A Long and Complicated Delivery

When my father finished watching my latest film, “Contractions,” he said “You should make funny films. You have such a great sense of humor. Mom and I just talked about that after looking at the birthday cards you used to make.” I dismissed his feedback partially, for it indicated that he misunderstood my goal in art making: to give voice to the thoughts that weigh heavily on my heart, thereby casting off those weights. “Most videos that go viral are funny,” my father reminded me. I reminded HIM that I’m not catering to an audience, I’m saying what it is that I have to say. He expressed concern that his sister and her kids would get the impression from the video that I’m depressed and my life is awful. I expressed the opinion that he was exaggerating and besides, I can’t worry about what the relatives will think when I make movies.

I posted the film on Facebook and got words of praise from a few friends. But mostly I got “reactions.” Smilies and such. Thank God Facebook has made it even more convenient to acknowledge other peoples’ contributions. We don’t even need words to do it any more. Anyhow, it felt very anticlimactic even as I posted the video, and the “response” only confirmed my suspicion that the film is just not very good.
I showed it the next day to Shuli, a family friend who cameos in it. He said the whole thing is very sad, and maybe that could be blamed on the pregnancy hormones and the car accident and the horrible job and so on, but he’d also like to see me make something more joyful.  I recalled the feeling a woman gets when she walks in the street and people tell her to smile. (Men who say that to women and want a detailed explanation of why that is outrageously annoying, I’m willing to write a blog post about that, or refer you to one that’s been written).

Shuli cameo

He pointed out that the only time I express joy is after I give birth, and to him that’s a sign that motherhood is actually what fills me now. And I should be patient- after two or three more kids I’ll have time to immerse myself in art. I felt a little indignant. No, I want to be making art NOW, and good art. I mean, I said that in the freaking movie. I’ve been wanting that since before becoming a mother.

But I wan’t really arguing anymore at this point. I felt totally alienated from the piece of art I had just “delivered.” into the world. Working on “Contractions” had put me in a kind of euphoria. As soon as I finished my  last teaching job, I dove into editing the project, picking up where I left off when I returned to work after having the baby. It took a little while to get into it, but once I did, the kids’ bedtime became my own one-woman party. Dinner and editing! That was my ecstasy.
I showed a final cut to my cousin, got some constructive criticism, and dove back into it, making the version I’ve presented today. I felt proud of myself for handling criticism maturely, and recognizing that it’s all part of the process of creating fine art. But, to be honest, L already had the hunch that it wasn’t so fine, this art. I always say that my best art always comes out of a eureka moment, a flash of inspiration, an idea that demands to be realized and makes all decision regarding the form of the art fall into place. I thought that “Contractions” came out of a eureka moment. It happened one day towards the end of my pregnancy. I was washing dishes and musing about my fast-approaching maternity leave, and the chance it would afford me to return to making art. What art would I make, though? I had been running the rat race for two years, and throughout it all, I looked forward to  getting pregnant and having a third child (in part) to legitimize bowing out the rat race for a while, and having time again for art. How would I unburden myself of last two years, without it being just another wordy monologue? And that’s when it struck me: I’d tell the story in between contractions. I’d tell of yearning to return to “the simple life” in the midst of the bodily process which promises, at its climax, to to deliver me back to that simple life. What better tribute to my own desire to create art, than to use my own labor for making art?
So I did exactly that, even at the cost of breaking the Sabbath to shoot. And after birth, at the maternity ward I added a little more monologue, because I was now facing the fear of the unknown: how would I set about making art, now that I finally have the freedom to do so? I wanted to show that there is something very natural in seeking work outside, in giving up freedom to attain structure, self-generated goals for external affirmations of success. And then I shot some more when I was back home, when I had accepted a job just two months after giving birth. And I shot some more monologue on my way to work one morning. In short, I wasn’t sure where to end it because life goes on and on. Some of this footage I left in the final cut, some I decided to omit. It felt strangely delicious to chop off more and more footage. But I’ve never had an art-making process be so the-opposite-of-cathartic.

Ironically, at the job I worked after giving birth, I was a hit. The kids loved me. In four months I had attained that redemption I so badly needed after my work experience the year before. In contrast, this month-long vacation (which is turning out to drag into two months) “art-vacation” betrayed me by revealing that all I have to offer is a wordy monologue that brings people down.

All my early videos from art school are funny. They’re kind of gimmicky, not self-revelatory, not vulnerable, but they’re funny. At the time that felt right, but then again, maybe I didn’t have any angst to express yet. No, that’s not right. I had as much angst as the next young adult. So why were my videos clever once, and steadily become less so? Why has that “eureka moment” started to fall through on its promise of producing a film that viewers would find unforgettable?
I’ve been shooting footage of my kids kind of obsessively, for the past six years. I’ve been fantasizing about making a series that spans a lifetime, and covers myriad aspects of childhood and growing up. It’s reflected in a Final Cut Pro project in which I’ve categorized every shot in folders and sub-folders and sub-folders based on theme. FCP screenshot- folders and sub folders and sub sub foldersBut I don’t actually know where to begin editing any of it. So I tell myself that in ten years time, any of those folders will make for fascinating video: imagine a video about humor (or learning to lord over animals, or picking mulberries) as it manifests in a child from infancy through the teenage. Sounds good, huh?
But in the meantime, what do I do? I want to prove to myself that I’m not hoarding life documentation in vain. I desperately want to turn one of those Final Cut Pro folders into a film. I might try to do one about sibling rivalry. I think it would feel so healthy to make art which is not about my attempts to make art. But it probably won’t be funny.
My father’s challenge has struck a chord with me. I do want to make something funny. I want to make video even my kids will love to watch. In fact, I’d love to cater video to their sensibility, to truly make video inspired by them. We adults are fascinated by kids, after all. So even before making mini-documentaries about kids, how cool would it be to make videos that treat their experience of the world as the real, objective truth? For example, making a song and music video out of their banging, and singing to themselves during play. Or taking their games of pretend, and turning them into dramatic adventure stories with sound effects and mood music.
dvir niels
I’ve been having a hard bout of insomnia the past ten days or so. I’ve been blaming my baby: the anticipation of her next waking has undermined my ability to ease gently into sleep. But I don’t think that’s fair. It’s this deep loss of artistic confidence that has done it. Feeling so dissatisfied with “Contractions,” I spent every free moment yesterday trying to make progress with each of the artistic avenues I’ve outlined in the last paragraph. My job is at least another week away, so I should feel relaxed, but I feel like I’m working against the clock, trying to ensure I feel artistically accomplished before that happens. But last night, as I was reading in bed and feeling my eyes get heavy, I was suddenly struck by a thought about one of the new videos- maybe the kid “music video.” And the thought struck the sleep out of my eyelids. It took me another few hours to fall asleep.
What the HELL???? It is INCONCEIVABLE that I lose sleep over art. Not a good sign.
Wish me a good night.

 

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2 Comments

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  1. Wow, Lola, I didn’t think what I said to you would weigh so heavily on you. But I guess I should have known better. And I really hate to think that I am adding to your insomnia.

    On hindsight, my response to the film reflected insensitivity. I am aware of how much time and effort you put into making the film, and maybe because it is a heavy film, I didn’t realize how much enjoyment you got from producing it. I guess it must have given you great pleasure, otherwise you wouldn’t have shown so much patience and intensity in working on it. It seemed like whenever you weren’t involved in one of the necessary routines of life, you were working on the film. And I spent a lot of time hearing your moans and screams from the computer while I was working at your dining room table. (It is not too pleasant hearing your own child suffering!) Mom and I both think about you a lot, about how objectively difficult your life is, dealing with the cold, the heat, the mud, the bugs, the dogs eating your expensive sandals, your refrigerators shutting down and food spoiling, having no easy access between the house and the shchunah, having to get the defiant, tantrum throwing kids to school on time while you are trying to get to work, etc, etc. I guess the film only confirmed how difficult your life is and how stoic about it you are. The truth is I enjoy hearing you laugh more than hearing you scream from pain.

    Anyway, I regret not sufficiently expressing to you what a wonderful work of art you produced. You were so dedicated that even while you were in labor and afterwards you were involved in making the film. I am proud of all the movies you have made about your life as a mother and an artist.

    Pleaser realize I am not an art connoisseur. When I was younger and traveling in Europe, I used to go to the famous museums because what else does one do when a tourist? But you know me better by now – I would rather spend a couple of hours watching a Hollywood movie than going to a museum. You also know that as your father I have always been concerned with my children being able to make a living and even becoming famous, just like me! The practical me just thinks that you will get more of both by making funny art than heavy stuff. Of course that could change if you get discovered by the art film world. But you are also too humble to engage in self-promotion, so unless someone else takes upon themselves to promote you, you will be making quality artsy works that not too many people will get to see and won’t make you any money – and will also make Dodah Ruthie and her kids think you are depressed.

    Money isn’t everything, but it seems like it is when you don’t have enough of it. Now that I think of it, you made the mo’ money movie that was actually hilarious and people loved it, no?

    I will just sum up by saying what I said before: I can’t wait to see what you come up with when you put your efforts into making funny films! I know they will be as profound as your serious movies but will put more smiles on more people’s faces. And I love the Contractions movie even though I didn’t do a good job of conveying that to you. I am sorry!

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    • Thank you so much for your thoughtful words, dad. I appreciate the encouragement. I feel like if these “heavy” films have come out of me, they must have a purpose, and I wish I knew what that was. I don’t yet have any real inspiration for funny films, but maybe it will come slowly. The “Throw Sum Mo'” Video was a hit, I agree, and it utilized my kids, which I like, but I wouldn’t really identify it as the locus of my artistic mind- it’s a parody, and I’m aspiring for pure profundity.
      When I see you next time, I will pretend like this correspondence never happened.

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