Here’s The Thing

by Bob Woolsey

illustration by Dana Kearley

On Boxing Day, 2004, I packed my life into the back of a U-Haul truck and traveled south to what was then the third largest film production centre in North America. My mother wept as she watched me leave. My father worried that my chosen path wouldn’t support me. I had no idea what I was doing but I knew I had to go try it out despite the misgivings of my family. There was a clear moment when I realized that my parents didn’t quite fathom the idea of me going to school to learn how to write creatively, much less actually finding a job that would support me. My dad sat me down one day as I applied for student loans, looked at me compassionately and said, “Maybe you should just get your electrical and, you know, have that as a backup.”

One year later I graduated from the screenwriting program of a pretty decent institution. I was instantly unemployed and wandering from coffee shop to coffee shop with my resume in hand. This was during the pre-2008 boom for pretty much everyone in Vancouver — except newly graduated writers looking for someone to hire them on the strength their epic sci-fi space opera script. I did finally find gainful employment. Yes, it was removed from my chosen profession, but it was money and I’ve been supporting myself ever since.

All the while I’ve been hustling any way I can to keep my dream of being a professional writer alive. It’s been a tough and winding road. As much as I like to whine about how hard my magnificent life free of war and poverty has been, there are a lot of Vancouverites just like myself who are magnificent artists be it written, musical, film related — the list goes on and on — who serve you coffee every morning just so they can pay the rent on their shoebox and buy ramen noodles to sustain themselves. So why do we do this?

I believe the answer is rooted, as are many awesome things, in the ‘80s. To say that I’m a product of this decade would be an understatement. I own He-Man toys, Star Trek: The Next Generation shaped me in a fundamental way, the Challenger disaster was etched upon my toddler brain, and I believe, above all else in this world, that I can be anything I want to be so long as I put my mind to it. Because I was taught that. In the ‘80s.

I’ve had my mind set on this writing thing for a long time now and I still don’t make any money off of it. In fact, it costs me money to continue to do what I want. My financial advisor tells me that paying a large chunk of my income to a “job” that’s doing nothing to pay my bills is a bad idea. He says I’ll never get rich this way. He stops short of telling me I should pick up a trade, but I can see it in his eyes. They are the same compassionate eyes my father had: they care, but they don’t quite understand.

While a good chunk of the population is spending their weekends getting drunk at clubs and watching mindless TV about catty housewives from all over the place, my artistic barista brethren and I are out there trying to make stuff. Good stuff that has a chance to effect an audience. Here’s the thing about trying to make a go of it in any artistic profession: at the end of the day, it’s about communication. I like expressing myself through stories about other people. It’s how I process my life and all the crazy stuff in this world. If I wasn’t trying to make a real writer out of myself, I don’t know what I’d get out of bed in the morning for. It sure as shit wouldn’t be to fix the wiring. Even if that does pay significantly more than my current rate of zero dollars per hour.