Friday, August 27, 2010

Insane in the Membrane?

Chalk this up as one of those "obvious revelations."

I was reading a Vanity Fair article on the state of the American presidency. The point of the article was not political in any way; it was simply to give the reader a sense of how much the day-to-day experience of a U.S. president has changed, even since Clinton. The line that hit me came from a press secretary who talked about how you used to be able to at least catch wind of a significant development in the West Wing, then strategize your response, then respond and gauge reaction. Now, he said, there are no boundaries, no borders between big events. It's non-stop.

This is yet another example of the "constant stream" effect. From 24-hour news to social media communication to you name it, the biggest psychological change for people of my age is that we've gone from a world with manageable boundaries to a world that resembles an incessant stock ticker. To use a third analogy, we are people surrounded by bulging spigots labeled "work," "play," "entertainment," "information," and "basic human communication." By default, they're all on full blast. For people of middle age, you have some sense that you can turn these spigots on and off at will. And the challenge in life is to know how and when to do so before drowning. For people who grew up in the new world, there is no sense of this choice. You simply take it all in.

I'm resisting the temptation to be sentimental, to say that this new world is bad, wrong or immoral, and to call for a return to the past. True, the new reality does strike me as incredibly damaging at times ... and sure to result in a society where nobody possesses deep knowledge or critical thinking capacity, and where our gradual lack of competence, loss of focus and inability to choose the "right" and "healthy" versus the "easy" and "entertaining" destroys us. But that would be the equivalent of Thomas Jefferson and the old Republicans mourning the loss of the supposedly pure agrarian America as we moved toward manufacturing, commerce, paper money and raw individualism in the early 1800s. Jefferson's model wasn't sustainable, either.

I truly believe that The Great Rewiring is taking place. I'm talking about our brains, and "rewiring" is probably the wrong analogy, because our brains are much more plastic than we'd like to believe. We tend to compare our brains to the technology of the day, and for 25 years, that's been computers. Evidence points to the reverse: Our brains mold themselves to the environment. So what is this amazing evolutionary product called the human brain doing to adapt to the constant stream age? We're about to find out. Might it be disastrous? Possibly. Might it be wonderful? Equally as possible. Might it be both. I can almost guarantee it.

But for those of us who have known the previous world and continue to adapt to the new one (including Yours Truly, who only four years ago swore that he would never need or want a cell phone and now spends four hours a day opening and closing app spigots for banking, communication, weather, news, movie listings and sports scores), the constant-stream universe is, I think, causing a new form of insanity.

This will not be a clean transition for my tribe. You can live neither in the past nor the future. It is psychological homelessness.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Where do I begin?

I could start by saying that I might just be the luckiest man on the face of the earth (and that was before "Souvenirs" started to shoot). The rest is gravy. And what a fine, fine gravy it is.

Just over a year ago, I was pulled into a meeting with a Marine and a hunt club owner. I walked in a little annoyed, and the feeling only grew worse. I was juggling client projects, probably with multiple end-of-the-day deadlines breathing down my neck, and now I was told that these two gentlemen thought they wanted to make a movie.

I didn't take it seriously, because they didn't look like movie types. When they said they wanted to recreate some scenes from World War II in Minnesota, I scoffed; when they said they wanted to do the same with Iraq, I nearly laughed out loud. But still, I liked their premise of a grandson finding his grandfather's footlocker, and they weren't asking me to do anything for free. I didn't have any time for the project, and the Marine acted like he wanted a script by 5:00 that day, but something told me to say yes. I knew nothing about the topic, but I also had nothing to lose.

From that moment on, it felt like something was being set into motion that, to use the cliche (because nothing else describes it), has taken on a life of its own. Flash forward one year, and I'm watching a P38 plane ... one of only six left in the world that can still fly ... doing a strafing run over a fake explosion in a German tank. I'm speaking with Army generals who are telling me how much this story will mean to vets. A crew of over 50 people is working 12+ hour days to bring the pages I wrote to life, creating images that are being captured and edited to (hopefully) eventually be seen by many, many people.

Creation still mystifies me. The act of envisioning something in your brain and then making it exist in a form that can be experienced by others has always conjured my most intense spiritual feelings. Because movie-making is the most collaborative art form ever devised, the feeling is taken to still yet another level. P38s are impressive, but for some reason it was a sheep that really brought the feeling home for me. Imagine this: You write about a dead sheep lying in the middle of a road in Iraq, and a year later you are standing in a limestone quarry looking at a bloodied prosthetic sheep. Those words on that computer screen in your basement eventually caused a team of people to spend weeks (maybe months) creating this sheep. Someone designed and molded the fake ribs that are now exposed on its side. Another person has applied karo syrup blood to the wound. Still another has transported the sheep to this exact location, which, by the way, had to be secured via multiple interactions between still other people. And now a crew of 50 is spending the next two hours of their lives trying to capture this image so it can be placed within the context of a larger story--your story--and then, maybe within a year, be seen by others on a TV or in a darkened theater.

The entire experience of making "Souvenirs" has really been beyond belief, and I am the first to recognize the rare privilege involved. For me, the story I wrote on the page is ultimately about the importance of expressing gratitude. I guess by writing about the filming, I am expressing just a bit of that myself ... though I must say, it seems grossly, grossly inadequate.