Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Old Memories

In a strange fit of irony, just as I was doing my blog entry about lost comic websites, my parents were in the process of tossing out boxes of old schoolwork and artwork that hadn’t been seen in years. They were carrying the momentum from the major clean-up of Bubby’s apartment and wanted to clear several shelves to create more room. My mother said, “I don’t want to become a museum for old stuff that we’ll never see”. She didn’t even bother to look at what she was throwing out, because she said that she did enough of that when sorting thorugh Bubby’s documents, and didn’t want to repeat the process at home. I wasn’t able to convince her to save the majority of my sister’s doodles (most of which were dogs reminiscent of the Wolf tribe in Disney’s Jungle Book), though our silly comic sketches were left alone. I can only imagine my sister’s reaction to the sudden loss of hundreds of drawings done over the course of her life.

I was fortunate enough to sneak off my old homework assignments out of the recycling bin. The number of paper files was so large that even though our bin was almost as tall as me, we could only stuff half of everything inside. If it hadn’t been raining, more of the documents would’ve been lost. My mother might not have felt nostalgic about these old notebooks, but I did. They’re an invaluable window into my state of mind while I was growing up. When I look at a piece of paper with my shoddy handwriting on them, I can recall with certainty exactly what I was thinking of at the time. One particular short poem I wrote down captures my confusion at understanding how my parents could continue to accept my presence while simultaneously being exasperated by my actions.

Do you love me,
Or do you not?

You told me once,

But I forgot.

This is something I’m still struggling to understand. Love is not exactly a form of desire, nor is it longing for something that's not there. The closest comparison I can make is that it something you have a devoted interest in to the exclusion of all else. However, that doesn’t quite describe it either - that's closer to obsessiveness than anything else. It’s slightly easier to define what love ISN’T rather than what it IS: “The opposite of love isn’t hate; the opposite of love is indifference.” In the Cathy strip below, I had no idea whether her mother would like her gift or not, since she hadn't opened it yet, and it might've not been what she was expecting. I had to be taught that she would've been perfectly happy with whatever her daughter gave her.

However, I knew that my mother wouldn’t appreciate me bringing back more pieces of papers taking up space. To make room, I dumped most of the homework assignments I no longer needed. Stuff dealing with obsolete chemistry experiments, geography maps and math quizzes were the first to go. No need to look back on problems I already knew the answers to. The English assignments I kept, since those required some more brainwork than usual, and it was amusing to see my early attempts at writing.

Ever since Grade school, I’d always had trouble trying to write a good story. I was more concerned in making silly jokes than acute descriptions of my surroundings. The closest to a consistent outlet was thinking up creative recipes for nonexistent foods, usually involving a combination of made-up ingredients; taste be damned. A very early example of my reluctance to write in a daily journal entry had the following: “I do not lied to do mie writing” (misspellings are intentional) This was followed up with a written reply from my teacher who answered: “You have write even if you don’t like it!

In some other instances, it’s badly amusing at how lousy my writing skills were back then. I just hastily wrote down the answers as quickly as possible so I could get them out of the way without much forethought. I had a lot of trouble trying to decipher the teacher’s questions, and my written statements were never clear enough. It never occurred to me to write up an essay that would be to the teacher’s preferences. Even today, I still have trouble sucking up to the boss. With all the countless revisions that were constantly done to my essays, is it any wonder why I was reluctant to do any writing in the first place?

In a homework assignment in using vocabulary words from The Monkey’s Paw, I was more concerned with fitting as many words in a single sentence than I was on whether they made any sense or not:

1. The perils of the once placidly torrent caused the avaricious and apathy town to become mutilated.
2. The burly simian never faltered when he furtively stole the talisman off the antimacassar, but felt oppressive when he found out it was stealthy.
3. The amiable fakirs had rubicund noses, and when one dubiously said it was too cold up here, the rest nodded in resignation.
4. A condoling bibulous made a fusillade foreshadowing which was probably frivolous to a policeman, who was sinister and locked him up.

Another instance was my first High School English assignment where I was instructed to write a one-page essay about my most embarrassing moment in life. I jokingly used multiple adjectives in a single sentence of the English teacher assigning the class to write an essay on our most embarrassing moment. While the teacher accepted the project with good humour, my parents weren’t satisfied with the results, and forced me to rewrite it properly.

Truth was, I couldn’t think of anything that I considered personally embarrassing. So as a compromise, I decided to choose a topic that most people seemed to get uncomfortable around - the subject of sex. I wrote about a documentary on a 3-2-1 Contact special that concentrated on sex, while trying to appear squeamish when my sister asked personal questions. Of course, none of it was true. When I handed in my revised draft, the teacher commended me for bravely writing on such a difficult topic. If only he had known...

Even though this was my first unanticipated foray into creative writing, I still had a difficult time thinking up story ideas. For most of my English classes, I heavily borrowed elements from Saturday Morning Cartoons and rhyming children’s books, confident that the teachers wouldn’t make the connection, since they wouldn’t bother with childish things. Only one other orally deaf student who attended the same classes as me, figured out where I was stealing my story ideas from. However, she never reported me to any authority figures and I never got reprimanded. I should’ve felt safe, but I felt slightly lousy for coasting on without producing anything of actual worth.

My problem with writing a story was that I was constantly stumbling over the story structure of Introduction, Rising action, Climax, Falling action and DĂ©nouement. With such a rigid formula, I couldn't figure out how to fill in the gaps. The books that were assigned to me didn't help clear up the confusion up either. It wasn’t until I started reading Manga that story outlines suddenly became clear to me. This was especially obvious in tournament arcs, where the multiple rising actions, climaxes, and falling actions would be repeated for every competitor, until the match was finally over. As long as I could predetermine the final outcome, everything else that happened in between could be made up on the fly. This was a far cry from the S-hero comics I’d been reading where plots and subplots could change by the seat of your pants. Sure it made for exciting reading, but it also left an incomprehensible mess where I couldn’t distinguish good stories from bad.

Since then, I haven’t been able to stop seeing story potential in everything. If I'm given a subject, any subject, I’ll find a way to make it interesting. Humour is still my forte, though I won’t shrink from other theater conventions if necessary.

Truth be told, it’s not that difficult to tell a good story. All you need to do is put a character in a situation, then take the most interesting route possible. What IS difficult is putting all your ideas in the right combination that’ll keep your audience interested. Especially if you're trying not to tell the same story that's been told dozens of times by better storytellers than you. It's like that line from the Garfield episode where he was animating his personal cartoon; "Drawing isn't that hard - it's just a bunch of lines together." The trick is finding the correct combination of lines, otherwise we're just looking at a bunch of squiggles, or really bad abstract art.

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