Follow Your Dreams, Leave No Regrets

Happy Un-Birthdays Odd Jobbers,

I stared at the candle desperately searching for the right wish. It seems a silly tradition at my age, but the Peter Pan in me still clings to the hope that if you really believe, that your wish can come true. I should forewarn you that this will not be my “funniest” article.

With the blowing out of the candle, I had figuratively turned the big three-oh-shit. After spending the past two weeks in a near diabetic coma from multiple cakes and pie parties with various members of both mine and my wife’s inner circle (her birthday was last week), I can once again get into the rhythm of life. Back to taking my morning vitamins and jogging, low salt foods, Uber veggies, and a healthy consistent writing regime. Now I’m thirty, and I might be knee deep in a mid-mid-life crisis.

There’s so much pressure (perhaps self induced) to achieve specific triumphs by certain milestones in time. But isn’t a year just an instrument of measurement that we as a society have decided is a significant block of time? On the morning of our twenty-first birthday we are legally allowed to drink alcohol, whether we are responsible enough to handle our booze or not. At eighteen we can cast a vote to decide who should run the country, when many of us couldn’t tell you more than three things about each candidate. All of this occurs as if we all somehow mentally and physically mature at the same rate.

I stopped being Peter Pan and “grew up” last year, and I can pinpoint the exact moment my fellow Odd-Jobbers. It wasn’t after my mother called me to tell me my father passed away, having to make decisions for the funeral arrangements, or after my stepfather gave me a big bear hug as we shared the grief of having both recently lost our pater familias. The moment I know when I “grew up” occurred while cleaning out my father’s apartment a few days after the funeral.

I was mindlessly sifting through crumpled papers and old clothes with a variety of legal mumbo jumbo crap related to the funeral passing through my mind. I suddenly realized I had finished cleaning his apartment much earlier than expected. I set down the milk crate that contained my fathers entire “condensed” life next to a stain of dried blood on the filthy carpet of his tiny dinghy apartment. The milk crate contained nearly everything he held most dear to himself: Among them a few pictures of his children and family, a bible, a baseball signed by my half-brother’s championship Little League team my father coached, a few old major league baseball cards, and a ticket from when I had taken him to the World Series the previous year. In that moment, looking down at the crusted over grey milk crate, I “grew up” and decided I would fight not to become him.

My father never achieved his goal of being a Major League pitcher. Despite a 95+ MPH fastball and a wicked screwball he decided to stop pursuing his aspirations. On the way to the World Series, he revealed to me that my grandfather had always told him that he could never make it as a pitcher (despite what all of the Major League scouts said), so he gave up at eighteen and got a “good job” at a grocery store with health benefits to help provide for my mother and a lil’ me on the way. Maybe my grandfather was right; when you have children, you have to think of them first. But my grandfather also advised him not to go to game one of the World Series with me because the Giants wouldn’t “win” and it was better to be disappointed while watching it on television. It wasn’t about watching the San Francisco Giants ‘win” the first game of the World Series; it was about making the trip. To this day I’m still not sure why my dad listened all those years ago, because I know he always regretted it. My father didn’t regret not making it into baseball, he regretted not trying. He loved his kids, his family, God. But at the end of my dad’s life, he still wondered if he was ever good enough to strike out a major league batter. The tragedy is that he probably could have. He wasn’t some “Napoleon Dynamite Uncle Rico” type; the kid could play. I suppose I should be grateful, I probably wouldn’t exist if he hadn’t became a grocer. But Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

I’ve not taken a few shots in my life. I’ve turned down opportunities because I was afraid. Afraid I wasn’t ready, afraid it would be too much of an adjustment, afraid to tell my parents, or afraid I would fail. I have to admit there was that part of me that thought thirty would somehow be different. Ha, jokes on me, I’m still scared shitless. But I’m going for it anyway. My mother says in your 30’s employers start to take you seriously. Damn, I hope that’s true (Although I’m not sure if the education business is the same as the Film and Publishing industry).

Although I knew the big three-oh-shit wouldn’t feel any different, some small part of me wishes I could have woken up on June twelfth of my thirtieth year and had some sort of epiphany of how to write amazing prose effortlessly, page turning screenplays, and pay all of my bills in a timely efficient manner. To be so confidant and absolute in my assertion that I am a screenwriter and proudly fly my writing flag. I sometimes fantasize about quitting my job and tirelessly working on my novel and screenplays from some hovel on the coast, my wife and I living off of a vegetable and herb garden and selling homemade pasta dishes at a farmer’s markets to scrape by. I’ve got an inkling it’s not just me who’ve had similar forbidden thoughts. Many of us in our mid-mid-lives (save maybe Mark Zuckerberg) probably have on more than one occasion found themselves thinking, “Man, I thought I would have achieved more by now.”  Hell, even Zuck-sy’s probably thought it.

By thirty I thought I would have a nice house with a big back yard, granite counter-topped kitchen, one of those whirlpool bathtubs, children, and a great career in filmmaking. I’d have two award winning films under my belt, with another third “more personal” film in the works. My car wouldn’t suck.

In reality I rent a guest house, work a regular day job and pound the keyboards in the evening working to write stories that may or may not ever actually get to the right eyes. My car does suck. I’m broke, having just dropped the rest of our bank accounts to finally buy our wedding bands. I can’t afford to raise children (who can, right?) and I have no films under my belt because I’m still saving money bit by bit to shoot one myself. I’m selling some crap on eBay if anyone’s interested…

I do wonder if having everything we covet would be a lot like playing a video game on “God Mode.” It sounds great at first but probably gets really boring very quickly. There’s something extremely satisfying about working hard on a story, sweating over it, dreaming about it. Having setbacks and failures and pushing forward, fighting to reach your goal. Those are the stories that we writers like to write about. Who want’s to watch a movie or read a book about someone who’s born into everything and never had to struggle or work for anything? How can you appreciate anything if you can have anything? There are a lot of bored, depressed multi-millionaires. I have to believe the journey is what makes the story interesting, the ending satisfying. (Until I make my first few million of course, then you’re all on your own.)

I’m always down on myself about my accomplishments thus far. I’ve actually done quite a bit, and my wife and I made an agreement to start looking more at the positives of our lives and stop focusing on the negatives. Of course, it probably doesn’t make for as exciting of an article, but why do you think the evening news is so popular. Reality television. Horror films.

We Odd-Jobbers all need to think long and deeply about whether writing is what we really want. There’s no shame in coming to the conclusion on our own accord that it’s not for us. I gave up acting because I didn’t want to waste my time pursuing something I wasn’t really passionate about simply because I could “make a lot of money.” I think each of us has to decide: “Do I really love this enough to work at it even if I never make a dime?” At the end of the day most of us “artists” are by definition dreamers. Many of those around us in the “real world” look down on our lifestyle because they don’t understand it. But, I must confess, I don’t understand it either. If I could be happy in a cubicle I’d be in one right now with a nice house to come home to and a car in the driveway that doesn’t squeak as it clunks down the pothole filled road that’s been my life so far these past thirty years. But I earned that damn car by putting in hours at one of my many odd jobs. Now in my thirties, I’m earning the right to have my cake and eat it too. It’s going to be a good decade. Candle out.

Another “year” wiser,

#Tony LaScala @ Coloropolis