Film writer/director/produce/actor. I loved watching movies like Ghostbusters, Total Recall, and Raiders of the Lost Ark as a kid. A form of childhood logic (that has only strengthened itself since) told me that, if I enjoy them, I should spend my life making them. But as a die-hard play-alone-in-my-room only child, I couldn’t bear the idea of collaborators tainting my vision. I figured that, come the opportunity to make my own Ghostbusters, I’d simply do every job and play every role myself. In the meantime, I wandered around in front of a VHS camera I found in the house and then gave up.
“Author.” As soon as I learned to read them, what we tots called “chapter books” became my main source of pleasure in life. A pursuit even more solitary than movies? I’m down! I decided to make a career out of writing my own chapter books, but lacking the fortitude and/or patience to write thousands of words — even a thousand words — I typed up a series of pamphlet-like “books,” illustrated them with colored ball-point pens, and seeded them in my classroom’s library. When I realized actual books could take whole hours to write, I gave up.
Comic artist. (I hated the term “cartoonist.”) Finding myself even more excited by the possibilities of, to quote Scott McCloud, “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the reader,” I burned a significant fraction of my childhood hunched over Calvin and Hobbes, Tintin books, FoxTrot, and, slightly later, Peter Bagge's Hate. Absolute control over words and images; what could appeal more strongly to my near-autistic creative sensibilities? Crazed with desire to imitate all this, I spent endless hours drawing comics, but then saw how many of my friends were beginning to get into drawing comics as well. Sensing mild competition ahead, I gave up.
Video game “maker.” If anything thrilled me as much as reading books alone, watching movies alone, or drawing comics alone, playing video games alone did. Actually, that overstates my isolation; I often enjoyed playing two-player games with friends or, more often, being in proximity to friends as we all individually played different games. But my desire to create video games inevitably came to match my joy in playing them. Alas, my technical and disciplinary incompetence also rose to the occasion. I laboriously copied programs out of BASIC instructional manuals, understanding nothing. I carted around a stack of C++ manuals, understanding nothing. I found game-creation applications that allowed me to avoid programming, but they mostly enabled my tendency to start project after project, laboriously crafting one character’s walking animation before burning out and giving up.
Indie auteur. Discovering film for real as an adolescent, I immediately delved into the oeuvres of all those bootstrapping, put-the-budget-on-your-credit-card independent filmmakers of the nineties: your Kevin Smiths, your Quentin Tarantinos, your Richard Linklaters, your Robert Rodriguezes. (I read Rodriguez’s Rebel Without a Crew like a hundred times, pretty much.) As soon as video commentary tracks came along, I knew I had to join their ranks; I mean, they sounded so cool, so funny, so into stuff. At 16, I interviewed for an internship at this one Seattle media collective and blew the interviewer away with my single-minded focus. “Wow,” she said, astonished, “you really know what you want to do. When I was your age, I just had no idea.” I didn’t get the internship and never did like the idea of having to herd actors or ask adults for money anyway, so I gave up.
David Sedaris. Seeing David Sedaris give a live reading, I couldn’t believe (a) how hard he made me laugh, and (b) that he’d found a way to get paid for traveling around and reading funny stories out loud. Standing onstage, alone and near-motionless, while hundreds stare at me in rapt, unchallenging appreciation? Where do I sign? When I recalled how many compliments my writing abilities had drawn in school, I figured I stood next in line for the job. Sedaris’ example spurred me on to write more, to write things other than reviews of stuff I watched on video two weeks ago for my own web sites. Or at least it spurred me to think about that; whenever I actually tried it, the mortal enemy that is my brain chanted the same chorus it always does: “This sucks. Who would ever want this? This sucks. Who would ever want this? This sucks. Who would ever want this?” Convinced, I gave up.
Brian Eno. I first read Brian Eno’s A Year with Swollen Appendices just before leaving for college. The book comprises Eno’s diary entries from the year 1995. From what I could discern about his day-to-day, he seemed to do pretty much whatever he wanted, including but not limited to “enlarging bums in Photoshop,” hanging out with the likes of David Bowie, Anton Corbijn, and Steward Brand, cooking risotto, and thinking about ambient music, often by himself. Gots to get me some of that, I thought. But given the obvious impossibility of becoming another existing person at that grain of detail, can I really say I gave up?
Charlie Rose. Watching Charlie Rose one night, it suddenly struck me how much I’d love the world to see me on a show with a solid black background and unbroken by commercials. Also, Rose seemed friendly with all of his guests, no matter the industry they came from: publishing, politics, entertainment, journalism, wherever. “This guy can probably just call up Brian Grazer and say, ‘Let’s hang out,’” I thought, stunned. “What would that be like?” I have since worked hard on acquiring the interviewing chops, although my shoddy, improvisationally constructed social skills probably need a Herculeanly basic, foundational teardown-rebuild that I don’t even want to think about.
These days, I have settled on making myself into one-quarter Brian Eno, one-quarter Charlie Rose, one-quarter Werner Herzog (or maybe Peter Greenaway), and one-quarter whichever essayist I like most at the moment. I also want to make myself into someone who realizes the essentially pathetic nature of a 26-year-old man who frames life in terms of what he wants to be when he grows up.