“Fan-ing?”

Best Fan Ever

If you’ve managed to read this blog post-to-post (which I’m sure you haven’t), or if you know me really well (which you might) then it’s no surprise to hear I’m a bit of the fan-girl. It’s a somewhat embarrassing thing to admit since it always conjures up the image of a pre-teen wearing ridiculous clothes sporting bizarre hair while possessing way too much knowledge of things like Doctor Who and The Breakfast Club (yes, dating myself there, and the answer is Tom Baker, Original Series, and David Tennant, New Series. Whovians know what the question is).

Engaging in fan activities is called “fangirling,” or “fanboy-ing” although in thinking about that verb I realized it needs a gender neutral derivative. What would you call that, “fanning?” Unfortunately that word conjures up images of Scarlet O’Hara lounging on a porch sipping bitter lemonade, fanning herself lazily as the plantation burns while slaves run in the background. So that doesn’t really work. But it’s all I’ve got at the moment, so in an effort to support free gender expression, I’ll use “fan-ing” to represent engagement in all things Fan.

Why am I bothering to write about this in my film blog? Because as the film is moving on and we have to occupy ourselves with things like marketing (the bane of my existence), I’m realizing my blog needs to evolve. And as this film has already shown me, my life connected to social justice involves much more than just putting images on celluloid. Or digital, in our case.

I’ve found myself throughout this whole film process, two years in total so far, asking myself some fairly serious questions. I’ve written before that I had no idea what I was getting into. That hasn’t really changed, as every step is a new part of the adventure and I still have way too much to learn. What I’ve had the greatest trouble trying to reconcile though were two opposing experiences: 1) the growing doubts and disillusionment regarding my initial career choice and 2) the growing fascination and exhilaration revealed in making a film.

I’m a professor by employment and a counselor by trade. Academia has shown me that it isn’t nearly as “academic” as I would’ve hoped. And my travels with social justice have revealed the extent to which our palaces of higher learning still have a long way to go in terms of embracing and enacting equality, multiculturalism, and true justice. Old-boy networks are very real, glass ceilings are ever-present, and a good amount of teaching seems to be largely for the professor’s benefit instead of the student’s. I admit to being naively idealistic when I stepped into teaching, but seriously, the state of higher-ed in the USA has become decidedly un-educational. Emphasis on nonsense like “learning outcomes”, attempts to quantify the learning process has created a machine that focuses on producing widgets instead of promoting the kind of environment where learners truly make discoveries. Institutions quickly become measures of social control and conformity, the very antithesis of creativity and independent thought.

(Of course this kind of critique is expected to fly from me since I’ve just spent a week at a Narrative Therapy conference in Adelaide, Australia – narrative Mecca if you will. Foucault is alive and well and I become decidedly anti-establishment in such an environment. Thrilling.)

So for the last couple years I’ve been asking myself, “do I really want to be doing this?” And as my burnout has grown, I’ve had difficulty seeing the difference between job frustration and job fed-up-edness, do I want to ditch the whole thing and start over. This is in light of the fact that making a film turned out to be one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve ever had. Ironically the interest in trying a film came in light of these job frustrations. Making a film is outside the box of “scholarship” for my field as well as my job. So essentially, the film doesn’t “count” in the world of my work, yet I did it anyway, almost to say, “screw the system, I’ll produce the kind of scholarship that is meaningful to me.” So in my act of rebellion, I also discovered that making a film was hugely invigorating. Even all the problems experienced were enjoyable to figure out. I also went on a long personal journey in the process, rediscovering my love of writing, creative expression, and art. Areas that had been once relegated to “hobby only” status could now come out and be center stage. And this left me with the new question, “is this what I should’ve been doing all along?”

Scary to think about, now in my 40’s and considering a serious career shift. Did I really want to jump both feet into a whole new arena, or was this my frustration and angst speaking? I could remember all the times in my life prior when I wanted a career in the arts, and was steered away for many reasons I won’t go into here. So was this shift me finally coming home? Or was it a massive attempt to step away from my desperation?

And in all this I lost love for teaching, love for counseling (did I ever love that one to begin with?) and kept most of this largely to myself. I suppose some would call that an error, but I also intuitively knew this sort of thing wouldn’t get solved in a simple conversation or one-word answer. I would just have to let myself float along in this unknown place and see what came out of it.

I realize at this moment I’m writing decidedly past-tense. That suggests I now, at long last, have an answer. Alas, I don’t have a true answer. But I think at this point I have gravitated more towards something that makes some meaning out of this angst.

Flash back to “Fan-ing.” Aside from all the goofy fandom gossips, sightings, endless plot-discussions, and canon-arguing, fan-ing also provides this strange benefit to me: I find stories that resonate with my own. There’s the obvious example: shows with characters or plot lines that I connect with. But the unexpected is when I find other things related to those shows, like stories about actors, directors, or other parts of production, that also resonate with my own experiences. Ok, so I’m not just a fangirl, I’m also a cinophile, and a knowledge junkie, and I have a brain that was made to play trivial pursuit, because I read and watch way too many things and know way too many arguably useless pieces of information. Anyway…

Take for instance, a behind-the-scenes story related to a director who was also an actor who made a pretty controversial film (I’ll leave out names to save myself a little embarrassment, because fan-ing still makes me feel like I’m 12). The director’s back story included feeling doubtful about remaining an actor (thus trying a hand at directing), going way out on a limb when the chance presented itself (the film’s topic), and eventually through that process having moments that eventually lead the director to rediscover what had made acting a passion in the first place. The similar theme is probably obvious. I’ve thought about that story for a long time now, and I have been wishing for my own moments to appear to steer me somewhere…largely because swimming in a bog is still swimming in a bog, and that gets old and tiresome after a while. I’ve had a few glimpses of moments along the way (some of which I wrote about in past posts) but have been waiting for something with a little more permanence.

I’d decided what I needed to do was talk to people who’ve been doing this much longer than I have, to find out if I’m alone in the sort of fears and concerns I experience or is this “normal.” I’ve found it’s not a conversation people like to have. But forward to my recent Narrative conference experience, a place where there really isn’t much that is off-topic or out of bounds. So I talked. And continued to feel somewhat exasperated.

And eventually I started thinking, “well, that didn’t really work,” until one conversation, one where I wasn’t really trying to talk about this sort of thing, but somehow stumbled into this territory and my new Iranian-Australian friend presented me with a very innocent question. I don’t even think he realized the innocence of his question, and maybe that’s what made it stand out. It was a simple, “if your inspiration for the film comes from teaching, and you want to make more films, then…” and I don’t remember what followed because I was smiling at the question and at myself, because it was a very pleasant “DUH” moment. I hadn’t ever tied those ideas together before, at least not in that way, and suddenly I had myself a moment.

Like I said, it’s not an “answer”…but it is a moment. Three cheers for fan-ing and my career-counseling friend.

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Under Down

Trying to compose a post when I’m a) a little drunk and b) a lot jetlagged and c) completely exhausted is probably not a great idea. And yet, I’m up for the challenge, because I’m not totally sure what will come out in this post as a result. So here goes…

Showed the film today at the International Narrative Therapy conference in Adelaide, Australia. As usual the nerves popped up but excited as well. Of course techincal difficulties arose again as the sound didn’t work at first, but we got there in the end. Really didn’t know what to expect as this is our first international audience. Would they find the film relevant to them? Would it be seen as too “USA-centric?” Would someone try to convince us that only the USA had such problems? These were things I wondered before it started.

Everything went so fast that unfortunately I’ve not heard in depth about people’s reactions, but I have had some approach to at least let us know they enjoyed it. The cool thing this time: standing in the back of the room I watched the audience (as has become my habit). I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to “watch” the film this time, instead of have my head occupied with all the concerns of showing the film. But I also saw the audience interacting with the film – the first moment when someone gasped at what was said, when another person had an audible response to a cast member talking, when the audience as a group laughed or held their breath…the film had caught them, reeled them in and they were interacting with it. So while I didn’t get to have a longer conversation about the film and the audience reactions, it was clear they were being carried along in a wave generated by the film. Our film could actually have that effect on an audience!

And again I found myself falling in love with the characters all over again…and now that nearly everyone has moved on I was also feeling the tears come up because I miss everyone so much. I feel their absence because all that is left are the spaces they once occupied. While it is true I continue to meet very interesting and neat people through my work, I can still feel these absences because you just can’t truly replace any of these people I came to know through the film. The space, even if similar with someone new, is still never that same space again, because the person I inhabited it with isn’t there to make it “our space.”

Perhaps this is why I finished my night with wine and chocolate. Cheers, all. Good onya.