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.

 

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.

Dear Self: You Are Not Garbage

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I woke up cold, in a little pain, and more than a little cranky. It’s dark outside, there’s a lot of wind and rain, and I didn’t want to get out of bed.

These are triggers for depression in almost any human being, but my brain still sometimes has a tendency to take the excuse of such triggers and double down on the resultant feelings.

This morning, because I  also slept late — on a Sunday before a Monday off — I started to beat myself up a bit.

The dog had gotten into the trash. Because I hadn’t taken out the trash when it was full.

Not her fault. Annoying, but not a big deal. Still, instead of making a note to take the trash out sooner next time, I turned the annoyance on myself.

Why didn’t you take out the trash sooner this time?

I ambled to the kitchen to make tea. We’re almost out of tea.

Why didn’t you get more tea?

Yet there is still tea enough for a few days. Then the cat started yelling for food. She does this whenever she is awake. And she had a late dinner last night, so it really wasn’t much of a problem that she was going to be eating a late breakfast today.

You don’t take good enough care of the cat.

I made tea. There was only one clean mug, and I usually make tea for myself and my wife. These things often happen after a busy week working and art-making in New York City.

Why didn’t you do the dishes? You’re dirty. You’re a dirty garbage-person.

I cleaned a mug. Our sponge needs replacing soon. Of course, this morning, my brain interprets this as something I failed to do earlier.

Nice job. You didn’t do that either. Dirty sponge for the garbage-person. Fitting.

By now, I suppose you see the pattern. These are all minor things, and none of them a big deal. But they roll down the hill of my head and combine forces and gather momentum.

Shut up. Stop complaining.

So, what to do in this situation? Do I just give up the day?

No. Not anymore.

I can’t do anything about being tired, in pain, or the shitty weather (except maybe rest). I can’t do very much about yesterday’s mistakes — except let them go and forgive myself for them. I can do something about the dishes, the tea, and the sponge. One task at a time, when it’s reasonable to do so.

Still, my self-worth does not depend — definitely not completely — on any of these things. More so, it depends more on how I defend myself against my own reaction to my “mistakes and failings”.

Right now, for the rest of today, you can watch The Videoblogs for free. I mention this because I made the film as a means of contributing to the conversation about mental health in this country. Which is what I’m trying to do as well, in micro, right now.

Mental health isn’t something we talk about enough, on average. Later today, I’ll be talking about it a bit with some collaborators and fellow storytellers. I’m sharing these details about what sometimes happens inside my head, because all of it just happened — because it seems important to keep talking.

Especially because I’m a man, it’s important. Men have some catching up to do in the department of squaring up to our feelings.

It’s not weak to struggle with your sense of self-worth. It’s human. What’s less human is to externalize “negative” feelings about ourselves by diverting them into attacks or mistreatment of others.

Anyway, I’m feeling a little better now.

First — once I realized what was happening — I stopped. Paused. I breathed.

I thought about the rain, and decided to employ a practice that has helped me in the past, also called RAIN. The more I do this the more effectively and efficiently it works.

Then I started writing. That always helps.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment, here or on social media, if you have anything to add to what I’ve said. And please join us later today if you’re available to participate in the Live Commentary of The Videoblogs. The event is free.


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.

 

TOMORROW (10/9): Watch The Videoblogs for FREE! Then, Let’s Chat

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Happy Saturday, Monsters and Sprites! I don’t know why ya’ll are mythical, today.

Actually, I do know why.

I have great faith in you. I believe in you. You are magical beings that sustain me over the internet, and in real life. There’s no rule that says magic can’t exist, and pass back and forth between people — even in a world where seemingly everything has become a statistic.

The magic persists.

On that note, I want to make sure anyone who is a general fan or tolerator of my work knows about tomorrow. What’s tomorrow?

Tomorrow brings a Live Group Watch and Commentary Event to you, over the interwebs. We’re set to watch The Videoblogs with a group around the country (maybe the world!), in partnership with Nick Savides at the nsavides podcast, Producer Jenna Edwards (April Showers), Writer/Producer David Paterson (The Great Gilly Hopkins) and more cool people. The event begins at 230PM EST.

The event is free, we’ll be releasing The Videoblogs for free for the day, AND there are over $500 worth of prizes for participating. One of the prizes comes from me. I will read the script of one lucky victim — I mean, winner — and follow that up with a consultation.

Other prizes include a 30 min interview with Nick on his podcast, and a consultation package from Jenna, who seems like a pretty badass producer.

The reason I bring this up in the context of magic is because…well, this is what The Videoblogs is about. Strangers connecting online in the pursuit of something better.

Does that mean that I think watching The Videoblogs will make you better? Maybe!

I wouldn’t have made the film if I didn’t think there was a chance. But, to reiterate, it’s not really about that. It’s about a few sturdy handfuls of us (or more!) getting together, taking a real look at some real issues, and bonding over a mutual desire for greater hope.

I’d love to see you there. If you haven’t yet watched The Videoblogs, and want to participate, it might be most helpful to do that today, if you can. As always, you can rent the film on iTunes.

You can also watch it here, for free. To be honest, it’s a lot more helpful to us when you rent (or buy!) the film. But if you can’t do that right now, or want to sample it first, or live outside the US — go for it.

Have a great weekend, my mythical friends. Trailer!


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.

Thoughts on Body Heat and Machine Dependency

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Every year, when the fall chill sets in but it’s not yet cold enough for the heat to turn on, we humans in this apartment are swarmed by The Pets. I know they are mostly using us for body heat, but it’s hard not to conflate the reaction with love.

The sharing of body heat is intimate, regardless.

Yesterday, I remarked to my wife that I have come to believe that her love for me increases by about 20% in the fall. She stand, sits closer to me, holds me a little longer when we embrace.

We’re all awakened into a sort of greater, more primal intimacy, when the weather turns — aren’t we? There’s a shift in body language, an uptick, a sharpening of the stride now that the heat of summer has passed. There’s a vitality to it.

In similar fashion, it has occurred to me over time — that I have initiated production of every one of my films in the fall. Every last one of them.

Something thrives in me, at this time of the year. I’m sure it also coincides with how life and business at large tends to pick up, in the months leading up to the holidays and to year-end financial reporting deadlines — but for the sake of beauty let’s stick to a discussion of nature for the moment.

I got a new phone yesterday. The process took two and a half hours. Granted, I switched carriers. Still, it was a long time. Short of actual labor, or watching a movie — I don’t do anything for over two hours straight. Maybe that’s sad, but I think it also might be typical.

With this in mind, at one point during the process, while in conversation with the sales associate and my wife, I only semi-jokingly wondered aloud whether, at this point, we were working for the machines — versus the other way around.

I know I struggle with device-addiction. It’s a real issue, and one exacerbated by big businesses constantly battling for the newest most precious commodity after our labor — as much of our divided attention that they can win, and leverage to their interests.

That’s not entirely a judgement. The battling is necessary, to a point.

But these wars are often bloodless, not in terms of a lack of victimhood (there are certainly victims), but rather the exact primal terms that my dog and cat, and some ancient part of you and me, instinctually turn to and understand.

I worry about this erosion of warmth. This overcrowding of the human by the machine. Science fiction has given us plenty of examples of the singularity apocalypse. They’re big and dramatic, and effective for all their melodrama and loudness.

But the actuality of a loss of humanity is often much less glamorous, slower and more sad. This is what we have to fear, I think. It helps me to remember why I tether myself to my phone — to help keep me productive, moving forward in my vision, and entertained (in moderation) in the meantime.

It also helps to take a moment to allow my animals to crawl over me, despite the fact that the laptop is open and ready. To linger in my wife’s arms as we express love and combat the incremental chill of life — together.

 

11903868_10102022863132862_3363202786901023781_n-1My 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.

Take Faith for Yourself, Give Them Skepticism

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Often, the correct course of action is not one that we wish to take.

We resist. Understandably so, in many cases. A course of action suggests change. Change can be (often is) scary. There’s more certainty in what is known.

There is also more pain and sadness, in my experience, in ignoring the call for change. More general disquiet.

Dissatisfaction. Resentment. Anger. And yet, it often takes much suffering, and/or one big sign of the need for change, for many of us to finally take that action.

This is okay. It has to be, I think, if we are to at all improve at narrowing down this cycle.

Growth, obviously, comes up often on the podcast. I had a nice talk about gaining experience, about the importance of forward motion and learning, with the guest for this week’s coming episode. And when Leah Bonnema came on the show, she similarly stressed the importance of “going to work every day”.

All of this to say, I still have room to improve. We all do. Good work begins with the small stuff. I think I’ve been showing up in this way for a long time.

But the big, risky actions? Those can be difficult. But, to again echo a guest on Coffee with Creatives (Laura Goode) I think much of this seeming bigness is illusion. Smoke and mirrors and words both smooth and stinging.

When we choose to make art, which invariably also does cost money, we do not do so thinking of the money first and the art second. But when you aren’t an artist, or acting completely as one within a financial or social transaction, certain additional realities must be dealt with one way or another.

Despite my general practicality, and the cautiousness with which I usually ration my optimism, it surprised me, in recent months, to find myself being misled by various third-party partners, as we went about completing The Videoblogs.

Perhaps this was naive. To again echo Laura, who found it far easier to raise extra money to finish her film after it was accepted to the Tribeca Film Festival — the truth is that most people are conditioned to seek pre-sanctioned, external validation before they commit their full energy to something.

That’s not necessarily unfair. It’s a difficult time for commitment. There is, seemingly, a never-ending stream of options, sometimes even flowing back and forth in time, vying for our attention and resources.

And, so, as storytellers, we have to prove ourselves. Constantly. In order to provide evidence that we are worth The Risk — of money or time.

Still, I think that’s mostly garbage. It’s short-sighted, and arguably cowardly.

It seems to me that, out of fear, we have defanged true risk in our society. We’ve broken it down into pieces, seeking to understand and control as much of as we can — because we’re desperately afraid of failing.

I know I have done this. But I’m growing weary of it. The deconstruction destroys the construction, in a way.

Should we be smart? Prudent? Strategic? In taking a realistic view of the aforementioned market saturation (for content especially) — I would have to say yes.

But to only lean on these preparations, to give them so much disproportionate weight, and to thus unsteady and rob the counter-balancing power of the risky idea at the core of an enterprise — this to me is folly.

A real risk costs much, and yet nothing. It reveals no certain answers in terms of prudence and strategy, instead promising growth and experience, if faithfully executed. It is deeply personal. It draws its power from sources we can barely identify of explain.

Inspiration. Passion. Faith. With these sources of power, a true risk becomes easy to make. If and when we remember to believe in the risking itself, and not only outcomes.

A risk is a story. We need to protect our stories. Their true worth is not measured by intermediaries.

Intermediaries have far less power than they’d have us believe. It can become difficult to remember this, as they massage messaging and make promises or suggest futures that they have no real influence over.

They are struggling for survival as much as we are, if not more so. They likely feel just as frightened or desperate. And I pity them, somewhat, for that — because they aren’t dealing in pure stories. As a rule, they must mitigate risk. To do this, they must find, be shown, or invent evidence. We’ve seen, in this country, how badly that can backfire.

Whereas we, the storytellers, might find flashes of solace — in the knowledge that we are attempting true change.

This is part nineteen of a thirty day trial, during which I am writing and publishing a post every day. No refunds. Comments welcome and encouraged!

Day 01: Struggles and Wonders and Dying in  Chair

Day 02: Fear, Panic, Identity and Anti-Focus

Day 03: Purple Sky of Towering Clouds Over a Far-off City

Day 04: Circle Up and Laugh

Day 05: On The Future of Labor

Day 06: Appreciating Difficulty, Harnessing its Momentum

Day 07: The Word for World is Earth

Day 08: It’s About The Dreaming, Not The Dream

Day 09: Moments of Presence: CWC Interview (Writer Laura Goode)

Day 10: Simmering Little Wrath of The Annoyed Man

Day 11: Tragedy, Remembrance and Wonder

Day 12: A New Light Borrowed or Discovered

Day 13: Productivity Tips for Anyone Prone to Overwhelm (Like Me)

Day 14: Legitimately Va-goo

Day 15: Sex-Bleating and Cat Vomit

Day 16: The Waiting Place

Day 17: 6 Ways to Bring Balance to the (Artistic) Force

Day 18: How to Decide What to Make Next

 

The Word for World is Earth (Day 7 of 30)

This is part seven of a thirty day trial, during which I am going to write and publish a post every day. No refunds. Comments welcome and encouraged!

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There’s a chill in the air, this morning. Fall approaches.

I like the fall. I like every season, I think, when it first arrives. There’s something about the change of season that seems built into our DNA, into our long, deep relationship with the world.

I wonder what it must feel like, to have the timing of seasons switched or shuffled — to move from one side of the world to another for an extended period of time. Perhaps one gets used to it, when it’s a long-term shift, the quarterly change more ultimately important than any one order of change at any one time.

I was thinking about Earth yesterday.

I’m reading a book — The Word for World is Forest — by the incomparable Ursula K. Le Guin. It’s a science fiction novel, taking place in a universe where man has traveled to, has even evolved separately on, planets across the universe. Like any good works of science fiction, however, Le Guin’s books reflect our own world more than its fictional counterpoint(s).

I encountered this one moment in the book, in reading before bed last night, wherein a main character is reflecting upon the legacy and etymology of our planet. Specifically, he notes the shared name, Earth/earth, that we have given to the world based on the stuff of which it is comprised.

While this particular book appears concerned, like some others in the genre, in raising question of ecology and sustainability, Le Guin often has a beautiful knack for distilling her environmentalist and/or her humanist warnings into fine examples not necessarily of direct warning — but of the beauty, that would be lost, if we aren’t careful.

That small detail, that the character in question would be so touched in recollecting the similarities between his home world, and the one on which the story takes place — where he lives as an alien, and where the native word for the lush wooded planet on which the book takes place is the same as their word for forest — stands out all the more acutely, when combined with the fact that the future Earth of Le Guin’s universe in the book, is a place nearly barren of vegetation.

A place no longer itself, if we are to follow with the example of identifying name with substance of origin.

There are a few ways in which this can be viewed, I think. To be sure, it’s a warning to think conservatively, economically, about ecology, to consider sustainability. The fact is, there’s a very real possibility that we’ll deplete this planet’s resources beyond their ability to safely sustain human life — before we’re ready and able to spread to other planets. Count me among those concerned with this possibility.

In the more immediate sense — though linked to this larger scenario — there’s the question of natural and unnatural (human/technological) change.

How do we view and compare the change of seasons, the relationship of man to Earth, when our lives are increasingly dependent not only on food, water and shelter — but also information?

Has it always been so? Are we humans simply maximizing efficiency, reaching new heights of speed and achievement as a social species? Or have our technologies set us on a path towards the super-human?

There’s a side to that second possibility that seems romantic, given our current obsessions with youth, virility, long-livedness and physical or mental perfection.

Who wouldn’t want to be super-human? And yet, in pushing the boundaries of the natural, are we dooming ourselves to an eventual loss of the very humanity we originally sought to embody, protect, and maintain?

So long as we remain mammals that need food, shelter, water — even as we strive further and further away from these basic needs and responsibilities in terms of focus, leaving behind whole swaths of the world population in the pursuit of knowledge — we remain, at our core, naturally human. But do we endanger this core identity, as we continue to grant equal or greater importance to other, less intrinsic needs, both on the personal and societal levels?

I don’t know. I have tended towards more optimistic views, in recent years. I want to believe the change of seasons will always remain generally the same, that as we strive and leverage the gifts of this planet and of science — that we will continue to enable ourselves to focus more completely on what it means to be human, to pursue knowledge and civilization as we make living easier through technology.

But there are warnings that we could, collectively, yet fail at this.

I also worry about apparent shifts in the seasons, no doubt at least a combination of human intervention as well as natural flux. I still worry about general trends that put the greed of the few ahead of the needs of the many.

Despite my hopefulness, it still sometimes seems just as possible that we’ll eventually face of day of reckoning, in regards to our relationship with this Earth, which we deign to have mastered but will always, more accurately, depend upon for everything.

We are of this beautiful place. It deserves our due respect, our love.

Day 1: Struggles and Wonders and Dying in  Chair

Day 2: Fear, Panic, Identity and Anti-Focus

Day 3: Purple Sky of Towering Clouds Over a Far-off City

Day 4: Circle Up and Laugh

Day 5: On The Future of Labor

Day 6: Appreciating Difficulty, Harnessing its Momentum

On The Future of Labor (Day 5 of 30)

This is part five of a thirty day trial, during which I am going to write and publish a post every day. No refunds. Comments welcome and encouraged!

What I love about film is that it combines physical work with mental/emotional work.
What I love about film — how it combines physical work with mental/emotional work. What I don’t love about it — how accurately the typical production (and general industry culture) often reflects American inequality.

Today is that day that was invariably going to come along, in regards to this project of posting here every day for the month on September. I’m not sure what to write about.

This make me slightly sad, because it’s Labor Day.

Am I glad to have a day off? Yes.

Am I proud to be an American worker? In a way, yes.

Do I celebrate the contributions of laborers more active and resilient than me? Yes.

Is one day enough, to make up for decades-long general trends that have made life more difficult for laborers, more complicated, even as those at the very top have continued to do very well for themselves?

No, I don’t think it is.

We live in strange times. It’s no secret that I’ve wondered at length about them, about what’s next, about where we’re headed, what it will look like. I think this is why I’ve gravitated back to science fiction, where I started as a young avid content consumer (reader).

What does a robotic future look like for labor? Likely, not great. Is anything going to stop automation from replacing manual work, in the real, tactile world? I don’t think so.

Given the choice, would we completely want to stop this from happening? I think that depends on who you are, and how you make a living.

Where is the line between accepting change and demanding your fair due, based on contributions of the past — that built the foundations of today? Do we still even respect legacy in this way?

I know the world is always changing, but it seems to be changing quickly, now.

Some of this change seems inevitable and, perhaps, ultimately helpful. Some of it seems short-sighted, greedy, or at least of the sort that could be checked, slowed, made to respect the potential or very real damage it can and does cause to human life and happiness at large.

I’m a knowledge worker, and a content creator, in today’s parlance. On the one hand, I am soothed by the fact that mine is a specialized skill-set. We’ll always need stories, and I’m a storyteller. I even believe I could be of use in the zombie apocalypse. Anyone who has survived past hour twelve on a film shoot would be of service in the zombie apocalypse.

But I do worry about these things, as I wonder about them.

I worry that there’s no turning back, or checking the rush of the tide of technological change, this time — if there ever was a way to do either of these things. I worry that as technology cheapens everything, we’re headed towards decay and dysfunction for the majority, in service of growth and ascension for the minority — of the increasingly other-worldly wealthy elite.

Labor Day is not meant, I don’t think, to be a day of remembrance. It’s supposed to celebrate the contributions of labor to our prosperity both then and now. This is still, of course, a worthy use of our time.

But I believe our workers, myself among them, deserve more. We deserve ongoing respect, both for what we do and what we endure, what we’ve done, and how those contributions have laid (continue to lay) the groundwork for future growth and prosperity.

A well-deserved day off is a good opportunity to rest. It can also be a good time to not only appreciate ourselves and our peers, but also to take some time to reflect.

We are all of us essentially equal — so says our social contract. I think it’s acceptable, if not crucial, that we not only celebrate labor’s role in securing today’s prosperity as well as tomorrow’s, but also question our role in that tomorrow, and how that role is influenced, diminished, or manipulated by those in control of both our livelihoods and our news.

Whether we like it or not, we may also have to think how we might both accept this reality and yet challenge its assumptions (and ours).

Change doesn’t only happen. We can also enact it. That’s the beautiful thing about working towards the future. We’ll never get there, but we can look back after a while and see where all the chasing after it has gotten us.

I guess I found something to write about.

Day 1: Struggles and Wonders and Dying in  Chair

Day 2: Fear, Panic, Identity and Anti-Focus

Day 3: Purple Sky of Towering Clouds Over a Far-off City

Day 4: Circle Up and Laugh

Empathic Cavities: Emily Best

emilyThe fact is, the more of the business interest you control, the more creative control you retain. Period. Full stop. — Emily Best

If you don’t already know Emily Best, I have good news for you. Not only is she my guest for the latest episode of Coffee with Creatives, she’s also probably out there, right now, traveling the country and engaging with creatives in-person and online and via her company Seed&Spark.

It’s what she does. As we discuss on the show, Emily is out there working to help create a new creative middle class. She and her colleagues at Seed&Spark have a mission and plenty of ideas, and they’re eager to talk with and help you.

These are only a few of the reasons why I place Emily among the most inspiring and respectable people I know. She’s a force. It was a delight sitting down to talk with her for an hour about the practical realities of crafting authentic art — and how to keep crafting it — in today’s ever-changing socio-economic environment.

Topics covered in our talk include:Crowdfunding class

  • How a college paper on a body modification web site, years spent running restaurants, and more years spent observing c-level executives do their thing — combined to form the foundation of what would become Seed&Spark
  • The challenges of achieving a return on investment (ROI) in today’s film environment, and how they can be overcome in service of a sustainable creative career
  • The fallacies inherent to waiting to be picked
  • How audiences really get built (digging into Louis CK as an example to duplicate)
  • Separating the definition of a fulfilled creative life from dreams of fame and fortune
  • Sitting down with yourself and/or your collaborators to honestly answer the question of what you really want
  • How new technologies can enable storytellers to root out and combat systemic inequalities
  • The dangers of being too precious about your work (process can be product)

I also asked Emily to name one thing that any creative could do in an hour to advance their career. She gave an excellent answer. If you enjoy our talk, please share it on Twitter (I am @MichaelDiBiasio and Emily is @EmilyBest) or on Facebook.

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

Through The Fear: Novelist Amy Koppelman

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Amy Koppelman started writing before she had any idea that she would one day become a novelist. Three books and one film adaptation later, she now has plenty to share with Coffee with Creatives listeners, especially about:

  • The cathartic, early-stage creative exploits that often later lead to our larger creative pursuits
  • Waiting for the tools needed to authentically address what we’re compelled to address
  • Learning to parse comments and criticism
  • The importance of learning — and then breaking — the rules
  • The difficulty of letting go after a thing is done
  • How and why darkness doesn’t necessarily suggest hopelessness
  • Humanizing mental illness
  • The importance of perseverance

AMyKoppelman[1]It was great to meet Amy, and to talk shop about fiction and the challenges of being a novelist. Her unflinching portrayals of characters struggling with depression, trauma, and other tough subjects — they can serve as a good reminder of how hard things can get for people who we might know and love but not always fully understand. Her discussion of the hopefulness that can often come out of that process, as well, is particularly moving.

Hesitation Wounds comes out in hardcover on November 3rd. For more information on her other books, and/or the film adaptation of her novel I Smile Back, check out her site. You can also follow Amy on Twitter.

This episode is also on iTunes.

602066_10100681300095942_1773576913_n (2)Like my style? Subscribe to my list for advanced/exclusive (and free!) access to new (creative) content produced by yours truly. I send one email per month.