Last year at this time I was preparing for finals and getting ready to graduate college. My plans were vague, although even in April, I knew I wanted to brave California and move to Los Angeles. My girlfriend planned to move out here, and gosh, I was going to follow her, too. I remember spending a great deal of time studying, and not much time thinking about my future. I’m glad I wasn’t more reflective, because, let’s face it, it was either blissful ignorance or panic.
The wheel began to slam down around May, when graduation was well upon our class and I hadn’t even a hint of a job offer. While other students talked about grad school or work opportunities, I had nothing. It was a recession, after all, and, well, how do you surmount bad luck?
The next few months after graduation were spent scrambling. I was living the dream in Los Angeles, but the best I could do was the occasional tutoring gig. In the fall I found a couple of part-time jobs and juggled those. I was writing, but the search for jobs in entertainment fell by the wayside. I spent a great deal of time feeling sorry for myself, which is pretty exhausting.
But that gets old, and soon enough I learned better.
I learned that I am not the center of the universe, despite what I may have thought about myself. That was a tough realization, but needful. Being humble doesn’t mean giving up on my quest to be a screenwriter, but it does mean being more flexible, more open, and more willing to take criticism. This opening up is not complete, but hopefully I am doing a better job of this as a writer and a person. It reminds me of that Socrates quote: “I know that I know nothing.” It’s about as good a lesson as any and I’m glad I learned it at twenty-three versus sixty-seven.
Patience was my next Hollywood lesson. A working screenwriter told me when I first moved out here I’d be lucky to get something of mine seriously read by thirty. I tossed off that comment when I first heard it, but I can’t help but realize how right he was. It’s disheartening, but it is a fact of life. The climb is that competitive. Not to say I can’t ever have a script produced, but I have to be willing to wait. And wait.
Finally, I learned to be unique. I was lucky enough to study the works of John Waters for a project. At first I didn’t really “get” why an anti-establishment beatnik would pick up a camera and film his friends doing outrageous things like eating dog poop (Pink Flamingos), but now I kind of understand. To be original, to be in effect oneself takes effort. For Waters that meant taking camp to another dimension, for me, well, I still have to find my voice. But I know I don’t want to be in Hollywood if I’m just writing someone else’s story. Where’s the fun in that? I have come to express my vision, whatever that turns out to be.
But most of all I have learned to live both sides. I have been the entitled college student and I have also been the struggling tutor considering food stamps. I have auditioned actors and stood on the other side of that casting table, meeting casting directors for the first and only time. I looked down on the world and now look up, and wonder what’s so great about the top anyway. Better parties? Again, it’s that gift of knowing I know nothing that Hollywood has really imparted to me.
What have you learned since college? I would love to hear in the comments.