Who I Am as Told by Fictional People
The other day I received a challenge: a fellow writer, Shannon Ashley, nominated me to tell my life story through the lens of fictional characters.
Given that I went to film school and spent over a decade working in Hollywood, it was fun to pull this list together. That said, I have a feeling I’ll continue to edit it in my head (“oh, I should have included [character name]…”) for weeks. But, for now, here are five fictional ladies who represent some aspect of my life or personality.
Allison, The Breakfast Club
“We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it.”
I was bullied extensively as a teen. Like Allison, I wasn’t cool, never had the right clothes, and didn’t aspire to join the cheerleading squad. Yes, I wanted friends, but I wanted them on my own terms.
I wore what felt comfortable, usually jeans and a giant black sweater three sizes too big. My long hair, reaching down to my butt, could have used some styling, but I didn’t see the point; I liked it fine, and if it got in my face, I’d simply pull it up into a ponytail.
I wasn’t willing to dress the part of girly high school princess — in fact, I would have looked ridiculous if I tried. I had chronic acne, wore glasses, and was underweight. On top of that, I was painfully awkward and shy, and avoided parties, dances, and other social events that would require me to be around large groups of people.
As a result, I was an outcast and had plenty of cruel comments hurled my way.
“Disgusting.” “Freak.” “Weirdo.” And, most common, “Ugly.”
I was shunned by the supposed “cool kids” and made to feel less-than. Which is why I so closely identified with The Breakfast Club’s Allison. I never went as far as she did; I wasn’t a pathological liar, didn’t go to detention for the fun of it, and never dated a high school jock. But I understood how it felt to be alienated for being different.
If I can say one thing about my teenage self, it’s that I never changed who I was to fit another’s idea of who I should be. I stayed true to myself, something I think Allison would have approved.
Veronica Sawyer, Heathers
Veronica: “I can’t believe this is my life. Oh my God, I’m gonna have to send my SAT scores to San Quentin instead of Stanford.”
J.D.: “Well, at least you got what you wanted, you know?”
Veronica: “Got what I wanted? It’s one thing to want somebody out of your life. It is another thing to serve them a wake-up cup full of liquid drainer.”
OK, so I never offed my best friends or watched my boyfriend blow himself up (spoiler!), but I did watch Heathers on daily repeat for about three years after it was released on VHS. (Look it up, kids.)
This movie had everything: Murder! Comedy! Amazing dialogue! A super hot Christian Slater!
It was also around this time that I began hearing I resembled Winona Ryder, furthering my love for the film. I mean, if you’re going to look like a Heather, may as well have it be the one who survives and thrives at the end.
Years later, while employed at the American Film Institute, I worked an event attended by Slater. As I walked past him he extended his hand and said, “Hey, how’s it going?” I shook it and replied, “Hi. I’m a big fan.” I kept my cool. I was casual. The consummate professional.
Immediately after, I rushed into the break-room, jumped up and down, and squealed, “I just shook Christian Slater’s hand!!” My coworkers didn’t quite understand my reaction, but they also couldn’t quote entire passages of Heathers verbatim nearly three decades after its release, so whatevs.
Just trust me. It was very.
Miranda, Sex and the City
Miranda opens the door to find Steve kneeling, ring in hand.
Miranda: “What are you fucking crazy?”
Steve: “That’s your answer?”
Oh, Sex and the City. This show was everything to me in my twenties. Every Sunday night, my best friend came over to my apartment to watch the latest episode on HBO. We saw ourselves in the characters; she was sweet Charlotte, and I was bitchy, sarcastic Miranda.
I loved Miranda Hobbes. Though I had no interest in being a lawyer and I never looked all that great in pant suits, I completely identified with her outlook on life. Without Miranda’s so-true-it-hurts blunt viewpoint, Sex and the City wouldn’t have been all that enjoyable to me.
Miranda rolled her eyes at Charlotte’s naïveté, openly judged Carrie’s terrible life choices, and made wisecracks about Samantha’s never-ending sexual conquests. Yet all the while, the viewers — and characters — knew that if anyone fucked with her friends, Miranda would pounce on them like a mama bear protecting her cubs.
To that, I can most certainly relate.
Laura, Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist
Laura [chuckling, looking at ticket stub]: “We don’t have valet. This is a laundry ticket.”
Patient: “What are you saying?”
Laura: “I’m saying this is a laundry ticket. I’m saying that you seem to have given someone your car for a laundry ticket.”
Patient: “I don’t see the humor in that.”
Laura: “Well, it’s very subtle.”
As sarcastic as she was, Miranda would have easily been outdone by Laura, the sardonic secretary to therapist Dr. Katz. This was another series my best friend and I obsessed over in the ’90s. I particularly loved Laura, who could cut down anyone with a simple look, blink, and sigh.
Eventually, I’d find myself in Laura’s chair: in 2000, I became Personal Assistant to the real Jonathan Katz, creator, producer, writer, and star of Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist.
Like Laura, I sat in the front office, greeting Jonathan’s visitors and answering his calls. Unlike Laura, I wasn’t quite as blunt with the guests since, you know, I wanted to get paid.
I learned a lot during my 12 months as Jonathan’s assistant:
Lunch with Bob Saget and John Stamos is a fun way to spend a couple hours.
Being a personal (rather than executive) assistant is an entirely different ballgame. (I was not particularly good at being on-call 24/7.)
Jonathan is a rare breed: a celebrity who would rather spend a quiet evening at home with his family than hobnob with folks in the biz.
(I still remember the time we skipped a celebrity-studded party in NYC so he could make it back in time to put his kids to bed. Twenty-something me was furious, though forty-something me totally gets it.)
I had a lot of fun working for the real Dr. Katz (who isn’t actually a doctor), and none of it would have happened had I not fallen in love with a squiggly, redheaded, derisive lady named Laura.
Andy, Devil Wears Prada
Miranda Priestly: “I need 10 or 15 skirts from Calvin Klein.”
Andy: “What kind of skirts?”
Miranda: “Please bore someone else with your questions.”
When I was 28, I moved from Boston to L.A. with whatever would fit into my Hyundai. Like Andy from The Devil Wears Prada, I was going to make my dreams come true!
I found an apartment in a seedy section of North Hollywood, slept on a borrowed air mattress (which quickly deflated, leaving me sleeping on a sheet of plastic on the floor), and ate meals sitting on the living room rug with a paper plate on my lap because I couldn’t afford furniture. It was good times.
About six weeks after I arrived in La La Land, I was hired as an executive assistant to the head of an animation production studio. Like Andy, I was thrilled. I was going to work for a reputable company! I was going to make new friends! I was going to get paid!
Also, like Andy, I had no idea what I was in for.
My boss, who I’ll call Tom, was one of the most miserable human beings I’ve ever encountered. As his assistant, I was to answer his calls, manage his schedule, and maintain his day-to-day business affairs. Unfortunately, I had to do so from five feet away; my desk was in Tom’s office, right in his line of vision.
If I was away from my desk too long, I was questioned about my whereabouts. If I was on the phone, Tom would flail his arms around and make faces at me, mouthing, “Who are you talking to? Who is that?”
Throughout the day, he barked orders at me, annoyed by my ridiculous follow-up questions. Our conversations would go along the lines of:
Tom: “Get me a plane ticket to Sundance. Aisle seat, coach, but near the front of the plane. And book a one-bedroom condo for the festival. Something in the heart of town. I don’t want to rely on the shuttle bus. They take forever and it’s freezing there.”
Me: “But…Sundance is one of the most popular festivals in the world. And it starts in 8 days.”
Tom: *audible annoyed sigh* “Just do what I asked.”
My day was supposed to end at 6 p.m., but Tom informed me that I was to request his permission before leaving. One night I waited until nearly 7:30, thinking he was in a meeting, only to find that the meeting had ended early and he’d gone home without telling me.
On more than one occasion he yelled at me in front of coworkers, accusing me of lying to cover up mistakes he said I’d made. Later, he would admit that someone else had made the mistakes, though never once did he apologize for using me as a verbal punching bag.
When I gave notice, 20 months into the job, he interrupted me, yelling, “This is not a good time for me!” Then he stood up, stormed out of the room, and loudly announced to my colleagues, “I need a new assistant. Sandy just quit.”
He spent my final two weeks alternating between mocking my new job at a not-for-profit (“Sandy thinks she’s going to change the world”) and telling — not asking — me to extend my notice. (“The date you gave really doesn’t work for me, so if you could stay an extra few weeks that would be great.”)
I didn’t stay the extra few weeks.
Five months after I left, I received an email from Tom, begging me to return. I wasn’t sure what to say, so I didn’t respond. A few years later I tried to connect with him on LinkedIn — I figured his email showed he appreciated my work, and although we’d never be friends, we could at least be respectful former colleagues. He declined my connection, stating “I don’t know this person.”
Tom never wore Prada, but he sure was my Miranda Priestly.