Authenticity

who-is-this

This election is about authenticity.

Michelle Obama’s speech resonated with so many people because she was the most authentic person on stage.

There seems to be a great need in the world for people to be authentic, to be honest about their needs and desires, hopes and dreams.

His word is his bond.

What you see is what you get.

I work every day to be an honest practitioner of me, and yet, it continues to be a struggle if only because I do not yet know who I am.

In my defense, however, I never had a fighting chance, because from our earliest days, Western society impels us to fit into molds.

In school, we are taught to behave in a specific manner; to sit in regimented rows and speak only when spoken to. Our excellence is constantly measured against that of our peers on a scale that doesn’t really seem to prepare us for anything except more of same.

When we find employment, we are slotted into roles beyond which it is counterproductive to stray. We are hemmed in by job descriptions and told not to get above our station. To strive for something bigger is to earn the threatened enmity of our “superiors”, as well as our supposed equals.

set-de-moules-pour-personnages-pme

More often than not, to break from our confines and achieve improvement let alone greatness is to go it alone; to be ostracized from our fellows. And even in achieving something, there is a vast pool of people waiting for you to fail, snapping at your heels, if only to validate their decisions not to strive.

And while I find that sad—and admit to having wallowed in that group myself—I cannot blame these people for feeling, thinking and behaving in this manner. They, like I, bought the lie that if we behaved ourselves, if we followed the rules, if we lay our souls down to society, to industry, to community, we would be taken care of, we would be protected.

The lie is crumbling, however. It is becoming more difficult to not see beyond the façade. To remain blind is becoming increasingly difficult even for the most determined.

Children are graduating from school to find nothing awaiting them. Get your high school diploma; get your Bachelor’s degree; get a graduate degree. The bar keeps moving if only to delay arrival at the precipice, an abyss that grows deeper with every tuition payment.

Middle-aged and older employees who remained bound to a company, addicted to seniority, pensions and steady salary, are suddenly finding themselves cut loose after 15, 20, 25 years and staring back at a ravenous pack of un- and underemployed juniors—local and international—willing to work for lower wages.

In many ways, these poor souls are the victims of the very investment portfolios and pension funds they fought so hard to build, stakeholder groups that demand increasing returns with little concern for how companies achieve those returns.

lockedgate

And so the cry goes up for politicians and administrators and executives to be more authentic, to be more honest with those they oversee, to live up to their promises.

We point vehemently to the walls of the molds into which we poured our lives as though they were legally, morally and ethically binding contracts, and implore others to save our lives.

And as has happened in every decade that preceded this one, we will fail and we will fall as institutions redefine and reconstruct themselves on the old models.

The same hue and cry that triggered the Reformation and the Renaissance also triggered the Inquisition and Fascist Europe.

What I have come to believe is that I cannot change the world. Rather, I can only change me or perhaps more correctly, stop changing me. The person who needs to be authentic, to be honest, to live up to promises is the one I see in the mirror; he is me.

Rather than distort myself to fit boxes constructed by society and its micro-collectives in the mistaken belief that this will keep me safe, I need to risk all and not only discover who I am, but also express that person to the world.

My first steps to do just this have been awkward and timorous. It is uncharted territory and demands a certain amount of trial-and-error.

But as I continue to move toward authenticity, I am finding the footing firmer. Dirt-grasping shuffles are becoming steps, and will hopefully one day be strides.

And whereas society is not always welcoming of my decision, I have been lucky enough to find that the people in my life have been almost universally supportive.

It is unlikely that I will change the world, but it is a certainty that I will change my world.

And if I am authentic, that is enough.

authentic

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.

 

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.

Screw the cat

First Draft

So, you want to write a screenplay.

Maybe you’ve read some books on screenplay writing—names like Cowgill, McKee and Field dot your bookshelf. Perhaps you’ve taken some screenwriting classes whether at a local university or community centre. You may have even—saints be praised—read some screenplays.

Great. Good on you. Way to go.

Now, before you type your first letter onto a page, do yourself a huge favour and forget all of it.

Okay, don’t forget it, but definitely shelve it. Put it aside, because almost none of it is useful to you yet.

In short, you can’t handle the truth…and that’s okay.

Leave the lessons for Draft Two and onward

Leave the lessons for Draft Two and onward

You’re about to write your first first draft (no accidental duplication there) and your only purpose right now is to tell a story.

Should my inciting incident happen around page 10? Doesn’t matter.

How much detail is okay in my narrative? As much as you need.

When is it okay to use voiceovers? Whenever you want.

None of what you learned really matters at this stage and is more likely to make your job harder than easier. It will become useful, later, when you’re doing rewrites—and you will do a lot of those.

But for right now, all of that information—much of which can appear and may be conflicting—is just a barrier between the blank page before you and the story you want to tell. Or perhaps more importantly, between you and the best story you can tell.

In my experience, it is a 1000X easier to fix bad structure than it is to fix a bad story. (This is not to say that any story cannot be improved.)

If you need three pages of narrative to get you to the first line of dialogue, then write three pages of narrative.

If it takes you 347 pages to tell your story, then that’s what it takes.

If you read yesterday’s pages and they sound like shit, stop reading yesterday’s pages. Keep writing until you’ve told your story.

Contrary to the name of the software package—thanks for the pressure, Final Draft—this is your first draft and it’s going to have a lot of shitty bits and pieces; they all do. I don’t know that in the history of screenwriting, anyone has ever filmed the first draft.

So write like no one is watching; because other than you, no one is. And tell the story you want to tell.

When you finally write “FADE TO BLACK” or “END” or “FIN” (pretentious move, btw), those books, blogs and lessons will still be there to help you get to drafts two, eight and fifteen.

(Please note: When I say ignore everything, I’m also including this blog post. If it is easier for you to tell your story by considering any or all structural and formatting elements, then do so.)

Blaze the trail that works for you, regardless of whether anyone has been down that trail before.

Let the cat write his or her own damned story

Let the cat write his or her own damned story

Thank you

Varied of tradition, but singular in purpose.

Varied of tradition, but singular of purpose.

I just walked to the grocery store without a second thought beyond wondering whether milk would be on sale or if I could get there and back before it started to rain.

Thank you.

Last night, friends and I filmed puppetry vignettes in which we satirized recent political events and social attitudes, laughing freely and openly.

Thank you.

On Saturday, I met a friend for bacon sandwiches and then walked home along the beach, smiling at kids playing in the sand and dogs excitedly greeting each other.

Thank you.

Today, my biggest concern is whether I will get off my backside and walk two blocks to change my cellphone carrier or if I’d rather just bitch about the one I am presently using.

Thank you.

My home hasn’t been destroyed. I’m not worried about my next meal. My family hasn’t been slaughtered. No one will kick in my door because I made a joke online. And you and I can completely disagree on local, national and world politics and social trends.

Thank you.

And even with all that, five “thank yous” is not nearly enough to express my gratitude to the men, women and families who have sacrificed everything so that all of the above is true.

I live in Canada. It is Memorial Day in the United States. And none of that matters. The international boundary does not make any of what I have written less true.

We may choose different days and express our feelings in different ways, yet we have but one purpose: gratitude.

Thank you.

From Ottawa's Parliament Hill to Washington's National Mall to France's Vimy Ridge, we must never forget and always be grateful.

From Ottawa’s Parliament Hill to Washington’s National Mall to France’s Vimy Ridge, we must never forget and always be grateful.

Ex machina – a review

ex_machina

Ex machina tells the story of Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a young computer programmer slaving for a large unnamed corporation that we eventually learn is somewhere between Facebook and Google. As the movie starts, Caleb’s computer flashes that he has won a company contest to visit the mountain-retreat home of recluse company founder Nathan (Oscar Isaac).

Upon confused arrival, he is welcomed warmly by Nathan and escorted through a labyrinthine maze of non-descript hallways where Caleb learns he has access to some rooms and not others based on his ID card. As Nathan explains, the austere design reflects the space’s use not as a home but rather as a research facility.

Nathan explains his AI breakthrough to Caleb

Nathan explains his AI breakthrough to Caleb

Nathan eventually divulges that he has been working on building an AI or artificial intelligence, and that Caleb’s role during his week at the retreat is to apply the Turing Test to the AI; that is, through a series of questions to elucidate whether the interviewer is speaking with a human or a computer.

Which brings us to Ava—played by Alicia Vikander—the ingénue AI that Caleb is to test. As she sits before her inquisitor, Ava is mostly metal and wires, but that hasn’t kept Nathan from endowing her with sexuality in her form, a soft approachable voice, and a human-like face.

Caleb becomes Ava's inquisitor through plexiglas

Caleb becomes Ava’s inquisitor through plexiglas

Through a series of conversations—between Nathan and Caleb, and Caleb and Ava—the film explores questions of identity, freedom, inalienable rights and love. But therein lies my primary problem with the movie: It is a stage play performed as a film.

Without giving too much away [doing my best to avoid spoilers], the interactions between the characters are almost as sterile as the environment in which they occur. Simply put, damned little happens aside from a series of conversations.

A labyrinthine maze of halls and locked doors

A labyrinthine maze of halls and locked doors

I am confident that this was done on purpose by writer/director Alex Garland—best known for the films 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later. I have no doubt that the minimalism of film is in itself a metaphor for the lifeless character of the AI.

But whereas minimalism is expected in a live theatre, it feels off-putting in a cinema. Ex machina engages the conscious mind but not the eye, unless your eye is drawn to beige. In fact, given the lack of action in this film, it would even work–possibly better–as a radio drama.

Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander and Oscar Isaacs (L to R)

Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander and Oscar Isaacs (L to R)

The performances were good, but I didn’t feel like the actors were given a lot to work with.

As I found so ironic with the movie Prometheus, the character of the android Ava was the most deeply developed (compare Ava to Michael Fassbender’s David). You could actually see her character evolve as the movie progressed at its leisurely pace. And full marks to Vikander for being able to imbue so much internal communication through subtle verbal intonations.

Subtle intonations and expressions bring Ava to life.

Subtle intonations and expressions bring Ava to life.

The character of Nathan showed the most potential, however, as you could see a brooding darkness within him that vacillated between wilting depression and disturbing malevolence. But as with so many aspects of this film, the potential was never really explored and we were left with a subtextual emptiness.

And Caleb proved to be the type of antagonist that I find least appealing—the victim—mostly bobbing like a cork on the eddies and currents outside of its control. He is neither hero nor anti-hero and so leaves me cold and uncaring, and if I don’t care, I am not engaged.

Ex machina is a very cerebral movie, dealing with deeply philosophical questions about humanity and self-awareness, and to a lesser extent about emotional connection. And in many ways, it is only because of Ava that the film does not devolve into an Open University lecture.

There is little doubt that the robotics and artificial intelligence enthusiasts will get a hard-on from Ex machina, a biological function that forms a humorous sidebar in the story.

But for those who like these subjects and want to be entertained by a gripping story, I suggest you take another look at Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, where identical questions are discussed in a backdrop of a film noir story line.

Ex machina is not completely without mystery, and I did find myself asking questions about the characters, including wondering if the audience wasn’t part of some Turing Test. But if I ever opened my mouth in anything approximating a “wow”, it was merely to yawn at the film’s glacial pacing.

There are small moments of tension, but they dissipate quickly and rarely result in any shocking revelations. There are moments that are squirm-inducing to start but do not really linger or pay off.

But for all my complaining, the ending of the story was satisfying. Although, for my money, that’s when the story finally got interesting.

Like Transcendence before it, Ex machina had a lot of potential, but failed to deliver.

Perhaps an AI film director will do better.