I’ve been living for tomorrow since I was eight years old, when I wrote my first short story, Sammy the Dinosaur (Copyright 1972 All Rights Reserved No Persons Shall Use Any Portion of Sammy the Dinosaur Without Permission of Author or Author’s Estate. Sammy the Dinosaur is a Fictional Character and as such is not Liable for the Reckless or Irrational Behavior of his Creator).
Maybe I figured Sammy would lead to greater things. My mother sent the three-page story filled with typos and drawings of lopsided dinosaurs to Readers Digest where it was promptly rejected.
I started making Regular 8mm movies when I was in fourth grade, graduating to Super 8mm films after my bar mitzvah money bought me the new Chinon XL555 movie camera complete with slo mo, fast-mo, stop-frame, and various other special effects. In those days you could either get a camera that had sound, or a silent camera with effects. I went for the effects, since my friends and I had been shooting our own version of the James Bond films, and slow motion was essential for those scenes where Bond shot me with a plastic machine gun and I tumbled from a snowy mountain-top to my death. I always liked being the bad guy, the one who skied off a mogul and into a tree.
I figured those Super 8 movies would lead to a better tomorrow. They simply led me to more expensive movies that I made in 16mm or 35mm, after spending my future credit rating on the loans that would get me through film school.
In school I wrote screenplays that were sure to bring me millions. I felt comfortable maxing out my credit cards and taking out more student loans – it was all an investment into my future life, the great “tomorrow” I would soon be living. I mean, geez, ONE screenplay sale would wipe out my entire debt and put me in the black for years, right? One after the other, each “million dollar” screenplay became a door-stop. Became garden mulch.
I’ve suffered the American Dream a long time, friend.
When my agent went out with BOULEVARD he was certain we’d make a bundle. After a number of publishers rejected the book, my agent made that wonderful call to tell me it had sold. Before telling me the offer, he warned, “Listen, it ain’t life-changing money. Maybe we’ll sell Book Three for a million.”
It was a two-book deal, and fifteen years ago I could have lived on the advance for a year. But now I’ve got overhead and past-due bills and a family and all those student loans to pay back, with interest, with collection fees.
They say the economy needs to “adjust” before we can begin to see any improvement. Before banks begin to loan again, before new houses are built. We first need to work through our inventory of foreclosed properties. As I wait for my own house to foreclose or short-sell, the house I put all that refi money into when the prevailing thought was, “buy, remodel, add equity,” I think about this tomorrow I’ve been waiting for. I realize that I’ll have to “adjust,” I’ll have to lose all the overhead and settle into a realistic standard of living that I can afford.
In many ways “tomorrow” has arrived. My first book has been published and my career as a novelist has begun. But I still have that day job and come Monday morning I don’t feel so much like the hot-shot writer.
I imagine a tomorrow where I might wake up late with nowhere to go, with nothing to do but write the things I want to write, with plenty of time to do it in, without worrying about bills, or losing my home.
What were your dreams growing up, Murderati? Have they changed over the years? What have you sacrificed to get them? What are your dreams yet to come? And…can “tomorrow” really be attained?
It’s those dreams that you got you here, bud. Enjoy the ride, and keep dreaming and writing. (For the record, I wrote pirate "novels" and made crazy home movies as a kid. Early Monty Python stuff, as yet undiscovered). It was great getting to know you at B’Con.
Heya, Jim – great to hear from you! I very much enjoyed our time at B-con and I can’t wait to have more fun. I’m still gonna plan that night of blues in the South Bay.
And…many of my early Super 8 films were complete Monty Python rip-offs. My friends and I even did the silly animation against black felt, using strings to drag the animated characters around.
I had a friend send me a DVD of a Super8 silent film we made in 7th grade about the fall of the Alamo. We did it as a slapstick comedy, complete with pies in the face. Ah, memories.
As for your topic…I know exactly what you’re talking about. Like Tom Petty says…the waiting is the hardest part.
Thank you for this post, Stephen.
It highlights so much of what we do and how in the waiting we often miss the joys and successes of the moment.
Lately I’ve been trying to be more mindful of the NOW — almost in the Baba Ram Dass meaning — taking a walk and looking at the bright yellow flowers that still manage to bloom after a hard freeze, stopping to admire the blue sky through the branches of a leaf-bare tree . . . those moments keep me sane while I wait . . .
Pari – thank youfor those images. I too struggle to remain in the "now." I always stop to pet every dog I pass and to smell everything smellable, particularly roses, Jasmine and fresh-baked pies.
And, speaking of pies, Dusty…hopefully you didn’t try to emulate the plot of "American Pie" in your Super 8 films.
I love the dreamer in you, Stephen, and hope that someday those dreams of luxury, lassitude and creativity show up at the front door of a house you don’t have to worry about losing. But guess what? By then you’ll be pursuing new dreams, with new Super 8 cameras. Notice how that end of the rainbow keeps moving?
Stephen, I have a weird question:
If your house goes into foreclosure, will you hate the person who buys it and moves in? Will you drive by like a threatening gang member on move in day? Will you throw eggs at the front door?
I’m imagining my own reaction to the situation.
I’ve spent the entire year in Iraq looking forward to tomorrow, when I get to go home. But going home has its own challenges and time constraints and its not like I"m going to home to palm leaves and grapes in the after noon. Going home is work, just like being here is work.
When I went home on R&R, I put away my computer and gave myself permission to do nothing except focus on my two young daughters. And I did. I didn’t write, I didn’t check email or twitter or anything else. I just focused and it felt right. Every night, I collapsed from sheer exhaustion of just focusing on them.
I write today and pursue publication so that I can hopefully, build my career enough to write full time when I retire from the army. My mom made a comment the other day about: well, maybe you can become a famous NYT Bestselling author and get out of the army. Not that I have a snowball’s chance at that, but even if I did, I wouldn’t give up the army now, especially since hitting the list is no guarantee of livable income. There is a certain peace in knowing that your children’s college education is paid for and so are their doctor bills. Maybe in seven years when I’m retired, I’ll have a different perspective but for now, I keep looking for tomorrow and enjoying today.
Thanks for a great post!
Jessica – no, thank you for your great comment. And thank you for what you’re doing in Iraq. I think it’s beautiful that you have been able to focus your attention on your daughters–there is nothing more important. I gladly put my writing aside when I get the chance to hug my kids and hang out with them. I always write a cafes and lately I’ve had my wife come by with the kids for a couple hours so I can at least see them and chat with them a bit while I’m writing. It’s too lonely otherwise. You’ve got a great attitude, Jessica…keep doing what you’re doing.
Louise – naw, I ain’t gonna throw eggs at the new owners of my dream house. I might throw some eggs at myself, though, for having put myself in the situation to begin with. But it will be hard to see my kids go through it – they love the place. Hey, it’s a life-lesson. As long as the dog stays at their side I think they’ll make it out fine.
And, Jessica, again, the perspective you’ve given me is invaluable.
Stephen, gosh, what can I say? We all have dreams. We have to have dreams, or else we’ll go mad bowing down to the daily grind. Dreams inspire us, drive us, help us focus.
When the dreams became the more dominant part of your life, that’s when you need to reanalyze. I feel certain this is all going to work out, and the more you live for today, live each day to the fullest, the better things will get.
I know that doesn’t keep the roof over your head, but it is a start.
Also, read Zen Habits. http://zenhabits.net/
There is a movement afoot called minimalism, and the focus is the less we have the richer we are. You have the love of your family. That’s a dream many people would die for.
And, JT, thank you for your perspective as well. I think I’ll embrace minimilism. And I am so thankful for the love of my family, and for the wisdom to recognize its value.
I’m grooving on the minimalism, Stephen. It’s like taking off shackles. I never realized how true the statement "less is more" was until now.
Great post from a brother "candle at both ends" burner…
But yeah, it’s the excess that got you here, and me, too – and probably most of us. And we really could all die tomorrow, so burn, baby.
I want to match your honesty but the dream question is too painful for me to post on in public. But I’m working on it, luckily with some interesting help.lately.
Ah, Stephen, you’re a more forgiving soul than I. Or maybe I’d save my thrown eggs for the financial institution instead.
Trust me, Louise, I’m saving the very rotten eggs for my mortgage broker…
Alex, I always love your honesty. Maybe you’ll tell me more when we get together at the Blues club. Gimme another month to turn in my manuscript, and then its burnbabyburnallnightlong…
There was a time, while my husband was in the Army & I was jobless, that our dream was to live better than paycheck to paycheck. And now that he’s retired from the Army, we both have decent jobs, and we managed to finally get out of debt (took too many years), we finally reached that dream. It is obtainable. You only need to set the goal – which we did.
Now my dream is to be published. I believe if I set that goal and work hard at it (which I’m finding out is not only hard work, but fun work), that it will happen. Positive thinking is always the best way to go. It’s too depressing to think otherwise!
I agree, Stacy. Creative Visualization helps a lot, too. My wife and I took at least twenty minutes out of every day to visualize getting a good agent and selling the book. We both think it helped tremendously.
I really enjoyed this post, Stephen, and will pass it along to several people who need to see it.
My first book was pubbed in 1996. My first six figure advance was four books and eight years later. Last year, my 7th book contract came through shortly after I’d applied for a job as a dishwasher at a Mexican restaurant. (Manual labor interferes less with writing brain.) This year, I made more than my oncologist.
Survival in a long writing career has a lot to do with sealegs, because everything you thought would mean "I made it!" really just means you made it for the moment. What you can count on for sure is yourself. Your integrity. Words in a row, every day, because it gives you joy. As fortunes inevitably rise and fall, the only thing that really changes is the number of zeros.
"In dwelling, live close to the ground. In work, do what you love. In family life, be completely present." (Tau te Ching) Any other definition of "job security" is an illusion.
Wow – Joni, THANK YOU for that. What an amazing story. Really means a lot that you took the time to put that into words for me and everyone at Murderati.
And I love the quote at the end.
Great post, Stephen. I’ve always felt that positive thinking is as vital to achieving your writing goals as physical training is to an athlete. So much of this business is having faith in yourself and your abilities. And not only that, but front-loaded faith – that what you’re writing right now will still be the very best you can do in six months, nine months, a year down the line, when – and if – that work is published.
It’s a daunting prospect, and we do keep throwing ourselves off that cliff, lemming-like, in the hopes of a soft landing, don’t we?
Ever since I received the e-mail about your book comming out I was very happy for you but couldn’t read your blog until tonight while I’m waiting in Monterrey, Mexico as a film of this city’s Jewish Film Festival is running at the movie theatre. I read almost all of the glogs and enjoyed all the adventures you went through ever since we came out of Northridge…Keep up the good work. I’ve yet to order your book through AMAZON….Send my regards to your wife.