Bad Decisions

song in my head — “Apology” by Matt Rose (feat. Dani Rae Vaughn & Texas Drew)

There’s nothing more meaningful than looking someone in the eye—someone who just made a big mistake against you or a bad decision that affected you in someway—and saying, “Hey, it’s okay. We’ll work through this together.”

The temptation for retaliation, bitterness, and anger are of course high in such situations. But most people who have made mistakes don’t need added condemnation from us. They’ll get enough of that from themselves. Better it is to lend understanding in tough moments. A willingness to forgive is an offering of freedom, not just for the one receiving it. Err always on the side of grace.

—G

Predictable, But In A Good Way

song in my head — “Predictable” by Good Charlotte

One of the most important things I believe a storyteller can learn—especially one who wants to push conventions yet still reach a large number of people—is the subtle art of audience expectations. What does my reader or viewer expect from a story like this one?

Many factors play into audience expectations, and they vary from medium to medium. In the film world, for example, something unrelated to the actual movie, like the budget or some behind-the-scenes drama, can have a significant impact on how a viewer enters the theater (if they enter at all.) In most stories, however, regardless of medium, genre conventions and "tropes" often play a highly critical role.

One thing I find exciting to try and achieve in all my stories, no matter the genre, (and a quality I really enjoy experiencing as an audience member,) is the idea of predictability. Is this story predictable?

Now, you often only hear about something being "predictable" in a negative criticism, but I think being predictable in a good way—what some might call “inevitability”—is a worthy aim. It means you have set up your story well, and that the payoffs are clicking. It means an audience is tracking with you. It says you're playing all the right notes.

Of course, being predictable in a bad way is undesired, and usually comes when a story isn't inspiring, unique, or well-crafted. When an audience can see every moment coming from a mile away, well, that's not very satisfying.

However, an audience (especially a mainstream one) generally likes to be one tiny step ahead of you. Most people can't tolerate being in the narrative dark for too long. They want to understand the story—want it to feel familiar in some way, even if they can't articulate that need. It feels good, then, to have that flash of revelation, that moment when you see how the story has stacked the dominos, just before the storyteller topples them.

If you can hit this sweet spot—making the audience do a little work for the joy of revelation—then I believe the potential for more people to enjoy your work is higher. And what artist doesn't want that?

—G

The Mask of Virtue

song in my head — “Yeah, Whatever” by Splender

Virtue is an interesting quality, one we strive to find in others and one we hope is present in ourselves.

After all, who doesn't want to be good?

Gillette recently released a piece of branded content that aimed to be good. Maybe you've heard of it. It's been kind of a big deal.

Predictably, it's ruffled a few feathers— the Daily Wires and Fox News’ of the world, whose opinions by now on such matters are obvious in almost any circumstance. It also, equally as expected, garnered much praise for its message, especially from feminists and feminist allies.

Nevermind in all of this that Gillette is a multinational, billion-dollar corporation still marketing pink things to woman that cost more than "man" things (a double insult, if you ask me), or that this “degrading” commentary is at its core nothing more than an advertisement designed to incite conversation in order to sell razors. What matters the most in this game of public virtue is that everyone gets to feel good about themselves.

You see, those who love the message already held those beliefs—that there's a problem with today's men. I do not disagree with this viewpoint outright; I'm simply saying that the message of the ad aligns with this worldview, and having such a view confirmed by a high-profile piece of marketing—excuse me, “short film”—feeds hubris. It feels good to be justified. Thus the positive response.

Oppositely, there are those pissed off by the piece, those who feel slighted or attacked. Again, I don’t necessarily disagree with the substance of their complaints (though I often grow weary of the condescending manner in which they are generally delivered.) But like their counterparts, the reactions of the “stereotypical conservative” are practiced and expected, especially those of the pundit class. The message doesn't align with their worldview, because they already believe that they are right and virtuous; their hubris is their brand. So any suggestion of malice in their tribe as a whole is an insult to their individual and supposed virtue, an insult requiring loud and sometimes aggressive rebuttal. (see: #NotAllMen)

And then there's Gillette itself, the leader in this virtue Olympics, who have now purchased the right to crow the loudest, while their unfair practices are swept further under the rug.

But here's the thing about virtue. Being good is tough. We seek to be good, but it takes work—inner work and self-reflection and self-awareness, things our mainstream culture has no real interest in fostering. To seek true virtue is at this point almost countercultural, which is uncomfortable for many.

Fortunately for us, as Gillette aptly shows, virtue is a quality that is easy to fake. And in today's culture, where our every public move is categorized and cataloged and judged with impunity and in perpetuity, the temptation to at least appear good has never been higher. So the self-righteousness and the opinions and the judgments and the corporate lecturing will continue, while actual, inner change seems harder and harder to find.

“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.” — Marcus Aurelius

A hollow and precisely-crafted message like Gillette's, then, with its corporate origins and its simplistic overview of complex humanity, can be regarded as little more than an opportunity to don our virtue, to "argue what a good man should be" when we should, as Marcus Aurelius puts it, place our focus and energy on just being better people—people understanding, compassionate, and empathetic to others, who seek to serve those around them while worrying little about the morality of a morally relative and reactionary culture.

The truth of the matter is is that these responses to such stimuli, positive or negative or somewhere in between, are not about being good. They are about the viewer and how the viewer uses the message as a mirror to signal their own, often misrepresented or misplaced virtue. Their own correctness. Being right is the ultimate trophy, after all. And such an appealing prize makes for good marketing bait. Gillette has made a connection now, you see. We've either found an ally or an adversary in a global manufacturer of toiletries. (Hooray for us.) And this was the aim all along; as with sex, polarization sells. It is better for Gillette to be hated or adored than ignored altogether.

So for my part, (as I admittedly signal my own supposed virtue), Gillette didn't really rile me in any direction. This is because I try to hold a counter perspective to that of the two polar ends doing the most shouting in the halls of public discord, an attitude which many of us keep. We see the ad for what it is, we think the message is valuable, and we understand that most of us will, more often than not, fall short in its pursuit. This is simply the reality of it, free of our opinions and judgments.

We try. We fail. We learn. We try again.


Of all the masks we wear, the Mask of Virtue may be the hardest to discard. But it's also the most damning to embrace. It puts us above others when humility should be our chief goal. It says we are incapable of being wrong when learning from our failures is the only true path to growth.

So remember, then, if you can, to keep in check such emotions, especially when they're being manipulated in the pursuit of financial gain. Our work should be in striving to be good, not in arguing about who is better.

And certainly not in faking who is best.

— G

The Fall

Everything I touch turns to dust
Mentors are fired
Relationship are retired
If my soul was attached, it would rust
Fortunately, it isn’t, though—split from it like Pan’s shadow
Sewn to my heel
Stitched so I can feel
Every
Single
Step I take
That takes me further away

And the trail of ash and bodies in my wake keeps me awake at night
Hoping for a sign that I’m doing something right
But the destruction says otherwise
Is my heart just a heart that lies?
Lays useless, steady fruitless, on decline and yet divine?
Because I always feel Your spark
That ember
But I can’t feel me way through this September
And it isn’t even cold yet
Just wait until the sun sets

Just wait until the snow’s wet

Slush swish this way and that
I’m a skinny-tired bicycle on ice that is black
And if I could only get back—
Maybe I shouldn’t have left all
But I didn’t know then what I now know in the Fall
That come Winter, it’s impossible to thaw

A Special Kind of Insanity

song in my head — “Disappear Here” by Bad Suns

I’ve heard it said that the crazy things we do for and with the people we love is a special kind of insanity.

The truth is we’re all a little crazy on our own. We all have our quirks, our certain ticks and neuroses, our tastes and tendencies. We are complex animals. And when we fall in love with someone who also has all their own little things, it can make for an turbulent ride as we try to match the rhythms of our would-be lover.

But when the frequencies align—when two crazies find the beat together and can sway in time—well, that’s pure magic.

So don’t try to change your crazy. Find the crazy that dances with yours.

— G

Control

song in my head — “The Ballad of Love and Hate” by The Avett Brothers

“There are more things… likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” - Seneca

Anxiety seems part of the human condition. But as many have pointed out throughout history, most of our grave concerns are in our heads. If we indeed were as afraid as we sometimes appear to be, we would never leave the house. Much greater are the scenarios built up in our minds than those we are likely to actually encounter.

It's a matter of faith and control, and the gentle harmony between them. Do we try to control the things that are out of our control? Do we have faith that some things will take care of themselves?

As you loosen control, your confidence in life's natural rhythms can grow. Hold onto your sense of power too tightly, and the only thing you're liable to suffocate is not anxieties but yourself.

— G

A Beacon of Light

song in my head — “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley

Why do I create?

I create because I have to. Storytelling is like oxygen to me, courses through my veins like blood. But plenty of artists say similar things. There are plenty of us out there who would say things like "I would write if no one read it" or "I would still write if I didn't get paid."

But here's a little paradox I've discovered about myself.

I only write for myself, but I find it very hard to write if no one is listening.

What do I mean?

I write what’s inside of me in what I hope is a way that only I can. My inner imaginations and passions and voice are my fuel; nothing external like "the market" will inspire me to write something. I think stories are like puzzles, and that almost any idea that I chew on for a bit could be a story worth telling. Otherwise, why would it come to me? I'm so dedicated to this idea, in fact, that I have “stories” in my head that are only titles! I have no idea what the rest of the tale will be, but the title sparked something so deep in me that I can't and won't let it go. It's like a key that unlocks a box—I only have to find the box.

That said…

Though I may write for myself, I believe writing is communication above all else. I write to express and communicate my inner workings. So while I don't write for you—some imaginary audience member with market-tested tastes or who likes certain genres—I do write for You—that person out there who maybe, just maybe, sees the world a little bit like I do. I don't know who you are, or how many of you are out there, but my hope is that if I write enough words, if I spark enough fires and let the ashes float out into the ether, that someday we'll find each other.

What I'm doing here—scribbling down my thoughts every day, writing my fanciful stories—it's not a marketing strategy. It's a beacon of light in a dark forest; I'm lost, like you. But I'm finding a way.

Perhaps we can find our way together.

— G