When The Panic Goes

Me, in The Shadow World.

Me, in The Shadow World. Waving “Hello”.

I’ve been reflecting a bit, lately, on where I’ve ended up — in my life and creative career. In many ways, things feel good. The Videoblogs is in post. I’m still proud of Multiverse. I have a new script in the works that I’m very happy with even if I’m also, as usual, terrified of finishing it.

Dreams are beginning to materialize into goals. This is good, because goals can be whittled down, aimed and launched.

Multiverse has launched and landed. The Videoblogs is in the air, even if its riding a slowed-down trajectory warped by limits of time, budget, scope, intention. This new project feels especially sharp in certain terms, but it’s shaped differently than anything I’ve ever done before and I don’t honestly know how or if it’s going to fly. Beyond that, it’s been a fun project to develop.

But, sometimes, I still struggle. Freeze up. I lose faith, or clarity, and I’m left feeling like nothing is going to work out. I feel stuck. I get depressed.

I know that this is normal, by now, when you’re pursuing a path through the arts, and so I don’t (usually) obsess over things at such times. Yet these reflections, I think, have also revealed something new, recently, that I hadn’t noticed before.

Even when things get tough, now — I don’t stop working.

In fact, I’ve arguably felt more dedicated, more focused. I feel a presence within myself that is both new and old, gently pushing me to at least get a little done each day. The old part of me approaches the task with innocence, reminds me that creativity feels good. The new part reinforces the idea that any progress is good progress, and kindly reminds me to appreciate my own work.

One recent night, this combined presence made me stop on the way home from work and put an hour in on revisions of the aforementioned new script.

That hour calmed my shit. And I moved the script forward.

It used to go differently. Historically, I would have tortured myself with excuses, and/or imagined difficulties. I would have lasso’d or found my way into the middle of any drama within radius, so as to have a reason…to run. I would run until a sense of separation from myself (which is what happens when I don’t write in particular) grew too unbearable, whereupon I’d finally capitulate to the intense need to keep creating.

Then there would be a writing binge. Accompanied by other binges.

Things are different now, and I wanted to share these thoughts because I’ve had to remind myself of why and how I’ve felt different, lately.

I have come to treasure a new, simpler relationship with myself, and my craft as it relates to that self. As a result of the last several years of trying and failing and learning, both in career terms and personal terms, I’ve come to feel protective of this new perspective and process. It’s not perfect but it’s less complicated.

I still feel anxious. The dread still comes, in waves. But, increasingly, I don’t panic.

Just a few days ago, someone was panicking (and directing his panic at me) and…I just didn’t want anything to do with it. He was worried about something, which was his choice. He asked if I understood why he was concerned. I said that I did but that I just didn’t feel like panicking about it. The conversation ended when he literally walked away.

I’ve felt that brand of anxiety before — still do, sometimes — and I sympathize with anyone who feels he or she can only proceed that way in order to get things “done” or “fixed”. But I’m learning there are other ways — asking for help, and/or expressing our fears major among them.

Panic used to be the only path I knew to take on my way to work. Now I’ve embraced other paths, like routine and patience.

I don’t miss the panic. I embrace, instead, the steady, daily urgency. But this is not to suggest that it’s always easy.

Say what you will about panic, but it does get people moving. I don’t judge myself for the years of fuse-lit stress. I had a lot of pages to burn through that just needed to be burned. Similarly, I think I needed to live fast for a while…maybe…just to keep on living. The way that it’s gone was probably always the way it was going to go, for me.

And even now, when the panic goes, it can become disorienting. After all, if all we ever know of forward motion comes from being driven by panic, how are we supposed to know how to achieve the same effect, once calm begins to assert itself in our lives? Won’t the whole system come crumbling down? Won’t a steady pace feel unnatural, slow, wrong — when we’re used to speeding, dead-ahead, towards The Goal?

Well, yes. Though, in my experience, the process of destruction and re-creation isn’t always so dramatic as it feels it’s going to be when we theorize about it at times of anxiety. This is mostly because, as I established above — we aren’t actually speeding in a straight line, when we’re panicked, are we? We’re speeding, then screeching to a halt, then pivoting and changing directions, or turning around, or attempting an impossible back-flip, or any combination (or repetition) of all these things.

In this way, panic’s false promise reveals itself. Panic isn’t the tonic it purports to be. It offers unspecific, largely unfocused perpetual motion in the guise of A Way Out. The insidiousness of the compact is that, while panic has you launching and twisting and starting and stopping — there’s no way to tell for sure whether or not you are in fact heading in the wrong direction. It wasn’t until I accepted that I had been “moving” too long without arriving anywhere, until I began learning to subsequently pause and look and listen and inquire — about myself, as I would any other external influence in my life — that I began to realize my “error”.

When the panic goes, we can take advantage of the resulting calm to begin building something more permanent, something that couldn’t have structurally withstood the sharp redirects or the sudden snapping halts that used to characterize our panicked state.

The change isn’t painless. Some days, I feel like I’ve lost a friend.

Panic drove my survival for so long — arguably drove me to write and to create in the first place. Sometimes I even give panic a call on the old land line and we end up hanging out, because few things ends perfectly — and then I wake up with a hangover or a foreboding sense of disappointment and I remember why it’s better for me to make the decisions about what to do and for how long.

The tricky things about panic is that it doesn’t come from a bad place. It comes from an understandably human place — a place of fear. But then, because of fear, panic leads us to a place that at its worst is assuredly bad, and at its best assuredly not good.

And, finally, panic has a charge to it — doesn’t it? There’s a bit of a high that comes with the sense that The Situation is Desperate.

But the reality is that it’s usually not. And the high gives way to a crash, and maybe, yeah, in the end you have a stack of paper or some other Piece of Art — but at what cost? And is it possibly as good as it could be if our truest, most focused self wasn’t completely engaged in its making?

I don’t buy the “necessary suffering” line of thought. Especially not anymore. I get that a hard life, that hard times — they often bring dynamism to the lives of people who subsequently (if they’re lucky) end up feeling compelled to expunge what they’ve experienced, absorbed and processed via some form of art. Having been through this myself, I get that panic is often going to be the first car to pick you up on the road.

Still, as I get further from a place of panic, I am coming to appreciate other, purer, more natural ways of proceeding through life, as I follow what compels me.

I try to write every morning, now, six days a week. Sometimes, it’s still hard, and I end a day without having gotten much done. But every page that gets written, every minute spent on a film, is one more than nothing, which is more than I was able to get done on a daily basis during previous years of my life that were ruled mostly by panic.

When the panic goes, I remain. That can be scary. But it’s real.

I like that it’s real. It makes me happy, much of the time. Even when it doesn’t — there’s at least no regret. And a bonus to all this is that panic finds it increasingly difficult to find new footholds the further I get from the belief that I need it.

I’ve been worried, over the course of these last few weeks, about not feeling panicked. I questioned my dedication, the righteousness of my projects, my points of view. I returned to constantly-revisited patterns of wondering who or what I was, in the broadest terms, because, despite all of the above, the distorted lens of panic has warped my vision after all these years. I struggled to understand how I could say that I cared — if I wan’t panicked.

And then, slowly, one routine at a time, I began rededicating myself to pause. I’m still struggling with it a bit. I probably always will. The whole process has and will continue to take patience.

At the moment, I understand this. I’ll probably forget it next week.

But that’s okay, too. I’m going to continue to worry, I’m going to continue to get anxious. Dread may come and go.

But I don’t have to panic.

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