How I met my mortality
Kids, back in the year 1995 I saw a Discovery Channel documentary chronicling a group of mathematicians who inadvertently created an algorithm predicting the exact date that man will master time travel. Realizing I’d been given the coordinates to The Holy Grail, I grabbed the nearest pencil and scribbled it in my journal for safekeeping. Years later, I retrieved the diary from a cardboard box that had been stored in a damp basement, only to discover that the information had evaporated into a pastel green mist.
In my haste, I had taken notes with a Faber-Castell watercolor pencil.
Although I don’t remember the exact date, it was sometime in the imminent future. (August 2017 seems to ring a bell.) In the twenty years since the show aired, I’ve never once doubted the inevitability of time travel. In my earnestness, I’ve also failed to recognize the non-renewable resource that is time.
September 30, 1996: The golden age of Miramax. The Boston indie film is booming. Kenneth Branagh is directing Neil Patrick Harris in “The Proposition”. Local screenwriters Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are shooting their maiden project, “Good Will Hunting.” Robin Williams is its star.
Aspiring to be the next Jodie Foster, I have stopped out of my junior year at Emerson College to work as an office assistant on a project called “Next Stop Wonderland.” When my colleagues and I aren’t busting our butts on set, we’re supporting our fellow auteurs at screenings, panels and industry events; united in proving to Hollywood that Boston filmmakers have got the goods.
Of all the productions about town, ours is the greenest. From the real estate magnate-turned-Executive Producer to the production assistant coordinating Transportation Department logistics, it’s pretty much everyone’s first rodeo —a detail that does not go unnoticed by the teamsters’ local. Eventually they negotiate key crew positions by driving on set and honking their horns until they are granted a contract.
My immediate supervisor is a 23 year-old Boston University grad with exactly one film under his belt. He’s Macgyvered our company’s legal department with boilerplate documents gleaned from his college textbooks. I am learning how to type by hunting and pecking every draft of every single contract—baptism by redline.
As an assistant, I am included in every part of the process, from editing scripts to processing production reports. While I love the endless supply of Left Brain stimulation, the actor inside of me —the one who’s connected to the emotional nature of storytelling —is sitting idle and itching to get out. While my mind is cultivating tremendous business acumen, my spirit is sewing seeds of restlessness that will haunt me for the better part of two decades, resolving itself only when I move to Savannah and stumble upon my life’s purpose as a writer and a psychic medium.
Sensing my frustration, one of the film’s stars — an unknown Phillip Seymour Hoffman— nonchalantly stops by my desk to chat. Phil is a production office regular who loves hanging out with the crew after his scenes are wrapped for the day. We commiserate over our mutual passion for working on both sides of the camera. His parting words: “The lead character’s name is Erin. They should’ve just hired you for the part.” It’s the exact validation I need in the moment.
Phil’s pitch-perfect sensitivity towards others is what makes him a master craftsman. For the next 17 years, I follow his career, living vicariously through his work while fearing commitment to my own. When rejected by Dirk Diggler in “Boogie Nights”, his despondent cries of “I’m a fucking idiot” echo my own self-loathing. The obscene calls he places to strange women in “Happiness” reflect my desperate need for human connection. Every nuanced performance an apt metaphor for the things I so desperately want in life but can’t stop running from.
I run because time is an unlimited resource; it will always be here, welcoming me with open arms and abundant opportunities if only I muster the courage to jump in.
Time is a tricky metric, kids. Even though it passes at the same rate for all of us, Phil spent his committing to his craft, building an arsenal of some of the most meticulously complex characters in the history of cinema. Meanwhile, I pissed it away, running from commitment and mastering the art of self-sabotage.
Yet somehow, I am the one who escaped unscathed.
February 2, 2014: It’s the Age of Aquarius. The Savannah spiritual scene is gaining momentum. At age 40, I am finally coming into my own, helping others connect with their loved ones who have passed. By night’s end, Phil and I are commiserating one final time, over the regret that his children will someday know that he left this world with a needle in his arm.
2014 doesn’t just herald Phil’s passing; six months later Robin Williams is torn away from us in the most heart wrenching way, marking the end of an era. The Great White Shark and his Megladon predecessor extinct forever more.
Like time travel, I’ve always known that death is inevitable. I just never understood that the process is piecemeal, killing us incrementally in the moments when the life that we took for granted are stolen away from us forever.
Originally published in Connect Savannah (p. 52)