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The Work

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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

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

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