How the Marine Corps prepared me for travel: Part 1

Marin County, CA, USA / Parris Island, SC, USA

Part 1: The Background  About 10 years ago I left my amazingly cool job in the visual effects industry and joined the Marine Corps.  Some people think I was nuts.  There were many reasons for going, however, not the least of which is that I like a fresh challenge.  Here is some of the backstory on how I, a tree-huggin' California girl, ended up making a decision to go from a job with extremely high Cool Factor to a job with extremely high Badass Factor.


For years prior to my employment at ILM, I'd had people scoffingly tell me "Yeah, that'd be nice!" as if my dream of working there was clearly impossible.  I shrugged and laughed.  I'd already interned at another major effects house, Dream Quest Images (later eaten by that monstrous mouse known as Disney), and had an interview for an internship in Lucasland.  I was all set to go.

It is not idle bragging to tell you that I was an awesome intern.  Really, I totally had the mojo going on, and I had a great time.  Within months after graduating with a degree in multimedia, I was back in the Bay Area doing freelance and temp work for several of the Lucas companies.  Within a year I had a union position doing digital plate restoration.  I was working the night shift, hired along with another freelancer, to handle some of the overages brought about by Star Wars.

We couldn't tell what kind of shot we'd be working on until it loaded on our screens, so there was a chance it would be something really dull.  Lucky me, the very first shot I loaded up after training was Darth Maul whirling through the air with his double-bladed lightsaber.  I cheered and clapped and gasped in awe at my good fortune.  "OMG, I have the COOLEST JOB IN THE WORLD!"


the magician

Old school ILM logo via Wikipedia.


And yet…  and yet it had been almost too easy.  School, internship, school, internship, job.  Just like that.  Ok, there were bunches of art projects and lots of networking, as well as laser-like focus on the goal in the middle there — but that stuff was fun!  Apparently I liked having an "impossible" dream.

I had plans to become a producer and open up a studio for women and minorities, providing professional grade equipment and support to smaller projects that might otherwise not see the light of day.  I was on my way to being a producer, baby!  YEAH!  …But after a few years I burned out.

For all that ILM and other Bay Area effects companies attract the best and brightest artists from around the world, filmmaking is still a very political business.  The bold directness and honesty that served me so well as an intern didn't necessarily mesh with an industry often populated by large but delicate egos.  It requires maneuvering tactics worthy of a chess champion or Sun Tzu.

I prefer simple and direct.

I like knowing that when someone says something, their words match up with their intentions, and there is no subtle meta-meaning I have to work to uncover.  For example, working on an indie film up in Seattle (pre-Lucasland days), a really nasty cold was going around among the crew.  I was there as a Production Assistant, working for free.  (Handily enough, I was off school and had some vacation saved up from my job at the bank.)  A fellow PA and I discovered that when the production crew said, "Why don't you go home?" in apparent solicitous concern for our health, what they really meant was, "I dare you, Little Fail PA!  I DARE you!"  After which, said PA would no longer be welcome on the set.  How messed up is that?

So even though I was achieving my goal and living the geek dream of working on Star Wars, seeing my name roll by in the credits a few times, and sometimes running into George Lucas (once literally — ran smack into him after a company meeting; he's squishy), the disharmony of the political game began to wear on me. 

Now, this is not to say that everyone who works or worked there participated in this strange gladiatorial dance.  I'm still friends with a few of the long-term artists who are there simply because they are incredibly creative and skilled at what they do.  I wish I was magically impervious to the machinations of the production side of things like they are, but I'm not.  Hats off to those friends who know how to either play or ignore the game.  I envy you!


I have a talent for putting my foot in my mouth. 
(Courtesy of Ejdzej via Wikimedia Commons.)


I also started experiencing repetitive stress injuries from working at a desk that was the wrong size.  That's not to say Lucas Digital doesn't make an effort when it comes to ergonomics, because they do.  But sometimes it's not enough.  One of the ironic parts of the whole deal was that, toward the end when I got called in for more hours (day shift even!), it was to fill in for a colleague who was out due to…  repetitive stress injuries.

Oh, and if you think ergonomics is the territory of whiners and losers, shove it.


Try walking to the grocery store in shoes that are 5 sizes too big.


In any case, besides the chiropractic care, massage, acupuncture, hand therapy, anti-inflammatories, and other treatments, one of the most important things one can do to get better is exercise.  The constant battle to regain and maintain health, coupled with my increasingly ambivalent feelings about my chosen field and a few choice chats with some veteran pals, got me thinking about the military.  I was rapidly losing my enthusiasm for an industry that somehow manages to create some of the most glorious art and technical achievements in human history while simultaneously participating in vicious cycles promoting / reflecting consumerism, shallow values, and poor body images.  I wanted something more meaningful — and more challenging.

Here's the thing: I'm a big ol' lover of peace.  Seriously.  I truly, truly believe in the good in people and that we all CAN get along.  I don't think everyone is necessarily mature enough to commit to it yet, but we really do have it within us.  We also have the capacity to turn the other cheek, not practice "an eye for an eye" tactics, and live by the golden rule.  Sometimes it just takes practice to get there.

We are not one dimensional beings. 

It's interesting how we often seem to expect public figures to fulfill rigid definitions of self and political positions.  (To be fair, politicians often set themselves up for failure by espousing extremely polarized versions of policy and opinion — but we tend to buy into the madness.)  If we were all sound bites that lived up to stereotype, this blog would be all about me telling you how great America is; pictures of hamburgers, big cars, and flags; and affiliate links of me trying to sell you ketchup.  But I'm a person with complex, multi-faceted feelings and experiences, not a box or a label.  I usually won't tell you that one view is completely right and another completely wrong, because I know myself to be filled with what appear to be contradictions and strange, clashing views.  All I can tell you is that while I do believe that violence is, in the end, a losing proposition, I'd still pick up a rifle to defend the people and ideals that I love.

In case you found that confusing, I've kindly pre-selected a response for you, courtesy of The Internet:


“I have no idea what you’re talking about… so here’s a bunny with a pancake on its head.”


Realizing that I was comfortable with my inner paradox, I began investigating the angles of military service.  What I'd started to figure out from pursuing my dream to work at ILM is that if you make ideals and dreams a priority, you can make them your reality.  I'd long been a believer in our power to shape our own realities, so this was not totally surprising.  However, I'd never thought of myself as particularly physically inclined.  I was sure that mind over matter worked in matters that were mainly of the mind.  I wasn't sure if this also applied the body.  In theory it did, but in reality…?  And what if what you were attempting was really hard?

I decided to find out.


…and that's the exciting conclusion of Part 1!  Part 2 is now up.  But before you go read it, let me ask you this:


What have YOU discovered about dedicating yourself to your dreams?


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  1. Joe says:

    i found the service ruined my life

    1. Hi, Joe. Unfortunately, that is how many veterans feel, but are often afraid to say. My brother just entered the service recently and has big plans for conquering the world (maybe literally?). I’m trying to offer my older, wiser, big sister perspective, but folks have to follow their own path.

      In any case, I hope that you are getting any counseling or medical care you need. I know that I, the folks I served with, and many of our friends and family, are always fighting for proper benefits for veterans, whether or not we ourselves intend to avail of them. No one should have to suffer for making the decision to serve.

  2. Well… *cough* if you do want to open the women and minorities studio… *cough*.. I’m both and have a film degree collecting dust. :P Sounds like something I would do – going for something completely different.

    1. Perhaps we we can both move to Costa Rica and set something up. What do think? ;)

  3. I can totally see the lure of adventure and challenging yourself despite having reached the so-called pinnacle you'd been working toward. Life's a journey, not a destination, and you've definitely taken that onboard.I worked many years for the Defense Department and so many people automatically believe that pidgeon-holes me into certain beliefs and behaviors. One of my favorite memories from a yearlong executive development program I did with the State Department was to observe young marines during the Crucible, and then see them graduate. So cool, very moving.

    1. Yeah. Even the DI’s have a hard time maintaining bearing during that ceremony. It’s incredible.

      I’m going to mention in one of the next posts that concept of pigeon holes. I cooled a friendship or two after making my decision because of this. Was surprised at how narrow minded some of my self-described open-minded friends turned out to be.

      ps: “Marines” is always capitalized. Something else I’ll be mentioning later. ;)

  4. "If you make ideals and dreams a priority, you can make them your reality."

    So many people in this world have dreams but never really live it.  What they don't get is that things don't simply happen unless you make them happen. Luck sometimes helps. But ultimately its the individual that gets things in motion. I like that you learned this lesson as it is an important one to understand. I can't wait to see what you learned in part #2.

    1. Sooo many things, Sherry!  This series is going to be longer than I initially planned!  :)

  5. Frederick Von Funklestein says:

    Dear Katrina,

    Hello from Smegmadistan, I love your blog post about your conversion from ILM to the USMC.

    I have heard rumors of many of your other past lives, and would love to hear about these other adventures, such as…

    The time you yelled at sinners in Queen Elizabeths England
    The time you spent with hippies in a harsh and dusty desert
    Or how about the time you were known to your co-horts as…. Packing-Poon-Tang.


    Lord Frederick Von Funklestein XVIII, Duke of Smegmadistan.

    1. Dear Port– uh, Frederick Von Funklestein,

      How is Ratchet doing? I trust she is not too soggy from spending time in the Bayou.

      I often think of you when my mother-in-law plays Age of Empires. I sometimes wonder if you play WoW and if I’ve inadvertently pugged with you. Maybe you were that one guy that time who did that thing when we all laughed. Or maybe you are the ninja pally who rolled need on my cloth item.

      Do you dress up in silly clothes and head to Casa de Fruta? (Ah, maybe that’s why you ninja’d!)

      Sweet Britches

      ps: put on some sunscreen.

      pps: to anyone who is not Frederick Von Funklestein and is reading this comment, refer to the bunny picture above. ;)

      1. Frederick Von Funklestein says:

        Dearest Katrina,

        Funny that you would call me Port… I like to drink Port, perhaps that is what you were refering too? My name id indeed Frederick Von Finklelstein, I come from a long line of Funklesteins in the small Kingdom of Smegmadistan.

        I know not what this “WOW” thing is you speak of, it sounds quite nerdy to me. However I would assure you if I were to travel to a far away place called Azeroth, I would most likely be a level 85 Drannie Mage, or 85 Dwarf Hunter who would have to go medivial on your buttocks if you so happened to be playing a horde toon on my server.

        As for this… Casa de Fruita place… I actually do vist there perhaps once or twice a year. I go undercover as the Dung Monger on these occasions, just to see how the lower classes live.

        I see you are on the book of face, perhaps you can accept my friend request so that we may partake in conversations that are more proper for a Royal of my caliber.


        Lord Frederick Von Funklestein XVIII, Duke of Smegmadistan.

  6. Frederick Von Funklestein says:

    Hello… is this thing on?

  7. Ari Rapkin Blenkhorn says:

    Hi Katrina! Greetings from two of your former co-workers. We are looking forward to more of the story of your transition from ILM to military. We’ve been through it in both directions. My husband was active-duty Navy, then a Navy reservist while we were at ILM, and currently active duty again, teaching at USNA.

    1. Hi, Ari! Wow, I can’t say why exactly, but this comment makes me ridiculously happy! So great to know that others out there understand the different kinds of pull — both awesome and painful in their own ways. I wasn’t going to get into it with this series, but I wanted to mention that after the Marine Corps reserves, I was out for a year, then joined the Navy reserves. So I am both a jarhead and a squid. ;)

      I’ll do my best to tell the story well! Thanks so much for stopping by. It’s like a surprise visit from family. *hugs*

  8. Really fun post- and the baby and pancake bunny were adorable, too! You definitely have my attention for part two!!

    1. Thanks, Jade! I’ll try not to disappoint. I have one or two pics of me in uniform, though I really wish I had one of me on the famous yellow footprints… More on that later. ;)

  9. I love it when people embrace change with courage and grit. I’m hooked. Looking forward to Part 2!

    1. Hey, Tran! Somehow your comment got flagged as spam. Sorry for the delay in replying.

      Gosh, from the replies it looks like I’ve set peoples’ expectations pretty high. I’ll try to make it as epic as I can, while still keeping honest. Thanks so much for stopping by! :)

  10. Now, that’s something. Feeling George Lucas. That is an achievement. But remind me not to mess with you, Madame ex Marine.

    1. Haha! “Feeling George Lucas” sounds like a dodgy movie title. I’d go see it!

      And just because Marines are sticklers about these kinds of things, I want to point out there is no such thing as an “ex” Marine. As the saying goes, “Once a Marine, always a Marine!” About the only way one could be an ex-Marine is to receive a dishonorable discharge. ;)

  11. Wow. I feel like a just learned a lot about you. Very interesting and reflective post – I enjoyed reading! You are spot on when you say we are not one dimensional. While I enjoyed the bunny picture (hehe), I understood what you were saying. My own inner paradoxe(s) are constantly pulling their weight with me. Looking forward to the rest of this series.

    1. Hey, Phil! Yeah, I don’t especially try to hide stuff about myself, and I’ve mentioned some of these elements before, but it felt like a concentrated blast of personal info getting out there onto the ‘net. I’m actually a little concerned about it in case I ever want to go to a country that isn’t especially fond of Americans. Or the American military. I’ve heard of people being forced to log into their FB accounts at border crossings and such, so who knows what they’d find on me? (That is, besides this other “Katrina Stovold” who had a boob job, was pregnant, and apparently has diabetes…? I often wonder if that person really exists or if someone was trying to taint my pristine internet reputation, such as it is.)

      I guess one of my other paradoxes is being a very strong advocate of internet privacy, yet blabbing things about my life on a blog. But what can ya do? ;)

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