Lost in Austin

Although I was in Austin to attend the amazing screenwriters’ conference attached to the Austin Film Festival, I did manage to make my way around town with my camera (and cell phone).

Sadly, it was not until the day I left that I discovered the amazing trail around Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake). Next year, I will be back with a vengeance to record the trail and its astounding diversity of flora and fauna.

See also:

Ron Scubadiver‘s Town Lake photos

Pierce Wanderings Town Lake Kayak photos

Living Outside the Box Town Lake photos

Kelly Phillips‘ Town Lake in January photos

You can’t go ROM again

One of my childhood thrills was going to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto, and by childhood, I mean lifelong, never-too-old eternal childhood. Visiting those familiar hallways and displays has always been like wrapping myself in a comfortable blanket of love.

Until yesterday.

I spent 3.5 hours wandering many of those same exhibits with my camera and left somewhat depressed. So much of that familiar charm feels gone or is relegated to a back corner of the hallowed halls.

Back in 2007, as part of the museum’s revitalization and expansion program, the ROM unveiled The Crystal, which the museum describes as:

“Considered to be one of the most challenging construction projects in North America for its engineering complexity and innovative methods, the Lee-Chin Crystal is composed of five interlocking, self-supporting prismatic structures that co-exist but are not attached to the original ROM building, except for the bridges that link them.”

Depending on whom you ask, this structure is either the most beautiful addition to Toronto architecture ever or the biggest monstrosity of ill-conceived architectural hubris.

I tend to fall into the latter category, as the addition feels like something that was slapped onto the old façade rather than something that is an organic extension of the pre-existing structure. And to make matters worse, although there has been some nod to design on the outside of the building, the inside still displays unfinished work that looks like particle board held together with visible screws and grated flooring. Only the lack of builders’ chalk marks signal that this is not a work in progress but rather is the final product.

But back to my depression.

As I ate lunch in the ROM cafeteria, I realized that I hadn’t been through a couple old familiar displays, including the old dinosaur dioramas that I loved as a child. Flipping through the museum guide, I suddenly realized: they were gone. The dinos of the Crystal were all that remained. A significant part of my childhood was gone.


Of the 170+ photos I took yesterday, I will likely only keep a dozen or so…and of that dozen, I may only be happy with 2 or 3.

Apparently, the camera was willing but the spirit was gone.


Additional note: While I am unlikely to wander the ROM’s halls much in the future, I will still visit on occasion when a new exhibit comes to town. The present show—Wildlife Photographer of the Year—is stunning.

Patterns and redirections

Sometimes things just don’t look right when you’re taking a walk, or they can seem to lead your mind one way and then switch-back in another direction.

I had a few of these moments in my recent walk through downtown Toronto.

Sunny Toronto – Part Three – Buildings

I am slowly developing an increasing appreciation for interesting buildings, or at least elements of buildings.

Toronto doesn’t have the most interesting architecture–our staid Scottish roots, no doubt–but you can find some interesting moments here and there.


Art-chitecture of Washington

Washington, DC, is an odd town for a variety of reason…it is steeped in history and yet is constantly in a state of renewal as its four quadrants cycle from decay to rebirth to affluence to decadence, and the people within the town, depending on money and power, move from quadrant to quadrant accordingly.

Being the political and international heart of the US, however, means that it is also a showcase–in the museum display sense–of what the US has to offer architecturally.

I’ve tried to capture some of that here.

Story before structure

Over the last couple decades, I have taken classes at a variety of post-secondary centres teaching everything from magazine writing to sketch writing to screenwriting, and one thing has always amazed and frustrated me about the majority of my classmates: They all think they are going to finish the class with a template for success.

For some reason, they believe that there is an inherent structure for a successful story that they can just drape story elements over. If I can just map out the three-act structure, I will win that Academy Award.

When in your lives have you ever walked out of a class with a structure for success? Ever! Ever!

Even the alphabet was merely a building block to communication. Please let me know who has gotten a job and achieved a pinnacle of success through the strict application of the alphabet as taught in pre-K or kindergarten. The alphabet is useless unless you rearrange and duplicate some of the letters, and even then there is more to it.

Don’t ask the instructor on what page the Act I turning point should come because not all screenplays are 110 pages and not all stories have their Act I turning point at the 25% point of the screenplay. (If you want your head to explode, try figuring out the Act I turning point of the movie Memento.)

Write the story that demands to be written, regardless of the canonical film, novel or sketch structure. Let the story and its characters tell you when things should happen. Luckily, because few of us still spit charcoal onto our hands against rock walls, we can easily move the elements of our story around later.

You can have the strongest architecture in the world, but if your story sucks, your screenplay sucks. If your characters aren’t truthful to themselves and your story, no one will believe them. Much as a roadmap doesn’t a vacation make, neither does a story structure a story make.

We learn these elements, the points in our writing, as guiding principles for our own thoughts, not as immovable stone markers for what must be.

When used correctly, this information can enhance a beautiful story, but when used as a crutch, it destroys creativity; we focus too much on the next point and not enough on the journey.

Write your play. Write your novel. Write your screenplay. Write your poem. Write your story.

Once you’ve done that, then check the beams and girders of your construction to make sure everything is exactly where it needs to be for the sake of that story.