Mentorless: Story Fabricator Nathalie Sejean

nathalie-sejean-photo-by-gizem-evcinWell, kids, for anyone who missed the news — this is the last episode of Coffee With Creatives. At least, it’s the last one for now. I have decided, after much deliberation, to put the show on indefinite hiatus.

But I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect guest to bring to you for this occasion.

Nathalie Sejean is a champion of creative entrepreneurialism. She provides indispensable service to creatives, via her newsletter (Sunday Interestingness) and site (Mentorless.com), and is currently in development on her first feature film (In Five Years).

Check out our talk to hear Nathalie testify to the power of:

  • Turning to books at an early age (and, later, to bookselling) to jumpstart her interest in learning and storytelling
  • The advantages of building a skill set, while avoiding perfectionism, by moving from experiment to experiment
  • Leveraging daily creative challenges to source and iterate ideas over time
  • Showing your work, and why this is a crucial action
  • Keeping yourself accountable and taking continuous action — while staying humble
  • Fostering virtual communities
  • Transforming virtual relationships into real life meetings
  • Repetition, and how it serves not only output but quality and growth
  • An effectively employed and genuinely considered newsletter

I’m glad to be ending this endeavor on a high note by sharing this episode with you. Definitely follow Nathalie on Twitter, and sign up for her email list. You won’t be disappointed.

As for me, I am going quiet for a while. But you’ll hear from me soon. It will be a growl from a mountain.

Thank you for your listenership and readership. If you want to stay in touch, reach out anytime. Or sign up for my email list. I’ll likely keep active there, for now.

You can also listen to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes.


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker 
of hopeful stories for complex people. My first film, The Videoblogs, about mental health in the age of tech, is available on iTunes. I’m currently working on my next film and also a novel. Once per month or so, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this special group here. Thanks for reading.

The Arc of 2016: Fight Smart and Do Less, Better

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I knew Donald Trump was going to win.

At least, a part of me knew it. A part I didn’t want to hear. I suspect there are more than a few of us out there, who knew and yet couldn’t — desperately didn’t want to — believe it.

There’s a friend of mine, out there right now, who might still have a voicemail from me, that I left a few days before the election. I remember knowing what was going to happen, even then, as I clung to the belief that it couldn’t possibly happen, and did my part to avoid the result.

But it did happen. It has happened, hasn’t it — despite any recurring, sudden seizures of bewilderment. (Today, I heard someone say the word “trumpet”, and winced.)

We all know this, by now, that Donald Trump will soon be our President.

Some of us have even begun to accept the fact, as reality, if not on any further basis of principle (more on this later). Others haven’t yet accepted it, may not ever. And I suppose that is their right.

For myself, I was quick to accept the results of the election. They make, in retrospect, a perverse “sense”, at least to anyone who has been paying attention to the mood of the country and the world for the past decade.

This is not to suggest either that I am happy with what has happened (I’m not, if that hasn’t already been made clear) or that I am currently without hope for the future.

But it is a complicated, difficult time for sourcing out hope.

I can remember the day I left that voicemail more vividly now, as well as the scattering of others, occurring more recently, wherein I was similarly seized by anxiety, anger and sadness — when confronted with that sense of knowing what was about to happen, what has happened.

I can remember them more vividly because now I’m looking at those moments for what they were, as opposed to fighting against the knowledge that this is reality, as were the factors which led to (and now sustain) this unfortunate reality (for now).

Most of all, I remember the inner conflict. The sense of sinking dread.

This can be avoided. This can’t be avoided.

I refused to believe it. Still, sometimes, I can’t believe it. Perhaps that’s my sin, shared with countless others on both sides of the political spectrum. Certainly it is the sin of our media, which did not see this coming and, in fact, most likely contributed to this mess in a major way, by validating the theatrics of a bully via their mere “serious” attention.

Make no mistake, a time of reckoning has arrived in America.

People are going to suffer. The arguing will continue. The fear will continue.

Justice, fairness, equality — all supposed bedrocks of our democracy — will continue to absorb blow after blow. And we very well may wonder, soon, finally, if any of these crucial aspects of this contemporary brand of civilization can survive.

But they will survive, ultimately. We will.

I believe that. I can see and feel this belief clearly. The shock of Donald Trump’s Presidency has, at the very least, thrown our failings as a country into sharp relief against the task of safely securing a future — for all our citizens — about which can (eventually) be proud.

My acceptance does not make the pain or the sadness at our plight any lighter to carry, but it does imbue the carrying with a much-needed charge of hope.

So, what does this all have to do with my annual recap, as an artist, as I deliver it here once again? (That is, incidentally, nominally, the reason for this post.)

 

This site, the central hub for my work as an artist and activist, is now four years old.

When I started it, I was still struggling with anger, resentment and fury — against the injustices of the day. I was ready to talk about the issues, but not yet strong enough to truly engage them — or myself.

The year after that saw progress. I re-discovered a consistent creative voice, and I got to work. Along the way, I found myself heartened by the number and quality of like-minded people also working to make this country a better, more accepting, more equitable place.

Then, last year, I found peace. I began to feel capable of showing patience, of practicing faith. I’m still working on this, every day.

And, now, here is a great test. And a pressing question — how to conduct myself as an artist and a citizen during the presidency of Donald Trump?

It is a question, and a crucial one, whether its reality shocks me or not.

I have been turning this question over, regularly — but in a non-obsessive way — in the many days since I shared my initial thoughts on this deeply disappointing turn of history.

As I mentioned in that post, unfortunately, this sort of reaction comes more easily to me by nature of my demographic reality.

As a straight white male, the likeliest form of suffering in store for me has to do with my economic class — the same one I am in now, that I was born into over thirty years ago — even if I am sure to suffer by proxy as I watch friends and loved ones shake with anger and fear, and legitimately suffer, over the next four years.

And yet it is in this fact, in my similarity to Trump, that I find a point of access for the decision and announcement I am about to deliver.

 

The reason I knew this was going to happen is because it was inevitable.

I don’t mean that in a fatalistic way. I’m not being cynical or conveniently revisionist. This was inevitable because of how straight white people like me are handling the type and rate of change currently sweeping through the world — in a word, poorly.

But that is not to say that this is entirely their fault.

If there’s any justice left in the world, Donald Trump will in later years prove to be nothing more (or less) than the last gasp of a fading American power structure owned and engineered disproportionately by straight white males.

He is the face of our enemy, of our collective oppressor, not due explicitly to his whiteness or his straightness of even his maleness, but, rather, based on how he conducts and employs the power and privilege that come part and parcel with these things.

Once a bit of a misogynist, a bit of a racist and a homophobe, but always a skeptic of bureaucratic power — I now state plainly that I pride my contemporary self on being the polar opposite of someone like Donald Trump, despite our shared demographics of gender, race and sexuality.

Personally, at the very least, no matter what I do from here, I can move forward knowing that I struggled through change, learned and trusted in the goodness of people who looked and acted differently than me, and acted out of decency and courage rather than fear and hate.

It is no secret to regular readers, to anyone who saw The Videoblogs, or listeners to the podcast, that I have now absorbed goals of fairness, representation, and economic equality into my mission as an artist and a human being. However, I believe this all bears repeating for one very important reason.

 

While Donald Trump has provided a face to our enemy, he alone is not our enemy.

It is what he represents, and how he came to power, that we must understand and combat.

Politically, the answers might seem clear. And, in fact, they are.

Truth itself is under attack. It has been for a long time. I think the main reason I knew this was going to happen (despite my disbelief) is that I had already been fighting against men like Donald Trump for most of my life. Many of us have been.

Except, oftentimes through no fault of our own, we’ve been distracted from this truth, and this fight. By the machinations of the powerful, we have been bent, manipulated, and pushed away from Truth.

Our lives are not our own, in many respects. We are controlled by a power elite that, despite certain vestiges or illusions of democracy, care very little about the average American.

These people mostly only discriminate in regards to race and creed, insofar as it benefits them financially and politically to do so. They have very little actual faith in anything, apart from money and power, which are themselves faithless things.

These sad, desperate people know all this, and it destroys them inside — but they know no other way to behave, in the face of their own fears. And so they continue to hold fast to that fear, thereby, by virtue of the reality of our contemporary crony-capitalist economics, squeezing us.

And while they squeeze us and misdirect us and distract us, even to the point of their own continued and dangerous disillusionment, we turn against and fight one another, despite the overwhelming commonality of our fears and concerns as citizens. In this way, democracy (rule by the people) remains perpetually arrested, and plutocracy (rule by a wealthy elite) continues to maintain its grip on the throats of the everyday citizen.

Donald Trump may be the face of our enemy, but we must be very careful in the next several years of civil combat not to focus the majority our energy squarely on him and his administration. True deliverance from this plight requires us to go deeper, and fight longer.

This is what I have come to understand in these past few weeks.

My own distractedness, my own fear and faithlessness, have been my failure. I don’t say this to diminish the gains I and we have made over the last several years. I only mean to point out that there’s much work left to be done.

 

Trump is the symptom, not the disease.

The disease is the faithlessness, the dejection, the weariness, of contemporary America — and much of the world. We (the people) are angry, we are depressed, we find ourselves fundamentally exhausted and estranged from true hope. We have been beaten down and driven insane by the elite, confused and harried by the speed of innovation, and neither the tyranny of the elite, nor the advance of machine-dependency into our lives — show any signs of letting up.

There is no other way to explain how someone like Donald Trump can win office by claiming to represent the will of the people, while lying through his teeth about his intention to fight against the very elite that he wholly (and vulgarly) represents.

All that our cowardly, selfish, greedy President-elect intends to do for the next four years is consolidate money and power among his elite.  That much was clear all along, and has been proven by his cabinet appointments. When he’s done he’ll abandon the destruction and foot us with the bill and — barring a miracle — carry on with his greed and destruction until the moment of his lonely death.

To be clear — to repeat — in actual reality, there is no one less-representative of the average American than Donald Trump.

That millions of people either do not understand this, or refuse to believe it, that our political and economic system all but excludes the possibility of an actual champion of the people successfully reaching office (or at least one empowered by a consensus of reasonable political allies on all sides of the political spectrum) — this is the sickness from which we desperately need to recover.

 

For this reason, for myself, I find that this year has brought with it a lesson in focus.

I cannot afford, or tolerate, anything less than fully-committed, principled conduct and expression from myself. I need to fight smart and I need to move quickly. The only way to do this effectively is to put out work of real depth, that is of a larger scope, and work smartly and strategically to get the work out to as many people as possible.

To be clearer, I intend, beginning in 2017, to do less — better.

This site will remain online indefinitely. But this is likely the last blog post for a while, although I might chime in on occasion and will continue to run my email list. Beginning next month, Coffee with Creatives is going on hiatus, indefinitely. My presence here will be sporadic, as compared to previous years.

I have big things to do, in regards to the main areas of battle central to this essay. I intend to go at these things, full tilt. I’m ready to — truly, passionatelly — fight.

Are you? Because we’ll need you.

 


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker 
of hopeful stories for complex people. My first film, The Videoblogs, about mental health in the age of tech, is available on iTunes. I’m currently working on my next film and also a novel. Once per month or so, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this special group here. Thanks for reading.

 

No Excuses: Filmmaker Tom DeNucci

image7I’ve known Tom DeNucci for a long time. It was great to finally get him on Coffee with Creatives, and he does not disappoint in this latest episode of the podcast.

If I took one thing away from our talk, it’s…the power of action. No matter what you’re trying to do as a creative, if you keep moving forward, with a parallel focus on learning through experience (and from mistakes) — you’ll grow. And results will come.

Other topics that come up in my talk with Tom include:

  • His involvement (and appearance) in the Martin Scorcese produced film Bleed for This
  • Starting as a background actor, and watching everything everyone does on set
  • The crucial importance of attention to detail
  • Digging in as a regional filmmaker, in spite of stereotypes and challenges
  • Getting your movies (or creations) seen
  • The benefits of keeping up a rotation of projects and goals.

You can find Tom on Twitter. Bleed for This is currently in theaters.

As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.

We’re All Growing: Producer Alex Cirillo

image1As one half of Big Vision Empty Wallet and Big Vision Creative, Alex Cirillo has worked on numerous projects in film and TV. Along the way, she’s gained a ton of useful knowledge that’s sure to be of interest to the budding, stuck or striving creative.

In this latest episode of Coffee with Creatives, I sat down with Alex and discussed:

  • Getting a head start in film by studying it in high school, and how the early support of a teacher helped Alex realize she might be on the right path
  • Building a network by working different gigs and internships
  • The importance of relationships to growth and success
  • The benefits of being a small team, and reasons for intentionally staying that way
  • Finding a way to make things work
  • Approaching film and TV as a media for both social change and vagina jokes
  • The most common mistake filmmakers make in pitching their projects

Stick around to the end to hear Alex’s one piece of advice for how to leap forward in your project or career. It’s simple, actionable and effective. Enjoy.

You can find Alex on Twitter, and learn more about Big Vision here.

As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.

President Donald Trump and My Dog’s Poop: A Story of Acceptance and Hope

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There’s actually a (somewhat) reasonable explanation for why I have this picture.

As I’m sure was probably the case for many Americans, I had trouble sleeping last night. I couldn’t shake the anxiety and dread that grew part and parcel along with Donald Trump’s Electoral Vote tally.

My wife slept uneasily beside me, unaware of the impending doom but, as it often goes with her — somehow still aware. She tossed and turned and groaned and ground her teeth.

My wife is a Latina and a feminist who exited the polls crying yesterday, out of pride at having voted for a woman for President of The United States. I am a white man, and a fifth or sixth-generation Italian-American. I share her values of equal rights and representation for women and for all the races that make up our democracy.

We both suffer from anxiety and depression, and have dedicated much of the last several years of our life to advocating for a greater dialogue on mental health in America, and greater diversity and more accurate representation in the media.

I am not a Democrat or a Republican — in fact, I have no party affiliation. I am, however, a reasonable, compassionate human being who writes this from a place of deep disappointment with his country and fellow citizens.

When it became clear to me, last night, that Donald Trump was going to be elected as my next President, I stopped obsessively, desperately, checking my phone. I gave into fatigue, and slept.

My alarm went off this morning, as the same time it always does, and the first thing I did was confirm what I already instinctively knew — the worst-case scenario had indeed unfolded. A man whose principle political strategy was comprised of hate-mongering, and the exploitation of racial and sexist fears and biases, will soon take office as the 45th President of the United States.

What I did next might sound surprising — or perhaps not — it surprised me, a bit.

I shut off the alarm, I got up, and I went about my day. As I always do.

I didn’t wallow, and neither did I pretend that nothing had changed. Much has changed. I understand this. I also understand and would like to underscore the fact that, as a straight white male, this quick acceptance might come much easier to me than, say, a woman of color.

But I share all this because I think it’s of supreme importance that we accept this outcome and move forward as best we can.

Perhaps this is naive of me, and again, I think I’m only able to say it due to my privileged position — but I do not believe Donald Trump is going to prove to be the fascist that so many of us are afraid he’s going to turn out to be.

More likely, the next few years will reveal to all of us — his specific electorate included — the extent to which the man will lie and exploit fear in service of his own gain. This is how he has won, but it won’t serve him or us well as we go about the business of governing here and working with other countries around the globe in terms of international affairs.

I believe he will do much harm. I believe he’ll prove largely incompetent as a leader. And I do worry that I’m wrong in my estimation of the level of which he’s capable of pushing the hateful agenda espoused during his campaign — that he actually might have come to believe some of the venomous rhetoric he has co-opted from the far right of the Republican party, and turn it against minority populations in my country.

What Donald Trump will never do, however, is stop me from fighting. Neither will the results of this election distract me, for any longer than today, from my mission of doing what I can to make the world a better, more equitable place for the people whose anger and disillusionment I share — no matter their political affiliation, level of education, or how they might have voted yesterday.

I have expressed before on this site my belief that America is an abusive relationship with its economy. That much was made clear to us when this most recession swept through our population, hurting the average American more than anyone else, with little repercussions to those responsible.

Today, given that we’ve handed our Presidency to Donald Trump, and the remainder of our government to a Republican Party that has done little else but obstruct government for the past decade — I have to admit that this observation was incomplete.

It’s not just our economy. It’s our political system. Our culture. We’re so lost and desperate and confused and angry that we’ve just handed the most powerful position of influence in our country over to a man who cares very little about much more than himself and his own needs.

This is not a reasonable or an effective response to our very real — and shared — needs for identity, safety, clarity and fairness. Capitalism thrives on private interest, but capitalists, as a rule, dehumanize laborers and employees  into power and statistics for their own continued gain, with little regard for the health of the individual worker or the communities to which he or she belongs.

We have witnessed Donald Trump doing this to women. We have watched as he worked to establish his predecessor, President Obama, as an other, by calling his citizenship into question until such time as it no longer benefited himself to do so. It is a supreme, tragic injustice that a man with no real understanding or concern for the everyday American has catapulted himself into the White House by the power of millions of people with real fears and grievances, whose energy and voting power has been transmuted by cunning and misinformation in service of their own continued suffering.

These past few weeks, I have been waking up earlier, and taking longer walks with my dog. It brings me peace. Today, I made sure to stick to this routine.

Except, despite my acceptance and general hopefulness, I’ve been distracted all morning.

This is only natural. I’m worried about the lives that will be destroyed and lost before enough of us finally see the truth of all this for what it is. Forgive the silly example — again, white man of privilege here — but because of this distractedness I made an uncommon mistake this morning, and forgot to take a bag with me for picking up after my dog.

This does happen, sometimes. I always feel guilty when it does. I love my community and I try to do my part to keep it clean.

A few years ago, in this situation, before my own strides in acceptance and before I saw to the improvement of own my mental health, I would have either left my dog’s poop on the ground or attempted to pick it up with a leaf or a piece of trash. Either way I would have castigated myself for my mistake, all the way home.

Nowadays, instead, when this happens I keep an eye out for other dog-walkers. I ask if they have an extra bag. Much of the time, they do, and they’re happy to offer it. In this way, we’re collaborating to keep our neighborhood clean.

This morning, I was just realizing my mistake when I saw a young woman walking a black labrador just ahead of me. She was about the cross the street, moving away in the opposite direction. I asked if she happened to have an extra bag.

The woman stopped. She looked me squarely in the eye, and instead of answering the question she asked me — quite sincerely, in accented English — how I was doing. I got the sense that she was European, and not a citizen.

I told her that I was…distracted.

She expressed sympathy and gave me the bag. It was a simple gesture of solidarity and compassion, and I’m grateful for it.

But I’ve also been wondering at my answer — distracted.

Not terrible. Not hopeless. Not angry.

I feel distracted.

Because I have accepted the reality that Donald Trump is going to be my President. Whether we want to admit this or not, it’s the truth. And, while I am afraid of the damage he’s inevitably going to do — I have hope that not all is lost.

I’m going about my life.

In the process, I continue to feel my feelings. It’s not that I’m not angry, or struggling with sadness and disappointment. But I’m processing these emotions — at my own pace, to be fair to anyone still reeling from the results of the presidential race. To be honest, though, I’m starting to get the sense that this travesty is going to at least provide me with some extra fuel for the coming fights, of which there will likely be many.

As a realist, I never had much invested in this election in the first place. With the exception of a brief moment wherein Bernie Sanders seemed to have a shot, I never had much hope for an optimal result. That doesn’t mean that I don’t care, or that I wasn’t able to identify the clear better candidate when voting.

And yet, that doesn’t matter now, does it?

What matters now is that I  — and we — exercise caution. This mess we’re in has expressed itself numerically, in terms of the results we now have to live with. But, as time goes on and things inevitably get worse for the majority of Americans over the next few years, we must instead turn our attention not to remastering the numbers but the recovery of our collective spirit.

For myself, I plan to continue to work as a mental health advocate, as a resource for practical tactics and results-driven personal growth, and as a champion of diversity and or compassion.

There will be more pain. There will be more hate. We cannot allow it to distract us. There’s work to be done — hard work that we won’t often want to do, or that will seem hopeless. But it’s imperative that we show fortitude and courage.

It’s the only thing that can work.


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker 
of hopeful stories for complex people. Lately, I have been sharing some reflections and stories every morning. Once per month, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive stories and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this exclusive group here. Thanks for reading.

How to Move Your Career or Project Forward Right Now

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Greetings, Fellow Creatives! Today’s episode of the podcast is a bit of a clip show, but I think it will be very useful to longtime listeners as well as anyone new to Coffee with Creatives.

As many of you may know, I try to make a point of asking guests on Coffee with Creatives for actionable advice for anyone who is just starting out, or perhaps feeling stuck with any one project or in the career, or who is just generally on the look out for practices and tactics that might help them create and keep on creating.

That’s the goal of the show at large, and in this episode you’ll hear from some of my more popular guests in terms of:

  • One piece of advice they would offer to help you generate and realize your vision,
  • Getting your work made and/or seen,
  • Moving through fear,
  • The benefits of mindfulness,
  • And other important methods that go hand-in-hand with creating professionally.

If you enjoy this episode, here’s the full list — in order — of guests whose longer interviews are excerpted. I’ll be back in a few weeks with a new full-length interview.

Please consider sharing this episode on Twitter or Facebook if you get something out of it.

As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.

It’s Absurd That We Die: Filmmaker Josh Seftel

joshua-seftel-and-john-cusack

 

Josh Seftel applied for a grant to make a film about toxic mold. He got the grant and made the film. After it developed a bit of a cult following, he started getting calls from Hollywood. Eventually, he would go on to work with talent like Ben Kingsley, Marisa Tomei and John Cusack.

On a separate day, he ran into an old friend on the street. Three years later, the film that resulted from that chance meeting would grace the front page of The New York Times web site.

Josh and I talk about all this and more on the latest episode of Coffee with Creatives. Head on over to iTunes to hear about:

  • Why Josh skipped on medical school to make films and produce stories, eventually leading him to work with such outlets as HBO, PBS and This American Life
  • The importance of gaining and nurturing a network across disciplines — and how that helped land his short documentary, The Many Sad Fates of Mr. Toledano, on the home page of The New York Times
  • How and why Morgan Spurlock got involved with The Many Sad Fates of Mr. Toledano
  • Working in a morgue during college, and his longtime affinity for dark things
  • The benefits of getting up early
  • The importance of finding a mentor, and the one crucial thing you you should do in parallel while working for or with that mentor

Great talk. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. You can find Josh on Twitter. His site can be found here. To watch The Many Sad Fates of Mr. Toledano, catch it on Vimeo.

As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.

Sweet Dreams Inviolate

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I had sweet dreams last night. Two of them. Happy dreams, that moved at an easy pace and traded in real possibility.

I can’t remember the last time that happened. Definitely that easy pace isn’t something I experience very often — whether asleep or waking. Even past “good dreams” — they often flash by, even in memory.

It felt good, having a couple dreams where I experienced real clarity, in a way I could appreciate. There was no rush — just that clarity. What I saw and felt, I understood.

I’m going to give this feeling one more moment — because why not.

It felt good.

Good can be enough, sometimes, without have to analyze anything, without having to break it down. So, let’s live by example, today, perhaps.

Have a good day.


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker 
of hopeful stories for complex people. Lately, I have been sharing some reflections and stories every morning. Once per month, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive stories and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this exclusive group here. Thanks for reading.

Daily Progress vs. The Perfection Method

ben

 

The sun’s rising. I’m drinking my tea. There’s a blanket over my legs and the dog is curled up beside me. For now, it’s quiet.

I was wondering what I would write about today, but that seems as good a start as any. I’m content.

Another week down. More words written, both here and in my new screenplay. Yesterday remained an up-and-down day for me. My brain was in a mood. That’s okay. I got through it. I took care of myself as best I could.

I talked to some friends, and to my wife. I asked for help. I asked for help — and my penis is still attached this morning, for anyone wondering.

As I suspect it might go for many, I have a tendency to collapse into the weekend. I think the main reason I found myself battling yesterday — was because I was tired. So I rested.

And I’m keeping a closer eye on the pattern. It’s no good to burn out early. I’m worried about that result, for myself. It’s happened before. I want better, now.

There are two main characteristics to being an independent artist. The first, obviously, is the independence.

Many of us gravitate towards unbeaten paths because we’re simply drawn there, must make our own trail, for any of a number of reasons. It’s important that we do this, for others as well as ourselves. I believe that.

But then there is also the complicated part of it. The necessity towards a sometimes unsparing utilitarianism, and towards sacrifice. Lacking context or proof of our reasons for going another way — we similarly lack the resources to give any one project as good as a go as we must, without trading in on our own body and spirit.

This breaks us down, I think, slowly, over time. It’s how many artists get swallowed up, become embittered. An embittered artist is perhaps as capable of committing as much damage, in their despair, as those that their work has or would have targeted in the past. Perhaps more.

One of the friends I spoke with last night brought up the idea of sustainability, a topic I’ve discussed here and on the podcast before.

The question we pondered was whether it was better to create a little bit, each day, refining and growing naturally over time — or to work exceedingly hard to perfect one big thing, perhaps over the same amount of time but in a way wherein we might be left understandably exhausted at the end.

Having tried on both methods, now, I tend to agree with my friend — that the first might be a better fit at present. There’s a great danger, when following the perfection method, to rationalize. It’s almost necessary.

I’m doing all this work to make this perfect, but once it’s perfect, then everything will fall into place.

Except that’s not a hard and fast rule. Further, we don’t get to decide what’s perfect.

That sunrise? This cup of tea. My dog and the chill quiet morning? Maybe that’s perfect.

If I were to make a little film for you, highlighting this same combination? Sure, perhaps it would come out “nice” — but it would might never capture the feeling I got, and perhaps was conjured in you, when we started off here.

Now, that’s a convenient example. My morning ritual isn’t inherently cinematic. But anything can be cinematic, with the right amount of work, the right talent applied. I could take up the challenge and direct and shoot and edit a short film about Morning Tea. 

But the amount of work it would take to do this flawlessly? The curse of filmmaking. Which by its nature depends very heavily on The Perfection Method.

I’m not setting up any grand revelation, to be clear. I don’t plan on quitting the game. I am exhausted by the game, though. I do have to admit that I find it much more soothing to make daily progress as a writer.

And yet, the highest spikes of traffic to this site (my hub as an artist) over the past three years, have been the releases of Multiverse, The Confession, and The Videoblogs. On its own, the separate site for The Videoblogs drew twice as many visitors in a few months than this site does in an average year.

So, maybe it’s about balance. And patience. Two characteristics that are quite new to my vocabulary. For most of my life, until now, I think I’ve confused perpetual frenzy with escape velocity. I felt that if I just worked a little harder, I’d be free and on my way.

But maybe it’s not a question of escape — of leaving the planet. Maybe it’s a long slow journey, to be savored even as certain legs take us up and along arduous peaks, and down into cold, rocky valleys.

It would make sense, this more earthbound analogy. It would explain the purer accessibility of the sun and the tea and the dog in the morning. It would place The Perfection Method into some approachable, quantifiable context. Such hard journeys aren’t usually taken alone — at least not by sane people — or in quick succession.

These two main characteristics of the independent artist — the freedom to work in new ways and towards new results, and the necessity of approaching this task with what’s available — they’re obviously closely related. But perhaps one can’t be leveraged in support of the other.

More likely, they’re two legs of a stool, with patience and balance making up the remaining two legs. Removing any one leg to buttress another won’t work. It will just throw off the effectiveness of the whole thing.

More to ponder.


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker 
of hopeful stories for complex people. Lately, I have been sharing some reflections and stories every morning. Once per month, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive stories and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this exclusive group here. Thanks for reading.

 

It Doesn’t Matter What You Think You Know

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Sometimes even a sight like this isn’t enough to help me pause.

Sometimes, when I’m irritable and don’t know why, I stop and take five slow, deep breaths.

I don’t even know if I was capable of performing this task before I began meditating a few years ago. I likely would have stopped around breath number three — “OKAY I GET IT ENOUGH!”

But there’s a vast difference between “getting” something and giving over to it. There are facts and then there’s the appreciation of said facts.

As thinking, feeling humans, we absorb and experience information in primarily in two ways — what the information means and how it relates to us.

For instance, I can know that taking several slow, deep breaths is scientifically (and experientially) proven as a sort of biological reset. It helps me to take the focus off my irritability, which is often cerebral and based somewhere among rumination on the past or future, and divert it towards the basics.

I need to breathe. Breathing is the most consistently natural thing in the world. I am here right now, and all I actually have to do in this moment is breathe.

If and when I respond to a suggestion or impulse to slow down and breathe by (breathlessly) exclaiming “I GET IT!” — I’m interrupting this instinct towards what is natural and essential in favor of what is stubbornly egoistic.

In leveraging the excuse that “YES, I UNDERSTAND” the effects of any one practice, I’m essentially purporting to be able to utilize its full effect without having to undertake the practice in full.

This is impossible and foolhardy.

It’s an excuse to continue to exist in irritability, or anger, or fear. It’s a forgivable, understandable excuse (fear slings some serious gravity) but it’s still an excuse. It’s a tradeoff, and a poor one.

Knowledge is not necessarily experience. This is just a fact — most things in life cannot be fully known until we’re out in the real world receiving them in a sensory, natural way.

When we work with less than this full breadth of information, we’re in essence stumbling around attempting to lend substance and depth to a hollow facsimile with nothing but wind and light to help us.

Look, I’m not as much of a purist as I used to be. To be clear, I’m not advocating that only things as natural as breathing are worth experiencing. I’m more concerned, for myself, with fully approaching whatever task I’m in the process of approaching, with as many of my faculties devoted to it as I can muster, for as long as it takes.

This especially holds true — I’d argue it’s most crucial — when I’m in a place where I feel completely stuck, either on the way towards or fully arrived at powerlessness. This is when my natural tendency to say “I KNOW” kicks in, just in time to stand in the way of, for instance, those five deep breaths.

It doesn’t matter what I know. What is true, when I get that feeling — is that sometimes I need to stop and reset. When I follow this instinct, it works. That I’m aware that it works, and can recall in some vague way such results, does not matter to the mysterious biology of my brain, or the evasive mechanisms of my spirit.

Perhaps some aspects of life can move forward by employing shortcuts. But not daily existence. It can be easy to forget that, though, sometimes, in the here and now.

Stopping, in moments when I just want it all to stop, is exactly the right reaction. Thinking about stopping, recalling the benefits of the practice without actually employing it — it is not the same thing.

Such an apparently tiny courageous act as admitting this, that “I DON’T GET IT!”, can hold the power to salvage a whole day.


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker 
of hopeful stories for complex people. Lately, I have been sharing some reflections and stories every morning. Once per month, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive stories and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this exclusive group here. Thanks for reading.