Sunday, November 07, 2010

Paper Moon

If I wrote down my life on paper what would it look like?

I am a thirty-three year old divorced mother of a child with chronic illness. I work as a personal assistant where it is my job to pick up drycleaning and make dinner reservations, so someone else can live a successful life. I basically do what no one wants to, what we would all pay someone else to do if we could afford it. That's me. On paper.

I'm five pounds fatter than I was pre-kid (okay seven), and 15 pounds fatter than I was pre-husband. I sweat the small stuff, drive a 98' Saturn, clean my own toilet and scoop kitty poop twice a day. Everything I own is from a thrift store or donated. Our eclectic apartment is basically a permanent garage sale where nothing is actually for sale. Crayon hieroglyphics decorate the walls and Martha Stewart would probably drop dead if she saw how frightfully mismatched our color schemes are. My living room looks like a disorganized preschool, Trader Joe's cooks most of our meals and dog hair rolls down my hallway like tumbleweed.

I'm a writer but I've never been paid for writing. Not a cent. I've been published, but never paid. I have two degrees, and have only used them for crossword puzzles or Jeopardy questions.

On paper I am not a success. 'I am only a paper moon sailing over a cardboard sea.'

Ten years ago, this would have killed me. If my 23 year old self met my 33 year old self, she would cry. I remember working on my resume in my early twenties, anticipating a writing career. It was full of silly accomplishments and awards I thought would one day lead to a dreamy life. I was so full of myself, so sure I could conquer the world, positive that by 25 I would be writing for HBO. I couldn't wait for my ten year high school reunion where I would brag to all the cheerleaders, "My friend Jen is reading my script....Aniston, you know... oh sorry, I call her Jen. Nothing's set in stone, but she did say it was the best script she's ever read." I had high hopes, a vision of success that would somehow manifest itself into a British accent. Don't ask. Money, husband, child, house, a passionate career doing what I love.

And yet, and yet.

I have a job that allows me to spend everyday with my child. Because Froggy was diagnosed with CF, I decided not to work full-time. I saw her first steps, heard her first words, first everything. When I think about all those hours we've spent doing her respiratory treatments, reading stories, snuggling cheek-to-cheek I think, how lucky am I? I get to hold my daughter everyday for at least one hour without interruption, to tell her how much I love her, how incredible she is, how lucky we are. We read Stuart Little, Dr.Seuss, and her favorites, Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny. Because of her seizure disorder and g-tube we sleep in the same bed. Every night I go to sleep to the most beautiful face. Every night this little body snuggles into mine, her hands finding my face, and I think - This is it. This is what it's all about. I couldn't imagine better.

If success is measured in hours, in moments of pure awe, of watching life happen and being a part of the grand scheme, well I am the guru, the president, the queen bee of success. Yes, I spend a lot of my day on the phone with pharmacies, Blue Cross, restaurant dinner reservations. Most of the time I am taking care of someone else's day, someone else's plans. I make theatre reservations for plays I would love to see, trips to India and Budapest, trips I would love to take. And sometimes I wish I was on the plane, at the dinner, in the writer's room. Sometimes I wish someone else would scrub my toilet. But what would I give up?

What would I give up of this beautiful, chaotic, insane life for one on paper?

This is a rich life. Even though I am not rich. My resume is not impressive. But I don't live there. I live here, in my Froggy's heart. And it is a beautiful place.

Right now, a producer is considering me for a tv show.

Ten years ago I would have been cuckoo, putting all my writer eggs in this basket of 'what dreams may come.' And the disappointment of not getting it would have left a bruise. In all honesty, I would love a writing job, but now it doesn't define me, what's down on paper (ironically) doesn't decide my happiness, my worth, my life's value.

And maybe this is where I needed to go. Maybe before I was allowed to taste the fruit, I needed to climb the tree. I have lived a hundred years in the last five. And now, now I am ready. To write. To live. To find success, whatever that means.

"Say it's only a paper moon sailing over a cardboard sea. But it wouldn't be make-believe if you believe in me. It is only a canvas sky, hanging over a muslin tree, but it wouldn't be make-believe if you believed in me. " - from the song 'Paper Moon' by Harold Arlen and lyrics by E.Y. Harburg and Billy Rose.


ferfischer said...

I loved this! I also feel like I have lived a hundred years in the last five. How things change!

holly said...

Thanks for such a wonderful post. Once again I absolutely understand this. Still waiting tables at almost 30. Blessed to have spent the time I have spent with my girl though. Now that Ojaio's approaching the school years, and I see free time in my future, I feel the drive coming back, but I still feel no rush. We are blessed to have our special girls. They taught us something many people will never know.

Angela said...

I'm sure you've heard this many times but you should sooo be getting paid for your writing- I really hope you get that TV job, you deserve it!

Anonymous said...

this is a great post all can relate - i agree with angela!! jcn....

Monika said...

You are an amazing writer.

Whether you get that t.v. show or not (and I hope that you do), you are an amazing writer, and I am grateful to be able to read your work.

PicklePits said...

Like Monika, I too am very grateful to be able to read your work. You are amazing, Elise. You really are. And quite honestly, I feel very fortunate to be able to do so because if there were a sticker on your work I'd never be able to afford it.