I've been taking a lot of stock of my life over the past few weeks. 2006, while being 100% better than 2005 for us, creatively-speaking, really tried to go out kicking and screaming since the beginning of December, unleashing a lot of hell upon us. I'll refer everyone to my previous blog, which details the absolute worst day of my entire life and kicked off a chain of, while not tragic, per se, certainly annoying events. But that's the way most years seem to go out, so I'm trying to take it all in stride.
2005, as I've mentioned, was one ball-kick after another, and I vowed that 2006 would be an improvement. And it was. We shot 3 1/2 really stand-out projects this year (High Stakes, Abattoir, Blood Bath and our upcoming Retreat which will be finished by the middle of January). Put on a pretty decent convention, put out four really great issues of Sirens of Cinema, and set the ground-work for what might be an even more successful 2007.
2006 saw me drift in and out of a number of part-time jobs, most of which ended due to my conflicts outside of gainful employment. But this December, I landed something that is not only paying me consistently, but also wound up being terrifically flexible, ensuring I won't have to quit or inconvenience anyone when Amy and I have to travel out of town for shoots, conventions, etc. (It's so flexible, I went to work last Thursday to be told that the entire office was closed from the 22nd to the 2nd, so that was a pleasant surprise.) What's better, I actually enjoy the work. Yeah, I have to drive an hour and a half to get there, drop Amy off at work, then walk two miles across the City of Shattered Dreams and Tumbleweeds that is Pittsburgh, PA, but that's going to ensure that I will also get back into shape and lose some of the full-time writer's physique I've acquired from sitting on my ass every single day for the past five years.
And I'm slowly relearning how to accept happiness. It will take a lot of work, and a possible new and nifty prescription of American medication (the chemical solution to life's problems) to get back on track, but I think I actually made some headway today.
It's my biggest problem right now: suspicion of good fortune. I live with the constant fear that I am standing on a big white 'X' and any time something good happens, I'm convinced that it will immediately be followed by a falling piano. It's gotten to the point that any amount of good news has me not only knocking on wood out of heathen superstition, but coming to feel in my heart of hearts that the good fortune will be, at any moment, snatched away from me anyway so there's no point in actually celebrating. In short: I've conditioned myself, Pavlov-style, to reject happiness like a mismatched transplanted organ. I replace any good feelings, as quickly as I can, with suspicion, dread and, usually, anger.
And quite frankly, I'm tired of feeling this way.
I've counted here, many times over, how this self-fulfilling prophecy has worked for me. I celebrate a script deal, then watch it slowly turn to shit in the hands of others. I complete a project, then dread that it will be poorly-received, rejected, etc. And I have to ask: is this fate's doing, or my own karmic sabotage? Is optimism truly an invitation for luck to vanish? Or is my pessimism simply taking over the minute a smile creeps onto my face?
So I tried an experiment today.
Yesterday, we took our car in for a simple alignment and oil change. The whole job would have cost $50 tops. An hour later, our mechanic calls with this question: "Did you know your oil pan is cracked and that your car is officially undrivable?" Our $50 quick fix suddenly became a $400 nightmare. We're only a few days past Christmas, folks; we got no money to cover this very necessary expenditure. So last night, while I tried to hang out with Don and Jeff, both of whom stinging from problems of their own, I wallowed in worry and doubt and fret.
This morning, we discovered that my first paycheck from the new company had come in just before Christmas and I hadn't opened it. Inside, minus taxes, was about half of what we need to cover the car. (The other half will arrive in a matter of days from one of the companies I do publicity for.) Even better, I discovered that I'm making roughly a dollar per hour more than I initially expected from this new company.
Now the experiment: I allowed myself to be happy about this turn of events. It was fortune. If I'd opened the mail on the day it had come, we'd have spent the money already - either on other bills or on more presents for each other or... well, the list is endless. In any event, it would have been allocated for other things. We found it at just the right time. I gave myself exactly one minute to worry - was the phone going to ring and announce some new car problem? Would our second car's wheels miraculously and simultaneously blow off in all four directions needing a replacement to the tune of my first paycheck right down to the penny? The minute passed. Nothing new and disasterous happened. I had, it would seem, sidestepped the 'X'. The piano didn't fall. So I relaxed.
This wasn't easy for me. Being raised Catholic, martyrdom comes very easily to me. I considered the above a very big step in my becoming a new human being. One that will actually allow himself to be happy.
I don't know if anyone's noticed, but I can be a bit of a bastard. I know, I know, it's hard to believe. I don't take compliments well. I have mastered the Ninja style of Sarcasm and use it in both defense and offense. I'm narcissistic, self-loathing, edgy, jumpy, raging, egotistical and tend to lash out at those I love and refer to it as "affection". And God (or whoever) help me, I'm trying to change. Mellow at the very least. I'm tired of smashing bones on unyielding walls when frustration pushes me to the breaking point. Mainly because my breaking point is getting easier and easier to reach any more. Hence the grey hair, the TMJ, ragged nails, and steel cables connecting my neck to my shoulders. T'ain't healthy. But I'm trying.
So my New Year's resolutions have nothing to do with the sit-com cliches. I just want to work on making 2007 work better for me than 2006. Again, professionally, we already have some wheels turning that could translate to some really exciting projects including a new feature, the possible sale of two past features and the possible appearance of yet another of our past features in dollar stores across the country. Sure, there are a lot of "maybes" in there, not a lot of "is"s, but they're all steps in the right direction. There's a lot of potential for "woo hoo" in there. I'd like to actually feel the celebration when they happen. And you'll notice, too, the "when" there. Because, for the love of God (or whoever), I'm very, oh so very, tired of "if"s.
So the big white "X" be damned. Imaginary fate piano be damned. I'm going to try giving optimism a shot. I'm going to try very hard to not turn every corner prepared to duck a punch. I'm not so naive to know this isn't going to be difficult. I'm fully aware that I'm talking about undoing years of conditioning, Catholic and White Guilt and plain old modern day pessimism. Just because I wear a lot of black doesn't mean I want to go Goth, emotionally.
So bear with me, me, because you're in for a hell of a battle, I think.
I'd like to leave 2006 with a collection of random thoughts:
- Driving across the McKees Rocks bridge the other day, I noticed a Pro-Life abolitionist standing at the light wearing a sandwich board. On it was a photo of an aborted fetus, in a circle, with a big red line through it, like a "no smoking" sign. I realized I never see any pro-Choice people doing the same sort of thing. What would the Pro-Choice equivalent to that sign be? The same picture of the same dead baby, only with a "Thumbs Up" next to it?
This thought got me giggling all the way across the bridge. Which is what made me realize, yet again, that I'm a very sick individual. And that thought made me proud.
Speaking of "no smoking", two restaurants are suing the City of Pittsburgh - with backing money from RJ Reynolds, no less - over the recent city-wide smoking ban. And I applauded the suit, feeling more than slightly greasy that I agree with any stance that RJ Reynolds "Big Tobacco" is taking.
I don't smoke; I hate smoke. It makes me physically ill. I hate the way I smell when I come home after a day spent with smokers. I needle my smoking friends and thank them for the cancer whenever they light up around me. I think it's an idiotic habit. And I insist that if they're allowed to smoke, I should be allowed to chronically masturbate. (And it makes me uncomfortable when they tell me to go for it right there in their living rooms...)
But I never want to be the guy who tells someone what they can and can't do. I ask that people don't smoke inside my house. Everyone I know who smokes respects that. Most of my smoking friends will point their smoke away from me as much as possible. But if this ban goes through, what's the next thing to go? Table salt? Alcohol (again)? Noisy children? (Actually, that last one isn't such a bad idea) Once you outlaw one thing, other things follow. It's a dangerous path, this smoking ban, and I want to see it eliminated. If I end up in my grave because of second-hand smoke-induced cancer, at least it came from the lungs of my friends and at least I wasn't rescued by the Gestapo.
Dane Cook isn't funny. I'm sorry everyone. And the Original Kings of Comedy are none of the above. Redneck humor can go away now too. We already have pro wrestling, what do we need Larry the Cable Guy for?
The title of the movie Invincible annoys me. It's about a guy named "Vince", so I'm sure Hollywood thought it was being clever by naming the film Invincible. Really, what the title is translating to is The Inability to be Vince. It was a dumb idea, guys. For Christ's sake, think!
I'm tired of cute talking animal movies. I thought after Barn Yard and Flushed Away and Over the Hedge that everyone else was too. Then Happy Feet came out and we're back in that rut again.
Freedom Writers... how many times are they going to make this movie? Dangerous Minds, Take the Lead, Step it Up, Dead Poets Society ... Teachers, could you just have a positive influence on your kids and take pride in that? Stop writing books about the experiences. Please. Just give us a decade or so to recover, okay? We're all still stinging from Pay it Forward.
The Star Wars Trilogy was released, unmolested, on DVD around Thanksgiving. All is finally right with the world. We can finally stop holding our breaths in fear of what Lucas may do to us next. We got our childhood back...
Until next year,