The first time I knew my family would ultimately lead me to be a failure in the life I’d chosen was the summer before my junior year of high school. I was participating in a documentary film making program for high school students in which we had to interview the other students, none of whom I’d ever met before, and make a film about one of them. All the other kids came from low income families or were struggling with their sexual identity or had some intense religious practices that severely limited them from participating in every day, typical American life. One barely spoke english and one I’m very confident had a secret drug problem. More than half of these kids came from single parent homes.
When it came time for my partner to interview me to discover a pressing conflict in my life in order to structure her film around it, she found nothing. I was a white, middle class kid from the suburbs with two present, loving parents, a brother and a dog. I had actively involved grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins spilling out from the cracks in the walls. I did incredibly well in school, was poised for my college search in the upcoming school year but had no concerns about being accepted, was constantly surrounded by friends and loved basically everything about my life. I had one friend whose parents had recently been divorced. That, at the time, was the only example of a single parent family in my life. The biggest conflict in my life at the time was that my best friend had recently lost her brother in a very non-violent way. He died due to a heart problem, but nonetheless, my biggest life conflict technically wasn’t even mine; it was my best friend’s and these other kids had brother’s and friends shot in gang wars and stuff. (Not that any one way of dying is worse than the other, it’s just violent conflict makes for better films) I was dangerously well adjusted and as it seemed, that made for bad art. (This was a few months before AP Physics happened, which I will forever declare as the precipitating event to my full blown anxiety disorder.)
Even after my anxiety really came to fruition, it still seemed that I had the most productive of mental deficiencies. While it sometimes made me a complete basket case, it’s also taught me to organize my life and keep things in order. As a result, I’ve fostered an immense love for the arts on top of a love of structure and rules and control. In a lot of ways, I’m completely antithetical to your typical film student. Actually, it’s a miracle I haven’t grown into a producer. In fact, I actually hate producing. I do love post production, though. Where I can sit at my computer and solve other people’s problems and not be bothered. All the chaos is my own and it’s quiet and orderly in it’s own way. My friend Jimmy once described editing as cathartic and I think that’s a pretty accurate description. Here’s the process, simply: seemingly endless frustration followed by inevitable success and then more frustration and eventual success. Getting an edit to work after hours of it not is top 10, definitely. So even my anxiety and crazy-ass work ethic, which was given to me by one of my aunts (either Aunt Chrissy or Aunt B, I’m not sure. It’s somewhere in my genetic makeup, though) has kept me from living a life full of chaos and conflict and good screenplays.
It is also my parents fault that I’m not a professional athlete or musician. As a kid, I was pretty much allowed to make my own decisions. I was encouraged to pick out my own clothes, choose my own friends and decide whether or not I wanted to quit any activity I was signed up for. Now, I had a busy social calendar for an elementary school student. Not compared to kids today, but for 1996, I had a pretty hectic life. But, every time I grew tired of something, it was okay for me to quit. This lead to the end of my dance career around age 14, softball: grade 7 and basketball in 10th grade. I stuck with the flute only as long as I did because I loved band class, but I often found myself zoned out on Grace Kim’s fingers as they flew through the notes and I just sat and faked my way through a piece. (Act shocked. I know most of you were guilty of the exact same thing. She was amazing.) If my parents had forced me to pick one thing as a child and stay with it, no matter how miserable I was, I’d for sure now be sickly talented and an olympic athlete. They never even pressured me in school. They trusted I’d always do my best and so, I made sure I did. I was never punished for bad grades (the only time I got bad grades: AP Physics) and never rewarded for good ones. In fact, I never understood why kids got gifts for a good report card. Wasn’t that simply what you were supposed to do? I didn’t get stuff for following the rules. That’d be like giving a kid candy for not biting another kid. (which is absurd and if you’re doing anything like that, you’re doing it wrong.)
Essentially, one person, aside from myself, is responsible for my academic success and I’m unsure if he even realizes it. I’ve mentioned before that all of my cousins are incredibly smart and that I’m the third oldest of all my first cousins. This means the role models closest to my age growing up were my two older, male cousins – Michael and Scott. My family never encouraged me to be competitive with my cousins, ever. We were all uniquely awesome, as far as I understood it. In fact, it probably would’ve been enough for me to just be around and be a girl for the first couple years. I didn’t even need to exert any effort to stand out. Simply being born a female did it for me. But, as I got older, I understood my cousin Scott was academically brilliant on top of being a hard worker. I had always, as a kid, identified better with Michael who was very laid back and funny and not nearly as intense as his younger brother. In this way, I still hope to be a lot like Michael who recently married the love of his life, Karen, who I’m thrilled to welcome to the family and finally have a female cousin older than age 10. However, my driving force through school was to be as good as Scott. Partly because of my decision to pursue Film in college and partly due to other things, after high school, our success was no longer comparable. I was never valedictorian and that’s okay, obviously, but it was his blind influence and my desire to live up to him that got me as far as it did -through all the AP exams and SAT prep and stress. It’s influenced my work ethic a tremendous amount and partly made me the student and person I am. He’ll probably always be more financially successful than me and as a result will always live in a baller apartment/house and hopefully will let me crash on his couch on weekends forever. (No pressure). But, I think what’s most important is that we’re both happy and secure in what we do, as is Michael, and that I’m going to attribute to the influence of our collective family.
So, to summarize, it’s my family’s fault that I’m a self-reliant, confident, hard working person with virtually no inner or outer conflict.
You sons of bitches gave me absolutely nothing to complain about and without any overarching problems or conflict in your life, it’s almost impossible to be a successful film maker. We are not a happy people, by nature. THANKS. Jeez. You all ruined my professional life. Hope you’re proud of yourselves.