Who I Am, How I Came to Be

Chaos in Print

There was absolutely nothing on TV the other night, so I sat down and popped Jersey Girl in the DVD player. I like Kevin Smith films and, despite its flaws, I still find Jersey Girl to be an enjoyable film. In case you’ve never seen it (which is likely), let me give you the Coles Notes. Ben Affleck is a successful publicist. He meets, falls in love with, gets married to, and knocks up Jennifer Lopez. J-Lo dies in childbirth, leaving Affleck to play the role of single father bereft with grief. He tries to deal with his grief by ignoring his infant daughter and burying himself in work, but that ultimately gets him fired. At this point he decides to turn his life around and become a dedicated father. Don’t worry, I haven’t spoiled the film. This all happens in the first 15 minutes.

Most of the film takes place when the baby daughter is 7 years old. Affleck is now a dedicated city worker and a devoted father, but he still longs for his life as a rich, powerful publicist. He’s spent the last 7 years sending out resume after resume, trying to break back into the business. Of course, this causes tension, because everyone around him has grown comfortable with their lives and having Affleck back in their lives. Liv Tyler – the woman with whom Affleck learns to love again – sums up the film’s central theme when she sits Affleck down and tells him, “Stop trying to be who you were, and accept who you are.”

As I watched the film, I couldn’t help but think if I have reached a point similar to this. It all started way back in 1996, when I got it in my head to start doing a radio show on Augustana University’s radio station. Granted, it was only available to the campus through closed circuit, and half the campus didn’t know how to plug in, but it was a radio station nonetheless. It was a tumultuous time for CLCR. A declining listenership had opened the debate as to the purpose of the station. While everyone was debating, there was a bit of a talent void at the station…and I was there to fill that void.

I had only been there for a month when I took to the airwaves under the name of Scarecrow. It was kind of weird. It was the closest thing my floor in the freshman dorm did to an event. They’d all gather in the floor lounge when my show was on and listen to my show. In my morning classes the next day, people would come up to me and go, “Man, that was a good show last night!” As the semester was about to draw to a close, my roommate pulled me aside one day and said, “You don’t get it, do you Mark? This campus shuts down when you’re on. Third years listen to you. Fourth years listen to you. You’re big!”

I knew it would take more in order to keep that level of listenership, so I spent the next three years in massive promotional campaigns trying to maintain that level. But it never came. It all just sort of peaked as my second year was about to end, and the third and fourth years are just footnotes.

It seems as though my entire attempt at a radio career has been about trying to recapture that moment. But it’s just not happening. At NAIT, I was readily dismissed as simply being “The Weird Show.” I mean, I played “Weird Al” Yankovic. In this era, that’s definition of weird. And while I was doing my practicum in Cold Lake, there was no stopping me on the street to tell me how good I was. The closest that came was my next door neighbour recognized my voice one night, stopped me in the hallway, and spent half an hour telling me how much I sucked. And now, it’s rejection letter after rejection letter.

But then, I look around at my current situation. I’m working with my father with his oilfield consulting. I get paid $12/hour to go tearing across the countryside on a quad with a metal detector and a GPS receiver looking for the oil well that time forgot. It’s not so bad, when it’s a nice day. And $12/hour is a lot more than you’d get in radio.

Besides, I hear it from my brother and sister all the time. “You’ve lived at home the longest, Mark. You have to take care of our parents when they’re old.” What kind of person would I be if I were to move out and leave them all alone? How can I take care of them when I’m on the other side of the country sweeping floors at some radio station? I shouldn’t be so selfish.

I find myself wondering if there even ever was a Scarecrow. Was I just fooling myself all those years in university? Well, yeah, I was. No one was listening to me for those last three years. I just launched into an aggressive advertising campaign and started believing my own hype. At NAIT they were fond of telling us that radio wasn’t a job, but a lifestyle. I think it’s a lifestyle that I’ve outgrown.

Perhaps it’s time for me to just stop fighting this and accept it. Radio is just not in my cards. I’ve got to leave it in the past and accept who I’ve become. I’m no longer that pseudo-cool guy who did a college radio show. Now, I’m just the small town guy who follows in the family business. I should quit struggling to recapture a past glory and just accept who I am now.

This is life. We grow up, evolve, change, and become different people. I’ve changed too much to be that crazy guy who walked across campus in the middle of the night a half-hour before his show to get ready for the big event. It’s time I grow up. It’s time to let go. Ben Affleck realizes this at the end of the film, and it’s a great moment. Acceptance is always difficult, but it’s worth it.

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