Years ago, I interviewed a researcher who made a scientific study of what makes some people lucky. When you get into the film and TV biz, you find out that luck plays a major part in it. You have to have talent, good ideas, and good sense of timing. You have to know what’s been done recently that’s been successful?and what hasn’t. You need to have lots of energy and a willingness to learn, as well as good representation, but there’s an additional, magic ingredient that’s hard to quantify. Sometimes you have to admit to yourself that it’s just plain luck.
Baseball players are incredibly superstitious, which is why you see them doing things like kissing their bats three times, wearing their caps backwards in the dugout, etc. I don’t know of similar rituals performed by producers, but I think I may have discovered one, purely by accident.
When we’re in California, I make regular visits to the wonderful farmer’s markets there. These markets exist in many communities, all over the country, but since California is a major farm state, the ones there are extraordinary.
There are usually people asking for handouts at these places. Some of them are disabled people who clearly don’t need to be begging for money, since they get SSI (social security) payments, which were designed so that Americans don’t HAVE to beg. Others hold up signs asking for money so they can take a trip or have some medical procedure done (despite the fact that they look pretty healthy), but since I could use some money for both those things myself, and don’t expect anyone else to give it to me, I’m not too sympathetic.
But a couple of years ago, one person caught my eye: an older woman who seemed rather embarrassed to be standing there asking for a handout. I thought, “If it wasn’t for luck, that could be me,” so I gave her a dollar. I gradually started looking for her when I went to the market and we would chat a little bit every time. We eventually got to be what might even be called “friends.”
When I spotted her, I would go up and greet her and ask how she was doing. Ever polite, he would ask how I was doing too. I would just give the usual vague answers you say to someone you don’t know who asks you that question, but she would tell me details about herself: how she was on the list for Title 8 housing, how she was going to be in a Coke commercial, etc. I never believed any of this “news” for a moment, since I figured it was all a fantasy, but I would listen and then slip her a dollar. Sometimes I thought that maybe our conversations meant as much to her as the money, but then I would chastise myself for my hubris.
One time a cop caught me slipping her a buck and came over and lectured me about it. He gave me his card and told me he was part of a group trying to get these people off the street and into decent jobs and housing and that giving them a handout didn’t help matters. I was totally sympathetic, since I know what “enabling” is, having worked with several friends and relatives who are alcoholics. When I next saw the woman, she apologized to me and said she had asked the cop to please “stop bothering her friends.”
In Judaism, a “mitzvah” is an act of kindness, often done for a stranger with no hope for reciprocity. Islam also has a tradition of hospitality to strangers. Christianity has the story of the Good Samaritan. The implication, in all these religions, is that being charitable to others brings the grace of God to you. I realized that I was beginning to think of this woman as my “Lucky Lady.”
And maybe she HAS brought us luck, because in the last few weeks, a lot of movie and TV projects have come through for us. In this business, people with projects don’t look around for someone who’s not busy, they gravitate towards those who ALREADY have lots of things on their plates, figuring that they must have figured out that elusive and magical key to success. This means that if you have a little luck, you’re likely to get much more.
But there’s another part of this story that’s really important: I haven’t seen my Lucky Lady around the farmer’s market for a few weeks now. So maybe I was lucky for her too?maybe all those things she talked about that I assumed were fantasies were TRUE.
I sure hope so.
UPDATE: The UK psychologist Richard Wiseman, whom I mention above, tried to figure out why some people are luckier than others. In one of his experiments, he took videos of people who said they were lucky?and others who said they were UNlucky?all doing the same things. One of these “tests” was to see if they noticed money lying in the street (carefully planted in the path they would take by Wiseman). Just as you’d expect, the unlucky people walked right by the money without seeing it, but the lucky ones spotted it every time. The message he took from this was that lucky people are the ones who take advantage of their opportunities.
I went to the farmer?s market today, and there was the Lucy Lady, right where she always is. We exchanged some pleasantries and then she said, “I called out to you last week but you walked on by and didn’t see me.” In light of Wiseman’s findings, it made me realize that I may be “walking right by” some opportunities that I should be seeing?so the Lucky Lady taught me a lesson, and maybe I will be luckier in the future.”
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