I knew Stephen Gyllenhaal very well. Once upon a time, I think I knew him better than anyone else in the world besides his first wife. We used to be friends—genuine friends, I once briefly, foolishly believed several years ago—but, as was brought up last week in one of the trades, this is, after all, Hollywood. (“Why Nobody in Hollywood Has Any Friends“, The Hollywood Reporter). Stephen directed a handful of studio pictures in his career, the best coming from the late 80s-early 90s: A Dangerous Woman (1988), Losing Isaiah (1995), and the very lovely Waterland (1992) with Jeremy Irons, Sinead Cusack and a teenaged Lena Headey. In fact it might be successfully argued that Steve’s best years, his single grab at “greatness” if you will, was back there, 24 years ago, in that span of time when he did his last meaningful artistic work—work that could only have been accomplished with a team of literally hundreds of people surrounding and assisting him.
So imagine my bewilderment when I stumbled on Steve’s latest blog (he created a “political” one 10 years ago, abandoned it, then started this one only a few months ago):
The Art of Achieving Greatness
RULE #1: STAY AWAY FROM EVERYONE WHO IS CONTENT
I respect the farmers in China who are content with so little, but I could never be like them. With my Western ways, I am obsessed with achieving greatness. I believe it is much better to sacrifice your life to the world by giving it something great only you can give it than to live out a menial existence of being content with little.
So here we begin with the first rule of achieving greatness. At all costs you must avoid the people, including your own family and friends, who do the following:
- They tell you it’s pointless to become great.
- They tell you to stop following your dream because you should spend more time with them.
- They tell you you could never become great.
- They tell you there are more important things in life than becoming great.
- They say they themselves could never become great.
- They believe they and the people around them will always stay mediocre.
- They are content with doing nothing great for humankind with their lives.
The people that do these things, if they are frequently in your life, will not only slow you down but may also stop you from becoming great. Listening to these kinds of people and accepting their foolish advice is very, very dangerous. You must ignore them at all costs, no matter how hard it is. This is the first sacrifice you must make in achieving greatness.
Here is a story to capture the meaning of this first rule in a nutshell:
Although my disclaimer will tell you I have yet to become great, I still have much experience in pursuing greatness. In my quest to become great I have made many sacrifices falling in line with this first rule.
My example for you is my relationship with my roommates. I am a university student and having roommates means I have extra money to live comfortably while also paying hefty tuition fees every four months. This is a temporary sacrifice because comfort is important for the work I do. But at any rate, my roommates do many of the seven things listed above. They are content with little, and listening to the idle conversations they have almost makes me sick. They waste time drinking and chatting about trivial matters and never come to any new ideas or conclusions about things. They even sometimes repeat the same conversations they already had, as if all they want out of life is to know that they are normal.
I can’t spend time with these people for more than an hour. On the weekend I’ll sometimes partake in their idleness, but all the while I’m realizing how much time and thought-power I’m wasting talking about stupid things I really don’t care about like the weather. To some of you who have yet to learn many of the other rules for the Art of Becoming Great, these statements of mine might seem cruel. But the truth is these statements and the actions I am taking are necessary for achieving greatness. I will not risk my chances of becoming great by wasting several hours every day chatting about how good my roommate’s day at work was, especially when they work in a coffee shop. And I will never apologize for saying this!
I transcribed this verbatim from his blog as you can see, because there is no way for me to convey to you my astonishment and concern except that you, Sensible Reader, read it yourself and become as astonished and concerned as I now am.
There are a lot of points to cover, but right now I’ll settle on just a couple.
One: Why the deception about his identity? Steve’s no “comfortable university student with roommates” as he claims, he’s a 70 year-old TV/film director whose best work was, as I pointed out, 24 years ago, and whose last feature film in 2012, an indie financed by Michael Huffington, was such an offensive, irrational and inept disaster half the audience walked out of the exclusive LA screening.
Two: What does Stephen think “greatness” is? I’ve read his entire blog, every posting, and I still have no idea what he means. Moreover, pronouncements like,
- “No person becomes great by going about doing great things. They go about doing great things by first becoming great!”; and
- “To become great, people sacrifice fun, sacrifice family, sacrifice everything but the pursuit of greatness, and in the end it’s worth it!”
aren’t meant to be humorous or satirical. I know Steve and he’s not being satirical, he means it.
Which brings me back to my initial feelings of astonishment and dismay. Not for Stephen’s sake, as I think we can pretty much exclude Stephen from the arena of Rational Public Discourse. No, I’m thinking of that alienated shlub out there who might one day stumble onto Steve’s blog and take his words to heart. There are a lot of alienated shlubs out there. And too, too many of them already confuse their alienation with “greatness”. And too, too many of them have guns. Do I have to remind you all of a real “comfortable university student” with real roommates and a real arsenal, mass murderer Elliot Rodger?
There was never a right time for Steve to write what he’s writing. Only now, he might be putting bullets in someone’s automatic.
Part Two to come.