The Vulnerability Paradox

Margaret (Rebecca De Ornelas) and Vee (Phoebe Allegra) know the value of a short walk in the sun. From The Videoblogs.
Margaret (Rebecca De Ornelas) and Vee (Phoebe Allegra) know the value of a walk in the sun. From The Videoblogs.

Okay — fuck.

It’s been a long winter. It’s been a long winter because it’s been a long winter, but also because we’ve been in post on The Videoblogs since shortly after our shoot wrapped in September. I spent most of October battling a perhaps “normal” post-film depression, logging and organizing footage when I could, and since then have been chipping away at a rough cut that is probably a few weeks from finished.

Again — especially in indie film terms — I realize that a lot of that is “normal”. Considering that we’re close to a Next Big Step (the rough cut) it’s also exciting.

But I am barely keeping it together.

Now, to be clear, I am still keeping it together. As many of you know, I’ve spent much of the last few years striving to be better about self-care, at the same time that I’ve been working to build better habits that have led to increased creative productivity. I’ve also written here about the benefits of having (sort of) learned the hard way to pace myself. But as both the preceding statement and the relatively long period of quiet here on the site might reveal — it hasn’t been easy. I have stumbled and I have briefly forgotten some of the aforementioned lessons (it happens).

I want to spend some time talking about why that’s been the case, for my own benefit as well as, hopefully, that of others who may find themselves in a similar boat now or in the future.

Speaking personally, the hardest part of wrapping The Videoblogs was returning, bleary-eyed, to my standard day-to-day existence, having accomplished a major life goal — of which I was and am immensely proud of and grateful for — but which also exposed my heart to the world in a more widespread way than at any other point in my life. This was the way it had to happen, and I have accepted and continue to accept that. But it doesn’t mean it has been easy. Or that it’s over, for that matter. Despite my vulnerable state, it’s not over by a stretch — the film hasn’t even been seen by anyone yet, except me.

It felt normal when my head took a bit of a dip, following our shoot, because filmmaking is a large scale endeavor with a lot of emotions at stake (as is the case with most large scale endeavors). As I’ve said, I’ve been through it before — though never on this scale — and I’ve luckily met and continue to commune with other indie filmmakers who also go through it all the time. What I wasn’t prepared for, that happened sort of after we wrapped but basically at the same time, was the return of Great Panic to my life.

I don’t know why I supposed, in a general way, that I was done with prolonged periods of intense panic (lingering naivete, perhaps) but I suspect that the condition “caught me by surprise” months after the shoot because I was just…under a lot of pressure…and in a constant state of motion.

The Videoblogs has been a huge undertaking. In a way, as I have said before, it’s a culmination of years of work, learning, research, and preparation. In another, more tactile way, it was and continues to be a big thing with many moving parts operating with very limited resources. As its Director and one of its main Producers, I think it’s understandable that I might have had to commit in the short term to a bit of delusion in order to simply get through those hard parts of the process where the stakes were highest (the months leading up to production and then production itself). Indie filmmaking is a specific form of necessary madness, and it takes a mad person to even try to adequately honor a story with little else but a mash-up of similarly mad souls, a minimal cache of resources, a fart and a prayer.

To reiterate, I went into The Videoblogs with the benefit of years of practice in the technique of low-budgeting filmmaking, with the support of a community of peers to talk to (some of whom thankfully reached out unsolicited with helpful advice when they heard Rebecca and I were tackling The First Feature), and a clear knowledge, based mostly on these things, that the journey was nevertheless probably going to end up as something that would have to be gotten through —  before the experience of it was fully understood.

This does not make either the specific undertaking or me as a person special. I’ll end momentarily with a softer definition, but that’s arguably a partial description of life experience as we know it — some things just have to be gotten through, worked through, to be not only appreciated but respected as the eventual touchstones they may become as we continue on our respective journeys.

Still, I think that, over the course of the last several months, I lost sight of all that, a little bit. As I have said, I think it’s understandable (and forgivable) but I did, in my anxiety, occasionally forget the fact that this was never going to go perfectly, that it was never meant to go perfectly, that there’s time to let it go the way it has to go, and that I don’t and can’t possibly know how this is all going to play out — in terms of not only the film but my life as someone who feels compelled to make films and other works of artistic intention.

Who even wants to have it all figured out, to be done learning, at thirty years old (or at whatever age you are, as you read this)? It sounds nice, when you fantasize about it, but that’s not life. Life’s confusing and messy and surprising and funny and sad and everything else. While planning has its uses, all plans are doomed to fail in some way. As an aside, I’ll have more to say about that soon, in another post I’m working on that more broadly examines the relationship between artist and art, and wherein I’ll attempt to focus on the potential graces of this truth.

For now, I want to end this by going Catholic on you and confessing.

I have slipped, in my zeal to Figure It All Out (Now). I have overworked. I have overeaten, gaining probably fifteen pounds in gummis and cheeseburgers, because post-production is a dehumanizing process that turns men and women into anachronistic junk-consuming bent-figured computer-punching cave people. I have undershared, in forgetting how important it has been for me to keep in touch here and to listen to your feedback. I have let the winter cold and the cold reality of an indie filmmaker’s economic condition serve as excuses for under-socializing. In a desperate fit of existential questioning, I juggled editing with a mad dash of writing — all the while continuing to work full time — and developed nerve issues in both arms.

In short, I went a little crazy. Again. But I am slowly crawling back. Again.

Because that is what we do.

Though it took me some time to acknowledge this, the arm injuries have been a blessing in disguise, serving first as a red light and now a yellow light to work at a realistic pace and scale.

Similarly, in emotional terms, I’m trying to listen to my heart and experiment with a better system of exposing it more carefully — but with the same level of faith — by, for instance, swapping in targeted depth for broad nakedness. It’s no small thing, to risk yourself by putting work out into the world. But when I remember that I’m really only talking to those who will hear me, or really only have to commune with those who are willing and ready to meet me and the work on an approximately level plane — it gets a lot easier.

So I’ve started to feel better, and to behave more responsibly — because all of this, this experience, it’s beautiful, too, isn’t it? We can’t forget that.

I would have to believe in the beauty of the struggle, in some deep way, to do what I do. Again, while I understand what happened and why…now that I’m on the other side of it, I wonder why I ever doubt the results while I’m still engaged in the process. The artistic life, like all kinds of lives, is both struggle and relief, is as much about getting through the difficult times as it is appreciating the good feelings that come from having done that next thing. And I really do want to appreciate this moment. It feels right to do that.

The dirty trick of all this, I think, is that there’s no way of knowing, as mere humans, when things are going to go well or when circumstances are going to test you.

Arriving finally at the vulnerability paradox, I hereby state — until I forget it again — that I understand that when I risk myself through my work, that I must then also try to let go of any fears of potential results. There’s no other way to authentically experience the full rewards of any one endeavor as well as or as completely as any potential damages (which, as I have said repeatedly, come with their own eventual benefits as well).

Up until this point, I have engaged more often in a less fruitful pattern: fearing the risk, eventually building up the courage to take it anyway, then shying (at least in part) from the results of the undertaking. I don’t begrudge myself this past behavior, but the benefit of having so many others on board with The Videoblogs, as both collaborators and supports, is that I am able to ultimately shrug off any reflexive re-defensing of my vulnerable self via the strength that comes with the knowledge that this is not as lonely an undertaking as it sometimes feels.

It may have started with myself and my closest creative collaborators risking ourselves by openly stating that we felt this sort of a story — about mental health and reaching out via the screen and regaining some sense of community in an increasingly stratified and alienating modern world — needed to be told, and it may make sense that in telling it I feel exposed and afraid to move on (in spite of the fact that I am moving on now), but even as I have struggled in recent months I have known, somewhere, that what I was going through was normal, that this particular moment in time, where things were “okay” again, would come, and that I would find my way back here to you. Thus, the only way to assuage the fears that arrived as a result of becoming vulnerable, the only way to ease the defensiveness and the panic at the thought of judgment — is to name these fears and become vulnerable yet again. And this isn’t the last time, over the life of The Videoblogs, or hopefully mine in general, that things are going to happen this way.

This paradox can be wonderful, if we choose to embrace it, because (in my experience) abandoning the compulsion to control outcomes helps us switch perspective such that we may appreciate the difficult times as well as the good. When I remember to do this, to offer a basic metaphor, I find myself able to recall. say, the bitterness of distasteful experiences as adding depth and contrast and fullness to any additional sweetnesses that were there before or are forthcoming. Similarly, any one struggle could be re-framed as a splash of the acidic, for mixing with the sweat of life to add variety and excitement to a day that perhaps seems a little too blankly reduced to extremes of bitterness and sweetness only. I think those metaphors work. I don’t know. I’m hungry.

The point is that though I forgot it for a while, things are going to be okay. I can be patient. I can talk and share and especially I can laugh and shrug and just ride it out and trust the work.

Because that’s really all it comes down to, isn’t it? Do the work and be heartfelt about it and find your own heart in it and share with others and hold your breath and wait and trust and, when it’s all over, when you’re ready — do it again.

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michaeldibiasio

Writer and Filmmaker

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