Hollywood’s award season brings up ghosts of the past—what might have been, where I am now, and, finally, how lucky I am.
As a failed screenwriter-turned-entertainment journalist, when it comes to my self-esteem, Awards Season (Golden Globes, Oscars) is my Achilles’ heel. Refrains of would have, could have, should have…bang against my brain like a lead pipe.
There was a time when I was primed for the big time, when I had a deal at a movie studio and was poised for Hollywood success. My life between the ages of 24 and 27 was a feverish whirl of pitch meetings and parties and lunches with producers hungering for my next script. I rode elevators up 37 floors (tall for LA) to meet with presidents of production companies and flew to Arizona to interview major league baseball players about a script that I was being paid to write. I cashed checks for amounts larger than anything I’ve received since. Now, I write about other people’s success in the ‘biz. It’s not bad, but it’s not what I imagined my life would be.
Some of the celebrities about whom I’ve penned profiles are actually old friends from college who once upon a time called me up to ask for career advice when they first landed in L.A., their first-draft screenplays slipped under the door of my apartment with thank you notes paper-clipped to the title page. Fifteen years later and I’m going through their assistants to book phone interviews.
Granted none of this is anybody’s fault except my own. It was a heady combination of youth, confusion and too many –isms to mention (and not necessarily substance-abuse related ones) that derailed my nascent career in Hollywood. I was anxious, sad and on six different kinds of anti-depressants. I did things like run around parties and cry in bathrooms and steal candy from the kitchens of development executives’ office buildings. Plus, I was lousy at time management. If the producers gave me 10 weeks to complete a first-draft of a script, I took one. The remaining nine weeks I spent getting stoned, obsessing over whatever guy at the moment was hijacking my attention and taking four-hour lunch breaks with friends at the Spitfire Grill at the Santa Monica Airport.
I couldn’t believe my luck in graduating with my MFA from the number one film school in the country, signing with an agent straight away and landing my dream job, which was really not a job at all. There was never a moment that I believed I wouldn’t be rich and famous. This was who I was. I was destined for greatness.
Granted, it’s not like I haven’t achieved any sort of success in my life: I wrote and published two books, appeared on national TV and radio, am currently raising two great kids and working on a third book, plus an assortment of other writing projects, plus my full-time gig as an editor at a major trade publication. But there remains this nagging voice in my head that says: You are not enough.
Never was this feeling of inadequacy more potent than at a recent Golden Globes after-party thrown by one of the big movie studios for its nominees and winners. My assignment was to report on who showed up, who said what, but the bash was such a depressing bore—not only were there no celebs by the time I got there, but they were playing shitty techno and serving stale sushi—I spent most of the night leaning against a balcony railing overlooking the pool at the Beverly Hills Hilton, staring down at the crowd gathered inside another party, a presumed more “happening” one, to which I had not been invited. I kept apologizing to my husband, to whom I felt responsible for showing such a bad time (even if, in reality, I was the bad time and not the party), and the fact that I felt a need to apologize made me feel even worse. What was there to be sorry for?
Down below, my husband spotted one legendary movie star milling about, almost aimlessly, pulling absently on his white tuxedo scarf as he circled the room. I saw a girl from work, her shiny red dress reflected in the shimmering ripples of the pool. My husband thought he spotted an old friend from summer camp, now the creator of a hit TV show and married to a successful actress, but a harder squint confirmed that it was actually the creator of a different TV show. At this point, we had zero confirmation of who was actually there, but we seemed to be enjoying this masochistic guessing game, convincing ourselves that whatever was lacking in our own lives could be found one story below at a party with the same identical-looking hors d’oeuvres tables and cocktail napkins as the ones at the the party from which we’d just fled. For a recovering Al-Anon working in a profession where there is so much emphasis placed on the external—money, box office numbers, awards, accolades—if I didn’t have my program and its principles to guide me through it all, I would go absolutely batshit crazy.
That night was a dangerous slippery slope.