Archive for May, 2013

Playing Hooky and Movie Babble

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on May 31, 2013 by cueball

I think I’m going to play hooky from my life today.  I have the day off, but I also have work around the house (primarily cutting the grass and trimming the hedges) that needs to get done and some writing that needs to be tended to.  However, I just…I can describe it.  It isn’t that I don’t want to, but it’s that I don’t want to.  It is more like, today I don’t want the responsibility of anything.

I’m tired of being the one in charge, the one responsible for making sure things get done.  Today I just want to fire up Netflix, Amazon, or DirecTV Movies and find a bunch of independent movies to watch.  You know the kind of with a lot of talking, slow moving cameras, and almost no action movie action.  These are the movies that I cut my teeth on as a movie lover.

Sex, Lies, and Videotape changed my life.  It was the first movie like that I had seen.  I, like most people, grew up with the Star Wars franchise and all the action movies of the 1980s.  Then I saw this little movie with nothing more than a bunch of white people talking and I was riveted.  That set the template for me for what I thought movies and fiction should really be, at least the ones I wanted to make.

Normal people going through their everyday lives have some small change that completely disrupts the world they constructed for themselves.  More concisely, how any little change can cause the collapse of the lies and half-truths you have used to build this thing you call a life.  That, to me is what I like in movies and fiction.

American independent movies are filled with their own stereotypes and archetypes that they have almost become a parody of themselves.  The three most common tropes are The Manic Pixie Dreamgirl, the sexual awakening of a teenager and the prodigal son/daughter.  You can go right now to Netflix click on the independent movie section and be astounded with how many movie descriptions include a variation on one if not all of these themes combined.  Some of them seem horrible just from the description, but that’s fine.  If you watch a hundred movies, 20 will be horrid messes that you never want to see again, 20 will be awesome and you will want to watch them a few more times, and the other 60 will be mediocre ranging from guilty pleasure if you are bored and once was enough.  That’s fine.

That’s life in general.  Most of the time life is pretty much day-to-day sameness.  The details shift here and there, but not much of interest happens.  Then the times when interesting stuff does happen, sometimes it’s great and sometimes it sucks.  The same with art.  Most of the television shows and movies you watch, the music you listen to, the paintings are sculptures you see are solid and professional.  They aren’t anything to really cause you to pause in any way.  Then there are the times when you see something truly astonishing.  Terrific in either the best or worst possible way.

That is why the transcendentally beautiful is so important.  Eighty percent of your time in this life is filled with experiences that are mediocre on the best of days.  Finding those few fleeting moments of something that changes your life can help change you.  That is why it is important to keep experiencing new things.  It is the moments of amazing that you can only discover through new experiences that make life worthwhile.

When Money Isn’t Power

Posted in Uncategorized on May 28, 2013 by cueball

Celebrity Hot Tub

Everett Golson’s academic suspension, Wes Lunt’s limited transfer options, and the continued institutional bumbling that is O’Bannon v. NCAA are three offseason stories that don’t seem to have anything to do with one another. Scratch that – they don’t have anything to do with one another. But what if that changes?

Which is to say: if the NCAA loses or settles the O’Bannon case and players start seeing some cut of the action (an outcome I’d welcome), how does that change the tone of stories like Golson’s and Lunt’s? Right now, Mike Gundy looks like a control freak and Lunt the victim. Does that change if Lunt’s received a potentially significant amount of money from Oklahoma State? Paying student-athletes potentially means we stop comparing them to other students in scenarios like a transfer and start thinking of them as something else: employees. A coach telling an unpaid athlete…

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An Attempt At Making Hemingway Love The San Antonio Spurs

Posted in sports, writing with tags , , , , , , , on May 28, 2013 by cueball

Hemingway would have loved the San Antonio Spurs.  He would have especially loved Tim Duncan.  No matter what you may think of Hemingway (I love him) you have to admit he had a love for the competent professional.  He respected the hell out of anyone who knew how to do things.  Almost all of his stories included passages of his main characters doing some task, no matter how small, extremely well.  His writing about writing and bullfighting and boxing and race car driving all reflect that same reverence for efficient skill.

The Spurs are professionals.  They go about their business of playing good basketball and winning without regard of what anyone else thinks (including David Stern).  They are not trying to impress you.  They are not trying to impress me.  They are simply trying to play basketball their way and win.  From Greg Popovich on down to the bottom of the roster this team focuses on the skills that will help it win and on very little else.

There is a beauty in the way the efficiently dispatched the Memphis Grizzlies.  When Hemingway wrote about bullfighting he always emphasized his love for the fighters he considered brave.  Not the ones with the needlessly ostentatious bravery, but the simple bravery of a man doing his job in an professionally artistic manner in the face of danger.

When selecting players, the franchise seems to focus on two things: 1) Does the player have a specific skill set that we can integrate into our system and 2) Is the player smart enough and/or willing enough to subsume his own glory to that of the team’s.

Outside of the occasionally petulant whining towards the refs and the point guard getting injured in a weird accident involving a night club and Chris Brown, you would hardly notice the Spurs until they have beaten you.

Their professionalism is off-putting to a modern fandom.  They aren’t looking for your emotional approval.  They don’t care of you like or you hate them.  They don’t care if you even notice them.  Just give them their trophy after they’ve kicked your ass and let them go about their business.  They are true to themselves and do what they think is right no matter the consequences.

This is what most of Hemingway’s characters tried to do:  Perform honorably with no regard to glory.  Popovich and Duncan have together built a franchise culture that isn’t about glory.  It isn’t about getting lauded on television and the internet.  It isn’t about getting a participation trophy for just showing up.  It is about doing the things that lead to winning on a daily basis and never losing sight of that goal.

I’m not going to get into whether the Spurs play the “right way.”  The right way is a term that often leads to describing teams that don’t play the right way as being selfish thugs and thugs is a word that has a lot of heavy connotations to it.  I don’t think the Spurs can be the Miami Heat, but I think it will be a fun series to watch.

As a franchise the Spurs refuse to play the games of ego placation when acquiring or keeping players nor do they seek to placate fans by bringing in big names solely to boost attendance.  They have a plan of how they want to play and how they want to run their franchise and they stick to that plan.  It helps that you have a hall of fame coach and the best player of his generation as your anchors.  However, most teams don’t have a plan other then try to win and try to fill the arena.  The Spur more than any other professional sports franchise seems to understand that the best way to get people to come see your team is to win and win consistently.

Of course, today, the idea that you sometimes need to eschew short term superficial gain in order to build something meaningful and long lasting is foreign to many.  Our current microwave and internet society is filled with instant gratification and instant answers.  So much so, that delaying enjoyment and building for the long term appears irrational.

The “Why” behind writing

Posted in Uncategorized on May 28, 2013 by cueball

West End

flower1

 

“Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. To ‘Why am I here?’ To uselessness. It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus” Enid Bagnold

-Writing is an art. To those who don’t believe me, pick up a pen or open up your laptop and try to write a beautiful story. Its not as easy as it seems.

-Even blogging can be tough. It’s not just anybody that can create a blog and start writing. What do you write about? What do you say? Will people want to read what you write about?

-I became a writer for exactly the same reasons that…

View original post 110 more words

The “Why” behind writing

Posted in Uncategorized on May 28, 2013 by cueball

West End

flower1

 

“Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. To ‘Why am I here?’ To uselessness. It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus” Enid Bagnold

-Writing is an art. To those who don’t believe me, pick up a pen or open up your laptop and try to write a beautiful story. Its not as easy as it seems.

-Even blogging can be tough. It’s not just anybody that can create a blog and start writing. What do you write about? What do you say? Will people want to read what you write about?

-I became a writer for exactly the same reasons that…

View original post 110 more words

Finding Out What You Want and The Moments Between The Big Moments

Posted in life, writing with tags , , , , on May 27, 2013 by cueball

Sometimes I envy the people I went to college with who knew exactly what they wanted to be. They are now all well ensconced in family and career.  The two kids, the dogs and cats, the nice house and a sense that they are where they belong.  For some people, something keeps them from finding that stability (and financial comfort).  Something keeps these people searching.

These people look at the world and the path that everyone lays out before them.  The simple safety of the everyday life that the world has prescribed for you is enticing.  You see the comfort and the happiness most of the people who have taken that path and you know you could easily join them.  But, then you look closer and you see not everyone is happy with that safety and comfort.  You notice that something about the rote nature of these lives has sapped many of these people of their inner light.  Not all of them, but some of them, and these slowly petrifying people are the ones you notice.

I’m not saying that my classmates are not happy.  I honestly believe, no I know, they are happy with their lives because those lives are all that they ever wanted.  That’s the point.  They knew what they wanted.

I think I am part of that small segment of our society that looks at life in the opposite way.  I knew what I didn’t want early on and then spent the rest of my life trying to figure out what it was I actually wanted.  (Recurring blog theme alert:  This is again a complete first world problem.  You can only think about things like that if your wants don’t include mere survival.)

I often sometimes wish I knew what I know now in 1996.  Of course, if we all knew what we can learn only through experience and stumbling blindly through life making mistakes and taking steps forward, backwards, and sideways, there would be no stories.  There would be no need for art to help explain the world and who we are.

I honestly can’t say that I know who I am.  Not because I don’t know myself, but because I don’t think any individual can be summed up in a sentence or a paragraph of description.  The most you can hope to do is get a sense of who that person is and who they present to the world.  Those are often two separate things.

I think the reason I like writing about character so much in fiction is that humans are infinitely complex.  People’s two or three selves and their internal and external contradictions fascinate me.

I think that is also why I like literature and television/movies where the story takes place between the big moments.  The big action scene or the big emotional fight takes place off-screen.  What you are left with is the complex human emotion of what just happened and what next.  A character killing another character is interesting, but not as interesting as the surviving characters’ emotional reaction to what has happened.  How the characters react to the thing that has happened to them is what I care about.  The moment isn’t as important as what the moment causes and represents in the emotional lives of the characters.

It isn’t the things that happen to you that define you.  It is how you react to those things that define you.  This is true in life as well as fiction.

The Three Branches Of Writing

Posted in writing with tags , , , , , on May 26, 2013 by cueball

As a storyteller/writer, what is most important: character, setting, or plot?  My view is character is the most important because part of the reason you read (or in my case write) is to explore these characters and hang out with them for a few hours at a time.  However, I also think storytelling is like the US Government and its three branches:  None of it works if any one part is ignored.

One of my favorite shows in television ever is the reboot of Battlestar Galactica.  Ronald D. Moore took a hokey late-70s television science fiction franchise and imbued it with intelligence and depth for a post 9/11 world.  The finales of seasons 2 and 3 are among my favorite episodes of television ever.  Then came season 4 and the end of the show.

As much as I love the show and I love Moore’s approach to television writing (his podcasts for the show truly helped me become a better writer) where the characters are what matter most, I think he fell too in love with his characters and let them linger too long without giving some forward momentum to the plot.  The end of the show seemed rushed because he and his writers spent so much time letting the characters dictate the beginning of the final season, they had to shove a bunch of plot into the last four episodes leaving it rather muddled.  I didn’t dislike where we ended up, but I thought it could have been handled better.

Back to the analogy for a moment.  In the three branches of storytelling, character and setting are the executive and legislative branches.  They work hand in hand on a day to day basis and one’s importance is dependent upon the other to an extent.  Now, the plot is the judicial branch.  You know it’s important, but sometimes it gets lost among the more sexy branches until it’s too late.

Sometimes you get so caught up in creating all these perfectly detailed characters and their perfectly detailed settings that you forget that part of storytelling is telling a story and plot is the engine of the story.  (Yet another metaphor)

Everyone has their own preference for which of the three branches is most important.  Some prefer plot driven stories.  They like watching the pieces all fall into place.  Others prefer to get lost in a world and are into settings driven stories.  Some, like me, want to hang out with characters and explore their lives.

The concentration on one branch at the expense of the others is where bad fiction, particularly genre fiction, is born.  Bad science fiction and historical fiction has wonderfully detailed settings with beautifully rendered descriptions of where the most two dimensional and wooden characters live.  Bad mysteries, spy-thrillers, and romances have these intricate plots that work like Swiss pocket watches that take place in a world unrecognizable to most humans.  Maybe the worst of all is the navel gazing pretentiousness of a purely character driven piece of literary fiction where the characters don’t actually do anything worth writing about, but dammit they are interesting people.

The funny thing is, a writer who is really, really, really, really skilled can concentrate on one of these branches in a story at the expense of the others and still write a compelling and interesting story.  I have read great short stories that are nothing but following one person around during the day when nothing interesting happens and been completely fascinated by everything described.  However, most writers are nowhere near that skilled, including this one.

Neither one is the right way to read or write a story.  As a writer, however, you need to know which you prefer and figure out a way to honor the branch you love most while not scrimping on the other parts.  You have to develop the understanding that all the branches are equally important and the ability to use each of the branches to make your story complete.