Marin County, CA, USA / Parris Island, SC, USA
Part 1: The Background About 10 years ago I left my amazingly cool job in the visual effects industry and joined the Marine Corps. Some people think I was nuts. There were many reasons for going, however, not the least of which is that I like a fresh challenge. Here is some of the backstory on how I, a tree-huggin' California girl, ended up making a decision to go from a job with extremely high Cool Factor to a job with extremely high Badass Factor.
For years prior to my employment at ILM, I'd had people scoffingly tell me "Yeah, that'd be nice!" as if my dream of working there was clearly impossible. I shrugged and laughed. I'd already interned at another major effects house, Dream Quest Images (later eaten by that monstrous mouse known as Disney), and had an interview for an internship in Lucasland. I was all set to go.
It is not idle bragging to tell you that I was an awesome intern. Really, I totally had the mojo going on, and I had a great time. Within months after graduating with a degree in multimedia, I was back in the Bay Area doing freelance and temp work for several of the Lucas companies. Within a year I had a union position doing digital plate restoration. I was working the night shift, hired along with another freelancer, to handle some of the overages brought about by Star Wars.
We couldn't tell what kind of shot we'd be working on until it loaded on our screens, so there was a chance it would be something really dull. Lucky me, the very first shot I loaded up after training was Darth Maul whirling through the air with his double-bladed lightsaber. I cheered and clapped and gasped in awe at my good fortune. "OMG, I have the COOLEST JOB IN THE WORLD!"
Old school ILM logo via Wikipedia.
And yet… and yet it had been almost too easy. School, internship, school, internship, job. Just like that. Ok, there were bunches of art projects and lots of networking, as well as laser-like focus on the goal in the middle there — but that stuff was fun! Apparently I liked having an "impossible" dream.
I had plans to become a producer and open up a studio for women and minorities, providing professional grade equipment and support to smaller projects that might otherwise not see the light of day. I was on my way to being a producer, baby! YEAH! …But after a few years I burned out.
For all that ILM and other Bay Area effects companies attract the best and brightest artists from around the world, filmmaking is still a very political business. The bold directness and honesty that served me so well as an intern didn't necessarily mesh with an industry often populated by large but delicate egos. It requires maneuvering tactics worthy of a chess champion or Sun Tzu.
I prefer simple and direct.
I like knowing that when someone says something, their words match up with their intentions, and there is no subtle meta-meaning I have to work to uncover. For example, working on an indie film up in Seattle (pre-Lucasland days), a really nasty cold was going around among the crew. I was there as a Production Assistant, working for free. (Handily enough, I was off school and had some vacation saved up from my job at the bank.) A fellow PA and I discovered that when the production crew said, "Why don't you go home?" in apparent solicitous concern for our health, what they really meant was, "I dare you, Little Fail PA! I DARE you!" After which, said PA would no longer be welcome on the set. How messed up is that?
So even though I was achieving my goal and living the geek dream of working on Star Wars, seeing my name roll by in the credits a few times, and sometimes running into George Lucas (once literally — ran smack into him after a company meeting; he's squishy), the disharmony of the political game began to wear on me.
Now, this is not to say that everyone who works or worked there participated in this strange gladiatorial dance. I'm still friends with a few of the long-term artists who are there simply because they are incredibly creative and skilled at what they do. I wish I was magically impervious to the machinations of the production side of things like they are, but I'm not. Hats off to those friends who know how to either play or ignore the game. I envy you!
I also started experiencing repetitive stress injuries from working at a desk that was the wrong size. That's not to say Lucas Digital doesn't make an effort when it comes to ergonomics, because they do. But sometimes it's not enough. One of the ironic parts of the whole deal was that, toward the end when I got called in for more hours (day shift even!), it was to fill in for a colleague who was out due to… repetitive stress injuries.
Oh, and if you think ergonomics is the territory of whiners and losers, shove it.
Try walking to the grocery store in shoes that are 5 sizes too big.
In any case, besides the chiropractic care, massage, acupuncture, hand therapy, anti-inflammatories, and other treatments, one of the most important things one can do to get better is exercise. The constant battle to regain and maintain health, coupled with my increasingly ambivalent feelings about my chosen field and a few choice chats with some veteran pals, got me thinking about the military. I was rapidly losing my enthusiasm for an industry that somehow manages to create some of the most glorious art and technical achievements in human history while simultaneously participating in vicious cycles promoting / reflecting consumerism, shallow values, and poor body images. I wanted something more meaningful — and more challenging.
Here's the thing: I'm a big ol' lover of peace. Seriously. I truly, truly believe in the good in people and that we all CAN get along. I don't think everyone is necessarily mature enough to commit to it yet, but we really do have it within us. We also have the capacity to turn the other cheek, not practice "an eye for an eye" tactics, and live by the golden rule. Sometimes it just takes practice to get there.
We are not one dimensional beings.
It's interesting how we often seem to expect public figures to fulfill rigid definitions of self and political positions. (To be fair, politicians often set themselves up for failure by espousing extremely polarized versions of policy and opinion — but we tend to buy into the madness.) If we were all sound bites that lived up to stereotype, this blog would be all about me telling you how great America is; pictures of hamburgers, big cars, and flags; and affiliate links of me trying to sell you ketchup. But I'm a person with complex, multi-faceted feelings and experiences, not a box or a label. I usually won't tell you that one view is completely right and another completely wrong, because I know myself to be filled with what appear to be contradictions and strange, clashing views. All I can tell you is that while I do believe that violence is, in the end, a losing proposition, I'd still pick up a rifle to defend the people and ideals that I love.
In case you found that confusing, I've kindly pre-selected a response for you, courtesy of The Internet:
“I have no idea what you’re talking about… so here’s a bunny with a pancake on its head.”
Realizing that I was comfortable with my inner paradox, I began investigating the angles of military service. What I'd started to figure out from pursuing my dream to work at ILM is that if you make ideals and dreams a priority, you can make them your reality. I'd long been a believer in our power to shape our own realities, so this was not totally surprising. However, I'd never thought of myself as particularly physically inclined. I was sure that mind over matter worked in matters that were mainly of the mind. I wasn't sure if this also applied the body. In theory it did, but in reality…? And what if what you were attempting was really hard?
I decided to find out.
…and that's the exciting conclusion of Part 1! Part 2 is now up. But before you go read it, let me ask you this:
What have YOU discovered about dedicating yourself to your dreams?