Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday Mad Science: On Throwing Yourself Off the Emotional Cliff

Just before the last Rocky movie, Rocky Balboa, was released, Sylvester Stallone gave some interviews.  said something like:

“The problem with Rocky V was that it wasn't what people wanted.  People want to be uplifted, but with the last movie, I was throwing them off a cliff.”

Rocky Balboa succeeded where
Rocky V failed.
I've always admired Stallone as a writer, and in this I think he was 100% correct.  In my experience, you can write about doomed samurai fighting impossible battles against fire-breathing demons, and you can write about lovelorn bikini girls with six-guns slugging it out with their ex-boyfriends' hired killers, and if you want to, you can make those characters as tragic and as conflicted as you need them to be—as long as you tie it up with a bow and a smile at the end.  However, if you set those same characters and those same themes against the backdrop of a real war that real people are really fighting, truth is, that's most likely gonna cut a little close to reality for your audience.  You're at serious risk of throwing people off that imaginary emotional cliff, especially if you have a story where a lot of Bad Things happen.

As much as I liked The Hurt Locker, it's still a pretty fantastic story, with elements that were wildly unbelievable, and in fact, I remember when it came out, it caught a lot of flak from veterans who said, “Hey!  That's not what it's really like at all!”  But that, I think, is a big part of why that movie worked.  It was just far enough on the good side of reality to let its audience feel good about what they were seeing.  And, too, it helps that the main character, for better or worse, wanted to be there.  He had a job—as dangerous as it was—that he loved.  People could feel uplifted even as they were reminded about something that, truth is, they'd rather forget.

The same is true with social media.  Studies have shown that if you feel like you're unpopular on Facebook, then you're probably right.  You probably are.  And the reason is that nobody likes a downer.  Bottom line, people who're depressed, who tend to write about their frustrations and whatnot on social networks, are people who tend to annoy their friends.

With all of that in mind, my friend Steve has always said that one of the strengths of my writing is that, for better or worse, I'm good at putting it out there, warts and all.  Steve and I have written a lot together, and I trust his opinion about this because I think he has a lot of talent as a writer.  But for as much as I like the idea of being honest, I also know that what I put out there is a very highly sanitized version of my life.  I mean, I spend most of my time here talking about comics or triathlon or beer or whatever precisely because none of those things are truly significant.  They're all outlets.  They're all things I do to escape my life and its pressures. 

This is not another way of saying that I think my life has a particularly large number of pressures.  It's just that I have a lot of weird interests, and I have the time and resources to indulge my fascination for them.  Writing is one of them, but when I write about my life, I tend to do it in a way that's at a certain remove from my actual feelings.  I do that by using my hobbies as my primary subject-matter.

No apologies.  The facts of my work and my marriage—good and bad—are none of your business. Moreover, as I said, I'm constantly cognizant of Sylvester Stallone's unintended advice.  I don't want to throw anybody off the emotional cliff and drive away my readers.


Today I'm going to violate my cardinal rule.  If that bothers you, stop reading now.

Truth is, lately life has been driving me crazy.  Sally and I aren't getting along; work is frustrating in the extreme; it seems like we can't quite pay all our bills even though I know that in any sane world, we have plenty of money.  Hell, I even need a root canal.  I want to scream, lash out, rage against the machine...  But I'm pretty sure nobody's listening.  It's driving me crazy.


Now, normally I deal with this kind of thing by throwing myself into triathlon and drowning my sorrows in a sea of endorphins.  Problem is, right now it's the offseason, and in any event, I'm physically exhausted.  It was a long, hot summer, and I worked a lot.  Then when I get home, there's even more work.  I feel like I can't even get out the door for a bike ride, and if I did, I'd want to take it easy and conserve my energy for when I get home again because there's still going to be ironing and cooking and dish-washing and the million-and-three other things that go along with having kids and a house in the suburbs.

I know.  It's nothing that's not 100% normal.  I'm just saying, it feels like a lot of bricks have been flying lately, and I wish they would stop.  I need to regroup and get my feet back under me before I’ll be ready to get back in the ring and slug it out some more.

Microsoft’s new tablet, the Surfacecomes out on October 26th, and it’s available for pre-order now.

The Surface is basically a re-imagined laptop.
That's not a knock.
If you’re wondering what I think about it, well, it seems to me like the tablet market has broken out into three segments:

· The Surface, which looks more like a laptop than an actual tablet, save that it’s not as heavy.  But it has a keyboard and a full Office Suite installed, and it’s obviously the tablet that’s most clearly meant for real work.

·  The iPad.  Which is essentially a big smart phone.  No real problem there, but I think it’s for folks who don’t exactly need a computer, they need a really nice phone with a big screen.

·  The Kindle/Nexus.  Which look like reinforced e-readers to me.  These things aren’t even phones in that you need WiFi in order to make max use of them.  But if you already have a smart phone, maybe all you need is a way to read digital comics, books, or magazines on a bigger screen.

I’m not sure which one I’m in the market for or even if I need a tablet.  But watching the sector develop has been interesting, and I’m curious to see how the marketplace eventually decides what they want a tablet to actually be.

Beyonce is doing the Super Bowl halftime show, and CNN wants to know what you want to see.

Um…?  Her naked boobs?

Heh.  Actually, I don’t care that much about Beyonce’s boobs, but I mean, since you asked…

Johnny Depp is launching a book publishing line with Harper, and I was a little interested until I learned that the reason he’s doing this is because he’s concerned about the market for physical books, and that he’s launching this imprint specifically so that he can spend more time and effort making sure that the physical experience of the books is awesome enough to justify continuing to put books in print.


Really?  I mean, everybody knows that you can’t judge a book by its cover.

Seriously, I love books, and I still read physical books and buy (mostly) physical copies of books and comics at specialty stores.  I also get tons of physical books from the library.  But the fact is that the world is changing, that the way it’s changing makes it much easier for newer, more experimental creators to get their work out there, and yeah, that means there’s a lot of crap that’s getting produced, but it’s still a good thing on balance.  And ultimately, the old saw is right.  A book is good (or not) based on what the author has to say and how he or she says it.  The look and feel are irrelevant to the quality of the product on offer.

And that’s all I’ve got.  I've gotta admit, though, that I feel a lot better for having gotten that first bit off my chest.

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