Jason Porath

has a website, i guess

Month: September 2011

Your Business

(wrote this one awhile back, never got around to posting; testing if that’s even possible from China)

Industrial Light and Magic is dead.

Not the digital effects company, but the old ILM – the model shop that did Star Wars. The one that spun off from ILM under the name Kerner Optical. The one that, I think it’s fair to say, for which moviegoers have more sentimentality.

I only got to visit once, in 2004, before the company split in two. The location of the facility was a closely-guarded secret, and the directions were confusing. One wrong turn and you end up at San Quentin Prison (we did). When we got to the address given, we thought we must be in the wrong place. It was a suburban neighborhood, with a street full of large, nondescript buildings.

As we approached, a pair of door-to-door salesmen were exiting one of the buildings, politely escorted by a plainclothes man with a walkie-talkie. As they left, they angrily yelled, in between hurling epithets, “I didn’t even know you were security! I bet your neighbors aren’t such dicks!” – only to realize that in the doorway of the neighboring building now stood another plainclothes man with a walkie talkie. The next building, too. And across the street. Suddenly these two were surrounded on all sides by security. And we realized, as we came to the doorway marked Kerner Optical Company as camouflage, that every building on Kerner Street was ILM.

It was a memorable trip.

I thought about this when sitting in the airport recently, when, amidst the news coverage, the business section began talking about the weekend’s box office receipts. Specifically, what movies had been flops, what wasn’t making money, in short, what was rotten about Hollywood nowadays.

Everyone has an opinion on the Oscars. Nobody has one about the annual chewing gum awards.

Hollywood is an odd place to fail. The industry’s failures are messy, frequent, public, and oddly personal. I wonder sometimes if financial analysts get told they’re forcing diarrhea down the public’s throat – because it’s happened to me. I wonder if BP employees have their opinions completely denigrated and told that they should shut up and go back to their, air-quotes, “job” – because it’s happened to me.

(Hell, I wonder if that happens to people at *Pixar*.)

It gets to me because if it didn’t, I couldn’t do my job. I work long, long hours, on projects for which I often don’t care. But I push. We all push. Because we love our work and even if it isn’t the best movie in the world, it is our job to make it the best movie it can be. We have to make our part shine. So we do. And then?

“Putting lipstick on a pig.”

“Polishing a turd.”

“Meh.”

I’ve heard them all. I’ve said them all, in spite of myself. I mean, I drew a picture of one of the main characters from the movie I just worked on – split into pieces, blood and entrails everywhere – and put it easy view of one of the most heavily-visited areas at work. There is an on-going joke about me doing an art show somewhere on campus titled “I am not a team player.” Mea culpa.

It’s easy to be a cynic. It’s easy to poke your nose into someone else’s business and proclaim your opinion. Hell, some people build their entire existence around it. Little Roman emperors, giving gladiators thumbs up or thumbs down. But it’s not sustainable. Just look at the tales of two Conans (one, two). How they took positive stands even when they had every reason not to. Because to do otherwise would destroy them. Would destroy what they love. Would render them incapable of doing their jobs.

It’s harder to create than to consume. It’s harder to wrestle with life’s imperfections than to dismiss the entirety of this sometimes-difficult, often-disappointing world with one queasy “meh.” It’s hard.

So here’s to the old ILM. Thank you for the good times. And to the new ILM, here’s looking forward to more stellar work.

All Together Now

There are very few moments in my life I’d consider to be perfect, but watching this concert live was one of them:

When I saw that someone had created a “master edit” out of the user-uploaded videos from people who were there, I had to watch it. And it sent chills up my spine, same as being there.

Watching this, I wonder if my children will be able to revisit all of the important moments of their lives like this – or whether the powers that be will manage to disable everyone’s cameras but their own and sell a managed, packaged, sanitized version of their experiences back to them.

Breather

Yesterday, I started taking a storyboarding class with the animation guild. Midway through the lesson, the instructor, a tough old master with decades of hard-earned experience, opined about the primacy of storyboarding. How it tells a story, how it’s the intersection of all arts, all human expression. Writers? They didn’t have to do the heavy lifting of sitting with the material and bringing it to life. Directors? They get to pick and choose. Accountants? Meddle with the end product out of jealousy. Creation, after all, is the most important thing in life.

This Tuesday, I was having dinner with a friend who’s training to be a librarian. During the dinner, my friend, an opinionated, smart girl who is like a real-life incarnation of Daria, talked about the art of archiving, and how important it is. How we are at risk of losing so much of our history, how we simply aren’t good at passing down information. How much we waste our time going off half-cocked, never learning from the lessons of the past. Knowledge, after all, is the most important thing in life.

Some months ago, I was taking a yoga class at a weekend retreat. During the class, the instructor, a nice young woman who’d been teaching yoga for years, talked about the evils of the modern-day junk food world and the importance of yoga. How it heals your body, purifies the toxins, straightens out your mind. How, if you don’t have clarity of purpose and an able body, nothing else will click. Your health, after all, is the most important thing in life.

It feels like I hear some variation of this every day.

I hear it from engineers, from dentists, from financial analysts, from politicians, from programmers, from believers, from atheists, from volunteers, from health nuts, from film nuts, from comic nuts, from people who are just plain nuts.

Everyone wants to be able to sleep at night. To believe one’s doing the best thing one can with one’s life. To believe in one’s own significance. To be able to keep moving as far as one can without the hounds of doubt nipping at one’s heels, burying teeth into calves, and bringing the whole march forward crashing to a messy, bloody halt.

But hey, sometimes they do catch up with you. And you need to take a breather to regroup.

And in unrelated news, I may be going to China for a week fairly soon.

Time capsule

To me, when I next look backwards:

Things start and end in their own ways at their own times.

You do not control this. You do not control other people. You barely have any control over yourself.

You have not done good. You have not done bad. You have simply done what you would do.

No matter what, the universe rolls forward on its own path.

It is not so cruel to deny you a place in it.

Indigestion

Freshman year of college, I had a group assignment. The conceit was that each 5-6 person group had been shipwrecked, and found themselves in shark-infested waters with a small lifeboat – just big enough to support all but one of the group members. The assignment was to figure out who died.

Yes, it was a weird class.

When results time came, most groups talked about their deliberation process. Usually the decision was made either by drawing straws or logistical debates. Not so with my group. We actually had the quickest decision of them all. Because I volunteered to die.

I wasn’t trying to be melodramatic. When the teacher asked me why I volunteered to be the odd man out, I said that I felt I could do so. I’d be content. Obviously wasn’t an optimal state of affairs, but I believed I’d achieved all my goals. If I died, I said, I probably wouldn’t come back as a ghost or anything.

Barely nineteen, and I’m saying this.

In the years following, my friends convinced me that this was due to not having actually experienced life. So I went on adventures. Oh, how I went on adventures. Japan. Europe. Burning Man. And before each journey, my friends would sidle up to me, ear-to-ear grin, and ask, “are you excited?” And I’d say yes. Each time, it was a lie.

It wasn’t that the adventures were bad – it’s that I didn’t want to disappoint my friends. Each time they asked, it felt like they were really asking, “Are you alive now? Do you understand now? Can we relate now?” It seemed like they wanted so badly to have someone experience what they did. To have that connection. But time and time again – I was not transformed by that movie, that book, that festival, that drug, that religious service, that country. I didn’t live what they lived. I didn’t see the same colors they did.

How do you break it to your closest ones that what they hold dear, what they are excited for you to experience, what they love, you don’t? That you won’t be able to connect with them, like they’d hoped? How do you convince them that is how it is, without proclamations that “you didn’t do it right,” or “you have to be open to it,” or “you have to give it time”?

How can you – without coming across as a mopey git – express your doubts when someone says, don’t worry, your answer’s out there somewhere?

Today I am in yet another new place – to be precise, Winnipeg. Here for a wedding. It’s a nice city, and I’ve enjoyed myself here. But if you had asked? No, wasn’t overly excited for the trip.

So it’s the day after the wedding. I wake up and I am not hungry. I google interesting places in Winnipeg and start walking. I pass block after block of shops. Clothes, trinkets, books, movies, food. These are the things to do here. Or there. Or anywhere. Gobble gobble gobble. And I am still not hungry.

Out of habit, I whip out my phone to check my email. Then Facebook. Then the news. Twitter. Reddit. I read the local student paper. I idly scan the billboards.

And I think, didn’t I just say I’m not hungry?

And somehow that thought proves the keystone for my mind’s dam. I pull it out and suddenly there’s hundreds more to go with it. I think about my fractured mind. How I want to write, how I need to focus. How I devour wholesale the works of my favorite creators, as if, by osmosis, it’ll rub off on me. How I am always searching, consuming, feeding, yet never hungry. How here, there, and anywhere it’s what you like, what you buy, more than what you do. How long it’s been since I last sat, alone, quiet in thought. How, for years, I’ve plunged headlong into throngs of people, out every night, surrounded at every hour, when, at my core, I hate crowds. How my picture of God in my mind’s eye is totally blank. How writing is like meditation. How meditation is like prayer. How blank is this paper I stare at. How my answer’s not out there, it’s never been out but in, how, god, I took such a circuitous path. How big is this backlog. How full am I. How I must digest to be hungry.

And so I come back to the hotel. I stare at a blank screen. And I write this.

Off now to get some lunch. I’m famished.

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