Tracking change in one’s self can be a bit of a stumbling block at times. How can I know when I’ve underwent a change? Is there any sort of clear sign that I’ve changed directions, or is it much more subtle that one day I wake up to find myself unsure of many of the ideas and things that I held dear previously? This is something that I’ve been grappling with on both a personal and professional level of late.
Personally because of the birth of my two boys, professionally because personal growth is linked directly with growth and change as a writer. Not only have I focused on some of the holes in my writing, but story concepts and what I tend to focus and and treat as important has changed drastically. This year has been quite a year for a lot of this change considering that it’s an election year and perhaps one of the oddest, most contentious that I’ve seen in my life thus far.
Breaking things down to simply “liberal” or “conservative” feels crass to me, because there’s so much more to life than either A or B, and there always has been. When it comes down to it, do I favor one side? Absolutely, but this election in particular feels a lot less about that binary choice and instead an ideological landmine. The one side of the coin represents the resurgence in neoliberalism, which may indeed have some merits and shared concepts with the core of liberalism, but a lot of deviance from the core tenants and things that I surely don’t support. The other represents a whole plethora of things which is almost difficult to unwrap at times.
Voting for one side means letting corporations continue to reign supreme in this the age of Late Capitalism, but it also means continuing important social services, the rights of women, people of color, LGBTQA+ people, religious folk outside of Christians or Jews and many, many other things. On the other hand, it also means that the war machine will have no end in sight and siding with what has proven itself unable to defend off the claims of being “crooked” because, at their core, they are simply working a system that is broken much like many before them, but they know that most of it is shitty.
I can’t even fathom diving into everything about Donald Trump. No, not all Trump supporters are overall-clad hillbillies looking to lynch anyone different from them while waving the Confederate flag and blasting off their guns. At the same time someone like Trump has an appeal to people who feel marginalized and underrepresented, sick of things getting worse (at least for their perception) and who yearn for the days of old, where America was a nation of producers and not simply consumers and servicepeople. It’s the people who watch South Park and see the P.C. Principal and say, “Yeah! Why can’t I say what I want?” and entirely do so without irony or empathy towards other human beings. It’s the people who may not be overtly racist, bigoted or xenophobic, but can’t understand how life is for people other than themselves. We all live in the same country, right? We all have the same opportunities and live under the same laws, right?
At least to me, those are very, very flawed lines of thought and ignore the hardships that people outside of the white, middle class have experienced. If America is to be a great place, it needs to be a place of understanding and opportunity, even if it means that us white guys might find ourselves making concessions and that life might be a bit more difficult. No, I don’t have the same boundless opportunities that my grandfather or even my father had and no, my college education didn’t give me a step up over anyone (even though it was drilled in my head that it would) and that’s okay. The reality is that there are people that are just as smart, driven and talented as myself out there who haven’t been given as fair of a shake as I have; women, people of color, people of different religions or sexual orientation and that’s a bummer.
So while you might be wondering how this diatribe on modern politics links up with my own personal and professional growth, I’m getting there. Like I said before, I’ve got two kids to worry about now and the world is a weird place, which has caused me to do a lot of self-reflection. Part of caring for kids is watching TV. As much as most of us who have kids would like to pretend otherwise, feedings are tedious and not that interesting affairs that involve sitting in one place, holding a bottle and running through mechanical motions. There’s also the fact that after they go to sleep the idea of just how daunting and exhausting the whole thing is creeps up on my subconscious. After re-discovering the soundtrack to the show Cowboy Bebop I decided to repurchase the show in a digital, HD format and watch it again. That show meant a lot to me at one point in my life (or perhaps it was just the soundtrack) and I was wondering if it held up.
Now wait, before you decide that I’m the worst and that Cowboy Bebop was awesome, hear me out. The whole show is essentially based on the whole idea of the lonesome, stoic hero and his journey of self-discovery, badassdom and his feeeeeeelings. The thing is, in retrospect, it’s not all-that deep and was just a kind of fun show about kung fu, spaceships, guns and dysfunctional people in ridiculous situations. A character like Spike may have appealed to a younger me, a loner me who felt disenfranchised and lost in the world, but for adult me it feels so alien. I have a family now, I have concerns beyond being some sort of complicated man who broods and tries to appear deeper than I really am. The episode where Spike confronts Vicious in the church at one point felt meaningful to me, now it just seemed comical.
But that song, right? At least I still have Yoko Kanno, I guess.
This kind of reflection can be a bummer, but also enlightening. I’ve been working on diversifying a lot of what I write and trying to not only appeal to broader audiences, but to tell more interesting stories. The book that I’m working on was fun, but sort of derivative. That was kind of the point, but really, it was another story about another loner of a man living in a cruel world with a bone to pick. If Max Rockatansky could take a backseat to Imperator Furiosa to break the doldrums of the silent, cool hero, I could do that in my work as well. That meant taking a lead character that in a lot of ways was built off of the archetype of the Clint Eastwood/Mad Max mold, and shifting focus away from him.
I began the story over 12 years ago and picked it up as a bit of a vacation from my other books, then got wrapped up in it. Along the way I decided to add other characters to share the stage with their point-of-view, but he was still very much the focal point. That all changed when one day I was sitting there, staring at a revision of one of his chapters and said “Why am I focused on him at all?” The truth was, I had no idea. My favorite character wasn’t some heroic badass, it was the female engineer who had a complicated relationship with a rather simple, brutal idiot of a man.
So I decided to scrap his chapters, but keep him as a driving force of the action. He still exists, his badass fights and one-liners are still there, but seen through a different character’s perspective. So while he might be pushing the plot along, the story has morphed from a tale of sordid revenge and nihilistic views on humanity to the strength of a few people to survive the worst of conditions in a cruel, unforgiving world. The thing is, I enjoy this so much more and it has been a paradigm shift of my work of late.
For years the whole male power fantasy has been something for me to deride, but now I’ve finally found a way to write action without getting lost in those concepts. It also shows in what I consume now when it comes to media and art. Books like Daniel Abraham’s “Dagger and Coin” series have become far more interesting to me than the stuff that I used to read. I mean, it’s a book series that yes, features a brooding merc of a man with a complicated past who does heroic stuff, but it’s not his story, instead it’s the story of Cithrin, an orphan girl who was adopted by a banker at a young age who found her own path in a war-torn world through cunning over violence. It’s also very much about a chubby nerd who has a power fantasy, gets that power, but only to those looking from the outside, with him a prisoner in his own sad life and the pawn of the men who stood behind him in the shadows.
That’s the kind of stuff that we need more of, not the brooding hero with the murdered wife and kid being lost in the world. We’ve heard that story before and while it might resonate with a younger male, there’s enough of that for them already.
In a way, it’s very similar to why the new Ghostbusters movie wasn’t some awful affront to good taste that ruined childhoods. In fact, it was a fun movie that poked fun at itself and took a goofy concept that people grew up loving and put its own stamp on it. Sure, it was a remake/reboot in a world with too many of them, but if that movie alone has destroyed your childhood you are far more fragile than the people you jab at for being “SJWs” or whatever.
As much as I love Blade Runner, it was a simplified, overstylized adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep with a ton of the meat of the story cut out in lieu of beautiful, futuristic wide shots and for Harrison Ford to brood. I, Robot became a Will Smith summer blockbuster with zero real understanding of Asimov’s laws of robotics or what made his stories compelling. What I’m saying is; get over it, you aren’t special.
I’m not saying that I am, either, I’m just a guy that chooses to write about it all.