Influences: Billy Wirth and the Best Advice I’ve Ever Gotten

So the other day I talked about the oddly profound effect The Lost Boys has had on my creative life, so we’ll just piggy back on that theme today because it’s the weekend and thinking, ugh.

I’ve mentioned this story before on podcasts and in interviews when talking about influences and advice for authors/creatives in general. I wanted to share it here because not only does it fit the theme and fill up an entry, but it’s a great example of how simple sentiment and advice can have a profound real-world effect. It’s also evidence of my giant dorkiness, so there’s entertainment value for ya, too.

I also feel bad, because I had promised Billy’s fan club gal, the amazing Max, a write up when I first met him and that may have been back in 2009. I would just like every editor that I have worked with to feel better about themselves and recount this time lapse any time they’re tapping their foot at me. It could always be worse. Seriously, at the time I kept getting massive costume workloads dumped on me, a lot of life stuff happened, and then through the years, I discovered a horrible, awful truth.

You guys, I’m so bad at being a fangirl. For real. I know I geek out about a lot and I’ve regularly moderated fandom panels at different cons (though I still think it’s because I helped diffuse a brawl at one), you’d think this would be cake. I love what I love, I appreciate the people who have made those things to a huge degree, but I can’t really separate the part of me that likes to analyze and wants to know how things work and is used to looking at things/critiquing from different angles. At the end of the day, I’d rather just talk to people as people then try to put a fandom spin on it or jump around because they’ve been in something I love (and there is nothing wrong with that, if that’s your deal, you do you).

I tried. I tried so hard, and I am just so bad at writing the ‘hey I met this person this is what they’re like’ kind of post without having a theme or a guiding moment to base it around. I end up feeling like a creeper. Case in point: I actually had the idea for this post in the spring, knowing the 30 year anniversary of Lost Boys was coming up. I started jotting down what I remembered from that first convention meeting…

And I may have turned it into the intro for a horror story. I tried again. And turned it into an outline for a novel about the symbiotic nature of fandom and the dynamic of fans and celebs involving ancient gods and soul sucking.

I swear I’m not a bad person.

So, I’m going back to the anecdote that I know will work and, so help me, I am going to do this. I won’t be able to be overly descriptive or starry-eyed, but there are plenty of posts telling you what the Lost Boys convention experience is like. Apologies in advance for tangents and background info – my blog, my rules, yo.

Winter of 2009 was a weird, turning-point time for me. I was slowly getting freelance work and doing more side gigs along with seasonal creative day job, but before I really got a sense of confidence in myself. It was directly after the death of my grandfather, and the family had recently gone through a tumultuous time. While on break from seasonal job, the holiday gigs stretched out much longer than usual, with some extra opportunities coming up, plus some business and other curve balls.  It was a lot all at once during a time when I should have been hibernating, and I was exhausted and emotionally burnt out.

I tell you this to really give context to the fact that when someone sent me a link about a Lost Boys reunion at Horror Hound Indianapolis, I thought it was a great idea to go. Because I am a genius like that. At the time I just needed to get away, and what harm would a weekend be? Yeah, then I was suddenly told I had to get my tail back to the day job the day after the convention or else. And everything I had known there was being shifted around with the workload doubling and tripling up. And with everything going on and coming to a head, I kinda sorta didn’t really sleep for five days leading up to the con. In retrospect, this was probably a vague foreshadowing of the medical mystery tour, but in the absence of mind-numbing pain or any real symptoms, my doc figured I was grieving and said to go live it up as long as I didn’t drive myself there.

Thank god for friends who are eternally patient and understanding, and I’m forever grateful to my friend Laurean for going with me. This was also the first time I had set foot in a con, so it was a total learning experience (though I’d been working on haunted events for like five years anyway, so it wasn’t like I didn’t feel fine at a horror convention). At that point, I kept half an eye on the fandom and had been talked into joining Billy Wirth’s fan club mailing list. I mention I’m going, get encouraged to say hi and all that great stuff, maybe take some pictures and do a write up for the web page (and you can see how well that went).

Another curveball: I’m so shy, guys. Even my best friends refuse to believe it, and yeah, give me a sewing machine, give me a script, put me in a panel or production meeting and watch me go, point me to an editor at a bar to talk to about an idea, fine, but just to like show up somewhere and make small talk with people? You have no idea the amount of psyching myself up that I have to do. Now, after more experience, it’s not as bad, but back then, especially on top of everything else, yeah, but I was going to try my best to fake it and fall on that sword a million times before chickening out. We finally arrive, check in, get our wristbands, start looking around. My friend suddenly yanks on my sleeve “Oh hey, there he is and there’s no one at the table. Let’s go!”

Now, despite my twitchy feelings on fandom, if you go back a post, you know how deeply I feel about The Lost Boys. I love that movie and I probably owe it a lot. Billy’s also an actor that I half was aware of through the nineties, but this was before wiki and Google and so it took me a long time to realize that a lot of the performances in stuff that I liked or that intrigued me were actually the same guy. And the cast hadn’t really don’t much in the Midwest, so now, here, was an awesome opportunity. And okay I was nervous and emotionally exhausted, but I had read up on stuff and I’d just try acting like what a fan was supposed to act like and yes I know that was the dumbest idea ever.

Needless to say, Laurean, who thought she knew me completely, was somewhat startled when I looked over at her declaration, had a sudden flood of panic, and decided “You know what, yeah, I’m just gonna go back to the room, laterz.”

Though she wasn’t as startled as I was when she glowered at me, physically lifted me off my feet, and dragged me over to the Lost Boys tables, where Billy was on his own and setting up. I really don’t know which of the three of us was more surprised. Tact and grace, that’s what I’m all about.

So yeah, this is the bit you came for, I know. Intros are made, and I’ve said before how awesome all the Lost Boys dudes are, but seriously, I can’t stress this enough. It was probably the best first con experience I could have had, in all honesty. Billy, himself, is super sweet, though I think the thing that always strikes me when I’ve been around him is how present he is. It’s something you don’t see very often, and I’m always struck by how much he listens to people and takes things in. It’s an enviable trait. Truly, watching him and the others interact with people prepared me for when I finally got on the other side of the table in a way I could never have predicted, and for that alone I’m grateful.

Standard fan interaction and transactions commence, there’s not a crowd so we start talking about stuff. I’m exhausted and my brain isn’t functioning great for small talk, but he’s very kind and doesn’t flip a table on me or anything. I mention vaguely that I’ve done entertainment work (in that delightfully dismissive way I’ve had to make myself stop doing).  He asks the sort of thing I do.

Ugh.

I’m still kind of amazed I stayed put, at the time. I’ve never been great about walking around with my resume stapled to my head. These days, I’m better about it, but at the time I was keenly aware of all the things I hadn’t done. It tended to slip my mind that I’d worked with a lot of great theatres and opera and amusement parks, licensed properties and other stuff. And so much was just so weird, and how do you even throw that into a conversation? I mean I’ve wrecked dinner parties and gotten out of bad dates with work conversation, that’s the level of weird I’ve been at. And damn it, every time I tried to be dismissive he kept asking follow up questions, and I really wasn’t used to that. He was patient and I think I sort of vaguely fumbled through an explanation and mentioned how I was frustrated with where I was at and really wanted to do more design type work, I was still trying to find my exact niche, insert standard artistic angst here.

Since then, having been on the other side of the table, I get that there are certain conversations that you’re going to have at these things, and I get that he was likely being nice and trying to be supportive while determining if I was a vague threat to his personage. Still, what he said next has stayed with me to this day:

“Well, you know, you just have to keep at it, just keep working.”

In a story, this would be the turning point in which the protagonist realized this wisdom and begins reapplying herself, cue montage of projects toward the next plot development. In reality, it was all I could do to not lean across the table and smack him (That is a joke.  Also, he’s like three feet taller than me and could’ve easily blocked that).

Beyond the whole frazzled bit, you’ve got to understand that at that point I’d been working professionally for about a decade. That’s not a lot in the scheme of things, but it felt like I was going nowhere and wasn’t figuring things out. Plus, I don’t really see it, but I’ve been told by more than a few people that my will power is apparently off the human scale. Brooke was fond of referring to that part of me as a pit bull because when I apply myself to something, that’s it. My will is iron until I know for a fact that things won’t come together. So, my immediate thought to being told to just keep working was something like What the hell do you think I’ve been doing why are you giving me this motivational la de da you don’t know my life, what the what?!?! Quitting is not an option!!!

I didn’t say that out loud because that would have been dumb, and it was obvious he meant well and didn’t say it to brush me off. I have no idea how much of a poker face I actually kept, but I’m sure the entertainment value of that whole conversation was amazing. And if I didn’t let on, then awesome, all the acting classes worked out!

We also had some great conversations about the clothes in the movie, I met Brooke, Chance, and G the next day, and all in all it was a great weekend. I went back to my life, hit the ground running, and although I didn’t want to admit it, at times Billy’s words were in the back of my mind. Where they ticked me off again. So, I went back to what I was doing.

The thing is…I inadvertently, instinctively followed his advice. In the following years, I made the decision to embrace the experiences offered to me to see what would happen. While this hasn’t bagged me Hollywood gigs, it did flesh out my resume a lot and provided a lot of material that no one would believe if I wrote my autobiography. I was a goth mascot for a roller derby team for a while, I did more freelance design work, puppeteered with a fairly known company on their holiday show for a couple years.

Costume-wise, I really started putting myself out there and ended up working on all sorts of stage shows: kid shows, character shows, ice shows, magic shows, Cirque-style stuff, musical review, indoor, outdoor, did tailoring and rigging for people, a logistics manual on some stuff for a place in Canada…I made all sorts of haunted attraction characters and started getting invited to production meetings I hadn’t been part of in the past. And I got comfortable with my weird and in meeting challenges like making a Dracula costume for a 20 foot T Rex statue, a pirate costume for an animatronic dinosaur, a grim reaper jumping out of a giant birthday cake, and things like a goth rocker fairy tale werewolf. On stilts. With the only budget going to the stilts and safety gear. I warned you: so weird. 

Billy’s words didn’t really come back to me until a couple of years later, when I was fully in the grasp of the medical mystery tour, on my seasonal break, and waiting to figure out what the hell was wrong with me. I was in pain, I was getting a few hours of sleep every four days or so, and my full attention was on trying to keep healthy, juggling doctor appointments and calls, and distracting myself from falling apart. After exhausting youtube videos and meditation, I decided that I really, really wanted to take up writing again. I’d never given it a fair shot, and after being mistold at the time that I might have cancer, it occurred to me that I didn’t want to not try something that could make me really happy. The mountain was overwhelming, but his words came back to me all of a sudden, out of nowhere.

Just keep working.

This time, I consciously kept them in the front of my mind, even clung to them, because everything was a fight at that point. So I would make myself get up (or sit up if it was a bed day), pull up a document, and get to it until I sent out a submission, then start a new one. If it got rejected, edit and repeat. I kept it up through the surgery that made me feel human again, through starting the day job back up, and slowly, things began to happen.

Whether it was a platitude or not (and I truly don’t think it was), the brilliance of advice like that is it’s so simple and applicable in different ways. You don’t get anywhere unless you work at it. There’s no networking, no improving skills, no figuring things out if you aren’t doing it. Sure, it’s not guaranteed where you’ll end up, but if you don’t keep at it, you won’t get there, anyway. You also won’t learn to enjoy the journey if you don’t keep taking it. You won’t learn about yourself and how to deal with all the irritations and other emotions that all these experiences bring if you don’t go through them. Frustration is part of the game, and I’ve had a lot of it, but I’ve kept that advice with me for years. I’ve given it on panels about writing and creating and gotten the same irritable look I tried to cover up when it was given to me. Circle of life, yo.

Although I wasn’t thankful for the words at the time, they’re a good reminder these days, and I’m so glad I got to meet Billy and have that conversation with him. Hell, even his good intentions were so far beyond what I was used to at that point, it was a definite wake-up call to start searching out people who would actually be interested and invested in what I was doing and not waste personal energy with those who were there to play games or drag others down.

If you take a look at this blog, there’s a giant series of holes. I’ve taken steps back over the past year and a half until recently, and part of that was that I just really had to look at where my writing was, where other things were, and how I want to proceed. I’m not sure that it’s another crossroads, but I’ve had to get honest with myself whether the path I’m on is working, and how to realign things to where I want them to be. It’s pretty obvious that I couldn’t stop creating stuff if I tried (and I did. It sucked), but restarting has been intimidating as hell. It’s hard not to put the cart before the horse and worry about all the ins and outs and how to play every situation or let other aspects and things I can’t control get to me. It’s all part of it, like it or not. At the end of the day, though, I’m deciding to get back to it and see what else there is to do. It’s not easy, it’s not always fun, but the only way I can ever find out just what all I can do is by keeping with it.

Or, as I’ve been told, just keep working.

 

DV IMAGE
and seriously, every one of the lost boys crew look like walking headshots and it took me 97 hours to get to this point.

 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s