This is the tale of my on- and off-again affair with Hollywood – both the industry, and the city of my birth. This post is made possible with support from AARP’s Disrupt Aging. All opinions are my own.
Back in the 1960’s, NBC used to run old feature films on weekends under the title, Saturday Night at the Movies. And one night when I was eight years old, the entire family gathered at our house to see a 1949 comedy called “Adam’s Rib“… starring my dad.
My father had a walk-on that consisted of one line, and he told us how during filming, he flubbed that line so many times that you can visibly see Katharine Hepburn’s annoyance with him as she elbows him out of the scene in the final take. If you blink, you miss him. But if you pay attention, you can see him in all his 15-year-old glory: skinny, with all his hair, and the same exact voice he has now.
The author’s father with Katharine Hepburn in “Adam’s Rib.”
Girl Meets Hollywood
That may have been the first time I understood that my parents lived secret lives before I was born, and my father had been an aspiring teenage actor. I must have asked him a ton of questions about that secret life, because the next day, he marched me into the garage and gave me his old books of plays by writers like Eugene O’Neill, George S. Kaufman, and Lillian Hellman.
I ate those anthologies up, and from that moment on, I know exactly what I wanted to do with my life: I was going to write for the movies. Specifically, romantic comedies like the screwball play, “Boy Meets Girl,” which Samuel and Bella Spewack supposedly based on the antics of Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht (“The Front Page”) when they were in Hollywood. And this was an awesome little play, because it boiled down the essence of romantic comedies to one easily memorable formula:
Boy Meets Girl
Boy Loses Girl
Boy Gets Girl
I could make a career out of working on stories like that. And growing up in Los Angeles, I figured I already had a head start.
Girl Gets Hollywood
My college major was Radio-TV-Film (I’d broadened my goal a bit by then), and immediately after graduation, I got a job writing and producing a syndicated radio show. My best friend from the department landed a gig in the mail room at NBC, and I remember one excited conversation where we were comparing notes on our jobs, when she told me how great it was over there, because even behind the scenes, “EVERYBODY was YOUNG.”
And here is where this tale relates to the campaign to Disrupt Aging: I remember having a very fleeting thought: If everyone there is so young, what happens to them when they get OLD?
From my job in radio, I jumped to one in television and eventually worked as a production assistant on a late-night show, while writing spec scripts in my spare time.
And for the most part, what my friend had told me was true: The pressure to be attractive and youthful extended from the performers to the people behind the camera. Yes, there were people in positions of power who were older than 40, as well as older craftspeople who had union protection. But for the most part, those of us who worked on staff in the office were overwhelmingly young.
Some of that was likely due to attrition: There was no such thing as upward mobility where I worked. Other reasons why the people working in television were so overwhelmingly young:
The work is seasonal, with long unpaid hiatuses.
The hours are long (sometimes stretching into a 14-hour work day).
And few production companies offered benefits like health insurance.
Girl Loses Hollywood
When I was 37, I had a health scare and no medical insurance. When that turned out to be a false alarm, I did what I hadto do. I took my place as an adult in “the real world,” by accepting a job that had nothing to do with the entertainment industry.
I still kept a foot in the door by working on scripts, but I had this terrible habit of coming up with ideas and starting a project – only to abandon it after learning that production had just started on something similar.
Like after I met the man who became my husband — in an online chat room — I had the idea of adapting the old movie, “The Shop Around the Corner” to the digital age. This was such a great idea that Nora and Delia Ephron also sold it as “You’ve Got Mail.” In my version, the two pen pals who hated each other were rival political consultants, like James Carville and Mary Matalin, so it was different — but still the same general story.
Or the idea I had when I shadowed the staff of a convention hotel as part of my training as a meeting planner. I was most impressed with the housekeeping team and how hard their work was. This was the inspiration for a screwball romantic comedy about a maid who is mistaken for a wealthy guest – and if that sounds like the Jennifer Lopez movie, “Maid in Manhattan,” you’re right. My version took place in San Francisco with a Chinese-American heroine, but you get the picture.
So I focused on raising my kid. Along the way, I satisfied my urge to write by launching a blog. I entered social media on the ground floor and as my daughter started college, I managed to get a job in marketing. She is on her own now, and I’m 62, and I realize that I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.
And that’s a lie. The only thing I ever wanted to do was write for film and television.
Girl Dreams of Hollywood Again
Last month, one of the women I met through blogging was visiting Los Angeles and asked if I was free for lunch. It turned out that this friend – who has had a wide and varied career as a writer and speaker – had taken up screenwriting in her mid-40s. And she’s absolutely undaunted by Hollywood’s obsession with youth.
She knew about my history, and didn’t understand why I didn’t try my hand at it again, especially now that I’m unencumbered by the responsibilities of motherhood. And I got to thinking… why not?
Because along with my newly empty nest, a funny thing has happened: The part of my brain that used to come up with story ideas is working again. I’ve been having lots of little inspirations, and I can’t get them out of my head.
And so that’s how I’m going to DisruptAging. I am mapping these story ideas out. I accepted my friend’s invitation to join her writing group. I invested a couple of hundred dollars of my own money for screenwriting software (which I have not touched in 20 years).
Maybe it isn’t possible for a 62-year-old woman to make a first-time script sale. But… why should that be? My age isn’t visible on the page. And I know a lot more now about life and love and what’s truly important than I did when I was in my 20s and 30s.
At any rate, I’m going to ignore everything I think I know about the business and forge through and write my script. I’ll worry about getting it read or sold or produced later.
Just as a young person has to do.
And in the meantime, I’m having fun. I’m writing again.
The morning started with big intentions that ended with little results. Lack of motivation, some depression, same old same old. Saying it was a triple bad day is an exaggeration, but it felt that way.
That’s it. I’m done. I’m on my 50s and something has to change. I need to:
Learn how to tap into my creative side (if I have any left)
Boy, that all sounds overwhelming. “Get healthy” is a huge topic (I don’t know if I can use that word anymore.)
I have been pretty healthy, but I can’t help notice subtle changes in the way I move, my stamina, strength and balance. I don’t mind aging (not like I have a lot of choices) and really don’t feel as old as I am. But I know I’ll feel like a new person if I reboot, It’s time to:
A couple of months ago, I celebrated my 60th birthday.
[To answer the question everyone has been asking me:] No, it doesn’t feel any different than 59.
But I definitely don’t feel as good as I did the last time I hit a milestone birthday.
At 50, I felt so good about myself that I purchased my first-ever European car, which I jokingly referred to as my mid-life crisis. Ten years later, I still have that car and it’s no longer a joke: Even minor repairs cost a small fortune and my sleek little automobile has peeling paint and a creaky transmission.
We have a lot in common.
Last month, we took a trip to New York with a friend who also was celebrating her 60th, my sister (who was celebrating her 57th) and her husband, my brother-in-law (also 60 that week). I had a great time, but I found myself struggling physically – a problem I that first became noticeable last year, when we traveled together to the UK and Italy.
The only exercise I truly enjoy is walking, so I was looking forward to walking around London, Rome, Florence and Venice. But my feet had other ideas.
You see, I used to care a lot about fashion – and I especially loved wearing pretty shoes. From the time I was 16 until my mid-30s, I wore 4″-heels to work five days a week. And then the pain started.
Or rather, the pains – because there’s more than one issue here: corns from wearing shoes with pointy toes. Callouses on my soles. The loss of padding on the bottom of the feet that occurs naturally with age. A weakness in my ankles that flares up if I dare to wear anything but flats.
I stopped buying pretty shoes a long time ago. In recent years, I started spending good money at places that specialize in shoes that are made for comfort, but even those cause me problems.
When my daughter was a baby, I noticed that kneeling a certain way hurt my knees. As the years have passed, the pain in my knees has become constant. I’m pretty sure it’s just arthritis. No, I have not seen a doctor for it yet (because I HATE doctors). But I did get a referral to a rheumatologist and will be making the call soon – because I don’t LIKE the way I feel.
It doesn’t help that I’m once again overweight. In fact, losing weight would likely solve some of the problems with my feet and my knees. I know I need to move more. Every night, I go to bed telling myself I’m going to get up early and put on workout clothes and get some exercise before I shower and start work… and every morning, the alarm goes off and I drag myself out of bed two hours later.
I’m working on that – mainly, by trying to get used to a CPAP machine my doctor swears will result in better slumber and infinitely better energy. So far, all it’s done is stop my apnea-induced snoring enough that my husband can sleep – so that’s something.
I think part of my problem lies in an inability to get to sleep in the first place, something I’ve struggled with since I was a kid and has become worse since I’ve had to deal with the joy of hot flashes. My husband seems to fall asleep the moment his head hits the pillow, while I toss and turn and think about all the things I should have done better and fret about all the things I need to face the following day. I am getting better about turning in earlier, but there are nights when my allergies kick in and I can’t breathe into the machine – and other nights when I simply cannot sleep. When that happens, I stop trying and move to the extra bedroom so I don’t wake my husband. After that, I wake up feeling sleepier than I do when I manage a full night on the machine – so I guess the CPAP is doing something.
“Of course, it’s doing something,” my doctor insists. “It’s preventing you from having a stroke or a heart attack.” These are not things I worried about when I was 40. But it’s at the top of my mind now at 60.
I could go on yet another diet. In fact, I do that nearly every single day – And by evening, I’m done. That’s if I’m lucky. You see, after 45 years of restricting what I eat in some form or another, I have trouble remembering what it is I’ve decided I’m going to forego THIS TIME. The truth is, after I went through the extremely low-calorie, low-fat, low-carb regimen that helped me shed 60 pounds nine years ago, my body doesn’t seem to respond to diets any longer. Believe me, I tried. But I think decades of on-again, off-again dieting have given me the same result that’s happened to all those Biggest Loser contestants who gained everything back.
And the truth is: I’m TIRED. I’m tired of feeling guilty every time I eat a piece of bread. I’m tired of being sober when everyone around me is enjoying a glass of wine. I’m tired of saying “no thank you” to dessert. I actually do prefer to eat a nice salad at lunch with just a teeny bit of dressing – but if I am craving a sandwich, by golly, I’m going to have one. Because I’m tired.
That doesn’t mean I’ve given up. I’m just trying to navigate the highway to hell – I mean, senior citizenship. As Auntie Mame said, “Life is a banquet, and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death.” Especially if they’re on a diet.
Ebola is a scary disease, and it’s a shame that most Americans watched silently while the epidemic hurtled out of control in a few countries in West Africa… and didn’t begin to pay attention until poor Thomas Eric Duncan was diagnosed in Dallas — after initially getting sent home from the ER at Texas Health Presbyterian.
I’m not surprised that the folks at Texas Health did not understand the significance of Duncan’s announcement that he had recently arrived from Liberia, because — as I said, we Americans weren’t paying all that much attention to the raging epidemic so far away.
But now that Americans are being diagnosed here in America, we’re not only paying attention – we’re obsessed. And that’s not such a good thing, either.
Thanks to breathless media coverage and politicians who have seized on the disease to spread fear and misinformation, the entire country is in a panic, calling for closing borders and mandatory quarantines for anyone and everyone who enters the US from one of the affected countries. Last week, a friend posted on social media that a medical professional had refused to see her because she had recently visited Ethiopia (which is 3400 miles from the countries with the epidemic).
And on Facebook this morning, I was dismayed to see a discussion among acquaintances about how “selfish” nurse Kaci Hickox is for protesting her quarantine after her working with Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone.
Selfish? A medical professional who has spent years in nursing people in underdeveloped countries under difficult conditions … is selfish?
If she’s selfish, what does that make the rest of us?
Science has had decades to study Ebola. We know that even if someone is infected, the disease cannot be spread until there are symptoms – and even then, you would have to have contact with the person’s body or bodily fluids. You are not going to catch Ebola by breathing the same air. You are not going to catch Ebola by sitting next to someone on a train or touching something that person has touched (unless he put it in his mouth first). Dr. Craig Spencer, the New York patient who was hospitalized last week, knew the protocols established over years of experience by Doctors Without Borders. Dr. Spencer followed them and reported to health authorities as soon as he started exhibiting symptoms.
The nation’s Ebola panic truly began when nurses Pham and Vinson contracted the disease after caring for Thomas Eric Duncan. But what of the other 70 or so people who came in contact with Duncan before he was finally admitted to the hospital? No one else in Dallas has been stricken with Ebola — not even the family members who were confined to a small apartment that likely contained linens and towels he had used while suffering from the virus. That’s a pretty good indication that the experts are right: the majority of us are in graver danger of dying from the flu.
There have been missteps in our response to Ebola, but I think this is understandable when dealing with something new. The CDC has been quick to correct their course: They did not have sufficient guidelines in place when they allowed nurse Amber Vinson (one of the two stricken nurses who treated Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian) to travel on a commercial airline. That won’t happen again. But they also likely prevented further infections in Dallas by moving Vinson and Nina Pham from Dallas Presbyterian to special facilities at the NIH and Emory University Hospital. Both women have recovered and have been released.
Quarantines are a necessary means of keeping the disease from spreading — but I believe that imposing them indiscriminately upon everyone who returns from West Africa is overreach. Exiling Kaci Hickox by to a tent without heat or a toilet is a terrible way to reward her for her service. Hickox was right to get on to social media and expose her mistreatment at the hands of the state of New Jersey. And as she has been tested and is definitely NOT INFECTED with Ebola, she’s equally right to protest the quarantine imposed in Maine, where she currently resides.
If New Jersey and New York are determined to quarantine health workers returning from West Africa, let’s do it right. I say we give them a suite at the Waldorf-Astoria and pamper them during their confinement. Instead of a quarantine, let’s give them a vacation – reward them for their sacrifices instead of treating them like pariahs.
Today, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced a 21-day quarantine for troops returning from West Africa. Let’s put them up in a suite, too and show them some real appreciation for a change.
At the very least, we should have a reasoned discussion about this before imposing quarantines willy nilly on everyone who might be exposed. And those discussions should be based on science – not fear.
Unfortunately, what we’ve had has been chock full of the latter. It makes me wonder whether we live in the 20th century – or the 14th.
Sorry about the title of this post, which was meant to update you on last week’s total hysterectomy, when doctors removed my uterus, cervix and yes, both ovaries. I cannot resist a bad pun centered around a movie or song title, so it’s a good thing the whole ordeal is over or you may have been subjected to a flurry of posts with titles like “Come on Ovary,” or “Ovary the Rainbow.”
The surgery went well. I don’t remember a thing from the time the anesthesiologist shook my hand until I awoke in recovery, with my doctor smiling and giving me a thumbs up: No cancer.
We did not think the growths on my uterus and ovaries were anything but benign fibroids, but it’s good to have that confirmed.
The next morning, my doctor had told me a little more: “Your uterus was the size of a small turkey,” she said. She actually had photos of the surgery, which she whipped out proudly, the way I used to show off my daughter’s baby pictures. They’re pretty gruesome fascinating. She said she’d get me a copy after she’d finished scanning them and adding them to my file. I may use one for my Facebook cover photo.
I ended up spending two nights in the hospital. I have to say: the nurses are heroes. They took good care of me, even though I was cranky from the pain and the painkillers. That said, I’ll be very happy if I never have to experience surgery or recovery again.
But that’s not likely, is it? I’m pushing 60 and my life is bound to follow the same pattern I watched as my grandparents and parents aged. My days of unflagging good health are coming to an end. Maybe not next year or in five years – but I’m pretty sure there will be at least another issue in the next decade that will require some hospitalization. And I’ll probably be just as big a baby about it as I was about this one.
In the meantime, the recovery from this hysterectomy is going a lot smoother than I expected. Before going in, I kept comparing it to the c-section I had 18 years ago, and there were a lot of similarities. But one week after the c-section, I was more or less bedridden… while today, I am sitting at my desk and writing this post without the benefit of painkillers.
The ease of the physical recovery is a little bit misleading. I have been warned not to resume my usual routine too quickly, not to push myself into doing anything strenuous like housework. Um, I’m okay with that. Besides, I don’t have a lot of energy. My husband, who has been amazed at how easily I’m moving around right now is just as amazed that I’m not bored yet with basically just laying around and watching television.
This is where members of my family will shout, “Do you even know Donna?” Laying around and watching television is what I do best. And that’s what I’ll continue to do — for the next week, at least.