Letters to the Kids, “The Magus, Death, and the Hanged Man”

Tarot. The last month or so has been lots of soul searching and lots of looking in the mirror that is Tarot and trying to figure out what my next step will be. There were three jobs that I’d been offered: the first, a programmer at a games studio in Texas, the second an apprentice shot creator at a previsualization studio in LA, and the final as a technical director at the self-same studio. The question? Which offer to take? What is the right path? Which is the best destiny? Best destiny is an amusing concept; it contradicts its own terms, destiny being singular by definition. If there’s more than one, it’s not destiny, it’s choice.

The studio in Texas went to lengths to court me I’d not seen before. As I passed their tests, one after another, they became more and more interested. In the end, they flew me out to their location. They tested me yet again and had me meet a large proportion of their staff. We seemed to get along, and they portrayed themselves as a working playing ground with themed meeting rooms and games of all sorts on the premises. If I’d have been twenty years younger, it would have seemed an ideal workplace.

I didn’t take it. Why? I’ll give you a couple of reasons. The first of course was the location. My first view of Texas was of a sea of highways, where islands of strip malls with everything from churches to Walmart dot the landscape like oases. I like cities. I like the country. I don’t particularly care for suburbs and a landscape of concrete. Next, there’s the politics of the place. In a state that’s pretty much as red as you can be, I’d be a dot of blue. I had no desire to live in that sort of social hell. I want the next place I live in to have me be the conservative one there. The work itself, strict programming with no artistic opportunity, concerned me. I’m a strange beast. I’ve worked my whole adult life to learn everything I can about computer graphics, both artistic and technical. I didn’t want to take a position where I would use half of my skills. Finally, there was the undercurrent of malaise that peeked out in overheard discussions between the front office gals as I waited in the lobby. It was there in the less than stellar reviews on Glassdoor. It was there in the bad press in the news about the CEO and founder. It peeked out in a chance slip in the conversations at lunch, with a gender identity joke in passing among young hip men who don’t think of themselves as good old boys. Together they all these conspired to let me know that this wasn’t the place for me.

The second position was an apprenticeship as a shot creator/animator at a studio in Los Angeles. At first glance, this seemed perfect, entry level but perfect. They would incorporate me into their pipeline as a working artist. I’d learn their pipeline and then get to work on the blockbusters, setting the foundational previsualizations that would guide the look of the films. A dream job, no?

Yes… a dream of a great many people. The reality of an entry-level previs animator in LA is this, I would start at minimum wage. Assuming that I made it through the training period, I would then get a raise to just above minimum wage. If I stayed put for a year, I would likely get elevated to a workable, though still impoverished with respect to the city, wage. All animators in LA work contract to contract. In previs at this studio, the contracts are short, as in a week to week short. I would have no security at all. As the lowest man on the totem pole, I would be guaranteed to be the first cut. I would be the easiest to replace. I would have minimal benefits and be completely at the market’s mercy in a strange city with no support. With the glut of animation students being continually churned out by the colleges, online schools and universities, I would have no bargaining power what so ever; the supply of newbie animators greatly exceeds demand. If things went badly, that would be it. I could end up homeless on the streets of LA.

The final position, the position I took, as a junior technical director, would put me in the self-same studio. However, the starting wage would be livable. I might be able to afford a studio apartment all to myself as opposed to sharing a bedroom like a college dorm. I would be staff, not contract. I’d likely have work for at least a year or two. The benefits would be enough to support the health care of my 46-year-old body. I wouldn’t be animating, but I would be working on rigging tools and contributing to animation. I’d be in an environment where maybe I could shift if things didn’t feel right. I’d be in the center of where animation still happens in the US. I’d have options, but I’d have to comprise.

As an aside, I was asked the question, “Is all you want to do is animate?” when I vacillated between the two options, by the head of RND, who would be my boss. I wondered at that. I’ve never just wanted to do any one thing. I love animation. I love sculpting. I love rigging. I love experimenting and problem-solving. I enjoy all these facets of my personality. The truthful answer is no. I don’t want to just do any one thing, ever. I don’t know what I am. I’m an artist when I do art. I’m a programmer when I program. I don’t want to be one thing, and I will squirm out of the grip of anyone who tries to make me one thing.

So what does all this have to do with the Tarot? Well, fellow tarot readers are likely chuckling to themselves as they reflect over the meanings of the cards mentioned in the title of the article. Those three cards, the magus, death, and the hanged man are the trumps that showed up in my readings on these decisions. I should likely give a bit of explanation about the fact that I do tarot readings at all. I mentioned it at the start of this post, but I view all oracular systems (runes, cards, dice, coins, bones, tea leaves, entrails, etc.), like mirrors, not for your face but for your self/spirit/insert your mumbo jumbo here. They don’t predict the future. They don’t show you your destiny. What they do do is allow you to lean on synchronicity and unconscious thinking to help your conscious mind make decisions about the choices in front of you. The vague archetypes and meanings of the cards are ripe ground for you to project onto and create meaning off of. Are they magical in and of themselves? Only if coincidence is magical. You could argue it I suppose, but that’s neither here nor there. I’ve said it before, I’m a pragmatist. I use what works. There were a whole lot of talks with friends that went into the final decision. A whole lot of reasoning and scenario projection also went into it. There are my own ambitions and desires as well in it. Finally, to be honest, there’s a little bit of magickal thinking. You have all these faculties. Use them all to get the job done.