Monday, October 24, 2011

A Call to Arms

In recent weeks, I've come to many conclusions. One, yes, it's easy to fall into the rut. It's difficult to fight out of it. I've seen many of my co-citizens move into a city sanctioned tent city and protest the inequalities of the world. I've been having conversations in bars during the late night hours after work and before sleep. I feel like I've met some really uninteresting people this fall. It could be age, or that I hold high standards. Who knows? I do not want to paint a picture of modern life, nor the streets of Portland, Oregon in an unfavorable light. Nor do I want to make myself out to be a monster. I tell you, I've been looking for the creative people. I've been looking for the motivated people. I've been searching for the like minded, pursuit pursing people who do what they do out of compulsion, desire and discipline. A few years ago a dear friend of mine, Symphony Tidwell, decided she was going to learn how to play the stand up bass. Okay, cool, right? The woman had never been trained as a musician. She had no money to buy the bass, and furthermore, no money for lessons once she bought the bass. The idea occurred to her in the summer. By summer's end, she had the bass. She played the thing until the strings were stained with her blood. Within a year she was teaching lessons, and just over a year since the purchase of the bass, she toured Europe with Johnny Barber and the Rhythm Razors. I am, and I always have been immensely proud of my friend Symphony. She once told me that the bass was in her blood. “You know my grandmother played the bass, totally in my blood,” she said. “No it isn't,” I said. The statement shocked her. As I waited for her to punch me, I cleared my voice indicating the rest of the soliloquy. “You decide to play the bass, you work extra shifts to pay for it, and the lessons, then you decided to play it fifteen hours a day, and you think this is in your blood? You're crazy, this is all in your mind, in your determination.” “Yeah,” she said. “I guess you're right.” But the truth is, wouldn't it be pretty to think that it's in our blood? It's in our minds, it's in our moods, it's in the fabric, it's makes us do what we do: draw pictures, write poems, play stand-up basses.

My call to arms is simply this: throw it all in, and go do it! I hope you're engaged in the most fantastic artistic pursuits. I hope whatever it is you do, you're doing, not just thinking about doing it. There is no hurtle that keeps you from doing it.

So, there I was. I was six, possible seven sips into the pint of Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, when I got a new bar mate. This new bar mate, name not remembered, begins to sell me on her screenplay. She's got this idea to take Patrick Kennedy O'Toole's The Confederacy of Dunces and make it into a screenplay. I agreed with her, there is potential. As many of you know, I have worked on screenplays before. And many of you know that I don't think novels, especially novels the length of this one make good screenplays. In the situation with a longer work of fiction, the filmmaker must figure out what to cut to transpose a 400 pages novel into a 114 pages script. But, never mind my thoughts, this is about my glassy eyed bar mate who is about to make her way through Hollywood as the greatest screenwriter ever. So, I listen to her. She had passion and a plan. She had a sense of purpose. “Sounds great,” I said. “When will you finish it?”
“Well,” she began. “I haven't started it.”
“Why not?”
“I need a Powerbook,” she said.
“A Powerbook,” she repeated.
“What for?”
“To write it,” she said. She was serious too. The statement made me angry. She needs a Powerbook and without it she won't be able to write the best screenplay of all time.
“You don't need a Powerbook to write this,” I said.
“Yes, I do.”
“If you really want to write this, you can write it on cocktail napkins.”
“No, I can't,” she said. She was right, there was no other way. Not for her. As a result whether or not she gets the Powerbook or not, this screenplay will remain forever in the ether. It will never get written. I suspect the saddest part of the script never to be written isn't the product itself. The saddest part is, well, this writer will never begin or enjoy the process of production. I suspect that the rest of her days will be at the bar talking about the greatest idea ever, if only, if only, if only.

There are tools for each of us. For my dear friend Symphony, she needed to buy the bass. Without the bass, there was no future for her as a musician. But the latter case of my bar mate, a Powerbook is not mission essential, nice maybe but not crucial. After all, there is no shortage of paper and pens.

We all get this ideas. We all have these creative ideas. We all need tools. The greatest tool of all, is the one that compels us to do our desired task. The determination to begin a project, work it through to completion is tool enough for accomplishment.

If you have the desire to write, and I hope that you do, just start doing it. It will get easier, this I know. Start small. Start with a haiku, it's seventeen syllables. Just start. Don't worry about the nonessential stuff. Just start to work. Pick up that pen and go. Do not self-edit, self-censor or self-condemn. Just get on it and do it now. When you have a thousand pages, then you can edit.

Get your Powerbook, your spiral notebook, your paper grocery sack, your old manual typewriter. Start with one work. One work. And go.  

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