Friday, April 13, 2012

It All Started With a Comment

Dear Readers of A Life in Equinox:

Over the last few months I have received a nearly endless string of questions as to my general lack of presence in the current blogging scene. These have ranged from inquiries to my health and well being to side remarks about whatever happened to that weird one who spoke fast and had an odd obsession with proving pandas are all evil. So allow my to clarify those two points right off:

1. I'm fine, thank you for asking.
2. Yes, all pandas are evil.

So with those two out of the way you may find yourself thinking, whatever did happen to Univarn? Well, allow me to say it this way: I'm taking the break I should have taken a long time ago. It's not the kind of break one takes lightly when they've built as big a following as I have and it's not one I intend to waste by rushing back into blogging.

This break is purely cathartic. An opportunity for me to take a step back and really look at how I've let my blog shape my world. To allow all those churning questions that eek through in moments of dissatisfaction seep through the cracks and be explored to their fullest. To remind myself why I started this blog to begin with. What it was supposed to mean to me and how I am supposed to use that information.

I've often said in my daily life that the world of blogging is like the world's largest insecure writer's support group (to steal a title from Alex C). I can't recall the last time I talked to a blogger who was truly comfortable in their situation in life; in every aspect of the way they dealt with the social world. That singular void which a blog could so easily fill if left in the right hands.

Yet I wanted more. From the very get go I wanted to be seen as more than just another blogger. I wanted to be known for my wit, off the rail humor, and intelligence. I craved the feeling of being acknowledged as one of the best, and I did everything I could in my power to attain that. I commented on everyone's blog I could get my hands on - regardless of my own feelings to the quality of their actual content (don't worry though I'm sure you're blog was one I really enjoyed). I created posts to attract all sorts of different readers. Appeased the high brow with raves of classics. Appeased the mainstream by keeping up with the modern films. I used every tool at my disposal, and I thrived.

It all started with that first comment. That first acknowledgement that people cared about what I had to say. It was crack and I was the addict. I'm not saying I didn't believe in what I wrote. Rather that I was willing to write just as much for the thrill of writing as for the thrill of being reminded that I should continue to do so. The content was nice, but it was a means to an end.

I always had good intentions, and never wrote about anything I wasn't at least partially passionate about. But sooner or later that high had to end. After all how often can anyone be that drastically passionate about every single thing they wrote? Especially on a day in and day out basis. I don't deny that some can and seemingly do , but something inside me was always nagging. Always calling out "you're missing the big picture."

Blogging had become an obsession for me. It had become something that I had to do. I had to write about every movie I saw because I needed someone to reinforce, support, or bow to the superiority of my opinion on every movie. I didn't write reviews because I wanted to share my opinion. I wrote reviews because I wanted to dominate opinion. To subvert trends, counter culture, or influence passion all of which lead to the inevitable return of that most precious thing: a comment. Which to those who've read my rants on the very idea of a review will seem hypocritical in every form.

The truth is I had forgotten how to love movies. How to properly love movies that is. Eight years of blogging (5 on rotten tomatoes and 3 here) had desensitized me to the very concept of loving a movie. They were a tool. I could use my affinity for them to manipulate any situation I found myself in to achieve whatever I felt in my own best interest. Needed to rile up the boys and get them pumped up? Easy, slip in a "Twilight is shit" reference during the middle of a blog post about some classic romance film.

But if you were to put me under torture and force me to answer the question "What is your honest opinion of Twilight?" I would honestly have to say "I don't give a damn either way." I enjoy making fun of it. It's fun to watch people's reactions, on both sides of the spectrum. Yet that doesn't mean I particularly hate it, nor do I particularly like it. As time went on that feeling became more and more prevalent in the way I viewed all films.

More movies I knew I ought to like, I couldn't find it in me to do so. Not in a "because everyone else likes them I ought to" sort of way, but more so in that deep down I felt as if they are the very things I would have liked before I started to blog. A regular theater viewing had become as much about enjoying the story as it had finding a use for the film. To find where that film would fit in the social zeitgeist and how that would be best utilized to meet my own ends.

Years of being bullied meant that I had spent years on the sidelines watching others interact. Always analyzing, always calculating, trying to understand how they interacted with one another. I became particularly talented at understanding how people would react to various ways I would express myself. I never lied about my opinion, but I was good at maneuvering the shades of gray between the various levels of liking or hating something.

All the while I would feel guilty about the entirety of my actions. A turbulent inner storm that wrapped itself inside me. Torn between my own aspirations and my want for inspiration. I became disgusted with my own viewing habits. I started to resent movies. To resent blogging. To push back against everything I had built in the hope that I could open my eyes to movies once again.

I still do it from time to time. I find myself in the middle of a movie wandering off to the world of the blog. Imagining my opinion of the film, envisioning the likely reactions to the manner in which I choose to state my opinion and weighing the personal benefit of each. For those films I choose to write nothing. Not because they are bad or I believe my opinion is any less valid, but because I know that deep down it's not honest. My early reviews were short, sweet, and represented what I truly felt about the films I watched - perception be damned!

To get back to that. To find a way to care more about the honesty of the content than the exhilaration of the response. That is my mission. I do not know if it will be one that is easily accomplished. I do not know if it is one that can ever be accomplished. But to bring my view of movies back to a relationship solely between myself and the film. An individual relationship with ups, downs, moments of indifference and yet each and every one unique. That, I feel, is the only way to remind myself of a simple truth: That I have always loved movies.

Sincerely Yours,

Ryan "Univarn" Helms

14 better thoughts:

Darren said...

Great article. I think that, when you (a.) consume and (b.) write about movies in such a ridiculously large volume, it's hard not to become a bit jaded or cynical. I always, for example, tend to wash out for a week or two after a "binge."

I've always argued that blogging isn't generally a way to become a legitimate film critic or reviewer. Sure, some do it and some do it extremely well. However, most don't and won't no matter how hard they try, and that pursuit of legitimacy can leave people fairly bitter or disillusioned.

I hope that at some point I might get paid to write on film, but I don't think I'll get there. It's up there with "I want to be a film director" or "I want to be an astronaut." It's something that probably won't happen, however I want it to. I don't treat blogging as a means to the end, because that end is so remote and improbable I'd end up resenting the journey.

I'd recommend that that anyone blogging do it for its own sake. Write because you want to write. Or because it makes you feel better. (You correctly point out that such compulsion can be destructive, and I agree - don't take it too far.) Write because your thoughts form better in printed sentences, or because you never thought you could share it, or because when you put everything down it makes you think more. Blogging is something to do because you love it and you're passionate about it. As you note, no point in allowing to to become an obligation or treating it as a duty.

Sorry for the ramble. Great post.

Jessica said...

This is a heartbreakingly honest post. You clearly have the writing passion inside you. But you need to find a sound way to handle it and channelize it. I think it sounds very wise to take a break and get some distance from it until you feel the urge to write. You need to find the place where you write, not to gain social respect points, but where you write because it's fun, in an completely innocent way. Like eating a vanilla icecream, picking flowers and looking at the clouds passing by. Back to where you came from.

Don't worry about followers and stats and such crap. The blogosphere - if that's what you want to return to - isn't going anywhere.

Or maybe you'll find a different way to express all those words and thoughts you have inside you that need an outlet. There are other ways.

For me your post was a good reminder about not getting too obsessed with this hobby. Thank you for sharing.


Brittani Burnham said...

I love your honesty. Life gets in the way of blogging sometimes, but it's nice that all the film friends you've gotten to know will be there when you get the time to come back.

Andrew Robinson said...

Is this the point in time when I show up at your door and slap you shouting "WHAT ARE YOU DOING???"

I completely understand your thoughts here. I've done my fair share of hiatuses just to regroup and decide how better to tackle (if your decision is to come back to blogging abt film) the whole deal.

While I try really hard to make a daily update on my site I am more and more believing that daily posts is overrated and probably best left to sites like /Film which are more news than opinion oriented...

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Blogging is addictive (as I well know) and comments payoffs for your efforts. But when it does start to zap your creativity, your love for what you do, then it is time to pull back and redefine what you are doing and what are your goals. It should not be a drag, or a duty, but a source of joy.
My goals have changed since I began blogging, which have kept it fresh. Much was given to me - now I am in a position to give back and it means something to others.
Glad you took a break. And hope you are finding the joy in movies again.

Dave Enkosky said...

I wish I could say I didn't relate to this post so goddamn much. Damn.

Ilsa said...

Hi Ryan, I normally write you as Ovation TV, but today I'm writing you as myself.

Great post. As the comments can attest, you're not alone. Many people feel this ennui in the entertainment industry. For me, I wanted to work in entertainment my whole life; I watched hours and hours of TV/movies growing up. I loved disappearing in the worlds on the screen. To make this comment short, since then, I've been living in LA for over 10 years. I've worked on big films and with big stars and for 3 major studios.

Despite these great life experiences, I can no longer watch movies. At all. I can't even go to the theater. I can only watch TV if I multi-task on the computer.

It's like the magic is gone. When I was younger, I could disappear for hours into movies, but now that I know how movies are made and how the business is really run (surprise! it's not just insanely creative people running around having loads of fun!), it just ruins the magic.

So, recently, I took time away from the industry to pursue creative interests of my own. This hiatus definitely helped get my creative juices flowing although, not so much that I can go back to the theater.

I hope that your own hiatus re-invigorates your joy in movie watching!

ruth said...

Enjoy your well-deserved break Ryan. I'm in need of a blogging break myself as I find that it sometimes hamper my movie-watching, isn't that ironic!

I still find the joy in it though, and in connecting with readers through the blog. I do know that I probably can't keep up w/ it forever, so I'm enjoying it while it last.

Hope you'll be back blogging again... but in the meantime, enjoy the break!

Castor said...

Yea it really gets to be a drag sometimes, especially when you have been at it as long as we have. I guess I had the same feeling early on but I channeled that toward making diversifying AM and not trying to be THE opinion on every movie I see.

I don't feel the need to review even a tenth of the movies I see these days ahah ;)

Kid In The Front Row said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Kid In The Front Row said...

8 years of blogging! Wow man. That's awesome!

And they say it takes 10 years to become an expert.

HAVE A BIG REST! Don't worry about the readership. One GOLDEN post when you're ready will do more for you than 100 mediocre ones.

And your core readership is what matters. That might be 200 people, that might be 20. Whatever it is, those are really the ones that matter.

You're a great blogger -- and I agree that you DO need a break. I only know this because I identify with so much of what you say.

Anyways, you're magnificent and you're incredible for opening the box of honesty that so few bloggers or writers ever open.

And you know what; your burnout, your issues, your need for approval, they are ALL symptoms of a great writer.

I wrote a blog a few months back where I used a phrase like 'go where the river is flowing'. It was something like that. My point was; don't fight against a wall. Go where things are taking you.

And I think you've earned a great rest.

Kaiderman said...

Do what you gotta do, Uni! It makes perfect sense and we all can relate. Much respect!!!

Rodney said...

Terrific article, and a theme I think a lot of bloggers can identify with. I don't tend to worry about how many comments I get on my work, I'm just happy to try and put some quality stuff out there. But I did go through a stage where, like you, getting comments was like being on crack, and I hadtohaveithadtohaveit... Now, however, I'm a lot more concerned with whether my work is actually any good, as opposed to what people think. I try and concentrate on getting my writing more concise (it doesn't always come out that way...) and my thoughts more streamlined, over trying to be controversial or provocative.

That said, there are times when I need to take a break for a few weeks and recharge the blogging battery!

aaronmeister said...

I too have moments of uncertainty whether I am doing anything worthwhile. It's a tough a gig, usually monetarily unsatisfying. Blogging is like yelling into an abyss.

However, all you need is that one voice to shout back "I'm listening!"

Makes it all better.

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