Anesthetized

October 23, 2009

Working on a tedious passage of the story’s step outline, my brain needed a little visual stimulation, so I grabbed my laptop and left my home office to go check out a local establishment here in my new ‘hood that advertised good espresso and free Wi-Fi Internet.

As I entered, the atmosphere looked nice enough, but the lack of a/c gave me pause (it’s about 93 degrees here today).  A bevy of big ceiling fans made it tolerable though, so I ordered an Americano and cranked up the laptop.

As I did so, the shop’s sound system loudly pumped out its “background” music. Some instrumental piece with a middle eastern flavor. A tolerable tune, but tediously repetitive.

Well, no biggie; how long can the song be, right?

So, I tuned it out in my mind and got busy on the story.

Good coffee, by the way.

Ten minutes later, I suddenly noticed that the song was still going. And it didn’t seem to build or fade or change keys or …

What the… Could it be stuck in a loop? How would that even be possible, unless they’re using a turntable record player? But surely it was stuck.

So I began paying close attention to the song…

Well, I’ll be hornswaggled.  Indeed, it seems just too repetitive to be anything more than the same three or four bars of music repeating, and there was this little, tiny hiccup in the rhythm that could very well be the skip point causing the song passage loop endlessly.

I should say something about it to the employee, I thought. 

But, no; there’s a line and she looks busy and what if I’m wrong about the song looping because what if it’s supposed to repeat endlessly in this trancelike way and I’m just being culturally ignorant to not recognize that and then I’d be insulting her to tell her that her music is “stuck”and besides I’m here to work on the script, not stand in a line so I can whine about the background music, which is now utterly in the FOREGROUND of my mind, by the way, and doesn’t seem to be bothering anyone else…

So, okay, I’ll push it out of my mind.

I’ve got brains. I’ve got willpower. I’ll employ both to ignore it and get back to work. 

Which I did.

45 minutes later, I awakened to the realization that the damned song was still playing. 

And, yes, it was the same three incessant, mind-numbing bars.

I looked around, wondering how it’s possible that no other patrons—nor even the employee behind the counter, who had been there the entire time, and who knows for how long she’d been hearing the song before I got here—seemed the least bit conscious of this never-ending musical faucet drip. How is this possible!?

Had they become completely anesthetized to it?

Those brainless sheep!

Of course, before I spent too much time pondering how stupid everyone must be to remain so unaware of this diabolical melodic torture technique (which was probably also insidiously pumping subliminal anti-American messages into our subconscious, right?), I had to first humbly (sheepishly?) recognize that I had been able to work on the story for nearly an hour without any conscious awareness of it either.

Like the proverbial slow-boiled lobster, I thought.

Which made me smile.  Because that’s at the heart of this story I’m birthing—how we all become anesthetized to an evolving or devolving social situation when it happens gradually—how we can come to shrug off a condition that would enrage us if thrown suddenly upon us—how we are numbed into a state of resignation when a distasteful situation is fed to us initially in an eye dropper, and then in tiny sips before more lethally poisoning our system with big gulps of it, until utterly drowning us in torrents of bile—how we’re unhappy about the bile, yet willingly stomaching it when it’s gently morphed its way into being the status quo.

Made me smile?  No, not the bile, and not the slow poisoning of a passive society, but the symbolic significance of the anesthetization that I just went through with that endless musical loop. It showed me how easy it is to fall prey to it—how, even when I was conscious of the situation, I felt pressured by social mores to not make a scene: to take action.

I could use this in the story.

As soon as that blasted song-loop stops!

So, like my protagonist Joe Cameron, I set aside my work to pick up the cause of the people—to save them from becoming boiled lobsters.

“May I help you, sir?”

“Yes, m’am. First, I’d like to say that your coffee is very good.”

“Thank you,” she said, glancing at the tip jar.

“Second, I have to ask … is this song really so repetitive, or could it be … stuck?”

She looked confused for a moment—maybe the word “repetitive” wasn’t in her vocabulary?—and then tilted an ear toward the ceiling, listening. 

After less than five seconds, she nodded. “I think you’re right.”

She disappeared backstage and stopped the song. I heard a collective sigh of relief throughout the shop. 

Oh, wait.  It was just me.

But it felt collective, if that counts.

I guess they really had all been numbed into ignorance. 

Wow.

A hero’s sacrifices often go unnoticed, I figured.  Yep, they may never know the great good that I’ve done for them.  Still, I felt pretty good about taking a stand—about becoming a shepherd instead of a sheep.

That’s the good news. Unfortunately, my social activism had plucked me…

Out of the boiling pot, and into the skillet:

So now, the repetitive instrumental music is gone, replaced with Elton John’s Greatest Hits, which the employee must be very fond of, because it’s playing even louder than the preceding 50-minute-long instrumental loop that I’d just rescued her from.

Like replacing one tyrannical form of government for another.

Yep.

So, with Elton blaring as the FOREGROUND atmosphere of the shop as I write this story, don’t be surprised if there’s a scene in the movie in which a crocodile rocks a tiny dancer on a Saturday night until it’s knocked out by a candle in the wind thrown by some honky cat called Benny who then jets outa’ there before anyone lets the sun goes down on him.

And we CUT TO…

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Ripped from the Headlines

August 31, 2009

Speaking of news clips, I’m finding a gold mine of story-relevant material from an issue of the Trinidad Express newspaper, sent to me by G. Anthony Joseph, who is presently in Trinidad working on a different production. It could take me a long time to make it through the paper at the rate I’m going. Here, for example, is a single page from the August 9 issue of the Sunday Express:

Sundy-Xpress-Pg

As you can see by my notations, every single article provided me something useful — information about police and the public perception of police, info about politics, murder rate statistics, cultural differences, and more. For instance, let’s start with…

This article about a murdered dentist:

Dentist-murdered

It caught my eye for a couple of reasons. First, it underscores the alarming — and worsening — murder rate that is scorching the reputation of this Caribbean paradise. It notes that this murder pushed the year’s toll to 325. To understand the significance of that number, consider that:

  • The murder rate represents a 600% increase in roughly a decade (a total of 97 murders in 1998).
  • This latest murder puts Trinidad & Tobago on the way to 650 murders by the end of the year. Pretty shocking when you consider that its population is about 1.2 million. By comparison, the population of Los Angeles is roughly 9 times greater, and will likely end the year with less than 300 murders. To equal the per capita murder rate of Trinidad & Tobago, LA would need 5,300 murders this year!
  • Trinidad & Tobago’s per capita murder rate is even higher than that of LA South Central’s Compton City, which in 2006 was rated by the Morgan Quitno Corporation as the most dangerous city in the US.

Second, the article demonstrates a cultural difference in how news is reported in Trinidad compared to what you find in a US newspaper: greater graphic detail. The article describes how the dentist was shot three times in the face, and that he “died on the spot, remaining in a sitting position with his head slumped back into his body was removed from the scene.” It paints a stark visual in the mind’s eye — useful for a filmmaker, but puts the fear of God in the average reader, I suspect.

As a writer, the article interested me because I’m writing about a Caribbean cop trying to make a difference in his country amidst rising crime. So, here’s an example of what officers deal with there, and how the people react to it. The press has a central part in the story too, so it’s wise for me to get familiar with the way it is actually reported there. Then, there’s this real shocker article about…

Guns, ammo, and drugs secreted in a police station ceiling!

guns-stashed-police-stationThat’s right — stashed away in the ceiling inside the office of the senior officer at a police station. The article is full of factual information I can use as a writer (such as police division rolls and titles, like Crime Intelligence Unit and Special Anti-Crime Unit, plus officer titles and roles). The article also underscores the current issue of rising public distrust of the police. Some citizens suspect officers of collusion with criminals or of engaging directly in criminal activities, such as this illegal drugs and weapon cache inside a senior officer’s office implies.

The brainstorming synaptications of my cranium also picked up on an interesting side note of the story, about how business at the station “…continued as usual despite the resulting investigation,” with members of the public being “allowed inside to make their complaints and queries.” Why did that capture my attention? It occurred to me that, were this type of event fictionalized into a story, the writer could use that “police business as usual” activity to serve as a smokescreen, allowing the guilty officer to sneak out further illegal contraband through a member of the public) under the guise of coming in to register a complaint) before the crime investigation unit discovered it. And speaking of police, there’s also this other article about…

Hero cop in murder-suicide:

cop-in-murder-suicideThe article is generally reporting the reactions of loved ones at a police officer’s funeral. Many things caught my writer’s eye in this one. First, I found it to be a strange oversight that the article barely mentioned the woman that this policeman murdered before turning the gun on himself. The cop was apparently considered a hero, sure, but the article either has some serious bias or journalistic oversight in focusing entirely on the sad loss of the police officer… who (did I mention?) MURDERED a woman! So the apparent bias created a bit of mystery.

Second, I found myself drawn into the story because of the way that the reporter revealed some intrigue and drama surrounding the murder-suicide. For instance, one mourner wonders “why wasn’t the nation there for him during his darkest hour?” What was that dark hour? Why was it dark? We get a hint, nothing more, implied by a quote from one of the officers at the funeral: “Why can’t systems be put in place so that a person doesn’t have to go through the legal system to get a chance for promotion?” So, does this mean that the suicidal cop was so distressed over his inability to get a promotion that he murdered someone? More likely, the promotion trouble was but one trial he was facing…

We also get a look here into the real-world grief reaction of a fellow officer who “refused to knowledge that James had died after the incident took place.” We think of law officers and soldiers as stoic, but they mourn just like the rest of us do. In fact, the bonds between fellow officers is surely stronger than that of coworkers in most other professions. After all, most of us go our entire lives without being shot at or purposely stepping into the line of danger, which soldiers and cops may face daily. The shared knowledge of that risk would draw a team together in a meaningful, if unspoken, way.

Third, the article’s suggestion of seemingly insurmountable bureaucracy preventing due promotions provides me a very specific example of something I’m trying to create in the story — the way onerous government processes make the ordinary business of living unnecessarily difficult. Just a couple more real-world examples, and I’ll be set.

All good stuff for a writer to think about.

And from this final article…

students-invest-ur-moneyMostly what captured my attention here was a quotation from the speech of the electricity commission’s chairman, Clement Imbert, speaking to a group of children at a graduation awards ceremony. He said, “Some things that are important to living well cannot be taught that must be learned,” indicating that experience can be as important to one’s development as their formal education. Whether or not you are a writer, it’s a quotation we can all appreciate and learn from.

All that from just one page of a newspaper!

Of course, the struggle that just about any writer faces is finding the balance between research and the writing itself. Between libraries, newspapers, live interviews, and the Internet, there is no end to the amount of research one can do… but eventually, one’s gotta stop researching and start writing the story.  🙂


Positing a Political Riptide

August 1, 2009

Politics and politicians are a bold thread in the fabric of this story, influencing the culture, the opinions of the public, and occasionally directly thwarting our protagonist’s good intentions.  This thread is now up on the story structuring board: Adding the politic story threadWith the exception of a few key political instigators, such as Joe Cameron’s older brother, the way I plan to treat the politics (elections, governmental structure) for the majority of the story is as a backdrop, rather than an overt storyline. I expect it to be more of a pervasive presence throughout, and often the implied root cause of many of the country’s socioeconomic woes.  It will act as a symbol … like a riptide or undertow: a dangerous, often subliminal undercurrent that influences the masses.

Further in the dramaturgical foreground is the human element – the elected officials who collectively act as an antagonistic force, frustrating Joe Cameron’s efforts. The politicians’ rhetoric and actions often appear benign or even helpful to the public, yet, like a riptide, is actually dragging the citizens away from solid ground, and into a disastrous future.

To the fore of the storyline are “The Instigators.” These are the key political antagonists, whom we will know by name. They are lead by Joe’s elder brother, the story’s primary antagonist.

One fun twist – I’m not yet sure how bold or subtle an element this will be – is “The Exceptions” – those government officials who want to serve with integrity, but are greatly outnumbered and generally too frightened to speak out against their less honorable equals.  However, far into the second act, their importance to the plotline leaps out when they are galvanized by Joe’s unexpected influence in a surprising story twist . . . not to be revealed yet.  😉