Sometimes the instructions are missing…

(Ok.  First.  It’s been awhile.   I fell out of habit with this.  I have a good excuse.  I just had my first baby.  Which is great.  But, WOW… a baby takes a lot of attention.  Attention away from other things… like writing, writing a blog, watching Arrow on the CW.  All sorts of things.  Things that I think I’ll unpack this week.)

There’s this thing that I’ve been noticing for the past month… and it has to do with the relationship between writer and audience, audience and the thing they’re watching… I think.  I can’t quite put my finger on what it is, but, it’s been bugging me, so… I’m gonna try and unpack here.

My son has started to become aware of the outside world.  Just over three months, he is very curious.  He is starting to laugh and smile.  He is starting to play with toys, mostly by chewing on them.  And each and every time, my wife and I go… “Aw… he really likes that green blanket.”  Or, “I think he likes this music.”  OR, “He is REALLY interested in that wall.”

Now.  ALL of that might be true.  My son just might really love that green blanket. He might LOVE that lullaby version of U2.    And yeah, our walls… they are TOTALLY awesome to stare at.  OR…

OR, maybe, a lot of that we’re laying on him.  We’re placing on HIM the things we’re feeling.  When I hand him the blanket and he starts chewing it, is it because it’s the green blanket that he loves to chew on, or is it because it’s ALWAYS the blanket I give him because I think he really loves it?

I guess the point I’m driving at: the narrative meaning is solely all on me.  I’m the one that is constructing meeting from my son’s actions.  I can’t ask him if he loves the blanket.  I can’t read his mind.  I am only looking at his actions and making a qualified guess.

All of which makes me think about how I receive information as an audience member, and where the story is “made.”  As information comes to me, I’m assembling it.  I am putting A before B, C causes D, etc.  Now, some work comes with instructions.  For example, because it’s in the news, Star Wars.  It’s a pretty straight forward movie.  We know who the bad guy is: he wears black, he does baddie things.  The movie comes spilling out in a linear, straightforward manner.  Even though its wrapped in an alien landscape, it isn’t TRULY alien.  (The aliens have human motivations… including Nien Nunb, who did it for the love of his people…)  So… and I say this with love… it’s an easy story to get. The world around us, our experiences, the other pieces of entertainment we have seen tell us how to assemble the story of Star Wars.

But, what about something that’s a little outside of the box. What about a movie like The Fountain?  It’s one of my favorite movies.  One of my favorite movies that a lot of people didn’t see. It takes place in three different time periods, Conquistador Era Spain, Modern Day, and the Far Far Future.  They overlap, interlink, and each story ends together in a fury of images and sound.  Overall, the story is about the desire for eternal life… to know that things will continue on forever… and maybe realizing that’s impossible.  BUT… that’s my take away.  That’s what I got from the movie. Because the film doesn’t come with instructions.  There are some recognizable images and characters, but how they are used is so different than what I saw before, so I was left to assemble the narrative on my own.

What’s interesting about THIS approach, and dangerous, is the possibility for misunderstanding… However, misunderstanding is the step brother of deeper, more complex understandings…

Neither approach is right or wrong, better or worse.  But they are still approaches.  Star Wars could’ve easily been a much more challenging story. What if we ONLY understood the movie from R2D2’s point of view, where everyone speaks in beeps and whistles, and he’s the only one who speaks English?  And The Fountain could’ve been a much more straight forward film… but then it wouldn’t have made it the film it was…

So, me as a writer, it gives me food for thought… where do I provide a clear and easy path for understanding, and where do I leave the instructions at home?

Now, excuse me, the kid is screaming… I’m hoping it’s because he wants cookies… but probably not.

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