Wednesday, July 31, 2019

G.I. Joe: A Real Literary Hero

Writing really is like playing with your G.I.Joes.

Or your Barbies.

Or your Star Wars figures.

Or your Disney Princess dolls.

Pick your property, it's all the same.

Reading Keep Going got me thinking about this. One of the key ideas that Austin Kleon states is that "your real work is play." I've said this before and it got me thinking about G.I. Joes.

Growing up I was obsessed with G.I. Joe. I collected the figures, calling KayBee Toys after KayBee Toys to make sure they had the latest figures or vehicles. I would wait excitedly for the third Friday of the month when my dad would bring home the latest issue of the GI JOE: A REAL AMERICAN HERO that my grandfather had bought for me at the corner store. I've recently been rereading the collections of the original Marvel run. One of my earliest influences was the Marvel run. There's a post about the nostalgia of it, but I may save that for one of my 99 Inspirations posts or the nostalgia posts I've been talking about for months now. This is where I learned the importance of plot, characterization and conflict. The little plastic recipe card holder filled with the file cards went everywhere my figures went. I'd plot out the latest missions, sticking close as I could to what the file cards described. I was a stickler too. I was a big believer in sticking to the canon. I still am as a matter of fact.

Roadblock would've been amazing on Chopped.

From those Joes, I moved to live action role playing as we navigated the woods and vacant lots of Shirley, New York. Usually playing war, mimicking what we'd done with the Joes earlier. Looking back, considering our proximity to Brookhaven Labs, it's a wonder that I didn't come up with Stranger Things. I was the scenario creator. (Any friends reading this, feel free to refute this. Memory is a funny thing.) I assigned roles. I created basic plots and let the story where it went, taking input from everyone. (I think I would've done well in a writer's room.) I always remember playing the scientist. Or the heavy machine gunner. Or the ranger. And in the end, that's what we do as writers. That's all creating fiction is: playing with action figures.

I've talked about how in a lot of ways, telling stories might be embedded in our DNA while watching my kids playing. It really doesn't matter the genre, from action/adventure to romance, all we are doing is playing with imaginary people, just like we did when we were kids with articulated 1:18 or 1:6 scaled human shaped pieces of plastic. The only difference is that we are using our own, custom made figures that inhabit our endless mindscapes.

Stories are important. Isn't that one of the things we learned in the final season of Game of Thrones? The Night King wanted to kill Bran because he had become the Three-Eyed Raven, the collector of all the stories of humanity. Without those stories, there is no humanity.

So keep playing with those action figures/dolls, humanity is depending on it.

Go Joe!

Monday, July 29, 2019

It's A Process

Sunday, I wrote this in my notebook:

I shouldn't be writing right now. There's a thousand things I need to be doing. So, I'm going to do them for a bit.

I wrote this Monday morning:

That was a mistake. I had an idea for something I wanted to write, sat down to write it and wrote what I wrote above instead. I don't know if it was a complete mistake to do this, but I did. Were the two or three of the thousand things that needed doing that I got done more important than the fleeting idea that was lost in time, like tears in the rain? It doesn't feel that way.

I've spent much of the morning trying to mentally recreate that moment from yesterday afternoon so I can try to piece together what I wanted to write, but it's not happening. I'm frustrated.

It's not that far from the truth.
It could be the venue. Yesterday, I was at my house, starting in the study before working myself to the front window to watch the kids outside. This morning I'm watching different kids, in summer school. I'm perched on an uncomfortable steel stool behind a long science table in front of the room. One students is demanding that another "Shut the f**k up and stop talking s**t about me" while another, having walked in an hour late, answers an important phone call and can't understand why I've asked him to leave.

It could be the action. I was reading Austin Kleon's Keep Going and had just finished the chapter titled FORGET THE NOUN, DO THE VERB. I've reread the chapter, twice, and nothing's clicking into place yet. It's frustrating because the idea was good enough for me to be thinking about it in the abstract nearly 24 hours later. But instead of writing it down when it was fresh in my mind, I went and cleaned the kitchen instead. A kitchen I'm going to have to clean again when I get home from school this afternoon.

Was what I wanted to write a reaction to the opening paragraph of the chapter? "Lots of people want to be the noun without doing the verb. They want the job title without the work."

No. I don't think that's it. It's a thought I've had. It's a thought I lived. I always think of the character Lyons from Fences. August Wilson describes him as being more caught up in the idea of being a musician that in the actual practice of the music. I think I was stuck in that for a long time. I talked about being a writer, but wrote very little. But I don't think that was what I wanted to write. It was something else.

Did I want to talk about doing things in my notebook that aren't for public consumption?

No, I do a lot of that. It's something I do want to talk about, but that's not it either. That's been in my head long enough that  it's little more than a cool ember. It's not something that's burning or scratching to get out of my brain. They'll be time enough later for that.

Was it something about the quote "Your real work is play?"

 Wait, the threads are weaving together. Something about my dreams of doing tie-in or adaptation work. Star Wars. Dungeons and Dragons (though they don't do novels anymore). Any TV or movie expanded universe. Comics (I not so secretly dream of getting to do the novelization for the recent WAR OF THE REALMS Marvel event.) It'd be just like playing with my Star War or G.I. Joe figures.

Ahhh, there it is. I've got it now. I'll be back with that post. I wrote this sentence down in my notebook, it's likely the first sentence of my next blog post:

Writing is a lot like playing with your G.I. Joes when you were a kid.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Hide And Seek But Not Hide And Seek

Once again I found myself outside with my kids, observing them play. I'd rather have them playing outside than glued to a screen inside. And I've been loving it. Kids should run, scream and laugh. And the kids in my neighborhood are doing just that.

They've been playing a wide assortment of games, including one called "murder mystery." I prefer to be the observer rather than any kind of participant, so I don't interact at all. I sit in my chair on the porch and read. Or pretend to read and listen. So I haven't asked them the details, but as far as I can tell it's a fascinating variation of hide and seek, not unlike the game we played when I was a kid called jailbreak.

We all know what hide and seek is, right? I don't need to go over that one. Do I? I mean it's in the freaking name. It's simple. Basic. But we aren't all simple and basic. We want variety.

Where are the kids? Hiding, of course

Growing up we played a version called "jailbreak." It was team hide and seek. One team of hiders, one team of seekers. If I remember right (if you're reading this and remember, please feel free to chime in), there were more hiders than seekers. One central location was the "jail" where those caught were held. It was a porch, a street light or one of those big green phone company boxes. (Those were the best.) Those caught could be rescued if one of the hiders rushed the "jail" and yelled, "Jailbreak." Then everyone would run. This meant one "seeker" wasn't a seeker at all, they were a guard. That was the worst job. I was the fat kid that couldn't run. Guess who was the guard?

Before the game started, specific boundaries were established. Boundaries often depended on how many players there were. I can never remember a game of less than fifteen kids. We recruited younger brothers and sisters and drew from the entire surrounding neighborhoods. We had epic games of several dozen kids that spread over the entire development. Our games were often centered around the Tugaw house. It made a perfect jail because they had a relatively large, wide open back yard. It was hard to jailbreak that back porch.

I was a better hider than seeker. I could hide for a big kid. No way I could outrun anyone.I can remember hiding in the bushes of someone's house and them coming out on to the porch and not getting caught by the hiders or the homeowner. I can remember people getting caught by surprise because they were too busy making out to notice someone catching them. (I was especially jealous of them!) I can remember almost suicidal, bold bum rushes to free teammates.

Flash forward to the other night. My kids are playing the latest iteration of "hide and seek." They call it "murder mystery" and, as far as I can tell, it's an interesting game. Not quite as expansive as our "jailbreak" their twist is vastly different, no one knows who is "it." In their version, there's a "game master" who picks who is it, though they worked around this by putting slips of paper in a pail and picking them out, not telling what the paper says. One person is the "murderer," one person is a "detective" and the rest are "innocents." (I love that they are called "innocents.") I couldn't quite figure out what the "detective" did in the game besides hunt the "murderer." The "innocents" just had to hide from the "murderer" while trying to convince the "detective" they weren't the "murderer." This is complex stuff for kids aged 6-12. I couldn't follow all the nuances of the game and I don't want to ask out of fear of them being aware that I'm watching them.

Do we need all these additional rules and variations? I don't know. Maybe it's part of our need to tell complex stories and it's just inherent in our genes. Whatever it is, it's better than sitting in front of a screen.

At one point while they were playing, I was doing something that required going into the shed. Yes, that shed.  The kids were arguing about who was the "murderer" and mischief got the better of me. I turned the corner and bellowed, "I'm the murderer!" while brandishing a hatchet. They squealed in terror and delight.

I hope their parents don't think I'm a serial killer like my students.