Monthly Archives: November 2013

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.

All This Chaos: Translating The Indie Film Landscape

Our audience-building for Multiverse began with our crowdfunding campaign (even earlier, actually).

Our audience-building efforts for Multiverse began with our crowdfunding campaign (even earlier, actually).

This week, I attended Screen Craft’s inaugural New York City panel, Digital Discourse: The Future of Distribution and Content Creation, at the WGA-East. It was a genuinely great panel. You can read a summary from Screen Craft by following that link, Indiewire pulled some more highlights here, and the discussion was recorded and should be available soon online via Screen Craft and/or other resources.

That being said, I want to also chime in a bit about what I gleaned from the discussion. Bits and pieces of what was said have been banging around in my brain for the past few days, and I think some paths are beginning to emerge in there that are made out of the contributions of the thoughtful, focused, hard-working people who made up the panel.

The links above provide plenty of information on what was said. The video will offer the full set of info and insight — and I would encourage interested filmmakers to check it out when it’s available. But, for what it’s worth, here’s what I got out of it.

While not an exhaustive list, we (filmmakers and creators), need to focus on:

Realism

This is something that people generally shy away from saying (because they’re nice), but many people who call themselves filmmakers don’t try hard enough or don’t work hard enough to develop the confidence and skills necessary to achieve long-term success (however that may be defined) while at the same time cultivating their artistic voice. I’m saying it now because I’m not speaking to anyone directly, and can further bite the bullet and point at a past version of myself who was guilty of this very mistake.

I could write about this point for days, but in terms of the end-game (monetizing work to at least the point of sustainability, if not past it), it’s sufficient to point out that none of the panelists that spoke on Wednesday were wrong — the reality of the distribution landscape is that it’s not the same, that it continues to change almost daily, and that “the good days” are not coming back. The old narratives of what it means to be an indie filmmaker (perhaps even a filmmaker in general) and to succeed as one — they no longer apply. This is not news to a lot of people, perhaps. But there’s a difference between knowing there’s a mess to be sorted through and accepting the responsibility of the sorting. This is why focusing on the next three concepts is crucial.

Adaptation

Marc Schiller of BOND360 spoke passionately about his findings so far as his firm continues to partner with filmmakers to navigate this changing distribution landscape, but the lead-in to almost every specific note he made, and every recommendation, can be summed up by the word: adapt. Once we’ve accepted that the landscape is shifting, adaptation becomes not only an imperative for survival but an invitation to innovate. There’s no rule that says indie filmmakers can’t thrive in today’s current climate. But as Marc and other panelists pointed out, we have a responsibility, as storytellers, to trace the organic pathways to our audience by not only creating and delivering what we feel compelled to share with them, but to also do so in ways that appeal to what they want and expect out of the equation.

Experimentation 

Figuring out how to adapt requires testing and experimentation. Highlights from the panel, in this regard, include testimony from moderator Ryan Koo (founder of NoFilmSchool.com) and Erica Anderson (from crowding-funding and distribution platform Seed&Spark). From what I know about Ryan, it seems an argument could be made that he’s got to where he is now almost purely on the basis of experimentation. He had ideas (both creative and entrepreneurial) and combined them and tried things out. One thing led to another, in succession, over the years, until he got to the point where he’s now developing his first feature. Erica spoke about Seed&Spark’s WestFest film festival in LA, through which they were able to test some of their ideas on how to reach sustainability by putting just as much effort into collaborative distribution and community building as they did programming. Along the way, they piloted other ideas surrounding the potential for joint-revenue between filmmakers (such as a tip jar).

Marc Schiller and Adam Neuhaus (from Radical Media) detailed similar efforts to test ideas and approaches surrounding how to engage and market to customers who are actually interested in you and/or your product (a strong case could also be made that, as a creator, you are also your product). They (and other panelists) also pointed out the importance of keeping audiences happy by giving them what they want and by making it as easy and simple as possible to get it — and making the exchange fun as well at every opportunity.

A lot of this is about embracing some of the spirit of experimentation and ingenuity that has served the tech industry well in recent years — and tethering it to your creative intentions.

Tact

All of this being said, we have to think as well. It’s not enough to listen to advice and follow it blindly. This is a similar point to the one I made last week in my post about creative productivity, when I wrote about the necessity of introducing thoughtfulness and discernment into our daily considerations about what to do and how. Assuming the creative impulse takes care of itself, and/or that we’re able to establish our workflows and put in the work and get the films planned and made — a consequence of looking at the distribution landscape realistically is that we need to adapt and experiment thoughtfully as we develop the work. We need to apply strategy, at the earliest phase of preproduction, to the overall need to build, engage, and nurture an audience. I spoke briefly on Twitter with Dani Leonard of Big Vision Empty Wallet about this as well recently — all of this needs to be done after you have developed your voice as an artist (or, at the very least, as you develop it) and are thus capable of figuring out out how to truthfully introduce that voice into all efforts to get your work seen. If, as a filmmaker, you can’t do this, whether it’s because you don’t have the time or the skill set — find someone who can. Or partner with an organization who can help. Make sure that person or organization understands you and the work, and/or help them understand.

Conclusion: Opportunity is Out There

All this chaos is to the advantage of the independent filmmaker. Big distributors are struggling to adapt to the changing landscape, or refusing to focus on it based on fear or apathy. The studios could care less about what’s happening on the ground, which they can’t see from where they are anyway (I believe Marc Schiller made this exact point during the panel). If we as indies are at all doing our job right, we’re already on the ground watching change take place. Sure, we’re small and we’re broke. That’s often been true of indie filmmakers — at least so long as they hold on to the true spirit of the label. But our smallness and our financial limitations can be leveraged to our advantage. We can make ourselves quick and nimble. We can experiment freely, with nothing to fear from a fall other than another bruise on the ass.

Notice that the Screen Craft panel was smartly “subtitled” to include distribution and content creation. Notice also that I, as an indie filmmaker, also decided to subtitle this post “Translating The Indie Film Landscape” — rather than “Translating The Indie Film Distribution Landscape.”

This is because, like so many other things in our lives as hyper-connected citizens of an increasingly globalized world, it’s all starting to bleed together. So, we have a choice. We can accept the reality — the happy reality, in my opinion — of this great resettling of American independent film, and embrace the chaos and empower ourselves to become a part of its new shape, or can we do nothing and end up left behind to watch others do it instead.

Ride The Wave: Balancing Life + Creative Productivity

Multiverse Production Still

This is what the production of my last film did to my living room.

It’s remained quieter here than in recent months (but — look! — new site!), and by now I want to dive a little deeper into the reasons why.

Life’s been full.

We walk along many fine, intersecting lines, as we seek to find and maintain the right balance in life, between work and play and leisure and purpose. Sometimes, life looms over all these constituent parts with a largeness greater than the sum of its parts. Because, sometimes — often — life surprises us. Therein lies much of the beauty and the frightfulness of being alive.

I’ve been quiet because I’ve been busied by life, in ways that have sometimes been difficult. Generally, I’ve been okay with this — even in times of anxiety and concern — because, as they say, not many things of worth are necessarily easy to manage or attain.

The difference has been my shifting response to difficulty. I’m not fighting it as much, because I’m starting to see that my default modes of fighting were exhausting me, with little to show for my efforts. This isn’t to say I’ve begun capitulating, instead of fighting. It only feels like I am getting better at following my own advice, and am lately fighting smarter.

What I mean to say is that I’ve been taking better care of myself, while at the same time working to strengthen my resolve to keep up with efforts aimed at self-care as well as creative growth. Rather than push everything out to the page (or screen), I’m giving my thoughts and feelings some time and some room.

It’s been working. I’ve always said that I wanted (needed) to live my life directly, instead of, say, placing a monomaniacal focus only on producing — but today I’m not ashamed to say that I often haven’t done a great job of actually doing this. Invariably, I have lived — increasingly so, since I met my wife — but I haven’t often gone all-in on the full experience of living. By this, I mean that, in constantly fighting off that which I decided I didn’t like or want in my life, by defaulting to this reaction rather than a fuller experiential reaction, by living in constant fear of imminent death — I was regularly missing out on a part of reality.

I’m not exactly censuring myself for this, but I bring it up because I’m not sure it’s a necessarily unique experience.

The difficulties of life are just as real as its pleasures. Both need to be experienced, if we’re to interact and react with others and the outside world in a true, honest way. That is another thing I’ve often said I’ve wanted. I’ve said it to myself and I’ve said it to others, who often claim to want Truth as well. But you have to look at something first, have to touch it and listen to it, before that can really begin to happen.

Related to all this, I’ve also been locked on a rich vein of productivity lately. I don’t remember ever being this productive. I’ve been churning out pages like a champ. Some of the writing has been hard, and has taken a toll on me emotionally, but overall I cannot and will not question this development past the point of making sure I take my health and happiness into account while I ride the wave.

Last month, in particular, was mostly chaotic — in my head. Many were the days when I got plenty of sleep, ate well and took care of myself, but woke up the following day exhausted. To quote my wife, who at points could only watch and attempt to help: “Your mind is exhausting you.”

She was right, about that and the fact that something had to be done — but I think I was also right to let things ride for a bit, in an attempt to give myself the time and space to identify what was going on and attempt to channel the energy.

A lot of that process involved asking myself personal questions about personal matters that required careful, thoughtful, heartfelt attention. But I have, thankfully, throughout a life that has been frequently jolted towards chaos for long stretches of time by an “exhausting mind” — I’ve learned how to balance myself out at such times by abandoning myself to my need to keep writing and creating.

My point is that I now have more clarity and experience than I used to have, in terms of having patience with myself as the complicated dance between life and art plays out in the way it must.

So, finally, I want to share some insights into what I have specifically learned through all this, in terms of how to press forward, not only in times of upheaval and growth but most of the time. Many, if not all of these lessons, can be found in many others places on the web, in some form or another. Because many appear to be universal truths of self-care and creative productivity.

That isn’t to say I’m writing this only for creatives, or that productivity itself is the goal. As I have mentioned once or twice before, I believe we as human beings are fundamentally creative. It’s damaging to all of us to reserve sole use of the word as a descriptor of artists and art and art-like-things only. For better or worse, we all create — and/or share in creation — every day. Every imagined circumstance, every hope and fear, owes its existence to an intrinsic creative impulse. Creativity is fundamentally human.

Similarly, regarding productivity — we are all of us, always, producing. We just don’t always exercise much judgement in deciding what to produce, or take as much responsibility for what we’re already producing, as we otherwise might. Many times, we react more than we act. We produce new and wider roads away from our fears, rather than seek the tools we need to turn around and face them. These lessons essentially reflect some of what I have learned (and am seeking to remind myself) in my own eternal battle between fear and action.

Finally, you’ll notice many lessons appear to contradict each other, when taken in pairs. Exactly.

Here we go:

  • Get healthy. This lesson is first on the list for a reason. It’s the most important one, and perhaps the hardest to implement and maintain over the long term. Getting truly healthy takes work, dedication, and perseverance. For me, it took a series of fits and starts before I finally got on a real, sustainable path to healthfulness. Unsurprisingly, this lesson also brings the biggest, most life-changing results, once you learn it and apply it. Where to start? I can’t really tell you that. Before we can get healthy, we need to arrive at an accurate, realistic, perhaps unsparing (but not necessarily judgmental) assessment of how we are faring — physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally. It takes testing, reflection, introspection. It’s not an overnight process. It’s a lifelong process. But major changes can be made over the course of months and years. Some parts of healthiness are simple. Many Americans are overweight and out of shape. I have been both, many times, for long stretches. Currently, I am neither, and being fit has not only boosted my confidence and self-esteem (significant pluses), it has left me more energetic and more equipped to fight off sickness and fatigue. I also stopped drinking alcohol entirely, except for Saturdays and special occasions. I cut my caffeine intake by 70%, as an experiment, to see if doing so would reduce daily anxiety (it did). You don’t have to do any or all of these things, but dedicating yourself, perhaps one step at a time, to areas of your life that you know in your heart could use some attention in terms of healthiness, or to similarly test changes — the results begin to cascade through everything you feel and do. Finally, note that I mentioned mental and spiritual health as well. Excluding the introduction of some sick, horrific scientific experiment, and/or divine intervention, to the process — we aren’t able to see our hearts and souls. That doesn’t mean an idea of both shouldn’t be sought after, and similarly assessed. The pursuit of these sort of deepest personal truths are essential to pure creativity. We can’t produce true happiness in our life when starting from a hurt or damaged place. I’d argue we can’t completely produce genuine, heartfelt contributions to society from such a starting place either.
  • Always be doing something — and actually do things. This is definitely one of those lessons that’s already out there, in many forms, but it’s been worth it for me to constantly remind myself of its importance. I tend to brood. I used to think it was just part of being me, part of being a writer. It’s not. Brooding, often, isn’t very different from doing nothing. And doing nothing, in such a way, is not only of no real use (to anyone) — it’s also paralyzing. The mind fills the space created by do-nothingness without your permission — and it doesn’t always choose what you would want it to choose if you were taking any control over the process. Staying active, and focusing as often as possible, time after time, on one task (or experience) that we sincerely want to do (or have accepted we must do), keeps us aimed in the right direction. Starting small, and breaking tasks up, helps immensely. Starting early helps immensely — it sets a tone of relaxed accomplishment that can last a whole day. Don’t have enough time? That’s a lie. Give up something that’s really not important to your life or happiness. Cut TV time in half, or by an hour (to start). Or stay off social media for a predetermined stretch of time. But you have to actually do things. Repeatedly. That’s why it’s good to start small and simple. Set up manageable patterns that make you feel good and learn to love being active. Find a system you love, that made to work for you.
  • Plan, at least once per day, to do nothing. Nothing. For at least a few minutes. I’ve been meditating, as a means of accomplishing this. It’s not as hard or as confusing as it seems. There are free podcasts on iTunes that include guided meditations. I’ve been using this one. It truly helps to jolt the mind out of less-than-helpful, unproductive patterns. For a quick video about the value of doing nothing for a few minutes per day, click here.
  • Go out into the world and stay in it. About a year ago, I started to realize that I was hiding myself from much of my own life. I was spending too much time alone in my apartment. If not for the incremental presence of my wife on certain nights (we were working opposite schedules at the time), and the necessity of getting up and going to work (which was truly a struggle on most days), I’m not sure I would have left the apartment except to get food and essentials. When I did leave the apartment, it hurt, and it exhausted me. The story of how I got to this place is complicated and multi-layered and I’m still working some of it out. However, with some help from my therapist, some more help from other resources (including Marc Maron’s podcast, which I’ve written about before), and a personal dedication to battle the unhealthy pattern — I was able to accept my condition at that time and make some changes. I don’t think what happened was necessarily uncommon for a writer (and I did come out of the stretch with a ton of pages). But, thankfully, I am a filmmaker as well. So I wrote Multiverse, one day, around the time when I was working on this particular issue. Making the film proved to be a means of not only coming to terms with this exact lesson but owning it. So began a long, ongoing journey to get myself — as myself — out into the world physically (New York City presents an opportunity to this about a hundred times every second) that has changed my life. I’m happier, now that I get out more. I feel more connected to people and to life. These two developments, taken together, have contributed greatly to increases in the quality and quantity of the work I’ve been producing. This blog is evidence of the shift (and has helped me bridge the process). In a few months, it will be a year old. And I’m enjoying the existence of this ongoing connection with you, even if it’s not exactly the same or as good as interacting in person.
  • Respect the solitary impulse, then embrace it when it comes. I did say there would be contradictions. What I mean by advocating solitude, immediately after admitting a struggle to escape it, is to point out the importance of being comfortable with ourselves, and taking the time to feel and to think deeply about our own lives (more of that part later). The differences between falling to isolationism and embracing solitude only when the desire for it comes naturally — are many. First, while we think and feel all day, we don’t always (or often) do so actively. Many times, we’re reacting to outside circumstances and stimuli. This is okay, and perhaps even necessary when out in the world — but there are many other worlds inside the human imagination as well. These inner worlds are just as complex as the outside world (if not more so) but frequently more elusive in terms of seeing them clearly (if at all). They are also in a constant state of interplay with the outside world, and the people in it. To strike a proper balance, as this interplay continues in perpetuity, I believe it’s essential to take time, when you need it, for yourself only. I have to do this on a daily basis, at this point. I need to be alone, for long stretches, at several points throughout the day, on most days. I can’t be a writer without solitude. I can’t figure out what I’m feeling, or why I’m feeling what I’m feeling (which affects what we do and how we do it) without taking many moments to pause. I’d argue, similarly, that none of us can be full, complete, healthy and productive versions of ourselves unless we constantly take time the amounts of time we need alone — and no longer — to get comfortable with, feel compassion for, and better understand ourselves.
  • Reach out and be vulnerable. This lesson comes from smashing the previous two together. It’s not enough to put yourself out there, and to also spend time alone figuring out what’s inside that person you are launching into the world. As far as you are comfortable, which can perhaps be figured out by taking small steps — as a means of protecting your core self to the degree you feel you must on a case by case basis — it helps to begin introducing some of what you learned and observed about yourself, in quiet moments alone, to the people around you. First, obviously, it helps to surround yourself with those with whom you feel comfortable but who also excite you — people with whom you share interests and/or experience. For some people, this is very easy. For others, it’s hard. For me, it’s both. However, I have come to believe that reaching out and being more honest and open (sometimes even to the discomfort of others, within the realm of respectfulness) is essential to well-being and productivity. Being open about your feelings, wants and needs — it halves the available arsenal of Fear and Doubt. Fear and Doubt are normal elements of life with their own part to play in how we act and interact with others. But, oftentimes, to me at least, they seem to be dominate too many of the considerations and decisions of the average American. Think of how and when you came to love and to trust those people in your life who became your closest friends and family. Shared experience and common interest and chance all probably played a part in each story of each relationship. But what do you remember about each story? I bet it’s the feeling of sharing, of a true and special connection being formed as you traded “secrets” over a drink, or shared some adventure that can never be duplicated, etc. Such stories don’t happen if we don’t offer a part of ourselves. Often, this must be done in spite of fear of rejection or judgment.
  • Lean on your defenses, when you absolutely must. But then get back on your feet, when the threatening moment passes. This is a tricky lesson. For me, it took (continues to take) a lot of patience. Defensiveness has a reputation for being “a bad thing”, and to a great extent that reputation is earned. However, at the end of the day, despite everything that has happened to us both in and out of our control, we have to deal with the lingering consequences. With limits set at the threshold of rudeness, disrespect, and reactive antagonism, I’ve found it can be healthy to defend myself against people who have no real idea or concern for what I need or am going through at any given moment. Again, I believe this is a useful lesson, on average, for many people. So many of us frequently default to absorbing blows rather than deflecting them — even as we are bombarded daily by the attacks or encroaching needs of others. This has a very large impact on what we are able to accomplish during a given day. It can have an even larger effect on what we believe we can accomplish on a given day (or at all). Leaning on defenses, in instances wherein we are doing so to protect our own intentions, can help get us from those intentions to the completion of a goal. In the past, I’ve made the mistake of swinging too fully from total defensiveness (which is isolating and unhelpful) and total immersion and vulnerability (which cannot be sustained over any long term in a healthy way). It’s been helpful to realize that short breaks from a total commitment to say, putting yourself out there, reaching out and being vulnerable, constant motion — they can help keep you inoculated against a reversion to unhappiness and poor productivity by introducing a bit of the old poison back into your blood now and again. What I’m saying is: don’t be afraid to return to old coping mechanisms and “vices” that have served you well in the past — so long as they aren’t harmful in moderation or addictive. If you don’t know the difference, err on the side of caution and fall back on defenses you know you can safely lower when you’re done with them.
  • Think, and be discerning and forgiving. This final lesson is somewhat of a broad catch-all for wrapping up all the rest. But it’s almost as important as the first one, if not more so. As contextualized at the top of this post — life is messy, unpredictable, and complicated. Much of the above is about managing the conditions of life while at the same time attempting to impose a touch of order in places where such order can help. Honestly, none of what I have shared has worked for me perfectly, all the time. Sometimes I fail to stay true to my own advice, sometimes life gets too overwhelming for it to be possible to manage anything other than “eat and drink and sleep and fulfill only your core commitments”. To be able to weigh and differentiate between good choices and bad, to know what is healthy or helpful or what isn’t, to figure out how to adjust what and how, it takes not only a desire to be well and to produce but a commitment to discerning thoughtfulness. I used to be very frightened of making decisions. Luckily, seven years as an independent filmmaker has mostly cured me of that fear. Forgiving myself, say, for lapses in dedication to my own well-being, or for a “failure” to realize that it’s time to “just chill” — this I am still working on. But it’s going okay. The point is to aim the brain at what really matters, which is probably a mix of productivity and simply…living.

This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list. It is, however, a representation of what has definitely been working for me, lately. If any ideas tickle you, give them a try. It can’t hurt.

Well, it can hurt. But life ain’t a daydream written on a cloud. It’s not a horror show either, most of the time.

Life is real and tactile and yet elusive and mysterious. For myself, I guess I’m trying to settle more comfortably into this greatest of paradoxes. There’s not much any of us can do to actually affect the balance in either direction, anyway,

We can only ride the waves as they come, and do what we can with what we have and with what’s around us.