Monday, April 30, 2007

When I Grow Up

My timing is impeccable--starting a blog when the word on the street is that blogging has peaked and is now on its inevitable downslide. Oh well...

I'm starting this blog because the idea came to me while I was sitting in my back yard, at night, last Saturday, drinking a Summit Pale Ale and smoking an old, somewhat dry cigar. It was a pity party. Earlier in the day, I had received a letter informing me that I was not selected as a finalist in this year's McKnight Fellowship for Screenwriters program. This is not bad news. Bad news is finding out that your four-year-old has died suddenly for no apparent reason, which is what happened to our neighbors a month ago. Not being a McKnight finalist after spending two years writing the best screenplay you could possibly write... this is a mild, personal disappointment for one guy who has an otherwise great life in St. Paul, Minnesota. Hardly anything to shake the cosmos.

But you know how these things go. I'm prone to self-absorption. It threw me back into that realm of wondering if I was simply on the wrong track in some way. I have a great job as a creative director at a mid-sized marketing agency. But was I put on the earth only to help people sell their supply chain services to medical device manufacturers? I've had this feeling for years. Screenwriting was supposed to open new doors. I've written five scripts. Each one has gotten a little farther than the last. I've received great encouragement, done well in contests, heard that I write better than most people actually making a living doing it. But the magic phone call: "Hey, are you sitting down? Your screenplay just sold for $2 million! Now you can do what you really want to do." Not going to happen.

But why focus so much on the means to the end, instead of on the end itself? What do I really want to do? Well, the truth is almost too embarrassing to admit. What I really want to do is simply live life, explore as much of the world as I can, raise my small family, travel, and express those experiences--through writing, music, photography, anything that inspires me.

I've spent 10 years trying to write a screenplay that will come and rescue me and enable all of this other stuff. What if I don't need the middle step? I basically want to spend my time experiencing, thinking and expressing. What's stopping me?

It got me thinking. The thing that I would grab in a fire (after my wife and son) is an old three-ring binder of travel journals. Starting with a return to trip to Ireland after studying there for my sophomore year of college, I started writing about my travel experiences. I call it the "remember journal." There's Remember Ireland, Remember Alaska, Remember New Mexico, Remember Spain, Remember Oaxaca, and soon Remember San Miguel de Allende. After marrying, when travel became more sparse, these journals became about any experience that warranted writing. So I also have Remember Nimbo (the death of a cat), Remember James (about the birth of our son), and Remember Margaret (about the mid-term miscarriage of a daughter).

For friends who have read all of my writing, heard all of my music, etc., this is what they like best. This and my Christmas letters.

Actually, I've found that even writing regular letters has had an impact on people. In college, I wrote four letters for four friends. Each one told her how I saw her and what my wish was for her future. I once heard that one of them kept it for years under her bed.

I recently went to the funeral of a very close friend's father, whom I knew growing up. I wrote an item for the blog that was set up to remember him, and the euologist at the funeral read from it. I wrote a letter to the neighbors (whom I met once, two years ago) who just lost their four-year-old, and I heard that the mother shared it with another neighbor and said how much it meant to her.

The writing that means most is the writing that can't be sold.

So Saturday night in the back yard, I made a decision. Maybe doing what I really want to do will help me figure out what I really want to do. Lord knows I can't make a living at it. So what. I'm doing it anyway.

My subject matter? Anything I find worth talking about. I imagine this will be people, movies, music, politics and culture. Too broad? Exactly. Forty hours a week, I start with the question, "Who's the audience?" This blog is really for myself. I'd like an audience, but I'm not going to tell anyone about it.

I chose the title after a song that, despite my usual cynicism, always manages to make me feel good: "Church Not Made with Hands," by the Waterboys. The opening salvo is this:

Bye bye shadowlands
The term is over
And all the holidays have begun

I have no idea what that really means, but nothing makes me feel more liberated and alive than hearing Mike Scott sing those words.

2 comments:

Michael said...

Good choice. I'm finding that I seem to be "waiting" too -- until this is done, until that is over, until....blah, blah, blah.

Over the weekend I volunteered at a screening/benefit for one of my former students who was diagnosed with ALS. He's in a wheelchair now. He has between 3-5 years to live. There is no cure.

There's no cure for life, but we all go on as if we have a million years. Bye-bye shadowlands indeed.

Carry on!

Bellamy Grant said...

Addendum to this post: I soon realized that starting a blog is intrinsically about wanting an audience. Within a week, I was telling people about it. I don't know if this is a step forward, or another twirl in the viscious circle...