Deb Elise’s Dramatic Breaks (including the one on her flight)

LeiHUGE 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.


~Deb Elise

11 Replies to “Deb Elise’s Dramatic Breaks (including the one on her flight)”

  1. A lot of big break moments don’t feel exciting, I think. In some cases it’s because you’ve been working on it so long or you knew it was already coming, so there’s no element of surprise. In others it’s just overwhelmed by the amount of work you know you have ahead of you. And some of it is just getting older and being grumpy.

    Glad you are home safely. A mall probably isn’t where you would choose to spend your Hawaii time, but it’s better than an airport!

    1. The mall was actually very nice and outdoors, so it was great. Most of it was closed since it was late Sunday, but the arcade was open, and my daughter won enough tickets to get a whoopee cushion. Perfection.

  2. Love your writing for Cosby story! Sounds magical. 🙂

    When I got my book deal, I celebrated by steam-scalding my hand when I tried to take the top off the egg-cooker too soon. I’m not safe in a kitchen under the best of circumstances, but when my head is in the clouds I am apparently doubly dumb. It was fun breaking the news (of the book deal, not the burned hand) to all my family and friends, but my life returned to normal pretty quickly. I’m still doing exactly what I was doing before — writing books.

    Re air travel: I once bounced back and forth between Stockholm and Copenhagen three times before finally landing in Stockholm. The plane had to keep going back to Copenhagen because of fog over Stockholm. On the plus side, SAS gave us an open-face sandwich every time we landed in Copenhagen. I ended the trip exhausted, but well-fed.

    1. How crazy that they’d actually fly you all the way over and back so many times! I hope the airplane food there is better than here (not that there IS airplane food here anymore), otherwise the sandwich could be more penalty than prize!

      I’m like you in the kitchen — once got a major 2nd degree burn on my hand from spilling boiling hot soup on myself. All the more reason not to cook!

  3. Airplane story – years ago, my husband and I went to Italy. It was our first trip to Europe and we were so excited. We flew into Amsterdam and then were supposed to get a connection to Florence. Well, the first flight was late and we raced to the next gate only to be told we missed our flight, even though we could see the small connecting plane out on the tarmac! Still, no go. The next flight wasn’t until that evening. We would lose almost a whole day in Italy. I was very upset, but my husband – thankfully! – convinced me to go exploring a bit. I was so glad we did because we ended up going to the Anne Frank museum and it was an experience I will never forget.

    Oh, and “The Amazing Race” is one of my favorite shows although my husband and I say we would be the team that never makes it out of the airport. 🙂

  4. Scary that the plane broke down, but I’m glad it decided to have its “moment” on the tarmac. My biggest “airplane break” involves an icy landing in Syracuse, New York one November when I was in college. We were landing through an ice storm and the wings began icing up so the pilots came over the radio and said they were making an “abbreviated landing.” I’m not sure if that’s pilotspeak for “WERE ALL GOING TO DIE” but that was what I heard.

    Nobody died – or was even injured – but I’ve never seen a plane come in that sharply on its descent and for a few minutes I thought we were going nose-first into the ground. Worse, it was about 10pm so everything was dark and the storm made terrible turbulence.

    Amazing I still fly after that one (and no, I didn’t for quite some time). The other people on the plane looked scared, though nobody was screaming or making a fuss. I’m not sure whether that kind of landing is “normal” in Syracuse in the winter or whether everyone else was too busy praying and clutching the seats like I was. Either way…I’m glad it was a once in a lifetime experience!

    1. That sounds completely horrifying. I’ve never had a flight that bad, but I’ve had a couple with rough enough turbulence that I was truly frightened, and it’s a terrible feeling.

      Did you go to Syracuse for college? Great school, but too cold!!!!!

  5. Actually I ended up going to Tufts, in Boston – which was a long way from home for a native Californian, but I had a misguided belief that distance equated to independence. I flew into Syracuse for a vacation – and then promptly decided that was one airport I never needed to visit again! (No offense to the stronger of nerve. I liked Syracuse but I’m a chicken when it comes to flying.)

    It was scary, but at least it gives me something to compare to when I get on turbulent flights now. More than once I’ve told myself “it’s ok – this isn’t as bad as Syracuse so it must be all right…”

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