M. Night Shyamalan has made three good movies in his time in Hollywood, and one of them has left an indelible impression on me. I saw Unbreakable in 2001. Not on the big screen mind you. I was in college by then and my ass was broke. I caught it on video. For those who haven’t seen it, you should. It’s arguably Shyamalan’s best work. In it, David Dunn (as played by Bruce Willis) meets Elijah Price (played by Samuel L. Jackson) after David is in a terrible train accident and finds himself to be the only survivor. As they interact, Elijah professes his belief that it was not chance that saved David from the wreck, but an innate ability, a superpower. David refuses to believe at first, but slowly he begins to find that Elijah is onto something.
I tell you this because there’s a scene in the film that always resonated with me. Toward the middle of the story, after David has told Elijah that he wakes up in the morning sad pretty much every day that passes, Elijah says to David that that maybe the reason David feels that sadness is because he’s not doing what he’s supposed to do.
It was not only a kind of heartbreaking revalation, but something I could resonate with later. A year or so after graduating, I had been stuck jockeying a counter and shelving books at a Borders Books and Music Store. I was up to my eyeballs in debt, there was no design work that didn’t offer incredibly insulting pay for the craft and the Bush years were shaping up to form a shitty economy from which there seemed to be no escape. That was when I started feeling the sadness in my own life. I recognized it when I watched the film again, and took note.
There was a sadness in my life. And, no matter what I did, I could not shake it.
When I got a job working design again, the sadness lessened. For a little while anyway. But, when the job quickly turned into something I didn’t ask for – cold calling blitzes and packing candy into cardboard boxes – it came back full force.
I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to be doing.
I was hired into my present company, and I got to help people to some extent, which for a while made me feel pretty good. I’ve been there for six years now. And, some mornings, I still woke with that sadness, despite whether or not I was creating new images or not. In 2005 it got bad. Real bad. But, during this time, I found that writing eased it. I don’t think I latched on to it right away as I wrote a few short stories like ‘Suppertime’ or ‘Cache’, but looking back on it, I’m sure that’s when it really started.
I’ve always written stories. Everything from game modules, to short stories, to essays. Now, I’m writing my first honest to god novel-sized project. I’m 67K words in. It’s an idea I had in 1999 while I was working an ill-omened design job, before I started waking up sad – though in a way, that job probably started the cycle of sadness. It took over ten years to percolate. And I write it, filling out the story two or three nights a week.
And when I wake up in the morning after a writing session…
The sadness is gone.
I think I’ve finally found what I’m supposed to be doing. Writing makes me happy. Telling stories, seeing the words march across the page, sharing my thoughts and finding out ‘hey, I’m not crazy, this makes sense’ is the most satisfying and rewarding thing I think I’ve ever done. Can I make a living off of it someday? I don’t know. Will I get published? I can’t say. Will I keep doing it?
I’ve always had a feeling that I was supposed to be making things. I had a knack for cartooning and I loved it, so I jumped that way and went to art school. I wouldn’t change a thing about those decisions (too many friends, too many good times had), but I think that this is what I’m supposed to be doing. This is what I’m supposed to make and craft.
As long as I keep waking up in the morning without that sad feeling, I’m going to keep doing this. If nothing else, it’s keeping me sane in a world that frequently makes no sense. And it makes me very, very happy.