It would have been my Canadian friend Erika Strobel’s birthday yesterday. I never met her, and without looking it up, I don’t know exactly how old she would have been, but I loved her anyway. We had many mutual friends, and several very dear ones in common, and we would often find ourselves conversing in the same little email group. She was a writer too, largely, like myself, for animation, and a successful one in her time, loved by all she met and worked with. But it seems latterly there wasn’t so much work, which in our industry is all too common, as we are outpaced by upcoming younger talent. I had no idea she was hurting either, and I don’t think even many of her close friends did. I have no idea of her mental history, but obviously something was wrong, because six months or so ago she organised her affairs, wrote a note, and quietly took her life. I was told shortly afterwards that one of the things she put in the note was that she felt unfulfilled as a writer. I’d never cried for someone I didn’t know before, but I did that day.
But when I began to think about it, months later, to that sadness was added incomprehension, and something approaching anger. How did she feel unfulfilled? Like me, she had had many successes, and a credit list way longer than my own. I guess that wasn’t enough though. I don’t know what her aspirations were – who knows, maybe nothing would have been enough, although from what I know she wasn’t that type. All I know is that citing that reason for ending her life, albeit no doubt among others, made me have a long hard look at my own. For me also, the script work has decreased to almost nothing, but that has been partially self-inflicted, because I stopped chasing the work for a while and tried to be a producer, and by the time I realised that wasn’t a career path that would lead me to peace and prosperity, the scriptwriting industry had moved on without me. So I went back to trying to write books, with a continuing succession of minimum wage day jobs to support that precarious path, and now, no doubt, the industry thinks I’ve retired. It’s not true, and do by all means send work!
But since Erika’s death, and more than partly because of it, I have been slowly realigning my expectations, and have come to realise that I must try to achieve some kind of peace, harmony and happiness in life, regardless of whether any more success, financial or critical, comes my way. My Facebook cover photo quotes Einstein, from 1922: “A calm and humble life will bring more happiness than the pursuit of success and the restlessness that comes with it.” That’ll about do it.
So, to that end I have stopped smoking, and drinking, and when my stupid day job allows, spend a lot more time outdoors, and, mostly, an inner calm is at last beginning to descend. But the question still hangs there – do I feel fulfilled as a writer? You know what, yes, I do. I have had success, in the past, and have created things that kids loved at the time, and in some cases still love as adults. A few days ago a young aspiring writer asked me if she could send me her first spec script, for my thoughts as ‘an expert’. I wouldn’t consider myself as anything of the sort, but nonetheless, if I do nothing else of note in the writing field, that, for me, is some kind of very special fulfilment. I’m just so, so sad that you didn’t feel that you had that, Erika. Rest in peace my friend.