T.J. McGowan: Balancing the Seesaw

I read, but not nearly as much as I should or anywhere even close to making a dent in the list of required classics. So, I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I do, or that reading is what drove me to love writing. However you’d like to digest that information, that is up to you.

I wanted to make movies. I didn’t play Cowboys and Indians as a kid. I made up movie plots in my head and performed them alone. I would string them along for days and days at a time. I’d act out every character. I’d envision different surroundings in the confines of my room and do a good job to avoid whatever turmoil might be unfolding just outside my door on any given night.

As kids, we look for ways to channel the mess we feel inside into anything else. Most of us still do the same as adults. I wanted my life to stay wrapped up in that escape that comes with seeing a great film for the first time. I was fascinated at how a film could manipulate feelings into believing the viewing experience was real. I thought of film directors as mad scientists, concocting potions to command our emotions.

My passion for filmmaking began when I saw Goodfellas for the first time. I needed to know how these things were made. I watched that movie until the VHS tape popped, and I learned very quickly that everything started with a script. But the mechanics of scriptwriting are boring and not why I’m writing this. I also grew up on Abbot & Costello, Bowery Boys, and Laurel & Hardy tapes. My mom would create them by recording straight from the TV. The beginnings and ends of the movies have white noise and messed up tracking marks. I still have them. They’re a line in my fingerprints. They still cure me on bad days.

I’ve attempted many times to map out my obsession with writing and what inspires me to write. I always find new ingredients to who I am, each time I look back at myself. I’ve always been able to laugh and make others laugh even when there was a war going on inside of me. Since a very young age, I’ve always treasured the feeling that comes with laughter and its sound. It’s the purest form of self-medication other than crying and the greatest gift you can give other people. I was always ‘on’ around the people I cared about, always trying to make someone laugh but never in crowds. My extroverted traits came in small doses and to few at a time. Whenever I could, I would do or say or listen or watch whatever gave me a good belly laugh. Laughter is morphine.

I think comedy and pain sit on a seesaw in my heart. One gives me the ability to analyze the other. It’s a balance I try to maintain. Way before I wanted to learn about writing a screenplay, or making a movie, I was writing poetry; poetry before I even knew what it all meant. I would scribble in little black books, stored in hidden places around whichever room I was living in (can of worms for another day). I’d funnel the darkness out of me with Bic pens and paper, and then heal myself with “Who’s on First?” and “Well that’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into”. As I got older and my love for comedy of all kinds grew, I saw that the funny people I came to love and admire were some of the most tragic.

I’d have never looked to turn my pain into something creative without a love for comedy and humor. Humor is a universal language we all use to show ourselves that what doesn’t kill us, can be laughed at, and until death comes calling, we might as well laugh at the grim reaper too. Humor has always been a loyal companion to me. Always there, walking with me down midnight roads while I’m full of midnight thoughts. Doesn’t it feel so fucking good when you can look back at a moment that crippled you, and find a way to laugh at it? You can then really dissect your sadness and poke around your own history for ways to turn old horrors into new beginnings. And even if you don’t remove all of the weight, you’re able to face it head on and know you’re one step closer to defeating it. I’d wear humor like a coat of armor and explore myself in my journals. I’d pour everything raging inside of me onto the page. It wasn’t until high school that I came across “Wilderness” by Jim Morrison that I even thought to myself, “Maybe this is poetry I’m writing?”

I never shared any of it to anyone until I was about twenty-seven years old. To put that in perspective, I’m currently thirty-two. One day after a devastating breakup, I kept thinking about how unfair it is that we are conditioned to accept laughter, even when it is derived from pain, in society, and to swallow and stomach our heartaches alone. As if feeling bad was a taboo and crying must be done in dark rooms and closed books. I let a friend read them. Then another. And another. I wanted to let people know that who I am was more than what they saw. Most of me was willing to bet they’ve felt the same way at some point, too. And they all had, or did, or currently do, or will one day.

Opening up that way changes you. You realize you’re still alive even if someone doesn’t get what it is you’re trying to say. That, too, can be laughed at. Creativity is a tool that can turn struggle to strength. As much as I adored characters in movies, and to pen my own in scripts and stories, my story has enriched my life, even though I know it will never rid me of all my worries and neurosis. However, my legacy will reveal itself to whoever is willing to read. Some pain will always exist, but, to me, so will, “March of the Wooden Soldiers” and Robin Williams.

T.J. McGowan lives in the Bronx, NY. He currently creates make-believe as an Associate Producer at an NYC-based production company. When he’s not at the office or on set, he’s either watching a new film or writing. T.J. self-published, and released his first full-length collection of poetry, We Are Not One Thing, this past September. It can be purchased on Amazon at the link below, and you can catch some of his other ramblings on IG, handle @theeverydaybite.



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