Monday, March 18, 2013

Being lucky is @#$%&*! hard work!

I've been called lucky so many times recently that it made me think of the saying, "The harder I work, the luckier I get", or something to that effect. And it's very true. I have a wonderful husband, a career I love, and a nice home. I also have a disease that can put me in bed for hours or days and is slowly taking away my hearing. Some days, when I feel really crappy, I just want to sleep, but I force myself to write. I don’t want to waste a moment living my dreams. But dreams come with a price, usually years of hard work.

Over the years, I have worked, planned, saved, given up things, failed, triumphed, and sometimes cried because it didn’t turn out exactly how I planned. I’ve worked for everything I have today. WE worked hard, hubby and I, among setbacks and heartbreaks. It's taken us years to go from struggling 20-somethings, living paycheck to paycheck, to what we have now.

When hubby and I got our first place together, we each owned a twin bed, a dresser, and some clothes. I had a hope chest from when I was a kid that we used as a coffee table, two director’s chairs (the folding kind you see on set), an old B&W television with funky rabbit-ears - we couldn't afford cable. Hubby had his childhood desk and a Commodore 64 that he’d saved up for as a kid delivering newspapers. We had some hand-me-down pots and pans and some cheap plastic dishes I picked up at a discount store. Hubby’s mom gave us an old crock-pot and rice cooker, which we still have and use. We had one car between us. For a while, anyway. I wrote to keep my sanity. And sometimes got a gig writing/adapting children's plays, which usually didn't pay much, if anything.

I had always wanted to go to UCLA or USC film school but I had absolutely no money for school, and with rent, utilities, car insurance, gas, etc…to pay for, I had no time for anything but work. I went through several agents before I finally got one who was right for me. I took whatever work my agent could get me, which sometimes paid the bills and other times not. Cable shows, B films, educational films, or TV productions. For extra cash, I choreographed and taught dance and theatre classes between gigs. I got a reputation as a hard worker, a loyal worker, who showed up on time, didn’t complain about the hours, and didn’t create drama on the set. You’d be surprised what some people will do to try and mug a camera shot.

I eventually got hired as an extra on a popular TV show, for a two week gig. After a couple of days, a permanent position as a stand-in opened up and I let the director know that I wanted it and that I had experience as a stand-in, which was a lie. But I was the right size—I had to stand in for one of the actresses while the crew set up the scenes—and I was available. This was a bold move and one that could’ve gotten me fired. Instead, they gave me the job. Which led to other jobs on the set as photo double and dancer. I was thrilled to finally have a steady income. Five months later, we got canceled and I was laid off again, this time just before the holidays.

This hiring roller coaster is typical of the industry. Yes, you can make decent money when you work, but you'll put in 18-20 hour days, and when that project is over, you might not work for 6 months. So you better save every cent you possibly can. Glamour? Um, nope. Just a lot of hard work, long hours, and scrimping on everything. I was only out of work for 4 weeks, but that’s a huge amount of time when you’re living paycheck to paycheck, and unemployment barely paid the utilities. Because of the holiday season hiatus, I couldn’t get an industry job, so I hit the local malls. I had worked retail in the past, but so close to the holidays, no one was hiring. Still, I put in applications at any businesses that would take one. I pawned my high school class ring, a gold chain I’d gotten as a gift, and a couple pair of silver earrings. The pawn shop didn’t even want the old TV. I called my agent each day and I went to the unemployment office to look through their listings. I wanted a job, any job, so I could pay my bills. I hated being out of work.

At the time, hubby was working and going to night school for his bachelor's degree. The place we were living in seemed like a nice place. At first. It was a tiny back house in a decent neighborhood. Our own house for the cost of an apartment. Sounds good, right? Well, just over the block wall, hiding out of sight - train tracks. Before I moved in, I had been told by the landlady that the train only ran during the day. Since her job kept her traveling a lot, she either didn’t hear the train, or slept through it. That damn whistle went off every hour or so, all night long. We had to move, for our sanity as much as our health. I needed a job!

Finally, I got a phone call from a temp agency I had signed with and they had a receptionist position for me. It didn’t pay much and would only last a few weeks. I hated talking on the phone, so of course I took the job. I couldn’t afford not to. And I took the one after that. Once February got going, jobs picked up a bit. I added two more minimum wage jobs to a temp one and ended up working 7 days a week to try and make up for the time I was off. I was working again and we had enough to move. My agent finally called with a gig. A single day shoot, nothing longer. I didn’t want to lose the regular jobs I had and the money I was making, so I turned that gig down.

Hubby and I found an apartment with no amenities so we could live in a safe, quiet area and still keep to our budget. Unlike some of our friends, we didn’t have parents who could help us out. We were completely on our own. We had accepted a hand-me-down couch with rotten cushions so we didn’t have to sit on director’s chairs anymore. Then I snagged some stained cushions a friend was going to toss, bought a cheap blanket and covered the couch with it.

Our treadmill was the beach strand. Our step machine consisted of the three sets of stairs we had to climb every day to get up to our apartment. Date night, when we actually had a night off together, meant cooking at home and going for a walk in our neighborhood, something we still enjoy doing. You’d be amazed how good ramen noodles taste when you add stuff to them, like veggies and oil. Sometimes, we’d take a picnic to the beach or buy a slice of pizza on the pier. And when we could afford it, or had a coupon, we would go out to a restaurant. I didn’t buy anything that wasn’t on sale and we used coupons for groceries, something we still do. We became coupon aficionados long before it was popularized by a TV show. By this time, I had been in the entertainment field for many years. I decided to leave Hollywood, so I took an honorable withdrawal from the acting union. My agent was disappointed but it was the right decision for me.

After hubby graduated with his bachelor’s, he sent out resumes and landed a job in his new field of engineering. It paid enough that I was able to cut my jobs down to 2, which was a good thing because working 7 days a week meant I was sick a lot, and I needed a break to get well. Little did I know that in the future I would get diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease and all the hell it brings. But that’s jumping ahead. With only 2 jobs, I was able to get back into stage productions. I loved the theatre, especially during the rehearsal periods.

Once hubby got beyond the probation period in his new job, his employer offered to pay for his Master’s degree. We couldn’t turn that down. No way. So off he went to school. Again. I stayed working 2 jobs until he graduated. He promised that when he was done, I could go to school. I was so excited and couldn’t wait for that day to come.

About 3 years later, it finally came. I went to university and got my writing degree. Not a necessity to become a writer, but I always wanted a college education and a degree. I love school! And going to university was always one of my dreams. We paid for it ourselves, which meant attending a state-run school, but I didn’t care. My dreams of going to UCLA or USC were long gone. Yes, I was a bit sad letting go of that part of my life but I didn’t miss the long hours and fickle nature of the industry. My priorities had shifted to my little family and I wanted to spend more time with hubby.

Over the years, we worked a lot of hours, stayed up late or got up early to do homework, survived numerous layoffs, lost family and friends to diseases and accidents, dealt with our own illnesses and surgeries, and spent 14 years living in the desert just to get enough equity to buy a foreclosed home in SoCal.

Fast forward to today. The 10 years I spent sending out manuscripts and getting rejection slips paid off and I’m now an author with 10 published books and others on the way. Our SoCal home needs a lot of work but it’s our dream house, the one we starting saving for all those years ago when we first got married. No, it’s not right on the beach or a mansion in the hills, but it’s ours and it’s in California.

I shifted my goals now and again, sometimes by choice and sometimes by force to get where I am today. I certainly didn't have Meniere's Disease on that to-do list, but one thing I never did was give up on my dreams. And while hubby has more patience than I do, I've learned that it can take years to reach a goal and make a dream come true. Today, we both work full-time in jobs we enjoy. We save up each year for travel, even if it means putting off that home improvement project we want to get started on. We drive our cars until they cost more to fix than to buy new ones. And we take joy in the little things, like a walk along the beach, a picnic, or just gardening in the yard together. We’re not wealthy, but we have a comfortable life now and we’re both happy.

So, if you have a dream, don’t give up on it, but be prepared for some surprises along the way. Be patient. Like a new home, dreams take a while to build. Stay positive. Make goals and keep them realistic. If you’re a middle-aged woman, you’re probably not going to become a supermodel or a world class gymnast. But if you enjoy writing, you can always create her in a book. Either way, be prepared to work for your dream. Work hard. And when you've reached your dream, people will call you lucky, too.

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