Manna from Heaven

So.  Three people spontaneously decided to donate small sums of money to the film.  I hope what moved them is contagious, I really do.  Because the money is the hardest thing with films, especially independent films with uncompromising producers (that would be me).

Here’s the thing.  I am a strange mixture of bad girl nonconformist with type A overachiever.  So as an artist, I wanted to just go…go for what interested me, go for that voice that calls from beyond the boundaries of the expected, learn whatever it had to teach me, pay any price to hear it all the time.

I was twenty-one, twenty-two.

In creative writing workshops, when I wrote lesbian stories, this forty-something man would scrawl his phone number on the pages with the sex scenes.

Meanwhile, the teacher talked about arc and specificity, about keeping the reader at arm’s length.  The class generally didn’t like what I did.  I went and got drunk after.  Then I’d rewrite and rewrite and to get the craft.  I wanted the craft.  I wanted the craft and truth, but I didn’t know how to make them come together.  I was fascinated with a multi-perspective view of the world.  I didn’t want to commit to one way of seeing.  I wanted to show that there were too many ways to choose from.  (This revealed an early tendency toward Buddhism, which states that all ways of seeing are constructs or dreaming anyhow.)

My teacher nominated me for the honors program in spite of the brutal critiques.  He told me I was thick-skinned (clearly he didn’t know about the drinking after critiques).  Then he told me I should go to graduate school, where they would kick the voice out of me, but I would learn craft like anything.  I said, “I don’t want to go anywhere where I’m going to lose my voice.”  The critiques were bad enough.

I could talk about the intervening workshops and editors, all of whom, up until Stuart Spencer, my playwriting god, tried to lead me back to craft, craft, craft.

I’m an overachiever, so I have craft, craft, craft.

But that voice?  The one that called from beyond the boundaries of the expected?  I was thirty-seven when I heard it again, ringing out of Angels in America by Tony Kushner, who clearly didn’t obey all the rules when he wrote that very amazing play.

What does this have to do with the small donations?  In 2006 I started writing a memoir, just for fun.  I thought, f$%^ it, I’m going to throw away all the rules, all the craft-craft-craft, and write how I want.  And I won’t show it to anyone.

The memoir exists beyond the boundaries of the expected.  It was, up to that point, the best thing I had ever done.  It does possess craft, because face it, craft is now a part of me.  But it breaks into the sound of who I truly am.  No keeping the reader at a distance.  No hiding, no showing off what I can do with the craft.  That’s a lie.  I show off, and then I say, “Look at me showing off!” which in my logic somehow doesn’t quite count.  Like, do I really believe I can get away with anything by being honest and funny?  It seems I do.

So, when it comes to the screenplay, I get feedback that would turn the story into a strong woman who is screwed up and her long-suffering husband.  Because the fact that they are both flawed and you don’t quite know who to blame–and this is true of the young lesbian couple as well–is, well, anxiety-producing.  It seems.

But the Episcopal priests really like it.  They say ambiguity is Episcopal.

Those 3 donations that fell from the sky?  They give me hope that I can have my voice uncluttered by the expectations of craft or ease of vision.  They give me hope that this film can whirl in from beyond the boundaries of the expected and surprise all of us.

So, 3 people who shall remain anonymous, living on the other coast, thank you.  Such small things can change a life.

Everything Is Everything. Or, Buddhism Meets Baruch Spinoza.

I have decided it is useless to pretend about, well, pretty much anything.  So, this blog is so little about film-making even though I’m making one.  It’s more about how to live a life.  In this case, mine.

But, I am making a film.  Which worries me.  I am such an impractical idealist with such high moral standards.  I tend to make up for that by being ridiculously over-competent, but still.  The challenges to those moral standards frighten me.

Here’s how it goes.  Last week was a big film week.  Through Father Paul Bresnahan, I booked a presentation at nAGLY, which is a support organization for queer youth.  Everything is about fund-raising now, but I wasn’t about to fund-raise youth.  I thought I’d just go and talk about being queer, and having been bullied, and my life-long obsession with homophobia, the nature of love and spirituality.  What I know about teens is that they always know bullshit and they hunger for truth.  So I thought I’d offer my truth and hope to connect.

It was fantastic.  The youth were so smart, and struggling to understand their place in the world, and hungry for any movie that told the story of their lives as queer people, and so hopeful that I could maybe provide one of those stories.  I felt so humbled to be allowed in.  Into their world, and their felt sense of themselves, and the way they related to each other.  I asked them to like the FB page, but that wasn’t really the point.  The point was moment-to-moment experience.  The point was being with the truth of what is.  It was only two days after my visit to Meditation Land, so what did you expect?

Anyhow, later in the week I went to Provincetown for the film festival.  There was a point on Saturday when the rest of the team were off watching movies and I was alone at the table.  And I just let go of making the festival work for us.  I sat there, and I could smell the sea, and feel the wind on my skin, and this feeling of peace just ballooned out of me.  I picked up my cell phone and dialed into a webcast on guess what? Spirituality.  And immediately people started coming up to the table.  Some of them wanted help deciding on movies.  Some of them wanted to know about Ptown.  One of them seemed incredibly interested in investing in the movie.  I really liked her, and I can’t stand pitching to people if I don’t really feel that the project is a match for their beliefs.  So it was just fun to talk and to connect.  The rest of the weekend was like that.  Meeting people I liked.  Having interesting talks.  Many of them seemed interested in the movie.  But you know, we’ll see.

Fund-raising.  I used to raise money for the big left wing organizations.  I did this over the phone and they trained us not to even say, “How are you?”  I couldn’t believe that.  You weren’t supposed to give the donor a chance to hang up.  If you’ve been reading this blog, you might have noticed that following the rules without thinking about them is just not something that I do.  So, I didn’t follow that rule.  In fact, I always said, “How are you?”  I’d say, “Hi, I’m Lyralen, I’m calling for xxx.  How are you today?”  And I actually wanted to know.  I wanted to know who I was talking to and what kind of day he or she was in.  I tried to listen and be respectful.

I was one of the five most successful fund-raisers in the company.  I did my best work for the organizations I believed most in, and I connected with people about how much we both cared about the cause.  Fund-raising never made me feel dirty.  I remember a friend said, “I hate those calls.  I can’t believe you do that.”  I said, “I raised $10,000 for people with AIDS this week.  What did you do?”

So, I think it’s just like that.  Fund-raising has to be moral.  And if connection is spiritual–and I think it is–it has to be spiritual.  It has to be genuine.  Like, come along for this ride if it’s right for you, if you love the story, if you care about gay marriage.  I think it’s so necessary to ground down into that, because when you want people to help you, you can lose focus on connecting and just get into will.  Trying to make people do what you want.  Which in my book, isn’t moral.  Period.

I think making a film should make me nervous.  Like, writing the business plan, I started to think about my investors.  I thought about owing them honesty, and a fair and good business deal, and a budget that would make it more likely they’d make their money back.  That might mean some sacrifices, but I want to feel really good about this.

Truth is, my favorite restaurants have not only good food, but nice people working there.  My favorite companies are socially responsible.  And the thing is, Buddhists teach you to do no harm.  To leave no footprint.  We made a verbal contract to not kill even one mosquito while we were on retreat.  It makes you think about lovingkindness.  It makes you want to saturate your life with it.

Of course my dark side is alive and well.  Duh.  I’m a human being.  But if I can see it, accept it, not let it determine my actions, well…

I am not in control.  Everything is itself.  Baruch Spinoza created pantheism, the belief that God is in everything.  Buddhists believe in treating everything in the world as God, even if they don’t ascribe to a monotheistic or even theistic world view.

I don’t believe in God.  I believe in the I-Thou relationship, in which I try not to forget your humanity or my own.  And I forget for tiny moments, and then have to remind myself.  I am lucky if you let me in, even for a moment.

Like I said, I am an impractical idealist.  But really, if you write a film about the nature of love, and the main character believes that love is expressed in action, in behavior, in being better, you kind of have to at least try to live up to that.

I hope I can.  Every day of my life I have hoped that.  Even on the worst days.  So must we all.