“Because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, How alive am I willing to be?” –Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
I read avidly as a child and continued well into my teenage years. From classics like the Picture of Dorian Grey to the Percy Jackson series, Sigmund Freud and to Antigone, from the Histories of Herodotus to George Macdonald’s The Princess and the Goblin and Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground– I consumed most stories I laid hands on. I often reread books just to experience the same adrenaline, taste the same emotions that had so provoked me the first time.
This love for the written word came from my mother. In the midst of many trials growing up, she clung to her love of literature and writing and eventually graduated with a degree in journalism. She later taught my sisters and me at home, immersing us in painting, music and, of course, books and writing. She wrote often and consistently. I remember her box of old journals, which traveled from home to home with us when we moved.
We were each given a journal with a requirement to write at least five pages a day. To our dismay, she often read our pages. “You are a natural writer,” she would say to me afterward. Whether or not that stands true, writing was the best gift she gave me. It became a means by which I could best process and communicate. (I may or may not have an ever-growing box of old journals too.)
This love of stories also bled from photography, a familiar medium in our household. My father spent 25 years of his life as a landscape and wildlife photographer, traveling to Africa, Soviet Russia, Antarctica, you name it. I remember a rush of excitement when he returned from a trip and would look through his screens once the film had been developed.
These he would broadcast through an old projector for tourists at Talkeetna Lodge in Talkeetna, Alaska, my hometown. He often took me with him to these viewings. I sat there beaming with pride and in wonder at the magic he had captured. At night, my sisters and I asked our dad to tell us stories about his trips. Even now, when looking through his old prints, I remember many of the wild stories that accompany those photos as well as a tug to longing to experience something similar.
As my writing developed, I found that writing often feels like trudging through the desert, holding a water sack over your parched mouth, hoping that there are a couple of drops left. This past year, in fact, has been the most creatively ‘dry’ of my life. Words stuttered onto the page, leaving me with little more than a paragraph. After much fruitless striving, I decided that this year would be the year to learn and to experience, with the hope that words would pour out again soon.
So, out of curiosity and desperation, I became fascinated by how a story could be told through multiple mediums. I delved deeper into photography. I found that through a picture I could write a thousand words. And vice versa.
During this process, I stepped into the world of filmmaking. This was the most unfamiliar to me. It felt too big, consisting of many more moving parts than photography or writing. The camera became a tool to capture movement, light and emotion on every spectrum, in thousands of frames woven together. As I delved deeper into understanding the processes behind everything from making a short tv spot to producing a short film, I noticed many similarities between the process of writing and filmmaking. And how necessary writing is to the process.
In recent months, words have started to flow again. As they pour onto the page, the desire to develop my craft increases. I want to stretch my vocabulary, challenge my way of thinking. I want to apply writing in multiple areas of work by stepping inside the mind of screenwriters, directors, producers, and cinematographers. And I don’t want to stop there.
In his book Story, Robert McKee writes that the true character of a person is revealed by the choices he or she makes under pressure. “The greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation,” he writes, “the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature.”
This is true for creatives in the development of their craft. Freeform poetry is a style of writing I most enjoy. I like the freedom to create my own structure in order to communicate both obvious and vague concepts.
My use of language, however, would hardly develop unless it was put under a different kind of pressure. Stepping into the discomfort of screenwriting, copywriting, journalism or technical writing (to name a few) compels growth. Through the growth of my skill, I grow in understanding of myself and of the world. I can’t fully understand how shallow I’ve been standing until I experience the depth.
I believe the medium a creator uses often speaks to who they are and is how they define their life. As I look back on the short life I’ve lived, I see how my desire to write has influenced the life-altering decisions as well as my day-to-day. The influence of filmmakers, painters, musicians, photographers, and writers every day increases my desire to capture and be captured by stories, both true and fabricated from the imagination. Coming to Votary has taught me to fervently seek out the most meaningful way to do so.
In the process, I have found (am finding) my story. My hope, when I move in the next two or five, or ten years, is to find boxes filled with journals amidst many manuscripts and published articles, and maybe even a hardcover book with “G. Burdick” at the bottom.