Thursday, March 18, 2010

Making a Difference the Only Way I Know How...

When I was in kindergarten, my teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said a cop*. I always believed that what you say you want when you’re young are the things you should end up going after when you finally do grow up. Not that you should eat candy for breakfast everyday or eat the snow scooped off cars or anything. And not that I have done either of those things...well, not often anyway. But when you’re a kid, you’re unencumbered; you haven’t yet learned to be “aware” of about what others are thinking or saying or judging you. You are free to just say what you really want, and that can be quite liberating.

*Obviously I am not the one pictured over to the right!

Now before you begin judging me for not practicing what I preach, let me offer the disclaimer that I am pretty sure I liked the idea of being a cop mostly because “The Babysitter’s Club Mystery” was my favorite of all of their series, and I basically saw crimes just as big “mysteries” for me to solve.

I “borrowed” a compact from my mother’s old makeup bag in order to make my very own Turtle Communicator for my very own Lil’ Crime Stoppers Club. The sad thing was, not only were April, Splinter, nor my favorite Donatello (let alone any of the Turtles!), on the other end, but since I ran with a crowd who was more into painting their nails and playing Mall Madness on endless Friday nights, no one else carried one around in her backpack. So I took to Scotch taping photographs on that little round mirror part and “playing pretend.” Or maybe in some weird little way I was inventing the cell phone without even realizing it…

As I grew, so did my interest in police work, but mostly because it was all I saw every time I turned on the television. Law & Order, which I found too dry for my taste, was granted a much flashier spin-off (and then later a second one), only to be followed by show after show that tried to “one-up” the one before it with prettier people and grittier streets. At least the latter was something to which I could relate, and the former—well, that gave me something to look forward to when I enrolled in the academy! Hell, if the guys in my chemistry and physics labs looked like George Eads or Gary Dourdan, I would have been much more eager to show up and succeed…it really does always come back to giving the kid candy as a motivator, and as I got older, the kind I was most interested in was eye.

More than any of the silly, sentimental sitcoms I gravitated towards in the past, I got into Profiler not for the gift Ally Walker appeared to have but how she fearlessly went toe-to-toe with hard-nosed criminals and other agents. I was intrigued by the gimmicks and fancy tools of C.S.I., but I stuck around to root for Marg Helgenberger who was the quintessential beaten woman who took control of her own life and screamed that she would be a victor, not a victim. The same was more than true for SVU’s own Mariska Hargitay: none of these women suffered from the teary-eyed syndrome that seemed to be born with Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs. Though she was seemingly a tough chick, her voice would waiver and crack, and her eyes would mist over whenever she was placed in a tough position. Expected and overlooked, perhaps, with a rookie, but definitely not okay in order to eliminate stereotypes. All of the shows I studied featured strong, smart, successful women in the middle of what was once assumed to be a man’s world. They pulled their leather boots up tight (though they may have been stiletto boots) and kicked the doors in just as hard as any guy. I yearned to break down such barriers, too!

Instead, though, I just wrote about them. In my senior year of high school-- a college preparatory magnet school-- we were given the somewhat daunting task of creating a senior thesis as our English class term paper. I was never one for research papers, and since I was enrolled in two English electives that year, I was actually going to have to produce two unique and distinct thesises (thesii?). Being the lazy but creative student that I was, I figured that instead of investing hours upon hours a day to tackle two fifteen to twenty page papers on topics that I would probably no longer hold an interest in (if I had one to begin with) when they were all said and done, it would be much more fun (and beneficial for me in the long term) to write feature length film script. It was just lucky for me that one such elective happened to be existentialism so I could submit a law enforcement script (one I had already written a few months earlier, I might add) that played with the definition of true justice. At the center was a serial killer who was “offing” young girls who happened to be infected with HIV. About a third of the way into the script, the lead detective on the case (as well as the lead character in the story) comes across a victim who doesn’t fit the usual M.O.—a pubescent boy—and he is faced with the ethical dilemma of whether or not to pin all of the murders on this copycat killer. Naturally, this sends him on an emotional rollercoaster of uncertainty in his “absurd world.”

The script, which when I re-read it today seems better suited as a Law & Order spec than a feature that can stand on its own, was a stretch for this class—and this school in general, which was not known for being super friendly to the arts. I was convinced my teacher would see through me and know I was really just trying to avoid having to go to the library, where I hadn’t stepped foot since the third grade (literally). When she came up to my desk before class the next day, holding the block of papers suspiciously devoid of any red markings in her hand, my stomach dropped. It wasn’t a suitable assignment, and now I was going to have to start over and work for a change. But my teacher broke out in a smile just as I was breaking out in a sweat, and she gushed that she “couldn’t put it down.” She dropped the script on my desk, where I just watched it land with a dull thud. She kept talking about what she loved about it, and how she could actually “see everything happening in front of her as [she] read.” Apparently, mine was the only project she read that night because of how engrossed she was in it. Her voice was cloudy and distant, though, over the heartbeat in my own ears. I flipped to the back of the script where the only red writing was a single letter: A. For someone who had pretty much kept her writing just for herself until this point, and never let anyone peek inside her private notebooks or Microsoft Word documents, this was exactly the kind of validation I had been looking for. But obviously I had been looking in all of the wrong places because the characters on my television couldn’t talk back to me and tell me all I wanted (and perhaps, needed) to hear.

Now I drive down major avenues in Los Angeles, seeing huge billboards that advertise starting salaries with the L.A.P.D at over $60,000, but I don't wonder what happened to the little girl with brass balls who would have dialed that 800 number in a heartbeat. She is risking her sanity in another just as unstable profession!

No comments: