Sunday, August 25, 2013

The one where I rant about ice cream and Skins



When I was a kid, I went to an ice cream shop advertising "Superman" ice cream. It was brightly colored ice cream, dyed in stripes of blue, red, and yellow, and it looked enticing. When I asked the girl behind the counter what flavor it was, she said, "Oh, it's just vanilla. We put the color in it so kids will want it."

I was reminded of this incident a few weeks ago, when I saw a special "shark week" ice cream being promoted at Cold Stone. The ice cream was sweet cream flavored, so I asked what it tasted like. Yep, plain old french vanilla.

Kids aren't the only ones fooled by a dazzling exterior. We're all guilty of judging a metaphorical book by its cover, of thinking that something must be good because it looks good, despite a lackluster interior. Are we really so gullible? Why do we get fooled so easily by the same product we've always had in a slightly more flashy package? Are we just too lazy to figure things out for ourselves? Or is there some part of our brain that tries to sort the genuinely good from the superficially good looking? Or do people who are accused of judging based on looks also being unfairly judged?

Thanks to the recommendation of a friend, I've started watching old episodes of the British TV show Skins. Most of the show's major characters are teens who spend their free time drinking, partying, and hooking up. But no character is a better drinker, party-er, or hooker-upper than Effy Stonem. Effy starts out the show as the quiet little sister of major character Tony, who leaves after season two to go to university. But as audience members, we know from the start that Effy is no angel. In the first scene of the first episode, Tony distracts their father as Effy sneaks back in after a long night of partying. At the end of the season, we see her overdose and land in the hospital, but that doesn't stop her or even slow her down. After Tony leaves, Effy officially takes center stage. Well, as much as you can in an ensemble drama where each episode focuses on a different character.

Effy isn't the kind of person I'd want to be friends with. I rarely drink or party, and she'd probably scare the daylights out of me on a regular basis. But there's something about her that fascinates me. Could it have anything to do with her stunning good looks? Effy isn't even the gender I'm normally attracted to, so it's not that. But Effy and I have a lot more in common than meets the eye.

When Effy finally comes into the spotlight, we first see her at the Stonem family dinner. She is quiet and reserved, her hair back in a ponytail, her face makeup-free, and wrapped in a bathrobe. But once her parents go to bed, another side of Effy comes out.

It's not surprising that Effy would act one way around her parents and another around her friends and companions. Don't we all do this? I know I do. People tend to think I'm like Effy at the family dinner -- quiet, reserved, and incapable of any trouble. But once I get around people I'm comfortable with, another side comes out. Maybe this is what drew me to Effy, rather than looks.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's stupid to make assumptions based on looks, but looks are important sometimes too. Maybe there's some connection between outward appearance and the way we perceive it -- maybe our subconscious is really trying to tell us about a gut feeling of something that we interpret as "hey, this looks good!"

And now I really want ice cream.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Why writers are (and should be) like sharks

A couple of weeks ago, nerds everywhere stopped the Batman versus Superman debate and came together for Shark Week. Before I started indulging in this week long geek fest, I was scared out of my mind of sharks. I could have added them to one of those lists of things that scare me. But no more. Thanks Shark Week!

Still, this one looks kind of creepy.

But sharks aren't exactly cuddly teddy bears either. When great whites are born, they immediately swim away from their mother because they know she's hungry -- and dangerous. Some species of shark babies even eat each other in the womb. Sharks learn to fend for themselves and kill or be killed before they're even born. Even mating is difficult for female sharks, who often have to be hunted and held down by the male. The female sharks I saw on some of these programs had huge scars down their backs as a result of this. And all for the preservation of the species.

Sometimes, being an unpublished, unagented writer feels the same way. We have to subject ourselves to pain and scarring -- getting our work critiqued, getting rejections, even major revisions or setbacks in a manuscript or hunt for a publisher -- just to keep going.

But sharks aren't just mindless killing machines. That's something else they have in common with writers -- both are tremendously misunderstood creatures. Sharks rarely attack humans with the intent of killing them. Most of the time, it's a case of mistaken identity. And the rare rogue sharks, the ones that go after humans and won't stop come hell or, um, high water...well, there are people who go after people like that too, are there not?

When I was in high school studying theater, our theater teacher told us that actors had to be like sharks.  Ever notice how sharks never stay still in the water like some fish do? They can't. They have to keep moving forward or they'll suffocate.

This applies to actors and pretty much everyone else, but especially to writers. We have to keep learning and growing, or our careers/crafts will come to a standstill. Remember a few paragraphs ago when I talked about baby sharks eating each other in the womb? Sharks are aggressive, but they sort of have to be. If they're not, they won't survive. Just like...writers!