I had a Larry David moment, recently.
As a Jew, I feel like it’s a cop-out sometimes to claim that you have the attributes of other famous, funny Jews (David, Seinfeld, Lewis), but it’s more a reference to the type of experience I had than any of my personal behavior.
I was standing in a hot-crowded tenement-style room in Rob Malone’s apartment attempting to be an extra for his YouTube-based short-film extravaganza entitled “Puppy Whistle”.
Around me, along with a group of friends and strangers, my girlfriend Eva, were various lights pilfered from some corner of NYU, strung up haphazardly, dangling from the ceiling, while Blake LaRue sat in the corner drafting a pie-chart-cum-diagram of the cuteness-slash-greatness of puppies (10/10) as compared to cats (7/10) and cows (only 3/10).
In the scene we were playing, a farewell video by some dude named Jeff had incited us to varying levels of disgust and pleasure, spurned by an impromptu performance of the Poison song “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” and culminating, at least in this particular take, in all of us piling on to beat the shit out of Rob.
It was in this moment, when Rob asked us for calm that I was knocked on my way to pounce on him by the animator Ben Oviatt and my glasses went flying off, popping a lens, as I searched for them, color-blind-ing-ly difficultly, across the brown-on-brown floor.
The Larry David moment came when I popped the lens back in to my glasses, only to realize that the screw had busted out partially and that they were now loose and lopsided, a balancing act on my face.
“I broke my glasses.” I announced, expecting the sympathy of the crowd, as I had felt times before in cases of spectacle-crunching action.
But because my glasses were still on my face, most people shrugged as they returned to their Pennsylvanian beers or discount whiskeys.
And the night went on.
After a talk outside with Eva and Chadd about Antichrist (relatively pointless; the movie, not the conversation) and the Oscar race this year (a pity pool), I headed home.
“I don’t think they got it.” I told Eva, as we walked down the Alphabet sidewalks. “I broke my glasses. Don’t they have any idea how uncomfortable this is?”
Eva commiserated, she’s a glasses-wearer too.
But I went home sour, for the larger sensation I missed, of that moment of glasses-crushing sympathy I had been used to since elementary school.
At the LensCrafters, they fixed my glasses for free, putting in a new screw and even tightening and cleaning them, a process that I marvel at, since they don’t require an ID or a proof-of-purchase to fix your glasses. You just tell them you bought them there and they give you a tune-up. It gave me a warm feeling as I headed back into the South Greenwich Village cool, the corporate ease of it.
That and my gratitude that even I had broken my glasses,at least I had hung out with friends and got a little drunk on whatever terrible brew they’d given me.
Well that and that Rob was growing his beard back.
“Transitional disorder” I think was the name of what my therapist told me that I had.
It was either that or “Adjustment disorder”, either one of which make sense, though neither is psychiatric or requires medication, though she told me she had something down on the bill.
I had spoken to her before about diagnoses and how discussing them was similar to discussing labels of sexuality with my friend Langston:
That labels were limiting and inadequate, but at the same time, they are often unfortunately necessary as a shortcut to understanding.
In this way, I had sometimes craved a label from my therapist: depression, bipolar disorder and other psychiatric maladies that ran in my family.
To be clear, I never wanted to be afflicted by them, but therapy can seem like an endless road, especially to the uninitiated, and there’s a desire to see it medically as an illness that you have that you can cure.
“Transitional disorder”, if that’s what it was, just meant that I had difficulty transitioning in my life from one segment to another, something that sounded as ordinary to me as reading my friend Jason Lee live-blogging a Nicholas Cage movie for lack of external stimulae.
But it’s true, as is natural I suppose, that’s there a fear or a neurosis inside me of what might happen in my life, what I might accomplish.
I feel like a lot of my life has been based around education, mentorship, examples I can follow, or pitfalls to avoid.
In film school, this manifested itself cartoon-ily, with me allying with students who I sought to emulate or admired and demonizing those who seemed to possess qualities I saw in myself that I wanted to excise; a sort of social enactment of self-improvement.
Now that I am out in “the real world”, I see different examples.
Waiting in line for the New York Film Festival, I meet an actor, self-taught, a year younger than me, whose first film won an award at Sundance and who is apparently editing the feature that he just starred in.
I see a writer that I worked with, who gave a speech at his graduation to get the job that he has now, on TV, hired when he was 23, right out of that moment.
I see my friends forming production companies, making shorts, writing scripts, shooting commercials. And rather than being inspired, I feel daunted as if there are too many roads to go down, too many examples to follow, not enough information to decide whether I should be doing everything now or working my way up, or what I should even be doing, period.
I was lucky (I’ve been lucky) that when I went to a screening of the film Afterschool, I had a copy of my short on me which I gave to the director, the latest NYU-Film success-story, Antonio Campos, and out of the generosity of his time he watched the film and sat down with me.
Campos had made his first feature when he was 24, impossibly young and had made many shorts by the time he had graduated from film school. He was on Variety’s Top 10 List of Directors to Watch and Afterschool had premiered at Cannes after his short, Buy It Now had won the inaugural student film competition there. He recently (and unexpectedly) had won an award for another short at the Hamptons Film Festival.
Campos was a legend when I was in school, when I had Nick Tanis for Sight and Sound: Film. I had owed so much to Prof. Tanis that I wanted to be his disciple, his pupil. I had grown so much under him, that I wanted his anointment, his blessing. Campos though, was who he talked about proudly, the “most self-possessed film student” he had taught in his years at NYU. “The closest”, he would call him.
Anyway, Antonio had liked my movie and told me his story, which was not one of the unequivocal success I imagined, but one of constant rejection, even immediately following the heels of great gains. He was rejected from film festival after festival, until he got into Cannes. At Cannes, he won and then was rejected from their screenwriting lab. But he kept working and made his feature. Even now, having made a feature at such a young age, he didn’t have any words about directing his next one, except that I could see his perspicacity lent itself towards working and finding another opportunity. But I wondered if someone like this had so much trouble, Nick Tanis’s golden boy, what sort of life I, a Nick Tanis second-run, would find.
That Campos sat down with me and liked my film was a vote of confidence and one I should take pleasure in. In film school, I would have used something like this to spur me to greater experimentation and self-effacement, an excuse for bravado-and-derring-do. “Make another movie” was Antonio’s advice to me, some of his parting words. But in this world I find myself in, I feel powerless, I don’t know how.
I guess as I’ve talked about before, I defined myself in college, the prototype for who I am now, or who I’m becoming. There were short-term goals, senses of accomplishment or failure, a sense of progression. But now with the examples presented in the world, I don’t know who to be, how to gauge myself in terms of success or failure, how to take solace or take corrective action. I don’t know if I’m doing alright, when I’m interning and blogging, doing web videos and sending out my short, or not doing enough or just worrying needlessly about it all.
On Fridays I have no work and I find myself drifting back to film school, to the hallways and editing suites where I felt safe. I watch movies or play video games there or just walk around and try to feel that sense of belonging and understanding of a world I felt I had a grasp on.
“Life’s not a sprint. It’s a 10k run.” My father told me. Or something like that.
I guess I just need to discover the pace.