1,000 Words: Shells


Every single one of these shells has a story to tell. Each one is a memory. They clutter up my house like stories clutter up my mind, each one precious, each one inspiration. 

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The Great American Villainess

I don’t really watch the Superbowl for the football—I mean, I’m aware of the football game. I watched in disbelief as the Seahawks annihilated the Broncos for two quarters, because normally (I noticed, due to astute observations of other football games) the other team scores in the first quarter, too. But this year I was really hoping to catch the Jaguar commercial on my father’s enormous television, because it was chock full of famous British actors.

The premise of the Jaguar commercial is that British actors tend to be the best at portraying charming, calculating villains: Elegant facades that conceal power, precision, and aggression. Oh yeah, Jaguar, I see what you did there.  It really is good to be bad.

Because I enjoy elegant villainy, powerful imported vehicles, and possibly also Mr. Hiddleston, I watched the behind the scenes clip Jaguar had released as a companion to the commercial, in which the actors discussed what made the British men best at portraying bad guys. Sir Ben Kingsley noted our English brethren have better villain role models, in the form of Macbeth and Richard III—Shakespearean villains that have many layers and motives—while we Americans are more schooled in the role of the ass-kicking hero (or anti-hero).

I would have to agree. Most American-portrayed villains are two-dimensional whack-jobs. No layers of evil. The clip also had me thinking that female American villains are often even flatter—crazy witches out for revenge.

Granted, there are few opportunities for true villainesses, which I think is the great tragedy of Hollywood. Here’s my proposal.

One American-portrayed villainess, the character also being American, as the fulcrum of an action movie. She would be well-educated, well dressed, and charming. There would be no dress size limit or beauty standard, per say, as long as she was the pinnacle example of the fashion appropriate for her character. I lean toward the classic cocktail formal wear, but I could also see a more casual version of the Great American Villainess. A New York City chic vibe comes to mind.

She would be a powerhouse character. Always prepared for any contingency. A leader in business. Well respected and sometimes feared for her ruthless business strategies. Her villainy would not arise from a need for revenge, or out some sort of jealousy, but rather a desire to achieve her own goals come hell or high water, a need to fulfill her personal ambition, whatever that might be.

There would also be a slew of loyal minions, which she would treat fairly and with a respect. Everyone would know up front they were expendable—not that she would go around offing her army of enchanted followers willy-nilly. That’s just wasteful.

And just when the hero thought he might understand her game, she would do something dangerously unexpected. When she finally caught that pesky protagonist, there would be no monologues, no enumerating of the master plan, just a quick and efficient death. Boom. Problem solved, world domination achieved. End scene.

Although I suppose she would have to be promptly thwarted, but whatever.

I can think of one character I’ve read that fits the bill: Jacqueline Carey’s character Melisande Shahrizai.

Does anyone know a villainess that fits my description, in film or books? Make a recommendation.

I need a role model.

(Full disclosure: I wanted a red Jaguar convertible when I was in fourth grade, because obviously, but I am in no way affiliated with the company. I’m not getting paid for this, I just really dig the commercial.)

The ocean both terrifies and inspires

I have long been an advocate of the ocean. Its shores are a place to relax, its depths something to protect, its creatures something to admire. Almost all of the ocean is unexplored. It is the unknown—and, much the same with my opinion of space—that fact fills me with wonder and hope. It inspires me.

Our world, our culture is one of finite terms. There is the possible and the impossible, the probable and the improbable, the no and the yes. You either can or you can’t. We’re told, as a global society from birth, what we are likely or unlikely to achieve based on religion, sexuality, gender, and class.

We know what we know and ignore the things we don’t understand. It’s an epidemic. And this prevalent attitude is why I absolutely adore the ocean, in all of its unknown, freakish glory.

Because there is so much unknown about the ocean, and things that are known about it somehow defy logic on a regular basis, that means, to me, that this whole possible/impossible shit is entirely relative.

The ocean is an example. We don’t actually know what is impossible. We don’t actually know, with any degree of certainty, if society would fall apart when a poor transsexual man befriends an evangelist Christian celebrity. We can’t actually say that being born in a certain class means we have to stay there.

Nature, Earth, space—the whole of the universe itself challenges global societal beliefs simply by existing.

What is impossible is only impossible because you believe it is so.

Allow the ocean to blow your mind a little when you click on the link and then come back for one final thought. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

whistles

Back? Good. So, you know how the stuff you just saw kind of defies your perceptions a tad? Yeah, hold on to that feeling. Cherish that wonkiness. Go out into the world feeling slightly off-balance in a good way.

Question, challenge, and disagree.

Fight.

The Escape

Around Easter, I had the following text conversation with a friend.

Me: My round candies are escaping! AAAHHH!

Friend: Woman, keep your candy in line!

Me: WE’VE GOT A ROLLER. It’s okay, I caught it before it could get far.

Friend: Good. Punish the rebel as an example to the others.

Me: Oh, I did.

That conversation led to me making the following video as an experiment for work. I was testing out new camera equipment and toying with new ways to tell stories. This is what’s known as a multi-media piece. Please enjoy.

How else do you all tell stories? In what ways do you experiment to keep your writing fresh? Link back to your Other Techniques in the comments.

I have faith in humanity. I have to.

Making art is a very personal act. Visual arts, music, the written word—all of it requires the creator to briefly let down personal shields and imbue the work with a tiny piece of the self.

Sometimes, that makes creating art really difficult. Sometimes, it is so difficult it actually paralyzes the artist with fear. I mean, opening up a bit of your soul to others is a big deal. It is an exercise in faith in humanity.

Faith that your opinions are not completely crazy. Faith that your eccentricities are not unique. Faith that the darkest corners of your mind can actually be restored to light because someone else already has the candle.

The extra-sensitive artists, like myself, have an almost insurmountably difficult obstacle to get around.

Okay, I’m going to lower the forward shields for a minute and tell you a secret: I am super sensitive. I have built a quasi-functional wall around myself to ensure that I can accept criticism of my writing with grace and open-mindedness, because that is that only way I’ll improve. This wall also helps keep out irrelevant exterior criticisms, say about my fashion choices or what kind of movies I like to watch.

The problem is that all the strength is in the forward, exterior-facing wall. The inward wall, the one that faces friends and family, has not been fortified. So, if a friend or family member lobs an off-hand comment about…oh, maybe how they hate the shoes I’m wearing in my direction, it’s bad news.

Critical hit. Red alert. MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY WE’RE GOING DOWN.

Seriously, it gets to me. It shouldn’t at all, but it does. This makes it hard for me to write sometimes. Why? Because my friends and family will be the first people to see my writing. They get the first round of beta-reads; they are the “Is this total horse shit or should I keep going?” litmus test.

Sometimes, my little wall works—criticism is ingested with an open mind and helps me make the project better. Other times, it doesn’t. And then I think about all the exterior people who could possible hate my writing and I wilt. What’s the point? Why write anything? Hell, why leave the house? It’s a sneaky doom spiral and it sinks its poisonous claws into me more often than I’d like to admit.

The mantra of the ever-terrifying and totally awesome Chuck Wendig is to “harden the fuck up, Care Bear,” and he’s right.  But how do you balance the adamantium exoskeleton with the slow leak of soul-juice into your project?

How do you fortify that which you have put forward with a gooey center?

You can’t, not really. You sort of have to accept on faith, that someone, somewhere, is going to defend your work, and by extension, that tiny bit of your soul.

You have to have faith in other people. Other artists. Other soul-chips bouncing around in the ether.

My personal and current beacon of hope is Brandon Stanton, creator of Humans of New York. He is a street portrait photographer and if you haven’t seen his site, you’re missing out.

Mr. Stanton roams the streets of New York City (and Tehran, and most recently, Boston) and finds interesting people to photograph. The portraits are everything from hilarious to despairing, and every last one of them is beautiful. He asks each subject a few questions and puts the most revealing answers as captions for his photos. Some people merit full-on stories and the audience discovers how different people are, and some times, how judgmental we all can be.

Stanton’s project is interesting in that each portrait carries two soul-chips. The one that is captured from the subject by the camera, and one of his own. The people he chooses to photograph reveal something about the photographer. Namely, that he is open-minded, courageous and selfless.

Open-minded because he approaches people society would revile.

Courageous because he approaches subjects that scare him, or may put him in danger.

Selfless in that he wants to tell the stories of the people he photographs and in doing so, teaches the rest of us not to judge a book by it’s cover.

I don’t know how he balances the exoskeleton with the slow-leak of soul, but I’m glad he’s got a handle on the technique.

It helps me remember to write even though I am afraid, and sometimes because I am afraid.