Writing About It is the Best Revenge
After I graduated from college I moved in with my paternal grandmother in her rent-controlled apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The floors sloped, the ceilings had hairline fractures, and the kitchen was so narrow and pokey that you had to step into the eight-by-twelve-foot dining “gallery” if you needed to change your mind. But it was home. Grandma Sylvia was one of my earliest champions, no matter what I decided to pursue, and was probably the instinctively wisest woman I have ever known. “Golo” and one of her older sisters-my great-aunt Debby, a former Ziegfeld Follies chorine-provided the inspiration for the character of Gram inTemporary Insanity.
And the inspiration for the central character, Alice? Well, let’s just say that the novel is a true roman à clef.
For far too many years I slaved away in office temp jobs, mostly for lawyers, while struggling to “make it” as an actress. You can take all the classes and have all the union cards in the world, but they don’t guarantee show biz employment, which is why most of the waiters, bartenders, personal trainers, and office staff in Manhattan are really struggling actors-slash-dancers-slash writers-slash fill-in-the-arts-career blank.
After getting downsized in 2003, I said, “Screw it!” and ultimately made the big break with office grunt work. Although I had completed five novels since I began writing in 1998, after half a decade of juggling a full time survival job with my literary career, it was time to become a full time author instead.
One of the best perks about being a writer, besides coming to work in yoga pants with unbrushed hair, is that your published novels can become your bully pulpit for shaming, excoriating and eviscerating in print everyone who has ever treated you poorly. This is where the jerk bosses get their come-uppance.
I wrote a novel called Temporary Insanity about Alice Finnegan, a New York actress living with her feisty and wise ninety-something grandmother (a former showgirl herself), struggling to gain her financial independence and artistic freedom while attempting to transcend temp job hell and extricate herself from her horrific, demanding, and ill-mannered bosses. When life gave me employment lemons, I wrote a yellow-covered comedic novel about it. Every one of the nasty bosses inTemporary Insanity, and many of the incidents connected to the fictional Alice’s employment for them, have been based on personal experience.
Not all of my ex-employers or would-be employers have been white-collar executives, though. One of my favorite stories-though I was devastated at the time-occurred when I was called in by a big-shot casting director to audition for a leading role on a major network soap opera. I did all my homework-watched the show, studied how the characters dressed, their speech cadences, and worked hard to make the pages of dialogue I was given sound like a real person might actually say them. On the big day, I did the scene with the famous casting director who then proceeded to praise my artistic choices and my acting ability, but added that I wasn’t pretty enough to be put on videotape for the next round of auditions. With the utmost professional solicitousness, this overweight woman in her purple crocheted vest asked me, “Have you considered getting your nose fixed?”
After appraising her frosted coiffure, the unfortunate result of bad highlights I asked looked her straight in the eye. “Again?” I replied evenly, and walked out of her uninspiring litter box of an office with my head held high. Of course I broke down in tears in the ladies room three minutes later. But the incident is memorialized within the pages of Temporary Insanity and I got the last laugh—permanently, I hope.