Living down to expectations


There are two things I should have done in 1994:

  1. Shaved my head.

  2. Moved to California and interned with an animation company.

This is hard, for me, to admit. But if I don’t wrap my head around it, I’ll keep looking back into that time and loop until the end of my days.

Life decisions are hard. Because they affect your entire life. Whatever decisions you make can have lifelong consequences, can put you on a path that gets exponentially more difficult to alter. It’s not just time, but gathered responsibilities.

In 1994, I was a sophomore at the Massachusetts College of Art. It’s a great school. At the time, they were in the earliest stages of a new phase for the college. Technology and branding were moving to the forefront, digital spaces and marketing trends drove strategic decisions. Several years after I’d graduated, newer, brighter facilities were built and the school’s branding was honed, and the population diversified significantly. Digital design was in its earliest stages, when I attended, and the Internet consisted mostly of chat rooms and message boards—not pornography.

I’d only been out of the military for two or three years, but I’d been losing my hair a couple of years before that. The webbing inside my helmet helped to accelerate the process, rubbing against my pate. (By the way, a shaved head was considered against regulation, in the USMC, at the time.) I should have shaved my head after discharge, but I was still driven more by outside forces. Culture dictated a certain style, one that I couldn’t fully embrace, one I should’ve jettisoned for my own aesthetic. But I didn’t. A bald head was still a rare thing, accepted among few. That shouldn’t have mattered. Letting other people’s expectations drive decisions will always be a disappointment. Especially when ‘other people’ are in multiple camps. For instance, I had the people I grew up with, and the neighborhood pressure to blend, not buck. The artist community—which was more of a ragtag collection of trends defined by “white” culture. The overarching culture of Boston institutions, driven mostly by professional “whiteness.” Even after graduation, the addition of the professional “black” community didn’t help. None of them were a good fit. I was living down to other people’s expectations, not elevating my own, not seeking my true north.

I should’ve shaved my head.

During that time I saw a flyer posted for internships to both Pixar and Disney. This was well before their merger and at least a year before “Toy Story” hit theaters. Disney remained the premier animation company, but Pixar was making a splash at animation festivals and quietly building itself into a juggernaut of story-telling, the best part of animation work.

I need to back up a bit here.

My entire life, to that point, had been consumed by comics, animation, and books right up until I joined the Marine Corps. My entire life had also been heavily punctuated by people who didn’t have the time or interest for me. Not only did I grow up in a neighborhood short on people who did creative things, I didn’t know anyone who had more than a cursory interest. Ridicule was the name of the game for anything other than hip-hop, basketball, or…that’s about it. Even when I was bussed from Boston, up the coast, to an acutely “white” suburb for ostensibly better schooling, there was no one to take notice. Maybe they purposely didn’t care, maybe they looked down on such interests—it doesn’t matter. That’s how it was. From my perspective, the entire world that I lived in had no interests in anything other than blending in and getting along. Despite that, I still had a deep interest in animation through movies, television, and animation festivals. “Tron” had further captured my imagination in 1982 with this new style of 3D animation and it wouldn’t let go.

So there I was, in 1994, staring at a flyer for internships at either Disney or Pixar. After four years in the Corps, one year at the University of Massachusetts, and being in my second year at art school. An art school that didn’t have an animation department. I was still interested. Both internships were listed as summer-long and paid. All I’d need to have done is apply. I didn’t. I lived down to expectations. In fact, despite how much I enjoyed MassArt, the choice to attend was living down to expectations. I could have gone to any college in the United States that would take me. That means Savannah, New York, Chicago, Rhode Island, et al were on the table. I’d traveled the world and come home to a sort of culture shock that held me in Boston, desperately trying to reintegrate myself into a world I’d already left behind once.

Living down to expectations.

Well. No more of that, thankyouverymuch, however—and this is a big ‘however’ in this story—I’ve been on this path for a long time, working in graphic design, holding an orbit around Boston. Over that time I’ve gathered my own family, a wife and two daughters; property; pets; and other responsibilities. It’s much, much harder to live up to my own expectations now, extremely difficult to juggle the things that need to be done in my shared life as well as what I want to accomplish. But it’s worth it.

Now I’m anxious for my next book, LIGHTNING WEARS A RED CAPE, to be released. It’s scheduled for August/September with ChiZine Publications. We still have to get through editing and finalize cover design, and I’m excited to move on, to inch forward. Inching forward is something I’ve gotten used to. Inching forward is what you do when there are a dozen other priorities ahead of your passion. It may be inching, but it’s still forward.

Damn the torpedoes.