Monthly Archives: September 2013

Exploring Loneliness: The Questions Behind Multiverse

The below was written on the train ride home from a short business trip.


There are lonelier places in the world than a small hotel room, but I haven’t been in any of them — not lately, insofar as I can remember in this moment.

That’s an important detail, incidentally. Attention to the moment. It’s something I’m learning, trying to learn. Too many of us, too often, myself included – in the rush of livelihood we fail to pay immediate attention to what is truly happening to us and within us as we go on living.

I woke up this morning in such a hotel room. I had slept deeply, because I’ve been sick. Before I could even situate myself, though, I felt it: the void that comes when we are without our usual or most precious tethers to the world. I am traveling for work, so my wife isn’t with me. My pets, obviously, aren’t with me. It’s been a short trip so I don’t have many of my things.

At the beginning of the trip, this lack of attachments was exciting. It was a break from the usual, rather than the removal of the usual from my immediate sense field. I looked forward, only a day ago, to the sensation of Travel itself. Regardless of the destination (for me at least) it’s liberating to simply move from my usual location, temporarily, to another one. This is of course common, even the point, to traveling – unless we have more practical reasons for relocation (such as work responsibilities). The excitement, and the related sense of freedom, however, just did not survive this morning.

This morning, I woke up and felt only – alone.

I recognized the feeling and I determined to feel it. It hurt, but it didn’t kill me. I showered and packed and went to breakfast; all of this made me feel better. Soon after that, I met up with a colleague and then all was well. Even now, as I write this during my trip home, it’s not so bad. There are people around and I know I will be back among the familiar before long. I’m alone but I’m not. I’m not okay but I am.

Loneliness, in general, has been on my mind again, lately, after the rush to complete a new cut of Multiverse over the past few weeks.

Readers who remember our Indiegogo pitch video for Multiverse might also remember that we framed the video around the delivery of its central theme and goal: the film as an exploration of loneliness. At the time, that was about as far as that story went. This make sense – even more so now – because the discussion was at that time only the beginning of a very specific journey, both for me and the film.

I wrote the script for Multiverse about a year ago, in early August of 2012. We produced the project a few months later. At the time, I knew only that I felt compelled to tell this particular story. I didn’t have a full idea as to why its production was such an imperative.

There were a few practical reasons why I nominally “decided” to make the film. First, I was feeling the itch. It had been too long since I had last directed a film. After years spent writing and writing and writing, I needed to create something tangible again. I needed to fully explore a vision. I felt this palpably, struggling to identify, accept, respect the sensation for almost a full week. At the same time, not coincidentally, I was arriving at a crossroads in life.

I had been taking too close a look, at too many parts of myself that I had been avoiding too expertly for years, for anything else to happen. A storm had been built up inside me, had performed its version of restructuring,  and was now dying out, at least temporarily.

In the eerie quiet moments following the departure of the storm, Multiverse knocked. In this way, a project that would traverse over a year of my life erupted spasmodically from the alchemical ether of what probably appeared on the surface, to others, as a normal day. It was a simple thing and not a simple thing. A rush of feeling came, and instead of repressing it, I took out a pen and paper and delivered the rush to the itch.

Regardless of its other qualities – which I do not presume to be able to measure objectively – a truly good script, for me, must retain a level of mystery, even in later drafts. For this to happen, and for the film itself to  earn the right to exist, the writer must be honest, and probably also brave. Speaking only for myself — I just haven’t found any other way of striving effectively towards these goals other than to abandon myself to the story. The same can be said of production and photography.

Still, if we are to explore something, we must become a part of it. This takes time, and it takes trust. I have historically been better at delivering the former than the latter.

The reason I wanted to discuss all this is because I am really just now, as the film arrives at its final stages, beginning to truly understand why I needed to make Multiverse.   

I had the itch – yes. I felt compelled to run towards, rather than from, the deep sensation of loneliness that informed the genesis of the story – also true. But there is a difference between wanting and needing to do something and actually doing it. In this way, over time, Multiverse became a living thing to me…something that needed my help (and the help of many others) to become not just a film or a story but a bold and thriving exploration of life.

To be completely honest, I didn’t think I had it in me. In truth, I probably didn’t. It is a testament to the rest of the production team, and to the cast and crew, that together we were able to scratch the film together over the course of a year. I speak not only of the labor performed by these men and women but also their ideas, their passion, their openness and commitment and creativity. To have crafted a story about loneliness, about a very particular sort of loneliness inextricably connected to a sense of social anomie, through the combined efforts of a group of good people – it’s an achievement of which I am immensely proud.

Still, I’ve been wondering why it took me the full year to truly begin thinking about what this film means. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, in between viewings of our newest cut.

I’m not going to give anything away. But I think I can share some ideas about what Multiverse has come to mean to me, now that a year has passed and I’ve had time and space to watch the film evolve and, subsequently, to further consider its mystery.

I think Multiverse is a warning, to myself and, hopefully, others. I think the mystery that drove me to make the film was that ever-broad, age-old question – why? Specific to the film and its constituent parts – why do we collectively move so quickly, so ceaselessly, so predictably, along beaten paths that show all appearances of having become fundamentally divorced from their humane destinations? Why do we so seldom slow down and feel? Why can’t we seem to do something else?

And then, of course, there are the consequences to consider.

There is a cost to loneliness. It is not just a feeling, and it is not just a personal experience. There is a price we pay, when we collectively fail to admit or accept what we feel, when we feel it. The price gets higher when we actively avoid or mask our private experiences. Multiverse, for me, has become a way for me to teach myself this lesson. I don’t always remember it, but that’s okay. This morning, I felt lonely, but I knew it would pass. I knew all I had to do was shower, pack, and get out among people. I also had to just – move.

Remembering

I am having a harder time today than I had during last year’s September 11th anniversary.

Partially, I think this is due to the place I am in, at this moment, in my life. The trajectory I have traced in recent posts has left me in a foreign condition, one wherein I feel my feelings more directly than ever before. Previously, this only happened after hours of lonely, vicious digging – hours spent letting my work take me wherever it was that I couldn’t otherwise go on my own. But, now, most of the time, there they are: unadulterated, raw feelings. Good feelings, bad feelings. Feelings that are good and bad – that simply are.

Something else has happened to me, though, that I don’t know that I have explored in quite as much detail, but which today has me thinking that there’s an additional reason why I am feeling especially aggrieved on this particular anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Today, surprisingly, I feel the very particular pain of this city in my heart.

I have lived in New York City for the better part of eleven years now, but only recently have I begun to identify as a New Yorker. I don’t even know where to begin in tracing this path to belonging.

What I will say is that I think there is a special magic, that draws certain souls to this place. Perhaps much of that magic has been lost, especially at this tragically unjust time in our socio-economic history, but enough of it lingers – or has survived – that I believe I can safely identify it as the place that has helped me arrived at some semblance of personal redemption.

I came to the city a wide-eyed child, with little idea of how to actually lay the groundwork for achieving the grandiose visions of artistic success that I had assigned to the place, and even less of an idea of just how difficult a struggle it would be to pursue paler, more grounded forms of those visions without the experience and the courage that I have only recently, after so much time, begun to truly employ in both my art and my life.

My life here began softly, cushioned by the fact that I was a student before I became a true resident. Today, as I have occasionally in the past, I find myself recollecting several conversations I had with well-meaning but frightened family members and friends from my hometown, who (gently) questioned my decision to move to the city the year after the September 11th attacks. Always in my mind, when I think about my personal anniversary as a New Yorker, I think in these terms. Always,  when I think of how and why I came to live here, about how long I have been here, it is in the context of that day.

I came here the year after. Never, before today, did the reflection go much further than that.

I have noticed a peculiarity in the patterns of anniversary and other such time signifiers, a little-discussed phenomena that has occurred, at least in my life, with regularity.

We tend, for obvious reasons, to assign special significance to anniversaries that fall into certain easily quantifiable (or qualifiable) spheres. Repetitions of five, ten, twenty-five, a hundred – these incarnations receive more of our attention because they represent cleaner markers. A sixteenth, eighteenth or twenty-first birthday, as a rite of passage, takes on a similar significance. But what I have noticed is that, for me at least, just as much emotional resonance can be found in the deflated space that immediately follows such markers.

I remember my twenty-second birthday as anticlimactic. That’s not even completely true. I remember it as depressing. I remember feeling thrown onto the path of adulthood, whether I liked it or not, in spite of any subsequent efforts to fight this reality in the near-future of that year. Contrarily, I look forward to my thirtieth birthday with relief. I have been exhausted by my twenties. Still, I suspect thirty will seem an achievement, thirty-one – well, I don’t know.

And today is the 12th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Compared to the tenth anniversary, it is a quieter day of remembrance. Speaking only for myself, this year’s anniversary seems to have arrived quickly. But here it is.

Absent the added layers of significance that is bestowed upon such an anniversary at more easily-marked occasions, and finding myself faced with a new level of awareness of my own feelings, I feel today, in a more direct way than in recent years, that I mourn for my home and for my fellow New Yorkers (as well as with America at large).

As I went about my day today, I saw sadness in the expressions of other pedestrians as we passed each other on the street. In the faces of my neighbors, I sensed echoes of the hesitation that I myself felt, a barely-detectible slowness delaying my every public action by the slightest bit, as the memory of that day vibrated through the city in a way that is perhaps a touch more raw today as compared to two years ago, when there were more events and remembrances to ease the pain that this day always brings, year after year.

Most of all, though, I feel a strange overlap between my time in this city and that day when it was forever scarred. After all this time, I feel true camaraderie. I know that what I feel is not the same as those who were here. But I do feel the relativism between specific measures of time eroding. I feel that I belong here. I think about all this, and I feel all of this, and I remember, not only why I came to New York but why I remain.

In defiance of all that has happened here in the years since that day, the magic that brought me here, which made its way into my blood over time, as it has done to countless others – it does remain.

New York City has given me faith. It has tested me. It has delivered me to love and it has challenged me to confront hate. I will be honest – I don’t always want to be here. It is a place of great highs and lows. But life is a series of highs and lows, if you embrace it fully enough. I don’t know, any longer, that I could ultimately choose not to be here.

Today, I feel the grief of a city that has become my home. I remember that I came here, purposefully, defiantly, in the wake of tragedy. I remember the cost paid that day, in human life, before I arrived. I am humbled by it. I cannot begin to comprehend what the families of the fallen must feel. Still, I remember the anger, the sadness, the pain of that day – and I accept that these feelings exist also in me.

For whatever reason, I have in recent years hesitated to join the refrain, to: “Never forget”. It’s not that I don’t agree with the sentiment. But I think, perhaps, at least for this year, that instead of reciting the negative, instead of reminding people of what they should not do – I would rather be active about it. As difficult as it can be, what I want most for myself and for us is to remember.

I remember coming to New York City desirous of an unnamable future life that was bigger and brighter and deeper than anything I had previously experienced. This, I have received, in spite of myself, and for this reason I am grateful for that old magic that still persists in this place. I am grateful that some version of it has survived. I am hopeful that what is left of it can be harnessed and nurtured.

So, I suggest we remember. New York is many things. More than anything else, though, I think it is a place that accepts and endures – if you respond to it in similar terms. We will continue to solemnly mark today’s anniversary perpetually, year after year. Let us also mark tomorrow’s, in deference to the quieter strength of less-celebrated touchstones that resonate just as fully in our hearts.

For better and worse, each day holds the potential of those that exist previous to it. We can carry the lessons of solemn anniversaries with us through subsequent days.

Repetition and Liberty

I have been thinking, lately, about the strange relationship many of us have with repetition. Specifically, I am wondering why we sometimes only qualify or quantify repeated acts that seem unhealthy and/or counter-intuitive to the pursuit of happiness (or of the sort of contentedness-alternated-with-passionate-excitement that might be a better definition for what so many of us truly desire for ourselves).

I’m saying “we” a lot, when in many cases I am probably more directly taking about “me”. But I suspect there’s overlap in what I’m about to reflect upon, between my experiences and point of view and yours. I could be wrong. Either way…

It seems to me that we often view repetition as either bad or necessary, or a little bit of both. I don’t think these are the only views people take of repetition, and I don’t mean to suggest that no goodness exists in repetition (more on that later), or that necessity is inherently undesirable, but — I do wonder about the nature of our prevailing views on repetition as a concept.

Perhaps the questions is colored more than slightly by my life as a young American living in a large city. But for now, primarily, still — I’m wondering why repetition annoys us when we are playing out our role as consumers, why we are so demanding and temperamental when it comes to wanting and needing things and experiences that are better, newer, or greater – and yet, in exchange for our continuing admission to the unending game of pursuing such wants and needs, we tolerate and resign ourselves to such repetitions of labor and physical location that make us neither content nor excited. In short – why is repetition so abhorrent when we are buying…but so begrudgingly necessary when we are selling?

While I don’t have the expertise or the inclination to tease a complete in-depth socio-economic analysis out of this question, that doesn’t mean we can’t try to at least answer it for ourselves in a very basic way. It’s an especially interesting question to ask at a time when the job market is still terrible for many people, and inadequate or disappointing to so many more.

Why do so many of us accept the slowly dulling form of repetition represented by a job performed for someone else, but respond with vehement opposition when our favorite TV show or favorite musician provides us with too much of what we have already seen before? Taking this a step further, why do we need the carousel of favorites in the first place? At all? Why the trends – when, all the while, everything else in our own life remains the same? Get up, proceed with your day, go home or go out and do what you have done before. Do this whether you like it or not – in spite of whether you like it or not.

Taking yet another step — what would happen if we swung this pattern back in upon itself? What happens if the vehement opposition is aimed more directly at the more directly-opposed repetition? If we truly feel it, can we not at least privately deny the repetitions performed for the benefit of someone else, even if it they are repeated, nominally, with our own interests in mind? And then reenter the idea of repetition, which is a nonetheless natural occurrence, as something that can be better harnessed to deliver the contentedness and the excitement that we otherwise feel we lack?

Over the past many months I have experimented with such ideas. It has not been easy. This blog is an example. In its earliest weeks, I forced myself to sit down and write, once or twice a week. Lately, I haven’t posted here as often. I’ve been writing, but I’ve been writing other things. I’ve been working hard, but I’ve been working on non-writing related tasks.

Yet, still, through this medium, I have found another aspect to repetition – that it strengthens.

There is a reason that athletes and great minds excel beyond what the rest of us believe is possible. There is a reason some people among us walk with smiles upon their faces that might appear foreign and impossible to one who has too often lived reactively, rather than actively, to one who has repeated too often for too long without aim or hope.

What I am saying is that I am tired of repeating patterns of negation, and/or patterns whose purpose is not maintenance but stasis.

But what else can be repeated, and to more positive ends? What is necessary — but restoratively so? How can repetition be positively leveraged? What should we repeat?

I propose we begin – I begin – with a determination to repeat a declaration of faith, in repetition itself. In dogged perseverance. In any thought or act that replenishes the soul when it’s vitality becomes understandably diminished, however it must be done.

Perhaps repetition can provide a measure of liberty, if we embrace it wisely…and are patient.