Sunday, August 13, 2017
Reality Slap with Brian Johnson
Years ago, while working on my second full-length screenplay, I joined a website called Simply Scripts..where aspiring screenwriters share their completed drafts in a message board and other aspiring screenwriters will read and critique them on the forum. That's where I met Brian Johnson, aka "The Crazy Artist."
Brian was the first person outside my friends/family/teachers circle who thought I had any kind of talent for storytelling. He was wrong...but his critiques and praise were most appreciated. "The Crazy Artist" was an awesome guy, and an even more awesome author. Among the two dozen or so scripts I read on Simply Scripts, his was by far the best. I actually printed out a copy of Justus and kept it in my collection (I still have it) because it's the kind of thing I would read again and again.
Brian had submitted Justus to a script evaluation service, where it was given a grade of 98 out of 100. And the agency still passed on it. My script got a 60, mostly because I didn't make any spelling or grammar mistakes. The story itself was far inferior to a story that was not good enough to get Brian a screenwriting rep. And so, inadvertently, Brian was a big reason why I stopped writing screenplays.
Brian's script didn't break down the doors of Hollywood, but he does produce low-budget horror flicks and even has a few iMDB credits. I bought The Black Mountain Madman for my horror-loving nephew a few years ago, and he dug it. Justus wasn't a horror story or a thriller, it was a teen romance for "bros" - if that makes sense.
A few years later I re-imagined my "kid with cancer" script as a young adult novel, but by then I had given up the goal of making some kind of career out of writing. All I wanted to do was complete the story, have fun writing it, and maybe self-publish it. If I had any allusions/delusions of becoming a published author they died for good when I discovered John Green.
I don't write stories anymore, but I've conjured up an alternate universe for myself to escape to every night - one in which I've corrected most of my real-life failures (while tweaking a few others to play out differently) and became a successful author and YouTuber. Basically I'm a younger John Green, but single and slightly more neurotic.
Also, I look more like this guy...
...than this guy
Escaping to this world and expanding on my fake-life story satisfies my creativity while saving myself the time and energy of actually having to do the work (which would be impossible with my wife & kids anyhow.) Sometimes, farming reality for ideas keeps me going. And sometimes it makes me want to shut it all down.
I'm about to turn 30.. and I'm at a crossroads. Two years ago, my life was perfect. My third YA novel was a huge hit, I had 2.2 million followers on YouTube, and I was in love with a girl who was sweet and supportive and super fit, and she understood and enjoyed my sarcastic, scattershot sense of humor. Life was good.
My "side hustle" was a 9-to-5 gig building homes for my father-in-law's construction company. He was very flexible about me taking less hours whenever I was on deadline, and more hours when I didn't have anything to write or critique. Home building got me out of the house, gave me a sense of purpose (and decent benefits) and kept me in shape.
And it helped me build my dream home.
Once I saw seven digits on my bank statement, I bought some property near Anaheim, California - where I've lived since fleeing my psycho father fifteen years ago. Over the years I had drawn and redrawn plans for my dream home, and promised myself that if I ever had the financial and human resources to build it, I would make that dream (within a dream) come true.
When construction on my home began, my girlfriend and I were getting serious. And so the rooms were built with her in mind - a large master bedroom with a walk-in closet, his and hers sinks in the bathroom, large kitchen, open dining room, sun room, home gym, reading room, etc etc.
But then, just six months after the house was finished and lived-in...we broke up. Like many couples across the country, the election caused a rift between us. It was never an issue that I was liberal and she was sort-of conservative, but her parents were hardcore Christians and hardcore Trump supporters. It confounded and frustrated me that such otherwise pleasant people could be so gullible. I ended up arguing with my girlfriend by proxy, until she chided me for being judgemental.
It didn't help that I was less than supportive about her new sales job - which she enjoyed doing, and was quite good at it - because I saw how hard she had worked in college and believed she could do more. "I'm not a character in one of your stories" she said during one of our arguments, "you don't get to decide what happens to me."
It was around this time that I met my current girlfriend. She's intelligent and creative and funny, and our social/political beliefs are a perfect match. She's also established herself in social media, and has carved out a nice little career in the entertainment industry.
That's...sort of the problem.
You see, she can't do what she does from Anaheim. She has to live in L.A. And she wants me to live in L.A. with her. But... Orange County is my home. All of my friends are here, all of my family is here (except for a few aunts and cousins in CT) and my house is here. The house that I built exactly the way I wanted it, big enough for my future wife and our future kids and our future pets.
And so now I have to choose between two parts of a perfect life. Do I stay here, in the town I grew up in, and live in my dream home alone? Or do I sell it, rent it, leave it.. pack up all my shit, and live with her in Los Angeles?
Sometimes I think it's just a house. You'd really choose an inanimate object over true love? But is it true love if she's forcing me to make the sacrifice? "I'm not a character in one of your stories" I could say to her, "you don't get to decide what happens to me."
She's out of the country now, but she'll be back tomorrow. I have one more night to sleep on it. And when my head hits the pillow, I will imagine my life with her, and without her...
And then I wake up. And I am not in my dream home. I am not an author. I am neither famous nor successful. And I am definitely not dating Taryn.
You know who is?
That's Bryan with a 'y'...as in, Y don't you stop dreaming about my woman and worry about your own life, son.
And so I shall. When I return from my brief blogging hiatus I will be more grounded in reality, for better or worse. I will write about actual, tangible things that happen to me - instead of obsessing over girls and whining about what I never got to do with my life.
I'm getting too old for this anyhow.