A Crisis Point

This past weekend I went with some friends—Me, Myself, and I—to see Spider-Man: Homecoming. Thoroughly loved it.

There’s a scene in it where the hero, Peter Parker, reaches a crisis. That’s not exactly a spoiler. If you know the hero’s journey model, you know that a hero usually goes through a crisis before the end of the story. I have to quote a line here from the movie in order for the point I wish to make in this post to make sense. So, if you don’t want spoilers of any kind, stop reading at the bold and start back up again at the next bold point.

⭐ SPOILERS!!! ⭐

After Peter messes up so badly that he has to get help from Iron Man, Iron Man decides to take back the suit he had given Spider-Man to use while fighting crime. Peter declares, “I am nothing without this suit.” The sign of someone in crisis.

⭐ END SPOILERS!!! ⭐

In The Writer’s Journey—Christopher Vogler’s look at mythic structure as discussed in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces—Vogler talked about the ordeal or crisis a hero faces. This is part of the hero’s rebirth.

A crisis is defined by Webster’s as “the point in a story or drama at which hostile forces are in the tensest state of opposition.” We also speak of a crisis in an illness: a point, perhaps a high spike of fever, after which the patient either gets worse or begins to recover. The message: Sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better. An Ordeal crisis, however frightening to the hero, is sometimes the only way to recovery or victory. (Vogler 161)

I teared up at the scene from Spider-Man that I mentioned earlier, because it hit close to home. For most of my life, I’ve been writing stories and other things. But lately, I haven’t been able to write much at all. Anything I attempted seemed strained. Even writing a blog post has been difficult. Most of my friends are busy with their books. But I got nothin’. Some of this is due to the steadily mounting rejections I’ve received for my fiction books or criticism I’ve received for nonfiction work. But to be honest, it’s mostly due to self-doubt—feeling like a failure. So, I freeze up every time I think of writing anything—even this post, which took twice as long as posts usually take.

“I’m nothing without writing,” I found myself declaring. I had reached a crisis.

I knew I had two choices: (1) to believe that declaration and continue to go on a downward spiral; (2) to get up again and find out what’s really true about myself.

After some soul searching, I got up. Instead of writing, I’ve been doing other things. Like making miniature rooms out of paper and fabric. (Um, I’ve always been a little quirky.) Like taking photographs of flowers. Like crocheting. Like hanging out with friends. Like watching great movies. Like babysitting. Like taking walks and enjoying the wind on my face.

    

I think you already know by now that what I’d believed about being nothing without writing wasn’t true. I’m more than what I do or don’t do. I’m still who I am—me, warts and all. Life will go on, whether I put pen to paper ever again or not.

I’m reminded of the phoenix and how it had to die in order to be reborn. This season of my life has been a kind of death and rebirth. Old as I am, I still needed to be reborn; still needed to see life anew.

Who am I? I’m L. Marie. Daughter. Sister. Friend. And right now, that’s enough.

Is it me, or do you see a face in this tree, like a person saying, “Ooo”?

Vogler, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey. Studio City, CA: Michael Wiese Productions, 1998.

Spider-Man: Homecoming movie poster from heyuguys.com. Phoenix image from clker.com. Photos by L. Marie.

Getting Back to Your Roots

IMG_3329¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo! Or at least it is on the day I’m writing this post. So, I hope by the time you read this, that you had a good one.

If you follow this blog, you know I don’t usually post more than once a week, except on special occasions. So the fact that you’re here means you want to know who won the time travel series by Zetta Elliott. (Go here, if you’re wondering what I’m talking about. Though I mentioned other giveaways at the end of the interview, due to unforeseen circumstances, those will take place at another time. But I didn’t want to delay this giveaway until then.)

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Before I get to the giveaway, I want to talk about something I’ve been thinking about lately: roots. Though I chose the photo at the beginning of this post, it is not a hint that I plan to dye my hair, though I consider doing so from time to time. And getting back to your roots is not an allusion to the Elder Scrolls videogame series or to this:

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I’m actually talking about artistic, spiritual, or cultural roots—whatever it is that takes you back what’s important, especially if it reminds you of who you are or what you love.

I mentioned in a previous blog that writing had become frustrating. It involved lots of spinning wheels and long sessions of staring at the computer screen, followed by a sigh and a retreat to YouTube to watch a video (or seven). So I decided to return to my roots by reading the book that inspired me when I was eight years old. Here it is.

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I’ve mentioned this book a number of times on this blog. Rereading this book reminds me of the kind of story I loved as a kid and still gravitate toward. But if I were to parse this further, I would add that I love the hero’s journey model, which Joseph Campbell discussed in The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

I’ve noticed that some writers (some, not all) nowadays have steered away from that model, deeming it old-fashioned in an age where antiheroes rule. But Meg Murry’s quest to find her dad never gets old to me. She reminds me that girls can be heroes. (Not that I doubted that truth. 🙂 ) I love her family dynamics, and find her belief that she’s nothing special very relatable. I felt that way as a kid. Honestly, I feel that way as an adult sometimes. The fact that her opponent is very powerful—the ultimate evil, actually—while Meg has no discernible power (that she knows of)—makes her an unlikely hero. It also adds high stakes to her journey. Her story inspires me to up my game with my heroine’s story.

The old saying, “You can’t go home again” isn’t always true. Sometimes you need to. Remember what Mufasa in The Lion King told his son Simba? Need a reminder?

What are your roots? Maybe for you those roots are your cultural heritage—a reminder of your family history and how it has shaped your life. Or maybe it is a return to a writing style you’ve loved, but let it go for some reason. Do you think maybe it’s time you returned?

While you think about that, I’ll move on to the winner of A Wish After Midnight and The Door at the Crossroads.

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The winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Laura Sibson!

Congrats, Laura! 🙂 Please comment below to confirm.

Thank you to all who commented.

Hair photo from beautyskincarenatural.blogspot.com. A Wrinkle in Time covers from Goodreads.

The (Free)Play’s the Thing

One deadbeat musician boyfriend won’t commit. His scientist girlfriend wonders whether to dump him or plant watermelons. Two happy couples engage with their delightful, Pat-a-Cake-obsessed toddlers. Meanwhile, two dogs race about digging up money. Two cats do the same while remaining aloof from their owners, at least until a hug is offered. Another scientist and his artist wife contemplate adding a child to their family. But where should the child sleep? In the shrine area where the samurai mannequin is displayed? Meanwhile, a couple who just met the other day are now dating. Though he’s a scientist and she’s a real estate manager, they have the same work starting time, so that’s an advantage. But the musician has been showing up at the home of the real estate manager, whispering sweet promises in her ear. She’s tempted to listen. My suggestion? She should plant potatoes or watermelons.

Watermelons

1420What on earth am I going on about? The Sims™ FreePlay. (Sorry, Hamlet fans. The title is all you’re getting of Shakespeare’s play. And you hoped this blog was a class act. Don’t worry. There is a method to the madness. Um, okay yeah that would be another Hamlet quote.) You probably recognized the scenarios above if you have the game on your phone or tablet. You have to keep your sims (the people who populate the game) happy and inspired by fulfilling their needs (food, sleep, social, bladder, etc.). You provide housing for them, jobs, toilets, and potential dates. They earn money (simoleons) by working or gardening. Along the way, you go on quests to gain the ability to marry, have a baby, turn said baby into a toddler, acquire horses, etc.

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I love the toddler aspect, since my job involves writing preschool and kindergarten curriculum. Also I am around a lot of toddlers. In fact, the other day, a little boy who will be three soon came up to me and said, “Ima draw a picture for you.” (His exact words.) I seldom say no when a toddler offers to do something for me. Here is the picture he drew:

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So sweet. But I digress. The actions in Sims FreePlay are done in real time (20 minutes means 20 actual minutes), unless you use a suggested number of life points to speed things up. Playing the game has been a lesson for me on what makes a story compelling versus what makes a story seem rote.

Characters. As I mentioned earlier, the object of Sims FreePlay is to meet all of your sims’ needs. But in a novel, a character whose every need is easily met isn’t the most interesting character to read about. Much of life involves conflict, which often helps shape character. Conflict makes a story compelling.

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Relationships are important in the sims’ lives as they are in real life. The decision to allow your sims to date is made by the click of a button: Be Romantic. Keep clicking that button and two sims will eventually have a status change to Dating. It’s that simple. So chemistry has no part to play in dating. And since the characters can date any of the other characters, there’s no mystery. (You can also click Be Nice if you want two sims to be friends.) And even the “tension” of someone who refuses to marry someone else boils down to the player’s refusal to pony up the life points for a sim to buy a decent ring.

In a novel, friendship and dating need more friction and chemistry to keep readers engaged. Also, if all of the characters could date any of the other characters in the story, where’s the tension in that?

Quests. Many compelling stories, like those following the hero’s journey, involve characters on quests. These quests, fraught with dangerous thresholds, make us turn pages. But in the Sims FreePlay, some of the thresholds involve actions like standing at a stove baking a birthday cake for 24 real-time hours or talking to a statue in a park for 24 hours (a one-sided conversation for the most part). I don’t know about you, but neither action seems exciting, especially when you think about reading a scene like this in a book. This is when a summary would come in handy. Remember what I mentioned about life points and how using them truncates time? Summarizing does this in a way. It helps you avoid boring someone with a tedious scene. Keeping a balance between scene and summary is tricky.

I’m sure I don’t really have to tell you how to make a book compelling. You’re undoubtedly hard at work doing just that. And hard work is the key isn’t it? Crafting a compelling story is hard work that goes well beyond a mere push of a button.

Sims images from megagames.com, sims.wikia.com, and at the EA Games website. Watermelons from commons.wikimedia.org. Hamlet cover from Goodreads.

Trained to Use the Light

I love the concept of the hero (male or female) and monomyth—the hero’s journey. Joseph Campbell aficionados will recognize his stamp, thanks to his seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I tend to gravitate to a work with a clearly defined hero on a mission. And Samurai Jack is a hero on a mission.

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I’m too sexy for my shirt . . .

Who is he? The title character of Samurai Jack, an animated show created by Genndy Tartakovsky, which ran from 2001—2004 on Cartoon Network. Jack has an archenemy: Aku, the spirit of evil who continually sends assassins to murder Jack. Why? Jack has the only weapon in the world that can defeat Aku: a mystical sword. And Jack’s mission is to destroy Aku.

Okay, I see you rolling your eyes, so let me get to the point of this post. One of my favorite episodes of Samurai Jack, and one I saw again recently, is “Samurai Versus Ninja” (#4.1), a 2003 episode written by Bryan Andrews and Brian Larsen. I can’t avoid spoilers, sorry. In the episode in question, a desperate Aku sends a highly skilled ninja to kill Jack. For much of the episode, the ninja remains hidden in the shadows, watching Jack kick butt. To lure Jack into battle, the ninja kidnaps a child. When Jack rescues the child, he explains what he knows about the ninja:

Shinobi. Warrior of the night. Trained to use the darkness of the shadow. I know your arts as well. But I have been trained to use the light. (IMDb)

I love that quote! It makes sense in Jack’s case, since he’s the hero out to help those in need. I love the idea of a warrior trained to use light, rather than darkness. It shows the power of good, rather than the perceived weakness of it.

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Clash of the titans: Jack versus the Ninja

I wrote a post before about how annoyed I get when heroes are portrayed as weaker than, and certainly less interesting than, villains. I realize I’m in the minority on that. After all, I keep reading about or hearing about actors who covet the villain roles in movies and on television because the roles are “juicier.” But I resonate with Jack’s methodology.

When darkness is total, light needs to be powerful enough to pierce through it. A weak light can’t do anything for you, except show you the cliff you’re about to fall from. But a strong light can show you the cliff’s edge before you reach it.

You know what? I get the fact that the world is messed up and times are hard. I get the fact that people suffer. I could tell you a story or two of suffering. But I’ve been trained to use the light as well—to use hope and encouragement even when I’m in the most need of both.

So yeah, I cheered when Jack handed the ninja his butt served on a platter. (Not literally. But it’s a more interesting way of saying “Jack beat the ninja.”) Jack fought against an extremely difficult opponent—a fight without shortcuts. He got knocked down, but got back up each time.

As I consider that fight, I can’t help thinking about Gandalf and Saruman from The Lord of the Rings. Gandalf was the “servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor.” If that’s not a description of someone trained to use the light, I don’t know what is. Saruman the White, the head of the White Council, was supposedly on the side of good. But his actions proved otherwise. He delved too “deep in the enemy’s council” and lost his effectiveness as a warrior of the light. When Gandalf and Saruman fought in Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf lost at first. But ultimately, Saruman was the biggest loser.

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Grumpy old men? Nope. Gandalf and Saruman chillin’

In times when darkness seems to win, we could use all the light warriors we can get. Warriors who know the struggle and the costs of the battle. Warriors who can say, “This is how you win it” without compromising or changing sides. I can’t help thinking of people like Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, or others today who have suffered greatly, yet maintain their humor and verve—like Maria, that sassy Brick House Chick many of us know and love.

How about you? What are you trained to use? How has that helped you fight the good fight?

Samurai Jack images from images1.wikia.nocookie.net and sharetv.com.