Sunday, 22 January 2017

Ungracious in Victory: 20th Jan 2017

In his review of Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone, fellow fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss wrote: 'I wish I had written this.' I get this feeling with certain things too, often songs. For example, I wish I had written the Billy Joel classic 'She's Always a Woman,' with its soaring melody and bittersweet lyrics. Similarly, I'd love to have come up with the driving modulations of Alice Cooper's 'Poison', and what an unusual album that would have been.

One thing that I don't wish I had written, however, is Donald Trump's inauguration speech. When he was sworn into office on Friday, he gave the minority of active voters who chose him exactly what they wanted: an anti-establishment rally to start as he means to go on. I'm not saying this is necessarily a bad thing; a friend of mine made the point that Bernie Sanders' inauguration speech would have had just the same sentiment. Despite their political polarization, both Trump and Sanders garnered political pedigree from voters who have grown dissatisfied, even distrustful, of the establishment.

However, I can't help feeling that Bernie Sanders, or Gary Johnson, or Jill Stein, would have shown more grace in their inauguration speeches, had they been the successful outsider instead of Trump. We can only imagine how the billionaire would have reacted had he lost the election - my money was on hiring Ashton Kutcher to tell America that Trump had been a joke candidate the whole time, rather than admit true defeat. But the only thing worse than a sore loser is a sore winner, and this feeling permeated the first address of President Trump.

At the start of the speech, he thanked every living former president, and the surname 'Clinton' hung rather poignantly in the air. Then, in what seemed like the next breath, he told his public that he would be taking power away from Washington DC and giving it to them. An inspiring message, no doubt, to those who support Trump and his ideals, but it's hard not to see the insult implied in this statement, just minutes after thanking Barack Obama.

But the one thing that stands out most to me from his speech is arrogance. His refusal to acknowledge anything that has come before him, to see himself as genius, innovator and independent. Not only is this conceited, it is also untrue. In his life, Donald Trump has belonged to the Democratic, Reform and Republican parties, each time using their political clout to gain a platform. In his speech, Trump called his victory 'a historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before.'
Is he perhaps forgetting the 1960s, and the civil rights movement?
Or perhaps Abraham Lincoln's stand for social equality in the 1860s?

Barack Obama has many admirable qualities, but among the most significant is humility - something every good leader should possess. The modesty to accept help, and appreciate those who have helped you. The grace to acknowledge that an achievement as big as this is not simply a one-man show. If his successor wants to be a populist leader, he has a lot to learn: he must appreciate not only the needs of those around him, but also their crucial role in obtaining and maintaining the power he now holds.

"When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom."
--Proverbs 11:2 - Link to a transcript of the full speech, courtesy of the Washington Post

Sunday, 15 January 2017

In Response to Turning 21


Three years ago today, by law,
My government decided I'm no longer to be called
A child.

Three orbits of a rocky orb's rotations round a star.
One thousand and ninety-six rotations on an axis.
Twenty-six thousand, three hundred and four rotations of a minute hand.
One change of batteries.

A change of job.
A change of heart.
A change of living situation.
A change of facial hair formation.

Variations on themes.
Mistakes, then repetitions: memes.

Gifts given, gifts received.
Ideas thrown away, ideas conceived.

Lessons learned, and facts forgotten.
Love denied and grudge begotten.

A spring of new light, new love, new life.
A stream of new light, new love, new life.
A river of new light, new love, new life.
An Ocean.

Devotion. Devolution. Revolution. Reparation.
The new defining of a nation.
From first to last rotation.

Today, by law,
Another government decided I'm no longer to be called
A child.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

On Films, Trailers and Passengers

WARNING: Contains spoilers for the film Passengers

My English degree has afforded me many luxuries: a creative dissertation, plenty of time to be part of societies, and a like-minded group of friends with whom to compare notes and discuss texts. But perhaps most surprising has been the result of my Screen Shakespeare module: an enhanced appreciation for the art of film. Don't get me wrong, I have often applauded at a well-constructed shot, or shaken my head at an excess of exposition in a script; but I think now I appreciate the endeavour - the act of conveying themes, messages, symbols and stories to a mass audience through a combination of many different art forms - a lot more than I used to. It's also made me more cynical, better at picking up where a filmmaker could have put across their message more effectively. This is where trailers come in.

A film trailer should be like a book cover. Using elements of image and story, it shows the viewer enough to get them hooked, convinces them to spend their money. Unfortunately, in recent years, certain genres of film (looking at you, Marvel & DC) have developed a habit of showing a little too much in their trailers. Even teasers have abandoned their original definition; no longer do they showcase the tone and characters of the film without giving anything away. Sometimes it feels like editors have a bet to see who can put the most explosions in their teaser. So, when I went to see Passengers, I was fully expecting the star-crossed conspiracy implied in the trailers and other promotional material. 'There's a reason they woke up' boasts the bus advert, promising a heart-stopping thriller on board the Space Titanic. The film did not deliver, but I'm sort of glad it didn't.

There is a reason Jim (Chris Pratt) woke up. There is a reason Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) woke up. But these reasons are different. Jim is woken up due to a fault in the ship's mechanics. He spends a year alone, and when he comes across Aurora in her sleep pod, he obsesses over her. Reading her books, watching her video log, slowly he falls in love with her. And then comes the second reason. After a month of wrestling with his morals, and even coming close to suicide, Jim deliberately wakes Aurora up. To clarify, there are 90 years to go until the ship reaches its destination, and waking her up means she must spend the rest of her life on the ship.

The film has received mixed reviews, and there seems to be a theme among the negative ones - not many critics can get past the cruelty of Jim's decision. I do not understand this: of course it is cruel, and I understand the problems it raises concerning consent. But this decision changes the trailer-watcher's perception of the film entirely. No longer is it a tale of suspense and conspiracy, but a human story about emotions, about a complex relationship with a dark secret at its heart. It still thrilled me, but I also found it thought-provoking, disturbing and heartwarming at the same time. A brilliant film.

I hope Passengers helps to change the game; to take trailers out the other side of showing too much, and start making the viewer question what they are seeing. Will this be just another explosion-fest with CGI sprinkles on top? Or is there something they're not telling me?

Sunday, 1 January 2017


My principal resolution for 2016 was to cut down on meat. Three months later, I was vegetarian, and as we swim desperately from the whirlpool of last year and collapse on the shore of 2017, I remain so. I'm stronger and healthier than I've ever been, and - give or take the smell of frying bacon - I really don't miss meat all that much. So I win at new year's resolutions. The meat in my life has been successfully and permanently cut down. But what about this year? How do I improve at something I've already won?

Like with any half-decent gravy, the key is consistency. Despite my devotion to the High Temple of Soy Mince, I have trouble sticking to certain other things, especially creative projects. My Google Drive is peppered with novel plans, ideas for plays, and a detailed strategy for if I ever reboot my YouTube channel. Most of these are either waiting in the wings to be started, or floating in limbo under the heading 'work in progress.'

I've always had an interest in novel-writing, since books have been my primary source of creative inspiration; but in the past few years, I've found it ever harder to commit to projects of that scale. Even if I don't get bored of them, the chances are that by the time I've made much progress, there will be another endeavour requiring and capturing my attention. And that's before we factor in work and university. In recent months, I have turned to poetry and short stories as an antidote to this creative quicksand: their short form requires less commitment. So far I've been pleased with the results, and I'd like to keep developing these skills. The scale and satisfaction of big undertakings, however, still calls to me.

So, my 2017 resolution is this: to stick at things, from brushing my teeth every day to writing a good dissertation. I have a few projects on the go already, and this blog is the newest - a way to keep tabs on my own consistency, while building up a public portfolio of writing, whatever form it may take. My aim is to write one post every week, and to combine creative content with thoughts and wonderings from everyday life.

A happy new year to you, and many thanks for your attention. I hope you enjoy what is to come!