Monday, November 28, 2016

A Puddle and Two Words of Advice

November was an interesting month. I got to see a lot of movies, read a few books, and learn a lot of math and science because engineering. I didn’t write a lot, mostly blog posts. I didn’t have a chance to do NaNoWriMo this year because let’s be honest, there wasn’t time in my schedule for fifty thousand words, even if I didn’t watch those movies or read those books.

Actually, it was a fantastic month for my writing, even though I didn’t do much of it. I got to take a bit of a break, and focus on the impactful stories that others made, rather than just my own. As writers, it’s important for us to stop and think about the stories of others, and even things that aren’t novels at all.

I’d like to share a few short things about what I did, as well as two simple piece of advice on living this artistic life we’re called to live.

The Books: A Summary

I got to read two books in November (discounting my school textbooks). One was titled “A Path of Daggers” and the other named “Winter’s Heart” both by Robert Jordan. They’re two books in the middle of his Wheel of Time series, which I’ve now read twice through and working on the third reading.

You’ll find a lot of conflicting views on these books, and I’d like to explain why that’s so: Robert Jordan created many of the fantasy “clichés” you find nowadays, and those he didn’t create he drew upon. If you’re not expecting that, you might find yourself saying “hey, isn’t this cliché?” Well, yes, but only because it started it or else made it popular. Robert Jordan was a master of plot weaving, as shown in the way his dozens of arcs fit together seamlessly in time and space, drawing together across fourteen books and thousands of pages to conclude in a satisfying manner.

There are also two places where people tend to trip up on his works: first, he’s very prose-oriented. He can get lost in descriptions of peoples and places and random items like teapots. Because his world is so massive, it plays a large role in his books and can almost feel overwhelming. This leads straight to the second which is this: if you’re very dependent on characters to drive the story, you may not like his books. While he has some very real and human characters, they’re not the driving force behind his books. Instead, the plot and the world stand at the forefront, born quietly on the shoulders of the characters.

If you enjoy high fantasy and plot-driven novels, you’ll like them. I enjoy reading them because whenever I read them, I feel like I’m there. He draws powerfully on the senses and engages you with the surroundings to the point where you don’t even realize you’ve read eighty pages.

The Movies: Also a Summary

I got to see four movies in theatres this month, all of which were excellent. One, Doctor Strange, I’ve already reviewed and so won’t spend time on here. Instead, just scan the archives for that review earlier in November, or else check the “Reviews” tag to the right.

The second movie I saw was Hacksaw Ridge, which is a powerful, gritty, and compelling story about a conscientious objector working as an army medic during the invasion of Okinawa in World War Two. This movie struck home to me because my great-grandfather served there during that war. It was a difficult movie to watch, because the violence is portrayed as movies rarely do: it was shown in its raw and gruesome form. It wasn’t glorified for either side of the conflict, it was shown starkly as it is: bloody and gritty and intense and horrible. I can’t say I liked the movie because it was much like Saving Private Ryan: it showed reality for what it is, and caused me to think. To think a lot. It was an amazing movie, well-directed and well-shot with intense detail and wonderful actors and powerful themes. But it was a hard movie. Not for the weak of stomach, but definitely for those who want to understand the reality of violence and pain.

Finally, the third movie I saw this month was Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them. Of these three, I have to say this was my favorite. Partially because it was fueled by nostalgia as well as great writing and directing and producing and acting, but also because it found a way to balance good story and good theme in a way that makes sense. J. K. Rowling has this way with characters, that even when they’re slightly cliché, they still have a way of endearing you and making you care deeply for them. The story’s setting was fantastic and beautiful, the creatures lovable and alarming in equal measures, the plot itself was simple, but with enough twists that it was compelling enough for the story we wanted to hear about. This movie is driven almost completely by characters, and even the main plot points are due to the characters, rather than some overarching plot that rules over them all.

I highly recommend all three of these films, the first for entertainment, the second for the power of theme and truth, and the third for the charming, witty way that Rowling shows us the wondrous strength of story.

Wait... what's the fourth one? I said four, but that paragraph kind of sounded like a conclusion paragraph before moving onto the next section.
Well, I wanted to separate this last movie because of what it is and how I feel about it. This movie is Arrival, which I truly believe is one of the best movies of the year.
Arrival is one of those movies that you may have heard of but didn't plan on seeing. Please think again. From the outside, it may seem like just another science fiction movie about first contact with aliens. But on the inside? It's a dazzling ride of emotion and language weaved together in a way that makes you ponder your own relationship with language. As a writer, it makes me ponder what my words can do, and as a human it makes me wonder what emotions are even doing inside my brain because they are too powerful. The way it twists and turns and makes you think...
I can't even summarize what it makes me feel. Many things. Too many things.

Just... go see it, then come back and commiserate with me about the wondrous nature of this movie.

The Math and the Science – A VERY Brief Summary

I love math, and I know many of my readers do not. I wrote a blog post on the subject.
Meanwhile, the day I wrote this I also spent two and a half hours using equilibrium equations to find the forces in the joints and members of a truss bridge. In other words, I did a lot of adding, subtracting, dividing, and plugging cosine and sine into my calculator. Yesterday, I did differential equations homework, finding Laplace transforms (which, in case you actually cared, are an abstract but simple way to solve complex equations). The day before, I performed mesh analysis on electrical circuits, and the day before that I did my own research on other forms of science.

That sounds rather boring, doesn’t it? I mean, the truss-bridge math was actually boring because it was tedious, but the rest was rather interesting. There is, however, something I didn’t tell you about those same days that I should have, things that made my life balanced:
The day I wrote this, I read a book, I wrote a blog post, and read a friend one of my stories over the phone to help them in a time of need.
The day before, I practiced lines for a short film and watched Fantastic Beasts.
The day before that, I helped hang lights and focus them for a theatre production of And Then There Were None.
And the day before that, I helped paint the set/refurbish a cabinet for that same set, as well as appreciated an art exhibit.

Two Parts of Art

What does that glimpse into my life do for you?
It’s a chance to realize something: life is about more than one thing. It’s about more than just writing, or just acting, or just watching and reviewing movies, or doing math and physics and chemistry. Life is more than one thing all the time. Life is all of those things: writing and acting and painting and reading and math and science and every form of art all blended into a fanciful and wondrous cacophony. It’s about the people around you, the people you share those forms of art with.

Don’t forget that. Don’t let one art consume you. Step outside (or in) and consider the wonder of an art you’ve never tried before. Whether you just observe or try it out for yourself, don’t allow one particular art suck you in and never let you out.

I promised two bits of advice, so here’s the second: be a part of someone else’s art tomorrow. I know it might be too late to make a plan to do that today, so plan for it tomorrow. Give yourself time to be aware of someone else’s art tomorrow. Don’t go looking for a specific person or a specific art, just be ready. When you find someone experiencing art, experience it with them. You don’t even have to get directly involved. If you’re super shy or they are, you don’t even have to be near them. But take a moment: listen to someone playing an instrument, watch a movie with someone, have a long and deep conversation about the meaning of justice. Try to translate the notes written on the whiteboard of a study room.
When you attempt to understand and be a part of someone else’s art, you open your eyes to a world that you can’t fully see by yourself: the world of an artistic life lived with others.

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