Wednesday, August 21, 2013
It's All Over Now, Baby Blue: Graduating from New York University
There’s a deep, profound sadness during this time of transition. It’s about that time when regrets start bubbling up in my mind, although, for me, they never seem to really leave, and my days are spent recounting and reliving the social errors and faux-pas I made over the past four years.
What behavior do other people remember? I think that my latest film, You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory, deals with this question a little bit. Is it possible to act like a buffoon in front of a large group of people, but still manage to salvage your reputation and retain some pride for the next day? Is everyone thinking mostly about their own moral failings, their own insecurities and disappointments? I know that I’m guilty of overanalyzing my own behavior, but I also know that I’m able to sometimes behave on autopilot, unaware of what my words might mean or suggest to someone else.
What structure remains now? There will be the weekly Wednesday evening meetings with my Advanced Production class, where we screen rough cuts of our advanced films and, ideally, screen feature-length films afterwards. The class is made up of people who I love dearly, and perhaps it’s because I love them all so dearly that I fear my excitement in seeing them each week will result in the kind of behavior I long to end. I’ll talk too much, I’ll get started on a rant about films, or perhaps a political issue about which I know far too little, and when the evening is over, I’ll take a look at myself and promise to do better the next week. But this is one of the only surviving structures in which there is the luxury of having a next week. And it won’t last for long.
But When We Get to the End, He Wants to Start All Over Again
That’s right, so many of the structures and institutions that give direction to my life are disappearing before my eyes. The Dean’s Scholars group, the classes, the internship, Tisch New Theatre – all have come to an end.
But for the past four years, every night was a chance to look back at the day behind me, review the possible mistakes I made and try to reinvent myself for the next day. I’m not sure there were very many days where I took that opportunity.
That’s what graduation feels like.
It’s late at night when I get the most anxious – when I realize that all of the plans and dreams I had for a given day did not come to fruition, that I accomplished very little and that, frankly, I regressed in many ways. And then I fight against the night to fix what I can before I run out of steam and energy. When I wake up in the morning, the world seems so full of opportunity and promise again. Energized by the potential of the day, I get a little giddy, and I goof around, leaving the work for just a little bit later, and I goof around some more – until it’s nighttime, and I realize that I let all of that opportunity and promise slip away. But that’s okay, because the next morning –
It’s true that there are wonderful things that await me. I get to live with two of my dearest friends this summer. I will continue working on my advanced film, a project I’m very proud of, and I will be faced with a few more opportunities, perhaps, to better my behavior in front of people I respect and admire.
Over the course of the film, it becomes clear that Schmidt has planted nothing with his family – after his wife dies, he’s left to fend alone against his daughter and her fiancé. By the end of the film, Schmidt is alone. He has nobody left, and he has failed. His daughter marries the imbecile he so strongly urges her not to, and after the wedding, she’s gone, out of reach.
His wife is gone, too. He is mostly forgotten by his co-workers from his insurance office. “Relatively soon, I will die,” Schmidt writes to Ndugu. “Maybe in 20 years, maybe tomorrow, it doesn’t matter. Once I am dead and everyone who knew me dies too, it will be as though I never existed. What difference has my life made to anyone? None that I can think of. None at all.”
Yemane asked us to remember, as we go forward in life, that if we plant something small and expect nothing from it, it could very well end up being our salvation. You never know what is going to end up saving you, and it may very well come from the place you least expect.
The graduation speech I needed came from Yemane Demissie. But it also made me wonder, where or what is my Ndugu? I worry and struggle through so many strained relationships, but which are the ones that will come through in the end?
How many times I have felt just like Schmidt – my last-ditch ambitions foiled, forced to return home, disappointed and defeated, only to have my spirits lifted by the smallest and most unexpected source. However deluded my happiness – or Schmidt’s – might be, it’s what keeps me going.
And so I move forward into a world of uncertainty and anxiety. My expectations are unrealistically high, and hopefully I won’t be crushed with disappointment. I only wish I knew the identity of my Ndugu, so that I can keep my eyes open and my heart ready for whatever ends up being my salvation.