Part III: Why the Farm Girl Left Iowa

This post is part of a series on my experiences in moving from Iowa to New York City.  You may want to read Part I and Part II first.

I was happy.

Class started at 8 am each day.  You had to get to the dining hall to eat breakfast before that.  We broke for lunch at noon.  Then we had work study time from 1-5.  Dinner and then more class time.  We’d make it back to our rooms between 9 and 10pm.  When we got into a shooting schedule, our hours went longer, depending on the rules of our locations and the type of exterior light we needed.

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Saturdays and Sundays were not days off.  Most classes at the workshops ran from Sunday night- Saturday at noon.  That small weekend window was when we got the most work done because campus was quiet.

I was sleeping 6 hours or less a night and working 6-7 days a week, atlas 12 hours a day, and not watching a second of TV and I didn’t care.
I was happy.

I was LIVING, as they say.

My instructor and classmates turned out to be amazing people, as did just about everyone I met while I was in Rockport.  Amazing, generous, creative people.  I needed those types of people in my life and for 7 weeks I had the privilege of having nothing but time to be creative with them.  It was a gift unlike any other I’ve ever given myself.

We worked hard but we had fun.  There were stressful moments but we ended up laughing about them.  Not all of our projects were successful, but… they never are.  That’s life.  We made mistakes, we had experiences, we learned.  As a group.

Our instructor called making movies “the greatest team sport in the world.”  I’ve never been able to disagree.  To make a movie… is impossible to do alone, physically and mentally demanding, requires training and at some point, on your 8th cup of coffee in your 12th straight hour of Post, will push you through a thin ceiling of your own sanity you thought would never break.  Every one of my classmates could do things the others could not.  Making each one of our projects required the whole.

My class was comprised of 10 people.  We ranged in age from 19 to 43.  Most were from New England, two were from Germany.  Our languages, perspectives, values, and styles were different but we did an amazing job of respecting our differences and working as a unit to achieve our goals.  That is what film making is.  I became a better person because I was forced to see the merit in their experiences and knowledge about the world, in each of their visions and be part of bringing them to life.

It was a work-study program, so we also did odd jobs around campus together.  We washed vans, cleaned the dining hall and kitchen, landscaped.  Together.  Whatever the Facilities Manager assigned us.  He was middle aged and from South Dakota.  I like him a lot because he was one of the only Midwesterners there.  It was humbling to do such real work and, being the farm girl I am, I excelled at it.  Some of the city kids, not so much. 😉

As part of our work-study, we were often asked to do stand-in  work for other classes.  Students practiced lighting our faces, deciding which lenses made us look our best, and sometimes, we auditioned and were asked to act in other student projects.  Just as you need people behind the camera, you can’t make movies without people in front of the camera.  I found the courage to participate in lots of acting exercises.  I had fun.  I got compliments on my performances.

I liked this world.

Because of the intense schedule, I didn’t have time to think about my personal life.  The problems we had to solve, the things we had to learn just to get through our next project were so many, I was forced to live in the moment or very close to it.  I got closer to that girl that I had been before I got wrapped up in the night life of college.  I didn’t care if I was partying on Friday.  Creating stories was too much fun!  Doing all of this hard work with these people who became my friends was so much better than drinks and hangovers!  I had so much energy and enthusiasm for what I was doing while I was sober… I had nothing to escape.  That’s what I had been doing, I realized, when I was drinking.  Trying to escape… myself, I suppose.

Don’t get me wrong.  The work was a different kind of escape – but a much healthier option.  Film combined so many things that I loved: performance, story-telling, strategic planning, visionary thinking, technology, problem solving.  I was still a novice at it, but it was work that made me feel alive.  I felt more confident.  I liked myself again.  I wanted to keep working like this forever.

I’ve often said dancing (at age 5) was my first love and (at 23) my second love became making movies.  I wanted to be in love forever.  With movies.  I wanted to be close to them and keep doing this thing that set me on fire.  That got me out of bed in the morning without coffee and kept me up at night until 3am.  (If you’re reading this and you don’t have something like that – FIND it.  And if you’ve found it, for God sakes hold onto it no matter what anyone else tells you.)

The truth is… 7 weeks is a long time and also a very short time.  I was alone on the other side of the country and felt like a new person but back home, not much changed.  My parents were still worried about me.  My friends lives went on and they assumed I’d return in October.

I didn’t know how to tell anyone I didn’t want to go back.  I didn’t want to standstill.  I wanted to go forward.  I’d been unhappy for so long and now that I’d tasted creative joy I had to keep it.

But where was I going to find a place to work on movies in Iowa?  How would I, with no entertainment industry connections and little savings and no real “professional” experience… stay close to my love?  Even if I wanted to go to film school, how would I afford it?

I had 4 DVD’s full of work I’d help create and a mind full of knowledge and new friends that wanted to see me again when I climbed onto the airport shuttle to leave Rockport, Maine in October.  The leaves were starting to change and the air had a chill. Most of my friends had driven to Maine or had open ended plane tickets and schedules.  A few were sticking around to continue working, others were making plans to create independent projects together.  But I had to get on a plane for home.  I was very sad to return to my old reality.

Three long flights back to Iowa and I thought about my future.  I would attend a wedding in Iowa, then travel to California for 10 days  with my grandpa to visit my uncle and his family.  Then it would be Halloween and what on earth would I do with myself.

I had 3 weeks to make a plan.  And what I did, shocked everyone.

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