Wednesday, November 18, 2009
A Sheepish Hello, And A Not-Quite-Goodbye

So, uhhhh.... how's it going?

Okay, look, I know: it's been too long. I've been ignoring you, but not because I don't like you. I do! It's just that, well... I think maybe we're done here. With this.

Wait, stop crying, it's not what you think! I still want to hang out with you and be friends and all that kind of stuff, but I also want things to be different, you know? We've been just sort of dicking around here for, what, five years? And that's been great, I've had a lot of fun, and I've learned so much from you. But we're different people now than we were back then. I don't think I want to be Sister Novena anymore, and lord knows you've changed. The whole world has changed. And here I am, still sitting here surrounded by elementary-level CSS code in a simple three-column layout, pictures neatly centered in the middle column, as if it were still 2004. Christ, have you looked at the blogroll lately? Half those links don't even go anywhere anymore. It's fucking depressing!

What I'm trying to say is, I'm moving out. I know I've been saying that for a while, but now I've got another little place all picked out. It's not quite ready to move into yet, but I'm working on it, and this time it's real. I just can't stay in this white box anymore.

Of course I'll give you my new address, just as soon as it's settled.

Yeah, I've got other news too. Nothing big, having to do more with plans than events, but also related to a pretty big change. Except that it's not really a change, I guess... I don't know, see what you make of it.

Things are okay around here, but not great. Not what they could be, and not what I moved all the way to Portland hoping to find. Portland is awesome, don't get me wrong, and as far as my personal life goes, I'm very happy here. No plans whatsoever to change that. But work is fucking horrible. It's a bad job for me in the first place, to which I'm not well suited. You'd think being a vaguely grouchy bookseller would be right up my alley as far as disposable jobs go, and you'd be right if that's what my job was. But they don't want book people anymore, they want salesmen, and I am the opposite of a salesman. My job has become ridiculously high-pressure for a crappy, low-paying part time job, and coupled with the high stranger-interaction demands I am now constantly on the verge of snapping. I'm breaking out in hives, grinding my teeth, occasionally breaking down into tears after getting off work. I am far too stressed out for $9/hr., and struggling with mild depression because I can't seem to be able to find a way out.

Oh, I didn't tell you about PCM, did I? Well, to make the story as brief as possible, I truly loved the work, but the place was a wildly dysfunctional, terribly mismanaged clusterfuck. As soon as I started they laid everyone off, and I was converted to contractor status (though I suspect the IRS would have some quibbles with that if they ever had reason to look into the matter.) Once I'd finished that current round of classes -- which, again, I loved -- I was basically just not invited back, nor was anyone else from my group. Which was a fucking shame, because those were some talented, smart people who put a lot of effort and care into their work, and all of their skill and dedication were basically thrown away. So, so much for that.

I continue to scour the city for any other opportunity, and have had some infuriatingly near misses. A good half dozen times now I've been contacted after interviews only to be told that they loved me, thought I was awesome, and knew I'd have no trouble getting hired... but as for them, they'd hired someone else. These calls and emails are the bane of my existence, the one single thing I hate most of all. Most frustrating of all, it's not like these are decently-paying, full-time jobs; most of them are just more crappy, low-wage shit jobs -- not quite a shitty as my present shitty job, but nothing special. With everything I have and everything I am and my best efforts applied, I can't even seem to get hired on as a shipping clerk, and that's fucking demoralizing.

But obviously it's not just about me -- a quarter of this city is miserable, and probably another third beyond that are ready to jump out of their current jobs as soon as it's not financial suicide to do so. I'm "lucky" to have my shitty, miserable job and should be "grateful" to have it, however badly I'm treated while I'm there. And so I stay, grinding out another depressing day just so I can stay here in Portland and wait for better times.

But a situation like this forces you into some very frank, clear thinking. Some of this is difficult stuff to face up to when you've invested so much time and energy and love, so it takes a while. But I think I've made some decisions.

Film isn't really working for me. It's not the technical part -- I am a decent filmmaker, as far as the actual filmmaking goes. And I'm a pretty good, if still very green, film teacher. I still care about it, and still have some hopes of using this hard-won skill set during my life. I still have my little business idea, and I still think it could prove useful. But there's so much that goes along with filmmaking that doesn't work well for me, and it's crippling my progress.

I'm certainly clever enough to do the work; that's not in question. But my basic demeanor is not that of a filmmaker. Filmmakers have to be incredibly assertive, brazen, action-oriented, and willing to endlessly hustle to get their work done. And I have tried -- oh nonexistent god, how I've tried -- to be that person. But I'm not. I'm introverted, quiet, not passive, but certainly retiring. And that's all fine with me, I like the latter description a lot more anyway. But you can't really be that person and be a successful filmmaker, not even as a documentarian. And after ten years, I'm getting pretty tired of fighting against my own basic nature.

But more significantly, the main realization I've had to come to terms with is that I can't do this work alone. I cannot, I am incapable of solo filmmaking. It's not in me. I need associates, I need other minds, other hands, some connection that can create more than the sum of its parts. When I'm left on my own, everything collapses; my mind starts feeding on itself, the doubts attack in full force, motivation falls off the chart, and nothing ever gets done. And whatever love I have for film, it's not the kind that can overcome that obstacle. Without a partner or a crew, I'm useless. And as long as I refuse to acknowledge that problem, I'm just wasting time I could be spending on things I might do better at.

And yes, certainly, there have been candidates for partners-in-crime, but for one reason or another, and without assigning blame, they've never worked out. I think incredibly highly of each and every one of them, am so glad to have known them. But a successful collaboration is as intense a relationship as a love affair, and things can go just as wrong, or fall just as flat. And for me, it's never worked out, and I can't afford to spend any more time waiting and hoping.

So, then, what next? That's the question I've been pondering for the past few months. And here's where I've arrived, at least so far:

1) Whatever I do, I have to be able to do it independently.

This whole "waiting for others to give me an opportunity" thing is a huge bust. If my travels through the organized economy have demonstrated anything to me, it's that I'm never going to be able to do my best work within it. I'm not a company person, and while I can certainly survive within that environment when I have to, I'm never going to thrive in it. And then, as before, getting involved in something that requires a partner is probably also not worthwhile. It's not that I want to work in isolation -- I don't, and in spite of my introversion I do like people and like working with others. But whatever my work is, it seems that it would be for the best if it were something the bulk of which I could do on my own.

2) Ideally it wouldn't be physically tied to one location.

I love Portland, but clearly this city can be economically vulnerable. Given that I want to stay, but also want to be able to survive even when things here are not so great, it would be a very good thing if whatever I did was something that could be easily ported around to other geographic locations. It would have the added bonus of leaving me at my liberty if I wanted to travel, which is actually pretty important to me, so it's worthwhile to add it to the list.

3) It has to be in tune with who and what I naturally am, no more fighting against the prevailing currents of my personality.

Look, I'm pretty damn lazy -- I like to stay home, be quiet, sit in a comfortable chair and stare out the window while thinking about stuff, maybe ride my bike up the street for coffee in the afternoon for a change of scenery. Not that I'm unwilling to put effort into things -- I love effort -- but if it involves a lot of running around the city and dealing with a lot of unfamiliar people, I'm probably not going to be that successful with it. Phone calls are fine. Emails are better. Occasional strangers and trips to meet people are cool. I can even do more intensively social stuff for periods of time when necessary. But mostly I expend my effort inside my head, so that's where I have to be able to do my work. I'm not saying I'm proud of that (and I'm not saying I'm ashamed of it, either); I'm just saying, this is what it is.

4) Whatever this work is, it has to be something that I can absolutely, unequivocally master.

All that stuff I've written above is, obviously, a much-lusted-after situation. There's lots of demand to be able to live that way, and certainly I don't assume that I'll get all of it, or even get any of it to the degree that I want. But if I'm going to have any hope of getting any of it at all, I'm going to have to be working at something that I can be really, really fucking good at. It's going to have to be THE talent that I can develop further than any other. Mastery is the only thing people are willing to pay for, and even then, they probably won't pay much. So my only hope is get extremely good at something, and then do it constantly.

So, with all of that in mind: Film is out. Writing is in. Period.

I love working on films, but it's not organic for me; it's always a slightly over-intellectualized pursuit. Writing, though, just happens. It's my primary way of interacting with the world and with myself, it's what I turn to first when I have a problem or a question or a decision to make or even just have some thoughts to analyze and synthesize for my own understanding. It's how I communicate best, how I relate to others best, how I make sense of things. I understand it deeply, I grok it, I get how it works without having to think about it (though I can articulate it when I need to, particularly if I get to write it out.) Writing, for me, is like breathing: it just happens on its own.

And I think I'm already pretty good at it. I have no idea how many pages of prose I've written so far in my writing lifetime, but I can't imagine that by now it doesn't easily exceed 100,000, the quantity popularly assumed to imbue the practitioner with a basic degree of mastery. To put it into perspective, I've racked up just over 1800 posts here on this blog in the last five-and-a-half years, averaging about 1500 words per post, or equivalent to roughly 2.7 million words written here, which is equal to about 9000 standard manuscript pages. That's like seven Stephen King novels, guys.

And that's without even really trying. Imagine what I might do if I stopped fucking around and really applied myself.

Still, there are obstacles to overcome. I think it's safe to say I've got enough practice under my belt, but my writing is not as good as I know it could be, even when I'm working at it and not just casually tossing off text. I need to reach for greater depth, stronger style, much better discipline and consistency. If I ever want to make a living at it, I'm going to need a better understanding the business, and I need a strong source of critical editing so I can figure out what my weaknesses are. I need to build up a basic portfolio and body of work to show to potential employers, and I need a little structure to help me change tracks and get started.

So yeah, I'm applying to grad school for next year. MFA program, nonfiction writing. I don't need it to make a writer out of me, I just need some specialized training. Plus, it gives me some shelter from this economy for a couple more years. Plus, it's cheap to go. My mother knows, and she's okay with it. Assuming that I get in (and I am), the program doesn't start until next fall, so I've still got some time to get through before then.

Which brings me back around, at last, to the beginning of this post. This blog has been great, but it feels a little claustrophobic to me now. It's full of good writing and bad writing, but not a lot of genuine intent. It was just whatever blahblahblah dribbled out of my brain transcribed in real time; it was, to paraphrase Capote, more typing than writing. Much of what I've got here isn't stuff I'd want to hang my name on -- I'm certainly not ashamed of it, and I'm proud of it in many ways, but none of it is the writing I want to be identified with. And that's the writing I need to start doing.

So I'm starting a new blog/website, and eventually shutting this one down. I'm still cobbling the new one together, but my intent is for that one to be a little different, or at the very least fresher. I'll let you know when the move is imminent; until then, this joint is going to be decidedly quieter than it has been in the past.

I do need to ask a favor, though. I need to pull together 30 or so pages of prose for my grad school application, and like I said, I've written about 9000 pages on this blog. Obviously the vast majority is in no way appropriate, but some of it probably is... but this is a lot to sort through. So I was hoping you might give me a hand by pointing out any old posts you particularly liked, or thought were well-written, or even just thinking were the most like me (if you know what I mean.) It won't all be drawn from the blog, but as I've got all of this here, it seems silly not to use whatever parts of it are usable. Subject matter isn't really important, and they won't be going into the submission without first undergoing a lot of review and revision, but it would be a big help to know which pieces y'all thought were most effective.

Anyway, there it is. There's always more to say, but there will be plenty of time for that later.

PS: The word count for this post, including this bit here, is 2,747 words, or about 10 pages. For the record.
6:03 PM ::
Amy :: permalink