Monday, September 29, 2008

The Road Not Taken

I came out here tonight to write this thing, but I'm finding that my heart just isn't really in it at the moment. That's not really true. I really came out here, primarily, to read Mike's post. Then I decided to write this thing. But the heart comment is still fairly accurate. Oh well, forging on...

It's time for a little bit of what iffery. Hm... I'm not really sure how to get the ball rolling on this topic. See, the thing is, this could be a topic that I could write about for years and never finish. Like... Years straight of writing. Thousands upon thousands of pages. Because there is always a road not taken. .In every decision or happening that occurs, something else could have occurred instead that would make everything that follows it completely different. So, for the purposes of this, I'm going to focus on Jess.

Jess was, pretty much, my first really big crush. In the interest of full disclosure the previous statement is entirely untrue in every respect. My first really big crush was Sarah, back in sixth grade. I asked her out, she said no (the first of... Well, not many... But the first and then there came everyone else I asked out) and then we were friends for a while longer. And then she got really obnoxiously girly, and then I think she got really obnoxiously anti-girly.... The point is, soon after she said no she changed and I was no longer interested in her anyway. And I don't really think I have any friends currently who even know who she is. There's a chance Lior might remember her if I brought her up, but he'd have to try to think back to middle school and there's really no reason to bring her up at all. That was a stupid tangent to have gone on, and I should, but won't, delete it.

So, Jess. I actually don't remember meeting her. I'm sure I must have been peripherally aware of her existence back in sixth grader. And then I changed schools. And then I met her again in freshman year of high school. This is the meeting that I specifically don't remember. What I do remember is coming home after school that day and flopping down on the bed in the computer room and burying my face in the blanket and seeing her face. I hadn't realized that I had a crush on her until that. I still think it's weird the way that happened. How I hadn't even realized it until that moment, and that is the moment I remember all these years later.

That little story was, again, not entirely pertinent to the subject at hand. It was just some unnecessary and sappy background filler.

Okay, well cut to roughly nowish. Jess was down a couple weeks ago and we hung out, and when I was driving her home she pointed out Kevin's house. That was the catalyst for this current line of thought.

Cutting back to ninth grade: I got to know Jess more and we hung out some and whatnot, and the crush got bigger. So, at some point, I decided to ask her out. That was a big deal decision for me back then. I don't know that it would be now if I were in the same situation, but it might be. That's irrelevant. The point is, when I finally decided to ask her, it turned out Kevin had asked her like... The day before or something and they were currently going out. See how that cut came into play? Everything is fitting together quite nicely now, eh?

So, I went through my self destructive depressed phase, like I do, and then I moved on. Jess and I stayed friends.

But what if I had asked her a couple days sooner? Looking back, I'm pretty sure she would have said yes. So then what would have happened? At some point in high school things got really bad for her. I'm not entirely sure why. I think it had a lot to do with her parents, and then that probably extended a lot into her relationships with her friends, which she seemed to have mostly lost. But what if she had been dating me at the time? Instead of dating a string of guys that were, very obviously, bad for her and probably added to the horribleness of whatever it was she was going through at the time, she had been with me, who would have been there for her and to try to make things more bearable? There are little things that happen every day that change out lives tremendously, but could this have been a rather big thing that would have ostensibly changed hers' for the better. All of that is, quite honestly, very possible. Instead of telling her parents that she was hanging out with me as a cover for w hen she was hanging out with people they wouldn't approve of, she could have been actually hanging out with me. Now, some of the people her parents "didn't approve of" were perfectly fine people and there was really nothing wrong with her being with them. But some, probably a lot, weren't. And she would have been far better off not hanging out with them doing the things that they were doing.

So, assuming all of that could have been true, where would that have put me? This is a bit of a tougher question, because with her I was thinking in broad generalities, and with me I am thinking more specifically. Would I have not dated Meg? Or Dana? Or Stacy? Probably not. Not having dated any one... Well... Maybe not Meg... Of those people would have made me, probably, a much different person than I am today. Better? In a lot of respects. Maybe worse in a few. But I think being with Jess would have made up for the ways that those girls made me a better person.

I know I would be better off right now if I had never dated Stacy. And even better off if I were still dating Stacy. If either of those things were true, there's a good chance I would have given my life some sort of direction, instead of where it is now. But let's try to keep this hypothetical train on the tracks and not turn this into the aforementioned thousands page diatribe (i wonder if I used that word correctly)

The problem with this line of thinking is that after the first hypothetical, it leads inescapably into a whole slew of new hypotheticals that can be neither proven or disproven. And any one of them being wrong leads all of the following assumptions in an entirely different direction.

So, here's where the train really comes off the tracks: (I've used that metaphor twice in way too short a time period, and with slightly different meaning) Most of the supposition from earlier wouldn't have happened anyway.

Yes. It's possible that everything would have turned out great and that we would now be living together, both moderately successful and happy. But that really isn't very likely, is it? She would have been my first real girlfriend, and what's more likely is that it would have ended in heartbreak, just at a different time. And so maybe that time period would have extended through Meg. But, in all likelihood, the only thing that would be different if I had asked her out a couple days earlier is that my history of heartbreak would be written slightly differently. In all likelihood, she would still have eventually gone down the same paths as she did. Maybe it would have taken her a little longer to get to them. Maybe I would have staved them off for a little while. But, in all likelihood, we would probably both be in roughly the same place today as we are anyway. Maybe gotten there differently, and maybe we wouldn't still be talking to each other from time to time and hanging out when she's down. But for the most part, things would be the same now as they are anyway.

So, what does that mean for the road not taken theory? Do things work out, generally, the same way regardless?

No. This flight of fancy didn't, realistically, happen to pan out into the perfection that my earlier posturing suggested that it might. But the little paragraph about Stacy would, I believe, have me in a completely different place than I am. And so I still believe that the little things, like manning up and asking out a girl just a couple days sooner, can have a drastic effect on the entire life that follows.

There are also other things that would have changed as a result of having asked her a couple days sooner. Assuming she said yes, which I choose to, I presently wouldn't have been rejected every time I have asked someone out. And that little fact could have changed my life drastically--maybe more drastically than the ensuing relationship has been shown to probably not have done.

But, I really don't feel like going into how.

Monday, September 15, 2008

I Want To Make Myself Cry

I'm pretty tired at the moment, and I have work in the morning, so I should be going to sleep right now. Bt I wanted to come out here and write a blog. I don't really have a blog to write, bt I would like to write one so here I am. I'm sort of divided about whether this is a good thing or not. On the one hand, I think it's important to have something to write before trying to write it. But on the other, a big part of writing is forcing yourself to do it. Forcing yourself to work through the times where you don't have anything to write, but to write them anyway.

Let's be clear thogh... What I'm doing here isn't really writing. Yes, I'm typing words into a, for the sake of argment, computer for the purpose of commnication between myself and anyone who chooses to read it. But let's not confuse this with things that authors do.

I've noticed that the posts I have been making recently have two main categories that they fall under. They've been either about relationships and the theory therein, or abot writing and theory about that, or how I'm not good at it. So maybe that tells me something. Maybe I should be putting myself ot there more in trying to actively find a relationship. This blog isn't about that. And maybe I should be putting myself out there more in terms of trying to be a more, or at this point any degree of, prolific writer. This entry is more about that. But only slightly.

There are some things that I watch over and over again. Aaron Sorkin shows, some other shows... That sort of thing. And there are things that I read (or listen to) over and over again. That's relegated more to Terry Pratchett these days.

Terry Pratchett is a wonderfl athor. On first glance, and certainly at the beginning of his career--the earlier dDiscworld books--he may appear to be just a Douglas Adams clone. Not that that is a bad thing, but itisn't what he is. Oh, I'm sure he has his Doglas Adams influence. I'm sure he's read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. But his books have a depth to them that Douglas Adams was only able to valiantly fail at achieving. There's parody, to be sure, in them. But there's also a good deal of genine philosophy, and some adapted physics. There are messages to his books outside of pre entertainment, and he is able to accomplish all of this while still being entertaining. There are also moments in some of the later Discworld books, and the non discworld short serieses, that are geninely sweet and touching. It's these moments that I choose to focus on today.

As I said before, there are things that I watch/read/listen to again and again. And there are moments in some of these things that I find genuinely toching that bring me to tears. On film, there is a degree of atmosphere that is created by lighting and score and all of the other aspects of direction and filmmaking that adds to the heightened emotion of the scene. So, the fact that I know a given scene is coming and yet it still manages to elicit the desired emotion is not so surprising. But with books it's just the words doing it. And even though I know that Vimes is going to lose it and start bellowing the manscript of "Where's My Cow" into the darkness in a feeble attempt to read it to his son, who is miles away, at the agreed upon time, it gets me every time. There's something magical about that.

I really want to write something that has that sort of power. I don't think the trick for this is to have a great idea for a story. I think it can be done with jst a mediocre idea. Of course, I don't really even have any of those at the moment, but I choose onot to focuus on that aspect of the predicament at this current juncture.

This is as far as I've gotten in my thinking on the subject. I want to write something that, when I go back and read it months, or years, later--enogh time for me to have gained enogh distance from it that it feels like reading someone else's words instead of my own--it will bring tears to my eyes in the way that Terry Pratchett is able to. I want to be able to make myself cry.

So, that's that. I would have liked to have had more of a conclusory feel to that, but I told you from the beginning this post was sort of half baked. Another topic I had consdidered writing in thisspace was going to be about "The Road Not Taken," and what if I had asked Jess ot just a few days sooner back in freshman year of high school. But I wrote this one instead. I still have that other one in me, so it very well cold be my next post.

As a qick, unrelated, addendum: I saw Burn After Reading yesterday. I would write up a review and send it off to Shannon for her to post it on the Coral Springs Teen Website thing, as my free admission to the theaer was intended for, but it is rated R, and so it isn't allowed to be discssed in that space.

I liked it alright. It is no Big Lebowski, but the Coen Brothers have been disappointing me lately with their movies, and this one was at least not disappointing. It kept me entertained far better than No Country did, and at least it had a coherent ending.

In fact, the ending was really the whole point of the movie. Generally this is true of most movies, but with Burn After Reading I got the feeling that they wrote a fnny little scene and then went back and crafted a movie to get them back to that scene they wanted to shoot. The entire movie felt like a bild p to the punchline of the end scene. It was a really, really, long winded joke.

Not that the movie was overly long, or long winded. I think it clocks in at around 90 mintes. Maybe a bit more. But the very end sort of neatly smmed up the previous 90 minutes of movie in roghly 30 seconds in a way that felt very much like the punchline to a joke.

The beginning dragged a little bit. It spent a bit too much time introdcing the characters--specifically John Malkovich's character. And then after that it sort of kept on dragging. At least in my opinion. It wasn't boring, but I didn't know what they exact story was that I was supposed to be following. So, when the climax arrived, I was nsaware that we had reached the climax. It sort of felt like the movie was jst rising action, only I didn't knonw where it was rising to. For this reason, I think itn wo uld benefit greatly from a second viewing. A second time throgh where I understand the story that is being told and don't have to feel myself searching for it in all the mayhem and hijinks.

I probably won't see it again though. At least not for a while. Movies just don't hold the same appeal for me that they once did. An hour and a half to three hours with a group of characters and plot just isn't enogh for me anymore. I much prefer getting to know the characters and setting in the serialized setting of a television series.

I have some new thoughts that I put together very briefly while watching this movie on the differences between telling a story throgh a serialized format and a movie format. It has to do with how much nonsense and filler you can afford yourself in a shorter format. Everything in a movie has to be important to the central story or it doesn't belong. A big storys can be told in those 90 minutes of screen time, bt it has to be truncated in a way that keeps the movie flowing and still fits in everything that needs to be told for the story to make sense. I have somhe more on this topic, but I'm tired and I havenv't worked out how to say it effectively. So it would end up being a lot of restating myself and trying to work my way around to a point that cold have been made in a third of the time. So, I'm going to go to bed instead. Goodnight.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

There is Only One Aaron Sorkin

This is not supposed to be a revelatory statement. Obviously, I hold him in high regard, and obviously there is a reason for that. And just recently I've realized just how far from understanding what that reason is I am.

As I've said, I'm watching through the West Wing again, after about three years. Right before I came out here to write this, I finished off watching season five. That's the season where the show went drastically downhill.

Now, I think I want to preface this by explaining a little bit about Aaron Sorkin shows. They're all, fundamentally, the same. There's three of them. One is about the guys running a sports news program, one is about the guys running the country, and one is about the guys running a sketch comedy show. Already you can probably see the formula, though I wrote that last sentence in a way to specifically make it blaringly obvious. The formula for the types of things he does isn't really "Guys running x." Really, it's a behind the scenes look at something, and the characters are very passionate about what they do. But that is the overarching formula of the types of things Sorkin likes to write. That's not going to be my point here, though now it seems I have made you wade through a mostly erroneous paragraph.

The formulas that I am talking about are a little bit harder to identify, but only slightly. All it really takes is watching the three shows and paying some slight bit of attention, really. For one thing, the dialogue style is very unique and parodiable. There's a sort of Sorkin cadence that the dialogue inhabits, but that's a very vague way of discussing it. For one thing, characters repeat each other a lot. Far more than people repeat each other in real life. That is probably the most defining characteristic of Aaron Sorkin dialogue, and it is easy enough to replicate. But there's something else about it. I don't really know what it is, but I'm working on it.

Beyond the actual dialogue, there are only just so many frameworks Aaron Sorkin uses. If you watch just West Wing and Sports Night you will notice that there are a few episodes which are pretty much identical. Everyone watching an event on television that is annoying at first because its happening is casing everyone to be idle waiting for it to end, and so they take the time to write letters to their parents. And then they get excited about the participant and end up rooting them on. That's one example. I have a few more in mind, but don't feel like expounding on them, because that could be an entire essay all on its own and I realized while typing the abbreviated explanation of the last one that it is incredibly boring when boiled down to the bare essentials necessary to explain the similarities in the episodes. Suffice it to say, a lot of the basic story frameworks are reused in new settings.

Sorkin uses the same character names all the time. He obviously comes up with new ones as well, because there are a lot of characters in both the West Wing and Studio 60, but if you pay attention to the names being thrown around you'll start to recognize them. There are phrases that are used a lot too. "Her legs go all the way to the floor" "Like shooting fish in a barrel"... Only it's not exactly that line... He writes it slightly differently and I can't remember the exact wording, but when I hear it his way I know it was him who wrote it.

I am not the foremost expert on Aaron Sorkin and his writing style. Not by a long shot. He didn't write The West Wing all by himself. He had staff writers helping along and such. They worked with him on scripts, and as such I'm sure they understand his idiosyncricities far better than I do. So, with all of the formula present in his shows, you would think it would be easily duplicated. But it just isn't.

Aaron Sorkin, through the character of President Bartlett, has this so say on the subject: "Words, when spoken out loud for the sake of performance, are music. They have rhythm, and pitch, and timbre, and volume. These are the properties of music, and music has the ability to find us and move us, and lift us up in the ways that literal meanings can't. Do you see?"

Up until recently I sort of thought it was okay to try to replicate Aaron Sorkin. I mean, I sort of do it. My writing style, specifically my dialogue writing, has shifted towards his a lot since I started watching his shows and movies. That's not a bad thing. Influences are fine. But up until recently I hadn't consciously understood that trying to replicate his writing style is no good.

The forth season of the West Wing was the last season written by Aaron Sorkin. I just finished watching the fifth, and it is not nearly as good as the first four. I hadn't realized how far from the first for seasons the rest of the show was until I just went back and started watching the whole thing marathon style. When I watch things marathon style I gain more of an appreciation for the story and the flow of the series. I hadn't watched the non Sorkins stuff in this manner before, and I'm finding it a bit of a chore to get through, which is somewhat odd.It isn't poorly written. It's still a pretty good show. And all of the groundwork laid by Sorkin is still there, for the most part.

All of the characters are still themselves. They react in a predictable way to the events surrounding them. I don't mean that in a bad way. What I mean is, you grow to know and understand these characters, and they react in the ways that they should. Their characters remain in tact from the time Sorkin stopped writing the show all the way through to the end.

And it's not like the events stopped being interesting. In fact, they became more interesting. When I think of the prominent stories of the show, I remember the president and Josh getting shot, I remember the MS scandal, I remember Zoe getting kidnapped and the speaker taking over as president, I remember them putting a liberal and a conservative judge on the bench at the same time, Donna in a car bomb, bringing peace to the middle east, and the final two seasons of the presidential election. That list is in order of when the events happened, and Aaron Sorkin left by starting off the storyline where Zoe gets kidnapped. Everything after there wasn't him. So it's not like stuff stopped happening. In fact, the episodes that stand out to me that Aaron Sorkin wrote were fairly mundane in the actual plot.

Oh yeah... And they killed off Mrs. Landingham. That was the end of season two or three.

So, you would think the show wold be just as engaging with the formulaic nature of his writing and the major, interesting events continuing. But it just isn't. And I don't really know why. I can sort of tell why when I'm actually watching the show, but I don't know how to put it into words. It's an X factor that I hadn't fully realized until just recently. The characters all interact the same way they used to... It's just not the same. The conversations aren't as inherently entertaining. The jokes are still there and the back and forth still works, but just not like it did.

On a peripherally related subject, I suppose I am a Writer. I am not an Author. Claiming Authorship requires that you have Authored things. And that you are continuously Authoring. To be an Author you need to want it and live for it. It needs to be what you think about when you wake up and what you want to be doing all the time in between. Or, a t the very least, you need to have a considerable backlog of thing that you have e written of which you are proud. But I am a writer. It's the way I view pretty much everything, I suppose.

Most people, I think, wold just watch these serieses and like them or not and leave it at that. But me? I think about why they are written the way they are and what is different in the writing between the seasons that I like and the seasons I don't and why. And it doesn't just stop there. Earlier in this post I used the word "erroneous." I didn't really know exactly what it meant, and I had no idea how to spell it, but I knew it fitted there. I could have said "superfluous" instead, but I wanted it to be erroneous. Erroneous fit better. There's no real reason why it did, it just did. They both would have satisfied the intent of the statement, but it had to be erroneous and not superfluous, so I looked it up. That sort of thing happens to me all the time. I know there is a right word for what I am trying tot say, and another word will just not do, and so I will have to find that word before I can move on. I sometimes stop conversations trying to find the right word to finish my thought. Even if I can find another way of conveying the thought that is effective, I need to figure out what the right word is that I was looking for that belongs there is before I can continue the conversation. I imagine it is rather annoying to others, but it has to be done.

I recently started working a part time job at Kohl's. During the interview process and the orientation, there was a video that basically went into the history of the company and company propaganda and whatnot. But there was one line in the video that annoyed me, and it was on a loop, so it annoyed me every time I heard it. The narrator said "Kohl's is expanding its business and has opened up 400 (i don't remember the real number) stores in 26 (again... No idea what that number should be) states in four months. That's more than most businesses open in just one year!" And that is really all I remember about the video. Because that line is wrong. It's just wrong.

There's a symmetry to the statement they were trying to make. They were trying to say that Kohl's is opening up all these stores and that is noteworthy because other places open up far less stores in a far greater amount of time. So it started out fine. You start with up playing the accomplishments of the entity to which you tare trying to grandeurize, and then you want to downplay the accomplishments of the other entity. So you say that they have opened less in a greater amount of time. But you don't want to downplay the amount of time it took them to do less. You want to make that amount of time seem gigantic in comparison. It's not "In only one year." It's "In an ENTIRE year!" Every time I heard that line it was grating.

There isn't really any greater point that I'm trying to make with this line of discourse. Just that I view the world through the eyes of a writer. The West Wing thing was more of a focused point than this, and really I suppose I should have ended there. Go out strong. But I chose not to. I chose to end not with a bang, but with a whimper (That's Eliot!)