To Violet

It’s not long until you’ll be here with us. I can’t believe how quickly the time has gone since we found out about you, and sometimes I still can’t believe you’re real. I wish I could say I wasn’t scared, but that would be a blatant lie. I am scared. I’m scared that I won’t be a good father to you. I’m scared that I won’t be able to raise you well and give you everything you need. I’m even scared that you won’t like me!

But I also can’t wait to meet you. To feel your hand grab hold of my finger. To kiss your forehead and cuddle you all the time. To hear your first words and watch your first steps and witness you grow into a confident woman. There’s so much for you to experience and look forward to.

Though I must admit, I also feel guilty for bringing you into this world. This world still subjugated by greed and hate and intolerance. It seems unfair that you should have to navigate these waters which your mum and I, certainly, have found so treacherous in our first twenty odd years. After all, it’s not like you chose to come here. The world you’re being born into is far from a perfect place. We’re yet to learn from history and there are a lot of things going wrong out there. People can be horrible, life can be unfair, days can be tough.

But remember, Violet, that life can also be beautiful.

I’m so afraid that I won’t always be able to protect you, but maybe you won’t always need protecting. Maybe you can be the change you want to see in the world. The way to make life better is to be a better person. Be yourself, be kind, help others, speak your mind, stand up for intolerance and find joy in little things.

I want you to know whatever you choose to do and whoever you want to be, I’ll support you. And I’ll be proud of you. You needn’t be afraid of the world like I’ve been, because you’re going to be one of the good ones.

And I know I’ll be a little less afraid soon, because the world’s going to be better when you’re in it.

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Being A Writer

I’m currently going through the most painful facet of being a writer – and, indeed, of being any kind of artist who imagines and creates.

I feel creatively blunt. It’s not so much a writer’s block as…I don’t know, a writer’s self-loathing. I’m able to put the words down (just this morning I wrote three pages of my new screenplay), but I hate every single one of them. I look back at what I’ve written and I wonder who the hell will ever want to read this. Why do I think I’m good enough to be a successful screenwriter and author when all I can come up with is this dross?

It’s a worse feeling, I’ve discovered, than the aforementioned block. When there’s an almost physical inability to write, it’s frustrating as hell, but it at least leaves you in the land of What If? It’s annoying being unable to see your vision on the page, but at least the vision is knocking around in there somewhere. The idea still has potential. You haven’t wrecked your hopes by assuming you’re good enough to bring something to life.

What I’m going through is a feeling that I’m simply not smart enough to write good stories. The kind of stories I so love to read and watch. Oh, there’s no shortage of ideas. All my brain does now is come up with ideas, whether I’m watching a movie or walking down the street or lying in the bath; it’s conditioned to look at the world as one big story. I’m in a perennial bubble of excitement over potential; over the idea of having come up with a great idea. But the moment I try to translate these ideas into fully-formed beings, into coherent stories that people will enjoy, the bubble bursts and I fall back to Earth with that same sobering realization: I’m not good enough.

I’m aware that part of the problem stems from trying to write something good instead of just writing. The biggest mistake a writer can make is looking at the finish line. The moment you think about your book selling or script being produced – the moment you even think about one pair of eyes in the audience – you’ve lost the battle. Writing must be a selfish experience, at least in the first draft. You must write what you want to write, the way you want to write it, otherwise the work will be disingenuous. It will be obvious that it hasn’t come from a place of honesty and passion.

I’ve scrapped so many projects because I found myself trying to write to be successful, rather than because I was passionate about what I was doing.

How wonderful it would be to recapture the bursting, unshackled optimism I possessed when I first started writing stories. When I was about 13 I wrote a short story called ‘The Red Crucifix’. It was about twenty pages long, and it sucked. But I wrote it. I wrote it because I enjoyed telling the story and I loved the subject matter (vampires, influenced by From Dusk Till Dawn and John Carpenter’s wonderfully violent and trashy Vampires). The thought of an end product was the furthest thing from my mind, whether that was me selling it or just someone else reading it. All I was focused on was getting lost in this crazy story. It was a completely unbridled expression of creativity.

The same happened with my first script when I was 15 (a 132 page gangster story). I loved movies and I loved telling stories, so I decided to teach myself how to write a screenplay. Again, the first draft it was utter crap, and the proceeding five weren’t much better, but the point is I did it. And this was when I was in high school, a time of life generally filled with energy and socializing, when I was just starting to venture to house parties. But I still found the time to crank out two scripts (I wrote a horror movie about a year later) because it was just something I loved doing. No pressure or expectations.

These projects will always be important to me because they taught me the craft of screenwriting by doing rather than some nonsense ‘how to’ book written by someone who’s never written a screenplay in their life. But the point is not that they were rubbish; the point is that I completed them. Beginning to end. They were rubbish because I didn’t yet possess any real panache with the written word; the literal writing skills. What I did possess was the unhinged enthusiasm.

Now it’s flipped. I possess the writing skills (I think), but I’ve somewhat lost the freedom of my imagination. The passion for telling stories is still there and as strong as ever – the thought of writing my next story fills me with excited butterflies, and I can happily listen to people discuss the craft for hours on end – but when I physically sit down to do it, my head is burdened in a way my 15-year-old self’s wasn’t. Sure, adult life gets in the way (and I’m currently in a particularly stressful/crazy/exciting time in my life, with a move to the other side of the country and a first child imminent), but I can’t help but feel that it’s more than that. Somewhere along the line I’ve misplaced the ability to just write and not care about whether it’s good or not until the end.

I’ve always struggled with writing a novel. It’s something I’m desperate to accomplish (and if I were to stick together every opening ten or so pages I’ve written I venture I’d have a book not far off the length of The Stand…) but I keep hitting that point where I lose all faith in what I’m doing. Like my current woes, it’s usually not a case of not being able to write anything, but of writing a few pages and just despising it, which leads me to close the document and never return. More wasted potential. The longest single thing I’ve written, outside of screenplays, is a 65-page, multiple character horror/thriller. And sure enough, this was done when I was about 17. When nothing else mattered.

I suppose what I and all writers should be reminding ourselves is that we all go through it, and there’s always a way out. Trying to get through these days is like trying to swim out of a pool of treacle blindfolded, but we live for those days when writing is as easy as breathing; when our fingers simply can’t type fast enough to keep up with the genius flowing from our brains. And likewise we always need to remind ourselves that success will come with persistence. I’ve been writing actively for about 12 years now, and as I enter deeper into the second half of my twenties I can’t help but feel time is running out to achieve it. As if turning 30 ruins all chances of finding success.

Recently I’ve been growing incredibly envious of Noah Hawley, the man behind Fargo on FX. It’s such a brilliantly nuanced, off-beat and well-written show, and he runs it. He’s living my dream life, and I thought I had no chance of attaining something similar because I’ve seen no success yet, and barely any recognition (though I should remind myself that my western placed fairly well in a prestigious competition and a London-based production company brought me down to the capital to chat through it, having read and enjoyed it). But something clicked when I was reading an interview with him: the guy’s 50. He wasn’t running Fargo when he was 26.

This isn’t to say it isn’t possible to find such success earlier in life, but the simple little fact just served me that important reminder that there is, in fact, still time. Jon Hamm was still waiting tables when he was 29; Alan Rickman’s first role was aged 36; J.K. Rowling published the first Harry Potter book at 32 after years of rejection.

You and I may be stuck in the middle of that treacle pool, but there’s always a way out, and there’s always time to get there.

Just Bloody Recycle

You know what really pisses me off? People putting recyclables in the trash. I mean it REALLY pisses me off.

And I can already hear some of the responses to this ringing in my head, before I’ve even written it. “Oh look, another liberal softie barking on about the environment. Why don’t you go back to nature, nature bitch”. Sure, this is probably taking a particularly cynical and pessimistic view because I’m currently so irked by what I just saw (which is why I’m writing this so frantically and spur-of-the-moment), but I genuinely think one of the biggest problems we’re facing in the world is people just not giving a crap about it. The blatant ignorance and sheer avoidance has to stop. Otherwise we’re screwed.

I just popped down to the street to take out the rubbish and the recycling. The rubbish is on one side of the street, while the recycling bins are directly opposite. Yet when I opened the lid to throw the waste in, I was greeted with a bunch of cardboard boxes and three empty wine bottles sitting neatly on top of the black bags. I was enraged. As far as I’m concerned, it’s bad enough when people are too lazy to hold onto some recycling if there’s nowhere nearby to nip out every time they need to get rid of a cardboard box (which is itself a problem – there should be even more recycling bins), but there’s literally a bunch of recycling bins across the street from here. Ten paces away. And this moron just thought it was okay to chuck glass and cardboard in the rubbish because he/she couldn’t be bothered taking a few more steps.

Look, whether global warming is a thing or not, there’s still no reason not to do our part. Even if those who deny its effects are right and the Earth is in tip-top shape, why the hell not at least preserve what we have? We waste so much every day, and we’re just shoving it all in the ground and pretending it never existed.

what-are-the-problems-with-burying-waste-in-landfill-sites_e64b66eb3e7a4505

A landfill picture ought to be pasted to the side of every public trash bin, because it’s repulsive. We need to be reminded of this – of what we’re doing every time we casually chuck another coffee cup or coke bottle into the bin while we’re sauntering down the street – and start thinking about the long-term effects. It’s just not okay to think, “This one cup won’t make a difference” – it will. If everyone’s thinking that way, it will. I also think we should implement a 1-to-1 ratio of trash and recycling bins on the street. The fact that we don’t have that already is staggering.

I’m not saying for a second that we shouldn’t put anything in the trash – of course there are some things we can’t recycle – but we should at least be recycling as much as we possibly can. It just doesn’t make any sense not to. We don’t have unlimited resources on this planet, as much as some blissfully ignorant people would like to think. Don’t just let the oil companies and politicians beat enlightened thinking from your heads with their constant fear-mongering. Think about what you’re doing. Think about what’s happening to the Earth when we pollute the soil and oceans with all of our unwanted crap.

Even if this did reach more than two people, I doubt that it would change many minds. And that’s the problem, really. Even if someone read this and thought, “Hey, that makes a lotta sense!”, to actually change a habit is difficult. Laziness is ingrained in us – we all have it, like when you just can’t be bothered hanging up the washing or cooking dinner – but with something like recycling it’s just too important to take the “easy” route. I say “easy” because it’s not even difficult to recycle these days. It’s pretty damn straightforward. So just do it.

Just bloody recycle.

Being In A Car Crash

Being in a car crash is a surreal, enlightening experience. I wouldn’t recommend it, of course, but I do feel that going through it gave me a shot of important reality. Always wear a seatbelt. Don’t speed. Drive sensibly.

I’m also not sure why I wrote this now as I haven’t actually thought about it much since, but when I was 17 I was in a pretty serious one.

I hadn’t even intended to leave with them, but as three of my friends and I were leaving at the same time having just finished our shifts, and she had a spare seat, they wouldn’t let me turn the lift down. So I’m in the back seat of my friend’s car. All four of us are psyched to be done with work and heading to a house party. The music’s blasting at evelenty stupid and the car is screeching around the dark, rural roads with a unwarranted sense of security. I’m vaguely aware that we’re going too fast, but I’m not about to say anything. At this point I’m still too shy to speak up and be a buzz kill, and too naive to think anything will ever actually happen.

Anyway, I must be texting on my phone (there wasn’t much else to do on phones back then) and chatting away with my friend next to me while head-bopping to the music, when I hear a scream from the front seat. My friend in the passenger seat is yelling the driver’s name, and when I look up, the car is screaming straight towards a huge tree at 80mph. I’m talking about one of these ancient, solid Redwood type trees. In that moment, that brief, everlasting moment, it looks like death itself, beckoning us to our fates.

The next few moments are something of a blur. I’m suddenly rocking savagely and time has slowed down. While I’m not really aware that we’re crashing, I’m still able to tell myself “try not to die” over and over and over. Because time has slowed down, it feels like we’re thrashing around forever. Up, down, side to side. But finally it stops, and I’m back in the real world, hanging sideways from my seat-belt. Somehow she must have swerved away from the tree at the last second. I don’t like imagining how close we were.

As my friends gradually come to and start crawling through the sunroof (which the car thankfully has), I grapple with the latch on my seat-belt which won’t break free. I give up and decide to start feeling around the glassy floor for my phone which has been flung from my hands. Somehow I find it in the dark, perfectly in tact, which is strange because this phone has a habit of powering down when it’s hit too hard. Funny how these inconsequential thoughts still run through your head at times like this.

It’s at this point I’m suddenly overcome with fear that the car is going to explode. I don’t know why – maybe I’ve watched too many movies – but I’m absolutely sure of it. I’ve just survived a car crash only to die in an explosion.

In panic I finally get the seat-belt undone and squirm my way through the sunroof and onto the glass-riddled road. When I’m out, I run towards my friends but try to make it look as if I’m not running – even now I’m still somehow anxious about appearances. I check to make sure everyone’s okay, which amazingly they are. The driver is hysterical of course, and the passenger has a fractured collar bone (or something of that ilk, I forget), but the rest of us (amazingly) escape with cuts and bruises and hopefully no psychological damage. I notice the radio is still blasting its tunes, oblivious to what just happened. Its ignorance makes me strangely uncomfortable. Life never stops.

Some time passes, I can’t tell how much, then a car appears from a road which leads down into the village. The first thing I see is a guy stepping out with a smug grin on his face, which pisses me off. He doesn’t know we’re all okay. He doesn’t know if someone’s dead. But I don’t let it bother me for long.

I step away from the wreck to make a call. I think about calling my mum or dad, but the latter is at an event which I don’t want to interrupt with bad news, and the former is visiting my granddad who isn’t well. So I call my brother. He’s out with friends and I probably wreck his night, but I tell him I’m okay. At least I think I tell him that. The shock hasn’t worn off.

Some more time passes, I still can’t remember how much, and the ambulance and police have arrived. I’m taken into their car for questioning, but I don’t really have much to say. Once I’m back outside I remember about the party and text a friend to say I can’t make it. It’s the most nonchalant text ever. Something like ‘Can’t make the party sorry. Was in a car crash’.

Then I’m back home, contemplating everything. It’s weird coming so close. It’s weird how I felt like I was going to die but simultaneously knew I was going to be okay. Can’t explain that.

Let’s Redefine Creativity

I want to talk about creativity. I recently listened to a TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson, who was speaking about how the education system needs a complete reform rather than sporadic, minimal improvements. It needs, in his words, “a revolution rather than evolution”, citing the fact that in certain places, we now have interviews to get kids into kindergarten/nursery. Interviews. For 3 year olds.

That ludicrous fact swiftly tied into the inexplicable desperation to get kids into college and university at any cost. It doesn’t even matter what they’re studying or whether college is right for the individual, just as long as they’re there. I experienced that very thing in high school; for months in my final year, all anyone would talk about was university. Both students and teachers. Everyone must get to university or else their life is ruined, for without it we won’t get a job and become a professional and mortgage a house and start a family and retire at an ever increasing age to live off a meager pension.

This attitude that society has towards the creative and passionate who want to pursue lives which differ from what we’ve somehow come to accept as normal, the individuals who want to take a gap year or perhaps not even attend higher education at all, is deflating. The stern industrial age of work still has an vice-like grip on today’s society, so much so that creatives are perceived as people who don’t have as much to offer as a “good worker”. If we’re not grinding our asses off every day for 50 years earning a steady paycheck (it doesn’t matter how meager), then we don’t have a good “work ethic”. If we don’t stay in the office past 6pm, then we’re seen as a lazy employee who doesn’t care. But we’re no longer living in the industrial age. We’re living in an age of technology and freedom and sociological advancement. Why should we still be obligated to give any more of our own time to the big machine that pays us just enough to live on but never enough to build with. To get out with.

They need us, but to keep us they need to keep us in a perpetual state of want yet acceptance. Think about it: how many people do you know who actually like their jobs? The vast majority of people work because they have to. It’s just something they get through until the weekend mercifully arrives, only for them to start the whole thing over again on Monday morning. We put up with jobs we hate because we have to. Because everything revolves around money, and to take a risk like quitting a job and pursuing your passion is something which that old-fashioned attitude looks down upon. I was even told by a certain individual that I wasn’t very manly to leave my London job and move north with my girlfriend without having another long-term job lined up. I know it wasn’t said maliciously, but it still felt like this person measured my worth solely by what job I didn’t have (and singed the hairs of out of date gender stereotypes, but that’s another issue).

It’s such a depressing feeling to be at the end of this type of thinking – for I most certainly have felt this accusation my entire life. I’ve felt worthless because I don’t have a “proper” job. At family gatherings when I was younger or amongst friends, I would tell my people about my love for movies and screenwriting, and how I’d already written a feature film. They’d sort of laugh and say something like “Gosh, that’s a nice little thing to have. I hope you find real work soon”, and that was the end of it. They didn’t always say in those words, obviously, but it was implied more often than not.

I know others like me have been at the mercy of this type of remark their whole lives, so it’s time to redefine what “a real job” means.

I’m so thankful I did take the risk this year. I quit my job in London, which I’m glad I had at the time but which ultimately wasn’t right for me. I quit the commute, which I hated. I quit the pressure of having to pretend I was enjoying my life both while at work and at home. And it’s not been completely smooth sailing since I left. That risk has been a risk, which is the only way it can be. I’ve done it all it pursuit of something which has been up and down, and when it’s down it feels horrible because it’s as if I can hear the whole world whispering into my ear: “told you so…”. But like I said, I’m glad I took the risk, because I know that voice is wrong. Even though I’ve been going through some pretty tough times recently, I know in my heart and soul that I made the right choice, because I did it to pursue my passion and my ultimate goal.

As hard as it can often be to see that end goal, or to figure out how I’m ever going to get there, I just need to remind myself that what I’m doing fulfills me. It doesn’t matter if I’m not making money from it (yet). It doesn’t matter if people look upon it as some meaningless hobby that I fit in between my “real” job. It doesn’t matter if I get rejections. When I write, I’m happy. It makes me feel good; it feeds my soul. I’m expressing my creativity which, more than anything else, makes me feel alive.

To all the creatives out there, just embrace it. Love what you do and don’t let anyone dishearten you. TED talks like the ones Ken Robinson gives prove that there are influential people out there who agree with us. It’s only a matter of time before being creative is seen as something just as important as an academic with a degree, if not more so.

I love creative writing, and I know for a fact that one day it’s going to provide for me and my family because that’s simply the only future I can see. But one thing’s for certain: no matter what happens, no-one will ever break my creative spirit.

Wake Up and Read

Quit Twitter. Quit Facebook. Quit the internet. For a day, at least.

When you wake up tomorrow, read. Or exercise. Or meditate. Do anything but open the laptop and scroll through your feed to read more about Donald Trump and the fucking shitpile the world is in.

It’s no real secret that the media is filled with this downer stuff to keep the public in a perpetual state of fear and anxiety, but there’s no need to help it out. When we fill our heads with this crap first thing every day, we’re setting ourselves up for a crap day. We’re bringing ourselves down before we’re even up.

Same goes for when you’re travelling to work or taking lunch or doing whatever it is you do.

I used to commute in and out of London every day (something I don’t recommend), and the only upside of enduring the better part of four hours travelling each day was that it gave me loads of time to read. But I found it continually astonishing how many people were just glued to their screens all the time. On average, in a packed compartment of the train, I would count maybe five people reading. Sometimes it was higher, but regularly it was minimal (and it was almost never someone doing nothing at all; sometimes it’s good to just be alone with our thoughts). The same goes for the tube. I’d see businessmen holding the bar with one hand while the other propped something in front of their face. More often than not I’d assume they were reading something, even a paper, until I craned my head around to see they were knee deep in a game of Candy Crush or tossing pixelated paper into a basket.

My real concern is that generations to come are going to lose the wisdom that books provide us with. Let’s stop it. Let’s stop delegating power to these insidious information ports. They’re useful, sure, and I’d probably struggle to live without my technology, but it’s passed the point of being “handy” and crossed over into something which completely runs our lives. The constant access to information has gradually become a curse in disguise.

I try to start my day by reading 30-50 pages of a book, and at least 100 in total. It’s not always possible, but most of the time I get it done and I have to tell you: it feels good. It clears and organizes my mind. Even if it doesn’t completely rock my brain into gear for a superfabulous day, it at least starts me off on a serene (and somewhat magical) note rather than a fearful one bogged down by even more worries than I woke up with.

I guess what I’m saying is this: read more. Read, read, read. Wake up and read.