Recently, I was accepted into two professional programs out of UCLA’s School of Theater, Film, and Television–– writing for late night comedy and screenwriting. It’s caused me to reflect on this passion a lot, even though I’ve written about it before. I was re-reading my application essays and thought they really succinctly summed up my passion for this mode of storytelling. Here’s my essay for the screenwriting program.
It’s hard to remember a time when I wasn’t telling stories. Most of my very early memories are populated with scenes of me surrounded by family or daycare classmates, telling elaborate tales: A particular one that stands out in my memory was of a swashbuckling citrus fruit whose nemesis was a moustachioed citrus fruit; I had a long and elaborate drama drawn out between the two. Before I could spell, I would even type my stories on my mom’s typewriter. I continued this way throughout my childhood and adolescence, often writing poems or short stories for friends and family as birthday and holiday gifts.
There was a particular moment, though, that sparked the flame of screenwriting in my soul. Around Christmastime in 1989, my mom took my cousins and I to see Disney’s The Little Mermaid. In those opening moments under the sea, I felt something ignite inside of me. I was completely entranced. I walked out of that theater a different person than I had walked in. I was just four years old.
In the thirty-some years that have transpired since, I’ve struggled to have the confidence to pursue screenwriting and, for a while, pursued other areas of study and career paths. All the while I was still writing and telling stories and honing these skills in other ways. I was preparing to apply to graduate schools for screenwriting when I got married and became unexpectedly pregnant. Being a pregnant, young, army wife, pursuing screenwriting had to be put on hold. I continued to write, though, and began to freelance professionally. Now that my children are older and we are no longer part of the military, I have time and space to develop my skills and passions more fully again.
Currently, I am paid to write anything from speeches, to Buzzfeed-type articles, to essays. I also write, script, perform, and record my own comedy podcast. I have previously contributed multiple chapters to two books, ghostwritten one, and edited others. I am now also writing my own books–– one a young adult novel and the other a treatment of the fairytale princesses. I was recently invited to pitch television shows to the network CatholicTV for their fall pitch season this year and pitched three shows. Additionally, as I began to again get serious about pursuing a career in screenwriting, I have done independent study in the field and technical aspects, leaning on texts such as The Hollywood Standard and friends and connections with experience.
As I look back on my life thus far, I can see times when I was waylaid or discouraged from pursuing this passion. I can see how those times set me back. I can see the work I have to do to overcome the hurdles I find in front of me, and have jumped over some of them already. The common thread, though, has always been storytelling. I’m old enough now to know that I could never live without it and am confident enough to know I have the talent and drive to be successful. I believe that movies and television are the best modes of storytelling we have available to us and I want to use them to their capacity, maybe even further. The world needs stories and I need to tell them.
I have to tell stories, that’s just who I am. Not just this week….but always.
I mention in the essay that I took some detours while getting here, that I pursued other studies and careers. This is something I’d like to address, just in case you, like me, have this problem. In my first round of undergraduate school, I studied Theology and Catechetics/Youth Ministry. I even took a semester of graduate theology classes before coming to my senses, dropping out, and finishing a third major in English Writing for my Bachelors. Then, even though I knew that I didn’t want youth ministry or teaching or anything to directly do with theology to be my career, I took jobs as a youth minister and a high school religion teacher right out of college. If I’ve known since I was four that I want to be a screenwriter and storyteller, like I claim, why did I do these other things? I was convinced that the only way to serve God properly and to be a good Catholic was to be a youth minister.
There is an attitude among the so-called “good” Catholics that everything you do has to explicitly be for and about God. That’s why we have lots of companies with explicitly Catholic names or cars have bajillions of Catholic bumper stickers or people become youth ministers. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, but it can and does create a culture of “if you’re not proclaiming the name of Jesus with every breath and action, then what are you even doing?”. This can be dangerous as it leads people, especially adolescents, to believe that serving God has a very narrow definition and anything else isn’t good enough. That is what happened to me.
When I was a teenager and college student, I got so caught up in trying to serve God “the right way” that I lost sight of the talents and passions He had endowed me with. I started “giving them up” in the name of the Lord and for something “better”. I convinced myself, with help from altar calls, speakers who said things like, “If you’re not eating, sleeping, and breathing the name of Jesus, what are you even doing?”, and youth rallies, that the only way I could serve God was to be a youth minister. I had convinced myself that my talents and desires and passions didn’t matter and the I had to proclaim Jesus’s name and His Gospel explicitly to be a “good” Catholic and a “good” servant.
This persisted through college, until one day, while in one of my youth ministry classes the second semester of my senior year (after I had already been accepted into the Theology masters program), I realized that this is not what I wanted at all. It was like lightning striking me and grounding me again. I knew in my heart that this was not what God was calling me to and that I had done myself, and Him, a disservice by denying my passions–– the passions He gave me!–– for so many years. I didn’t have any replacement plan, though, so I continued to go for my masters for one whole semester. What made me drop out was one professor, who shall remain nameless, said something similar to what I had heard youth speakers say as a teenager, “If you’re not eating, breathing, and sleeping this stuff [the class was intro to the Bible, so how to study and read the Bible], then you don’t belong in this program.” This time it was a wake up call to get my butt where it belongs. Right after the class, I went to the registrar and withdrew from the program starting the next semester. Soon after, since I still didn’t really have a replacement plan, I re-enrolled as a non-degree-seeking undergrad and finished another major in English Writing in three semesters.
All this to say, I feel alive when I write. I’m not who I’m meant to be when I’m not. God gave me passions and desires and talents for a reason! We all don’t have to work directly for the Church or make “Jesus” every other word that comes out of our mouths. We need to let all of our work, whatever that be, be for the glory of God. God is in everything and is everywhere, so it makes sense that He would call us to all sectors and sections of life to do good work. All good work is work done for and in Him. We can’t lose sight of that. I keep it forefront in my life now. I’m no longer bound by arbitrary standards of what I think God wants from us or what a supposed “good” Catholic looks like. I’m a good Catholic because I follow the promptings of God and try to love Him everyday and in every way. I’m not holding myself back anymore or placing God in a box. I’m free.