My new core hit the ground running. My new CA Jeremy was loads better than John. I was an ACA now so in a way I had respect from Jeremy as a co-leader of the pack. I felt really responsible for my 5 guys. I really wanted to do things together and be great friends – things I never felt with my original core of eight months. Our room meetings were fun and it seemed the guys were into it. It was fun hearing their stories of how they got to the compound. A part of my ACA duties was to evaluate everyone for the internship program. You know – like circle numbers on paper work telling them how good or bad everyone was at being spiritual, clean, leadership – all that stuff that professionals should be doing. One of my roommates must have had his parents apply for him. God love him but he did not fit the mold at all – and of course the me looking back thinks the internship should have molded to fit him and not him fit the internship he was paying loads of money to work in the kitchen, but hey it was God’s will after all for him to be working there – but he just never felt like he was there for the right reasons. The other roommates were doing fine. One of them started to spend too much time with a girl and of course I had to intervene from time to time and then I’d chat with the ACA of the girl and we would discuss things we had said to them to try to influence them to not go down the fiery road to internship damnation. I went on a road trip with my core to stay at the home of one of the guys in Oklahoma. I drove we had lots of fun and its one of the best memories I took from my time there.
So this little thing called 9/11 event coincidently happened on the eleventh of September. I was on Pike’s Peak with the last group of interns hiking the mountain that year. By the time we all got back to the hotel the entire day was over and we were just getting news of the days events. I was more than exhausted and overwhelmed with all the information. A guy in my room was from New York and took it pretty hard – at the time I didn’t know anyone out east really so it was just a tragedy unfolding on television. I got back to campus and went back to work on my ATF – it was almost as if the 9/11 attacks didn’t happen because I marched right back into the bubble and very soon thereafter was presented with all the Graduate internship opportunities knocking at my door for the following January. In ten months of being at Teen Mania I never went home to see family. The night I was supposed to go home the ticket I bought was out of Tyler but when I got dropped off at the airport the flight or service had been cancelled and I had never been notified – so they had to put me on a flight out of Dallas the following day and I was so upset that my vacation was being cut short on such a dumb error. I went home and it was nice to get away. I don’t recall much of what I did except berate my mom for not having quiet times and going to church on a regular basis. She wasn’t pouring into people and she was just a mess and I had to tell her all this. I’m sure she was glad to see her little lemming go back to Texas because I know I would not have enjoyed it like she did.
Finally I went to my ATF in Cleveland Ohio. It was a packed event and it was so crazy to be there with all those kids. Was it a miracle that all those people showed up? It was the Unshakeable tour and I remember seeing the marketing materials and I was like really? You want me to sell this? You want Jurassic Park results with Baby’s Day Out marketing campaign? Ok. So I’m being harsh – but it really was a challenge for me to personally get behind it – especially after I had personally experienced the event. My favorite band LaRue was there and I had a little faux-crush on Natalie. I hadn’t yet been able to not be star struck by people yet, so I wasn’t really able to talk to them much. I will never forget this one youth pastor coming up to me at that event. She was crying and confided to me that she felt awful leading her kids because she felt so unworthy and what not. I don’t quite remember but basically she felt like she shouldn’t be leading them because she didn’t measure up to some standard. I probably consoled her and prayed with her – but looking back I wish I could have told her that I was no better. I was going through the motions at Teen Mania doing what was told to me – some had meaning, most didn’t but I was in their system and that although she felt badly about herself she didn’t because she was f’en perfect just the way she was. Yet I didn’t have that insight yet since I was too busy constantly evaluating my peers and myself on how to be better. While at the ATF I got to visit the “bakery” – the top secret money counting location. In those times cash was still pretty king so whenever Ron gave his desperate appeals for money the red buckets went around and of course were filled with coins and bills from all the kids who now had an avenue where they could throw their $15 bucks since they weren’t going to go out and support N’Sync anymore. There was so much cash it was pretty incredible. At some point as well I saw the spread sheet of how much money that event pulled in and I was dumbfounded. I was somewhat in disbelief that I paid TMM a very very very small fraction of that money and was a part of the main catalyst to everyone showing up. Needless to say I just shrugged it off as God’s will and went on my merry way. My supervisor didn’t dare mess with me again for my remaining time in the department. Our call team had brought her a big success and much to my dismay upon returning to campus we were never honored for our work. Yeah wanting recognition is “of the flesh” – but come on – we just worked our mule asses off and the prospect of being mentioned at Chapel wasn’t even an after thought? I moved on of course because there was so much to think about now that I was going to possibly be staying another year. What happened in my little brain that kept me on for another year? Teen Mania marketing of the graduate programs did me in – and of course I wanted more – how could I leave my new drug of Jesus behind and go into the real world.
I went down the road to be a Leadership Professional. For the outsider: a road is a cultish like week long event where you have to undergo all these special tasks and basically prove yourself to the ministry that you are able to continue paying them money to work for them for free in a leadership role – essentially taking care of a higher paying job they would have to pay a civilian. Could you imagine what the income tax would do for the Tyler economy if Teen Mania actually paid their workers? The results are astounding to think about. Anyways. My road experience wasn’t too bad – after all I wasn’t going down Gideon’s Road to be a Core Advisor – that one they really ripped you a new one – since the Leadership Professional’s were just a group of office workers I guess we didn’t have to be as tortured. Fine by me. So I was accepted into the program with Melissa from my home church and also my ATF call center buddy Wendy also joined me. So I found a job working in the atf.tv department which was exciting for me – and really the only reason why I stayed. If I was going to stay I was going to do something I wanted. That November the first Harry Potter movie came out and ramping up to that release I wanted to get my own perspective since during Pike’s Peak while I was in Colorado I got an ear full from a friends’ mother that boycotts were going to happen and that it was the worst thing since pants for women. I read the book and loved every moment of it and I think that was maybe the first time that I had this notion that there could be crazy christians out there. There could actually be Christians that are in their own little world. I formed my opinion and moved on – it wasn’t that important since I was about to get an internship status change and move dorms again. I was sad to see my core go – a core with whom I really felt like I bonded. I had friends moving into other graduate programs – some went on the road, others would have cores and as I went home for Christmas to shortly return I had no idea that my time in the atf.tv department would ultimately lead me down my path to leaving the Teen Mania world in a not so pleasant fashion.
Being a Graduate Intern was nice. The rules were a little more relaxed and two of my roommates were never home since they traveled and I actually really liked my boss and co-workers in atf.tv. Wendy from my ATF calling team also worked with me so it was just like last year but we were in a much better job. I got some random video assignments and worked on little bits and pieces of the atf.tv show. Now this TV show was something that we all worked on mostly because we were required to, but most of us had creative ideas that we wanted to see implemented to make the show better. I wouldn’t see much of this until later – but Ron would not loosen his grip on the tv show. He wanted it done his way, and we were going to continue doing the same old thing. I bet my boss was completely frustrated – a staff member from the outside who had TV experience. It was probably maddening for him.
Cary W. was in charge of the LPs since the program was after all his creation and I always enjoyed him. He was sincere and easy going and absolutely loved mentoring. More than Cary I really loved my fellow LPs. We all were upbeat fun young people. We all had dreams and visions of positioning ourselves in the working world. A lot of time in the undergraduate year was foreign missions focused – but now we could talk about being professionals and not be scorned for not wanting to go live in the jungle. We had Vision class with Brenda B. – a class that helped us dream bigger and fine tune where we were going after the HA. As an undergrad I spoke with Brenda from time to time through mutual contacts – yet again due to my uncanny nature to bewitch women into befriending me – it was easy to chat with Brenda and I absolutely adored her. Nearly ten years later from taking the class I don’t remember much of the actual class except for I do personally think that teaching kids to have vision and goals is one thing – but to encourage kids to have crazy grandiose visions and thinking bigger and bigger and bigger crosses a line to where I know for myself I began to have these grandiose expectations of where I should have my life in order to be successful. After leaving Teen Mania, when my life wasn’t matching up to the level of dream vision status I had thought about at TMM, I developed a slow onset of depression in later years.
One requirement of the program was to have a mentor. I’m all for mentorship folks but I can tell you that forced mentorship is hardly effective in shape or fashion. I approached Mike G. about being a mentor for me and he said yes. I thought I’d hit the gold mine for a mentor and started meeting with him. Our meetings were ok – but outside the meeting there was no contact and nothing from him. I don’t fault him since he was one of the busiest people on campus but hearing stories from other LPs about their mentoring experience and then me just being invisible with my mentor just didn’t really sit well with me. He did meet with me out of the goodness of his heart, but I don’t even remember if we even met all semester and then even at the end of the semester I don’t even know if I ever saw him again. I was yet again feeling like an outsider looking in.
The spring faded and soon turned into summer and this little voice inside of me was finally telling me that it was time to start moving on towards college. It was also time to make decisions about the following year since TMM was ramping up the marketing machine to retain pay-to-work employees for the following year. For anyone out there that wants to stay longer at TMM and not pay for it – here is my advice: get a talent the ministry wants and negotiate. They are a Christian corporation after all and some minimal business skills wouldn’t hurt to develop your first year there. The ministry was now going to have a joint venture with the junior college and the Graduate Internship programs so that the GIs could still do their full time jobs for TMM, their GI classes and on top of that a full college load. The price tag would go up as these individuals would still pay to work and now pay to get some schooling in on it too. I thought that was crazy nuts and there was no way I was going to do that. The paying TMM money to work train was nearing its last stop. (Un)fortunately for me a Staff Associate position opened up in the atf.tv department and I was offered a position. I decided this was my opportunity to stay at TMM and finally get some of the professional development and college education out of the way as I baby stepped my way towards my destiny. Little did I know that I was signing on for a year of stress and heartache and ultimately some of my final days in Garden Valley Texas.