What I Liked This Week: Hustler Edition

No. Not the nudie mag. Not even the iconic film.

This week, I’m highlighting three resources I stumbled upon, or sought out, that helped me hustle. As in work. Hard. Quickly. Efficiently.

Fractured Atlas Space Finder

It took me all of five minutes to find a space and book it. That's how it should go.
It took me all of five minutes to find a space and book it. That’s how it should go.
I did not know this existed. It’s fantastic. From Fractured Atlas:

For artists, the process of finding work space can be frustrating and inefficient. Meanwhile, venues have limited resources to spend finding new renters. Earned revenue is critical for creative venues yet many rental spaces are tragically underutilized. Through the SpaceFinder program, Fractured Atlas is increasing visibility of rental options, helping artists find the space they need, and helping venues promote and rent their spaces.

What happened was that I needed a space to record my Coffee with Creatives interview with Rick Younger (Coming Soon).

When I meet people in the city, especially when they’re doing something kind like meeting me to talk, I like to try to find a place or a space that’s easily accessible to them and either halfway between where we’re both going afterwards or at least fairly close. This time around, I was in a bit of a rush to find a spot, and didn’t know of too many spaces, off-hand, that would be quiet enough to record a podcast. The Space Finder allowed me to find something, quickly. It’s a great resource and I appreciate that it exists.

Filmmakers, actors, performers should check it out.

A Different Kind of Meditation: An Analysis of Word of Mouth (WOM) Marketing

Up is down and down is up.
WOM starts with doing something different.
I believe I stumbled upon Lincoln Murphy’s great Medium piece on WOM via GrowthHackers.

Anyone interested in authentically building an audience, and then smartly and honestly growing that audience, would do well to read it. Murphy specializes in Software as a Service (SaaS) but rightly points out that his observations apply universally to most companies.

I’d take that further, and hitch it up to the “Filmmaker as Entrepreneur” argument, to include anyone whose work would and does benefit from WOM.

The biggest take-away, in my opinion — WOM starts with a great product. From there, it’s about talking to your audience, and asking them what they like and want. It’s about participating in a relationship — not simply selling.

I shared the post with Seed and Spark’s #FilmCurious crew, and people seemed to agree with me that all this is relevant to what we do. For me, that seems to prove Murphy’s point.

Speaking of the #FilmCurious…

Click the image to read a transcript of the chat
Click the image to read a transcript of the chat
This conversation couldn’t have been more appropriate for me. First, contributing towards a new and more equitable business model for indie film is my greatest obsession after contributing towards a greater dialogue about empathy and equality (through storytelling). In addition to that, after bringing The Videoblogs to Big Vision Empty Wallet’s (BVEW) 2015 Distribution Lab — I and the #VideoblogsFilm team are now working hard to iterate our business plan, finish the film, and get it out into the world.

Chat guests Jon Reiss and Adam Leipzig were very helpful, and gave a lot of great advice during the chat. As usual, the #FilmCurious crew also brought their own juice to the discussion. I brought fruit punch. It may have been spiked.

Good read. Get on it.

And have a good week.

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What I Liked This Week: Hill People Edition

In NYC, this space would cost $3,000/month.
In NYC, this space would cost $3,000/month plus utilities (oxygen surcharge).

That is my wife, Rebecca, about as happy as I have seen her. I like that, which is part of the reason why…

Redwood Forest

…the first thing on this week’s list is the Armstrong Redwood State Preserve in California. We took a short trip there this week with family, hiking a short loop among a forest of towering redwoods — many of which are over one-thousand years old. That’s amazing. And amazingly humbling.

To get there, we took a shortcut (via GPS) that led us through some hills. At one point, in those hills, we discovered a large community of people living essentially in the middle of nowhere, about halfway between the nearest town and the forest. They seemed nice. It was an eclectic group of tree-hidden homes.

Rebecca wants to move in with the redwood forest hill people and I can’t say some part of me wouldn’t enjoy it. I am back in New York now, which from another point of view might seem equally insane as a choice for a home.

Venice Beach

Photo credit: Rebecca De Ornelas.
Photo credit: Rebecca De Ornelas.

We drove down from northern California to LA before flying home, to see some more family and to flash through the city for a day of tourist-y activities. We checked out the Hollywood Sign and even made a quick stop by Grauman’s Chinese Theatre — but one of my favorite jaunts during our whirlwind stop in LA was our walk along Venice Beach.

I was disappointed to discover that there were no studio executives handing out money at the top of the hill. I feel misled.
I was disappointed to discover that there were no studio executives handing out money at the top. I feel misled.

When we got to Venice Beach, the sky was overcast and we were tired and had just been in traffic for an hour (which means we had only been driving for about half a mile). It was getting late in the afternoon and we had a few more stops planned and a lot more traffic ahead of us. I think we were both a little cranky.

But the walk (the actual locomotion of it) and the unique character of the boardwalk and its unique brand of artists and salespeople, quickly improved our mood. We watched the goings-on around us, sampled some street music (and paid for it by dropping some cash in the performer’s guitar case), declined some other street music, and stood by to observe a unique performance that I’m probably going to write about in a different way, soon.

Much like the forest, but also in a very different sense, it felt like a reduction of America. On the one hand, we had a sampling of the vast natural landscape upon which everything we know has been and is built. On the other, along the boardwalk, we witnessed a mixed-bag of what all that has become. It’s not all bad, either, what’ve we’ve become (to be clear). In many ways, it’s just what we’ve got.

Subconscious Energization 

On second thought, it could have just been the cookie.
I am so on board with this cookie.

Something happened to my brain over the past week or so. After a little bit of catching up (mostly in regards to the podcast) for the first few days of my California trip, I settled into a routine of waking up early, meditating a bit, having breakfast and coffee and then…vacillating between chill-out time and different (moderate) physical activities. I also watched my cousin get married to a good dude in the middle of it all, which was wonderful.

But the relative liveliness of it all got into my bones. I jogged. I floated down a river (twice). I hiked, on a few separate occasions. There was a lot of movement and not a lot of thinking.

The effect has been a profound re-energization of my subconscious. I woke up this morning with a lot of hope for the near future, and a lot of passion for trying out new ideas, for growing this space and improving it organically, and generally turning back to a more active and experimental mindset, following the necessary monomania of making a low-budget indie film.

It feels good. Be on the lookout for more stuff. Let me know if you like it. Don’t be shy.

And have a good week.

What I Liked This Week: Mental Health Edition

I’m out on a porch, overlooking the Russian River in Healdsburg, CA, and the sun is shining and the birds are chirping and I have coffee.

It’s been a good, if hectic, week. Life feels charged, lately — in a positive way.

Facing Up To Mental Illness

The back of the shirt reads:
The back of the shirt reads: “…and so are you.” Because mental illness affects us all.

This first thing I liked this week, that I want to bring to everyone’s attention, is Campaign to Face It, a smart, modest, bold initiative to help combat the stigma with which many contemporary societies still view mental illness, addiction, and other conditions associated with mental health.

On June 5th, I and my wife joined with many others in wearing t-shirts designed to help call out this stigma. I wore a shirt that identified me as someone who has struggled with mental illness, and I shared a photo captioned with that same message to social media channels.

I’ve been saying for a long time that it’s important that we talk about mental health. The campaign felt like a simple but effective way to do so safely, personally — by joining with others who sought to prove by their own admissions that they stand behind this same message.

As I wrote that day, I’m mostly doing better now, after struggling for quite a while with prolonged bouts of depression. It’s been a long road, that won’t ever end. But there’s help out there. If you’re ever struggling with your mental health, reach out to someone.  You’re not alone, and most people are kind. Help is out there, and you don’t have to be any more ashamed to ask for it, if you’re suffering mentally, than you would if you had a broken arm.

And, if you’re ashamed anyway — still ask for help. It’s okay. No one is perfect and shame can cause a lot more damage.

Big Vision Empty Wallet Distribution Lab

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Rebecca and I brought The Videoblogs to Big Vision Empty Wallet’s 2015 Distribution Lab this week. It was a fun and informative experience. We learned a lot, met some great people, and emerged from the various meetings, scheduled by BVEW founders Alex Cirillo and Dani Faith Leonard, feeling re-energized about finishing the film and getting it ready to go out into the world.

Related to that, BVEW recently announced a new initiative to combat issues of diversity in film. It’s an important cause, that I very much support, so go check it out especially if you’re a filmmaker.

Down Time, Family Time

My grandfather is a boss at bocce.
My grandfather is a boss at bocce.

I’m here in wine country for my cousin’s wedding. After the busyness of starting the podcast, writing a new story, attending the labs, rushing to make the flight, and scrambling around San Francisco to fill a short day there with some sightseeing — it feels good to sit here and sip coffee and feel the sun on my face.

Also, I haven’t been able to spend much time with my family over the past few years. It’s been great to see everyone. I had a good time running around San Francisco with my parents and Rebecca. I’m having a good time here, now, with my grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins.

This is important stuff. I’m going to get back to it.

Have a good week.

Photo credit: Some nice guy from Spain who took direction via hand signals.
Photo credit: Some nice guy from Spain who took direction via hand signals.

What I Liked This Week: Gratitude Edition

It took me a few years to realize that the climb can be as good as the view.
It took me a few years to realize that the climb has as much value as the view.

Hello Handsome People.

I’m sitting here trying to think of my list for the week and I’m having trouble because life has been hectic. But I know well enough by now (most of the time), to not fall into The Busyness Trap — and that, further, I can choose to look at the situation in a different way.

Which is why today’s WILTW this week is about gratitude.

Something Collin Schiffli said during our interview has stuck with me. When I asked him what he was most proud of in his life, he answered by reflecting upon the fact that — despite circumstances not yet being “perfect” — he is doing what he loves.

And so am I, really. I feel the same way.

Plain Old Regular Adulthood

That which I feared in my twenties has come to pass.

Most days, I get up, go to work, come home and eat and go to bed and then I do it again. My younger self failed to realize that this is — it’s just life. And while I don’t mean to oversimplify, and could say a lot more about this, the fact remains that this pattern…is mostly it.

This is why I believe what we do (and who we spend our time with) is almost as important as who we are. It’s also why I believe in fighting for better conditions, for more people, to be able to pursue the sort of contentedness that I’ve been able to build in recent years — it’s an alleged “right” in this country that’s been tied down and ensnared by innumerable qualifiers that mostly stem from class, privilege, race, and gender.

So, first, I feel fortunate to be able to say that I agree with Collin. When I get up and go to work, it’s not simple. I have many jobs, most of which I have given myself. But when I do get around to sleeping, it’s a lot easier than it used to be, when I wasn’t doing at least the best I could to keep creating and to make the art-life balance work for me.

The other part of plain old regular adulthood that I like is that I’m sharing it with someone who loves me. And an old lady cat and a young lady dog who the pair of us both love, too. And there are plenty of other wonderful people in my life, from days old and new.

Not everyone has that, though we all deserve it.

Sometimes, lately, I just stop in the middle of my apartment and I think of where I’ve been and where I am now and I allow myself to feel happy. It’s still a fairly new experience but I like it.

Coffee with Creatives

I held at least six separate positions during production of The Videoblogs. Why? Because it had to be done to keep things moving.
What came first, the caffeine or the creativity?

The interviews have been more fun than I expected. And more fulfilling. It’s really great to sit down with people, some of whom I know and some who I don’t, and have an hour-long conversation about — basically what I just wrote above — balancing life with purpose.

Coffee with Creatives will morph into a podcast soon. It’s already costing a bit of money, and I want to do it right, so I probably will have to build some fundraising into the endeavor to keep it viable. We’ll figure out a way.

Feedback on Coffee with Creatives has been very positive so far. Thanks to everyone reading and sharing the interviews. I hope this is just the beginning.

I’m very grateful to my guests as well. They’ve all been great.

The Generosity of Others

I was approaching a street corner in Manhattan the other day, when I passed a homeless woman who was asking for help with getting some food. I didn’t have any, couldn’t give her cash, and wouldn’t have an opportunity to grab something for her on my way back from the errand I was on — which I would otherwise have tried to do.

Privately, I wished that someone else would help her soon. It was a sincere hope, not a means of assuaging guilt.

Then a second, work-casually dressed woman approached the corner, and offered a single-serve box of Cheerios to the homeless woman, who eagerly accepted it, expressed her thanks, opened the package and started eating.

A few days later, a similar scene transpired.

I was running to the pharmacy. As I approached the entrance, I saw three people sitting on the street, against the building, asking for help. I was just making a mental note, to pick up some food to offer them while inside, when I saw a young boy approach each, one by one, with a proffered brown bag lunch. All three graciously accepted.

When he was out of bags, he returned to a small group of women, who must have been supervising the effort, and they gave him more bags and he quickly found a few additional people who needed and accepted the food — people I hadn’t even noticed among the heavy pedestrian traffic of the area.

Do these sort of actions solve the world’s problems? Of course not. Are they humane, and immediately recognizable as kind, good things to do? Yes.

It honestly felt great, to see that, when it wasn’t immediately easy for me to help, that I could still hope for help to be given, and witness that hope quickly fulfilled.

I suspect, as well, that these sort of stories are playing out, in plain sight, all around us, in New York City and beyond, and that maybe we’d notice them more often if we let go at least temporarily of the drama and dread fed to us by the culture via the mainstream media.

I’m finding, more and more as I continue to age, that it can be that simple. And, a lot of the time, it can be enough.

Have a good week.

What I Liked This Week: Cold Shower Batmen Animals

Hot. Cold. Zelda prefers to not bathe at all.
Before cold showers, Zelda was a Mastiff.

Hey! This week was a blur!

There’s a lot going on. As I mentioned on Instagram (and other outlets) I just sent three scripts to the Austin Film Festival Screenwriting Competition.

One is a feature that’s also at Nicholl (the screenwriting fellowship program run by The Academy Awards). The other two are TV scripts — the first I’ve ever written, actually. I wrote a sci-fi pilot and a spec episode of The Flash. It surprised me, how pleased I was with my work on the TV stuff. The first page of the pilot may be the best page I’ve written in a long time. It may not be. Rebecca will let me know.

In addition to all that, as announced here, we received news that The Videoblogs was selected to participate in Big Vision Empty Wallet’s 2015 Distribution Lab. Which is great news. Looking forward to that experience, which I will report back on soon.

All of that barely left me enough time to interview Collin Schiffli for Coffee with Creatives. So, one thing that I liked this week is more like a thing I liked recently, that I have continued to think about.

We play it loose with the rules around here. On to it!

Cold Showers for a Happier, More Focused Michael

I experimented with cold showers for a short while, when I first read Tim Ferriss’s The Four Hour Body (the low temperature increases fat burn). They didn’t take, mostly because it’s a tough commitment to keep, due to the relative discomfort of the experience — but, also, I just couldn’t let go of my morning hot shower. It is/was important to me.

However, I’m currently in the midst of trying to drop a few pounds, so that I can fit into the nice new suit I bought last year, when I was exercising regularly. I want to do this both because it would feel good to get back into the suit, but also because I can’t afford a new suit and don’t want to wear one of the old baggy suits from when I was a larger Michael. In addition to a temporary change of diet, I’m trying out the cold showers again (and jogging). As additionally described in the book, apart from helping to burn more fat, cold showers can strengthen the immune system (yes, please) and improve mood (sign me up).

This time, since I’m waking up earlier these days, I decided to alter the plan. I take my hot shower, and then slowly dip the temperature, in intervals, allowing my body to adjust in between. After a while, I bring the cold. I started about six days ago. My cold shower length has increased from about 5 seconds (when I was too quick with my interval temp drops) to about 3 or 4 minutes. The last two days, I have started off with cool showers, and have been able to get to cold more quickly. I’ve also been able to tolerate Full Cold much longer.

I have noticed that my senses feel sharpened, and that my skin feels more alive, when I’m done. The mood improvement appears to be true, for me. And, while I’m (perhaps stupidly) not weighing myself, or taking any measurements, my pants seem to be slipping on a little easier in recent days — though this is probably the combined effect of the dietary shift and the cold therapy. The jogs, I have only just started.

I’m also supplementing the showers by drinking additional ice water throughout the day, and applying an ice pack to my neck for twenty or thirty minutes at night (these methods are also detailed in the book).

It’s been okay. We’ll see how long I last.

The Batmen: Scott Snyder and Geoff Johns Trade Paperbacks

This is the holdover entry from last week. I felt a little guilty, when I realized that I had not included The Batmen in last week’s post. But, really, that list reads the way it was meant to read at the time — as a reminder of the benefits of taking a break and getting out into nature.

Don't forget to pack your socks and your Batmen.
Don’t forget to pack your socks and your Batmen.

I read both Scott Synder’s Batman Vol. 5: Zero Year – Dark City, and Batman: Earth One Vol. 2, by Geoff Johns, while I was away. Both were great.

Snyder’s celebrated run on Batman has been a joy to read. He respects and pays homage to the mythos of the character but does new and inventive things with him. This fifth trade paperback of his run (all with Greg Capullo, whose art is similarly awesome) nicely tied together so many narrative strands that I admittedly felt a little confused by in the previous book. That’s not a criticism — it ended up being a matter of patience. If I were a monthly reader, I may not even have felt that confusion. Still, I’m excited to keep reading this run for as long as it continues.

Geoff John’s comes up with moments, in his writing, that few other writers are capable of delivering from within the DC Comics Universe (DCU). This seems to be because, in addition to being a talented writer — his knowledge of the universe seems encyclopedic and readily accessible. That’s one of the things I loved the most about his second installment, with Gary Frank (whose more grounded Batman looks amazingly human), in their Batman: Earth One story-line, which exists outside of continuity with what Snyder is doing.

The book seems to be written from the point of view of someone who has not only processed every arc and trope from the Batman runs of yesterday, but other contemporary sources (such as Synder’s work, and even Christopher Nolan’s) as well.  Johns even includes a great, subtle nod to his own work (in the first Batman: Earth One book) when a move that worked on a villain then…doesn’t work on a villain now — causing Batman to fail, and summarily “cheat”. We don’t often see that from the character.

I just love Johns’s writing (credit goes to my brother, Dan, for introducing me to his catalogue). It’s humorous and inventive but always sourced from character (and the mythos to which characters in the DCU belong). It’s not easy to do something like that, effectively, when the protagonist has been around for decades, and has been handled by so many other writers. I thought the first Batman: Earth One book was a delightfully fresh take on a Batman. The second grows the character more towards a version of him that we’re more used to, but takes advantage of this fact to spend more time smartly reinventing a cadre of old villains in fun new ways. I’m interested to see where the story goes next.

Animals: Coffee with Creatives Delivers The Goods

I watched Collin Schiffli’s feature film debut, Animals (SXSW ’14) ahead of our Coffee with Creatives conversation. I really enjoyed it. The film definitely stands firmly upon the grounded feel that Schiffli discussed as a major intention during the interview — ultimately also delivering an equally grounded, atypically touching story.

With limited time and money for rehearsal, David and Kim spent a day exploring Chicago on the train.
Lead actors David Dastmalchian and Kim Shaw spent a day exploring Chicago on the train.

Definitely worth a watch. It was great speaking with Collin about his process and his methods as a filmmaker. Check out our talk for more info, and check it out on VOD if you’re interested.

Till we meet again. Next week. As always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

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What I Liked This Week: Vacation Edition

I was gratefully able to take a few days off last week. It was nice. My better half and I packed a few bags and headed upstate to the Hudson River Valley. Here’s a shot from a bridge in Rosendale, where we stayed.

We later sat in a beautiful  restaurant garden, facing the river while willow tree seeds snowed down upon us.
We later sat in a restaurant garden, facing this river while willow tree seeds snowed down upon us. Ate burgers.

We hiked. We climbed a mountain (without gear — it was more of a tough scramble over a bunch of fallen boulders). I got scared at a few points during the climb. We got pretty high up, and I when I looked down I could feel death staring back at me. I tried to look down less. That helped. I also had a talk with my Death Fear Voice. We’re old pals by now. We came to an understanding. I would keep climbing in exchange for the promise not to fall.

It’s funny — my wife remarked more than once that she didn’t know I was afraid of heights. I didn’t really know either. I mean, I did. But I wasn’t afraid of heights prior to my light brush with death.

Literally a week before that madness, I jumped off a cliff and into the Mediterranean. I guess maybe once you’ve had to look death a little more closely — that something can change in you. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be a soldier, or a firefighter or a cop, or even a citizen who lives in a part of the world where death can be a daily part of life. I’m pretty far removed from it most of the time (as much as any of us can be) and still it’s often a struggle to prevent Death Fear Voice from drowning out Life Affirming Voice. So, in the end, we continue the dance. For as long as it goes on.

Uh, anyway — this is meant to be a happy What I Liked This Week!

After the mountain hike, despite a fair amount of tiredness (I am not in the best physical shape, presently) we drove to a state park that had more trails and a few waterfalls. Thus begins this week’s list of what I liked.

Waterfall Napping

I took a nap by the base of the waterfall. There hadn’t been much rain, so I was able to cross a connected stream, to the other side of where the trail looped around the small lake created by the waterfall. I found a comfortable spot and dropped my hat over my eyes and fell asleep while Rebecca executed her questionable (to me) decision to go for a run. I woke up just in time to see her looking for me on the other side of the stream. It was a pretty dope nap.

The Clash on Vinyl

The AirBnB place we rented for the weekend came with a turntable and a small but very well-curated vinyl collection. I liked flipping through records with my hands, maneuvering them onto the turntable with my hands, carefully positioning the needle with my hands. I liked the manual feel of it all, obviously.

But the vinyl collection also helped to reinforce a slowed-down pace. It wasn’t annoying — was in fact nice — to have to flip an album to get to the other side of it. I listened to The Clash a lot. I had forgotten how much I love The Clash. I like the word clash.

Time Out for Love

I liked spending quality time in the woods with a loved one. Specifically, the unsuspecting loved one in the background of this well-timed selfie:

I am available for your male modeling needs.
I am available for your modeling needs. Rebecca may be a better choice, though.

Sometimes, we can get so busy in life that we take the time we spend with those closest to us (spouses, family, close friends) for granted. I’m still working on prioritizing quality time. It’s important. It’s one of those things, like exercise, that you put off for too long, and then when you do it, you wonder why you ever stopped or put it off in the first place.

We got some good news about #VideoblogsFilm while we were away, if you haven’t heard yet. Here’s more info on that.

What I Liked This Week is a weekly site  feature in which I briefly summarize three things I liked recently, that I would like to call to readers’ attention. They aren’t always recent to this week or even necessarily things. An experience can be a thing. The point is that I like them and you might, too!

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What I Liked This Week: Mental Health Edition

Zelda (showing off her Boyhood pose here) has improved my mental health by about 2,000%.
Zelda (showing off her Boyhood pose here) has improved my mental health by about 2,000 percent.

As promised in last week’s relaunch of this feature, I will be attempting to keep What I Liked This Week relatively short, from here forward. If I end up responding to something in a profoundly major way, I may break that rule again, but for now — here goes!

This wasn’t planned, but this week, the things I liked the most all fell into a single category: Mental Health.  I’m glad it shook out this way — especially because May is National Mental Health Awareness month.

Here are three things you might want to check out:

Tim Ferriss Talks About Suicide

I’m a big fan of Tim’s work, which has helped me take control of my life in many ways. Tim’s blog post, “ Some Practical Thoughts About Suicide,” is a good read. I can relate to quite a bit of what he shares. But what I like most about the piece is that it comes from a highly-visible person, with a large following of fans who often listen very seriously to what he has to say. It’s good, on a very basic level, that this is now “out there”.

The Mental Illness Happy Hour

I have been listening to comedian Paul Gilmartin’s podcast for a while now, especially after we reached out to him last year while assembling the jury for The Videoblogs Dialogue. That contest will launch soon (we’re a bit delayed) but I have especially been getting a lot out of the podcast lately and wanted to made sure readers know it’s out there.  Paul does a great job managing the process of conversing about difficult subjects in each episode, not only with guests or when speaking personally but also while reading anonymous surveys filled out by listeners “on air”.

I’m not always able to listen to the show — sometimes it gets a little too painful — but lately I’ve been listening more often and I just really appreciate that it’s out there. I also really like how funny it can be. Paul is funny on his own, but laughing at the darkness with him and his guests is frequently a great salve for me, that really helps in between other sources of relief.

More Money Towards Mental Health System in NYC

Finally, I liked seeing that the deBlasio administration in New York City is seeking to budget for and implement additional mental health services around the city.

We desperately need a better infrastructure for mental health programs (around the country). Regardless of your political leanings (mine have tumbled in recent years into a loose pile of centrist debris), once you acknowledge this fact (it’s a fact) it stands to reason that trying anything at all — is a good thing.

Trying things cost money, and requires patience. I don’t believe the government should be solely responsible for either reform or maintaining/improving our current infrastructure of mental health programs or services. I wouldn’t work so hard personally to produce art that advocates for dealing with mental health issues if I did feel that way.

Like most things on such a scale, addressing this major national issue will take a mix of solutions, probably customized to the individual. First, though, those solutions need to be available (to everyone). I know, personally, that there are non-governmental systems and groups that exist, to help people when they’re suffering. The above-two examples are free resources that don’t necessarily solve anything on their own, but do provide information, comfort and hope.

Still, in an age where politics and government appear frequently callous and ineffective, it’s nice to believe that something like this could arrive soon, to help us combat The Mental Health Crisis as well.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to hit me up with questions/concerns in the comments.

What I Liked This Week is a weekly site  feature in which I briefly summarize three things I liked recently, that I would like to call to readers’ attention. They aren’t always recent to this week or even necessarily things. An experience can be a thing. The point is that I like them and you might, too!

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Why Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking is Essential Reading

I highly recommend this book, especially if you're an artist. Read on to find out why.
Highly recommend this book, especially if you’re an artist. Read on to find out why.

 

I am stingy with the word essential.

It and so many similarly strong words, especially in American popular culture today, are wildly overused, and too often leveraged outside the narrow subjectivity with which (in my opinion) they could otherwise more appropriately be applied. I’d call all this an epic bummer, but in honesty it’s an easy thing to shrug off.

Still, I bring up the point to help introduce my recommendation of musician Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking…because rarely have I felt so compelled to “drop the e-word”, with confidence, outside the realm of eating, drinking, sleeping, and luvvvvv-making.

Obviously, not everyone is going to agree with my choice. But, speaking primarily to the aforementioned audience(s) of art-makers and art-lovers, here are my personal reasons for advocating for the book — and Palmer herself, since she’s an interesting personality on her own and identifies first and foremost as a singer (I have been also listening been listening to her music for weeks, which I similarly recommend).

The Art of Asking provides an unparalleled level of context for the contemporary relationship between art and people (or art and life)

liam_sscamp
We raised enough money to shoot The Videoblogs by asking our audience for help. Photo credit: Liam Billingham.

Early in the text, Palmer remarks upon how what we’re witnessing right now, in terms of the relationship between art and artist (especially in tech-equipped indie circles) is in actuality a return to The Way it Used to Be. Artists create, put their work (and themselves) out there, and the audience returns the favor by giving some part of their own selves (be it in the form of money, time, etc.), simply and directly — if and as there’s an authentic connection made in the process.

That’s how it used to go early on, and for a long time, in human history. Various forms of progress and change shifted that relationship, such that several intermediary systems rose to prominence, which weren’t (and aren’t) necessarily bad but, nonetheless, today, can cause complications, introduce impurities, and/or create distance in the otherwise mostly direct artist-audience relationship. Today, now that individuals on the whole are much more broadly and immediately connected than ever before, and now that new (relatively) cheap funding, distribution, and communications systems exist than ever before, it’s not only once again possible for the artist and the audience to remain in a more direct, on-going relationship — it’s also easier to cultivate and keep up that relationship than ever before.

That doesn’t mean that, on the part of both artist and audience, that we aren’t still (on the negative side) facing challenges posed by the still-dominant machinations and gate-keeping fears of the aforementioned intermediaries, or (on the positive side), that there aren’t mutual advantages to those sort of relationships (and plenty of good people working, in various capacities, for intermediaries) — it just means that everyone today can perhaps be kept more honest and more focused on what’s important.

I’m paraphrasing Palmer there, possibly with a little bit of my own beliefs and observations sprinkled in, but the important point is to recognize and accept that, with the right attitude and a lot of work and patience, things can be better — for independent artists and their audiences in particular.

Within this context, Palmer embodies (literally) and carefully guards Authenticity and Trust as the most crucial elements of the artist-audience relationship

This is generally how I feel about everyone who watches our films.
This is generally how I feel about everyone who watches our films. Photo credit: Alexia Adana.

The Art of Asking is mostly written in the style of a memoir. Longer-tenured admirers of Palmer than me probably already know that she doesn’t shy away from getting (literally) naked in front of her fans (given certain conditions that she takes careful pains to point out in the book, while also providing context for such decisions). Such occasions don’t always go well, her courage in this aspect does not come without its share of suffering, and in the text she frequently (and with typical transparency) gives voice to the doubts such “bad” stories spark in her mind.

Still, Palmer does a much better job than I ever could ultimately deconstructing not only why such “setbacks” (I’ll let the book itself substantiate my repeated use of scare quotes) are necessary (and illuminating). She provides much evidence for — and a lot of useful commentary on — the observable truth that, after opportunity, the next thing we all need for this sort of arrangement to work, in the best possible way, is an unyielding commitment to trust not only in the work but each other.

Palmer never claims that things will always go perfectly, even in filling in useful back-story to her successes. But she does do an excellent job consistently reporting on the dialogues she has had both with herself and trusted friends in sourcing out the right thing to do, as often as possible, as she stumbled through especially her early career on the way to a better and more comprehensive understanding and respect for how this all ideally might work on a regular basis. The stories she tells in relaying this process are not only intellectually accessible, but emotionally so as well — which sets Palmer apart especially in today’s unfortunately less-emotionally forthcoming social landscape.

Palmer’s narrative provides an accessible road-map for success

Multiverse Screening and Videoblog kickoff
Hint: It’s about People. Photo credit: Alexia Adana.

Riding off that last point, it can be tempting in this environment (I’ve been tempted myself) to take an honest goal like that of Palmer’s book (which to me seemed to be: “teach and attest to the benefits of trust, kindness, and vulnerability”) and warp it into something more broad and self-serving.

Especially in what sometimes seems to be rounding out into The Age of Tech, advice of the “road-map” sort, nudged towards gathering greater numbers (versus forming real connections), seems to proliferate further every day.

That’s not to say that all the lists and guides out there aren’t without value, or that they’re all guilty of crossing some arbitrary Authenticity Line, or should be faulted for failing to see that most of what provides value to people begins by engaging with them on an honest, emotional level. It just means that, for instance, when Palmer maps out her path as herself, in context, while constantly guarding and respecting The Point — it becomes that much easier for a similarly minded, or near-similarly minded (I’ll probably never get physically naked for you) individual or small group to internalize her journey and absorb her lessons in a much more useful way.

This road-map is revealed to be (and simultaneously evidenced by) the aforementioned Authenticity and Trust

This is indie musician Mike O'Malley -- in real life. After seeing this set, we asked him to appear in The Videoblogs.
This is indie musician Mike O’Malley — in real life. After seeing this set, we asked him to appear in The Videoblogs.

Obviously, I admire Palmer’s approach with the book, and her execution, as much as the content. I bring the sort of cyclical nature of her testimony up as a separate point because of how accurately it mirrors how important both authenticity and trust are to the artistic lifestyle (or to living a fulfilled life in general).

It took me so long to build up the courage to begin sharing more and more of my actual self in my work. As documented here, it’s also been frequently terrifying, sharing more and more of that work, more widely.

I’m eternally grateful for my audience. I hope you know that. I hope you also know how essential you have been (continue to be) to my work and my own growth. We’re in this together. I’ll keep trying to keep it honest.

For anyone still struggling to build up the courage to start down a similar path, or who could use a boost (I needed one) — read The Art of Asking.

Palmer makes it clear that indie success takes not only talent but (a fuck-ton of) hard work

I held at least six separate positions during production of The Videoblogs. Why? Because it had to be done to keep things moving.
I held about six positions on the crew of The Videoblogs. Why? Had to be done in order to keep things moving.

While this definitely isn’t a criticism, Palmer often speeds quickly through commentary about how much work things took, at many different stages in her career. She seems to take it as a given — which really isn’t a bad thing, for the most part, especially since she clearly also “plays hard”.

Most of the useful stuff delivered by the book in this regard arrives while Palmer is monologuing or dialoguing with friends, not in a direct way but more often reflectively, in the wake, for instance, of first sharing an anecdote centered around a particular challenge, or a normally-occurring instance of doubt.

Again, possibly, this is because she’s just that used to the amount of work it takes to succeed in the way she has. Reflection may also be a healthier approach than the more typical American, “process and power-driven” work approach (I can tell you from experience that adopting this approach as an underfunded indie will burn you out). Her attitude appears gentler, more patient, and more directly caring or forgiving of how hard it can be than someone like me, who might allow lingering faulty programming to relay a similar lesson via more a blunt admonition like “you better be ready to work”.

That caution is in fact true, but because Palmer is so forthcoming and thorough in her testimony, she doesn’t have to address the reader so directly in these terms. As I said, she does detail her struggles, and it does become very clear how hard she works — in the book this all just happens in the process of her telling her story.

Especially to today’s entitlement-prone younger generations, her approach provides not only a valuable lesson but a valuable method of delivering that lesson.

The book does not shy away from pain, even in mostly relaying stories of wonder

This is actually just the result of cooking some beets. But it could be BLUD!
This is actually just a result of cutting some beets. BUT IT COULD BE BLUD!

I hinted at this above, but it’s worth mentioning more specifically.

One of my favorite recurring patterns in the book is Palmer’s willingness to share the bad with the good. She utilizes the space provided by her narrative, in addition to whatever she did in the moment (usually talking to a friend), to find a way to come to terms with why pain is part of the artistic process, just as it is part of the process of living.

Again speaking personally, I’d add that this is a hard lesson to learn, and one that arguably never stops asserting itself. Still, I have found in recent years that doing exactly what Palmer does — talking and sharing and avoiding isolation or self-pity as often as possible — works wonders.

I believe it’s particularly important that we exhibit patience throughout each instance/cycle of this process as well.

The pain of others screams at us, every day, from the headlines, in real life, and even on our social media feeds. As artists (and as people), it can be hard to remember that our job isn’t only to absorb and soothe such pain. Neither does it help anyone to focus solely on ourselves, in this respect.

The healing comes from the sharing, and the connection.

The central narrative isn’t just the titular subject, or Palmer herself, but the vulnerability and love that must be shown in order for art, and art-relationships, to work in today’s socioeconomic environment

Laughter without voices.
At the time we made Multiverse, I was struggling to see people — and to feel seen.

Long-time readers of this site are probably used to me harping on the following point — but I’m going to keep repeating it for as long as I feel it still needs to be made.

More than any other crisis we’re facing, here and now in America, the gap or decline in empathy — between any of a number of (sometimes arbitrarily) defined groups, and within and across the individuals that make up those groups — seems to me to be hurting us the most.

Empathy is the basis from which all progress begins. Even when it seems incomplete, even when finding it seems to take forever, any progress on this front, at any level — is good for everyone.

No matter what sort of progress or social change an artist or an individual is compelled to chase, empathy will always be the most powerful vehicle we can “employ”. It is that authenticity, that trust, that connection — all wrapped up into one mysterious-but-essential universal concept.

I use the scare quotes around the word ’employ’ there, because (especially now that I’ve absorbed Palmer’s book), I believe it’s more helpful to think of ourselves as vessels, in this respect, than as an agent.

Conclusion: How The Art of Asking has Affected Me

Things get intense during Margaret (Rebecca De Ornelas) and Vee's (Phoebe Allegra) first meeting.
The Videoblogs is about leaving isolation behind, opening up — and trying to connect.

I’ve written quite a bit, so I’ll wrap up, but in support of that last point I wanted to end with some personal testimony on how The Art of Asking has affected me on a personal level.

First, as I mentioned, it has strengthened and renewed my gratitude towards anyone who has supported one or more of my projects, who has ever visited this site, who has even taken a moment to click through to anything I’ve done and given it a quick glance. As I have said before, I simply would not be here, making art and chugging forward, without all of you.

I also emerged from my read of Palmer’s book with a greater sense of clarity, in regards not only to the worthiness of the path I am on, but also the necessity to continue to be transparent and supportive of the artistic and personal communities to which I belong.

And, finally, I have been acting with more kindness, just in general, as I have gone about my day-to-day life.

I don’t feel more kind, as a result of reading The Art of Asking. I’ve always been a fairly kind person. But reading the book — particularly at this stage in my life, wherein I’ve been putting so much effort into both “cleaning house” and being me — has helped me slow down and act upon feelings of compassion, much more often than I have otherwise done in recent years, without hesitation or judgement.

There have been plenty of available reasons, for me, in the past, to remain guarded, to follow the lead of any of a number of fears, and/or to keep barreling forward in pursuit of The Mission.

It can become especially easy (sometimes, unfortunately, even necessary) to do this while living and working in New York City. There’s just too much going on, everywhere, constantly, to remain vulnerable for too long of a stretch, or in certain environments wherein to do so at all would be potentially too damaging to the self. There are times when you simply need to establish and respecting healthy boundaries to protect your health and general happiness.

But, still, lately, I’ve been realizing (and, to be truthful, finally listening to the pleas of others in this regard) that it’s time to slow down again. The Mission isn’t a career level, or an accomplishment, or even the realization of a specific project. It’s not even the work itself, or the drive to keep doing it and sharing the result.

The Mission is serving others. It’s chasing that empathy, by showing — and showing faith in — the kindnesses we mostly all feel, but might for so many, often understandable reasons, hesitate to show.

So, I’ve been doing what I can. I’m trying to support other artists, more often. I’m trying to keep up on taking care of myself, more consistently, so that it’s easier to approach others without agenda. I’m making eye contact with strangers and asking how they are, and I think they can tell that I actually care about their response.

Mostly, I’m doing little things that take a minimal amount of effort even if they cost me a bit more in terms of vulnerability and trust. I’m realizing, as Palmer’s book and life story definitely sets out to prove, that The Art of Asking is just as much about giving — and meaning it, and being unafraid to keep on meaning it — than anything else.

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