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By Leroy James King · March 27, 2010
I’m coming to realize that “working writer” might as well be synonymous with “out of work writer.”
%$&* my life.
How did it all come to this? How the hell did I get here?
I sit here in this trendy coffee shop and I imagine the Twitter drivel being voraciously, overzealously, flippantly pounded by thumbs all around me that masquerade themselves as cognitive beings (yes, I’m referring to the thumbs).
“No,” you say. “You’re just bitter because you don’t know why the fuck you decided to write for a living. You better write that fucking screenplay and prove everybody wrong, man, because otherwise you’re bitching will be in complete and utter vain.”
How the hell did I get here, again?
The long and short (and long) of it:
In 1st grade I remember my teacher giving the class a writing prompt. It was:
Tell me what you think you’re going to be when you grow up versus what you want to be when you grow up.
Honestly…I mean…okay. I’m not saying that this is a bad prompt for five and six year olds…but how incredibly ambitious and lofty. Right? Which drugs did she have that I haven’t tried? Seriously, Jesus! I can picture her sitting alone on a Greyhound bus, en route to a niece or nephew’s high school graduation, flipping through the responses, searching, scouring, digging for a child’s prompt that she can pawn of as her kin’s very own from when he or she was still traipsing in the meadows of Neverland. I can see her arriving at a dingy motel, picking out the best response (as far as she can tell); crumpling it up over and over again to give it pseudo agedness, hoping and praying that she wouldn’t have to give her surrogate child a check that would put her under for a month – oh maybe, just maybe, she could masquerade this phony memory as genuine, endearing, and true, as if she had kept it for years and years for the sole reason of giving it to them this very day! The day that blossoming Tiffany or Thomas takes their first step toward leading their own life! She would be the heroine of the occasion, cultivating that long departed recollection of years passed – the proof that behind those angst ridden, fledgling adult eyes there once lurked naivete, but undiluted intuition and wisdom as well. “Oh God,” she mutters, “let them remember without remembering.”
If only the ruse were true, because the mind’s eye of a child’s are of that very ambition that inspired the question in the first place:
What do you think you’re going to be when you grow up versus what you want to be when you grow up?
This whole prompt ordeal is incredibly vivid to me to this day, so vivid in fact that I find it necessary to digress into ruminations and suppositions of what the fuck my teacher’s thought process was. That said…
I remember the type of paper we were writing on in class – it had a newspaper sort of touch and feel to it – the paper you’re forced to write on when you’re learning how to form coherent letters. It had the blue dotted line that marked where the hell the lower case letters were supposed to stay under, and the two solid red lines – the bottom one that showed where you anchored all your letters, and the top one to show you where to stop with the upper case letters. It’s neither here nor there, and I don’t care that you don’t care. Just know that I can still smell that newspaper smell, and I can still taste my shiny pencil with all those green fireworks designs on it. It’s a memory that I love and hate…
So I began my prompt with the latter hypothetical: what did I want to be?
I mean…come on. A fucking lumberjack, though I was unfamiliar with the term. “Chop Down Tree Man” was my “official” unofficial term. The plaid, the ax, the trees, the brethren – of course this is what I wanted to be!
But then the real kicker…
What did I think I was going to be?
For whatever reason I distinctly remember letting my mind wander, and somehow my imagination drifted to thoughts of penguins. And I imagined a penguin with a red cape on that would come into the classroom and give me the skateboard I always wanted and the Sega Genesis and a new Trapper Keeper that didn’t have the color pink on it (this was a very current, very real social set back at the time).
So then it hit me. “I’ll probably be a writer,” I thought. So I wrote down, “I think I will maybe be a writer. And I will write a story about penguins. It will be a movie too and I will make the movie too. It will be better than Star Wars.”
I’ve yet to carve out my penguin opus, but it was a self-fulfilling prophecy that happened by accident more than anything. Within every following classroom or workplace setting I’ve always singled out as “the writer,” and have since been forced to tend to the wordsmith barn (I picture words as farm animals since that trip to Bonnaroo a few years ago – as I believe firmly that words are intended to coexist in a harmonious social ecosystem of thought…or something like that).
The real short of it:
My last job was as a coordinator at a commercial production company. Pretty quickly my Executive Producers saw that I wasn’t a dolt, so they decided to let me write the directors’ treatments to save money. After a steady flow of successful treatments within the company, I decided to branch out and write full time. I got hired really easily when I actually put forth the effort. And everyone said how right the decision was to leave…
The sick irony now is that there’s no work, and the work that does come in makes me long to write about penguins. But if there’s any place where you can marry your fantasy to your reality, it’s certainly Hollywood, and that’s where I am. I’m writing for my life. And it terrifies me.
My name is Leroy James King and I’m a working writer in Hollywood. Fuck my life.