Category Archives: Existentialism

The Heart: Writer Megan Feldman Bettencourt

Triumph of the Heart book cover.jpg

I first learned of Megan Feldman Bettencourt and her book, Triumph of the Heart: Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World, on The One You Feed (an excellent podcast). Shortly after, we connected on Twitter, I read Megan’s book, and then we “met” on Skype for an interview.

I love all of my podcast episodes equally, however I will say that I think my talk with Megan might be of the greatest general interest to creatives and aspiring creatives — as a sort of all-encompassing group — than any I have released so far.

The reason for this is because this episode is about Megan’s experience, research, and reporting on not only forgiveness but personal and professional redemption. My own journey in these terms over the past few years, which has been well-documented on this site, has not only led me to a productive place, but also a happier and more fulfilled place. This pattern itself has engendered better, more connected work.

Just some of what we covered:

  • Megan Feldman cr MaryLynn Gillaspie Photography (1)How an early childhood experience in writing about trauma led Megan to the realization that she could connect with and help other people through writing
  • How Megan’s early work reporting on things like war, poverty, addiction and other issues laid the groundwork for Triumph of the Heart
  • How the story of Azim Khamisa, who had forgiven the murderer of his only son, inspired Megan to both write her book and embark on her own journeys in forgiveness
  • Approaching forgiveness from a place disassociated from religious dogma or contemporary judgements about weakness
  • The commonalities between forgiveness and mindfulness (simple but not easy)
  • How listening to others share about the impact that our actions have had on them can allow us to stop causing pain for others due to our own personal issues

I’d love for you to listen, and please feel free to let Megan and/or me know what you think about the talk. You can find Megan’s book here. As I say more than once in the episode, I highly recommend you check it out.

As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.

 

The Arc of 2015: In Good Time

The following was written a few weeks ago, while I was away for some R&R in the woods. That was the only way this year’s update was going to happen.

477693_10208605769004283_6275019015208000886_o.jpg

Winter 2015: Just add snow. Also, I’m destined to become a mountain man.

The Setting: New England Winter

I’m sitting, propped up by pillows and legs outstretched, on an old firm couch in a guest house above a garage on a farm in rural Connecticut.

The temperature outside is at freezing point, but it’s warm inside. I woke up just in time to watch the sun finish rising out the three large windows that face the forest that surrounds the properties.

New England winters mean something to me. I grew up with them. Despite the bitter cold and the ice and the snow typical of the season in the region — I usually enjoyed them. Especially  I enjoyed them when sleeping somewhere surrounded by forest.

I’m here with my wife, who’s out running right now. I already made myself breakfast and ate it. I’m on my second cup of tea. This weekend is a necessary time-out, and not the only one I have taken this year.

This house is small but perfectly designed and artfully furnished. The couch I am on runs alongside a set of window perpendicular to those through which I watched the sun rise. Now the sun shines upon the large table where we ate dinner last night.

10333751_10102173689655302_8215065138953945468_o.jpg

I have to say, I aced the cook on this rib-eye.

A pair of blue jays have been fluttering around the giant, stately bushes outside. I can see the main house from here. It’s large and also stately but in an un-obsequious way. The owners seem kind. We’re here, probably, for a few more days.

A fly is buzzing around and I’m pretending not to care. That sort of thing is easier to do here.

I had planned, in view of this setting and circumstance, to continue with the new fiction piece I have been working on. It’s a story that I have been wanting to explore for a long time, but hadn’t up until recently been able to start. Now it’s started. Not only that, I am happy to be engaged with it. I can see, now, why I left it in its prior uninitiated state for years. The time wasn’t right.

No, that’s wrong. It would be more accurate to say that the time hadn’t arrived yet.

Musings on Time

12339257_10102155035378622_7628478280641299921_o

This book rattled my brain. I like it when that happens.

I have been thinking about time, recently. This is partially a result at having read Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, and also Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: Overture. Both books, in their ways, jab at popular notions of time.

I worry about time a lot. I used to worry about it a lot more. I would like to worry about it even less.

A good portion of the lessening can probably be attributed to aging. What “they” say, as far as it concerns me personally, at least, appears true. I worry less now than I did in my twenties.

I can see and feel my body aging, now. This has been both a new cause of a concern and, at the same time, an clear indication of my powerlessness against time.

Contrastingly, in career terms, I have lately begun to accept that, at thirty-one, I am mostly still considered young. There are still days when I feel like I should be “further along” by now, or that I “should have” accomplished “x” or “y” — but I try to respond to such ideas with self-compassion and a plea for personal patience.

When I still felt young, which was still going on as recently as three or four years ago, I was, as I have said, much more obsessed with time.

I never felt able to keep up. I never believed I was going to get to where I wanted — had –- to go.

That’s changed. It’s changed for a few reasons.

Withdrawing from Time’s Pull

12366109_10102174707765002_3416815761032284342_o.jpg

This journal has been a great “next best thing” sub-in for morning pages.

First, while it’s still a battle I lose for hours and days and sometimes weeks at a time, I committed some time ago to working towards presence.

Nearly every day, I write this sentence out as an affirmation in my Five Minute Journal:

I am present, mindful, grateful and kind.

Also every day, I second-guess myself, wondering whether it’s “right” to affirm both presence and mindfulness. It could be argued that they’re the same thing. But I still do it, every time. And, today, I think I know why.

My affirmation of presence is a reminder. That, whether I believe it or not, remember it or not –- I am here. This is a fact I have had difficulty believing and facing in the past, despite its more than obvious truth. We are all, always, here, until we’re not.

But do we always feel that way? Do we acknowledge it? I don’t, not always, or often enough.

Sometimes, honestly, it hurts to be here. My own mind, the internet, social media, TV or films or books — even my work — they offer a welcome reprieve from the difficulty of acknowledging the pain that sometimes seizes my heart when I consider the sheer power and responsibility of being here.

And I don’t mean to suggest there’s not joy in that knowledge, too. But, for some (me), the process of courageously pursuing that joy can become a loaded one with its own potential to overwhelm.

Still, presence is truth. As such, it’s impervious to regret. That makes it work fighting for, to me.

Mindfulness, on the other hand, is the path by which I seek and access truth. It’s how I come back to the present, and to myself, when I’m obsessing over the past or worrying about the future.

Worrying about the past and the future is a normal, natural thing. Arguably, these anxieties even hold some utility, when indulged in a balanced way. Even when I’ve found myself worrying too much (and thus slipping from mindfulness) — I try not to judge myself. It’s part of our nature to “leave the planet” in spots.

It’s the coming back that really counts.

10497288_10102175085068882_9205517074698035356_o.jpg

The wife and I went for a hike. Found this. Felt good.

That’s why, I think, I started this post the way that I did. I was settling into life, in the moment.

This can be a delicate process, when writing, or creating. Creators face a difficult balancing act during each engaged act of genesis.

Creativity, unsurprisingly, is much like sex in this way. It’s about both being fully in and outside the moment, extending outside the body through the body.

Acknowledging Time’s Power

12377921_10102173507345652_2974739327734305295_o.jpg

The view from the exact spot wherein this was written. Cozy, right?

Now, obviously, we cannot be creating constantly, just as we cannot be constantly having sex. Reprieve from the realities of friction and fluid depletion, social order and sustained healthy living — these necessities preclude such behavior.

While time conceptually may be much less harsh and villainous than we often consider it to be, in cosmic terms it’s still one of only a few primal ruling elements of our lives.

However, also in cosmic terms (we’re keeping topics small today), time can be viewed simply. It proceeds and we ride its current, unable to do more than pretend at stopping or going (in relative terms) at spots along the way.

This is why, when caught up by concerns of time — I turn to gratitude.

Gratitude as a Perspective on Time

12303953_10102156866114812_4051906229948600358_o.jpg

Cannot begin to express how grateful I am for this little hairy genius.

Gratitude is about perspective — about taking a particular view of one slice of time, at one such stopping point or another, and appreciating it.

I am fortunate to be in this house, at this time, writing this –- to you. I know this. I appreciate it as a captured, treasured moment of grace, an example of the exact relationship I seek in this world that speaks to my needs and wants as a person.

Often, though, in the busyness of trying to do and be more, all the time and in the midst of so many others doing and being their own things…I forget it all. I forget the moments of grace, I forget what I know to be true about time and life and the importance of remaining in the moment with my feet on the ground. I forget it all.

Being an artist, for many of us, is not a choice. Finding an audience, however, is a privilege. One that needs to be cultivated, earned, and sustained.

So, as 2015 gives way to 2016 — I say it again. I am not only grateful for the life I have been given and have built, but also for you. I am grateful for your time, support, and for the occasional commiserating moments we have shared and which I hope we’ll continue to share in the future.

Kindness as The Ultimate Expression of Time Best-Used

12244619_10102136102345572_5303655620623737765_o.jpg

We were able to shoot The Confession due to the kindness of our audience.

Kindness, to wrap up, represents the ideal state I wish to arrive in, on those rare, joyful occasions whereupon I am able to remove myself from time.

It’s the core appreciation of life, and of living, that feeds my beliefs. Probably, it fuels all the work that I do, that I have always viewed not as my own, but as something rooted in more primal, fundamental life-stuff than can be claimed as having originated in a single, struggling human.

Struggle As The Space Between Accomplishments

12238476_10102128609117062_6688890337068011582_o.jpg

I found a kitten this year. Here he is struggling to get away from Rebecca.

Struggle is the final key word, here.

Prior to writing this, I had been struggling to determine the appropriate lens through which to review the prior year.

Two years ago, on the first anniversary of this site, I remarked upon an arc of what I viewed as progress — observable inroads made against the injustices of the day. Last year, on its second anniversary, I celebrated a productive year of movement. Those posts have as much to do with my own natural evolutions through time, and through self-discovery, as they do with the conditions, histories, and developments of which my experiences are but a part.

Now, it’s three years later. The Videoblogs will be coming out (relatively) soon. It’s possible I’ll be compiling my first book of fiction as that happens. The podcast continues to grow. Time moves on and I try to ride its currents and appreciate its mystery, rather than pretend there’s a damn thing I can do to control where it takes me, when or how.

If you had said to me, three or four years ago, that this is where I would be, in this exact place in the woods, settled firmly in this moment, taking some time off with the woman I love in the midst of a years-long pattern of being in constant touch with all of you, who have supported my endeavors for years (via both your attention and your direct patronage), perhaps I would have been pleasantly surprised — but I also would have believed it.

This is because, as I am learning, time is much less measurable than it seems, or than at least I had thought.

It helps to set goals and mark progress, but change more often occurs, I am finding, via a day to day commitment to more courageously pursue those truths which compel us. The pursuit is the important thing. Everything else is at best a nice detour or a short break, but more often an unnecessary distraction.

Time is not containable. That is its beauty and our privilege.

Thank you for your continued readership, listenership and support. You are loved and appreciated. I wish you the best for each of the days that make up the new year.

602066_10100681300095942_1773576913_n (2)Subscribe to my list for exclusive access to posts like this one, and advanced (and free!) access to new (creative) content produced by yours truly. I send one email per month (sometimes less).

Not Dead Yet: Ten Years of Filmmaking

CWC_Patreon_01Today marks the ten year anniversary of the beginning of a near-death experience I had when I was a student in college. For a long time, it was hard for me to talk about that period of my life. Since around the time when I wrote this essay, however, I’ve been able to do a better job of discussing both what happened, and how it has affected me.

In the intervening years since writing that post, I’ve gotten to the point wherein I can talk even more openly, in person, about what happened — without becoming re-traumatized. Years of therapy, the natural erosion of pain via time, and the process of carefully opening up about it, more often, in trusted company over the years, has led me to a place where I can (gratefully) say that.

But something else happened ten years ago, too. Immediately after.

At the time, it was perhaps not the healthiest (sole) reaction to the fears I felt after my hospitalization, but, regardless — today I have come to view it as one of the two best things to have ever happened to me.

I started making films.

As soon as I was (somewhat) recovered from the experience, I began stumbling down a winding and staggered artistic path that continues to this day. Today’s bonus episode of the podcast, among other topics, is meant to explore this journey a bit.

The reasons I decided to talk about the relationship between my work and this incident in my life are many.

  • I wanted to take a life-affirming view of the anniversary of my illness, to focus on the ten years of (hard-won) health and happiness experienced since that time, that I can now identify as essential to my growth as an artist and a person — rather than the first five to seven years of prior intense dread.
  • I have come to view what happened to me not with fear, but with gratitude. I feel a discussion of my evolution to this point of view could potentially be helpful to others who might be struggling as I was at that age (early twenties). It wasn’t just the one thing that happened, which kept me somewhat blocked as an artist, and definitely struggling harder than I needed to struggle, for many years. Arguably, all the experience did was force some stuff to the surface sooner.
  • It seemed a good way to close the book on the lingering anxieties I still sometimes feel when I think about how it felt at that time to be so unsure of tomorrow — despite that fact that we NEVER know what tomorrow is going to bring

So, here’s that episode.

And I realize that my mention of how stumbling into my life as a filmmaker was one of the two best things that’s ever happened to me might naturally lead to questions seeking to identify the other.

Well, she is the guest host for this bonus episode of the podcast. I hope you like it and thank you for listening.

This episode is also available on iTunes.

602066_10100681300095942_1773576913_n (2)Like my style? Subscribe to my list for advanced/exclusive (and free!) access to new (creative) content produced by yours truly. I send one email per month.

What I Liked This Week: Vacation Edition

I was gratefully able to take a few days off last week. It was nice. My better half and I packed a few bags and headed upstate to the Hudson River Valley. Here’s a shot from a bridge in Rosendale, where we stayed.

We later sat in a beautiful  restaurant garden, facing the river while willow tree seeds snowed down upon us.

We later sat in a restaurant garden, facing this river while willow tree seeds snowed down upon us. Ate burgers.

We hiked. We climbed a mountain (without gear — it was more of a tough scramble over a bunch of fallen boulders). I got scared at a few points during the climb. We got pretty high up, and I when I looked down I could feel death staring back at me. I tried to look down less. That helped. I also had a talk with my Death Fear Voice. We’re old pals by now. We came to an understanding. I would keep climbing in exchange for the promise not to fall.

It’s funny — my wife remarked more than once that she didn’t know I was afraid of heights. I didn’t really know either. I mean, I did. But I wasn’t afraid of heights prior to my light brush with death.

Literally a week before that madness, I jumped off a cliff and into the Mediterranean. I guess maybe once you’ve had to look death a little more closely — that something can change in you. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be a soldier, or a firefighter or a cop, or even a citizen who lives in a part of the world where death can be a daily part of life. I’m pretty far removed from it most of the time (as much as any of us can be) and still it’s often a struggle to prevent Death Fear Voice from drowning out Life Affirming Voice. So, in the end, we continue the dance. For as long as it goes on.

Uh, anyway — this is meant to be a happy What I Liked This Week!

After the mountain hike, despite a fair amount of tiredness (I am not in the best physical shape, presently) we drove to a state park that had more trails and a few waterfalls. Thus begins this week’s list of what I liked.

Waterfall Napping

I took a nap by the base of the waterfall. There hadn’t been much rain, so I was able to cross a connected stream, to the other side of where the trail looped around the small lake created by the waterfall. I found a comfortable spot and dropped my hat over my eyes and fell asleep while Rebecca executed her questionable (to me) decision to go for a run. I woke up just in time to see her looking for me on the other side of the stream. It was a pretty dope nap.

The Clash on Vinyl

The AirBnB place we rented for the weekend came with a turntable and a small but very well-curated vinyl collection. I liked flipping through records with my hands, maneuvering them onto the turntable with my hands, carefully positioning the needle with my hands. I liked the manual feel of it all, obviously.

But the vinyl collection also helped to reinforce a slowed-down pace. It wasn’t annoying — was in fact nice — to have to flip an album to get to the other side of it. I listened to The Clash a lot. I had forgotten how much I love The Clash. I like the word clash.

Time Out for Love

I liked spending quality time in the woods with a loved one. Specifically, the unsuspecting loved one in the background of this well-timed selfie:

I am available for your male modeling needs.

I am available for your modeling needs. Rebecca may be a better choice, though.

Sometimes, we can get so busy in life that we take the time we spend with those closest to us (spouses, family, close friends) for granted. I’m still working on prioritizing quality time. It’s important. It’s one of those things, like exercise, that you put off for too long, and then when you do it, you wonder why you ever stopped or put it off in the first place.

We got some good news about #VideoblogsFilm while we were away, if you haven’t heard yet. Here’s more info on that.

What I Liked This Week is a weekly site  feature in which I briefly summarize three things I liked recently, that I would like to call to readers’ attention. They aren’t always recent to this week or even necessarily things. An experience can be a thing. The point is that I like them and you might, too!

602066_10100681300095942_1773576913_n (2)Like my style? Subscribe to my list for advanced/exclusive (and free!) access to new (creative) content produced by yours truly. I send one email per month

The Vulnerability Paradox

Margaret (Rebecca De Ornelas) and Vee (Phoebe Allegra) know the value of a short walk in the sun. From The Videoblogs.

Margaret (Rebecca De Ornelas) and Vee (Phoebe Allegra) know the value of a walk in the sun. From The Videoblogs.

Okay — fuck.

It’s been a long winter. It’s been a long winter because it’s been a long winter, but also because we’ve been in post on The Videoblogs since shortly after our shoot wrapped in September. I spent most of October battling a perhaps “normal” post-film depression, logging and organizing footage when I could, and since then have been chipping away at a rough cut that is probably a few weeks from finished.

Again — especially in indie film terms — I realize that a lot of that is “normal”. Considering that we’re close to a Next Big Step (the rough cut) it’s also exciting.

But I am barely keeping it together.

Now, to be clear, I am still keeping it together. As many of you know, I’ve spent much of the last few years striving to be better about self-care, at the same time that I’ve been working to build better habits that have led to increased creative productivity. I’ve also written here about the benefits of having (sort of) learned the hard way to pace myself. But as both the preceding statement and the relatively long period of quiet here on the site might reveal — it hasn’t been easy. I have stumbled and I have briefly forgotten some of the aforementioned lessons (it happens).

I want to spend some time talking about why that’s been the case, for my own benefit as well as, hopefully, that of others who may find themselves in a similar boat now or in the future.

Speaking personally, the hardest part of wrapping The Videoblogs was returning, bleary-eyed, to my standard day-to-day existence, having accomplished a major life goal — of which I was and am immensely proud of and grateful for — but which also exposed my heart to the world in a more widespread way than at any other point in my life. This was the way it had to happen, and I have accepted and continue to accept that. But it doesn’t mean it has been easy. Or that it’s over, for that matter. Despite my vulnerable state, it’s not over by a stretch — the film hasn’t even been seen by anyone yet, except me.

It felt normal when my head took a bit of a dip, following our shoot, because filmmaking is a large scale endeavor with a lot of emotions at stake (as is the case with most large scale endeavors). As I’ve said, I’ve been through it before — though never on this scale — and I’ve luckily met and continue to commune with other indie filmmakers who also go through it all the time. What I wasn’t prepared for, that happened sort of after we wrapped but basically at the same time, was the return of Great Panic to my life.

I don’t know why I supposed, in a general way, that I was done with prolonged periods of intense panic (lingering naivete, perhaps) but I suspect that the condition “caught me by surprise” months after the shoot because I was just…under a lot of pressure…and in a constant state of motion.

The Videoblogs has been a huge undertaking. In a way, as I have said before, it’s a culmination of years of work, learning, research, and preparation. In another, more tactile way, it was and continues to be a big thing with many moving parts operating with very limited resources. As its Director and one of its main Producers, I think it’s understandable that I might have had to commit in the short term to a bit of delusion in order to simply get through those hard parts of the process where the stakes were highest (the months leading up to production and then production itself). Indie filmmaking is a specific form of necessary madness, and it takes a mad person to even try to adequately honor a story with little else but a mash-up of similarly mad souls, a minimal cache of resources, a fart and a prayer.

To reiterate, I went into The Videoblogs with the benefit of years of practice in the technique of low-budgeting filmmaking, with the support of a community of peers to talk to (some of whom thankfully reached out unsolicited with helpful advice when they heard Rebecca and I were tackling The First Feature), and a clear knowledge, based mostly on these things, that the journey was nevertheless probably going to end up as something that would have to be gotten through —  before the experience of it was fully understood.

This does not make either the specific undertaking or me as a person special. I’ll end momentarily with a softer definition, but that’s arguably a partial description of life experience as we know it — some things just have to be gotten through, worked through, to be not only appreciated but respected as the eventual touchstones they may become as we continue on our respective journeys.

Still, I think that, over the course of the last several months, I lost sight of all that, a little bit. As I have said, I think it’s understandable (and forgivable) but I did, in my anxiety, occasionally forget the fact that this was never going to go perfectly, that it was never meant to go perfectly, that there’s time to let it go the way it has to go, and that I don’t and can’t possibly know how this is all going to play out — in terms of not only the film but my life as someone who feels compelled to make films and other works of artistic intention.

Who even wants to have it all figured out, to be done learning, at thirty years old (or at whatever age you are, as you read this)? It sounds nice, when you fantasize about it, but that’s not life. Life’s confusing and messy and surprising and funny and sad and everything else. While planning has its uses, all plans are doomed to fail in some way. As an aside, I’ll have more to say about that soon, in another post I’m working on that more broadly examines the relationship between artist and art, and wherein I’ll attempt to focus on the potential graces of this truth.

For now, I want to end this by going Catholic on you and confessing.

I have slipped, in my zeal to Figure It All Out (Now). I have overworked. I have overeaten, gaining probably fifteen pounds in gummis and cheeseburgers, because post-production is a dehumanizing process that turns men and women into anachronistic junk-consuming bent-figured computer-punching cave people. I have undershared, in forgetting how important it has been for me to keep in touch here and to listen to your feedback. I have let the winter cold and the cold reality of an indie filmmaker’s economic condition serve as excuses for under-socializing. In a desperate fit of existential questioning, I juggled editing with a mad dash of writing — all the while continuing to work full time — and developed nerve issues in both arms.

In short, I went a little crazy. Again. But I am slowly crawling back. Again.

Because that is what we do.

Though it took me some time to acknowledge this, the arm injuries have been a blessing in disguise, serving first as a red light and now a yellow light to work at a realistic pace and scale.

Similarly, in emotional terms, I’m trying to listen to my heart and experiment with a better system of exposing it more carefully — but with the same level of faith — by, for instance, swapping in targeted depth for broad nakedness. It’s no small thing, to risk yourself by putting work out into the world. But when I remember that I’m really only talking to those who will hear me, or really only have to commune with those who are willing and ready to meet me and the work on an approximately level plane — it gets a lot easier.

So I’ve started to feel better, and to behave more responsibly — because all of this, this experience, it’s beautiful, too, isn’t it? We can’t forget that.

I would have to believe in the beauty of the struggle, in some deep way, to do what I do. Again, while I understand what happened and why…now that I’m on the other side of it, I wonder why I ever doubt the results while I’m still engaged in the process. The artistic life, like all kinds of lives, is both struggle and relief, is as much about getting through the difficult times as it is appreciating the good feelings that come from having done that next thing. And I really do want to appreciate this moment. It feels right to do that.

The dirty trick of all this, I think, is that there’s no way of knowing, as mere humans, when things are going to go well or when circumstances are going to test you.

Arriving finally at the vulnerability paradox, I hereby state — until I forget it again — that I understand that when I risk myself through my work, that I must then also try to let go of any fears of potential results. There’s no other way to authentically experience the full rewards of any one endeavor as well as or as completely as any potential damages (which, as I have said repeatedly, come with their own eventual benefits as well).

Up until this point, I have engaged more often in a less fruitful pattern: fearing the risk, eventually building up the courage to take it anyway, then shying (at least in part) from the results of the undertaking. I don’t begrudge myself this past behavior, but the benefit of having so many others on board with The Videoblogs, as both collaborators and supports, is that I am able to ultimately shrug off any reflexive re-defensing of my vulnerable self via the strength that comes with the knowledge that this is not as lonely an undertaking as it sometimes feels.

It may have started with myself and my closest creative collaborators risking ourselves by openly stating that we felt this sort of a story — about mental health and reaching out via the screen and regaining some sense of community in an increasingly stratified and alienating modern world — needed to be told, and it may make sense that in telling it I feel exposed and afraid to move on (in spite of the fact that I am moving on now), but even as I have struggled in recent months I have known, somewhere, that what I was going through was normal, that this particular moment in time, where things were “okay” again, would come, and that I would find my way back here to you. Thus, the only way to assuage the fears that arrived as a result of becoming vulnerable, the only way to ease the defensiveness and the panic at the thought of judgment — is to name these fears and become vulnerable yet again. And this isn’t the last time, over the life of The Videoblogs, or hopefully mine in general, that things are going to happen this way.

This paradox can be wonderful, if we choose to embrace it, because (in my experience) abandoning the compulsion to control outcomes helps us switch perspective such that we may appreciate the difficult times as well as the good. When I remember to do this, to offer a basic metaphor, I find myself able to recall. say, the bitterness of distasteful experiences as adding depth and contrast and fullness to any additional sweetnesses that were there before or are forthcoming. Similarly, any one struggle could be re-framed as a splash of the acidic, for mixing with the sweat of life to add variety and excitement to a day that perhaps seems a little too blankly reduced to extremes of bitterness and sweetness only. I think those metaphors work. I don’t know. I’m hungry.

The point is that though I forgot it for a while, things are going to be okay. I can be patient. I can talk and share and especially I can laugh and shrug and just ride it out and trust the work.

Because that’s really all it comes down to, isn’t it? Do the work and be heartfelt about it and find your own heart in it and share with others and hold your breath and wait and trust and, when it’s all over, when you’re ready — do it again.

602066_10100681300095942_1773576913_n (2)Like my style? Subscribe to my list for advanced/exclusive (and free!) access to new (creative) content produced by yours truly. I send one email per month.

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.

602066_10100681300095942_1773576913_n (2)Like my style? Subscribe to my list for advanced/exclusive (and free!) access to new (creative) content produced by yours truly. I send one email per month.

The Videoblogs: Why We’re Doing It (10 Reasons)

It's on.

It’s on.

My first film was a crime drama about a thug whose past mistakes catch up to him. My second? A crime drama about a two detectives and a confessed murderess who go up against a corrupt district attorney. Multiverse is as much scifi as it is drama — although as you can hopefully see there’s a lot more going on under the surface than what is presupposed by constraints of genre.

My point is that, if I wanted to, I could go out tomorrow and make something that pulses and thrills. But I don’t want to do that. Not yet. Very soon, I may want to do that, but not now.

Here’s why I want to do something else. In ten reasons, boiled down.

Here’s why we’re making a tiny, quiet film about mental health and reaching out through The Screen — about starting off painfully alone and ending up surrounded by friends — instead:

  1. This is how we feel. Feeling is everything. I used to be someone who professed this, a bit pretentiously, but I never actually believed it before now. There is what we do, and then there are the feelings behind what we do — which, for better or worse, dictate the whys of our life. Why we are who we are. Why we are where we are (and, to circle back, why we do what we do). Sometimes, in reflecting on all this, we view what we are and, dissatisfied, we seek change.
  2. We seek change. We face challenges of racism, sexism, faithlessness, hopelessness, and institutionalized injustice, here and now, today, in contemporary America. These challenges, in my opinion, are rooted half in denial or despair (on the part of the populace) and half in apathy or willful subjugation (on the part of those in control).
  3. We seek clarity. Despite all this, we believe people are inherently good — or at least inherently neutral on a moral scale. We believe much of the collective pain that blocks us from progress is obstructing paths to awareness.
  4. We seek awareness. There is no point to yelling into the crowd. The crowd is not listening. Instead, we must engage. We must dialogue. We must share our fear, our anger, and our pain.
  5. We seek a dialogue. There can be no progress without understanding. Everyone must feel heard, and all expressions exhausted, so that the paths to redemption may be cleared of obstruction, confusion, or deceit.
  6. We seek redemption. Raymond Chandler once wrote: “In everything that can be called art, there is a quality of redemption”. We believe art, and particularly the medium of the moving image, via it’s dominant position in cultural communications — is the vehicle by which redemption can be sought.
  7. We seek to make art. This is, in all honesty, all we know how to do. To quote the inimitable Marc Marc: “There is no Plan B“.
  8. We seek your patronage. This is a fact of the artist-audience arrangement. Ours is an interdependent relationship. We make films so that we can share them with you. This takes a great deal of hard work and sacrifice. We’re asking that, based on past results, you trust us enough to pre-purchase advanced access to a copy of our film so that we can get it made and then get it to you, as quickly as possible. Just contributing at all guarantees that you can watch it eventually on Seed and Spark. For $10, you can own a copy. We appreciate any and all contributions.
  9. We seek your help in growing our message. No large undertaking of note can be undertaken without participation in large numbers. If you like what we’re doing, and especially if you’re interested enough to pay for advanced access to our artistic product — we ask that you tell any friends and family who you think may be interested.
  10. We seek the grail. Partially, this last note is a test to see who lasted all the way to the bottom of the list. But, in all honesty — no matter how brazen or stupid the aspiration may sound — we do seek the grail. We believe in the possibility of an America where artist and audience remain in direct contact first and foremost, beholden only to each other, with few middlemen in between to dilute or corrupt messaging. We aspire to be able to participate in such a relationship in a sustainable way, wherein we may someday soon be able to make a living from doing our job, which is, again — making movies for you.

And that’s the story of this story. Hopefully this is all the beginning. Regardless, we do appreciate your time, your contributions, and your help in letting the world know that we aren’t completely satisfied with the status quo.

But we do have hope for change. Don’t we?

Thanks for being you. Please help us make our movie if you can.

liam_sscamp