As I sit here in a Kensington Market cafe in Toronto, I'm reminded of why I'm drawn to this downtown hub resplendent with tasty empanadas, dogs off leash, random art on the sidewalks.
Kensington emanates an energy I have rarely seen in Toronto, or any other city for that matter. Maybe I'm biased because I used to live five minutes from the Market, but I recall many newcomers revelling in all that is Kensington.
It's the smell of grilled fish. It's reggae seeping from storefronts. It's the waft of marijuana smoke coursing above our heads. It's a smile from a stranger, it's the yippee from a kid who spots that iconic Garden Car.
When I'm looking to get some writing done, I don't always head to my work-sharing space. Rather, I walk 30 minutes south to the Market where I can feel the bustle of a community unlike any other in the city. And more often than not, I'm filled with inspiration that tickles me every time, like it's a feeling I'm experiencing for the first time.
"The first draft is the child's draft, where you let it all pour of and let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. If one of the characters wants to say, "Well, so what, Mr. Poppy Pants?" you let her....If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy emotional territory, you let him. Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those crazy six pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means. There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you are supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go. But there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages."
I'm reading an engaging book called Escape from Cubicle Nation by Pamela Slim, and I come across this passage Slim cites and I'm forced to pause. Read it again.
Slim references a book by Anne Lamott called Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, first published in 1995. I've never read it, but after relating so strongly to what Lamott writes about just fuckin doing it...I just ordered Bird by Bird off Amazon, true story.
I have issues with forcing myself to write poetry if the inspiration is coursing in my veins. I didn't used to, in fact, but once I focused so intently on making writing my profession, the creative discipline buckled. And my output slowed.
But that has to change, thanks to two major poetry projects I have ahead in 2017 (more on that in another post). And I'm going to be mantra'ing Lamott's passage for several weeks in order to get my tuchus on that seat and my fingers dancing on that keyboard.
Do you ever catch yourself watching yourself? When I was waiting for a bus recently in downtown Toronto, my hand itched toward my jacket pocket, pulled out my phone, I checked Facebook, put the phone back, 10 seconds passed, and I took out my phone again to check The Score app to see which NBA games were on tap that night.
I put the phone away again, and just looked around the cold street, barely any traffic, barely any people. I wanted to keep my hands from creeping toward my phone again, but I felt almost strangely powerless. It's as if being still ran counter to what my brain demanded - a quick glance at Twitter, for some dumb reason.
I'm sure I'm not the first to realize it's dangerously difficult to just be motionless. To simply breathe and take it all in. To be present, not to pull your attention to screens and sports scores.
It does sound Grampa Simpson of me to say, but I crave those phone-less days when the entire appeal of standing was, well, being able to pace for the sake of movement. We didn't look down and bury our stillness in a sloppy glow. We actually liked doing nothing for once.
I've started to meditate, which I've blogged about before, and I'm learning to find my breath again, by which I mean remembering to focus on deep breaths during moments of aloneness.
It would be hypocritical to rail against mobile tech as the destroyer of all things meditative and peaceful. I'm all up in my Scrabble game, my Insta posts. But when I had that week without a phone due to it getting ol RIP on me, that was transformative. That phoneless week got me thinking of what I found so refreshing of being free of notifications buzzing my hip: I could do what I wanted, instead of responding to whatever this toy was bleeping.
I don't wish ill on my phone again (forgetting to backup photos is so damn painful) but instead I will work harder to finding that pocket of stillness in a day that is all Messenger dots, RT alerts, funky filters.
For as long as I can remember, I've been obsessed with drinking water. I used to have a Life-brand plastic water bottle by my hip in high school, before my more enviro-friendly friends kept pushing me to get a metal bottle to house my hydration.
Ever since, my water bottle rolls me with wherever I go, and it's one of the best health decisions I've ever made.
And the second best? Cutting out juice and pop from my diet several years ago. I used to think that in order to vary up my bevvies, I'd get for my fridge some Tropicana orange juice or grape juice or Nestea or pop. Sure, I love water tons but I was open to bring some different flavours to my buds.
Then I realized, after doing some research, that tons of sugar is poured into juices. I was drinking my calories on my respites from chugging back water. No more, I told myself then, and cut out juice from my diet. Four years earlier, I banished pop to its sugar-water abyss where it belongs. It never really did anything for me, all that sugar and fizz.
Now I drink water at home, when I'm not home, and I vary it up with tea, coffee, some lemon spritzed into my water. I'm done with drinking garbage that will only bruise my body.
And I encourage anyone looking to tweak their health habits for the better to do the same.
If you're on Twitter, you've likely experienced the eye-bleeding mess of its new @ reply design. If not, a quick recap: the redesign removes handles from a tweet's character length, allowing users to add up to 50 handles in a thread. It's onerous to untag people from threads, where back in ye' ol' days of March 2017 and earlier you could simply delete a handle from a tweet if you didn't want to include that person in the conversation.
Now, there's no "Select All" or "Untag All" button, which would have been intuitive. But Twitter's not about that.
For some reason, Twitter built a product that's as cumbersome and counter-intuitive as anything it's rolled out. And I'm not the only one hating on this redesign. Twitter users are pissed, and this tweet sums it up:
Motherboard's Sarah Jeong also expressed the frustration that we all felt this week: "Did anyone ask for this? Did anyone respond well to this in testing? What are their names and where do they live?"
Twitter shouldn't be head-in-the-sanding this weekend. They shouldn't ignore the feedback. What I'd like to see is a social media giant responding to overwhelmingly critical feedback to a new feature and making a smart decision to reverse course. Maybe it'll upset investors to look weak; but to me, undoing the damage is a savvy move for a company that should listen to its rabid audience closely. Without active users, Twitter is just spambots and dormant egg avatars.
Twitter had a chance to change its strategy during beta testing. TechCrunch's Matthew Panzarino wrote about this terrible feature in an October 2016 post, dubbing it a mess and pointing out how the replies tweak is actually hurting Twitter's mission to combat abuse:
Twitter, which has an enormous amount of problems with abusive tweets and trolling, has decided that it is a good idea to make it harder to see if someone who has been trolling you is in a reply chain before you respond to a tweet. Just as in regular conversation, you should be able to be fully aware of who it is you’re choosing to speak to before you do so — not as some sort of surprise jack-in-the-box of sadness and misery.
What's wrong than releasing a terrible new feature? Not doing about it when your customers overwhelmingly despite it. Twitter has a chance to sway its users back to their side, and it's time for Jack and company to embrace a flexibility rarely seen in the tech world.
Friend, I know you're looking out for me, since you've known me for so long, been there when I've been down. And I always appreciate your advice and pro-tips to hack my day, and of course I usually am feeling your recommendations on books, films, food, etc
But no, sorry, I don't HAVE to watch The Wire. It might seem like a cultural travesty that I haven't dipped my toes into this television milestone. I know you're freaking out I don't know who Omar is, or that I only know Lance Reddick from his great work on Oz. Your jaw is still open, that's kinda off-putting.
See, I don't HAVE to watch anything. Nor should anyone. Did I miss out on something so educational and historically significant that I will forever feel like the outsider at the next house party? No, I don't think so.
For some reason, people want other people to see everything they've seen on screen. Maybe it comes from that deep need to feel close to someone, based simply on shared taste. But it can be annoying to be told that foregoing a TV show, any show, means I'm missing out on some grand opportunity to partake in a universal conversation that feeds every part of our soul.
No, I haven't seen The Wire. Or Mad Men. Or The Night Of. Or The Big Bang Theory. No thanks.
I'm too busy watching The Walking Dead, Better Call Saul, Game of Thrones...yeah, I know what I like and I'm already spending too many hours in front of screens. And damn...the new House of Cards season is coming soon, isn't it?
The genius behind Breaking Bad and some of X-Files' best episodes took part in an ask-me-anything interview on reddit last week, and it was delightfully brimming with inspirational quotes. Gilligan is truly one of my screenwriting heroes, so I gobbled up that AMA like it was egg nog cheesecake.
I wanted to share some of his comments that stood out to me, in the hope you'll also find some interesting lessons on creativity, writing, television, etc.
On the value of writing with others:
For me, working collaboratively with a bunch of talented writers is exciting, entertaining, and yields much better results (and yields them quicker) than working by myself. I think writing by one’s self is a bit overrated. There’s nothing wrong with people working together – not just in writing, but in every human endeavor. I think we need more of it in the world, in fact.
On advice to a film school dropout who is still hungry to work in showbiz:
I think the trick is to find inspiration from your own work. To be inspired by the act of writing and creating in and of itself, rather than to focus solely on some ambiguous "success" that may or may not come of it.
I know that’s easier said than done – we all want our work to be read and loved, and we all strive for fame and success. That’s only human nature, and to deny it would be disingenuous. Still, if we can learn to love the act of writing, and if we can appreciate and be proud of the work that we do -- whether it sells or not -- then we’ve truly achieved something profound. Something with deeper meaning.
Hang in there! If it were easy, everybody would be doing it.
On how he brings depth to his characters to make them emotionally connect with the audience:
Always find something to love about your characters…even if it’s only something small. Always try to find a way to invest in them emotionally. And when you write a scene, always ask yourself: are these people behaving like real, recognizable human beings?
That last bit of advice is something that a lot of writers ignore when they’re in a pell-mell rush to write cool, exciting scenes. To my mind, the most exciting scene in the world will ultimately fall flat if the characters in it aren’t behaving in a way that we can comprehend.
As an example: in a horror movie, when the teenagers split up to explore the haunted house!
A month ago the Professional Writers Association of Canada approached me to join a panel discussion held on March 27 that focuses on building strong client relationships. As a full-time freelancer, this topic has long been on my mind, and I was excited to be part of an advice-heavy night that can help other 'lancers.
Torontonians, you're welcome to join me and two other great freelancers (Sharon Aschaiek and Marjo Johne) on Monday March 27 @ the Miles Nadal JCC, Room 318 at 7 p.m.
As the event description says, "Topics include building rapport with new clients and securing repeat work, the elements of a good contract, how to get paid when they’re not paying, and how to fire a bad client."
The talk is free for PWAC members and $15 for non-members.
In a related post, check out my top 10 lessons I learned as a full-time freelancer.
That's something I used to hear from my father growing up. His lesson would relate to how I shouldn't be afraid of speaking up, of asking for something I want and the worst that can happen would be rejection. So what?
It's a lesson I've taken to heart, such as when I'm asking a retailer if they can negotiate the price of something due to a flaw in its design. Why buy something that doesn't deserve to be priced at its max?
It's a maxim I remember when asking for advice. Sometimes I feel bad about asking this or that person for their take on something, whether relating to dating or poetic ventures or journalism. But there's no shame in admitting what you don't know, and I'd say there's no shame in asking for tips or insight. There is always someone who knows about something more than we do.
So I'd implore you to consider that sentence "You don't ask you don't get" in your daily life. It has its limits, of course, but sprinkling that question in areas of your everyday can be extremely helpful.
This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of venturing into the hinterland of freelancing. For those unaware, I'm a freelance journalist and arts educator, writing for more than a dozen publications and bringing spoken word workshops to schools across Ontario.
I've learned a lot in being a "warrior without a king," as Seth Godin calls freelancers. And I thought it'd be helpful to other freelancers, in any discipline, to learn from what I've taken away from the past year of writing and teaching:
About David's Blog
My musings about the arts, Toronto, technology, journalism, sports.