The King and I (are basically the same)


Over the past several months, I’ve been working my way through Stephen King’s On Writing. I’d heard it roundly described as one of the best books on writing, ever (in fact, that’s one of the blurbs on the back cover: “The best book on writing. Ever.”), and hey, you know, that guy’s been pretty successful at this whole writing gig, so why not?

Why so long to get through the book? Well, there’s a lot of wisdom in it, and wisdom is kinda like a pork shoulder. You can’t just saw through it, slap it in the oven for thirty minutes, and call it dinner. It needs time to marinate. Time to cook down, time for those sweet, sweet mental juices to permeate the meat of the thing. It’s best consumed in small bites and given plenty of time to slow-cook throughout the day.

That and it’s basically been my bathroom reader during that time. One or the other.

Anyway. The book is fabulous; as good as could be hoped for. None of the hippy-dippy “writing will solve all your problems if you let it” crap that has made me put down books on writing in the past, never to pick them up again. Nor either the gut-punch, Formula-One paced blitzkrieg of penmonkey chops served up by one of my other favorites, Chuck Wendig. King’s approach is a little more thoughtful, a little more broadly appealing, a little bit … I don’t even know. It’s at times erudite and dirt-simple, oftentimes on the very same page. In short, it’s great.

And I’m not here to write a full review of the book. I will say that if you’re thinking of writing fiction in any capacity, it’s worth a read. The advice there is as suitable for flash fiction as it is for epic 5- (or 15-) novel sagas.

Rather, I’m here to gush a little. Because in the closing pages of the book, he relates a few thoughts on the craft in general, and some of those thoughts are thoughts which have passed through my very own brain, and phrased them in almost exactly the same way. Which of course means that Stephen King is my long-lost authorial twin soul.

To wit:

On some days … writing is a pretty grim slog. On others … I feel that buzz of happiness, that sense of having found the right words and put them in a line. It’s like lifting off in an airplane: you’re on the ground, on the ground, on the ground … and then you’re up, riding on a magical cushion of air and prince of all you survey.

Which I basically wrote just a few weeks ago (long before I read that passage from King, honest!)

And then this, as he describes his first return to writing after a months-long hiatus caused by a near-fatal accident:

There was no miraculous breakthrough that afternoon, unless it was the ordinary miracle that comes with any attempt to create something … I’d gotten going, there was that much. The scariest moment is always just before you start.

Right? Ordinary miracles? The hardest part is the starting? I mean, these could be subtitles (or sub-subtitles) of this very webpage for how often I spout them.

I’ve not read a ton of Stephen King; I’ve only recently become a fan. But there must be something to the fact that the same sorts of ideas seem to be kicking around in both our heads.

Except for the religion thing. Turns out he’s a big god guy. Which surprises me a little. But nobody’s perfect.


The Weekly Re-Motivator: Press Your Luck


There was this show, pretty big-time in the 80s, called Press Your Luck. My dad absolutely loved this show, and so did I: it was basically a run-of-the-mill pure luck-based game where you spin a wheel to win cash and prizes. No skill involved as I remember (except for that one guy who memorized the pattern of the game board and won literally tens of thousands of dollars before they booted him). Just push your button and take your chances.

In retrospect, I’m not sure why we loved this show so much, except for one thing: the Whammies. Every game show of the era had its way to rob you of everything you had won in a moment’s bad luck — the bankrupt slice on the Wheel of Fortune, the wager-what-you-will spots on the Jeopardy board. Press Your Luck had the Whammy. Now, the Whammy took your money, but it was worse than that. The Whammy was this little turd-looking gnomelet in a banana-colored superhero cape who, when you hit the wrong square on the board, would swoop in and take your money. Not because he was a thief, but because he was an idiotic asshole. He’d drive a car in, lose control, and wipe out, taking your cash with him. He’d fly in from the sky, come in too hot, and punch a hole through the ground, and your cash would drain out.

But there was no great equalizer to this game. You couldn’t rely on trivia knowledge to save you from the Whammy. No amount of literary or linguistic savvy would ward him off. (Come to think of it, the show had female Whammies, too — which was actually rather gender-conscious of them for the time, though having a female turdlet character is a dubious gain for the women’s movement). If you wanted to win, you had to brave the Whammy.

I never realized what a perfect metaphor for life this show was. As prepared as you might be, if you want to achieve anything, you have to brave the Whammy. You could write the best book, be the most talented actor, paint the best picture, or, to quote a certain presidential hopeful, “have the best words,” and no small part of your success is still going to hinge on luck.

The Whammy of the real world might not take your money, but he (or she!) might very well take your dignity, your hope, your self-esteem, your dreams.

Luckily, the real world is not Press Your Luck, and we have our pockets literally bulging with free spins and re-spins — if we only have the guts to press the button.

 

 

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


Terrible Reviews: Batman vs Superman


Superhero movies have been pretty good lately, right? The latest Batman flicks have been pretty stellar, right?

Despite the (negative) hype, my wife and I figured we’d give this one a try. Shoulda believed the hype. I don’t even know if I can use my typical format for reviews on this one; I need a new format.

Spoilery-type things ahead, though I don’t know that that will deter you at all.

Phase one: I have no idea what is happening

Does this movie draw upon the previous Superman movies (which I didn’t see) for all their exposition? The first hour of this movie jumps around like a caffeinated flea. We’re in Gotham seeing Batman’s parents gunned down (AGAIN). We’re in Metropolis watching Superman and some big bad wreck the city, including a building Batman owns (I think?). We’re in the desert watching a sting-gone-bad end with Superman rescuing Lois Lane (more on that later). Now we’re in Lex Luthor’s building and Batman is tapping into Luthor’s server for … reasons? Something something we both hate Superman?

I mean, my wife and I were having a bit of wine while we watched, but I don’t think I can blame my disorientation in the first third of this film on that. It’s everywhere all at once. There’s very little substantial dialogue. I felt lost, and not in that ooh I bet this will all make sense later kind of way, but in that I’m drowning in flash and spectacle but I don’t know what any of it means kind of way. It doesn’t help that entirely too much of the film is spent in Bruce Wayne’s trippy dreams, which constantly snap you right out of what little narrative there is, here.

Also, there’s a dark-haired, femme-fatale-ish woman running around dropping little turdlets around the plot (she steals Batman’s computer-info-stealer, and then gives it back to him, because why not), but no, her presence isn’t explained either.

Phase two: I am confused at everything that is happening

Luthor is a criminal mastermind, I get that. And I know it’s canon that he superhates Superman, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why, in this movie, he’s out to get Superman, outside of a vague indignance that Superman is literally a god among men and he has an ideological problem with that. But okay, he puppet-masters Batman and Superman into fighting each other, though he doesn’t seem to have a dog in this fight (he hates Batman too, seeing as Batman stole all his kryptonite for the fight). Then, hallelujah, Batman and Superman throw down, and hey, howdy, this is pretty awesome, but then all of a sudden the fight stops. Why? Because it turns out Batman and Superman have the same mother (okay, their mothers share the same NAME, but it would have been way better if they shared the same mother), and for some reason Batman stops an inch short of turning Superman into a kryptonite shish kebab when he learns this. I mean, a moment ago I hated you and everything you stood for, but now I don’t, because we both have manpain?

So the feud between these guys — the feud which serves, not incidentally, as the title of the film — lasts all of about twenty minutes in this 150-minute spaghetti-plate of a movie, and then they team up to take revenge on Luthor, because c’mon, good guys are good guys and bad guys are bad guys and there is NO OTHER WAY TO BE (just kidding, Marvel’s Civil War shows us a good way to have good guys fight each other which totally doesn’t suck). And it’s a good thing they did team up, because Luthor, realizing that his two nemeses have teamed up against him, spawns a terrifying demon (how he knew how to do this is another thing that the film won’t be bothering to explain, because fargo you for asking), which really looks like one of the orcs from Lord of the Rings, except that it can belch fire.

Never mind that Luthor doesn’t actually seem to have any control over this thing, nor does he seem to care. What does he expect to happen after it kills Superman? What would stop its rampage? Does Lex Luthor just want to destroy the whole world?

Who the hell knows.

Phase three: I no longer care what’s happening

Batman should be dead as hell. The Orc from Hell punched Superman through some buildings and shot Batman’s plane down with a laser beam from its mouth, and then it comes crashing in for the kill, but NOPE, it’s Wonder Woman-ex-machina to the rescue.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Wonder Woman is pretty badass here. But once again, this movie drops the ball by letting things happen which should never happen. She goes toe-to-toe with the baddie — arguably as well as Superman, for that matter. Her shield can fend off its mouth-laser, and her sword can actually draw its — blood? lava? whatever — it’s so effective, in fact, that she lops the thing’s hand off. Now, maybe it’s me, but if your sword can lop the Orc from Hell’s hand off, then it can lop off his other bits and pieces too — like, I dunno, his head — but no, she stands back and lets the thing grow a new hand (and for all the world, as it re-grows the hand, it looks like he’s giving them all the finger. If that’s not a perfect metaphor for this movie, I dunno what is). And it takes — guess who — Superman making a heroic sacrifice by wielding a kryptonite lance of Longinus to take him down.

In short, Wonder Woman is in this movie to save Batman’s life, and that’s about it, which raises the question — couldn’t the movie have just been fifteen minutes shorter and removed her entirely? It’s not like they let her have the killing blow against the big bad or anything. She seems wasted.

AND SPEAKING OF WASTED: Lois Lane.

I mean, Lois Lane in this film is single-handedly working to set back female characters by decades. The central issue (I think) that starts the whole film off is her getting duped into playing along with a CIA sting that goes sour, from which Superman has to save her. Then, Batman realizes that the way to get to Superman is to go through his girl, so he tosses her off a building — and Superman has to save her. Finally, they go to fight the big bad, but it isn’t working. They need the kryptonite Excalibur, which Lois thoughtfully chucked into an indoor pool. So she dives in after it, but then the building collapses and traps her in the pool — AND SUPERMAN HAS TO SAVE HER.

It’s like the filmmakers wanted to earn some feminist street cred by including Wonder Woman and legitimately letting her kick some ass in this kicked-over anthill of a movie, but then they ruin it by punching themselves in the nuts with all the ways they made Lois Lane suck.

At the end of all this? Superman is dead WAIT NO OF COURSE HE ISN’T and this fools exactly nobody in the viewing audience, so what’s the point, really?

The Verdict:

I heard the negative buzz circling around this thing and I took it with the proverbial grain of salt. Like the recent Ghostbusters, it seemed that many people had made up their minds to hate it before it ever premiered. A lot of that was due to Ben Affleck assuming Batman’s mantle, and, well, I have no brand loyalty, so I didn’t care about that. Films owe us nothing, after all. But the stink on this thing is legit, and it’s not even Ben Affleck’s fault.

This movie is bad. I wish I had a more creative way to say it, but I already feel silly having taken all this time to write about it (originally I thought this review would be about 300 words, but it turns out, there’s a lot to dislike about the movie).

You want your Batman fix? Go back and watch The Dark Knight again.

I give this movie one-and-a-half burning Batman brands in your forehead.

The film and its characters and all the lovely images above are property of DC comics and Warner Bros. Pictures, and are obviously not created or owned by me.


The Weekly Re-Motivator: Expiration Date


Consider a tree. Nourished and nurtured and planted in fertile soil, it can flourish and tower and bear remarkable fruits. Neglected and sheltered and forgotten about, it withers and crumbles and gets overrun with ivy or tree cancer or tree-eating beetles or something horrifying like that.

Just so with the creative brain. Given room to grow, freedom of expression, and a steady diet of inspirational art, the brain grows stronger, desires to create for itself, and spawns incredible creations. Left to fester, the brain shuts down, gives up, stops trying.

Creativity must be tended, just like a tree, or that crappy vegetable garden my wife and I tried to plant a few years ago. We didn’t know anything about anything when it came to growing actual food, and figured, you know, the human race has been handling this gardening thing for millennia; how hard can it be, right? Bloody hard, as it turns out; not to mention the fact that neither of us actually has the patience or the drive to actually maintain the thing. What, you mean it takes more than a sunny spot, a few holes in the ground, and some foolish optimism to grow food in your backyard? To hell with that!

But of course it does. You’ve got to monitor that crap. Track the pH levels in the dirt. measure the amount of water in the soil. Pull weeds. You know. Effing work at it.

And if not tended properly? Those fruits wither on the vine, or worse, they shrivel up and die before their tiny little seeds can even germinate.

And so it is with creativity. Ask any writer or artist or whatever where their ideas come from, and their answer will probably be something like: it’s not finding the ideas that’s hard, it’s deciding which ones are worth my time that’s difficult. I’m not even that much of a writer, and still the thought will cross my mind at least once a week — sometimes once a day! — hey, I should write a story about this or that would make a really cool turn in my novel or man, I wish I’d had that idea three months ago on that other project.

But these ideas are like the produce at Aldi: they have an expiration date measured in hours, not days. Your brain serves them up from wherever ideas come from. (The black hole in the back of your brain? The quantum tunnel that connects your brain to every other brain in the world? Narnia?) They land on the shelf where your conscious mind peers at and ponders over them like an aging bachelorette on a diet. And whichever ideas don’t get put in the cart? Whichever ones don’t get spun pretty quickly into tonight’s dinner or slapped into the deep-freeze of your ever-expanding Evernote file? They go brown, they turn spotty, and they end up in the dumpster out back.

Age, Bacteria, Bio, Biology, Bread, Breakfast, Bug

Which is fine and natural (not the exorbitant amount of food waste in our country, of course — but the life cycle of ideas). A few bananas go bad — it’s no big deal, the grocery store knows it’s gonna sell more bananas. But those kiwis? Those mangoes that look so good but taste so bad? The more they rot, the less the store wants to put them on the shelf.

But your brain works the same way. It serves up these fantastic ideas day after day, week after week, and the more you don’t do anything with them? The more they expire, unused, on the shelf?

The less your brain is going to serve them up.

This is why I try to write, at least a little bit, every single day. The more I write, the more I notice my good ideas when they crop up — and the more, it seems, I have to choose from.

Your creativity — your good ideas — they have an expiration date.

Waste not, want not.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


The A-Hole Runner


A couple of times a week, I see this runner.

It’s kinda funny seeing runners when I’m out driving; once upon a time they got on my nerves (look at this guy/girl, out flaunting the fact that they’re BEING SO HEALTHY, why don’t you get on a treadmill or better yet go watch some TV and eat some chips). These days it makes me a little jealous. I could get one of those awful bumper stickers — you know, I’d rather be running or some other obsequious crap — and it wouldn’t be a lie. I see other people running, and I really do think, dang, I wish I was going for a run. Even when it’s 80+ degrees out. Something, as I may have pondered before, is wrong with me.

But not this runner.

This runner is an a-hole.

I say that knowing full well that I’m guilty of many a-hole runner behaviors myself. Holier-than-thou minimalist apologetics. Tree-huggery every-run-is-a-good-run fawning. Interminable gear-heading with all the electronics. Smug humblebrags about waking up while the rest of the world is asleep. Endless talking about all things running.

Jeez, I’m an a-hole runner.

But not as big an a-hole as this a-hole.

Because this a-hole runs in the street when there’s a sidewalk right the fargo there.

Now, look. I understand. I’ve read the scientific-sounding articles about how running on asphalt is better for your feet than running on concrete. (Apparently, asphalt will compress underfoot, while concrete won’t. Though how much it actually compacts under the paltry weight of a human is probably less than negligible.) And yeah, okay, he’s doing what you should do when you run on a road, which is to say, he runs against traffic, so that you can see him coming and he can see you coming. And yes, I will admit and can even attest that running on a sidewalk can be more hazardous than you might expect.

But all that goes out the window when you’re running down a main drag during rush hour in the dusky dawn light, where shadows are long, eyes are droopy, and everybody and their mother is texting and driving on their way to the daily grind.

This is a two-lane road serving virtually all the traffic going from our little Atlanta suburb to the next little Atlanta suburb over. Not exactly the artery of I-20, but certainly a capillary of substantial size. And too many times, I see this dude trucking along the edge of the road, head down, shuffling blithely into the oncoming traffic with all the concern my dog has for the screen she doesn’t know I closed behind the sliding glass door.

I don’t understand it. There’s no rational explanation I can find for it. The cars going North have to dodge into the oncoming South lane to avoid splattering this poor bastard, and the cars coming South have to slow down to avoid hitting the cars dodging into their lane to avoid splattering this poor bastard. The man is literally a slow-moving roadblock. He backs up traffic in both directions. I’ve seen him at various points along a 1-mile stretch, which means that mile is part of his regular routine, which means he’s putting his own desire to run in the street above the desire of possibly hundreds of drivers to use the road as intended every morning he goes for a run.

AND THE SIDEWALK IS RIGHT THERE. Literally less than five feet to his left. A quick little hop and he’d be on it, happily out of everybody’s way. Happily not endangering his own life and limb. Happily not being a total a-hole.

And yet, on he plods. With his high socks. And his fargoing white headband. And his blatant disregard for anything approaching common sense or decency.

So plod on, a-hole. But know that, even though you’re running, I’m glad as fargo I’m not you.

And that’s saying a lot. From one a-hole to another.

 


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