06 Sep Better
One of the first questions I am asked at most screenings of All the Rage is, “How’s your back?” or “Are you better?” My answer is that I’m doing great, but I’m also human. Things crop up, and the more work I do, the more equipped I am to deal with the issues that arise. I have hit the floor twice in immobilizing pain; both times the pain had a lot to do with how much resistance we faced to our films, “Horns and Halos” and “Battle for Brooklyn“. There were other personal stresses involved, but a great deal had to do with overwhelming frustration with our inability to lob the films over the gates of the gatekeepers, especially given that when we got these films in front of audiences the response was very powerful. Due to that resistance, I threw myself into the effort to get them seen with a kind of blind vigor that ultimately used up all of my physical and emotional resources.
Shortly after I began to recover from my second bout of back pain, I dove into production on our film “Who Took Johnny“. Our partner David had worked for 10 years to get this film off the ground and finally got some support from MSNBC to make it. However, the network wanted only to fund an hour-long TV version. We asked that we also be allowed to make a feature film in the future because we knew the story deserved it, and they agreed. After we turned in the TV version, my partner Suki spent a year editing the feature. We knew it was a powerful film, but once again faced insurmountable obstacles in regards to festivals and press as we tried to get it seen. It took us a year and a half to get a proper review. Obviously, this was frustrating. However, while Suki was editing, I was working furiously on “All The Rage”, and on myself. I believe that both of those efforts have paid off in powerful ways.
While the frustration of dealing with “Who Took Johnny” was difficult both emotionally and physically, I had the tools to handle that stress and didn’t even come close to ending up on the floor again. The second question I get asked at screenings in response to my first answer is “What did you do?” The first thing I do is work very hard to recognize patterns of behavior and thinking that are harmful. I work on forgiving not only others, but also myself, for things that they and I do “wrong”. I learn to accept that everyone I come into contact with is doing “the best that they can” and that framing opens the door for more acceptance and compassion. I listen to the experts that I talked to and follow their advice. When Gabor Mate told me to read “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle, I did so the next week, and found insights that changed my life. When Dr John Sklar told me to read, and do the meditation practice, “The Presence Process” I at first didn’t find the time. When I did find the time, it was life changing. I did the work. I did not do the work with the kind of consistency that I wanted, but I forgave myself, and re-applied my efforts.
Again, it’s hard to describe the frustration of making work that has a powerful impact on people, yet faces significant obstacles to reaching those people. For me, stress still goes to my calf and my foot. Now instead of being a distraction, it’s a barometer, and I listen to it. When my tension is high and my foot keeps me from sleeping, I sit up in bed and I meditate, or at least try to meditate. 95% of the time it helps me to get to sleep and I wake up feeling much better. I then try to slow down the next day and work with more insight an awareness. Eventually we got “Who Took Johnny” on Netflix and the response was quite incredible. After the first few months we downloaded the tweets, which were universally positive, and printed them out in a book (we were pitching a new project based on some of the other materials) and it was several hundred pages thick.
As we wound down that work on the distribution of Who Took Johnny, we ramped up our efforts on “All The Rage”. Again, we faced powerful resistance to the film. In the past, when we were able to get our films reviewed because they were either playing at an important festival or in theaters, they got very enthusiastic responses. “All The Rage” got much less enthusiastic reviews, which made it even harder to get it seen. We opened the film ourselves at Cinema Village, the same theater that we launched “Horns and Halos” and “Battle for Brooklyn”. It was during the launch of Battle that I burned myself out the last time. I did every q and a despite the fact that my hip and calf hurt so bad I could barely walk. I was not listening to my body at all at that point, and about a week later, I found myself on my floor. With All The Rage I once again did every q and a, but I paid attention to myself. That experience was amazing. The feedback was over the top, and dozens of people expressed to us that the film had changed their lives. We also did great at the box office. However, no other theater would book the film. It was frustrating, but I did not end up in great pain. That frustration has largely continued for two years, because we still can’t get anyone to write about the film, or the ideas, but I am still ok. To me that is a powerful testament to the power of the message of the film.
Am I healed? Yes. Does this mean that I don’t face the slings and arrows of life on a daily basis. No. For the past few days my calf has been particularly tight, and I’m not exactly sure what the stress is. However, I have taken the time to slow down, to meditate; to let a lot of things go. I still have a tendency to push myself a bit too hard, to work too late, to try to dash off one more email, and to push forward despite resistance. It’s been so hot here in North Carolina that I have been running late at night. Last night I took off at about 10:30, and by the time I hit the top of the hill I was drenched in sweat. There are a couple of routes I do at night; one is three miles and the other is six. I had worked a long day shooting a film for a friend but at the turn I decided to do the long run. My leg was tight but I pushed on, with the awareness that the tightness was not from a physical injury, but instead from stress. I talked to it occasionally as I ran. reminding my brain that I was ok. The third mile is up a very long hill. I put my head down and pushed up the hill. I ran that same hill as a young man, and as I lumber up it now I often can’t help but remember how limber and light I once was. I can see the stiffness in my form as my shadow swooshes through the street light. I long for the effortlessness I once had, but also practice acceptance of what is, and focus on my appreciation that I can run at all. By the time I reached the top I was wiped out. At that point I could go straight or take a left. Straight is about a mile longer, but it passes the Old Well on the UNC campus- which is a working water fountain. I hesitated but pushed forward. The water was so warm that it was not all that satisfying, but I used it to rinse some of the salt from my eyes.
The last two miles were tough and I had to question myself about the decision to go 6 miles rather than 3 given the humidity. Sometimes I push too hard, and sometimes I give up too easily. I chose to compromise. I slowed down and kept moving. It was still hard to complete the run. This morning my calf is a bit better. I took a quick walk and now I’m getting ready to head out for day 2 and 3 of the shoot. I am human and I am healed. I am also older and less powerful than I once was. I accept what is, and I am grateful for what I have.