life-story origami, or, a non-organic bio

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I wanted to post this last night but wasn’t sure if I’d still feel the same way in the morning. It’s the next day, and I still do.

An application for a television writing fellowship requires me to write my biography in 500 words or less. When my first draft was done, I came to the half-proud, half-sickening realization that I’d written it in hero’s journey form. There’s an Obi-Wan Kenobi, there’s a young person leaving a tiny community for the big wide world, there are well-timed sets of obstacles, etc. My 500 words end around the beginning of Act 3, because this is for an application and not a valedictorian speech.

I didn’t lie. The facts of the story are correct, but it’s not who I am. Real lives are too complex to be easily squished down for the telling, which is why we have to fold them into story shapes. There’s no good reason to change the bio now. It’s less than 500 words, I do need to prove that I can put a story together, and in order to get a place in their program, the judges need to be able to root for me. I made a perfectly valid move. And yet, framing myself in that way feels inaccurate.

When I’m part of a choir, I sing second soprano. That’s a vocal range, not a metaphor. I’m also confident enough to enjoy singing solo but I get a veritable high from contributing to multi-part harmonies designed to tug at heart-strings or get under an audience’s skin. That’s also not a metaphor, but it is a decent reflection of how I like to work.

I don’t like to step on toes or cut in line or use my outdoor voice in a library. I’m an eager team player who will bubble over with enthusiasm if we’re on the same page (metaphorically or otherwise), but I’m equally happy locking myself up in a room and typing for as many hours as it takes until the job is done. That’s not a story, but it is who I am, and maybe this is presumptuous, but I suspect the industry I’m trying to break into needs strong and capable supporting players more than it needs new heroes. Not that a 500 word bio for an individual applicant can be folded neatly in the form of an ensemble piece.

I’m sending the bio the way it currently stands, because it’s the factual answer that best serves the way they worded their question. Hopefully that and my work samples and everything else I’m sending will have the right effect as a whole.



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