Saturday, January 15, 2022

Remembering the 1994 Northridge Earthquake

Back in the late 1980's, on the heels of some success with my young adult novels, I made the decision to move my writerly enterprise across the country to La La Land.  Yes, I wanted to live the whole glamorous Hollywood life.

And so, we went west and chased the dream.  For me, this meant getting an M.F.A. in screenwriting from UCLA.  Truth be told, I wanted to be just like Callie Khouri who sold her script for Thelma and Louise for a million-trillion dollars and became a beacon of hope for all the girl-writers out there.

However, after graduation, my screenwriting career faltered.  I was a single mother and I could not afford to wait to be discovered (read: going to parties and schmoozing, keeping hundreds of Kinko copies of my screenplays in the trunk of my Honda Civic and scouting out famous producers at Gelson's, following them into the supermarket and jumping on them in the produce aisle and proclaiming--"have I got a script for you!")

However, I was lucky enough to get a job at Paramount Pictures working in Meg Ryan's production company as a development assistant, which was probably more fun than actually selling a screenplay.  But, I didn't appreciate this at the time. 

Meg and I became besties! (Just kidding.)  Although, we did share stories of growing up in Connecticut.  And I often spoke to Dennis Quaid (her then-husband).  Oh, and Rob Reiner once took me to lunch--he's very nice!  So did Linda Lavin--she's also very nice!  I schmoozed with Bono.  Yes, really.  Angelica Huston once gave my daughter a lollypop when she was at the studio starring in The Addams Family.  (Not too long ago, I bumped into Angelica at a jewelery store in Taos, New Mexico.  She was buying a turquoise ring, but she didn't recognize me!  What's with that?  Kidding!)

Anyway, by 1994, Hollywood had lost its shine, at least for me.  Meg's company moved to Fox and I got another job at Paramount, working for A.L.F. (you know, the puppet from outer space.)  But then, A.L.F. went off the air and I was on my own once again, scraping by, but still writing those screenplays, still hustling.

And then, on the morning of January 17th, 1994 at exactly 4:30 a.m. my daughter and I were awakened by a cacophony of car alarms going off outside our North Hollywood apartment.  There was shaking and rumbling and most frightening of all--a high-pitched screeching sound from the deepest bowels of our building, as if concrete and steel were being violently scraped against each other.

Our box of an apartment shifted back and forth on its foundation, rattling its contents.  Pictures suddenly lost the will to remain on the walls and so they came crashing down, sending shards of broken glass everywhere.  Bookcases cried "timber!" and then suddenly tumbled down.  Books flew off the shelves and threw themselves across the room.  The Apple computer tossed itself off the desk.  And finally, the refrigerator did a little cake walk across the kitchen before teetering, stumbling and then collapses, face down, dumping all its contents out at the entrance to the living room.

It was a mess.  

I struggled to get my daughter out of bed and drag her to safety.  The glass on her fish tank cracked open, sending a wave of salty-smelly fish-water splashing over my back, propelling the little fish into my hair where they immediately proceeded to lodge themselves.  No time to think about this--I pulled my daughter from her bed to the living room where we crouched down under the door frame and prayed.  

Basically, I made a bargain with God.  I promised that if we got out of this alive, we would leave Los Angeles.  

And then, a miracle--the shaking stopped. 

Sometimes it takes an earthquake or at least, hitting rock bottom before we open our hearts enough to let the universe reveal something new and wonderful for you.  Before, we're able to admit defeat and simply give up.

In fact, I think giving up is underrated.

Your assignment for this week--as counter intuitive as this may sound--is to give up on something.  Let go of this thing that is no longer right for you.  There is no shame in this, despite what our culture of hustle-hustle-hustle and never, ever, ever giving up might tell you.  Next, I want you to resist the urge to quickly fill up this empty space with something new.  Please--sit with the glorious emptiness.  The silence.  And then, listen to your heart.  Have faith in this process, and in your own unique genius.  Take your time and see what emerges for you.  Something wonderful will come your way.  I know this.

I found the love of my life upon my return to Connecticut.  You just can't second guess what plans the universe may be holding in store for you, my creative friends.

And so, for this week.  I want you to let go and give up.

And have fun doing it.



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