My creative process involves a whole lot of procrastination and developing a number of ideas that take a while to whittle down to manageable projects. The ideas emerging from 2009 are a fine example of this approach.
I started to work on a screen play, Twin Ghosts (which I was supposed to finish by June of that year if there was going to be any realistic prospect of getting government funding for a film). It still sits unfinished though I have prepared a solid treatment now.
I also started working on my second novel, the Penitentiary (my next three year project) though I shelved it for a while after a major case of writer’s block that hit me about the time of the February 2009 Black Saturday bushfires. A year later, and perhaps with a year of sub-conscious mind mulling occurring in the interim, my writing pen has returned with a passion and this second novel is now a work in progress bounding along in earnest.
Since then I have also added to the list of projects a concept book, Dreamorama, comprising a collection of short stories based entirely on some of the weirder dreams that have populated my nightscape over my life. There are some gems amongst those dreams, including many Lovecraftian style nightmares. One such nightmare inspired my short story Cat Spider. Finishing the collection of short stories may have to be a retirement plan!
I think I might be spreading myself too thin – all of the above is just too grand by way of goals to set myself but then focus was never really a strong point for me. It’s probably irony but to top it all off I’ve been thinking a fair bit about the nature of ambition generally the last few weeks after a really bad dream I had about a close friend. The dream seemed symbolic to me of barriers that exist to achieving our potential. I started writing another short story, High Watermark, which attempted to explore the themes of ambition. When I mentioned it to this particular friend, he got really annoyed that I could even suggest he lacked drive. While I explained I wrote fiction with particular biases and filters (as do all writers), this did not really satisfy him and that reaction was entirely logical because missing from my explanation was a critical piece of the puzzle.
What I didn’t tell him was one of those biases related to a personal experience I had a few years ago that has led me to a view that ambitious people can be princes of darkness. Ultimately I would rather convince myself that a friend is not ambitious than deal with what being ambitious might mean for his motives.
Let me to you about the earlier experience.
I encountered a Machiavellian politician a few years ago who used to invite himself to dinner at my place every now and then. The politician surreptitiously pulled me into a quiet corner one evening to tell me how much he wanted me, to taste the lips that formed my beguiling smile, but that he could not act upon that desire for one reason alone. He could never date me seriously because I was too unusual for his conservative set. It would hold him back in terms of his career. He was an ambitious man.
Knowing precisely what he was saying to me was incredibly shallow, he spend some time caveating his comments to tell me I was the most incredible person he had ever met – smart, beautiful, sensual, engaging on so many levels. He said I would make a great left wing trophy but women like me were simply just not conservative enough for an institution that was built almost entirely upon image.
How does it feel to be told that, despite all your accomplishments, you are not good enough to be the equivalent of a handbag – an accessory? (More so when the man who is telling you expects all his women to be the plain vanilla generic variety knowing that you can only ever be the handmade original one of a kind Gucci...if you were a handbag...)
You might see why I prefer to contemplate the idea that my close friend lacks ambition. (Aside: you might also see why I have strong reservations about ever dating again if the only people I seem to encounter are people who only care about image!)
I am not sure what is worse. People who are concerned for image or people who are afraid of experiencing passion. To me, these two ideas are opposite sides of the same ambition coin. In the latter case, most people I’ve met struggle with the idea of feeling life in all its full glory and the heights and depths that experiencing such emotions can take them. I’m used to being surrounded by people who are intimidated at the thought of spending time with someone willing to push the boundaries - to appreciate living life in all is messy splendor. Lacking drive. Let’s call a spade a spade.
Sure, people can sleepwalk through life (either because they are explicitly ambitious or implicitly so) and so many people do so because it can give them a greater sense of control. We should never underestimate there is great value in certainty. That said, to me, it is the equivalent of “life” that is a diet soft drink when only the real thing will do. Who really likes the metallic artificial flavour of such an unsatisfying drink? Ultimately, it doesn’t quench any thirst. It barely wets your mouth. It is sanitised. Expurgated.
And I often feel I am being “managed” as a result. Sure, I live within the boundaries others set for me (most of the time anyway) – I recognise other people care about what others think and I try to respect their choices. (Aside: I’ve managed a whole professional career in that cage with the full knowledge I am not an institution person, a compromise I make such is my passion for public policy.) But I don’t have to like it. And I will continue to believe ambition is a dirty word because to me it symbolises a chain that binds us and holds us back.
Time to return to the novel writing…