Thursday, September 4, 2008

LOVE YOUR ENEMY

I was on Davie Street in Vancouver in 1996 making a dinky little Super 8 film with my high school friends as actors. I wanted a shot where the character walks by a storefront, and I decided upon a falafel joint. I can't remember why that falafel joint was ideal... probably because its big bay windows were open and I wouldn't get glare, and I could shoot into the space without obstruction of glass. Anyways, I needed a shot of the falafel joint. And quickly -- the sun was starting to set. There was a 30s-couple sitting at the open window eating falafels and I asked them if they wouldn't mind shifting over one seat so I could clear my frame.
"Yes, we do mind," said the guy.
"But it's only one seat over."
"We're eating."
"No no, keep eating. But is it okay if you scooch over just a bit?"
"We're eating. You can wait," he scowled, licked some hummus. His girlfriend munched on pickled beet.
"But I need the light and it'll just be a few minutes..."
"WE'RE EATING. You can wait until we're done." Hummus munch munch chick pea.
My shoulders drooped -- my right one lower from holding the camera. I looked over at the empty seats six inches away from the guy. He took a bite reeeal ssllooooow.

I sat on the sidewalk in front of the falafel joint with my six friends/actors watching the sun waving goodbye. I eavesdropped on the guy and girlfriend to guage their eating progress. They talked about ordinary things like rent, not the "goddamn this falafel is amazing I can't stop scarfing it down aaargh argh arg yum done!" that I was hoping. I tried to think about alternatives to the shot but nothing would work. Also, I was too distracted by my fuming over the guy's refusal. I hate it when people can't be reasonable can't compromise just a little so that everyone can be happy not just him and his falafel, well I'm just as stubborn as him and why can't he accommodate me that goddamn I hope you choke on your uncompromising hummus...

I was ugly. All this negativity was making me ill. I shouldn't be having a conniption so early in my life. This was gross. Only one way to solve it: I stood up, turned to the guy, and stuck out my hand. He stuck out his almost simultaneously.
"Hey man, sorry about that."
"No no, we understand," he said. "You've got work to do. What kind of video is that?"
"It's not. It's Super 8. It's film."
"Cool. Well, we're almost done..."
"No no, take your time."
"No no, just one more bite and we'll get out of your way..." They took their bite and got out of my way. "Good luck with your filming!" They waved and smiled as they left.
"Thanks! Take care!"

My shoulders perked up and I was standing three inches taller. What a delight.

I've kept reminding myself of that scene in recent years when maturity has given more cause for conniption. I'm surrounded by creative people with fragile egos; in our communities insecurity abounds. Envy and competition permeate. Reviews in the paper either crush or confirm one's talent. Whether or not we get a grant determines how many more months we'll serve appetizers. It's a masochistic world, but it's not just artists and musicians etc. who subject their confidence to battery. I've gained insight into the ruthless rivalry in the scientific community, the cutthroat competition of academia, the aggressive ambition of business types. No matter what your career or community, it all stems from sports. In elementary school. At least for me, and probably for most of you. Three of our biggest philosophical dilemmas were exacted upon us before we were seven:

1. Why was I not picked first?
2. Why is someone better than me?
3. Why do I suck so much?

The answer to all those questions is simple: Don't do sports. Stay away from that ball. But we can't stay away from our careers and communities. So what do we do when our application doesn't get accepted, or we get a stank review, or we don't get the teaching position, or our new restaurant gets two stars out of five? What do we do when our colleague gets accepted, or is glorified in the paper, or gets the position before they even finish their Masters, or their bistro gets Zagated all up in that ass? How do you deal with your rival who doesn't even know she's your rival 'cause she's actually a friend but the rivalry arises against your will 'cause you both work in the same field?

The answer is simple: Love your enemy. Be happy for them. Like my encounter with the falafel guy, just vanquish your ill feelings and you'll be refilled with good. Flip it like a switch. Even by wrestling that switch. Even artificially, against your will, and your goodwill might grow to become sincere. Tell yourself -- ideally sincerely -- that your rival/friend/colleague deserves that glowing review/university position/Michelin star because goddamnit, they do good work. They deserve that falafel. I mean good fortune.

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