I first saw Heat in December of 1995. During the now-famous diner scene, Pacino’s character tells De Niro’s: “So you never wanted a regular-type life, huh?” To which the latter replies: “What the fuck is that? Barbecues and ball games?” I could relate.
I was a plebe on winter leave from the United States Military Academy, a.k.a. West Point, sometimes colloquially known among disaffected cadets as the South Hudson Institute of Technology. (We like acronyms. You figure it out.) I’m a corporate brat; I’d lived in a parade of bland suburban homes in Chicago, Orlando, and Toronto. I wanted something else. Maybe war, maybe drama, maybe craziness.
As a firstie, I was diagnosed with narcolepsy. This was 1999; the Army gave me my diploma and let me go.
By 2000, I was in Columbia University’s journalism school. In the fall, we watched, incredulous, as Bush-vs.-Gore played out. In the spring, I ended up in a very small seminar, taught by Al Gore. Our first class with him was his first public appearance after conceding the most hotly contested presidential election in U.S. history. Life seemed as bizarre as it could be.
Then 9/11 happened. I’d already left New York for Chicago; I was working in the Sears Tower—the only 100-story building in the country that wasn’t hit by airplanes that day. (Granted, my desk was only on the 6th floor.) We had to evacuate.
When the wars started, I felt guilty that I wasn’t in the Army. I thought I’d abandoned my destiny. I made feeble plans to fly to Kuwait in February of 2003 and tag along as a war correspondent. Nothing came together. In 2004, I interviewed for a position with the C.I.A. I was rejected. I wrote a book I was convinced was the Great American Novel. It didn’t go anywhere.
Around then, I got sober. I also became a Christian pacifist.
Life grew relatively more sedate. I got sick of the corporate world, got fired, worked in food service, and ended up back in the corporate world. I wrote another book, Resistance, about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in Prague in 1942. I shopped it traditionally and got some enthusiastic responses from agents, but nothing happened.
In 2012, my girlfriend got pregnant, and I launched my own book imprint, Tortoise Books. I funded Resistance with a Kickstarter. (If you get a chance, Google “Brennan Resistance Kickstarter.” I’m told it’s a funny video.) My classmates contributed generously, and it succeeded. I launched the book in May, got married in July, and we had a daughter in September.
When the Kickstarter succeeded, I felt like George Bailey at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life.
When my daughter was born…I can’t describe it.
I’m thrilled about independent publishing. During my prior struggles, I’d read The Myth of Sisyphus by Camus. I could relate. My gut told me I wasn’t the only one. When I recruited my first author, the very talented Giano Cromley, it turned out he had a tattoo of Sisyphus rolling the boulder. I’m proud of our books, and of our two new authors (Darrin Doyle and Rachel Slotnick), and of others on the scene: Joseph G. Peterson, Ben Tanzer, et. al.
Still, Tortoise Books isn’t paying the bills. So I’m otherwise living a regular-type-life. Which is perfectly fine. Some of the most mundane moments can be satisfying, if you’re at peace: watching TMZ with my wife, reading to my daughter, seeing my son smile. So to everyone out there, whether you’re contemplating jihad or just scribbling cartoons, all I can say is: peace.