Sean P Carlin

Writer of things that go bump in the night

This Is 40: On the Goals I’ve yet to Attain and All the Friends I Haven’t Made

“The future disappears into memory

With only a moment between

Forever dwells in that moment

Hope is what remains to be seen”

—“The Garden,” from Clockwork Angels (2012); lyrics by Neil Peart

2112, the trippy sci-fi concept album and breakout opus from enduring Canadian prog-rock band Rush, turns forty this month.  The music of Rush has had a profound influence on my own art and worldview, so the occasion of 2112’s anniversary—and what’s an anniversary but an acknowledgment of the future’s disappearance into memory?—is one I am compelled to observe with no small degree of private rumination (meaning I won’t bore you with it here).

Rush 2112

Consider for a moment, though, some other things turning forty this year, in no particular order:  Richard Donner’s horror classic The Omen.   Scorsese’s Taxi Driver.  Apple, Inc.  NASA’s first Mars landing.  Ebola.  The laser printer.  The Toronto Blue Jays.  The Muppet Show.  The Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

I’m sure I’m forgetting something…

Ah, yes—me.

 

WORKS IN PROGRESS

At the beginning of my thirty-ninth year, I initiated, either by coincidence or subconscious design, a trio of unrelated long-term projects.  The first, of course, was my novel.  After years spent trying to sell mid-budgeted genre material to an industry that was no longer buying—I’d signed with my first manager, after all, at twenty-two—I walked away from screenwriting.  I wouldn’t necessarily say it was a difficult choice—any more than climbing off the Titanic and into a life raft would’ve been—but I certainly felt the weight of it.  I’d spent thirteen years in Hollywood, after all, playing the game, fostering relationships, taking meetings, pitching production companies, cranking out specs, and dealing with more industry assholes afflicted with an incurable condition aptly termed “confidence without competence,” and quitting meant, in many respects, starting from zero again:  None of my hard-earned associations in Tinseltown would be worth a damn in the new frontier of publishing.  All the sacrifices—uprooting my life to Los Angeles in the first place—could be deemed, from a certain point of view, in vain.  But I knew this much:  Staying the course, to use a tired cliché now forever associated with epic geopolitical failure, was only going to result in more squandered time, more second-guessing down the road.  And with forty looming, I felt I didn’t have any more time to screw around.

It was the best professional decision I ever made.  I’m in the most creatively happy and productive period of my life, and my forthcoming novel, Escape from Rikers Island, is a source of pride and personal delight I can’t wait to release into the world.

The second undertaking?  I started working with a physical trainer.  I’d been going to the gym regularly for years (one of the benefits of working from home), and had succeeded in losing—and keeping off—quite a bit of weight.  But, I wasn’t built—I wasn’t particularly muscular.  As dorky as it is to admit this, I looked to Harrison Ford as a model:  He was forty, after all, when he made Temple of Doom, and he’s in terrific shape in that film.  Sure, he’s not boasting the kind of physique his contemporaries Stallone and Schwarzenegger were circa 1984, but that’s exactly the point:  He looks realistically lean, solid.  And I thought, “Gee, if I could get in that kind of condition—go into my forties in the best physical shape of my life—that would be a great gift to myself.”  So, for the last year, I’ve been strength-training six mornings a week.  There are plenty of other ways I’d rather be spending that time (those would be, in descending order, sleeping, eating pancakes, writing), but I’ve had the self-discipline, after years of habituating myself to sit down at a desk and grind out words every day, to maintain the regimen week to week, even on vacation.  (To be clear:  I’m not yet ready to invite physical comparison with seventy-three-year-old Harrison from The Force Awakens let alone the man in his Temple of Doom prime; I don’t want to offer any false impressions here.)

I’ve also been, along with my wife, raising and training a puppy (who just turned one, on the subject of momentous birthdays), an opportunity that presented itself rather unexpectedly last June.  Now, I hadn’t owned a puppy since I was eleven, and, in retrospect, I don’t think we did that particular dog, a nine-pound poodle named Pokey, many favors.  Among other indignities, we lost him regularly.  We lost him in the Bronx.  We lost him in the Poconos.  We lost him in the Hamptons.  We lost him in Paramus.  (It certainly didn’t help, it occurs to me now, that I never walked him on a leash.)  Amazingly, he always returned home, usually with an unmistakably pissed-off look on his face.  He was an exceptionally bright animal—smarter than most people I’ve known (how I wish that were hyperbole)—and he lived, despite everything, to nearly the age of sixteen.  After having been by my side through the tail end of elementary school, junior high, high school, college, and my first job out of college, Pokey died about a year after I moved to L.A.; I wasn’t with him at the time.  Such is the bitter nature of sacrifice.

Pokey: 1987–2003

Pokey:  1987–2003

Pokey’s amazing run of luck notwithstanding, I’ve grown far too cautious in my adulthood to condone, let alone practice, such a laissez-faire policy of dog ownership.  As such, the new pup, DCI John Luther, attends weekly classes in obedience, agility, and tricks; he’s even learning, per his Southern California heritage, to ride a skateboard.  I have no doubt I’d be further along with the manuscript if Luther weren’t taking up such a fair amount of my time, but he’s made our life an infinitely happier one, and healed my broken heart after the premature death of our last dog, Truman.  Pets are a good reminder that this world we’ve co-opted isn’t, all evidence to the contrary, exclusively about us.

DCI John Luther (no relation to the British detective by the same title and name)

DCI John Luther (no relation to the British detective by the same title and name)

 

STEP BY STEP

If there’s one commonality amongst those three endeavors, it’s this:  They are, all of them, projects of such incremental progress, it can seem, from day to day and week to week and even month to month, as if no appreciable gains are being made at all.  Am I any closer to a finished manuscript?  Have I developed even a little noticeable muscle tone after six months of lifting these goddamn weights every morning?  Will this dog ever learn to obey a simple command?  Is any of this making a bit of difference?

It’s only perspective—acquired over time—that provides a definitive answer to those uncertainties:

Yes.

Perspective and wisdom are what we get in return for the trials of experience and the unwanted inevitability of aging.  Everything we’re doing is adding up, is conforming to the laws of cause and consequence, hard as it can be to see or to measure such glacial progression.  That we can’t gauge it is part of the reason we have come to depend so reliably on fiction.  Stories, by design, tend to be about the Big Events—and the Big Changes they bring about—but real life is mostly incremental.  Stories are magical because they are life, compressed—a sequence of progressive little moments, thematically unified, culminating in a climactic crisis that, ideally, forces personal growth and rewards the abiding hero (and, by extension, the audience) with the gratification of catharsis.  In fiction, stumbling blocks and false victories are part of the joy of the experience, because we know they will make the final, inevitable reward all the sweeter, but we have no such assurances in life:  Pushing through doesn’t guarantee success.  And the victories, when and if they come, are seldom heralded by some third-act, skin-of-the-teeth triumph, but instead sneak up quietly:  They are the moments when a chapter you’ve produced seems too good to have come from your own keyboard; when the sleeve of your T-shirt hugs your flexed bicep a little tighter than it did when you wore it last; when you suddenly realize the dog hasn’t relieved himself indoors in many, many weeks—when the hell did he stop doing that?  In life, markers of growth tend not to arrive at instances of four-alarm catastrophe so much as assert themselves through gentle, unannounced epiphanies, spurred to consciousness by the recognition of some minor variation in the norm, made manifest by temporal perspective only.  Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey is designed to unfold in its compact, familiar pattern, but our own haphazard journeys, on the other hand, aren’t beholden to prescribed “beats”—change instead occurs, by and large, in barely perceptible degrees.

The Hero's Journey

So it’s only perspective that affords me the clarity to realize, for instance, how rich my skill set has become in the last decade, something I can objectively quantify and appreciate.  Or how many words I’ve produced (84,418 thus far) for the first draft of EFRI.  Or how much muscle I’ve put on.  Or, on the subject of cumulative procurements, how few friends I’ve accrued over the course of a lifetime.

 

UNFRIENDED

You didn’t interpret that last sentence negatively, I should hope?  None of us have very many friends, and anyone who thinks they do is a fool, or otherwise far more fortunate than I—and I’ve yet to meet a luckier man in that particular regard.

I can’t speak to how this applies to other industries (just as fittingly, I’d wager), but it’s important for creative professionals—writers and filmmakers, aspiring and otherwise—to understand that you have no friends in this business.  Your colleagues aren’t necessarily your friends, much as you might have in common.  In the end, they’re vying for the same finite breaks as you, so don’t confuse camaraderie—which has its own type of value—for friendship.  Your agents/managers certainly aren’t your friends.  Never forget, no matter the opportunities they may facilitate for you, the nature of their existence is parasitic:  They’re only looking out for your professional interests insofar as those align with their professional interests.  That’s not to say it can’t be a mutually fruitful affiliation, but don’t mistake it for what it isn’t.  In a creative business like Hollywood, we spend a lot of time with likeminded colleagues bonding over common cultural touchstones, developing our wildest fantasies into saleable products in a collaborative atmosphere, investing our time and shared passions in projects that we all want the best for; under those circumstances, it can be easy to confuse what is at heart a working relationship for something more profound—a friendship.  It is no such thing.  Differences in taste and opinion or unexpected changes in priority are often—usually—the death knell of such associations, no matter how secure they seemed as recently as last week; at any moment, happenstance can expose their fundamental fragility, and that’s not the stuff of friendship.

Which is not to say that’s a bad thing.  Are you friends with your accountant?  Your barber?  Your doctor?  Of course not.  Those are unambiguously transactional relationships, and so should be the case with your representation.  The sheer amount of schmoozing required in Tinseltown, however, and the fact that we lay our souls bare in the material we produce, often leads us to believe the people with whom we’re working are more than mere business advisors or colleagues—that they are, in fact, friends.  They aren’t—nor should they be.

Friends are something else all together.  It’s no surprise the definition of friendship has become muddled in a digital world where “friends” are made every day through the mindless, mostly passive act of clicking “Accept” on our social-media platforms; these relationships, such as they are, carry with them no emotion, no obligation, no weight.  It’s tantamount to collecting baseball cards (not even sure if people still do that, actually):  They are pictures and names and stats that exist merely as abstractions of flesh-and-blood people.  It’s not to say, as human connections, they’re altogether worthless—they certainly needn’t be—but they don’t fit the definition of “friend” as I first came to understand it on the streets of the Bronx many years ago.  Of all the associations in your life—all the friends—ask yourself how many of those people, with no uncertainty, would walk through the fire with you.

The list narrows considerably, doesn’t it?

Over the course of my life, I’ve been blessed to count at least four contemporaries as true-blue friends—I’m talking the kind of people that would drop what they were doing to fly across the country for me, if that’s what was needed—which, in my experience, is at minimum three more than most folks ever get to lay claim to.  One of those friends, Chip, I met at six weeks of age, so I guess you could say we’re celebrating our fortieth anniversary, too.  He recently reminded me, quite happily, that I’ve been creating things that go bump in the night since way back when:  He sent me, for my birthday, a framed picture of the Floating Invisible Blue Shark (hey, it’s no dumber than Sharknado), a spectral menace that used to terrorize us in the hallways of our eight-story building—well, it terrorized me; Chip’s nerves were shattered only by my unpredictably erratic shrieks at the “sight” of the beast—and even attacked us at one point in the clothing racks of Caldor on Central Avenue in Yonkers, which I can assure you created quite the scene.

Engraved inscription: "Natantis Pistris Caeruleus Invisibilis (Natural habitat)"

Engraved inscription: “Natantis Pistris Caeruleus Invisibilis (Natural habitat)”

How many friends know something like that about you?  How many would even care enough to remember something so ephemeral, from so damn long ago?  How many could celebrate your fortieth birthday with such a specific, ridiculous, embarrassing, wonderfully thoughtful memento?

Two other friends, Matt and his brother Sean, I made in the fourth grade, at nine years old (Chip’s a year older, so we traveled in different circles at school).  Sure, Chip, Matt, Sean, and I did the stuff all kids that age do together:  played Lazer Tag with needlessly aggressive enthusiasm in the basement and stairwells of the buildings where we lived (once again, my eternal apologies to Mr. Gluckman in 8C); inadvertently shattered endless pieces of glassware beating the shit out of each other with pillows (and if those weren’t available, we just bare-knuckled our way through it); watched R-rated movies well after the rest of the household had gone to bed.  But, even at ten, eleven, twelve years old, our shared experiences weren’t limited to mere afternoon play dates, to boys-will-be-boys tomfoolery:  We nursed each other through things like our parents’ alcoholism, their divorces, through the kind of domestic dysfunction we were too young to consciously recognize let alone clinically identify—the kind of family problems families don’t want to talk about.  Those relationships were at once innocent and profound; they were like nothing I’ve experienced since.  I could wax philosophical about them all day, but why bother when the great Stephen King, in his novella The Body, already said it perfectly:

“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve.”

The one exception came just a few years later, at nineteen, when in college I made a different kind of friend—one of the opposite sex—from a remarkably similar familial and socioeconomic background as my own, fell in love with her, and then began dating (in that order).  She and I celebrated our twentieth anniversary a few months ago (I guess this is just one of those watershed years that happen now and then), and I’m delighted to say that, in addition to that lasting union, those three guys who were my best friends way back when are still my best friends today.  These are people—our relationships forged in the hearth of innocence—with whom I’ve shared untold laughs, who’ve taken care of me when I was sick (and I don’t mean that metaphorically), who’ve criticized me when I was wrong, who’ve contributed notes and their own professional expertise to my work, and who’ve remained loyal friends even—especially—when I’ve been undeserving of their friendship.  You cannot imagine the shit I’ve been through over the past twenty years with Kristin, thirty years with Matt and Sean, and forty years with Chip—all the little adventures and walks through the fire together that have added up to a lifetime of solidarity, bonds so precious and rare that, despite the widening of my world in early adulthood through (egads!) middle age, I’ve yet to form another so powerful since.  Friends are perhaps the one thing you don’t amass more of with age and experience (well, that and hair), but your appreciation for the ones you’ve been lucky enough to make—and to keep—only deepens exponentially with each passing year.  Mine does, anyway.

 

DIFFERENT SEASONS

We are young

Wandering the face of the earth

Wondering what our dreams might be worth

Learning that we’re only immortal—

For a limited time

—“Dreamline,” from Roll the Bones (1991); lyrics by Peart

On the subject of accretion and the passage of time, I haven’t yet achieved everything I’d set out to do, professionally and personally, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel, to some extent, pressure from the turning pages of the calendar; the path to some ambitions has proven more gradual than I’d estimated in my youthful naïveté.  This is forty?  It isn’t necessarily what I expected it would be.  But, as all those years of once–future time have incrementally disappeared into memory, Chip, Matt, Sean, and Kristin are some of the special friends made along the way with whom I’ve been blessed, over and over again, to experience a million little hopeful moments of forever.  There are worse ways to grow older.

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48 Comments

  1. Happy Birthday, digital friend Sean!

    • Thanks so much for that, Christine! As “digital” friends go, you’ve been so supportive since I began this enterprise (establishing my author platform has been a huge part of Goal No. 1: write a novel), incorporating hyperlinks in your own wonderful articles to my posts on the Joker, Double Mumbo Jumbo, and the genre of Birdman. That’s driven — and continues to drive — a lot of traffic my way, and I’m grateful. I noted in the above post that camaraderie with colleagues has its own kind of value, and I can say with certainty now that camaraderie with digital colleagues like yourself has given me the encouragement to press onward with this project, day after day and week after week, in all of its incremental progress. Thank you.

    • Leaving your page with much love and respect, your such a hard worker that you deserve to keep pushing for creative juice, best wishes.
      From writer to writer.

  2. I so enjoyed this post, Sean. Happy Birthday! I love your reflection on incremental steps and the way ordinary life is like that. There’s a peacefulness and trust in that perspective, versus the hectic fenzy of our technological age where we want and expect it all now, now, now. I think that applies to friendship too; those really deep friendships take time and an investment in building memories (I’ve known my best friend for 47 years – we groan, but how wonderful is that!).

    I left a lucrative career because life is too short and I haven’t looked back. I didn’t start writing until I was 50, so compared to me, you are way ahead (I’m occasionally envious of young folk like you who figured it out earlier in life than I did). It’s all a matter of perspective, once again. I think the writing/publishing world is far less competitive than Hollywood. There is tons of room at the top, which again is a matter of perspective, I suppose. I think in the writing world we can genuinely cheer for each other and celebrate accomplishments without feeling diminished. I hope that is/becomes true for you too.

    Wonderful to get to know you a bit more 🙂

    • Thank you, Diana — for the kind words and thoughtful comment!

      What a great observation you make — one I wish had occurred to me when I was writing this post! — about how we live in an on-demand world now, but that the most meaningful things — certainly our best work and our strongest relationships — are really the ones built over time. (Upon viewing The Force Awakens, my niece and nephew were horrified — horrified — to learn they’d have to wait eighteen months till the next installment! I didn’t know how to break it to them we had to wait three years between episodes, and there was no Internet with news about or stills from the production to sate our curiosity in the interim.) I’ve written quite a bit lately about what media theorist Douglas Rushkoff terms “present shock” — the state of collective trauma we now unknowingly find ourselves in since our sense of traditional linearity has given way to the “hyperlinked continuity” of 21st-century communications technologies — and how that is being reflected in our popular fiction (like the “shared cinematic universes” of DC and Marvel), yet I didn’t really connect any of that with what I posted today. It’s funny that no matter how much thought we put into our work, there are always subconscious underpinnings that it takes outside perspectives to bring to light. Thank you for that.

      I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating here: I have thus far found publishing to be a far more supportive — far friendlier — environment than Hollywood ever was. Authors, by and large, seem to want to do whatever they can to support one another, whereas screenwriters often find themselves in the unfortunate position of vying for the same (finite) assignments. Authors take the view that a healthy marketplace is good for everyone; screenwriters, like gladiators, are often forced to be competitive — and I mean that literally: It’s become common practice by the studios to hire multiple writers to produce entirely unrelated drafts of the same project, and then just “pick a winner” like some demented version of American Idol. I mean, good grief, if you ever needed evidence that art is dead, that would be it.

      So, yes, despite my experiences thus far (and my admittedly assertive writing style which I know often makes me appear far less intellectually flexible than I really am), I am altogether optimistic that all sorts of great new relationships will be forged (with the likes of yourself and Christine) as I move into this new decade of my life. I’m grateful for the associations I’ve made through this blog, enjoying getting to know all of you a bit more myself, and excited as hell for my forties — I’m peaking! Thanks for sharing the moment with me!

      Sean

  3. A belated happy birthday to you, Sean! I’m about to celebrate turning thirty myself, so I’m feeling a bit contemplative myself, which I think was the perfect mood for reading this post. Even came up with some good thoughts!

    …which D. Wallace beat me to. Darn it. *laughs*

    I will say, as an aside, that I’m in agreement on Wallace’s point about friendship in this business. Whether it’s my local writer’s group, or people I met through fanfiction (I know, I know, the horror!), or folks like you, I’ve found that it’s been other writers, often through cyberspace, who have proven to be closer friends than people I’ve known in real life. Part of it was a semi-nomadic childhood- I simply didn’t have the opportunity to make long-term friends until after I was out of high school, not in person anyway- and part of it was that there are few enough people in this part of the country that are open to what I like that it’s easier to find them online.

    Heh, as kind of an example, a few years ago I went to see a friend I’d met online. This was around Christmas time, mind you. The first leg of the trip was to meet with family, and the experience was… well, shall we say, I wasn’t feeling the Christmas spirit that year. By and large, I kind of felt like I was a hot potato, one that people had because of obligation, but were quick to get rid of as soon as decorum permitted. Conversely, my writer friend- whom I’d never met in person before- truly made me feel welcome, and to this day, she and I have helped each other out a great deal, whether it was my coming out or her personal struggles.

    All of which is to say that it takes so long to finish a novel, and the truly interested readers are so voracious, that there’s certainly plenty of room for a ‘band of brothers,’ of sorts, for writers. Not just camaraderie, but helping each other out and getting close bonds over time. It’s not instantaneous, no, and sometimes it will either fade entirely or just stay as camaraderie, but that’s not to say that there’s a universal negative on the concept.

    (Though as an aside, lemme tell you, I’m now incredibly glad that I got into novel writing instead of screenwriting. What you describe is pretty much the antithesis of what I’d want in my life.)

    So, I wish you a happy fortieth birthday, and I hope to continuing to get to know you and working together on the craft. And hah, here’s hoping that both of us can get to where we want, in terms of fitness. I’ve been working on that myself, and yeah, sometimes it feels like no progress is being made at all. We shall see, though!

    • Thanks, Ben! I think it was Dennis O’Neil (who also just celebrated another spin around the sun), longtime writer and editor of the Batman comics for DC, who once said that the birthdays where both digits change are the real killers.

      There’s no question that my views on friendship are informed by the special friends I had as a boy (I plan on writing an already-outlined novel about those days at some point); I was lucky enough to have grown up in the same apartment in the same Bronx neighborhood (where my mother still lives), so making and keeping friends wasn’t the challenge for me it might’ve been for someone with a more itinerant upbringing like yourself. Still, believe me when I tell you there were a thousand different points in our lives when Chip, Matt, and Sean could’ve become nothing more than friendly faces I waved to as I passed them on the sidewalk — even Stephen King acknowledged that sometimes “[f]riends come in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant” — and I’m grateful we stayed close, despite the fact that they all still live in New York and I’m out here in Los Angeles.

      You know, I was listening to Rob Reiner (who, coincidentally, directed the movie adaptation of King’s The Body, the source of the above quotation) on The Howard Stern Show yesterday, and he was saying that nowadays Hollywood only produces movies with the following in their title: “man” and a numeral — meaning Iron Man 3, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, etc. (This is a subject I wrote about at great length recently.) It’s not a very creatively nurturing medium these days, and I think the frustration all of us here in Tinseltown are feeling from that has contributed to a very toxic atmosphere that — I can vouch firsthand — has irreversibly poisoned what should have been, in many cases, lifelong relationships. I think if you’re a person who is inclined to express himself creatively through words, publishing — though not without its own drawbacks and industrial idiosyncrasies (no business, after all, is perfect) — is a much more fertile outlet right now than screenwriting.

      Through my associations with folks like you, Diana, and Christine, I’ve become optimistic that the paradigm will begin to shift away from the outmoded corporate model (whereby creatives — who often don’t own a stake in their own creations — are beholden to major studios or the Big Five publishers, to say nothing of fickle “gatekeepers” like agents and managers) in favor of a more peer-to-peer–based system in which we support and encourage one another directly through our blogs and various social-media platforms. That, to me, is a more sustainable model for creative prosperity. So, every time folks like us participate in that system — commenting on each other’s blogs, beta-reading WIPs for one another, tweeting links to each other’s work — we’re supporting a non-zero-sum ideology that puts a premium on the exchange of new ideas rather than the money that can be extracted from recycling “the ephemera of a previous century.” So, I’m grateful to have your support, and please know you have mine, as well. (FYI: Many of the thoughts I’ve expressed in this paragraph are inspired by Douglas Rushkoff‘s new treatise on the misapplication of 21st-century digital technologies to serve an Industrial Age economic operating system called Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus.)

      As for staying fit, the trick is to think of it like brushing your teeth, or making your bed, or clearing the dinner table: It’s not something anyone really wants to do, but if you make it part of your daily routine, eventually you’ll just do it out of habit. But, on the eve of your thirtieth birthday, I’ll pass along the advice someone gave to me when I was your age: Get into the habit of doing it now, before you’re older and it becomes a lot harder to A) condition your body to regular physical exertion, and B) reverse some of the damage you’ve done by the involuntary act of living your life. Writers in particular live a sedentary existence, and we’ve got to make exercise a consistent part of our routine. Start with something manageable that you know you can do without excuse — like twenty minutes of cardio three days a week — and then supplement your regimen from there as needed.

      Thanks for chiming in, pal. Happy Birthday to you, too!

      • Hah, yeah, I do think that it’s the big round number birthdays that make things hit a little harder. Won’t be able to call myself a twenty-something any longer, and all that. But… I dunno, the more I think about it, the more I’m kind of okay with it. At the least, I’m confident that this upcoming decade will be better than the one before, which is the important thing, mm?

        I’ll admit that I am a little jealous of what you’re talking about, but yeah, it’s not like it was a given for you anyway. Heh, in a way, I guess that it works out okay for me, though- not having friends like that has given me some pretty strong family bonds, to the point where a lot of the usual sibling/family squabbles just baffle the lot of us. (Since family is the only constant, you learn to rely on them and they take on the role of both family and friend, y’know? And hah, now you have me curious about that story. I’ll look forward to hearing more about it when you get it going.)

        Movies do seem to be suffering an awful lot from sequelitis recently, absolutely, and while it’s unfortunate that things are as you say, I guess I’m not overly surprised about it, thinking on it now. It is frustrating to hear that it’s that toxic, though. Not just from the point of view of the relationships- though that’s definitely a part of it- but also because I think creative types work better when they can share ideas and pool talent, not have to hoard their best to try to make sure they get their shot. Makes me wonder what’ll happen as more of the talent realizes this and basically gives up on it.

        And uh-oh, I got you talking about the ‘p-word’ again. *laughs* But nah, more seriously, I’m feeling optimistic in the same way, and while I know there are going to be a lot of growing pains and other such problems, I’m definitely excited about it. Haven’t read Rushkoff’s book, but I think I’ll have to take a look when I can. I’m a business major as well as a creative, and the intersection of the two really interests me. And yeah, a lot of the older models just… aren’t working so well now.

        That said, yes, I am still planning on making the blog posts about my new venture/idea, which I am looking forward to getting your thoughts on. Hopefully I won’t end up like the gatekeepers you mention! *chuckles*

        On the exercise front… well, firstly, you’re still too young to be talking about when you were someone else’s age! But yeah, that is good advice. I do the elliptical about three times a week for half an hour or so (which is pretty good for a guy with a healing leg!) but it still feels like progress is too slow, y’know? I’ll keep fiddling with the routine and add a bit more to it, see what works for me. Or heck, I might just follow your lead and see if there are any personal trainers around here. You’re absolutely right about the risk of a sedentary life, and I hope to avoid it if I can possibly help it.

        You’re welcome as always, and thanks. 🙂

        • I didn’t realize you were a business major, too! As such, Throwing Rocks might have special application to your areas of interest. I love Rushkoff because he has an utterly singular way of looking at the problems of our new millennium. He’s certainly changed the way I view the world.

          I think, drawing on the ideas of Rushkoff, it was a confluence of things that ruined the movie business: On the one hand, you had studios following a corporate mandate to produce franchises (and now, God help us, “mega-franchises”) in pursuit of unsustainable growth (and it’s worth noting that the subtitle of Throwing Rocks is How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity), while on the other hand you had an entire generation of filmmakers (Gen X), traumatized by the loss of the analog world into which they were born, who’ve been only too willing to indulge Hollywood’s nostalgic agenda: We had a chance to explore new fictive worlds, and we opted instead to revisit the old ones ad infinitum. So, it’s really a complex set of cultural and economic circumstances that brought us to this place, and I think my generation shares no small portion of the responsibility for it. We’re a generation that’s already being prematurely put out to pasture by the Millennials that outnumber us, and we are certainly hastening our own irrelevance by always looking to the past instead of forging pathways into the future. We’ll be the ones to blame, really, for our own obsolescence.

          Please send me a note, Ben, and make me aware when your new blog is up and running! So excited to see what you produce! Be one of the voices that chooses to reject “the ephemera of a previous century” in favor of allowing “this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times.”

          • Oh yeah, I’m a man of many talents. *laughs* Nah, more seriously, I’m just one of those weird people who likes looking at the business side of things. My specialization is in organizational psychology, so it’s a bit less the dollar figures and more the people who make up business, from the actual operators to the customers and everyone down the line. I dunno, there’s something about the dynamics of it that I find really fascinating. And I’ll definitely take a look at Rushkoff, at the least it’ll be good to see someone who’s talking about the way things are changing nowadays.

            And hey now, I’m a part of the millennial swarm, so move aside, old timer. 😉 No, no, I think what you say is exactly right. It sounds like Hollywood and the studios thereof started using nostalgia almost as a security blanket, to help them cope with how drastically things have changed, and that caused them a lot of problems. There’s always been that backward look in entertainment- think the Loony Tunes paying homages to the radio and early movie/TV stars of a previous generation- but it feels like this has gone beyond that into something almost paranoid. Which, as you say, is a shame, since there were and are a lot of new options that could have been explored, and were chosen against.

            …that said, I’ll admit an actual shudder at the term ‘mega-franchise.’ When the studio’s directive is the same as McDonald’s, something has gone horribly wrong somewhere.

            I’ll definitely be sure to send you the note- I’m dealing with the technical aspects of the thing now, moving my hosting and all of that, so I’m hoping it won’t be too long- and especially thank you for the encouragement. Mind, some of what I’ll be doing is going through the ephemera of SEVERAL centuries back (no, seriously, it’s great stuff!) but I do think there’s just… yeah, a lot of irrelevant and insufficient stuff floating around nowadays. So, I’ll be doing my best, and you too, mm? Your blog inspires me, and whatever else you might think at your age, I dare say that you’re about as far from obsolete as you can get.

          • Organizational psychology sounds fascinating — a subdiscipline I’d be curious to read/learn more about, so I hope it figures into your new author platform!

            I’m going to take an opportunity in my next post to elaborate on some of my thoughts about our culture of pathological nostalgia (it’s been on my mind lately, as you may have surmised), but for now let me say this: There’s nothing wrong with looking to old ideas for inspiration; it’s merely the wholesale recycling of “the ephemera of a previous century” that I find troubling. In Supergods (which I don’t have in front of me — I’m traveling at present, hence the reason for this delayed reply — else I’d quote it verbatim), Grant Morrison illustrates how every identifiable aspect of Bob Kane’s Batman was attributable to something in the zeitgeist at the time of the character’s creation: The billionaire avenger with a secret cave under his estate was adopted from Zorro, the “urban crime-fighter” aspect taken from The Shadow, the bat motif was inspired by drawings from Leonardo da Vinci, and the Joker was lifted from a silent film called The Man Who Laughs. (And that’s just what I can recall offhand.) But all of those influences — conscious or otherwise — went into the primordial soup of Kane’s imagination, and from that emerged a new creation greater than the sum of its parts: Batman.

            Likewise, when George Lucas’ nostalgia for the old Republic serials and fascination with anthropology merged with Philip Kaufman’s interest in Biblical arcana and Spielberg’s desire to direct a James Bond picture, Raiders of the Lost Ark was born.

            Dan Aykroyd took his fondness for the old Bob Hope ghost comedies and filtered them through the then-contemporary comedic stylistics of the Second City and SNL, and then applied 1980s speculative technologies to create a credible scientific basis for parapsychological investigation — and Ghostbusters was “open for business.” (All I see in the trailer for the new Ghostbusters, on the other hand, is a lot of mugging and caterwauling, which is the antithesis of how the comedy in the original worked: Murray’s deadpan sarcasm, Aykroyd’s childlike enthusiasm, and Ramis’ humorless clinical dispassion were all played very believably, and it was the unique alchemy that emerged from their interplay that made us laugh — not cheap one-liners or slapstick gags.)

            All of that is to say there’s an appreciable difference between taking inspiration from something in the past and reshaping it to fit the needs and/or reflect the ethos of the present era versus simply serving up the same old crap on a fancier plate. That goes for Hollywood, and, as Rushkoff argues in Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, it applies to our economic operating system, as well: “That’s why at the vanguard of digital culture we see the retrieval of lost medieval values and practices, from the Burning Man festival to peer-to-peer currencies, and paganism to steampunk handcrafts. It’s not moving backward. It doesn’t constitute a regression so much as a recursion — a rediscovery of something old but in an entirely contemporary context.”

            That, I think, is the secret to being a servant of the zeitgeist — facilitating “the rebirth of old ideas in a new framework,” as Rushkoff puts it (which he notes is the very definition of renaissance). Your McDonald’s analogy, Ben, is an apt one: If you think about the menu there, it has a limited selection, and the meal is the same every time, at every location. That is very much the playbook — that of franchisability — Hollywood is following right now: a restricted, repeatable experience. (Or as Alan Moore put it: “I particularly don’t like the modern way of comic book-film adaptations, where, essentially, the central characters are just franchises that can be worked endlessly to no apparent point.”) That’s not, in my view, how art flourishes or culture thrives.

            As a writer of “things that go bump in the night,” I often use time-honored monsters in my stories (werewolves, aliens, etc.), but I always try to find a new angle into them, and/or use them to say something about contemporary society as I see it. Escape from Rikers Island is a zombie story, sure, but it isn’t a postapoclyptic narrative à la The Walking Dead — it’s a Greek underworld odyssey that draws from my passions for John Carpenter, Elmore Leonard, Richard Price, Matt Taibbi, among others. Everyone’s doing zombies as a metaphor for the fall of civilized society these days (for reasons Rushkoff explains); I wanted to do something different, reflective of the sociopolitical realities of present-day New York (and, by extension, America). And my next novel after EFRI draws upon much older supernatural legends, exploring a heretofore unaddressed aspect of one of our culture’s most enduring monsters (from the same tradition as Dracula and Frankenstein), but I have challenged myself to make sure it borrows from folklore, not reiterates it — an old idea in a brand-new framework.

            Thanks so much for the kind words about the blog! It heartens me to hear that. This has been a great experience for me — a worthwhile ongoing proect. It has certainly served as an incubator for ideas — like, for instance, postnarrativity and superhero culture — that I wouldn’t have given such careful consideration had I not been compelled to write about them here, notions that have been further workshopped through the willing and generous participation of folks like yourself. Blogging has paid intellectual dividends — and broadened my sphere of colleagues — in ways I hadn’t imagined when I started. Glad we can be there to encourage one another.

          • Firstly, apologies for the delay in responding- I’ve been pretty busy, but all for a good reason, so it should be worth it. Hopefully!

            Organizational psychology is pretty fascinating, and yeah, I’ll be trying to incorporate it into my writing and blogs and all that. It really does impact a lot of different things- it’s kind of like general psychology in that sense, where there are a lot of factors that we all know, but don’t often think about? So yeah, especially since what I’ll be doing impacts those who aren’t solo storytellers, I think it’s something I’ll be getting into. That said, it should be helpful for all, so we shall see!

            You know, I hadn’t thought of the various ‘components’ that went into the examples you gave, and yet, it makes a lot of sense to me. The idea of recursion really appeals to me, too. Kind of like a Nietzschean infinite regression, only in this case, we can avoid cursing the demon because it leads to a better cycle. Also really resonates with what I’m doing, trying to bring back the old and re-contextualize it. Also been thinking about how the culture’s changing, how yeah, it really does feel like we’re going to that more medieval, localized (in the sense of group, not in physical proximity) sort of economy. Which does worry me a bit, but intrigues me as well. Even a lot of cultural things- Art of Manliness is a great example- seem to have that idea of recapturing the old ideas and adapting them. Which I’m 100% in favor of.

            ‘Servant of the zeitgeist’ sounds like a fantastic title, and one I think I might have to co-opt. *laughs* But nah, that makes a lot of sense to me. I’m also really intrigued by what you’re talking about, both from EFRI and the subsequent work. I’ve noticed, in my research, that it does seem like a lot of writers tend to borrow not just basic ideas of a genre or idea, but also the central conflicts and just re-use them. Zombies are a great example, but even just werewolves and vampires too, it’s always the same ideas, I find. Which… yeah, I guess there are limits, but certainly there can be more options. Which is a challenge I find in what I’m doing, how to facilitate the old reliable while still broadening the experience and offering something new.

            I’m definitely glad to be a part of the experiment, and likewise, you bring a lot to the table in terms of ideas and thinking things through. Looking forward to continuing it… once Arvixe gets its act together and lets me move my domain. Soon, soon! *laughs*

          • Ben,

            That last comment I wrote in our thread really did wind up becoming the basis for my brand-new blog post, in which bidding farewell to the Who, a band that has entertained and inspired me for three decades, prompted a reflection on the nature of finality, of closure, and why we no longer have a sense of that anymore in this age of pop-cultural recapitulation. So, I owe you a debt of thanks for that!

            “Servant of the zeitgeist” isn’t, alas, a phrase I coined, but rather something Mad Max director George Miller said on an episode of Robert Rodriguez’s excellent Q&A series The Director’s Chair: “We are the servants of the zeitgeist, and we live in a chaotic world: There’s so much information coming at you; we’re trying to find resonances out there to create some sort of meaning. Stories are a way of distilling something out of all that bombardment; they are a way of finding signal in the noise.” I highly recommend The Director’s Chair, which you can find on the El Rey Network. Watch all of them, even if it’s a filmmaker you’re unfamiliar with or think you have no interest in — you’ll be surprised how compelling each interview is in its own right.

            Zombies, for me, are about conformity — about pack mentality — which is very much a central theme of EFRI. Vampires tend to be about repressed sexuality; aliens are about our fear of the unknown; werewolves about “the beast within” — the primal instincts that lurk beneath our civilized veneer. So, in my stories, I always try to identify the metaphor each monster expresses, and then make sure the story stays focused on that. You can alter the “rules” that govern the monster’s behavior — you can have slow- or fast-moving zombies, vampires that are incinerated by exposure to sunlight or merely weakened from it (as in Stoker) — but consistent metaphoric underpinnings are what will keep it culturally recognizable. That’s part of the reason I wasn’t too crazy about iZombie: Shambling, undead zombies and agile, mutagenic zombies are related variations on a recognizable theme — I’m down with both iterations — but high-functioning zombies? Is that really a zombie… or merely an altogether new creature? Aren’t the high-functioning undead, after all, otherwise known as vampires?

            But, again, it all comes down to making it “relevant and sufficient to its times.” I don’t need another remake of Dawn of the Dead — that was a reflection of its era — but I’m happy to have The Walking Dead, which clearly owes a great creative debt to Romero, yet speaks to the particular folkways and anxieties of our postnarrative age. For me, it’s the difference between inspiration and recapitulation. But, that’s something I wrote about at length in this morning’s post, so I won’t go on about it in any more detail here!

            I know you’re pretty active on Goodreads — that you have eclectic literary tastes. Have you read any genre stuff lately that surprised you (in a good way)? I just read Arturo Pérez-Reverte‘s The Club Dumas (1993), which is a brilliant, bizarre, metafictional occult thriller. I’m in the middle of reading Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country, which is great so far, though I’m reserving final judgment till I finish it! With only a few chapters left to write for EFRI, reading has taken a backseat to writing lately — I’m woefully behind.

            Sean

  4. Fantastic to have been able to meet up in person and put that “real voice” to the written voice I’ve come to so enjoy, and to hear some of the stories and meet one of the “characters” first hand (shout-out, Chip).

    Happy Birthday! You’ve got the right perspective and good things are ahead for you this year, I know.

    • How funny that I should’ve just published an article on friendship — on analog and digital friends alike — only to have had an opportunity to meet face-to-face one of my most supportive digital friends with one of my oldest analog pals! Because I made the choice to decline participation in social media for so long, I hadn’t made any online friends previously; the ones I’ve made since starting this grand experiment — you, Christine, Diana, Ben, among others — have remained strictly online associations… until now. Having recently shook the hand of someone I only previously knew as a digital avatar, perhaps I’ll look back at that encounter at some point in the years to come as the day my understanding of the nature of friendship — certainly in our new Digital Age — was transmuted.

      Thanks for the birthday wishes, Erik — and for taking the time to meet as I passed through your neck of the woods. It was a brief experience, but a meaningful one. Not the last, I hope.

  5. I loved this post. You are such an amazing writer. Such a lot to learn from you!!! And i congratulate you on your success in having such good friends, you are really blessed. Always stay blessed, and keep doing what you do best.

    • Abhigyan,

      Thank you for taking the time to read the post and leave such a lovely comment — I appreciate your kind words. I went a little personal with this one, as opposed to some of my purely analytical pieces on this blog, and I’m pleased it seems to be resonating; that’s all any writer can hope for, really.

      Blessings to you, as well, my friend,

      Sean

  6. Hello Sean,
    I teach Creative writing classes, including “Writing the Hero’s Journey.” It is so wonderful to see a fellow writer post a piece that not only includes this writing style but also hits life at 40, on the nose! Have a wonderful day and keep at it.

  7. Excellent post and it even had two things I love, DCI John Luther and Rush. I recently went through a month long obsession of listening to only Rush in my car. I do that from time to time.

    “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve.” The quote was a nice touch and interesting because I was just thinking about what “friends” mean now, often a number on a website, versus what they used to mean. It got me thinking. Thanks and cheers to twenty years but I’m more impressed that you kept friends for so long, no offense.

    • Thanks, Adam, for reading and commenting!

      The great thing about Rush is that because they have so many albums (twenty studio recordings) and so many distinct aesthetic eras (from the early concept operas to the synth-heavy eighties material to the softer sounds of their early-nineties work to the return of more guitar-driven pieces after their late-nineties hiatus), you can never really get sick of listening to them: You can keep cycling through their different stages ad infinitum, like musical crop rotation, moving on from one when you’ve had your fill of it and experiencing a whole new chapter with a whole new corresponding sound. If this is indeed the end of the road for Rush as they recently suggested, they’ve certainly left behind a vast repertoire that I know will entertain, challenge, and inspire me for the next forty years…

      There’s no question that the definition — the very nature — of friendship (relationships in all their various forms, for that matter) is changing in a digital world, a subject perhaps best explored in its own full-length post. And I laughed at your closing comment because it is so true: How I’ve managed to keep such good friends for twenty, thirty, forty years now despite the inevitably divergent paths of life as well as my own abundant shortcomings is a miracle best left unexamined — only greatly appreciated instead. I hope you’re as lucky a man as I have been.

      Sean

  8. Nice piece of writing. Thank you.

  9. 2112 is 40?? No, that’s not my only takeaway from your terrific post, but anyone including Rush lyrics not once, but twice, makes an impression! I’m happy to have discovered you via WordPress Discover, and look forward to reading more, including your novel when the time comes. Aren’t we all works in progress of sorts, moving forward and sometimes backward, hopefully with much less frequency, incrementally? Hope your birthday was terrific.

    • 2112 is forty! Look at the bright side: At least it’s not the year 2112 yet! It’s always cause for uneasy reflection when we catch up with the timeframe a particular futuristic story takes place, like 1984, Escape from New York (1997), Escape from L.A. (2013), and Back to the Future, Part II (2015). Next up: Blade Runner (2019). The future really does disappear into memory, and we are all works in progress as “the hours tick away, they tick away…”

      Thanks so much, Wendy, for taking the time on this holiday weekend to read the post and leave such a thoughtful comment! Happy to have connected with a fellow blogger and Rush fanatic! Please stay tuned, as I’ll have updates when my debut novel, Escape from Rikers Island, is nearing publication.

      Sean

  10. Happy Birthday and welcome to the 40s club! I enjoyed reading your post. Luther sure is a cutie! The part about friendship really hit home. I’ve often thought about how we so casually throw the word friend around. It always reminds me of a song by The Who–How Many Friends. I think it’s safe to say that I probably only have one true friend and she, like Chip for you, is someone I’ve known all my life. We like to say we met while still in utero. Our mothers were friends before we were born. In any case, all the best to you and many happy wishes for the upcoming decade!

    • “How Many Friends”! Why didn’t I think to include a quote from that song! One of the joys and challenges of being a writer, as I’m sure you know, is finding connections between — recognizing patterns among — seemingly disparate things. And though I wish I’d thought to reference “How Many Friends” in this post, I thank you for making that correlation for me, Kelly — it is a much-appreciated “birthday gift.” That song is one of the truer meditations on friendship I’ve ever encountered, as only Townshend, with his singular perspective, could’ve construed it.

      You’re a lucky person indeed, as I am, to have had — and kept — a friend from cradle to middle age. Maintaining friendships now, in the forties — and I don’t know if you find this to be the case, as well — is harder than ever: Life has taken everyone down different paths, and we’re all preoccupied with our own personal and professional pursuits, to the exclusion of virtually all other things, including longstanding relationships (and I’m just as guilty of this as anyone). As much if not more so than Christmastime, July inspires a profound sense of pensiveness in me, because it makes me think of all those endless summer days when Chip and Matt and Sean and I had nothing to do but explore the city, beg and borrow for a slice of pizza (we were lucky if we could come up with ninety cents for one among the group of us!), then go home and watch movies till the wee hours of the morning. Time was infinite, and no one had an agenda other than to have fun. Now, though, time is ever at a premium, and we all have different ways we’re compelled, either by obligation or desire, to spend it.

      I’m reminded of that episode of Frasier in which Woody from Cheers drops into town, and they have a great time reminiscing about the good ol’ days; the second evening, however, is a bit less fun (all the classic stories got told the night before), and by night three, these two old friends are left with a terrible realization: They have nothing in common anymore. Doesn’t mean they don’t like each other or wish one another well, only that their lives have moved in different, incompatible directions. It happens more often than not, and if you are blessed with a true friendship that has endured throughout the different seasons of your life, cherish and nurture it — it’s the rarest gift we get.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Kelly.

      Sean

  11. Your post reminded me of my own experiences. Reading thru it I couldn’t shake the impression how very similar our experiences are: the career change, writing the novel, the gym, your views on life. At one point I realized I forgot who I was and what I wanted and with it came the need to find out. I felt I need to finish the novel I started. Best of luck to you!

    • Thanks, Prodison! Happy to have found a “kindred spirit” in you! I’m delighted the piece resonated with you, and grateful you took the time to say so.

      I think we all go through bouts of reevaluation, and for some reason the forties seems to be a period in our lives in which we are particularly susceptible to existential self-examination: Where has the time gone? Have I accomplished what I set out to do? If I haven’t, do I double down on my efforts, or start anew? If I have, then what now? I think, in the end, all of our life stories are probably a lot more similar than we realize or care to admit. There’s comfort in knowing others struggle with the same challenges that bedevil us.

      What’s the general gist and genre of your novel, if you don’t mind my asking? Has it been published yet, or are you still drafting? The reason I ask is because we engage in a lot of scholarly discussions here on the blog about storytelling craft, and you are more than welcome to join in any time it pleases you!

      Sean

  12. Enjoyed the post.. Btw happy birthday.. Or belated.. 😂😂😁

    • Thanks for taking the time to say so — much appreciated. The birthday itself was in April, but I’m really viewing 2016 as something of a yearlong celebration…

  13. Sean—I enjoyed your personal reflections on maturity and friendship. Entering my fifth decade (yikes!), I realized that although I was physically aging, I was growing younger in my ability to enjoy life and its delightful twists and turns. This phenomenon of embracing life on life’s terms (another cliche’), was an unexpected bit of icing on the proverbial cake and it was only made possible because of all of the work that had previously been invested in the earlier part of my life. Happy birthday, my “friend” because it just keeps getting better…I swear! DWD

    P. S. And it beats the hell out of the alternative! 🙂

    • Thanks, DWD! One does begin to enjoy life more the older one gets, I’ve found: We seem to care less about external approval/validation, but rather find that from within; that manifests as a genuine sense of self-confidence that’s more than worth the youth we (involuntarily) trade for it. As the great screenwriter Frank Darabont once wrote in Young Indiana Jones and the Phantom Train of Doom: “You’re only as young as you feel.”

      Aging does indeed beat the alternative — well said! It’s a privilege, really — a gift that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Thanks so much for the kind words and positive contribution to the blog!

      Sean

  14. My late Nanaw always said “you get two choices when something bad happens to you, Barb: you get bitter or you get better.” I’m always glad to hear from others who have enough introspective ability to choose better.

    • Thank you, Barbie — I appreciate the kind words.

      You know, friend of the blog Erik Tyler over at The Best Advice So Far is a passionate proponent of the notion that we can’t choose what happens to us, but we can always choose how we react to setbacks or unfavorable circumstances — that we always, in essence, have a choice. I highly recommend Erik’s blog and book (and that’s not a paid endorsement, by the way); I think your Nanaw would’ve appreciated his positive-yet-pragmatic outlook.

      Sean

  15. Thank you so much for this post, I have just read it with vigour. I have been using my blog as starting stories but never finishing as I never quite know where to turn. I have however picked up some good ideas and plans from this post.

    You are very inspiring to me so thank you.

    And a very happy belated birthday!

    • Thank you, Dany, for the very kind words! I’m so grateful you took the time to read the post and comment on it.

      Sometimes the things we write, be it a blog post or novel or even letter to a friend, start as one thing — we have a preconceived idea or agenda for them — then take on a life of their own: They decide, somewhere along the way, they want to be something else. This blog, for instance, which I started two years ago as a purely analytical exercise in storytelling craft, has evolved into something more personal and anecdotal than what I’d originally envisioned (as evidenced by this particular post, my most heartfelt to date). Don’t be afraid to experiment, and to let your blog try some detours as it develops a theme and voice all its own; blogs, after all, are experimental by nature: They work best as emotional and intellectual incubators — works in progress — rather than finished, polished entities unto themselves. I can say with certainty that by forcing myself to write about the things on my mind, be it turning forty or the state of superhero culture or the misapplication of craft, rather then merely entertaining passing thoughts about these topics in the soup of my own grey matter, I’ve developed a deeper understanding of them — and established connections between things (like our culture’s endless fascination with Gen X nostalgia and corresponding fear of finality) that I wouldn’t likely have made had I not delved into the guts of the issues at hand. Far from an exercise in self-indulgence, keeping this blog has made me a better writer. I think you’ll find, if you keep at it, the same will hold true for you.

      Good luck! And please feel free to drop by any time and join one of our many discussions on the craft of writing that I host here; I’d be pleased to have your voice in the mix.

      Sean

  16. Uplifting post. I too celebrated my 40th a few weeks ago. Sabotaged my own personal training aspirations. Adore my miniature daschund ‘Truffle’ and lament the dawn of social media and its erosion of meaningful friendships at some level.
    Useful to see Joseph Campbell’s work referenced outside of my field of psychotherapy too;).

    Here’s to the next 40 years and look forward to reading future posts.

  17. Your post touched me in several ways – the challenge and rewards of tough career decisions, turning that certain age (just wait for your reflections of turning 60!) and the characteristics of true friendships. I’ve cycled through phases in life more times that I care to admit. It leaves me wondering if these are the phases of growing into a life that is purposefully well constructed? For me becoming aware and knowing what is essential, what I must carry forward and what I need to leave behind, in my life’s journey is part of the struggle and the learning. Discernment, like a muscle, is built with lots of effort. And it requires for me a willingness to sometimes live with and work through painful experiences to achieve the desired outcome. Whoa, you sure gave me a lot to think about. I enjoyed your writing very much!
    Sandra
    http://www.lowcountryfelicitylife.com

    • Wow, Sandra — thank you! I’ve been incredibly touched myself by the warm response this post has generated over the past week, and I’m grateful to you for contributing to that.

      Life, I suppose, is the Great Work in Progress, isn’t it? We get better at it the more we work on it, the more we strive for self-awareness. Youth is great, but I can resolutely say I didn’t feel as good about myself — personally, professionally, physically, emotionally — at twenty or thirty as I do at forty; I’m just lucky to have had friends and particularly a spouse who’ve helped me become — without trying to sound like some stupid self-help slogan, you understand — my best self. I’m proud of the work I’ve done, sure, but my proudest accomplishment is the friendships I’ve made and kept; I was lucky to find those people in an ocean of humanity, and somehow smart enough to keep them near and dear throughout all the different seasons of our lives. I hope you’ve been as blessed as I have on your own life’s journey.

      Glad to have made your virtual acquaintance, Sandra, and looking forward to following your posts at Lowcountry.Felicity.Life.

      Sean

  18. I’m 20 and I recently graduated with a Bachelor of Film (in Sydney, Australia). The past 6 months I’ve been stuck in unemployment. I’m primarily a writer/director, but I’m part of the whole filmmaking process.

    I’ve kept up writing/filming my own short films in this time, keeping myself busy and active. Also writing a film review blog, and am about to start making music with my closest, life long friends.

    I think your sections Works in Progress and Step By Step paralleled with me a bit. Each week, whilst I might not have achieved much, I’m still a step closer to completing or achieving something.

    I’m at the weird stage in my life where nothing is on track, but it’s all in motion.

    My blog is whatsworthwatching.wordpress.com

    And if you’re interested my film website is http://filmclubmedia.com

    The three others I make these film’s with all work full time, so the past 6 months we’ve been focussing on writing scripts whilst they’ve been busy. I finalised our first short film in 6 months today.

    I’ve made some narrative shorts that aren’t comedy. If you’re keen I can link them too, I don’t often share these ones. I enjoyed and learnt so much making them but they didn’t fulfil my visions.

    Cheers,

    Jon

    • Jon,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment!

      I certainly know how it feels to be unemployed and seemingly unable to gain traction in my chosen profession. When I moved out to L.A. from New York in 2001, I’d already been a repped screenwriter and had a halfway decent editorial reel (I’d worked as an AVID editor for a few years out of college), so I thought I was coming to Tinseltown with something to offer, you know? And yet I was here a full year — no exaggeration — before I could even get anyone to return a phone call. (And years more still before I made the contacts necessary to gain new representation.) It’s a difficult path we’ve chosen. But let me at least offer you this small piece of perspective: You’re only twenty! In the States, most kids aren’t even out of college till at least twenty-two! You’ve got it all still ahead of you, my young friend.

      I don’t know what the state of the film industry is in Australia (it’s kind of dismal here right now), but you’re 100% doing the right thing: Keep making shorts — you will continue to hone your craft by doing so. (Even creatively unsuccessful projects have tremendous value as learning experiences.) Get feedback from people who know what they’re talking about. Use the digital platforms we now have available to us to get your work out into the world (which you’re clearly already doing through your site). Enter your films into festivals and use those opportunities to network: be friendly; help out colleagues with favors when you can — you never know when that karmic credit will pay off down the road. People want to work with their friends in this business, so go make as many as you can! It won’t happen overnight, no, but keep staying busy — staying in motion — as you have been and the path ahead will reveal itself.

      Please feel free, any time, to share links to your shorts and film reviews here on my blog. This is, for the most part, a forum to study and celebrate the craft of storytelling; everyone’s contributions are warmly welcomed.

      I’m grateful you took the chance to introduce yourself, Jon. Don’t be a stranger.

      Sean

  19. Great post. I can relate on so many levels. The year I turned 35 I decided to finally take my writing seriously after talking about it since I was 7, but not doing anything with it. I had two kids by then (35 not 7) and knew if I didn’t get busy making my dreams come true time would whiz by me and I’d be watching them making their dreams come true and wondering what happened to me?

    Two year ago we got a dog. A German shepherd and many days I wonder what was I thinking to go along with this? As adorable as he is, he’s a ton of work and now my kids are teens so their training has to come ahead of his.

    I wrote a post on how friendships are disposable. Not people just friendships. To me, most friendships serve a purpose in our lives and when that purpose is over the friendship ends. Another one is always waiting to take its place if we’re paying attention, but very few people are meant to take the ride with us the whole way. That’s okay. I hate crowds anyway.

    • Thank you, Stacey, for taking the time to stop by and comment! The creative arts are an interesting field: No two artists have the same path to success, and yet all of our paths, in the end, are remarkably similar — in the broad strokes if not the granular details. We all had a dream, a vision in our heads, and made the time — took the effort, despite the challenges — to see it realized. If we’d waited for that perfect opportunity to write our novels, they never would’ve been written. You write mostly YA — do I have that right? I’d be interested to read your work!

      You know, right around the time my niece was graduating college, she was wistful about what she saw happening to her circle of friends: They were growing apart, moving in different directions. And I had to explain to her that while we tend to think of friendships — certainly those established under formative circumstances like college — as being forever, more often than not they’re more akin to romantic relationships: They are ephemeral. They fulfill a need in us at a particular time and place, and then we move on from them. “It happens,” Stephen King wrote in The Body. “Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant, did you ever notice that?” I really responded to your analogy: that “some friendships are like paper plates and some are like your good stoneware.” (I included a hyperlink to the blog post in your comment above.) Part of growing up is learning to recognize when certain associations have run their course, and to cherish the ones that somehow, against the odds, continue to stand the test of time.

      So pleased you contributed your thoughts to this discussion, Stacey. Please drop by again!

      Sean

  20. Hi Sean! Thanks for the thoroughly entertaining read. So much of what you have written reminds me of events in my life. I also celebrated a milestone this year. I turned 50. Like you, I also toiled away in LA. You are correct when you speak of putting things into perspective. I am still learning how to do this. Sometimes it feels like an uphill battle but I am going to stay the course. Take care and keep writing. I look forward to the novel.

    • Thank you, Susan, for reading and commenting! You know, I think it was Dennis O’Neil, the longtime writer/editor of the Batman comics line for DC, who said it’s the birthdays where both digits change that are the real killers! But they do inspire introspection, for all the anxiety and insight that produces, and reflecting on the journey thus far is, I’ve found, a remarkably effective agent of personal change. Certainly the formal venue of my blog — this post in particular but the entire enterprise in general — has helped me refine my own thoughts and feelings about my personal and professional experiences; it has been unexpectedly cathartic. That catharsis is probably the reason I am so optimistic for the decade that lies ahead.

      Happy to know you, Susan, and looking forward to following your fiftysomething adventures at Woman on the Ledge! I hope you take as much from the communal experience of blogging as I have, and I thank you for participating in my story. Come back again!

      Sean

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