Off late, I climb out of bed in the morning and think, I'm not going to make it. I harness the remaining exhausted parts of myself and march to my regular cafe. As I walk up the stairs these words greet me every single morning, "Good things come to those who hustle" - Anais Nin.
I have become accustomed to these words. They are a silent reminder that if Anais Nin hustled I should be hustling too. I smile and setup shop in my nook of the cafe. I tell myself that this is a new day, till I start reading my emails. Then I realize again that, I am at the very bottom of a ponzi scheme called life.
I did not travel intending to be a storyteller, it became incidental. Stories are opium to the curious and I become addicted to a state of being able to interpret them. An idea born out of a conversation, followed through with reckless passion. But the great beliefs of life and its accompanying passion require sustenance.
Since my return, I had been chipping away at grants, fellowship applications and crowd-funding to cobble together money to finish the research and the documentary.
To think that this was an idea less than a year ago seems unfathomable now. Ideas are omnipresent, but to follow through with them is something else all together. It requires endurance, hard work and perseverance. Demanding for your idea's right to stay alive is the hardest thing I have done in my life -- to be unencumbered by fashion and to write without pandering, to fighting the daily battles with banality, chief among them, email correspondences to the absurd.
This is startup-storytelling. It is also agony fed in small doses. The money was not coming in. Two years of my life would add up to nothing if I couldn't patch together funding for a team of three to travel for six months. Everyone in the team had foregone salary and a stipend, and come on board based on the sheer merits of the idea. It was not just an idea anymore.
By 2:00 p.m. I am utterly exhausted. Two very young girls walked in and sat beside me. They talked about school and boys. Then one of them remarked the how limited purchase model of Birkin bags was unfair. "Mom says she can only get one or two a year". Intrigued I googled Birkin bags, wondering what product modeled itself on scarcity. Wikipedia informed me that:
The Birkin bag is a handbag by Hermès, handmade in leather and named after actress and singer Jane Birkin. The bag is a symbol of wealth due to its high price and usage by celebrities. Its prices range from £4,800 to £100,000 ($7,400 to $150,000). Costs escalate according to the type of materials. The bags are distributed to Hermès boutiques on unpredictable schedules and in limited quantities, creating scarcity and, intended or unintended, exclusivity.
My first instinct was to shoot myself. Second was to hold them ransom with sermons against the world of Lena Dunham. The third was to walk over and pitch the project to two teenagers and ask for donations. Saner instinct prevailed. Sanity in this case also brought in a good dose of angst fueled melancholy. I sat there defeated and miserable. I could not believe that of the all things in life, it would be money that would stop this project. I furiously started emailing possible donors. I was indignantly frustrated.
That very moment I received an email from a donor that said,
My name is SS (name changed for privacy) and I saw a Facebook post about your documentary. To be honest, I did not pay much attention to his post, but somehow I caught a snide comment made by someone about documentaries. My 18-year-old boy also has just finished his documentary and I wanted to show my support and that is how you got my donation. :-)
No one teaches you to fail successfully or gracefully. Our narratives of not succeeding become elegiac and graceful, with time and retelling. But people through acts of living teach you generosity, empathy and kindness. Nothing had fundamentally changed. With only two weeks left, I am still no where close to getting this project funded, but I realized that much of my angst had become about money. "Anything that just costs money is cheap," said John Steinbeck.
I had forgotten everything else that made this the most fascinating and potent phase of my life. This project would be ruined if it became about money, when it has always been about integrity and passion. Gloria Steinem once provocatively said that "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle." I had acted like a fish without a bicycle.
Alvy Singer's character in Annie Hall says, "I feel that life is divided into the horrible and the miserable. That's the two categories. The horrible are like, I don't know, terminal cases, you know, and blind people, crippled. I don't know how they get through life. It's amazing to me. And the miserable is everyone else. So you should be thankful that you're miserable, because that's very lucky, to be miserable."
I was indeed very lucky to be miserable.
My father later that week said something more articulate. "You are immensely lucky to be doing this. To pursue something, truly for the sake of it and for its own reward, not many people get to make choices like that," he said. He was correct. I was immensely lucky.
Annie Dillard in An American Childhood says, "You can't test courage cautiously, so I ran hard and waved my arms hard, happy." So I will run hard and wave my arms hard, knowing that I am not testing courage cautiously and sometimes a girl learns to bootstrap without the boots.