logan-2017-poster-2
Film, Thoughts, Writing

LOGAN Seven Point Plot Structure Breakdown

I loved this film. It might even be the second-best superhero movie of all time (the first being The Dark Knight, you spoon). It might, after I rewatch it, have taken the top spot of Best X-Men Movie from X-Men: First Class. It was filmed in New Mexico and my desert-rat heart leapt for joy. It was brutal, sad, uncompromising, and ultimately altruistic — just the way I like it. It was heavily focussed on character, each so rich by the time I left the theater, I felt I’d actually met them.

But you know what? I’m gonna talk shit about it. Because, in the words of a screenwriter I greatly admire, Allen Palmer, it wasn’t a transcendent story. There was no ecstatic agony. And I got a high-ass perfectionist quality standard. Logan was a great film — but not as great as it could’ve been.

LET’S BREAK IT DOWN

****SPOILERS FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DONT’ READ IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE****

Start with the Resolution, (or as Dan Well calls it, the seventh plot point). Also known as the ending. I’m using the synopsis on IMDb to support memory.

  1. Resolution: Laura shoots X-24 in the head while Logan gets his ass kicked to death.

Logan had nothing to do with the final climactic moment, that release of tension when the bad guy dies. Laura takes action, ridding our protagonist, Logan, of his agency right at the crucial moment.

Also, where was the devilishly difficult, character-driven choice for him to make? Before this, the last choice Logan made was to ignore that one kid’s warning and shoot all that green stuff up at once. No crucial choice there that pitted want against need. What about after that, when he gets sassy with Doctor Rice and then shoots him in the face? Definitely not a difficult choice, not crucial, no poignant want vs need — just a good laugh.

(Maybe you could argue here that when he shot up the green stuff, he was choosing between his want — being healthy and not dying — and his need — caring about those kids and saving them. But was his want really to be healthy and not die? I got the sense he was just looking for a good reason to end it all. The whole movie was basically: Logan really wants to die, so when we kill him later, you’ll feel like it was a kindness and not be upset with us.)

It isn’t enough that Logan sacrifices himself. Give him a devilishly difficult choice that reveals character and forces him to choose between what he wants, and what he needs — then give Logan, not Laura, the action at the climax! All Logan does at the climax is get impaled on a tree.

“Logan, this doesn’t feel like a transcendent climax!” “No, but it’s sad and brutal, and that’s mostly what we were going for.”

(There is another argument: maybe Laura was Logan shooting the gun in some way, a sort of proxy choice. This would mean that because Laura learned how to kill X-24 from Logan, and Logan gave her the adamantium bullet, Laura killing X-24 was actually Logan’s skill/ability. This is still a weak justification for removing agency and not including a devilishly difficult choice for Logan at the climax. Laura shooting X-24 was just a basic relief. I wasn’t crying like ‘oh the humanity!’)

Now let’s jump back to the Hook, point one. How the protagonist (Logan) started. This should be the opposite of how he ends (point seven).

  1. Hook: Logan rages-out and murders a bunch of cholos. He’s sad and down on his luck.

Now let’s do the Midpoint, point four. There are a lot of different definitions and schools of thought on how exactly the Midpoint should go, but I think it’s when the character is confronted with their fundamental flaw, and then forced, kicking and screaming, to admit it. This changes a person. For the rest of the story, the protagonist goes on having gained something, which they are threatened with losing later at the climax. It’s also when the true nature of the conflict is revealed. Midpoints are super important.

There are a few options:

  1. Midpoint Option A: The bad guys kill the nice family. Logan nearly gets his ass beat by the physical embodiment of rage without love, X-24. 

Here, Logan’s flaw is his rage, and his arc is about him dealing with the shit he’s done, the people he’s killed. Aka: Logan rages out too much.

  1. Midpoint Option B: After a wonderful dinner with the ranch family, Charles tells Logan, “This is what life looks like: people love each other. You should take a moment.”

This means that Logan’s flaw and character arc is about him being emotionally numb and refusing love.

Let’s think about Plot Point 2 and different Resolution moments to figure the Midpoint out.

Plot Point 2 is the sixth point and the crazy-hot friend of Plot Point 1. PP2 is where we get the last bit of setup we need to lay out the final conflict, and where the protagonist chooses to move forward into Act 3. It’s the trickiest plot point to nail down. There are two options here too. Maybe we’re getting into separate-but-interwoven character and action plots?? I told you it was a good damn movie!

  1. PP2 Option A: Logan sees helicopters zeroing in on the kids, decides to shoot up and become a rage monster, and bounds off into the woods.

Main conflict: Bad guys attacking kids (we don’t know that shooting up is going to wear off super quick and fuck Logan up, so choosing to use all of it doesn’t do much to indicate conflict; important set-up though).

  1. PP2 Option B: Before bed, Laura asks Logan if he will come with them. He says no and they go to bed angry. In the morning, Laura’s gone.

Main conflict: Logan refusing love, estranging himself from his daughter.

We’ve got two pretty distinct plots going on here. Let’s list them out now we’ve got so many points ready (and I’ll just fill in the rest real quick).

Plot A

In a nutshell.

  1. Hook: Logan rages-out and murders a bunch of cholos. He’s sad and down on his luck.
  2. PP1: Laura shows up after Logan finds Gabriela dead at the hotel.
  3. Pinch 1: Charles almost melts the collective brain of Las Vegas.
  4. Midpoint: The bad guys kill the nice family. Logan nearly gets his ass beat by the physical embodiment of rage without love, X-24.
  5. Pinch 2: They bury Charles. Logan rages out.
  6. PP2: Logan sees helicopters zeroing in on the kids, decides to shoot up and become a rage monster, and bounds off into the woods.
  7. Resolution: Laura shoots X-24 in the head while Logan gets his ass kicked to death.

Plot B

  1. Hook: Logan is rough and distant to Charles, an old friend physically unable to give Logan love (which Logan would probably reject anyway).
  2. PP1: Logan tries to leave Laura behind but it doesn’t work out.
  3. Pinch 1: Charles almost melts the collective brain of Las Vegas.
  4. Midpoint: After a wonderful dinner with the ranch family, Charles tells Logan, “This is what life looks like: people love each other. You should take a moment.”
  5. Pinch 2: Charles dies.
  6. Before bed, Laura asks Logan if he will come with them. He says no and they go to bed angry. In the morning, Laura’s gone.
  7. Laura saves Logan, but it’s too late. She calls Logan, “Daddy.” Logan feels love. He’s happy to have a daughter. He dies.

I both think these plots are valid (as in, they’re clearly in the film), and that they both suffer from the same weak character choices. Logan is such a strong character and the dialogue and acting were so good, so realistic, it’s almost difficult to see the flaws in the story. But in both plots, what dilemma does Logan struggle with? What does he choose between? If it was supposed to be a big deal that he decided to go save the kids from a bunch of armed men intent on enslaving them as child-solider-lab-rats… come on. Not a big deal. Did anyone actually worry he might decide to leave them behind? No difficult choices in this film, except maybe when Charles pressured Logan into staying with the nice ranch family, but Logan gave in super easily and not at all like he actually cared very much.

One more thing. We were haunted by the Westchester incident with Charles the whole movie — then he just remembers it suddenly while sleeping, pretty much out of nowhere, promptly has a realization about himself and Logan, and dies. The realization itself was powerful, but it was too left field. In the original Logan script, they were planning to shoot the Westchester incident as a prologue scene, but took it out because it made the movie too much about the death of the mutants and not enough about Logan. I agree the as-is opening is great, but they shouldn’t have deleted the Westchester scene entirely — they should’ve moved it!

Imagine we are with Charles as he remembers. We live through the panic with him, see the friends he just murdered, see Logan horrified at being the only survivor. We wake up with him back in the present, experience this realization about Logan as Charles does, then — HOLY FUCK! He dies. My chest is tightening just thinking about it. I would’ve sobbed like a little baby. As it was, it was still awful, shocking, the worst… but I wasn’t moved as other films have moved me. I didn’t cry.

Do you agree with my analysis? Did I miss something? Tell me what you think! Discussing movies and books like this is basically my all-time favorite thing to talk about, so let’s go!

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Film, Thoughts

‘Split’ Review

I joke that a big reason why I wanted to move to the Netherlands was for a Pathé Unlimited card, but like, for real, that is not a joke. When I was a kid I was both homeschooled and basically blind, but no one knew that, they just thought I had a preternatural distaste for looking out the window on long drives or short drives or any length of drive whatsoever. The homeschooling meant going to the movies was something I seriously looked forward to and thought about all week. The seeing issues meant that the only time I got to see the world as everyone else did was when it was blown up on a 50-foot screen in HD. We went nearly every weekend, and I just kept on like that after I grew up and moved out, until I landed in Germany where things were different af.

They don’t like playing movies in English in Germany, but they love Hollywood, so they take American films and re-dub all the dialogue in German. It’s like live-action anime. If you are even the tiniest bit able to read lips, too bad my man, that is going to distract the shit out of you right in the middle of the emotional climax. We were forced to go only to small, artsy independent theaters, which, while nice, don’t really scratch the Rogue-One-in-IMAX-3D itch. They’re also about $10 a ticket, which I thought until this moment was outrageous, but now that I think about it, Naz and I did just spend almost $50 on two 3D IMAX tickets in New York City.

You can also drink as much beer as you want in the theater.

Okay fine, it’s not that bad. However, there aren’t as many movies available, and there was only one tiny theater we could go to for showings in English. We just wanted escalators in our theater like civilized people.

In Amsterdam, we have that and more.

We have four main Pathé theaters to choose from, the fanciest being Tuschinsky, which is in like this 20s art deco, phoenix psychedelic style. It’s stunning. It’s actually art deco, everything super old and custom made and from the same parallel reality as American Horror Story Hotel. It’s a national historic building. It’s the best.

AMSTERDAM HOT TIP: Go see a movie in Tuschinsky grote Zaal in 4K. We saw Allied there and I felt like an actual 40s aristocrat.

AMSTERDAM HOT TIP: Go see a movie in Tuschinsky grote Zaal in 4K. We saw Allied there and I felt like an actual 40s aristocrat.

There’s also a big, shiny, escalator-filled theater around the corner, a cool lounge-vibey one downtown, and an IMAX out by the arena. The Pathé Unlimited card gets you into all that PLUS UNLIMITED MOVIES FOR 18€ A MONTH! You both can still drink as much beer as you want in the theater, and get a 10% discount on concessions — which isn’t that great, but let’s be real, I’ll take what I can get.

All that was to get around to saying this: I got that Pathé Unlimited card baby and I’m finally back to going to the movies regularly. As I am excited about it and have a film degree, I feel physically, nay, spiritually compelled to write reviews.

And without further ado…

What I Thought About Split

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I am a long time M. Night Shyamalan fan. I like sort of moody, affected, unabashedly tragic-but-ultimately-optimistic art, like Stephen King or Lana del Rey, and Shyamalan gets that. The Sixth Sense was heart-swooping. Signs was creepy as balls. The Village was twisted and an interesting idea and I don’t know why people care so much it was in a park, I mean, it’s Mr. Shyamalanalanalan — what did you expect? Lady In the Water was THE BEST, I don’t care, I loved it. When we find out he’s the Healer = goosebumps and/or tears. I fell asleep for like a minute watching Unbreakable but I was also seven, so it’s fair.

The Happening was embarrassing. I hid my face in my hands out of overwhelming fremdschämen. The Last Airbender was pathetic. I wasn’t even embarrassed, I was mad, like a disappointed father.

Split made up for all that. It’s the best film he’s ever made. Yes, better than The Sixth Sense. That’s right. I said it.

***THERE ARE PROBABLY GOING TO BE SPOILERS NOW***

Shyamalan has finally discovered the difference between a twist, and a reveal. Every moment which would have been an ah-ha! in an earlier film was here a poignant character reveal. We were discovering answers to how they became who they were, to better appreciate how they changed throughout the story. This made every pinch and plot point more impactful. Even the more minor characters like Claire and Marcia still had unique, interesting personalities given enough air time for us to care about them.

The acting was phenomenal, all the way through, from everyone (except for Shyamalan himself in his traditional cameo, but he wasn’t too bad, he was just surrounded by people so much better at it). James McAvoy was just a real person with 24 personalities. I forgot to notice how great he was acting, I was too busy convinced it was all real — and that is the mark of a good fucking actor! Let’s not forget the minor characters too, from Haley Lu Richardson (Claire) and Jessica Sula (Marcia), to Sebastian Arcelus, who played their dad and only had two minutes of screen time but was a real-enough person for me that I was super relieved he didn’t end up dead. I was with Anya Taylor-Joy (Casey) all the way, and I’m happy to see such a deep, subtle female protagonist in a supernatural thriller (or anything else, for that matter).

And she’s the protagonist, not McAvoy — you can be sure by who resolves the tension through a difficult choice. McAvoy was the antagonist. He didn’t make so many choices there at the end — we realized together that he shouldn’t kill her, but this choice was based on his principles, and there was nothing difficult about it for either of them. The difficult choice was Casey sitting in the police car, finally ready to stand up to her murderer-rapist uncle. Her arc was the most compelling. She had a goal, she tried hard, and though she failed (she never escaped, did she?), she learned something more valuable — to pull the trigger when she has to, and that she hasn’t suffered for nothing.

Two things that are the bane of melodrama are “show, don’t tell and the good ‘ol “cut in late, leave early.” Split had both in abundance. Casey’s choice in the police car is a great example. There were for-sure other great examples, but I can’t remember any right now. Maybe I’ll edit this post later when I think of something.

It was also super intense, like the ideal adaptation of the best Dean Koontz novels.

A seriously weird coincidence is that I saw another film about the value of suffering last week called To Stay Alive: A Method. It’s quirky, slow, and beautiful, stars Iggy Pop, and is mostly in French, which we did not know when we bought tickets, and severely limited our comprehension of the film — however, I did get that it was all about suffering being necessary for art, and that if you suffer, you must create art or go mad. I agree. It’s a nice simple way of stating a serious truth with serious consequences. This theme of suffering and its consequences, both good and bad, was the most meaningful and memorable part of Split for me.

Some things I didn’t like:

  1. What was that ending music? I know it was the Unbreakable theme, but why not just like, the Unbreakable theme, and not a weird Enya version of the Unbreakable theme?
  2. McAvoy in the mirror saying, “You are what you believe you are.” Remember that thing I said earlier about how subtle and non-melodramatic the rest had been because of all that great “show-don’t-tell” thing? Well, he lost it for a second and stated the obvious in the most melodramatic way possible. Meh.

Let’s talk about James McAvoy’s acting for another minute. He had characters so distinct that I could tell the difference between normal Barry, and Dennis pretending to be Barry! He had conversations with himself and I believed there was a group of people talking instead of one. I was a little hung up on the kid’s lisp, but he won me over with the dancing and the meanness eventually.

Betty Buckley’s character too, Dr. Karen Fletcher. She was fantastic. I believed in her and sympathized with her, though the weakest part of the story was when she, after realizing he was bat shit crazy and having an opportunity to leave and, oh I don’t know, call the cops, decided to just wander off down the hall in search of captives. Lazy storytelling there. Her character and acting were still great though, and represented a kind of woman I know, but haven’t seen on screen — dignified, intelligent, tough and no-nonsense with more energy than half her grandkids combined. I can see my Grandma Dougherty doing the same, except she’d definitely have brought a gun.

Last thing: Did the end have a little US-political commentary going on, or am I imagining things?

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Ima Video
Evil Schemes, Music, Thoughts

Perfectionism Release Therapy

My favorite teacher in high school taught musical theater, and her name was Megan McQueen. I had never met anyone so organized, excited, logical, kind, funny, compassionate, and clearly completely in love with what she was doing. She had a fierce and unwavering respect for other people’s time, no matter if they were fourteen or forty-two. She was a force of nature, and her students often became more like her disciples. Her compliments were given rarely and always had a matter-of-fact tone, as if they weren’t so much compliments as obvious facts others just hadn’t gotten around to saying out loud.

She gave me one compliment in particular that has stayed with me. I was applying for a fairly prestigious cultural exchange scholarship I was determined to get but didn’t feel good enough for. Megan said, a touch of impatience in her voice, “The point isn’t that you will succeed, which you will, but that you will take your experiences and share them for others to see and learn from. You are a fountain of ideas and creation; they’re not just getting you, they’re getting all the people you touch afterwards, too.”

I’ve failed to live up to that expectation.

Somewhere along the way my confidence and curiosity got mixed up with my reputation as always being exceptional and created a huge evil scary monster called Perfectionism. Not in a cute, ‘I always re-read my emails before I send them, I’m such a perfectionist hee hee!’ kind of way, but in a crippling, nothing-I-ever-do-is-good-enough kind of way.

It didn’t have to do with what other people thought or the reactions I got, because they continued to be positive — it was about me knowing I could’ve done it better, seeing all the flaws, all the room for improvement, and being incapable of stopping work on anything until it felt finished, which actually meant nothing left to improve.

This relentless drive to IMPROVE IMPROVE IMPROVE means I’m, well, succeeding in improving myself and my skills to some degree — but it’s also driving me mad. It’s crippling. I have been working so hard, for so long, through so much bitter effort, without anything to show for it. I started writing my book four years ago this month – four years! I have eighteen projects going on at once and only one measly finished short story to show. In over two years I’ve only posted on this blog a handful of times.

Basically what I’d look like if transported to an alternate dimension where your outside perfectly reflected your inside.

It’s time to finish things and let them be. This video is step one in what I hope will be a long, happy path called Putting Things Out Into The World. I’m just starting to learn the ukulele, I’m self-taught, and I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve never recorded anything like music in my life. I look at this and I see all the glaring holes and I know I could make it better — but I’m not going to.

I’m not going to.

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2016 Election
History, Inspiration, Thoughts, Uncategorized

An Artist’s Call-to-Arms

Today I was humbled. All of us who took the truth to be self-evident were humbled. We’ve been reminded of those two great barriers to progress, assumption and complacency, trumped by the greatest barrier of all — fear.

It’s strange to always be awake while America sleeps. I wish I could’ve slept on this, instead of having to face the glaring reality in silence, alone with my countrymen scattered around on this side of the ocean, feeling adrift and oddly abandoned even as we commiserate with each other.

I am reminded, more deeply than I have been in many years, why I chose this path for myself. Why my second major in college flitted between political science and philosophy and journalism, but my commitment to film and storytelling never wavered. Why I keep banging on the keyboard four years after I began, trying to finish this damn book. Why I grab hold of anyone with a faintly artistic dream and squeeze every bit of confidence and encouragement into them I possibly can.

Music, film, theater, design, fiction, and art are more powerful than the most vehement rhetoric. They are stories. Stories are our greatest weapon, and our highest purpose. Stories teach empathy, that there are grey areas, that life is not simple. Stories cut through the talking points and hit on the themes we should know, but have been clouded by fear. Stories give us opportunities to face danger and controversy in a safe space, and learn from it before the consequences are too high. And most importantly: stories change everyone, regardless of where you live, what you believe, or who you voted for. Stories are our great unifier.

Fill your stories with what you believe. Touch us. Teach us.

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” – Edgar Degas

This I believe: Fear is lesser than love. Compassion is greater than strength. All men are created equal — including that Syrian refugee who can recite the Qur’an by heart, and that illegal Mexican immigrant who can hardly string an English sentence together, and that gay couple, and that loud, nasal-voiced woman. Freedom isn’t free, not (only) because we have to have the stomach to kill for it, but because we have to be willing to sacrifice our money, our lives, and our way of life for our highest ideals. Everyone is vulnerable. Everyone craves love and belonging. We must not let fear drive us.

I have always been, and continue to be, proud of my country and my countrymen. Even now, on a day I believe will someday be looked back upon by most Americans with shame. We are a stubborn, ingenious group. And our artists the most so.

Now is the time for cultural change through art. Now is the time to flood every TV, bookstore, cinema screen, gallery wall, theater, and street corner with stories that hit the heart and then the head, that teach patience, understanding, compassion, and love.

We’ve tried politics. If there’s anything this election has shown, it’s that fear is a cancer we’ve let spread too far. It’s time to take the soul of American into our own hands.

ARTISTS: GO CHANGE THE WORLD. We have work to do.

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Family, Music

Owl Faces – Minda Lacy’s New Album

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/249679041″ params=”color=00aabb&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

My cousin Minda is an exquisite human being, the type who is effortlessly memorable, accidentally beautiful, unabashedly poetic, and never annoying about any of it. She’s the wild child hipsters so furiously attempt to emulate, completely unaware of her own stylistic power. She’s like Cuba, a land without the pressures and expectations of advertisement, oblivious to its rare and self-confident purity.

(Not to say Minda ia a tropical island under communist dictatorship – though, she is often very tan, and loves the ocean. Not sure about her stance on cigars.)

Here she is barefoot, walking a kitten - as you do.

Here she is barefoot, walking a kitten – as you do.

As kids, Minda and I would spend summers together building elaborate fantasies in which if we didn’t carefully prepare a protection potion and distribute it by smearing mud-paste on every tree trunk in the orchard, zombies would rise up from their sunken city and eat everyone’s brains. We used to play Quake (yes, the video game) by putting on multiple pairs of sunglasses and hopping over the roof of my dad’s workshed and yelling. We had an elaborate, 2-minute secret handshake. We once discovered callouses, decided they were basically a superpower, and spent a good four hours furiously digging holes until we were both exhausted and disillusioned about the effort required to get forward in life.

The non-Minda human in those pictures is not me, fyi. :)

FYI – the non-Minda human in those pictures is not me. 🙂

Minda is a tree-climber and lizard-catcher extraordinaire who wears shoes as little as possible. She has long natural blonde hair, enormous green eyes, and long alien fingers perfect for playing the guitar or being a hand model. She’s worn her mom’s clothes, or her younger sister’s clothes, (or my clothes), or just clothes that were sort of around, her whole life, pants often held up by rope or string or vines. She has a large, close-knit group of friends who love her, and I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about her, friend, family, or otherwise. She’s a light, impossible to contain or anticipate.

She’s been playing the guitar and writing poems for years, but always seemed shy to sing at our yearly New Year’s Eve parties. Then I left to Germany for five minutes, came back, and she’s the lead singer of her own band, all original songs by Minda Lacy called Bitches in the Beehive, and she’s got FANS. The kind who modern dance bare foot in front of the stage and shout out her own lyrics back at her like crazed, impromptu backup singers.

She’s just come out with her first album, a beautiful collection of seven songs full of her fun, poetic, unique view of the world – and her stunning singing voice, sort of husky and playful and clear. It is well-worth a listen, a share, a featured blog post, anything you can do to spread the word about this bombdiggity record.

It’s called Owl Faces. Find the full album on Outfield Records and YouTube, or check out some songs from the Bitches in the Beehive days on Soundcloud.

Her kitten-wooing powers is something of a theme, it seems.

Her kitten-wooing powers is something of a theme, it seems.

Good luck Minda! May this be the first article of many.

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I did not make this, but I wish I had. It was made by DKNG Studios as a poster for one of my favorite bands, Explosions in the Sky.

http://www.dkngstudios.com/2011/10/11/explosions-in-the-sky-poster-and-art-print/
Design, Inspiration, Thoughts, UX Design

What Does ‘Design’ Mean Anyway?

I came to design a true novice – so ignorant that I thought I already knew most of what there was to be known and was sure talent, confidence, and dedication would be enough to make me a graphic designer. This has turned out to be true only in the sense that because of those things I am now aware of how much I don’t know, and am now ravenously curios to learn more. My original assumption of design – specifically corporate and product design for digital mediums – was as vague and ignorant as saying, “Because I know movies are made with cameras, and I have a camera, I know how to make movies.”

First off, I’m not really a ‘graphic designer.’ That term is horribly vague. I’m more of a user interface designer and fledging user experience designer. But more on that later.

I was introduced to Photoshop at a young age, when a good friend and mentor of mine plopped a disc into my computer and said, “Have fun with this.” I did. I was homeschooled for six years, and spent most of that time doing everything I could on the computer other than schoolwork. With the progression from dial-up to DSL came a whole new world of Photoshop tutorials. I did them endlessly, making buttons and spacescapes, painting awkward faces and eyes with my mouse and the brush tool, and learning how to make text look like it was exploding out of the computer screen.

I never suspected that the obsessive hours I spent trying to make space-gas look realistic would turn out to be the foundation for what is quickly becoming my career.

Before becoming a professional designer, I lumped the term ‘design’ into a few different categories – fashion design (figuring out how to make clothes look good), car design (figuring out how to make cars look good), and graphic design (figuring out how to make stuff in Photoshop look good). All other forms of design I didn’t consider to be ‘real’ design – sort of the way some jewelry makers and florists consider themselves to be ‘storytellers.’ 

I had a brief glimpse of the true depth and awesome complexity of design during my stay in New York, when my editing teacher took me to the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art and showed me old telephones and Macintosh computers and, most peculiar of all, a Vespa on a slowly revolving pedestal. When I asked him why those things were in an art museum he looked pityingly at me and said, with a gentle tact I probably would not have managed had our places been reversed, “To some people, this is art.”

My familiarity with Photoshop, a general talent for style, and an obsessive attention to detail led to designing flyers for my mom’s business. This grew to include flyers for school events, advertisements for my mom’s business, and eventually to the design of her website. I found an internship in graphic design, and then another in web design. I never studied it outside of the requirements of the internships – rather, requests for this sort of work I saw as a necessary evil, brief dalliances with what I considered to be profitable but no real example of art.

Then I was offered my current position. I work for a wonderful company, one that is growing quickly enough to afford more specialized personal but too quickly to be ready to hire experienced specialized personal. Though nearly ten years old it still has the casual, collaborative air of a start-up, and the higher-ups are willing to gamble on curiosity and talent because they themselves had been gambled upon in similar ways not too long before.

I am currently the only designer  – and you know what they say about power and responsibility.

a-day-in-the-life-of-a-graphic-designer_50290d037d6cb

I began to dive into this world of design. I started with a book well-known as a classic among UI/UX designers, though I had never heard of it before my new boss mentioned it to me – Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug. It took me an afternoon and was full of clear, practical advice about web design that was generally self-evident. Don’t make a button that means ‘next’ and a button that means ‘delete’ look the same. Avoid clutter. Anticipate what a user will want, then give it to them in the clearest way possible.

Next I read The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman. It was considerably longer, and spoke of web design, or any of the other specialities I’d lumped under the heading of ‘graphic design’, not at all. Instead it talked about door handles, refrigerators, and office telephones. It talked about bus controls and nuclear power plants — it talked about interfaces. Here was the godfather of modern design, which has shaped a generation of designers who have in turn shaped their products, and it posed one simple question:

How can we make our products easier for our customers to use?

Apple, the hot quarterback of the design world, took that question to heart — and the world was changed.

Design should anticipate a user’s needs, then show them the easiest way to meet those needs with clarity and simplicity. My favorite example of this is a door handle. You’re coming into a building of some kind. You’re walking at a perfectly normal pace, trying to figure out if the door calls for pushing or pulling. You call upon a wealth of experiences with similar doors – the mall in Tampa had doors that always push inwards. You heard somewhere that stores are required to have doors that swing outward towards the street. You are trying to make a logical choice before you reach the door handle, whether you realize it or not — but it’s always the other way. You push when it should be pulled, pull when it should be pushed, and have to go through that awkward three seconds of wup, oh… yeah got it, okay.

Some people have tried to solve this problem by slapping a crooked sticker above the handle that says ‘push’ or ‘pull’, but this is a clumsy and often ineffectual option. Who has time to stop and read before opening a door? In German push is drücken and pull is ziehen – making those signs useless to foreigners, or blind people, or illiterate people, or me. Whenever I see German labels above a door handle I go into an immediate panic and forget every German word I’ve ever learned.  

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the designers of doors had thought this through before going out and making millions of confusing doors?

I have a solution. 

(Thankfully door designers thought of this before me and I have an example to show.)

pushpulldoor

 Push = door with something you can push on. Pull = door with something you can grab.

Beautiful.

Since then I’ve gone a little crazy with the user-focussed design, and my definition of design has broadened to include almost anything you can imagine. For example, my boyfriend and I recently moved into our new apartment, and I was determined to make everything as user-friendly as possible. Have a tendency to throw all your clothes in a big pile on the floor for no discernible reason? Don’t force yourself into doing something that sucks for you, because 1) it’ll always suck and 2) you’ll never really start doing it ‘right.’ Instead, find a way to take what you do naturally and focus that into something more constructive. Design your world so it is user-friendly. So we got two big laundry baskets with lids, one for clean clothes and one for dirty, and instead of piling everything on the floor, we pile everything in them. We still have just as much time/energy to organize clothes as before, but now we’re hiding and organizing the mess in the mean time.

There are no bad users. Just bad design.

EoD_White_2560

This field is deep and broad and vast and insanely rewarding, and I’ve only just scratched the surface. Being a designer means more than making things pretty – it means making things comfortable, inviting, effortless. It means understanding your user’s psychology and being able to play to their strengths while avoiding their weaknesses. It means starting with data and ending with beauty. It means being good at a thousand things other than Photoshop.

I’m now applying this fresh view of the world to my other, older loves – writing and filmmaking. It’s not about knowing your audience and catering to what you imagine their desires to be – it’s about being clear in as simple and elegant a way as possible. In writing, it’s about stepping away from the flourishes and compound sentences and rampant adjectives and just telling the damn story. In film, it’s about stepping away from rampant dialogue and clumsy exposition and zealous CGI. It’s about all I’ve been told by those more talented and knowledgable than I a thousand times over, but never really, deeply understood. It about communication – as is art.

I read a great article the other day in which Whitney Hess, a long-time professional user experience designer, was asked to describe UX design in two hundred words or less. She has a fantastic blog I highly recommend if anyone is interested in this sort of thing. http://whitneyhess.com/blog/ She speaks more of the role of UX design in the corporate product-creation world, which I suppose I am now a part of. As with her work, her words cut straight to the point, and I couldn’t possibly say it any better:

“User Experience is a commitment to developing products and services with purpose, compassion, and integrity. It is the never-ending process of seeing the world from the customers’ perspective and working to improve the quality of their lives. It is the never-ending process of maintaining the health of the business and finding new ways to help it grow sustainably. It is the perfect balance between making money and making meaning.

The user experience practitioner is neither sage nor saint; it is not their role to have all the answers to life’s questions or to advocate for altruism in a capitalist society. They are simply the facilitators of a more collaborative, transparent way of operating in business today — breaking down the walls between silos and bringing the customer into the boardroom.

User Experience is the responsibility of every member of the organization; it is a central philosophy, shared principles. It is not a series of activities and deliverables to perform, but an enlightened way of being.

UX is mindfulness.”

I’m also a little more open to the idea of jewelry makers and florists considering themselves storytellers – because there’s probably way more going on there than I have any idea about, and who am I to say? 

… though they probably mean more design than storytelling. Just sayin’.

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dragonflight
Inspiration, Writing

Four Tips On Writing Well

I’ve been flirting with the idea of authorship my whole life. One of the reasons I never addressed it ‘seriously’ was because I’ve always felt writing to be something you simply do, as opposed to something you study, or someone you are. It would be great to be able to say, “I am a professional writer,” but from what I can tell no one gets to that point by crawling up that corporate writing ladder, snapping up promotions and qualifications to add to their resume, making themselves more attractive in the cut-throat writing market. No one needs a resume to apply for the Writer of Stories I Make Up position. They just need to write.

Explaining that ‘just’ has turned out to be the most challenging, liberating, soul-searching adventure of my life so far.

I’ve been writing seriously for two years now. I think I’m hovering at Beginning-Intermediate actual author level – I’ve managed to write a 160,000 novel, a feature length screenplay, and a handful of short stories, but I’m still not done revising anything and I haven’t even started looking for a publisher or agent. Fledgling, basically – dedicated hobbyist. But I’m slowly getting there.

These four tips are those I have found to work in my own experience, but I wouldn’t say that they are my own. They are an amalgamation of those I’ve found from a hundred previous writers more talented than I.

be clear

I saw a Buzzfeed quiz  (http://www.buzzfeed.com/jarrylee/hemingway-or-childrens-book#3a7nsit) a few weeks ago where you had to guess whether a sentence was from Hemmingway or a children’s book. I think it was meant to be mocking, but instead it illuminated one of the great and overlooked qualities of a good storyteller; the ability to clearly communicate. Like some children books, Hemmingway took brevity and clarity to the point of elegance. He embodied (as all great authors embody to one degree or another in my opinion), one of Mark Twain’s best quotes: Brevity is the source of wit.

Stephen King – especially in On Writing but also The Stand, Pet Cemetery, and The Gunslinger, among others – has taught me a huge amount about writing the last few years. It’s almost gotten to the point where when I get to a difficult part, or I feel that awful excuse that is writer’s block creeping up, I think, What would Stephen King do?

King took prose down from its high horse and into the rut of slang and every day understanding. I grew up thinking I had to write books like The Lord of the Rings, in ‘high speech’, because that’s just the way books were written. King drilled in the fun of writing from you gut. He cussed when I was expecting poetry, and turned the most mundane moments into magic. He was always easy to understand and used high speech only when high speech was necessary.

Another author I love and admire who is also clear and direct, if in a very different way, is Cormac McCarthy. He has the ability to pull you into sensations and almost-feelings that I had been sure were indescribable before, but he is only able to do this because each sentence builds in a clear, easily-understood way. He is, simply, communicating – and sometimes his particular form of telepathy is so strong and clear it becomes poetry.

On the other end of the spectrum is J. K. Rowling. I don’t think the clarity inherent in her writing style needs to be explained, but hers were ‘children books’ that are literary masterpieces and accessible to everyone, not ‘just’ children – and it isn’t only because of their adventure and heart and theme, but because of the joy and ease with which they are read.

My writing has improved exponentially since I took this tip to heart. I cannot stress the strength and importance of clarity enough – so I’ll let some actual authors do it for me.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. LEONARDO DA VINCI

Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.” C.S. LEWIS

Don’t say, “she said mincingly,” or “he said boisterously.” Just say, “he said, she said.” JOHN P. MARQUAND

Symbolism exists to adorn and enrich, not to create an artificial sense of profundity. STEPHEN KING

I do not over-intellectualize the production process. I try to keep it simple: Tell the damned story. TOM CLANCY

work hard

Mark Medoff told me in high school that I must write every day for ten years “before anyone beside your mother will want to read your work.” He was very firm on that, and I saw that he believed it and that it had been true for him. Perhaps it has also been true for all the great authors and playwrights – I’ll have to ask them.

Medoff also told me, with a sort of ruthless detachment: “Excuses do not exist. No one cares.”

It was a modification of Yoda’s old, “do or do not – there is no try,” but it hit me hard in a way all those other platitudes had not.

No one cares if you have been sick, or tired, or stressed. No one cares if you have writers block (whatever that’s supposed to be). No one cares if you are too busy to write as much as you would like, or if your car broke down or a loved one died or whatever else happened that kept you from writing. Ultimately, those are all excuses.

And, most importantly, no one cares even if you do write. Someday, maybe, someone will. But I know I will never get to that point assuming anyone cares about what I’m doing along the way.

Stephen King, Mark Medoff, and thousands of other writers have stressed not the importance of inspiration, but the importance of diligence. They made it clear to me that it wasn’t some sort of magic thing a few people possessed, a skill with a fickle muse. It was hard work, day after day after day, trudging it out and then editing, editing, coming up for air, grabbing a few knives, plunging down and ripping it apart again.

You have to be diligent. Relentless. And persevere.

Writing is a wholetime job: No professional writer can afford only to write when he feels like it. SOMERSET MAUGHAM

A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules. ANTHONY TROLLOPE

You must find teachers and train on your own. You must create your own schedule and force yourself to stick to it. Reading becomes both an excuse and a homework assignment. Writing becomes a task, a task that requires constant practice for it to become a skill, and like piano playing or flamenco dancing or any other hardly won skill, there are days when I just want to throw my computer or journal out the window and cry. And, like any other hardly won skill, there are moments when everything comes together and I can feel the transcendence as mere task becomes art, and hours pass in a few moments of exquisite creation.

All the hours and days and weeks of struggling up that mountain is worth the vista at the summit. I just have to keep going, step by step, word by word, every day.

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86x-u-tz0MA]

have fun

The thing I love most about Stephen King’s writing is his passion. It bleeds through every sentence and paragraph. Even if I don’t end up liking the story very much at the end, the journey is what I love. I can hear, taste, smell, see the joy of true craftsmanship on the page the same as he felt while writing it.

I think the same is true of all other great authors. Writing well is hard, writing at all takes time, and if you are willing to give so much of your life to something most people won’t ever care about, you have to need it. It has to be as much of a requirement and a compulsion as stretching at the end of a long road trip.

For me, the time I spend writing is holy. It is my first priority. I recently went nearly four months without writing anything but blog posts and journal entries, and when I finally started writing a story again, it was like… being free of a heavy load I hadn’t realized I’d been carrying.

Your passion, whatever it is, is a sacred thing. Treat is with reverence and importance, cultivate it, and enjoy it.

Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you. ZADIE SMITH

There is an eloquence in true enthusiasm that is not to be doubted. WASHINGTON IRVING

Remember you love writing. It wouldn’t be worth it if you didn’t. If the love fades, do what you need to and get it back. A.L. KENNEDY

finish what you write

Starting things is easy – finishing them is hard. But if you don’t finish them, they are nothing. Simple as that.

I have yet to finish anything I’ve written. But someday soon I will be able to say that I have.

Lastly, here is a collection of the books that have taught me most about writing – and happen to have also made me who I am. I highly recommend just… reading them all.

If you can speak what you will never hear, if you can write what you will never read, you have done rare things.

HENRY DAVID THOREAU

Sometimes I know what I believe because of what I’ve written.

J.K. ROWLING

Young writers should be encouraged to write, and discouraged from thinking they are writers. 

WALLACE STEGNER

by hand in downtown . Almost exactly what I've always hoped my life would be. I am so grateful to be where I am doing what I'm doing. Today is 10 months with the boy, and I'm  for that too. I wish I could bring all those I love and miss here with me, but something restless inside is finally growing calm, and the  and clear calm I'm starting to know is worth the homesickness. I didn't realize the parts of me that were unhappy until they disappeared.

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drachenfells
Germany, History, Landscapes, Photography

Photography: Drachenfels

I got my camera as a gift years ago, but I’ve only become serious about taking pictures in the last six months or so. I’ve really gained respect for photography as an art form and I’m starting to focus on developing my own skills as a photographer, rather than only focusing on video.

The boyfriend and I try to go on a new adventure every Saturday, and earlier this month we went to Drachenfels, which is some kind of something that may involve two castles, a waterfall, and a bunch of paths in the woods outside of a beautiful little village between Bonn and Cologne. I’m not really sure which part of the pretty-old-things complex/village is Drachenfels specifically, but drachen means dragon in German, so doesn’t really matter – basically all-over awesome.

I loved how German it was. Cologne, and the surrounding cities, while of course ‘German’, are more modernized and sort of mass-marketed than the old villages. I saw a lot of the traditional German styles my first time in Germany, and I loved it then and miss it now.

Awesome fancy wood beams.

Awesome fancy wood beams.

Super German sign. No idea what it says.

Super German sign. No idea what it says.

And without further ado – my first photography post ever! Let me know what you think, and if you have any advice or suggestions for improvement, let ‘em fly.

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Palma de Mallorca
Inspiration, Thoughts

The Happiness Paradox: Guilt vs Inspiration

I have so many things that I want to do that they get bottlenecked, and instead of dedicating myself to one or two in a reasonable way, I do a little of everything, get overwhelmed, and finish nothing. On the other hand, I often dedicate myself to something completely for an intense, short period of time – and then feel incredibly discouraged when I don’t make as much progress as I think I should have.

I’m struggling to learn a balance between the things I need to put a lot of effort into for a short period of time – like step-oriented projects with feasible, time-specific goals – and things I have to do only a little bit, but every single day – like yoga, or learning another language. 

Getting these two categories mixed is what fuels all my self-doubt, insecurity, discouragement, and occasionally crippling anxiety. Getting it right, though, has yielded some wonderful results. Took me 30 minutes of yoga a day, carefully holding my enthusiasm back and forcing myself to put in the time by turns, for months, to finally be able to easily walk my feet to my toes from a Downward Dog without bending my legs. Trumpets should have sounded to match my glee – instead, my confidence in myself just grew a little. When I finished my book after five months, during four of which I woke up at 5 before work and wrote 2,000 words, every single day, and during one of which I wrote nothing and struggled to pull my self out of intense writer’s block – fireworks should’ve gone off. Instead I just saved for the umpteenth time and sort of looked around and wondered, Well, now what?

Most of the time that doesn’t happen though. Most of the time I have a huge mound of ideas, and I find excuses for why it isn’t the right time, or I take something I am really inspired and passionate about, and I put something I don’t want to do in front of it. Work before play. You want to write another novel, this time a sci-fi narco psychological thriller? Well, you’re going to have to wait until after you’ve graduated, because there just isn’t that much time in a day and homework is your priority. You want to make up a dance routine to this song, right now, because it’s just so damn awesome? Clean the room first, and go buy groceries, and put in some laundry, and then you can do it.

And all those things I’m ‘supposed’ to be doing get done – but the things I really want, the things that both make me feel the most accomplished and others see as the largest accomplishments, don’t get touched.

It’s been a full year and a half since I wrote the first 10,000 words to that sci-fi narco story, and it hasn’t been touched since. I have a drum set packed away ‘until I find a better place for it,’ even though I think about playing every single day. I have a list of books I want to read and a list of photography adventures I want to go on, but I have responsibilities instead. And there’ll be time when I’m done. Except, there never is.

The thing holding me back, that always stomps on my inspiration and confidence, is guilt. Reading for pleasure makes me feel guilty, if my room isn’t clean. Making up a dance routine makes me feel guilty, if I’m not doing it to perform for something. Writing another book makes me feel guilty, because it is such a huge commitment of time and effort, and imagine how good your German would be if you spent that time and effort trying to do that instead?

And you know what ends up happening? I don’t learn that much German because I’m forcing myself to. I keep the room clean and I feel like there’s an itch somewhere deep that never gets scratched, all the time. The restlessness never abates. Now there is new guilt – guilt from not beginning all these projects I think about and talk about all the time. Somewhere deep, my confidence shrinks. And the restlessness begins to turn to listlessness and resignation, and the clock keeps ticking, ticking, ticking.

I’m about to start a 9-6 job, with an hour lunch break. I am leasing my time, which I never have enough of as it is, to someone else. In return, I get independence. Oh, the horrible irony. I have the luxury of having a job during which I get to do things I enjoy and want to do anyway, but I can understand a little now about why people have mid-life crises. Or why I’ve so often heard things like, “I didn’t think my life would turn out this way.” I always thought, If you don’t like your life, then why don’t you change it? But now I’m beginning to understand it isn’t that easy.

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The thing with working for someone, or working for yourself, is that it gives you an excuse to do whatever you’re doing. It rids you of guilt. Getting paid for what you do is enough justification, in anyone’s eyes (except in extreme cases like hit men, though they could probably use the ‘just trying to feed the family’ argument too), to alleviate all guilt. And fun things, things that you want to do, are never things that you should do, and they require either an excuse or an acknowledgement of guilt simply because you want to do them.

But what if… you give yourself permission to do what you want to do?

Creating this blog was sort of a step in that direction. A blog is one of those small, constant things, and it gives me an excuse to create. ‘Oh, I have to do this for my blog.’ ‘Yeah, it’s for my blog.’ Now my little ideas and projects have purpose, permission, and are, mostly, guilt free. Sometimes the boyfriend calls this ‘my expensive toy’ – and suddenly all of this needs an excuse, suddenly I am guilty of wasting my time.

I am the one imposing these limits on myself. I am the one making excuses not to begin. I am the one that needs to change my priorities from doing what I think I should, to doing what makes me happy, settled, content. I am the one that needs to learn to live without guilt.

I think this is especially important when there isn’t so much time in the day, because it forces me to acknowledge that there isn’t much time in life, and if I want to have what I want to have, then I need to start working for it now.

And if I want to be happy, then I need to start working towards what makes me happy now. 

And maybe this fear, this bottlenecking, this inability to get anything done, let alone the things you want to do, will start to solve itself. I’d be much happier cleaning and grocery shopping and doing laundry if I did it after I’ve fed my soul a little, indulged in my creativity a little – if I wasn’t doing it as an obligation to free me from guilt. Maybe then, nothing will feel like an obligation any more. And maybe I won’t ever feel like I’ve wasted time.

Play before work because happiness is always the priority. After happiness, all else follows. And I don’t meant play as a disguise for procrastination – the of-the-moment impulsive wants that lead to Netflix binges and hours on Buzzfeed. I mean the kind of play that means waking up at 5am and going for a run, or cleaning your room so you don’t have that cloud hanging over your head, or writing 2000 words a day, or actually going to see your friends and playing volleyball at the park.

Give yourself permission to play. We only have one life.

And maybe I’ll actually be able to retain some German. Ich habe in Deutschland für fast zwei Jahren zusammen gewohnt und ich bin immer noch verwirrt!

James McAvoy in one of the best movies ever made, 'Atonement.'

James McAvoy in one of the best movies ever made, ‘Atonement.’

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