You know how hard it is to stay positive when your mind has taken the dark road towards the Land of Bleak.
Recently I went to a women filmmakers gathering where the 25 of us sat around a hibernating bonfire in a Brooklyn backyard garden lit by soft spring evening light. The Ringleader said to go around the circle one by one introducing ourselves:
– State your name, the project you are excited about and something positive that happened to you or your project.
“What a wonderful idea,” – I thought. – ” To focus on positive. So feminine and nice!”
But soon, as women started to state their positives, I realized I had nothing positive to say. Earlier that day a person had called me to tell me for the second time that my voiceover in my film sucks.
– You are not an actress, – she had said. – And your voiceover lacked that soothing quality of a professional actor. It bothered me for the first 15 minutes of the film and although it’s hard for me to do this to you, I have to tell you the truth. You should change the voiceover. Hire a professional actor.
It really hurt.
The thing was that the person was my own mother and we had already had this conversation 5 months ago where she had stated her concerns and I defended my choices. I had thought she understood and was on my side.
The other thing was that my mother doesn’t speak English, so as she watched the film I was murmuring my Latvian translation in her left ear while her right ear was free to catch sounds of my English voiceover rushing ahead. Like a desynchronized Surround 5.1. Hardly the best circumstances to judge someone’s work.
Also, I don’t disagree with her statement. Like most normal people I hate my voice.
At this point I can’t change a lot in the film. The stage of welcoming a feedback is over. Choices, good or wrong, have been made and committed to. Now it’s time for film critics to rip the film apart and ruin my career, while my support group, if I have one, should be stuffing their first aid kits with band-aids and wounds disinfecting alcohol.
– The good news is that I just finished a book,- said a good looking woman in her mid thirties.
– Congratulations! – the envious murmurs went through the circle.
– Well, not writing a book, – the woman added sheepishly. – Reading a book. I know I know – it doesn’t seem like a lot, but with my money work, making a film and taking care of a baby I really hadn’t had time to read, so being able to finish a book feels like an accomplishment. Definitely a positive.
“Wow!” – I thought. “She found time to read a book while raising a child, making a film and having a full time job?! What a super SUPERwoman!”
For the last 4 years I had time to work only on my film and not much else. I get to see my sweetheart only occasionally. All my friends stopped calling me because I never have time for them. I have a pile of 50 unfinished New Yorkers on my kitchen table and reading books, my favorite activity besides sex, has been out of question. Why can’t I find more time like this super woman?
“And it’s amazing that she can see positives in small things. How cool,” – I thought.
The day before a filmmaker friend of mine who had recently finished a live action feature only to encounter a massive wall of festival rejection told me that he spend an hour and half that day staring at a wall.
– What did you feel when you did that? – I asked. Just staring all a wall sounds more fun than anything I had in the last year.
My friend gave me a startled look and faintly smiled. He didn’t answer but I pressed on.
– Did you feel inside a pain so immense that it paralyzed your Soul like a rabbit struck by a scorpion’s toxic stinger, a pain so unbearable that it prevented your wonderful lungs from taking a smooth breath so that you either gulped the air down like a drowning person or stopped breathing completely?
– Yes, – he said. – How did you know?
I know because I am a Master of Self Pity that am able to project on others.
The introduction in the circle was coming closer to me and I was getting frantic. What are the positives I could share with these upbeat, chirpy women? Although they are filmmakers they seem so sunny as if they never encountered the pain of filmmaker’s postpartum depression with their project near the end, the pain of rejection and uncertainty of their filmmaking future. They shared their successes that went from microscopic (- I combed my hair today!) to gigantic (- Meryl Streep agreed to be in my new film!) and each painfully reminded me of Facebook boasting posts, and of a social media popularity game that I could never win because I am unable to post anything that would connect with wide variety of people, oh that stinging recognition of truth that my work never goes viral because it’s either too bizarre or not bizarre enough.
I guess the good news are that I paid my rent a few days ago, so I won’t be homeless for the next 30 days. But I had to borrow money to pay that rent and I dont know how to return it or where the next rent will come from. 30 days will be over in a blink of an eye.
– Hi. My name is Signe Baumane, I am finishing my first animated feature “Rocks In My Pockets”, a funny film about depression.
Wow, that does sound a lot like an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
And now – the positives.
– Maybe you know this feeling or not, but at the end of my project I feel like the Mob had kidnapped me, tied by my feet to the rear bumper of a race car and drove on dirt roads and highways the whole night. I have no skin left and have internal bleeding.
– Positives! – shouted the Ringleader who just started an extremely successful festival run for her amazing feature so she had not a bit of sympathy for losers like me. – State what’s positive in your life right now!
– Well … I guess a good thing is that this is rock bottom so what worse can happen. From this point things can only get slightly better.
Women cheered, it’s a support group after all, and continued on to share their positives. I felt deeply alone surrounded by complete darkness on a road that I was not sure was even a road.
Why do people make films on their own and go through this suffering? Why such taste for self-punishment?
But, like the pain of childbirth is notoriously forgettable, I hope the pain of making the film with be forgotten, too, and soon I’ll conceive another one in one joyful hour of pure fun and self abandon. Can’t wait.