I had a lovely conversation with a puppeteer the other day.
It has been a hard week (month? three months? six?) and I was feeling like I was out of answers.
I had been rejected from every job I’d applied to save an unpaid internship that was my sixth or seventh, depending on the count.
In some of these jobs, I had gotten excited. Some I hadn’t. Some were just jobs off Craigslist or Mandy, some were call-in jobs I had heard about through friends or other jobs.
I had made it into interviews, done my best (or not my best) and I knew I had a good resume and some confidence, but it had only gotten me so far, just to those interviews, those meetings and that was it.
I had been rejected from every film festival I had applied to so far, including, as I mentioned in my previous post my own school’s film festival.
In the time between my last post and this, there had been many more emails I had sent to the faculty. People had chimed in about screening times, craft awards, whether their film had even been seen by anyone: you name it.
But the last email I had gotten from the Dean had made it clear that she was done with the issue and as one person put it, had told us “to politely fuck off”.
It was at this point that I wondered what I was even doing fighting. What right did I have to complain about these things, I who wasn’t even selected for the festival?
I, who wasn’t selected for anything?
Again, it was a marked difference from my attitude at school, where the only things that really got me down were girls and my “film and writing” worlds were the sanctuary where I felt I at least had something to be proud of.
School, figuring with what I needed to, who I needed to be, what my attitude was then, reexamining myself or going into the past–
I’m not sure about reasons, but I found myself at school after a day of interning, walking back to Tisch to Sharon Badal’s office, the person who had first given me hope for my career outside school.
Prof. Badal was a tough cookie as I’d mentioned here before. All these rejections, all these jobs, she was the one who told us to wait them out and find a way. She had good metaphors, quotes. A “tough guy” attitude.
I would talk to her and she would give me “something”, give me “something” in the way that a teacher can inspire a student, or a mentor, a pupil.
I would be imbued with energy, anointed and I would go back into the fray, recharged.
I would, except that Prof. Badal wasn’t at her office yet, and so instead I just sat on the small plastic bench outside her office and thought about all this.
It was a difficult place to be, to be honest.
The 9th Floor of Tisch, where Prof. Badal’s office was, was also across from the Film/TV Library, a place I used to swing by cracking jokes with the assistants and watching movies while playing Tetris on my cell phone.
It was also the same floor as the Dean’s office, who I had somewhat incensed with my emails.
Not only that, but the emails I had sent had brought back memories, for me at least, of the traumatic time I had following the events that happened in Georgia, where I lashed out at the Dean and the administration, seeking someone to take responsibility.
In other words, just as I once haunted the 9th floor, it was now a place haunting to me.
Reciprocal, I suppose.
So I saw the assistants, who said hi to me and called me “old”. I said hi to old classmates and underclassmen who had grown beards, or changed jackets, or looked different in the way that people look different when you know you’re in a different part of your life than them.
I heard Dean Antonio yelling about her Wii from down the hall as her assistant Patti ignored me as she walked around offering leftover birthday cake to people.
I just sat there on my DS and tried to wait it out.
In the interval time between when I beat my last video game and while I waited for a new one, I had become reabsorbed into my new-age Gameboy.
I guess when you’re disappointed a lot, it’s very comforting to be able to escape to somewhere entirely else and separate, where unreal things are possible and you are outside your life.
The same reason, actually, I read so many fantasy books as a kid.
But unfortunately with portable video games, they don’t take you away from reality quite enough that you can ignore what’s around you completely.
And meanwhile your body (or your mind) keeps trying to tell you to get back on track, giving you an old Jewish guilt trip about what you’re doing, until you stop.
It was in one of these pauses that I noticed a petite woman, in a flapper’s cap, who introduced herself as a puppeteer.
I mistook her for a student twice until the second time she corrected me that she was in fact a teacher in the Open Arts Curriculum and the maker of a short film featuring puppets.
“I mad a short film too.” I told her. “Gotten in anywhere yet?”
“Cleveland and Ann Arbor.” She said. “I just got back from Santa Barbara.”
Three festivals I hadn’t gotten into, I thought.
“Good, good.” I said. “Wow. So you here to talk about Tribeca?”
“Oh, I didn’t get in.” She told me. “No children’s programming this year.”
“Ah well, well those other fests aren’t nothing.” I stared glumly back at my DS.
“And you?” She said looking down at me.
“Oh.” I looked up, at least a little. “Nowhere yet. I’ve applied 50 places.”
“50?” She replied, incredulous.
“Yeah. And I’m applying for the page program at NBC and I made it to the second round of interviews, but I don’t know how well it’ll go.”
“Well, that’s clear.” She said. “You put all your eggs in one basket.”
“Your confidence.” She stated. “It’s tied to this one project that you’ve submitted to all these 50 festivals. And if doesn’t get in, it’s some sort of referendum on you.”
“Well, yeah.” I replied.
“That’s silly.” She said. “Why would you do that to yourself?”
Suddenly, all of the feelings stirred in me, the mix of resentment and longing that comes with being dragged about and rejected by just about everyone, a stubborn sort of pride or anger:
“Well, I wouldn’t just want to give up on it.” I said. “I poured my heart and soul into it.”
“So what?” She said brightly. “You’re an artist. You pour your heart and soul into everything. Pour it into something else.”
“And the jobs?” I told her. “I still don’t have a job in my industry, what I went to school for.”
“So get a job.” She said. “Get any job.”
“But I want…”
“When I was your age, I got an on-set job, after grad school. I ate a bagel off the craft table, which had been the electrical table earlier that morning. I got so sick that I had to go the hospital. I had no health insurance. I had a 10,000 dollar bill from the hospital. Even worse, I was scheduled to do puppetry at the Met the next day and had to cancel. I needed a job, any job, so I got a job at a law firm filing papers in the basement.”
“I worked there for 9 months. In that time, they gave me health insurance, unemployment benefits. They paid my hospital bill. They paid my rent. They gave health benefits for three more years after I left. And now they represent me.”
“You’re problem is that you spend too much time dwelling on all this rejection. Get a job, any job. Do your art on nights and weekends.”
This all sounded good and very reasonable. In fact, I felt a little bit of the cloud of resentment lifting I’d been under for a few weeks. But something stuck.
“But my film, how can I give up on my film if I believe in it?”
“You’re not givng up. You’re taking what you can and moving on.”
“But it doesn’t deserve that, I believe in it.”
“Then feel bad. You can feel bad for months years, 10 years, 20, 30, gone, like that.”
People were coming down the hallway. We kept peeking to see, in between our conversation.
“I look at you, you’re depressed.” She said. “I was very depressed at your age. It’s tough. I wish you could see.”
Prof. Badal finally arrived.
Even though I had gotten there before, I let her go in first. I figured it was probably right seeing that she took an interest. And she was a lady and all that some such.
When I went into see Prof. Badal, she sounded unsurprised when I told her about my festival rejections, offered no job advice other than commiseration (“It’s tough”) and told me to let her know once I had heard from the Jewish film festivals, which she thought I had a shot in.
I left the door open on my way out.
Today, I got another festival rejection, but I also found out that I had been rejected from the NBC Page program.
I sent out a couple sad text messages, decided to write this blog post and when my girlfriend hung-up after calling, spent about 5-10 minutes crying.
“That was my job,” I thought. “I had been such a strong candidate. I had TV experience, I could give tours, I knew New York, I could start immediately, I had given a knock-out first interview.”
The feelings of failure swelled up around me, like I was unable to take control of my life, like I didn’t know who I was or when I would ever find a job.
I remembered my asking my father, last may, how “the real world” would treat me:
“Like shit,” He told me. “Just like it treats everyone else.”
So I cried into my pillow. Into some tissues and blew my nose.
And gradually, I remembered what that puppeteer said yesterday. How calm she’d been and understanding. And what she’d told me about “eggs in a basket”.
And I can’t say I felt better, can’t really give some “narrative of progress”.
I still don’t know if I’m even employable, if any festival will accept my movie, what my future will be in this industry or whether I’ll be, as I said in my letter last week, one of the “gardeners and real estate specialists that I read about in the Tisch magazine”.
There’s a lot of uncertainty and rejection and it’s crushing.
“Think of it like a movie.” The puppeteer lady told me. “If it was happy all throughout, it would be stupid.”
And though that wasn’t exactly what I wishing for right then, I conceded the point that it was true.
I tried to shake her hand before she went into see Prof. Badal, but she declined.
“I hate shaking hands. It’s like someone wants to make a deal with you.” She said. “I don’t want to make any deals.”
“Pound?” I offered, fist-wise.
“Air pound.” she said and did and went in.
For anyone interested, the puppeteer lady showed me her website while I was waiting. I imagine it would be pretty interesting to check out.