Ode To A Friend

I’m constantly wondering, why is it that I have such amazing friends? It’s enough sometimes to give a guy a complex. I understand that our experience is relative, therefore I should assume that it’s my perception which casts this light on the people around me. That said, goddamn I have great friends and today I’d like to sing the praise of one in particular.

This particular friend is an old one. I believe we met in grade one. We were natural enemies at first, just as so many boys are with their later best friends. After some ridiculous altercation wherein he called me names and I pulled his hair we decided, on those grounds, we were fit to be life-long brothers. The following years were filled with an idyllic kind of growth which can only be found in the island communities off the west-coast of Canada.

Vancouver Island

Where our paths took an unusual turn was around the time were both reaching the completion of our first decade on this blue dot called earth. His family for work reasons left for Japan. Bonded as we were at the hip, to lose such a great friend came as a great shock. Adding to this shock was the place he was going. Japan to an adult mind carries with it mystical connotations, to a child’s you might as well say you’re going to another planet. Thus my interest in the place I now live was born.

Planet

The poor guy, or lucky, depending on how you look at it, was dropped into a Japanese elementary school as soon as he arrived. He had no training in the language. He was given no special treatment for his lack of its understanding. His life became the very definition of sink or swim. After a few years he came back to Canada and we were reunited again. He with an amazing understanding of a challenging foreign language. Me with a studied interest in where he had gone.

I discussed with him the dream that had grown in his absence: to live in Japan by teaching English one day. He supported the idea whole-heartedly. Also he shared with me his new interest in architecture. It felt like we could both see the future. He would become a successful architect, and I, a teacher thriving in a different fascinating culture. The powers that be, naturally, had something else in mind for the both of us.

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I fell in love. Hard. The kind of love utterly pure for its ignorance. Love untainted by discovering the cost of losing it. And for a time it was good: three years to be precise. Although the final year of the relationship suffered a sharp decline which forecasted its eventual end. In those years my dream to travel abroad was given up gladly. Love doesn’t care where it lives.

My friend on the other hand moved back to Japan to study architecture at the university of Kyoto. He’d worked his ass off to earn a full ride scholarship. This scholarship is given out to a handful of people by the Japanese government. Did I mention my friend is smart? So while I got fat, foolishly lazy content in the idea that true-love is infinitely patient, my friend laid down the tracks for a glorious future.

My relationship ended and I was left wondering, what the hell I should do? I’m, as my dad likes to say, a god-cursed arts student. I have a degree in history, which although interesting, is hard to apply in a job market which rewards understanding of the material world. For that reason I drifted from job to job for a couple of years. I’m lucky to have met more amazing friends and people who inspired me. Grateful as I was to meet these people, one of which I directly credit for making me realize I could write, I still didn’t know what to do. Cliché as it may sound, I’d forgotten my dream.

shattered

My friend reminded me. He reminded me about my dream to live abroad. My life came into focus immediately. I would come over to Japan. No matter what I had to do to make it a reality, I would. Strangely, I see in retrospect much as I thought the interview process was grueling and difficult, all that success required of me was an effort. But that’s a different story.

My friend gave me a direction and for that I will always be eternally grateful. It is an incredible gift that we as friends have the power to draw out the dormant potential we can see in the ones we care for. This is not some tired idealist phrase: you can change someone’s life for the better. And having learned this lesson from my friend, I will try to do the same for others until the day I die.

reflection

I felt reborn having come to Japan. Each day I woke up had purpose and excitement. I was living my life the way I believe we all should: with an awareness that each breath we draw carries a certain magic. I could not have been happier. That was, until my friend was diagnosed with cancer.

The news was especially staggering for the life he had led leading up to the diagnosis. There are certain people who are diagnosed and, cruel as it sounds, it makes a certain sense. If you live your life in excess when cancer comes to call it’s not always surprising. My friend is not one of these people. He was a young, healthy, non-smoker, active individual. No one could believe it.

The type of cancer he was diagnosed with was terminal. He would have to face dying. I know the world is filled with amazing people, and perhaps some of them would handle this news well, but none with the unique grace that my friend did. I know for certain he faced despair and under its weight he never gave in. He did the treatments. He watched his health fade. He made peace with death.

flatline

Then, a miracle. The Dr had mis-diagnosed his cancer. It went from being a terminal to case to one with a potentially positive outcome. My friend fought hard. His health came back. He recovered. I have rarely been so happy in my entire life. And I learned from him another lesson. Until something comes to pass its outcome is never certain. Good or bad.

I’m relieved to say that after the chemo and treatments his recovery was complete and since that dark time he has been doing extraordinarily well. He hasn’t however continued to pursue architecture. Nope, instead he and his brother have founded an international tech company which is rapidly on its way to being a massive success.

earth-rising-sun-desktop-background

The G7 summit was recently held in Japan and my friend was establishing offices there around the time of the event. It just so happened as well that the Canadian government, while at the event, were looking for new tech companies to invest in. My friend’s company’s meteoric rise earned him newly elected Canadian prime-minister Justin Trudeau’s attention and he was invited to a dinner whereat he received a grant for his business. I tell you I can’t believe it. Some people just don’t know when to give up.

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Emulation Is Not Plagiarism

Emulation is not plagiarism. Those who cannot understand this suffer from an overt fear of being something other than absolutely their own invention. You’ll usually find these sort of people calling themselves a true artist. These people, hell-bent on achieving something other than the mainstream, will go to the most ridiculous lengths to assert their otherness. And what is the great irony in all this striving to be original? They end up being like everyone else.

clone

I believe anyone, myself included, who enters the creative world in whatever medium will find this dilemma facing them: to improve my abilities I must learn from others, but how then, do I retain my own sense of style? My first piece of advice, paradoxical as it may sound, is to disregard the question entirely.

What! Why? They screamed inwardly. Well I’ll tell you. Calm down. You’re always getting worked up over silly things. Once upon a time I had a great conversation with a friend about how we can truly be something and the answer was simple: do it. The person who writes for no other reason than to write is the archetypal writer. The person who makes movies for no other reason than the love of crafting them is the archetypal director. If you have engaged with an activity completely, you will have done so without any thought as to how that activity relates to your ego or reputation. And it is here my friends, that true creativity lies.

sand

Now for those who throw up their hands and say, “Well I’m just not like that. I think about this sort of thing sleeping or awake.” I do have something for you to consider. Return please to the point I made initially about over-correction. The kind of person who would rather bang on trash cans and slap fish together for percussion than sound like a god-cursed mainstream musician. This person has failed to recognize an inescapable scientific fact: art is a continuum. I say scientific because we can use a musical scale as an example.

If you play the C scale on a piano inevitably you return to the root note. Sure you’re an octave higher but all the notes are the same and the will repeat again. All scales are like this. All art is like this. The beauty is that even though you’re ostensibly trapped in this continuum, you are always free to choose how you move within it. The C scale may have the same notes no matter where you go, up or down, but the order in which you play those notes is up to you.

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I’ll use making Youtube movies to further this example. We all use the same figurative notes in the Youtube scale. These notes are the things we use to make videos: our language, cameras, editing software, and so on. Notice, like the scale, we are all trapped in the continuum again. We can use different editing software to make videos, but we all must use one form or another. In just the same way everyone has their own camera, be that a modest cell-phone or a great and mighty DSLR, but again, we are all restricted to choosing a device which can record images. We must adhere to the same creative principles, but just as with the C scale, we are not trapped by them. On a scale I couldn’t even count the number of variations you can produce, especially given timing and rhythm. Creating videos is no different. The potential for variation is infinite.

Another detail drawn from recognizing that art is a continuum, is that it is also a cycle. What was once unpopular, will become popular again. Art-forms of whatever kind, given time out of the spotlight, gain popularity for that reason. Sitting on the periphery of our awareness they begin to gleam again with the sparkle of something unappreciated. Drawn back into the center they cannot stay there forever. What once made them cool, our fascination with the unknown, dissipates with familiarity. Like a lover that excites us no longer, we discard it for the next, lesser known, promise of excitement. So be aware. Everything artistic and otherwise moves through this cycle and to cling to one form in the hope that it will never fade is ridiculous. Let your art change and evolve. You’ll be more successful for it.

By understanding that nearly all art exists in a continuum and is cyclical, we should cease to care when something we create at some point overlaps with someone else’s work. It’s going to happen. Worry instead about, do I enjoy this? Am I only making art to not be like anyone else? Because if indeed you are, you are a cloned copy of so many others. You will become a self-obsessed bore, willing to sacrifice the pure enjoyment of creation for the fleeting pleasure of replying when people confusedly inquire about your work, “You haven’t heard about my all-coconut rock-band? Not surprised, you’re so mainstream.”

coconuts

Creative Process

I was thinking about the creative process today. I’m always cautious of throwing around buzz words like this because, like I like to say, “something said often enough without feeling, loses any amount it once had”. For that reason if I am going to use a popular phrase for inspiration, I really want to know why. After a bit of thought I’ve decided to keep this one around the shop. My reason for doing so lies in the second word of the phrase: process.

I think creatively we make the mistake of thinking that before starting, all the ideas should be laid out, planned, organized. There’s room for that way of creating something. Certainly it’s the only way some people are willing to go ahead with an idea. But for some of us who attempt this route, and I think that’s a large demographic, it’s paralyzing. That word process which I believe is the heart of creativity, can’t get of the ground with all the red-tape (bureaucracy) of planning, surrounding it. I say forget the planning and go straight to process and by doing so you will have far greater success.

dead-end

To make the point I’ll talk about how I write outlines for stories. First it starts with staring at a blank page. Then a period of time where I bemoan why I suck at writing (this period usually feels longer than it actually is). Then, the first stupid idea that enters my head I jot down on the page , quick, as though it were the voice of god. This leaping off point usually occurs within fifteen minutes. From there, I notice a distinct ramping up of ideas and possible directions for the outline. Some thirty minutes later I’m usually shocked at what is coming out the end of whatever pen or pencil I am using: the ideas are strong and flowing freely. The ideas that are flowing so freely are a direct result of the utter garbage that preceded them. In this way we see that it is process which leads us to success. And the errors just as important as the final result.

Idea

If we only ever accept a brilliant starting point for an idea, I don’t think we’ll have that many. Hardly any of us wake up brilliant, we usually need a warm up, or coffee at the very least. On the other hand, if we treat our ideas indiscriminately and allow them to exist freely, good or bad, we enter that golden space of inspiration far quicker.

prisoner-atlas

I’d wager that if you asked most people who create which they prefer more, presenting their creation, or creating it, nine times out of ten you’d hear, “creating it!” blurted out quickly, without much thought, or planning… see what I did there? I believe the reason for an artist’s appreciation of process should be obvious. It is because that is when they are closest to an enlightened moment: when they had a good idea. And that idea is usually found somewhere in the middle of when they started thinking about what to make. The afterglow of course is lovely. We bask in the warmth of awesomeness and do enjoy observing it afterwards. But the glow is fleeting and a shadow of the original fiery passion we felt at the idea’s inception.

setting

And this ladies and gentlemen is why I’ve chosen to keep the old phrase, creative process, around. At any time we can pull it off the shelf and be reminded of what creating is all about. It reminds us that while all creations are fleeting, creating is not. And an eternity spent contemplating perfection is worthless, when compared with a million mistakes made honestly, in pursuit of pure art.

Collaboration: Delusion’s Cure

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Old paths to publication and creativity are dieing while connectivity and collaboration grows. This is for the better. But first I must acknowledge in myself the strangest habit— I battle it even as I write this. I battle self-delusion. The erroneous thinking which leads one to think they are competing against something as opposed to participating in it.

Metamorphosis_of_Narcissus

I’ll clarify this thought. I am a writer and traditional authorship paths would have me believe that there is a three-step routine to having your book published: write it, get an agent, get it published. I’m not sure what it is about the human condition but I’d always framed this as me against a rigged system. Without even applying much effort I’d come very quickly to the conclusion that getting an agent is like winning a lotto. It is a true a large amount of good writing (not necessarily my own) is consistently passed over. However, the greater realization I’ve been trying to accept is that in no way is a system that is difficult to succeed in, a system that is attacking, you, personally. Ultimately your manuscript’s rejection is impersonal.

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I remember a conversation on the phone with a good friend of mine, pumping myself up, saying, “No matter what people say or think, I will write and publish this book!”. My more level-headed friend on the other end of the line responded, “Who exactly is preventing you?” When confronted by that question I realized I could identify maybe two nay-sayers. And even then, they were more commenting on the known difficulty of getting published. Not directly saying to me you have no hope.

Merging theater masks

This is the way of our fears. They have the power to turn our inner monologue into an extroverted perception of what surrounds us. We turn a matter of personal perception (something we very much have control over) into something immutable, outside ourselves, and thus, difficult to influence in a meaningful way. Admittedly the current system’s difficulty to penetrate lends itself to this flawed way of thinking. Human nature compels us, likely as a defense mechanism, to externalize most challenges: a kind of mental off-loading of responsibility. Life is stressful enough without realizing how lazy we are.

But that’s enough self-flagellation. The reason I wanted to write this was to point out which changes in human connectivity are making the creative process far more exciting, collaborative, and somehow paradoxically, an independent endeavor. The big ones you know of course: e-publication, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Tumblr, and a slew of others. They all contribute to author’s success, if only for their power to advertise. Much more exciting in my mind however are the social sites I’ve found which go beyond basic advertising, and can actually make you a better writer. I had no idea they existed up until roughly a year ago.

I’m referring to peer review writing sites. These social networks are an invaluable resource if you which to do more than show people what you are creating. They are inherently smaller (any community that actually creates as opposed to consumes always is) but the intense passion for the craft you will find in these places is humbling. Your computer screen becomes a portal to like-minded up and coming authors who all want to help each other grow.

The process on these sites is simple. Participants connect via the forums and offer to critique and review each other’s work. The grammatical comeuppance when I first arrived served as a reminder, we all have much to learn. Having taken my initial lumps I’ve learned an immense amount and networked with people who already have successfully published, be that independently or through a major house.The two I would recommend people use are Figment or Wattpad. Each has its strength.

figment_logo

Figment’s community is more hardcore and if you wish to have professional critique that’s where you will find it. Again its specialized community of more intensely driven writers means there are less of them but this as well becomes a benefit. With any regular reviewing and effort you become a true member of the community and not so easily lost in the crowd which can occur in the latter I will describe.

Wattpad_logo.svg

If you wish to go for exposure and more opinions of your work as opposed to full review, Wattpad is the clear winner. Not only does it have a larger community but the site designers quite brilliantly have also designed a mobile application for the site. A mobile application equals—you guessed it—more exposure. The education offered through these sites, let alone the exposure, would have costs thousands in a not so distant past.

choices

This relates as well to my point regarding the paradoxical independence granted to us by a greater availability of collaboration. There is no longer one path. An abundance of choices leads to far more individualization. Yes you are networking and interacting with more people than ever before, but now you are able to do so on your own terms. You personalize the questions you want answered. Finally you’re free to tailor and define the sort of engagements you want to take part in. It can be a bit disorienting at first, lacking the direction traditional methods offer, but I believe this greatly benefits innovation. It’s the classic idea that because you never learned what was ‘impossible’ you pioneer something everyone else gave up on.

Now with the peer review out of the way I can discuss my favourite part of new-age collaboration: the kind you never saw coming. You might be wondering, what was that cover up at the top of this post? Well aside from being the recently completed cover for my first book ‘Stone Heart’ it is the result of a random collaboration.

I have a Youtube channel called ‘DaveTrippin‘ (shameless plug is shameless). On this channel I try to help people to move to Japan or find work, or basically answer any questions about Japan that people may have. I get lots of emails asking many questions and I am more than happy to make videos answering them. It’s how my channel grows.

One day I got an email which for the first half read like all the others. This fine gentlemen asked if I would mind making a video to answer a few of his questions. Nothing new there. The shocker came in the second half of the email when he offered to design me a cover for my recently completed book. I’m amazed with what he produced and I think you would agree, he did an excellent job. This kind of collaboration was not possible before and is a testament to the better world we now live in as artists.

The string of events which led to this wonderful moment baffles me: a peer review site which never existed until recently has made me a better writer. In turn creating an unrelated Youtube site has put me in contact with an amazing graphic artist. That artist noticed I had a website. A website which I could have only made with the ease of recent technology and the now readily available online tutorials. On that site he sees that I am an author and wants to help me.

dictator

The lesson here is obvious and something we’ve known all along. Humans wish for a world in which we do not hate or repress each other. We wish to reach out, to help, to see ourselves in one another, and with the amazing leaps forward made each day by collaboration, that dream will not one day become reality, it is now, already come.

When You Bleed You’re Beautiful

Approach and state your name

Did you come here to fight

Did you come here to blame

This road is not yours this house is not mine

You’re building castles in the sand this time

I’m so tired of drawing lines

We can, can fly above them

They’ll not matter when you see them far away

One more argument you bought and sold

I’m sorry to be the one who tells you, baby, when you bleed you’re beautiful

Fall into me, hold onto me, be there, fade away, say my name, let me know

Appear, what twists and takes all your fears

Knock, knocking you, get up fall down

That familiar feel of crumbling ground

I know you’re tired of endings and beginnings

Life’s long lists of what ifs and letting gos

Just remember when we bleed we’re beautiful

Fall into me, hold onto me, let me go, be there, fade away, let me know

Til Death Do Us Part: How Modern Marriage Has Failed

sitting_te

Marriage, the word is a demonstration of our language’s ability to evoke and provoke some of the strongest emotions possible. These range from the worshipful to cynical. It is simultaneously sought after and hated, not uncommonly by the same person. Is it broken? Was it ever right? I’ve been thinking about these questions a lot lately. I find myself at that time in my life (early thirties) where those inevitable questions start to arise, as though I perceive a door slowly closing. It’s my conclusion, after a good deal of thought, that I’ve been fooled, we’ve all been bamboozled, tricked, whatever you want to call it, into thinking that the oft referred to (holy) institution of marriage is something we should care and obsess over.

Let’s dig into this where I enjoy it most: its history. Marriage has not always been interpreted through its current incarnation. Now what do I mean by that exactly? Well most obviously would be this idea of marriage for eternal love. This modern consideration is an incredibly recent advent. Marriage in the not so distant past was carried out pragmatically: for family interests. The mewling protests of those involved, should there be any, were silenced quickly as selfish prattle that had better shut the hell up, or risk the wrath of their elders, and when I think about it, rightly so. Life and survival are difficult enough in an old world without youth bemoaning that they don’t get to love the person they are with. We’d have been far better off if marriage were actually referred to for what it was at its inception: duty.

But we are a forward thinking species. How dare the wisdom of the old be inflicted on the young. Better we let them decide who they should marry, and then divorce shortly after. This has led us to marriage’s current state. The mass majority of marriages end, it’s indefensible to suggest otherwise. Growing up my parents were in the absolute minority that they remained together through my youth. Their staying together was the exception not the rule.

Which leads me to my next point: the language of modern marriage in its aftermath. Having moved away from the more ancient form of marriage, we have landed ourselves in an existential hell. We’ve exchanged the mild grumbling of a couple learning to be with each other for the impossible ideal of eternal love. We even hold this lofty standard so high above our heads that if a marriage were to fail in this context we have no shortage of cruel descriptors for it: broken home and failed marriage leap to mind. We describe something so obviously natural—the falling out of love of those together for an extended period of time—as something abhorrent, hateful, and shameful. This I believe is madness.

Life in the last hundred years has changed so rapidly when compared to the previous it has left our older social constructs outdated and staggered, barely able to bear the weight of keeping up. I think fondly on my father’s joking description of the problem, “When they said till death do us part, that’s what it used to mean!” This albeit dark humour summarizes what I am trying to say. A progressive step was needed to reinvent the dated survival-style of marriage, but caught up in our solipsist view of the world we failed to see that we’d set out for ourselves an impossible standard. Couples rejoiced at the idea of marriage for eternal love, but soon found the reality was not quite what they imagined. It never is.

Now I’m not suggesting a return to the old style. We do live in a time when choosing who we wish to partner with is a luxury we can more or less afford. What I am suggesting is that we face a more difficult reality: we live long enough to have deep meaningful relationships with multiple people, and should allow ourselves to do so.

I’ll anticipate the soft soul’s argument who will cry, “What about the children? You blind fool,” and say this: we can, and already do, leave behind marriages with children yet to grow. All I’m suggesting is if we do so, let’s do away with all the weight of this crazy guilt. Good parents exist, lots of them, who are not in “wedlock,” another great term I enjoy. As long-lived human beings whose lifespans are continually stretching we must throw off the shackles that the ideal of eternal love has bound us in. We need a new love renaissance, one that correctly acknowledges both our strengths and weaknesses: Yes we can love, yes we fall out of love, there is no one single love of your life, there are many.

I cannot help but relate this to a series of books written by one of my favourite authors ‘Peter F. Hamilton.’ In his wild sci-fi imaginings he’s created a world wherein people can potentially live forever. Not only that, he considers the profound social repercussions of this world. The obvious question that comes about from eternal life is: do I eternally marry? He would suggest no. Instead, people spend as much time as they want with each other. Some raise children, some don’t. The norm of the citizens that inhabit his world is to marry many over the hundreds of years that they are alive. This to me seems natural.

And before those dissenters start screeching at the computer screen, allow me to clarify what I mean by natural. Natural is the world we have grown up in. I’ll borrow from ‘Aubrey de Grey’ to clarify what I mean. When people object to his suggestion—that we should be able to live forever—and say it is unnatural to have such long life-spans, he immediately counters with a very sound argument. When you say natural, whose natural do you mean? If you had grown up in the colonial era a natural life-span was far less than it is now. Eighty to a hundred is the natural life-span if you were born in recent memory. To cement what I am saying vicariously through Aubrey’s point: “natural” changes depending on where you are looking at it from. In effect, it is always changing given your perspective. And that is now what we need for marriage and the way we pursue it. A new perspective.

Little Black Box

My body my mind, chiseled in, fading time.
Drawn to the brink, ever I sink, into you.
Carefully crafting sermons that teach, only me, to see.

I’m so thirsty for the flames

Something to burn away, a light so bright, you’d find me.

But I’m just a little black box four square corners of recorded thoughts
My story is the telling of truth
And it’s all just a lie, a little black box without its disguise

Still every day from the wreckage of hope I drag these tortured dreams

Defy what I know to be broken

Swear what I know can’t be spoken

If for just one moment for all to see, I’d be more than these four corners, I’d be more than just me

But I’m just a little black box four square corners of recorded thoughts
My story is the telling of truth
And it’s all just a lie, a little black box without its disguise