Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Deadly Trap

As a kid, I loved detective stories and mysteries, and used to dream of trench coats, dark alleys, and solving crimes.  I still find the idea fascinating, which is how my wife and I came to enjoy the new show True Detective.  It’s dark and gripping, particularly the performances of two familiar Hollywood actors in distinctly unfamiliar roles.  This engrossing show, with its constant suspense and darkly heroic characters, was named in homage to an early 20th century pulp magazine of the same name, which got me thinking about one of the originators of the hard-boiled detective style…

Raymond was born in Chicago.  When he was 12, his alcoholic father abandoned the family and they moved to England to live with his grandmother.  There Raymond learned British customs, and later joined the civil service.  This didn’t last long, though, as Raymond had no love for government work.  Despite the protests of his family, he resigned and took a position as a reporter.  He wasn’t a terribly successful journalist, but he liked it.  However, a chance encounter with a British poet influenced Raymond to put writing aside.  As he saw it, the poet was a vastly superior writer, so if he couldn’t make a living at it, how could Raymond?

Returning to the USA, Raymond took a course in bookkeeping.  He spent the next 10 years in a variety of jobs, from stringing tennis rackets to picking fruit, even serving a year in the military.  He finally got a job as a bookkeeper and worked his way up to a senior position over the next decade.  But his personal life and an ongoing struggle with depression resulted in his dismissal.

Unemployed at age 44, Raymond’s circumstances were dire.  Having little to lose, he decided to return to his first passion:  writing.  Specifically, he studied the writing in pulp magazines like Black Mask and True Detective.  He spent five months learning the formula, and then wrote and published his first story.  He never looked back.

During his writing career, Raymond Chandler created some of the most iconic stories and characters in detective fiction.  Several of his books transcended the genre and are regarded as important literary works, and his main character, Philip Marlowe, was immortalized by legendary actor Humphrey Bogart in the film version of Chandler’s first novel, The Big Sleep.

Raymond Chandler’s life wasn’t always characterized by happiness.  But imagine if he’d lived it according to outside opinions and inner doubts telling him not to take risks or pursue his passion… the man who became arguably the greatest detective-fiction writer of all time might never have written a single story!

Interestingly, the acting career of Matthew McConaughey, one of the stars of True Detective, might have also gone differently if he’d stuck to the safe path.  After a strong start in Hollywood, McConaughey quickly landed a string of leading roles in romantic comedies.  It was financially rewarding, but offered little acting challenge or variety.  So when, after a short break from acting, McConaughey returned to the screen, it was in a series of more demanding parts.  From a dirty cop with a side business as a professional killer to a district attorney prosecuting a murderous funeral director, he was tapping into a new level of maturity and ability.

In 2013, McConaughey took on the role of his career.  Losing over 40 pounds for the part, he portrayed real-life AIDS patient Ron Woodroof, who, after being told he had just 30 days to live, began smuggling unapproved pharmaceutical medications into Texas to try to extend his life.  McConaughey received his first-ever Oscar nomination for the role, and went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actor.

At the same time, he also began appearing as the aloof and mysterious detective Rustin Cohl in True Detective.  The character was cynical, stoic, and often unlikeable, in many ways a modern take on Raymond Chandler’s anti-heroic private eye.  McConaughey’s performance earned him increased respect as the show became the HBO network’s most-watched new series in 13 years.  The finale even crashed HBO’s streaming service due to the sheer number of people trying to watch it!  And McConaughey was now doing the most critically-acclaimed work of his career.
Don’t ever allow belief in what you think you should be doing get in the way of doing what you love.  In Chandler’s words, “There is no trap so deadly as the trap you set for yourself.”  Push yourself.  Challenge yourself.  Take risks.  Pursuing your passion isn’t about everything in your life lining up perfectly; it’s about doing the thing that’s uniquely yours and having it mean something!
Until next week...

Live Your Dreams!

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