Theme: The End.
by Laura Gene
The beginning is the end is the beginning.
I was burned out. Days were blurring into one another. Challenges were few and far between. Monotony and boredom were taking the wheel but I wasn’t ready to call it. I’d always been a champion of the grass is greener on the other side, because it usually is, at least for a while, or long enough for you to forget it was green in the first place.
As a child, as in pre-puberty, I had grandiose dreams. While other kids looked forward to moonwalks and world peace, I dreamed of days typing 10-key. I wanted to become a bookkeeper. Of course, I didn’t know what that was at the time. I just knew I liked calculators and typing numbers and scribbling them down in my wide-ruled notebooks. My mother, my biggest supporter, asked no questions when she went to Sam’s to pick up an industrial-sized calculator, made complete with a self-feeding spool of paper ribbon. After all, one needed documentation when balancing the books.
After years of mindful abuse, it was a bittersweet day when we added the chunky number cruncher to the garage sale pile. The soothing sound of stamping keys and inking digits no longer fulfilled the visions of my future destiny. For a time, my vision was a bit more 20/40. I was distracted by unending weekend softball tournaments and prank-filled pre-teen sleepovers. It was the only time in my life I recall not worrying about what came next. Next was just worrying whether my underwear would be found in the freezer the next morning.
When high school hit, I blossomed into Serious Laura; all academics and extracurricular activities had a purpose. I pursued my interests but always with an ulterior motive stifled under layers of work ethic and ambition. Somewhere along the way my future began dictating my present. (Yogi Laura would not approve.)
Very little changed in my approach once I entered the workplace. Ironically my adolescent accounting dreams came to fruition during college as I worked my way through school as the CPA’s right hand woman, and then after graduation as I searched for employment in my fruitless field of media studies. There was the brief stint at a talent agency managing financial dealings before landing a gig at a creative studio. My grown-up dreams had finally been realized. I was finally using my overpriced education to get a job in the ‘biz’. I officially became a Production Coordinator. I had arrived. My hard work and gumption had paid off – my foot firmly wedged inside that door frame.
After three years of rainbowed Excel spreadsheets, thousands of meetings and limitless overly thorough note-taking later, I had had enough. The glamourous life of a PC had lost its new car smell. I envisioned my decades of overachieving scholastics to have amounted to more than ever-changing schedules and formatting chicken scratch notes. I was a cog – a really dependable, well-oiled cog – but still a cog. When I was impassioned about a solution to a newfound problem, I would make it known in my polarizing boisterous tone. If I saw an injustice in the treatment of my production team, I spoke up defiantly on their behalf. I was the studio cheerleader, always eager to step up and get my hands dirty with each and every ridiculous or mind-numbing task. But I also spoke too loudly and rubbed too many empowered people the wrong way, essentially leaving myself stymied from ever getting a promotion. Still my green-colored lenses would not fade. I loved working in a creative environment with enviously talented people. The highlight of my day was interacting with everyone – artists, producers, execs, even finance. I got to be in the middle of it all, bullshit and otherwise. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the teams or the studio so I made the sideways move to marketing – the least respected department in the studio.
In this tiny team, I got to be creative. I got to write and get paid for it. I had a voice in marketing – an austere, tech-garbled, strongly edited voice but a voice nonetheless. It was the only one I managed to find while doing my time earning a CG livelihood. There I planned and executed fun and sometimes outlandish events. I did a little of everything, even volunteering to paint my face blue for a big project pitch. I was a truly dedicated team player. As much as I loved the randomness of it all, I still wanted more, e.g. responsibility, power, influence, ownership, title… The Helvetica was on the wall. This was a one-way to nowhere.
Along the way, while unsuccessfully navigating the studio’s political hierarchy, I managed to bag myself a hot little number (one of my coworkers) who also had grand ambitions. His just happened to be a little more geographical than my own. Within two years, we found ourselves in Singapore both working at the prestigious Lucasfilm. I had jumped on Kyle’s coattails and landed a job doing the only thing I was qualified to do anymore: production coordinate. Regardless of the job title, I was beyond excited. Besides moving to the opposite side of the globe, I got to get back in the middle of it all – the chaos of production, the camaraderie with artists, the late night adrenaline-fueled crunch due to overly optimistic delivery deadlines. I surprised myself with newfound enthusiasm convinced that location and employer would make all the difference.
Boredom set in just as soon as I figured out everyone’s name. Day after day was endured of redundant email chains, monotonous meetings and useless note-taking; and there were infuriating inefficiencies everywhere. I found myself right back where I started. A powerless, replaceable, uncreative cog in an unbending behemoth company. Now did I not only loathe my work but I hated the weather too. It didn’t take long before I just threw in my sweat-stained towel and started phoning it in. (Hard-working Laura did not approve.) Unfortunately, I never learned to mask my feelings of disappointment; my supervisors were well aware that something was amiss.
Then one of our Associate Production Managers moved to New Zealand to torture herself with 70+ hour work weeks; a spot to move up had opened up. My passion was reignited with the shred of hope that things would change. After nearly six years in the professional entertainment sphere, I would finally be able to move up to the next rung on a very short and wobbly ladder. I ignored the fact that I might have become overly optimistic and unduly confident in my abilities over the years because I knew I could do the job. But as Pessimist Laura already knew, I was going to be passed over for someone more qualified/ likeable/ kiss-ass than me.
I hated being right.
Shortly after being snubbed, production on the feature came to a standstill forcing a quick shuffle and reorganization of the entire production team. People were being farmed out to other departments to get their overhead tacked on to another project’s underwater budget. I ended up in VFX, a far cry from the routine of feature animation filmmaking, a routine I was eager to break. From my naïve perspective, VFX was more glamorous work because the results of our efforts were huge blockbuster movies known the world over; but as my new reality quickly set in, I realized VFX was just down and dirty – and completely disorganized. It was unnecessarily chaotic and inefficient and it drove me crazy. Thousands, literally thousands, of emails drowned my inbox daily. Sure, some were automated notices that could be filtered out, but for the remaining thousand I needed to be reading, I was instructed to essentially ignore them. If something’s important, they’ll come and find you. Ignore digital communications that were the lifeblood of this studio’s concept of a tracking system. It was inane. I was powerless and completely handicapped by my need to be thorough and incessant need to institute efficiencies. Crying in the bathroom a happy employee does not make. I was failing, falling terribly short of the high standards I held for myself. This was coordinating, something that I had been doing for half a decade, something that came to me as natural as riding a bike or obsessing about my weight. In this environment, I sucked at it. So I did what any competent quitter would do:
I could say that I never looked back, but I did. Moving to Shanghai there was another potential opportunity to try my hand at coordinating in another studio with another set of rules and politics and bullshit, but I was already ready for the next step and I knew better than to think I would find it there. Over the last year of self-reflection and introspection, I finally…finally…found that I no longer wanted to be part of all of that. I found more self-satisfaction watching cartoons than making them. Moving to Shanghai has meant moving on, but now I’m unsure what comes next. That’s the hardest part. Knowing what you don’t want but still not knowing what you do.