For years, I’ve been making myself appear smarter and more interesting than I actually am by quoting dialogue from director David Mamet’s films. At some point, anyone who knows me well has been amused/bored/irritated by some of the following nuggets:
From the movie Heist:
Jimmy: So, is he going to be cool?
Pinky: My motherfucker is so cool, when he goes to bed, sheep count him.
[In a bar]
Betty Croft: Take it easy, baby, that stuff’ll rot your stomach lining.
Fran Moore: Yeah, but I get to drink it first.
From the movie The Spanish Prisoner:
Jimmy Dell: Always do business as if the person you’re doing business with is trying to screw you, because he probably is. And if he’s not, you can be pleasantly surprised.
Nobody talks like characters in a Mamet screenplay. His prose is a miracle – at once both profane and poetic, thoroughly colloquial and charmingly anachronistic. But smart. Always smart. And illuminating – like the line from the movie Redbelt that I quoted a couple of posts ago, and especially this monologue from the movie version of Glengary Glen Ross, written by Mamet and based on his famous stage play of the same name:
Now, a little context – Pacino is playing a vaguely amoral real estate salesman, trying to persuade Jonathan Pryce to buy a worthless piece land by playing on his fear he’s done nothing adventurous in his life. Of all Mamet’s work, nothing resonates with me quite like this monologue, in particular the question “Where’s the Moment?” It speaks to me not because I think my life has been boring – I’ve had several interesting moments in life. I’ve just managed not to be “present” for almost all of them – I was there in body, but not spirit.
Thanks to my work in TV, I’ve been lucky enough to go places and meet some interesting people – James Brown to Al Gore to Jack Layton to Lady Gaga – but I can hardly remember any of these encounters. At the time, I was watching things unfold through the viewfinder of a camera, and less concerned with what was being said than if the shot was composed right, or if it was in focus, or if I was recording clean audio. My lack of mental presence has not been without consequences: The normally affable Ben Harper once flipped out on me during an interview because I was so distracted I asked him the same question twice. It could be I’ve met my hero Mamet himself, and I’d have no fucking clue.
The result is I’m one step removed from a lot of the things I’ve done, which feels pretty much the same as having not been there at all. People ask me what I remember about all the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met, and I tell them I have no idea – I more or less watched the whole thing on TV like everybody else. I was not unlike news photographers killed in Vietnam – viewing the action through a camera rendered them oblivious to the real danger they were in.
(That’s probably why I’m not much of a picture person in civilian life. When I see people at concerts taking pictures on their smartphones, I feel bad for them. They don’t know what they’re taking themselves away from, and all for a shitty picture that’ll only bore others to see later.)
I haven’t picked up a video camera in a long time, but that doesn’t mean my ability to be present automatically improved. For a time, that camera was replaced by lingering regrets about the past and worries about the future. I’d like to think I could push those things out of my mind when I need to, but I could always feel them close by.
Which isn’t to say I remember nothing. There are some great moments that have stayed with me, memories that still feel as real as the day they happened; discovering the Beastie Boys could play as a punk 3-piece at Lollapalooza in 1994; racing motorbikes with my uncle in an Eastern Washington desert; diving in an underwater cave in Mexico and seeing a stalactite that resembled the Virgin Mary; swimming with a six-gill shark off the coast of Pender Island in BC; a night on Capri I once spent with an ex-girlfriend; kissing the woman I dated after that girlfriend at a concert – The Dears were playing “Lost in the Plot.”
These moments stay with me because I wasn’t holding a camera, or worrying about making a deadline, or ruminating over bad choices – I was just “there.” I didn’t consciously put things out of my mind, I didn’t meditate (although I’ve tried this, with dubious results) – I just happened to be there when the wheel went round. Actually, that’s not true – during all those moments I recall being focussed, exhilarated, and full of wonder.
So meditation is one thing, but I suppose the real trick to staying present is to always be doing something you love, something that can still surprise you. All of which is just a long-winded way of saying that nothing puts me in the moment like being with my infant daughter. Just today, she giggled as I played with her. It was the first time I’d heard my daughter laugh, and it made me cry. It’s a funny thing – the world falls away, and it’s me and my little girl, and everything’s just fine. I’m not missing anything when I’m with her, and that more than makes up for all those amazing events I can’t remember.