By any measure, 2009 was a horrible year for 47-year-old freelance writer Susan Hanson of Seattle, Washington. First the recession cut her income by two-thirds. Then she and her boyfriend split. Then her dog died. Then finally, she was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease called multiple sclerosis.
"It was just one thing after another," she says. "I felt the full spectrum of emotions: fear, anger, anxiety, depression, questions of 'Why Me?'."
After all, Hanson had spent more than 20 years as a highly-successful marketing writer. She had been commanding a six-figure salary and living alone in a comfortable house in one of Seattle's upscale neighborhoods.
But after last year's misfortune she had to downsize to a small condo, file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and drastically change her diet (Hanson is now nearly free of MS-related symptoms). She also had to adapt to a very uncertain future.
"Everything that happened last year gave me a chance to re-evaluate what was important in my life, and what I really desired to do," she says. With her freelance marketing work drying up, Hanson finally had the courage to pursue her real dream, screenwriting.
"As soon as I declared to myself that I was really going to do it, the universe opened some doors," she says.
And in walked Spike Lee.
Hanson, a self-professed Lakers fan, met the director at the Seattle International Film Festival in May 2009. She recalls, "He'd just released Kobe Doin' Work and, being an NBA fan, I used it as my way in. He looked at me and just said, "Oh yeah? What was your favorite part?" I immediately told him it was when Kobe was on the bench talking to Sasha Vujacic in Italian. He realized that I was a true fan, and we chatted basketball for a bit."
Then she asked if he would read a screenplay she had just begun: a Western biopic about a black U.S. marshal, Bass Reeves. Lee agreed.
"[His] positive response kept me motivated to follow through and finish it," Hanson recalls. Nearly a year later she finished the script and contacted Lee again. Unfortunately, he was fully engaged with the Katrina follow-up documentary, If God Is Willin' and Da Creek Don't Rise, but the opportunity led Hanson to another expert on black cowboys with whom she is currently revising the script.
"When the revision is complete, it's going to Mr. Lee's agent first, trust me," Hanson says. "I also received some other very positive responses to queries I sent out this summer."
These days she is living paycheck to paycheck on her marketing freelance income while pursuing screenwriting, but claims she is "so much happier, so much more fulfilled than when I had all that material wealth."
She knows that not everyone is fortunate enough to meet their Spike Lee-like motivation, but encourages victims of the recession to keep their chin up. "Trust that there is a reason you're going through what you're going through. If you can find some strength through it all, you will overcome those fears and doubts."
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