All I’ve got is right now and it will be over in a second. When I was a child, I never worried about what was going to happen next. At least, that’s the way I remember it. I think I started worrying about the future in ernest in my late teen years, the pressure was on. Will I get into a college? Would I be able to finish college if I did? What would I do after?
I assuaged these feelings of anxiety with the use of alcohol and whatever other mind-altering drugs were available to a teenager in the early 70’s. I did get into a college, Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. I had vague dreams of being a commercial artist, none at all of ever becoming a famous fine artist. I drew well in high school, but when I got to Pratt I found just about everybody else there drew as well or better than me. I worried that I just wasn’t good enough.
Commercial art seemed viable, and it was a job. My parents drummed into me the importance of work, and having a job.
“If you don’t work, you don’t eat” my dad would tell me.
“Your father and I aren’t going to be around forever, and you’d better learn how to take care of yourself,” was my mother’s dictum. More to worry about.
My mother died young, when I was twenty-three. She was right about not being around forever- and my father was poor and didn’t have much to offer, so I did learn to take care of myself. I opted for the quick fix- get a job now and forget about finishing school and maybe getting a better higher paying job later. Besides, there was too much competition at school, I’d gone into the film department rather that commercial art and that seemed like it was too much trouble. It was easier to do whatever was at hand, tell me what to do and how to do it and I’ll do my best.
I ended up working at the school, in the audio-visual department. I signed out projectors and other A/V equipment to students, I took their ID card photos during registration, and I sort of managed Memorial Hall, the school auditorium.
That was fun- my brief reign at Memorial Hall. I showed movies on weekends or supervised students working on student-help doing so. Once,I was in the audience downstairs when the screen went blank, and I ran up to the projection booth to see what the matter was. The door was locked, but I had a set of keys, and entered when the anorexic girl who was the projectionist for the night didn’t answer my knock.
She was asleep on the floor, and the 16mm reel on the projector was spinning freely, the tail of the film roll slap-slapping rhythmically against the projector. I could hear the audience jeering through the open door. I turned on the second projector and hit the changeover button as soon as it was up to speed, as I had no cue dots to look for. The jeering stopped and the show went on.
A lot of other stuff went on in the auditorium and the projection booth. I did sound for a lot of small community productions, for a couple of the theatre department plays, and once a month I rolled out the grand piano from its box on the stage for Martin Canellakis and the Brooklyn Symphony orchestra.
Speaking of the piano, I would also have to escort the piano tuner up to the stage a couple of days before one of theses performances.
“Make sure he doesn’t fall off the stage,” my boss would admonish as I would offer my arm to the blind man to lead him to the auditorium.
After our contract was up, the Audio-visual department was swallowed up by the film department, and we lost our jobs. Pratt had just hired a guy named Nick Manning to run the film department, and he was a megalomaniac who felt that any piece of equipment even remotely related to filmmaking should be under his control and he wanted our stuff. I have no idea who ended up running the Hall. I left the Pratt campus never to return except as a visitor. The Idyllic days of youth where I did not have to think much about the future were over.
I worked in a fish place in Chinatown for awhile, loading trucks and stacking 50-pound boxes of shrimp eight high in the giant walk in freezer. I worked there for a year or so until they fired me for being late one too many times. I ended up in the army a soon after that. Great place for being in the moment and putting one foot in front of the other.
When I got out, I went back to doing what I had done in high school and at Pratt part-time; I sold shoes. I no longer had to think about being a successful filmaker. I wanted a way not to have to think at all, just do. But people around me were always asking me to think. “Is this what you’re going to do for the rest of your life?” I wished the world would just shut up and leave me alone. One of the most frequently asked questions I hear is “when are you going to do it?”
“Soon. any minute now. Maybe tomorrow.”
Today, right here, this moment, I do this. I write. I have learned not to think too much about the future, it causes some real deep anxiety and I don’t care for anxiety. They say not to dwell on the past, because the past is gone and there is nothing I can do about it. I know that, so I don’t.
One of my favorite lines from a movie comes from Goodfellas, when one of the gangsters who just murdered the Joe Pesci character tells the Robert Dinero character over the phone “He’s gone. Tommy’s gone. There was nothing we could do.” And that’s how the past is, there’s nothing I can do about it, except maybe learn from my mistakes.
So instead of dwelling on my mistakes, instad of thinking, I should have done this, I should have done that, I think, what will I do differently in the future?
This has served me pretty well in my recent past, not so many missteps and disastrous situations. I am comfortable enough in my current situation that I don’t have to freak out at the fact that I have no money coming in right now. I know that one way or another I will have an income, because I am someone who knows how to do a lot of things and I know how to express myself, and better, I know how not to freak out.
I don’t think about what I want anymore, wanting got me into most of the trouble I’ve had throughout my life- now I genuinely think about what I have and need, and know that my needs will be met.
Some might argue that being in the moment and not thinking of the future constitutes a lack of ambition, But for me wanting to accomplish something is different from having to accomplish something. If I have to accomplish something and I don’t, that’s failure. If I want to accomplish something and try, at least I know I did my best and I can keep trying till I get it right, or not. But I know this: I will never give up trying, even if it takes me out of the moment. After all, isn’t life just a series of moments, strung together like flowers on a lei?