Shifting Reality - Handling Delusion as a Creative Person / by Stephen Szmed

I wrote and shot this piece for PROOF THE ZINE VOL. 3 which was just published in December. This was my first time shooting and writing for a publication, a new but enjoyable challenge. I had the opportunity to shoot and sit down with some really talented young artists and talk with them about creativity, and their approach in overcoming the internal hurdles that keep them from achieving their dreams.

We park at a dollar store in Mattapan, an immigrant-majority neighborhood south of Boston, and make our way to a footbridge crossing a river and into fenced off woods. We had hectic schedules the past few weeks but managed to coordinate a rainy evening to venture out for a photo shoot concept I wanted to explore. I was grateful they trusted my pitch and followed me into an abandoned building.

I led the three young black men past fences and walls of graffiti to the location, a dilapidated train station I found earlier in the summer. Evan McDonald, Jeru Berry, and Andrew Lawrence, individually writers, actors, musicians, or comedians, but collectively filmmakers. Just being around the three, you could sense a natural rhythm of conversation they had in riffing each other then calling back. Even in just their stances when posing, their flow for staging is second nature and don’t need a lot of direction from me when I frame up a shot. The creative dynamic when they’re together is unmistakable.

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The three collaborators met at Emerson College in Boston, sharing similar backgrounds, it didn’t take long for them to make a connection. Initially bonding over their love of music, then strengthening the bond with shared passion projects, the recent graduates meditate on their next potential headwaves.

“When we come together, it’s like Voltron.” McDonald of Plainfield NJ tells me to describe the creative force they become. In reference to their writing sessions, “We call ourselves the Black Hole Gang, because when we get into it, and start bouncing ideas off each other, you just get sucked into it, and it’s endless.”

After their college education and bringing some smaller scale projects to life, they organically dreamed up countless bigger passion projects. Admirably so their dedication to their goals hasn’t wavered. I wanted to understand how they maintain their optimism when pursuing their dream endeavors.

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McDonald explains, “It’s just starting, there’s no Step 1,2,3, it’s a lot of very tiny steps that you feel are the right direction, in turn it becomes a process and it’s easier to continue, to think of it like a parachute, when you dive right into it and maybe your parachute fails, that’s where your collaborators are their to help you and pull their parachute to keep you from hitting the ground.”

I began to understand the importance of their collective and the critical companionship they brought to one another. The three had grown up in different cities but with extremely similar upbringings. As lifelong creatives, they each felt a responsibility to not only themselves but their families and communities to overcome the boundaries within themselves as black men that were keeping them from being career creatives.

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Lawrence of Brockton, MA, relegates delusion to the fear of being left behind and succumbing to that fear by abandoning one’s creativity. “I would say it’s not easy to be delusionally optimistic,” Lawrence notes his faith, and the measures he took to finish his thesis film when he was on the brink of failing his last semester of college, yet still remaining steadfast in what he was seeking to achieve.  “Sometimes you have to reel in the madness and turn it into positivity when plans change.” Against all the countless and impossible variables in filmmaking, thinking fast, and staying optimistic kept Lawrence on his feet. “Don’t focus on reality, reality will shift, that’s the delusion.”

Moved by the challenges the three had faced while they were in school, I began to understand the boundaries they had to overcome as black men. These reservations instilled within themselves because of their race and background was something I had never considered. If things were different, I wouldn’t even be writing an article about this, and race wouldn’t be a limiter . It’s difficult enough to follow your dreams and the hurdle of race shouldn’t even be an obstacle in achieving one’s dreams. On another hand to witness the comradery these three have reached, and how that translates to themselves as individual artists, is hopeful and inspiring. As Berry of Dorchester, MA puts it, “Facing egos makes it hard to uplift yourself, relationships help drive and reassure you that you are entitled for work. You need to keep a mindstate of progress. Regression is not a decision.”

After meaningful conversations with them as a group and as individuals, delusion was realized as part of being an imperfect human, but capable of pushing us forward. To remedy the toxicity of egos, divisions in culture, and fear of being left behind, we need to actively surround ourselves in diversity, and foster meaningful companionships. The group feels power in their unity, but bequests input in ways where it’s not patronizing, and to have conversations before creating.

McDonald and Berry plan to move to Los Angeles to pursue comedy, while Lawrence plans to stay in Boston and continue writing music for the time being. I trust their sharp and wildly creative minds will take them far in confronting the landscape of arts and entertainment on their respective coasts.

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