Most people don’t have the luxury of just leaving it all behind.
- Tom, The Way
I recently watched Emilo Estevez’s “The Way”. It is one of those small, quiet, beautiful films that lingers in the back of your mind and forces you to look at life a little differently. I walked away thinking, not for the first time, of simplifying and living a more fulfilling and, quite possibly, less outwardly prosperous life.
I know this train of thought moves contrary to the conventional cultural wisdom but I have never been attracted to the idea of steady progressive career track which ends in suburbia. It’s just not for me. This is not to say I have no goals or passions; I most certainly do. In an ideal world, I would be supporting myself as a writer and filmmaker and experiencing life abroad.
As a rule, I don’t share these ideas too openly. In the past, it has invited well-intended advice and unsolicited comments from family and friends aimed at putting me on the familiar path of the straight and narrow. My top five favorite responses follow:
1) “Why would you ever want to live outside of America? We have everything.”
2) “Pull your head out of your ass. Work for a bank. That’s a safe bet.”
3) “Ever consider advertising? They’re making tiny movies all the time”
4) “It’s not practical to live somewhere else. You can travel when you retire.”
5) “What’s you back-up plan? “
Regardless of delivery, I see the comments coming from a place of love. They wish to protect me from what society considers risky propositions. Building a safety net – a roof over your head, food in their kitchen, money in your pocket, people to depend upon, creature comforts to enjoy – takes consistency and effort. It becomes routine and safe. And, for me, ultimately boring. Now, I am not here to condemn routine. It is useful and creates structure but is, by its very nature, repetitious. It becomes familiar and makes me contemptuous as it tends to channels my view of the world, making it myopic, and the bigger picture becomes difficult to see.
Prior to being laid off in 2009, my life looked great from the outside. I worked hard and putting in long hours at a top notch creative agency. I was well-paid and generally well-liked. Rumblings of a shaky economy made me nervous but believed it would settle and pass. Conventional wisdom told me I was doing all the right things and that I was secure. Still, I was about to be without work for nearly a year.
That year I applied to nearly five hundred positions with hundreds of equally qualified individuals with similar skills vying for the same position. At the same time, we found ourselves pregnant, and saw my unemployment benefits rapidly dwindling. In the midst of all this competition, I was forced to evaluate what I really wanted out of an employment opportunity. What I came to realize was I wasn’t seeking security as much as looking for freedom; that I wanted to take care of my family without abandoning them to a position. What I came up with was criteria to focus my search. I was looking for a low stress position with decent salary that would provide stability and excellent benefits for my family, and ample vacation and room to pursue outside creative interests for me. I shot high because it was, after-all, only a dream job.
About six weeks before my unemployment benefits were to run out, I was invited to interview for a position at major university in Boston. It wasn’t a position I had initially applied for; my resume was serendipitously passed along to the right hiring manager – one who liked my skills. Everything was right about the position. It met all of my criteria and I have approximately seven weeks a year off between vacation and holidays. Ironically, the day I started my new position was also the day my unemployment was scheduled to expire. You know what they say: “Careful what you ask for…”
For my first year there, I settled into a new job and our first baby. It has been a perfect opportunity to spend time with my family, affording us educational benefits, and most importantly, it allows me the latitude to write. And writing is what I have been doing. I am juggling bursts of creativity and working on two short films, a feature, the development of a web series and two blogs; Rock Fight Films, which focuses on my pursuit and interest in film while Booveeae focuses on how I see the world. It is a luxury problem, one which has kept me away from posting to this blog for nearly a month. As a writer, It’s a nice problem to have.
What I find most interesting is that the routine this position doesn’t create the sense of boredom I have experienced at other positions. Perhaps it is because I have can vigorously pursue creative interests but I think there is freedom in not being overly invested in workplace politics or shenanigans. It’s not to say I don’t care enough to do a good job; I just know that someday this job, like my previous, could end unexpectedly, and I want to my focus my energy where it is most fulfilling – family, creativity and travel.
Currently, that is my focus and, to be honest, it feels wonderful. I know that, in all likelihood, will probably never be a rich man and my career choices will keep me solidly entrenched in the working class. Still, there is something innately exciting about taking risks; either in doing the secret little things that we’ve always dreamed about. or too afraid to try. We all have them. For me, I want to make a feature film, live abroad and hike the El Camino de Santiago with my wife when my our son is old enough to join us – all before I move to the next realm
And although I cannot tell the future, or whether any of these things come to fruition, the ideas are no longer under wraps.
They are out in the open with room to breathe.
And with some attention, room to grow.
Because I envy your normal life. It seems that envy is my sin.
- John Doe, Se7en
Long before Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and prior to Late Night with Conan O’Brien, there was Late Night with David Letterman. It was a mixture of absurdity, quirkiness and odd tidbits. It was a funny show and I would faithfully stay up every night to watch. When Letterman moved to CBS in 1993, he brought some renamed Late Night’s signature bits (Top Ten Lists, Viewer Mail, Stupid Pet Tricks) with him. Alas, my favorite segment, “Brush With Greatness”, where Dave would persuade people to reveal the time they rubbed shoulders with the stars never made the jump.
As I have gotten older, I have been fortunate enough to develop relationships with friends and colleagues who make their career in the arts and in entertainment. Some are extremely successful and a few have high profile careers. I don’t mention this to brag or impress, and for the purpose of this post, their names are not important. What I can really say is they have all put in the legwork to arrive their current destinations and, when it comes down to it, I am happy for them.
That is not to say I haven’t felt the seductive tug of envy. My life has taken a different path and I would be lying if I said I didn’t have moments of wishing for their successes. My brain often drifts into the future – thinking about my acceptance speech for the film I have not yet created, wondering who will attend my funeral, planning my life will be like WHEN I win the lottery. It is always how it has worked. The thoughts ebb and flow, and are a good source for my own creativity.
The truth is, if I were to toss my problems into big pile with everyone else I know, I’m would take my own back. I know its cliché but I see the energy and sacrifices some of my friends put forward to maintain their success. My writer friends spend ten hours days staring at laptop, often creating under deadline. One took his life a few years ago at the top of his game; others are wrapped in the cocoon of success and are not sure who to trust. That’s not a life I want.
From experience, it is easy to live life by paring it down, especially when trimming the undesirable. It doesn’t require much thought or effort or design. It’s not uncomfortable. And once engrained as habit, you can easily begin to stumble ass-backwards through life. Things arrive by default and, for a while, taking the path of least resistance can be extremely… Zen.
Sadly, I am not a Zen Master. I found myself trudging an unfulfilling and lackluster road, unsure how far to backtrack in order to begin moving forward. And then, without his knowing it, my son gave me a shove in the right direction.
For those of you who haven’t heard, the first year of parenthood is a shock to the system. Everything, and I mean everything, is turned upside down. I describe it to people as “The Year My Life Was Stolen”.
I am aware this is not politically correct nor does it dovetail nicely into the tacit cultural message that new moms and dads are supposed to sing the praises of parenthood. This is not to say I don’t love my son. I love him more than I could have imagined possible, and would do anything for him. My point is there seems to be no room in our cultural lexicon to broach the idea that sometimes parents sometimes feel stuck in the baby bubble.
I must confess that, at times, I have certainly felt trapped. On the more challenging days, I experience moments where the idea of going for a gallon of milk and never looking back is very appealing. As a parent, there are utterly amazing moments, outside of first steps and first words (“momma”), where you see the child as fearless and pure potential. But these moments are surrounded by the mundane. Laundry, groceries, meals and sleep fill in the gaps between taking care of the child. Showers become a luxury, and maintaining relationships, interests or passions are Herculean efforts. It can feel very isolating, and it is a perfect breeding ground for envy.
I have come to think of envy as a snake oil salesman. Whatever the problem, he has the miracle elixir that will cure what ails you; a panacea that will tip the scales in your favor. He whispers this is the only quick fix you’ll ever need but it’s always a lie. It’s just a Medicine Show. Now intellectually, I know there are no quick fixes but sometimes it takes me a while to see past my distractions, and get to the heart of an issue. My perception tends to shift incrementally and often happens while concentrating on other things.
The last time it happened, I was with my son. It was wrapped in my own thoughts, making us smoothies. I remember looking down at him standing at my hip. He looked up at me, smiled and said “Smoothie”. He was very pleased with himself. And then it dawned on me. He was present; I wasn’t. He was participating; I was missing out.
So I’ve made a conscious decision to pay attention, and oddly enough, the things that I want have come into focus. Yes there are things I want for myself but if only to live by example and show him to go after what he wants. Mostly I want the opportunity to introduce my son to everything. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to mold him but all I can really hope is expose him to those things that are important to me – music, books, film, travel, baseball, and cooking. And that only happens by being present and appreciating all I have.
And that’s a good place to start.
The night of the fight, you may feel a slight sting. That’s pride fucking with you. Fuck pride. Pride only hurts. It never helps. You fight through that shit.
- Marsellus Wallace, Pulp Fiction
In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll begin by saying beginnings are the hardest part of writing for me. I fully intended to knock your socks off with a perfect opening line, but instead, you’ll have to settle for learning a few facts about me you may not be privy to:
One: I don’t enjoy asking for help. This includes but is not limited to talking about my feelings, my day, or what’s going on in my life.
Two: I don’t always know the answers to things but sometimes I enjoy pretending I do. I manage this by committing as little as possible to writing, referring to Google after the fact, and always maintaining plausible deniability.
Three: I am frequently wrong. I will admit this when cornered. Let this be our little secret.
Enter pride (ˈprīd), n., 1. high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc., 2. a useful tool that, in my case, soothes my fragile ego by justifying whatever hogwash (sentimental or not) I am slinging on a given day.
For years, I had adamantly insisted that I would never write a blog. I labeled the medium self-indulgent and narcissistic, and kept a quote by François de la Rochefoucauld in my back pocket to ward off technocrats extolling the virtues of blogging.
Nous parlent peu sinon encouragée par vanité.
We speak little if not egged on by vanity.
It was a good sound bite, and I used it. As reluctant as I am to admit this, I habitually squirreled away other cynical quote and I used them as well. With my friends, I cultivated a persona of cynical curmudgeon. One of my friends even took to calling me “Debbie Downer”.
Being a naysayer is far easier than being a risk taker. It can only go on so long before you need to put-up or shut-up. For me, it’s been eight years without producing any significant writing. I have excuses galore. I’m busy with: moving to LA, getting married, moving to Boston, work, my newborn, my frenetic toddler. And so the list goes ad-infinitum.
The truth is that after not writing for a while, you begin to wonder if you ever could write. Doubt crushes you like a circus fat lady bouncing on your chest. It’s tiring, and after a while, there is a growing part of you that finds it easier to surrender to the inertia.
It is at this exact point my wife asked me: “Have you ever considered writing a blog?” She thought it might be good way to get me writing again.
My initial thought after grumbling to myself was to pull out the Rochefoucauld quote. Then I remembered another quote I use to advise to others: “I am responsible for my second thought and first action”.
My wife’s greatest quality is she genuinely wants people to be happy. She wants me to write because she knows it puts a spark in my eyes. Creating characters and narratives excite me like nothing else, and that is what she sees when I’m writing. My own dread of the blank screen and flashing cursor doesn’t come into play. She just wants me to follow my path, and I am lucky to have someone like that in my life.
So I wait for the fat lady to rise up and swallow the congealed justifications and pride stuck at the back of my throat like a like half chewed caramel dipped in burnt molasses. I swallow hard and opt for my second thought. I said “I would think about it”.
So here, with my first action, I am putting my self-conscience self out there. I am not sure where we go for here but in terms of posts, you can expect the odds and ends, thoughts and diatribes, whatever strikes me on a given day. Anything from four word film reviews to general time wasters to posting my own writing. In other words, standard blog fare posted as consistently as possible.
One more fact for the road: I am hard wired to wonder what you think. There will be an area for comments after posts, and would welcome comments, suggestions, tips or criticism you may find helpful.
Thanks for showing up.