Monday, January 16, 2012

Gaming and the Screenwriting/Cartooning Widower #1 -- Meeting the Cartoonist


A few years ago, my wife Jody and I decided to attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon while riding a rocket aided motorcycle.  Okay, that's not exactly true.  We decided to attempt something even more impossible.  We decided that Jody was going to become a successful screenwriter and cartoonist.  Jody applied to USC's prestigious School of Cinema and Television, and we counted the days until the rejection letter would arrive and shatter all our dreams.

That day didn't come.  Instead, we received a very large envelope inviting Jody to attend the school.  We were elated, but also quite amazed by the situation.  I think Jody best described our emotional state when we first arrived on the USC campus in order to get her a student ID card.  She said, "But Christian...no one actually gets to go to school here.  This place is for remarkable people."

There was no irony in her tone when she made the statement.  She believed it.  You see, Jody has a serious case of underestimating her own talents and worth.  In Champions/HERO System terms, Jody has around a 30 point psychological disadvantage in this regard.  On the plus side, she spent all 30 of these points on her various skills and talents. 

Last week, Jody started up a blog called "Are You Famous Yet?" where she has been sharing her thoughts and experiences as she navigates the mysterious pathways that make up the Entertainment industry, or as it is typically called in Los Angeles...The Industry.  I thought that I would spend some of my blogging time sharing some of my own experiences as a "Screenwriting/Cartooning Widower."  Jody's struggles and long hours would make for lonely days and evenings were it not for the fact that I am an avid gamer and a working graduate student.

Speaking of gaming, the idea for the title of this post and subsequent posts on the subject, come from an article in issue 54 of Steve Jackson Games' old gaming magazine The Space Gamer. 

When I was an undergraduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno it was a golden age for that schools Cartoons page.  There were two well done cartoon strips (one about college life and one about a bear), and one cartoon strip that was something quite special.  That special cartoon strip had a truly bizarre name.  It was called Nicnup, and it told the story of a group of young people as they encountered life's oddities.  To say it "told a story" is a bit of a misstatement.  It contained jokes which featured young people encountering life's oddities. 

I had no idea who drew the strip, but I read it religiously in every issue of The Sagebrush.  It was the primary reason I read the school's paper.  It was a great strip that seemed to be getting better every issue as the artist better learned the craft.  I had no idea who the artist was, only that this person was named Jody Lindke.  (For those of you wondering, I took my wife's last name.)

One day I was sitting watching NFL in the television room of one of the dorms, I was waiting to see my friend Rich, when I see this friendly looking young woman carrying her bicycle up to her room.  I quickly ask if she would like to watch the game with me and she said yes.  After taking her bike back up to the room, we watched the game and chatted.  Mostly, we chatted.  I was quite smitten by this young woman named Jody and made arrangements to chat with her again in the near future.  Several more discussions later, I was inviting her to play in a Champions superhero campaign that I was running for some other friends.  She asked what day we played and I told her Monday.  She said she would be delighted to come but that she had to make sure she met her deadline first.

"Deadline?...hmm...?"  The words sounded important, but I made no connection at the time.  It wasn't until after a couple of weeks playing that I finally figured it out.  Jody was running late for the game, so I walked up to her dorm room to see if she could make it and that was when I found out she was the illustrator of Nicnup.  I was surprised.  Here I have been the friend of the best cartoonist in the school paper for over a month, and I had no idea that Jody and Jody Lindke were the same person...even after hearing references to this mysterious "deadline" thing.  I guess I'm pretty dense.

Anyway, for the next few months Jody would either show up on time or be late as the muse hit her or she struggled through coming up with a new idea/joke and therein lies the root of screenwriting/cartooning widower-dom.  The creative muse.  Coming up with ideas is difficult, more so when you are trying to come up with an idea that has the potential to entertain millions of people -- quite a few more than the thousands she entertained with her cartoon strips.

In the years since graduating, Jody no longer plays in my gaming groups.  She likes the people I game with, she likes the hobby, but the time she needs for her creative efforts has multiplied a hundred fold.  When we were in college, I could count the number of times she had to stay up all night to finish a cartoon on my fingers and toes. 

In the time since, I have lost count of the number of all-nighters Jody has experienced in the advancement of her career.  But there is one that comes to mind more vividly than any other.  It was the first "mix-week" she experienced at USC.  Twice each semester, student films have their sound mixes completed in a mad dash cram called "mix week."  During this time, the sound designers, sound department, and TAs work for a full week without ever coming home.  Near as I can tell, they work the entire week without any kind of sleep whatsoever. 

The frantic nature of these weeks, as well as film school in general, made for a pretty lonely marriage experience.  Pre-film school, we were a couple who essentially dated every night and had massive movie marathons every weekend.  During film school, I was lucky to see Jody for more than 5 minutes on some days.  I imagine that this kind of grueling schedule could put a strain on a relationship, but it didn't strain ours.  I made sure to visit Jody on her campus as much as possible, and I had my gaming hobby to fill in the lonely hours while she put her nose to the grindstone.  I was working full-time and in a Grad program, but I was the one with "oodles" of idle time in comparison to Jody.  I never felt resentment that Jody "didn't want to spend time with me."  It was pretty clear every time that I saw her that she would much rather spend time with me, but the demands on her time were severe. 

I was also lucky that Jody didn't resent my gaming time.  Yes, there was some minor resentment for the tabletop gaming I got to do.  That was spending time with other people after all, but there was absolutely no resentment for the hours I spent playing Final Fantasy.  Or as Jody calls it, "the walk around on the very big map and do nothing game."

The key thing I had to focus on was to make sure that my gaming time lined up with her busy time, and that I was free as often as possible during her free time.  Let me stress that this free time was not a lot of time, and that whatever time there was had to be spent doing more than watching a 30 minute sit-com.  There was often a week's (or two) worth of discussion about the world.  There was the need for hugs and quality time.  I made every moment count, and I think I managed to let her know how deeply loved she is in my efforts to cram a weeks worth of marriage into 45 minutes.

Film school was good practice for Jody's time in the "Industry Agency" trenches.  Those were days when she not only worked long, but in an environment that isn't exactly conducive to self-esteem.

I learned a lot about marriage during film school, about what is really important.  Communication and letting your spouse know your care are vital.  When your spouse is working ridiculously hard, it is important to recognize the fact and to sympathize.  Don't think they are doing it because they want to be away from you.  That way lies madness.

Instead, pick up a book, a hobby, or a "long map game" to pass the time, and use that time to think about how you are going to maximize the little together time that you are going to have together.  May I recommend quick jaunts to Culver City or Monrovia for dinner, or a nice hike at Griffith Park, or a brisk walk on the beach. 

When your spouse is trying to get a paying gig in a creative field, it's important to remember to be the net/parachute.  Don't resent any work you have to do to support them, financially or emotionally.  Because your loved one is taking the rocket jump across Snake River Canyon and they are scared enough without having to worry about how things are going at home.
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