One Year Later

A year ago around this time, I ended a stress-filled life in Los Angeles with a mega-stressful day. First there was a rushed packing job, followed by running late and getting stuck in Friday night rush hour traffic out of the city. As soon as it got dark rain started to fall, and I had to navigate Phoenix through windshield wipers, squinting against the wet, reflective roads, all while my cats cried for a home that no longer existed. One particularly stressed cat turned into a devil-cat and delayed my start the next day by hiding so well it took several hours to discover her wedged under a filing cabinet. I don’t want to relive that 24-hour period any time soon, and thankfully I’ve settled in nicely here, so I shouldn’t have to.

My leap over the chasm was a strong, solid leap. I can’t say I’ve landed safely on the other side, but at the very least, I’m gliding comfortably, still waiting to see just how things turn out. So far the view has been delighful. From time to time, someone will ask if I miss LA or the life I had there. The answer is still, “no,” though it doesn’t rush out of me quite like it used to.

Recently I’ve seen interviews with two other survivors of late night, though they are just a little bit more famous than I am – David Letterman (my old boss via WWP) and Jon Stewart (briefly my boss when he filled in for a week hosting the show). Despite our different levels of success, I learned we’ve arrived in the same place.

In an interview with a local Montana paper, the Whitefish Review, David Letterman said about his career, “you believe that what you are doing is of great importance and that it is affecting mankind wall-to-wall. And then when you get out of it you realize, oh, well, that wasn’t true at all. It was just silliness. And when that occurred to me, I felt so much better and I realized, geez, I don’t think I care that much about television anymore. I feel foolish for having been misguided by my own ego for so many years.”

And Jon Stewart realized the same thing. In a recent interview on The Axe Files he was asked if he missed what he did, and the summary of his response was that he did not. That while he was in “the soup” he thought what he did was important, but once out, he saw the world differently. He pointed out that only LA and New York foster that kind of arrogance. To me, that says nothing about the cities and everything about the entertainment industry that operates in those towns.

Compared to me, both of those men are extremely fortunate, not just becasue they walked away from their careers financially secure, but because they didn’t have their awakening until they were out of the business. I saw the truth while I was still in it, and I had to go to work every day knowing I was contributing to this massive lie. That caused serious stress, and seeing the people around me buy into it only made it worse.

You see, the worship of celebrities in our culture ensures that self-importance and entitlement isn’t just a problem for the stars, it trickles down to everyone working in the business, and it gets reinforced every time someone gets excited over what you do. It’s like being the popular kid in class, and you really start to believe you are cooler than the other kids. We know behind the scenes stuff that they report on entertainment shows. We know famous people. Famous people know us. Everybody wants to work in the entertainment industry, but we actualy did it… aren’t we special!

Not really, no.

Whether it was because I was thinking of the anniversary of my leaving that life, or just one of those things, I got triggered a few weeks ago by an old memory. It sent me spiraling into shame. From shame, came sadness, from sadness came fear. I was afraid that nothing had really changed. I was afraid I was delusional and that there is little to no chance I can earn even a modest living as a writer. In a few years I will be broke, and the end of this story will be me in a pile at the bottom of my chasm. Negative, fearful thoughts filled my mind, just like they did in LA. It seems that no matter where I choose to live, I am going to die an unfulfilled failure.

Thankfully, now that I am in a healthier, more supportive environment, this funk lasted days, not weeks, months, or years. A few kind words, a lack of being poked and prodded by new jabs, and a conscious effort to focus on the positive brought me back to myself.

Sitting in my backyard, enjoying a warm breeze on a sunny day, I looked at the deep green that surrounded me and the blue sky above. I thought of the beautiful life I’ve built here. I thought of my job – contributing to the health and well-being of people, and also being a small part of a program that drastically improves the lives of Parkinson’s patients. I remembered all the good friends who reach out to steady me when I stumble. I thought of how full my life is, and realized, whether or not I ever earn a cent from my writing, I can never be called a failure.

To put it in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson

What is Success?
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by
a healthy child, a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived;
This is to have succeeded.

No longer misguided by my ego, I’m successful in the ways that really matter.

Cheers to Dave, Jon, and I for surviving television and finding our way back to life.

Please like & share:
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

The Rules of Grief

Recently I made a quick trip to South Dakota to attend my best friend’s father’s funeral. I lost my father 13 years ago, and as could be expected, this has brought many of those memories and feelings to the surface. At Christmas I visited his grave and was shocked that the minute I stepped out of the car, tears started flowing like he had died that day. Grief never truly dies down, we just learn to live with it like background noise.

My friend is learning some of the same things I learned 13 years ago. If you’ve never lost someone close, you are simply not prepared for how grief works and it brings shocks and surprised with each moment. There is confusion over how to react, and what the rules are. Here is the rule I learned from losing my dad.

Grief has no rules

Despite this one rule, there are still things to keep in mind when you, or someone you love, is in grief.

Every person grieves differently. Some hold it in. Some let it out. Some lash out. Some retreat into a shell of themselves. Some will move through the intense pain quickly and move back into life almost immediately. Some go for months or years, slow to let the loss go.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Grief is a combination of who you are, your relationship with the person who is gone, the circumstances in which they died, and your beliefs about life and death. Don’t judge yourself because you aren’t grieving the way others grieve, or get angry that someone else is doing it wrong. It is what it is, and to quote one of my favorite quotes from Tootsie, “I’m going to feel this way until I don’t feel this way anymore.”

Which brings me to the next thing to remember as you grieve – you are going to feel every emotion possible, one right after another. I think most who’ve never been through it assume someone who is grieving is sad for a long time, and then eventually they aren’t as sad anymore. Instead, a person who is grieving finds that one moment they are devastated. Then they feel they’ve worked through it and life is going no to be okay, and then in the next moment they are angry that the person left, and then moments later they are back to acceptance, then back to denial, then sadness, etc. Those 7 steps of grief never flow smoothly from one to another. You are all over the place like a tap-dancer on stairs. Don’t ever let yourself fall into the trap that you have closure, and have worked through the grief. It’s always waiting…

In amongst all the steps of grief, you are also going to experience joy, silliness, and laughter. This is almost immediately followed by guilt. How dare you have a moment of joy when someone you love is dead?!?! However, this too is completely natural and very human. We all have coping mechanisms and humor is one of them. A good screenwriter will sprinkle humor throughout a thriller, a drama, or even a bloody horror movie. The human mind needs moments of levity to break up horrible things, it’s just the way we are wired. Besides, the person you lost also loved you, and just as you wouldn’t want them to be sad, they wouldn’t want you to be sad. Grasp onto those light moments and let them carry you through the dark moments. Laugh with friends and loved ones, and celebrate the good memories you share.

Also, be forgiving – both to others and to yourself. When I lost my dad I kept thinking, “I don’t know what to do, I’ve never lost my dad before.” None of you have likely ever coped with the loss you are all experiencing. Things will come out of your mouth you will wish you could take back. You won’t feel certain as to what to do or say. It’s safe to say those around you feel the same way. Forgive mistakes quickly. Let it go and love those close to you.

There are probably other things to remember, but that is what came to mind during the trip. Hang on during a wild ride, don’t judge, share joy without guilt, and forgive quickly.miss someone

Please like & share:
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather