By the end of the 1990’s I’d managed some pretty hefty feats. After applying at a local college I’d gotten in on Academic probation due to my poor grades in high school, but I was determined to show that I could excel. A little bit of study and a few practice test later I took a major standardized entrance test (not required) and did well enough to not only get off academic probation but catapult me into the scholars program.
College was good for me. I was still disorganized, but I pulled it together enough to be motivated to get good grades. My “Wait until the last minute to get it done” attitude didn’t really change, but what I considered to be “the last minute” did. I knew the workload needed and still procrastinated a fair bit, but when push came to shove I was getting A’s and B’s.
One of my teachers in particular had an effect on me. He shared my sense of humor and love of knowledge. When he was asked to host a talent show at the school he agreed, and even decided to dress up and do a clean Sam Kinison act to entertain people as the votes were being tabulated. He actually was rather funny, and going to see him was a great time. I particularly remember this because a week later Sam Kinison died in a car accident when a drunk driver hit him. Kinison’s loud humor had long been a way for my brother and I to bond. After Sam was gone my brother and I bought the “Live from Hell” album and listened to in on a long trip. I didn’t always agree with him, but his style was one of a kind.
Another unique figure in my life up to that point was The Batman. I’d missed all but the final issue of The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, but by the end of the 80’s I caught up with the rest of the comic and realized how significant it was. On the big screen, Batman was about to get his big break, and I was there to see it. Tim Burton’s original Batman was a triumph, in that it shows Batman as a serious character, but in retrospect, I realize how disappointed I was overall. Batman Returns, with all of its deep flaws, was a better film to me. Stranger, wittier, and closer to what I thought Batman should be. I found the penguin far more perverse and bizarre than Jack Nicholson’s Joker.
By the time the ’90s rolled around, I’d graduated from college with honors, and put my embarrassing performance in high school behind me. One of the first things after celebrating was to write a movie script. It was abysmal. Well-intentioned, but abysmal. Years of movies, television, and comics had sharpened by storytelling instincts, but when it came to the particulars of telling a story I would quickly run out of steam. I sent things out, including the screenplay, but no one bit. I could have done more, but I wasn’t ready to admit how much of my ego I’d tied up in writing. More importantly, I just didn’t have the tools. I hit a wall with my writing and wasn’t sure how to breakthrough.
In the mean time, I worked a variety of jobs. By the time my high school friend called me from Japan, I was the assistant manager at a telemarketing firm – overseeing a phone room and writing sales scripts and training manuals. It was not terribly glamorous, but this was a great many years before national “Do Not Call” lists existed. My friend was teaching conversational English in Japan, and he invited me to do the same. A small firm in Osaka had hired him, and all that was needed was a college degree.
I’d wanted to travel at the end of college, but couldn’t really afford it. Now I had a chance to see Japan. I jumped at the chance, gave my notice to my previous employee and worked hard for my last few weeks. Not long after I landed in Japan and was greeted by my high school buddy. But my time in Japan was all too short, and I really have no one but myself to blame. I choose to work six days a week, and really had no idea how hard the schedule would be to keep up. I was constantly fighting with my mind to stay on track. at nights I would sometimes sit by a river I had to pass over to reach home and write. I kept thinking I’d made a mistake and should go home and write seriously. I had a good mind and a lot of terrific story ideas, I thought. Why not? In my mind what I could write became more important as what I did write – which is always a big mistake.
One day I got frustrated and quit. I even got my time card from my desk and tore it up to throw on my Japanese boss’ desk. She didn’t appreciate that. A few days later as I was making arrangements to return home, I realized I’d made a terrible mistake. I’d pushed myself too hard and not given myself enough down time, and I’d blown a good job opportunity that I really enjoyed at times. I’d let down my high school friend and everyone who’d wished me well. I was leaving a beautiful city full of new things to learn and understand because I wanted to prove I could do anything anyone else could, but who was I trying to impress?
Back home I wrote more, and took several jobs along the way. I traveled to California to try my hand working for an Internet based company, but the market was changing and the big Internet boom that was predicted for web based businesses didn’t really pan out. Neither did my writing. I tried another screenplay, which I enjoyed. It was much better than my first, but honestly I still didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t really understand how storytelling worked and what was underneath the hood. I had no tools to analyze what I liked and build my own stories.
By the end of the Millennium the Y2K “virus” had missed the world, and things seemed more hopeful. Life went on.
Then it stopped.
Back in the 1980’s I’d visited New York with my senior classes’ exchange students. I joined people from around the world on a trip to New York and Washington. We’d gone to museums, monuments, everything from the White House to the World Trade Center. I’d stood at the top of one of the largest buildings in the world and looked down on the vertigo-inducing view. Now they were gone, and I couldn’t begin to imagine the pain and horror experienced by so many there…in Washington… and elsewhere.
I remember two things when I think of that time. I can remember seeing the Royal Guard at Buckingham Palace and watching their band play the American national anthem as a show of support and breaking into tears. And I remember going to a large outdoor festival some months later. Fields of rich green grass were filled with milling people as far as the eye could see. As part of the celebration, the national anthem was played. I can remember every single person stopping and putting their hand over their heart. For a few minutes, not a word was said. Not a soul moved. We all stood there together, still in shock over what had happened.
Sometimes I think we are still standing there today.