Back In The Day

Back in the day, I wrote a whole bunch of movies and TV show pilots. It’s a byproduct of being an actor; you spend your days reading script after script after script, and at some point you start thinking to yourself: “Dude. I could TOTALLY do this.” And so you pick up a copy of Final Draft and start tapping away on your keyboard, and sometimes what comes out is an extremely unfortunate (but not autobiographical at all, oh no no) tale of a girl who moves to Los Angeles to be an actress and ends up wildly disillusioned (oh yes; it was as bad as it sounds). And then sometimes you end up with is something that’s actually sort of…okay.

I’ve written a lot of stuff over the years, but I still think that one of my favorite things that I’ve ever written is a script that I wrote for a college course I took on the 1950s, and that was read by exactly two people: my professor and Kendrick (the latter only because he found a copy of it at some point and asked to read it). It’s a coming-of-age story (because that tends to be what people who are still coming of age themselves write), but it’s – shockingly, I know – not about me, which is a bit of an achievement in and of itself.

Something you learn very early on in Hollywood is that every script has to have a “log line” – a punchy, easily-digestible, 1-2 sentence explanation of what, exactly, the film is about (or what, exactly, you think will make people want to pay money for said film). So Armageddon, for example, could be “Die Hard meets Independence Day, with asteroids.” Pirahna 3D would be…well, actually in that case the title pretty much does the trick. My script, Meridian Planet, was The Wonder Years, but with a girl.

It was so much fun to write. Mostly because at that time in my life I was, for whatever reason, sort of consumed with the 1950s – that course that I wrote the script for was one of three courses that I ended up taking on the decade – and it was exciting to me to explore the things I’d been learning through the lens of fiction, trying to figure out the kinds of words that would come out of my character’s mouths when these words were being shaped by a culture that I had only imagined; never experienced. Something about how all that sweetness and surface simplicity hid a whole boatload of political and social upheaval…I guess I just found all that artifice fascinating. I loved that you could take virtually any little crumb of the ’50s – a skirt, a TV show, a salad – and peel away the layers to expose something very real about what was going on back then.

Every once in awhile, I’ll try to make a 1950s dish, because they just sound so neat. I mean, really: pickles wrapped in bacon and stabbed with toothpicks?! Amazing. Except the problem is that all these jello molds and tuna-pumpernickel kabobs…they usually don’t translate particularly well to the present day. They’re just kind of…well, they’re kind of gross. The other day, though, I was poking around on The Pioneer Woman’s site looking for a side dish to make for a little pool party we were hosting, and I found this pea/bacon/cheddar salad, and I happened to have all those ingredients sitting right there in my refrigerator, and so I made it. And then I made it twice more, and last night I made it again.

After we were done and the dishes were put away, I started thinking about 1950s food, which got me thinking about how I used to love the 1950s, which got me thinking about college and the books I used to read and the people and places and things I used to love. And so I poured myself a glass of wine and wandered into the garage and pulled out box after box until I found the box where I keep all my old papers – grade-school essays, letters to middle school boyfriends, contracts and documents and photos that I wanted to hold on to for whatever reason – and, tucked in the middle of a big pile of scripts, I found Meridian Planet. And I sat down right there on the concrete and read it from start to finish.

It wasn’t as wonderful as I’d remembered – it was a little trite in places, a little undeveloped, whatever – but it also wasn’t half bad. It was sweet. And simple. And also smart.

I guess it was just nice to remember that a long time ago I used to write for no especially big reason – not because I was being paid to do it; not because of an editor’s deadline; certainly not because I thought anyone would ever read my words – but just because I wanted to. Because I thought that there was something interesting in the world, and wanted to see what I could do with it. And it’s especially nice to remember that sometimes – not always, but sometimes – what I had to say was good. Not earth-shattering; not money-making; just good. Hard. Exciting. And worth it.

And that? Is kind of great.

pea cheddar bacon onion mayo salad

Retro Pea Salad (based on this recipe)

What You Need:

1 bag steam-in-bag peas

1/2 red onion, finely diced

2 oz block cheddar cheese, diced

4-5 strips bacon, cooked and chopped into pieces

2 heaping tbsp mayonnaise

2 heaping tbsp sour cream

Salt and pepper to taste

What You Do:

1. Steam peas in microwave for one minute (not according to package directions; you want them to be chilled and firm and hold their shape, not be all cooked and mushy).

2. Mix together peas and all remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Serve chilled.

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