The Truth….

In remembrance of one Thomas G. Ruth. The TRuth.

I have many friends from all walks of life. Growing up in rural poor America, going to prep school in privileged white America, college at privileged liberal “diverse” America, and then working in a variety of different Americas, I guess that’s what you get.

My Facebook friends range from bikers to Vets to scientists to liberal activists to the corporate elite. I’m lucky to have such a wide variety of friends who challenge my thoughts and positions in a way that is constructive.

What pisses me off right now though is ignorance. I don’t get it. Why would someone choose to be ignorant? I almost feel like sometimes people try and wear it as a badge of honor. Guess what, FUCK you! Yep I just put that out there.

There is no place in this world for ignorance and intolerance. And if that is what you preach, what you abide by, then I’m justified in my statement. I will never say that to my brethren who disagree with me as long as they are compassionate, tolerant, and respectful of my own world view and position.

Some of my closest friends and people whom I respect the most are not on the same page as I am with respect to politics or religion. Yet we have one very important thing in common. Respect.

Maybe it’s because of our private school education. Most of my friends attended great schools where they were challenged intellectually, and have learned that just because you disagree with someone it doesn’t mean you can disrespect them.

I don’t know precisely why, but I do know that they don’t tolerate ignorance and neither do I. We may disagree on things but in the end we are still friends, we respect and love one another, and make an effort to understand each others plight.

That’s good, it ensures that we have a world where everyone is respected and loved (and for the religious among us I imagine that’s what Jesus would expect).

My hope (and prayers) are that we never lose that mutual respect and love. I fear though that we are.

My plea to you: Don’t tolerate ignorance, whether you agree with it or not.  Don’t let hatred and blind faith create a world that we can’t endure together. In the end, all we have is each other.

-Brian

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KNOW YOUR ROLE!

Rock

This is a common phrase among team athletes and the military (or so I’ve heard) made popular by The Rock.

It’s important in many scenarios especially in the scope of team sports, since if you don’t do your job, or try to do someone else’s the system, play, framework falls apart.  I use it all the time with the teams I coach, or have coached.

For whatever reason I clicked a LinkedIn link today from Penelope Trunk where she admonishes Sheryl Sandberg’s Facebook Post on being a single mom.

I’m not a fan of Lean In, not because I don’t favor it but because I just don’t care what Sheryl thinks is right.  Apparently neither does Penelope.

Penelope finishes her post with this statement:

“We don’t need a role model. We need a role. Each of us wants to feel like we found our spot, what’s right for us. And it’s not helping to have to justify our choices to anyone but ourselves.”

I have to agree.  I’ve been asked “Who is your role model?” dozens of time, and I always struggle to answer the questions.  I typically respond with: “I admire Muhammad Ali” or  something along the lines of “Seems like (pick your person here) is doing righteous work, or living a good life, etc.”

Penelope answered my own question as to why I struggle with this question.  It’s because I agree with what she says so plainly.  We should all just know OUR role, find it, live it, be proud of it.  And stop worrying about what everyone else thinks about it.  If it’s truly right for you, then it’s right, period.

The hard part of all this is being honest with and then true to yourself.  Find your role, (it may take a few tries…) then Live It.  Fully and Proudly.

With respect to writing, your characters need to know their roles too.  Strong characters throughout your story, must all have a story of their own, they have a role to play for themselves but also in your story.  Find out what that is for all of them.  Then get to writing…your role is the storyteller!

-Brian (still finding my role…)

 

More Yoda….Less Vader!

 

yodafearnot

I hate fear. I have fallen victim to it. It sucks. I’ve had it used against me, and didn’t fight it.  Next time I’ll fight back.

Unfortunately we are surrounded by fear these days.

It’s one thing to fear failure, it can be a great motivator, but when we start fearing mistakes, fearing decisions, fearing choices, fearing the weather, fearing people, fearing places, fearing ideas…everyone loses.  The Dark Side Looks Back.

Dictators (and most lawyers) have long used fear for their purposes, but today everyone seems to be fear mongering.  Politicians. Religious leaders. The Authorities. Even the Weatherman. If you look carefully you’ll see it everywhere.

For some reason fear has become systemic in our society despite it being hugely inefficient and destructive.

Maybe it’s because it’s easy to “lead” with fear. Using the carrot and the stick is bad enough as a leadership strategy. The stick alone… horrendous for everyone, but a lot less work. The problem is that even the “leader” becomes dissatisfied, discouraged, disappointed in those around him, worse yet, in himself. But we keep doing it.

History is filled with those who leveraged and brokered fear. Kahn, Mao, Hussein, Escobar, the list goes on and one, and it is growing I’m “afraid.” Just put on the news, pick a candidate, they are all brokering in fear. We would do well to remember what history teaches us about those who broker in fear.

You might even be doing yourself, and to yourself!  Yep, I do it.

Sometimes I rationalize, justify, make excuses as to why something shouldn’t be done because it is risky in some way. I get scared. I’m afraid.

Sometimes the reason is legitimate. We all have responsibilities to our family, our job, our employees, our boss, our friends, etc. but we can’t forget who we are responsible to the most. Ourselves.

So promise yourself to stop using your own fear against you! Please!

And then, join me in a crusade to be more like Yoda. Challenge those who broker in fear.

Ask them: What Are YOU afraid of?

Write. Speak. Act. Do it respectfully but fearlessly. Be courageous.

Start with yourself, do something you are afraid of as soon as you can.  Do something you’ve always wanted to do but that scares you. You’ll be better for it. We all will.

Fear Not!

-Brian

(I started this post as a political statement…then thought about how often religion implores us to steer clear of the  destructive nature of fear…finally I decided that I wouldn’t become part of the problem, and remembered that next week I have tickets to Star Wars! Wahoo!)

Zen on Two Wheels

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”The man hunched over his motorcycle can focus only on the present instant of his flight; he is caught in a fragment of time cut off from both the past and the future; he is wrenched from the continuity of time . . . in other words, he is in a state of ecstasy; in that state he is unaware of his age, his wife, his children, his worries, and so he has no fear, because the source of fear is in the future, and a person freed of the future has nothing to fear.”  – Milan Kundera

I don’t remember the first time I rode a motorcycle. I was too young.  I remember the story my mother told me about that first time though, and through that story have created the memory.

Sitting in front of my father, as if on his lap, we sped around our large back yard.  His two-stroke Bultaco (or Can-Am or Maico, he was a bit eccentric when it came to motorcycles, a trait I inherited to some extent) sang like only oil-burners of the early 70s could. We did a small wheelie, and sped faster.  Ahead, a single path of dirt led to a small hump.  We approached it faster and faster.  Magical weightlessness for just a second, then an abrupt stop.  These things happen when you ride motorcycles.

My mother was horrified. She was no stranger to seeing my father crash, in fact she was quite used to it, but this time her toddler was with him.  She ran over from the patio of our green 70s suburban house to find us both rolling on the ground next to the sputtering motorcycle.  Paralyzed by laughter.

A few years later on Christmas is my real first ride memory.  My father somehow convinced my mother that her six year old should have his first motorcycle, a pull-start minibike.  That ride in the shallow snow of our front yard taught me about throttle control.  I tooled around for a few minutes and then decided to take a sharp left at the short single-strand wire fence put in to hold my mother’s roses.  That sharp left resulted in a firm twist of the throttle as my right arm moved forward.  Instant acceleration and panic led to an encounter with the fence.  I can still see the small scar on my right leg left by about 20 feet of wire rubbing it before the next post took me out completely.  I was back on that minibike by the end of the day.

A few years later we moved and I met a new friend.  His name was Al Russell, we played football and baseball together, got into fights over girls, and generally were best friends.  The kicker was that Al Russell Sr. owned a motorcycle shop.

I doubt it was my first time in a motorcycle shop but I will never forget walking into Al Russell’s Sports Center with my father and meeting Al Sr.  He welcomed us into his office, we talked for a bit then he started to show us bikes.  As we walked the showroom, he didn’t say anything but I knew my father wanted the shiny new YZ 250, the motocross bike of his dreams, but it’s littlest brother the YZ 80 would be too much motorcycle for his son and he wouldn’t be able to say no.  Soon we found exactly what we were looking for the MX 100 and MX 175.  The MX was the in-between model, not quite the bite of the YZ but more dirt worthy than the dual-sport DT.  The two shiny new white motorcycles were loaded in our pick-up and off we went.  The ride was smiles ear to ear, no words, just anticipation of that first ride on a new bike.

For the next several years before I left home for hockey and school I would ride for hours on end in the horse pasture or the vacant lot next door.  My mother would close the blinds and turn on the TV or the stereo to drown out the engine noise as she tried to keep her mind off of the next accident.  On weekends we rode in the desert, the mountains, and everywhere in-between.  I rode every day I could.

Those years were the beginning of my life-long love affair with motorcycles.  There have been tragedy like my father’s pre-mature death and eventually triumphs like college, marriage, and children that could have resulted in the end of the affair.  But my passion for motorcycles has endured.

Motorcycles have been a constant.  Even when I haven’t owned one I couldn’t stop thinking about what it would be like to ride that corner, that field, that mountain.  I’ve tried to swear off them altogether only to find myself lusting after the exhilaration, the freedom, and the focus they provide.

I’ve owned sportbikes, supermotos, and a grand prix race bike.  From the trails to the racetrack I’m at peace when I’m on two wheels.  It’s selfish I know.  We as motorcyclists talk about the comradery, the community, the friendships, but we all know deep down that what matters most is the relationship between you and your bike.  If we were honest we’d tell you it’s the only thing that really matters, the rest is at most a bonus, and often just camouflage.

Today, most of my rides are at trackdays, controlled environments friendly to motorcycles and those who like to ride them fast.  I follow MotoGP and watch the races and every motorcycle movie or documentary I can find.

My wife calls it an obsession; I agree with Kundera, it is ecstasy and freedom. Maybe she’s right, but we all need something that we can immerse ourselves in.  Something that is only about the present.  No fear of the future or pain of the past.  Just now.

This post isn’t specifically about writing, it’s about living in the present (good for writers too).  It’s a little bit Zen, just on two wheels.

How to Fix a Problem You Don’t Have….and Create a Bigger One!

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Quick fixes.  Groupthink. Becoming a Sheep.  These are issues we all need to deal with effectively.  We don’t.

I see it everywhere.  People that are solving problems they don’t have, in response to something they read, heard, or saw, without thinking first if they actually need the solution.

The examples range from the basic and humorous to the complex and painful.

The picture above is one of the former variety.

I believe the “reasoning” was such:

New floor, new chair, must need some protection.

As you can see the “solution” was something that wasn’t designed for this “problem”.  Worse yet the “problem” didn’t exist because the chair came with a plastic insert designed to protect the floor it sits on.  Maybe the person didn’t think the plastic was sufficient?

O.K. it needs felt.  Add felt.  Wrong.  Now the floor is F’d up…and the cause?  The adhesive on the felt!!!!  Damn it!!

It was the easy thing to do, adding that felt.  But in reality it complicated the situation and made matters worse.  Haven’t we all felt victim to this kind of reasoning?

Maybe the situation was outside our expertise, maybe we didn’t have the time to analyze it, maybe some expert told us that how to do it “right”.

For this particular issuse I don’t think these explain it though.  It’ not complicated, I doubt there was any urgency or time constraint.  Was there someone that proclaimed themselves an “expert” on this?  If so, that should have been a red-flag to begin with!

So what happened?

Only a few options left. Laziness or Ego. (btw, sometimes Laziness is Ego in disguise)

Either way the scene should have gone like this assuming that the felt was needed (probably not but just for kicks).

INT. KITCHEN – DAY

A scraggly faced WRITER (mid 40s), jeans, t-shirt, and flip-flops, stands over an overturned chair and holds a felt sticky pad in his hand.

EGO
This fits right?

ME
Nope.

EGO
Stick it on anyway right?

ME
No.

EGO
I’ll just cut the felt?

ME
No, we don’t have anything that will cut it accurately.

EGO
(thinking)
Hmmmm.

ME
Hey, what about removing the plastic?

EGO
Novel idea. It’s just stuck in there like a nail anyway, duh.

ME
Now the felt has a good surface to adhere to, and it’s smaller than the leg so it won’t show!

EGO
God I’m smart!

Nice work Genius. Replace something that doesn’t seem like it’s working with something that you think will work great.  Don’t just keep adding things in hopes it will avoid a screwed up floor…it won’t.  Trial and error is not the best approach.

We all do this.  I do it.  I think a lot of people trying something new do it quite a bit.  We are lazy or the task is so simple our Ego causes us to screw it up because we won’t ask for help.

Writing can be like that.  There are experts everywhere but rather than really engage and ask for help, we read their blog, twitter feeds, and books.  We add this, add that, and move our crap around.  We try everything that comes our way in hopes that it will “fix” our novel, script, dare I say “life”.  It won’t.

What will fix it is removing the components that don’t work and replacing them with ones that do.  You can attempt that via trial and error…but you might just scratch the shit out of your floor before you get it right.

Work hard. Analyze the situation. Don’t grasp at simple solutions.  Identify YOUR shortcomings and really fix them.  Sometimes it’s not fun, in fact it’s painful, but you will get a much better result, faster, and without the scars.

Ask for help.  Real help, not quick fixes or easy solutions.  It will pay off.

Make Your First Putt a Good One.

I play golf.  I hate it most of the time but I still play.  I’m actually quite good.  It’s hard though. You vs. yourself, hard to win that one.

One major improvement I could make is with my first putt.  “Lag putts “they’re called.  Just trying to get it close enough to easily make the next one.  I like to try and make every putt, I know I shouldn’t but I can’t help it.  I’m overly competitive, even with myself, some people might say!

“Lag” is a bad name.  I think when it’s approached that way you have already considered it a negative action.  “Lag” can’t possibly be good can it?  “Lag” in business, your internet, your speed….you name it it’s bad, right?  Maybe there are some exceptions, there always are, but I don’t know of any.

So we avoid Lag, and some of the time we do it by rushing.  Rushing into action, claiming any activity is better than none.  It’s not true though.  Because when we do that, all we end up with is a shitty Lag….and then face a tougher next putt.  I find it’s like that in other things quite a bit too.

Unfortunately activity gets more attention than results.  “What did you do today?”, in my experience at Fortune 500 companies and small businesses and every where in between, is asked more frequently than “What did you accomplish today?”  Those things ARE different.

Results should always trump activity in my book (pun intended) and maybe it should in yours too.  When we rush into something we end up being less efficient, it takes more time not less, and the end result is seldom as good as it could be.  That’s too bad.

So make the first putt a good one.  A good lag and a tap in is faster than beating it around for a 3 putt, and most importantly the result is better too!

This is how:

  1. Identify your desired outcome as early as possible (on your way to the green decide if close enough is good enough) and set an achievable yet stretch goal.
  2. Closely observe others’ attempts (even if they are on different lines) and think about how their experience relates to yours.
  3. Consider it from all angles (you see more the more you look) and get a broader perspective.  Maybe even plan it backwards, starting with the result you want.
  4. As you do this use multiple senses/inputs (use your feet to feel the slope) to gain more knowledge.
  5. Visualize the outcome (imagine where and how the ball will roll) and adjust your approach as needed.
  6. Find an intermediate target (a spot on the green somewhere) to aim for and focus on hitting that.

You’ll get some variation of this in any golf magazine or from any golf pro.  It’s true for business too.  I think it’s applicable for creative endeavors, especially writing.

Read through that list again (without these stupid parenthesis), and see how it applies to your writing. Maybe even your life…

I guess I shouldn’t hate golf so much after all.  I’ve learned a lot from it.

-Brian

Finding Purpose

Recently I spent a long weekend with a group of friends. We did guy stuff, golf, a party, a game.

One of my friends is a very successful CEO. It’s a big company, think global leader big. We’ve known each other for over 20 years, through the good times and the bad we have been there for each other. It’s safe to say that we know things, explicit or not, about one another that nobody else on this planet knows.

He asked me a simple question in the car that weekend. It was related to something he and I had talked about before and I had some knowledge of. He asked if I thought his company should get behind a particular cause publicly. It was a noble endeavor and an important issue. It was something I personally try to support. Furthermore, I whole-heartedly believe that only companies like his can solve these types of problems for the world.

I surprised myself with my answer. “Nope.”

We both looked puzzled towards each other. I repeated myself, still slightly confused by my own answer.

“You are not committed to it, and you don’t want the public digging into it.” I said backing up my position.

When I asked why he was considering it he responded something about it being an easy win. I hate that shit, but it got me thinking.

I realized that I used the word “You” not “the company” intentionally and re-iterated my point to him with a few stories of how he personally didn’t represent a commitment to the cause.

Weeks later I continue to think about that short conversation. It’s really about more than commitment I now realize. It’s about Purpose. Individual purpose.

I think my friend struggles with this concept, he’s not comfortable thinking this way. He is very generous, extremely smart, and no doubt incredibly talented at leading companies, and people. The problem is he can’t lead himself, nobody can. We need a purpose.

Finding your purpose is hard. Maybe the hardest thing we will do in our lives. It takes time, energy, and with ourselves being our harshest critics, we don’t often like what we see.

There are many substitutes for purpose. This is not a popular opinion for many but sometimes we use faith as a substitute. That way we can let someone else do all the hard work. We can be told what our purpose is. Taken too far, faith is dangerous. We know this to be true but it’s easier than doing the work ourselves.

I think addiction is a substitute for many, compulsion for others. Sometimes these are one in the same.  Now that I think about it all the Seven Deadly Sins (think Se7en) might be nothing more than substitutes for a lack of purpose, or stem from an unwillingness to try and find it.

What does this have to do with writing (besides Se7en)? Good stories have a purpose, but more importantly their characters either have a purpose, or are trying to find it.

Writers must find their purpose as well. We cannot write about purpose without having one.

For me it is about focusing on the means, and letting the ends go. I don’t want to write for my screenplay to get optioned, or my TV series to get made. I do this sometimes but I don’t want to.

My purpose is to tell a story, a story only I can tell. The irony is that my stories are about my characters searching for purpose, telling it lets me find mine.

PURPOSE drives life.

Work, Writing, and Walter White

Everything we do involves a choice on some level.  We may not realize it, accept it, or think that we have it.  But for pretty much everyone I know at least, there are virtually no choices that we do not have some control over.  Most of them quite a bit if we will be honest about it.

I just recently made the choice, albeit late, to watch Breaking Bad.  A few months earlier I chose to take on a challenging job.  And, I have been spending a lot of time with a long-time friend, who has been facing a number of choices.

His choices revolve around work/life balance.  I keep telling him that he needs to prioritize.

Often he responds something to the effect of: “I had to…” I respond “You chose to…”

Big difference.

My wife tells me that choosing NOT to make a choice is still a conscious choice, whether we want to admit it to ourselves or not.  That’s very true, and I think when we tell ourselves (or others) we “had” to do something that was clearly not our first choice, we are simply rationalizing what was in reality a poor choice.

My friend and I had just spent a few hours in a pretty heated discussion about choices and priorities then sat down to watch Breaking Bad.  In this particular episode Walt was sitting down with Walt Jr. and as Jr. tried to sympathize with Walt’s fake gambling addiction (to cover the real source of his new-found wealth for those who may not have been on the Breaking Bad Bandwagon on which I firmly, again admittedly late, sit).Walt got pissed off.  Not unusual for Walt, or anyone who is facing their own poor choices in life.

Honestly, I can relate.

Walt tried to tell Jr. that he had made a choice, that it was not a “disease” and that it was a terrible choice that he was going to have to live with, for the rest of his life.   He screamed something to the effect of: “I made a choice, we all make choices! And we have to live with them!”

At that point my friend sat up and looked at me almost astonished.

“Choices!” is all he said.

A few days later he took a new job that several people he admires were not sure he should take because the position was not “ambitious” enough.  He knew though that the position was fine, and that his work/life balance would be much improved.

He made his choice. More importantly he acknowledged that not only did he have a choice, but that it was his and his alone to make, and best of all that he was going to make it for himself.

I’m proud of him.

Decide what you want out of this life, then either do things that make it possible, or do something else.  Your choice.

-The Two Cheeks

To read or to write…that is the question

It’s been a while since I wrote.  Not only here but on a screenplay.  Sure I wrote 3 quick shorts on vacation just for something to do on the plane/train…but I didn’t work.

Lots of excuses and ways to procrastinate.  Choices really.

In my writing group we’ve been discussing structure, well mostly books on structure.  Funny, today there was quite a bit of advice about screenwriting books on Twitter. @GoIntoTheStory and @BittrScrptReadr had a nice exchange and what I thought were a few good suggestions.  It got me thinking (and I posted a sarcastic response, sorry).

What books are essential for me?  Syd Field, Blake Snyder, on the shelf and on my nightstand is Lajos Egri.  I think those three suffice really, I know I have others but can’t honestly tell you which ones.

So I thought some more. 

My advice on the topic is that you find the three books that are useful for you.  Read them.  Write.  When you are stuck, read them again, again, and again.  As much as you have to so you can get back to writing.  Don’t pick out something new, that’s just procrastinating.  You have what you need, your three books. Now write.

I thought some more, this is getting dangerous…

I realized too though that even with this strict diet of suggestions, outlines, styles, structure, (whatever it is those three books have), when I am reading them I am not writing.  I am making a choice, and I try to remind myself of it so that it is a conscious one.

There are a lot of shitty “how-to” books out there no doubt. 

Back to the choice, that I made a conscious one.

Should I read a shitty book, or write a shitty screenplay? (remember everyone’s first draft is shit, no exceptions)

For me the strategy needs to be writing a shitty screenplay. I learn from doing (btw: most people do) and I decided today to use my three books to give me the kick in the ass to write, when I need it. 

That’s what any kind of advice is really the most useful for anyway isn’t it?  Making us make a deliberate choice.

-The Two Cheeks

 

Throw Yourself Into the World with Reckless Abandon!

Commencement speeches.  This time of year they are all over the headlines. Politics, humor, boycotts and protests. Hopefully inspiration.

I venture to say thousands of graduates couldn’t really care less about the speaker or their speech.  I don’t blame them. It’s been my experience that the speaker was chosen by someone more interested in “cultivation” than inspiration.  I admit, I’m guilty as charged, but for good reason.

There is a very good chance that all those bored graduates have had their education subsidized in one way or another (yes you too Biff/Tiff) by the state, foundations, and private donors.  The fact is it is only on rare occasions that tuition covers all the costs, and that asking someone to be a commencement speaker is perhaps the best tool the development office has in their arsenal (they may be cultivating someone other than the speaker them-self, but make no mistake, they are cultivating someone). I digress.

So the point.  If you are lucky, you might get an inspirational speech by someone interesting to you.  Unlikely though.

I’m here to help.  To any graduate who may find this (again unlikely); here is who SHOULD have been your commencement speaker.

I realize this is a few years old by now, but whenever I’m in need of inspiration I watch it, plus it’s a great song!