It was destiny, no doubt… a force waiting in the wings to join together a creative union that would inspire a body of work that simply began with the desire, I want to be a writer.
On the night we first met, my future husband and I walked along the beach in Monterey. There was no denying the instant attraction, but it was so much more. We quizzed each other on who we wanted to become. We were just 22 and a whole lifetime ahead.
David said, “I want to be a writer.”
I asked, “What have you written?”
He replied, “A poem. It’s called ‘Old Bill’.”
And, I married him anyway.
Writing simply began with a desire.
Crazy optimism. I guess I saw potential in this one poem man who had dreams of becoming a writer. I also saw my own potential as a spark, a muse, and a way to set my own creative possibilities on fire.
Our courtship was not traditional at all. We were together every night, but instead of romantic dinners or dancing, we spent evenings creating characters and the storyline for our first project together.
David loved writing the western genre. He came by it quite naturally. His father, Denver, was the colorful “Cowboy Judge” of the Superior Court in Fresno. He wore a Stetson hat and Tony Lama boots under his judge’s robe. He even hand-rolled his own cigarettes.
And David’s uncle? Hardly a day goes by that I don’t get asked, “Are you related to Sam Peckinpah, the movie director?
Sam’s most notable movie was the Oscar-nominated western, The Wild Bunch, starring William Holden and Ernest Borgnine.
Sam was the first to portray violence in slow motion. Picture a man getting shot with the gritty reality of blood spurting and pain so real you could feel it in your gut. That was Sam, or “Bloody Sam,” as he came to be known.
Sam always said the ordinary man could be pushed to the point of violence and demonstrated it in films like Straw Dogs with Dustin Hoffman, and the Getaway with Steve McQueen.
David idolized Sam, and Sam loved David. He often invited us to visit him. We attended screenings of movies, went to plays, and joined him on film locations.
Creative conversations were about to change our lives.
One of those events changed the course of our lives. It was Sam’s 50th birthday party at the Hollywood Hills home of legendary composer, Jerry Fielding. Famous and talented actors, writers, editors, and musicians joined us in the celebration.
We had great conversations with Steve McQueen, Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, and Ringo Starr!
Bob Dylan had just written the legendary song, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door for Sam’s movie, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. The movie starred James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson, and Bob even had a role in it.
The stories told that night were alive! Exciting! Creative! David and I looked at each other, and we had an incredible revelation… These talented people made a living doing what they loved.
We witnessed the joy of people in a business, doing what they loved.
We arrived back in Monterey and put an end to writing as a hobby. We elevated writing to be the focus of our dreams.
David completed the novel we began during our courtship. Miraculously, the first publisher who read it accepted it. We celebrated our new life with champagne and a toast… we’re going to be famous!
Our contract and advance money arrived weeks later. We feverishly tore open the envelope and stared at the check for $1000. Two years work. We needed a backup plan. We had a child on the way, and that check would barely support a month of our lives.
Life is not stationary. One thing leads to the next, and the next.
Sam loved David’s one poem, “Old Bill.” He encouraged him to continue writing and hired him to write a script for a movie. He contracted him for $5000 and that felt like all the money in the world.
Sam sent David scripts so he could study how scripts were structured. Once David was confident, he was ready to begin.
Since he didn’t know how to type, we bought a case of yellow legal tablets. Within weeks, David had handwritten an entire script. We sent it off to be transcribed and then sent it to Hollywood. That one script led to an agent, which led to a meeting with Disney and…
Crazy optimism is often the best momentum.
We relocated to Los Angeles. There was no question in our minds… we would make it in Hollywood.
Crazy optimism, yes. But, we had role models of what was possible. We looked to Sam and all the people who surrounded him. If they could do it, so could we.
David learned to type with a book, Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, but he maintained a “love” relationship with those those yellow legal tablets, using them to outline and draft ideas.
David wrote every day. I enrolled in acting classes and studied literature and story structure. I seized the opportunity to read and research while our firstborn son, Garrett, was down for naps. In the evenings, I edited David’s scripts, and we’d continue to talk stories and characters well into the night.
There’s nothing like the creative union of two people.
It ignites passion! We had successes and failures. We made money and spent money. Then one day, the Writer’s Guild went on strike for 9 months.
Our income came to a halt. I would lie awake at night with visions of empty bank accounts, unpaid taxes, and piles of bills. Month after month our savings diminished. I even had to ask my best friend for $100 to buy groceries.
Creativity is a living experience inside of you.
You might ignore it, but it doesn’t stop. Our creative minds weren’t on strike, just the Union. We loved stories so much, it didn’t matter if we couldn’t get paid. We continued to develop characters and storylines for the future.
When the Unions finally reached an agreement, we diligently rebuilt our financial base with the script ideas born during the strike. One of them became a Disney movie, Man of the House, with Chevy Chase, Farrah Fawcett, and Jonathan Taylor Thomas. It was inspired by the relationship my husband had with our son, Garrett.
It may sound like we had nothing but success. Far from the truth. Like any business, the entertainment industry is a roller coaster of emotional and financial ups and downs.
Rejection is a sure thing in business… it’s another stepping stone to success.
Rejection was just part of success. Often, a failed script led to another job. Old scripts became a giant pool of creativity to draw from.
You just have to keep writing.
Creative ebbs and flows are a recurring part of the business of writing, and so are financial highs and lows. The important thing is consistency. As long as David committed to writing every day, there was new potential.
“If someone says no, just say NEXT!”–Jack Canfield, author of Chicken Soup for the Soul, Think Positive.
David went on to sell over 20 television movie scripts(of which a handful made it to film), and then hit his career stride when he became a writer and producer of several successful tv shows like the Emmy nominated CBS show, Beauty and the Beast, the long-running series, Silk Stalkings, and the sci-fi show, Sliders. And, there were plenty of shows that never made it past the pilot stage.
One thing is certain… life is a blend of successes and failures.
Our life script was a complexity of great successes and great failures. We learned from them all, and it makes a good story. It’s real life.
Then one day, our personal story had a tragic ending.
We lost our firstborn son.
Garrett died suddenly in our home from an aggressive form of bacterial meningitis, misdiagnosed by the doctor as the “common flu.”
Nothing changes you like loss. Nothing. Together, David and I had scripted hundreds of stories, but this story couldn’t be fixed.
Our creative marriage couldn’t survive the loss of our son. We had an incredible life and four beautiful children. That kind of love doesn’t die, but grief drove it off track. We split apart, and David moved out of Los Angeles.
Years later he asked if I could help him with a script. He said he was moving back to LA. After that conversation, my joy was undeniable, especially for my kids. He lit the fire for our creative union to begin again.
Three weeks later, David died of a heart attack. He never made it back to LA. He was just 54.
What do you do with a story like that?
Is there ever a happy ending for such a tragedy? Would there ever be a time I could trust life again?
And what about my three living children? They’d experienced so much loss.
You can’t predict something like that, and there’s no sense to be made of it. None whatsoever. All you can do is keep living.
It never occurred to me that I should have a backup plan. My husband was a successful writer, and I worked with him every step of the way. But, I never took ownership. I tormented myself thinking if only I had written a script on my own, or at least shared writing credits.
One moment in time changes the whole story.
I was forced to create a whole new life and a new identity. I was no longer the wife of a writer and the muse that worked in the wings, I was a single mom who needed to continue supporting the family.
I had to lift myself beyond the debilitating grief and focus on my love for my three living children. I had to create the new script for our lives.
Those tragedies and my survival taught me that life isn’t about careers, or jobs, or money. Those things can enhance life, but really, there’s only one thing that defines us, and that’s love. Love is the real reason we are on this planet.
Sometimes, there’s a time limit, and we don’t get to have those we love for very long. The loss of two people I deeply loved changed me forever.
You do whatever you can to survive, and creativity nudges you along the way.
I committed to building a life with my children. It was the highest expression of love I could imagine. My devotion to raising them was unshakeable. I would do whatever I could to give them a stable life.
After David and I first separated, I could no longer support the home and lifestyle we had in Westlake Village, so I moved us to Murrieta, a lovely affordable little town south of Los Angeles. It was a simplified lifestyle, and we found peace there.
Crazy optimism reappears if you unleash it.
I began a new career as a real estate agent, and I dove into it with the same optimism David and I had when we started in the entertainment business. Crazy optimism.
People said… it’s hard to get started in real estate. So many people are doing it.
Those thoughts could have activated the negative voice in my head, but I wouldn’t let it. I had a family to support. Failure was not an option.
And I didn’t fail… in fact, I soared. The motivation of love for my family knew no bounds.
I had mourned the loss of my creative life, but, I soon discovered within the job, there were places for creativity to arise and feed my soul. I found great inspiration from my clients and their personal stories. I wrote newspaper articles on selling homes. I created ads and home descriptions.
At the end of the day when the children were studying, I’d retreat to my room and write… for myself. And, in the midst of writing my own story, I found strength, healing, and peace.
Keep the one thing you love as a theme… it’s the through a line in your story, no matter what you do.
We all have to find the one thing that drives us…that one thing when we wake up in the morning, we think about and can’t wait to start our day.
For me, it’s writing.
Like the entertainment business, in real estate, I’ve had good years and bad years. We’re just coming out of the housing crisis, and I’ve learned another lesson. Resourcefulness.
Lives and careers have cycles. Activate resourcefulness. Lives and careers have cycles. There’s no magic number or perfect job that gives you peace of mind because life isn’t about a number. It’s about following your heart, doing something you love, and expressing love every single day.
When it’s a “down” time, be creative in making opportunities. Additional streams of income give you a backup plan. I made jewelry and sold nutritional products during the worst year of the real estate crisis. At first, I felt like a failure, but then realized I had to do whatever I could to support my family.
Ultimately, those endeavors also opened doors to new friendships and business alliances.
It’s your life script.
Life happens. You’re not always in control of life’s plot twists and turns, but you are in control of how you react and what you do next. Grief can get “stuck” as a way of life. But you have other options.
When you have a change of circumstance or tragedy, recognize it as a time to grow in faith and strength. William Bridges author of The Way of Transition wrote:
“Change can happen at any time, but transition comes along when one chapter of your life is over, and another is waiting in the wings to make its entrance.”
Believe in yourself. You have the resilience inside of you to guide you in the next step. My faith carried me through the fear, and yours can too.
What are the first two acts of your life script?
Sit down with a paper and pencil and outline the story of your life. Just an outline, nothing laborious. You can list it like chapters in a book.
Act 1-Your youth, your family, your school experience, your peers, your experiences.
Act 2- Becoming an adult. The events in your adult life that led to you becoming who you are today.
Within those iconic moments, you’ll see they are actual scenes in your life script. Look what you’ve survived! There is no story without conflict, and it’s up to you to triumph over adversity.
Now create the third act… your future.
Create a vision for your future. Write the last act in your life script just as you dream your life could be. A successful writer? Living in your dream home? Traveling the world? Getting married again? Owning a successful business?
Words have power. When you write them, you’re creating energy that ignites fulfillment by the universe.
“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”- Paolo Coelho
Writing your Act Three sets the stage for your vision of the future. Then, call “ACTION!”
You don’t need to know how it will happen yet… that’s the joy of living in the present moment. Just take the very next step. Call “ACTION!”
I found peace the day I decided to be grateful for what I’ve experienced in life. I’ve learned so many lessons, and most of all, I discovered how strong I really am. My love for my children and my will to survive took the lead in my life story.
When I write, I often search for my husband’s inspiration. I miss our creative union and never thought I’d experience that kind of love again.
But I did.
I fell in love and married a man who has taken the co-starring role in my life story. Now, he edits my work! Another creative union… and there’s so much more to write.
I couldn’t have written a better third act for myself… or maybe that’s the story arc I created all along. My script isn’t done yet… not even close.
A version of this post was previously published on Sandypeckinpah.com and is republished here with permission from the author.
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