There, I said it.
I’m walking away from a good-paying gig at a top-rated talk show (with benefits) to follow my dreams. I’m saying deuces to my cubicle, to the place where I collected a weekly paycheck for nearly eight years.
And why in the world would I walk away from all that and into an unstable economy where folks are being laid off by the minute, homes are being foreclosed on and savings are shriveling up?
So glad you asked … to follow my dreams.
About a month ago, I was sitting in a meeting feeling miserable. I couldn’t concentrate. I was doodling on a legal pad trying to act like I was taking copious notes, all the while thinking: What in the world am I doing here? I know I’m not the first to feel that angst born of thwarted aspirations. I couldn’t dispel those threads of worry in my stomach that I had sold out on my dreams, that I had gotten complacent because I had a steady income. I had stability. I was doing the adult thing — working, paying bills on time and putting money in savings. Traveling, even!
That night, I went home, got in bed and cried. I knew I couldn’t quit my job because I didn’t have a lot of money saved. I either had to stay in a position where I was no longer fulfilled or find another job. Mainly, I wept because I was frustrated that I didn’t know how to retrace the tracks of my dreams. But oh, as the gospel song goes, joy comes in the morning. The next day, I woke up so excited and feeling a renewed sense of purpose. I was going to create a video trailer to promote my book.
But I didn’t have a book.
I earned my MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles a few months prior, and while I had written about five speculative fiction pieces in the program that I was proud of, and had a few more stories accepted for publication, I didn’t have enough content for a full book. But the trailer had me in a bear hug and wouldn’t let go. I saw the scenes, I heard the dialogue and soundtrack. I knew who I would approach to write blurbs for the book cover, the printer I would use, the copy editor I would hire. I knew the themes I wanted to explore in the work. So I set out to make those things happen. I was going to be my own author/publisher/publicist/screenwriter and executive producer. Each day, I came home to write for four or five hours, and what emerged was a collection of ten spec fiction short stories about black dysfunctional divas living in L.A., navigating issues of race, identity, sex, hair. Escape from Beckyville: Tales of Race, Hair and Rage was born. Now I had something tangible that I believed in, and I could go forth and be a one-woman book mobile. I could tender my resignation notice in confidence.
But you can’t share your dreams with everyone.
Not that friends won’t be supportive of your goals, but most likely, they’ll project their fears onto you and try to talk you out of pursuing your passion. A lot of the nay saying is based on empirical data: “Well, Mr. So-and-So self-published a book, and he only sold four copies.” “The publishing industry is in the toilet.” “There’s really no market for short stories — especially from an unknown author. Don’t quit your day job.” Every time, I heard those protests, I would cry. Not that I didn’t believe in myself. I was frustrated because I had finally reclaimed my dreams and a childlike faith in my idea, and I didn’t want to see them crushed.
I’m a dreamer from way back, ever since I strutted up and down the steps of my row house in Norristown, Pennsylvania at age 10. I was the queen of “mind movies.” I fancied myself an actress and would dance up and down the carpeted steps of our house on Green Street, pirouetting before an adoring audience.
But even before then, I attempted to build a time machine out of a baby carriage and some nuts and bolts at age 8, because I knew a larger existence awaited me. I even packed a journal for the journey, to record my exploits in the next dimension. What can I say? I was a geeky loner kid, a reader of Stephen King and Mad magazine, and a burgeoning pianist, which made me an outcast in my neighborhood. Had no Double Dutch or dancing skills, was terrified of the drill team, because that required coordination and rhythm — two traits that have always eluded me. All I had was my dreams. I wanted to write. I wasn’t sure what the genre would be, but I had a love of the written word, and I wanted to share my ramblings with the world.
After college, I lived in Baltimore for a few years, and that’s when I developed an interest in screenwriting. When I first moved to L.A. from Baltimore more than a decade ago, I hit the streets with my script and a smile, convinced I’d be in pre-production on a film a few months after my arrival. In spite of my small-town girl optimism, I hustled every day — contacting agents, networking at industry parties, taking meetings. Even though nothing materialized outside of a few expired option agreements and several little-known celebrities taking an interest in my work, I knew that I would never give up on my love of writing.
So here is where I stand — on the cusp of handing in my resignation notice. Yes, I know I’m crazy. I’ve been called that since undergrad. The book is written and copy edited, blurbs are in place on the cover, the printer is locked in. I’m talking to my friend Moe from grad school about shooting the trailer, and I’m hoping to have a soft digital launch later this month. I’m exhausted. Living on lattes and potato chips, but life is good. I’m that optimistic 10-year-old dancing on the steps again, assured of a future.