Miss Carbuncle, my high school career counselor, was getting frustrated as she went through my academic files.
There was perspiration on her upper lip, forming little rivulets between the hairs of her petite mustache. She was twirling strands of hair around her second finger, then releasing it, forming little sausage curls.
“Have you given any thought what you’d like to do after high school?” she asked.
“I’d like to become Carl Sagan,” I said. “Stars are pretty.”
Forming another sausage curl, she flipped through my file.
“Astronomy requires a high level of mathematical ability. You flunked fractions and long division. You might want to aim lower."
“How much lower?” I asked.
“Light years,” she said. “As far as I can determine, the only thing you’ve mastered in 12 years is the alphabet.”
“Hey, I could become a writer!” I said. “It’s just a matter of putting those letters in some sort of order.”
Carbuncle cackled, sounding like a deranged coyote.
“You? A writer? Ha!” She glanced at her watch and gasped. She was late for the hairdresser! She dashed out of the room, her sausage curls springing up and down as she ran.
Old Lady Carbuncle had a point. I didn’t have any marketable skills except for that alphabet thing. And that’s exactly how I spent my professional life — rearranging letters in a long series of “writing jobs.”
Writing a funny newspaper column: My very first writing job was right out of college. I had endless stories to tell as I was a mom of a hyperactive baby boy. I would have been happy writing theses silly little essays forever.
What I learned — Writing humor isn’t nearly as much fun or as easy as you might think.
Technical writer: Editors of technical publications are not fond of wit, a clever turn of phrase, and whimsy.
What I learned — “.00634 cm of lead” is apparently different than “a really skinny piece of lead.”
Soap opera writer: This is where I spent most of my professional time. I wrote for "Another World," "A New Day in Eden," "Rituals," "The Young and the Restless," "The Guiding Light," "Texas," "General Hospital," "Capitol" and "Santa Barbara."
If you can write a script in 24 to 48 hours, know the history of a 50-year-old daily show, and consider sleep a giant waste of time, this might be the perfect job for you.
What I learned — It really is possible to write five hours of programming a week (the equivalent of two-and-a-half movies). It’s like writing inside a Cuisinart.
Awards: In 1991-92, along with the whole writing team, I won an Emmy and a Writers Guild Award for "Santa Barbara." When our names were announced at the Emmy show, my legs stopped working. I have no memory of how we got to the stage. Did my team roll me down the aisle like a bowling ball?
After the show, the production company and network threw us a party. Another writer, he in his stylish tux, me in my fancy-schmancy dress, got into a cab clutching our Emmys and the address of the restaurant.
It was a dark and scary street. We got out of the cab and walked from one building to the next, unable to find the restaurant or even the address. A group of young men in black approached us and stopped directly in front of us. “I’d sure like to hold that pretty lady,” the leader said, pointing to my Emmy.
We made eye contact and I handed him the statuette. He took it with such gentleness, then passed it around to his friends. He gave it back to me and showed us where the restaurant was. There really was no name or address on that building.
“Just knock on the front door,” the leader said. And off they went.
What I learned — There are decent people everywhere. It’s that memory that always comes to mind when I think of the Emmy.
Creating an online soap: Warner Bros., creator of Bugs Bunny, called and asked if I’d like to create the first online soap. My writing partner and I would get created by, written by and producer credits. We turned in a 300-page story arc with descriptions of all the characters. They loved it! They loved us! Finally, we were within inches of fame and fortune.
And then the executives were fired. And we were gone! Now that promising 300-page bible we produced languishes somewhere in a closet at Warner Bros., collecting dust rather than fees and residuals.
What I learned — Something is nothing until it’s something, and unless it’s written in stone or an iron-clad contract.
Writing a funny newspaper column: And now, once again, I’m writing another quirky local newspaper column. Different column, different local. It’s still my favorite form of writing. And it’s still hard.
Fortunately, I now have my beloved Barcalounger where I can ponder things. Well, except when the dogs are using it.