Announcement: IndieEthos on sabbatical for 2020

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This site is now on hiatus. This writer is taking a sabbatical from writing about film, music and art in this or any other publication for the rest of 2020. On a personal level, this means I’m stepping away from my public persona as a critic and chronicler of independent film and music in any form. Besides this freeing of pressure to write, I’ve already begun cutting back on social media (it’s a miracle what disabling notifications alone can do for your perception of existing in the moment and grounding you in the physical world). Over the years writing here, I have known technology as a gateway to connection. The real work in connecting, however, comes from face to face relating and regarding one on one, but it all begins with the self. Rest assured, I will not become a hermit. In fact, I’ll probably become more available to friends and loved ones, in turn. I understand social media to engage when you’re out there trying to get more eyes on your writing, but I also feel its failings. I could get into those limitations, but this isn’t what I am feeling right now or what this post is about.

Why am I taking this sabbatical? The answer is so much grander than social media or even offering a critique/opinion/review of the latest cinematic release or vinyl record. I haven’t reviewed anything in nearly a month now, whereas I used to write as many as three reviews in a week. There are bigger experiences out there than new records and movies for me right now. I won’t say I have lost the joy in new discovering music and cinema, but the exploration about why they matter never felt more superficial than they do right now. It’s scratching at the surface of what matters in life for me at this moment in time. I have come to the realization that I sacrificed much of my life to write and consider these things out of a sense of duty for not enough reward. Meanwhile, I neglected attention to the self. Don’t get me wrong, I have been honored to have had donors, sponsors, paying attendees at events for fundraisers and even a five-figure grant to keep this site going. But for me, it has always been about something more than money and notoriety. I’ve long sought transcendental experiences through art (here are three pages of reviews/articles where the word “transcendental” appears, and for good measure, two pages featuring “transcendence”). Though there are times when art has achieved something akin to a spiritual high, it’s always felt fleeting.

I will now indulge in pulling back the curtain on my personal life. Things changed when — during what was to be a fun obstacle course race — I fractured my right heel, jamming it into my ankle while tearing my Achilles in March of 2018. This was the most painful wake up call to slow down I could have ever imagined. The surgery was so awful that I privately hoped to not wake up from anesthesia. Once I did, it was a miserable time living with so much pain. I couldn’t concentrate to write for two months. I did enjoy some movies, however (I chronicled my viewing experiences while laid out on my couch via Letterboxd). I also had some wonderful visits by friends bearing food and offering company while I groaned and sporadically flinched from pain. The physical healing took more than a year, and I felt firsthand the pits of being alone during Christmas time, not feeling up to travel to visit family. An existential crisis set in, and I sought therapy. 

At the start of 2019 I began work with a truly empowering mental health counselor. My primary criteria was that it be someone who would accept my insurance and a woman (I didn’t want the harshness of a man telling me to buck up. That doesn’t work for me). The universe gifted me someone sympathetic, patient and non-judgmental who happened to have a respectful regard for mysticism, including Tarot (anyone who has seen my Instagram knows it’s an important part of my life). On my own, I’ve sought out therapeutic experiences in workshops and even tantra (it’s not just about sex) while continuing these one-on-one sessions and returning to a decades long practice of yoga and transcendental meditation, not to mention rediscovering my 30-year-old Tarot cards. Healing psychological trauma is not easy, and it merits all kinds of outlets, from supportive friends to tools and services like therapy, and for me, some white magic. In all of this I discovered a more powerful sense of transcendence, beyond experiences with art — one that you can live by.

That paragraph alone holds so much power it’s hard to go on explaining the more earthy reasons of this sabbatical. I’ll continue with the vulnerability that speaks to my ego. Despite some super in-depth pieces on this site that took hours if not days to write, I sometimes felt ignored. I barely got any feedback or I could sense when there was a reaction to only a headline or just part of an argument in an article or review. It’s unfulfilling, this sense of isolation when you hope to be heard or understood. Of course I acknowledge the gracious moments of affirmation, be they from curators of film programming, colleagues in film criticism, regular readers and even some filmmakers who noticed my unique perspectives on their work, from Barry Jenkins to most recently, the tragically misunderstood Out of Blue director Carol Morley (her movie was amazing and profound; you can read that review in Miami New Times). However, I don’t write for such reward, even though it can feel intoxicating. I wish to provide an alternative perspective that might activate individual thoughts from readers of criticism, be they opposed or allied, casual or passionate. Encounters with such impacts indeed occurred, but they always felt fleeting, and nowadays they’re beginning to matter less. Media does not encourage the attention span that nourishes me.

As terminal as this sounds, I stay open to this being but a respite that will happen to last a full year (in Tarot, 2020 is considered the year of The Emperor, who happens to be the embodiment of Aries, my sun sign [read more here]). In covering the film scene for the past decade or so, I’ve become familiar with the routines that appear every year, like the festivals and the movie release seasons. It’s an annual cycle. Therefore, in order to truly break from the routine, it calls for at least a year-long break. Vacations and “breaks” in the West don’t usually last this long. They’re a week or a month. They sometimes involve fasting for a week or two but never really a genuine withdrawal from life for transfiguring work. We live through four seasons on this planet, and there’s unique power in each one. Even if we don’t wholly feel all of them in Miami, I’m dedicated to sticking to nature on this.

For now, the site will remain up for the internet to continue to explore thanks to our funding, but we still welcome contributions because at some point the money will run out! Here’s a shameless opportunity to ask for donations: just click the PayPal donate button in our “Support Us” page here: indieethos.com/support. I don’t ever want this work to disappear, ao I hope some of you caring to read up to this point will donate something you feel you can afford. There are many precious reviews, essays and interviews I couldn’t possibly deny the cyberspace.

I have decided to highlight some of my prouder moments below that I hope readers will feel inclined to explore while this space goes silent. They include favorite conversations and reviews on certain films and albums. I’ll never forget musician Lou Barlow telling me after reading our interview that he felt like he was talking to a therapist and couldn’t believe some of what he said. Fans even commented that it was the greatest interview they read of his. Then there’s filmmaker David Cronenberg, who I felt compassionately listened to my questions and offered thoughtful answers, instead of the canned responses I often have to steer subjects from in order to get something more genuine. Mike Garson and Alejandro Jodorowsky became almost friends who I can write to out of the blue for follow ups, years later. Meanwhile, the reviews and essays feature some of my more in-depth or emotional works. There are some that made me weep while writing (Moonrise Kingdom and Wuthering Heights) and others that speak to my quest for something spiritual and philosophical in art be it the art of sound in music by Tortoise or Swans or the existentialism of Hide Your Smiling Faces. Below I’ve listed 20 links, in tribute of the Emperor Year. I would hope they inspire trips down the rabbit hole on this site with nearly 1,000 articles and posts:

Interviews:

… there are 17 pages of interviews to explore, as well.

Essays/Reviews:

… as for those interested in criticism on this site, we have 59 pages of that. I think we hit nearly 600 reviews in just over a decade of work. I could not have achieved any of this without the support of my former partner and co-founder of this website. It was because of Ana that I began this as a blog in late 2009. This was her suggestion to me after four years of not writing about the arts as a freelance writer. She knew it would cure a depression that had begun to weigh down my spirit, and she was right. She has also written for the site, and those contributions have been amazing, from her feminist perspective to her insights as a scholar of international relations. Her first post was even treated as an authoritative document by an out-of-state university (I forget which, but the number of hits to it should speak for itself). She also proposed a section to the site that allowed us funding from the prestigious Knight Foundation. Independent Ethos would have never been as grand as it became were it not for her input (she, of course, helped brainstorm the name, too). Even after divorce, and though it has led to some confusion from women I’ve dated, I never once thought about erasing her voice from this site. Ana and I are no longer communicating, but I do sincerely encourage you to explore her writings, as well.

When (or if?) I return to contributing to this site, I plan to have a new look for it with all the content remaining. For now, thanks to the Knight Foundation, I will be able to maintain this site as live but dormant. Meanwhile, I, as a human being, will enter a cocoon of self exploration and self care. No, as I said at the start of this essay, I won’t enter a cave. I will be out and about. I look forward to finally seeing Sátántangó at O Cinema Miami Beach (formerly Miami Beach Cinematheque). I’ve also bought many concert tickets for shows speaking to my indie/alt-rock/prog interests, including Corridor at Gramps, Ocean Blue at Respectable Street and Yes and Alan Parsons at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. I even plan on continuing tracking my movie watching on Letterboxd where, for the really curious, you might find me relating opinions on some new releases. You are welcome to follow me if you have an account there or wish to create one and start your own personal journey in film writing. 

With this sabbatical, I do sincerely hope to rediscover my passion for writing criticism. However, this is not my priority right now. Sometimes it’s OK if your soul, heart and mind need attention over a side career, especially if said “career” is not really covering the rent. So far, I have been reassured that this is the right decision. I have not been totally surprised with the unanimous support from friends and colleagues in this industry. In fact, some in major positions of influence admitted to feeling envy in my decision. This has only supported me further. I, in turn, would encourage others to explore their own sabbaticals if it doesn’t affect one’s livelihood. I have experience with this already. Like I noted earlier, I once paused freelance music writing for four years and came back to it revitalized, stronger and more respected than before. This website provided that space for rebirth, as it also led me to write about film and art not only here but in other publications.

As the quote at the top of this article from Rev. Parthasarathi Rajagopalachari explains: we are not stagnant beings. Just as our bodies change over the years, so do our minds. In our minds lies limitless potential in consciousness: “The truth is that my body has come to exist, and it will cease to exist. I am eternal.” This is not the end of a career but genuine maintenance with a preliminary deadline of Dec. 31, 2020. I remain open to anything at the end of this year. Maybe I’ll return to writing content for this site and elsewhere. Also, maybe not. 

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2019 by Independent Ethos. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

2 COMMENTS

  1. Dear Hans It is good to take a sabbatical, which means you are taking time to think to explore new ideas. Do come back and give us a surprise!!! Explore, travel, relax, reconnect with yourself family and friends, document and give us a fresh view of the world. Recharge and share your experiences. In the end we will all learn!!! Wish you the best. Annette

    • Hi, Annette. Thank you for that. I have never been able to fully quit writing. I will return, however, when I am ready to. I must first experience life without the pressures of having to share about it. Once life becomes a priority over writing, the writing will surely return, as it is in my nature.

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