Fiction: Ashes

Paige had three days left to live before she had to lock her screenplay, and she intended to burn every one of them.

She would burn them cleanly, maximizing each joule of energy, until there was nothing left but ashes. Then she would mix the ashes (with whatever people mixed them with), to create a sort of metaphorical, celebratory war paint.

Because on the fourth day, she too, as she existed — as The Screenwriter — would be dead. And like The Phoenix, in her place, The Filmmaker would rise.

Paige rubbed her right temple. The responsibility of finalizing her script was having a deleterious effect on her everyday metaphors. She was tired.

Paige’s boyfriend stumbled into the kitchen, still dumb with sleep.

“Morning.”

He touched her shoulder. The gesture warmed her, but it also seemed to pull her in two, acting as it did in opposition to the inescapable gravity of her laptop, and the latest draft on its screen.

“Again?” he asked.

Paige did not answer. She gave up on him, and turned her full attention back to the screen. She stabbed a few keys, and drew blood with the stabbing.

“It’s done, babe.”

Paige waved him away, answering both him and herself.

“No. It isn’t.”

 

***

Two days.

Paige had not showered for a while, and probably wouldn’t yet. She had at least eaten today, but not much.

Of coffee there had been plenty. And water to stay hydrated. And more coffee to keep up her baseline, to avoid the migraines.

An untimely migraine would be disastrous, not that there was ever a timely migraine, although she supposed upon reflection that it was possible, and could even think of a few select people she would wish a well-timed migraine upon, had she the power.

Later that night she would offset the wakefulness of too much caffeine, if it happened (it probably would happen) with herbal tea and a long hot overdue shower and maybe some prescription drugs.

She was in a cafe. She only dimly remembered how she got there.

The printed sheets that made up the made-up thing were stacked in front of her, along with two pens. A red pen and a blue pen, both among her chosen standard, as they contrasted nicely with the black and white of the page. Paige hated missing her own notes, which could happen if she moved too quickly through annotations made with sneaky black pen ink.

Paige felt less-than-fine this afternoon.

She could no longer remember the difference between her red notes and her blue notes. There may not have been one, in the first place. She sipped coffee. It was bitter and cold, which pleased her in its unpleasantness. She wanted to feel unpleasant, at the moment. 

There hadn’t been a difference between the pens. She remembered now. She had started with the red pen but after a while had found it too aggressive. Blue had felt gentler.

Three hours passed, during which Paige successfully took a ten minute break to talk to her boyfriend, who seemed to miss her but he didn’t push it. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she placed a reminder to appreciate his patience, at a time wherein she’d be more capable. She was decidedly not capable in the short term. God have mercy on anyone who loves a writer.

She also succeeded during the break in not crossing the street to buy cigarettes.

Paige hadn’t smoked in ten years, and even when she had it had only been two or three a day. But she fantasized about cigarettes all the time when on deadline.

It was the idea of ashes, again. Of finding herself that much closer to the combustion of life. Physically a part of it. Sucking in the toxic vaporous remains of eradicated organic (and chemical) matter, consequences be damned.

Manmade climate change suddenly made a perverse, death-obsessed sense to her, which was too big a thought to entertain at the moment and so Paige tipped back her cup and swallowed the dregs of her cold coffee which this time tasted like failure and imminent doom.

She eventually incorporated only two of her twenty-plus red and blue notes that day. On her way home she stopped for a few drinks with a friend. While waiting outside the bar for her ride share home, she asked a nearby woman for one of her cigarettes, then took one drag of it before offering the thing back.

This action not make any sense to the disgusted woman, who was also clearly unhappy with Paige’s waste. Paige had failed to measure up as a true partner in suffering, which was probably true. Hers was a deeper commitment to dying alive, one that mostly dispensed with aids and props and relied more frequently on the tried and true practice of constant, unfettered, often dark (but not always) introspection.

Paige thought about offering to repay the woman a dollar or two for her misplaced trust, but her car arrived. And, besides, she felt she had already done a service to her sister-in-arms, by illustrating just how easy it was to start small in embracing the absurdity of daily life, and then combatting it in kind by countering with such small rebellions as an under-utilized, cast-off, cigarette.

Her boyfriend had already fallen asleep by the time Paige got home. She woke him up in a way that she felt acknowledged his patience and faith but also gave her the relief she needed to get to sleep without the pills.

She took the pills anyway and didn’t feel bad about it.

 

***

Paige woke late on the final day, mildly hungover and faced immediately with the challenge of lassoing her desperate, wildly rioting anxious mind, which flailed in pursuit of any escape out of the present moment and into a future to which it would never belong.

Once this was done, and after two aspirin and some water, she felt calmer.

She read a clean printout of yesterday’s draft over coffee, while seated comfortably on her couch, under a blanket even though it was a warm day.

When she was done she put the pages down and went for a walk, marveling at how simple it could sometimes be to walk out the door and into the world (it did not always feel so simple).

The day seemed brighter and sharper than any other had been in months. The air held a sweet freshness. Images danced in her head. Feelings swelled in her that were not entirely her own, but were yet still a part of her.

The Filmmaker was rising.

 

***

When she returned from her walk, Paige regarded the stack of pages — from a comfortable distance. They looked the same as they had when she had left, although she herself had changed.

It had been right to pour herself into the script as she had, to agonize over it, to bargain (carefully, as much as that can be said) with her sanity and physical health, in order to deliver it to this moment.

But now the moment was here. Things would of course change, but probably not by much, and not in any way that would resemble The Way It Had Been over the course of the past many months.

Then she read the script one last time, languorously, tenderly, and with a detached awe that separated its genesis and iteration from the woman she had been during its creation.

This story was commissioned by Liz Manashil. Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed it, consider sending $1 or more to the author via Venmo or PayPal.

 

The Focus of 2018: Faith and Action

 

For each of the past five years, I’ve published a post on this site recapping what I perceived as the arc of the previous twelve months, in broader terms but also for me personally. While I undertook the exercise again last month, I didn’t end up publishing my thoughts.

And I’m not going to publish them.

I’ve wanted to publish that post, just as I wanted to share what’s been going on in my head at many points throughout the last, mostly silent (as a blogger/podcaster) year. Obviously, I couldn’t do it then, either. And I’ve struggled with these decisions, despite knowing that they were correct.

On the other hand, in the midst of the tumult of 2017, I remained productive, perhaps more so than ever before. It never felt that way, probably because of the tempestuousness of the cultural moment but also because the belief that I haven’t done enough, at any given time, is just one of my areas of personal lack. Regardless, for both of these reasons, it has been a struggle to remain silent about what I’ve been feeling, learning, and thinking.

But I think it’s a measure of just how serious things are right now, and also how serious I take my role as an artist, that I found the strength and resolve to keep my focus where I felt more sure it was needed this past year — on the actions.

This is also why I’m permanently done with recapping years gone past.

History remains fatally important, but my own part in history, and arguably even my own thoughts about “what’s wrong” or “what needs to be done” right now — neither concern me as much as they used to (on most days).

As far as I can tell, we don’t need the level of thought, analysis, or argument we’re getting right now, from most angles of social life. Rather, we need reflection, action, compassion, and also a degree of faith — especially in a future that has at times appeared bleak, from the vantage point of this mostly stolen moment.

That’s what I want to offer up, if and when I chime in here. In place of summing up the arc of a previous year in December, if anything, I want to reflect upon areas of focus for the coming months, or touch base on the ongoing year.

I have specifics goals written down, in this regard, but for now they belong to me only, for the most part. I’m sharing the details with a few select people, who I know I can trust to keep it about the intention, and not the potential or the results. That part I can’t do alone, or in complete privacy.

However, I’d encourage anyone reading this to spend some quiet moments this week reflecting on what you believe, and how you can take daily action over the course of a year to serve the world around you (perhaps most importantly, as it exists directly in front of you) from the position of those principles.

Then, consider writing some actions and goals down, simply and in as few words as possible. It’s a good opportunity to do something like this right now, with the full year ahead of you. But you don’t need to do it now, or only in January. It’s more important that we act at all, when we can and as best we can, versus any one perfect time or in any particular way.

Either way, try to build up a resolve and a practice now that you can lean on when things get hard.

If they’re already hard in this moment (which I completely understand), it’s arguably even more important that you somehow carve out the time to think about how to shift your approach, and then do what you can to pursue change. Your focus and your goals can take just about any form, and you can start from any place, assuming your basic needs are being met. If your basic needs are not being met, then these can and must be your focus (and I’m sorry that you’re not getting what you deserve right now).

Carry your notes with you. It’s eminently doable. Look at them every day. I have to do this right now. I don’t know how else to keep myself from slipping into distractedness, or sliding into anger or self-pity.

What I will say about 2017 is that I did not waste the time otherwise diverted from where it was spent here in the past.

There’s plenty coming soon, as a result of my artistic and professional (and professionally artistic) recent labors. The process of realizing these results was not easy on me. I’m still grappling with some of the fallout, and the growing pains, produced by the journey. That’s not a complaint. I’m grateful. And, at the very least, I can say that I showed up and, just as crucially, remained authentic.

For me, the next several months are going to continue to require that I spend my time wisely, and as effectively as possible. I don’t see too much utility in commentary in the short term, or even argument. We need more than that, right now, in my view.

We need reflection, presentation, conversation, bravery, risk and…healing.

I don’t know that anyone was was ever healed by an opinion. Everyone is entitled to their voice, and voicing anger or fear or concern will never cease to play an important role in civic engagement. But it’s not everything, and it’s definitely doesn’t seem like enough right now.

In this moment, truth and justice and compassion in general need defending and care. They need it from all sides.

We are in a moment right now that I don’t know that many of us can clearly grasp, on the whole, at least in terms of what can be done to minimize or arrest the damage currently being inflicted upon the country and world by callous men. I know that I’m less certain of what’s needed than I thought I was, even if I have a pretty good idea about what problems or manipulations led us here, and what will be required to safeguard our civic redemption.

It’s a heavy, multi-triggered trap that’s been lowered onto us, and we may need to turn to digging more than any other method of escape in order to survive. I hope we won’t. I hope it will be easier than that, but there are other factors at play as well that complicate things, and sometimes I don’t know what else to do except turn to the task of excavating what’s in front of me.

But I also know I can only get clearer on all this through courage, and patient, thoughtful work. The  work itself is often unglamorous, and I think I also need to let go of the compulsion to prove to people that it’s not. Independent filmmaking remains monumentally difficult, but all the more culturally important (and exciting) because of this difficulty. Having also recently returned to writing my version of literature this past year, I can’t say for sure which undertaking is more exhausting, rewarding, and necessary. For now, they are both what I have to do.

I guess, for me, it has lately become fundamentally crucial to arrange things such that I can do my absolute best, in these ways that have been laid out for me, as often and as effectively as I can.

While I’ve always looked at my work as central to who I am, it’s recently evolved into more of a clear responsibility, but one decidedly unlike so many of the others that I have assumed or forced upon myself in the past. By this I mean that I feel led to these pursuits, tasked with and by them on a basis not of striving but of quiet certainty. The doing, as such, less often requires thinking, or positioning, and more often asks simply that I show up.

So that’s what I intend to do, this year as I did during the last.

Thanks for reading. Whatever you’re thing is that you feel you need to do — start in on it today, if you haven’t already. As always, we 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. This site is sort of out-of-date but you can contact me anytime on the socials and/or you can join my email list here. I don’t use it very often at the moment but will probably still chime in that way from time to time. Thanks for reading! You’re honestly a very cool person.

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

be-still-when-you-have-nothing-to-say-when-genuine-passion-moves-you-say-what-youve-got-to-say-and-say-it-hot

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.

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.

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.

 

Drop The Phone, Drink Tea, Sling Words

Don't f*ck with Dottie.
Don’t fuck with Hildy.

I made a mistake this morning. I used my phone immediately upon waking up.

Sometimes I make this mistake, when I’m tired. Sometimes I make it on purpose, if it’s a Friday, and I don’t have the energy or the desire to fight the urge. And it is an urge, isn’t it?

Here’s the thing about what I did — it drives my brain off in a bad direction, to start the day. When I grab my phone, I’m turning to an artificial source of temporary distraction, when what I really need is to accept the reality of where I am in the moment — whether I like that place or not.

Artificial just doesn’t cut it, most of the time.

I know that my day goes better when I don’t touch my phone for hours, except to start playing some music (new Kaiser Chiefs!) or a podcast (MDWAP is all). I feel better, I avoid the poison of FOMO, and I get a fuck of a lot more done in the morning.

I’m not saying all this to beat myself up. I realized what I was doing this morning, and I stopped. I returned to what’s important — drinking tea and slinging words.

No, I’m sharing my “failure” as a gentle and affirming reminder — I’m better when I move.

A lot of good can come from our ability to connect at any moment. I know this. I spent years making a film about it. But, often, it’s the important work we do in those interstitial moments, between virtual connections, that make life worthwhile.

The irony isn’t lost on me, that I’m sharing this on a blog, and that a plurality of those reading are likely to be on their phones right now. Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t reflect upon the idea and try out a reset — less distraction and yearning, more focus and being.

So, on we go.


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.