Last night my friend JohnRoger sent me a picture. It was 1am and I was in the middle of last-minute grad school homework submissions so it was a much welcome distraction.
I haven’t seen JohnRoger in four years. When I lived in Fayetteville, Arkansas, he was one of my nearest and dearest friends, and when I left, he continued to be—in a more distant, mutual understanding sort of way. I moved to South Korea to teach ESL and he went to Alaska later on. But there was a short time in between when we crossed paths again.
JohnRoger is a “grip” (he has probably received a promotion by now) in the filming industry. From the little I know about the industry, this means he gets to actually hold/grip the camera during filming. When I returned from teaching ESL overseas, I could not find a full-time job to save my life, and so ended up waiting tables, substitute teaching, and eventually even succumbed to $5.25/hour at Starbucks. . . for a month.
This was an interesting time in my life. I lived with my parents, made a total income of $9,000 in one year, and pretended to be 21 again—spending my evenings after waiting tables at a local winery and restaurant bar-hopping and dancing the night away with my very young server friends and the college kids that lined the cobblestone downtown Main Street. It was not awesome making $9,000 in a year and it was not awesome being underemployed—but it was awesome having a not-so-steady schedule and being able to disappear for weeks at a time if I so chose. Which I did.
JohnRoger contacted me during this time to let me know that he was working on an independent film in Chicago, Killing Poe, and he had room for a couple more Production Assistants if I was interested. What he really meant was that he couldn’t pay me, but understood this was just the type of random opportunity I would take part in—because why not drive to Chicago for a week, stay in a college dorm, rub shoulders with a few A-list actors (one of whom was a James Bond girl!!!) and avoid real life for a while?
Of course I went. And I convinced my family friend Stephen to join. Six hours and a disgusting amount of melted Twizzlers later, we made it to Chicago. Stephen and I let each other think this was a “networking” experience totally worth our time and lack of income. He actually owned camera gear and had a possible future in film to go on. I, on the other hand, was just trying on another alternate career for size. I collected names and numbers of directors while Stephen looked on, both impressed and a bit envious of my networking abilities. We drove to Home Depot about twenty-seven times a day for needed supplies for the film crew, ate a lot of pizza, worked 18 hour days for free, and wondered if our own future in film-making would one day be a reality.
It wouldn’t. I did get invited to be a stand-in photographer for a talent luncheon. I took great pictures of the A-listers and then proceeded to lose every last one of those pictures when my computer crashed.
At least not any time soon. Stephen and I drove back to Missouri and parted ways, myself back to my parents’ house and himself back to southwest Missouri. A month or so later, JohnRoger let me know they were wrapping up filming and I was invited to the final days and the Wrap Party. Of course I went.
I could not convince Stephen this time around that this may be our big break so I went solo. Aside from JohnRoger, no one really cared that I was there. I was a Production Assistant and I was the only one that wasn’t actually a film student or in the industry in anyway. It was pretty apparent I was a tagalong there for the adventure of a pretend future career in filming, but everyone was kind anyway and at least appreciated having someone to make the Home Depot runs.
The night of the Wrap Party, JohnRoger, myself and a handful of other crew decided to pull an all-nighter. The Wrap Party didn’t last very long, and as one of the photographers had a loft apartment in the city, we decided it best to move the party to his place. I don’t remember much of what happened that evening. I don’t think it was anything incredible and it wasn’t a crazy-drunken evening of loud music and dancing. It was more like. . . trying desperately to stay awake because we didn’t want the end of this adventure to really be here.
At one point, one of the film students, Kyle, decided that we should drive to Lake Michigan to watch the sunrise.
This part, I remember very clearly. I remember piling into a rust-bucket fifteen passenger van with not enough seats for everyone involved. I remember a pile of half-asleep bodies. I remember the taste of stale whiskey breath that only comes from staying up all night but not realizing quiet yet it is morning and now time to brush teeth. I remember tumbling out of the van onto the beach, wading into the water, and standing with our arms around one another as the blinding orange ball crept into the horizon.
That is the picture JohnRoger sent me. He sent me us. He sent me our silhouette standing in the water, facing the sunrise on Lake Michigan.
And here is why I needed that picture. Here is why I needed to be reminded of that adventure—that moment. It is because I have been in Columbia for one year and 131 days. It is because I have lived in this shoebox apartment for one year and 131 days. And I have worked for GC for exactly three years, come May 15. That is longer than I have ever worked for an employer ever in my life.
And I am antsy. My apartment is adorable and I have a thousand birds in my backyard/parking lot and my wonderful boyfriend lives close and I work with some mostly pretty fantastic kids . . . but I am antsy. Everything in me wants to live on beans and rice for as long as it takes to buy a one-way-ticket across the world and stay there. Or a one-way-greyhound across the country and stay there. I haven’t left the country in three years and I feel adventureless.
A long time ago, I drilled a well in Africa. And I taught English in South Korea. And I built trail in Vermont. And I rebuilt homes in New Orleans. But that was a long time ago and this is now. And now I haven’t left the country and I live in a shoebox and I feel stuck. It feels nice to talk about drilling wells and helping orphans and blazing trails and living abroad. It does not feel nice talking about a system I believe to be very broken. It does not feel nice to watch my kids make mistake after mistake and feel entirely powerless in helping them to crawl out of the mess they have become to realize the beauty and power that they are.
But that picture reminded me of something. It reminded me I didn’t have to leave the country to get there. To the sunrise. And I didn’t have to change careers either. It took getting in the van and tumbling out. It took deciding to stay awake.
Back in the day of my first ever ‘real job’ as a house mom to eight teenage girls in a group home, we got in the van and tumbled out often. Sometimes I took them on back road ventures for up to three hours. We would roll the windows down and blast my mixed CDs and eat bags of laffy taffy while they read the corny jokes aloud to me. Sometimes we stopped to moo at cows and sometimes we snuck out late at night with flashlights and buckets and waded into the spring and caught crawdads. Sometimes we rode a mattress down the stairs and sometimes we moved all the furniture in the house and put on roller skates and pretended it was a roller skating rink. Sometimes I let them stay up until 3 or 4 in the morning to wax the floors with me and brought them extra large cappuccinos to school so they could stay awake during class. Sometimes we took the van “off-roading” and searched the fields for deer. Sometimes, we carried a very heavy canoe over our heads, through the fields, and over the chain-link fence to put it in a very tiny pond only to learn there were “no boats allowed.” And sometimes, we tried to pole-vault over hay bales with broomsticks.
I don’t do any of that with my kids now. I make sure chores are done and homework is complete and meds are passed and rooms are clean and then I do my paperwork and I go home. Maybe that is why I feel antsy. Maybe I need to stay up later and re-introduce the sunrise to me tech-addicted kids.
Maybe I need to remember that all it takes is choosing to get in the van—and then tumbling out, at just the right time.