Sunday, February 28, 2016

Hearts of Gold

The Oscars are on tonight and throwing a sharp contrast on how much my perspective on life has changed. 13 years  ago I was a naive kid who hadn't seen a movie (I could probably count the number of movies I saw in my childhood on both hands. Base 12 anyone?). A digression, sorry - "blame it on the ADD". So there I was, young, really dumb and married at 20 wondering what the hell I was doing. Trying to enjoy life for once I began watching movies that I thought God wouldn't hate me for staying up late into the night perusing every behind-the-scenes section of the DVDs.

Coming into the "real" world where you actually have to know how to function somewhat to survive, I thought maybe I could assimilate into something less structured and not requiring a degree. Movie making fit those requirements and it also had the allure of being "cool". I thought actors were swell people I would love to hang out with. Their job seemed awesome too. They got to do the things I would only dream of being able to do, many times in places of the world I thought I would never see. What if I could be an actor too? I dared to dream a little bit. The very notion of that would have seemed ridiculous to anyone who knew me as a kid. I avoided speaking in public as much as possible. I didn't really like talking to people that much either, I suppose, but felt like I had to carry on conversations to be polite. Shy would be an understatement. Timid was much more accurate. In fact that was the reason given for why I didn't make it into my college's traveling singing group. They didn't tell me why, I had to ask. I knew the reason before I pried it out of the director but needed to hear someone else say it. I told him "I don't care that you cut me but would like to know why so I can know what to work on." This was my mentality: everything has a solution if you just look and work hard enough.

Unfortunately, I managed to get myself tangled up in some kind of existential math problem for which I wasn't equipped to tackle in the least. I probably couldn't have even simplified terms because I didn't understand what that meant. Of course this is all an analogy but let me talk about academics for a minute. Math didn't stick whatsoever. I was given the lesson book and answer key and told "do the lessons, check your work and if you have a question ask your sister. If she can't help you ask your dad when he gets home from work." My sister was of little help because she didn't understand what she was doing most of the time but simply memorized the steps. I remember my father shaking his head in incredulity asking "how did you get any of these problems correct doing it that way?"

Dad had too much going on between driving 3 hours commuting to work every day and then trying to build their house so I didn't want to bother him. Instead I started my Algebra book over 3 times because by the time I had reached the middle I couldn't remember what I had learned at the beginning - it didn't make any sense to me and the memory banks were full of gibberish white noise generated by fear. Math, like I said, isn't so much the point as it is to say I was ill equipped to live in the real world. But every problem has a solution.

I'll truncate the history of the next 4 years. 1 month film school followed by trying to have a videographery business in a rural town of 9000, tried an acting and modeling "competition", decided to move out to LA. Let me stop here for a minute and tell you how bad of a fuck up that trip to LA was. I already had one child and another one on the way when I decided to pull this stunt. I figured that the only thing I needed to do was put myself where the opportunities were and get away from all the negative people who didn't believe in me. I was so clueless in fact that I walked up to the security officer at the front gate at Sony Studios in Culver City, CA and told the man that I wanted to talk to someone about getting a job as a production assistant. He gave me the email address to HR which is pretty much the last way to get a job as a PA. You'd have more luck standing on an exit ramp with a poster board saying you wanted to be a PA than emailing HR. I actually tried the poster board thing once just to see what it felt like but that's a story for another time.

2.5 months into the stint in LA I was flat broke and maxed out on my credit card. I had been raised that debt was a sin and felt like a complete failure. Not only had I not been able to provide for a growing family, I had gone into debt to keep them alive. I sent the others back east and decided to see if I could make it on my own before giving up. On the drive out to LA our Nissan Pathfinder threw a rod climbing a hill four miles from the Grand Canyon we had decided to go out of the way to see. Undeterred we loaded our meager possessions from the back of the Pathfinder and tow behind Uhaul into a 32' moving van and continued on. Not having a vehicle I figured the cheapest way to solve that problem was to buy a scooter off of craigslist. It was hot pink and a little beaten up but it was only $600 which seemed like a bargain to me especially when I was putting it on my credit card. Pride be damned, the haughty hold themselves back I figured.  I almost got a ticket from a cop for not wearing a helmet as I was on my way to buy a helmet. For once a cop believed the truth although it probably would have saved me some trouble if he hadn't. He probably just didn't feel like spending time dealing with a dude riding a pink scooter.

Flying solo I finally landed a job at a Home Depot in San Pedro. My scooter was going to make getting to work way easier since I didn't have a smart phone and was half terrified of the bus system. Talking to a future co-worker on the way to the parking lot after the second day of orientation I thought this won't be so bad. I'll work here for a bit to get on my feet and then get a job in production somehow. When we reached the spot where I had left my scooter I was mortified to see that it was gone. Had I parked it somewhere else and forgotten? It's pretty hard to miss anything that pink so I headed inside to talk to security. They check the tapes and found that the police had come and impounded it. I found out later it was for not having a license plate - something I had been told wasn't needed on a 49cc engine. That was the final straw. I knew the scooter wasn't worth fixing (turn signals, speedometer to name a couple) and I wasn't going to even have the money to get it out of impound. Defeated I returned to Georgia feeling absolutely worthless.

Fast forward through 2 years of scraping by building websites, washing windows, construction etc. I knew I would have to do something soon or I would be impoverished my entire life. What if I could get a ticket to LA for really cheap and have a job interview lined up before I went out there? That seemed legit so I worked on it and of course in those days prayed about it a good bit. I did have an idea pop into my head to call someone who worked for an airline and see if they knew of any way I could get cheaper flights. I was unaware there was a buddy pass system and when my friend said he could get a ticket for $35 for me my jaw about hit the floor. I could do $35 to get to LA. Next I found a computer store in Glendale that was looking for a good technician. Having been certified in computer repair when I was 15, it was something I could do but never pursued because I didn't think I was smart enough to get paid the big bucks and fixing viruses was boring. A phone call later the owner was on the line and listened to my pitch. "Well I would hate for you to fly out here just to interview at my shop but if you end up here, swing on by." I affirmed that I would, thanked him and hung up.

I rode the bus for an hour and a half to the interview, nailed it, and then rode another bus for an hour and a half to Studio City where I had a good feeling about a lead on an apartment. I thought things were all finally working out. I was going to work in entertainment and still retain my Christianity. I hoped to show my parents and others that I could "love God" but have a nice and maybe even glamorous life. 

The computer job wanted me to sign a contract for l2 years which I was averse to mostly because I was afraid that I would get comfortable and not go after my dream so I turned it down wondering if I was a huge idiot. A few months later after working with a friends dad installing fencing and still not having a place to live I decided that I had to bring my family out anyway. I felt it was wrong for me to be away even though I was doing something productive. The short version of this segment is that I was able to get a job as a PA in reality television which at first seemed cool but then second rate compared to "actual TV and Film". When I wasn't a PA I worked as an extra to make money but also hoping I would land a job as a PA or somehow a grip on one of the sets - or gasp, maybe even be discovered. None of it happened and in 2011, after struggling to get by, I packed it in and moved back to GA.

A year later adjusting to the shift in life, dreams seemingly dashed again, the questions surrounding surviving a serious scooter accident (this time not pink) - things began to take some vague shape in my mind. Whatever I was doing wasn't working and I needed to figure out what that was. Separation, divorce, a couple jobs later and all of a sudden I'm back in the film business but as a grip this time. My persistence had paid off and I was thrilled. So thrilled that I didn't mind living out of my car for six months as I soaked in the glory of having a reason to get up in the morning. (This blog was started in my car one night when I was sitting there thinking about what to do with my free time.)

Now it's 2016 and my brain hasn't stopped churning as I've come to see that my whole life was a bunch of bullshit. I had tried to live by someone else's handbook. It felt like I was a wrench some asshole had been using to hammer in nails on his dream home. The fear and guilt engrained by other people interpreting god had kept me prisoner because it was attached to who I knew myself to be. It was like a false persona a spy put on but became stuck with after a smart rap to the skull by the villain induced amnesia. As soon as you start pulling the threads the entire thing comes apart and rather quickly at that. At first you think you are just ripping a thread off the edge but then all of a sudden it catches way down the fabric and bunches up. Once you start pulling at your ego things you didn't realize were connected to it are torn off as well.

I remember seeing the red carpet laid out in LA, Hollywood Blvd shut down and watching my first Oscars in LA with some cool friends I had made when I was there for the first the months in 2008. It seemed like the most amazing event to me. I imagined myself attending and giving a speech some day accepting an award for somethin. But the string cannot be unplucked and the note that at first sounded sweet is all gnarled up with pride, greed, ego, insecurity, lust etc. I'm sure it's the same it nearly every industry but that's not the world I want to live in. Actors are just people. Most of what is created as entertainment is mindless drivel and does nothing to raise the consciousness of our world. Junk food is nice from time to time but our world is falling apart and needs some drastic nutrition. Awards have always seemed rather meaningless but I did hold some reverence for things like an Oscar or a Pulitzer. That is till now. Being me every single day, that's the best award I can think of. It doesn't depend on anything that's happening around me or what other people think. Whether you win an award or not, doesn't really matter. Were you the best you, that version of you where the opinions of other people are irrelevant?

One of those ink blob tests labeled me as a " realist" earlier today. The truth I see is that all the things I thought meant something before now seem trite. We're all like a bunch of little kids thrust into a pageant trying to just be good enough and stand out. I don't mean to demean something other people love but it turns out that it's just not core to being me. Self examination is very much like the red pill and the blue pill in the matrix. You can ignore the threads or you can tug on the ones that don't make sense. Just beware, they connect to places you don't expect and soon you will feel very naked - but if you don't stop, eventually you will feel free.

As a "realist" I'm conscious of my predicament at the moment. It feels like the water once again is rising threatening to overwhelm me. I'm no longer terrified because in my mind I can see that if I sink below the water, gills will form and I will paddle around finding a way to whatever is next. I guess when we crawled out onto land the last time we forgot where we came from and how to go with the flow of the universe. We've all got gills and whatever else we need in our hearts if we keep looking for solutions and aren't too attached to our form. I fit into the world about as well as a T-800 and I've accepted that. Screw gold statues, I want a heart of gold.

Post Script: I've been studying math again in my own way through books, websites and YouTube. There is much that I still don't understand but some elements are starting to click. It's never too late or pointless to pursue what interests you.

No comments:

Post a Comment