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).
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.
But 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.
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.