Tag Archives: dreams

Why I Write

Tag!  I’m it!  So there is something called a “blog hop” going on amidst my little community of fellow Internet scribes in which each of us is tasked in turn to devote a few paragraphs to what drives us to arrange letters into words and sentences and fling them out for the world’s amusement.  I was nominated by the awesome Siofra Alexander, whose online collection of her poetry, dream journals and other assorted thoughts is one of the most imaginative and unpredictable places I’ve encountered, and boasts the most unique titles you’re likely to see.  Check it out for yourself, and see if you don’t agree that if Christopher Nolan had tapped her to design the dreamscapes in Inception, it would have been a much wilder ride.

On to the meat of the question, then.  Why do I write?  It seems tantamount to asking someone why he breathes.  But everyone’s answer is going to be different, as there is no perfect mold in which we can all be squeezed.  I have wondered, though, over the last couple of years as I’ve really entrenched myself in the blogging world and been exposed to the craft of so many others who seem so much better at it, and far more dedicated.  I don’t really seem to fit the model – can really call myself a writer in that vein.  I was ruing yesterday, as I hit publish on my Blade Runner entry, that I have only posted three entries in the last two months (and after Siofra lauded me for accomplishing the 30-day blog challenge back in April, too!)  Some writers can scarcely contain the bajillions of ideas for novels, short stories, poetry and so on percolating in their minds at any given time, and their sites are accordingly bursting with fresh content published daily, while they work on their eighth novel and read a dozen new books a week.  I can only wish that was me, though I’m at an utter loss as to how they fit it all in with (presumably) jobs, relationships and families to consider as well.

There is a purpose and clear path I see in others that feels muddied in myself.  When I started this blog back in 2011 I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it, and I kind of flailed around for a few months (am I a political blogger?  Am I a movie reviewer?  Music critic?  Comedian?  Feminist?  Travel expert?  Dispenser of dubious advice on how to write?  What are these blasted widget things anyway, and why haven’t I been Freshly Pressed yet?)  Eventually I established something of a template, and a style, and contented myself with writing just whatever the hell I felt like writing about that day, without worrying overmuch about the generally accepted notion that you should confine yourself to one subject if you want to build your audience to Bloggess-esque levels.  It’s the same reason why I don’t aspire to become more like the folks I noted in the paragraph above – the journey has been about realizing that it’s okay to just be who I am without struggling to ape somebody else.  And that particular me cannot be pigeonholed as one distinct archetype; rather there are many facets and shades and contradictions to explore.  From an external point of view, this blog may read like an attempt to make sense of the world, but from this side of the keyboard, it’s about figuring meself out, and establishing something of a record of who I was and what I believed.

It’s perhaps the height of ego and arrogance to assume that anyone else gives a tinker’s cuss, but at the same time, it’s obvious that I want you to, otherwise these 299 essays would remain locked away, for my eyes only.  Self-effacement to the contrary, nobody writes to be ignored, and the endorphins that fire upon the receipt of the alert that someone has liked, commented or shared something we penned cannot be replicated by any chemical substance out there.  The validation we feel when someone tells us they enjoyed something we wrote is magical, as much as it may be bad form to admit that.  The reverse, when a post goes ignored, or a rejection email arrives with the dreaded “not quite right for me,” is gutting.  Though it is farcical to tie one’s self-esteem to the appreciation of, or indifference to, the creative work we produce, we do it anyway, against our better judgment.  We write to be loved.  We write to make ourselves worthy of love.  When my wife tells me something I wrote brought tears to her eyes, I feel lifted.  And I feel like I earned it, and no matter what else happens, that moment can’t be taken away.

I’m not sure when I started writing.  It’s amusing to note how many successful writers will relate stories of how they got terrible marks in English.  Mine were always pretty good (except first year university, which was something of an eye-opener), and on creative assignments, it wasn’t rare to score 100%.  I will never forget a Grade 12 assignment to do an updated version of Catcher in the Rye, essentially speculating on what Holden Caulfield would think of the modern (eg. early 90’s) world.  I asked whether profanity was permitted, and was told yes, no problem.  So at one point in the narrative I had Holden encounter a couple of roughs listening to the most vile, misogynist, pornographic song lyrics I could come up with (to provide some context, this was back when 2 Live Crew was in the business of offending Tipper Gore, so it was topical material.)  My friends were all convinced I was going to get suspended for submitting it, but, hands shaking and stomach churning, I did anyway, and got back a perfect grade with about a page’s worth of handwritten, single-spaced comments as my teacher went back and forth on whether or not I should have included those lyrics – calling them disgusting, dirty and inappropriate, but ultimately recognizing what I was trying to do (that it was fiction, not an endorsement or reflection of my actual attitude) and that ultimately I was writing at a level far beyond that of my peers.  I know that’s not how the story is supposed to end – it’s supposed to end with me failing the course, being told I’m an embarrassment to the written word and only much later blossoming into a revered, bestselling genius, right?  But that’s not my story.

My story isn’t Hollywood or even novel-esque, but it could not have gone any other way.  I’m not going to be the bespectacled book blogger who crashes Goodreads with tomes of reviews and lands a six-figure deal for a debut novel.  I won’t be the literary thought leader with thousands of Twitter disciples hanging on the next 140 characters of brilliance to come tumbling from my thumbs.  I won’t be the guy who was always annoying his friends by yammering on about the stories he wanted to write and one day wound up executive producing a hit television show.  I’m just going to be me, whoever and whatever that is and turns out to be.  So one has to set that aside and get back to the bare essence of what it’s all about – arranging letters into words and sentences in a manner that will hopefully find its way to someone else’s eyes, mind and heart.  Taking the victories where they come and shrugging off the slights.  Keep on keeping on, because I honestly don’t know what else I’d do with myself.

And that, ladies and germs, is why I write.

In the spirit of the blog hop, I hereby nominate Raishimi and Nillu Stelter, both stellar smiths of words whose passion and raw talent has managed to dislocate my jaw for the sheer number of times it’s dropped when reading their stuff.  Looking forward to your take on what drives you to pursue this crazy craft.

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With a Song in My Heart: R is for…

“The Rainbow Connection” – Kermit the Frog (The Muppet Movie), 1979.

Given that home video has become a multi-billion-dollar business over the last 35 years, generating far more revenue for Hollywood studios than its precious theatrical releases, it’s hard to imagine that there was a time when any kind of home viewing of films was considered piracy, and that the infamous Jack Valenti of the Motion Picture Association of America once went before Congress and described the VCR as “to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.”  In the 80’s, the VCR was a keystone of growing up.  It was a ticket to other worlds, in that now you had a permanent passport to those favorite adventures that otherwise you’d experience once in the theater and then have to wait about five years to see it again, chopped up with commercials on network TV, if you were lucky.  Even a Betamax machine (yes, my parents guessed wrong, and the phrase “sorry, we only have that on VHS” was heard often at our downtown video store) let you record, play, replay and scrutinize to your heart’s content.  There are a few formative movies that I recall watching rather obsessively when we were becoming the first generation to be able to do that:  Bond, Mary Poppins, Superman, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Popeye, and of course, The Muppet Movie.

The story of how Kermit the Frog, Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, Gonzo and the rest of the gang came together to put on The Muppet Show week after week begins with Kermit alone in his home swamp, strumming a banjo, singing about dreams.  He’s content to remain there until a lost talent agent played by Dom DeLuise spurs him to pursue those dreams to Hollywood, meeting up with familiar faces in typical fourth wall-breaking, cameo-packed hijinks while avoiding the machinations of the evil Doc Hopper (Charles Durning) who wants Kermit as spokesfrog for his national chain of frog’s legs restaurants.  The half-dozen odd songs written by Paul Williams never quite manage to live up to the promise set by the opening number, but in fairness, how could they.  “The Rainbow Connection” is lovely, hopeful, meditative and even a little sad.  Hearing it always puts me back in the living room of the old house in front of that old wood-panel-encased picture tube, clinging to the remote that attached to the VCR by a long cord and had only three controls:  a pause button and a toggle between reverse and fast forward.  Primitive, perhaps, but enough to listen to Kermit’s opening number ad absurdum.

One of my more popular posts of the last couple of months was entitled “Don’t explain away the magic.”  Somewhat uniquely among forms of art, a deepening love of movies usually fosters a deeper investigation into how they are made, diminishing the magic while ironically strengthening your appreciation for them.  (I say uniquely as loving books, for example, doesn’t necessarily lead to a fascination with grammar and sentence structure.)  There are few special effects, optical or computerized, whose basic principles I don’t understand.  The shot of Kermit riding a bicycle after he sets out on his journey, however, continues to astonish me.  Partly because the Muppets were always so endearing, we wanted them to be real.  Fundamentally we knew it was Jim Henson or Frank Oz beneath the frame flapping the lips of a felt construction, but when Kermit was giving his dinner order to waiter Steve Martin or shrinking from mad scientist Mel Brooks, we leaped over the valley of doubt and disbelief.  As a person who revels in telling stories, whether in the form of novels, shorts, 140-character bursts or even short-form nonfiction like this, the ability to make your audience want to take that leap with you is the greatest, most elusive goal.  Most people can’t do it.  In hands lesser than those of Henson et al, the Muppets never would have worked; they would have been simply the latest variation on Punch & Judy, glaring fakes with obvious strings.  Yet they establish such credibility that even if you’ve never seen a Muppet show before, the first moments of this movie where Kermit picks up his banjo and starts to sing remain spellbinding.  You focus then on the meaning of the song and forget that it’s being performed through patches of fabric and glue.  And its idea of finding the ability to walk from idle dreams to unshakable certitude over an elusive rainbow road, makes absolute sense.

I’ve performed “The Rainbow Connection” at a handful of karaoke bars over the years, and my passable Kermit impression is usually good for a handful of laughs from anyone who can be bothered to look up from their drinks.  When I’m singing it, certainly I’m mindful of doing the Kermit voice properly, but I’m always putting just as much emphasis into what the song means.  In The Muppet Movie, Kermit and friends set out to follow their dreams, and discover that achieving them never looks like how you expected.  Many of us will be frightened out of the pursuit exactly for this reason; we can’t bear the idea that the truth won’t resemble our meticulously constructed fantasy.  Maybe you won’t submit your novel to anyone because you’re afraid it won’t be a million-dollar bestseller and a major motion picture starring Brad Pitt and Scarlett Johansson.  Maybe you won’t even hit “publish” on your blog post because you worry it won’t be a viral sensation that gets more hits than “Gangnam Style.”  Is that really the best alternative, though?  Burning away the years pining for a future you don’t have the guts to go after?  A swamp filled with regret is a lonely place to spend your one go-around on this planet.  Because it’s gonna be a reaaaaaaaaaally long wait for Dom DeLuise to show up.

Beyond this place, there be dragons

Inception is one of the coolest movies I’ve seen in a long time.  Dreams can be a dodgy subject for Hollywood to tackle; directors tend to immediately reach for “the weirder the better” when conjuring the dream state on film – for reference, see any of the works (or better yet, don’t) of the late Ken Russell.  You expect now that any movie depicting dreams will be incomprehensible at best, or worst, a tawdry realization of fantasies that were best left in the director’s bedroom.  On the other hand, Inception was the first movie, at least in my memory, to construct dreams as straightforward narrative.  I know a minority critics saw that as indicative of a lack of imagination – I think those few naysayers were hoping for the impenetrable, pretentious ravings of David Lynch a la Mulholland Drive or Lost Highway.  The discussion is more or less beside the point, as all movies are essentially dreams.  Inception was refreshing enough to acknowledge this off the top rather than wrapping its imagery in a veneer of perplexing metaphors, decipherable only by the hipster with the shrine to Truffaut in his basement.

That we dream is a wonderful gift.  Every step of our progress as humanity has begun in our dreams.  Are they random flare-ups of neural energy, the brain dumping superfluous data, or are they a form of precognition?  The German chemist August Kekule claimed to have discovered the ring structure of the benzene molecule, after years of studying carbon bonds, in a dream about a snake swallowing its own tail.  He certainly wasn’t the first to derive specific inspiration from his dreams.  For a writer, the unpredictability of dreams is an invaluable resource.  A block over a story point, agonized over days in the waking state, can resolve itself in the simplest manner within sleep.  It’s almost like those Chinese finger-traps, where the solution is not to pull harder but to relax your grip.  The freedom of the unconscious can untangle the most Gordian of story knots.  And on occasion, it can conjure a brand new idea, seemingly out of nowhere.  Such a dream came to me the other night.

I’m not going to get into the specifics of what the exact idea was, as I would like more time to develop it (and may wish, someday, to transform it into something that people would have to pay me for).  Like the dreams in Inception, I suddenly found myself in the middle of a place with no concept of how I’d gotten there.  Tom Hardy, one of the actors from Inception, was present, as were Charlize Theron and Tom Hanks.  I was pitching them a movie idea.  Hardy and Theron were already attached to star and we were trying to persuade Hanks to sign on for a supporting role, which he did after hearing the concept of the movie boiled down to one line.  Cameron Diaz was also involved but would only be producing.  Following Hanks’ commitment the dream swirled into random scenes from the movie itself involving Hardy and Theron.  And I remember smiling as I watched, thinking this could grow into something tremendous.  I ensured that after I woke I spent some time recording the details so they wouldn’t be lost in the fog of the morning commute.  As for its origin, I can definitely see traces of different things that had been on my mind, even some of the stuff I’ve blogged about this week.  My brain took the various pieces and rolled them into a clean concept worthy of further exploration.  So thank you, almighty Hypnos, or whomever or whatever else, for cultivating those seeds, and for the bountiful crop that sprang forth.  Dreams continue to be the reliable reserve tank when waking imagination runs dry.

Now if you’ll pardon me, I have to go check and see if a top is still spinning.