Monday, April 2, 2007

Guide to a Writer’s Life from a Really Bad Business Trip

My sister, the illustrious illustrator, Pamela McCarville, and I are having our first book published by All Us All the Time Publishing. The book is a children’s fantasy picture book: Willow May Goes to the Midnight Carnival. Think of books like Creature Carnival, Cinderella Skeleton, or the movie Nightmare Before Christmas. Since our first book is a children’s fantasy, you probably guess my background. That’s right, it was in corporate finance, productivity analysis, and resource business planning and modeling. What? You did not guess that?

My sister and I grew up with the belief a job required hard work and dedication. We did not have to like our jobs because they only gave the financial means to do those things we enjoy. The fallacy with this theory was that my normal workday was from 7 to 7 and that did not include the commute time. Then once groceries were bought, laundry washed, and bills paid, the little time I had left for things I enjoyed, I found I enjoyed sleeping. That job I didn’t have to like to afford me the means to a happy life had become my life.

My oh-so-fun financial career started as a Club Accountant. Then I was offered a job at a start-up company. After a few years the business was then taken over by a major corporation. Work and job titles kept piling on, forecasting, budgeting, EOM results reporting, resource planning, productivity analyzing, and business plan developing. Even my managers struggled with the job description.

The above soaked up many years of my life from sun up to sun down. What also took several years was for that major corporation to take over our division, but once we finally merged into the “mother ship”, my comfortably numb existence turned into a cloak of smoldering darkness drowning me ever so deeper into a bottomless abyss filled with the angst-ridden torment only found in the sorrow cried out by a void encapsulated in an non-existent soul. Okay, perhaps that was a little bit over melodramatic, but I think you catch my drift. Anyway, I could see the writing on the wall the organization I worked in was not long for the world. As irony would have it, I was offered a project manager’s position in another department to “save” me from the ultimate pink slip. Instead of being relieved about the safeguarding of my employment and eager about a new position, from the moment I was offered the new job, I developed a permanent pit in my stomach.

They flew me out to company headquarters to meet the new team and learn more about the position. The day immediately started out on the wrong foot when, due to circumstances beyond my control, I missed my early morning Starbucks. Things continued to take a downward spiral when I also missed my mid-morning and then my early afternoon Starbucks. As I am trying to keep my cranium from imploding due to caffeine withdrawals, I met with my direct boss to learn more about my new responsibilities.

The job would be collecting and consolidating data into a spreadsheet, then reporting the results to the leadership team. I could tell from our conversation, my new boss considered this spreadsheet right up there with world peace...the pit in the stomach grew and the cranium started playing bongos on my temples. Then I met with my boss’s boss, and confessed that I was not grasping the significance of previous mentioned spreadsheet. I was informed that he had never really looked at it, and that once I moved over to the group, he would try to find something more important for me to work on. After that I met with my boss’s boss’s boss, and expressed a bit of concern towards the differing opinions of infamous spreadsheet within the department. She told me she was unaware of said spreadsheet, but part of the opportunity for me with this position was building it into something meaningful just like I had done with all my past jobs. Well, how refreshing...pit in stomach swallowed up the lungs and the cranium had split open oozing slightly.

I remember that night in the hotel lying awake in bed staring at the popcorn ceiling. I felt hollow and old, a shell in a monochrome existence. I realized it was always going to be like this, creating something meaningful out of nothing that in the long run proved not to be meaningful at all. It would be one more missed sunrise and sunset until I retired, and would anything be left of me by then?

The next morning I managed to get to a Starbucks, but a caffeine-depraved cranium is hard to appease. Somehow I made it through the morning meetings outlining the significance or lack thereof of aforementioned spreadsheet. Then it was to the airport, seek out the terminal’s Starbucks, board the plane and make a very distant memory of this trip. At least that was the plan. The plane pushed off from the gate, started to taxi down the tarmac, and then slowed to a stop. After several minutes the pilot announced due to storms over the mid-west we had been grounded forever. All right, he might not have said forever but that is how I interpreted his message at the time. Parents paced up and down the aisle with screaming children and a low rumble of complaining voices rose over the seats as humid hot air blew out from the vents...the pit in stomach had turned nauseous and the cranium once again started to swell.

It was at that moment I broke one of my most sacred cardinal rules. I muttered to myself those words I know should never ever be spoken or even could this trip get any worse? That is when they began showing the movie Dirty Dancing Havana Nights on all the monitors. As the stomach turned and the cranium throbbed against the temples, I reached into my messenger bag and pulled out a book. How perfect I thought as I read the blurb on the front cover...It was a dark and stormy night.

My sister had given me this book as a gift some time back, but I never had the time to read it. I don’t know why I even chose to take that particular book. I hate to fly so I always pack more than enough reading material to preoccupy myself from the visions of hurdling down to earth in a huge fire ball at 1000 mph or to keep myself from peering out the window and catch glimpse of the vial demonic creatures that manifest themselves on the wings of aircrafts once you have reached an altitude of over 30,000 feet on a cloud covered night. The majority of the material would be work related, but I would also throw in a recreational read in case I would find the time. It had appeared I had found the time.

The book, Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life, turned out to be one of the best gifts my sister has ever given me (and she has given me some pretty sweet stuff). I don’t remember when we finally got airborne because I had entered into my own fantasy world of living life as a writer. And the closer I got to home the greater the desire to make that fantasy a reality.

It wasn’t as far-fetched as it sounded. I know this is going to sound sooooooo cliché, but yes, as a child I use to write quite a bit, poems, plays, and short stories. Then in high school I took independent studies in creative writing, and had one of my stories selected for a regional school publication. My first two years of college, before I got into the core curriculum of my accounting degree, I took writing classes. But the main reason I thought I could do this was because of blood. Yes, you read that correctly, blood. You see I would have the most fantastic illustrator on earth all because of birth.

A fortune bestowed upon me that I am in no way deserving was that my sister, who is also my best friend, is an incredibly gifted artist. It seemed like kismet or cosmic destiny because at that very moment, both our jobs totally sucked. Hum, perhaps kismet and cosmic destiny is not the best way to describe that situation, but something like that.

My sister was working for a print shop as their graphic artist, but the business had recently gone under new ownership and if I may repeat the description of when my company was taken over “...a cloak of smoldering darkness drowning her ever so deeper into a bottomless abyss filled with the angst-ridden torment only found in the sorrow cried out by a void encapsulated in an non-existent soul.” The business was changing direction and her position was slowly becoming a glorified color copier operator, which was a disgrace and monumental waste of talent.

We had in the past light-heartedly talked about being a writer/illustrator team, but nothing serious. I think we were both just waiting for the perfect moment, that magical day when Ms. Opportunity would knock on our door with our life-dream package under her one arm and handing us a clip board with the other...just sign on the dotted line and we would start the life we had always dreamed of living. Well, we were coming to the realization the most opportune time, does not exist. Perhaps that is why the phrase is “chasing your dreams” versus “sit around and do nothing until your dreams finally find you and come knocking on the door”.

I won’t bore you with the gut-wrenching, stressed-filled, anxiety-ridden weeks that followed that plane trip home, but in the end we decided to chase that dream and follow that sage beagle’s advice for a writer’s (and illustrator’s) life. And really, can you go wrong with taking a bit of guidance from Snoopy?

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