One of the first lessons I learned from writing plays was this: each character has objective. The playwright must be crystal clear about what the character want.
One of the common things new students uttered in workshops were usually: he doesn't want to change the status quo, she doesn't want to say more, she doesn't want to go, he doesn't feel comfortable.
To those the teacher would say, "you are telling me what she DOES NOT want — okay, she does not want to go — but what DOES she want?"
The student would scratch their head, "she does not want to agree with him."
"You are still telling me what she does not want. What. Does. She. Want."
"She wants... She wants..."
After some struggles, the student would say, as if out of defeat, "she wanted him to listen to her."
The process of writing plays is the process of understanding human beings and to get to the core of our desires, disappointments, insecurities.
I learned to see through my characters (through a lot of practice and trial-and-error) in order to write them.
In real life, it does not work that way. Sometimes the things we want the most become the almost unidentifiable, or diffused, or we just somehow lose our clarity when we try to spell them out loud.
To say what we want when we don't know if we have them (chances are we do not) requires tremendous vulnerability.
We are afraid to see through ourselves.
If we could, we would have.
We haven't, because we are convinced we are not going to get it.
When I stay away from things
In my first year, I stayed away from writing. Writing is something I know well and feel comfortable with. I wrestled with my tendency to keep its place in the things I was trying to make. I subjected myself to the much less comfortable or familiar medium of film.
In making film, I stayed away from uninformed choices. I stayed away from this notion of freedom that "I can make whatever I want." I tried to learn proper forms. That was my research, and it was excruciating. I watched lynda.com tutorials and asked for the "correct way" to operate a camera and a sound recorder. I learned to stabilize my camera with my tripod. I learned to use premier. I was stressed the first time I had to sync the audio with the video.
I called this process a penance — I was choosing to do the things that pained me and exhausted me. I felt like an idiot around the medium, not to mention the craft of it. In order to overcome my clumsiness I tried to put something out constantly, all the while aware, annoyingly, that something was not quite there. The uncertain and unknown nerve-wracked me and humbled me. What I knew — from life, from writing — felt irrelevant in the vastness of new image-making knowledge.
I placed a heavy weight on feedback. I felt I relied on others to see, because I was not sure if I was seeing what I saw, or if I could now express what I saw.
I took on an editing project with a graduating MIARD student and felt quite shit as I went through the materials. It was labor, mental and physical. During the same time, I interned at a bakery. I always had a romantic association with being a baker. (I was a home-baker in the US.) It turned out that standing on your feet for 10 hours a day while lifting 10kg flour bags would be the opposite of romantic.
I felt I was never doing enough. I knew there was something wrong with this kind of thinking and doing. It came from a deeper place. (e.g. moving to a new country, living from family support, etc.) I was in a kind of darkness whose end I tried to see and whose space I tried to feel. Trying and trying and trying.
In making film, I stayed away from essay films, or — from the days I did not look into this term — films with a clear presence of a voiceover. The second film I made during the Master's had a voice component. I didn't want to do the voice and asked someone else to do it. I wanted the voice to be the voice of a character... I ended up doing the voice after Simon commented the voice felt totally detached, "a voice of a BBC announcer where what you are looking for is a whisper." I felt I did not want to expose myself like that after recording the voice.
At the time essay film seemed quite narcissistic. I disliked a voice on top of montages. Sometimes they sounded like pretend poetry. Sometimes there is a story — I call it an outcry — too much telling, too much declaring, too much imposing words onto images and making images pretty illustrations...
literal v. imagic
surface reading v. symptomatic reading
I got to know the term "surface reading" in an essay on how to read essays.
It reminds me of the methods from a few tutors, usually starting, what am I seeing here?
It felt like a sin to not be able to back up my work with ideas.
Now I realize however sound the idea is, the implementation is the only that matters.
Leave the conceptualization to the critics.
More than once I received the feedback that I put film on a pedestal. More than once I was told that I needed to develop a confidence in the images I was making. I did not always know what that meant. Sometimes I felt resentment because I did not understand it.
Confidence is not rooted in grandiose language. I read International Art Language and a book on good art writing in the first few months of the program. I would later articulate a certain way of speaking/writing as speaking/writing for a discourse. Confidence within a discourse (a.k.a. knowing its jargon and history) is different from confidence in making, or confidence in seeing even. I valued the theory bits, but with some helpful nudges (i.e. Simon's comment on the bureaucratic art language), I distanced myself from seeing what I did within any theoretical framework. I also did not feel that I had to become erudite about art history as much as I set out to. I became less eager about reproducing the kind of language for an art exhibition. "Didactics" and "ontology" became less interesting way of speaking.
Confidence comes from opening up to uncertainty and the recognition of failures.