Imagination on Vacation (I Blame Television)

Like the vast majority of Americans, I watch a lot of videos of various kinds. Tv shows, movies, and a huge variety of videos (although few actually original) of different lengths and subjects abound all over the internet. And since wi-fi is everywhere these days, you could quite literally spend all of your life, or at least your free time, in front of a screen.

Well, so far I’ve stated the obvious. Now I’m about to sound like your grandparents (or even your parents, probably):

When I was growing up, things were very different. We had a television, of course–everyone had a television–but at my house, we just had basic cable. A lot of people I knew just had basic cable, while many others paid for premium channels. Now, it’s essentially impossible to only get basic cable. They simply don’t offer it anymore. Granted, I don’t know what the cable options are because I’ve never had to sign up for it myself, but I think “basic” cable no longer means the major networks on channels below number 10 and the local access channels in the teens.

I had access to the fancy cable at friends’ and relatives’ houses, and although I particularly enjoyed the golden age of Nickelodeon shows, I never felt like I really needed it. I spend much of my time reading, drawing (badly), or playing imaginative games, often by myself. There is certainly a place for sitting and doing essentially nothing in all our lives. The Italian term “dolce far niente,” although probably not intended to mean being a couch potato, captures this idea nicely. But then, we also need engaging activities that inspire and motivate us–and where is the place for that sort of activity when there are more movies available than we could ever watch in our lifetimes?

I am not denying the artistic merit of some films and shows, or the value of visual storytelling. When it comes down to it, sometimes words are not enough to really capture the image or concept. As a writer, this is something that frustrates me constantly and makes me wish I were able to draw well. So various lengths of cinematic material have their place in quality entertainment. The one thing that is generally true of all movies, shows, short films, etc., though, regardless of their level of either quality or inanity, is that the role of the viewer in the entertainment/observer relationship is passive. In order to watch a video, all you need to do is press play, look at the screen, and not interrupt playback. This is not to say that film cannot make you think, of course. It can.

Reading is an active pursuit. I suppose it would be possible to read a headline or a short phrase by accident, but in order to read a book, a short story, a poem, even a full sentence, you have to make a conscious decision to be engaged in the activity. Your own mind is responsible for picture the words create. Reading cannot simply happen by staring at an open page. You have to make your eyes move from word to word. If you’re reading a physical book, you have to turn pages. If reading an ebook or an online article, you’re often required to scroll, click, or swipe to continue reading the piece. And so, regardless of the quality of the content (or whether the book is better than the movie), the act of reading must be purposeful.

I’m trying to get back into the habit of reading. I do not do it very much anymore. I most often read for no more than two or three hours in a given day. I never stay up late into the night lost in the words of a book. In fact, I rarely read more than fifteen pages at a time without stopping to take a break, most frequently to mess around on the internet. When I was young, I used to spend entire days reading. There were many books I re-read (so I have not read as many books as most people I know who love reading), some many times. I read Lloyd Alexander’s The Arkadians probably ten times in my preteen era.  (I highly recommend it.) I got such a rush from reading. It would spark my imagination. All that I read fed into my store of images and stories, blending together and transmogrifying into new ones, like a personal mythology. When I decided I had to write, ideas would flow freely. Tales would play in my head and I would do my best to copy them down, not generally suffering from any hesitation or writer’s block.

I used to watch a little tv and do a lot of reading. Now it’s pretty much the opposite. It was sometime in my teen years that I really started to watch tv much more frequently, and that only increased as time went on. And since somewhere around the age of fifteen, I have not generally spent so much time working on my writing. As I said, I will not claim that there aren’t good stories to be watched, or that writers cannot get ideas from the cinematic medium. However, I can’t help but notice that when I’m not reading, my urge to write usually disappears. When I do pick up a book, particularly one that is especially creative or simply resonates with me either in its content or style, my imagination comes alive. I think that the active nature of reading motivates me to be creatively active, in a way that the sit-and-do-nothing feeling of watching television or movies just cannot achieve.

If others have had a similar experience, it implies quite a bit about the effects of too-available television and the importance of reading. Of course, this could just be my own weird head’s response to different forms of media. So you tell me: does television give you creative energy? How about reading? I want to know.

Advertisements

Five Things Friday: November 22, 2013

This week has been unfortunately long. So long, in fact, that it really feels like it should be NEXT Friday … and I’m not just saying that because I’ll be able to sleep in that day.

So here are five things from this week that I just feel like sharing. No particular thought, just the high-and-lowlights. It’s not going to be a very interesting post, I don’t think. I just need a little brain dump.

1. I had to go to the dentist. That is, I had made an appointment with a livingsocial coupon, and since I had made the appointment and they were letting me use the coupon even though it expired in August, I felt that I should go. So I got out of bed quite a bit earlier than usual and forced myself out the door by 7:15, for an 8:00 a.m. appointment… and it was about 10:30 by the time I got to work. The appointment itself was just over an hour, including the post-cleaning consultation about fillings that I can’t afford. My last dentist appointment took about 20 minutes. But it was also like four years ago, so I think we’ve solved this mystery.

2. The light in the bathroom started flickering (I suspected a possible ghost) and then went out on Wednesday evening. Apparently, we don’t have any replacement light bulbs. They seem to be among the things that you don’t think about keeping around, but then when you need them, you wish they were there… I switched it out for the light from a lamp in the living room that we almost never turn on. I’m hoping to get more light bulbs after I get paid.

3. Also on Wednesday, Fedex failed to deliver my package. Usually it’s UPS that fails, so it’s always surprising when it’s Fedex. The tracking information said it was out for delivery until nearly ten o’clock, as I kept refreshing it, and then it suddenly said a “Delivery exception” had “occurred” at just after 8. (The “exception” actually being that I was at home and no one rang the doorbell.) Fedex is weird, and sometimes they end up giving packages to the USPS if they “can’t” complete delivery. I got it the next day–by the way, it fit through the mail slot perfectly.

Based on what I do know, this is what I think Fedex does: when they don’t actually get to your package that day, they claim you weren’t there and make it the problem of the post office. I.e. instead of admitting that you couldn’t do your job, you’re trying to blame me. That’s so annoying.

The only other time this happened, I had to go get the package down at the post office. This time it showed up the next day, and now my ears will be warm snugly wrapped in my black cashmere cable-knit ear warmer. That’s 100% cashmere. It’s very soft and perfect. Now that I have it, I’m over the whole thing, but I still wanted to rant.

4. Also on Wednesday, I started reading The Fault in Our Stars, which I have out from the library on a dismally short loan (only two weeks, instead of the usual month that most books are allowed). I wasn’t sure I would have time to finish the whole thing by the due date, which is today, so I went online to renew it and discovered that it was not an option for this book. So I had to stay up late two nights in a row to be able to finish it. I did get it back on time, but still. Wednesday was not a very good day.

5. A facebook friend posted this very fun-sounding pun-type game (pun-sounding?): Come up with the funniest version of a movie title by changing one letter (including omission/addition of a letter). I posted it, asking people to join in. It was quite fun. Here are a few good one:

-From Duck Til Dawn

-Footsie

-Jurassic Pork

-Soy Anything

-28 Gays

-O Bother! Where Art Thou?

…you get the idea. I highly recommend it, although I’m sure it can get tiresome to some people… I like puns. Deal with it.

So that was some of my week. The rest was mostly work. And other stressful things.

Five Things Friday: October 11, 2013

Man is time flying again. Although this week dragged a bit in my perspective, mostly due to anxiety :(. Not so much fun. And not so much sleep, which means I was really tired all week. My brain, I don’t think it likes me much.

I was thinking this week, for reasons you might get if you read my other blog, that sometimes the structure of a movie plot sort of fits into the days of the work week. This is true of many movies, and books too, although there are plenty that do not fit into this structure, because there are plenty of exceptionally creative people out there. But let me just give you an overview, so you’ll know what I mean.

Monday–This is the beginning of the movie, the introduction to the main character(s) and his/her/their world. Sometimes it can start a little slowly, and sometimes it’s bustling right from the start. Either way, you’re kind of weird if you do it without coffee, or at least some kind of wake-up ritual. This is the part of the movie that gets the story going, and often nothing extremely important plot-wise happens, but we know that things are about to pick up.

Tuesday–Here, we’re into the “routine” of the movie. The introduction is over, we know what’s going on, we’ve been oriented to the people we’re watching. The momentum is going and it’s time to introduce the central conflict. What is(are) the struggle(s) of the main character(s)? This is where we find out. And by the time Tuesday’s over, we really want to know what happens next.

Wednesday–You’ve probably heard the term “hump day.” In reference to the five-day movie, this is either the part where one or several characters have sex, or the point at which there is a significant hurdle for the characters. Attempts to deal with it often result in the chaos that is Thursday.

Thursday–After the “hump,” we get the climax of the conflict. I said OF THE CONFLICT. Jeez. Get your mind out of the gutter. Anyway. This is the time in the movie where things are happening at a record pace, suspense is heightened, and everything might fall apart depending on what the characters decide to do. This is like the time at work when you know the end of the week is coming so you’re trying to get as much taken care of as possible.

Friday–On Friday, you usually start out finishing up the crap you didn’t manage to finish on Thursday (the tail end of the characters dealing with all those crises I just talked about) and either get everything all cleaned up and tidy (the happy ending), or you make sure you have things prepared for next Monday (setting up for a sequel). And sometimes, Friday is just as much of a mess as Thursday was and nothing was resolved.

This is sort of an idealized version of a work week. In reality it’s never this uniform. Things just happen when they do. And some movies have such complex or long plots that they actually take two weeks to get through (metaphorical weeks. Otherwise, it’s called a tv series).

 

 

I’m going to be the first to admit that this was terribly written. Sorry. I was reading a post just yesterday from someone about how the content of his blog was all first drafts. I’m the same way. For me a blog is more of an informal platform–therefore, some posts will be nice and well crafted, and others will be word-salad-stream-of-consciousness-what-the-hell-is-this.

All writers need a place where they can spew all their thoughts out onto some venue where they can read over it again. This is mine. :/

NEWS: I had an interesting idea for a not-a-ghost story the other day, and I am hoping I will make myself work on it in time for Halloween. If you have interest, please leave a comment and it might compel me to work on it! Just saying.

Five Things Friday: September 13, 2013

…on Saturday.

I keep writing August, then having to change it to September. Not relevant, but I decided to say it anyway.

Today, my theme is something we all struggle with. Yes, that’s right… guilty pleasures. This came out of some of my own activities earlier this week, when I was enjoying for hours on end a musical artist that I’ve heard bashed pretty much since I’ve heard of her at all. I thought, we all have guilty pleasures, and why bother being guilty about them?

Before I begin, I should define the term. When I say “guilty pleasures,” I mean things you are embarrassed or hesitant to admit that you like. It may be because you know it’s objectively bad, or due to popular opinion–either everyone hates it, or, if you’re a hipster, everyone likes it.

Guilty pleasures are generally unnecessary. How many times have you actually lost friends because you like a certain movie and they don’t? Did you say zero? I’m betting you did. Sometimes you’ll get teased, and that’s no fun, but I’m pretty sure they’ll stop if you just shrug unapologetically. It works a little better if you have a real reason for liking it, but guess what? YOU DON’T NEED ONE! (Although, if your thing is, say, Taylor Swift, I’d prefer if you just didn’t tell me.)

With this in mind, I decided I would own my guilty pleasures, and stop being guilty about them. Someone will undoubtedly disagree with me on some of these, but there are so many things people like that I don’t enjoy, and they never seem to care, so I won’t either.

The same day I decided to do this as my Friday post, I went home and watched this video on self-confidence by Jen from A Vintage Vanity. One of her points is “like what you like because you like it.” I was like, what weird timing! I’m going to post on that! Clearly Jen and I think very alike. No, I don’t know her personally. Another case of the internet making you look like a stalker, when really all I’m doing is watching her videos…

Apologies (but not really) for the long introduction. You could have scrolled past it if you just wanted the list. But here it is now!

1. The first thing, which was the inspiration for doing this post at all, is Lana Del Rey. She did her performance on SNL (which I don’t think I ever watched) before I actually heard her music at all, and then everyone started talking about how bad she was because of something about her performance. Can you tell I’m fuzzy on the details there? I am.  I don’t really know what the problem was, whether it was her singing itself, or most likely that she just didn’t deliver the kind of performance that the people watching wanted to see. Whatever the reason, it was so long ago that this one performance really can’t be anyone’s reason not to like her. I hear people all the time, though, saying something along the lines of “She sucks!” Tons of other people love her. My full acceptance was slow. First someone posted Dark Paradise on youtube, which eventually led me to get Born to Die, and then I finally listened to the extended edition, and the other day I went on youtube and listened to a bunch of unreleased songs. Over and over, all day. Some of her songs, I’m not into, and that’s ok. Others, I can’t stop listening to. My favorite right now is Velvet Crowbar, and I highly recommend you listen to it. I also really like her style. She’s like a hodgepodge of vintage from various decades, and I love it. This will probably be the longest entry, and it still doesn’t explain what I like about her music–because I don’t HAVE to explain it. So there.

2. Food time! I hope someone facepalms on this one, because I should not like this. Ready? Here we go… hot pockets. Granted, I haven’t actually had one for almost a year, from what I can remember, and maybe at this point I wouldn’t actually like them. But I keep wanting them. I just really like the broccoli and cheesiness in there. I loved the chicken bacon dijon flavor, because duh. And I liked the breakfast ones, because it’s like having a nice warm egg sandwich, but it only takes two minutes. I am well aware that they basically have no nutritional value at all (maybe a little, but it’s cancelled out by the badness), and I just shouldn’t eat them. Having written that, I’m probably going to go out and buy one soon.

3. Sitcoms. I don’t like all sitcoms, but I like a bunch of them, and have them favorited on hulu so I know when a new episode is available. I am well aware of how much some of them suck, how stupid the plots can be, and how rarely they are actually funny enough to make me laugh. Yet I spend a fair amount of time watching them. Some of my favorites are British sitcoms–which I think we should call Britcoms–like “Miranda” and “Coupling.” I know that Coupling is a lot like Friends, with more sex, and there isn’t really anything else to it. Not to mention that I’ve seen all the episodes multiple times already and can no longer be entertained by a new joke. I don’t care. I still like watching it.

4. I feel like I should stick a movie in here. Here are several: The Pride and Prejudice movie with Keira Knightley should start. I have heard complaints about this movie, although I can’t remember what they were, and I know a lot of people prefer the miniseries. But I haven’t seen the miniseries, and I own the newer version on DVD, and I really, genuinely like it.

Here’s a really good one: Confessions of a Shopaholic. In some ways it’s SO bad, but I still watch it every few months or so, and I have a good time. Judging by my love of Devil Wears Prada and Sex in the City, I think we can safely say that I just like movies that have a lot of clothes in them…

So that’s probably enough for movies. (Sex in the City 2 was one of the worst movies ever made, though. I just need everyone to know how I feel about it, because it really would be embarrassing if you thought I enjoyed that piece of crap. It was so bad I’m not even going to italicize it.)

5. We’re going to go back to music again. This one’s a little weird for me to include, because I don’t listen to this artist with any regularity at all, I don’t own copies of any of her music, but I do actually like some of the songs. Maybe it’s just that they’re catchy, I don’t know. Who is it? Lady Gaga. I couldn’t say what I like in the music itself, but despite them being a little more pop than what fits my taste in general, I’m ok with listening to them if they come on, and I will unabashedly sing along with Bad Romance. I also find her crazy outfits interesting, although I can’t get behind the meat dress, because that’s just disgusting.

I was going to think of a book for the last one, but while I will gag at many books that are absurdly popular, I don’t know of any I like that are particularly disliked, so I had to leave books out. Books are awesome! Read them!

That’s all for Five Things Friday on Saturday. If you would like to participate, post about your own guilty pleasures, or leave them for me in a comment. I’d be interested to know what you like that, for some reason, you don’t really want to talk about. (But please, don’t take it to a creepy place…)

Have a great weekend, folks!