Maybe you don’t know, but you should. My sense of humor is this: I got my Ford Focus to say “Keep Fucking That Chicken” every time I queued up that playlist on the car’s stereo system.
“Keep Fucking that Chicken” is a master playlist I “maintain,” a filter on the 25000+ audio files I have on my PC. That’s 120GB and roughly 30 days of audio. 65% of it is either Christmas Music or Horror sound effects records I – a-hem – found on the Internet in it’s wild west days.
It’s a work in progress. Variations have existed, on audio tape or binders full of CD-Rs, but never A to Z. That’s one entire iPod’s worth of storage, or 1000 CD-Rs
I don’t collect music with the same enthusiasm as some, but music is one of the things that makes being a sentient being worth the trouble. I buy one or two (mostly) physical discs and burn them to 320kbs MP3s monthly. High School would have been far more intolerable if I didn’t have INXS’s Kick, the Black Crowes Shake Your Money Maker, or my obsessive and quixotic search for the entire Queen catalogue, including the Flash Gordon Soundtrack.
My approach to most projects is top down: throw every word, every file, every thought at a piece of work and then whittle away the excess. A sculptor with marble is the cliche. It’s how my father taught me how to write and was supported by my more academic classes in school. Collect all of your thoughts and pare them down to the ones that stick. Absorb as much as you can, create a thesis, and then use notes, research, highlights, quotes from films to defend or disprove that thesis. Works really well when you’re limited to 1000-10000 words. Or you have the time.
I have tried over a long weekend, or a random free Sunday, plunked down a the computer, fire up MusicBee and my Audio Technica M50 monitors, plow through the Chicken list. It’s a fools job; an hour in and I’m bored or distracted. It’s a job for one of those kids in LCD Sound System’s Loosing My Edge, but definitely for the 40 year old with a mortgage and chronic lower back pain.
Now I just chip away at the big block, an album or artist a day. I don’t (or try not to) let in that little angry man in when I miss a day, or a week, or a month. I won’t let him tell me to give up the shit and watch “Midsommer Murders,” because it’s 14 seasons and it’s on Netflix and who really gives a shit, man.
I do. I just keep fucking that chicken.
In college, I wanted to make films. I learned to appreciate the classics with my Mom. I fell in love Hitchcock when my parents gave me a VHS copy of Rear Window, research for a school project. I’ve watched that movie nearly once a year since I was 16; I learn something new at every viewing and I’m a little overdue for another screening.
My first screenwriting class was run by a visiting instructor who had had some minor success in LA and NY making independents, long before serial predator Harvey Weinstein monetized small movies. I don’t remember his name or work. I do remember that he styled himself as a dollar store Jackson Brown: home bowl cut, redneck tan from his off-season, pick up work in home remodeling and construction. His writing process was top down: a few weeks heads down at the keyboard hammering out a screenplay rough draft, followed by weeks or months of rewrites. Nothing else. Fully blinkered.
A friend, he said, would take the opposite approach. She never took work on spec or script doctored. Instead, she would write just one page of original content every day. One Page = One Minute. After 6 months, she she’d have a full 180 minute draft. The next 6 months she would spend in revisions until she had a tight, salable screenplay. In the afternoons, she lived life or taught the craft.
I learned to write from my father. To rewrite and rewrite. His PhD was 20 years in the making and defended after I left high school.
Writing, creation, takes time. I remember coming home at the end of the school day and finding him in the same place I left him in the morning: in his recliner, Waterman pen in one hand and a yellow legal pad in another, marked up pages curled around the perforated top (another habit I’ve learned from him; can’t stand gum-topped writing pads), thinking critically and writing on how to improve community colleges and the students they served. He took his time. That was his job.
My job is to support the software that I work to create along with a large team of dedicated, hardworking people. One piece of the larger product I’m responsible for is User Documentation, including User Guides and training outlines. It takes time to explain, thoughtfully, how a person must complete a compliance document they must get right or suffer an steep penalty. I spend as much time on that as I can, not as much time as I want.
That’s what I’m paid for. I’d like to spend the same amount of time on creating my own work. Writing my own story. But there isn’t enough time for the 21st Century man or woman to sit in a comfortable chair, fountain pen in my hand, and plot a world where two people can overcome all obstacles and carry on in the face of adversity. And do it in 300+ pages.
You know that’s not true. I know that’s not true. There is enough time; it’s just in bits and pieces, covered up by one layer of real life, and a second, even thicker layer of social media sludge and Netflix binge. But that shit is sticky and after a 9 hours of work, even a brief commute in Maryland’s extremely stupid traffic, caring for the Wee Bairn, for SWMNBB, for myself, there’s almost nothing I’d rather do than drink a bottle of Rye, get angry at the injustice du jour, and watch the latest season of X Files. Only, I don’t drink any more.
Wanting to tell stories with words on paper is all I’ve ever wanted to do. Writing stories is the one thing that I’ve consistently avoided for most of my waking hours.
I got to keep fucking that chicken.