HUGE THANKS to Deb Eleanor for switching days this week! I had an unexpected “big break” when one of the engines blew on the plane I was supposed to take from Maui to L.A. Happily, the engine broke before we took off, so it wasn’t dramatic, just inconvenient. Two hours sitting in the plane on the tarmac, followed by frantic calls to re-book the flight (which made my husband and I feel like we were on The Amazing Race), then six hours at the mall in Kahului until our red eye took off.
It was Hawaii; I have no complaints.
Work-wise, my most dramatic, This-Changes-Everything break was landing my first prime-time staff writing job. Getting there was the culmination of a series of breaks — assistant job after assistant job, spec script after spec script, long hours spent working closely with the “real” writers, judiciously pitching when the time was right, staying quiet when it wasn’t.
When the call came, it seemed like something out of a movie. Not only was I getting staffed, but the show was shooting in New York, so the production would fly me there — first-class — and give me an absurd amount of money for moving expenses, in addition to my insanely huge salary. (Keep in mind that the size of the numbers are relative — before I got the job I was so broke that I dated not for romance, but for free meals.) Plus I’d be writing for Bill Cosby, one of my idols. I’m a Philly girl. My parents went to Temple University. I grew up watching Fat Albert and memorizing Bill Cosby: Himself. I wanted to be a Huxtable. It was a big stinkin’ deal.
All at once, everything in my life changed. I moved across the country, and into a gorgeous L-shaped studio apartment at 49th and 2nd. I got to hobnob with not only Dr. Cosby but also the goddess Madeline Kahn. I spent my days trading jokes and stories with co-workers who’d penned some of my all-time favorite TV shows and movies. I went to lavish meals and received extravagant Christmas presents from the studio. Every morning on my way to the subway I felt like Mary Tyler Moore in the opening credits of her show. I had made it! I wished I’d had a beret so I could toss it in the air.
By contrast, after I received the call that Populazzi was being published, there were no dramatic changes. At least, none that you could see. I had long since left the wild world of prime time TV in favor of freelancing so I could be a better mom to my daughter and dog, so it’s not like my work day looked any different. There was no huge advance for the book, no life-altering windfall. Oprah didn’t appear on my doorstep with a plate of cookies (which surprised me — I was positive she would). My dad happened to be in town when I got the call, and I was actually on my way to a fancy schmancy dinner with the whole family, so we raised our glasses to toast the moment… but the next day it was back to business as usual.
Yet while the Big Break of becoming a novelist was nowhere near as outwardly dramatic as that earlier Big Break, it was far more satisfying. It was also much more profoundly life changing… just not in a visible-bells-and-whistles way.
It’s very late, and I’m very jet lagged, and it’s absolutely possible I’ve lost any coherent train of thought, but I’ll try to sum up anyway. While we’ll all have those Red Carpet Moments in our lives — moments like weddings, births, giant promotions, or getting those cookies from Oprah — the biggest, most profound breaks aren’t always the most outwardly dramatic.
Have you found this as well? What were some of your big break moments?
I’m also interested in your airplane “big break” stories — have you had issues that kept you on the ground, in your seat, and away from the gate for far too long? Did everyone on the plane handle it well, or did people get rammy? We were at the two hour point when we finally got off the plane, and several passengers were only moments away from devolving into Lord of the Flies.
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