max gardner

From first encountering him, two things are immediately clear about Max: he is very tall (standing at 6 foot 7 inches), and he is very intelligent. I have always been impressed by Max’s deep interest in his surroundings since meeting him about 5 years ago. Max truly thinks through the events of his life and and is always willing to discuss most any topic openly and without hesitation, so I knew that I could ask him to talk to me about his relationships, his thoughts on searching for and having a career, and learning about himself in the span of his 24th year and expect a really honest and meaningful response. 

Do you have any heroes?

The for sure heroes I have are my family, my little sister especially. She never ceases to amaze me. She developed juvenile diabetes when she was not even three years old and has been living with it ever since, but it has never stopped her from achieving and living a full life. She’s 20 now, and currently on her semester abroad in Granada, Spain, having the time of her life. For my parents, it was a huge hurdle to even ship her off to college, but she is truly a hero in that she is able to manage this chronic illness while still being absolutely the most grounded, down-to-Earth and lovely human being. Between her activism, her passion for cooking and food, her never-ending pursuit of intellectual curiosity, and her naturally graceful and kind soul, she is the person I would want to be if I could be anyone else, just because of how true she is to herself. I am constantly amazed and overjoyed to be her sibling.

What does your relationship to your family look like on a day to day basis?

I miss my family every day because I love them. Do I call them every day? No. Do I talk or see to my siblings at all times? Hardly, and I live in the same city as my older brother. But do I think of them constantly? Yes, very much so. My family is, and always has been, top of mind for me. Mostly because I love them a great deal and think of them as the coolest, smartest, funniest bunch of weirdos I know, and I’m glad to be one of them. The role they play in my life is being the thing that keeps me firmly rooted in reality and the emotions and feelings of the real world.

How do your proximity to your family affect your relationships with them?

I have never lived more than 3 hours from my family. If I got on the train now, I’d be able to make it home in under two hours, pending someone would be able to pick me up from the commuter line. That’s how close I am to home. I play with the thought of what it would be like if I moved to California or elsewhere, and it’s even hard for me as romantic as the idea of being away from home is. It’s more so telling of how I feel towards them. 

What role does a romantic relationship play in your life?

I remember the first time I wanted to be in a longterm relationship. It was in the 8th grade and I hadn’t even kissed a girl yet, and there was a girl in my class named Gabby. I thought she was just so cute that it twisted me into knots thinking about what it would be like to date her, even once. Nothing ever came of it, as I was a big old wallflower all through my formative adolescence, but it was a funny thing discovering that feeling all the way back then, and for the first time knowing how much I wanted to know someone. I think most kids, and plenty of adults, just want to satiate the quick and delicious feeling of crushing then discarding that gushy stuff once the reality of courting another person actually becomes a thing. I did, that’s for sure and there’s really nothing wrong with it, but it doesn’t necessarily lend a sense of fulfillment to one’s romantic life. When I got into the relationship that I’m in currently - and have been in for close to four years - I did so not assuming that I would just end up knowing someone but also learning from someone so deeply, that it makes me constantly appreciate the fact that I have even gotten to this point in my life. And I have yet to lose any of the fascination of it all. 

What have you learned or how have you changed over the course of this nearly four year relationship?

How I’ve changed isn’t entirely incumbent on the relationship so much as the fact that change is the only constant of human experience, aside from the prerequisites of death and taxes. What being in a relationship for this amount of time has taught me is that when you reach any sort of barrier or even a fork in the road to making a decision that affects more than just yourself, the laws of nature demand something change. Whether it’s you or something or someone else is almost entirely out of your hands, but if you recognize that variables are being tested, know that you are one of them. 

Overall I’ve learned that growth and maturity in a relationship is key to trust. All these things play out in any relationship, whether intimate, formal, social or otherwise, and assume the form of a journey. It doesn’t need to be far reaching in geography, but it is about being able to arrive at those new places, together because you trusted and believed in one another.

How do you answer the question: “What do you do?”

What I tell people is I am a human, and most people observe that I am a very tall human in response.

What I do currently is only tangentially relates to my first response: I work for a branding agency doing marketing for the company, wherein I am the primary content creator and content strategist. I write, edit, and curate a corporate blog, as well as creating video content and finding other content opportunities and outlets.

Why are you drawn to video and content as a profession and a form of creative expression?

From a young age, I was drawn to the idea of being a filmmaker. As a child, I had an active imagination, which mainly manifested in an interest in photography and writing at a very young age. I think the first time I handled a camera was in the 2nd grade. The first time I used a video camera was probably in 5th grade or around age 10 or 11. As of yet, I have never handled cinematic film as an artistic medium, but since college I have been an active videographer, and ideally, I’d like to become a filmmaker, whether on film or not. The most interesting thing about plenty of my filmmaking heroes - William Friedkin, the recently passed Mike Nichols, Jane Campion - is that many of them didn’t start out as filmmakers, but let it develop out of an innate curiosity in creation. Nowadays with video, it is a very specific function and not an uncommon skill set. All of us have decent-to-high-quality video cameras in our phones, so the learning curve isn’t as steep, or the knowledge gap as insurmountable in any way. But I know I want to be a storyteller and storybuilder. Filmmaking, whatever the medium, is intrinsically about story, and I have always been drawn to that idea. The output is the story, told. 

Do you feel that your professional choices define you in any way?

If there’s one thing that I could relate, it is that it is hard to not become defined by your “job search” in this day and age. It is easy to feel harangued by oblique questions about what we - the royal, Millennial “we” - want to do with our lives from adults or peers, throwing us into an existential feedback loop. It is nothing new and it happens every generation in truth, but it would seem that in the here and now that question - what do you want to do with your life? - can come off as a personal affront. We know it isn’t, but we are also at a reactive stage where we can take umbrage at the very thought of us not being guaranteed success.

My job search was exactly that. It was two years of ups and downs from the time I graduated, false starts and sputtering out, trying on one hat and discarding another, being mistreated by employers, but ultimately, learning a lot along the way about people, work, life, and the world around me. Before being hired by the company I work for now, I was working stock up at a liquor store in a small town near where I grew up - not unemployed, but not seeing myself in a progressive or forward-moving stage in my work or career prospects. Prior to that, it was lots of near misses with idealized positions, and that takes on a very personal level when things don’t pan out, but it never meant I stopped trying to make each day a day, lived and experienced.

How would you define the idea of a career?

Everyone has a concept of what employment, work, and career all ultimately mean, but it takes the length and breadth of those things happening to fully understand the scope of each in their own space and time. Employment is being able to find means in the world to support yourself; it guarantees the act and idea of work. Work, to me, is about fulfilling the purpose of a job, and you can either do it as a matter of fact, or you can try and make something more of it; perhaps the best, but some of the time the work is what the work is. But ultimately, career is not necessarily defined solely by employment and work, but what you do with all the time that those things encompass.

What I ultimately want to do is many things. There’s no list, but there’s always the idea that if I give myself the time, I will accomplish the things I want to accomplish—whether it’s getting a job or it’s making a film or opening a bar, or even some goal yet defined, I have time and I will find a way to accomplish those things.

Do you feel like you know who you are right now at the end of your 24th year?

No, but also yes. I’m not so worried about knowing each and every thing about myself at age 24, or soon to be 25, because I have the rest of my life to live, learn, and experience new and different things. While I regularly take time to be introspective and consider the life I live in the near, past and longterm, I try to live every day as contemporarily as possible; as in living every day as it comes and as it goes. For me it’s not solely about living, it’s also about existing and being aware of what has past and what is yet to come, even if the latter is far less defined than the former. I look forward to the moment my life ends when I’ll be able to see it all arrayed before me and know in that moment, that regardless of whether I knew myself or not, I had lived a life worth living because I was alive in the first place. 

My year was a year, not unlike many that had come before, and it will not be dissimilar to those that follow. Exceptional things happened, for sure, but so did many, many mundane and banal trivialities. I learned lots of things, but I’d be hard-pressed to give you a succinct answer on what exactly those key learnings were. What I can safely say is that in my 24th rotation around the sun, I was able to see myself in a way that I had not necessarily looked for or at in years prior, if it was there at all. And because of that, I am content in knowing that 24 was a good year.