Advice to an 18 year old...
denverevolution.org is one of the finest online resources for compelling, underground activities in the Denver area. I interviewed Tony, one of it's founders, in January 2004 at some noisy bar across from the 1896 Fine Art Film Gallery, in Denver. The interview was hurried and jumbled and smoky and enmeshed in bar noise. Tony later sent a long email explaining that what he most wanted to say that night was not said, or at least not communicated. The following is the bulk of what he wrote. It is basically the story of how denverevolution came about.
It's some good shit:
Nick Drake has a song with the lines, Leave the ways that are making you
be what you really don't want to be. Leave the ways that are making you
love what you really don't want to love.
We've all got those friends who have somehow managed to convince
themselves that they're really interested in mortgage lending or mass
marketing or pork-rind production or whatever lame field/career they've
landed in. Its become really the status quo in this market-driven world
for us to form our identity by where we fall in the market.
Like now, there's supposedly a shortage of nurses, and there's
guaranteed good money in nursing, so thousands of 18 year-olds today are
deciding not to take all those film courses they wanted to take, and
instead get into nursing.
Ten years from now, they'll all have stable jobs with a nice car and a
home and dental insurance... but 3/4 of their waking hours, and 3/4 of
who they are will be dictated by something that has nothing to do with
what's inside them. They'll know all about the nursing industry,
they'll buy nice things, and at dinner parties, they'll talk about this
fascinating healthcare industry that has become their life.
That's so scary to me, and the scariest part is that it is the norm.
People don't do what they want to do, they don't aim for the top of
Maslow's hierarchy of needs, and they never reach the true potential
they have for contributing to society. In the nurse's case, there's
this machine called the healthcare industry that is getting a few people
incredibly rich and fucking up our society in the meantime with a
totally inequitable healthcare system, and the machine needs a few more
gears to keep running smoothly making the owners rich, so the nurses
slide in there and receive some sense of security in return.
We're all raised to want security, but that should have never been our
real goal. That's the BOTTOM of the pyramid (maslow's pyramid). If all
you've accomplished when you die is a nice home and car and security and
good teeth, can you really be satisfied with that?
Anyway, I wanted to study film in college. My parents and I decided it
would be so much smarter to major in marketing and business
administration, so I did that. I got great grades, not because I had
passion for what I was learning, but because the market rewards people
who get good grades. I got my "dream job", managing marketing for an IT
company, and I bought books on the culture of advertising and mass
media. I made glossy print, radio, and TV ads by day, and squeezed my
old passions into the weekends. More and more of who I am was being
dictated by this place that the market had made for me.
I went shopping for a new car, I looked into buying a home... my waking
life was 2/3 working for this corporation, and the rest was consuming:
reaping the rewards of my work.
Then the best thing I could've imagined happened to me. IT went flop,
and this company that I had been so proud to be a part of, this job that
had become such a big part of who I was, kicked me to the curb.
I was totally shaken and freaked, I remember spending the first few days
panicking, calling all my business associates and trying to jump right
back in to this world... try not to fall off-pace on my 401K, or my
5-year plan to be a homeowner. When the shock wore off, I realized I
was staring at two months of severance, and after that, 6 months of
unemployment. My whole fear of losing security was insane... I had EIGHT
months with which to do whatever I wanted.
I spent the first two or three just trying to re-discover what that was.
I looked inwards, I painted, I wrote music, I read "Self Reliance" by
Ralph Waldo Emerson for the second time. I rode my bike every day, I
read philosophy, I tried anything that presented itself to me, and I
spent a lot of time thinking about what life was all about for me.
Everyone comes up with a different answer when they go through that
process, and it would take me too long to fully explain where I knew I
needed to head, but once I realized I wanted to work in independent
film, I took steps towards that end. Money still wasn't a
consideration, so when I met a local photographer who I liked, I
volunteered for her two days a week. I found a non-profit documentary
production company who was doing some great work, and I took an unpaid
internship with them. I found a couple groups doing local screenings of
films that interested me, and I asked them how I could volunteer to help
out every time.
After my 8 months ended, the fear started to creep in again. I had
gotten over that initial fear of losing "security", but now I was
looking at life without unemployment checks. I remember the day, almost
10 months after I had been laid-off; my savings were gone, and I had a
generous job offer from Qwest in my hands. But after getting a taste of
the top of that pyramid--maslow's "self actualization"--the security
that job offer represented wasn't so appetizing to me anymore.
I had a huge yard-sale. I cut up the job offer into little tags, and
went around the house with a red marker, putting a price-tag on
everything I didn't need. I left the beautiful-but-pricy townhome I was
renting and moved in with a friend. I continued doing exactly what I
wanted to be doing and I got a part-time job so that I could concentrate
on my passions and squeeze money-making into the weekends. Security
wasn't my goal anymore, and the more I lost of it, the more I realized
how unfounded my fears of losing security were.
I continued working hard at the things I was passionate about, and it
never felt like work. Eventually the non-profit production group I was
interning with found some room in their budget to pay me for some of the
work I was doing. The photographer tossed me a couple paying gigs. One
of the groups I helped with monthly screenings gave me a stipend, and a
couple months later, I found myself making a living doing the EXACT same
work I had chosen to do for free.
For the past three years it has been like that. I see something that
really interests me and really fits my passions, and I go for it without
any regard for how "financially viable" it is. And time and time again,
a couple months down the road, or a couple years down the road, it finds
some way to sustain me. I do what I love. I put a lot of value into
it, and that value usually comes back to me in some way.
To tell the truth, I don't really trust that the universe will naturally
provide for you as long as you do what you want to do, but the financial
payoff really has to be an afterthought. That isn't what we're supposed
to work for, that isn't supposed to be our goal. The goal is self
actualization, its reaching your full potential to mold your world into
the place you want it to be, and if you get a taste of that, money
becomes comparatively insignificant.
So... I don't know how to sum it up any better than that, but that's my
message to the 18 year-olds. Find what you love. Find the job you
could spend 60-hrs a week doing without feeling like you're working, and
go for it. When you find yourself focusing on anything other than the
top of that pyramid, fight that temptation and stay on your own track.
Tony also runs Deproduction (www.deproduction.org), a grant-based facility that supplies filming and production equipment at low costs to individuals and organizations seeking to create educational films, documentaries and other pertinent film things. See the website for details and for a better description.
Also a must: check out www.denverevolution.org