Sometimes I feel like not even I have any sort of understanding of myself. Given that, I can only imagine the level of understanding people who don’t have the luxury of sharing my thoughts have of me. Here is something that has always given me trouble, as well as currently leaves me totally jaded. I am going to base the following assumptions on my general perception of people I have known and the perception of others that various people have shared with me throughout the years. Naturally, my assessment is more opinion than anything and will likely be very skewed, but it is the best any of us have to work with.
Relative to most people I have encountered in my life, I feel like I am one of the more humble or perhaps modest people by far. I was just raised to be soft-spoken about myself, polite, unassuming and trust in the adage, “Pride before the fall”. It is just who I’ve been for as long as I can remember. I’ve had to wrestle with it a lot in my adult life. I don’t want to buy into or sell an air of false modesty or even being humble for the sake of being humble. I also have known plenty of people who really seem to have the whole concept down better than me. Formality kills me. Why? Because I get stuck in this whole formal zone for far too long. This kind of behavior is most dominant in the formal zone. Even in a highly familiar setting I tend to ride the humility parade more than any of the others. I think this wiring does insane, cruel things for my confidence, but this will only make sense in the context of the other half of it, so let’s get to that.
So you have this outwardly dominant persona of someone unassuming, always seeking to be modest before buying into oneself, but on the inside, where this megalopolis of personal thoughts reside lives a very different person. I don’t know how exactly I want to put this: I’m arrogant as piss, cocky as hell, probably a narcissist on some dire level… I have a really big head. Seriously, sometimes it feels like over half my thoughts contain some sort of notion of complete superiority over whoever may be in the same room with me. Two extremes, things I’d consider to be total opposites, one man, it can be like going East and West at the same time, oh wait, it always is like that. I’m a two headed monster with a sick addiction to headbutting.
So now we have this whole thing established: each separate and singular abilities, seeking out the path of greatest modesty while simultaneously holding a notion that I’m “better” than practically everyone around me. This has long affected every action I do, thing I say, or any other action I do that can be interpreted by someone external myself. It nearly always makes for a constant interior struggle anytime I’m in the public realm. Of course, you could say that it sounds like I’m just too self-affixated and as soon as I stop caring so much about myself that these issues would go away. I don’t think I’d go as far as to digress, but I also think that is somewhat oversimplifying. Along with that, I’d envision it being a straying away from an inward focus on multiple levels. For instance, I always want to make myself better. Everyday I’m alive, I need to seek some degree of self-improvement. Now that totally is going to lead to a tendency to be excessively self-obessesed, but on the other hand, I look at people individually, and entire populations and see that there is always so much to be desired; whether it be those who have achieved so much (I want to be like them), or those who could be so much more but settle for so little (I don’t want to be like them). So it is true that this desire to always improve can sometimes lead to too much self-focus, I’d much rather accept that risk than potentially be insulated from the whole reality that I can strive to be so much more than I am. Perhaps in this regard, I have already self-defeated… uhh, myself (realized how redundant that was, but it didn’t sound right without the redundancy). I just hold the belief that I can win this battle with a different approach.
How does one even reach a state of arrogance? I guess you’d have to take a step back first. Our society is obsessed with confidence, so I can only speak with true fluency in one culture, but in what little bits I know of sociology, psychology and more importantly, history, it seems that it is human nature to be drawn towards confidence. For whatever reason, we get concocted, cooked up and baked until we come out as these little baby things, then at some point, as we are developing the idea of natural desires on a sociopsychological level we are able to identify the ones who exude this abstract idea of confidence. Ok, actually I probably got some of that reversed. We see traits we like which have some sort of correlation to a confident individual, and at some point, assuming we fully develop our ability for abstract thought, we package it all together and realize that is what confidence in oneself is. Of course, when you look at it that way, it is apparent that confidence is easy to feign, because you only have to learn to emulate the parts that everyone else sees, while you can be a ruptured murder scene on the inside. I’d like to think that we all have done this or learned to do this on a basic level. I know that in the past I did it quite a lot, but I have trouble sustaining it.
We all want a champion to like. Look at some of the heroes of our time, the world adored Michael Jordan because he won and won, or Michael Jackson because he was a full-realization of his talents; they were “the best”. Ironically, when I was growing up I remember feeling disdain towards each of these men. I was sick of Michael Jordan always winning and didn’t think it was possible to quantify any man the best at anything. Michael Jackson certainly wasn’t making the songs that I loved the most, so how could he truly be king of anything? These were my thought processes as a kid, and while I eventually came to respect and appreciate the talents, abilities and accomplishments these two men brought, I never really shook the general unease toward someone who has everyone reason to be as arrogant as Alexander the Great heading into India after conquering the rest of his known world while making it look easy. Don’t misinterpret, I didn’t say that I have an unease for people who are arrogant, but that unease stretches out to people who should have some reason to be, even if they are the personification of humility and public service. In this light, you can go ahead and multiply my feelings on people who actually are over-confident. I have no doubts that this negative sentiment bleeds into general confidence. I think most people would agree that arrogant bastards are just that, arrogant bastards. They might even entertain us and amuse us from distance, why else do we celebrate legendary athletes and personalities such as Ali, Tyson or my personal favorite, The Football Player Formerly Known as Ochocinco? But I promise you this, none of us (and when I say none of us, I mean anyone sane or who’s mother didn’t do hard drugs during pregnancy) would want to regularly spend time in the same room with a person like that. There are different tolerances, but arrogance and pride grate me down to my last, brittle strands faster than about anything else I can think of off the top of my head. I just see the delusion that these people have, how overtly inaccurate they are with their assessment of themselves, the people they are immediately around and the entire population of the past, present and future.
Given that, I can confidently (arrogance!) say that my sense of humility can’t be false, because I am constantly aware that there has to be someone better than me in every possible facet, that there were in the past and will be in the future. More importantly, that, once again, good, better, best can’t be quantified. In my head I have some BS general score that I just estimate in my head, it usually comes out as a percentage for some reason. I’ve never actually thought a literal number though, I just think about myself and person X or Y and I feel this idea of this percentage. What do they do well? What were they born with? What kind of person are they? Etc. — there are countless questions that I fill in the blanks to, because I don’t do most of this consciously, I am able to do practically in an instant– after all this compounded processing and deliberation I feel this fictitious numerical percentage, so I have no idea what any actual ‘scores’ might be, I just feel one is greater than the other. I almost always feel my score is higher. Of course, the fact that I just eventually leave it up to feeling and trick myself into thinking it is some sort of percentage or score probably leads to this typical result, because at that point I don’t actually have to trust any weighing of things you can’t really quantify anyway, I just have to trust in myself.
Thing is, I really do have this inflated sense of self-worth though. I know all sorts of talented people, all sorts of hard workers, all sorts of people who are actually producing tangible results to whatever they are doing– putting themselves out there, yet here I am, and I just can’t help but feel like I’ve got something(s)– usually plural– that they don’t. If I leave it at that, then I am correct, because of the infinite differences provided via individuality, but I guess I am taking it too far and believing that my individuality doesn’t just bring something different, but something more. There could be a few brisk and rare truths to this notion, but overall, even I know thinking that something is right because it is my way is silly.
Am I totally unfounded though?
I think not?
I know know know that I am at least highly competent in many things. I can see places that I think are highly vulnerable to arrogance seeping in. For general example, friends I have, or even just acquaintances who spend years studying and specifically focus on doing things that I don’t pursue with that level of prioritized dedication, yet I do these things ‘on the side’ or on my own time at least, and I can on a level of some objectivity compare ability and at the least say it is on the relative level. I won’t lie, I usually feel like my capability exceeds the others pretty often, but will also be the first person to appreciate someone’s clearly recognizable talent and skill, it is a unique balance to say the least.
Let me get more specific, for once. Let’s start with something that most people clearly know about me. Filmmaking. Ironically, I don’t feel like I’ve truly gotten into filmmaking yet, but merely have done most aspects of it a few at a time. With that said, I watch a ton of movies and think to myself, “I could have pulled that off better.” Rarely am I thinking about it from something like the technical standpoint. The technicality of anything is usually the easiest part. In pure technique, I am far from the best in anything related to making movies, I am competent enough in the major things to get by pretty well if I really devoted all my time and energy to a big project, but the good news is that like most things, filmmaking is a collaborative process; a highly collaborative project. So if you gave me a budget, full crew and resources on a level of even a tight budget independent film (because they are basically majors with a very low budget) then there certainly would be no issues in the technicality of it. It’d look and feel like a professionally produced movie. It is on the substance that I feel like I can bring something substantial. I’m familiar enough with every aspect of actually making the damn thing, so it is largely a decision making different from there.
Another example: I have known a lot of people who do have the technical idea of the whole thing down well, but they are completely ruled by it. Like at an, “oh here’s this scene, get it well lit, make sure the lighting is even, knock out a wide shot, a 2-shot or so and close-ups and move on to the next scene, oh and we’ll throw in a cut away to some random action because that’ll look nice and show importance.” That isn’t real decision making, that is letting what is known to be technically correct make the decisions for you. So what if I break the line of action? Maybe that is the freakin point, to be disorienting and make the viewer feel uneasy? Or lighting choices that help to convey a mood or emotion, or taking more risks, cinematographically speaking, than just a few nice looking, yet bland and basic shots. There comes a point in any person’s ability and level of skill that they understand the textbook basics well enough that they can consciously make decisions that effectively put their own intent on the outcome, especially with something like any form of motion picture. Obviously, I am not where I will be 1, 5, 10 years from now, but I have gotten to the point where my grasp is strong enough to where I am now consciously making decisions that convey certain things beyond the idea of just trying to tell a story or conveying a few emotions. I’d say it is even beyond things such as intentionally misdirecting the viewer, doing something visually complex/cool without coupling it with knowing what effect I’m wanting it to have —
(having trouble explaining what I mean on this one, so I’ll throw in a quick, very dirty example: Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, the famous tracking shot of Danny on his big wheel, at his eye level. Seen multiple times in the film, besides being a cool shot, initially used to give us a look from this little kid’s perspective. How vast, complex and intimidating this huge, lonely hotel is. It is just like the time I got lost in the grocery store when I was 4 or 5, it isn’t this huge labyrinth to me anymore, but back then it was intimidating, infinitely confusing and away from the confines of my mother, terrifying. Of course he then builds it into a suspense factor later on and eventually uses it to set-up one of the most iconic and chilling scenes cinema has known, etc. Of course, with Kubrick, he was using this shot and repeating it on more levels than just the overt reasoning I have mentioned, which further exemplifies my point of using style for substance; multiple layers of substance.)
Definitely isn’t on that Kubrick level, or even just other very very good directors, but my point is that I understand the importance of decisions, I have a lot of ideas for how to convey all sorts of abstractions while still maintaining a standard narrative structure and so on. Ideas for directing actors beyond saying, “ok we have this scene and these lines or whatever, be angry, action,” then doing it over and over trying different kinds of angry (over simplifying everything here, shut up if you missed that part), and so on. I didn’t go to film school or anything, but I know that I am on a proficient enough technical level to be at the point where if I really set out to make something, I’m relying on the decision making in all phases of production to make something unique, as opposed to just drumming up a script and shooting, editing doing everything on a pretty simple level, which is what most of the stuff you watch is, just that basic formulaic level. Substance is what really matters in my weight of where someone is when it comes to filmmaking. For instance, I hate Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. HATE IT– but there is so much substance in that movie. I watch it and I instantly understand how much thought went into every scene, every shot, every line uttered. Every. Single. Thing. You hear. Or see. It isn’t a movie, it is experiencing something that the director created, followed by the writer(s), actors, crew, and everyone else.
You could give the premise and basic structure of a movie like that to 25 people who work with videography, film, something related. 15 people will give you something that follows your typical 3-act narrative formula, it could be pretty entertaining, engaging at times, will predominantly be standardly shot, with a few stylistic overtones, that could convey a different genre or other easy to blanket stylistic choices such as color grading, but it wouldn’t be much more than standard and wouldn’t explore the territory very much. 5 people will give you something that is just bad, maybe the writing is just completely broken, or the characters make no sense and serve little purpose outside of protagonist, love interest, antagonist, human plot device, etc., or just failed to cover the basic aesthetic needs, or had terrible audio and so on, just crap. Finally, 5 of those 25 will give you something that covers all those basic aesthetic needs in terms of the writing, visuals, audio and so on, but will also fill you until your mind, your eyes and your ears can consume no more, so that each time you go back, you get a new meal altogether. It might not fit your particular tastes, maybe it offends you, maybe it enriches your mind, maybe you find it a little weird, maybe it leads to a breakthrough in your life, but the point is, you watch it and know that there was just something more, there was decision making that created something substantial. 2 or 3 out of these 5 brought something like that to the table in one or two aspects, maybe the performances they drew out of their actors combined with really exploring the characters, maybe on the audio-visual level of spectacle, something that just tickles your mind on that aesthetic level. 1, maybe 2 of these 5 manage to hit with all this substance in nearly every area– the prodigy’s.
First off, this was a freakin talented group of 25 with the numbers I was giving, but I think the example is served. With the well-known enough people to have gotten major distribution, out of ten, 1-3 are the ones who produced total crap, 3-8 of them are the ones who were good but didn’t really manage to infuse the human soul into the work, and 1-2 fall into the “really talented” category. Though I have yet to complete, much less start a project that demonstrates the following, but I firmly believe myself to be in those exceptional 5 in the example; someone who can infuse part of his own soul in the work. I firmly and unshakably believe that. Given that look at it, is it any wonder why I feel so arrogant?
Remember, digestion? It was my curriculum. Continually versing myself in the basics and technically correct aspect of things, enough to solidify my general ability, while continually gaining experience as me and the crew I work with try and focus on different small things– those are the works of the swb crew– micro experiments that hopefully entertain a little at the same time, then finally absorbing as much as I can simply by watching and experiencing other works, good and bad. With the stuff I really come to admire or look up to, I consume, I gluttonize my brain into a blob of fatty mass that has grafted into his stained, soiled polyester couch with floral patterns, then I slowly process it and digest it. The end result of the digestion is a further molding of influence via what I have mentally digested, as well as an infusion of new ideas and concepts to toy with. That is my course of study. It isn’t a degree that certifies me an expert, but it is likely more valuable than that in terms of capabilities. I imagine it is the same type of curriculum that best suited your Tarantinos or Rodriguezes of the world. A little bit of technical knowledge as your ironing board, combining it with experience to really get the important stuff as an iron. There is your technical mastery to work on, the mechanics, both arms in coordination. Then osmosis of your influences or things you admire or even detest, that is the article of clothing you’re ironing. God-given talent plays only a small factor in these things, because these are things that develop, so even if you have a natural eye for cinematography, your lifelong development of it will be infinitely greater than whatever you started with.
Combining talent with development. I think that would actually be something I consider to be a talent in itself, which I think I possess. More small examples: basketball – I was blessed with good genes in the sense that I have a lot of athletic talent. I naturally can jump higher than average, which also correlated with quickness and speed. I would consider that to fall in a trait that is talent-dominant as far as basketball (or most sports) would go. But I can also improve it, and I have in the past. If I lifted weights more, ate better, consistently did plyometric exercises and so on, I have a much more impressive ceiling in terms of just my leg output than where I am at. I don’t though. There is also the entire skill aspect. Jumpshots aren’t something anyone is born with. The way your brain is wired to move your body might play a large role in how easily someone can develop those specific motor skills, but I know how many hours I have put into all the specific skills involved in being a versatile player at my position. Once again, back to the confidence factor, I think that if I had continued to keep the mindset I had when I was younger all throughout high school, I could have easily played in college somewhere. I had plenty on the talent level, but I worked even harder than that. All those years going up to the gym 4, 5 times a week and just shooting, or practicing one thing: coming off of screens, ball handling, runners, left hand, the list never ends. Even then, I cut myself short on the development part by never sustaining a consistent weightlifting regimen. But I absolutely know, on pure skills and natural ability, I can hang with most players that step foot on a court, and there are tons and tons of great basketball players in the world, guys who played college, professionally on any level, guys who had a rough upbringing that killed their careers, or guys who just developed as a player far too late to have a shot at even playing in college, I just know that as long as I work at it, and especially if I dedicated hard time to improving more, I am just a really freakin good basketball player despite all my shortcomings.
That’s simply an arrogant sounding thing to say, but I believe it to be true.
We circle back to the other part of my personality though, the humility part, I never would want to come off as the player I believe myself to be. That confidence I so despised has always limited me. Even if it just means putting myself out there, trying to get on certain teams or whatever, all the way to how I actually perform on the court. If I look at it as objectively as I can, I know that I am going to either be one of the better players, or at least be able to hang as it gets higher and higher in the upper echelons of skill, but even as if I am performing in a manner that correlates this, proves it to be fact, I trick myself into not believing it, because the modesty that is so deeply engraved in me has a knee jerk reaction to the affirmation of my confidence. I know it was a really long time ago, but we arrive at the paradox once again. I’m the living contradiction. Even in something primitive and largely instinctual as playing basketball, every single thing I do is a self-contradiction, as I do it and think it. How is anyone supposed to sustain a high level of performance with pulsing confidence levels? Because as soon as you have the confidence downswing at the wrong moment, the peak of the confidence filled moments decrease, thus starts the cycle which whittles me down to nothing more than a pitiful creature.
So there it is, if you see me in public and have read this, you can watch me and think to yourself, “So everything he is saying or doing is the muffled result of some internal struggle,” as I battle my over politness with my over confidence. Of course, you should also take it to the next level and thing, “man, he is so gentle and soft-spoken like a young Ghandi, but I see it now, that man is a badass.”
I’m going to end this post here, because I didn’t expect it to be so long, but this has officially become a two parter, because I have a closely related 4.5 of ? that I need to tackle as a solo entity, then I’ll tie them together, and hopefully maybe ascertain some greater understanding of myself. That way I can make myself better, cause I’m self obsessed like that, you know?!
I beg your pardon, but I apologize if I come off as offensive or arrogant when I say, I AM AWESOME. I’m kidding, of course. (But now you know I’m not)
Goodbye for now. (4436)