We were eating vegan food. I think mine had beets in it, but I could be remembering the bottle of red wine. I didn’t know why I was on a date with only two weeks left in New York, except that I liked this one and didn’t care. Anyway, that was when she dropped the bomb.
She came right out with it in that bold, forward way that I claim to crave. She thought my adventure was silly and couldn’t understand why anyone would want to see a film about someone trying to learn how to fly across the country (in a trike of all things).
All that paled next to the nuke that followed, which was the accusation that the adventure was incredibly selfish. Even the presumption that people would want to watch the film was egotistical, that people would want to watch my life unfold onscreen. Why not do the trip and not film? Was my little “quarter life crisis” worthy of mention? “Privileged White Guy Uses Resources for Literal Ego Trip.” I heard echoes of Elizabeth Gilbert and quietly began to panic.
It was as if I’d drunk a bottle of liquor on top of the wine we’d just consumed. We argued about veganism (I don’t know why) and kissed by the door of a jazz club and I stumbled out into the freezing January rain. It turned the ice and snow to slush; I had elected to wear my leather jacket because I thought my winter coat made me look like a marshmallow and was now deeply regretting it. I waited fifteen minutes for the train before I realized I'd left my credit card at dinner. As I dashed up the stairs of West 4th St I heard my train arriving behind me and swore loudly. I careened through maddening West Village streets in the sheen of the rain and hated myself and my big fat selfish adventure until I fell asleep three hours later.
The adventure seemed instantly repulsive. Who the hell did I think I was? I sounded like a whining child, going on and on in our sizzle reel about “society, man,” and complaining about being trapped in a vaguely defined system that I couldn’t get out of. Even worse to complain when I had the opportunity to travel and have an adventure at all. Right? Well, my date was half right.
The thing is, I was quite selfish at the time, and by necessity. I was deeply depressed, truly depressed, and had to find a way to defeat it. For me that meant doing whatever I had to do to make myself happy again and at the time it meant leaving New York City and finding out what was wrong. The question was if I was really turning into a selfish, egotistical nightmare or not.
Stephen and I spent days arguing about what the film should be before we arrived at anything concrete. Unfortunately, this was after the first take of our sizzle reel. I don’t like the way I come off in it: I sound heated, pretentious, and condemnatory towards a lot of people when I didn’t mean to be. This isn’t to say that I didn’t have a point, but I think whatever it was got mangled in the hot, selfish frustration I had with my current life. I had trouble seeing the larger picture. It's difficult, turns out, to have a “point” off the bat with this kind of adventure, which unfolds in new and unexpected ways every day. We don’t know what the footage we’ll end up with will look like, so how can we outline the final product concretely?
The philosophy behind the film is to tell it how it is. “How it is” is simply that I'm out here doing this: learning to fly, having an adventure, and chasing happiness. I want to film it because I want to share it like it is -- not only in the shots where the light plays just right on my beautiful face, but the ones where I'm stumbling down a West Village side street after being dismantled over a bottle of red wine. More importantly: everyone I meet and everything I see across the continent, without which my story means nothing. You have to look outside to bring context and focus to what's within.
This isn’t a vacation and I don’t feel privileged. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, flying is the hardest thing I’ve ever learned how to do, and I’ve learned more about myself in the air than I ever have on the ground. It's like examining my emotions under a microscope. I’ve been sleeping on the floor of an airplane hangar since May 24 (I've turned 25 since) and I don’t know how I’m going to make enough money to get through the summer (boy do I miss steady paychecks). Yet I do feel incredibly lucky, and a little undeserving that even as I type a professional engine mechanic is mounting the heart of our aircraft. None of this “just happened” though, and at no point do I expect it to, although I have discovered that the universe has a way of yielding if you push at it enough: thanks to my Polish roots I’m pushing like a donkey stuck in mud.
Does sharing the adventure make it any less selfish? No it doesn’t. But is that inherently wrong? Doesn’t every art form have a component of self-interest? Who in their right mind would choose to paint, play music, or (sin of all sins) become a writer if it didn’t please them? So is it really contemptible to have an adventure, effect a change in yourself, dig and find out what the hell is really in there and then share all of it?
I can’t know for sure what this adventure will bring (otherwise it wouldn’t be). But it won’t be a story about a vacation abroad in which I treat myself to spaghetti, gelato, and a dalience with a sexpot Italian woman (though I wouldn’t say no to that last bit...). If doing this is egotistical and pompous then fine: I’m the biggest, most ego-tripping bastard around.
I think I’ve actually become less selfish. I’m exhausted with talking about myself, branding myself, self-examining myself -- especially when so much life is happening around me every second of every day. In many ways I want to go back (I can’t believe I’m writing this) to the east coast where my friends and family are and reclaim the life I left. To borrow from a recent journal entry: “...I want to turn myself outwards and to give love and trust again that people are not out to screw me over and at least give people the benefit of the doubt. Until my wants are a dull roar and the present is all there is. I want to not want.”
If our final film is a 1.5 hour biopic on my psyche over the course of a 40 day trip then I’ll walk out of the theater. There’s a whole crazy country out there waiting for Team Tilt Shift and I can’t wait to get some footage. To my aforementioned date: thank you for tossing the kitchen sink at me. Really. I needed to stumble a little bit, and I’m still stumbling but hey: I’m telling it how it is.