Thursday, February 4, 2016

A writer's lament

I've noticed lately that, as a writer, or more specifically, a playwright, I've had the urge to quit on a daily basis for a few months now. Maybe it's because I'm working on a script that I find particularly challenging; not the good kind of "this is so exhilarating" challenging but the kind where you stare at the page for ten minutes, write one short line of dialogue, and wait another ten minutes for a vague idea of what the next line will be.

The first almost complete draft I wrote of this script was surprisingly easy, probably because I was vomiting every cliché known to man onto the page. When I reread it, I thought: "Well, good. Now that this stinking turd is out of the way, I can get down to writing the real thing." But the real thing is really f*cking hard. Once I stripped away all the predictable crap and was left with space for originality, the empty whiteness of the blank page was staring back at me, as if to say: "I don't know if you have what it takes." 

Why I ever thought this would be easy, I don't know. It's excruciating. You're probably thinking: "Then why don't you just quit?" The answer I wish were true is that I "have" to write; I can't not write. The real answer is: "My ego won't let me quit." Where would I be without my delusions of grandeur? My daydreams of worldwide fame and amassed fortune? I've devoted my entire life to developing my tortured artist persona. How could I possibly exist as anything else? I can't abase myself to mere mortal status. I've convinced myself I have a unique voice that should be heard, if only I could get my mental ass off the proverbial couch.

Obstacles to my creativity also arise because outside forces constantly limit me to wading in a cesspool of mediocrity, my brain floating about in a formaldehyde-filled jar like a relic of some distant past when it mattered if I used it. After a while, my instrument atrophies, and I have to reeducate myself in its proper use, if only to claim the amassed fortune of my vivid imagination.

I read an excellent blog post on recently about creativity and I was very grateful to have found it. It basically stated that if you want to write something, or be creative in any way with the intention of producing an end product and sharing it with an audience, just f*cking do it and shut up already. No one cares whether you write it or not, so if you want to do it, then go right ahead and stop waiting around for someone's approval; also, stop making excuses for not doing it.

It was a sobering read. I mean, no one gives a shit if I finish my play or not. No one gives a shit if it gets produced or not. Ironically, I found this out when I actually had a show produced. I was thrilled that my script would finally see the light of day. I was hoping for a huge, life-changing mega-hit. It turned out to be a mild success. I got some great feedback and, in general, people seemed to like it. Then it closed, and that was it. Nothing changed. Nothing earth-shattering happened. I wasn't suddenly in demand. The numerous rejections continued. So why keep going?

I suppose because anything worth doing isn't easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it. Although, sometimes it does feel like everyone is trying to be a writer, so where does that leave me? Surrounded by thousands, if not tens of thousands of others with the same idea, or better ideas, than me. Sure, I've heard the oft-repeated advice to "find my own voice" and keep writing about what inspires me, but if no one's interested, isn't it like a tree falling in the forest? Does anybody hear?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

"L'enfer, c'est les autres."

I'm not sure what's worse - being excluded or being misunderstood. Maybe they're the same thing.

This feeling of exclusion has permeated my entire life. Maybe it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. I'm an introvert. I generally prefer being alone (or with my boyfriend) to being with other people and I don't make friends easily. I can quickly shut down a relationship and freeze people out for reasons only known and understood by me. 

I have a peculiar sense of humour. Luckily, some people get it. Others don't. I remember cracking a joke once during an office event which I thought was quite a brilliant play on words, if somewhat inappropriate. It was met with silence and thinly-veiled looks of consternation. It was a bit of a shock to realize how conservative an audience I had. Sure, there's humour in the office, the obvious kind, but I guess there was no place for my Family Guy low-brow kind of humour. Message received.

As a woman with no children, I'm cast in a grey zone as some unfinished piece, often misunderstood. Why didn't you want to have children? You can't possibly understand until / unless you have children of your own. What's wrong with you? You must hate children. Well, I do hate some children when they have no boundaries, discipline or sense of etiquette, however, that can usually be attributed to the parents. There are other children I adore whose honesty, whimsy and spontaneous creativity I find endearing.

Familial relationships can range from incredibly meaningful to despair-inducing. A close relationship I had with one of my cousins, the closest thing to having a sister I'll probably ever have, blew spectacularly apart about a decade ago. It took a few years before we even spoke to each other again. Now, we cross paths at family events, say a few polite words and move on.

Part of me thrives on being an outsider and another part is deeply wounded by exclusion. I like not being easy to categorize and yet desperately yearn to be understood. If you're familiar with the Enneagram, I'm a classic Type 4 personality, wanting to feel different, special, unique, yet all the while wanting to fit in; an unfortunate paradox. 

It's very tempting to simply withdraw when I feel misunderstood or excluded, thus exacerbating the very circumstances causing me pain. Self-preservation wins over a balanced emotional perspective which is hard for me to find these days. My inner child is throwing tantrums, complete with irrational, egocentric demands that my adult self knows are completely ridiculous, all in the name of perpetuating some warped idea of a "successful" social persona before the very people I want to run away from.

Sartre was right. "L'enfer, c'est les autres."

Friday, May 2, 2014

When you think you're a stinking pile of shit...

The power of positive thinking. I'm trying to cling to this notion even as I feel myself slipping further and further away from it. I know from experience that this kind of stuff does work. Being clear about my intentions, creating a vision board, believing that the seemingly impossible is possible.

But then life decides to throw some curve balls. Is this to test my faith? Or bring me back to "reality"? I'd like to think it's the former. As a writer, one must get used to copious amounts of rejection but after a while, rejection takes its toll. Self-esteem plummets, leaving plenty of room for self-doubt to creep in.

What if I'm shit? What if my writing is no good? What if nothing ever comes of this? Then I remind myself that I have a production coming up next year, which is a big f*cking deal, and that I had a short play produced last fall. It received mixed reviews, which felt like a sharp arrow through my heart, although the few words mentioned about it in a major paper were positive. However, people to this day tell me that short play was one of their favorites (it was performed with nine others as part of a festival), and that it brought them to unexpected places. What more could I ask for?

All I wanted a few years ago was a production. I have one in the hopper, and now I want multiple productions. It's a trap, really, a thirst that will never be quenched if I focus solely on end results without enjoying the journey. It's like nothing can happen "fast enough". I'm so anxious to legitimize myself as a writer but I must be careful not to intertwine my self-worth with my accomplishments or perceived lack thereof.

I think I need to relax, breathe, have fun and not worry about "how" things will come about. I'm doing my part. I just need to trust the Universe a little more and stop being so impatient. I mean, really, how hard can that be?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

What to do when one gets metaphorically punched in the face

As an artist, there's nothing quite like being rejected, repeatedly. And for some reason, certain rejections hurt more than others. I received what I felt was a crushing blow yesterday. Tears were shed, Advil taken, cocktails had. On the plus side, I've got some projects lined up, some things "in the hopper", as they say, so it's not a total travesty.

The Universe seemed to be on my side, ready with timely "coincidental" readings and information that crossed my path at just the right time, reminding me that perhaps it wasn't meant to be because there are even greater things waiting in the wings, and I shouldn't worry about "how" my career as a successful playwright will come about, as long as I do my bit every day, take those baby steps, follow leads, write.

I had to calm my ego down that so eagerly wants to prove itself and "be somebody" not realizing I already am somebody and have nothing to prove. Of course, that's easier said than done considering the entirety of Western society is based on competition.

It's not necessarily who can be the best, but who can be the loudest, flashiest and most popular. Truly trying to be the best at what you do, becoming a master of something is, in my opinion, a quiet art. It requires discipline, patience, perseverance and the knowledge that it may take a lifetime, and that the journey is, in fact, the destination.

I was comforted by the fact that I really could let go of worrying how to make things happen and just focus on a general end result, i.e. having a creatively fulfilling career, working with incredibly talented people, etc... instead of getting attached to specifics. My little brain can't possibly fathom the infinite possibilities the Universe has at its disposal to make my wishes manifest.

And so, I attempt to trust the unseen and assuage my bruised ego.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

If it bleeds, it leads.

Yesterday, a tragic event happened in Boston." Did you hear? Have you seen the news?" Yep. Very sad. Besides the usual niceties one utters so as not to seem like a complete sociopath, I remained unmoved.

Frankly, I'm surprised worse incidents don't occur on a regular basis in the good 'ol US of A, what with their rather large contingent of right-wing, gun-slinging religious zealots, impotent government and global animosity towards them following years of questionable foreign policy decisions.

Of course, I would never wish for any harm to come to anyone but am I supposed to care more because yesterday's victims were mostly white North Americans? This kind of thing happens every day in the Middle East. And what about Africa? Paris Hilton has received more air time than the Rwandan genocide.

So no, I will not ask "how high" when the media arm of the corporate oligarchy tells me to jump. CNN's endless coverage of such events can really be boiled down to emotional manipulation, whipping us into a frenzy of fear, despair and rage.

One of my colleagues described the BBC's coverage of the event: "Here's what we know right now." A few minutes later.... "and in other news". Sane, balanced media coverage. Is that too much to ask?

Our very own CBC has morphed into CNN North. All I could hear last night was conjecture: "Well, it could be terrorism. We don't know. It could be a domestic attack. We don't know. It could be, it could be, we don't know, we don't know. Well, if you don't know, then give us the facts you do know and shut the hell up. Stop exploiting these events and turning them into a voyeur's  festival of horrors. It's insulting to us, your viewers, and demeaning to the victims of the crime.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

When your worst enemy is... you.

It's unusual for me to retain anything about my dreams, unless I immediately write them down upon waking. So when I clearly remembered one sentence, one fundamental idea, I figured it might be important.

You see, I've been struggling of late with what Buddhists call "aversion" (anger, bitterness, resentment, irritation, etc, etc). I was spinning myself into a frenzy over things I have no control over, and that's a slippery slope. Some issues were legitimate and I felt I needed  to speak up. But once I'd done everything I could do about "out there", I still spun out of control and that's when all I wanted to do was lash out, to the detriment of myself and cherished loved ones.

I realized there comes a point when all you can do is turn inward. You can't keep trying to control what's outside of you because 1) there will always be something else popping up and 2) it's exhausting. The challenge with turning your attention towards yourself is that it entails taking responsibility for your feelings and behaviour. Who the hell wants to do that in a culture of narcissism and blame?

Buddhist philosophy suggests we turn toward our aversion, in whatever form it takes, and remove our attention from the object we think is causing the unpleasant feelings or sensations. I've only recently scratched the surface of this practice but I tell ya, it is some powerful shit, incredibly self-revelatory.

Sitting with some resentment one evening, I immediately noticed that this felt quite foreign as we're so apt to blame things outside ourselves for our negative feelings. It was also immediately elucidating as I could no longer ignore the true source of my irritation - me.

Fear. It's all fear. My fear. Fear of disappearing, of being forgotten, of not being noticed, of not being good enough, of not measuring up. And I saw how my fear was distorting reality and causing me suffering. That's not to say my anger and resentment just melted away. It didn't. It still hasn't. But I'm  consciously trying to use it to learn more about myself rather than directing it outward and staying stuck in the same vicious cycle.

And then I had that dream I mentioned earlier, and I retained this: "Nothing really matters." My interpretation of this is that our human experience is nothing but an illusion, so we can remember our true nature, so the Universe can know itself. Nothing really matters because it's not real. As Marianne Williamson states: only love is real. Where there is no love, there is only illusion.

It's a big pill to swallow, I know, because, whether we like to admit it or not, there's a part of us that thrives on confrontation, on asserting our "importance", our "knowledge", our perceived "superiority". However, we waste much less energy giving up that fight because it's one we'll never fully win. Sure, there may be small victories along the way, but we'll never win the battle until we remove ourselves from it.

According to Buddhism, the spiritual path consists of the non-reactive witnessing of aversion. Easier said than done, but not impossible. I'm still taking those first few shaky steps towards something new, but really, what other choice do I have?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hypochondria is overrated

So it's dawned on me recently that I'm a hypochondriac. Sad but true. I see a red mark on my skin, probably from my bra, I immediately think it's skin cancer. I have a canker sore on my tongue. Cancer. I'm pooing dark pink (because I've eaten beets but I only found that out later and in the moment thought my insides were coming out through my butt hole). Must be colon cancer.

The worst possible thing I can do is look that shit up on the Internet. So I do. And it doesn't help. It only feeds into my mania and exacerbates the whole situation. I know they're trying to provide people with useful information but I think it's doing more harm than good to list various symptoms that could indicate any number of ailments on the Internet. Because we are somehow programmed to download the worst possible scenario into our brains and convince ourselves that's our fate.

There's no logic to it, no reasoning. Just this overwhelming sense that our very survival is being threatened, assailed constantly with inexplicable bumps, bruises, marks and strange-looking poo.

I've vowed in the New Year to try and calm the f*ck down, you know, go with the flow. Every time I get any of these minor incidents checked out by a doctor, they turn out to be nothing. I should really learn to take a hint. All this time wasted being worried. Why?

Worry has to be the most useless emotion ever. It doesn't solve anything. It has no healing power. If anything, it just makes things worse because it puts your mind and body under stress. So why do we worry so much? About everything?

Are we so aware of life's fragility that we can't just ease into the flow of our lives? Is it the uncertainty? The not knowing when that final moment will come so we keep tripping ourselves up in the meantime? I get unusually obsessive about my health when I'm happy or under stress. I know, go figure.

If things get too good, if I feel I'm too content, then I have this strange compulsion to find some tiny little bodily flaw (a freckle, a cramp, a dull ache) and, with the amazing power of my imagination, turn it into something potentially fatal. Life is too short to be doing that kind of shit.

Why can't I just BE happy, or just BE stressed without a fabricated doomsday health prognosis hanging over me? I know resolutions don't usually work but I find this one particularly important: go with the flow. Stop fighting life. Because before you know it, it'll be over and you'll have spent most of it worrying about the end instead of actually living.