September 10, 2006

How am I not myself? - Warning: Honest Unpretty Emotions Portrayed, and two profanties

Pretty low point this week.

Last year, I spent four days at a symposium for Christian playwrights and screenwriters in Stone Mountain, GA. It was an incredible time.

In everyday situations, and certainly in the Church, I find maybe one in twenty people who think like I do and who have the same passions for God and the arts. In this place, every single person I met was passionate about excellence in the arts, creative, interesting and keenly seeking God’s truth in their lives and in their writing.

We talked, we read scripts, we watched each others new films on laptops, we smoked cigars, we ate meals together. I felt like myself, the me I’ve always wanted to be. It’s more like what I imagine Heaven to be like than anything else I’ve experienced on Earth.

This year I wasn’t invited.

It makes sense, of course. The main reason I was asked last year was because a play I’d written had been developed by the group organizing the event and there was going to be a reading of the play at the symposium. The others in attendance (whose airfare and accommodations were all paid by the group) are regular playwrights, theatre directors, screenplay consultants, studio script consultants or stage and screenwriting academic types. I am none of those things. And without a body of work, an important title, or a current project that’s being developed, I fully understand their decision to draw the line between invitees and non-invitees somewhere above my name on the list.

But I am sad.

Foremost, I am already mourning the loss of the best fellowship I’ve ever experienced. The kind of conversations and soul-sharing that allows you to skip levels 1-3 of shallow small talk and dive right into the quest for “Holy Moments.” (see “Waking Life” by Richard Linklater)

Secondly, it makes me wonder about my direction and my accomplishments. Why am I not in a position to get invited to an event like this? Why am I not writing? Why am I not directing a theatre company? Why am I not teaching at the undergrad level? Why am I not doing the things that seem like those things most closely connected with who I feel I am meant to be?

I recently saw a film called “I [heart] Huckabees” in which a main character hires two “Existential Investigators” who challenge him with the idea that he is not being himself. And he asks the question “How am I not myself?” The existential investigators are very amused by the question, and repeat it playfully as though it’s the joke of the century. At the end of the film, at the end of the credit roll, the question appears again.

How am I not myself?

The question haunts me. I am not happy and I wonder if I am being myself. I wonder in what ways I am not being myself. Yet, there are few people with whom I could share such a challenge, because most people, especially Christians would dismiss it as self-indulgent navel-gazing. But it’s there.

Shit or get off the pot.

A part of me wants to just kick my own ass. If you want to be a writer, write. If you want to be an actor, act. If you want to be a director, direct. If you want to be a miserable almost writer, actor, and director, just keep doing what you’re doing. But I’ve learned enough about the human experience to understand that attempts at behavioral changes (resolutions, schedules, rules or goals for myself) usually end in failure and more shame. So I am hesitant to go at this with a superficial fix. But I don’t know what’s deeper.

Have I misread my calling?

Am I, in fact, meant to be a high school drama teacher for the rest of my life? Even as I type those words, the only appetizing thing about the idea is that it’s the easy road. The other roads range from unknown to terrifying.

I need to pray.


Chris Hansen said...

Dan -- let me preface this by saying that there are no easy answers.

Behavioral changes don't have to end in disappointment. The challenge is figuring out what you're meant to be doing and what God wants you to do.

I was certain I was supposed to be a screenwriter and filmmaker, and so I kept working at that while I waited for the doors to fly open. All the while, I was 'earning a living,' first as a secretary and eventually doing instructional video work.

I was completely unsatisfied and unhappy. And yet, I managed to learn a few things. And eventually I felt drawn to teaching, and I went back to school (I had two kids at this point) to get my MFA, and I still had to wait 2 years after I finished school to find the right position.

In all, it was 9 years after I finished my M.A. until I felt as if I was finally in the right place.

And only THEN did I get to make a feature film.

Every journey is a little different, and no two will take the same amount of time. All I can really say is that you should definitely be seeking out what God would have you do, and KNOW that He has given you the talents he has given you for a reason.

Chris Hansen said...

as a p.s. to my last message: let me also express my sadness that you won't be there. i had hoped to continue our friendship (not that we can't do that anyway -- but i was looking forward to hanging out again).

you'll be missed.

DanBuck said...

Thanks for your kind words.

I think this --The challenge is figuring out what you're meant to be doing and what God wants you to do. -- is the rub for me.


Chris Hansen said...

and that's not easy -- that's the "no easy answers" part. and i'm not sure how one discerns the will of God. do you know what i do? i do what i think God wants of me, and then i check my spirit on how i feel when it's done, and how successful my attempt is.

it's by no means foolproof -- but if you think God wants you to teach at a college, you need to start pursuing it. if you think He wants you to run a theatre group, you need to start pursuing it -- and see what God tells you when you start moving in that direction.

i feel the biggest mistake i made in trying to figure out what He wants of me is just waiting for something to happen TO me or FOR me, without my putting forth an effort in any direction.

this is most certainly not a "God helps those who help themselves" philosophy. i don't believe that. i just believe it's hard to know where He wants you if you aren't going anywhere in particular.

J. Grant Dys said...


Man, my heart hurts for you. And, you articulated much of what I have wanted to say over the last couple months myself.

On Friday, I came home from work to find another rejection letter from a firm I had high hopes of joining. No reason offered only, "we do not have a position for you." They might as well add a, "May God have mercy on your soul," to the end of that.

I found myself cooking burgers on the grill that evening. In between flips, I stayed on the porch leaned on the railing, and did some arguing with God. As He is apt to do: He won.

I can compile a stack of rejections high enough for me to sit at the adult table and reach the plate without the need of a booster seat. I've been told my credentials were great, but there's nothing available. I've been lied to. I've been told my grades are insufficient to merit further review. I've been shut out of opportunities that are then given to raw idiots who fritter away the blessings that they don't realize they possess for the simple pleasure of getting drunk.

Each time I get one of those letters, I get a bit angry, a bit more callous, and a little jaded.

But with every letter, my end result is the same: "Yet I will trust in you."

David, described as a man after God's own heart, was in all accounts a moral failure. He was an adulterer, a murderer, and a polygamist. Yet he was highly successful. Won nearly ever battle he entered, ruled a kingdom from young to old, etc. How many Psalms do we see David kicking and swearing at God for, "Why do the evil men prosper around me?" He could have just as easily said, "Why am I doing what I'm doing? I thought You called me to this? Did I miss my calling?"

And that was a guy who audibly heard God's voice.

I watch Hansen's film this weekend. I think I'm Brian. Maybe I missed my calling. I thought it was one thing, but doors keep shutting at what I thought I had discerned as God's blessing. In the end, it might take a horrible accident to make me realize my present purpose. In the meantime, you, me, Chris, and Brian are all wondering: What do we do in between receiving and acting upon our calling?

I was reminded by a devotional on Esther this morning that God will use accomplish His purposes despite your participation, opposition, or inattention. If you remember, Mordecai told Esther (to ease her fears) that perhaps God had raised her "for just such a time as this."

So too has he raised us for just such a time as this. God has placed us where we are. He has called us to be "x." In between receiving that calling and completing it, we are called only to trust.

No easy answers. I don't claim to have even an easy question, but I write to empathize and encourage you.

I respect you, Dan. And so does God.

Chris Hansen said...

Dys --

What do we do "in between"? You captured the essence of the film, and of the dilemma we all face. For so long, I waited for my life to begin, focusing on the "prize" and not moving forward.

I feel that was a mistake...

Don't have time for a long post right now, but wanted to weigh in that I think you've hit the proverbial nail somewhere pretty close to its head.

And Dan -- I too empathize. I have often felt like the guy who is left out of something, and I hate that feeling. It's a bad feeling that reminds me of bad childhood memories of feeling like I don't belong. Rest assured, you DO belong. I don't have any inside info on why you weren't invited back -- only suppositions as we discussed -- but I know in my heart you belong. FWIW.

Ron Reed said...

Hi Dan!

Two thoughts.

Pretty much none of the theatre folks were invited this year. It's screenplay year. Last year all stage plays, this year all movies. Just so you know.

Still, that doesn't change the fact that the things stirring in you are well worth attending to. No pain, no change. It takes real sacrifice (and considerable persistence) to choose a different way in life - particularly, the way of the professional artist. You're wrestling right now with whether the pain involved in change is less than the pain involved with settling.

Teaching high school is a perfectly worthwhile vocation, absolutely as worthwhile and valid as anything else that beckons. I'm not just talking, here: my wife is a teacher, and I 100% believe that here contribution to the Kingdom and to the planet is entirely as valuable as mine, working in professional theatre. However, I would be dying doing her job, just as she would be in misery forced to do mine.

Frankly, I believe the God's Will question to be a red herring, misleading, or even a smoke screen. The real question in this is, what is your will in this matter? What is your wife's will in this matter? God can make something glorious out of whatever lead you throw him: he's a splendid improvisor. But how deeply do you want this? How bought in is your wife? Are you prepared to do what it takes to have what you want?

My thoughts. Whatever they're worth.

Ron "Also Not In Georgia" Reed

Gaffney said...

Dan -- Will miss seeing you in October. Looking forward to seeing where you're at when you come out of this particular desert.

I like what Ron is saying, and want to remind you that G-d's will is rarely ever a point, but a circle. The idea is to be in the circle -- not on top of some dot.

Peace and power for the journey,


Edison in a moth-eaten ghillie suit said...


To pre-empt my statement, I am not studying to be a creative writer and I have never been one that is too comfortable with expressing emotions and the like.

From the perspective of a former pupil of yours, I can tell you that you are making a huge difference in the lives of your students. You taught me for a semester of my senior year and directed me in the other. I would not have developed the interest and appreciation that I have in movies, theater, and maybe even writing if you had gone to PCCA a year later. I am sure I am not the only one that feels that way.

Really, who would I be today if I had never heard of “Donnie Darko” that day during rehearsals? :)

DanBuck said...

Thanks for the kind words, advice and overall encouragement. Everybody. It's meant the world to me.

Matt Page said...

Hi Dan,

FWIW I feel pretty much the same at the moment.

No wise & helpful comments, hopefully just the knowledge that you're not the only one.


Anonymous said...

I've gotta agree that trying to see God's will is a distraction. He's given us His Word, and as far as I've been able to tell at this point in my life, I don't think He ever makes anything else very obvious (except in extreme circumstances, sometimes, maybe).

God's given you gifts and talents, and (again as far as I can tell) desires that largely coincide with them.

We're called to be good stewards, which may (for you) mean continuing to teach HS while you work on your next play, or whatever other project. Or maybe you're at a point in your life where you have the freedom to take a semester off and really throw yourself into something you deeply love.

I know you've probably thought all of this a hundred times, but sometimes it helps to hear somebody else affirming what you try to keep telling yourself. :)

And in the "me too...sorta" line of reply, I spent my time at Compaq/HP thinking that I wanted to be working on a philosophy degree. Then I got laid off ("Oh no!") and got into grad school ("Thank you, Lord!"), and almost two years later I'm working part time for a school district (as a system administrator -- not sexy stuff) and I love it. I'm going to finish the degree but I don't plan to go further.

So sometimes we earnestly desire something for a long time (only 5 years in my case), and then we discover that God had a better plan in the works anyway.

I know I'm late to this party, but I hope you're out of the trough and up on another crest now.