I’ve never much been one for resolutions but sometimes circumstances arise, flailing their fists, demanding action be taken. It’s never anything so banal as the ticking of the clock from one year to the next that does it; no, for me, it’s something drastic.
Often, these resolutions end badly. Why? Because I suffer from the horrible conflation of three horrible characteristics: impulsiveness, laziness, and hopeless romanticism. This means that I have the rationality of a Disney character and the ennui of the French New Wave.
After turning thirty, enough time has passed for a pattern to reveal itself: a major turning point comes every five or six years, often predicated by a major relationship change (historically a break-up). I run away to Europe for several months and then return to Canada with a renewed dedication to lofty artistic or academic ambitions.
The resolution is that ambition; the resolution is “SUCCESS.”
Eventually, however, those ambitions fade away, usually due to the realization that it’s going to be a lot of a work and I just don’t care enough to do that work.
But this time, it’s different. The relationship change is a marriage, not a break-up, and ambition is too harsh a word.
Our decision to come back from England in October held at its centre a resolution and a realization.
The realization was that life is not about achieving goals. Goals are empty unless they are some marker indicating a wider lifestyle or achievement. What I said in 2002, “I want to come back from England, go to university, reveal my super-genius, and change the face of academia!” was the same as what I said in 2008, “I want to come back from Europe, go to film school, and become a filmmaker!” I was looking at an endgame, not a lifestyle. I was looking at an illusion, not an achievement. I was concerned with how I would be looking to other people, not how happy I would be when alone with myself.
The reality is, I should have spent more time deciding what it was that actually made me happy as an ongoing part of my daily life, not as some end goal; I should focus on something that is a part of who I am, not what I do.
So that was the new resolution. You see, throughout all of this, for all of my life*, I have always been either writing or lamenting the fact that I don’t have time to write. I have amassed so many notes and ideas, with so little time and energy focused on actually developing them. They were always filed under “things to do later” and then ignored as I pressed ahead with a film script someone requested of me.
And the odd time I tried to publish, I was rejected. You know why? Because I was caught up in this vortex of time. Everything was a rush and I never got a chance to breathe and let myself develop as an artist. Things take time. Time changes you, molds you, builds you. When I read things I wrote ten years ago, five years ago, even two years ago, I cringe. I wrote those things without knowing what I really wanted to say.
Film is a fantastic medium, but it has a tendency to gloss over so many subtleties. It catches me as too short-sighted for my own ends. While I was developing so many other skills with film, I neglected to focus on the core of who I was. Film is collaborative and project-based, which is one of its strengths, but it never quite fulfilled me as an artist. I could never really be happy with something. I could never make it perfect. I could never impart all of my intentions; so much was out of my control. And thus it never felt right, like I never quite got out what I wanted to say.
I never developed my voice. What was it I was trying to say? What did I even have to offer? Simple stories didn’t do it for me; anything more elaborate I couldn’t quite pull off. I felt like a liar and a cheat. Like I was capable of so much more, but short-changing myself and everyone else.
There were a few times that something honest came bubbling to the surface (my script for The Year Without Hockey still strikes me as something I was proud of), but those moments were rare. The reality is, I felt like a hack.
I’ve managed in the last few years to finish a couple of novels. This rush of energy put into writing has been phenomenal. Every time I give Coal Dust another pass, I’m still pleased with it, but The Ashjar (my dystopian novel about pirates-in-space-but-really-so-much-more) has never felt right until the last couple of months. I’ve been reworking it over and over for about three years now. I finally think I have it. And that is because I’ve given up on trying to write to some external marker of genre or quality or statement. I’ve gone back and made it mine. I’m not worried about length or genre expectations anymore. If it finds a publisher: fine. If not, I would rather reread this on printer paper and love it than read it bound in hardback and covered in Heather’s Pick stickers and not be something I know is truly mine.
In focusing my energy on my work, I’ve been surprisingly successful with it in such a short time. It’s amazing to think that, all these years, all I really needed to do was make the effort. I just needed to write what felt real and then simply submit my work to magazines and websites, and – surprise – get published.
But getting published feels so secondary, because the greatest joy is reading back something I wrote after I’ve given it enough distance to feel fresh and really fucking loving it. That was how I felt when I read back Scenes From a Road Movie after letting it hang around for a year or so. That was how I felt when I read The Stars/Les Étoiles on the printed page.
It’s so profoundly rewarding that words fail me. (And isn’t that the greatest irony?)
*I think the most formative moment of my life might have been when I was only a few years old and had the sublime realization that books had to be written by people – that making up a book was something you could actually do. As soon as I learned to draw and/or write (it was a horrible combination of the two), I made a book about a dinosaur. It was beautiful.