Passing

Droids

When you walked by me tonight,

Did you see the holes in my jeans

Or see the whole of my being?

 

When you crossed the sidewalk,

Did you see the dirt on my face

Or witness the pain in my eyes?

 

When you whistled to yourself,

Did you hear the hack of my cough

Or consider the song in my heart?

 

When you looked away,

Did you see the tracks on my arms

Or the bruises of past abuse?

 

When you accelerated your step,

Did you smell the stench of urine

Or breathe the scent of possibility?

 

When you turned your back,

Did you dread unrestrained need

Or wonder at untapped potential?

 

When you blocked out my cries,

Did you fear the monster before you

Or lose the veil of your delusions?

 

When you walked by me tonight,

Did you think you could escape?

My truth is your truth.

 

Walk all you want;

The longer you walk,

The longer I remain.

Stranger

Beyond the mirror – finding characters

SONY DSC

Despite being a single species—Homo sapiens—humanity is a diverse and eclectic group of individuals. And yet, so often, when writers develop characters for their stories, they tend to stick pretty close to the mirror.

Sure, few of us have likely committed murder or adultery. Perhaps a handful have fought in war or garnered celebrity status. And I am confident that none have visited another planet or lived in the time of dinosaurs.

Despite this diversity of action, however, the main characters of these stories continue to largely reflect what the writer sees when he or she looks into the mirror or scans his or her living room. And because the majority of working writers—at least in the West—are heterosexual white men, our stories are largely told from the heterosexual white male perspective.

Mirror

I am a heterosexual white man, and for the longest time, my lead characters and the perspectives of the stories I wrote came out of that mirror. I know my glass house.

In the last couple of decades, there has been a move by women, by visible minorities (I hate that phrase) and by the LGBTQ community to create more stories from those perspectives. I think that is wonderful.

But it doesn’t have to stop there, particularly as it risks promoting the same problem, if from a previously underserved voice.

What if, instead, we all took the time to look beyond the mirror when developing our characters?

You don’t have to write a woman’s story to choose a woman as a lead character.

You don’t have to write a story about the gay community to choose an LGBTQ lead character.

You don’t have to write a story about race to choose a black, East-Asian or indigenous lead character.

You can already have a story clearly established in your head that fundamentally has nothing to do with those themes, and still make those choices for your lead characters.

We’re all looking for interesting characters. We want voices and thoughts with depth and texture.

And it is entirely possible to do that looking in the mirror.

But if that is all we do, we miss out on so many interesting voices and our texture risks becoming monotonous.

diversity puzzle

So many facets inform a character.

You have to ask yourself:

How, if at all, does the story change if my lead character is a woman—protagonist or antagonist? Even without becoming a women’s issue story, how does the choice of a woman influence action, themes, dialogue or plot?

What about a character of a different race or culture, reminding ourselves that there is heterogeneity within racial communities? Without falling into stereotypes or turning your concept into a race story, what impact does social experience bring to a character’s actions and reactions, dialogue and style?

That story is universal suggests there is a common thread that holds us all together in this world, a thread that intercalates our DNA.

But as much as our characters are about the Every Man—note the phrasing—characters are about nuance and individuality.

Looking beyond the mirror will necessitate some research to avoid the prejudices and erroneous beliefs to which we are all prone (see, I just judged everyone there).

But that is what writers and storytellers do.

We seek the truth of the moment or the situation in hopes that we skim but the surface of the greater truth.

And to do that, we must explore the whole of our universe, not just what we find in the mirror.

Diversity

To learn more about developing better stories, check out:

So, What’s Your Story? (web site)

So, What’s Your Story? (Facebook)

See also:

Why screenwriters should embrace the Heroine’s journey (Ken Miyamoto, ScreenCraft)

Auto(populate)bots Assemble!

robot-n-women

Reports suggest that within the next two decades, robots will take responsibility for upward of 50% of jobs currently handled by humans, who simply remain inefficient and cannot work 24 hours a day.

Already, we are seeing automation in manufacturing and order-entry kiosks in the services industry. It is assumed the next stage will involve a complete takeover of the social media industry, with timelines auto-filled by trivia and rumour bots.

This post brought to you by the Xorblat 3-11A

Photo stolen without permission from The Robot State blog.

For a legitimate discussion of such topics, check out The NeoHuman Blog.

Oh Muppets, where are’t thou (UPDATED)

TheMuppetsGroupshot2011

Yesterday, Deadline: Hollywood announced that Bob Kushell, co-creator and showrunner for The Muppets, would be leaving the fledgling show while Bill Prady and a new showrunner (possibly Kristin Newman) would work on retooling the ABC series that has garnered vast quantities of media and social media coverage.

As the Deadline article suggested:

“But after a highly-rated premiere, ratings dropped. The Muppets has done an OK job opening Tuesday night for ABC at 8 PM, with its numbers on par with lead-out Fresh Off The Boat, but because of its marquee title, The Muppets has been held to a different standard, so its performance has been  considered somewhat disappointing, and there has been a concern about its creative direction.”

I am part of that ratings drop, for reasons I will discuss shortly, but I have several friends and associates within the puppetry community who have struggled mightily to stem the tide, lauding the show’s freshness and energy and chastising its critics. I feel bad that I have let these people down, but I feel it is for good reason.

Briefly stated: The Muppets (the TV series) is a pale, anemic shadow of the Muppets (the icons).

My biggest concern about The Muppets is that the Muppets aren’t leading the way…they are following someone else’s formula. This feels like total anathema to all of what Jim Henson was.

The current incarnation is little more than The Office but with felt-fleshed characters. Look no further than the show’s logo which is presented in the same manner as that of The Office and with an almost identical typeface. And the setting within a late-night talk show makes it a pale imitation of The Larry Sanders Show.

the Muppice

Although parody has long been a staple of the Henson way—consider “Veterinarian’s Hospital” and “Pigs In Space”—The Muppets is not a parody but rather is being sold as original. And ironically, while the new content is supposedly more adult, I would offer that it is not nearly as edgy as it used to be. The humour isn’t nearly as sophisticated as it was in times past. (I appreciate that it is now property of Disney.)

Case in point: References by members of Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem to illicit drugs and rehab have become much more overt in the new series whereas they were only really implied previously. It is as though the showrunners don’t have faith in the audience “getting” the jokes.

“Oh, my God! Did Floyd say rehab? That’s edgy.” No. No, it’s not.

But back to the leadership discussion.

Henson and his gang were innovators. They took an ancient format—the puppet show—and brought it to heights never before imagined. They didn’t pander to their audience but rather challenged them to follow along or be left behind.

Fraggle-crystal

Sometimes that became wildly popular: The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock.

Sometimes it never found a wide audience: The Dark Crystal, Muppets Tonight.

[NOTE: Dear purists, I know that Muppets are Muppets and the others are not…I am trying to make a point about innovation here, so please bear with me.]

And, as I understand it, even the now idolized The Muppet Show almost never existed for lack of interest by American networks that couldn’t see the vision and felt variety shows were on their way out—in 1976, only The Carol Burnett Show remained, Sonny & Cher and Tony Orlando & Dawn having ended a year earlier. That’s why the show was created in the U.K. under the financial benevolence of Lew Grade.

From a mechanical perspective, the artists working on The Muppets are doing an admirable job. These are incredibly skilled men and women performing a technically challenging art form that combines the illusory world of puppets and the frailties of human flesh.

But all that skill and effort is for naught without a heart and soul. And these, in my opinion, are what the current show is lacking.

Ironically, when I watch The Muppets, all I see are puppets, characters trying to entertain an audience. I don’t sense the humanity within the puppets, and it was that humanity that made the Muppets so special in the first place.

Perhaps this is just a case of old-man-itis on my part—“when I was a boy…”—but sadly, I am putting down the empty toys that The Muppets represent and mourn the (hopefully temporary) loss of old friends—the Muppets.

I wish everyone the best of luck with the reboot.

PS I love the work of Bob Kushell and Bill Prady, and place no specific criticism on anyone’s shoulders for my concerns about The Muppets. Not saying this is the case here, but sometimes talent and creativity is not enough to overcome a bad match between artist and vehicle.

See also:

Breitbart‘s “The Muppets’ Reboot: What Hollywood gets wrong about family entertainment”

Although I think the writer (Melissa Henson) has made some valid arguments about the writing of The Muppets, I think her overarching belief that this was intended as family viewing is wrong. Although these are beloved characters from film and television, this show was very much centred on an adult audience. To repeat an earlier point, calling this family entertainment would be to ascribe the same to The Office.

Walking with Pride

Sister Twisted, who invited me to walk with her group. (Credit: Toronto Star)

Sister Twisted, who invited me to walk with her group. (Credit: Toronto Star)

Well that was different. Just spent several hours in a misty rain wandering the streets of downtown Toronto, waving at colourful people on the sidewalk while screaming my head off.

Welcome to Pride 2015 in Toronto, folks.

What's a religious theme without my beloved Toronto Marlies?

What’s a religious theme without my beloved Toronto Marlies?

While I have always been a strong supporter of human rights in all forms, I have generally avoided Pride Week in Toronto simply because I don’t like crowds. But this year was different.

This year, I was invited to participate in the parade itself by my friends The Toronto Sisters of JOY (Jubilant Order of York), a group of amazingly loving, life-affirming people who seem to work from the premise that to be heard, you must be seen (my words, not theirs).

The Sisters pose with their banner

The Sisters pose with their banner

How could I say no? Hell, why would I say no?

So, early this morning, I pulled together a costume of sorts (not my forte) and headed downtown to meet with the Sisters and some of their other disciples, and into the parade we went (news video).

Two Sisters plan the next few hours

Two Sisters plan the next few hours

Well, into the court yard to meet, then into the parade to wander like the 12 tribes to search for our place in the parade, to wait in the drizzle to walk a few blocks and wait some more and then past the float until… well, you get the idea.

But once the parade started, it was so much fun. Never have I ever felt surrounded by so much love. Every colour and every letter in the alphabet came out to show their support of just LOVE and FRIENDSHIP. It was amazing.

I am Canadian, too.

I am Canadian, too.

Everyone shouted their support.

Everyone shouted their support.

Drizzly day in Toronto didn't dampen spirits

Drizzly day in Toronto didn’t dampen spirits

And when the parade finally ended, I was ready to keep walking…instead, I went to Fran’s Diner for a late lunch.

I am proud to call myself a friend of The Toronto Sisters and of several communities of people whose only requirement for entry is acceptance. That’s pretty cool.

You’ll see the Sisters a couple of times in this video of Saturday’s TransMarch (language).

I also recommend learning more about the You Can Play Project, which promotes inclusiveness in sport.

Fight to stay positive

despair

I try to stay positive;

I try to stay upbeat,

As I watch cities aflame

And walls crumble earthward,

Whether through acts of Man

Or through acts of Nature;

Man destroying man,

Betraying them,

Slaying them,

Playing them,

For personal advance

Or simply fear of change.

 earthquake

I try to stay positive;

I try to stay upbeat,

As I hear voices raised,

Weapons of metal, wood, stone,

Wielded in white-knuckled fury;

The bastions of knowledge,

A cultural cudgel used to

Oppress them,

Compress them,

Divest them

Of their worldly goods,

Lives covetously shattered.

 APTOPIX Suspect Dies Baltimore

I try to stay positive;

I try to stay upbeat

As I watch Nature be raped,

Shorelines and shorebirds

Tarred for their feathers;

Ivory affectations shorn

From faces yet breathing;

Air given cancerous substance,

Stilling them,

Killing them,

Willing them

To the precipice of extinction,

Silent hillsides the new norm.

 rhino with no horne

I try to stay positive;

I try to stay upbeat,

Hope my only option

In a world angry and mad.

We must heed the cries,

Must all feel the pain,

Must all see the anguish,

Lest the sweet sleep of death

Numb our senses forever.

And we must stay positive,

We must all stay upbeat.

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