The Big Chill

Part of what I wanted to do with this blog was to discuss not just the process of writing as it pertains to putting together outlines and boards and drafts, but about writing as a lifestyle, as a process in and of itself in my life. I haven't done that much because it's a lot harder than just showing my scripting progress, but something happened recently that made me figure it was about that time.

You see, my wife, who I love more than anything in this world, did something absolutely heinous yesterday. She asked me, if you can believe this, to help her do our taxes.

But wait. Let's back up a minute.

You know that movie THE BIG CHILL?

It's got a reputation for being one of the whitest, blandest movies ever made, only to be replaced years later by another Kevin Kline vehicle, LIFE AS A HOUSE. But as a guy who is right now listening to the LES MIZ soundtrack and who once, in high school, waited in line overnight to buy Billy Joel tickets, I cannot deny my bland whiteness, nor my enjoyment of THE BIG CHILL.

I watched the movie in college, and I remember it having a strangely profound effect on me. I watched that movie at a time when I had more close friendships than I ever had, or almost certainly will ever have again. I was part of two theater groups, I was making things constantly, I had a friend who called me, with what I hoped was at least a smidgen of earnestness, "Fearless Leader." But I think part of me knew this wouldn't last forever, and wanted to believe that even if adulthood cooled these intense passions and friendships, the "big chill" of the title, they would still be there, and could possibly be, at least partially, rekindled.

After the first reading of THE WITCH IN THE WOODS a good friend and former Marvel editor who had attended the reading took me to dinner and gave me a bevy of very good notes on the script. He asked me why I'd started this project, and I told him that I could feel life getting smaller and more complicated, and if I was ever going to make an earnest play to follow my dreams of being a writer, the time was now. I asked him what he was up to, and he told me about a number of projects he was working on. There was one in particular, he said, that he NEEDED to do. It was the story he'd had in him for years. He'd do it. This was the one project that he knew would happen. Would it lead to anything....who knew? Who ever knows? But he'd do it. He'd do it, and then...

And then there was a silence, and I think we both felt it. The Big Chill. We'd do these projects, we'd gamble on making a living in a business that is unforgiving, harsh, and mysterious. And then...well...who knows?

It felt lonely as hell, which is what writing feels like most of the time. To me, anyways, and to most of the people I've ever heard talk about it.

And so. Taxes.

I'd had a long day at work. They're all long days, but I recently committed the unpardonable sin of going on vacation, and I'm still digging myself out of that hole, so the long days have only gotten longer. I'd had a long commute, I was still shaking off a sickness, and all I wanted to do was put in my writing time and go to bed.

But there was taxes.

Emily needed my tax information, which I had to get from the Disney HR website. I love working for Disney. I earnestly, truthfully do. It's hard for me to think of another corporation whose product, governance, and mission I so roundly support. That vacation I mentioned? Part of it was to Disney World, which I truly believe may be the Happiest Place on Earth. It certainly is to me. I even love their help line! I will stay on at the end of every call I make to Disney to take their customer service survey just so I can give them high marks, that's how much I'm in the bag for Disney.

So know that it is with a massive amount of love, appreciation, and affection that I say this: The Disney HR website is the dirt worst. I understand that it's massive, it serves tons of employees with vastly different needs across a mind-boggling spectrum of industries. It must be a bear to create and maintain, and my hat is off to the Sisyphi who do so. Still. The worst.

And so I spent a good 45 minutes, beat to hell and just wanting to write, trying to navigate the Borgesian halls of The Hub to get my W2. Once I'd procured it there were a few other tasks I needed to assist in to get our taxes locked and loaded, and once it was all done, my writing time had evaporated. And I was FURIOUS.

"THIS IS IT!" I thought. "THIS IS HOW IT ALL FALLS APART! This will be my legacy! 'Here lies Jake Thomas. He tried to write, but there were taxes.'"

That anger, that pointless, useless, stupid anger, has stayed with me for two days now. And this is how it is. I know it's stupid and, thankfully, so does Emily. She knows I'm not angry at her, or at taxes, or at anything in particular. I'm fighting off that chill. I'm trying to stay warm against the frost of giving up, of settling in, of just popping some popcorn and watching samurai movies every night for the rest of my life. That doesn't sound so bad. That seems like something I could easily do.

Except it isn't. I know, I've tried it, and I'm sure I'll try it again in the future. Writing is hard, it's frustrating, it's another job on top of the more than full time job I currently have, and that's just getting the ####ing words on paper, that's not even mentioning trying to get a manager, an agent, a sale, some attention, ANYTHING other than just a completed script that goes in a drawer. But as angry as the taxes made me, it's nothing compared to the depression I fall into when I'm not writing.

One of the saddest songs ever, in my humble opinion, is the Amanda Palmer tune "ANOTHER YEAR [A SHORT HISTORY OF ALMOST SOMETHING]." It punches me right in the stomach every time. I don't know that I've ever taken a song so personally. That idea of deferring ambition, of putting things on hold, of letting even moderate goals slide. It twists a knife in me. Whenever I feel the chill come on (appropriately enough, the song is set in Winter), I put this song on, let myself purge those feelings, and then try and pick myself back up.

So the outline on HACKSAW progresses. And I slowly pull myself out of my funk. And I keep the Big Chill at bay, at least for another day. But I wanted to talk about it here, in case any of you three people who actually read this might be feeling it yourself. One of the dreams I had for this blog was that it could possibly be a bit of a community, somewhere it wouldn't just be me blathering about my current projects, but where folks going through similar struggles could sound off, jump in or add on. I doubt I'll make that happen, I honestly have no idea how I'd do it. I haven't been a fearless leader or a creative organizer in a long time. But maybe at the very least I can be another voice saying to people out there struggling against The Big Chill that although it's cold out here, you're not alone.

Stay warm, friends.

-Jake T.

Jake Thomas

Story Writer. Marvel Comics Editor. Wrangler of Squids.