Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Zen of the Bridesmaid

I don't know about you, but I read in bed almost every night before I go to sleep. So does Mrs. Word Player.

Several years ago, when the wife in a couple we were friends with discovered this about us, she could barely contain her jealousy. I had no idea... I thought every couple read in bed together. It was a strange exchange, in that from that point forward I looked at what I have as lucky rather than just the status quo. In life it's all about perspective, wouldn't you say?

So a few nights ago, MWP leans over and says "read this." I took the book she'd just started, Thoughts Without a Thinker by Mark Epstein, M.D., and read the first sentence in the Forward, which was written by the Dalai Lama.

"The purpose of life is to be happy."

Whoa. The simplicity of that powerful statement packs an incredible wallop. It certainly goes against the Catholic upbringing I received, where suffering and deprivation are lionized and true happiness is deferred to the afterlife.

I bet the Lama is a big LOST fan. Maybe HE is this "Jacob" we keep hearing about...

Lately, my happiness has been yo-yoing quite a bit, but the biggest X factor has been my work life. When work is plentiful, I am practically exuberant. That sensation pervades the rest of my life quickly- I hadn't been happy with my "Development Guy" work in several years, so the 3+ years I've been relying on my copywriting work (which I genuinely enjoy) has been a boon to my overall mood.

I've also been on indefinite hiatus from my screenwriting projects since spring of '07, work that was often as torturous emotionally as it was fulfilling creatively. And I've been OK with that arrangement for a long while now... until recently.

First, work slowed down in December, and it's continued to be slow into January. My mood destabilized. Then, an odd confluence of events suddenly made me revisit my career path and the happiness factor attached to it. It started with LOST. We received Season 4 on DVD for Christmas, and since we already had Seasons 1 and 2, we went out and bought Season 3 to complete the collection. In watching it, for some reason, my eye kept catching on Jeffrey Lieber's name in the credits. He is a co-creator of the show, and someone I used to know. Even though he's had his own issues with LOST, for some reason seeing his name in the credits over and over had a different effect on me than it had in the past.

It wasn't schadenfreude, it was "why him and not me?" I came into (and then lost) contact with Jeffrey long before LOST. I was a newly hired development guy for Civilian (then known as Spoke Film) and I cast my net wide looking for submissions. Naturally, I hated most of the stuff that agents sent me, but when I read Jeff's scripts (one was called "Conspiracy of Weeds" and I can't remember the name of the second) I called and set up a meeting. Nothing ever came of my interest in the scripts ("Conspiracy" was later made with the far less interesting title TANGLED), but I became friends with Jeff and his wife Holly and for a while he even rented office space from Civilian.

Jeff was talented and a very nice guy, and remembering the clever twists and turns in his scripts that I read it's not hard to see how his contributions to LOST earned him a co-creator credit. "But aren't I ALSO a nice and talented guy who has clever twists of my own to share with the world?" that stubborn part of my brain kept saying every time I saw his name on the screen during our LOST-athon.

Try as I might, I couldn't silence that little voice. In fact, a rapid succession of similar events only made it more insufferable. I saw TWILIGHT and, lo and behold, one of the producers is I guy I used to work with at Wendy Finerman Productions. He was a junior development exec then (hey, kinda like I once was!) and LOOK AT HIM NOW. At the grocery store, I saw a girl I went to UNC with and was once friends with who is now producing Adam Sandler movies. We're the same age, and moved out to LA around the same time, but LOOK AT HER NOW. I watch an episode of GOSSIP GIRL and hey, I used to take meetings with the co-creator and occasionally go for drinks with our mutual friend. Damn, what did she have that I don't have?

Yeah, but would dealing with Chuck Bass' problems be any easier?

I know, of course, that it's an enormous oversimplification of the way lives and careers play out to compare myself to them, and I also know that the choices I've made have taken me out of the running for some of the successes that they are now enjoying.


Anyway, having all those things happen within a span of a few days really bummed me out for a while. But the more I thought of it, the more my mood improved. I've achieved a pretty damn high level of happiness without the industry success that I'd pursued for over a decade. I've indulged and explored my creative side and expanded and tested my business acumen while developing a personal life that I'm proud of.

And who knows, the best may be yet to come? But the biggest thing that came out of all this for me is the sensation that no matter what happens from this point forward, I was in the game. I played alongside some of the game's top players, even though I never won the big game myself. I've taken the sum of my experiences and spun them into a state of mind that, I feel, is at the very least prepared for any number of challenging paths the future may hold.

Should I happen to find my way back onto the industry path, I'll be ready. And if it doesn't ever "happen" the way I longed for it to? Well, I'll be ready for that too.

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