“Something will emerge” was the phrase my father was most noted for. Armed with it, he produced an opera at the Hollywood Bowl, inspired artists, writers, and filmmakers, and founded the Magnes Museum in Berkeley, CA. And yet, I never seemed to live that way: instead, I planned meticulously, organized fastidiously, strategized strategically, and fretted throughout my career. I did battle with mountains of papers to grade, grant applications, and the never-ending balancing of childcare and career. I didn’t have the confidence or patience to wait for something to emerge. My father died days after signing over the Magnes Museum to the University of California, Berkeley, knowing that he had saved its existence well into the future. It’s safe and thriving. In the last hour, something did emerge.
When it was time to think about my own retirement, I began with my own familiar pattern of over-doing it: I took workshops, interviewed colleagues, and read everything I could on the pros and cons of choices to be made in this stage of life. I wanted my retirement to be planned meticulously, etc etc. The advice that came back seemed to reinforce my own longstanding strategy: have a plan. So I made a plan. It was vague and inchoate, but plan it was: finish all the projects that never got done, the articles that never got written, and the papers that never were submitted for publication. My plan: start with the hardest project first.
In this way, I began Something Will Emerge Productions, vowing to do things differently than I had always done before. This was retirement, after all. And while I’d had a gratifying career at the university, it was time to try things my father’s way and see what happened. The hardest unfinished project was making a film on notions of Creation. An animation. That could be used in classes, I supposed. I wasn’t going to fret it. Wasn’t sure who the audience really would be. And realized my grant-writing ability just wasn’t a skill I wanted to carry into retirement. Instead, I sold my dad’s apartment and swore to use no more money than it generated, no matter how laughable. After all, something would emerge, right?
A dozen years later, Something Will Emerge produced the award-winning 38 minute animated short, The Day before Creation, the book, Malkah’s Notebook: A Journey into the Mystical Aleph-Bet, and additional online sources, including an annotated bibliography called Crumbling Old Books in the Dusty Old Library. As with my father’s career, people appeared out of the nooks and crannies of the universe, ready to engage. How did we find each other? Serendipity. I want to say effortlessly, which is not quite true. I learned in going over my father’s records that despite his something-will-emerge philosophy, he too was a planner, strategizer, and he fretted plenty. And that the real root of his half century of success was not that “something” would emerge—but someone. Many someones who shared in his vision. And they came to him, were inspired, were driven, and they excelled most in collaboration.
The success of my retirement has not been that I started a business and made a fortune—because I didn’t. It’s that I’ve realized one dream after another, and they haven’t exactly mapped onto my plan of finishing all the unfinished projects of my career. No, instead, I started the first one. And it had a life of its own. Its own trajectory. Opening doors that I never thought existed, and encountering people I’d certainly never expected to work with: artists and musicians from across the world, sound designers, editors, and a publisher who gets it, even when I don’t. People emerged with skills, mindsets, intuitions, and gifts expanding my worldview and stretching my brain to learn unfathomable skills. And together, we’ve produced works beyond my own capacity or expectation, with more beauty, artistry, and joy than ever I could have mustered alone. Don’t get me wrong, my own ideas and skills helped plenty. As did the fretting. But collaboration with others means you don’t have to do it alone. And together, you can create beyond your own wildest imagination.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mira Z Amiras is Professor Emerita at San Jose State University. She founded the university’s Middle East Studies Program and directed it for over 20 years. She is past president of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, and was a member of the Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association. She is the writer and producer of the award-winning animated film, The Day before Creation, and author of the recently published Malkah’s Notebook: A Journey into the Mystical Aleph-Bet. She received her PhD at the University of California, Berkeley in 1982.
Photo: Mira Z Amiras Something Will Emerge Productions—collaboration from across the globe, meeting in San Francisco, CA