5.18 The Incremental Backstory


A few years ago I gave up. After working in the film and television industry intensely during my twenties, I found myself not really sure of what I wanted to do. So, I gave up and dropped out. Had no plan, probably suffering from depression, actually, most definitely suffered from depression. At the time, I felt there was only one way to make a go of a career in the arts and that was to be all in with no backup plan. A backup plan signified that I wasn't serious about pursuing my actual goals. But were my actual goals? In university, I was so sure of them. As I approached 30, things were unclear and unsure. I'd worked hard throughout my twenties and after leaving my television job, wanted work that required minimal time commitments. Turned to skating, taught for a while. This offered very different challenges, the most important one that I had to show up for these kids everyday. However small, I felt I did have some sort of impact.

Impact and now all this time. Time to focus on my goals, right? The more time I had, the even less I was sure of my direction. The days were long and I spent most of them on my own. Self-exiled. My world became much smaller and I slowly removed myself from participating in society, more or less. This went on for quite a while.

Something else started happening. Started writing but in a different way than before. My focus was usually on scripts, but sitting there alone, I began writing stories, began writing whatever I wanted without the worry of having to produce it into a film. There was something very liberating about it. And then, incrementally, a series of events - most of them fueled by chance - came one after the other. Or at least now they feel that way because I can choose to ignore the long stretches of time and nothingness in-between.

Came across a week-long summer workshop at the Humber School for Writers recommended to me by others in the writing group I had joined. Ended up in Wayson Choy's class, which was exactly the person I needed at that point. Been writing these stories for a while and decided I needed to put them out in the world. The stories had formed a novel called The Walking Man and everyone I brought it to seemed to see something in it. And as he does, in five days, Wayson changed my perspective, made me see that potentially I could take this writing I'd been writing for myself and transform it into something others might want to read.

More time. The excitement of what Wayson showed me slowly went away and I realized that although the writing had gotten better, I was no further along in building the career I'd realized I'd been pursuing. Got into submitting my manuscript, which requires a lot of very uncreative work. There was interest, some serious, others not so serious, but most of it failed over time.

More nothingness. One day I walked into the Centre for Social Innovation and said out loud to myself, "What the hell is going on here?" This was where the self-exile was truly over. CSI is a social place and one that offered a lot of assistance in building your business, in establishing relationships and even meeting new friends. But I had to put myself out there. Then another series of chance meetings, came across Iguana Books who are now publishing The Walking Man. This is a much longer story, the CSI story, one that involves numerous steps, but that story is for another time.

If I was to start where I am now and look back, I have no idea how I got here. At times, I felt like nothing was changing, but it was like something percolated under the surface, although at times there seemed as though nothing changed, not even incrementally. It's even difficult for me to think about, those stretches of time - days, weeks, months - where there was no forward momentum. The way I look at it is that I had to stop, had to give up and drop out, needed some time to process and get to the bottom, not only of what I wanted to do, but who I was as a person and what I had to offer. There is always lots to learn, but I've come closer to understanding the value of stasis, the awareness of forward momentum when there seems to be no forward momentum. Sure, I'll still freak out at times and when nothing seems to be working, my various anxieties will get ramped up, but at least I can try and take a step or two into the future and tell myself to relax, tell myself that things are getting incrementally better, even if it seems like nothing is happening at all.

There is a pattern that emerges when looking back. Definitely one small step at a time, even a few steps backwards. But I really want you to understand, desperately understand, that the person who was self-exiled a few years ago could not possibly of been putting himself out there the way that is required now. Living on that edge between completely engulfing myself, living an internal life and letting it all hang out. But I will tell you this, it's risky, it's challenging, it's fucking difficult, and I would not change one thing about it.