I just vomited all over an opportunity.
A few nights ago, I’m bedding down my five-year old and get a call from my friend, Jenna. She says she can put my name in the hat for a Writer’s Assistant job on a web series with a notable director.
“It doesn’t pay much, but it’s a good in.”
I’m hesitant to take on anything with long hours. I’m a single mom, and we don’t have family in L.A., just my friend, Autumn ;who watches Henry for me.
“I know you were wanting to work. Can’t hurt to try.”
It’s true. I’ve been writing again after a long….break, we’ll say. It feels great, sitting in crowded coffee shops with other writers, everyone spending hours on specs and pilots that may never get produced. Or maybe they’re actually working, and I’m the only wannabe. Whatever. It makes me happy.
“Yeah, I’m just worried about Henry…”
He lies awake in our bed, watching me, his eyes big like a marsupial. Jenna goes on about how I’ll probably feel better once I just get out from “sitting around the house all day.”
Henry starts to fake snore, his eyes still wide open. I’m annoyed Jenna sees him as some little parasite, also feeling guilty that spending all my time with this exuberant little person isn’t enough for me to feel whole. Because my Mexican-American upbringing tells me it should.
Jenna says to read the first episode.
“Don’t do it unless you absolutely love it.”
So fine. I have her email me it to me, she gets me an interview. I remind myself of all the single mothers who make things like this work all the time and even get pretty excited.
Then I read through the script.
It’s basically 27 pages of sexism topped with racism, sprinkled with ableism. Like, that shit failed the Bechdel and Mako Mori tests on the title page or something.
Before I can let out an exaggerated sigh, my mom calls to tell me about the huge storage containers she found at “The Giveaway Store”, her name for the area next to the dumpster at my parents’ complex. (Seriously, it’s (yielded some great finds)). “It’s hard to believe a body can fit in one of those”, she reflects. Mom watches a lot of crime reenactment shows.
I discuss the opportunity and how I hate the script, the female protagonist is pretty dippy for someone who’s supposed to hold a doctorate, etc.
“Oh I know! Like on SNAPPED, they’ll find the husband’s body cut into pieces and packed with bricks in one of those tupperware containers, it washes up. And then they get footage from Home Depot. Like the day before, okay. And the wife is there buying THE SAME container! How stupid can you be?
I steer things back and lay my worries on mom. Who’s going to make sure Henry eats a healthy, fibrous, but yummy homemade dinner, etc?
“Well you’re out there no matter what, it’s going to be hard now or later. Put on those running shoes, sister!”
Sister is one of my mom’s beloved terms, like ‘ass from hell’, ‘Lord and behold,” and “manos de mierda.”
Fuck it. I do the interview.
Paul is a tall, skinny dude and actually pretty unassuming. In fact, before he opens his mouth and speaks, I’m surprised this unpretentious looking guy could write such a piece of destructive shit. That doesn’t last.
“So, you’re Persian?”
“Really, but something else too, right?”
We go over my resume and (slightly exaggerated) experience before he drops the bomb and asks what I think of the script (don’t ask me why this is the bomb and not the fact that he asked my ethnicity and then demeaned it at the start of a job interview).
I tell him I think it’d be challenging to write a female through a male gaze. Paul’s mind is boggled.
“You think it doesn’t look like a woman’s perspective or….?”
I indicate to him,
“Well, I mean it’s not, right? Ultimately.”
“There Are tons of female characters in this.”
I explain that this is true, but the male characters always have the last word. And the leading man behaves terribly toward the women.
“Oh it’s fine though, he’s supposed to be a pig. All the characters refer to him as one.”
“Exactly, they write it off, he’s not responsible for anything. Same with all those racist remarks, no one ever undercuts them……and the no sex thing.”
If I failed to mention before, the entire premise of this thing is that this woman refuses to just ya know live life and get laid. Her husband’s been dead for an entire four months, after all. She slowly starts to go insane, grow old, and her limbs fall off. Like over the course of several months. But if she would just have sex, everything would fall into place for her, and she’d be this sex-positive, neofeminist, which I don’t even know if that’s a thing.
UPDATE: It is, but this protagonist does NOT embody that ideology.
Oh. and her “dangerous, sexually adventurous, “seductress-in-the-making” fifteen year-old niece moves in with her and keeps “snagging” all her would-be possibilities.. While the woman’s limbs fall off. I take issue with the calling a child sexually adventurous part.
“You’re reading it wrong. I think you’re going into it with a certain notion looking for something-”
“I’m just interpreting what I see on the page, I know how to read a script-”
“Whoa, didn’t say you can’t. But that’s just one little phrase we’re talking about. Two words.”
“Yes, surrounded by other words…in the context of all the other things-”
”Okay, calm down, don’t get all pissed.”
Mind you I’m not yelling or anything, my tone is deliberately measured while I stifle my anger with everything I’ve got. We continue back and forth until I blurt out:
“Because it’s bad writing! All the characters are based on abstractions, none of these women ever know what to say. Every scene ends with one of them standing there slack-jawed without a retort or a thought in her brain. Because YOU don’t have a retort. You don’t have a thought in your brain, so you shut us up, lock us in your cage of silence, and make us your pretty little playthings. I am not your plaything.”
You’d think that the guy would end the meeting there, but for some God-awful reason it continues for several more minutes with discussions of availability and hours (I need to have all of them open). It’s grating.
THEN I get an email from a PA that afternoon thanking me, saying that Paul thought we got off to a “kinda intense but actually dynamic start, and I seem “sharp and passionate.” He’s offering me the job.
And while I know that there are plenty of people who would love the opportunity for this kind of gig, I can’t stand the thought of taking notes and typing scripts for that guy.
So I’ve just sent a polite email declining and written this post instead.
I’m simply going to have to do my own thing as my motherhood, principles, and ego dictate. Not focus my energies on work I couldn’t even stand to sit and watch, while I miss my child terribly and battle guilt stemming from an antiquated (but not altogether wrong) view of motherhood. Because there has to be a way for me to combine all these things and balance my roles.
Because I can’t just shut the fuck up.