Thoughts on Denouement

I feel ridiculous.  Why am a sobbing like this?  It’s a documentary about game designers, one I’ve already watched.  I knew how it ended before I pressed play. In the dark living room, I am sitting on the floor while my sister sits on the couch behind me.  I’m sure she can see my shoulders shaking and I’m totally embarrassed.

But I don’t cry at the sad parts, or the stressful parts, I cry at the ending.  A happy dénouement makes me cry harder than anything else in the world.denouement

Indie Game the Movie, is an incredibly well made documentary about the ups and downs of the lives of three independent game designers.  Not exactly your typical tear-jerker material.  But the directors have a way of telling the stories of these creative men that makes me feel every ounce of their passion and dedication for what they do.

indie game the movie
indie game the movie (Photo credit: theNerdPatrol)

The part that makes me cry, on both viewings so far, is the story of Ed and Tommy, two geeky, thirty-something guys, who make a game called Super Meat Boy.  They are the most awkwardly adorable men you’ve ever seen.  The movie follows their story from when Microsoft / Xbox decides to add Super Meat Boy as a downloadable game up to the day the game is highlighted on the ‘front page’ of every Xbox in the country.  (Kinda like being Freshly Pressed, but better, because they get paid.)  Ed and Tommy have to get the game as perfect as possible by that date.  The documentary captures their anxiety over the task and all the ‘what if’s’ they suffer through.  From the extremes of ‘What if every one ignores it’ to ‘what if every one loves it?’  There is the potential to make a lot of money here, and both of these guys have nothing.  Ed’s wife supports him while he develops the game and they live in what looks like a two-room apartment.  Tommy lives with his parents in their doubly-mortgaged house.

I’m going to give the end of the story away here – but believe me, it doesn’t matter.  Knowing won’t change a thing about the experience of watching it. Super Meat Boy does great and they both make a lot of money.  But the point is this: the build up and the climax and the denouement of their story is so satisfying and wonderful that I bawl my eyes out. Just as much on the second viewing as for the first.   The joy bubbles up, filling my heart and my lungs and covering my skin with goose bumps until I have to cry to let all the emotion out.

Bandage Girl loves Meat Boy
Bandage Girl loves Meat Boy (Photo credit: PaRaP)

I tell my sister about this silly movie about game designers and since she’s just finished making her first iOS app, she wants to see it.  At the very end, when Tommy is paying off his parents mortgage, I hear a sound behind me and sure enough, my non-gamer sister is sobbing just as hard as I am.

There is a lesson here for writers.  In the end, the specifics of the story do not matter.  What matters is how you tell the story.

And for whatever bizarre reason, a well told story with a happy ending always makes me cry.

On Obscurity

obscurity
Obscurity often brings lonely isolation in an empty field

I hate this story.

In fact I hate a lot of Aesop’s fables, but that is a topic for another post. Why is the moral of this story ‘Obscurity often brings safety?’  Why not say, ‘Flexibility is hidden strength,’ or ‘Sometimes you gotta go with the flow to survive.’   What a terrible message to teach people: if you want safety, make sure you are inconspicuous.

Obscurity is not a good thing.  Unless you are an ex-spy or someone on the run from the law.

definition of obscurity

The fable focuses on the first part of that definition.  These next quotations focus on the second part:

quotations

The idea of purposefully being difficult to understand is what lead me to wonder about the word Obscurity on this fine Wednesday.

There are writers and artists out there who pride themselves on being obscure.  Their art is so out there, so innovative, experimental or unique that those of us who can’t see it’s beauty or cleverness are just losers who don’t get it.  Yeah, right.  Or maybe the ‘artist’ doesn’t actually have any talent.

It is possible that some of these people are just ahead of their time.  All new forms of art start out as something only a few people can appreciate.  At first.  But eventually it catches on and becomes something many people can enjoy.  If a writer always writes obscurely and never connects with more than a handful of people, and if we can assume that he is not ‘up to mischief,’ then obviously he is a poor writer.  The point of writing is to communicate ideas with people outside of shouting distance.  If a writer’s ideas, thoughts, and feelings are not being communicated clearly, then he is doing it wrong.

I believe that there are some writers out there who were/are up to mischief. I won’t name names, but we all know at least one book that we tried to read because it is a ‘classic’ and you only get a quarter or half way through before you cry ‘this is total BS!’ and throw it across the room.  Those writers knew exactly what they were doing.  Trying to backpedal on their uncomfortable fame and go back to being obscure, safe, isolated.

There may be safety in obscurity, but safety is boring.  Don’t be boring, be bold, be brave, sink those roots in deep and hold your head up high.  And if you get knocked down in a hurricane  well, at least you tried.

And besides – you are not a tree, you can get back up again.

Title: Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin

I just finished listening to Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin on Audible.  I will talk about the book in a moment, but first I want to talk about the voice of the book, Alex Jennings.

Alex Jennings is one of those English actors that you’ve seen a million times, but never remember.  His list on IMDB is long and varied as is the list of his theater work in London.  A search for his name on Audible brings up 68 titles.

(An aside… Is it just me or does it seem that British actors work a lot harder than American actors. When an American becomes a famous actor, it seems they get a pass to put their feet up, feast on caviar and champagne and wait for brilliant roles to fall in their lap. The more famous a British actor becomes, the harder they seem to work.  It is as if they take their jobs a lot more seriously than our actors do.)

There is nothing particularly remarkable about Mr. Jennings voice, but it is most decidedly male.  You’d think it shouldn’t matter that a man reads a book written by a woman about a man, but it does.  Every once in a while the tone of the words being said and the voice saying them become discordant.  It knocks the listener right out of the flow of narrative and into a sort of nether realm where you think, for a moment, that the English language has shifted slightly and left you behind.  (Did you ever see the Twilight Zone episode where that happens?  Scary.)  This mostly occurs towards the end of the book, when Ms. Tomalin’s real obsession comes clear.

You see, I believe that the whole reason Ms. Tomalin wrote the book just so that she could gossip about Dickens’ affair with Nelly Ternan.  Am I exaggerating a little…  Maybe.  (Ms. Tomalin did write another whole book about Nelly after all.)  The part about Nelly Ternan is the only part where the author shows any passion about her subject. And that is where the voice/words weirdness comes in.  She wrote that part of the book like gossip over a fence, “so and so said this, but so and so said that, and who knows what really happened, wink wink,” but when read by a renowned British actor, in that polished english accent, it sounds absurd.

I know, I am really awful at these reviews.  I did enjoy the book – I listened to the whole thing.  I’ve only read a few of Dickens’ books, I mostly find them dull, (the only book I really like is Nicholas Nickleby but I do like all the movies made from his works.) but Dickens did have a truly interesting life.  Should you read this book?  I don’t know – do you like hearing about the intimate details of the life of a writer who died a hundred and forty years ago?  I did.  But I’m weird like that.

Luckily for me, so is Claire Tomalin.  I think I will read her book about Jane Austen next.

Gratuitous Gratitude, a Rant

Gratitude from the overly thankful drips on me like cold sludge from a clogged gutter.

Words from a recent email:

Oh thank you sooo much for doing this!!! My world is a better place because you are in it!!!  I am so grateful for everything you do for me!!!  I just can’t thank you enough!!!!!!!!!!!

Doesn’t that just make you want to puke? No?  Is it just me?  Am I just being ungrateful?

This is one of those times where real life interaction doesn’t translate to email interaction.  If they said these words to me face to face, in a rush of emotion and perhaps accompanied by a hug, it wouldn’t sound so gross.  I wouldn’t be able to recall the exact words later, and my impression of the moment would only be a burst of gratitude.  I wouldn’t find my lip curling up in a sneer the way I do when I read the same words in an email.

The email preserves the words of the sentiment forever.  And each rereading churns the flowery phrases into a putrid swill of insincerity.

if one word

Please do not think that I have a hard time accepting compliments. Yes, there are times when someone is thanking me profusely for something, and I cringe because what I did wasn’t worth the thanks.  But when I put a lot of effort into something, I love getting thanked for it, and I appreciate every word of praise.  Believe me – I am the type to have my award speech planed out ahead of time when I believe I’ve done something award worthy.

If you think I am being too harsh, look at it this way:  If you gush thanks every time a person does anything for you, with the same level of gushiness regardless of the actual quality of the work, how will they learn to improve themselves?

Sometimes a simple thank you is all that is warranted. Or wanted.

I know there are people out there who are naturally gushy.  But when those people cover me with gratuitous gratitude, it doesn’t make my spine shrink.  It fact, it feels just the opposite.  When the gratitude within the plethora of exclamation points is honestly meant, it feels good.

Those people are rare though.  Most of the time, the cringe-worthy thanks comes from people who just don’t feel comfortable with a ‘short’ email.  They want to fill the screen with line after line of vacuous crap to show their gratitude in a meaningful way.  Perhaps they should stick to twitter.

Next time, if the two necessary words feel inadequate, just up the font size. That way, I’ll get the message without losing respect for you.

Thank You!

The Bear in the Boat

Who determines what a child’s favorite book is?  What if the child finds more joy in the enthusiasm of an interested parent than in her own selfish desires?

My mother told me I was a wonderful oldest child because I always enjoyed the accomplishments of my younger siblings.  I found true joy in their joy.  (I still do)

So when my father tells me my favorite book was The Bear in The Boat, by Ilse-Margret Vogel, who am I to argue?  I don’t remember the book very well, but my father does.  Even now, almost forty years later he can still recite at least the first few pages by heart.

Was it really my favorite, or was it his?  And did I ask for it over and over again because I loved the enjoyment I heard in my father’s voice as he repeated the nonsense lines or because I truly liked the silly story?

I don’t think it matters.  When I think of the answer to the question, what was your favorite bedtime story, this is the title that pops in my mind.  And all the reasons for that response are good ones, even if they aren’t about me at all.

*

PS. Rara did her’s a day late so I am too.  So there.

PS. Again – Now I’m going to have to read all about Ilse-Margret Vogel – She and her husband were artists living in Nazi Germany during the war. She wrote a memoir – but it seems I’ll have to go to the library to get a copy…  I want electronic versions of everything! 

Thoughts on Writer’s Boredom

I never suffer from writer’s block.  I always have something to write about.  Ideas and words are always available.  They mix and mingle and multiply – they scurry around my brain – they give me no rest.  The hard part is in catching them, putting them to work, organizing them, calming them – that is the part that requires effort for me, not creating them in the first place.

No, there is no such thing as writer’s block in my world.  However, there is such a thing as Writer’s Boredom.  I don’t stare at the blank page and wonder how to fill it.  I stare at a page full of words and wonder, why am I bothering.  It is all so BORING.

I write the words and they flow across the page.  They flow, cough once, then sputter and die. They sit there on the screen looking pretty but doing nothing.  Like an artist’s model with a pouty glare, denying entry into her soul. The artist can spend hours of time, go through buckets of paint, cover miles of canvas, but if the model, or the landscape, or the still life just sits there and refuses to sparkle, well then, everyone’s time is wasted.

Go ahead, tell me it is the artist’s or the writer’s job to make the sparkle happen, not the other way around.

I’ll say, I don’t care, and you are ruining my essay.  Don’t use logic on me when I am feeling pouty.

Boat of Boredom
Boat of Boredom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Look at this picture. It is how I feel – except that the kid is probably twenty-five years younger than I am, and he is a boy, and his underwear is showing which I can’t stand. (Oh, 1980’s high-waisted jeans style – please come back soon. Please!)

I’m glad the photographer called this picture, Boat of Boredom, otherwise I would have had to.  A boat doing nothing. Certainly not floating on water like it is supposed to.  Not carrying its passenger to places more exciting and interesting then here, now.

This post is going nowhere.  I’m going nowhere despite all this mental and physical movement.  Fingers flying furiously – as uselessly as a bird flying in a cage.

There is a sense of obligation to all you imaginary people out there – all you figments of my attention seeking brain, a sense that I need to fulfill the promise of writing something every day.  But I only demanded that promise of myself, no one asked it of me.  And I am the only one disappointed when I fail to fulfill it.

I am not one of those people who can live by the old adage, write for yourself.  If I was my only reader, I would never write.  Never.  I would never spend all this energy wrangling my thoughts just for my own reading pleasure.  Way too much work.  I’d rather just read someone else’s words.

I need an audience.

Need is such an ugly word.  The strong, independent woman in me hates that word.  Well, the strong, independent woman in me is a lie.  I need people. I need family and friends to be a mirror to myself.  I don’t exist except by the way I reflect off of others. How else do I know I am here?

I need people to read my words.

I need someone to tell me if I am boring.

Title: And Another Thing by Eoin Colfer

Cover of "And Another Thing... (Hitchhike...
Source: Amazon

The full title is actually: “And Another Thing … Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Part Six of Three”  If you are living under a rock and know nothing at all about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you should be able to discern the type of humor contained within the pages just by re-reading the last four words of the full title.  Go ahead… yeah – not a typo.

The world lost a wonderful source of laughter in May 2001 when Douglas Adams died of a sudden heart attack. But luckily for us he wrote lots of good stuff before he died.  And books don’t disappear when their authors do, which is really nice, don’t you think?  Douglas Adams wrote five books in the trilogy and left the last one on a bit of a cliff hanger ending.

Sort of.  Or not at all really.  Actually, it was a rather definitive end. One where everyone died, and so, you know, that’s it.

But HGTTG is the kind of book where, when you turn a page and read that the last twenty pages, where everyone died, were part of a dream, you think to yourself, oh, well that’s nice, lets keep going then, shall we?

And that is exactly how Eoin Colfer starts off book number six of the trilogy, published in 2009.  Adams’ publisher and his widow hired Colfer for the job, noting that Adams himself had always thought book five had ended on kind of a downer.  Of course a few purists complained. They always do.   But as Colfer said in a 2008 interview, “You’re not actually messing with the original books. You’re just doing a highly publicized bit of fan fiction.”

I only just read it now because, well I’d forgotten about it.  And then Google did the Doodle for Adams birthday last week and I said, hey – I think there was a sixth book I never read…  so I read it. And it was good.*

The front cover of The Ultimate Hitchhiker's G...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you like that sort of humor.

Which I do.

Here is a test to see if you will like it. Please read the following aloud and note your reaction:

  • Gazing up at a god’s crotch can do wonders for a person’s lack of low self-esteem.**
  • A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.***
  • There is no such thing as a happy ending. Every culture has a maxim that makes this point, while nowhere in the Universe is there a single gravestone that reads, He Loved Everything About His Life, Especially the Dying Bit at the End.**

If any of those lines made you chuckle – then go read the whole six book trilogy – I promise you are in for a treat you can enjoy over and over again.  If however, you did not find the lines funny, perhaps you should have a doctor check to see if your brain has been removed without your consent.   And if you are now utterly confused, suffering from a blinding headache or feeling dizzy, stop reading this immediately and go back to enjoying your Twilight fan fiction – you’ll be happier in the long run.

* I’m really crap at book reviews
** From And Another Thing…
*** From Mostly Harmless

Lazy Presenters

Tell me a story.

A nurse stands at the lectern.  She is an oncology nurse, specializing in breast cancer.  The point of her talk is how to follow the recommended guidelines for follow-up care, but instead of dryly repeating the information on the slides, she tells stories.  For every recommendation, she tells a story of success or failure. She talks of patients who not only live, but thrive after cancer, and of patients who live, but who, sadly, do not thrive.  She tells these stories from the point of view of the clinic she works at and, most importantly, of the clinic’s responsibility for the future of these patients.  The statistical probability of surviving breast cancer is high, but what about what happens after treatment?  Her stories do not end with the words, in remission. “Just like bras, cancer treatment cannot be ‘one size fits all,'” she jokes. At the end of her talk, the normally subdued audience of oncology nurses and doctors applauds wildly.

Another nurse stands behind that same lectern and… snore.  I don’t know what her talk is about.  I advance her slides as she reads every one, aloud, as if the audience is blind.  These nurses and doctors are there to learn the latest and greatest information about breast cancer, but most of them are barely awake. The nurse standing up there, reading aloud in a monotone voice, benefits no one. Teaches nothing.

Most of the talks are like that.  We on the crew joke about the number of people who can sleep sitting up with out falling out of their chairs.  We talk about the clothing choices of the presenters.  (Free tip: Women, if you are going to give a talk, wear a belt.  The transmitter for a wireless microphone is heavy, and it has to clip on somewhere.)  We talk to each other on our headsets and do our jobs of lighting and miking and projecting, to make it as easy as possible for 1500 people to hear and see one person.

But every once in a while – a speaker gets up there and tells a story – about real people with real problems and how those problems were solved, or not, using the information on the slide.  At those moments, even the crew pays rapt attention.  Yes, us, the ones wearing black, skittering around the edges of the stage, the ones paid to not be seen, we learn something from those talks.

Of the thousands of speeches I’ve sat through in the past ten years, it is the stories I remember. It doesn’t matter if the talk is about cancer, or bio-fuels, or shoes, or the most exciting new invention ever, if the presenter doesn’t tell a story, no one will listen, or care, or remember.

And you, reading this and nodding your head, you have heard this before.  And that is what makes me so MAD.  All those presenters know that too. But they don’t care. They are so convinced that the subject matter will stand on its own, they don’t take the time or the effort to craft a story around it.  It’s just laziness, and it pisses me off.  I have to sit though your boring lecture, and I have to stay awake because I have to, somehow, make you look good, despite your boring speech.

source: ydraw.com

Please, I’m begging you, turn your information into a story, make it personal, make it relevant. If you don’t – I might just, accidentally of course, set the speaker timer to zero, or fast forward to your last slide.

Oops!

Don’t worry, no one in the audience will notice.  They are all fast asleep.

Thoughts on Reversal

spinning
spinning (Photo credit: jmettraux)

I spin to face the other way, to see the greener view. To move, to change, to reinvent myself. I spin and you are there. I slow to see you more clearly, and you grab my hands to hold me still. For your sake, I stop.

I stare into your steadfast gaze and adopt your view of the world. I admire your worthy goals. I feel protected and safe in your stable grasp. I respect your thoughts and ideas. I want to make them my own. I want to see life through your eyes.

I fail. Too soon, my eyes wander, my head turns, my shoulders stiffen, and my arms tug at my hands. Despite my best intentions, I grow bored with the unchanging view. It does not suit anymore. I am not steady or stable. I thrive on change.

Ants in your pants, my mother always said. The mental reaction to inactivity feels the same, like an itching in my brain. The boredom swarms in like bugs, eating away at my mind. The only relief is change.

I don’t like my job anymore – I get a new one.

I don’t like where I live – I move.

I don’t want to be married anymore – I leave.

Flighty, my father always said. No stick-to-itiveness.

But when it’s time to change you’ve got to rearrange, as the Brady Bunch once told me.

To my parents and other loved ones, the reversal is sudden. Like a call at midnight that you know will only be bad, the news of my decision comes as a shock. But to me, it is after years of struggle, of fighting against the need to move, to spin away. I work hard to relax into the life I am leading, to find happiness in my current reality. I do want security and stability, as much as anyone. But as I change and grow and learn, my idea of what that stability should look like changes too. What made me happy yesterday will not necessarily make me happy today.

You cling to my hands, trying so hard to keep my attention. I do not change out of spite or cruelty. I do not want to hurt you. This is who I am. I change. To stop, to settle, and to stay still is to die.

Eventually I wrench my hands from your grasp and I spin away.

*

Daily Prompt: 180 Degrees – Tell us about a time you did a 180 — changed your views on something, reversed a decision, or acted in a way you ordinarily don’t.

Wisdom vs Knowledge

I’m too busy for Wisdom Wednesday today. Work has swept my mind and energy into a hailstorm of PowerPoint changes.

 I love my job, it pays the bills.  I love my job, it pays the bills. I love my… arrrgggg!

But I want to take a tiny moment to point out that I do know the difference between Wisdom and Knowledge and I know that what I have been providing here the past few Wednesdays is of the latter.

Google's Definition
Source: Google
wisdom
Source: Google

line

But I can’t think of a better alliteration to go with ‘Wednesday.’  Anyone got any ideas?