Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Part IV: A New Beginning

Part IV: A New Beginning

                  Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage.
                  --Anais Nin
                  To understand the heart and mind of a person, look not at what he has already achieved, but      at what he aspires to do.
                  - Kahlil Gibran
                  Life is full of trouble, death isn't.
                  --Zorba the Greek
            In their wonderful book, Playing to Win, author and guides Larry and Hersch Wilson (http://www.amazon.com/Play-Win-Choosing-Growth-Over/dp/188516761X) lay out many life precepts that proved to be "corner-turners" for me.  Of particular moment was the following story:
            A troubled individual seeking truth and enlightenment climbs the mountain to seek answer from a very wise old woman.  When he arrives at her hut, the wizened old woman says, before our friend can even speak, "Ha! You have a problem, my son!" Startled, the man ask how the woman knows he has a problem. The woman replies, "Because you have eighty-three problems." "How do you know that?" the man asks. A she sips her tea through a sugar cube, the old woman replies, "The Universe is very fair; everyone always has eighty-three problems." The man ponders this for a moment and then asks, "What am I to do with these problems?" "Solve them!" the woman snaps.  "What will happen then?" "Then you will receive more problems, because everyone will always have eighty-three problems." Then she adds, "There is only one other problem, and that is the eighty-fourth." "What's that?" the man asks in exasperation. The old woman finishes triumphantly, "The eighty-fourth problem is believing that you shouldn't have eighty-three problems."
            Texas was hard for me, with at least eighty-three problems on my plate at any given time. In my enthusiasm and naiveté, I thought that I would head to Austin and apply my tool kit of professional experience and be welcomed for what I had to contribute to developing the creative community's infrastructure there. I learned about small town life and how one from New York City is regarded there instead.  "That old dog wouldn't hunt" as they say there, one of many treasured Texas turns of phrase that I discovered are an imbedded part of its charm and humor.
            The drive, with my two dogs, from Austin to Malibu took two long days. There are those who have made this trek many times. I hope only to have to do it once in my lifetime.  It's a long, hot trip with tumbleweeds and long expanses of flat, arid land with few picturesque or bucolic vistas, save the hills that you see in west Texas about mid-way.  The first thing that I did on my arrival in town was to attend an industry memorial service in Hollywood for my MPAA mentor, Jack Valenti. I went with my dear friend and MPAA colleague of many years, Bethlyn Hand.  After the reception, I headed for the coast and my new ocean-side perch.
            After I had settled myself in, I  wrote the following:

In Malibu,
My heart lies down in the bed of the Pacific,
On my horse-farm-with-flowers-for-neighbors.
My head lies on a soft blue and white fuzzy foamed pillow.
In Malibu,
At day's end, the sun is swallowed into the deep of the ocean,
Sent on its journey to the depths by the soft yellow, then red, then receding light of the
dusk that disappears, so the stars can poke their way through the dark velvet sky in the
blanket of the heavens.
In Malibu,
Each day, I plant my feet in the Pacific,
Watching my dogs, plunge into the brine,
And then skirt the water that rises up the shore and recedes,
In the constant rhythm of the waves.
In Malibu,
My heart heals from the wounds that I carried from far away to its coast.
It soothes my soul and attaches it to the earth with soft grappling irons of feathers.
The arid-brushed mountains to my back and the sea by my side,
I know that, after my Ulysses journey across this land,
I have found home.

© 2007, 2011 by William Nix. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Part III: Leaving Plato's Cave: My Move to Austin

Part III: Leaving Plato's Cave: My Move to Austin

The life which is not examined is the life which is not worth living. 

There is the risk you cannot afford to take, [and] there is the risk you cannot afford not to take.
--Peter Drucker

Leap, and the net will appear.
--Zen proverb

One day, I was sitting at the desk in my law firm's office in Manhattan (www.bakerbotts.com), and looking north out the window on the 45th floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. I could see the entire expanse of Central Park from up past the Reservoir to the buildings that line the northern border of this protected patch of green and water. Life was good with work. I co-chaired the Entertainment, Media and Sports Law Practice Group at the firm, lived in Greenwich, Connecticut and my sons were both "launched" with successful careers and independent lives. I was of an age that, with persistence, It was possible to work and ride my way into a comfortable retirement staying where I was and doing what I was then doing. However, something didn't resonate with that life plan. There was a "restlessness" that would not leave me. I came to realize that it was because I needed to get "back to the middle" and center with the "creative side" of myself. I had long channeled these instincts into being an organization-builder and entrepreneur within established organizations and institutions. I did not have any particular plan or focus for such professional dysplasia though.

About that time, a colleague from Austin, invited me to attend the Film Festival there (www.austinfilmfestival.com), with our firm to act as one of its sponsors. That took me to Austin (www.austin-chamber.org) and my eyes opened. It can probably be best synthesized by the following:

Sometimes you've got to let everything go--purge yourself. If you are unhappy with anything...whatever is bringing you down, get rid of it. Because you'll find that when you're free, your true creativity, your true self comes out.
--Tina Turner

So, not one willing to just "settle" and to "measure out my life in coffee spoons," www/en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Love_Song_of_J._Alfred_Prufrock, I decided to leave New York and step completely outside of my comfort zone. Thus, in January of 2005, I headed across country to Austin in order to buy a former Schlumberger corporate campus of several hundred acres and convert it into a digital-era production and post-production movie, television and videogame studio under the aegis of a new Texas entity named Lone Star Entertainment Ventures. Not that I knew anything about raising the $28 million that they were asking, how to fund the construction conversion "build-out" funds, or even how to run a studio had we actually acquired the land and buildings by some miracle of business serendipity.

I spent nearly three years in Texas learning more "how not to do things" than how to actually do them correctly. My Austin friend, Tommy Warren, would some years later teach me how you really get that sort of thing done there, when he launched his Spiderwood Studios just south of Austin (www.spiderwoodstudios.com). I am reminded of Edison's quote where he indicated that he had never failed in his quest to invent a working electric light bulb. Rather he said that his experimental efforts merely meant that he learned "a thousand ways not to build a light bulb." http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Thomas_Edison

Making a major life transition is really a lot like experimenting. There are a number of "false positives" and "blind alleys" that are built into the process. Mostly what I learned from that period of how not to do things, was getting a better perspective on realities governing the scale/scope of projects I was attempting and also about how to make (and not make) partnership/relationship decisions. I also learned that it is not in my personal make-up to adapt well to living in a small town nor to be far from a large body of water and the air that it shares. Having grown up on Lake Michigan, summered in northern Minnesota and Canada, schooled on the Potomac/Chesapeake Bay, and then lived on the edge of Long Island Sound for most of my life, I didn't realize the importance of water's proximity to my well-being and inspiration.

During my Austin tenure, I helped with the process of launching a few Internet start-ups, worked on a few fledgling productions of films and did my best to volunteer time and expertise to help Texas create its first media tax incentives program through the drafting and passage of a Bill by the Legislature. The latter was a pale shadow in comparison to other states' similar measures, notably next-door neighbor Louisiana's, but it was a start and the new law was passed in the Spring of 2007. After attending the Governor's signing ceremony for the latter at the former Austin Airport, now a converted studio, that Summer I pulled up stakes and headed to the coast to live in Malibu and start the next chapter of my creative journey.

In many ways, Texas was an "achy, breaky heart" www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIqMflhH1LY stage on my creative journey west. What I subsequently came to learn, and more importantly, feel is that hearts can heal with the passage of time and the onset of wisdom and perspective.

© 2011 by William Nix. All rights reserved.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Part II. My Life as a Shadow Artist

Part II: My Life as a Shadow Artist
Too intimidated to become artists themselves, very often too low in self-worth to even recognize that they have an artistic dream, these people become "shadow artists" instead. Artists themselves but ignorant of their true identity, shadow artists are to be found shadowing "declared artists." Unable to recognize that they themselves may possess the creativity they so admire, they often date or marry people who actively pursue the art career they themselves secretly long for.
--Julia Cameron, "The Artist's Way"

I didn't like my first reading of this passage. It disturbed and even angered me. It came too close and I wasn't ready to accept its wise insight. It doesn't rest easily with me even today, many years later. I was a lawyer in a New York entertainment law firm at the time, representing Julia in intellectual property and new media matters. In fact, this passage hit straight to the heart because it was it was an "unwelcome truth" for me. As a parent trying to do the right thing, willingly and with enthusiasm --and without the slightest regret to this day--I had set aside a number of the things that were closest to my "expressive self" and focused on that part of my life as parenting gave me great joy.
That role and the press of my professional work as an attorney, meant that, for several decades, I only dabbled in photography, guitar, and music--but that's about as close as I came to being a "declared artist" during this period of my life. I was an avid reader and could easily immerse myself in the lyrical writings of gifted authors such as a personal favorite, Pat Conroy, marveling at his ability to capture the human soul and condition with turns of phrases. I saw movies in theatres by the dozens every year and always wanted to be able to make them in some way. Mostly, I joined arts organizations and represented creative people of all sorts in a variety of ways, including as champion for protecting their intellectual property rights around the world, a ten-year chapter in my adult life.
It took me another twenty years from the time that Julia declared me to be a "bleepin'" artist to make the "declared artist" leap. In doing so, I learned that "it's never too late to be who you might have been" -- George Eliot.

© 2011 by William Nix. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Part I. The Source

Part I:     The Source

Beginnings get a lot of press when it comes to the creative process. There’s something mystical about taking those first tentative steps toward a new creative journey. Maybe it’s because the path ahead is unknown and potentially dangerous. Maybe it’s because we don’t know who or what we’ll encounter along the way. All we can only hope is that we’ll be changed for the better once we get to the other side. This is the hero’s journey, and it starts with one step. It’s the stuff of legends. www.meaningwant.wordpress.com/2010/11/12/after-the-beginning-advice-for-keeping-your-creative-journey-alive
--Jamie Hahn

                  As many people in the world have undoubtedly fantasized, perhaps serially or at least once, I have imagined what it would be like to stand on the stage, being broadcast to billions of people accepting an Oscar (www.oscars.org) and wondered what I would say at the time that pure moment came.  While there are always many people to thank in what is nothing if not a collaborative art form, and friends and family who carried us along and propped up our spirits as we foundered and lost course, I think that I would have to thank a few specific people who helped set my compass course, from separate perches and points in time.
                  The first would be Dr. W.I. Peterman at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois (www.newtrier.k12.il.us) for the inspiration that he gave through his  music and performing arts department (www.newtrier.k12.il.us/page.aspx?id=4868), where I sang in various choruses such as The Troubadours, the Boys Ensemble, performed on stage in musicals such as Of Thee I Sing, took voice lessons and began a personal journey of  artistic self-expression that made me believe that a part of myself could indeed be "creative" and "expressive."    

The second would be David McKendall, the English Department teacher at New Trier who first shared with us the lure of story-telling on the silver screen by screening black-and-white classics such as Sergei Eisenstein's Potemkin (www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Battleship_Potemkin) in class. I also learned about actually making movies with the class' 16mm production of a student film called Skateboard. Cinematic visual narration and character development were born in this forum for me.
                  The third, and final person for those sacred few "fantasy" moments would be Julia Cameron, my fellow Georgetown University (www.english.georgetown.edu) English-major colleague, also from Chicago but whom I would first meet, in a moment of "synchronicity," many years later at a Manhattan party steeped with Ford Models.  It was Julia who really tipped the scales in my life, when by that point I had become a partner in an entertainment law firm in New York City.  It was Julia next to whom I sat and asked what she did. She said to me "I teach creativity."  I asked her if she had read that seminal book about which I had heard so much called The Artist's Way. She looked at me as if I were putting her on and replied, "Well yes, I wrote it."  (www.theartistsway.com). That was the beginning of a beautiful friendship (www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casablanca_(film) that has inspired me ever since.
                  So what I believe I would say, but won't know for sure until such time as I might be blessed with the chance to accept an Oscar for my artistic work, is "Thank you, Julia, for helping me find my artist's way."
© 2011 by William Nix. All rights reserved.