The Focus of 2018: Faith and Action

 

For each of the past five years, I’ve published a post on this site recapping what I perceived as the arc of the previous twelve months, in broader terms but also for me personally. While I undertook the exercise again last month, I didn’t end up publishing my thoughts.

And I’m not going to publish them.

I’ve wanted to publish that post, just as I wanted to share what’s been going on in my head at many points throughout the last, mostly silent (as a blogger/podcaster) year. Obviously, I couldn’t do it then, either. And I’ve struggled with these decisions, despite knowing that they were correct.

On the other hand, in the midst of the tumult of 2017, I remained productive, perhaps more so than ever before. It never felt that way, probably because of the tempestuousness of the cultural moment but also because the belief that I haven’t done enough, at any given time, is just one of my areas of personal lack. Regardless, for both of these reasons, it has been a struggle to remain silent about what I’ve been feeling, learning, and thinking.

But I think it’s a measure of just how serious things are right now, and also how serious I take my role as an artist, that I found the strength and resolve to keep my focus where I felt more sure it was needed this past year — on the actions.

This is also why I’m permanently done with recapping years gone past.

History remains fatally important, but my own part in history, and arguably even my own thoughts about “what’s wrong” or “what needs to be done” right now — neither concern me as much as they used to (on most days).

As far as I can tell, we don’t need the level of thought, analysis, or argument we’re getting right now, from most angles of social life. Rather, we need reflection, action, compassion, and also a degree of faith — especially in a future that has at times appeared bleak, from the vantage point of this mostly stolen moment.

That’s what I want to offer up, if and when I chime in here. In place of summing up the arc of a previous year in December, if anything, I want to reflect upon areas of focus for the coming months, or touch base on the ongoing year.

I have specifics goals written down, in this regard, but for now they belong to me only, for the most part. I’m sharing the details with a few select people, who I know I can trust to keep it about the intention, and not the potential or the results. That part I can’t do alone, or in complete privacy.

However, I’d encourage anyone reading this to spend some quiet moments this week reflecting on what you believe, and how you can take daily action over the course of a year to serve the world around you (perhaps most importantly, as it exists directly in front of you) from the position of those principles.

Then, consider writing some actions and goals down, simply and in as few words as possible. It’s a good opportunity to do something like this right now, with the full year ahead of you. But you don’t need to do it now, or only in January. It’s more important that we act at all, when we can and as best we can, versus any one perfect time or in any particular way.

Either way, try to build up a resolve and a practice now that you can lean on when things get hard.

If they’re already hard in this moment (which I completely understand), it’s arguably even more important that you somehow carve out the time to think about how to shift your approach, and then do what you can to pursue change. Your focus and your goals can take just about any form, and you can start from any place, assuming your basic needs are being met. If your basic needs are not being met, then these can and must be your focus (and I’m sorry that you’re not getting what you deserve right now).

Carry your notes with you. It’s eminently doable. Look at them every day. I have to do this right now. I don’t know how else to keep myself from slipping into distractedness, or sliding into anger or self-pity.

What I will say about 2017 is that I did not waste the time otherwise diverted from where it was spent here in the past.

There’s plenty coming soon, as a result of my artistic and professional (and professionally artistic) recent labors. The process of realizing these results was not easy on me. I’m still grappling with some of the fallout, and the growing pains, produced by the journey. That’s not a complaint. I’m grateful. And, at the very least, I can say that I showed up and, just as crucially, remained authentic.

For me, the next several months are going to continue to require that I spend my time wisely, and as effectively as possible. I don’t see too much utility in commentary in the short term, or even argument. We need more than that, right now, in my view.

We need reflection, presentation, conversation, bravery, risk and…healing.

I don’t know that anyone was was ever healed by an opinion. Everyone is entitled to their voice, and voicing anger or fear or concern will never cease to play an important role in civic engagement. But it’s not everything, and it’s definitely doesn’t seem like enough right now.

In this moment, truth and justice and compassion in general need defending and care. They need it from all sides.

We are in a moment right now that I don’t know that many of us can clearly grasp, on the whole, at least in terms of what can be done to minimize or arrest the damage currently being inflicted upon the country and world by callous men. I know that I’m less certain of what’s needed than I thought I was, even if I have a pretty good idea about what problems or manipulations led us here, and what will be required to safeguard our civic redemption.

It’s a heavy, multi-triggered trap that’s been lowered onto us, and we may need to turn to digging more than any other method of escape in order to survive. I hope we won’t. I hope it will be easier than that, but there are other factors at play as well that complicate things, and sometimes I don’t know what else to do except turn to the task of excavating what’s in front of me.

But I also know I can only get clearer on all this through courage, and patient, thoughtful work. The  work itself is often unglamorous, and I think I also need to let go of the compulsion to prove to people that it’s not. Independent filmmaking remains monumentally difficult, but all the more culturally important (and exciting) because of this difficulty. Having also recently returned to writing my version of literature this past year, I can’t say for sure which undertaking is more exhausting, rewarding, and necessary. For now, they are both what I have to do.

I guess, for me, it has lately become fundamentally crucial to arrange things such that I can do my absolute best, in these ways that have been laid out for me, as often and as effectively as I can.

While I’ve always looked at my work as central to who I am, it’s recently evolved into more of a clear responsibility, but one decidedly unlike so many of the others that I have assumed or forced upon myself in the past. By this I mean that I feel led to these pursuits, tasked with and by them on a basis not of striving but of quiet certainty. The doing, as such, less often requires thinking, or positioning, and more often asks simply that I show up.

So that’s what I intend to do, this year as I did during the last.

Thanks for reading. Whatever you’re thing is that you feel you need to do — start in on it today, if you haven’t already. As always, we 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. This site is sort of out-of-date but you can contact me anytime on the socials and/or you can join my email list here. I don’t use it very often at the moment but will probably still chime in that way from time to time. Thanks for reading! You’re honestly a very cool person.

Fear, Panic, Identity and Anti-Focus (Day 2 of 30)

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

Hashtag NoFilter.
Hashbrown NoFilter.

I had a rough night. It happens, sometimes. It happens when I take risks, or worry about not taking risks. There’s often a fallout, after either of those actions.

Fear kicks back. Or whispers half-truths in my ear, in support of or against whatever decision or indecision is vulnerable to its hooks.

I think, quite often, about identity. Perhaps wrongly, I tie questions of identity to questions of focus — what should I be doing? Am I doing the right thing? What is The Answer? How do I find it?

Where can I find a steady source of peace?

But the irony of it is that I know the answer to this last question. And the whole issue is not — at least entirely — about focus.

Focus is a tricky concept, in an age of ever-present screens, of seemingly eternal streams of knowledge (and anti-knowledge) information, constantly battling for one the last remaining sources of dependable consumer revenue (our attention). Beyond this, I think, it’s only half the answer — that it’s tricky to even think clearly about focus — to questions of personal peace, and of related questions of identity that so many of us appear obsessed by in some way.

What’s been happening to me, sometimes, lately, is that I wake up panicked, in the middle of the night. Literally in the midst of a panic attack.

It’s scary, and always behind it, when it happens, I can hear the rushing tides of thoughts and anxieties that must have been rising to a flood while I slept.

I’ll be honest, I did go to bed last night with some conflict on my mind. But I did get to sleep without much trouble. All the questions of identity and focus, though, that I had been jostled by all day, I think they collapsed into each other and took my subconscious for a ride while my conscious self was recuperating from it all.

And that’s the issue, I think. It isn’t entirely about focus, about what we think about and what we do and why.

All the questioning and the pivoting and the strategizing and the testing in the world isn’t going to bring me, or anyone else, much peace of mind. Focus, action alone — these do not necessarily make for sweet-dreamed nights.

Peace of mind, rather, is just as much about intentionally losing focus. About letting go of it, and waiting, patiently, for god or chance to put us in front of where we’re meant to be, when we’re meant to be there.

No amount of flailing or thinking is going to change that. I know and believe this to be true.

But I am also entrenched in and enmeshed with worlds where it benefits those in power to keep us tired, confused, and dependent and obsessed with everything that has to be done, quickly and efficiently, without end.

For what reason? How important are all these things we fret over? More than that, how important are the current units of measure, as defined by the current elite? Identity isn’t formed by achievement. Achievement is won through struggle, by patience, as a result of choosing to engage with forces and in activities we don’t understand but need to chase.

It’s not measurable. It’s alchemical. Mysterious.

For all my internal flailing, the truth is I know who I am, what I’m meant to be doing right now, and how to do it. Like anyone else, I just get scared. And sometimes I get exhausted, in grappling with that fear.

Sometimes the fear pounces on me, when I’m vulnerable, in the middle of the night.

I can look at this another way, though, can’t I? Maybe that’s the only time all those old fears feel strong enough to gather forces for a chance at winning — temporarily, at least.

Because, fact is, I got through it (with help). I went back to sleep. I got some rest. And I woke to a bleary sight of the sun shining through a clear blue sky. I held that view for a moment, but didn’t focus on it. I didn’t think much about it, or the night before.

I just allowed myself to be here. I got up, made my tea, and here I am now still.

It’s a new day.

 

How To Get Naked: Conditions for Artistic Liberation

CC image courtesy of rachel a. k. on Flickr

Not too long after I wrote my post about Creative Productivity, I saw this Tim Ferriss blog post titled: “Productivity” Tips for the Neurotic, Manic-Depressive, and Crazy (Like Me).
The post itself is interesting and pointed, and I recommend it. But it’s the quote that Ferriss leads off with, from the incomparable Neil Gaiman, that has my noodle noodling today.

“The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”
– Neil Gaiman
University of the Arts Commencement Speech

Reading that again — I’m pretty sure I read or heard it already, but it was wonderful to re-encounter the words — struck me as appropriate, in terms of where I’m currently at in my development as an artist. In short, I’ve spent most of this past year “struggling” with and against a feeling of nakedness.

That being said, I’m the one who took all my clothes off.

I’ve written plenty about how things began to change for me, when I decided to make Multiverse and especially after it was in the can. I’ve been even more up front recently, here and in person during various conversations with friends old and new, about the struggles I was going through before deciding to make the film. I’ve also discussed some of the process of continuing the work of watching my own back as I go about seeking to sustain several significant changes I’ve made in my life over the past year or more.

But I haven’t talked much about how I’ve been feeling about this turn towards sharing more of myself, and/or the prospects of eventually introducing Multiverse to all of you and the world at large (which I’m eventually going to do).

In a word, it’s been scary.

Like so many (if not all) other artists, I believe I turned to storytelling, at a young age, as a means of introducing a safe arena of artificially-constructed order into a world that I found to be at least incrementally dangerous and chaotic. What evolved naturally over time into a “career” (quotes to be removed at time of financial solvency) began from these simple, delicate origins. To get to where I am today, where I can (somewhat) comfortably introduce my work en masse (to anyone who cares to see it) and sometimes even seek out attention for it (which I’ll likely be doing to an even greater extent in the future) several conditions had to be met.

These conditions, taken together, helped me get naked. Getting naked has helped liberate me, for the most part, from the constraints of doubt. It’s what’s allowed me to embrace productivity as a new norm in my creative life.

Time

Many of us have donned many layers, of clothing or armor made out of a mix of materials permeable and impermeable, over the course of our lives. This is normal and even necessary — to a point. Artist and creators, due to individualized compulsions similar to what I just discussed, are driven by the creative process to remove these layers. It can’t be done at once, and it can’t be done quickly. Getting naked is delicate work, as it should be. It takes time and patience. I say this in the hopes that it might help anyone who is not like me. I’ve been very impatient over the years. It didn’t help anything.

Work

This may seem like an obvious choice as a condition for artistic “success,” but it becomes less obvious when considered on its own, outside the realm of its symbiotic nature with the other items on this list. I’ve always worked hard. I’ve often worked too hard. I’ve sometimes worked hard to keep myself away from the real work of getting naked and being myself. Work must be a constant element of any journey towards long-term, authentic artistic expression.

Courage

I spent a good two or three years (arguably, many more) metaphorically thrashing my brain against a series of metaphorical walls, before I started breaking through with my work to the point where I could write and make Multiverse and begin developing subsequent projects that are similarly “more naked.” I worked a lot, and I put in time, but courage — real courage, to dive deep and go after what I really needed to go after, in order to reconcile my work with my realistic needs as a person — was hard to come by, for a long time. Somehow (perhaps due to the next item) I managed to build up enough of it, in fits and starts, to break through and accept what needed to be done. It was messy and the process got dark at many points, for long stretches. In so many words, meeting with real progress took throwing myself into the void. It took many painful, lonely nights. Me against the page, me against myself. It wasn’t pretty. Often, it was sad. I’m sharing these details because a lot of that behavior probably wasn’t necessary. The methods sprinkled throughout the aforementioned post on creative productivity are healthier ones — they take more courage to embrace and implement than those that are more in line with a standard “tortured artist” approach.

Support

Peer support engenders courage and helps strengthen work ethics and “pressures” us to put in the time. This has been proven, so I’m not going to go much further into it. Asking for and leaning on peer support is how we test the waters. We get naked in front of our friends — or like-minded strangers that share the interests and passions that drive us to create — and we see what happens. Maybe we react by rushing back into our clothes. Maybe, on certain occasions, this is necessary for the moment, until we return to try again. Alternatively, maybe we decide we’re okay to show more people our goodies.

Focus

I don’t think I ever would have reached an inner layer of creative expression without a consistent dedication towards focus. At times, I have perhaps been too focused. Sometimes, it’s important to lay back and let the eyes go hazy. For the most part, though, focus is an essential condition for gaining the perspective needed to find your voice over time. It can be a challenge, here and now, to maintain focus. There’s frequently a lot going on around us, and there’s more available to use in terms of distraction or procrastination than there has perhaps ever been before. That only makes dedicating ourselves to The Pursuit all the more crucial. Testing and developing systems is what’s working for me at the moment. I’m not always perfect about sticking to them but I’m starting to get good and always coming back to them as a penitent after I’ve strayed.

Conclusion: It’s Simpler Than We Think

I know this is a very simple list. That’s intentional. My own progress has historically suffered from a bit of ping-ponging between advancement and retreat over the past several years. More often than not, this happened because I was complicating the artistic process, and/or refusing to accept how simple all this really can be, if we have courage, put in the time, seek help and remain steadfast. As simple as it all is, it’s not easy. It’s not supposed to be.

Life often wars with art. In the rush to survive to keep on creating, we can become bogged down by necessity, smothered by doubt. But the beauty of true creativity is that it does not return life’s blows. Creation, in all of the above terms, is a regenerative process. That is the most important lesson I’ve learned in recent months.

Once all the clothing and the armor has been stripped away, once we are naked and vulnerable to whatever may come — it is then when we find our power. Because there’s little left to fear, no where else to hide.

At this point, we can’t help be anything but ourselves and no one can truly touch us who hasn’t brought himself or herself to a similar state.

If we become hurt in our exposure, there’s always the option of re-covering and re-armoring ourselves. But, in doing this after reaching a vulnerable state, we gain an immense advantage of knowing that can lead to remarkable accomplishment. We also always have the option of mobility — we can not only strip but we can also run naked through the streets if we are chased.

This, at the very least, should draw some attention.