And what are we up to today?
Today there was a veteran sitting on one of the stone benches, talking. Whether anyone was around didn't seem to make a difference in his tone or the content of his speech. He said something that struck, and stuck:
"People keep wishing me a Happy Veteran's Day. Happy Veteran's Day, they say. Veteran's Day is not happy."
I don't want to philosophize about my visit today, or try to force it into some cosmic uber-meaning. Just that he's right. Why in god's name would you ever wish someone a "happy" Veteran's Day? It does not roll off the tongue. It does not evoke grins. It's not a celebration at all as much as a meditation on experiences that, hopefully, most of us cannot understand. It's recognition of people like him, who understand now whether they want to or not, and of other people who never came home.
He said more. "When I had to wipe Steve's lips off my eyebrows, that was not happy."
Recently I headed back to Minnesota to visit my dad's family in the immediate wake of my grandmother's death. It was, as these things are, a last minute purchase of plane tickets and an abrupt change in plans, and we arrived to pristine but extremely cold weather: the lakes in the Twin Cities area and much of the St. Croix River had frozen over and were covered in snow, like glistering meadows of white sand. Fishing huts with Christmas lights and cars parked out on the lakes will tell you just how thick that ice was and how firmly below freezing the temperature remained.
It was not only a trip back to the reality of dressing in layers daily and taking that five minutes to peel all one's outerwear off when sitting down in a restaurant for lunch. It was also getting to see my dad and all his siblings under the same roof with their father for the first time in a while. We're a bit spread out: Texas, Oregon, California, Minnesota, and sometimes Florida. (Much like my mother's side, which ranges through Michigan, Ohio, California, and the south.) It's a ways to travel and though we do see each other, it isn't terribly often.
It's the reality I grew up with. I have friends with extended family a block away from their childhood homes, and it's always been a blink-worthy moment for me, imagining being able to ride my bike around the corner or over to the next neighborhood to see my cousins. And while this particular meeting was for a sad reason, it was very good to see my uncles and aunts, my step-uncles and step-aunts, great uncle and aunt, cousin and step-cousins, and a whole side of my grandmother's extended family that I'd never met before. (My grandmother is technically my step-grandmother, but as a child, there was no distinction for me.) It was especially good to see my grandfather, who is spry and anxious to get back to tennis again after a car accident a little while back.
One night, we sat in my aunt and uncle's kitchen and were regaled for over an hour by the story of how they got together, a story I'd never heard. My cousin was clearly a veteran of this story, but save for my grandfather who had gone to bed, we were all in one room—at the kitchen table, the island, the computer desk, the cushioned chairs by the window—and we were listening to a history of the people in my family. It’s a history that never directly affected me, but it shaped them, and my two cousins, my father and his siblings. It dealt with how their careers brought them in contact, and it was entwined with stories I already knew, about my dad’s mother (who passed away years ago), and my dad’s grandparents, uncles and aunts. It made me think about how my own parents got together, and how everyone with these different lives had been drawn back home to be together again.
One family line, all in one room. It’s a little amazing, if you sit back and think about it, as I did.
The morning of the day we left, my father and I got in the car and drove over to the neighborhoods where he’d grown up. There were multiple houses to see. My dad took me down the paper route he’d had with his brother, past the homes of kids they’d played with, the schools they’d all attended. He told me about how people viewed the second neighborhood in general, the stereotypes they had for the individuals who hailed from there. He showed me dead ends that were no longer dead ends, schools that had come and gone, and reminisced about being kids out at recess, all dressed in ski pants and sliding down icy slopes without sleds. We pondered the existence of new streets, new schools, new houses. I pondered what it would be like taking my future children to the neighborhoods where I grew up.
There’s such a backstory here, a thousand details little and big, faces remembered and lives lived heartily. Older people who were young and young people who will one day be old with their own stories. Hell, we’ve already got stories, some that many don’t hear about due to mere circumstance. It’s a rich, undiscovered world well worthy of exploration.
Not So Random Writing Exercise: Explore a character’s family tree. Who are the people who came before? The people that came along at the same time? The people they married or didn’t marry, and the people who interacted with them? If there aren’t any people, why? Did they never exist or have they already gone? Sit them all around a kitchen table and tell them the stories of their lives.
Congrats to my little sis, who voted in her very first election tonight!!! *claps*
Don't ever let someone make you feel like you don't have something to offer. The reverse of this is called "respect".
Another thing: If you ever feel completely out of your depth in terms of something you really want to do, RESEARCH. The more you know, the less frightening and unattainable it is.
(I feel this is somewhat… loaded subject matter, so please bear with me as I try my best to be succinct and not to offend.)
When I saw The Dark Knight Rises, it was with a far different mindset than I had expected in the weeks leading up to the release. The terrible opening night events at the theater in Colorado immediately cast a pall over the entire experience, affecting everything from how I spoke about Batman (who is my favorite superhero) to others, to how I read about the film in the media, to how I interpreted the previous film The Dark Knight, to how I dressed for my viewing (I was initially going to wear a Joker-esque outfit I’d been happily compiling for a couple weeks, and ultimately scrapped the idea). As the opening night draws further off in the movie’s run, I find myself pondering other worrying questions.
When a person goes into a theater on the eve of a film about such an iconic pop culture character as Batman and massacres prospective viewers, undoubtedly a connection will be formulated between the attack and the franchise it seems to revolve around. To add to that, the attacker in question deems himself “the Joker” to police in the aftermath. We the public have no way of knowing if he actually thinks he’s the Joker or if it’s a play for attention, and perhaps we will never know. But the connection has been made regardless, and conclusions, however on or off target, are being drawn.
The Joker of Christopher Nolan’s film The Dark Knight is, to me, the quintessential Joker: Heath Ledger’s performance embodied the depravity and the inconceivable psychosis of a villain born out of such a world as the Dark Knight comic line offers. He is fascinating because of how he both engages and repulses the viewer/reader in equal measures. The filmic reaction to him by the mob bosses of Gotham is the artistic portrayal of everything he is meant to incite in the real world viewer: amazement, fear, even amusement… for a time. And then the gradual realization that the mob bosses have no idea how to deal with the monster they have released, and no manner of coming up with a solution, as he exists on a completely separate level from the “evil” they are familiar with. They are out of their depth here, and so are most viewers of the film. As such, the Joker is a character that I, a viewer, recognize as insane— a character whose crafting I admire and am in awe of from a writing standpoint— but a character I do not wish to emulate.
Clearly, that is not the case for everyone.
Blaming the character of the Joker and all his creators seems to be the next logical step, and probably is for many people. For my part, I believe firmly that the nature/nurture arguments, while certainly valid points of view, only go so far, and that people ultimately make their own choices concerning what they do in response to stimuli from the outside world. I recognize there is a great deal of gray area as well: mental faculties, mental health, and basic perception of the world vary from person to person, often due to things none of us can control. But it is extremely gut-churning to contemplate standing in front of someone who has lost as much as the friends and families of the Colorado victims, and making that case aloud.
Who am I to make a call either way? Who am I to speak at all? And what does the creator of a character like the Joker do when something like this happens?
The above statements are not at all meant as judgments. Each person must figure out the answers to these questions him or herself. But as a writer, it definitely makes me pause on another level, because I create stories. I create characters that I hope people will read and enjoy, hate and love, empathize with and push as far away as they possibly can. I especially create characters that I hope will evoke an uncomfortable, thought-provoking mix of the above reactions. At this very moment, the writing project I’m working on involves a number of psychotic characters, and while I’m pretty sure my approach does not push an agenda of support for their abominable actions… neither did Nolan’s Batman. It’s pretty clear who the villain is in The Dark Knight, and while Batman may share some crucial similarities in terms of world view, the ultimate difference lies in the fact that even Batman could not stoop to the Joker’s lowest level, to Two-Face’s lowest level, to Ra’s al Ghul’s lowest level, and god knows they all tried as hard as they could to shove him down there.
In the face of something like this, when a creator’s character is (on the surface) taken as the basis for such an act, how does the creator respond? I ask not to pass judgment, but to bring up a question I struggle with myself. How can we artists bring these characters to life when we know there is the possibility of such a horrible result? Can you, readers, say you’ve never read a book that got blamed for something and thought, “Yeah, I can see that”? Can you, writers, honestly say you have never looked at a character you are creating and thought, “I should just stop”?
Again, to make it clear: I am not saying we should stop, or that we are ultimately responsible for the interpretations formed by consumers. I’m saying the question haunts.
So then the question becomes: What are we meant to take away from characters like the Joker? It will be different for everyone depending on their experiences, their emotional states, their plans for the future. I certainly do not create my psychotic characters with the intention that one day someone will jump on that bandwagon in the real world. I personally feel the viewer is meant to be amazed and intrigued by villains like the Joker, to fear them in a manner that involves a certain amount of awe, but to decide in the end that actually being that person is not the way to go.
But what are authorial intentions anyway? I know from my Lit Theory classes (particularly the study of Shakespeare) that whatever the author intended is regarded, at best, as marginally important once the product makes its way out to the public. Rampant analysis ensues on multiple fronts, often along threads the author never once considered. The same must be assumed for creators of movies and, more generally, the characters that populate all pieces of art. To complicate the situation even further, as artists, by definition we strive specifically to influence consumers with our work. The flip side is that, try as we might, there is no possible way to dictate the interpretation of said consumer.
To say that art in all its forms has a responsibility to toe a line (to keep from planting harmful ideas, to avoid introducing conceptual violence to minds that may be ripe for influence) becomes ludicrous when it is clear that art echoes the world around us. How can it possibly do both at the same time? Even the best of censorship intentions on this front gives me images of 1984 and Equilibrium, realities that look good at first but simply cannot stand while taking into account individual human rights.
We know what the public does for pop culture. What duty does pop culture have to the public? Is there a duty at all? Is there a line of responsibility drawn somewhere, or is that consideration just as far out of its depth?
...tis a rather blustery day! Driving has been a bit on the hazardous side due to Random Branches in the Middle of the Road. The power went out this evening and they weren't expecting to get it back online till 9:30 PM, but it suddenly popped back up around 7:30 so I don't know. Either way, yay, as my laptop battery isn't all it could be.
Writing has been almost nonexistent this week, mostly because I started a new job. Having been unemployed for the last year and scraping my bill payments together by house- and pet-sitting pretty much non-stop, I am extremely glad of steady income. But the schedule is kicking my BUTT. I need to get used to waking up a whole lot earlier, and more importantly, I need to get my writing brain in gear on much shorter notice. Luckily this is a job that works an entirely different section of my brain; I had a job a while back that basically sent me home after work to sit on the couch and stare dully at the wall. Good for money, not good at all for creating anything.
But it's good to be employed again. ^__^
Random Writing Exercise: Write a scene from your antagonist's POV. Doesn't have to go into your story or even get mentioned anywhere. This is just to get to know the other side of the story, as it were. Motivations? Lack of motivation? Give your antagonist a well-rounded moment, because it can only help your protagonist's development.
I'm looking to expand my reading list. Please tell me your favorite book and why (briefly!). ^__^
In fact, hell, let's make it your favorite book of all time AND your favorite recent book. If they are one and the same, awesomesauce! I just know it can be tough to narrow it down to just one...
*does not have more than one favorite book, no sir* >.>
In case anyone's curious:
My favorite book of all time is Lord of the Flies by William Golding, because it is a book I can read again and again, and always find something I never saw before. The psychology of it is both amazing and terrifying. Best book I have ever read.
My favorite recent book is World War Z by Max Brooks, because the approach is fresh, and it thoroughly explores aspects that I have barely seen in the zombie apocalypse genre, including ecology, economics, and long term societal effects. It's amazing!
There’s a site I just love right now: HitRecord (see my links list over on the right side there). I’m fairly new to it, and while looking through past collaborations, I came across a collab called Tragedy/Comedy. The idea is to take a difficult experience in your life and convey it in a comedic manner, because even in the darkest times, there are always standout moments where you can just laugh and laugh. An intriguing premise, with a lot of potential for contributions (obviously, as there are many!). Immediately it caught my eye, both for the emotional impact inherent and the hopeful approach of dealing with hardship in such a way. I thought, okay. This is something I can do.
And then I started thinking about the bad things that have happened to me.
I am a writer. It’s what I do, what I’ve always done, the one straight thread that has run all the way through the twists and turns of the rest, intersecting with every other thing I’ve wanted to do: jobs, activities, people I wanted to meet, places I wanted to go, things I was rabid to learn.
(To give you a taste, as a child, I would say things like “I want to be a cowgirl… and a writer” or “I want to be a tightrope walker… and a writer.” Nowadays, it’s “I’m a writer… and an administrative assistant” or “I’d really like to go to school in England and write some characters north of Hadrian's Wall.")
I am incredibly grateful for the fact that in the overall scheme of things, I haven’t had a whole lot of horrible things happen in my life. But everybody, including me, has something, and maybe it’s an event another person wouldn’t consider all that bad, but to that one individual, it might be the worst thing he or she has experienced.
And that deposits a lot of baggage.
I have discovered it can be very hard to think about a bad experience in comedic form. I thought I would have more than a few things to pick through, and some that would spring to mind immediately as funny, given the time that has passed since they occurred. The truth is that, in trying to turn a bad experience into an amusing anecdote, you find out you might not be as over that event as you thought you were. My mind’s first reaction was to shy away from the bad memories, put them back into their labeled drawers where I have been safely keeping them. In a weird fit of hypocrisy, my mind also kept circling back to those ugly items from those once-locked drawers, unable to tangent away toward other possibilities. It took more effort than I expected to keep from continuing that unending cycle, from tucking things away again, instead making myself take them out and examine why they refused to be funny. And the things that did crop up as immediately amusing no longer feel serious enough for what I want to convey.
Maybe being able to turn a tragedy into a comedy is a crucial step toward actually getting past the event in question. The adage “Someday we’ll look back on this and laugh” is more than just a cliché or a phrase meant to provide (albeit lackluster) comfort at the time; it might be the one stepping stone people actively push back under the surface of turbulent waters. I’m starting to wonder if turning a tragedy into a comedy is something everyone should practice, as far as that’s within their ability to do. I realize that some things just are not funny.
I now have a story to contribute to this collab, but it’s taken the better part of two pondery weeks just to find an event I feel I can write about, while still doing the original situation justice. I want to thank the collab’s creator for presenting the idea, for giving me so much food for thought, and so much to examine. The HitRecord website is all about looking at things from another angle, and this collab has certainly prompted that in me.
Not-so-random writing exercise: Obviously, your task is to take a downer moment in your life and convey it in comedic form. This may end up being a more thinky exercise than a writey one. Whatever works. I think the real exploration here centers in what you find yourself <i>doing</i> with the story in order to spin a funny tone. How much of it changes? How much doesn’t? Are you okay with those alterations? Does it change your memory of the event?
Hello! My name is Grete and welcome to my writing blog! I am a writer or romance, horror, and general observation