Back when I was in college, a good friend of mine was going through a difficult period of her life. She was depressed and unable to get motivated about basically anything. When she spoke with her father, he didn't seem too concerned; he knew she was a hardy person, and she would survive this rough patch. But there is one thing he asked her that resonated with her, and with me:
"What happened to your dreams?"
Far more significant than temporary depression or the loss of motivation was the absence of dreams, of goals, of ambition. It is a lot less difficult to get through a trying time when you have a long-term end goal in mind, when your destination is in sight. Hope is easier.
For me, the past few years have been a story about falling into a deep pit, professionally and personally, and the journey that it has taken to climb my way out. I certainly had dreams and still have them, but maybe they have changed (dramatically) over time. Maybe they would no longer recognizable to a younger me. This makes me a little bit sad.
I'm grateful at what I've been able to accomplish a great deal with the generous resources I've been given. I've helped to grow two shows up from nothing, one of which is broadcast on one of the top public radio stations in the country. I've seen lots of movies, interviewed lots of heroes (save one), and written about things that I'm passionate about and gotten paid for it. All of these are things that I have enjoyed doing and been extraordinarily grateful for, but none of them are things I set out to do. As I look towards the horizon and see myself graduating from my Master's program in six months, it is natural for me to reflect on my future, and the direction in which my life is headed.
One of Ira Glass's quotes recently made its way around the internet (the quote was extracted from a video which is worth watching in its entirety):
Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
The question I keep asking myself these days is: am I merely at the beginning of a long, fruitful career in being an online/media personality and broadcaster? Or am I already coming up to the end of it? Have I already completed most of my "character arc," as it were?
One of my podcast inspirations, Shane Bettenhausen, once said (and I'm grossly paraphrasing here) that being an online entertainment journalist doesn't cure cancer, doen't solve world hunger, doesn't change the world in any radical way. He said this on a podcast guest appearance, months after he had left 1Up.com in the wake of that company's acquisition by UGO.
It was an eye-opener from me. Bettenhausen and his brethren had a podcast that was listened to by over 50,000 people per week. When they did panels at events like PAX, hundreds if not thousands of people would line up for hours just to hear them speak live. Yet Bettenhausen walked away from "the life" to go into video game development (it should be noted that "the life" probably does not pay that well for most people, so such a move is understandable on those grounds alone). I surmise that it was probably relaxing to stop being a public personality and resume life as a "normal" person.
Let's look at the converse of the equation. I've been very gratified to receive e-mails from people for whom our show has had a profound impact. I've also been the target of much criticism and hate. That's what I have not been able to get used to; not the fact that people don't like my work (this comes with the territory). It is the nature, character, and tactics of the hatred that have greatly discouraged me. Sure, people might not like what Filmspotting has to say, but you don't see disgruntled listeners launching repeated attacks on those guys through a variety of different platforms. And that's not even getting into the general toxicity of the community. The manner and extent through which people have chosen to make their attacks has truly taken my breath away and caused me to re-think my online presence. Maybe if it has done that much, they have already won.
It's the paradox of creating any form of long-term, periodical media: people who praise you only feel the need to do so a few times (as well they should...it would be weird if someone e-mailed in every single week with praise), while people who hate you will renew their attacks. On a long enough timeline, the hatred drowns out the love. It's exhausting enough that I frequently have to ask myself, "Is this worth it to me?"
One of the things I have found incredibly rewarding is my re-discovery of photography. I first studied photography at Amherst College under the tutelage of Justin Kimball, which is where I produced my first photo set. In the years since then, I let photography fall by the wayside, mostly because I was not able to produce images to the caliber that I desired, but also because I found carrying a DSLR everywhere to be a cumbersome proposition. Instead, I opted to take up iPhone photography, a legitimate art despite protestations to the contrary.
In February 2011, I acquired a new $120 lens and began playing around with depth-of-field more. Suddenly, I was producing images that I was actually pleased with, images that displayed actual technical proficiency. This led to the acquisition of a ton of new gear and several paying photography gigs. It's been a fun ride, and one that I intend to continue for as long as I can.
I think one of the biggest tragedies is that there are so many beautiful people in the world (men and women) who don't have a single decent photograph of themselves. My goal is to rectify this is frequently as I can. The moment when I hand or send someone a photograph of themselves and they see how nicely they can appear is a moment of pure joy for me. I hope to have many more of these moments in the years ahead.
Those of you who follow my audioblogs may have noticed that I have significantly cut down on the audioblogging in recent days. Most of that is because I have been crazily busy for the past nine months with classes, work, and podcasting (it is only with the end of the semester that I finally even have enough time to write this blog post). But I think it is also because that I have tried to spend more time enjoying my conversations rather than documenting them. I have tried to do more living rather than creating.
The results have been mixed - but mostly good. There have indeed been many instances where I've been sad to have missed documenting something and sharing it with the world. But there have been equally many times where I've just been happy to be in the moment, away from the online beast that threatens to consume all of my time, attention, and sanity.
All I can say is that I am extraordinarily grateful for those people who have helped me to live, those people in my life with whom I have shared the triumphs and the heartache. You have made this year a better one than the last. You know who you are.