this is the story of a poster and a dream

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged (my fault) and I’ve realized that with a few exceptions, most of my blogging lately has been — though positive and optimistic — not quite “upbeat” in terms of subject matter. So, today I’m going to talk about something that’s both personal and fun, because with Spider-Man: Homecoming on the horizon and press junkets circulating, I’ve been having a lot of feelings about Robert Downey Jr.’s career trajectory as Iron Man and what that means to me, personally.

I’m going to talk about this poster.

This poster used to hang on the walls of Entertainment Weekly. It now hangs in my living room, but that’s not where the story starts. The story starts a few years earlier, at Northwestern, when I was in graduate school. Going back to school was something I had wanted to do for awhile, but it took some time, because I hadn’t known what I wanted to do. By the time I settled on journalism — having gotten some cred as a freelance entertainment writer/blogger and realizing I wanted to pursue the career full-time at someplace like Vanity Fair (or, my dream publication, EW) — I was old.

To be fair, there was a good range of age in my cohort, and some of my best friends are people who are my younger sister’s age. But I had just turned 30 when I went back to school, and while I tried to embrace the good things that came with age (experience in work and life, having lived on my own and made mistakes with my independence), it sometimes felt like a setback. Here I was, restarting my career all over again — I had worked in publishing and spent five years in non-profit — and most people who entered the publishing industry did so right out of college, becoming senior editors by the time they were 27/28 years old. I was doing things so late, and I couldn’t help but feel anxious about that, even though I was proud of myself for being in one of the top-rated programs for my career.

My Master’s program started in January of 2013 and lasted for a full year. In May of 2013, Marvel released Iron Man 3. I was a fan of comics and a fan of the Marvel franchise, having seen other films throughout the years. The difference is that aside from The Avengers, which at the time warranted a long analytical Tumblr post about my favorite parts/actors, I watched and enjoyed and that was it.

I’m still not sure what it was about Iron Man 3 that made a difference. Maybe it was just that it was a really good film. Maybe it was the fact that it made me feel so good, and forget everything I was stressing over, and gave me enjoyment the way a superhero movie should. Maybe it was because that movie demonstrated Tony’s very human vulnerabilities, including anxiety and depression and PTSD, at least one of which was lingering in my body at the time when I didn’t fully realize it. Whatever the reason ultimately was, it made me walk out of the theatre, snap a reaction picture for Twitter, and then return over the weekend — for a double feature, when my roommates asked me to go with them, unaware that I had gone to an earlier showing. (I lived directly down the street from the movie theatre, which was pretty sweet. Also, Midwest prices as so much nicer than NYC prices. Also, STUDENT DISCOUNTS FOR MATINEES. Bless.)

I saw the movie at least twice more while it was still in theatres. When I needed a distraction from my work or stress at school, I loaded up on press tours and interviews I had missed because I hadn’t been paying attention. I knew RDJ as an actor, I had seen dozens of his films, and I was aware of his “less than savory” background. But somehow, thanks to timing and feelings, RDJ and Tony and RDJ’s journey to becoming Tony became my greatest motivation and biggest influence.

As my obsession with Iron Man 3 grew, so did my renewed interest in the MCU. I re-watched all the films I hadn’t seen since they came out in theatres with a new appreciation for the characters and the actors that played them. Throughout it all, RDJ was a constant inspiration, especially the more I learned about his rise to the top of the industry, and how he became confident despite his age and despite coming back into the game so long after everyone had considered him done.

I entered graduate school with one long-standing goal that had been in my mind for years, since I started receiving the magazine as a young teen: to work at Entertainment Weekly. I knew that involved getting an internship, so I kept a close eye on Ed2010 for internship openings. When applications opened in October for a January 2014 start, I set my sights on applying. I walked to the post office to mail my application with Sam Jones’ Off Camera podcast playing in my ears. As I dropped off my envelope, personally handing it over to ensure it arrived in one piece, RDJ talked about anxiety and perseverance and taking risks despite your fear.

A few months later, I got an email asking me to come in for an interview. Never content to do things halfway when it came to getting things I REALLY wanted, I flew to NYC for the weekend to be there in person (hey, I got to see my friends as well.) Nervous as all hell about interviewing for my dream job, I stepped off the elevator and was greeted with a foyer/hallway that housed an array of oversized covers from years past…including this particular poster.

I like to believe in signs. I like to think that after all that, getting off the elevator and seeing RDJ’s face on that poster — when it could have been any cover poster on that wall — meant something. In any case, I got the internship, and then a few months later, I got a permanent job at EW. When it was announced that we were moving at the end of the year, and that due to a new and smaller office space everything had to go, I didn’t entertain the idea any of the posters would be up for grabs. It seemed too unlikely that the art department would want to part with things that had been around for so many years. But the week of moving, my friend walked by my desk with a large framed photo of Health Ledger, her favorite celebrity. I jokingly said that I didn’t want any posters except the RDJ one, which they probably wouldn’t let anyone take. My friend then said everything was up for grabs.

Yes, everything.

I ran as quickly as I could, like someone running through one of those supermarket sweeps programs. I was terrified someone had realized this before me and taken it. But it was still there, and I grabbed that poster off the wall, even though it was twice my size and heavier than I could manage. I propped it up by my desk and somehow, thanks to a very nice cabbie who took pity on me hauling a huge oversized framed piece of art down 50th Street during rush hour, I managed to get it home. I felt like I couldn’t explain to anyone what bringing this poster home meant to me, and how much it meant to have it. It didn’t just represent the fact I was a part of a company I dreamed of working at. It represented so much more, and it had been with me for longer than anyone would be able to understand.

I love looking at this poster and reminding myself of how far I’ve come. I love reflecting on the fact that in a way, RDJ got me to where I am.

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