Fear of the unknown (So…I shot my first film and why it took 15 years – part 8)

7. Fear of the unknown

”If what you’re doing does not have the possibility of failing, then by definition, you’re not doing anything new. So the only way that you can do anything new or interesting, is to open yourself up to that risk of failing.”

(Charlie Kaufman)

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (Caspar David Friedrich: 1818)

Society has trained us to be afraid, to be very afraid of all that is unfamiliar and all that we are unable to understand. The journey of fear begins with most parents who – aside from trying to live vicariously through their children and passing on the burden of their unfulfilled desires and ambitions – project their fears that have prevented from living freely. Then it’s the turn of the schooling system to cement a fear of non-conformity, of authority and failure at every corner. Organised religion manipulates us into being forever petrified of a wrath of God that will surely strike upon us, and confine us to eternal damnation. And government, well where do I start?

The greater the amount of fears, the more intensely we are socially controlled. We lose the freedom to make life choices out of love for ourselves, and instead we are compelled to make life decisions that emerge from the exaggerated fears we have been fed and by over-rationalising the threat of failure.

It becomes so deeply internalised, that our life decisions made as a result of these underlying fears are justified as being ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ or accepted reluctantly as being a ‘part of life’- an unfair, yet necessary negotiation. By the time most of us reach our twilight years, there is not even a flicker of the creative, curious and daring child who once made pretty sandcastles and chased butterflies. We simply exist as an accumulated mountain of fears that are now passed onto future generations.

Although I was enlightened to all this, it was still a challenge to quell my fear of filmmaking, and convince myself to dive into this unknown world.

In the absence of any validation, I’d already spent years mistrusting my abilities and myself in general. So it was easy to fantasise about filmmaking, but then I couldn’t stop myself from obsessing about the large void of inexperience and knowledge that would stop from realising my fantasies. Having never attended any film-school, the thought of being in charge and calling every shot (as director) on location where there were expensive cameras, lights and sound equipment, filled me with immense dread. And although it was inspirational to read about great filmmakers like Werner Herzog and Mohsen Makhmalbaf who took pride in also not being film-schooled and had self-taught themselves very quickly, it did not diminish my personal anxiety and paralysis.

At the same time, I was not at all excited by the prospect of spending a lifetime being trapped in the ‘known’

The idea of an existence where I would be schooled and conditioned by the workplace to learn a narrow set of generic techniques that masses of people had, and then repeatedly and monotonously use them for 50 odd years, just so I could make money, made me feel depressed.

Oh, and did someone say ONE career for one whole lifetime? What if I want to do many things? No, you mustn’t, else you will end up penniless, homeless and toothless! Really… fear again?!

Selling my talents for the myth of one conventional non-creative ‘career’, which usually involves the use of pathetic power games, and other shrewd, manipulative and divisive methods (apparently called ‘skills’) – including the obligatory ‘ass kissing’ and ‘tact’ required to climb up the ladder or to win approval of colleagues and clients (while secretly despising them) – all so that I could become wealthier, was never going to appeal to me. The thought of sacrificing my the whole of my life for such a disingenuous activity made my soul sick.

It was also mind-numbing. Static. Trivial. A waste of my human potential. An utter drag to repeat the same thing over and over and over and over again, with only pound signs in the bank there to motivate me. I would get bored in less than a week.

It seems this idea of a career predetermined (in youth) exists not only because it is convenient for the economic system, but also because our ‘masters’ have propagated the myth that we are only supposed to ‘learn’ during childhood. Learning is apparently not for grown-ups, because it’s too much effort, its also too frightening. We face the possibility of being naive, vulnerable, clueless and of making mistakes – what is known as ‘failing’. And apparently ‘failing’ is a weakness. No, we don’t want to be weak, we want to appear strong, confident and all-knowing. We are grown-ups. No. We are Gods dammit! So let us ‘Gods’ stick to doing what we were trained to do, and convince ourselves that we are ‘powerful’ for the rest of our lives. So what if we ultimately disappear into an abyss of frustration and mediocrity like all the others before us?

Get out of here and sell this hogwash to some other fool.

Unknown - Richard Wallich

Unknown – Richard Wallich (http://www.richardwallich.com/index.html)

I refuse all this…I want to be naive and vulnerable. I choose curiosity. To get excited. To explore and adventure. To get lost. I’m happy to be a child in love with play forever. A dabbler (A dilettante like Jim Jarmusch says). I want to use my creativity to do strange, new things. When I went to hear Nawal El Saadawi speak, she said that:“Creativity is the ability to take the unconscious and make it into the conscious, and the conscious into the superconscious”. Now that sounds like fun, and it’s a real challenge, especially if I’m only going to live once. Actually, no – with all this exploring to do in my life – perhaps I can now live a thousand lifetimes in one.

But how many more years was I going to spend standing at the edge of the cliff, dreaming of the warmth of the deep blue sea against my skin, but also paralysed by the fear of jumping, with the rest of these scaredy-cats?

It was time to dive into the unknown.

I didn’t want to live the rest of my life with ‘what ifs?’ and slowly wither away consumed by regret. I refuse to let this my final state of being. I wanted to be governed by love and grow in aliveness.

What was the worst thing that could happen If I shot my film?

At worst the film wouldn’t turn out the way it was envisaged and I would lose my money. So what? Mistakes? ‘Failure’? But nobody dies! On the contrary, I gain so much. I learn new skills, experience new things. I do the things I have been fantasising about for years and years. I share how I see the world. I shoot my film!

Isn’t this what it means to be truly alive? To be doing new and dangerous things, embracing the possibility of failing at them, because for far too long I have secretly dreamt about them? Maybe this is real power.

And yes, having made this short film, cameras still dumbfound me. But I also have (a little more) faith in my ideas to carry me through – and because I know they cannot be learnt in any film school. No longer does all this fear brings paralysis, inactivity and inertia. Instead, it inspires curiosity and excitement so that I am able to dabble and learn along the way.