I’ve let this whole blog thing drift. Four posts in 2012, none since 13th March. Simply not good enough, Williams.
I had planned to write a post on Friday, but was scratching around for a topic. I’m in treatment land at the moment, pushing four separate – and very different – projects forwards until one of them gets the momentum, or money, necessary for me to start writing the script. So I could have written about treatments. I’ve also been doing a bit of teaching, at the Met Film School, and was going to write about what teaching teaches the teacher (answer, probably more than it teaches the students). I also thought about writing about the view from my office window, and how the farmers tilling the land around me never fails to strike me as the most apt metaphor I’ve yet come upon for the creative process. Prepare, plant, water, reap. Repeat – if you’re lucky.
But then on Thursday my wife and I got knocked by a very sad piece of news, and our lives took a sudden, unexpected and unwanted diversion. A blog isn’t the place for mawkish public grieving, but it has given me a few small reflections about life and writing that I might as well share – if only because they’re occupying my own thoughts at the moment.
The first is this. Life bumbles along without much incident, by and large, and that’s the way we like it. A certain level of comfort is reassuring – particularly the older you get, and the more responsibilities you take on. But this is why normal life doesn’t make for very good art. Every now and then, however, your life will take a turn for the dramatic. Suddenly – and it usually is quite sudden – you’ll find yourself in a state of quite bewilderingly intense emotion. This could be love. It could be fear. It could be anger, or pain, or ecstasy, or grief. And you’ll realise that this is where drama exists. This is where art exists. You are existing on such a dramatically different plane that nothing else becomes important. Indeed, it’s only on this plane that you get a sense of what actually is important. I think back to that maxim from screenwriting 101: “Are the events of this story the most important events in your protagonist’s life?” If they aren’t, then keep looking. And if they are, spend as much time there, and as little time as possible in the normal, boring part of their lives.
Secondly. Art is training for life. That’s how I’ve always thought of it and, in recent days, I’ve felt it to be true. You watch a film, or read a book, or look at a painting. You experience a hero’s journey and consider their reactions to a set of circumstances, and consider whether your own response would be similar, or different, and why. And through this process, you begin to develop a philosophy about life. Your own, unique philosophy. What makes sense to you, and what sounds like nonsense. Call it your faith. Faith in the way the world should work, and faith in the way you might cope when it doesn’t work as it should. It can be religious, spiritual, humanist, anarchist. But you think about it in the boring days, so that you’re prepared for the days of drama.
I’ve leant on my faith a lot in the last few days, and it’s helped me out. I’ve heard “It wasn’t meant to be” or “Everything happens for a reason” a lot. I understand these are meant to offer comfort, and peace, hinting as they do at a grander plan. But they haven’t really helped, to be honest (though the kindness of the people expressing those sentiments has). It’s not that it wasn’t meant to be, it’s just that it didn’t happen. Things don’t happen for reasons, they just happen. And that’s okay. That’s been enough for me.
So, as an audience member, don’t forget to go through that training process when you engage with someone else’s story. And, as a storyteller, don’t forget the responsibility you owe to your audiences. You could be a life saver.
Thirdly. Sadness is a part of life. Once the rawness and shock of a sudden loss subsides, sadness remains. But that sadness is not something to be feared, or resented, or buried, or ignored. It’s just there, like a knot in a tree trunk. It might fade with time, but it will always be a part of your story, as much as the wonderful days, as much as the memories you cherish. So I’m aware of the sadness; not wallowing in it but accepting it.
Fourth and finally. There aren’t any silver linings from all of this, but when you go to dark places and you make it out again, you emerge – as any hero’s journey professor will tell you – with an elixir. Some knowledge, some tool or weapon. I’m not magically enlightened now, and I wish I hadn’t had to go on this journey, but I do think that I’ll come out of this a better writer. We’ll see.
An odd blog, and largely for my own benefit, as you might have figured out. But thanks for letting me share. Back to boring normal life for a while, I hope.