Tag Archives: inspiration

Duplex Planet

My friend and site illustrator, Jeremy Eaton, sent me a link this morning to a site called Duplex Planet. On the surface, it’s about old people. This is a good thing in itself. But Duplex Planet, like all good creations, is about so much more than its obvious subject matter. It’s about seeing what is, instead of what you expect to see. It’s about giving people the gift of listening to what they’re saying, instead of what you think they should be saying.

Here’s a quote from David Greenberger, the founder of Duplex Planet:

“In 1979 I took a job as activities director at a nursing home in Boston. I had just completed a degree in fine arts as a painter. On the day that I first met the residents of the nursing home, I abandoned painting. That is to say, I discarded the brushes and canvas, not the underlying desire to see something in the world around me and then communicate it to others. In this unexpected setting I found my medium. I wanted others to know these people as I did.

From the start I felt that oral history was unsuitable to my needs. When newcomers hear that I have regular conversations and interviews with elderly people, they assume I collect oral history. What that assumption implies is that when one grows old we become solely a repository of our past. This notion is so entrenched that we seem to willingly grow old, talking only of our past. From the start, my mission has been to offer a range of characters who are already old, so that we can get to know them as they are in the present, without celebrating or mourning who they were before. Since the elderly are already thought of by what they have in common – that they’re all old – I try to recast them as individuals. I quote and write about them in order to address the larger world. The audience/reader meets them and comes to feel the characters are familiar, people they might want to spend time with. The men and women whose individualities expose the myths of aging are not extraordinary. They are typical in their unique humanness.”

So what does this have to do with fairy tales? Everything and nothing, I suppose. I think the hardest thing about creating is learning to be still enough inside to catch at the threads of passion that make engaging work. To see what’s interesting to us, instead of what we think will interest other people. It takes a lot of courage to highlight your raw, tender places and publicly explore them (which is one of the things we do when we make art).

So when I look at Duplex Planet, I see several things. I see someone bravely celebrating the inhabitants of one of the shadow lands of our culture. And I see someone who is tuned in to his own radio station. Think of your heart as a radio station. Now think about whether you’re getting good reception. David Greenberger is getting awesome reception, and he’s broadcasting his station out to the rest of us. This is, to me, the foundation of all creative expression. Technical skill is great. God knows the world needs it. But even more important than technical proficiency is the ability to get good reception for the radio stations of our hearts.

The 6 Ws

I have a delightful day job. If you go here, and you look carefully, you will find four ghostly white boxes that glow when the image first loads and then again when you mouse over any one of them. The boxes are little trivia Easter eggs that take you on innernets adventures when you click on them. My job is to decide where the links will take you, and to write the copy that pops up when you mouse over the boxes.

The point here is not so much to brag about my job or to pimp the site, as it is to set the stage for the six Ws. My boss, in describing our editorial philosophy, came up with this, “We tell a story about the image. We have the Who, What, When, Where, and Why, and then we add the Wacky.” Wacky is the sixth W!

So what does this have to do with fairy tales? Not much, when you look at it head on. But it has a lot to do with good writing and the creative process. No matter what your experience level, it’s really easy to lock yourself down in a tangle of shoulds, oughts, and unreasonable expectations when you’re working on a piece. The first five Ws are vitally important, it’s true. But it’s the sixth W, the wacky, that can infuse a dry, dusty, technically flawless creation with the juicy passion that brings it to life.

Don’t be afraid of your wacky ideas. Try to set your creative compass so that true North is passion and delight. Life is too short to edit out the things that truly engage us, no matter how silly or uncomfortable or weird they might seem at first blush.