“Life is a journey, not a destination.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Mr. Emerson’s quote is famous for a reason. It really is an ideal way to see your existence. Adopting a viewpoint like his makes it easier to handle frustrations. To see great progress in small victories. To appreciate life as the weirdly wrapped gift that it is.
But I didn’t always feel this way.
For most of my years, I thought that throwing that quote around was just a way to excuse yourself for not being where you should be in your career or creative pursuits. Journey? Bah. I didn’t want to be mindful of every painstaking step toward my desire. I wanted to teleport straight to my glorious arrival. STAT, please.
I honestly wasn’t trying to call bullsh*t on one of America’s greatest poets. The idea that the journey really could be its own reward was a lovely one.
But I just couldn’t grasp how being on some meandering voyage was supposed to be more gratifying than actually grabbing the prize. More amazing than having that moment where you finally succeed.
So, what finally got me to accept the truth of his philosophy?
Doing something I’d been dreaming about for decades: making my first film (Anniversary).
The day that I realized my producing partner and I had secured funding and our wish list cast and crew, I felt unstoppable. Something I wrote was actually going to be viewed on a screen larger than my laptop. I could really call myself a filmmaker.
I was elated. For about fifteen minutes.
And then the real work began.
Don’t get me wrong. It was work that I had fantasized about year after year as I was parked at my desk in the cube farm. But between budgets, scheduling, script revisions, equipment rentals and about forty other things, I soon realized that I had been watching way too much E! Channel.
All those “behind the scenes” segments seemed so glamorous. Everyone laughing, joking and throwing out cute quotes for the camera. Actors waxing poetic on their craft as they sat in the makeup chair. The crew seamlessly gliding around on location, making every shot look effortless.
But while there was plenty of fun and games on our set, there was also plenty of…reality.
Airplanes that kept flying overhead during a critical scene, causing the sound guy to mainline Pepto Bismol.
Major equipment almost no-showing.
The script supervisor actually no-showing.
The family cat expressing displeasure with us shooting in “her” house by strolling through several shots. (She also requested a guest starring credit, but that’s a whole other story.)
This filmmaking stuff was not for the faint of heart.
But it was awesome.
And then it was over.
And I was bummed out.
Not just because the experience had come to an end. What really hit me was the realization that I had spent 95% of the pre-production and actual shoot time in varying degrees of anxiety.
Even when I wasn’t cranked up to eleven, I was almost always in a state of mild disquiet.
Thinking about what else I was supposed to be doing. What I might be doing wrong.
If I looked like an idiot. If I was an idiot.
And as a result, I witnessed – but didn’t fully absorb – so much of this once-in-lifetime experience:
Hearing an actor say my words for the first time.
Watching a group of virtual strangers become instant collaborators.
Noticing how the set design almost perfectly mimicked what I’d seen in my mind’s eye.
And so many other things.
I was making memories, no doubt. But what I should have been doing was making moments.
Staying present. Not stressing about what would come next, and how fast it would come.
Not wondering whether the film would be a pile of crap or a critical darling.
Not trying to guess whether this would be the start or the end of my filmmaking career.
As I write this, my second film Waiting for Goodbye is one week away from being in final form and ready for festival submission. I’m excited to get it out there, and hopeful for a warm reception from audiences. And I won’t lie, winning an award or two would be a dream come true.
But unlike my maiden voyage with Anniversary, this time I paid attention to every bit of the experience. I savored the times where things went smoothly. I rolled with the inevitable mishaps (which were amplified by the fact that our leading man was a cranky 16 year old Shih Tzu…but I digress).
And this time I left the shoot with a peaceful, grateful heart…and a new mantra:
Making memories is wonderful. Making moments is magical.