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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

Month

February 2016

So, I recently had the chance to see The Maltese Falcon (1941)……

……….where it should be seen to be truly enjoyed – on the big screen and starring Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Mary Astor. Based on the 1929 Dashiell Hammett novel of the same name, the film follows the four as they race to get the legendary and valuable bird created as a gift by the Knights Templar of Malta in 1539.
At the end, Spade and Detective Polhaus have this bit of dialogue:

“Heavy. What is it?” Detective Polhaus
“The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.” Sam Spade

Spade’s final line in the movie resonated with me, stayed with me for a couple of days. For me, the film wasn’t just a noir mystery shrouded in murder, greed and sex, it was a metaphor for being creative. The falcon is the seed and the inspiration. All the intrigue that follows in the 20th century with Sam Spade is a result of the bird being created as a gift in the 16th century.
You have an idea (the falcon). Through trial and error and self-doubt and perseverance (Spade and villains), you create the final product (book/film/song/etc.). What motivates you to create something? What drives you to pursue it to the end?
As a writer, I am constantly asking myself questions while working on a project, whether it’s a novel or a script. This is especially true when I get stuck and I do get stuck. A lot. Years ago, I took a journalism class and, while I ultimately chose to not pursue the profession, I did learn something incredibly valuable and helpful to my creative writing.
The five W’s and one H. Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

Surprisingly, this is also helpful for when I’m drawing.

Back to the Falcon and Sam Spade’s classic final words. At the end of the movie, Polhaus has picked up the bird, which has been revealed to be a fake. He is surprised at how heavy it is for such a small statue. Spade’s words, while seeming to be positive, actually mean the opposite – the falcon symbolizes false hopes and broken dreams.

How is this about being creative? Because what we perceive to be false hopes and broken dreams are often redirecting us to look at the situation or project with a different perspective.
Who is this for, at the end of the day? Who do you need to satisfy first and foremost? Yourself.
Why is this important? Because it’s an expression of the self.
What is it about? What does it mean? Creative work means something different to the creator than it does to the viewer.
Where is this creative muse/inspiration? Everywhere you look, there’s a story, photograph, a work of art.
When do you do it? Right now would be a good time.

Recommended Reading/Viewing:
The Maltese Falcon (novel-1929) Dashiell Hammett
The Maltese Falcon (film-1941)
On Writing (2000; anniversary edition 2010) Stephen King

*****
Editor’s Note – this blog post is published concurrently on Citizens Journal VC

So, I’ve been in an Ireland sort of mood…..

…..which is pretty understandable, since I’m planning to visit the Emerald Isle this year. In honor of this adventure, I’ve been watching the only two movies I own set in Ireland (clearly, I need to get more).

One of them is P.S. I Love You (2007), starring Hillary Swank, Gerard Butler and Kathy Bates. This is not a critique or review of the film (although I do have plenty of opinions about it). It’s more of an observation, I suppose, because from the first time I’d seen it when it was released until the last viewing (which was four days ago, in case you’re curious), I had a hard time figuring out what kind of movie it was.

Was it a meditation on grief and loss? A romantic comedy? A tragedy? A drama? A romantic drama-tragedy? What the hell was it? I enjoyed it, for the most part, but I was never really sure about what kind of movie I was watching. I remember, after the movie came out, trying to read the book, probably hoping to get a better handle on it, but no go.

This probably was one of the reasons why I didn’t quite fully embrace the movie.

But then something interesting happened. Last week, on the most recent viewing, at the part where Gerry (Gerard Butler) is narrating his next to last letter to Holly (Hillary Swank) about the day they met, I heard it.

“I’m not worried about you remembering me,” he tells her, “It’s that girl on the road you keep forgetting.”

The girl with artistic fire and passion for something she didn’t know about yet. The one who got buried under the weight of life, responsibilities, marriage and sensibility. The girl who put her dreams on a shelf. She had become apathetic to her own creative nature and buried it with the need for her comfort zone.

That resonated with me, because over the last year, I’ve been fighting that same battle. I’ve been searching for that fire, to find meaning in my own life that serves me and allows me to fulfill my own best potential. If you put yourself second, there is no reason for others to put you first. It’s selfish, in a way, but by putting your needs and your dreams first, you’re better able to support and take care of others.

So, let’s go back to that first meeting with Gerry and Holly – she’s talking about creating art, whatever that may be for her or for him or for anyone. Even if it includes painting socks. Her passion, we learn at the beginning of the film, is designer shoes. By the end of the film, by chance or fate or accident, she has combined her love for designer shoes with her creative nature into a successful marketable business – shoes as wearable art. Of course, this is Hollywood fantasy, but there is truth there and it does happen. We only need to look at JK Rowling and Stephen King to recognize that it is possible.

So it got me thinking, that little bit at the end with Gerry and his next to last letter. He is reminding his wife, whom he loves, about that fire for creating. What passion did I have as a twenty-year old that I’ve forgotten? I still write, still dabble in sketching and painting, still hang with my homies, er, horsies.

The only thing that left was theater. I’d been acting in community theater since the age of three. I quit acting ten years ago because I felt that I had outgrown it and I didn’t need it. I’d performed in three plays in the last six and I felt alive each time I stepped onstage. And I remembered how it felt to be on stage, to command an audience’s attention through my passion, the words I spoke written by playwrights many years or centuries dead.

And now I know how to re-kindle that passion again, that fire. Do I need to pursue it professionally to feel legitimate as an actor? Not at all – I prefer it this way, as an amateur.

As for P.S. I Love You, I still don’t know what kind of movie it’s trying to be, but I guess it doesn’t really matter, in the long run. I got something out of it.

The Irish landscape doesn’t hurt, either. 🙂

So, I stumbled upon the following quote…….

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.”

This quote came from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and is spoken by Frodo Baggins as he, Sam, Merry and Pippen embark on their quest to take the One Ring back to Mordor. The imagery, as I read it, struck me as being similar to the creative process, whether you’re in the beginning stages or are somewhere in the middle and struggling to get un-stuck. Or, other times, you can get lost in the rhythm of the process as you watch the ink flow from the pen onto the paper, forming shapes that become words. Similar things can happen while working on music or sanding down a piece of wood that will become a toy or piece of furniture or even sketching.
It’s a Zen-like state, where instead of you leading the creative process, you’re letting the creative process lead you. In that sense, you’ve allowed yourself to ignore the inner critic, your ego, and to begin trusting yourself enough to follow your instincts. It may not make any sense, at first – indeed, it may not make any sense at all. Don’t let that stop you – if nothing else, this process is clearing the way for you to resolve a conflict in your story, find a different note for a song, or finding a fresh color in a painting. Oftentimes, when I’m sitting in a coffee shop, trying to write and words are refusing to show up, I doodle on the page. What shows up are horses, either smirking at the viewer or prancing up a hill. Most of the time, however, it’s just random lines and circles connected in one long stroke of the pen that make no sense at all.
I love these moments and come out of them feeling refreshed and happy, though they come at the expense of my current project. They give me time to step away from my project and relax my mind a little so that I can proceed with a more defined objective. For me it’s similar to the theater game of improvisation, where the first rule is to say “Yes, and….”.
The road that leads ever on comes from the spark of an idea. Outlined or flying by the seat of one’s pants or a little of both is how the journey progresses to its destination.
Recommended Reading:
The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron
Improv Encyclopedia

***
Editor’s Note – this blog post is published concurrently on Citizens Journal VC

So, it’s Henry the Gray’s tenth birthday today…..

……and in the eight years that I’ve known him, he’s mellowed into a mildly sociable and funny personality.

Henry the Gray is my cat. This is him, trying to convince me that I want to give him my dinner.

Henry the Gray using mind control.
Henry the Gray using mind control.

Henry the Gray was not the most congenial of cats when I met him. At two, he was angry, aggressive and spoiled by his owner, who felt guilty for not spending time with him. Because Henry’s previous owner was moving and could not take him to the new place, she turned to me. I took him in. I couldn’t not take him in. If I didn’t, he would go to the pound or a shelter and aggressive animals don’t last long there.

After we established that I was his boss, Henry the Gray relaxed and took on the role of my watcher. He enjoyed surfing the internet with me (although I suspect it was the cursor on the computer screen that had his interest more than anything else). I would leave the local jazz station on when I left my apartment for the day and found him relaxed or sleeping when I came home.

Henry the Gray sleeping.
Henry the Gray sleeping.

When I decided to move back to my home town, Henry the Gray came with me. He loves to explore the garage and the back yard and has an on-going negotiation with another cat that has decided to make its home with us.

Henry the Gray (left) and Otis the Orange (right).
Henry the Gray (left) and Otis the Orange (right).

As a cat, Henry the Gray takes his duties very seriously. Whenever the kitchen waste-basket trash talks him, Henry the Gray takes it upon himself to establish who is boss.

Henry the Gray displays fierce hunting skills and asserts dominance.
Henry the Gray displays fierce hunting skills and asserts dominance.

Because I am concerned for his safety, Henry the Gray is not allowed outside on Halloween or the Fourth of July.

He does not approve of these rules.

Henry the Gray sulking because he is not allowed outside due to his safety.
Henry the Gray sulking because he is not allowed outside due to his safety.

It is amazing to me that he has grown to be such a funny and curious cat in the time I’ve become his human. His personal growth touches me and reminds me that we are all capable of such change, given patience, love, guidance and consistency.

Many Happy Returns of the Day, Henry the Gray.

Henry the Gray relaxing after a full day.
Henry the Gray relaxing after a full day.

So, I drew this in art class….

….this past Sunday, a past-time that I’ve always enjoyed.

Sketch
Sketch

I always have fun drawing or sketching, partly because of the images that spool out of my pen or pencil.  But mostly it’s because I get to have fun playing with art. And that’s the point of being creative.

Having fun and playing with art.

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