Little by little over the past few months, we’ve been clearing out much of our home office, converting it into a hybrid office/nursery with the arrival of our newest addition. Packing books up, taking down wall art not quite suitable for a newborn, and taking the numerous boxes filled with comic books and packing them away in our basement.
Part of that process includes protecting them from the elements and time, so each comic is placed in a protective plastic with a flap taped on the back to keep moisture, dust and other undesirables out.
Here and there during a nap time, I’ll take a few minutes and go down to the basement and work a little more on bagging up the books and filing them away in a box, on a shelf, for posterity and safe keeping.
During a recent session of ‘archiving,’ though, I found myself swept away by the various memories associated with these books, accumulated over a lifetime of reading, and yet, carrying with them numerous lives, numerous versions of me, long gone.
With every piece of tape snapped, every comic bagged, boarded and slid away into a box, I realized so with it was a small piece of me. By that I mean it was like flipping through the pages of a yearbook unearthed after years in a box. Many of these books I hadn’t seen in decades. Music playing from Pandora as I worked (some Steve Winwood, some Asia, Phil Collins, all music I used to hear growing up in the 80s, often while I sat reading this comics originally), I was transported to the various parts of my life that coincided with each of these books.
Each one a representation in some weird way of who I was at any given time. Of what I was going through, feeling, of who I was, be it the kid sitting under his bedroom window at 13, wondering if the girls playing down the street were going to come knocking at the window; the 20 year old who, after several years away from them, started picking up comics again while away at college, finding comfort while away from home in things that re-connected me to my childhood, yet opened my eyes to storytelling, characters, and perspectives I had never quite known of (thank you, indie comics); the 24 year old, out of college, trying to find his place in the world, thriving on creating art in the form of low budget filmmaking, yet finding inspiration and solace in the full-color panels of the comic pages; or the 27 year old single journalist, coming home exhausted, wanting nothing more than to crash on the couch, casually grabbing a floppy comic book from the ever-growing reading pile on the end table as time started becoming more of a commodity.
Or today. Though the books are incredibly fewer than ever before, the reading piles still add up with the day-to-day responsibilities of a worker, a husband, a father, a homeowner. They’re still there, though. Connecting the me of today with all the mes of the past.
I have been so many different people in my lifetime already. A son. A brother. A friend. A student. A newspaper delivery boy. A restaurant host. An actor. A library aide. A coffee barista. A film projectionist. An indie filmmaker. A newspaper reporter. A comic book writer. A news anchor. And a father.
Sometimes it can be difficult to reconcile all of those identities into one being today, the same yet different in so many ways.
This is not necessarily a negative thing. What it is, I think, is a reminder.
We grow, we change, we learn from our experiences and transform into a new being made up of and shaped by the lessons, mistakes, and thoughts of our past. We shake away the being we are unhappy with, even in the smallest of increments, on a never-ending journey to transform, to become better. In effect, the old us dies and is reborn as something new, molded by our experiences.
We all have our own “comics,” our own items carried with us throughout our lives that carry with them the remnants of our own past. And when we occasionally uncover them, it’s like an archaeological dig to rediscover when we were, where we were, who we were, and most importantly, who we’ve become.
A lot has been going on lately and life has been a bit in flux.
Last Friday, after more than seven years in the journalism business, most of those in broadcasting but print before that, I left the news business. As of this week, I am jumping into a brand new career in the realm of public relations.
It’s a move that I am incredibly excited about after years of just ‘feeding the beast’ to get news programs on the air with whatever content was possible amid shrinking staffs and constantly-breaking, outdated machinery (our TV station is one of the few in the country that is still editing on videotape and has yet go non-linear).
At first I was a bit scared of making a leap into another career. This was the longest I had been in any job and it was all I had known for awhile. What about all those familiar faces that I would no longer see day in and day out?
Then I realized that I was doing what we often do when we look back on something – idealizing. I wasn’t taking a look around me, but rather trying to make all that I had dealt with, put up with, and been frustrated by in my business and turn it into a footnote, while putting the good times at the front of my mind.
A very bad idea.
Sometimes, we lose ourselves in what we do. For me, it became very easy. Between the long days, often taking texts or phone calls at home, or doing work online in the evenings after I left work or on the weekends, I got caught up in it. When it’s the medium of television, that goes even further, because you’re not only taking on the identity of your work for yourself, but to the public as well. So many people would stop us in the grocery store and want to talk about who they didn’t like at the station, or why they didn’t like a particular story. It didn’t matter if the person they were complaining about was a friend or colleague, or if I had anything to do with the story they didn’t like. I worked there, thus, I was their chance to vent.
One of the biggest reasons I left was that I was just plain burnt-out on news. In the position I had, I was looked to for many problems for many shows. So, although I walked in at 8 to start getting things together for the noon news, by 10:30 or 11, the evening producer would be looking for what people were doing for the 5. There were many times we were still scrambling to get the Noon on the air and I was running around, frustrated, trying to figure out the 5, the 6, then soon after, the 10 and the 11, etc. It was a never ending cycle. In many jobs, when you finish something, you can take a sigh of relief. “Phew. I finished.” In news, there’s no such thing. You run yourself into the ground for one show and then you better be ready to do it all over again for another show in just a few short hours.
It may have been exciting and new in my twenties, but now, with years gone by and the little guy growing like a weed, it just wasn’t for me anymore.
I was coming home with chest pains, going to work each day, anxiety-ridden about what was coming and I knew that I was coming home as a person I didn’t want my son growing up with. I knew, deep down, that if I stayed on the path I was on, I would be dead before age 50, keeled over my desk. I wasn’t what I wanted my little guy seeing as an example of how to be, or how life should be.
Yes, you can say ‘well, it’s a job’ but you can rationalize and glorify anything when you want to. There is an allure for many to be ‘in the TV business’ or to have people know who you are. In the end, though, what matters is how you balance that, and what you trade off for your own happiness.
So I started looking outward, and when this opportunity in public affairs at a college campus presented itself, looking for someone with a background in journalism, I couldn’t leap fast enough. A new set of challenges, an exciting new start, great hours, holidays off, more time for my family. Time on the weekends and nights to spend with them or work on my passions, be it this blog, my comic series, or get back into some fiction writing. How could I say no?
I know a lot of people these days measure success in different ways. I’m not one to measure it by how many people know me, how much time my face was on television, or how many Facebook friends or followers I had. For me, it’s about the quality of the life you choose to lead. Moving to a job that may not have the ‘glamour’ of my previous job may seem like a downward step to some, especially those who don’t know me. For me, though, it’s the chance to have my own life again, to carve out a future with my family and spend time with the passions that fuel me but have had to be put on the back burner for years as work became more and more consuming.
It was a bittersweet goodbye. I got choked up thinking of the people who I like at work who I’ll miss seeing everyday. Then, I think of the folks who made it miserable to work there, be they certain colleagues or management.
I could have left on a bitter note, given the challenges placed before me by corporate higher-ups during my transition. However, I decided I was going to leave the better person and just finish out the time, a full six weeks. I gave too much of myself over the years to have it all end badly. Besides, I was allowed the opportunity to say my proper goodbyes to the audience and my friends and colleagues, a day which I will remember fondly.
I’ll miss many of the people, but I honestly won’t miss the stressful drudgery or the lack of compassion or common sense that ran rampant there.
The day that I left my news job, Meg found this cartoon online. While not the exact same situation, it pretty much summed up everything about how I was feeling as of late when it comes to having the life drained out of you by work and not living your life: