I recently had a difficult decision.
I won't divulge any specific details, but suffice it to say that I had to make a rather quick decision that could alter the course of my career. With such an enormous choice, I put out feelers to some people in my similar position in order to hear their thoughts and make a more calculated decision. I listened, considered the pros and cons, and tried to see it from all the various angles.
Then, I pulled the trigger and made the choice that made the most sense to me.
Yet even after opting on my particular direction, I had a couple of people frantically tell me to reconsider, that it could be very bad for me and tried to halt my course. I calmly listened and essentially said that my decision was made, thanked them for the advice and that we'd see where my decision went.
As much as I felt secure in what I'd decided, that I'd taken the time to see it from the different angles, weighed the separate ways I could have gone, this one particular person's frantic cries for me to stop and reconsider really weighed on me. It ate at the excitement I felt in the decision I'd made. It bothered me.
There was that idea that I was risking everything by choosing my particular route. You're risking everything. You're risking that people might not like you anymore. You're risking something you've been working on. You're risking other opportunities. You risk! You risk! You risk!
But I came to a conclusion: Everything thing in life is a risk.
You risk everything when you wake up. When you leave the safety of your house. Everything around you is a risk. Literally everything. Some minor. Some major. Many lie between these polar opposites. Yet all is risk.
More specifically, I've been dwelling on the idea of dreams--DREAM job. DREAM career. DREAM life--and how much you should risk in order to achieve those dreams. Because you will HAVE to risk something to grab those dreams, whether it's a portion of your free time, less sleep than you'd like, certain expensive expenditures, or even a stable income.
When you have a difficult to achieve dream, people will tell you that it's not a good idea, that it's too much of a risk to sacrifice a real career for something that won't happen.
But you know what? By getting that realistic diploma or that realistic job or that realistic home in that realistic neighborhood, you're making a risk, too. Maybe a more comfortable risk. But it's still a risk. And in that case, you're risking your deepest dreams.
And those elusive dreams will haunt you.
A friend of mine is a very successful businessman who lives in Napa Valley and is a part-owner in a fantastic winery. On one of our trips to wine country, my wife and I were lucky enough to stay at his home and one night, at dinner, I leaned forward and asked him a very simple question: "To what do you attribute all of your success?"
He sort of chuckled, no doubt having been asked this question more than once and he, quite honestly, chalked it up to one particular thing: the ability to make choices. I was somewhat stunned. It wasn't what I expected. He believed he was a smart man, but not exceptionally smart. He'd had a fine education. His family wasn't poor, wasn't rich. He was a hard worker, but so were many people.
As he saw it, his success came from his ability to pull the trigger and see things through.
He admitted that he hadn't always made the right choices, but he always stuck it out until its end. He learned from the wrong choices, resolved to make better ones in the future. Too many of his peers were stifled by difficult choices, he said, and his superiors always noticed his ability to face those hard decisions and see them through.
I thought on this for quite some time and realized something very specific. In life, you have to make choices. They're not always easy and there often isn't a clear path or road signs to direct you. There will be risk no matter what, but the one aspect you can control is the type of risk that is worth it.
You must choose your risk or the risk will choose you.
Short story: I've just accepted an offer of representation with Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media Group.
Long story: Nine months ago, my wife and I took a big risk. We reversed our familial positions.
Since the start of our relationship, following into our marriage, each of us have always had full-time jobs. She's been a flight attendant. I worked in the wine industry. We moved to New York for a couple of years, then returned to our home in Texas; I changed managing jobs from a small, mom and pop operation in Manhattan to a massive nationwide company called Total Wine in Dallas.
Through it all, I had this nugget of a dream to be a full-time author.
It always seemed like a pie in the sky type of dream, the type you're chastised for as a kid because you need more realistic options. As the years progressed, I couldn't let it go, so on subway rides to work, any spare pocket of time at my job, I'd jot down notes for a book. I wrote my first book while living in NYC, submitted it to literary agencies...and got nothing in return.
SIDENOTE for those unaware---there are various levels of gatekeepers on the path to publishing a book. The first, and possibly most important, gatekeeper is securing a literary agent. Kind of like wanting to act in movies, you need a guide, confidant and someone that knows the ins and outs of the business. For an author, this is a literary agent. To get a literary agent to represent you, you essentially need a finished, very polished book and a query letter. There are other aspects, but for simplicity, I'll leave it at that.
So you query into a "slush pile" along with hundreds, possibly thousands of other writers. Suffice it to say, the odds aren't great that you'll get through and it typically takes a long time to secure this first gatekeeper.---
My first attempt was a bust. (There's more to this story of my first book, but I'll detail more on a later blog.) It was frustrating. I'd put in a ton of time and effort and I couldn't get more from an agent than a form letter rejection. Only NO. NO. NO.
So, after moving back to Texas and working at my new job, I started working on a different story, slowly on the side, writing notes and ideas and over the next couple of years, I pieced an entirely new book together.
At the same time, Cam and I found out we were pregnant. Cam took off time from work, took a long leave of absence, returned to work for a few months, and then we found out we were pregnant again. Another year off, to focus on our growing boys. It was an amazing time.
My dream still needled at me. It was tough. The way my schedule fluctuated and lack of free time with raising these two new, blossoming lives, it was impossible for me to form any type of regimented writing schedule. So, I continued to write in spare pockets of time, on long car rides or between naps, but nothing ever regular.
Yet, very slowly, I wrote that second book.
I queried again to agencies with zero success. All form rejections AGAIN (other than one agency, but that, too, turned into rejection). I was frustrated, distraught, and just had that feeling that my dream would never be realized.
I was (am) married to the love of my life, had (have) two incredible boys, had a stable job with a steady income, but when there's something you dream about, it just continues to needle at you no matter how much you try to push back. The dream haunts you.
So, this past January, we had confronted by a choice. Cam was due to return to work, but we'd always desired to have one of us at home full time with the boys. Between Cam's ever changing schedule of flying and my crazy schedule at the wine job, it would be very difficult to stick with both, raise the boys and still have one on one time with each other. We'd done it once, for about five months prior to finding out about our second son, and it was really stressful; we rarely saw each other.
So, the question we had: does Cam quit her job or do I quit mine?
Cam essentially made the choice for me. She knew that I hated my work, coupled with this intense dream clinging to me, and pushed me to leave my job. At least being home with the boys, I could have the regularity to truly focus on writing. So, that's what we did.
I left Total Wine, set up a routine of writing for about two hours during the boys' nap times, squeezing in more words here and there and started writing a brand new book. At the same time, I hired a published author of eight books in my same genre and age category, who also provided editing services on the side, to look at my second book.
I worked on a third book, something new, while my second book was in the editing hands of the published author, and by April, I was provided with extensive notes, with which I totally overhauled my book. I joined a writing group through Facebook, and by May, I was querying my second book again, noticing a significantly different response from my two previous attempts.
This time, I was getting numerous requests to read my manuscript. I still received rejections, but many of these were personalized rather than form letters, some with light feedback. I took the feedback and continued editing, all leading up to this past September when it started to feel as if my momentum was really picking up. I felt incredibly positive like it might really happen. I had two agents that both seemed very interested, providing feedback while still requesting more pages--just more correspondence than I'd experienced.
As this was going on, I was checking my email minute-by-minute, biting my nails, nervously anticipating the inevitable rejection that would follow. When you have such a seemingly impossible dream (the odds of publishing are not in my--or anyone's--favor) you prepare yourself for failure. At first the rejections sting, but then those ego callouses build around you like armor. You become impervious to it at some point because you're so accustomed to the "NO's" and you just expect it.
Then, this week, I found out that one agent felt so positive about my work that he was ready to submit my book to publishers immediately. We talked after he emailed this message to me and I almost had no words. Right now, my book is in the hands of every one of my dream publishers and we're waiting for their responses, which could take another couple of months.
I have accepted an offer of representation from Mark Gottlieb with one of the top agencies in the country, Trident Media Group. My ultimate dream is not yet fulfilled, but it's just around the corner and I feel as though I finally leaped over the biggest hurdle.
For those unaware, Schrodinger's Cat was a thought experiment devised in 1935 by it's namesake, an Austrian scientist named Erwin Schrondinger. It essentially assumed that if you placed a cat inside a box wired with various mechanisms that could both kill and/or prevent its death, prior to opening the box again, the cat was both alive and dead at the same time.
It presented a paradox. This is how I currently think of my writing career.
Right now, at this moment, I have my manuscript with three different literary agents. Two of these three agents seem like they could have positive outcomes for me, that they might offer representation for my book, which means it would have a chance of getting published.
These two particular agents have been in more contact with me than I've ever experienced before. Typically, in querying agents, it's a straight form rejection, a rejection with a bit of feedback or it's a partial or full request. Pretty straight forward. It's several more steps for me this time, where they've asked me a few more questions: about my background, feedback on certain elements yet still requesting pages. Things like that.
It's given me a lot of hope over the past month since this new course has been taken. And hope is a wonderful thing. It's wind in your sails. It's a confidence booster. It makes you believe.
My writing career is Schrodinger's Cat right now: I have two high-powered agents interested in my work, a sea of options and publishing success waiting around the corner, AND AT THE SAME TIME, I have two more "not for me" notes to add to a growing mountain of rejections, more editing on my manuscript, and more queries. These are simultaneously my outcomes.
Each day, I check my email in hopes that I've heard from both or one of them yet I'm disappointed to find no response. It's funny, though, because I almost don't want to hear back because as long as I don't hear anything, the possibilities remain endless.
I am Schrondinger's Cat. As long as I don't hear anything.
I do know that in the coming days I'll receive word in my email inbox and one way or another, that box will be wrenched open to find out of Schrodinger's cat is dead on arrival or still has a pulse. We'll see.
I'll come clean up front.
I LOVED Blade Runner: 2049. The all caps on "loved" hopefully conveys the extent of my admiration for the film. In a way, I was programmed to love this film, most prominently due to my admiration of the film's director, Denis Villeneuve, whose string of films over the past few years are unparalleled in their mastery. There isn't a bad one in the bunch. He's gone from good and great films to three masterpieces, three years in a row: Sicario, Arrival (my pick for best picture last year) and now, Blade Runner: 2049.
I was also counter programmed, ready to NOT love it, most prominently because I'm NOT an adoring fan of the original Blade Runner. Don't misunderstand me; I don't dislike the original, but I don't LOVE it either. It has its place in our filmmaking pantheon and I absolutely understand the effect it has had on the Sci-Fi genre, from its ground breaking production design to Ridley Scott's out of the box take with its noir-ish, detective style when it easily could have been a pure '80s, Stallone/Schwarzenegger-style action flick.
The result is far more interesting.
Yet I've never loved the original. I find it dull. Very slow-moving. Some of the scenes are just plain weird. Some of the scenes, however, stand alone as prime examples of the transcendent nature of film, particularly the final scene on the rooftop between Deckard and Roy:
"All those moments will be lost in time...like tears in rain."
Blade Runner: 2049 was a totally different experience. It took the best parts of the original and expanded upon them, fleshed them out to glorious lengths and left you wondering and wandering with the implications. It was such an odd mix of mystery, cerebral science-fiction, a tome on love and life, all told against a massive back-drop of blockbuster proportions.
SERIOUSLY, STOP READING IF YOU WANT TO AVOID SPOILERS.
The central storyline is quite simple. It's a mystery. Ryan Gosling's K character, while dispatching a replicant on one of his routine missions, discovers the distinct possibility of a child born between a replicant and a possible replicant. Its a discovery akin to that scene in Jurassic Park where a group of hatched eggs are found in the forest. How could these lab-produced creatures reproduce if they were designed not to reproduce? The answer in Jurassic Park is somewhat vague, with the suggestion of evolution inside the statement, "life always finds a way," but 2049 never even bothers to provide an answer, even a simplistic one.
2049 isn't really interested in answering such questions; it's more an excuse to drive the story forward in order to examine more fundamental ideas of humanity. I've boiled it down to three specific facets running through the film that spoke to me strongest: Memories, Life Cycle, and the Meaning of Life.
The use of memory is perhaps the strongest concept playing throughout both Blade Runner films, but it's used particularly effectively in 2049. Memories and how these vague images of our past lives give us the sense of true humanity is possibly the central conceit of Blade Runner.
In the first, it's the very suggestion of certain memories, exposed through rigorous questioning used by the Blade Runners, that reveals a replicant in its true form.
In 2049, it's played through to its extreme implications, driving the K character onto the brink of madness with the idea that his fake memories, as he's aware of them, are possibly real. You see it in his character progression as the walls that guide his path and block him are torn away through the course of the film, and deep, flawed, human emotion seeps through the cracks.
On the whole, Gosling's performance is quite controlled, his emotion accessible within an incredibly subtle approach, which makes the intense emotions breaking loose at moments all the more palpable.
Most notably when he visits a young lady about the truth behind one, very specific, memory does he become completely unhinged for a few moments. He's face to face with a reality that he can't even comprehend. That memory, the one he'd thought was fake, becomes very real to him...until he discovers that it was fake after all.
I got to thinking about my own memories, my past experiences that are supposed to qualify me as human and I find myself grasping at smoke. Think on your earliest memories and it's an elusive thing. I can't remember anything specific prior to perhaps four or five years of age and even those memories are like snapshots, frozen in time.
I often have the distinct feeling that I've made up some of my own memories--I'll bet if you're honest, you have that same sense. There are memories that I can't decide whether I've actually lived or if I've somewhat invented it, sort of like the nanoseconds after waking from a dream.
One way to view the film is through the lifespan of Ryan Gosling's character, K, from his eye-opening "birth" when he initially wakes inside his vehicle at the start, through the wrestling of his identity, all the way to his sacrificial death at the end.
An entire life told under three hours.
Within K's life, there is also the birth/life/death of Joi, his significant other. Sure, she's just a hologram, but she is birthed upon K's gift in the new program that allows Joi the ability to move beyond the confines of the apartment, followed by the transcendent moment of her walking outside for the first time, "feeling" the rain, her life of discovery as K follows clues leading to the central mystery, all the way to her death when Luv crushes the computer that holds her "life," thus murdering her.
These allusions abound further with Jared Leto's Wallace character killing the newborn replicant just after her birth, his obsession with finding ways to naturally birth replicants, and of course, there is the central mystery surrounding the child born from one replicant and another possible replicant in the characters of Sean Young's Rachel and Harrison Ford's Rick Deckard.
Even the idea of new life against the backdrop of a future Los Angeles decaying before our eyes, the once beautiful city on the coast, covered by smog and acid rain and slowly decomposing into rot, is quite provocative.
I know, I know, just the suggestion of a discussion on "the meaning of life" opens a neverending can of worms and brings to mind somewhat vague notions of philosophy's greatest mystery. Yet I believe it's a subject coursing through Blade Runner: 2049.
There's a moment toward the end when Deckard has been captured by Wallace, K has had to face the truth of his existence and he has (essentially) three choices: do nothing, save Deckard, or kill Deckard. The decision he makes decides his life's meaning. He risks his life, and sacrifices it, for the greater good of his (replicant) kind. He devotes his life to the cause of a more unified world, even if it means blood and tears in the short term.
He, in effect, creates his own meaning through his personal decision.
And without any great declaration, don't we decide our own life's meaning by everyday decisions on how we spend our days and the way we tackle serious issues? That's to say that there is no ONE meaning, but each of us contain separate meanings within each of our lives, some with bigger implications for the world than others.
Beyond these three branches running through the central trunk of the storyline, I found so much more in every scene. Virtually each frame bursts at the seams with nods to how we live now and how we might progress into the future, with far reaching implications.
Take one scene, about midway through the film, when K is headed to an orphanage in search of the missing child. Every part of this sequence is spilling over with moral quandaries we're dealing with now, but taken to extreme, yet quite realistic, lengths. The San Diego of the future is a massive trash heap, the charred out buildings looking like something out of a nuclear fever dream with roving bands of "illegals," people living on the fringes of society, feasting on the burned-out carcass of a world that once was.
When one of these bandits takes down K's car and he's on the ropes, about to be taken hostage, killed, or worse, a missile suddenly strikes down on top of an assailant. BOOM. He's gone. Wiped from the earth. More missiles follow, taking out--in seconds--a small army of these bandit people.
Cut to a room, a hundred miles away, to the central antagonist, Luv, getting her nails painted and wearing an odd pair of sunglasses. She's not even looking at the person painting her nails, but rather INTO the glasses. It's immediately understood that she is the one commanding the missiles being fired. She is the one playing war games on people she'll never meet. In seconds, from miles away, while getting her nails painted, Luv has killed dozens upon dozens of people.
It's such a compelling idea because as a viewer, you're conflicted by the fact that K has just been saved yet it was accomplished without a judge, jury or trial.
Or take the erotic love scene with Joi inviting the prostitute over and compositing her digital body over the real woman's form. It was an incredible scene, quite moving, as K is able to touch his girlfriend for the first time, his skin on hers. But I started thinking about the way many people invite the digital world into their own home and how it can easily supersede the real people inside, how we all make digital imprints on facebook, twitter and elsewhere and how it takes over our very real life.
There are so many scenes like these, just waiting to be deconstructed, mined for their detail, thought on and argued about. Even if you didn't like the film, just like the first Blade Runner, it is teeming with ideas and thoughts on the world. Quite simply, there aren't enough films released, at this level, with this type of budget, that provoke this kind of meaning.
As is well-known, Blade Runner: 2049 did not fare well on the expectations in terms of box office. I hope that isn't the end of its story. I hope the legs on this one are long, to be played out over the next few decades, much like its predecessor, that it doesn't disappear like tears in the rain.
I've heard it said that if you want to be (fill in the blank), call yourself (fill in the blank) and you are that thing. Easy. I believe it was said in conjunction with being a writer: If you want to be a writer, call yourself a writer and you are a writer. Capital "W."
Of course, this idea can be used with virtually any career, but it's particularly encouraging when it comes to the arts--any field of art--because it isn't easy to make a career. There's no well-worn path. No degree that grants you instant access to publishing, directing, acting, painting. Even if you've proved your worth, you have to continually prove it over and over and over.
Yet even despite the encouraging, possibly necessary, nature of this sentiment, I have to point out something painfully obvious: just calling yourself a "writer" does not make you a "writer" (or filmmaker or painter or dancer) until you're constantly writing (filming/painting/dancing). Every day. Thinking about it. Breathing it. Dreaming it.
You. Have. To. Work.
I've had this dream of being a full-time novelist for years. I've written two books that I've pitched to literary agents without success. I've written blog posts that have garnered a few views. I've written short stories, published some, but not too many. I've now completely overhauled my second book and sent it out on another round of queries with the most success I've ever experienced.
The path to your dreams is a long one...
The path to your dreams is a long one, often spanning a longer period of time than we anticipate, running in circuitous ways we couldn't imagine prior to embarking. It has taken years of writing, rewriting, listening to advice and I'm still not at the goal I've made for myself.
I live by the aforementioned adage, calling myself a writer even though you (most likely) haven't seen my work. It's important to value yourself. And it's important to see yourself in the role you've envisioned even if you aren't yet there. But it's equally important to work at it.
How much work is needed before you achieve your dream? I think it's impossible to say such a thing. It's probably different on your particular station in life, the amount of time or study you've already put into the field or a thousand other unknowable factors.
In Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers, he pegged the time needed to become "world-class" in a particular field at 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. That would be more than a year of constant, around-the-clock, practice.
Gladwell's number has been refuted by various studies, but I think the idea holds true, that you have to work at it and no one ever is an overnight success. Even the seemingly overnight success stories have been in their dues and worked at their particular craft.
There is no expiration date on your dreams...
I wrestle with the idea that it's too late for me almost daily. In my early twenties, I remember reading that bestselling author, Stephen King, was twenty-six when he sold Carrie. Around that same point, I read that Steven Spielberg was twenty-six when he made Jaws. Just taking in those two, over-the-top success stories, I latched onto the idea that if I wasn't successful by twenty-six years of age, then my chance had expired.
As ambitious as I felt in believing this, I never put in the actual work to achieve this dream. Sure, I'd write here and there, but it was never a consistent, daily routine.
At one point, around 25, I wrote a few short stories, which I filed together with a beautiful cover page and pitched it to an agent at a writer's conference in my home town. I even declared myself the Jack Kerouac of my generation. The agent seemed impressed by my young ambition, even giving me his card for when I completed an actual novel, but he probably laughed privately at my expense. And deservedly so.
Because I hadn't done the research. I hadn't taken the time to realize that it's incredibly rare for a first-time writer to successfully sell a short story collection. I didn't know the market. I didn't understand agents. And I didn't adjust or try to learn, so my failures went beyond twenty-six. I felt depressed for a time because I thought my time had expired.
There is no expiration date on your dreams, though. There's always time to make it happen. Perhaps not in the way you initially envisioned, but there's always time. I saw that Madeline L'Engle swore she would quit writing if, by 40, she hadn't made a publishing deal. At 42, she published her monumental work, A Wrinkle in Time. Frank McCourt was 66 when he published his first book, Angela's Ashes, which went on to win the Pulitzer.
There are more stories like this with folks older and much younger publishing, achieving and seeing dreams fulfilled.
Do. The. Work.
In short, you have to do the work. Period. There is no short cut to success, no easy way to achieving your dreams.
Teddy Roosevelt once said, "Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty..."
To realize your dream, have the confidence to call yourself by that title. Then put your nose down and do the work.