Learning What Matters to Me

Maxwell Jones
6 min readNov 21, 2020

For as long as I can remember, I envisioned myself rich; I didn’t see the future goal as an option, but a necessity. Any idea I had for the future was immediately investigated into how it would either assist or hold back my chances of becoming wealthy. So every time I got that feeling that I wanted to tell stories when I saw a beautiful film, I pushed the thoughts aside — the chances of me succeeding as an artist were so slim, and didn’t have the insurance of guaranteed wealth. This made me a hesitant dreamer: someone who remembers their real dreams but never commits to them. When I began writing a screenplay this Fall 2020 semester, along with introspective writing projects from WRIT-150, I started realizing these financially-related ambitions were not a strength like I previously thought, but actually a weakness rooted by fear. Writing about flawed characters that I loved, as well as in-class writing about what defines me opened my eyes to what truly mattered to me, and also, what didn’t. The exploration of my story’s protagonist, Antonio, reminded me where fulfillment actually comes from, and my in-class writing assignments made me articulate what truly defines me.

Writing about myself through Antonio made me realize I was wrong for believing material possessions would fill my internal voids. With Antonio, I wanted to tell the story the loss of my father that I told in WP3 from a less-privileged lens; I was lucky to have the resources and support that allowed my mental state to mature after my father’s passing. With the help of psychiatry, writing, and therapy, I came away from the experience with a better understanding of the struggles we all face and the humanity we all share. When Antonio’s father dies, he doesn’t have the same affordances: his family has no savings, is in debt, and has to put a hold on his university career due to tuition expenses. After losing his father, Antonio is faced with losing the rest of his world too, and turns to selling drugs to save his family from their impending financial ruin.

By forcing Antonio to chase material wealth in order to live, I highlighted what was so wrong about this financial goal of mine. Because Antonio needs to make as much money as he can, he becomes dependent on the action of it — making money makes him powerful, and because it’s his only source of fulfillment, he becomes addicted to it. As I continued writing Antonio accumulating the wealth he always felt he deserved, but saw him continue to grow more empty, angry, and dependent on his monetary success, I started realizing what made my ambitions so superficial. Antonio’s rise to power did not make him a better, happier, or more peaceful person; it transformed the soul of his existence completely into a hunger for financial gain and power. I started realizing that the only difference between myself and Antonio is that I am voluntarily making wealth rule my existence, while Antonio needed to make it rule his. Believing materialism would dictate my happiness would only make money define my mental state; whether I never got it, lost it, or earned more than I ever thought I would, I’d be nothing without it. That’s why at the end of my story, when Antonio has made the money his family needed and cut the ties keeping him in the drug game, he stays in it: because he’d be nothing without it.

While my screenplay made me realize who I didn’t want to be, my writing projects reminded me of who I am. Throughout my papers, I noticed a few themes consistently emerge: storytelling, empathy, and honesty, all central components of how I view myself.

In WP1, I explored how I developed intellectual honesty through self-education, catapulting the evolution of my political beliefs into a truly empathetic perspective. The main takeaway from this assignment, though, was not the substance of the political beliefs I developed, but the perspectives I gained through the action of self-education. Educating myself on the actual policy of the politics discussed on the news made me realize how thorough and honest my opinions are when they’re truly developed. Self-education allowed me to take a step back from what everyone else was saying about something, and simply develop an opinion completely using my own judgement. As I began studying the policy of politics and the substance of the issues, I realized how important it was to approach any situation in an honest and objective way. Looking at life or politics in this honest and objective way enables me to view situations as they really are, not what I think they should be.

While this objective and critical approach to life opened my mind to a new political ideology, it also opened my mind to the complex story of my late father’s life. Like the policies I researched, for my WP3, I educated myself on the struggles and humanity of my father, viewing his life objectively, without the bias of a loving son missing his father or the bias of an angry son frustrated by his father’s selfish actions. Taking a step back and dissociating myself from the generalizations I could make of my father allowed me to see him as a complex human with strengths and weaknesses, rather than an entity with a single defining characteristic. Throughout the process of mapping out my father’s life, recognizing the themes and demons that recurred throughout his time, I realized that on top of viewing life honestly, we must also view it with empathy. Like my father, every person has a story that has led them to where they are, the mistakes they’ve made, and the successes they’ve gained. When we take the time to understand that story and the struggles of it, there isn’t a need to categorize anyone as “good” or “bad”, only human. Adding empathy to the objective lens that my WP1 emphasized allows me to resonate with the struggles that lead us to our failures, giving me a better understanding of the humanity that runs through every one of us.

This understanding of humanity and the struggles that people face is what allowed me to articulate the beauty of the scripts I described in my WP2. What connected these films was an understanding of the very humanity I found in my father. All the stories I mentioned recognize the thread connecting all of us; humanity is why I relate to the outlaw cowboy turned hero, Arthur Morgan, in Red Dead Redemption 2, or the hero turned super villain, Harvey Dent, in The Dark Knight. What drove both of these characters to their polar opposite endings is connected by the struggles that led them there and their perspectives of the world in the contexts of their own stories. Viewing my characters in the same way I’ve learned to view the people in my real life, as complex beings with stories that explain why they are themselves, makes me write characters that are humans, not embodiments of ideas.

Undoubtedly, the Fall of 2020 has been the most educational season of my life not necessarily due to the action of writing, but rather, the action of exploring my own beliefs and the humanity of others through writing. If you would have told me 2 years ago that I would be writing about how my father’s death equipped me with the honest and empathetic perspectives needed to flesh out my political, artistic, and personal beliefs, I’d run for the hills at the thought of such a harsh reality. But here I am, stronger, more educated, and more sure of myself than I ever have been. Reflecting on myself and my own humanity through these writing assignments and writing a script inspired by the tragic events of my own life is only the beginning of what looking at life in this newfound way has to offer me; I will never stop writing to explore my own humanity and that of others, and though the future is scary, uncertain, and unforgiving, I know it is all a part of the story leading me and everyone around me to who we will all become.

Works Cited

Nolan, C. (Director). (2008, July 18). The Dark knight [Video file]. Retrieved November 21, 2020.