Career Chronicle: Texas Two-Step

After graduating from college, I spent two years in a hospital.

Let me back up.

I graduated from Northwestern with a journalism degree, which I believed would lead me to a stable, practical career. Finding the job market that year to be the worst ever (Every year is the worst year for the job market, as employers love to tell you), I moved back to my hometown of Phoenix. spent the summer doing odd jobs here and there, as well as pounding the pavement, and generally didn’t feel stable, or that I had made a practical choice.

But I answered an ad in the paper (That’s how we rolled, back in the Print Age), interviewed for a job in the Community Relations department of  John C. Lincoln Hospital in Phoenix’s Sunnyslope area, and somehow won the post.  The title was “Writer,” which I was very proud of, and the responsibilities primarily involved writing (hence the title) and editing newsletters and fundraising magazines for the hospital.  Writing features of the “Bob was sick.  We made Bob better. Aren’t we great?” variety.  Maybe not the most exciting material, but it seemed more creative to me than straight reporting.  It came with a regular paycheck and health benefits.  It was like I’d walked into a blazing neon sign reading, “STABLE AND PRACTICAL.”

It was a good job.  It was a very good job. It allowed me to buy a car, get my own apartment with friends, and start a professional life.

But it wasn’t for me.

Even while diligently taking journalism courses and working at internships, I knew in my heart of hearts that, while I wanted to make a living telling stories, what I NEEDED was to tell my own stories.  Not stories about “Bob” (though I’m thrilled he’s doing better), but about robots and superheroes, cops and crooks, fathers and daughters and all the other things I could imagine and more. If there’d been a major called, “Imagination Exploitation” that promised a stable and practical career, I’d have jumped at it.  But it just didn’t seem feasible to me.  I knew how many people WANTED to make a living writing in the entertainment industry… I didn’t think there was any way I could stand out from all of them and actually DO it.  How would I get noticed? Putting on a tight sweater and sitting at a malt shop counter like some ’50s starlet didn’t seem like an option for me.

But I was going crazy at the hospital. I wasn’t doing what I wanted and needed to be doing, and that frustration was showing. I wasn’t exactly a great coworker to my office mates, I wasn’t accepting notes from my boss gracefully, and I was almost literally climbing the walls.  One of my responsibilities in the department was to help put together video presentations for awards banquets and the like, and as such, I was given the dispensation to go out and buy a few books on filmmaking — Not that I’d ever use them in actually making the videos myself, but they were diverting to read at lunchtime.  One book had a section on universities with film programs, graduate and undergraduate, along with application information.  I re-read that chapter several times over several weeks.  And, with an attitude of “if it happens, great, and if not, great,” I applied to four schools.  I specifically remember picking four schools where I wouldn’t have to actually make a film myself, because that seemed expensive, and I was almost certain I’d drop a camera on my foot, which would be even more expensive, and make people mad at me, to boot.  I wanted a screenwriting program.  And, a few weeks later, I was accepted to the one at the University of Texas at Austin.

Now I had to put my money where my mouth was.  Was I willing to give up my stable, practical career? Under cover of a cousin’s Bat Mitzvah in Dallas, and looking for any reason to say “no,” I visited the campus.  A good friend from college, Matt, who was attending UT as a law student, drove me around and helped me scout apartments. Two older cousins and longtime Austin residents, Lois and Lem, gave me their views of the city and introduced me to a UT screenwriting professor, Robert Foshko, who sang the praises of the university.  Rents were cheap (I know they aren’t now, Austinites, but this was the weekend of the LA riots), the campus was lovely, the department seemed great.  Further, Austin was becoming a hot spot for the film community.  Independent film was just becoming a thing, and because of locals like Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez, Hollywood was starting to drift in for scouting trips, and it seemed everyone in the city was on the verge of being “discovered.”

I returned to Phoenix, considered my practical career and my stable position at the hospital… and I decided that if I didn’t give myself at least a chance to do what I really wanted and needed to do in life, I’d regret it forever.  So I wrote a resignation letter and rented a U-Haul, and later that summer, I bid a tearful farewell to my health benefits, as well as any pretense of stability and practicality, and set off on I-10 on the long journey to Hollywood via the Lone Star State.

More to come…