Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Day In My Past Life at E!

Do you ever wish you could go back in time and re-live a day in your life? Not specifically to make different choices and change outcomes (although that could be nice), but just to go back and walk in your old shoes again because life was so interesting or so pleasant that you want to re-visit it.

In the small handful of years since I left the entertainment industry, I have not missed the lifestyle too much. It's been surprising, actually, how content I was to start a new career (or two) and live a calmer life with more personal time and less stress. But as more time passes and takes me further from how I used to define myself, I am slowly starting to think about my former lifestyle all over again. I am remembering the cheerful times from those fruitful years. I felt blessed every day to live that very life that I worked so hard to come by. I was mindful of all that was going well. And because much was going well, with great affection I remind myself of what a day-in-the-life was like back then.

Perhaps my favorite job in Hollywood was on the "E! True Hollywood Story". Not the most lucrative or most impressive job out of everything I did, but most certainly the absolute happiest one. I had been around the block a few times when I became a permanent employee at E! in July 2002. I was fond of a few different shows I worked on at E!, but something about "THS" felt like this was what I was meant to do in life. I was euphoric at the beginning of each new show we produced when I was handed a fat stack of research materials to read (no kidding, 2"-4" high, plus books). I loved sorting through everything, putting together timelines and lists of famous movies or TV clips or moments in the subject's life, lists of acquisitions to make, lists of people to interview, etc. Once an outline was nailed down, my mind was kept sharp and my negotiating skills were honed with the day-to-day details of bringing together a TV show that was only a concept in our minds and would become a tangible product for audiences to see at home. From A to Z, I was even exhilarated as I sat in the editing bays until 1 or 2am so many nights on so many shows. It was completely rewarding.

As if going each day to a job I loved wasn't enough, the details of my personal life were fairly pleasant, too. While I lived in the Fairfax District for my first 3 years of Los Angeles life (and suffered through the obnoxious overnight helicopters, as well as a 3:30am burglar in my bedroom), I moved to a warm, friendly, nicely maintained apartment building in Beverly Hills for the last 2 1/2 years. My neighbors were caring, my landlady was the best you could ask for, and who could argue with the public services of Beverly Hills? Imagine going to City Hall for something and actually receiving outstanding service from the people there! I worked and sometimes slaved like a dog to have good things and by this point I was living as pleasing a lifestyle as possible surrounded by (mostly) good people.

When I wasn't in editing sessions until the early hours of the morning, I was living a normal work schedule at E!, which was 9am-6pm for some departments and 9:30am-6:30pm for others. I remember the decadence of rolling out of bed at 8am or so, driving the entire 15 minute commute down Wilshire Boulevard (encountering many careless drivers along the way), which was lined with soaring palm trees on both sides to fully remind you that you were living in a seemingly-glorious place, and arriving at my desk between 9:15 and 9:30am. I was a workaholic and did not mind expending all of my energy on my job. I was motivated by every element of the work. And if you're really fortunate, you are motivated by the people you work side-by-side with. I had producers who worked just as hard as I did, even though they were my superiors and could get away with less. When I worked with people like that, I wanted to work even harder. When I worked with people who passed the buck or were remiss (at E!, at other production houses...), it added stress to my job. If they weren't living up to their responsibilities, it added to my already full plate.

To further heighten an "only in L.A." experience, the E! office building had a courtyard, waterfall feature and all, and numerous picnic tables and chairs for our use. We ate lunch outside at those tables. Translation: I could eat lunch outside in January and I did only because I could. I'm a girl from Pennsylvania. This was one of the most surreal things to me. And I told myself that to stay down-to-earth, I should never forget that feeling. This was a reminder of where I came from and how privileged I was to be where I was.

Once I left work in the evenings, I was basically completely drained. I managed to go to the gym a couple nights a week, I was paired up with a partner to learn Torah with once a week starting in 2003, I attended a Jewish class once in a while, and I began to make my own Shabbat dinners at home if I wasn't invited out to one already. I had few precious friends and countless acquaintances.

Religiously speaking, I came to L.A. a blank page as far as Judaism was concerned. During those 5 1/2 years, that page was imprinted with what turned out to be my Jewish identity. I learned history, ancient rituals that are still practiced today (over 3,000 years later), heard and spoke words of Torah for the first time in my life, and felt the acceptance and unconditional love of sisters and brothers I never knew existed. My career was completely fulfilling to me by then (less prestige, less pay, but I knew what the other choices were). Spiritually, I was not living up to my potential at all. I felt some of that and knew that was why I needed to continue surrounding myself with honest and well-intentioned people who could show me what was out there for Jews to learn about and practice in their own lives. I was getting closer all the time. I kept wanting more and was also reluctant to take on too much. I went from entirely assimilated and unaffiliated to being something like "Conservadox" and having a synagogue where I could call home.

I spent my whole childhood living for the future, for the day when I would be successful in the Hollywood entertainment industry. And I finally had what I wanted at the right company and at the right pace. I was challenged intellectually by my work in the office and by my explorations in cooking and entertaining at home. Yet I still felt an emptiness that I could not explain. What more could anyone want? What am I missing?

I would not know until I moved to New York City in 2005 and found Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Within literally 2-3 months of setting foot in KJ, I found 100% clarity and direction. You can never know if Torah Judaism is right for you until you stop finding excuses and devote the time to living in those shoes for a while. That's what I did and I found all my personal and spiritual fulfillment. I even found that my professional identity, so wrapped up in the entertainment industry until then, was not as necessary as oxygen to me as I had always thought. But don't get me wrong. I think lovingly and longingly upon those days at E! I would never undermine how valuable that time was and I would still cherish going back for a day-in-the-life.

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