Monthly Archives: December 2014

Go To The Moon

A friend of mine is currently making a short film, which means the rest of us get to hear him bemoaning his life choices and bitching about everything else. I have adequate popcorn, it’s fine. But, see, the problem with bitching is that it tends to be contagious. One person starts up, another one chimes in all “Yeah, and you know what else?” and then a third person adds “And another thing” and before you know it you’re writing another short story or a book. Wait, no, that’s just me.

The relevant part of this story is, one of the things he was bitching about was the advice he was reading on filmmaker blogs and websites. Don’t do this, because it doesn’t work. Don’t do this, because it’s hard. Don’t minimize your crew to save on working expenses. Don’t do oners. And there were probably one or two other things I didn’t hear about. The cycle of bitching began, although instead of a book I’m writing this blog post because sit down, dear friends, let me tell to you a thing. Just because something is hard doesn’t mean it doesn’t work, and even just because the prevailing theory is that a thing or a technique won’t work is no reason not to do it. I wouldn’t necessarily throw a great deal of money or valuable materials at something I know isn’t likely to work. But a perfect or near perfect result isn’t always the thing you want. And that still doesn’t mean that just because something is hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

(You know why we (the United States) went to the moon, right?)

Every skill and profession is full of advice. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t listen to people who have been there and done that, because avoiding mistakes that other people have made is always a good way to start. It shortens your learning time and improves your product. But there is, and I’m not going to define it to you because it’s just one of those things you know when you see it, there is a difference between mistakes that do not need to be repeated and mistakes that need to be made so you learn why they are mistakes. There’s a lot of knowledge to be gained from trying, fucking up, and figuring out where and how and why you fucked up so you can learn not only not to do it again, but a different way of doing it better and more correctly. Maybe the “right” way that someone taught you isn’t the only right way to do the thing. Maybe there’s a better way no one you met has thought of. At my family’s store we’ve been dyeing a kind of fiber and talking about and teaching dyeing that fiber that one way for twenty years, and just in the last year we learned that you don’t have to do it that way, you can also do it this way. And there was much blinking and shrugging and, okay, sure, why not.

Just because someone tells you to do a thing a certain way doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do it that way. And just because doing a thing the other way is going to be hard, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. No, let me distill that down some. Just because a thing is hard, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. If we all shied away from doing difficult things the world would be a lot worse off.

And this is the problem with saying things like “don’t” or “shouldn’t.” There are very few things that come under that heading. Don’t murder, don’t steal, you shouldn’t punch people, okay, yes. That is true. But saying don’t minimize your crew to save budget, well, why? To make your life harder by having to raise more money? What’s wrong with selecting the two or three best people you know to be your crew, and accepting the consequences? Don’t use passive voice in your writing, well, what if you want to use passive voice in large chunks of your story because you think it will set the appropriate mood? And what’s wrong with trying? By blindly following the advice of “Don’t” or “Shouldn’t” you can deprive yourself of a lot of experience that will teach you why you should or shouldn’t do a thing, and possibly give you some ideas for things you can do instead.

Yes, it’s going to be hard. Disregarding someone’s advice comes with risks, you risk making mistakes that someone else has made, the stupid mistakes that don’t convey any learning properties beyond “don’t touch the hot stove you fucking moron.” On the other hand, disregarding someone’s advice also disregards their prejudices and their limits, which may not be your prejudices and limits. What they think of as hard, you might think of as “challenge accepted.” God knows my scale of response to “this is hard” runs from “ugh I’m going to go eat a brownie instead” to “well fine fuck you I’m going to do it anyway and show you all mua ha ha ha ha.” I’m not even kidding, there’s a maniacal giggle I do, I’ve been told it’s scary.

So I guess what I’m saying here is, don’t do things or refrain from doing things because they’re hard. Don’t do things or refrain from doing things because someone tells you, or do things a certain way because someone tells you. Give it a moment’s thought, first. Even me, what I’m writing here, think about what I’m saying and decide for yourself if I’m full of shit or if there’s something here that has merit towards your life. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. It’s said fairly often around the family store that if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly a couple of times. Don’t be afraid of hard things, and don’t let anyone else make you afraid, either. I find my life is much more exciting for choosing to accept challenges rather than well-meant but “safe” advice. But then, it’s your life, and only you get to choose how you live it.

The Important Things

I’m sitting up here with a mug of cocoa in one hand and typing with the other, with Leverage playing in the background and classic rock playing in my ears (as I start it’s Once In A Lifetime by the Talking Heads, ah my childhood), working on this blog post and trying not to feel guilty about how long it’s been or about the literally 20 other things I did not get done today. I’m serious. I have a list. I think it’s about 20 items long.

I’ve forgotten the three important things.

You know that saying, don’t you? The internet knows this one well,

Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.

Henry James, in a letter to his son, or so the internet thinks.

It’s easy to remember that we should be kind to other people. We’re reminded of this quite a bit, in the news media, by other people’s responses to us, in television, in films, in books. We are reminded to be good, to be kind. To extend of ourselves to help others, and that’s not a bad thing, that’s part of how society thrives and perpetuates itself. Encouraging the individuals that make up that society to share and help each other.

It’s much harder to remember to be kind to oneself. To allow oneself to be flawed, fragile, and in need of time or space. There’s always a million and one reasons why this thing needs to be done now, or this thing should be done before we relax, or this other thing has to get done before your parents get here. If you’re not cleaning, you’re cooking, if you’re not cooking, you’re studying, the world will absolutely shatter if you don’t finish all of your chores, and heaven forbid you tell a friend, sorry, I didn’t finish that book yet, mind if I keep it a while longer? I’m sorry, I can’t make that event, I need a day off where I can sit around the house in my pajamas and eat chocolate cookies.

We’re not supposed to do that. We’re supposed to be super people, and the more we at least appear to have it together the more we’re supposed to continue to have it together, day after day after day. It’s not even the opinion of others, it’s what we perceive as the opinion of others that trips us up most often. Sometimes, yes, we do have deadlines. We forget to take into account how much we can and can’t do, what we can balance, and we take too many projects on with outside deadlines, and then we have to live with the consequences.  Hopefully one of those consequences is learning not to do that again.

But there’s also our self-imposed deadlines. I’m going to read this many books by the end of the year. I’m going to clean the house by the weekend. I’m going to clean the house this weekend and you will be able to eat off the floors by Monday.

You take it too far you end up like me, feeling guilty about every moment where you’re just relaxing on the couch playing silly computer games. Every minute you spend surfing tumblr becomes a minute you could be doing push-ups, studying, cleaning, prepping food to cook later. You learn these tricks, you make them up for your life as you go along. If you’re patient with yourself, and attentive, and you’re not afraid to fuck up once in a while. You find ways to make your life a little smoother. But that doesn’t mean you have to make up for it in other places. Having extra time doesn’t mean you have to justify it somehow or fill it up with something else productive. Sometimes it is really okay to just lie back and take a nap.

We do not, as a general rule, prioritize or even much value downtime. At least in the American culture where I grew up. I very much remember fellow students having informal contests over who studied more, who got less sleep was a point of pride, who was busier, not necessarily who was doing more extracurricular activities but who was working harder at things that were considered to have value, schoolwork, studies, college applications, volunteer work. It would have been part time jobs if, admittedly, I hadn’t gone to a school largely populated by rich kids. In college it was a little less pervasive, but the same thing. We all worked so hard because we felt that our value was in work, and the results of our work, good results and not failures.

This is a vicious, terrible lie. It is okay to fail, and it is okay not to be working every moment of every day. It is okay to sometimes be idle, to let yourself recharge. It is good to forgive yourself for your failings because holding onto them does nothing useful. Knowing what you did wrong is useful, continually beating yourself in the head about it is not. Go ahead, give yourself permission to have that brownie, read that allegedly trashy book, watch that movie just for the one person you find attractive. Curl up under the covers and take a nap. It’ll be okay, I promise. Just for now, for a short while, be kind to yourself. It’s just as important as everything else.