a mental health year

It seems to happen every four or five years, doesn’t it? That cycle of personal growth. Quarter-Life Productions started in 2005 – a mere four years ago. Perhaps that’s a testament to my advancing age (advancing, not advanced), that four years seems a small speck, a blip in the otherwise murky waters of my sea of emotional instability. Four years. That’s nothing. Four years from now I’ll be a thirty-year-old. A thirty-year-old I’m slowly getting acquainted with. Four years ago I was twenty-two. A small baby. I don’t know that kid anymore. But in tracking the chronological path of Four Years, it’s within the scope of cognitive recognition. Like when you were a kid on a camping trip, and you’d shine the flashlight at the stars, just to see how high up that beam of light could go. It didn’t reach the sky, just like now, at twenty-six, I have no possible way of casting any light on who I will be or even what I will be when I’m old and grey (if, indeed, I ever get there). Yet now, thirty is the trees on the edge of the campsite; close enough for the flashlight to reach. I’m not entirely sure who, or what, or where I will be, but the closer I get, the possibilities narrow.

Four years ago, when Jason and I started QLP, had we any clue this is where we’d end up, at the end of 2009? I think our plans were far grander then. We didn’t have the proper understanding of time depth that it takes your mid-twenties to figure out. We were only having our quarter-life crisis, where one suddenly realizes that adulthood is not all it was advertised to be. I guess we now qualify for the post-quarter-life crisis: slowly figuring out what your adulthood actually is. Naturally, this means 2009 was unprecedented in the number of old friends from grade school who got married and/or became parents and/or homeowners. 2009 seems like a blip for me. The fact that it has passed so quickly quite frankly scares the shit out of me. I feel like I’ve barely done anything, but in the objective sense, I have. It has been a big year for wading in new waters, rather than plunging deeper in existing ones. A big year for growing up. Not only in the material sense (yes, I’ve moved out; yes, I’m going back to school, and so on), but I’ve come to appreciate that life happens slowly and widely, even if time seems to be running out. And if you really want life to happen, it takes hard work.

In the months since I’ve returned from my trip (almost all twelve of them), I’ve come to the conclusion that, yes, I want to work in film. I want to work in the arts. Yes, it will be difficult. Yes, I will be poor. Yes, I will need a day job. It’s going to be a long road, but a rewarding one. It’s what I want, and I’m willing to work for it. Coming to the conclusion is one thing, deciding how to proceed from there is more difficult. It’s not about setting a goal and then outlining a firm series of steps with which to achieve said goal. It’s not a video game, is it? It’s not a series of increasingly more difficult tasks that, if you execute them correctly, will spring you up to the next level. End goals are funny things. They need to be vague. If they are firmly black and white, the impeding fear of failure hangs over you until Accomplishment. It’s difficult not to be engulfed in anticipatory guilt, anxiety, stress.

Far more than failure, however, I would fear success. With such a narrow-minded ambition, you’re always left with the burning question: “What now?” What does Mario do after he rescues the Princess? It’s never really explained, is it? Do they get married and live Happily Ever After, only to have their marital dischord revisited ten years down the road in a film by Sam Mendes? Does Mario bog off back to Italy and his lacklustre plumbing business? It reminds me of a great quote of Carrie “Princess Leia” Fisher’s: “There is no point at which you can say, ‘Well, I’m successful now. I might as well take a nap.’” Success, to me, lies in fulfillment, which is not some single moment but rather in a state of being. Sure, if I won an Oscar, I’d feel successful, but I would rather consider success to be making a career out of something I loved, of being well-read, writing aplenty, working with great people making great films, and having a loving support network of family and friends. Cliched, right? Yet somehow more emotionally sustaining than winning an Oscar.

My point, as deeply embedded as it might be, is that in the four years we’ve been with QLP, we’ve transitioned from this single goal-driven mentality, to the more generalist happiness-first mentality. I wish I could say that our ambition has taken on a more Zen-like stance, but really, we’ve just been frustrated. We’re still going through the growing pains of this post-quarter-life crisis; we’re still connecting the dots. Between Jason and I, we’ve realized that this year needs to be one of personal growth. When we look at it objectively, QLP has achieved quite a lot in four years – especially considering our complete lack of funds. We’ve been so busy working in the moment that we’ve burnt ourselves out. I’m going back to school. Jason wants to travel a bit. I also want to travel some more. We’re taking a personal year to get our shit together.

It comes from a stance of motivation. As Jason put it, when we started we had the motivation, we had the things we wanted to say, but we lacked the know-how, we lacked the ability, we lacked the voice with which to say it. Now, four years later, we have the ability, we have the know-how, our voice is coming along, but we’re struggling for motivation. What is it we really want to say as artists? How can we bring our own voice to that statement? Jason has called this personal crisis a lack of motivation, and while I never thought of it that way before, I realize that this lack of motivation comes because I’ve been struggling for something to say. I have many ideas, many gripes, many perspectives, but I’ve felt a little lost. There’s nothing more vexing than writer’s block. Style issues I can overcome. I can write putrid drafts with terrible sentences and terrible word choices – words like ‘putrid’ – and it can be fixed in revision. I don’t mind that. I like revising. I just hate not feeling like I don’t have anything interesting or original to contribute to the world. The last great thing I felt I wrote was the Two Lava Lamps and Thirty-Nine Staples script (not my title, my title was Five Years Later). That was 2006. I need this year. I need to find my voice. It won’t come overnight, but it’s there. It’s spent this last year incubating. I think – pardon the ridiculous metaphor – it’s finally ready to be born. Give 2010 a fair shake, and hopefully I’ll end the year on a high – skilled, connected and ready to create. And QLP – and myself – can finally live up to our potential.

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