I thought I’d be married with kids by now.
A friend recently told me of an old saying in the Jewish community that goes, “We plan and God laughs.” I’m not sure how I feel about that, being from an old Southern Baptist family and all, where our saying goes more like, “If you’re happy and you know it, stop whatever you’re doing, because if you’re smiling and not in church then you’re a sinner, you evil sinner.” Anywho, whatever Faith you live by, you’ve got to admit, there’s some old truth in that first saying. Life never ends up the way we want it – and for the most part, that’s probably a good thing.
Maybe that’s why I have the theme to Rhoda playing in my head.
Well, when in Rome (or in this case, New York circa 1974)…
My name is Jason Williams.
And I’m a recovering romantic. But I’ve been sober for five years.
When I was four years old, I taught myself to draw by studying Fred Flintstone from a box of Fruity Pebbles; I’ll be forever indebted to the Post cereal company.
When I was seventeen, I became the first and youngest political cartoonist for our Parish newspaper. I was however fired a year after for confusing John Paul Jones and Patrick Henry with our Parish President and School Superintendent. Somehow having them in powder wigs yelling, “Give me Liberty of give me death” didn’t go over so well with our sponsors.
My high school Senior Year Art Show consisted of me doing a stand up bit in front of the parents riffing from my mom and her hatred of Smurfs and Frankenberry to my then non-existent dating life while co hosting a monthly radio show where Greedo from Star Wars did a rap song – it is only now when I’m starting to see a correlation between the three.
I got into art school not by a book of matches, but by my old high school sketchbook that with one look from the dean, gave me a full presidential scholarship, no portfolio required. Two years later I was nearly expelled for protesting against the dean’s sudden termination due to budget cuts. That same day, Oprah Winfrey was cleared of all charges in the Texas Beef lawsuit of ’98.
I like to think I had a hand in that somehow. (see The Butterfly Effect)
I’ve acted on stage, directed three short films, published a book series and comics in local newspapers, crashed a wedding party, competed in national art shows and film festivals and even placed a few times. All this and yet I still can’t pay off my student loans.
When I moved out here to Los Angeles nine years ago, it was initially to become a storyboard artist. The other eighty percent was to be with a girl who I’d find on Christmas day of that same year was cheating on me (yep, it happens to us too, ladies) with a guy who had more graffiti on his body than an abandoned warehouse in San Fernando.
So that, along with the dot.com and digital industry suddenly booming, there was no need for a hand-drawn illustrator anymore when you could do it all on the computer. Making it suddenly impossible to find a job, I went back to Louisiana two weeks into the New Year a mess. One night, I had a conversation with a relative about the entire ordeal and that I had planned to move back home. Then he said something to me that I’d be beholden to for the rest of my life.
He said, “Moving to California was your dream. It stopped being your dream when you went for her. You’ve got to go back out there, number one, all your stuff’s still there. But number two, you’ve got to go back out there for you.” So in January of 2005, I started living for me.
That’s easier said than done, because in between moving from job to job, struggling to pay rent on time in a town where a no-bedroom studio apartment’s rent is about as much as a double-decker house on Canal Street and watching friends get married and start lives of their own, I’d forgotten those last three words very quickly: living for me.
I’d become an eight-to six worker, a serial dater, babysitter, substitute teacher, writer, publisher, freelance artist and private tutor. I listened to friends on the phone at all hours of the day and night telling me of their hurts, their relationships, their worries and their pain. It got to the point where people stopped asking me about me, maybe because I allowed it. Maybe because I didn’t want to think much about me.
I once told a therapist that to me, helping people is like crack to an addict, “What’s this? You need help moving? Sniiiiiiiiiiiiiiffffffffffffffff… I’m on it.”
A stranger’s flat tire is my white line.
Little by little I didn’t draw so much anymore.
After a while longer, I stopped writing.
The next thing I knew I was having stress nightmares about students and kids needing help, my car flipping out of control and crashing into my old high school where I found I was naked on the day of an exam I’d forgotten. All the classics rolled up into one big theatrical terror.
So in short, I basically went to film school to tie shoes for a living – my personal record is twelve in under forty-two seconds.
No, I don’t really think that. I also wipe their noses when they cry, teach them how to draw Hello Kitty and Batman, help them learn to read, write and count. They learn to make friends, begin good manners, and I listen to the tears of a four year old who’s friend wasn’t there to play with them; not those of a thirty year old who stays in a bad relationship because it’s convenient.
I love what I do, I love working with kids. But as far as the above tying shoes for a living, I can’t lie; it certainly feels that way sometimes – especially when I look back on my thirty-six years… which really isn’t a long time.
I’m only thirty-six.
I’m not doing the things I want to be doing, or more importantly, what I should be doing.
So when September 12th came around last month, I realized I want to do more with my life this year.
I’ve been in California for nine years and haven’t surfed.
I’d been in Louisiana for twenty-seven years and never took a boat down the bayou.
I want to take voice lessons and sing on stage.
I want to learn salsa dancing and bike the coast.
I want to do stand up again, treat a cop to lunch, learn archery, and…
I want to be okay with failing.
So this year, September 12th won’t be just one day. I want to do something and have a story to tell and make some amazing moments so I can look back when all is said and done and be proud of my adventures.
There’s a whole lot of world out there, and I have three hundred and twenty seven days to find it.
To paraphrase the great Valerie Harper, ‘L.A., here’s your chance.’
(For the record, I always thought Rhoda was hot, I never got the whole ‘I’m so fat” thing. No, seriously, Google her, she was cute)