It’s Not About You

On Sunday night, I was at a car towing lot near Inman Square when I found out Moonlight won best picture. It was actually Monday morning at that point. The texts started flooding in:


First Hillary. Then the Falcons. Then La La Land. Unbelievable.

What the HELL just happened?!!


I sat in the towing lot’s waiting room – just me, a bed for people to crash in if they didn’t have a place to crash (that was as sad as it was infested with bed bugs), a TV playing shitty Clint Eastwood movies, and a bathroom that smelled like Casey Affleck’s personality. I sat and was bombarded with Moonlight texts.

The battery in my car keys had died. The guy who had towed my car said he could pry the driver’s seat door open – only after he towed a few more cars. I sat there for an hour, distracting myself with videos of the Beatty-Dunaway Fiasco and of Jimmy Kimmel’s awesome monologue (great year in movies: black people saved NASA; white people saved jazz).

At 1:00am, I was on the road again. (Lesson learned: don’t park within 10 feet of a fire hydrant in Cambridge.)


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 Awards are weird. The Oscars are weird. And subjective. And loud. And ultimately not why artists make stuff. And yet, I really cared about one award: I wanted Mahershala Ali to win best supporting actor. He only had 40 minutes of screen time in a two-hour movie, but it was maybe the most compassionate, complex, protective 40-minutes I’d ever seen: a cheery drug dealer who takes care of the neglected son of a drug addict mom; a surrogate dad to a bullied, fatherless kid; an actor who supports others physically and emotionally.


If nothing else, I knew Ali would provide another amazing acceptance speech.

He won and did, indeed, provide another amazing acceptance speech:

I want to thank my teachers. I had so many wonderful teachers. And one thing that they consistently told me was: It’s not about you. It’s about these characters. You’re a servant. You’re in service to these stories and these characters.

Taking the work super seriously and ourselves not super seriously—that’s everything. He isn’t feigning humility. It’s an understanding that our large sense of self doesn’t coexist with making art. It’s an understanding that creativity ultimately comes from letting go of ego. It’s super simple, and it’s the work of a lifetime.

(In college, I made a video while I was starting to explore this idea: I don’t know any artist who doesn’t grapple with this.)

Anyway, after Ali won, I hoped Moonlight would win best picture—but in the same way that I hope Ben and Jerry’s will suddenly appear in front of me. I never thought it’d actually win. No one wins best picture with a story that personal, a budget that small, and a cast that unknown.

At around 11:30 Sunday night, right after Kenneth Longeran won best original screenplay, I left my friend’s Oscars’ viewing party. I was 80% tired, 20% La La Land-ed out, and 100% sure my car had been towed.

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At 1:00 in the morning, the man who had towed my car –a 60something with sad eyes and a faint smell of alcohol—pried the door open to unlock it. I thanked him. He kept reminding me that he wasn’t the bad guy – the cops who ticketed me and called the towing company were the bad guys. Then he asked if I’d watched the Oscars that night.

Did Casey win? My nephew grew up with him and Ben. Big movie stars now. Can’t believe how famous they got. Them and Matt.”

I told him that Casey Affleck had, in fact, won.

“It’s funny. He grew up right around the corner from where we towed you.” 

I got in the car and thanked him again.

“You know, you didn’t do nothing wrong. Don’t take it personal.  Those cops are assholes. It’s not about you.”


Creativity and ego cannot go together. If you free yourself from the comparing and jealous mind, your creativity opens up endlessly. Just as water springs from a fountain, creativity springs from every moment. You must not be your own obstacle. You must not be owned by the environment you are in. You must own the environment, the phenomenal world around you. You must be able to freely move in and out of your mind. This is being free. There is no way you can’t open up your creativity. There is no ego to speak of. That is my belief.
— Jeong Kwan


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