Starting all over again

It’s been a while. A long while since I had the urge to write. Actually, that is not exactly true. I have had the urge but I always found a way to put it off. Stories in my head and words on a page are two very different beasts. In my head, my ideas are brilliant. They are perfect and there is no risk. Once I start committing to paper (or any other medium) I run the risk of not being as great as I am in my head.

The trigger that took me off writing was another failure. It happens when you are a writer. You hear stories about all the rejection letters that famous writers got and then one day they became successful. Letters aren’t so bad. Even if it is a form letter, there is some recognition of your work. It gets hard when you hear nothing. No letter, no email, no feedback. You submit something and then you wait till one day you decide that you will not hear anything and move on.

When I was offered the opportunity of writing for a TV show, I was understandably nervous. My first attempt had been a solid effort but it had been a while since and so whilst I wanted to grasp the brass ring with both hands, I was hesitant. At the time I had one request in taking on this task. Feedback. I asked that someone give me feedback on what I was submitting so I could see what was going on and work out where improvements needed to be made. I wanted to do it right and I would rather have had less work and be submitting good work than just take the money. The feedback never came. Nothing. I would just get called and given another script and to be fair, I never asked if there was anything to work on, after all I had asked for feedback and if nothing was given that meant that I must be doing something right. Right?

Then one day the phone stopped ringing. No calls, no emails, nothing. I never knew if it was personal or professional or both. (Having been a script coordinator for a few years I had seen personality issues with the head writer see writers get struck from the writers list.) In the end I had to assume that they didn’t like my writing but again with no feedback it was hard to know where to begin to improve. I was left to my imagination as to what went wrong and when you have a writers imagination unleashed, it can be quite terrible.

That can shake the confidence but as any successful writer tells you, you have to persevere. So I did. I had a couple of old bosses, one in particular that would give me his time and advice on my work and I pressed on. I wrote a short play that was moderately successful but many of my other projects missed the mark. When I had a miss I would go back to my friend and get the pearls of wisdom when he had time. I did a couple of courses as well, run by people who were good at what they did and the feedback was always very solid. I did a submission for another former boss who gave me great feedback (he always did when I wrote scenes as a coordinator) but before I could really get back into the serial writing, my friend and mentor passed away.

I had already decided to do some traveling but without his assurance it was hard to find the enthusiasm to jump back into a world that he had so intrinsically been a part of for me so I hid. I kept writing though and tried to find that formula. I would occasionally submit things but never get any response and with no one to bounce off the work it became harder to maintain the enthusiasm. Then I had one project that I felt was great. I had refined my craft and I thought provided something that was short and punchy and exactly what they were after but again there was no response.

My friend James once said to me “Being a writer requires a massive ego. You have to believe without a doubt that you are the best person to tell the story that you are telling.” He also threw in some swear words and a few insults as James was that sort of guy, but without him as a constant antagonist and mentor my enthusiasm wasn’t there. So I stopped.

I still had the stories in my head and the ideas always seemed to flow but I didn’t want to share them. I took a break with the intention of not writing again and see how it felt.

To be honest, there was relief. No demands of myself, to produce, to be judged, but there was also an absence. I like writing, I like the ideas, I like that feeling that I have a story that is worth telling, but sometimes I felt like I needed that mentor to remind me of this and to encourage me. Family and friends are one thing but having someone who really understands what you do and reads your work is a rare find.

I’m not certain if there was a trigger to start again. I have been revisiting projects to try and understand how to improve them. I have stood in front of my keyboard and started to gingerly type the words. I have lost momentum and I can feel it when I write. It takes time but I can’t help but think that when the wheels come off if you aren’t happy with where you have ended up, it’s worth putting the wheels on and having another drive. It will be interesting to see where the road goes from here.

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Exploring other roads.

Whilst I was travelling I would often research places online when I was trying to decide where I was going. I would Google a few places and read a few articles. After I was finished I headed back to Facebook and started catching up on my messages and checking the feed. The next thing I knew, I was being flooded with ad for places where I was searching. My email box started getting great offers and newsfeeds were suggesting many relevant sites.

This is nothing new. I understand that the cost of business on Facebook is that I lose my privacy. I end up on mailing lists that will be spamming me until I die and long after my trip ended, I would still be receiving “Great Offers” for one or more travel destinations that I was yearning to see. None of this bothered me. As I said, it is the cost of business. What I started to realize is that with the abundance of information out there, I could filter the information so specifically that I only needed to be exposed to the information that fit my system of beliefs.

There are so many hours in the day and only so long anyone can spend surfing the net. Between the clickbait, the targeted ads and the constant stream of useless information we only have so much time to allocate to the rest of the world. In order to find out as much as possible, we choose, very specifically, our sources of information. Those sources know their audience. They get very specific feedback about them. They then try to provide more of what their audience wants to keep them. It all makes good sense. It’s also incredibly limiting.

I have liberal tendencies. I make no effort to hide them. I like guns but can’t understand why anyone who lives in a city needs one. I have a preference to explore alternative therapies and will avoid all contact with Doctors unless absolutely necessary and I believe in science, climate change and that social justice is a good thing. The trouble is, when I only expose myself to the things that support my views, I run the risk of limiting new ideas and becoming a little less tolerant to those who hold opposing views.

I like an argument. Not a shouting match, but intelligent argument where someone tries to convince me of his or her point of view. One of my favourite arguments I ever had was with my little brother. He won me to his side after a long discussion. My older brother is a constant source of political information that I would otherwise make no effort to explore. He constantly is making me aware of things that I would otherwise be happily ignorant about. I have a cousin that is very pro gun. He has yet to put together an argument regarding his position that in my opinion genuinely moves beyond, he likes guns and bad people have them, but I enjoy the back and forth. I won’t ever change his mind and he won’t ever change mine but that’s okay, besides, we agree on a lot of other things.

I think that it is important to ensure that you are constantly exploring sources of information outside of your usual sources and especially those that challenge your ideas. That is not to say that everyone has a valid point of view. Being selective is important. Someone once told me that they could scientifically prove that climate change was a hoax. I politely suggested that they should publish their evidence, get it peer reviewed and get back to me when it is done and I will happily read it. (And if they ever do, I most certainly would.) Ludicrous statements that have nothing to support them can make you switch off to another perspective but it is always worthwhile trying to find to cogent argument at the heart of the matter. After all, everyone out there approaches the world in their own way and just because I have learned one way doesn’t mean there isn’t a better one.

Moving beyond old limitations.

I had an interesting experience a couple of weeks ago. I was getting a massage treatment when the masseuse realised that one of my ribs was in fact, dislocated. It wasn’t a recent development, there was no accident in which it had occurred. It was just my rib cage and it had always been like that. My bottom right rib, raised up jutting out a little from my body. The masseuse promptly took the opportunity to try and put the rib back where it was supposed to be.

Now let me say this up front, having a rib slot back into place isn’t a pleasing experience. In fact it’s a fairly crappy experience, especially when it has been out of place for as long as one can remember. As people, I have found that we often build much of our identity around who we are and what we can do, especially physically. In my case the rib has always been something I have disliked about myself and something that has caused me much distress over the years. It led to me feeling very self conscious about taking my shirt off. Subconsciously I felt exposed on some level and as a result I hunched and developed a curvature of the spine, I also had a massive discomfort at the idea of anyone touching my chest region. As you can imagine, over my formative years this must have had an impact on my social and personal development.How could it not? Whenever I looked in a mirror I saw something that was ugly and freakish about me.

I am lucky though. I’ve never had any pain from this problem and my body functions well enough to let me do all that I wish. For that I am grateful, but it has been one of those things about myself I have been trying to fix for over twenty years. On this day though the problem was seemingly identified and sure enough though the rib went back where it was supposed to go. In moments this freakish aspect of myself was no more.

When it happened there was a lot going through my head. Why after all the people have I seen over the years for various conditions, (including fractured ribs that required x-rays), had no one realised until now? A sort of mental anguish washed over me. An action so simple had rectified this problem. Something so simple that if it had been done twenty years ago, I had to wonder if I would have been the same person I am today. Would I have kept the same friends? Pursued the same studies? Might I have been more active in sports if I subconsciously wasn’t always protecting myself.  I often muse on the idea that who you are today is a result of the things that occur to you over your life. Sometime there is a specific event you can pinpoint, other times it is a random moment lost in the shroud of time.

It may not even make a difference. After all, perhaps we are at this moment who we are at this moment and everything else doesn’t exist. There is so much to consider when you reflect on yourself, especially in the aftermath of profound change. I always thought my of my problems were fixable, contrary to the opinions of specialists, did that have an impact? The desire for self healing and change can be powerful. It can move mountains. Gautama Buddha said “With our thoughts we make the world.” and even though I remember this because it was at the start of the old TV show Monkey Magic, the statement still rings true to me.

It can be hard to change yourself, especially when it comes to those aspects of you that have been a part of your life for as long as you can remember. It can be harder changing when everyone says that is just how it is and sometimes the problem is that which you can’t clearly see. I remember reading somewhere, and it is something that I have often repeated, that the one constant in everything in your life is you. You need to accept that you are in charge of you and being able to make better decisions about your own life you would think, would have to include being aware of yourself as much as possible.

So a new chapter begins and it will be interesting to see how much of issues in my life that I am dissatisfied with will start to shift with the physical changes. Will my interactions with other be different, even the way I use my body in the day to day must be affected. Then there is all the physical things that I do in life. They will certainly be affected by the change. That is part of the fun when you have those real moments of change. Shifts in old patterns and behaviours, recognising what you do and why you do it. It is those moments that open a new world of possibility and make you start to wonder if other things can be changed too. It only took twenty years to sort this problem, I am certain I can solve the next one a lot faster.

The joy of not getting.

I was walking down the street. The sky was sunny, the weather warm and the two student approaching me with a look of quiet desperation in their eyes, were on a mission. Collecting for charity is not the easiest job, certainly it would be high on the list of jobs that I would never want to do and I appreciate the effort people make when they do. They were collecting for HIV research and after I handed over the money that I had decided to give, they gave me a piece of cheap plastic to wear around my wrist.

I’m not certain how or when it happened exactly, but somewhere along the way, charity donations became an exchange, a marketing exercise. These days, there is a ribbon day for just about anything, wrist bands, broaches, pins, badges, pens. The sheer volume of rubbish that charities want to give you for making a donation is legendary. Then there are the more insidious donation requests that require your credit card, sticking you on a mailing list and mounds of paperwork every few months or so. I’m certain marketing agencies spend a great many dollars coming up with their shtick to make you remember their charity. A way to make their cause the flavour of said day. World “give a donation” day, but honestly, I think it’s getting a bit much.

I have spent a great deal of time in call centres and I know all about what goes on inside those charity collection agencies. Staff are forced to browbeat those who have made a donation with good intentions, determined to get every single cent out of them that they possibly can. Now I am certain that every charity will tell you that they never do that, but they do. They outsource to some company who takes a group of backpackers and gives them a list of people to pursue relentlessly. I understand that there are finite resources, especially when it comes to charitable work and that charities are under great pressure to get funding however, often the people being chased for additional contributions are people with good hearts who can barely afford what they are giving as it is. Charity shouldn’t be like this. Charity shouldn’t be something a person with an open heart dreads.

There was a story I saw about a couple from somewhere in the US. (Yes I know the specifics but I am choosing not to share.) They made an “anonymous” donation to a charity and now there is a news story about this. I have seen several links to the story. The feel good moments that the media latch on to whilst they try and remind us how terrible the world is. Anonymous is anonymous and you have to wonder if the same people who made the donation would make the same donation again knowing what will happen as a result. Charity isn’t about getting your name in the paper and it probably shouldn’t be about getting stuff either. It never used to be.

In the bad old days there were stories about fraudulent charity collectors, money was harder to track, and I imagine there is a higher risk that something would happen to the funds, but for me, I probably gave more. At the most when I give a donation, I just want a receipt if it is for a decent amount. I’ll probably lose it but there is always the chance that it ends up on my tax return and that seems fair to me. Certainly I find it easier to give money to the beggar on the street and even though I know that there is a good chance that the money will probably not go exactly where I would like it to go but that’s how it goes sometimes.

I am not the most charitable person out there but I like to give when I have a few dollars. It makes me feel good knowing that the coffee I was going to get is now going to returning someone’s eyesight or a goat for a village somewhere. It can be a spur of the moment thing and I take great pleasure from the act. I don’t need other people to know what I did. I don’t need some useless keepsake and mounds of paperwork or hired guns trying to get more money out of me. I have never met anyone yet who said that they enjoyed giving their credit card details to random people on the street for regular contributions with a hefty minimum monthly donation.

I want to give, I want to give more than I do, but I want to do it quickly,  anonymously and be able to wander away imagining that coffee I am not drinking.

Interpretation

One night on my travels, whilst I was in Split I ended up at the Marcs Marvlvs bar. (as I frequently did) This night in particular, there was a poetry night on. Random strangers crowded in and recited poems, original or ones that just stuck with them. My friend, Tin, the bartender was an accomplished poet and had several on hand, (in Spanish) and knowing that it was a passion, I thought that I should make an effort to contribute to the evening. One poem was scratched out over a glass of Dalmatian Red on my phone.

I charge to damage and wound

The absence of malice irrelevant

The rhythm of the feet a drum

The blood rises, the fever overtakes

I fly and the fire explodes

Sanity returns

The fever subsides

I press off the ground and charge again.

What I didn’t realise that was after every poem people would talk about the poems and about how they interpreted the poem. It was an interesting experience. The depth that people brought to my poem was astounding. I’m certain that the alcohol had some impact but as I listened I was amazed at how wrong some of the ideas were.

All through high school and college, I struggled with the idea of breaking down epic works to what the author was really getting at. “Clearly the author was referencing blah…” Time and again the discussion raged and I couldn’t help myself attempt to disrupt the class by asking the same question. “Isn’t it possible the author was on drugs or something and just telling a story?” Usually the only response was a glare from the teacher.

Now I don’t pretend for one second to consider myself a writer of the calibre of Twain, Shakespeare, Atwood, Keats, Yeats and of course Wilde, but the poem above was nothing more than me trying to describe the feeling that occurs when, in the midst of an Aikido rundori (basically a group of Aikidoka, Aikido students, attack a single target in a series of attacks), you get thrown across the room, and land on the hard floor, your legs slam together and catch your balls between them basically knackering yourself. Not wanting to make the Tori (Executor of the techniques) look bad, you drag yourself from the floor and keep attacking.

When you read what I actually meant, the poem, (such as it is) makes more sense. I guess this is my verbose way of saying that the next time you are dealing with someone whose behaviour frustrates you, consider that perhaps, despite your own insightful observations, you may not be reading the tale with the same context as the author. Slammed

Completing. The secret of success?

Over the years I have dabbled in many things. Always searching for success in whatever I attempted to do. It doesn’t always come easily. I think I often go out of my way to pick things that are not my natural strengths as a I like to think that if I can become good at them it is a more worthy achievement.

Writing has always been one thing that has been a struggle. I have imagination, but then again so do many people. If you don’t believe me, just go to a party and tell people you are a writer and straight away you will find out so many other people have stories that they want to tell. I have trouble, frequently, with spelling and grammar. (If you have ever read any of my stuff you will know this already.) Even when I recheck, there are mistakes that slip through the cracks and it can be quite embarrassing.  The big thing though, the major impediment to success as a writer, (and many other projects) is completing.

It’s a very simple step in the process and the one that many people I have spoken to over the years struggle with. I have spent a great deal of time listening to talks by writers, film makers, artists of every stripe and the main difference between those that are successful and those who are not, is completing. Whatever project you start, you need to make certain that you take that struggling beast to the end of the line and then wrestle it over the line.

That is not to say what you create will be perfect. I remember someone telling me that “Directors never finish films, they just move on.” I feel a little like that about my writing sometimes. I will frequently find myself revising works to try and get every last drop out of it. This can be helpful a few times but if you are just tweaking so that you don’t have to finish it, then you should just make the decision that it is finished and move on.

Completing shouldn’t be that hard but as I am certain many people could tell you, it can be the most daunting thing in the world. The reasons for completing can also be quite daunting. For me personally, the biggest issue that I have ever had with completing was always a silly fear that I clung too. Simply put, over the years people told me that I was smart and creative and had talent. All positive things it’s true, but somewhere in the twisted recesses of my mind it became a major impediment, after all what would happen if I did complete something and it was terrible? What if that project that I had such a great idea for was poorly executed and completely wasted? Would everyone hate and shun me? Would they cast me out and not want me as a friend?

Yes these are all stupid thoughts but fears are rarely logical and the consequences come from deep down inside. I have also spoken to those with similar issues and another common fear is the one that, people think they are worthless and if they try and fail at something, then it proves that they are indeed worthless. Neither of these are particularly inspiring motivators to finish projects and certainly would impede someone’s desire to show their work to get honest feedback. I’m a harsh critic of my work but I am lucky to know a few people who have been good enough to give constructive feedback. Feedback is good but it can be tough to hear, especially when it isn’t the good stuff. I appreciate the bad stuff, if it’s constructive. It gives me somewhere to go and might help me see what I am missing, but again, if your work is bound up in your fears it can make you gun shy. In the end you have to take that leap of faith.

No matter the task, even something as simple as cleaning a room or washing the dishes, I think completing the task at hand is extremely important. Maybe it’s a shift in thinking that comes with getting older? It may just be a simple satisfaction that produces it’s own charge that can never, and should never be underestimated, especially when you are trying to achieve anything of value. Completing what you start is a habit, much like any other that you incorporate into your life. It will be interesting to see if it makes any long term difference in mine.

Too buff for the wet suit.

There was a time when I was ripped. Not an ounce of fat could be found on me. I could (and did) swim a 20km swim to raise money for something and I was firing on all cylinders like a champion. I was twelve. At the time, I was swimming 13 times a week, average session length was 2hrs. I was about as fit as someone can get. I don’t swim like that anymore. I can’t imagine how I did it at the time. I have a life now that precludes that insane level of training. As I slowly stopped swimming the fitness dropped. What can I say, there was high school and of course there were girls. The idea of spending that much time staring at a line in the bottom of a pool lost its importance.

Time went on. I still maintained a fairly good figure with little effort. I was doing a little martial arts, occasional swimming and always up to stuff with my mates on the weekend. My metabolism was incredible. Not matter how much I ate, I burned it all off. Then one day I turned 30. It wasn’t like the Cinderella and the midnight sort of event. I didn’t simply hit 30 and boom, the spare tyre appeared. It was a progression. I was eating like I did when I was a teenager but sitting down more. Worse, I had money so my diet was becoming something that was more completely under my control. These days there are so many diets and articles floating around, analysing food types and what does what, but back when I was younger, this stuff just wasn’t as prolific as it is these days. I started writing when I wasn’t sitting at a desk and work and exercise became something I did a couple of times a week. After a few years of that I noticed that the spare tyre just wasn’t going away. The crystallising moment for me was the day I went to try on a wetsuit and couldn’t fit into my usual size. Sure the humble wetsuit isn’t the slip on accessory we all imagine but even after excessive inhalation and contortions, I had arrived at the conclusion that, I had pulled that suit on as far as it was ever going to go. The store assistant called from beyond the flimsy moth eaten curtain. “How you going in there?” What I am certain he really wanted to tell me, was that if I split that suit I was going to be buying it. I admitted defeat and called out. “Sorry mate. I’m too fat for this one.” His response was what you would expect from a male surfer and was very much indicative of the male mindset as you start to add a few extra kilos. “Mate, around here, we say, you’re too buff for the wetsuit.”

These days I eat better, my health is excellent, (I made it through India and Nepal and never got sick once.) but the spare tyre hangs around. I know women have all those body issues and I even hear now that men are also now struggling to meet rise up to the expectations set by the models and actors that we see plastered all over the place. (I am fairly certain that if a single issue of Men’s Health went to print without the promise of “Rock Hard Abs” somewhere inside, it would unleash untold horrors onto the world. (As Bruce Campbell is about to do in the new Ash vs the Evil Dead series. Sorry, but I’m really excited about it.) My abs may indeed be rock hard but they are carefully packed away under a little extra padding. I never gave those magazines and films that much time. I know how hard those guys work. For me, the drive comes from the Santa Cruz crew. My friends clustered in and around Bondi. They eat well, exercise and as a general rule, all look in pretty good condition. (Those sons of bitches.) They don’t really care if I am sporting a gut but it helps as a reminder that I should be making an effort, so I am motivated. I don’t want to be the buffest guy at Bondi, but I always make an effort to try and get into shape other than Buddha shape. The trouble is exercise. And food. And the fact that I enjoy writing.

Exercise and I have an interesting relationship. I always enjoy when I am doing it. Getting the pump, the stretch, sweating, the fresh air. Early morning wakes ups don’t even bother me. Getting out of bed though. That is where the problem lies. I’m no fool. I set an alarm. It goes off, and even when my mind is sharp and I am feeling refreshed, the evil monster inside of me reminds me of how comfortable my bed is. How good that perfect warmth is. How the pillow is now in the perfect mould around my head. The idea of forcing myself from this condition and completing even a solitary push up is sometimes unthinkable. I’m staying with my parents as I rebuild my finances. The place they live has a heated lap pool. Yes, that’s right. Heated. And if you think for one second I am going to leave my cosy bed and jump into a pool at 6am, you are out of your mind.

Food, glorious food. I love food. I eat well. I love a simple meal of steamed veggies, salad and a bit of meat or eggs. Not much in the way of pasta, grains or potato in my diet. I have even cut out the desserts (mostly) and the late night chocolate or biscuits (on occasion, though that is mostly because I didn’t pick some up from the shops.) Of course when I start writing, I like to snack. When I binge watch TV a snack or two goes well. Go to the movies, better get a choc top. Visit friends. Food time! Yup, I love my food. I like to cook too. You can bet that they are all meals that aren’t going to help with the weight loss, especially when it tastes so darn good that I have a bit extra. Luckily there is wine to wash it all down.

Yup. The war between myself and the spare tyre goes on. I will be moving back to Bondi in time for some of the summer and I am looking forward to the runs on the beaches, the work out on the bars. The swimming in the ocean. My favourite butcher, coffee shop, gelato bar, fruit and veggie market, and places to have a cheeky drink or three. Luckily I have my friends as a reminder, except when they are busy exercising. (Because screw that.) It’s a war of attrition and sooner or later one of us will emerge the victor. Let’s just hope it’s not the Michelin Man.