Happy Happy Joy Joy

I told a friend that I wanted to take a six-month sabbatical from work and travel the world. He knows that I spend a lot of time writing at Starbucks. So we were taking one night and he urged, more like proclaimed, that I go on my sabbatical immediately because that would make me happy. There must have been an awkward look on my face because my friend tried harder to convince me that I’d be happy traveling.

3821298D-CB4F-4DE1-A3C6-1B0524BBE0F0.gif

I’ve talked about this before, the difference between happiness, being content and at peace, versus the enjoyment of an experience.

What’s interesting is that people mix happiness and joy up a lot. They often link happiness with having things like cool cars, cool clothes, cool watches, cool boyfriends or girlfriends. Essentially, their status in life determines their level of happiness. The problem is that status can be taken away, and the enjoyment of an experience is always temporary. So if I buy a super cool car, I’ll feel the joy of having a new toy, but eventually I’m going to need a new experience to get another endorphin hit. That can mean buying something new over and over again, sort of like a drug habit. So it’s no surprise that the poorest people in America tend to carry the most credit card debt. They may not be satisfied with their lot in life, so they try to buy their way into happiness.

Happiness is being content with where you are in life. Not that people can’t strive to be better, but they do not need anything in order to be happy. There is nothing that people need to do because contentment and peace is the natural state of the mind. It’s one of the reasons why people tout meditation as a way to center oneself. From what little I know about meditation, it aims to quiet the mind, lessening the number of thoughts that crowd your head.

When we look at why people are unhappy, or unsatisfied with life, most of the time it’s the comparison phenomenon. For example, if my friend gets a super cool car, and he’s younger than I am, I may think to myself, “I’m a loser because I don’t have a super cool car. How’d he get it before me?” Then I may feel like crud cuz I just drive a champagne-colored Toyota Camry. So even though my natural state is peace, I cover that up with a cruddy thought. And thoughts are the main driver of our emotions.

This is evident given how advertisers prey on our emotions. The Axe commercials are a classic example.

We see this commercial and think, “Yeah, that could work.” So we men go out and buy Axe Body Spray with the hopes of getting more chics. Of course, when this reality doesn’t manifest itself, we become unhappy because our expectations weren’t met.

That’s another thing. Expectations. Society has a knack for telling us that we’re not fulfilling our full potential and we should expect more. However, life has no schedule. People come into their own on their own time. I know. That either sounds obvious or repetitive. Or both! Still, if we are judging ourselves by what society dictates, then we’ll find ourselves falling behind or trying to keep pace with it. Even if we find that we’re ahead of the game, we’ll self-impose a new bar, goal, and chase that. What we fail to enjoy is the journey. Even though there is enjoyment in finishing a project, the journey is the most important part. The trials and tribulations of creating often leads to great wisdom and skill. Without this aspect, our civilization will become stagnant.

I write every day because that’s my temperament. My writing requires that I do this on a daily basis, that I continue to learn to hone my craft. And I’m at peace when I write, except when I want to kill a character and that character needs to complete an important task. So I’m not sure if my friend sees me writing and assumes that I’m not happy. But I think he links happiness and joy together and they’re really two different things.

An Exploration into Mayhem

image.gif

When an action/horror flick comes out called Mayhem, starring a male Asian lead from an incredibly popular zombie series, I have no choice but to watch it. Steven Yeun stars in Joe Lynch's movie about a virus gone wild in a law firm's towering skyscraper. The entire building gets quarantined until the virus runs its course, 24 hours. Although the virus, unlike on the Walking Dead, doesn't change their human hosts permanently, it does remove inhibition, leading to unhinged acts of violence, lust, and more violence. Yeun's character, Derek, is trapped in this building, an exec in said firm. And to make it interesting Derek is involuntarily chosen to be the fall guy for a costly mistake the law firm made. He decides he needs a face-to-face with the sadistic CEO, no virus required, to resolve this issue. So he has to reach the top floor, negotiating–fighting really–the corporate lackeys who are overworked, under appreciated, and fucking pissed off. Good times.

image.gif

I enjoyed the movie. I can relate. Not because Yeun is Asian, but because the character has to reconcile his choice of living the corporate life instead of delving into his life's passion in the arts.

I work a day job in the cold, ugly corporate world, which is soul-sucking. I'm a bit fortunate because I get to work from home. But I still have to act within the confines of political correctness, which I absolutely despise. At night I ride my mechanical steed to a Starbucks, sit down in my spot, and dive into my world of fantasy. Freedom!

The film Mayhem seems to pit corporate life and passion in a fight to either drain Derek's soul or save it. So what does one do? Work a black hole of a day job to pay the bills? Or be a starving artist and try to live life to the fullest? Derek's trek up the building seems to symbolize this internal conflict. Kind of an homage to Bruce Lee's Game of Death, the actual version, not the one that was released by Columbia Pictures. So what would you choose? Soul-sucking job? Or starving artist?

image.gif

One of my favorite stories is Michelangelo's day job. They had day jobs back in the fifteenth century? I know, right? Looking at his paintings and sculptures, it's almost impossible to see that his true passion laid in sculpting. To say he was a master at it is insulting. Many argue he was the GOAT. No, not a four-legged sheep with horns. Greatest of all time. So what was his day job? Barista at an Italian bakery? No. His regular day job was a painter. And not the kind that painted your house. Well...unless it was the ceiling and walls of the Sistine Chapel. And from what little I know, when the Pope commissioned him to do this, he had to finagle the deal to ensure that Michelangelo would finish painting the Chapel.

Now Lynch wasn't clear in his film that quitting your day job was a requirement to follow your passions. That would be a ridiculous notion. And parables such as this doesn't paint a clear map of how to negotiate life. That's our job as individuals. But the film does illustrate something that I've always prescribed to. And that is to follow your dreams. The opposition always states that the chances of making it is really, really, really low. Three really's indicate how low the chances are of being successful, according to pundits and pessimists. However...

"Success is not a place at which one arrives but rather the spirit with which one undertakes and continues the journey.” –Alex Noble, author.

In other words, the journey is the reward.

image.gif

Hell naw. I want riches. Fame. Glory!

As a not-starving writer, I totally get wanting people to read and love and know my work. I crave it. It's probably why I love my writing group. They're the few people who've read my stuff, and I get to hear how awesome...or bad my work is. (Listen to a podcast where we talked about the writing process, our group dynamics, and how masturbation is very similar to writing–for me anyway.)

The fact of life is that not everybody gets to make it big. But most people don’t even try. And to make it big the work has to be done. So why not enjoy the work–the journey–as we stroll toward whatever life may present?

It's a lot like sex. The goal of sex is rarely to make a child. Hence condoms and birth control. Though, sex is the only way to make a child. That's the reason why it feels so good. It pulls the curtain to the Hell that will come when the parents have to raise the child. Sorta like having dessert before dinner. Joking. Eh. Kinda. But sex feels good because we're connecting with our partners, exploring in adult play, trying to get each other off. Again the reward is in the journey.

What Is Story?

Is that algebra? I didn't know algae wore bras

Is that algebra? I didn't know algae wore bras

What is story? According to Robert McKee, it's a quest. Whether the main character is looking for love, redemption, or the villain that will destroy the world, it's a quest for something. Like in the Karate Kid (1984), it's the search for enlightenment. Love that movie.

Gojira!

Gojira!

In the beginning of my own writing journey, I went to many different sources to learn what story was. The first big lesson came from a Japanese film maker named Akira Kurosawa, who made what many consider one of the best films, The Seven Samurai. Diving deep into the learning process, I decided to buy the Criterion version because it included about five hours of commentary from academics and experts of his work.

Excited to watch, I sat down, threw the DVD in, and said, "What tha hell?" On the surface, the story was about villagers who are threatened by raiders that steal their food every harvest, so they go to hire Ronin to defend them. Problem is that they have no way of paying. This is a good film?

After watching the commentary, I received a really good education of how Kurosawa told story, the layers he lathered in each scene, and how many of today's film makers take from him without even knowing it. Or maybe they do and I don't know it.

You smell somethin'?

You smell somethin'?

Continuing my education of what story is, I went to a writing conference in San Francisco, and one of the lecturers taught how to break down a large three act story into tiny parts, something that severely helped me complete my books. So following him on Facebook, I came across the following article that I will paste in completion. See the cliffnotes below for a summary:

"Gravity: REALLY good. But. Arguably, strictly speaking, by a VERY strict Aristotlean definition, not actually a "story". Please understand me -- I'm not going to spend a lot of time below responding to comments like "but it IS", or "but it's so GOOD"...I said that above, I refer u to the first sentence of this post...it's something REALLY good...and it IS a "story" by the layman's definition thereof, a relation of events via mimesis (that's one effete layman) but maybe not a "story" by strict Aristotlean standards...there is no personified antagonist...the forces against the heroine do not/cannot embody opposing values...and therefore the conflicting values of hero and villain cannot yield "theme" by synthesis, or at best only simplistic theme. What's the themeof Gravity? Survive!!! Basically, that to survive is worth fighting for? Also, most (3 of 4, look it up) revelations in stories are twists about the antagonist, and with gravity as your bad guy, we can't really learn your best friend is working with gravity to betray you, that gravity planned to betray U all along or that this whole thing was part of gravity's plan for world domination or to steal your husband, etc.

Therefore, all it has to wow us is ascendingly larger spectacle. And it does an incredible job with that. And is wise to only try to sustain 90 mts.

But this has always been the issue with your "man against nature" story (which arguably didn't exist when Aristotle wrote his Poetics). And most people still call them stories...so, tell me what a dope I am below, but I will cling to the hope that what I really am is a scholar drawing an obscure distinction that will matter only to Poindexters like me, or perhaps even only this Poindexter, me. And Aristotle. Again, it was a REALLY good thing, but maybe not a "story" thing. And I could write one of whatever it is."

I wanted to paste the whole thing so you could see that I wasn't bullshitting you. The basic gist is this: The bad guy is not a person, so there can't be any real twists, or the exchanging of opposing values or ideals.

Your hair is stickin' up

Your hair is stickin' up

Clearly, this guy has never heard of the phrase, "You are your own worst enemy."

The spectacle he talked about was the special effects director Alfonso Cuarón used. And it was pretty freakin' awesome, especially with 3D glasses. Sandra Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, who is trying to do some repairs on a space telescope when satellite debris from an explosion destroys the shuttle, complicating her trip back to Earth. Now, along with Mathew Kowalski, played by George Clooney, they must find a new way back.

Warning: Spoilers are comin'! Spoilers are comin'!

Kowalski asks Stone what kinda music she listens to. She states that it doesn't matter. She gets off of work, gets in her car, and drives so she doesn't have to think (about the daughter she'd lost through a freak accident of no fault of her own). And that is what the story is about. Letting go of the past. At this point, I knew that Stone would have to confront her own mortality, death, hitting rock bottom before she would let go of her past, and move on with her future, which required a really clever way of getting back home. The space that she created when letting go of her past, allowed the solution to appear, and as such she grows from this and becomes the woman she's meant to be.

Essentially, Stone was her own worst enemy. Once she got out of her own way, she was able to think clearly enough for a solution to appear.

Now, if this expert in story doesn't think that the ability to move on from one's past, or that letting things go instead of holding on to things is worthy of story, then he's a freakin' idiot.

I used to have a life coaching business before giving it up to write. And the one thing I always tried to teach is let things go and don't argue for your own limitations.

Where highway 101 be at?

Where highway 101 be at?

One of the fundamental mistakes that traditional therapists make is the exploration of the past. I'm not belittling the past or saying that it isn't important. But why hold on to it? Here's an extreme example:

A woman was molested as a child and develops an inability to trust men and form intimate relationships. What's the problem? A little mistrust of men is healthy for a woman. No. The man who will love her is not the man who molested her as a child, but often, in her mind, he is.

Let's take that same situation and go to another extreme: this same woman gets in a car accident and forgets her past from amnesia. Will her past now haunt her and prevent her from forming intimate relationships? No.

The key difference is her letting go of the past, which must happen internally.

If we look at this from a general point of view, most of our hang ups in life were formed some time in our past, DUH, but the mistake is we carry it with us, baggage. If we were to truly let go of the baggage, we'd be a much happier people.

Just take the pill dammit!

Just take the pill dammit!

McKee also said that story must have change. Whether we exit a scene or end a story, something must have changed, good or bad. And, as storytellers, we know that the change in the character must happen inside. Yes, external circumstances may be the catalyst, but for the person to grow, become the person they're meant to be, that change must be realized from within, that the character finally sees the light. All change comes from within, or happens within. Therefore, you don't need an actual person to be the antagonist.

A great example of this is another Japanese movie called TWILIGHT SAMURAI. I absolutely love this movie. There is no bad guy. The samurai in question just thought so little of himself that he didn't think he deserved anything better than what he had. Things change when a woman he'd been in love with, still is, comes back into his life. Always about the women. And he decides that he does want more out of life and does something about it, becoming the person he should be.

I always caution people about experts, that experts don't know everything, and I count myself in that group, meaning take what I say with many grains of salt. And this guy makes his living by traveling the country and teaching writers what story is. That doesn't mean he knows everything about story, or is even open to what story can be. He even missed the title having layers of meaning. Gravity doesn't just pertain to the weightlessness of space, but can point to the gravity of carrying baggage, the gravity of losing someone special like a child, and the weightlessness of finally losing that baggage and being free to be who you really are. I'm sure the director had other layers of meaning, but that's for him to know and for us to discuss.

Aristotle? Come on, pal. There's got to be some evolution here.