this is the story of a poster and a dream

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged (my fault) and I’ve realized that with a few exceptions, most of my blogging lately has been — though positive and optimistic — not quite “upbeat” in terms of subject matter. So, today I’m going to talk about something that’s both personal and fun, because with Spider-Man: Homecoming on the horizon and press junkets circulating, I’ve been having a lot of feelings about Robert Downey Jr.’s career trajectory as Iron Man and what that means to me, personally.

I’m going to talk about this poster.

This poster used to hang on the walls of Entertainment Weekly. It now hangs in my living room, but that’s not where the story starts. The story starts a few years earlier, at Northwestern, when I was in graduate school. Going back to school was something I had wanted to do for awhile, but it took some time, because I hadn’t known what I wanted to do. By the time I settled on journalism — having gotten some cred as a freelance entertainment writer/blogger and realizing I wanted to pursue the career full-time at someplace like Vanity Fair (or, my dream publication, EW) — I was old.

To be fair, there was a good range of age in my cohort, and some of my best friends are people who are my younger sister’s age. But I had just turned 30 when I went back to school, and while I tried to embrace the good things that came with age (experience in work and life, having lived on my own and made mistakes with my independence), it sometimes felt like a setback. Here I was, restarting my career all over again — I had worked in publishing and spent five years in non-profit — and most people who entered the publishing industry did so right out of college, becoming senior editors by the time they were 27/28 years old. I was doing things so late, and I couldn’t help but feel anxious about that, even though I was proud of myself for being in one of the top-rated programs for my career.

My Master’s program started in January of 2013 and lasted for a full year. In May of 2013, Marvel released Iron Man 3. I was a fan of comics and a fan of the Marvel franchise, having seen other films throughout the years. The difference is that aside from The Avengers, which at the time warranted a long analytical Tumblr post about my favorite parts/actors, I watched and enjoyed and that was it.

I’m still not sure what it was about Iron Man 3 that made a difference. Maybe it was just that it was a really good film. Maybe it was the fact that it made me feel so good, and forget everything I was stressing over, and gave me enjoyment the way a superhero movie should. Maybe it was because that movie demonstrated Tony’s very human vulnerabilities, including anxiety and depression and PTSD, at least one of which was lingering in my body at the time when I didn’t fully realize it. Whatever the reason ultimately was, it made me walk out of the theatre, snap a reaction picture for Twitter, and then return over the weekend — for a double feature, when my roommates asked me to go with them, unaware that I had gone to an earlier showing. (I lived directly down the street from the movie theatre, which was pretty sweet. Also, Midwest prices as so much nicer than NYC prices. Also, STUDENT DISCOUNTS FOR MATINEES. Bless.)

I saw the movie at least twice more while it was still in theatres. When I needed a distraction from my work or stress at school, I loaded up on press tours and interviews I had missed because I hadn’t been paying attention. I knew RDJ as an actor, I had seen dozens of his films, and I was aware of his “less than savory” background. But somehow, thanks to timing and feelings, RDJ and Tony and RDJ’s journey to becoming Tony became my greatest motivation and biggest influence.

As my obsession with Iron Man 3 grew, so did my renewed interest in the MCU. I re-watched all the films I hadn’t seen since they came out in theatres with a new appreciation for the characters and the actors that played them. Throughout it all, RDJ was a constant inspiration, especially the more I learned about his rise to the top of the industry, and how he became confident despite his age and despite coming back into the game so long after everyone had considered him done.

I entered graduate school with one long-standing goal that had been in my mind for years, since I started receiving the magazine as a young teen: to work at Entertainment Weekly. I knew that involved getting an internship, so I kept a close eye on Ed2010 for internship openings. When applications opened in October for a January 2014 start, I set my sights on applying. I walked to the post office to mail my application with Sam Jones’ Off Camera podcast playing in my ears. As I dropped off my envelope, personally handing it over to ensure it arrived in one piece, RDJ talked about anxiety and perseverance and taking risks despite your fear.

A few months later, I got an email asking me to come in for an interview. Never content to do things halfway when it came to getting things I REALLY wanted, I flew to NYC for the weekend to be there in person (hey, I got to see my friends as well.) Nervous as all hell about interviewing for my dream job, I stepped off the elevator and was greeted with a foyer/hallway that housed an array of oversized covers from years past…including this particular poster.

I like to believe in signs. I like to think that after all that, getting off the elevator and seeing RDJ’s face on that poster — when it could have been any cover poster on that wall — meant something. In any case, I got the internship, and then a few months later, I got a permanent job at EW. When it was announced that we were moving at the end of the year, and that due to a new and smaller office space everything had to go, I didn’t entertain the idea any of the posters would be up for grabs. It seemed too unlikely that the art department would want to part with things that had been around for so many years. But the week of moving, my friend walked by my desk with a large framed photo of Heath Ledger, her favorite celebrity. I jokingly said that I didn’t want any posters except the RDJ one, which they probably wouldn’t let anyone take. My friend then said everything was up for grabs.

Yes, everything.

I ran as quickly as I could, like someone running through one of those supermarket sweeps programs. I was terrified someone had realized this before me and taken it. But it was still there, and I grabbed that poster off the wall, even though it was twice my size and heavier than I could manage. I propped it up by my desk and somehow, thanks to a very nice cabbie who took pity on me hauling a huge oversized framed piece of art down 50th Street during rush hour, I managed to get it home. I felt like I couldn’t explain to anyone what bringing this poster home meant to me, and how much it meant to have it. It didn’t just represent the fact I was a part of a company I dreamed of working at. It represented so much more, and it had been with me for longer than anyone would be able to understand.

I love looking at this poster and reminding myself of how far I’ve come. I love reflecting on the fact that in a way, RDJ got me to where I am. And I’ll never forget that.

medium blog: a superhero saved my life…i should know

Hawkeye_2012_2

Today, in an inspired blog twist, I not only wrote a long personal entry for the first time in forever (I’m getting back in the game, I swear), I also wrote it for the general public. Because I spend a lot of my life being worried about how much of myself I put onto the World Wide Web, especially being in a position where I’m currently looking for work, and being in a position where I have a professional platform and brand. But as I try to explain in this piece, I think it’s important not to hide from things that you struggle with, because in that way, you’re letting the negative parts of your brain win. This was a topic I wanted to write about anyway, and I figured if I was going to write it for here, I might as well take the steps to share it.

I’ve included the entire post below, and as of now, it’s shared in article form on Medium as well.


As someone who grew up writing and devouring fantasy books, it’s not uncommon for me to find inspiration and connection in fictional characters.

In middle school and high school, it was Gillian Anderson and her portrayal of Dana Scully who motivated me and inspired me (so much so that I actually applied to college with the intention of being a pre-med major, before I realized that, unlike the hour-long cases on The X-Files, you actually have to do math and science to pursue a career in forensics). In college, it was LOST and James “Sawyer” Ford as portrayed by Josh Holloway — an actor who spent years working towards his dream of being successful, whose struggles and life lessons I latched onto when I graduated and spent months searching for my own dream job, in a city that I longed to live in and make a life in.

After that, it became about superheroes.

Black Widow was my inspiration when I realized I wanted to write about comics and geek things, and when I needed to fight against people who seemed to think I couldn’t contribute to or succeed in a field dominated by males. (Ask me if I was ever taken seriously when I said I read comics in a room of men). Iron Man (and Robert Downey Jr) was my inspiration when I was fighting my way through graduate school at Northwestern, because some people, when they turn 30, get promoted to senior editors. I turned 30, started my entire career over after almost nine years of living and working in New York, and went back to school to get my graduate degree among twenty year olds, just so I could work in the industry I so desperately dreamed of being in. Like Dana Scully and James “Sawyer” Ford, these characters are still my inspirations, and I still count them among those who have had an impact on me.

And then there was Hawkeye. Specifically, then there was the comic book written by Matt Fraction and drawn by David Aja, Annie Wu and others, that launched at Marvel after the success of The Avengers in 2012. Hawkeye is often jokingly referred to as the “forgotten” Avenger, the one most people don’t know the way they know Thor or Iron Man or Captain America. Still, the character’s superhero history is not something to be laughed at: he debuted in the 1960’s, is known to be a prominent member of The Avengers, has had important relationships with his teammates and has had a long and complex history as both an Avenger and a rogue superhero. So why did this comic resonate so much with me, when the superhero is one that’s been written and drawn for so many years? Because the 2012 Hawkeye series sets Clint Barton in the streets of today’s grungy, beat-up Brooklyn and paints the character as something that no other comic has been able to do: a human.

Because, see, Hawkeye lives in a building where on his off days, he grills on the roof for his tenants and watches his neighbors’ kids. Hawkeye makes amazing coffee (at least, the way I’d want to drink it). Hawkeye is GREAT at shooting a bow and arrow — there’s a reason he never misses. Hawkeye is super compassionate and cares about the people he considers important in his life. Hawkeye is only serious when he has to be and is unashamed about his thoughts and doesn’t bother to censor himself. And Hawkeye has no real superhero abilities, unless you count that awesome marksmanship. He doesn’t have super soldier strength, or a metal suit, or gifted abilities, and he doesn’t hail from a God’s royalty. He’s not destined to be a king or a leader. He didn’t come from a family who expected great things from him. (His family didn’t care about him at all). Hawkeye is all talent, muscle, luck, perseverance and heart, and he’d rather save the day and sit at home with his dog and eat pizza, rather than sit on the throne of Asgard.

The thing is, Hawkeye is great at being a superhero. Most of the time. But Clint Barton? He’s messed up his life. A lot. He’s screwed up relationships. He’s screwed up friendships. He’s said the wrong things and gotten so down on himself, he’s wondered if it’s even worth getting out of bed. He’s had moments where he can’t see past the fact that all he does is shoot a bow and arrow, and he wonders if the world even needs him when they have other people who save the world with more success. His stubbornness and coping mechanisms during bad days have caused strains and fights with close friends, lovers, and teammates, and there’s a reason why sometimes he’d rather just go back to bed then be reminded of the fact that today is his divorce anniversary. I can’t relate to being a superhero, I can’t relate to shooting a bow and arrow, but boy, can I relate to losing a job and questioning your place in an industry you desperately believe you belong in. I can relate to looking at your life and your experiences and wondering if you made the right choices. I can relate to screwing up relationships and doubting yourself. I can relate to that feeling of wanting to go back to bed, rather than having to face another day of nothing. I can relate to a friend slamming a door in your face when you won’t talk to them about your problems.

A few weeks ago, spurred by social media’s awareness, I picked up the bookLast Night, A Superhero Saved My Life. In addition to the obviously on-brand premise, I was lured by a collection of stories from some of my favorite authors, including Neil Gaiman and Jodi Picoult, as well as a story from a former colleague at Entertainment Weekly who served (and continues to serve) as a mentor in this strange, overwhelming industry. I knew what I was getting into when I started to read, but I don’t think I realized how much each story would affect me, or how much I would see myself reflected in these honest, earnest tales about people who felt truly attached to these characters in a very personal way. My superhero obsession isn’t a secret, but I often don’t tell people about my personal connections to them, or why they mean so much to me. And if I do tell people about my love for Hawkeye — a well-known aspect of my life among my friends or anyone that sees my apartment or work desk — I often pad it with the explanation of being a fan of Jeremy Renner, who portrays the character in the films. It’s not a lie, but it perpetuates the idea that most people think I like the characters I do because of their pretty faces, or because of their superhero physique. But would they believe me at all if I said it was because these characters saved my life? Or would they continue to roll their eyes at the admission?

We don’t talk about how we deal with our issues. The world has enough bad stuff going on, and so I don’t need to tell my friends or the general public about the medications I take, the self-harm I’ve inflicted, the journal writing I find solace in when I find myself crying about things that make me unsure of where I am and who I’ve chosen to love. Despite putting myself out there in my writing and profession, I remain wholly unconvinced I have anything to offer the world. (Self-confidence: it’s a bitch.) The past few months have put me in situations which have led me to struggle with old demons in ways that I feel unhealthily overwhelmed by. During one particularly tough afternoon, in an effort to distract myself from sitting around in depression, I found myself picking up my hardbound Hawkeye omnibus without thinking about it. I sat down on the couch, opened the book, and read straight through all twenty-two issues without stopping. I let myself cry at the panels I needed to cry at, I let myself feel connected to the panels I needed to allow myself to accept. It wasn’t my weekly hour of therapy, and I didn’t even have to pay a dime, but it worked. And in the same way I found solace in Clint Barton’s story while the comic was running, reading this series over and over became a coping mechanism that I desperately needed. When I felt depressed or anxious, I would open the comic and read a few pages, or a ton of pages, and I would find myself again. Like Hawkeye, I’ve had moments where I’ve felt inspired, empowered, on top of the world. Like Clint, I’ve been knocked down because I’ve fallen — oh how I’ve fallen. So what do I do? I get up. I keep fighting. Because what else am I supposed to do?

Because Clint Barton is a fighter. He came from a broken home where he was taught that he was essentially worthless, thanks to an alcoholic father and parents who died when he was young. He ran off to the circus, he tried to change his fate, and he was screwed over by people he thought wanted to help him. He struck out on his own after learning he couldn’t trust people who he put his faith in, and he made his own luck. But he used all those things to make himself a better person. He’s an archer not because he doesn’t want to be a more powerful superhero, but because this is what he’s trained in, and because this is what he has to offer the world. If he fails at the one thing he’s known for and proud of, he may not even bother to call himself an Avenger. And he knows that.

“You’re gonna miss each and every shot you can’t be bothered to take. That’s not living life — that’s just being a tourist. Take every shot, Kate. If it’s worth caring about, no matter how impossible you think it is — you take the shot.”

Clint Barton was depressed and he had a hard life, and he failed more than he succeeded. But he was also a superhero. And the fact that I could see myself so accurately reflected in the pages of a comic book, the fact that I knew he had all these doubts about his life, that he struggled with all these internal demons and he could still continue to put himself out there was mind-blowing. Because he never stops believing people can change. He never stops helping people, or trying to prove his worth. And because he won’t stop fighting, that means I shouldn’t stop fighting, either. Even if I have to accept help from outside sources. Even if I wake up some days thinking about how easy it would be to not get out of bed at all.

Dana Scully made me work harder in high school and James “Sawyer” Ford helped me not go down a deep dark road when I first stepped into the real world. But Black Widow inspired me to keep working against my obstacles and not care about what people were saying, and Iron Man guided me through the start of a second career when I wasn’t sure if I was making the right choice, and Hawkeye showed me that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that I wasn’t alone even when I felt like I was.

Comics helped me. Comics saved me. As cliche as it sounds, a superhero saved my life. And like the people who put their own stories into my hands, who allowed me to realize I’m not alone, I’m not ashamed to say it out loud.