Just being me

I find that labels are the worst thing in the world for artistic expression – Ornette Coleman

Underground. This is a word my writing mentor used to describe the second novel I’m working on. Initially, he thought I was writing in the crime genre. After reading the last excerpt I sent him (he’s essentially read 80% of the draft), he has removed the crime genre moniker and replaced it with ‘underground.’

I could not be fucking happier. If you have to label my work as a fiction writer, label it underground. I don’t care to put labels on what I do, but apparently, society demands labels on people, places and things in order to bring forth the appropriate reaction to what’s in front of them. So, if I must label my work, then I will label it ‘underground’ just to shut everyone up.

For those who need a little clarity on the definition of underground in this context, here it is courtesy of Urban Dictionary. I had to correct the grammar. I have no idea who submits stuff to Urban Dictionary but I really like this person’s take on ‘underground’:

Underground is about passion. Of course, the word is misused and abused. A true underground artist will create music/art from the heart as opposed to something tailored to a commercial market… Underground artists can have a long career out of the often destructive gaze of mainstream media…

There are people who are good, even great, at following the rules. I’m very competent at being a good citizen. I’m a decent photographer. I’m a decent CrossFitter. I’m a decent dressage rider. I’m decent at a lot of things.

But when it comes to writing — fiction, in particular — I want to be the best I can be. There is still lots of room to grow and develop to do in that regard. Being the best isn’t measured in the number of books I sell — although it would be nice to sell a boatload of books. But that’s not the brass ring for me. It’s about being able to tell the best story I capable of telling. It’s about becoming a really good, and hopefully great, storyteller.

For me, being a storyteller isn’t about understanding the various genres that inhabit the literary world and adhering to their individual conventions. I see conventions as rules. Are they rules? Guidelines, maybe. But they feel like rules to me. While I’m pretty competent at following the rules. It’s been hard to abide by any of the literary genre conventions that have popped up in front of me.

Why should creativity and artistic expression operate within a box of rules or conventions? I’ve proven to myself and to my writing mentor time and again that following my gut instincts has served me well in my development as a writer. My instincts couldn’t give a shit about conventions. When I dive into the art of storytelling, the last thing I give a shit about is genre conventions or genre, for that matter.

The sign says ‘Go right.’ I spray paint the words ‘fuck you’ on the sign and go elsewhere. It’s not a blatant show of rebellion on my part. It’s just I can’t abide by it. My instincts won’t let me. There are people who thrive under conventions/rules. I’m not one of them. I know whatever I create by following conventions will be subpar. It won’t be the best I can do. I’ve tried. It hasn’t happened.

But leave me alone to focus on storytelling with the barest of rules — i.e. make sure the story has a beginning, a middle and an end and loaded with complex, interesting characters — and I will to explore, experiment and discover to me heart’s content. Free to create something I would be proud to have my name attached to.

It seems labels are necessary. For better or for worse. Labelling creativity shouldn’t be necessary. In fact, it’s harmful.

I was talking to a friend yesterday evening. I keep nagging him about going out for coffee and catching up since we seem to see each other every six weeks or so. A little more frequency would be nice. We talked about the label of ‘underground.’ He gets where I’m coming from as an artist, as a writer. In the important ways, we’re very much alike. He likes ‘underground’ as a label applied to me and my writing and the way I look at life. I like to it, too. A lot.

So, if you feel compelled to label me because you don’t know what to make of me or my work, label me underground. I won’t bite your head off for calling me that. I’ll thank you if I’m in a good mood.

Ultimately, underground just means I am being me.

New friendships and fun

I had too much fun this past weekend. I got to do things I had been thinking about since I was first introduced to them by my technical advisor for the novel. It’s still being done in the name of research but having a little, or a lot fun, while doing the research is a bonus.

I also got to meet some very interesting people. I wouldn’t be surprised if they popped in and out of my life from now on. Colourful characters and so enthusiastic. It was refreshing I have to admit.

Also got to know my technical advisor’s wife better, too. And she’s pretty fucking awesome. We’ve had short chats before when I had my coffee meetings with my advisor. But this weekend was the first time she and I had a chance to really talk. And she said some wonderful, complimentary things about me and my presence in her husband’s life, and in turn, her life. I didn’t expect to hear those words. And to be honest, I was pretty touched by it. Still am.

It’s going to be great having these two people in my life. They’re good people. I think we’re all on the same wavelength. I mentioned having great chemistry with my advisor in a previous post. That chemistry extends to his wife, as well. I couldn’t have asked for two better people to come into my life than these two.

What I learned, and what was reinforced this weekend, won’t take too much time to absorb and parse out into my writing. It’s about continuing to and constantly laying down the groundwork for future stories. It never stops nor should it ever stop. I know what I want to do for my next project while I develop another idea for a third novel. But these two ideas will have to wait until I’m done with the current project. The summer promises to be busy with the current writing project and with deepening new friendships with folks who feel like I’ve known for a long time.

And now I turn back to my writing, thinking about the stuff I got to do this past weekend. I don’t think of it as a re-energizing of the creative blood that courses through me. I think of it as a reaffirmation that the story I want to tell, is the story I’m meant to tell at this point in my life as an emerging writer. It confirms that the ideas I’ve been thinking about as my next projects, are also the right ones to tackle after the novel becomes a book that you can hold in your hands.

Magic

Creativity is an energy. It’s a precious energy, and it’s something to be protected. A lot of people take for granted that they’re a creative person, but I know from experience, feeling it myself, it is a magic; it is an energy. And it can’t be taken for granted — Ava DuVernay

After forced time away from writing, there is a sense of relief which turns into a small ‘g’ giddiness at the prospect of reacquainting myself with my characters. That giddiness quickly turns into a sense of calm and then sliding easily into the business of telling a story.

As of this past Friday, a huge commitment was completed and I spent the weekend decompressing. I would have preferred to dive right back into writing but it seemed I needed to decompress.

Quite frankly, I think I’m done with decompressing. The urge to write is running through my blood. And there is no excuse to not write. Not anymore. It’s been awhile since I have been in agreement with that sentiment.

I don’t think it will take too long to go from 0 to 100 in ten seconds flat. The urge to not be sociable is growing. What I mean by not being sociable is I mean I would rather write than hang with friends and shoot the shit with them. The need to write is to be heeded. The need to have a few drinks with friends is something I don’t have to heed and don’t care to heed.

The good thing is my friends understand. Those who don’t were never my friends to begin with. I am in no mood to explain myself to anyone.

My social life will take a hit until I finish the book but that’s okay.

The magic of telling stories is far more enticing, far more rewarding, far more satisfying and far more addictive than anything or anyone (and I can name of a few off the top of my head) I can think of at the moment.

I’m not losing out on anything by focusing on what I inherently need and am driven to do. I will learn, absorb and grow in ways I never thought of. That is part of the magic of learning to be a storyteller. That is something I will never take for granted.