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The Backstory on “Heroes We Need”

ChaucerCanterbury

I came up with “The Heroes We Need” out of a moment of despair.

I’m generally a pretty happy guy. I tend to be optimistic. I’m not big on negativity. But sometimes (especially right before I go to sleep) I start to feel downhearted. Lately these nights have become more common. I’ve graduated college with excellent marks, but so far it’s been two months and I still haven’t managed to land a job. When I left school I wanted to get a job in my field. I wanted to work with either writing or video production. Failing that, I wanted to at least be working in a communication’s related position. Now, after weeks of silence from the places I’ve applied to, I’ll accept just about any job that will take me. I try to stay optimistic. I’ll find something eventually. But at night, in the dark, when I’m alone with my thoughts, it can be hard to stay cheerful.

Fortunately for me I’m not completely alone. I have my beautiful wife at my side. So one night, when I began to despair of every succeeding in life, I had someone to talk to.

What was funny is that my despair on that evening had been sparked by something good. Iron Man 3 had just arrived at the local dollar theatre, and I had been itching to see it. My wife wasn’t too interested so I saw it without her while she visited friends. The movie was excellent and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Since it’s a Marvel movie I naturally sat through the credits to see the bonus scene at the end. I watched the wall of names slowly crawl up the screen.  All the actors and hairdressers and CGI modelers filled me with awe at how huge a production it is to make a movie. One chunk of names in particular caught my eye. It was about two dozen people, all under the label of “Production Assistants.”

It made me think about the multiple openings for a Production Assistant that I had applied to, without success. Then I thought about how probably all of those two dozen people listed there, people who had somehow managed to find a position working for a huge blockbuster film, wanted to someday make movies of their own. They probably wanted to be producers and directors themselves. Just like me. The only problem is that I knew that most, if not all, of them would probably never make it.

So what does that say about my chances?

Here I am, jobless and without prospects, with only my dreams of making movies to push me on. Why should I believe that I’ll ever even get the chance to prove myself? I could see myself years from now, a middle aged man with a sensible career and a closet full of broken dreams. It hurt. But it felt infinitely more likely than my dreams coming true.

All this went through my head in the theatre, and visited me again as I tried to sleep. My wife knew something was wrong, and it doesn’t take much effort from her to get me to spill the beans. After listening to fears she asked me a very important question. She asked me what I would want to do with my life if I couldn’t make movies.  I thought long and hard about the prospect. What do I really want to do? What is my motivation here? I want to make movies because I want to tell stories. Good stories, grand stories, stories that inspire. I wanted to tell stories that would make the world a better place, and I wanted to do it through the medium of film. So if film wasn’t an option, how else could I fulfill my dream?

There was a reason that I registered for a Communications degree. It was because I wanted to tell people things they needed to know. I wanted to tell them about the poverty that exists in the world, and how much good we can do with only a small sacrifice on our part. I wanted to tell people about how you can be a Christian and also be an intellectual. I wanted to wipe out misconceptions and ignorance. I imagined myself as a speaker, working for an organization like World Vision and giving presentations to crowds about what they needed to know.

So that’s what I told my wife. If I couldn’t make movies then I wanted to make a career of telling people things they needed to know. Things that would change people’s lives and make the world a better place.

So she asked me why I couldn’t do that right now.

I have a camera. I know how to edit. Why not get a message off to the world? Why not tell a story that inspires? The problem was that I had no idea what to talk about. What would my message be? What kind of story could I tell with only myself and my camera?

I didn’t have a clue.

So my wife suggested we pray about it. She said that maybe I should make a deal with God. Now of course God isn’t a genie you can make bargains with. Still, the idea had merit. I prayed to God, saying “If you decide to give me an idea by Sunday, then I promise I’ll work as long and as hard as I need to in order to have the video done by Saturday.” I left it at that. If God didn’t want to give me an idea that’s fine. He’s God after all. But if He did then I better keep up my end of things.

When Sunday came an idea came with it. The sermon at church was about the story of Naaman the leper, who was healed by the prophet Elisha. As I was listening I remembered reading about some priest who had given his life to help lepers. Then I thought about a nurse I’d read about who worked with lepers all her life and how hardly anyone knows her name, even though she was a real hero.

Then it clicked together.

I wanted to tell stories that would inspire? Well there’s no need to make them up. The world is filled with stories of heroes. Their stories are far greater and more inspiring than any story I could come up with myself. Anyone can write a story where the hero acts selflessly and sacrifices his life for others. The reader can say “That’s easy for a fictional character, but I live in the real world.” On the other hand, if you point to the life of a man like Father Damien, what can we say? It can be done. It has been done. The only question is why the story isn’t told more often.

It reminded me of something C. S. Lewis wrote about the Medieval authors. Most of them didn’t care much about originality, and openly took previous author’s stories and simply retooled them.  Lewis wrote:

“If you had asked Lazamon or Chaucer ‘Why do you not make up a brand-new story of your own?’ I think they might have replied (in effect) ‘Surely we are not yet reduced to that?’ Spin something out of one’s own head when the world teems with so many noble deeds, wholesome examples, pitiful tragedies, strange adventures, and merry jests which have never yet been set forth quite so well as they deserve?…Why make things for oneself like the lonely Robinson Crusoe when there is riches all about you to be had for the taking?”

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Dream Art

I had an odd dream last night. Not much odder than most dreams are, and it’s not interesting enough for me to bore you by describing it. However, the dream reminded me of something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, but never quite seen realized. How do you artistically express a dream?

Dreams are weird. They feel real while you’re in them, but that’s only because you’re unconscious. You don’t know you’re in a dream, and if you realize you are then you typically wake up. When you do wake all the preposterous events that occurred during the dream come to life. Your living room has not somehow merged with your grandmothers house (only with pink paint, and it turns into some kind of bank at some point), you would never actually go to school in your underwear without realizing it somewhere between your front door and the sidewalk, and (hopefully) no one in real life would ever try to steal your teeth. What’s strange is that such obvious facts were not at all apparent during the dream itself. Dreaming is such a unique and strange experience. It’s unlike anything we encounter during our waking hours. Which, unfortunately, makes it incredibly difficult to describe. We’ve all tried to tell someone about a dream we once had, and usually it turns into a ramble of half forgotten imagery with a nonsensical and boring plot. Describing a dream is typically dull; however, dreams themselves are charged with emotion and spectacle. The problem is that there is no way to convey that emotion except with words. In a dream even a pink plastic flamingo can be charged with terrifying aspect; but try explaining that to your roommate who you woke up at 3:00 AM with your screaming.

Tolstoy (I think, you might want to double check that) described art as a means of communicating emotion. An artist feels something, and creates a work of art to express that feeling, whether that’s through sculpture or music or paintings or even comic books. If the artist is successful then when someone experiences that art they too will feel a bit of what the artist felt. Dreams, being such emotionally powerful experiences, prove especially difficult to express artistically. It’s one thing to try and capture joy itself in a painting, and it’s another to capture joy in the form of a small dog who turns into a pair of living slippers halfway through the experience.

In short, dreams are weird.

Since I love the medium of film and video I’ve been especially interested in how to capture the experience of dreaming in that format. I’ve seen many movies and TV shows with “dream sequences” but they never match up to the real thing. One problem is that they seem too real. A camera picks up all the detail available in a scene, but in dreams the only details that exist are the ones we’re currently experiencing. Dreams typically don’t have fully realized backgrounds and detailed sets. They’re fuzzy, liquid, shifting from one thing to another rapidly. So when a movie shows someone’s dream and I can see blades of grass in the lawn, cracks in the sidewalk, bark on the trees, etc., it becomes that much less dreamlike. I can think of one dream sequence where the person in question suddenly found themselves in a black void, with furniture and people appearing out of it depending on what was happening at the time. That comes closer, but is still off. How many dreams are in a black void, after all? I complain but I have no real solution. A scene must be filmed somewhere, after all.

Perhaps someday we’ll be able to record our dreams. I’ve heard people describe some far off “dream television” where we can watch people’s dreams as they happen. But as someone who makes videos for a hobby I have to say that a TV just won’t work. If we ever do develop the ability to enjoy other’s dreams it will have to be a full body (and full brain) experience, just like the real thing itself. Any other medium does not seem capable of matching up. A dream doesn’t inspire emotions like a piece of art does; it is emotion, combined with sound and image and touch and smell. And yet, dreams don’t really involve hearing, seeing, feeling, or smelling anything. It’s a purely mental experience, and one we can’t easily replicate physically.