I’ve mentioned 2014 many times over the years in my various blogs and comics, but I’ve never fully expounded on why exactly it was such a tremendously awful year for me. I’m gonna do that here, in full detail.
But first let me start things off with a regular M Night Shyamalan twist: 2014 started off OK. Yeah, for real. I definitely just wrote that.
But it’s true. I shook off the failures of 2013 and was determined to make a name for myself. I had just gotten an art tablet for Christmas and was ready to dive headfirst into my webcomic, spending all of January 1st, 2014, learning how to work the tablet and redesigning the layout of my site. My plan for the year was to go all in and become the Internet’s next viral artist.
January 2nd made me feel like that was possible, as I was contacted by a filmmaker online who said he liked a song I’d written on the banjo in 2012 and he wanted to use it in a documentary feature. Well I mean yeah sure, go ahead guy. This was amazing. I had only played the banjo for about three weeks and it was good enough to impress someone on the internet; obviously making a comic would be easier and I’d have legions of followers in no time. Gradually I pivoted from music as my main hobby to drawing.
With plenty of inspiration from life I went all in. I put together this very site, drew every day, advertised heavily on comic sites around the internet, posted my work on social media, joined webcomic forums, and generally just threw my heart into my work. I used ideas from my Second City classes as comics and vice versa.
The classes were going great too. Three semesters in and I’d made a mark in each course. There was a spring in my step as I listened to an amazing playlist of new songs. Just two weeks and already 2014 had demolished 2013’s bland times.
I decided to try my hand at some big-time networking and attended a young professionals seminar, hoping to learn the secret art of hustling. That seminar wasn’t really helpful. No, it was just a grifter preying on optimistic millennials.
Whatever, I moved on. I found a site that promised a spotlight on my work including an interview and regular showcases. They did charge for their services…but you gotta spend money to make money right?
So I spent the money, and I got an interview full of terrible spelling, grammar, and a general disinterest in my comic. This duo from Texas couldn’t care less about my work, barely promoting it. I politely asked them to remove me from their service, after which I got a 3:00am phone call from some creaky Southern lady asking me to stay. I didn’t, but they took my money anyway.
Money I was starting to hemorrhage, as I’d just been gifted the family car. A useful asset, but one that needed nonstop repairs, being sixteen years old. I’d managed to save up a fair bit of money after paying off my student debt in 2011, but that was all melting away having to pay for therapy, website hosting fees, constant trips to the mechanic and sky-high insurance.
What wasn’t melting away was the snow. There was no January thaw in 2014, with Southern Ontario getting a Polar Vortex instead. Not a fun phenomenon to experience night after night standing outside concert venues for no pay. I was hustling though, you know? I wanted to prove that I was a reliable member of the team and in it for the long haul, working as many shifts as possible.
Besides, after grinning and bearing through promo shifts, I could use the misadventures as fodder for my Second City and comic material. “Tough times build character” and all that. Plus I still had Rogers TV for work that was dignified and paid money and also actually mattered.
But it slowly got to me. The idea that life was a meritocracy began to fade with each promo shift and stress grew exponentially. The sleep paralysis got so bad that I began to experience full-on seizures in the middle of the night, and in late February I awoke, went to the bathroom, and threw up blood.
After the chest pains that had first appeared in September 2009, these stomach ulcers would be the second overt physical symptom of stress that affected me. I was petrified at first, thinking my time was up and my insides were liquefying. Luckily I dealt with them within the span of a month, going on many, many calming walks with my dog (I also ate a lot of yogurt).
I kept working on the comic, networking and even doing a paid promotion for a food delivery company. Feeling confident, I applied to be a contributor at TCAF, Hamilton Comic Con, and Fan Expo. I was rejected by all three.
I decided to shift my networking focus to the real world and took up two new ventures in May. The first was getting involved in a municipal election (because of Parks and Rec). The second was with a start-up called Flink that billed itself as a “deluxe Wikipedia”.
The political campaign wouldn’t start in earnest until September, but the writing start-up kicked off right away. Or at least, my work for them did. I wrote article after article for them throughout the month of June, often about topics I had absolutely no interest in. I was promised that I’d get a cut of the money generated by clicks to my articles, and my initiative impressed the creators enough that I was made a “featured author”. Featured or not, authors weren’t gonna get any money if the platform itself didn’t get any money, and Flink’s creators’ brilliant plan to bring in the dollar bills? Revolved entirely around getting the artists to promote these articles about themselves online.
For some strange reason Gwen Stefani and Linkin Park didn’t jump at the opportunity to push basic biographies on their social media channels, and deluxe Wikipedia went belly up within months.
So I lost that venture.
And then I lost Second City because I couldn’t afford the next set of classes.
And then I lost therapy because I could no longer afford sessions.
And then I lost Rogers because both my shows were cancelled and I wasn’t allowed to do any other on-air work while my sister was actively involved in a local political campaign.
By the beginning of July I was basically a nobody. Just some guy on a street team with a webcomic nobody cared about.
Every event with the team became a grim ordeal. Toronto had a particularly bad summer that year so a lot of concerts happened under drab grey skies, with rain coming down more often than not. An irregular train schedule meant I had to walk to the big outdoor venues almost every single shift, and a lot of those times it was during a downpour.
I became bitter and resentful, both inside and out. Every bit of joy had been taken away from me, and the long walks to the concert venues meant I had plenty of time to dwell on my misfortunes. The only thing I had going for me was being distantly associated with a radio station where I could occasionally post my doodles on their social media. Was that really worth it?
No pay. No stipends. No food. No transportation. Long hours. Working alongside people who were doing the exact same job but were getting paid. It was dehumanizing and for some masochistic reason I decided to keep my wagon hitched to a corporation that didn’t know I existed. I just didn’t want to lose the one thing that kept me from being an absolute nobody. I wanted to stay connected to the industry, even if it meant the golden handcuffs were attached next to the propeller of the ship. It was tough though. I couldn’t stand seeing my Rogers coworkers continuing to get on-air opportunities -even sporadically- while I handed out plastic junk to the lowest common denominators of society. Nickee, the girl who I’d met at a TV shoot the previous autumn and recommended to my producer now had a regular anchor position at Rogers.
What more can I say? Summer was hell. It started off brutal and continued to be brutal. On one of my long walks to a venue I had to carry two heavy pop-up banners the whole way down. One event I had to walk to the venue and back despite being close to having heat stroke.
Then there was the festival where I had the degrading job of guarding a VIP porta-potty for eight hours. Warding off drunk bros while acquaintances walked by and saw me was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life. I met with Sierra later that night to give her some station swag I’d grabbed for her, chatting for a few minutes about life. After I drove away she immediately texted me asking if something was wrong. I’d tried my best to hide my broken spirit and didn’t once mention any of my woes, but at this point the bitterness was seeping out of me, noticeable to everyone.
Also weighing on my mind was the fact that my mom soon had to fly over to Europe to deal with some estate issues with her sketchy brother. Those documents I’d picked up from Mimico in 2011 and 2012 turned out to be a series of legal forms which eventually were no longer enough in this dispute, and my mom had to be present in person to deal with the issue. She wouldn’t leave until mid-September, but the anxiety hit me much earlier. Her brother- my uncle- was not the most upstanding of citizens, and having to deal with him alone wouldn’t be an easy task. So in addition to carrying all my own problems in my head, I had my mom’s as well.
September brought some minor relief.
First, some sense of purpose returned to my life as I got to play campaign manager for my sister’s council ambitions. I attended galas and debates, made and delivered pamphlets, designed and set up lawn signs, wrote speeches, and basically had something to do.
Secondly, the radio station gave me a glimmer of hope as they told me that they were starting a new – paid- initiative of sending representatives to cover and review concerts for social media. It was basically a freelance venture that came at the tail end of concert season, but it was better than promo. Even if we did have to use iPads to take pictures.
Thirdly, I had my comic spotlighted on an online forum. Feedback from the community was tepid but mostly supportive, with one notable exception. One user tore into me for being an entitled, toxic crybaby- an image I’d been actively working to avoid. I explained to her that my comic, like myself, was a work in progress and obviously there was going to be a period of growth. She wasn’t especially convinced, until by some strange cosmic coincidence she just happened to attend a Black Keys concert were I was working. She recognized me from the picture on my Author Bio page here on this site, and we chatted for a bit. It was lighthearted banter with both of us making the other laugh, and she left saying “you know what, you’re alright”. It was a small moment that gave me hope that I was still likeable in person despite my flaws.
Then my mom left and we didn’t hear from her for a week and my insides nearly erupted. My uncle wouldn’t let her use any way to reach us and effectively trapped her inside their family home. Finally she managed to get to an Internet cafe and send a short message to us but that period from mid-September until Thanksgiving devastated my mental health. All those fears I’d had over the course of the summer were coming true and I was reeling.
The nightmare came to an end the night before Thanksgiving, but before we could go on our annual family outing to celebrate, my beloved dog injured her leg.
My brain nearly exploded. It seemed insidious that after one torturous situation another would follow immediately. Why was life so aggressively cruel??? It was toying with me at this point, showing me that it could indeed be as bad as it wanted to be. It felt like I was standing on the edge of a cliff yelling “OK WHAT ELSE YOU GOT LIFE?” and it was happily responding with “everything”.
Thanksgiving was bleak, and the family outing a tense affair. I spent the entire time thinking about my dog, and began furiously researching alternatives to surgery once I got to a computer.
My dad felt that I’d ruined the day with my worries, and was generally displeased with my life for the past few months. He too saw that I was not really doing much in life. So there was a bit of an outburst, and he told me that I was a failure
Which was true, but still upsetting to know that I was perceived as one by others and not just myself. Who else secretly thought I was a lost cause? I mean, just take into account these next two facts.
Over the course of 2014:
- I did not hang out with friends once the whole year.
- I did not have any sort of romantic interest or experience at all.
Yeah, for real. Mr. Hopeless Romantic (that is me) did not pursue any ladies, did not have a crush on anyone for the whole year. I had way too much to deal with to actively make an effort to find someone, and no single girls crossed my radar as they had over the past few years. This was probably for the best, as I really would not have been able to offer anything of value to anyone. Do girls like campaign managers? Is that something that is desirable?
The municipal election ended in late October, and although my sister placed fairly high she didn’t win a council seat. I’d had some semblance of a good time during the campaign, but that end result didn’t exactly disprove my incompetence.
More life-draining promo shifts followed in November, including a FOURTEEN HOUR stint at something called a “Gentleman’s Expo” with one of the worst coworkers I’ve ever dealt with. Another was at the station’s annual awards show, where I bumped into my friend Janesh. We talked a bit, and at one moment he randomly asked “Are you happy with your life?”. Without hesitation I replied “No,” and stared off into the distance. A few days later the promo team had a meeting where something called a ‘Sticker Squad’ was pitched, and I knew I had to get out. Taking pictures of bands was cool but it wasn’t worth it. Literally. My car was falling apart at the seams and I dumped $3000.00 into repairs, wiping out almost everything I’d saved since paying off my student debt.
My dog was still recuperating and couldn’t go on extended walks, so I went on one of my long city adventures the night of the Sticker Squad meeting. I ate some terrible sushi in the Eaton Centre and thought about what I was going to do with my life.
I applied to a bunch of jobs, and got a bunch of rejections. Determined not to end 2014 in such a miserable state, I ended up swallowing my pride and applying for the company’s classic rock station [paid] promo team. I just wanted money.
I got an interview with them, did OK, and then went home in the worst snowstorm of the past five years, getting stuck at the side of the road. Apparently it was one of those good luck snowstorms because I ended up getting the job, and was then invited to cover a live Christmas event at Rogers TV. My dog also went on her first full walk since Thanksgiving.
That Christmas event went perfectly, and I still distinctly remember the moment getting ready for the camera and thinking “I love doing this. Thank you for finally throwing me a bone, life.” Later that week I covered a Tokyo Police Club show for the Edge, and even standing in a crowded venue listening to my least favorite songs ever I couldn’t help but smile.
There was nothing especially noteworthy about that Christmas season, but to me it felt like the most blessed relief. Things weren’t perfect, but at least they weren’t terrible anymore. There was the sense of potential. There was a ladder before me, and even if 2015 wasn’t the best year, at least it would be different.