July 10, 2013

The Amazing 'Avatar: The Last Airbender'

No, I'm not talking about the movie.  I'm talking about the fabulous series created by Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. Cue crazy screaming fan-girl!  Avatar: The Last Airbender, created for Nickelodeon, is single-handedly one of the best shows in recent history, animated or no.  You should watch it!

And I always love the behind-the-scenes look at things.  Avatar always was a bit of a mystery, as they didn't do much publicity for that, but I was thrilled ~ thrilled! ~ the other day to come across this video interview of the co-creators. I love to hear them talk about the creation of it and the craft of it.  I love how they went above and beyond, outside of the received notions of what good animated film should be.  I love that they based it on real-life martial arts imagery and ideas ~ the best art has a firm grounding in reality, as well as lots of imagination.

I just love it.  Here you are!

July 3, 2013

The Power of a Well-Told Story

From Two American Families (via the New Yorker)

If you screened Two American Families for Charles Murray and other social critics who believe that the decline of America’s working class comes from a collapse of moral values, social capital, personal responsibility, and traditional authority, they would probably be able to find the evidence they’d need to insulate themselves against the sorrow at the heart of the film.
But the intellectually honest response to this film is much less comforting, for the overwhelming impression in Two American Families is not of mistakes but of fierce persistence: how hard the Stanleys and Neumanns work, how much they believe in playing by the rules, how remarkable the cohesion of the Stanley family is, how tough Terry Neumann has to become. Both families devoutly attend church. Government assistance is alien and hateful to them. Keith Stanley says, “I don't know what drugs or even alcohol looks like.” In the words of Tammy Thomas, whose similar story is told in my new book, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, these people do what they’re supposed to do. They have to navigate this heartless economy by themselves. And they keep sinking and sinking.

This is George Packer in the New Yorker talking about a new PBS Frontline documentary Two American Families about the declining prosperity of two families in Milwaukee.  I would like to see it, though I know it’ll be heart-wrenching.

But what I love is Packer’s point about stereotyping vs. the power of detail.  It’s easy to insulate ourselves from pain and social responsibility through the power of reducing someone ~ or a whole class of people ~ to an idea.  We can dismiss it handily without feeling any remorse.  It’s the same way hunters can bear to kill living breathing animals and soldiers can murder other people.  The other is reduced to an object, a target, an idea.  Hunters and soldiers have to, or they couldn’t provide for or protect their families and their homelands.  It would tear them up and often does anyway.  But in a social context, it’s a choice, an easy out.

But I’m not here to soapbox you.  My point is the power of detail.  The way you reach people is through the immense empathy created by a well-told story.  Le mot juste, the exact right word, or words. That’s Packer’s point.  This documentary has the power, if you give it “an intellectually honest response,” to push you past your comfortable notions of who deserves and who is to blame and to see on an individual level the effects of forces beyond their control.

As a fiction writer and as someone who does marketing for my job, I am constantly reminded of the power of details, of a narrative, to move people.  Writing can be used for infinite good, for empathy, for love. That’s why I strive every day to get better at it.

July 2, 2013

Toxic People


So, some idiot that I hardly know on Facebook said something about getting tired of toxic comments and unfriending and unfollowing those people.  I thought it was an excellent idea ~ you should be free to associate with whom you want to and not with those you don’t.  It’s your prerogative.  I like the idea of removing toxic people from your life.  

So I said so.  I commented, “That’s what’s great about being an adult. You get to choose who you associate with.”  I should have known better.  He wrote, “Tamara, you’re outta here” and unfriended me.

It shouldn’t bother me, but of course it does.  That’s why I’m writing this blog post ~ to help purge it.  Must develop thicker skin. That said, I’m happy not to be friends with someone who takes good will and twists it.  Ironic, though, that he saved me the trouble of doing exactly what he was trying to do.

Have a happy life!

July 1, 2013

Putting Yourself Out There

One of the things I’ve realized through this blog and my writing is that, to be a public person, you have to share your life.  That is what people want from you.  They want to be let in.  They want to know how you spend your days and your triumphs and your failures and your good times and those times that make you blush to think about.  Sometimes they want to be uplifted, but sometimes they want to laugh at you.  It doesn’t really matter.  They want to be let in.

I guess I knew this on a visceral level, but I hadn’t realized the extent to which it is true.  It’s definitely true for TV celebrities, of course.  Reality TV.  We want to see all the intimate details of the latest star who’s famous for being famous.  We want to be let into their living rooms, their refrigerators, their bedrooms.  Certainly a human impulse.  I can imagine that the producers of reality television encourage them to reveal even more than they’re comfortable with.  And we the public want ever-increasing levels of intimacy.  And people are willing to give it, even at the sake of their dignity (sounding like an old fart here). 

But it’s also true of writers and artists.  You have to let people in in the same way if you become a celebrity, of course ~ and after all that’s one of the main reasons writers write and artists paint (see George Orwell’s Why I Write) ~ but you also have to let people in through your art.  By that I mean the best art often comes from that part of the artists that is painful, embarrassing, heart-wrenching.  You are transmuting the horrors and joys of your life into this aesthetic and emotional object, a journey for the viewer. 

People have a need for art, for writing, for an aesthetic rendering of their lives or someone else’s.  What we call the Touchy Feely Show (New Dimensions) was talking just today about that ~ about how narrative is not this idle thing but rather an ordering of our world that deeply impacts our lives.

And I guess, finally, what I was realizing is that being a public figure is a choice.  You have to put yourself out there.  You have to share.  Honesty and lived truth has to shine through your work because that’s how you reach people.  Which takes courage.