Somewhere in Poland
This morning while waiting for the train that would take me from Slovakia to Warsaw, Poland I toyed with my iPhone touchscreen before deciding to quickly check a few emails. I clicked on a message from the Portland Film Festival and read the following:
Dear Nicholas Maccarone,
Of all the emails we send each year, this one is the most difficult to write. With fewer available slots and an increased number of total submissions, we regret to inform you that Communication will not be included in the 2016 Portland Film Festival.
This could get ugly, I thought. I’d submitted my short to over 30 festivals around the country, some across the globe, and was gradually becoming more and more dispirited by the film’s prospects of being screened. I’d been an actor long enough to know my team and I had created a unique and strong narrative worth the price of admission.
As the number of commuters began to steadily grow on the station platform, my mind also wandered to the number of literary agents who’d declined to represent a book I’d spent over a year writing entitled, To the Prospective Artist: Lessons from an Unknown Actor. I had managed to grab the attention of one agent, but unfortunately our paths crossed just as life was putting her through the ringer as she wrestled with the fading health and eventual loss of her mother. My heart really went out to her.
With my two passion projects sidelined, at least for now, I considered how challenging it is to get your voice heard in this world.
Yet, each time I feel a spell of discouragement, it seems to fade quickly, almost inexplicably. Perhaps it is my nature, or my subconscious mind finally taking heed of the countless years of rigid self-development in which I developed a strong sense of resiliency. Or maybe it’s the people I’ve met and observed during my travels across the Middle East and Eastern Europe that have inspired me with their grit and commitment to simply carrying on.
Last night was my final night in Bratislava and to mark the occasion I decided to forego the little sidewalk cafes and supermarkets I’d often go to for lunch or dinner. Instead, I went to Zichy Restaurant, which was once the property of the former Zichy Palace situated on the corner of Venturska and Prepost Street. The building was constructed between 1770 and 1780 where three medieval townhouses once stood.
I took a table inside and sat with my back to the window. The place was completely empty, which is never a good sign when deciding where to eat. Still, I decided to stay and was greeted by a kind and outgoing waiter. I had a pasta dish with chicken, while glancing at the highlighted passages of a book I’d picked up a few hours before. When the bill arrived I made small talk with the waiter who I got the sense was older than he looked.
“Slow tonight,” I said. “Yes. You know, Monday, Tuesday, is sometimes quiet difficult, but Friday and Saturday is busy.” I was silently relieved to hear people other than me did in fact eat here from time to time. But what struck me about this man was his even-keel demeanor, one that I’d grown accustomed to in much of my travels. He didn’t seem worked up, or discouraged by the slow business but instead took it in stride, while maintaining a friendly disposition. How often had this happened in the last two months? I wondered.
He asked me questions about New York, Brooklyn specifically, as we talked about its diversity and how he’d like to visit. Before paying the bill, I mentioned to him I’d grown up in California, which seemed to pique his interest even more. “If you go to Los Angeles, say hi to Charlie Sheen for me,” he said. It was perhaps the most bizarre but earnest request I’d ever heard. “Uh, sure thing,” I said.
Now as I look back on my journey, particularly in Eastern Europe, I feel energized by a resolve I’ve noticed in the people here. In many ways our worlds could not be more different, but as all people are, we are linked by the human condition. And wherever the human condition resides it is faced with daily life in its most glorious light as well as great hardship. And undoubtedly, many of the people in these parts have dealt with war, poverty, and a degree of adversity I could only write up in a screenplay. Yet, they maintain a stride, a grit, and a backbone I find uplifting.
I can’t help but be grateful I read that email this morning in Slovakia of all places. When I think about the setbacks to my creative endeavors, the films, books, and words I so desperately want to share with the world, it’s often a challenge to not take such failures personally. I suppose it is part of having the temperament of an artist – part blessing, part curse. You almost feel things too much, making the world a louder and sometimes more delicate place.
But it also lends itself to a heightened awareness about the world, an understanding that it ain’t all about you. And thankfully, I was reminded of that this morning when I received the news. I didn’t have to go searching for perspective on the bigger picture. It was already all around me.
Ola, a 20-something waitress and student from Warsaw, Poland, shared this bit of advice with me: "This is something that my father used to say because of Poland's history. We should remember the past, we should respect the past, and should remember that everything that happened in the past also happens now. We should study the past, study the history, because it will help us to be better today."