February 9, 2017

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Music today comes from Australian band Woodlock. This tune, entitled Forever ago, is especially beautiful – the piano towards the end of the track is worth a listen alone.

I had someone tell me over the weekend that they’ve “started reading my little blog.” Another friend of mine recently explained to me how his Mum had told him that when she goes for walks she now “listens to his little podcast.” My question is why do people feel the need to add ‘little’ when referring to creative work? Apart from coming off as condescending it literally belittles the value of the work they’re referring to. While my blog reader went on to say some lovely things, and ultimately were just trying to show their support for my writing, the need to distance themselves from their own encouragement baffles me.

I think it comes down to the fact that working in the creative industries still isn’t considered a “real” job, or at least not until the one doing it has achieved some incredible level of success. This is, to me, absurd.

First let’s address the idea of creative work as a “real” job. My guess here is that the underlying thought is that any kind of creative output is seen to be superfluous to our survival as a species. Enjoyable for the one doing it but ultimately unnecessary to how we run as a society, with the usual argument being a made up post apocalyptic scenario where the creatives won’t survive as they have no real world skills to add in the rebuilding of civilisation. This is insane because another name for the creative industries could be the entertainment industries. While, yes, the initial purpose of any creative work is the artist having an creative itch they’re trying to scratch, the ultimate purpose is to pass the work on to the larger populace in an effort to entertain and help make sense of the world. To say this is unnecessary to how we run as a society is flat out wrong.

Just look at our current world and how desperate we all are to be entertained. Look at the mammoth, and varied, amount of entertainment content available, how quickly it gets consumed, and how often it needs to be replenished to feed the hungry masses. Look at why Netflix’s model works so well, offering up immediate and complete entertainment of a quantity you could never entirely get through. Look at why we’re all so addicted to social media. While it’s entertainment quality may not be high it’s quantity is irrefutable. Any creative out there knows you’re only as good as your last piece of work, and that you better keep producing work at an ever increasing pace and quality if you want to stay in the market. As for that fictional post apocalyptic scenario if you think people won’t want to be entertained under those conditions then you are flat out bonkers; and I’m not someone who uses the word ‘bonkers’ in vain. We’ve been telling ourselves stories and painting our histories since we first started walking upright. Creativity is now, and has always been, entirely necessary to how we run as a species and arguably a major factor to our current level of evolutionary success.

Now let’s look at the idea that you need to be successful before it can be classified as a real job and not just a hobby. You never hear anyone ask “Human resource is more of a hobby though, right?” or “How’s your little dock working position going?” Both of those careers require you to learn on the job with the expectation that you get paid while you do so. In my mind this salary makes it a real job to the populace at large. Whereas, there is little to no support for the apprentice creative and fuck all chance of getting paid while they grow their skills. Ask any creative out there and they’ll tell you how someone has offered them “exposure” as payment for a job instead of money – “We can’t pay you but it’ll be great exposure.” The thing about exposure is it’s nice but strangely doesn’t work as currency anywhere else. You’d never expect someone to do your taxes for you “for the exposure”. At the end of the day creatives are expected to do a significant amount of work for free before they start getting paid for it. Why? Because it’s their little hobby. If someone was to leave their job to open a restaurant they would immediately be classified as a small business owner and restaurateur. If however a person was to leave a similar job in order to become an artist they would be seen less as the freelancer they are and more as a dole bludger until their creative work achieves not only a living wage but also some level of celebrity for them.

This cultural mindset behind the creative industries and the reduction of their importance is a dangerous thing for our society. The Lady Holly, a high school maths and science teacher (and my lady love), showed me this TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson. In it he makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity. Basically, he says what I’m trying to say with a lot more detail and humour (it genuinely feels like stand up act at points), and with a better vocabulary. A superbly good watch.

Clearly I have some issues with how the creative industries are regarded, especially in this country, and while I don’t expect things to change anytime soon I guess for now all I’m asking is for you to question your own perception of those seeking a creative career, or at the very least stop using ‘little’ as a prefix when talking about their work.

Talk soon

Damian

October 24, 2016

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There’s been a few new little things happening writing wise that I want to tell you all about but I also realised it’s been awhile since I’ve shared some bits from the internet. I know this because my Facebook saves and chrome bookmarks, the two places I usually store the interesting things the internet throws at me for future sharing, are starting to pile up. Because of that I thought this blog could just be a run down on all those cool things and I’ll save writing update for later in the week.

So, without further preamble…

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BITS FROM THE INTERNET!

I’m going to start off with a few short stories I’ve read lately. As I’ve been attempting to write my own short stories recently I’ve been on the hunt to read as many as I can in order to evaluate what makes a good one good, and a bad one bad. Luckily, the internet provides us with a huge amount of options in this regard; from newbie writers like myself offering up their work for free to writing magazines and publisher websites occasionally giving us a piece of work from the cream of the crop in order to suck is into buying more. Which it does. For myself I’ve mostly been reading ones from the publisher Tor, as they they print sci-fi and fantasy (my favourite), they offer a new short story for free every week in their newsletter, and because I’m subscribed to said newsletter. Convenience.

This is where this first one comes from. It’s entitled The Three Lives if Sonata James and is written by Lettie PrellIt’s a sci-fi story about a young woman called Sonata who lives in a world where you can automatically update your persona to the cloud. This means if your body dies you can just upload your persona into a new android body; one that’s capable of doing so much more than your current weak squishy bod. This theoretically means you could live forever, continually jumping from body to body whenever an old one breaks down. The story discusses the ramifications to this re: overpopulation and a resistance to the technology. It also goes into the idea of life as art and the beauty in the limitations to both. It’s a truly gripping story that will have your mind ablaze with questions and possibilities by the end of it.

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Next is a short story called The Egg by Andy Weir. The Lady Holly and I rewatched The Martian on the weekend, based off the book of the same name written by Weir, and it got me curious to see what else he had written. The story of how The Martian got published is infamous and, to me, fairly inspirational. Weir initially self published the novel off his website in a serial format, one chapter at a time. At the request of some of his fans he then made it available on Amazon Kindle, setting the price at 99 cents; the minimum he could set it. It quickly climbed to the top of the list of Amazon’s most downloaded sci-fi where it then garnered the attention of some publishers who bought it, published it, made a lot of money off it, and the rest is history. For any of you out there who haven’t read it it’s a terrific novel and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Back to my research though. From Weir’s site I found a bunch of short stories and webcomics he had written that he happily lets people consume for free. The one that is probably the most famous is The Egg – the story I’m sharing here – and for good reason. It’s an incredibly short read, perhaps two pages at best, but it contains a huge idea that chances are you’ll be mulling over for a while. I won’t tell you more than that for fear of ruining it but as examples of good short stories go this one is pretty high up on the list.

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We’ll stick with cool writing bits for the minute with this animated video of advice from screenwriter, Michael Arndt. Arndt has written for a number of Pixar movies, as well as the screenplay for Little Miss Sunshine, and more recently Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Clearly with a resume that good the guy knows what he’s doing.

In this video he talks specifically about his time with Pixar and what he learnt there about writing a good beginning to a story.

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Let’s now move into the science and design side of things with another video that shows basically the most bad ass coffee table anyone has ever owed. I won’t bother describing this one because the video speaks for itself (that’s pretty much what videos do) but if anyone wants to buy me one I won’t say no.

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It must be time for a TED talk right? Right. I’m currently planning out a story that incorporates virtual reality (again, more about that in my next post) and so when this TED talk about how VR can be used as an art form popped up on my Facebook feed I had to watch it. It’s fascinating and shows how, much like the birth of movies back in the day, the rise of VR will give audiences a whole new medium for art and storytelling. A truly fun, engaging, and moving talk.

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One more video for us to finish things off. A beautiful and thought provoking animated short film about a dog doctor who wonders if she’ll be happier as a stay-at-home pet. It’s only a couple of minutes long and covers the topic of the difficulty in making life choices really well. And it has adorable dogs wearing human clothes, so it’s a double win.

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That’s it for today. I have a bunch more internet bits I could happily share but probably best not to over do it. In the meantime have a mental chew on those and hopefully you enjoy them as much as I did.

Talk soon

Damian

September 23, 2016

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Yesterday I managed to write a lot. I had to bin all of it. There are a number of competitions hitting my inbox at the moment (why they’re all coming through now I’m not sure – I haven’t seen a good one in months), so many in fact that I had to set up a proper schedule to make sure I had something for each of them. There’s five main ones I want to enter, all of which are due across October. The first is due on the 1st and the last is due on the 31st, with the rest scattered somewhere in between. Four are for screen, one for prose. I plugged when each one was due into my calendar then made a spreadsheet for when they’re due, what the competition is, what it entails, and what project I’m planning on entering for each competition.

Luckily, for a few of them, I already have some stuff written than I can throw their way, making entering a matter of filling out forms and maybe writing up a treatment or two. For the others they’re more specific in the theme of the competition and so I’ll have to write something new to match it, which is fun but puts me on a timeline; hence the spreadsheeting. The one that’s due on the 1st is in the latter category and so naturally I started with that one. I had two ideas for it that I spent most of yesterday outlining, first one, then the other. This was the writing that got binned. I can’t necessarily say why but neither idea fit the bill, and neither were exciting me much beyond the original spark, meaning they were unlikely to excite anyone else. So, I binned them. When I say binned them I mean left them in the digital folder they were born in, as well as the mental folder in my mind, where hopefully they’ll get better with age and I can maybe come back to in the future.

Funnily, when it got to the end of the day and I reviewed how I felt about this I found I wasn’t overly upset. This was because I realised I had achieved what I set out to do; sit down for a few hours and try to outline those ideas. Yes, the writing I did in that time turned out not to be my best, but that wasn’t my goal. It’s taken me awhile to learn this, and I think past ventures in other creative fields have helped, but my goal is only ever to attempt the thing I’m trying to do. Not master it, just try. For writing that means my goal isn’t to write the best thing that’s ever been written, or even write the best thing I’ll ever write, my goal is only ever to write. Simply that. To be disciplined enough to sit down, put my hand on the keyboards, and do my best to get some ideas down onto the screen. In other words do something, not nothing; that’s a victory. If I can do that the rest will come with time. Perhaps not me writing the best thing ever written but definitely me writing the best thing I’ve ever written. I’m a big believer in the idea that you’ve got to write the equivalent of ten crappy novels before you can write one good one. That’s just part of the process. Which means that no words written are ever wasted, they’re just the crappy words you’re getting out of the way before you get to the good ones.

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Now for some internet bits that I’ve come across this week.

First up is a novella called The Night Cyclist by Stephen Graham Jones that was published on Tor.com. It’s a horror story involving chefs and cycling that I found wonderfully written and engrossing.

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Next is another video from Futurism about how drones are being used to fight deforestation. That’s got to be one of the best uses for drones I’ve heard so far.

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Finally, this quick video from TED-ed which uses a number of examples to give an easy to understand visual of what one part in a million means.

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I’ll leave you with a thought of the week: We are made up of squishy bits so complex that our main squishy bit can’t understand them.

Talk soon

Damian

25 July, 2016

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The last week has been a cold one for us Melburnians. While other areas of the world are reaching temperatures as high as fifty four degrees I’ve been grumbling about the fact that we got down to three degrees the other morning and I could see my breath while lying in bed. Despite twenty nine years on this planet and a preference for winter wear I still never really seem all that prepared for the season. Maybe it’s an Australian thing.

It could also be seasonal affective disorder, a mild form of depression that comes on over winter thought to be caused by the lack of exposure to light – and, which can appropriately be acronymed as SAD. Having a name for it and knowing that I’m likely to get a little SAD (wow, that acronym really does work well) over the winter months is good. It means when it does come on I can recognise it and do my best to buck up and get on with it until the happier sunny months come rolling on through. It can be a hard thing to ignore however. Not only is there wind, cold, and rain to dissuade me from getting outside and being productive, I also find I have a lackluster attitude to even try and do anything. Everything seems to become a little more pointless. Things like exercising, socialising, or doing anything that isn’t hibernating in bed alternation between reading, eating, sleeping and watching tv become mountainous tasks that seem to require much more energy than they actually do. This only works to feed the SAD as not only am I likely to gain some weight from indulging in such sedentary activities, which the depression happily feeds on, but by avoiding exercise I’m also avoiding the release of hormones such activities bring; the one thing most equipped to battle SAD. Without the vitamin D, or whatever it is, from the sun that triggers a catalyst of happiness, then surely the release of endorphins and dopamine that come post exercise are the next best thing to get our brains back to a more functional state.

Last winter SAD hit me pretty hard, not helped by the fact that the Lady Holly was living three hours away from me at the time and was equally as unhappy. This winter I decided to prepare myself. Not only did I buy more beanies to add to my already abundant beanie collection but I mentally prepared myself as well; cognitively bracing for the impact of SAD. I told myself to expect a dip in energy levels, and then to welcome winter, purposely finding ways to enjoy the extra time I was to spend at home in order to battle the winter blues (lately that’s been indoor picnics with my three favourites: whiskey, cheese, and the Lady Holly). I was also determined to keep exercising throughout the winter months so not only will I have an amazing beach bod come summer but also so I keep my hormone levels a little more skewed to the side of happy. For the most part this has worked pretty well. I can still feel an uncommon rise in apathy from time to time, and little things can affect me more than they might when the sun in shining, but during those times I remind myself what the cause may be and then force myself to go for a run or do something fun. To put it another way, I use some HAPPI (Hormonal Appeasement by Prioritising Positive Industry) to fight the SAD.

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In writing news The Lady Holly and Brother Jonathan have both now read my novelette and have given me feedback. Both were not only extremely constructive, helping me to strengthen the story and my writing, but were also very complimentative; which I thoroughly enjoyed, my ego basking in the warmth of their praise. Next I’m planning to make some edits based off of their feedback and then pass it on through a friend to her Aunty who’s a professional editor, and much less likely to be quite so nice as she doesn’t love me the way the other two do.

I’ve also started a new short story which so far has had a few false starts. I had a plot I liked but it took me writing out a few pages until I figured out just who my character is and how he relates to the theme. I ended up rewriting those first pages a few times until I had it right. I’ve got it mostly sorted in my head now, and on my notes page, however I might still ditch those initial pages once the stories done as they’re mostly set up and aren’t working to push the story forward as much as they should. We’ll see. In the meantime it’s all practise, it’s all learning, and, most importantly, it’s all fun.

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Finally, I thought I’d share a TED talk I watched the other week that I found very engaging. It covers the differences between introverts and extroverts and is presented by the highly entertaining psychologist Brian Little. If you don’t know if you’re an introvert or an extrovert I expect you will by the end of this talk.

Talk soon

Damian