How Are Those New Year’s Resolutions Going?

You may be lucky—you may be one of the 8% of Americans who’ll actually make it through all of their 2014 resolutions. Cinemulatto wishes you the best of luck! I made a few of my own resolutions in January, so since the first quarter of 2014 is behind us, time to check in.

How are you doing with yours? Here’s where I am:

  1. Write and produce six original shorts around a theme. I’ve already downsized this to five shorts instead of six (let’s hear it for stretch goals). Still, production for one short is complete, editing is underway, and I’m in the middle of production for the second short. In the spirit of Zero Dollar Shorts, I might set an offshoot goal to post all of my undistributed films online for free. Please leave a comment if you’d like to see this happen.
  2. Complete five feature scripts (four rewrites and one new one). I think I’m on track with this one. One of the five screenplays has been submitted to a staged reading competition and the second is in review with a reader. It can happen!
  3. Find a mentor. I came to a conclusion: I don’t want a mentor. I want a mentee. To this end, I now have two aspiring actors who’ve decided to take my guidance and work toward roles in indie films. What better way to organize and solidify what I believe I’ve learned from 25+ combined years of drama and film experience? And what better way to force myself to know what the hell I’m talking about, and to make myself fill the gaps in knowledge I know I need to fill?
  4. Hold four “movie retreats”. I’ve done one retreat so far. Three to go.
  5. Get out more. I’m not doing so hot on this one, but I have been doing a healthy amount of socializing while I film, making this goal two-fold: also become known as someone who has a mellow film set, who’s there primarily to build community, have fun, and be creative. A passion should never be work.

I’ll do another check-in after June. I encourage you to do the same. Onward!

 

6 Profound Statements from a Mixed-Race Aunt

Mom, Dad, and Aunt Alice

My Aunt Alice is pushing 100. We’ve never been close, but we’re cordial during very rare get-togethers. When I was a kid, however, she was a regular presence in my life. While her heart was in the right place, her tongue couldn’t always keep pace. As a result, she holds the esteemed title of Most Likely to Say Clueless, Inappropriate Things at Breaux Family Gatherings.

But were the things Aunt Alice said really all that bad? Can we learn something from her rudest and most egregious utterances?

I think we can.

  1. I wasn’t talking to her, anyway. My family and Aunt Alice were at a restaurant. Aunt Alice was complaining about my dad. Mom stepped in to defend, wherein Aunt Alice mumbled, “I wasn’t talking to her, anyway.” Important lesson, particularly for artists and marketers: Know your audience. Also be aware of how you’re crafting your message for optimal impact.
  2. Don’t raise your skirt for any boys. I took this one to heart. Because of this important forewarning, I came out during the summer of 1989 and never looked back. I may have looked sideways a few times, but now I’m here and I’m queer. I even think Aunt Alice got used to it.
  3. Learn how to sew. I really wish I’d taken Aunt Alice up on this one. How useful would it be to be able to fix a rip in one’s own pants (that I now wear to avoid raising my skirt), or dabble in bespoke fashions? I missed the boat and the sewing machine on this one.
  4. Did you find a rich husband yet? With some kind of mystic prescience of the economic downturns of the 80s, 90s, and our recent “Great Recession,” Aunt Alice knew how to save a buck and inform others how to do the same. I have a wife who’s doing okay, but alas, no rich husband for me.
  5. Did you win the lottery yet? Advice: Think big.
  6. She looks better now than when she was alive. At my mother’s wake in 1997, as I walked back to the Catholic church pew after viewing the body, these were the hushed, insightful words that lit from Aunt Alice’s red-lipsticked mouth. I’ll never forget them. I know that during someone’s “difficult time,” I can pass along the same words of encouragement, knowing I was taught by the best.

So, the next time that crazy uncle or madcap auntie causes a ruckus at the annual family potluck, or if you ever happen to be down on your luck and dealing with circumstances beyond your control—remember Aunt Alice. I do, and I’m a better person for it.

 

7 Ways I Stopped Being a Jealous, Bitter, Dramatic Mess

ayahuasca ceremony in Peru

I attended a pretty fancy-schmancy university (Stanford, to be exact). When one graduates in the same class as famous political organizers, U.S. senators, and authors (or authors, or authors), there’s a lot of potential to develop a massive inferiority complex. For years, that’s kind of exactly what I did, i.e., compared myself to my peers, or at the very least, harbored a secret wish that they’d do something like eat bad fish, or stub a toe.

Well…as they say, that was then, this is now. I’m proud to say I haven’t harbored a jealous thought in a long time—probably for the last five or more years. How did I reach such a blissful state of confident Nirvana? How did I stop being a jealous, bitter, dramatic mess?

Here are 7 things that contributed.

  1. Started taking better care of myself. What you eat really does directly correlate to how you feel, and how you regard yourself. For the past several years (sugar addiction notwithstanding) I’ve focused on consuming lean meats, organic fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and plenty of nuts and legumes. I also exercise regularly and try to spend at least a little bit of time each day being mindful. It’s easy to fall into a pattern of self-pity if your staple food is Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.
  2. Gave up toxic habits. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know I haven’t touched alcohol since 2005. This was a catalyst to find a lot of self-worth outside of a bottle, and led to a lot less drama in my life.
  3. Focused on accomplishments and the process. I used to scoff at people who said, “It’s all about the process.” Now I’ve discovered, without this being a goal, that I love the process—writing, working with actors, composing shots, editing, and everything having to do with movies. Also, “accomplishments” are such socially defined little bastards. Awards? Of course they feel great. Money? Everyone appreciates getting paid; this goes without saying so I won’t (quite) say it. Finding I have a strong set of friends and cohorts who get excited about my movie projects? Excitement is hard to come by these days, meaning generating it is a major accomplishment.
  4. Surrounded myself with supporters. This is related to the above. It’s not one-sided—these are the people who love me who I love in return. One might even say “like-minded”. It took many years and a process of elimination, but I reached a point where I easily:
  5. Identified detractors and steered clear. Know the signs: they never congratulate you on anything, they talk a lot about themselves, they point out your perceived shortcomings in the form of jokes, and they can do no wrong. God bless ‘em. I have none of them in my life.
  6. Had an Eat Pray Love moment. This happened in late 2008. I spent 10 days in the Peruvian rainforest on a shamanic ayahuasca retreat. (After all, isn’t film a controlled hallucinatory experience?) I wouldn’t recommend this for everyone but it worked wonders for me. (It also worked for Isabel Allende in completing her trilogy of adventure books.) Yes, as I communed with the ayahuasca goddess at the edge of the unknown universe, I had a sweeping sense of being a supreme creative being. What did you do this weekend?
  7. Grew older. The aging process is great for self-esteem. It’s made me mellow out a lot and not care so much about what other people think. When one has to focus on maintaining the energy required to get things done, one has little time for peer comparison. The only person I find myself trying to one-up these days is me.

If you’re currently a jealous, bitter, dramatic mess, I hope you find some pearls of wisdom or some small level of solace in the above. But stop comparing yourself to me—go make your own damn list.

 

Film Editors I Have Known

Most people don’t know what editors do. People in the movie business don’t know what editors do. Editors are perceived as special people who work in dark rooms away from the madding crowd.—Evan Lottman, whose credits include Panic in Needle Park,
The Exorcist, and Apocalypse Now

Film editors are grossly underrated, often playing the role of wizard behind the curtain. Without looking it up, who can name the picture editor (or editors) of any of these movies?

  • Lawrence of Arabia
  • The Godfather
  • Taxi Driver
  • Easy Rider
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Star Wars

Without editors, we have no movies. And without the opportunity to work closely with and learn directly from editors, indie directors are missing out.

I’ve been teaching myself how to edit. I’ve covered Walter Murch. I’m currently making my way through First Cut: Conversations with Film Editors. Aside from combing through the thoughts of those with long lists of Hollywood credits to their names, I’ve been lucky to have worked with some pretty great picture editors, often before I studied great works from the film canon that utilized these techniques.

In honor of those who taught me something about putting together a movie, who made me see things differently and challenged me to keep learning and try new things, here are little nuggets from film editors I have known.

  • Marisol McIlvain: Marisol cut my first feature, I’d Rather Be…Gone. What I learned: cutting on motion, jump cuts, and using reaction shots to add drama, tension, and emotion.
  • Jason Touissant: Jason edited my short, Faith-Based Charity, as well as the trailer for an unproduced feature, My Mirage. What I learned: leaving “air” when it’s needed before moving into a new scene, rolling before “action” and “cut” to capture footage of an actor before he or she is “acting”, and using L cuts to connect scenes.
  • Amal Kouttab: edited We There. What I learned: music can make long moments seem shorter.
  • Jesse Kerman: edited Mother Country. What I learned: you can hone in on the emotion of a scene through the editing. This was the first movie where I worked with “name” actors; I was strongly inclined to not cut much out of several strong performances. I admit, however, that in some instances where the writing was weak, Jesse skillfully crafted emotionally charged moments by strategic omission. Less is often more, indeed.
  • Robert Wainscott: I’m throwing in a sound editor since I’ve learned so much from Robert. I’ve worked with him on all of my projects since 2008. What I learned: how sound can completely transform a movie, and how it can add layers to a scene. For example, for my short film Lucha, I wanted to use audio from Radio Venceremos, the underground radio station that operated during the Salvadorian Civil War. It was Robert’s idea to have the station playing not under the closing credits, but during the final moments of the movie, on a radio in a car driven by rebel fighters.

Many thanks and much appreciation to the editors in my life!

Oh, and here are the answers, so you don’t have to look ‘em up:

  • Lawrence of Arabia: Anne V. Coates
  • The Godfather: William Reynolds and Peter Zinner
  • Taxi Driver: Tom Rolf and Melvin Shapiro
  • Easy Rider: Donn Cambern
  • Pulp Fiction: Sally Menke
  • Star Wars: Richard Chew, Marcia Lucas, and Paul Hirsch

 

5 Things I Know For Sure About Acting

Like many others, I was shocked and saddened by the news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s passing. Also like many others, I didn’t know him personally. (A couple of acquaintances of mine had the pleasure of working with him.)

It’s always the case that, whatever demons someone is wrestling, no matter what sorts of static the social chatter happens to produce around gossip, speculation, and sordid details, the fact remains—a life was lived, and so many are the better for it.

Hoffman’s passing made me remember all the times I saw him in movies and thought, “Philip Seymour Hoffman is so good.” From Boogie Nights to Happiness, to The Talented Mr. Ripley or Magnolia or Almost Famous or Capote or The Savages—such a long list!—Hoffman was always true to form and utterly brilliant.

His passing also made me reflect on the takeaways; not just the often-cited reasons for staying away from drugs or seeking help when it’s needed, but what we can learn about craft from unwitting mentors like Hoffman, and how it can give us pause to focus on our own lives. As an indie film director, I’ve taken time to think back on all the lessons I’ve learned about the big screen, my own successes and failures, and I’ve come up with a few things I know about what Hoffman loved and spent so much time doing—acting.

  1. It’s the Method. This is not to knock techniques like Alexander, Viewpoints, or others. If anything, these augment and support Method acting. But think of the greats: Hoffman (Philip Seymour and Dustin), Brando, De Niro, Pacino, etc.—and it becomes clear that there’s something really effective about listening, staying focused on the moment at hand, and making use of affective memory. I know, Anthony Hopkins—you think method actors are a “pain in the ass.” Well, you played a black man passing as white. That was a pain in the ass.
  2. Homework works. There are folkloric stories like Hillary Swank living as a man and Daniel Day Lewis’ extreme character makeovers. In my own short films, I’ve created little assignments like having someone write a love letter to an ex-partner, sending two characters out on a date, and discussing the experience of one actor’s digging her own grave for a part. Similar to mindfulness meditation, the best way to observe behavior (aside from studying actual human behavior) is going out and doing it yourself and seeing what arises. According to Hoffman’s long-time acting teacher, Tony Greco, a main drive of Hoffman’s was wanting to get to the truth of the part. One of the best ways to do this is through homework.
  3. Acting is a fragile profession. All publicity stunts and Shia LaBeouf aside, actors can be brittle people, and I would argue, need more love and attention than most. After all, they’re opening themselves up to complicated and difficult emotions, without the assistance of a trained therapist (other than the director!). Sidney Lumet’s anecdote of Marlon Brando nailing the emotion on a 34th take in The Fugitive Kind speaks to allowing an actor to overcome an emotional block, no matter how long it takes. Such interior moments are, by their nature, contained and delicate; a director has to treat them accordingly.
  4. Bigger isn’t always better. Orson Welles once said, “The famous difference between stage acting and acting for the camera? It’s all nonsense, you know. There’s just good acting and bad.” Of course, acting for the screen in cinema’s Golden Age was very different from today’s oft-muted, “character study” performances in indie films. Bigger might have been better at one point, and at times it still is. But, the prevalence of unforgiving close-ups and hyperrealism call for smaller, not larger. Oh, and good acting helps, too.
  5. We’ll always have actor heroes. In 1951, legendary gossip columnist Hedda Hopper interviewed Preston Sturges about “the future of motion pictures” given the advent of television. He predicted that movies and the industry would simply change to keep pace, since people will always need stories and entertainment. We’ll also need people to act for us, to mirror back our hopes, fears, aspirations, nightmares, triumphs, failures, and everything in between. Gossip columns notwithstanding, we’ll always have and need actor heroes, and the more stories we continue to create, the more diverse these heroes will be.

Thank you, Mr. Hoffman. Godspeed.

 

Zero Dollar Shorts

I made my last feature, Mother Country, in the summer of 2010. My goals were to:

  • Travel across country to show the main character’s development from lower-class, impressionable young man to quasi-indie-hipster hanging out in Silverlake.
  • Create an African-American character who, although being stuck in several predicaments, essentially gets his way, i.e., avoid a “struggle” narrative.
  • Spend less than $100,000.
  • Make something worthwhile with good friends, and connect with new and old friends along the way.

We met all these goals and lived to tell a few great stories. It was an incredibly taxing journey. I knew I was setting us all up for a huge challenge. I also knew that if I could do this, subsequent film projects would be easy. Or, easier.

After the dust settled I assigned myself another challenge: get to the point of being able to write, direct, produce, shoot, and edit my own films, starting with a few micro-budgeted shorts. Microcinema is nothing new. Still, I aimed for zero dollars, nothing, zilch, or as close to this as possible. I dubbed them Zero Dollar Shorts. The rules:

  • Use available lighting
  • Use only equipment that was already owned
  • Work with family and friends, for both cast and crew
  • Either create scripts through improvisation or improvise the movie completely
  • Feed everyone by potluck

So, between 2010 and 2013 I shot six shorts under the above conditions. The camera: a DVX100B (with one exception), which is no longer manufactured. Here are some of the ways we got around spending money on each film. Some of them we used across films. Disclosure: I always spend money on post-production sound. I’m deaf in one ear, sound has never been my strong suit, and it’s one of the most important aspects of a film; I always hire a professional. Therefore, saving money and aiming for “zero” happens in development, pre-production, and production.

  1. Untitled “family movie”: After growing tired of a mundane life with two mothers, a young girl runs away from home. This was the first in the bunch and the edit is currently in progress. Best things we did to save money: Used only non-permit locations and casted my daughter as the lead.
  2. Happy 4 Months: How well can you know someone after four months? This was filmed at the beach using an illegal bonfire as a lighting source. Currently being edited. Best thing we did to save money: tapped craigslist for free firewood and used flashlights from our home emergency kit. Very different color temperatures, yes, but we made it work.
  3. The Black Americans: Two young men hit Venice Beach looking for something to do with only five dollars. To be edited. Inspired by Jarmusch, Cassavetes, and Pull My Daisy, we set out to make a black indie Beat film. Best things we did to save money: filmed in locations until we got kicked out, did lots of scenes in a car, and unwittingly incorporated the homeless man who asked what we were doing with that unopened bottle of wine (which I think we got for three bucks).
  4. Hookup: a mumblecore-inspired sex comedy. The sound mix on this is currently being completed. Best thing we did to save money: filmed in my home (which we also did for most of the family movie).
  5. Solitude for Beginners: An unemployed businessman gets held up at gunpoint, but turns the situation to his favor. Edit in progress. Best things we did to save money: tipped the bartender 20 bucks to let us film at Jack’s Bar. Consider this a Twenty Dollar Short.
  6. In Memoria: In the future, a woman escapes from a totalitarian state, but is followed into the woods by a strange woman bent on bringing her back. I cannot tell a lie: we spent some money on this one. My DVX100B finally gave out, so this was the first short filmed using the Canon 7D, which I purchased in November of 2012. We also spent money on props and costumes, which totaled about a hundred bucks. Things we did to save money: filmed in a remote part of a regional park (okay, so we spent 6 bucks on parking), had my daughter run sound (which she’d learned by then since she prefers it to acting), and bought one of the costumes in a thrift store.

What are some ways you’ve made films, done dirt-cheap?

 

Guest blogger:
Dakota Billops-Breaux

To honor Millennials, mixed chicks, and digital natives, Cinemulatto presents our first guest blogger: my daughter. May this serve as a time capsule and provide insight on what the “young people” are thinking.

Ladies and gentlemen, you are now experiencing an EXTREME. BLOG. TAKEOVER!
(Cue intense classic rock music and fire shooting up from unexpected places.)

My name is Dakota Billops-Breaux and I am honored to be Cinemulatto’s first guest blogger. Because I’m not a blogger, nor do I know the first thing about being a blogger, this should be an interesting experience. I do know, however, that this particular blog is about film. And race. And stuff. It says so in the header. So, readers, for the next three to five (or maybe six) hundred words, I’ll do my best to enlighten you on all of my knowledge of those three subjects.

Film.
Unlike my mother, I’m not one to pay close attention to the films I watch. How they were made, what shots were used, and various trivial facts about the films aren’t really in my best interest. (I mean, really, the only reason I’m even calling them “films” instead of “movies” is because I know that’s the Cinemulatto way!) However, I do know a lot about my mom’s films, and I’ve been on the set or a part of the cast or crew for basically my entire life. Being behind the scenes of several movies has really taught me a lot about film. For instance, when you’re four and wearing plastic purple heels and your assignment is to walk towards three drag queens, sometimes you just have to stop crying and suck it up for the camera, no matter how scary their false eyelashes and tall stature may be.

Race.
I am extremely mixed race. I’m about as mixed as a person can get; the only race missing is Latina. In addition to being mixed race, I come from a very mixed family, thus having relatives in a bunch of different parts of the world including Jamaica, England, New Mexico, Texas, and Minnesota. I visited my Minnesota relatives this past winter break for the celebration of my great grandmother’s 100th  birthday. (She lives in North Dakota. She’s adorable.) The reason I’m telling you about my trip to Minnesota is relevant, promise. I was staying in a hotel there (The Hilton. Very fancy. We used a Groupon.) and I took my sister, Precious, downstairs to see what was going on in the lobby, as bored 16-year-olds do. In the elevator a girl with straightened hair and a black headband turned to me and, with a fascinated look on her face, asked, “Are you Blasian?”
“Excuse me?” I replied.
“Blasian,” she repeated, “You know, like, Black and Asian?”
“Ah. That would make sense. I mean, I guess I am, yeah.” I obviously was not aware that “Blasian” was a thing. Turns out the 14-year-old Minnesotan was also “Blasian”, being a mix of African-American and Cambodian. It’s interesting that she chose to define herself as specifically as “Blasian” (in addition to choosing to create her Internet friend group out of almost entirely “Blasians”) when she could easily define herself as mixed, like I do. Granted, I am more than two races. What would my term be? Whi-a-bl-native-sian?

Stuff.

  • Dakota Fanning’s real name is Hannah.
  • In the music video for “What’s My Age Again?” by Blink 182, the band was naked about 40% of the time.
  • License plates in the Canadian Northwest territories are shaped like polar bears.

Well, I have thoroughly enjoyed being Cinemulatto’s first guest blogger. Because I don’t have a relevant thought to end on and keep you thinking about for the rest of the week, remember to eat your vegetables!

 

Cinemulatto’s 2014 Film Resolutions

Cinemulatto has so many things that can potentially delay writing, reading, watching movies, and making movies: a day job, a partner, a teenager, a toddler. My loved ones aren’t “obstacles” because, well, they’re my loved ones. Still, having a full life takes work. Oh, and throw in the aging process. I just celebrated another birthday on December 30th. Contrary to personal belief, I’m not getting any younger. Energy often has to be finagled.

That said, I still hope to use every morning, lunch, and evening hour possible to meet a few film goals in 2014.

  1. Write and produce six original shorts around a theme. I’m almost done editing six shorts I shot on my DVX100B during 2010-2013, and I promised myself I’d be completely done before embarking on new projects on my Canon 7D. I figure I’m done enough. At the time of his passing in 1996, Krzysztof Kieślowski was working on a trilogy of feature scripts inspired by The Divine Comedy, Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. My 2014 shorts will explore death and how people deal with it, whether it’s their own death or someone else’s. Hopefully not all of these will be big downers.
  2. Complete five feature scripts (four rewrites and one new one). I also have a few script drafts lying around, one completed as long ago as 2005. Time to dust ‘em all off and make ‘em strong! With any luck, I’ve gained some insight and additional skills over the last 8 years. The genres range from comedy to drama to crime thriller to musical comedy, so the process should be mostly a blast.
  3. Find a mentor. I have a few leads up my sleeve. Preferably, I’d love someone who’s been in the industry for decades and has had varying levels of success, and I know this will probably mean old white guy. I’m surrounded by a community of creative people who are very similar to me, so I’m looking forward to working with someone who, on the surface, I may not necessarily have a lot in common with. Building bridges, digging deep, learning new things!
  4. Hold four “movie retreats”. Take one day off work per quarter and devote it solely to watching whatever’s next on either my Netflix or general movie list. Turn off my phone. Take food and bathroom breaks as necessary.
  5. Get out more. Not only leave the house, but leave it after 7 PM and actually go out and meet people! My networking skills are rusty. Despite being forever the introvert, I can’t keep learning about myself and the movie world around me if I become a full-time recluse.

What are your film goals for 2014?

 

How Bay Area Tech Companies Can Change the World (and Save Face)

Not only do I hope tech companies come around and pursue the right course of action in San Francisco; they have a chance to take the lead and set a contemporary model for civic and corporate responsibility in a city with a long history of progressive politics.

Yesterday, Mayor Ed Lee met with several high-ranking tech figures to ask them to contribute more to housing, education, and public transportation. The meeting was private but the media obtained a copy of the invitation. Protestors made their voices heard outside of the offices of Salesforce.com.

This is an unprecedented opportunity for tech giants to do several things:

  • Become a positive part of the cultural fabric
  • Give back to the community
  • Transform San Francisco and surrounding communities
  • Develop a model that can be copied nationally
  • Save face

I always have to disclose: I’ve worked in the tech industry since the first dot.com bust. My first film was financed from stock options. I’ve been told I’m the exception and not the norm—a mixed-race queer chick who works in a highly diverse company. I regularly donate funds and resources to the artistic endeavors of friends, when I’m not financing my own. I’m so left-leaning it often feels like I’ll fall down. (Or is it vertigo?)

Surely, though, there can be some kind of n-point plan for eliminating—or at least greatly mitigating—several of the woes faced by the people of the Bay Area. Here’s what I propose.

Get as many tech companies as possible to form a coalition, perhaps called something like Community Partners, to help to directly combat the Bay Area’s most pressing issues. Over a five-year period, the companies would tackle the most urgent ones, the first two being unquestionable matters of life and death. After these goals are reached within the given timeframe, the next social ills would be addressed, two at a time over five-year periods.

Here is what I believe are the two biggest, solvable problems:

  1. The death rate among young African American men in Oakland. The leading cause of death in young Oakland men between 15 and 34 is homicide. Organizations like African American Male Achievement Office are taking measures to make these statistics a thing of the past. With the proper funding and partnership, this can become as much of a reality as the rapid application development timeframe that tech companies are so familiar with. Those at tech companies know better than anyone else the need to quickly design, develop, and deploy a new and powerful system. Why not lend these and financial resources to something within the realm of social possibility?
  2. Homelessness. A high estimate for the number of homeless on the streets of San Francisco is 5,000. Compared to the 51,000 people estimated as homeless in Los Angeles, this number is insignificant, and capable of being vastly reduced with the financial assistance of the over 100 tech companies in the Bay Area.

And after these are addressed? Solve problems in education, air quality, and public transportation. Compile a full list of problems that, by solving, would not only bring even greater prosperity to more people (San Francisco County currently has the second highest per capita income in California), but also position local tech companies as the most progressive coalition of businesses in the nation. How’s that for a marketing advantage?

How to accomplish all these lofty goals, those of you who work at tech companies? First off, start interacting with the outside world. Use the tech-ubiquitous catch phrases of innovation and disruption to affect social change on a large scale. Keep it organized. Rally with your tech allies to put together a project plan, measures of success, a budget, and the like; pledge a dollar amount toward a specific organization or set of organizations; then partner with these organizations until real, measurable change is realized. If even half of the 100 companies pledged $10,000 a year over 5 years, that’s $2.5 million dollars. This sort of mass philanthropy could produce real, lasting change.

What do you think? Would tech companies buy into something like this, and can the Bay Area be a beacon of civic improvement?

 

Identity and Resilience, Part Four: Drunk

I’ve never been big on groups. I’m sure it’s because of my family of origin, but I get skeptical whenever anyone invites me to be part of any organized, regular gathering—I assume some nasty group dynamic will eventually arise, or groupthink will quickly set in.

As a result, I didn’t last very long in AA. I stopped drinking, though.

I’ve been sober since September 17th, 2005. I remember that morning: I woke up supremely hung-over in a situation I hadn’t expected, recalling very little of the night before. I know I’d been in a lesbian bar in Los Angeles. I know a friend saved me from doing some extremely stupid and potentially life-altering things.

I used to be the one in clubs who “watched” drinks while my friends danced. They’d come back to find all the glasses on the table emptied, whether they held cosmos, vodka, or beer. My weapon of choice, however, was whiskey—Jack Daniels, from the bottle.

During my time of regular weekend night intoxication (and many weekend days during college), I engaged in all sorts of daredevil activities. Here are just a few of the many, many examples:

  • Sprinted down hills in North Beach to land on the hood of whatever car happened to be in the way
  • Tried to instigate fistfights with equally drunk frat boys (luckily I failed)
  • Dry-humped a friend’s broken leg during Dyke March as she rolled in a wheelchair
  • Ended up in the wrong, rich-white-men-only seat at the Academy Awards
  • Approached off-white young men with the greeting, “mah mulatto bruthah”

In other words, I had a blast.

The thing is, alcohol is amazing. It’s legal, cheap, and easily accessible. Being drunk was incredibly freeing and otherworldly, to the extent that I could do just about anything I wanted and think it was okay. It made me comfortable around women, as I’ve mentioned.

My inebriated party lasted for somewhere around 17 or 18 years before I realized that once I started drinking, I couldn’t stop. It was starting to affect my relationships. My blackouts became more frequent. I was a parent now and after seeing how my father acted while drunk when I was a kid, I couldn’t bear the thought of bringing the same stuff into my new family. And, being an aging, lonely alcoholic didn’t sound very attractive.

Still, once I admitted to myself that things would only get worse if I continued drinking, what did it feel like to identify as an alcoholic?

I know there can be a self-perpetuated social stigma to this label. I had trouble with it and still do, partly because I no longer drink. I have a greater desire to binge on sugar than to accept an offered alcoholic beverage. As for AA—half of the handful of meetings I attended felt like gay pickup scenes. The others just weren’t for me, the group-averse skeptic. In the end, I cozied up more to the identity of health nut, reducing my intake of sugar, exercising, and eating organic fruit and veggies, whole grains, and grass-fed things. If I was cutting out alcohol for my health and well-being, I was going whole hog, dammit.

Once again, like so many other times in my life, I bounced back (and not just from car hoods). Resilience extended to jumping on the wagon. To his great credit, my father did the same thing, kicking his alcohol habit in time to ensure I had just a messed-up upbringing, instead of messed-up and fatherless.

I still love alcohol, just not having it. I like being around drunk people; just because I don’t drink doesn’t mean they can’t have fun. I often volunteer to be designated driver. Life’s too short to not appreciate those who can get away with something.

So let’s raise a glass—to identity, resilience, sobriety, and alcohol.