Film-making. Really. I will try to stick to the subject.

In film fund-raising 101 they tell you this:  “Whatever you do when you ask people for money, don’t tell them it’s so you can realize your own dream.”

In my own case, this is not a problem.  It’s almost embarrassing.  I am living so far past what I dreamed for myself that I can’t say it’s my dream.  My dream was to be a famous, Nobel-prize winning, best-selling novelist.  I did complete a novel.  I did get an agent.  I did receive extremely glowing rejection letters.  Note the word rejection.

Of course, then a friend of mine asked me to come audition for a play, and I drove home from the audition crying my eyes out.  I walked in the door, still crying, and said to my partner, “I think I’ve been in the wrong art form my entire life.”

I have learned that no matter how driven and ambitious and passionate you are, there are always sudden turns and curves in life.  I have learned that no matter how well I think I know myself, there’s always a new surprise lurking.

Surprise #1: I really do like acting better than writing.  Not by a lot, but still.  Surprise #2: I don’t like writing novels that much.  I much prefer plays and screenplays.

Anyhow.  I said I’d attempt to stay on subject.

So if film-making isn’t my dream, then why am I doing it?  Well, I love film, and I love acting for film, so I’ve been around the medium, so I started thinking in it, and then I wrote a screenplay (or two) because that’s how the stories started to come.

This particular story–Saint John the Divine in Iowa–called to me.  We had a staged reading and people wouldn’t leave.  They seemed to just want to talk.  And I started really wanting to just make this story.  This one story.  It just so happened that it was about marriage.  I mean, I didn’t write about gay marriage to be political.  I wrote about it because I care about love and how people get to love each other.  I wrote this story out of the best that I have in me, and I am passionate about that–about goodness, and morality, and what I’ve learned about love.  With all the political and important messages that might be in this film, I just want to make the story because I think it’s beautiful, because I think it says something deeply human about our struggles to love each other, and that, in the end, is the message that I care about.  How do we love each other?  How do we learn to love well?  How do we suffer in order to be better?  Living those questions and making art about them is my real dream, I guess.

Rule broken.  (It is guaranteed that this will happen.  I break rules.  Whenever I can.)

Of course, film-making, or more precisely, film-fundraising, is incredibly, incredibly difficult.  How do we suffer in order to be better?  We ask people for money or help and get disappointed at least 25 times for every time we get a win.  I’ve been writing about religion and faith without saying that my faith in my ability to get this done is tested all day every day.  I was told by the first person I asked that if I didn’t have 20 millionaires on tap to ask, then to do something else.

You know what they say about writing a novel?  If you want to write a novel, go into a room, lay down, and wait for the feeling to pass.  If it doesn’t pass, poor you.  Go to the computer and write the damn thing.

This is exactly like that.

I fought for my novel for a while, a pretty long while, and I kept get “almost.”  Eventually I gave up.  The novel still sits in a drawer, and I still think I said something beautiful about the redemption of women’s friendships, but it’s painful to take out the novel, because I feel two things–1) that I let the book down and 2) is there something wrong with it I just didn’t see?  And then I read it, and it’s not perfect, but I still think it’s very good and true, so it comes down to okay, my artistic life needed to change, but I shouldn’t have given up.

So, tests all day every day… to belief.  To belief in myself, in the project, in what I am doing with my life, temptations for all the things that I already know how to do and are, therefore, easier.  Worry that someone on my team will find out how hard it is to be up against these tests and lose faith because of me.

But today I’m reading Sharon Salzberg on metta…lovingkindness.  Turning lovingkindness on oneself is her topic.  I have craved honesty all my life.  I have craved belief.  So I am continuing to believe, but I am saying that it is very difficult and challenging.  Because I can’t stand not saying what is.  I mean, really.  I grew up with a lot of people who couldn’t stand saying what is (I grew up upper middle class keeping-up-with-the-Joneses and got out asap), but I never understood why they couldn’t stand telling the truth then and I barely understand it now.

Anyhow.  May the stories of all beings be heard.  May all beings live in truth and grace.  May we be free from suffering.  May we find peace.

The Endless Questing for Truth

So writing this blog makes me think.  Not that everything doesn’t make me think.  But specifically, writing this makes me think about religion and spirituality.  (As do the books piled up next to my bed.  Usually those books are young adult fantasy novels, but for the last month it’s been all-Buddhism, all-the-time.)

So, this week I thought about my first communion, because of course that was my first spiritual rite of passage.  (I don’t remember my first confession.  Or I remember vaguely being very nervous and then getting a rote response…which was better than what my brother got.  I think the priest told him he better shape up or he’d go to hell.) (I am refraining from going off about that.)

Anyhow, my first communion was mostly eventful for all the whispered little-girl conversation with Maureen Patton about what the host would taste like.  A lot of anxiety about what it was made of and did it really turn into someone’s body, which would be really gross, and what happened if you couldn’t get yourself to swallow it.  Or if you dropped it!  And then, afterward, “Oh, my God, it tastes like soap!”  “Mine’s stuck to the roof of my mouth!”  We ducked behind the pew in front of us to compare notes and I’m sure some nun was glaring somewhere.  Not to mention our mothers, to whom we were a complete embarrassment… and a disappointment.  We were clearly not headed into religious life.

The next rite of passage was Confirmation.  Mine was notable for two things–I couldn’t get the name I wanted, and my mother’s determined efforts to get me into reality since I believed I would speak in tongues immediately upon being confirmed.  I wanted the name Christian, spelled exactly like that, and was very upset that they kept giving me Kristen.  No gender-bending in Catholic confirmation names, apparently.  I was VERY upset.  Imagine me younger.  Much younger.  With less restraint.  I know, less restraint is hard to imagine, but I have actually learned some in the intervening years.

Then there was the speaking in tongues thing.  Like, how did my mother figure out I had decided I was getting that gift?  I can’t have been stupid enough to tell her.  And I know for sure I didn’t tell her I was hoping for Spanish and French, since I thought those would be cool tongues to get.  Anyhow, she kept telling me it wasn’t going to happen, and the more she told me it wasn’t the more determined I became that it WOULD, and then it turned out the Monsignor who baptized me was coming to our church to do the confirmation, so she also told him.  She didn’t leave anything out.  She told him about my obsession with the name Christian.  He said, “Good for her.  There aren’t too many of those around.”

Needless to say, I didn’t get to speak in tongues, or you’d have heard about it.  I had to go live in Spain for that to happen.  But the day after I was confirmed, I did knock the chalice out of the monsignor’s hands, so he had to catch it and then try to get all the hosts to fall back into it, which was certainly eventful, as communions go.  I didn’t do it on purpose either.

Next rite of passage: reading Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and becoming an atheist at 17, while still attending Catholic high school.  I had a progressive nun for religion, so I won the religion prize that year.  She said atheists think more deeply about God than unquestioning believers.  But this rite of passage was really IT for me.  I had more mystical experiences once I became an atheist than ever before.  Utter transcendence.  So I won’t go into that in detail here, because I want to talk about NOW.  The ultimate present.  Or, Buddhism again.

Last night I was reading One Breath at a Time, which is a book that marries the ethics of the 12 steps with Buddhist practice.  It’s all excellent, but as I was reading I started to think about my own spirituality.  Not religion, not religious experience, not reading Buddhism.  But what is me.  My spirituality.  And you know, in all the Buddhist reading, I haven’t found my deepest spiritual experience.  I’ve been meditating on and off for over twenty years without reading about Buddhism–meditating was a fringe effort until now.  What I have done is listened.  If you asked me if I prayed, if I meditated, I would say that mostly I just listened.  Of course, it’s not listening in the simple sense of listening to another person.  It’s sensing as well…listening with your body, with your cells, with the life in you.  Listening for the beat of all things, listening for that sense of knowing that calls you into wakefulness.  I haven’t been watching my breath or saying lovingkindness.  I’ve been listening.  I’ve been paying attention to something I can’t see or explain.  If I have to put words on it, I’ll say this–I think there are energy currents that run through all things.  You can’t see them, but you can feel them–whether they are dark or light, whether they are the current that is meant for you.  You can listen for them in other people, or in silence, or in events…there is no place, no time, that they cannot be heard.  My practice has been listening, and waiting to know, and finding the current, and surrendering to it and then having one adventure or another.  It is the best kind of joy.  I’m just learning the next thing to learn and listening.  Or, of course, not listening and making myself miserable, and the fact that I know I’m not listening makes it even worse.

Perhaps Buddhism isn’t mystical enough for listening.  Not that it matters.  Nothing on this earth except my own screwedupness will keep me from listening.

Here is the question I’m listening to right now:  why is it that I started out to write a blog about film and ended up writing about spirituality instead?  It’s not just that I’m being endlessly self-indulgent (which I am).  It’s not just that the film pushes all these questions to the forefront (which it does.)  It’s that the film is only part of what I’m listening for.  I’m listening more for the next change, the next thing, the next call.  I’m stopping when I can, because I want to be sure I really am listening, I am creating time to listen.  The film, not the film, Buddhism, not Buddhism, I want to hear.  Clearly.  It feels so necessary to be clear right here, right now.

Of course, perhaps the thing I am always listening for is me.  Because I do want to hear the life in me, its own peculiar beautiful song.  More than anything, I want that.

Do Buddhists confess?

Bless me who/whatever for I have….

Nope.  Doesn’t work.  I can’t even get myself to finish the first sentence.

I do have a confession, though.  I don’t really believe in God.  Though obviously I have a fascination with religion.  Am I allowed to make what is really a pro-gay-pro-Christian film if I don’t believe in God?

And I’m still Catholic enough to be struck with fear of lightning and other punitive things falling from the sky because I said the above.  I’m cringing.  At my desk.  Alone.  Twelve years of Catholic school will do this to anyone.

Though the truth is, when I say I don’t believe in God, what I mean is that I don’t believe in a guy in the sky.  I don’t believe in anthropomorphizing the powers and forces in the world we don’t understand.  And yet, the life of Jesus Christ is branded on my unconscious so deeply he shows up in everything I write.  So I live with his story as archetype, and it is a story of richness and beauty, so why not?  I can still not understand everything I don’t understand.  I mean, there is SO MUCH  we don’t understand, and so much we can’t control, and levels of our own consciousness we can sometimes reach, but can’t explain to anyone and maybe don’t want to anyhow.  It’s both the most terrifying aspect of existence and the most meaningful.  All religions talk about mystery, and mystery is at the heart of, well, everything.

I have now clarified the nature of the universe.  Don’t thank me.  It was nothing.

And, accepting mystery, I went to St. Peter’s and heard Father Paul say the words I had copied from the Book of Common prayer into my screenplay, and I found them even more beautiful said out loud.  I find Father Paul’s commitment to a house of prayer for all people equally beautiful.  Just as I find the Buddhist concept of emptiness, which is really infinity, full of meaning. (I’m not being sarcastic.  Emptiness IS meaningful.)

About the film…and of course everything religious is about the film just as everything gay is about the film…we are going to be at Pride and at the P-Town film festival, and I’m going to talk to NAGLY, so things are moving along.  I even have a new really great thing to say that I can’t say until tomorrow afternoon when the press releases go out, so I’ll say it on Facebook then.

Don’t I just drive you crazy?

I’ve been thinking about Reverend Alex, the priest in the movie, and how I so understand why people want to be priests.  To stand at the center of a spiritual experience, to commit to it as your number one, to say my life is about finding meaning and grace more than anything else …that is a life of passion every bit as much as being an artist.  Because an artist says my life is about making meaning and beauty from the truth that I see in my own way and that matters more than anything else.

Of course, I have to spend part of my days writing a business plan that requires web research and accounting and knowing things like Section 181, which allows film investors to declare 100% of their investment as a deduction, will expire on 12/31/2011 unless President Obama renews it again.  Do priests have to manage the church budget?  Or do they have someone do it for them?  I’m going to imagine they have someone do it for them, but they have to know about it because that is my goal.  To only have to know, instead of do and know.

I am also currently scheming about how to sit in on a vestry meeting, because I am re-writing that section of the screenplay to up the ante.  I’ve heard there should be comedy involved.  Anyone know any vestry members who would like to see themselves represented through my eyes?

Off to silent retreat in 15 days.  Believe me, after I finish my 10 days of silence, you will hear all about it.

Zen Again

I did four one-on-one consults at the Filmmakers Collaborative conference yesterday.  You’re only supposed to get to do one, but you can wait list yourself for others, and then show up; and every time I showed up, someone else had not shown up, so I did four.  This is cosmically over-fair in my direction, I suppose.  To make up for it, I wrote a whole blog on this subject already… and it disappeared.  Meaning, I wrote it, published it to the wrong site (don’t ask), copied it, deleted it, but when I pasted it, it was gobbledygook.  Oh well. I am being non-attached about this and writing about non-attachment.

I am, of course, concerned with kharma, because I am obsessed with Buddhism in a way that is actually attached.  Yes, I have crossed the line.  BUT, and this is very good news, I’ve learned that it’s called bright faith and does not, in fact, qualify me for some 12 step program called Obsessed-with-Buddhism anonymous.  Of course, bright faith isn’t quite the correct term since I don’t really believe in anything yet.  But I’m trying it all out.  I like trying things out.  Countries, continents, careers. (Look at that alliteration!  That was without even trying.)

I have already been called out once this week on saying that I was good at everything.  I am actually quite non-attached about being good at everything (except the things I pretend not to be good at so my partner has to do them).  Think of this:  being good at everything means you have to do things you don’t even LIKE.  I am very attached to finding a way to stop doing things I don’t like.

Obviously I am in an obnoxious, not-very-Buddhist mood today.  I did neighborhood clean-up of Urban Wild space today for over two hours, sneezing and/or blowing my nose the whole time, so I may be entitled.  To this mood.  Or something.  Or would that be attachment?

Because guess what?  I really like the idea of non-attachment.  Like, how’s this?  I really love the story of this film.  I keep feeling I’m supposed to make it.  Even though I’ve never had any ambition to be a filmmaker.  This lack of ambition makes beginner’s mind very easy.  And frankly, I’m learning so much it’s like being a kid.  I get to go to cool conferences and talk to very smart people…and then think about everything and try to figure out how to make fund-raising work, and I get to be non-attached about the right people showing up to help me, and I get to investigate the experience of getting to know the right people in a non-attached way that is gently curious.  And I get to act very professional, which I might actually be, in a zen kind of way.

That’s my question.  Again and again.  Can it be in a zen kind of way?  I really hope so.  I really hope you can be sane and do hard work.

On another subject, I should report on doing the It Gets Better video.

It was really hard.

I had forgotten than injustice doesn’t just make me angry.  It breaks my heart.  It is in the lives lived, the ones that could have been happier.  Father Paul says the best sentence in the Bible is this: “God is love.”  The Buddha says that suffering is the nature of human life.  Dhuka is.  No one escapes it.  The purpose of meditation and the Eightfold Path (which outlines the very principles by which the protagonist of my film lives) is to overcome suffering.

It is the way my heart breaks at injustice that brings me to Buddhism.  And to the making of this movie.  It’s not political.  It is in the lives lived, and the desire to end suffering where it can be ended.

In a non-attached way, of course.