Don’t bring a knife

Don’t bring a knife to a…? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?

Gun fight. Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight. That’s what I have been doing in Fallout 4. And it’s not going so great.

It was going okay, this whole idea of being the post apocalyptic barbarian swinging his sword to kill the bad guys and protect the innocent people of the Commonwealth. Sure, I got shot up a few times, but not so much that it made the whole thing seem impossible.

But then I came across my first large area full of bad guys (fucking Raiders), and that’s when having to be close to the enemy in order to strike really started to suck. When like eight people are shooting at you at the same time, you die pretty fast, and when you can’t take enemies out at a distance, reducing the number of shooters takes too long.

Honestly, if I hadn’t picked up a companion who can fire a pistol, I probably never would have made it through at all.

As a result, I am seriously considering starting over AGAIN and this time designing my character to be less “post nuclear Conan” and more like “silent deadly ninja”. I think there’s a fairly good chance that I could get good enough (both in game skill and personal skill) at being sneaky to take the enemies out one by one, commando style. And you have to admit, that would be awesome.

Or, I could stick with my current dude but devote all my levels to making him into a living tank. Build up his personal damage resistances to the point where he could be running around nekkid (murr) and still seem like he’s bulletproof.

And, of course, devote resources to modding his armor up in the same way.

It feels a little lame to have to do that, and kind of makes me feel like this whole idea was ill-advised. But I can be very, very stubborn, and as long as I feel like I can make it work, I will stick with it. Nothing wrong with realizing you maybe didn’t think things through all the way. Especially when there’s still a chance you can fix it.

Meanwhile, in the real world (that pesky thing), today has been very, very quiet. Julian has been off dog-walking, and Joe is, of course, at work, so I have had the apartment all to myself since 3:30 pm or so. Long enough for the silence to go from soothing to kind of creepy.

And, as usual when I have time off like this, I have been battling depression and the resulting sleepiness. I’m never that far from the void, it seems, and while I haven’t been sad per se , I haven’t exactly felt wonderful either.

Mostly I have felt… adrift. Unmoored. Directionless. I know damned well that I have work to do on that final draft of my short script, but it’s hard to get myself moving in that direction. It’s so much easier to go back to the life that stole 20 years of my fucking life : eating, sleeping, and playing video games.

And chatting online, although I am less and less inclined to do that, and that frightens me. No matter how bad my depression has gotten in the past, I always spent time hanging with the fuzzies and doing Facebook and such.

And now it seems like it’s more hassle than it’s worth. So much easier to keep to myself and not have to deal with people at all. Even fictional people who only exist in text. Even that seems like too much of a burden, especially when I have a deep and involving video game I could play all by myself.

It’s like my urge to isolate myself has been building up all the time I have been going to school 5 days a week and having to suppress it. And now that I have just a little time off school, I just want to shut out the whole damned world and sink into my inner sanctum where I don’t have to deal with things at all.

Bye bye world. Hello shell. I sure wish I could quit you.

Oh well. No matter what, school resumes on Monday, and I will have no choice but to snap the fuck out of it and get things done. I realized today that my resistance to school has been building for quite some time now. IT’s that same voice that was causing troubles for me in my last 2 months at Kwantlen. The voice that says “Why are we sitting here doing this boring ass shit when we could be doing something fun? instead? This shit is so laaaaaaame!”

Needless to say, that voice (and the impulses that go with it) don’t exactly make life easier for me. But I resist the urge to suppress it because it’s an id voice, and I am trying to cultivate my long neglected id. If I am to bring myself back into the land of the living, I will need to make peace with and hopefully integrate my id, because that’s where the life force comes from.

Despite what Western traditional Western thinking tells us, we are not egos and superegos afflicted with the disease of the id. We are ids with egos and superegos installed, somewhat sketchily, and all we do when we suppress our ids and push them out into the cold is deny ourselves any chance of renewal while letting our ids turn into out of control monsters or soul destroying demons.

And if it goes far enough, we end up with depression and/or anxiety and/or a ton of other mental malfunctions.

All this Freud talk is making me think I need to get back into regular therapy. I still have a lot of shit to deal with. Stuff needs to be unpacked and aired out and dealt with.

Otherwise I might end up too ill to go to school.

And that would be way too depressing.

I will talk to you nice people again tomorrow.

So called life

Well, I didn’t find out if I could get a loan when I was at the bank cashing my cheque. I chickened out. Couldn’t make myself do it. Maybe I will do it tomorrow.

After all, it’s not like I have anything better to do.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I still have to work on the final draft of my short script, Waking the Demon. Have I posted that here yet? I have a half dozen more tweaks to do, two of them fairly major, and so if I get too bored of playing Fallout 4 and naps, I can work on that.

I have officially beaten Fallout 4 once now. Finished the plot. Did not like the ending I got at all. In fact, it bummed me out. I am tempted to see how far back I can go with my save games and make a huge number of different choices. I did not want to end the game by destroying the most developed and technologically advanced civilization in the game, even if they were a bunch of high-handed manipulative slave-owning snobbish pricks.

But they attacked, en masse, my buddies the Minutemen, who are a group of people dedicated to bringing law and order to the innocent peoples of the Wasteland. They were clearly intending to wipe them out. And I just could not allow that.

Anyhow, instead of going back I am currently going forward. I have started over again with a new character, and whereas my first character was a sharpshooter, the new one is a melee weapon specialist, aka a barbarian. Super strong and fast. Not all that bright. Not as bad as Groo, but in the same vein.

So far, it’s been a bumpy adjustment. I have to get used to closing with enemies instead of taking them out at distance. And that means getting my taut muscular ass shot at a lot. Clearly, I am going to have to learn to be really, really quick.

And I am going to need to get a really big sword.

Went to therapy today, for the first time in two months. It went fine. My therapist still has a “cold”, which AFAIK he has had for like… six months. So I am worried about that. They say doctors make the worst patients, and I think that probably extends deep into the “denying they are sick” category. Doctors, after all, have a job with enormous responsibilities, and that kind of thing demands that you develop, if not a big ego exactly, certainly enough self-confidence to believe that you can tell people what to put inside of them and have it actually work.

I can see that leading to a certain blind spot. A person could be so confident in their ability to spot illness that they figure that if they don’t think they are sick, they must not be sick. Even if any other physician would take one look at them and say “You’re sick!”, they cling to the idea that they know best.

Especially the men of a certain generation. The ones that keep dying of things that could have easily been treated if they had just gone to the goddamned doctor. But for whatever reason, these guys don’t go. They have been raised to never show weakness, and in their mind, going to the doctor is basically not just showing weakness in front of a socially dominant authority figure, it’s basically becoming their bitch. So they don’t go.

So glad not to have that problem. I have my own issues with doctors, but at least I go when I am sick.

Anyhow, therapy went fine. Shared my pondering about fitting in and such with my therapist. He is of the opinion that I should stop worrying about it and concentrate on my education. And he’s not entirely wrong. But that’s such a cold way of looking at things that I can’t embrace it. Not fully. I could never be a dedicated careerist kind of person.

To be honest, those type of people tend to get on my nerves. Where’s the joy” Where’s the fun? Where’s the laughter? Where’s the life?

Still, there is a lot to be said for simply accepting who I am. I am probably never going to be the sort of person who can feel comfortable in any kind of social setting I enter. I don’t like the idea that I can only really connect with a tiny percentage of the population, but it’s probably true. And I am not really interested in learning the kind of falseness that seems to be required for social fluency.

Perhaps that has been my problem all along. I just can’t stand being false. I am deeply driven to be myself as I am, warts and all, and that puts me at odds with certain forms of social knowledge. Maybe I will eventually get to the point where I am willing and able to be more flexible about it because I have developed a more secure and stable sense of self and thus can make the kind of trade-off that allows me to trade a little total honesty for better social integration, I sure hope so.

But as it stands now, the very idea of that kind of compromise makes me want to throw up. A deep and powerful voice within me cries out “NEVER!”, and while the rest of me doesn’t necessarily agree, for now, at least, that voice dominates.

So maybe the best course would be to just accept that I am somewhat of a loner, and stop trying to force my square self into the round hole of popularity. Maybe if I can finally accept who and what I am, I will gain enough calmness in social situations to deal with things on a more nuanced level.

And maybe I will lose that air of desperate loneliness that I am pretty sure turns people off right away.

Then there’s this constant need to prove how smart I am….

Let’s just say I have my work cut out for me!

I will talk to you nice people again tomorrow!

Where do I fit in?

My first term at VFS is officially over, and I don’t have school again till Monday morning.

Showed up for school at 9 am. Went to the classroom. Nobody there. WTF? Turned out the one class I had today was actually in the afternoon. I got it wrong because while it said 1 to 4 pm on the schedule, it said it in the slot that normally has morning classes in it. So I am assigning at least half the blame to the staff members who made the schedule.

They’re the ones who made the mistake, dang it! And at least I wasn’t alone. There was one other student who made the same mistake. I felt like we were brothers in cluelessness.

This left me with a couple of problems. The first was being pissed off that I hauled my ass into school when I could have slept in. But I got over that fairly quickly.

The next was the problem of what to do with the next three hours of my time. Solution : I took a nap in the lounge. Can’t say I slept super well, but it was something. That killed an hour and a half. The rest of the time I read my book and mellowed out.

That got me to 11:30 am, when I got too hungry to concentrate and had to eat lunch. But of course, I didn’t pack a lunch. I didn’t think I would need one. Had my class been in the morning, I would have just eaten when I got home around 1 pm. But nope.

This issue was further complicated by the fact that I was (and still am) broke AF. I had $2.65 to my name, and that doesn’t get you lunch downtown, not even when that $4.95 for everything place is having 33 cent wing day.

I’m not that big on wings anyhow. Especially not the crappy kind they serve at bars. That default “buffalo” wing sauce tastes quite nasty to me.

So I ended up having to put some more Subway on the Education Fund credit card. Damn it. And just for the hell of it, I got a foot-long instead of my usual six inch, and that confirmed something I should have already known : there’s no point in spending the extra two or three bucks because I can’t finish a foot-long any more.

But at least I got to drink that watermelon juice again! Man that stuff is good. I wish I could get a gallon of it. Well, okay, maybe not a gallon…. as much as I love (LOVE!) watermelon, I would probably get tired of it before I finished a gallon.

A quart, maybe.

I was a bit nervous about class, because it was finally my turn to give the presentation at the beginning of the Script Structure class, one I worked on with my partner Ainslee (the Nova Scotian girl…. go Maritimes!), and while I don’t usually suffer from stage fright at all and I am great at public speaking, this was different. It was something where I was going to have to improvise a little, and that makes me nervous. After all, the presentation had only existed since last night, when Ainslee did the PowerPoint for it!

I did the writing.

But I needn’t have worried. Everything went fine. And it reminded me that I am a natural at that sort of thing. I would be so good at being an emcee for stuff. Or a game show host. I would rock that job.

Lately I have been pondering the question of fitting in. I want to fit in, I really do. But it’s not easy. I lack a lot of the deep social awareness, honed by years of social interaction with friends and such, that most people have by the time they leave elementary school.

As a result, I have grown into a very strange bird indeed. A lot of the circuitry that should have been dedicated to social development ended up getting used for other stuff, like all that abstract reasoning and creativity and deep thought I got going on, and those are the source of my powers.

And like any wizard, powers are all I have to offer the world. Without those, I am sort of pathetic.

So it’s a very complicated territory to navigate. Deep down, I want to be one of those people who can be totally at ease with anybody. That’s a noble goal, but probably not realistic, at least in the short and medium term. But it would be nice not to feel so awkward around people.

In order to achieve that, I think I would need lots and lots of experience with some fairly patient people who understand that a lot of what I say will be brain-crashingly strange to them and they will just have to wait for me to make sense again.

I need something like the social equivalent of a language immersion camp. Some place where I can get all the social exposure I need in order to spark that part of my brain that lets kids learn social skills at an early age, so I can acquire them on the deep native level that seems to be required.

I mean, I’m sensitive and somewhat charismatic, as well as witty and crazy freaking intelligent. Theoretically, I could be awesome. But first, I need to develop that little voice that tells me what will fit in people’s minds and what will not. Plus the willingness to listen to that voice and let it help me choose what to say more carefully.

There’s still a part of me that wants to say “Fuck you, I’m not dumbing what I say down for anyone! If they can’t handle it, that’s their problem!”

And that part of me will never totally go away. It will always stubbornly resist any sort of compromise to conformity and rebel against the notion of having to be like everyone else.

And there’s even a kind of admirable nobility to that kind of stance.

But I get so lonely sometimes.

And I want to come in.

I will talk to you nice people again tomorrow.

T minus one for break… yay

I’m not even on break yet, and I am already bored and depressed about all the time I will have to fill.

I can’t spend it ALL playing Fallout 4!

So I will try to conceive of some kind of little thing I can work on in order to give my break some substance besides doing this blog every day. Don’t get me wrong, I love doing this blog. More than that, I need to do it. It’s a deeply ingrained habit now. The thought of going a day without blogging gives me a sort of dizzy nauseous feeling, like I have a high fever.

The kind that you can hear.

Speaking of deep seated psychological needs, I will be seeing my therapist for the first time since classes began on Thursday. Right now, AFAIK, the appointment is set for 2 pm, which will in all likelihood means that Joe will drop me off there but I will have to make my own way back.

That’s not a huge deal. At least, not as huge a deal as it used to be. Time was that having to walk four blocks to a bus stop was a major bummer for me. But I walk four blocks twice a day just to get from the Skytrain station to school and back. And those are Vancouver blocks, with an incline.

Nice flat Richmond blocks should be a piece of cake company to that!

I will also be going to the bank to cash my check and look into getting a loan to cover my remaining school debt. That’s going to be…. huge… for me psychologically. I can’t think of a situation which would be more stressful to me than talking to a bank manager or such and asking for money when I am just some schmuck on disability.

I would honestly be less nervous speaking in front of the UN. I am great at public speaking. It’s private speaking that scares the bejesus out of me.

But if I can do this, I can do anything. This is my Mount Everest. And I will climb it, and I will overcome it, and no mountain will be too high for me ever again.

Honestly, whether I actually get the loan or not after that is secondary.

Today I had Short Script in the morning. Which lead to another of my patented clusterfucks beforehand, because when I looked up my schedule online this morning, in those twilit hours between waking up and leaving for school, I saw that my first class was Short Script and concluded that this must mean that our final drafts of our short scripts was due today, which at the time meant I had 45 minutes to finalize it if I skipped breakfast AND didn’t pack a lunch.

So I was freaking out and trying to do all my planned edits at once and basically running around like the proverbial decapitated chicken until I finally looked at the actual assignment and realized it wasn’t due until a week from today.

D’oh! Oh well, no harm done. I still had time to eat a simple breakfast while watching some Voltron and get my ass to school only slightly late. For lunch, I put some Subway on my credit card, feeling kind of guilty about it as I will need all my $ to make that payment to VFS, but on the other hand, it was kind of necessary.

Oh, and speaking of which : I got a Roast Beef sub at Subway, and they have horseradish there now, so on a whim, I told them to put it on my sub. At the same time, I selected BBQ chips as my side dish. So I was basically eating two very spicy things. Which was dumb.

At least I had something truly marvelous to drink : watermelon juice! They actually had Tropicana Watermelon at Subway, something I had never seen before, and the moment I saw it while selecting my beverage, I knew I had to have it.

And it was quite lovely. I love watermelon so very, very much to begin with, and it also made for an excellent fire extinguisher for my poor burning mouth. The rest of me, not so much, but the mouth part of me got soothed anyhow.

The real problem was that I should have said “just a little horseradish” or had horseradish plus something cool, like tzatziki. I love horseradish with roast beef, but only in tiny amounts. Just enough to give it a bit of a kick to work against the heavy (and heavenly) savour flavour of the beef.

In the afternoon, we had Format class. Yay, I am finally done with Format! Our TV format test was, as promised, more of an Internet treasure hunt than anything else. I got 95 percent on it, which takes some of the sting out of the 59 percent I got on the other one. I am sure my grade will be decent in that class.

Oddly enough, I find that I am not thinking about grades at all right now. I am sure I will pass all my classes, and that’s all I really care about. Partly this is because, to be quite honest, the professors at VFS Writing don’t give you grades very often, so the numbers just don’t come up much. I have submitted a lot of stuff for which I have never, AFAIK, received a grade. Maybe all these things have, indeed, been graded, and the grades are sitting on Moodle somewhere and I have just never found them.

And I think that’s been good for me, to be honest. When I write something for school, I am not worried about the grade. I concentrate instead on making it good. As it should be.

Admittedly, I have never worried about marks much in the first place… I am, after all, Mister Take It For Granted That I Will Get An Eighty…. but still.

Art just feels more honest when there’s no numbers tying it down. And I feel like I am learning so much about writing from all this workshopping of both my stuff and other people’s.

And next term I get to take Sketch!

Things are looking pretty good from here.

I will talk to you nice people again tomorrow.

12 steps of hell

So I am stuck doing another goddamned Hero’s Journey project. I can’t believe I had totally forgotten how hard I had found the first one. I was even the person who suggested that I do that part of our presentation. Now that seems like volunteering to test caskets “in the field”. What the hell was I thinking?

I mean… I actually said to my partner that I was looking forward to doing something besides the Seven Pillars of the good ol’ Three Act Structure for a change. D’OH! I am not well suited to taking a long and complex story and cramming it into an artificial structure. Doing it with the Seven Pillars is bad enough. But the Hero’s Journey monomyth has twelve steps and goddamn, not every movie fits it.

So tonight, I’m going to finally do my little spoof of the whole thing as a way of getting satirical revenge on the goddamned thing.

Oh, what Joseph Campbell hath wrought!

Anyhow, here it is :

Act 1. Ordinary World

Me : Here I am, relaxing and petting my pet wombat.

Act 2. Call to Adventure

Me : Oh no, someone stole my wombat! I must get him back!

Act 3. Refusal of the Call

Me : Oh, but I can’t go…. it’s Ficus Watering Night. And they look so thirsty!

Act 4. Visiting the Mentor

Me : Oh Great Wafflesnausage In The Sky! I pray to thee for guidance!
Booming Voice : Go to your wombat! This, I command!
Me : ..but what about my thirsty ficii?
Booming Voice : Look again, true believer, and see! FOR THEY HAVE ALREADY BEEN WATERED!
Me : It’s a MIRACLE! Well, off I go, then!

Act 5. Crossing the First Threshold

Me : This is a perfect chance to FIRE UP MY NEW SMART CAR! Finally, the world of electric motoring will be mine to embrace!

Act 6 : Tests, Allies, Enemies

Test : THIS IS A TEST! Who played “Bull” Shannon on Night Court!
Me : Richard Moll, of course!
Test : CORRECT! You may pass.
Me : Oh good. Hey, who are you?
Ally : My name is Ally, and I am moved by your cause, for I too have lost a wombat! I will travel with you and help you find your wombat!
Me : Why, thank you! Now that just leaves…
Enemy : Grrr! I am Enemy, and it is I who took your wombat! If you want it back, you must face me in my own domain! Namely, my double wide trailer parked in the back yard of 1117 West Pender, just past the 7-11 with the burned out 7, so it’s now just a -11.
Me : I think I know the place. Across the street from the Piano Tuner’s museum?
Me : Right, then. I know the place. There’s a really good Dim Sum place near there.
Enemy : You mean Have Some Dim Sum, voted Vancouver’s Best in 1992, and that now features a twenty course meal made from fresh local ingredients and curated by the Food Network’s Rhonda Chow?
Me : No, the other one. Pender Dim Sum.
Enemy : They’re good too. Now where was I? Oh right…. FACE ME IF YOU DARE! MUA HA HA HA ETCETERA!

Act 7 : Approaching the Inner Cave

Me : Well there it is… the Double Wide of Doom! I must be cautious!

Act 8. Ordeal

Enemy : You fool! Now that I have you in my clutches I will show you no mercy! Now, SUFFER!
Me : Ow! Stop poking me with your garden gnome! It’s really pointy!

Act 9 : Getting the Reward

Me : Ah HA! At long last, I have been reunited with my wombat! But at what cost? Enemy has escaped and my wombat is DEAD!

Act 10 : The Road Back

Ally : Your wombat is only mostly dead!
Me : Then we must take it to the 24 Hour Wombat Hospital!

Act 11 : Resurrection

Wombat Doctor : Live, you magnificent rodent! CLEAR! *defibrillator zap*
Me : It worked! My wombat is ALIVE!

Act 12 : Returning with the Elixir

Wombat Doctor : Thanks to you, we now know defibrillators work on wombats!
Me : Aaaaand…. scene! *elaborate bow*

Well that was fun. Now that I have gotten that out of my system, maybe I can relax and focus on the task at hand without feeling overwhelmed.

What I am going to do is go through the script for The Incredibles and use it to create a very basic plot outline/beat sheet for the movie, and from there, I will hopefully be able to pick out the ones that fit the steps. Or that I can, at least, plausibly argue fit the steps.

It’s a great movie and it feels wrong to force it into some formulaic straitjacket. My natural resistance to what I consider to be an artificial structuring device kicks in and I want to just throw my hands up in disgust and refuse to do it.

Not an option, obviously. Even if I didn’t care about my own VFS career (and I do, very much so), I couldn’t do that to my partner. But that’s my emotional impulse nevertheless.

Today was a little rough on the nerves, because I had to do my presentation for a different subject with the other Michael in my class, Class 52. And while I do not suffer from stage fright most of the time, the group that went before us was so good that it made me feel intensely self-conscious about ours and so I had a panic attack and for a few minutes there, really, really, really. did not want to do it.

But we did it anyhow, and now it’s done, and I can stop worrying. And once I get this Hero’s Journey shit done, I am done for the term.

Speaking of terms, we were given our schedule for next term today, and it looks awesome. I will be taking such things as TV Spec (writing a spec script for Brooklyn 99 or Bob’s Burgers… keen gear!), Writing for Animation (something I would love to do… it’s an elective but I will probably take it anyhow), and the ultimate course for me… Sketch.

Yup, I am going to get to write sketches and call it schoolwork.

What a great gig!

I will talk to you nice people again tomorrow.

How to make a really good sitcom

(Yes, this is schoolwork. Wonderful, glorious schoolwork. )

The sitcom has been around since the golden era of radio, and yet, as an art form, it’s never gotten much respect. People look down at it as one of the lowest forms of television, despite the fact that over the years, sitcoms have consistently been some of the view audience’s favorite shows, and the shows that touch them the most deeply on a personal level.

And whenever there is a cultural juggernaut like Friends or Cheers, pundits scratch their heads and wonder what makes this particular sitcom different from all the others. In this essay, I will attempt to answer that question with what I believe to be the secrets of making a really good sitcom.

The first and most important ingredient is the characters. People might watch an episode for the premise, but they come back for the characters. The characters need to be founded, understandable stereotypes that either already exist or are easily conveyed with casting, costume, and action. Ideally the viewer should be able to get the basic idea of the character just by looking at them. And while this might seem limiting, there are actually a lot more stereotypes to choose from than most people think. When you bring up sitcom stereotypes, people will think of ones like Short Tempered Boss, Wacky Neighbor, Unrealistically Hot Mom, and so on. But what about the Know It All At Work? Or the Funny (that’s funny, not “funny”) Uncle? Or the Nerdy Kid? How about the Chick Who Has No Idea How Hot She Is? Or the Aging Swingers? Or even that old standby, the Snobby British Couple?

Any writer sufficiently literate in the genre could come up with dozens more. And remember, these are only the foundations of the characters, not their totality. A starting point rather than the finish line. Once you have chosen your stereotype, you can then add the details that make your Sleazy Lawyer different from all the others.

Most importantly, the characters have to be likable. That doesn’t mean they have to be a bunch of cookie-cutter Mouseketeers, though. A fairly wide variety of characters can be likable as long as the writers understand that even the less-nice characters have to operate within certain moral boundaries.

Which brings me to the next key ingredient, which is heart. Think of this as the editorial voice of the show. The show itself must be gentle, caring, and warm. No matter how outrageous or edgy a show is, it has to have a moral center that defines the line between edgy and too far, and that demonstrates that the show cares about the characters as much as it wants the audience to care about them.

Only then will the show engender the kind of trust in the audience that lets people really connect with the show on an emotional level, and make them lifelong fans who watch the show not just to be entertained but to spend time with the characters they love.

Once you have those fundamentals down, then you can worry about making it all funny. People will watch a show with likable, warm characters and mediocre jokes long before they will watch a show with loathsome, cold characters and very funny jokes. Wit is very important, of course. People tune in to sitcoms to laugh, after all.

But if they can’t stand the characters or the show seems callous and cruel, they will not tune in for long.

Once you know you can write funny jokes for warm and likable characters, then you can worry about petty details like the premise. People, mostly Hollywood (or rather, Burbank) types, like to think that premise is the key to a good sitcom because they like to thing that the whole thing can be reduced to formula, but nothing could be further from the truth.

The massively successful sitcoms of the past owed very little of their success to their premises. all had very simple, easy to understand premises that sound ridiculous when stated, like “a suburban family” or “the people who work in this particular office” or “what goes on in this bar”. Nothing fancy, nothing splashy, nothing that makes you sit up and say “By jove, that’s a show I want to see!”.

In fact, being premise-heavy can doom a show. Having your show be about an alien or a kid who’s a robot or a bunch of astronauts severely limits the kinds of stories you can tell while automatically making the situation (and quite likely, the characters) less relatable. That’s a very big barrier to have to overcome in terms of connecting with your audience. You are basically betting that you are so good at the other aspects of sitcom writing that it will overcome that barrier, and that’s just stacking the deck against yourself.

The only important thing about the premise of your sitcom (besides whether it gets the pilot made) is whether it is open-ended or closed. Ideally, it should be open-ended enough to allow for a steady stream of colorful and memorable characters who can deliver the kind of comedy that won’t make sense coming from one of your regular characters. This keeps the show fresh while both allowing the writers the freedom to do nearly any sort of humour they like while also giving you the chance to incorporate very funny character actors and actresses who would not be suited for inclusion as a regular character but who shine like diamonds in a limited role.

If you are lucky, through this process you will develop a small number of recurring characters that can appear once or twice a season and give the fans something to wonder about. Will my favorite recurring character be in this episode?

Therefore, premises like “life in a bar” or “what happens with this squad of detectives” are to be favored over relatively closed ones like “this suburban family”.

Obviously, no essay of this sort could hope to be exhaustive. There are so many other aspects of making a successful sitcom that they could probably fill a whole series of books.

But I think if you have good characters that people like being around, a warm and gentle heart, reasonably funny writing, and a premise that doesn’t get in the way, you will do just fine.

That’s Real Incredible People

So tonight’s work involves watching and analyzing The Incredibles. I’m halfway through it.

And you know, it’s really good. I had seen it once before, not that long after it came out in 2004, and I remember rating it on the positive side of meh. But the me of twelve years ago must have been looking for something it was never going to be, because the me of now is quite spellbound.

Of course, it helps that it’s on a big TV screen with great color. That makes everything better. But mostly, I am far more hooked in to Bob’s (AKA Mister Incredible’s) journey. Somehow I can really identify with the struggle between what you are, by logic and reason and sensibility, supposed to be doing, and what your unique power is calling you to do. I don’t blame Bob for not being happy living a normal life when he knows that there are people out there suffering and dying that he could have saved if he just had the balls to tell the government to go to hell and go back to being a superhero.

For those who have not seen the movie, the plot goes basically like this : In a world with lots of superheroes and supervillains, a series of very expensive lawsuits against superheroes (but it’s the government who ends up paying for some reason) has caused the government to pass a law banning all superheroing forever.

Which is a bit of a plot hole, because one would think that with the superheroes gone, the supervillains would take over. I mean, supervillains already operate outside of the law and face a lot of prison time if caught doing what they do, so it’s not like they are going to care about yet another law they are breaking. And we all know that the only thing that can stop a bad guy with superpowers is a good guy with superpowers.

Yes, just like they say in the gun control debate. Only in this case, it’s actually true.

So either the world of The Incredibles is a world with superheroes and no supervillains (unlikely) or it really should be a dystopian future where supervillains run rampant and the whole world is a Somalia type anarchy ruled by warlords with superpowers.

But instead, the world is just like ours. Fast forward fifteen years and Bob has a horrible, humiliating job as the person who is supposed to be denying claims to people trying to actually get the money their evil insurance company owes them (those greedy bastards!), but he’s actually too softhearted and tells them how to use legal loopholes to get what they are legally owed. This really pisses off his tiny angry boss, voiced wonderfully by Wallace Shawn.

I will stop myself there before this becomes an entire plot synopsis instead of a blog entry. Suffice it to say he gets drawn back into superhero work, despite his ex-superheroine wife not wanting him to risk their “normal” lives with their two superpowered kids.

And I know what it’s like to know you are exceptional and that making it impossible for you to live a “normal” life. Admittedly, my superpowers are a lot more modest that nigh-invulnerability or having a super-stretchy body like a superhero. They have a lot more to do with being crazy smart and creative to boot.

Nevetheless, I have always identified with people who are too powerful on a personal level for their own good. I have known I was exceptionally bright since way before I ever went to school. I learned how to read when I wasn’t quite three years old, for crying out loud. And that made me stand out from the my fellow students and made it hard for me to relate to them, a problem I still have to this day.

But like I have said many a time before, I could have gone the traditional route of becoming an apple-polishing prig who embraced the usual brand of intellectual elitism, misanthropy, and arrogance that turns so many of the best and the brightest into Ayn Rand libertarians these days.

Thank goodness most of them grow up and get the fuck over it. Oh yeah, it’s your specialness that people hate, not your atrocious personality.

But something in me resisted that, and still does to this day. It just seems like such an ugly and isolating route. And I am, deep down in my soul, a humanist, and you can’t be a humanist and a misanthrope at the same time, no matter how hard people try to do it.

The statements “I hate people” and “I love humanity” are not logically compatible. Besides, isn’t blaming all of humanity for the actions of a few the theoretical maximum of prejudice and bigotry? There is no large subset of humanity than humanity itself. That’s not even a subset any more. That’s the set itself!

And these days, I am actually someplace where I can learn to use my superpowers to make a freaking living. I guess that makes VFS my equivalent of Xavier’s School For Gifted Youths, though I ain’t no youth any more, except in life experience.

Any way you look at it, though, writing for television is not a normal life. So I will have dodged that bullet. I could never have been happy with something that clipped my wings too much anyhow. I have thought how it would be nice to have a job as a cashier at a bookstore or the like. Some small job that is well within my skills at customer service that could get me a minimum wage income and give me something to do with my time.

But now I wonder if maybe I would have gotten restless in a job like that and either ended up self-sabotaging or taking up some very self-destructive habit to deal with how unhappy I was, like drugs or alcohol or high risk sex.

I’m too queer and too big of a duck to be happy in a cage. On land, I am awkward to the point of ridiculousness.

But let me soar…. and I am fucking majestic.

I will talk to you nice people again tomorrow.

One more week

And a short one, at that.

Just one more week until I have finished my first term of VFS. I must say, I am having fun. I still don’t care for lectures, but I am pretty sure they told us that all that theory stuff is taught in the first term and from then on, it’s practical hands on stuff.

I can’t wait. I want to write. I want to do things. I want to be part of the team that makes things happen. I am actually pissed off with myself for forgetting to sign up for this web series they are doing over in the Production campus next term where I would have had the opportunity to work with a director and such as a writer on set.

That’s exactly what I want to be doing. I am super eager to get into the game. Money isn’t important to me right now. What matters is getting to do my thang.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Money is very important right now because I will need $800 before the end of the month. And it’s freaking me out. Which, sadly, makes it hard for me to do anything about it. This is the problem with depression slash anxiety. Things that should goad you into action freeze you in place instead.

There’s something to be learned from that, I am sure. Something about depression’s deadly alchemy, turning fire to ice. And the total suppression of the id, and the feeling that you are just barely keeping the boat afloat and any change, no matter how slight, will capsize you and plunge you into the bone-chilling cold waters of your suppressed emotion.

Anyhow. Hopefully, I will get over the freaked out period soon enough to save my sorry ass. It remains to be seen if the deer can snap out of its headlight hypnosis in time to avoid the oncoming truck.

This morning’s class was Short Script. I somehow missed that I was supposed to print out the second draft of my script so I could present it today. So I had to do that when we took our break. But that’s not the bad part, although I stupidly did my collating in the copy room on our floor and thus encountered one of the only bad things about being taller than average : counters.

Counters and sinks are, naturally enough, built for people of average height, and that means that my 6’1″ self has to kinda scrunch down to use them. And that hurts my back. We tall folk are prone to back problems anyhow (because we exceed the design specs for the human body) and scrunching down sure as hell doesn’t help. But it’s not too bad with sinks because I am usually only using them for as long as it takes to wash my hands.

Trying to do something like collating and stapling, on the other hand, was agony. Like someone was jabbing me in the back with a wire coat hanger.

The real bad part, though, was that because I didn’t have my stuff printed, the prof made me present last, and that means that I only got 20 minutes of workshop time when everyone else got at least thirty and the first two people got 45 minutes each. If the prof had just done her job and stopped the first two when she should have, I wouldn’t have gotten screwed over.

And that activates both the “control freak/incompetence” and “neglected/abandoned” issues, and that ain’t fun.

Don’t get me wrong, I got lots of highly useful feedback that will make the third and final draft way, way better. So it’s not like I got completely screwed over (although I would not have been surprised). It’s more of an abstract thing. But… ya know… ISSUES.

Tried the Mediterranean place a few doors down from the school today. Well, technically, it was the second time, but the first time I just got pita and hummus, so that doesn’t count. Today I got the beef lamb platter, and low and behold, it came with meat that sort of tasted like beef and sort of like lamb. Whatever. It was tasty, and came with rice, Greek salad (basically just pieces of cucumber and green pepper), and tabouli, which I’d never had but was quite nice.

Plus some pita bread and a little plastic tub of hummus, which I ended up not eating.

The afternoon class was Format, and we had a quiz. Oh joy. A quiz in my least favorite subject. I did a little quick studying before the quiz, and I was sure I would do okay on it. But when we graded our own quizzes later in the class (neat trick, teach!), I only got 60 percent.

And I was really disappointed in myself, because I knew that I hadn’t really taken the test seriously and that I probably could have gotten a higher score if I had just concentrated and applied myself.

Now the quiz is only ten percent of my final mark, so the stakes are not that high. At most, I cost myself two percentage points. But I am not the sort of person who gets 59 percent on anything, smarty pants that I am, and so that 59 percent was a real slap in the face.

Plus I am pissed off that the teacher never got to read my hilarious wrong answers. Hey, if you can’t be right, be funny!

Oh well. After this term, I will hopefully be bidding that subject goodbye forever. No offense to my teacher, who’s great and possibly the most energetic person I have ever met, but the course has been very dull and fussy and I really don’t enjoy it.

I have one more class in it, and it will be taking a test on TV script format, which will be open book/computer and more of an Internet treasure hunt than a test. Suits me fine!

You can’t really teach TV script format anyway because there is no universally accepted standard like there is for film. Every show does it differently. This also suits me fine, because it means when I am writing for TV, I will not have to follow some arcane set of rules.

I will learn the house style, and that will be it.

Well, that’s my day. Next week is the Nexus of All Deadlines, so I have lots of work to do.

I will talk to you nice people again tomorrow.

The rot sets in

Depression sure as hell doesn’t waste any time.

I had one and a half days out of school, due to illness, and in that short time, I reverted to my pre-Kwantlen state, where all I wanted to do was sleep and play videos and get through the day like that. When it was time to head out to my afternoon class, I really really didn’t feel like going. The whole school thing seemed like so much work and stress and hassle. It would have been so easy to just go back to sleep and let the whole thing crash.

And then I would be free!

That is seriously how depression thinks. Like I have said before, a long time ago, the key mechanism of depression/anxiety is the desire to escape situations at any cost.

That’s how depression uses anxiety to protect itself from interference by the forces of healing and sanity. It ramps up the stress of a situation until all you can think about is escaping that stress and fear, and therefore makes you willing to pay any cost to escape it.

Such suddenly acceptable costs include losing a job, wrecking your career prospects, alienating your children, sabotaging a relationship, failing your friends when they need you the most, and in the worst scenario, your continued existence.

Panicking animals don’t care about the long term effects – after all, you have to live through today in order to get to tomorrow. Hence the poor animal gnawing off a limb to escape a trap. Or the old myth that horses would run back inside the barn during a fire. When that adrenal response is going, the mind becomes very narrowly focused on what is happens right now at this very second, and the animal will do things that in a normal state it would never dream of doing.

And that works well for animals in the wild. But we human beings, the monkeys with computers, live in civilization and that means a lot of the threats and stresses have nothing to do with an immediate enemy – or prey for that matter – but things far deeper and more complex than evolution, which gave us these big brains in the first place, could ever have prepared us for.

There just hasn’t been enough time.

So when we panic, we get stupid. And in a terrible sense, that works out in the short term. The sense of relief you get when you have escaped the situation is a powerful reward, almost narcotic in intensity, and it reinforces the behaviour no matter what the rational mind thinks of the solution once it comes back online.

No wonder conservatives love being scared and/or angry. It turns their thinky parts off so they can revert into the bovine contentment they crave.

Talk about positive reinforcement!

I’ve been reading Vonnegut lately, and I just realized that it’s from him that I got the whole big paragraph/short sentence thing. Well, inspiration steals.

Of course, I am wise to the ways of depression now, so I know that the harder my depression fights doing something, the more important it is for me to do it. It’s the only way to take back control of you life and your ability to decide what to do with it. You have to prove, over and over again, that depression doesn’t call the shots any more. You have to do what it most dislikes.

You have to embrace life, which is the opposite of the deathly chill of depression. You have to overcome fear, which is the main enforcement mechanism of depression. You have to be willing to feel the negative emotions depression keeps sealed away in its icy vaults, and thus take away the very things from which it draws its wintry power. Less frozen pain makes for a less frozen you.

But you have to be ready to give up your depression. That’s a lot harder than it sounds. One of the major steps along the way is that you have to admit to yourself that your depression serves a purpose : it shields you from reality. To give it up is to drop your shield and face reality directly. It means coming to grips with all the things you have been avoiding for so long.

It might even involve growing up.

Unless you are ready to take that journey, you will forever be “stuck” with depression, because you will cling to it as a security blanket even as you try to eliminate it. You will end up doing something depression loves, namely going through the motions in order to seem to be “trying” while deep down you know you are just bullshitting yourself and you didn’t really try at all.

It was all pantomime.

Real trying means putting more than the absolute minimum amount of thought and effort into it. Really trying means you invest in the outcome instead of just assuming it will fail from the getgo and therefore not investing one erg of energy over the minimum.

Real trying is a threat to depression. So it discourages it with anxiety and ennui. So much easier to just give in to depression’s gravity and fall apart. Which is why another thing you need to do in order to break depression’s hold is to repeat this mantra as many times as it takes before you believe it :

Easier isn’t always better. It’s just easier.

Maybe I should write an article called “Six Harsh Truths That Will Free You From Depression”. Submit it to and see if they bite. After all, that other Six Harsh Truths article is their most viewed article of all time. And the way it pissed off so many people was, I think, extremely good for society in general because it forced them to confront their assumptions and question their bullshit.

I would love to have that kind of effect on public discourse. That’s the trickster’s job, after all : to make people examine what they believe.

We tricksters, if we are wise, know that very few people are going to thank us for that. People don’t like being taken out of their comfort zones.

But those comfort zones can get so small they cut off your oxygen. When they are challenged, they grow. When they grow, you grow. Stronger, healthier, happier people result.

And you’re welcome.

I will talk to you nice people again tomorrow.

A sick day

Woke up feeling terrible today.

My head hurt. Every major muscle ached. And my stomach felt like I’d swallowed a tornado… and it was mad.

So I emailed my prof saying I wasn’t going to be able to make it to class. That wasn’t an easy decision to make. I had to make the hard decision as to whether or not I was actually sick or whether this was just a heavier dose of how crappy I usually feel in the morning.

And I am still not one hundred percent sure I made the right call. Because somewhere between 2 pm and 3 pm, the symptoms just…. disappeared. All at once. Like a fog evaporating. One second I was hunched over at this computer, miserable, and the next, I felt fine. Great, even, thanks to the endorphins.

So I have to ask myself, WTF was that? Assuming that the problem was of a microbial nature, did my immune system score a sudden and decisive victory? Possibly. Was it just a matter of being upright and doing things for long enough to shake off the morning blahs? I hope not, because I hate missing school, and that would mean I could have gone.

I just don’t know. But I do know one thing :

Being home sucks.

It doesn’t take long with me for free time to turn into depression. My hold on a sense of purpose and focus is, as yet, quite slender, and all it takes is one solid day off to remind me of that. Up till now, I have been looking forward to having a whole bunch of free time at the end of the term. But today was a harsh reality lesson.

I probably won’t enjoy that time at all.

I mean, I won’t even have homework left to do. When I get bored of playing Fallout 4 (or FO4, as it’s known to people in a big hurry) later tonight, I can just bring up my little student calendar and see what is next on my assignment list, and do that.

I won’t have that luxury during the inter-term period.

So it comes back to that old issue of being self-motivating again. Dammit. I have really enjoyed having school to keep me moving forward and give me a sense of purpose. Having like, five days in a row sans school will cut me off for that for a short time.

All sails, no wind.

And speaking of school, June 30th is coming up frightfully soon and I still don’t know where I am going to get the $800 for the payment due to VFS by then. I have 15 days to come up with it, and so far all I have done to get it is an abortive attempt to apply for a loan to my bank.

I might end up having to ask Joe. But that will be my very last resort. He already does so much for me. I don’t want to burden him further.

But if I have to, I will. Otherwise this little experiment in my being treated like I might be worth something will come to a screeching halt, and that would damned near kill me. Or make me kill myself.

That is, after all, how depression kills people.

I should see what I could get for my old computer. Not much, I would imagine, but anything would help. My income doesn’t exactly allow for saving up money, alas. Otherwise I would at least have something to show for my time.

I think I have around $150 left in the Education Fund on my credit card. So I suppose, in reality, I am looking for $650. But that doesn’t offer much comfort. Anywhere I can get $650, I could probably get $800. That $150 seems unlikely to be a dealbreaker… or maker.

That assumes I am unable to get the money from my bank in the form of a loan or some sort. Realistically speaking, I can’t imagine I seem like a good risk for a loan, given my terrible credit rating and three figure monthly income. If they do lend me the dough, it will be out of pity, not sound financial reasoning.

I guess I could apply for some credit cards – the real kind, not the kind I have now – and put it on there. Credit card companies are known for their love of taking advantage of college students and their lack of long term thinking. I would qualify for something like that if they ignore my age.

Anyhow, I will have to come up with it somehow. The alternative is annihilation.

Other than the interim period, I am looking forward to having the first of six terms under my belt. Right now, the people a term ahead of us in term 2 seem so much cooler than us because they are not walking out all green in the stick and wet behind the ears. And I am looking forward to that.

As of the start of term 2, we will no longer be newbs! w00t!

Plus, like I said before, I am looking forward to greater challenge. Other than a few spots where I fell behind and felt overwhelmed, nothing I have done so far has been terribly difficult, apart from that damned format class business. Hopefully I won’t have to do all that again.

I want to write, not worry about stupid little details. I admit it, I am averse to fine detail thinking like that. I feel like the important thing is to get your point across, and if someone can’t process your brilliant idea because you made some small mistake that doesn’t really affect anything, that’s their problem, not mine.

So if, in the future, I make some sort of mistake that Final Draft doesn’t catch, and neither do I, I will just have to hope that whoever is reading the thing is not one of those “error encountered, processing shut down” people.

I am not the sort of person who can ever get things 100 percent right. 90 percent, sure. Maybe even more.

But never 100 percent. Sorry coach…. I only gave 93 percent out there. But hey… we still won, so who cares?

I will talk to you nice people again tomorrow.