Follow the fear, love the hate

(There are some minor spoilers in this post for the hit series, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and the feature film, The Babadook, so if you haven’t seen these, GO WATCH THEM RIGHT NOW BECAUSE THEY’RE AMAZING – and on Netflix – and then come back and read this.)

It’s officially October, one of my absolute favorite months. Fall is here, along with the cooler weather, changing leaves, pumpkin-flavored everything, and my favorite holiday, Halloween.

It seems only appropriate then that I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of fear and what truly scares us. Not so much in the sense of goblins and monsters, but more so about the demons that are actually the scariest of all – the ones that lurk within.

The legendary improv coach Del Close coined the phrase, “Follow the Fear,” a phrase that many in the comedy and entertainment world have heard of before, and it doesn’t take a psychologist to recognize that this advice is not only helpful in improvisation, but in life as well. But lately I realized that for me, following my fears is more than getting on that new roller-coaster, watching that horror movie, or riding that haunted hay ride. Following the fear is more than just getting on stage, asking for a raise, or telling someone you love them. Recently I’ve become fascinated by the idea of not only following the fear, but becoming the fear. You know what’s scarier than ghosts, axe murderers, or even The Feels? My self.

Inside each of us, in the dark recesses of our subconscious, there is a shadowy place – an elephant graveyard if you will – that hides and represses the true things we fear most, traits we never want to acknowledge, emotions we should never feel, and beliefs that would shock those closest to us – and most of all, shock ourselves. Carl Jung called it the Shadow, and he asserted that every human has one. There are a lot of different theories (Freud has his own interpretation, for instance) on this idea of Shadow self, and if you’re interested, you should definitely look into it more, but for me, I like to think of it as a self of many layers.

credit unknown, but creepy right?
credit unknown, but creepy right?

I finally watched the hit independent horror film, The Babadook, directed by the brilliant Jennifer Kent, and not only is it a well-made, sophisticated, and superbly scary film, it delves deep into the popular boogeyman trope and all of the ways we are haunted. Single mother Amelia and her precocious son, Samuel, find themselves stalked and haunted by a very menacing force, one that represents to me many things – grief, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, mental illness, and most of all, our Shadow selves.

When we are very small children, we live very reactionary, impulsive lives. As we grow older, we are told what is right and what is wrong, what is acceptable behavior and what is not. We lose our baser instincts and repress traits and emotions that our friends, community, and society deem as unacceptable. We transform ourselves into becoming who we think we should be, who we want to be seen as, in order to be more palatable. Jung calls this the Persona. But those traits and emotions never really go away. As little Samuel reminds his mother, “You can’t get rid of the Babadook.” These unwanted traits and emotions get boxed up and placed in the basement or broom closet of our minds, lying there, forgotten, but very much still there.

As I continue to work on my self-growth and self-awareness, or as I like to call it, Adulting, I have lately found myself in a strange place. As I’ve told my friends exhaustively, it feels like I’ve bought a beautiful old house. I’ve painted the walls, stripped the floors, papered the shelves. I’ve unpacked and decorated, and I’m about to have a wonderful big housewarming party soon. But then I go down into the basement, and I’ve found that there are actually dozens more boxes to unpack that I have completely forgotten about. They are huge and unwieldy, filled with old, dusty, rotten things that have started to fester and smell. I desperately do not want to go through all of those boxes, especially with a party so soon, but the smell is starting to creep up through the floorboards. The funk crawls up into my nostrils, taunting me, haunting me, and I know it will never go away until I go back downstairs and sort through all of that stuff. (Ugh, this again, my friends are thinking.)

Gross, right? The best metaphors for me usually are.

Those boxes all belong to my Shadow self. But I don’t think the contents are only baser emotions and traits from childhood we’ve repressed. Freud would say that it can also stem from past traumatic events, from something as emotionally scarring as abuse to seemingly sillier ones, such as farting in your first grade music class in front of everyone. (That’s just, you know, an example, not like that happened to me…) But Jung also believed that what we hate in others, is actually a part of our Shadow selves. In fact, he believed that our Shadows are so much of an integral part of ourselves, that we not only project that self onto others, but we even subconsciously attract people in our lives that exemplify our Shadows. (Which is why I will no longer exclaim, “Why am I always surrounded by crazy people!” outloud.)

For me, it’s all of these things and more – it’s base instincts, it’s past trauma, it’s projected fears and hates, but what interests me the most is that collective whole that stems from all of it. When am I the absolute ugliest? Not in a cute Manic Pixie Dream Girl way that’s just such an adorkable hot mess. Not in the pre-makeover montage romantic comedy sense either. But when am I truly ugly? What is it about myself that I don’t want to admit, much less even look at?

Scary, right? Well, let’s go there.

But why? You might be thinking. Isn’t fear a useful emotion to warn us of danger? Why go to these dark recesses? Why dredge up the past? Why voluntarily go through the pain?

Because you can’t get rid of The Babadook! Jung believed that actually ignoring your Shadow only makes it stronger, only allows it to grow and can eventually take over. You give it power by not standing down to it. At the end of the day, pretending it doesn’t exist doesn’t make the Big Bad go away. Only confronting your Shadow is only the first step. But your goal isn’t to defeat it. You can’t. But you can make friends with it.

artwork by Alex Juhasz
artwork by Alex Juhasz

Jung writes, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate… To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light.  Once one has experienced a few times what it is like to stand judgingly between the opposites, one begins to understand what is meant by the self.  Anyone who perceives his shadow and his light simultaneously sees himself from two sides and thus gets in the middle.” (Jung, 1959, p. 872).

So how do we do that? I’m not really sure, I’m figuring that out myself right now. But WWBD? (What would Buffy do?) She wouldn’t wait around. She’d go after the Big Bad first. So similarly, like Spike in the season 6 finale of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, it’s my turn to go into the deep, dark caverns that I’ve been ignoring for so long.

I recently was joking with a very wise close friend about how I hate mirrors. They’ve always freaked me out, so much so that I never kept one in my room and would cover ones with towels if they faced the bed at night. He replied, “I bet you could psychoanalyze the shit out of that.” I joked back, “What, you mean I’m afraid to truly look at myself? Yeah probably.” At the time, I was kidding. But he was right on, and so was I.

I now try to look into mirrors as often as I can. Not to make sure I look good, but to see and accept my flaws. I check in with myself when I’m feeling Shadow-y and instead of trying to squash those feelings or dismiss them, I Lean In. Another wonderfully wise friend of mine says he likes to just acknowledge his Shadow when it pops up: “Hey you, I see you. I hear you. It’s okay.” It doesn’t always make those emotions magically disappear, but I’ve found it lightens the load a bit. So I’m now sitting with my Shadow, hanging out with her, and sometimes even giving her a hug or two. Because like it or not, she is a part of me.  And by acknowledging her and accepting her, I get that much closer to fully loving my whole self. As another very wise friend of mine once said, “This thing, this whole beautiful, unimaginable, unrepeatable, glorious mess is OURS.”  (Yes, I have many wise loving friends, for which I’m very grateful.)

painting by Steven Kenny
painting by Steven Kenny

Yes, it’s absolutely terrifying. Yes, I’m going to have to go through a myriad of extremely hard tests, and yes, I’m going to get my butt kicked. But if I don’t, the boxes will only continue to fester until the smell takes over my whole house. The Babadook will possess me and take hold, leading to destructive, unconscious actions. And I will never get my soul back. But unfortunately, I don’t get a season hiatus or end to this movie. These kind of battles are lifelong, methinks.

I see now that I’m using too many metaphors. But you get it.

So go forth! Follow The Fear. Feel Your Pain Fully. Love what you Hate.

Because in doing so, you might find that’s when you’re truly free and your truest self. And that self is beautiful. And I think the benefits will prove to all be worth it in the end. In fact, so far this Shadow work has already positively influenced all of my work, which makes perfect sense, as Jung believes that in this darkness actually lies the root of creativity.

And as my one of my beautiful previously-mentioned friends says, “It’s in the darkness we find our strength.”

 

Taken Care

Okay, I’m going to try and keep this one short, but I just had to share something that happened to me this weekend.

On Sunday, I had booked several meetings for “Are You Afraid of the ’90s?”  pre-production, and catching up with old friends that I haven’t seen in a while. I met up with my hilarious and talented line producer, Emily Duncan, and she broke the news to me that despite all of the fundraising we’ve done, we were still over $3,000 short for our last shoot in January. I was crushed, naturally. Not only did I have to somehow find a few more thousand dollars, but even then I wouldn’t be able to afford to give my hard-working crew the measly raise they really deserved. This shoot would, again, be about scrambling and penny-pinching (#indiefilmproblems). We joked about going into prostitution (as I’m sure all poor artists have before us) and promptly went to get a glass of wine.

The cuteness is too much, right? Photo credit by Jimmy Sireno, of course.
The cuteness is too much, right? Photo credit by Jimmy Sireno, of course.

I then went to visit my good friends and producers, Chelsea and Jimmy Sireno. Chelsea has been working with me on this film from the beginning and is one of my biggest cheerleaders. And her husband’s extensive knowledge/talent on all things video and production, as well as his infallible cheerful attitude, have been my saving grace many a time. As if they couldn’t be more awesome, Chelsea just gave birth to their first child, James Phillip Jr., last week. As I held their baby son in my arms, I could feel myself just melt. He is perfection, right down to his little fingernails. What a wonderfully lucky little human. Here he is, just 1 week old, surrounded by unconditional love. He has the best parents he could ask for, a loving extended family, and really cool family friends. (Wink, wink!) In my arms was Possibilities. He has years and years ahead of him to experience love, loss, happiness, excitement, disappointment, pain, sorrow, anger, pleasure, peace – it’s magnificent.

After, I made my way home, feeling full of love. On the train platform, I took out my old journal. I re-read old entries from July, but they seemed like they were written lifetimes ago. I rode the train with my rose-colored glasses on, thinking about how far I’ve come, my place in the universe. I am still sad for the loss of my friend. I’m still anxious for our upcoming shoot. But the night was crisp and clear, and I felt so grateful.

And then, as I went to unlock my front door, I noticed my keys were missing. As I knelt down in the lobby of my apartment building, the soft, dreamy tendrils of my zen-like state quickly began to recede as panic set in. I had lost my wallet and keys. They were nowhere to be found. And of course, I had kept everything important in one place, so my license, credit cards, monthly Metrocard, insurance card, everything – was just gone.

I will skip over the hours I spent freaking out, calling my banks, and making poor, exhausted new father Jimmy check out the subway stations for me (thank you, Jimmy!) but needless to say, my grateful mood was ruined. I felt so stupid, my self-esteem plummeted, and I couldn’t stop kicking myself. More so, I felt betrayed. I had trusted in the universe and right when I felt so grateful, it goes and screws me over. What the bleep.

The next day was rainy and so was my mood. I was so grumpy and the whole work day felt as if I were in a fog. But then I got a phone call from my gym. (I thought it was to hit me up for paying my fat tax) Turns out, two kind elderly ladies had found my wallet and had been trying for hours to get a hold of me to return it! But I had already cancelled all of my cards and by then, my mood was so foul and low that even that news didn’t seem to cheer me up much.

After work, I went to a seminar at NYU Tisch about raising money for the arts. I was skeptical but as mentioned earlier, in pretty desperate need. It was informative, but most of all, inspiring. One thing that Andrew Frank, the instructor, imparted to us was to have a daily mantra:

“Money comes to me easily.”

When he said that, my immediate reaction was to do a spit take. But alas, I was not drinking anything at the time. Even now, that statement makes me want to cry-laugh loudly. It sparks an anxious little flame in my gut. But he continued, saying that we should say it 10-15 times a day, putting it out into the universe.

After the class, feeling a bit more invigorated about my film’s financial situation, I went over to the apartment of the ladies who have found my wallet. They were so sweet, the first thing they did was wrap me up in a big hug. We chatted in their home, me profusely thanking them and trying to give them money, they refusing the money and telling me to be more careful. They were the African grandmothers I had always wanted. We agreed to get drinks next time and I headed back out into the night.

source: wikipedia
Look at how much those stars and planets love you. They twinkle with love. source: wikipedia

On the way home, my spirits were flying once again. How silly I was, to think that the universe would not take care of me. I was being a spoiled child, crying over spilled milk. Here I was, in good health, with wonderful friends and family who support and love me, living in one of the greatest cities in the world, pursuing my dreams and creating art, working a full-time job with great co-workers – and I was stomping my feet over losing my wallet! I thought the universe had failed me, when maybe this all happened to show that It is actually really taking care of me more than I think. Maybe it’s not some old bearded man in the sky, maybe it’s just Energy, or collective consciousness, but sometimes things do work out in ways that, at the time, we might not always understand.

That’s not to say that tragedy never happens or that we should force ourselves to ignore feeling horrible. As my friend Terence was telling me while I was ranting, most likely the Buddhist thing to do is just acknowledge the emotions I was feeling, without judgement. This whole experience has made me recall one of the first conversations I had with one of the actresses in my film (who is also incredibly zen and centered), and she looked at me across our lattes and said,

“Do you think the universe is out to get you? Or are you the type of person who believes that you are loved and that you will be taken care of?”

I don’t want to think the universe is out to get me. It sounds like an exhausting way to live. I agree with my friends, Mr. Frank, and Björk, and I will repeat these mantras every day, believing them as best as I can:

I am given love. I am loved.

I am taken care of.  

Money comes to me easily.

So. What are your mantras?

PS: How appropriate that my coworkers have this song playing right now?

PPS: Here are some other wonderfully heart-warming stories of human kindness to lift your spirits.

Lay off the Millennials

So this was going to be an extremely rant-y post about how grossly inaccurate the popular sweeping negative generalizations about Americans born between 1980 and 2000 are – a HUGE span of years, by the way – but then I stumbled across this political cartoonist’s take on it all and it’s pretty fantastic.

Instead, I’m going to continue the rant discussion in regards to film and television, as that is my area of work (and hopefully someday, expertise). The other day I came across this article on Indiewire.com, a trade online publication for independent films, about the SXSW grand jury prize-winning film, Fort Tilden. Read here. Full disclosure: I haven’t seen this film yet, but reading this review brought up feelings of frustration in regards to my fellow “millennial” filmmakers.

Okay, so here goes:

Dear fellow filmmakers and TV producers,

Please stop making us all look bad. I know that your goal is probably to be bitingly accurate, but I, for one, am really getting sick of watching whining, spoiled, self-involved, vapid white 20-somethings (specifically girls) who live in Brooklyn and have their daddies pay for everything. We get it. Women like that exist. They may even represent the ugliness inside all of us or something metaphorical like that. They have sex with emotionally unavailable, spoiled, self-involved, vapid, vain white 20-something men and wonder why they’re unhappy. They make mistakes, they take drugs, they have no direction. The problem is, that is only one small, very specific, and exclusive section of the so-called “millennial generation.” And Lena Dunham already did it, and she’s doing it well. So please, show me something new.

In every generation, the old folks like to berate us young folks. The future of America is doomed, we’re all lazy, in their day they worked really hard, etc. I understand that and in 20 years, I’ll probably say the same about the next generation. (I actually already worry about 12-18 year olds.) I may have been born in 1987, but the world of Fort Tilden, Girls, and Tiny Furniture is not my world. In fact, much like anytime I visit Williamsburg, I usually feel very purposefully left out. (I still really like beards though)

Let me give you a bit of background on myself and my friends. Yes, the majority of us graduated from NYU Tisch, SVA, or another similar NYC arts school. The majority of us are struggling artists or work in the entertainment industry. All of us continually contemplate (usually over watered-down well drinks in a dive bar) our purpose, our life choices, and our chosen career paths or lack thereof. But all of us work really, really, really hard at what we do. Some may still get financial assistance from their parents, but only out of necessity. We all temp or waitress or bartend or sit at a desk assisting a demanding boss/network/production company for hours and hours and hours every day. We understand the sacrifices we have to make to do what we love, and we’re constantly trying to find the best compromise that lets us eat while still keeping our souls alive. We’re trying to get in touch with our own sense of spirituality and the universe, we’re making amends and healing our childhood traumas, and we’re trying to eat better, live cleaner, and be responsible. We are on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Tumblr (don’t lie, you are too!), but most of the time, it’s to promote our own passion projects that we’re self-funding through Kickstarter or Indie Go-Go. We go see each other in the theatre and attend our own film screenings. We may go out and drink and dance and maybe even do drugs, but we’re always keeping our eyes and ears and minds and hearts open to new experiences, new people, new ideas, new cultures.

artwork in the 191st 1 train tunnel
artwork in the 191st 1 train tunnel

Best of all? We’re every single color, race, and creed. We’re straight and gay and lesbian and bi and queer. We’re not walking stereotypes, we’re complex human beings. We’re supportive of human and animal rights. We keep up on the news on a global scale, whether it’s through CNN or Facebook. We march in the Gay Pride parade and sign protests against companies that publicly declare against our rights. Conservatives and Republicans may call us liberal and foolish, but we are members of disenfranchised groups. We experience oppression, discrimination, and the glass ceiling every day. And we dream of a world where it does get better. We understand that we don’t understand the gray area. We want to find love and success and happiness and sometimes it’s really hard not knowing where or when or even if we’ll ever find that.

So have faith in us. We’re young, but don’t hold that against us. Not all millennials are self-centered, socially-inept whipper snappers. Some of us are just trying to get through our 20s alive. My friends and I are magnificent people. We have a lot to learn. And I can’t wait to see what we come up with.