The Arc of 2016: Fight Smart and Do Less, Better

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

I knew Donald Trump was going to win.

At least, a part of me knew it. A part I didn’t want to hear. I suspect there are more than a few of us out there, who knew and yet couldn’t — desperately didn’t want to — believe it.

There’s a friend of mine, out there right now, who might still have a voicemail from me, that I left a few days before the election. I remember knowing what was going to happen, even then, as I clung to the belief that it couldn’t possibly happen, and did my part to avoid the result.

But it did happen. It has happened, hasn’t it — despite any recurring, sudden seizures of bewilderment. (Today, I heard someone say the word “trumpet”, and winced.)

We all know this, by now, that Donald Trump will soon be our President.

Some of us have even begun to accept the fact, as reality, if not on any further basis of principle (more on this later). Others haven’t yet accepted it, may not ever. And I suppose that is their right.

For myself, I was quick to accept the results of the election. They make, in retrospect, a perverse “sense”, at least to anyone who has been paying attention to the mood of the country and the world for the past decade.

This is not to suggest either that I am happy with what has happened (I’m not, if that hasn’t already been made clear) or that I am currently without hope for the future.

But it is a complicated, difficult time for sourcing out hope.

I can remember the day I left that voicemail more vividly now, as well as the scattering of others, occurring more recently, wherein I was similarly seized by anxiety, anger and sadness — when confronted with that sense of knowing what was about to happen, what has happened.

I can remember them more vividly because now I’m looking at those moments for what they were, as opposed to fighting against the knowledge that this is reality, as were the factors which led to (and now sustain) this unfortunate reality (for now).

Most of all, I remember the inner conflict. The sense of sinking dread.

This can be avoided. This can’t be avoided.

I refused to believe it. Still, sometimes, I can’t believe it. Perhaps that’s my sin, shared with countless others on both sides of the political spectrum. Certainly it is the sin of our media, which did not see this coming and, in fact, most likely contributed to this mess in a major way, by validating the theatrics of a bully via their mere “serious” attention.

Make no mistake, a time of reckoning has arrived in America.

People are going to suffer. The arguing will continue. The fear will continue.

Justice, fairness, equality — all supposed bedrocks of our democracy — will continue to absorb blow after blow. And we very well may wonder, soon, finally, if any of these crucial aspects of this contemporary brand of civilization can survive.

But they will survive, ultimately. We will.

I believe that. I can see and feel this belief clearly. The shock of Donald Trump’s Presidency has, at the very least, thrown our failings as a country into sharp relief against the task of safely securing a future — for all our citizens — about which can (eventually) be proud.

My acceptance does not make the pain or the sadness at our plight any lighter to carry, but it does imbue the carrying with a much-needed charge of hope.

So, what does this all have to do with my annual recap, as an artist, as I deliver it here once again? (That is, incidentally, nominally, the reason for this post.)

 

This site, the central hub for my work as an artist and activist, is now four years old.

When I started it, I was still struggling with anger, resentment and fury — against the injustices of the day. I was ready to talk about the issues, but not yet strong enough to truly engage them — or myself.

The year after that saw progress. I re-discovered a consistent creative voice, and I got to work. Along the way, I found myself heartened by the number and quality of like-minded people also working to make this country a better, more accepting, more equitable place.

Then, last year, I found peace. I began to feel capable of showing patience, of practicing faith. I’m still working on this, every day.

And, now, here is a great test. And a pressing question — how to conduct myself as an artist and a citizen during the presidency of Donald Trump?

It is a question, and a crucial one, whether its reality shocks me or not.

I have been turning this question over, regularly — but in a non-obsessive way — in the many days since I shared my initial thoughts on this deeply disappointing turn of history.

As I mentioned in that post, unfortunately, this sort of reaction comes more easily to me by nature of my demographic reality.

As a straight white male, the likeliest form of suffering in store for me has to do with my economic class — the same one I am in now, that I was born into over thirty years ago — even if I am sure to suffer by proxy as I watch friends and loved ones shake with anger and fear, and legitimately suffer, over the next four years.

And yet it is in this fact, in my similarity to Trump, that I find a point of access for the decision and announcement I am about to deliver.

 

The reason I knew this was going to happen is because it was inevitable.

I don’t mean that in a fatalistic way. I’m not being cynical or conveniently revisionist. This was inevitable because of how straight white people like me are handling the type and rate of change currently sweeping through the world — in a word, poorly.

But that is not to say that this is entirely their fault.

If there’s any justice left in the world, Donald Trump will in later years prove to be nothing more (or less) than the last gasp of a fading American power structure owned and engineered disproportionately by straight white males.

He is the face of our enemy, of our collective oppressor, not due explicitly to his whiteness or his straightness of even his maleness, but, rather, based on how he conducts and employs the power and privilege that come part and parcel with these things.

Once a bit of a misogynist, a bit of a racist and a homophobe, but always a skeptic of bureaucratic power — I now state plainly that I pride my contemporary self on being the polar opposite of someone like Donald Trump, despite our shared demographics of gender, race and sexuality.

Personally, at the very least, no matter what I do from here, I can move forward knowing that I struggled through change, learned and trusted in the goodness of people who looked and acted differently than me, and acted out of decency and courage rather than fear and hate.

It is no secret to regular readers, to anyone who saw The Videoblogs, or listeners to the podcast, that I have now absorbed goals of fairness, representation, and economic equality into my mission as an artist and a human being. However, I believe this all bears repeating for one very important reason.

 

While Donald Trump has provided a face to our enemy, he alone is not our enemy.

It is what he represents, and how he came to power, that we must understand and combat.

Politically, the answers might seem clear. And, in fact, they are.

Truth itself is under attack. It has been for a long time. I think the main reason I knew this was going to happen (despite my disbelief) is that I had already been fighting against men like Donald Trump for most of my life. Many of us have been.

Except, oftentimes through no fault of our own, we’ve been distracted from this truth, and this fight. By the machinations of the powerful, we have been bent, manipulated, and pushed away from Truth.

Our lives are not our own, in many respects. We are controlled by a power elite that, despite certain vestiges or illusions of democracy, care very little about the average American.

These people mostly only discriminate in regards to race and creed, insofar as it benefits them financially and politically to do so. They have very little actual faith in anything, apart from money and power, which are themselves faithless things.

These sad, desperate people know all this, and it destroys them inside — but they know no other way to behave, in the face of their own fears. And so they continue to hold fast to that fear, thereby, by virtue of the reality of our contemporary crony-capitalist economics, squeezing us.

And while they squeeze us and misdirect us and distract us, even to the point of their own continued and dangerous disillusionment, we turn against and fight one another, despite the overwhelming commonality of our fears and concerns as citizens. In this way, democracy (rule by the people) remains perpetually arrested, and plutocracy (rule by a wealthy elite) continues to maintain its grip on the throats of the everyday citizen.

Donald Trump may be the face of our enemy, but we must be very careful in the next several years of civil combat not to focus the majority our energy squarely on him and his administration. True deliverance from this plight requires us to go deeper, and fight longer.

This is what I have come to understand in these past few weeks.

My own distractedness, my own fear and faithlessness, have been my failure. I don’t say this to diminish the gains I and we have made over the last several years. I only mean to point out that there’s much work left to be done.

 

Trump is the symptom, not the disease.

The disease is the faithlessness, the dejection, the weariness, of contemporary America — and much of the world. We (the people) are angry, we are depressed, we find ourselves fundamentally exhausted and estranged from true hope. We have been beaten down and driven insane by the elite, confused and harried by the speed of innovation, and neither the tyranny of the elite, nor the advance of machine-dependency into our lives — show any signs of letting up.

There is no other way to explain how someone like Donald Trump can win office by claiming to represent the will of the people, while lying through his teeth about his intention to fight against the very elite that he wholly (and vulgarly) represents.

All that our cowardly, selfish, greedy President-elect intends to do for the next four years is consolidate money and power among his elite.  That much was clear all along, and has been proven by his cabinet appointments. When he’s done he’ll abandon the destruction and foot us with the bill and — barring a miracle — carry on with his greed and destruction until the moment of his lonely death.

To be clear — to repeat — in actual reality, there is no one less-representative of the average American than Donald Trump.

That millions of people either do not understand this, or refuse to believe it, that our political and economic system all but excludes the possibility of an actual champion of the people successfully reaching office (or at least one empowered by a consensus of reasonable political allies on all sides of the political spectrum) — this is the sickness from which we desperately need to recover.

 

For this reason, for myself, I find that this year has brought with it a lesson in focus.

I cannot afford, or tolerate, anything less than fully-committed, principled conduct and expression from myself. I need to fight smart and I need to move quickly. The only way to do this effectively is to put out work of real depth, that is of a larger scope, and work smartly and strategically to get the work out to as many people as possible.

To be clearer, I intend, beginning in 2017, to do less — better.

This site will remain online indefinitely. But this is likely the last blog post for a while, although I might chime in on occasion and will continue to run my email list. Beginning next month, Coffee with Creatives is going on hiatus, indefinitely. My presence here will be sporadic, as compared to previous years.

I have big things to do, in regards to the main areas of battle central to this essay. I intend to go at these things, full tilt. I’m ready to — truly, passionatelly — fight.

Are you? Because we’ll need you.

 


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker 
of hopeful stories for complex people. My first film, The Videoblogs, about mental health in the age of tech, is available on iTunes. I’m currently working on my next film and also a novel. Once per month or so, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this special group here. Thanks for reading.

 

We’re All Growing: Producer Alex Cirillo

image1As one half of Big Vision Empty Wallet and Big Vision Creative, Alex Cirillo has worked on numerous projects in film and TV. Along the way, she’s gained a ton of useful knowledge that’s sure to be of interest to the budding, stuck or striving creative.

In this latest episode of Coffee with Creatives, I sat down with Alex and discussed:

  • Getting a head start in film by studying it in high school, and how the early support of a teacher helped Alex realize she might be on the right path
  • Building a network by working different gigs and internships
  • The importance of relationships to growth and success
  • The benefits of being a small team, and reasons for intentionally staying that way
  • Finding a way to make things work
  • Approaching film and TV as a media for both social change and vagina jokes
  • The most common mistake filmmakers make in pitching their projects

Stick around to the end to hear Alex’s one piece of advice for how to leap forward in your project or career. It’s simple, actionable and effective. Enjoy.

You can find Alex on Twitter, and learn more about Big Vision here.

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

5 First Steps To Take Before Making Your Film

Here I am, eleven years ago, with no idea what I have gotten myself into.
Here I am, eleven years ago, with no idea what I have gotten myself into.

A question came up during yesterday’s (wonderful) Live Chat for The Videoblogs, that I thought I would re-address in a bit more detail here.

The gist of it — how to get started making your first film?

There are plenty of good ways to answer this question. There are many great resources out there outlining the basics of any one facet of this noble, unwieldy endeavor.

Knowing this, and also knowing that it matters more to me to tell a good story than craft a perfect picture, I focused my answer on an attempt to pre-hack the biggest challenges that are likely to come up in pursuing the coveted first film.

As such, my recommendations tend towards sustainability and focus, rather than process or technique.

Process and technique can be filled in beforehand with research and experimentation. Or you’ll learn by failing and re-starting at certain points in your journey.

But these are the top five pieces of advice I might have, at present, for anyone starting their first film today.

1. Understand the situation you’re getting yourself into

PA Puppy can't get a Grip.
PA Puppy can’t get a Grip.

The planning and execution of a film is a very large undertaking. Even if you’re starting small — issues or challenges or requirements are going to come up that you never expected. You will be tested.

I don’t think that filmmaking is for everyone. There are a lot of people out there working to write and/or direct their own films…who don’t seem happy. There could be several reasons for this, but chief among them could be that the idea of filmmaking is a lot more glamorous that its reality.

I’ll have more to say about this in a moment, but the reason I bring this fact up first is because I really do think that the best way to handle the difficulties of the task is to first acknowledge and accept that it’s going to be difficult. If we’re fighting ourselves at the same time that we’re fighting to get the film made…both self and film will suffer.

There are other ways to engage your sadistic side than deciding to commit years of your life to the foolish endeavor of bottling and reshaping a slice of space-time using magical machines.

If you still can’t help yourself…

2. Have a system of self-care in place

Once or twice a year, I go to the woods.
Once or twice a year, I go to the woods and find a big stick.

I have written much about this already. I will keep writing about it. Again — making a film is very hard work. Often, when we’re starting, we’re working within constraints of time, money and all the rest that comes with the responsibility of everyday living.

I’m still working on this part.

The fact is, you could sacrifice everything for your film and emerge very pleased with the end product.

Doing this, however, might leave you at the same time irrevocably embittered by the process you just went through — or dealing with an poisonous buildup of entitlement.

Because you poured it all into the work and then had nothing left to sustain your actual life, your relationships, your next project.

It’s the live to work or work to live dilemma.

Because it’s so beautiful and fulfilling, art-making can muddy up our perspective of the pursuit — but the fact remains that making a film or writing a book or whatever…it’s still work.

We’re not built to labor around the clock. Inevitably, when we try, breakdowns commence.

It will be hard.

Those who find their way towards filmmaking tend to overwhelmingly be high-functioning perfectionists, often with reserves of (not unhelpful) arrogance to call upon for that extra juice (“I can bottle space-time!”).

But knowing or learning or carefully exploring our limits, with an eye on longterm personal and career health, will make the journey and the film that much better for you and everyone else involved.

3. Have a reason

For The Videoblogs, our reason was getting out and talking about mental health in America.
For The Videoblogs, our reason was getting out and talking about mental health in America.

This piece of advice is only third because I’m supposing that most people reading this, and/or taking my words seriously, already have a compelling reason for pursuing filmmaking (or any one film).

But, if you don’t, think long and hard about whether you can find a reason, or whether the one you think you have is strong enough to sustain you when chaos or despair descends on your production and your life, despite all of the warnings and precautions outlined above and below.

In my experience, you need this reason. On some days, it will prove the only thing capable of keeping you going when you want to quit. Why this film, and now?

4. Have a plan

I held at least six separate positions during production of The Videoblogs. Why? Because it had to be done to keep things moving.
There’s a reason this image serves at the backdrop for the Coffee with Creatives logo.

Hang with me here, for a second.

Obviously, if you’re intending to make a film — you’ll need a plan. There’s no way it comes off without one. Even if your plan is to keep things loose, there’s a lot of preparation that you need to do to allow that possibility on set.

Still, I’m not really talking about the how. That’s all up to you. It’s just hard work.

What’s just as important, however, is that you have a plan for: 1) Fitting the giant disruption that is the making of a film into your daily life, and 2) Ensuring that the giant disruption leads to worthy results.

To address the first, I’d recommend doing some serious, honest work to prioritize what needs prioritization, with an eye on what’s realistic. Assume everything will take twice as long, and be twice as difficult, than you might expect.

Ensuring worthy results, to be clearer, means having a distribution plan. Ideally, a few of them.

At minimum, know how to get the film to your core audience, no matter how small or local. These are your first champions.

You will need them. Respect this relationship enough to put the work into it. Think about how your film can serve your core audience, and how to make it convenient for them to participate in its distribution when the time comes to push your project out into the world.

5. Be willing to be patient

It will take years -- but the hard work and the waiting are usually worth it.
It will take years — but the hard work and the waiting are usually worth it.

This last suggestion is as much for me as anyone else. The reality of filmmaking is that it takes an enormous amount of time. If we do our job well, this enormity ends up hidden to general audiences.

The way most people experience entertainment is to consume it, quickly and ruthlessly.

Behind all that quickness and ruthlessness, on the side of the consumption of content, there’s slowness and a methodical attention to detail that is required on the part of the content creator.

If and when we cheat, to get things done faster or to “just get them done”, we endanger the sanctity of this relationship between creator and audience, as manifested by the creation.

If we are lazy at any point, or give in to bitterness or despair and shortchange any one part of the completion of a film, we risk dooming the entire endeavor.

On the flip side, we can obsess too much, and risk burning out in the vocation, or on any one project. It’s a delicate balance, that really only begins to make sense over time.

Conclusion

Filmmaking is a beautiful, noble, privileged pursuit. It’s brought great purpose, joy, and meaning to my life. Pain and disappointment have also entered the equation at points.

If and when we can find a real reason to move forward truthfully with a project, and so proceed with it while taking care of ourselves and respecting our audience — then we can enjoy and thrive under the vocation.

Best of luck to anyone mad enough to give it a try.


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker
of hopeful stories for complex people. Lately, I have been sharing some reflections and stories every morning. Once per month, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive stories and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this exclusive group here. Thanks for reading.

The Confession at BAFF’s 2016 Made in New York Filmmakers Showcase

confI’m pleased to announce that The Confession will be screening on February 13th, as part of the Big Apple Film Festival’s 2015 Made in New York Filmmakers Showcase!

We’re in the first block of shorts playing at 11AM at The Producer’s Club Theater, 358 W 44th St, New York, NY.

Director Jaclyn Gramigna will be at the screening, so feel free to say “Hey” to her afterwards if you decide to attend! Tickets will be available beginning Thursday, February 4th, and also at the Producer’s Club box office on the day of the screenings.

Many thanks to the Big Apple Film Festival for screening the film! And thanks again to our supporters on Seed&Spark!

The Confession

Writer/Executive Producer
Michael DiBiasio

Director/Producer
Jaclyn Gramigna

Executive Producer/Lead Actress
Rebecca De Ornelas

Lead Actor
Jeremy Plyburn

Check out the remaining credits for the film on IMDb!

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

Learn to Bleed: Producer Eddy Vallante

EddyV_headshot_by_TomStarkweather.jpg

Indie producer Eddy Vallante got his start working on The Sopranos, and has been working diligently to chase (get it?) his own version of that level of creative success ever since.

Eddy and I grew up minutes away from each other in Rhode Island, but didn’t meet until a few years ago. We’ve swapped many tales of bloody indie producer battles since. Check out this latest episode of Coffee with Creatives to hear about:

  • How Eddy and his collaborators pushed their short film, Epilogue, out online, resulting in over 200,000 views on Vimeo and other channels (h/t Andrew Allen, Jason Sondhi)
  • How his early days working as a Production Assistant on The Sopranos laid the foundation for his future as a Producer
  • Why he and his partners at Amalgamated Picture Co. decided to put all their years of experience and maximum resources into one short (Epilogue)
  • Why and how it can be hugely helpful to bring productions out of major cities like New York and Los Angeles, and bring the work (and jobs!) to other regional communities friendly to film (such as Rhode Island)

We also talk about how much we love our awesome wives. If you don’t think that’s
important, then you must be new to the podcast and blog (which is totally fine, welcome!) because around here we love love.

Eddy is a good dude working on cool stuff. Follow him on Twitter for updates or to ask him or me any follow-up questions.

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

All About You (Survey)

This has nothing to do with the survey. I just want cookies.
This has nothing to do with the survey. I just want cookies. Now you do, too. See how well we work together?

Hey. You. Yeah! You.

I’ve been thinking about you. We’ve been together for a little while now. A few years, already, to be accurate.

I know. It feels like yesterday to me, too.

But let’s not talk about the past. I want to talk about the future.

Specifically, I’d like to know about your experience of this site. What do you like? Do you want more of something, less of other things? Do you want to see something new (that I can offer)?

Please let  me know by filling out the below. It will take less than 5 minutes.

Everything’s anonymous. My hope is that this will help give me a better idea of what’s working or not working for the majority of you, and/or what’s missing from your experience in visiting. I’m also considering some changes to the type of content that appears here, and want to know what you think.

Thank you in advance for your help!

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks! To that last point, you can Subscribe Here if you wish!

Preparation and Control

We battle chaos.

That’s what it feels like, much of the time, right? Whether we’re (seemingly) safe and comfortable, or (seemingly) dangling over a precipice between survival and some (perceived) point of no return — it can feel that way, right? Us against chaos. We’re biologically conditioned to expect it.

For me, I’m learning that this natural reaction can be tempered, that there are perhaps different types of instinct, other than the one that’s always prepared for chaos. A conscious voice and an unconscious one, at minimum. I don’t pretend to always know which should be listened to at any given moment. I think probably it depends on circumstance and on how far each of us is willing to go in the direction of either abandonment or control.

PA Puppy can't get a Grip.
PA Puppy can’t get a Grip.

This most recent non-committal point reminds me of the filmmaking process. If filmmaking is anything, in my opinion, it is a dance between abandonment and control.

In crafting recorded narratives, and even in viewing and consuming them, we play god. This is a point that perhaps gets lost among the race to “produce content” — which almost anyone can join at this point, in certain terms. We pretend another world, usually one that’s like ours in at least some accessible way, is real. Depending on what side of the narrative we are on, we then either pretend to be able to capture and populate a world — and lives within it — or we accept it’s reality as a witness to these built worlds.

Personally, as I’ve already discussed, I believe we’ve drifted, on the whole, a little too far from our actual reality, while as a population we participate perhaps too frequently in patterns of “world hopping”, in the preceding terms. But I have already discussed that. I’ve also made it clear what I believe needs to be done, here and now, in terms of what kind of narratives we would create and absorb. If I were running the world. Which, luckily, I’m not.

But. For real.

In so many words, I think The Moment that is coming — for us, here in America at least — is one of reflection. And, hopefully, increasingly, discussion as well.

As a filmmaker, this becomes a complicated proposition for me. In today’s environment, it’s actually very easy to enter discussion. In a way, we’re discussing ideas right now. It’s been a great positive change in my life, having this site to turn to regularly, and having you here reading and, sometimes, reflecting back at me. Now that I’m almost a year and a half into this endeavor, whatever it is, I can’t see not having this space — and you — in my life.

I’ve been overwhelmed for the past several days, and not exactly in a bad way. For a few hours last night, for example, I became overwhelmed emotionally by the small flood of interest in our recent call for collaborators. But I’ve also felt exhausted. Already.

I’m working hard on something. I don’t know how much of a secret that is by now. This project feels important and I know working on it is going to continue to be hard. Thus, we arrive, finally, at the title of this post. I’m having incremental trouble focusing on the line between preparation and control.

As I said, it’s a dance, this filmmaking game. At low budgets — and even at high ones, I suspect — it’s also a test of endurance and the ability of a person to practice self-care. You can’t make films if you can’t stand up. Although I did once “direct” a scene while crumpled in a sitting position in a corner of a room. Won’t forget that day.

So, I was thinking about all this, recently, and I actually started to feel better. Just by reflecting. And for that, I feel grateful. It’s taken years to be able to (sometimes) relax about this stuff.

I have this space to turn to, and you to talk with. I know a fair percentage of readers here are artists. I suspect you understand what I’m talking about. I bet everyone else does, too. Everyone has their own dance.

We battle chaos. But we’re together in this battle. Further, while the real world is certainly not so neat and perfect as it sometimes appears to be from our screens, it also contains it’s fair share of grace.

I think that’s a fair point to make. Filmmaking, with its fictional worlds made up of parts of our own, even the real world, as seen through so many different lenses — the processes of it not about control. Not ultimately.

It’s about preparation. And then collaboration. Creativity.

How to F*cking Rest (In 10 Not-Always-Easy Steps)

Zelda has no trouble resting.
Zelda has no trouble resting.

Let’s be clear from the start: I have very little idea of what I’m talking about in regards to this subject. But I’m learning. So, consider the following more of a report on a work-in-progress, than a presentation of any definitive framework.

Only someone like me would view the ability to rest as a work-in-progress — but I know there are some of you out there who have the same problem. Maybe more than a few.

It’s better than failing spectacularly at it, I suppose.

As I have mentioned on various social media channels, I’ve been sick. Again. For over a week. Again.

It could be worse, and I understand that. But it still sucks.

I’ve been making a concerted effort to learn from past mistakes. And, as has been well-documented — on the scale of moderate to severe — there have been plenty of those.

Anyway, for better or worse, as obvious as some of these may be, here’s what I’ve learned about what works — when I follow through. Maybe all of this is obvious to a sane person, but that’s not always me.

1. Accept it.

We all know how this works. The interior monologue:

“Something doesn’t feel right.”
“You’re okay.”
“Probably. But…”
“You need to do X, Y, Z. You’ll be fine.”
“Yeah. But…”

They key is to listen to the “but”. Ears between the cheeks.

“But I’m really not feeling well.”

This (hopefully) allows one to have compassion for oneself. Even begrudged compassion will do.

“Okay. Fine. I guess X,Y,Z will have to wait.”
“OMG!”
“Shut up.”
“It will be okay. I promise.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“You don’t have to — you just have to trust me.”

2. Stay in bed (and/or stick to couch).

I’m historically bad at this. But it’s important. This week I’ve been much better about it than I have been in the past.

I’ve (luckily) been able to establish boundaries with myself in regards to my bed. I don’t work in bed. I do very little web surfing in bed. I really only sleep and read and watch TV and snore in bed.

But I’ve found that even moving from bed to couch has a debilitating effect on my levels of relaxation. It opens the floodgates of distraction. Once I’m out of bed I tend to sit and not lay down. Or I stand, battle myself about standing, and then sit again. I’m also able, from my couch, to view most of an apartment’s worth of “stuff that needs to get done” rather than just one room. So, my solution this time around?

At night, I’ve stacked my bedside table with the basics of what I’d need in the morning to stay in bed for at least a few hours after I wake up. Lately, this has been a stack of comics/graphic novels (fun reads), a bag of cough drops, water, tissues, etc. It’s worked.

After a certain point, though — and as I’ll discuss this more in a moment — it helps to move around. That’s why after a few hours I do a few minor things (with a focus on rest or healing related tasks, such as the brewing of miracle teas) and then I move to the couch.

3. Read.

It gets you out of your head. Sickness can magnify feelings of isolation, loneliness, worthlessness (a good American produces and consumes and does not rest in between) — to a spectacular (not so spectacular) degree.

Reading also passes time and dulls pain by distracting us in an immersive way that’s a bit different than when you watch movies (next on the list) or talk to people (farther down on the list). Reading fiction in particular, when the stories are doing their job well, can be like wrapping your mind in a blanket. That’s not the say the below methods have less value. It’s just different.

4. Watch movies.

If reading is a warm blanket, a good movie is a hearty bowl of chicken soup. What?

It’s strange, and I don’t know how to explain it, but, for me, the magic of cinema is that, even when you’re watching something alone in your apartment on your TV — the experience is comfortingly communal. Some people might argue that point. They’d be wrong.

There’s something about watching characters struggle/explore the worlds they inhabit on screen — which, again, if the story is well told — that gives you something you can’t get anywhere else. Fiction may warm me but film reminds me, and all of us, I think, that we’re not never alone in our loneliness. And it does this in a more direct, and more immediately observable way, than books can. You can turn away from text, or avoid it. It’s less easy to turn away from even recorded images of human beings, with humanity shining through their eyes.

The benefit to the sick is similar. Loneliness is temporarily assuaged, time passes, pain can be momentarily forgotten. All this together — and the same can be said of books — can also help contribute to a belief that the problem of the illness will eventually resolve. At the very least, some temporary relief can be easily won.

5. Move — a little.

For me, this mostly took the form of short walks down the main drag in my neighborhood. If and when it’s possible, even when you’re sick, it helps to get fresh air. Sometimes, it can’t be done. I wasn’t contagious and a few open windows weren’t cutting it for me, so on most days (but not all) I rested up for a few hours after sleeping a long sleep — and then ambled to the pharmacy or a bodega for supplies.

This helped the loneliness, too. Just fifteen minutes outside, after a day (or days) of riding the couch — it can also (obviously) provide a reminder that you’re not alone, even in your illness. Further, especially in a crowded, punishing city like New York — you also may see people whose current or long-term plight is much worse than yours. Unfortunately true, but this is also an opportunity to take hold of a little gratefulness and/or exercise a little humility.

6. Ask for help.

Ugh. I know. Right?!

I’m not great at it. Getting better. And I have been lucky (more gratefulness on the way).

My wife took over some of my household responsibilities while I was laid up. Sometimes, as I would have had to do with anyone else, I had to ask for this help. No one knows what you can or can’t handle, for the most part, unless you tell them.

Sometimes, our nearest and dearest know us better than we know ourselves — and we don’t have to ask. Still, I’ve found it helpful not to make too many assumptions in regards to this point. This is particularly true when it comes to work.

For the most part, even for those of us whose jobs technically overlap with others in terms of responsibilities — we all specialize in some way. If not, we at least still own responsibilities that are ours only, in terms of workload. Work life, as it should be, is more officious (duh) than home life, at least in such terms. It can be easy to convince ourselves to push through with work while ill because the process of explaining how to do what we do, exactly how we do it, seems daunting.

This is understandable. But temporarily letting go of responsibility can also be treated as an experiment in trust and in leadership. These are two aspects of life where daunting is often the word of the day, but which also can deliver rich rewards to those willing to confront fear and hesitation.

Sometimes asking for help means that someone else has to cover for you — and that you, in turn, need to cover for them, now (in terms of communication and guidance) and/or in the future (in terms of fairness). This all takes a little bit of acceptance and some patience. I’ve found that it can help to have a plan, as well.

Anyone can take the time, when they are healthy, to summarize (on paper or through conversation) the basic and/or most important day-to-day responsibilities that they own — especially when it comes to actionable tasks. Not only does this leave you with a manual to help people help you, it can also serve as an informal self-assessment for judging your own efficiency, and/or finding areas of responsibility that can be streamlined, and/or work flows that can be updated.

7. Talk to people.

This is another hard one for me, because, basically, it’s another form of asking for help. More than a couple of days in bed will leave anyone feeling lonely and miserable. So, sometimes, we need cheering up. Again, I’m lucky to have a spouse I can talk to, and who continually asks me to talk to her (ugh). Still, it helped when people checked in. And even though I sometimes didn’t feel like talking — or reaching out — I did. A little. I know I can still be better about this.

No one gets worse by communicating. Even brief, random discussions with neighbors, on my short walks, made a difference to me. When we feel we are at our worst, sometimes it takes the reflection of another’s impression of us to realize that it’s not as bad as all that.

8. Look on the bright side.

I know.

But there always is one. For me, this time…

I had been trying all month to rest. Even before I got sick. I was doing an only-okay job of it. Now I’m being forced to rest, and, honestly, despite all of the above — it hasn’t been that bad.

Drugs help!

But, seriously.

I’m not saying my body hit the shut down button just because my brain wasn’t playing ball. It’s a possibility, but it doesn’t matter. I’m sick and it sucks. But I also got to read some books and watch some movies that I probably would have found a reason not to watch under “normal” circumstances. And part (or most) of what’s ailing me has been a sore and swollen throat. Enter excuse for copious amounts of sorbet and ice cream.

Yes, I have gotten a little fat. But I’ll handle that.

This time off my feet has also allowed me to do some healthy thinking. It’s always a pleasant surprise, and an interesting development, to find myself sick of body and then, suddenly, simultaneously, mentally thriving. It’s almost as if my brain relents in terms of self-flagellation, temporarily, out of respect for some amorphously defined threshold of pain and uneasiness that it feels it should back away from when my body is picking up more of the slack.

The thoughts slow down and they get less dark. This is more of a recent development, now that I think of it. Sickness used to make me very angry. But I question most of my initial impulses towards anger, most days, now.

There’s probably a lesson in there somewhere. Right?!

Moving on…

9. Complain.

Yes. Do it.

I’m telling you. Let it all out.

You have a right. Don’t go crazy. Don’t assume you also have a right to be public and unrelenting about it — but complain.

Someone will listen to you. You may exhaust them. This is understandable. Move on to someone else, if you aren’t done. Someday, very soon, someone will complain to you. Maybe as soon as tomorrow. Maybe its me, right now.

Oh, but don’t listen too much to other complainers if you’re still sick. Wait until you’re better.

And one last, important note. Don’t listen to people who complain about complainers.

You know who I’m talking about. That one or two (or more) folks who troll Facebook or other social media channels griping about how annoyed they are at other people who are simple expressing their emotions.

Can it get to be too much? Yes. Anything can. Everything within moderation. There are lines.

But, sometimes, if you’re sick, or if something shitty happened, or if your life sucks…it can feel good to just cast your despair into the world. No one has to do anything about it who doesn’t feel so compelled. Contrarily, they can also tell you to shut up — and then it’s up to you to decide if this is okay or not.

All of it, though, is better than bottling up that despair. Despair is real and it’s tangible and it’s got to eat somehow. Don’t let it eat you. Send it out in small doses to your friends!

For real. We’re hard-wired to sympathize, even if these days we need to click a link to some inspiring video to be reminded of the fact. Getting the complaints out starts killing them before they even reach your friends. Despair doesn’t fare well in the air.

So, there. Claire.

10. Adapt.

This final step is more of a catch-all of all the others.

Rest isn’t doing nothing. It’s doing something non-stressful, something other than working. And I say that using a loose definition of the word “work” — because even thinking can be a lot of work. In fact, as I hinted above, it often is.

Taking time to rest requires us to do something that has become dangerously taboo in contemporary America, and that is to acknowledge our humanity. Our frailty.

We’re surrounded and infected by so many rules. Some of us, people like me, even have some rules — some unhelpful and corrosive rules that make no actual sense and only cause more damage — twisted into our DNA.

But the thing is, as we all know very well — life does not follow rules. Sometimes we get sick. Sometimes, people die. At other moments, everything in the world appears to come to us easily, and it feels like we’re riding a wild unicorn on a beam of white light (or some other metaphor).

The point is that we can never know exactly what to do, and how, or when. We can only listen to our bodies and our minds and our hearts, and do our best.

In between, we rest.

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How to Make Art in The Real World

This is a terrible To Do list for an artist. But a perfect one for cold winter days.
This is a terrible To Do list for an artist. But a perfect one for cold winter days.

Hello, Furious Faithful.

Welcome to the Inaugural Guest Post on mdibiasio.com. I’ve got a busy couple of years coming up (mischief is in the making) but I want to keep up a dialogue in between potentially more sporadic posts from me — so you may see some more entries from guests as the year continues. I’m especially busy for the next month (planning of the making of the mischief), but will still chime in now and then and I’ll probably do what I’m doing now and introduce and comment briefly on guest material.

Now, some info on our guest writer, Liam Billingham.

Recent posts about navigating life as an artist and indie filmmaker have been popular here, so when I noticed the below-mentioned conversation on Facebook — and read and enjoyed and agreed with many of the points made — I reached out to Liam to share his findings and his thoughts.

I first met Liam during a Seed&Spark Twitter chat, which, incidentally, you should check out if you’re a filmmaker and if this sort of material is of particular interest to you. Seed&Spark has been bringing great energy to the discussion and growth of a rising movement towards empowered, sustainable and self-directed indie filmmaking, offering support that ranges from crowd-building to funding to distribution, and their momentum and influence seems to really be growing. I’ve enjoyed becoming a part of their #FilmCurious community (the hashtag used during chats). Anyway, Liam is an indie writer/director living in Brooklyn, who recently finished a short film and is developing his first feature. Since I’m in the same position, more or less, we realized we had a lot in common and have become friends.

All of the below came out of an informal poll Liam took on Facebook, asking for some added insight from other seasoned artists in regards to providing advice to college seniors in the arts who will be graduating this year. I agree with all of what came up in the conversation, and believe many of the observations and advice shared by Liam’s friends can be of value to emerging and established artists as well as those who are nominally in more of a beginner’s position.

I’ll leave it to Liam to contextualize his specific findings. The reasons why I asked him if he wouldn’t mind sharing them, for the benefit of all, should become readily apparent as he works through each.

In spots, I’ve made some personal notes, which appear in italics and are tagged in the front with my name. All remaining text is from Liam unless otherwise indicated by him.

What’s Next

Just before Christmas, my former undergraduate theatre professor at the University of New Hampshire asked me to Skype in to a class of graduating seniors and talk about my experience as an artist since graduating. Specifically, the topic was ‘What Next?,’ and dealt with looking at the journeys alumni took that led to where they are right now.

The morning of the talk, I decided it was best to poll a group of friends and fellow artists who had been making art since we graduated. I didn’t want to restrict the poll to UNH alumni. I wanted to cast as wide a net as possible. I didn’t want to just ask theatre people only, either, since I don’t really work much in theatre anymore. For these reasons, I turned to all my Facebook friends in asking for advice for seniors.

The post got a lot of traction, and we got about 40 comments, most of which were incredibly useful. Reviewing what was sent in, a few key ideas popped up that I thought I’d share:

The More You Know…

From Stage Manager Natalie Lynch: “Do as much as you can and learn as many skills as you can. The more you know the more areas you can work. And you never know what may be asked of you…”

From UNH Student Engagement and Young Alumni Programs Director Megan Hales: “…ask as many questions and talk to as many people as possible. Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know and the only way to make progress is by talking to people!”

The More People You Meet…

When I was at UNH, I had an intellectually challenging professor named David Kaye, who turned me on to Anne Bogart and the SITI Company. I read Anne’s book and applied to train with them. At their month-long training program in Saratoga, I met Jean Ann Douglass, whom, years later, introduced me to Nicholas Nelson and Jared Mezzocchi. Nick has been a constant collaborator, and Jared introduced me to Ben Jaeger-Thomas, who has been a client and collaborator for the past few years. Both Jean Ann and Ben comment below on how to make it as an artist. They’re lifers, fully committed to making art a part of their lives.

The more people you meet, the more you learn, the more experiences you have, the more these wonderful people will feed you. (MICHAEL: And you, them. In my experience, after I have summoned up the courage to “butt in” on someone, particularly online (though I do it in person as well) and open up to how I’m feeling about whatever they said or did (in a positive and/or constructive way) and then offered help — down the line, they’ve offered to help me too. A simple and obvious lesson but one that can be easy to forget). You’ll also meet assholes. You need to meet those people too, so you know you don’t want to be around them. (MICHAEL: This is a very good point. There are unfortunately a lot of negative people, in every industry. Negative artists can be particularly damaging to your progress and momentum. I should know. I used to struggle against one who used to live in my head, and still does — behind a series of locked doors).

From actor Jesse Presler: “…foster artistic relationships outside of your comfort zone. It can be an artistic hindrance to only spend time with people who speak the same artistic language in which one is indoctrinated. It can be a hindrance to personal growth to only spend time with and hide among one’s recently-graduated friends. College comrades are very important, of course, but part of being an artist is growth — growth which is and should be uncomfortable, painful at times even.”

So, find your people.

Carve Out A Life Course

From Seven Stages Shakespeare Company Artistic Director Dan Beaulieu: “Go out and see as much as possible. Now that classes are over, take 15 hours a week and carve out your own “life course”. Shows, concerts, movies, art exhibits, artisan craft fairs, anything creative. And read! And read. And read.” (MICHAEL: This is fantastic advice, that I whole-heartedly agree with. To me, it speaks to the importance of immersion. Personally, I long struggled with a tendency to explain away reasons why I don’t have the time (or, worse, don’t need to take the time) to do my due diligence as an artist and do as Dan says and “go out and see” stuff. A few additional added points: 1) Don’t wait for perfect circumstances when choosing what to do or not do, just be open and experiment and allow yourself to be led from there; 2) Be wary of the line between immersion and avoidance; 3) Apart from reading, mix in a healthy dose of private creative consumption. There’s even a difference between seeing a movie or a play with friends, and experiencing it privately and then talking — and doing the same thing but having another hour or more to process before the conversation.)

From Artist/Fractured Atlas Insurance genius Jean Ann Douglass : “Also, don’t kid yourself that you’ll be able to make rent off your art. There are lots of ways to make money, and they all have trade-offs. Irregular paychecks may be more stressful than the confines of working 9 to 5. Or vice versa.”

And, again from Jean Ann: “Don’t burn yourself out before you’re 30 years old. Taking care of yourself as a whole person is the most important thing you can do.”

Adaptation

From Voice over Artist/Actor Ben Jaeger-Thomas: “Really think about what it is realistically that you want to do in the arts. Being famous isn’t specific enough. Are you going to be okay
being on tour six months out of the year, every year, to piece together a living? You aren’t 20 forever.” (MICHAEL: Another good point. I’ve been trying hard lately to not only focus more on “the work,” but on how my work fits into reality. Accepting reality and adapting to it can be so much better for us as artists than we may think when we are following fear-laden trains of thought that tell us conditions need to be perfect).

Take Risks

From artist/musician/graphic designer/filmmaker Ken Nash: “If it doesn’t scare the hell out of you, it’s probably not worth doing. Set a goal each year to do one thing you’re completely terrified about doing.” (MICHAEL: He’s right. I would add that, invariably, what scares us the most can often produce our best work, if not directly — in some way or form at least).

Don’t be a dick

From filmmaker Chris Ungco: “People will respond better to good ideas from people who seem like good people. You get more, and you live better by not being a dick. Good luck.” (MICHAEL: This can be a hard piece of advice to adhere to, as time goes on and the (understandable) propensity for bitterness grows. Adhere to it anyway. Toxic people invariably release their poison to disastrous effect, even if they succeed in a short term way. Further, while we of course always want every single project to be the best it can be, acting monstrously towards collaborators (or worse, to or in front of potential audience members) endangers or destroys future prospects. Finally, in my opinion, no piece of art is worth the cost of dehumanization — in terms of what damage you could do to yourself or others. “Don’t be a dick” could also be translated to “be human”.)
So what did we learn?

  • Being an artist takes time, and it shouldn’t ruin your life. Have a life.
  • Constantly go out and meet new people, learn new things, and find a new niche.
  • Treat people right. Seriously, don’t be a dick.

I think the most important lesson is to really evaluate where you are right now. If it isn’t where you want to be, don’t beat yourself up. Make changes, slowly but surely. Once you’ve started making those changes, you’re doing it right. Being an artist isn’t a race. It’s a long, slow walk forward.

Liam Billingham
Liam Bilingham is a filmmaker and media educator in Brooklyn, NY. He’s currently developing his first feature film and working on several short-term projects. He’s just starting up his own blog, ‘Somewhat Suspect’, on his website, liambillingham.com.

 

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Why Artists Need to Lead The Charge For Equality and Justice

There’s an ultimate point to most of the posts that I’ve written here so far, apart from what is already outlined on the “What?” and “Why?” pages linked to above. That point? Well…

It should be clear by now to anyone who’s been reading that I am pretty damn fed up with the rampant social injustices that pervade our society here and now. I am even more fed up with the too-major majority of people who refuse to admit just how much is wrong with how we view ourselves, in the face of clear evidence of this injustice (if we do any real viewing at all). And I am completely done remaining silent about all this.

Again, maybe that’s obvious to those of you who have been reading so far. This site offers me, and hopefully you as well, an opportunity to explore some specific examples of what’s wrong with American society, as well as (again, hopefully) some ideas as to what we can do to begin righting what’s wrong. In the same way, though, I’ve also started looking at what I write here as a gauge of where I am at, at any given time in my personal journey to accomplish this as an artist.

Which is all a very long way of saying that I don’t write these missives only as a means of pissing on the fire as the house burns down. Because pissing on a burning house accomplishes nothing. Everything still comes down in the end and if you aren’t careful you might also singe your delicates in the process.

So, why all the hours spent: 1) Identifying the main impediments to social repair and progress (IMHO), 2) Identifying the means and method of delivering what’s needed to initiate such processes, 3) Exploring severe examples of our dysfunction, and, lastly, 4) Advocating a solution.

Well, I’m doing it, as I just said, to check my progress. Also, probably, to keep me sane. Finally, though, I’m injecting myself purposefully into the experiment. I want a record of this to be available, for myself as much as others, in case some part of this works (it will work).

And, when I say “this,” I mean my films, my writing — all of it, from this day forward. I want a trail behind me, as a sort of precaution, for helping me stay honest in a world where honesty is more often avoided and punished than welcomed and appreciated. In a way, ideally (admittedly), I want to keep you honest too.

Sometime soon, I’m going to get around to announcing my next film, which my wife and I are going to drag kicking and screaming into existence, because fuck this.

Two months ago, 20 children were gunned down in an elementary school. Five years before that, the global economy nearly collapsed, due not only to a series of widespread con-jobs perpetrated by immoral power brokers but also the ignorance (however forgivable, in certain respects) on the part of almost everyone, to the delicacy of the increasingly complex (overly complex) connections and compacts that sustain our collective lives. And, since then, and still now, the American cultural dialogue has been overwhelmingly focused on the past and present — even as democracies old and new, worldwide, continue to pass us by in terms of recognizing and advocating equality, securing justice for all citizens, and, quite simply, working to provide a framework for an all-around better life (and a better chance at a good life) for their entire citizenry.

As a person who is still younger than he is old — and a person whose life has already been greatly affected by all of the above — I am not okay with this. Are you?

I’ve struggled to “succeed” over the past ten or so years, partially because it’s what you do when you’re an artist, but partially also because I’ve said no. To the status quo. To doing what you’d otherwise have to do, in terms of compromising the honesty required of any worthwhile artistic career or endeavor, in order to make art and also “make money.” I’ve also said no, more times than I can count, to the voice that lives insides many of our heads that seems to constantly whisper: You can’t do it. Fuck that voice, too, while we’re fucking things.

I’ve also said no, as long as I could (because it’s painful, and I just wasn’t ready) to taking a long hard (full) look at the above sad truths of life in America. Why? Because I am and have been a complicit agent in this mess in many ways. Sometimes this was because it seemed necessary to play by certain rules, so that I could strengthen and prepare myself to the point of being adequate to the task of finally jumping into “the good fight.” Sometimes it was because I was afraid. I’m still afraid.

But it doesn’t matter. I’ve been working hard to hone my skills as a filmmaker and a writer for a long time now. I’ll continue to do that, but now that I’ve also come to terms with what has to be done (what we all have to do), I want to lead by example (with help, of course). In the spirit of sharing everything I’ve shared here so far, I also want to outline why I believe more of our artists (as they often do — and many artists more talented than me are already doing this) need to take the lead in the charge for a better America.

First, I believe artists are (as usual — this is nothing new) uniquely positioned to form creative solutions to the issue of sparking a greater cultural dialogue. Most of us, at least those of us who aren’t born fortunate enough to get started early and easily (and many of this type end up excluded from the discussion, at least initially, simply by virtue of being unable to gain the proper perspective on things like inequality and injustice) — we’re desperate. We’re in the strange position of having a lot to say about what’s wrong but also having, at the same time, too small or insignificant a voice (at least until we put in the time and develop the skills necessary to earn the right to a greater say) to make much of a difference. When the work has been done and the skills are far enough along, then we are (or should be) compelled to seek solutions where there were none before, as much as we are able. Of course, as far as our conscience allows us (and this is sometimes possible), we also have the option of chasing success through proven methods. Far too many of those methods, however, require more of a compromise than we should be ready to make. Again — not all. But too many. This is all changing, in any event, because…

Second, we already are forming creative solutions to the issues of the day — with the assistance and support of some smart and forward-thinking entrepreneurs, particularly in the realm of technology and social networking. I won’t be so bold as to lump myself in with some of the artists who have succeeded in taking more control, for themselves and their careers and their work, by turning to the internet to build and sustain an audience (and to deliver directly to that audience with fewer middle-men edging in on either side of the transaction). But, yes, it’s getting better. I believe that. You’ve always had to be good, and to an extent of course you have to continue “doing the work.” Increasingly, however, if you’re good and do the work on your own, you’re able to remain honest and go after the heart of it at the same time that you’re keeping “their” hands off the heart of it. It’s also worth mentioning that such a trail was blazed by countless relatively nameless experimenters and early-adopters who, yes, did it before that much more famous person who just got more press from his or her success story because he or she is famous — which is fine. Just my way of saying thanks to the unsung heroes of the budding framework for artistic self-actualization that we’re beginning to see hit its crest.

Third, we have perspective. Perspective is expensive. Since things are as bad as they are in America, it becomes necessary for the true artist to repeatedly reject everything (or as much of everything as he or she can handle or is able to handle) that cannot be honestly adhered to as we go about attempting to first wrap our heads around the mess, and then work to change it in a meaningful way. I already talked a little about this, but it bears repeating. You can’t fix what you can’t admit is broken — because you haven’t looked at the pieces to see how they fit back together. Whether the true artistic point of view comes first, or whether it only arrives after it causes you to suffer awhile — that’s a chicken and egg question. Like the chicken and egg question, however, there’s a little-discussed real answer to it: it doesn’t matter. Both need the other, in perpetuity, for the question itself to even have any relevance. And art can only be relevant if its perspective is true. It can only succeed in a widespread way if its filtered perspective is an appropriate tonic to the polluted perspective of the day. Artists, real artists, are uniquely qualified to engage with issues of inequality and injustice because, in repeatedly saying no to all things polluted, they become marginalized. And it’s on the margins of life where we always find the human consequences of our societies’ darkest secrets. If that all sounds romantic, it shouldn’t. Also, a caveat: there are many artists out there much braver than me in terms of exemplifying the necessary perspective. But we all do what we can.

Fourth, we need each other. This last reason may be colored slightly by my “chosen” calling as a filmmaker, but still I think it applies across the board. Especially now, when Americans are so much more isolated than every before — and so mistrusting of each other in the ways that count — it’s worth it to think about the value of cooperation and community. Keeping the example going, however: I just recently completed my third film. It’s my best work to date. Do you know why it’s my best work? Partially, it’s because I took everything I learned over the past five years and put it into the production of a five page script. Partially it’s because I recently began descending into a more honest place as a writer and a person. Mostly, though, it’s because I tamped down my fears and anxieties enough to repeatedly ask for more help, more often. And because I worked hard to collaborate more with talented people. Maybe this example speaks more of my own issues with fear, anxiety, egotism, etc. than anything else. However, if you looked at me for most of my life, in most ways you could call me an average American male. Average height. Average build. Grew up middle class in the suburbs. Did well in school, went to college, got a job (because that’s what people do).

Except much of what I came to believe about myself as an average American male ended up being built upon lies. I will continue to be of average height and average build (hooray?). But the middle class? It’s dying. The suburbs — shining example of American social mobility, land of pretty houses and happy childhoods? Well, a lot of those houses got taken away, or were never “owned” by anyone to begin with. Further, there’s a difference between happiness (which is elusive enough as it is in the most basic of terms) and the illusion of happiness. Real happiness doesn’t cost nearly as much as so many of us pay, in human terms, as we pursue it in increasingly problematic ways, and, in language unfortunately appropriate to the time, in exchange for increasingly meager returns.

Much needs to change. The old ways don’t work anymore. We can’t hide from ourselves any longer. The injustices need to stop. Equality, real equality, in all senses of the word, needs to be our primary goal. But things won’t truly begin to get better until most people take an honest look at the state we’re in and agree that it’s bad.

So. Artists. Let’s get to work.