I didn’t want to write this. And honestly, that shouldn’t come as any surprise, because for the past couple of weeks, I haven’t wanted to do much of anything.
The explanation for this malaise really depends on your point of view. A medical professional would probably diagnose me with a case of situational depression. A philosopher (and/or “The Prince of Denmark“) might suggest that I’m experiencing an existential crisis. But I’m a writer, so all I can think is, “we have now entered the ‘dark night of the soul’ portion of our story.”
Even if you’re not familiar with the terminology, you know what I’m talking about. It’s that 10-12 minutes near the end of the second act when everything – and I mean everything – goes to shit for the main character. Their significant other breaks up with them, they get fired from their job, their dog dies, their favorite sports team loses Game 7 of the NBA Finals¹, and their latest Facebook update gets zero fucking likes.
Hope is lost. Existence is questioned. And shit gets dark. Basically, it’s this song playing on a loop in your head all goddamn day²:
So, yeah, I’m having a tough time. And while my favorite team did choke away Game 7, and I have gone through a breakup recently, and I’m still not sure what will happen with my career, the thought I keep coming back to is this:
How can I be 36 years old and have so little to show for it?
To be clear, by “show for it” I am not referring to material possessions like a house, or a sports car, or even a bank account with lots of zeroes in it. I’ve never really been motivated by those things³. I’m talking about the impact I’m making / have made on the world around me.
There’s a reason I became a writer. And it’s not because I was talented, or because someone in my family did it and I looked up to them, or because I wanted to trick people into thinking I was smart. I became a writer because I spent the vast majority of my childhood by myself, and I had a deep yearning to connect with other people. Writing was like a siren’s song: here was a way that I could connect with lots and lots of people simultaneously…
…and you might say: I’ve been crashing into the cliffs ever since in pursuit of that feeling. Or at least, that’s what it can feel like sometimes.
The summer before I started film school at USC, I took an old professor of mine (from my undergrad days at UCLA) to a baseball game. As we were walking back to the car, he told me the story of another former student of his who went to film school. “He spent his two years there, he wrote a bunch of scripts, and then nothing happened,” my old professor said. It was a cautionary tale. The not-so-subtle subtext was, “Just because you’re a good writer, and you’ve gained entry into the best film school in the country doesn’t guarantee you anything.”
Obviously, he was right. And I knew that, even then. But I don’t think you can set out to be successful in anything (be it the creative arts or business or anything else) without being a little delusional — without believing that, on some level, you just might be exceptional. And life, of course, has a way of leaving you just enough bread crumbs to keep you walking down such a path.
If I was some talentless hack, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this right now. Because I wouldn’t have gotten into USC in the first place. Or secured representation. Or sold a few projects. Or had a few others that came oh so close to becoming something that you actually saw on a movie or television screen.
But that old cliche about talent and hard work being the only two things that you need to succeed? It’s starting to feel like another siren’s song. A “promise” that’s lured me to where I find myself now, more than 10 years after I started this journey: dead in the water and lost at sea.
I’m standing on the deck of a ship, staring up at the sails, waiting for the wind to pick up. Because it doesn’t seem to matter how hard or how long I blow, my lungs just don’t seem capable of getting the damn thing to move on their own.
I’ve been here before, of course. Because our lives aren’t really a single narrative so much as they’re a series of stories told over time. There was that time in college, for instance, where in the span of 10 days, my girlfriend broke up with me, my car died (for good), and I got laid off from my (then) dream job of writing for FoxSports.com. Or that time I spontaneously broke down in tears at a stop light, because I was feeling so profoundly unfulfilled by my 9-to-5 job in marketing. Or that time after grad school ended, a different girlfriend and I broke up, and I spiraled into such a long and miserable depression that I ended up betting a thousand dollars on a football game⁴ just to feel something.
Having survived those experiences, I know (on an intellectual level, at least) that there is one cliche that can be believed: “this too shall pass.” But when you’re in the middle of it, when the night is its absolute fucking darkest, you can tell yourself that until your blue in the face, and it still won’t feel that way.
All nights end eventually; it’s true. But the sun doesn’t rise on command, you know?