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)

Demystifying Expertise

expertise-equation

Each of us tends to undersell (or completely disbelieve) our expertise on subjects that are near and dear to our hearts. Expertise, we believe, is something other people have.

And yet, I am convinced that we are more expert than we think. And fortunately, we are living in a time where methods to convince others of our expertise has never been easier.

Watch my recent Facebook Live video Demystifying Expertise and see if you agree.

 

Stop denying compliments

You’re a really nice person for coming to read my blog, and I really appreciate it.

I just wanted you to know that. You deserve to hear nice things about yourself.

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It’s been a really good week or so for me on the compliment front as two previously unknown people have taken a moment to offer nice comments about my magazine writing.

In reference to a past commentary, Diane wanted me to know:

You’re a superb writer—love the line “One need only look at any war-torn region of the world today to realize that in the middle of a conflict, bullets take precedence over bandages.”

Similarly, Martina offered me her thoughts on a recent interview I conducted:

This was a great interview and a pleasure to listen to it. I don’t hear too many interviews with writers and editors so well prepared.

I tell you this not to say that you should love my work too, but rather to note that it wasn’t that long ago when I would have completely dismissed these lovely comments. Not because I am a dick, but because I am not worthy of such praise.

Throughout my life, I have had a lot of self-worth and self-image problems…still do, to be completely honest. I couldn’t believe that anyone would like me or my work because I and it had no value. Anything nice they had to say was just an effort to…I dunno…I have no idea why they said it.

But it wasn’t true. If it wasn’t a lie, it was a mistake.

As I’ve gotten better with myself over the last several years, I’ve noticed a lot of other people share this problem. They can’t, or perhaps more accurately won’t take a compliment.

dont deny

Please stop! Let people offer you their compliments. And then, say “Thank you.”

Simply say “Thank you” when someone gives you a compliment…no eye roll, no looking away or down, no self-deprecation. Just take it and acknowledge it! It sounds trite, but it isn’t.

A big part of being able to move past self-worth and self-image issues and slowly diminish their impact in my life has been the idea of accepting compliments from other people as more than politeness.

If it works for you as it did for me, at first you just go through the motions…but then slowly, as you take the compliments in and hear them more often–really, really hear them–you begin to think they may be based on something…they may be true. I’m sure they are.

I gave a dear friend of mine similar advice yesterday when she blogged about her vulnerability.

I then proceeded to give her about half-a-dozen compliments in short order to demonstrate my love and appreciation for her, to let her know she was worthy of praise.

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Without knowing which of you is reading when, it is a little difficult for me to do the same right now, other than to let you know that you too are worthy of praise.

So let people praise you…and then, just say “Thank you”.

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(These beautiful images are the property of their owners and are used here without permission, but deepest appreciation.)

 

Risking it all

Risk

A friend of mine recently posted the above sign on her Facebook page, and I had no choice but to share it with my Facebook community (and now you). Although I find the sentiment a little negatively toned as worded, I completely agree with it.

As many of you know, I jumped off a cliff about 18 months ago, completely turning my life upside down in pursuit of the dream of being a screenwriter. To do that, I have made a large number of sacrifices to the way my life was, but in the interim, I have discovered some wonderful things—about me and my friends—that I might never have learned if I hadn’t.

Last week, I had drinks with another friend, someone who had made a similar jump to mine. Like me, he has had some wonderful times during this phase of his life, but he is also struggling with doubt and the sense that the years of effort haven’t paid off as he would have liked. Doubt is a thing I understand.

At this moment, I have no doubt or at least not about my dream. It seems as real and viable as ever. Its realization is simply a matter of time in and work on my part. I revel in these moments and wish my friend could feel the same way right now.

When doubt does creep in, however, I do my best to give it context.

The doubt: Can I afford this conference? Is this screenplay any good? Have I made a mistake? Am I a fraud?

The context: What is the alternative?

I look back at my life before I made the jump and I realize that I can’t go back to that. This is not to say that it was all miserable…I had love and support; I enjoyed aspects of my jobs; I met wonderful people. But in many ways, all of those positives were for naught back then because I was miserable.

I was living my life for other people. I based my identity on my job and what I did for other people. I was only as good, as valuable, as loved as other people told me I was, and deep inside, I truly suspected they were lying. Through no fault of theirs, I couldn’t have faith in them because I didn’t have faith in me.

So, when I finally jumped off the cliff, I realized that what I was risking was a life of well masked misery and distrust. Hardly much of a risk from my perspective.

I understand that others cannot always jump as wholeheartedly as I did. They have responsibilities that I did not have.

I have no children. My wife and I were separating for other reasons (nice to say she remains my strongest and most loving advocate and supporter). My family responsibilities had all but disappeared. My jumping would leave no one in the lurch.

So, maybe you can’t jump like I did. I’m not suggesting that it is right for everyone. But to not jump at all in pursuit of a passion is folly.

Every day you maintain the lie, whatever your personal lie is, is another day you risk it all.

It will be scary. You will have doubts. But you’re not doing anyone any favours, least of all yourself, by continuing to pursue activities, attitudes or a life that is crushing you.

I hope my friend relocates the wonder in what he is doing and continues to explore his adventure. If he will let me, I am happy to help him in any way I can.

He is a very lucky man because he is surrounded by love and support from a community of people who adore him and want him to be happy. I hope he can take energy from that. I know I do.