Do It Yourself: Master of Fine Arts (DIY MFA)

 

I’ve always dreaded English classes, especially the writing part. The writing prompts always intimidated me. There was no right answer. Math and science made me relaxed, because there was an answer always. Not knowing what the teacher wanted was difficult. That grew into a strong dislike of writing and thoughts of inferiority in English.

 

One writing prompt I still remember was Who is someone you look up to? I had no idea how to answer that question. I’d never really thought of anyone that way. What could I say? Help!

 

I made up something to answer the question. I was always good at making up something. I thought about fictional characters that would fit the bill. That probably wasn’t the intention of the prompt, but it could work. I choose Superman. He had ultimate power but chose not to use it. It was flimsy, and I was terrified of doing it wrong. A standardized writing test was basically paint by numbers, and it was a struggle.

 

I should’ve taken a more difficult English class sooner to work through the kinks. I did well in English, but everything was a struggle, unlike the coasting I did in everything else. In the last three years of high school, I took difficult English classes for the first time. High-performance English classes. Doing something difficult or going through the crucible forced me to improve in ways I’d never thought possible. I worked harder at school than I’d ever had to before. The prompt anxiety went away when the teachers allowed us to pick our own topics.

 

I never had to take English classes after that. Now, I need to work on the less glamorous aspects of the craft. Things like story structure, plot choice, and becoming more familiar to the average reader. What’s the way to do that, if you’re self-taught? The DIY MFA.

 

ninja writers mfa

I ran into this great post on Ninja Writers about just that. Actually, that got me onto this. The plan is simple. Read a book on writing once a month, read one fiction book a week, write a short story a week, get feedback, and learn about querying. I added that last one.

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Everything was already coming together. I’d recently found a list from Penguin Random House of the best books on writing. Through The New York Book Editors blog, I found a class on querying. I had already built a list of fiction books to read. Then I was brainstorming story ideas. Perfect for short story prompts. I’ll give the stories out to friends and family for feedback.

Query

Then there’s the motivation to even start this. One of my friends recently turned her whole life upside down to take an MA in writing for children. That involved a move halfway around the world. She’s an amazing person. Check it out her author’s site.

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I’ve started the reading. Some time those story ideas are going up. I’ll post the short stories when I start that.

 

Come back for another post in two weeks.

 

GK

Conspiracies and Everything I Missed in High School

What can I say about State of Play? Thriller with not one but a few twists. Unbelievable cast from Robin Wright of House of Cards, Russell Crowe, Helen Miren, and Rachel McAdams. The character of Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) felt like the most relatable character to me, the rookie reporter with raw talent, lacking finesse. Very similar to how I see myself. Not much to say without ruining the movie.

 

state-of-play

Paper Towns is a movie about finding love again after losing this person, based on the John Green novel of the same name. This galvanized a thought process continual through watching a series of different high school movies. I missed so much. The majority of my high school and middle school experience was the focus on one friendship above all others. I thought we were good friends but looking back, I was somewhere well beyond the fourth tier. I was anti-social and closed off.

 

I missed out on having a great friendship with quite a few other people by that single-minded focus. I have friends now that want me around and actually talk to me. My friend through school didn’t share anything of value for so many years, and I stuck around like a fool. The total opposite of this story. If I had been a little bit more social, my life would have been so much better. In middle school, I shared the most during a group discussion in health class about psychological versus physical love. Ironically, the person I shared the most with was this basketball player named K-something, a frequent rider in the elevator. We weren’t even friends. Can’t remember the last name or even find this person.

 

My school experience sucked because of my own making and the distancing my difference of a genetic origin allowed. I regret this more than anything. Paper Towns reminded me how much I missed. The excuses and rationalizations could fill a book: thinking with half a brain from near starvation, being too gullible, getting hurt too easily, forming attachment a little too fast, being too uncomfortable around girls, too accepting of the ideas others had for me, and balking too much at good suggestions. Anyway, thank you for listening. Paper Towns is a great movie.

papertowns

 

GK

 

Sucker Punch, Behind the Action.

(This contains spoilers.)

 

Sucker Punch is a psychological thriller starring Emily Browning (Babydoll), co-written and directed by Zach Snyder. Basically, the story was about a girl locked up in a psychiatric hospital for killing her sister. Her step-father bribed an orderly to get her lobotomized, so she couldn’t tell anyone he tried abusing his step-daughters. It seemed realistic considering the story was set in the pre-1950’s. In order to cope with her horrible situation, Babydoll hallucinated a different situation to still function and find a way out.

 

I have a nightmare along those lines long before watching Sucker Punch. I see something bad, like say a murder. When I tell someone about it, they accuse me of being crazy. There is no evidence other than my word and I start believing it. Then I’m stuck thinking I’m crazy and having a lingering paranoia that the murderer is following me. What’s really scary is never knowing if it actually happened or if it’s all in my head.

sucker-eyes

I’ll start with a dissection of the plot and the reasoning as I see it. The asylum is a converted theater. Dr. Gorski uses the disused stage for reenactment therapy. Babydoll imagines another situation that is slightly better, a dancer and prostitute. I think it’s slightly better than being sane in an asylum. Some undeniable elements of her reality still carry through.

 

I read through a long discussion on IMDB from user aliciabaldelli that shows a different perspective.

 

The narration at the beginning and end were interesting, I mean thought provoking. This is a transcript from an Internet search that sounds about right.

 

Everyone has an Angel.

 

A guardian who watches over us. We can’t know what form they’ll take. One day, old man. Next day, little girl. But don’t let appearances fool you. They can be as fierce as any dragon. Yet they’re not here to fight our battles but to whisper from our heart reminding that it’s us. It’s every one of us who holds the power over the worlds we create.

 

We can deny our angels exist, convince ourselves they can’t be real. But they show up anyway. At strange places. And at strange times. They can speak through any character we can imagine. They’ll shout through demons if they have to, daring us, challenging us to fight.

 

Now for me this means someone is looking out for you. This person can take many forms, hurt or help, all to show you the way forward. These angels make you into the person you’re supposed to be. They echo with something deep inside of us and that’s how we change. Belief in this isn’t a contingency, but this is how life works.

 

Babydoll is, in reality, stuck in a mental asylum. She imagines being in a brothel. And sometimes goes into another level of abstraction as an action hero. Each of these imagined constructions tie back to something in reality.

 

Each time Babydoll dances, she is remembering something painful from her past. I like to think this is enough distraction to get the things she needs to escape. When she dances for Chef, it doesn’t really make sense. He wouldn’t be interested. That discussion post from IMDB offered a different explanation. Those action sequences are actually when Babydoll used her sexuality to get what she needed to escape. More about that later.

 

I wasn’t ready for that interpretation. I used to think each action sequence was a representation of a session with Dr. Groski. The first sequence was Babydoll fighting three clay soldiers. Before you are forced to tell an uncomfortable secret, three things happen. Each soldier represented an internal enemy. The first soldier had a long nose like Pinocchio. Lies are the defense. What secrets? Nothing happened. It meant nothing to me. Then comes anger and finally fear. Why aren’t you believing me? Just listen to what I’m saying. Don’t believe me. Fine be like that. I can’t tell. He’ll find out. I can’t tell you anything. Will you protect me? Can you protect me? Then you finally start talking.

sucker-clay-warriors
Clay soldiers before the battle.

The next action sequence was fighting against clockwork zombies in the trenches, literally WWI trenches. My thoughts drew to this being about the death of her mother. How everything that happening in Babydoll’s life somehow reminded her of the people she lost. Every turn brought the loss back, painful as ever. Every turn in the trenches brought more zombies.

sucker-trench
A glamor shot.

The third one was a castle siege to steal the crystals from the throat of a baby dragon. To me, this felt like survivor’s guilt. Babydoll felt responsible for the deaths of her mother and sister, mainly because she lived through it. In this action sequence, Babydoll killed the baby and mother dragons.

sucker-dragon
After killing the baby dragon.

Unlike every other action hallucination, the last one happened in the kitchen. Dr. Gorski wasn’t anywhere to be found. My idea this was a representation of a therapy session didn’t fit. I’ll change just this one into a sexual distraction so her friends could get a knife from Chef. What she imagines serves as motivation. She needs to live for everyone she lost.

 

The action sequence is about stopping a high-speed train carrying a bomb. Their failure very closely resembled what happened the night her sister died. Babydoll lost someone trying to stop something bad happening. The bulb matched the city exploding. They get what they’re after.

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Abbie Cornish as Sweat Pea, last action sequence.

At the end, we return to the asylum. We now know everything she imagined at the brothel actually happened. She went through with the lobotomy because she wanted it. Living with the pain of accidentally killing her sister while trying to protect her, was too much.

 

The end narration transcript is again from the same site.

 

And finally, this question: The mystery of who’s story it will be. Of who draws the curtain. Who is it that chooses our steps in the dance? Who drives us mad, lashes us with whips and crowns us with victory when we survive the impossible? Who is it that does all these things? Who honors those we love with the very life we live? Who sends monsters to kill us and at the same time sings that we will never die?

 

Who teaches us what’s real and how to laugh at lies? Who decides why we live and what we’ll die to defend? Who chains us? And who holds the Key that can set us free?

 

It’s you.

 

You have all the weapons you need.

 

Now Fight.

 

I think this means something along the lines of people only have the power over you that you give them. Something is not inherently good or bad, it just is. Beauty and grotesquerie are in the eyes of the beholder. What you think makes something good or bad. An example is death. It’s generally accepted that death is bad. But aren’t there a few good things too? Fear of death makes you live more. We want to make the most from our limited time. When we reach near the end of something there’s this pressure to do everything we continually postpone. There won’t be another time. The choice becomes now or never, and there is no later.

 

In the premise of Sucker Punch, this applied to a pre-frontal lobotomy. This procedure scrambles the seat of conscious thought, basically psychological death. This is generally considered a bad thing. Can it not also be good? Take for example the situation Babydoll found herself in. She has nothing left. All the people she loved are dead. The last of whom, she killed by her own hand. Isn’t psychological death the ultimate way out? If that’s your mental place, wouldn’t a lobotomy fix the issue? It adds some other difficulties, but you’re no longer there. Self-sacrifice means nothing if another isn’t saved. That’s what happened.

sucker-lb
Before lobotomy

That quote goes on to say all the weapons are your own, so fight. First, let’s accept the conclusion thoughts determine the bad or good qualities of anything. So the question becomes if something thought to be bad is coming and there’s no way out, how can you defeat it. The first option is always to escape. That isn’t available. Neutralizing enemies never works, because there are always more. If you have one bully that you chase away, another is always waiting. If there’s no bully, then it’s something else. You can face your enemy and win by turning the bad into good. So fight against your own precepts or established beliefs. Find some way to make the inevitable acceptable.  Take for example facing death. Force your thoughts to the good. Think of everything you’ve done. Think of everything you won’t regret.

 

It’s a sobering message but it matches the world of Sucker Punch. I told you what happened but the movie wasn’t done justice here. It bears a semblance to reality, but that’s up to you, the viewer. Tell me what you think. Later.

 

GK