Monday, March 3, 2008

Life Hyphens

I was reading an article ("Sleepy Eyed Writer, Wandering Byzantium" by Charles McGrath) on the novelist and screenwriter in the New York Times Arts & Leisure section yesterday when two things jumped out at me.

Price also wrote the video for "Bad", directed by Martin Scorsese

The first was Price's reference to Byzantium. Speaking about the Lower East Side today, he said "This place is like Byzantium. It's tomorrow, yesterday – anyplace but today." For a city that's been renamed not once (Constantinople) but twice (Istanbul), Byzantium seems to have been bouncing around in the consciousness lately. My best guess as to why is that the book/film NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN took its title from the 1928 poem "Sailing to Byzantium" by William Butler Yeats, and there's been no shortage of ink spilled on NO COUNTRY of late.

This second quote from Price, who was Oscar nominated for his 1986 script for THE COLOR OF MONEY, is the one that really grabbed my attention.

Discussing Eric Cash, the protagonist of his new novel Lush Life:

He's modeled partly on himself, Mr. Price said. "He's me if what has been hadn't been. I've always been interested in when the hyphen disappears – you know, actor-waiter, cabdriver-writer – and you have to settle for who you are."


Fabio celebrating his win for "Best Actor/Model"

This thought really touched on something that I've thought about quite a bit over the years. As a resident of either New York City or Los Angeles since 1995, I have encountered and befriended hundreds of hyphenates or "slashies". In fact, I've been one myself (screenwriter/development guy), but as of right this moment my hyphen has disappeared.

It may not last, but I have come to terms with and laid to rest my aspirations of being a successful screenwriter, and the time since 4/21/07 (the last time I modified the file of my last script) has been marked by an increased sense of well-being and peace with where I am on my lifetime career trajectory. When I think about it, the part of the decision that's the most meaningful to me is that I came to it on my own and in my own time. There was no final rejection, there was no self-imposed time limit that was reached, and there were no external forces forcing me to "give up the dream" before I was ready.

There was just the sense that I'd given it my best shot, that continuing to try was a study in diminishing returns, and that I could only continue to ignore the writing on the wall at my own peril.

I have reached the age where the hyphen is starting to disappear for more and more of my contemporaries (some, I'm happy to say, have dropped the "day job" side of the hyphenate for full time exploration of the dream side), but there are still quite a few who still toil in an unsatisfying gig primarily to provide the means to pursue the long-shot.

I think its fair to say that the odds get longer that long shots will come in the older we get, but does that mean that everyone should "do the math" and put the dream on the shelf at some point?

No one can answer that but oneself, and fortunately many people can balance the pursuit of the elusive dream with a meaningful and fulfilling pursuit of the reality until the day they die.

But what of the people who cannot find peace and fulfillment unless they achieve the fullest realization of the dream side of the hyphenate? I simultaneously root for and worry about many who occupy this category, and after some deliberation I have two tidbits to pass on from my experience that may be helpful.

1) Periodically, reexamine the nuts and bolts of what your dream career is and where you assess your chances currently stand of realizing it.

Will success as a singer or actor or novelist mean the same thing to you if it happens next year compared with how you imagined it happening at age 18 or 21 or 29? Will not achieving success in the same devastate you now as much now as you thought it would then, especially factoring in up-to-date placement of points on a graph representing your personal confluence of luck, hard work, connections, and talent?

2) Do everything in your power to find work on both sides of your hyphenate that is fulfilling in ways beyond the strictly utilitarian/monetary. No matter who you are, the day job has a decent chance of becoming the lifetime career, so maneuver as best you can to make that day job something that improves you and/or your chances for long-term fulfillment.

If you haven't already done so, Netflix FREAKS AND GEEKS

This line of thinking often brings up memories of a particularly thought-provoking episode of Judd Apatow's late and lamented FREAKS AND GEEKS. Rebellious A-student Lindsay Weir was dating spastic stoner Nick Andopolis, and as she came to the realization she didn't have the same feelings for him that he had for her, she also saw that his wide-eyed commitment to becoming a drummer in a rock band (damn the torpedoes of grades and parents) didn't come close to matching the talent level he possessed, which was minimal.

Her quandary was a difficult one: should she tell someone that she genuinely cares for that he should abandon his long-shot creative dreams in hopes of refocusing him on more attainable goals, or should she encourage him to pursue the dream that means so very much to him despite knowing in her heart that he has no realistic chance of it ever coming true?

1 comment:

peter said...

papa wordplayer
laid to rest on 4/21/07 with a sense of peace and well being - proud of you.

reexamination process a very healthy sign of good things to happen.

true talent thrives on both sides.