At first I thought we should call this blog, “Recalled to Life.” It was kind of a high-blown notion, but I remembered those words from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.
“Recalled to life” was a banker’s secret code to contact a woman whose father was imprisoned and hid out for before the French revolution. After 18 years, he was recalled to life, and dignity, free to go about his days and nights.
When Pat Colander asked me to write this blog I felt “recalled to life." Okay. I’d make another stab at relevance, betting once again on the happy demographics of my life. "60-Something" wasn’t nothing and I said I’d give it a whirl.
I worked for 20 years as a screenwriter, writing Hollywood movies with happy endings, trying to connect with others whose lives I knew were similar to mine. Some of those movies were made, some weren’t. But I always got paid. And then, much to my amazement, I got older, and Hollywood changed. They wanted a lot of explosions in their movies and they weren’t much interested in what an old broad thought about. People my age weren’t going to the movies much.
A couple of years ago I joined a bunch of writers who sued major companies who explicitly declined to hire writers “over 40." And last year I protested the credits on a remake—I can’t believe I’m so old they’re actually “re-making” my movies. But mostly the movie biz is over for me.
I’ve always been a writer, got my degree in journalism at the University of Missouri. I’ve also always been a baby boomer, born in 1948, after WWII. Because there have always been more people around my age than any other age, if I was interested in something, chances were good that millions of other people would be interested, too. This demographic factor has served me very well.
I came to Chicago after college, worked for a neighborhood paper, wrote stories for the Panorama Arts section of the Chicago Daily News, helped start some “alternative” papers. I wrote about everything I discovered in the great city that many knew much better than I did. When I saw my first show at Second City, with John Belushi, Eugenie Ross-Lemming, and Miriam Flynn, my paradigm shifted. These were the smartest, funniest people I’d ever seen. I didn’t want to be “like” them. I wanted to “be” them.
So I took workshops, got cast in the touring company, became great friends with Tim Kazurinsky, another immigrant (all the way from Australia) who landed on the shores of the “second-hand” sea. We were chosen to work on a movie about a little kid who needed a bodyguard that was shooting one summer at Lake View High School. Talk about learning on the job: with the help of Bernie Sahlins, Second City’s owner and producer, we figured out how to write screenplays as we went along. I remember seeing the movie at a screening where the audience cheered the good guys, booed the bad guys, and applauded when it was over. I called Tim who was working on a TV show in Canada and remember telling him, “I think we have a career.”
Not too long after I started working at Second City, we were assigned to write the movie version of David Mamet’s play, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, which became the film, About Last Night. We had to write an awful lot of drafts of the movie as different stars and directors attached themselves loosely to the project. I told somebody that my six-year-old son thought I rewrote Sexual Perversity in Chicago for a living. Which was partly true, although I wrote an awful lot of stories for the Chicago Reader, and a bunch of stage plays during those years, too, including City on the Make, a musical, which was revived last year by Columbia College.
I always thought that the relationships in 30-Something, and maybe the 40-somethings in Ed Zwick’s next TV series, were a lot like those of the 20-somethings in About Last Night. I don’t know where the 50s went, but I’m 60-something now, and like everybody else, trying to make sense of it all.
And then, 30 years later, after kids and husbands and I don’t know, there I was--too proud to beg Hollywood, realizing that my craft-my art-my business had disappeared. Things fell apart; then they came back together. I married a wonderful man, moved from Chicago to the Indiana Dunes, wrote for Lake, then Shore magazine from time to time. I worked for an old friend, Brian Boyer, writing two shows about retirement for PBS.
People said, “Oh, write a book.” I couldn’t figure what to write about. Instead, I read incessantly, figured out how to find great TV series on the Internet, traveled sometimes to far-away places with strange-sounding names.
When I was trying to figure out a name for this blog, I double-checked the “recalled to life” quote in Tale of Two Cities. I was struck with how much Mr. Dickens’ description of “Seventeen hundred and seventy-five” was also about the times we live in now. But even more, I thought it was so descriptive of later life: say, after 60-something.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . . .
Whatever, whichever, however—we’re still here. And whenever we get a brand spanking new idea, there are probably a whole bunch of people thinking about the same thing.