Noise 2

“The door is only a door. It makes no promises.”

Earlier today I read about a screenwriting conference to be held mid-August in Los Angeles.  The conference will include the usual workshops, speakers, and panels along with a “pitch slam”–a chaotic, noise-filled event at which a hundred or so screenwriters line up to describe their scripts to sixty agents and producers.  The screenwriter’s “pitch” is followed by three minutes of critique from the agent.

Were I to attend this conference, I’m certain I would be the oldest person there.  (I’ve seen pictures of these gatherings, and aspiring screenwriters, along with most agents and producers, appear to be pushing twenty-seven.)  I can already imagine the awkwardness, the possible alienation, I might experience, and yet I’m strongly thinking about going and about paying to do the pitch. (Imagine speed dating in which it’s understood that all your “dates” are there for the express purpose of being critical.)

That I even think about participating in an event like this is the result of a policy I took up shortly after I retired—I’ll call it the policy of the open door. I’d been an academic writing academic books for forty years, but in 2009, six months after I retired, I decided to write for myself. There were some long simmering feelings and experiences I needed to come to terms with. I’d do by putting them into words and I’d see what else, if anything, would develop.

That I’d already had a career was immensely useful to this project.  When I took up writing memoir, I didn’t have to prove myself.  I’d already done that in a prior life. I felt free to be a beginner, free to fail. I decided, however, that if any doors were to open for my writing, doors to a larger audience, for example, I’d step through them. And so I enrolled in writing classes, was eventually approached about contributing to a collective blog by one of my classmates, began my own blog, and eventually published a memoir, Tasting Home, in 2013.  It went on to win some prizes.

Based on the demography of my memoir classes, I’d say a lot of women my age are writing memoirs.  We belong to a generation of women who have helped bring about enormous changes, and I think a lot of us want to make sense of what we’ve lived through.  Many in this same generation of women worked outside the home and in greater numbers than the U.S. had ever seen before. Working outside the home all your adult life can affect the way you organize your older age.

After forty years in academia, for example, I found the idea of retirement vaguely threatening. Yes, I was tired, but the idea of not working seemed deeply unsettling. I was used to the discipline and to the meaning my work had imposed upon my life (I was director of a women’s studies program), and I was fond of the creativity that it had allowed me to express.  I wasn’t sure how I would center my life without some kind of work.  And so I continued writing, which had been one of my favorite activities as an academic, although this time I had to learn how not to sound like one.

Stepping through open doors was not always a piece of polenta cake. If writing the memoir was sometimes exhilarating, it was sometimes depressing as well, and it was also a whole lot of work. When a door opened to publishing it, I had to fight internal terrors. Revealing a lot about my (quiet, half Norwegian) self (I come from the Vikings who stayed home) and then marketing my story to an unknown public went against my family’s way and against academic habits that were long ingrained. (Ten years ago in academe, promoting your work was considered gauche.)

Looking for doors to open, nonetheless, has become habitual. Last December, for example, a door opened in my mind. Maybe my memoir could be a screenplay. I read five books on how to write a screenplay, wrote a screenplay based on my memoir, and took a screenwriting class.

Although I know Hollywood has a strong preference for action adventure and for anything written by men for other men, I am thinking of taking my female-centered story to this conference and shopping it around. I could fail big time, but if I ignore this open door, how will I feel? I have decided to walk through it, knowing that as Adrienne Rich once put it, “the door is only a door; it makes no promises.”

Based in the Bay Area, Judith is an author and Professor Emerita at U.C. Davis


  1. Judith, I loved your story! It is remarkably like my own. I spent 30+ years in academia as a biochemist. As different as academic writing was, I agree that the academic experience was invaluable. I am no stranger to critiques, re-writes, and rejection letters and most importantly, I know from experience that writing is incredibly hard work.
    Like you, I wrestled with the prospect of retirement. I had worked since the age of 14 – what on earth would I do with my time!! As it turns out, that has been the very least of my worries. And like you, I walked into some pretty scary places, such as keyboard for a jazz band (never played jazz in my life…), masters swimming, and eventually, writing.
    I suppose some of my motivation is to make sense of my own life, but what really excites me is the opportunity to make known the stories of these incredible women that would otherwise be lost to history. I hope you will take a look at my website, Would love your comments.
    Best of luck on your “pitch slam.” You may well be the oldest, but I bet you’ll also be the most well prepared. Keep us informed.

  2. Louise, thanks so much for writing! I loved your site. My daughter, who is living in Atlanta, is becoming a southern woman. I”m going to send her the link. Will leave a comment on your site too.

    Jazz and swimming and moving from science writing–you’ve really ventured out!

  3. I cannot wait to hear about this adventure! A rough draft of my screenplay will be finished at the end of September and the LA conference info will be very important to me. 🙂 Hope it goes splendidly!

  4. Judith, what happened? I’m living in suspense!
    My view of my academic life is quite different from yours and Louise’s, perhaps because I was a poet first and an instructor second and because I’m one of the masses of community college adjuncts. (I suppose I should say “am” a poet even though I haven’t written in some time for reasons not relevant here.) As I look longingly toward retirement, your post gives me hope. I’m glad I chanced on your blog through She Writes.

    1. Hi Sherry, It went very well. I mean to write about it soon. Most people werevery young, some younger than my daughter (29!) but they were very friendly, and two small production companies are reading my script. I also learned a ton of things. Do take hope. I think it’s a new world for women writing.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *