Positive and Negative: April 2019 and September 2004

Last Sunday was the final rehearsal for a commercial we're shooting in a few days. The concept is a grandmother gives her granddaughter a copy of Entrepreneurship for the Cool Kids. The granddaughter is quick to dismiss it, but gives it a second chance upon seeing it.

I held auditions about a month ago and found two PERFECT actresses.

It's magical to watch actors fall into their roles and bond with each other. There's been so much positive and creative energy in the rehearsals—the butterflies are tickling my stomach.

Truth be told, I don't know how to deal with the positive side of this stuff. I've been on the grind for a solid decade with projects I hope no one ever sees.

I was designed to deal with the negativity of the journey, but now things are turning.

What do I do as my life's teeter totter shifts?

In a way, I have a secret past life, full of little-known events and phases. I want to write about those and do my best to share that vibe, even if it's negative. Maybe you can use them as an emotional connect-the-dots in your decision-making.

Like most things I do in my life, let's start and see where it goes.

September 2004, 21 years old

"Damn, I'm going to be a failure/surrounded by thugs, drugs, and drug...paraphernalia." -Jay Z, This Can't Be Life

Present tense/first person POV

To my scarcity-filled mind, Iowa City, Iowa is flooded with rich kids whose parents coddled them through life.

My 18-year-old girlfriend lives in a University of Iowa dorm called Burge Hall. I have to pass its resort-style cafeteria to get to the staircase.

If jogging highlights my body's weaknesses, this environment shines a light on my socioeconomic class.

I don't know it yet, but my dad is what's called a dry addict. He's clean, but the triggers that made him abuse substances haven't been repaired. Now he turns to the world around him. My skin was bruise-free growing up, but my mind is a psychological battlefield, marinating in the poison of mental grenades, hurled at me by my small-town druggie father. I love you, though, Dad.

Burge Hall is dubbed "Dirty Burge" due to the per capita of STDs. That's acceptable because it's a bunch of lawyers' kids. My parents are factory workers. If we share the same one-hitter, only my hands get dirty, right?

All I have is a "fuck the world" work ethic and a "make-you-blush" imagination. I work every day from 7 am to 3 pm in the shipping department of a textbook factory. I skipped college after an agreement with my parents. "It's college or work." I chose the one with more time and money for creative projects.

I live in a house my grandma owns in the town of Mechanicsville, Iowa. You know, a place where opportunities are abundant. It's across from a sale barn (it's where livestock is sold). The local cop patrols the parked anhydrous tanks at night because those meth manufacturers are sneaky AF.

I drive 30 miles to my job in Cedar Rapids every day then go to Iowa City a few nights a week where I make a Public Access TV show and visit my girlfriend in Dirty Burge.

She's a freshman experiencing new things and our bond is lessening, plus my emotional problems haven't exactly won me any boyfriend awards. A pool of quicksand forms in my stomach as I grab at the "girlfriend" straw. I have little else.

Why did I blow off high school? Why did I spend the last 3 years trying to be a rapper? Why did I make these choices?

My peers, whom I've known since 1988, just began their final years at U of I, ISU, and UNI.

My conscience is eating me alive: What's it going to be like to be 25 in Mechanicsville, Brandon? Will you know all the local bartenders by name? Being a loser won't hurt your dad's feelings any. Maybe you could go to his house every night and let him discharge his emotions by taking shots at you. Maybe you could make this your model for future relationships.

Oh yeah, you're talented, too, Brandon. Will that potential swirl right or left before the toilet swallows it?

Fuck you.

Hmm...think...I've had positive experiences in my life...the motivation behind rap music...my grandma Mary Jane...Scooby Doo...the Chicago Cubs...wrestling...puzzles...the library's summer reading contests...the time I got a massage by a local massage therapist...

A couple of years prior at my mom's kitchen table...we were talking about options...Kirkwood Community College...writing classes...a liberal arts degree...massage therapy school...

My girlfriend loves massages. It's one of the few things that make us get along.

"Hey babe...um..."

The afternoon sun shines through her dorm room window and hits my knees as I sit on her bottom bunk. A smile of relief escapes my face as I glance at the copy of Finding Nemo leaning on her small TV. Our peers clamor in the hallway. They, too, have had to make life decisions recently. Maybe I'm not that different than them.

"I'm gonna go to massage therapy school."

"Yeah?" she says. "You should. You'd be good at it."

The next day after work I drive to Carlson College of Massage Therapy with $50 for the application fee and a copy of my high school diploma.

Life raft, motherfucker.

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