Welcome to my adventures and experiments in creativity. Where writing is like running: sometimes I know where I'm going, and sometimes I see where the mood takes me.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Master Of My Domain

Like the characters in the Seinfeld episode that this blog title references, it is time to put my money on the table and declare, “I’m out!” (Oh, and the episode in question was broadcast many years before Dragons’ Den started, so you can stop with the Duncan Bannatyne impersonations).

Strictly speaking, there is no actual money involved. I made my investment last year, without help from any Scottish leisure-industry tycoons, so that is all I stand to lose. It is an easy loss to accept, and therefore an easy decision to make. And yet, at the same time, a difficult decision to see through. Because in my head right now, aimed with precision at my conscience, is a mock television advert for charity:

“Less than £1 a month could save this baby – brought into the world a year ago, full of life and promise. Can you spare the cost of one chocolate bar every month to save it from being cruelly left to die?”

And the mock advert is correct. I could easily spare £8 for the re-registration of the domain name I so proudly purchased last summer. But what would be the point? It would mean another twelve months of staring at the browser bookmark for www.indiecinematour.com and wondering what, if anything, it might have been. It would mean another twelve months of pretending I might suddenly develop the time and resources to fully grow it into the amazing website I envisaged.

Maybe five years ago, before responsibilities and pensions and normal stuff like that came along, it could have happened. Whether the 23-year-old me was the person to make it happen is a whole other question, and one I’m not going to explore here. But the truth is, the 28-year-old me does not have the fuel to fire that growth. I need to concentrate my energies differently. The last six to eight months have been creatively difficult, with even simple things eluding me. It has taken that long just to begin understanding how to adjust to the life I have and still try to create. All the while, poetry has not jumped across synapses and blog post ideas have failed to spark.

But I have continued to read…

And I have continued to enjoy Milo McLaughlin’s ‘Clear Minded Creative’ blog. I’ve mentioned him in these pages before, and doubtless I shall do so again, but it was a few recommendations from Milo that subtly altered the way I was thinking. The driving force was a review of a book by Chris Gillebeau entitled The $100 Start Up. Mr. Gillebeau is the type of chap who talks about ‘world domination’ and other such bombastic ideas that tend to fatigue my simple personality.

Mercifully, his book turned out to be free of such grandstanding. Instead, it was full of sensible business advice for the internet age and case studies of people leading whatever life they choose because their creativity has an outlet that costs virtually nothing to start and maintain, but brings in abnormal sums of money every month. A lot of these lucky/talented/undeterred by failure types are American, which is a point I made to Milo. And his response was very sensible: “If you do start your business, aim it at Americans.” That’s what makes him clear minded and me not!

Nevertheless, The $100 Start Up did generate a few potential ideas and offered plenty of food for thought. I remain sceptical that my tendency for sporadic and diverse creative ideas could be harnessed into a lucrative business idea, but hopefully one day I might distil whatever talent I possess into something more discernible. I thought the cinema tour might be that idea, but what the book demonstrated is that anything requiring time and money to travel around is never going to be sustainable.

With unlimited free time and a friendly bank balance I could have happily made a hobby of touring the country visiting all the cinemas I intended. To generate regular website content in my spare time, I now realise, was never going to be a realistic goal. At best, maybe it would have generated some writing work on the subject. It could have made a book perhaps, and hopefully one that the cinemas would have stocked in their shops, but that would have needed much more travelling than I ever got round to. At the end of August 2011, I wrote the following about the new website:

“I’m a patient person; I still believe in “good things come to those who wait” as much as I now understand how I need to make things happen for myself. Perhaps the next stage is to learn how much patience is too much patience, and how long is too long before realising what the next stage after that is. This is such a new way of thinking for me that I still can’t quite smother that one niggling thought – what if it doesn’t work at all, what if it is a complete waste of time? I guess the only answer to that is – I have to make sure it does, and that it isn’t.”

The ‘Indie Cinema Tour’ blog, then, is to be no more. The $100 Start Up has helped me realise what the next stage might be, though as I have a day job I currently enjoy, I’m not envisaging a wholesale lifestyle change. Much as I’m disappointed that ‘the tour’ hasn’t become what I wanted (or resulted in as many cinema visits as I hoped), can I say the whole thing was “a complete waste of time”?

No, I don’t believe I can (or, indeed, should).

Crucially, although the dedicated online showcase for it may no longer exist, the content is mine. It will live on; remain within my soul, even if otherwise exists only on the hard drive of my laptop. I will have the experience, the pride and the satisfaction of creating it in the first place. I had the pleasure of sharing it with (and receiving feedback about it from) my fellow attendees on the writing course I completed last year. I would have liked a larger audience to read it, but I doubt there are many people in the world who can say they are genuinely satisfied with the numbers that discover their work.

I will allow the site to see it out its remaining two months, and then have a tidy up. Maybe post some of the content here for a bit of online posterity, but delete the Twitter account, delete the e-mail account (and its endless capacity for spam comments) and quietly wave the site goodbye. And then I’ll move onto the next idea, richer for the domain I once had and ready to build a new one.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Stuck In The Past

Contain thy surprise at the following statement, but I have a friend.

More than one, in fact. Two, at the very least. But this is about one friend in particular.

We both did well at school, and I merrily skipped straight into adulthood by going to work rather than university. My friend, meanwhile, eyed the opportunities offered by academia and began paving a smooth road through every challenge along the way: a degree in biochemistry at Oxford, the discovery of a gene, and a year spent working at a laboratory in New York before transferring back to the UK.

Impressive, I’m sure you’ll agree.

She recently got in touch to offer her congratulations on me not disgracing myself on the BBC1 quiz show Pointless (a whole other story which probably deserves telling sometime). It’s hard to believe that saying, “Ivory Coast” on television can be considered impressive to somebody who has discovered a gene, but everything’s relative and I appreciated the sentiment.

“How are things at the lab?” I asked in return.

“Good,” came the reply, “but writing a review and had to give a big talk yesterday, so was stressing about that.”

Now then. It’s good to take stock of your life every once in a while. Yes, everything’s relative, and no, comparing yourself to others probably isn’t healthy. But it doesn’t harm to reflect on your ambitions. Remember the potential you once possessed, and maybe still do. Remind yourself that nearly anything is possible with the right level of application. Writing reviews and giving talks sounds like important work. Maybe doing U-value calculations – providing assistance on construction and matters of insulation – sounds important to other people. Even so, it’s difficult not to wonder sometimes if you’re squandering this one chance at life…

“Yesterday,” I said, wallowing in the irony, “I bought a sticker album.”

It was true. As a child, I routinely collected Merlin’s Premier League stickers. Indulged in the habit by my Grandma, who would treat me to five or ten packets when we went shopping on a Saturday (in those days, a packet of stickers only cost 10 or 20p), I completed the albums for three or four consecutive years. And so it was that in Tesco the other lunchtime, a craze of nostalgia consumed me. Made me blind to the fact that a packet of stickers now costs 50p. With the European Football Championships barely a week away, made me think that it would be fun to revisit that strange old habit of childhood. I wouldn’t have anyone to swap spares with, but that didn’t have to matter.

The initial batch of 50 or so stickers yielded a decent selection, with only a couple of spares (does anyone need John O’Shea?). Reality set in quickly, however. 540 blank spaces of reality. A Premier League season lasts ten months. Seems even longer to a 12 year old boy; gives plenty of time to build a collection. It seemed sensible to assume that Euro 2012 stickers wouldn’t be sold for long after the tournament, so I wasn’t going to make much of a dent buying only a few packets a week.

There was an answer. Not sure what my Grandma would have made of it, but Amazon offered the opportunity to buy a box of 100 packets at 80% of the retail cost. In this age of instant gratification – with the exception of choosing free delivery, thus having to wait a few extra days – it was only fitting that the internet should come to my rescue. How could I refuse? And how else could I possibly assemble all those cynical excuses for numbered bits of paper?

I mean, a double page dedicated to a translation of the tournament slogan – ‘CREATING HISTORY TOGETHER’ – for each country? Really? Was it always like that? It could quite easily have been 526 blank spaces.

But then I received my 100 packets of stickers in the post. Spent three hours filling the album, carefully stacking spares in numerical order. Derived an unusual joy from watching the pages fill up, piecing together the jigsaw bit by bit. Some of the shiny stickers were most underwhelming, but some of them had an impressive quality. It was all about instant gratification again – a harmless binge on Panini stickers that raised a couple of interesting questions about probability when the 100th and final packet turned out to have no spares in it.

It’s doubtful that such a minor mathematical curiosity is worth the money spent on the stickers. But there is something reassuring in the fact that, even 16 years after last assembling a sticker collection, it is possible to revisit the experience. Like watching old episodes of Bullseye on Challenge TV, it gives some context to those faded childhood photos in your head. Makes you feel a little more complete as a human being.

Sadly, the same cannot be said of the Euro 2012 album. It is 64 stickers shy of completion, and the maximum that can be ordered from the publishers is 50. Luckily, the second of my two friends happens to be collecting them as well, so maybe we can have a swapping session at the pub.

Oh, and it turns out you can now order those last few stickers online, with a 10% discount compared to orders sent in by post. So no need for me to get a cheque or postal order to send with my carefully handwritten form. Boy, childhood really ain’t what it used to be.