Where Nobody Knows Your Name…

Moving is in that top 10 list of life stressors, along with things like marriage, divorce, childbirth and death. Some say it takes 3 years to really “move-in,” the point at which things become familiar and your home is really yours. You know where the grocery store is, how late you have to leave to get the kids to school on time, and what corner of your bedroom has morphed into the unofficial laundry basket.

But I haven’t been here 3 years. I’ve been here 6 months. And even though this was a move for many good reasons, moving still, in a word, sucks. I used to not think about the effects of moving and considered myself something of a rambler. That’s likely because from 18 on, I moved roughly every two years (with the exception of my longer 5-year stint in Chicago) until I was 32. Moving was the norm in my life, and my mind had adapted to living in an existential suitcase. Friendships were of the moment, to be grabbed by whoever could be found, because you or the other person might be leaving at any time. Carpe Diem made practical, not just philosophical, sense.

And then I had that 10 year lag…the one where I had things like children, mortgages, pets, parent-teacher conferences, annual holiday parties, restaurant special nights, season passes, oh and that job thing. The one where I showed up at the same job for 10 years, the first time in my life I’d had the same job for that long, went to the same office, saw much of the same people. Drove to the same places, saw the same buildings, taught the same classes, walked the same halls. Attended the same stupid, pointless, mandatory start of the term meeting every year. Crossed my eyes and doodled on my brain during the same committee meetings in the same boring rooms with the same glazed over faces dozens and dozens of times for 10 years.

Routine.

As much as my younger self recoiled at the thought of ever having a routine, the bottom line is I had one. Even when it included the things I didn’t like doing, it was still a routine. I learned how to navigate that space; I didn’t just know how to get around, I knew the backroads including avoiding the train that regularly blocked the entrance to my subdivision. I knew everyone in my neighborhood because my dog and I had walked the same route twice a day for several years and we met everyone who also walked, ran, or biked that route. When I was bored at work, I knew who to waste time with. When I didn’t want to get into a pointless conversation, I knew who to avoid.

Without realizing it, I had created “roots,” even though I wasn’t too pleased about where those roots were. I knew a long time ago I wouldn’t spend my life there, but in spite of that roots still developed and anchored me to a place and a way of life that was, for all intents and purposes, “normal.” It was what I knew.

I have been completely derailed therefore by the experience of knowing absolutely nothing now. Perhaps it was naive`, but I presumed I would bring something familiar with me. I still had my furniture, clothes, car…my family were still the same people and even the dog was still with us. It would just be a matter of changing the scenery, adapting to a different backdrop. I would still be teaching, reading, writing, and all that regular stuff. Life couldn’t really be that different, could it?

Wrong. I have watched every tiny piece of familiarity slowly dismantle itself as it walks across the threshold. The furniture I brought doesn’t fit in the new house. The car doesn’t work. The clothes are for the wrong season. And my family – still the same people, but now as turned around as I am. We bump into each other regularly because we haven’t figured out what direction to move in.

This is figurative and literal; when I get a moment to myself now, I still haven’t any clue where to sit in my own house. I haven’t found “my space.” When I find a spot, I don’t know what to do because I’m not sure how to fill that time. Even the little things I used to do, the hobbies, the activities, the ways of killing time and stretching through boredom just don’t exist the way they used to. Even my job, the teaching thing – it’s true there is an encyclopedia in my head that was written over the last 10 years, but I can’t deliver it the same way I used to. The format I teach in is nothing like what I did before, and every day is an adaptation to a new context. I have had to remind myself that I can put together a sentence and work a room, but my audience is not the same one I had before and I am learning them all over again.

It’s a weird kind of identity crisis. I’ve found myself wanting to volunteer for almost everything, things I’ve never even heard of because I don’t know where I belong. Outfits that I wore in the past don’t seem to match anymore. I am constructing an image all over again and I don’t know what it is supposed to look like.  This is an experiential lesson in social construction; the context of myself is impermanent, my knowledge of me fluttering constantly with the unrecognizable mirror of my unfamiliar social sphere.

I don’t have a clear answer out of all this. And it may seem surprising when I say I like being here. But I have made myself remember things like patience and temperance. Slowly the new little things are making themselves known to me; I recently ripped out a lawn feature left from the previous owner because I could finally say, “that isn’t mine.” I bought 4 pairs of shoes too many in trying to figure out this new fashion only to settle back on my old, reliable set of doc marten’s. I’ve abandoned local television to Netflix binge old seasons of House, the show I was addicted to (curiously) 10 years ago when I moved and started my last job. I bought a new car, and I blast 80’s music on my drive to work.

My spaces are still being developed. What’s it going to look like? I don’t know. Check back in 3 years.

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“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.