On the crooked and winding trail

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view — Edward Abbey

Telling a story populated with interesting characters is just as much fun as actually traveling to another part of the world. With my current writing project, I have been able to do both.

I have to admit the last three field research expeditions have been eye-opening, awe-inspiring and in a number of ways, deeply personal. The trails and roads I’ve followed on these expeditions have only made the trail I’m trying to make for myself as a writer all the more crooked, winding and dangerous. If you were wondering, I mean that in a really great way.

The more crooked, the more winding, the more dangerous, the better. Just a different kind of adrenaline junkie.

Sure, there’s a ‘lonesome’ component to it. But I wouldn’t call it ‘lonely.’ I think of it as solitary. If you’re thinking of solitary confinement then there’s no amount of explaining that can be offered to make you understand the appeal of being on your own.

To me, these kinds of expeditions are best done by yourself. You get to follow your instincts. More often than not, if you bring along another person who really doesn’t have an integral role in the research, you won’t discover as much. The other person is a distraction. That’s one reason. Another reason would be the other person really doesn’t get what and why you’re doing what you’re doing. They may understand it theoretically. They can be empathetic about it. But unless they’ve done something like what you’re doing, there is no true understanding. They will be a distraction. And that is another reason I travel alone. Get more shit done that way.

Let’s be honest, there are only a handful of people who I would willingly have as a travel companion. Outside of that group, there are certain expectations I have to meet. Yeah, no thanks.The politics of relationships, regardless of the type of relationship, are hostile and confusing enough for me to remain a lone wolf.

Maybe one day, this lone wolf will find the perfectly imperfect mate. At long last, I’ll have a companion who won’t annoy me during my expeditions. But I highly doubt I’ll find this person. Lived long enough to know any legitimate opportunity to be in a romantic relationship worth fighting for, has always been slim to none.

So, I will travel the road and blaze a trail with friends who I trust and who will be there for me when I need them.

Anyway, I’m chomping at the bit to continue writing since life makes the annoying habit of interrupting it. I suppose with Christmas coming next month, things will get a little more hectic. Plus, I have a crazy list of movies I need to see in the theatre and a couple of books I need to read. Where the fuck do I make the time?

Oh well, I’ll figure it out. Maybe I’ll start rationing my time. Hmmm. That could work.

Having no shame

The one thing that I think we need to reclaim as storytellers is to have no shame because when I see Bernardo Bertolucci tackle the story of The Last Emperor of China and make a magnificent film, I say why can’t I do whatever I want. Because when I went to America after my father’s kidnapping, they kept giving me mariachi, toreador and drug dealer screenplays and I said you wouldn’t send a Royal Mounted Police screenplay to Cronenberg. What the fuck are you giving me this stuff? The first act of racism we can do is against ourselves. So, we should not have it. We should be shameless and free to tell whatever story we want to tell Guillermo del Toro

There are many reason to love Guillermo del Toro and speaking his mind is one of them. I love that he believes storytellers should be shameless and free to tell whatever story we want to tell.

Yes, he works in the realm of science fiction, fantasy and horror, so yes, it seems he is freer in those genres to do whatever the fuck he wants.

My goal is to be shameless and free as a storyteller. I hate the possibility of being burdened with conventions and constructs that seem inherent in any genre you write in. That is why I believe in the story first. Fuck the idea of genres. They are a way of labelling a literary or cinematic story so it’s easier to market for the publishing companies or movie industry.

As I’ve said in previous blog posts, I don’t think of genre when I create and work on a story. It figuratively handcuffs me. There’s no room to breathe. There’s no room to push the envelop past the point of discomfort or unacceptability. Do I envy people who follow and work within a literary construct? No. It feels cookie cutter to me. It feels creatively stifling. It’s boring. It feels like I’d rather gouge my eyes out than conform for no good reason other than ‘that’s the way it’s always been.’ It’s not how I create.

I also hate the burden of the idea of appropriation. To be free and shameless in your storytelling allows you to be anything or anyone. But can you tell the story of someone who is not from your own ethnic background? Yes, I do. If you do the research, if you are respectful of the material, the people and the culture, yes, it can be done. It has been done. Hell, you can throw all the tried and true tropes out the fucking window and create your ideal world where your characters can live the way you see them.

The characters, void of ethnicity and gender, and their stories matter to me. Ethnicity and gender are just ingredients that add colour and flavour to the story. There are many other things that add colour and flavour — location, the characters’ backstories and experiences, the characters’ motivations and intentions.

Will I ever get called out for not telling the stories of my ancestors? I don’t know. But I do have a question for those who would ask the question of how could I possibly write something that I couldn’t possibly know like the back of my hand. I would ask ‘why would I intentionally limit my imagination and storytelling abilities because of my ethnicity and gender?’ I would listen to their response, then tell them to go fuck themselves.

During my field research trip, I had a number of epiphanous moments tied directly to my current writing project. These moments, on a certain level, were deeply personal and I can count on one hand the number of people who are and will be privy to hearing about these moments. It’s not something I care to share with everyone. But these moments will inform, shape and hopefully, add more nuance to the storytelling.

That is something I’m looking forward to.

Something greater than yourself

You’re in service of something stronger than you. Like the story has to be stronger than you. And your certainty has to be stronger than anybody else’s because the story speaks to you. Not because it’s you. (It’s) because you say “Look this is what it needs, not me.” And you actually feel carried on. You go through the difficulties but you feel carried on in terms of faith and certainty — Mexican film director, screenwriter, producer and novelist Guillermo del Toro speaking at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival

As a writer, you are in service of something bigger than just simply your existence. You are a storyteller whether the tales you tell are true-life or fictionalized.

It has taken me a lifetime to definitively conclude that I am a storyteller. Whether through images or words or a combination of both, I am a storyteller. That is something I am most proud of and is the most comfortable skin I’ve ever worn.

There will always be people who expect me to wear a different skin because of the way I look and the stereotypes/biases that come with it. I have to humour them. Or least humour them long enough to figure out what it is they really want from me and make the conscious and pointed decision to disappoint them.

My current writing project has pushed me onto another level of storytelling. It’s something I’ve always planned to do… push myself with each writing project. The field research is a part of this process. This story is so different from the first book. And I anticipate getting interesting reactions about it once it’s done.

I’m a ‘like it’, ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ kind of person. You can’t get more basic that that. I’m not crazy about over-analyzing things. Navel-gazing isn’t all that much fun in my opinion. I’ll leave that to the folks who like doing that kind of thing. Reminds me of dealing with a backseat driver. I’d rather kick them out of the car and let them fend for themselves rather than listen to them tell me what my thought process is. Adiós, amigos.

Those who really know me, respect me, love me and are weirdly entertained by me. And not necessarily in that order. Being weirdly entertaining wins out most of the time.

Four days into my field research, I have met people, with interesting stories, who are genuinely interested in me and the silly things I get myself into. If I sound surprised, it’s because I am. The idea of me actually being interesting to another human being is a bit baffling at times.

As a result, I’ll be walking away, at the conclusion of my field research, with a few more friends to populate my life.

The field research has been going great. A lot of information to process and absorb. I’ve been taking notes. Not everything I’ve been exposed to will end up in my current writing project. But there is always the chance some of that information will appear in future stories. I don’t know if I’ll absorb enough stuff to have a truly nerdy did-you-know moment á la Cliff Clavin from Cheers.

Anyway, there is more stuff to do this week. I brought books with me to read and I haven’t gotten around to reading them yet. Ack. I really should set aside some time to unwind and read. There might be time near the end of the trip. But maybe I should start now. Hmmm.

For now, there is more stuff to process, to absorb and to be greater than the sum of its parts.