There’s a Post in There Somewhere…

Should I talk about depression? Potential posts tend to start poking at my insides, enough to bother and eventually distract me from whatever I should be doing. And then I sit and write, as I am now, even though I really should do the thing I’m avoiding.

Avoiding isn’t quite the right word though, because today there isn’t A Thing I’m avoiding but rather many many things I should attend to. About a year ago, I had enough projects going on where I could easily write on a different one every day for several months and still not be finished. That’s the mess I made and I am finding myself in a very similar one right now. Except I did manage to finish all those projects, which might have made my current situation worse. Meaning I successfully completed everything then, so my inner little mad scientist knows I could do it again if I had to, and that is likely adding to tendencies to procrastinate.

But procrastination also isn’t the right word. Admittedly, I do, have, and will procrastinate. I have always believed at my core I’m a rather lazy person wrapped in a high-achieving blanket. So occasionally I cast off the blanket and YouTube binge, or engage in some sort of Fallout 3 marathon session, convincing myself that once I become level 25 strong I’ll finally have what it takes to finish my article. That’s true procrastination and likely some self-preservation, because otherwise I will workaholic myself into oblivion.

I have had to admit to myself though, that this latest bout is likely tinged more by depression, and less by my typical carnal self-soothing interests.

Now let’s pause on this word, Depression. I am qualified to talk about depression from a professional perspective, but I don’t want to. Largely because I don’t find such conversation particularly useful, inventive, or meaningful. I don’t really want to get into the “here’s your symptom and here’s your cure” dialogue, nor do I want to share the multitude of platitudes my field and culture expell on a daily basis whenever someone even hints at being “off.” Depression for me, rather, fits in as a strange visitor who came to my house and never left. He can be a nuisance, but for the most part he sits in the corner in his moldy old chair and grumbles to himself a lot.

Essentially, Depression is really Father Jack Hackett from the series, Father Ted.father-jack

The first time I noticed Jack was when he crashed into my house. I was pretty young at the time and wouldn’t have even known this visitor just barged in. But he didn’t exactly sneak past the guards, so to speak. I think the doors at my house would’ve been wide open to let a figure like Jack in, someone who could show with some amount of force just how unpleasant things had become. And he was a serious pain in the backside, driving me to a great deal of isolation and avoidance, and likely a few self-destructive tendencies.

But as with most uninvited guests, eventually a time came when I told him to just up and fuck off (how I did that is material for a different post). And I thought he did, but really he just hid in the basement for a while. A good long while. He was likely very good at living off the vermin and stale air. I was very good at not paying attention to the odd, occasional banging noise coming from the pipes. Granted, at the time I didn’t know such sounds could emanate from a crazy man in the basement because I didn’t think people lived down there. But looking back, I can see how he cleverly survived in that cellar and even enjoyed himself, prying into all the odds and ends one keeps in a basement.

He emerged, triumphant, in my early adulthood and proceeded to rearrange all the furniture. He also took the liberty of smashing a few pieces while tossing others out, without asking, and was pretty happy to relocate his soiled ratty wingback chair into the middle of my living room. He drank a lot and shouted his all too familiar, “arse, feck, gaarrls” over and over again like a bad nightclub song. I couldn’t help but notice him this time as his frequent appearances prompted panic attacks as well as the desire to hide in the closet. One day I found myself screaming for no real reason, so I decided to enlist some help at dealing with my unexpected roommate.

I don’t remember how long I saw my counselor before she used the word, “depression” for the first time. I do remember being surprised by its use; it was casually introduced by way of, “oh that will help with your depression,” suggesting depression was a) there and b) I needed help with it. This was news to me. It wasn’t that I disagreed with it, nor found my counseling experience bad. It was simply the first time You Are Depressed was bestowed upon me, and I felt the burden of such a mantle. I had a “thing,” to be “helped,” implying it could also “get worse,” and I was supposed to do something about it. Ideally I was supposed to get rid of it.

Jack wasn’t exactly too happy about that proposition and we engaged in battle for the next several years. I made my bed, he tore it up. I wanted friends, he didn’t want anyone inside. I used reason, he threw tantrums. There were several occasions where I successfully tricked him outside and locked him out. But then I’d find him sneaking through the bathroom window, or sliding down the chimney, and we’d go round and round again. During this era, the self-help industry exploded. You could find a support group to help match your socks or pick up inner child workbooks while filling up at the gas station. Socially, the message I kept getting over and over again about Depression was clear: it shouldn’t be there, and if it comes back it’s your fault. Work harder, try harder, believe harder, talk harder, whatever the fix was do it harder and your affliction will disappear if you follow the plan.

The fallacy of all this inner talk proselytizing though was that Jack Hacketts really don’t give a fuck if you do anything harder at all. They just sit back, drink, and laugh at your misfortune. You say, “get out,” and he says, “make me.” In fact, the harder you push the more that big lump will suck himself to his nasty chair and throw cups of tea against the wall. What you’re left with is the nagging feeling that you are to blame for your depression, which is Jack’s biggest victory – convincing you that every time you can’t get the energy to move, it’s your own fault. If you were a better person, you never would’ve let some creep like Jack move in to begin with.

I thought I moved him out again for some years. But then a life crisis brought him charging back, more determined than ever to stay and take over the house. He is incredibly childish, because the first words out of his mouth are, “told you so, you can’t make me.” And I felt the desire to let myself be defeated, to just accept that this unhygienic blob was going to lie in the middle of the floor, farting and drinking all the booze. In my life that translated into pure numbness, like I was sitting through a concert but with speakers unplugged. I wanted to get some incurable disease so I could sit in a hospital and let someone else decide what would happen next. Go ahead, Jack, throw a party. I. Just. Don’t. Care.

Jack did throw a party. A hell of a party, a great big whopper that drew a few noise complaints and likely brought the police around. And that’s when it hit me like a gong.

I sat up and said, Jack, you have my attention.

It occurred to me that I had spent so much time trying to kick Jack out that I hadn’t bothered to find out why he was there in the first place. His arrival wasn’t an accident; he walked in because a space was open for him, and that space had been created by circumstances beyond my control. I realized Jack wiggled when something tried to hurt me, and he made noise when something tried to silence me. He drank when I needed a break and he slept when I needed to go outside. But none of that was revealed to me until I started talking to him.

Becoming friends with a gross ogre of a thing is not easy, nor did it happen over night. But it did begin by changing a basic premise: recognizing all that popular speech about “getting rid of” your problems was really part of the problem. I didn’t need to get rid of anything. Having Jack around wasn’t a reflection of personal success or failure, rather it was simply an expression of circumstance. I live with a crazy roommate. He can be a handful, but he can also liven up the place and keep me from taking things too seriously.

Father Jack still keeps a chair in my living room. These days he sleeps most of the time, but we’ve got an understanding. Recently another life transition had him moving about, but he doesn’t cause the damage he once did because he doesn’t need to. We can talk (sometimes shout) to each other but there’s no battle for control because control is no longer the goal. In fact, the first thing that settles Jack down is recognizing and relinquishing the illusion of control and just allowing the flux of emotions to wash over us. We might be sad, angry, ecstatic, irritated, frustrated, enthusiastic, enraged, passionate, or lethargic – but we are not numb.

I quip that Depression hangs around my life, poking fun at me and cracking jokes. It puts me in embarrassing situations at times and nowadays I laugh or tell it to piss off. And sometimes it does slow everything way down, telling me to say “no” and my worth isn’t conditional on being liked. We’re buds. I don’t expect Depression to go anywhere and I don’t think I want it to leave anyway. It is, after all, difficult to be a socially observant existentialist without your own cup of Depression steeping away on the table.

So Father Jack, what do you say to a cup of tea?

feck_off__cup_by_tai_is_watching_you

 

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Project: I Am

get ready for some reflection...
get ready for some reflection…

Sometimes you need a reminder about what matters. It’s pretty easy to get caught up in the day-to-day drudgery of work life and become convinced that some minute detail deserves front and center attention. I’ve written about social justice; I’d like to think that my work connect to social justice never falls victim to such distraction, but it does.

Let’s face it, in the work world people often become wedded to a point or idea or concept and adopt the stance that such point is the center of the universe. The sun revolves around the earth instead of the other way round. I’ve done it; the word on the page becomes the only word you can see and you forget about all the paragraphs that go around it. It also means you lose sight of your audience, and when myopia takes over, you even convince yourself that it doesn’t matter if your audience understands what you’ve written.

I’ve certainly watched others in my world of work get caught in this. I get distracted as well, arguing on principle and insisting that it must be a comma instead of a semi-colon. What I hate is how that small point suddenly takes over my life for a period of time. I become consumed by it, angered, saddened, frustrated…and the obstinate teen that still inhabits my headspace typically just wants to push the chair into a back corner, lean back with boots up and say, “whatever dude” to whomever is trying to push me into something.

Aside: that’s a funny point though isn’t it? That we find ourselves in those consuming spaces usually because there are others we are butting up against on those very detailed points. I suppose I should say that sometimes a detail does matter. But it still drives me nuts when I have to give attention to that.

Where does this ranting lead me…well as it happens too many of such points have dominated my life recently. So I am grateful for the wake-up call that was our gallery exhibit of Project: I Am. It shook me in just the right ways.

witnessMy lovely co-director and I decided to lead a workshop this spring that involved teaching counselors how to assist clients in a process of reclaiming identity from experiences of oppression. I won’t go into the theories and such here, but it boils down to 12 participants who met as a group on two separate occasions and also worked individually in between meetings. It was a learn-by-doing method; like so much of the work we do it helps to go through it yourself in order to really learn what is going on. The process results in each person creating a work of art that expresses an aspect of their preferred “self”, the self that Oppression may have tried to diminish, alter, restrict, dominate, etc.

It waI AM exhibits the first time my partner and I had attempted this workshop. While it is based on work that we’ve learned about done by many others, it is still a new thing to us – so this was one of our biggest experimental leaps yet (I say that even after attempting the film. Yikes). So we always had this background anxiety questioning if it was working, if we need to change anything, is it going to fail, etc.

As with the film experience, we found our little group starting to form their own community through the process. They talked to each other about difficult things but also about triumphs. They helped each other develop images and ideas to translate into their work. They gave encouragement and had a good laugh throughout. And that also means we got to know people in a way that, again, is a little different from a traditional classroom setting. You find out just how much talent people have through things like this; I don’t mean specific to artistic talent (although we did find many closeted artists!) but the many different talents that get revealed through the process. In short, you see just how amazing and interesting people can be.

The project culminates in a gallery exhibit of participant’s work. We managed to secure a gallery and hold a one-night show

we're making art here
we’re making art here

where participants could invite whomever they wanted to share in their exhibit. The night before we set up the space – and here is when we first started to see the “magic” that exists, that mysterious force in work like ours that definitely envelopes all that is done, but will disappear if you try to put your finger on it. You just have to let it “be.” As the works went up on the walls, you just felt it in the air, had that tingle in the spine that says, “something is happening here.” Even watching each person setting up, watching them work together, made me want to just stand back and take it in. Something had happened for these people and while I still don’t have a word for it, I can see its presence, particularly in ways different from before.

Resident Artist  - he's gonna go far
Resident Artist

The show itself was fabulous. It was also my first time seeing the completed works. I was taken aback by the commitment and passion in each piece. And the variety of media was a big surprise; everything from woodcut to painting, photograph to spoken word. Each person getting to share their work, talk about why they did what they did, and to do so in the ways they chose to, not in the ways they were required to. To have their work addressed and handled by a professional artist (our resident consultant), then displayed in a gallery, all adds a level of legitimization that I think even the participants didn’t quite realize until it was happening. It’s like the ultimate, “hey this matters; your story matters.”

And that brings me back to where I started this post. I had an emotional moment at the start of the show. Not because I was sad, but because all the shit from the past month finally started falling off my back. It didn’t happen because it was the end of the week, or because I’d checked off another “to do,” but because I was experiencing a space of camaraderie and validation, I was witnessing our group “arriving.” Something had been reclaimed and we were in the presence of it. So I shed a tear, not out of pain, but out of the relief of being reminded about what matters. I saw who our participants are, and it reminded me who I am as well. Why I do what I do and what I’ve gotten good at. And suddenly the bullshit details I’ve had to fight around became just that, small insignificant points that in some cases didn’t even add up to a whole. That inner teen finally got to fist-pump the air.

I left shouting to everyone just how beautiful they really are (no, it wasn’t just the wine talking). It’s funny, because one of the silent motivations for doing this project was the hope that it would be my parting gift. One last thing to give to them before I leave. And darn it, whether they know it or not, they ended up giving something to me too. Au revoir my friends; I’ll carry that one with me for a very long time.

until we meet again!
until we meet again!

Story Time

[So i thought I posted this a month ago and it’s been sitting in my drafts. Oops.]

Ok, I wrote a little thing recently about coming to terms with fear. Thought I’d share here. (but hey, don’t copy this one without my permission. Just sayin’.)

Thanks, G

Stage Fright

(Or how the play within the play made me a better therapist)

I don’t know how I became a person who does things. As a child, I remember being afraid of everything; I didn’t even want to climb up to the diving board platform because I knew I wouldn’t jump off. My biggest enemy was something called Public Speaking, something that didn’t intimidate me when I was very small but strangely enough shrank me into silence as I grew older. When I started realizing I wanted to do things like be a lawyer, or a teacher, or just someone who wouldn’t pass out when asked a direct question, I knew I had to do something to push back against Public Speaking’s humiliating gaze.

As I currently work as a professor, and I entered a “people profession” called counseling, somewhere along the way I successfully vanquished my foe. Yet knowing myself as someone who had to do battle with this beast, and knowing how that fight took most of my life, I have not lost the sense of myself as someone who once lived regularly with fear. Fear hasn’t disappeared from my life; rather we’ve just learned how to live together peacefully.

So when someone calls me, “brave”, I get confused by that. I recently had an experience that several people have called a “brave moment,” and this feedback set me to wondering about how fear and bravery were working in my life and what they might be trying to help me out with this time. As I’ve shared the following story with others, particularly students who are new to the profession, I’ve found that talking about these tales of fear seem to be having some effect on other’s attempts to bolster bravery. Thus I offer this story here in the hope that something can be gained from my experience, or if not then at least my students can get some joy at seeing their professor “freak out.”

Some time ago I attended a workshop led by David Epston. He was introducing to us some highly innovative narrative practices he’s been developing for some time. As per his style, we spent a great deal of time examining recorded interviews and transcripts to gain insight into these practices and learn more about philosophies influencing his work. I find it all exciting, even though by the end of the day my brain declares itself full and needs to take a big long nap afterwards.

After sharing session material demonstrating what he refers to as “insider witness” practice, David indicated that he had not been able to get recordings of a particular aspect of this practice. Now being a professor in a counseling program that requires regular recording of all client work conducted in our clinic, I heard his problem as an issue of technology. He is unable to get a recording? I can get a recording. We record everything. I was also in a position of supervising students in the clinic, which meant several possible opportunities to try the practice he had demonstrated. So I approached him and naively offered to get a recording of what he was wanting. He jumped at the offer, and when I later returned home and back to work, I started to set up the kind of interview sought after.

The practice I needed to demonstrate involved two stages; the first where I would interview a supervisee with that supervisee portraying the client. The second stage involved me interviewing the client, who would see the recording of that portrayal, about the portrayal. As luck would have it, I had two students working with a couple where this practice seemed possible and of benefit; we presented the idea to the couple and they agreed. All was ready! Now we just had to conduct the actual interviews.

Prior to meeting with my supervisees, I had read several of David’s transcripts and talked with my students to help prepare them for the task at hand. On our arranged meeting date for the recorded interview, we set up our room for multiple recordings (backups in case one recording failed), had a short chat amongst ourselves to get ready, and then pressed “record.”

About 8 minutes into our interview, I was hit over the head with a hammer of a thought: What am I doing? It came crashing down on me that not only had I never attempted the kind of interview I was now in the midst of performing, I was also going to share this recording with David – the God of Narrative Therapy, and he could strike me down if he wanted. Panic washed over me as I thought, of all the times to share your work with someone, you picked something you’ve never done, and you’re going to show it to the one person who could see just how much you don’t know? Gandalf suddenly appeared and shouted in my little face, “You shall not pass!”

Instantly I was catapulted back to being 14 years old, in my high school speech class, standing in front of an audience of cold, disinterested pasty-faced adolescents who had no idea who I was and also didn’t care. Would my speech, scribbled on disorganized note cards shaking ever so slightly in my hand, die in my mouth before the words even came out? Would the students simply stare at me slack-jawed or would they scoff loudly at my mistakes? Would I prove to the world I really was as foolish as I felt?

I don’t remember what that first speech was about. Likely something mundane like rocks or tennis. But what I do remember was being surprised at the sound of my own voice, how loud it was and how at some point all the dull faces became awake. There was even a laugh somewhere, maybe more than one, at a point where it was supposed to be funny. I felt like I stood in front of that room for two days, yet I am sure that speech only lasted about 5 minutes.

It was not a perfect speech. Some of the words needed work. But afterwards I remembered feeling the fire of excitement with the kind of racing heart you get after driving a car ridiculously fast and managing to not crash in to anything. I don’t think I heard a single speech after mine, because my pulse was pounding in my ears and my brain was shouting, “You’re ALIVE!” Did someone just say, “hey, not bad”?

Fast forward to the next speech, 10 minutes, one where I had to actually perform something like a magic trick in front of the class. I don’t remember the sweaty panic, the hyper-awareness, or the breath stuck in my throat; rather I remember starting to actually enjoy myself when again my voice boomed to the back of the room and more laughs (in the right places) replied. I might actually be able to do this, I remember thinking. I might even someday grow to like this. This crowd is actually applauding as I walk off the stage.

Flip the channel back to myself staring blankly as I sit in front of two supervisees who are trying something completely foreign to them. One of the reasons they have agreed to walk into this unknown territory is because they trust I won’t leave them wandering in the dark on their own. I’m not hearing what they’ve just said, my head now full of doubts like, “what am I supposed to say,” “how did I get myself into this,” “what if I ask the wrong question…” The same kinds of overly self-conscious appraisals I remembered asking myself when I was a student sitting across from a client for the first time.

But as the panic transported me to earlier fights with fear, it also brought me to the companion that I found in those experiences: Reassurance. It reminded me that I do know how to hold a conversation; my work has been watched before; I don’t know what David would say but I do know what I would say; and if it all goes belly-up we’ll just try again. My many tussles with fear also gave rise to the many skills I now had to put fear in its place and do what I came to do, including the biggest skill of offering compassion towards my own mistakes. I did not know what I had entered into but that did not mean I had no right to be there.

My ears tuned back in to my supervisee’s words, and I opened my mouth. Words came out, and the interview continued. Upon reflection, I don’t think it was the best interview I’ve ever conducted. But it also wasn’t the worst, and in the end we found our way. No one died; the room didn’t catch fire. When it ended, we all breathed a sigh of relief, not because we had failed miserably but because something indescribably cool had taken place.

A few days later when I met again with the students, we talked about our experience of the interview and I shared my panic moment. They both expressed having no idea that had taken place. When I looked back at the video of that session, I saw the moment when panic started – and in real time that moment ended after about 75 seconds. Years of my life were re-experienced in 75 seconds.

We later record the next interview which included students, clients, and myself. Still uncertain, yet no panic intruded upon me this time, and this interview required even more invention than the prior one. David and other practitioners viewed the videos. Much feedback was provided. No one said, “You suck.” The good and the not so good were commented on, and many, many suggestions were given. The ideas were invigorating, and I found myself in a curious reflective experience. Without meaning to, these comments had the effect of showing my professional self to my personal self in a way that hasn’t happened to me since I was in my doctoral program nearly 15 years ago. The picture presented to me was intriguing, not because it depicted someone who gave a perfect session but because the image showed a person who made some effective attempts, took some missteps, dealt with the unexpected, and tried a few risks. These are the same hopes my high-school self had when she first rebelled against fear and signed up for speech class.

While I still hesitate to call myself, “brave,” this experience had the effect of showing me where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m still trying to go. It has been rejuvenating and refreshing, a good antidote to the tediousness that accompanies adult working life. I realized that the once overly-methodical, reluctant to move little girl now shares the stage with another version of herself who willingly, spontaneously, bumbles into experiences just like the one described here – experiences that let both of us see just how much potential really exists in any given moment. Improvisation writes our script in the play of Not Knowing, and I can’t wait to see where the next act will go.

Damn statues

I’ve got that swirl in my brain again that says I need to sit and write. And not the kind of writing I do for journals and such, but the kind where the thoughts have to swish around, percolate, blurb up into something I don’t know yet.

Sleepless night, partly because my daughter got hit with a stomach bug (and our sink, floors, trash cans, bed linens got “hit” as well as a result), partly because I’ve been talking film with people and my head is ablaze. I meant to post a couple weeks ago after the MillionsMarchTX rally on January 17. But I sat on it, and as usual that was a mistake. Writers know what I’m talking about – if you sit on your words too long, they either disappear forever or they force their way into your life without mercy. This time the words are staging a revolt in my head, now fueled by new knowledge, insights, and potentials.

So I met a filmmaker, a bona-fide director who actually does this sort of thing for a living and makes a paycheck. He was gracious enough to watch the film and offer some honest feedback. And it was certainly honest. Bottom line: good concept, not so great delivery. I’ll spare the details, but this feedback was useful in that I could at least get some insight into why we continue to live in film festival rejection land. The few times I have been able to get feedback from festivals, the reviewers say they love the film, but it doesn’t make the cut. Now I might have some answers about why it doesn’t make the cut – there are technical problems, and these problems are not a surprise to me because, well, we really did have technical problems. So when trying to break into a space where the technicals matter, well, we’re being told to take our finger painting back home and come back when we learn how to use oils.

I don’t know if I’ll ever learn how to use oils, by the way. I also don’t know if I want to. The one thing I have learned about myself as a director is that I don’t want to know these things so I can do it all myself. I want to know enough so I can communicate, so I can translate, my ideas to a group of people who have to actualize those ideas. What I really want is to have a group of people who are really good at what they do, who are bound by a simple common purpose, who can be set loose to attack that vision in the ways they see fit. It’s funny, because I just realized this is also how I’ve come to teach students. I have no interest in telling students exactly what to say or do when they are learning how to counsel/interview people. I don’t want puppets. What I want is to motivate them to a point where they try things they didn’t think to try, where they step out of their comfort zone, where they begin to move creatively and let go of the need for rigid rules. I have to find the way to get them to see themselves one step beyond where they stand currently, recognize that when they take that step I’m still going to be there, and then let them figure out how to actually take that step.

That’s the part where I have to be the teacher for that student, because no two students are the same, and they don’t move the same ways or step in the same directions. But once they start stepping, it’s like being in a marathon. They just GO.

So we sorta stumbled into that in Parrhesia, and I’ve come to realize if I ever do this again that’s what I want, to give people lots of creative space to go crazy. But also set the parameter, make the frame, reel it in if someone decides to shoot off into space…And I think it’s that common goal that matters, that I would need to make sure that everyone gets what the purpose is. Since I’ll never be making a Godzilla (in spite of my kids’ desires), and I’ll probably only be able to engage in a film project that results from pure passion, it means getting people on board who resonate with that passion. That magically occurred with Parrhesia – so can we be intentional about that? I guess we’ll have to be.

As an aside – this film talk also had me seeing stars, the kind that accompanies things like awards and fame and all that bullshit. Damn if my little ego didn’t want to get seduced by that sort of thing again. So I had my moment of imagining red carpet recognition – and now I’m remembering that we never did this to get awards, we did this first to see if it could be done, and then finished it because we realized we could never live with it not being finished. So much faith in, well us really, meant we could not let everyone else down by not getting this thing done and shown. It wasn’t just that my work had to get out there, but the vulnerabilities and sacrifices of everyone in that film had to be shared. It demands an audience, even if it is a small audience; it is work that must be witnessed. In that sense I don’t care about ratings, I don’t care if it’s “marketable.” We created a portrait of the people in that film, a portrait that shows something between who they are and who they want to be – the “me and the not me”, as I’ve heard it described, and that has done something for all 8 of our cast. It has shown them the power and presence of their voice and they have seen that other people are affected by their lives. They are becoming the people they weren’t certain they could be prior to this. I never saw any of that coming but if I make a film again that is exactly what the goal will be, because I can’t really imagine making a film for any other reason. Isn’t that really what social justice is about? To voice that which has been ignored or silenced?

Aw heck, I’m a narrative therapist. Story isn’t a noun, it’s a verb. And that concept is definitely worth an award.

my kind of Oscar

“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.

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.