Being A Kid Again

I was not happy with The Force Awakens.  You have no idea how hard it is to write that…let alone how hard to think it.  Star Wars is my childhood.  My current fascination with photography was born from that movie, the first film I really remember in detail.  And don’t even get me started on my love of sci-fi and fantasy…

As bad as were the three prequels, the three “originals” are the apex for me in oh so many ways.

That is why, honestly, it was so hard to be disappointed with The Force Awakens.  I wanted very much to fall in love with that movie, but it failed on just way too many levels.

But Star Wars is Star Wars, and I could only hold out for so long: I finally sat down to watch Rogue One.

I was, sadly, prepared to be disappointed.

Oh boy, was I not.

This is the Star Wars movie we’ve been waiting for since Return of the Jedithis is what Force Awakens should have been.  I rediscovered the magic of being that young kid sitting again in the theater and losing myself in a movie.

It sounds inadequate, but I can think of no higher praise to offer the writers and director and cast than to say, “You gave me back the magic.”

Well done, folks.  Well done.

I Never Did Listen Well

I’ve been told I shouldn’t do these, I shouldn’t post snippets.

“Don’t give your stuff away, even if it’s an initial draft.”  “Too many complications, just keep it to yourself.”

Screw it, I don’t care.  I write…that’s who I am.  I write so people can read.  I write to share characters and stories, to share emotion and thought.  Everything else is just noise.  So…a snippet:

The guitar was a part of Connor, body and soul. The words and the music even more so. All of his emotion, and all of his memory, had been pouring into his music for the better part of two hours.

Connor did not lay himself bare to strangers. Hell, Connor did not lay himself bare to himself. The memories of those that mattered were too sore, and too near, however, for such control when he was playing.

Into every word and note of his music went all of the pain and loss – and the guilt and shame – that bore the names and memories of his ghosts: of his dad, of Marie and Vin…and of Oz. Always of Oz.

A final line sung about the price always waiting to be paid and he bowed his head, listened to the diminishing notes of the music. The heat on that stage, and the effort of his performance, had almost as much sweat pouring from him as emotion. The small, packed bar echoed with the crowd’s cheering applause, but Connor couldn’t hear them. The memories, and the unshed tears, were too loud.

A few breaths, a few precious seconds to gather himself, and the spotlight faded.

Thank you, Spog. I wish you’d sung to me before.

How did you answer that?

You remembered, and you felt, that’s how.

He could barely raise his arm, so much energy had he spent. But then again, he didn’t need much energy to drain the tumbler of whiskey at his elbow. There might be no forgiveness in alcohol, but there was numbness. He was going to need an awful lot of numbness after the music.

But not for anything would he trade that music. Nor the memories. His friends – his family – were dead, but they would always live in his music…and in his soul. They were something he could hold to, something he needed very badly.

Another drink was pressed into his hand, a babble of voices talked to him. He looked around, he answered and he drank. But it all took place in a daze, his body responding and functioning by the purest instinct and habit.

That daze didn’t end until a voice spoke; a voice he did not expect.

“You made me cry tonight, Connor. You promised never to do that again.”

He looked up. He couldn’t not look up, as hard as it was to do. No, he wanted to run away and hide. He wanted very much to hide.

It was Nat.

Connor hadn’t felt like this since the night he’d held Oz’s dying body: helpless and hopeless and beyond words.

Talk to her, Spog. Say something, you crazy ikiryo.

You could tell me what to say, he thought back to his dead friend.

Oz’s only answer was the faintest of laughs, and the memory of warmth…and of love.

[Edit: cleaned up the paragraphs…copying stuff from my usual writing program into WordPress can be funky sometimes.]

What We’ve Done

I read an article the other day talking about the younger generation(s).  You know the ones I’m talking about: the stories that complain about how millennials and/or gen-z’ers are living with family more than ever before.  Normally I hear and see so many shallow, pointless stories like these that they don’t even register.  It’s just the same old stuff, put out over and over by lazy editors and even lazier writers.

But there was one random occurrence that brought this story to the front of my mind: at right about the same time I heard a radio ad for a retirement home.  This ad featured a couple of people complaining about how hard and time-consuming and expensive it was to take care of their parents as age set in.

I had to stop and think for a bit about the hypocrisy and insanity of it all: WHEN THE HELL DID WE FORGET THE CONCEPT OF FAMILY?!

The world is about more than just “me”.  It has to be about more, because the only alternative is that infamously savage life: nasty, brutish and short.  The subtext of both article and ad was the same: no one “normal” would ever want to care for aging parents, or help out emerging young adults.

For the vast majority of human history the important unit was not the individual, but rather the family.  More than that, it was the extended family.  Extended across generations and branches far more than we Americans like to think about in this day and age.

Honestly, we’re the outliers in this whole thing.

It is only in the last 100 years or so that the restrictive, internally focused and exclusionary concept of the “nuclear family” took such strong hold.  That concept that dictates a kid leave the house as soon as possible to start “his/her own family”, that says you’re on your own as soon as you do leave.  Worse, it adds the unspoken concept that family is something merely to be endured, or to be exploited, rather than a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Don’t get me wrong: there is a time and a place for the needs of the individual to take precedence, but surely that does not have to be the totality?  Surely the world is not a zero sum game, and the success of an individual can and does benefit the family as a whole?

That long example of human history I mentioned?  It tells us the resources of a family (not just money, but also influence, standing, relationships, knowledge, etc…) were the property of the family itself, not the individual members.  No, not even the individual who was the “head”.  Everything was a tool to ensure the family prospered and survived.

It’s alien to us nowadays, but the family really did carry a sense of caretaking, and of honoring the generations before and the generations yet to come.  Things like: 3, 4 or even 5 generations sharing a farm/company…great-grandkids helping to care for the old ones when life gets heavy…the realities and struggles of life shared between cousins, not just as updates on Facebook…that list can go on for a long, long time…

Instead we now have this vision of “one man (or woman) alone”.  We hold to the vision – venerate it, even – of leaving your family behind and “striking out on your own”, then have the temerity to wonder why the world is falling apart around us?

I think we can all agree that our society has problems – many problems – but the realization we never seem to get to is that WE’RE RESPONSIBLE.  All of us: old and young, prosperous and poor, influential and powerless, we all played our role in getting to where we are now.  We changed the rules, we taught the lessons, we created the messages, and now we are reaping what we sowed.

I’ve mentioned before that it doesn’t matter to me if you’re liberal or conservative…or even if, like me, you’re standing off to one side with a beer and a pretzel and a puzzled frown.  The only thing I care about is how you live your life.  Well, this is about how you live your life.  If you want to make things better, to help “fix” things, then the place to start is the very concept upon which all of human society is built: the family.

The Clothes That Don’t Fit Anymore

I have a post I’m sitting on at the moment. It touches on the challenges of economics for writers. Well, not so much on the specific economics, but rather on the confluence of frustration and desperation that so often comes with that topic for us. And how the despair and pressure can build into a hopelessness that makes it hard to actually, you know, write.

But there’s a hell of a lot more to the frustrations, and the lack of confidence, than just money. So I decided to write a follow-up to a post I’m not sure I’m even going to use. Huh, go figure.

I’ll repeat something I’ve said before: every single writer out there should do something else, something in addition to writing. Some other form of artistic outlet to hone and strengthen your creativity and brain in different ways. Personally, I do photography. I’ve even gone so far as to use it for another (small) source of income.

Now, maybe it’s because photography really is just a hobby for me, but that avocation very much comes second to writing in every way. It has also never ground me down in the same way writing has.

Sure, from time to time I look at a few of my pictures and think, “What the hell happened with this?!” But then that reaction turns into a shrug and recognition that I’ll keep shooting pictures anyway. I can only get better, right?

So why do I struggle to do that with writing?

I have my issues in life, God knows, but there really is nothing so up and down for me as writing. Nothing else that leaves me so often questioning my basic assumptions about myself. Nothing else that can – and does – grind me down in the same way, and make me wonder if “You want fries with that?” is such a bad career move, after all…

We all have them: those days and times when you just can’t muster the energy – or the drive – to craft the words. When that little demon at the back of your mind whispers, “This isn’t for you. You’re not smart enough, not experienced enough, not ready.”

Not, when you get right down to it, good enough.

That demon doesn’t yell and screech. No sir, not for me. But his quiet little voice never goes away. He just whispers and whispers, and sometimes – more often than I’d like to admit – those whispers get through.

I’ve done my time working in offices. I wore the clothes and lived the life of a successful sales & marketing guy. When that little demon gets through, and when the grinding of reality starts to hurt, that’s when I start thinking about putting on again those clothes.

But…

But then those times come when it all clicks. When you craft a scene that, no matter what that little demon whispers, you know just plain worked. For me, those are the times that remind me that being a writer is less what I do and more who I am.

I wear the clothes of a writer now. Every time nowadays that I try to put on those old, professional clothes, it turns me into a dancing bear: a freak and a fool pretending to be something he is not.

I’ve been that guy that parties and has a good time. I’ve also been successful and serious. I’ve seen and done things a lot of folks can, honestly, only dream of. And in the end, nothing I’ve ever done or seen or been can come close to that feeling when a scene just works. That time when the payoff makes all the pain and doubt and despair worth it.

Music and writing go hand in hand for me, so I’ll close with a line from the song that got me thinking about this:

“But the clothes I wore / just don’t fit my soul anymore” – The Gaslight Anthem, “Orphans”