The “I” of the Sh*tstorm

Pursuing a dream sounds like a romantic quest. Heroic, even. You fight the good fight, full of integrity and determination (or at least piss and vinegar). People call you brave or inspiring (instead of batshit crazy). And you return their praise with a slightly confident smile (because you’ve learned how to wince from your stomach cramps with style).

Really, pursuing a dream is a shitstorm of unpredictability, poverty, stress, isolation, frustration, coffee, chocolate and vodka. Until you run out of vodka…and can’t afford more. Then, it’s Angry Birds. Lots and lots of Angry Birds. They have a cathartic-yet-numbing effect.

Add in the awful economy and pursuing a dream becomes an even more spectacular adventure. Double the unpredictability, triple the stress and frustration, and ten-fold the poverty and isolation. At that point, there’s not enough Angry Birds in the world. And staring at the empty spot in your freezer where your vodka once lived is the pathetic cherry atop the crap sundae.

The past six months were a special hell. I was unceremoniously sacked by the world’s bitterest old man in November. You would think someone so close to popping his clogs would work on being nice in the event there is, indeed, a maker to meet, but not that venerable turd. His career peaked somewhere in the early 70s, and he’s spent the last four decades having to explain that he was once somebody, and knows people who are people, and some of those people were once his assistants, and *that’s* why he should have *that* table (which, at the end of the day, was pretty easy to get…because most reservations at 6pm are). I suppose that would make anyone cranky, but seriously. If you confuse the word “email” with “fax” and go on to emphatically demand that I email you something, you really don’t have the right to scream at me the next morning because I didn’t fax it to you. I put up with this brand of pleasantry for six months and did so with a smile, because he was gone a lot and while he was gone I was able to re-watch all of “Thirtysomething”, “Twin Peaks”, “Mad Men” and “Rescue Me” on Netflix Instant, and write a new screenplay. Believe it or not, I was sacked not because of watching Netflix or writing screenplays, or because I was bad at the job, or even insubordinate (I was fairly confident with his poor hearing he wasn’t catching what I said under my breath). I was sacked because I was “too fast”. Not in a slutty way, I assure you. That’s totally gross and really inappropriate for you to even silently suggest.

Here’s the bitch of it: The night before I was unceremoniously sacked, I had a meeting with one of my producing partners and three friends who are helping out with funding. [Side Note: The “dream” I’m pursuing is getting at least one of my screenplays funded before I pop my clogs.] After the meeting, the producing partner and I went out to a cheap Thai place for dinner and, while I was high on half a bottle of Singha, I declared: “I want to *not* need this job by December 20th. I want us to get these films funded so when [redacted name of asshat boss] gets back from New York, I can give my notice and we can start pre-production.” My producing partner smiled at me like I was missing a few marbles and said, “All right, then. Let’s see how it goes.” Because he’s a man and doesn’t get that when you put your mind to something, it can happen.

I thought I was pretty clear in my declaration of the timeframe I was aiming for, so imagine my surprise when the very next day I got the boot. What part of “December 20th” did you not get, Universe? Because I got sacked on November 3rd. While I didn’t relish the fact I would no longer have steady income, I did accept that, hey, I created this. In some weird Witches of Eastwick way, I conjured up my own sacking. Sure, Fate or whomever completely ignored my requested end date, and the fact that I wanted the films to be actually funded before calling it quits, but I had literally asked for this. I was going to embrace it and trust that everything was going to work out just fine.

That feeling lasted about two weeks.

See, I was still recovering from 2009, when the economy first kicked me in the moneyballs and I enjoyed eight months of unemployment. During that shitstorm, friends were kind enough to lend me money to keep me in my duplex and off their sofas. I appreciated their generosity and kindly ignored the fact that they were more or less paying for me not to live with them. By that November, I actually found work and ended up taking my first gawd-awful, clockwatching desk job working for two emotionally and financially unstable, Rush Limbaugh-listening semi-retirees…although, they referred to themselves as “entrepreneurs”. I was just happy to have a job, as soul-draining as it was. I stuck it out for eighteen months. Then, I landed the job with the old charmer.

The underbelly of pursuing a dream — especially in this economy — is the jobs you have to take in order to survive. And, yes, you are grateful to have work. Even if it is work where you watch your life slowly tick by while chained to a desk. If you were doing anything at all productive or constructive, you would leave at the end of the day feeling pretty good. Assuaging egos is not akin to curing cancer. It also doesn’t really stoke the creative fires. At the end of the day, I would drive home, crawl onto my sofa and pray for Friday to come.

So, when I took the job with the growling senior citizen, I swore it would be my last desk job. Ever. Of course, that’s because I thought one of my four screenplays would be bought, optioned or funded (which really isn’t as much of a pipe dream as it sounds because three of them have attachments and two of them have had offers — shite offers, but offers just the same). I believed it would finally happen. And I believe in believing in things. You have to have faith in what you do. Otherwise, you just look stupid. Because why would you put yourself through this kind of torture if you didn’t believe it was worth it?

Here’s yet another bitch of the situation: Because I was working as an independent contractor, I didn’t get unemployment benefits. And, all those friends who were so kind to have helped me in 2009? The economy hit them in the moneyballs in 2010. I had no cushion when I took this fall. I went right into the eye of the shitstorm.

Looking for work around Thanksgiving and Christmas is right up there with getting a root canal, rectal and pap smear all at once — and you get to do it all day, every day while cheery holiday songs are blasted ad nauseam. You pray things will get better after New Year (because that’s what your headhunters tell you). But it doesn’t, really. And you would think this would be the perfect time for me to network and try to push the film projects, but it’s hard to invite people to coffee or drinks when you can’t pick up the tab. Not to mention I didn’t really have gas money to get across town for any office meetings, or feed the parking meter. No, seriously. Quarters were used for laundry only.

Two headhunters and not one lead. When you send out dozens of resumes on Craigslist without getting one response (and, believe me, an auto-reply would’ve been overly welcomed), you sort of reach a whole new low. Thankfully, old clients hired me for day jobs.  If I was lucky, I would work two days in one week. My property manager let me be late with the rent (and by “late” I mean it would usually come at the end of the month). When my cable was shut off, I curled up on the floor and cried. I could live without HBO, but functioning without in-home internet was more than I could bear. A friend whose social media I was helping with agreed that internet was necessary, and that bill was kindly paid.

Car registration and a smog check could not have been more poorly timed. You can make a list of all the things you can cut back on (food) and live without (social life), but when it comes to contacts and lens solution and tampons, these things are not inexpensive, nor can you just decide to skip them for the month. Other personal items, like shampoo and toothpaste, were purchased in “travel size”. It was enough to get by until the next day job came. And all those odd smelling soaps you get as random Christmas gifts you never think you’ll never use? You will.

Then, a friend hired me to ghostwrite and edit her book, and the financial hemorrhage slowed. At the beginning of March, I finally had an actual job interview. A month later, I actually landed that part-time position (thankfully, not a desk job). Then, I got another book client, and another consulting client. And I stocked up on vodka (because it was on sale and I fully understood the benefit of stockpiling needed items when you could). It’s great to have work (and vodka) again, and have money coming in, but it’s also like putting on a Band-Aid after you’ve bled out. The bleeding might’ve stopped but, without a transfusion, it’s going to be a long time before I’m fully back on my feet.

But, here’s the deal: I created this. I decided to work less to spend more time writing. I decided to have a haphazard lifestyle in order to craft this someday-career. I am the “i” of the sh*tstorm. Hitting the skids is one of the prices to be paid for pursuing this dream. Friends who have watched me rollercoaster over these last three years say, “I don’t know how you do it.” But I know more than a few of them think, “I don’t know why you do it.” I do it because I have no other choice. A dream is like a demon inside of you. You are driven by it. And, sometimes, it drives you pretty close to the edge.

For now, I’m back on track and working to make up lost ground. One of the screenplays is out to a hot, young director (and, hopefully, one day, he’ll actually read it). The creative juices are flowing again and other artistic friends are inspiring me on what to tackle next. It seems I have survived it. And all I can do is enjoy the calm and sunshine before the next storm hits. Because, when you live a creative life, you know there will always be another storm. And, that’s okay. It’s the price we have to pay. All I can hope for is that I’ll be able to batten down the hatches a bit better next time, and have a better stash of supplies.

{Annoyingly true. Only the lows can be much lower.}


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