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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Why Adventure Time is My Favorite Cartoon (and why cartoons are important)

Oh, what's this? You expected another dose of writing wisdom after my Pewdiepie post? Well think again. You see, I've recently noticed a whole shit ton (approximately 8.2 crap tons, for scale) of problems in my current manuscript, and I don't have the audacity to hand out writing advice until I fix it. At least in regards to the craft; advice like "Write every day" and "Read a lot" will always be relevant advice and will never be wrong. But until I learn how to craft good prose and weave together various subplots into a good story, I'll stray away from that area of discussion.

So let's talk about something stupid and inconsequential instead, like cartoons.

Unless, of course, it isn't actually inconsequential- but whether you consider it important or not has no bearing on the fact that this is going to be a very self-indulgent entree in a 3-course meal of non-writing posts. Luckily, my writing is improving a bit just by writing on this blog regularly.

Gravity Falls, an Amazing Cartoon.
So let's assume you read the title and work our way down from there. Starting off, why are cartoons important in the first place? With our precarious political landscape, and Mr. Trump in office- an event that is most likely either overwhelmingly good or utterly devastating, depending on which side of the political spectrum you find yourself on- it seems we've gotten our panties in a wad here.

I'm probably the biggest hypocrite in the multiverse for saying this, given how vehemently radical my political views are, but I'm gonna say it anyway.

We need a break every once in a while.

Let me share some of the things I've seen firsthand.

At the moment, since I'm not making any money from my writing yet (if you want to be a writer, get used to doing 3 years of free work before getting a paycheck, and get used to making little-to-nothing for another 10), I'm working part time as a cashier. And the people I see scare me.

I don't have any grudges against older people- some of my best friends are people who won't even be alive by the time I become a teacher- but something happens in the 30s and 40s. I think that might be the most dangerous time to be alive.

Once you start to approach the end of your first-half (of life, that is), something happens inside.

Your spirit dies.

I regularly encounter 40-something women (the men usually freak out over different things) who will have a meltdown in the store upon discovering that we can only accept one coupon per purchase. And not only that, but they will take it out on you, the lowly employee. The messenger is always the first person to die when something goes wrong.

I saw this parody article on The Onion a little while back:

Middle-Aged Woman Angrily Demanding Price Check On Rice Pudding Was Once Carefree Youth, Onlookers Speculate

That hit a little too close to home for me.

Is that what we've devolved into? Have we sacrificed all the adventurous ideas we once held dear for the mundane? Are we all destined to fail and live a boring and inconsequential life where we berate minimum-wage-earning clerks over a dollar on rice pudding?

I hope not. If I ever sink so low as to get in a twenty-minute spat over a dollar, only to demand that I see the manager, and have the manager tell me the exact same thing as the employee, followed by me storming out angrily and writing a bad review on Yelps, just shoot me in the fucking face.

Domics did an awesome video on that.

There has to be more to life than this.

Cartoons are important because they reveal all of the child-like wonder we once had- and are capable of retaining, as long as we are willing. To me, the day I stop making Spongebob references is the day I'm dead. If I ever stop making dumb Spongebob jokes, that means the inner child in me has died, probably stabbed 37 times in the chest.

No, I'm not saying everyone should be immature and never develop over time. What I'm saying is we shouldn't grow up, a term that, for me, is synonymous with getting a dead-end 9:00-5:00 and giving up on your hopes and dreams.

One thing I've discovered is that many people, upon reaching the end of their life in their 80s, 90s or occasionally even triple-digits, is that they let go and become much more laid back and fun. I think it's because they remember what it was like being a 40-something who agonized over everything, and now that they've come to terms with the fact that life comes to an end, they've decided to just enjoy the rest of the ride instead of freaking out over a dollar on rice pudding.

My great-grandpa is an amazing example of a second act gone right.

To be fair, I wasn't alive when he wasn't old, so I have no idea what he was like in his 40s. For all I know he was always funny and laid back.

But all I know is that despite out-living most of the people he grew up with, he's embraced a fun and fulfilling life. He has an adorable dog that he uses to pick up chicks, and a while back he told me about how his 80-something neighbor and her 60-something daughter were both fighting over him.

Sometimes I catch him wearing some tropical shirt covered in fruit or naked ladies, and he'll go around making puns and laughing along at all of our dumb jokes.

What a legend.

This isn't always the case- some people grow up and then never come to terms with their life's eventual end. They'll cling onto that dollar with an iron-fist and never let go, because that's all they have left.

Fitzgerald often said that there is no second act in life. His own life was tragically short, as was Gatsby's, but perhaps if he had lived until his 80s instead of 40s, he would have thought otherwise.

The simple fact is, that some people will have second acts and others won't. And I'm not just referring to those who die young.

Those who let go of their hopes, dreams and ambitions in their third and forth decades, and never reclaim them, will die having never accomplished anything or had any fun. What's the point of that?

But if someone who once clung on to the petty instead of chasing ambitious dreams is able to see what went wrong and make a change- one of the spirit- and be able to have fun again, then they can have a second act.

Act one: Rice Pudding Price Check.

Act two: Rice Pudding is Lame.

Bob Ross said something fantastic in one of his installments of "The Joy of Painting" on Netflix. He was standing there, doing all sorts of crazy things like using knives and tape and optical illusions to create his painting, when he said something to the effect of, "I used to agonize over my paintings, now I just enjoy it. Don't worry about how you're making it, just do what makes you happy. If nothing else, painting should make you happy."

Can we take a moment to appreciate how wholesome Bob Ross is? Why do we have an Arbor Day but not a Bob Ross Day?

Anyway, moving on.

When I say cartoons are important, I'm not referring to educational garbage. Paw Patrol and Dora the Explorer will never teach your kid anything.

But cartoons with actual plots and characters, where the heroes overcome insurmountable obstacles- those are the kind of shows everyone should be watching.

Try comparing Avatar the Last Airbender to Paw Patrol. Where in one, a flat, 2-D character (pun intended) talks to the audience awkwardly and asks basic math questions, only to exclaim the answer and shout "You did it!", the other is full of nomadic characters traveling the world, with engaging parables and intense emotion- it's full of wonder, funny banter, heroes and villains, monsters and magic-wielding elementalists.

Stories are important- and so it is important that cartoons have them as well.

Even shows like Spongebob can pull this off.

Spongebob has no overarching story or character development, but at least each episode has its own self-contained narrative, with a beginning, middle and end.

(At least Seasons 1-3, the rest are garbage.)

The first three seasons of Spongebob are iconic because the show masterfully captured the stark contrast between childhood and cynical adulthood.

The reason why Spongebob became the most popular and culturally significant cartoon in the world is because of two characters: Spongebob and Squidward.

When we first watched Spongebob as children, we related to Spongebob. And when we watch Spongebob today, we relate to Squidward.

This brilliant dichotomy is the whole reason why this show worked.  Sadly, in 2004 when Stephen Hillenburg left and the new team took over, things went downhill. I know I said the first three seasons were the only good ones, but season four was still good for the most part. While it wasn't as good as the previous three seasons, it wasn't bad at all... but each season progressively got worse. Season five was only OK and season six was undeniably bad, and so the rest of the show followed suit.

Was it just because of the new writers?

Sort of.

You see, when the new writers took over, it wasn't just the comedy that suffered- it was the dichotomy between Spongebob and Squidward that suffered most. And it was this dichotomy that made the show great in the first place.

I'd encourage you to watch this amazing video breaking down this dichotomy in an in-depth analysis.

And if the idea of watching a 30-minute intellectual analysis of Spongebob Squarepants makes you giddy with glee, then you're probably the kind of person this post is meant for.

For those who don't envision this as their idea of fun, well....

I'll just summarize it for you.

(I don't steal content, so do note that I'm just paraphrasing everything he said in the video above. These are his ideas and references, not mine.)

Basically, we grow up as this:

And eventually, we turn into this:

As the creator of the aforementioned Spongebob analysis states, "Somewhere along the line we become a Squidward."

And remember: No employee wants to be a Squidward.

Suffice to say, Spongebob became culturally significant because it's the only cartoon that captured the essence of what a millennial is. Companies, parents, teachers and organizations all across the world have burnt themselves dry trying to understand millennials, and as EmpLemon so eloquently put it, "None of these people will ever know what millennials want because millennials don't even know what they want." He then added this incredibly relatable image:

The thing is, that when parents, teachers and companies try to be hip by referencing Internet Culture, they're doing the very thing that we mock. The best example of this to-date is when YouTube released "YouTube Rewind 2018," and, well, we all know how that went.

Not only did it become the most disliked video on YouTube, even surpassing "Baby" by Justin Bieber, it also sparked incredible backlash and resistance. YouTube Rewind 2018 was the start of a massive campaign to dismantle everything the YouTube corporation stands for in favor of politically incorrect content-creators like Pewdiepie. "Subscribe to Pewdiepie" became two things: a meme and a serious call. It was simultaneously a massive joke and an actual movement with real support from people who didn't want to see YouTube become a corporate sell-out. Only millennials can create inside jokes that are simultaneously revolutionary commentaries on the importance of Internet Culture on the real world.

(I'm about to get all political so if you want to skip all my political commentary to get back to the cartoon discussion, skip the next 13 paragraphs.)

That's why trolls run rampant across the Internet.

Some are just bullies, sure, but that's not what the spirit of Internet trolling is really about. It's about humbling massive figureheads, creating a level playing field where ordinary people on the Internet can create strife for Hollywood giants, academic elitists and frothing lunatics at Vox.

It's because these people don't get it. Trying to buy us with money or convert us into boring SJW journalists by shaming us and calling us racists/sexist/homophobic bigots isn't going to work. Gamergate was significant to me and other alt-right Internet trolls because it was the first time a collective group of people stood up to these powerful people. (For those who aren't familiar, Gamergate was a movement five years ago when the media made the sweeping declaration that all gamers are sexist pigs, so gamers all over the world ripped them apart and the media finally backed down.)

Where others bent the knee and gave up the fight, like Glenn Beck, millennials stood their ground. It wasn't republican figures on television, like Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee or Jeb Bush that stood up to them and said "No," it was teenagers and Internet nerds who play video games all day.

Who would have thought that in an age where elitism and political power reigns supreme over every little detail in our life, from what pronouns we use to what we're allowed to wear for Halloween, nerds on the Internet would be the first to stand up for themselves and win? The Gamergate controversy was way back in 2014, when the SJW lynch mobs were just beginning- and today no one else has done much about it. That's one of the reasons why Donald Trump got elected- because he was, as Milo Yiannopolous put it, "The Internet's choice for president."

I don't know what your political affiliation is, dear reader, and I'm not going to ask you to agree with my political views, but I do ask that you see why millennials and Internet trolls have become intertwined with politics and culture. In other words, you can disagree with me but still understand why I am the way I am.

That's also the difference between alt-right and establishment republicans.

It should be noted that alt-right and classic republicans are extremely different.

Establishment republicans like Ted Cruz and Glenn Beck don't understand millennial culture or our political views any more than the journalists at Buzzfeed do. Yet, there are still a few happy intermediaries between alt-right millennials and establishment republicans; these people are Milo Yiannopolous,  Greg Gutfield and Donald Trump- they combine the Libertarian political views of lower taxes, capitalism and constitutional rights with the outrageous meme culture of alt-right Internet trolls. They're often regarded as "fringe" figures who are somewhere around conservative but don't line up entirely with tradional conservative views. At times, figures like Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson overlap with these groups (even if Ben Shapiro is generally more establishment than, say, Milo Yiannopolous).

That's why the real-world/Internet divide exists; it's why liberals control the real world and academia while meme culture and the majority of the Internet is ruled by alt-right trolls. The Internet may have been developed with the hope that people would read scholarly articles written by liberal professors and editors at the New York Times, but instead it's used to watch cat videos and make dick jokes.

And that's why young millennials and Gen Z kids like cartoons and video games. We don't want to grow up, we don't want to accept the reality that's being preached to us by academics, parents and mainstream media. We have our own reality- our own culture, our own likes and dislikes, and our own worldview. Gen Z is considered to be the most conservative generation since before the Baby Boomers, the first of many liberal generations that would follow into the 90s. There was a brief video summarizing it here.

And every generation was like this in some way- in the 90s teens would wear all black and act all edgy, listening to metal and sneaking out of their rooms at night to hang with their friends or boyfriends/girlfriends in the wee hours of the morning.

Only now the bar is set much lower for teenage rebellion; now all it takes to be an edgy and rebellious teen is to have old-fashioned Christian values and spread Pewdiepie propaganda all over the Internet. And when it's that easy to become outrageous and make all the journalists and professors write articles berating the "toxic youth," of course we're all going to do it.

So that's one of the reasons why I love cartoons, and it's why a lot of millennials and Gen Z alike are so fond of them. One might ask, "Why cartoons, and not just TV shows in general?" and to that, I say, because cartoons express taboos that TV can't. There are some exceptions- shows like Doctor Who are very whimsical and fun while also being able to take themselves seriously, but for the most part, millennials and Gen Z really like animated shows- both cartoons and anime- because they have more capacity for fantasy and sci-fi than most TV shows. Yet for the most part, being childish and silly is a social taboo. Like EmpLemon said in the video above, most of us have heard the term "Grow up" used as to shame us for being playful. In that sense, when society wants us all to grow up and be boring like everyone else, being fun and childish has become taboo. And cartoons perfectly enable an outlet.

Listen- Spongebob started in 1999. I was born in 1999.

That means that from my first breath to my first steps, Spongebob accompanied me.

And the same can be said for any other young person.

Anyone around the ages 8-29 can relate to this for the most part. Both adolescent children today and older millennials grew up with Spongebob.

But for teens and 20-somethings in particular, cartoons hold a great cultural role in our lives. They're an escape from the mundane world we've become accustomed to. We can enjoy the stupid and random humor of a sponge under the sea, the story of Aang and his friends trying to defeat the Fire Lord, of Finn the Human's journey across Ooo.

And it's not just Spongebob that has done this.

While Spongebob is the only cartoon to perfectly encapsulate the dichotomy of childhood vs adulthood, other cartoons do just as good a job of creating a fun and insouciant world.

And that's where Adventure Time comes in.

Adventure Time is my favorite cartoon because it's poetic, mythical and endearing. The story of the characters are brilliantly woven together, and the lore is deep and meaningful. The genius of Adventure Time is that it manages to capture all the fun and silliness of childhood as well as tell a meaningful story about love, loss and existentialism. On the surface, it seems like it's just a nonsense cartoon full of dumb jokes, but there's so much more under the surface that most adults would never look for.

The show isn't merely childish nonsense- in fact, the series explores a lot of rather mature ideas. Around season 3 and season 4 we start to see how breakups affect people and weaken their passion. There's another episode where the protagonist Finn meets his hero Billy, only for reality to slap him in the face once he finds out that Billy became a cynical asshole ages ago. There are episodes where important characters die, where characters we thought we had pegged down have a much more complicated past than we could ever have imagined (looking at you Simon and Marceline), and the show does a good job of creating sonder.

Sonder is term coined by the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, and is defined as:


n. "the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk."

In other words, the show creates a massive atmosphere of empathy. There's one episode in Adventure Time where the heroes briefly encounter a snow golem in the middle of one of their adventures, and the rest of the episode follows the life of the random snow golem. He finds an orphaned lava pup, and tries to take him in, but he's too hot and instantly melts everything around him with his cuteness, including the snow golem. The lava pup is incredibly destructive and high-maintenance, but the snow golem is determined to take care of him.

Eventually, after melting the snow golem's house, as well as his heart, the lava pup is reunited with his kind in the wild and the snow golem goes about the his life.

(Minor spoilers ahead)

And this is just one random background character! Almost every episode is like this. At the beginning of the show we meet the Ice King, the resident douche of Ooo. He's made out to be this grumpy old pervert who kidnaps princesses and forces them to listen to his bad fan-fiction.

But then half-way through the show, his past is revealed- and we discover that he was once a scientist who survived an apocalypse, and raised the 1,000 year old vampire Marceline when she was just a toddler. He was separated from his wife Betty, and inflicted with a cursed ice crown that took over his mind and turned him into an ice wizard with no memory of his former life. And when he lost his wife Betty, who he tenderly referred to as his "princess," this subconsciously manifested itself in his mind for hundreds of years, and now he goes around kidnapping princesses because he's subconsciously trying to find Betty. It was truly a "Hodor" moment. And the reason why Marceline is always trying to help the Ice King is because of her history with Simon- that was the Ice King's name before the crown cursed him- and despite losing his sanity, she feels an obligation to protect him, even if he has no recollection of her and acts like an imbecile.

I'm amazed that a cartoon manages so much in so little time. In only 11 minute installments, it manages to create a massive ensemble cast that rivals that of Game of Thrones, and gives each of them a time to shine. Even some of the most random and seemingly insignificant characters usually get an episode or two going into what their life is actually like outside of the main story's perception. In the episode "Up a Tree," Finn is shrunk down to the size of a fist and climbs a massive tree, where he discovers a cult of squirrels and chipmunks keeping captives, and stealing any and all belongings that end up in the tree, chanting, "In the tree, part of the tree."

There's another where the child-like game console BMO is left alone at home, and while Finn and Jake are away, we see him talking to himself, dressing up animals and playing detective, and crying when the imaginary cops don't believe him. He takes his imagination way farther than we ever would have expected and the whole episode is dedicated to showing us how BMO sees the world.

The show respects its characters- each and every one of them has a detailed story and is as complicated and real as an actual, flesh-and-blood person. I talked about this concept a lot in my post about why good fiction transcends the boundary between real and fake, and that point is especially relevant here.

Adventure Time is tender, funny and wholesome. I'll be damned if someone could watch the entire series from start-to-finish and not come close to shedding a tear at some point- especially with a finale like that.

Now, it's not all mature and dark stuff disguised as a children's show. The show genuinely does have a lot of stupid funny moments.

The first two seasons of the show aren't mature at all, they're nothing but shits and giggles. And it was clever for the writers to do this, because we get a light-hearted introduction to the characters before things start getting more serious around season three onward. But even in its most darkest moments, the show finds ways to maintain optimism and fun. There's one scene where Finn is going through a horrible breakup, and then if things weren't bad enough, one of his arms is severed off- and to clear his head he sits on the walls of the Candy Kingdom watching the silly banana guards when this happens.

(Unfortunately the full clip was copyrighted, so this only a part of it. A moment later the other 24 clones show up, and the banana guards spend like 2 minutes comparing them to the picture before realizing they're the perps)

Adventure Time captures the same dichotomy of childhood vs adulthood but in a completely different way. Rather than have one character who embodies the naive optimism of childhood and the other who embodies the cynical jaded mundaneness of adulthood, the entire show shifts tone. It can show the worst realities of growing up while simultaneously denying falling victim to them. Bad things happen and things will go wrong, but you can always keep your chin up.

Whether it's financial insecurity, loneliness, breakups, the loss of a loved one- Adventure Time has you covered. And when you watch the show from start to finish, you really feel their strife- you feel all their victories and triumphs, their defeats and hope. You experience their story with them, rather than just being a passive audience member observing from afar. The show doesn't treat you like you're stupid or like it's trying to teach you something, rather it succeeds in teaching you things you already knew. It does a masterful job of revealing things you've felt but never came to terms with.

When the characters lose, you feel their pain, and when they come out victorious, their victory is your victory.

And just like how Spongebob started the year I was born, Adventure Time entered my life at the exact right time. I had just gone through my first breakup, and since all we did in my Digital Design class was dick around on the Internet, I thought it'd be fun to watch the first two seasons of Adventure Time on Netflix using the school computer. After finishing the first two seasons in class, I wanted to continue watching, so I watched the rest of the show at home on those sketchy streaming sites that are always loaded with ads for erectile dysfunction pills and "Russian Singles in Your Area!" (use adblock, people).

So after downloading adblock I started watching the rest of the show at home, and was not prepared for it whatsoever. The show was so endearing and well-written that to this day it blows my mind. I never would have gotten over my ex and resumed my passion for prolific reading and writing had it not been for this underrated cartoon that doesn't even air on Cartoon Network anymore.

Take it from me.

Rice pudding sucks.

Life is short, so watch cartoons and make dick jokes while you can.

As always,

may all your cups of tea be your cup of tea,

and I'll see you in the next post.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

I Need Your Help.

I never thought I'd be in this situation- I hoped it would never come to this.

This is a very dark time to be alive; you see, a new threat looms over the horizon, daring to take away everything that we hold dear.

Everyday is a new struggle, and I feel utterly alone. I know there are millions of others like me- but I feel like I could never reach them across the incorporeal internet divide.

How many times must this rear its ugly head before society takes action?

I'm going to give it to you straight. I need something from you. I don't like asking for things, especially from people I don't know- but the situation is growing increasingly dire by the minute.

I need for you to click on this link.

It will take you to Pewdiepie's YouTube channel.

I need you to click the link, move your cursor to the top-right sector of the page, and click "Subscribe."

T-series must be stopped.

We might have pulled ahead for the time being, but now a new threat looms.

Our king has declared a Holy Crusade against Kylie Jenner over the egg.

The egg has surpassed the normies in the race for the most likes, and now our Lord Pewds has launched a militant internet-fame campaign to fight for the rightful place in the Number One spot. We cannot fail him now. Like a mighty Macedonian king, he will take what is his.

This is what our king strives for. He will settle for nothing less.

But not on his own.

He needs our help.

I have faith that there are none among us who haven't already fought the good fight against T-series. But your duty is far from over.

This war will be brutal and grueling. We can't just subscribe and walk away, telling ourselves that our part is done.

If you haven't already, subscribe- this will be the most noble thing you will ever do in your life.

After that, we need to spread the word.

Retweet, reblog, share to Reddit and Facebook and every other platform you can think of. If you have grandparents that don't understand technology, send them the link and tell them to subscribe.

And once you've done that, keep going. No war was won in a day.

Shout it from the rooftops.

Hire a blimp to string the word above the night sky.

Illuminate the heavens with fireworks bearing the words, "Subscribe to Pewdiepie."

Tattoo it on your chest.

Make his sigil into a flag and wave it triumphantly over your property to alert your neighbors that you're doing your part. If you peer out the window and see your neighbors are doing no such thing, approach them with a basket of brownies and bribe them to subscribe to Pewdiepie. I won't tell you to bring pot brownies specifically, but I won't rule it out.

And once you get going... Never. Stop.

Name your firstborn son Pewdiepie. When you don't know the answer to a test question, just write "Pewdiepie" in the blank, and if your teacher or professor says it's wrong, tell them that you learned in Sunday school that Jesus was always the answer.

If my words aren't enough to sway you, listen to the heartfelt pleas of a good friend and soldier of Pewdiepie- Markiplier.

It won't let me embed the video. I'm sorry. You'll just have to trust me. I promise it's not a rickroll.

This isn't a time to dick around, I'm dead-serious, gosh-diddly-darn it. I swear it's not a rickroll. Get your head in the game, soldier, this is serious.

And after you've heard Markiplier's urgent message (don't continue reading until you've finished the whole thing), turn your attention yonder, where Buzzfeed- the scourge of the Internet- blights humanity once again with their horrible totalitarian propaganda, trying to shove T-series down our throat.
By this point, even if you hate me- even if you hate Markiplier and Pewdiepie- do you really want Buzzfeed to win? Because that's what happens if T-series and Kylie Jenner win. Even if you absolutely hate my guts, we all must unite against this cancer.

Everyone always talks about finding the cure to cancer, but Pewdiepie is the cure.

This isn't a time to be picky. This isn't a time to be petty or vindictive, or to get dragged into friv'lous battles.

Enemies and former lovers alike must set their differences aside to take on a common enemy. This is a fight that everyone is a part of, whether you know it or not.

Don't give up. Don't turn away from the light or get caught in melodrama from past disputes.

Forget the past. The past is gone. This is now.

There will never be a bigger moment in our lifetime.

Right here, right now, is all that matters- will you succumb to the crushing darkness that T-series, Kylie Jenner and Buzzfeed are trying to peddle, or will you stand and fight?

I don't care how long it takes. I will sit here all day typing furiously if I have to. I have no life or friends, I can go as long as you want, pal.

So what's it gonna be?

Don't even continue reading, just click the link above and subscribe to Pewdiepie immediately.

Maybe you're elderly and you missed the link the first time. I'll post it again, here:

This is the link to Pewdiepie's channel.

All you have to do is click on the "Subscribe" button.

If you're having trouble subscribing, here's a video tutorial showing you precisely how to subscribe to Pewdiepie.

*Note, he forgot to mention that you need a YouTube account, so please create at least 10 YouTube accounts and subscribe them all to Pewdiepie's channel after following the instructional video below*

After you've done that, you know what to do.

What are you doing? You shouldn't be here, you should be spreading the word.

Go. Get out.

Why are you still here? I'm going to terminate this post immediately, lest you waste another moment here instead of getting out there and doing your duty.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Why Realistic Fiction is Important

At the risk of sounding oxymoronic, or just moronic, I maintain the notion that fiction is real.

To explain how it's possible for something defined as fictitious to be real, we need only make a simple distinction- the difference between fact and real.

You see, the word "real" means so many different things to different people, that like creativity and what defines something as Art™, it can be considered quite subjective; but I will boldly insist on a different angle to the word altogether.

To the most secular among us, something is merely real if it has matter, or was an event that occurred. This means that rocks are real, and historically-accurate stories like Killing Lincoln are quote-on-quote "real" stories, because they actually took place.

This means that things like, say, Harry Potter aren't real.

Of course, if you want to be a snarky smart-ass, you could always pick up a hard copy of a Harry Potter book, knock your knuckles against it and say, "See, it is real. Touch it if you don't believe me."

No, it's not whether the book physically exists that their contention lies, rather these people would insist that the story isn't real. But of course the story is real- I'm reading it right now. How could I read the story if it didn't exist?

I know I'm being facetious, but my point still stands. Whether or not something is real isn't denoted purely by whether or not it was an event in history.

No, there was never an orphan wizard named Harry, or a bastard child named Jon Snow or a hobbit named Frodo.

But that has hardly any bearing on whether the stories are real or not, dear reader.

The only requirement for a story to be bona fide real is for it to be realistic.

Despite the naysayers, the barrier for this requirement is not nearly as high as most people think.
A story about dragons can be real in that it draws all its characters and plot events from the real world; I can think of no better example of this than the 2002 film Reign of Fire. Reign of Fire is a movie that takes a look at what the real world would like if dragons did exist. It applies real-world logic to a hypothetical situation, and the results are a real answer to what such implications would be.

It's by no means a perfect film, and has a few major flaws with the way the story is told, but the approach is still brilliant.

Hypothetically, if dragons existed, what would happen? How would the governments respond? That's what the movie goes into (and also, tanks vs dragons is an awesome thing to watch).

For more on why fiction is real, I'd encourage you to click here, as Ariell Harris did a much better job explaining it than I could ever hope to achieve (also Chris Brecheen is like an older, liberal version of me, so I always appreciate his refreshing point of view on things. Especially since we're so different fundamentally yet come to the exact same consensus on writing).

So this leads us to the question: why does it matter?

If someone wants to write about dragons and fairies and dicking around, why should we care?

To that, I say we shouldn't. I believe that writing is freedom, and anyone who writes should be able to write whatever the hell they want without being told they aren't a real writer. To put it simply, it's not my job to gatekeep the writing community. If you write regularly, then you're a writer. If all they write about is fantasy nonsense with no realism whatsoever, it's none of my business to pass judgement on them.

I don't think we should care if someone else wants to neglect realism, but I'd encourage you to implement healthy realism into your own story- at least, if you want it to be real. It's a sense of bearing on reality that keeps fantasy grounded in the real world.

Stories like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings are real because they take the machinations of the real world into account. They don't throw logic or reason out the window- rather they apply logic and reason to non-existent secnarios.

By far the most real fiction book I've ever read is Lord of the Flies.

For those who haven't read it, Lord of the Flies is a short novel published in 1954 about a group of adolescent boys who become stranded on an island without any adult supervision. They act and behave exactly the way you'd expect pre-teen English boys to behave, with the fat kid becoming the butt of every joke and social hierarchy developing early on.

It doesn't take long for the group to devolve into a tribal mob, becoming irritable and radically provocative as resources dwindle and they don't know how to handle their circumstances. Their frustrations and inane behavior are the inevitable byproduct of their circumstances.

But of course, this isn't a "And they all lived happily ever after" story where the adults show up right away and rescue them.

By the end of the book, they'd already become murderous psychopaths, killing each other over trivial things like whether to stay on the beach or the inland, or whether one kid is the leader or the other, or whether it's ok to bully Piggy, the overweight kid that becomes the scapegoat for all their problems. They go as far as to create an imaginary "beast" to project their fears on when something doesn't go as planned, and all it takes to kill a child is to point at him and yell "It's the beast!"

While the story isn't factual and never happened, almost identical events have, such as the Russian Nazino Affair in 1933 when 6,000 soviets were dropped off on an island in the middle of nowhere and devolved into tribes of cannibal thugs. It was Lord of the Flies on a much bigger scale- but instead of a couple dozen boys, it was a few thousand adults- and they acted almost exactly the same.

For this reason, Lord of the Flies is often praised by critics for being so realistic. It perfectly captures the darkest side of human nature and the kind of cruelties humans are capable of, without adding or subtracting anything.

Likewise, this can be applied to any story. Regardless of whether your story is set in the fantasy world of Alistataire or the year 2,000,000 on some planet 60-light-years away in the Gorilium system, realism the ability to apply real-world logic to fantastical situations. In fact, the best stories are the ones that can suspend your disbelief with their authenticity. For the sake of immersion, your reader should feel like they're really there, experiencing the fantastical and wondrous world themselves, taking in everything your grand stage has to offer. But if your world and characters are phony, inauthentic, and feel two-dimensional, then your story is undermined at every front except maybe the writing itself (but odds are if the writer doesn't care enough to write good characters or a good world, they probably don't care enough to write good prose either).

Looking at you Cassandra Clare.

If your readers see strings of dialogue that no real person would ever say in their situation, then it needs to be rewritten. Likewise, if your characters behave like real, flesh-and-blood people (or aliens or supernatural creatures or whatever you're working with), and the world itself feels like a real place, then you've done good and succeeded in making the story compelling and interesting.

I'll be the first to admit that this is the thing I struggle the most with in my writing.

I have some pretty good plot ideas (tooting my own horn here, toot toot!) but I struggle with making the characters and dialogue convincing. I'm gripped with the fear that anyone who reads my book will think the characters are phony and two-dimensional, and honestly, there is no easy way to remedy this.

It's hard. Creating real people in your head is infinitely more challenging than I would have ever expected, and anyone who tells you it's easy is selling something.

I'm not going to fill your head with empty promises and bullshit remedies. There is no easy way to make characters real.

However there are a few good places to start- creating a character sheet for each character is an excellent way to establish character qualities that will make them feel more real.

Even if a character only appears in the book for one scene in the book, create an entire backstory for them. Determine what their childhood was like, who their parents were, how they were educated, and anything else that would affect them as a person. Even if it seems pointless to create an entire backstory for a character who only appears once, you can write their scene knowing exactly what that person would say or do in that scenario.

Jenna Moreci posed this solution with a simple exercise:

Think of someone you know really well in real life. Now ask yourself what they would say or do in that situation.

Odds are an answer immediately popped into your head. If you know someone well enough, you can often venture a guess as to how they'd react to a certain situation.

Likewise, if you take the time to really get to know your characters, you'll always have an idea as to what they'd do in any given situation. And as a practice-building exercise, try thinking of random situations and imagining what they'd do in them.

Even if none of these scenarios occur in your book, just taking a few minutes to consider how your characters behave in various circumstances will really enhance your understanding of them.

Your character is so much more than just a protagonist, or just a comedic relief, or just a villain. They're flesh and blood in your world- your world exists however you want it to, so do a good job making it as authentic as possible.

And while the process of crafting real people can be daunting and difficult, often when you start to succeed, they'll be out of your hands. They'll have their own personality and quirks that exist independently of what you need from them as a character.

If you created them as the protagonist, or the sidekick, or the villain, it doesn't matter- they're going to do their own thing, saying and doing whatever they want to.

So after you're done rocking in the fetal position and get back to work, creating living worlds and realistic characters, just be sure not to let them get too out of hand. You gotta keep a leash on those suckers or they'll get away from you.

As always,

may all your cups of tea be your cup of tea,

and I'll see you in the next post.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

On Creativity

So we writers talk a lot about writing, and some will have a lot to say on story-telling as a craft, but we often overlook the organic infrastructure of ideas. Things like creativity come across as so subjective that no one could possibly determine whether or not something is creative.

If you've read my previous post, then you already know how I feel about the academic definition of "creative."

Often, something is considered creative on college campuses (campusi?) if it:

1) Is 100% original and experimental: If it isn't revolutionary, then it isn't art.
2) Has a political message: It doesn't matter if the art piece or writing has no skillful technique whatsoever, as long as it proclaims virtue, diversity, tolerance, and any other PC thing your mind can concatenate with mainstream movements. That painting doesn't have to look nice in order to be a masterpiece, as long as the painter explains that the haphazard blobs of paint symbolize the oppression of women and minorities, and therefore being critical of the painting is synonymous with oppressing marginalized groups.
3) Has a deep and profound message: i.e., "capitalism is bad" or "cellphones are bad."
4) Has no clear cut meaning: "But Dylan, it DOES have a meaning! It proclaims virtue and disavows capitalism!" Still a bit ambiguous, but fair enough.

But in all seriousness, what does make something creative? The thing is that creativity has so many forms, and the simple act of discovering new ways to implement creative concepts is a type of creativity in and of itself.

For writing, creativity has a seemingly endless number of possible forms. Everything from using words that reflect the theme or feeling of a situation, to concocting new story ideas, to writing common tropes in new and interesting ways. The beauty of creativity is that it isn't nearly as limited as people think.

You see, dear reader, many people sit back and say, "There aren't any ideas that haven't been done already."


There's millions of ideas waiting to be discovered. If someone insists that they shouldn't endeavor a creative undertaking because "everything has already been done," that says more about the person's imagination than it does about society's shortage of ideas.

In the age of technology, we're bombarded with an incredible amount of information on a daily basis. It's only natural with our ridiculous information-overload (click here to learn more about that, it's an amazing blog) that we'd be convinced everything has been done.

In regards to that, there are still new ideas that have never been used before, and not only that, but anything that has been done can easily be done differently.

Let's use vampires as an example.

Regardless of whether you're an avid reader or not, it's safe to say that vampires are a completely overdone trope that could use a break for a while.

But let's see how three different stories use them differently.

First, we have shitty vampire romances like Twilight. Twilight has no intention of staying true to tale (many people would declare that as fantasy, nothing has to be realistic, but more on why that's wrong later); rather the story's main purpose is pure wish fulfillment, and the story is supposed to garner a fan base of insecure young girls who want a supernatural creature (an obvious metaphor for a spectacular person who would otherwise be out of their league) to find them attractive.

Now let's compare that to the anime OVA adaption of Hellsing.

In Hellsing Ultimate, vampires have a hierarchy of power and intelligence. Most vampires are just ghouls who aimlessly wonder around like zombies, biting and infecting others. Some have spectacular powers that they use to slaughter hundreds of people, and then there's the alpha vampire Alucard, who is perhaps the most badass anti-hero to ever exist in a fictional setting.

Essentially, Alucard is a vampire elite who specializes in killing other vampires. With his incredible regenerative powers and two pistols loaded with silver bullets, he ruthlessly hunts down and kills any supernatural creature that his boss tells him to, and will kill anyone who gets in his way. I dare you to watch this and try to say that it's anything like Twilight.

Now let's compare that to Shiki. Shiki is an old horror anime from like 2010 about vampires who move to a Japanese village and start farming the citizens. In the Shiki universe, vampires are treated as fiction, as in, no sane person would think vampires were behind the deaths. It starts off slow, with a rogue doctor trying to find out what's causing the deaths. He discovers that all the victims died of anemia (blood loss) but they had no signs of a struggle, so he digs deeper and deeper and conducts countless experiments trying to find out what's causing the mass anemia.

*Massive spoilers ahead, so if you haven't seen Shiki and you want to, please skip ahead until you see the "SAFE" mark in bold*





The doctor ends up eventually putting the pieces together, along with a few other villagers, and the script immediately flips. The humans hunt down the vampires, stake them to death outside and crucify them in the sunlight, brutally murdering each vampire in horrifying ways. At one point they pin down one of the village girls who became a vampire and run her head over with a tractor.

One of the vampires pleas for her life, declaring that it wasn't her fault that she had to drink human blood to survive- and they raise the philosophical question of whether vampires should have the right to live if it means humans have to die. Does one species's right to live trump the other's?

(Sidenote: it was proven that animal blood and human blood stored in containers doesn't work, so "vegan" vampires and vampires drinking blood donated at blood drives is out of the picture.)

The aforementioned doctor goes on to capture and torture one of the vampires- his wife, of course, because this show wasn't fucked up enough already- to find out their weaknesses and how their anatomy works.

The show starts off like a murder mystery, where the humans are the good guys and they're trying to figure out what's causing the village deaths, and then half-way through it becomes this murderous Salem Witch Trial where they hunt down and slaughter anyone even remotely suspected of being a vampire.






So imagine this.

You run a writing workshop and tell three different people to write a vampire story.

One writes a sappy unhealthy-relationship-worshiping romance involving a pedo vampire and a dull 16-year-old girl.

One writes about a badass bounty hunter killing other supernatural beings and absorbing their souls to become more powerful (and also Nazi vampires and KKK crusaders because why the hell not).

And the third writes a supernatural murder mystery turned Salem-witch-trial-gore-fest.

You could give two different people the same story idea and both will come back with completely different books.

Not only are there millions of ideas, but no book is merely the sum of its parts.

To put it simply, there is functionally* an infinite combination of words that can form a book.

            *Technically there is a limited number of possible combinations; the Library of Babel is a spontaneous word generator that contains every possible combination of words and letters, for a total of 10^5,000 books. To put that into perspective, there are only 10^80 atoms in the observable universe. There are more books in the Library of Babel database than there are fucking ATOMS in the known universe. However, the Library of Babel contains every possible combination of words, most of which don't even form sentences, while books use actual sentences and grammar; this means that there are fewer than 10^5000 possible books if we assume these books are written in actual sentences and not procedurally generated strings of gibberish, but considering there are 170,000 words and an average novel is about 85,000 words, this would mean that there was potentially 170,000^85,000 word combinations divided by the number of possible coherent sentences, which would drastically cut the number to well below 10^5000 mark but would still be unfathomably large and, for all intents and purposes, functionally infinite. Please correct me if my math is wrong.

When you have 171,476 words at your disposal, and around 50,000 - 100,000 words of space to work with, you can create a purely original story, crafted out of unique ideas, creative execution, quirky story-telling techniques, unexplored narrative style, characters of no one else's imagining, and any number of countless unexplored dominions.

The possibilities are so endless that there is no excuse for never having an original thought.

I'm not saying that every word of your writing has to be dripping with pure originality; but there is no excuse for not being able to create something new. Any theme or concept that has been done hasn't been done in every way possible. Since the number of possible stories centering around any singular concept is functionally infinite (as in the heat death of the universe would occur before all possibilities were exhausted), anyone can write an original story in some way. Every now and then, if I'm lucky, a wild original idea will appear while I'm singing in the shower or scrolling through my Facebook feed on the toilet, and I usually try to do a good job of scribbling the idea down somewhere before I forget, no matter how confident I am that I'll totally remember it (I won't).

Creativity is both derivative and bohemian.

We derive elements of craft, such as the organization of words and the execution of phrases, to weave together sentences that resonate pleasantly with the reader and convey our message clearly.

There is some leeway-  some writers, like Cassandra Clare, focus more on trying to sound poetic than on clarity, utilizing purple-prose, while others have almost no pretty-prose at all but tell a powerful and beautiful story despite using plain, straight-forward sentences. Stories like Lord of the Flies prove that a story can be beautiful despite not having fancy prose adorned with literary decorum. The Shadowhunter series proves that purple prose without clarity isn't always good.

And books like Main Traveled Roads and Don Quixote prove that you can pull a Hannah Montana and have the best of both worlds, coupling beautiful prose with clarity and pace to create something stellar.

Yet, despite the leeway, these are merely stylistic choices- innovative in voice, perhaps, but not in the medium of story-telling altogether. That's not to say that no author has ever written something groundbreaking, but new writing styles are original and derivative all at once; each author has a unique style or voice, and every writer's voice is different and unique only to them. This means that every style is a new and original one, but none of them stray too far from conventional ideas of how writing in the English language works.

The way English is structured, as well as any coherent language for that matter, allows for incredible creativity and personal freedom without ever relinquishing its base parts.

All stories have a beginning, middle, and end, every story has to develop the main character(s) in some way, and at some point there needs to be a climax and resolution (not always resolution, but that's a post for another day. Some stories end without the threat being resolved).

So every writer has billions of ways to maneuver in these yolks, but they never break free from them. To do so would inevitably lead to a poor story, because this structure is all that humans know. For thousands of years stories have been told this way, and even if the English language changes so drastically that it's completely unrecognizable 200 years from now by today's standards, the basic story-telling structure will still be the same.

So now I hope I've instilled enough confidence in you to relocate your butt to your writing utensil and create something original, which was the whole goal of this post. But if you're up on cloud nine, thinking about how badass and original your story is going to be, and you find yourself starting to look down on other writers who are struggling to come up with original content, just remember: anything you've ever written, will write or could write already exists in the Library of Babel, and the feeling of superiority should subside.

As always,

may all your cups of tea be your cup of tea,

and I'll see you in the next post.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Laying Siege to the Ivory Tower

I remember my summer English class extremely well.

I had just finished my spring classes, and was thrilled to be taking an English class; I loved my English classes in high school. While I didn't always like the books we read, I wouldn't have discovered amazing stories like Lord of the Flies and The Most Dangerous Game had it not been for these classes. Not to mention my Ol' pal Gatsby.

But I had a rude awakening when this particular English class started.

From the very first day, it felt like something was wrong. My nerd senses were tingling.

"We'll be reading The Nutritional Guide today and talking about that," Mr. Kuntz started, a surname he urged us to pronounce as "Koonts" and not "Cunts."

I don't actually remember the title of the book, but it was just a generic collection of nutrition essays.

I have a tendency to be naive in my optimism at times. It became immediately apparent that we weren't going to read any fiction at all, which is an egregious sin to English classes everywhere.

As soon as he explained the class curriculum, I had that feeling. That feeling that something shitty was going to tumble down in a snowball of "f*ckyou" and crash into my little cabin of composure. (Ok I stole that line from JaidenAnimations, but who gave it to her in the first place amirite?)

He had a tendency to ramble on indefinitely until someone pointed it out, which almost never happened because no one ever says a bloody thing in college, at least in So Cal. He was like Michael Scott acting like a robot until his proverbial battery falls out.

To summarize, he essentially conveyed that we wouldn't really be learning any English at all. The class was just a government-forced common-core lecture on nutrition masquerading as an English class. Over the next few weeks I was distraught, because the class we incredibly boring, the material we read was essentially just a textbook, and Mr. Kuntz was the personification of a wet sock.

What's worse is that everything he tried to teach us about nutrition was totally wrong.

During my spring semester I took Nutrition class and it was incredibly in-depth, it was so advanced that I barely passed despite countless hours of studying. The class was dense and difficult, but I enjoyed it. Our teacher was this fabulous Chicago gardener who was fiercely intelligent, and sometimes wise.

She warned us of every health myth we'd hear, every fallacy, and made sure to clearly draw a line between fact and fiction. So despite being a hard-ass class on a difficult and traditionally boring subject, I loved the course and learned quite a lot from it.

Then Mr. Cunts came along and chucked all of that out the window into a lunacy-fueled dumpster fire.

This nincompoop didn't know anything about nutrition. In his defense, he didn't know anything.

Brace yourself for lots of tweed if you're in high school.
At one point in the class he flat-out said, "If you can't pronounce an ingredient on a nutrition label, or if it sounds like it might be a chemical, then you should avoid it."

I was in shock. Did that really just dribble out of this fool's mouth? 

I politely raised my hand, and when he called on me, I pointed out that most amino acids and nutrients are hard to pronounce, things like Phenylalanine, Molybdenum, Calciferol, and Pyridoxine which are all healthy.

He dismissed me with a "Whatever" and continued blathering nonsense.

Well, the chemical formula for water is pronounced dihydrogen-monoxide, so time to give up water, folks.

(Reminds me of this, obviously they'd never seen Jimmy Neutron)

(Edit: Googled it and just discovered THIS amazing gem. This is some of the best satire I have ever seen.)

This same guy spent half the class ranting about Trump and trying to push his political views on the class (I don't care what someone's political views are as long at they're respectful, I'd be just as mad if it was an old Catholic trying to force religion down kids' throats) and when I called him out on it, he ostracized me in front of the class.

He was in the middle of a long-winded and vapid rant about how much he hates republicans, and I raised my hand-- he generally avoided calling on me now because I had a bad habit of calling him out on his bullshit-- and after ten minutes of him pretending not to notice me, I waited for a lull in his chatter and added:

"Couldn't the class time be better spent teaching instead of ranting about your political views?"

His face turned red and he was immediately livid, but the coward had no more bravery than a cod fish, so after a few seconds of stuttering and mumbling, he said, "Well, literature reflects our world, and the political landscape is important- don't you think it's impossible not to consider the importance of our political climate when talking about things that affect culture?"

Only of course he sounded much less eloquent and put-together than how I portrayed him; it took him a good couple minutes of incoherent stuttering to get out that message.

"But we aren't even reading literature, all we've done is read and write about nutrition- I feel like the class could benefit from practicing other forms of writing."

I knew my cause was lost before it even began, but I had gotten this far so I might as well.

I don't recall exactly how it happened, but basically he singled me out, saying something along the lines of, "I'm the teacher, I have a Masters degree, I've been teaching for almost ten years and you think you can do your job better than me, you lowly student peasant! Bow before my glaring academic superiority!"

So that's when I learned that you might not even learn anything in college. Well, that's not completely true- I learned how to deal with snobbery and Ivory Tower elitism- but whether you learn anything really just depends on what classes you take and who's teaching it, along with the course curriculum.

If you're lucky, you might get a teacher like my Nutrition prof who cared passionately about the subject and was happy to share everything she knew, but if you're unlucky you'll get a middle-aged wannabe activist rubbing their politics and snobbery in your face.

Unfortunately, he wasn't the only one- though he was probably the most intolerable one. Over half of my teachers were like this; overwhelmingly progressive activists who wanted to rant about Trump all day.

Don't get me wrong, if you're liberal and you don't agree with my political views or my conservative lifestyle, that's fine, as long as you're a good person. Despite leaning republican I have tremendous respect for many classic liberals, men like Dave Rubin and Jonathan Ames, and though I don't agree with her views, I really admire Emma Watson as a person, because she's candid and thoughtful about her views, and I respect her ardor.

But these snobby professors are nothing like Emma Watson or Dave Rubin. Even if you're a liberal and you agree 100% with their views, who wants to sit in class listening to angry political rants all day? If you're just kind of drifting through life and have no dreams or ambitions, or your aspiration is activism, then maybe I could see that not being an issue, but to those who actually go into college hoping to leave with more knowledge than when they entered, they're met with the harsh reality that the courses they're taking are just prescriptive, government lectures meant to teach students the "correct" way to think.

In college, they don't teach you how to think, they teach you what to think. You have to do everything a certain way, from MLA format to using someone's correct pronouns to having the right (left) political views. If you don't abide, you're socially blacklisted. This affects liberals too, but I don't want to get too political so we can save that for another time.

To put it plainly, college professors have undermined my naive optimism for the last time. I've morphed from a wide-eyed, hopeful child into a distrusting, hideous, amorphous blob of cynicism. Now I go into each course completely prepared for a shitstorm of pointless rules and useless lectures that I will leave wondering where the hell my three hours went.

I'm very fond of alternative learning- I've been taking various online courses for fun on sites like Skillshare and Masterclass, etc. I like watching Bob Ross on Netflix, RealLifeLore and Vsauce on YouTube, and booktubers like Jenna Moreci, Chris Brecheen and The Authentic Observer have taught me way more about writing and literature than two decades of school has.

The idea of an institution for learning is a noble and virtuous endeavor, possibly one of the noblest feasible. The idea of creating a place where people can study, share knowledge and wisdom, and go to teach or learn through a general osmosis of the campus's atmosphere is wondrous.

But both the quality of teaching and quality of learning has been on decline since the first colleges sprung up some two-hundred years ago.

Now you go hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt to have textbook-worshiping professors shove ideological nonsense down your throat, while the campus administrators coo messages of tolerance and diversity in the background.

Who cares about tolerance and diversity? Bitch I just want to learn.

Chris Brecheen is a blogger who greatly inspired me to start this one, his blog Writing About Writing has several passages about Ivory Tower elitism, and despite being a hardcore liberal, he agrees wholeheartedly and essentially said the same thing; that college admins and professors are out of their minds and these students aren't going to learn anything useful.

There are exceptions, of course. If you're going into engineering, or law or medicine, odds are your classes will be very important and you'll learn everything you need to know. But for writing, teaching and literature? Don't waste your time (unless you have to).
Academia and Thebes share the same fate.

Unfortunately, I'm working on becoming a high school English teacher, so I have to tread through the fiery pits of hell before that happens (anyone have a copy of the Divine Comedy lying around?) 

As more and more inexperienced writers emerge from the womb of their college infancy into the real world, creative writing degrees depreciate in value faster than the Venezuelan Bolívar.

(Fun fact: it now costs 14 million Bolívar to buy a chicken. Socialism FTFW!)

By now, most traditional publishers have shifted over from academic credentials to experience. Between a college graduate with an MBA and a Master's degree in creative writing, and an experienced novelist who's published their own short-stories or worked in writing centers, they'll almost always go with the more experienced candidate.


Because they know work experience is much more valuable than a degree. A congratulatory piece of paper patting you on the back for graduating college is nowhere near as advantageous as actual writing experience.

And that's just with traditional publishing; independent publishing sites like Ingramspark and CreateSpace sidestep the traditional publishing process altogether.

Someone who spent thousands of hours writing and studying the craft is much more prepared to write quality content that readers will enjoy than diversity-forced-MLA-approved-avant-garde-pseudo-intellectual-anti-establishment bullshit.

Let me tell you how I started off.

(Skip the next 26 paragraphs if you don't care and just want to get to the conclusion)

I started writing at the tender age of 14, and my writing was complete garbage; but it was essential that I wrote that garbage, because, as Jake the Dog taught me, sucking at something is the first step to being kinda good at something.

I tried writing a short novel but I didn't understand how this whole "writing" thing worked, so after realizing that it was so bad that it was beyond saving, I threw it out and destroyed it digitally so as not to remind myself of my failure. It was 40,000 words long.

Then at 15 I sallied forth and tried again, this time with a better story idea. Not only was the story idea better, but I actually outlined the basic plot- the beginning, middle and end, and pantzed the parts in between. (Pantzing is writing-slang for winging it.)

After seven months of writing the manuscript, I finished the last chapter on March 11, the day before my 16th birthday. I would sit down and write about 1,000 words everyday, but that night I stayed up late and finished the book in one sitting, about 3,000 words, that way I could tell everyone I wrote a book at 15. Mostly because I had something to prove to this girl who rejected me because, as she so eloquently put it, I was "a loser who would never amount to anything." Turns out that spite is a great motivator.

Of course it was nowhere close to being finished, and had a shit ton of editing to do, but I was proud of myself. To this day, nothing has, or likely ever will be, a greater achievement to me than writing my first novel.

I ultimately spent a grueling year-and-a-half editing the thing; most authors follow a three-draft plan, but I ended up doing freaking five drafts, and then one last sixth "draft" (I didn't change hardly anything, so I think of it more as draft 5.5) to really be sure that it was good enough.

You see, for my 16th birthday my parents hired a professional cover artist for me, which really brought the book to life. The cover was stunning, and when I first saw it, I just couldn't stop staring. This really motivated me to finish the editing. However, I couldn't afford a professional editor.

And if there's one thing I learned, it's that you have to have a professional edit. No amount of editing can replace a professional copy-editors work. In fact most books should undergo a copy-edit, a line-edit and a thorough beta-read afterwards.

I couldn't afford an editor.

So I did the best I could, I wrote a second draft, edited the crap out of it and had a couple of reliable betas read it for me (these were some brilliant people, let me tell you. I felt very under-qualified to have them reading my work), and then after getting their feedback and revising the story to their recommendations, or at least the good ones that other betas had consensus on, I ran the entire book through an online editing program. There's a bunch of good ones out there, some are free with a catch (like only being able to run 3k words through it at a time) or they only cost like $30, so I used a couple different ones to really fix my writing.

And holy crap was my bubble shattered.

Every single line was a mess. Red lines underlining spelling errors, blue ones telling me that my grammar was wrong, purple ones showing me split-infinitives, orange ones showing me some other problem; my manuscript had turned into a rainbow, and each hue was a fuck-up that needed to be fixed.

So after accepting approximately 95% of the editing software's recommendations and implementing them, saving only a couple of intentional misphrasings and misspellings, I had a new set of beta readers give it a thorough trial by fire. I ended up doing several more drafts, having the betas compare different version of each passage (they were doing so much free work for me that we ended exchanging work so I'd do the same for their manuscripts as a trade) and finally I ran it through the editing software one last time, read the entire book start-to-finish like three times in a row and did a final, final draft.

I formatted it on CreateSpace and published it there. I didn't want to go with a traditional publisher because then they'd determine the price and distribution of the book, and I couldn't have that- so I had to format and publish it myself. All the other ~85k word novels were around $14.99, so I intentionally chose to sell mine at $12.99 to have it show up first when people sorted by price.

I published it in the August of my senior year in high school when I was 17. I was so proud of myself.

After publishing it, I struck a deal with another author who agreed to read my book and give me any feedback for my future writing; it was too late to fix anything but he could tell me how to improve my next story.

After reading through the whole thing and taking a day to think it over, he came back with his rating.


He was brutally honest, he tore apart every plot-hole and confusing line of dialogue, every passage that made no sense, and every boring moment or bad writing.

Yet he also said he loved the ending and a few really well-written parts, particularly chapter nine and the chapters leading up to the climax.

Basically, it wasn't a bad book. It wasn't great or amazing, but it was on par with what most modern writers should be capable of, and that was infinitely more than enough for me.

This isn't a sales pitch. I'm not going to tell everyone to buy my book, in fact I'm still a bit insecure about it. Over two years later, I recently decided to pick it up and take a stroll down memory lane, to see how my current writing compares to my first novel.

I was... conflicted. There were a few parts that I loved, but I felt the dialogue was awkward and clunky, and not everything made sense. It was entertaining, but it felt quite a bit amateurish and you could see that I fell for a lot of the basic writing mistakes that newbie writers make.

Not to mention I found not one, but two minor typos at the very beginning of the book, with maybe three more scattered around. The average reader probably would skim right over these and not even notice, but upon noticing the two typos in the very beginning of the book I immediately felt like a failure.

How these tenacious bastards withstood five-and-a-half drafts, an army of beta readers and two separate editing programs is beyond me, but in defeat I just left them there because that type of commitment should be rewarded (and also I'm too lazy to re-upload the book).

So no, I did not write the next great American Novel™, but I managed to make something of decent quality at a young age, and now, thanks to that mediocre book, I have years of writing experience that college graduates trying to get in the field don't have. And while I can't read anything from it without cringing at all the mistakes I made, I'm also happy, because if I can see these mistakes now that I couldn't see before, that means I've grown and improved as a writer.

At the time, I thought I had a perfectly finished and polished product that needed nothing else from me, but now that I can see the litany of amateur mistakes littering the story, I know that I must have improved a lot as a writer in order to see those faux pas.

Recently, I had one reliable beta reader take a look at the second draft of my current manuscript. He gave it a 7/10, which to me is a very hopeful sign. Afterall, 3/5 is a 6/10 (math FTW!), which means that, at least according to the anecdotal and limited feedback of a single reader, the early versions of my current story are already better than the final version of my previous one, and this gives me hope.

So what do we do then, as writers?

Isn't it obvious?

We write.

Creativity is like breathing- you inhale, and then you exhale. You read a lot, engrossing yourself in the brilliant fruits of other writers' labor, then you exhale, releasing your own words onto the page.

At times writing feels like constipation. Your metaphorical colon is full of metaphorical writing-poop, but nothing will come out. It's all backed up.

But if you sit down and force it out, eventually it'll just flow regularly (are we still imagining the colon metaphor?). But you have to get in the routine of prolific writing in order for that to happen.

Writing isn't a talent that some people are born with and others aren't. It's a skill, that's carefully developed and sharpened over the course of years before it can be mastered- and even then, you never truly stop improving. Everyday is a new day to improve.

And writing isn't just a skill, it's a lifestyle. If it doesn't feel corporeal, then it isn't habitual.

Habitual writing and fervent, radical improvement is the gateway to being both a skilled writer and a successful one. Learning both how to write and how to market are fundamental to success in the writing industry, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

So when an army of tweed-clad snobs comes running at you, frantically waving their textbooks in the air, with their prescriptive cookie-cutter solutions, picayune rules, academic elitism and political propaganda, lay waste to their bullshit with trebuchets loaded with life and work experience, and never let them force despotic avant-garde nonsense down your throat.

Continue reading, continue writing, and stay the course, we are with you.

As always, 

may all your cups of tea be your cup of tea,

and I'll see you in the next post.

Friday, January 11, 2019

How Today Started

Today started as any other.

I lied in bed for hours hating myself.

I should preface this by stating that I do not think mental illness is a prerequisite for artistic talent.

A lot of people seem to have the notion that in order to be a great writer/painter/musician/etc.,  you have to be tormented. How cruel of an expectation.

To be blunt, I generally try to keep to myself, because I know how annoying it is when someone tries to compete for gold in the Sadness Olympics.

I don't like being unhappy, but I usually am in the morning. Anyway, after about two hours of hating myself in bed, I threw on my Adventure Time pajamas and flew down the stairs. I usually can't fly, but when I'm tired and I need my coffee, anything is possible.

So I sprouted wings to reach my Keurig in peak time, and this is something that's necessary because I'm actually a bubbly and friendly person- once I've had my coffee. But before I get the chance to aggravate my nerves and wake my brain up, I'm a disaster. Sometimes some inconsequential inconvenience prevents me from immediately making coffee upon waking up (being late for work, realizing that the chickens need to have their water changed, laying in bed hating myself for an extra twenty minutes) and I'll remain in this disastrous state until I get some.

This is a standoff that could last all day. If I don't get some coffee in my colon until noon, then I won't be capable of coherent speech until noon.

So I was quick to get caffeine in my system to ensure that the next few hours went well (by well I meant I had the ability to talk) and drove down The Hill™ to get my brake pads changed.

I live in a lovely forest home in the California mountain range, and we refer to our mountain as "The Hill."

Some other jargon we throw around is the word "flat-lander," which is mostly used as an insult. I can't blame the mountain folk for using this term though, it's very regular for people who live in the city below to drive up our curvy mountain highway and immediately plummet into the nearest object in sight.

I understand that driving on flat, well-maintained roads is easier than driving up our curvy highway, but you'd think by the way these knuckleheads drive that they'd never piloted a vehicle in their lives. Christmas time always proves this the most; thousands (I'm not joking) of flat-landers drive up the mountain and cause a ridiculous number of wrecks.

It's chaos- cars piled in the snow, people trying to drive on ice without chains, couples panicking and calling last minute to cancel their dinner reservations.

I can't blame them for invading our territory though, the mountains are pretty awesome.

Back to the story: for the last couple of weeks my brake pads had been squeaking horribly. This meant it was time to change them, and I had $500 in my bank account from working Christmas Eve, Christmas day and New Years. Since I only work part-time and make minimum wage, I usually only make around $200-300 each paycheck, so even though it was a living hell, I was thrilled to have $500. Not to mention Amazon money from Christmas.

Yet, a few days ago, the brakes stopped squeaking- and started grinding. And they didn't work.

If I pressed the brake with any meaningful amount of force, the brakes would scream like a screwdriver caught in a garbage disposal, and the car would slide forward for a disturbing distance before easing to a screeching 5-mile-per-hour stop.

I usually like listening to music with my window down, so hearing Jurassic Park noises assault my ears every time I nudged the brakes was a little unnerving.

I managed to make it down the steep-ass mountain without them; I drove slow and used low gears to slow me down to take the pressure off the brakes.

But when I made it to Firestone Auto and paid for an inspection (I also wanted to know if my transmission was fine) they simply told me, "You need to see this."

Whenever a word as urgent as "need" is involved, run.

So he took me to the shop, where my car was hung up on the rack with all its goodies displayed, and showed me the litany of horrifying afflictions plaguing my car.

For one, not one, but both of the shocks were corroded into oblivion, and all of the brake pads were worn down to the steel plate (sounded about right, I had the sneaking suspicion that brakes weren't supposed to sound like something from the Paleozoic Era) and the front two brake rotors were warped while the back two were cracked and rusted.

Also I was low on transmission fluid and brake fluid. And one of my tires had metal threads sticking out of it from wall separation. And one of the wheel bearings was fucked up.

Basically, the $45 brake pad replacement was actually a $2,600 series of repairs. There was also something wrong with the ABS, but I didn't quite hear that part because I mentally checked out the second I heard the price tag.

So I made it home, read a few chapters of Don Quixote, watched an episode of Bob Ross on Netflix, and binge-watched like eight episodes of Shirobako.

Then, at midnight, wondering if I should get some writing done for my novel (if you have to ask yourself then answer is yes), I spontaneously decided to create a blog instead.

I managed to do that, now I guess I should get some writing done huh?

So, for all you writers, normies and groupies out there, may all your cups of tea be your cup of tea,

and I'll see you in the next post.