5/11/2005

What I Want To Be When I Grow Up


When you're a little kid people are always asking you what you want to be when you grow up.

When aimed at the very young this question is more akin to asking "Who is it you most admire?" than asking for any serious consideration of career goals.

When I was four the answer was easy: I said I wanted to be Superman.

My primitive understanding of trademark law notwithstanding there were other reasons why being Superman would prove unpragmatic, including an alien origin and being possessed of amazing preternatural abilities. While it was true that I could ride my trike real fast, I had no compelling evidence to suspect the presence of any kind of magical endowments in my arsenal of standard ape-descended boy-child skills.

So, when I was five I decided to adore astronauts, instead. They enjoyed many of the benefits of superheroes -- extraordinary tools, exciting adventures, the adulation of children, working in the service of humanity -- but at the same time didn't have to engage in an endless series of risky showdowns with black-hearted villains. Astronauts simply didn't have as many enemies as superheroes did, I reasoned.

Before I knew about raving religious fundamentalists and anti-technologist lesbian covens I was pretty sure everyone approved of astronauts. Even firefighters looked up to them. I further theorized that since rocket-ships were getting bigger and faster all the time, there would probably be lots more astronaut jobs when I grew up -- in the future.

So, here I am in the future. And, admittedly, it is pretty whiz-bang. We don't have flying cars but our ability to share interesting memes has surged. We don't have cold fusion but we do have a space station, and robots that serve drinks at Japanese corporate functions.

Spaceflight remains in its infancy, however. Astronauts are in demand like blacksmiths.

My five-year-old self was wrong. Now my self is thirty and I am beginning to suspect that my prowess for career analysis has not much improved in the intervening years. If you've been following along, you know I work as a mild-mannered mid-grade freelance broadcast animation and visual effects compositor. I also produce corporate propaganda videos, and dabble in cartoon lip-synching.

Work for my kind is dwindling. The kids coming out of school will do it cheaper. It is the inevitable turn of technology, the accelerating burn of years.

I know what needs be done: investment in re-tooling, re-orientation and re-education; re-defining and re-articulating core competencies for more effective promotion; setting and tracking new goals for growth...

And yet I find I just don't care.

This train is stalling, and there are serious hitches ahead. I lack the funds to modernize my tools, and my possible source of funding (sale of the cottage) has been indefinitely delayed. I lack the time for education, as I am too busy juggling very fast to keep the income coming in. Most of my technology-oriented competencies are devaluing at an alarming rate or have become unsalable due to innovations in software automation.

Maybe I'm just burnt out from working seven days a week, but maybe my heart just isn't in it anymore for good. Who can tell, without a vacation?

The television shows I contribute to are basically crap. The internal videos I make for corporations are maudlin, self-serving, self-same tripe.

I watched the Frank Oz adaptation of Little Shop of Horrors with my daughter tonight. I was transfixed by one of the numbers in the first act in which the denizens of Skid Row sing along with poor Seymour Krelbourn as he proclaims that he's "gotta find a way to get outta here." They point to the sky and lament the drudgery of their downtown zoo. Vagabonds and businessfolk dance side by side as they yearn to be free. My daughter thought it was outrageously funny when they stomped in rain puddles.

As snippets of song do, it became stuck in my head.
Uptown you cater to a million whores.
You disinfect terrazzo on their
bathroom floors.
Your morning's tribulation,
afternoon's a curse;
And five o'clock is even worse.
Of course, my working life is nothing like that. I have a pretty sweet set up most of the time, which I why feel like a bit of an oaf feeling dissatisfied at all. I keep an office in my home, and am only occasionally obliged to drive into the big city for a tedious meeting. My work is peripherally related to genuine interests of mine (storytelling and animation), and occasionally there is a hint of micro-glitz (last year they flew me out to Hollywood to tap the brains of some very cool visual effects engineers).

Maybe I'm just burnt out. Maybe I could care again. This used to be fun.

At this point, however, I do not feel possessed of the amazing preternatural abilities I feel that it would take to bring my business to the next level of profitability. The effort seems superheroic to me, and then even if I succeeded I'd still have all those nefarious super-villains to worry about.

I'll find some way. I'm sure some rest will fix my vision.

Never the less, tonight, while I am feeling discouraged let me imagine the possibilities: what could I be, if I wasn't so busy being this? (Every moment of pain bequeaths the chance for pleasurable fantasy, an opportunity ignored only by dead-minded ground-sniffers, idiots, and the war-torn old).

Astronaut is still out. I don't have the maths.

Since January I have earned more money by typing than clicking and dragging, so it seems a fitting jumping off point. Is there some way I could live by writing, rather than compositing? I enjoy writing and enough people seem to like what I do with it to suggest that I don't roundly suck. It's easy enough to get people to give me nickels and dimes to write stuff, but is there something I can do to make them write cheques of a more delicious calibre?

Do people still like novels? I write popular (in the world-wide-web sense of "popular") novellas like I'm sipping tea, so I figure a novel is just a few orders of magnitude more ambitious. Still, I suppose you have to write one and sell a bazillion copies through an esteemed publisher before they start handing out any kind of reasonably ample advances to cover your time.

The advantage knitting a novel has over making another short movie is that the capital required in terms of equipment and crew is zero. The only cost are my hours.

In a perfect world my readers would chip in to my PayPal tip jar, and collectively it would amount to enough money for me to focus on writing a novel for a few months. What with student loans, eating food and other sticky matters it costs around $5000 to run this old schoolhouse and its associated zoo for a month, so, if 10% of my daily regular audience contributed $10 each, enough money could be raised to fund me for a season in less than a month.

Ah, to dream.

In gritty reality, less than 0.1% of readers toss me a tip. Which is fair. Information wants to be shared, and all that. (G'bless the Free Web of the Early 21st Century, however fleeting it may end up being.) I can't tell you how many tip buttons I've not clicked on through my years of slurping free content from the Internet, so I can hardly admonish anyone else for doing the same.

Raising money by keyword-whore writing offers some tantalizing possibilities. My Darth Vader blog has earned not insignificant amounts of money over the past couple of weeks, and will probably continue to shell out for a few weeks more. But Ads by Goooooogle are a fickle beast, and if I post something without the requisite Star Wars keyword density I start getting served non-paying Public Service Announcements as the AdSense robot becomes befuddled as to the subject of the site.

My next most popular contribution is my unauthorized biography of Wile E. Coyote, another subject of a vast amount of web searches. Writing stories about touching my wife's boobies earns about a sixteenth of a cent per visitor through Kanoodle's BrightAds, which means I'd have to feature her as an erotic prose porn star in order to make any serious coin. As it stands together with Wile I reap enough money to buy milk and a loaf of bread once a week.

Writing for other people's websites is often tedious, and the money I'm commanding at it right now isn't anything to write home about. I've been commissioned to write short articles about headaches, travel, mathematics and web design. I'm not sure what the market will bear, but I'm prepared to test it. We'll see who bites at a higher price. I think I'm worth it. (Webmasters see here.)

The nicest gig I've landed so far is writing test material (reading comprehension passages and the like) for an educational publisher in the United States. Very nice people. I have my first real assignment from them now and it's going smoothly despite my abject inability to use American spelling with any kind of consistency. Apparently they used to get this sort of material from teaching professionals, but found the output...dull. So now they hire typing clown such as myself, in hope of getting a little more pep. (Do you find my prose peppy?)

Collecting my existing body of writing and hawking it in a print edition seems to offer some possibilities, but my test case with pushing 17 Drawings has not been all that encouraging. To date approximately 15% of the people told me they would be interested in buying such an item have in fact done so, with zero sales coming from the great unwashed hordes of the web. I have moved 27 copies so far, and it will take 90 more sales to break even for the time I put into the project, which seems highly unlikely at this point. (On the other hand it is a strange product, so it the results may not be representative.)

...Pie in the sky notions. I can't really think of a realistic way to make such things pay the mortgage. But it's nice to dream, when your day job makes me feel like you're made of lead.

I'm thirty years old and I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up. (Where's that guidance counsellor now? Oh yeah -- stuck in a dead-end, low-paying job giving mediocre kids bad advice.) People are supposed to hopelessly dream of being writers when they're teenagers, not when they're fathers.

Aren't they?

18 comments:

Mark said...

You could do a fund drive... People rarely click on the tipjar just because they liked what they read. But if you define a specific goal and make it somewhat prominent, you might get a better response. People tend to be more generous when they think they're helping someone out. Giving you a few bucks so you can go out and write a novel might work.

Or not. I'm not exactly a genius when it comes to this stuff, but it might be worth considering. It worked for Kottke:P

Dan Hulton said...

You moron.

There are two people I enjoy reading more than all others on the web today: Cory Doctorow and you.

I buy Cory's books as often as I can to support him.

WRITE BOOKS! WE WILL BUY!

Self-publish one through Lulu, whore it out like crazy, collect some numbers, and present them to an agent who can hook you up with a publishing company.

You have an undeniable talent for things like this. Go with it.

Two quick things:

1) I am merely waiting on my fresh new credit card (my first "real" one) to arrive. The moment it is done, you'll be down one more copy of your book, plus have a little change jinglin' around in the tip-jar.

2) Ever consider Amazon links at the bottom of your Darth Vader blog? You choose the shwag, so you don't have to wait for the AdSense Bot to figure it out, and I hear that the commision is rather decent!

NYPinTA said...

I'm such a dork. I thought the tip jar was a joke... but since I too did not figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, (and BTW, I am two years older then you ... and annoyed by that fact since you write so much better. Dammit! Doesn't seniority count for anything?!), I'm broke.
I'm addicted to buying things from the BOMC. So Dan is right: "WRITE BOOKS! WE WILL BUY!"
:)

grape said...

A) Happy Birthday, Cheeseburger.

B) Why don't you try to get in touch with Cam Hood? He's some bigshot animator now, maybe he could get you motivated.

Anonymous said...

Also, your guidance counsellor comment was a bit uncharitable.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Grape,

It isn't my birthday, but thanks never the less.

Also: Cam Hood is in a very different line of work than I am. Exciting work, but not my cuppa tea.

Love,

CheeseburgerBrown

anne said...

Could you apply for a grant? Pull some stuff together and apply for funding to take a year off and write?

You have such an enormous talent; I can't imagine it going unrecognized.

I know you're tired. Keep going.

michael said...

We're all pulling for you. Don't let the bastards pull you down.

Little Miss said...

I really like your writing style, and for what it is worth - if you wrote a book i would buy it and read it. You should always follow your dreams - what is a dream worth if you never turn it into a reality? Even if it takes a year, or ten years, i really think you should encourage your creative side and write, write write.
You have a unique gift - thank you for sharing it.

Indigo Skye said...

I've linked to your darthside blog a few times from my website. Today I commented that I thought you were as good as any of the SW universe novels I've read. I'm going to repeat some oft given advice from my attempts at writing -- If you want to call yourself a writer, then write. If you want to call yourself a novelist, then write novels. You're currently experiencing the magic of 'the long tail'. Take advantage of that while the shadow is upon you. Announce your first novel now. Ask BoingBoing (and others) to publicize it for you. Self publish via a print on demand technology if you have to, but I imagine you'll get a few calls from editors and agents based on your current success.

Kristin said...

I agree with Indigo, and can corroborate the comments left on the most recent post of Darth's blog: turn the Darth Side blog into a book! Compile all the posts together as one publication, whether electronic eBook or printed material.

Everyone was practically screaming for it in the comments, and I have no doubt you'd quickly recoup your time and/or materials investment in such a project, if not completely astound yourself!

You are a terrific writer with lots of fans (particularly the newly emerging ones who found Darth Side and are thusly engrossed, like myself). What makes you unique is your ability to capture the visual element of storytelling, no doubt aided by your art skills. Your words have texture and are often nearly tangible. It's like enjoying your favorite dessert. You read slowly and savor every word because you know it will end soon and you can't wait for the next piece.

I'll be watching to see what you do, and I'm ready to buy the Darth Side book. Today.

scott said...

I think you should expand the darthside into a novel between episodes 3 and 4. With the following you have here, I can't imagine that you won't do well. Plus there seems to be lots of Star Wars geeks who will buy anything with Star Wars in the title :) presto, a built in audience. I would buy it and have never purchased a Star Wars book.

The only issue is getting Lucas or whoever to "approve" it. I think you would have a hard time profiting from darth without approval.

scott

p.s. you might also think about a book for soon to be dads. I don't have any kids (and don't really like kids) but your trimester reports are funny and help me see the appeal of children. There was recently an article in the Wall Street Journal (I think) about the rise of small books with lots of pictures for sale at the counter of Barnes and Noble, etc. You have a cute kid, lots of animals, and you write really well. I think you could probably get the existing trimester reports published without a lot more work. Again there is a built in audience because there are no obvious gifts for a soon to be dad (like there are for moms).

Anonymous said...

wewt

majikthijs said...

I didn't tip the PayPal jar (yet) but I would have been willing to part with a couple of euros (dollars) to download the padf file. I think this is the best Star Wars related material to have appeared in a long, long time.

By the way, the pdf file is 80 something pages of "darth blog" and there is a lot of space between the blog entries (and it is not even finished) so I reckon it would not take too much effort to convert it into a decent sized novel. And all that in a couple of months of writing.

Write the book, it will be bought. The Force is with you!

Anonymous said...

Write books - I only found you last week and I can't stop reading

laragitara said...

here's an addition...
i turn 37 this year, have 3 kids (who annoy the be-jezuz out of me, but god i love them), am a college drop out (was busy gettin' pregnant see...), and just 4 years ago discovered what i want to be when i grow up... an explorer and documentary film maker! (have i mentioned i don't have any film making background). during the day i work as an admin. assistant (not a very good one at that)... but a month out of the year i live my dream... i plan and execute expeditions to various remote villages in the philippines in search of "vanishing cultures" (which, i discovered, i am quite good at). i stay with them as long as i can, and when i return to San Francisco (where i reside), i put together photo exhibits and short films of my trip.

the day is never long enough, and i am self funded. i never did see an adviser at school, and when i tried to return 2 years ago, i discovered i'm already doing what i want to do and no class time can teach me what i'm teaching myself on the field. the frustrating thing is, i finally discovered what i want to do, but there's my life in the way. however, i do not fret. at least now i know, and i have something to work towards.

some of us do take longer to discover what we want to be when we grow up. and when we do grow up and find out, it still takes time to figure out how to make it all work. luckily, we humans are living longer.

i really enjoyed the darth vader posts, which is how i got to your post. thanks for the good read!

good luck!(to both of us!)

LG/FE

you can check out my website: www.persociety.org

ilya said...

If you collected all you biographical writing in a book (and added some. It has to be at least 250 pages) I would probably buy it.

Weedy said...

I found a lot of useful info about Darth Vader on your blog - thank you. I also have a new Darth Vader Tips blog - please click over and have a look