Writer-director Julio Vincent Gambuto’s new book, Please Unsubscribe, Thanks!, is published by Simon & Schuster on August 8, 2023. His 2019 debut feature, Team Marco, is out now on digital. The son of a bus-driver-slash-bread-baker, “Julie” grew up in a large Italian family on Staten Island, where aunts, uncles, and cousins gathered often around Mom’s seafoam-green formica kitchen table for “cake and coffee” — always an Entenmann’s crumb cake — to tell stories, argue about the Mets, and play cards with the neighbors. He graduated Harvard with a BA in English and American Literature and Language, with honors, and completed his training as a film director at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, where he was honored as an Annenberg Fellow. In 2020, Julio continues his writing and directing work. In 2017, Julio founded Boro Five, an independent film and television content production company. He serves as Executive Producer of the company’s slate. Julio has written and produced film and television content for Nickelodeon, PBS, E! Entertainment, and James Franco’s Rabbit Bandini. Julio lives in New York City.
The following is taken from Please Unsubscribe, Thanks!, the forthcoming book by filmmaker Julio Vincent Gambuto in which he shares a roadmap for taking back our time, focus, money, and power from modern corporate interests and the digital attention economy. Please Unsubscribe, Thanks! is out now through Avid Reader Press at Simon & Schuster and is available is to buy here. The excerpt below is reprinted here by permission of the author; all rights are reserved.
Unsubscribing brings greater challenges step by step, harder conversations, and trickier interpersonal and personal dilemmas for us to sort through and sort out. And, when it’s all said and done, we land in one very tough spot. I call it the dark well. Welcome.
The dark well is as dark as a cave and as vacant as a church parking lot on Monday morning. It is as hollow as a vase and as barren as a desert. It is tall and short. It is new and old. In it, you are starving and sated. Lost and found. It is a strange space. Like, really strange. It will feel like you are living someone else’s life. It will feel like you are without aim or goal or purpose or motive. It will feel like you are going through withdrawal. (Yes, the addiction metaphor is apt.) It will be lonely. Your inbox will feel bare, your phone will be quiet, your mailbox will be empty, and the group at your dinner table may be smaller. It will create moments of panic, of fear. You may not know what to do every morning the moment you wake up. You may feel isolated or out of touch with the world you once took an active role in. Life may actually feel empty, because it kind of will be (unless, of course, you have kids or other people in your home). Ironically, the closest thing that you might be able to relate it to are the opening weeks of the pandemic. Yes, it all comes back to that.
There is, however, an important reason to sit in this quiet place.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is an incredible 2022 film, nominated for eleven Oscars, winner of seven, including Best Picture. Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, starring Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu and Jamie Lee Curtis, the movie centers on Joy Wang, the owner of a laundromat, who channels her newfound supernatural powers as she travels the multiverse of her life. (The theory of the multiverse, for those who may not know, is that outside of our observable existence, there are many, many more. Think: alternate universe or parallel lives.) Along the way, she rediscovers her relationships to her daughter, her husband and herself. Story aside, the movie is powerful because it literally uses (and creates) chaos on screen as a visual metaphor for the chaos the protagonist feels inside her heart and brain. For an audience in a movie theater, it is almost dizzying. But when it stops, when the chaos of the action ceases, Joy (that’s her name on purpose, I imagine) is resensitized to her life, understanding the beauty in a life of “laundry and taxes.” In turn, the film itself resensitizes the audience to human emotion.
That is what the act of unsubscribing — and then sitting in the dark well — is for. No matter how many lists you make, how many recipes you cook or books you read or days you spend walking outside in the beautiful light of day, the very best way to spend your time in the dark well is simply to resensitize yourself to your own life. Our lives have been swept up in a digital tornado for the past two decades. It is constant chaos. It is relentless. It is loud and needy. It is poking and prodding. It is invasive and intrusive and unapologetic. It is designed that way so that, no, you never get a break. You must take that break. Unsubscribe. Breathe. Resensitize yourself to your living space, your body, your money, your loved ones. And give deep thought to what it is that you truly believe.
Why should you do any of this? Because we need you. We need your talents, your brain, your heart, your love. We need your collaboration and ideas and partnership. And if you and I never shake hands, there are people around you who need you: your partner, lover, wife, whatever you call your significant one (or ones), your kids, your family, your neighbors, your friends, your town. Sure, if what you came to in the dark well is that you would rather tell us all to go fuck off, well, that is your call. But I don’t believe that any of us is wired for solitude, even the introverts among us. We are all on this train together. No one is meant to live outside the tribe, even if the modern world has made that a very viable and seamless option. We are wired for cooperation. We are wired to share our best. And those around you need the very best of you.
How do I know the dark well so well? Well, I had some practice earlier in my life. The dark well is not a new place, created by a pandemic-stricken world. It’s where you end up whenever you make the choice to unsubscribe and make great changes. As I mentioned in our chapter about sticky stories, I went through a period in my life that required major unsubscribing, when I was 19 years old and decided to come out of the closet. I do realize that, at this point in the world and in media, and in this very book, a coming-out story does not break much ground. But I want to tell you about it, because it might demonstrate that sometimes you don’t need an earth-shattering, generation-defining, worldwide catastrophe to make you realize that things need to change. Sometimes, it’s just you.
First thing you have to know: I was a really gay teen (I have the pictures to prove it), and the last person to realize it. Not only did I perm my hair at 12 so that I could look like Kirk Cameron from Growing Pains, but I was also madly in love with both a boy at school and the sixth-grade substitute teacher who was teaching us pre-algebra. Middle school and high school were a constant emotional struggle as I pretended to be even remotely interested in Playboy, forced myself to learn how to spit (a strange 1990s affectation that signaled to everyone around you that you were “macho,” like the WWF star Randy “Macho Man” Savage), and awkwardly added the word “man” to every sentence out of my mouth — Man, I hate school. Man, I need to get a job. Man, I am such a man (twice, just to really hammer it home).
Six years later, a male college classmate kissed me, angels sang, and the world was never the same. As I came out, I had to wrestle with very intimate and deep-seated ideas, beliefs and notions about identity, sexuality, love, attraction, desire and God — Gay people are weird. Gay people are sick. There is something wrong with gay people — and push through anxieties like My friends won’t want to hang out with me. I will never have friends. I will never get married. I won’t ever have children. Even worse, I am not worthy of love. I don’t deserve a relationship. Gay people can’t have healthy relationships. I am going to die of AIDS. Yes, this is what the ’80s did to all of us.
Without doing it consciously — or writing a book about it — I had to unsubscribe from all of it. Hustler and Penthouse, magazines with big-busted centerfolds (I just did not understand everyone’s obsession with Cindy Crawford) and outings with the guys to the women’s college to pick up girls? No more. Friendships with colleagues who thought I should be quiet about my sexuality? No more. All of the rituals, customs and traditions that 19-year-olds engage in constantly to impress girls and court wives and sex partners? Done. Deeper, the old-school Catholic, Italian and Italian-American ideas, beliefs and notions that you are going to hell if you lay with another man? Goodbye. Pretending that I gave a single fuck about the World Series? Absolutely never again.
Once I came out to my family, I lived in the dark well for months. It was painful. I lost friends. I lost the support of some family members. I was lonely and scared. But I had to sit in that dark well until I could find new and empowering sources of love, validation and friendship, and until I could explore enough to subscribe to new ideas, notions and beliefs about who I was in the world. Because I had declared my being queer publicly, I had burned the boats. There was no going back. (This is why I will forever advocate that, yes, as long as we live in a society that praises conformity and strict gender roles, there is a reason to publicly “come out.” To say that you are different and that you unsubscribe from a whole set of beliefs and practices is powerful.)
While there was joy in my liberation, it was the most frightening experience of my life. It would be years before I would feel safe again, but when I did, it was a whole new life. I went from living a life that was inauthentic and on autopilot to one that is genuine and conscious and alive. That shift could not have occurred in earnest without a void — a sacred space — in between who I was and who I am. More than two decades later, the pandemic forced me into the dark well again. This time, I took it as the greatest opportunity I knew I would ever get to change just about everything in my life.