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.

Everyday Creativity

To say I don’t enjoy Halloween would be overstating it. I enjoy the candy, the festive atmosphere, and from time to time, I’ve even enjoyed dressing up in a costume. But overall, I have to admit that the holiday is, for me, and overall meh on the excitement scale.

The trouble is the costume. I’ve never had a good eye for these things and lack the motivation for the truly grandiose ideas that have come across my mind. Sure, I could spend months putting together that Voltron costume, or… I could order pizza and watch the Empire of Dreams documentary for the fifteenth time. Pizza and Star Wars wins every time.

Then I read about mundane costumes from parties in Japan, and think maybe I’m not out of the game after all. Costumes that require minimal props, can slant towards the snarky, and require an explanation? It’s almost like this thing was invented for me.

As Rob Walker points out in that post, it’s the combination of observation and creativity that makes it really interesting. Finding those things or moments that we all see but don’t register with everyone until they’re pointed out.

It’s made me think more about the things I write about. The majority of the poems I’ve written come from a personal place and could be considered confessional in nature. A lot of those poems are also born out of moments or images that wouldn’t be considered all that dramatic all by themselves. Someone sitting on the couch playing a game of solitaire. Walking along a sidewalk. Those moments wouldn’t make great action movies, but they do make for interesting settings for a poem. All it took is the patience (or boredom in some cases) to stare at them for awhile.

The script I’ve been working on is another example. It’s not a huge “save the world” sort of thing and the original idea started out with a very simple moment that kept coming back to me over and over, demanding to be looked at more closely. It was the mundane idea of someone sleeping on a couch and being woken up suddenly. That’s it. But eventually, there was some more to it – I just had to be patient (or bored) enough to wait for it.

I suppose it ties into how Stephen King describes stories as fossils in On Writing – how they’re actually all there and just need to be dug out. A little bump in the ground is pretty mundane – almost like someone’s glasses steaming up as they sip a hot beverage.

It’s when you dig a little bit deeper and realize there’s a whole skeleton down there waiting for you that things get really interesting.

Aw Luke… won’t see him no more

It’s been a hot minute or three since keys have been punched in anger around here, and it only seems fitting that after 26 months away from my last entry that I’m back to talking about Star Wars again. I don’t know why these things happen, it just seems right to roll with it when they come along.

Once again, I’ll have to disagree with the marauding hordes of true believer geeks who think that The Last Jedi is the worst Star Wars movie since… well… the last time they saw The Force Awakens. Funny how quickly their opinion changed, isn’t it? All of a sudden, that one isn’t looking so bad now that they have a new punching bag to work on. Of course, this will probably hold true for when the next episode sees light of day (or dark of theatre depending on how literal you’d like to be) since JJ Abrams will be at the helm of that one. It’ll be interesting to see how many folks crawl back to what was the most absurd thing I’d heard in a long time when they said that they thought The Phantom Menace was better than TFA. Right… and Greedo shot first…

Truth be told, some folks will never be satisfied with any Star Wars movie outside the original trilogy – it’s their childhood and those memories only get more golden as their hair gets more silver. As someone who curses under his breath every time Michael Bay runs out another Transformers abomination, I can sympathize. (On a sidenote, it’s my contention that centering a movie around sentient transforming robots wasn’t the main hurdle and that there was and is a good movie or three to made out of that material – it’s just that Michael Bay is a lazy, immature director with the attention span of a 6 year old after a dozen pixie sticks and a bottle of Mountain Dew… but I digress…)

Personally, I love the new Star Wars movies because of their combination of reverence and irreverence for the original material. It acknowledges how beloved the characters and story is to its fans while at the same time realizing that the only way forward is to blaze its own trail. As I mentioned in my previous post, yes there are some repeats and callbacks, but there’s also twists and extra depth to them. Sure, Maz’s place was a callback to the cantina in Mos Eisley… but did anyone think there’s only one space bar in the whole galaxy? Hell, that probably wasn’t the only bar at Mos Eisley…

The most interesting part of The Last Jedi for me was in the bonus features where you can actually see and hear Mark Hamill’s reluctance and outright disapproval of how his character was being used. So speakth Skywalker…

After reading the script for the film, Mark Hamill told director Rian Johnson, “I pretty much fundamentally disagree with every choice you’ve made for this character [Luke Skywalker]. Now, having said that, I have gotten it off my chest, and my job now is to take what you’ve created and do my best to realize your vision.”

Hamill says that the character of Luke Skywalker doesn’t belong to him anymore, it belongs to the fans and the world at large – they just let him borrow it. For my money, that’s one of the best descriptions of what happens to art once the artist has released it into the world – it’s not theirs anymore. George Lucas kinda-sorta recognized this when he sold Lucasfilm to Disney… and then bitched and moaned that they didn’t follow the ideas he left behind. Sorry bub, guess you shouldn’t have sold the store then, huh? Star Wars fans would do well to realize that it doesn’t necessarily belong to them either.

Star Wars & Cyclical Storytelling

Watching people turn on The Force Awakens has been pretty interesting over the last few weeks. It was all breathless anticipation for a bit, giddiness when it was released, and then the backlash immediately started to make itself known within a few days.

In the interest of full disclosure, I loved it and will probably see it again before it leaves theaters. My faith in any project involving JJ Abrams has been reinforced with Adamatium – whether it’s the new Cloverfield movie (that somehow managed to stay under wraps this entire time) or something he dreamed up with a 6 year old kid over lunch. Doesn’t matter, I’m in. So feel free to begin sharpening up the knives if you wish.

The main complaint I’ve heard is that The Force Awakens is basically a reboot or re-telling of A New Hope (Episode 4). I feel this is misguided for two reasons…

#1 – It’s not like A New Hope was some incredible original idea that no one had ever had before, it’s the hero’s journey and coming of age. George Lucas was studying Joseph Campbell while writing Star Wars and was interested in the myths that are present in all cultures. Lucas was also basing the story and structure off the old serials he’d grown up with as a kid. Saying that TFA isn’t original is a gigantic “Duh!” moment because neither was ANH – it was a tried-and-true story structure and path that hundreds, if not thousands of authors have used throughout time.

#2 – It’s supposed to similar.

Okay, so the second point might seem a little simple, but stay with me for a moment… Star Wars is nothing if not cyclical. Luke learns the ways of the Force from a master Jedi and is then tempted by the Dark Side – the same way that his father was. Luke breaks the cycle and brings balance to the Force where his father succumbed to the Dark Side and became Darth Vader. In TFA, we’re catching another person learning the ways of Force, but the villain is at a slightly different place in his path. Rey is obviously strong in the Force and is able to use her powers by the end of the movie – Kylo Ren is still fighting with his final turn to the Dark Side. Instead of getting yet another bad guy who’s driven from the get-go, we have someone who is still somewhat on the fence and we get to see his final turn – a bit like the end of Revenge of the Sith.

Then there’s the little matter of Finn and who exactly he is and whether he’s on the path to becoming a Jedi as well. This adds in something new that hasn’t been present in either of the other trilogies – another Jedi beyond the master/student or hero/villain form that’s worked in the previous 6 movies. That’s a huge difference going forward.

As for the other criticisms, I don’t know what to tell you other than there’s some fans for whom nothing will ever be as good as the original trilogy. I can understand that since there’s a special place in my heart reserved for that summer when my parents got HBO and they were running Star Wars pretty much around the clock. But at some point, you have to admit that a lot of the criticisms are fairly petty and fall flat. At best, TFA is a solid to really good movie – at worst, it’s damn sight better than The Phantom Menace, which gives a some hope for this upcoming trilogy.