I found an inspirational note I wrote to myself some years back. It said: “We learn more from our failures than our successes.”
Full of sound and fury, signifying no money. The deal I had lost out on was my 4,444th shot at the big time. A Very Important Guy in a little town called Hollywood had told me to write a short screenplay sample. I’m not sure exactly what the guy did for a living. I think he was some kind of broker/middleman once-removed. I know I had read his name in celebrity bios, as in, “Once I found Kenneth, it turned my career around.”
Kenneth said I needn’t write a long screenplay. “Nobody in L.A. reads,” he said, referring to his 39 illiterate friends. “We’re all too busy.” All I had to do was show him “a sense of beginning-middle-end.”
Hey, babe, like, beginning-middle-end is my life.
I’m usually not a procrastinator, but the pressure to make a killing with Kenneth was getting to me. This was when I still believed you had only one shot instead of a whole barrel of chances to succeed. And fail.
Then, one moonlit night, I sat down at my word processor and started cooking. It was as if I were on automatic pilot. The bons mots were being delivered like pizza. A scene, a perfect scene--no, make that the perfect scene--was being dictated in my ear by an angel from heaven. I was just the vessel. The muse was pouring the sauce.
It was the situation every writer dreams of. I was totally lost in words. It’s what we all want from work, from sports, from sex. Is an out-of-body experience really too much to ask for?
After two hours of intense concentration, I woke up to find the word end on my computer screen. Suddenly I realized I was so lost that I had forgotten to press SAVE. When I finally did, a drawing of a bomb appeared on the screen.
Anyone who has ever seen a Macintosh bomb can tell you that the explosion begins in the pit of your stomach. The greatest story almost ever told--and I lost it.
Now I understood that the muse was not an angel. She was a tease.
I did the only thing possible. I sat there and attempted an instant rewrite of the short screenplay. Although I will never know for sure what glory passed through my screen, the second draft was merely lines recollected in anxiety.
I sent it off to Kenneth, hoping he wouldn’t see it for what it was: secondhand prose. Weeks went by, and finally Kenneth called.
“This is great,” he said.
“It is?” I said, somewhat taken aback by his buoyant tone. But I listened gleefully as he went on praising the lesser of my two screenplays. All the while I thought: Ha, ha, I got away with it.
“Yes, I think we can interest someone in your work,” he said quickly into his car phone. He was on the way to the airport to catch a plane to Paris.
“But what about Spielberg? I thought this was for Spielberg?” I said, having learned to “lose the Steven” in my first conversation with Kenneth.
“Oh, Spielberg only goes with the heavy hitters,” he said and hung up somewhere near the X-rated liquor store just outside LAX.
I rushed up to my husband and recounted the story. “He loved it!” I said. It was only when I got to Kenneth’s last line that I realized the whole conversation was a masterful brush-off. An artful rejection. A slap on the hand and a save on the face.
And so my relationship with Kenneth, which had begun like an opening to the heavens and which sizzled in the middle when I believed I had outsmarted the gods, finally ended with a rude awakening.
The experience made me feel like a naive little schnook in a big, complicated world. Which is a lesson you can’t learn often enough.