…and other thoughts on Making IT
On graduation morning in July of 2011, a Goddard College advisor asked me how I felt about my post-Goddard future. There wasn’t a feeling. Just an image. A few weeks prior to graduation I had seen the Amelia Earhart biopic, starring Hilary Swank, and the final scene aptly depicted the image I had. The solo plane. Amelia flying it. Surrounded by miles of ocean in every direction. And just a little fuel.
I knew what I wanted to do after graduation; I knew what I had to do, and now I had better tools to do it, but I didn’t have any guarantees or infallible formulas for success. Also known as “making IT”—an expression I heard in excess from the fame and fortune seekers (also known as dreamers) when I worked as a grunt in Hollywood.
It’s a mistake to think of being a writer as a “dream,” or that “making it” (as in making your dreams come true) is the definable measure of “success,” especially when what is usually meant is financial success and/or fame. When I get the chance to write, whether it’s for hours on a day off or for a half hour on my lunch break, I am a writer. When I create characters and structure a story that I start, finish, and revise, whether on paper, on my laptop, or in my mind, I am a writer. When I read, whether for research or for fun, I am a writer. When I’m out in the world simply observing, I am a writer. In fact, when I wake up in the morning, I am a writer.
Being a writer is a constant state of being; it’s in my DNA, like being left-handed. I can’t not do it. To not write feels unnatural and, at times, like an illness—think of Geoffrey Rush suffering withdrawals from writing when he played Marquis De Sade in Quills. A day without writing, or even revising, seems unbalanced; I feel like I have one of those traveling, unscratchable itches that lasts until the next time I’m simply putting sentences together, inventing characters and translating their thoughts and actions to tell a story.
Instead of measuring my “success” by fame and fortune, I’ve decided that the “getting my novel published” part of the process is actually more about my want and need to share my story, which proposes a unique perspective on bullying, gun control, and how an individual’s cultural identity, or lack of, may influence him or her. In order to protect and control my emotional attachment, however, I’ve also decided that I need to treat the publishing game as a separate mountain to climb—a goal, dare I say a “mission.” Unlike “dreams,” goals and missions aren’t forgotten while eating breakfast. They are pondered, planned out, and realized, and they border on being an obsession that is driven by what some might categorize as insanity. As I’ve discovered, the process can take a while, and sacrifice and even compromise are essential ingredients. Recently, this has helped me realize that non-traditional and innovative methods can be, and usually are, the best way to achieve goals and accomplish missions. I think of Rocky Balboa and all his unorthodox training methods that led to seemingly impossible victories; or, in real life, I look back to the innovative brilliance that filmmakers like Richard Rodriguez and Kevin Smith implemented in order to get their movies made and distributed.
It has been almost four years since graduation day, and I feel the same. Still seemingly surrounded by miles of ocean in every direction. However, I had a hell of a lot more fuel than I ever thought I would need for writing my novel and getting it published. It’s crazy, but I’ve been dedicated to this story and its characters for six years. Goddard was only a third of that. And I only wrote half of the finished product there. I continue to revise, of course, in part because I haven’t found a publisher, but also because I love living this story over and over. Similar to “Wilson”, the volleyball that Tom Hanks has for companionship and as a symbol of hope in the film Cast Away, I have had this story and its characters to keep me going. They entertain me. They make me laugh and cry, and they thrill me and make me think. And, most importantly, re-experiencing this story re-builds my confidence in the novel’s potential. As one of my main characters would tell me: “Today it’s good, but tomorrow it’s really fucking good. From a Ford Pinto to a spit-shined showroom Maserati that moves like a coked-up stripper with a monkey to feed.”
I have to believe that Amelia Earhart’s plane didn’t crash. I have to believe that even though she may have been surrounded by miles of ocean in every direction, the fuel she had within kept her going; it kept her in the sky where she felt balanced and natural. She had set a goal and she was on a mission. It’s hard to imagine anything could prevent her, Amelia Earhart—a strong woman with so much determination, skill, and passion—from completing her mission and reaching her goal. That would mean taking her out of the sky and bringing her back to earth against her will, and conceding that she failed somehow. It just doesn’t seem possible.
As a writer, I have conceded this: my fuel may not get me to where I’m trying to go and how I want to get there, but it’s enough to succeed. Even if my success is simply defined as achieving the pure and unique joy that comes from what I create on a blank page and seeing it through to an end that is worth experiencing over and over. And, the most important part: sharing it.
Tony Buccola Jr. is the author of the upcoming novel My Tribe Called Mafia, which is the coming-of-age story of a bullied high school freshman who learns the ropes of being a “made man” from his smooth-talking, suavely-dressed uncle. At school, he offers his protection services to the new kid, a Chumash Indian who teaches him to surf in return. Whether they call it Mafia or tribe, together they find family. Tony grew up in Westlake Village, CA, which is the setting for his novel. He earned Bachelor’s degrees in creative writing and public relations from Pepperdine University, and he earned his MFA from Goddard College. He currently lives with his wife in the St. Johns neighborhood of Portland, OR. He can be reached via email at email@example.com