My shortcoming is that I could never settle on one creative outlet. When I was little, I used to draw. Later, I wanted to write screenplays. I played the guitar for fifteen years.
My path wasn’t actually clear to me until I was twenty and I picked up a copy of Tropic of Cancer. The first two pages, alone, were enough for Henry Miller to agitate that bleeding nerve of creative possibility, and not just the raunchy pornographic side of his prose (well, the raunchy pornographic side, too), but his ability to access universal markers of beauty through the lens of horrific pain.
If you asked me how I identify my skillset now, I would tell you that, first and foremost, I consider myself a storyteller (muted applause). That being said, I’ve never had any of my fiction published outside of projects developed with friends of mine (you fucking fraud!). Nevertheless, I’ve been able to channel my penchant for creativity into freelance journalism and ghostwriting, which has kept me going over the years. But, nothing has taught me more about myself than writing fiction.
During my last semester in college, I took a business management course. The class, itself, wasn’t particularly compelling but on the last day, the professor told us something that burrowed into my brain and laid a couple of eggs:
“It’s easy to become cynical working in the corporate world because that environment can beat you down and crush your idealism. Some people mistake idealism for naiveté, but nothing great can be done in this world without it.”
By that time, I had already been pursued by one of the largest IT companies in the world for a software sales job. The first time the recruiter called me, I informed him that I wasn’t interested in a sales position and thanked him for his interest anyway. I had far more grand designs. He followed up with me a couple of weeks later and asked if I had given it anymore thought; in place of a question mark, he punctuated it with a declarative statement about the kind of money I would make in this role with the company.
Well… God damn it!
Student loans for a university education are a bitch, and children don’t feed themselves. So I buttoned up my dress shirt and learned to tie a pretty little knot in the corporate noose. We were all given the same scripts, the same goals and the same marching orders. It was all very templated. We were forced to execute black-and-white campaigns in territories that were multicolored.
I instantly regretted my decision to take the job and I was so miserable that I could barely take a breath. But, because I had kids at home and I was trying to fight my way out from under a landfill of otherwise unrelated bad decisions I had made throughout the course of my stupid life, I couldn’t just quit. For one, I needed the money, but also it’s not my style.
So I had to take my lumps. I had to scrap.
The greatest level of creativity I enjoyed (and this only happened twice) was when a colleague would ask me to edit an important email before they pulled the trigger.
“For accuracy or for style?” I would say.
I began my job search almost immediately. The big obstacle I faced was, though I had a few published pieces of writing (and an infinite number unpublished) that I could show, I didn’t have nearly enough “professional” experience in a creative field to get to the place I wanted to be.
Despite my outward foolishness and arrogance, I relentlessly researched creative agencies looking, not for one that might take me on, but for the one I thought could make the greatest impact. I wanted to do something big.
And then I found it. The agency’s homepage declared, “This One’s For the Freaks”.
I didn’t apply at the time because my “professional profile” wasn’t very compelling. After all, I made money for billionaires by selling software. But, I constructed a ladder and determined how I would climb it.
I worked in PR for quite a while, which was a great opportunity because was able to write, to build a portfolio and to gain some perspective. But, the words continued to claw at my brain, “This One’s For the Freaks. This One’s For the Freaks.”
A couple years later, I visited the new iteration of that agency’s website, “We Are The Anti-Template.” Perfect. Serendipitously, the career page had a listing for a content strategist. Ha!
Without a certain level of idealism, I don’t believe that I would’ve arrived at this point. I did have to eat shit – a spoonful every day. And, I already knew I could take a beating, but this journey gave me the opportunity to prove it. Even though I emerged with a few goose eggs and blood on my face, I still emerged. I also proved that if you persevere and cling to your ideals, ideals with the potential to build greater things, the bastards can’t beat you down.