Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What Dreams May Not Come

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over-- like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

by Langston Hughes

I will never be a TV writer. It's why I chose LA over NY, why I left my home, why I moved 2000 miles away from everyone and everything I loved. And now, it's a raisin in the sun, saggin like a heavy load, about to explode.

It's hard to give up a dream. I feel like someone died and I missed the funeral. There was no moment to grieve, just the knowledge that this is gone and I will never get it back. The knowledge that I never really had it at all.

I moved here at 22, completely naive, and completely convinced that in six months I would have a staff position on everyone's favorite one-hour drama. It would be a show like "Picket Fences" or "Northern Exposure" a clever, but heartfelt drama, with witty repartee and stories that miraculously involve an entire town into one coincidental theme. In five years I would become show runner, executive producer, and eventually the VP of NBC's new dramatic series dept. It was a big dream, I know, but why dream small?

Beyond the ego and money, the title and promise, it was always about doing what I love to do, and getting paid to do it. I've worked hard. I've always worked hard. In four years, I received two degrees, did summer school, working 20/hours a week the entire way. And when I moved to LA, I didn't know a soul, which led to an unfortunate welcome. My crazy roommate that I acquired from a newspaper ad (yes, I'm that stupid) tried to kill me, my car and credit card numbers were stolen, and at an apartment in Hollywood, we were involved in a drive-by shooting, and barely missed being the target of a crack deal gone bad. But I didn't leave. Because the goal was still here. I was going to be a TV writer. I was going to have health insurance, a house, a parking pass onto the studio lots, my name in the credits. It was a good dream, a good little grape in the shade.

In the 'reality show', I became a wife, step-mom, froggymama of a wonderful baby and I've had five jobs and six apartments in seven years. I've had amazing experiences - falling in love and getting married, giving birth, watching my plays produced in NY, knowing and loving my LA family, dealing with the devastation of Cystic Fibrosis, struggling financially, hiking in the mountains and feeling completely small and satisfied, snorkeling with Garibaldi, going to the theatre, working job after job that had nothing to do with writing, flying home and feeling the guilt of leaving again, traveling to Europe and falling in love with the French countryside, and making friendships with people who prove that there is more kindness and love in this world, than not.

But this was not the dream that I imagined, driving a U-haul across the desert with my cat, picturing a writer's room with Chinese take-out on the table, and a note card outline of a story pinned up on a wall, that would one day become a picture, that tells a story, on a television screen in everyone's living room in everyone's home. And in this vision I imagined my family and friends, my boyfriend from high school who dumped me for that cute cheerleader, sitting in front of the television together, saying in unison, "wow, she really made something of herself."

But I will never be a TV writer. The hours are not long enough in the day to devote time to my dream and the dream of Froggy's health. I have to be here, I want to be here, I need to be here, with my girl. Her future and happiness, and the promise of a long, long, long life is my dream now. I'm still a writer, I still have to keep my pen close by, scribbling ideas that someday I will have time to write, but this dream, the one I dreamed for as long as I can remember, is dead.

Maybe life is really about the dream you never had the wisdom to imagine -the life you're meant to live, not the life you planned to live. Maybe this isn't a dream deferred, a raisin in the sun, a festering sore, or syrupy sweet. Maybe it took all of these horrible and beautiful experiences for me to realize that this dream was never mine to have.


Anonymous said...

Maybe. Or maybe not.

Maybe it is just a dream deferred.

Speaking of raisins, think of icewine.

Long after the other grapes have been picked and pressed, there they are, still hanging on the vine, getting a bit dryer and more intense. Fall comes and goes, and there they still are, months and months after the other grapes have been picked. They are big and beautiful and juicy and healthy, even more beautiful than the grapes that were harvested. But still they hang on the vine. Only after a long and hard freeze are they ready to be picked, when most would have thought no wine could be made. But they make the sweesest and flavourful wine of all, and one of the rarest.

You are a wonderful writer Elise, and I consider myself lucky to have fund your words on the internet. Maybe now it is the time to do other writing, but that does not mean your dream is over, just that the time is not yet ripe.

The DutchMac Tribe said...

Change 'writer' to 'dancer' and you could be telling my story. The girl who always shunned the idea of a domestic life for one of a dirty stage and cold cup of coffee, the aching muscles and frustration of not landing turns with pinpoint accuracy. I moved to London and flat-out refused to go anywhere near a theatre, because the pain of being on the wrong side of the fourth wall was more than my soul could bear.

Then I found a dance studio where the professionals go to stay in shape during and between shows, and landed a class with all the true pros. I was home. In a studio, drenched in sweat to the point I could literally wring out my bra, unable to walk up the stairs to our apartment the next day. It was the best feeling I've ever experienced, because I was no longer 'in that world' and it didn't matter if I succeeded or not. I didn't care if I sprained an ankle, because it no longer meant I couldn't audition and find that next paycheck. I didn't care if the girl next to me could get her leg half an inch higher than me.

And I became a better dancer for it. My soul was free to let loose and totally LIVE in the moment. I have never felt such a level of joy as those days in the studio.

Then I got pregnant and we moved to the back end of nowhere in Holland, not knowing a single person but my husband). No dance studio, no girlfriends to ask to babysit so I could take 5 hours out of my day to get to/from the 1.5hour class in Amsterdam .... no more dream. And because it's a time sensitive dream (this body aint what it used to be!), it probably never will be there for me again. I still need to block the thought from my mind, because the reality of it just too painful to bring to the surface.

In the immortal words of my London instructor, 'dancing becomes your way of meditating.' She's right, it feeds my soul. Every few months, when we go back to London or I take the odd day to Am'dam for a class, I get to nourish my soul once more. It's not as often as I'd like, but it gives me such immeasurable joy.

Keep your writing as your form of meditation, and when it no longer matters as a source of income or 'goal' in your life, you may just find your spirit soars even higher with it. When you let go of everything attached to it, you may find more peace and happiness with your writing than you ever thought possible. I send you my most positive mojo this can happen for you.


Anonymous said...

Dreams don't have to die because life happens to you. In fact, these experiences are only going to make your writing stronger. Life is what you will write about.

I admire you Elise. You are a brave woman to have put yourself out there to even try. Not many people can say they are that courageous. I see that also in the fight you have for your daughter. Knowing that, I know your dream isn't laid to rest. You will again pick up the pen and fight for your dream. You are too talented not to. And too brave to give up.
Love and miss you,

MONSTER said...

You may not be a TV writer but you are a writer. A powerful and profound writer and you move me to tears many times with the deft execution of your craft.

First of all, (and I know you're wise enough to know this but I'll say it anyway) sometimes getting your dream fulfilled is more disappointing than leaving it out there as pure possibility. At my mid-life crisis at 29, I decided to leave the computer biz and move from Germany to Hollywood; I was going to be a producer!
Within 5 years, I was a producer on a TV show, a prime-time comedy on ABC. I had my name in the credits, agents and studio executives kissing you know what, a two year contract making bank...and I was totally miserable. After the first year, I quit and have never looked back. I was working insane hours 6 days a week and never saw my husband and step-son, so what was the point of getting married? I felt sorry for myself and the people I worked with.
I got to see how surprisingly uncreative this so-called "creative" business is, where you are a complete slave to what the network wants, the advertisers, the product placement people, all the sycophants, toadies, equivocators, all the concessions, the compromises, the giving in, the rot on the vine. It's a mass medium and not called the boob tube for nothing. Just look at the success of "According to Jim." Every episode is exactly the same, it's like "Groundhog Day."
And many of the people I worked with, miserable people, hating their lives. Show runners and executive producers who only see their kids in the summer, who miss every baseball game, never do homework with their kids because they're asleep by the time they get home. Empty, parched lives, they are the raisins. On paper, they look good, made in the shade but these paper tigers are vicious, self-hating, and to be pitied, not envied. All generalizations of course. Maybe you dodged a bullet.

On the other chose the path you took. You're no victim, you are powerful and can take responsibility (and credit!) for everything that has happened. You have a rich, juicy life, bursting with magic and possibility. Not a predictable one that follows a scripted formula. It's a brilliant, improvised, non-linear, syncopated work of art. Who says your dream is dead?! It's only dead if YOU say it's dead. After all, why can't there be a cure for CF within 10 years, by then Froggy will be in school, and you could be a TV writer at the ripe "old" age of 39! Why the heck not? Over half of our writers were over 40 and the one that created "That Girl" was in his 70's.
You are in charge of your life. I know, I know, sometimes you like to pretend that you're not, just to amuse yourself. And I'm not just trying to pump you up or make you feel good, I have proof. If it had all gone according to the script, if you had gotten "the dream," none of these extraordinary things would have happened and you'd be a pretty boring writer. A writer with a predictable life is not an interesting writer, heck, maybe you'd be on "According to Jim." Now, since you made all those things happen, you're just biding your time, ripening on the vine, becoming icewine just like Monika said so eloquently.

Then, watch out world cuz Froggymama's got something to say!

Anonymous said...

tv isn't good enough for your writing. still...if it is a dream...i believe you'll catch it. jcn

Anonymous said...

Hopefully your articulate friends are helping you see the bigger picture. My nightly routine is to turn off the crap on the tube and tune into Froggy Mama. You win hands down. gpg

Anonymous said...

Aw Elise, don't be so hard on yourself. TV sucks anyway, especialy now that the Sopranos and Six Feet Under are over.

I understand getting paid for what you love to do is important to you, but just think of it this way, The Secret sold 6 million copies and people actually believe that crap. Guess they never heard of the Holocaust, but that's not my point. If you really want to please the masses, peddle easy answers and make your audience (whoever that may be)think that everything is okay with them and that the rest of the world is crazy. Works for politics, religion and Dr. Phil doesn't it?

Screw the public, they don't deserve you and they wouldn't pay for something good unless Oprah told them to anyway. If you really want their adoration just patronize them until they love you. They can't understand irony without a laugh track. I think you're great.