11/07/2010

The Perpetual Pursuit of Persistence

Sometimes I feel like I am Charlie Brown in his hopeless, never ending quest to kick the football Lucy holds for him, which she inevitably yanks away just before he makes contact. We all know what's going to happen, despite Lucy's promises that this time will be different, that she won't pull the football away. But she always does.

Lucy never has any intention of letting Charlie Brown kick that football. But somehow she always manages to talk him into trying. And Charlie Brown winds up flat on his back, the breath evacuated from his lungs from the effort, berating himself for falling for Lucy's trick once again. But no matter how much Charlie Brown hurts, no matter how many times Lucy yanks the rug out from under him, he knows, and we know, that the next time Lucy dangles that thread in front of him, Charlie Brown will once again talk himself into the attempt, vowing (pleading?) this time will be different.

Why, after all those years and all that time on his back, the wind knocked out of him, does Charlie Brown persist? Is he delusional? Does he honestly think the next time will be different, despite all evidence to the contrary? Does he forget how it felt the last time, and the time before that, putting all his effort into one mighty swing of the leg, only to wind up the victim once more of Lucy's prank?

Perhaps Charlie Brown is a masochist. Perhaps he knows how futile his efforts are, but he goes along with Lucy's game anyway, because, hey, at least someone is paying attention to him.

Is it the exhilaration Charlie Brown feels as he psyches himself up for each new, doomed attempt what keeps him coming back for more? Deep down he knows he's going to fail, but he needs to make the effort anyway, to at least feel something, anything. The agony of defeat is no less potent than the thrill of victory. It's a rush, racing through the yard, fallen leaves crunching beneath his shoes, and even though he knows what the result is going to be, those few, fleeting moments as he races toward the ball are worth it.

Because it's better to make the attempt and fail than to not make the attempt at all.

Or.

Or does Charlie Brown have such a deep reservoir of hope? Does Charlie Brown believe that what's past is past and the future isn't set in stone? Yes, Lucy may have yanked the football away 100 times, 1,000 times before, but that was before. That's not this time. This time will be different. This time, he thinks, I'm going to kick that football. Because this time is not last time.

And yet, this time is exactly like last time. Lucy pulls the ball away and Charlie Brown finds himself lying in the dirt, wondering why he fell for her prank once more. And it hurts. Physically, yes, but also mentally. It's exhausting, the rush of adrenaline, his heart pounding in his chest as he runs toward the football. And Charlie Brown vows to never again fall for it.

But he does.

Every time.

And so the question remains: Why?

Why does Charlie Brown persist?

Because to not attempt to kick the football is to give up. If Charlie Brown doesn't try to kick that football, he might as well curl up in his bed, turn out the lights and wait for death to claim him. Because there is no life in giving up. It is the attempt that matters, not the result. It is the attempt that gives Charlie Brown a reason to wake up every morning. It is his persistence of belief that this time is not the last time, that this time could be different, that this time will be different, that drives him.

If not this time, then next time, Charlie Brown says. And if not next time, then the time after that. Or the time after that. Or the time after that.

Because if Charlie Brown gives up, if Charlie Brown says no, I won't try to kick that football, not this time, then what does he have left to live for?

5/23/2010

No Sleep 'til (or in) Brooklyn

On Friday I drove from Boston to Brooklyn, approximately 220 miles, in about four hours. I would have made it in less time, but, you know, traffic. If you don't count pulling a car out of a parking spot a month or two back, Friday was the first time I drove since January when I was visiting folks back in Omaha. Cold, snowy, icy January. If memory serves, I think I only left the house once by myself. The rest of the time someone else drove me around. What I'm trying to say is, I hadn't driven in a car for a while. And it made me slightly nervous to be behind the wheel again. But, as the old saying goes, driving a car is like falling off a bike, you never forget how.

I'm sitting in the living room of my summer apartment at a makeshift desk that was put together by my roommate's former roommate, drinking cranberry juice and eating Mike and Ike's while watching the Angels/Cardinals game on MLB.TV. My roommate, Vanessa, is sitting at her desk across the room, working, which is pretty much the only position I've seen her in since I got here. I think she's behind on deadlines. (She retouches Japanese manga for American publication.)

After arriving Friday afternoon, I unloaded my stuff from the rental car and ventured into southern Manhattan to return the car, which only further enhanced my desire to never drive in this city. The interstate is wonderful, I can drive on the open road for hours on end, and I have, but there's just something about this city, and Boston, that makes me cringe and shy away from a steering wheel. I didn't have this problem in L.A. Of course, in L.A. you have to drive everywhere, there's no getting around it. Out here, between Boston's T, New York's subway and the buses, driving is an unnecessary luxury, like Botox and adopting African babies.

I won't say I got lost on my way to Battery Park City to return the car, which doesn't mean it didn't happen, just that I won't say it. Turned around is a better term. I would've been fine if not for all the construction near the rental place. And all the other drivers. They didn't help either. But, after a few U-turns and a spin on FDR Drive, I managed to drop the car off, after which I found my way to the subway, which will be an entirely different matter.

L.A.'s subway is a joke, and Boston's T is pretty simple to navigate. New York, though, is an entirely different animal. Here is a map of the city's subway system. Compare with Boston's. No contest.

I did manage to make it back to the apartment just fine, no frantic phone calls needed. It was just a minor adventure of my own making, one that I had hoped to avoid, and should be able to in the future. Tomorrow morning, I know exactly how to get to the Marvel offices. Whether I actually make it in time is another matter, but at least I know where I'm going.

What I'll be doing once I get there, well, I guess we'll just have to wait and see, won't we? Marvel's internship coordinator had to fill out some paperwork for Emerson so I'd be able to receive credit for the internship (to paraphrase Yakov Smirnoff, "In Russia, you pay job!"), and under the section titled "Job responsibilities," she wrote:

  • Researching information about our comics, movies, etc. to be used in creating content for our website
  • Writing news stories & possibly interviewing Marvel writers & artists
  • Assisting with some HTML work & light graphic design
  • Creating stories in our content management system

Sounds right up my alley, doesn't it? Again, I ask, who could possibly be better qualified for this job than me?

I'm living in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn, which is the southwestern-ist part of the borough. I am literally a block from the ocean. Seems like a nice, relatively diverse neighborhood. Lots of shops and restaurants. Found the nearby grocery store and a Walgreens. A branch of my bank is a block away. The subway is just a block further than that. I'm told I'll have a 45 minute to an hour commute from here to Marvel, which doesn't seem too bad to me at all. In Boston, it was easily 45 minutes from my apartment to campus, and when I was interning for BOOM! in L.A., it routinely took me an hour to drive a measly 10 miles. Commutes don't bother me anymore.

There's really not much more going on. Right now I'm just biding my time 'til the morning, 'til I start working at Marvel. By now I'm less freaked out and excited than I am anxious to just get started. I want to get right to it, jump in with both feet and impress the hell out of them so a job will be waiting for me either when the internship is over or after I finish my Master's.

Operation Dave Needs A Job begins tomorrow. Fingers crossed!

5/13/2010

The Marvelous Internship

I wrote the following article as my final project for the magazine writing class I took this past semester:

The elevator door slides apart and I step through. The only thing that tells me I've come to the right place is the large cardboard standee for "Iron Man 2" sitting in the corner of the otherwise sparse lobby. There are glass double-doors in front of me. I walk up to the door and pull the handle. It doesn't open. I notice the receptionist sitting at her desk on the other side of the door. She waves me back. I release my grip on the handle and the receptionist reaches underneath the desk. I hear a 'click,’ pull open the door and step through.

I’m in New York City, my first time, standing in the 11th floor offices of Marvel Comics, which are located in an unassuming building on 5th Avenue, a few blocks from Times Square. From the outside, the building looks like any other that lines this stretch of Manhattan. I probably would have walked right past it had my cousin Adam not been with me. Adam has lived in New York for about 10 years now, and without his guidance I would have been lost as soon as I stepped off the Peter Pan bus at the Port Authority bus terminal.

I’ve come to New York, to Marvel, to interview for a summer internship position, which was the furthest thing from my mind when I applied to go to graduate school at Emerson College in Boston. Hell, it was the furthest thing from my mind up until a few months ago, when I started following one of Marvel’s editors on Twitter.

Her name is Jennifer Grünwald (@jengrunwald) and she’s worked at Marvel since 2002. She was having an “open-question-ask-me-anything” day, and I asked her how a person goes about getting a job at one of the two big comic book companies (the other being DC Comics). Within minutes, she replied, “@oyboy Well, aside from applying as one would do for any job, there's always an internship. (Which is how I got hired!).”

I hadn’t thought about interning at a comic book company while in grad school. As much as I love comic books, and I’ve collected them for about 20 years, it didn’t seem to be a realistic possibility. I had interned at a comic book company once already, in Los Angeles, while an undergrad at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. It was a small company called BOOM! Studios, and I drove across the country to work there during the summer of 2007. It was an enjoyable and educational experience. I had never seen the industry from the publishing perspective before. I was even offered a job, but I had a year left before I received my bachelor’s degree, and that was more important to me at the time.

Grünwald encouraged me to apply for an internship and see how it went from there. So I did. That was on March 18, a Thursday. I filled out the internship application over the weekend and submitted it. On Tuesday, March 23, I sent a tweet out into the ether: “Registered for the fall. Spring might be tough, but the fall should be a breeze. Still hoping for the summer internship. C'mon, @Marvel!”

Someone at Marvel was listening.

Less than an hour after sending that tweet, I received the following response from Ryan Penagos (@Agent_M), Marvel’s website editor: “@oyboy You're a Journalism student? What department did you apply to? I need a good journalism intern for Marvel.com.”

Now, I’ve had an email address for almost 20 years. I’ve been online in some form or another for more than half my life. I’m comfortable with technology in a way that used to worry my parents (especially after my father would receive a $300 bill from AOL). But even I was amazed by the rapidity of Twitter.

I quickly tapped out a response to Ryan on my phone: “@Agent_M I had applied for editorial, but I'm really open for anything. I have a big interest in the industry in general.”

From Ryan, an hour later: “@oyboy Yup, saw your application. We'll see what happens.”

Two days later, on March 25, I received an email from Sara Del Greco, Marvel’s internship coordinator. She asked me when I would be able to schedule an interview.

I was flabbergasted, nearly speechless. In the span of a week I had applied for an internship at Marvel and been asked to come in for an interview. Perhaps not all thanks to Twitter, but I know it helped. My immediate thought was, This wouldn’t have been possible five years ago. Maybe not even two years ago.

My email back to Del Greco basically consisted of, “Whenever you want me to come in for an interview, I’ll be there.” This was Marvel. The big time. I wasn’t about to let a little thing like a class schedule or the 200 miles between Boston and New York get in my way.

The first comics I read as a child were published by Marvel, though I was ignorant of the fact at the time. I was unaware of things like publishing companies and writers and artists. All I knew was the four-color images that popped off the page dazzled me. I just liked the stories. Later, when I realized this was a job, that people sat around writing these stories and drawing these pictures, I hooked. I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to write. And I wanted to write comics.

I’ve never been able to pinpoint what it is about comics that has fascinated me for so many years. It long ago stopped being about the requisite superhero characters. Spider-Man, Superman and Batman were fun when I was younger, but as I got older I didn’t care so much about the characters I was reading as I did about who was writing them. I became enthralled by the process and sought out examples of comic book scripts wherever I could find them. Some I found online, and later a company called Titan Books published two volumes of “Writers on Comic Scriptwriting,” featuring interviews with some of the biggest names in the industry, along with examples of their scripts. Those books became bibles to me, so much so that the spine is cracked on Volume 1 and pages have started falling out of Volume 2.

I learned that some writers write very intricate, detailed scripts, wherein they describe everything from the characters’ facial expressions to the pattern on the wallpaper. Most comic books are 22 pages. One writer, Alan Moore, often wrote 100 pages of script for every 22-page comic book. Other writers are very sparse in their descriptions, sometimes only a paragraph or two per page, entrusting the artist to lay out the pages to best tell the story. It was the process of taking pages of dialogue and description and turning them into coherent, monthly serials that enchanted me, and I wanted in on the magic.

I’ve gone to a number of universities and colleges, lived all over the country, from Los Angeles to Boston, and the one constant throughout all those years has been comic books. I’ve lugged my collection back and forth more times than I care to remember. If there was one opportunity I was going to drop everything for and jump at, it was working at Marvel or DC Comics.

And here I am, April 2, slightly more than two weeks since I first inquired through Twitter about working at Marvel, waiting for an interview. The kid I used to be, the one who sat on his bedroom floor surrounded by stacks of comic books, all perfectly enshrined in their plastic bags and cardboard backings, flipping through stories he’d read countless times before and would read countless times since, he was crazed with excitement, bouncing off the walls inside my chest.

I calmly sit in the waiting area, across from a wall display filled with new comics, the way a doctor’s office has copies of Sports Illustrated and People, and fill out the internship application paperwork. I fight to stifle a grin every time I look up and see the life-size Hulk statue glowering at me from just inside the entrance to the offices.

Marvelous

In less than two weeks I'll be living in Brooklyn and interning at Marvel Comics. I have been attempting to not let either of these things freak me out. I have been failing in that attempt.

Once I get to New York, once I get settled at the apartment I'm staying at, once the internship actually starts, I know I'm going to be just fine. I mean, seriously, who else do you know who's more prepared for a job at Marvel?

It's the anticipation that's killing me. First I applied for the internship, which led to a crazy afternoon merry-go-round of tweets between myself and my soon-to-be boss, followed by my getting called in for an interview the following week, which led to my frantic pursuit of a button-down dress shirt and tie, and a train ticket, which became a bus ticket because the tracks were washed out due to torrential rain in Rhode Island.

After the interviews, it was another two weeks before I heard anything. Finally, on April 20, less than a month after I applied for the internship, I received the phone call: not only did Marvel want me to intern for them, two different departments wanted me. And it was up to me to choose which one.

It's been difficult to concentrate on much of anything since I got that phone call. The last few weeks of the semester seemed to crawl by. My head was absolutely not in the game. It's a wonder I managed to finish any of my final projects at all. But I did. And the semester finally ended last week and I've been sitting here, spinning my wheels, waiting for the internship to start.

So, here am I. Less than two weeks before my inner 10-year-old officially freaks the fuck out. And I can't stop thinking about how incredible this opportunity is, and how I've always seemed to screw up previous incredible opportunities. Granted, I don't think I've ever before had an opportunity that even comes close to this one. And I tell myself, and my friends tell me, I'm a different person now. I'm not the screw up who wasted the first half of his 20s. I busted my ass to finally finish undergrad. And while I seem to have worked significantly less hard here in Boston, I've finished two semesters of grad school with three A's and two A-minuses. The guy I was wouldn't have done so well, would have pissed it all away the first chance he got.

Despite my incessant, groundless fears about working at Marvel, I honestly cannot imagine being in a better place right now, physically and mentally. Emotionally, well, I'll always be a wreck in that department, so I'm trying to just not think too much about it.

But, if I really think about it, I'm actually doing pretty well there, too, in spite of the occasional bout of depression. So I'm in no position to complain.

But I do anyway.

Coming to Boston, to grad school, to this particular grad school, has probably been the best thing I've done for myself in a very long time, probably since deciding to finally finish that undergrad degree in the first place, which was, what, five years ago now?

Wow. Five years. It feels like a lifetime ago. It kind of was, I guess. Another life. My timeline is split now, between pre- and post-California. Who I was vs. who I am. And I know I whine and complain all the time, and my pessimism is unyielding, but if you were to catch me in an unguarded moment, I might actually admit to feeling pretty damn good about who I am and where I'm going. You'd probably have to ply me with alcohol first, though.

Seriously. Less than two weeks and I'll be at Marvel.

Uncanny.

5/08/2010

No Fate But What We Make For Ourselves

I don't believe in fate. I think I used to, years ago, when I was younger and full of romantic notions of "true love" and "destiny," back when I would listen to sad, angry, angst-fueled music on repeat for days on end and read depressing poetry by Edgar Allan Poe, pretending to understand it while drinking whiskey straight from the bottle.

No, I stopped believing in fate a long time ago, after my heart got the better of my head for the umpteenth time and once more shattered into dust.

As strange as it may sound, I think I did this willingly, expectantly. Sharing my heart, I mean, when my head knew better. I wanted the pain. Needed it, maybe. Thought I deserved it, though for the life of me I cannot fathom why I felt this way. I imagine there must have been a cause, a trigger, to make me purposefully seek out, to paraphrase one of those sad, angry, angsty songs, something which I knew I could never have.

Indeed, something which was never real to begin with.

No, there is no fate but what we make for ourselves. That's a quote, a partial quote, anyway, a line from "The Terminator." (Yes, I'm a geek, get over it.) But just because it's a line from a pop culture popcorn flick doesn't make it any less true. Life is about choices, not fate or destiny or whatever else you want to call it. Choices and statistical probabilities and a lot of math I'll never come close to understanding.

The point is, fate had nothing to do with putting me where I am today. It was all me. The choices I've made, both good and bad, over the course of the past, oh, let's say 13 years, led me here. Now. To Boston. And soon, to New York City, to a job (OK, an internship) I would have never thought possible 13 years ago.

I had a choice between going to grad school back in Los Angeles, to USC, or coming here to Boston. I chose Boston, obviously, for a variety of reasons. I've lived in L.A. before, and while I enjoyed my time there, I wanted to try something different. I visited Boston years ago, to visit an old friend, and I liked what I saw of the city, and Emerson was a school I looked at coming out of high school, back when my grades were awful and I had no chance of actually getting in. (I chose not to bother applying.)

Because of the choice I made, to come to Boston, I've ... I've met some pretty wonderful people. Some of the faculty, sure, but I'm mainly speaking about my classmates, those who have become my core group of friends here. I mean, because I chose to come to Boston, I'm going to officiate the wedding of one of these friends next year. How cool is that? Choosing to come to Boston set into motion other choices that led to me interning at Marvel this summer. My inner 10-year-old is doing back flips in my chest (which is really something, considering the outer me at 10 had no chance in hell of doing a back flip. Or a front flip, for that matter. Though I could do a mean somersault.)

Choices. Not fate.

I don't believe in fate.

You'll forgive me if I have to keep telling myself that. My faith in a world without fate has come under siege of late and I'm doing everything in my power to resist the pull, the temptation, to allow myself to get sucked back into that insidious cycle I fought so hard to escape once before.

I can feel it starting to happen. My heart wants it to happen. I suppose it has been a while since I felt that dull ache in my chest and the pit of anguish in my stomach. My subconscious must miss it. My regular conscious, however, wants nothing more to do with it. Ever.

And so I make choices. Choices that sadden me for the moment, perhaps, but choices nevertheless. Choices that, in the long run, ensure protection. My head has to look out for my heart, because who else will?

Some would say there's cowardice in this choice, and I wouldn't argue. I am fully aware of who and what I am. I tell myself no tales, I see no illusions (or self-delusions). But it is a choice. One that I make willingly. I refuse to succumb to the thrall of fate again.

Life is about choices. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.

And my fate lies in New York City this summer. Not here with her.

3/05/2010

Oscar picks 2010

Don't remember the last time I made any Oscar picks. Suppose I could look it up, but I don't care that much. So here, without further blather, are my picks (in bold) for this years Oscar winners.

Best Picture

Avatar

The Blind Side

District 9

An Education

The Hurt Locker

Inglourious Basterds

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

A Serious Man

Up

Up in the Air

There are a few movies in this category I would be happy with if they won, though Avatar is not among them. While Avatar is visually stunning and should win every SFX Oscar it's nominated for, its story is by-the-numbers and rote, with no originality whatsoever.

Inglourious Basterds, however, is quite possibly Tarantino's best film to date, and an Oscar win would make up for Pulp Fiction losing to Forrest Gump in 1994.

My second pick, behind Basterds is, of course, A Serious Man, which immediately jumped to the top of my list of favorite Coen brothers' films. Such a simple story on its surface, but the more you dig, the more you uncover. It's a film that makes you think, and rewards you for doing so. I think I could watch it 20 times and still not fully grasp its intricacies.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart

George Clooney for Up in the Air

Colin Firth for A Single Man

Morgan Freeman for Invictus

Jeremy Renner for The Hurt Locker

This one is no contest. While the story in Crazy Heart may not have been the most original, the acting was superb, and it doesn't get much better than Jeff Bridges' portrayal of washed up singer/songwriter Bad Blake.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side

Helen Mirren for The Last Station

Carey Mulligan for An Education

Gabourey Sidibe for Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

Meryl Streep for Julie & Julia

I'm sure Bullock will win this award for her white-people-aren't-all-racist feel good schlock, and that's fine. I'm sure she's very good as the uber-Christian moralist in The Blind Side, but Carey Mulligan at age 24 is already heads and shoulders above most actresses of her generation. She may not win this year, but there's definitely a gold statuette in her future.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Matt Damon for Invictus

Woody Harrelson for The Messenger

Christopher Plummer for The Last Station

Stanley Tucci for The Lovely Bones

Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds

Um, did you see Christoph Waltz as the Jew-hunting Nazi Col. Hans Landa? Case closed. Simply brilliant.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Penélope Cruz for Nine

Vera Farmiga for Up in the Air

Maggie Gyllenhaal for Crazy Heart

Anna Kendrick for Up in the Air

Mo'Nique for Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

This is a tough call. While I absolutely loved Up in the Air and its great actors, and I loved Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart, all the scenes I saw of Mo'Nique in Push showed an incredible ferocity that is rarely seen these days. Like Christoph Waltz, I don't see how she doesn't win this award.

Best Achievement in Directing

Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker

James Cameron for Avatar

Lee Daniels for Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

Jason Reitman for Up in the Air

Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds

I know everyone thinks this is a race between James Cameron and his ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow because that makes such a great story, but my hat is firmly in the Tarantino ring this year. I wouldn't be surprised, or upset, really, if Cameron won this for Avatar, which was absolutely a technological masterpiece that I'm sure was incredibly difficult to direct. But I think Cameron is something of a smug asshole and I don't want to sit through another one of his sanctimonious speeches.

Besides, Tarantino murdered the Nazi High Command with movies. Literally.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

The Hurt Locker - Mark Boal

Inglourious Basterds - Quentin Tarantino

The Messenger - Alessandro Camon, Oren Moverman

A Serious Man - Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Up - Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, Thomas McCarthy

Name me another movie that introduces an entirely new cast of characters every 20 minutes and makes you care about them in such a short period of time. The way Tarantino weaved together the threads of this story will be dissected in film schools for years to come.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

District 9 - Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell

An Education - Nick Hornby

In the Loop - Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire - Geoffrey Fletcher

Up in the Air - Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner

While Up in the Air is rooted firmly in today's economic crisis, it also has a timeless quality about it. These characters and their lives can exist anywhere, anytime, and they could be any one of us, which I think is a rare feat to pull off.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

Coraline

Fantastic Mr. Fox

The Princess and the Frog

The Secret of Kells

Up

This category leaves me so torn. I love pretty much anything Pixar makes. But the same can be said of Henry Selick, the director of Coraline (not to mention Neil Gaiman, my favorite writer from whose novel the film was adapted), and Wes Anderson, whose first foray into animation with Fantastic Mr. Fox is a masterpiece. In a just world, all three films would take home awards, but in a world where we value competitions with winners and losers, I don't imagine those two smaller films being able to withstand mighty Pixar's juggernaut. Up, the first 10 minutes of which are perhaps the most perfect 10 minutes ever put to film, will take home the prize.