My big break
My father, god bless him, is, if anything, excessively proud of me. Honestly, I wish I could bottle up some of my father’s excess pride and give it to the many deserving people who ache for paternal validation and come up empty. When I visit my dad’s nursing home, I almost want to bring Xeroxes of my Wikipedia page to save me time when he beams as he introduces me to someone with a variation on, “Tell them about your many professional successes, and how they reflect well upon me as your father.”
Part of my father’s excessive pride involves his stubborn belief that my big break looms tantalizingly in the near future. My dad’s brother shares this belief and when I talk about what I’m doing with my career they invariably express the belief that all of my hard work will soon pay off and that I am on the verge of that big break.
It’s flattering, really, and poignant but I always tell my dad the same thing: I’ve had my quota of breaks for this lifetime. I like to think that I’ve worked hard to prove myself of every opportunity I’ve ever been presented but I’ve been extraordinarily lucky at every stage of my career, just as much as I’ve been spectacularly unlucky at various junctures.
I was beyond blessed to get involved with The Onion and The A.V. Club when my social skills were non-existent and my creative gifts weren’t much of an improvement, and enormously fortunate to have had a front-row seat for its rise even if that all eventually went Pete Tong. The same is true of The Dissolve. That was an incredible opportunity for a while and I’ll always be proud of the work I did there, and the relationship I formed with readers, even if that experienced is similarly colored by a painful and seemingly abrupt ending.
I’ve been picked from among the literally thousands of handsome, virile, insanely photogenic film critics to be a panelist on a national cable movie review panel show hosted by an eventual Academy Award winner, for which I was flown to Los Angeles from Chicago every weekend in order to facilitate me being able to work multiple glamorous, high-profile jobs in media simultaneously while I was still in my twenties.
I got a hundred thousand dollar advance for my memoir while I was barely out of my twenties. I got rave reviews for my books from The New York Times and Rolling Stone. I published a bunch of books with the people who published The Great Gatsby and White Noise and Stephen King. My childhood hero asked me to write his coffee-table book. I unofficially advised Robert Evans on the launch of his follow-up to The Kid Stays In The Picture. I coined a phrasethat entered the cultural lexicon and created and popularized the Harlem Shake.
I’m not recounting these long-ago glories in a desperate, pathetic attempt to build up my self-esteem in the wake of a series of crushing professional setbacks. Well, mostly I’m not. Nor am I engaging in a fairly epic, blog post-length Humblebrag. Well, mostly not on that front either.
What I’m saying is that I have been to the mountaintop. I’ve known what’s it’s like to have big success. I’ve known what it’s like to have intense professional heat. I know what it’s like to have people look at you in a way that betrays their extremely misguided but sincere conviction that they can somehow make money off of you, and possibly with you as well, if comes down to that.
And you know what? A lot of it was fucking great. Those were incredible experiences I will always treasure. But I also know how strangely empty and unfulfilling professional success can be, what havoc it can play on your fragile psyche and how it can alienate and distance you from other people.
So here I am, more or less twenty years into my career as a professional writer and I am writing a blog post for a website I started three days ago. I am a blogger for the love of god. A 41-year-old blogger. I’m writing for an audience that's microscopic compared to the one I wrote for at The A.V Club and exceedingly small even by the more modest standards of The Dissolve. And it feels wonderful.
I’ve always been a company man self-conscious and ashamed of my shortcomings but Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place is giving me something I’ve never had before: something that is entirely mine. And it turns out I’ve always secretly always wanted that but never thought I was capable of it.
There is a purity to Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place at this point that’s incredibly exciting, almost like a creative rebirth. The validation I’ve gotten from this site has been incredible, but at this point I have the perspective and hard-won experience to know not to base my happiness on the approval of strangers rather than finding it inside and in the endlessly satisfying bonds of marriage and fatherhood and dog ownership.
So, yes, I’ve been to the mountaintop. But I kind of prefer the infinitely more modest view from here better.
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