Tag Archives: Education

Oops, I Got a Screenwriting Degree!

This morning, I woke up to a horrifying realization.

Oh my god! I forgot to blog for two years straight!

Wait, wait. Let me try that again:

FADE IN:

INT. APARTMENT THAT’S NOT RUSS’S BECAUSE HE’S HOMELESS – DAY

RUSS NICKEL (20s) tosses and turns on a fold-out IKEA futon. Wearing only boxers, his shaved head does little to hide his bald spot, and he grinds away at his adult retainer like a madman.

Suddenly, he sits up and his eyes fly open. He SCREAMS. Then looks to the ceiling.

RUSS

What have I done?!

FADE OUT

Okay, I admit it. That’s not much of a scene (but those cops will be happy; they’re always telling me not to make a scene). And it’s not even that accurate. I mean, c’mon. I obviously don’t wear boxers when I sleep. I just wanted to protect myself in case Sam thought about drawing me naked. Again.

But the rest is true. I’ve made a huge mistake. I got a masters in screenwriting.

When I got my English degree and found myself unemployed, what did I do? Did I grit my teeth, buckle down my bootstraps, hike up my pants, put my nose to the grindstone and otherwise idiomatically prepare myself to start from the bottom and work my way up? Of course not! I took another loop on the roundabout and went to graduate school like any self-aggrandizing young adult with a crippling fear of actual work and the real world.

Graduate school offers post-adolescents like me the opportunity to postpone troubling questions like “how do I pay for food?” “what are taxes?” and “oh my god what if lemurs become sentient through a medical mishap, master the art of horseback riding, and go on a rampage to overthrow their human masters?!”

I figured that I’d poured about twenty years into my schooling so… two more years should be just the amount of time I needed to get it all figured out. At the time, my final, ultimate, daunting graduation seemed endlessly far away. But real life comes for all of us sooner than you think, and mine came in the form of a furry panther creature handing me a diploma.

"This document is a symbol not of your achievements, but of the fact that you can no longer keep hiding in the womb of education.  Err, I mean, Meow."

At first I was frightened that I might be having acid flashbacks to that time I had that weird dream that I’d accidentally tried acid, but then I remembered it was our school mascot. I didn’t see it around too often since I was a graduate student, meaning my only interaction with main campus was awkwardly hitting on sorority girls. Anyways, with a growl of ‘good luck’, ol’ panther sent me on my way, and I found myself unequivocally unemployed, and even less quivocally homeless.

But what’s a little case of homelessness when you’re writing the next great American screenplay? That just enhances its authenticity! All I have to do is find a 24 hour café and wash my armpits in their bathroom.

In my experience that’s the only part of the human body that builds up any level of grossness, but I could be wrong about that. Keep in mind that I have English and Screenwriting degrees, so science mostly evades me.

Now, when I say homeless, I don’t mean, oh, I just haven’t figured out where I’m moving. I mean my lease ran out in July, I have basically no money because grad school is ridiculously expensive, and all my stuff is in storage. For the last quarter of a year I’ve been living out of a suitcase, sleeping on the proverbial street-side that is a string of friends’ couches, err, IKEA futons.

"Would you please wash your armipits?" -Raccoon

I’d thought Screenwriting was a good idea. English was too vague, but Screenwriting, that was a vocation. It’s more focused. There’s a real practical application, an industry built around it. Someone in said industry would surely employ me, right? And once again, my friends and family foolishly supported me in my endeavor. Live your dream! Make movies! Move to Hollywood, woo Yvonne Strahovski, and have beautiful, beautiful Strahovskian children. It all sounded so simple.

Ah, every man's dream... to own a pitchfork.

But it’s not all guns n’ roses. In school, writing had been relatively easy. After all, there were domineering authority figures with impressive scarves and even more impressive imdb pages giving me deadlines, hope, and a fair bit of good ol’, swear-word-filled tough love. Writing isn’t so easy out here in RL. Suddenly I realize that, rather than coming naturally, it’s a muscle to be stretched, berated, pulled, and then overcome. Without the structure of education, without a home base, I’m trapped in an echo chamber of reality, sputtering down the river of my rapidly depleting budget toward the waterfall of regular job-iness, trying desperately to build a raft out of my own creativity, and even if I do construct said raft, the odds that it’ll float are like one in a thousand. It’s not a perfect metaphor.

You’d think people who get accepted to an institute of higher education would be educated enough to know that an MFA in Screenwriting doesn’t put you on the fast track to success. I’ve got a lot of hard work ahead of me, and I don’t know if there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

So what went wrong? Looking back on it, I think I must have seen one too many movies. Movies where the message is that anybody can make it if they believe hard enough. Said believing will trigger a montage that gets you to the exciting part of your life in the time it takes to play Eye of the Tiger. I thought, if I just go to school, if I work my ass off, if I pour my soul into script after script after script, I could become the person who… writes one of those ridiculously misleading movies that tricks a whole generation of young adults into throwing their lives away in order to make movies. It’s an endless feedback loop of that most despicable of all feelings: hope.

All he hoped for... was to escape the loop.

But there are still ways for me to feel good about myself. I just have to think of screenplays as my home, my ethereal, 1s and 0s, totally un-move-into-able home. And you know what, I’m okay with that. So if you ever see me begging for spare change on the side of the road, don’t pity me. By all means, still give me a dollar, but as you do, think of how incredibly fulfilled I am. Because I’m living the dream.

And for a few hours each night, life is perfect.

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The Pitfalls of Being a Camp Counselor: Airport Edition

Once a year, young folk are faced with the challenge of finding a summer job, and the last two loops round the sun, I’ve tackled that challenge by being a camp counselor at Stanford, where I spent six weeks nurturing and supposedly educating forty kids whose parents paid thousands of dollars for them to spend their summers sitting in stuffy lecture halls taking college-level classes because they desperately want their children to be accepted to an elite university. And let me tell you, the whole experience is…well, really fun, actually! The kids are all smarter than I am, they’re full of energy and fun to talk to, and most importantly, they’re the perfect dodgeball fodder for my three-time-intramural-champion rocket of an arm.

But it’s not all fun and games at Stanford camp. Well, it is for the counselors, but with the kids, it’s nose to the grindstone from dawn till sort of a late eveningish hour. There’s a highly varied breakfast of pre-packaged pancakes, tater tots, and surprise sausage, which comes in exciting circular and cylindrical varieties depending on the day, then three straight hours of lecture which the counselors get to sleep through. Then lunch, three hours of study session (which I ruthlessly command), and finally a bit of free time to do tomorrow’s reading before lights out, at which point the counselors absolutely do not immediately begin to booze heavily, sneak into faculty hot tubs, or play spin the bottle, because those things would be against the rules laid out in the often-read and ever-cited handbook. All told, the amount of work we put in is about half that of the students, and we’re paid to be there. Who’s the smart one now, poindexters?

But there’s one day each summer that is worse for us than it is for the kids, one day on which we earn all the minimum wage scrill they throw at us, and that’s Arrival Day. We wake up at the ungodly hour of six a.m. and drive to San Francisco International Airport, where, over the course of 8 hours and scores of flights, around seven hundred children ages eleven to seventeen spill out of every terminal all across the airport and run amok. They weave in and out of a roiling sea of adults, cackling as they sneak past us, and all we can do is stand there, ineffectively raising tiny, handheld signs welcoming them to camp, hoping against hope that our charges will notice. It’s very stressful.

To make the experience more bearable, I invent dances which I  sync up with the various announcements. I get down and dirty with the “Please do not leave your luggage unattended. Unattended baggage may be confiscated and searched.” That one’s got a lot of head tosses. If I’m in the mood for some more thrusts and shimmies, I go for the “This is a loading zone only. There is no stopping at any time. Repeat. This is a loading zone only…” It’s got such a good flow to it. I could never write that stuff.

Anyway, my dance moves get me a lot of weird looks from angry airport-goers, the type so fed up with the annoyances of regular travel that any modicum of joy sends them into an apoplectic rage.

I’m a lot more successful when I whip out the sexy-model turn and lock eyes with a stranger. Caught off-guard by my unexpected attention, I have them in my grasp for but a moment, during which I flash the camp sign and give them my most longing and hopeful look.

Then they either respond with an embarrassed Zoidberg scuttle in the opposite direction or say something like “Summer camps are such a delight,” or, “Isn’t that the camp where blind kids learn to read Braille?”

Rather than trying to puzzle out why we’d attempt to catch blind children’s attention with signs, I told her that yes, it was indeed that camp. She was very supportive.

Despite my heroic, deeply shaming efforts, the kids don’t pay the slightest attention. One moment I’m ready to snag a gaggle of children (snaggle!), and the next, all the passengers have disembarked and we’ve only located two of the thirty kids from that flight.

How does this happen?! We’re supposed to keep these kids safe. The moment they step off that plane, we’re their legal guardians, but before the race to prove I’m mature enough to hold down a job has even begun, I’ve dropped the fragile, child-laden baton. So now I’m sprinting up and down the baggage claim area, shouting at the top of my lungs for little kids, all the while doing my best to shrug off the looks of horror from airport patrons shocked that someone would be so brazen. After twenty minutes of extremely loud and less-than-tactful shouting, this one woman (just arrived on the scene), asks her elderly mother (who’s been watching me intently the entire time), “What is he doing?”

“Oh, don’t worry,” she says, comfortingly. “He’s just looking for little boys.”

And before I can control what’s coming out of my mouth, I say excitedly, “And girls!” No filter. Both women shake their heads in mingled shame and terror but thankfully refrain from calling airport security.

I manage to wrangle about six small children, including this one 11-year-old girl who’d been completely lost and traumatized. She’d gotten on a different flight than we were expecting and had been wandering the airport for hours, nerves fraying like the ropes of that bridge that’s always situated over an unthinkably deep chasm. And no matter how much I cajole her with my charm, balloon animals, improvised reproductions of Richard III, or unlabeled candy, she refuses to speak to me. I swear I’m being friendly, but who knows what’s going through her head.

I somehow manage to gain enough control of my six energetic devils to herd them over to the predetermined meeting place. There’s a father there with his daughter, and he strikes up a conversation with me. Turns out his daughter’s taking creative writing, and because of my special mental condition that prevents me from ever learning from past experiences, I say, “That’s great! She’ll spend her summer rooming with me then.” Maybe word spread that I’d been on the prowl for little girls, or maybe the dad just didn’t like the looks of me, but he gives me a glare that could stop a tidal wave, and as I fumble for words—“No wait. I mean, that’s not—I’m a counselor,”—he protectively places his arm around his daughter’s shoulders and walks away.

My first day interacting with the kids and already I’d made a huge blunder. If he complained to my boss, I could be in serious trouble. I needed this job. It was the first step in the grueling process of doing things I could actually put on a résumé, unlike Dungeons and Dragons club, and an English degree and, well, you remember the zombie hunter fiasco. So I’m standing there, pitying myself, when little Ms. Silence pipes up.

“Next time,” she says, speaking with the confident, innocent logic only an 11-year-old can muster, “you could probably handle that better.”

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