Tag Archives: art

When Writers Stop Writing

I feel like a fraud. A zombie Steff in a fake world.

I haven’t been writing. Haven’t had it in me. I’m on auto-pilot. Wake, skate through life, meet required time obligations, get the 40 hours of work in per week, plus the paid blogging, plus the client stuff, plus the rehab back appointments, plus… plus… plus… Oh, look at the shiny sunset.

When life becomes a thing of clock-watching, it’s hard to find the inspiration.

Every now and then, I’ve wished I could stop time and just write, but the day has been full of needs and requirements, and pressing pause would mean falling too far behind to make it through the week while sleeping through my nights. So, instead, I take a picture and I move the hell on. (The photos seen here are all in the last 10 days.)

But these are the choices in the life of those who do what they love outside the hours of that which they do for survival.

When you’re a writer, the unexamined life is like the tree falling in an empty forest. What’s the point?

I’ve taken pictures in the month that has lapsed since I last wrote for you. I’ve made a lot of good food, cleaned my house, walked a lot, spent a lot of time just sitting on the ocean shore and staring into I-Don’t-Know-What.

It hasn’t been an exciting life, a life worth writing about, but for all the little brief moments of awe and wonder during a life filled with stress and time-management, I think I found a livable balance. For a time.

But that’s not who I am. I can’t do “livable balance.”

I want to do life.

Balance THIS, grasshopper.

You know, when I got my new driver’s license photo issued in October, I spent a while reflecting on my last five years, four of them spent with chronic back pain issues. I refuse to believe my back can’t be healed despite all the obstacles and setbacks I’ve had. No one has told me it’s a cause not worth fighting for, either.

A young couple catches the sunset at Victoria’s Clover Point.

That was the catalyst for my choice to make my back a priority, the top priority, for 2–3 months. I’m tired of a life spent in half-measures.

Working so much so I can throw money at trying to make my body relax after years of trauma and stress is a strangely paradoxical life, and it does not fill me with joy, inspire me to wordsmith, or make me feel like sharing myself with others.

We do what we have to, so we can do what we want, is what Forrest Whitaker’s character espouses in the rousing drama The Great Debaters.

What I want to do is travel. I want to be able to go on long distance cycling trips. I want to hike into the backcountry. I want to be that chick you look at and go, “Look at her go.” I want to know my limitations are far and that it will take me a long time to reach them. I want to know the world out there isn’t too much for me.

I want more than what I have now.

If that means I walk around for a little while as a zombie, while thoughts wither and die without being recorded on the page, then I guess that’s what that means.

I hate it but I need it, I guess.

I may have to get all Dylan Thomas and rage, rage against the dying of the light, because that’s what not writing is starting to feel like to me.

I’ve been here before, almost dead inside, just because I stopped writing after my mother’s death in ’99 till ’04. It’s not about writing for a living or a big audience or for slow-claps or rousing applause.

When you’re not writing, the idea of writing isn’t about the end-user’s experience, it’s about existential relevance.

Deep down inside, I think there’s a kind of egoism that writers have to have. We believe we see the world through an interesting filter. We believe our thoughts have relevance. Unfortunately, this feeling applies to far more people than it should.

Fortunately, some of us are right.

Just before a foggy nightfall, Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park.

Not everyone cares about having an audience. I’m not sure I do. I’d like to have the money that comes with one, but even that barely motivates me to do a “real” book or product for purchase. (But that day is coming.)

I toyed with advertising a long time ago, and hated how it made me feel pressured to produce, and loathed the standards I was churning out as a result.

It’s why I won’t create content for you right now “because I need to post something.” I won’t stoop to the Obligatory Posting point ever again.

For now, I need to fix my back. It’s the number-one thing that will prevent me from going further as a writer, because I do not like the filter I see the world through when I’m in pain. The limitations hurt my soul, and it affects what I put out in the world. That’s not the writer I want to be. Not anymore.

Not writing, though, makes me feel the same. Ah, a cruel contradictory ailment.

I’m five weeks from the end of my hardcore time-management needs for back-rehab, and similarly five weeks from my first REAL time off in more than a year, since this year’s vacation time all got spent on finding a home and moving into it.

But in the last few weeks of not-writing-just-staring-at-the-ocean, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about life and my place in it. Who’s expendable, who’s not. What I value, what I don’t.

Yesterday, I awoke with back stiffness, it was grey and miserable, and I spent 20 minutes talking myself into a dawn walk. By the time I returned home 90 minutes later, I felt grateful for where I’ve moved, the life I feel I’m on the path to have, and the world around me.

I also realized I’m at the dramatic midway point in the film that is representative of this year in my life.

It started with adversity, began in a turn-around, and now I’m at that challenging climax where the protagonist has to ask herself how badly she wants it, and how much she’s willing to do to get it.

And just on the other side of all this is the triumphant conclusion where she rides her bike off into the sunset, without taking an anti-inflammatory, then can skip stretching so she can write a blog post about it. Or something.

We do what we have to, so we can do what we want.

Somewhere in the mix of this zombie-like obligatory sense of life, my frequent pauses to enjoy the world around me, and the quiet I’m starting to find, I feel like this miway-movie point in my present is a really, really neat place to be, if also blood-draining exhausting.

I’m still looking forward to what’s around the corner, and especially finding the intersecting of both the will and the time to write, albeit I’m finding a lot of little small moments to enjoy in the middle of all my crazy.

Sometimes, it’s not a sin to live life. Sometimes, it’s the only way you’ll survive.

Even writers have to make choices. Today, this writer chooses Everything Else, but only because this writer knows that simply won’t last. Eventually, the word volcano has to bubble over and spew. The writer inside always emerges.

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Legacies: When All That’s Done is Said

Wow, so this posting got long. It should probably be separated. I just don’t have the emotional-editorial prowess for that, so I’ll leave it all jumbled together. I’m sure as the days and weeks move on, I’ll become more cemented in what I believe about Derek’s legacy in the blogging world, but, for now, I’m less academic and more the fumbling friend amazed at the outpouring of interest in a loved, lost voice on the local scene, to say the least.

__________________

As of yesterday, our Vancouver friend, the Penmachine, Derek K. Miller’s infamous The Last Post had gone viral both on the web and in the world’s news media. On Monday, the Canadian Press newswire went live with a story on Derek, it was picked up by American Press’s wire, and suddenly it went from 23 notable world press stories on Sunday to more than 220 press organisations (at this time) carrying this story on Derek’s passing worldwide.

I wrote last week that, in blogging, Derek would “…have told his story. A ripple in the pond. That’s all most writers really want to make — a ripple in the pond.”

Some kinda ripple, Derek. Well done, friend.

Words, words, words

I think, in the scheme of Derek’s life work, in all he tried to share with others, that the legacy being created through this worldwide exposure to what blogging can DO for a man, his life, his legacy, and the memory others get to have of him, that Derek’s changing the world’s perception of blogging.

Maybe I’m too close to it.

Maybe I know the man, his work, and maybe I want this to be bigger than it is, but as someone who’s watched the press all her life and knows what the public thinks and feels, this is a rare, rare moment when a really honest, simple, powerful statement is getting heard by the whole world.

And it’s not a world leader. It’s not some political activist dying for a cause. It’s not a celebrity known the world over.

It’s just a statement from a good Canadian man. A father of two, a guy who married his soul mate and died still madly in love with her. It’s the guy we all knew we could call with a technical problem that needed urgent solving, or who we KNEW had just happened to take a secret perfectly-timed picture of us at that event where he just had a camera. He was that guy.

And somehow, who he was, who he loved, and the life he led, that was all captured in a mere 1,500 words. His perfect 1,500 words.

Then the world read it and, in 1,500 words, realised what was truly important in life, what can all disappear in a moment.

Like Derek wrote, “As soon as my body stopped functioning, and the neurons in my brain ceased firing, I made a remarkable transformation: from a living organism to a corpse, like a flower or a mouse that didn’t make it through a particularly frosty night. The evidence is clear that once I died, it was over.”

In a moment, we’re all gone forever. Then what?

Legacy-Making

So what’s his legacy, then? Super-nice local legend loved by those who were at the cusp of all the tech/web/music developments for 20+ years? Great writer? Spokesman for cancer, early testing, and living out loud?

Sure.

But I think Derek’s legacy is bigger, with more global implications.

Derek Miller took time in his dying days to write a post that, if we’re lucky, changes the way we’ve been thinking about language, communication, social media, writing, and connection.

For Derek, blogging (and podcasting) was truth, education, community, sharing, connecting, activism, camaraderie, and putting his stamp on the world. He did it all. He stamped good.

There are a lot of really shitty blogs out there. Content farms, traffic-whores. A lot of bad blogs.

Derek was never guilty of bad blogging.

He wasn’t a “writing filler” kinda guy. He didn’t have some self-imposed turnstile of copy-quota where he “had” to blog every day. He was a writer who was compelled to share a statement, a truth, or anything, but he certainly didn’t blog so we the audience had something to read, or the PR companies with schwag gifts had reason to mailing-list him.

Derek K. Miller always blogged because he had something to say. Something smart, well-said, perfectly edited, often insightful, and never sensationalised.

Somewhere along the road in the last five years, blogging became about expected numbers, certain amounts one had to get done on a weekly basis. Some “experts” claim 3–6 posts is the “perfect” amount. They’ll tell you a “good word count,” and that Derek K. Miller’s The Last Post was 900 words too long. They’ll show you how to juice it up with “search-engine optimising,” and sex it up with a graphic or two — oh, and break it up with headings, gotta do that too.

But they don’t tell you how to have heart in your writing.

They don’t tell you that your readers deserve significant content. They don’t tell you that creativity, quality, honesty, and originality count.

Somewhere, somehow, blogging and social media became about having a social resumé, hawking your wares, getting connected, getting laid, everything someone like Derek K. Miller never bothered manipulating it for.

I’m a writin’ romantic — a passionate idealist about language, writing, and communication.

I believe that blogging is the BEST thing to ever happen to writing.

And I think blogging is the WORST thing to ever happen to writing.

But, for every site concerned primarily with driving traffic, and not worried about enriching your life, there’s a blog quietly churning out good content week-in, week-out, just like The Penmachine did.

I believe a quality blog only needs one posting a week.

If it’s great, then one will do. If it sucks, then none will do.

I believe the sparse, simple, shocking truth behind Derek Miller’s brilliant The Last Post serves as a reminder of what economy of language, a simple desire to state the facts, and opening yourself up to the world can provoke in all manner of people.

We all want to be remembered. We want a legacy.

Blogging: Whoop! There it is

Not stupid blogging. Not bad blogging. Not blogging where you’re talking about ordering a muffin.

Blog about what that muffin means to you — what do you remember when you’re eating it, what was the most emotional muffin you ever ate and why, what happened right before that muffin was served, how did it smell, how did it taste, and does the emotional overload that triggered that muffin return to you now and then when you’re enjoying one, and if so, what’s that like?

A muffin, does it matter to the world at large? No, but your experiences that determine how you feel about a particular muffin, those experiences might.

And that’s a sort of ridiculous-but-clear example of blogging is — a chance for every person to have a real, true, digital record of their understated lives. Their commentary, opinions, injustices, whatever. It’s a record.

We’ve lived in a world where publishing, media, communication have almost always been in the hands of those with money and power.

For the first time ever, we can control our words.

We can make sure others can read them, even strangers in far away lands.

AdAge magazine called Derek Miller’s The Last Post an example of the “democratization of publishing.” Yeah, okay. Sure: Cheap-n-easy self-publishing.

Personal blogging is powerful, not only for you but for the people who get to read it… and maybe even those you leave behind.

We’re told not to “tell” too much. Yeah, all this not-sharing stuff seems to be doing a LOT of good for society.

Oh, no one will ever understand what you’re enduring. No one will get that.

Derek Miller blogged about wearing diapers, yet millions are hanging off his extensive cancer-living archives this week.

You know who doesn’t know what people want to read? THEM. The “experts.”

You know what I want to read?

I want to read people who write about things that leave them feeling uneasy when they hit publish — or proud, or desperate to see what the comments are because that post mighta been pushing it or so angry while writing that clicking “publish” felt like they’d just flushed the toilet on all the shit that had ‘em feeling that way.

I want to read about people experiencing life — in all its varieties.

If you CARE what I think, I probably don’t want to read you. If you think, while writing, “how should I say this to best elicit a reaction?” then I likely don’t want to read you.

If you write because you need to write, because you feel like you have something on your chest and you’re hoping writing will help sort it out, or because you just can’t NOT share THAT observation you had earlier today?

Then you’re the kind of blogger I wish everyone was.

Empowered by Blogging

Blogging is a tool we have for breaking down barriers.

We can connect, teach each other, expose injustices, examine life, do whatever the hell we want.

No longer are we under the thumb of industry when it comes to distributing our creations.

As artists, writers, musicians — if an audience is all we require, then we have the whole world before us. We have 100% artistic control. We have instantaneous access to publication and audiences. We are not at the mercy of industry. Industry is at the mercy of us, and the tide is turning.

Back in 1990 was a movie I always thought was ahead of its time on some of the issues (though dated now), Pump Up the Volume, about Christian Slater as a pirate radio DJ named Happy Harry Hard-on, aka Chuck U. Farley. The premise of all his angsty railing against society was pretty simple come movie’s end: You have a voice. Use it.

In the end, if Derek Miller’s legacy is that people realise they can use the voice they have, I can’t think of a better one. Nothing broke my heart more than to know Derek had lost his speaking voice for much of his remaining weeks in life, and to think his “eternal” voice is heard around the world now… well, it blows me away.

You have a voice. Use it. Leave a legacy of your own choosing.

And, more importantly, consider today what you’d write in your obituary for tomorrow, and take stock now of what you need to change to have that obituary reflect a life you wish you’d have been living — and an emptier bucket list.

Blogging: It’s good mental lifting. Writin’ does a soul good. Check it out, kids.

(Photos: Derek K. Miller — from Facebook profile shots he’s used.)

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My Culture of Disconnect

I don’t want to read the news today.

Or have conversations of consequence with friends.

Or watch TV or movies that require braincells.

I sure as hell don’t want to read.

I want to drift away and disconnect. Be anywhere but here.

Heavy shit’s coming down, again. Dad’s lined up for serious surgery three provinces away. For anyone else, it’d be a major-but-fine surgery. For him, much risk comes with.

I mean, hey, cancer, diabetes, heart disease — which one do you think offers the best chance of surgical complications?

Sometimes, there’s only so much space you’ve got for matters outside the personal realm. Sometimes, thinking about things in the world just gets overwhelming in the face of the struggles you’re wading through on a daily basis.

Sometimes.

I don’t think I’m at that point. Not about this. I’ve been to the sick-dad rodeo one time too many. Sad as I am, weary as I am, I’m pretty much prepared for whatever comes.

I fucking hate that I feel that way. But I do. There’s only so many times you can stand peering over the edge and be terrified.

Sooner or later, you just get to knowing what it’s like, and the fear’s there, but it’s a fear you’ve metabolized now.

Sort of where I am with Dad. I’ve metabolized my terror. Don’t tell my shaking leg or queasy stomach that, but it’s true. I’m a pretty passionate girl. This is Stress-For-a-Loved-One Lite™.

Part of that is just me being older, wiser, more worn, jaded, and exposed. I done been around, man. Heart’s been broken more times than I need to count from life and its woes. That’s just my experience on planet earth.

It takes a lot to break me down, now. I take body blows like a heavyweight champ. With that shock-absorbing tendency comes the ability to not react much anymore.

As an example, the other day, this dude keeps cracking his little one liners at a pub. Eventually he’s all flustered because I’m not laughing at his jokes.

Well, I don’t laugh easily. I’m funny as hell, man, but making me laugh takes something unexpected or just flat-out smart. I’m a student of comedy. I’ve heard it ALL. I smile, or grin. Now and then? A full-on laugh.

But just because I don’t “react” doesn’t mean I’m not dialed in. I’m removed, but I’m listening. I’m probably thinking why your joke failed, where you went wrong with timing, or where I’ve heard a variation of it before, but, you know, I’m listening.

And we’re all sort of doing that these days. Most of us, anyhow. Dialed in but not. Listening but disconnected.

We’re sponges. Taking from society but never giving back. Surfacing.

My life of the last decade has been much like that.

One day, I stopped reading my three or so newspapers daily. Eventually, I fell away from reading books.

What came first, the head injury or my apathy? I don’t know, I don’t even remember anymore.

Things have changed.

Apathy isn’t enough. It’s not a meal that’s filling. Its price is too high. All the things it’s cost me, man…

I feel like a spectator in the intellectual world, and I’m more than that. I’m a smart woman with a unique world-view. I can’t just watch and not contribute.

To be a part of it requires I be of it, that I be immersed in it, be surrounded by it.

So, somewhere inside, I feel like the joke has been on me.

Sure, I’ve survived everything I’ve been through. But for what?

I fell out of touch and love with music. I stopped being clued into the political, cultural, and societal happenings, something I’d been very much in tune with since I had my first newspaper addiction at the age of 9. I stopped seeing movies. I mean, I’m the kind of girl who plans the music in advance for roadtrips — what works with what stretches of highway, what tracks tie into what scenery.

Or, I used to be.

What’s the fucking point in surviving if you’re not gonna thrive as who you are, right?

It’s what happens to a lot of us, I guess. I’ve got pretty good excuses, but they’re still just excuses, and I still feel like a cop-out.

It’s like the themes explored in Fight Club and American Beauty, the disappearing of identity and the cover-up of disconnect by way of commercialism and cluelessness.

We think we’re growing up as we fall away from our youthful passions of music and movies, politics and society, growing jaded and distant.

We’re not. We’re not “growing up”. We’re losing our leisure, thus losing our souls, as Virginia Woolf once wrote.

I want the happy medium between my savvy survivalist self, and the jazzed-up involved youth I was.

Some people I know still balance these things well, and maybe if life hadn’t gotten in the way, I might be the poster-girl for being a plugged-in hipster, too.

But I’m not.

I’m a part of the problem. I’ve joined the throngs of the Great Ignoring.

It’s not cool. It’s selfish. It’s not helping.

The disconnect isn’t working anymore. Not for me. Not for you. Sure as shit not for society.

It’s not really about “movies” and “music” and “news”.

It’s our soul as a society. Who are we if we’re just a bubble-gum-chewing collective dying to swallow the next reality show?

Art, culture, it was my soul, it was who I am. At my core, I’m an invested, impassioned, intelligent person, and living any way but that is antithetical to who I need to be.

My father’s disconnect has him at 350 pounds, with cancer, diabetes, heart disease, while awaiting major surgery. I’m pretty sure “disconnect” is not working for him, either.

I imagine my father would approve of my learning this lesson this week. I’m hoping he survives the week so we can have a talk about that.

Either way, it’s time I suck a little more cultural marrow out of life, because what I got ain’t sustaining much.

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