If you missed it: Read Part I.
“Maybe you should write some kind of blog while you’re out there?”
It was no more than a 1 second verbalization, the simplest suggestion from a close friend who happened to be driving the Hyundai. I felt a pang of excitement, the kind I used to get as a kid on Christmas Eve. It was a feeling I hadn’t had since graduating college, and I was starting to believe it might fade with age. But there it was again. I would definitely write a blog. That is what I would do.
In Saigon, I fell quickly in love with writing. It became an addiction. I found that I could black out on writing just as effectively as I could black out on booze. In the midst of the debauchery that occupies most of the book, I would sometimes leave the bar and sneak back to my hotel and get in a few hours hammering my warped observations down in drunken prose. I’d spend the lonely nights reading everything, re-writing the best passages of McCarthy and Steinbeck just to feel it on my fingers.
In some pre-debt world, I could’ve forsaken law and become an itinerant writer living off wits and wits alone. But waiting back in the real world, I still had school and all the familial, societal, and financial pressures it entails. I’d wagered so much time and money (even with a scholarship, I was in well over $100,000 in debt), but was I really going to unplug and chalk law school up to a youthful mistake?
I’d love to say that my rejection of the safe road was a clean, decisive break; a backflip from a cliff into murky waters. But it wasn’t. I wish I had left that Law Review suite Jerry McGuire style, screamed “fuck you loser!” to the Managing Editor and pitched a tent in the Ninth Ward. But it wasn’t like that. It was more like a bad swimmer tepidly toeing into a cold pool. I limped through 2L year and summer Internships at two New Orleans corporate law firms, then crawled through 3L year, finishing nowhere near the top ten where I’d placed at the end of 1L. I skipped my graduation ceremony and moved in with a cousin in San Francisco for the summer, where I took and passed the California bar.
Despite having been on Law Review and graduating magna cum laude, I had no job prospects. The two New Orleans firms where I’d interned both declined to give me offers, and I wouldn’t have taken them anyway. In law-school-saturated California, it was 2012, the worst hiring year in US legal history, and the tiny amount of outreach I’d conducted towards firms resulted in silence. I moved to LA, because there was nothing else to do, and searched for jobs in or around “entertainment law.” Having been recently afflicted with the creative drive, I figured entertainment law would at least get me close to my fix.
But there’s a sad secret about “entertainment law,” one that nobody bothers to tell you before you dive in. While the work occurs within a close proximity to the creative process, geographically speaking, the practice itself couldn’t be further away. Many creative law school graduates fall into this trap. Being an entertainment lawyer is somewhat like working security at a sports stadium, where you’re stationed just outside the field so you can hear the crowd but can’t see the game. If you’re sports fan, it’s enough to drive you insane.
I’ll save the details of my first two legal-ish Hollywood jobs for another post, but suffice to say I was unceremoniously fired and escorted out of both of them. Being so close to creatives, but relegated to paper pushing, was just too much to handle. Getting fired was painful and scarring, but after the dust cleared clarity arose. What I wanted, even though I was terrified to admit it, was to be one of the creatives I’d been pushing paper for. More than writing itself, I wanted to be a writer.
There is a mental cliff that you have to jump off to be the person you want to be—the one that you can’t quite believe you actually are. It’s the biggest cliché in the world, but that fact is that nobody is going to believe that you are a thing until you believe it first. So many of us wait around for the world to tell us what we are, but the truth is that the world doesn’t know either. It’ll beat you up if you’re on the wrong path, as it did to me, and it’ll reward you with hamster pellets of money and happiness if you’re on the right one, but it’ll never tell you, with certainty, “this is it.” You have to find that for yourself and when you do you have to be more certain about it than life is. Most lawyers have the drive and work ethic to be anything, but they can’t find the thing. So they work next to the thing, filling out its paperwork, sneering at its impracticality, without ever realizing that the thing was what they wanted the whole time.
After I decided I was a writer, and held myself out that way, the dominoes started falling. I started a blog of stories and essays that got the attention of VICE and LA Weekly. I became a freelance writer for both of them, and ultimately a regular columnist for the Weekly. I built a content portfolio for brands which, in today’s warped writing market, sometimes allows for more creativity than traditional journalism.
Still, the transition has been difficult and is ongoing. The debt hasn’t gone away; in fact it’s only grown. For awhile I bartended on the side, though today I do make a living entirely on writing and content creation. Is it the $160,000/year some of my luckier classmates make at big firms? Not even remotely close. But–probably like you if you’ve read this far–I wasn’t born to push papers in exchange for a large house. I wasn’t born to be comfortably upper middle class. I was born to take risks, test limits, and burn a path of truth through the relentless onslaught of endless bullshit.
Once things leveled off, I knew it was time to complete a project that I had been feeding on-and-off for five years. It was a story that I needed to tell: the events that initiated my drastic trajectory shift, the reasons for bailing out of what might have been a successful legal career. The story of what happened after that car ride to Louis Armstrong International Airport in the summer of 2010, when I left America a kid and came back an adult. The story of a guy finding his place in the world.
If you’d like to take the ride with me, you can check out my book here. The purpose of my writing is to challenge. Some people get very angry or upset reading my work, which I thoroughly enjoy, and which you can watch in real time by following me on Facebook. What I really hope you’ll do, however, is subscribe to this blog and join me on this journey.