93: Rewriting My Future

93: Rewriting My Future

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

Rewriting My Future

Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.

~Henry David Thoreau

From third grade on, when asked, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” my answer was, “a writer.” I wrote through elementary school and treasured the “Good Job!” stickers my teacher put on my stories. I wrote through middle school, often turning my stories into sketches for “Talent Days.” I didn’t do anything in high school (except develop an interest in boys) but by college I was back to writing. I wrote a humor column called “Becky’s Corner” and a weekly Top 10 list called “Well Heck — It’s Beck!” for student newspapers. I also worked for the Americus Times Recorder where I wrote assignments ranging from accounts of soldiers coming home from Desert Storm to a Boy Scout nicknamed “Stinky” receiving his Eagle Scout badge. I found nothing more delightful than telling, or being told, a great story.

After graduation, I moved from Atlanta to Los Angeles and began working in the entertainment business, doing everything under the sun — except writing. My first job was as a Client Assistant at a post-production house.

Being a Client Assistant meant that I made cappuccinos for anyone who walked through the door. I made dozens of cappuccinos a day and as I stood steaming the milk, I would remind myself it was a stepping stone to becoming a Hollywood writer. But the truth is, except for writing down lunch orders, I’d stopped writing entirely. Between getting sandwiches for A-listers and trying to remember who would freak out if the deli accidentally put a tomato on their sandwich or allowed a pickle to touch their bread, my dream of becoming a writer took a backseat.

Fortunately, I went from making cappuccinos to being a Post Production Supervisor within a year. It started when a star editor asked if I would help move his family from Valencia to Beverly Hills. I did, and it went well. He was impressed with my organizational skills and asked if I wanted to be a Post Production Supervisor on an Eric Clapton project with him. I didn’t know what a “Post Production Supervisor” was, but it sounded better than being a cappuccino maker so I agreed.

Flying under his wing, I learned a great deal. Suddenly I was working with top executives at Warner Brothers Records and was eating lunch with editors and clients rather than serving them cappuccinos. I was nervous and overwhelmed, but I worked day and night and managed to keep up.

The project went well, so the next phone call I received was from a producer asking if I’d like to work on a Madonna music video. I played the phone message twice to make sure it wasn’t actually just a friend inviting me to McDonald’s! The producer verified that my last gig had been the Eric Clapton project, and that was good enough for him. Fortunately he didn’t ask what I’d done before that, because the answer would’ve been that I’d probably served him a cappuccino.

The Madonna music video was hard for me. I was working with Mark Romanek, who is one of the most talented (and demanding) directors in the business. I know there were times when Mark was irritated by my lack of knowledge, but since we were editing the music video where I’d served cappuccinos, I managed to get through the project with the editors and in-house producers surreptitiously teaching me in the hallways and at the lunch tables.

Going through this baptism by fire left little time for me to think of becoming a writer. I worked around the clock, often sleeping on couches. Even when the others went home I’d stay so I could pore over the telecine film transfers, logging every bit of footage so I could answer Mark’s questions intelligently and efficiently. I was sleep deprived but excited, exhausted yet exhilarated, and the only thought in my mind was, “If I work hard enough, I can do this.”

That was my mantra for the next ten years as I worked on projects like American Idol and Scooby Doo II and for companies such as IMAX and National Geographic. The entertainment industry is a notoriously demanding business where ninety-hour workweeks are the norm. I liked it — you could even say I was addicted to it, given the excitement and good paychecks, but I always felt numb. I felt as if I was running on a hamster wheel and that life was passing me by. Yet it was hard for me to unplug, and I started wondering what it would take to make me pursue my dream of becoming a writer.

That question was answered in the form of an autoimmune disease that came on suddenly, out of nowhere, attacking my eyes and joints and making it hard for me to walk or see. It quickly became impossible for me to drive, so I couldn’t go anywhere, and I couldn’t work. I was housebound and very frightened. I was restless and agitated the first few weeks and my mind raced, but the wonderful thing about a horrible illness is that it brings your purpose, passion and joy into serious focus very quickly. As I settled into the quietness and the stillness of being alone with my thoughts, the silence brought me clarity. I re-remembered that what I really wanted to be was a writer.

Weekly, I’d press my optometrist to tell me when my eyesight would return. She’d say, “I’m not sure; we have to keep evaluating your condition.” After a month of this, I began to panic. What if my eyesight never came back? I thought, “If I can’t see, I’ll never become a writer.” I would fill with sorrow, thinking how I’d spent my twenties doing film and television work, but not developing my passion for writing. I wondered if I’d missed catching my dream, not understanding how short life can be.

Sitting alone in the apartment all day was the perfect time to begin writing. I had to start somewhere. First, my husband made the font on my computer very large and bought me a magnifying glass. Though I couldn’t see the letters clearly, I could make out their shape. I began submitting stories regularly to Redbook magazine and Chicken Soup for the Soul and while I was writing I felt peaceful, calm and full of purpose.

A second wave of panic happened when, thinking the worst was over, the disease began attacking my fingers. I started crying and bargaining with God, saying “Not my fingers. I need them to type. My legs and hips can hurt, but not my fingers. If you’ll leave me use of my fingers, I promise I’ll write every day except Sunday.”

Eventually, with rest and medicine, the swelling in my joints subsided and my eyesight returned. I also got the great news that two of my stories were going to be published in Redbook and four of my stories were going to appear in Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies. When I saw my stories in print, they meant more to me than any music video, television show or film I had ever worked on. They made me feel that if I died today, my last breath would be peaceful.

~Rebecca Hill

More stories from our partners