Monday, January 19, 2015

Something Else From My Past

Okay, I will admit I'm a bit embarrassed to post this. My original idea "The Right to Arm Bears" was too uncomfortable—too racy—so I dug through my personal archives.

And found this.

I originally wrote this in 2006 in a very different time in my life.  It was a very different time in all of our lives to tell the truth.  But there's still something about it that resonates to me.

I hope that all of you enjoy.

But if you don't, remember this was written by an idealistic college student who didn't know the real world.  It took me two more years to graduate with my bachelor's and move on to graduate school.  Two more years from there before I actually entered the workforce and saw what the real world was like.

Damn, I was a different person—a kid—back then. :)


For years, I’ve wanted to say something profound.  I’ve been wanting to say something that would make everyone go “shit” or “wow” or something exclamatory, and thing that that kid, that guy, hit the nail right on the head.  That day has been a long time in coming, and to tell the truth, it probably will never arrive.  It would be too much if I were to peak now.  That just isn’t life.  But then again maybe it is. 

Last time I checked, life was a pretty fucked up gig.  I mean I have heard of some messed up stuff before, but life is just one of those things.  The joke between men and women is that just when a man comes close to figuring out how the game is played, the women go and change the game.  But life not only changes the game but the rules also.  What was once a foul, now will send you directly to go where you will get $200.  It doesn’t make any sense.

But that is the beauty of it.  It never will, as long as we let it.  And yes, it is up to us to make it change. 

We are a culture who is obsessed with the latest gossip about Bradalina, or what happened last week on Impetuous Homemakers, or the latest CD coming out.  We look for solutions amidst ads of women’s perfume and dromedary cigarettes.  Our kids debate which is better, the big, purple dog or the red dinosaur.  The media tells us what to wear, what to do, what to think?

Where does that leave us?  In years before, generations had things to rally around.  Our parents had Vietnam, our grandparents the Nazis, our forefathers the Stamp Act; but we are a generation in a void.  What rally cry do we have?  Iraq?  Sure.  Which side do you want?  Global warming?  What global warming? It is colder now than it has been before.  Animal rights?  I like my meat.

We are a generation that is lost in nothingness.  We want hope in our breakfast cereal, love in our job, and absolution in our sex.  We are obsessed with being happy and not upsetting anyone.  We are offended by people profiling, but yet we buy music that openly uses such phrases as “niggers” and “bitches and hos”.  Our lives are contradictions upon contradictions.  We look to sports stars to teach us wrong from right, and are shocked when they use “performance enhancers”.  The family has been degraded to such a place that if a mother has the AUDACITY to reprimand her child for throwing a fit in a store, that she will have child services called on her.  It is suddenly Un-American to question President Shrub when the freedom to question is one of the key points of our country. 

This is the world that our children are growing up in.  A world where common sense is outlawed and intelligence banned.  Where we are scorned for following the rules and rewarded for cheating. 

Where has the happiness gone?  When did it become fashionable to brag about being lonely or to drink yourself into a stupor each night?  Day in and day out we drug ourselves through the pain of another day, just to have the life sucked slowly out of us. 

We must cut ourselves free.

I listen to people complain that they cannot fly.  I hear people bitch that they are constrained by rules and politics. That they are unhappy with what they have and nothing seems to make it better.  We all know them.  They stand there, day after day, slowly dying and doing nothing.

Life is an interesting thing.  We hear the turn of phrase “Get a life” and think of it meaning for us to get more into the grove of the culture.  The ironic thing is that instead of freeing us, it binds us tighter. 

When things get tough, we talk about just putting one foot in front of the other and just trying to make our way to the next day.  We put our heads down and force our way forward, despite everything else.  But the thing is, that it will slowly kill us, just as the daily grind will. 

Life begs to be lived.  We need to look up.  We wish to dull the pain, but the pain is what tells us we live.  What would evil be if there was no good?  What would black be without white?  How can we truly know happiness without knowing the depths that the spirit can fall?  What is height without depth?

By crushing one, we crush all.

Without a rallying cry, each person in our generation must find their own.  Sometimes they will scream it loud and long and never be joined.  But sometimes others will join in.  And then we won’t be alone.  We fear to be alone, but we fear rejection more.  No one understands me. 


We are never alone.  Our supports are always there, we just need to know where to look.  To explore.  We feel that the popular people must be happy—look at their groupies.  But a man with too many friends has none. 

We must cut the ties that bind.  We must free our minds until they are alone and then we can bind them to friends, to family, to lovers, and even to haters.  Instead of looking for happiness in the bottom of a box of Cracker Jill’s, we need to find it within ourselves and what we already have.

"But it isn’t that easy," the masses say.

The thing is….. it is.  We really don’t know what we have until we lose it, or think we have.  We really don’t know what we can do until we do it.  We really don’t know anything about ourselves until we push ourselves to the limit and beyond.  What I am talking about is not a physical thing, but rather a mental or spiritual thing.  Only we can judge our self worth, and if you have to drink yourself to sleep each night, or over the letter “M”, what does that say? 

As we go through life and hear the commercial jingles and see the sex on TV, we must stop—completely—and think.  How much of this is real? Will it really help us through the crucible and save us?  Can we trust those pushing their ideas?  Or can we trust ourselves and those around us? 

Who am I to judge for you?  All I know is that there is hope for everyone.  Redemption is not just an idea from whatever god you believe in, but nor is it something given away by them.  Redemption can only come from within.  When we have a clear conscience, we are truly free.

And then we can live. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Characterization: Part Deux

Last post, I talked about characterization in a single, specific case and applied the generalization as a rule. Obviously, it's a generalization, and won't work for everyone or in every case. That's the nature of generalizations.  It's a lot like profiling and valid only as long as its guiding tenants hold true.

Which, as I figure it, is a 50/50 chance.

But there's one aspect of characterization that holds true most of the time. And I say most of the time, because I think there's only one rule in writing that's true 100% of the time: no verb, no sentence. Don't ask me to explain that one, though. I couldn't diagram a sentence if my dinner or my life depended on it. You'll just have to trust me.

No, the rule I'm referring to is that we, as writers, have to make our characters "real." I'm sure you’ve heard that one before. It seems to be a core tenet of creative writing. Think on it and consider how many times you've heard that one preached. Personally, more times than I can count.

Yet, I can't stand this rule. It just doesn't work for me. Hear me out, now. I can see you scoffing and questioning my credibility. Not that I haven't made some bold claims before now. Well, I don't think of them as bold, but rather as questioning what I see as the blindly accepted rules of basic writing. Or something like that. Take it for what you will.

I'll let my finished writing stand for itself.

Anyway, what I have issue with is the absoluteness of the rule, that we must follow this rule at all times when designing characters. It's unconditional. But I have a single question for you:

 What is the definition of real?

By that, I mean what is real and what is false? Is Clifford real? You know Clifford, The Big Red Dog. What about Elrond Half-Elven? Harry Potter? Marty McFly? Shawn Spencer? Bruce Wayne? The list goes on. Is Garfield any less real than the Corleone family or Jake Blues?

Hopefully, I've set up a rhetorical question. Perhaps not. But are any of these characters real or even realistic? The Corleones are realistic enough, in a literal sense, with Marty McFly and Jake Blues trailing just behind. But what about the others? Magical characters don’t exist; elves don't live among us. And a rich man pretending to be a bat? At least dogs are real, though not so large. And definitely not so red.

But each character is real enough. Important difference, that. I feel it's necessary to mention the difference between real, real enough, and, as I think of it, real within a form.

Real should be easy enough for us to understand. These characters are real in a very physical sense and fit the finite, specific definition of the rule. Their actions, responses, and options apply within the physics of this universe. There's no cure for death. A thrown ball has certain demands on it that must be met. Reactions are finite. It all has to make sense. This is what we all strive for. This is the world that Hemingway, Cather, and Woolf introduced to us. We understand it and grasp it inherently.

Real enough is what I consider all those people trying to sell us stuff on TV. The walk-off role. Do we care about their motivations or how they'll react to an alien invasion of lower Manhattan? No. What we want from them is the momentary interaction, and then they can disappear back into the mold that created them. And that's about all we care for them, too. As long as they react believably, we're good. They really don't even apply to the rule, but I mention them only for the sake of being thorough.

Then there's the final type: real within a form. Okay, I could use another term for them, too: stereotypes. This ran rampant in early cinema, but it predates that. Look back at Shakespeare. It's ALL stereotypical. Every play. Doesn't make it less fun, though.

The thing is, we still use stereotypes in our writing. Sherlock Holmes. John McClain. Every sitcom father ever. We're okay with that, too. Otherwise, explain the success of The Big Bang Theory. The characters are all stereotypes.

I recently asked my wife if my characters in The Red Dress were realistic. She said no and I felt horrible. Then she went on to say that they're not meant to be. Extremely realistic characters wouldn't work in that book. It's too stylized. Insert the characters from The Walking Dead into The Big Bang Theory.

Not working for you either?

Then I’ve made my point. As writers, we need to be aware of how well our characterization fits within both the world we create and the style we write. Real is relative.