this ones for me - todd regoulinsky - toddregoulinsky.com

This One’s For Me

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.

Cyril Connolly – New Statesman, February 1933

At some point, I stopped submitting poems for publication in magazines and journals. For about a year, I’d spent hours tracking submissions, printing my own custom envelopes trying to catch an editor’s eye, writing cover letters, and all the assorted tasks that come along with trying to get published. At the end of the time, I had exactly one publishing credit.

It wasn’t the lack of acceptance that made me stop, although I suppose it didn’t really help either. I decided to mash on the brake because of all the things that I was doing, writing poetry really wasn’t very high on the list. In a moment of clarity, I thought if getting published means writing less or even writing specifically for an audience, is it really something I want to do?

When I start getting down on myself for falling behind on a project or outright abandoning it, I think back to that moment and I’m reminded to be a little more kind to myself. What and who am I doing this for?

At present, I have a screenplay that is on its fourth draft. It’s pretty good, has commercial potential, and I have all the information I need to finish the current draft. However, there’s a piece of it that has made me put it aside for the past six months or so. The script is set in college with students as the main characters and I’ve been told that they sound much more like a 43 year old than someone in their early twenties. So I’ve taken some time to decide whether I’m really the person to write this thing. Of course, every movie and television show I catch with dodgy writing and characters edges me closer to finishing it, but I haven’t quite gotten there yet.

I also have a book of poems that has stalled for no particular reason aside from I needed a break. The subject matter, death, is a little heavy to carry around for long periods of time. I’m probably halfway to completion on that.

Do I wish that either or both were finished? Sure, it’d be nice. But it’s not like I have a publisher holding the presses for the book or an agent in Hollywood trying to stall a studio because their eccentric writer who lacks the good sense to live in California hasn’t come through with the pages yet. Even being commercially viable, there’s no guarantee the movie will ever get made – in fact, the odds are against it. The book? Even more so. I’d still like for them to see the light of day, but… for right now, they’re just for me.

To further muddy the waters, I’ve been thinking about the differences between Star Wars movies lately – The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker to be precise. I prefer TLJ because I felt Rian Johnson walked the line between fan service, making the next logical step with the characters, and also doing something that was his. What happened? A bunch of fans hated it. Then comes along TROS where J.J. Abrams went out of his way to course correct, heap fan service on top of fan service, and then drizzle nostalgia over the whole thing in heaping gobs. What happened? A bunch of fans hated it.

Watching The Force Awakens last night, I think it’s more of an Abrams movie than TROS because he went out of his way to apologize for TLJ and lost his way. That can happen with our own creativity – where we spend so much time trying to overcome what we feel are inadequacies or mistakes rather than just doing something. Anything.

Rather than trying to apologize for something that didn’t work out, I’m trying to look at it in a different way. Oh, that sucked and you didn’t like it? Huh. Well, try this new thing then. Didn’t like that either? Huh. Come back next time and we’ll try it again with something new.

By the way, the Cyril Connolly quote comes from the excellent Tim Ferriss weekly 5-Bullet Friday email that is a great subscribe I highly recommend.

New Year, Who This?

One of the more interesting aspects of getting older is that, if you’re mindful and pay attention from time to time, you gain perspective. After all, what’s the difference between the stuff I got upset over as a teenager and the same situation now? Perspective. Going through it a few times, I’ve come to realize that it’s not the end of the world and not to freak out. At least quite as much.

Over the last few years, I’ve become more aware of what another spin around the sun means and that there’s actually a lot of things I’d like to accomplish. Maybe they’re not huge things that will change the world or as trite as some of the things that I have on my daily to-do list, but they’re important to me on some level. These are things that hold a certain amount of meaning and value in my life. I’ve also become painfully aware that without some kind of plan, very few of those things will be accomplished by accident.

Which leads me to a quick recap of my goals from 2019. In the cold language of math, last year was an overall fail. I had 15 goals and achieved 6 of them. Granted, most of those 6 were pretty solid goals that have enriched my life and I tend to operate on the “it’s the not the ones I’ve missed it’s the ones I’ve caught” philosophy, but still… that’s kinda rough to look over.

So how did I fail to achieve over 50% of my goals last year? Funny I should ask that way because “how” is part of the answer.

My goals where lots of what – what I wanted to do – but were very light on how – how I was going to achieve it. The successful goals either already had the how (a plan of some kind) baked in or were ones that I was likely to want to achieve anyways. Having a goal isn’t enough, there has to be a plan – and for myself at least, having the plan built into the goal works the best.

I spent the last week of 2019 coming up with a list of goals in my normal 3 categories: personal/creative, business, and church/spiritual. Now, it’s time to do my second draft on those goals and begin answering some questions. Sure, that’s a nice goal… but how am I going to do it? What’s a simple way to state it as part of the goal so that every time I glance over to see where they’re tacked up on the wall, I see the end goal along with how I’m going to get there.

Optimistic, Though Threats Lingers

Fresh off the presses, or should I say, permanent marker.

I’m still working the kinks out of my morning creative routine, trying to find something that feels natural, feeds my creativity, is easily repeatable, and is something I actually want to do. Maybe a daily blackout poem would be a good addition to the mix?

As usual, thanks to Austin Kleon for the intro to this particularly type of poetry.

A poet must not avert his eyes

During my initial foray into the world of professional wrestling, my father took me to see the Big Boss Man take on Hulk Hogan. This was back when Hulkamania was running wild, Boss Man was the evil Cobb County prison guard, and the Portland Civic Center was still called the Portland Civic Center.

Looking back through the haze of nostalgia, it was a very big deal to me at the time. I had posters of Bret “The Hitman” Hart, the painted face tag team Demolition, and a couple others hanging on my bedroom walls. I watched wrestling shows on TV and thrilled to the banter between Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse “The Body” Ventura at ringside. Seeing these giants of sports entertainment in person was amazing.

In reality, it was your average late-80’s WWF house show. Hercules defeated Bad News Brown, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine defeated Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, King Haku defeated Jim Powers, The Bushwackers beat the Rougeau Brothers, WWF Women’s Champion Rockin’ Robin defeated Sensational Sherri, the Red Rooster took down the Brooklyn Brawler, and Paul Roma beat “Iron” Mike Sharpe.

That main event that sparkled so brightly in my memory? Hulk won over Boss Man via a count out. Not exactly a finish to write home about.

Which all leads me to say… Werner Herzog is an interesting guy. Along with being a renegade auteur filmmaker, he also enjoys some Wrestlemania as well. I’m guessing that he’s referring to WWF/WWE, but you can never quite tell with a guy like Herzog.

The idea of professional wrestling as this spectacle that a lot of highbrow artists would look down upon but which actually can be superior to some more “enlightened” forms of entertainment is something I can agree with. It’s an amazing form that combines acting, spectacle, drama, and superior athletic ability. Sure, it’s gaudy and gauche and insane. But it’s also a good laugh, fun to watch, and occasionally transcendent in its athletic achievement.

Wrestling faded from my interest by the time high school rolled around, but made a surprise resurgence for me in college. This was at the height of WWF’s “Attitude Era” with stars like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, the Undertaker, the Rock, Triple H, and many more. I was back in, then just as suddenly a few years later, I was back out.

Third time is the charm I suppose, because now I have new podcast out where Tim and I recap last month’s WWE Survivor Series. It was the second wrestling show I’d watched in about 20 years. And you know what? It was a lot of fun. Bright lights, explosions, acting (both good and bad), over-the-top characters (both good and bad), and athleticism that I sometimes couldn’t believe.

In other words, not a bad way to spend a Sunday night.

Is There Something On My Face?

After my post about All You Need Is Kill the other day, it only seemed appropriate last night to give Edge Of Tomorrow another watch for a little compare and contrast action to see if my preference for the movie over the book would hold up.

Overall, it did. To me, a movie is the superior way to tell this story. The repetition of the same sequence comes across better and does the job more quickly than it can be done in print – there’s less heavy lifting to convey the point. As a bonus, it also allows for some moments of humor that don’t come across in the book as well for me – Cage getting taken out by the truck on the battlefield and then on the base before correcting his timing. Let’s the pressure off just enough while also communicating the repetitive nature of his situation.

More than that, the change in the main character comes across much better visually than in the book. The accumulation of all those reps through the day begin to hang on Cage like an extra layer of grime and the look in his eyes changes from the salesman at the beginning of the flick to the hardened veteran by the end. Maybe other people got that from the book, but it works better for me visually.

Then there’s all the things that were changed from book to movie… which is just about everything. I like the idea of Cage being the marketing guy who is brought low rather than just another recruit – it makes the journey that much more significant. Having the story focus on a single battle that has higher stakes works much better for me. Giving the Mimics an intelligence beyond that of a an engineered virus and adding the idea of the Omega worked better for me as well because it gave the story some kind of closure – a single goal as opposed to “we just gotta kill em all everywhere”.

Oddly enough, some of the negatives from the movie were also present in the book. The explanation of the Mimics on Earth was never that well explained, but then again, I didn’t feel it was really that good in the book either. Bill Paxton’s SergeantFarell always seemed one-dimensional to me and I wished there’d been more of him, but reading the book and seeing a failed attempt at fleshing that character out made me realize that it makes sense for him to be exactly who he is in the movie. The ending of the movie felt a little too cute sometimes, but the book’s ending was so lackluster that I really enjoyed the ending of the movie.

So, to sum up, if you thought the movie was okay… maybe try reading the book. It’ll make you appreciate the movie some more.

All You Need Is A Good Movie Adaptation

It’s rare that I enjoy a movie more than the book. After all, taking all the details of a well-written novel and compressing them into about ninety minutes is a nearly impossible task. And that’s before taking into account the mechanisms that work really well in print which don’t translate at all into motion pictures. Throw in that the special effects inside your head are always a bit more vivid than the screen and it’s a recipe for disaster.

As with anything in life, there are always exceptions. And I ran into one this past weekend.

I was in search of coffee and something to pass the time with while waiting for my daughter’s ballet performance Friday afternoon. On a whim, I picked up Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s book All You Need Is Kill, which is the source for the Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt movie Edge of Tomorrow. Over the next two days, I devoured the book and realized about two thirds of the way through that there was no way, barring a last-minute save by the author, that I was going to like the book better than the movie.

Thinking it over, I think it’s similar to why I prefer John McTiernan’s version of The Hunt For Red October more than Tom Clancy’s book. The movie leaves out a bunch of stuff that might be interesting to the hardcore audience but that, if not outright boring, would be not as interesting to the general public. An author certainly has to worry about losing his audience, but I tend to think that readers are more patient by nature than a watcher. That’s not to say superior, it just has to do with the initial buy in. Someone going to a movie is setting aside a couple hours to be entertained and then can get on with their life. Someone picking up a novel is making a much longer commitment. Every minute on screen is precious whereas pages come a little cheaper.

There’s also the matter of inner monologue and dodgy dialogue between characters. The thoughts of a character can be incredibly valuable and inform the reader about who that person is… or they can show just how thin the character really is. Same with dialogue between characters that makes a reader roll their eyes. It happens in both mediums, but I think readers will forgive a bit more just because of the investment.

Overall, I thought the book was good and the concept was really good, but it just works better as a movie. Some of the ways that they showed the main character’s progress throughout the day was illustrated so much better on the screen than the page. Also, there was a clarity to the goal that felt lacking in the book – even when the main character succeeds, I wasn’t totally sure why. The movie had a resolution to it whereas the book says “and then we kept going”.

Maybe it has to do with seeing the movie first. Reading the book, I couldn’t help hear the sergeant speaking in Bill Paxton’s deep Kentucky accent because the book never fleshed out the character enough to make me think any differently. It also doesn’t hurt that I think Tom Cruise was perfect for the role – he pulls off the smarmy jerk that you still want to root for really well.

Which is sort of what I want from this kind of story anyways. Give me a couple interesting characters, some decent spectacle, and hang it all on an interesting premise. It’s not the book’s fault that it should’ve been a movie the whole time I guess.

Look Here, Don’t Look Here

Apollo Robbins is really good at what he does, and what he does is steal. He gives the stuff back, but still. Renowned as one of the world’s foremost pickpockets, he is a keen observer of human nature and adept at misdirection.

It made me realize how often I use misdirection in my daily life. Not for pickpocketing, but professionally, personally, and creatively. In writing, there’s always things an author wants the reader to be paying attention to, but there’s also some things that need to be kept hidden – or at the very least forgotten about until it’s time to bring them back to center stage. On the job, I might be trying to pull attention to one spot on a page and use a combination of whitespace and color to create a certain look, but nothing that will compete with what I’m trying to draw attention to. That’s a low-grade form of misdirection from my point of view, but it’s still there.

Personally, we’re all trying to keep our ugly spots and secrets hidden. Think of a first date – are you wearing the comfiest clothes you’ve got or the ones that make you feel confident because of how they make you look? The more comfortable we get with people, the comfier the clothes get. No more look over here at these really nice jeans and don’t pay attention to that blossoming zit on my cheek that I’ve been working to hide all day!

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Like most people, I’m caught between the pull of wanting new experiences and the comfort of the familiar. Do I wan to try that new restaurant or stick with my traditional go-to spot? Should I take a chance on that new TV show or go back and binge Parks & Recreation again?

The idea of repetition as a means of understanding is something I’m thinking about today based on a bit from The Art of Noticing newsletter form last week. The concept of repetition as a means of understanding isn’t a foreign concept to me. As a musician, I’ve learned that it’s not just repetition in order to get things correct, but to understand the song itself and how best to serve the song beyond playing the right notes. As a writer, I’m fascinated by the idea of Hunter S. Thompson, as he was starting out, re-typing the works of Ernest Hemingway to feel the rhythm of the words and how they felt under the fingers.

There was a great restaurant in my hometown years ago that was run by an excellent chef who’d been trained in New Orleans. The menu was always changing and was full of things I couldn’t pronounce, let alone identify. However, knowing how good my first meal had been there, I made an active decision to always try something new and not repeat my meals there. Granted, it wasn’t hard because I couldn’t afford to eat there very often. However, it turned out to be a great exercise and helped me get over some picky eating habits from my childhood in the bargain.

Did I stop eating at my other favorite restaurants? Definitely not. So there’s balance – finding the joy and deeper layers that repetition offers while also making room to discover new things. After all, I could re-read the entire Tom Robbins catalog over and over for the rest of my life (and probably will), but I’d have missed out on some killer books the last year if I hadn’t given Neil Gaiman and Zadie Smith a try.

I’m realizing that it has as much to do with mindfulness as it does with the repetition. There’s a lot of things that I can do over and over without much thought, but I won’t get much out of it except marking it off my list of things to do. However, if I’ve made an active decision to look for new things in The Godfather or Charles Bukowski’s Love Is A Dog From Hell as I’m going back for another watching or reading, that’s where the joy of discovery comes in.

Sure, I could stumble on something, but it helps to have my eyes open.