I walk past celebrities here in the City of Angels. It’s not because I’m polite, it’s that I rarely know who they are. But upon hearing the news last year, I cried the day that Harold Ramis passed away. I had never met him. I had lost one of my favorite writers and the depth of my sadness surprised me.
In May 1984, Ramis wrote the words “NEW LIFE” on a red index card and taped it to the inside of a kitchen cabinet of his then home in Santa Monica. He once estimated that Phil Connors, Bill Murray’s character from “Groundhog Day,” spent about ten years repeating the worst day of his life over and over. (He later increased his estimate.)
Ramis released “Groundhog Day” nearly ten years later. At first, it appealed to me because even someone like Phil Connors could change. And, as Robert McKee writes, this film teaches us that “…happiness fills our lives when we love unconditionally.” Irresistible.
Back then, I was just about to enter the working world, ignorant of how hard it was going to be to keep from suffocating (or exploding) from the boredom, politics, and just general BS that comes with earning a living, striving for adulthood, while being smeared across decades of same “stuff,” different day. (This was years before David Foster Wallace’s speech – This is Water.) And I was one of the lucky ones with someone who looks after me, a fortunate career with executive advocacy, along great timing and hard work on good projects. The idealism of “Groundhog Day” instantly made it my favorite film when I was younger, but its reality is why it remains so twenty one years later.
Three years ago, I awoke every morning in a charming bed and breakfast not terribly far from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. I was on a long-term assignment at the top of my management career so far, and if you had asked me then, I’d tell you that I loved the work, the perks, and the people. It had become a habit that I wasn’t paying attention to anything that wasn’t work. I was the last to notice my exhaustion, how much I complained, how cynical I sounded, my loneliness – and their effects on my health and relationships. Every morning, I stared from my bed up into the blues and yellows of the stained glass window — what started as evident became unavoidable, either I had to change or my life would stay on this path.
If I had a red card with me, I would have written “ENOUGH.”
The Daily Mail says that most have already given up on their New Year’s resolutions. The conversations with my fellow writers this time of year sound more like a support group, rather than craft discussions. Hey, change is hard. I get it. I don’t know all that Ramis faced as a person, but in one of his darkest times, he committed to a fresh start in front of that kitchen cabinet, wrote through, and went on to produce his masterpiece. This is what I hold on to.