With a click-baity title like that, you know it’s going to be good!
The Great Depression
In the past eighteen months, I’ve gone through some changes, and I never shared them publically like other elements of my personal life (see My Cancer Story).
Now, I was going to provide a summary of this post at the beginning of it a lá news stories on CNN, but I realized how much I fucking hate that. Just let me read the article and stop trying to make us collectively dumber!
In June of 2015, I was at a crossroads. It had been over a year since our short film, The Tale of the Three Brothers (yes, that J.K. Rowling short story) premiered in a preview screening, and I was eager on getting my career “started.”
Soon, I was dead-set on leaving for Boston. It was a close location that had a thriving film industry, and it would be the best of both worlds: work at a job that I love and close proximity to my family (in Maine and Connecticut).
So I announced to everyone that I would venture off to achieve my goals, and we even had a going away/birthday party at my brother’s house, which was a wonderful time.
But you know what? I wasn’t ready. Wasn’t ready to move, to find a job, or to find a place to live. I was restricted by a lack of funds… and a proper plan.
I wasn’t scared, but I had no idea how to achieve any of the required tasks involved with moving to a new city, and it felt all too much like a reaction to turning thirty; THAT scared me. I had no connections to Boston and would have fumbled terribly had I moved there at that time.
If I had committed to the move, I often wonder what I would be doing now. Would I have found a job in the film industry? Would I have failed and assumed that was the end of the line? Would I have moved somewhere else? The possibilities are endless, and I LOVE imagining those alternate realities, it fascinates me to no end. It’s no wonder why my favorite comic book series as a kid was the Marvel run of What If? featuring side stories that had no relation to the canon of the established universe.
But alas, the move didn’t happen, and I was left working at the hospital, utterly depressed and full of doubt (see more about it here and here). This was the same job I’d held since 2007; through my marriage, all of my schooling at The New England School of Communications, and graduation. And I was still there, rotting away in a dish room a year later. I knew somehow I needed out.
I should have left the area immediately after graduation. But if I wasn’t ready a year later, I absolutely wasn’t when I received my diploma.
In October, my friend John decided that he would move back in the area as a result of a recent hire at the Verizon Wireless Call Center in Bangor. I contemplated applying myself; in fact, the idea bounced around my head like a tennis ball during a vigorous volley between the Williams sisters. And after hocking credit cards at MBNA for over three years, I hated call centers and sitting on my ass all day, but the job paid well; four dollars more an hour. Plus, my friends Scott and Andrew had worked there and said that they enjoyed it.
I decided I would work there for a while, save some money, and get out of the state; maybe even to the aforementioned option, Boston.
So I applied and was soon met with the standard “We’ve received your application” jargon, then a few days later received another letter: “We’ve selected your application for further review, but our upcoming class is full. We’ll contact you when our next class opens in January.”
January! I was devastated. What now? I’m okay with rejection, but at this moment in time, I was easily beaten. So I began the search for other jobs, but I didn’t know where to look. The film jobs were non-existent here, and I adamantly refused to work in the news/ television production business. I want to make films; pieces of art that can influence people to fully appreciate their lives, like they did for me.
Then I received yet another email from Verizon. “We’re excited to announce that you’ve been selected for our interview process!” …or something like that. In the next few days, I had the three-step interview process. First I had a phone interview conducted by a Hiring Expert in Wallingford, CT, then in-person interviews and a tour, and before you knew it, I was hired. It was a whirlwind, largely because of the immediacy of the pending class.
John and I started in the same New Hire Experience. We met some fantastic people, and just as I had heard, every co-worker was amazing at Verizon. It was a far cry from the hospital’s cliquey nature and infighting (day crew vs night, for example). At Verizon, we were all in it together as the “Bangor Family.”
Then, we worked on the phones. Soon, I realized just how stressful the job was. The first couple calls were immensely nerve-racking. I remember working with Emily, being so nervous, more nervous than I felt in almost ten years. I look back on it now as though I was temporarily crazy.
One great pro of the job was my later, more natural awakenings in the morning. I’d rarely need an alarm since my job only began at ten A.M. But after our twelve-week hiring class, the negatives far outweighed the pros as the calls became much more difficult while navigating the various systems for the job expounded on the degree of said exertion. I, in particular, had experienced the most computer problems out of anyone in the call center. When John left, they accidentally deleted my profile instead of his. I spent the first half of that day doing nothing while they recovered my login information. Maybe the bevy of computer glitches was a sign.
But, the biggest kicker of this new job was my mental fatigue. Phone calls were mental gymnastics, as you had to describe some asinine details to customers, and had to take the brunt of their ire when you didn’t give them the answer they expected– nay, “deserved.” I’d come home, unable to focus on any writing, and observed the disturbing change in daily total steps walked. The American Heart Association recommends at least 10,000 steps to stay healthy. I was only getting an average of 2,500 steps unless I’d walk during my lunch break or go to the gym when I could.
But the gym took up valuable writing time. I didn’t feel as bad when I would go home and write after working the hospital. At least there I had some physical exertion, and almost always achieved 10,000 steps when working.
Sure, I was making a marked difference in income, but my health (both physical and mental) was suffering. This job made me realize one thing, something I thought I had already understood: Money isn’t everything. This job certainly wasn’t worth the stress.
So I began my job search once more, this time broadening my horizons to include television production. If I had to work at a TV station, then at least it’s on the right career ladder. I spoke with some teachers at my alma mater, The New England School of Communications. They agreed, that I should look into television.
The Moment It All Changed
But nothing was available, and I felt that sense of dread returning. Luckily, my first revelation appeared when needed most. During a Monday night in March with my weekly trivia team, Eric and I discussed my battle with Leukemia. I found myself going into richer detail than I had ever divulged before; things I had forgotten arose to the foreground of my mind. It awakened a need for me to write this detail down before it was lost on me forever. Thus began my chronicle of the battle against Cancer.
I ignorantly thought it would be only a few chapters long and would be succinct enough to finish on my blog. Boy, was I horribly wrong! It soon became clear in my mind that this had to be an autobiography of my life before and after Cancer, and in particular regarding the pros and cons of having such an experience (yes, there are pros).
Shortly after this story began, I was also lucky enough to start a podcast and YouTube show completely independent of one another – both about film – in the same week (Not Quite Hollywood and We Need Movies, respectively).
As these flourishes of creativity returned in my life, I quickly found myself quite busy. But my job was still in the way. I’d have to write my blog entries during my lunch break, further separating me from any exercise. I needed out.
By June, I had formulated a plan. An opening at my old job (almost the exact same position) came available and with that, I decided I would swallow my pride and at least get the physicality of the kitchen job back in my life, even if it meant losing that four dollars an hour bump of which I was already accustomed.
Fortunately, I had access to my hard-earned personal time, so I made sure to utilize that allotment, and back to the grind I went. I ended up having a good ten days or so off in between the jobs, and I was excited to use that time to write, even though I used most of this mental prime time tending to our yearly garden.
I picked up right where I left off at the hospital. A cook named Jason was the first to call me out on my shit. Before I left the first time, I vehemently told him I was never to return to this job. I had recalled telling someone that very statement but didn’t know whom until he made a crack. Oh, it was Jason, of course, one of the few who would revel in it.
Part of my personal agreement with this job with myself is that this would ONLY be a temporary transition to a career-oriented job. I just had to determine where I would go, devise a plan, and then take the leap of faith.
One resource I hadn’t contemplated the year prior when choosing to take that premature leap was my almost ten-year contribution to the Fidelity retirement plan I had amassed.
That was part one of the plan: Cash out my retirement and go for it. It’s idiotic to wait for a retirement from a job that kills me slowly every day, especially when that retirement would only extend the shackles of living check to check until my death. No, if I was going to do this, then I needed some money to make it out.
A great outcome of the return to work was the analogy my friend Dan and I joked about one day on Facebook. About a month later, I still had Verizon listed on Facebook as my place of work, partly because I didn’t want to admit my defeat of “crawling back” to EMMC (which was undergoing renovations at the time).
Town I Call Home
At any rate, I gave myself a hard deadline: By November, I had to be out of the State. I hadn’t been on a film set since Three Brothers and it was internally painful. Luckily enough, my friend Ellis had recently asked me to be a part of the short film he was working on, Town I Call Home. He asked me to grip and have a look at the script. I agreed, this is my chance to be on a film set again!
Soon after agreeing to work on the film, and deep into my polish of the script, he asked me if I would be up to direct it. He had already assigned himself the roles of Director of Photography, Producer, and Co-writer, so I understood he had loaded his plate like the Klumps at a buffet, and reluctantly, I said yes. It had been over two years since I had directed anything and I doubted my ability to do the job.
But as my polish continued, and the event swiftly approached, I fell hard for the film. I scoffed at my prior apprehensions and dove headfirst into this fantastic opportunity. Why would I ever be hesitant to do the VERY JOB I desired?! We were working in tandem, from the script stage, to casting, storyboarding, and beyond. For the polish, my goal was to pare down the length, in an effort to make its duration more friendly to film festivals, but as the touch up finished, I realized something else elemental to my career: I loved working on other people’s work.
I had written four feature-length scripts and had yet to rewrite any of them (which in hindsight is a terribly backward way to do things, and I wouldn’t recommend it). Although I had rewritten our cartoon show’s scripts and my short ad nauseam, this was my first foray into foreign materials and allowed me to really dive into the brevity and quality of the piece without any of the attachments to the work. Holy shit that was breathtaking.
“The Future Isn’t Written Yet, Marty”
In the midst of our garden tending, the short film pre-production, the podcast, the YouTube show, the blog, and My Cancer Story, my life’s workload reached a “critical mass,” and I still had to decide where I would go for my career.
Would I entertain a planned trip to Boston? Maybe a little closer to Portland? Or how about further with New York? Los Angeles? Hell, Atlanta is prosperous as well. The possibilities were (again) endless, yet I had no indication of where I would land.
I was always one to say that I’d rather be a big fish in a smaller pond, and then once I had some shiny scales to show off, I’d make my migration to the big ocean. There are so many people trying to make it in places like LA or New York that I feared I would be unable to break through.
The issue lied with the little pond’s lack of potable water. I was drying up without any potential method to show my work off. Now, granted, I should have moved to Portland years ago, because I’ve seen the wonderful, tight-knit community that has been here long before I decided the direction my career would head. Some of the people I’ve met in Portland while working on Town I Call Home are some of the best people I may ever meet in my life; they’re dedicated, hardworking filmmakers, and I wish I were privy to their work after graduation.
And then, I made my decision. I decided to move to Los Angeles. I put my notice in at the hospital mid-September. Town I Call Home had already begun the first Saturday of the month and I did have to balance both (much like when I was in school), but I was able to do it. My last day of work was September 30th. Since then, I’ve had struggles, but I’ve been able to work my dream job: on a film set, write, and plan my trip cross-country.
While looking for an apartment, I’ve already met some great people who live in the area, and have learned quite a lot since then. But I sometimes have to stop and absorb what I’m doing: I’m traveling across the country, people; in a car, chasing my dream like a cliché in the very medium I’m looking to make. But I’m armed with a devoted work ethic, and better yet, the knowledge that the worst-case scenario is that I “fail,” and I only fail if I give up and return home empty-handed. Sure, that’s a possibility, maybe even a potential inevitability. However, if I don’t make it as a writer/director/producer, then I will continue to fight my way into the industry and still enjoy life like I set out to do once I went into remission. So if I work my ass off, and do quality work, then I may have a shot. I’ll work my way up the ladder now that it’s finally the right ladder.
That’s the thing: if I were to instead continue to work jobs that I hate (for whatever reason), all for a “steady” paycheck, then I’d never know if I could have made it in the film industry, and that would be the stupidest thing I’ve done yet. And I could never face myself if I let that happen.
So, I hope that you all understand my reasons, and wish me luck because I’m following that old adage: If you don’t try, you’ll never know. I’ll miss you all in Maine, and wish you the best in life. Here’s to when I see you again.
So TL;DR– I hated my life’s path, from one irrelevant job to the next, and decided to finally go for my dreams.
Did I just summarize this?! Dammit.