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Taryn O'Neill

This may date me, but I loved MacGyver. I was a super fan. I loved its action, its inventiveness, the international locales and the science smart think tank that was The Phoenix Corporation. I had a crush on Richard Dean Anderson, dug his mullet and leather vests, plus it was extra cool in that it was shot in Vancouver (my hometown).

We all know what MacGyver’s ‘super power’ was: it was the ability to cobble together a solution to a dire problem with the most random objects. Just when all seemed to be lost, that paperclip, gum wrapper and duct tape saved the day. There was not a gun in site (except on the bad guy).

It’s like how we played as young kids (at least those of us raised before the turn of the century): we were sent outside, or to a basement and told to pass the time… but there were no iPads waiting . So we invented games out of thin air, with empty boxes, sticks and table cloths (hopefully not the good ones). We were magicians, we were alchemists.

As a writer, I am also an alchemist… standing over my bubbling cauldron of Final Draft, mixing and mincing my combination of words in just the right way to create magic. And because of this, I am constantly on the prowl to enhance my vocabulary… To find those words which vibrate an image to the reader, one more powerful than just the word alone. Unfortunately, the English language doesn’t have many single words that evoke a deep, existential meaning. And as I peddle in the world of big ideas, I trip happily over my literary feet when I stumble upon those of other languages imbued with that nuance. That word today, that will be the cohesion in this post is Bricoleur.

What is Bricoleur? It is a person who does Bricolage… a french term for building something with no clear plan, cobbling together as one goes, using what presents itself, flying by the seat of their pants if you may, finding (not planning) the end result. Claude Lévi-Strauss (the anthropologist not the jean maker) brought the phrase Bricolage and Bricoleur into academia and discourse with his book ‘The Savage Mind’. He utilized the term to reflect on mythology, and a confined universe where only original ideas could be recycled, even to solve new problems. (I, however, stumbled upon this term and definition on io9 which inspired this post, so HT to them).

Bricoleur made me think of the countless contributors on Ms. in the Biz.  Many women who write on this site are New Media multi-hyphenates — meaning they wear many hats (writing, acting, producing, marketing) in order to create their own opportunities and their own content. But there is no clear path to success, no existing blueprint for what they are endeavoring to do and definitely no perfect or tried and true solutions.

You are probably one of these women. I bet you have three, five, ten projects all on the go, while juggling a day job, perhaps a family. You try to control all that is around you as you’ve established yourself as this super woman… however the industry we are in is always in flux. Technology adjusts the landscape on a weekly basis. So in creating a new paradigm for yourself, you often don’t know what is coming next so you can’t control the outcome. It’s friggin’ overwhelming and we get down on ourselves (I know I do.)

So I propose that we be our own MacGyver, be Bricoleur artists and trust both that we are heading in the right direction, and that the answers are already around us. Because I believe that they are.

What’s my rationale? A random science-y thought. Think back to when you last had your eyes checked (if you haven’t then just follow along). Do you remember what it’s like after they’ve put those drops in your eyes, when your iris can’t adjust to the brightness  — it’s blinding — seeing how much light there actually is around you.  Your brain isn’t used to processing that abundance of photons — the carriers of electromagnetism and the basis behind all information technology. There is more information out there than we normally perceive. And that’s just on the visible spectrum.

So (metaphorically) there is a good chance that we are not ‘seeing’ everything that we have at our disposal, as it may be in an unexpected form or beyond the boundaries of our day to day routine.

“Art is not the application of a canon of beauty, but what the instinct and the brain can conceive of beyond any canon.” Picasso.

It was just discovered that Picasso often used household paints in his masterpieces.  Especially the white paints.  This discovery blew my mind.

What are a few real world applications of this existential idea?

1. Go through your Facebook friends and address contacts and remind yourself of the people who you haven’t connected with recently. Check their LinkedIn page – they could be working somewhere that now applies to projects you’re working on. Send them a note just touching base, saying hi, and that you’re excited to see what they are up to. Have your ‘signature’ include information about your current projects. There’s a chance that old friend could strike up a conversation about what you both do.  And of course you could just be bold and call the office, telling the assistant that you’re old friends –which you are!

2.  Trying to save money? Take stock of your possessions, your closet. We forget what we already have, and some of those ‘things’ are pretty great and in style again.  Take an afternoon to declutter and then ‘reconfigure’ your current possessions into something new. Take that old menswear blazer of your boyfriends and pair it with white cropped skinny jeans. You’ll be surprised how much ‘new’ you can find in the ‘old’.

3.  Revist projects that you once worked on but shelved and re-read your old journal posts/ morning pages. I am always floored by the thoughts and ideas that I’ve worked on over the years, often wondering, “who wrote this?? It’s really good!”. It may be the perfect time to start working on that project again, or elements of that idea are now the perfect solution to a current project you are working on.

You have much already at your disposal so you can become the true Bricoleur.  Play like a child, a magician, allow yourself to stumble upon things, be open to ‘seeing’ things that may not seem to be applicable or relevant to your life, as they just might spark the answer. Give yourself over to the muses just a bit more when you feel you are shouldering an empire.  And think like a MacGyver in your own life – acknowledging that you are in a high stakes situation (the life that you are the star of!) but that you will make it through like any good TV protagonist does. Well except for a Stark but that’s for another post.

“The bag’s not for what I take, Colson,” MacGyver explains. “It’s for what I find along the way.”

Hope this has given you a new bit of creative existential ammo to make your life just a little more inspired… and of course more badass.

I’d love to hear examples of how you might discover ‘solutions’ already around you that you can cobble together to create your art and better your life. I’d love to hear!

Until next week – where I reflect on my inspiring trip to Asia!


Taryn O'Neill

About Taryn O'Neill

TARYN is an actress, writer and new media producer originally from Vancouver, Canada. A competitive figure skater for 12 years, she graduated from Duke University. She has appeared on the TV shows ‘Vegas’, ‘Navy N.C.I.S.’, ‘The Inside’ ‘Lie to Me’ and plays a recurring role on the BYUTV family drama ‘Granite Flats’. She has acted in over 20 webseries (winning Best Supporting Actress at the Indie Soap awards for her work on ‘Compulsions’) as well as producing two series (including the Streamy nominated scifi series ‘After Judgment’.) She added writing to her repertoire after starting a blog in 2009, and in 2010, her first comedy script, “The Very True Adventures of the Madoff Girls,” was a Finalist in the NYTVFest FOX Comedy Pilot Contest. She has since written a full length series for ‘Stan Lee’s World of Heroes’ and has numerous web and tv projects in development, scifi being her genre of choice. In her spare time she studies all things science and trains in martial arts. Her quest to be an onscreen badass was first chronicled at her tumblr Operation BABE (Badass Alien-Fighting Body Endeavor), and has evolved into being a blog about being an inspired badass in all areas of life.