Living unlabeled

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I am not a fan of labels.

Giving something a label, ultimately, is about trying to define a thing, an activity, an individual, whether you are outside looking in or inside looking out.

On one level, this makes sense as it gives us the tools and resources of common language.

Where this is a problem for me is that it tends to establish boundaries in our minds of what something is and what something isn’t.

My cousin and friend, Ian MacDonald, just published a blog post about the labels craftsman and artist, and the semantics game that swirls around those terms in his music and photography.

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In my own teaching experience, I have witnessed innumerable students striving and struggling to achieve Art; in some cases, frozen in sheer terror at what they believe is unachievable and ironically, unwilling to work on the craft of writing. Unwilling to create dreck on the way to Art, however they define either.

To minimize these boundaries and yet still be able to communicate with people, I strive to use the broadest terminology I can. This is why, when pressed, I refer to myself as a storyteller.

I tell stories with my writing. I tell stories with my photography. I tell stories in my social interactions. I tell stories when I am alone. I tell stories with my body language. I tell stories when I sleep.

Are my stories a craft? There is an element of that, particularly when I tell stories for money.

Are my stories an art? That is a personal choice of whomever experiences my story, including me.

Am I more than my stories? Most certainly. I am not my stories.

My stories are how I interact with my universe. They are a vehicle of communication.

Storyteller is just a label, a definition; but I do not let it limit me or my sense of self.

I lived a large portion of my life in search of the next label. I am now content to be.

 

My thanks to Ian for his blog post. Even if you’re not interested in photography, his web site is worth checking out. At the risk of labeling him, Ian is quite the philosopher.

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Award-winning screenwriter Randall C Willis is Story Analyst & Coach at So, What’s Your Story? (Facebook page). He also teaches screenwriting in Toronto at Raindance Canada and George Brown College, and you can find samples of his photography on Instagram @createdbyrcw.

(How’s that for labeling?)

Creativity unfettered

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Thank you for showing me that there’s a place for all of my thoughts & feelings to go. I was overwhelmed by emotion for almost the entirety of our class.

— Student

The urge to create is a powerful one. It can be so all-consuming that it overwhelms our senses.

At the same time, so few of us are born equipped to know where to begin with these feelings, how to convert that urge into positive, constructive energy. And if left untapped, we are prone to quell the noise, contain the chaos, if only to move forward with our lives in ways that we do understand, in ways socially acceptable.

I truly believe that all of us are born with this urge to create, and that it is as much the environment into which we are born and grow as it is our innate interests that determines what happens next.

For the many, the need to conform, the need to be good citizens, the need to normalize—often initiated by outside forces—leads them to confine those urges in a tightly packed container, left on a dark shelf deep in the lost recesses of their psyches.

For the few, however, those whose urges refuse to be contained, where the pressure to normalize is not so severe, creation is given voice, whether from the earliest days or later in life. Timid hesitant steps of interest give way to running vaults of passion, and creation floods ourselves and our worlds.

I am one of those lucky few; someone whose passions have been supported and nurtured from my earliest days. The hesitations and uncertainties of my past were largely self-imposed and have long since been removed and forgotten.

The need to create and to seek creation consumes and replenishes me. My world is one of possibility and opportunity; and if it is limited, it is only by my time here.

If I have been given the opportunity to act as nurturer and supporter to others—through teaching, social contacts, simple engagement with my universe—then I accept and welcome that function both enthusiastically and humbly. In the exercise, I receive as much and likely more than I could ever hope to give.

The urge to create is a powerful one. But it is nothing compared to the act of creation.

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Award-winning screenwriter Randall C Willis is Story Analyst & Coach at So, What’s Your Story? (Facebook page). He also teaches screenwriting in Toronto at Raindance Canada and George Brown College.

My thanks to Pexels for the free stock photos.

Adventure

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Thanks to a dear friend, whom I originally met through WordPress, I just discovered that this is my 5th anniversary on this platform. That said, it would be completely understandable if my supporters wondered that I was still here, I have posted so rarely in the past year.

Although not an excuse, I have become a victim of the adventure I sought in life. In short, my life is full and it has kicked the crap out of my blogging.

Teaching gigs, story analysis gigs, magazine writing responsibilities and my continuing passions with screenwriting, novel writing and photography of all stripes has simply become too much of a moment-by-moment focus (oxymoron?), no matter how delightful.

This will change, sort of.

With the launch of my story analysis website SoWhatsYourStory.ca last year, and the upcoming launch of my photography website, I will focus this blog on one particular topic that complements the other two platforms. What that topic is remains to be determined.

I appreciate that some of you may not be interested in the isolated topic, but then, I am incredibly grateful that any of you have stayed with me through the creative chaos that is my brain and blog.

Here’s to the next adventure!

(In the meantime, some colour from the past year.)

Give thanks by giving back

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Happy Thanksgiving to all of my Canadian friends and truthfully anyone who just likes the narcosis of turkey and pumpkin pie, no matter what time of year.

I have an abundance of reasons to be thankful this year, as with all previous, but perhaps my greatest thanks is for my ability and resources to give back to my communities: financially, spiritually, however love is needed.

Below, I describe a couple of projects I have underway that will hopefully bear fruit for any number of groups.

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Opportunity #1

As an avid fan of the Toronto Marlies hockey team and avid photographer, I have been combining my passions by photographing the home games.

A couple of years ago, I took that one step further by designing a photo calendar for the hockey season (Oct to Sep), listing all the games & many player birthdays.

The first year, it was just a gift from me to many of the other season seat holders.

You Can Play

Last year, I sold them to anyone interested simply to cover my expenses. At the end of last season, however, my ticket agent & friend Wayne arranged to have the team sign the calendar and we auctioned it off with a team-signed stick on Facebook.

I was blown away.

Between the winning bid and two matching bids, we raised $1050 for You Can Play (American link), a group that supports inclusiveness in sports with a focus on the LGBTQ community.

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This year, I am doing the same, but donating $5 from every sale (calendars are $20) to the MLSE Foundation, an org that uses sports to build communities.

Of the 75 calendars I ordered, I only have 16 left after the two-day home opener this weekend (both Toronto victories). Fans from as far away as the United Kingdom are jumping on-board to help support my effort, the team and the MLSE Foundation.

If you’re interested in supporting the effort by purchasing a calendar, feel free to reach out to me on my Facebook page or via my Twitter page. And you can find my photography (not just hockey) on my Instagram account.

Also, Wayne is again having one signed by the team, so watch another auction in the coming months!

100 Days to a Better World

Opportunity #2

I love walking all over the city of Toronto and pretty much anywhere else I visit, photographing both the wildlife and the urban art landscape of graffiti and murals. With that in mind, I recently decided to see if I could use that walking habit to raise some money for charity.

100 Days To A Better World is the result.

For 100 days (to Dec 25), I will record my daily walking distance and my total to-date, inviting people to sponsor my distance (per km).

When the 100 days is completed and the cumulative distance is known, those lovely individuals can then donate their total sponsorship to a charity of THEIR choice.

Rather than focus on a charity I think is worthy, I want to convince people to give their money to groups they think are worthy. We spread the love.

To date, with the generous support of many people, I am earning about $3.30/km.

As of October 8 (Day 23), my total distance is 263.41 km (158 miles); so, we have already raised $870 for various charities.

I appreciate that some people may have an upper limit on what they can afford – in case I go crazy and hit 1000 km (I am frighteningly on pace for that). No problem.

If they can’t afford any money but are willing to cheer me on, then I am honoured to have their support.

Just in doing the exercise, in having the conversation, I feel that I am making this a better world. That charitable organizations may also benefit is the icing.

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Making a difference in the world doesn’t have to be difficult or even cost you anything financially.

It can centre on your passions, the things you do in everyday life and/or that bring you joy. It is as much about offering your time and spirit as anything.

It is about being open and loving. It is about being thankful.

I wish everyone all the best both in this season of thanks and throughout the months and years ahead.

Why even bother? (Creative crisis)

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The life of anyone practicing an art form—whatever you do with passion is your art—is a continual balancing act between impassioned self-expression and self-questioning despair. For me, this duality revolves around my efforts in fiction writing (i.e., screen, novel, poetry, short stories, etc.).

Earlier today, I learned that the television series 2 Broke Girls ended its six-season run on CBS, and the news briefly shifted my balance toward despair.

On a couple of occasions, I tried to watch the sitcom about two broke girls plying their trade as diner waitresses while targeting a dream of opening a cupcake shop. But each time, I had to turn the show off after a few minutes because I found the comedy so excruciating.

Every 15 seconds, there was yet another wink-wink nudge-nudge one-liner that I felt lacked any art whatsoever, dialogue that but for an incessant laugh-track would likely have been met with complete silence in front of a live audience.

And yet, the series aired for six seasons. It had enough of an audience for CBS to keep it on the air.

I like broad comedy; truthfully, I do. I even write it on occasion.

I live for Mel Brooks’ comedies, for Monty Python’s Flying Circus, for Blackadder, for The Muppet Show, for SCTV, In Living Color and Kids in the Hall.

Anyone who has followed me for any period of time—especially on Twitter—knows I am up for any joke-opalyse.

But the appeal of 2 Broke Girls and its ilk—looking at you, Two-and-a-Half Men—simply eludes me. It feels like one-liners in search of a higher purpose.

But here’s the thing I constantly need to remind myself:

This difficulty rests entirely within me, and has nothing to do with the creators or writers of any of these shows.

 

Celebrate, don’t negate

Getting ANY television show to air, getting any screenplay turned into a movie is difficult, even in this era of seemingly limitless venues and diminishing equipment costs.

That any show manages more than a pilot episode is amazing. So, six seasons of broadcast should be celebrated from every mountain top.

As an artist, I applaud 2 Broke Girls creators Michael Patrick King and Whitney Cummings for getting their show on the air. I congratulate the people behind the Sharknado series for continuing to produce films.

To denigrate these efforts simply because they do not suit my tastes is not only unfair, it is also blatant hubris.

Who the hell am I—a writer who has one television special to his credit (thank you, SomeTV!)—to say that these efforts are unworthy of attention?

For that matter, even if I were more routinely lauded and vastly more accomplished, it would not be my place to dictate what should be valued as Art.

And as an artist, as someone exploring my passions:

Dwelling on this topic is useless. More importantly, it is detrimental to me and the craft as I exercise it.

 

Remembering why

It would be naïve to suggest that trends in comedy and writing have no influence on my career as a writer, but honestly, my career is secondary to my writing; a beneficial side effect, if you will.

Comparing my efforts to those of others is therefore unimportant.

My only true comparator is what I wrote yesterday and any internal sense of whether I am getting better at making the points I wish to make, telling the stories I want to tell.

I write because I have something to say.

I write because I don’t know how not to.

I write because it brings me joy.

Certainly, part of understanding my craft is seeing how others approach the same challenges and opportunities I face.

Just as I must choose my path forward, so too must they theirs. Although I may not see the merits in their choices, they are doing what is right for them and I must honour that.

There is room enough for all of us.

 

Disclosure:

I own complete series collections of Get Smart and Hogan’s Heroes, which I appreciate others might consider as insipid as I do 2 Broke Girls.

 

See also:

So, What’s Your Story? (web)

So, What’s Your Story? (Facebook)

The creativity is ours

Sparsely

When I have told a story well, I have merely put in place the elements from which you will create your own version of the story.

You meld these elements with your own perspectives, histories, moods and experiences to go places that I can’t begin to imagine.

In this way, Art is a communal exponential experience, and the Universe is as blessed by the one who receives the gift as by the one who first shares it.