How To Hollywood Chapter 09: "How To Know When To Leave"
There comes a time when everyone has to make choices. I don’t believe there are “wrong” choices in the sense that it seems, really, anything a person does is part of who that person is. There are certainly unhealthy choices and choices that don’t lead to positive outcomes and any manner of situations along those lines. I’ve grown to believe that, with some exceptions, these choices are all part of living and so there’s no use assigning a “good” or “bad” quality to them. They exist, and as such, must be dealt with.
The day I heard my studio was bankrupt and hadn’t been paying me for a few weeks my first instinct was to make sure my teams in India were taken care of. I felt obligated to stay in the office for my nightly appointment and meet with them, write emails, follow up on work I’d been overseeing. My assistant, a smart, compassionate woman who was also a friend, was quick to point out that we weren’t being paid anymore; our obligations ended at our paychecks. My immediate supervisor confirmed this and shrugged when I asked him what he thought I should do.
My assistant and I decided that what we were going to “do” was get a drink at a local tiki lounge and talk.
It wasn’t as if this unfortunate event hadn’t been on the horizon for some time—most of us had figured out the company was not going in a positive direction with constant layoffs and confusion in the office. Still, we had films to finish, and “Life of Pi” had come out to a lot of fanfare, including the win at the “Annie Awards” that I attended and a nomination at the Academy Awards. It was all rather confusing to say the least.
I was attending a comedy show with a friend in Hollywood the Sunday after my assistant and supervisor told me “R+H” was bankrupt and so I had my phone off. When I turned my phone on again after the show was over I found I had a message from our studio Production Manager telling me it was settled—“R+H” was bankrupt officially and I was not to come in on Monday morning.
Even though the news wasn’t unexpected it was still a shock to my system. I spent Sunday night watching TV and feeling a mixture of sadness and numbness. I couldn’t think, I could only stare at my TV, watching a sad anime film I’d purchased recently and wondering how on earth I had lost my career for a second time, seven years after I’d lost it before.
I’d gotten used to the easy way of life I had, getting up without an alarm clock and working nights with India. I was also used to being paid a handsome fee for my services, which didn’t put me out much. In fact, it was just about the best balance of work and life I’d had in my career. Suddenly I was facing—again—having to start all over.
I had saved, of course—I had long learned to put money away for just such an occasion. I had moved into a luxurious loft apartment that I loved but I also knew I could downsize if necessary. I had several assets, including DreamWorks stock that had been given to employees years earlier, and I knew I could unload a lot of things for cash if I really needed to. It was all fairly familiar to me, except for one problem...
...I really, really didn’t want to be in production anymore.
For me, production had come to mean long hours and sometimes impossible deadlines. It meant struggling through occasionally unpleasant films on difficult schedules in work that was becoming less fascinating and more of a grind to me. While I still loved motion graphics I had lost my drive somewhere along the way, at least my drive to produce work for others. I wasn’t even sure if I could get it back.
I spent several weeks just wandering about, going to the beach, calling a couple of my friends who were also unemployed and comparing notes. I recommend doing this, by the way; if you happen to have friends in a similar situation. It can help you to normalize your problems sometimes, to help keep them from appearing insurmountable, if you compare your experience with those of others. You can also share tips if you know any. After losing my career once and having a few furloughs I’d become a master at keeping on a healthy schedule while not working and actually looked forward to the opportunity to be on my own time and dedicate my energies to my own projects once again.
Still and all, I knew I had to work. I had spent a lot on my show and found myself getting audited soon after when I wrote the show off as a business loss. My tax person was convinced the audit would go away eventually if we just kept pushing back, and it did finally, but it made me nervous all the same. Regardless, I didn’t have the kind of money I’d had before my show and now figured I might not again any time soon, maybe ever. I’d heard so many stories of animation employees who had lived the high life in the 90s and then found themselves in a state of complete financial ruin after the studios changed things up. Expensive houses, cars, trips and luxury items were common among my peers in the 90s and I heeded the horror stories I’d witnessed about people losing everything, so wasn’t living above my means, just used to having “means,” of course. I was set up to be just fine, even without work, for a long time, but once again was wary of burning through all my savings. I figured I had around a year that I could be unemployed if I was conservative but after that I’d be down to little more than what I’d had on my first jobs, fresh out of college. My parents even suggested they could assist me if it ever came to that. I didn’t intend for things to get to that point, ever.
I applied for a job at a special effects company in Santa Monica and was surprised to get an immediate interview. I was more surprised when I went to the studio and found that, despite the friendly atmosphere and some acquaintances who were employees there, the place left me feeling cold. When the potential employer asked me to give the studio the lowest acceptable salary that I would work at, and then didn’t even give me a response to that proposal let alone accept it, I knew things were going to have to change. I was actually glad they hadn’t accepted my offer; I didn’t actually want to work at the studio or on the film in question and I still am grateful I was never obligated to try to get a job there.
I had some more job leads. In each case it worked out the same; there was potential if I pushed, but I really didn’t want the jobs in the first place.
This left me more uneasy than I’d ever been before in my career.
I’d always had passion, I’d always known what direction I wanted to go in, I’d always had goals and had attained enough of them to understand that if I put my best foot forward I’d get what I was after eventually.
At nearly 50 years old I found myself wondering, what does one do when one has run out of goals?
I polished and re-wrote my first epic novel, something I’d been longing to do for years, and found a way to self-publish it easily and cheaply. I was incredibly proud of my work and have had a lot of validation over the years for what I consider the best thing I’ve probably ever written, maybe ever created, period. But sales from that book would in no way pay my high rent.
I set up an account on a website to try selling my original artwork. I didn’t get even a small nibble and gave up not long after. The question was answered once and for all: I had neither the talent nor the desire to try to make it as an independent artist. I needed “backing” of some kind.
I continued to produce music and looked for new avenues to keep my first show active and my new show, which I’d staged with my director friend to a sold-out crowd at a small bar a year previous, rolling. My director and I had even gone to Las Vegas to pitch my show to some producers and a breaking new talent we were acquainted with and got all the way to a deal before it evaporated for various reasons. As fun as it all was, none of this was going to pay for as much as my groceries let alone my livelihood.
I continued to hear about jobs in town and work in other countries, and even had some offers here and there, but I just couldn’t find it in myself to get excited about these things, even as the months wore on from winter to spring and spring to early summer and nothing turned up.
I learned another lesson at this point: The life of an artist is an uncertain thing; the world may or may not have respect for artists in general, but artistic individuals need to have nerves of steel to commit to what they do as a way of life. There are always exceptions. There are patrons, the exceptionally gifted or those who gain ground quickly through a combination of skill and good fortune. Meanwhile, there are all the hundreds of thousands of artists who never quite break out or find a way to sustain life as a professional for numerous reasons. I had had roughly 23 years of employment as an animation artist with hardly a break. Whether it was luck or skill or a combination of a number of things, I had lived a glorious life of reveling in artistry while making a more-than-decent living, something not every artist gets to do.
I began to wonder if A) my “luck” was running out or B) the answer to what I was seeking was in another direction than the one I’d been looking in.
In March, a couple months after I was out of work, a friend I had known since childhood came down to visit with his wife, hoping to enjoy the bonhomie of West Hollywood during the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Our visit ended up being quiet and contemplative. We sat mulling over pleasant drinks in an exquisite establishment and I was happy enough, but still couldn’t stop thinking about the question hanging in the air; if I wasn’t happy with how things were going, what were my options?
It was my friend Craig who eventually asked me point-blank, “What would you like to do?"
My response was immediate, I didn’t even have to think about it: “I want to teach.”
Maybe I’d been thinking along these lines for some time. I’ve found that happens a lot...sometimes when you think you have no direction you have already been thinking about what you want to do next, perhaps have already even started doing it. Sometimes you just need to acknowledge what was already there waiting. I’d had teaching on my mind for a while, when I really thought about it—ever since I’d become a supervising animator anyway. I’d been doing presentations at schools and colleges from the time I began working in animation. I enjoyed these events and on paper the thought of teaching seemed rational—and many of my relatives had successfully pursued the career in earnest, starting with my beloved grandmother. I wondered, however...could I become a teacher? And how? And would it be a viable career option?
Having decided at least on a goal I had something to think about, but again, thinking about things doesn’t pay. I knew I had to act or face the loss of my comfort and stability eventually.
First I gave notice at my expensive apartment. My cousin had suggested I’d be relieved once I had that out of my life and she was right.
I put this out to the ether in hopes it helps someone, somewhere: If you’re paying too much for your place, find a way out of it. It isn’t worth it in the end. You can probably live more cheaply than you think, and unless you have amassed a fortune you will have to learn to make sacrifices somewhere. You might start by taking a look at how much your home-place costs you per month, and go from there.
I settled on moving back to Studio City, where I’d started my adventures in Los Angeles in the early 90s. There was something about the “full circle” nature of it that appealed to me, as I had no idea where my future would take me, just as when I first arrived in town. I ended up moving to a tiny 1-bedroom place in an apartment building next door to where I’d lived in in 1990.
Second, I unloaded a ton of “stuff.” I couldn’t believe how much I had that was worth money on Ebay and related sites. Much of my stuff I gave away to charity. I dispensed with a vast collection of LPs and CDs, stacks of collectibles and a lot of books—many of them animation and Disney related. I got rid of things I thought I’d have forever and was surprised to find that, in the end, these were just “things” after all. Some things I’d eventually miss, some I’d get back. Most of it I’d forget about. Having a small apartment forced me to downsize and unclutter my life and it was freeing even as it left me feeling humbled.
Third, I began to tell all my friends what I wanted to do. Here’s another of these “things they never tell you”: You need to let your friends know when you’re out of work. I don’t think it’s a good idea to advertise that you’ve been let go or that you’ve been unemployed for a long time—in fact, I don’t think it is a good idea to be unemployed for a long time in general as it brings up questions from prospective employers as to what you were doing with all the time you had and why you couldn’t (or wouldn’t) work. Telling friends you’re “on the prowl” however starts discourse, and this is exactly what you need to get back on track if you find yourself out of a job suddenly. You never know where the next lead is going to come from, but you will never find it if you live in isolation. You have to make your presence known to the world if you want to be noticed.
Fourth, and as important as anything, is staying active. Once I’d moved to a new apartment I settled into a routine of taking long walks up to Universal Studios, something I had gotten into the habit of doing many years before when I lived in the same neighborhood. I started writing for online websites to keep my writing skills active, I took afternoons off, collating things that had fallen into disarray with my computers or other things that needed organizing and tackling personal projects right and left. I visited with old friends I hadn’t seen in years and went to Oregon and Arizona to visit family.
As I’ve mentioned before, it’s important to allow yourself to grieve when you lose something as important as a job. I grieved a lot after R+H studios went down (although, in truth, the studio actually kept going, just in a different form with a smaller staff). I found myself in more or less the same position I’d been in seven years earlier only older, without as much cash and without the drive I’d had then to accomplish things. I thought about what might have happened if I’d never left DreamWorks in the first place and was glad to find I had no confusion there; I’d had a wonderful “ride” at R+H and made memories to last a lifetime. But I knew, inside, based on the gut feeling I had come to rely on, that my days in production were over.
I ended up running through all my unemployment checks eventually, something I’d never done before. It was scary and I had mixed feelings about being “on the dole” for so long but I was glad to have the money coming in, ultimately. I talked to an EDD career counselor and she was a big, beautiful, laughing woman with intricate corn-row hair who told me without being prompted as to what direction I wanted to go in that she was convinced I was going to be a teacher someday soon, and a brilliant one. I tried to contact her later but she disappeared not long after our interview, the company she worked for said she’d retired. Another “angel,” I suppose.
I would alternate between pushing hard to try and get work and giving up and doing other things but by the end of summer of 2013 I was finding it more difficult to avoid falling into depression and malaise. There was a lawsuit set up to help the employees of R+H recoup the funds that hadn’t been paid before the bankruptcy and it was exciting to watch that happen, and to the best of my knowledge we did all finally get settlement checks that made up the loss, but that was a quick, fleeting business. There was another lawsuit I was part of that had to do with animation studios agreeing to not “poach” from each other without the artists’ knowledge, a case that dragged on for a long time but eventually settled in the artists’ favor and I received a hefty payout from that too, and just when I appreciated it most.
“Life of Pi” won the Academy Award for best visual effects at the ceremony that was held in early 2014. I didn’t watch the show. I’d long-since stopped watching the Academy Awards as my love of movies and the entertainment world in general had waned. I heard later the animation director who had driven some of us home after the Annie Awards had been cut off just as he was starting to discuss the poor situation for effects artists in Hollywood—the show went directly to commercial and the speech was shut down, at least on television (those who attended the ceremony heard it). I was informed there would be a protest outside the building where the Academy Awards took place in Hollywood—visual effects artists were going to try to organize to see if they could improve working conditions for employees at film studios. I knew even then the plan was muddled and the mission unclear, and I’m afraid to say the whole thing rather came and went without ruffling many feathers, and that’s where things still are as of this writing. Without a union, studios can pay effects artists whatever they want and ask them to do strenuous schedules with incredibly tight deadlines, and as long as there’s someone willing to work under these terms without protest they’ll continue to keep this practice. There is also the possibility that movies might be too cost prohibitive if union rules are too stringent, but so far it doesn’t seem like producers in Hollywood are hurting too much financially.
I turned my Facebook profile picture green for a couple weeks in solidarity with my peers (green being the color of “green screens,” which are used in effects films to replace backgrounds). Despite this lackluster participation I felt I was doing my own part.
I did get job leads. I had an offer to head up a team at a prestigious studio in Montreal on a major film and seriously considered it, as well as offers to work as a remote supervisor on little films being made in other countries around the world. When I was offered a final deal I would eventually explain to each of the recruiters who offered me these jobs that I would be more than happy to work on these films if the work was such that I didn’t need to leave my home in Los Angeles; barring that I’d have to pass. It wasn’t much, but it was one small way I felt I could contribute to what was being called “runaway productions,” shows being shipped to other countries to get more work for less money from production companies.
It was clear my name still had some “clout” and that helped me relax a little, even as I was starting to grow concerned.
I considered applying at “Trader Joe’s” as some of my peers in the animation world had done successfully after it was clear they couldn’t work in animation anymore for any number of reasons. The idea depressed me if I’m being honest, but I’ve never felt it was beneath me to work. In some ways I figured I’d be lucky to even get a job like that, considering my position, age and specific set of skills.
Eventually my realtor friend told me about some speaking opportunities that were coming up, paying gigs in fact, that he was organizing. It would just amount to small stipends here and there but it was exposure and the events were fun and I met some great people. I did some speaking engagements at prestigious locations around town and got to practice my public speaking skills. I also sharpened my repertoire of material, the same stories I’ve been sharing here in fact. My mom always thought of me as the shy, introverted kid she’d known when I was in grade school but the truth was, I had grown to love public speaking and had been told I was entertaining to listen to by a number of sources. What’s more, I sincerely enjoyed the experiences I had in ways that equaled or even surpassed the joy I got from my glory days in animation production.
At one of these events, a friend of a friend pulled me aside after my talk and told me he worked for a local college that needed an animation instructor. He asked me if I was interested.
I think it’s interesting that this all happened right as I was coming to the conclusion that it would probably be in my best interests to take the job I’d been head-hunted for in Montreal. It was a good, high-profile gig at a renowned company in a city that at least seemed pleasant. The pay was also an incentive, as well as some perks. It would mean leaving Los Angeles, something I was not prepared to do for a variety of reasons, but I had long learned that it’s important to face your fears. Sometimes, it seems, the “scariest” thing can be the right thing.
Think about this carefully: you should always look at the things you are afraid of and challenge them. Maybe you won’t face them, maybe you’ll run from them and that’s what you were meant to do, but know them. Look things in the eye and embrace the foreign, uncomfortable feelings that come with change or challenges to your ego or ways of living. Change will come regardless, why not welcome it? And most fears can be reduced to lack of knowledge of the unknown. Once a fear is faced, it’s no longer in the realm of unknown. Even pain, something that terrifies most of us, can be dealt with on some level more than things that you can’t identify. The sooner one tries, the sooner the fear goes away.
I had just decided that I would probably have to abandon my life in LA after 24 years when I got a call from the college my contact had told me about, and the call came with a teaching job offer. The pay rate, while less hours per week and so less money coming in overall, was the same per hour as the Montreal job I was about to drop everything for. I couldn’t quite believe it. I had the opportunity to stay in town and work part time and still make a reasonable living, not to mention the likelihood that this job would lead to other gigs.
It’s worth reiterating: as long as you have something coming in financially, you have something to work with. If you’re only making a dollar an hour it’s still more than if you are making nothing at all. If you are employed at a company there’s always the possibility you’ll connect with other employees and find leads to other jobs, and while you’re on the job you’re filling out your resume with valuable proof of your abilities and acquiring experiences for your next gig. Under no circumstances should you wait for the “best” gig to come along if you are not completely proven yet or if you don’t have a lot in savings or assets. If you’re still making a name for yourself, as I was trying to do with teaching, you need to get yourself out there and start circulating. Later you can begin to become more specific about the types of jobs you want to take, because you “did your time.” If you’re the new kid in town you really do have to pay your dues.
Everything changed for me the minute I got a start date at the first college I worked for. It was true the school wasn’t exactly what I’d been expecting in terms of an institution of higher education (I had exactly two students, one of which was prone to being absent a lot), but the hours were reasonable, the work fairly undemanding and the East LA location pleasant. In fact, the center where the school was located bore a strong resemblance to the DreamWorks campus. I was hired in late summer and spent a lot of time before classes and on breaks walking around looking at the trees and enjoying the golden afternoon sun. I’ve always been reflective and prone to taking long walks, listening to music or just thinking. At my first teaching gig I had plenty of “head space” to relax and contemplate. It was also the nature of the work that I had plenty of time to ramp up to be being an actual teacher in this job. With the aid of the friend who had gotten me hired and the other friendly teachers at the school I learned the ways and wiles of how to set up lesson plans, what rubriks were and any number of technical things related to the skills I needed to be able to teach motion graphics at the college level.
As I had hoped and predicted, this first job led to another and another. All the jobs were good ones and each one, in its own way, suited my needs and hopes. It was rather wondrous how, once again, I made requests of the universe and the universe delivered. I got so busy with teaching gigs I had to start turning offers down. The work paid well and, beyond belief, I started to rebuild my financial “coffers” again. In one case, I got a job at a prestigious Hollywood school because I randomly bumped into the animation director on a film I had actually not enjoyed much. This animation director was going back into production and couldn’t teach anymore and said he’d be happy to hand off his fantastic class to me, as he believed I was qualified.
I can’t say it enough: be nice to everyone, like everyone...you just never know where the next gig will come from.
I decided teaching was going to be my new full-time career. At last, I felt, I was truly allowed to run my courses my own way and I loved it. I got to experience being a big fish in a little pond, considering my credentials, and it felt good to be revered for my reputation as an artist and person from the film world. I also got regular, positive feedback and the rapport I had with the students, whether it was continuous classes or one-off speaking engagements, seemed enthusiastic on both sides. I looked into how I might go deeper into a career as an instructor.
I learned I was an “adjunct,” basically a freelance teacher, something I had never heard of before. I learned I would benefit from getting the proper credentials I’d need to be able to teach full time and instruct in things beyond just the software I worked with. It became clear I would benefit from attaining a Master’s degree.
My heart sunk at the thought of going back to school, reading, writing, studying, hours and hours of course work, not to mention the expense. It took me a couple years of thinking about it before I decided to jump in and just do it, once again with the understanding that the very fact that I was unsure about doing it was probably a good sign it was something I needed to do. I also knew what I’d learned long before: good, bad or indifferent, getting another degree would be just one more step in my life...it might turn out to benefit my career and it might not, but one way or another I would evolve in going through the process. This work you’re reading now constitutes the end result of that journey.
Other things were evolving while I was exploring my new career. Some of them were wonderful. I found a venue where I could put my musicals on live for a small amount of money and had a wonderful time with my shows and the phenomenal performers I was able to recruit to work with me. I finally had found a platform where I could showcase my music and songs, I got to do a lot of trial-and-error with my writing as I found out what worked with audiences and what didn’t and, as much as anything, made some great friends. The shows were successful and by the last performance that played to a full house with a standing ovation I realized I’d done everything I had wanted to do with these projects and was able to put away the ideas that spawned them once and for all. I done it, it had been successful and it left me completely sated.
I wrote a lot and managed to put out more books as well as a series of my sketchbooks. Every day I see these books that I created on my shelf and know that I did exactly what I wanted to do with them...some had been sitting in boxes for years, some I wrote more recently. All of them now exist as works that can be picked up and read by anyone and continue to circulate online where they are available for purchase. They may even outlast me at this point.
Some of my experiences weren’t pleasant. I had some minor health scares and was without any health insurance at the time. I ended up getting a lot of quality care from the local free clinics; despite the inconvenience and sometimes indignity of it all, I was treated better in some ways than I had been by doctors in the expensive insurance plans I’d had while working. Note to self, or anyone who will listen: health care coverage matters. The sooner we get to a place where the health of everyone in the United States can be addressed in a way that is effective for everyone, the better off we’ll all be.
I lost friends, classmates and co-workers who passed away long before one might have expected them to. My mom finally succumbed to cancer and left us much more quickly than we’d ever have imagined she would, even as she left having made her peace with her situation. I believe the death of a parent inevitably changes things even when it’s expected...friends of mine who had lost parents said as much. I came to understand what they meant.
Fortunately, something wonderful had happened the summer after I lost my job at “R+H” in 2013. I met the love of my life.
It is, I suppose, outside of the scope of a book about how to make it in Hollywood to discuss much concerning how I was able to finally find love after it seemed to allude me for so long, but I think there is much that is relevant to this discussion all the same.
My old pal Sam had often said to me while I was coming out of the closet, “The Universe brings things to you when you’re ready.” I don’t know if I’d put it that way—I think it’s more likely you find things when you’re evolved enough to recognize and receive them. Many opportunities have come and gone in my life—and in the lives of my loved ones—and one can never know what might have happened if different choices had been taken. For fun I sometimes wonder what might have happened had I gotten into CalArts, the “Disney animation college” at 19 when I applied rather than being rejected, and what might have happened had I finished school there. Would I have gotten into Disney studios sooner and stayed longer? But if I had, would I have been so focused on staying at Disney that I ended up going down with the ship like so many of my peers who stayed there did? Would I have been so entrenched that I missed out on the opportunity to work at DreamWorks? Or Rhythm and Hues?
In the same way, I had many affections over they years, some that seemed so strong I thought I might collapse when they didn’t work out. Yet, looking back, none of them were appropriate matches. They seemed like they were at the time because I was in the moment, but later, once the dust settled, I realized that something—either forces within or without—was preventing these relationships from fully materializing. What if, by some happenstance or other, things had been different and these relationships had become concrete? What if I’d found my office crushes to be reciprocal, only to find out that once the glitter of attraction faded there was nothing left, because I didn’t know who I was yet? Or because I cared too much and had unrealistic expectations? What if I didn’t actually even want reciprocity, but only the fantasy of a “real” relationship? What if I had “settled” on someone simply because I was desperate to have a relationship and found that what I really wanted and needed in life was still waiting for me, I had just been impatient, but was now trapped?
I think a career can be like that too—especially one in Hollywood. You must pay your dues, you must gain experience and when you are faced with opportunity you must be prepared to take full advantage of it, but you have to play “fair.” Jumping too soon at something that looks immediately gratifying may mean you miss out on a great deal down the line. It might also mean you’re jumping for the wrong thing at the wrong time.
I’m as eager as anyone, and spent uncountable hours looking for someone who I was compatible with and being disappointed. I went on dozens of dates over as many years, all of them approached in earnest, none of them a good fit.
What was it that was different when I first met the man who I would eventually settle down with for life in a legally-binding same-sex marriage? I think sometimes that my extensive life experiences taught me to know myself better and recognize when someone came along who was special. I also think I was lucky enough to have found someone special enough to truly cherish, which is what I try to do every day. I know I worked hard to reach a place where I was emotionally and physically healthy enough to be in a sustained, intimate, long-term relationship, and at a certain point was just weeding out those who were not in my same position. I also feel incredibly lucky that I happened to stumble across someone who was so eligible, evolved, loving and, of course, attractive.
By 2011, the year I got my first Android phone, the world of the internet had advanced to the point that one could now be introduced to people from all over the world at the touch of one’s fingertips on a small, funny, blinking little electronic device. I’ve heard a great deal of talk about how sleazy phone apps can be when it comes to connecting with other eager individuals but for me it was a way to connect in a fun, interesting with people all over the world. I instantly found it was no longer necessary to spend endless hours in a bar getting inebriated with the hope that you might meet someone who was also tired of spending endless hours in a bar. I collected pen pals via phone apps and had great conversations with people I knew I’d never meet in person but who had plenty to offer in terms of conversation all the same. By contrast, I could disappear into these conversations without mentioning my career or other aspects of my personality that might or might not be attractive to these people—since I was never going to meet any of these men it actually hardly mattered what they looked like or what I looked like, which allowed us to talk as human beings first and potential dates second.
Late on a hot Saturday night in the summer of 2013, I was hanging out at a dance club with a good friend. My friend was off connecting with someone. I was trying to avoid the advances of an eager young fellow half my age who was clearly uninterested in taking “no” for an answer and growing increasingly bored and irritated with the whole situation. I knew instinctively, in the same way I knew I would never work in production again, that this would be my last official night trolling around in a club with a friend.
I found someone handsome and interesting to chat to on my phone. I asked him what he was doing.
He responded, “Netflix and Ni-Quil on the rocks.”
I knew from the start we were going to hit it off.
After our first meeting at the beautiful Culver Hotel in Culver City (where most of the actors who played Munchkins in the Wizard of Oz had stayed while making the movie) I was left with no doubts whatsoever that I’d found “the one,” cliché as it may sound. There was simply no doubt...and there were no fears. The relationship would still depend on my feelings being reciprocated, but I had learned to trust “the universe.” If it was meant to be it would happen...if it wasn’t meant to be, then it really didn’t matter much anyway and I’d go on to the next as I always had before. I could wait.
This may be the most important thing I learned in my career and life in general: patience. It isn’t enough to wait around, however...it’s important to continue to work at things, try things, as important as anything it’s necessary to occasionally fail at things and kind of forget that you had that failure so you’re not afraid to try again.
But what is “failure?” Many will tell you it’s something that gets you one step closer to your goals. But doesn’t that, by its nature, mean that “failure” must also be a positive part of your goal? If your success is dependent on not getting things the way you want them sometimes it must be an inherent part of the process, so it shouldn’t be so fearsome in nature or thought of as a negative, for all the confusion and frustration it can create sometimes. It isn’t merely that the failure will get you closer to your goals, it’s that the failure is part of your goal. Without it you wouldn’t learn what you needed to learn after you get up, dust yourself off and feel like walking forward again.
My husband and I dated for a year or so and then planned a small, official wedding event shortly after gay marriage was pronounced legal, and we unwittingly became poster children for the concept of gay marriage to a lot of friends and family, including my old-fashioned but eager-to-evolve mother. None of that mattered much to us, we were just happy to be bonded. We got married on the wooden balcony of a small A-frame house in late December of 2014, surrounded by patches of snow in the woods of Idyllwild, an artsy mountain community east of LA. My husband and I held hands and smiled at each other while my husband’s mother officiated and a friend watched and some of our relatives joined us via the internet.
Eventually we purchased a condo outside of Los Angeles and are, as of this writing, planning on leaving the Southern California area sooner than later for a quieter existence outside the state.
We’re not leaving in “defeat,” something I was afraid of doing in my younger years. One of the tenets of Robert Greene’s “Laws of Power” book is to stop when you’ve gotten what you wanted. It’s not even a matter of quitting while you’re ahead, it’s more in line with attaining the goals you set out to achieve and then creating new goals. I finished with animation production many years ago (though I still say I’m “semi-retired” and that I’d work on another project if the right one came along). My slate is currently full as a teacher—in some ways it rivals production in terms of hours and engagement, and even pay. There is no competition in terms of the satisfaction teaching gives me however; in some ways I think my time in production was necessary simply to provide me with the knowledge and experience I’d need to later in life be of value to students as an educator.
To those pursuing a career in Hollywood I would leave you with this final thought: if you’ve ever imagined being a part of the collective dream process known as “movies” or “shows” or “games” or any other type of entertainment media, you owe it to yourself to try it all out.
Give it everything you’ve got...the worst that can happen is you have the experiences that will then lead you to where you were meant to be anyway. You might not attain “overnight success.” You might not be the next Walt Disney or Steven Spielberg or the modern-day equivalent of these film legends. If you think about it, the odds are against you; someone told me many years ago that your chances of selling a film script are less than your chances of winning the lottery if you don’t even enter the lottery in the first place. Yet people sell scripts all the time. Movies are made constantly. A lot of them fall through the cracks. Some go on to become blockbusters and make those people attached to the projects financially wealthy or famous. You can’t count on that, nor should that part be your priority. Do it because you can’t imagine doing anything else. Do it because you’re already doing it and maybe end up getting paid for the hobbies you love and projects you poured your heart into making. Do it even when people tell you it can’t be done, or shouldn’t be done. Follow your heart, live your dreams, do what you love and love what you do. At the end of the day, is there anything else you want to do with the time you have on the planet? If so, do that, because the “rules” are the same. If you love what you’re doing and are doing what you love you’re more successful than you could ever have dreamed of. If you’re working towards your passions, whatever they are, right now, you’re already successful and might even be happier than you can even begin to understand unless you give it some serious thought.
In fact, you might even find you’re the person you always wanted to be, doing what you want to do, right now.