Monday, May 24, 2010

Lost a retrospective.

Warning to Travelers: Here There Be Spoilers

I was going to make a post last night after the end of Lost, but admittedly I wasn't entirely sure where I stood on it. I got swept up in the instantaneous twitter feedback (just search #lost on twitter) and the spitting ire of everyone who felt they got somehow gypped. Where did I stand on the whole thing? Did I feel two-timed by the writers for not so much reneging on their promise that the whole thing was the afterlife (it wasn't but it's something a lot of people missed because they were too busy being mad and not taking the time to listen)? Did I feel vindicated for the six years that I dedicated to being a fan of the show? It had my head spinning so much that I, instead of jumping into the debate decided to take some time to really mull on it.

I'm not going to do a play-by-play review of the episode. There are enough reviews out there that do that. Besides, I'd rather see you put in the time to finish the series and savor the episode in its context. What this more is a reflection on the series, and the implications on storytelling.

What Lost is, what it's revealed to me in the hours since seeing the finale yesterday, is a first draft novel. Every episode a chapter. The full story not visible until the conclusion. Why a first draft? Because with a format like television, things are written on the fly. Ideas can change or morph. Bursts of brilliance emerge that weren't initially there (Ben Linus going from a cameo to a pivotal character). What you think is so important at the outset might just be a red herring or a tributary away from what's really at the core of the story. When you get to the end what you have is this unruly mound of stuff. There is a shape to it, and in some places there are moments and periods of truly refined brilliance, but it is still at its core a first draft novel. In need of revisions, and shaping, and sometimes of killing your dears for the sake of the story you're trying to tell.

And that's what Lost is. Like a first draft the early parts are refined. That kernel of a story has time to percolate and the opening chapters of the story all bristle and move with an electric excitement that a new story has. It's bursting with ideas and it's just so damn excited to tell you about them, yet it's still nervously hesitant to give anything away because it wants to make sure that you get a whole story. And we as readers pick up on that. When the writer is excited, we're excited. It's why we can read things that turn out to suck, and get through the opening chapters before realizing it sucks. We get swept along with the sheer exuberance of the storyteller.

Something happens to the story though. Maybe a third of the way through, maybe half. The story gets burdened down. The writer knows where the story has to end up, and the writer knows where the story has already been, but the writer is stuck in the middle. Surrounded on all sides by messy loose ends they've got tie up as much as they can. Tie it all together. Things get wandery as the writer has to try things out and find what's important. They have to make mistakes, and they have to get sidetracked by their "babies" until they realize that, while it might be interesting, it's not important in the grand scheme of things. Lost had these moments right around seasons 3 and 4.

Then a threshold is crossed. Maybe the writer just reaches a point where there is so much goddamned weight behind the story they're trying to tell, maybe the writer has just had it and finally liberates themselves of the burden of the middle, and they come screaming out of the shoot like a rocket, barreling full on to what they hope is a brilliant conclusion. A conclusion that they hope is sound. A conclusion that is just so epic that they can't wait to tell it. A conclusion, which oftentimes feels a little inevitable and expected. The problem is that when examined as a whole the ending might not entirely fit (at the moment) with the story behind it. Spiritually it does. It fits, but it's a little wonky. It fits but there some parts hanging out that just don't quite tie up neatly (not that everything needs to). An ending that for the moment leaves the writer satisfied, but is undeniably in need of the craftsman's hands smoothing out the parts leading up to it. Shaping everything, whittling away at the fat and carving in the details. Killing the babies.

That's what Lost was. A first draft novel. A first draft novel where every week for a year the writers release the next chapter immediately, and can't ever go back to rearrange what preceded it because it was always out there. A first draft novel that realized the importance of somethings and the unimportance of other things, and lacked the ability to go back and change it and tweak it before the world hounded down on it. It's a ballsy statement of storytelling and craftsmanship.

When Jack's eye closed for the final time in last night's episode, no one could deny the power of that bookended image, and the understanding that the writers had a rough idea of where they were going, and probably had an ending in sight (I know I did while writing the first draft of my first novel). That the writers weren't entirely sure where it was going in the middle (again I had no idea, and was willing to play out whatever sidetracks were necessary to find the true story). It's also undeniable that the writers were under some of the sharpest scrutiny ever to be leveled on a show because it demanded the viewers and the fans to give more than just their viewing time, but to full appreciate the show had to immerse completely in the culture. It has and still is changing the face of how we approach media, and the television medium. It was daring and it was ballsy. It demanded a lot of its viewers and it proved its very theme, live together, or die alone.

When the doors to the church were opened by Christian Shepherd one last time during last nights finale, and we were all watching breathlessly as the characters we loved moved on, we the viewer were forced to move on too. But we did, as Jack charged the crash victims of flight 815, live together.

Lost you were and are loved, and you will be missed. Thank you for challenging me to think about writing, and about being a fan, and about being a person.


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Lost Finale Tonight!

Watching the two hour recap of Lost in the preparation for the finale of the show. It's making me think a lot about storytelling and about reader/viewer involvement. It's got me thinking a lot about the endings of stories (for obvious reasons) and about letting go.

It's something I have a hard time with, I think, letting go. I noticed it with the musicals back in high school. I'd get to the end of the cast party and then spend a day or two after in this sort of funk because a phase is over. I noticed it when I finished my first read-through of the Lord of the Rings, silly I know, but something like that is a massive time commitment. I noticed it with just about every show I've finished, the LOTR movie trilogy, Battlestar Galactica, the Dark Tower book series, and now tonight, Lost.

It's a testament to the power of story, and to the mastery of the craft that the creators of those aforementioned works. To be able to take these fictitious creations and to engage people so much that letting go is hard. That it feels like being dumped. That it feels like the ending of an era that happens with graduation. It's something that I could only hope to achieve with my creations.


In other news I'm less than a week away from the Madison, WI marathon. I'm feeling less prepped for it than I did for Detroit. I got sick a week ago and I'm still reeling from the damage. Either way it should be a good time, I'm just hoping that my running time will be better than last. Shooting for a 3:40:00 (ran a 3:55:28 at Detroit).

I'm also still in the midst of the job hunt. I'm not working as hard on it as I should. Planning on stepping it up this week, and maintaining a level of productivity to get the job.

And now Lost is starting, and I've gotta go. Post-Lost reflection when I get done.

Until then, go here and read my book reviews:

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Iron Man 2: First Impressions.

I'm not sure if anyone else has said anything like this, if they let me know because I would like to read it, but after seeing Iron Man 2 tonight I've walked out with many first impressions and one very important conclusion. Cinematically speaking Marvel Studios and the "Avengers Initiative" has the future of movies standing on a very interesting and probably very dangerous precipice. This is ground that has not yet been tread on before (the X-Men films have kind've done it, but not quite to this extent).

As everyone is no doubt aware at this point, Marvel Studios has a plan. It's a grand plan. It's a plan that now has the financial backing of the Disney juggernaut, hell, the Disney Colossus, behind it. It starts with the Avenger Initiative, but where does it end? For the non-comic reader, what this is is a cinematic reproduction (or adaptation) of the Marvel Universe. What that means is this: Over the last 60+ years of its life Marvel Comics has given us many heroes, initially all were in their own titles, and their own universes, and their ramifications were all effective in their own universes. Much like the early Marvel films of the aughts (including Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Punisher, Daredevil, and the Fantastic Four) each of these films seemed to exist entirely separate of each other. Then in 2008 came Iron Man and everything changed. Not the movie itself. No, the movie was a thrill ride. It stood alone, and it stood proudly (with maybe a bit drunken of a swagger). It came after the credits. Half the audience left by the time it happened. The last credit rolled. The company title. Black screen and then bam:

Samuel L. Jackson. The basis for General Nick Fury in the Ultimate Marvel Universe was sitting in the living room of Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark, spouting off about the Avenger's Initiative, and everything fucking changed.

Comics entered the movie world, and the ball started rolling towards the Avengers. Two years later the Incredible Hulk has come out, Thor is in production, Chris Evans is cast as Captain America, and Iron Man 2 has just come out. And what does all this preface have to do with my review of Iron Man 2? This:

Continuing down the road that we are on with films that rely on established characters, or massive multi-character/multi-movie franchises we are facing what could potentially become the end of traditional cinema. In this sort of visual medium, television shows have always been akin to serialized stories or novels (see any sitcom for the serial, and shows like Lost or Battlestar Galactica for the novel). We have cable, and each week we tune in for another installment of what will hopefully come to a conclusion of sorts eventually (Lost has helped set the stand for future "maxiseries" televised novels (a rant for another time)) unless we fall prey to the Gilligan's Island Syndrome (also a rant for another time). Movies on the other hand are short stories (the well-made ones can be as far as novellas, but are generally shorter stories). We pay our ten bucks (hopefully less, probably more) and we sit down and are told a satisfying and mostly complete story. Sometimes there are series, but each film gives us a complete story. Even Christopher Nolan, the helmer of the current (and IMO, best) Batman incarnation has said that with the third film he will bring it to a conclusion because movies are not comics, and movies have to end. "Au Contraire," says Marvel with their Avenger Initiative. With the cashcow of the Marvel Universe and their established characters all they have to do is build in connections, and let the movie/money machine roll. Thus comes Iron Man 2.

Is it a good movie? Not really. Essentially it relies on a couple of pretty cheap deus ex machina plot devices (many scripts do, sure, but "don't cross the streams!" really?). It builds up a lot, and doesn't really give us the satisfactory ending we deserve. But on the whole it was a damn good ride. Stuff blows up real good. Tony has some funny one-liners. There's a few awkward sexual moments, and AC/DC provides a wonderful soundtrack.

Walking out of the movie my geek side was dancing like a drunken leprechaun inside my head, so pumped for the Avengers movie (2012), but my more mature movie-goer/storyteller mind was saying "wait a minute." The movie itself is a giant two hour preview for the Avengers. We're given teasers. The Hammer. The Shield. SHIELD logos. References to the black-ops. Fury saying he's "the most real person you'll meet." Things to get my comic reading, mythology loving head practically screaming and singing along with AC/DC (which I did considering it was a private screening and there was some alcohol involved). All this preparation for what's coming is great, but someone forgot to remind Favreau that we need Iron Man 2 first, before we can get Avengers, and that this movie needs to stand alone by its own merits.

To harp further on the story, Iron Man 2 confirms a lesson that was alluded to by the rather lackluster ending of the Dark Knight (a rant for another time), and made quantifiable by the trainwreck that was Spider-Man 3. When dealing with superhero films, an intricate story is fine, but what there needs to be is a very focused villain. Rhodey's potential betrayal, Hammer's ineptitude, the US Governments oppressively-presented attempts to acquire the Iron Man suit, Ivan Vanko's rather wasted early appearance and quick resolution. All of these villainous plots serve to muddle a story that can't quite find its focus. There is the beginning of intricate links between them, involving the introduction of War Machine, and drones for 4 out of the 5 branches of the military (what no love for the coast guard?) but then things go all explodey, and it seems like the script-writers were looking for a fast way to tie things up. All in preparation for a scene between Fury and Stark discussing what's to come, and not what's happening.

But am I to sit here and harp and harp and harp about the story, about the occasionally draggy talky spots in the middle, about the way the story sort of drunkenly stumbles like Tony Stark in the Iron Man suit at his birthday party, and have you leave thinking that I walked out of the movie grumbling? Because I didn't. If you've made it this far you need to know that, if nothing else, I had a great time. It drunkenly stumbled and tumbled forward like a good comedian who is better when he's sober, but is still riotous when he's had a few, and I was led along happily to its lackluster conclusion, smiling and laughing, and cheering all the way. What it does, it does well, and what it doesn't do well it manages to slather in geeky nods to the fanboys that warmed the cockles of my comic reading heart. Go see it, if only for AC/DC, the shield, the hammer, and Scarlett Johansson in a catsuit that is almost physically impossible.

Monday, May 03, 2010

The First Day of the Rest Of Your Life

I graduated on Friday. And again on Saturday. The Friday ceremony was the School of Information ceremony. A more personal one with our individual names being read as we walk across the stage and our families cheer and try to embarrass their graduating children with louder whistles or cat-calls (thankfully no air horns). The whole affair was fun. My grandparents were there, as were my parents. There was a reception after with good food, and a chance to meet the parents of all of the people I went to school with (many "ah-ha!" moments as I could see the evolution of my friends' habits reflected in their parents). It was odd, though, still having the same sensation that graduating from Columbia had.

When I graduated from Columbia there was definitely a sense of celebration, but it was muted with the knowledge that really all that was happening was I was packing up, moving home, and prepping to start school again in the fall at the University of Michigan. Everyone else had this sort of shell-shocked, yet excited sense of being done, but I was just bracing to start the whole process over again. That was how the first of two ceremonies felt.

Saturday was the University-wide graduation at the big house. As you know, it was also the one that Obama spoke at. His whole speech you can watch online.

They had him set about on the 50 Yard Line, and I was out on about the south-side 10 yard line in front of the band. They were saying the audience was upwards of 80,000+ Only the section behind the main stage was empty, and the giant Michigan block-M was visible. It was a pretty mighty sight.

That commencement for me came with a surprisingly bittersweet revelation that this was it. That after essentially my entire life in school that I was finally done with sitting in lectures, staying up late writing massive assignments that I should've factored more time to do, and formal learning. Considering how long I've been looking forward to it, it rather left me with a slightly scared, but more sentimental realization that I'm going to miss it.

I've been planning to sit down and write a reflection of my school career from the end. I might write it soon. More than likely it'll slip by in the wake of everything that's coming up and I'll never do it. Either way, I've been writing it in my head for a while, and the one thought that always comes to mind when I sit down to think about it was that, for me, the most memories of school don't ever come from the times that I'm sitting in class learning, but instead from the times that I was between classes with friends, learning about life. The late nights at the bars. The group projects and learning to give and take. The skipping of classes to go do other things. The memory of school for me will always be the moments between classes. The opportunities to meet people that I'd never meet any other way. The collective experience with hundreds of other people. That I'll miss more than anything else, that I'll remember better than any other part. Not the readings. Not the lectures. The friends.

One of the things lost in the wake of being out of school, and at this point still without a real job, is the sudden surplus of free time. The ability to just get lost in not doing a damn thing. To fight this I'm giving myself an ambitious to-do list to attempt to do each day, in the hopes that I can set a level of productivity to carry me, instead of just getting swallowed in the summer slacking. First and foremost on it is getting a job, but a strong second is editing the novel. I'll be splitting my focus on this blog on both the job prospects and issues facing a library grad, as well as the process of writing, editing, and hopefully publishing. Should be amusing.

Saturday, May 01, 2010


It's been about a month and a half. This isn't going to be a real blog post, that'll come when I've had a chance to get my thoughts in order. Mostly just a heads up that I'm still here.

Over the next few weeks this blog is going to be undergoing some changes I think. I just graduated from the University of Michigan with my Masters of Science in Information. The infamous job-hunt is about to begin (well, it's about to restart really...) I'll be shifting focus of this blog a bit away from the writing and lifestyle stuff, and hopefully starting to build a bit of a professional blog tracking what I'm doing in the library world as well as what I'm doing with writing.

More to come. Stay Tuned...