Thursday, June 15, 2006
Sink or Swim
There is a pivotal scene in the movie Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid in which Butch and Sundance are standing on the edge of a cliff. They have been pursued by a mysterious group of men who have chased them across the desert, tracked them through water and over rocks, and finally trapped them on the cliff. There is no way out. They can either stay and fight, or they can jump. Two hundred feet below them is a rushing, rock-filled mountain stream. It looks treacherous at best.
Butch suggests that they jump. Sundance disagrees, he wants to stay and fight it out. Butch points out that their enemy is moving to higher ground and will soon have them caught in a deadly crossfire. Sundance doesn't care, he won't jump. Butch reminds him that the enemy has rifles and unlimited ammunition, whereas he and Sundance have only six-shooters and a handful of bullets left. Sundance won't budge.
Butch is frustrated. Why is Sundance so intent on fighting a losing battle?
Sundance glares at him, "I can't swim!"
Butch laughs, "Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill ya."
This scene has been running through my mind lately in response to something my sister said to me the other day: "Jump and the net will appear." She was referring to my recent decision to quit my job. You see, I don't exactly have a plan in mind. I just decided it was time to move on. It's been a long time coming. About a year and a half ago I got so fed up at work one night, I literally packed up all of my stuff and was ready to walk out. I decided to wait and ended up taking off a few 'mental illness' days instead. Two other times since then I have reached my boiling point and once I even got as far as my car. Both times, cooler heads convinced me to reconsider. But this time was different.
One of the things that had always prevented me from leaving was that I kept waiting for the right time. We were always in the midst of one crisis or another and it never seemed like a good time to make an exit. Finally, a friend pointed out that if I wait for the right time, it will never arrive. I have to choose the time and let the chips fall where they may. As it turns out, now that I've made my decision to leave, things seem fairly mellow at work. Almost pleasant.
Perhaps the biggest factor in arriving at my decision was the creation of the "Hollywood Dick" blog. For years people have been telling me to collect my various monthly newsletters and "do something" with them. I'm not sure if they meant for me to throw them out or try and get them published, but I did want to at least try and assemble them in a cohesive format of some kind. Then one day I was reading my sister's blog, called Writing Out Loud (good title) and I thought, "hmm.. I wonder how one gets oneself a blog?" Turns out, all you have to do is sign up. So I created the HWD blog and set about archiving all of the old newsletters. It wasn't as easy as I thought, since I hadn't actually kept them all. But I did manage to piece together a fair number and what I couldn't find I got from my sister. (She's the organized one.)
As I read through the newsletters, looking for typos and such, I became reacquainted with the guy who quit his temp paralegal job back in NYC and headed out for Hollywood to become a screenwriter. He was full of high hopes, crazy dreams and big ideas. He had a plan and a goal. He had saved up a little money and was going to devote all of his time to succeeding at his quest. He met a lot of people, sent out a bunch of scripts, learned as much as he could and all the while kept on writing.
Pretty soon the money ran out and he had to get a job. But he didn't let it slow him down. Well maybe a little. He kept writing though. Kept meeting people. Kept sending out those scripts. Kept dreaming.
He made a short film and fell in love with the whole experience of filmmaking. He wanted to make more films. It was hard to find the time. He went to film festivals and writer's conferences and felt like he had finally found the place he belonged. He kept trying to balance his two lives, the paralegal and the screenwriter. Almost by accident he got involved with music again, something he had always loved but had left by the wayside when he moved to L.A. Now he was balancing three lives.
At one point he got very ill. His doctor wasn't able to help him very much. He was just plain exhausted. He kept working, writing, playing music. But it was such a struggle sometimes. He wondered if he would ever feel normal again.
Luckily, he hit upon a cure for his ailment and after about a year of downtime he started getting his energy back. The band was now taking up a lot of his time. His job had become more and more stressful. He was still writing screenplays, but he wasn't really sending them out anymore as he had run out of people to send them to. A couple of people had asked him to work on projects. One even offered him money. He agreed to work on them in the hopes that by collaborating it would take some of the burden off his shoulders. He never did see any money, though.
By now he was so far off track he couldn't even figure out how he got where he was.
I remembered that guy, the one from the beginning of the story. He really believed in himself. He knew he was going to make it. He wasn't going to let anything get in his way. But something did get in the way. Life. Things just keep happening, you get a job, you meet some people, you get sick, you join a band, you try to do everything all at once. But you can't.
I realized that sometimes the thing that you are doing to help you achieve your goal becomes an obstacle. I needed a job to pay the rent so I could keep writing screenplays. The job was always supposed to be temporary. In fact at first it was literally a temp job. Then it turned into a "permanent" job. Then it turned into a monster.
So here I am at the edge of the cliff, working without a net. My enemies have me in their sights. It's time to jump.
Hope I can swim.