Standing at the Edge of the Rest of My Life
To think that a mere four years ago I was waiting to hear back from the USC screenwriting program astounds me. And now, after four years of struggling and sweat, of way too many cans of beer and handle pulls, of crying and laughing, of making new friends and making new stories, it’s time for First Pitch.
For those of you unaware of the way the University of Southern California helps us, and perhaps makes our school better than yours, let me shed some light. First Pitch, for our once 24 and now 20 person class of screenwriters, is the night where we are given the opportunity to pitch to 9 executives from the industry. We get to share our work from four years and finally make our introduction into entertainment society. This is our debutante ball, our coming out party, and we are scared shitless.
I know I’m ready. I know I am confident in what I have to present. But it’s the knowledge that this has the potential to start my career off now instead of later that’s giving me severe heart palpitations.
I’m looking through old writing wondering what exactly it was that made them let me into this school in the first place.
This was my favorite.
Autobiographical Character Sketch, otherwise known as Austin’s Top Eight Most Random Thoughts
Boys are possibly the most frightening and confusing things ever to exist. They are ten times worse than ominous tests, or even dark secrets, almost as much as the sharks at Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” Museum at Myrtle Beach. Boys tend not to like me. Maybe it is a sign that I’m destined to be an old maid writing screenplays for romantic comedies starring women who are just as pretty as me, but worse actors, who in the end will get the guys anyways. Then I will be fated to go back to my lonely flat in New York and sit with my dog Bailey and watch re-runs of “Dawson’s Creek.” Occasionally, we will order pad thai takeout and watch Jane Austen films. Moreover, by the time I am forty my younger sister will have me institutionalized in a rest home because I am losing my mind. (She knows this because I keep talking to Bailey, although he died on my 35th birthday. The meter maid slammed into him while we were running past Central Park.) Then, as my mind slowly deteriorates, I will write the most critically acclaimed screenplay ever, but will die on the night of its premier. People will come to my funeral wailing about how I could have been the female Orson Welles, and men from my youth will lament about how badly they feel for not having told me how they felt when I was alive, and that they were simply dissuaded by my brilliance. But, in the end, it will not matter, because obviously I am already dead. The tabloids will go on a field day when knowledge leaks about how my fortunes were left to my illegitimate child, along with my journals, all of which were published, with the proceeds funding an experimental theatre company, with a fund for young playwrights and screenwriters.
I have obtained my knowledge of prose first from my father, and then through my own exploration through the many libraries and bookstores I have visited in my lifetime. I am a voracious reader, and I cannot help but pick up any book, play, or short story that seems even the slightest bit interesting. As an elementary school kid, I would ride my bike to school with a giant gym bag laid across my handlebars. In this gym bag I would pack The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, a book that weighed at least 20 pounds. This of course was a strange sight for any passerby, but it is just another example of how much prose has meant to me. At a young age, I became a reasonably good editor as I took skills that my father used at the newspaper he worked for and used them in my own work. As time has gone on, and my exposure to many different works and styles of writing has grown, I know that my skills in editing are becoming more finely tuned as each new novel, essay, and play digests. I have such a sick obsession with literature, all forms and shapes, that at any given time I may be reading four different books, making sure that I finish each within a week’s time. In addition, because I have read so much over all these years, I have developed a discerning taste for good quality in literature, just as a wine taster has for wine. (I am not saying that I am a wine taster, even though I am a native of California, but I would like to point out the fact that most of our great writers were alcoholics, or, alternatively, crack addicts. But I am neither, so I shall move on.)
My favorite novel is Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. When I first saw this question I immediately asked myself, “Austin, why, in god’s name, is this your favorite novel?” After a few seconds, I sat there stumped, for I had no earthly idea. However, after a brief discussion with my father I realized it is because of the social and political commentary within the novel. It feels like if our government today went one step further to control the lives of the people in our country that would be what is going on in the novel. It is the illusion that a perfect society exists, the idea that so many people in our nation see, that attracts me to the novel. It is the anti-utopian and anti-totalitarian ideas that beckon me to read the book repeatedly. I am sure there is a word to classify this novel more closely with the description I am giving you, but honestly, I am not going to search my thesaurus and find a word that sounds like it would be smart, when in actuality I have no idea what it means. This novel appeals to me because it also makes the argument “Who are we to define savage?” There are so many ethical issues and other issues presented in this novel, that each time I read it I come out feeling something new. Another reason I love this book is because Aldous Huxley uses words so rhythmically and so well, that it feels like you are seeing more than reading. Every time I turn through the pages, the words transport me to our own world in the future. Without a doubt, every time I will say that it is a pleasure to read it.
Things that I want to do before I die
- Be in two places at once
- Mud wrestle
- Go to all the states
- Go back to Mexico and help the rural community in Ixtapa
- Learn to whistle with my fingers
- Hold a perfect stranger’s hand
- Drive to Virginia and back in two class periods
- Have one of my journals published
- Sky Dive
- Turn the pool at work purple
For the past four years, I have doubted my passion. I have had a teacher who, instead of leading me on the journey to self-discovery and growth, has done nothing but tear me to pieces and create a great deal of self-resentment and doubt for my craft. When I step on stage, it is magic. I thrive under those lights. I want nothing more than to be in the place where I can continue this craft for the rest of my life. I do not want her to take the magic from me. When I think of life without theatre, I cannot breathe. Taking this part of me away is like taking a pound of flesh. My dreams have brought me to this point where I know exactly what I want to do with my life. I want the stage and film to be my life, even if I never make money, because for me, this is not for the fame or the fortune, but for the love of art. I crave with all my being to find a place to explore in a community the meaning of theatre. I know that college can bring me to another level, and will offer teachers that are just as passionate about my growth as I am. I know that college will be a place I can consider home for my dreams to blossom. Last year, I met a group of people with exactly the same outlook. This group was Tim Robbin’s Actors Gang, based in L.A., and after a meaningful workshop, I approached one of them and asked if they had doubted their passion at any point. One answered me by saying that although you can try to move on, your love of the stage will always be inside you, and you can’t escape what you really love. To be in proximity to these people who aroused my passion once more is one thing that draws me to your school, where I can prove my worth to you, and, more importantly, to myself.
Chad Keister, my Theory of Knowledge teacher, once said that when you look at a motorcycle and you see it, you do not truly see it. You cannot know it, by just seeing, or perceiving, it. You have to really look, take in the color, shape, and size, to know that it is, in fact, a motorcycle. It is that way with people too. You have to see how they react in groups and how they act all around. But no one really looks to see what people are like. Walking down the breezeway from acting class, I just could not help but think how many people have looked at me while walking past? How many of them think they know me?
It is a lonely thought. Anyways. Today was a dull day. I remember when I first learned that word… dull. I was in the 1st grade and I was reading one of the books of my personal favorite series, Encyclopedia Brown. That day I came home and told my mom that I had a very dull lunch, and both she and my dad practically fell over laughing from the pure wonder that I learned such a random word. Back on topic! The day was just kind of there. I just slid through it not really thinking.
- Who is really happy?
The people who are really happy are those who don’t take anything for granted. For example, when my family was struggling financially I don’t think we were ever happier. We had each other to love, and whenever we got something like ice cream we would all celebrate as if we were receiving a million dollars.
- What is the greatest wonder?
Babies. The way they love without cause. They have no other reason to look into your eyes with serine bliss than love. They have no ulterior motive. But they do it anyways. They know who is their family. The love they show is unconditional and that is the greatest wonder.
- What is the path?
The path is the journey to finding ourselves. It’s a path that has many roads and forks. You can’t choose to go on someone else’s path, and maps don’t really help. You have to trust in yourself, and that you are going the right way. You use the knowledge you have and wisdom you learn on the journey as your compass. And the path never ends. The end is when we die, and who is to say that the path ends there?
Every happy moment in the early years of my life links to U2. I lost my first tooth while listening to “Lemon”.
And at the end of the day when I think about why USC accepted me, I think it was just me that intrigued them. It was my writing about who I am. And that gives me some hope, because tonight I may be sweating profusely, stuttering nervously, and generally scaring the pee out of myself, but I get to talk about what I am writing, what kind of stories I like to tell, and most importantly why I’m passionate about this craft.
Time to kick some ass.