More lessons from the convention circuit. Last week I said I was shocking myself with what was coming out of my mouth as explanation of how I became a writer. After all, I really didn’t make the conscious decision until well into college, but the signs were there. So this week I thought it would be fun to ask you guys – What were the early warning signs for YOU?
Here are some of mine:
– Putting on plays in my neighbors’ garage, starting probably at age eight.
– Reading – oh my God, the reading. Everywhere. While walking home from school. Facing backwards in the family station wagon on road trips, without a trace of motion sickness. In the closet with a flashlight when I was supposed to be doing chores. In bed with a flashlight when I was supposed to be asleep.
– Being able to trance out so far into a story that my 4th grade teacher would have to literally take me by the shoulders and shake me to get me back into the classroom.
– Writing all the time, too. Especially in math class. Perfected the art of diligently “taking notes” when really I was just writing everything that was happening around me.
– Performing in plays but being more interested in story beats than in my solos.
– Directing the senior class plan and rewriting around all contingencies – combining characters when people dropped out, doing the choreography myself when the choreographer broke both wrists…
– Seeing my first one-act play performed in college – my characters walked out on stage, live, and I realized that even though it was Berkeley I was never going to have to do heroin.
– Later, all those lectures with all those writers where they said, “Well, statistically only two of you are ever going to make any kind of living at this…” and just knowing that it would be me.
All those things and more. But what I found myself recounting last week in all my deluge of public speaking, the pivotal moment in my writing career – the real beginning, I mean – was the summer I spent in Istanbul as an exchange student. Sixteen year old American girl – with this hair – loose – on the streets. Well, it was brutal. I was sexually harassed everywhere I went. There were numerous abduction attempts. The political situation was incredibly volatile, too – a dozen college students had been gunned down in a political protest, so all that was in the air.
I realized a world of things that summer, but three things in particular.
1) No matter how disadvantaged any of us feel, sometimes – parents who don’t understand us, no Hollywood connections, not enough money for college, whatever – we are still infinitely lucky to live here in the U.S., where it is written into the Declaration of Independence that we have the unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness.
2) No matter how lucky I think I am to be an American, I am infinitely MORE lucky as a woman to have been born in the US. Because if I’d been born anywhere of 99% of the world, I would be well and truly fucked.
3) I realized I was going to die. Maybe that very afternoon. At sixteen. It was probably around the next corner, or down that alley. Now, usually as a privileged American you don’t really GET that you’re going to die until around age 40. It’s called a mid-life cirsis and it makes you do crazy and risky things and turn your life upside down because you suddenly realize you’re actually going to die. But I had my midlife crisis at 16, and I decided that if I ever made it back to the States alive (which I did, and miraculously unraped), I would exercise my right to the pursuit of happiness and follow my dream – which at the time I thought was acting but soon realized was writing.
But the impulse to FIND that – came out of that summer.
So those are my moments. How about you?