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The American Speaks: Year One

 

 

 

 

Not Much of a Motorhead

 

Originally Published on 6/19/2014 at 13:55

 

Something that I’d never truly considered important has recently become a real focus of mine. A skill that everyone should have but many never bother with. The ability to drive.

When I lived in the United States, it was normal for people to be practising for their license at the age of 15. Some people will say that this is evidence of a love affair between Americans and gas-guzzling motor vehicles, but for most people the truth is far more mundane. America is a big place. Some cities don’t even have places to buy food, so you have to drive to a nearby city to go to a supermarket. I lived for a little while in Willow Springs, Missouri and…

Wait… You’ve never heard of Willow Springs, Missouri? It’s okay. I’ll give you a minute to look it up.

Up to speed? Good.

So, Willow Springs had no supermarket when I was there. That meant that for something as boring as a weekly shopping trip, we had to travel. The nearest Wal-Mart (yes, I know that they’re not the nicest company, but still…) was in West Plains, Missouri. That’s twenty miles away. To go to the supermarket we either endured a half hour drive, or we had to walk twenty miles there and twenty miles back with the shopping in hand. That’s a long way to travel for groceries. And thus, we drove.

Missouri isn’t alone in having empty distances that people need to traverse. People get into the habit of driving everywhere, often because it starts out that they need to.

So I moved to England when I was 14 years old. I hadn’t started learning to drive in the US and I wound up in a city that has great public transportation links. Driving really isn’t a necessity if you live in Manchester. When I hit 17, however, the seed of driving was planted. My parents informed me that they were going to change their old car (a G-reg Vauxhall Nova if you must know) for a newer model and that the old car could be mine if I passed my driving test. I sent off for my provisional license and received it back a few weeks later. Alas, before I was able to book my lessons, a cruel twist of fate occurred. The Nova was involved in a traffic collision. The parents were fine but the car did not make it. And so the Nova made it’s way to the scrapyard and my ideas of cruising along with the windows down listening to Dr Dre went with it.

Fast forward 10 years and I had a provisional license which had expired without ever being used. I had a long chat with my girlfriend, Louise, about learning to drive. She has driven for a few years and travels regularly with her job. She was honest and told me that it would be hard but ultimately it would be fulfilling and that it would be very useful to have it within my skill set. The idea that I can drive around when she wants to have a glass of wine or two was a factor as well, although she claims to have been joking about that.

So here I am with sixteen hours of driving lessons under my belt and a Theory Test booked for three weeks from now. Soon I may actually have that skill that I should have gained over a decade ago. All it took was the realisation that it is a skill that will be as useful as I want it to be. That, and the gentle prodding from Louise.

If I pass my tests I’d like to get an old car. Maybe even an old Nova. And you can bet your ass that I’ll be cruising around, listening to Dr Dre and pretending that I’m 17 again. That is before I climb out of the car and my knees and back remind me of my actual age.

 

 

 

 

A Big Question

 

Originally Published on 6/21/2014 at 13:49

 

Last year, some friends and I made a movie. Just a modest little 90-minute long feature comedy. The film is called Shooting on the Rim and we’re premiering it next month (friends on Facebook and Twitter are probably bored of me mentioning it). I want to talk about it because I need to address a question that I recently asked myself: is the film really as good as I think it is?

It’s a big question, but I think it’s a question that needs to be asked. It’s a question that the rest of the team who put in so much time to this film deserve to know the answer to before we reveal it to the world.

A couple of nights ago, I watched the film again in its entirety. I’ve done this a few times but this is the last time I’ll watch it before our World Premiere. With me were Tom and Paul (co-writers), Louise (my girlfriend) and Gabi (Paul’s girlfriend and part of the film’s production crew). We sat down with open minds, open notepads and for the next 90 minutes we allowed the story to play out in front of us.

I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow of the pros and cons of our movie because I don’t want to ruin the surprises for those who will see it in the future. Also, I’d like everyone to believe there are no cons to the film.

What I can tell you is that the people in the movie are incredible. The crew that made the movie are exceptional. I love the movie and I fully believe that it lives up to the hype that I have assigned to it.

Is it going to be a huge success? I certainly hope so. Do I think it deserves to be? Absolutely. Now I know you think that is easy for me to say, but it really isn’t. I have to be sure that the film that I (along with many others) poured my heart and soul into gives people the same laughs that I get each time I watch it over. I think it will. I’m looking forward to seeing the reactions of those that don’t know the film like I do.

I hope everyone that can will come to see the film on July 17th. I want a big crowd of cheering fans on their feet as the credits roll.

I want to make it abundantly clear that this is NOT a vanity thing. I don’t want to stand there and choke on my own smug satisfaction. I want the people that made this film (myself, but mostly everyone else) to feel validated. To know that their effort was something special.

I think that those cheering fans will be aiming their adulation right at them, not at me, and that is what is most important.

 

 

 

 

Americans, The 2nd Amendment and Me

 

Originally Published on 7/8/2014 at 11:47

 

I remember the first time I fired a gun. I was standing in a booth at a store called Panhandle Gunslingers in Amarillo, Texas. In my right hand was the cold steel of a .32 semi-automatic pistol.

This wasn’t just any handgun. It has the coolest story of any gun that I’ve ever known. The gun is owned by my grandfather and before that it was owned by his step-father. His step-father ran a bar and a guy once ran up a bar tab that he couldn’t pay off. The solution that they came to was that the bar patron would handover his .32 in exchange for clearing the tab. After that, the weapon was handed down to my grandfather. But I suppose if you didn’t know that story, that it would be just any ordinary handgun.

Using a weapon in a controlled environment like that is incredibly common in the US. There were several gun ranges in Amarillo when I lived there and I expect most cities (especially in a state like Texas) are just the same. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy the experience. Laughing and joking about hitting targets with my dad and grandfather, it felt like any ordinary pastime, like throwing a ball or fishing at a lake. Of course there was one significant difference; the deadly weapon in my hand.

Standing there in my booth, ear defenders in place, I had a realisation that absolutely terrified me. With a slight turn of my shoulders and a very gentle squeeze of the trigger, I could have killed someone instantly. I had, in that moment, absolute control over life and death. Now that sounds exaggerated and overblown (I have been known to use hyperbole from time to time) but I really mean it. At that exact moment, I had that power. I was legally using a weapon that was designed with the sole purpose of taking lives.

People regularly rationalise the usage of firearms. The National Rifle Association loves reminding people that guns don’t kill people, but people do. But there is a very simple point that I think everyone needs to consider; guns were designed as a way to kill things and that is how people choose to use them. If you take away guns, can people still kill each other? Of course they can. Is it significantly harder to kill a lot of people quickly? It certainly is.

In the moment that I held a gun for the first time, terrible possibilities flashed through my mind and I dismissed them. That’s because I’m a relatively normal, well adjusted individual. Just imagine putting that same power and those same possibilities through the mind of a person with an emotional history, aggressive tendencies or psychological issues…

Most people in the US may be legally entitled to own a gun. Should they own one? People would argue that it doesn’t matter because gun ownership is a constitutional right that left-wing liberals cannot take away. If you take away everyone’s guns, then only criminals will have them. Maybe, but it also means that kids cannot raid their home arsenal and shoot up their school because they’ve been bullied. Or a guy with undiagnosed psychological issues who has been rejected by girls cannot walk into a store and walk out with handguns on the same day, before going on a killing spree. Would there still be gun crime? Of course. There is gun crime in the UK and gun ownership is illegal for everyday citizens. Would you have the same mass murders that continually plague the news…?

The saddest thing is that we’ll probably never know.

 

 

 

 

The Bursting Bubble

 

Originally Published on 7/26/2014 at 9:51

 

For one night in July 2014, I was a bona fide filmmaker. Almost 200 people filed into The Plaza Theatre in Stockport and watched a feature length movie that I co-wrote and produced. People laughed at the jokes (I was worried I’d be the only one) and applauded when the credits rolled. The experience was surreal and incredible… and just a little upsetting. Why did it upset me? Because I knew that the next day would see me returning to my day job, with most people oblivious to what had happened that night. The night that I had felt like a bit of a celebrity.

People do a lot of different things with their lives. Some have careers that they work day in and day out to further and better themselves. Others work day jobs and hold onto the hope that their true passion can turn into their dream job. I am one of the latter. On my days off from my retail job (I’m sure you’ll understand if I don’t go into the details of where) I tap away at my computer, adding words to my first novel (12,200 words and counting). The dream is that I can finish the novel, publish it, make a bunch of money and then continue writing without the requirements of a day job. Effectively, I want the life that Nathan Fillion’s character has in the TV show ‘Castle’ (only without a police officer love interest as Lou would not approve). This dream is rather heavily affected by several factors:

A) finishing the book (12,200 words is not very much)

B) the book being any good (it’s important to be honest with yourself, right?)

C) whether I can get the book published (see points A and B)

D) the book selling millions of copies and getting a film deal (see point C)

Some would refer to this as a long shot. And that’s why it is still a dream. Until I can make it a reality (see point A).

That’s why that night affected me so. I felt like a big shot and it felt good. And that’s exactly why the next day’s comedown seemed so much more extreme. But although the filmmaker bubble burst not long after it was inflated, it gave me a hunger for success that I am desperate to satiate.

Now I just need to focus and write the damn book (and make it good, and get it published, and sell millions of copies…).

 

 

 

 

Amongst Mere Mortals

 

Originally Published on 7/31/2014 at 13:11

 

Today is the day that I come clean to you all. I just can’t pretend that I’m normal anymore.

I have a superpower.

I may not be able to fly and I don’t have laser-vision, but I have an absolutely uncanny ability that is rivalled by no one. My great power is the ability to procrastinate. I can put ANYTHING off. I mean it. I’m so good at procrastination that if I were pregnant (just go with it for a minute) I’d probably wind up carrying that baby for eight trimesters before getting around to the birth.

I’m sharing the secret of my incredible procrastination abilities with you all because right now I should be writing my book and today I’ve managed maybe 200 words. This is an absolutely terrible output for a day away from the usual retail grind (ooh, I really must make some more coffee). I’ve vacuumed the flat, hung out washing, paced around a little, had lunch, checked Facebook and Twitter a half-dozen times each, researched film festivals with a short script category and it’s barely even 2 o’clock. Not to mention the number of times that I’ve tweaked this blog to make it look nicer (at least I think that’s what I’ve done). This sounds like I’ve been productive, and maybe I have (a little), but these are not the tasks that I should have been achieving. I should have been writing. I should have a couple thousand new and exciting words by now. The deadline that I’ve set myself for a first draft of my book is February 4th, 2015. I want to have a book that I can revise and tweak by the time I hit the Big Three-Zero. Days like today are not really helping to achieve that. Must try harder if I’m going to be a big-time-writer-man.

The upside of this day of wasted time is that I’m setting out to complete other, smaller tasks. Those festivals I mentioned are for a short script that I wrote a little while ago (and am quietly proud of too) that I’d like to see the light of day at some point. I’m refreshing Facebook and Twitter for updates on the Filmonik filmmaking event that is going on in Manchester because I wanted to check on my friends that are taking part and see what they’re up to. That lunch I ate was damn tasty leftover soup that I could not bear to waste (okay, this is maybe less relevant). I think that my point is that although I’m putting something off, I am achieving other things.

Maybe I am being productive really, just not on the task I set out to accomplish. Is that good enough? Is the time really wasted? Can I still be Procrastination Man or have I jeopardised my superhero status by justifying my time?

Wait, do I even want to be Procrastination Man? I suppose that it isn’t really the superhero I dreamed of being, but I’ll take it until I’m able to fly or shoot laser beams.

 

 

 

 

Where I Belong

 

Originally Published on 8/5/2014 at 11:18

 

I’m the kind of person that gets asked a lot of questions in life. I’m rarely the smartest guy in the room and it isn’t because I know much of anything in particular. Mostly it is because my day job exists within the realm of retail technical support. However, the most common question I get is one that requires no technical background to answer. It’s also a question that has many variations. The core question is this: “Where are you from?”

That question on its own is no big deal (although the answer I choose seriously depends on the audience I’m addressing). I was born in London, raised across the United States for 13 years  before returning to Manchester (the UK one) 15 years ago. I usually tell people that I’m from Texas because I was there for most of those 13 years (and it’s easier than telling the whole story, I’ll tell that another time). That question isn’t really the problem. I have a funny accent due to travelling around so much, so people can’t always guess where I’ve been. The follow-up question is the one that takes me a moment to answer. The question I’m referring to, in its basic form, is this: “Why are you in the UK when you could be living in the US?”

There are two common incarnations of this question. One of them is simple and innocuous: “What brings you to the UK?” Usually asked by curious and well-meaning individuals, I have a very simple answer for this one: “Family.” That usually ends the questioning and everyone moves on smiling, happy in the knowledge that I’m some kind of world-travelling family man.

The other common version is the one that I have an issue with. The question is this: “Why are you here?” Now I know that there isn’t any existential meaning behind the question because it is invariably followed up with statements like “I’d rather be there” or “you’re crazy being here” or “how do you cope with this weather”.

I know that I’m being picky and overly sensitive about this, I know that I am, but I’ve never liked these questions much. The first one I’m okay with. It’s usually pleasant and meant as a gentle probe when a stranger finds a gap in the conversation. But the second one… I just feel like it’s intrusive. “Why are you here” sounds like the kind of question you’d get asked at the security desk at the airport, not the way that you’d get to know a stranger who legally resides in this country. “I’d rather be in the States” is all well and good but (by your own admission) you don’t know what I was escaping by coming here. “How do you cope with the weather” is fine until you realise that northwest Texas juggles pretty much every kind of weather system possible throughout the whole year.

There’s probably a case of ‘the grass is always greener’ going on for some people. They see what TV and movies show them about America and think that it is a glorious land of opportunity. For some people it definitely is and I would never say otherwise. Others think that anything other than what they are used to is an improvement. I’m sure that’s true for some people too, but I am much happier here.

I suppose the simple solution for this problem of mine (that isn’t even a problem, really) is to lighten up a little bit. I’m sure nobody is asking these questions because they’re in the mood for a little light interrogation. They hear an unfamiliar accent and wonder why. Nobody is being mean-spirited or negative about it… except me, I guess. The simple answer to the question is that I’m here because I want to be here. My family and friends are here. A lot of my history is here now too (15 years is a long time). That’s what I need to focus on. Not how they ask, but what they want to know and just how easy it is for me to give them that information politely.

It’s all about a little change in attitude. Starting today, when people ask me why I’m in the UK, I’ll give them the only answer that they need and the one that really makes sense to me.

Life brought me here. Now I’m here to stay.

 

 

 

 

Carrousel

 

Originally Published on 8/14/2014 at 17:38

 

Yes, the spelling is intentional.

In the film Logan’s Run, every person in society gets to live to the ripe old age of 30. On their final day of life (cleverly referred to as ‘Lastday’) they enter the ritual of Carrousel and, with the promise of being reborn, are vaporised. Pretty grim, right?

Now, I know that my life should play out a little differently than that as there is no Carrousel ritual in the UK (although if Iain Duncan Smith could find a way to make it happen and monetise it, I bet he would), but I’m 29 and a half years old (at this point, the half matters). For me, the Big Three-Oh is approaching and it has already arrived for a number of my friends and loved ones. And although I don’t have a flashing red lifeclock in my palm (not yet anyway), it feels like this birthday will be a little bit different.

I have this theory that there are several milestone birthdays. These are (in no particular order except chronological) 18, 21, 25, 30, 40 and every ten years after that (people argue that 25 shouldn’t be included but it’s a quarter century, so it stays in). Now here we are and 25 was four and a half years ago, passing with little fanfare or excitement. Saying that, I did go to Amsterdam for my 25th birthday… on my own. It was a fantastic city to visit, but when you’re there on your own everyone looks at you like you’re some kind of filthy sex tourist. So don’t do that (unless you ARE a sex tourist, in which case go for it). I digress.

It’s the final months of my twenties and I have the fear that the allocation of a new numerical value will change me somehow. I don’t think that I’ve seen any real change in people that I know who’ve already hit 30, but I’m concerned that it’s a more personal change. Something about the way you think or the way that you’re perceived once you’re out of your twenties.

Maybe the worry is present because I’m leaving my twenties and I haven’t really done many of the things that other people have done by this point on their personal calendar. I didn’t do a lot of drunken, hedonistic partying. I didn’t finish university (with more of the associated partying). I didn’t take a grand world tour or see parts of the world that took me far from my comfort zone.

But is that really missing out?

I made a web series and a comedy feature film with some of my best friends. I’ve written stories and scripts and acted in front of my peers. I met the woman of my dreams and she agreed to marry me (despite how many opportunities I’ve given her to change her mind). These are not small achievements.

Are any of the things that I’ve missed better than any of the things that I’ve done? They’re different, but they’re not better. In fact, had I done the things I mentioned, I may not be where I am now. I definitely wouldn’t be who I am.

Perhaps I don’t have to approach this milestone birthday with apprehension or fear. Maybe I’m going into my thirties with a set of experiences that differ wildly from some of my peers. Maybe that will make me a better person than I otherwise would have been. Maybe the change in personality or perception will be a good thing. I don’t think I ever thought of it that way. It could be that the change is brought on not by age, but by experiences. I think that’s the way I need to look at it from now on.

Someone far more clever than I am probably said it first, but I think I have a new mantra starting with this birthday: I’m not getting older. I’m levelling up.

 

 

 

 

Being Daddy Warbucks

 

Originally Published on 8/19/2014 at 16:29

 

That character in Annie. I’ve always loved the name. One day in the future, I’d like to be a dad. One of my biggest fears is that I won’t be a good parent. One of my other biggest fears is that I’ll be a great dad, but regardless of how good I am, the child will be awfully behaved all of the time. Or even worse if I’m a terrible parent with a perfectly well-behaved child. I’m probably massively overthinking it (pretty standard for me) since I imagine the whole thing is a bit of a compromise between being the best that YOU can be and handling the worst that THEY can be.

I started thinking about this the other day when I was travelling on a bus. I’ve seen a lot of families riding on a lot of different kinds of public transportation, but this was a little different. It was the first time that I felt genuinely uncomfortable and had the compulsion to get involved in someone else’s affairs. A young mother boarded (probably early twenties, but that doesn’t matter) with her little boy who was probably no older than three or four. The kid was chatting about something that I couldn’t quite make out, but that the mother clearly had no interest in hearing. The more the kid spoke, the more agitated his mother appeared. After a few minutes, the mother exploded and started ranting at the kid about being quiet.

I want to be clear about this part. She wasn’t just telling the kid off for talking. She was having a full-on rant. The kind of abusive tirade that people save for other grown people in the heat of an argument or an all-out fight when the other person can defend themselves. This went on for a few minutes. The kid was quiet throughout but she just kept going. Telling him how annoying he was. How she just wished that he would shut up. How she hated being out and about with him. When she was finished, he spoke again. She shouted him down. This happened a couple of times before the kid learned that there was no point in speaking further. He turned his head and stared out of the window for the remainder of the journey.

Now I’ve seen adults go misty eyed with lesser abuse. Not that kid. He just took everything that she had to give. Quietly. To me, this is a sign that this has happened before. The kid was just numbed to it and this made me feel cold and horrible inside.

No one on the bus said anything. What would they say? What would I have said? I had no idea what that mother was going through. I had no idea what might have happened minutes before boarding the bus or that morning over a bowl of corn flakes or twenty years ago when she was a kid. But the thought that remained with me throughout was how the kid took it. So well. So experienced.

Regardless of circumstance, I never want to be that parent. Screaming at a child on a bus is not how I want anyone to remember me. I can’t even imagine putting a child through that at all, let alone doing it often enough that the child develops such a thick skin.

My belief (completely lacking in any experience, of course) is that being a good parent has a lot to do with being a good person. Be good to the kid and hope that they’ll reward you with good behaviour, affection and awards from the school science fair. Maybe being a dad will be easier than I fear, or harder than I think. Won’t know until I’m there, I guess. One thing I do know is that I want to be the best parent I can be and that definitely means no shouting on a bus.

 

 

 

 

Cutting the (Wireless) Cord

 

Originally Published on 9/5/2014 at 9:33

 

Yesterday started strangely for me. Why? Well, yesterday I forgot my iPhone and left it at home all day. I could picture exactly where it was; sitting on the side table, laughing at me. “Weak human,” it would probably have said, “try to live a day without me.”

Not having my attention buried in Facebook, Twitter, Buzzfeed, Engadget (or any of a number of other items plucked straight from the Master Procrastinator’s toolkit) meant that I had a chance to learn a little about myself.

1) I still know how to use a pen. However it should be mentioned that my handwriting was awful before and has probably gotten worse. Writing upstairs on a bus probably didn’t help either. You know how some professionals (doctors, psychologists, lawyers, etc) use a kind of coded shorthand for their notes and journals? My handwriting is just like that all of the time, but there isn’t a key to decipher it. It’s a little like trying to read the handwriting of a child who has just learned a foreign language; you recognise some letters, but there are just no recognisable words.

2) I really enjoy writing in a notebook. Despite my atrocious handwriting, I get a real kick out of seeing words on a page. I think it has something to do with the idea of permanence. Once I’ve written on the page, that’s where it stays. I could write it again or photocopy the page, but I can’t change what’s already been committed to the original paper and no duplicate I could write would ever be exactly the same. When I type on a phone, iPad or computer I can copy and paste all day long (although that would be a rather inefficient day).

3) I’m a bit like one of those crazy people that watches everyone and everything around me. I was being incredibly judgmental about some of the parking attempts made nearby (this might have something to do with having just failed my first driving test, maybe). A lady was debating whether a sibling should be given an iPad as a present or not, but I missed the resolution because the bus arrived (I was rooting for the kid). Had I a Twitter timeline to peruse, I’d have missed all of this.

4) My attention span is not what it once was. I guess years of jumping from timeline to newsfeed and back again will do that to you. I don’t even know if I’d be able to read a whole book. I like to think that I could, but…

5) I spend a lot of time travelling to and from work. When I’m focused on something like news or notifications, I don’t pay attention to how long my journey actually is. That travel time can be a lot more effective if I would just use it right.

Now let’s be honest. I already knew some of this stuff. I just don’t acknowledge it because I’m so regularly distracted. Part of me thinks that I should leave my phone at home more often. Unfortunately, that part of me is always shouted down by the other side of my brain that believes the phone’s lies.

“Live without me?” the phone would snarl, “Unlikely.” Every once in a while, I’d like to prove it wrong. Even if only for a day.

 

 

 

 

The Storyteller

 

Originally Published on 9/16/2014 at 8:05

 

“Let me tell you a story…”

That’s how my dad begins every one of his tales. He has a few to tell, I can assure you.

My dad has lived in the US, Italy, Germany and here in the UK. He has visited India and Malawi with charitable ambitions. He grew up with three brothers, two sisters and an often necessarily absent father (due to his service in the military). My dad has also been married twice (with me to show for the first one).

So yeah. He’s got plenty of stories up his sleeve for pretty much any situation.

I think that’s one of the reasons why he’s been such an inspiration to me, in a social capacity. When I’m amongst a group I usually have something to say, an anecdote to share or a story of my own to tell. I very rarely have to shrink away from a gathering whether they’re new to me or not. Whenever I’m with a group of family members, my dad is almost always at the centre, holding court. It’s a kind of quiet confidence that I would really like to emulate.

However, more important to me than his social credentials are his creative ones. Professionally, he is a retail manager and has been for many years. Management is something that he is very good at (even at his most humble, I think he would agree) but I don’t believe that it is what he was born to do (I imagine he’d most likely agree with that too). He has a creative mind like few others I’ve ever met and an artistic flair with words in order to properly compliment it. I’ll always remember one of the opening lines from one of the short stories that were included as part of a game’s rulebook that he worked on (probably my favourite of what he’s written): “The night was wicked cold.” The argument that was put forward was that the line should be “wickedly cold” (something about the proper use of adverbs or some such nonsense) but my dad stood fast. “Wicked cold” just sounded better to him so that’s how it stayed. I’ve always preferred the line that way too.

As a writer, he’s always tried to write stuff that he knows he’d like to read. That’s an attitude that I’ve shamelessly tried to copy. Sometimes I’ve written things that weren’t very good, but they were what I wanted to write at the time. An uncompromising approach to creativity is something I’ve taken from my dad. People might not like something that I’ve written (hell, I might not even like it myself) but at the very least it will be practise. I actually have something in my drawer of old scripts and stories (yep, a drawer full of scraps and notebooks just sitting there) called ‘Untitled Mediocre Project’. It was a story about the crossing paths of three very different couples. Unfortunately, it was just a bit underwhelming. It had some very small good bits that I want to keep, though. I’ve always just considered it practice and I think I’m better for it.

That’s the thing I’m most grateful for. My dad taught me that being a good writer isn’t always about being good. It’s about writing what you want and not being deterred when what you want doesn’t turn out as good as you’d hoped. Being good at anything doesn’t just happen.

Keep writing. Keep getting better. Keep gathering stories. Then, maybe one day, I’ll have the confidence to hold court like my dad does.

One day, maybe I’ll be the storyteller.

 

 

 

 

Welcome Distractions

 

Originally Published on 9/28/2014 at 21:53

 

I’ve taken a little break from writing my book recently. I know, I know… I have a deadline. I haven’t forgotten about it (February 4th, completely self-imposed) but I have still been writing, so that makes delays acceptable, right? Anyway, I am going to finish the book so let’s not worry about it.

What am I writing that can warrant a break from ‘The Manuscript’? Short film scripts. Several of them over the last couple of months, as a matter of fact. This is a real departure from my usual method of sitting and staring at a blank page in a notebook for hours with no ideas forthcoming. I’m not usually an ideas man. I usually write in collaboration and an idea is formed collectively. In the past when I have written on my own, I’ve normally wound up with things half done and incomplete, or things that just weren’t very good (I mentioned the aptly titled ‘Untitled Mediocre Project in my last blog). That’s changed recently and I have no idea why. It must be practice and perseverance. Now I seem able to have an idea of my own, flesh it out sufficiently, make it half decent and then write it in a way that does the original idea justice. I seem to have developed an annoying habit of starting with a title and then I make an idea fit with it. I know that this doesn’t sound like the most practical way to write, but it’s working so far.

Of course, I’m not going to assert here that everything I’ve written recently is earth-shatteringly brilliant nor will I say that any of the scripts are going to shake up what we expect from short-form scriptwriting. What I will say is that I like them and I think they’re good enough to at least be seen by others, if not to actually be produced by someone.

It’s for that reason that I’ve set up a profile on IdeasTap to showcase some of these scripts. IdeasTap are a charity organisation that helps to find people in the arts work as well as providing access to competitions and funding opportunities. You can also build a network of other creative types and recommend each other based on you relevant experiences. I’ve used IdeasTap to enter a short script competition (I say ‘enter’ when actually the word ‘spammed’ is more appropriate). For the first time, my work will actually be judged by people who I don’t know. Exciting and terrifying, but I think it is necessary. How can I get any better without feedback?

One thing I have definitely learned from writing these things recently is that I really don’t want to produce or direct professionally. What really excites me is the writing. The creation and building of an idea is what I enjoy. I especially like writing dialogue (I don’t really know why where that preference came from but it probably has something to do with enjoying Kevin Smith films) and allowing characters to be wittier or more clever than I ever am able to be in real life.

The goal with all of this, really, is that I want to go pro. I need a body of work and I need to be judged. Contests are a good way to start. Maybe someone sees it, thinks it’s good and passes it on to someone higher. Maybe. One can dream.

Once all is said and done, we’ll see if my scripts take and whether anyone wants to take a shot at them. After that, I guess I’ll get back to that book of mine.

 

 

 

 

Affirmation

 

Originally Published on 10/13/2014 at 15:00

 

This past weekend, I attended a wedding in Yorkshire. It was a wholly beautiful affair with a giant tipi, a vintage bus ride and a multi-tiered cake made entirely of pork pies (most certainly a highlight for a food addict and gross over-eater like myself). It was here that I met a young woman who, in the course of one brief conversation, helped me to make a realisation that I had previously struggled with.

The woman that I was speaking with (her name is Hannah, by the way) is an actress. Like many other creative types that I know, Hannah holds a separate day job. Nonetheless, when I asked what she did, she told me that she is an actress. When this entirely safe and neutral question was levelled back in my direction, I stumbled. For a while now, I’ve been assuring myself that when I get that question I’m going to start telling people that I am a writer. Yes, my day job is a retail one and that is where I currently earn my living, but it is not how I choose to define myself. However, when someone asks the question “what do you do?”, I inevitably find myself falling back on the safe, comfortable answer of “I work in retail”. Why do I do that? The question isn’t about how I earn money. If that is what was being asked, then surely retail would have been the correct answer. But the question isn’t about that. It’s about what you do. On days off, after shifts and on lunch breaks, I write. It doesn’t matter if it’s short scripts, blog posts or my manuscript… I write.

In our chat, the point was made that people in the creative industry often feel the need to justify themselves because so many others don’t consider their passion to be a ‘proper job’. It’s a proper job when George Clooney makes a movie, Taylor Swift releases an album or James Patterson writes a novel. Why should it be different when someone is just starting out? Creativity, imagination and bravery in performance are still definite skills. If someone uses those skills, then their job is no less ‘proper’ than any other. And just because you don’t earn a wage from it, doesn’t mean that it can’t be your vocation. How many film editors do I know who work in offices, answering calls and replying to memos? How many actors and actresses do I know who, even at this very moment, are ringing up transactions at a cash register in some shopping centre? How many musicians will be working at a bar in a club this weekend, pouring shots for crowds of drunken students? If these people have credits to their name or a body of work that they are proud of, why should they not label themselves with the title of their prospective craft? Why are we (and by ‘we’ I almost certainly just mean ‘me’ as this entire blog is pretty much just a projection of my concerns and worries onto the world around me) so concerned about our job title? The people that I have listed above should be happy to use the name of their craft when someone drops that bomb in a conversation. “What do you do?”

It’s up to you to decide who you are and how you define yourself to others. The people asking don’t know. That’s WHY they’re asking. Tell them what feels true to you and it is going to be the right answer, regardless of what you actually say.

I have decided that my answer to that question from now on is “I’m a writer”. That’s where my drive is. That is my passion. It’s funny to think that it required a conversation with a complete stranger (thanks again for that, Hannah) in order for me to realise something that should have been so basic and obvious. That is one of the funny things in life, I guess. We are always looking for that one defining moment when something finally clicks. That epiphany moment that is always accompanied by an interesting musical sound effect in the movies. When that does occur, we know that it is all that we’ve needed all along. A little affirmation and then it all makes sense.

Hi. I’m Dave and I’m a writer. What do you do?

 

 

 

 

Public Transportation

 

Originally Published on 10/24/2014 at 13:00

 

At 9:59 this morning, I should have been taking my second (and hopefully final) driving test. It may have been a long time coming, but my full driving license was finally within reach. Unfortunately, having had the test booked for around six weeks, I received an email at 8:15 stating that my test had been cancelled and rescheduled to another (far, far less convenient) date and time. Their reason was not explained, but they did apologise for the inconvenience caused. That was a nice touch, I suppose. I always appreciate fake remorse from big businesses.

My frustration is not that the test was cancelled. These things happen and although they failed to elaborate on why the cancellation was required (probably examiner sickness or something) I know that sometimes things like this are unavoidable. My frustration is the stress of the whole process. Stressing the night before about a test that I’m desperate not to fail. Stressing about not being able to sleep properly (tired driving is as dangerous as drunk driving, after all). Stressing on the morning of the test as I got ready to face an examiner. Stress about not wanting to let anyone down by failing again (my instructor’s stats matter to me and I’ve promised that I’ll start driving Lou around soon). I addressed my initial driving fears and aspirations a little while ago in Not Much of a Motorhead, and all of those feelings are still present and valid.

You might think that the cancellation effectively lifted this weight off of my shoulders, but what it actually did was copy the stresses to another day AFTER I had already suffered them. This sucks, but as I said before, I understand when these things are unavoidable.

I guess it is easier for me to be cool about it all because I’m sitting on a train right now, on my way to Edinburgh for the first time. It helps even more that I’m sitting in a First Class seat. What should be obvious is that I didn’t book this trip myself as I probably wouldn’t have done it on the same day as a driving test and I sure as hell couldn’t afford this seat. But I’m here, nonetheless, and it’s pretty awesome (the coffee isn’t great though, which is a shame). Can’t be too mad at the world when you’re busy travelling in style with rolling green countryside outside each window (the Lake District looks lovely today, by the way).

So, Edinburgh. I'll be up here on behalf of the day job, but my intention is to use all of my spare time being a tourist whilst also working on some of my writing projects. I need to polish up my sitcom pilot script (the deadline is November 3rd *gulp*) and finish up a half-decent writing CV (I still don't know what it's meant to look like, but I'll figure it out eventually). Maybe work on a second episode of the sitcom along with a drama pilot idea. I don't know. Whatever takes my fancy whilst looking at the pretty Scottish buildings and the like (whilst also dodging the imminent wet weather).

Scotland! Visit the castle? Hell yes! Eat a deep-fried Mars bar? Definitely! Drink some whisky? Probably! Wear a kilt? Well… (!)

 

 

 

 

North of the Border

 

Originally Published on 10/31/2014 at 16:08

 

Oh, Edinburgh. You are something special. I’ve spent this whole week thinking about how I could live there. This is no small consideration. There are only four places in the entire world that I’ve felt that way about: New York City (expensive and a little scary with guns and the like), Oxford (also expensive, less guns though I think), Manchester (already live there, so there’s that) and now Edinburgh.

If you’re wondering what makes Edinburgh so special, then I have to assume that you’ve never been there. It is something about the way that the city feels. It has the sense of a city of great age and importance but with a very young spirit. The buildings all over are centuries old but nothing feels rundown or shabby (I’ve got issues with London for this very reason; the sense of decay). You can look out through a window in one direction and see a castle (I’ll get on to the castle properly in a minute) and the other direction there will be rolling green hills and steep climbs (I’ll cover that in a minute too). It’s a beautiful place with something for everyone (that’s a tired old cliché, but I really believe it).

Let’s talk about the castle for a second. It’s incredible. I mean it. I could throw out adjectives like awe-inspiring, breathtaking, majestic, extraordinary and downright epic and they would all be true and would barely scratch the surface of what I could say about it. It’s a glorious fusion of engineering wizardry and raw incredibleness. Actually, though, the word ‘castle’ doesn’t really do the place justice either. It is far more of a fortress, really. It has layers of walls, numerous interior gates with lanes running between them all and the whole place is sitting proudly on a massive dormant volcano. It’s imposing and it is totally meant to be just that. But there is something beautiful buried within the seriousness of it all (many people have lived and died there over the centuries, let us not forget). One assembly of cannons is arranged in a crescent shape and is called (rather fittingly) the Half Moon Battery. From below it looks to be an amazing turret-like structure, desperately clinging to the rock. When you are standing up there, you realise that it houses several large guns that were designed with only the most terrible of purposes in mind. Weapons of death and destruction housed in such a way as to take away the fear and replace it with beauty. You stop thinking of it as just a fortification and you start viewing it in the same way one would view a stately home; grand and beautiful, whilst remaining deeply intimidating. Such is the power of Edinburgh Castle.

The man-made side of the city is striking, but the natural side is just as spectacular. Right on the edge of the city, there is an area of incredible beauty called Holyrood Park (more about it can be found here). Arthur’s Seat and The Salisbury Crags are the main points of interest within it. I set out to climb to the top of Arthur’s Seat thinking that it would be a standard hill climb, probably with steps, a bannister and maybe a sherpa to carry your things for you (maybe). This was incorrect. My error was compounded when I realised that one had a choice in which way to begin the ascent and I chose poorly. This meant starting off by climbing what felt like nearly vertical steps up the Crags, only to then discover that Arthur’s Seat was further up than I had expected (this is an understatement). Many rocky steps and lots of puffing and panting later, I reached the top. Only then did it hit me why so many people were up there with me; the view was absolutely amazing. That, coupled with the definite sense of achievement for making it to the top (I thought I was going to die halfway up, as I am so out of shape), gave me a positive spring in my step the whole way back down the (far more forgiving) downhill slope to street level. All of this right on the edge of town. No journeying to the middle of nowhere. Just a simple walk to the town limits. Wonderfully energising and a perfect way to recharge and unwind (although my poor legs might disagree with me there).

Any discussion of the place would be incomplete without mentioning the people. I’ve met (and had the pleasure of working with) some genuinely awesome people this week. A lot of it seems to come from the people having a deep affection for their city (whether they are from Edinburgh or not) and the urge to share it with others. This may be due to the practice they’ve had because of the sheer quantity of tourists in town, but I don’t know that for sure. Either way, I haven’t met an Edinburger I didn’t like (and yes, they are called Edinburgers).

I suppose all that’s left to say is that I think everyone should visit Edinburgh. The only worry there is that if everyone feels like I do about the city, they all may never leave. But I think that’s what makes Edinburgh great. The place is fiercely Scottish (the sheer number of tourist shops and kilted bagpipists that I saw can attest to that) but it welcomes all who would wish to add something to it. The city adopts the best parts of those people, growing and evolving. People have been adding to it for centuries. I see no sign of that changing and I hope that it never does.

Thank you for this last week, Edinburgh. I will return (and next time I will definitely wear appropriate footwear when I decide to challenge the rocks and ridges).

 

 

 

 

A Dose of Christmas Cheer

 

Originally Published on 12/16/2014 at 16:13

 

(I feel like you need to be warned that there is a mushy message at the end of this post. Please try not to be alarmed when you come across it.)

Nine days until Christmas. It’s getting pretty close to the big day and I’ve just started building a delightful little Christmas buzz. The highlight for me so far? The other night I bought my first Christmas tree. It’s a modest little five-foot thing made of green plastic, but it’s the first tree I’ve ever bought and I got to decorate it with Lou whilst listening to A Christmas Sing With Bing (this album is played every Christmas by my dad and by his dad before that, so it’s a pretty big deal for me).

This has helped me to acquire a little holiday cheer, albeit a little late in the proceedings. A lack of festive feeling never used to be a problem. I think a lot of that is down to where I used to work. For several years, I worked for Starbucks Coffee Company (across many stores in many places). There, Christmas started immediately after Thanksgiving. I mean it. It was usually a day or so afterwards that the store’s decor would change completely and then Christmas had arrived. The red cups came out, the decorations went up and the holiday-themed music of all styles started. A solid month of festive bombardment has a way of either making you embrace the holidays or it forces you to check into some kind of institution that is stocked with rubber walls and medication. Being someone who is always eager to avoid situations that would put me in the news for all the wrong reasons, I learned to love the season and accept that Christmas now lasted for a whole month of every year.

I felt that way every year up until a few years ago when I left Starbucks and went to a different retail establishment. This place doesn’t have the same Christmas cheer that Starbucks did. There are little to no decorations (no tinsel or freely roaming Santa hats). Very little Christmas music is played (not even Mariah Carey gets a look in and she gets everywhere this time of year). No longer do I work with food and drink and so there are no festive beverages to warm me on a cold morning. No aroma of freshly brewed coffee with hints of gingerbread and nutmeg. Just the cold, hard scent of cleaned and polished commercialism. My current work environment just does not give off the same festive wintery zing. This isn’t entirely a bad thing. Now I rarely ever get to the edge of Christmas-induced psychosis, just one broken biscuit away from a string of scarily emotive headlines (there is such a thing as bad press).

This year, I’m working to build the cheer in different ways. Buying the tree was just one of them. Walking home in the crisp air with a tree under my arm and a bag of baubles, tinsel and lights in my hand, I felt like an extra out of It’s a Wonderful Life. This weekend I’m attending a legendary Christmas party that I’ve only ever heard stories about. That should help too as I have been promised good food, wine and Christmas songs at the piano (yep, classier than I deserve). The other night I watched a double bill of Scrooged and Elf (I highly recommended these films) and found myself thoroughly cheered up by the time the credits rolled.

Although I will be working all through the Christmas period and Lou will be away with her family for most of it, I intend to bring back some of the feelings of Christmases long gone (I’ve been mainlining gingerbread flavoured coffee, so that’s a start). Hopefully as I work to rekindle the sensation in myself I can spread it to others as a sort of Christmas wildfire (but, you know, without the risk of property damage or the destruction of wildlife).

Happy Holidays everyone. I hope whatever it is that you are celebrating brings you happiness and togetherness as we continue on into 2015.

 

 

 

 

Deadlines

 

Originally Published on 1/5/2015 at 10:03

 

I’ve never really been very good with deadlines. Either I haven’t set them or I’ve missed them entirely. I set myself a deadline of the 4th of February to have a first draft of my book and I think it is fair to say that, as it stands, I’m going to miss it by some way. Now this would usually upset me, but I’m missing the deadline not because I have been idle, but because I have been busy with other important (although different) things. These things of importance are scripts of varying lengths and styles. I think I’ve always found it easier to write scripts than prose because of my fondness for dialogue and how much easier I find it to format dialogue in a screenplay. It’s a silly reason, but it’s the only one I can think of.

The first things that have taken time away from my book are a number of short scripts that I’ve written throughout the last few months. They are different lengths, covering different topics. Some could be developed further (and maybe should be) and some are just simple ideas turned into dialogue. My goal is to submit them to festivals and to use them as samples of my writing ability. After asking for some advice (thanks to Debbie Moon for that) I have also decided to share them with some filmmaker contacts in the hope that they may wish to produce them. A script can be much better appreciated if you add some talented actors, camera work and direction (for example I’m sure that the script for Gone Girl was amazing, but Rosamund Pike absolutely nailed it in that film, thus elevating the work done by Gillian Flynn). My scripts are available to view on my IdeasTap portfolio if any of you reading are filmmakers in need of a script or if you’re just curious and eager to give feedback (always welcome) to a wannabe writer like myself.

I’ve also written a spec sitcom pilot which I’m hoping to develop into a pitchable (is that a word?) product for a network. I have no idea how to do this, so there in lies the challenge. I’m working on it though. Soon I’ll have synopses that make sense for the series and at least one episode (hopefully more) to show them (whoever ‘them’ is). I have this romanticised view of old Hollywood where you could just slip a script in front of a random producer and then suddenly you’re in the movie business. I don’t think that it works quite the same way anymore (a crying shame if you ask me).

An even more recent and exciting opportunity (I make out that everything is exciting and yet I feel that I have sorely underused the exclamation point) has taken the shape of redeveloping the webseries that I co-wrote and produced with my friends a few years ago. The show was called Ramblers (more rambling conversation and less countryside walks) and was about a group of friends being geeks and dealing with life. It was originally a sitcom idea that we squeezed and mashed into a webseries shape and put online (you can watch the whole thing here in fact). We’re rebuilding the story from scratch, updating the characters and just generally making it better. We’re even changing the title, so it will be its own entity. This time we’re going to keep it as a television sitcom and not produce it ourselves. It takes away the limitations if you don’t agonise over how you’re going to film it with no budget.

So there you have it. Missing my self-imposed deadline, but instead exchanging it for several more things to work on and worry about. I’m going to come back to the book, but for now I’m redoubling my efforts to get into television work. I think that’s a worthy trade off.

And as it is January, I have a New Year’s Resolution: be sure to make all future deadlines.

 

 

 

 

#JeSuisCharlie

 

Originally Published on 1/10/2015 at 18:56

 

I want to talk about the shooting at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris.

I’ve agonised over it, talking myself out of it and back into it a few times now. I’ve seen so much written over the last few days (some calm and measured, others furious and vitriolic) and I’ve decided that (despite my better judgement) I want to add my voice to that ever-growing cacophony. I know that I’ll probably draw criticism for over-simplifying things, but I just felt the need to say something.

Charlie Hebdo is a French weekly satirical newspaper and I have to admit that before the events this week, I had never even heard of it. I expect this is the same for most people outside of France. A quick check on Wikipedia sheds some light on the paper and its history. It describes Charlie Hebdo as left-wing, with a history of satirical attacks in all directions. By its very nature, the paper will have offended a lot of people (this should go without saying as satire is always attacking the beliefs or opinions of someone) but for it to have been attacked twice (firebombed in 2011 and the shooting this week) is really quite shocking. Viz and Private Eye have been known to offend regularly in the UK, but neither of them have ever been attacked like this.

The most surprising thing to me in the aftermath of all of this, however, is the position of what appears to be a growing number of people on the internet. That position seems to be “Charlie Hebdo is a racist newspaper so let’s not start calling them heroes…” In the wake of something terrible, victims are regularly referred to as ‘heroes’. Not necessarily because they died heroically, but mostly just because they died. Playing down the grief because perhaps they weren’t all lovely people is ridiculous. The paper was offensive, that much is accepted as true by all parties. But the issue isn’t whether or not they even WERE racists. They were murdered in their offices. The police officers in the street were killed trying to protect their community. Mercilessly gunned down by people claiming to have been insulted by cartoons and harsh words. You don’t get to kill people because you don’t like what someone has said, not even if they’ve REALLY hurt your feelings. Likewise, the things that those people wrote/drew/did should not lessen the grief felt by those left behind. To say that “we shouldn’t start excusing what they said just because of a shooting” is just stupid. People are united in sadness for the victims and condemnation for the attackers. If you have a problem with the content of the paper, you could at least wait until the bodies are cold. Otherwise you are just grandstanding, using the victims as your stage.

And now, after all of this has happened, people are proclaiming ‘Je suis Charlie’. The common thread between those using this statement is that freedom of speech and freedom of expression should be fundamental rights for all of us. The response I have seen to this is “I hope everyone isn’t Charlie, because if they are, then they are all racists too.” I really don’t believe that this is what ‘Je suis Charlie’ means. People aren’t saying that they embody and are represented by everything Charlie Hebdo ever published. Nor are they saying that what was published should be free from criticism. What they are saying is that we accept everyone’s right to an opinion, no matter how much it may differ from our own or how much it may upset somebody else. Charlie Hebdo’s opinion may not be one that you share, you may not even like it, but you should allow them to have that opinion. That is their freedom. Everyone is offended by something and it is your right to be offended. Things that you believe or say may offend me, but that is YOUR right to believe and to say them. You see where I’m going with this?

Should Charlie Hebdo be free from all criticism in their quest to offend all cultures and religions with their use of heavily barbed satire? Of course not, but the victims of January 7th sure as hell didn’t deserve to die for it.

#JeSuisCharlie

 

 

 

 

25+5 (A Retrospective)

 

Originally Published on 2/4/2015 at 0:01

 

Five years ago, the decade was changing and I wrote a somewhat melancholic blog about the arrival of my 25th birthday. Now here we are and I’m turning 30 in a couple of weeks and I thought it might be good to critique this old blog and see how much I have (or haven’t) changed. I know that this might seem a little self-indulgent going over my own stuff like this, but it’s my birthday so just go with it, okay?

Let us begin.

The decade’s nearly over. That means that it’ll be 2010 before you know it. If I had to pick the one thing that matters the most to me in 2010 it would be my birthday. Not just because it’s my birthday, but because it’s the big number twenty-five. It’s the last big milestone birthday before you hit thirty. Sixteen, eighteen and twenty-one are all long gone and that means that it’s time to take stock of my life.

I like that it starts with this sense of impending doom (The decade is ending! What will we do?!) and a little element of narcissism (What matters most is my special day!). I still hold that those are the milestone birthdays and I believe that they are the ones that people really care about. Shame I won’t get another for a decade.

Ten years ago, I was still new at an English high school. I split my time between trying to fit in and trying to stand out. Six years ago, I was dropping out of Manchester Metropolitan University. Back then I was sure that this was the right idea. Well, the jury’s still out on that one. Two and a half years ago, I was moving out of my parents’ home. This time for good, I promised. One year ago, I was sporting a particularly nice ginger beard.

Okay, so not everything listed above is particularly important.

These things were and are all true. I used to think a lot about where I had come from and I would beat myself up over choices that I had made. Coming to an English school was a serious shift in gears for me and I’m genuinely surprised that I made it through without losing my mind. I always considered dropping out of University to be one of my biggest failings, but actually my life could have been totally different had I stayed in and gotten my degree. I probably wouldn’t be as happy as I am now, although 25-year-old-me wouldn’t necessarily believe that. Moving out and staying out of the parent’s home was important for everyone involved. I know that they would agree. And although I may make light of it in the paragraph above, it was a nice beard and was the origin story for the one I wear today, so that’s something.

So I’m rapidly approaching twenty-five and I don’t know if I have much to show for it. I haven’t done particularly well with the factors that usually define success: career, wealth and family. I work for a good company, earning a decent wage. Maybe there isn’t as much in the way of progression as I would hope for, but at least I’ve been comfortably employed throughout the recession. In terms of wealth I’m probably in about as much debt as the next guy, just with less to show for it. And my love life… Well that’s something that’s best left unspoken about (not because it’s terrible and seedy, but because it’s relatively non-existent).

Wow. There are a lot of deep-seated neuroses in the lines above (this is where the melancholia I mentioned at the start kicks in). I seemed to carry around a lot of crippling self-doubt a few years back. Luckily, just like Taylor Swift, I’ve learned to shake it off. Am I still aware of not having ticked certain boxes, of course I am, but I just don’t worry about them so much (I go into this a bit in one of my earlier blogs). At least the last part has improved. I’m engaged to the love of my life and she, for some inexplicable reason, has been putting up with me for three years now.

I think all in all it’s not the getting older bit that bugs me; it’s the worry that I may not be achieving what I wish I was. Funnily enough not only do I not worry about ageing, I actually want to live to be one hundred and sixteen years old. If I do, I’ll have officially lived in three centuries. How about that for an awesome achievement?

The progression of modern medical science means that 116 might actually be an achievable age. Maybe. Or at least I keep telling myself that. Anyway, I’ll go into my theory on mortality and the concept of the body as a self-repairing machine at another time.

So what are the goals to achieve before this (rather minor) milestone age? I should know them, but I’ve pretty much given up on birthday resolutions. I usually just rely on booze to be a comforting mistress at birthday time instead of planning my year ahead. Of course I do have life goals, but they’re mostly scheduled for around that next big milestone; the big three-oh. I’ll start worrying about them in four years time.

Oh brilliant. Thanks past-me. Leaving a big old heap of ‘things to do’ for me to worry about. It’s not bad enough that I’ll be missing my more recent deadlines (read more about that here), but now I’m going to miss past ones too. Ugh. I don’t even know why I said that thing about booze being a comfort. I’ve never really been much of a drinker. When I do drink, I get emotional… and usually messy (bit of a lightweight). Best avoided, really.

I think that what I’m trying to say (and at the same time, convince myself of) is that although birthdays cause you to pause and examine yourself (not physically), they shouldn’t be how you judge yourself or anyone else. I’ve met massively accomplished twenty-somethings (they make me jealous) and I’ve met middle-aged folks with nothing but their name (they make me worry). From now on, when you think about your age, don’t think about the number. Think about what you’ve done, who you’ve known, how you’ve changed. If the thoughts and memories that you conjure up make you smile then the number is no longer important. That’s how I’m going to work from now on. Happier birthdays.

Check that out! Finishing as a plucky optimist. Who’d have thought that it would end up that way after the first few lines? What reading this has taught me is that my opinions on things like age, success and so on have pretty much remained the same over the last few years (except for the odd moments of panic and cold sweat). Since I wrote that blog I’ve made a feature length movie with some of my best friends (check out the trailer or read about the premiere maybe?) and I’ve met and made plans to wife my dream girl. I think that’s pretty good for a neurotic thirty year old.

Now I just need to tick the rest of the boxes and buy a house and have a baby and make it as a writer and…

Forty is a good age for deadlines, right?

 

 

 

 

Momentum

 

Originally Published on 3/8/2015 at 14:21

 

I’ve written paragraphs and paragraphs before about that little movie that I made (here and here) but today I’m going to write a little bit more.

Shooting on the Rim was a labour of love, both in the sense that we poured our hearts and souls into it and also because it’s about porn (fictionalised and never on camera, but still). Now we’re at a stage where the film is done and we’re sitting on a guaranteed blockbuster property (this is a subjective opinion of the movie, I admit) and are a little unsure of how to proceed. This has been our problem, but now we are making actual, genuine progress.

Today we submitted Shooting on the Rim to FOURTEEN different film festivals using the website FilmFreeway. The law of averages states that someone has to take the film. That might not seem overly optimistic, and I know the movie is good enough to be selected, but I just hope it finds the right judge who falls for it the way that we have. The way that it should go (in my head, anyway) is that one festival selects it and then the next festival sees that it has been selected and selects it too. This goes on and on and becomes a never-ending downhill snowball of raw success which finishes with us collecting a Palme d’Or at Cannes. Or that SHOULD be how it goes, anyway.

We’ve also made a connection with a gentleman named Andrew Patrick who works for UK Trade & Investment. From him we are getting some mentoring and industry advice, some of which we have already put into practice. It’s nice getting some information from someone who’s been in the business and can tell us when a plan is not worth pursuing, before we stumble blindly into some kind of failure.

It’s an exciting time for our movie. Momentum is with us for the first time in a long time and we will ride it all the way to success (or glorious, catastrophic failure).

 

 

 

 

Identity and Beardedness

 

Originally Published on 3/12/2015 at 6:00

 

The other night, as I stood clutching a pink Wilkinson’s disposable razor, I was assailed by a strong wave of emotions. I stared into the mirror above my sink and didn’t recognise the man looking back at me. The man in the mirror was clean shaven, complete with marks and cuts given to him by a razor dulled on hard stubble. Who could he be? I glanced at the twin-bladed devil in my own right hand and, in that moment, I realised my terrible mistake. The beard that I had lovingly cultivated and maintained for well over a year was no more than whiskers in my sink.

The beard was dead. Long live the beard.

I know that this sounds a little overly dramatic for something that people around the world do everyday, but there is more to it. I had kind of wrapped my identity up in my beard. I believed, and had been vocal about it, that anyone who could grow a beard should do so. I once shared with a group of men (in varying states and levels of shavedness) the opinion that the beard is the ‘bonsai tree of the face’, requiring dedication and commitment to get right. I still hold this opinion, even in my current clean-shaven state.

I feel that I need to elaborate on why the shave occurred in the first place, as I’m making such a big deal out of it. I saw a picture of myself the other day and felt that my beard was making me look old. Not just aged, but haggard too. The beard was full and luscious, but wide and straggly too. I realised that I needed to trim it down. Rein it in. Usually I have my beard done professionally (entirely because I don’t trust myself with clippers) but on this occasion I figured that I could handle it. I was wrong. A little bit more from each side turned into ‘oh well, I guess I’ll have a goatee’. Levelling that out turned into ‘oh no, it all has to go’. Should have stuck with my lack of personal trust. If I had, I would still be whiskered.

When the sink was rinsed and the final hairs were washed down the drain, I realised the seriousness of my error. I had grown so attached to the beard (quite literally, but that should be obvious) that shaving it off left me feeling genuinely emotionally stunned. I just stared into that mirror not knowing what the hell I had done. The beard was me and I was it and, with nothing but a flick of the clippers, that was suddenly over.

But it is not the end. The beard will return. Sure it will take some time, but then all good things do. My beard was a good thing and I have no one to blame for its loss but myself.

It will return. Until then, I just need to get used to my face and learn once again what my (weak) chin looks like.

 

 

 

 

Moonstruck

 

Originally Published on 3/19/2015 at 16:23

 

I’ve always been a fan of space. Whether I was stargazing at night in the backyard (I never had an awesome telescope, but I always wished for one) or curled up watching television shows like Star Trek or Babylon 5, I have forever believed that the human race’s future lies out there in the big black. It just makes sense, right? Our species managed to crawl out of the primordial ooze and then, after a healthy dose of time (billions of years, unless you’re a creationist), came to have dominion over the whole planet. The human race developed so many diverse languages, arts and sciences and I am convinced that a species that has evolved like ours is not destined to die out on the planet of its origin.

Anyway, I’m getting carried away with myself. Let’s talk about the Moon. Tomorrow, areas of the planet will be treated to a full solar eclipse as the Moon passes directly between us and the Sun. This is a pretty awesome, and somewhat rare, occurrence. In preparation for this, I watched Stargazing Live on the BBC last night (if you didn’t see it, I highly recommend catching it on iPlayer). As it was a show about the eclipse and the Moon in general, they had a special guest; Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the Moon.

I’ve got a bit of a hero-worshipy man-crush going on for Buzz Aldrin (yes, I know that he is 85 years old), although I know that I probably wouldn’t agree with some of his politics and positions (he is a staunch Republican and has an interesting stance on global warming). However, all of that aside, this is a man who stood on the surface of the moon (and he once punched a moon landing conspiracy theorist in the face). There aren’t very many of those. I especially like how much he has owned the experience. Whereas Neil Armstrong (the first man on the Moon) was a very private person who didn’t talk much about the Moon landing, Buzz has never shied away from telling his stories. He does tell a good story too (seriously, watch that show).

So they were talking about space exploration (from the Moon to Mars and beyond) and it got me thinking about our planet and the people on it. If only the people of the world stopped hating each other, we could be exploring the stars. This is the same reason that things about space upset me a little bit. I can’t see a possibility of people putting aside their hatred and conflicting beliefs long enough for us to truly achieve something great. In Star Trek, it took aliens visiting the Earth before we all realised that we are not that different from each other and that we should work together for the common good of mankind. I have this feeling that if were to be visited by benevolent aliens, we would only pause our destructive ways for long enough to obliterate the aliens before returning our attentions to ourselves.

Something I learned from Stargazing Live last night was that Apollo 17 brought back pieces of the Moon which were then mounted on plaques and given as gifts by President Nixon (he was a nasty piece of work, but this gesture was nice) to the leaders of 135 countries around the world. Part of the letter that accompanied the Moon rock reads:

“If people of many nations can act together to achieve the dreams of humanity in space, then surely we can act together to accomplish humanity’s dream of peace here on earth. It was in this spirit that the United States of America went to the moon, and it is in this spirit that we look forward to sharing what we have done and what we have learned with all mankind.”

Forty years on from that and we are no closer to a worldwide peace that will allow us to explore the stars together. I find that incredibly saddening. It is hard for me to consider the vastness and majesty of space without thinking about how many people in the world would rather kill each other than simply live side by side. How can anyone look up into the night sky and not think that exploring OUT THERE is the greatest thing the human race could do together? The International Space Station (I think people often forget that we have a damn SPACE STATION orbiting the Earth with people on board right this very second) regularly sends back images of our world, with us all just tiny, invisible specks upon it. How is that not more sobering to everyone?

Had I the chance, I would show everyone on the planet that program from last night. I’d let them hear Buzz Aldrin talk about seeing the Earth from space and setting foot on a different celestial body and I’d ask them how they feel afterwards. The saddest thing is that I imagine many wouldn’t be moved in the slightest. I guess that I’ll just have to carry on being moved for them, at least until everyone comes to their senses.

 

 

 

 

Quandary

 

Originally Published on 3/22/2015 at 14:35

 

I’m on the cusp of a decision that can either be interpreted as a funny kind of success or abject failure. The decision concerns my seemingly long-lost manuscript. I had originally intended to have my first attempt at a first draft of a proper novel completed by my birthday (that was almost two months ago) but this particular deadline (which you may have heard me mention before) has slipped through my fingers. Now, the question has switched to what to do next.

My recent focus has been on completing screenplays, rather than returning to my neglected prose. I have kind of focused myself on being a screenwriter and not an author, which I believe agrees with me. I’ve set up an account on the International Screenwriters’ Association website to showcase my scripts and hopefully garner some interest (with the closing of IdeasTap, this seemed to be a prudent thing to do). I think I’m better at producing scripts than I am completing chapters anyway (I’m talking about productivity and not quality, before you think I’m being conceited), so perhaps it makes sense to continue on this path.

I suppose the point that I am dancing around is whether or not I should abandon my book plan and instead adapt the story of my book into a feature-length screenplay. I have the story planned out in its entirety and I could use that to build scenes visually. Would that be a better use of the ground work I’ve already put in developing this idea? I think it might be. I’ve always wanted to publish a novel, but I think I’d rather see my name on the big screen at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (if I had to choose between them, that is, because I’d accept both). I suppose there isn’t anything  stopping me from writing the book and then adapting a screenplay (or vice versa) but I don’t know whether I can focus on one project quite that heavily.

Now I know that pretty much no one knows the story of my book apart from me and thus no one can really give me a well reasoned case for either book or screenplay. However, if anyone has an opinion that they want to share, I’m open to it.

I genuinely don’t know which way to go but, one way or the other, I will complete the story.

 

 

 

 

Election Fever

 

Originally Published on 5/7/2015 at 9:51

 

People always call it that, no matter where in the world it takes place. It’s fitting really, if you think about it. Cold sweats, the shakes, headaches, a prickly feeling of general unease… I think it’s fair to say that these symptoms are indicative of a General Election in the UK. In fact, the frustration that you experience when you’re unable to properly express how ill you feel is remarkably similar to how it feels to debate someone politically, especially when you just know that you’re right.

The argument that I hear floating around all the time (not just in elections, but predominantly so) is the age-old mantra of the defeatist ‘better the devil you know…’ This statement should never be used in politics (or anywhere really). Elections should be about hope and change, not sticking to what we know out of fear of what else might happen. Surely it is better to leap into an unknown with a potential for reward than to simply fit the same old yoke around your neck? Why else would their be an election process if not for the possibility of change for the better?

I’ve already cast my ballot today, so I urge you to go and do the same. There are several more hours in which to do it, so I don’t want to hear any ‘but I didn’t have time’ excuses. I’m not going to tell you who I voted for, nor am I going to tell you who deserves your ballot. Only you can judge who the right candidate is for and your views, but remember that the election isn’t just about what’s right for you. It’s about the country. It’s about everyone in it who’s circumstances may be wildly different to your own. So don’t just vote for your interests. Vote for theirs too. And remember, ‘better the devil you know…’ is never a valid argument.

 

 

 

 

Playing the Fool

 

Originally Published on 5/25/2015 at 13:11

 

A few weeks ago I found myself in a club in London, surrounded by people in their finery and listening to a rather good swing band (albeit a little loud for making conversation). This is not the kind of event I’m used to attending so I was a little bit hesitant at first. A room full of producers, writers, actors, directors… Should be the dream for someone wanting to break out, right? Maybe?

The event was the Independent Filmmakers Ball hosted by the Raindance Film Festival. My experience of high society balls from film and television led me to expect flowing gowns, masquerade masks and lashings of intrigue (with at least one dastardly murder by the evening’s end). However, apart from a few gowns, this ball was decidedly vanilla and in danger of being spoiled by televisual expectations (it wasn’t, and with hindsight I suppose a murder wouldn’t have been that much fun, but you can see why I’d be worried).

The night began the way that I imagine most events of this type do; the event’s VIPs were separated from the rest of us ordinary folk. The VIPs were led to what looked like a red carpet photocall from a World Premiere, whilst the rest of us waited for the flashbulbs to stop popping (check out the photos and you might just catch the back of my head in a couple of shots). When they did stop, we were able to pass through, ignored by the gaggle of bored-looking photographers (this may sound like bitterness, but I assure you that it is nothing more than simple envy). Once we were through into the venue proper, we were confronted by a table covered in tarot cards with assistants (who looked more like models, really) explaining how the night’s game worked. You were supposed to pick a tarot card that you had some kind of affinity with and then find someone else with a matching card. You could then break the ice, exchange pleasantries and then claim a free drink with that person. Simple enough.

Having a penchant for comedy writing (along with the stunning realisation that I was absurdly out of my depth), I chose The Fool. There with my filmmaking partners and friends Tom and Paul (The Devil and Temperance, respectively) we first met a young producer named Patricia who took it easy on us by making the first move and introducing herself. After that initial conversation our confidence grew and we met many more talented people throughout the night, with the music and the drinks acting as an incredibly efficient social lubricant. There was Jenny (the redheaded Scottish producer), Nick (the film student and fellow Fool) and Sarah (the German scientist with no filmmaking intentions whatsoever). These were good people. There were also some people who embodied the worst media stereotypes; fast-talking, no substance, all show. I didn’t enjoy the company of these people as much.

All in all, what it did show me was that there is talent all across the country doing similar things in different places. Independent film is happening all over the place, and the people that do it are the same everywhere; the shy but skilled visionary, the unrecognised hard-worker, the talentless braggart.

Once I realised that, the whole event seemed far less intimidating. And although I didn’t gain a great deal professionally from the trip, I met some cool people that helped me to remember why I enjoy the independent film scene. I figure that was worth the price of admission (even if I didn’t end up in the photocall).

 

 

 

 

Irons in the Fire

 

Originally Published on 6/2/2015 at 10:52

 

I’m in a very weird position at the moment, creatively speaking. I have a lot of things to work on, but I’m nowhere near finishing any of them. Hell, some I’ve barely even started putting together. There is a part of me that likes to have all of this exciting stuff to do. It makes me seem busy and productive, but I think that it really leaves me feeling massively incomplete. Even now I’m writing this blog knowing that I have at least three or four stories that require my attention (at least a couple of them are pretty good ideas too, if I do say so myself). Then again, procrastination is my forté. This is also not really a new thing for me, so you’d think I’d be used to it by now.

But why do I let it continue when I can openly acknowledge that the problem is there? What is the best way to deal with it? IS there even a best way to deal with it?

I keep trying to visualise where I could be in a few years time if I completed all of these works; a few feature films and a couple of television series. The possibilities are vast and wide-ranging and yet I do not let them inform or direct my efforts. This must be some form of madness; to sit with ideas sprawled out before you and yet being able to do LITERALLY any other unimportant thing instead. Eating seems to be a particularly popular distraction (which obviously then leads to unhappiness with my own body, but that’s another matter entirely). The other downside to the visualisation technique is that it gets me down when I consider what I am not achieving. It’s amazing and uplifting thinking about where you could be with your work until you suddenly realise exactly where you actually are. This in turn puts a bit of a creative block in my brain because, unlike some of the great writers that used depression and sadness as a muse, I find it very difficult to write from a position of negativity. So I get down about not writing, thus leading to a period where I’m not able to write which in turn gets me down about it… You get the idea.

I wonder if I’m alone in this. I think of the prolific writers of books, TV and film whose output is unmatched and I wonder whether they just have a way of working through negative mindsets. They must have.

The biggest piece of advice that I keep failing to listen to is simply “just write the words”. It’s as simple as that. I just need to write the words. I occasionally have an idea for a character or scene and think to myself how good that particular nugget would be in a story of mine. I then promptly fail to do anything with it. This is a recurring thing, and that makes it damned upsetting.

The answer is a simple one. I simply need to find a way to fix this behaviour and become an overnight beacon of extraordinary success.

That, or I could just focus on getting some things done.

 

 

 

 

Lets Get Physical

 

Originally Published on 6/21/2015 at 05:00

 

I am not a particularly fit person. I’ve got love handles and an ever-so-slight hint of man-boob if I lean forward. So what am I going to do about it? I suppose that I could eat a calorie-controlled diet. Or I could just eat smaller portions of the terrible things that I do eat. No, I won’t stick to that. Maybe I could simply eat less cheese… Now we’re just talking crazy.

I decided instead that I would start going to the gym. This isn’t the first time that I’ve made that decision. On a few different occasions I have enrolled at gyms all over the city. A few visits later, I’m desperate for an escape route and my membership just mysteriously lapses. Now the situation is slightly different. I have a number of friends who are avid gym-goers and who are in great shape. I can get advice and ideas on what to do to get the most out of it. Seemed like a great idea as it will help me to stay on target. I signed up and went along for my first session a few days ago. To say it was an eye-opener would be an understatement.

I arrived at around 7pm on a weekday. I knew immediately that this was a mistake by the queue that snaked from the check-in counter to the entrance. So this was the post-work-workout crowd that I’d heard so much about. I figured that the gym was new and big enough to accommodate us all easily enough and to an extent that was true. The person at the check-in desk looked at me blankly when I quickly explained that it was my first visit. She didn’t care. She’d probably heard hundreds of people make the same statement that week and I was just another newbie. Fair enough.

I quickly changed (the changing room was spacious and fresh-smelling; an obvious giveaway that the place was still new) and made my way into the gym proper. At that moment, my heart sank. The place was full of people, but not like I expected. The place had been open for a matter of days. I assumed there would be a lot of people just like me; using a new facility as a fresh start to make a positive change. Instead, the place was filled with incredibly fit and athletic people. The treadmills were being run by trim folks in technical clothing, training for their next 10k or marathon. The weight machines were all in use by people with muscles bulging to escape their vest tops. I looked around the room and saw about a hundred people, the breakdown of which was as follows:

10%: Too thin to be working out (worryingly so), but really pushing it anyway.

10%: Abnormally large and muscular men who need to step away from the creatine and protein powder.

60%: Great shape, probably maintained by regular gym sessions. These are the ‘beautiful people’ of stories.

19%: People who are average builds, kind of like me, in varying levels of fitness and red-facedness.

1%: Really big people who are trying to make a serious change.

I walked in and I didn’t know what I was doing but everyone else seemed to totally get it. It’s hard to focus in that kind of environment. Desperate not to look like a complete newbie (despite the fact that I totally am) meant that I just kind of figured it out as I went along. I didn’t ask for help. I didn’t look around. I was terrified that someone would spot me and exclaim “he doesn’t know how to lift!” and I would be chased into the street. That initial shock lasted throughout my first visit which I ended a little prematurely as I just didn’t know what to do next. Visit number two would prove to be far better, but at that moment in the changing rooms, I didn’t know if there would be a second visit.

As I walked out into the evening air (workout stink still heavy upon me) I took a moment to consider those with other body types. I’m not exactly under consideration for the cast list of Magic Mike 3 (which I’m assuming someone will green light soon enough) but my build is relatively average. Yet the worry and anxiety I felt as I stepped into that Hall of Muscles must have been insignificant next to that of those with larger body types. People on chat shows and the covers of tabloids question why bigger people don’t ‘put the effort in’ and get to a gym to improve their quality of life. That anxiety, worry and embarrassment must be exponentially greater for those who live with self-esteem issues. I’m average and yet I genuinely considered not going back. Imagine walking into that lions’ den without any confidence in yourself. Could you see yourself voluntarily putting yourself through that?

But then I realised something important that I initially overlooked. Other people in a gym don’t care about you. They’re there fighting their own personal battles. They don’t care if you have love handles. They don’t care if you have man-boobs. They care about bettering themselves and that is all that any person should worry about in a place such as that.

It is on that very important fact, self-improvement, which I shall be focussing today during my third visit. This morning and every visit after that. At least until I get the call for Magic Mike 3.


The American Speaks: Year One

  • ISBN: 9781311254252
  • Author: David Olsen
  • Published: 2015-09-24 15:40:10
  • Words: 16621
The American Speaks: Year One The American Speaks: Year One