Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Hush

The most memorable part of an old-fashioned rollercoaster ride, in my humble opinion, is the climb to the top of that first peak. The jerking motion, the click-click-click as you rise to the top filling you with anticipation, and the momentary pause as, sitting in the first car, you feel the interminable pause at the summit, just before you plunge into the unknown. That yawning chasm of silence was often more dramatic than what came before or after. These past few weeks of silence on the blog has been an echo of that silence. And now, the last click has sounded, and I’m over the edge.

All of which is to say, after a proud association of 11 years, I’m no longer with the Channing Bete Company. I’ve left those fields for other pastures that are perhaps less green, likely more barren and rocky, but entirely my own. I leave with a very nice recommendation, and constant butterflies in my stomach. I’m following up some freelance opportunities for a bit while I scan for a new position, dealing with COBRA issues and other changeovers from being the single support of a family of four. But with the love and support of my family and friends, I’ve taken the plunge and started the next leg of the roller coaster ride.

There are uncertainties as I seek determinately for a position that is better than what I had, which is my ultimate goal, and which I was having no luck pursuing part-time. Scary uncertainties, sure. But having this time gives the opportunity of discovery. One of the things I’ve already discovered in tackling my first hurdle, reworking my resume, is that I’ve done a hell of a lot. I have a pretty solid resume, which you’re free to check out here, mostly in print media. Beyond working in comics (and I’ve worked on and directed some pretty neat books there…), I’ve designed entire magazines, and graphic identities for nationwide programs. I’ve designed logos, and am close to getting Adobe Certified Expert status in PhotoShop and InDesign. I’ve done a lot. But it’s not close to what I know I can accomplish, and that’s been a bit frustrating.

If I want to get into the new media of Flash and Action scripting and web design however, I’m not going to be able to do that part-time, around my other commitments. It’s going to require real work, full time work. It’s going to require expanding my horizons beyond Western Massachusetts, into Boston and Hartford and, yes, perhaps even back to New York. I’m just not sure yet. But I’m figuring it out, fast.

Those of you who’ve been reading between the lines of this blog for the past few months will see this as the culmination of subconscious of unconscious acts. Those of you who know me well will not see this as a big surprise. Others, about now, are giving their screen the head to the side, furrowed brow, puppy dog look. To them I can only point to a sheet of paper I’ve had tacked up beside my desk at home. I found it at Marvel, and had it where I could see it every day. Recently, I found it again in cleaning up my home office, and placed it high where, again, I’m reading it daily. It says:
"The most unfortunate thing that happens to a person who fears failure is that he limits himself by becoming afraid to try anything new. Give yourself a chance.”

This certainly hasn’t been an easy entry to write, as I typically like to feel like I end these explorations with a bit more certainty than I’m evoking here. But, sometimes, that’s the nature of the start of the roller coaster ride. You know where you get off—that’s the certainty, that it will end at point X. It’s the in-between stuff that’s scary. But that’s what you pay the price of admission for, isn’t it?

And so, the last click sounded, the ride begins.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Jumping the Shark

Everybody is the hero of his, or her, own life story. You run through the script every day, living up to your character, maybe throwing in some twists and turns and major and minor motivations. You try to bring the story a little closer to its conclusion—hopefully its happy ending—daily, page by page, frame by frame.

When I was a little kid, I’d look at life like that, as a Star Trek episode or an episode of The Wild Wild West, with myself as the main character. The only thing that annoyed me about every episode of those shows was how the lead would develop a love interest through the course of the story, and get her at the end, but then never see or mention her again in subsequent episodes. They’d been through so much together, how could he just let her go? That was just one of the several elements of the undefinable hero-ness that I never seemed to get. It wasn’t always and ever about just me, and frankly, I didn’t really want it to be. Series that are about just me; The Prisoner, The Fugitive, The Hulk, are inevitably depressing.

So maybe, I thought, it was better to look at myself as part of an ensemble cast. Some episodes of the Brady Bunch focused on Peter, some on Jan, some on Marsha and Greg. And though they started every episode fresh, there was also the development of relationships, and continuity. But then there was the downside of the ensemble cast-the fact that sometimes you were just there as a supporting role, and when that support became your main role, where were you left, then? Whatever did happen to Tiger, anyway?

Seriously though, when I was younger, I would wonder about that. Would I be the hero, the one whose adventures the readers wanted to follow, or would I be the sidekick, able to step forward into a solo role from time to time, but mostly the Robin supporting the Batman, the Kato to someone else’s Green Hornet, the essential, but also essentially supporting, character to the heroes quest, without a quest of my own. And I didn’t like that idea very much. It became a sort of paradigm that I’d hold my life up against, from time to time-am I the supporting character in this episode? I mean, I want to support the cast. But by the same token, I don’t want to be easily able to be written off—not without the possibility of a strong spin-off series of my own as follow-up.

Prince Valiant, the classic soap opera daily strip, continued to follow the life of Val well after he was married and had kids, but increasingly the stories began to focus around the kids, to the point of their even taking over the main plotlines from time to time. Maybe that’s the inevitable progression of the storyline, that it passes onto a new generation and they become the heroes of the piece, with our acting as support, supplanted in the feature role, and willingly so. But while there’s something life affirming in that continuity, there’s also something a little sad. We haven’t even come to the main climax, yet, the one we’ve been working toward for decades, the promised “this one changes everything” dénouement. And it is coming, isn’t it? Mustn’t it?

So this is Middle Age, years into the popular top ten hit, and we hit the point where traditionally the series will try to Jump the Shark to keep up viewer interest. All the major conflicts having been resolved, and newer subplots slower to develop, and something needs to change. This is the time when the writers who have been here from early on start scratching their heads for new direction, maybe the time to bring in a new creative team to shake things up a bit. Such a course could create brand new excitement, or it could derail a series and lose all interest. This is the time where everyone looks forward to a season retrospective, and collectively ask, what next? It’s a time when I look over the series a bit dispassionately, as dispassionately as I can in a series in which I’m so intricately involved, and ask; am I still the hero of this story? What to do, what to do?

Sometimes I wish life could be a movie adaptation of a series. In that, you can look back over the whole life of the thing, and craft a specific story, set that story up really early and start to pay it off spectacularly. Watching Spider-Man III (and I will!), you'd never know that Mary Jane Watson was an after-thought girlfriend, brought to center stage when Peter Parker's real love interest was killed tragically by bad and ill-conceived writing. That's because the movie has the entire storyline to pick and choose and pull from, discarding the meandering ideas that went nowhere, and the years of bad writing, to create a new central core of solid story that gives the illusion of intent, and meaning, and a sense of destiny. But something is also lost by eliminating the meandering. I still remember you, Gwen Stacey, and as you were, not as the revisionist current comics are painting you. I still know you were the love of Peter's life. And I still know how important that is.

Anyway, only half of this entry is tongue-in-cheek. Sometimes I really do review my life as fiction, trying to figure out what the current twist means, and working to pull meaning out of disconnected events. Because there has to be meaning in there. somewhere. There must be. Mustn’t it?

Tune in next week, for another exciting episode. One hopes.