Thirty Isn't So Young In That Carnival of a Town

When I told my mother over lunch in Miami that I was going to Hollywood to become a screenwriter it was as though I’d announced I was moving to Calcutta to open an Outback Steakhouse. “A screenwriter!” she gasped, as if discovering something alive in her soup. “You’ll end up working as an office temp! You’ll have to eat boxed macaroni and cheese and sell socks at the flea market!”

Not in the farthest reaches of my considerable imagination could I have known that I would indeed suffer these horrors and many more in pursuit of my dream. Alas, my fate had been sealed one Christmas morning by a bookmarker stuffed in my stocking, inscribed with the words of George Eliot, “It’s never to late to be what you might have been.”

With that, I finally mustered the courage, as so few do, to risk it all on the tiniest off chance of satisfying a life-long passion. I also knew instinctively that every scene is a battle one character ends up winning. Clearly I had to win the one with the little woman across the table who’d birthed, loved and supported me were I to have any shot at all of conquering a town as famously unwelcoming as Hollywood. She inquired into the benefits package that came with this supposed screenwriting job. “What about the retirement plan? You don’t want to end up an old woman with high blood pressure living in a trailer park with the poor people.”

Being raised by a struggling single parent—factory worker by day and coat check girl by night—goes a long way toward explaining my mother’s fascination with “the poor people.” Teaching English at a Catholic girl’s school, she’d managed not only to marry well, but also to become highly educated in her own right, earning an advanced degree in British Literature. “Can’t you see the romance of it all?” I asked, reminding her that Ernest Hemingway went to Paris and ate pigeons when he was young.

“Thirty isn’t so young in that carnival of a town.”

“I’m twenty-six, Mother, and if you ever tell anyone anything differently I’ll go totally Jennifer Aniston on you!”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

I narrowed my eyes. “You don’t hear Demi Moore saying anything nice about her mom, do you?

“Or little Meg Ryan either,” she sighed. “I guess the first thing to go out there is the mother.”  Deftly applying her sensibly priced Revlon lipstick without the aid of a mirror, she reached for the check—confident, I’m sure, that she’d won this little lunch scene of ours hands down.

“You’re the one who gave me that bookmarker!” I cried.

“I did not. What bookmarker?”

“The one about becoming who I might have been. You wanted me to know it wasn’t too late.”

“So what if I did?”

“I have everything I need to go and do this thing because you gave it to me. Grandma, too.”

“Grandma? What’s she got to do with it?”

“You always said she was the most independent woman you’d ever known.”

“She was,” she said, tears welling in her eyes for the mother she’d recently lost and the daughter she was about to. “Now I guess that’s you.”

Proverbially, I won the battle but lost the war. While I’d already started to see my life as a movie, mine wouldn’t exactly turn out to be the feel good story of the year. The problem with real life is the heroine doesn’t always wake up in the nick of time, discovering that she’d known the way home all along.

In fact, this is the first Christmas since I first arrived in Hollywood that I won’t be making it home at all. Mom agrees this is a good thing, since the little chunk of money and time resulting from my eviction settlement represents my last chance to make any headway here if I’m indeed to avoid packing up and calling it a day for good.

She called today to say my father had put out every last Christmas light anyway, and he’d planned a snow crab feast, my traditional welcome home dinner, for only the two of them. “There’s always next year,” she said.

“Next year, it’ll all be different, Mom. I’m absolutely, one hundred percent sure of that.”

Another thing they won’t tell you in film school is that winning a key scene, no matter how noble the heroine’s intentions, sometimes involves a little white lie.


  1. sweet! I like "the mother is the first to go". it's a woman thing I'm sure. thx for sharing the George Eliot quote too.

  2. A local department store here in PA that has a turquoise xmas tree with orange crabs on it.

    Just in case ya wanted to know.

  3. You know, I am strangely comforted by this image. Another deluded soul is out there, dying to get to New York, where they appreciate the artistry of shellfish in their window displays!

    TA, the dialogue is all Mom's. Credit where credit is due.

  4. Anonymous10:16 AM

    Well, you know how to write a sympathetic character, that's for sure. I'm rooting as hard as I can...

    Jeff L

  5. Jeff, I hope you mean I'm the sympathetic character. I couldn't bear it if you were rooting for Macauley Culkin.

  6. Anonymous2:29 PM

    Hi. I love your blog, but it sounds like you've been in LA for 9 years pursuing your writing, and yet have only one screenplay. Um, maybe that's the problem?

    All the working screenwriters I know have a few more irons in the fire. It's hard enough to get something to hit, but when you've only got one shot, well, that's where tube socks at the flea market come in.

  7. Yeah, I was talking about Macauley. But now that I think about it, you're pretty sympathetic, too! ;)

  8. That's right, Anon, an M.F.A. in screenwriting from the world's top film school and just the one script, set in the grim world of tube sock sales.

  9. Kudos to you. I only wish I'd done the same... As it is I'm eating cheap pasta and not writing much...

  10. Dddragon, that was funny. Julie, that was another beautiful script. I'm ready to pay to see any movie you write. Especially one about tube socks!!!

  11. Anonymous9:30 PM

    Yeah, anon, and if she had written a blockbuster or two straight off, like say Stallone with his advanced degree and mastery of the English language - both spoken and written - it would have ruined any opportunity to hear about how bad her life sucks and how awful the mean people in Hollywood treat smart talented folk.

  12. Actually they treat stupid people badly here too. Hollywood is very democratic that way. Now they've even gone and sidelined the little Gotti boys.

  13. I think you should go home for the holidays. Could be a story there. Also, and this is soooo much the cliche, but family, whether you love it or not, is everything. And, sounds like your mother loves you very much. Even if she doesn't always know how to show it in the most palatable ways. Being someone who has made it in this town, one thing I know for sure...family will become your anchor. Your father put out the lights. He's making that dinner. Think of how sad he'll be...
    Sorry to be a downer! As a father myself, I'd want you home. But, more importantly, I'd want you to want to be home.
    Also, I know it's hard not to, but I'm sensing you're putting an endgame on your writing pursuits. I wouldn't advise it. Wouldn't want to miss that surprise opportunity. Somebody said...writers don't fail; they quit. Don't quit.
    Again, I may be totally offbase--not knowing your full family dynamic. But, I say, spend the holidays with your family. The fact that I decided to take the time to post (I normally just lurk) shows how much I believe in that.

  14. Anonymous1:05 PM

    Hey, hey! Just a minute there Timbo. Her Type A Sister loves her too, qualifies as family, also hung the lights and eagerly anticipates her arrival. Besides, unless I gather a critical mass of friends and family for Christmas, my youngest-of-six-in-an-Irish-Catholic-family husband will either (1) shanghai me off to the pernicious in-laws for two days of the basest adoration of conspicuous consumtpion by religious hypocrites in recorded history or (2) mope about how booooored he is without a lot of people around! In fact, I guess you are right - family IS everything. This year, I'm it!

  15. Is that last anonymous Type A Sister? There's a family resemblance.