Saturday, January 25, 2014

January Blues

"Last night's storm was fierce
As I can see from this morning's
Thick blanket of snow
Rising to kindle woodchips
In lonely Shigarati Village"
-Lotus Moon: The Poetry of Buddhist Nun Rengetsu

File this one under "mundane but true."

Generally, I try to steer clear of any topic that might be the subject of a local news feed, no less a ""slice of life" piece.

Those of us who chose a freelance life know that at times things will be slow, and in New York, things will generally be slow in January. Nothing new to see here.

Normally, January doldrums are no more common for me than the need to "do something" on the weekend, seeing as I can just as easily be working on the weekend and off on Wednesday.

Like most of us, I have a routine between gigs. A little more time meditating. Start or get back to a writing project. Of course, the endless round of emails, phone calls and resumes sent in search of the next project.

This is not usually accompanied by anything more than the usual angst, depression, doubt that all of us working in this business experience.

This year, though, was a little different. I share here not to wallow or complain - my life is good - but because I know how much we all share bits of the same truth; how what we think is unique to us is actually being felt by others in some way.

Consider this my turn in that virtual support group.

This January, I came off a rather hectic ride that goes back through most of the last year. It included working on a short, directing a play, shooting that play as a short film, dozens of budgets, and rewriting a horror script for a producer I know.

Then, of course, there was line producing a feature.

At the beginning of the feature, in early prep, I was still trying to do changes for a few features and polish on the horror screenplay, to the point where I could not finish everything I was doing. There was the inevitable irony that every freelancer experiences, having to turn down work because I was so busy, knowing there would be a need for that work once the feature was over.

The Universe provides, but it does so with a twisted smile and a sense of humor. You have to learn to laugh along.

A busy year would segueway (sorry, I hate the new spelling "segway" - the root word is segue!) into a feature where any time I could get four hours sleep or do one thing at one time was a good time.

When that feature ended, there were the holidays, which have been quiet for me for years. My birthday comes right before Christmas, so I am used to celebrating it with some level of solitude, and learned how not to get bummed about that. This year, however, I had a small but wonderful gathering with people who meant a lot to me, a combined celebration of The Feast of Seven Fishes, a Southern Italian tradition, with my birthday.

So it was that the year ended much busier and fuller than usual for me. Alas, ever silver lining has a cloud lurking around the corner, so a wonderful year, a nice retreat, and then a Monday. January 6th, where I woke up and had nowhere to be and nothing I had to do.

Top all of that with this vortex thing that seems determined to give us a winter more appropriate for Buffalo than Brooklyn and you have the January Blues.

Sure, there was catching up on this blog, and the usual work search, but then what?

I have a few writing projects I am toying with now, and finally got the chance to work on the editing for the short I directed. Hopefully, I will have a cut for you here in a week or so - feel free to judge for yourself!

Thankfully, my Zen practice and years of therapy have left me more prepared for these times, and like the rest of us, I'm slogging through. There are good prospects for work coming up, and I am going to get to some short stories I have wanted to finish.

Short stories and possibly a web series pilot - we'll see. The latter has been on my back-burner for a while, and maybe it's time for me to try the almost no-budget thing, the Kickstarter thing, and get this done. I still don't know that I feel comfortable asking the folks I know to send money multiple times a day, but if I get the group I'd like to get together, it will feel more like it's for us, than for me.

A new screenplay? I don't know. I have a number of screenplays, three of which have been produced in one form or another. None have earned me more than a pittance, and the practice of preparing budget for wonderful scripts for others only to see those project not get funded have left me with the same lack of enthusiasm for venturing there that restaurant workers have eating out: when you've been in the kitchen, the food doesn't look as good.

The latter reminds me of one upside to this slow-down; the chance to get back to reading, Currently alternating between some Zen writing, the collected works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and the latest Carl Hiaasen novel Bad Monkey. Each of these are good for different moods.

Hiassen has long been a favorite of mine, ever since Tourist Season. Shockingly, only one of the Miami columnist's novels was directly made into a movie, and that was a disastrous mess based on Striptease. Hiaasen has a great joy in his dark heart, and his villains (usually corporate types from outside Florida looking to destroy more of it's natural beauty for a buck) meet their deaths in ways we root for from the moment we meet them. That the movie version of Striptease choose to water this down was nothing short of a crime against humanity.

In Bad Monkey, Hiaasen's "hero" is a Key West detective who is "busted" down to a food inspector - "roach inspector," as he calls it - for using a vacuum extension in a way it most definitely was not intended on the husband of woman he is sleeping with. His experience seeing what goes on in the kitchen leaves him getting skinnier and skinnier as he cannot see his way clear to eating any food served him in a restaurant.

One of the Zen readings I finished was by my original teacher, the amazing Myotai Sensei (Bonnie Myotai Treace). The poem at the top of this post is from her short work, Winter Moon: A Season of Zen Teaching. (The link to the book is along the right, if you're interested) One of the things I love about Myotai Sensei is her impish sense of humor, the way she makes her teachings simple without being simplistic. An astute writer and editor in her own right, Myotai Sensei shares the poem above as part of the never-ending lesson not to judge but to see things just exactly as they are, without adding a layer to it.

So it is that I do not see this down time as some sort of eternal punishment or hardship, but merely as one moment which will pass, and lead to another moment when there is work.

This post started with me wanting to describe January Blues, and somehow turned into a book review of Carl Hiaasen and a Zen teaching. This was definitely not where I thought it was going when I started it, but if you follow my blog, you know this sort of stream-of-consciousness will pop up more often than not.

Hope you enjoyed the ride. If all goes well, in the next post, I will be sharing a version of the short film I directed, and then back to the turn of the 21st Century. and to the movies I worked on at that time. It's been a while since we got back to the timeline, and I think that time is getting closer.

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