I Don’t Remember Marrying Him

leafblower guy

I don’t remember marrying him. And now, fifteen years after entering into that union, my wife and I want a divorce. Not from each other. From our mow and blow man, Salvador. He came with the house we bought, along with his father.

When we moved into our severely challenged house in 1986, our lady neighbor from across the street insisted that we hire her gardener, Santiago, because as she put it, he’s a loving, caring man. And indeed he was. So much so, we sponsored his citizenship a few months later.

Years went by as we watched our shrub specialist age and his kids grow up. Santiago remarried and decided to move back to Mexico. (Yes, they actually do that.) Before he left, he re-sodded our back lawn and replaced his services with that of his son, Salvador.

Salvador is not like father. Salvador doesn’t like his work or even plants. Salvador does the least possible raking to get by. We’ve been dealing with Salvador’s attitude since 1998.

Every three years my wife and I talk to Salvador about his disinterest in our property. And every three years he listens, nods and says he’ll do what we ask him to do, which he does, for two weeks and then it’s back to less caring.

So a month ago I made a decision – Salvador must go. Okay, he needs dental work, he just got married and had a baby. But is that reason enough to accept lazy work and a worse attitude?

My wife felt terrible about letting him go which left that chore for me. So I prepared myself for an uncomfortable confrontation scheduled for last Wednesday, our weekly thirty minutes with Salvador’s leaf blower.

I rehearsed. I would tell Salvador the truth, that he didn’t care enough, that he was taking advantage of kind people, that he took us for granted and that we had given him too many lectures without seeing improvements. This firing would be a necessary lesson for Salvador, and hopefully he would learn from it and grow up. Yep. I would have to be his tough-love dad. And I would do that because the holy trinity of truth, honesty and responsibility is something we all have to uphold, even when it comes to Salvador.

*****

leavesLast Wednesday snuck up way too quickly. I heard Salvador’s hedge clipper buzz and went out to do the deed. But somewhere between my front steps and Salvador’s sweaty face, I decided to slightly modify this moment of truth.

“Salvador,” I said. “We’ve decided we’re going to make some changes as to how you work for us.”

“Okay,” he said.

“We’re going to need you to put more attention into our lawns, like blowing away the leaves out of the pots as well as off the ground.”

“Okay.”

“When you see something has died, tell us and we’ll let you know what to do about it.”

“Okay.”

“That camellia over there and those ferns, they dried out months ago, take them out.”

“This one?”

“Yes, that one and others you find.”

“Okay.”

“The hedge in front, keep it level. It drops six inched under the tree. We’ve talked about that.”

“Okay.”

“And when it comes to pruning, ask us what’s needed and what’s not. We have too many dead branches now.”

“Okay.”

“All those rotting leaves under the bushes that we don’t see, (I’m pointing) all that needs to be cleared as well.”

“Okay.”

“Now I know this will take more time, so we’ll see how this goes and if all looks good, we’re going to give you a raise.”

“Okay.”

That’s how my kick-ass, life-lesson lecture came off. And I left him to carry out my adjusted needs, the same needs I’ve had for fifteen years.

Forty-five minutes later Salvador left our property and I went out to inspect his work. The two dead plants that I specifically pointed to were removed. The other dead ferns were not. The flowers and shrubs along the driveway were cleared of debris very nicely, but the areas under the bushes were not. The leaves in the flower pots had been taken away, but the patio table and chairs still needed attention. The far side of the house wasn’t entirely cleared either, but then again, that wasn’t on my list.

And so I went back into my house to think about what happened. And here’s my conclusion.

check_list

I don’t think Salvador thought, Well shit, I’ll do what I need to do based on what they’re paying me. The leaves under the bushes can wait. And I don’t think Salvador thought, Wow, with that long list, I guess they expect a lot more of what I haven’t been giving them.

I don’t think Salvador thought that. I don’t think Salvador thinks much about anything. And I don’t think he can remember more than five items on anyone’s list.

I used to think Salvador was lazy. Now I’m beginning to think he’s maxed out, whatever that means. I don’t want to call the man stupid, but I believe it’s fair to say he doesn’t process information the way I do, or maybe you do.

But is that a reason to fire him?

If he didn’t show up or come close to our requests, that might be justification for letting him go. But somehow, he always manages to do just enough for a passing grade on his report card. And as much as I respect excellence and hard work, I can’t quite get myself to punish those who don’t meet my bar…when it comes to mowing my lawn.

When it comes to delivering service in the film business, as a manager I demand much more dedication and skill. But that’s not for me. It’s for my clients and the studio I work for. I can’t afford to give my department head or my customers anything less than their expectations.

And so sure, I have fired people and people have fired me. It’s never pleasant.

So I’m hoping that this coming Wednesday, Salvador will finish clearing the dead leaves as I asked him to. If he doesn’t, again I will have to consider using aggressive force to correct the problem. We’ll see what happens. My decisions change from day to day based on his actions and everything else.

*****

Now I get it. (Well I always did.) I understand why President Obama has changed course a few times in his approach to saving lives in Syria. He had to. Other players threw their cards on the table taking the game in a whole different direction. I’d hate to have a president who doesn’t respond to dynamic shifts and other people’s needs; like yours and mine, along with Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel; all of Europe, the Caucasus, the entire Middle East and Asia. Okay, Africa too.

I’m glad I’m not the President. I’m glad all I have to take on is my gardener’s leaf blowing. The Middle East, that’s somebody’s concern. Right?

 

UPDATE: This week Salvador finished what he left from the week before. Yes, I asked him about it but he came through for us. OKAY, he needs more supervision but he’s not lazy and he wants us to be happy. That’s all that counts. Salvador STAYS.

 

Originally posted on Curiosityquills.com.

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2013/09/i-dont-remember-marrying-him/

How Much Should You Care?

fists

I’ve been following the tragedies in Syria, as well as the entire Middle East and I can’t decide what’s the right thing to do anymore. Intervention? No intervention? The Syrian civil war is so complicated with so many players, there is no way to predict how our country’s response, or lack of it, will reshuffle the deck. It’s not clear who the good guys are, who the bad guys are, what will help, what will hinder, what will bring peace and what will heighten the killing.

But this post is not about politics. This post asks: (as I’ve written about before) Should we even CARE about politics? And more specifically now, should we care about the Syrians? They live way over there. We live here. Sure it’s sad that people are grotesquely dying, but it’s their war, not ours. Right?

RIGHT?

What? It’s not that simple, you say? Why isn’t that simple?

I’ll explain why it’s not simple for me. But first I’ll relate a recent conversation.

*****

Last January my wife and I bought a new car with a trial offer of satellite radio and yes, we decided to keep the service. The promo discounts ended and it was time to renew the account but I didn’t want to spend $200 a year for those occasional drives when I listen to my wife’s car radio. So I called “Listener Care” and Jeff clicked on at the other end.

call-centerI explained to Jeff my goal, to lower the annual costs, and in seven sentences Jeff had me convinced he was my friend. He would build us a package of stations that would reflect our tastes, which is everything, and he would do it with a discount. Okay. That’s what they do, these “Listener Care” people – they care…or they make you think they care. So I agreed to the $165 price in my generally chatty way. I like to keep these kinds of negotiations non-confrontational. I crack jokes and keep it personal.

Jeff was laughing and said to me, “You know, I think I can save you some more money,” and then he applied his company’s offer-this-only-if-you-have-to additional reductions, lowering my annual fee down to $140.26.

Well I was very happy about that, having finished our pleasant eight-minute conversation. So as I usually do, just before hanging up, I asked Jeff where I was calling. It’s best when your care-giver lives close by, like Beverly Hills. “I’ll give you another discount if you can guess,” he said.

Okay. Game on. This means he’s probably not in the US. He said I was right about that. I said, “English isn’t your first language and you don’t live in a country where it is.”

“That’s correct too,” he said.

“You’re a university student and you’re doing this job for extra money.”

“Right again.”

“Were you educated in the US?”

“No but I would love to visit it.”

I was stumped. He had a trace of an accent but I couldn’t recognize it. His diction was perfect. He understood American humor. He got it when I said, “I don’t want to be spammed so no, I won’t give you my email address.” There was never a hint of pressure and he reminded me of myself when I too was in college and spent a week selling discount life insurance policies over the phone.

“Okay, where am I calling?”

He said, “Cairo, Egypt.”

“Oh my God!” I said. “Are you safe?”

“So far. But it’s not a good idea to be out after dark.”

“Oh, Jeff… Your name’s not Jeff, is it?”

“No.” He laughed again. “You wouldn’t be able to pronounce it.”

I figured, but I just had to tell him, “I’ve been following your country’s ordeal ever since the start of the Arab Spring. So many of us in the country watch the horrors you’re going through. And now with what’s going on in Syria, and so many people like you dying, we just don’t know what to do!”

Rabbi with horn

“Thank you for caring,” he said. And then he told me his name, which I could barely articulate, and I told him I was Jewish and yet felt close to him. And I wished him well, and told him I hoped his country could work its way out of military rule and that his future had opportunities waiting for him.

He thanked me again and said, “I too am glad we had this conversation. L’Shanah Tovah.” And then we hung up.

“L’Shanah Tovah” is Hebrew for “Have a good year.” Our conversation happened on the second day of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah when all the Jews say “L’Shanah Tovah” to all the other Jews. It’s an unsaid prayer for a better future, for a world in peace.

Jeff in Cairo is why I care about what’s happening to people I don’t know. But it took me years to get to the place where I can feel this way. I’m no longer struggling and have the luxury to expand my concerns beyond my own immediate needs.

*****

Last century, two weeks out of college, I took a look at what lay before me and tried to figure out how I was going to survive the next fifty years. I had to make my world manageable, something I could control, or at least influence. The threat of Vietnam was erased with my high lottery number which got me out of the draft. That just left paying the rent, having enough to eat, some cash for gas and getting the next job. Even that wasn’t manageable. I struggled. I struggled and I searched for solutions for staying alive, as in, figuring out what’s true and what isn’t, what and who I can trust, and something about economics. I’m still trying to figure all that out.

Drawing a line in the sand.  An old metaphor.

We all have boundaries that delineate what we need to care about and what we don’t. When putting bread on the table is our main concern, a Middle East civil war is our least concern, unless we live there. If we’re average Americans, we are blessed by a huge buffer between foreign violence and our personal space, until the next terrorist attack in our fifty states. If we’re bankers, managers of major corporations, politicians, diplomats, importers-exporters, or part of a family that lives in different countries, we have a greater need to know what’s going on at the edges of our expanded borders. Where our boundary ends is determined by how much influence we have over “others” inside it, and conversely, how many of the “Others” want to influence us. Everyone needs to make their world manageable.

The Influence Mavens are the high rollers responsible for sea changes. You and me, we’re concerned about threats to our family. The big question is: what do we consider our family? Is it our home? Our neighborhood? Our city? Our county? Our state? Our country? Our ethnic community? Our religious community? Our world?

  • Where does our caring and responsibility stop when it comes to our family?
  • What is our family and what is not?
  • At what point does Us become Them?
  • And is that a boundary which stays fixed or is it flexible?

All of us face these questions everyday and make decisions about how much of the world’s business we want to take on. Most of the time we choose to limit our focus, based on insufficient information. Then we find out we really ARE affected by issues we thought were benign, like the US trade deficit and China’s cheap labor.

Honestly, none of us can know enough to really KNOW what’s going on. I still keep trying, though. And as I come to understand that there are millions of Jeff’s all over the world, I have to come to terms with my past avoidance of the atrocities in Kosovo and Rwanda, Cambodia, the Kurdish province of Iraq, Bangladesh, Burundi, Argentina, Ethiopia, Tibet, Somalia, North Korea and all the other places of historic and current genocides.

Now I care. All those people in all those places are, and were, people like Jeff and me. We’re all family.

 

Originally posted on Curiosityquills.com.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2013/09/how-much-should-you-care/

Confessions of a Dyslexic Writer

boy-not-reading

Growing up, I didn’t like to read. I had problems learning words, reciting words, couldn’t spell them or add a five number column without making mistakes. Can you believe it? I didn’t know I was dyslectic until five years ago when I started writing my novels. With words and words and more words it finally dawned on me I was reversing letters five to eight times per page. Sometimes I would reverse even words the words themselves. And proof reading? Forget it. I couldn’t recognize the errors unless the format changed, which is how I manage to correct most, but not all, of my typos.

But dyslexia was just part of my reading resistance. Fiction bored me, especially the classics…along with text books…which left comics and I didn’t like those either. I just wasn’t interested in mastering literature or The Adventures of Dick and Jane. Dr. Seuss was okay, but not one of his books used more than two hundred words so I have no idea how I learned to read at all or pass an English lit test.

Well, yes I do. Fear of failure forced me to compensate for my lack of motivation. I stumbled through the required reading in high school, answered the quiz questions and immediately forgot it all. That was a choice.

You see, I can’t shake the belief that I have X number of brain cells for memory storage and so I delete info to make room for shit worth remembering.

So yeah, in college I was required to read even more books I thought were irrelevant and I dumped those memories too. That was the plan. I graduated USC with maybe 75% of brain storage capacity still left. Yea! Now I’d remember lots of movies! Maybe…

But something funny happened on the way to the theater.

JourneyToIxtlanWith the college reading assignments finally lifted, I started embracing information that I actually wanted to know. It wasn’t fiction though, unless it was mystical stuff like the Carlos Castaneda series about a Yaqui shaman. The stories were supposed to be real. I didn’t believe they were but I soooooo much wanted them to be, and so I drank in all those magical words. Anyway, anything and everything about the mysteries of life was on my TBR list and I couldn’t stop opening books about those topics. I wanted to know life’s secrets and I wanted that info ASAP. This is how I came to be a reader.

*****

Having graduated with a film degree, I decided to write screenplays about all the amazing things I had learned in books. It then occurred to me, I really didn’t know how to write anything. Okay, letters to friends, but story structure? What was that?

 

Humm… Guess I better bone up on that stuff, I thought, which required more reading. But unlike my boring literature classes, I now had a reason for wanting to know why and how narratives pull us in. So I read some how-to-write books and I learned about acts and character arcs. Since screenplays have little description, I didn’t need to know how to gracefully detail it, but I got by. I figured dialogue was easy – just make people say what they’re thinking, like explanations in science books, but half as eloquent.

And that’s how I started writing drama, by writing it badly. And although those first scripts were not atrocious, they didn’t sell. Nor did the following five scripts, and they were pretty good, so my agents told me. Later, one screenplay got optioned and another moved into the packaging phase. But still, no production formed out of either one.

px of scriptGetting any script produced is truly a Hollywood miracle. Unless you have connections to a top executive who can say, “I’ll green light it,” (maybe ten lords have that power) you will have to be approved by many levels of gatekeepers who are afraid to recommend a script their boss might hate.

If you happen to be one of those gatekeeper story analysts and you fight for a script, and it bombs in release, no way will your boss take the heat for that. You and the director will. However, if the movie is a hit, your boss gets a promotion and so do you. But expect your manager to take all the credit while you covertly try to get it back.

Okay – pop quiz: At every rung of the studio ladder, what is your primary job? Answer: To stay employed! And to do that, you’ll need to dodge the flops and get associated with the wins. If people think you’re responsible for a big hit or two you’ll eventually move up the ranks to a production head, where there’s no place to hide when your choices fail. Three money-losers and you’re out. You will then move off the lot with a “development deal” tied to the studio that just fired you. If you still have access to funding, your calls and emails will be returned…until your next box office disaster when your needed call-backs abruptly come to an end.

Now I don’t want to paint solely negative pictures or come off like a whining, wanna-be-famous novelist (which I am, but without the whining part). So I’ll assure you, there ARE win-lose-win scenarios. Here’s an example.

*****

You write a brilliant script or novel, you somehow get it to a B-list producer who recognizes your talent and the value of your non-genre story. Nine more producers attach to your project with hopes of cobbling together enough cash to get your movie made and snatch a distribution deal at a film festival. The movie gets critical acclaim but only limited exposure because Harvey Weinstein already allocated his project pick-up allowance before he saw your picture. So your labor of love opens in four cities with limited advertising. All eight people who saw Hollywoodyour film loved it, but it was only eight sets of eyes. You’re hoping for an Academy nomination which could kick-start your film again. You don’t win it but you and your producer (the only one left who still believes in you) start over with another one of your scripts. It’s a little easier this time, your second movie gets made with slightly more fanfare and this notoriety leads to your third project, which strikes gold at the box office.

Conclusion: You didn’t give up and eventually your third script hit the big time. This scenario applies to novelists as well. Some get lucky right out of the gate. Most make it through sheer persistence, this writer included.

*****

The reason why so many authors and filmmakers continue to beat on closed doors is because getting them to open is surely possible. Big scores happen all the time, despite dyslexia. And beyond that, there are private successes along the way that make the journey worth the struggle, especially if you enjoy the writing.

But this you know. I’m your friendly reminder-guy.

Patience, persistence and perfecting your craft really does pay off. Things change all the time, like…guess what? I’m reading more fiction now.

How about you? How are you changing? What new opportunities are you creating by staying in the game, word after word after word?

 

Originally posted on Curiosityquills.com.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2013/09/confessions-of-a-dyslexic-writer/

Will Getting it Right Bring the World Together?

Once upon a time

I read very little fiction. High school and college scared me away from prose by making me read stuff I didn’t want to read. And worse, I had lame teachers who couldn’t explain how something that happen in 1813 England had any relevance to me and my dating life. So no…I never read Jane Austen, although I hear she’s quite popular.

Kidding. My wife has seen every movie version of “Pride and Prejudice” ever made…at least three times.

Speaking of movies…some of you know through reading my blogs that in another universe I exist as another guy and that man is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I’m on the executive board of my branch and was asked five years ago to annually judge the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting. The contest this year received 7251 entries from all over the world and I feel honored to participate in this influential endowment. It’s a major break for the finalists. Many have become famous directors and screenwriters.

*****

For those of you who have never read a screenplay, I’ll explain what it is NOT. It is not a literary form. It’s an outline using minimal words for description. Dialogue and the character names are printed down the center of the page without “he said” or “she said.” Everything we learn about the characters and their intentions must be conveyed through action and dialogue, as if we were watching a film. If a screenwriter describes her character’s thoughts on the page, that’s cheating. In a theater, we don’t have a narrator telling us what a character is thinking.

Well, sometimes we do, if the story is told in the first person, but that’s not common.

Scripts are scanned with their format arranged for a fast-read. A 120 page script can be finished in 120 minutes. A script page is roughly equal to one minute of screen time.

With this screenplay, I covered each page in less than thirty seconds. I was totally sucked into the drama. Nothing felt phony about it – not the action, intentions, reactions, not one word of dialogue. There was NO cheating.wooman writer in tub

  • NO characters discussed back story.
  • NO one overtly explained their intentions.
  • NO adjectives and adverbs told me what to think.
  • NO quick flashbacks filled in missing information (although that can be effective if not overused).

What I DID read, were scenes of interaction or repetition that delivered hints as to what these people were about. Here’s a scene from the script. I hope this is okay. I’m changing names in case it’s not.

*****

The story revolves around a forty-something mother/housewife named Dana. Her professional, long-days-at-the-office husband is named Howard. They have a twelve year-old daughter named Elise.

All breakfasts follow a routine: No one talks to each other. Dana blends her protein drinks and pops vitamin pills, Howard is lost in his iPad, Elise is always texting.

This particular morning, Dana starts a conversation at the table.

texting at table

Dana: “Does anyone want some?” They don’t. “When can we all do something together? As a family? Go out to dinner?”

Elise: “You don’t eat.”

Dana: “I eat. Or a hike? A family hike–”

Howard: (to Elise) “I don’t think I have the coordination to hike with her.”

Elise: “You’d have to smoke crack to keep up with her.”

Dana: “Stop. No one smokes crack anymore.”

Howard stands to go. (to Elise) “You ready?” Elise grabs her toast and knapsack.

Elise: “Can we drive with the top down?”

Dana: “Why didn’t you tell me you were taking her to school?”

Howard: “I’m taking her to school.”

Dana kisses Elise. They exit, leaving Dana with the mess.

*****

What was revealed in this short scene? Everything: Attitudes, back story, a communication deficit and the family cold war. This is stellar writing.

The first sentences of the script shows Dana finding a long red hair on Howard’s back as he continues to sleep next to her. Dana says nothing, lets him snooze and goes into the bathroom for a melt down. From that point on, I felt like a voyeur watching a distressed housewife/mom come apart as she barely copes with her dysfunctional family and another one she discovers and adopts.

No one’s life was physically threatened and yet all characters faced severe emotional jeopardy. I could identify with every family member, even the twelve year-old daughter and her fifteen year-old boyfriend. It all felt absolutely true but I had no idea where the story was taking me or even what it was about. A theme? Couldn’t find it. Didn’t care. Every page was a new discovery. With so much subtle info and nuances of character to process, I had no time to think ahead.

This is very rare for me. I’m almost always ahead of the writer.

So I got to the end, and yes, the script emotionally resolved. But I still wondered, just what was it about? Twenty minutes later, after I had submitted my score and report and was getting into bed, I again churned over the story. It didn’t make sense that a writer this good would have no intention of a message…and then it occurred to me what had changed in the last fifteen pages.

The characters in conflict finally began to communicate with each other. They found the courage to speak and the patience to listen, giving the two families a safer space for healing and coming together.

And then I thought, was this script autobiographical? There was no standard structure, no three acts, no major plot points, no secondary characters, just a riveting story. Every screenplay rule was broken yet the pages burned into my brain.

The writer did her job, if it was a her. I understood her character’s demons and I supported their battles. In the end they became my friends. I have never read anything this gripping in a screenplay before and I’m waiting to see if it winds up in the finals and wins one of the three grants.

Why did this work affect me the way it did? I think it’s about my age and experience. We live each day trying to get by. We encounter thousands of situations and people over a lifetime. Most of that gets memory-dumped. But really it doesn’t. All experiences are stored as impressions which build our personal realities and social truths.

Whoever this writer is, he or she observes the world the way I do and our shared reality gave me a connection and more stuff to ponder. This is what successful fiction does: It emotionally affects us and prods us to think.

The question remains: How universal was this story and the “reality” it painted? If I were younger with fewer experiences, would I still have resonated with the material? Would a Syrian twenty-four year old get wrapped in the matrix like I did, or a sixty year-old grandfather from Angola? How universal were the characters and their psychology? Or was it just a White, urban American story.

I don’t know that answer to that. I hope this movie gets made. I hope it’s a hit here and abroad. If it is, that affirms the human race shares much in common. I’d like to believe that. I’d like to believe that defining emotional truth and getting it right can bring the world together.

 

Originally published on Curiosityquills.com.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2013/08/will-getting-it-right-bring-the-world-together/

Why Do You Think the Way You Do?

young womanthinking

 

 

My last post pressed a hot button. I knew it would and I’m not through with it. I’m asking more questions again.

  • Why do you think the way you do?
  • Do you know?
  • Do you care to know?

 

*****

 Young couple making love

Although I’m not a father of a teenage girl or young woman, last week I took up their cause and advised parents to let their daughters express their sexuality. Some of my readers, maybe most, did not want to read that article.

Who does Podolsky think he is, telling me to let my kids hop in the sack and get known as Bed-Bunnies?

To be clear, I never advised any parent to encourage sex. I said that sexual expression and exploration was part of the maturing process and not at all shameful. Sex is part of who we are and I was defending those young people whose sensual nature was being suppressed by older adults. I cannot tolerate manipulation of any kind, whether it’s overbearing parental controls, spousal abuse, office harassment, forth grade bullying or the stifling of personal liberties by a ruling body.

That’s why I wrote the article. A father was reinforcing a principle of conquest: Sex is taken, not shared and men define a women’s value. So many times this is true, and it’s called dominance. Unfortunately, all over the world both genders still buy into this absurdity and males enforce it.

I can understand why men would want power over women. I can understand why any individual would want to control others. But the big question screams, why do so many people everywhere believe dominance is appropriate human behavior? And by dominance, I also mean the assumption that any one belief or lifestyle should be the model for all the rest – that UNIFORMITY is the best possible social system.

Well, not everyone believes that perfecting repetition is the only way to improve. Novelists do their best to be original, and when they’re not, they’re accused of plagiarism. So writers, artists and performers strive for the creation of New and Exciting.

*****

man thinking

Emma Coats advises us in her Writing Basic #18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

Testing what? Ideas, of course. Simply refining pre-existing thoughts does not grow new thoughts. Refining, without new ideas, only reinforces what IS. Refining without testing is a choice based on the assumption that previous selections of anything are superior to any future alternatives.

If you believe that maintaining what’s in place, say the Good Old Days, is safer than rocking the boat, WHY do you believe this? WHERE did you first get that idea? From your dad? Your church? TV?

As you know, lots of people take a different track. They welcome change, they make change. Scientists make change. Artists make change. And yes, people who aren’t content with the way things are make changes.

So we have the boat rockers (the change-makers) and the boat holders (the conservatives). These two management styles polarize populations to form opposing political parties, religions and book clubs. Consequently everyone faces a choice of joining one group or the other.

WHEN did you choose? WHY did you choose? Have you jumped ship and swum to the other boat? Lots of people do, you know, and it goes both ways: conservative to liberal and liberal to conservative. It happens in the best of families.

*****

The latest neural studies suggest that our brains are “hard-wired” to adapt to stimuli in different ways and that empathy plays a big role in our perceptions. Not all brains are the same. Some people have more empathy than others. Some are more aggressive, some are competitive, some are shy and timid. Many articles on the web explain how varied predispositions are biologically based, which also sheds light on why some babies grow up to be Republicans and some mature into Democrats.

So if we’re predisposed to see the world as It’s-All-Just-US, or the opposite, It’s-Us-and-Them, we have to ask ourselves: Can we break out of our pre-wired mold if we want to? Or suppose we’re happy as-is but we’re cracked open anyway. What would influence that?

Let me tell you about a guy who got seriously influenced.

*****

nice_Jewish_boy

Irving Podolsky grew up in a middle-class Jewish family with all the traditional 50’s values. Nice Jewish boys treated nice Jewish girls with respect and never got them into “trouble”. Good boys and good girls didn’t drink or smoke, achieved good grades, made their parents proud and after college, married and made more nice Jewish babies. Children also observed the Jewish holidays, prayed in synagogue, got Bar Mitzvah’d, thanked their generous, loving parents and grew up to become doctors or lawyers.

Irving Podolsky did not fit into this perfect, pre-set world, and he knew it from the age of four. Still, he pretended to be a member of the tribe, doing all the good things the tribe did, except date nice Jewish girls, when he dated at all. He figured though, he’d probably marry one later. That was the rule.

In all other respects Irving was a good boy. He didn’t drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes, and he kept his grades up. But there was that wonderful new stuff called pot…which he loved…which he soon stopped because Irv was honest enough to tell his parents and they said, “We didn’t send you to college to be stoned all the time.”

So Irv promised to stay away from weed in school, and he did…because a promise is a promise, and his parents were paying for his education. But they said nothing about LSD.

Lysergic acid diethylamide changed signal routing in Irv’s brain. Suddenly the world didn’t seem so “set” anymore. A thousand more colors sprung onto life’s pallet, with a thousand more choices.

Still Irv was Irv. That is, until graduation. Then everything changed. Every idea, every assumption, every concept about good and bad, right and wrong, it all changed.

Irv’s dad gave his son three months of rent and food money. After that, Irv had to be self-sustaining. At the end of three months, his cash had run out and so had the job possibilities. It was 1970 and Irv was a cinema major. That degree gave Irv a skill set for nothing else than making movies or bagging groceries. Like today, the film industry was shrinking and depressed. So was Irv, until he got an opportunity phone call…as in, directing pornographic adult films. He took the job. That changed everything.

Changing jobs to work at a mental hospital for mentally challenged sociopaths with a staff of bi-sexuals and gays, that changed everything too.

Hitting rock-bottom as a dishwasher at a Steak ‘n Brew, that changed everything too.

The nervous breakdown which exploded into a mystical awakening into All-There-Is, that changed everything too.

Falling in love with an older German woman, from Germany, and marrying her against his parent’s wishes, that changed everything too.

Starting over in New York City, struggling to survive as a twenty-something film editor with an unhappy wife who wanted to go back to Europe, that changed everything too.

Returning to LA to find a job in TV where all financial and emotional horrors instantly melted away, which rebooted his marriage, that changed everything too.

These are the influences that got me to realize that the world is a infinite lake of diversity and nothing is all good or all bad. Live-and-let-live isn’t really threatening. It’s actually more practical, since everything IS what it IS and we all have to deal with that.

GIRL_LIPS

So now I know why I think the way I do and where my current beliefs come from. They come from varied experiences and a questioning mind. Why do I have a questioning mind? Don’t know. I suppose I’m hard-wired that way.

What about you? Do you challenge the status quo? Have you ever, for one teeny-weeny moment, questioned your assumptions about how it all works? Or are you a true believer, signed, sealed and delivered – an unshakable YOU?

If this is the case, that you know who you are, what you want, what’s important, what’s right and wrong and you’re keeping all that in place; would you be terribly disappointed if your son or daughter turned out to be a Live-and-Let-Live, Let’s-Make-Love, Bed-Bunny?

Or would you decide to make a few allowances in your Book of Rules? Maybe even re-think some of them.

 

Originally published on Curiosityquills.com.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2013/08/why-do-you-think-the-way-you-do/

Exploring Sex – Not You, Your Kids

Teenagers

Emma Coats’ Writing Basic #17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

I bet there’s not one writer who doesn’t already know this truth, or actually anyone past the age of three. Everything we do, all experiments and everything learned from them adds to the mix of personal creation.

End of article.

Oh yeah, there’s something else I’ve mentioned before – every mistake is beneficial and actually needed to reach our goals. We must know what fails before we can discover what works. Sometimes we get hurt in the discovery, but that’s life. No way around it.

End of article.

Wait-a-minute… There’s that thing about moving on when something fails, like an idea, an assumption, a process, solution, or a material thing put together. There is no justifiable excuse for keeping something in place when it simply isn’t true, doesn’t operate, doesn’t apply to the problem and goals, or is just too clunky to efficiently accomplish its task.

End of article. Or…maybe not.

Perhaps there’s more to say about holding on to stuff that’s not functioning well, even though it may have done its job in the past. And I bet you already figured out I’m not talking about writing anymore and maybe this is where YOU want to end this article. Maybe you don’t need to be reminded about change and evolution. If you’re liberal, you already glide with the trends or move ahead of them. And if you’re striving to conserve established ways and means, you don’t want me trying to change your mind about anything.

End of article. But still…

There may be one subject you’ll want to read about – parents and their teenage children. I’m going to talk about young people exploring sex for the first time and what their parents should do about that…or not do. And since I’ve never raised children myself, I’m obviously the utmost authority on that subject. And now you’re thinking…

End of article. But wait…

I have been a teenager exploring sex for the first time, and I have had parents laying down rules, and I did participate in the 70’s sexual revolution shifting from one paradigm to another. So I know what I’m writing about. If you don’t believe me, for you, this is the…

End of article.

But for those who are still reading, here’s my father-daughter true story.

*****

father_w_teenage_daughterI have an acquaintance who I occasionally encounter through mutual friends. I will call him Dan. Dan lives in Florida as a public defender, an occupation I wholly respect. Four years ago, when his daughter was fourteen and his son was eight, the three of them came to visit my wife and me. Dan was going through a divorce at the time. His wife had left the family.

During their stay, with the kids watching TV in the next room, I asked Dan if rearing two children alone was difficult. His daughter, I’ll call her Beth, would soon be dating and I was curious about how Dan would deal with that.

Dan was adamant. He would not allow Beth to befriend any boy, no matter how casual, without his approval. And he certainly would not allow sex between them. He knew what all boys wanted, (he was one once) and his daughter would NOT be their conquered Snow White.

Now Beth was fourteen and I could understand her father’s protective instincts. But Dan was angry, as if he resented having to stand guard against every teenage penis on the planet. This conversation was uncomfortable. I never forgot it.

After four years of no connection, last week I got an unexpected call from Dan. It was business related but I switched the topic to his daughter since I calculated she was now eighteen and would soon be leaving for college. I was right, and I asked Dan how he felt about the separation. Dan said that he and Beth had had a father/daughter sex-talk and in Dan’s words, “She got it.” The following is what Dan thought she got:

Sex is a commodity, like gold, silver or corn. And like anything else offered for market, it’s subject to supply and demand with the subsequent rise and fall of value. The more sex Beth awards, the less she will be valued. However, she can’t keep her sexual favors entirely off the market because then she will have no value. So she must be discreet, keeping her sexual experiences limited and her value up – but not so limited that she’ll disappoint a potential husband after graduation.

On the surface Dan’s words sound like practical advice. And if female birth control and condoms didn’t exist, these directives might save a lot of grief. But we don’t live in 1955 anymore and in this country something called the Feminine Liberation exploded in the 60’s and continues to this day. Not everywhere of course, but in most college hang-outs, dorm rooms, apartments and the back seats of cars.

College Kids on LawnDan finished our conversation by noting that Beth’s current boyfriend (or friend who happens to be a young man) is “safe” and on his Approved List. The teen is “safe” because Dan thinks he’s gay and he mentioned that to Beth. Now she’s leaving for college in a rage, and according to Dan, she hates her father.

He can’t understand why. He has nothing against homosexuals. Gays make loyal friends, and they won’t try anything. Why would Beth be upset about that?

I’m pretty sure I know why Beth’s upset, even deeply hurt. Here’s what Dan doesn’t understand.

*****

Sexuality is not a dessert we give out as a reward, although we can. Sexuality is how we FEEL and what we ARE. And yes, as parents we can suppress our child’s sexuality through guilt and conditional love, but we can’t redefine it; just like we can’t pray the gay away or keep deviant priests from expressing their sex drives.

If Beth is a sexual being, and that applies to 98% of eighteen year-old girls, then her need to feel female and sensual is a crucial step into adulthood and something that can’t be denied. But that’s what Dan is trying to do – establish Beth’s value, contingent on the denial of her sexual nature.

And where exactly, does the female value jury reside?

According to Dan, his daughter’s value is determined by the boys she dates – the male gender! Incredible!

Beth would have to ask herself, Why would Dad believe that boys think sexual girls are sluts unless he believes it? He must, because he’s telling me girls who like sex are disgraceful, which means if I like sex, I can never tell Dad or trust him again.

Bottom line: Beth’s potential loss of respect is not about boyfriends, it’s about her father.

And the irony about this disconnect, is that Dan is unaware of his own prejudice. He’s sexist. He gave that away when telling me Beth needed to be erotically satisfying to a future husband. This means after marriage, her high value is based on quantity and quality of sex rather than the restriction of it.

Dan has reduced his daughter to a service commodity who retains her value by suppressing her sexuality while single or supplying it on demand when married.

*****

This message is exactly what Beth “got” with that fatherly advice. Beth now understands that her growing-up sexual experiments will sacrifice parental support. And I suppose that’s all part of maturing and taking on independence. Despite her father’s edicts, Beth will become an older, wiser version of who she is now, whatever sexual orientation she has.

With the loss of respect for her father’s philosophical limitations, she will accommodate him, maybe tolerate him, telling him whatever he wants to hear. And Dan, needing to believe that his daughter lives in his image, will accept all lies which conform to his beliefs.

Loss of connection is what happens to parents who strangle their children with unnatural rules. Yes, some mothers and fathers do manage to convince their children that sex is dirty by calling it holy, for they believe that as well. And yes, one can live a “good” life within this very narrow moral focus. But that’s all it is – a very narrow slice of diversity and change, the true nature of God and His Creation.

If this sounds religious, it is. When it comes to sexual identity, love your children for who they are, not what you force them to be.

End of article.

 

Originally published on Curiosityquills.com.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2013/08/exploring-sex-not-you-your-kids/

NOTHING-TO-LOSE ALWAYS WINS

teddybear

What are the stakes? Give us a reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

This is Emma Coats’ Writing Basic #16 – four sentences fiction writers address when building a story. As I look at these ideas, What are the stakes? slowly emerged as the essence of this post. For me it means: Just what is my hero afraid to lose? Regarding my personal life, I’m asking: What am I afraid to lose?

Our fear of loss invites others to take charge of our lives. To protect ourselves, we build strong defenses, leaving nothing in jeopardy; or we strip ourselves of having to defend anything, leaving nothing to lose.

NOTHING IN JEOPARDY is an overpowering adversary but NOTHING TO LOSE always wins. We live somewhere between these two extremes.

The warrior who fears nothing, even death, loses nothing when his life is taken. You don’t want to face her on the battlefield.

Fearless warriors usually reveal themselves when battling illness. My wife, a nurse, has met many in the hospitals where she worked. What made them warriors? They all acknowledged the limited state of life they had left. Some resigned moments before coma closed their eyes. Some found piece weeks before their passing. And some realized life could flicker away tomorrow and cherished each day years before they passed.

My wife’s mother is one of those far-seeing warriors. She is 98 years-old and sleeps in a two-hundred square foot nursing home room. She is 80% blind, 80% deaf, 80% wheelchair dependent and 100% happy. She also has 100% mental acuity.

Five years ago, when moving into assisted living, she gave up attachment to independence. Then three years ago she told us “she was ready.” Nothing more needed to be fixed. Nothing was so important it couldn’t be left behind. When this post is published August 7th my wife will be flying to Germany to spend another visit with her mom, knowing it could be her last. That “last visit” has been reoccurring for ten years.

*****

I just returned from a visit with my own parents, also in their nineties. My father is deep in senility and Mom hurts from extreme bodily pain. With all their handicaps, my parents are still not ready to close the store. Mom told me she awakes every morning wondering if it will be her last. Dying bothers her – a lot. Her husband, my dad, became her child. Who will take care of him when she’s gone? Mom’s task keeps her alive.

My sister and I will not be able to care for Dad if Mom leaves first. He will go into a home. Mom says he will then decide life is not worth living and quickly fade into an abyss of depression and angry regrets. Dad will not be a courageous warrior. He never was.

I know little about my mother’s fear of death. It’s uncomfortable talking to her about that. Still, I know she is a warrior, and so are four of her younger friends battling cancer. They’re not thinking about their own annihilation. Like Mom, they’re concerned about the people who love them and will mourn their loss.

This is heavy stuff. And I’m glad most of the time I’m wrapped with distractions of superficial drama like who’s right in an argument. How trivial, but it seems important until life is on the line. Life is always on the line, but who wants to think about that? Writers have to think about that.

*****

Microsoft Word - Document3

How about thinking this. I’m sure you already have. The only power people have over you and me is their ability to take away something we consider precious.

Your boss can press you to the floor as long as you’re afraid he’ll take your job. Your spouse can lie, cheat and steal as long as you want her more than she wants you. Children of course make things immensely more complicated but the issue stays the same: Something very important to you is on the line and you’re afraid to lose it. So much so, you give up control. You’re not alone. Millions of books tell this story.

Let’s look at another story – war. If you and your enemy agree on what’s at stake, like land, dominance, oil reserves, human life, freedom; you’ve got a balanced fight. All players invest the same in the game. All agree when too much of “X” is lost on either side, the war is over.

This is an archetypal conflict and most traditional novels describe it. But we rarely have those wars anymore. We have wars of ideology where the players can’t even agree on what they’re fighting about. Throw suicide bombers into the mix and you’ve got an unworkable clash. When one side is willing to die and the other side wants to live, human life is no longer the cash bet on the table. Back in the day when the generals ran out of fighters, the war was over. Not anymore.

When suicide bombers line up to blow themselves up, fear of dying has left the equation. Solution? Want-to-die fighters no longer confront Want-to-live soldiers. Instead they face airborne drones where their pilots, flying from air conditioned cubicles, go home for dinner. One fighter cares not if he dies. The other knows he won’t die, at least on the battlefield.

Revolutionary War

Balance is back. What’s all the fuss about? Oh… Innocent people perish? Well there’s that…

There’s one thing I want to make clear. From what I’ve heard suicide bombers actually do care about their lives, but not in physical terms. They expect to trade flesh for ethereal existence. Total annihilation is not their intention, and that applies to drone pilots as well. All soldiers value their identities in one form or another. So it seems to me one’s sense-of-self is the last treasure left to lose and the first thing we fight for. Armies and religions switch sense-of-self from the personal to group-think. When they’re successful, we have nasty wars.

*****

So writers, I ask you, when composing your story, what is on the line? What are the stakes? What is so precious it must never be given up or lost? Is it sense-of-self? Is it control, power, money, sex, loyalty, land, life or love? Whatever it is, the closer we emulate human instincts, like protecting our children, identities and freedom, the more we will engage our readers with intrinsic connections.

Sadly, loss of life no longer commands interest in fiction or on the news. Principles about life are more important than human life itself. Why? Because people are everywhere and replaceable, where as guns and drugs are not. So we fight over scarcity like food, healthcare, shelter and control.

As writers, what do we make of this? Are we watching and reporting our human conflicts? Are we pondering life and death, good and evil and making heroes that give readers reasons for hope? Are we showing the world what’s worth defending?

For me, there’s still plenty to lose. And although much is dwindling and I’d like to hoard it, I know survival is all about sharing. If I don’t and I’m fighting to keep what’s left, NOTHING TO LOSE always wins.

 

Originally published by Curiosityquills.com

 

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2013/08/nothing-to-lose-always-wins/

WHY TOTAL TRUST IS B.S.

man_with_mask

If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

This is Emma Coats’ Story Basic #15 – a series of literary concepts she compiled and tweeted. With number 15, I think she’s implying that readers will believe any situation you propose, within realism or fantasy, as long as your characters THINK realistically.

Well again we’re back to my own Story Basic. As writers it’s imperative that we understand human psychology. We must replicate logic, as twisted as might be, when building our characters. Their differing assumptions, beliefs and fears determine unique choices and decisions leading to actions and reactions.

As I’ve said before, molding all of your story people based on your personal assumptions makes a flat and potentially unbelievable story. You can’t apply your owe beliefs to all your characters. Well you can but then they’ll all think alike, act alike and talk alike. The result? Your readers will know you cheated. You didn’t explore enough. You didn’t respect your characters enough to give them their own identities. They were all YOU and without varied details about contrasting needs and fears, your readers have little to care about and will lose interest. They’ll sense your diminished commitment.

But no author sets out to create uni-dimensional characters. We all start from zero experience and learning to widen our attention is a maturing process. Failing to examine the whole story can be and should be forgiven as we learn how to describe our thoughts.

However, in real life as adults, telling stories that haven’t been vetted and thought out is not just bad writing – it’s irresponsible. When we’re passing off our non-researched opinions as facts and expect people to believe them, even demand that they do, there’s a name for that. It’s called bullshit.

Bluntly stated: Bullshit is the bending of truth or total fabrication delivered with the intent to deceive or manipulate. When this practice is skillfully done, it’s effective propaganda. People who convince others that their bullshit is the real thing are called Bullshit Artists. Bullshit artists shape their lies with so much confidence, they believe their own bullshit. That’s what makes them artists – their purity of vision. It all hangs together. That’s why we believe it.

When a delusional bullshit artist convinces you and me to serve his cause because his truths are the only truths, he or she is now qualified to run for public office…in a bad way.

*****

Cows

Of course not all politicians are bullshitters – only the ones who replace your best interests with their own. Their jobs are more important than your job, your healthcare, your trusting the banking system, your children’s education, your utilities and infrastructure, your right to hear and know the truth.

Bullshitting politicians keep control as long as they make you believe you’re getting what you want, even when you’re not. When you’ve figured that out, bullshitters blame everyone else. You’ll believe them by listening to only THEIR bullshit. So it’s really important to connect with many information sources, understanding that manipulators always insist that any opinion opposing their own is bullshit.

When everyone tells you the other guy is lying and you don’t know whom to believe, the whole world seems like bullshit. That’s exactly what bullshit artists want you to think. Manipulators wear you down so you give up looking for facts, so you stop sleuthing for hidden agendas and hand over the rule making to them. That’s bad. You have lost your freedom to choose.

Still, bullshitting leaders keep insisting you’re in jeopardy and only they can save you. Their follow-only-me instructions are supposed to be your safety net but their words are hiding covert deals. The promises are bullshit and the cruelest bullshit of all instills distrust between you and me. Fear draws attention. So while the population argues about moral issues that can’t possibly become one guiding light for all, scoundrels secretly service their own wealth and power.

Bullshit needs distraction. So it makes hate and war.

*****

card-cheat

 

 

Now if you’re feeling like you can’t trust ANYONE 100% you’ve got good cause. You shouldn’t. But you can get pretty close, like 99%. And the only way…and I mean the ONLY way to trust anyone or anything, (and I’ve said this many times) is to DO YOUR HOMEWORK! Get informed! Compare information and its sources. Consider all points-of-view. Let people talk and listen to them, even when it’s bullshit.

 

 

 

 

Yes, bullshit is bullshit, but many times you can’t tell it is. So, when listening to anyone ask yourself:

  • WHY does she want me to believe that?
  • HOW would my agreement benefit her personal livelihood?
  • WHO and WHAT could he actually be representing?

When you’ve answered those questions you’ve plowed through the bullshit. And what do you find beneath it? The most precious treasure of all – TRUTH.

*****

This is where it gets fuzzy. Truth is a moving target. Truth isn’t set in stone. Well it is but we all have our own stones; and as long as your truth doesn’t infringe on mine and vice versa, our stew of truths can get along. So to make that happen we all get together and decide how to accommodate and protect each other’s truths. In a perfect world, this compromise would be called a Democracy.

But Democracy can only work when everyone plays by the rules. Lying, cheating, deception and manipulation makes a bullshit government. When we no longer can agree on what is true and what is not, when we no longer recognize the difference between real facts and bullshit, we get mad, frustrated and head towards civil war.

*****

My first draft of this post listed “good” truths and “bad” truths but that meant I would’ve been trying to write my truths on your stones. That’s not my job. I’m just the Reminder Guy. I tell you things you already know. I say things like:

  • Don’t give up! With enough homework you can do it!
  • Not everyone is your enemy! The whole world does not have to be the same to get along.
  • Everyone goes to Heaven, even the bad guys because God does not make mistakes – only differences.
  • More knowledge makes you a wiser person, parent and poet. Don’t stop learning.
  • Every reason has more reasons behind it. The real reasons need to be discovered.
  • Diversity is where evolution is born. Conformity kills innovation and that’s not natural.
  • We all need to matter. When we don’t, bad things happen.

 

When I began this post I had no intention of diving into political stuff but it’s hard to avoid when exploring honesty. Obviously I’m no fan of bullshit but it’s here to stay because lies can be comforting when people believe them and there will always be people who believe them because simple bullshit solutions don’t need homework.

So considering the market for bullshit, I know there is lucrative opportunity in publishing it. How do I relate to that? Well, writing and reading bullshit is like kinky sex behind closed doors. As long as it stays there it won’t affect me. And if I jump in, it’s my business. You don’t have to join.

I’m not making kinky sex the law of the land so stop pretending deceptive rhetoric is everyone’s game. Just tell me the truth, even if it’s just yours. And then we’ll agree to share it or not. Also, I promise to tell YOU my truths. You can then share them, or not.

 

Originally published on Curiosityquills.com.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2013/08/why-total-trust-is-b-s/

Are You Interesting?

Tolstoy

Dear writers, have you ever been asked, “What’s your story about?”

Of course you have. And what was your answer? Did you recite your plot? Or instead, did you pitch a logline?

If the word “logline” beams a blank in your brain, here’s what it is.

A logline is a one-sentence story summary that can be published in TV Guide or a newspaper/web movie advertisement. It’s the hook that’s intriguing. It’s the sound bite that makes producers want to make your movie, publishers want to print your prose and people want to peruse your pages.

And it’s even more that that. It’s your personal focus on the human journey, whether real or mythic. It’s the reason you told your tale.

So your summary is the place where all stories begin, where the writer asks herself, “Why am I writing this?”

If it’s for income, it’s a perfectly acceptable justification, but then it’s work. And later, your words may feel like work when people read them. Money alone won’t make a book sparkle.

So let’s refocus on a more merry motivation, like: “I just gotta get my ideas out of my head and into yours!”

Great. You’ve got ideas to spread around. Where do they come from? And how do they build a story foundation?

*****

atom_structure_chargesLet’s explore idea construction with an analogy.

The atom is the basic building block of the material world. Atoms are composed of smaller parts dynamically interacting with each other. Atoms in turn build more complex structures called molecules. Your primary story idea, your concept, is built like a molecule, out of mental basic building blocks.

These building blocks are not the characters or the twist and turns of your plot. The atom-like primary pieces of your story are your themes – what my computer dictionary defines as: The subject of a talk, a piece of writing, a person’s thoughts, or an exhibition; a topic or idea that recurs in or pervades a work of art or literature.

Your theme is your unstated message, that core principal which lingers in the subconscious of the people who finished your book or watched your play. It’s what motivated you to spin your saga.

Got that? Okay, back to the atom. Its nucleus is a varied composition of protons (carrying a charge) and neutrons (with no charge but contributing to its mass). Electrons orbit the positively charged nuclei of atoms and are responsible for binding atoms together. Electrons have a negative charge and create the force of magnetism. Electrons can also leave their orbits to share the orbits of other atoms and bind them together. An electron is like an assumption, a mental construct that brings people together through agreements. More on that later.

Your theme, like the atom, is built out of a combination of parts. The nucleus of a theme is composed of ideas. Some are emotionally charged (like protons) and some are neutral but just as important.

Without interaction your nucleus of ideas just sits there minding its own business. But your ideas cannot live alone and so they create the push-pull of things spinning around them – things I’ve labeled assumptions.

An assumption, like an electron’s magnetic attraction and repulsion, creates likes and dislikes. Assumptions, made from and combined with core ideas, form your theme. And your theme attracts or repels readers.

It’s good the have varied themes. But that takes varied assumptions.

*****

A carbon atom is a carbon atom and will stay a carbon atom until some alien particle invades its space with enough force to break it apart and annihilate it. Nature doesn’t like free particles (well…maybe photons and x-rays) so it does its best to recombine smashed nuclei into more complex atoms with more parts forming a more “evolved” element.

The same thing happens with the building blocks of your personal paradigm, your mental nucleus that makes you, you. Your basic assumptions about life get rearranged when an event invades your space that cannot be explained or justified with the logic you use to define your world. An “unfair” tragic death or Godly miracle shatters your assumed “truths” and forces you to make new and more complex core beliefs leading to new assumptions. That’s a good thing.

Friends, we can’t fight or fake our ideas and assumptions. Everything about you and me starts with a nucleus of core beliefs. Even when we borrow ideas we’re making a choice about that based on our selected beliefs. It’s almost impossible (maybe it IS impossible) to write a plausible story and theme outside our personal truths and attitudes about them.

And even if we could, would we CARE about those ideas? I wouldn’t.

This topic, caring about the ideas we write about, explains Emma Coats’ Writing Basic #14.

Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

*****

ahaExposing your heart and passion becomes the soul of your story. Your themes sprout from your heart. If they come from some place else, your story will not come to life. You must love your ideas if you want someone else to love them.

And now I’ve returned to my own theme, that which permeates my writing/living philosophy.

If I want to write about new ideas I must continually seek new ideas.

And to author new ideas, I must be open to new ideas. And to be open to new ideas, I must stop being threatened by new ideas. And to avoid fearing new ideas, I must live with them for a while. I must become those new ideas even when I don’t agree with them.

Why must I take on uncomfortable ideas, those points-of-view I feel are destructive, at least for me?

Answer: I must walk in my neighbor’s shoes to understand how his journey shapes his path within a world we both share. Fear and hate fester in the fog of the unknown. Perceiving your neighbor’s intentions and understanding why they need to act feels a hell-of-a-lot more secure than looking over your shoulder and thinking, “What’s he gonna do next?”

We all strive for certainty, for balance. We all strive to predict the future. So the more we understand the push and pulls of conflicting cultures, the more we can predict an outcome or avoid a confrontation.

This statement is obvious. Right? We all go to school, learn lots of things. Right?

Nope, we all don’t. Too many people are uninformed about their judgments. And that limitation applies to writers as well. Many stay in their houses and describe their own backyards.

Now it’s not necessarily “bad” to have a narrow focus as a writer, especially if your readers happen to reside on your property. But it’s not a practical way to live. It’s too scary.

So again, my basic theme: The more we know, the more compelling our stories will be. Why? Because having a broader pallet of understanding allows our words to ring true with a wider diversity of readers. Beyond that, our neighbors don’t seem so menacing.

*****

So the next time someone asks you, “What’s your story about?” you can pitch a logline but inside you’ll know your story is really about your ideas. And that means your story is about YOU!

Are you interesting?

 

Originally published on Curiosityquills.com.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2013/07/are-you-interesting/

Opinions! Opinions! Opinions!

sugar_babe_w_old_manA long time ago, in a land far, far away (Los Angeles, 1970), a 22-year-old lad wanted to be a filmmaker. Three months out of college, out of options and hope for any kind of income, the young man finally got an unexpected call…about directing movies…adult movies…VERY adult movies, which he was not.

He took the job and entered a topsy-turvy realm where folks filmed other folks doing sex. Inside that bubble, the young man’s innocence melted away, because two years of living in a universe where naughty was nice, intrinsic truths oozed up through the sheets that no psychology or creative writing degree could ever deliver.

What makes a storybook character admirable, even a girl who throbs on-camera? You’ll discover the answer in reality porn.

Yes, really. Interview a sex star and you just might find yourself respecting her spirit.

Okay, I know. It’s obvious why fornication performers would make interesting protagonists. But for me, their profession wasn’t nearly as intriguing as their attitude and the answers they gave when I asked them why they exposed themselves.

Humm… Guess I forget to mention that the film student-turned-porn-director was me. He was, and that “Nice Jewish Boy” got smacked full-frontal with three growing-up questions.

  • How could nice people do something so naughty?
  • How could pornography performers become my friends?
  • And most importantly, why did I like them?

Yeah, WHY? Why were some of those people really cool while others were nowhere near my interest? What made the difference?

The answer to that special difference lies within Emma Coat’s writing basic #13. She says, “Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.”

See where I’m going? In a book or in real life, opinionated porn people are more interesting than Ho-Hum…whatever porn people.

But it goes deeper than that. Think about it. What makes any person admirable, porn princess or brain surgeon? Is it about their CONVICTIONS? Yes, that’s it – their that’s-my-story-and-I’m-stickin’-to-it convictions! Everyone has opinions but not everyone reveals them, believes in them and defends them.

People admire leaders with strong convictions. Why? Because defending the what they absolutely believe suggests there are absolute truths and solid boundaries where people can feel safe. “There’s US and there’s THEM.” She said so! “There’s RIGHT and there’s WRONG.” He explained it! Politicians know this game and flip-flopping is the kiss-of-death. They all do it anyway because things really do change.

Still, unwavering opinions leading to unwavering convictions leading to unwavering actions shows bravery in the heat of risk. We all wish we were more like that and admire people who are, in real life and in fiction.

naked-girl-w-man*****

So what about you? Strong principles, right? But how comfortable do you feel wearing them in public? Are you as steadfast as the heroes who populate your stories? And if so, is there room for other opinions not necessarily your own?

I’m asking that because it’s important to have a point-of-view and defend it but writing opposing characters with opposing opinions is a whole different story (pun intended).

Your characters have convictions because you make them that way. But are their causes, their beliefs, their morals and ethics your own or a version of your own? Do all your people view their world your way with different decisions?

Put another way, when you write evil antagonists, are they simply the antithesis of standard virtues…YOUR virtues? Do your vampires think like you do but have longer teeth? Does your scary menace use your logic but with wolf like fur? Does everyone agree on what’s right and wrong but do bad things because it’s practical?

If all your characters think alike but make different decisions, that’s not an accurate description of human diversity. Of course making things feel real in a novel may not be your goal, but it is mine. And to my chagrin, a while back I forgot that my personal morals are not necessarily my character’s and I wrote a short story based on too many wrong assumptions.

sugardaddy_w_cigar_girl*****

But I did my homework. Yes I did. There was lots of research, an extensive outline with noble causes for my young lady in college. She needed fast money to help her brother get into rehab. A sacrifice for family, I assumed (although wrongly), was a worthy reason for a quick stint in Sugar Baby Land. Contract dating comes close to prostitution but it isn’t, and couples who share intimacy that way defend it as an honest, beneficial relationship. And that’s what my story was about – with enough appropriate reasons, sex for favors can be justified.

Appropriate reasons – that was my second wrong assumption. Sugar babies and daddies don’t need appropriate reasons to make their agreements acceptable. With two consenting adults, there’s nothing unacceptable about it. It is what it is – an exchange where both people get what they want and enjoy the getting.

But deep down I didn’t believe it. I was prejudice going into this story and I assumed no smart college girl would date a rich guy for rent money unless she absolutely had to, and if she did, she’d feel guilty about it and lose self respect. This was my third wrong assumption, that I could I could base my character’s motivations on my own principles and make her use them for necessary decisions. Not good! My girl’s character fell apart and it took time to figure out why. Here’s why:

Because I built a character out of my values, my plot demanded that she contradict them and consequently, she sold out. The result? None of my readers respected her, and I didn’t either. In reality, if I were that twenty-year old, I never would have dated older men for money. My real-life justification for stumbling into the adult movie world had nothing in common with this sugar baby plot so constructing a character somewhat like me was the wrong approach.

The right premise would have had my college gal proclaiming, “I love sex and I love men. I’m pretty enough to get a good-looking rich guy and I won’t turn anything down he gives me.”

Had I started my narrative with that assumption, my story ethics would have been different, my message would have been different, and my character would have been different. Nothing like me, but realistic and worthy of respect, like the girls I met on the porn sets years ago.

Guess what they told me absolutely shame-free? Most of them said, “I love sex. All kinds of sex. And if I can get paid for it, that’s even better.”

Getting paid for something you love – isn’t that the ideal job?

That’s why I admired them, the ones who weren’t needy. They were confident and felt good about themselves. I felt great just sharing their space. Maybe that’s why so many people watch sex performances. It feels good! And so does winning an argument with someone who has strong opinions.

So take Emma’s advice. Give your characters defined opinions, strong convictions and throw them into conflicts. Without confrontations, there is no drama. And we can’t have that!

 

Originally published on Curiosityquills.com.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2013/07/opinions-opinions-opinions/

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