretty sure she figured I was a regular.

A complete rainbow. It was raining when I landed in sunny Los Angeles, but by the time I had rented my car and driven for a while, the clouds began to part. Usually I see only one side of a rainbow, but here was a full arc, rising amid short buildings and plunging down toward the bottom of some Hollywood foothills. Later I was told this wasn’t light refracting through vapor producing a full color spectrum, but that it was actually an experimental hyper-real trailer for James Cameron’s follow-up to Avatar, apparently designed specifically to blow no one else’s mind but mine. (Plot’s being kept under wraps.)

Introspection. The fellowship staff members who interviewed me really pushed me to talk about how I’m unique and how that uniqueness translates into my writing. Like delicious snowflakes, each of us is unique. But I think writers sometimes have a tendency to downplay our specific points of view in our work, which can’t be good. Which character is more memorable: Indiana Jones, who was based upon George Lucas’s adventuring archaeologist uncle*; or Jar-Jar Binks, who was completely fabricated during a bar bet by George Lucas’s drunk adventuring archaeologist uncle**?

Don’t have to spend this year away from Lindsay. I didn’t mention that part before. Yep, fellows have to live in L.A. Which I would have done, of course, but Lindsay’s job wouldn’t allow her to move there with me. It would have been hard. Sort of like college, when we lived five hours apart. But worse, because it would be on the other side of the country, not the other side of Illinois (Purdue to Iowa - essentially a drive through the Land of Lincoln). Also we’re married, not dating. That's different. We've become accustomed to a life together. If we suddenly had to live alone, there'd be some challenges. Who would remind me to shave? Who would reach things on high shelves for Lindsay? How long would it take her to go through our family-sized tube of toothpaste all by herself? (Buy in bulk, the salesman told me. It will pay off in the long run, the salesman told me. What's the worst that can happen? he asked. If only he knew how close we came to a crusty-capped toothpaste surplus!)

Reminded me that I’m not in control. When I have any type of success I find it all too easy to ascribe the credit solely to my effort. After all, I wrote a script that got me to the final round. I did the work, right? Maybe. But I couldn’t have done the work unless I had the ability to do the work. And I didn’t give myself that ability. In case I forgot that, the waiting time after the interviews and before I found out the results reminded me. I had no control over what happened at that point. It was completely out of my hands. Was it God's way of saying, "Not so fast, genius. You're not calling the shots here"? I'm not sure. But it worked.

So it seems I’m supposed to stay in New York*** for now. Which has a few upsides of its own...



* Untrue.
** Patently untrue.
*** Close enough.

4 comments:

Lindsay said...

I'm proud of you!! :) Let's see what God has in store for you instead!

Susan said...

You are right where God wants you at this time in your life. He knows your address. I'm amazed at the talent God has given you and proud of the way you are using it to glorify Him. Check out Jeremiah 29:11.

Craig . Kate . Xavier said...

Thank goodness all that toothpaste won't go to waste. Did I tell you we're boycotting Disney? Jerks.

Steve said...

Seriously? You're really going to be able to not see Toy Story 3? Or Pirates 4? And what if Michigan goes to the Rose Bowl? You won't watch? Good luck getting Craig to listen to that one on the radio.

No, there's no need to boycott them (which is good, because it's impractical - see above). There will be other Disney chances. This one didn't happen, but they're not jerks. It just wasn't the right fit right now. (Thanks for the support, though!)

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go brush my teeth.