choosing a direction from too many options

Where I realize that working on too many things at once makes it hard to finish any one of them.

So, there I was, blithely flirting with YouTube addiction, looking up videos about storyboarding for my Batteries project (the one with the piranha), when YouTube’s silly autoplay-some-random-video thing started playing this video without warning, titled “The drawing advice that changed my life,” (by Struthless).

Since I’d been feeling a bit stymied by life of late, I was a little curious about life changing stuffs…

Turns out, it’s a vlog by an Australian artist who felt like he was being super creative, but felt “scattered” and not going anywhere despite being creatively active. He had all these ideas and projects, but not much forward motion.

Meanwhile, the guy he was working for and his wife were making a name for themselves making sculptures of a dog and a rabbit in different social situations. The same dog and rabbit each time, sometimes larger than humans, doing something mundane, like drinking coffee together.

You should get the story from the source (at the link above), but the gist of the video for me was … really quite immense. The moment he said the word “scattered,” I realized he was describing exactly how I’d been describing myself for a while, regarding my own creativity: Super busy on lots of things, but apparently not moving much.

Only a minute and a half through a ten minute video, I realized I was dividing my time between so many projects I loved, I wasn’t getting any of them done.

So, mind already blown by this dude talking on a porch, I’m continuing to watch the video for …

The Advice

He had been whining to his boss/friend that he’d been so creative and busy with so many things, but without the success his friend had, and his friend comes back so eloquently:

All you’re doing is laying a single brick in a million different houses and expecting that one day it will magically become a mansion.

In other words, “scattered”. Like me.

The solution given to him by his more successful friend?

Just draw the same thing over and over for a year.

So the guy picked a thing, in this case a scavenging local bird he empathized with. He would draw this bird over and over … until it bored him. So, sticking with the plan, he decided to keep drawing the same bird, but in different situations, with different messages or jokes.

Before he knew it, he had created a theme, a niche, a character in an ongoing social story. Bricks in the same house. Again, I suggest you get the full story from him, because he tells his story better than I am, and he goes into a lot of the why and how of it.


What it meant to me, as a writer (a kind of artist, I think), is that I was in the same boat and needed a similar solution, which came a little later on, while journaling (personal whining to my future self) about this thing I just realized I was doing to myself.

(I’m hoping I’m not alone in this or I’m going to feel silly talking about it…)

The Plot

This is going to sound odd (as if anything I write here doesn’t), but it hit me that I need to make the same decisions with my life that I make while creating my characters‘ lives.

What I mean is, asking myself this question, repeatedly:

What decisions from the myriad of possibilities available will move the plot along?

My Real Life’s plot, for my own personal story. Because, whether we’ve thought about it or not, when we’re old and not long for this world, we tend to look back and see that our life is a story, too!

It doesn’t matter if we’re writers, we’re still writing our own story. And when we get to the end, do we want that story to be about a whole lot of . . . nothing?

The Decision

So, just like with Struthless in his video, it’s down to Decisions:

To decide on a direction means realizing I cannot go in all the directions I want to, chasing all the passions I’ve held onto, simultaneously. Shy of creating my own multiverse, expecting that I can plot my way in all these directions and think I’ll reach one destination is thoroughly unrealistic.

And ultimately doomed. And my subconscious knows this. I’m sure that’s where that feeling of being lost, scattered, hopeless, or unprolific is coming from.

I’m only just realizing this is the feeling of a plot line pausing at a crossroads, with several roads branching off into their own directions. One for each passion I’ve wanted to follow. I get the feeling that crossroad has been there for a long time, maybe since childhood.

And I recognize this feeling from my writing, too! It’s the feeling of indecision while plotting, knowing that if I can’t decide right now I can’t continue writing this story. I’ll have to put it down and try to put the passion and excitement I have for it on hold. This is frustrating. I don’t want to lose that energy and momentum!

The thing is, Real Life works the same: the longer I put off deciding which road to take, I’m taking none of them. Just like with my characters, I’m going nowhere, despite how hard I’m working, because that work is split between too many things.

Meanwhile, while I sit at the stop sign with my motor idling, time is dribbling past like water running into a storm drain. And as I watch, one or two of the many roads before me fade and pop out of existence, perhaps even a favorite one, out of lost interest, or lost opportunity, or out of sheer frustration or hopelessness.

And if I sit here long enough, letting enough time dribble down the drain, all of the roads before me will eventually do the same thing. Damn, my characters didn’t have this problem, did they? Well, yes. They did, actually. Those were the stories I eventually moved into my Inactive folder, with sadness, because I knew there was little hope of opening them again.

Is that what I want for my real life story?

Do I want my story ending without much action, without a hero, or a climax? That’s barely a story at all. No one, not even (insert deity of your choice) would want to write that story for us. What is the point of being born if we waste it on a non-story like that?

No. Despite how far down the road I’ve driven, it seems to me Now is the perfect time to decide on the plot of my own story. To decide on the ending so I can figure out in which direction to go to get there. And then choosing the dream or passion that will propel me there.

Just like a writer must do for their characters.

The Passions

Making a decision on a direction means choosing only one Life Passion that will take me there. It seems that life–fictional or otherwise–has physics, too, including forces and momentum. Each passion pulls the story in different direction, just like the passions of my fictional characters.

It won’t be easy. I’ve carried some of those passions around for a lifetime, like learning a musical instrument or a foreign language; or traveling the world; or programming the next great computer application, like a fluffier, nicer version of Skynet…

Sacrificing a big fat bunch of my life’s passions, along with the physical debris that goes along with some of them, will probably make me cry–perhaps from relief! All I know is that this RL character needs less weight on her head, and a clearer direction to steer.

The cool thing is, I’ve noticed something about those endings when I’m writing a story:

  • Oftentimes the ending I was aiming for turns out to be a miss, and the ending I get is a lot better, because my characters bring something unexpected to the table.
  • Sometimes it’s not as good.
  • But in either case, I still have a story in the end.

It seems to me real people deserve one just as much as my characters do.

I thought I’d take a break from the serious writing stuff and share something I wrote nearly a year ago (2/1/2020) about delight, and crying. The good kind.

Background: OPB*, “The Show of Delights”

So, I’m getting ready to get out of my car at Starbucks, but I can’t seem to stop listening to the radio. It’s OPB, airing a This American Life segment about Delight. It is oddly delightful, beginning with the story of a poet who wrote a book about deliberately finding delight in his life every day for a year and what he learned about that.

Turns out, it had a lot to do with curiosity and being open to finding new things that bring delight. It’s also about embracing your inner child, who sees everything as new–not the jaded way we adults look at things. Like when a kid runs in telling all the adults in the room that there’s a rainbow outside–a fairly common occurrence–and everyone runs outside and “shares a gasp” with each other.

There’s another act where a daughter tells the story of her aging mother who decides one day she has just so much time left, so she’s going to dedicate it to finding delights. This adventure annoys her daughter, who has to help her out doing “whatever she wants,” involving a lot of spontaneity that her daughter seems too adult to put up with. Then one day, while interviewing her mom about this thing she’s doing, the daughter finally “gets it” and seems transformed.

This is followed by another segment following a girl who works at a zoo, at night, putting the animals to bed. I won’t go into everything that happens there, but it’s my favorite part. She sounds so young and (dare I say) cute. The narrator following her on her rounds does also. But that’s not the reason I can’t get out of my car on a cold night, despite coffee and warmth nearby urging me to vacate my rapidly chilling car on a January night.

Instead, I was enthralled by this girl who has what seems to me to be a dream job, where she’s finding delight in caring for all of these animals who frankly could be in a better place (nature), but it’s her job to make them happy anyway. And it’s obvious that the animals appreciate her for it.

For some reason, by the end of this segment, tears are running down my face and I’m truly moved… but I’m honestly not sure why. Perhaps it’s the happy young voices and my inner child wishing I could have gone into a more fun career when I was younger. Perhaps I’m suffering an onset of hypothermia.

Whatever the explanation, I suddenly get the feeling that when I cry this way it means something. Something important.

What’s Happy Crying For

Okay, so I’m finally indoors ordering my coffee at the counter, all the while distracted thinking about happy crying and what it means … To me; perhaps to everyone. If only we knew. When we cry like that, quietly, delightedly, movedly**… doesn’t it feel like a reward of some kind? A gift from life?

When things feel so unexplainably, primally good, could this be something evolution built in a long time ago to say, “Yes. This.”

At this moment, I want this to be true so much that I force myself to sit down and write this note you’re now reading, because I know from experience that when you have these feelings, once you stray away from them, they fade. Like a dream, leaving a vague notion of Epiphanies Lost.

When I don’t write things down I spend the rest of the day feeling sad about losing something I don’t remember. I can almost hear the Universe in those moments, in the background softly murmur, “Okay, maybe next time.”

But it’s a sad murmur, because I think if there’s this complex thing called life, there must actually be a wonderful purpose to it, because we Keep Doing It for so long, all of us Animals of Earth. And the Universe is sincerely trying to tell us this, or our own DNA, or whatever it is that gives us that little nudge in our hearts when we do something right. Like crying at the good bits of life.

Or perhaps it’s some giant metaphysical machine churning away, like the mice in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Who knows how stuff really works.

To go to all this trouble of being born, learning how to walk, talk, think, make friends, learn complex algebra, and become creators of whatever our own reality and hearts desire… there really must be a deeper purpose to all that.

And how else will we know which way to go with our own purpose in life than to pay attention when life rewards us, like it does when we do sex right (I mean truly, mutually right). Or make someone smile. Or cry, happily, like there’s too much loveliness inside we can’t quite contain it.

A Happy Mission

So, like that early OPB segment, about the poet who spent a year recognizing and writing about Delights, I’m having this sudden urge to spend a year (or more) keeping track of the things that make me happy cry, and seeing where that attention leads me.

Because I get the feeling that the Universe really is trying to help us find our happiness, even if it does have all of these nasty obstructions ready for us to climb over. But then without things to overcome, how will we find the joy of accomplishment?

So, Cry #1 is this: Noticing the magic of crying at stuff. Yay!


* OPB: Oregon Public Broadcasting (the local affiliate of National Public Radio).

** Yes, I am horribly guilty of inventing my own adjectives. Sue me. Or give me a cupcake! ^_^

(A Six-Word Memoir for a slightly macabre monthly contest entitled “Bury Me Here In Six Words,” about where you want it all to end. #BuryMeInSix)

In this digital age where people seem to exist proportionally to–or not exist without–their visibility on podcasts, streams, Facebook pages, Twitter, or Pinterest: our lives have become digital. The Matrix didn’t takes us, we took to it. In the meantime, our growing population makes every patch of Earth more and more valuable to live on. It seems impractical to reserve a piece forever just to feed the worms for a bit.

I, too, have become a creature of the Internet: my work, my connection to my readers, to the world at large. Reality seeming less real without virtual representation; no one remembers the things I’ve done in life without recording them here. So, I’m thinking, why fight it? My body will be superfluous once I’m no longer using it. Everything worthwhile I have contributed will be patterns of data bits floating in servers somewhere. Let that be my legacy, my resting place, my gravestone.

Pray I leave behind good data.

Despite how much hope and love you have for the people in your life, sometimes you just need a little closure, even from family.

Silence

Your time is up
A window of opportunity
Closes
Your silence begets

Silence
Five years I gave you
To decide
Am I human … or not

Patiently I watched you all
Dig your holes of hypocrisy
So deep
You can’t climb out

Traded sharp words
Knives in my back
Now you fear bleeding to death
To remove them

In family love is unconditional
Until you have to explain
Me to your friends
Sharing blood is not done in

Silence
Five years waiting for you
To make an effort to
Understand

Life continues on
One day you’ll wake to find
You wasted it being
Uncomfortable

With love to my mom, who has been quietly wonderful, but all too far away. Hugs!! ^.^

or … “My Window on the Sidewalk”

This one might be a little worrisome to my friends and what remains of my family. It worried me, too, at first … but then I got to know this town, P-town, and relaxed a bit. In the six years I’ve lived here it’s pretty much behaved itself, even in the inner city. But I can’t say it hasn’t been a little weird at times … so I guess this is business as usual for my friends and family after all!

For those of you who are avid readers of my blog (and let me stop for a moment, so I can run around and give you each a hug), you know I’m a lover of heights. Not in a thrill-seeking adrenaline-junkie capacity, but more in a I’m-so-comfy-in-my-lofty-but-humble-perch kind of way. I practically started out my life falling off a bridge, grew up climbing trees and crossing abandoned railroad trestles without pause, helping with roofs and antenna towers was a hobby for me, and flying little airplanes a pleasant habit I’d really like to get back to.

5c9edd318196f5e14b65a6761c5e795bBut when it came to my choice of apartments, my student budget (read: those student loans you hear about indenturing kids to the wrong side of the financial system for life) stole away my hopes for a fourth-story walk-up, and relegated me to the smallest studio on the ground floor. A city sidewalk crouched ominously just outside my window.

Oh, would I have copious stories to tell–and will–about the milling crowd that once frequented the pub across the courtyard from me–and probably will again … but that went out of business a few months ago, so that colorful clientele has greatly diminished. I’m here to tell you that the remaining crowd has been no less entertaining.

First, I’d have to mention the old man who thought he owned my kittens. The fact that they had an apartment he didn’t live in seemed not to dissuade him at all. Every morning I would prematurely awake to the sound of tapping, or that squeaking sound a finger makes when rubbed on a window. Despite my initial upset at this intrusion, I could never bring myself to chase him away, especially after I heard the endless adorations he murmured through my window. Cowardly, I decided to let this one go and let the man have his fun, although I did leave a card in the window about the tapping.

Apparently he couldn’t read. The tapping got louder, the squeaks turned to bits of twine and sticks rapping on the pane and whatever other toy he could find to entertain “his” furry children. His words had become more insistent over time, as well, assuring his glass-enclosed felines he would liberate them from their bondage soon. My perturb was beginning to make a comeback, and brought worry along for the ride. Would he actually break in to save them?

It all ended when he realized the cats would chase sun reflections on my curtains, which were being perforated at an alarming rate … Finally I set out down the hall and set our friendly behemoth of a night manager on him, who calmly informed the man that he would be charged as a peeping tom if he didn’t desist. I felt guilty taking that one little pleasure away from him after so many months, but my curtains were much relieved.

Summertime approaches and my windows are open more. Smokers from my building, and perhaps the ones next door, seem to think my window is just the right legal distance from the front door to light one up. Of course the one person in the building allergic to cigarette smoke is the one they put in the ground-floor apartment. But I must give our local smokers credit: once I show myself in the window, looking a little green around the gills, they move on as pleasantly as possible. Yay Portland! But it has taken a long time to train the local smokers not to pick my window.

From cigarettes to cellphones, the endless meandering conversations that waft in from under my window I can do little about. And sometimes I don’t want to: these are the most entertaining part of all! It’s amazing how silly most phone conversations sound from only one side, especially when your side has no idea there is someone listening from a foot or two away, just on the other side of a very thin curtain. I’ve heard many a strange conversation suddenly cut short when I couldn’t help but giggle a little sitting here at my desk.

We won’t talk about the conversations where the caller is missing their cellphone altogether … I figure they are having a conversation through time, with someone from their own unfortunate history. I hope at least in this version they get ahead in life.

I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t mention the singers, some of which are truly amazing. Every known genre of music is represented passing across my little patch of sidewalk. I’ve heard snatches of opera going by my window that should have had agents chasing after them!

1658_JELD_WEN_Field_ExteriorThe sports fans come next, as the summer rolls in, crowds of chattering and excited fans wearing green and yellow, cheering, singing, goofing, and general hubbubing on their way to and from the nearby Timbers stadium. It is best not to try to get in or out of my building when a soccer game is about to begin or end, for fear of being trampled by good-natured sports fans.Some of these make up for the lack of the closed pub, especially post-game; their hubbub a little more outrageous and confrontational than before the game.

Occasionally the quieter times on my sidewalk are broken by a more depressing mix of verbalizations, usually a homeless couple–or soon-to-be, from the sound of things–arguing over whose fault it all is. This is never a productive subject to argue about, I murmur to myself as I turn up my music. Over time I’ve come to recognize a certain level of inebriation that affects their relative volume, violence and choice of vocabulary (the three V’s) of these tirades–all increasing at the same time.

I’m amazed at the difference one windowsill can make in our minds, once we’ve become acclimated. If I were on the other side of mine, standing on that sidewalk so near at hand, … er, foot … I would be ducking for cover as these screamers tromp past. But my pre-high school experience growing up in the hell of inner-city Baltimore seems to have come back to me, where out of sight really is out of mind … and I still have a veneer of shielding from the violence of the city itself, even if it is just sound. I have yet to witness anyone actually being harmed physically here …

Although I can attest that words often hurt far more.

If it wasn’t for my tightly fitted metal screen–and my common sense–my inner child would love me to wait for moments of verbal distress like these and loft hand grenades out the window. Not REAL hand grenades, but something that goes “POP” and showers the victims with confetti or something equally distracting. I mean, it works with dogs bent on squirrels or other dogs! Break their focus and they forget what all the fuss was about.

I can see CSI-Portland dusting bits of confetti for fingerprints now. Oh, well … it was fun in my head.

Now it’s full summer. My windows are once again glued shut during the hottest part of the day, but–eek–open at night to capture some of that cold dry air that sneaks back out from the shadows once the sun has mosied on. Except for a few one-sided conversations and the rare cussing-at-god moments passing outside, the scene is a relatively quiet this time of night. I’m usually taking this time to game online, or write in my blog (like now), or cuddle with my kitties while watching a movie, or just relaxing with the breeze . . . a normal night . . .

Until something rare happened a few days ago: my kitties and I heard feet shuffling outside the window, then silence. (Were they trying to peek in?) . . . then the sound of running water. Oh, ugh.

It seems someone thought my window was just the legal distance away from the front door to relieve their bladder. So not something I wanted to be sitting nearby to witness, even by sound. I waited for the feet to shuffle off and quickly closed the window before the smell of that wafted in. (Thankfully my building manager is ON things like that and hosed it off the next morning.)

I’m hoping this is a rare once-in-five-years kinda thing, which means I won’t be around to witness the next one. I think I’ve had my fill of the city for a lifetime. With a year left in college and a one-year lease, I’m settled in for that long; but after that I have no idea where I’ll go next.

But you can bet it will be high above any sidewalks.