For the entirety of this Off Camera season, these letters have detailed my early years of finding myself as an artist. It started with issue #25 when I realized that perhaps my odd career path merited a closer look, if only to make sense of how I ended up with the life I have. I admit there was a selfish motive at play; over the course of multiple conversations with all of my Off Camera guests, I’ve become fascinated by how we choose to spend our time, and how we find a career that sustains us. Now this may be a metaphysical question, or a religious question, or a philosophical question, depending on what you believe, but I am acutely aware of the passage of time, which sadly seems to pick up speed at an alarming rate as I get older. I don’t know about you, but it seemed like when I was a kid, a day lasted forever. At age 9, I could disappear entirely into a fantastical, elaborately-imagined game that involved multiple playmates and location changes, a variety of snacks, and discourse on topics various and sundry, only to look up and find it wasn’t even lunchtime yet. Nowadays, the sun is setting before I’ve even had a chance to look around me. Having kids magnifies this time disparity. I can watch my girls get lost in the present, while I’m too busy examining the past and planning my future to even notice that the present is passing. So, as this relentless freight train of a life continues hurtling along in spite of me, and with much of it in the rear view already, the question is, “Am I wasting it? What am I doing with my time, and more pertinently, what am I not doing?” In sitting down with some of the best and brightest creators in our culture, not to mention my own personal heroes, I can’t help but question my own journey, and the decisions I have made that led me here. So dear readers, perhaps I can be forgiven some angst, even if I’ve brought it on myself.
But in this 12-issue, six-month, 16,000-word self-examination, I’ve at least come to one conclusion: I am a hustler. A hard-working, take-nothing-for-granted, exceed-my-parents’-expectations, don’t-wait-for-an-invitation hustler. In issue #5 Robert Downey Jr. described himself as a hustler, and suddenly I understood that a word I’d always associated with grifters and lowlifes could have positive connotations. He used the word almost lovingly, as a descriptor for someone who can harness their own powers of self-reliance, see through the bullshit of most of the educational system and get themselves hired. And that is me. I have learned, by looking back, that most of my success has come from getting out of the mainstream, from not listening to advice, and from taking risks that are backed by my belief that I can figure it out along the way.
As Season 3 of Off Camera comes to a close, it turns out (for better or worse) that I’ve yet to finish my tale. Heck, as those of you who’ve followed this journey know, I’m still stuck in 1993, attempting setting out on my own as a freelance photographer. But one thing I realized about myself right around that time was that I was destined (or doomed) to be a lone wolf. I was never going to have a boss or punch a timecard. I would build something from the ground up, based on a foundation of belief, risk, and adventure, and by relying on my wits and gumption to do it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I craved the entrepreneurial spirit of a start-up – the desire to build a business and make things that excited me, and things that excited other people enough to make them want to pick up a magazine, watch a film or buy a book. I wanted to make and share the thing I love most of all – the feeling of complete absorption that comes from inspiration. Cracking open a book that so engrosses you that you want to lock the door and turn off your phone so that you can immerse yourself in the words until they become your reality. Going to a movie in the middle of the day and finding a near-empty theater showing a film that makes you want to change your life. Stepping into a gallery and finding a photograph on the wall that makes you want to get in your car and drive across the United States looking for that elusive image that defines your heart.
I’ve always wanted to live the life of an artist. Not for the accolades, the money, the parties, or the recognition, but because when creative inspiration strikes, I feel alive. I feel connected and confident and brave in a way that can’t be duplicated by any kind of drink or drug. As a kid I loved to build models of airplanes, cars and ships, painstakingly pre-painting all of the parts and working on each detail under an articulating lamp in my bedroom, newspaper taped down to my desk. The hours would evaporate as I bent over the paintbrush and the tube of glue. My breathing would get louder as I concentrated, sanding the little plastic nubs off of the parts, organizing my little assembly line according to the instructions. But funny enough, when I was finished, I didn’t quite know what to do with the models other than put them on a shelf. As I was placing the final decals on the wings of a plane, or painting the white “Goodyear” on the tire of a dragster, my mind was already on the next model I was planning to make. Even then, I loved the process more than the result. I love the anticipation and the problem-solving aspect of being an artist. I love the feeling of relaxation that comes over my body when I am concentrating on one single thing. The past and the future melt away when you are truly communing with your craft. That’s the space I like living in.
I felt an instant kinship with Dax Shepard. Yes, there’s our shared interest in motorcycles and skateboarding, but there is also a transparency and wonder in regards to his career that I can really relate to. While many actors are trying so hard to be someone else on screen, Dax is trying so hard to be himself, and that is not only endearing, but inspiring. The films he has directed and the characters he’s inhabited in those films ride the line between fiction and reality, with scenes drawn unabashedly from his real-life relationships and experiences. It takes a great amount of fearlessness to show that much of yourself to the world, but as someone who has struggled with addiction his whole life, maybe keeping his heart on his sleeve is just what the doctor ordered. Dax was unafraid to peel back the layers of his life in our conversation, and I am emboldened by his candor. For better or for worse, (and I think better) neither of us has lived an unexamined life.