July 2012

023. – In which the priest asks why we’ve left the candlesticks behind.

Sometimes I tell people I’m stealing things.  Little things: a tissue, a handful of M&Ms, sips of a beer from the other side of the table, a pen off a co-worker’s desk.  When I say this I’m kidding.  I’m not actually stealing anything.  Most of the time the things have been offered to me freely at some point or another.  It’s because of this that on occasion someone will respond to me very seriously and say ‘you’re not stealing, I’ve given it to you.’  These people want to shake me, I’m sure, because stealing is no laughing matter.  And it’s not, no matter how blasé I may appear to be about the concept.  I try to take very few things seriously, but as a writer who would like to one day be published, creative output is serious business.  It’s my second job, even as I’m still learning to treat it like one.

The things a person can show you about themselves and how they view the world via what they create are startling.  It’s almost a contract of understanding between the creator and viewer.  At times it’s tantamount to love in the way that we accept the things that creative people show us and take them into account as a whole.  To love is to open your heart and to trust, and when we’re mistreated by love or creativity and our trust is broken it hurts.

I’ve been reading the Jonah Lehrer book Imagine for work.  I probably would have read it anyway eventually, because of the subject matter, but my boss wanted us to read it as part of an ongoing curiosity initiative.  As of this typing I’m only about 200 pages into it.  I’ve been highlighting bits of quotes and observations as I go with the intention of placing them somewhere where I could find them after I pass the iPad on, but now I’m not sure I want to.  I’m not sure I can trust them, and I worry that that goes against my reasons for highlighting them in the first place.

When we’re presented with another person’s creative output we usually have an understanding of its relative true-ness.  Fiction is no less true than non-fiction within the context of the fictional world.  I frequently highlight things characters say, because I agree or disagree with them, or because there’s a small bit of myself to be found there, or because they’ve hit on an idea that I want to explore. I do this with the understanding of the author’s intent in showing us what they have about this character and what we are meant to feel because of that.  I went into Imagine feeling that that intent was to explore the parts and pieces of creativity via the way people go about creating things and to understand how to get the most from these bouts and push yourself to think of creativity as a muscle you can work instead of waiting for inspiration to strike.  And…that’s still true, right?

As someone who was closer than I wanted to be to a plagiarism to do several months ago, there’s a bit of visceral recoiling in my gut now when I think to read more of the book.  Granted, Jonah Lehrer plagiarized himself, which isn’t nearly as bad in my eyes—authors re-purpose ideas and concepts and the like all the time, though maybe not quite as literally—but he also completely fabricated facts and quotations, which means that my understanding of how I’m supposed to look at the ideas within the book is tainted, regardless of how the information is still more or less exactly what I expect it to be.  It’s made all the more troubling by the quote he gave to Stephen Colbert (emphasis mine):

 […]You fall in love with something and then you steal it. That you make it your own, you reinvent it, you in a sense misremember it. And that’s an important part of creativity which is why it’s so important to create a culture where people can liberally borrow from the ideas of others. […] And so you see this again and again among very creative people. They have very open minds, they read everything, they’re incredibly curious, and they steal a lot.

Creative people do have very open minds. They do read everything, at least the writers I know do.  I imagine as a musician it would be more important to listen to all the things and as an artist it would be more important to take in all the art, but dipping liberally into all of the wells available to us will allow us to draw connections we may not have previously, and to me that’s the most important part.  Creativity is not theft.  That is a very simplistic way of looking at a process that devours, synthesizes, and then releases something entirely new.  It’s not re-purposing or rehashing so much as it’s reconstructing from the ground up, at which point the foundation is no longer the thing that gave us the idea in the first place.

So my question is: Is learning from fiction that was presented to us as true any different than learning from fiction that we know is fiction going in?  Can this book still be useful to me in the way my boss wants it to be?  I think it’s probable that it can, but I’m going to need to go back and take a look at the things I’ve highlighted, just to make sure that the understanding I had of them before hasn’t been changed.  And of course, any Bob Dylan quotes I’m thinking of keeping will have to be attributed to the author as they are, after all, simply dialogue in a work of fiction.

.022 – He’s here. The Bat…man.

With two short hours until the official east coast release of The Dark Knight Rises, my entire twitter feed is bursting with excitement.  But this isn’t a fresh flurry of twitterpated fans, this has been ramping up for months now as marketing people and DC employees have worked tirelessly to not let us forget that the most important Bat-event of our lives is about to rain down on us like glass from an art museum ceiling.  Everything everywhere has been all Batman all the time.

I’d be remiss in pretending like I haven’t been a part of that deluge.  The Wrong Opinions About Movies podcast crew worked with a whole host of guests over the last two months on a project we’ve affectionately dubbed Batcon.  We watched almost every Batman movie and then unpacked each one in a mini-episode along with some stellar friends.  My personal favorite of the bunch is the Batman Forever episode, which we recorded with comedian Andrew Sanford.  Nothing says the universe loves me quite like Val Kilmer in the cowl.

Since we started this immersion course in a universe I already have a lot of love for, I’ve been doing some thinking about Batman and the movies they make about him.  Watching anything back to back to back will throw the things that you dislike into sharp relief with the things you do, and I’ve been turning over in my head a list of things I’d like to never see in a Batman movie again.  (The Waynes dying in an alley, Barbara as Not A Gordon, ice puns, etc.)  But along with that I’ve also been thinking about the things that I’m pining for.  The comics universe that has been built around Bruce Wayne and his made family is massive.  Why do we make the same movies over and over again?  It seems that no matter who writes the movies we get Bruce’s manpain, several villains picked out of a hat, and an added dash of origin.  According to the Wiki article there are 16 current members of the more or less immediate Bat-family.  (I would argue whether some of them are appropriate, but that’s a whole other post entirely.)

So, with this information, what other movies could we write that would engage the lay-audiences while not boring those of us who spend way too much time thinking about Gotham anyway?  I’ve come up with five I’d like to see.

1. Under the Red Hood
This is an easy starting place, because Warner Brothers already released a nicely done animated version of the story line straight to home video in 2010.  The average film going audience isn’t going to be familiar with Jason Todd (or any Robin that isn’t Dick Grayson), but it wouldn’t be hard to compress his meeting with Bruce–trying to steal the rims from the Batmobile–and his capture and subsequent ‘murder’ at the hands of the Joker.  The fact that Jason comes back to Gotham as a hard hitting, life taking, smarm monster does more to dent Bruce’s self-worth than Poison Ivy, Bane, and Mr. Freeze can together.  And Jason’s lack of redemption in Bruce’s eyes would be an excellent driving force for a sequel.

2. Batman Beyond
Even the curlicue of storytelling that comic books call continuity has to admit that Bruce Wayne can’t be Batman forever.  Eventually he’ll grow old and resign himself to a desk.  Enter Terry McGinnis, the Batman of the future.  I’ll leave you to search for the main plot points in the wikipedia article if you’re curious, but Batman Beyond could have all of the elements that we as a society fear the most these days: corporate conglomerates, chemical weapons, a whole gang devoted to the memory of The Joker.  Batman Beyond as a movie would be the most radical change you could make at this point, since it would leave us with very few remembered characters.  It would be a drastic pull away from the Batman movies we’ve grown comfortable with.

3. Nightwing
Eventually, Dick Grayson grew up, and much more gracefully than Chris O’Donnell ever let on.  At the age of eighteen he was dismissed from his Robin duties and took on the mantle of Nightwing (along with some truly tragic costumes).  This is a movie that could happen in Gotham, but it could also introduce his part time home of Bludhaven, where Dick went to get away from Gotham and be out from under Batman’s teflon wing.  He worked on the police force during the day, so the investment in keeping his alter ego and his true ego separate would have even more at stake than Bruce, whose eccentricities can often be played off as just what money does.  The great thing about a Nightwing movie would be the shift in tone.  Dick is very much not Bruce Wayne, even when they’re together.  Given room to breathe his character is inspiring and responsible while also being a bit silly and game for a laugh.  Even for the short time that Dick wore the Batman mantle himself he let hope and his heart rule out over his head.

4. Oracle
Ladies!  There’s been a lot of talk lately about whether or not a female superhero can carry a film franchise.  I like to think that one could, given the right writer.  (If the universe could arrange for Joss Whedon to write the Black Widow movie, I’d be eternally in its debt.)  And even without the ‘right’ writer, Barbara Gordon is so much more than a cape or a character confined to a wheelchair.  As Oracle Babs is a fighter, a librarian, and the world’s greatest communications/research gal a detective, Suicide Squad, or group of female vigilantes could have.  Our daily lives are increasingly falling prey to the technology we let in, and Barbara’s ability to manipulate that, as well as her physical prowess, could make for a compelling and modern story.  The studio could even include the events of The Killing Joke if it had to, but I’d rather her story be more about strength and intellect and less about depression and fear.

5.  Batwoman  
Ladies on ladies!  This addition is even more personally indulgent than the one about Nightwing.  Kate Kane is my current favorite member of the Bat-family.  She’s relatively new, having been introduced as the current incarnation of Batwoman in 2006, but her story is timely.  She was a student at the United States Military Academy when she was outed as having a relationship with a woman.  When confronted by the higher ups and asked to just deny the claims so she could stay, she leaves her class ring on his desk and quits.  This happens several months before Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed for us in the real world.  From there she goes on to fight the ills of the world the best way she knows how.  Batwoman’s stories tend to have a more supernatural element than a lot of the other tales told about the Bat-family, so they would probably appease the paranormal romance crowd.  She’s contrary while holding strong convictions and she refuses to cowtow to Batman, even though she’s working within his city.  She’s honestly, and I have been holding off on saying this for a little over a thousand words now, the hero we need and deserve.  In my eyes, anyway.

Above all, I think the key to introducing new Bat-family characters to the movie going audiences is to not doubt the movie going audiences.  For the most part, we’re not stupid.  We are introduced to new characters and new stories every year and have no problems taking in their hopes and fears and journeys of discovery.  Why should it be any different with properties that might be familiar?  What do you think?  Do you disagree vehemently with the stories I’d like to see?  Would you hate or love these movies?  Which stories would you like to see them tell about Batman and his caped cohorts?  I can, as you might have noticed, talk about Batman until the Bat-cows come home.  So sound off!  But if you post spoilers for the movie, please give us a heads up so we can all avoid them until we’ve seen it.

.021 – Call and Response

I’m not quite as stupid as I let people make me feel.  I know this intellectually because I still have all those scores from different tests they gave us in school to try and separate out the chaff.  (This doesn’t work, by the by, there’s a lot of book smart chaff.)  I know this practically, because if I put my mind to mechanical things and cookery type things and artistic type things I can figure them out, even if I haven’t been taught how to do them.  Sometimes it’s just about taking something apart and putting it back together again, which is a quiet activity–except for the bouts of creative swearing–that lets me focus on my hands and not overthink the processes.  So perhaps it’s not surprising that the points in my life where I feel the most stupid are the points where someone, a person, is standing across from me asking me a question and expecting a response.



Just spit it out already what is your problem why won’t you answer me don’t you want to talk me?

That.  I’m not good with that.

And it’s not even always that I don’t know the answer.  It’s just that finding the answer in my big, confusing brain decorated solely with non sequiturs is, well, it’s hard.

I recently went to a couple Big Fancy Art Museums (TM) with a friend I don’t see often because she lives very, very far away.  At each of them she wanted to know, before we had seen everything in the museum, what my favorite piece was.  If I could take one thing home, what would it be?  There’s nothing that makes my brain freeze up quite like a question like that.  That question is loaded with expectations, even if it isn’t meant to be.  The first time I came up with something.  I mean, the breath did kind of get knocked out of me when I turned a corner at the MFA in Boston and spotted John White Alexander’s Isabella and the Pot of Basil at the far end of a set of rooms, framed by successive door openings that forced the perspective.  The lighting in it is amazing.

The second time I didn’t even try to answer, begging off that I hadn’t seen it all yet.  I couldn’t possibly know. The real reason is simply that my brain doesn’t work that way.  I like to amble and wander and learn.  I like to take in everything and then sit with it for a little bit before I have to come back to it.  And ‘a little bit’ could be the afternoon.  It could be the day. The first time I read Camus I fell for his words with my heart, but it took my head a good week to really comprehend what was being said there, about life, the universe, and everything.

We like to think of intelligence as speed.  A person is said to be quick witted or a fast learner.  If you’re smart then your brain works like a cyberpunk hypejack.  The information buzzes through it at four times the speed of light, often lit up neon.  If your brain works another way, a more mechanical way, well then, the poor dear tries, doesn’t she?  Because very often my brain feels mechanical.  I have to put a lot of focus toward walking the halls in the way I’ve trained myself to and not just letting myself jump about.  I’m an ADD kid and I don’t take the medicine! is often my excuse.

I actually fear ADD medication more than I fear people thinking I’m stupid, because I don’t trust any drug that might alter my brain.  I worry that it will alter who I am.  I’ve spent 29 years becoming used to being me, for better or worse.  Why throw it all out the window now?  But it’s true, and it’s also an excuse.  It’s an excuse I feel I shouldn’t have to make.  But you know, there’s nothing quite like people cutting their eyes down when you screw up a word or a name or a Batman subplot or can’t collect an answer to their questions quickly enough.  It makes you cringe inward and want to hide.  That people walk away from me sometimes and think that I’m not interested or not interesting or dumb causes spirals of bad feelings I’m still kind of learning to control.  And I’m learning that coming up with an answer at any costs isn’t the right way to do it.  That doesn’t make people think I’m any smarter.

When you ask questions, be patient.  Be kind.  Understand that if a person cannot answer you at the moment it’s not that they don’t want to.  That person would probably like nothing more than to move the focus to someone other than themselves, if only they could come up with a way to shift it.

I say I’m stupid kind of a lot.  It’s a defense mechanism, you see.  It’s how I feel sometimes, because I’m just never going to win any races and a lot of the people around me can.  I’m proud of them.  I’m learning that that doesn’t mean I have to compare myself to them and feel out of sorts about it.  Everyone has a talent after all, and there are some very intelligent people who can’t change the tires on their car.  As we move into an age where everything is going to come faster and more technological, we should be conscious of making sure that the mechanical is still held in some regard.  Without it, we wouldn’t be where we were now at all.

This post was actually brought to you by a bit of musing about whether our ability to stave off age will make us less likely to require fairytales that focus on maintaining youth and beauty.  That’s just the weird, non sequitur way in which my mind works.

My favorite piece of art at the MoMA, by the way, is Rendezvous of Friends – The Friends Become Flowers by Max Ernst.  I’ve been a fan of Ernst’s collage work for quite a while, so seeing his paintings in person made me a bit lightheaded with excitement.  I would almost say it was surreal, but the way in which I’m not funny is a whole other post altogether.

Blog at

Up ↑