Friday, December 31, 2004

2004: The Year In Me

Compared to the ups and downs of my life, the comic industry in the year 2004 is a rock.

Things began well enough; I started January comfily ensconced in my parents’ home in Houston during Winter Break. I bonded a bit with my brother and turned him on to The West Wing. Then came the final semester of college. Big plans, big dreams. And as far as my student life went, that last semester was a success. In between classes, I hooked up with the eventually doomed Fiction Writers’ Club, continued my weekly Game Night/MST3K fun with the campus geek group, and wiled away the small hours of the morning with the newly upgraded Neverwinter Nights.

On two of my biggest goals, however, I failed. I sought the heart of a lovely fellow classmate, breaking the news on Valentine’s Day, and was rejected. Tenderly rejected, but rejected nonetheless.

The other front, my search for employment, also fizzled. This, I blame squarely on myself; I was completely half-assing it, banking nothing but eagerness and an impending lambskin to do the work for me. Above all, I confidently told myself I would not be returning to Houston after graduation. The night that illusion was shattered was my first breakdown. It would not be the last.

Nonetheless, college closed on a positive note, as I read a combination essay/monologue of my own devising at the Creative Writing Department’s Senior Majors reading. I’m still proud of it, eight months later.

Post-graduation was a state of stasis. Back in Houston, I took up the tools I had naively ignored before and set about rebuilding my job search from the ground up. I had a goal: publishing. Preferably New York, but Chicago was also a possibility, and the presence of several prominent comics publishers on the West Coast made it attractive as well. Conducting such a search from Texas is not easy; I made extensive use of my father’s fax machine. Even so, responses were infrequent, and in many cases, follow-up contact almost impossible. I kept at it, though, bolstered by new resources recommended by some helpful persons.

Meanwhile, Mom and Dad were building anew house in Sugar Land. In June, the family moved into a rental house nearby to oversee the process. Unceasing torrents of rain pushed things back a month, which heightened tensions all around. I tried my best to keep the fragile peace at 8704 Buffalo Springs, and, I hope succeeded to some degree.

If I have any true regrets from my summer, it is that I let my writing stagnate. Oh, I had good reason; between the move, the job hunt, and the fact that four people had to share one computer, keeping it up would have been a Herculean task. But I still feel as if opportunities for effort were missed. Another case of a convenient excuse to put things off.

The bright shining beacon came in late July, with San Diego Comic-Con. It was the best graduation gift my folks could have given me. Usual con fun aside, I also met up with many of the good folks of CBR, giving me a sense of community I had missed since leaving college. Plus, I took the opportunity to do a bit of networking, and ended up having a very inspirational chat with Maggie Thompson of Comics Buyer’s Guide. As a final triumph, I located and re-purchased one of the holy grails of my childhood: The Transformer Computron. So that’s all good.

August was back to the job hunt, and an extra special gift: a persistent infection in a rather personal area, which sprung up with no explanation (my last intimate contact having been Fourth of July weekend, 2003). Undaunted, I continued in my quest, and on Labor Day weekend, an opportunity appeared. A startup magazine in New York City, seeking editorial staff, with an emphasis on young upstarts like myself. It would intially be unpaying, but my parents were willing to foot the bill in the meantime, and the opportunity was, quite frankly, unsurpassable. It was a big risk, but with big payoff. After rounds of phone tag from the editor-in-chief ended with an open-armed welcome, I headed up the second I found an apartment.

The apartment is a livable but run-down 4br in the West Bronx. The magazine is run out of a somewhat better apartment in Washington Heights. Much of the work is done online. It’s hectic, sometimes confusing, and in very few ways what I was expecting. New York itself is exciting, but daunting. And as for my writing, that ball is entirely in my corner now. The future became mine to write, and, in a display of supreme irony, here came writers’ block.

I’ve been mostly taken care of my whole life. Structure was imposed upon me, responsibilities were delegateable or half-ass-able. Now, it was all on my head. Win or lose, all on me. And the “lose” part scared the living shit out of me. Would there be time to meet all my new responsibilities, to my job, my dreams, and myself? Would I ever make enough money to take the next big step? Would I have the personal skills, the organizational skills, the discipline to do what needed to be done? What about my health? The state of the world? And, worst of all, knowing the odds as I did, how could I possibly have faith that things would work out to my satisfaction?

By the end of November I was a nervous wreck. Part of this was brought on by a stomach condition caused by medication for the above infection, but part of it was just oodles and oodles of stress, and low self-esteem rearing its ugly head. I hit bottom on December 5th, when I found myself literally unable to get out of bed for fear. Desperately reaching out 1200 miles away, I called my mother. She’d known I was struggling with these problems, but not to this degree. I needed help, both to save my stomach and my mind. A sabbatical was in order.

Apologizing profusely to pretty much everyone I knew, I packed my suitcases with some clothes and boarded a plane for IAH. It was possibly the lowest point in my life. My arrival was not a happy one, although we all kept on brave faces. We knew what needed to be done.

In between settling my stomach and learning some basic cooking staples, I went off for my first full psychiatric session in over seven years. It was fruitful, thank heaven: the doctor reassured me that my problem was far from native to myself, and that help was possible. He gave me the name of a good man in New York City, and some calming pills in case of emergency.

And my parents, god bless them, renewed their vows of faith in me and my abilities. I doubt I could have gotten even this far without them, and every day I thank whatever providence exists that I have them. Their words of wisdom instilled me with, if not faith, than intellectual belief that my obstacles can be overcome. And they had some good ideas to end run around some of those worries.

The holidays were bittersweet; a time of joy with those I love, but also the knowledge that I would return to New York, this time for all the marbles. I’d be lying if I said no part of me wanted to chuck it all and stay in Houston, safe. But that’s a part I learned not to listen to a while ago, and so, I winged my way back one more time.

There’s the beginnings of a game plan. There’s a set of resources I can and will use. And there is the future, where anything can happen. 2004 was a year of uncertainty, some of it overwhelming at times. But I can still hope, and hope tells me that 2005 can be a year of learning and growth, if I have the will to make it so. In my deepest core, I do. I cannot do these things alone, but I do not have to. I have a city of eight billion souls at my fingertips, each one an opportunity to broaden my life and better my mind.

I am Michael , son of Ray, son of Martin, and son of Karen, daughter of Georgia. With that name, with that identity, comes hardships, perhaps more or different than those given others, but also gifts, great gifts that give me power over my life. My destiny is what I make it, and I can make it grand. In this, the Year of our Lord Two Thousand and Five, I will begin a grand adventure. I don’t know where it will take me, but I will take it. I can do no other thing and remain myself. I may stumble, I may change course, I may have my course changed for me. But I will stay the path. I will keep the horizon in my sights. I will look straight ahead, no matter what I see. I will live.

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