Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year's Day (After)

Well, it's a new year. Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, even that Mayan apocalypse malarkey is all safely behind us now.

As we march bravely into 2013, here's a little inspirational story for all you artists and poetic souls out there.

Some months ago I was at a library sale, where they had not only books to buy, but also some audio cassettes at $1 apiece.

Among the cassettes was a box set of Derek Jacobi reading Le Morte d'Arthur, Thomas Mallory's famous book of Arthurian tales, a book that a teacher had once encouraged me to read back when I was a sword-and-sorcery-obsessed teenager. I'd never gotten around to actually reading it, and now I had an opportunity to have Sir Derek read it to me. Even though this box set contained several tapes, I got the whole thing for $1.

At home, I played the first side of the first tape, in my CD/cassette combo player that had served me faithfully for 22 years. But then I could play no more. The cassette part of the player had finally died.

In casual conversation with my mom one day, I mentioned that I'd bought this book-on-tape but was unable to play it. Then, the next few times I saw or spoke to her, she started asking me unsubtle follow-up questions. I thought, “She's fishing for Christmas present ideas, and wants to buy me some gadget for playing tapes.”

Sure enough, come Christmas day, I get a mighty CD/cassette/MP3 playing boombox for Christmas. All because I mentioned my interest in listening to a book on tape I'd bought for $1.

OK, maybe that's not the most inspirational story of all time. But the point is: If you have dreams, share them. You never know who might be inspired to take part in them, and help them to come true.

Some dreams are harder to admit to than wanting to play some used cassettes. But you'll never know if you don't communicate them to others.

I wrote most of this blog entry on a train ride home from NYC, where I spent New Year's weekend at a friend's party. On the ride down, I watched and listened to some recordings I'd downloaded at various times but never got around to watching and listening to.

Without thinking about it, the ones I chose were interviews with fantasy/sci-fi authors. Doing so made me think yet again about why we write, and why we tell heroic stories about accomplishments and great deeds. The highbrow awards might go mostly to stories about defeat and depression, being sullen and sulking. But stories about action – about people doing things and succeeding – are just as important, just as essential to our health.

I also got around to reading an online transcript of a circa-1999 interview with cyberpunk author William Gibson. He mostly was making fairly abstract statements about the modern media and how our perceptions have been changed by it. Of course, things have changed even more since that time. Back then – and for several decades prior – the way to be hip was to show how deep and introverted you were, and how alienated from society you were.

But cyberspace (as it was called then) has turned out to be a vehicle for jokes and socializing and self-promotion, not just urban angst. Even the hipsters have gotten wackier. I'm not much of a gamer anymore, but there's an argument to be made that exploring virtual worlds are a way of safely testing strategies that you could then apply successfully in real life.

And in a way, all the free nonsense you can get on the Internet – legally and illegally – has raised the standards. Art seems less precious. The moving image isn't put on a pedestal anymore, not when the tools for making it have become more accessible. It's easier to create, but harder to create in a way that will be considered good. As other writers have pointed out, pop culture has become more complex and challenging, with elaborate TV story arcs and branching computer-game narratives.

When you create something now, you gotta think about why you're doing it, and who you're doing it for. Art for its own sake doesn't seem to be enough anymore. There needs to be a human connection.

But just because it's harder doesn't mean you shouldn't try. You don't truly know whether your vision communicates if you don't communicate it.

The old attitudes die hard. Many people – especially of my generation – seem convinced that hating something is always smarter than loving something, or that people who do nothing but complaining and passing judgment are somehow superior to people who actually manage to create something or make something happen. There's an attitude that people with achievements and accomplishments are the bad guys, and that being a do-nothing is the only way to keep it real.

The trick is to not let those attitudes hold you back. My New Year's resolution is to keep it positive. So aim high, dream big, work hard, and make those New Year's resolutions come true.

Have a happy, prosperous, and productive 2013!