Saturday, April 12, 2014

Cultivating Desire

This one is going to get a little rough. But this blog is part of my therapeutic process, and I need to put this up for my own sake. So quit reading if it’s going to make you unhappy.

I’m coming to realize that as complicated as my mental health issues are, there is one specific problem that if addressed could radically improve my quality of life. My needs and desires do not motivate me to action. This is the case to a genuinely pathological degree; it is a life-threatening condition. Anorexia, dehydration, apnea — “I guess I should breathe,” was a thought that ran through my mind early this morning — there are very real physical risks I face on a regular basis. It took me a long time to recognize this because I’ve become habituated to this kind of self-abuse…

… but then I noticed that the concern the missus expresses over my well-being when she’s out of town included a component of real fear. And my therapist had the same reaction. It was pointed out that when I haven’t had a woman monitoring my food intake, my hundred-and-forty-five pound steady weight was the result of chronic malnutrition. When people ask me, “What do you want?” I almost never respond in an appropriate fashion. I always find a way to defer to someone else. A few months into therapy, my shrink said, “You aren’t motivated by desire, you’re motivated by principle.” I asked the missus, my dad, my closest friends, and they all confirmed that opinion.

But it isn’t principle so much as compulsion. From time to time, I’ll run across someone who will raise a corrective forefinger when I say, “I have to —“ and then they’ll wag it at me and say, “No, you don’t have to. You choose to.”

People who can think that way are incapable of understanding me. Dealing with them is like dealing with someone from another planet. (Are they even people?) I only act when I feel as though my choices have been reduced to necessities. This is a big part of my cycle of extended periods of depressive passivity broken by productive phases of hypomania.

I am fortunate to be achieving an interesting position as a cultural figure. And every success has had its roots in someone else’s desires. People ask me to do stuff and I try to do what I’m told.

Because I try to be a good boy.

But that is not the same as having a drive to succeed. In many ways, I’m still trying to hide from the world.

The missus is out of town now, and is going out of town again. So this stuff has been a subject of discussion. And in the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a few realizations.

One is that I do not feel lonely when I work for other people, while pursuing my own ends makes me feel panicky and abandoned. Not to go into the details, but that comes from a shabby old set of Mommy issues.

The other came after a day of eating no, drinking yes. The next morning, the calm, reasonable voice in my head said, “You do understand that you’re a public concern now, and what you did yesterday was vandalism. That’s not what a good boy does.” I swear, that bastard is starting to play dirty. 

And something big and hopeful has entered the picture. Over the course of this last year, I’ve had three discrete periods of real happiness that lasted for weeks or months. It seems that when I get a certain amount of what I want in life, I’m basically happy. And some of what I want is to be of service to others, and some of it is to feel pride in what I do. Sex, cooking for others, beautiful scenery, exercise, intimate conversation, the praise of knowledgable people, the exercise of mastery in my skills, the rough edge of learning a new skill, proudly displaying myself in public, the option of getting something fresh to read or look at or listen to, going out every once in a while, nice clothes, access to media gadgetry and musical instruments, the company of animals. I know what I want, and I know what’s good for me.

But it just doesn’t motivate me. I can regard any level of physical and emotional discomfort with a certain cool, unsympathetic distance. I am made out of poverty consciousness and self-denial. I am entirely capable of laying down and never moving again.

Which would make me a bad boy. Which is why I’m dependent on the people around me to keep me from simply winding down like a cheap toy. I’m lucky that most people in my life don’t regard this as a burden, and there are enough of ‘em so that nobody feels responsible for the burden.

But I want to change this. I know I’m never going to be conventionally healthy in this sense, but when you’re nuts, it’s important to watch your margins. So I’m going to try guilting myself with the whole, “You are public property,” thing and see how that works.

I strongly suspect that if I become more widely known, the presence of an audience for my work will also give me more impetus to take care of myself. And I am working on developing something resembling real affection for myself. Things are getting better. But they’re still a long way from good.

I’ll go eat something now. At least it will be a step in the right direction.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

How To Be A Literary Writer or Overweening For Beginners

With unconvincing apologies to my friends and teachers in the worlds of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

Once in a while I ask myself the question, "How do you get away with calling yourself a literary writer? And why bother?" The second question is easily answered. Vanity. On some level, for some reason, I regard myself as a special bunny, and I don't have enough enough of an audience to legitimize those feelings. (I hope you're satisfied.) The first is a little more involved. If you look at my ouvre, miniscule as it is, you see wall-to-wall alien torture demons, carrion landscapes, and talking chickens. My next novel will have dinosaurs and spaceships both. And yet no one has ever called me on my shit. How do I manage this grotesque imposture?

Concern yourself primarily with style, theme, character, and the formal elements of prose, relegating plot and incident to support positions.

This is a big one. The real trick is to lack plotting skills early in your career, so you're forced to do other stuff well enough to compensate. But if you work hard enough, you can even fool the actual literati. And talk it up. Don't let people forget you regard 'story' as an awkward necessity.

The down side of this is that when you finally learn to plot, it will make you feel twice as fraudulent -- once for passing yourself off as a writer when you couldn't even tell a goddamned story, and again for transforming yourself from a genuinely interesting minor artist into a drag-ass no-talent commercial hack.

Work visibly outside of genre.

It isn't enough to leave the zap guns out of a piece every once in a while. Make sure you point at your obviously non-genre work, make a little noise, give the impression that it is more characteristic of your inner self than the stuff with the alien invasions and so on. That way when you start dishing out bug-eyed monsters you can do so with a slight elevation of the nose. I spread my hands apologetically -- "I can't stay away from the kitsch, what can you do?"

Here's a twist on the concept -- deliver genre material to a non-genre venue. As the man once asked me, would you rather be a booger in a Dixie cup or hot snot in a champagne glass?

And now the most important part. Nothing will help you if you can't do this.

Say, "I regard myself primarily as a literary writer," with both a straight face and the tiniest, most tasteful hint of physical intimidation.

I never claimed this game was for everyone.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Spoiler Alert: Plot of Wonder Woman Movie Revealed!

Oh, it's Wonder Woman all right. You just can't see the Golden Lasso.

You may or may not know this about me, but I first wrote professionally for an animated movie review show. There was another animated movie review show with a similar underworld-meets-Siskel-and-Ebert schtick going around, and we had contrasting approaches to the movie review process. One show would watch the movies, write the scripts, record the sound, animate the show, and then review the movie six months after it came out when nobody cared. The other show would make use of shadowy media contacts and gossip columns and so on, prejudicially guess at what the movie was going to be like, usually with some measure of juvenile spite, and then release the review slightly in advance of the movie so as to take advantage of the collateral publicity, which, along with the employment practices, made it an amazingly amoral job. I had the chance to write with a number of respectable comedians, but you notice how I don’t name them or the show?

Anyway, I stand by the reviews I wrote. Seriously, the way movies are made? If you can’t tell pretty much what you’re getting six months in advance, people haven’t been doing their jobs.

So I have maintained, as they say, shadowy media contacts. And in the public interest, I am going to let you in on a little secret. I have some pals who will be salivating over this information.

I know the storyline of the upcoming Wonder Woman movie.

And I am going to take a chance and share it with you.

The basic origin story, what with old Steve Trevor crashing on Amazon Island and all that, takes place over the opening credits. The actual story starts with Steve and Diana on their first date. Steve is telling Diana – who is Wonder Woman, I think it’s Diana Prince or Price or something, but when she’s dressed in real lady clothes she’s Diana – he’s telling her how much he loves planes, and how he loved planes so much when he was a kid it turned him into a pilot. He’s in love with planes so much it sounds like a medical condition, which turns out to be the case.

So Diana says, “I’ve got a plane!”

Steve Trevor says, “Can I see it?”

And Diana says, “No, it’s invisible,” and unconsciously folds her butter knife. There is sweat on her forehead so you can tell she’s nervous.

Steve says, “Well, can I touch it then?”

Diana gulps visibly, and says, “You can’t because I brought it from Amazon Island and it’s a girl plane so if a boy touches it, it goes away.”

And Steve goes, “Aw, man. Well, can I see you fly it?”

Diana gulps and sweats and just balls her butter knife up like it was aluminum foil. “Sure!” she says. “I’ll show you my invisible plane next Friday!” And if the actress does her job, you can tell she gets calm all of a sudden. “Probably next Friday, if my plane’s still okay. If it isn’t, I might have to do it later.”

And now Steve is the one that’s worried. He says, “I really hope your plane’s okay. If a plane gets hurt, it makes me feel the way a normal person feels if a pony gets hurt, and the pills the doctor gave me for it totally, utterly, and completely kill my sex drive so I don’t take them all the time and I like you so much I haven’t been taking them. Honest, I like you a whole lot, but I just don’t know what my doctor will prescribe if anything happens to that plane.”

What a pickle!

Wonder Woman calls up her friend Etta Candy and asks for advice. Etta says, “I’m a sidekick so I don’t know much about boys. If Steve has the initials L.L. you should ask Batman for advice, but otherwise Superman is the romance expert.”

Cut to Antarctica, which is the continent of romance because the cold encourages snuggling. We are at the Fortress of Solitude, so-named to get a reaction out of Lois Lane. (This isn’t in the movie, I just know a lot of Superman stuff.) Superman and Wonder Woman are standing outside in the wind and snow screaming at each other in their supervoices while wearing their skimpy, revealing uniforms. 

“… and now he thinks I’ve got an invisible plane,” Wonder Woman says. Screams, actually. According to my friend they show ice cracking and stuff like that whenever they say anything, and their mouths are open really wide the whole time. “Oh, Superman, what am I going to do?”

“That’s quite a pickle,” Superman hollers. “But if you’re willing to base a lifelong commitment to another person on a falsehood, I think I can see a basis to proceed.”

Wonder Woman bellows, “Okay, I can do that! Anything but the truth!”

Superman embraces her. Even though they are possessed of hypersexualized bodies and the only thing between them are two layers of Spandex and a nasty wind-chill factor, it is totally platonic. Superman puts his lips to Wonder Woman’s ear, and whispers – screams, actually – “Welcome to the life of the lie!” You can tell it’s a real moment for both of them.

Then Superman teaches Wonder Woman to fly in a montage. It’s a serious Antarctic helicopter shot festival that seems to go on forever. At one point it looks like she’s going to give up, but not on Superman’s watch! Wonder Woman says, “Why are you making me do this?” but he just keeps driving her on with his relentless Kryptonian will.

Finally, just as she starts tentatively lifting off and hovering over the snowdrifts, Superman says, “Not like that.” And he squats as though he’s sitting in an invisible chair, and reaches out his hands as though adjusting invisible controls, and then he lifts off!

He’s flying an invisible plane!

You can see the dawning comprehension and relief in Wonder Woman’s face. She’s not in a pickle. Etta was right, as usual. No wonder they call him Superman!

So cut to Toronto or wherever it is that Steve Trevor lives. I think it’s supposed to be New York and my friend said they were filming in Toronto. That stuff always mixes me up. Anyway, it’s outside in a park with tall buildings, and there’s a big field, and Steve Trevor is looking up at the sky.

There’s a speck in the distance, and it gets closer and closer, and you can see it’s the butt and legs of a woman in a Wonder Woman swimsuit and go-go boots, and when she gets close enough it turns out that it is Wonder Woman and it’s not a swimsuit, it’s her uniform. She cruises in and hovers about fifteen feet off the ground, and then pretends to walk down a flight of invisible stairs. You can tell she’s been practicing, but there’s an endearingly awkward quality to her motions that will charm you, the viewer, or so I am told. When she gets to the bottom, she waves at the sky, and pretends to watch as something lifts and flies away.

Then Wonder Woman walks over to Steve Trevor, ready to lie like her pants – which she is not wearing – are on fire. She says to him, “My plane lives in the sky.”

And he melts. He just melts. “Wow,” he says. “I loved you from the moment I laid eyes on you, but until just now I never knew how it felt to love a woman with the coolest plane in the world when you’ve got a condition like mine. I am so glad I’m not on my pills.”

And they kiss. The End!

In the credits you see Etta Candy in a warehouse working a forklift. And on the forklift is a huge yellow egg with a prehensile Fu Manchu mustache. He’s a Wonder Woman villain from the comics, and his name is so racist I won’t type it and so obvious I don’t have to. She moves him, as he protests in a cringe-inducing accent, through the warehouse, eventually setting him down in an open space. After the credits, she gets a hatchet and cracks him open as if he were an ostrich egg, working her way around the top as the pitch of terror in his screams builds unbearably.

I promised I wouldn’t tell you what’s in the racist caricature, but believe me. It’ll be worth the ticket all by itself. Superhero movies are the best.

(Update -- since they aren't going to use this script, I can reveal that it was intended to be the introduction to a Marvel/DC crossover, and the creepy egg dude turned out to be harboring a tiny little MODOK. Damned shame -- I'll miss this movie the way I miss the John Sayles Jurassic Park sequel.)