My Life Before I Became Boring, A Documentary

I have decided, enough is enough; enough of this writing business; writing, writing, writing all of the damn time, month after month, year after year.  I need a new pursuit.  Something not so boring.  Who reads this stuff anyway?  Maybe I should be a documentary filmmaker.  Everyone watches documentaries.       

I went to a documentary film festival last night.  That’s where I got the idea. 

“Hey, this is cool.” I said to my wife Karen who was standing in line with me at our local cinematic art-house waiting to buy tickets.  All of these people swirling around us: young, hip, ever so cool, definitely: cool, cool, cool. 

“Hey, I can be cool.” I said to her as we pushed through the doors into the movie theater with the Roaring Twenties facade.  “Look at these guys.  How hard is it to be a documentary filmmaker?” 

She said, “Dear, let’s just get our seats before we’re stuck in the back.” 

“What would you need?”  I asked her as we crossed the lobby.  “What?  Look at these guys.  Just a camera and an eyeball.  What else do you need?”

She said, “Hush,” eyeing the blue-jean and beret crowd. “Don’t antagonize anyone.  Let’s just get our seats before it’s too late.” 

Say, didn’t I see ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ back as a kid, I reminded myself as we sat down toward the middle of the theater, and wasn’t that a heck of a study on Arabs?  And what about ‘Midnight Cowboy’?  Didn’t that show me more than I wanted to know about male prostitution in New York City?  Oh, and what about ‘Boys Don’t Cry?’ or ‘Crying Boys,’ or something like that.  Didn’t Karen get me to sit through that one with her for like a night and a day?

And besides, isn’t my life a film in the making?     

The documentary Karen wanted us to watch was about four human rights activists, monitors they call them, as they document human rights violations.  In the film the monitors diligently record the horrors that were perpetuated against the citizens of Syria and Libya during their conflicts.  However, rather than a movie about war-crimes, the ninety-minute film focused on the activists themselves.  

Turns out, the filmmakers, in their negotiations with the human rights group, agreed to film the group’s staff members wherever they were sent in the world.  In fact, at first the filmmakers thought they would be documenting the group’s work in Pakistan or Central Africa, but a month after the project began, the “Arab Spring” revolution ignited in the middle-East and Northern Africa, and, as a result, the film followed the activists into that region’s hotspots.

The point here is the filmmakers had no idea of what their story would be.  No screenplay.  No story adapted to film.  No writing!  

In fact, after three years of filming, the decision of how to tell their story unfolded in the editing room with two editors hired to help them sift through 300 hours of video.  The filmmakers and their editors settled on the four people involved in investigations, and, in doing so, focused on their domestic lives as well as their profession. 

To be clear, the camera was in their personal space every bit as much as it was with them in the field.  AND to be doubly clear, the camera was an actual presence and not a “fly on the wall.” 

And these people were cool.  They lived cool lives.  They talked directly to the camera and said cool things.  Smoked cool cigarettes.  Did cool things like sneaking into Syria rather than struggling to get out like refugees. 

This was all discussed with us after the movie when the filmmakers were invited on stage and interviewed by some festival muckity-muck.  The filmmakers kept referring to their film as “cinema verite,” or some such, which, I took away as filming the “real.”

“Karen, I can film ‘real.’  I whispered to my wife when I woke up.  “Jeez, this doesn’t sound hard at all.”

Okay.  I have been thinking about this today and, of course, had to project this onto my life.  I could cut the writing and proceed directly to filming.   

What would it be like to have a camera following me as I go about my day, say, for three years?  Would it take an outside editor to figure out what my story is and, perhaps, spruce it up?  Or would they need to make a sequel. 

Egotism is a captivating thing, maybe even, blinding too – especially about the realities of ‘real’ when ‘real’ isn’t focused on war crimes in Syria.

Maybe I have 30 minutes of interest to an audience of cool people in a documentary film festival like the one we went to last night.  Hmmm… likely, a lot less, I guess.  

Okay, I absolutely need to believe I have five minutes of interest to a group of cool people.  My five minutes!  Not the 15 minutes that Andy Warhol mentions, but FIVE MINUTES surely. 

Okay.  A You-Tube video.  Maybe after living a full life, that’s what I have.  A three-minute You-Tube video.  But maybe it would go viral; something so powerful, film festival producers would throw money at me and demand more. 

Don’t bother writing that stupid monthly blog, they would say, just film the next big thing and try to avoid penguins as they’ve been done before.

I decided, while mowing the lawn that afternoon, mowing the lawn being the first opportunity I had to think about this in depth, my first You-Tube video needed to be something that would be good enough for the Academy Awards to consider in their short video competition.  That way, producers would throw even more money at me.   

“The nominations for documentary shorts, once again, are… Jonathan Giles in – ”.  

Hmmmm… but what to focus on… 

Something that’s cool, granted, but something that assures me I haven’t descended into a morass of meaninglessness.  Something I can use to remind me that I am not so aimless and fickled and not fumbling around in life as much as I appear.  Something to motivate me to be more like the me on the screen, especially if I play me and see me doing things at which I am amazed; things not typically me.  Things that Mick Jagger might do, but not me.  Things that are inherently cool.  

My first step, I decided in tugging the lawnmower to behave over my pock-marked lawn, was to come up with a working title for my film.  Something inspirational. How about –

“My life before I became boring.”     

I could work with that, and it’s a topic in which I am most familiar, especially if the camera keeps filming me mowing the lawn all the fucking time over the next three years. 

“My life before I became boring.” 

But how would I film that? 

At first, I figured, I could go out and interview all of my friends and each would get five to ten minutes to talk about me and what I did prior to becoming boring. 

But, then again, that could be morose:  they might start asking me questions that would be difficult to answer, wanting to know if I died.  When did I die?  Did Karen know?  What was her reaction?   Did she like living with me? 

I know them: they would forget the “boring” thing I was asking them to focus on and go immediately to the “death” thing I was trying to avoid.

Besides, I am not sure any of my friends knew me before they thought I had died, yet alone, became boring.  In fact, I am not sure I have friends. 

Rather, I decided, jerking the lawn mower back down the next row, I should take a year in my life and film that instead, something like a historical documentary.  You know, like “The year I was not so boring” or “The Year before I descended into the pits of boredom” or “Escape from boredom” or the soon-to-be classic: “Escape from boredom II” with vampires.

Like, say, back in 1998, I could make up something, something cool, like back in the day when I was fighting the forces of darkness in Gotham City.  Zombies, even.  You know, Thor and me or Batman and me or, heck, just me.    

Maybe, back then, it would show I was being intentionally boring, to throw people off, especially my wife.  Like I was a Bruce Wayne with my Batman outfit in the closet behind my suits, dress pants, and cotton shirts.    

Looking back, though, 1998 pretty pathetic year. 

Maybe it was 1985.  

For this concept to work, I realized, picking up a pine cone in front of the mower and throwing it into the woods, I had to believe, one year out of my life, surely, I was not boring.  Maybe when I was a kid.  Not when I was a teenager, that’s for sure….hmmm….

Maybe I should focus on the opposite. 

“The year I became boring.”

Back in 2003. 

It was all going so well, then summer hit… 

Suddenly one day my wife could not remember my name and she could care less if I was in the same room with her, or, worse, actually preferred me out of the room unless she wanted to take a nap…. 

And my family couldn’t remember if I came to the reunion as recently as a week earlier, even though, I swear, I made a spectacle of myself….

Or even, my office mates didn’t ask me where I’ve been when I spent a month out of work for no reason.  

You know that sort of thing, back then, back in 2003, or was it earlier?  

Hey, I could confess on camera and talk about when I knew I had passed over.

“Just the facts, sir” Detective Joe Friday on Dragnet would say.  “Just the facts.”

“Oh my god, I didn’t mean to, I swear.” I would say, throwing myself down and sobbing on the couch.  “I had been flirting with it for awhile, but no one told me if I put on those gray and white striped pants with the orange dotted polo shirt and white belt and loafers, I would cross the point of no return.  No one told me!” 

“ – Detective Friday, sir, you’ve got to believe me, I tried to clean it up, burn the pants, paint the shirt, but it was too late.  Too late.  Oh my god what have I done!”

Or maybe in mowing the lawn: the lawn mower engine sputters to a stop, but I keep pushing the mover onward across my yard, then the neighbor’s yard, the one who never talks to me, and then, that crazy woman’s yard down the street, and then…. 

“Dr. Kildare, Dr. Casey, he’s mowing incessantly. He won’t stop even though our neighbors’ yards don’t need mowing.  Please doctors, you’ve got to get him to stop.”

“I’m afraid, Mam,” they would say after a moment or two of consultation.  “He’s caught a dreaded disease and may die of it.”

Maybe it should be an expose’ movie.  Behind the scenes.  Focusing on me, of course, but then expanding outward.  “America’s hidden plague,” I would call it, answering the big question: Like me, how many suffer from this debilitating state  and don’t even realize it?  

Perhaps, though, I needed a less-sensational and more action-packed title, something like:

“When boring people do extraordinary things.”

But I can’t decide on what I would do to be extraordinary.  

Go to Costco?  

Maybe, a title like:

“The time my friends and me went to Walmart, A Documentary.”  

The camera could follow us up-and-down the aisles as we buy things.

Maybe, the thought occurred to me as I put away the mower, maybe, I could arrange to film a series of “selfie” sessions.  As I go through my life, with the camera turned on me and filming it all, I could stop at various spots throughout my day, like in the grocery store parking lot, and scream.  

Then when my angst fades and the silence becomes deafening, I can film me buy gas with my membership card and go home and mow the yard.

I could go on and on, I guess, but the point is, I wouldn’t have to write anything.  No monthly meditations.  No verbose verbage.  Just daily doses of ‘cinema verite.’  

Still, my three-minute documentary would need to be a very subtle film.  If you were a cool person, or someone on the Academy Awards nominations committee, or say, my friends watching to see if I died and had yet to find out, by necessity, you would have to pick up on the nuances to really enjoy it.  Otherwise, unless you liked endless scenes with sputtering lawn movers, it could get pretty…. oh never mind.




Categories: Essays

2 replies

  1. This Walter Mitty type guy is someone I, as well as others, I’m sure, would really pull for and like. I do like him. I’m was a little unsure about the transition in which he is interviewing his friends about being boring and then starts talking about dying — the subject he wanted to avoid. I thought that needed a little more explanation. He’s talking to them about being boring and they see that he has already died — a minor issue that he does not see? Anyway, the character is funny and very human and struggling to come to terms with life and its, dare I say, meaning? I want to read more about him. (PS I always wanted to be an editor or reviewer)

    • Hi Julia, Good comments. No problem at all with providing your insight. I’ll take a look and, perhaps, discuss with my friends. The question remains: if I question them on when they thought I became boring, would they respond by asking when I rose from the dead? Some friends!

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