Tag Archives: things always mean things

Metaphor Monday: The Painted Closet


Metaphor Monday is a new thing we’re trying out around here. Every week, I’ll pick a thing and compare it to another thing. Probably writing, since that’s what this blog is about, but who knows? Metaphors are awesome. Alliteration, doubly so. Got a suggestion for next week’s metaphor? Drop it in the comments. And yeah, I’m a day late today — you’ll see why below.

We’re moving (finally!) and as a result, most of my thoughts bend in that direction. The whole affair got delayed and postponed and we ran out of time this summer to deal with it the way we would have liked, and now we’re having to rush through things. Instead of two weeks to sort our lives out before we got back to work, we were left with more like two days, so it’s a frantic rush of movers and building furniture and unloading boxes and the house looks like a war zone if the war were fought between rival manufacturers of styrofoam peanuts.

So we’re hustling to get the kids’ rooms painted (because if we don’t do it now, it’ll never happen), and I catch my wife sort of staring into the closet. Hands on hips. Thoughtful frown on her lips.

“What’s up?” I ask.

“I don’t know if I can handle these closets,” she says.

I look. While most of the rest of the house is immaculate, the closets are not — especially the ones in the kids’ rooms. They were obviously occupied by kids before, and bear the scars of it. Dings and chips in the drywall where toys or sporting equipment were chucked heedlessly in. Aimless, careless scribbles in crayon and marker — not a design or an attempt at artwork, just an outburst of uncertain creative energy.

I shrug. “It’s a closet.”

“I know, but it’s going to bother me.”

Really? I’ve got bunkbeds to build and a rain forest in the backyard to trim down and about a bajillion boxes to haul up the stairs and you want to waste time painting a closet? Why? Who’s going to see it?

Come to think of it, I mean, when’s the last time you saw the back of your own closet, let alone anybody else’s? Leaving the closet in that state is a crime without a victim; literally nobody will ever know. I begin to protest, but I don’t get very far.

“No, I really want to paint over them.”

Happy wife, happy life, they say. So I go down to the basement in search of the primer. We crack it open and go to work with the rollers, and the job is done in less than an hour. We don’t even do a good job, really — the color’s not a perfect match to what’s in there already, and some of the really dark marks show through — but the closets look miles better.

And my wife is smiling a little more.

And so am I.

So, what’s a painted closet have to do with anything? Well, it’s exactly what it is: a lovely little detail that nobody else knows is there. It’s Van Gogh’s signature twisted into the whorls of a sunflower. An authorial flourish added, not for the well-being of the observer, but for the well-being of the author.

An oft-quoted bit of advice for the writer is “kill your darlings.” Generally, it means that those weird little things that you stuck into the work for your own benefit? Because they made you laugh, or amused you, without serving the story as a whole? Those are things which distract from the narrative, that seem to stand for bigger things and thus demand the reader’s attention, and then frustrate the reader when they don’t. They’re a waste of time, in other words. Everybody involved has better things to do. So they deserve, to butcher syntax in a way I feel rolls right off the tongue, to be got rid of. (Diagram that sentence, Ms. Finch!)

But a closet doesn’t take that much time to paint, and there’s the odd house guest who might poke their nose into the nooks and crannies of the place; wouldn’t we rather give them a nice, finished closet to look at rather than a pockmarked and graffitied (graffiti’d?) hidey-hole we hoped would never see the light of day?

By the same token, a story needs a few diversions. A few rabbit holes for readers to dive into, even if there’s nothing hiding at the bottom.

And, after all, a happier wife is worth an hour’s worth of work with a paint roller.

 

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Metaphor Monday: The Garden


Metaphor Monday is a new thing we’re trying out around here. Every week, I’ll pick a thing and compare it to another thing. Probably writing, since that’s what this blog is about, but who knows? Metaphors are awesome. Alliteration, doubly so. Got a suggestion for next week’s metaphor? Drop it in the comments.

I was running through the neighborhood a few days ago, and I noticed something I don’t usually pay that much attention to: gardens.

We have a family down the street from us who moved in about a year ago, and one of the first things they did was till up a corner of their side yard to make room for a cozy little garden. My wife and I kind of sniggered at that: we (well, she) tried to cultivate a tiny garden many years back and it went wrong right away. The Georgia summer is pretty ruthless, and when you’re not organized enough to remember to water it or fertilize it or, you know, any of the things that make gardens work, it doesn’t take long for the weeds and the kudzu to reclaim your work.

But this garden is working. It isn’t the prettiest thing — the creeping grass and rampant weeds threaten it on every side, and it leans sort of precariously on the side of a hill leading down toward the street — but there are definitely things growing in it that look edible. A few scrawny tomatoes dangling on the vine. One or two leafy heads of something poking up through the dirt. And I realized that our garden didn’t fail because there was something wrong with the climate, or with our yard; the problem was with us.

A garden takes devotion. You can’t just work at it a couple of days a week, or when the weather is nice, or when you get a free afternoon. You have to make the time for it every day. Watering. Weeding. Fertilizing. Checking pH levels or something, I don’t know. You have to return to it every day like a monk to his prayers, even when it seems like nothing is happening (because so much of the growth happens out of sight, before you can see it).

A garden takes time. You don’t plant seeds on Monday and feast on Friday. It takes a season, or perhaps a couple, before you can hope to see the fruits of your labor. That means patience; knowing that the work you’re doing means something, even when it feels useless. It means sacrificing hours and hours of time you could spend doing other things (OMG OMG THE NEW GAME OF THRONES IS OUT DID YOU SEE ED SHEERAN HOLY CRAP just kidding I don’t watch Game of Thrones who has that kind of time) to plunge your hands into the earth.

A garden takes defending. Nature doesn’t give a handul of hot fargos that you’re trying to Do A Thing, to get in touch with your primordial roots and grow your own food off the land. Nature has insects and vermin to feed and green things to grow, and it’s a hell of a lot easier to let some kudzu and clover take over the space you’re using for a garden than to cultivate a couple of tomatoes. Your garden will be beset on all sides by weeds and vines and all sorts of things that will kill it if left to their own devices, and there’s no easy solution. Pesticides? Those come out in the food you were hoping to eat. Weed-killer? Surprise, it’s just as happy to eat your cauliflower. The only way to keep your garden safe is to pull them out by hand — and that takes that time we were talking about up there.

And that’s writing, innit? Or fill in That Thing You Want To Do, and it’s that thing, too. You can’t just do it when it feels good, you have to return to it every day, without fail, even when it’s hard, uncomfortable, or inconvenient. You have to sink hours and hours into it at the expense of more normal things. And you have to defend it like a mother bear, else the vermin and weeds of the world will destroy it, mercilessly and without hesitation.

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Not the garden in question, but a nice local one nonetheless!

I run past that garden, and it isn’t much, but it’s surviving. And I can’t help but think of the garden in my head: the one I don’t have the time or the energy for right now, the one that is choked to death with weeds of uncertainty over this move (still in limbo!).

And I really want to get my hands dirty.


Throw the Bloody Ball


The Donald will not be throwing out the ceremonial first pitch for the Nationals’ baseball season this year.

Big deal. There are more important things to worry about, like his systematic destruction of the EPA, the selling of your internet privacy, the fact that his campaign almost certainly colluded with Russia and Republicans in Washington seem perfectly happy to look the other way.

But for an image-conscious president (and the DT is nothing if not image-conscious), this bloody well is a big deal.

Throwing out the first pitch is just another in a long line of Things Presidents Do that Donny has given the middle finger to. His staff says he’s busy, which is weak tea. When you ask somebody out and they say,  “sorry, I’m washing my hair that night,” you know there will be no hair-washing that night. Of course he’s busy. The president — and put aside the tepid list of his accomplishments thus far — is always busy. But you make time for things that matter, things that remind the country you’re a person, things which are symbolic. Which is why presidents have been doing This Thing for a century.

Baseball? The national pastime? As American as baseball? Nah. He’s busy.

I’ll put aside petty personal jabs about whether or not he could even get the ball across the plate (though for the record, my assessment there is: doubtful — tiny hands and all). The real reason?

He’d get booed.

Mercilessly. For an extended period. By a stadium full of people. On national TV.

Not by everybody, to be sure. There would be Trump fans in attendance. But a baseball game isn’t a Trump rally; he wouldn’t be insulated from the people who can’t stand him if he stepped out into the unfiltered masses of a ball game. He’d be stepping out of the warm, pillowy bubble of support that he lives in and going out into the harsh reality of the world.

He knows what his approval ratings are, even if he calls them fake news.

For Trump, it’d be stepping out into the desert.

He knows that if he steps onto that field and takes that mound, he’d be met with a chorus of boos unlike anything he’s ever heard in his life. And he can’t have it. His massive ego would blow out like the Snoopy balloon at the Macy’s parade. The narrative that “real Americans” support DT would unravel like a Christmas sweater the moment he met some real real Americans at a baseball game. Because unlike a Trump rally, a baseball game actually represents a pretty decent cross-section of a community.

And getting booed on a massive scale like that would shatter him, and shatter the cocoon he’s spun around himself.

Supporters can make all the excuses they want — this doesn’t matter, he has bigger fish to fry, etc — and they’re right, in writing. In the scheme of things, what this thing literally is doesn’t matter. But we also have to face reality.

Things always mean things, and it’s a “ceremonial” first pitch for a reason. This could be a humanizing moment for him. Symbols have that kind of power. Just being there would do wonders for his image, and who cares how the actual pitch goes? Obama’s was terrible, and he got booed, but he took it like a man. It’s not about the pitch, it’s about the moment, the optics. DT could do the same thing. Show some humility, some appreciation, some willingness to actually connect with people. Do a Thing Presidents Do instead of just letting Bannon take a dump in a blender and then turning the blender on in the middle of our democracy.

But no thanks. He’s busy.

And, come on. Odds are he couldn’t do worse than some of the worst first pitches in history.

Image result for baseball pitch fail gif


Terrible Reviews: Rogue One (with bonus terrible review of a terrible review)


Whether the downplaying of the formidable cast’s charismatic energies is an intentional downplaying of the potential risk to the characters that they play—whether it’s a matter of not actually allowing viewers to get too attached to characters or actors, not allowing viewers to be bummed out by bad news but rather breezing past it in a spirit of fealty not to these characters or performers but to the franchise—is the kind of corporate Kremlinology that would rightly take the place of criticism in assessing the substance and tone of the movie.

That’s culled from Richard Brody’s review of Rogue One in The New Yorker, and holy crap. I mean, holy crap. That’s one sentence. One. I challenge you to read that sentence without going glassy-eyed.

But let me circle back to that review in a minute.

I saw Rogue One this weekend. It’s good. Overhyped, I felt, but then, what in the recent Star Wars universe isn’t a little bit overhyped?

The film sort of paints itself into a corner, though. It’s branded as a stand-alone chapter in the Star Wars Universe, not part of the saga, but just a story living in that particular story world. Which … kind of … okay, I guess? It was important that we learn how the rebellion got hold of the Death Star plans, maybe? I dunno. “Many Bothans died to bring us this information” was a bit too glib for some, I guess, but I guess it doesn’t hurt to tell the particular story of how they came by the plans.

Except, the story’s a bit too flat, a bit too pat, a bit too much rehashing of old tropes with not enough of the Star Wars sweeping grandiosity and magic for me. I know, I know. Rogue One‘s selling point is: no Jedi, no magic, no Skywalkers, no soup for you. Still. For me, it’s a bit of a miss, but one that still hits some targets — like aiming for that one stormtrooper that’s running right at you, but missing him and hitting the big crane behind him that dumps a big load of space rocks and crushes, like, five stormtroopers instead. Except then, you get shot down by that one stormtrooper, which is totally demoralizing, not just because you got blasted, but because you got blasted by a stormtrooper.

So let me explain (and here’s where I flash the big red SPOILER sign).

The best thing about the movie is Jyn.

Wait, scratch that. The best thing about the movie is Alan Tudyk’s K2S0, but if you’ve read any other reviews, you know that already. He’s Marvin, the Paranoid Android, of HHG2G renown, but with a healthy dose of ass-kickery thrown in for good measure, and he’s an absolute delight.

But yes, Jyn.

She’s the second heroine of the Star Wars Universe under the Disney regime, which is nice. Orphaned, scrappy, disillusioned, all par for the course; possessed of a convenient-but-not-gamebreaking skillset that will allow her to go far, but not without the help of some well-placed allies. Look, as a character, she’s fine. You’ll get no argument from me on Jyn, just like you’ll get no argument from me on Rey from TFA.

And I’ll go ahead and insert here the obligatory: the cast is diverse, which is a good thing. Female lead? Non-white males in major roles? Villains portrayed by the white dudes who would otherwise be excluded? Check, check, and check. Disney is making sure to show us that there are other things besides white guys in the galaxy. Some people might call that pandering, but for my money, there’s nothing forced about it. And that’s a welcome change.

The problem comes in, not with the actors playing the parts, but the characterization of  everybody else in the movie. I’ll be honest: I’ve entirely forgotten their names, and that’s not just because it’s two days after the fact and I’m up way past a martini. It’s because the characters are entirely forgettable.

There’s the captain of the ship, who’s tasked with bringing Jyn to a rebel leader for some help. He’s about as bland as they come, with hints of a dark past, but don’t go looking for any fleshing out of that dark past, because this is a stand-alone movie.

There’s the comedy-relief rock ’em sock ’em duo of Donnie Yen and another scraggly guy with a big heavy blaster. Yen is a blind monk who desperately wants to be in touch with the Force, and he kind of is, but not really? And his buddy is … well, he’s along for the ride, but we don’t particularly know why, and we won’t be finding out, because again, this is a stand-alone movie.

And there’s a defected Imperial pilot, who of course helps the ragtag band of adventurers sneak into the heart of the Empire to do the thing, and while it might be nice to find out why he defected or what he hopes to accomplish outside of suddenly-coming-to-his-senses-and-laying-down-his-life-for-the-good-guys, we won’t be finding that out either, because, as has been established, this is a stand-alone movie.

Look, it’s serious-spoilers-for-real time again, but remember how we established earlier that this movie painted itself into a corner? By dint of its placement (before episode IV, but after the prequels, which will not be mentioned) it practically shouts at you that none of these characters will have relevance outside of this movie. Which is shorthand for saying that they aren’t gonna make it out alive. I know, right? It’s a shock, except that it isn’t, because if Jyn and whoever the rest of these scrubs were actually played a role in the events that followed Rogue One, then where were they and why have we not heard of them in episodes IV through VI?

And therein lies the problem. We know from the start that they won’t be making it out of this — or even if they do, they retire to the edge of the galaxy and sip on blue milk for the rest of their lives — and so their stake outside of this movie is nil. Which means that, as far as an audience is invested in them, we have to make it count right away, right now, in this movie, in this moment.

But it doesn’t count. There’s no backstory for any of these guys except the standard Empire is evil, let’s band up and take them out because this is a movie and hey why not. Donnie Yen’s blind kung-fu master is awesome for a few fight scenes, but he gets himself killed because of course he does; he’s a blind man in the midst of a nutty laser battle. Then his buddy gets himself killed avenging Yen because what else is he gonna do? Imperial defector plays his role, too, and so does Captain NoName, and the bodies keep piling up.

Jyn, at least, has a lovely character arc established, and damn, if we don’t feel something when she goes. Problem is, what we feel is frustration, because we’ve been made to care about this heroine who then gets wiped off the table with all the ceremony of swatting a gnat.

So, Rogue One kinda sucks.

Except it doesn’t. It’s fantastically paced, visually striking (the overall drabness of the film as a whole contrasted with the final battle on a tropical beach planet? Superb), and witty — if mostly in the guise of the humble droid. It’s firing on many of the same cylinders as TFA, which, given it’s the second iteration of the franchise under Disney rule, isn’t surprising.

But TFA has something that Rogue One doesn’t, and that’s the give-a-fargo factor.

Rey and Finn, Han Solo and Chewbacca, Luke and Leia, Kylo Ren and Snoke? Yeah, I may be missing some backstory on some of them (*glares hard at Rey and her deliberately mysterious past*), but I know those details will be given to me in future chapters. These characters are woven from a larger tapestry, they expand beyond TFA, and that means I don’t mind being strung along a little in TFA because there’s a payoff coming. Jyn and captain guy, kung-fu dude and heavy blasters, K2s0 and imperial defector pilot? This is all we’re getting of them. There’s no more to come, so I’m not nearly as invested.

So, Rogue One, I’m sorry to say, doesn’t measure up to The Force Awakens. It just doesn’t. It’s a good Star Wars movie — I might even say it’s a decent movie in general — but TFA, for all its recycled tropes and paper-thin homages to the original films, is better in every phase of the game.

Still, Rogue One is way better than the prequels. Which isn’t much of a yardstick, but anyway.

Which brings me back to the review I quoted at the top.

The review is subtitled “Is It Time to Abandon the Star Wars Franchise,” and I know that the hotness these days is provocative, clickbait-y titles, but holy shark. Maybe The New Yorker‘s target demographic is a bit more intelligent than the average bear, but just try re-reading that sentence. Try it. That single sentence has more tentacles of dangling modifiers and criss-crossed clauses than Cthulhu, and more self-important verbal masturbation than Donald Trump’s twitter feed.

“Corporate Kremlinology”? “Time to Abandon the Star Wars Franchise”? Did I just watch another bit of fluff in the Star Wars Universe or a goldfingered treatise on socioeconomics in the alternate realities of a fascistic puppet regime?

Star Wars, for all that it’s a product of our times, and as such, has meaning beyond itself, and everything is symbolic, and yadda-yadda-English-teacher-babble blah blah blah. Fine and good. But sometimes? Sometimes we go to the movies to watch the rebels stick it to the Empire, whether the narrative is “perfect” or not, whether the movie delivers in all respects or not.

So can we maybe cool it on the microscopic overanalysis of a film which is, at its heart and core, just a bit of fluff and filler? A plate of cheesesticks and mozarella, delivered to us to keep Star Wars in our hearts in anticipation of ep VIII next year? THINGS DON’T ALWAYS HAVE TO MEAN THINGS.

TFA is a more perfect piece of the Star Wars Universe than Rogue One. It handles its characters better, it plays on the motifs of the saga and panders to its audience better. It’s a bloody fantastic aperitif for the banquet that looks to be in the making. (I watched it again this afternoon. It’s still awesome. When Ren freezes that laser blast in the beginning? The literal darkness overtaking Ren before he kills his father? Rey summoning Luke’s lightsaber right past Ren before their climactic duel? I STILL GET CHILLS.)

But that doesn’t mean that Rogue One is part of the prequel dumpster fire. It isn’t. It’s savvy and sharp and compelling like TFA, it’s got shout-outs and nods to the old, grizzled fans like myself while delivering enough of its own punch to stand outside of the saga as a whole, albeit less strongly than I’d like.

All of which is to say, it’s not a perfect film, by any stretch. But it’s a damned good time, a thrilling bit of escapism. And given the 2016 we’ve all been having, a bit of escapism is exactly what we need, no matter how flawed.

I give it three out of four Imperial AT-AT Walkers in smoldering ruin.

Constrained by a flat and inexpressive script, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” lets neither its characters nor even its special effects come to life.

PHOTOGRAPH BY JONATHAN OLLEY / WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES / LUCASFILM LTD. / EVERETT

Anyway. I know some people out there (including my dad!) think that Rogue One is basically the best thing to come out of Star Wars, but it didn’t do it for me. Your thoughts?


The Weekly Re-Motivator: Right Place, Right Time


Yesterday was a rough day for a run. Long week at work, the spectre of even more long days next week (auditions are going to start up, so that’s after-school hours, HOORAY), and the general fatigue that the summer months and the summer heat have left me with — all of them took their toll. The alarm went off, and I’m not too proud to say it. I fell asleep again.

But something woke me up again, and I don’t know if it’s just the fact that I had set a goal to run four times this week or if something unremembered was tickling my subconscious, but there I was. I knew I had to get up. No cashing in my slacker tokens for a Friday sleep-in. It was time to lace up. (Okay, so I don’t “lace up” anymore since I’ve basically given up on running shoes, but it sounds cooler than saying “time to pull on my goofy-ass foot-gloves.)

And it wasn’t a miraculous run or anything. Pretty much as rough and unfun as any run for the past month has been. I almost don’t remember what comfortable running weather feels like — in my nightmares, it’s always 76 degrees with the relative humidity making it feel like 90. And then I wake up, and that’s the actual temperature. But at least the sky was clear.

And as I entered the first leg of my loop, I remembered — that’s why I wanted to run today. The Perseid meteor shower. I’m a little bit fascinated with the universe and with space in general, so celestial events like this hold a special obsession for me … even if I rarely get to see them. Living just outside Atlanta — one of the most light-polluted areas on the east coast — kinda puts a damper on any of those majestic sights. It would take a near supernova-level blast of light to penetrate the haze of ambient light that hangs in our night sky.

Still, every time a meteor shower rolls through, I cast my eyes skyward in hopes of seeing something, anything — a bit of first-hand evidence that there are bigger things out there, that the cosmos is still pushing and pulling at us. I’ve been disappointed every time. But this time, I saw it. A tiny flicker drew my attention up toward the southeast, and then, while I was trying to figure out if it might have been a meteorite or just a passing plane, it happened.

A shooting star. There one second, gone the next. Streaking across the sky like lightning late for a date. Blazing a glowing white scar in the black sky. Impossibly fast and impossibly bright, and then, just as impossibly gone. It was over so fast, I’m almost not sure I didn’t imagine it.

It was the only meteor that I saw, and if something hadn’t drawn my eye up at just that moment, I would have missed it.

I always get mixed up at things like this. The quiet, ineffable majesty of the cosmos works on me in ways I don’t properly understand. It’s easy to see how people mistake this sort of thing for the divine, how they read the machinations of a deity into these things that seem too awesome, too powerful, too magical for beings such as we to understand. And I could certainly fall into that trap myself, too; intimating meaning where there is none, insisting upon significance in the meaningless collision of a couple specks of galactic dust.

But things don’t always mean things. The universe doesn’t rearrange itself in order to inspire us or shock us or overwhelm us into epiphanies about the meaning of life. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, looking up at the right part of the sky.

But just because the beauty isn’t designed, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Just because the falling star wasn’t set in motion for my benefit, doesn’t mean that I can’t benefit from it.

I finally managed to see a meteor — and a doozy, at that — not because it was my time to see one. I managed to see it because I’ve wanted to see one for years, and I keep doing the best I can to try and make it happen. This time, it worked out. Maybe next time the Perseids roll around, it will, too.

And that’s life, innit?

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.


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