Sunday’s Wisdom #276: Honor Oneself

“In the end, no one except the Peeps would know what she did and how she did it, nor would the way she conducted herself mean a thing to anyone… except her. That was the crux of it.”
– from In Enemy Hands, by David Weber

Many times, in my commentaries, I have mentioned how storytellers need to let their characters hit rock bottom and actually feel the pain of the impact. In the saga of Honor Harrington, by David Weber, he repeatedly finds new, inventive ways to bring his heroes down, and then help them climb back up, better and stronger than they were before. That climb, however, must always necessarily begin in the same way: within oneself.

At this point in the story, the central protagonist (the saga’s titular Honor Harrington) has been captured by the enemy. Even worse, however, she has been seized on by the very worst and most despicable faction within the enemy’s ranks. For them, the idea of killing her, after tormenting and breaking her, is just the sort of treat that will make their day, and brag about for years to come. She is at the lowest point she has ever been at, and she’s barely keeping it together even as she’s slowly falling to pieces.

In an hour so dark as this, filled with indignity, abuse, pain, danger, and imminent death, the only choice left to her is how to conduct herself.

One might well ask why it would even matter. Anything inspiring in the example she might set would inevitably be suppressed. Even her strong sense of honor and duty to her monarch, her comrades, and the people of her nation could only carry her so far. These are external considerations, and thus ultimately void when everything external is stripped away.

Only the internal, springing from that most intimate and personal thing which we call, “self,” can remain when everything else is gone. So Honor learns, in her darkest hour yet, about who she really is, and intends to be, even if she is the only one who will ever know or care. What others think of her behavior is not so important. She has a duty to herself, first and foremost.

With nothing else left to her, she chooses to honor what she owes to herself: to be her very best, even until death.

It is the source of a new, powerful resolve, and a firm, unbreakable (though the enemy tries their hardest) strength of character.

It is a strength of self which is most pivotal to one’s disposition, and one who possesses it may endure… though not always survive… even the worst Hell that the world throws at them.

Indeed, one must often pass through said Hell to gain that strength in the first place.

How poetic it is, that one must often be broken in order to reform into something unbreakable.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #275: Black and White

“You can’t stop Today, as it comes speedin’ down the track!
Child, Yesterday is history, and it’s never comin’ back!
‘Cause Tomorrow is a brand new day, and it don’t know white from black!”
– from “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” from Hairspray

The first time I saw this musical, I was very surprised at its depth, and relevance. It deals with issues of finding one’s place, and all of us doing that together. Whether it be a fat girl dancing with joy, her fat mother rising above the haters, a black-and-white coupling, a young man being true to his convictions even at risk to his career, a prideful girl learning a little humility, or, my personal favorite, people coming together as equals, no matter their skin color.

That ideal is particularly dear to me.

I grew up in a city that was basically an international way station, which gave us a fairly diverse population. We had white people, black people, natives, Hispanics, people from Korea, people from Romania, and so on. Race, or however someone appeared, was never a big deal, so far as I can remember. We had problems, of course, but not that one. I was never told that there was any real difference between us all, and there was no “us” and “them.”

I was raised knowing that any person is a person, like anyone else.

Of course, I was not entirely ignorant of the problems of racism. I was taught, like everyone else, about the evils of slavery, and the heroism of the Underground Railroad. I was taught about the tragedies of segregation and prejudice under the Jim Crow laws, and the humanity of tolerance and equality, and the peaceful, loving unity which ended Jim Crow. I was taught about the pain, and I saw (and have seen since becoming an adult) the echoes of that pain lingering on for far too long.

Still, those seemed so removed from me, either far away or in the past. Our society might have been scarred, it seemed to me, but it was healing.

I have since been very saddened to not only learn that we had further to go than I knew, but to witness the reigniting of racial tensions, of prejudice and hatred, in my country, and I have learned more keenly about such hostilities across the world. With every new example of racism, be it anti-black or anti-white or anything else, I have longed to see the day when everyone remembers that we’re all just people.

There is no real difference between a black person and a white person, not beyond what you see.

All of us have had to deal with the unfairness of the world, though some lives have been harder than others in various ways. All of us have needed help at some point. All of have ancestors who suffered much, who did terrible things, and who accomplished great things. The history of one race is the history of all races. All of us share the same past, and the same present, and the same future.

However bad it is right now, and however bad it gets, I believe in the dream of Martin Luther King Jr., that we can create a society, if we so choose, where every person is simply accepted as a person. When we know no difference between a black person and a white person, not in how we treat each other, and judge each other, and love each other.

That day, I believe, is coming. It may be longer coming than we want, but it cannot be stopped, and we can make it come faster.

It’s just a matter of what we choose.

I believe in the dream.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #274: “Love” is Not an Excuse

“Loving someone doesn’t give you carte blanche to treat them badly. Loving someone is not an excuse.”
– Dr. Camille “Cam” Saroyan, Bones
Season 8, Episode 16, “The Friend in Need”

When Cam says this, she’s speaking to her adoptive daughter, Michelle. The two of them love each other, of course, and they both know it, but Michelle has taken it a bit for granted. She came back from college for a weekend, and, wanting to spend the time with her boyfriend instead of Cam, without hurting Cam’s feelings, she just didn’t tell Cam about it. It might not be that bad (especially on a show about murder mysteries), and they mend things quickly enough, but Michelle’s still done her mother wrong.

And when her secret is outed, she tries to hide behind how Cam knows Michelle loves her. True, Cam knows, but that’s no excuse. It doesn’t wave away Michelle’s mistake.

Loving someone, and knowing they know about that love, doesn’t mean we can just do whatever we wish without proper regard for their feelings. If there is some situation that could mean hurting their feelings a little, then it’s better to be straight with them, and ask for their indulgence, instead of trying to simply avoid the situation altogether by sneaking around, as Michelle did.

It may be small, but it counts as an abuse of those feelings, and if we engage in such abuse once, even with the best of intentions, that turns into doing so twice. Then thrice. And before we know it, it has become a pattern of pain and neglect which hollows out the love which was once so abundant and bright.

Love is a treasure beyond price… but even priceless values can be spent, little by little, until there is nothing left.

And that’s without even going into those more dramatic instances between couples, one of whom is kept by the words while the other so freely engages in unfaithful behavior.

Hmm… unfaithful. An interesting word. If faithfulness is the firm and unyielding dedication to hold true to one’s word, promises, vows, values, etc., then a lack of such (aka infidelity) is not restricted to couples and romantic relationships, is it? Cheating significant others, abusive parents, neglectful children, traitorous friends… how many of these have excused themselves with words of love? Words which did not match their actions.

Now, I don’t mean to rake anyone over the coals here. Indeed, that is one thing we must not do to either ourselves or others. I merely mean to say:

Love is not an excuse, and it must never be used as one.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #273: Love’s Leap of Faith

“Love’s always going to require a huge leap of faith, a big scary leap over a hot pit of lava, and you might end up heartbroken, but you might be the happiest person on the face of the Earth. Personally, I’m glad I took that leap.”
– Josette Laughlin, The Vampire Diaries
Season 6, Episode 20, “I’d Leave My Happy Home for You”

While I would not exactly recommend The Vampire Diaries as a comprehensive guide for relationships, romantic or otherwise, it did still have its moments.

At this moment, Josette, or Jo, is speaking with a younger woman, Elena. The two have grown close, not least because of Jo’s developing romance with a pseudo-father-figure in Elena’s life. In fact, Jo’s about to marry the man the next day, and she couldn’t be happier about it. Elena, on the other hand, has had already had one or two tumultuous love stories that haven’t ended very well for anyone involved. She has a chance to maybe pursue another such relationship, but she is hesitant. Once burned, twice shy, as the saying goes.

When Jo tells her this, she is speaking from an experienced perspective.

It’s something that, somehow, almost never occurs to young lovers: that things might end badly, with hearts broken. But it happens, and if it happens enough, one begins to question the merits of romance in the first place. Indeed, if one gets burned enough times, one may give up on love entirely.

Repeated failures have a way of discouraging further attempts at anything.

But the people who succeed are the ones who try again anyway, knowing and accepting the risks involved.

Not to say they have to try exactly the same thing in exactly the same way, of course. No, that’s just a refusal to learn (also known as “insanity”). The point of our mistakes is to learn from them, so we can do better next time.

Yet, it must be said, love can be entwined with very painful things, even in the best of cases, and that’s whether we’re talking romantic, friendly, or familial love.

But pain is not the end of love. Of course, it’s not always the proof of love, either, but that’s an entirely different conversation.

What I mean to say is that pain is a part of life, and some things we do risk much more pain than others. Loving someone else has to be an outstanding example of taking that risk, one that we must accept with our eyes open.

But what’s that old saying about risk and reward? 😉

It’s just a question of what it’s worth to us.

So, as we come up on another Valentine’s Day, I wish great joy and success on those who have hazarded that risk, or intend to. May you enjoy a most happy reward! 🙂

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Rewriting Cats: A Few Notes

Um, no… no, it was definitely not.

There are not many times I’ve ever said this.

Though I criticize books, movies, shows, and so on, and I can be a bit harsh in said criticism, I have no illusions about my own paltry capabilities. Thus, I have almost never said or thought that I, a complete amateur with zero experience, could have done a better job than the professionals who actually produced whatever it is I criticize.

This is one off those times.

The idea behind the Cats movie was simple enough, I think, but very badly executed.

T.S. Eliot’s book of feline-focused poems is world-famous, in no small part because Andrew Lloyd Weber totally cribbed off his work. He set the poetry to music, added an original song (or two), connected them with a threadbare plot, and that is how he produced a sensational broadway musical that has, over the course of a few decades, made a few billion dollars. With how musicals on the big screen are “in” these days, small wonder they decided to try and make a movie out of it.

Said movie bombed spectacularly, making only a handful of millions, compared to the many more millions which went into making it.

Evidently, even the sheer, overwhelming fame of a star-studded cast is not always enough to lure people to the theater. At least, it wasn’t for Cats.

With such a magnificent, outstanding failure before my eyes, I can’t help but ask the question: what could have prevented this? How might this movie, this musical, have been improved, and turned into a success?

Much of the answer, I think, is simply in how they handled adapting it. They tried to copy and paste the play, with a few little modifications, onto the screen. And when has that approach ever actually worked? By contrast, the likes of, say, Into the Woods,  kept much of the plot and music, but also trimmed, edited, streamlined, and rewrote significant portions. It’s the same story, the same musical, but it’s not the same.

“Learn from us!”

In that vein, they ought to have done something similar with Cats. It would have turned out so much better if they’d focused more on creating a coherent plot, addressed the themes, and, especially, handled the visuals differently. They should have drawn on the source material, but rewrote it a bit, made the tale evolve. And that is what I am going to do now.

I am going to rewrite Cats.

At least, superficially, in overview. I do not have time to do the entire thing, ya know? 😉 I suppose you could call this a collection of notes to be used in the rewriting process. 🙂

Full disclosure, I freely admit, I’ve  not actually seen either the play or the movie. I’ve done a little research, and I think I have an overall feel for what it is, but this is more a discussion of what it might have been.

Obviously, this is only my own personal opinion, for whatever it’s worth. These are just ways I believe the end product could have been vastly improved, made more appealing and enjoyable for the audience, and more profitable for the people who made the movie.

The Visuals

First and foremost, we address the big, pink argyle elephant in the room: how it looks.

People care about how things look.

Hollywood understands this idea in one way, but not fully. They don’t quite get that the decision to subject our eyes and our brains to a full-length movie can depend quite a bit on how comfortable it is for us to look at. They just go with the newest, flashiest, most “advanced” special effects and call it good.

A spectacle may be exciting, but there still needs to be some substance alongside the flash. Indeed, I would argue that spectacle ought to be the least of priorities, not the first.

So, first step in rewriting the Cats movie: keep the visuals simple.

Not everything needs to be CGI. Makeup and costumes work every bit as well, and sometimes better. We do not need to have our minds blown (or scarred) by a photorealistic (or an attempt at such) splicing of human/feline characters. From what I have seen and heard, that was just weird and disturbing and just wigged everyone out.

Speaking of which, keep the disturbing images to an absolute minimum, period. Humanizing the characters is fine, when done with a bit more grace, but humanizing what they eat? Not so much. No mice or roaches with faces or looking like babies and whatnot.

On a related note, don’t sexualize everything. One can probably place the lion’s share of responsibility for this on the original play (the Macavity choreography, anyone?), but, again, this is supposed to be an adaptation, not an imitation. It might work well enough on the stage, but on a screen, where there’s nowhere else to look, constant erotic movements and intimate closeness just comes off looking like everyone’s getting ready for a massive orgy that never happens.

Basically, there’s no need to overdo everything visual. Less spectacle, more meaning.

Which leads us to…

The Themes

“What does it all mean?!”

There are at least two themes I can see, and would modify.

The first is the desire for a new life, a better life. That is an urge which is thoroughly ingrained in the human soul, and it has been a driving force for much of our civilization’s advancement. There is nothing at all wrong with wanting something better. Indeed, I would argue that it is, on some level, nothing less than vital to have, and act on, that hope.

I would make one small alteration to how it is presented, however.

All the cats are competing in the Jellicle Ball, as it’s called, for the privilege of gaining that new, better life in a place called the Heaviside Layer. However, the very principle of competing for the chance to leave an old life behind is a bit off-putting to me. The exclusivity of it suggests that one must beat others down in order get what one wants, while the otherworldly nature of the happiness they seek suggests that such cannot be obtained here and now, in this life. Both of those are things I personally disagree with.

I might include the idea of it, as a contrast, but I would ultimately put forth that new lives of happiness begin wherever you choose to make them. It’s not just something you are given, it’s something you obtain, work for, earn… and share. And you do it now, in the life you are living now. You don’t have to go away, and you certainly don’t need to wait until you are all the way in Heaven/Heaviside to obtain happiness.

If you want a better life, then have one. It all depends on you. And you don’t have to wait to be “chosen” for it.

As for the second theme… well, it seems to go along the lines of: “We reject you (for some reason) and then we accept you (for some reason) so we send you away forever (in a way that looks a lot like killing you).”

I’m sure I don’t need to spell out just how confusing those mixed signals are.

The whole exclusivity thing can actually come into play with how the cats not only compete with each other, but actively exclude one particular cat. That would need a proper explanation, though, as would the act of accepting one who was formerly rejected.

More to the point, the strange and somewhat disturbing nature of this theme can be altered in the same breath as we alter the other, and by the same means, with a little reworking of the single most pivotal element of this entire effort:

The Plot

“They might have *at least* wasted my star power on something coherent!”

Point number one: have one.

Next to nothing actually happens in either the original musical or the movie. It’s a nigh-unending series of introductions capped off by a brief, superficial conflict, quickly and easily resolved, though not entirely. This obviously needs to get fleshed out a bit, thoroughly edited and rewritten.

A natural, unavoidable consequence of this rewriting is a severe culling of musical numbers. I imagine one could have a medley-mashup of several songs, establishing various cast members quickly, perhaps as an introductory sequence, or perhaps as the Jellicle Ball gets underway. Either way, get it done, and move on.

While the cast can more or less remain as is, the central cast needs to be pared down to a more manageable number. Establish the main group and follow them among the background characters, toss in some interaction with the outcast to get them in the game, and, of course, the villains. Have these characters drive the plot, use the conflict within said plot to further the themes, and voila, you have a vastly-improved musical movie.

As for what that plot actually is

I actually draw on what I know of the original musical, and it hinges on a question: what are villains really up to?

There are a couple of minions in the picture, but there’s one particular villain in the story: Macavity, the Mystery Cat, the Napoleon of Crime.

Of course Macavity is an imposing figure, with a fearful reputation, and formidable in a fight. But he’s also very clever, devious, and subtle. Or, at least he is in the original musical.

“Didn’t Taylor just sing about me being a *ginger* cat, in a heavily CGI movie?”

The movie has Macavity send his minions in to simply drug everyone, leaving him the last contestant standing, which… well, that has all the clever subtlety of trying to make toothpicks with a chainsaw. It also belies the fact that he is clearly a powerful crime lord, which makes it confusing why he would so dearly want that “better life” (which looks an awful lot like dying). This being so befuddling, that idea simply has to go.

In the original story, he kidnaps the patriarchal feline, Old Deuteronomy, and impersonates him. He’s quickly foiled by the one cat who sees through his disguise, and then he’s driven out and never seen again, but I have to wonder what he was up to.

Why impersonate the elderly cat who chooses the winner of the Jellicle Ball? What would he get out of that, of all things?

Being able to pick the winner might give him a chance to do something horrible to that particular cat, maybe rid himself of a nuisance, but that seems like an awfully slim prize to go to such lengths for. There’s not much Macavity can really gain from that.

But what if there were something else?

What if impersonating Old Deuteronomy gave Macavity something else entirely? What if there is something that the elderly cat gets out of the Jellicle Ball without anyone realizing it? What might it be that he gets, and which the crime lord wants?

What do we really know about Old Deuteronomy?

He (or she, because… whatever reason) knows many things, many secrets. He picks the winner of the Jellicle Ball and, himself, sends them off to their new life (which looks a lot like killing them). And he really is very old, said to have lived for many lives of men… which is a curiously long life for a cat, isn’t it?

Put those pieces together a bit differently, and something begins to emerge. Something… sinister.

“Look at this trustworthy face.”

How, exactly, has this cat lived for so long? What secrets does he know? How does he send the cats to Heaviside? For being so old, why does he not have any sort of successor in the works, as if he expects to last forever? Why does he bother to reign over the Jellicle Ball in the first place?

What is the Jellicle Ball, if not the means to find the fittest, strongest, most beloved and best cat out of the crowd?

And whose word is the only word the other cats have regarding anything that happens to the winners? Only his, Old Deuteronomy.

What if he’s actually lying? What if going to their next life really is just dying, as it appears to be, and he’s killed all the previous winners? What if Old Deuteronomy is somehow sacrificing and feeding on all these cats, the cream of the crop, every one of whom trusted him enough to literally put their lives into his hands, just to prolong his own life?

What if Macavity realized this and wants to steal that role and power, becoming a nigh-immortal Napoleon of Crime? And one who can betray and dispose of various enemies on a yearly basis with no one the wiser? The natural thing to do, then, would be to do exactly as he does: kidnap Old Deuteronomy and take his place. Thus, we have not one but two major villains, colliding with each other and with the protagonists, and the truth is unveiled.

With that truth comes the realization of the theme: that we may hope for a better life, but we need to start making this life better, here and now, by including everyone, instead of competing with and excluding others, the way Macavity and Old Deuteronomy do.

 In Summary

Obviously, there’s still a tremendous number of details to work out, but this is a good start. The plot gets reworked into something more compelling and intricate, and which carries the modified theme forward in a meaningful way. Top that off with simpler, less disturbing special effects, and voila! We have ourselves… perhaps not a masterpiece, but certainly an improvement! 😉

What do you think?

“Let’s get this started!”

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Sunday’s Wisdom #272: Roll the Dice

“Inspiration is waiting! Rise up! Don’t think twice!
Put your fate in your hands! Take a chance! Roll the dice!”
– from “Your Turn to Roll,” from Critical Role

I really like this quote.

I think I may have heard about Critical Role some time ago, but I only recently found it myself. For those who don’t know (and using their self-description), it’s “Where a bunch of us nerdy-ass voice actors sit around and play Dungeons and Dragons.” This group includes Laura Bailey, one of my all-time favorites, as well her husband, Travis Willingham, the couple of Matthew Mercer and Marisha Ray, along with Sam Riegel, Liam O’Brien, Ashley Johnson, and Taliesin Jaffe. Not only is it entertaining, but they give their characters a depth that absolutely surprised me, and now I’m riveted. Even if it is a bit time-consuming to watch. 😉

The quote comes from the song of their latest intro sequence, which the cast wrote and sang themselves, and a number of friends provided the various instruments and animation. It’s all about the experience of the game, and what it means to them. This particular line, however, is especially meaningful to me.

Inspiration really is waiting, I think, for anyone looking to find it, which is why I look everywhere for it (thus all the insights I can share on this humble blog of mine). And while I tend to do a lot of thinking twice, there are some things that we shouldn’t have to think twice about. Like, say, rising up, and taking our fates into our own hands. When I do think about it, I must admit, yes, that sort of thing is quite a chance to take, and no one really knows how it will ever turn out. It’s a lot like rolling dice that way.

But whether I get a 1 or a natural 20, I’d rather roll the dice of my life with my own hands, rather than let someone else do so.

It’s my life, after all. I have a right to it, more than anyone else. And I have a stake in it, unlike anyone else.

So… here goes! Wish me luck! And good luck to you, too! 🙂

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Sunday’s Wisdom #271: Humorous Power

“He’d spent a lifetime turning to humor in moments of difficulty. It often made the unthinkable endurable.”
– from Okami: A Flame in the Mist Short Story, by Renée Ahdieh

Laughter is medicine for the soul, as they say. It can also be a much-needed crutch, or a shield, or even a sword. For Okami, it’s always been all of the above.

It doesn’t spoil too much of the story to say that Okami’s life has been dominated by pain and loss. His grandparents died, his mother vanished at sea, presumed dead, and his father, a man of honor and a lord who genuinely cared for those under his care, was betrayed, framed for a crime he did not commit, and subsequently executed. Bereft of family, and even a surrogate family (which goes into spoilers), as well as his lands, title, and all his worldly possessions, Okami had to learn from a very young age how to endure. One can argue that he did not endure with any particular grace, but he endured nonetheless. He survived. Even more, he kept his ability to care for others, an ability that eventually redeemed him from his flaws. This, he did, by laughing.

When he was in pain, he found something to laugh at. When someone behaved foolishly, he laughed, his wit providing both censure and instruction to those willing to learn. When he was imprisoned and beaten, he laughed at his tormentors, in their weakness, and to keep them from learning anything of value from him. When those dear to him came to help him, he laughed with them in good humor, and it helped him stand upright again. His spirit was severely injured, but it was never quite broken, because he could still laugh.

There’s something very powerful and very true in that, I think, about just how vital, and helpful, laughter is to us as human beings.

It’s a kernel of hope, a little bit of light in the darkness of the world, and it can make all the difference in the world. It can help us stand up after we’ve been beaten down. The surprise of a single smile gracing our own lips without warning, of a laugh, a chuckle, a chortle, it can keep us breathing and alive when all we want is to… stop. It’s a single proof that there is still something good in the world, in life, and in us. Sometimes, that’s all we need.

It’s not a new idea, I know. It’s been commented on by Stan Lee, Robin Williams, Roger Rabbit, and Guido in Life is Beautiful, among others. But it’s a good idea, worth remembering, and so worthy of repetition.

Laughter has a power all its own. A power to heal, nurture, uplift, strengthen, and save us. Against the power of laughter, all the howling, anguished misery and horror of the world is ultimately powerless.

Not to say it’s easy, of course. I will never say it’s easy. 😉

But it is possible to endure even unthinkable things so long as we have a little light, like laughter, in our souls.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #270: We Choose Who to Be

“In any situation, we can choose who we are and choose who we want to be.”
– Okami, Flame in the Mist, by Renée Ahdieh

When Okami (meaning “Wolf”) says this, he’s in conversation with a spirited young lady whose personality and strength has been compared to that of water. She’s disliked the comparison, but he urges her not to dismiss it… or to hold too rigidly to it. The comparisons like water, fire, etc., these are guidelines for helping us to understand ourselves and each other. They are not be-all, end-all rules that we are permanently beholden to. We can be like water, or earth, or fire, or the air, or any number of other things, and we can shift between them however we like.

It’s all a matter of what we choose to be. And we can choose.

When we are caught in a moment of stress, we can choose how to respond. When there is something we want and can’t have at the moment, when there is something inconvenient in our way, when there is someone rude or something painful, whatever it is, we can always choose how we meet it. And when things are going well for us, when we get a little full of ourselves, when things are going our way, we can choose who we are in those moments too. Whether we smile and bear our pain or lash out, and whether we become smug and self-important, or remain humble, that choice is ours. It always has been.

It’s just a matter of who we choose to be… and who we choose to want to be.

Perhaps this rings particularly strong with me because it is something I have been striving to teach my nephew, unwilling though he seems to be to learn the lesson. (sigh, teenagers)

But either way, it’s something I strive to remember, that I might make my own choice, and be my best self.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #269: You Are Not Alone

“You are not alone. If you have friends or allies, rely on them. They may not understand everything you’re going through, but they can still help. We all shall, at least as much as we are able.”
– Agent Smythe, GPF
January 10, 2020

Smythe is a relatively minor character and he is, at this moment, speaking to the main protagonist, just as the man has been handed the full cosmic weight of the plot to bear on his already-burdened shoulders. And isn’t that just the way it goes for the hero of the story? They’re just trying to keep it together but the load they carry just keeps piling up, day by day, burying them under? Yet, they must carry on, always alone in some degree, even when surrounded by friends, because they’re the only ones that really understand what’s going on. But that approach overlooks what Smythe is so wisely pointing out.

The hero is not alone.

Even if he is the only one who understands everything, he still has friends and allies who can and will help, in whatever way. It is no weakness – in fact, it is vitally important – to rely on them.

As the heroes of our own stories, we all too often, with no ill intent whatsoever, try to shoulder the weight of our entire world alone. It’s noble, in a way, to try and keep our crap from spilling onto those around us, but that’s not always what we should do. Family, friends, allies, we are all there for each other specifically so we can all help one another in turn.

It’s OK to accept that help, and ask for it, and rely on it.

And the part about understanding what’s going on? If we had to perfectly understand everything about any given situation in order to help, then we’d never be able to help ourselves, let alone each other, but that’s not what we need. One doesn’t need to perfectly understand our troubles the way we understand them in order to help. One doesn’t need to know everything about your life in order to, say, help you load up a truck, or look after a kid for a few hours, or take you out to lunch, etc. One doesn’t even need to understand your troubles in order to listen to them. It’s just something one does to help out.

The lesson of relying on others comes especially home to me right now. One may notice that this post is a full week late, as I missed posting last Sunday. That’s because I was laid low with a nasty little sickness. I have recovered now, but most of this week, I was relying even more than usual on those around me. They came through completely, and as miserable as I was, it was a great comfort to me, knowing that they had my back.

I relied on them, easily, and was not disappointed. If I’d waited until they understood every detail of what I was feeling, we’d have gotten nowhere. They just knew I was sick, so they helped as I needed them to, plain and simple.

Would that we all did that.

And I just want to say how grateful I am that I have people on whom I can so rely for help. It is one of the greatest blessings in my life. 🙂

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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

I remember a story I once heard about a famous painter. He’d been in the business of making his art for a few decades, and had a number of his works hanging on the walls of his house. A guest of some sort visited, and asked about them, and the painter indicated that he regularly took them down and added to them a bit before hanging them back down. Decades on, and they still weren’t “finished.”

The difference here is that a movie must be finished in order to make money for the people who made it, so, however hectic making it might be, and whatever they end up finally doing with the finished product, there ultimately comes a point when it cannot be further edited. And yes, I realize very well that I say that in direct proximity to what is probably the most famous example of a director going back and tweaking his work later on. 😉

George Lucas began his most famous franchise over four decades ago. He clearly didn’t always know what direction it was going to go in, and when he did know… well, therein lies much of what went wrong with the prequel trilogy. Then it changed hands entirely, and the sequel trilogy changed hands in-house more than once, and quite obviously no one knew exactly where it was going to go. So, to wrap up such a long-running, disjointed saga, so loved (and sometimes hated) by so many people, in some sort of coherent way… yeah, that is a huge task.

It is small wonder there were so many purported reshooting sessions and reediting even in the eleventh hour. So many voices, with varying degrees of sway, trying to create a conclusion that can satisfy such a massive audience, and one which has already proven highly critical, can make for a pretty confusing mess. Add in how the studio which currently owns the franchise does not want to simply end the entire thing, while also ending this particular saga, and it gets even more hectic. It shows, quite a bit, that there was a lot of back and forth all over the place.

Still, for better or worse, we have what we have now. The film has been released, the saga is complete, it is finished (I say, with a wry smile), and what is done is done.

So… how did Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker finally turn out?

…all in all, not bad. It could have been a lot worse (it edged very close to such on a very fine line), and it was pretty good. I enjoyed it, and I liked it.

Still a Mary Sue millennial.

Oh, yes, of course there are issues with it. There are always issues, both professional and personal. That was pretty much unavoidable. Some characters repeat each other, some seem to die and then come back, some seem like they might live but then die, some scenes were obviously made but cut out later, some narrative inconsistencies appear all over the place, a few threads are left dangling, and so on and so forth. The “back and forth” may well have just been the argument over including moments of emotional impact, but then not wanting to stick with the consequences of those powerful moments.

And then, of course, there are the themes, which are all highly debatable and depend entirely on our own views to determine how much we enjoy them. For instance, I personally quite loved how Last Jedi challenged the idea of one’s bloodline being so important in the determining of one’s destiny, but Rise of Skywalker turned that on its head again, apparently in favor of an argument that family is something you choose more than what you inherit, and sometimes that family is defined by the cause it devotes itself to. I can appreciate that, even if it makes one’s bloodline a factor, albeit not the determining factor, of one’s life and one’s ability to use special skills like the Force.

Much more, however, where Last Jedi explored the choices one makes when one is standing alone, Rise of Skywalker demonstrates the power of standing together. There is a definite theme of evil winning by convincing its opponents that they are alone, and therefore powerless. However, there are always more people willing to stand up in a time of crisis. They just need a little leadership is all.

It is a very hopeful message, and very much needed now, I think, as we seem to be confronting all sorts of evils and issues in our society today.

Where the movie really goes wrong, I think, is when it moves the designated plot, haphazard thought it may be, forward at the cost of real character development. The characters are pretty much being told what to do the entire time and dragged to face various obstacles, which they then magically overcome somehow. It’s all a mighty confrontation between good and evil, epic and packed with danger. Yet, there isn’t that much personal development, not even when characters are facing everything from vast and powerful armies to old and despicable evils to their own dark sides.

Perhaps that’s simply because the movie never stops. It never slows down, just keeps darting from one crisis to another, delivering more plot, more exposition, more action, more, more, more. I know it’s a massive finale, but I think it could have done well to give us some slower, more tender moments. Maybe then the characters could have driven the plot instead of the other way around.

And, heck, maybe we could have actually heard what Finn was trying to get up the nerve to tell Rey!

“I know we were brave, clever, loyal, and inspiring… but did anything we did really matter?”

I suppose, in short, the movie, and the saga, and the entire franchise, is something of a mess, really. But, it’s a fun mess, an entertaining mess that has positive messages, and a mess with lovable characters, epic scenes, and an enjoyable, if also very rough, story. It has lots of flaws, yes, but it’s still pretty good.

Rating: 9 stars out of 10

Grade: A-Minus.

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