20something profile: Miles
I don’t know when I first decided to become a storyteller. It could have been that winter evening when my father and I began reading chapters of The Hobbit before bedtime. Or maybe it occurred years later, on one of the (many) occasions when I had to explain to my math teacher why my algebra homework was M.I.A. My impromptu excuses — most of which involved angry dogs or incontinent birds — rarely sprang me from the hot seat, but I still enjoyed crafting them.
Now, when I say “storyteller”, I speak of many occupations: writer, filmmaker, journalist, you name it. Because at heart, storytelling is the means by which lone souls can relate to others, overcoming the disparities of life experience. It is one of the most profoundly human gestures at our disposal: the desire to understand and in many cases, empathize.
The only question that every storyteller must ask is, “How?”
Me: I started writing. Throughout high school, I cooked up short stories, screenplays, and even the occasional song lyrics. Sometimes I kept my stories to myself, but often, I shared them with others. This led to me hopping on a plane and setting course for Los Angeles, where I attended the University of Southern California as an English major and cinematic arts minor. During my studies, I wrote film and music reviews and conducted artist interviews for the campus newspaper.
Right around this time, something catastrophic happened — the 2008 financial crisis. From the bubble of college, I watched as many of my friends’ parents lost their jobs and even their homes. Those of us without the security of a trust fund faced a grim employment market, especially soon-to-be graduates. I remember spending much of my final semester applying for employment positions that ranged from online community administrator to taco truck cashier. For those frantic five months, writing took a back seat to survival.
In the end, I got lucky. After graduating in 2011, I was hired as a staff writer by The Boston Phoenix and spent nearly a year producing copy for their bi-weekly “lifestyle” supplement called Stuff Magazine. (Both publications have since gone the way of the dinosaurs.) I was deeply grateful to be employed in a position that utilized my writing skills. But simply having a job wasn’t enough. I was barely making enough money to cover my basic living expenses, and with the ongoing decline of print journalism, the magazine office was crawling with unease. Many of us wondered if our jobs would still be there the next week.
I remember spending many nights with my friends, staying up late, sometimes taking swigs of whiskey, and wondering out loud how our generation would negotiate the broken economy we inherited. Our prospects looked grim, but I felt uplifted and resolute after every one of these discussions. Most of my 20-something friends had the same problems I did: debt, limited professional opportunities, and futurist anxiety. Simply talking about them — telling our own stories to each other — proved a most alleviating tonic for each of us.
And it was during one of these conversations when I had the idea for Drive All Night.
A nonfiction book, Drive All Night is a series of interviews with young, Millennial-aged Americans of all dispositions. Each of them has managed to do something with their life that speaks to their passions. It could be opening a food truck, teaching yoga part-time, or volunteering at a local school. The salient point is, every Millennial featured in the book has circumnavigated the bleak expectations cast upon their generation by refusing to accept a deteriorating world and outdated definitions of “success.” They are adventurers. You can read about them at driveallnight.org
Right now, I’m in the middle of my own adventure. I’ve left my job at The Phoenix, and I’m traveling across the United States by bus, conducting interviews for the book and seeing new faces of my country. I’m also pitching Drive All Night to literary agents and publishers. (A full proposal is available for anyone interested in learning more.) Where my journey ends, I can only imagine. But for the moment, I’m thrilled and thankful to have taken it.
To all 20-somethings struggling to stay afloat in today’s economy, I can only offer the following pieces of advice: live within your means, open your mind to unique experiences, and be honest about what drives you. Since leaving The Phoenix and going out on my own, I’ve led a very unusual life. To raise the money for researching Drive All Night, I wrote freelance articles for online magazines and worked part-time in a backcountry hiker’s hostel. It was the basically the equivalent of Jack Nicholson’s caretaking job in The Shining. Daunting? Sure, but it allowed me to write, build up a sizable nest egg, and ultimately make this project happen.
Of course, this new lifestyle hasn’t been easy. I can’t afford many of the luxuries that I’d like to enjoy. I need to plan meals, work assignments, and lodging far in advance. But when I weigh the pleasures of having things like a gym membership or a car against the joy of doing something that lifts my spirits to the rafters, I know I’ve made the right choice for myself.
How about you?