Literary Influence No. 5: The Old Ways

        I like books that teach me something, which is why I loved The Old Ways: A Journey On Foot by Robert Macfarlane.  This book taught me that walking can be so much more than just moving from one place to another.  The Old Ways helped me to understand the concept of walking as a means of thinking.  As it turns out, the idea isn’t new.  As Mcfarlane explains throughout the book, it’s an idea that has been with us for a very long time: we’ve only forgotten it.  Still, though, paths from the “Forgotten Realm” crisscross our landscapes, and our minds.

        While reading the book, it was hard not to picture myself hiking along old paths, or sailing along old water routes with Mcfarlane.  Exploring these places in my imagination via Macfarlane’s words, granted me a reprieve from the life of a modern commuter.  There’s definitely something freeing about traveling on foot that is hard to experience in planes, trains, and automobiles.

        When it comes to my writing, I always like to include an element of the past.  As I alluded to in my poem “The Journey Begins…”, without the past we have no map to guide us on our journey.  Indeed the past is an interesting place to explore.  That is, if you can reach it (without pesky perception getting in the way).  My current project doesn’t delve as deeply into the past as my next will.  For now, though, the recent past is all that matters.  There’s still plenty of time to explore the worlds of long, long ago….

Film Influence No. 1: Donnie Darko

        What’s real, and what’s imagined?  And does the answer to that question even really matter if, in the end, we all die alone.  Welcome to the world of Donnie Darko.  It’s a “Mad World” indeed.  In the film, Donnie Darko, who is the title character, is either a paranoid schizophrenic who sees the future and changes it for the better, or he’s just a boy who dies alone in a freak accident.  Personally, I’m a firm believer that the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.  Of course when it comes to fictional stories, the truth may lie anywhere.  I suppose that is why I like films like Donnie Darko so much.  Unlike our boundary-filled world, in a fictional universe one can explore the depths of the Universe without limits.

        Lately, I’ve found myself thinking about String Theory, Quantum Mechanics, and the Big Bang, itself, quite often.  The more I learn, the more I understand that there is so much that humanity just doesn’t know.  As I mentioned in a previous post, currently scientists know and understand about 4% of how the Universe works.  Put another way, we do not understand how 96% of the Universe around us works.  As a teacher, that means the Universe gets an A and we have a F and need to boost our understanding by 56% just to get a D.  Of course, for us just getting to 5% would be an improvement.

        In the film, Darko says: “I can do anything I want, and so can you.”  While discussing the short story “The Destructors” in his English class, Darko also says: “They just want to see what happens when they tear the world apart.  They want to change things.”  With these lines, it becomes clear that Darko doesn’t believe in limitations.  Specifically, he doesn’t believe that we are all trapped in the present.  Instead, he sees time as an illusion that can be manipulated by the mind.  Given the major theme of my poetry collection, it should come as no surprise that I find Darko’s beliefs to be fascinating.  Perhaps, fascinating enough to explore in another project….

        Before writing about my film influences, I hadn’t realized that two films on my list were produced by Newmarket Films.  Of course, I also didn’t realize that The Rum Diary was produced by Johnny Depp’s production company Infinitum Nihil (getting ahead of myself I suppose, literary influences don’t begin until next week).  It’s amazing what you’ll find when you pay attention to the details.  You might be surprised where you’ll find interesting clues about the future.  For now, though, go ahead and watch the trailer for Donnie Darko.

Film Influence No. 2: The Men Who Stare at Goats

        You’ve got to love a film that starts with the line: “More of this is true than you would believe.”  Of course, when it comes to a military that this year alone out spent its nearest rival (China) by more than half a trillion dollars, well nothing’s really that unbelievable.  With that kind of money, I’m sure there isn’t much that the U.S. military hasn’t explored at one point or another.  Plus, I just love the idea of the Army trying to create Jedi warriors.  It doesn’t hurt either that the film has an all star cast including: George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, and Ewan McGregor.

        One of my favorite exchanges in the film comes between General Brown and Brigadier General Dean Hopgood.  During the exchange, Hopgood explains that the Russians started doing psychic research based on the belief that America was already doing psychic research, which at the time was false but based on the Russians belief that is was true, subsequently the U.S. couldn’t afford to let the Russians lead the field in the paranormal.  The logic behind that exchange seems so absurd that I probably wouldn’t believe it, except that it has to do with military intelligence.  When it comes to a military that spends nearly 700 billion dollars annually, what’s not to believe.  By contrast, the U.S. Department of Education is due to receive about 72 billion dollars this year.  That’s about 90% less than the Department of Defense.

        When it comes down to it, though, what I like most about this film is the path that it lead me down.  After watching the film, I wanted to know more.  That thirst lead me to read the book by Jon Ronson of the same name (I’ve always been a fan of gonzo journalists).  Afterward, I read another Ronson book Them: Adventures with Extremists.  Eventually, I even put Boston’s song “More Than a Feeling” on my iPod.  For some reason I just couldn’t get it out of my head, but I suppose you already knew that.

        In the end, the path, or unbroken chain as I like to refer to it, that I’m on began long before I watched The Men Who Stare at Goats.  That being said, the film provided for an entertaining and interesting detour along the way.  Just another link in the chain.  Like Kanishka, and others, I am not afraid to veer from time to time.  I suppose it’s time to close things down for today.  In the meantime, I leave you with the trailer for The Men Who Stare at Goats, and a portion of the final monologue:

“And that was it.  That was the only bit of my story that ran anywhere.  And it was a joke.  And if I ever needed proof of how the Dark Side have taken the beautiful dream of what a nation could be and had twisted it, destroyed it.  Well, that was it.  But I won’t stop.  I won’t give up.  Because when I look at what is happening in the world, I know that now, more than ever, we need to be all that we can be.  Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.”

Film Influence No. 3: Memento

        What is real, and what is imagined?  Scientifically speaking, reality depends a great deal on the inner workings of our minds.  Since our mind processes what we see more quickly than what we hear, our brain constantly adjusts reality in the effort to synchronize our perception of the world.  That being the case, we are always a split second away from true reality.  This, of course, means that reality has a great deal to do with perception.  Now imagine that you are Leonard Shelby, the protagonist of Memento, and you no longer have the ability to make new memories.  What would your reality be?

        As you may have noticed, I’m a big Memento fan.  One of the reasons that I liked the film so much, is that it kept my mind working trying to figure out what was going to happen next.  A great deal of the intrigue has to do with the nonlinear narrative structure.  In the film, there are two different sequences (past and present) flowing in different directions.  The sequences meet at the end of the film bringing the story together.  I found the technique to be very intriguing, which is probably why I incorporated a similar structure into A New Beginning….  When it comes to my story, though, two sequences just wouldn’t do.  No, I needed one sequence more (the future).

        Speaking of my story, I suppose I had better get to work.  The summer is almost over, and I still have work to do (like Christopher Nolan, I have another project in my back pocket that would like to be born some day).  In the meantime, enjoy the trailer for Memento.  If you haven’t seen the film yet, I would suggest doing so.  I believe you’ll like it.  Oh yeah, while we’re on the topic of the inner working of our minds you might as well enjoy the video for “Hurricane” from MS MR as well.

Film Influence No. 4: Dazed and Confused

        I’ve always been fond of of anything that explores the topic of what Pete Townshend called the “teenage wasteland.”  In fact, my poem “The Wasteland” probably has more to do with my formative years than the dusty Central Oregon landscape.  In my mind, Dazed and Confused is one of the best films to ever explore the topic.  It also doesn’t hurt that the film has by many accounts achieved cult film status, and features a number of actors and actresses who went on to become stars.  One of my favorite lines in the film is spoken by the character Cynthia: “You know, I’d like to quit thinking of the present, like right now, as some minor insignificant preamble to something else.”  I couldn’t agree more.

        When it comes to “A New Beginning…”, there’s definitely a “teenage wasteland” component.  Divided into three parts, “A New Beginning…” delves into the past, present, and future.  Sound familiar?  The past, of course, is where the “teenage wasteland” component comes in.  By contrasting that component with both the present (middle age) and the future (old age), I explore the human psyche in its three most prominent forms.  I’m not going to lie, sometimes I feel like my writing process is a psychological experiment gone awry.  That, of course, is what I’m going for and what makes it fun.  Every now and then, though, I have to take a break and just enjoy life.  I’m on a deadline, however, so I suppose I should finish up Part Two.  While I’m working, enjoy the “Baba O’Riley” video below:

Film Influence No. 5: Cave of Forgotten Dreams

        When it came time to narrow down my top five film influences, I had no idea how difficult that would be.  Given what passes for movies these days, I would have thought it would have been a much easier task.  I was wrong, however; I’m not sure why that keeps happening.  Oh that’s right, I’m human….  In the end, I reworked my list several times and even wrote a post about a film that I had to cut.  That brings me to my mantra for this post:  I love to write, it’s the rewriting that’s a pain….

        I suppose it’s time to discuss a film that did make the cut, which is Cave of Forgotten Dreams.  I loved this film.  I’ve watched a lot of good documentaries lately, (I Am Bruce Lee, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and The Buddha, just to name a few) and this one tops the list.  One of the reasons that I liked it so much is that I have always been a history buff.  Personally, I believe history deals with the central question of asking yourself what it means to be human.  As you may have noticed, historical references pop up from time to time in my poetry.  History has always fascinated me, and the story of the Chauvet cave in Southern France is quite amazing.  The film captures the oldest known pictorial creations of humankind, which I find to be astonishing.  Admittedly, though, history isn’t for everyone, nor is this film.  The film blew me away, but my wife and daughters all fell asleep and we were watching it in 3D.  I would have thought that would have kept them awake.  It didn’t bother me that they all fell asleep, though, because I know that everyone has their own tastes.  Whether it be food, music, films, fiction, poetry, religion, or really anything else, we all have our own preferences.  As long as you’re not harming anyone, I believe people should be free to express those differences; even if it means falling asleep during a film that I find to be enthralling.  I am no Caligula….

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Photo by Elizabeth McCullough

        Another reason that I liked this film, is that I like caves.  There are just so many good metaphors that can be drawn from a cave.  That’s probably why I included a poem titled, “The Dark Cave” in “A New Beginning…”  It is one of the five lost poems from “The Past, Present, and Future” that crossed over into the novel.  It’s probably why I also describe my writing process as crawling into a tunnel in my mind.  I’ve also had some very interesting real life experiences in caves.  Those stories, of course, are for another day….  Today, I would like to leave you with a pair of questions.  In the film, the archeologists discuss the fact that one of the cave artists had a crooked little finger.  Naturally, I looked down at my hand and noticed that my little finger is in fact crooked.  I then asked my wife about it, and her little finger is crooked too.  I looked it up, and according to a 1964 study only 1% of healthy newborns are identified as having bent, or crooked, little fingers.  Admittedly, to be counted the little fingers had to bend inward at an angle of 15 to 30 degrees.  I’m not sure if mine, or my wife’s, bends that much.  Still, though, I find the whole topic to provide an interesting link to the past.  That, of course, brings me to the questions: Is your little finger bent?  If so, does that mean anything?

Musical Influence No. 1 “More Than a Feeling”

        A long time ago, I heard someone say “it’s easier to swim downstream, than upstream.”  That statement was based on the idea that we need to find the things in life that we are good at doing, and let them carry us downstream.  That, of course, is much easier than constantly fighting the current.  I suppose, though, it all depends on where the stream is headed; as it’s always a good idea to swim away from waterfalls….  Boston’s song “More Than A Feeling” reminds me of this philosophy, and consequently has greatly influenced my writing.  I’m sure I’ve heard the song many, many times, but it was only a few years ago that I made the connection.  I suppose you might say:

“I looked out this morning and the sun was gone
Turned on some music to start my day
I lost myself in a familiar song
I closed my eyes and I slipped away”.

        After making the connection, I decided that writing was one of the things in life that I was good at doing (or, at the very least, enjoy doing).  Not long after, I started writing my collection of poetry.  Since that day, I have to admit, I’ve had the feeling that I’m flowing downstream instead of upstream.  As it turns out, though, occasional rapids are impossible to avoid.  Fortunately, I’m used to them now.  No one is perfect, nor is the world, and occasional bumps are to be expected.  It is easier to deal with them, though, when you’re facing the right direction.  Even then, however, you should never underestimate the value of proper training.

        One of my favorite poems, “The Cool Morning Air,” deals with a similar theme.  On the surface, the poem appears to deal with the morning waking process.  Going deeper, though, the poem addressed the awakening of one’s consciousness.  Through this awakening process, the hidden path, or the current you are meant to follow, becomes visible.  I recently wrote another poem that dives deeper into this idea.  That poem, though, is an integral part of “A New Beginning…”, so I can’t discuss it yet.  In the meantime, I leave you with these words from Boston:

“It’s more than a feeling
(More than a feeling)
When I hear that old song they used to play
(More than a feeling)
I begin dreaming
(More than a feeling)
‘Til I see Marianne walk away
I see my Marianne walkin’ away”.

Musical Influence No. 2: “Madness”

        Sometimes ideas have strange beginnings.  The idea for this blog was indeed strange.  Of all things, it began as the result of a soccer competition with the band Muse.  I was chosen to be the goalie for the competition, which involved Chris Wolstenholme and other members of the Muse entourage versus some lucky fans, myself included.  Needless to say, I had a great time.  So did my wife, who was my guest, and she wasn’t even a Muse fan before that night.  Here’s a link to a video of the competition.

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        I had finished my poetry collection a few weeks before the Muse event, and was in the process of researching avenues to publish my poetry.  It didn’t take me long to figure out that 99% of literary agents do not accept poetry.  That weekend I celebrated the Muse event, and the upcoming culmination of the American version of football, with some rum.  When I woke up, “The Past, Present, and Future” as a blog had been born….  When describing his writing process, Hunter S. Thompson once said he was a “binge writer.”  You’ve got to love dual meanings.  I suppose I’m a bit of a binge blogger. Definitely a strange beginning.

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        When it comes to the music of Muse, two of my favorite songs are “Uprising” and “Madness.”  I selected “Madness” as this week’s influence for two reasons.  Since writing and publishing this collection of poetry, I have definitely felt as though “some kind of madness has started to evolve.”  Additionally, I have come to the conclusion that the past is the past, the future in unknown, the present is all that we get, and love is what we all need.  In the end, I suppose that is what the whole collection is about.  Anyway, thank you to everyone who has read this blog.  Without you, I would have closed it down long ago….  Until next week, enjoy the “Madness” video below:

Musical Influence No. 3: “Trojans”

        Every story has a beginning, and an end.  The same can be said for my collection of poetry.  Last December, I found myself searching for a way to end the collection.  My writing philosophy centers around the idea of letting ideas develop themselves.  It can be frustrating at times, but every time I try to push an idea forward it doesn’t feel right.  This process has led me to develop the mantra: It’s not about you; it never was.  I like to think of myself as an idea generator.  Once I’ve generated an idea, I try to separate myself from it as much as possible.  From that moment on, the idea becomes its own entity.  I then go back to the familiar role of reporting.  In that way, I try to stay as true to the idea as my ego will allow.  Of course, sometimes its easier said than done and at times can bring the writing process to an abrupt halt.  That is exactly where I found myself last December.

        As it turned out, I found the cure at an Atlas Genius concert in Portland’s Crystal Ballroom.  I don’t know if it was the music, the beer, the “floating” dance floor, or something else entirely, but I do know that I found what I was looking for.  That dark December night, I found the inspiration for the poem “The Convergence.”  Not long afterward, I wrapped up the entire collection with the last two poems.  Little did I know at the time, the idea was merely a seed that would continue to sprout in my subconsciousness.  Eventually, that seed grew into the climactic scene of “A New Beginning…”  Truth be told, the idea and theme behind “The Convergence” is what the entire collection of poetry and “A New Beginning…” are about.

        I would explain further, but I can’t give everything away….  For now enjoy the music video for “Trojans,” which was the song performed by Atlas Genius when I first became aware of the presence of the seed in my consciousness.  If you like, you may also contemplate how it was that I stood alone in a sea of people as “The Convergence” overtook me.

Musical Influence No. 4: “Satisfaction”

        Mick Jagger and Keith Richards may not have been thinking about the writing process when they wrote “Satisfaction,” but in many ways they summed up what the writing process has been for me lately.  As I continue writing my book, I can’t help but think of The Rolling Stones singing:

“I can’t get no satisfaction
I can’t get no satisfaction
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try
I can’t get no, I can’t get no”

        They, of course, were referring to a different kind of frustration, but the parallels to the agony of the writing process are all I can think about currently.  Indeed, I can “get no satisfaction” when it comes to writing my book.  The problem that I have is that my brain never stops polishing the story.  One day I’ll write what I think are perfectly good pages.  Then, inevitably, the next day a new idea will pop into my head.  As a result, I’ll have to go back and change my outline and the story.  Every once in awhile, I have to throw out perfectly good pieces of writing because they no longer fit into the grand scheme.  I suppose that is what the writing process is all about: polishing everything until “you get what you need.”  OK, I couldn’t help but add in another Rolling Stones reference.  In the long run, I know that all of the agony is for the best.  Sometimes, though, I wish my brain would take a break and stop trying to fix things that I didn’t even realize were problems.  Of course, if my brain did that I probably wouldn’t be a writer.  I’ll just have to live with the nervous breakdowns for now (I had to add in another reference for good measure)….  Enjoy the “Satisfaction” video below: