A Learning Year

I've been needing to write this post for a while. I currently have two other drafts saved, trying and failing to write what I hope I can finally write here and now. I'm going to try at least…

I'm coming up on one year post-USC. This upcoming Saturday will the official one-year anniversary of when ya girl secured the MFA bag (while Hillary Clinton and Helen Mirren watched) from USC's School of Cinematic Arts and the John Wells Division of Writing for Screen & Television. I remember how stressful and exhausting and surreal that day was. I remember being so upset that my mom wasn't there, that it drizzled and my hair frizzed up, that I sweated my eyebrows off. I also remember feeling so proud of myself — maybe the most proud I've ever felt of myself. I had managed to get into the best MFA screenwriting program in the country, into the best film school in the world. (Fight on or fight me, bro.) I had received a graduate fellowship and wrote a script that awarded me a scholarship, so ya girl's student loan debt was cut in half. I had already secured an assistant job in Shondaland — that I started the very next day.

I was so proud and so happy. 

For two years, I had hustled and grinded my way to hard-won joy. I worked the hardest I'd ever worked. I went to therapy. I stretched myself into a larger and newer and better person. In some ways, I was still the same ol' bitch. But in a lot of ways, I wasn't. Going to USC was truly the best thing that ever happened to me. It was such a wild and big dream that I made happen. And it opened so many doors. It opened friendships. And it rooted me to myself in a way that I desperately needed. It was the best prayer that God ever answered.

And so, I think this first year out in the "real world" was always going to be hard. USC was not perfect. The school is mired in bureaucracy. It's an elite institution that rewards folks who already come from privileged backgrounds — myself included. It wreaks of the same stale (white) surface-deep liberalism that most universities do. But despite all of this, I found a home and a community there as a writer, storyteller, and artist. I felt nurtured and encouraged pretty much every day. I felt valued. I felt like my stories mattered. I felt like I mattered.

My first year working in the entertainment industry has often not been that. This first year in Hollywood was a lot of things. It brought up a lot of things. I spent most of the year exhausted, stressed, depressed, and sick. My physical and mental health deteriorated. And so did my self-confidence. My face broke out. I gained weight. Health conditions I have were exacerbated. But most significant: I didn't write. I haven't written a new original project in over a year. I couldn't. I was too tired, too sad, too paralyzed to write. Even now, writing scares me. 

What a lot of people don't know is that I've spent most of the past twelve months doubting myself so much, that I eventually deemed myself unworthy. I stopped believing that I had anything interesting or original to say. I stopped believing that I had ideas and a worldview that could be valuable. I stopped believing that my stories mattered. And because I'm a person who writes so much from her own experience and inner world, I stopped believing that I mattered. And that was my rock bottom. Once I decided I didn't matter, I became a person I didn't like. I did and said and thought things that were ugly and dark and petty. Many times, I felt less than human.

I began questioning whether or not this was my actual path. I wondered if I had made a mistake quitting two great jobs, adding an additional $65,000 to my student loan debt, and pursuing a career that most people fail at. Seriously. I considered applying for my old job at Planned Parenthood. And though I know that I my purpose on this Earth is to write and tell stories and create television & film, I still feel like shit most days. I still feel unworthy of this dream sometimes.

I spent a lot of time blaming others for my misery this year. I blamed my white friends and my wealthy friends for having privilege I didn't. Especially when they got things I felt like I also deserved. I blamed USC for not preparing us enough for the harsh realities of the industry. I blamed others for being entitled and demanding and thoughtless. And I blamed the many other successful people working in entertainment for perpetuating what is often a toxic, abusive, and dehumanizing industry culture — while touting faux-progressive bullshit about equality and justice. I blamed everyone and everything for the shitty state of the world, that often made it that much harder to feel like the work I want to do and the dreams I have are possible or consequential. 

I am still moving out of that place of victimhood, because I also know that I was and am an active participant in my own suffering.

In moments when I could've chosen to be better, I didn't. When I could've been writing, I was wallowing. When I could've been happy for my friends' success, I was jealous and mean. When I could've advocated for myself, I chose to shrink. When I could've held myself accountable for the ways in which I wasn't showing up for myself, I instead chose to blame and lash out at others. And so, as I prepare for my second season/year working in television, I am trying to figure out how I can be better and offer myself better.

I know it begins with writing. I've made every excuse not to write this year. I've found every reason why I shouldn't or couldn't. Y'all would be astonished how often I will avoid writing. I've literally rearranged furniture to avoid writing. But I'm a writer. To be a writer, I have to write. I have get over my own shit and write. I have to set aside my own fears and write. I have get over what other people have done or are doing and write. I have to be OK with my own mediocrity and write. I have to write terrible dialogue and scenes that don't make sense and scripts that my manager will flame the hell out of. I have to put in the work. Because that's where my career begins and ends: in my ability to put words to page constantly and consistently.

I also have to take care of myself. I'm still learning what this looks like. For a long time, I thought it meant physically taking care of myself. Like, drinking water and eating vegetables and exercising and doing yoga. I thought it meant losing weight. And it absolutely does mean those things. But it also looks a lot like self-parenting and self-sustainability. It means not agreeing to take on more than I can chew. It means being impeccable with my word. It means maintaining and budget and living within my means. It means waking up early, so I have more time to be productive in my day. It means going to bed at a reasonable hour, so I'm rested and energized. It means finding real and prolonged ways to manage my stress. It means going to the doctor and the dentist. It means finding a new therapist. It means disengaging from toxic people and spaces and experiences, even if that means my life and my world looks less full. It means apologizing when I'm in the wrong. It means being honest with others about where I am, and also how this means I don't have the capacity to be the friend or colleague or community member I used to be. At least, not right now. It means finding space for my spiritual practice, so I am grounded even when I feel like writing and work and the world are trying to uproot me.

And lastly, I need to practice gratitude. I spent so much of the past year being angry that I forgot that this is literally what I prayed for. I remember praying so hard that I would land in a writers' room, in Shondaland. I remember praying so hard that I would write a script that I loved, that would get me representation. I remember praying so hard that I'd be able to find a tiny, cute apartment in Hollywood somewhere, so I could be on my own. I remember praying so hard for everything that I have right now. Because I have so much good. There are so many people who have invested in this dream with me — friends, family, professors, classmates, colleagues, bosses, and so forth. There are so many people in this industry who have offered me kindness and friendship and mentorship and guidance and affirmation this year — real, abundant, intentional love and support when I couldn't give it to myself. There are so many people who have been patient and understanding. I want to be worthy of their faith and their encouragement.

I see so clearly now that this first year working in television was my learning year. It was my guerrilla grad school. I've learned so much — from others and from myself. I've learned what it takes to be successful, to have a sustainable and fulfilling career. I've learned the exact amount of hard work one has to put into a dream to make it come true. And I've also learned the exact amount of talent and luck and access and time one needs as well. I've learned that when you put such high expectations on people, they are bound to disappoint you. And I've learned that no person is as good or perfect or cruel or uncomplicated as we make them out to be. We are all messy, wild humans just trying to make sense of ourselves and our lives and our world. I've learned that there is an insane amount of skill and craft and genius and manpower and magic that goes into making just one hour of television — let alone 24 of them. I've learned that true friendship and genuine kindness are invaluable in this industry.

I've learned that I am just at the beginning. I have room to grow — and growth is not always joyful or beautiful or pleasant. Sometimes, it's ugly and painful. I'm still learning myself and this dream. I'm still learning the geography of these answered prayers.