Goddamn i needed a yes so bad, for reasons beyond the future of this current project itself (and for reasons informed both by my own personal narrative - spanning years, decades - and the general chop of the waves these past few months.) I’ve been doing this long enough to know that things can sometimes (read: often) break the other way. However, I feel unusually confident about this project and I had a sense this particular festival submission would break my way (note to self: red flag) as it was a festival I’d played at before and I felt the material would be a good fit. The announce date had come and gone which meant each passing day without news I had landed back in the unpleasant zone of checking email every 60-90 seconds and reacting like a pavlov dog to every auto beep and chime. My inner voice cycled like a mechanized building annunciator during a fire drill: Good news is coming, I just know it. I rose yesterday morning before dawn, still dark outside, and I checked my phone and saw, at last, the generic email: ‘project not selected’.
Okay, let’s keep things in perspective: it’s not famine, war, hegemony, brain cancer, fracking. It’s just a no for a project I was lucky enough to make. I get it. Also, I’ve had plenty of rejection. And I am married to a writer who has had her fair share. At least once a week there’s a big rejection under our roof. Typically we do our best to celebrate it with the same veracity and joy we would the opposite result, both as robust reminder that we haven’t quit and as a gentle fuck you to the offending party. Point being, a mere no is not typically a thing to rattle me. But sweet shit, as things lined up, I did I need that yes. I had projected every recent wrong/bad/dark thing onto that thin reed, knowing the Yes would be the corrective. Maybe not a cure but a temporary reprieve. So reading that email was like the announcement of a impending tidal wave and I braced knowing the dark swell of negative sensation that was about to roll upon me later in the day. If you’re unlucky enough to have a No that informs the present and past at once, you know you can feel the ice cracking under you and your prior selves, watching the splintering helplessly as it races across the ground, up the sides of the canyon, unleashing as it goes a black poison that takes the form of several interlocking queries, all barked with the urgency of a trainer telling his felled fighter to stay down: What’s the fucking point of doing this anyway? Are maybe you not meant to be doing this? Wouldn’t you be happier if you threw in the towel and ran in the other direction? Why do you bother?
Sometimes when things get low or tough at our house, we remind ourselves that even though this life does not look exactly the way our 20-something-selves anticipated, our 20-something-selves would be saluting us. Fuck yes, they’ll tell us. You guys are doing it. You’re living the dream. We’ll say back: No, you don’t understand, we have no money. We have no plan. But because they have a blind sort of belief in art being all and that the work-itself-is-the-meaning they don’t waver: Fuck yes, you guys are doing it. You’re living the dream. Ha. They don’t quite get that we are doggie-paddling in red. They don’t understand that my name isn’t even on the mortgage because of all my film school debt which by the way I can’t return to making payments on until I pay back the debt from my first feature, which inhibits my ability to make the second. They don’t realize that though we are making things, we are not a fully self-sufficient enterprise. We are not responsible. We are not sensible. They don’t grasp that making a movie or writing a book in your 40’s doesn’t mean what you think it means in your 20’s.
So if by chance the Brian from 1999, still in his gown from film school graduation, is reading this: know that Yes will take many forms, most of them not exactly at all the one you are chasing. Know that the only thing you can do in the face of No is to sit with the darkness for a day, letting it fill every pore but not letting it drown you. The next morning you should rise before dawn, still dark outside, open the door and go for a run - heart pounding, sun spreading through the trees, music from your prior selves in your ears - and when you return and see that someone else is awake you should walk in the door with a giant smile and tell them not how you feel about rejection and art and your place in this world but share the good news: you just realized a few minutes ago how you are going to shoot your next project.