Up until the time I entered middle school, that murderer of illusions, I believed in spirits of the air, sea and earth. My family home was a rocky plot on a lagoon, so all three categories were at hand. The stones were enchanted and had names. There was definitely a spirit in each tree: I visited them, making regular tours of the ones whose low branches let me climb them.
When I swam, I could feel the Nyads gliding all around me. The wind whispered in a secret language. Later, and not surprisingly, I was introduced to Greek myths and beliefs, which only confirmed my fantasies.
I've been a freelance writer since I was 21. Okay, I'll let you in on the math: that's 42 years of pushing the pen. I've only once (age 18) held a 9-to-5 job. Sometimes I was without work, but I kept writing anyway while the wheels turned, until opportunities arose again. I had a blind trust that it would all work out if I hung in there. And it did. Until two things happened.
1. The 2007 screenwriters strike resulted in movie companies scaling back projects and deals. After we won, we found the picture had changed. There was not enough work to go around. And things never got better -- they got worse, in fact, when the 2009 recession eliminated even more work.
2. I got old. Or older, anyway.
If there were fewer jobs to begin with, there were fewer still for older writers, and nearly none for older females. Suddenly I was on no one's list, in spite of the valiant efforts from my agent and manager. So I wrote a book ("Jane Was Here," a reincarnation mystery, published in June). And when that was done, there was still no work. I taught a master's class in screenwriting for a while. Then summer arrived, and I had nothing to do and no way to earn my keep.
So I put in for my pension. Oh my God, I thought, terrified: I'm only 62 and I'm retired! No one wants what I do. I might as well turn to mold in a hammock -- or even (withering sneer) learn to garden! That was the most demoralizing activity I could think of because it's what retirees do.
I went to a nursery and bought a couple of pots of coral-bells and ladies' mantle. I liked the names. I put them in the ground clumsily and watered the crap out of them. They forgave me and grew. Maybe because I talked to them.
I yapped to the trees, too, as I rescued them, cutting away villainous bittersweet vines. I did draw the line at talking to the lawn.
Yes, I was back to my child self, spending hour after hour in the outdoors, in the company of spirits, instead of alone in the house with my laptop. The planting and pruning wasn't too different from writing, I told myself, and then I stopped justifying gardening altogether. The natural world had me again. I did get a job, after all. It was so annoying, because it took me away from gardening and my magical friends.
Sarah Kernochan has won two Academy Awards for her documentaries "Marjoe" and "Thoth." As a screenwriter, she has written many films, among them "Nine and ½ Weeks," "Impromptu," and "What Lies Beneath;" she both wrote and directed the film "All I Wanna Do" as well. Her first novel, "Dry Hustle," was published in 1977 and reissued as an ebook in 2010. Her second novel, "Jane Was Here," was published in June 2011. She lives in New York with her husband, James Lapine, and their daughter, Phoebe. To find out more about Sarah and to read her blog, visit her on Red Room.
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