Pardon my absence from the blogosphere but I’m slightly superstitious. The world being what it was in the final weeks of summer – financial disaster in the US, riots in the UK, protests in the Israel and various domestic unrest in households near and far – it seemed best to keep my head down and forge quietly ahead. LBJ famously said, “Being President is like being a jackass in a hailstorm. There’s nothing to do but stand there and take it.” My friend’s father, a colleague of LBJ, had his own Texan take on the phrase and would say to his little girl, “Sweetheart, sometimes you have to be like a jackass in a hailstorm – put your down and wait for the storm to pass.” I’ve been waiting for the storms to pass and keep looking for blooming flowers amidst the burning ash.
But the other night, I couldn’t find a flower anywhere. I was home watching Bill Maher and feeling useless. There was Bill, all witty and fabulous, interviewing intelligent people who had written books or started life-changing organizations. His guests included a former governor, a civil rights activist and a world famous author. And there was me, sitting on the couch with a bowl of pasta after a week of work at a job where I save no lives, change no political policy, influence no major governments. Useless.
I spiraled then, and thought about all I hadn’t done. The world is on a scary path: economic disaster, failed education systems, escalating worldwide racism, sexism, anti-semitism. There is spring during autumn all over the Middle East, the behemoth that is China is lumbering out of its deep sleep and toward epic change and our own country teeters on the edge of insanity steeped in dark crazy tea. And I’m sitting on my couch doing nothing.
I told myself I do nothing because I'm not smart enough, didn't major in the right thing, haven't focused my energy in the right places these past several decades. And for the most part that is true. I didn’t invent a computer chip that changed the world. I have not written a book on world politics. I am not clever enough to be invited as a guest on Bill Maher and hold my own. The truth is my knowledge of world events is limited to what media I consume in the pre-dawn moments before my day jolts into full swing or the bits and pieces I catch after hours. And while I’m not the least informed of my circle, I’m hardly the most.
But today I got jolted out of my useless blues. Today I did the thing that still gives me joy, despite the fact that its part of my job and I do it time and time again. Today, I went to the movies. It seems a trivial thing really – two hours in a dark box with a big screen shouldn’t really change your mood. But it can. And today it did. This thing we do – this magical, wonderful and terribly ethereal business of making movies – this world that can be so frustrating, can seem so ludicrous at times, can also be profoundly affecting. True – its rare. And most movies are crap. I’ve worked on as many bad movies as good ones (ok – more). And truly great movies are a scarcity beyond comprehension. But they happen. And when they do, when a movie can make you laugh and cry and feel and go on a ride that feels like fifteen minutes even if its been three hours – THAT is when being in the movie business feels like something substantial.
I chose this job – this career in movies - in part because the idea of pursuing a PhD in political science seemed really exhausting 25 years ago. But in part I chose it because I love it. I love that I interact with some of the most talented, most inspiring artists alive today. I love that these artists work in a medium that has the potential to have a reach far greater than paint or ceramic or even words on a page. And I love that every experience with every artist is unique and a true education all its own.
But mostly I love that today I went to a movie theater and for two magical hours got swept up in someone else’s life. I entered someone else’s story – I saw what the director wanted me to see and heard what the director wanted me to hear. But the experience was uniquely my own. For the moments I laughed, as well as for those I cried, I was in the soothing hands of a master filmmaker and I went down the path he created for me – though I’m sure I saw the path slightly differently from the man on my right or the woman on my left. This is the beauty of film. This is the magic and strength and power of a well made movie. And this is the world I have the great privilege to be part of.
I am not a writer. I do not direct movies. But I do rely on a gut instinct to evaluate material and I do use that gut and a good bit of passion to push to make movies that make people laugh and cry and think and just get away for two magical hours in the special box we call the movie theater. They may not always work – in fact, mostly they don’t. Great film is harmonic convergence. But when it works, when a movie is really firing on all cylinders - and you get that two hours of pure joy, of a story that makes you think about the world in a slightly different way - isn't that worth something?
I still wish I were clever enough and well-educated enough and worldly enough to have written a book, or run for office or created a policy that would make me fancy and cool and smart enough to be a guest on Bill Maher. But I’m damn grateful for my two hours of bliss today. And damn lucky to do what I do.