Snippets from England – Warwick Castle and Various Architecture

I’ve been meaning to put these up for a while now. Last December I got the incredible opportunity to visit England for two weeks through my college. The top left is Warwick Castle which is absolutely stunning in real life. Our tour guide said it had become a bit commercialized because the television series Merlin was filmed there. It was crowded, but it still felt authentic to me. I climbed all the way to the top and walked around the edges which is where I got some amazing views.The entire area surrounding the castle was vibrant rolling hills. We stayed at the castle about half the day until it was getting dark and even then it didn’t seem like enough time. It was probably my favorite place to visit during the trip.

The  bottom row are three breathtaking buildings in the Oxford area of England. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to visit these places and get some photographs. Travel photography never fails to strike me and the fact that I got to do some myself is a dream come true. I still have a folder on my laptop filled with England photos so be expecting more as I get them organized.

 

Starting From the Bottom When There is No Bottom

Anyone who has job hunted has heard the familiar and haunting phrase, “Well, you gotta start from the bottom and work your way up.” Alright, makes sense. Even though most of us crave a higher lifestyle, we can understand that life is not handed to us on a silver platter. We have to work if we plan to achieve anything and looking at the topic in that simple light makes it sound like a worthy system. We want to know those long hours, far from glamorous duties, and low paychecks weren’t all in vain. We want to know we earned something valuable so we can appreciate it and rest easy knowing that there is a sense of justice in the world – those who work hard are rewarded.

A beautiful idea. This is what the American dream is all about, right? You get what you put into a situation. So simple and yet it feels impossible when you’re first starting out. You prepare yourself for the worst, parachute ready, as you step over to that open door of a plane. You realize that once you jump you’ll be at the bottom. What will that include? Will you be caught in a few branches and need to work yourself free? How intense will the impact be? Will you brake a bone or two? Or will you be able to land on your feet with a running start? The result will vary for each person. Some get lucky and walk away with no injuries or complications. The path for them will be smooth, but others won’t be as lucky. They’ll have a rocky beginning, but find their way the longer they move. Some will quit the second they land, feeling too broken or scared to explore. Others won’t get off the plane in the first place. It’s terrifying because there are too many options and you don’t get the luxury to choose. You close your eyes, jump, and you hope that you’ll land on your feet.

And then you don’t.

What do you do if you land where there is no ground? What if there is not bottom to start from? I’ll call this the Ocean Complex. You end up falling into the ocean with no land for what seems like miles. On the surface you can only see the outline of an island, but you’re unsure how to get there and how far you’d have to swim. Even if you attempt the journey, sooner or later you find yourself submersed in the water with little to nothing to latch onto. You’re sinking for what seems like an eternity. The lower into the ocean you fall, the more haunting it becomes. The water is no longer crystal blue with a peaceful sky reflecting off of the subtle waves. It’s become dark and colder the longer you remain. The environment that you once thought was familiar is becoming distorted with strange sea creatures floating past you, dazed in their own agenda. You start to wonder when it will be time to hit the ground running only there is not ground to touch. By this time even the ocean’s ceiling seems too far away to go back to. You feel trapped in a watery limbo imagining the day when someone will toss you a life saver that you can float towards.

How do you start when there’s no bottom to start from? The only thing you can do is to continue moving. Take advice from Finding Nemo and keep swimming. It’s easy to let the current push you down and to sink. More often than not that’s what we’d like to do. When we don’t get that job interview, become anxious due to insufficient funds no matter how much we save, or feel trapped in general sometimes we’d prefer to sink. You feel too weak to swim up and it makes more sense to fall even if you know vicious creatures are lurking in the ocean’s shadows. When life isn’t giving you life savers you have to create your own. You have to swim and swim for the rest of your life if need be for a fighting chance at something good. Even if you never manage to break the surface again at least you’ll know you fought for it.

And there’s always the chance you do break the surface. Oxygen slowly flows back into your lungs and it burns, but you welcome the sensation. The sun is once again visible and you no longer feel numb and isolated. The island is still in the distance, but you look at it with a new perspective. If you can find a way to crawl out of the depths of the ocean, then you can find your way to that island. So you begin paddling and you never stop until you reach land.

Most of us will be given the misfortune of starting with no ground in sight. After all our training there doesn’t always seem to be a place to begin. If you stop moving you’ll find yourself deep within the water and the longer you stay the more difficult it will be to find a way out. If we keep moving, even if it seems like we’re walking in place, at least we’re fighting the current. Is hard work actually rewarded in the real world? I’d like to think so. As long as you continue to swim, you’re getting closer to something. Even if you’re unsure what that something is, it’s far better than living in a distorted underwater limbo.

 

 

The Living Dead Dilemma

Anyone who enjoys reading or writing stories knows all the common plot points that make a book memorable. These points range from a love arc, a happy ending, subtle foreshadowing, a twist, and so on. For the essence of a book to linger in my mind I need one pivotal plot point – death.

That sounds pretty morbid, but hear me out on this. I don’t like the death point because it’s dark; I like it because it creates a ripple effect that the other characters can’t ignore. A death in a book is something that can change the entire pacing of a story or the personality of the protagonist. It brings forth a twist with unforeseen consequences. This is the point where the author is able to test just how well he or she knows the character they’ve written. It’s like shaking up a can of pop and seeing how big of a mess it will make once you open it. Will the chaos be explosive or just a dribble? Who gets soaked? Who stays dry from a distance? Whenever I write a story I tend to plan killing off characters left and right just to see what will happen. I always end up becoming too attached and keep most of them alive, but I still walk away with a better understanding of who these characters are. Which brings me to my next point…

It takes a lot of courage to kill of a character in a story. If you plan to kill an important character you have to make sure the story will still carry on the way you intended it too. You have to wonder if this death will create plot holes or not. Once a character is dead, please, for the love of all that is good, keep them dead. I applaud authors who can kill off important characters and still maintain a manageable story line with feeling and emotion. A death shows that the author isn’t afraid to take risks which is something I admire in writing. Yet, I do have a problem if a character dies and then comes back to life.

If you use death as a plot point in a story, you should make sure it stands for something. The whole reason I appreciate it in stories is because it creates a strong emotion that draws the audience in that they can latch onto. The audience is alert now and starting to show a real care towards the other characters. The death made an impact and when an author brings a character back to life or has one of those “Psych! I’m not dead, just resting” moments, they’re taking that impact back. All of the meaning starts to unravel unless the, what I’ll call the “Living Dead Dilemma”, is for a good reason and is necessary for the story. Unfortunately, the Living Dead Dilemma effect is rarely used for a proper purpose and normally there only to gain more marketing from fans of the deceased character.

A good use of the Living Dead Dilemma is in Lost. Now, if you recently started following me, it’s handy to know that I talk about Lost a lot and I am not at all ashamed of it. In Lost we have a character named John Locke who *SPOILERS* dies, but later comes back to life after his corpse is brought to the island due to the island’s healing abilities and fate. Later you find out that he didn’t come back to life at all and that the smoke monster had used his empty body as a shell. This fact ends up answering a few mysteries regarding the island in one of the most depressing plot twists I have ever witnessed. John who loved the island more than anyone, who held an incredible amount of belief in destiny, who wanted to protect the island and be a part of it died in a dirty hotel room back in California. His lifeless body was then used by the island’s monster who was bent on destroying it along with the people John grew to care for. *END SPOILERS* That is the Living Dead Dilemma working as a pivotal plot point and not as a marketing tool. If the Living Dead Dilemma doesn’t serve a purpose in the story, then either keep the character dead or don’t kill them at all.

The same could be said for any plot point in general. Each one needs to be handled with care or else they’re nothing more than a marketing tool. I understand that it’s tough earning money and even more tough to earn that money through stories. Novels have gone downhill in recent years because authors are focusing on the marketing value instead of the purpose of their story. Why write if you don’t have reason? Same goes for plot points; why put one in if there is no reason? If those plot points aid in your message then have fun with them, be artistic with them. If you choose to use the most delicate (well, in my opinion) plot point, death, then use it to the story’s advantage. This point can come across on paper in the most tragic and beautiful; the audience will cling onto these characters tighter and walk away with a deeper and everlasting meaning, but – this only happens if it’s executed with purpose.

Adventures at the Cinema

I’m one of the weird ones who still prefers going to a cinema over watching a movie at home. Most people associate cinemas with sticky floors, people who laugh a little too hard, and infants who obviously don’t want to be there. That may be true in most cases, but I still get excited when I hop in my car and begin the journey. Some of my best memories come from being a kid and going to the old theater in my hometown. It had that old-fashion charm with brick walls, one screen, and a balcony that overlooked the first floor of chairs. There were elegant red curtains that parted for the silver screen and the scent of fresh popcorn and eager chatter created an atmosphere that wrapped around you the moment you walked through the doors. There would always be music playing during the wait, ranging from famous scores like the theme of Star Wars to the song about putting a lime in a coconut and shaking it all up. It just placed me in this cheerful mood that I couldn’t shake off. It was an event, not just a casual time out. I was smitten.

Then the lights dimmed and the screen would come to life with an anticipating silence. Then the volume would rise and there would be the first sound of the trailer reel. These would leave me in awe even if I knew all the worthy parts were being shown in this three minute clip show. After the title and release date showed for each one I’d think, “I need to go see that.” I think I felt that way because everything is more thrilling on the big screen. It’s so colossal that you can’t miss it and it transports you into the film’s environment. For those three minutes you’re lost and sometimes it’s nice to be taken away to a new world, even for a brief period of time.

When the trailer ended is when the moment everyone in the theater has been waiting for finally began. The trailers, no matter how impressive, were merely a warm up before the real thing. The screen gets dark again with the only sound being a popcorn crunch, a loud sip of Pepsi, maybe a cough, and then the film slowly fades in. For the next two hours you’re lost again, only this time everything is more grand and detailed. The rest of the world fades away and unless the cinema catches on fire or you have the misfortune to sit in front of a seat kicker. When the credits role and the lights slowly come back on, it always takes me a second to come back to reality. I tend to do with books too because I become so immersed in the creative value these stories present. Even if the movie is downright awful, it still takes me a moment to come back because all my thoughts are dedicated to analyzing either what went wrong or what went right. Maybe it was one scene that spoke to you or made you cringe; maybe it was every scene or that one line or that one facial expression. Those moments that we see emphasized on screen are what stay with us the entire car ride home. At least, they do for me.

I talked to my brother about this and we both do the same thing where once we leave the theater we spend the ride home analyzing the film in our heads. This might sound a little intensive, but keep in mind that we’re both English majors and that’s just what English majors do. We think about the symbolism, foreshadowing, and any pieces that just blew us away. Why did the director do this? Why didn’t the director do this? How was the acting in that opening scene? What was up with the ending? This is what swirls around in my mind the second I step outside of the theater after the sun has set and a new wave of visitors are entering the building to sit where you sat and experience the same cinematic adventure. The new people chatter with as much eagerness as you with the phrase, “I hope this is good” fading in and out of the air continuously like a lighting bug until everyone is at the ticket booth. What draws us to this place? What draws us to these films that have influenced and captivated society for centuries?

I like to think we’re attracted to film because it takes all the emotions, exciting and mundane aspects of life and emphasizes them sometimes even hitting us over the head with them. There’s an element we can easily discover and then connect with so, in a way, we project ourselves onto the screen and live out a fantasy for the next two hours. We’re putting ourselves in the lives of these characters or at least wondering what it would like to be in the imaginary world in front of us. Even movies that try to stray away from the world we know like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings still contain aspects of the human condition that are so real we gaze at it and say, “Yes, this character is just like me” or “This is similar to what I’m going through at the moment.” About a month ago I saw the second installment of “Captain America” and afterwards my brother ran into a friend and he asked how his friend liked the movie. His friend said it really hit home for him because there were parts that weren’t all that different from a situation he was going through. This was a movie about a guy who was frozen for decades and hangs out with Thor every so often and his friend was still able to find a connection and project himself into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Wait, you might be thinking, projecting yourself onto a film sounds a little unhealthy. I get where you’re coming from make-believe person who I made up for the sake of this blog post, but I disagree. True, some people might turn movies into an addiction because they rely on that continuous escape, but not everyone. I see film as a number of things: art, story telling, work and so on, but I also see it as the equivalent of a kid pretending a box is a pirate ship that will take them to Disney World or wherever else they want to travel. Film allows our imagination to get some exercise and discover new things. Unfortunately, it’s common to stop seeing that box as a glorious ship and more as a simple brown box that your refrigerator came in. A movie, especially seeing it inside a cinema, is that box revisited; you take out of it what you decide to put into it. If you find connections or look for the artistic values of the movie you’ll walk away amazed. If you don’t care then the trip will be nothing more than sticky floors and that irritating seat kicker. You can let it take you on an adventure even if it’s going to be short lived and you lose yourself to that imaginary world for just a moment. You let it take you away from all the stress and issues that life tends to present us with and you let yourself have a little fun. You pretend that you’re the suave Hon Solo with the perfect shot and an adorable Wookiee pal or Same who through all odds helps his friend throw the ring into the heart of Mount Doom.

For a moment you’re in that box again getting to be whoever you want to be or do whatever you want to do while ignoring that pesky spelling assignment. For a moment you get to have some fun. Once the lights come up and the credits are over you know it’s time to come back to reality, but that’s alright. You feel rejuvenated and you still have those lingering thoughts about the film to get you through any dull or stressful moments during the week. Sometimes I wish I could stay in the cinema forever because I’m in love with the atmosphere, but getting to go every now and then is what makes it an adventure.

Mundane Scripts and the Search for a Voice

One thing I struggle immensely with when it comes to writing is figuring out my voice. In college your professors will continuously tell you to form your own unique voice when writing papers. Obviously you need to figure out a style that strays away from anything too traditional or bland, but at the same time I could never determine the line between academic/professional and imaginative. My papers never suffered from the conflict, primarily because they’d almost always be a lit analysis which is creative in itself, but when I got into the business realm of writing I realized that maintaining a stylized voice was close to impossible. At least for me.

A good chunk of this realization came from a business and technical writing course that I was required to take.We had to compose memos and newsletters and the more I worked on these assignments the more I began to detest them. The class was still being told to find their voice, but finding yourself in a memo about insurance isn’t the easiest conquest. It only took me three memos to notice that they were all the same; the only difference was filing in the blanks to fit the situation at hand. I felt like I was performing a stage show written by someone who had never cracked a smile in their life. I tried not to sound frigid or distant, but I knew my voice was lost no matter how many revisions I went through. If I put too much personality into it, it was unprofessional. If I didn’t put in enough personality, it was deemed as “cold.” The writing process ending up being a vicious cycle of boredom and mumbled curses.

I think circumstances like business and technical writing are why I gravitate towards creative fiction. At least with fiction I can design a criteria that fits the demands of the story. Almost everything I write is from a first person point of view which means I open up word and let that character’s thoughts run wild without supervision. I tend to open up a path during the writing process and follow the white rabbit even if it takes me nowhere monumental. I’m not overly thrilled about having a set of guidelines that tell me I have to turn left at the next stop sign and again at the next when I’d rather explore on my own. When I write fiction I let the creative voice paint over every word I type and I let it develop on its own. There’s never a script I’m trying to recite – just a character attempting to speak. It’s possible that authors like Faulkner and Pynchon have influenced me more than I can tell, but I like to grab hold of the human conscious in my stories and have those internal thoughts either go on a rampage or take a peaceful stroll; whatever they feel like that day.

I do the same with this blog; I start a post with a basic concept and allow myself to expand on it as I write. I love watching where the mind goes all on it’s own. That’s why I love creative writing so much. As for voice, I’m sure one day I’ll manage a decent balance between personality and professionalism. For right now I’d rather admire and improve the voice in my fiction because, honestly, those characters a lot more interesting than me.

Discovering your creative, professional, academic, writing voice in general will always be more of as struggle from some of us, but not impossible. A voice in writing is your mental monologue making its debut onto paper. Even if you have to follow a tight script, hints of your personality will surface no matter how well you can name facts and list out the benefits of car insurance. It’s not that we don’t have a voice to begin with it, it’s that it takes us a while to recognize it and tap into that potential. This is true no matter what type of piece you’re writing because fiction demands voice just as much as technical writing. Echoes of yourself are going to be in the voice of the characters you create, because you can’t escape yourself. And much like technical writing, there is a time and place to let your personality take center stage. You have the scavenge for the voice that fits your piece, but you can’t find it if you keep your writing style on a tight leash. I’m sure even people reading a letter about their car company want paragraphs with a little pizazz to prevent them from sailing away into the unforgiving lands of the mundane.

While recognizing voice can be a frustrating journey of dead ends, I want to keep in mind that sometimes it’s best to set your thoughts free and see what comes of it. If I can find an honest voice in creative fiction through that method then I can do the same if I ever need to dive into the technical realm of writing again. Somewhere in that tangled mess of thoughts and scripts is the ideal voice waiting to audition.

 

Ambiguity and –

More often that not when a person starts a film they expect to receive all the answers to their questions by the end and if they don’t, they feel cheated. If they come across an ambiguous ending they get frustrated because they’ve invested all this time into…what? All of the mysteries they’ve pondered over are left unsaid. All of the questions, secrets, and situations are still up in the air and that’s not what the audience asked for. They didn’t want to come all this way to find out they’ve been walking in a circle; they wanted a proper ending with problems solved.

I understand that, I do, but I’m here to defend the ambiguous ending. I love ambiguity. I’m the type of person who can defend the finale of Lost until the day I die. I was glad that every single mystery wasn’t bluntly answered and handed to the audience in a neatly sealed envelope. I find it more realistic to not answer all the big questions because in life do we rarely receive any vindication. For me, the ambiguous ending represents the idea that all of the world’s answers will not be given to you; there will be no signs with big flashing lights banners being strung across the sky. By all means, search for that closure if you need to, but realize that it may not come in the form you want and it may not arrive at all. As overused as the saying is, the ambiguous ending really is all about the journey rather than the destination. I find it important to see a character pulling through despite all the nagging mysteries huddled around them. I like to see a character find their way in the dark, just as clueless as the audience, and to see that character come to their own version of the destination or to continue searching.

What I mean by an alternate destination is that once and while with an ambiguous ending a character will come to a conclusion that strays away from the initial inquiry.The ending is still ambiguous because the audience still doesn’t have answers to the original questions. Viewers still get upset over this type of ending because questions are being answered or brought up that they didn’t want. But does having every situation summed up at the end neatly and perfectly really come across as satisfying? Think about it. Isn’t half the fun coming up with solutions for yourself? We really take on the role of the detective when we watch these films or read these novels and while we want a reward for our hard work as investigators, all the excitement vanishes the second those answers come. At least with a few mysteries left unsaid, you’re free to debate and scout until you run out of breath.

Now, you might say ambiguity is lazy writing because it seems like the author  didn’t care enough to finish the story, but I would whole heartily disagree, I find the ambiguous ending courageous because these authors know people will hound them about it and yet they do it anyways because sometimes a story is too large to be neatly wrapped up. For this reason I have great difficulty in enjoying anything by Charles Dickens because he loved to tightly seal every situation up at the end and inform his readers where these characters would be years from the story’s last page. The truth is, I don’t want to see all of these events magically work themselves out. If they can be easily fixed then it makes me wonder how dyer these circumstances were in the first place. The ramifications seemed to be nothing a good can of frabreeze can’t fix and I wonder if these characters have learned anything at all. I feel like they’re pulling a Scoobey Doo and after this mystery conveniently works its way out, the characters will go back to riding around in their van with any inkling of character development erased until a new mystery appears and then the cycle will repeat itself time after time just in a different format.

I realize that I’ll need to apologize to all the Dickens and Scoobey Doo fans out there, but I’m not saying either story is bad; I just love stories that leave off. Imagine an episode where in the very last minute Scoobey and Shaggy find themselves in an abandoned warehouse. They hear footsteps behind them and when they turn around Shaggy says, “Scoobs, is that-?” and then a black screen – credits. Meanwhile the rest of the gang is in turmoil somewhere, maybe one is trapped in the Black Lodge, who knows? And that’s it, that’s all there is. I know that’s too dark for a kid’s show, but this is the type of ending that leaves an audience thinking. In one of my classes I read “Crying of Lot 49” and the ending made me fall in love with Thomas Pynchon. He ends the story at the climax with his protagonist walking into a room where she’ll (supposedly) find the answer to the mystery she’s been investigating throughout the novel. Once she gets in the room the book just ends. I don’t know if she dies, if she finds her answer, or if it’s nothing more than a dead end. The book just ends and I loved it. I remember in class the next day we had a discussion about the ending and one guy mentioned that the novel would be ruined for him if the mystery was solved. It would be ruined either because he would have seen the solution coming or because it wouldn’t of been as grand as he imagined.

What reals us into these stories is the mystery and to have that mystery still linger afterwards, keeps us hooked. The story stays with us because we’re still trying to figure it out or we’re wondering what it all meant. In most cases the neatly sealed envelope ending is forgotten. Everything is wrapped up and finished and we forget because there is nothing left to get us thinking. The ambiguous ending holds more meaning and symbolism than we can scramble to find and keeps us searching. There’s always a new Easter egg within it to pick up on, there’s always a hint, a foreshadowing, a note, anything that makes us see how enormous the picture actually is. Nothing is frabreezed, it’s just “this is how it is. What does it mean? Does it mean anything? Go.”