Our songs

SONY DSCWhere are the troubadours?

Who will sing our songs,

Tell our stories, shed our tears?

 

Our world has so much to say,

Yet our streets and courtyards

Boom with unrelenting silence.

I witness the horrors of another world,

Hear the cheers and jeers of strangers,

But my neighbour weeps in solitude,

Oblivious to the bonds we share,

Unknowing of my face, my voice, my heart.

 

Where are the troubadours?

Who will hear my story, my song,

Bring it to strangers in a familiar land?

 

Ghosts pass every day, unseen,

Faces held to the ground they trod,

Eyes focused on illusory distances,

Cacophonous words uncommunicated;

A wall of flesh and bone and cloth,

Devoid of spirit, absent of connection.

 

Where are the troubadours?

Who will touch our hearts, our souls,

With music, with stories, with love?

 

A strum of string. A strike of key.

Tremulous glottal vibration.

And an audience thirsting:

To see, to be seen;

To understand, to be understood;

To connect, to love.

 

Where are the troubadours?

Connection

Chickadee-1

From his water-laden branch,

Hidden among protective leaves,

The chickadee stares down

At the strange cyclops below;

His grasp on the limb

Is tenuous at best,

Close enough for details

Distanced for quick escape.

 

The one-eyed beast is calm,

Open to new connections,

Seeking only an audience

With his avian companion.

Words are unspoken, unnecessary,

As a bond is formed

In the hush of gentle rain,

Whispers of waving branches

Broken only by buzz-clicks

Of monocular blinks.

 

For this instant, this

Sodden, frozen moment,

Relationships are formed,

Connections are made,

Eventually to dissolve

Into photographic memory,

But vitally important

Both to he and to me,

Shared in wonder and awe.

Chickadee-2

Lead on, Macduff – Connecting characters

Something wicked

Many years ago, I struck upon the idea of Shakespeare’s Macbeth as a solo performance, where each of the secondary characters were not real people but rather manifestations of the Thane’s own psyche. The entire story, as I envisioned it, was one long inner monologue by a very confused man, struggling to rationalize his beliefs with his desires.

King Duncan represented the old way of doing things; slow, methodical, political.

Macduff represented the idealized warrior; righteous, proud, skilled, noble.

Lady Macbeth represented unbridled ambition; envious, avaricious, clawing, unfettered.

Banquo represented compromise; willing, hopeful, forward-looking.

The Witches represented chaos; confusing, enigmatic, truthful.

Beyond conversation with addled classmates and my bemused English teacher, however, this concept never really became more than a memory that I recount today. (Shakespeare himself had been dead for a few years and could not be reached for comment.)

But the idea has stuck with me ever since, and I have come to see its merits as a tool or approach to characters in many works I have written in the intervening years.

Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased,

Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,

Raze out the written troubles of the brain

And with some sweet oblivious antidote

Cleanse the stuff’d bosom of that perilous stuff

Which weighs upon the heart?

Macbeth, V, iii, 40

So often, when reading stories written by others—I struggle to do this with my own work, to which I am too close—I find characters that seem to float into and out of the story. They enter, perform a function in the story, and then exit, leaving almost no impression. They are simply mechanisms to move the story forward.

Now, I am not talking about the nameless, faceless characters that populate the background of pretty much every story; the extras or day-laborers of the film industry. Even if they have an action or offer the odd line, I see those characters very much on par with props.

I’m talking about the somewhat larger characters who may be central to a scene, interacting regularly and with purpose with one or more of the main characters to raise a dramatic question, but seeming to be otherwise disconnected from the rest of the story.

I ask myself (and sometimes the storyteller):

If you eliminated this character from your story and gave his or her actions/functions to another character, would your story suffer?

If the answer is no, then the character should probably be eliminated.

But sometimes the answer is yes; exactly why, however, is not always clear.

This is where I go back to my Macbeth concept.

Much as the antagonist of any story is a reflection of the protagonist, I believe there are opportunities to solidify these more nebulous characters by asking what they represent to the protagonist.

Are they alter-egos to some aspect of the protagonist’s personality, needs or wants? And if not, can they be?

I am a firm believer that we invite into our lives people who serve a purpose, who help us rationalize our places in the universe, who either soften the blow of being stuck in a mire we hate or inspire us to become more than we are. We may never be conscious of what their purposes are, but we are somehow drawn to these people and they to us.

Understand your associates and you will understand yourself.

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Our lives are a web of connections, but are we the spider or the fly?

As gods of the stories we create, we have introduced specific characters into those stories for a reason, and I suspect it goes well beyond functional plot points. Rather, I feel it speaks to the nature of the protagonist or one of the other central characters.

At the very least, it is an avenue to explore when you find a character that just seems to float through your story, a character that could easily be eliminated, but for some reason, you want to keep.

Your starting point may be in figuring out what they represent to the protagonist. In the process, you may just develop a deeper understanding of your central character(s).

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To learn more about improving your story telling, as well as opportunities for story coaching and story analysis, visit:

So, What’s Your Story? (web site)

So, What’s Your Story? (Facebook)

 

Why story coaching?

Coaching

No matter where you are in your writing career, your work can almost always be helped by feedback from fresh eyes that do not have a vested interest in the work itself.

Story analysis can help you see challenges in your story that might be invisible to you, whether through inherent biases or because you see the story clearer in your head than it has been recorded on the page.

Story analysis can also help you see opportunities in your work that you overlooked, if only because you are too close to it. Your priority for that early draft, in all likelihood, was simply to get things out of your head and onto the page, and we all walk with the fear of wandering down so many blind alleys that we never come out of the other end, wherever that end may be.

 

So fine, story analysis is helpful. But what the hell is story coaching?

Almost by definition, story analysis happens AFTER you have completed a draft (or several). It comes AFTER you have wandered the desert of creative confusion. It comes AFTER you have bled your creative juices onto the page and have become smitten with your creation.

And in some very unfortunate cases, it never comes at all, because the storyteller never completed the project, whether due to fear of failure, a sense of being intractably lost, or simply because Life intervened to distract from the task at hand.

This is where story coaching can help.

Story coaching is about a work-in-progress, whether a screenplay, a novel, the writer him or herself…whatever the storyteller needs most.

Hurdles

As with life coaching, business coaching or athletics coaching, story coaching is about providing guidance to the storyteller on a regular basis, whether simply as a second set of eyes to critique the work or as a mentor who uses the work-in-progress as a framework within which to help the storyteller develop as an artist.

Story coaching is also about commitment and accountability for the storyteller.

By hiring a story coach, the writer has made his or her creative art a priority in life. Why else spend the money?

And working with the storyteller, the story coach establishes expectations and deliverables, whether that is new story ideas, number of newly written pages, rewrites. These are the foundations of creative habits that can be difficult to develop and entrench in solitude because the creative process is so personal and fraught with self-doubt and self-recrimination.

 

But I can get this from a writing course or a writers’ group.

Yes, this is true…to an extent.

Writing classes can be invaluable, depending on the composition of your classmates and the skill of your instructor.

With a roomful of students, however, it can be difficult for the instructor to provide truly focused guidance to an individual student. More typically, the student is presented with a spectrum of general direction, all of which can be valuable but only some of which may be germane to a given work-in-progress.

Writers’ groups can also be a wonderful resource, again depending on the composition of the group. That composition and the individual writer’s position within the skill hierarchy, however, are critical.

Most writers’ groups are comprised of peers with relatively equal experience, and so may not be able to provide the more advanced analysis and mentorship that an individual wants or needs. And if an individual is the most advanced or skilled within a given writers’ group, he or she may find little opportunity for improvement.

[NOTE: I firmly believe that you will always find something in the feedback of any group of readers. The question is more whether it is worth the effort you put into the group.]

Sports

Although it is not impossible, you are very unlikely to ever become a professional football or hockey player by spending any amount of time playing flag football or pond hockey with friends. Why would we expect storytelling to be any different?

 

How do I know a story coach is right for me?

You don’t. Well, you don’t until you start a conversation with him or her.

 

Oh, hey! Is the story coach going to try to tell me what stories to tell?

Absolutely not.

The story coach is here to understand what story you want to tell or help you understand it better yourself, and then help you tell it in the most effective manner.

You are the Creator. The story coach is not.

 

If you want to learn more about Story Coaching, feel free to reach out to me (no obligation) at:

So, What’s Your Story? (web site)

So, What’s Your Story? (Facebook)

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We are the stories we tell ourselves

boats

Human beings connect through story. We define our individual selves by story. We even define our universe in terms of the stories we tell ourselves.

And despite often sharing experiences with others, my understanding and interpretation of those experiences—my personal Truth—is the story that I build around those experiences.

If I see something I have never seen before, I immediately construct a story. I give it context from items around it or its location or its presence at this time of day.

And remarkably, if I came upon this same thing tomorrow rather than today, the story I construct then might be entirely different from the one I build today.

Thus, story is malleable. It lives and breathes as we take in new information from our surroundings and incorporate that information into the story, making tweaks and adjustments to ensure that everything continues to make sense.

When the story doesn’t make sense, when congruence is lost, we get upset, and in some cases, put up hostile blinders. This is when human beings lose connection.

Because story is such a personal thing, the Creative—whom I define as anyone who pursues a task with passion—is faced with an essentially insurmountable challenge: How do I share my story through myriad personal filters?

Ultimately, you cannot control how another receives and interprets your story.

abstract art

What is my story for this work? What story did the Creative intend?

Even if the Painter tells me her intent in painting a portrait or landscape, the Novelist types out in no uncertain terms precisely what he means to convey, the Musician strikes notes and chords to instill specific feelings, I can remain oblivious to those intents, consciously or un-.

This simply is; and we can only hope that it does not negatively influence the passion to create.

That passion, the drive to create, must be given voice, however; and so the Creative moves forward, doing his or her best to share (much as I am doing now in writing this).

A dedicated Creative struggles on, regardless of the insurmountable barriers, and strives to convey the most effective story he or she can, looking for ways to layer thoughts and emotions and spiritual energies onto the personal stories of others.

We practice what we know. We experiment with the unknown. We seek guidance and critical analysis.

And most importantly, we accept that we will never achieve 100% success instilling our stories in others, and yet push ourselves and our Art as if it were possible.

As Creatives, as people of passion, that is central to our stories.

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If you’re interested in learning how to build stories more effectively, seeking guidance for nascent projects or critical analysis of existing works, feel free to check out my website So, What’s Your Story or reach out to me here or via my Facebook page.

In the meantime, I wish you all the success in the world.

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My (other) family

Dog Pound

The rowdy rabble that are Duke’s Dog Pound

This is my family.

Not in the genetic sense, you understand, or even in the social sense. We did not grow up in the same house.

But a couple of times a week for the better part of eight months of the year, we gather at our local house of passion—the Ricoh Coliseum—and join in frenzied excitement over our beloved hockey club.

This is my Marlies family.

We are an odd collection of people of all ages, temperaments and backgrounds. We come from all regions around the city (and abroad) and have quite unique life experiences. And yet we are family.

And like all families, we can irritate the hell out of each other. Sometimes the passions can overwhelm those sitting in nearby seats. We do not deal equally well with challenging times, whether for our team or our family. And disagreement over the smallest thing can take fire, forming a wedge however temporary between family members and forcing others to take sides.

But the second there is a threat from outside the family, we quickly band together in support, in concern and in love. And ultimately, we are drawn yet again by our shared love of our boys in blue and white.

I would do almost anything for these people, help them in whatever way they might need. And I know both from my gut and from experience that they would help me if I needed it.

When viewed from outside, we are complete strangers to each other. Except for small pockets, we do not spend time together much beyond the arena. I don’t hear the minutiae of your life, nor you mine.

And yet, when the hockey season ends each Spring, I am saddened, not just because our boys didn’t advance further in the playoffs, but also because it will now be months before I once again see most of these people.

But when those gates open in October, and we wander down the familiar hallways to our familiar seats around the pristine sheet of ice, it is a moment of pure joy.

I am home with my family.

This is my family, and I adore them to pieces.

Lives of love and beauty – Robyn

As 2015 came to a close, I took a few days to highlight some of the amazing people in my life; my 12 Days of Gratitude.

Well, we are counting down the final days of 2016, and I am again feeling…well…feelie…and so want to share with you all some of the amazing people I know who epitomize love and joy and beauty, and who have transformed my life.

For those of you who remembered last year’s list, there will be a few overlaps here, but hey, they are that amazing and this is my list!

robyn-sarcasm

Shirt kind of says it all

Robyn Lawson: mother, daughter, blogger, poet

Through our shared friendship with humourist Ned Hickson, I first met Robyn in the blogosphere and immediately felt my life change.

An Indigenous Canadian, Robyn has a passion to explore and share her Native community and roots in all its glories and horrors, more often than not, laying herself bare through her emotional and lyric poetry.

Check out: October Surprises

Robyn is a beautiful spirit who has touched my life in ways that I cannot yet begin to fathom, and remarkably so given that we have never spoken directly (e.g., phone or Skype) or met physically.

Thank you, Robyn, for sharing yourself and your experiences with me.

 

See also: Blog Woman!!! – Life Uncategorized