Archive for the ‘Essays’ Category

I’ve often said that logic 101 should be a required high school course throughout the land. If you spend any considerable amount of time with other bags of mostly water, and/or mentioned politics, firearms, or whether the poor should be set to drift on ice flows, you have probably noticed that while people may be passionate, they suck at arguing. If you’re familiar with Monty Python (who are reuniting, if you didn’t know), you are well aware that an argument is not just contradiction, it’s a connected series of statements to establish a definite proposition …. an intellectual process.

And, while I think being able to make and identify good arguments is an important life skill, I also think it’s an important writing skill. A story, no matter its genre, is really just a (hopefully) clever argument presented by character, setting and plot (you think I’m going to believe the Overlook Hotel is haunted unless Mr. King makes a darn good argument with his writing that this is a world where haunted hotels can exist?)

Argument, like story, has to make logical connections from beginning to end. Like this: Premise A has to equal B, but B also has to equal C. In real life, those premises have to be true and logically follow one another, in writing they only have to logically follow one another. For instance, if I said that Beyonce killed JFK, that is neither true nor is it logical (because she wasn’t born until 1981). It’s an easily refuted argument in the real world. But what if the argument my fictional story makes is that a genius (but Beyonce obsessed) scientist created technology that made time travel possible, and hijinks ensue which eventually gives Beyonce access to a time machine where she is sent back in time and accidentally responsible for the President’s assassination. Although in need of quite a bit of turd polishing, that’s an acceptably logical story premise. Why? Because, you can’t just put a boy and a lion in a boat without explaining how they got there. Just give me a world in which it’s plausible that Beyonce could have killed JFK, along with proper explanation of how she got to that point (A equaling B equaling C), and your story argument is on its way to a place of validity where I can begin to abandon my disbelief.

As readers, we will accept that anything can happen if you, as the writer, argue the point well enough. But if you let story logic slip, you lose the reading trance you had me in and I begin to ask myself whether I should be reading something else. For example, if I argued that vampires could attack Bayside High, you would think I’d been huffing my 90’s era Saved By the Smell cologne, (it’s not a thing, but it should have been). But if I had said that vampires could attack Sunnydale High, you’d only roll your eyes at the obvious nature of my statement. Why? They’re both high schools. They’re both even high schools where it could be argued that supernatural things are known to happen (Zack stops time and talks to the voyeuristic outside people all the time.) So, why is it so hard to accept that, one fateful Prom night, a band of roving bloodsuckers might savagely murder the cast (how excited are you now, Jessie Spano?), except Zack, who would obviously stop time to escape, and Kelly Kapowski, because she would obviously be turned and promptly become their vampire queen (duh). The problem is the premise doesn’t match the conclusion you’ve made. Despite Zack’s time manipulating abilities, we are led to believe for seventeen bajillion seasons that this is your average high school. Such a twist would betray what had come before; feel tacked on. (It’s why people despised the fact that the blue-collar family of Rosanne won the lottery. …How’s that for a current example? I gots my fingers on the pulse of today’s youth!) So, the next time you make an argument about wages at Wal-Mart or werewolves in the walls, just make sure it doesn’t suck.

Meet Your Queen

Meet Your Queen

You know what I miss? Chores. I miss chores and curfews and nagging parents who bought me gas and fed me and did their fair share of both screwing me up and loving the heck out of me. Don’t get me wrong, I think individuation is vitally important to the future psychological health of a person. But, seriously, there was a magical refrigerator full of free food.

However, magical icebox aside, I’m not sure if I truly, literally miss that time in my life or if it’s that tendency we have of recalling only the good about things that happened more than ten years ago, and romanticizing said things. (Have you actually watched She-Ra lately? Not… that… I was a fan of She-Ra or anything.) In fact, I’m pretty sure that time in my life probably had as many (although different) challenges as I face now.

Image

So… This was a thing.

Life is purportedly about forward motion and personal growth and such, but I always have that feeling that I’m not quite there. (Which, probably, is because I’m not quite there.) And earlier life experiences had so many definable goals. You stopped crapping yourself, you finished Kindergarten, you became a teen, you got your license, you graduated high school, you stopped being a teen, you could legally drink (so you stopped), you graduated college. No wonder we often look back on that time with such nostalgia. We constantly felt like we were achieving goals and accomplishing… life, or whatever.

After all that, it just becomes about the daily grind. It becomes about doing that which is supposed to last. You find a steady job, you get married, you have kids, and you keep doing those things forever. The next serious ‘end’ we have to look forward to is retirement, then… eventual death. In essence, our lives teach us for twenty years that life is about attaining goals and then stops giving us goals. So, maybe it’s not just the free rent I miss (But, sweet Zeus, do I miss it), but the comfort of accomplishment.

So, I suppose, if the idea of wandering aimlessly through your job, marriage, relationships, etc. doesn’t appeal to you, as it doesn’t appeal to me, we could set our own goals.

Perhaps that’s part of the reason I love to write. Very few things are more satisfying to me than finishing a post or a short story or, after months or years of work, a novel. It gives me something to point to as an accomplishment. It’s something I finished. With all the things in life that we grind away at, maybe we need things such as that. Maybe it’s why we need books and movies and binge-watching sessions of Breaking Bad on Netflix. When we do those things, we feel as though we’ve done something. Maybe the never-ending cycle of bills and groceries forces us to do things like create blogs and add to the already tremendous glut of memes. We want to feel like we’re contributing to the greater whole of mankind. We want to feel like, at least in some small way, our lives matter and our voices are heard. We hunt and garden to provide and prove ourselves competent, we don’t eat meat to show ourselves that we have a moral center, and we build tediously accurate scale models of the Death Star to show our appreciation and to regain that feeling of having finished something. I think we create these moments to stave off that feeling that we are on a treadmill. We are always trying to break that long, long lifeline into manageable chunks.

The problem is that even the chunks that we create are forgotten almost as soon as we create them. We’re always looking forward. We stare into that long, long line’s horizon and spend our hours wondering what is just beyond. That could be part of the reason we get so frustrated with life. I think the answer is being present. It’s living in the now. It’s enjoying that book you’re reading (or writing) and not worrying over what the next book might be. It’s tasting your food. It’s experiencing each moment with your families, because those moments build lifetimes. Perhaps part of the reason we look back with such nostalgia is because we never fully appreciated the good while it was going on. If that’s true, and nostalgia is more sinister than just recalling the good, then I say create a life where you’ll never experience it again. Create a life in which you suck so much of the joy out of every moment that there’s nothing to go back for.

I stumbled across an article today about Mitch Hedberg, and it made me sad. A good friend of mine introduced me to Mitch a few years back. I promptly laughed, I laughed more, and then I found out that he had passed away. This made me sad. So, now, every time I hear his simple genius (and laugh again), I am sad that he’s gone. Then, last night, I was introducing my girlfriend to a new sitcom I really liked on the Hulu. During the mandatory commercials, I saw one of the main actors in a commercial for a new show, on a different network. This got me curious, so I looked it up: cancelled. This is a brilliant time for dramas and even, one could argue, dramadies, but the sitcom is currently–with a few outstanding exceptions–trite and boring. So, it was a shame to see a show that genuinely surprised me with laughter at times, go away. But, that’s the nature of this world, isn’t it? Our grandmothers die, good books end, they stop making Ding Dongs (no, seriously, that was a thing). But those people, and things, leave an indelible mark on us.

kingdingdong

Especially King Ding Dong

We are changed by that which we love. My grandmother passing away over ten years ago is still the most significant loss in my life. But her death has forced me to deeply consider her life. The fact that I miss her has made me gather up all the wonderful things about her and think about them more just for the simple reason that there will be no more. Do I wish she were still here to take for granted? Absolutely. But, hi, welcome to Earth.

So, that’s what I (try to) do. I mourn, but then I rejoice that I had that thing at all. I find satisfaction in the idea that I was added to by that thing that is no longer a part of my life. Whether it’s a piece of entertainment, highly processed food stuffs or a flesh and blood piece of my metaphoric heart. I am different in some fundamental way because those things existed near me. I choose to see it that way. Otherwise, I’d go mad with grief. I definitely wouldn’t want to have never had those experiences just because I can’t have them again. (I mean, I can’t imagine having rice and not thinking to myself, “I like rice. Rice is a really great when you’re hungry and you want 2,000 of something.”) Thanks, Mitch. And, thanks grandma. Thanks guy who invented ding dongs and cast of cancelled sitcom. I’m sorry you’re gone, but I’m glad I had you.

Let’s Go.

Posted: August 9, 2013 in Essays
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ImageI’ve seen Doctor Who. The last seven seasons, pretty much as they came out. Recently, however, I introduced the good Doctor to my girlfriend. She had the good taste of becoming a fan only a few episodes in. And, if I would have let her, would have gobbled them all up without me around. But I decided I wanted to experience them again with her.

As I’d watched the last season, I had noticed that some important elements of the overall plot had effectively swiss-cheesed in my head (to reference another time traveling show), and, so, felt disjointed. And there’s a new Doctor coming, so I wanted to be ready for that–see all that I could see in the hopes that I would find myself more prepared for that change at the end than I currently did. Because, to be more kind to change that I feel toward it, I don’t like it. So, I sat with her and re-watched these amazing shows once again, hoping to gird myself.

Things were clearer this time around. Small, but integral, plot points reappeared for me and made what had been thirteen or fourteen episode storylines tie together into a cohesive whole.

But it was watching this man with two hearts–this Doctor–who could seemingly live forever, was a hero’s hero, could travel across time and space and beat up any big bad that dared face him with only his wits, all with the restraint and grace of a saint (most times, anyway). It was watching this man who had everything that we could imagine wanting out of life: freedom, power, eternal youth and verve, and seeing his loneliness. Seeing a man that seems to have it all troubled and dealing with loss and pain and disappointment and rejection… dealing with life. It reminded me.

It reminded me that all of those things I believe will push away the stench of death, the pain of loss, the looming spectre of life’s end, even the daily fear of falling face first into failure, will, as a point in fact, not. That’s the Doctor’s gift to me. That’s the creative force behind that show’s gift to me–a reminder that I am capable of freedom and strength and bravery and grace without a time traveling Tardis, all of time and space to explore and a cool bowtie. It’s a choice, whether in the face of Daleks or an unkind boss.

So, bring the change. Bring this new man who probably won’t wear bow ties or leather jackets, or even say quirky things in French. Because I’m reminded again that change is inevitable, change is happening whether we’re ready for it or not. And, sometimes, probably more often that we are aware, change can be good.

Allon-sy!

Scared

Posted: January 31, 2013 in Essays, Writing
Tags: , , , ,

scared-baby-2I’m starting a new career and I’m scared. I have all these friends that have all these connections and all these resumes out in the hands of those they’ve commended me too. And I am thankful beyond belief for this. (But I’m scared.)

In my heart, I’m an artist. Up until the last few years, I didn’t know how to be an artist though. I wrote and I thought, not yet. I created and believed there was some thing I hadn’t become aware of or grasped that I was supposed to. So I couldn’t be an artist. I wasn’t good enough. I was scared. …But I’m not scared anymore. I’m free.

There is craft and there is hard, hard work. There is the time-consuming process of growing and becoming better and better and better. But there is never anything to be afraid of. The art is always worthwhile. Even when it’s not salable, it’s worthwhile. It is a marker of where one is. It is progress incarnate. It is, my friends, anti-fear. Because fear does not create. Fear hides and makes up excuses. It is indeed the sun-sparkling spittle in the face of fear.

But, yeah, I’m still afraid. This ain’t art. What if I don’t get this job? Any job. What if all this work I’ve done for the past five years ends up being a very expensive education in failure?

For me, the act of creating–the lessons learned from it–prepared me for this. It taught me that even hard-earned failure is hope. Because it taught me that well-prepared actions are beautiful and non-action is null. It taught me that, instead of fearing, I should be. And in being, I will act as I will, not as fear of the unknown forces me to. I will be true to reality and and not the ghost of possible futures.

So, after writing this, I have to admit, I’m still a little afraid. Because truth is beautiful and a fine salve, but–like any medicine–it takes a while to fully work. But I feel better. Because even if destruction wins for a time, I stared it down and created in its ugly face.

You’d Be Surprised.

Posted: January 22, 2013 in Essays, Writing
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Try New Things!

Try New Things!

“You’d be surprised what you want to know that you don’t know you want to know.” I said this jokingly, but it makes me think about how we label things and how that keeps us from experience. I don’t like sports, for instance. But the reasons I don’t like sports are mostly social for me. It is, in my experience, the same reason those who like sports, who dress in their team’s jerseys and know by heart the batting average of their most enjoyed player, frown and furrow their brow at the comic collector or the science fiction fanatic.

Without having to explain that of course I know there is overlap and that there are sports fans who also search for rare Mego dolls in their spare time and geeks who erupt like sports volcanoes when their team crosses a line or puts a ball in a predetermined area. Because you know I know that. Because that’s not what this is about. It’s not at all about the lines that we make, the clearly drawn boxes that we choose to live in that proudly declare we are in this camp or another–the music we listen to and the rims we choose to house our eye-seeing apparatuses within, for instance. It’s about what’s outside those lines.

Maybe, if I didn’t identify an abstract thing so heavily with a culture or group that I feel is against me, or anti-me, or bizarro me, then I might actually find some measure of joy in it. I wonder, if I could put all of my preconceived notions aside and hear it for the first time, if I might find something useful and provocative about what Country music has to offer—as a form, a medium, a voice. I am at once curious if listening to my enemy might invite some bit of wisdom I have insofar refused to hear. It makes me want to refuse to refuse, if you know what I mean. It makes me want to seek out the jock and the cheerleader equivalents of the grown-up world, take their hands and go where they lead me for a while. It makes me want to lose myself in that which I have eschewed. It does. But, even in this, this waking up to the world at large; this expansion of my horizons that I had led myself to believe were wide open but weren’t, I’m afraid even this would still not make me like Twilight any more.

The Pointless Comb-over

Posted: December 24, 2012 in Essays, Other Stuff, Writing

I went back home this weekend for Christmas. My brother and I went for pizza and there, at the next, poorly wiped table, was a man with the worst comb-over I’ve ever seen. Now, you may be saying, ‘Chad, all comb-overs are bad. What makes this one so very, very special?’ And I would say to you, ‘Thank you for asking. Sit. Sit, and I will tell you the tale of the Pointless Comb-over.’

I get the comb-over. We’re a vain bunch, and those people didn’t start off trying to spread three hairs over a head-full of space. At first, it was probably, simply, a thin spot that a little hair maneuveCombovers_zps5b1afa2dring easily covered. Then it became wider. But, oh, weren’t we clever with our gel and few hairs? But, I get that. It’s called denial. I have the lion’s share of my hair, but I’m sure there are things I’m not honest with myself about. That. That, I can accept. But, the pointless -comb-over… it just makes me sad.  Let me share my sadness with you.

Imagine, if you will, a field of hairlessness. Imagine a shining, pink orb of pure, unadulterated skin. Picture with me long curves of hair, springing from the side of this man’s head like sad, brown rainbows. Now, imagine that NONE of those hairs do the job of covering that head. The thing is, all of the elements of a comb-over were there–the baldness, the too-long side hair coupled with the shorter hair further down, meant to confuse us into believing: this is a normal haircut, move along, nothing to see here. But all of that perfectly good hair camouflage lay to the sides and back, useless. It was like some odd bird had built a nest of hair around a giant, pink egg.

I don’t want to hate anything about myself. Especially to the point that I go to insane lengths to cover it up. But I really, really, really don’t want to become so blase about my own sad attempts at covering up my flaws that I end up with what amounts to a pointless comb-over. So, my friend, on this holiday eve, I guess what I’m trying to say is this: Enjoy yourself for yourself. It’s okay to alter yourself. You actually should always be trying to grow and change for the better. But never, ever let your self-loathing become such a part of who you are that it becomes a defining trait.

I’ve been thinking a lot about consequences lately. We do things and we don’t think about the them. Sure, we might think about how it’s going to affect us. But we don’t think globally about our choices. I’ve been in friendships, family and romantic relationships that were damaged or even completely severed not because of what I or the other person did, but because of what had been done to one or both of us in the past. People write themselves into our stories without even realizing it many times. So, I began to wonder about the consequences of what I write.

When I create characters I try to make everything they do mean something. If what someone is doing or saying has no impact on either them or another character, then what they are doing or saying is worthless to the story. That makes me also wonder if what my characters are doing or saying has had any impact on the reader—not just their entertainment, but their lives.

I mean, honestly, everything you write doesn’t have to be mind-blowingly deep or meaningful. Writing for entertainment is fine. But even when you’re writing purely for entertainment, there’s usually a message. There’s usually something Meta going on that even you might not realize. Yes, when I’m writing, I want to be cognizant of what the writing is saying beyond what the writing is saying (if that makes sense). But I also love that thrill of someone coming to me after reading something I’ve written and telling me about something it said to them that I had no idea it said at all.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that art is not something to treat flippantly. It always has consequences. It has meaning and purpose. The ability to move those who view it in one way or another. Sometimes that purpose is to move the reader to anger or change. Sometimes it’s to do the hard job of entertaining. Sometimes it’s to impart joy. But remember that words are powerful and strong (and that’s not just good writing advice). They often come at a cost. Treat them with the respect they deserve and you will most often create something worth experiencing.

Words Remind Us.

Posted: November 30, 2012 in Essays, Writing
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Candle’s story how can I tell?
Of the broken heart’s living hell?
My sorrow is in how I can find
Another who knows these sorrows well.

Hafiz wrote these lines sometime in the fourteenth century. In four lines, he draws me in and makes me feel empathy for a character who is both heartbroken and seeking love and understanding. I think he does this by, of course, his use of language, but also by first empathizing with mankind. He has seen his place in the greater tapestry of our race and understood. He has boiled down the story of this man’s pain into emotions that, even hundreds of years later, we can easily hold onto and comprehend—because we have felt them. We have known them intimately.

Ever since I was a child I have heard people talk about how much the world has changed. They talk about how evil things are now as opposed to some hazy, distant past of which they or their grandparents were a part. I used to believe this. I had internalized the idea that things are worse now than they were before. Then I began to read. I read about atrocities that history drags behind her like entrails. I read of deep, familial hate that corrupt and boil over. The whole of empires falling for a single woman’s kiss. I read of men who murdered and raped because apparently power appointed this right to them and then of unbelievable acts of love and courage in spite of it all.

Sometimes I have crumbled into my bed and wondered if anyone else felt the way I did. Sometimes I bounded joyously, hands outstretched, and hoped that the peace and contentment I felt was common. Sometimes you feel your struggle is yours alone. But it never is. A million-million men and a million-million women have stooped low to lift the same burdens you and I carry. They have laughed and cried, made inconceivable mistakes and experienced redemption they never believed they deserved. History is not a rise and fall of morality. Morality has rotted on the vine in the same, sick way since Eve sunk her teeth deep. It is sometimes a cautionary tale, or reason to hope. But it is always true to who we are.

Fashions and the way in which we communicate, travel and interact will always be in flux, but the human condition, the heart of a man, will always be able to be summed up in the words of some near-forgotten poet hundreds of years past. That’s the beauty of words. They remind us.

I wonder how often we destroy ourselves with our own expectations. I think it’s a good idea to have standards. If you don’t have standards, you’re probably going to be a very unhappy person. It’s also good to put yourself around people that make you smile and encourage you; challenge you but don’t grind you under their heel to make themselves feel better. I don’t know many people who would disagree with that, but I think we often wake to find ourselves well-ground under our own angry, judging heel.

Kierkegaard said that we hate ourselves and want so much to be someone else that we create despair in our lives. We have decided that our goals define us. So instead of just being let down, as anyone might be when they don’t reach a goal, we are devastated because our entire self-worth was wrapped up in that goal. But we’re so much more than our plans or our failed relationships, or our pasts. We are more than what we have done or has been done to us. But it’s hard to see that in ourselves. So we hate ourselves and strive to be something other than ourselves. And, by damn, if we’re going to suffer at the hands of our unrealistic expectations then so will others.

Whether that someone else be friends or lovers we come to expect more and more out of them so that they will seem as miserable at life as we think we are. It becomes so awful that even if we do get that thing that we demand from them there will not be enough of it or it will not be done in the right way to satisfy us. Because, somehow, defeat for others equals a sick victory in our twisted, broken hearts. It means we were right, and we like being right. We like winning.

In short, we want to love who we are so much that we’re willing to sacrifice hope for any outside love just to prove how loveable we are to ourselves. And we still don’t feel more loved (Mainly because that’s a self-defeating, stupid way of doing that). But if we realize that it’s not our accomplishments that make us valuable; it’s not our societal roles, relational roles or any of that stuff that make us matter us human beings, then we might get a different outcome. Because then I’m not racing you to ‘win’ life. Then I don’t have to make you seem like less to make me feel like more. Then I don’t have to run away from everything just to feel some semblance of control. I can just be. Me. I can let go and just be. Then I am free to be loved and to love.