I find myself at the start of a major project, a place I have been so many times. Yet rarely have I wound up at the end. This time I’m thinking about what it is that I’m doing, what I want to be doing, and why I want to be doing that. Writing a book shouldn’t be as difficult as it is for someone like me who loves reading and writing. But I’ve been cursed with a short attention span, and if things don’t catch on, they usually fade out to nothing. I’m also a compulsive hoarder, so I’ve collected quite a number of half-finished – or barely started – manuscripts over the past couple of years. In fact, it’s only with things like NaNoWriMo, where I try cramming something massive into an incredibly short space of time, that I manage to get something novel length into a complete first draft. Never further than that.
I find planning helps.
And now, as I stare at the screen, contemplating how I should approach my space western, tentatively titled “Once Upon A Time On Mars”, I’ve begun to compile a list of things that inspire me. It started with things directly related to the project at hand. At the top of the list were things like Fistful of Feet (Jordan Krall’s bizarro western novel), Doom Magnetic (William Pauley III’s bizarro space western novella), the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and Cowboy Bebop. Then the narrator character gathered inspiration from the narrator in the Big Lebowski. And the revenge plot and non-linear narrative took inspiration from Tarantino. Then it sort of shaped into a list of things that are western, space western, sci fi, things that shape my writing, or things that shape my way of thinking. And that brought me around to some things that when I watched them or read them, they left a real impact, such that my head goes into a spin just thinking about them.
I love stuff that’s subtle and intricate and delicate, yet not clouded with standard, everyday drama, but stuff that’s deeply psychological, layered and complex, sometimes dark, confronting, and extremely uncomfortable. In particular, I’m fascinated with gender representation in texts, and particularly with texts that subvert (or at least, mess with) the dominant representations of masculinity. I’m tentatively naming it post-masculine, going off ideas that such representations of male characters take them outside the boundaries of male expectations that have existed for so long in western culture, yet seems to constantly slip under the radar while feminism is being debated full force.
Why can’t men talk about emotions and thoughts and feelings?
It’s something I’d like to approach in my own writing, and it’s something I really respect in the works of other people. I guess you could say this is my driving factor, my search for an identity that doesn’t need to mould itself to masculinity and patriarchal standards to be happy with myself. And that’s something I haven’t been able to put into words before.
I’d like to take note of the texts that have blown my mind and helped me to come to a better understanding about myself and about my own thoughts and actions.
Starting with the most recent, Neon Genesis Evangelion.
I think the best way of describing this show is that it’s like those angler fish. You see something shiny and awesome and you think “I wonder what will happen if I try to grab it.” So you try to grab it and it moves away playfully. And you try to grab it again and it moves away playfully. You want it. You want it real bad. More than anything in the world. And when you do get it, you find that it’s attached to this monstrous creature that feeds off the vulnerable.
The show follows a 14 year old boy as he pilots his robot thing and attempts to destroy angel things to save the world. But he is burdened with many, many things. Of course, at his age, all he wants to do is fit in, to be a normal child. To hang out with his friends and talk about girls. He is at a constant crossroads between the life he wants and the life he’s destined to live. His father is a cold bastard and he keeps himself at a distance to his peers. It would have been so easy for this show to turn out like all the other massive awesome kids fighting shit and saving the world tv shows out there, and while I’m sure all those other shows aren’t completely void of any emotional and psychological themes, this show takes it to the next level. I watched the whole 26 episode series in 5 days, cramming the last 6 episodes into one sitting so I could finish it before work. What happened was that by the time I’d watched a few episodes and started to get to know the characters and care for them, the psychological themes turn up a notch or two. And when it feels like it’s settling down again it just explodes again. Shinji Ikari, the main character, is a real traumatised child, and without saying too much, his psychological turmoil gets turned right up. Instead of making the story about the big robots and the angels and saving the world, the show becomes a story about a child going through an existential crisis at a crucial point in his life. Phenomenal.
Keeping with the Japanese, I’ll move on to one of my most inspirational idols; Matsuo Basho.
I’ve mentioned him here several times before, but I can’t undervalue the importance he has had on my writing and my way of perceiving writing and my way of perceiving the world. When I read his haiku, I find it so soothing. There is peace and beauty and nature to his writing. He gets in touch with a delicate and beautiful world that I often fear is lost to the current world. But I can take comfort in the idea that enduring the bleak and ugly will bring me strength and harmony and allow me to tap into this delicate and beautiful world that Basho has recreated in his writing. Probably some sort of yin-yang zen philosophy in there somewhere.
I remember studying poetry last year and learning the haiku form and reading Basho’s poetry for the first time and the impact that had on me. To me, Basho is the ultimate poet.
Next, I’d like to mention the work of Don Hertzfeldt. In particular, his films “Everything Will Be OK” and “I Am So Proud Of You.” These are two short films following the life of Bill.
These films are some of the most powerful films I’ve seen. They’re kind of like Neon Genesis Evangelion in that at face value they don’t look like anything outstanding. But the power is in the words, the storytelling. Don Hertzfeldt is an independent animator and true genius. These two films (with a third on its way) are all hand-drawn with simple-looking characters acting out a very deeply bleak story. There’s black humour running throughout his work, but “Everything Will Be OK” and “I Am So Proud Of You” are just so relentless. Bill endures the worst life has to throw at him as he tries to make sense of his life. Everything is larger than Bill. His life feels like it’s out of his control. What good is a small choice to the world at large? What is one person in a timeline stretching both ways to infinity? Can you ever truly understand the ones you love? Don Hertzfeldt has a way with words, and his films demonstrate this, and string together a narrative so completely brilliant and devastating it’s difficult to comprehend that all of that came from one man’s head and illustrated on his paper.
And while I feel like I could list a number of other inspirations, I’ll keep it to four and mention a book I read this year which is quite comfortably one of my favourite books. DBC Pierre’s “Lights Out In Wonderland.” I’ve loved this book ever since I read the opening few lines. They go like this:
“There isn’t a name for my situation. Firstly because I decided to kill myself. And then because of this idea:
I don’t have to do it immediately.”
And from there it goes, gaining momentum as Gabriel goes on an existential journey, looking for the perfect moment to off himself. It’s darkly addictive. We’re on a journey with Gabriel to find the point to his pointless searching for something ill-defined. Whoosh, a limbo, a wonderland journey, searching for something fantastical, this book is wild, riveting, decadent, and psychologically captivating. A character on the brink of suicide and trying to figure it all out. What leads a man to this? It’s not your normal everyday thought, and he’s not on your normal everyday journey, either. He doesn’t think like normal people, and his situation is a little messed up, but there’s nothing wrong with being different. There’s nothing wrong with liking things that other people don’t like. There’s nothing wrong with going against the grain if it’s what you really want to do. I love the books and movies that I do because they help me define myself. They help me to come to terms with who I am. I’m a guy doing an arts degree. I’m interested in writing and poetry and weird books and films and music because I want to be able to think for myself and not be judged as a freak or a faggot or whatever because I don’t like cars and sports and objectifying women and solving things with aggression like other men do. Is that wrong? I don’t think so, but so often it feels like a lot of people feel it is wrong. Don’t hate me until you’ve tried to know me and understand me, until you’ve tried my way of life. Obviously, you can’t truly know me, but trying means a lot more to me than pretending I’m a normal guy.