Shaped, not defined

We are all, in many ways, shaped by our life experiences.

It is important to remember, however, that those experiences don’t have to define who you are or what you become. That is up to you.

wade

Let go(al) and let…just let go

Mountain

Don’t have to climb the mountain to admire its beauty

Where do you see yourself in five years?

It’s a common question at job interviews and often creeps in silently when people reach age or career milestones.

Rephrased more broadly, it is asking: What are your goals?

In most Western societies—the only ones I really know—we are told it is good to have goals; that you need to set your sights on a destination and follow that path to its conclusion. It is how you get ahead. It is how you find happiness, or at least the stuff that brings happiness.

I have spent my life working this way.

Checklist

Life goals complete

I tell you this not to present my resume—you can find that on my LinkedIn pages (yeah, I have two)—but rather to explain the pattern of my life (and probably yours) in contrast to where I am today.

You see, for the first time in my life, I have no goals. And I am finding it incredibly disconcerting.

Sure, like everyone else, I have daily, weekly, monthly and yearly obligations.

I need money to pay for rent, food, bills, hockey tickets, beer. I have editorial deadlines and the odd gift to buy. But I have no long-term goals. I am living my life without my next destination in mind.

Five years from now? Hell, I sometimes don’t know where I’ll be five minutes from now.

In some ways, I am as close to living in the moment as you can get without living under a tree or in a cave (basement apartment notwithstanding). And it’s freaking me out.

Having a goal is a hard habit to break after 50+ years.

Butterfly

What if I had missed this moment?

To be clear, I’m not looking for a goal—floating freely has some lovely benefits—but I struggle some days to know what the point of my day is or was.

Simply being is really simple—it requires no preparation or gear—but our society has taught us that it is wasteful; that it is selfish; that even our “free” time must be productive.

Having no goals, I find, is entirely selfish. I can only affect change in myself.

But I’ve come to realize that “selfish” isn’t bad in and of itself; only when it negatively impacts others, which I don’t believe I am.

Still, like a good Pavlovian pound puppy, I sometimes find myself whimpering at the window, waiting for someone to throw the stick of destiny, to give my life meaning and purpose.

Is it okay or desirable to lead a purpose-less life? Is that my purpose? [Never met-a-physics that didn’t hurt my brain.]

But then, it’s 7:30 a.m. and the alarm goes off. I turn it off and go back to sleep.

Life without goals definitely has its upside.

The Last Word – a short story

library

(A writing exercise in which the first word was “shelf”.)

 

“Shelf seven.”

The words struck David’s ear drums like so many flies on a glue strip, their significance dying almost on contact.

“Did you want the catalogue code, too?”

The glue strips over-burdened, David’s head tilted to one side, involuntarily signalling his very real lack of comprehension.

“Sir?”

David’s irises shrank to pin points, his brain doing its best to pull focus back to the moment at hand. Emerald green flecks glinted in the near spotlight that bathed the librarian.

David fought not to shake his head in the hope of releasing the cob webs that had yet again taken hold of his brain. He wet his tongue, a dry mouth crusting his silence.

“Perhaps you could write that down for me,” he smiled at the eternally patient woman behind the counter.

Despite David’s complete lack of social graces, he was an easy patron for the woman. He knew exactly what book he was looking for, rather than simply presenting her with a laundry list of random words that only may have appeared in the book title or subject matter.

Slowly drawing a scrap of paper from a tidy stack, the woman dragged her pencil in tight arcs and lines. With each stroke, David was certain that he could hear the graphite crack and flake from the pencil’s tip until finally, the room went silent again.

Looking up, he caught the librarian’s eye, which crinkled as she slid the paper across the counter.

David smiled as he swiped the sheet and dissolved into the stacks, leaving behind a rapidly dissipating vapour trail of Old Spice and anxiety.

Moving swiftly down row after row, David had the sensation of being swept along by a rainbow-glittered tornado, the multicoloured book spines flashing by, muted here and there by cellophane wrappers designed to keep fingerprints and legibility at bay.

Despite his knowledge of perspective—a Grade 8 art class quickly coming to mind—the stacks seemed to narrow the further he journeyed into the bowels of the bibliographic beast. And all the air was drowned in the musty thoughts of insistent authors in cacophonic sensory overload.

David’s chameleon-like eyes worked in solitude, taking turns glancing from the dampening destiny sheet clutched between his fingers and the digital tattoos that graced the spines.

His left eye was first to light upon the congruence, a match that was shortly confirmed by his right eye. Binocular certitude.

This was the book.

Taking a deep calming breath that did little more than trigger a coughing spasm, David rubbed his hands against his trouser legs, only to realize he was smearing pulped paper onto his leg. The librarian’s note had given up the fight to remain whole under persistent perspiring assault.

Without being aware of his actions, David flipped the book’s pages through trembling fingers, eyes scanning for familiar references.

The red wagon on Bakersfield Hill.

The mustard-stained tuxedo on prom night.

The tow motor accident at the soda factory.

The surreal night at the library looking for a book available nowhere else.

It was all here, written in black sans-serif letters on egg-shell pages. So alien to see it captured on vellum and yet so familiar to a constantly refreshing memory.

Clearing his throat, David flipped ahead in the book, trying not to glance at the intervening pages, instead saving his energies for whatever he found on the last pages before the Appendix.

David smiled as he struck the back cover and realized there was no Appendix. He’d had emergency surgery shortly after his 21st birthday.

But the smile faded just as quickly as the memory as he peripherally espied the final words of the book to his left.

As though resisting a coiled spring, David turned his gaze upon the final paragraph, his temples literally throbbing with the rush of blood to his brain.

His eyes all but excised the first word. Then the second. Then the third.

Words became phrases. Phrases became sentences. Sentences revealed thoughts. That’s how writing worked.

The stacks rang with raucous laughter. Library patrons became meercats at the disturbing intrusive sound, unable to identify its source or direction.

They remained unaware that in the darkest corner of the library, a man had just learned how his life would end.

An ending, it turns out, that was pretty fucking funny.

110330-book-stack-hmed-8a.grid-6x2

Writing is its own success

(I’m going to post this here, now, so that when I do make it big financially, I can prove I really did believe this while I was still poor.)

A writer writes

A writer writes

If you don’t love writing for the sake of writing, get out. For the sake of your own sanity, do something else.

I would like to make a career of my screenwriting and novel writing, but if I don’t, I will still do it and be glad that I do.

The truth is that the majority of us (like 99.9997%) will never make it big as writers…not Terry Rossio big, doubtfully Damon Lindelof big, nor Nora Ephron big. Hell, I’m not even sure the simple majority (50%+) will even make a livable wage as writers.

But as much as I want to hit it big and spread the gospel of my genius (he says only half-facetiously), I write because I love writing and I don’t know how to not write.

I can do other things to keep food in the house and a roof over my head, but I don’t want to if I don’t have to. It all interferes with my time for writing.

Perhaps this passive approach to accomplishing something with my writing will keep me from making it big. But I prefer to think that by focusing on the joy of writing, the excitement of expressing my thoughts and feelings, I will be happy throughout the entire process, from now to wherever and whenever I end up.

If nothing else, this attitude means that everything that comes down the road is a known positive rather than a potential disappointment.

Good luck, everyone.

Bonus!

Bonus!

You are your own inspiration

An actor friend recently expressed “I don’t wanna” about leaving town for an upcoming gig. I assumed it was less about fearing the gig and more about leaving home, but I wanted to let her know it wasn’t about wanna or even hafta.

Enjoy.

dream

Taking aim

Sunset on Mauna Kea

I aimed for the mountain top, but found only sky.

I aimed for the clouds, but found only air.

I aimed for the moon, but found only coldness.

I aimed for the stars, but found only emptiness.

Head bowed in sadness, I finally looked around,

To find a universe of wonder lying at my feet.

Stargazing on Mauna Kea

My Favorite Life

Peter O'Toole as Alan Swan

Peter O’Toole as Alan Swan

The announcement of Peter O’Toole’s death came as a bit of a shock to me. Not so much that he died—he was a very old gentleman—but rather in how it affected me. I felt like I’d lost a friend whom I had not seen in quite some time.

Fairly or unfairly, I give Peter O’Toole a lot of credit for the life that I am leading right now: the life of a creative artist who plies his art with words. You see, Peter O’Toole was the biggest name in a little movie that might not have seen the light of my consciousness had he not been in it.

The movie is My Favorite Year.

My Favorite Year poster

For the uninitiated (For shame, Swanny), the movie tells the story of a couple days in life of a budding young comedy writer working in the 1950s on the King Kaiser Show; a clear homage to Sid Caesar’s Show of Shows. On the day the movie opens, Benjamin is going to meet his greatest hero, fading matinee idol Alan Swan; a clear homage to Errol Flynn. Unfortunately, Swann’s star has faded into alcoholism and practical destitution, and it becomes Benjamin’s job to keep Swann sober enough for the live television performance. The rest is a love story between these two men; one ascending, the other wishing he were dead.

If that doesn’t want to make you see the movie, you’re dead yourself.

The thing is, for all the university science degrees and work I had done, my life was incomplete. What I didn’t realize right away upon seeing My Favorite Year—mostly because the young are stupid and blind—was that I desperately wanted to be Benjamin. More accurately, I WAS Benjamin, I just didn’t know it.

Benjamin Stone stares lovingly at his idol and now friend Alan Swan

Benjamin Stone stares lovingly at his idol and now friend Alan Swan

I was a creative writer. I was a comedy writer. But I didn’t know how to express it beyond my own personal doodlings. And even if I had, science seemed the more rationale move (btw, I love science…really, I do).

As I’ve related in previous posts on my creative journey, it wasn’t until my wife took me aside one day and cornered me into answering what I wanted to do more than anything that I realized and embraced my inner Benjamin.

My life of today was still about a decade away, but that moment, that recognition, that admission started the ball rolling.

I had a visual to go by, a guide. I couldn’t go back in time to write for a 1950s sketch comedy show, but I could work toward the modern equivalents.

The other posts will tell you what I did, but without having seen My Favorite Year, I might not have been able to articulate my dream that fateful day.

And without Peter O’Toole, there might not have been a My Favorite Year to see.

So thank you, Mr. O’Toole. Aside from being one of the finest actors to walk this stage, you made dreams come true. This dreamer will be eternally grateful.

 

Links of possible interest:

My Favorite Year trailer

If I were truly plastered (scene)

This is for ladies only (scene)

Who the hell is Niblick? (scene)

(Images are property of owners and are used here without permission, but a lot of love and gratitude)