Category Archives: inspiration

Put Down the Weston, and No One Gets Hurt

SometimEmpty Buildinges, before a photo shoot, I’ll grab something like B&W Magazine and just look at the photographs: randomly turn the pages and let my gaze float. Away from the house, I might arrive a little early and look through photo.net on the phone. It’s kind of like a runner doing stretches or a musician playing scales. I sometimes think of it as “tuning up the eye.” I start seeing regular life as images. Maybe it lights up the brain’s photo neuron pathways.

For one thing, you start seeing the world in shapes—a triangle here, a rectangle there—and the relationships between them. The empty space becomes a shape of its own. Like Miles Davis, you start playing the space between the notes. And you start to see tones. You look at scenes to spot that 18% gray for the camera’s meter to latch onto—especially important if you’re using a spotmeter. (I find that my Canons read more like 12% gray.) A frame begins drawing itself around the everyday. Once you begin seeing that way, it’s sometimes hard to shake.

In almost any art, it’s vital to experience the work of others. If you write plays, read plays (or reread favorites). Play guitar? Listen, even if the guitarist works in a form that leaves you a bit cold. The country Telecaster picker can teach the Ibanez-wielding shredder a few things and vice versa. Take photographs? Look at pictures. Lots of pictures. All the time.

A point comes, however, to put down the book or magazine or close the website. Obviously, if everything you shoot comes out looking a bit too much like your favorites, it’s at least best to look at someone else’s work. Sometimes, though, it’s best not to look at anyone at all. The tank fills. In fact, particularly if you’re feeling stuck, it’s best not only to put away the big Weston collection but to stop looking at photographs altogether. Just for a stretch. Do something else. Anything else. Maybe not go to the movies (as they’re moving photographs), but go for a drive. Listen to music. Dig in the garden. Go for a walk and leave the camera home. Let the photo brain take a rest. The same goes for whatever art you’re engaged in.

A few art forms lead themselves to this. One of the things I like about writing for theatre is that it takes two forms. The first comes when you’re composing, whether that means conducting research or actually putting down words. The second comes when you have a production or reading, and you collaborate with a director and actors. You get the introvert and extrovert time. Even so, really making a concerted effort to stop thinking about your form, much less practicing it, not only can make you happy—it can keep you sane.

That is, we kind of get locked into our art. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, especially when you’re facing a deadline. Other times, it’s a symptom of the artist’s obsessive side. People often ask me how I can write every morning before work. They praise my discipline, but, really, it’s a mixture of habit and bloody-mindedness: I can’t think of anything else. And my brain’s become so conditioned that it starts coughing up ideas around 6:00 and won’t let go until I shake some words loose. (It’s worth noting that some of those dedicated writing hours are spent staring into space and sipping coffee to kick the brain into working order; other mornings, I just give up and read something: the brain’s hung up its gone fishing sign.)

This won’t necessarily be easy, especially if you’re locked in deep. If you practice multiple arts, whether professionally or as a hobby, working in another form can distract the mind—shiny, shiny!—and give your overworked gray areas a breather without going into total withdrawals.

Strangely enough, the tension you may feel not working on your chosen art may be a good thing. It’s a sign that your unconscious mind is throwing its weight around, churning under the surface. Because, realistically, you’ll never stop working. It’s just not going to happen. You’ll start dreaming about it. You’ll experience intrusive thoughts that will make you want to run to the pen or the camera. But if you can get to the point, where you’re not in acute discomfort and you’re enjoying something else…like life…finally returning to your form can bring more than relief. You might find that you’ve improved. That you’ve been able to do something that, previously, you could not, whether it’s automatically spotting that 18% gray or playing a guitar riff that’s been eluding you.

Though a seeming paradox, sometimes you have stop to progress. You have to give your unconscious time to run. Often, it’ll surprise you. If nothing else, you’ve had a break, a little vacation from the Effort That Never Ends. And that’s never a bad thing.


Revisiting “The Twilight Zone”

Zen PathReading, of late, about one Rod Serling. Writer. Producer. Creator. A man who seemed to have everything going for him. And then….

Yeah, well…and then shit happens. Apparently, he pretty much worked and smoked himself to death, and he died early. Just like his father. A fate that always haunted him. There’s an object lesson for you: sometimes you can’t see the obvious because you don’t want to see the obvious. Or because it scares you too much. And, because you can’t see it, you doom yourself to it. The kind of thing that happens in…the Twilight Zone.

Man. That’s one hell of a voice the guy had. Every writer follows a different process, but, once I hear a character’s voice, a door opens into the story. I can’t explain it—that’s just how it happens for me. And if you hear Serling or watch his work, that voice sticks to you. Pretty soon it won’t let you go. And then people wonder why you’re talking so weird. So ironically. Snapping off every word. Holding for dramatic effect. Like…this.

Which is a kind of genius. It’s a brand. If you like Rod Serling and the strange world he became associated with through his remarkable television show The Twilight Zone, then you know what you get when you hear that voice. The poignant side? With time, that’s all anyone wants to hear. You’re stuck with it. They won’t let you change it and grow. It can also become cruel when your audience tires of that voice. If it becomes too familiar. Some in the audience just wait for Dylan’s old songs. Some won’t listen to the Stones because they don’t sound as good as they used to. Why? They repeat themselves. And because the listeners themselves aren’t as young as their memories.

It’s a tough choice: give people what they want or risk repeating yourself and burning them out. It seems the artists who transcend that operate with very good compasses: they know who they are, and part of their brand is trying new stuff. You like them because you don’t know what you’ll get, but it’s likely to be good. It’s said Picasso could own anything he wanted if he could paint it, but he continually tried new forms, excelling at them and putting his “Picasso” stamp on them. Part of Tom Waits’ genius seems lie in the continual search for new sounds. It doesn’t always work, but, a lot of times, it’s very, very good. And there’s always that little bit of that Tom Waits DNA that keeps you coming back. There’s magic, and there’s tragic magic, and you have to risk one to achieve the other.

The Twilight Zone was wondrous. I don’t even think we knew how good it was at the time. I was too young to remember its debut seasons, but I grew up with it in syndication. I was not, however, too young for Night Gallery, Serling’s kind of reboot of The Twilight Zone. By the time that came out in the Seventies, Serling’s outlook had darkened, and the show reflected that darkness. He wasn’t entirely in charge of the program, as he was with The Twilight Zone, and sometimes it slipped into camp. But I can’t tell you how much I looked forward to Night Gallery evenings. (They always seemed to be rainy.) You didn’t know where you would go, and sometimes you went to very dark places indeed. Very dark. Which, to me were the coolest, most mysterious places to be, and very different than…than being a geeky kid in a small town. In the Pacific Northwest. Where it seemed some winters that the sun never made it all the way across the sky. Where the rain and the fog blurred the edge of everything. Blunted the colors. You didn’t realize how fabulously beautiful everything around you was until the sun came out, but sun didn’t last long. I came to like images with a little blur to them. Where you couldn’t quite be sure of what you were seeing. You had to guess, relying on your imagination to complete the picture.

What did the Night Gallery look like? Like an actual gallery, it varied. They hung a lot of paintings in three years. Sometimes, they didn’t turn out that well, and, looking at them now, you kind of shrug, shake your head. Yeah…well, they tried. And they were on deadline. Sometimes they retain their power and mystery. If that sort of darkness interests you (and it’s okay if it does), take a look.

Somewhere in there, Night Gallery stamped me with its mark, and I came to enjoy diving into that deep place where it really gets strange and frightening. I don’t give a damn about slasher pics or much of the stuff that passes for horror. But the fantastic, the uncomfortable, the…haunted, where the hero doesn’t always walk out in the sunshine at the end: it took ahold of me. In some ways, I’ve been writing about ever since. A writer friend says my work is haunted. (Maybe it’s me that’s haunted.) But that darkness, that blur, seems to distinguish my writing and photographs. Maybe that’s my brand.

To me, it just feels like beneath the surface of ordinary life, things remain hidden. Jung called it the unconscious—he was a scientist; so that’s kind of antiseptic. But there’s nothing clean or classifiable about the genuine intersection of the hidden and the ordinary, between dreams and reality. Some pretty good stories happen there. And maybe they show us that the world is not only more complex than we know, but more complex than we can know.

That’s paraphrasing Einstein, whose brand became synonymous with genius. He died four years before The Twilight Zone went on the air. Would he have watched it? I like to think he would have. Marking Twilight Zone nights on his calendar. We’ve come to find that when you take apart the smallest operating particles of reality, they don’t always act as suspected. Sometimes they’re here, but only for the briefest moments, and, in those nanoseconds, they don’t play by the rules. It appears that a twilight zone occurs within every thing. Within all of us. All the time.

There’s something to walk away with…Serling. You did good.

 

 


Tales from the Ice(pack)

Luke MurphyThis post brings a little something different to splattworks: a guest post by novelist Luke Murphy (right). He tells a good story: that of a writer discovering the craft a little later than many of us (who began producing chapbooks in crayon); and he set his goal, stuck to it, followed the recommended steps…and it paid off. Imajin Books published his novel Dead Man’s Hand in 2012.

 I felt Luke’s story fit well with one of splattwork’s missions—to serve authors and to discuss the trade—as it to serves as kind of a tonic for the many writers, slogging along, who wonder if the work will ever pay off. And it’s also kind of hair-raiser, dealing with one of those low points in life where the clouds look pretty dark. But Luke tells it better than I do; so I need to hand him the wheel.. I’m publishing Luke’s piece in two parts, to give him room to lay it out. Thanks, Luke, for the kind offer to step in and for putting up with me as an editor. 

The good Mr. Murphy lives in Shawville, Quebec, with his wife, three daughters, and a pug. He played six years of professional hockey before retiring in 2006. Since then, he’s worked a range of communications jobs, from sports columnist to radio journalist, before earning his Bachelor of Education degree (Magna Cum Laude).

 For more information on Luke and his work, go to: www.authorlukemurphy.com, or check him out on Facebook www.facebook.com/#!/AuthorLukeMurphy or Twitter www.twitter.com/#!/AuthorLMurphy

From Professional Hockey Player to Published Novelist, Part I

It can almost be said with certainty that I didn’t follow the path of the average writer. As a child, I never dreamed of writing a best-seller, never aspired to write the next classic novel, I wanted to be an NHL superstar…period. In fact, the only time I ever thought about writing was when my teachers at school made me.

 In 2000, my second year of pro hockey, after a decent training camp with the Louisville Panthers of the American Hockey League, I was sent to play in Oklahoma City. I know, hockey in Oklahoma, who would have thought, right?

 I was having a very good preseason when in the third exhibition game, disaster struck.

 I was forechecking on a Tulsa Oiler defensemen, a seemingly innocent play. As he shot the puck out of his end, the blade of his stick came up from the follow-through and struck me in the left eye. I went down immediately from the contact. I don’t know how long I was out for, but when I came to, I was on all fours, staring down at a massive puddle of blood. There was no pain, but the shock of seeing the blood with my right eye, and unable to see out of my left, drew me close to panic. I was terrified.

 I later found out that the results of the injuries were: a broken nose, slit eyelid, scratched cornea and deeply bruise cheekbone. I went through surgery and was sent home with a patch on my eye.

 I was unable to practice or workout with my team, uncertain of my future, but all I could think about was, “will I ever be able to see out of my left eye again?” The doctors had no way of knowing until the swelling went down and the outside of my eye healed up. I was devastated, my dreams shattered, and I was at one of the lowest point in my life.

 The team sent me to live with a longtime season-ticket holder and friend. So as I was sitting at home, feeling sorry for myself, I decided that I would need an alternate plan. What if my eye never healed properly? I would certainly never play pro hockey again, that’s for sure. I needed to think of what to do next with my life, in case the worst scenario transpired.

 It sucked!! I hated the uncertainty. I hated not knowing if I’d ever see again, or ever play hockey again.

 So what to do? Because I was working with only one eye, it gave me headaches to watch TV or read books for extended periods of time.

 I had just started seeing a girl from back home that summer. She was attending French College in Montreal while I was in Oklahoma, so we communicated by phone and email. My girlfriend knew that I was an avid reader and loved books, so she asked me if I was interested in helping her write a short story for her English class. Since I had nothing else to do and a lot of time on my hands, I agreed.

 I really enjoyed the process: coming up with a plot, developing characters and organizing a setting, problem and conclusion. It only lasted a couple of weeks, and once we were done, I kind of missed inventing, creating my own little world and characters.

 I remember walking to my bedroom one morning and seeing my roommate’s laptop sitting on the desk, and I thought…why not?

To be continued….


Gonzovation

You ever worked in an office where they have those motivational posters up on the wall? You’re, like, stuck in the copy room, making page after page of copies of, say, a huge book where it has to be reduced and held by hand, and every other copy comes out cut off, requiring the book to be repositioned, and you’re making 120-page sets of 20, and the machine regularly jams at 17, and you’re pulling bits and pieces of shredded paper out of the machine and burning your hand on the fuser, and you’re cursing–quietly–while thinking: “For this I went to journalism school?”

And just about when you’re beginning to revise your resignation letter in your head, you look up to check the clock you’re trying to beat, and you see on the wall some goddamn picture of some goddamn crocus forcing its goddamned head through the goddamned snow, and it has a caption in bold serif saying something like “FORTITUDE” or “COURAGE.” Yes? And there’s that awful split-second where, in your mind’s eye, you can see that beautifully framed print flying out of the copy room like a rectangular frisbee and, with a shattering boom, showering the reception area with glass.

Well, someone’s been clever with Photoshop and made motivational posters for the rest of us, featuring a man who got fired from LIFE magazine for kicking a candy dispensing machine to death.

Inspiration! Courage! Bats!


Quote of the Day

Sure, we’re doomed, and Bob Dylan’s new album will kill us all, but he still earns the quote of the day. It may sound simple, but you have to have been there to know it:

Inspiration is hard to come by. You have to take it where you find it.