This week I feel like I am behind because, well, I am behind. I should be designing shots for scene transitions or looking at lighting choices and costume options... and I just shut my eyes tight, because maybe if I close them hard enough I'll be clearing some of the mucus from my brain and will be able think quick and clear and get this shit moving. But no matter how tight I shut my eyes I'm pretty sure the only progress I'm making is on my brow wrinkles.
So, I'm writing today to decongest.
Anne Lamott said, "Publishing won't save your soul but writing will."
And I could use some saving right about now.
Do you ever look back at some point in your life and see yourself standing between two roads? One way leads to this and the other leads to that but you’re not sure what “this” or “that” even are yet. Is this the reason they teach that Robert Frost poem in nearly every elementary school in America? To let kids know there will come a time where they have to make a choice?
You can't live twice.
Or can you?
Maybe you can. Maybe you can cross over from one road to the other. Or maybe you can drive all the way back to where you started and get on the other road.
I’d be lying if I said there haven’t been times where I’ve thought about the other road, especially because I know what that road is.
A year ago when I was on the set of Bull, I saw someone that in that first moment of recognizing them made my heart shake. She was the director of the episode I was doing background on. We had met because we are both members of a female filmmakers collective called Film Fatales and she was particularly one of my favorites. The moment I stepped into Union Square Park, I recognized her. It was an exciting moment- I felt like a little child whose mother was picking her up after school and just wanting to run through the crowd of crew members and give mine a big a hug. That loving moment was soon followed by an unforeseen but to be expected moment of dread. The kind of dread that lasts for several seconds but feels infinite. And it wasn’t exactly the dread of what she would think of me when she’d find out I was doing BG work, although that thought did enter my mind. What I really felt was more about myself. Sure, I wanted to be here but I wasn’t “here”; I wasn’t directing, I wasn’t advancing… I felt like a chess piece trapped in a corner during a slow match. I wanted to do this BG job but what was this job doing to me? I’d already been feeling a little lost career wise. Maybe BG was actually putting me in the background? I’m a director but I’m not directing. What the fuck? Am I a failure? A loser? A… muppet baby? And what is so wrong with me that the feeling of doing BG is so wrong? Am I that insecure? Insecure enough to not say hi to my friend and hope she doesn’t notice me in the monitor? Would she lose respect for me if she knew that this is what I’ve been so busy with that I haven’t been able to make it to Fatales meetings? That these meager paychecks are how I’ve been surviving? That I’m not directing my next feature film like I feel I should be?
These insecurities have nothing to do with my friend and everything to do with me. Not saying hello was never a real thought- I couldn’t wait to get close enough, grab a moment when I could tap her on the shoulder; and when I did we had a great big hug and she was so sweet and warm and I didn’t feel weird at all about telling her what I was doing here, that I’d been doing BG all summer, that I’m writing a book of essays about being in the background on set and in life. I loved seeing her. I love seeing female directors on set and there are not enough of them. NOT EVEN CLOSE. Out of the X amount of sets I’ve been on recently there have been only two female directors and my friend is one of the best. Though it gave me some complicated feelings, seeing her was my favorite part of the day.
The rest of the day was fine but, albeit confusing because this was the first time I portrayed a lawyer (makes sense-that's what the show is about), and along with facing my feelings, I also had to face my past.
A big part of my past that has both nothing and yet everything to do with my present.
Since I was a little girl I wanted to be a lawyer (I found out that my first choice occupation- Princess- was not really an option). I didn’t come up with this entirely on my own; being an only child of refugee, immigrant parents, there are two things parents want their kids to be- a doctor or a lawyer. Becoming a doctor was out- it didn’t take more than a trip or two to the playground and my father’s genetically transferred fear of needles to figure out that I was so afraid of blood that I would never voluntarily look at it, much less handle it. I don’t know if that should have really counted for much- getting a skinned knee HURTS and what little kid isn’t creeped out by blood? Blood is weird. It should have been more alarming if I wasn’t scared. Imagine seeing a little kid so comfortable with blood that they’re rolling a finger around their skinned knee. What are they gonna do next? Spell Redrum on the side of their leg?
Being a lawyer wasn’t just the only choice, it was the best choice. It made a lot of sense- I loved to argue and my parents told me that’s what lawyers do, except it’s okay when they do it and don’t do it with their parents, so I would love it! The first term of endearment I received for being so clever in my comebacks was “Wisenheimer.” It’s one of the German words that for some reason Americans think is fun to use, like “Gusenteight” and is defined by the Miriam Webster iPhone app as “smart aleck.” Now, if you look up “smart aleck” they define it as “an obnoxiously conceited and self-assertive person with pretentious smartness or cleverness.” That was me ever since I learned how to talk, and even before I learned how to speak I remember making comments in my head; I’m sure my baby noises somewhat smartassy.
After the age of five, "wisenheimer" matured to “smart-aleck”, then “smartass”, and then finally, in high school “bitch.” Having what it takes to be a lawyer- a trial lawyer- was not just in my blood, it seemed like the role I was made for. As a child I read constantly, noticed every detail with a near photographic memory, and as I grew, whenever an adult asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up I would say I wanted to be a lawyer.
When adults talk to little kids about the law they don’t talk about parking tickets or real estate contracts. I had always thought about being a lawyer as catching the bad guy through a series of clever discoveries and outsmarting him with my superior intellect, catching him in his own lie, his own dark, dirty lie! I thought about criminals, murderers, crazy things done by crazy people and how exciting it all would be…
And then I went to high school.
Maybe criminal court really is that exciting in real life, I wouldn't know, I never when to law school, never prosecuted those bad guys. I did, however, go to a specialized high school that had a Law and Humanities program. In New York City, high schools are similar to college- they each have concentrations on specific subjects and you have to apply to them in a similar fashion. You need to send in all your grades, a personal essay, standardized test scores, and in some cases a portfolio or audition for the school of your choice. I don’t remember what I had to do to get accepted to Forest Hills High School* but I got in and law was what I was there to do. I sat in my criminal law class wearing spike collars and had green hair by the time I was taking trial law class. Whether it was a homework assignment or an audition for the New York State Mock Trial Competition, I faced each case, each opposing attorney, each stubborn witness, as an opportunity to draw fresh and delicious blood. If lawyers were vampires I could have been Count Dracula.
The thing about studying law in high school was… I loved it. I loved it all. The dramatic raising of voices, the aggressiveness, the take dead aim mentality, the destroy the bad guy and be the hero type thirst I could never get enough of. I was even happy to put on my mom’s business suits and tuck back my punk hair. I got on the mock trial team and received a perfect score from the judge during our hail mary trial. My law teacher, the coach of the team raved about me to all her classes. She was retiring that year and I was her gift.
But at the same time I was interested in music and poetry and I was pretty certain that being a filmmaker was the thing I really wanted to be, in the real world. But that wasn’t the only problem with me pursuing law- the real issue was that I had always been attracted to the super power aspects of it and by the age of sixteen, seventeen, the lines between good and evil began to blur dramatically. I felt like a good person but I dressed like what people thought of as a bad person. I knew I wasn’t bad inside so what if some of the people arrested and put in jail were not actually guilty? I would have a persons life in my hands, in my shiny plague black painted fingernails. And that was important to me. Even if I wasn’t responsible for their physical well being like a doctor or surgeon might be, I had responsibility that affected their life, their actual living. Whatever fun I had doing lawyer stuff wasn’t going to fit into the real-lifeness of it all; it wasn’t a game. This whole time I’d been playing a lawyer and I loved it so much because it was just that- playing. So, before I went to art school I asked myself a question. Would I rather be a lawyer or play one on TV?
So far it’s been the latter; Every single time.
Now, this year, things are a little different. It’s a year later and I’m walking through Union Square with the DP of a short film I am getting paid to direct when two men in Navy uniforms walk past us. The DP watches them and says, “I wonder if I should have been a Naval Officer. Maybe I missed my calling in life.”
I smile to myself.
I don’t think he did.
And I don’t think I did either.
*That’s right, the same high school the Ramones went to, which means I went to Rock ‘n’ Roll high school.