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Ray Carney's Mailbag -- This section of the site contains letters written to Prof. Carney by students and artists, announcements of news, events, and screenings, and miscellaneous observations about life and art by Ray Carney. Letters and notices submitted by readers are in black. Prof. Carney's responses, observations, and recommendations are in blue. Note that Prof. Carney receives many more letters and announcements than he can possibly include on the site. The material on these pages has been selected as being that which will be the most interesting, inspiring, useful, or informative to site readers. Click on the first page (via the links at the top or bottom of the page) to read an explanation of this material, why it is being posted, and how this relatively small selection was made from among the tens of thousands of messages Prof. Carney has received.

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A note from Ray Carney: The following letter is different from the usual ones I get, but it contains so much truth, so much of importance, that I couldn't resist posting it. Anyone who thinks this has nothing to do with film or art understands neither.

Subject: How People Fool Themselves

Prof. Carney:

Hey, what's up? So, out of curiosity, what *does* a professor do during the summer?

I wrote to you a few years ago after reading Cassavetes on Cassavetes, bloviating about how amazing the experience of reading the book was, etc., etc. just like everyone else who writes to you. I was browsing your letters section + was surprised to see that you quoted my old, now defunct, blog ( re: the Rowlands situation. Very flattering to see my ravings on your site. How did you find that old blog, anyway?

I was in your neck of the woods about 9 days ago. Northampton, actually, which I know is an hour or so away from Boston, but I'm from L.A. so an hour or two of driving is nothing to me. I moved to Northampton on July 11th from Portland, OR, but very unexpectedly-- and very, very suddenly-- had to move back to L.A. It's a really, really long and bizarre story. I was living and working in Portland for 6 months at a small mail-order company. We distributed small press books, DIY zines, buttons, t-shirts, etc. all with a decidedly progressive bent.

In early June I met a girl who was visiting Portland from Northampton. She had just graduated from Hampshire and was visiting some people who live in Portland (it seems that people who go to Hampshire end up either in NYC or Portland). So I met this girl, I'll call her J, and we fell scarily in love. Just unbelievably intense, crazy, I'll-kill-myself-for-you in love. She had plans to spend time with some people in Portland but totally ditched them to spend time with me, someone she had just met. And I lied and told my boss I got really sick and needed to take some days off. Maybe it wasn't the smartest move but we had sex within hours of meeting and everything was just insanely intense between us. We were in her hotel room and I was holding her and she started crying and I asked her what was wrong and she told me that she had never felt this way before, that this was too overwhelming for her and that she was really scared. I told her I was scared too.

Our few days together in Portland are a complete blur and I had trouble remembering what she looked like. We exchanged contact information and talked every day on the phone for hours. While we were together in Portland I told her that I had been thinking of moving and she asked me if I'd ever been to the east coast. I told her no and she suggested I come stay with her. I didn't think anything of it but she brought it up again during one of our marathon phone sessions. I asked her if she was serious and she said yes and she asked me if I would really do it. I told her I'd do anything for her, so I did. I bought a one-way ticket, told my roommates I was leaving, gave notice at work, crammed most of my belongings into 8 boxes and shipped them to my parents' storage space in California (I like to travel as lightly as possible).

I left Portland on July 11th at 6:30 pm. I flew to SLC, and then on to Newark, NJ, finally arriving in Hartford, CT at 9:35 the next morning. When I stepped off the plane in Newark my thoughts were: Oh my god, what the fuck have I just done? I mean, I had literally just given up everything to move across the country for a girl I had known for about a month, and most of that was through the phone. Yes, I have a *major* problem with impulsivity, particularly when it comes to love. But she asked me to come live with her and I loved her and would do anything for her, so there I was. Our first day back together was magic. We went to the store and J was very excited and domestic and she wanted to buy all kinds of things for us. Plates, throw rugs, sheets, etc. She had gotten modeling opportunities in Montreal, Costa Rica, NYC, and L.A., so she was very, very excited about all of the possible places we could live. And I'm just a lowly artist, so I can create anywhere; it all just seemed so amazing and perfect. I had never seen her so excited and happy. J is usually a very cynical, scathingly sarcastic person. She is very, very blunt and says what she feels and thinks and doesn't care if it alienates people, which I absolutely love about her. That was one of the first things that attracted me to her. I love strong, "bitchy" women. But our first day back together brought out a sweetness and warmth in her I had never seen before. It sounds cliché, but there was something almost childlike about her. She just kept talking and talking about everything, everything made her happy and excited and we walked around Northampton for hours that night, musing about everything. It made me think that this totally crazy thing I had just done, of moving across country for someone I had known for about a month, was the only thing in the world that made sense. We got home that night and had sex for two-and-a-half hours. Everything was just so amazing and inexplicable.

Then the next day J had a nervous breakdown.

She would cry for hours and I would have to hold her to keep her from shaking so violently. There were just so many things. The enormity of what we just jumped into really hit her. Not to mention a legion of other problems she has that have nothing to do with me. The next few days were the most painful and exhaustive days of my life. J would vacillate between wanting me to stay and live with her and wanting me to move out so she could be alone. I didn't know what to say or do. She would apologize over and over again for "ruining (my) life." I would assure her every time that she hadn't. She would burst into tears and tell me that she had, that she had asked me to come there and that it was all her fault. I told her I was a big boy and I made my own decisions and would have to live with whatever happened. She would just sob about how horrible she was for doing this and that I should hate her or be mad at her. I would get mad, but only for a little while. I'd leave the apartment and walk around Northampton for a few hours until I felt somewhat better. She would drive around looking for me, but she never found me. She worked at a children's center and called in sick for most of the week. It's not exactly a job where she could just not show up without significant notice, and she loves working with children, but she was just completely breaking down. One moment she would cry and tell me she couldn't do this right now, the next she would cry and tell me she was sorry and that she really wanted to be with me, the next she would change her mind again, etc. Her behavior was very erratic. I've been depressed for most of my life (I was even hospitalized last October) and it was torture having to see her go through this. I knew, on some level, what she was feeling and it killed me. Thursday and Friday were very crazy, unpredictable days. J would crack over the slightest thing. She constantly accused me of hating her or being mad at her and I would have to painstakingly assure her that I didn't. She almost begged me to hit her or hurt her in some way. I mean, what do you say to something like that? I know she asked me to hurt her so it'd be easier for her just to end things, but I could never hurt her.

She had a massive breakdown on the 16th. We actually had a nice day. We went out for lunch, drove around for a few hours, had amazing sex, etc. Then she totally lost it. This was her biggest breakdown yet. I couldn't begin to tell you why-- it just fucking happened. Think of Mabel the night Nick has her committed, but three times as bad. It was awful, the most painful thing in the world. I was going to call 9-11 or her brother or her roommate-- anyone-- but J wouldn't let me near the phone. I didn't know what to do. She finally called her mother in NY and her mother told her to come home as soon as possible so she could be taken to the hospital. This made J feel three-hundred times worse because she had no idea what to do about me. I mean, I don't know anyone on the east coast and there was nowhere I could go. Every moment it kept changing: I would just stay in her apartment, I would find a room in the area, I would fly back to California, etc. It changed right up until she bought me a plane ticket bound to LAX. We left Northampton that night and stayed in a hotel in Hartford. She took me to BDL the next morning and we said goodbye. I called my parents during my layover in Chicago and shocked the hell out of them by saying that I'd be home in about six hours. No one had any idea I'd be coming back to California, particularly me. What's worse is that my parents are moving and have to be out of their place by August 19th. So I've been sleeping on their couch, totally baffled as to what just happened.

J went home and spent the night in the hospital. She had to leave her job. We agreed it'd be easier if we didn't talk to each other for a while. I'm not sure what's going to happen with us.

I'm not really sure why I'm telling you all of this. I mean, there is so much more to tell, but I've tried to be as succinct as possible. I think I'm telling you this because you're one of the few people who could understand this sort of insanity. I've been a great admirer of your work for a few years, but I've never *really* understood the things you were saying until now. Your words have been kicking my ass this past week. What Cassavetes said about making films "about" experiences and situations he didn't understand-- god, I've never understood that until now. I mean, intellectually, I knew what he was saying, but the comment was more or less an abstraction. I mean, I have no idea what just happened to me. No idea at all. I have no reference for this, and I've done some pretty crazy shit in my life. A week ago I thought I'd be living in the northeast for the foreseeable future and now I'm back in California. Two weeks ago I had a job, my own place, a girlfriend, etc. and now all of that is gone. In a matter of days it all disintegrated. I went from being the center of someone's universe to being thrust into solitude. In the span of hours, really. It fucks with your head a bit. I have no idea what I'm going to do or where I'm going to go or anything. I've never felt the need to write or make a film (I'm primarily a musician), but suddenly the thought of making a film makes sense to me. Really, I hate movies. There are probably 15 (and at least 4 are Cassavetes movies) that I like and the rest I couldn't care less about. Besides, I always thought Cassavetes had more or less come the closest to an approximation of the truth with his films, so I I figured it'd be pointless for me or anyone else to try and improve upon the medium of cinema. (Kind of like how every trumpet player tries to be Miles Davis, but there already *was* a Miles Davis; not only that, but they seemed to have missed the point that Miles never copied anyone else or did the same thing twice.) But now, I don't know. I can't make heads or tails of this experience and the only thing that seems to make sense is to write it out, as clearly as I can remember it, without inflection or affectation, and see what, if anything, happens. I know some poeple here in L.A. who are in "the industry" and perhaps I could "borrow" some equipment to make an eventual film. Like I said, I hate movies so I thought I should just make one as opposed to bitching about them constantly, but I never felt that I had anything worthwhile to say or write about. Sure, I could dive into that whole aimless/navel-gazing twenty-something trip that Zach Braff, Sofia Coppola, et. al. are on, but god, I'd rather kill myself than make drivel like that. I can't relate to those filmmakers or to their characters, anyway. They all seem emotionally stunted, afraid to take any chances (like Braff's zombie-like character in Garden State; or Lost in Translation, which is a love story where the two people in love barely touch each other), and I'm the most impulsive person I know. I'm like a twenty-four-year-old child.

Well, I don't know. I just wanted to write to you and tell you that your words have really been the only things that have made sense to me these past eight days. I won't be dramatic and say that they saved my life or anything, but they have helped me a lot. Life really is bizarre and people are profound mysteries. I mean, I just kind of lost everything, you know? I'm not sure how I feel about anything. I just don't know. I can't even begin to explain how I feel because it's unknown to me. I know I feel something but I don't know what it is. I don't really know anything. I've always wanted to go to the east coast, to NYC and to Boston (and maybe sit in on one of your classes) and when I met J, everything seemed like a real possibility. We just connected in the most visceral, intense way. I had never experienced anything like it before. It was all too good to be true, though. I just don't know what to think.

In uncertainty,

Ray Carney replies:


You sound like an extraordinary person. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me. There is nothing wrong with emotions. It's just our culture that makes us ashamed of them, or feel that the "head" is superior to the "heart."

Leola Harlow, Ray Carney, and the hat from <i>Husbands</i>.  Cindy Conti is on the right. Your writing is very beautiful. Truth always is. Beautiful doesn't mean "pretty" of course. Real beauty (in writing, in film, in painting, in music, in dance, in drama) can be (and usually is) wrenching, confusing, painful, and can even be ugly at times. In other words: it's NOT like a Hollywood movie! It's NOT like a postcard or the photo on a calendar.

I don't know what else to say to you. As it happens, Right now I am not in Boston anyway, so we weren't quite as close as you imagined. I flee north in the summers and scribble, scribble, scribble all day long and listen to Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart in the evenings. (To answer the question you asked about "what professors do with their summers.")

Your letter is so important and illustrates such important truths that I would post it on the site (with your name removed if you preferred) if you let me. But if you don't feel comfortable with that, I understand. But, whatever happens, it really is an important letter. The deep spiritual truths of life come in many forms: movies, short stories, plays, and even occasionally in e-mails--like the one you wrote.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.


Prof. Carney:

Wow. I don't know what to say.

Well, I definitely go with what I feel. I always have. I try really hard not to, but I can't. I try to be a responsible, proper adult but it's impossible for me. I try to tell myself that it's okay to be emotional and impulsive, but really it's just lonely and painful. J said that she has never had a relationship like the one she had with me-- that it was too much for her-- and she's an incredibly sensitive, emotional person herself. I mean, she is stunningly gorgeous, but most people cannot handle her because she is way too intense.

I think this is why I identify with Cassavetes so much. He was insane, but it seemed to work for him. Or maybe it didn't. It's hard to tell since most of the people who knew him swear up and down that he was never moody or depressed, which I find impossible to believe. (Was he acting at all in Mikey + Nicky?)

You're crazy too, aren't you? Do you alienate a lot of people? I don't mean professionally, but in your personal life? Is that too direct a question? I seem to drive everyone insane eventually.

What're you writing these days? You allude to so many secrets on your site and I'm curious about all of them.

Bach is by far my favorite composer, closely followed by Mozart. What other forms music do you like besides classical?

Well, you can definitely post whatever I write to you on your site and use my real name and everything. Honestly, I don't know what to say. In truth, I'm kind of euphoric that you would say those things to me. You've been such an enormous influence on me these past few years. You challenged everything I thought I knew about art + life. So, really, I should be the one thanking you.

It's 4:12 am, so I apologize for any egregious spelling errors or non sequiturs.


Ray Carney replies:

Thanks Peter.

You are right about Cassavetes of course. (And the others are wrong. Or dumb. Or imperceptive. Or lying.) It's one more thing, among so many others, that is wrong with the Kiselyak documentary! It makes him seem too normal, too ordinary, too sane.

In fact, last night when I wrote my reply to you, in support of what you wrote me, I almost quoted a long passage from the Husbands novel Cass. wrote. It is 415 pages, one page after the other surprisingly similar to the pages you wrote me. The novel is really uncanny in its crazy extremity and passionateness. Even greater and more interesting than the film in that respect, in my opinion. It shows where Cassavetes lived--imaginatively and emotionally I mean.

But as far as I can tell GR intends to suppress (or destroy) it. It apparently scares her too much.

As to my being or not being crazy, that's for others to say. : ) But we know Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven were. That's what made them so amazing. All art is necessarily what the world calls "crazy."

Best wishes,

Edited excerpts from a follow-up exchange:

Prof. Carney:

I'm curious to know what you think my email has to say? I mean, you say there are truths in it, but what are they? Tell me. I'm lost. I mean, obviously I had the experience, I shared it with J, but I'm floundering. I'm just confused about what happened and if you think there are truths to be found, tell me. Give me something.


Ray Carney replies:

I only have a minute so I'll have to borrow from William Blake for the first few, John Dewey in the middle, and Dogen Zenji for the rest. No new thoughts here.

1. The tigers of war are wiser than the horses of instruction.

2. Energy is eternal delight.

3. The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.

4. Experiencing is greater than understanding.

5. Mind is a verb.

6. And, above all, truth is not abstract. It is an action. As the parking sign has it: That is not just a good idea. It's the law.

And don't forget the biggest truth of all: After you've heard it, forget it, throw it out! Life is not ideas or words. Forget all these words, and dive into your life.


Prof. Carney,

I see.

"The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom." Didn't Jim Morrison live by this? Would you say you're an empiricist?

I wish you were my therapist. Actually, I started seeing my old therapist again. His response to what happened to me was, verbatim, "Holy shit." There's actually a lot more to what happened than what I told you and I've had to see him three times in the past 8 days just to squeeze all of it in. He went on and on about the "red flags" and asked me why I'm attracted to "unstable" women, etc. He asked me if this was the craziest thing I had done and I said yes, but then he asked if I have a history of doing impulsive things when it comes to women and I said yes and then he asked if I'm going to "learn" from this experience and I paused and told him no. I know I'm not going to change. He didn't have a response to this. I suppose this is what people mean when they say that therapy is hokum?


Ray Carney replies:

Fight normalcy. Fight normality.

Go make the movie you described to me. A movie about your life.

And forget everything else. Plunge into work the same way you plunge into love. They're the same thing when the work is the right work. Work is love and love is work.


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