creativity

Of typewriters and tear-stained tempests

I just got home from a seriously crap day involving some potential bad news, some actual bad news, and a subsequent thirty-minute crying fit in the work toilets. Not high levels of win. But on the bus, I found my thoughts drifting from feeling sorry for myself to writing, to two massive things in my life right now, and I found myself mentally drafting a post about it. I’ve taken to carrying a notebook around with me everywhere lately – I pack it in my bag along with my lunch, several books, and USB chips in the morning, keep it beside my computer at work to jot down ideas and flashes of what I hope to be inspiration, hauling it home at the end of the day and keeping it beside my bed in case I wake up with an idea in the night. It’s a habit I’m enjoying immensely, and it kind of makes me feel like a little bit more of a Real Writer. Note: I wasn’t using it because I was trying to hold a pile of letters, a laptop bag and a bottle of port as well as the handrail, and the remaining energy that wasn’t being spent coming up with this post was being used on Not Falling Over.

That’s one of the things that’s been a big thing lately, as I think I may have mentioned before my giant hiatus from blogging. Writing. I can honestly say I’ve never felt so passionate or engaged about it in my entire life.  I used to blog often because I had things to say, and I enjoyed compiling an ongoing archive of the way my life and thoughts took shape over the years. But it was completely different from what I wanted to be writing.  It’s always been my biggest dream to write fiction, but though I think I can describe atmosphere and scenes and stuff pretty well, I’ve always sucked at plotting and dialogue – you know, the things that make any story an actual story. If it were up to me, I’d describe creepy old rooms and echoing hallways and buildings that cast looming great black shadows until the proverbial cows came home. (Likely from the library, where they’d gone in exasperation to find anything with some sort of action.) I also learned in writing classes that if you wanted to be a Real Writer, you had to also be a public speaker. Not only did you have to be able to include conversations and actual people in your stories, you had to be charming and charismatic and engaging, and able to read your stuff in public without breaking down in tears or throwing up afterward. So for years, it remained a dream. One of those things people put on bucket lists that they really like the idea of actually happening, but deep down know it’s probably about as likely as life-sized, strawberry-filled, Nicki Minaj-shaped chocolate zombie victims hitting the shelves next Halloween. (Just me?)

But then it happened. I got an idea! And I think it’s a really good one! And to be working on something I’ve always wanted to do, with a real premise… to conjure up characters and and give them all their very own back stories… to have them consume my thoughts throughout every day, to book off days from work just to have time to devote to giving them life, to be able to share a secret notebook of stories and ideas and to be able to create something, finally? It’s quite possibly the best thing ever. It’s killing me not to be able to talk about the actual premise, or show you any of my fiction writing, which is very different from something I just throw together without reviewing and splurt out onto the internet, but I’m bursting with excitement to be taking this on. Every day, I find myself rushing home from work to pour the ideas from inside my head out onto the page, or to do further research on the topic, setting, and history. I’m sure it’ll be at least a year or two until it’s fully complete, but until then, I’m loving every minute of it.

But it hasn’t been without its struggles. I know every writer’s process is different, and, so I’m told, mine is very much like a certain Mr. Vonnegut – I write meticulously, taking an hour to form two sentences and refusing to continue the next page until the current one is perfect. This defies a lot of advice on writing – I’m told at every roadblock to just keep writing, even if it’s shit. That that’s what editing is for. But in perfecting it, you set yourself up for future hardship when something you spent hours on has to be hacked up and reworked to fit someone else’s mould. I know perfectionism is a disease. Heck, a couple of years ago I wrote a thousand words in a blog post on the very subject, and genuinely believed myself to be convinced it was true. But here I am, still unable to shake the habit. Today’s meltdown at work was a result of perfectionism and unrealistic expectations of myself. Every time I hear the word “feedback” after I’ve shown somebody a rough draft of something, I find myself tensing up, bracing myself for criticism, ready for a crushing blow of imaginary proportions. If I slip into an old habit I’ve worked hard to eradicate, or make a mistake at work, the thought of being seen as weak, wrong, stupid or, I suppose, less than ideal, is absolutely crippling. I work myself into a frenzy, beating myself up for not being perfect when nobody in the world expects me to be. It’s something I’m tackling in the anxiety program, and I know awareness is the key to changing bad habits, but my god, it’s difficult.

I think one of the reasons I want to write so desperately because I see a heck of a lot of crap out there that somebody’s decided to immortalise in print, and I know I can do better. Kind of analogous to being a decent person in general (I see why this mental post was drafted whilst on Winnipeg’s public transit system) – you see a heck of a lot of shit being put into the world, and you feel almost an obligation to put something awesome out there instead. The tough part is getting out of your own way. If I’m going to be a proper writer, it’s great to have an idea, characters, and plot points – but I need to be open to what’s inevitable. Edits upon edits, well-intentioned criticisms, processes that may be outside my comfort zone… all things that will help the end product be the best it can be. I just need to learn to stop being such a perfectionist, admit that things may be utter crap the first time around, and apply that principle to life in general. Learn to be okay with just being okay sometimes.  And stop beating myself up for not being perfect first time.

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that there had been two big things in my life as of late, the first of which happened to be writing. The second is related, but kind of on the other end of the spectrum, and is something that’s been a part of me for as long as I can remember. Oversensitivity. Notably, crying. I cry all the time. Before shit hit the fan at the end of last year, I cried because I let myself worry about everything. I let my thoughts spiral into imagined scenarios in the future that seemed absolutely inevitable as a result of the past. I worried about spending an evening at home alone without plans because that must make me a socially inept loser that nobody wants to hang out with. I worried that I wasn’t witty or confident enough, that I wasn’t attractive enough, and that my giant emotions about everything would push people away – which they did, which led me back to worry #2. It was a self-perpetuating cycle I couldn’t escape, and I was the only one administering my own entrapment.  Then things reached their climax, and I started to get my act together. I tried not to be so reliant on others for reassurance. Learned to see evenings solo as a chance to do things I loved, and not sentences to be served in isolation while the world continued on without me. Learned to see periods of non-contact as simply being busy, or sleeping, or being in class or with people – nothing to worry about; and actually do the same myself. But I still cry. I cry not because I worry about the worst, but mostly because I can’t believe the best is actually happening. My biggest dream of being a writer is coming true. My longest desire to feel confident and funny and smart has materialised, and I’ve found myself with the self-confidence to do things I’ve always wanted to. I’ll be mid-conversation and just start breaking down in tears simply because my dreams are becoming reality. But ever so often, I cry for the wrong reasons. I catch my thoughts spiraling into worry again, and I start sobbing. What is this all disappears? What if my job gets cut, or my Dad moves away, or people still see me as the person I used to be? I know all of those things are beyond my control, but there’s something terrifying about life finally becoming what you wanted it to be, and the very real possibility that something may happen to take it away.

via Hyperbole and a Half

It’s not like it’s a new thing. Anyone who’s ever met me for more than a day will attest to the fact that I am probably the most sensitive and weepy person they’ve ever met. But the thing is, I don’t want to be seen as a wuss. I know I’m bloody strong, I just think I feel things with a hell of a lot more impact than perhaps is normal. I’ve written before about the emotional spectrum, about how keeping yourself from expressing how you really feel can suck away the full potential of joy. Yes, I firmly believe that it’s better to be incredibly happy for a short time than just to be okay for your whole life. But the danger in handing yourself over to the full range of human emotion is that you put yourself at risk of turning from master to puppet, to be taken hostage by them and rendered powerless to do anything about them once they take over.  This week I’ve found that happening, and it’s a scary place to be.

Before I started seeing a counsellor and going to the anxiety program, I didn’t have the tools to recognize my thought patterns and subsequent crying fits as unhealthy or detrimental. I believed them to be perfectly logical and rational behaviours. Now, I can see my tendencies, process them, and stop them before they take over the world around me – and I’ve been doing infinitely better. Life has been infinitely better. I don’t worry so much, I don’t react to every little thing like the world is imploding, and I’m happy 99% of the time. But twice this week, I found myself absolutely paralysed – able to see what I was doing as illogical and irrational, but physically unable to stop sobbing and being sad. Now, this may very well be an unusually extreme case of PMS induced by a day without eating, my back being worse than usual, and not having had any coffee that day, in which case I think we can forgive the slip up. But I found myself sitting in a toilet cubicle, giving myself a pep talk about how there was no reason to be sad, failing, and unable to stop sobbing.  An interesting thing I’m learning in the anxiety program is that other people have this problem too, and I’m not going to discount the idea of me simply being, as Psychology Today so wonderfully brought to my attention, a Highly Sensitive Person. Please read it. When I read psychiatrist Judith Orloff’s words – “It’s like feeling something with 50 fingers as opposed to 10,” I breathed a sigh of relief. I wasn’t alone, and it may actually have something to do with biology and science as to why I am this way. But that doesn’t mean I’m okay with it. I don’t like being in constant fear of criticism or rejection, and I don’t like bursting into tears if I haven’t heard from my boyfriend for a few hours and I’m worrying he’s lying somewhere unconscious. I don’t like overanalyzing and reading into things that aren’t there, and I don’t like catastrophising every little event in a day. I love that my sensitivity allows me to be incredibly in tune with others’ emotions, or that I read a piece of beautiful prose or hear a great song and want to jump up and down because somebody’s just been an awesome human being. I love being overly enthusiastic about things like simple existence and celebrating creativity and taking the time to see small beauties of nature and spend two hours in the cold photographing them because nature is just so stunning. I love that there may very well be a biological explanation for being extremely sensitive, and I love that just because I cry a lot doesn’t have to mean I’m a giant baby – it just means I feel things more extremely. But I don’t like being a slave to its tendency to send me crashing down faster than an IQ after an episode of the Kardashians.

So what do I do? How do I manage the lows healthily and still exude enthusiasm and passion and soak up excitement from the highs? I tried reading other people’s (hilarious) stories of being sad for no reason. I tried taking my very good and well-intentioned friend’s advice and “manning the fuck up.” I tried giving myself pep talks. The counseling and reading and stuff is definitely helping, but I want to just develop the capability to not be a sobbing mess every time something bad enters my head – or something beyond wonderful happens because I’m terrified of losing it.

Anyway. I realize I’ve just rambled on for a good six pages, and I don’t know if I have anyone left reading. If I do, hi! This is more just a state of where things are right now that’ll go into a scrapbook at the end of the year. Don’t get me wrong – things have been on the up and up for the last three months, and I’ve been doing much better than I used to be. I just know if I could get this under control, I could be even better – for myself and the poor souls around me. But things are brilliant. Writing is brilliant. I’m excited, and being creative, and learning and sharing, and doing something I’ve always wanted to. I even got myself a set of snazzy business cards to go along with the tattoo I got to inspire me to keep writing. And despite the crappy outset of today, I arrived home to it all turning around. A new issue of Psychology Today in my mail box. Finally, FINALLY, a copy of the Dry the River album – the record I haven’t been so excited about since I first heard Mumford and Sons two years before theirs finally hit the shelves. An evening of cancelled plans opening up a good four hours to spend fuelling and feeding my latest character. A snuggly kitten, an already clean apartment, a glass of port, and a desk covered in deliciously creepy warped candles.

I think that somewhere in all of this, there’s probably some sort of lesson in patience.

Imagination: The Catalyst for Change

I’m not the biggest fan of spring in Winnipeg. It comes after about five months of sub-zero temperatures, and suddenly half the snow melts, then freezes, then melts again, leaving the streets covered with a mixture of ice and giant brown puddles (which make getting around gracefully rather difficult indeed). But then, toward the end of March, I’m reminded of the one thing that makes the season bearable: a trip to the art gallery to watch the screening of the previous years’ Cannes Lions Awards. If you’ve never been, make a note on your calendar to absolutely catch it next year. It’s shown internationally, and is comprised of the bronze, silver, and gold-awarded advertisements from across the globe. Thousands of ads from all around the world are entered (24,000 in 2010 alone), and culminate in a festival and prestigious award ceremony celebrating the best of creativity in idea and execution of brand communication. I’ve been going to the annual showing for at least half a decade, and it remains one of my favourite events of the year, purely for the fact that it’s such a testament to imagination. It might seem a little odd to mute and fast-forward ads all year and then pay for a ticket to sit through two hours of them, but it really is more than worthwhile. This year I laughed so hard I cried, was moved to tears and applause, got goosebumps, and was, in one case, eager to find the culprit behind one of the most outrageous ads I think has ever hit television screens! The screening began, surprisingly, with a Canadian winner – an ad for the Vancouver Film Festival, which left everyone laughing and set the tone for what was to be a great evening:

This ad, barely a minute long, entitled “Embrace Life“, was for seatbelt awareness – and the combination of creative ingenuity, effects, music and execution was enough to move me nearly to tears. I could feel my eyes prickling in the same way they do when watching a real feat of imagination – things like this generally just make me proud to be a member of the human race:

The following ad was one of three winners from the same campaign from Volkswagen, revolving around the idea of “The Fun Theory“.  The idea is that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better, being for themselves, the environment, or whatever – the only thing that matters is that it’s change for the better. The first ad posed the question: if we could make taking the stairs fun, would people be more likely to do it?  It then showed sped-up footage of construction in a stairwell next to an escalator, resulting in a set of stairs that looked like a giant piano, which actually made music as people climbed. The results? A huge percentage of commuters began taking the stairs. The second ad asked a similar question: if recycling was fun, would more people do it? It showed a bottle bank transformed into an arcade-style game on the street, where people could get points for putting their items into the appropriate receptacles. Again, a huge number of people began recycling – over a hundred used the arcade-style bin one evening, with only two using the traditional bin down the street. The third, entitled “World’s Deepest Bin“, definitely made me laugh – and left me with food for thought – we try to make people change their behaviours all the time, so why aren’t our methods more fun?

If you liked those three, check out the Speed Camera Lottery here.

The following ad made me laugh out LOUD. With a title like “Axe Cleans Balls“, you knew it was going to be a good one:

I thought this anti-smoking ad, entitled “Chance” was excellent. I think it’s from France, but narrated in English – it basically has a cinematic voiceover talking about the one in a thousand/million/billion chance that the solar system came to be, that humans evolved the way they did, that dinosaurs became extinct etc., and ends with a statistic on smoking that really makes you think. Great stuff:

The following ad was incredibly clever: The Ministry of Justice in the Netherlands put together an interactive billboard in Amsterdam to challenge public apathy towards aggressive behaviour on the streets. Public service employees in the Netherlands, such as ambulance drivers, face aggression and violence on the streets more and more often. Onlookers unfortunately do not intervene often enough when they encounter a situation like this. The billboard uses technology to pick up the images of passersby and place them in a pre-recorded violent situation, so they literally look at themselves standing by and doing nothing at the scene of the crime. Very clever stuff:

There was another great series of ads challenging aggression from India with the national “Ring the Bell” campaign, depicted as neighbours in several situations within apartment buildings ringing their neighbour’s bell when hearing sounds of domestic violence. A brilliant campaign to encourage people to take action when they become aware of domestic violence in their neighbourhood.

The following ad was a fantastic idea – targeted to football fans, offering an ingenius solution to the problem of what happens when match day falls on Valentine’s day:

Now, I realise I mentioned an ad earlier that I found one of the most outrageous things I’ve ever seen sandwiched between two halves of a television programme – and I wasn’t going to just leave you hanging! If you’re curious, check out this French advertisement for AIDS awareness – just beware, VERY adult content – and it’s one of the most NSFW things you’ll have ever seen. 🙂

I also realise that multimedia posts are often a turn-off, but I encourage anyone who loves a bit of creativity to check some of these out. Here’s to the imagination of the human race!