The Arc of 2014: Movement

Vee (Phoebe Allegra) and Margaret (Rebecca De Ornelas) aren't completely on board with Cass (Masha King) for the moment.
Vee (Phoebe Allegra) and Margaret (Rebecca De Ornelas) aren’t sure if this year was even real. From The Videoblogs.

I’m going to try to keep this brisk, if not short, because I’m always in a hurry lately because I want to keep moving.

Movement, as revealed by the title of this post, is a key word to the coming discussion.

Last year, I wrote a piece titled The Arc of 2013: The Beginnings of The Pushback. The gist of its messaging can be summarized by restating my belief that, last year, people began boiling over and finally fighting back against social injustices and unsatisfactory socio-economic conditions. If I spent most of 2012 expressing anger in this space, when confronted with these realities, 2013 was spent consolidating and channeling that anger.

Riding off of that, I believe 2014 was about using that anger as fuel for movement. This year was about making moves.

It was fucking hard.

But…damn…did it feel good.

During some recent, rare downtime, I spent a few hours customizing that cute little Facebook Year In Review Thing. For the fuck of it, really.

What I realized, upon doing so, however, was that I had not only achieved my year’s goals, of shooting a feature film and mostly surviving the process — but I had also put out quite a bit more than that, in terms of work. After so many years of toil, in a word, I finally began to grow.

So, yeah, I put out more work than ever before, this year. More importantly, though, I diversified my work more than ever before as well.

Traffic to this site increased over 130% from last year, despite a 20% drop in the number of posts from the previous year.

This tells me that the diversification and focus paid off. Since this was mostly a Year of Creative Content, it also tells me that you like it better when I make things and share them than when I just write about what I think or how I feel about society or politics or the whatever bullshit is being slung at us by the media on a given day.

Along with the traffic increase, my family (that’s how I think of you) grew as well, on Twitter and on Facebook and in terms of my email list. I feel honored to be able to say that. Truly.

 

But, what happened? What made the difference?

Heading into 2015, I wanted to identify the answer(s) to those questions, not only so that I can repeat or expand my efforts but so that others who are interested can attempt their own journey using any methods that might similarly apply.

So, in defiance of the intro to last year’s post, which included a mild critique of lists — here’s a list of what I did in 2014 that I believe made it a year of movement. Following the list, I’ve also taken a moment to reflect broadly on what I’ve decided to aim for over the course of the coming year as a result of what I’ve learned since launching this site and rededicating myself to professional development and growth.

Multiverse Completed and Distributed

Laughter without voices.
Laughter without voices.

You’ve probably heard enough from me about this, but I’m still thrilled that Multiverse has been so well-received by most people who have watched it. Also, I feel validated by the decision to let the film speak for itself. While I ultimately chose to submit it to some standard festivals after the fact, I think it was the right decision to debut Multiverse to those of you who are in New York, as lead-in to The Videoblogs (more on that exciting event in a moment) and to then push it out online to everyone else during the ensuing Videoblogs funding campaign.

Did Multiverse become a viral hit? No. It was never going to become that. Realistically, more than anything else, Multiverse was something that I had to do to break free from some lingering difficulties in my life. I continue to take pride in how it came out, to appreciate the contributions of my collaborators and all our crowdfunding supporters, and I’m heartened every time someone reaches out after seeing it to tell me that they feel (or have felt) the same way. A film’s life is never fully realized until people start watching, and when they do, despite the many months of struggle and fear and confusion leading up — all the work and the sacrifice become worth it.

Comedic Voice Let Off Leash

I didn't say it was a tasteful comedic voice.
I didn’t say it was a tasteful comedic voice.

I had a great time this year experimenting with comedic writing. It’s something I used to do when I was younger, which I lost my passion for as I got older and more cynical. Jokes always make it into my films, somehow, but riding off the end of 2013, when I collaborated with The Motel Staff on several holidays videos, in 2014 I decided to brave the waters in a more direct way. This resulted in a few sketches and a five-minute set of stand-up that I did, which was a blast in itself and lead to this post about how I am The Wolf. The effect of all this was that: 1) I proved to myself that I could do it; 2) I rediscovered how much I like making people laugh; 3) I met new people who would prove to be invaluable collaborators later on in the year.

Got Fictional

You too can get a hold on some DREAD.
You too can get a hold on some DREAD.

I returned to my roots in another way in 2014, by writing my first short story in over seven years. In drafting, that short story became something longer than a short story and shorter than a novel. Despite it’s slight stature, A Night Alone in My Dread became a major accomplishment for me. I was not expecting to write fiction this year. The fact that it happened, and that hundreds of people read my little book — I can’t begin to express how grateful I am. To put this in perspective, my creative output took the form of narrative fiction probably 90% of the time for most of my life, up until I started making films almost ten years ago. In many ways, this aspect of the year feels like renewing an old friendship.

Produced, Crowdfunded, and Shot The Videoblogs

Cass (Masha King) waits for an explanation as to how this all happened.
Cass (Masha King) is also waiting for an explanation as to how this all happened. From The Videoblogs.

I don’t understand. I’m being honest with you about this for the first time. I don’t understand how The Videoblogs happened. It’s still hard for me to process, that as I work to finish transcoding and organizing footage, and syncing picture to sound — that soon I’ll be editing a feature film that I wrote and directed, and that YOU made happen because you believed in us.

You’re fucking beautiful. That’s all I can say. What? Where am I?!

Became A Professional

The script for my new project, the story of which, I hope, is just beginning.
When The Videoblogs was just a stack of pages.

I’m not sure when this happened, either. I just know that it did, and that I’m extremely grateful. Why do I feel like a professional, now — when I’ve been “making stuff” for years?

Partially, I think I just started bumping up against “minimum time served”. Ten thousand hours and all that. Another big help was The Artist’s Way. But the biggest difference, I think, came from accepting myself and my circumstances and building my work flow around that.

What does this mean? For me, it meant looking at the reality of how I work best, and what the conditions are that I have to work within, and finding a system that works within those “constraints”. Because I struggle still, on occasion, with anxiety and depression, this system also had to take things like daily mental toll and daily mood into account.

What did I come up with? I write in the morning — something I had never done before. I get up earlier than ever before (usually) and focus on self care for an hour or so and then I write as early as I can in the day. My goal is an hour of writing. If I get through thirty minutes, I’m okay with it, not only because it’s still progress but because, on most occasions, I end up getting more done later in the day as well, which results in multiple hours of progress that probably wouldn’t have been possible without that earlier healthy start.

And I don’t restrict myself to a single project. It’s too much pressure. When I did that in the past, I ended up obsessing and the work suffered. Instead, now, I turn to whatever project or outlet seems to need my attention for that day. In short, I learned for myself what many more accomplished artists than me have said before — that I had to start treating my art like a job. Not only has my art not suffered as a result of this decision — as the above proves — it actually began to thrive. Despite being born and growing up inside the stormy hair-cave that is my head.

Why We Move

I began by saying that I wanted to outline all of that so that I can keep up on my efforts, and also to share them with others, in case my testimony could be of some use. But, getting back to the idea of movement, there’s another reason why I wanted to take stock of the year.

This is far from over.

Much of what saddened and frightened me in recent years is unfortunately still going on in the world today. I’m not going to recount any of it, because I’m not sure any longer that doing so is at all useful.

Instead, I want to keep focusing on movement. On grassroots efforts. Somewhere along the line of shepherding all of the above artistic efforts, this year, I realized something. I realized that nothing is going to systemically change, politically, economically, morally or conscientiously — until I change. Until we change.

So much of life is about perspective. And we’ve truly lost perspective as a society, in a lot of ways. We know it, most of us know it, but we don’t seem to be able to deal with it.

It doesn’t matter how this happened. It doesn’t matter if some of us can talk more confidentially about how it did, or are more certain about how to fix it, or whether you believe one argument or another or none of them at all.

What matters is that we talk through things, so that more of us, in more places, can begin once again to see life as it is rather than what we’ve been told it’s meant to be.

We cannot become empowered until our hearts are full. Our hearts cannot be full until we feel out the pain that we’re in, nationally and, perhaps, the world over. We cannot begin to heal until we’re sure of what’s happened inside of us and begin opening our mouths to speak about it with one another.

This has been a long time coming. We must continue to reflect on hard truths, must challenge each other to look at things differently, must be patient as everyone exerts his or her right to be heard. Maybe it’s all been going on for a long time. Probably I don’t even have a full idea yet of what I’m talking about. But I’m trying to understand. I’m choosing…to hope.

I guess that’s the main thing that changed for me, this year. I realized that I don’t have all the answers, or even any of them at all. All I can do, as an artist, is struggle with what questions call to me in the loudest voices, present that struggle to you, and encourage and engage in a dialogue.

Here’s to more in 2015. Thank you for reading, and I wish you the very best, for all the days of the coming year.

I Am The Wolf: How I Found The Primal Artist in Me

Jack Nicholson is almost The Wolf.

A few weeks ago, I did something difficult. I stood up in front of a room full of people and told jokes. For five minutes.

I remember very little of the experience. I went into it prepared, and it actually went pretty well from the start, but I was nervous as hell and at the same time — very excited. The time went by quickly. I didn’t even get to finish the set I had timed out to last the full five minutes, because I forgot to allow time for laughter. Good problem to have.

The reasons I did it are few but significant:

  1. I had wanted to try stand-up for a long time.
  2. I was terrified to try stand-up, and was “required” to face this fear (more on this requirement in a moment).
  3. Despite number two, I had a feeling it would be a lot of fun.
  4. It wasn’t filmmaking or writing (at least not the sort of writing I’m used to doing), which to me meant I could express myself an an artist in a more immediate way than I’m used to, which was attractive to me.

In truth, the idea and the opportunity emerged from the process of completing a group journey through The Artist’s Way, which I can now endorse wholeheartedly (along with countless others) as a fantastic resource for engaging, reengaging, or deepening our relationship with our inner artist. Following the exercises and tasks in the book led me to admit reasons 1-3 listed above. Additionally, the book defines and advocates for synchronicity. In the context of the present example, this meant that, in order to honestly commit to the process of artistic recovery/discovery embodied by the book, I had to sign up for the inaugural open “mic” at my local go-to neighborhood cafe — because I truly did want to try stand-up and because the list “appeared” there in front of me.

But that’s all context. We’ll return to it in a minute. What I really want to talk about is The Wolf.

I am The Wolf. Me. Not Harvey Keitel. Not Michael J. Fox or whoever plays the same character in the TV remake. Definitely not Taylor Lautner — not even Joe Manganiello. No to Seth Green. Jack Nicholson is only the wolf during jumping competitions. Possibly, possibly, Russell Tovey is also The Wolf. I can’t take away the “authenticity” that man brings to the transformation.

Russell Tovey as The Wolf
Russel Tovey could be The Wolf, too. I can’t argue with that face.

All kidding aside, I found The Wolf in me early on in the process of completing the The Artist’s Way. He rose up out of my morning pages. Morning pages are essentially three stream-of-consciousness pages you write every morning, immediately upon waking, in order to flush your brain and/or expose your wants and needs to yourself. They’re also a space where you can safely complain, which is actually kind of nice.

I’ve written about The Wolf before, but at the time he didn’t have a name. To boil it down, now that I have a greater understanding of the situation: The Wolf is the artist in me.

He is wild, and sometimes violent. He survives, despite not getting everything he needs, however he must. There is the potential for the dog’s love and loyalty in him. But, at bottom, he’s a primal sort of animal.

Now, of course, all that comes off as a little dramatic. I realize that. But, as I’ve said before — I’m a dramatist. Drama is my business. Also, along the way of getting to know that-which-I-call-The-Wolf a little better, while I worked through the book, I did at times acknowledge that the artist in me was actually more changeable. Sometimes I am The Eagle, and not The Wolf. Sometimes The Wolf does, in fact, become more of a wild dog. Sometimes the metaphor (thankfully) looses its grip on rugged individualism, and my conception of myself as a Lone Wolf softens more towards “realism” — and I acknowledge the fact that wolves live in packs and that we all need each other to thrive and survive.

But here’s the thing: being an artist is incredibly difficult. And, without starting any wars, sometimes I feel like independent filmmaking is the hardest artistic endeavor out of all of them — at least in terms of implementation and longevity. Identifying and communing with The Wolf is really just my way of “digging deep” to remind myself of why I do what I do and why it’s important not to give up. I turn to The Wolf when things get desperate. The Wolf is that part of me that knows how to fight, that is almost incapable of giving up. He is my anger incarnate.

In this way, The Wolf is also dangerous.

If (when) I let The Wolf out, on his own without any fetters from me — I’m left struggling to maintain balance. The Wolf exists in dangerous proximity to my id. He promises power and delivers it and then begins to hunt and to eat in order to replenish himself, yes, but also to satisfy a mad craving that won’t ever be fully sated. This is a lesson I have learned, sometimes the hard way, over many years of struggle. It’s why, for the most part, I don’t let The Wolf out any more.

But this doesn’t mean he isn’t always in me, so I had had to come up with another solution in terms of mostly stabilizing my relationship with this primal part of me that I need and love despite its flaws.

So what do I do? In a word: I cage him. And I only open the door to the cage when I know he’s alone except for whatever I consciously put it front of him.

I’ve always loved this quote for Gustave Flaubert, since the first day I encountered it many years ago, and I think it’s appropriate to share it now, in the context of this discussion:

Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.
Yep, yep, yep.

When I was minutes away from facing that greatest of fears that is public speaking — in the form of my stand-up debut — I was, naturally, a wreck. Maybe some people have an easier time of it, or would. For me, the experience proved as difficult as I imagined it would. At least in the early goings.

As I said, I prepared: for two weeks. Every day, for two weeks, I wrote and rewrote jokes. I practiced in my head. I tried to focus on the great advice I received from a few experienced stand-up friends, which ranged from the existential (focus on presence and on being you and nothing else) to the practical (have an idea of what you want to do with your hands, don’t tell them it’s your first time). In the days leading up to my spot, I studied less. I focused on relaxation and sleep and (fun) distraction. This worked, right up to the point when it was almost time to finally get it over with.

As I mentioned, the open mic was at a cafe. I didn’t order coffee before I went up. I decided on chamomile tea instead, which my wife bought for me because I could hardly focus on anything but not-freaking-out and I think she could tell. I know what you’re thinking: “Tea instead of booze? Bought by your wife? You can’t even buy your own tea?” What can I say? I am that hardcore.

I had signed up to go second, figuring it would be good to get it over with early, but too terrified to go first. The event started and the moment got closer. I hardly heard anything anyone said until the host called my name. But let’s rewind to that.

As you may have guessed by now, in the minutes leading up to my slot, I found myself locked in an epic struggle to STAY COOL.

It wasn’t easy to stay cool.

First, I told myself I wasn’t anxious. I told myself I was excited, instead, following the suggestion of this article which I had read recently. This worked for a while, as a sort of mantra, but the effectiveness wore off quickly. So then I told myself that the stress I was feeling was my body’s way of preparing me for the test to come. More advice from an outside resource. This tactic also worked — a little. I alternated the two practices through my head until I felt that the moment of truth was immediately imminent. Less than a minute away. And then nothing worked. I thought I was going to explode.

But, then, suddenly, I remembered The Wolf. And I knew it was time to let him out.

“I am The Wolf,” I thought to myself. I am The Wolf. The words became a mad mantra. I was still repeating them when the moment came and I found myself standing up and suddenly doing what I had been so frightened to do for a very long time.

Like I said, the set went well. Better than I expected. And when it was over I felt proud. I felt I had figured something out — or, more accurately, proven to myself what I knew to be true but couldn’t quite believe without the evidence. The Wolf is, in fact, dangerous. However, while he is a part of me — he is not me. I am The Wolf but The Wolf is not me.

He and I can work together, quite effectively, as it turns out, but that’s got to be it. My job is be regular and orderly and civilized to the point of being able to loose The Wolf upon the world when I choose, when it’s appropriate.

I am the man and he is the art. It’s a difficult lesson to remember but an important one, I think.

Thanks for reading.

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