More Practical than Heartache

Elliot Still (1)

When a relationship ends you usually hear about the heartache, the emotional roller coaster, the pain in your stomach that feels like little monsters chomping up your organs. Almost no one talks about the odd, practical things they may have learned from the experience before it went awry.

Spending romantic time with another human teaches us all some empirical lessons that go far beyond increased emotional intelligence or how we behave in a fight. For example, how to do a proper push up, or change a tire when you don’t have a lug wrench, or test the temperature of oil to see if it’s ready to fry up a catfish…

Screen shot 2015-04-26 at 6.01.45 PM

Break ups can make us feel like we’ve wasted our time but we really haven’t – there all those little tips and tricks we learned that will enhance our daily lives. OK, maybe we did waste a few weeks, months or even years of our lives cherishing someone only to have them squish our hearts, but at least we know how to tap the edge of a stuck, twist-off jar lid with the back of a knife to break the seal. Lessons From Exes is interested in all these heuristic lessons.

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Lyn Elliot’s previous work often examines the familiar – the scenes we see with such regularity that we start to not to notice them any more. She encourages us to look again, to consider the extraordinariness of our relationship with spare buttons, for example. Elliot’s films give us an intimate look at the wonder in everyday moments.

In her Rocket Grants project Lessons From Exes, Elliot redirects attention to the  practicality hidden in even the most disastrous relationship – the useful things that can fade into the background while heartache is stealing the spotlight. Love can start wars or create life, but it can also teach a woman with phagophobia to swallow a pill. These sensible lessons deserve attention.

Elliot first conducted interviews through KC woman’s clubs, charity groups, book clubs, knitting clubs etc. – places where women gather and communicate. These interactions then led to further interviews in both Kansas City and Lawrence to  record raw material for this project.

Screen shot 2015-04-26 at 7.48.08 PMTwenty conversations are currently being edited down to ninety-second clips. Elliot has asked four other filmmakers – Misty Boland, Caitlin Horsmon, Meg Jamieson, and Mary C. Taylor – to each select an interview and create a short film that correlates with that interview. Each filmmaker has a very different aesthetic, which will ensure that the five short films (Elliot will be making one as well) will each have a unique perspective.

Elliot will then create transitions between each short film and arrange the sound. In an interesting extension of the gendered perspective behind the stories of practical relationship lessons learned, Lessons from Exes will also be filmed and produced entirely by women.


The film will be finished later this year and will be shown in private/public spaces, such as restaurant bathrooms. It will also show in more conventional venues in both Kansas City and Lawrence. The screening may be a perfect date night. Lessons from Exes will serve as a reminder that even if things don’t work out with the relationship there’s bound to be some useful, secret lesson that lingers long after the magic fades.  

Images are stills from Elliot’s previous work.

— Meredith Derks

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