I was going to be the youngest, most celebrated screenwriter that ever lived.
I was going to drop out of college and get an honorary degree. I was going to own a house with a Scarface staircase and drink martinis with Katie Holmes. I was going places. Got it?
I pinned my derivative Hollywood dreams on the top-tier film school that admitted the least number of students: UCLA. The piles of rejected hacks I’d have to climb over would only increase my sense of accomplishment. So I busted my ass. I neglected my studies and my girlfriend and stopped cleaning my apartment. This was my shot. My own version of the rap Olympics.
But despite my shocking resemblance to Marshall Mathers, shit didn’t work out.
My fat stack of dreams in a manila envelope was met with a rejection on a single sheet of paper. It was very thin, this paper. Cheap. As if UCLA was on the verge of bankrupting itself by the sheer number of film-school dreams they were obligated to crush by mail. I thought about slitting my wrist with the razor-thin rejection. I thought this might be a cool thing to have happen in a movie. I doubted my ability to judge cool things to happen in movies based upon the content of the rejection slip, but still thought about using it to slit my wrists.
Yet rejection comes with consequences even more dire than thoughts of ironic suicide. Like answering questions: “How’s that UCLA application doing?” “Hear from UCLA yet?” “When are you planning to move to California?”
Guess what, Legion of Curious Assholes: Never ask a writer how their book deal/fellowship application/agent search is going. EVER. We have fragile egos. When we have ANYTHING going for us, we will tell you within two minutes of shaking your hand, or our spouse will bring it up to save us the trouble. At every turn, we and those we love must inflate our egos like storing food for the drought to come – that will surely come – weeks or months or years later when things are, again, not going well and the Legion of Curious Assholes is closing in with their wide eyes and soul-crushing questions.
And in case you’re wondering, the worst place to get rejected from film school is Iowa. There you are, rejected, and also in fucking Iowa. You are surrounded by corn. The world is flat. Everyone is smirking and white and above average and there’s you – rejected, and so far from Hollywood in every possible way that you can’t help but feel you were destined to fail. Like, who the hell did you think you were, Rudy? That shit happened in Indiana. And nothing makes you feel like a bigger asshole than investing in a highly improbable dream that doesn’t come true. Except for doing it in Iowa.
Luckily, I had a friend in LA. He was older and successful as a writer and contemptuous to me in every possible way just then, but I needed to rub up against the luster of the dream a little. So I wrote him a long, sniveling email about what happened to me. Here’s what he said:
“Hollywood isn’t going anywhere, kid. But you’re only young once. Travel the world. Get drunk. Get laid. Then come back and write about it. The kids who go to UCLA never write anything interesting. That’s because they haven’t done anything.”
Good advice. Especially the bit about getting laid. Unfortunately, I’d alienated my girlfriend by applying to UCLA and my sure supply of sexy starlets had been embargoed by my own failure. So what could I do? I left the country. I took my friend’s advice, and did my damndest to live out a different dream. A drunker, sexier, more foreign dream than even UCLA film school.
It worked. I had a blast, learned a lot, and my experiences put me on a different creative path. Now, as a fiction writer, I’ve managed to divest myself of my most cliché dreams. But I’d still like a cult following one day. A few books to have fun promoting. And I’ve come to terms with a grim reality: No matter how modest the dream, the road to artistic success is paved with rejection.
Thin, razor-sharp rejections that stretch into the gray horizon and cut your feet like broken glass and make you want to collapse into a bloody heap and scream for your mother and gouge your eyes out and end it, end it, JUST GODDAMN END IT ALL. But look on the bright side. At least you’re not in Iowa.