Our wounds and our gifts

Here’s yet another “memories” post… kinda.

Ten years ago today – holy shit it’s been ten years – the band I was in (Hail the Titans) embarked on a tour across multiple states, and it was such a wonderful experience for me. I know some people don’t think of the word “wonderful” when it comes to sleeping on floors and in vans and brushing your teeth in truck stop parking lots, but I guess I’m not “some people.”

[On tour in Richmond, VA, July 2012.]

It was amazing, and there’s a part of me that still enjoys being on the road, sleeping wherever, and meeting new people. (I’m still an introvert languishing in the ol’ INFJ section of the Meyers-Briggs arena, but every once in a while someone strikes up a conversation with me and allows me to open up a bit.)

I got away for a bit recently, slept in my car, on floors, even outside in the grass one night. I met wonderful people. I shared meals, beers, experiences, and deep, meaningful conversations. I made some new friends that I hope are life-long. I stared up at the stars, sat by fires, and experienced nature. I saw a relative I haven’t seen in person in years. I felt seen.

I’m still processing a lot of my recent experiences, trying to figure things out. I think that’s normal. Maybe. Hell, I don’t know. “Normal” hasn’t really ever been my thing, I guess. WTF is normal? Anyway, I’m lucky in the fact that I have wonderful friends (thank you!) and a good therapist.

I’m about to embark on another film project in a few days with the same writer and directors that did Coffee with Friends, and one line in the script is something that I have found to be very meaningful. (There’s actually a lot of stuff I’ve found meaningful in this script, but this one is most relevant to this post.) I shared it recently on Facebook, but I’ll share it here as well:

“It is our wounds as much as our gifts that make us who we are.”

Thanks for reading, supporting, listening, and loving.

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So… what’s next?

Recently a friend asked me something that I had already been thinking a lot about. It was two questions, actually:

  1. What have you been working on?
  2. What’s next?
Photo by Jill Friedman.

The first question is pretty easy. I, as a solo artist, and Towering Above finally had a first public performance since everything shut down early last year. I’ve been promoting the release of Remembering Anarcha (see it on VOD, review at Rotten Tomatoes), I’m near the final edit for a music video for Electric Blue Yonder’s upcoming album, I’ve edited and done some poster art for a new short documentary (from Terrible Master Films, Carolyn Jean’s Son Visions, 803 Films and Early Riser Films), and I’ve been helping edit a new project from Foolish Henry Films.

Then the hard question… what’s next?

That’s always the hard one. I think most artists feel an almost constant need to create, so when you’re between projects, it’s easy to feel kind of lost.

Somewhat related, there’s also the “post-show blues” that happens at the end of a project. I know that hit me earlier this year after the close of Sweat. When you spend almost every day for over two months becoming a character, there’s a bit of grief when the play closes. Or at the end of a film project. People become like family in a short amount of time, and then everyone is off to something else.

Towering Above is about to return to Headless Dinosaur Recording to begin work on a new album, so that’s something to look forward to as a “next,” but I want to do more acting, make more movies and music videos, write more songs, write more screenplays… and I don’t know exactly where to begin on any of it at the moment.

Sometimes the initial idea is the hard part for me. Hopefully something will spark soon.

If you’re wondering about a point I’m getting to here… um… I don’t really have one. This has been on my mind recently, and I haven’t blogged in close to a month, so it was time to express my thoughts. Hopefully it was an enjoyable read anyway.

Thanks for reading, and for your support and encouragement. Hope to see you at a show soon. Much love.

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The origin of the name ‘Terrible Master Films’

There have been a few instances over the years where I have been asked where my film company name came from, and there have been a few misconceptions as well. I don’t remember ever writing about it publicly, so I figured I might as well take a few minutes to explain the origin of the name Terrible Master Films.

I’ll address some of the misconceptions first: It’s not related to the transatlantic slave trade, American chattel slavery, or really, any form of slavery at all.

I can see where that misconception may come from, though. I mean, I’m a white guy in Alabama who has directed films that involve race, history, and social justice like Remembering Anarcha, The Time is Now, and in·dig·e·nous, so maybe some people think the name is somehow used in irony or something. But no, that’s not it.

It comes from a quote that stood out to me during a period of deep depression a few years ago:

“The mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master.”

The first instance I remember reading that phrase was on Brain Pickings. Later, I found this RadioLab post about it. Both are linked on the “about” page on the Terrible Master Films website.

Brain Pickings shared a graduation speech given by David Foster Wallace. The speech, commonly known as “this is water,” references the quote thusly:

“…Think of the old cliché about ‘the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.’ This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master…”

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that this is not the first time I’ve discussed mental health, and as I said above, I stumbled across that quote during a deep depression I was in. I had finally started seeing a therapist and was doing a lot of reading about life, philosophy, and mental health.

That quote was powerful to me. The way I looked at it, when I’m in control, I can make my mind do the things I need and want to do, whether it’s writing a song, working on a film, or just trying to be creative in general. But when my mind was in control, it became the terrible master, leading to depression and feelings of worthlessness. (For others, it may be anxiety or a variety of other things.)

So the name Terrible Master Films serves as a personal reminder for me that mental health is important, and to attempt to keep the terrible master at bay.

As always, thanks for reading. Much love.

Terrible Master Films is on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

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Appreciating connection (oh, also cult stuff?)

My friends have joked on me about my fascination with cults. It’s even influenced some of my art at times (like this music video.)

The whole Jonestown horror and the film The Sacrament by Ti West. The Invitation is another good one. The music video for “Premonition of the Hex” by Circa Survive. Bizarre belief systems like Scientology. (Watch The Master if you haven’t already.) Warren Jeffs, the child rapist and leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

I was reading the Rolling Stone article “Children of Scientology: Life After Growing Up in an Alleged Cult”, and it talks about people who were raised in that system as children and then leaving it. Of the many interesting aspects of that article, one thing kind of stood out to me – the differences between adults and children when it comes to cults, specifically leaving them.

The article talks about it thusly:

“People who join and leave as adults have the luxury of connecting with their past selves, [a cult expert and therapist] says. ‘For them, it’s about reconnecting, rediscovering, re-everything. But SGAs don’t have that. Their identity is the cult.’”

The term “SGAs” in that sentence stands for “Second Generation Adults.” Basically, a first generation adult leaves their family to join a cult. For the SGA, the family is the cult.

If you had to start over and relearn almost everything as an adult, how difficult and terrifying would that be? (For a non-cult documentary where someone had to start over in a different way, the film Tell Me Who I Am is good, maddening, and heartbreaking.)

All of this got me thinking about the idea of connection. Our connections with friends and family. Our past familial histories and how they can affect us. Even some of the nature vs. nurture argument.

Part of that comes from the same Rolling Stone article above where one of the former Scientologists is aware that her mother is Jewish, which means that according to tradition, so is she. The article mentions that “it’s one of the few things that she was before she was a Scientologist.” That’s the connection she was trying to explore.

There have been times in my own life where I have felt somewhat disconnected, not nearly on the level the people in that article must be dealing with by any means, but at least a little. There is so much I don’t know, even about my own family history.

But even with those moments of disconnect, I never had to start over from scratch. I never had to explore aspects of a previous identity that I never had. Even when I left the belief system I was raised in, I didn’t lose everything. My family didn’t disown me; my friends didn’t stop talking to me. (Many of my friends left belief systems as well though – some before me, some after.) 

But I’m lucky in that fact. I can be my authentic self without it costing me those connections. I understand that not everyone can say that.

Since we’re wrapping up the holiday season of such a strange, trying clusterfuck of a year, connection seems so important. Some people skipped out on seeing family during the holidays (not enough to slow this fucking pandemic apparently, but still…) More people are dealing with isolation, loneliness, depression, along with anxieties about whatever else is going on in their personal lives. It’s been rough for a lot of people.

I guess in this last bit of 2020, maybe it’d be nice for us to take a moment to appreciate the connections we have – to the friends and family that love us, to the strangers that show us kindness, and to the memories of those gone before us.

I hope you and yours have a happy new year. Thanks for reading. Much love.

-Josh

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The stories we tell ourselves

For anyone familiar with The Four Agreements, you probably know they sound easy, but are not necessarily easy to put into practice.

For me, because I place a high value on honesty and clear communication, the first – “be impeccable with your word” – and the fourth – “always do your best” – are a bit easier than the two in the middle.

Don’t take anything personally.” “Don’t make assumptions.” Yeah… so how do those even work? 

I mean, it sounds easy, but is it?

It’s in the stories we tell ourselves about the motives we assign to people for decisions they made and how they treated us.

For me, it also ties into the frustration of the unknown and the sadness and anger that many times tie into that. When you feel betrayed, but you have no way of really knowing what was going through the other person’s head. When you feel hurt, but have no way of knowing whether it was intentional or not.

“Oh, but it must’ve been!” Maybe. Maybe not. Only one person can know for sure, right?

I can’t say that I really know where I’m going with this. I started writing this earlier this week, but my mind is all over the place, and I’m trying to remind myself of these things, and I figured maybe I should try to write it out in case it helps someone else in some way.

A number of people I know seem to be struggling right now, and in order to be accountable and authentic, I admit that I haven’t been mentally top notch recently either. There has been a pattern of things over the years in which actions of others left me with a feeling of worthlessness. Luckily, it’s nothing like where I was early last year (thanks, therapy!) but it still rears its ugly head periodically.

But if I can figure out a way to not take it personally and not assume that I know what others’ thoughts or motives are, maybe I can try to narrow my focus on just trying to be the best version of me that I can be.

And if any of my mental ramblings here happen to help you, I’m glad. If not, thanks for reading this far anyway. Feel free to check out some music or film stuff while you’re here.

Check on your friends. Spread some love. Be well.

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Ignorance or hatred?

Photo credit: Kyle Sampson and I Am More Than. See the Montgomery Advertiser story that this appears in (and more photos) here.

In a blog post back in May, I asked, “Have you ever thought about how there is so much in the world that you don’t know?” And I’ve been thinking about that more lately, in a couple of ways.

In one instance, I think about how that applies to personal growth. I haven’t always been the person I am now, and I hope to be a better person tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after, and on and on.

I have offered apologies for past actions or words of which I’m not proud. I think those regrets come with an evolution in thinking, along with introspection, and really, basic human empathy.

In another instance, I think about how that growth and change applies to knowledge and my views on various issues. If we have a desire to continually learn about things and actually care about truth, we will evolve in our thinking. It’s OK if new information makes you rethink a position or change your mind about something.

Going back to the beginning of this: there is so much in the world that I don’t know or didn’t previously know. For example:

Today is Juneteenth. I don’t remember learning anything about that growing up. I don’t remember being taught about it in school. In fact, I’m pretty sure I was at least in college or older before I even knew the word, much less anything about it.

It was this just this week that I had even heard of Seneca Village.

I was an adult before I realized the “Lost Cause” narrative was both wrong and a deliberate attempt to rewrite history.

It was only this month that I finally took the time to actually sit down and make it a point to learn about Malcolm X.

It’s been very recently that I have tried to educate myself more about the history of policing in this country and what the calls to defund or abolish police actually mean. (Hint: It’s a lot deeper than a hashtag.)

I didn’t know about the Tulsa massacre or Black Wall Street until recently.

I literally just learned about the Rosewood massacre today.

Until working on the documentary Remembering Anarcha, I knew very little about J. Marion Sims and the “mothers of gynecology” – Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsey.

And even with the level of knowledge that I have gained at this point, I’m still not an expert because there is still so much to learn and so much I don’t know.

So… taking all of that into account, I got to thinking about many of the comments and arguments I’ve seen recently.

I’ve seen some people (mostly people who look like me, honestly) who have expressed how tired they are of everything going on in the world right now, or at least tired of hearing about it (i.e. the Black Lives Matter movement, the removal of Confederate monuments, rebranding Aunt Jemima syrup, etc.) And I think, if they’re tired of hearing about it, how tired are the people living it? I can’t imagine the exhaustion that people of color must be feeling right now.

(And really, the fact that so many people who look like me can go for years – sometimes entire lifetimes – completely unaffected by these racial and policing issues that are prominent in the news is an example of privilege. Yes, white privilege.)

And regarding these conversations I’ve seen recently, I think about motives, and how I attempt to decipher if someone is speaking out of ignorance or hatred, because I think those things are different.

Some people are just hateful, and I don’t think much can be done to help them see any other perspective. I don’t know how to make someone empathize if they don’t have the faintest desire to do so. I’d love to be wrong here, and if you’ve got the patience to try to reach them, by all means, give it a shot; I wish you luck and much success.

In others, however, I think maybe they have a good heart, but haven’t taken the time to actually listen and learn. Maybe they don’t have the experiences that come with a diverse friends group, or maybe they haven’t yet tried to ask questions or learn new things. I hold out hope for those people. I don’t know exactly what it takes to get through, but I do hope that something clicks within them.

And my reasoning for that goes back to what I started out talking about – I wasn’t always the person I am now with the level of knowledge I have at this moment. And hell, again, there’s so much I still don’t know, and I think personal growth is never done.

So maybe I can help someone else understand things that I’ve learned, or at least maybe help them to pause long enough to think about another perspective.

And in the meantime, I can listen to others and try to learn more myself.

Keep learning. Keep growing. Keep reading. Keep listening. Keep working for positive change.

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‘The Time Is Now’

On Saturday, May 30, my buddy Jeff and I headed to downtown Montgomery, AL, for a protest – one of many around the nation (and world) in support of Black Lives Matter and ending police brutality. Of course, this was after the tragic death – more specifically, murder – of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

I brought my camera to capture footage in hopes of putting together a short documentary (similar to the short in·dig·e·nous that I did last year.)

The two-hour event was completely peaceful, with passionate speakers talking about a host of issues. The Montgomery Police Department was there, observing, in their regular uniforms. I point this out because of the stark contrast between how Montgomery PD has handled events like this compared to other cities – Huntsville, AL, for example. Last week, Huntsville PD showed up in riot gear and ended up using tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters. A friend of mine – a photographer documenting the event – was arrested; another friend got tear-gassed. Read more on their use of force here. And here’s a first-hand account of the incident by a Huntsville-area physician.

In contrast, here is a tweet from Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed:

So, back to Montgomery.

I took the footage I shot and put together a short documentary called The Time Is Now. Many thanks to my friend Pro Status for the use of his song “Do Dat,” to my friends Irby Pace and Stephen Poff for the use of their photos, and to my friend Jeff for being my 1st AD on this.

Thanks for watching.

#BlackLivesMatter

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Women in Training video

I recently directed a video for the nonprofit organization Women in Training, Inc. Many thanks to First Assistant Director Savannah Stacy and Production assistant Danielle Wallace for helping me on the crew side of things. Produced by Terrible Master Films.

Check out the video on YouTube.

 

Authenticity, mental health, and social media

I recently saw a post from a friend of mine in the Atlanta area. It started out, “The more I see my friends (especially male friends) sharing their mental health struggles and reaching out, the more inclined I am to do the same.” He proceeded to talk of his own struggles with depression.

Scrolling just a few posts later, a friend in southeast Alabama shared a post from a veteran’s page listing phone numbers to specific helplines – suicide, eating disorder, addiction, transgender suicide, domestic violence, etc.

These posts reminded me of something that has been on my mind recently regarding authenticity and social media, especially as it relates to mental health.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ve seen previous posts about mental health and my personal struggles with depression. A lot of the past five-ish years have been rough, and earlier this year, it got really bad again.

Lately, I’ve actually been in a pretty good head space. I’m fully aware that things could change for the worse at any moment, but I’m enjoying the good days while they’re here and appreciating them. Gotta say, it’s nice. And I hope my friends are able to get to a better head space soon.

Another thing that I discuss on this blog periodically are my thoughts on authenticity, and this one photo has been popping into my head recently. The photo and my thoughts surrounding it, along with the posts mentioned above, made me think I should finally take a few minutes to put these thoughts on paper – or the digital equivalent.

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That photo was taken almost three years ago now – Christmas night 2016. After the family gathering during the day, I went over to hang out with some friends. Good times. A great way to end the holiday – laughter and friendship.

What that photo doesn’t tell you is that in that same night, just a little bit prior to that photo being taken, I had a full-on crying fit breakdown in that very kitchen in front of those very people.

That photo doesn’t show that I was in a deep depression at the time. It doesn’t reveal how I spilled it all about how I didn’t want to live, while one of my friends wrapped their arms around me and held me.

We have a tendency to post the good times and not the bad, and hey, I encourage you all to definitely celebrate the good times. Post away! But I also think it’s important once in a while to remind ourselves that much of what we’re seeing is fake. It’s a pretty facade that covers the despair.

I think it’s natural for us to compare our lives to what we’re seeing, even unconsciously, but again, much of what we see is not real, or at least not the whole story.

I know that not everyone feels comfortable being public about their struggles, and that’s OK. If you’re able to “fight in the open,” go for it. If you’re not at a place where you feel comfortable doing so, reach out to a close friend. Or hey, there’s a contact form on this website – I’ll email you back.

Bottom line: remember that much of social media is fake; you are loved; and check on your friends (yes, even your strong friends.) This time of year is difficult for a lot of people. And I’m sure they will appreciate hearing from you.

Thanks for reading. Much love.

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Authenticity = good + bad

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I talk about authenticity a lot, so in order for me to be authentic and not hypocritical, I try to be open about things.

A lot has been going on recently. A friend and I have started working on a new documentary project, and this weekend I was part of the Ozone Songwriter Festival, which has been great.

I’ve gotten to hang out with friends, meet new friends, hear and perform music, and work on film stuff. Good things have been happening.

This weekend also marked two years since my mom died.

It’s still hard. It still sucks. I miss her.

For me to be authentic, I have to talk about the bad times as well as the good, and sometimes, such as in this case, they hit at the same time.

I think about loss a lot – it’s probably a side effect of depression – and social media reminds me of the friends I’ve lost, and good times that are gone.

Maybe I romanticize the past. Maybe that’s normal. I don’t know what counts as normal; I just know how I think.

I don’t really have a big overall point to this post, I suppose. Maybe it’s just a reminder that social media can be fake, along with my attempt to be real – authentic – within that realm.

Anyway, hug your loved ones, and tell your friends you love them.

Thanks for reading. Much love.