While scrolling through the iTunes albums charts to check on Rebel Heart‘s current ranking – something I do more than once a day – I came across, at #155, Fatboy Slim’s album The Greatest Hits (Why Try Harder?). The irony of having a Greatest Hits collection subtitled “Why Try Harder” was not lost on me. Nor was its price. All those years of blood, sweat, and tears ended up being worth $5.99.
On paper, I have a lot of ambition. When I close my eyes, I imagine winning awards, publishing books, traveling the world, cutting records, and smoking weed with Erykah Badu. It is a Hollywood life, but one that is steeped in “keeping it real” – whatever that means. But the older I get, the more I realize that in order to really achieve these goals, there is an inordinate amount of work that must go into them. The ones who “make it” spend their lives always looking around the next corner, planning their next adventure, staging their next coup, and like a feral locomotive, are constantly adding wood to the engine to keep the blaze afire. And I am starting to wonder: Is that me? And is it all really worth it?
I’m 31 years old and for the first time in my life I am actually doing what I love to do for a living. While I am precluded from sharing the intimate details of my job – oh those pesky NDAs – I can share that I work full time as a television producer working on a true crime documentary. Not only that, but one of my bosses is the legendary photo journalist Lawrence Schiller, the man who as he once put it to Larry King has “sat with kings and queens, murderers, and rapists.” He has been intimately involved in most of the major crime stories of the 20th century, most notably responsible for conducting the numerous interviews with Gary Gilmore that became Norman Mailer’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Executioner’s Song. The man is 78 years old and still hustling, taking a lunch with Annie Leibowitz to discuss a potential project or needing to call me back because Barbra Streisand is on the other line. He prides himself on “getting the story that no one else could” and he has, sitting for jail house interviews with Jack Ruby, Susan Atkins, and OJ Simpson; photographing the famous nudes of Marilyn Monroe in that swimming pool; and picking up an Oscar and some Emmy’s along the way for his directorial work. To think that a year ago I was fired from Judge Judy and am now working for him on a project I love is kind of insane.
For the majority of my adult life, I have been hustling. Not necessarily for my dreams, but for my dinner. As dramatic as that may sound, for most of the past decade, I have skirted the poverty line, taking any job I could just to get by. I have always had two jobs, sometimes three. Even now, with a relatively nice sized paycheck from my day job, I refuse to ever quit Wolfgang Puck because as Judge Judy taught me, work can end at any point without warning. So once or twice a month on Saturdays, I’ll pick up a catering shift just to keep myself in the rotation in case shit ever hits the fan again.
The great thing about working for a small independent production company is that there isn’t some corporate hierarchy constantly looking over your shoulder, complete with their fake smiles and the way they try and pretend you are an asset to the team even though you are really just a cog in their billion dollar wheel. Our company is comprised of ten people and though I am a “nobody,” my thoughts and creative opinions are valued, listened to, and yes, even sometimes used. With such a small team, it also means more demands are put on my shoulders since everyone is crossing over and multi-tasking. In the eight months I have been here, I have been an accountant, an archivist, a travel agent, a researcher, a writer, a salesman, a developer, a Time Warner negotiator, a transcriber, an editor, a footage guru, the resident encyclopedia, and a sounding board for the inevitable internal drama that happens when so few people work together under such high stakes. And with the demands of production, work doesn’t necessarily stop at 7pm on Friday night. It is easily the most challenging – and rewarding – job I have ever had.
The bad thing about working for a small independent production company is that once the project is over, you are back on the market looking for a new job. My boss is ever vigilant about this reality, reminding me the words “Wolfgang Puck” in a playful tone as a very real consequence to not selling another show before our contract is up. He is constantly encouraging me to work hard(er) and keep us in business. To which I usually just politely grin or on a day where I am really feeling motivated and inspired, actually consider the possibilities. That is if it isn’t TOO much work. I am willing to work hard, just not sacrificing my free time to do it.
Before I began pulling a weekly salary from a job with a (fairly) consistent schedule, I was all over the map. This is the nature of catering. You work Tuesday at 5 am, Fridays at 4pm, and Saturdays, especially in LA during award season, usually means that you’ll be at Hollywood and Highland way into the early hours of the morning stacking chairs in the ballroom or going on a trash run to the bowels of LA Live. I used to get frustrated with Julian that he didn’t want to do anything on his days off. Days off were just that: days off. He would put on his bathrobe, curl up on the couch, and fall asleep to a basketball game, while I was itching to at least go to the movies or when I was really feeling antsy, go to the beach or out dancing. My job was mindless and meaningless and I needed to go out and find “meaning.”
Now I cannot wait for Fridays at 7 when I rush to my car and drive home as fast as I can to get into my pajamas where I hope to remain for the next 48 hours. The previous 5 days, 40-50 hours per, have been spent working on a project I love. A project that is exhausting physically, mentally, and emotionally. It seems everyday there is a new fire to put out and sometimes it ends up putting out my own. Sometimes that ambition on paper is crumpled up into a ball and thrown out on Ventura next to the discarded hubcap that no one has bothered to remove all these months, day after day getting run over by unsuspecting motorists. It isn’t just a Friday activity where I look forward to getting in my car and driving home as fast as I can.
When I was catering, there was a very real desire to get up, get out, and do something. But truthfully, I didn’t really. This production job sort of fell into my lap because I knew the producer – welcome to Hollywood. It wasn’t (just) nepotism though; I have definitely proven myself over the years to him to be passionate, talented, and driven. To be a man who wants to go places. I think he sees a little of himself in me. But now that I have “arrived,” I want to enjoy the party. So much of my life has been about struggling and chronic analysis, self-doubt and ridiculous obsessions, always wondering “what if” and “how to get there” – wherever this apocryphal there is. But now I’m at a place in my life where I want to live in the moment. To take everyday as it comes without constantly worrying or plotting or dreaming about tomorrow. To just enjoy NOW.
I realize this is not the attitude of a legend. To become a legend, as I’ve claimed I’ve always wanted to be, one must always be worrying and plotting and dreaming about tomorrow. My boss always has his eye on more films, more series, the next big thing. How do we get there? Julian is in a very similar place. He is working incredibly hard to quit his job and achieve his dreams of being a writer. He is working incredibly hard to have the body he wants, getting up at 5:30 every morning to do Insanity. Not some punk faux-work out plan, but the hardest one there is. And me? I quit working out after five days. I spend most of my free time talking with friends about Rihanna’s taunts of a new album or the brilliance of American Horror Story’s writing instead of sitting holed up in our guest room (surrounded by clean laundry from two weeks ago that I haven’t put away) working on a script, writing a pitch for a new show, or figuring out what is the best way to finagle myself into jail to see Ashton Sachs. I feel like I am a disappointment sometimes to my boss and my husband because I am not willing to throw my entire life into chasing a dream like they are. And the funny thing is that they will achieve their heights and I won’t. And I’m kind of OK with this. Today. Tomorrow I may stay late at work and crank out a new pitch for a series that would keep us all employed for years. But I probably won’t. Tomorrow is Monday and RuPaul’s Drag Race is on at 8.
Everything in life is a balancing act. Pros and cons. This outweighing that. The older you get, so many things come into perspective. You see yourself more clearly:
I know now that I am a narcissist. There are very few people I actually care about in this world. Sometimes I am OK with this; other times I wish I were kinder and cared more.
I know now that I am a hedonist. Most of my life revolves around my id, maximizing my happiness and eschewing tasks that bring about frustration and struggle. This obviously explains my love of drugs and sex, but more importantly it boxes my dreams – at least the long term ones – into a corner, making me choose to fight back or allowing them to beat me. I am also a masochist so you can guess which one I usually choose.
And I know now that I am a nihilist. I used to think that the “meaning of life” was being famous or at least being loved by everyone. But what it actually boils down to is being loved by someone. Or more accurately, having someone to love. Yes, the self-help books will preach to you about loving yourself – hell, even my RuPaul preaches this – but for all the joy one gleans from applause, validation, awards, being remembered, being “important” and anything else that makes one strive for success, I have found that there is nothing quite like the way I feel when Julian looks over at me from the couch with his marijuana glazed eyes. Or the way Dodger, our little terrier pup, smiles that huge grin and flashes his little row of bottom teeth.
I’ve always scoffed at women who say all they want to be is a mom or I’ll roll my eyes at the simplicity of the hippie jargon that “love is all you need.” But maybe they’re on to something. As Margo Channing says in All About Eve: “And in the last analysis, nothing’s any good unless you can look up just before dinner or turn around in bed, and there he is.” Maybe this is all a big excuse, a rationalization for my “laziness”. But for the first time in my life, I feel a sense of serenity, like I’ve taken a giant sigh and realized that life is really not that serious. All of that worrying and analyzing was…for what? All of the desire to be…something…is…for what? Deep inside, I hope that someday I’ll get my shit “together” and achieve these far-fetched dreams. To actually put the work into what it takes. To be inspired again. To be obsessed and hungry again. Or maybe, just maybe, I never really have been. Things have always come easily to me. I am talented and have charisma, but I gave up on performing when I realized the realities of the hustle. Something I love deeply. Writing has always come naturally to me, but now that I have a job where I am getting paid to write and be creative, the independent desire to write my film about Jonestown or even my blog has gone by the wayside. It’s all just too.much.work. Have I always been lazy and just never realized it? I guess I’ll figure it out tomorrow. Or not. But today, I’m stoned and playing with my dog. And I’m OK with that.