In which a guy confounds his imagination as to what he should write a blog about, and ends up writing about himself.
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Faith and Chunky Orange Juice

I miss pulp.  And I don’t mean chunky orange juice.

As most people generally know I’m somewhat of a geek.  I enjoy reading comic books and watching sci-fi movies.  I write stories with a sci-fi/fantasy twist.  I play videogames set in space or the future.  But I have to say, I’m disappointed.

Lately a lot of creativity in any of these mediums seems to be somewhat lacking (perhaps with the notable exception of the videogame industry).  Sure, Hollywood continues to crank out ever successful, big budget blockbusters, silly alliterations which rake in millions, if not billions of every year.  And we go see them.  But you’d be hard pressed to find a film during the summer movie season being anything other than a sequel, spin-off, or reboot.

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I love comic books, as well, but they seem to have lost their lustre.  I had a conversation recently with a friend and fellow comic geek.  He remarked that with the ever increasing popularity of comics in the media he finds himself less interested in them.  It seems that the more popular one book becomes, the more it loses that passion that drove it in the first place.  That special thing.  Are we just jaded because our books aren’t our secret anymore? Or have things changed?

Television is not one to be left out, either.  Arguably one could say television is where the real talent lies.  Premium cable channels are bringing in the ratings with gritty, well written shows.  Another prison show, with nudity. Another political intrigue, with swearing and sex. Another epic fantasy, with incest and gore. And an ongoing zombie movie.  Are these bad? Not at all. I watch television, too.  And I’ll even fork out the cash to see the newest superhero blockbuster sequel. In 3D.  But what’s my point?

I’m frustrated that there’s nothing new or ground-breaking anymore.  Nothing out there is available to challenge us.  Premium cable producing high quality versions of old concepts is still old concepts. With boobs.  That’s shock, not originality.

Sometime last year I discovered a collection of old Twilight Zone television scripts which had been repurposed into radio shows.  I was fascinated by them.  Not all of the stories were exceptional.  Heck, most of them turned out to be fairly predictable.  But what drew me to them?  It was the originality.  These were written to be different.  They stood out because there’s nothing like else like them.  This discovery spurned me to seek out more stories from the era.  I began reading pulps from the early 20th century.  I sought out Golden Age comic thrillers.

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I found myself in awe.  These stories were weird! They were strange.  I found myself thinking, “there’s no way something like this would be produced today.”  Stories of murderers whose victims come back to life by growing out of their fingers, adventures of men teleporting to far off galaxies to fend off tentacle planets, mysteries with legitimate twists you do not see coming.  These were stories written with passion.  Writers made them to stand out, to gain readership, for others to enjoy.  To get you to tell your friends. The stories weren’t always believable, but that’s what made them fun!

Consider this: media has made an incredible effort to produce shows and stories which audiences will find believable.  Realism is added in the belief that audiences won’t take to something they don’t understand.  The “why” is something they feel needs to always be answered.

Star Wars is an interesting example of this.  The original trilogy has an immense, almost religious following.  It is a pop culture cornerstone.  But look at it.  Set “A long time ago” a number of fantastical races war across the stars, aided by a mystical field known as the “Force”, to bring justice to the galaxy.  No one questions the science of those movies.  There’s no Force in real life.  But these movies were an absolute success.  But then came the prequels.  Fans everywhere balked at the obscene attempt at explaining away the Force by means of “midi-chlorians”. Spectacle couldn’t save those movies.  They lost that spark which made them special.  They became something shiny rather than something special and lost what drew people to them in the first place.

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Audiences shouldn’t be taught.  They will choose to like whatever they want. Or believe, for that matter.  The tagline for the 1978 film Superman was “You will believe a man can fly.” That movie was popular, not because it explained in complete scientific logic why an alien could come to Earth and have incredible abilities, but because it showed us greatness. It had faith in the audience.  It believed that we would believe in it.

I am craving that belief.  I feel that the artists have lost faith in the audience. That they won’t take a chance on us anymore.  But audiences are smart. They know what’s real.  They understand the world they live in.  But that’s not why we go to the movies. That’s not why we pick up a book. And that’s definitely not why we turn on the television.  We do those things to get a break from what we understand.  We do it to be amazed.

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katewillaert:

→ Play The Interactive Version!

The nifty interactive version was coded by my friend @mentalguy. Or if you to print it out, download the PDF (page 1 / page 2).

The Modern Superhero Comic Event Picker was inspired by an episode of the 3 Chicks Review Comics podcast in which they joked about someone making a “grim n gritty wheel.” I decided to give it a shot, but it ended up transforming into a modern age gimmick generator — because what is grim n gritty now, other than another gimmick?

When in doubt, try again.

Why the World Needs Superman

Lois Lane once won a Pulitzer Prize for an article she wrote entitled “Why the World Needs Superman.”  Fiction or not it’s an interesting thought: why do we have superheroes?  Have they helped us or hindered us?  Beings with inhuman power or ability are characters of science fiction and fantasy.  They do not exist except within our imaginations.  Superheroes are role models.  They inspire us to be the best we can be. They give us the courage to stand up for what we believe in. The set our imaginations ablaze.
 
I grew up on comic books.  They’ve been a part of my life since long before I can even remember.  To this day I still maintain a collection.  Comic books are not limited to superheroes.  There are comics in genres as numerous as any literary format.  They contribute to pop culture fairly significantly, yet they’ve always had a bad rep.
 
Comic books have a seedy beginning.  They were created as a means to provide pornography to men in the form of scantily clad fairies or angels.  Sales continued as they were also a means to smuggle whiskey from Canada to the United States during the Great Depression.  But things changed Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster told the story of a man, the last of his kind, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.  Superman was an instant success and captured the hearts of children and men alike.
Superman wasn’t the first superhero ever created.  Buck Rogers, Captain Marvel and many others came first, and were arguably even more popular.  But Superman was different.  He was the epitome of “Truth, Justice and the American Way”.  America was being flooded with immigrants from Europe.  There was great appeal in this man, far from home, making a new life in a new land.  He looked like everyone, but he wasn’t the same.  He literally was an alien.  Superman was someone whom people could relate to.  He understood, all too well, what they lived with every day.
 
As time went on comics continued to inspire.  During the Second World War comic books were mandated to remain politically neutral.  It wasn’t until the USA entered into the conflict that characters took a stance.  Stories appeared of Daredevil fighting the Nazis, even covers of Captain America punching Hitler.  Reading those stories assured the people in America that the Allies were winning.  That they were the good guys.  And with Captain America on their side they were sure to win.
 

Comic book characters’ success stories were usually happy accidents.  When Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created Spider-Man they were just trying to come up with something new.  They weren’t sure their careers were secure so they threw a new idea in to Amazing Fantasy #15 and they managed to bottle lightning.  Peter Parker was human.  And his guilt for not stopping the thief who would later murder father figure Uncle Ben drove him to dedicate his life to stopping people.  He was very real and something almost everyone could relate to.  Another happy accident was Spider-Man’s costume.  It covers the entire part of his body.  This was significant in a very subtle way.  You couldn’t actually see Peter Parker while in costume.  He could be anyone.  Any age. Any race.  Even any sex.  Spider-Man was everyone.
 
Superheroes have undergone many changes over the decades.  Powers changed.  Responsibilities shifted.  But their values never change.  They protect the innocent. They uphold justice.  They do the right thing.  When I was a kid I didn’t always fit in.  I didn’t always have the courage to speak up or really even have an opinion.  I wasn’t strong.  I was actually quite sick on occasion.  But Superman was always there.  Spider-Man always stopped the bad guy.  Wolverine was never sick.  Batman solved every mystery.
 
Does the world need Superman? One could similarly ask: does the world need someone to admire? Do we need role models?  Do children need imagination?  I’d be a liar if I didn’t walk out of a comic book movie and try to move something with my mind, or imagine what it would be like to fly.  Superheroes give us confidence.  They encourage us to be the best we can be. Not because we need to be perfect, but because we are imperfect and we rise above it.  We can accomplish great things on the simple basis of belief.  Could we have done all these things without superheroes? Absolutely.  But they just make it so much more fun.  They make us believe a man can fly.

Charlie Sheen Introduced Me to the Internet

I recently came back to social media after a break of four or so years. I had Facebook, as most teenagers did, to keep in touch with friends and follow celebrities or groups that I liked. But what I realized was that, for me, it was an enormous waste of time. I would go online (and this is before smartphones became so popular) to check status updates and things posted on my wall. I allotted myself 5-10 minutes to check but this would easily become 1-2 hours daily. And really, what was I looking at? Sarah is frustrated with her essay due in the morning. Josh is sick from staying out all weekend. Amy is showing another picture of her cat.

 
I needed a break. The first month after I shut down my Facebook account I was jittery. I was so used to checking cat pictures so regularly that I began to feel the need to know what positions they fell into today. I needed to know. I threw myself into my work and kept my mind off of it. And to my success it worked! I stayed free of Facebook and started filling my time with other interests. The problem became that I lost contact with people. It’s amazing how many people rely on social media to keep in contact yet twenty years ago most people didn’t even have the Internet let alone a cell phone. I remember using the rotary dial landline my parents had in the basement.
 
During my absence from Facebook I missed the extended social media craze. Twitter became a thing. Instagram showed us stuff. Google gave us circles and MySpace… Well, let’s not talk about MySpace. There was a whole digital universe being created as I blissfully went about my life, ignorant of any change.
 
Then there was a Charlie Sheen. It was the year when Sheen went on his bender and got fired from that sitcom. That one that people watch… You know. Anyways. This was my first time experiencing trending. There were news reports featuring phrases like #tigerblood and @winning. I was so confused. What did the symbols mean? I didn’t even realize for close to a month that it was a reference to twitter. By the time I realized what it was I had nothing but disdain for twitter. It seemed so stupid. I thought back on Facebook. Wasn’t this just a status update? Seriously, it’s a status update. Why do I need a whole new website for a status update? And why does anybody care about Charlie Sheen anyways?
 
I grumbled on my opinion of what social media had become and ruminated for the next year or so. It wasn’t until I had thoughts of going back to school that it came up again. There was a new media journalism program that I soon became interested in but there was a requirement that I didn’t have. The program’s main requirements included both a Facebook and a Twitter account. It was time for me to hold my tongue and get back in to social media.
 
Getting back in to Facebook was surreal. My past quickly returned but everything was different. I was in contact with old friends whom I love and missed more than I thought. And they had all moved on in their lives. Most are married now. Some have kids. I’ve considered both options at various points in my life but to see those I once went to school with having children really blows my mind. It’s a strange feeling. There’s a mixture of pride for them to have a beautiful family, that warmth you get when you see a mother with a baby. But it’s also those friends I last remember as classmates and they’ve been frozen in time as that person in my mind for half a decade.
 
Twitter was just the opposite.  I had been against it for so long that I had a bias.  I was ignorant of what it actually did.  And I feel in love.  Now, I don’t really post with regularity, nor any cohesion or sensibility, but it is definitely the best source of news I’ve ever experienced.
 
So maybe Charlie Sheen didn’t show me everything.  But he did make me think about what was out there.  There’s a lot of information and a lot of new ways to access it.  And sometimes it takes a coked out womanizer to make you realize these things.

King’s Speech

I recently read an article on Stephen King and his insights on contemporary authors and their popular works. Now, I have only ever read one book by King so I am far from an expert but I find him to be interesting.  In the article king criticized works such as Twilight and The Hunger Games as being empty and uninspired. I agree to some extent.  Popular media seems to be saturated with overdone ideas and it’s rare that something new comes to fruition. 

King, still considered to be the master of horror fiction, has just released his fifty first novel and shows no signs of stopping. Arguably the greatest and most creative horror writer of this generation, King continuously draws on personal experience and plays with tried and true story archetypes and still manages to produce original work.

Personally, I am not the biggest fan of horror as a genre; I don’t often equate being afraid to being entertained.  I do, however, admire a good story and a good idea, no matter the genre.  So, how does King do it? He openly talks about his writing and how, when he comes up with a story, the book just flows out of him until it’s finished.  My theory on the matter is simply that he lets it happen.  Let me explain.

I quite often think of an idea to write about. It may be a short story, poem, blog post, anything! But my problem for not being so prolific in my writing is simply not doing it.  Perhaps I think I don’t have time or that I’ll remember the idea but eventually forget it. So the reason I haven’t written everything I’ve thought about writing is simply because I haven’t. I don’t allow myself to sit down and write. It may be a lack of confidence in myself or it may be a sense of practicality that I should be doing other things before sitting down and writing something.

To my own detriment I am very protective of my ideas. When I have an idea, instead of confiding the idea to a friend and using them as a sounding board to develop an idea I keep it bottled up inside. This probably restricts my creative process more than anything. I equate sharing ideas with showing a piece of unfinished writing and I can’t think of any author who likes to share their unfinished writing. But if I don’t talk about a goal I have no accountability to do it other than the accountability to myself. And I am not the most reliable overseer of my own work.

Ok, then if I now know how to start writing then how do I figure out how to be more creative? How do I come up with new ideas?  Creativity is like a muscle. It gets stronger the more you use it. I think this is primarily the reason why King is so good at what he does and, after publishing literally dozens of novels, he is coming up with new and fresh ideas. He is constantly using his creativity. You can’t expect to climb a mountain if you’ve never walked a day in your life. Similarly, you’re not going to put together an original and cohesive story without putting down a few lines of dialogue first. So the next time you think about that story you wish you’ve written try sitting down and writing a few lines. It’s never too late to start.

I Dreamed A Dream

I have been having a lot of vivid dreams lately. Well, it’s not really so unusual for me to have weird dreams, but I don’t really get so emotionally involved in them as I have lately. For example, I think I have had a nightmare less than a dozen times in my life. I can honestly think of maybe three times that it’s happened but I had one the other night.

I was in an old house. It wasn’t abandoned or anything, just somewhat dilapidated but still livable. Anyways, in this house my family was having some kind of gathering; maybe a family reunion or dinner or something. All of a sudden the house was surrounded and taken over by these mafia gangster fellows. So the gangsters proceed to take my family hostage one by one and lock down the house. Somehow I am the only one still free though they’re looking for me. The dream becomes this cat and mouse game of running around this old house (inside and out) where I attempt to free my family and take out the bad guys. And I am successful. I manage to put all of the bad guys out of commission save one. All of my family are safe and free but the boss man is still running around. He’s a heavy-set fifty-something man with a penchant for wheezing. Just when I think I have him cornered he comes around the corner with a small cup of liquid metal (which apparently you can find in any old fireplace) and pours it on my hip. I wake up with a start and my heart is racing. Really quite unusual.

I have a lot of strange dreams but never ones that freak me out. That said, all of my most memorable dreams are the ones that are the most vivid. I still remember one when I was quite small and dreamt I was a fireman and was somehow launched into a lake. I used a firehose to pull myself up from the depths of the lake but woke up in the struggle and realized that the firehose was simply my blanket all bunched up.

Just last night I had a really entertaining dream (these are my favourite). I thought it could be a really fun story or movie. It involved a small group of random people from all over the world discovering they have limited abilities (telekinesis, strength, etc) and coming together to find out why it’s happened. As the dream went on I discovered they were being chased by a very powerful psychic, an Asian guy with long, white hair. Apparently this guy’s abilities are more powerful than anyone and he’s trying to capture the group for some nefarious plan. So the group tries to go into hiding. And then the twists start. The group tries to plant a mole on the bad guy’s team. But then, when they find a hiding place they think is safe, they lose contact with the mole. They discover she was captured and that there was a mole on their team the entire time. Then the bad guy shows up at the hideout and the mole betrays the team. That’s when I woke up. Just when it was getting good!

I read somewhere that Stephen King gets a lot of his inspiration for his stories from dreams that he has. I don’t know if it’s true but I’d believe it. Some of the more interesting stories I think of come from my dreams. They don’t always make the most sense when I wake up but they’re pretty believable when I’m in them.

When I was in a sociology class in school I learned that one of the theories of where dreams come from is that, when you’re asleep, your brain releases a bunch of energy similar to a mini-electrical storm. As it bustles and jumps around your brain it activates random memories and thoughts. A dream is your brain trying to link those thoughts and memories together in a cohesive story. It’s trying to make sense of the storm.

I’ve been thinking a lot about dreams lately, aside from the vivid ones that I’ve been having, because I’ve recently come across a dream journal I wrote for a sociology project. Reading through it I can still remember each dream as vividly as when I had it. That was close to a decade ago.  Maybe it’s a good idea to start writing down some of my dreams and get in the habit of it. If nothing else it makes for an interesting read ten years down the line.

Wet Themes

Sometimes I like to write while in the bath.  I’m not sure why but I can do some of my most productive and best writing there.

I really love my bathtub.  It is an avocado-coloured reminder that my apartment has existed at least a decade before I had been born.  It is also one of the few bath tubs where I feel like I fit in it.  I’m on the taller side of average and more often than not I have trouble fitting my legs under the bathwater of most tubs.

I’m not sure why I get so much writing done in the bath.  I’m not really a bath person at all; I much prefer a shower.  That said, sometimes I will turn on the shower head, point it straight down and sit down as if I’m having a bath.  I’ll only do this when I’m writing or exceptionally pensive.  This, admittedly, is a tremendous waste of water but what are writers if not eccentric?

When I was a teenager I would make a playlist of the theme song to “Shaft” and the Russian national anthem.  I would put these songs on repeat while I was doing my writing.  It is strange what will trigger inspiration for us.  I suppose my bathtub has become my new playlist.

I generally do all my writing in a notebook as opposed to typing it out.  I’m really bad for not proofreading my own work so this forces me to go over it at least once after I feel I’ve finished it.  As you can imagine, holding a notebook up in the bath is somewhat cumbersome.  I’m open to suggestions if anyone knows of a better way to do this.

Sometimes I sit with my phone instead of a notebook and compose an email to myself.  I like to use the email function for a piece I’m working on because when I’m finished and it’s sent I have a reminder of it on my phone every time I look at it.

Typing an email is faster and even easier in some ways than writing out a piece but I feel more accomplished when I set pen to paper.  Also: it’s a bit of an existential conundrum now that writers can write something without actually physically writing.  Most people use their computer to compose yet they’re still referred to as a “writer”.  Technically and grammatically it would be more accurate to call those people a “typist” or “composer” but those words  denote other occupations.  But I digress…

I’m not entirely sure what causes inspiration, nor what causes it to strike when I’m in the bath or listening to soviet anthems.  But I do know that I shouldn’t try to look a gift horse in the mouth.  I’m going to use all the tools I have at my disposal.