10 April 2014

Beautiful libraries: VPL

While visiting home last month I got to visit the Vancouver Public Library's central branch. You might know this building from television, if not personally, but otherwise let me introduce you.

It was was opened in 1995 and cost over 100 million $CAN to build. There was a public referendum and then a design competition, and Moshe Safdie's strange and wonderful design was the winner.

Aside from the library, where I explored and found the best nooks to read while I was visiting, there's a sushi place in the outer spoke and a few other shops. This place is breathtaking but also comfortable. And a friend who works there admits there's a rooftop garden. I need to see it. One day.

It didn't surprise me when this building was shown in Battlestar Galactica as Cylon design. It's bizarre and beautiful and the kind of place that feels like it'll last.

08 January 2014

Happy Independent Film Year

I have rediscovered independent films.

The university where I "earned" my undergraduate degree had a cinema that played new releases, old favourites, and regular midnight showings of cult films. This is where I first saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Shining, The Exorcist, and Run Lola Run. It's where I discovered Last Night, a Canadian film about the end of the world that haunted me until I got the DVD last year.

When I started travelling after university my film watching possibilities dropped. Travelling here to the UK made it even worse, because as far as I can tell the quality you'd expect from what you'd call an indie film permeates what much of the nation watches anyway. This should be a good thing, but it's not. It just makes me think of Eddie Izzard arranging matches. Here you go:

So I lost touch with good movies. I don't always equate independent movies with good movies, but generally, yes. I admit it. I'm a snob. I think the blockbuster urge to reach the widest audience possible gets in the way of storytelling. I don't want to dismiss aspects of a movie because "They had to add it for the 18-25 crowd," I want to see it for what the filmmakers intended, and I want them to intend a lot. I enjoy layers. Like parfait. I love stories that try to be more than a series of events involving pretty people. I love finishing a movie and not turning to something else right away because I'm still thinking about what it said.

Though blockbusters can do this--of course they can--it's not considered necessary for success and it often doesn't happen. According to the internet, the number one film of all time according to international gross earnings was Avatar. Avatar. Avatar! I mean, what is that film? It's bad politics, bad science fiction, and three hours of going Oooh because 3D was newish technology. The only way I can ever be appeased about my species' positive reaction to Avatar is if sometime in the future it's retroactively given the "Wool Over Our Eyes" award and every copy is quietly removed from every shelf ala Amazon's Orwell fiasco. My corpse will smile.

There's also the fact that cinema companies went insane in reaction to piracy, and now a movie costs over ten pounds/twenty dollars and I'm forced to watch an hour of ads beforehand, so I rarely bother shuffling out to be abused this way. When the soppy ad comes up that says "Video piracy hurts the movie-going experience" I want to light the place up like the end of Inglourious Basterds. Really.**

So how did I rediscover independent films? Netflix. Seriously. I barely gave this thing a moment of my attention until my partner subscribed to get access to television box sets. Then I thought there was no harm in browsing through it, and then I found their section marked Independent Films. And whether it's accurate or not, this section is where it's at for me.

One example I must recommend: Some Guy Who Kills People.

Marketing did it badly on this one. The title and poster make it seem like any other stupid horror comedy, easily dismissed. It's not. It's good. One of the best black comedies I've seen, and it'll likely end up on my shelf next to Last Night. This movie upset me less than I thought it would, and also more than I thought it would. I cared about it for reasons I didn't expect, and I thought about it a while after it was finished. That may not be so much to ask for a film, but in my recent experience it's a lot.

A few others I've found include Antiviral, an incredibly cold yet compelling movie about celebrity, and Ghost World, that I've wanted to watch since it was released but forgot about. These movies wake up my mind the way a good book wakes me up after I've read too much filler.

**No, not really. Come on. Fiction versus reality, and all that.

03 December 2013

One very small very important success story from NaNoWriMo 2013

I surprised myself: I finished NaNoWriMo. From the month's graph it appears I was making a point of never reaching the day by day pace, but actually I was just struggling harder than any year since my second.

And then there was the story. I was planning to write a series of short stories, as I did a few years ago, but the first story kept going. All I had to guide me was a desire to try writing pure horror, which like most genres sounds much easier than it is.

Ooh, just make it scary! Yeah! Pfah.

How many times did I decide to quit? Oh, many. Probably half a dozen times actually thinking to myself, 'You know what? I don't care any more. I'm done.' And then all the other times I just went 'Blah.'

I'm glad I didn't quit. I accomplished something this month I haven't before, and it wasn't NaNoWriMo, which I've completed successfully 8 times previously. What I accomplished was a type of discipline that eluded me last year, which was the first year I'd tried and failed.

What happens is this: Sometime during the many multi-thousand word days I lose my passion for the story. Either there are other things going on in the month, or other stories calling, or I'm just exhausted and I don't want to write it any more. I need something to keep me going. In earlier years I could latch onto the idea that I wanted to complete NaNoWriMo and that was enough. Now I've done that so many times, and written so much otherwise, it's not enough of a goal. Still absolutely worthy, of course—I'm in no way trying to devalue that goal for anyone else. But for me, for my fickle creative mind, I need something else, or it's too easy to rationalize that a slower pace produces better work (sometimes true, but not always. For arguments why it's great to splurge out a bunch of fiction at once, see a bunch of debates all over the internet, and feel free to disagree.)

Enter the idea of writing a horror novel. That's something! Except it's a lot, actually. Maybe too much. So now my creative mind says, Why don't we research this better before we try? Why don't we read a few newly released horror novels, maybe dig out that How To book we bought when we were fifteen, and stop spending every free moment of this November feeling guilty for what we haven't yet written? Very reasonable, of course. It's always reasonable to research, consider, take notes, read, go for a walk, discuss, and generally procrastinate when what you really need to do is sit down and write. Last year it was a series of science fiction stories I wanted to write, and the same thing happened. Instead of driving me forward it said, 'We aren't ready for this. Let's wait.'

There's a time to wait, but also a time to say, 'No. Today we write.' This month I wrote, and for me that was a tremendous accomplishment. Now I can review my strengths and weaknesses in this genre, now I can read How To and try to improve. But the fact I didn't fast-forward through a few tough weeks means a lot to me. It also means a lot to my creative mind, that has confidence and clarity it would have missed otherwise.

Congratulations on everything you've written this month, this year, ever! There are many walls in life, many stumbling blocks and seemingly impassable caverns. We need to celebrate our achievements, whatever form they take. And we (read: I) need to take that feeling of success and run with it.

08 November 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013?

Oh yes. I almost forgot.

I am. A participant, that is. I started on November 3rd and I've nearly caught up to the pace. I intended to write a series of short stories but the first one got away from me and I've now written more than 10,000 words of it. It's not so short.

Best of luck and many wonderful writing moments to anyone else involved! Click the banner above to find my profile and add me as a writing buddy, and click here for my old writing prompts.
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