feelings

It's personal: The benefits of an emotional binge in writing a tv show (special thanks to Tom Waits)

Somewhere along the way in childhood, I made a decision to live my life as a turtle. It's nice and safe to be hidden and protected by a big thick shell. This arrangement served me well for a while, even after I decided that I wanted to be an artist, unaware that it’s counter-productive for an artist to be emotionally shut down.

In my late twenties, suffering from creative blocks, I went into therapy with the goal of becoming as productive as a machine. The therapist laughed (gently) saying: "Many people go into therapy so they can feel more. You seem to want to feel less!" I remember thinking, "What's the big deal? Who cares why you do whatever do, just do something."

Well so for the last few decades, I’ve been chipping away at the shell, trying to break out of hiding. It's still unsettling to watch actor friends IRL as they surrender to the full gamut of feelings and seem to teeter on the verge of losing control. Their frustration, anger, impulse and all the rest of it is fascinating to observe but oy, do I really want to go there without ‘deciding’ I want to?

Working on this pilot script, and wanting to do the best job I can, I’ve been thinking I do - cause I want the script to be funny but also full of the rest of life.  

And so, over this past weekend it's been pretty much of a non-stop crying jag. I'm on a modified writing retreat (not that I ever left the house, Mr. Green went away) and bingeing on music that makes me cry. Okay, maybe it’s not the ‘full range’ of emotions, but it’s a step in the right direction. And it’s nice to not have to do it the way Louise did, coping with her inner cat.  Crying apparently releases all kinds of feel-good chemicals. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Here are two Tom Waits songs which put me over the edge time and time again. The House Where Nobody Lives and, double whammy if you’re a fan of the late brilliant Alan Rickman, Take It With Me.

I sobbed uncontrollably for hours before my wedding and apparently during it, too.

I sobbed uncontrollably for hours before my wedding and apparently during it, too.

Go Big or Go Bust: New Efficiency Model - The Darkness Before the Dawn (Part 3)

Before continuing with this saga, I want to backtrack to explain the difficult beginnings of making my first feature, How To Be Louise, which was eventually invited to be in the Dramatic Competition at Sundance. To this workaholic, the astonishing fact is that it wasn’t effort but rather surrender which made it possible.

Lea Floden as Louise with (l. to r.) Michael Moneagle and William Zimmer

Lea Floden as Louise with (l. to r.) Michael Moneagle and William Zimmer

As a young artist in my twenties, I had a clarity that my life would be devoted to art.  I had no interest in being married and less than no interest in having children.  Anyone can see that children are a huge distraction not to mention expensive, noisy and so demanding that, unless you have a lot of help, you can forget about your own agenda.  Why would any woman with a dream shoot herself in the foot by having a baby, GOD FORBID more than one?  

And then I turned thirty.  Like a rogue wave, the biological desire to have children turned me upside down.  I decided to try to find a man.  And then one day, I surprised myself by flirting with a handsome guy who held the door for me as I walked into the wonderful artist-run restaurant that used to be on the corner of Prince and Wooster in Soho, FOOD.

Fast-forward to the year before we shot How To Be Louise, I was newlywed to Mr. Green, the man I’d met at FOOD.  Yes, I’d wanted this husband so I could have children with him but I dared to believe that if I could get my career going before having a baby, there would be enough money for help so that I could ‘have it all’: I could have a child and continue to pursue my dream of making indie films.

One May afternoon, en route to the post office to mail off a film to a film festival, Sara Driver and Jim Jarmusch crossed my path, their rolling luggage behind them.  They were headed to JFK to go to Cannes with Down By Law.  Not long after, I saw Spike Lee on the nightly news.  He was outside the theatre where his first feature She’s Gotta Have It was playing.  They were developing international reputations.  They were getting paid.  I decided that if I was ever going to turn filmmaking into a career and have children, I’d have to figure out how to make a feature.  

But I didn’t have any obvious source of funding much less the connections or the chutzpah to pitch: the budget for my feature would have to be on a shoestring.  My first two shorts had been inspired by What’s Up Tiger Lily and Rose Hobart: they were made by recutting rejected lab prints in the editing room where I worked.  I’d go back to that idea!  And I’d shoot some new material with an actor or two and intercut that to make sense of the found footage.  All I’d need was a few thousand dollars.

Louise Smells A Rat  (1982) was made by duplicating a few shots from  The Poppy Is Also a Flower  starring Senta Berger and Trevor Howard and intercutting them with newsreel footage and a shot from Phil Silvers'  Sergeant Bilko .  Original subtitles and music by Johnny Ventura made it into a different story.

Louise Smells A Rat (1982) was made by duplicating a few shots from The Poppy Is Also a Flower starring Senta Berger and Trevor Howard and intercutting them with newsreel footage and a shot from Phil Silvers' Sergeant Bilko.  Original subtitles and music by Johnny Ventura made it into a different story.

There was a particularly discouraging afternoon when I took my place in line among scores of others to present my proposal for a measly $300 grant.  I’d brought my own projector, assembled a 16mm sample reel from rejected lab prints and faced what felt like disparaging and hostile questions from this Brooklyn arts organization.  

Soon after, reading in bed on a Sunday night, tears started leaking from my eyes.  I’m not a person who cries easily, but the steepness of the cliff I was trying to scale and the difficulty of the challenge was suddenly clear.  “What is it, Annie?”  I answered Mr. Green with sobs and more and louder sobs, eventually losing all control.  “What am I supposed to do?  Give up this idea of making a feature?  Should I try to get a job at an advertising agency and make a lot of money?  Or have a bunch of kids?  I can’t take it anymore!  I’m getting bitter!  I’m stuck!”  Mr. Green put his arm around me and I cried myself to sleep, confused.  I felt broken.  

And that night I had a dream that changed my life.  I was in a low-ceilinged kitchen right out of the 1950’s.  There was a witch in the kitchen, her hair was wild and she was intense, pointing a long skinny arm and finger off into the distance.  She was forceful: “Don’t stop now!  You’re almost there!”

I woke the next morning with a new confidence.  Suddenly I could take the big and little steps to get going.  And that message from the witch carried me through the next four years it took to make this film.  

As I write this, I’m still scratching my head over the fact that the power came to me after a total breakdown and surrender.  It was only after letting go of all my self-discipline, strength, force, will and control that I had the clarity and felt the confidence to do the job.  That it was in allowing myself to be overwhelmed by the utterly corny and embarrassing fact of ’feelings’ is a lesson I’m still trying to learn today.  (to be continued)  

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Go Big or Go Bust: Day 114 (on Siri, Ex Machina and my longing to be robotic)

Not being especially techy, I don't think much about robots.  But last weekend I saw the Alex Garland film Ex Machina (all about robots)And recently I've been having my own problems with Siri, the robot in my phone.  Asking for 'directions' has become a high stakes ordeal.  Instead of giving incredibly precise GPS directions (as she used to), Siri now tears, at the speed of light, through my address book and randomly requests FaceTime with inappropriate people.  SORRY if you've been among those.

And then I had a blinding flash: once upon a time, and maybe even up until right now, I've had a yearning to be robotic. 

looking my robotic best in the Berlin Intl Film Festival catalogue

looking my robotic best in the Berlin Intl Film Festival catalogue

Soon after I moved to New York in 1978, I went into therapy with a kind and very quiet man on the Upper West Side.  Wearing a friend's, ex-husband's, leather motorcycle jacket, I'd ride my bicycle from my job in midtown up to 90th or 91st Street and Central Park West, take the elevator up and lie on Dr. T's couch for an hour, covering my eyes when details were difficult to talk about. 

For probably months of sessions, I rattled on and on (and on).  And then one night, the good doctor cut me off: "I've heard a lot about a fair number of people in your life, but I think you came here to find out more about you, to get in touch with your feelings."  Like it was yesterday, I remember practically shouting at the guy: "What?  No!  I came here so I could get through my creative blocks ... so I can do my work!  I don't want to waste one minute on 'feelings'."  Dr. T. chuckled in his shy and non-judgmental way:  "Really!  Most people come into therapeutic analytic psychotherapy so they can feel more!"  (Pretty sure that's what he called it.)  Shaking my head: "Nope.  I don't want to feel anything.  I just want to be like a machine and work work work.  Efficiently. "

So it's with some surprise that, through a chain of events which seemed to lead me in spite of myself, I went yesterday to see a practitioner of Rubenfeld Synergy.  Two new friends had gone and talked about almost mystical experiences of being connected to themselves and liberated from long-held blocks.  After one session, it's looking likely that 'feelings' are the pathway to this liberation.  And I'm wondering if 'feeling' is also the key to 'self-confidence', that ideal on the hill which has so effectively eluded me. 

Hmmph.  If only I'd taken Dr. T's bait offered so many decades ago.  I'll keep you posted.