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Entering the flow of Everything that is Other than Me

DLS, 

You’ve been ranting a lot about your fear of leaving, the number of people needed in place for the horses, the constant work it’s been to care for them and set them up, and the disaster of your disorganized life in three different houses, with messiness and chaos everywhere. You leave in 5 days. You are overwhelmed and panicking. You would probably love to keep complaining, but the time has come to seek solutions. Let’s think back to exactly how we got here, and ponder if there is a better way to do this than endless to-do lists and permanent back pain and chronic stress, shall we?

What, exactly, is the problem? I was talking with my ex last night, a dear friend, about how unhappy I am in my life and wondering why I find it so stressful. The level of uncertainty is incredible. I don’t know where I will be one month to the next, let alone one year to the next. I love the spontaneity (and it’s part of my DNA, my sister would argue) but it does take a toll with increasing levels of exhaustion as I struggle to keep up the commitments I have made to myself and others. My ex reflected that he’d recently decided he didn’t want to live that way anymore, and we both pondered separately about whether my stress levels and constantly pushing the envelope were part of the undoing of the relationship. He couldn’t deal with the inconsistency, and thought he had to lock me down into some kind of commitment to settle me down. I refused to deal with his lack of trust and what I felt like was an unreasonable amount of control over my life, and fled the relationship. Thing is, he’s probably the only person on the planet with the stamina and drive to keep up with me. I gloomily thought, “well, that’s it, I will die alone” because if we couldn’t work it out together, likely no one could.

So what is the right way to live life, anyway? My Christian friends would probably agree with the statement, “Man is born to glorify God and serve him only”, while my secular friends would shudder at that and suggest we’re just a random assemblage of atoms and we make our lives what we will. As usual, I’m somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. I believe we are purpose-made, but nothing is linear in our lives and sometimes it just doesn’t make sense, even from an omnipotent perspective. I believe that we are the product of our own decisions, and nothing is determined by fate or predestination, but I also believe that if you live only for yourself and your own pleasure, you’re going to be utterly miserable. It’s better to live for the pleasure of a benevolent God than for our own petty desires, even if one argues it solely on the point of personal happiness.

This is borne out in my own experience: I’ve never been able to make myself happy, but when I live for Beauty, or Art, or Love – all of which are aspects of the God I know – then the possibility opens up that I can lose myself and become happy. The less I think of myself, the happier I am.

As Uncle Screwtape councils his devil nephew Wormwood in “The Screwtape Letters” on the art of harassing a human and winning them over to their camp:

“I would make it a rule to eradicate from my patient any strong personal taste which is not actually a sin, even if it is something quite trivial such as a fondness for county cricket or collecting stamps or drinking cocoa. Such things, I grant you, have nothing of virtue in them; but there is a sort of innocence and humility and self-forgetfulness about them which I distrust. The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, and without caring twopence what other people say about it, is by that very fact fore-armed against some of our subtlest modes of attack. You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favour of the “best” people, the “right” food, the “important” books.” 

– C.S. Lewis

Truly enjoying any single thing, whether it be a beautiful landscape or the lines of a horse or the face of your beloved, or taking the time to create or craft something beautiful, or serving another human and focusing on their happiness, is the only way to happiness. That’s also what worshipping God is all about. You’re looking at something utterly beautiful and transcendent in perfection, and you forget your own inner clamour and anxieties, even if only for the duration of a song. Worship takes us beyond ourselves and into the Life around us. And in easing into that flow of Everything that is Other than Me, we find rest and joy.

That’s what I used to live for, and I have to say, there were far more moments of harmony and congruency between my inner and outer life than I have experienced since I became too busy for either worship, rest or joy. The closest I have come lately come in just in two moments in time: when I’m with my horses, and sensing their pleasure at being with me, and when I’m creating art in an edit, which I had only 3 precious weeks of before this departure chaos set in.

So DLS, although you are unlikely to switch tracks at this point, with only 5 days left to go and really too much to do, I really hope you take some time to chill and at least enjoy these last moments with your beloved horses, your amazing friends, your beautiful adopted island, before you step on to that plane and go on another adventure. Maybe it’s too late to take back these weeks of toil and stress, but it’s not too late to breathe deep at least once every hour, to enter into the moment, task or pleasure, forget the stress and just be.

You might find yourself enjoying Life again, in spite of yourself. Here’s hoping, anyway.

Love from The Me I Wish I Could Be

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Death to the Stuck Whiner - Life to the Creator!

Dear "It's Good Friday, I'm Dying and Can't Seem to Get it Together to Even Create a Good Death" Self,

You always think that you have to do something dramatic to signal a new track in your life: move houses, acquire a new mode of transportation (boat, scooter), do a big physical cleanse, set yourself a series of goals in a fresh, new journal. Death to the old and life to the new. But by now you are starting to get the idea, at the ripe old age of 38, that the big changes are always little ones.

I moved houses 3 times this winter, into two different house sits and back to my little cabin in between. Each time it was like a fresh start, a “wow, look at this beautiful space I can be in and think of all the work I can get done!” kind of feeling. But I’m still me. I’m messy, leave unfinished projects everywhere, don’t pick up after myself til company’s coming, indulge in TV and wine and distractions as soon as work is somewhat accomplished (or whenever I can justify it). And then I tire of the place, or feel trapped by it, and I need a change again. Death before life.

So, big moves don’t usually signal a deep change, they just make me feel better for a time.

However, some significant changes have taken place over the last few months, and I did get into an actual routine of working. But it wasn’t the moves or the new space or access to internet that suddenly changed me from being a whining, stuck creative, to an actually working creative.

You know what's changed in the last few months? I began to be grateful, I began to see opportunities instead only obstacles, and I started laying track for The Work. When I was complaining, whining, crying and using distractions to cover my fears that I couldn’t bring my ideas to reality, I just didn't see any way forward. It seemed impossible. As I focused on my own inability, I was choking out the creative process. And without creativity and imagination, nothing will ever get done.

Creativity requires room to breathe: it needs hope like humans require air. When I became grateful and saw opportunities, I began to have hope. When I have hope, I stop panicking and can see the next step ahead of me. I started to see what I could do, right here and right now.

Creativity requires a track to run on. I finally gave it an outlet into The Work, instead of being imaginative and creative with all the ways I was avoiding work. When my creativity is stifled, I find it expressing itself in all kinds of random ways in my life. It goes berserk and runs in other directions, sometimes harmful ones. 

Like, hmmm... I become a little obsessed with posting details of my precious life on Facebook. Or I put my imagination to work imagining what my ex is doing with his new girlfriend, and what their relationship looks like. Or I start having great and wonderful ideas about all my friends' businesses, and start blabbing about how I could help them achieve what they want to. I spend time reorganizing things and making grand plans. All because I'm not directing that creative energy to my own work. 

So when I look back at it, the three biggest changes in my life have been small ones. I write down something beautiful that happened that day in a gratitude journal every night. I stopped saying 'yes' to everyone else, and said no to some significant jobs that I knew would cost me time in my own work. And I look for chances get some traction on my ideas, rather than opportunities to avoid The Work.

Another little trick I've recently discovered is that tackling things I’ve procrastinated on for months, or even years, can also unblock the creative side. For some reason, my little task-oriented brain is compulsively running over a list of things I have to do, and when I finally do one of them, it frees up some harddrive space for creative work. Isn’t that weird?

Tobi with chickies.jpg

And then of course, the more track you lay, the more you get done. As I wrote yesterday, the more I get done the more I want to get done. 

It’s refreshing to realize that I don’t need to overhaul my life to get on track. I just need to start with something small, right now.

Death to procrastinating and whining, life to hope and creative track-making.

Right now.

 

Love from, Your Newly-Hatched Baby Chickie Creative Self

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DLS: you're scared shitless and mad to boot, but that's not the real problem

This I shot on my little iPhone, and almost dismissed it because it was overexposed and sapped of colour originally. But a little editing and punching up the colours brought up the true beauty.

This I shot on my little iPhone, and almost dismissed it because it was overexposed and sapped of colour originally. But a little editing and punching up the colours brought up the true beauty.

To my DLS (dear little self), freaking out as life feels like it's careening out of control, 

Why are you so angry? You had such a beautiful night with the secret group of powerhouse women that gathered in the hot tub to share their stories of victory and struggle last night. You had a great time! Why so sad? 

The honest truth is I'm terrified to leave. I've been to Brazil 6 or so times before, and each I was eager and happy to go. This time, I am panicking at regular intervals during the day. Breathing shallow, eyes narrowed to pinpricks, groaning tiredly in my skin. I feel old. Not excited or eager, but tired and old. 

I feel I can't unstuck myself from my life this time. I can't go, life is too full, I will miss too much. I have worked so very hard and waited so long to get to this point in my haphazard career - when I'm actually busy and in demand. I'm turning down work all the time. I could potentially sustain myself with video work through the spring if I kept going at this pace. It's modest, but it's the first real start I've had since I moved to Gabriola and I feel I'm gaining traction at last under my own steam.

I am doing many things I love, and I am loving editing again. I love to help people with their strategies and public outreach. Everyone suddenly wants quick, shareable video. Everyone I talk to wants me to make a web video series. 

And I'm leaving in the middle of it all. 

(sob) 

If I'm really honest about it, I'm actually kind of angry about it. Not about the project, I love being there and I will enjoy it with the boys and learning horsemanship from Douglas will be an amazing gift. I'm angry that my life is so stressful and full. That I have made things so damn complicated that I can't just pick up and leave without experiencing two months of chronically overheating brain and hyperventilating nervous system to get there. 

How did I get so tangled up? Housesits and dogs, horses and my cat, my mess and debris from having too much stuff and too many projects scattered everywhere. I don't just have to sort and back up hard drives, organize luggage and things to take with me, I have to immediately sort ALL my stuff, the useless crap I'm leaving behind, too. Or at least that's what it feels like. 

I live like a transient person. Everything half finished, almost done, nearly there, then dropped at the last stage as I run to another project or rush off to another rescue. So when it comes to leaving the country for 2.5 months, I'm also having to deal with all my unfinished bits and pieces I've left strewn around. The taxes and corporate papers. The camera lenses I didn't get around to buying. The birthday bonfire wood that's still lying around. The half-started garden I wanted to get around to. The blueberry bushes that I won't see bloom for the 4th year in a row. Things left undone bug me, but I am a chronic leaver of things undone.

So yeah, leaving this time stresses me out. And the other half of it is anger that comes out at my dear friends and anyone who want or ask for my time. I'm so upset at every suggestion to hang out because "can't you see I cannot be SOCIAL? I'm BUSY FREAKING OUT over here!" 

But why be angry at all? Why so uptight, DLS? Why not accept that you simply cannot do everything, that you have chosen to be out of the country for two months, so you have to say no to some people and projects and things, and let it all go? 

Because... oh yes here it comes... because you still desperately want to matter to people. The big lie you live with is that you don't matter, that your life is just your own strange collection of ideas and desires that somehow doesn't quite knit in to anyone else's and therefore doesn't matter to them. So now, for almost the first time since you moved here, you feel connected to community and that your work and contributions may actually matter to people. So you've become angry, outraged, incensed, that you are about to be uprooted from that. 

Whoah. Didn't see where that thread was going.

So unpacking it a bit now: my belief system is 'Tobi's life doesn't matter to others.' So she works very hard to provide services that could be of use to others, and she takes on very big projects that matter, because she knows they are important and need to be done, and that her life will grow in significance because she is attached to them. These services and projects go largely unrecognized, and she goes for years feeling unseen and unknown, her gifts falling silent and ungiven, at her feet.

Then, something shifts: Tobi is suddenly needed, seen, asked for, her services wanted. The recognition that Tobi could provide something of value to another person's life comes at the precise moment she is dancing toward liftoff. 

I am mad about leaving because I suddenly have found my place here and feel confident in the gifts I can bring. 

Oh well that's just dandy. F***! How am I supposed to deal with that? 

No wonder I'm tired and mad and sad. I'm fighting a belief system, not just struggling with how much gear I need to assemble before you go or cleaning up the birthday wood debris.

So the challenge becomes: can you detach your value from your work, and simply allow yourself to be loved and appreciated for who you are?

Can you see that gaining popularity and being in demand for what you do is the precise opposite of becoming the kind of person who can live a life of authenticity and strength from within? That your services and gifts are just that - services and gifts - they are not YOU, and they do not make you more or less visible to those who surround you. 

Oh I can see it now. Yes, a little editing of that picture, and the whole thing blooms with truth. 

I hope you can work your way into the light again, DLS. You're worth it, you know. And you deserve not to be stressed and anxious all the time. 

Love, Me

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Packing and All the Little Things

To my dear Slightly Scattered and Not Wholly With-it Self, as you wake with a start and realize that life is not a rehearsal and you're leaving the country very soonly, for two months,

You do realize don't you, that as you're lazing back in a king-sized bed at the house-sit you've been staying in for 3 weeks, with an artificial fire in front of you, laptop on the lap, coffee with cream, and toast with butter beside you, this picture of comfort and luxury won't last forever.

Outside it's windy and rainy, and normally if you weren't looking after a dog, you'd be taking your beloved beach cat for a walk.

In a little over two weeks, you do realize that the scene will be totally different? You will be in hot, dry Brazil, listening to the endless chatter of a million morning birds, reading your Bible, eating eggs from the farm and drinking black strong coffee filtered through a stocking. Hopefully still writing.

I cannot remind you often enough: two weeks. Is not. A lot. Of time.

The walk around the block with Chili, the rescued street dog, looks like this.

I'm not panicking, but I'm certainly not ready to go, either. This is the period before leaving when everything must get done, and all the little loose ends I've forgotten about must get wrapped up. Buying Brasilian reals. Finding my old phone with the Brasilian SIM card. Buying lenses I keep ogling but not committing to. Organizing my kit and making sure I have absolutely everything, including lots of batteries and plug ins and audio equipment and plastic baggies and tripods and all the little mounts and things needed to attach all the doo-dads and things together.

Get my harddrive back from my old laptop so I can take the music library that I accidentally deleted when formatting my new laptop.

Hard drives. Oh Jesus, the hard drives!! So much sorting needing to happen before I go. Transfer everything off the little portable ones on to big internal ones. Put all the work that I will need to take with me, back on the little ones. Back up stuff. Make lists of where everything is. Ahhhh.

Taxes. Corporate and personal. Receipts from the last Brazil trip I haven't dealt with yet.

Gardening. Throw more seeds in the ground. Clean up the cabin I rent and make it presentable for the landlords to come back to. Clean deck from old leaves. Get Secret Dan to mow lawn. Get my poor cat to the neighbour's to look after. Pick up blueberries from my ex's and re-pot before they die.

Horses. Make lists of all that needs to be done for them. Bake cookies for the open houses this weekend so everyone can meet them and I can wrangle more help for chores. Sign people up. Get phone numbers and emails. Make sure I have a line on hay and supplies. It's only two horses but by God they will be looked after thoroughly when I leave!

Work. Finish one sports sizzle reel. Finish another cheesemaking promo that's been in the works for a year. Finish a house builder's showreel. Polish, export, invoice.

Invoice for the other work I keep forgetting to invoice for, and make up new contract to log another filmmaker's footage WHILE I'M IN BRAZIL shooting another documentary and also editing the Dorothy documentary.

Clothes. Fuck. I may actually need a whole wardrobe, as I don't have anything but Irish wool sweaters and barn jeans left. What is a tee-shirt, again?

And food. Taking all the powdered vegetables I can carry because everything is poisoned with Round-up and pesticides down there. Also drinking all the beer I can because it's a dry farm. And that's not helping with the focus, Tobi. Come on. You know better.

Better get going. First order of business, as always, feed the horses. Then everything else will fall into place.

I hope.

Love from your Future, Hyper-organized Self in Total Control of All the Little Things

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The Bringer of Ideas

To my dear Incomplete Self, as she is wondering if she will ever finish one of her great ideas:

Fir tree, Saltspring Island, 2016

Fir tree, Saltspring Island, 2016

What's the difference between completion and finishing? Someone posed that question on Facebook yesterday, and it struck me as being true: we don't have a satisfactory definition in the English language that distinguishes one from the other. 

Completion: the action or process of finishing something; the state of being finished. 

Finished: an action, activity, or piece of work having been completed or ended; a person having completed or ended an action or activity. 

I would say that this fir tree ably demonstrates the act of finishing, with its broken off branches scaling upward, and also completion at the top, where it rose to meet the sun. Not all the branches survived the journey - they finished their task of providing nutrients and energy to the tree as it grew. But its larger mission was completed once it pushed upward and reached the light. 

Either way, I've had very little experience with either of those words when it comes to my own projects. 

I tend to be a very, very serious person. Somehow, I never acquired the ability to lighten up and accept the moments in life as they come, as randomly assembled bits of life that don't necessarily have to make sense. Instead, driven perhaps by the messaging from my Christian upbringing in which I learned that "God has a plan", my Big Brain uses an awful lot of its hard drive power to ponder how it all "fits together" and "am I accomplishing my mission in life" and "what the hell does this project have to do with the other" and trying to figure out how I will "get it all done" before I die.

Seriously, that is a fear that I have. That I will die, like my mother, with boxes and boxes of unsorted photographs and unfinished projects. Her projects haunt me, and my own quietly hiss at me from my 40+ terabytes of hard drives. There are literally thousands of hours of footage I haven't looked at yet, waiting to be turned into a work of art, if I could just get around to it. 

It's like I took my mother's love of taking photographs and quadrupled the challenge, brought it to the 3rd dimension with moving images and sound, and thus ensured I would be shackled to my projects for the rest of my life. 

A photograph from Brazil, at Fazenda Cavalos Selvagems (Wild Horses Farm) where I've been shooting a documentary since 2010. The amount of footage is amazing. Daunting. Just like the skyscape.

A photograph from Brazil, at Fazenda Cavalos Selvagems (Wild Horses Farm) where I've been shooting a documentary since 2010. The amount of footage is amazing. Daunting. Just like the skyscape.

There's "The Trapper of Peace River", surrounded by oil and gas and forestry, watching his beloved wilderness be gutted by industry. That one, started in 2009, I have to admit I will probably never finish, though it's a subject that continues to both fascinate and grieve me. 

There is "Wild Horses" the documentary about my amazing horsewoman friend Ingela Larsson Smith, as she and her husband Richard take a band of unruly orphan boys and try to turn them into leaders and good men, through mentorship and horsemanship. Started in 2010, I have roughly 400 hours of footage, and hundreds of thousands of photographs to sort through. 

There's "Between Wood and Water" my current project about the oldest sailboat in Canada, Dorothy, set to sail again (we hope) sometime in the near future. It's her 120th anniversary and I've been waiting for progress on that front since 2014. Have given up a few times but again, the story is too good to quit on, even if it has been 5 years. 

These three projects have consumed me, by turns obsessed me, traumatized me and caused me to weep, at regular intervals over the last 7 years. It's been a long, hard road, and like the fir, I have many broken off branches to on me. 

And that's not even it. I seem to be born to generate new ideas. I want to start a media co-op on the island. A film school. An artists/production space. A tool-sharing workshop. A tiny house building series. And I have many many more ideas for community development and interactive projects. Ways to make life better for people. Strategies for all of my friends' small businesses. Every time I talk to someone I have an idea how I could help them, what they could do to grow or expand their business to fit the shape of their life. 

I have begun to suspect that I may not have enough time to do them all. I've often said I need an executive secretary to tell me what to do every day, and an army of workers to help me carry it out. I bring the ideas. But I can't do them all. 

So I've begun breaking off my own branches. Saying no to some things (and yes to still others - horses, WTF am I thinking, argghhhhh). I've said no to clients, to exciting opportunities, to people who want my help. I've largely become a hermit, housesitting up here on a hill in a beautiful house with the beautiful Winnie dog, because it's all I can do to just focus on my own work and not get distracted by having other people around. With every new conversation, I have a new idea, and then I'm off... on someone else's tangent. 

So our conversation on completing things will, of course, be continued. I have some other strategies for reaching the sun, as it were, that I'm slowly putting into place. But I just wanted you to know that it's ok if you haven't finished a project or 5, or you have so many ideas that you know you can't do them all... because I'm in the same boat. And I believe there is a way forward, a way to complete things, a way to have a beautiful life and not die with everything still unfinished. 

I'll let you know in the next post. 

In true form, leaving this conversation incomplete, but finished for now... 

love Tobi

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From Fear to Here

To my Precious Fearful Little Artist-Self, as you think about embarking on The Work,

My boat, Golden Eye, in preparation for getting to the water (2014)

My boat, Golden Eye, in preparation for getting to the water (2014)

I had written you a lovely letter this morning, congratulating you on your recent success in getting out of the Fear of The Work, and into actually doing it. And it was really a nice post, but then I accidentally deleted it. Hmmm, this publishing directly to a blog thing may not be a good idea. Perhaps to save myself from having a mini-coronary every time the internet kicks off and I lose an hour of work, I'll write in another format before publishing here. Lesson learned. 

Anyway, to stick with my "write every day" rule, I'll summarize my process from Fear to Here: 

  1. I was afraid to attempt The Work for a very very long time.
  2. I thought I was No Good, and a Terrible Editor, and besides, I had an outdated editing system. 
  3. I had no one to help me and felt very alone. 
  4. I practiced my mantras: "I have no money!" "I need help!" "I can't do this!" "I suck at editing!"
  5. To keep myself busy so I didn't have time for The Work, I saved some horses and did what I felt I was good at, for a very very long time.
  6. I made a few plans to attempt accountability to engage with The Work. I wrote them down in a journal. They were such a spectacular failure that the journal up and walked away in protest, along with my other 8 journals, to-do lists and diaries. I think they are hiding out in a bar in the Bermuda triangle. 
  7. I was inspired briefly by a legendary local artist's death, and made it my mission to "go out and make art like you're going to paint the shed" every day. 
  8. That lasted for 3 days, before I realized again how actually impossible and monumental my task was - SO MUCH BIGGER THAN ANYTHING ANYONE ELSE HAS EVER ATTEMPTED - and gave up.
  9. I got drunk a lot and watched Netflix a lot and was very lazy. 
  10. I decided I didn't want to be a documentary filmmaker, after all. I would be a community organizer!
  11. I didn't do pills or smoke weed, but I did my other coping things, which is to build up a series of urgent tasks (Tiny House workshop series, horse rescue, house-sitting, moving, downsizing stuff) and a list of people depending on me for things, to avoid the fact that I was avoiding The Work.
  12. One day, probably because I was delirious and over-tired because I kept dreaming about The Work I wasn't doing instead of sleeping, I got sick of the fear.
  13. I made a new plan: do bits of The Work every day, do it in the morning, don't do anything else, however urgent, until I did it. 
  14. I tried this for a week and got so high on exhilaration that I was actually laying some track, that I even began tackling other work that I had also procrastinated on. 
  15. The more worked, the more I wanted to work. The more progress I made, the more I wanted to see progress.
  16. I became obsessed with finishing rough cuts and fine cuts and getting them to clients, even if they were half done. I loved seeing progress, any progress, being made. 
  17. I got good feedback from my clients and discovered, "hey! I don't suck at this as much as I thought I did!"
  18. I bought some new software, sat down with my new laptop, and figured shit out that I had been afraid would be too daunting for me. I watched Youtube videos, the university of every other Millennial, Baby Boomer and Human on the planet. It was method I had eschewed as lazy and a sign of incompetance a few months ago, preferring blind ignorance and fear to actual knowledge.
  19. My new plan, surprisingly, worked! 2 months later, I had my very first rough sequence of footage for my documentary "Between Wood and Water".
  20. I wrote a letter to you about it and then deleted it. Wait, now we're getting a bit meta.
  21. Despite knowing that it's not good enough, I will publish this rough cut, because it features a man who is currently in his last few months of life, and he might never get to see the finished film (although I definitely hope he does!) I want him to know that his voice and his story will contribute toward this film about a boat that he loved and worked hard to save.  
  22. I am proud of myself, not because I produced something, but because I got over my fear and found I actually enjoy The Work. Especially when the alternative is dying of cancer-induced stress and getting ulcers and becoming an alcoholic trying to avoid The Work. 
  23. I also discovered I like my story, and it's going to be a pretty damn good documentary if I continue to just show up at the desk and work a little bit every day. 

So that is a summary of what my process, and likely a much funnier version than this morning's drivel. You're welcome, my now-Shining Star of Productivity. Congratulations on getting to The Work.

Love, Tobi

IMG_1439.jpg

Sekiu under sail at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat festival (2015). 

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Relax? Me? Never.

To my Dear Overly Stressed-Out Ball of Perfectionistic Imperfections, 

The beach in front of the cabin I have lived in for 4 years, and which I completely missed "seeing" yesterday as I walked the dog right by it on my way to doing MORE IMPORTANT THINGS. 

The beach in front of the cabin I have lived in for 4 years, and which I completely missed "seeing" yesterday as I walked the dog right by it on my way to doing MORE IMPORTANT THINGS. 

I had one of those days yesterday when everything seemed off-kilter. Just could not seem to do the right thing at the right time, no decision seemed the right one, I was impatient with myself and the dog, was racing around Gabriola again trying to "get things done" on a beautiful Sunday morning that was meant to be savoured, not stressed over. Just one of those days.

What do you do? I can't seem to breathe deep enough - the next breath is always shallow again. I can't turn my brain off - it just chatters away endlessly about all the things we need to do and that I need to stress about. I can't seem to enjoy this beautiful paradise that I live in - because my internal structure is screaming for release and I can't let myself just relax into the environment. 

Wait, can't? Or won't? What's the lie here? What will happen if I just relax? 

I don't know. I've rarely attempted it.

These are the moments that I wish I were just a dumb beast. A horse or a dog that has me as their exemplary, perfectly attentive owner and caretaker, of course. OK so neither of those are dumb, but they are not equipped for fussing about the details they can't control. Neither do they get to make decisions about where they go, and what they do, and how long they do it for. The dog in my care basically just decides when she wants to go outside, and come back in, and eat. The rest is up to me. My horses decide how fast they eat, how much space they give up or take from the other horse, how they relate to me and how impatiently they wait at the gate to be let out. That's about it. I choose the rest for them. 

Here are Honour and Kiana, impatiently waiting at the gate for something to happen, hoping I will take them out to pasture. They only wish they could choose to do this for themselves!

Here are Honour and Kiana, impatiently waiting at the gate for something to happen, hoping I will take them out to pasture. They only wish they could choose to do this for themselves!

This week is one of those weeks when I wish someone would choose all the details of my life. The choices are so great and so many that I get befuddled and worried that I'm doing the wrong thing. I have too many damn options! Isn't that what people want? I have created a life of only options, and very much complexity results. I thought that was what I wanted.

But apparently, I cannot seem to relax because there is too much work to be done, and too many good things to savour, and too much pressure to "get it right" and not waste time. What is that pressure? Where does it come from and why does it rule my life? 

I can't seem figure it out for now, and so yesterday I did the only thing I could think to do when I'm spinning out like that. I had a beer or three, sat in the hot tub, read a book, and just ignored the list. "I will be productive tomorrow."

"List, you're just going to have to wait, because this anxious, uptight little mare needs a break from herself."

And you know what? Other than feeling physically a bit crappy because I've been on a cleanse and my body doesn't like beer much anymore, that was a good decision. 

Unhook. Unwind. Unspool. Release. 

Sometimes that's all I can achieve in a day. 

Bisous, ma chere amie! You're gonna make it. Today is a new day.

Tobi

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New Canvas to Play On

Dear Budding Artist,

This is one of my very first shots - I won't torture you with the out-of-focus ones) with my new (used) Nikon D7000. 

This is one of my very first shots - I won't torture you with the out-of-focus ones) with my new (used) Nikon D7000. 

It's been 3 years since I've had a working stills camera. My Nikon D70 served me well as a student in Montreal and functioned fairly well for the next few years for taking production stills, but I never considered myself a proper photographer or went to any great lengths to hone my skills. But as I became more focussed on documentary work I ignored photography in favour of moving images, and then the D70 stopped working and I dropped shooting stills altogether. 

Something prompted me to get another camera before my next trip to Brazil. Yesterday I finally took the plunge, travelled to Victoria to look at a used one, and with a very patient 11-month old German Shepherd in tow, explored and played on Fisherman's Wharf, using Winnie as my non-stop action subject. (I had to bribe her with wieners.)

And the results, while not stunning, are OK. The lens is a Tamron 17-55 mm, it's not great, but functional for now. What I am enthused about is to have a camera to play with, to feel the heft and weight of a Nikon in my hands again, to hear the glorious click of that shutter (ok I know it's digital but it still sounds very satisfying!) and feel like I can start taking real pictures again. 

Here are some of the less horrible ones: 

Winnie-morning light

Here's to expanding my photographic horizons and really allowing my eyes and heart to see the beauty in this world again. We only live once. Let's live with eyes wide open.

Much Love, Tobi

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The Perfect Workweek

My Dear Driven Artist and Compulsive Overworker,

I've always known that working 40 hours per week was not for me. It was always either 70 or 80, or 10/20 ish. I believe I'm really only productive when I'm working flat-out, obsessively, enjoying the rush and stimulus of expediting food for a conference of 1000s of attendees for example, or fitting in a leisurely 2 hour work period as I do in my late 30s, between caring for horses, large dogs, gardens, and packing or unpacking my things from whatever housing arrangement I have at the time. 

Now I have scientific proof that working less is better for me, and is more productive in the end. I hereby present: The Ideal Workweek, According to Science, by Simon Parkin.

ideal workweek poster.jpg

Basically, he explains that just because "we live in a culture that venerates overwork", doesn't make us more productive. In fact, a lot of the research shows that four hour stints of work is about as much as anyone, from artists to philosophers to athletes, can handle. And even that might be best broken up into one hour work segments, with 15-20 minute breaks. 

My challenge, and perhaps yours too, is that my brain has been transformed by the ADD-inducing nature of social media culture, to the point that I can't seem to concentrate on a single task for more than 20 minutes before I'm actively looking for a distraction.

Ironically, when I'm "working" on social media content and surfing the web and Facebook for marketing opportunities, I can sit there, zoned out like a zombie, for hours. But when I'm standing in front of the computer doing some actual creative work to do with one of my documentaries, it takes about 20 minutes before my brain starts to drift, and if I can harness it at that point and wrestle it back to attention, I'm still only good til around the 40 minute mark before I have to do something else. 

Why is that? Why can't I focus on the work that is most meaningful and will produce the most long-lasting feeling of satisfaction for me? At the end of a workweek, I don't look back on my social media posts and go, "wow, those were some creative pieces of work there, Tobi, well done!" OK, so I do pat myself on the back a little bit for the bloggy bits that actually take some storytelling skill. But when I think about what I've done that week in terms of "real work", it's only the time I've put in to actually putting bits of video on a timeline, or words on a page, or ideas and research in a publishable format, that I really feel a sense of accomplishment about. 

The problem perhaps is, that the sense of accomplishment comes long after I've actually done the work, not while I'm creating. I usually have a sense of un-accomplishment while I'm creating something. It feels always rough, unpleasant, not enough, not polished, unhappily unfinished. So I go away from it with the nagging sense that I have to come back, and it bugs me. Whereas social media publishing work has an immediate sense of accomplishment, a reward right at the time of posting, and I feel a little rush and sense of satisfaction that makes me want to do more. 

So instead of limiting myself to a single post, like an addict, I have to replicate that post's success, doing it in multiple groups and trying to get even more traction, chasing the dragon of more reach and interaction. But it's a high that never lasts, and I don't think about it beyond that limited period. The gain is instant, and instantly over. 

But real work... the hard, uncomfortable stuff that I have to do daily if I'm ever going to finish one of my documentaries... the grinding, hair-pulling, sweat-inducing valleys and troughs I have to push myself through to actually lay track... this kind of work can only be done in short bursts.

I take hope in the evidence that far greater artists and thinkers than I am have traditionally worked in short bursts and then taken their leisurely time to do the rest of life, and let their mighty creative minds and juices slowly recover. Here's to a better workweek, and to working with less pressure and compulsion, for all of us. 

Hang in there,

love, Me.

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Marketing vs. doing the work

Social media stuff I love-hate.jpg

This week I found myself tackling a long-overdue job of setting up and sorting myriad social media accounts for the Dorothy documentary I've been working on. OMG it's awful. I both love it and hate it - but the part I dislike most is that I seem to have tunnel vision about the whole thing. Once I started setting up Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, Hootsuite and Facebook, it's like a whole Sim City world that you can't just walk away from but have to continually tweak and manage and breathe life into. It's exhaustilerating. 

So that's the struggle this week. Is this social media thing a distraction from the actual work of logging, editing, crafting, watching footage, making stuff? Or is it a legit thing I actually need to keep doing as a producer for this indie film? Again, hate it or love it, it's how you get the news out into the world when you don't have a network backing you. Probably something you have to do even if you do have a network - who am I kidding? Do you really think the busy communications people at any of the major networks have half the social savvy as I do, or the commitment to the story? Nope. So it's all on me. 

But this is a very real struggle people! I'm working on focusing on my art. Doing the stuff. The work. The shitty, grinding, annoying, back-destroying things on my computer and laptop that simply have to get done in order for a piece of craftsmanship to emerge in the world. But the more time I spend on Twit-Insta-FB-Tum-Hoots and all the rest is time away from the actual work. 

If I'm honest, the social media stuff is easier for me than the work. That's why I've delayed logging footage from 2013 until now.. It's just hard work. Social media is a mind-sucking sort of endeavour that I can use my monkey brain on and watch television at the same time. I can get sucked into the vortex of online existence and still feel like "i'm doing something," whereas the actual work doesn't let you lie about production like that. Either you have a beautiful sequence at the end of 5 hours, or you have pieces of things because you distracted yourself with a bunch of busywork crap. The work doesn't let you lie. Social media is pretend work. 

So, in the interest of keeping it real, I'll just say that I love it and hate it. I know it's necessary. I have to keep getting the word out there about this remarkable boat and her incredible survival story, and the only way seems to be with a decent social media platform. But I'll use this blog to stay accountable about how much actual work I get done, too. You will be my witness. 

Am I an artist or still playing at being one? 

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Welcome

Journal: Letters to the Artist is a collection of personal writings from my journey to becoming an artist and independent female filmmaker. It's a raw, honest account of the internal and external resistance and obstacles I encounter, the heartaches and setbacks, the lessons I'm learning and the anticipated, dreamed of achievement of actually, this year, maybe getting some work done. That's my only goal. Just get the work done and let the cards fall where they may. 

So this blog is not a promotional vehicle. I'm not going to sell you my stories or ideas. Just sharing as I work to become a healthy artist with a vibrant, balanced life, one who is not martyred or obsessed with the work, but who produces art in harmony with my life.

The threads of my art and life are inextricably entwined. I've found as a documentary filmmaker that I become so caught up in my subject and what I'm learning, I become either part of the story, or the story becomes part of my life, or both. In "Between Wood and Water", I document the restoration of the oldest functioning wooden sailboat in Canada, Dorothy. I also fell in love with her shipwright, had a tumultuous relationship with him over 3 years, and am emerging on the other side with some more wisdom, a 15-foot wooden sailboat of my own called Golden Eye, and some emotional bruises I'm still healing from. In "Wild Horses" I document the journey of one of Europe's premiere natural horsewomen as she leaves her professional career to teach a bunch of orphaned and neglected boys in Brazil the secrets of the horse. Over the 7 years I've been documenting the story, I've become wedded to the family and stayed on the fazenda not just as a filmmaker, but as house momma and friend. And I've acquired two horses of my own by rescuing them from neglect and potentially death in winter 2016. 

So this Journal is not just the story of my Stories, but the Story of us as we all weave a tapestry of beauty from the many colourful threads of our lives. 

It's going to be personal, raw, unfiltered and unprofessional. You will not find tips and tricks for shooting in certain kinds of light, because honestly I have no idea how to get the sometimes magical images I come away with. Almost nothing in my shooting career is pre-planned and thought out, I just launch the boat from whatever shore I'm standing on, and we go from there. Sometimes I have partners, mostly I work alone. Most of the people I've partnered with along the way have gone their own ways for various reasons - the one main reason being is that I can be demanding, exhausting and challenging to deal with. I keep my own pace, and race against my own clock. It's part of the magic parcel. But I'm hoping one day I'll find a tribe I can work with so I don't die alone. Ha! The existential fear that I'll no doubt keep coming back to explore. 

So I don't know what this will be like. Sometimes I will write to myself, letters to my own artist. Sometimes I'll write to someone else, as if I know you and what you're going through. Sometimes I'll have advice, mostly I'll have questions. I make no promises. I simply want to make art with integrity, and to live life in a way that supports my body, mind and heart. And maybe you want to do that too so perhaps this series of letters will be a medium of communication. Feel free to comment, post your own stories and share your journey. 

My one rule is that I be real, not fake/professional/cutesy or overly smartass. Though I will allow myself to cop an attitude on occasion. I will endeavour not to use exclamation points as I feel I used up my quota in my twenties. 

This is just me. Period.

Welcome. 

 

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