Well, that was an interesting year to take a sabbatical. I saw a total of three movies in theaters, and it wasn’t because of the personal restrictions I established in my last post (Announcement: IndieEthos on sabbatical for 2020). All those concerts I noted at the end of the post that I had plans to see? I attended one before the others were postponed, which seems to be indefinitely. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic started feeling pretty real at the end of February, when my boss at my day job asked that I settle into working from home. In my solitude, I found a shift in perspective that would turn out to be more supportive that I could have hoped for.
It was strange at first. That month I had just decided to adopt a cat. Little did he or I know how often we’d be together. The day I brought Maxwell home from his last vet visit after rescuing him from a shelter, was the day I was told not to come into the office.
The amount of support I found for my sabbatical by the strange coincidences of the year truly spoke to the rightness of my decision to focus on myself and pause writing publicly. In Jungian terms we call these gifts synchronicities. To notice them is to allow for a grander support of an argument: there are no coincidences, and everything is deeply connected to reflect your state of mind, desires and subconscious needs.
I kept up with movies. I left a diary on Letterboxd, as promised a year ago. I expressed some sporadic opinions in that diary and rated films on a 5-star system. I even ended up with a ranked list of new movies. Consider my top 20 of 2020 covered, and you can watch my favorite film of the year, right here. It is the visual album for Fleet Foxes‘ 2020 release Shore. I doubt this kind of movie has made any other critic’s top 10, let alone crowned it. But just thinking about the visuals featuring mostly solitary people in nature, if not glimpses of urban decay, stirs my soul. If this is my card to check-out from film criticism, I’m happy to punch a hole in it and call it done. Discovering this film is another magic synchronicity supporting my solitude, which I often spent with nature and in the outdoors. The album is also masterful, and if I had made a list of best albums of 2020, the record would have surely topped that list, as well (I did, however, make a playlist of favorite 2020 indie rock singles, which you can play on Spotify).
Of course, there were more traditional and powerful movies like Nomadland, Never Rarely Sometimes Always and I’m Thinking of Ending Things on my list. The decision to place Shore at the top of my list is the sort of personal thing that speaks to my inclination to place Twin Peaks: The Return in this list and Annihilation in this one (it stayed at the top by the end of that year and I got to write about it in Film Comment!). I’ll miss making those statements in sharing my top movies, but it ends now. I feel a pull to write more about those three films noted at the top of this paragraph but not enough to follow through.
I’ve learned the pleasure I seek with writing about art is not enough right now. Escapism into movies never really satisfied me. It’s not that I don’t enjoy movies anymore. It’s that I had long put too much stock in the joy I got from them. Sure, movies are fine mirrors, as I’ve often written. But you still disconnect from yourself. For me, cinema triggers an overwhelm of senses that drawn me out of presence with myself too much. The true reflection, the one I was looking for, lies within. It’s consciousness. I couldn’t have ever arrived at the consciousness I’ve currently cultivated by placing attention on anything outside of myself, even if I was hoping to direct the attention of fellow movie viewers and music listeners to their own internal experiences by celebrating the characteristics of art that gets one there.
Of course I’m not swearing off movies or listening to records, nor would I ever suggest anyone else swear them off. I sure didn’t avoid movies or music during my sabbatical, but there was a question I continually pondered: did I miss writing about the arts, be it conducting interviews, writing about music or critiquing film? I never did.
I do appreciate the experiences I have had as a film critic, something I had intentionally strived to become since I was in my early 20s. Little did I know I would not find success in following that dream until almost 15 years later when one opportunity after another fulfilled my desire to become a film critic. The time was right then. It’s no longer right now. I can say I wrote a review in Film Comment (check it here). I never wrote for them again (apparently, Nicolas Rapold found editing me too much work). Still, it felt like an accomplishment. The irony isn’t lost on me that the most venerable film criticism magazine in the U.S. went on hiatus the year of my sabbatical. Another sign from the universe to get over it.
As a critic, I became the chair of the Florida Film Critics Circle. I had the pleasure to be edited by a different copy editor from Film Comment, Michael Koresky, for the website he co-founded, Reverse Shot, where I contributed several reviews and truly learned something about my writing. I was treated just as well as any VIP at the Key West Film Festival, year after year after year. I interviewed many incredible film people on stage for that festival, as well as Miami Film Festival, Miami Jewish Film Festival and theaters like O Cinema and Miami Beach Cinematheque.
I had made a 10-year career of this, lest we forget the Knight Foundation grant this site won in 2015. The work is now done. It’s had its life, and as a wise new friend I made during my sabbatical said: “You have experienced a death. There can never be any going back.” She so relaxed my nervous system about writing this entry you are reading. There are so many people to thank with whom I deepened friendship with during this time away from arts writing. It seems socially counter-intuitive in this modern age of social media, but I actually deepened relationships while also quitting social media for six months. Though I’m back on it, my relationship and interest in it has diminished by huge leaps. You’ll be lucky to find me on any platform more than an hour, in an entire week.
Referencing back to my post a year ago, I can see clearer what I needed and where the opportunities for self-empowerment lay. By breaking my heel and tearing my Achilles, I literally had to take a fall to find a life without producing writing. It lasted months. It scared me to the point of feeling life as futile. I now appreciate that this was the beginning of an initiation to reset my life and find pleasure elsewhere. It began with the messiness of recovering from a brutal surgery that the doctors refused to sugarcoat. Though I had friends and family who visited and took care of me, I was mostly alone.
But it was after I could walk that I found I had become someone else, and I needed to reckon with that. I needed support and needed to find a therapist up to the task. My experience in therapy throughout my life is that not every counselor is up to the challenge of the person I am. It was a therapist named Anna Halliday who helped me toward finding the healing I needed. Last year, I wrote a paragraph in my sabbatical announcement where I didn’t mention her by name. But it was a part of the post that felt so rich to me because it was associated with turning the corner toward mental wellbeing and recognizing that all the work I was filling my life with wasn’t providing the space I needed for healing. Because I paused all the extra work, 2020 granted me the space I needed. I even stopped therapy with the blessings of Anna. I would very much recommend working with her if you are considering therapy.
The healing work continued, however. I simply dropped the training wheels. Details into the growth work that came next could fill a book, but it’s personal and some of it is esoteric. If you’re a friend, you may end up hearing about some of it. For those who may want to explore how to deepen the rebirth process (and always with the help of a brilliant, objective mental health counselor), I feel compelled to acknowledge the help I got from other facilitators. They included a witch called The Oracle, a yogi named Pom Cayeiro and a pair of embodiment coaches named John Wineland and Kendra Cunov, not to mention my longtime meditation teacher Mike Scozzari. Also, and most importantly, there have been a small, intimate group of friends who I have gotten to know better during this time of need. I learned to listen and open myself to being heard by friends both old and new.
That was the complex support system I cultivated to rediscover my passion for living a life that exists beyond my persona as a freelance writer, film critic, music critic or the avatar of a by-line or social media profile. This work is by no means easy but it has been so rich. It is thanks to this network of teachers and healers during my sabbatical that I was able to find a nourishing life in my own skin and away from outside validation that my freelance work attracted.
And, no, not my therapist nor even my witch, none of the above persons in my support system had a say in the decision I make now. They all only ever empowered me to feel relaxed and relieved in following what is alive and true for me. I am making my decision autonomously.
Even by ending criticism, I will never stop being a writer. That I learned I cannot escape. No matter how often I stop writing, it returns in another form. In fact there’s a post on this site that speaks to what my next writing project will be. I might have to return to therapy to deal with that because it speaks to a very deep father wound.
With that, I hope, dear reader who has stuck with this journey, be it this site or this post, that you go back and re-read the quote that so serendipitously appeared for me on this day from a book of Indian wisdom my mother gave me years ago. I had lost myself in all my work and drive, torn asunder, disconnected from the pure bliss of the harmony of the infinite and a connection to my essential self. I leave you smiling in my decision, at a place that has been a key source of healing, photographed by a musician friend who never wanted me to write about her but called me an inspiration.
P.S. And for the curious, below is Maxwell.