Take Faith for Yourself, Give Them Skepticism

skepticism-is-the-sadism-of-embittered-souls

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 01: Struggles and Wonders and Dying in  Chair

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

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

Day 04: Circle Up and Laugh

Day 05: On The Future of Labor

Day 06: Appreciating Difficulty, Harnessing its Momentum

Day 07: The Word for World is Earth

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

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

Day 10: Simmering Little Wrath of The Annoyed Man

Day 11: Tragedy, Remembrance and Wonder

Day 12: A New Light Borrowed or Discovered

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

Day 14: Legitimately Va-goo

Day 15: Sex-Bleating and Cat Vomit

Day 16: The Waiting Place

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

Day 18: How to Decide What to Make Next

 

Show What’s Inside: Musician Mike O’Malley

Mike02I met Mike O’Malley in a bar. I was having a Sunday afternoon pint, he was working his sweet musical magic. I liked that magic so much, that after putting some bread in his jar (always put bread in the jar when you like the music!) I decided right then and there to try to write him into The Videoblogs.

He agreed to the proposal, I became a fan, and recently I asked him to come on the show to talk music, songwriting, and:

  • The virtue of impatience, in the learning process
  • How awful men can be (combatting “bad masculinity”)
  • Getting attention on your terms
  • The taste of that first free burger, given in trade before a gig
  • Touring with six dudes in a sweaty van, or six sweaty dudes in a van
  • How anger can become a way of avoiding conflict (and growth)
  • Attending the craft (do the boring stuff)

Check out Mike’s music here. Look out for his upcoming Indiegogo campaign.

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

 

Dear Angry White Men

No. Not you, necessarily. This post isn’t meant for White Men Who Are Angry. Not exactly. Not exclusively.

Anger is okay. There’s plenty going on, everywhere, to be angry about. So, if you just happen to be angry and white and male, I’m not necessarily talking to you when I say…

…I used to be one of you.

So…if you’re that other kind of angry white man…

…trust me.

Listen.

When I tell you…

…this has got to fucking stop.

Let me clarify.

I have (thankfully) never been “crazy enough” with anger, or delusional enough, to believe so fully in my “righteousness” to think for a second that it was okay to hurt people en masse.

Let’s get that out of the way.

But. I have been, in the past, somewhat delusional. I have been so angry, in the sort of way wherein I thought that “everyone else was the problem”, that I hurt those close to me. Including myself.

Perhaps many of us do this, as a consequence of trying to make it through what is almost always, invariably, whoever you are — a complicated life. Still, historically, I’m not sure any one group has ever hurt quite so many people, quite as effectively, as the “victimized” Angry White Male. Especially not lately. Especially not here in America, lately.

The past version of me who felt this way, that everything and everyone else was wrong (and not him) — he was in a lot of pain. I’ve forgiven him whatever sins I felt I had to forgive him for, as he dealt however he could with that pain, because, in addition to taking responsibility for myself, I’ve learned that forgiveness is the right response.

Sometimes, though, these realizations — this progress — has only made it more difficult for me to continue to watch angry white men, of all ages and types, ignore their pain to such an extent that it eventually results in a tragic outburst of violence.

And I’m not just talking about young gunmen. There are angry white men in positions of great power in our society. And they kill too, remotely, via willful ignorance that they intentionally fire up and keep simmering. It’s about time we started calling a fact a fact, in that regard.

I don’t know why I’m writing this, other than to offer testimony in support of a point of view that should be easier to adopt — that it doesn’t have to be this way.

But, here I am, anyway. So.

Angry white men? You can stop. It’s possible.

It’s okay to be angry, especially if you’ve been hurt. It’s obviously, obviously, not okay to hurt others, just because you’re in pain. Under any circumstances.

There’s another way you can make an impact on the world, when you’re angry, when you’re hurt. You can ask for help. You can try to understand your anger. You can admit your pain. Channel it into something creative, or redemptive, or both. You can become an example of how things can get better.

It may not be — won’t be — easy. But it’s the right thing to do. Deep inside, beneath your fears, you know this. I know that you know it, because I always knew it, even when I pretended to be certain that my destructive anger was more righteous than admitting I was hurt and scared.

Give it a try. Now. Fast.

Because — guess what? Those of us who understand you, as much as something like this can be said? We’re still angry, too. It didn’t go away. This stuff doesn’t just go away. But, once we master it? We become friends and allies with all the “others” you pretend are responsible for your pain.

Speaking only for myself, I feel powerful with righteousness. Now. In every way that you feel compelled towards destruction, I feel compelled toward creation. I feel moved to do more and more to diffuse the sort of pain that’s destroying whole swaths of our country, that’s perforating the fabric of our society like so many discriminately fired bullets.

You are in the way. You’re dangerous. And despite my sometimes unbelievable empathy for you in your sickness, I am less and less on your side.

So, in your own parlance…

…be a man.

Just…

…stop.

Think.

Please.

Be truly brave.

Help yourself. Ask for help. Whatever you have to do.

Just no more of this. Please, no more of this.

The Arc of 2013: The Beginnings of The Pushback

Up is down and down is up.
I messed with this photo. It was fun.

About Those Lists

The year’s headed to a close. The lists have been coming out for a while now, already:

Here’s The Best _________ of the Year.

Here’s The Top 10 ________ You Missed This Year.

Here are the best movies. The best albums. Books. Pictures.

What did we miss? What didn’t we keep up on? What did we fail to consume? The list of lists goes on.

I’ve being a little harsh, but there’s a reason. Lists are fine. Measurements, subjective judgments, as to what’s “best,” as to what you should make time for in a world apparently low on time and definitely drowning in content — they’re fine too. They have some value. I mean that. I like lists. I think there are too many of them, and I don’t trust the motives behind many of the list-writers and think the listing has gotten a bit out of control in an overly Buzzfed kind of way — but I get it.

Looking back, in itself, is a crucial tool for learning. Looking back and organizing what trails behind us into value-tested lists helps us bring retrospective order and clarity to a year that, like all others, invariably, felt as if it was rushing by while it ran its course from January 1 to December 31. And so, here we are, facing another end, another pile of lists.

I don’t have a list for you. But I did notice something recently, in reflecting back upon this this year, that I believe is worth discussing.

The Shift

This year felt like a shift.

I often talk, both here and in general conversation, about the importance of Story to both art and society. As a writer and filmmaker, I obsesses constantly over Story. It’s the god I serve. However, in obsessing, as it often goes, I sometimes forget to reflect upon where Story comes from. In a word, as has been pointed out frequently and repeatedly over the years by artists more experienced and more accomplished than me (though we all seem to consistently forget it): Story comes from Life. Story, at its best, is a neatly ordered facsimile of something that is felt in the world but which begs further exploration and needs expression before any real sense can be made of it.

I realize that some of what I am about to say may be colored by the experience of my recent personal growth spurt (which has been well-documented in this space over the course of this year). But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I started to truly (and finally) mature as a storyteller and person as soon as I started making distinct, observable changes to my life. Neither do I believe it was so simple as deciding, personally, to embrace change on my own.

Before there can be change there must be readiness; before that, acceptance; before that, awareness; before that, willingness; before that, a sense of needing something to be different.

Up until very recently, I wasn’t sure many people, at least in contemporary America, ever got past this sense of need — to look at something that feels wrong, to acknowledge honestly that, for change to occur, we need to eventually explore areas of pain and dissatisfaction. In my mind — and to a degree I think it’s still an unfortunately common occurrence —  when faced with a feeling of wrongness, we almost inevitably (desperately) suppress the impulse to look at that feeling, to begin trying to figure out what’s going on inside us (and outside us). It’s “safer,” in the unspoken opinion of such people, to hold on to simmering pain, than to risk greater burns by exposing ourselves to potentially hard truths.

An Arc of Redemption

I can all say this because I used to be this sort of person — to a significant extent. As I have mentioned more than once over the course of this year, for a while I was saved by my impulse to pursue and tell stories. When that wasn’t enough, almost in spite of myself, I turned to life for answers. And that’s where I found it, more so this year than ever before. Not a formula or a prescription or a list or even an answer — but a common arc.

Thinking back on this year and those few preceding it, I don’t think it’s a coincidence, or entirely due to my own volition, that this was the year I began piecing together an idea of what I definitively have to do and why.

Something is happening out there. Something is happening here, in this country, in this city and beyond. I can feel it, can sense my part in it.

In our hyper-connected, fast-moving world — in a world of lists and ultra-divided attention — it can be easy to forget that everything worthy takes time. Healing takes times. Recovery takes time. Social pains that symptomatically erupt into our world, they, sadly, sometimes, have to inflict their damage before enough attention will be paid to studying their causes. Beyond this, even — studying can take us only so far. The pain must be lived, experienced.

And then it must be discussed, and then something must be done. Invariably, something does get done. I believe that, now. I don’t believe it excuses us from action, that change will come on its own without human interjection, but I believe in the inevitability of our collective drift towards redemptive change.

“In everything that can be called art, there is a quality of redemption.”
— Raymond Chandler

I’ve made no secret of my specific points of anger, in regards to American society in particular, in writing here this past year, or in writing and creating in general for the past many years. At several points, in the past, I was blind with anger. We all know this happens. We all know it’s bad when this happens, not only because it’s no way to live but because in blinding ourselves we miss things. Again, while I’m speaking mostly on personal terms, I know for a fact that I haven’t been, and am not, the only angry person out there. That’s part of the point I’m trying to make here.

In becoming blind, when this happens to us or when we let it happen, one of the most crucial things we consequently lose the ability to see and/or source out are our paths to redemption. For a long time, despite a sincere focus on and hunger for redemption, I could not see any way to it; not while I was angry. Now, I’m working on it. Day by day, I find myself feeling less resentful of past transgressions, and more grateful for the time I (and we) still have to make repairs.

A lot of this gratefulness has to do with the arc I’m seeing. It makes perfect sense that I would have missed this as well when I was still very angry, but still it has surprised me in recent months to discover that I have never been as alone in this “fight” as I have felt.

Something is happening out there. The pain of the last several years, and the resultant anger, is subsiding. People are moving again. In particular, young people are moving. The Millennial Generation, in particular, is moving — and quickly.

The Pushback

We, the young, haven’t forgotten our anger, but some of us seem to finally be using it for fuel. For lack of a better term at the moment, this something that is happening, this arc, seems to me at least to represent some early version of a long overdue pushback.

We’re underemployed, underrepresented, misunderstood and in many ways we are not adequately respected. We’re also not perfect, and perhaps we have struggled to shoulder or adequately embrace our responsibilities on social and personal levels in our early adult years.

I’m not sure that last part is entirely our fault, if it is our fault at all. But, either way, we as a loosely-defined generation have, in my opinion, begun to truly absorb the pain caused by the hubris and naivete of those few generations that immediately precede us. We’ve grown up fast, even if we have grown up late.

This is happening out of necessity. Someone has to fix this mess. If older generations want to help us — good. We can definitely learn from them. We can definitely stand to integrate some of the lessons and the time-tested values of the past. But preceding generations can learn from us, too. They’d do well to acknowledge this before it’s too late. We’re not keen on waiting.

The arc of 2013 seems like the beginning of the rise of a new power. This power is by no means mature, organized or specific. But it is accelerated by technology, its heart finds its locus from a mostly just place (if still a place that remains somewhat naive), and it’s growth is inevitable.

I don’t pretend to know where this power is going to take us in 2014 and beyond. I don’t know who its real leaders will be (if any ever emerge) or how well it’s going to handle the increasing influence it is inheriting and, increasingly, earning. I don’t even know how or if it will succeed in hastening or forcing some of the change that desperately needs to happen in this country and this world.

But I’m excited to find out. I’m excited to do my part. I’m still angry but I think I know how to deal with it now, how to channel it.

I’m excited, and ready, to push back. So are many others. Are you?

Thank you for reading, and Happy New Year. Let’s make this one count.