Losing with Dignity

I have mentioned a few times in recent history that I am excited about an online competition to interview Mark Z. Danielewski, the author of my favorite book, House of Leaves. I have been cautiously optimistic about winning, for various reasons that I convinced myself make sense. I believed that there would be relatively few entries, even fewer of which would stand a significant chance. I believed that I might have produced a sufficiently eloquent contest entry, and that I stood a good chance against most competitors, provided that the judges were not looking for professional interviewing experience.

If you truly believe in something, you are called an adherent, or perhaps a sucker, I forget which. Either way, I have been reminded of the one truism of my life: hope is bullshit. I have a lot of uncharacteristic hope right now, about many things, but knowing that all of my hope is bullshit helps me sleep at night.

The secret that depressed people hide so well is that they are extremely hopeful. It might be more accurate to say that they WERE extremely hopeful. Naturally, The Dark Knight Rises put it best: “… there can be no true despair without hope.” Why is that? It’s because you get used to despair. If depression were just despair, it would become routine, and you would adapt. The occasional injection of real hope is what makes it unbearable.

In the interest of fairness, I will point out that hope makes beautiful promises. On the other hand, hope never accomplishes anything by itself, and it is certainly never held accountable for its false promises. For depressed people, hope is a new medication, a new job, a new friend, a new girlfriend, a new apartment, a new city, a new hobby, a new day.

As for my life, I have shifted to yet another hope. I got a new program for writing in screenplay format, in the interest of approaching my ideas from a new angle. The screenplay format is fairly simple. It makes dialogue a lot easier and lets you paint visuals without lingering too much on every little detail. Because I am still mostly interested in animation, I know a lot of the work is done by the artists, who have real control over how things look. I’d like to have the chance to work with artists to create a better visual representation of my writing.

So I’m writing spec scripts for a cartoon series scheduled to start airing next year. I have ideas that I like and I intend to make at least a few good scripts. Once I finish those, I have to figure out what to do with them and try to make progress in a vicious industry in which thousands of writers fail. Here’s hoping.

Anyway, I didn’t win the competition. Somebody named Trevor will be interviewing Mark Z. Danielewski tomorrow morning. I may decide to watch, but I have no doubt that it will be a terrible interview. I could have done much better. I’m already sure of it.

Something Intelligent from 2006

This is my essay submission for Scholar’s Recognition Day. The topic is “contemplate a point in your life when you experienced or expect to experience complete fulfillment and describe that point.”

The phrase “complete fulfillment” strikes me as a contradiction in terms. I think that, as humans, we should continually reach farther and try harder for goals in the near and distant future. There is no point at which any person can honestly say that he has no problems or that he has reached the pinnacle of success. Life simply does not provide such opportunities.

There should be no limit to what someone can learn or accomplish. Whenever humans have reached goals in the past, they served only as stepping stones to something greater. Just as mankind does not cease to learn as much as possible, I try to learn all that I can in as many fields as possible. My main interests are mathematics and computers, but I learn things from social science to fine arts to cooking. I think that a broad range of abilities will help more often in life than an extremely specialized one.

However, there is no shame in a sense of satisfaction about short term goals. An occasional sigh of relief or pat on the back is often important in continuing good work. In spite of this, though, no one should stop learning because he has achieved a goal. The next step should be a more difficult goal, beyond his grasp, and then he can work to exceed his limitations. As one of my teachers said, “if you’re getting straight A’s, you’re in the wrong classes.” I think this philosophy applies in many aspects of life. If I’m not challenged in a class, I am less likely to achieve any sense of satisfaction in completing it. If I were in a more difficult class, I would work to get the best grade I could, which might be an A. However, the difficult A would be more important to me than one received in a simpler class, because I will have gained more from the experience. Then, after a sigh of relief, it would be time to move on to another, more difficult goal.

My Trillion-Dollar Idea

I have spent some time lately thinking about the world of comic books, and it has stuck me with a nagging thought: the real world is kind of boring. Now, I know that there are many fascinating things in this world, but none of them has that comic-book level awesomeness.

So I thought a bit more about comics. Most of them are about superheroes, because that’s how the medium got started. The superhero genre began with both Marvel and DC, and it has changed throughout the years. Both companies have taken different approaches to the same core ideas, and those ideas have continued to be successful. Each company has inspired a billion-dollar movie, specifically The Dark Knight and The Avengers. People like superheroes, but I just don’t understand why.

Don’t get me wrong, I think She-Hulk is hot just like everyone else. I’m just trying to figure out why she and the rest of her ilk are so damned popular. It’s a weird idea, really. If a person really had exceptional superpowered abilities, why would she use it to fight crime in a big city? Why would that eventually cause world-ending cataclysmic events every other year? No one knows.

There are a few constants, though. The superhero is always, on some level, a normal person. The superpowers almost always come from a random event or an hereditary source (or both). No one really works to become a superhero, it always just happens. Spiderman was bit, Batman was traumatized, Hulk was irradiated, and Superman was launched across the cosmos.

Because they are allegedly normal people, superheroes also have normal people problems. Many are angsty and brooding, most have innumerable romantic entanglements, and some are downright stupid. And why not? All characters have to have some kind of distinct characteristics, no matter how trivial.

So superheroes abound. There are hundreds of them, all with varying degrees of success. There are some serious problems with the comic book industry, though and several have to do with the shallowness of the superhero premise. First of all, comic books have to sell. Since you can’t tell a whole story in one (36-page) issue, the story stretches out between issues. Writers and artists come and go, and with them the story changes radically. If a story, writer, or artist doesn’t work out, he (or she, but usually he) is replaced. They have to sell the next issue, after all. But how does the story stay interesting? There are plenty of options, including long story arcs, crossovers, the end of the world, another end of the world, and sometimes an artsy one-shot story.

Besides all the story issues, another big problem is the decay of the monthly comic structure. Each issue will usually cost about 4 dollars, unless you subscribe. Of course, all of us have countless magazine subscriptions, right? Well, maybe not countless. Okay, maybe not any. Even if they were released on the internet, comic book issues would be a flop. No matter how fantastic the writing and art, both of which can actually be quite good, it’s too expensive.

Last, there are the fans. Comic book fans are some of the worst people in the world. I don’t mean people who read comics (I do that, and I’m terrific), but true comic book FANS. They are despicable people who are never satisfied. Here’s something you will never hear a comic book fan say: “Wow, the new <character, idea, story, writer, artist, series, company, etc> is really neat. I am impressed by the change and am sure things will continue to improve.” No. Comic book fans are never satisfied. They are always convinced that things are getting worse. Here is the timeline of comic books: the Golden Age, the Silver Age, the Bronze Age, and the Modern Age. See a pattern.

They do have a point, though. (Hypocrisy, anyone?) Modern comic books are not very good (on average), but the decline is mostly due to the age of the concepts. Superheroes are old, the ideas are old, monthly comics are old, and comic book fans are old. Modern comics tend to rely way too much on continuity with past issues, self reference, and escalation. Here’s a fun challenge: pick up an issue of a modern comic book (if you can find one) and see if you can figure out what the hell is going on. Here’s a bigger challenge: see if you give a shit.

You may have gathered that I am unhappy with the state of the comic book industry. I don’t read them and I tend to avoid the movies, although there are exceptions. So why am I so upset? I’m upset because the comic book industry draws an incredible amount of writing and artistic talent and wastes them. You will almost never be disappointed by the artistic quality of a modern comic book, unless you’re one of those people I mentioned. Comic books are truly a visual medium, and with a better tier of writing, some new ideas, and a modern distribution mechanism, it would be an incredible industry.

Comic books are all about potential. If you sit and read a really good graphic novel, like Watchmen, or a great series, like Sandman, you will see that potential. Contrast it with most of what you see and you probably will be very disappointed. You can see the same thing in the motion picture industry. The Dark Knight is one of the best movies in recent years, and it is based on a 70-year-old character, but try sitting through Green Lantern or Spiderman 3 and you’ll see how comic book concepts can go wrong.

The potential is there, and if I’m being honest, it actually does come out from time to time. I haven’t mentioned the manga industry, which is huge, and the independent/artistic side, which is also quite good.

It all comes down to disappointment. My cynicism about comic books extends to the real world, which also disappoints me in many ways. I was stuck with this question: Why isn’t She-Hulk real? It’s an important question despite the fact that she wouldn’t go out with me if she did exist. If I followed the wisdom of Dr. Seuss’s “Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?”, I would not complain about my lot in this life, where there are no superpowers or green women. Given that excellent advice, I think I will have to be satisfied with the human ability to imagine those fantastic worlds.

At that point, the idea hit me. I will take my life and make it fantastic … as a comic book. Before you mention Harvey Pekar or any of the thousands of autobiographical webcomics out there, let me explain further. I want to take my dumb boring life as the inspiration for a fictional story, and make it not dumb and not boring. The idea is perfect. Many of the things that we encounter in the real world actually are amazing, but just don’t LOOK like it. Technology in real life is amazing, but it is fairly ordinary when compared with comic book technology.

I want to show how amazing the real world is by making it truly visual. The central concept in my story is working through my own depression. I want to take what is a fairly common story and make it extraordinary. Something like 10% of the US population deals with depression (or similar illnesses) every year. Those people all have families and friends, and I’m told that depression takes a toll on those folks as well. (Heh.) I want people to see that it is anything but ordinary. I want to demonstrate what it does by visualizing it. One of the biggest complaints of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals is that there are so few diagnostic tools for depression. There are no satisfactory biological tests, so diagnosis relies on the patient realizing the problem and describing it effectively. In other words, depression is nearly impossible to see. That’s why I want to show it.

It still has a hint of the superpower concept because the main character is chosen at random to have this shitty illness, but in most other ways he will not be a superhero. I can also focus on writing a story that is internally complete without having to worry about continuing it indefinitely, and I can look at distributing it online, thus avoiding all the comic industry issues. (Heh).

Assuming you know me, you will also know that I am no artist. (Feel free to look at my Halloween costume photos, by the way). My next step is going to be writing up some of my ideas, and then I need to find an illustrator. I have no idea how to do that, so I want some advice. If I can work this out well enough in my head, I will be willing to pay (money!) in order to try to get a basic prospectus together. Again, I have no clue where to start, but I need to find someone who is willing to do the work and also work with me. I imagine there are places to do that on the internet.

Anyway, I wanted to write up my complaints and ideas, and that’s what this is. I think this could be a good concept, so I really want to make an effort.

Still More True Tales of Human Interest

I had a very difficult childhood. Our microwave didn’t have a turntable, so I often had to turn the food once, twice, or even three times during the cooking process. It’s fortunate that I didn’t get some kind of disease from improperly cooked fragments in those food products.

My parents rarely grounded me, however, because I would just read books in my room. It was not much of a punishment. Instead, my mother would frequently lock me outside. My brother and I had no choice but to explore the vacant wooded lot behind the house, often risking life and limb in the pursuit of enjoyment. The owner of the lot was a dick, and always chastised us for being there. Many years later, we threw a jug of spoiled milk into his lot out of spite. It is still there.

Once, we took the hose and made a large mud pit in the middle of the yard. The dog joined us for several minutes of unadulterated happiness. When my mother found us, she was not as happy. The dog had to be hosed off thoroughly, while Mark and I had to be cleaned indoors. I still respect our creativity in having a fun time, though.

We have a half-assed basketball half-court by the side of our house. It is essentially four slabs of concrete and a hoop. At this point, due to root growth and plate tectonics, the playing surface is no longer level. Back in the day, we played a few games of HORSE and such, but I mostly used it for dribbling. I would go out there with a fully-inflated basketball and dribble for hours. I never shot the ball (I would have missed), but I dribbled like a pro. At one point, I dribbled with a kickball. I could dribble just about anything.

As a gifted student, I had many struggles. I could kick the ass of math any day, but when it came to all that other crap, I was no good. We were expected to do a presentation each year of some “creative” project or another. I always stumbled through one, but never had any creative ideas on presenting them. Like most elementary school projects, parental assistance was key. my topics included rocks and crystals, the lungs, lions, and electric motors. The motor was actually quite cool, and fortunately it worked once at home and once during the creative project fair, but never again. It is still here.

The other annual gifted project was a book. We were expected to write, illustrate, and bind a 24-page book. It could be about anything we wanted, but we had to do all the work. The end product was a white bookish thing covered in some kind of hardcore plastic wrap. For me, it was less of a creative project and more of romp through my twisted childish psyche. Whenever I tried to assemble coherent thoughts into book form, I always failed incredibly.

In my first year, I was probably 5 or 6. I wrote an alphabet book of all the stuffed animals in my bedroom. It was adorable. I remember another gifted student reading it to me sweetly, but I also remember being teased about it. Either way, it’s probably the most earnest thing I’ve ever written, and the pictures are decent, too. Once I started reading more complicated books, I tried to assemble a narrative. The results are frankly embarrassing. One was a blatant (horrible!) take on a book series I liked. One other has slipped my memory (thank god). The final book was written in fifth grade, and I labored over it for quite a while. My innovative story idea was this: take two natural disasters and combine them. It couldn’t fail!

After thinking for ages about which two disasters to combine, I decided on a tornado and a volcano. Naturally, the book was entitled “Torcano”. In my head, it was spectacular. A horrifying wind tunnel pulling boiling lava out of the mountain and into the sky, where it would partially harden and land, crushing humans, vehicles, and abodes with abandon. The concept did not translate so well to the 24-page plastic-wrapped mini-book form. I wrote the text and illustrated it, which consisted mostly of two triangles (one reddish-brown volcano and one gray, swirly cyclone) in various positions. I bound it and everything.

On presentation day, we were supposed to read the book to our gifted peers. I was already embarrassed. After all, my previous works had been met with derision and accusations of childishness. When it was my turn, I read the book aloud. When I finished, I remember looking up to about ten bewildered faces and absolute silence. The stunned silence lasted for several seconds before things moved on. It’s fair to say that a worse work of fiction has never been produced. Of course, all of my books from elementary school are still here.

When I was about 13, my brother started dating a girl. I didn’t like her very much, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. In any case, I lacked the emotional maturity to express those concerns, so at a church function, that frustration expressed itself. I threw a green gummi bear at the couple from across the room, and hit the girl directly in the right eye. My aim was spectacular. Her contact lens was knocked back over her eyeball and she had to go to the bathroom to remove it. She patted me on the shoulder in forgiveness, which was good, because Mark was pissed.

The next day she saw an optometrist and had to have her eyes dilated. I apologized profusely throughout the whole process. Later on, her dad said, “it would be fine had it just been an inch off the mark.” Months later, after the inevitable break-up, I felt a bit vindicated about the gummi bear situation. That’s what she got for dating my brother.

(I felt that I should at least present at least one true tale of human interest about my asylum experiences.)

When I was first committed to the Lancaster County Crisis Center, it was a brand new experience. My urine was still purple from the medication I’d been given, and I was checked on every 10 minutes “just in case.” There was not much to do, either. They had a library of about 30 books and a different library of about 80 VHS tapes. The patients could choose any of the films on tape, which the attendants would then play on the sealed-up TV/VCR. I did read one book, but most of the time, I had to watch the movies.

Because most patients stayed about 3 days (I was there for 30), every retinue of new ones wanted to watch the same damned films. Of all 80 films, I probably saw about 12. The two I saw the most were Happy Gilmore and Meet the Parents. The process worked as follows: a new patient would come in and read the list of tapes and say, “Oh, Happy Gilmore. I haven’t seen that movie in forever.” All of the other patients (except me) would then say, “Wow, I remember that from high school. Let’s watch that.” The process would continue a few days later. I probably saw that film 8 times that month, if not 10.

The most interesting patient there was Jeff, the psychotic. Most of us were just everyday insane, but Josh was actually certifiable. He shook and twitched and couldn’t quite converse properly. We talked once or twice, but each time he would spin off on very interesting topics of his own. We were both long-term patients, so we knew each other a bit, but after a week, Josh made an escape attempt.

There was a short, narrow hallway that ended in a door to the staircase. It was hard to see from the main desk. The ceiling was composed of the typical crumbly, white, rectangular panels. He thought that there was a way out over the doorway, so he climbed up the sides of the hallway (I didn’t get to see this, but I’m sure it was acrobatic) and got above the ceiling panels and light. Naturally, the whole thing collapsed. Not only that, the wall over the door extended past the ceiling panels to the real ceiling. The escape attempt failed, and they didn’t clean up the light and ceiling fragments for days. Josh was subsequently sent elsewhere.

Lofty Ideas Destined to Fail

As a young man, I must necessarily make the many follies of youth. I have only so much time to make those mistakes before I’m old enough to know better. Furthermore, I have to share my talents with the world before I realize I don’t have any. So, what are those talents and how can I use them to make mistakes?

I have spent a lot of time thinking about the things I’m good at, and eating tops the list. I can eat more food more quickly than just about anyone I know. There are two ways I could use that skill: eating competitively or becoming the fattest man in the world. On the one hand, I don’t like hot dogs that much and the Japanese have cornered the market anyway. I might be able to set records for speed eating or consuming something I do enjoy, like raw cookie dough or salami sandwiches. On the other hand, I can’t afford to become the fattest man in the world, despite being perfectly capable. Logistically, I suppose my reach exceeds my grasp.

When I was 8, I started learning to play the piano. I have essentially been playing for 15 years. In that time, I think I have learned about 9 songs. Despite my ability to read music, I don’t have a thorough grasp of musical theory and I am at a loss when it comes to understanding or composing melodies. Many pianists play by ear; I play by eye. I have discovered a lot of what one can discover by constant playing, but none of the abilities to show off or be creative. I fear I will never be the next Liberace.

So what about mathematics? When I first went to the University of Nebraska, I intended to eventually complete a PhD in math. I wanted to do research and teach or something. Once I had a bit of experience with both, the reality sunk in: it’s not my thing. I don’t have a passion for math in the same way that most math professors do. I can do a lot of work in math and computer science, but if I don’t have the passion, I definitely won’t be able to finish a doctorate.

In summary, those things are all side projects. I’ve spent a lot of time on them but I can’t say with certainty that my future lies with any of them. I’ll continue doing all of those things, eating, piano, math, etc, but I don’t know where it will go. Hopefully a place where I’m able to keep going

But the thing I really want to do, barring ability and opportunity, is writing. I love writing, but I hate that I want to be a writer. I hate it because it’s common and stereotypical. Wanting to be a writer has nothing to do with talent, understanding the writing process, or even being able to communicate ideas. I think it’s an ego trip for people who have a little bit of knowledge and want to exploit it, for whatever reasons they might have.

I’ve written a few things. You’re reading one right now. I liked writing them and I liked reading them, but unfortunately I’m a little bit biased. I have to think about 2 things: why I want to write and how to do it. Ultimately, I write things that I want people to read. If people read my dumb blog posts or whatever, I’m a happy guy. I like to know that I can do something that other people appreciate and say things that make them feel or think. I want to get something out of my head and into theirs. No, not like spit. Gross.

My real problem with depression is that I never have the energy or concentration to do any of the above. I wish I could sit and write and get all of these things out of my head, or eat enough to get really fat. I have these dreams. I want to write a stupid cartoon series. Maybe I could be the next Liberace. I just have to have to get started.

A Poem

Our Life After Life

We’ll stoke the flames and curse our names,

But from time to time we’ll admit

With voices clear that our faith was sincere

And religion still isn’t worth shit.

 

We’ll rue our lives from 9 to 5,

Then head home and make love immoral.

If love is taboo then I guess we’ll have to

Fuck or have sex or just oral.

 

We’ll drink and curse, or do much worse,

At this point there’s nothing to lose.

It might seem odd, but soldiers for God

Have done worse than swearing and booze.

 

We’ll do our best despite failing the test,

And our future together is bright.

It would break my heart if they tore us apart,

But otherwise, things are alright.

 

In Heaven, they say, that day after day

Is supposed to be limitless bliss,

But if I were there and you were down here,

Then I would trade it for this.

Public Speaking – Final Speech

Today I want to speak to you about hope…unfortunately, I won’t be able to. I had a speech planned out, plotted out, practically perfect, but with no outline and no note cards.

It was simple. I was going to talk about the meaning of failure and the meaning of the word “play,” and then tie the two together. But procrastination kicked in. I know I’ve spoken about that before, but yesterday it wasn’t quite that simple. It was depression.

I left class yesterday thinking about what I was going to say. I kept putting off my work. I distracted myself, I tried to sleep, tried to play video games, ate with my family, played card games, and so on. Yesterday evening I baked six dozen cookies.

See, I wanted to finish this class with a positive message. My goal was to say that no matter what the outcome is, of this class or anything, you could be proud of what you learned and what you accomplished. I wanted to take the truism “it doesn’t matter if you win or lose; it’s how you play the game” and make it mean something.

Well, why didn’t I do it? I didn’t feel it. I didn’t believe it. I knew I couldn’t share a message I didn’t feel. I was in no mood to encourage others, much less myself. Instead, I moped, I slumped around, and I kept thinking about the very things I wanted to forget completely: negative thoughts, dark thoughts, and bad events from the past.

That’s just what depression is. It’s not just sadness; it isn’t a bad mood. It’s a battle within your soul. It’s dark and it’s unpleasant. You want to cut out your own heart just to stop feeling. A psychologist once told me that he was so depressed he had to decide between getting up to urinate and just going in his bed. If you’ve ever felt that way before, I’m sorry. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

I’m not here to educate you about depression because there isn’t enough time. I want you to know what to do if it ever happens to you or someone you love. The easy advice is still the worst. People may say things like “just cheer up” or “do something you like to do.” In other words, they want you to magically change the way you feel. If people give you that advice, it’s a sure sign they don’t know what they’re talking about.

It’s easier to say “just say no” than it is to just say no. In the same way, it’s much easier to say “keep trying” than it is to keep trying. Depression is not a one-time thing, it is a lifelong struggle. Every day can bring a depressive episode or a terrible event, no matter how well you may have been doing.

What do you really do when you don’t want to wake up in the morning? You don’t just bake cookies, you talk about it. Just like the greenhouse effect, if those thoughts keep bouncing around in your skull, things will only get worse. Get it out. I can’t stress that enough. Eventually, the solitude inside your own mind becomes a prison, a trap you can’t escape from. Get out while you still can.

Etgar Keret put it perfectly: “you never know what goes on inside people’s heads.” Even so, you have to do your best. If you establish close communication with your friends and family members, you won’t have to guess what they’re thinking or feeling, you can ask. Be the person that others can go to, and I assure you you’ll have someone to go to when the time comes.

I wanted to talk about hope, but I can’t. I’m just not feeling it right now. But I can tell you that I have felt it before and I will again. Depression truly is a nightmare, but I promise you can wake up from it. Talk about it now and you’ll be ready if you ever start to fall into that pit. The rest of us will help pull you out.

Discussing Oneself

Today was my second day in group therapy at Research Psychiatric Center. Compared to many other patients, my problems are far less pressing or serious. Most of the time I talk about what’s going on in my life, I feel like I am wasting everyone’s time. I also talk about how I feel like I’m not getting anything accomplished when I’m at home, largely because I just surf the net and watch television. However, I have been going to the gym three times a week, as planned, and I also meet with a trainer to keep my fat ass accountable.

Anyway, I’m hoping to get around to taking care of stuff soon, and I am actively making plans to get back to being active. You heard me. I’m hoping to return to playing the piano, and I want to find a place in town to take lessons. I’m looking at a couple of places, and I’m planning on taking it more seriously than when I did as kid.

In terms of other desires, I have decided I want to pursue psychology, at least for now. I don’t know what I will think about it, having taken only general psych, but I’m taking a couple more classes online from KCKCC this spring, so hopefully that will give me a good experience. I’m still looking at finishing my math degree at Park University next school year, and I recently applied for financial aid for transfer students. Because my cumulative GPA is above 3.9, I have a pretty good chance of getting a full ride, at least for one year.

My other random dream is to actually write something, like a complicated novel or really anything that another human being might actually read and enjoy. I’m not sure I have the talent at this point, but I’m going to start working on it if it kills me.

When I finally finish the partial hospitalization program, I will be able to return to reading, movies, and video games. I am still holding off on those activities until my memory seems to be mostly back to normal. I will also have more time to spend doing such things, as well as my fascinating (I hope) online courses. I’m sick of being in Kansas City after these two months of treatment, and I’d just like to be more active. Maybe soon.

Of course there’s other assorted shit going on, but none of it is really worth mentioning. I suppose the above doesn’t really qualify either. Sigh.

NaNoWriMo: Characters

Although I have never actually written a full-length novel, I am somewhat used to writing fiction and much more experienced with reading it. As a former editor and nitpicker extraordinaire, I have picked up a few things along the way about writing. As a way of sharing some of that and also writing something easier than my actual novel as I force myself to continue, I will be writing a few posts about what I have learned.

Characters are possibly the most important element of a fictional work. Many successful pieces of fiction have endured by having memorable characters that illicit a reaction from the reader, despite (in some cases) other flaws or problems with the work. People respond to characters, and if they make a true connection, they will remember more about the character than any other part of the work. For example, the word “quixotic” is still in the public lexicon, despite the fact that few people have read Don Quixote. The character has the power to endure because people can identify with him.

Defining a character is not easy. A work may call for several different kinds of characters, many of whom you will not like, agree with, or represent. It is important to remember that you are NOT your character, even if you are. One of the best tools I know of for defining characters is quite simple: ask yourself questions about them. Better yet, ask the character in your head and figure out how he or she would respond.

When you think about it, a situation is really a question of how a character responds. The different reactions are what make characters unique and interesting. Furthermore, the characters themselves may react in different ways depending on the circumstances.

In any case, start simple. Here are some questions that might help you define a character:

Questions to ask yourself:
What is the character’s name?
What does the character look like?
Why is this character necessary?
Would I like this character?
Does this character remind me of anyone I know?

Questions to ask your character:
What are you afraid of?
What is your favorite food?
What kind of books do you read?
Do you prefer the heat or the cold?
What do you dream about?
What is your favorite word or phrase?
What is your favorite curse word?
What makes you uncomfortable?
How do you feel about your hometown/family?
Where would you like to be right now?
What is the most important quality for an individual?

Keep in mind that not every question applies to every character. However, it may help to ask an irrelevant question, just to see how your character would respond. Furthermore, it is often more likely to know why a character has traits than that the character has them. Although it is not necessary for your characters to be highly original, they must not be simple stereotypes. Take the time to make them your own.

You will likely know more about the character than you will need to present, particularly for minor characters, so don’t feel the need to include all the information about someone.

Lastly, although there is no substitute for good characters, there is no need to make the characters the central aspect of a work, especially if it’s not your talent.

Tomorrow: Plot and Setting, bitches.

September So Far

Outside, it smells like a sewer. The constant misting rain is like living inside of a sweaty man’s jock strap. Tomorrow I would like to go shopping, but I fear the football crowd will make that difficult. Hopefully the crowds won’t be too bad before the game, which the Internet tells me starts at 6.

I know everyone wants to know just what it is I intend to buy, so I will elucidate. I need dry-erase markers because someone took the hideous red one from my door. I will likely buy two sets of the red, green, black, and blue variety. Then I shall draw a giant dong on my door to show that it is off limits. I also need aloe vera gel, shampoo and vitamins.

I have lined up a craft project: making a T-shirt based on a Sealab 2021 episode. I need to procure navy blue fabric paint for this, which I shall seek out at Wal-mart. When I finish, I will wear it. Usually I’d take a picture and share it on here, but I probably wouldn’t actually do that. Also, I have no camera.

Anyway, let’s talk about me. I have 4 classes this semester: Japanese, Math, Computer Science, and Philosophy. I realized I hate all of them 2 weeks ago. I’m thrilled.

Japanese is exactly like the last two semesters, which also annoyed me. Somehow it didn’t register in my mind until this fall that 6 hours of class is actually more than 5. So now I have invested even more time in that subject, which I’ve finally realized is just too time-consuming. My lazy ass will probably stick to 12 hours for each of the next 3 semesters. The moral is, I’m done with Japanese after this semester. The Internet tells me that is acceptable for the ASC foreign language requirement.

Math is actually not too horrible, except it’s proof-based and I hate mathematics. Somehow I will have to goad myself into taking 3 more classes in the subject before I move on. I don’t think I’ll add the CS major, although I will still pursue it. I’m thinking about doing CS research next summer. I need to look into that before it happens. If I do, I would likely move into an apartment here in Lincoln, which I think would be a nice change from the twin hellholes I’ve inhabited the past two years.

CS is crap. I cannot believe that CS 310 is even considered a junior-level class. I have never wasted more time in a prerequisite. It is literally required for every 400-level class, and there is no reason that anyone needs it. CS 156 covers the vast majority of the material, and the instructor makes me yearn for the monotone voice of Reichenbach. Instead, I have a high falsetto voice. The subject matter is basically the heart of computer science: algorithm design. The problem is that I’ve already taken like 15 hours of CS here. If I hadn’t picked most of this up by now, I probably don’t deserve the programming skills the good lord bestowed on me.

Philosophy is a special kind of Hell. Here is the general pattern for the class: 1. read material for class, 2. show up for class, 3. have shitty group discussion, 4. do weekly shitty assignment. Huzzah. Basically, we talk about fairly simple philosophical issues which most people overcomplicate in the group discussions. They never address the heart of the issue, instead talking about some random irrelevancy. I hate group work so much. Anyway, the weekly assignments are about Plato’s “Crito,” which I hated the first time. Subsequent readings and 3 tiresome assignments haven’t changed that. I have 5 more of these assignments to do. So far they have been outline-type things, which I can never do correctly. I don’t think in outlines. Fuck you, establishment.

My career is skyrocketing. First, I’m working 2 jobs at the Daily Nebraskan. Second, I’m grading for Math 314: Matrix Theory. The DN seems decent so far. I write one column a week and no one reads it. It’s sort of like writing graffiti on the bathroom walls at home: no matter how eloquent you are, only your mom is going to see it.

As for the copy editing, I have mixed feelings. While I don’t mind the work (I love the sensation of smug superiority), I really don’t like the hours. Basically a night at the copy desk wipes out my entire evening. I work from 6-11 (at least. ugh.), which means I have to do homework there. Furthermore, on the off chance that something cool happens (highly hypothetical here), I can’t go. On the other hand, I can do reading there, which is nice. Also, copy editors write headlines. Never criticize writers for heads because they don’t write them. Please remember that for the future. Basically, I have to find 5 creative words to describe a huge, pointless article. It’s often hard to find a decent verb for the headline because nothing happens in the story. This is insider information I’m sharing with you.

My third job is for the math department here. I grade the weekly quizzes for two sections of Linear Algebra. It’s just like grading anything else, except it pays annoyingly little. I earned $8.50 hourly all last year, and now I just get $6. Plus I only work 4 hours a week at this job, which I think means I get less than one night’s pay at the copy desk for grading. I guess it takes less time, though.

Then again, I haven’t been paid jack shit from any of my various part-time jobs. Thanks, payroll departments throughout campus. Hopefully I’ll get a check before the end of September for the DN (they owe me a bit for August), because I have been buying stuff online. I really have more money than I think, but no one is giving it to me. What if the DN goes bankrupt? I’ll have nothing but the huge tub of Warheads candy I bought for 13 dollars. God help me.

Over the weekend, I have to write a third column, do homework for Math, possibly some Japanese, a ton of which is due Thursday (dammit), and go shopping for aloe. I also would like to see 2 movies: Burn After Reading and Righteous Kill. Whether or not I will have time remains to be seen. Plus I have the opinion section budget Sunday. I probably shouldn’t criticize that here.

I finally got around to reading some Batman graphic novels. The two based on Arkham Asylum (A Serious House on Serious Earth and Living Hell) are excellent. The former is well-drawn but weird as hell, while the latter is more typically drawn and plotted out. It still has a good story with interesting characters. I read the Killing Joke, which didn’t impress me at all. It might have been a big deal back in the day, but doesn’t strike a chord with my jaded brain.

I also read Flight 5, Daisy Kutter: the Last Train, and Nightmares & Fairytales 4. Flight 5 proves that comic artists can’t write anything worth reading. Basically each plot is just a “cool” image (either a literal image or just a “neat” plot idea) that doesn’t go anywhere. I have rarely seen more pictures saying less than in Flight 5. Nightmares & Fairytales has sucked since the third collection, when the author stopped doing good stories. I have to give Serena Valentino credit for starting a terrific series. I must also credit her with shitting all over it. Diarrhea.

Back to Flight 5, though. I think only 2 or so stories had real ideas in them. Argh. They were so well drawn, but ultimately proved to just waste time.

Back to Batman now. There was a rather heated debate at the lunch table about what the third movie might look like. I didn’t rage at the time, but I will now. They will not bring back Two-Face. They will not bring back Rachel Dawes. If comics ever want to be taken seriously, they need to drop the revolving door to the great beyond. I trust that Nolan will not stoop to faux resurrections until the fifth movie at least.

They will not replace the Joker. They will not use Catwoman unless they change it like mad. I predict they will either use the Riddler (but maybe not because the Joker’s plot was already so twisty and complex), the Penguin, or a decent Poison Ivy. Because she deserves it. Then again, I can’t write like Nolan or his brother, so I’ll leave it to the experts. (Go with the Riddler, boys. You know he’s awesome.)

I intend to go to the Magic: the Gathering prerelease events this month. It’s supposed to be a fun sealed-deck tournament. If I get decent cards, it’s possible I won’t get ass-raped. On the other hand, I know very little about building decent decks. So the rape is inevitable. At least it’s a new opportunity to meet more of my favorite kind of people: shrill nerds. God, I love their acne.

Last but not least, I have a D&D campaign planned for Gamercon III. It will be fun. I need to plot it out a bit more, but I think it could work well. I will incorporate scrapped ideas from my last campaign to make it more fun. I doubt people will play it, but at least I will have it written. Maybe I can sell it to homeless fantasy fans. Everyone deserves a break sometimes. But they have to pay.

I am on the cusp of a real dilemma. Even though I know how it all ends, I keep idly waiting for something good to happen. I can’t wait to gush regret. It could start any day now. You’ll see the results as I hemorrhage more trite paragraphs in the future. Except I probably won’t write about it.