Remembering

I am having a harder time today than I had during last year’s September 11th anniversary.

Partially, I think this is due to the place I am in, at this moment, in my life. The trajectory I have traced in recent posts has left me in a foreign condition, one wherein I feel my feelings more directly than ever before. Previously, this only happened after hours of lonely, vicious digging – hours spent letting my work take me wherever it was that I couldn’t otherwise go on my own. But, now, most of the time, there they are: unadulterated, raw feelings. Good feelings, bad feelings. Feelings that are good and bad – that simply are.

Something else has happened to me, though, that I don’t know that I have explored in quite as much detail, but which today has me thinking that there’s an additional reason why I am feeling especially aggrieved on this particular anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Today, surprisingly, I feel the very particular pain of this city in my heart.

I have lived in New York City for the better part of eleven years now, but only recently have I begun to identify as a New Yorker. I don’t even know where to begin in tracing this path to belonging.

What I will say is that I think there is a special magic, that draws certain souls to this place. Perhaps much of that magic has been lost, especially at this tragically unjust time in our socio-economic history, but enough of it lingers – or has survived – that I believe I can safely identify it as the place that has helped me arrived at some semblance of personal redemption.

I came to the city a wide-eyed child, with little idea of how to actually lay the groundwork for achieving the grandiose visions of artistic success that I had assigned to the place, and even less of an idea of just how difficult a struggle it would be to pursue paler, more grounded forms of those visions without the experience and the courage that I have only recently, after so much time, begun to truly employ in both my art and my life.

My life here began softly, cushioned by the fact that I was a student before I became a true resident. Today, as I have occasionally in the past, I find myself recollecting several conversations I had with well-meaning but frightened family members and friends from my hometown, who (gently) questioned my decision to move to the city the year after the September 11th attacks. Always in my mind, when I think about my personal anniversary as a New Yorker, I think in these terms. Always,  when I think of how and why I came to live here, about how long I have been here, it is in the context of that day.

I came here the year after. Never, before today, did the reflection go much further than that.

I have noticed a peculiarity in the patterns of anniversary and other such time signifiers, a little-discussed phenomena that has occurred, at least in my life, with regularity.

We tend, for obvious reasons, to assign special significance to anniversaries that fall into certain easily quantifiable (or qualifiable) spheres. Repetitions of five, ten, twenty-five, a hundred – these incarnations receive more of our attention because they represent cleaner markers. A sixteenth, eighteenth or twenty-first birthday, as a rite of passage, takes on a similar significance. But what I have noticed is that, for me at least, just as much emotional resonance can be found in the deflated space that immediately follows such markers.

I remember my twenty-second birthday as anticlimactic. That’s not even completely true. I remember it as depressing. I remember feeling thrown onto the path of adulthood, whether I liked it or not, in spite of any subsequent efforts to fight this reality in the near-future of that year. Contrarily, I look forward to my thirtieth birthday with relief. I have been exhausted by my twenties. Still, I suspect thirty will seem an achievement, thirty-one – well, I don’t know.

And today is the 12th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Compared to the tenth anniversary, it is a quieter day of remembrance. Speaking only for myself, this year’s anniversary seems to have arrived quickly. But here it is.

Absent the added layers of significance that is bestowed upon such an anniversary at more easily-marked occasions, and finding myself faced with a new level of awareness of my own feelings, I feel today, in a more direct way than in recent years, that I mourn for my home and for my fellow New Yorkers (as well as with America at large).

As I went about my day today, I saw sadness in the expressions of other pedestrians as we passed each other on the street. In the faces of my neighbors, I sensed echoes of the hesitation that I myself felt, a barely-detectible slowness delaying my every public action by the slightest bit, as the memory of that day vibrated through the city in a way that is perhaps a touch more raw today as compared to two years ago, when there were more events and remembrances to ease the pain that this day always brings, year after year.

Most of all, though, I feel a strange overlap between my time in this city and that day when it was forever scarred. After all this time, I feel true camaraderie. I know that what I feel is not the same as those who were here. But I do feel the relativism between specific measures of time eroding. I feel that I belong here. I think about all this, and I feel all of this, and I remember, not only why I came to New York but why I remain.

In defiance of all that has happened here in the years since that day, the magic that brought me here, which made its way into my blood over time, as it has done to countless others – it does remain.

New York City has given me faith. It has tested me. It has delivered me to love and it has challenged me to confront hate. I will be honest – I don’t always want to be here. It is a place of great highs and lows. But life is a series of highs and lows, if you embrace it fully enough. I don’t know, any longer, that I could ultimately choose not to be here.

Today, I feel the grief of a city that has become my home. I remember that I came here, purposefully, defiantly, in the wake of tragedy. I remember the cost paid that day, in human life, before I arrived. I am humbled by it. I cannot begin to comprehend what the families of the fallen must feel. Still, I remember the anger, the sadness, the pain of that day – and I accept that these feelings exist also in me.

For whatever reason, I have in recent years hesitated to join the refrain, to: “Never forget”. It’s not that I don’t agree with the sentiment. But I think, perhaps, at least for this year, that instead of reciting the negative, instead of reminding people of what they should not do – I would rather be active about it. As difficult as it can be, what I want most for myself and for us is to remember.

I remember coming to New York City desirous of an unnamable future life that was bigger and brighter and deeper than anything I had previously experienced. This, I have received, in spite of myself, and for this reason I am grateful for that old magic that still persists in this place. I am grateful that some version of it has survived. I am hopeful that what is left of it can be harnessed and nurtured.

So, I suggest we remember. New York is many things. More than anything else, though, I think it is a place that accepts and endures – if you respond to it in similar terms. We will continue to solemnly mark today’s anniversary perpetually, year after year. Let us also mark tomorrow’s, in deference to the quieter strength of less-celebrated touchstones that resonate just as fully in our hearts.

For better and worse, each day holds the potential of those that exist previous to it. We can carry the lessons of solemn anniversaries with us through subsequent days.

Repetition and Liberty

I have been thinking, lately, about the strange relationship many of us have with repetition. Specifically, I am wondering why we sometimes only qualify or quantify repeated acts that seem unhealthy and/or counter-intuitive to the pursuit of happiness (or of the sort of contentedness-alternated-with-passionate-excitement that might be a better definition for what so many of us truly desire for ourselves).

I’m saying “we” a lot, when in many cases I am probably more directly taking about “me”. But I suspect there’s overlap in what I’m about to reflect upon, between my experiences and point of view and yours. I could be wrong. Either way…

It seems to me that we often view repetition as either bad or necessary, or a little bit of both. I don’t think these are the only views people take of repetition, and I don’t mean to suggest that no goodness exists in repetition (more on that later), or that necessity is inherently undesirable, but — I do wonder about the nature of our prevailing views on repetition as a concept.

Perhaps the questions is colored more than slightly by my life as a young American living in a large city. But for now, primarily, still — I’m wondering why repetition annoys us when we are playing out our role as consumers, why we are so demanding and temperamental when it comes to wanting and needing things and experiences that are better, newer, or greater – and yet, in exchange for our continuing admission to the unending game of pursuing such wants and needs, we tolerate and resign ourselves to such repetitions of labor and physical location that make us neither content nor excited. In short – why is repetition so abhorrent when we are buying…but so begrudgingly necessary when we are selling?

While I don’t have the expertise or the inclination to tease a complete in-depth socio-economic analysis out of this question, that doesn’t mean we can’t try to at least answer it for ourselves in a very basic way. It’s an especially interesting question to ask at a time when the job market is still terrible for many people, and inadequate or disappointing to so many more.

Why do so many of us accept the slowly dulling form of repetition represented by a job performed for someone else, but respond with vehement opposition when our favorite TV show or favorite musician provides us with too much of what we have already seen before? Taking this a step further, why do we need the carousel of favorites in the first place? At all? Why the trends – when, all the while, everything else in our own life remains the same? Get up, proceed with your day, go home or go out and do what you have done before. Do this whether you like it or not – in spite of whether you like it or not.

Taking yet another step — what would happen if we swung this pattern back in upon itself? What happens if the vehement opposition is aimed more directly at the more directly-opposed repetition? If we truly feel it, can we not at least privately deny the repetitions performed for the benefit of someone else, even if it they are repeated, nominally, with our own interests in mind? And then reenter the idea of repetition, which is a nonetheless natural occurrence, as something that can be better harnessed to deliver the contentedness and the excitement that we otherwise feel we lack?

Over the past many months I have experimented with such ideas. It has not been easy. This blog is an example. In its earliest weeks, I forced myself to sit down and write, once or twice a week. Lately, I haven’t posted here as often. I’ve been writing, but I’ve been writing other things. I’ve been working hard, but I’ve been working on non-writing related tasks.

Yet, still, through this medium, I have found another aspect to repetition – that it strengthens.

There is a reason that athletes and great minds excel beyond what the rest of us believe is possible. There is a reason some people among us walk with smiles upon their faces that might appear foreign and impossible to one who has too often lived reactively, rather than actively, to one who has repeated too often for too long without aim or hope.

What I am saying is that I am tired of repeating patterns of negation, and/or patterns whose purpose is not maintenance but stasis.

But what else can be repeated, and to more positive ends? What is necessary — but restoratively so? How can repetition be positively leveraged? What should we repeat?

I propose we begin – I begin – with a determination to repeat a declaration of faith, in repetition itself. In dogged perseverance. In any thought or act that replenishes the soul when it’s vitality becomes understandably diminished, however it must be done.

Perhaps repetition can provide a measure of liberty, if we embrace it wisely…and are patient.

Updates: Multiverse Nears Completion, Unconfirmed Fiction, Etc.

Now comes one of those rare occasions wherein I have little to say.

I have wondered lately, if this is a byproduct of The Stillness. If I should revel in the quiet, wait patiently for – what? Inspiration?

And yet, there has been no shortage of inspiration in recent weeks. In fact, there’s be a glut of it. In fact fact, that’s all I’m going to write about. I am deciding that right now. Here are updates, on The Work and Michael of The Stillness.

  • First, I’ve been working on Multiverse again. We’re aiming to squeak in before the late submission deadline at Sundance. The film may still be an official Work In Progress, but even if this happens it will be very close to finished when we submit. After that, we continue applying to other fests as the deadlines keep coming, and we finish the film and get a preview out to our wonderful Indiegogo donors.
  • I may or may not be working on a short story for the first time in seven years, and I may or may not decide to release this short story (if it does in fact fact fact exist). I guess we’ll see what happens, because that all sounds confusing.
  • I’ve been taking notes, for possible future projects. This never stops and it’s always fun. Future projects are so uncomplicated — so long as they remain future projects.
  • Soon, it will be time for another rewrite of Sophia. Every new rewrite is the last one. I suspect the script will remain in a state of comfortable flux until we begin preproduction. For now, Multiverse reigns as The Film. But Sophia, as The Future Film, needs nurturing. I think the story will only be better, as I keep taking my time in developing The Plan for getting it made.
  • The Stillness is present more than it is not present, lately. This new pattern has been fairly consistent. It does take work. I have been striving hard to keep to a set schedule. I continue to cut way back on my information intake. I replace the neediness of the informational fix with reading. I read The Fiction. I read some Philosophy. It has been enjoyable.

I also spend time with The Wife. We have gotten out to the movies lately. Blue Jasmine is very good. Cate Blanchett is fantastic in the lead role. She is seldom anything but fantastic. The World’s End is great. It made me laugh more than I have laughed at the movies in years. But it is also a film with a sincere, slightly sad heart.

That’s my favorite kind of film, I think.

On Clarity and Stillness

It took me some time to figure out where to go, after writing the post that appears previous to this one. I think this is understandable – what could possibly compare to a discussion of life and death?

But, of course, I am resolved in my determination to continue a dialogue here. So I took some time – to rest my head, focus on the day-to-day, and to think. And then, eventually, I realized what I wanted to talk about next.

I want to provide a more thorough, more specific breakdown of the path I took, over the last several years, as I proceeded through the staggered healing process I outlined more generally in my previous post.

I have felt different since writing that post. A lot of that has to do with finally having shared the story, honestly, with myself. But the rest of it has to do with the reception I received from readers over the past few weeks, as well as the sheer number of readers that have found their way to that particular piece. For this reason, I feel like it would be helpful to take a step back and share more observations about how I was eventually able to work through not only my near-death experience but several other pre-conditions that were standing in the way of my healing.

When I was younger, my head was full of static. Very early in life, I learned to deal with this by expressing myself through writing and by talking. I was aware of very little, in regards to this “condition,” apart from the fact that it was something I had to struggle with or against. The writing helped. Friends helped. Family helped. Girlfriends helped. However, I still dealt with most of the turmoil, then, much in the same way that I dealt with the turmoil caused by the death-fear that I discussed in the preceding post: privately, secretly.

As I got older, the successfulness of this method began to erode. Each successive piece that I wrote inched me further towards an eventual day of reckoning, in terms of confronting the issues that were creating my head full of static. When I got to college, matured through my writing and  through other processes, and let loose a bit in certain ways – the static began to separate into more discernible channels of suggestiveness and conscience.

First, perhaps, there was the age-old angel and devil dichotomy. Later, after my near-death experience, and after I had been in counseling for a while, an additional channel emerged – an unwilling, frightened decider, “cursed” to constantly deliberate over the whispers of angel and devil both.

It was an exhausting way to live, and I’m glad to be (mostly) done with it.

Without going into more detail than I am comfortable with, I want to list and summarize the four factors that allowed me to get to the place where I am now – a place where I can often proceed through a day with a sense of clarity and stillness that has eluded me (at least in consistent terms) for most of my life until very recently.

First, there is the writing. The page delivers no judgment. I simply would not have made it to this point without the compulsion to express myself through words, or without the courage to continue opening myself up to and through this practice to the point I only recently arrived at in a pure way – the point we are at now, wherein I can be fully honest in my writing without much fear of judgment. Anyone can do this. All you need is paper and pen, or a computer, and the courage to try and to keep going.

The “decider” emerged from out of the page. And I never would have been able to generate the courage to let him into my active life, where he would eventually gain a prominent-enough position to successfully relegate both angel and devil to the background (life, modern life especially, cannot be so simply divided into good and bad), were it not for the help of two additional factors.

I would not be at this place if I had not sought mental health counseling. Similarly, I would not have had the courage to seek this sort of help, as well as to push forward with my writing at points where all I wanted to do was cut and run from the truths struggling to push through each successive piece – without the love and encouragement I received from my wife. If last week’s discussion of life and death ended with a repetition of my refrain about the central importance of love as the fulcrum of human existence, she is the central reason for that.

Courage is a word we sometimes throw around too recklessly. I don’t know that it is so prevalent, these days, in its purest form. I wonder about its origins, about how we tend to ascribe the word to individuals who seem to do or have done incredible things that the remainder of us can hardly believe. But I’m sincerely unsure how it could be very prevalent, here and now – because I believe courage is a more complex element of humanity than we commonly profess it to be. I don’t know that it is, or can be, intrinsic. At the end of the day, of course, we must find strength in ourselves, in order to accomplish the largest and the smallest of tasks. And yet, even in an age of increasing godlessness, where does courage come from, if not a place of faith? And what is faith, according to contemporary standards, if not trust?

Finally, can we be courageous, if we do not first open ourselves up to truth, including hard truth?

My wife saw and believed in a part of me that up until very recently I was not fully capable of even acknowledging. She trusted that I would eventually be up to the task of not only acknowledging but embodying – rescuing – that same part. When, at times, I seemed to stray from the path of rescue, she let me know it. She pushed me to be better. I have done the same for her. Neither of us have been perfect. But no one – especially not here and now, in an American culture that lives dangerously outside reality as a general rule – should pretend that perfection is anywhere near attainable. We can only try, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing, and then trust that, in the end, it will all have mattered – from the inside to the out.

And then, finally, there is you.

Writing, private healing, personal love – eventually, all these things fell short of the complete task of helping me rid myself of first, the static and, later, a state of constant internal dialogue. I say this not to minimize the crucial ongoing role of each of the first three factors in my continuing struggle for redemption – especially in terms of personal love, which is the only factor of the three that translates into and co-exists with the fourth and final factor.

Life, after all, no matter what science might suggest or aspire towards, does not separate out evenly into pure lists of numbers, or repeatable patterns easily broken down, despite their complexity. Always, there is the mystery, that which makes the human condition what it is. Here we are, always, together in our confusion and loneliness.

So, then, there is you. Other people. Groups of other people. The social world. Community. Communities.

I have experienced fleeting moments of stillness and clarity over the course of the my life, despite the static and the internal yammering. First, there were (still are) those moments during writing and after having written. They bring me peace. As important and beneficial as these moments are, they do not endure. They must be renewed. This is fine, but it is not everything.

I believe that I was drawn inexorably to film because of its unique existence as an experiential narrative built upon an amalgam of personal expressions, which are themselves created through the efforts of a unified community of artists and laborers. In simpler terms, I was drawn to film because it is a communal form of art.

Until I began my career as a filmmaker, I was always struggling to reconcile two disparate selves – the private thinker and the community leader. When I was younger, I acted the part of the leader, but felt secretly unfulfilled in the role. Later, I would largely withdraw from society, intent on providing the private thinker with time and space to thrive – only to find out that he, too, felt less than whole. Filmmaking seemed an opportunity to give each half what it needed. And it most assuredly has been exactly that.

The first moment of pure clarity I ever had in my entire life occurred midway through the first day of shooting my first short film. The set came to life, in the moment between one shot and the next, and I stopped to look at the cast and crew. They moved quickly, with purpose, with passion – and, for a precious few seconds, the world melted away. I wouldn’t experience another feeling like it until a few years later, when I fell in love.

Tinier moments of stillness and clarity would occur in the succeeding years, as I finished a script, when I arrived at post-production and compiled a sequence that, even though completed by a novice filmmaker, approximated the poetry of a true filmmaker closely enough to give me hope, that I would one day settle into the identity that I felt could be my purpose in life.

And, of course, there have been many precious moments with my wife.

Perhaps it happened because of an intersection of my current age and all of the above processes of self-discovery and change – but, lately, even in times of distress, clarity and stillness have become more of the norm than the exception for me. It seemed to happen suddenly, though I understand, obviously, that it was everything but sudden. All I know is that I have found myself here, and that it wasn’t easy. Because it wasn’t easy, and because it feels like such a blessing, my compulsion to foster and protect what is good in my life, what has gotten me here, is incomprehensibly strong.

I am settled into the mystery. I embrace it. I fear death, as any human does. I serve love, as a method of imbuing my life with meaning, in defiance of death’s stare. I seek out and depend on the company of my family, friends, and any others who wish to join in efforts to document and advocate for truth – for stillness and clarity. When we stop tightly gripping or fearfully evading life, we become able to alternate simply between participating in it, and witnessing its contradiction with wonder. This has not been easy, and I don’t suppose it ever will be. Constantly, I must remind myself – must be reminded – of what I wrote earlier. That living, living truthfully, takes courage. That courage takes faith. That faith does not thrive in isolation.

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The Time I Faced Death, and How It Saved My Life

I had a near-death experience at twenty-one.

Some people know this. Others know I got sick, but never understood the severity of the incident or its impact on me. And who can blame them? Most of my doctors didn’t understand what was going on at that time, and there isn’t any way of telling how someone is going to react to that sort of an experience.

I suspect some people, though perhaps not many, are capable of shrugging off a “minor” brush with death. For me, I’ve only recently been able to say that I’ve gotten past it. I can talk about it now, here or there. It took over seven years to get to this point, but at least I am here.

I reacted, initially, when the ordeal first ended, by avoiding my feelings. Defying them. At the time, it was the only thing I could do. People tried to help me and I said I was fine. I pressed forward. For a while this behavior helped. But sooner or later, every trauma demands its day of reckoning.

I’ve started this particular post, about this particular subject, about ten times over the past several months. I could never finish it. Today, I can. I want to finish it. I want to share what I’ve learned, over the past several years, after such a life-changing experience. I think it’s the next step in my healing process.

The details are simple and obscure. I caught a virus while traveling abroad (in Europe). It began its assault on my body near the tail-end of the trip, which had been a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experience for me, up to that point.

The symptoms began when I was making my way slowly back to New York. They were comparatively tame at first, and isolated to one bodily system. I was supposed to spend a few days in Paris before my return. After spending all but an afternoon’s worth of that time sick in a friend’s cousin’s apartment, I made the flight back to my place in the city and then I didn’t get better.

I got much worse. An initial trip to the emergency room didn’t trigger any alarms. They gave me an IV for dehydration (my symptoms had been purely gastrointestinal  until then) and sent me home. A day later I all-but-collapsed trying to make it up a flight of six steps.

The virus attacked everything. Everything. I had almost collapsed because it had made its way into my heart, which was sustaining damage. You never expect, at twenty-one, to be able to cut the line at the emergency room because of that sign that says: “If you are experiencing shortness of breath or chest pain come to the nurse’s window immediately.” But this can now be counted among my life’s achievements.

I don’t want to talk too much more about the rest of the experience. It was horrible. The doctors (I had a small army of them) were never able to isolate or identify the virus. The main battle lasted about two weeks. They were able to monitor me and give my body what it was lacking while I couldn’t eat or get out of bed. They helped me fight a dangerous fever. But, for all purposes, despite every attempt on the part of the hospital staff to find some way of identifying a treatment, it was me against the virus.

I don’t even know if, despite the severity of the episode, I was ever truly in danger of dying. I do know it was serious for the first few days. I did get the sense that, if my body wasn’t up to the fight, that there weren’t too many other options.

But my body was up to the fight. I was young, and relatively healthy. Despite the quiet horror of the experience – you don’t expect to be admitted to the cardiac ICU at twenty-one– I won.

This is something I can feel good about, now. The fallout of those weeks, though, lasted years. In some ways, perhaps, it may never end.

It is not a minor thing, to have to face the real possibility of your own death at an age when most men and women are still capable of holding onto the dear, childish illusion – that we are invincible. Neither is it an easy experience to handle, after the fact, when you’re someone who is used to charging through life with definitive reasons for needing that illusion.

Before the experience, I was an anxious person. I struggled, internally, with demons of an at-that-time indeterminate origin. Once I was out of the hospital, once I rested and got better – everything got worse.

I had a year left of college to complete at the time. Several people advised me to take a semester off. I refused. I couldn’t do that. I was too scared. Having glimpsed death, I couldn’t do anything, in the wake of that experience, but grip life more firmly than before. For better or worse, my reaction was a mix of healthy and unhealthy. People reached out to me, but no one got through to me. I was very convincing, when repeating the refrain that I was “okay”.

There was a moment, when I was first admitted to the hospital, before anyone knew the extent of the damage my heart had sustained, when I was alone in my room. Everything had happened quickly up until that point. The fraternity brother who had taken me to the hospital (while we’re here, don’t judge fraternities, my brothers helped save my life) wasn’t allowed up to my room. They had already taken about as much blood as they could take, so that a battery of tests could be run on it. A legion of specialists would soon be on their way. But, for the moment, I had no roommate. It was my first opportunity to process what was happening, alone, for myself.

This is very hard for me to admit, and it took me a very long time to come to terms with what happened next, but I feel it’s important to be honest about this. Regardless of factual accuracy, I felt a very real sense at that moment that it could all be over.

And I was relieved.

I have learned, since, that my reaction was not necessarily abnormal. For a long time, before that, I feared that it meant that, pre-virus, I was already broken beyond repair. I didn’t understand how I could feel relief in the face of prospective death.

We are conditioned to believe that we should always want to live, and that if we don’t, something is wrong. This is, obviously, as it should be. But at that moment, at least, the simplicity of my position – of finding myself suddenly balancing exactly over the fulcrum between life and death, with nothing else existing between – it appealed to me.

Now, after years of therapy, I have a better understanding of what happened that day. I know that my reaction was not about how little or how much I valued my life. I had been relieved, but not because I didn’t want to live. Life, as we all know, is rarely simple, and frequently difficult. For everyone.

Again, this took a very long time to completely sink in (and I am still in the process of implementing and applying what I have learned), but I think that what I really needed at that time was to put an end to how I had been living.

In this way, facing death saved my life. In this way, I became fortunate. Despite all reasons to believe the contrary, my experience was not only negative. It hasn’t been an easy path or a natural one, but what happened to me at that time in my life, and in the years since, did allow me, at a young age, to jump to a new set of tracks. Even if I didn’t know it was happening.

I have always had a few demons in me. They came with me, to the new set of tracks. That, unfortunately, is the way this sort of thing works, for those of us who have to deal with such a reality.

But my physical victory over a deadly threat to my life graced me with the opportunity to begin appreciating and valuing that life in all other arenas. That which used to be a struggle for me (against my self), in all other terms, slowly became a war (for myself).

I’ll repeat it again. It took years. It did not go smoothly and I did not make all the right decisions in getting to this point. But the fact remains that I faced the void. The fact remains that, having glimpsed it, and despite many wrong turns and many low periods, I eventually stopped staring at it and turned back to face life.

And I want to tell you why I was able to do that.

Something else happened when I was alone in that hospital room. Something else happened after I was left there wondering why I wasn’t scared to die.

Once that moment passed, I realized that I had to call my parents. Which I did.

I told them that I was in the hospital, that there was something wrong with my heart, and that the doctor’s didn’t know anything else. They got the name of the hospital, said they were on their way, and they hung up.

And then I cried. Quietly, and privately. Because I was scared and I didn’t want to die.

I needed to share this story for that reason. I want it to be clear, why I do what I do. Why I am here, on this site, and out there, struggling for my films.

My connections to life, my family and my friends, proved to me that there was value to my existence, even at a time when I couldn’t find that value for myself. This is the truth that love brings to our lives. This is why, for me, love is life. It is the only thing that can combat death. On any scale. In whatever terms.

While that all sounds tidy, in retrospect, the fact remains that I’ve spent much of my interior and private life, over the past seven years, fighting my fear of that initial reaction – that first feeling of apathy in the face of death. At the same time, out of a very real fear of the sheer power of love as death’s opposite, I don’t know that I’ve ever fully embraced the idea that it too, is something that, at the end of the day, requires some sort of abandonment-of-the-self in order to thrive. This is a perhaps common philosophical comparison that thinkers and poets have struggled with and attempted to define for a long time. That doesn’t change the fact, however, that our relationship with that comparison must become personal in order for us to begin to at least respect its mystery.

This is understandable. Love, like life, is a weighty proposition. As a young man, I was of that typical poetic sort who was in love with the idea of love. I am no longer afflicted with that temporary, imperfect, half-realized definition of the word.

For me, at least, for now, life and love is about releasing my hold on fear. Not fear’s hold on me. My hold on fear.

I repeat: what I’ve learned about demons, through all this, is that they don’t die. They don’t go away. They can’t be vanquished and they can’t be ignored. If they exist for you, they are permanent. Perhaps our demons are even a naturally occurring part of the human condition. It would make sense, but I won’t speak for everyone.

So what, specifically, changed? What did I do, to come around in the way that I have, after everything I went through?

How did I begin opposing my fears – of death, love, life – insofar as anything like this can be done?

Slowly and methodically, I went after the demons. I sourced them out, I learned what sustained them, and I cut off their supply. I began working to strengthen that version of myself who hadn’t been up to the fight, so many years ago. I began trusting the at-that-time mysterious part of myself that helped pull me through. I started to trust the people in my life who deserved that trust, and began distancing myself from those who could not be trusted. If my demons won’t ever die, at least I can see to it that they are starved, powerless pathetic creatures.

It’s been a long and difficult journey to get to this point, but I think I was finally able to finish this post because now I truly believe it – I’m okay.

Recap: Sundance ShortsLab 2013 at BAM

While the event itself took place last weekend, I wanted to take some time this week to recap the great experience I had at the Sundance ShortsLab at BAM in Brooklyn.

Some of you may have seen me tweeting about it here and there while the lab was proceeding. I had planned to do more of that but ended up just listening. It seemed counter-intuitive to obsess over pulling quotes (though there were plenty to pull) and risk looking the next great piece of information coming from the programmers and industry panelists.

And that’s really what I want to talk about, in case any of you out there might be interested in attending either the LA session of the ShortsLab on August 10th, or another session, wherever, next year. The Lab, more than anything else, provided me and others with a glut of very useful information. And a bit more of something else, that is arguably even more crucial in the long struggle to make it as an indie filmmaker.

I’m going to be up front about this – when I heard Sundance was going to be in my backyard in Brooklyn, I was interested but unsure as to whether the Lab itself was going to be for me. The reason was simple, if flimsy. I’ve made, or helped to make, four shorts (technically three, since Multiverse is still in post) and have produced countless other short form projects that aren’t quite the same thing and yet not completely different either. The entrance fee seemed reasonable, insofar as any monetary amount can seem reasonable to an indie filmmaker, but I (like a few others, probably) still didn’t just have the money laying around.

I’m so glad I went anyway.

First, it was a little arrogant of me (and I’ll briefly continue the pattern of self-absorption by patting myself on the back for knowing I was wrong) to assume that years of making shorts qualified me to say that I didn’t need Sundance. That’s not exactly what was happening – I just didn’t want to waste money that could go towards plugging other holes – but at the end of the day a decision not to attend might as well have been based on this fallacy. As it turned out, it would have been a mistake to pass up on the opportunity.

Enter reason number one why any filmmaker, who hasn’t already made his or her first feature (and this may even still apply to a few who have – I’ve made half a feature), should attend the ShortsLab in the future. The program wasn’t just money well-spent. It was money incredibly well-spent. Further, it wasn’t even about money or time. Not fundamentally.

It’s easy to forget, when we are always struggling for funds, for opportunities – when we are simply always struggling – that there is a reason for the struggle. That there is passion beneath this compulsion towards “success” that becomes a leech on the remainder of our lives.

More than any other film-related event I can remember attending (though my festival attendance to this point has been limited), the ShortsLab felt abuzz with a genuine passion for the medium of film and a distinct and pure hunger for information and access.

A lot of the time, you walk into an “industry event” – any industry event, really – and the experience is a mix of opportunism and genuine interest. This is, of course, understandable. However, invariably, even in the arena of the arts, programmers and crowds seem to lose sight of the natural order of these two factors. To be clearer: more people are there, more specifically, to get what they need and that only. The urgency of, and the desire for, the “prize”…it overcomes and outstrips the reason for the journey.

Quite simply: the Sundance Shorts Lab programmers put the more appropriate and more crucial reverse relationship into practice – from the start. Passion for art first, business of film second. The day started, smartly, with an hour of Q&A, which allowed Sundance to dispense with the anxious “need to know” on the part of the crowd  — which can be boiled down to: how do I get my film into the festival. Then they got to the important stuff.

What was the important stuff?

While I am tempted to go into further detail on what I believe was an expertly planned and executed program (especially considering it took place over one long day), the crux of it is this: we were there to learn. To absorb the information that the festival, mostly via its invited industry guests, was delivering.

After the initial talk about the ins and outs of the shorts program itself, the majority of the rest of the day was about an opportunity to discuss the ins and outs of getting films made and made well, and positioning yourself for future (artistic and career) success. This information came from people who knew what they were talking about, and were actively interested in “paying it forward”. Which is what made it the right decision for me to go.

I learned quite a bit. I did come out of the day feeling good about how Multiverse is going. I also feel, after talking with some of the panelists, that I am on the right track with Sophia. These were admittedly priority hopes of mine for the day. But, more than anything else, I gained valuable insight into the professional process that I have not always been able to gain working on my own and teaching myself.

A few films does not an expert make. I’ve known this for a few years. Still, I wanted to provide a record of this mistake so that others might realize it as well. The ShortsLab was about shorts, yes. But it also took a long-view about filmmaking and a career in independent film. Maybe that seems an obvious natural progression out of the arena of shorts – few filmmakers make shorts with the idea of doing it perpetually – but, in my naiveté, I wasn’t completely expecting to get quite as much out of the experience as I did.

Sometimes I worry that, for an increasing number of us, who are stubborn, who are afraid, who are sensitive, who are limited and intimidated by a lack of resources and time – I worry that the struggle to learn to make films, and to excel at making them, forces us to retreat into ourselves. We condition ourselves (with a great degree of help from an increasingly callous world) to believe that the pursuit of our passion must be an impossible and solitary endeavor.

A single day on set, when it comes around to production time, always lays waste to this flimsy belief, perhaps.

But what of the intervening time and space?

At the end of the day, we are all artists – if we are at all doing it right. I don’t care what you do, what you want to do, what you are forced to do. We as humans are fundamentally creative beings. We create as a compulsion of our condition, regardless of whether we do this towards a positive end or with awareness.

And specific to those of us who pursue a more directly artistic calling – we live largely in our minds, a fact that can be a danger as much as it is an inherent necessity as we go about pursuing our particular compulsion in our medium of choice.

But film – film in particular – is about community. We, as filmmakers, cannot succeed without our mentors, our peers, and most importantly our supporters and audience. This is part of the mysterious bargain of art.

What impressed me most about the Shorts Lab was my sense that everyone there, from the programmers and the guest panelists to the majority of the audience, was there to celebrate the creation of film.

Perhaps that shouldn’t have been surprising. I understand that Sundance, being Sundance, can afford to maintain a hold on this more correctly ordered dichotomy between art and careerism more easily than most. But in my experience in this industry so far, more people are more interested in credit and careerism and attention than the purity of film narrative. Perhaps this is a result of our over-capitalized society. Probably it’s more complicated than that (though perhaps not much more complicated). Either way, it’s refreshing to see an organization with the recognition and the power to keep things ordered as they should be, exert their influence in support of storytelling first, in an arena (short films) where the overwhelming majority of us get our start.

I’ve been working hard, perhaps too hard, to simply “learn the ropes” – for a very long time. Again, my festival experience as an attendee has been limited. I also didn’t go to film school. Honestly, this has mostly been because of a dearth of time and resources. When you are truly fighting the fight, few opportunities arrive, in the current economic climate, to put yourself physically in the same place as “the business”. I can’t go out to Sundance. I’m too broke and too busy making films. But I could spend a Sunday in Brooklyn doing the next best thing.

What I’m trying to say is that I was grateful to have an opportunity, despite these facts, to get together with like-minded people, to learn, and to feel at least in some small way that I was where I belonged.

Other filmmakers in a similar position as me, in any of the above terms, would do well to attend a session in the future.

The Reparative Imperative

The following post was written last week, in a relaxed daze, while The Furious Romantic was on a much-needed vacation.

I’m sitting in a handmade wooden chair on the open, covered front porch of a rental cabin in the woods of Vermont. It’s been raining a lot – legitimate thunderstorms on and off for days – but right now the sun is sinking behind the trees and the air has begun to cool.

It’s been muggy. Sticky. The salt shaker in the kitchen stopped working yesterday. The moisture has been getting into everything. But the cabin is well-designed. Overall it’s been just breezy enough that, with all the windows open, we haven’t been uncomfortable. We have had less salt.

The rain hasn’t bothered me much. All I’ve wanted out of this trip was a break, some quality time with my wife, and…the mountains.

Just that. This. The sight of them in the distance. The knowledge of their looming, permanent presence. The clean air.

And the forest night, dark and still and yet filled with so much mysterious  movement – and interrupted, on occasion, by the blink of a firefly, if the rain has held off long enough. I love it all.

The city had ground me down. Worse than I realized.

I knew I was tired. I knew I needed rest, an opportunity to relax, unwind, regroup.

I didn’t know I needed healing.

Do we ever?

Do we — when it comes to the most elusive form of healing we know (on average)? What does a modern man or woman do, when our soul is afflicted? When we have suffered loss, or pain, or when we have borrowed too liberally from reserves whose nature and abundance we don’t fully comprehend? Absent any true, real belief in religious prayer – and I realize that for some people, prayer does in fact work – how and when do we acknowledge the need for spiritual assistance and health?

It is easy to make the mistake, when you are an artist leading a double life – or anyone leading a double life – of assuming that your passion and your spirit are one in the same, just because each can be made to fuel the other.

I’m realizing, now, that they’re not the same. I’ve thought of my work over the past few days, idly here and there. I’ve allowed my mind to wander a bit, to think about Sophia, about all of you, about my hopes and dreams for my future as a filmmaker and a storyteller. But, more than that, I’ve rejected all thought.

I’ve been on vacation for days, and last night was the first night since I’ve been here that I didn’t have nightmares, didn’t wake up hours before dawn to a mind racing through some amorphous anxiety or another.

It must have been a shock to my system, to suddenly abandon the driving rush of the past several months, starting with the development of Multiverse and on through to the most recent stages of work on Sophia. Insomnia hasn’t been a recurring issue for me for on any level for years – mostly because I’m so exhausted all the time that I just pass out most nights. It’s been strange, reencountering the witching hours, after so much time away. I didn’t miss them much. I missed them a little, to be honest, but not much.

I used to think the night held secrets, power. I used to thrive on the night, on its silence and its mystery. But, while the dark still holds a place in my heart, while the beauty of the forest night and even that of the city remains attractive and special to me – right now I am more interested in the sleep. The rest.  The reparative imperative, to get my spirit back into fighting shape, reigns supreme.

It’s going well. Regardless of weather, the mountains will bring peace to the body and the senses if you let them. The mind, given time, will reset itself.

How have I been healing my spirit? I’m here with the woman I love. I’m sharing my restorative experience with another. We are engaging in repair together.

I encourage all readers to make sure, at crucial moments, to do the same. It doesn’t have to be the mountains. It doesn’t have to be a lover. Just…don’t forget to take time for yourself. Listen to your soul as you would your body when it is more obviously afflicted.

Love, and allow yourself to be loved, even if you’re a fighter — even if it’s hard, sometimes, for you to feel love.

Love’s the reason we fight in the first place.

The Fight for The Future is About People

I had some typically unique experiences walking around New York City this week. Experiences typical of New York in their uniqueness.

I don’t even know if I should call all of them experiences. Some are observations. But, then again, many of the observations I make from day to day — especially when walking around the city, which I tend to do a lot — they end up affecting me to such a degree that they take on an aura of the personal. Sometimes this is good, sometimes this is bad. All the time, it’s just the way it is.

I was rushing down 34th Street the other day when I was suddenly stricken by the sight of a young woman, who was standing alone all the way to the edge of the sidewalk on the street side. She stood tucked between a signpost and a phone booth, hunched over a cigarette, which she pulled at with such care and such a look on her face that I knew instantly that it was the only thing in the world, at that moment, that could keep her from bursting into tears.

I can’t explain how I knew this, and neither can I explain my certainty — that this was not only true but exactly true. I didn’t believe she was going to cry. Not at that moment. She had the cigarette; to balance her physicality, and her chemistry at that moment, with the storm going on  behind her eyes. Maybe not a winning formula in the long term, or in the eyes of some people, but it was working.

She was in pain, or crisis, or both. It was striking — but I didn’t feel sorry for her. And it took me until just now to realize why.

I didn’t feel sorry for her because I’ve been there. And, retrospectively, I cherish the fact that I’ve been there. Do you know why?

Because the woman was fucking feeling something. Sure, maybe she was fighting it a bit, in order to keep herself together at that moment (with the help of the cigarette), but, she cared enough about something, someone…enough to bring her eventually to that moment that I witnessed.

I don’t often worry, anymore, about people who are processing their emotions. Feeling their feelings. It doesn’t happen enough, here and now. I know I’ve failed at it in key ways in the past. Just as I know I’m lucky, on several accounts, to have not failed at accessing my emotions in other key ways in the past.

If anything, she should have been proud. Everyone else on the block, myself included, was just rushing around under the spell of some device or another. With her, it was just what was in her head at that moment, and the cigarette. Life and a momentary break from it.

I also had a brief conversation this week with a handicapped drunk man. He was having the time of his life while the Bee Gees played loudly on the boombox he had balanced on the front shelf of a walker he was pushing in front of him. I’ve seen the guy before, talked to him before. He shows up in my building sometimes to visit my neighbor (also handicapped — he’s legless), and as far as I can tell they just visit and sit around and drink and listen to music. Sometimes my neighbor starts without his visitor, and falls asleep and doesn’t hear the bell ring. On those occasions, the visiting man waits in the hall, usually on his back, sleeping occasionally, until his friend wakes or someone else with a key shows up.

Both men love my dog. Last night, I helped the Bee Gees guy pull the walker up the stairs leading to the elevator. It’s interesting, how you have to go up and down stairs to get to the elevator, in a building where one of the tenants (on the top floor) has no legs. I’ve helped carry my neighbor to the roof before, to get to the other elevator in the building, when the one on our side isn’t working.

The last time I talked to him, he asked me a bunch of questions about Zelda (my dog) and then started telling me about a dog he had once, who was a little mean but protected his apartment. The Bee Gees guy never liked dogs until he met Zelda — just this week. That’s what he told me at least. He played with her a bit and said: “Now I know why they say they’re man’s best friend. Look how happy she is to be with us.”

And then, finally, I had a sad experience yesterday morning with a man on the street. He startled me, by grabbing my bag from behind — not a great tactic when you’re looking for a signature, which was what he was doing. I move quick, so I was a little thrown and upset by the resultant yank. I was minimally caffeinated and focused on fighting the day.

Essentially, what I’m saying, is that — prior to his talking to me — I didn’t feel like hearing what this man had to say.

Those of you who live in the city probably know the feeling — there are just too many people vying for your attention (and your money), for too many causes, as you move from place to place. If you stop, and you’re a decent person, your contact information and maybe some of your cash is going to go to whatever cause birthed the clipboard that the stopper person is holding. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, or that causes aren’t worthy — but I am saying that they can be wearying on a macro level. Especially when most of the time and resources you have already go into fighting for many of these causes in a different way.

So I started moving again, as soon as I saw what the man was presumably about.

And then he pushed the folder (it was a folder, not a clipboard) into my face. There was just a legal pad there, with some names and other information scribbled on it in ink. There was also a picture of a kid clipped to one side of the folder.

“This kid got killed two days ago,” he said. “Don’t you want to help?”

It all happened very fast. I said I was sorry and I kept walking.

I felt bad. But I didn’t see how anything I could do, then and there, was going to help that dead kid get undead. Also, to be honest, all things considered, I wasn’t sure the man was legit.

I had been in a typically frenzied head space when he had yanked me, thinking about Sophia, thinking about all the many reasons why I must tell her story, and, related to that, why I do what I do. I was thinking of all the big things I want to do with my life, to help contribute to the creation of a better place for myself and for others than the one we see in front of us these days.

And the man had upset me with the yanking, and then again by shoving the folder in my face, and…he even seemed a little combative…and…

…I don’t know.

Sometimes I can handle these things. On other occasions, I can’t. Sometimes, it’s just too much, too quickly, and there’s not much more that can be said about it.

But I wonder what it says, about me and about us, that the overwhelming weight of the fight — and of our lives within it — can cause us to fear the time it would take to stop for a moment and listen to and communicate with someone who is right there, in the flesh, and needs help. Or needs help helping.

Then again, New York City is a big place, throbbing with life, with more joy and more pain that any one person can absorb and parse at any one time. The girl with the cigarette was okay. The drunk guy with the walker was mostly okay. He only needed a little help, and maybe, a little companionship. The kid, if he really is dead, has already been lost.

Which leaves me just where I started, if a little wiser. I guess what I’m saying is that this week I was reminded that the fight for a better future doesn’t exist only in the abstract. It’s not about statistics, it’s not about what you see on the news, or about what’s trending on your social media channels.

It’s about people.

Have a good week, everyone. Get angry and speak up.

Tell Me Your Furies

Hello, beautiful and/or handsome readers. I am exhausted today, and have a very long week ahead of me. I’ve been sitting here, thinking of what to say to you this week, and, unfortunately, nothing is coming.

I may just be tapped out for the moment. And I think I need to pay attention to that and take a breath.

However, I do have a question:

How has the blog been working for you?

What do you like? What could you go without? Do you miss the weekly links? Can you live without them?

What posts did you particularly enjoy? Is there something you want me to cover that you haven’t seen here, but think might fit into our themes of American social dysfunction, the state of “the arts” and/or the responsibility of contemporary artists, inequality, injustice…etc?

Please take a moment to drop a line and answer any or all of these questions. Or answer one I didn’t ask, that I should have.

There haven’t been too-too many comments since The Furious Romantic Returns launched. Which is okay. But I know many of you are reading (I creep though the stats) and I appreciate it and I want to give you more of what you like and less of what you don’t like.

So, let’s hear it. Hit me up on whatever channel you want: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr…or email me at michael [DOT] dibiasio [AT] gmail [DOT] com. Responses will be kept private. After some time has gone by I’ll reflect on everything and report back to you.

And, remember, honesty is the best policy. Be nice, but if you have complaints, let those fly as well.

Please take a moment. Write as little or as much as you want.

Let’s reach out through The Screen.