In the short story Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut, absolute equality is achieved at last…at the expense of individuality. Those who are more attractive than average wear masks, the strong are weighed down and the clever are fitted with a buzzing device that disrupts their thoughts. I’m not the shiniest hubcap on the car, but whenever I spend too much time on the internet I think about that last handicap and wonder if it’s not very much the same.
Technology, and particularly social media, helped me go from shy to sociable and I’m happier for it, so I could never quite hop on the “tech is evil and destroys Authentic Reality!!!11” bandwagon but it has made me feel like, well…a bit of an idiot. My attention span is shot, my vocabulary is shocking, and I find it hard to shut out the buzz. This isn’t just me turning into an old man, because whenever it’s forced on me, like during a shift on the popcorn stand or on a long flight or at the cinema, I feel like a proper person again. I love getting away from it and instantly swear I’ll do better to stop using in future. Inevitably though, an event invite here, an amusing story there and you’re sucked back in. When I sat down to think about it a few months back (and nowadays I find I actually have to sit down to think), I realised it’s really just an easy form of busyness that keeps me away from the work that really needs doing. In response to that, I took on more and more projects, thinking it would get me back on track. It did a little, but mostly what it did was dilute the quality of everything I did. Whilst 2013 has been successful for me, I’m very unhappy with my work in the back end of this year and I apologise to anyone who’s worked with me the last few months. My work’s not been at a standard I would like it to be at, and I’m going to do better. 2014 will be about knuckling down and focusing on long form film/plays/TV, staring with a return to the structured work habits that, while a pain in the arse, worked miracles for me the last couple of years. Up early, in the library for 8. Stay as long as necessary, but if you’re done in 4 hours, don’t force more. It’s about what needs doing after all, not the time spent doing it.
Back to stories, there’s a part in High Fidelity where the main character finds a photo of himself as a kid dressed cowboy and wishes he could go back and apologise for blowing all of that kid’s hopes and expectations. I used to laugh at that bit, but it gets sadder as I get older. I never dressed up in a cowboy outfit (a Native American outfit was as close as I came, leading to my being confused about Red Indians and Indian Indians for a long time), but I remember sitting at a kitchen table night after night and scrawling stories of rainforests and spaceships and pirates and being stranded at sea. It was the only thing I was really much good at (nerding out over Star Wars aside), and I loved it. It’s a rare combo to have and now I’ve somehow set myself up to make the most of it (after meandering for a few years), I think my younger self would be absolutely thrilled to have the opportunities I have now. I don’t want to blow it all for the sake of a few retweets or a thrilling-but-unuseful shorts night. Need to remember that, scary as it is, when I sit down and write for a proper session, nothing makes me feel better than that.
So New Year’s Resolution? Simply less chatter.
Less chatter means fewer short plays, turning down projects I don’t have time for (and being honest about it up front), turning down nights out (sorry in advance, guys), less social media, less dawdling on the internet and less blogging, I’m afraid, except that which is for research purposes. I don’t need to see that new play, that Swedish TV drama won’t save my life, I probably shouldn’t cut out work early to have a pint with that person no matter how attractive or knowledgeable they are.
Perhaps a bit extreme, but I’d hate to let this little guy down. Though it’s sometimes hard to remember it now, writing’s all he ever really wanted to do.*
* Dalliances with being a pilot, a stockbroker, a palaeontologist and a film director aside.