Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Break Through

It took a long while before I finally began to feel ok about feeling ok. Even while I was enjoying myself, my heart still hurt. All during that first week, I would have these small moments where things were great but then I went right back to feeling crappy again. Every time I had a free moment, I was on the phone with Bradley on the verge of tears or bitching to Tyler. My brother had died only 6 weeks earlier and every smile or happy thought that overcame me felt like a betrayal to his memory. It was just so hard to let myself be happy when I know my little brother died miserable and alone.

So during the day whenever there were eyes on me I smiled from ear to ear, I cracked jokes, and I was more charismatic than I have ever been in my entire life. Then night would come and I would cry myself to sleep. I decided to follow through with camp because I have always believed in the age-old remedy of “fake it ‘til you make it”. But 3 days in and I was already completely burnt out from overcompensating way too much! On that third night I just went into my room and sat in my bed unable to sleep or cry or really do anything! I was actually starting to worry myself because there’s no way that this could be normal.

Around 1am there was a knock on my door. It’s really disconcerting answering the door to a 19yr old kid on the verge of tears when normally said kid is walking around with a cocky smirk on his face acting like the king of the world. I guess that’s when it first started to sink in that maybe I am not the only person in the world who is currently suffering. I could tell immediately that he didn’t want to talk about what was bothering him, but at the same time he didn’t want to be alone. I could relate to that, so I suggested that we go for a walk where awkward silences would be a lot more tolerable. At first he tried to apologize for bothering me and suggested we go back to the dorms. But I explained to him that I was just as sad as he was and he pretty much just saved me from a night of staring at the wall trying to stop the tears from coming.

Everybody knows that misery loves company, so that night we started a tradition. Every night after everybody else had gone to bed, we went around exploring the campus and had some deep conversations. During that first week we never really got into why we were both sad, but we did silently acknowledge that we were, and there was a lot of comfort in it. UCLA is MASSIVE and I know it well, so it was a whole lot of fun showing him all the cool things there are to see, and reminiscing about all the different ways I used to get into trouble!

One night on our way back to the dorms he told me why he was upset. When he was done it took everything I had to not start crying right along with him! But I didn’t, I was strong, and I just gave him a firm hug and let him cry until he couldn’t anymore. After he’d sufficiently recovered we’d both decided that there was no way we were getting any sleep after this break through. So being the couple of amnesiacs that we were, we grabbed a couple of surfboards, jumped in my car, and went down to my favorite beach. Somewhere between catching our last wave and some early morning chocolate shakes at my favorite diner, I told him all about my little brother. I don’t know how I managed it, but I didn’t even shed one tear. The thought of breaking down in front of one of my students just didn’t seem right to me, even though at this point I had started to think of him more as my friend.

As the sun began to rise I felt myself smile without guilt for the first time in a very long time. We got back to campus just in time to make it look like we’d been there all along. That whole morning I felt amazing! It wasn’t like I was magically better. My heart still ached and I still missed my brother, but I also finally started to feel like it was okay to be happy again.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

It's been awhile...

God damn I have been gone awhile haven’t I?!? This summer I have been all kinds of busy and I can honestly say, I haven’t had this much fun in a VERY LONG TIME! I have sooo much I want to talk about! So much so that every time I go write about it I get SO overwhelmed about all of it that I just can’t seem to get the words out! So here goes my first attempt…

At the end of May I selected a university sponsored film camp I have worked for over the years, but only for a couple weeks a summer. This summer I signed a 10 week contract for sessions on 4 campuses (UCLA, Harvard, Stanford, UCSD), as an instructor some weeks and an overnight director for the teen students the whole time.

The first week was the hardest. I had spent the previous few weeks going back and forth on whether this was something I could actually do. Smiling seemed to physically hurt me, but I did it anyway and at some point pretty early on, I really started to enjoy myself. What I like most about this program are all the international students we get to attend. That first session I had students from 12 different countries and it was a really awesome learning experience for everybody there! It’s so special to be a part of such a dynamic situation where there’s a free exchange of ideas from all these different cultures.

I specialize in action sports cinematography obviously, so the majority of my class time is spent at the skate parks and OBVIOUSLY all my students are skater/BMX/surfer douche bag teens. Something that I decided to address VERY early on is homophobia. This was something I went back and forth on in my head before camp started, and all through the first day of camp. Boys get frustrated and I completely understand screaming out a good curse word to ease the anger. In fact I have been known to ejaculate a good curse now and then too. I just feel really strongly about homophobic slurs being taboo. EVERYBODY says these words (ESPECIALLY athletes in these sports) and mostly nobody means it in homophobic way, at least not on purpose, but I feel like it’s also really important to educate these guys the best I can about these words and the effect they have.

In my head the whole first day I am going through this internal struggle on if and how I an going to confront this issue. Every time I hear one of the guys scream out “FUCKING GAY!” or “cocksucker!” or “Stupid faggot!” I feel like punching them in the face! But I bite my tongue and swallow my anger instead because I still have no idea how I am going to tackle this issue in a way that I can actually make an impact and get them to think about it.

We get back to campus, shower, cuz we’re all sweaty and disgusting, and I decide to order a few pizzas instead of going to the café, so we can have some good talk time. We talk about the awesome tricks we pulled off, the awesome shots we got on film, and the things that really frustrated us or the things that just didn’t work out the way we thought they would. For awhile I let this go on because it’s putting everybody in the mood to really listen to this exchange of information and opinions. While one of the boys was talking about his big fail of the day he says “fucking gay!” to describe his situation, and I use this moment to push my gay agenda...

RGB: Hey guys I need to have a serious talk about something very important to me. You guys are all here to learn from me, and I am SO PSYCHED that all you are here and all so eager to learn from me! But more important than learning from me, I want everybody here to have a fun and positive experience. It’s only been 24 hours, but I already see a bond forming between all of us and it’s awesome! Still, I think there are a couple of issues we can definitely work on. I want to talk about all these homophobic slurs all you kewl kids have been throwing around all willy nilly.

Instantly there’s a cacophony of righteous indignation and flat out denial of my claim from the most egregious offenders. So I do my best to plow right through it so I can get through it all before this devolves into a bunch of accusations and denials.

RGB: Chill guys! I am not going around and calling each of you out individually, but just in this last half hour, I have heard the words “cocksucker”, “faggot”, and “gay”. No matter how you slice it, that’s homophobic. Right?

This leads to a very quick debate about how nobody is using these words to put down gay people, they are just saying them because its what people say when they are angry and frustrated.

RGB: I totally understand that! But would you guys be using those words if you knew the person sitting next to you was gay? Of course not! So think about this, 1 in 10 guys is gay, and there are 25 guys in this room. Chances are there are at least 2 gay guys right here, right now. Think about that, and then think about saying those words again. We all have the same interests, and the same passion for our sport, and because of that we were all able to become friends really fast! You guys have all made it clear that none of you were saying these words to be mean, and I think that’s awesome. BUT if there are 2 gay guys in this room right now, after all the things we’ve said, do you think they've had as much fun as we did today?

It got really quiet after that. I could tell that the guys were honestly thinking about what I'd said. That alone was way more than I could’ve hoped for! A lot of the guys owned up to their behavior and promised to make an honest effort to filter what they say from now on. A few of the guys even made an apology to the anonymous “2.5 gay guys in the room” and promised they’d be more careful with their words. It was all very sweet and something I was very glad I decided to confront. But the coup de grâce
came much later in the evening when everybody was getting ready for bed. One of the guys walked into my room and thanked me, he told me it meant a lot to him that I brought this up because he’s gay and because of what I said he felt comfortable sharing this with me. I let him know that my door was always open if he ever wanted to talk, and I went to bed with the biggest smile on my face. There were 25 guys in the room and 2 of them were gay! Statistics don't lie, do they? I really do just want every one of my students to walk away from this experience with nothing but positivity and in that moment I knew they would.