Three Years Ago Today

Facebook has this thing now where it randomly shows you a picture from your timeline on a random anniversary of when it first appeared. Last week it showed me this one:

DragonCon B

I’m standing outside the convention center at Dragon Con in Atlanta, checking out the line of people waiting to see the big-screen premiere of Paul’s movie Rock Jocks.

What’s less visible is that I’m also standing there with a new cancer diagnosis that I got about a week before we were due in Atlanta…

…Which was about two days before I got word that the studio where my script that was in development had accepted my draft…but wanted a new writer.

As you can imagine, I have mixed feelings when I look at this picture, taken at a moment when so many futures seemed possible.

Paul’s movie was finished. It had (kind of) famous people in it. Several people (including Paul) thought it might launch his career, get him representation and more opportunities.

My script was on the development slate at a studio.  If it got made, I could be able to pay off my school loans, get representation and other opportunities.

The cancer, according to the biopsy and my doctors, was an aggressive one. The surgeon I met with was committed to an equally aggressive procedure, worried that otherwise the future didn’t look bright.

In case you’re waiting in suspense, rest assured that three years later, neither the surgeon’s direst predictions, nor the promises and  predictions of execs and producers came to pass. Our lives are very similar to what they were three years ago.

However, things didn’t just “stay the same.”  There were ups and downs… it just happened to turn out that the end result was sameness.

For no good reason, I feel like that up-and-down journey should have taught me something.  I’m not sure it did, but I’m going to share some thoughts anyway, cuz this is my blog and I can do what I want.

Things I have come to believe since this picture was taken:

  1. It doesn’t help to buy into people’s drama.
  2. No matter what it looks like, nobody can predict the future.
  3. Even though no one–including you–can predict your future, you still have to take responsibility for it as much as you can.

Here’s some examples that I think support my beliefs:

On the health front, I didn’t panic when I got the cancer diagnosis—(there’s an ironic advantage to having cancer a second time) and I didn’t buy into the first surgeon’s drama. I found a different surgeon who was willing to listen to my wishes and consider my individual circumstances. The surgery we chose was less invasive, and less likely to impair my quality of life down the road. Today I enjoy good health, and while there was loss, I feel okay about it—I think because I took an active role in making the decision.

Professionally… neither Paul’s nor my projects met with their hoped-for success. That’s pretty common, but I believe I feel less good than I could about those experiences because in both cases, I think we didn’t take a much responsibility as we might have. We let ourselves be in awe of the hierarchy and put too much faith into people who had titles like “producer” and “executive, ” and who worked for companies with names.  It’s hard to know exactly what we should have done differently…or what we would do differently now. But maybe in the writing process I could have asserted my authority as a writer and better resisted bad ideas instead of trying to make them work. With Rock Jocks, when we saw there was no real marketing I wonder what would have happened if we took it on the road ourselves.

There were a lot of reasons we didn’t do those things. Lack of experience for one, and lack of resources for another–it would have been an almost impossible drain of money and time to arrange a tour, and travel and promotional materials all at the same time I was having cancer.  On top of that we didn’t want to overstep boundaries, not really understanding what those boundaries were. It was our first time out of the gate, so I’m not mad at us—but I associate our inability to take active roles at key moments to the twinge of disappointment I feel when I recall these two potential “big-break” opportunities than didn’t live up to their potential.

So…

Cancer and making movies – two very different experiences that actually have striking similarities:

  • Both intense when you are going through them.
  • Both will keep you up at night and haunt your dreams.
  • Both arrive on your doorstep with authorities (doctors, producers etc.) to give you guidance and talk about “being on your team.”
  • Both are highly emotional situations where it’s easy to confuse peoples’ relationship with your project (or illness) as being a relationship with you. (It’s not. Even when they have a great bedside manner. It’s not.)
  • Both are cases where the people around you are obligated to make choices that are “defendable.”  Sometimes those will be the perfect choices for you. Sometimes not so much.
  • Both are cases where the only person willing to question questionable choices is you.
  • Both great examples of how no one cares about your health as much as you. No one cares about your script as much as you. No one cares about your movie or your career as much as you.

I get that at a certain points you have to put yourself in the hands of other people. You can’t do surgery on yourself. You can’t single-handedly finance and make a movie. You can’t know everything and control everything.

Still…

Three years later, I feel like I’m again at a point of opportunity. My plan is to learn as much as I can; do as much work as I’d do if I were my own, even if it seems like I won’t be; really appreciate the help I am given–at the same time understanding it might be temporary.

Will any of that make things work out better than they did three years ago? Well, no one can predict the future…

but I hope I’ll feel better about it either way.

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