Mini Memoir Monday: Three Rivers Make a Why

This week’s mini memoir was written by my friend, Matthais Sundberg. Enjoy!

matthaisI had been fired from a job I loved.

I got to watch cartoons for a living, worked with a man who built Wolverine claws and tommy guns and actually shot me in the head once. We made videos for the Internet and my company recently decided that my department was redundant and could be liquidated. So long, cartoons. So long, special effects guys. So long, free Coke in the fridge every day.

During my time at the company, I had been working for a man whom I look to as a mentor. He taught me the valuable lesson of ‘Why.’ He asked why, for every piece I was editing and assembling, I was putting our red robot on a blue background. I said, “I don’t know. I just did.”

He said, “Find out why and tell me. Don’t change it yet, but until you can give me a reason, maybe we should think of a new background for him.” From that moment on, I never did anything without having a defendable reason for doing it.

I learned later that the company I used to work for was to be sold to Google’s YouTube. I could have been a Googler, but I was redundant.

I worked for a while performing odd jobs. I work in the entertainment industry, so that means, mostly, being a production assistant on movies and television. It paid piss-poor, but it was something to pay the bills.

I ended up getting a job as a freelance editor for one of the first-ever video podcasts.  It was a job that made my editing better, because it taught me to look for the important things before making a project. Details are important.

I learned these lessons because the person I was working for did not know why he was doing things or what his details meant. He always gave the impression that he knew, but there was never a clear reason behind anything. Subsequently, it was not a successful company.

I worked at that job for a couple years, slowly becoming more integral and more important and less likely to be “redundant.” I found the more that I could inject myself into the anatomy of the company (and I use the term only in its most technical sense), he couldn’t fire me.

That also meant, I had nowhere else to go. I was stuck with this plan of action, even when he mysteriously ran out of money and couldn’t pay the five people that worked for him.

I slogged on. I worked on projects for the company that became increasingly fraught with politics. He was trying to create a deal with PBS, and even had a short-lived web-show with a very famous children’s TV creator. Meanwhile, I started to budget out and develop a refresh of the podcast brand. My version was more dynamic and fun and youth oriented, not talking-head-in-a-studio. Walter Cronkite was dead; his format should be, too.

One of the people that worked on the parenting show (with the very famous children’s TV creator or VFCTC) asked how I was doing. I said fine, that my wife and I were thinking about leaving New York City. It is a wonderful, terrible place, meant for the very young or the very rich; we were getting to be neither. I said that we were weighing escape options. Our list consisted of Portland, ME; Pittsburgh, PA; San Francisco, CA; Chicago, IL and a couple of other places that we had idly thought we might like to move to.

She perked up. “Pittsburgh?”

“Yeah, my wife’s family is from around there.”

“You want a job?”

“What?”

It turns out that the VFCTC had created another program and it needed an editor for some live-action segments in the middle. The only hitch was that the editor needed to be in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

My wife and I talked it over and I went to Pittsburgh to see if they might give me the job. The VFCTC was working in partnership with another company, so she wouldn’t be in Pittsburgh. I met with the partner company head, who informed me that he only wanted to look at my resume “because I’m curious.” He offered me the job right there. “Can you be here on December 5th?” It was the end of a snowy October. Without hesitating or consulting anyone, I said the only thing I could.

“Absolutely.”

A month later, my wife and I tearfully left our friends in New York, moved into a house we hadn’t seen, in a city we were unfamiliar with for a job I only knew about two months earlier. I quit from the podcast program in a grand way, still being owed roughly $1500, even telling the new host she should run away (which she did in the end; she runs a start-up with her husband now).

My mentor would have asked me why? Why do all of those things?

I’m an editor on the award-winning children’s program, “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” and we’re about to finish our debut season. My wife and I have a dog and a yard and a house. We have a garden.

Though we miss our friends terribly, we are happy.

 

6 comments

    1. Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. It’s also pretty intimidating to be responsible of part of something that literally millions of kids are going to see.

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  1. I love the journey of life. At 49, mine has taken a few twists and turns and rarely at the time, but almost always later, you can see how the pieces fit together to get you where you need to be in the present. Once this lesson is learned, the next time something “bad” appears to happen, it’s easier to believe there’s a purpose and not become too upset by change. By the way, as a Pittsburgh native, I believe you ended up in one of the best cities in the US. I still claim Pittsburgh is my favorite city.

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    1. There are some pretty cool things here in the 412. I particularly am fond of the cultural events and how I can decide on a whim to see a movie, go, not pay a bajillion dollars, and actually get a decent seat. 🙂

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  2. Great journey you’ve had, Matthias. Funny … I only recently heard of Daniel Tiger because my just under 3 year old granddaughter absolutely loves the show 🙂 I’ve got to admit, it’s pretty cool.

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    1. I’m glad you’re digging it. I’m loving making the show. The songs, for an adult, get to be a little grating, but they’re brilliant for kids. 🙂

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