The Third Something

098 / March 26th, 2013

I realised there was something that I really wanted to do…and then carried on doing other things — for eight years!

A digital picture of a man walking, by Adam Westbrook

I’ve found myself thinking about this day a lot recently.

It was a beautiful spring morning in Paris, where I was renting a tiny studio. I knew hardly anyone and my days were solitary. I spent a lot of time walking and thinking and, on this particular morning, I had a sudden flash of clarity.

I remember I was strolling around Le Jardin des Plantes, a park near the Seine where the trees are shaved into tidy cubes. It was fresh but sunny; the dry dusty paths sent up plumes as joggers went by.

The flash of clarity was this (as I wrote it in my journal a few hours later): “Deep down I want to make fiction and I think I might be really good at it”.

What I remember clearly is how daring that admission felt. How blasphemous it seemed to allow myself - even briefly - to consider a path other than the one I had set myself upon; a path that felt it belonged to much more interesting people than me. How arrogant to think I might be good at it!

I still remember how thrilling that felt.

I wish I could say I ran home with a fire in my belly and sat down to write the novel that would put both Hemingway and Orwell to shame. But, reader, you know that’s not what happened.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot because it dawned on me recently that this flash of clarity came eight years ago — and I still haven’t allowed myself the chance to indulge in it.

I realised there was something that I really wanted to do…and then carried on doing other things — for eight years!

Now, as it happens, don’t regret this. In those years I have made nonfiction that I am really proud of, from my Long Game films to Parallax, to Operation Infektion.

I’m just stunned, to be honest, that I’m capable of delaying gratification for so long. More than stunned, I’m indignant with myself. “How long are you going to deny yourself the things that make you happy?”

It stems from something that perhaps you recognise in yourself: that protestant-work-ethic turbo-charged with hyper-capitalism that insists that rest is a luxury and art an indulgence.

I was taught very early on in my life to value myself by my productivity, that if I want to do something fun, I have to — for some reason — earn it first.

Over the years, this attitude was borne out in how poorly I fed and dressed myself, how little time I made for holidays; how few hobbies I let myself have (#32).

I can confirm, at the age of 36, this is a miserly existence, lacking in joy and abundance.

So, a course correction. I am taking the whole of April off from paid work, in a recommitment to creative indulgence (as much as is allowed in a pandemic, anyway). I’m starting each morning with no plan or schedule and letting the day unfold as it wishes. So far, a lot of reading, some very long walks and — finally, after eight years — making up some stories.

I do have one work update however: a film I’ve been working on for a while has just been published by the New York Times this weekend.

Maybe you saw Nick Kristof’s incredible piece of reporting exposing how easily porn sites allow women to be victimised. His article shamed Pornhub into finally taking revenge porn seriously.

His follow-up this week takes aim at another site, Xvideos, which frankly is even worse.

One woman bravely agreed to tell us the story of how her life was ruined by this industry. I wanted the film to give her agency and power so, rather than interview her, we asked her to write and read a letter to Xvideos.

I worked alongside illustrator and author Lilli Carré to visualise her words. Lilli is able to conjure up powerful images in the fewest brush strokes, and the animation we created is searing in its simplicity. I’m really proud of it.

Until another Sunday soon,

Adam's signature