Over the past month, I’ve been consumed by this game called Pac-Man 256. Essentially, it’s one never-ending Pac-Man level with enhanced, upgradeable power-ups for battling ghosts and making your way further and further along this level. Patterns repeat, enemies multiply, and the further you go, the more time you lose wading through arcade limbo. There’s no ending. There’s no way out (except for death). All you can really do in Pac-Man 256 is accumulate a higher and higher score.
It helps to have friends for this game, friends you can compete with on the leaderboards. In my case, I’ve spent over 18 hours battling one friend for the top spot.
It’s a hollow victory, especially when you realize you’ve spent 18+ hours playing the same Pac-Man level over and over again, but it reminds me of my day job. I’ve spent four years writing and editing for an entertainment company that confuses “family entertainment” with schlock.
I used to justify my job by telling myself that it was making kids happy. But the company made it abundantly clear I wasn’t.
They decided to move the office to Florida and give me an end date. What contributions I made were filed away in a folder for anybody else to pull from when writing about company property, often copied and pasted by people who didn’t craft sentences for a living but tried anyway. Seeing their hackneyed blurbs sometimes left me ill. It must have been how the mother of Frankenstein’s monster felt when she heard her son was a piece-meal monolith terrorizing the countryside.
The office culture was great, though. I’ve never been in an environment as united as the ragtag group of marketeers I was apart of. Caught in an unending battle between the sales and brand departments, we were an assembly of artists, coordinators, and editors that remained productive in a corporate structure that bred only chaos. Upper-level executives exerted control by making bizarre changes to company protocol, and in a classic chess counter-maneuver, other upper-level executives exerted control by undoing as many of those changes as they could.
And there we were, in the thick of it, filtering all these demands from competing departments into one harmonious composition. We got good at it, too, learning from our victories and our losses.
And then life intervened.
I thought I was hot shit. I thought I was the best editor the company had ever had, playing my part and slowly building a copy empire by assimilating as many editorial tasks as possible. I thought this because somewhere along the line, I convinced myself that this was my destiny.
I was like that guy at the beginning of the first Mad Max. The Night Rider. Barreling down the highway screaming about destiny and my place of dominance in the world. And like the Night Rider, Max was waiting just down the road, revving his engine. Sooner or later he’d catch up and remind me of my place.
When I signed my end-date paperwork, the crash hit. I felt betrayed. Four years of music, four years of rhythm was at an end, and I had no idea what I was going to do next. All I knew was the anger bubbling within, the hatred, the rage. I wanted to make this about them, the upper-level executives, when it was really about me.
Keeping a live entertainment company afloat wasn’t my destiny. The writing I accomplished wasn’t my own ideas or my own words. They were fluff pieces, marketing materials, PR spin. They were junk.
As that rage surfaced in my everyday interactions with people, so did my realization that all of this was out of my control. It always had been, but as I tricked myself into believing I had control, I grew soft, focused solely on work, and let my own personal writing slide. My homegrown ideas festered and rotted. Flash pieces went unfinished. Novels remained half-started.
I was being a fool.
Work was bread and butter. Entertaining people with my own, original work is my destiny. Like the Night Rider, I wanted to lay down a rubber road right to freedom, but in my comfort zone, I fell asleep at the wheel and hadn’t realized I was heading the wrong way. I became angry when life tried to turn me around, struggling against a direction that had always been inevitable.
I breathed easier today than I have in a month or so now. A new Literary Orphans issue is out, celebrating a woman whose work I’ve used as motivation for years. A new job opportunity is on the horizon. Two new flash pieces of mine are awaiting judgment, and I’m hard at work writing a novel about robots.
Life is meant to be pulse-pounding, and it’s exciting to just… go with it.
Read my latest 100-word movie review for A Man Called Ove at Drunk Monkeys!