"I love it when a plan comes together"
My sister and I said those words at least a thousand times growing up. It was our catchphrase. It was what Hannibal said every week on The A-Team. The perfect words for so many situations.
Shortly after joining the WGA (the union representing screenwriters), I produced an event featuring the best writers in the business. My favorite guest was Stephen J. Cannell, creator of dozens of classic television shows, including The A-Team. He was charming and insightful and so generous with his wisdom, and he ran the room like a master class in television. An absolute gem of a man.
Stephen also created The Rockford Files, which was the one thing I remember about my dad before he left -- we used to watch Jim Rockford solve cases together every week. I was six, and never quite understood the stories, but it was still a regular ritual, curling up on the couch with him to watch, and I will always associate that show with the happiest moments of my childhood.
Some years later, I ran into Stephen and we got to talking about that and the power of writing in general, when he casually, said, "It's funny, at least once a week I still hear someone say, 'I love it when a plan comes together.'"
Okay, the Rockford connection was one thing, but on hearing this, I turned into a complete babbling idiot.
"Oh my God, you wrote that!"
How had I not realized it before? I suddenly felt inexplicably indebted to this man. He smiled and thanked me, and I thanked him back. It wasn't long after that that Stephen passed away, and I'll be forever grateful for having had the chance to tell him what a difference he made in my life.
Writing matters. Maybe that's the reason I'm a writer today. Or maybe I'm just lazy and this is a lot more fun than practicing law was, but I'd like to think it's more than that.
When I was in middle school, on an episode of Gimme a Break, Nell got a visit from a childhood friend who had become quite successful. While the daughters are meeting her, Samantha asks, "Is that a Phi Beta Kappa pin?" and is highly impressed. I think I was 12 at the time, and had never heard of Phi Beta Kappa, but for some reason, that line stuck with me.
A few years later, when Alex P. Keaton rattled off among his goals, "Being the youngest person ever inducted into Phi Beta Kappa," I perked up again. Still no idea what this Phi Beta Kappa thing was, but it clearly mattered. Two of the smartest characters on TV seemed to care about it a lot.
In my freshman orientation packet at Trinity U. was a flyer describing the requirements of membership in Phi Beta Kappa. If it weren't for the writers of Gimme a Break and Family Ties, I would've crumpled it up and thrown it away. Instead I taped it to the wall above my desk, and moved forward with a singular goal. I didn't care about grades, but I was going to make Phi Beta Kappa, dammit, because someone on TV told me it mattered.
Does that seem stupid? It's not. How many lives have been saved because an episode of Gray's Anatomy was about the exact problem some viewer wasn't planning to get checked out? How many women behaved with a little more situational awareness after watching Law & Order SVU? How many gay teens struggling through high school are inspired by a healthy, happy couple on Modern Family?
What is written for mass consumption matters, as much as anything ever penned by Shakespeare or Hemingway. And now, more and more of us have access to the public stage. We don't just consume entertainment, we participate in it, through blogs and forums and comments sections. We toss things off without thinking about what they might do, who they might affect, how they might change the world -- either by uplifting it or tearing it down. In Same Love, Macklemore talks about the effect of YouTube comments, and reminds us to be more vigilant in what we create with our words.
I'm sure the writers of Gimme a Break had no idea that including the line, "Is that a Phi Beta Kappa pin?" might change someone's life, but it did, and that outcome should be on all our minds when we write, when we post, when we produce.
Last year, an article I wrote for The Huffington Post suggested throwing "college showers" for kids embarking on higher education, to publicly celebrate this achievement. Somehow, that planted a seed, and the idea of a college shower took on a life of its own, and now maybe, just maybe, some little girl attending one, or seeing a story on the news, or watching a reality show about spectacular college showers could make that her goal, even if she's from a community where virtually no one goes to college and it is rarely celebrated.
There's no way of knowing if this will be the outcome, but it's possible. And that could be the girl who cures cancer, or lands on Mars, or is the first female president (although we'd better have one long before then!) It's both humbling and awesome, and it makes me think really hard about what kind of words I want to put out there -- to influence, to incite, to inspire.
I write about happiness. I write about female empowerment. I write about equality and I write about love, because I want to leave the world a better place than when I arrived, and as it turns out, the words I write can do that. So thank you, to all the writers who have come before me and all the ones who will follow (especially in the comments on this site). Your words have power, so please choose wisely. Together, we are changing the dialogue, and in that way, changing the world, more than any guns or governments ever could. That's why we write.
"I love it when a plan comes together."
Valerie Alexander is a screenwriter, director, Huffington Post blogger and the author of "Happiness as a Second Language," a Happiness #1 Seller on Amazon. She has written, directed and produced 44 commercials and PSAs supporting Marriage Equality, including the acclaimed video, "Say I Do." For more of Valerie's work, please visit Speak Happiness.com, and follow Speak Happiness on Facebook and Twitter.
For more by Valerie Alexander on Huffington Post, click here.