Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Year on the Ropes

I don't enjoy talking about personal stuff online.

Or, to be fair, that's not entirely true.

I've become conditioned to not write about personal stuff online because it becomes a wedge issue. When it comes to Twitter and Facebook, I can't say that everyone who follows me or friends me is actually a friend. It could be because I said something clever, or because they know me from writing online, or because the matrix suggests I'm worth friending or following. Which leads me to also know that it's better not to engender hate or empathy from strangers because there's little to enjoy about feeling like someone's bragging or begging, as I've been on the other side of it. Mostly we don't care.  I view most social media as a place to plant opinions and crack wise. And whether or not I'm in good spirits or ill, financial gain or strife, I don't like talking about it because I don't know how it's being consumed. The internet shows that empathy is often in short order, even when some seem to be supportive.

There's also a sense of a spigot being put into a dam. Once a little is let out, a lot might follow. I'm of a generation that doesn't believe in oversharing. I live a life where it would be an insult to be compared to a Kardashian, and perhaps if I achieve or achieved mega-success, it's not so much bragging as the baggage of that lifestyle. I am and have been friendly with successful people. I see how they behave on social media. I get it. Acknowledge at best and move on.

There are two things that defined the last thirteen months of my life: 1) the woman I met and 2) the exercise I've been committed to. And a third thing: 3) A lack of permanent employment. I talked about one of those things on social media. Number 2.

Basically, at the end of June, Screencrave folded and Screencrush put me into a position where I could pitch things, but I was no longer functioning as an editor. I went from scraping by to having nothing to rely on. Both I could see coming down the pike. With the former, the site took a big hit in 2011 and never really recovered. With Screencrush, I went from having a staff of five to six people, and an eight hour shift to working with one other person for four hours. I went from Chud, where I got to write longform essays - which I did as a hobby mostly for fun - to writing about the latest trailers for whatever had just come out. And, honestly, it may have made me a worse writer. Churning out two hundred words about the third TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES trailer, a film I have and had no interest in, becomes a grind.

I was always told I could take my time, but my instinct was that such material should be served as hot as possible. Ben Affleck as Batman? First up means the most hits. There are at least a dozen sites covering the same beat. Ultimately much of the writing was about writing about advertising, and coverage. Fans don't want to read that you think the latest superhero film looks like doo-doo, unless everyone has already decided a film is crap - or your demographic has. But even then, you could invite the wrath of a publicist. And though Miles Teller and THE FANTASTIC FOUR might be toxic at the moment, that doesn't mean Fox or Teller won't remember.

My interest in cinema has always covered the spectrum, from silents to indies to everything in between, and it became obvious quickly what the beat was: Superhero rumors and blockbuster cinema, which is what it is. I would be just as happy to write about Hitchcock's filmography, but as we've learned, the internet isn't champing at the bit for that. So when I was cut loose, I wasn't actively pursuing other opportunities in the same field. I started online at Binaryflix (a long defunct DVD review site), and after fifteen years of writing online I was okay with basically churning out articles upon request and the odd review of Blu-rays for Collider.com.

The funny thing was that when I got the call from the editor-in-chief of Screencrush about my demotion, I couldn't have really given a shit. A week and a half earlier, I met a woman. She lived in my apartment complex, we met outside on a summer day, and I had charmed her. It also turned out she was famous. She suggested we hang out before she left town, and though I was reticent, when my roommate basically shamed me into asking her out (though I was building up to it), I contacted her. And we basically saw each other every day before she left town, going to an art thing, or out dancing, or just having some soup. The day I got the call, I was supposed to meet her to watch the World Cup, and my first thought was that it meant I was free to enjoy the date, and wouldn't have to run back to work.

The Lady in Question
She was leaving the next day, and my cinema-addled mind felt the whole thing had a taste of BEFORE SUNRISE, so more time was more time. The most beautiful woman I have ever known wanted to spend time with me and so how could I be bummed that I was out of work?

The other thing was that a friend told me he had a job for me when a project came together. We had talked about it a couple weeks previous, and it seemed like it could "go" shortly. What's a couple of weeks? My mom said she would help me out, and I still had some money coming in. The lady of my life was gone, but about two weeks later I sent her an email saying I missed her, and a flood of emails, with videos and messages went back and forth culminating in her mentioning a party she had to go to in Sommerset that weekend. I said I couldn't afford a flight. She said she had frequent flyer miles. I had never met my nephew before, and he lived in London, so how do you not?

And it was crazy. It was a mild notion on Tuesday and by Thursday I was heading to LAX bound for London. One of the many favorite parts of my trip was going through customs, where they asked me where I was staying and how long I would be there, and I honestly had no idea. The three days I spent with her in England were pure fucking magic, and I remember so many details. One of my favorite, the one I'll spare, is how we noted that my arms are as big as her legs, and we would compare the two. Sometimes the intimacy of a touch is the most meaningful.

I would never talk about any of this stuff online, though when friends would get in contact, I loved to share the story. You work out the rhythms of how to contract or expand the narrative for maximum interest, you judge how much people want to hear. I found that women tended to appreciate (or pretend to) the story more than most guys. Leonard Maltin told me about seeing THE POSTMAN on the Warner Brothers lot while we were attending a screening, and it was a great moment for me. I've always liked Leonard Maltin, and was happy to hear a great private anecdote, and was melancholy when I heard him tell the same story on a podcast. But I realized also that some stories are going to be dined out on for a lifetime. As I had one of those, I couldn't blame him for doing the same.

But I also know that mine is the sort of story that - even with close friends - can go be toxic. Morrissey had a point about how we hate it when friends become successful, and though that's not always the case, you don't want to alienate people with your great story or luck. Social media makes such confessions a minefield.

On a emotional level, I was happy it happened as weeks stretched into months, and prosperity seemed just around the corner. As with many movie-related enterprises, there is rarely an expedited process, and so what seemed like something that might start shortly kept moving the goal posts. All the while the Lose It app showed my progress. Eventually I won and went from around 300 pounds to around 200. I would walk for hours and hours, or hit the gym and burn as many calories as possible. I would go out dancing and count the minutes to see how much I was doing. I would also hit Linkedin every day and scour for work. What seemed right? I had a number of great jobs over my career, but they weren't exactly trade skills. Most fit into something akin to middle management, and most were jobs that I got through a friend (or a friend of a friend). Linkedin updates at the end of a day around six or so at night, so I would figure out walks and exercises that would keep me busy enough to come back and check in around then.

After a while craigslist and other sites enter into the picture. You take risks. You change what level of shit you're willing to eat. I found some things that felt like iron pyrite, but some I pursued in the odd chance it would lead to gold. At points I felt like Dave in the airlock in 2001, going into the atmosphere hoping that you could complete a task before the cold of space killed you. That airlock was something I felt a couple of times, but I have been able to scrape by- even if I have incurred debt along the way, signing up for multiple credit cards to help pay the bills. I hated a lot about my life, and when struggling like that, it makes you feel less sharp, less on point. Some days you want to see everything that's happening on Twitter, some days it just feels like being raked over the coals and you only check your mentions. You're not engaging in the world in a way you want to, you try to stuff any suicidal thoughts away as foolish, because you know that that thing is about to happen if you just wait and you also know that a beautiful woman once sent you to London to spend time with her, so how are you not awesome?

But when the months pile up, it's hard not to enter a perpetual state of depression, or at least feel a level of failure that wears on you, and it makes writing for fun or about anything a greater task. It makes reading stressful. And so her picture became a totem. And so I fought off the bad thoughts and lack of success with thoughts of when it did work, when I was in better straights, and thought about the end of the tunnel. And you keep looking for it. And you try your best to take a job doing something you know is beneath you, but you would be happy to work, because you would be happy to take anything.

And so often the forms and the amount of backstory needed becomes a hurdle. I'm 39, I've had lots of jobs. For the love of god, don't make me list every single one. I don't use drugs. Don't make me pee.

As of Monday, 8/17, I will have full time employment for a while. And it's something I'm comfortable with on a lot of levels. I am excited about the job as I will be working on the Sony lot. I will also not publish this until either late into Monday or sometime soon thereafter. Because I am superstitious, and because the last year and change have led me to not count anything as golden until it becomes concrete.

When I left her in the King's Cross station to return to her European home, I knew it was likely over as I had neither the funds nor the location to make a relationship work. I emailed from time to time, hoping she would want me as a plus one again, but did not count on it, though as one does when a relationship is virtually over, you hope a repeated trick has the same value the second time. As I've said, when it's a one and done, it is what it is, but when you get a sequel, you hope for a franchise. It was not to be, and we haven't spoken in a while, though my guess is if that I went to Europe on an extended vacation, I might be able to spend some time with her, if she wasn't otherwise disposed.

That said, her presence in my life is one of the things that has kept me going over the last year and change. Maybe in a good way in that I never hit levels of depression where I was thinking so poorly that I truly contemplated a real end to things, and maybe in a bad way, in that I didn't feel the fire under my butt until relatively recently.

I don't like FORREST GUMP, but I also accept that the feather metaphor isn't total junk. Sometimes we float through life. I am happy where I am right now, I'm happy to know I've got a steady gig for the next couple, even if it isn't permanent, and even if it just gets me through the next few months. But also, that's sort of the world we live in right now, at least for me, nothing feels permanent, but it's good to enjoy what's happening while it is. It sucks to be out of work, or doing jobs that feel like shit. I've been there, I've done it over the past couple. But also life can be great, and sometimes patience is required. Oh well. I'm not dead.

It also raised a question of my writing. For the last couple of years, without steady employment, it's been hard to write for fun. Oh, I've had ideas and things I've plugged away at, but without a safety net for mental security it's been hard to tinker with things without feeling guilty. Without hating myself coming to the forefront before tinkering.

If things work out, you may be seeing more of me here. Or working on projects that aren't here. But - with the break - I think I'm back to wanting to essay shit. And to work on other things. I wrote this, right?