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I just submitted the first paper of my UCLA academic career. You’d think, after twelve years of regular school, and two years of graduate school, and five years of teaching, plus five books, that writing a three page paper about the first two Godfather movies would be a walk in the park. It wasn’t. Xanax was involved.

Just the act of writing my name in the header, in the same formatting style as I have been teaching my students to do for the last five years, was a surreal experience. It’s amazing how quickly we fall into new habits and how quickly we forget previous ones.

Writing a book on The Godfather might have been less daunting than figuring what to say concisely and clearly in three pages. To make matters worse, I’m in a class with screenwriting graduate students and directing graduate students and producing graduate students, people who have been trained in the art of film analysis. Between you and me, I’ve just made it up as I’ve gone along. I’ve taken some film classes, for sure, but not many, and most weren’t terribly helpful. I’ve learned most of what I know by reading books and seeing how other people do it.

All of which merely intensified the panic of being judged for my first film analysis at UCLA.

I told Howard Suber, the professor, that this paper filled me with terror. “Fear is your friend,” he wrote back, and I had to laugh. Because he was right.

Complacency is the mindkiller. Fear is what keeps you alive. Fear is what challenges you—as it terrifies you—and forces you to step outside your comfort zone. If it scares you, it’s probably worth doing.

That said, I’m really glad the paper is finished. I hope the next one won’t require any Xanax.