Why am I so obsessed with giving other people notes?
It comes out in obvious and less obvious ways.
In my improv classes or in film school or even high school, when I knew the answer to the question I would say it, I would raise my hand high up in high school, yearning, aching to answer the question, my one chance to talk and be right in a world where for all other intents and purposes I was wrong or othered. In improv classes and rehearsals I struggle not to note or give advice to my teammates, my classmates, others barreling past my own gentle reminders that not only is it a huge blow to one’s ego to receive an “I’m better than you”-style note from a peer, but that I also supremely do not know what I am doing.
In film school I had no such qualms, acting like an expert and even going to classes to give speeches on the silliest things: what to get out of film school, the importance of script supervisors, the screenwriting process and of course, snarkily talking about who was good or not.
Obviously, engaging in these stupid conversations in film school, I found myself barely involved with the film industry on my way out, because when I found myself rejected from 50 film festivals with my thesis, out of a job and working at a movie theater after a 300,000 dollar education, I realized that the confidence I had formed was some sort of monstrous inverted pyramid, based only on the spark of “voice” I had mistaken for virtuosity, destined unto its own collapse.
You’d think I had learned my lesson out of film school, going into the improv community that had taken me in, like it takes in so many other broken, insecure people. But of course, as humans, we are universally slow to see our own folly and slower still to change. Such is the stuff of Kurosawa and Shakespeare.
But giving notes with conviction and some amount of eloquence (the fruit of my writing) is a powerful position to put yourself in and one that people respect especially if those notes are not delivered with the condescension or silliness of a taunt or even any heavy emotion and are placed instead into an article of faith. In fact, people sometimes desire that because they struggle and are insecure and desperately want help. After all, what they are doing is impossible and demanding and silly. It’s hard to be a clown.
When I have given notes to people either in improv or film school, it is with that scary conviction of that I know what’s right (even though I most certain do not) but also always as an article of faith. In the logic part of my mind, there is never any reason to give a note to someone about their performance or film or writing if they do not show obvious promise or talent. It is only when I think I see that splinter in their foot, that thorn in their side that they cannot see that I attempt to alert them, even if I don’t have the skill to remove it, even if I don’t even know I don’t know whether it actually is a thorn or splinter.
So why do I do this?
When I was a film student I was not an expert on making films. Now that I am an improviser, I am, as my friend Austin Kuras said, “in the high school part of improv, where your friends now might not be your friends later until things settle down”.
Two explanations are forthcoming, both rooted in my psychology.
The first would be the desire to change myself that I so desperately want, a vestigial notion left over from my youth. When I wanted to yell out the answer in high school, it is because I wanted to be acknowledged. I wanted in this one area to be cool, to be big, to make myself as such. When I gave notes to my classmates then or later or later, it could because I didn’t like who I was, where I was and so instead of changing or having the strength to address myself, it was easier to see your own faults projected in others, to see that hurdle you thought someone else could cross, et cetera and gain some comfort and strength that at least you could change them.
Similarly, this frequently leads to frustration when people don’t change or refuse to take notes, mine or others, because I see in their intransigence my own inability to conquer the flaws in myself.
Note: this is the same low-self-esteem/victimhood philosophy that lead me to date girls with low self-esteem, because I thought I would show them how great they were and they would in return love the un-loveable: me.
The other, more altruistic reason (if not similarly misguided) is the attempt to correct the past in myself.
The same reason I was once a summer camp councilor for adolescents (a mixed experience in its own right) was because I wanted to tell 14, 15, 16-year olds that life wasn’t so goddam terrible even if it seemed like it now. I remember so vividly in the terrible parts of high school or film school or now comedy the huge mistakes I made, the horrific lows that I could not (and maybe even should not) have avoided but which I wish someone with some sort of authority could have been there effectively to tell me: “I’ve been there, quite recently. And it’s alright.” This is a very juvenile philosophy, a sort of “Catcher in the Rye”-style notion, but that sort of thought process isn’t past me entirely yet.
Having lacked a superhero or a cool magic-user to pop out of my Young Adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy novels of my youth, I wanted to be the one that popped into these peoples’ lives.
Maybe that is part of the impulse still. Just wanting to be there to let them know that someone sees what they are going through and sympathises. To congratulate them earnestly, without the sugariness of sentimentality, at their successes in their failures. To remind them knowingly of the failures in success. When I do give notes well or am proud of myself, it is in these moments, where it looks like someone could use support, just like in an improv group scene, knowing when to make the move in life.
What do I make of all this?
As I said I know nothing, or know little. I am still vulnerable to those looooooo-ong conversations about comedy or film where I sound like an expert or argue like one. Often I enjoy them. But I am not a fool and in the moment I am trying to attune myself to when I have enough experience to talk about things and when I don’t, looking in to my nice coach Sean Taylor’s eyes and listening to his tone, trying to figure out when I’ve said too much, though I’m still not there yet (Sorry, Sean).
In a way, doing yoga has humbled me more than most things because I am so incredibly, intransigently untalented at it.
Knowing you can’t even do a halfway decent downward-dog is a good reminder of shutting up and just working hard.
Maybe I’ll thank myself for the shutting-up and enjoying myself, working and learning.
That’s good practice, too.
There’s something cathartic in being about the nerds.
It is important to define some levels here in what I am talking about before I continue.
Many things I do are defined as nerdy. Improv (as exemplified by this excellent video) is a pretty nerdy thing. Film nerdiness, like seeing a lot of indies and foreign films can be too (which I was reminded of when I met two Arizonans in France whose last movie they saw was The Notebook on DVD). Magic: The Gathering cards are still really nerdy in a way that is socially isolating and the subject of many jokes, but since I still sometimes find myself around them (like any addiction, you never really quit) I won’t cast judgement entirely right now.
But sometimes you head into a movie theater and see a combination of goth/punk overweight late-teenagers of all ethnic varieties at 3pm on a Wednesday and you know you’re going to see some Anime.
Anime was a phase I passed through (and am mostly out of) in the early parts of middle and high school exemplified by that weird gap in time where the internet existed but wasn’t fast enough that anyone could download things instantly. So, my best friend Frank and I would trudge down to Chinatown every weekend or every other weekend into the back of a knickknack store and buy VHS of anime episodes ripped off of non-region DVDs (which were expensive!) or subtitled amateur-ly by fans of the series we were trying to watch.
This was also a little after the time Pokemon (sort-of) and Dragon Ball Z (particularly) had gotten us into these Japanese animated shows with their promise of cool action, people always talking about the “awesome power of friendship” and often weird sexual undertones present in Japanese culture. Adult Swim on Cartoon Network had not yet turned totally into a bastian of college-age haute-comedy and still showed some cool anime shows as a stepping stone forward for us like Cowboy Bebop, which allowed us to continue growing on it as we began to realize how many episodes of our favorite shows were literally just people talking about the big fight that was going to happen stretched over a 9-26 episode arc.
When the internet sped up and Ricky somehow mysteriously disappeared, Frank and I would download the episodes off the internet of our favorite shows and go over to each others houses (mostly me to Frank’s) to watch them on our crappy monitors, hoping this wouldn’t be another episode where everyone was just intimidating each other and hopefully at least a couple people would throw a punch. But we were mostly disappointed, but somehow still hooked enough. We watched shows like Scryed, Yu Yu Hakusho, Bleach, Naruto, One Piece together while Frank delved even nerdier with the DSL connection at his house as we scoured the IRC (Internet Relay Chatrooms) for episodes in those early BitTorrent days, watching GTO (a show about a perv who becomes a teacher to sleep with 17 year-olds), Hajime No Ippo (an infinitely-long boxing anime) and Hikaru No Go (which is literally about people playing fucking checkers. No joke. Look it up.)
But a show we both watched was Fullmetal Alchemist, a silly steam-punk-style show about “alchemists” who have what is essentially a more science-y kind of magic powers. The show is about a big brother who always complains about being short and a little brother who is an animated suit of armor. Silliness ensues as well as some musing on life and death and humanity’s ability to affect those things.
Time has passed since those days.
First Frank became the skinny kid from his fat-bowl-cut-Korean-kid days, working out in college and then improbably becoming a personal trainer talking about being too shy to hit on his clients at the gym. I became chubby, got into movies and faded away from anime (though I still read some manga) since there were so many films to watch that didn’t involve waiting around 26 excruciating weeks to see what happens.
But now I do improv and work as an assistant and Frank trains people at the gym. I’m out late nights doing shows at weird places, Frank is training 6:30am clients. It’s hard to see each other.
So when I saw that the Cinema Village had, for some goddam reason, one of the several released-only-in-Japan Fullmetal Alchemist movies playing there, I knew to invite Frank.
We got some lunch. I joked about how I weigh less than him now (not at all salient, he is ONE-MILLION TIMES more fit than me), we walked around as I tried to decide on a dessert for an hour as I had to answer upset texts from a girl on my improv team. We talked about life and ended up splitting a cupcake.
We sat down in the aforementioned theater for the movie, which was silly with a Face-Off style-twist, though decently-animated. The last line of the film was: “Oh look, we’re leaving the valley.” which was really stupid and self-aware.
But we both for that time were back staring at a big suit of armor and a blond-short-guy fighting a wolf-man on top of a train.
And in the end, isn’t that what life’s all about?
Oh look, we’re leaving the blog post.
I had a freakout over squash. That is who I am now.
I haven’t been able to go to Birdbath Bakery around the corner from me for a while now, because the sandwich that I used to get from them, the Chicken Cilantro, was on a white bread that I had sworn off.
But one day, passing by, I decided to just investigate what they had I could eat and found that they had a smoked chicken sandwich on some sort of whole grain sourdough that seemed appetizing.
They had also seemed to have upped their lunch game, importing the famous Macaroni and Cheese from their parent store City Bakery in a hottray, along with another item I didn’t recognize.
“Spaghetti Squash cooked with homemade tomato sauce, parmesan cheese, a bit of cilantro, topped with toasted pumpkin seeds.”
“A taste.” I requested.
I got the smoked chicken sandwich (which was yummy enough) with the squash that was like crack.
Now, I didn’t know if this was kosher for me to have (not in a kosher sense) in terms of keeping my weight, but when I got upstairs I just ate half of everything, felt great and took a walk with my new couch-crasher New Jersey-an/Southerner Teddy Shivers to show him places to eat in the neighborhood.
Unfortunately, when I got back upstairs from the hour-point-five -long tour, that delicious-ass food was still there and I took a bite of the squash.
And then another.
And then the barrier broke and I ate the whole thing.
Guilt flooded my squash-ridden body.
I ate something light later, but when I got home that night, my weight (on the scale my bos bought me for the new year) had gone up 5 pounds instead of the usual three (how much my weight fluctuates day-to-night).
I hyper-ventillated in my therapist’s office, I wondered if this grand ruse was coming to an end, if chubby Nick was returning, so soon.
She looked at me calmly and we continued our session.
“I figure if this has been working for you.” She said. “Trust it and it will.”
I did and I ate some salads the next day and was fine.
My freak-out, silly.
It was just squash.
And I haven’t had it since.
Because I’ll eat french fries, cupcakes, crepe nutellas, pain au chocolats, shots of Jameson and risotto balls.
But I’m scared as fuck of that yummy squash.
Side of Spaghetti Squash w/Parmesan, Homemade Tomato Sauce and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds- $5.00
Prince St. bet. Thompson St. and W. Broadway.
CE to Spring St. NR to Prince St. BDFM to Broadway-Lafayette.