Chosen Family

Recently a friend used the cliche “blood is thicker than water” to note the importance he places on family. I have heard that particular phrase from various sources for quite some time. I understand its inherent meaning and purpose. Family is important. No matter what your family will always be there and you should support them. If it ever comes down to choosing between family and others; always go with family. While I see why people would believe this, I have to ask what if your family sucks?

No, seriously. What if your family are a bunch of douche, ignorant racist assholes? Do you just keep defending them and explain it away in some odd narrative? I have always been more of the opinion of the importance of a “chosen family”. You have no power or choice in the family you are born into. Whoever they are, you are essentially stuck with them for life. Now, do not misunderstand. I am not advocating hating or abandoning one’s family since that would be rather reprehensible in of itself. However, the friends you have are completely up to you. Your group of friends, or as I like to call them your “chosen family”, choose to associate with you, and you with them, completely of their own volition because of common interests, personalities, and experiences.

Again, family is important and something that will never, ever leave you. Still, friends, those you choose to be with, should be given just as much significance in our lives. Don’t you think?

 

The Sentry Gathers…

Basic Story Structure

Last week I discussed the popular narrative structure known as the Hero’s Journey in a post here. Today will be a short examination of the most basic of story structures; the “story triangle” or the more common name the exposition-climax-resolution three act structure. Here it is:

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Look at it. You remember it. Your high school, maybe middle school, English teacher talking about it one day and then you just began to see it everywhere. Your favorite book, television show, even some of your favorite songs somehow seemed to have this simple structure within it.

Well, you are partially right, This narrative structure, and its few variations, tends to be in most popular media. It is even found within the basic format of the Hero’s journey. While there have been various explanations and theories as to why this form is so popular and used, most of them needlessly academic and verbose, I prefer explanations to be a bit simpler and more understandable, if possible.

I think that this narrative structure is popular because it copies the basic cycles that happen in nature and thus ones we are all somewhat familiar with. Think of a plant. First, it has to be dropped/planted in soil, draw nutrients, and grow roots (essentially set up the beginning or exposition of a story). Second, it will begin to show some growth and begin to draw energy from multiples sources as well as try to continue to grow and survive the environment it is in (conflict). Eventually, it will grow to its desired state where it is no longer an easy target to its surrounding and begin to bear fruit/seed (climax). Finally, it will somehow spread its seeds and the process will begin all over (resolution). Of course, it can also serve a myriad of other purposes or endings, but a conclusion to that particular seed still takes place.

This narrative cycle can also be attributed to other natural cycles. I believe this is why we developed this form when we first began telling each other stories. I am sure I could find anthropological, sociological, rhetoric, and other academic data to support and disprove my thought, but it is just a working theory so whatever.

While this structure has been used for some time, like the Hero’s Journey, it should not be used as a “paint by numbers” method. Instead, this structure is best used as a tool to measure your own creation against. Does your story seem to have this various ebbs and flows? Rises and drops? Does it contain these elements in some part? More importantly, does your story have a structure a reader can follow?

Obviously, there have been a few great authors who have been able to set aside structure and do incredible things, but even these extraordinary individuals still had an understanding of basic writing and story telling. So, if you believe yourself capable of morphing and modifying your narrative in such a way, I highly suggest first figuring out why you want to do that and if it really fits your story. Or you know do whatever the hell you want, what do I know…

The Sentry Gathers…

A Life Worth Remembering

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Rather poetic considering that Mr. Franklin managed to both with his time on Earth. I don’t know if I fully agree with his sentiment as few will probably ever manage to achieve such a high status. However, I do not believe those lives are not worth remembering. I know what Ben was trying to say, but even a life not necessarily written down in the great annals and books of history will still have some impact that will be known and remembered after their life is done even if just by a close few. Still, I wonder how much this fear of “mortality” drives individuals particularly those in the creative and inventive fields?  Why are we afraid of being forgotten by the world?

Without being too self-centered, I have always dreamed of seeing my name on a book and having it read at least a few individuals. I don’t think that is because of any desire to be immortal, but maybe I am not fully aware of my own motivations. Either way, Mr, Franklin’s words still carry some truth. After all, only greatness, both good and bad, seem to inspire songs and stories, so perhaps the pursuit of it is not so bad as long as it is somewhat tempered (in my opinion). Something to consider as we live our lives and go after our dreams…

The Sentry Gathers…

It’s Always A Girl – II

I have never been good at expressing myself. Don’t know if it’s my slightly introverted personality (I tend to run the gamut of the introvert/extrovert spectrum) or my slight speech impediment or maybe my dislike of other people knowing my emotional/mental states. I am betting on the last one, but again who really knows. Of course, this unwillingness to really express myself verbally did not exactly help with making friends, much less with wooing, or even talking to, the fairer sex. How I befriended anyone in high school is a mystery that still baffles me. Writing, however, was a medium that I excelled in, at least in high school.

I could not speak exactly what I wanted to, but given a pen and a blank sheet and the odd sentences and thoughts in my head flowed into a sense of coherence and intelligence. I went from babbling buffoon to something resembling a confident human being; on paper. I performed well in school, partly due to my writing, but there was never really a way for it to help my non-academic life, other than letting me charge large sums of money for writing essays and completing projects for others. Well, it was not helpful until the day I finally wrote a letter to a girl. I know horribly cliche and pathetic, but trust me that for me, especially at that age, that was a huge move.

Her name was Maricela. I had known her since the 2nd grade and had been friends with her since 6th grade. What can I say? I was a young stupid kid who thought girls were weird and gross till middle school. Funny enough the way we became closer friends was because another friend of mine was interested in her and was using me as a way in. Obviously, they did not work out, but for some reason she and I ended up becoming close friends. We would spend time with each other and have random conversations about every imaginable topic, but there was no interest beyond friendship from either one of us. At least, until our junior/senior year of high school.

I became romantically interested in one of my best friends and I had no idea how to tell her. Unfortunately, it was a mute point as a mutual acquaintance was also interested in her and she was still hung up on an ex. Even worse, we were each other’s confidantes. So we were the people that we would have discussed the idiotic, teenage angst bullshit we were both experiencing. It was difficult, but eventually we both realized what the other was going through. (We were both pretty good at reading people. I was better and probably still am but that is not truly relevant to this…) I knew what advice she really needed and I also knew I was probably the only one that would give it to her. However, I, as usual, was a bit of a pansy back then and instead wrote out what I wanted to say. I will not post the letter here nor will I repeat what I wrote because that particular piece is not just my story. The overall gist was that I understood what she was going through and that she needed to finally confront both her unresolved feelings and the guy they were attached to. I told her to go for it because she would never be content until she could get some sense of closure from her past. Basically, I told her to go after the guy she still had feelings for, so yes I know how much of an ass I am…I mean was.

The next day she took my advice to heart and went after what she wanted. It did not end quite the way she wanted, but it ended which was enough for her. No, I did not date her after that moment, at least not immediately which is a whole another story to discuss. What I took away from this event was how much impact what I had written had on a person. It was the first time that I had seen a non-academic and tangible effect of something I had created. To be honest, that event had more of an impact on me than the eventual relationship with her did; a positive effect anyways. Writing did not get me the girl (yet) but it gave me a chance that had not existed before.

This story of Maricela and writing is not quite over but will be by next week. Hope you enjoy it.

The Sentry Gathers…

Dinner Conversations

For the past few years, a childhood friend and I have had an nearly annual meet up for coffee, drinks, a meal, and long, winding conversation. No topic is off limits, but somehow girls, relationships, old memories, and our current and future goals always crop up. Last night was no different.

After a few laughs and mentions of girls we are interested in at the moment, the conversation turned to what we are doing with our lives and where we want to go and be in 5, 10, 20 years from now. My friend is in a unique position. He has a pretty good job where he makes pretty decent money and there is definite room for advancement. However, he wants to pursue another opportunity which will allow him to be in an environment and field he is truly passionate about. Of course, this is dependent upon him getting in and willing to live meagerly for a few years without the certainty provided by his current position. He is not afraid of hard work or having to cut back his lifestyle. What does concern him is complacency and uncertainty of what is ahead. He put it best in his own words. “I feel like I am in a car just driving down the road with no clear idea of where I am going or where to even begin to get somewhere.”

I can relate to his experience. Not the having a good job part or even the interested in academic pursuit part. No, I understand his fear of complacency and uncertainty. After recently ending my own academic endeavors (for the moment at least), I am now in that wonderful limbo of not knowing where to go or how to get somewhere. To mirror his quote: “I am not even in the car. I am at home on a Friday night messing with my phone hoping that something pops up for me to do.”

While I know that this will pass with time and effort, I just want to, at least, get on the road and start going somewhere. My friend and I are both still relatively young and know that life holds many obstacle and opportunities before us, but we just would like to know that we are in the right direction toward something of value and substance. Or at the very least to know where to start. I suppose that anxiety and uncertainty are part of life’s experiences, yet it is not easy to be in the middle of it.

To what the road holds. May we all at least be traveling forward.

The Sentry Gathers…

The Hero’s Journey

The Hero’s Journey is the more common name given to the theoretical framework, or monomyth, developed by Joseph Campbell. It is rather extensive and based upon years of study of psychology, myths from various cultures, and literature, so my short analysis here will be a disservice of Campbell’s work. If any of what is discussed here interests you, or if you have any interest in narrative storytelling, I highly recommend reading Campbell’s book, Hero With A Thousand Faces, for a more detailed account of his work. Keep in mind that the book is an academic work so the writing will be a bit dry and heavily rely on research and observation. However, I still think you should at least give it a read because once you finish it, you will find how heavily it has influenced a lot of your favorites books, movies, television programs, and pretty much all media. As well, you can look here and here for a quick explanation of the highlights of Campbell’s ideas.

In essence, Campbell theorized that all myths and stories followed a specific pattern that mirrored and prescribed an individual’s own developmental path. The path taken through the hero’s journey requires several steps but the overall procedure is for an individual to be called to action, be granted some form of “supernatural” aid, cross over into the unknown, go through various trials and self realizations, achieving apotheosis, and finally returning to their original home a changed, hopefully better, person. Once again, this is a very quick overview of Campbell’s work and I apologize for butchering it so. Campbell is not without his critics, as most academics are. Still, the narrative structure that Campbell discusses can be applied to various media beyond the literature it was originally intended for. Most famously it was a major influence in the narrative of the original Star Wars film taking on a point by point basis of the “Hero’s Journey” for its story. A more recent example, the independent video game Journey, which I highly recommend, is essentially an interactive exploration of the “Hero’s Journey”.

So, why does this academic exploratory structure still exist considering its age and criticism? Perhaps, it is because even with the various cultural, socioeconomic, gender, [insert other item], [insert other item] differences among us at our core the human experience is very similar. We all have an innate desire to learn and explore from the world around us. We wish to be challenged by adversaries, circumstances, even our own insecurities and personalities. We want to grow and develop and change ourselves and our environment for the better. We all want to find meaning and purpose in life. Is it really so surprising that the stories we tell would have these elements within them? After all, aren’t stories how we teach others and learn ourselves? While the individual elements of a story are interesting and worthy of note, it is the underlying messages and journey that is truly important.

The Sentry Gathers…

(Two quick notes: 1. I am not suggesting that Campbell is not without criticism/problems or that individual cultural narratives should be treated the same. I am merely suggesting that narratives serve a similar purpose and that having a tool to study them under such a light could be useful. 2. Campbell’s theory should be used more as an exploratory tool or analysis and not as a rigid format or method upon which to create narratives. It is best used as a skeleton in that if it has at least some of these elements the story will probably be relatable across various individuals and demographics.)

The Dream Life

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I am sure you have probably seen this image making the rounds and with good reason. I, for one, have always found inspiration in Calvin and Hobbes and its simple and poignant view of the world.  Frankly, I know that Watterson’s words are hard, perhaps impossible, to live by but at the same time it serves as something to aspire to. His life serves as inspiration. A man who left his mark with only the goal of entertaining and philosophizing a bit. I hope to one day be able to follow in his footsteps. It won’t be easy and it will be a daily struggle, but I know I will be the better for it.

Thanks for the advice, memories, and companionship, Calvin and Hobbes. Thank you, Mr. Watterson, for being brave enough to put your voice out into the world.

The Sentry Gathers…