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.

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

On Second Thought

Do you think?

Why do we give our second thoughts so much more sway than our firsts? What is so magical about the second thought that makes it more believable, more honest, more sensible?

I had second thoughts about writing this simply because it was prompted by a conversation with a friend who is struggling with a dilemma. Would my friend be upset I was talking about him or her? Making light of his or her dilemma? Sharing secrets that weren’t mine?

I can deal with that.

Rare is the person who completely trusts his gut; who goes with the first thought that comes into his head. To the outside world, such a person is often considered rash or impulsive, perhaps even flighty. Rarely is he described as definitive or confident.

Second thought, in contrast, is seen as considered, rational, reasoned…well, thoughtful (or thought full).

The Senate of Canada’s Parliament has oft been described as the chamber of sober second thought, as though the House of Commons is populated by ADHD-riddled chickens, prone to explode at the slightest provocation.

(The realities of the Canadian Parliamentary system are fodder for a different blog post.)

The concept of sobriety does point to one of the benefits of second thought. The decision not to pursue flights of drunken fancy such as driving home after drinking too much rather than take a taxi. But while this points to the benefits of second thought, it also points to its source: Fear.

We have and listen to second thoughts because we are afraid. We are afraid that our first thought was ill-considered (rash) and might result in failure. And because we don’t want to take responsibility for that failure, we build a rationale for our alternative thoughts, thus making ourselves more confident in our decision.

The harsh truth, however, is that no matter what our final decision, there is always a risk of failure, perhaps catastrophic. The Titanic and Hindenburg were well-considered ventures based on sound and common practices. It was the unforeseen (if not unforeseeable) incidences that doomed the exercises.

To a greater or lesser extent, gut instincts and reactions are You unencumbered by rules and conventions. They represent the way you view the world and yourself without the censorship of social pressures. Thus, I believe, they more accurately represent your goals and desires, and ultimately what will make you happy.

Now, this is not a belief that was reasoned on the basis of careful study. If nothing else, that would defeat my argument. It does, however come from a lifetime of observing others and myself.

I have no reason to lie to myself when under my own control, in the absence of other influences—chemical or human. Thus, my gut instinct is my truth.

This doesn’t mean that I have to follow it—there may be extenuating circumstances to go another way—but I should never deny the instinct.

In denying it, I will never have the opportunity to build faith in it, and ultimately, second thought is a lack of faith in myself.

confident

Becoming the Mole

whack-a-mole-ogrady

Life used to be one giant game of Whack-A-Mole, the arcade game where you stand above a series of holes with a mallet or bat and try to smack moles as they arise randomly. In my case, however, those moles were work assignments, social responsibilities and general life requirements.

Just as I would deal with one call for my attention, it seemed two or three others would raise their ugly heads. Distracted and disoriented, I would reach for one task only to watch it recede and yet others arrive.

As a 60-second challenge in an arcade or amusement park, the game can be quite fun; a way to exercise your peripheral vision and reflexes.

As a lifestyle choice, however, it was exhausting.

A change—well chronicled in this blog—took place a couple of years ago, and my approach to Whack-A-Mole changed with it.

I still play the game, but now the moles are of my choosing. I know where the next mole will arise because I put it there.

A novel writing episode. A hockey game to attend. A poem to create. A book chapter to read. Words to cross in a puzzle. All of my choosing.

Movies to attend with friends. Colleagues to meet in a pub. Media on which to socialize. I can say yes…and I can say no.

As I learned to give up control of my life, I also made sure I gave up any over-arching sense of responsibility for the happiness or satisfaction of others. I do my best to fulfill my commitments, but I make sure I understand where my commitments end.

The result? I have never been more in control of my life.

XIR155451

Ironically, in my divestment of control came an unexpected freedom that has manifested itself as a muse that comes unbidden. I do not search or wait for the muse; she sits with me constantly. An earnest voice who insists on being heard.

I have become the mole. Now, it is my turn to pop up in other people’s lives—hopefully welcomed—to offer exciting new creative opportunities.

A new sketch or monologue. A book that needs illustration. An idea for a video. An invitation to photograph animals at the aquarium.

Go ahead. Gimme a whack!

mallet

(Images are property of owners and are used here without permission, but I thought I’d take a whack at it.)

Ergo ego

(Property of evolution.berkeley.edu)

(Property of evolution.berkeley.edu)

Be as egocentric as you want, but always remember: You were one point mutation away from being somebody else.

(PS To the genetics nerds out there, I know they messed up the “original” strands in this diagram as the originals from different strands cannot be identical but rather should be complementary.)

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.)