Wednesday, July 22, 2009
The Top 7 Ways To Be Hopelessly Naive

So apparently I only post about once a month now. It's not intentional -- I still have things to talk about, I only seem to have less available time to talk about them. Or maybe what time I have, I'm spending elsewhere. Anyway, it's not you, it's me.

I'm in the middle of an unusually busy couple of weeks -- last week was all fun, and this week is all work. The good news is that this represents almost entirely good stuff. The bad news is, I'm awfully tired all the time. And we're currently living through Portland's annual two weeks of obnoxiously hot weather, so even what vigor I have is dissipating in the heat.

A week ago I was having coffee with an older, wiser filmmaker friend of mine -- who, incidentally, just published a book -- up in NE near the Hollywood Theatre. He's one of the few long-standing professionals I've known who is completely realistic about the business and the process of making a film. He has never said a single word to me that struck me as expedient or false; in an industry full of smoke-blowers, I've never heard him blow smoke. And in spite of his blunt realism in the face of cinematic dreams, he's also one of the most encouraging people I've ever met -- this is some hard shit to pull off, and he has a more-than-passing acquaintance with failure as well as personal success, and knows that doggedness is the best tool in the long run. Which is just my way of saying that I trust him, which counts for a lot.

We'd arranged the meeting so I could pick up my copy of his book, and to catch up in general. While we were sitting outside with coffee, an associate from PCM happened by on his way to the theater, and told me to call another co-worker because he needed help on a week-long course going on at the station. Then, heading back to the MAX stop on my way home, I was stopped again by one of the Hollywood's staffers, wanting to know whether I could pick up a day at PYD. (You'll notice I'm not teaching the program again this summer -- it's been a hard year for everyone, particularly non-profits, and the funding for the New Columbia program I worked last year just didn't materialize this year.) The point being, a week of almost no scheduled work turned into a week full of decently-paid one-off gigs in a matter of two coincidental meetings over about twenty minutes. Best coffee date ever.

And I know, a week's worth of work isn't much to brag about, but it's a lot more than I could've managed six months ago. I'm also getting offers from students for one-on-one tutoring on an hourly basis -- Final Cut Pro is intimidating to a noob, and some of them are willing to pay nicely for a little hand-holding while they figure things out. But I may be holding off on that until the fall. My part-time job at PCM will likely be morphing into a freelance contract-based job when the next session starts up -- a development which promises exciting new vistas of both aggravation and potential -- at which time I believe I will be less beholden to the station and would have more leverage to offer such services without pissing anyone off.

To put it as succinctly as possible: there are a limited number of well-paying jobs on film crews in this town, but there's a seemingly endless supply of people who want to learn how to become Famous Film Directors, and who are willing to pay ridiculous amounts of money to that end. And I enjoy the work for its own sake. That equation suggests some possibilities for the future.

Right now I'm working with college-age white kids who want to make films for "social change." I just picked up with this group today, and the one thing I can see immediately is that I very much prefer teaching working-class, middle-aged folks. These kids' hearts are in the right place, but good fucking lord -- how totally divorced from reality can four purportedly-educated people be? The group I'm working with is making a film about an organization that facilitates home ownership for low-income people in Portland. That's awesome. Alas, not one of these kids has any direct experience with a) buying a house; or b) being poor. The ideas they're coming up with are consistently missing the mark, perceiving the entire exercise from the pity perspective (oh, sad poor people! they need houses!) and have apparently no conception of what the program actually achieves. They keep wanting to go shoot expensive houses in Laurelhurst -- and I keep wanting to ask, would an immigrant family from El Salvador even want to live in Laurelhurst? They talk about the New Columbia projects as if North Portland were Compton. I ask, what's the goal of this project from the perspective of the community at large? And why, really, should a poor family necessarily want or need to own a home rather than rent? They stare at me blankly. So I STFU about their uninformed assumptions and instead focus on trying to get them to focus. They are well-prepared for writing academic papers, but hopeless about planning for a video shoot. And that's fine; that's why they're taking a class. But it's frustrating listening to them continually ramble on about social justice when what they really need to figure out is what and where we're shooting at 11 AM tomorrow so that it's not a complete waste of an afternoon.

I can't bitch much; I've spent my time as one of them. But the naivete, it burns.

Speaking of which: also a week ago, E., my much-younger acquaintance from college (21st cen.) arrived in town. He had two small suitcases, neither of which was fully packed. He had an invitation to two nights on our living room floor, but otherwise no job, and nowhere to live. And look, he's a sweet kid, really. He's not dumb. But his first contact with a major city revealed a depth of naivete that my acquaintance with him at Marlboro had never revealed. It's not his fault -- he's lived a very sheltered life in rural Vermont, but after a few hours it was obvious that he should be regarded as a farm boy newly arrived in the big city. He. Has. No. Clue.

The first day, I took him a full tour of the city, provided him with materials to help him get oriented, tried to explain how the city is laid out and how public transit works. I'm not sure how much of it sunk in. He actually commented on not hearing as many sirens as he'd expected -- as if the city is defined by constant crime and personal injury. There was, on the one hand, an instinctual urge to coddle the poor lost lamb, to give in when he commented on the difficulty of finding a place to stay after just two days and letting him stay on a bit longer. He was creeped out by the presence of prescription pill bottles on the counter of a house offering a short-term room. He disappeared temporarily at precisely the moment when another guest of an evening brought out a bowl and offered it up for passing. He has, it now seems, spent his entire life thus far sheltered in an snowbound eden, with only theoretical knowledge of the real world of good and evil.

But hell, kid, there's really only one way to learn: out you go, and none too soon. Boundaries were drawn and kept. Invitations to stay longer were not extended, even though it likely meant he spent his third night in town sleeping on a towel on the floor of an empty room in a house of degenerate pill-poppers. It wasn't done out of heartlessness or a lack of sympathy, but the moment is going to come sooner or later, and his chances will be a little better this way. I remember my own third night in town, sitting lonely on a bare mattress in an empty room in a strange house in a strange city filled entirely with strangers. I felt lost then, and I'd already gone through that process a few times before; I can certainly sympathize with E. now. But I've tried to tell him that as hard as it is at first, if he can make it stick, it gets better. And it was very encouraging for me, too. I was in his place less than two years ago, and by comparison it's easier to see how far I've come in that time.

Also last week -- last Tuesday was a very full day -- my best friend from college, R., arrived for a week-long visit. R. has been trodden upon quite thoroughly by life over the last few years, the details of which are irrelevant. Suffice to say, it's been a rough time, and my hope was that a week in Portland might provide a little relief. And anyway, I haven't gotten to spend more than a day or two with him in ten years. We had a fantastic week -- saw the city, spent a little time just hanging out, went to the shore, went to the falls, and ate and drank a little too much. I even managed to win tickets to a Decemberists show for his last night in town -- we are both ardent Decemberists admirers -- which was the best possible ending to a great week. Everything somehow snapped into place for the entire week, and I never get tired of having him around. When he left yesterday morning, I was genuinely sorry to see him go -- we're old friends, but I still miss him when he leaves.

And seeing him again crystallized some things I've been pondering over the last year or so. We each get during our lives, I guess, a tiny number of real friends -- not only the people who are good for drinks and a movie on a night off, but the very few who are still around when you're sad, when you're weak, when everything has gone wrong, and still there when things change again and get better. I still remember the day I met Randy, still remember the shared jokes from a couple of years living in the same dorm. We're not day-to-day friends so much, and we don't keep up on the contents of every lunch or the minor, routine workday incidents that make up our lives. But years can pass, and when I see him again somehow we can pick right up where we last left off. Within a few hours of picking him up at the airport, we might as well have been back in the basement of Marlboro North, cracking sick jokes at the expense of E.'s poor maligned sister.

At the very least, we are bound together by a disgusting sense of humor.

I love all my friends, and still love almost everyone I've ever counted as a friend, if sometimes at an arm's length. My friends mean more to me than almost anything else in the world. And I've struggled a bit recently with some ambivalence -- I honestly wonder sometimes whether the secret to caring about people is to never, ever admit that you do. And then I despair for the sanity of a world in which telling people you care about them is somehow an offense. I finally realized this year that I consistently draw people closer when I pretend not to give a shit about them, and am then rebuffed when I display any warmth or concern. It's a pretty sick joke, I think.

But then there are a few people, a tiny handful of Real Friends, with whom I can -- amazingly! -- just be myself, and say what I think when I think it, up to and including "I love you", and everything is just cool.

And as for the rest of them, those too wounded or too proud or too guarded or just too weak to bear up under the weight of human connections: let them go, let them fall away. And fuck 'em if they can't take a joke.

PS: Riding home on the bus this evening, I saw a young guy with prison tattoos and a wispy little goatee, the word "HATE" inked across the knuckles of his left hand but no corresponding "LOVE" across the knuckles of his right. At one point he leaned across the aisle and asked another man for something -- I couldn't hear what -- and was denied. He asked again, with a hint of pleading, and was denied again. Then he sat back, eyes hidden under the bill of his baseball cap, and started to cry.
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