My original career plan was to become a spy, a hit singer in a language I'd make up, or a vet. I have become neither, but I can spy on unsuspecting strangers' conversations in five languages, which I owe to the many places I have called home and the impossible-to-monetize talent to learn a language in three months.
Until I became an American citizen in 2008, I didn't even know I was a refugee, as my parents kept that detail carefully under locks when we "left" Poland when I was four years old.
I grew up mostly in Munich, Germany. The bedroom I sulked in as a teenager was last occupied by Moamar Ghaddafi's late son who was assassinated this spring.
Years earlier, when I was 18, I escaped it to "take' New York, where I attended acting school to become the next Marlene Dietrich. Instead, I got to portray dead hookers in student films. As I lay there pondering my stardom prospects, I knew I'd be much better off behind the lens, where surely every aspect of storytelling would be under my control.
My final film at NYU's film school, which sealed my Bachelor degree, was called Loveless. It dealt with the travails and heartbreak of a Japanese immigrant Kendo fighter in NY. I am especially proud to have had a chance to direct my movie on 16 mm celluloid film. Do film students today get to film their movies on film?
Finding myself cut off from funds and the good will of my parents, I returned to Europe and became a production assistant on a TV crime show, which meant I had to close roads at 6 am. When I garnered my first "job," which was described as producing a tourism program that would be sponsored by local businesses, I fled Germany again. This time to Madrid, Spain. Unfortunately, no one told me the producers wanted girls in bikinis instead of the Prado Museum. I ended up without a penny form the zero commission I garnered in bartering deals. I tried the girls in bikini route and hotel tours in Mallorca, but that wasn't for me.
Continuing to amble about Europe rather aimlessly, I decided London was my dream city and I would make it there, as a documentary, fiction or TV director. In the meantime, I got a Master's degree in European languages and literature, a now defunct program that was delightfully useless for any job prospects. But I was accepted off the bat into German television's crime-series producer-trainee program. Unfortunately, it meant trading London for Mainz, Germany. But I got to tell amateur-sleuth writers off for killing their fictitious victims in a cliched manner.
Who knows, I might still be sitting there today had not fate tossed one of the most incredible and ridiculous fellowships ever to exist into my lap. The goal was to become one of the founders of a pan-European co production studio. Our generous sponsors,Les Freres Carat, resembled French versions of Rupert Murdoch and were fond of checking on their golden goose fellows by helicopter.
One of 16 winners among 2000 applicants, I got to live in Paris with a monthly stipend of $8,000 to write a "pan European" TV series. Ah- there's the rub. Writing means you have to sit in your lonely room by your lonely self while your fellow fellows toured Japan and Australia "in search of production techniques that could get Europe to rival Hollywood."
So this is how I switched my career focus from writing fiction to producing. I'm still not sure that I created the European Dreamworks, but I got a few pre-production gigs in Paris and a freelance gig editing trailers and doing the voiceover for a new Tv station out of it. Until it merged with the German counterpart.
When my luck ran out in Paris, I had no desire to return to Germany, nor "measly" state-run TV. I married my American college sweetheart in Paris and set off to L.A. to be part of the only existing Hollywood to date, dreaming of producing feature films.
Five years in L.A. entailed a series of stints as a "director of development" for a company whose CEO later handled Michael Jackson's film investments and as a partner in a distribution company, who saw the promise to develop screenplays thwarted when glimpsing an insight into the company's finances. I also started writing entertainment news for a German radio syndicator.
On the groupie front, my best memory is of hopping a Limo to the MTV party with a pre- Titanic Leo Di Caprio in Cannes, after my professional party crasher friend Tarek convinced him they went to high school together. Tarek,who used me as a pawn to get into the coveted MTV party, chased after Leo's limo in his rental car, full of dirty laundry.
Cut to 1999, when I found myself divorced and alone in Chicago. I might as well have blindly tapped a spinning globe to decide where to move to, but Chicago seemed the only liberal and big city-haven left in the U.S. I wanted to explore.
And did I ever receive a great intro into all things Chicago and local politics by earning a Master's in Public Affairs journalism at Columbia College. Surly police chiefs, mobsters in federal court, corrupt cops, Betty Loren Maltese, Jack Ryan, Mayor Daley ....there's no way that living in Hollywood ca inspire anyone more to write good fiction than Chicago reality.
To cut a long story short, I learned about America in Chicago. I became an American in Chicago. I now love NBA basketball and even understand Football. Yes, I cheered for Plaxico Burress in 2009. I also cheered for "our" President Obama in Grant Park in 2008. Two years earlier, I had been one of the many local Chicago reporters vying for microphone space, as then Senator Obama came home for a press conference. Back In 2000, I even had the pleasure of shaking hands with then-state Senator Obama. I was introduced to our President by a politician named Rod Blagojevich outside the East Bank Club, where I enthusiastically thanked Mr. Blagojevich "for being our new governor." Mr. Obama flanked a beaming Mr. Blagojevich, who was the star of the moment...
My two years at Chicago Public Radio as a radio news intern and producer were very happy,but I am not sorry I didn't get stuck in public radio, after all. My desire for creativity won out over my passion for politics, opinion and bias when I realized that dealing with or having to debate with tea partiers would give me a heart attack.
Two years after more hilarity as Rotary International's International editor, here I am at Chicago Portfolio School, a copywriting student who's as old as some teachers and trying to make it in advertising. Why didn't anyone tell me about advertising earlier?
It's the perfect career for me, I'm sure!