Lost Influence No. 2: The Russians

        Strap yourself into your seat, as I’m about to give you the instructions for traveling back in time.  It’s quite easy, I’ve even done it myself many, many times.  The first step is to think of a specific time and place in the past.   Ok, I’ve got my place: Nineteenth Century Russia.  Now, how do I get there?  How do you get to the place that you just thought of?  That’s where step two comes into play.  For step two, you need to find out who the great writers were of the time and place in question.  For me they would be Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Ivan Turgenev.  You may have to do some research, but I’m sure you’ll find whom you are looking for.  If you want an authentic experience it’s best to go with a realist, or as close as you can find; otherwise you might lose your way and find yourself in an undiscovered country. (Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that it’s just something other than time travel.)   Ok, now it’s time for step three: read, read, read.  Then read some more.  That’s all you have to do.  Who knew time travel could be so simple?  Who knew that time machines were all around us?

        If books, especially the realist variety with their attention to the details of everyday life, can in fact be viewed as time machines then what better guide would there be than Leo Tolstoy?  Tolstoy probably understood, and was able to relate, his time and place into writing better than just about any other writer.  For an aspiring writer that is very good news.  It means that you can both draw on Tolstoy for inspiration, and breath a sigh of relief.  That sigh of relief is due to the fact that you don’t have to understand and relate everything from your time and place into your writing.  Tolstoy has already done that, and there’s no topping him.  No, it’s just a matter of finding your niche.  A place for your piece to fit into the giant jigsaw puzzle of literature.   My niche, well, that’s a story for another day.  But I will tell you, like all puzzle pieces it has many curves and recesses.

        When it comes to traveling back in time, though, you’ll need more than just one guide.  It’s always good to understand multiple viewpoints on any one issue, or subject, lest you become an absolutist.  When it comes to the past, the more viewpoints you explore the easier it will be to find the truth in its favorite hiding place: the middle.  That being the case, my second guide on my journey into Nineteenth Century Russia is Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  Not only is Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment an interesting read, but it also showcases one of my favorite types of conflict: the internal struggle.  In the novel, Raskolnikov’s punishment for the crime that he committed is in many ways having to live with it.  Or, perhaps, not being able to tell someone that he got away with it.  Either way, Raskolnikov cracks in the end and turns himself in.  Along the way, of course, we get to experience life in the Petersburg slums of long, long ago.

        Capping of my journey into Nineteenth Century Russia is a trip through Turgenev’s novel Fathers and Sons.  As you may have noticed from my poetry, I find the relationship between fathers and sons to be intriguing.  I also find the relationship between one’s fatherland and individual members of society to be intriguing as well.  Of course, what I really learned from Fathers and Sons is this: we’re all different, but we’re all the same.  We have different beliefs, politics, ages, socioeconomic situations, etc…  Still, though, we’re all human.  We all share a common bond that ties us together if we let it.  We just need to see this commonality in each other, regardless of our differences, and before it is too late.  Otherwise, we may find ourselves lying on our deathbed sometime in the future realizing it is too late to change the past; and finally understanding that it is easy to see the faults of others, but quite challenging to see our own.

        There you have it (in more ways than one).  Now you know how to time travel, and you know three more of my lost influences.  Six chairs have been filled, and three sit empty.  Next month, I will reveal the last three influences.  After that, it will be time to calmly and coolly walk into the future.  Oh, I almost forgot one of the most important rules of time travel.  It is important that you “Come As You Are.”  Otherwise you might find yourself, well, right where you are.

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.