Grief Isn’t Normal

Picture of the ladies

Grief takes you by surprise.

Lemony Snicket says it best:

“It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.”

Lemony Snicket

I recently read A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis as well, and he had some powerful things to say about grief. About how to reconcile God being good. And a lot of thoughts about coping, understanding and continuing life with grief.

One of the strangest things about loss and grief is the fading of memory. We forget how a person really was. Dom from Inception talked about that when the phantom of his wife haunted him:

I wish. I wish more than anything. But I can’t imagine you with all your complexity, all you perfection, all your imperfection. Look at you. You are just a shade of my real wife. You’re the best I can do; but I’m sorry, you are just not good enough.

Dominic Cobb

The people we lose are never really true in our memories anymore. They leave a piece of themselves with every person they know, and those pieces can almost be combined into an image of who they were when they were here.

My friend was a wonderful person. She was also occasionally annoying, like every other human I know. She was also brilliant. Funny. Welcoming. Awkward (although not anywhere near my level).

Well-loved.

I think my grief became stronger the more I learned how many others were grieved.

But as the weeks have passed, the grief is less harsh. The loss, while still felt, is not as daily. I have her film to complete, and it is nearly completed. I was gifted her lovely dog, Bella, and she is a constant reminder of joy.

There are no magic words to help someone through grief. The most comforting things that people did for me in the early days were this:

  • My brother, though he had never met my friend, said he was grieving with me for her.
  • My sister brought me two plants – 1 for my eyes and 1 for my stomach.
  • My friend saw my post on Facebook and called immediately to see what had happened.
  • My husband accompanied me to a film group meeting where I had to ask for post production help and try not to cry.

Grief isn’t normal. It’s part of life here on earth, but it isn’t normal. There is nothing normal about losing the chance to chat or see a friend for the rest of your life. There is nothing normal about the ache in your heart when you see something that reminds you of someone you loved who’s gone forever.

But normal or not, to feel grief is ok.

And as always, love the people you have. Focus on the good. These connections may not last long, so enjoy them while you have them.

Once Upon A Goat

We frequent a coffee shop that uses a goat emblem. I always call it goat coffee. In honor of my students from this week and my Dad, I’m going to write a short story for you every time I end up at the goat coffee place.

I’ll try, anyway.

 

North Wall Vines

“Brighton!”

Brighton nestled deeper into the prickly vines. Thorns and sticks scratched her face and hands. Gloves. Next time she would remember her rough gloves.

Right. Next time she had to randomly jump into the vines on the North wall to avoid The Boys she would definitely remember gloves. Maybe carrying gloves should’ve been her go-to action all along, since avoiding groups of people seemed to be her lot in life.

“Come on,” Samuel called out. “She doesn’t want to talk to us.”

Brighton listened to the six retreating footsteps. There should really be seven, Brighton observed. Someone was hiding. Probably Marius. He was always working harder than the others for her affections.

Give up now, she thought, while you still have half a day left to explore the world.

Rustling.

Brighton’s breath caught in her throat. She bit her lip to keep her mouth closed. Don’t cough, don’t cough.

The cough broke free, throwing her head forward into thorns, her hands back against the rock wall to steady her. Coughing and coughing and more coughing. Air seemed in very short supply suddenly.

Hands reached through the vines, parting them like curtains. The hands gently settled on Brighton’s shoulders and pulled her out of the green chaos into the golden hour of twilight. She couldn’t think but coughing, her body shaking, her eyes closed. A flask of water pressed to her lips. She gulped.

Heat surrounded her. She sighed. She opened her eyes to The Boys. All smiles. All aglow. All offering shy pats of encouragement and care, all ready with another flask of water, all focused on her comfort.

She took a deep, free breath. Closed her eyes.

They only want your good, she told herself. And that’s the problem, isn’t it?

“Are you alright?” Samuel asked, the chosen leader. He stood beside Marius, whose hand was still softly gripping Brighton’s shoulder. Samuel might be the speaking leader of The Boys, but Marius was definitely the bravest when it came to winning Brighton’s affections.

Brighton sighed again. She offered a smile. Smiles in return. The group relaxed again, happy to be released from any guilt. They only wanted her attention and her comfort, after all.

The slimmest boy, Peregrin, stepped forward to offer a handkerchief for Brighton’s bleeding face. The thorns had caught her harshly and left an angry stain of red across her cheeks. It isn’t queen-like, she thought, to hide from my own subjects. Especially when they simply want my company. Selfish.

“Samuel,” Brighton said. “Must you always follow me?”

He grinned.

“Only when you lead us on such good adventures.”

Brighton had to smile at this. The rest of her life would be leading them on adventures, as dictated by her tribal leaders. Queen. Warrior. Adventurer.

And yet.

“Well, let’s be off,” she said, knowing that every boy would follow her. Knowing that every single one of them longed to be chosen. Knowing that no matter who she chose, she would have their loyalty until her last breath. Knowing that no matter how many vines she hid behind, none could stop the future of a Wandering Queen, even if that queen was only thirteen years old.

She accepted the offered handkerchief for her face and strode away from the wall, Her Boys falling into step behind and around her.

 

Voices In the Dark

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Celebrating every type of person does NOT give you the right to bash or exclude certain types of people or a gender simply because they have historically had more power or more impact or more of a voice.

My voice shouldn’t drown out my husband’s voice. My black and awesome friend Marcellus’ voice shouldn’t drown out mine. My bi friend Sally’s voice shouldn’t drown out his. And my Hindu friend Kiran shouldn’t drown out Sally.

Every time individuals come together to promote one gender, one “race,” one differentiation of humanity as more important than another…Well you’ve successfully become just like the racists, misogynists, homophobes and all the other haters.

We. Humans. Are all equal in worth.

I don’t need a gender or a skin color to tell me how cool you are. (Although some gages and tattoos let me know we might be good friends. Possibly some unnatural hair colors, too.) The way we look shouldn’t divide us. The way we speak shouldn’t divide us.

Instead, we are divided because of our own selfish pride and need to be right. 

It’s great to show support to people who are suffering or being mistreated. It’s great to stand up to acts of brutality or obvious unfairness. It’s commendable to show friendship and love to people who hate you or are different from you.

But don’t do any of that at the expense of other people.

I’ll use my husband, Joshua, as an example. He grew up so poor that he lost out on 2 growth spurts because of malnutrition. He suffered physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Because of the malnutrition he was taken away from his parents and put into the foster care system, where he bounced around a lot of different homes before being placed in a boy’s home. He was adopted as a late teenager by his great aunt on the condition that he work a part-time job while finishing high school. At 19 he joined the military and was deployed to Korea for a year and then to Iraq. When he was discharged from the military he tried to use the GI bill to pay for school, but ended up with lots of debt due to the bill only covering his first year of college. He works full time now in basically a data entry job and does artwork and comic books on the side (working toward this becoming a career).

He never had real supportive parents, although his parents weren’t the worst. He never got hand-outs. He was so poor at points in his adult life that he was washing his clothes in the bathtub.

He has white skin. His lineage is Irish, which is why he burns instantly in the sun.

He falls within the type of people on this planet that receive the most vehement hatred on this thing called the Internet. Most people would define him as a straight, white male and write him off as privileged and, by nature of his gender and skin color, a waste of space, a potential rapist, a hater, a misogynistic creep…many more.

Throughout his entire life Joshua has supported women, including the wonderful lady who finally adopted him and his fabulous Aunt Tina. He has made friends with people from all different backgrounds and nationalities, including a close friend from Korea. He has maintained healthy friendships, dialog and support with people with all different sexual orientations. He has never hated anyone simply for their looks.

Joshua has pale skin.

Joshua is a man.

Joshua is straight.

Joshua is a loving, real, suffering, genuine human being.

He is no less important just because there have been humans before him who were selfish tyrants intent on squashing anyone who was different.

When you devalue certain types of people as a group, you devalue a bright and beautiful man who has always striven to include the downtrodden, the different, and the rejected.

When you step onto your soapbox and blast an entire group in order to build up your own group, you become the thing you are criticizing and insulting. Welcome to the Nazi brotherhood, the Ku Klux Klan and the rest of the haters.

You’re just secured your membership by grinding a human being under your words.

Technological Revolution, Anyone?

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I do a lot of research for my job. I read a lot of business news on sites like Forbes, Inc; market forecasts on BI sites like IBISWorld; and world news on sites like The Guardian. I’ve gotten used to scanning Info like a demon possessed junkie and living off of the high-lights instead of truly digesting the writer’s words.

It’s sad.

Sometimes a subject catches my attention and I lose myself in the article. All reality disappears. I jolt awake ten minutes later and realize I was transported to another world.

It’s unhealthy for my job. But it’s the most exhilarating experience I ever have researching.

It’s been said to stop and smell the roses. Instead, I’ve been stopping and smelling the technological revolution we all should’ve seen coming, but I think we were wholly unprepared for.

While Americans are still trying to sort out their mobile payments and shop online, the majority of the rest of the world is cashless and never had a credit card. The next generation may not even know what physical money looks like. They will take for granted that every purchase or payment they make is recorded. The adoption of the bitcoin will decimate some economies and create stabilities for others, maybe even countries that we view as “developing” or “third world,” such as Nigeria.

The technological revolution will even some playing fields that haven’t been even since the 1700s.

And in this incredibly connected global economy, we are experiencing a level of cultural transfusion that is unprecedented. Technology is not just changing the way we move capital or interpret worth or affect the global economy. Technology is creating a world culture that mirrors fictional realities such as the Star Trek universe.

Connections are no longer enough. Adaptation is the future.

I recently researched WeChat, WhatsApp and LINE. These are all messaging apps that connect users through text, talk, images and video. LINE specializes in offering an insane amount of sticker sending and games. WhatsApp was bought by Facebook for $19 billion dollars, one of the largest tech acquisitions in history. And WeChat is the most popular social media platform in China, where Facebook is banned and email never really caught on.

Each of these apps is starkly different from the others, even though they were all created to do the same thing – connect users. WeChat is now an all-purpose eCommerce platform that allows users to pay for taxis, pizza, doctor’s appointments and more. LINE has created an entire merchandise base including TV shows based on their user-created stickers. And WhatsApp continues to offer no interruptions and no adds, free for life.

Each one is based on a distinct culture.

And each one is striving to be globally adopted.

I’m sure you know what that means at this point. We’re looking at a global culture that seeks to unite individuals through technology, and those individuals are making the decision for unity themselves.

The technological revolution is self-motivated and looks like it will result in the largest nation in history.

WeChat, because we can.

September the Road to Recovery: Sidewalk

There’s a moment in life where it suddenly dawns on you that every plan has gone hideously awry, you’ve tripped over a random crack in the sidewalk and are about to slam your chin to the cement. Pain is inevitable. Blood maybe. Possibly some laughter, depending on how many people are watching you try to make out with the sidewalk.

Sidewalks are not good kissers, believe me.

A few weeks ago I took a literal tumble on the sidewalk that left me shaken, laughing at myself and soaked from the wet grass I rolled in to get up. I spent an hour or so in wet jeans and a silly smile on my face. Taking a silly tumble like that was funny. Momentary. Fleeting.

No harm done.

But when you take a tumble in life, when all your best plans suddenly fail in the most dramatically traumatic way, it’s not as funny.

Or as painless.

September happened. I’m sure we all remember the gorgeous weather and increasingly tense election. Amidst all that, I had no sugar. I followed my candida-killing diet. I made food. Lots of food.

I made progress.

Then my plans kissed the sidewalk and I’ve been in pain ever since.

Progress report? Do not pass go, do not collect $200, go straight to jail.

I know, this would be such a better read if at the end I suddenly jumped in with, “But wait, everything is cool because I found this magic cure!”

I didn’t. I don’t. I haven’t. I might not ever.

But that, my friends, is okay. Because the sidewalk hit me and it hurts, but I’m on my feet, thanks to God’s grace and all my peoples.

I spent the morning trying to console crying babies, while working off of 4ish hours of sleep and absolutely no caffeine because I’m not allowed to have it. I spent lunch at a fabulous vegan restaurant with some friends. I spent the afternoon saving Paleo and Candida-diet recipes and making plans.

Maybe some adjustments will help.

Plans and more plans. The sidewalk may grab for me again, but until then I’m gonna keep limping along.

Where there’s life, there’s hope.

~JRR Tolkein

Filmmaking is for Warriors: Teaching

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“Do you know any famous people?” the tiny child asks me.

“Famous people?”

I don’t know what else to say. I’ve been a filmmaker for 10 years, but most of the people I know aren’t plastered on the cover of People Magazine. I do know some actors who have been plastered all over the billboards in Kansas City, which is pretty cool. Mostly just because those actors are totally awesome, and it’s nice to see them achieve new things.

Inevitably, it doesn’t matter if I have an answer to her question, because there’s a half dozen more questions flooding my way. I wave my hands at the brood of small people and do my best to change the subject back to the class I’m teaching and away from my filmmaking career.

Teaching.

I started teaching theater and acting when I was 19. I shouldn’t have, really, because I had no idea how to teach. Those first few years my head was under water and the kids drowned with me. I’m sorry, kids, I didn’t know what I was doing.

But like Dory the fish said, “Just keep swimming! Just keep swimming!”

So I kept pushing my way through teaching, class after class after class. I taught basic and advanced acting, improv, film acting, film production, costumes, musical theater (as a sub, ’cause I don’t do music), black box and radio theater. I’ve assisted in directing shows. I’ve subbed for ages that I would never have chosen to teach – 4 year-olds are not my buddies. I’ve taught subjects I knew very little about and had to research – radio.

And then I was burnt out. And I didn’t want to do it anymore.

Kids take a lot of energy. Kids need a lot of attention and help. Kids are SO MUCH FUN TO TEACH.

Plot twist.

I love teaching. I love talking to those kids. I love playing games with them and seeing them grow. I love seeing how kids learn to rely on each other in theater. I love seeing how theater changes lives for the better – confidence, friendship, coordination, memorization, basic theater skills, communication, trust, loyalty, diversity and a host of other things. I’m sure people learn this stuff in sports, too, but I was a theater kid so I can’t speak to that.

I had a screenwriting teacher who loved his job. He really did. He loved interacting with his different students. I had another film teacher who loved her job. She was the most understanding teacher I think I ever had, always open to giving students a second chance to learn.

And I think to myself, why don’t more people teach?

Because every single person who loves teaching, also hates it. At the end of the day you feel wiped out, left for dead and drained. Your job is to push other people into greatness, whether that is in theater, writing, math, science, robotics, music, computer, filmmaking or military training.

People push back.

Sometimes they do it on purpose. Sometimes they’re just too scared, as some of the 8-year-old students in my class the other night.

The better you are at being a teacher, the more you hold yourself accountable to the things you are teaching. Your students are pushing back, and you are learning more than them.

That’s a cliche. I hate that cliche. It’s obnoxious. Obviously if you’re teaching a child multiplication, you already knew how to multiply. Duh. That kid didn’t teach you that.

But while you were teaching multiplication, that kid was teaching you patience, kindness and long-suffering, because that kid’s probably an aggravating little dude with a numbers complex that needs a reality check.

I subbed for a theater class this week and last. I haven’t taught in a very long time. It was hard work corralling all those little people. I was hungry and my throat hurt and I wondered why I would put myself through all this when I was still in my month of recovery.

But when I went back last night to teach, the kids told me I was an awesome teacher. Their words, not mine.

And I thought, I love teaching. Why don’t more people do this?

September: The Road to Recovery

September_the road to recovery

There’s a downward spiral with diets and special cures. Gluten-free, Paleo, Vegan, Dairy-free, organic…sounds like a rich dude’s excuse not to eat with the masses at Taco Bell. And it sounds even more ridiculous when you don’t happen to be a rich person, but more like a person who gets by with a little help from my friends.

Then you find out that the sickness that’s been destroying your stomach and cognitive abilities can only be cured by a diet more restrictive than Paleo. And you start to think that maybe everybody else has it wrong…

I promised myself, as a writer, filmmaker and generally legit person that I would never venture into writing about food or health like one of those experts who publishes meal planning guides and gorgeous pictures of food that shouldn’t look that tasty because nothing in it is normal.

Sorry.

I have started a new diet that involves cutting out gluten, dairy, corn, sugar, all processed grains, and most oils. Oh, sugars includes most fruit, too. And alcohol, coffee, soft drinks, fruit juice and ALL caffeine.

I know, you would rather die with your Hazelnut breve latte in one hand and your jumbo cinnamon role in the other.

I almost would too, but it might actually kill me.

In 2013 I had to make a huge change in my life. I was so sick that I couldn’t eat, I had lost massive weight, I couldn’t think properly and I was in so much pain that I could barely work. So I started cutting things out of my diet.

I cut corn and milk first.

My brain worked again.

I cut gluten next, although that process extended over a very long period because it is exceptionally hard to cut out all shreds of gluten (gluten is a protein in wheat, barley and other grains that manufacturers use as a filler and preservative. It’s in everything, dude. Everything).

Now, I was cheating a bit. I still had dairy to a certain extent, and I still had problems. I learned to avoid foods with a lot of grease, olive oil, soy, processed-ness and other triggers that kept me awake at night with abdominal pain. Eventually it was too much to bear, and in January or February of this year (2016) I cut out dairy completely.

Weeks passed. Fake cheese started to taste better than real cheese. My favorite cheesecake is completely bereft of dairy, soy, corn or gluten and still tastes like a dream. Mmmmm.

I felt better. I had less problems. I had more energy. Some weird things that I’d been dealing with since I was a young teenager disappeared.

But I still had a digestive problem that lead to reoccurring infections.

So I kept researching. Reading. Thinking.

Then I found information on Candida overgrowth. I read through the causes first – excessive sugar/alcohol diet, antibiotics, contraceptives/birth control, and stress. Since the first three weren’t a factor in my illness that started when I was about 16, I focused in on the last one. Stress.

And I realized that for a person who claims to love God and trust in His promises, I shouldered a lot of burdens. I worry about things I say to friends, even close ones. I worry about social engagements of any kind. I worry about my films. I worry about writing instead of just writing. I worry about my family. I worry about my friends, even though most of them are grown adults. I worry about politics and the world.

I worry about food and health and my husband and my phone usage and whether or not my car is going to stop working on the highway and I get crushed by a semi going 80 miles per hour.

Here’s the thing; I started the Candida diet, which is basically a cleanse that annihilates the overgrowth but promotes a healthy gut and Candida level. It cuts out all of the things I mentioned above and focuses instead on healthy green vegetables and meats. I am taking probiotics and drinking only warm things without caffeine. I even added vitamin C to my daily routine, because it’s the main ingredient in helping the body naturally fight stress.

But none of that will be enough unless I let go of my burdens, trust God, and stop letting other people take too much out of me.

This is why I haven’t been writing. I have been very sickish, in my heart, my head and my gut. But I’m on the road to recovery. That’s September.

September is my chance to be free of a 10+ year disease.

I’ll be praying every day.

Filmmaking is for Warriors: How to Break a Filmmaker

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Empty white tables. 9 students shuffling in, at least 3 of them super early for class, and at least 3 of them walking in about a minute late. The teacher, a distinguished man with an uncanny resemblance to Tony Stark, sits at the side of a large white board hanging on the wall in front of the pressed-together tables.

The students settle into their normal spots – when you only have to deal with 8 other people, keeping your sacred seat is easy. The majority of these students are graduate students in writing. The rest are split up between undergrads in Communications or English.

I am one of the students that is majoring in Communications, Film Emphasis, and I always feel like everyone else thinks I’m a few dollars short of full-on eccentric weirdo status. I’m the one who wrote the short film about my brother leaving the kitchen cabinets open. I’m the one who dislikes reading aloud in class. I’m the one who did a presentation of the definition of “chick flicks.” (Which is actually an interesting topic that I’d be happy to explore later.)

Let’s be clear: No classmate ever bullied me or said anything malicious in the entire 2 years I attended that school for my Bachelors. Or, if they did, it was done in such a way that I didn’t take it as an insult.

But I was very shy.

And, for the sake of reality, I am a little bit short of normal.

Class starts when Tony Stark begins interacting with the students. He’s fairly informal, but it’s clear that he is in charge, has a plan, and knows what he is talking about. Today is a criticism day, so the format of class is already known to the students. Basically, the first 10 pages of a student’s script are going to be dissected in front of the group, shredded to bits with choice words and “feedback” and then left for dead out on the cold, white tabletop.

How do you break a filmmaker? Enroll them in a screenwriting class and let the games begin.

Here’s the drill: each student has 3 months to finish writing a feature film, a short film script or a TV series script with a full series bible. Since I always worked on a feature screenplay, I won’t waste time explaining the other two concepts in this post.

A feature film is typically between 90 to 120 pages. It must adhere to script guidelines, which are very specific, but if you have Celtx or Final Draft the program has your back on most of that formatting. Script formatting is not something that the teacher devised to ruin your life, though, as opposed to other scholarly guidelines. Script formatting is in place to paint the pictures of your story into the heads of every person on the production crew. By refusing to follow script formatting you are not making a statement about your individuality, you are giving the potential director, cinematographer, set designer and a host of other people a headache.

I wanted to be a professional screenwriter, so I always worked on features (that’s not a commentary on short film writing – generally shorts are harder). I took screenwriting 4 semesters in a row, in addition to other writing classes. The first semester was the easiest, in a way, because I don’t think we actually had to complete a full feature for that one.

Now, imagine this, you have 3 months to write at least a solid 90 pages of workable script. After the first 4-6 weeks you have to have something to be reviewed in class, because your classmates and teacher are there to help you become a better screenwriter. So you write and you write and you write. And those weeks fly by until it’s the night of your work, and everyone has been sent the first 10 pages of your script. As Tony explained, if you haven’t created all the expectations and set-up in the first 10 pages, you better revise.

So me, shy me, introvert me, I bring copies of my script to be read aloud in class. And when the dust settles, all the prose and dialog finished, I stare down at the white pages with black print in horrified anticipation of the reactions.

Tony Stark starts with an opening line like,

“Jessie, I want to like your script…”

(Brace yourselves, he’s about to shoot  me in the heart, and add a double tap to the head for good measure.)

“…But I just don’t get it.”

“Yeah, me neither.”

“Yeah.”

Agreement surrounds me. I wait, patiently, the blood pumping out of my heart, as Tony Stark continues, his words carefully chosen for maximum punch.

The descriptions are falling flat. The characters are too cartoony. Motives are unclear. The environment is difficult to grasp. The plot is too complex.

By the end of the class period I’ve nodded and thanked everyone for their feedback, and I stand awkwardly to gather all of my things. The 9 file out, but I’m waiting til the last, not even a Hobbit in their fellowship. My work of the last month has been reduced to a few lines of a concept, and every bit of my soul that I poured into those 10 pages is withered and gasping, a fish that survived the Pelican, but was dropped on the dry beach to breathe itself to death.

There will always be a time for constructive criticism, but the surest way of breaking a filmmaker is to show them what that really means.

But in the breaking, that filmmaker will be re-made. And the new creation will be far better than the one that was broken.

I left that night, and I contemplated giving it all up. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a screenwriter. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a writer. Maybe this was my sign to stop killing myself and become an FBI agent instead.

So I went home. And I rewrote that whole script. And I let them tear it apart again. And I signed up for the next semester of direct hits from the man who made billionaire status cool again (or his look-alike anyway).

Because this created better scripts.

And no matter how hard they broke me, this filmmaker never gave up. Because writers write, filmmakers make films, and we do it all the better when we listen to constructive criticism and refuse to give up.

Filmmaking is for Warriors: Our Greatest Weapon

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Here’s a question for you:

Before the use of social media, how did we know what filmmakers believed on certain important topics?

Here’s another one:

If I didn’t tell you outright, would you be able to guess what I religiously believe? What about politically?

Last question:

Is it important for you to know these things about me in particular or the filmmaking world in general for you to watch my films and appreciate them?

Debates swirl through our Facebook feeds. Name-calling and bullying abound. Twitter is increasing the source of hate-speech and calls to hurt specific individuals. It’s now fun to disagree with people so much that you now define them as your enemy and must mount a personal vendetta against them.

So in this war against your “friends” and followers, what weapons do we filmmakers use to defend our ideals, morals, point-of-view, personal convictions and desires? What do we have in our arsenal that has the ability to reach not just the American people or your neighbors or that guy you hate on your social media field? How can you be heard and understood and shown compassion for your differences rather than crucified?

Our most powerful weapon is our driven desire to make films. Real films. Films with heart. Films with action. Films about change. Films about the past. Films about the future. Films about people. Films about the galaxy, the universe, the stars.

Pick up a camera. Look through that lens. You see the world differently than any other person. And you have the opportunity to give that view to the world, to wield a weapon that has succeeded in changing the views of a nation (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?), keeping the political policies of a nation (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, AKA, one of the main reasons we still have the filibuster in the USA), connecting social injustice with audiences that wouldn’t normally choose to watch “that type” of film (District 9, apartheid), and showcased the bitter and painful struggles of war (Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now, Black Hawk Down), protecting the innocent (Hotel Rwanda, The Book Thief, Shindler’s List, Argo) and making the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good (The Passion of the Christ, Harry Potter Series, The Iron Giant, Hercules).

Your weapons as a filmmaker can include social media. You can definitely impact people through the impersonal inter webs. But your impact will be greatest in the stories you tell, because the stories we tell show far more about our character and our beliefs than the brief words we spout on social media.

“Movies touch our hearts and awaken our vision, and change the way we see things. They take us to other places, they open doors and minds. Movies are the memories of our lifetime, we need to keep them alive.” ~Martin Scorsese (quoted from here)

“I always want to make films. I think of it as a great opportunity to comment on the world in which we live. Perhaps just because I just came off The Hurt Locker and I’m thinking of the war and I think it’s a deplorable situation. It’s a great medium in which to speak about that. This is a war that cannot be won, why are we sending troops over there? Well, the only medium I have, the only opportunity I have, is to use film. There will always be issues I care about.” ~Kathryn Bigelow (quoted from here)

“I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to express the views of black people who otherwise don’t have access to power and the media. I have to take advantage of that while I’m still bankable.” ~Spike Lee (quoted from here)

“I’m never going to be shy about anything, what I write about is what I know; it’s more about my version of the truth as I know it. That’s part of my talent, really — putting the way people really speak into the things I write. My only obligation is to my characters. And they came from where I have been.” ~Quentin Tarantino (quoted from here)

I have a voice here, and I’m using it as a secondary weapon against my world. But my primary weapon is my films.

I dare you to watch through my films and comment with what you think I believe religiously and/or politically. Start with this one, and let me know how far ya get before you have some ideas.

Filmmaking is for Warriors: How to afford the good life

Filmmaking is for Warriors 3_2

“Why don’t you have Internet?”

I get that question a lot. I mean, I guess it’s valid here in the US. We act as though we’d die tomorrow without wifi. Gotta stay connected.

Let’s talk about dreams, then.

I decided to go to school for film. I did that knowing I probably would never make good money on it. I knew that. It didn’t bother me. I didn’t grow up with a lot of money and I didn’t yet understand what it’s truly like to live as an artist.

When you’re an adult, it’s all well and good to say “I’m an artist.” But when you go to the store to buy groceries for the week or when you get that inevitable rent payment reminder looming from the coffee table you have a choice: work hard and still do art, or live at home/with someone else and mooch for the rest of your life.

I don’t believe the latter choice is an option.

So. What do I do to be an artist and still live?

I work. First I worked in food service. Then in a gardening place. Then in retail. Then last year I found my current job – business writing – which utilizes all of the craft I’ve built up in writing for the past 15 years. I love my job. There’s no complaints about my job. I need this job to pay the bills.

But my job is not art.

Last year I pushed myself to create a film every month. I succeeded in making 11 films, 2 of which are sadly still in post. You can read about why I didn’t succeed in 12 films here.

I didn’t have the ability to pay anybody, I don’t have my own sound equipment, I didn’t always have access to real actors and we mostly made up our own lighting. On top of that; almost every single crew member and actor was either full-time in school or full time working or a mixture of both.

But we all made the time to create art.

How did we afford this good life?

We work hard. We make time. We pay our bills. We create good, solid relationships with other human beings who often help us out along the way.

But this post started with a very specific question – why my husband and I don’t have Internet at home.

A while back this thing happened called college. A decision was made to take out loans to pay for this good schooling. Those loans were a decision, made in full awareness that they would eventually be paid off, even if it took several years. There was never, nor should there be, any expectation that these loans would be paid by someone else or just randomly disappear. You don’t pay for a car and then expect to get the money back. You don’t pay for a Starbucks coffee and expect it for free, not if the coffee makes it to your hand.
A service was rendered, and that service had a price.

In our effort to pay off these loans and the new car that my husband chose, we have dialed back our lifestyle considerably. We’re attempting to continue dialing it back in the near future as well.

Here’s what we already do to save money:

  1. We live in a studio apartment. That’s one room and a restroom.
  2. We do not have Internet or TV at home.
  3. We are part of my family’s phone plan. I use an iPhone 4 that I got for $0.99 when I upgraded my plan in 2013, and my husband downgraded to an iPhone 3 over a year ago (I have no idea how it still works, blame good engineering).
  4. We don’t buy new clothes, or really any clothes, unless something is ripped, stained or necessary for work.
  5. We shop at Aldi. Although I should interject here that I have extensive, debilitating food allergies that prevent me from ingesting gluten, dairy, corn, most soy and some preservatives. If I eat these things I get very sick and am unable to work or function. Because of this we often shop at HyVee and Natural Grocers, which is expensive. I don’t recommend shopping like this if you want to save money and have the ability to eat normal foods (not talking about eating completely unhealthily, please don’t think that I want anyone to make bad food choices).
  6. I have the bare minimum health insurance and car insurance.
  7. My husband leads the way in donating money. This seems like a contradictory statement, but I’ve discovered that the more money you share, the more you suddenly have.

By doing these things, and probably some others I am forgetting, we are able to save a huge portion of our checks every month and work toward paying off debt. Because of these things we can afford to (over) spend on activities with our friends. Because of these things we can afford the good life, which is the artist’s life.

We don’t expect things to be free. We don’t expect things to be easy.

And those two pieces of wisdom, combined with a deep faith in an unfailing God, give me an artist life, the life that I always wanted since before college.

As always, feel free to comment with feedback, questions or projects of your own!