Monthly Archives: February 2017

Five Years a Dad


My son is five years old today.

Nothing quite drops a boulder in the stream of what you thought your life was like the birth of a child, to say nothing of adding a 26-day stint in the NICU into the mix. Having kids has forced me to grow up in ways that I never thought I would have to, has cast shadows of doubt and rays of hope across my world in ways I didn’t think possible.

I used to think I had a pretty good idea of who I was and where I fit in this world. But kids will divest you of that notion like a raccoon divesting a garbage can of its contents.

Ever since I became a dad, I feel like every day I have to reinvent myself a little, adjust the way I think a little, consider my effect upon the world just a little bit more. I have to grow up a little more every day, just to stay a few steps ahead.

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Well, maybe not that far ahead.

Happy birthday, Sprout. To quote Johnathan Coulton, you ruined everything … in the nicest way.


No?


A question for the parents in attendance:

How many times do you say “no” in a day?

Broadly interpreted, I’d be willing to believe I come close to five hundred or so; more if it’s rainy out.

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. This week? Maybe not so productive.


Terrible Reviews: LaLa Land


When was the last time you saw a film that rearranged your view of reality?

My wife and I saw LaLa Land last night, and as the kids say these days, I am shook. SHOOK.

I can’t do my typical review on this film: the good, the bad, the wtf. I’m reeling from it, like I stepped into the ring with Ali for kicks. I’m seeing stars, occasionally blacking out, chasing the dancing elephants into every corner where they evaporate in ice-cream flavored puffs of smoke.

I loved it. Absolutely loved it. To put it in perspective — this coming from a guy who hates everything — not only am I satisfied in having paid extra to see it in the theater, but I immediately rushed home to buy the soundtrack. Granted, the soundtrack is currently on sale at Google Play for only $8, but still — I gave them my money twice in one day. TWICE.

Okay. Let me focus and try to tell you why you need to pony up and see this movie.

The visuals.

From the striking primary colors of the protagonist and her cohorts at the beginning of the movie to a stunning Fred-Astaire-esque soft-shoe against the backdrop of the cosmos, this is a movie working on your subconscious wonder center with every shot. Not since Jet Li’s Hero have I been so struck by the use of color and composition in a film. It’s stunning. Absolutely stunning.

The music.

It’s usually the job of the music in a movie to vanish into the background, to hover in that liminal space where you don’t really notice it but it still works on your subconscious. To surreptitiously set the mood while fading featurelessly into the background. But you can’t do that with a musical; the music has to be front-and-center, the dancing elephant in the three-ring circus.

And here, the music has to pull double — or maybe even triple — duty. One of the two protagonists, as a jazz pianist, lives and breathes and dies with the music. So it’s not only the lifeblood of the form of the film, it’s an integral part of the plot as well. Luckily, the musical score delivers like Domino’s. The leitmotif is in full force and the melodies are magical. It’s catchy and touching and powerful and it makes you want to listen to it again, which leads me inexorably to …

The feels.

I have a dirty secret to confess. I’m a theatre teacher, and I don’t get particularly sussed over musicals.

I know, I know. I can’t stand Grease, I would be fine without Les Miserables, and I barely bat an eye over Phantom of the Opera. I’m just not moved by the genre.

But this movie moved me. And, as has been well-documented here at this blarg, I hate everything. Yet, somehow, I found myself watching this movie, rapt, oftentimes with tears threatening to fall, as the two protagonists swirled around each other like binary stars in orbit.
I’ll concede here that I’ve been known to bust a tear at kids’ movies. Something about having kids myself makes me susceptible to leaking from my eyeholes when the emotional stuff starts. Mufasa falls into the ravine and Simba nuzzles at his lifeless corpse? Grab the tissues. Bing-Bong leaps from the wagon so that Joy can escape the ravine of oblivion? Definitely something in my eye.
But despite the decidedly lower stakes in La La Land — no dead parents, no shattered innocence, no longing for the simpler days of childhood — I found myself looking skyward and thinking of kittens, lest my wife glance over and catch me wiping at my face. The film is touching and heartfelt and, despite its whimsy, genuine.
The Verdict.
I could go on about how awesome the movie is. The freaking adorable tap dance number. The shameless homage to 80’s new wave music (complete with keytar). The (yes, I’ll mention it again) suspended-in-air dance among the stars as the couple falls head-over-heels in love with each other, and I fell right along with them.
All of that is secondary, really. What shocked me about the movie was this: I can’t recall the last time a movie jolted me so hard, so completely out of reality, as this movie did. For all of its two hours, I was literally transported. Pulled forcibly from the humdrum of the world I know and flung into the whimsical rollick that is La La Land. It’s just what the doctor ordered for a country desperately in need of a distraction; no surprise it’s up for so many awards.
This movie cracked through my carbon-reinforced, unemotional shell and inspired me. And if you can get past the super-campy opening number, it’ll inspire you, too.
Rating:
Four out of four lovingly polished Miles Davis EPs.
(If you’ve seen it, by all means, let me know what you thought. I’m still trying to rearrange my worldview around this movie.)

 


Cleansing the Stream


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A writer’s brain is something like a mountain stream. It rollicks downhill, cascading in gouts of churning white foam over razor sharp rocks. It meanders dreamily around lazy bends in the riverbed. Sometimes it hurls itself off cliffs and pulverizes the stones below with its immense gravity. And eventually it dumps itself out into an ocean or lake brimming with the contents of other streams, other minds.

The stream also plays host to a panoply of life: the fish swimming upstream in their scaly mail, the bears whose merciless jaws slam shut on the hapless fish, the infinitesimal specks that feed upon everything else. All of which is lovely and poetic and whatever. Ideas are living things, is the point, and the current that beats at them and bears them along is fueled by the work the writer is willing to put in to those ideas. A flowing stream is a healthy stream. A stream that does not flow stagnates and rots.

But a stream also collects anything that falls into it. Dead critters. Tin cans. Toxic runoff. These things can poison the waters and taint everything that comes from it.

And there is a lot of poison threatening our streams, of late.

A lot of writers — in my circle, at least — are the liberal sort, and it’s hard to view the daily news, living in Trump’s America, as anything but a literal toxic cloud. (And I imagine even non-liberals are feeling a little more heartburn than they expected, these days.) It becomes very hard to write coherently and fulfillingly when you’re living in existential dread for the future of your country, of your loved ones, hell, even the planet.

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But the stream only purifies itself by flushing the toxins out. We have to keep writing, even when we’d rather not, because we’ll never get clear of this stuff if we don’t let it in, process it, and then purge it. That means writing every day, even just a little. Not letting the stream stagnate. The writing is like a stream. A few words becomes a sentence. A sentence flows into a paragraph. Paragraphs pile up and become pages.

And while we’re at it, we can also protect our streams. Limit our exposure to the whirling crap tornado, walling ourselves off from it where and when we can. Build a chamber — metaphorical for most of us, unless you’re one of those Neil Gaiman types who can indulge in a literal chamber of solitude — into which we allow only so much poison. Cut back on the news. Don’t go rage-reading every story pointing out incompetence and malevolence. Don’t go hate-sharing every link on facebook, every subversive tweet.

Don’t simmer, in other words, in the toxic stew that threatens your stream.

Stay plugged in — because what they really want is for you to give up and stop paying attention — but don’t try to grasp at every thread of the fraying tapestry. Grab hold of one or two strings. Engage enough to get good and angry and motivated. And then stop the flow of the poison. You can’t fix it all. You can’t properly get upset about every little thing that happens. And that, too, is a source of poison: the feeling that it’s all too big. Luckily, there are others of us out there picking up the slack.

We can’t avoid the pollution, but that doesn’t mean we have to drown ourselves in it. Stay afloat. Keep the waters flowing. Keep writing.

dory

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.


Hey, That Thing I Wrote Maybe Isn’t Total Crap


The first step in an edit is re-reading the thing you’ve just written. Looking at it with fresh eyes, eyes unlikely to look favorably on the darlings you coddled through the first draft; eyes more likely to attack those darlings at the eyesores they really are. Eyes that don’t give even the first hint of a sharknado how inspired you were feeling when you wrote it, eyes that only see the frayed edges where the stilted narrative is struggling to hold itself in one piece.

Problem is, that’s next to impossible.

But you wade in anyway, because if you don’t, well, then it was all a waste of time, wasn’t it?

I’m trying something a little different on this edit: I’m just reading the story first. Not going through with pencil in hand and notebook at the ready. Not with one eye on the adverb-elimination cheat-sheet on the wall. Not with my spell-checking and grammar-sensitive goggles in place. Just reading.

And maybe it helps that I’ve spent about nine months working on another project? Or that I mentally divorced myself from the original beginning of this particular story right around the time I reached the halfway point? Or that the past few months of drafting have worn me down as surely as desert sandstorms have blasted the face from the Sphinx? Or, maybe, and yeah, this is probably an ocean liner sinking under the weight of wishful thinking, but maybe I’m actually getting better at this drafting thing?

But it’s not that bad.

I mean, it’s raw. And it needs cleaning up. And I’m fast approaching the point where the bridge washed out, where I stopped worrying so much about making sure every little bit fit together and focused instead on telling the story that wanted to be told, that the screaming ego monkey wanted to tell. There’s pain ahead on this journey, no doubt.

But what really jumps out? It’s actually kind of fun to read. I mean, it reads like a book I wouldn’t mind reading. Sure, I know what’s coming and I know what glue fills in the cracks in the facade. But all the same, it feels like I’m just kicking back with a good book. Which is the goal, right? Don’t they say that in therapy? You have to love yourself first, before anybody else can?

So, the edit is starting off swimmingly. The weather is gorgeous — way too gorgeous for February, to be sure, but I guess we ought not to look this gift weather horse in the mouth until it global-warming incinerates us with the hottest summer on record in the coming months. I’m running comfortably and pain-free for the first time in recent memory. And we’ve got a week’s vacation coming up; plenty of time for me to read through the book and start the real work of ripping its guts out and hacking it back together.

Things are looking up.


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