I went to L.A. to work in film and just got yelled at

Should I convert to Judaism, go backpacking in Thailand, or move back to Florida near my parents?

Published June 11, 2008 10:34AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I'm 24, and a year and a half ago I moved from suburban Florida to Los Angeles to pursue film, escape the humidity and date groovy, touchy-feely California men. Since then I have worked at several dysfunctional, fringe film companies in which I am the only employee. I have made friends through networking, and I have learned from them that the dysfunction and crazies (drug abuse, verbal abuse, long hours and no time for family or extracurriculars) are omnipresent in this business. I have also learned that those things are not consistent with my values, and my values are more important to me than I thought they were at 22.

So I have more or less made my peace with my "dream" of working in film. (I'm not so sure it was ever my dream. I think I thought "film" would be general enough to encompass my interests in visual art, theater and literature, but it turns out that the jobs on offer are more like receptionist, runner and nanny.) I miss my family and I'm worried about the recession. I have no idea what career might be suitably creative for me but less populated by addicts and screamers. So I've been thinking about moving in with my folks for six months to a year, saving money and possibly selling my car to backpack through Asia.

But I enjoy the variety and opportunity of urban life, and I am in love with a fantastic California man who makes music sound like it has more notes. However, as an added wrinkle, he is very Jewish and pretty much unable to marry me because I am not. (I'm not religious, except about literature and philosophy, but I did consider conversion briefly in college because I felt a strong cultural affinity while I was taking a Judaism class. Ultimately I decided it would be disingenuous because I'm not a monotheist.) On top of that, my guy just broke up with a woman who converted for him, and I can see he needs time to develop. So we've agreed to break it off, but we are finding it extremely difficult to fight the chemistry and not engage. We take turns coaching each other through it and then giving in.

I would really like to go on some exotic backpacking, soul-searching journey and find God so I can convert and be with this man. On the other hand, I'm broke and lost and craving communion with my friends and fam back East. And I'm waffling, because I don't know which option would be better for me. I quit my film job, so I have to decide quick before my savings run out!

In a Diaspora of My Own Making

Dear In a Diaspora,

The young person is observed as a young person by the older person she will become. The youth knows she is watched by the older person she will become, and this inhibits her somewhat, as it should.

So go back to Florida and get a little place of your own near your parents. Don't move in with them. Do not give in to the lure of dependency. It will not be a good habit. Support yourself in a modest way and maintain a separate residence and write your screenplay.

While you're living in Florida writing your screenplay, every morning write down this question: "Do I want to write, direct, produce or act?"

See if you can answer that question in writing. See how it feels to write down, "I want to direct." Or write down, "I want to act." See how that feels. Make pictures of what you want to do. Make collages to stimulate the primary process thinking that is the creative mode.

While you are doing this, live one day at a time. You can afford to live one day at a time. Concentrate on the 24 hours you have. Make plans but do not be stuck in them. If you want to backpack through Thailand, collect your items. Make your budget 24 hours at a time. Live in moderately anxious awareness. Accustom yourself to not knowing everything that is going to happen, and concentrate on these 24 hours.

Take screenwriting classes. Set yourself a schedule for writing your first screenplay and stick to your schedule. Save your money and go on a backpacking trip through Thailand and find God and then come home to your nice little place near your friends and family. Enjoy the sun.

Do not waste these years. You have so much energy right now you could do anything if you can just organize yourself and be regular in your habits. If you have demons, make friends with them.

But wait.

Try to be a little more real and a little more precise. Recognize that your ideas are not firmly connected to who you really are. Recognize that your ideas are from the media. The media is "the middle." Think about who you really are. Accept how limited are the options, how hard the work, how long the hours, how few the minutes, how shallow the love, how thin the air, and how quickly the time goes. Sit in lotus position as your guru suggests and meditate on how quickly the time goes. Meditate for five minutes and notice how quickly the time goes. Narrow down. Narrow down and make a plan. Think about a year. Think about how so many corny things are true. Think about how you are not 22. Ready yourself for sacrifice. Ready yourself to let go of some things.

My grandparents came to Florida in the 1940s and lived like pioneers among the scrub pines of Okaloosa, on the dazzling beaches of Destin, in the blue, blue Gulf water. I am a child of Florida's warm, wet indolence, the intoxicating rot and the rough, beefy unculturedness. I am a child of that. I know how it is to hate Florida and feel better than Florida and want to live in places like California.

But I can tell you this, too: I got lost in California and not in a good way. I got lost meaning I was alone. Inventing self and inventing self and inventing self: Soon the self is worn, weary, done in. Soon there is no self. You run out of material. Your material is where you come from. There is something about your own soil. Go back there. You know it well enough to criticize it and love it and hate it. That is what you know.

I will never really know California. I will always know Florida.

So be with the ones who know you well. Be with the ones who see your bullshit. Work it out where you're from. Work it out, whatever it is; work it out where you're from.

You have this thing you have to do. It has something to do with film. You don't know precisely what, yet. But figure it out and then if you have to go to L.A. to do it go to L.A. But figure it out first.

Concentrate on the deliverables. There are scripts, treatments, pitches. Those are the deliverables. There are no new deliverables.

Concentrate on the activities. There is acting, directing, producing. There are no new deliverables and there are no new activities. Concentrate on the activities.

Work it out where you're from. Thailand isn't going anywhere. But time is flying by.

The Best of Cary Tennis

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