I recently returned from a three week trip to Europe. I hadn’t been back in over a year so was due some quality time with friends and family. I also needed a few days away from my laptop as my brain had turned to mush after two years of writing without a break
Condensed to the size of a matchbox in my economy seat on the flight back to LA, I realised just how emotionally challenging reinventing your life can be.
I set out three years ago to re-invigorate my writing career and follow my dream of selling a script in Hollywood. I left behind everything and everyone I knew to start over. I was 38-years-old not 20. There’s a big difference. At 20, you can fall flat on your face and no-one cares. It doesn’t hurt because you’re made of rubber and optimism, and what the hell else do you do at 20 anyway?
At nearly 40, big changes, no matter how desired come coated in sugar and poison. Those three years have seen enormous highs and desperate lows. I tend not to write about the lows so much because the one time I mooted I should give it all up, I was tsunami-d by emails and phone calls from concerned friends and family, all wanting assurances I wasn’t about to jump off a cliff.
I wasn’t. But the point is this; times get hard and when you’re 6,000 miles away from the people who know you the best, sometimes you can feel very alone indeed.
I’m a journalist by trade but out here I am transitioning into a scriptwriter. Right now I find myself caught between two worlds. I have my foot in one camp while I bash my head on the firmly bolted (yet thankfully yielding) door that I hope will lead to the career I dream about.
Let’s have a moment for that word: dream. When you get past 40, you still secretly believe that all the things you’ve been working towards will happen but you know that realistically there’s a chance they might not. The clock is ticking. Tick tock. Tick tock. Dreams become a sanguine hope but that’s ok, the important thing is to still have them. At least, that’s what I tell myself.
LA is my new home. I live fifteen minutes drive from the Hollywood sign, have adopted a cat called Lola and sip coffee on my deck. I don’t need to consult a map before I leave the house. I have a pilates teacher, a dentist, doctor and a driving licence. I’m no longer scared of the freeways. I eat tamales for breakfast when I go to the farmer’s market. I have a boyfriend and lots of new friends. I’m lucky – this is a tough town for both – but this is the thing, they know me as the English girl who writes. But that’s all they really know.
They don’t know about my back surgery, my incarnation as a Tenerife tour guide, the party years in London working on pop mags, my stint as an editor on a national newspaper, my lovely flat in Crouch End, Puss the cat, the ex-boyfriends, the ￡5 curry night with the girls, the TTC, the night I got on stage with Lenny Beige, my tentative steps into the world of stand-up comedy, holidays in Gozo, the excitement when Chris Evans bought my movie and everything else that makes up my past. Their point of reference for me is 2007 onwards.
That’s fine but I have to confess that it was nectar for the soul to spend time with the people who’ve known me – really known me – for years. The ones who sat with me in Geography class and laughed at Mrs Chandler’s facial hair as she droned on about ox-bow lakes. The girls who were at that Virgin party the night I was mistaken for Geri Halliwell. The friends who gently washed and blow-dried my hair when I was bed-bound for five months after my spinal surgery.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that I’ve changed my life but deep down I was worried that my old friends might have forgotten me. This trip made me realise that they haven’t – and that realisation has given me the strength to work even harder towards my lofty goals.
I’ve reinvented myself, not disappeared.
And more importantly, I can see that the string of wool I’ve unwound behind me as I continue this journey, will always lead me back to the ones I love. Old, and new.