Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Fruitless Endeavor

Sunday morning I woke up obscenely early for me. I started laundry, cleaned the kitchen then went and got the paper. I was going to do some writing after I read the paper and had my chai, but I turned on the TV and watched the first few episodes of Netflix's THE DRAGON PRINCE. It shook me. It's that good. Like really good. Boneshakingly good. It's everything that epic fantasy should be. Thrilling, exciting, loaded with incredible characters you care about, rich world building, muddled conflicts and a sliding scale of right and wrong. As a fan and creator of epic fantasy, I was deflated. Crushed. How the hell could I possibly exist in the same genre? I was a fraud. I was a phony.

So, I did what you do: I got up, put my laptop away and went to Marie Kondoize my closet and dresser instead. The thought of writing seemed absurd and a downright fruitless endeavor. Reorganizing my closet seemed like the saner thing to do than attempting to write. This is a rare occurrence. I'm pretty confident in my writing ability. I don't usually react this way when reading or watching something. Usually, I have one of two reactions in moments like this: "I can do this" and "What the f**k?"

The first one is "I can do this." It's not an insult to the piece or a dismissal. As a matter of fact, it's almost the opposite. I get inspired and moved to action. STRANGER THINGS, THE WINNER'S CURSE, MYSTIC RIVER, THE VENTURE BROTHERS, RICK & MORTY, etc. I've read/watched/consumed these things and loved them so much that I created something inspired by it. (Wait for my 99 Inspirations posts!) That's the real power of art. When you see something, it moves you to do something like it or close to it or nothing like it at all. It teaches you something about the art that you want to duplicate or use. It presents a theme or concept that you want to take in a different direction or expand upon. These are the best.

The second, "What the f**k?" may be the worst. They are poison and rot. When you read or see something that makes you think "I'm at least as good if not better than this crap." Sure, a lot of this thought is pure ego, but I feel that way. I'm a pretty decent writer and I believe in my heart of hearts that I'm at least as good as anything out there. You have to believe that as an artist, because if you don't, who will? But there's the rub. Thoughts like, "Why did this writer get the break and not me?" fester and rot. They consume you, inch by inch, moment by moment. Your brain stops creating and allows that self-loathing voice to gurgle up like a bad Gollum pastiche. You have to fight those urges and some days it can be really hard. As Big Willy Shakes once said, "O, beware my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on." That can be crippling but you can work around it, either through spite or determination. (I prefer spite, but I'm petty like that.)

But every so often, rarely in fact, something comes along that just makes me question everything I do. Trying to write something that could even stand in the shadows of something that great seems impossible. This was how I felt Sunday morning. How could I possibly thing I could be a writer when something like this is out there? It's almost not fair. The novel A GAME OF THRONES shook me to my core and made me rethink everything that I did as a write, but whenever GRRM releases new material or sample chapters from the next book, I feel that same futile feeling. Why bother? THE DRAGON PRINCE made me feel that way too. I can't remember the last time I felt this way. So, organizing my closet seemed suddenly less daunting and a more efficient way to spend my afternoon.

Okay, I'm being a little melodramatic. I'm still writing. I can't not write. It's impossible. Hell, I'm writing this, right? I'll get back on the horse. I've been back on the horse. I'm going to finish November strong and the year even stronger. To hit my "hours written" goal for 2020, I need an especially strong December. I can do this. So, maybe my third, rarest reaction of "Oh, shit, I can't do this" to art is one that nudges me in the direction I need to go too. I think it was Meat Loaf that said two out of three ain't bad.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Green Is The Color Of Hope

I should be writing my NANO project, but I'm not. There is something more important that I need to write about right now, something that required my immediate attention. Something I'm obsessed with and you should be too....BABY YODA!

Drink in that cuteness...that adorableness. EAT. IT. UP.

A few days ago, someone on one of my social network feeds made a comment about how they disliked things like Baby Yoda, calling it a short cut for creating empathy without any story telling. I disagreed, mostly because Baby Yoda is just coyingly cute. But that's a weak argument that holds no water, so I thought about it. And I figured it out.

Baby Yoda works not because is cuteness is a shortcut to empathy, but that he is a symbol. This tiny, green bundle of adorability is a symbol of the power of hope. In this day and age of grimdark fantasy and gritty reboots, we need a little hope in our lives. And Baby Yoda symbolizes that. It's not simple, there's work to be done by us the viewer and that's always an issue with today's audiences. (Look at THE LAST JEDI kerfuffle, but that's a different blog post.)

We know that Yoda is perhaps the most powerful Jedi master of his era and it's implied that the Force runs strong through his species. At one point, Baby Yoda saves the Mandalorian's life by using the Force with relative ease. Still a toddler, it's obvious that Baby Yoda is strong with the force, even though the maneuver exhausts him. But it cements his position as a being of power. And as a symbol of hope.

When you work out the timeline, Baby Yoda's appearance coincides with the end of the Empire (there's some wonkiness in this because while Jon Faverau has said the show takes place 5 years after Jedi, I've read other sources that place it ten) and the beginning of the Republic. But when you do a little math (and I'm not doing it here, but trust me I did it) by the time we get to THE FORCE AWAKENS, Baby Yoda will be about the same age as a Youngling in the Prequels, around the time that a being can begin to be trained in the use of the Force. Or when it awakens.When hope rises again to face the darkness. Snoke says it at some point in THE LAST JEDI too.

We're all cynics at this point in our lives, beaten by the world around us. I mean look at poor Yoda. I don't think the 900 years was all that made him look as old as he did. Baby Yoda sees the world through the clear, unburdened eyes of an innocent. He sees things that we can't see anymore or refuse to look for. It also reveals more about the titular character than anything else, making him even more significant part of the story.

The Mandalorian is a character that is willing to kill, murder and freeze targets in carbonite, yet Baby Yoda sees him as something else, something worth saving. It tells us there is something special about the Mandalorian, though we aren't sure why yet. It's not creating empathy, but more questions. If you're willing to do a little work sprinkled with some green flakes of hope.