Monday, January 29, 2007

The Integrity of Not Sucking Up

Rita George is the wife of Academy Award-nominated writer/director Terry George (In the Name of the Father, Hotel Rwanda). She is an intelligent and kind, middle-aged psychology student, writer, and housewife. Her voice, enlivened by an adorable North-Irish accent, is a fresh breath amidst the generally nasaled community of Westchester, New York.

How I found myself in the passenger seat of her modest sedan, en route to pick up a used van from an under-the-bridge lot in the Bronx, is....well, actually not a particularly interesting or relevant story. Here, though, is a brief recap of the 40 or so nervous minutes I spent in the company of Mrs. George.

"I wil not suck up. I will not suck up."

It was important for the sake of my integrity as an artist not to treat Rita with any exaggerated respect simply because of who she was, or how valuable her connections were to me as a desperately aspiring 23-year-old filmmaker.

I stepped inside of the car and held my tongue tight between clenched teeth, trying to convince myself that I had no intention to mention even a single word of my ambitions. It wasn't long, however, before I began to notice that I was--and perhaps not so unconsciously--attempting to cleverly angle my conversation so that it would "naturally" evolve into one on the only topic that was truly on my mind.

After ten minutes or so, my miserly intentions had found their point of entry. A good friend of mine, a talented editor who I had previously collaborated with on a short film project, came up in the conversation as we cruised past the exit for Fordham University (a school that he was attending, and that she had attended).

"Oh and what's he studying there?" she asked.
Now pay attention to my clever (despicable?) angling. "Well...currently we're trying to stop him from pursuing a career in pharmaceutics."

Rita laughed politely, perhaps uncomfortably. Meanwhile, her friend--another middle-aged, Irish woman--piped in from the backseat.

"Now why would you go on and do a thing like that?"
"Because we want him to make films with us," I answered.
"Oh, child! Films! And I s'pose you be wantin' ta feed your babies?"

When you have big dreams, you take kicks to the shins on a weekly basis. I had a whole spiel prepared.

"For me," I replied, "I have only the option of two extremes. One is that I make it as a filmmaker--and feed my family very well. Or...I abscond to the fertile soils of some underdeveloped, warm-climate country and live minimally off of my own vegetable garden. As for the middle ground, I have no interest or intention whatsoever." (I don't really speak in person like I write, but for the sake of dramatic retelling I'll beg kindly for your amends.)

For me to speak in such disdain for the middleground is merely my own way of reaffirming my ambition. It's to show people that I'm serious. But I hadn't realized until after what was spoken next that such speeches only made me come off as an arrogant prick.

"But you know," spoke Rita, "that's where it all comes from. If you want to tell stories that the people can relate to, you got to be comin' from somewhere. And that's the middle ground."

This point had already been brought to my attention by the various dream-kickers of past encounters, but until now I had only heard it from the jaded middle-grounders themselves. Now I was hearing it from the mouth of someone whose husband had made it to where I was hopefully on my way. And so I clenched my teeth once more and found the humility to shut up and listen.

Ok, here comes the jewel. Not so much a shin kick, but more of a gentle tackle.

"I asked my husband recently, why didn't you ever go 'round when you were younger, proclaimin' that you wanted to be a writer?" Rita paused, I guess as a way to give me a moment to wonder, and then continued on. "He told me it was because he didn't want to assume himself better than anyone else. In those days, in Ireland, you had quite the nerve to even dare stick your head up from out the mud."

Now you can't imagine the irony of being as close to something as the inside of a car will get you, but still feeling miles away. I wanted to ask Rita for her husband's phone number. I wanted to tell her about the screenplay I had just put the finishing touches on, and about the kinds of films I had in mind to make. I wanted to go with her to the next big-shot party and shake hands with the men who pulled the strings that held my dreams.

But at that point, after having let Rita's words sink in, I hardly felt right enough to lift my head up let alone open my fool mouth to speak.

Click here to digg this story.


benlovel said...
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Ted said...

Jason, I've felt the exact same way whenever I was around Rita. Every time I went to her house I had the extreme urge to ask for help. Nothing went down of course, but I did get a free slate.

Jen said...

you know i guess we all want someone to give us the hand up...but there are pitfalls of that im sure.
rita seems like a very interesting woman though

Kelsey said...

interesting. You are very good at expressing your thoughts in writing. And I agree, Rita sounds like an interesting character.