In the end, it was Shonda Rhimes’ fault.
I had been meaning to read her book Year of Yes for ages, but could never quite get around to it. But then, my mom died, I started publishing my writing again, and I finally got around to picking up that book and cracking it open during a period of self-discovery.
Shonda was just like me.
I was a weird kid. I didn’t want fancy toys or the latest video game. I wanted a fresh notebook and a set of colored pencils. I wanted to lay on the floor and write stories about Power Rangers, horses, and princesses. I had no interest in playing in the dirt with my cousins.
And I built worlds. I made magic happen under the piano at Grandma’s. There was a clump of cedar trees across the road from my house that could be a castle, a spaceship, and a weather station, all in the same day. My imagination ran wild. It sometimes got me in trouble (third grade was especially rough). But it just wouldn’t turn off. Ever.
Imagine my third grade teacher’s surprise when she stopped by my computer during a typing lesson to see how I was doing on a basic sentence, only to find I had typed out my own telling of Aladdin in its entirety. I didn’t need typing class, you see. I had begged my parents for a typewriter and they had finally broken down and purchased a secondhand one after one too many instances of me sneaking goes at theirs. You would have thought Mrs. Webb would have been impressed, but I spent recess inside that day and went home with yet another note about daydreaming during class.
Shonda made up worlds too. Hers existed in the pantry with cans of food as her characters. Reading her words about those memories was the first time I had ever encountered someone who was like me – someone who didn’t just have an active imagination, but took it farther than the average kid.
On page 80 of her book, she says this:
I read an article in the New York Times that said it was harder to get into USC film school than it was to get into Harvard Law School. I could dream about being Toni Morrison. Or I could go do.
So I decided I would go do that – I would apply to USC film school too.
For those of you who may not know Shonda Rhimes, she is woman behind shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder. I would be you have watched at least one of those at some point. She turned her worlds into some of our favorite characters.
In truth, the idea to become a TV writer had been building for a while. I have published a lot of fan fiction over the years. I have written several manuscripts and almost always thought ‘this would be better on TV.’ I have also left them festering away on my laptop, but that’s a subject for another day. I had causally googled ‘MFA programs’ and even started the application to UVA’s Creative Writing program a few years earlier, but something held me back.
You know, my own fear.
But then I read those words in Shonda’s book. I googled ‘USC film school’ and I got to work on my application. I thought “best apply to a few other schools too, just in case.” USC is highly competitive after all, and I had no experience. For four months, I worked on applications to USC, AFI, Chapman, and LMU in the early morning hours before my 9-5 job and the late evenings once I was home from a long day of work, coaching gymnastics, and training for whatever weightlifting meet was on the horizon.
And I was steadily publishing fanfiction. People were reading it. They wanted more. I loved writing it. So I slept very little, wrote a lot, and figured I didn’t have a chance in hell in getting into any one of these schools. I had never written a script before. I certainly didn’t have a portfolio of projects. I bought a book, watched some YouTube videos, listened to podcasts at work, and read a few scripts to learn how to format one. I wrote my pages, polished my resume, and penned my personal statements, hoping they would like me.
I submitted my applications in early December and forgot about it. I wouldn’t know for months anyway and one does not apply to the top film schools in the country with no experience and get in. This was a pipe dream, at best.
February rolled around. I got interview requests from AFI and Chapman. I did them, thought they went well, and went back to forgetting about it all. USC doesn’t do interviews and as for LMU, well, I struggled with that application. They were never going to call me.
March rolled around.
I got into USC. My dream school. I found out at 6:30 in the morning.
Two weeks later, I got accepted to AFI and Chapman. On the same day. The same day my office closed down for “two or three weeks while we get that Coronavirus thing under control.”
Fitting that was Friday the 13th, no?
I was dumbstruck.
This was actually happening.
In December, I was “USC or bust!” I had only told a very small number of people about my applications, but they knew what I knew: USC was IT. I was going to be a USC gal, just like Shonda.
But I really liked AFI. The interview really sold me on them.
Insert several weeks of a Sophie’s Choice scenario.
I committed to USC on April 15th with a $300 deposit. It was my dream school after all, and more television oriented than AFI.
LMU emailed that same day, almost at the same time I submitted my deposit to secure my spot at USC. They wanted to interview me.
Hi, I’m Sarah. I’m an Enneagram 3. I thrive on achievement and gold stars. I figured “it wouldn’t hurt to see if I get in, even though I’m going to USC.” And I really love a good moment of kismet.
I interviewed two days later. They accepted me that evening.
Somehow, the girl from podunk Virginia with nary a script to her name got into four of the top film schools in the country.
I’m now a first year grad student in the Writing and Producing for Television program at Loyola Marymount University.
That’s right – LMU.
Sophie’s Choice got a sequel and in the end, I trusted my gut, ate my USC deposit, and found myself at LMU. It was the right choice. I will share more about that in another post. Because here’s the real point of this:
I’m moving to Los Angeles.
Two-and-a-half years ago, when my brother was preparing to move to L.A., I said, out loud, “I could never live in Los Angeles.”
As they say, if you want to see God laugh, tell him your plans.
The initial plan was to move this past July. Enter: a worldwide pandemic. I quickly realized moving was going to be difficult. When school announced we would be remote, I checked in with my gut (you know me and my intuition) and decided to stay put in Chapel Hill for the remainder of the year. Since August, I have been working full-time and going to school from 7-10pm three days a week. Is it a lot? It can be. But I honestly love it and it doesn’t feel like work to me.
When the time came to make decisions for spring semester, I did another gut check. This time, moving feels like the right thing to do. It feels big and scary and at times a bit reckless, but I’m leaning into the fact that fear is generally a good sign that you are on the right track.
I flew out to visit and tour a few apartments last month. While there, I kept waiting for a big “aha!” moment, a moment that told me “this is it, move here.” I felt comfortable in L.A., maybe even a little bit like I was at home. It was so good to see my brother, good to see the places I had been Googling for the last year, that I have photos of on my vision board. But there still wasn’t this big MOMENT that said “move.”
I had a layover in Charlotte on my way back to Chapel Hill. Sitting in the Charlotte airport with my Starbucks spinach and feta wrap and pumpkin cold brew, I was – sad. The idea of returning to Chapel Hill took the wind out of my sails. I wanted to go home, get my pup, and head right back to Los Angeles. That’s when I knew I was making the right decision to move across the country.
Two weeks ago, I signed the lease on my new apartment. I told my boss I was moving and then delivered the news to my co-workers. Fortunately, I’ll be staying on as a contractor, a major blessing as I love my co-workers and I cried when telling my boss my news.
And so, I’m moving to Los Angeles.
Create television, be a showrunner.
I will be moving out of my Chapel Hill apartment in about a month. I decided to sell all of my furniture and do a deep purge. If it doesn’t fit in my car, it doesn’t go. It’s a win-win: I’m bored of my current furniture and I can re-furnish my apartment for roughly the same price it would cost to ship my things. I will send a couple of weeks or so at my dad’s in Virginia before my brother, dog, and I take off on a cross-country road trip. It will be well documented on Instagram.
This might seem wild or irresponsible to some of you. And honestly, it kind of is. But life bends for the courageous and so I’m going to lean into this gut instinct and see what happens. Fall down the metaphorical rabbit hole.
Shonda (and a vivid imagination that still won’t quit) made me do it.