So I’ve been awake for a really, really long time and somewhere around hour twenty-nine I for no discernible reason did this to my resume because there’s a job at a quirky clothing store near school that I want to work at and I don’t know I’m just desperate
Allegedly, I am going to be graduating from high school in one month and three days.
With that, I’ve been doing a lot of self reflection. It’s weird that I won’t be living at home in four months. I was really excited about it ever since I got my acceptance letter. Now, I feel something different, but I can’t really put my tongue on what exactly it is. It isn’t fear, but it’s something like it.
This year, I set out to watch a movie a day.
Something I’ve always taken for granted is the importance of learning through example. I used to pore over theory articles and spent the better part of the day with my camera. I worked hard and long on my abilities and tried my best to develop my eye, but I found that I was simply not growing at the rate I wanted. Last summer, I was given a very important piece of advice from someone I look up to very much – one cannot explore new facets of cinematography without first learning about and understanding thoroughly the foundation left by our predecessors; only in this way can one really learn the rules of the craft and find ample space upon which to build. It’s a very simple concept, and when it really struck me, it was like waking up from a long sleep. Finally, I had found the missing piece and was ready to begin.
I noticed a change in the quality of my work almost immediately. Seeing the masters at work humbled me and made me think about everything in a new way – I would spend hours watching their creations, and nearly the same watching their interviews. Suddenly, I was much less afraid to work in front of others. How could I be scared with my good friends Chabrol and Hodge looking over my shoulder, making sure all of my moves were sound? With my mentors, my heroes with me always, my Libatique and my Deschanel, I felt more confident in my work than ever. Every fall from grace was a chance to learn. I took something from every mistake I made, and I never made that particular mistake again.
One other epiphany that came was the realization that cinematography is not so much a way to show how I see the world, but rather a way to show others how the characters within the narrative experience it. Something about me is that I’ve never seen a movie that I didn’t enjoy or learn from in some way (aside Water For Elephants; terrible movie). I’ve taken in many hours of film, but the one that’s stuck with me the most so far is Requiem for a Dream. Suggested to me by one of my good friends, the movie chronicles the lives of four urbanites as they warp and twist with their respective addictions – television, heroin, cocaine, food, pills. One of the most obvious devices used to tell the story is the use of smash cuts to explicate the transition between sobriety and intoxication. In the beginning, there is a certain juxtaposition between the tranquil world of the protagonist’s elderly mother and the underworld that he inhabits. As their addictions progress, the aesthetics do as well – shots become tighter, scenes become shorter and more manic as their lives deteriorate; the two worlds converge to a singularity of drug-induced despair. That was when it struck me. If this story were told through an objective third party observer, the style would be static throughout the entire movie, and if a movie isn’t dynamic, there isn’t any reason to watch it all the way through.
This completely changed the way I read movies. As I began to get a better grip on the language of cinematography, I was much more able to understand the dynamics of the characters – who’s important, who’s not, who lives, who dies, who betrays the good guy, who prevails and saves the day. This, as a whole, has made watching movies much easier and has made every experience much more satisfying. It has affected the way that I look through the lens, through layers of plastic and metal, through tiny, tiny screens. It has impacted my writing, my characters, the problems they cause, and the way they overcome them. I dream in narrative. I see in Technicolor.
If I had to do it all over again, I would spend less time eating and more time in my basement giving benediction to my own personal hierarchy of gods, the men that tell stories, the men behind the glass, the only men that make me feel anything at all.
I thought that maybe I’d lose my nerve on the stairs.
Generally speaking, when one is taking a nine story, one-way trip to nowhere, they take the elevator. Elevators break, however, and there weren’t many other buildings that suited my particular brand of needs. Maybe it was God sending me one final slap in the face, or maybe he was trying to discourage another one of his precious little snowflakes from floating a little too close to the sun. Either way, I had to walk. The time alone in the bright, bleak stairwell made no difference to me. I felt no different on the roof than I did on the ground.
The golden hour had ended. The evening was winding down and soon the sky would settle. That’s when I wanted to do it. There are about fifteen minutes a day where the moon is out but the sky is still luminous enough that you can see the silhouettes of the buildings all around you and your hands in front of your face. A yellow light clicked on behind me. I stepped up onto the ledge of the building. My camera bumped against my chest; I had forgotten I brought him. I crunched a picture of the vista. I slipped him off from around my neck and set him next to me.
Click click click click. I thought it was the light faltering or my imagination, but no, someone was up there with me. I turned to where the noise was coming from. A small lady, probably about my age, was sitting Indian-style behind me. She had a lighter in one hand and a cigarette in the other, but it was obvious that she had never lit one before (she was lighting it more like you would light a sparkler, actually). Click click. My first instinct was to tell her that she had to suck in order to get it to catch, but more than that I wanted to tell her to leave. I felt violated. I had no one to worry about beside myself until then. I couldn’t do something this personal in front of a complete stranger. Before I had the chance to express my indignation, however, she looked up at me and spoke.
“Evening, soldier. It’s late.”
“You’re not supposed to be here.”
She laughed at me. She laughed! There had to be some sort of etiquette against laughing at people on ledges.
“Neither are you.”
“I’m a student here.”
“What makes you think I’m not?”
I jerked my head away from her. She probably thought I was some sort of basket case. All I wanted was to be alone. I told her this.
“Alone? I was looking for the same thing until you intruded.” Her voice never rose above that casual, cheerful quality. She kept clicking. I wanted to hurl her lighter out over the edge.
“You’re out here smoking, you can do that anywhere on campus.”
She gave me the kind of smile you would give a toddler that put a grilled cheese in your brand new DVD player, but you don’t want to make him feel bad about it. It was getting dark, too dark. The sky glowed steadily blue, but soon it would be black. I couldn’t just do it in front of her, though. I’d probably scar her for life. No way.
“What’s your name, man?”
“I’m not going to tell you that.”
“Fair enough, I won’t tell you mine, either.” She leaned back. “It’s a beautiful night. Look up at the sky.”
I looked up.
“There are no stars out. “
“Are stars the only things capable of being beautiful? There’s just as much to be impressed about in the space between them. Look up again. What do you see?”
I looked up again.
“Darkness. Just the sky.” The moments I had come up here for were gone. The sky was pitch black.
“ Just the sky? Doesn’t that make you crazy, though? How big it all is?”
It didn’t, but I was too irritated to say so. She continued in a frenzy.
“There is so much out there. Just try to absorb the scale of it all. The beauty lies in the impossibility of it, do you understand? Makes you feel small, doesn’t it?”
“I am small.”
“So am I, that’s another impossibility. Two infinitely small particles finding themselves in the same place, at the same time, for the same reason.”
“I don’t smoke.”
She laughed at me again. Infuriating. “Neither do I.”
Oh. I looked out over the world again, slightly embarrassed. “You’re strange.”
“You’re quiet, but I’d never fault you for it.”
“I guess I just don’t really have a lot to say right now.”
“I getcha. Makes me wish we would have met at a less…macabre time in your life, not like I’d try to stop you or anything.”
“That’s awfully morbid.”
“It’s your life, man. I’m sure you have a good reason.” She stood.
I thought that I had a good reason up until that point, genuinely, but she was trying to warp all of the painstaking justification I had so carefully crafted on the way up here.
She stepped up onto the ledge, maybe two feet from where I was standing.
“Tell me, friend. Why would you want to kill yourself on a radiant night like this?”
I had a broad spectrum of reasons, of course. I wanted to tell her all about the long days and nights I would spend staring at things through my camera, trying my darnedest to find something beautiful. I wanted to tell her how detrimental it is to an artist’s health when that artist runs out of things to create. I wanted to tell her how many people I had burnt through in my desperate, dry fervor for finding something, anything, marvelous with which I could sustain myself. I wanted to tell her about the match burning in the pit of my stomach telling me to make something and I wanted to tell her that no matter how long I tried and no matter how inspired my intentions, I just couldn’t. I wanted to tell her that I couldn’t stand looking at things that I couldn’t see properly anymore and that I didn’t know where I needed to go so I just wanted to leave. I wanted to tell her all of these awful, hopeless things, but of course the words evaporated against my soft palate before she even finished her question.
“There is nothing left for me here.”
She gave me a weird look. “That’s interesting.”
“Interesting probably isn’t an accurate way to describe what I just said.” She bothered me slightly less now. Maybe it was because that was the first time I had said anything like that out loud, much less to another person. Maybe in some dusky, lonely corner of my mind, I felt like we were fighting the same monster. We both looked over the ledge. I asked her what had brought her here. She answered, neither of us taking our eyes off of the ground.
“Physically? My legs.”
“I’m going to set you on fire.”
She laughed a slightly less grating sort of laugh. “Kind of the opposite of your motivation, I think.”
Now, that was kind of interesting. I inquired further. She laughed again.
“Well, maybe not the polar opposite. You didn’t say much, but I can tell that we feel a similar sort of…emptiness in our lives. Nothing is making me miserable. I’m not sad. I feel like I’ve seen a pretty good amount of this world and I’m ready to see what comes next. There’s something on the other side. I don’t know what it is, but that’s what I think I’m looking for.” She paused, looking up at me. She turned her body away from the edge completely. She looked back up at the sky. “I hope I’m right. There’s not a whole lot I can do about this decision once I make it.”
I found myself hoping that I was right, too. It was then that the doubt set in. I saw my pathetic life through a Vaseline lens, and hope suddenly flooded half of my mind. The other half knew better, though. I hadn’t created something substantial in so, so long. The hope was most likely the result of my brain releasing a cocktail of endorphins into my bloodstream in a last-ditch effort to save my body. How depressing.
She looked down at me again. “The possible payout definitely outweighs the risk, wouldn’t you say?”
There were so many ways that something like that could end poorly. Pain, darkness, loss of sentience, eternal damnation, wandering the void for the rest of time. Longer than that. Time didn’t even exist. She’d probably be meandering about limbo even after all of the time ran out. I didn’t have an answer for her, not one that I could say out loud. I shrugged like a coward.
She laughed one more time.
“I’m really glad I met you, man.”
I told her that I was glad I met her, too.
I was, genuinely. In the ten minutes I knew her, I had felt something I hadn’t felt in a very long time. I felt a connection, a sort of resonance between our words that was deep and full. There was nothing for me here. There was something for her there. I remember thinking how strange that it was that the people dying to get out and the people struggling to get in usually end up in the same damn place. She smiled serenely at me. She jumped. I didn’t.