Unknown

Kelp crow

Raven beckons me on a journey.

Its rasping voice pierces my spirit,

Pulling me to a future unknown.

 

Questions I ask, options propose,

Yet the ebon wraith remains evasive,

Demanding faith when will is weak.

 

What lies ahead in the darkness,

Where illusions of control are lost

And footing is no longer certain?

 

Raven ignores my fears, urges me forward.

When I look back for sights remembered,

His tar-pitched plumage absorbs my view.

 

With vision gone, I now see the unseeable:

The darkness that stills my timid heart

Is the freedom my soul has sought so long.

 

Where I am, light surrounds me;

Where I’m not, nothing exists.

I am the journey, unceasing while I live.

 

There is no stasis. There is no rest.

The raven that calls me is me;

And fear dissolves with my next step.

Do not go gently – Having an impact

Indifference

Few are the creatives who do not want the world to love, or at least like, their work. We pour our heart, our soul, our tears into our art, and live in the dread that it will not find a receptive audience.

But are we dreading the wrong reaction?

Meaningful creative, to my mind, should evoke a reaction, and ideally one that is visceral and emotional before it is intellectual.

I want the viewer or reader to react instinctively, involuntarily to my creative, long before reason steps in and helps him or her modulate the response to more socially acceptable forms.

Thus, I fear less the angry or violent response to my work. Express those emotions and tell me why you revile my work. What is it in the creative that elicits such primitive, basal responses?

And if you find the work itself primitive, crude or malformed, the work of an unseasoned hand, then tell me how better to season it. What skills do I lack and how can I add them to my repertoire?

No, it is not rejection I fear. It is indifference.

It is the thought that my work is so devoid of meaning that it leaves you without any feeling whatsoever. It is simply not worth considering.

An emotional response, whether positive or negative, enhances my creative because the energy you expend to respond adds meaning to my work. Indifference, however, renders me and my creative effort void (collectively speaking, of course).

When we create, we should worry less about eliciting a positive reaction, and more about striking something at the very core of our audience. Something that they cannot ignore because it touches unnervingly close at their very essence.

 

For more on ways to improve your storytelling, visit:

So, What’s Your Story? (web site)

So, What’s Your Story? (Facebook)

Leading our own cheers

Pose

Intelligent, articulate women who also danced for the Marlies Dance Crew

This past weekend brought the start to another season of my beloved Toronto Marlies. And as is the case with every new season, we were met by many familiar faces and a lot of new ones, both on and off the ice.

What we were not met with this season, however, is the Marlies Dance Crew, the small group of women who entertain during stoppages in play. And I find myself oddly torn over this.

On the one hand, I have never been comfortable with the Dance Crew as a concept, and cheerleading squads for pro sports teams in general (I see high school and college squads in a different light).

In the absence of male squad members, the Dance Crew simply seemed like a salacious attempt to get a rise out of parts of the crowd…and based on comments I would hear around me, it worked.

Blur

Torn between dance as art and cheerleading as objectifying women

By the same token, over the seasons, I have actually come to know many of the Dance Crew members, finding them charming, articulate women who enjoy the art of dance. They are friends and part of the Marlies family, with whom I try to maintain contact via social media even after they have moved on to other things.

Cheerleaders in hockey is an odd thing, and I appreciate that it would be impossible—given the concrete floors and metal railings—to perform truly acrobatic stunts that you might see at college events. This may be why the whole Dance Crew concept never sat right with me, because in the absence of that artistic/athletic angle, it felt like the women were reduced to eye-candy.

Thus, while I will miss getting to know new family members, I am not terribly heartbroken over the Dance Crew’s absence this season.

And to the members who have moved on, I wish you all every success and hope you visit the Ricoh Coliseum on occasion, so we can say hi.

Family and friends

Family and friends

O Canada, why the fuss?

o_canada_4

I am old. Well, okay, not old so much as crotchety. I like things how I knew them, and I get cranky when I have to learn a new way when the old way was perfectly acceptable—if only to me.

Thus, as with so many Canadians, when I heard that The Tenors had altered the lyrics of Canada’s national anthem at the MLB All-Star Game last night, I was initially outraged (see video).

But as the evening wore on, and I watched diatribe after diatribe on social media, I began to realize that in many ways, this was a litmus test on what it is to live in Canada, a nation that at the best of times, struggles to define itself if only because it is constantly evolving.

In my life time, we have had two official changes to the English lyrics for O Canada.

Three decades ago, it was a reversion of sorts from “O Canada, glorious and free” to “God keep our land glorious and free”. As a then anti-religious zealot, I was outraged that you would introduce religion into my anthem, being completely ignorant of the fact that it had been there in the beginning (as makes sense for our history). I am less a zealot today, but continue to sing the God-free version.

More recently, Canada’s Parliament has debated rewriting the refrain “in all thy sons command” to “in all of us command”, suggesting that women are invested in this country as well as men. I did not rage against this, but many Canadians did, most ignorant that this change too is something of a reversion to an older lyric “dost in us command”.

My point is that the song, like the nation and its people, continues to evolve.

Jazz

A nation for all

And while we as individuals may only wish to accept the version with which we grew up or alternatively, the “official” version enacted by Parliamentary vote, Canadians as a populace have decided to live in a nation that is open to change, open to new views on the world, open to rediscovery of our history as a nation.

My instinctive reaction to last night’s events at the All-Star Game was to cry “Shame”, and if the anthem was used to spread hate or fear, I might still be justified in that cry. Rather, it was used to spread love and acceptance, and what (or so we hold) could be more Canadian?

Perhaps this is too much. Perhaps I am being over-indulgent. But if your heart is pure and you sing the song with pride, what do I care what lyrics you sing? Sing about the Canada you know and love, and sing it loudly so we can all share in that love.

O Canada early years

See also:

Full history of “O Canada”

How the Tenors struck out with O Canada at the MLB All-Star Game

When Gods evolve

In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

Genesis; 1; i-iii

Ancient of Days

Ancient of Days (William Blake)

I know the feeling.

I am the Creator and the Destroyer. I am Fate pulling the strings of Destiny. I am Existence itself. The Void remains until I choose to illuminate it.

A tad full of myself? Perhaps.

But it comes with the territory, because I am a writer.

Despite all present evidence to the contrary, I am an introvert; and as a child, I tended to avoid contact with others out of fear of injury and a touch of self-loathing.

My escape from this fear was my imagination and the worlds I created.

Where the world around me was filled with questions, uncertainty, chaos, the worlds of my mind were clean, certain, orderly. Good was good. Bad was bad…and even bad was good given time and understanding.

And over all of it, I was God.

The world didn’t exist until I put pen to paper, and just as quickly, it blinked out of existence when I lifted that pen.

I am no longer that child—well, perhaps a less fearful child.

The world in which I live is coloured with all shades. It has texture. It has flavour. And while it still has chaos and uncertainty, I am better able to embrace that chaos, to find freedom in uncertainty.

Likewise, the worlds I create have become more nuanced. Nothing is either good or bad, but instead is delicate and needful.

And over all of it, I am God. But even Gods evolve.

God Creating The Universe

God Creating the Universe (Layne Karkruff)

Where once I enslaved my worlds to my control, I am now more apt to offer degrees of freedom, to allow my worlds to ride the wave of existence.

I completely reserve the right to rain fire and brimstone, but am more likely to use a gentle hand with my charges. What were once caricatures are now sentient beings with a full range of emotions and thoughts, prone to mistake and capable of wonder.

And perhaps, in allowing my worlds to move beyond me, I achieve true Godhead. For as much as I no longer define their existence, they no longer define mine, and I am free to be me.

Ehyeh asher ehyeh.

I am that I am.

 

Closing the book on bookstores

WBB death

I am a troglodyte…a knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing dinosaur who will shortly find myself extinct for my inability to evolve with the world in which I live. You see, I like to read books.

So, what’s wrong with that, you may ask, lots of people read books. I have several dozen on my e-reader.

There’s the rub. I did not say novels, plays, short stories, historical or scientific treatises—all of which I do enjoy. Rather I said “books”. Those folded paper constructions across which are scribbled black serif or sans serif typefaces and maybe a few photos or illustrations.

This past week in Toronto, yet another bookstore (brick & morter, not Xena warrior princess type) met its demise. The self-described World’s Biggest Bookstore was a staple in downtown Toronto, a place to visit when you were trying to kill some time or perhaps even to purchase books, magazines, school supplies or those kitschy little items that no one ever thought they wanted but can’t seem to live without.

This past spring, about a dozen blocks away from the WBB, another bookstore met its demise and is in the process of becoming a craft store (because what erudite urbanite doesn’t want more Styrofoam cones and sewing notions?).

The reasons for these closures are many and varied, although the loudest one in downtown Toronto is the cost of renting or owning the space. Why house 10,000 hard and soft copies of books when you can house just as many Torontonians in roughly the same space?

I know there are other bookstores in Toronto. My concern is for how much longer.

They came for the mom’n’pop shops, and I said nothing.

They came for the specialty stores, and I looked the other way.

Then they came for the big box stores, and I was forced to buy an e-reader.

Despite the number of items I have purchased from e-tailers like Amazon and Indigo, there is still nothing better to me than the tangible feel of a book in my hands. There is a vibe in books that I cannot get electronically, unless I wet my fingers first, but that’s more of a shock than a vibe.

London-book-market_4

I am a junkie for second-hand bookstores.

I love that musty smell that I am confident is a mould infection waiting to take root in my olfactory or pulmonary system. The crick of a book spine as you fold it back for the first time (my own spine makes a similar noise in the morning).

And the gentle signs of previous love, whether a notation from giver to receiver, random dog-ears suggesting the previous owner had ADHD or the odd tacky material sticking several pages together that we are all best not to think too much about.

As a side note: I find it ironic that I will pay $20 to $50 for a book in an antiquarian bookstore that I wouldn’t spend more than $3 on in a second-hand store. Apparently, signage works.

Used v rare

I watch people in airports and on buses scrolling through their e-readers and wonder, where is the fun in that?

Don’t you miss the excitement of flipping ahead to determine whether you can stay awake long enough to reach the next chapter break? Or anxiously getting to the bottom of the page only to realize that the sentence finishes on the next page (don’t judge me, I live alone)?

Or knowing that in the coming apocalypse, you’ll be able to keep a fire going for several days? You try cooking squirrel over a burning e-reader and see how far that gets you.

(Note to self: Buy extra reading glasses. Learn the lessons Burgess Meredith did not.)

time-enough-at-last

But alas, I am a vanishing breed and like the thunder lizards that came before me, I will have to make way for those annoying little rodents that scurry around under desks and floors and through the walls…yes, the guys from I.T.

But until that day comes, I shall continue to hunker in my apartment, surrounded by my beloved paper friends and learn a bit more about modern squirrel trapping techniques.

Squirre-BBQ

Bible or Anachronism – The Elements of Style

EoS

As we approach the 100th anniversary of this well worn tome on writing correctly, I would like to survey my social media environment to determine how often Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style is actually referenced by people on a regular basis.

NOT do you own it.

NOT have you cracked it open at some point.

BUT do you actually use it to improve your writing.

OR do you not even know about what I am talking.

Those of you who know me well, already know my stance on the book. At the same time, as I have seen the book referenced countless times as a classic must-have, I have come to consider that my bias regarding the book may have been a product of the era in which it was thrown at me, and thus, I should be open to reconsidering the tome.

Rule breakers

Broken Rules Falls to Chaos Anarchy Pieces

Oil and water do not mix because, well, they are oil and water. This is a rule. We made a cliché out of it, so it must be a rule.

And yet, it is not a rule.

Oil and water can mix. You just have to screw around with it by adding another component to the mix…an emulsifier. True, this isn’t the same kind of mixture as blue Kool-Aid plus red Kool-Aid makes purple Kool-Aid, but the colloidal suspension of oil droplets in water is still a mixture.

So what about combining oil painting with water colour painting? Anathema, you say. They are two distinct media, you cry.

So what, I respond.

Because we’ve never seen it done (or at least, I haven’t), doesn’t mean that it cannot be.

Each medium offers its own strengths and limitations, and magnificent works have been created with either. Is there a way, however, to enhance those strengths, moderate those limitations by combining the media within a single work?

Every day, new rules are created, new schools of thought founded that try to define a panoply of Art forms. This is good, as these institutions form the parameters in which new Artists learn and understand their craft.

Can you imagine the panic of being told to go make art and being given nothing to do so: no instruction, no media, no resources?

And yet, those very institutions can strait-jacket the unwary and the unthinking, as rules become commandments rather than guidelines. When any attempt to step outside of the school is med with derision, contempt and blinkered exclusion.

The very congresses and champions established to support the growth and evolution of Art can easily become the prison wardens of that Art, confining aberrant Artists in an attempt to petrify the one true form.

(By the way: The same is true for Science, where journals and textbooks are rife with examples of explorers being squashed for daring to suggest something that didn’t fit within scientific canon.)

It would be naïve and harmful to suggest that rules should not only be broken, they should be shattered. If you wrote a novel using numbers rather than letters, you might find a very small audience for your work and little understanding from peers. There is much to be said, however, for grazing, nicking or wounding the rules.

Rules should be constantly questioned, viciously challenged if Art is to evolve. Without such a challenge to the nucleotides that comprise our genetic material, we would not exist and the planet would be lifeless.

But just as we demand mutation and adaptation to facilitate Artistic evolution, so must we accept the other half of the Darwinian equation. Only those most fit to survive will. The majority of mutations and adaptations will be for naught and that Art will perish.

It is a harsh reality, but look at what it has wrought in just 40,000 years since humans first applied colour to walls.

All this to say, break some rules. Test the limits. It is your evolutionary destiny as an Artist.

Break-the-Rules-e1331912129855

(Images are property of owners and are used here without permission and against the rules.)

Know when it’s over

Writing a screenplay or novel is a lot like being in a long-term relationship as you largely go through the same steps.

At first, you’re unfailingly passionate about your partner, flush with love for an incredible idea. You dive into her with a zeal you have never felt before and are certain you will never experience again. You embrace every inch of her, her very essence and when finally forced to surface, you just want to show everyone how happy you are.

As time goes on, however, the initial zeal diminishes, if not in scale, at least in monomaniacal focus. You become more comfortable with her. You spend more time contemplating her rather than just diving in. You are caring, loving, nurturing. And even if not everything proceeds as smoothly as it once did, those are just the little maturities that slip into life.

Eventually, you grow into each other. There is love, there is care, but it’s mellower, more set in its ways. She isn’t as all-consuming as she once was, but you’re both okay with that. You might spend time with other couples, sharing common bonds and then making fun of them on your way home. Life is good, it’s right, it’s comfortable.

Now, if you’re fortunate, this goes on for the rest of your time together. You mature with each other. You fulfill her needs until that fateful day when she passes on to the other side. You’re wistful, but satisfied that you had a good life together.

Not every couple is so fortunate, however.

Sometimes little inconsistencies or minor difficulties can inflate in importance. What was once just a tiny tic, becomes this really aggravating feature that just drives you up the wall. Oh, you try to work through it. You try to convince yourself it’s nothing, that you’re just being paranoid, but after a certain point, she just seems to do it all the time and damn it, on purpose.

You soon find yourself coming up with excuses to go out for a little bit to clear your head, but the moment you leave the house, you find your mind wandering off to sexier screenplay ideas. You’re fantasizing and you can’t help it. And damned if, the minute you walk back into the house, there she is, staring right at you like she can read your mind.

“What do you expect?” you scream. “You knew I was an artist when we started.” And she just lay there, letting you stew in your self-incriminating guilt. It’s the silence, the inertness that just gets under your skin.

If you’re lucky enough to calm down, you may decide that you just need a little time apart. Both of you. A little time to remember why you came together in the first place. A month, six months, a year later, maybe those petty little problems won’t be so big. Hell, you might even have found a way around them. But right now, you just need some space.

Time goes by and maybe you do get back together to solve your differences. But maybe you don’t. It’s tough, but you realize it’s over. It’s time to move on.

It’s okay. You’ll live. You can’t beat yourself up over it. You tried and it just didn’t work out.

You may not think it right now, but there’ll be others. You’ll try again and maybe that one will work out differently.

You didn’t fail. You’re not a bad person. It just wasn’t meant to be.

You have to know when it’s over…but nothing says you have to know any sooner than is absolutely necessary.

 

PS If screenplays and novels are long-term relationships, I guess that makes sketch comedy a quickie in the alley. No wonder they’re so much fun, but rarely fulfilling.