Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Poutine Principle

A week ago, I was here lamenting the fact that as a writer, I'm still in search of my "method" or even, god willing, some kind of order or rhythm to my practice that would yield more regular, reliable results. 

And what I came upon was The Poutine Principle - also known as the Archimedes Analogy, which states that:

I must not - as I tend to do when a deadline, whether real or self-imposed, is looming - strap myself into my chair, grip the edge of my desk and feverishly will my brain to come out with the next plot point, character reveal or emotional beat before I can move on to the next. 

I must instead take a cue from Archimedes, who stumbled upon a solution to a seemingly intractable mathematical problem he was grappling with by doing something completely unrelated. In his case, he stepped into the tub. And, well, you know the rest...

In my case, wishing to shelter myself from the risk of running naked through the streets of Montreal shouting Eureka, I have opted to replace the act of bathing with, among other things, the act of poutine tasting and - (here's the rhythm to my method) reviewing a new poutine experience every week. 

Cleverly (I think) combining a comfort food reward system with a regularly scheduled "time out" to do something unrelated yet marginally creative has, so far, worked a little Archimedes-like magic on my screenplay writing. By setting the proverbial timer forcing me to stop writing (or stop not writing), to get out of my isolated work space and into the world, I take the pressure off the screenplay side of my brain and let it idle for a while I take a spin in my brain's pleasure centre.

And like Archimedes, I discovered something...

As I was tucking into my first piping hot plate of Quebec's unofficial national dish with abandon, lo and behold, my senses opened up to the music of joual* surrounding me in the  typical east end Montreal canteen. Cleverly camouflaged in poutine, I became an invisible witness to the comings and goings of an inspiring real-life cast of characters that included lonely, elderly regulars hailed and subsequently tolerated by the bottled-blonde waitress with just the right mix of affection and vulgarity. 

Literally everyone that came in to Poutine Laurier that afternoon told a little story. If not directly - out loud and at length like old Madame Turcotte - then indirectly by way of what they ordered, like the father and his young son who informed his dad he wasn't eating sugar these days, so could he get a diet coke with his Combo #3? 

Before I knew it, the laptop I had opened beside me - for poutine pertinent note taking only - was on the receiving end of some actual productive screenplay writing. The creative block in my story that had been clogging me for days, was suddenly, ironically getting unclogged by  a heaping plateful of cheese curds, gelatinous gravy and greasy french fries.

In a word, Eureka.

Like Archimedes, I had solved a seemingly intractable problem by doing something unrelated and arguably meditative - and delicious - something I will happily repeat on a regular basis. However, because I'm not 20 anymore, I've decided the calorically lethal Poutine Principle should be only one in a panoply of activities that comes under the umbrella of the Screenplay Side Project, a method of productive distraction that features reviews and recountings of side dishes, side trips, side shows, essentially all things taking me on a  sideways journey to the ultimate goal of producing a screenplay.

* joual refers to a working class dialect of Québécois French notably used by Michel Tremblay in his seminal play, Les Belles-Soeurs. His introduction of the everyday French spoken in the street to the previously elitist world of the theatre contributed to a major shift in identity politics that ultimately fuelled the Quiet Revolution.

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