The size of a story

 

Stories are funny creatures. They can live in a single picture, or in a book several inches thick, and they are no less powerful for their brevity or length if told well. A picture is worth a thousand words, we’re told… Some are worth more than that. But we don’t need a thousand words to tell a story.

What I quite love are stories inside music videos, believe it or not. Music videos are an art form in their own right, and they are perfectly capable of telling beautiful, strange, touching stories. The most memorable ones are usually ones that linger on the strength of the story they tell. We have a deeper connection to narratives, far more than music on its own.

One of the greatest hits of the 80s: A-Ha, Take On Me. It was also an artistic accomplishment at the time, due to the heavy use of rotoscoping.

Now here’s something unusual: Snow Patrol, Take Back the City. This isn’t actually the official music video for the song. It’s the winner of a competition to make a music video for the song. I particularly love it because it’s not just telling the story of some guy’s night, it’s also telling the story of the city itself.

And this is WALK THE MOON, with Shut up and Dance. This has so many 80s callbacks that I can’t help loving it as is, but it’s also telling a weird, trippy little story all on its own, and having so much fun doing it. You just have to appreciate that kind of artistry.

I love music that makes me feel happy. Hope you’re all going into a good weekend, and you have music that makes you happy too.

//shay

All about the story

Was Mike Brown an unarmed, innocent man, killed by an evil racist cop?

Or was he a vicious, dangerous criminal who had to be taken out by the police officer he attacked?

Words are power, as people like to say, but I keep reading about Michael Brown and Eric Garner and the many, many other black people who have come into contact with the police and died as a result, and it’s impressed on me again and again: it’s all about the story. Everyone is trying to control the story.

Narrative tells the world what it was, what it is, what it should be, and what it can be. The ability to spin narrative is the closest thing to a true superpower that exists, especially when the narrative is someone else’s story.

So… now we have duelling narratives. Which one should you throw your weight behind? For me, the answer is actually very simple.

It’s about whether these people – men and women of color – deserved to die. Whether it was inevitable that they die.

The police spin a narrative of fearful officers facing dangerous, desperate individuals; regretful split second decisions; if only this, if only that. Best judgment of the situation at hand. Thought he had a gun. Thugs vs. cops. The story theme veers between ‘deserved to die’, and ‘unfortunate but necessary’.

The protestors spin a narrative of ordinary, imperfect people going about their lives and being targeted by trigger-happy racists with guns. Judgment heavily influenced by bias. Cops are dangerous to black people. Didn’t deserve to die.

I keep falling on the side of the protestors, for one simple reason: the first narrative means dehumanization. I cannot deal with that. I can’t support it. The very instant a narrative involves this thread of dehumanization, of less than, of reducing a person to a thing, is the instant that I am out and I am not coming back. For better or worse, even the greatest monsters among us are human, and to take a life – no one, no one, should do that lightly. Dehumanization makes killing easy. Such a thing is evil, unrelentingly, unrepentantly evil.

It breaks my heart that these pundits on the news – these people, who shape the story as it is told by their viewers – use words that turn Michael Brown and Eric Garner into things, into less-than. Unworthy. “Not like us”. Not fully human.

Gods, let us scream this if nothing else – THEY HAVE A NAME. THEY WERE MEN. THEY LIVED AS WE DO. THEY WERE HUMAN. And in each case their lives were ended because someone thought they were not.

Weep for that loss, and for what it says about all of us.

//shay

A Novel in the works

Ideas, I have them.

And I have to restart somewhere, my friends. Going slightly mad takes its toll on a body. Coming out of it is going to be a longer process than I expected.

So here is the beginning, and I will see where this idea takes me: I will turn Kathy’s World into a novel. It will be romance novel filled with sex, because that’s just how I roll, but it will be a novel nonetheless – longer than anything I’ve ever written for this hidden life I like to live.

And I am going to write it on my phone. On the bus. On my daily commute.

Why? Because I can. Because I take the moments when I can write anywhere they are available to me. Even this post is being written in a bathroom, before I go back to my day job. I will write this whole thing on a device no bigger than my hand.

If I can write a book on this little thing, I can write anywhere and on anything. And that means I am still a writer, in my heart. That’s the test, my friends. Can I be a writer with only the most basic tools?

We shall have to see.

//shay

Once upon a time

There was a girl. She was passably pretty, and her parents and aunts and uncles loved her very much. They gave her nice clothes, and makeup, and she was kept safe and happy, and nothing much was demanded of her.

But though she liked feeling pretty, the girl was dissatisfied. She always had to be pretty, even when she felt ugly, because she didn’t want to disappoint her parents. She always had to live up to their expectations. It tired her, this mask of prettiness.

So the girl decided to give up the nice clothes and makeup, and she chose to be adventurous and strong instead. Her parents were confused, but soon they came around, and she was called a tomboy. They bought her new clothes, and camping gear, and all her pretty dresses were put away. And for a while, the girl was content.

But though the girl liked being strong and adventurous, she became dissatisfied. She always had to be strong, even when she felt tired or weak, because she didn’t want to be a burden to anyone. So much was expected of her, while she wore this new mask of adventurousness. It tired her.

And so she was caught between two faces. Sometimes she wanted to be pretty and loved. Sometimes she wanted to climb mountains and change the world. And the world told her that she could not be both, and there was no place for her unless she chose which she wanted to be. Her parents did not really understand her dilemma. Her teachers encouraged her to choose. Her friends already made their choice.

And the girl said, “I am everything. I am nothing. And I will wear any mask I please, when it pleases me.”

And so the girl moved on, and collected dozens of faces for all occasions, and her parents thought her very strange. But they came to accept her oddity. And slowly, they began to understand why she did not chose: because the true self is only revealed by the things that do not change, when we wear more than one mask.

The end.

I got a review!

A review! A bunch of words, all for me! And it’s a 2-star!

There’s always a sting, if your work isn’t received with glowing praise, but it fades quickly, now. To be honest, I like all reviews I get, all responses, all comments. I have a lot of love for anyone kind enough to let me know how they felt about something I wrote.

Once I’ve had a few minutes to absorb the sting, it turns into a kind of catharsis. A review is an opinion, from one stranger to another. It should cause reflection, and consideration, and ultimately understanding. What does it teach me? What do they really mean?

How can I use this to be a better writer?

It’s not enough to just be pragmatic about it, to shrug your shoulders and say ‘Well, everyone gets negative reviews.’ No! Bad writer! No cookie for you! You will LEARN, dammit, from what your reader has told you. And you should treasure this kind of feedback, because it’s more likely to be honest than the good stuff.

More than that, it keeps me grounded. There is a danger, always, of a writer becoming more ego than talent, and it bothers me that I could become that. But a bad review forces me to be humble, and tells me that I am not as good as I think I am. That I have room for improvement.

That really, I shouldn’t have rushed that story.

Oh well… it’s done, published, and I’ve moved on. Always look forward, not back, and never, ever rewrite once it’s been made public.

In other news, I’ve decided to pull my stuff out of Kindle Select. I want to publish on Smashwords, and post the stories here for free as epubs or something. That way, I can make them free all the time if I want.

//shay