When I was an MFA student at GMU I remember a professor once told my class that if he ran into one of us years in the future and asked about our “work”, he’d expect to hear about our writing, not the job we had at the time to pay the bills.
That comment occurred to me this weekend as I was both an employee and attendee of the Virginia Film Festival. An event that, in many ways, was 13 years in the making. In 2009, when I first attended VAFF, ecstatic to meet Alan Ball, asking him sign my “Six Feet Under” book and telling him the show saved my marriage because it gave us something to share together, I could have never imagined I’d end up being a seasonal employee and have the opportunity to meet another screenwriter, Meg LeFauve, who would inspire and encourage me to tell my stories.
Before experiencing the magic of these five days in November, I had endured 100+ interviews and even more rejections from the countless other jobs I applied for but never advanced past the resume slush pile. I survived two years without permanent full-time employment (except for a three month position that ended with getting fired for the first time in over 27 years) and two years without resolution to a complaint I filed with the Virginia Department of Health Professions against a psychologist I saw over 1,000 times. It’ll take time for me to adequately describe how all of these things are intricately connected, but suffice it to say, it’s about facing shame and regret, needing validation, exploring vulnerability, quantifying worth, defining failure or success, seeking approval, wanting acceptance, and establishing connection. The journey from “I’ll pass” to “We’d like to make an offer.”
This weekend I also recalled the advice from a coach who had said to runners training for a long distance race that the marathon should be a celebration for all the miles it took to get to the starting line. For so many runners it’s the hours on the roads, in solitude or with friends, that brings meaning to the sport, not the actual race. But when you earn the PR you’ve been striving for or finally get to the finish line in a race you’ve been struggling through, the completion of that goal is a feeling of joy and accomplishment that is like no other.
There were so many meaningful and life-changing moments during the festival that as I write this now I don’t even think I’m ready to share all of them just yet. Maybe I can just start with a few of my favorite photos.
I cackled. I cried. I danced. I panicked. I felt awkward. I felt pride. I was alone. I was with friends, new and old. And, most importantly, I shared experiences with my daughter and with my twin.
So I’ve found meaning in all the pain I’ve experienced over the past two years and the memories from this festival are like race medals I’ll cherish forever.