Kicking the Bucket

If you’re into films, you’ve probably seen one entitle, “The Bucket List.” Maybe you’ve seen “Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead” as well. In both of these films, characters were facing the end of their days and were in possession of a list of ten things they all wanted to do or accomplish before they “kicked the bucket.”

“The Bucket List” was quite an inspirational film for many people, myself included. I’ve spoke with a few who have such a list. In fact, I just met someone on Twitter who is studying Japanese and plans to write a book as those were items on his list. I know another cat that plans on running a marathon for the same (or, rather, a similar) reason. And, true… there are some who have these lists have included some far-fetched goals, like skateboarding on the surface of Mars or riding a mechanical zebra across Africa. And, while I’m all for the bizarre and setting the bar high on one’s aspirations…

Sure, I have a pretty wild list. The difference between mine, however, and a list which contains items like “having sex with Queen of England” (don’t try to picture that one) is quite a simple one: I’m actually going after my crazy dreams. Why? Well, that’s simple, too. My dreams keep me up all night, so I might as well live them out so I can finally get some decent sleep.

Seriously, though… why have dreams if you’re not willing to follow through on them? Life is all about the experiences we create for ourselves and/or become subjected to, right? So, why not be more objective with life and carry out some of those little plots and schemes which taunt us and haunt us so? Hell, if only for the stories you can tell others about what you’ve done, it’s worth it (especially if those stories are unbelievable, yet true).

Of course, once something’s checked off, it’s a better idea to replace that item with something new rather than just leave it with that sense of accomplishment. Those feelings fade with time. Besides, you don’t want to live out the rest of your days wrapped up like some strung-out, re-fried bean in some abstract nostalgic burrito. Living in the past is no way to live at all. So, keep updating and renewing that list if you keep one. That way, you’ll always have something to strive for, dig?

(You know, now that I think of it, I think I’ve only mentioned two of the items from my bucket list in this blog. The most obvious (and the most obscure) of the two is my pursuit of a life engulfed in creativity. What does that mean? Well, like a goober, here it is in a nutshell. You’ve heard of the whole “life imitating art” bit, right? I want a life that is art. I want to wake up every day creating something new until every inch of my reality is tainted with my design.

Fact is, every item on my bucket list is related to this concept. The novel I’m writing now is not only the first of a trilogy, but is also a tenth of the second item on my bucket list. By this, I mean my intention is to write at least ten novels – all of which I have already written many times in my head. (I kid you not, I have stacks of notebooks filled with notes I’ve made over the last 16 years on their plots, their characters, et cetera and so on. Hell, I’ve been known to drive my friends insane with those damn notes to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I’m pretty sure they’re happy to see me finally writing the novels instead.)

As for the rest of my list, well… what can I say? Outside my aspiration to become a filmmaker, I honestly want most of those items to be a surprise. But, for the sake of this post, I’ll drop a few hints. Here’s one: I have a deep passion for gardening, architecture, statues, Tim Burton’s set designs, carnivals, and miniature golf. Want another hint? I, like another friend of mine, have blueprints for a house I wish to build that includes a kitchen design resembling a mad scientist’s laboratory. Bet you can see more of what I mean by creating a life that is art, yes? Care to join me?)

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A Question of Fate

The other day, I found myself in a conversation with one of my neighbors who’s in the beginning stages of an end of a two-year relationship. As he informed me, all of that was a simple matter of fate and they were predetermined to split up. “We just weren’t meant to be, you know?”

“I don’t buy that for a second,” I replied. And, as my words circled around in his head, I saw the confusion growing in his eyes.

“Wha- how do you mean?”

I don’t often like answering a question with a question, but this was one of those moments when it was nearly necessary. “If destiny truly existed, why would we have free will?”

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A Question on Desire

Imagine you’re a teacher in a classroom, a politician on the stand, or someone at the park feeding ducks. In all these cases, you have a group of people or ducks in front of you… some of them are very anxious and eager in getting your attention and some are calm and relaxed. Now comes the time when you must call upon someone in that crowd. It doesn’t matter if you are calling upon one to give them permission to ask a question, answer a question, or to give them some food.  Is it not the tendency to call upon one that is calm, perhaps even least expecting to be called upon? Is it not a natural tendency to try to avoid those who are being the most aggressive with getting your attention? Maybe they’re pushing everyone else out of their way or jumping up and down like their feet are on fire – doesn’t matter, really. The tendency is to call upon those who are calm and passive. That type of energy is more attractive and less irritating than that which comes from aggression or desperation.

Now, let’s flip the table around. Imagine you’re someone in that crowd and the one on stage is something or has something which you desire to obtain – money, love, a new job, health, companionship – whatever one can desire to obtain. How would you go about attracting the attention of your desire?

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Breaking Molds

A couple weeks ago, I sent in a proposal to the Guinness World Records. That proposal detailed my plan to take a photography featuring the largest group of people reading books outdoors. As an added bonus, I included my plot to have the participants come dressed in costumes representing a vast range of culture and professional diversity. If approved, my next step was to head over to the Tampa Hillsborough County Public Library System and to the City of Tampa to obtain backing and permits.

A large part of the motive behind this was to promote the public libraries, to raise the public’s interest in literary arts, and to draw attention to the city of Tampa itself. However, the other part of my motive wasn’t to get my name mentioned in a book or world records. No. It was because simply I wanted to do something larger than life. I wanted to go over the top, just for the thrill of doing so.

This proposal, as I just found out via email, was denied. Why? Well… my plan had one major flaw: how does one photograph another reading silently? It cannot be done. The photo would only show someone staring at a book which creates the illusion that they are reading, but they could be staring at it blankly just the same. That wasn’t not something I took into consideration when I came up with this idea, but the good folks at GWR were nice enough to point that out.

No loss. Sure, my plan flopped. But, two or three other plans spawned from this flop, so the concept of the plan “failing” is actually a bit of a misnomer. The fact is: I’ve succeeded in discovering what would work and what would not, something that I could not have known unless I tested out the idea myself. See, I could still arrange to take that photo providing I come up with a new angle on it, say… a local holiday, like our Guavaween or Gasperilla festivals. Or, if I’m so inclined, I could come up with something else to get my name written down for some other world record. And, who knows? I might do both. I’m not sure yet. I still have a score of other projects in the works.

So, why would I even dare to think of doing something like this? It was all out of experimentation, honestly. Color me crazy, but I want to see how far reality can stretch before it truly snaps. I want to see what it becomes once it actually breaks.

But, see? There’s a great deal of beauty in all of this. Where is it written that someone cannot come along and organize a massive undertaking like the one I mentioned above? Where is it written that all things must remain the same? If such a law exists, there are many in history before us who was quite unaware of it. And those people made changes, didn’t they? They reshaped the reality as people then knew it. It’s my sincerest desire to do the same thing for this modern age. Life just isn’t weird enough for me yet.

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Zen and the Art of Losing Your Virginity

Part Three: The Unknown

If life taught me anything in all these years, it’s that one never knows what’s going to happen next. Life is ever-changing, ever-fluxuating sequence of events. Of course, if you’ve been alive long enough to have a memory, you might already be aware of this phenomenon.

But, that’s just it… we’re all aware of this. We’re also aware that, at any given moment, something devastating could come along and wipe away everything you have come to know and find comfort in. Think of it. Earthquakes are starting to happen in places we never really expected and creating more damage than we dreamed possible. Hurricanes have been known to clear out entire cities and wash them right back into the Dark Ages. Tornadoes, fires, flash floods, mud slides, land slides, volcanoes erupting, violent wind storms… all raging with the power and the desire to tear down anything it can in their pasts – and that’s just nature! Let’s not forget human-triggered disasters like drive-by’s, robberies, riots, auto accidents, chemical weapons, warfare, mass genocide, terrorism…

Yes… at any minute, something stunningly traumatic could occur and turn anyone’s life inside out. But, rather than running around worrying about these things, we just continue to scratch on day to day, wasting our hours at some meaningless job we can’t stand, and doing nothing about anything unless we genuinely have to. Seriously?

Picture, for a moment, that all that you may believe to be improbable actually happened. For example, picture yourself in a car wreck. Let’s say, in this wreck, your legs have been severed from your body. What will you miss? What could you have done, wanted to do, and now cannot because you have no legs?

How about this one… let’s say you wake up one day and find your house on fire. Everything’s burning. You barely get out alive, but suddenly find yourself to be the sole survivor. Worse yet, the fire inspector finds that the fire was started by one of the children playing with volatile chemicals and a lighter in the laundry room and the insurance company you’ve paid hundreds of dollars to over the last couple years decides not to cover the losses. What then? What would you do? Where would you go? How would you recover? All of these things are probabilities which lie dormant just on the outskirts of all that’s unknown, but they are possible and could happen at any time… and, often, when we least expect it.

So… if this exercise was new to you and you hadn’t even thought to fear these things before, why do you fear the unknown when it comes to asking out that gorgeous person you’d been eying for months? Why do you fear the unknown when it comes to exploring that new job opportunity? Why haven’t you gone to that one country you’ve been dying to visit since you were a child with that whole “I don’t care what happens, I’m going and I’m going to have a good time while I’m there” attitude? Why have you not gone to that audition to try and land that role you’ve always wanted to have? Is it because you don’t know what someone would say or how things will go?

How is it that the fear of the unknown stops us from pursing all of that we desire, but the fear of the unknown doesn’t stop us from leaving our houses in the morning out of the fear that something somewhere could somehow take place and kill us or leave us begging for death? Why is it that we sweat the small things, but can easily play ignorant to larger, more devastating possibilities? Curious, isn’t it?

Well, as for myself, I think applying that same ignorance to all that’s unknown would be absolutely beneficial. And, why not? I’m certainly confident enough in my hard-earned wisdom and educated enough through the experiences I have survived to know I can handle just about anything that comes crawling out of the unknown – and all what I have yet to experience, I am definitely open to it. Hell, I welcome it. It’s always time to lose one’s virginity when it comes to new explorations and new experiences. That’s what life’s all about and it offers all these things in abundance. We cannot grow as human beings without new experiences and discoveries, so… why not take life up on these opportunities when they come along? And, who knows? Maybe tomorrow, you’ll be shot on the way to work or be hit by a falling satellite… all because we decided to stick to our safe, simple routine and thought it best to not take risks with life. Wouldn’t we feel foolish? More importantly, wouldn’t we also live out the rest of our days in regret, dreaming about all those things we could have done if only we took the chance?

Don’t think about it. Just go out and live life to its fullest. Life sure doesn’t last long enough to ever take it for granted.

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Zen and the Art of Losing Your Restraints

Part Two: Why Not?

If it’s not common knowledge already, I’m a clown magician who volunteers for Hospice, doing my part for the compassionate art of humor therapy. With giving performances in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, I meet a lot of elderly people from all sorts of backgrounds. And, no matter what that background is, I have found that those I’ve spoken with generally fit into one or two categories. The first group is one collected from those filled with regret. It’s easy to pick them out, really. They’re usually depressed, staring off into the distance or looking aimlessly around, and all their stories either start with or end with, “I wish I would have…” or “oh, if only I…” (Always reminds me of the line: “I could have been a contender.”)

Of course, that other group I mentioned – just the opposite. They’re always smiling, very friendly, often out-going without shame or restraint, and filled with tales of all the things they did in life: “I was a burlesque dancer in France just after the war.” “I performed in a Vaudeville act. We didn’t ever make it big, but boy! Was that fun! I even met Harpo Marx once! Couldn’t understand a word he said, though, but he was one hell of a great guy!” “My sister and I were always getting into trouble. We snuck in the country fair and filled all the pie pans with pig slop just before the pie eating contest… man! Did we ever get it for that one! Never stopped us, though.”

Meeting them, one cannot help but wonder: Why didn’t everyone just follow their desires, play out their passions, and live out their dreams? And, before one can even attempt to toss an answer at that, the epiphany hits: When I get that old, which group would I fit in?

Seems to me, at the end of it all, life is about your collection of experiences and how you perceive them. Sure, attitude and such factor into this, but the bottom line is the same: either you will be filled with regret or you will actually look back and laugh like the old cliché says. (Can it really be that simple?)

All and all, this opened my eyes. I decided to look at all the “crazy” ideas I’ve come up with and asked myself what was stopping me from doing them. Surprisingly, the answer came quickly: I was too wrapped up with trying to figure out the how’s and the why’s… all along dreaming about “if only.” I was trying too hard to analyze, estimate, and predict… and not at all attempting to truly test my theories. Was it the fear that I would fail? Was I afraid to succeed? Did I doubt it would work? Did I doubt anyone would be interested? Blah, blah, blah, blah, and blah.

Why was I asking myself all these questions? I didn’t have the answers – there was no way I could. All I had was a fistful of speculations and a mouthful of blah. I didn’t have the facts. I never went out and tried to gather them. I was just researching other people’s experiences instead of creating my own. I was spending all my time thinking about it… not nearly enough time just doing it.

That’s when I started to ask: Why not? Why not give it a try? Why not see what happens? Why not go all out and blow the roof off this circus tent with every bit of passion I have? Just about every attempt to answer “why not?” is an excuse. Excuses only hold us back. Excuses only weigh us down. So, damn the torpedoes! Full steam ahead!

History is not made by those who give in to traditions. History is made by those daring enough to break the mold and create something new. As an old Chinese proverb states, “one who walks in another’s steps leaves no footprints.” I don’t want to end my days in a sea of regrets. I want to soar through the sky even if it kills me. So… why not? Why not carve my own path and go all out? It’s not like I’ll ever know for sure if all those speculations were invalid or correct unless I take myself out for a test drive and see what I can do, right?

 

Oh, that reminds me. A few days ago, I sent in a proposal to the Guinness World Records committee. Just thought I’d mention it as the wait for their reply has me doing somersaults. Just another 3-5 weeks to go. But, let me not get too ahead of myself. After all, patience is still a virtue.

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Vertical Expressions of Horizontal Desires

Over the edge, but under the radar, I was side-stepping reality against its will. That’s when she caught my heart. Trapped! Wrapped up in fly paper and stuck to her thighs like a cruel joke. What a shame I never had the desire to sniff glue.

Of course, the impending eventually happened. All hell broke loose and it was then I knew it was time I dropped the hammer and blazed a trail straight out of Dodge. Ah… but to think! I was going to miss it all! The audience was already gathering by this point, waiting to see her playing the starring role in some undocumented homicide. Sure, they knew the rumors. They’ve sung them by campfires across this barren land since the dawn of tune. And I knew her. Yeah, you could say I knew her well – well enough to have known she’d stage her own death just before the encore. There was no way in hell she’d pass that up. Are you kidding me? Still, got to love a tragedy, you know.

Get your cola and popcorn, children. Act I is coming soon.

Screaming down the highway at a hundred ninety-eight miles an hour – the only way to die – I found lost somewhere in a forgotten nightmare. Soon, those hounds would be on my heels again. It was only a matter of time now, this I knew as well. She always had such a hard time with letting go.

Behind door number three awaits a steaming pile of political satire, scorching in the heat of a nuclear winter. The grand prize never was a surprise. In fact, history tells us that it’s been there since 1893, festering with anticipation.

Oh, color me in multiple shades of reckless abandonment. I have no intentions on going back there. None less, these wounds won’t lick themselves. Damn, the temptation.

Somewhere beyond that horizon, salvation lays its legs open. Somewhere beyond that horizon, there’s a cabaret that never closes. If only we can all make it there by nightfall, the sun will never have a reason to rise again. If only we can make it there, we can dance our sanity away.

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Zen and the Art of Losing Your Mind

Part One: Great Minds Don’t Think

Crazy how the media loves to chase down an athlete after a goal, a win, or a performance to conduct that standard interview, starting with that ever-famous question: “what was going through your mind?” In the history of sports, has anyone ever answered that question with “well, I was studying the angles and taking in account for wind resistance and forward momentum…” No. Why? Because, at that moment of execution, the mind goes blank. It becomes all about action and split-second compensation for given x-factors the mind comes across in that moment. Action/reaction, there’s no thought involved.

When dancers are up on stage, they don’t think, “okay, turn, lift right leg and swing it across at a forty-five degree angle over to the left, drop and bow, rise, spin…” Of course not. They rehearse endlessly until those movements are second-nature. When they give that performance, their minds are more-so just “going for the ride” while they go through the motions they have programmed their bodies to do. If they actual thought about each motion, they would more than likely crash into one another… much like they did on that first night of rehearsal when they were just learning the steps. There’s a huge difference between thinking about the motions and giving the appearance that one naturally just “feels the music” with skill and precision. When thoughts are removed, instinct takes over. Dancers practice those moves until they become instinctive. That’s the very thing that makes those performances so beautiful and inspiring to watch.

Thoughts can get in the way and slow a person down. I could go on and on citing examples – how a soldier or law enforcement officer would be shot while thinking about a reaction rather than simply reacting or how a child would be burned alive if fire rescue sat around outside the house that’s on fire and discussed what would be the safest way to enter it. The point is all these people: the athletes, the dancers, et cetera… they all spend hours and hours training themselves to act and react on a programmed instinct. They take an idea, the attached string of thoughts, and a desired outcome and make a formula or sorts in which they program themselves to follow once that moment comes when that program is needed. This same process can be applied to any aspect in life. Take a job interview. Go to enough of them, one learns there are a similar set of questions asked of us. There’s the body language to watch for as the reactions to our answers. There’s a great deal involved, actually. But, all of what’s involved can be studied and, from studying, there’s a formula we can derive and implement to ensure our success. Same for sales as both are children of that same beast. On an interview, you’re selling yourself. You become whatever product or service for which they are seeking out. When selling a service or a product, you are trying to convince someone that whatever you have is exactly what they need or should desire. We can train ourselves, like thespians in a play, to act and react on a programmed instinct. Hell, we do this while trying to get a date for Friday night, right? It’s all the same beast.

For other aspects of life, like achieving dreams, programming ourselves becomes a bit more complicated. However, it still can be done. I believe all that lies in breaking down the macrocosmic “big picture” down to its microcosmic aspects and details. Breaking it down like this allows one to sort it all out in manageable stages. One has to learn to crawl before one can walk. One has to know how to walk before one can learn to run, jump, or dance, et cetera. Each of these stages can be formulated and practiced until the action/reaction is second-nature to us. In fact, those formulas are already out there if one looks. Unless you are trying to become something the worlds never seen before, someone before you has already been it. They followed a series of steps to become whatever they are, right? Of course, what worked for them may or may not work for you. Different x-factors can be involved, such as timeline, the people they interacted with along way, and (the ever-so obvious) you are not them and they are not you. Therefore, adjustments are necessary to update those formulas so they can work for you. That’s almost a given, though… or it should be, at least.

[Just to add this… when I’m doing any form of art, I think about the project I wish to create prior to creating it – simply because one cannot create without knowing what one wants to create, or at least, what direction they’re going in with the project. There’s always a desired outcome, regardless of how vague that outcome may be. But, when it comes to the creative process itself, I spend more time just acting and reacting than I do thinking about what I’m doing. Most of the time, whatever I’m creating “tells me” what needs to be done and I simply react to that. The reason for that is simple. I have found over the years, the things that I created “in the moment” – with little or no thought involved – are appreciated more than the works I’ve done where I spent day and night beating myself up thinking about it. Odd how that works out, but I thought I’d mention it.]

Although all of this sounds good, I’m betting some of you are wondering how successful this “non-thinking” or “unthinking” can be, right? It’s all in the approach, really… and that approach is all about your level of confidence on one side and all about opportunity. The more you do something, the more confidence you have in yourself in doing it. That’s just something one builds – experience. The more confidence you have, as it works out, the less time you’re spending thinking about what you’re doing. And there lies the whole fallacy of thought. Here’s what I’m talking about: every time someone is unsure of the answer they are about to give to a question, they use the disclaimer “I think” meaning “I’m unsure.” In thinking, we open the door for all sorts of nasty thoughts, like doubt. Therefore, it’s better to take the approach knowing you can do it rather than thinking you can do it.

Doubt is a confidence killer. It’s also a dream killer. The moment you doubt your ability, you start to lose your ability. Your ability needs focus and, more importantly, your confidence in it to work. Same holds true when it comes to chasing your dreams. The more you think about what you’re doing rather than just doing it, the more risk you take for that crushing thought-wave to come crashing down on you: “Am I wasting my time?” You are when you start to entertain that inquiry. Otherwise, no. The pursuit of your dreams and the desire to do something you’re passionate about (and what makes you happy) should never be thought of as a burden or a frivolous endeavor. For fuck sakes! It’s what makes you happy, right? It’s what you are most passionate about in life, right? You’re always thinking about it – hell, you’re nearly consumed by it. Almost every minute you spend not pursuing your dream is the waste of time.

Of course, when you’re off the game clock or off stage, take a pause – relax – refuel. You’ll need to for the sake of your sanity. Sure, time off the clock is also time to prepare and program yourself for the next action, whatever that may be. Be that as it may, resting and relaxing are all apart of that pursuit. You just have to take the cue and know when you’ve rested enough. You have to know when it’s time to get back up and make waves again. Without a refueling of your energies (physical, mental, creative, etc.), you’ll be running on fumes when it comes time to perform again… and that never has done anyone any good.

Anyway, before I get side-tracked again, the second part of all of this is opportunity. That… well, that you often have to make yourself rather than waiting for it. The method I use for that is a simple one: instead of ever asking myself why I should do something, I ask myself “why not?” (Guess you can now figure out what Part Two will be about, yes? Damn, you’re smart!)

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Cerebral Self-Destruction

Damn. It’s been a while since I sat down here and typed one of these things out, huh? Well, as the (very) little-known joke goes: “Hiatus is not just a state of mind… it’s also an exit off the Port Everglades Expressway down in the southern end of Florida.” (Hey, I never said it was a good joke.)

So now, I’m back. Still surviving life and enduring my desires any way I can, still savagely chasing down my dreams like a starving predator, and still as unpredictable as a herpes outbreak. But, lucky you… I’m back to tell the world about it as if all of this actually made some sort of sense.

Over the last several weeks, as some of you good people already know, I’ve been utterly overwhelmed with moving, unpacking, and donating off pieces of my life. This, needless to say, has been a personal hell for me. At some point along the way, I decided to try and balance out the depression akin to living in a personal hell with all of that I’ve been inspired by since childhood. About five days ago, I hit the point of complete saturation with both. Talk about sensory overload! Hell, I’m surprised my brain hasn’t decided to explode simply out of self-amusement. I’ve honestly been expecting it.

Yes, folks… I became overly saturated with inspiration. The amount of ideas pouring out of my head feels like someone broke a dam and my environment is beginning to flood with blueprints and project notes as a result. Hell, if I had the financial backing to accomplish half these plans, I’d make history with at least one or two of them.

I know… sounds like my ego’s inflating, right? Well, as much as I would love to agree with that, I know better. As far as I can tell, no one else is doing any of these projects I’m thinking about. The only possible reasons that I thought of at first: either no one else has thought of them or no one else thinks they’re worth doing. Call me optimistic (which would be a first for me), but I’d still like to think it’s not the latter.

There is, however, another possible reason. I thought of this one later on: there could very well be others out there with similar ideas in their head and running into the very same problem I am – lack of finances. This is quite possible, actually. I mean, there are just a set number of ideas one can have, right? And, given what finite number of ideas out of that set that is plausible enough to manifest into a tangible reality, I’m fairly sure this phenomenon is ever-so present. Sure, the variations of how these ideas can be manifested are purely out of a person touch. No two artists create the same piece even when given the same subject. Still, I do feel as if it’s a race against time none-less. I rather get my versions out there first. Not because I’m competitive, mind you. No. It’s because there’s always the next project and my list of those is building up most dramatically.

And, now, for a confession. Not because I’m Catholic. No. It’s because I want to give it.

I tend to be all too often most analytical. Of course, I’m also most selective as to what I’m willing to analyze. For instance, when the trailer was airing for The Matrix – before it even hit theatres – I noticed how everyone was dazzled by the latest cinematic effect debuting therein. The effect was a visual rotation around a still image. When I told those I went to college with my theory on how that was shot, they thought I was talking out of my ass. They ate those words later on, however, when the makers of that film revealed publicly how that imagery was done. As it turned out, I was only off by how many cameras they used in a semi-circle to simultaneously capture that single moment in time – the still scene.

Those are of the things I analyze… things like cinematic tricks used on the silver screen and the many ways a story can be told. I also analyze music, magic tricks, artworks of any type, etc. – all which are things that inspire me and spark my creativity. Outside of that… I analyze my actions and mistakes. And, no… unlike with The Matrix, I’m not always correct in my analysis. Actually, I’m correct only about 80% of the time when it comes to that I’m inspired by and only about 20% of the time when it comes to well… living life. And, it’s because of that low success rate, I absolutely refuse to even bother with analyzing anyone else’s life or behavior. Hell, I don’t even get the hints thrown at me by those “real people” in my life most of the time, so why should I bother trying to analyze them? I mean, it’s impossible to try to figure out something you’re not even aware of, right? Isn’t that what we have come to know as being “illogical?” (Ironically, I never miss what’s being foreshadowed in a storyline. Odd, huh?)

So, inspiration… yeah… damn. How easy is it to get all side-tracked? Don’t answer that. That was rhetorical. Hey… what’s that ticking sound?

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Empty Spaces

When writing a story, I have found how easy it is to gravitate to the “black and white” and to the “cause to effect” with the storyline. It is also all too easy to stay confined to the linear way of thinking while staying within these self-induced bounds of certainty. But, over the last few days, I have spent my time re-watching the old HBO series, “Carnivàle,” and asked myself these two questions: “what was it about this series that drew the viewers in?” and “why did it only run for just two seasons?” Somehow, in some semi-cosmic, hap-hazardous way, I am starting to think that these two “events” (for the lack of a better word) relate.

Doing a story in straight black and white leaves nothing to the imagination. If you’re as old as I am, or at least close, you’ll remember the three years we all debated whether or not Darth Vader was really Luke’s father. Three long, blistering, “fuck politics and everything else” years! Imagine that! Damn! Talk about captivating your audience! Of course, in our current ADD society, this would be damn near impossible to pull off. To keep an audience in suspense up to six months, sure… maybe that could be done. But, not three years. Let’s be reasonable.

Alright, not quite a shining example. We all know there was a Light and Dark Side of the Force – black and white, right? But, wait… what about the anti-hero, Han Solo? Smuggler? Drifter? Pirate? Hung out with a gambling con-man back in the day, he did. Won the Millennium Falcon in a card game against him, he did. Not really the text book definition of a “good guy,” right? And what about those bounty hunters? Not really “bad guys,” you know? Hell, we celebrate a guy called “Dog” who stars on his own bounty hunting reality show. A class act “good guy.” In our accepted reality, a “good guy” is just someone who works for money and has a running loyalty to whatever law and government happens to be in power. With that in mind, who was the real “bad guys” in “Star Wars?” Hmmm… was it the Rebel Alliance all along? No! Really? Well… maybe. (Damn. I got a bad feeling about this one.)

See? It’s all a matter of opinion on which is black and which is white when you get down to it. And, as crazy as that sounds, it’s thoughts like this that I have discovered a good storyline plays with graciously in creating that tale which just sucks us in. We become obsessed with trying to figure out a good suspense. We become addicted to those little debates. Is this person evil? What is really going on? Who is going to blank who? (Feel free to fill in the blank with whatever you like.) It’s the “gray area” that keeps us coming back for more. People love to waste time trying to sort out the given “facts” and categorize them according to if they feel it was “good” and “evil.” It gives them something to do… and grants them that excuse to feel more (or less) superior to others, in comparison, based on how much they think they’ve figured out and how many elements in the tale they have classified as being black or white. (This phenomenon, whatever you wish to call it, is just the thing I think a writer should look for when he or she is trying to decide on which direction to take that next episode… and which grouping of popular opinion should be put to shame in the process.)

Life itself is filled with gray areas. So, to make a story realistic, it also must be filled with gray areas. The lines between what can be perceived as either good or evil should not only be blurred, but completely crooked as well. Think of the Yin and the Yang – in each, a percentage of the other. Like Darth Vader having a bit of Light inside him remaining and Luke on the edge of giving into his hate and falling to the Dark Side, there was still some of the other in both characters. (Talk about a dysfunctional family!) Therefore, let me also add that nothing in a story should be completely black nor totally white. This is why I believe it is important to plot out the story first, these tendencies to put things into black and white must be as indefinable as possible while retaining a certainty to which character is the protagonist and which is the antagonist. (It is also chiefly important to remember that neither one has to be “good” or “evil,” and, in my opinion, labeling either character as being one or the other should appear to be an impractical undertaking.)

On a side note: We have all come to know that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to be believable while the truth never does… and, often, is not even believable at all. As a writer, I think playing a bit with what is already believable and how convincing I can be with the lies I’m writing is the key to that ever-famous “suspension of disbelief.” Therefore, I had planned to experiment with this concept by pushing my tales into those realms of the bizarre and see how believable a fiction truly has to be. I’m sure that will be evident with my first novel, “The Misadventures of Mason Stone, Private Eye.” Guess we’ll all just have to wait and see how experimenting with this idea turns out, huh? As for myself, I’m shaking with anticipation.

Now… how about the “cause to effect” element? Often, a writer comes up with a series of scenes and tries to link them all together somehow. And, often, these scenes have nothing to do with an action and its reaction as the plot itself is concerned, but in small fraction in and of themselves. Man pulls out a gun (cause), second man pulls out his (effect). First man fires his gun at the second man (action). The second man returns the favor (reaction).

Why these men are firing upon one another should have something to do with the plot of the story, but too often, it does not. Like the generosity of explosions and gunfights Hollywood has tossed us over the years, they’re just pretty to watch. As a society, we’re casualty vampires. We love to watch a good train wreck. We rejoice at the sound of an explosion much like the Pavlov’s cat responds to his dinner bell. We love gratuitous violence. It’s our drug of choice.

Personally, I think Hollywood relies on pyrotechnics and special effects far too much, but this is something to keep in mind when writing a story. It’s its own language, violence – one language which is universal and easily understood in every dialect. (By the way, so is every other dominating emotion we can experience outwardly.) And, so long as one can make it an integral aspect of the plotline, I see no reason to exclude such things. It just has to make sense to the story, though.

I think the second film in the “Matrix” trilogy, as well as the third, illustrates a bit more clearly this principle and how it can fail. Both films truly seemed like a series of scenes slapped together. Neo went from one fight to the next and to the one following without any clear reason why these fights were important to the storyline. In fact, both films seemed to just be highlights of the special effects used in the first film and nothing more. The temptation to write a story like this is too great. When a writer comes up with a great scene, it’s as if he or she just did an 8-ball of cocaine. That writer goes crazy… and that’s easily seen by the first grouping of people of whom that writer reveals that revelation along with the details of that scene. If this excited the others, the results become explosive (pun intended). In the writing room, this domino effect yields to creating a whole storyline in under two days. What is the quality of that storyline? Well, just watch the “Matrix” trilogy and you’ll see.

A good storyline needs to be raised much like a cannabis plant. The seed must be germinated properly, then planted, nourished, and allowed to grow. (Sure, one can use some fertilizer, but one also must remember that fertilizer is often just shit. Too much shit in the soil or in a story is never a good thing.) After it comes to fruition, it can be harvested and prepared for consumption. If it’s strong enough, the audience will desire more.

When a tale is just a series of scenes, it leaves hole in the plot big enough to drive a semi through. These holes are empty spaces and the tendency to fill them with shit is all too great. I say don’t. Instead, delay the effects after the cause with something that would support the next cause. Stack the effects if desired for a grander impact. This will create more interest and doesn’t lose anyone in the process. That’s my theory, anyway.

So, why was “Carnivàle” so captivating in the first season and canceled after the second? The first season was unpredictable. The plot was almost shrouded by the amount of subplots that spun around it like buzzards. The writers were not overly concerned about reaching conclusions. Comme la vie… no real direction, just possibilities. The second season, however, worked way too much towards getting the protagonist and antagonist together in that final conflict. Of course, the first flaw was the concept of a “final conflict” that wasn’t intended to be final at all. The second flaw was in that “bringing the forces together.” That could have been dragged out. There could have been a few “near misses” where the antagonist shows up just after the protagonist left the area, and vice versa. More could have been added in the quest for olde Henry Scutter… like with the first season, there could be more clues hidden in the debris in the wake of his travels. More twists, more turns, more meat. This series could’ve easily ran for five more seasons before ever needing that “final conflict.” All that was needed was a bit of that mystery we were craving to be nurtured and some of those black and white elements to be smeared gray.

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