I realize I’ve been a bit remiss regarding this blog and, although I was itching to update this site with something, I had no real desire to actually create anything new. (But more on that later).
I began to dumpster dive my old documents, searching for something that could pass as a post without actually putting in any effort. Someone’s trash is another person’s new blog post.
Today’s treasure–although entirely self-involved and limited to my own writing experience–hopefully has a larger impact as a important writing exercise. As an assignment in my BFA class, we were asked to write a letter of intent regarding our project. We were told to write about our inspiration, our influences, our hopes and dreams…all that sort of hippy dippy nonsense that I–always more a craftsman than an artist–generally poo poo. But, reading back on my letter, I realize how much these first words on Alumnus bled into not only the script, but my entire writing philosophy:
Well this has been a long time coming—for almost eight years, I’ve been working on Alumnus. Only, back then I titled the stories Cliché and it wasn’t so much a feature length screenplay as a life long epic, an alternative world where I knew everything about the characters—from birth to death. With a dedication to detail only acceptable in sci-fi writers like Tolkein or Rowling, I explored everything about Mason Black and his friends…and enemies…and acquaintances…and their acquaintances…
I truly tried on every scenario with these characters, living up to the name Cliché. Alcoholic parent? Check. Nasty teenage rebellion stage? Check. Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll? Check, check, and then some. When I started, I was only thirteen or so, unironically finding Mace’s alcoholism artistic and interesting. However as I grew older and more confident in my writing, I realized how to warp the expectations of conventions and I eventually learned to play with storytelling to create what I hoped was something modern and mosaic.
Developing this story helped me develop as a writer. I’ve truly grown up with these characters, but I also feared I grew past Camden. Maybe Mason was nothing more than a glorified imaginary friend, aiding my self-discovery as an adult and as a writer.
But if that’s true then I wasted a whole bunch of time, dreaming about nothing. And I refuse to accept that. It is now time to leave the dreams behind, and get behind the desk. Now it’s time to commit everything to page, and do myself a favor and just write.
So, when I push aside all of the very intricate details such as graphology (Mace has a heavily looped g) and class roster ranked by physical appearance, what is the story of Alumnus about?
Alumnus is about human growth. I suppose the appropriate—albeit douche-y—word for it is bildungsroman. With an etymology dependent on education and self-discovery, Alumnus is a very belated bildungsroman. Despite his IQ of 151, despite his diploma from Camden and the school of hard knocks—he never did learn the most important lesson of all: who he was. And because of this he, like Peter Pan, could never truly grow up.
Mace’s inner conflict is very similar to my own as a writer. Mason is stuck in the past—not out of nostalgia, but out of fear. When at Camden, he was told he was enriched with something genius. He was pampered with preparation and pep talks about his potential. Yet, the closer he got to graduation and the “Real World,” the further he was from figuring himself out. All he knew is what he could be—not who is was in the present.
Twenty-four years and a mental break down later, Mace is forced to revisit his past. And while reluctant, it will become to be the best thing ever to happen to him. It forces him to reexamine his past, and reconcile all the contradictions and hypocrisies within himself.
In the same way, I know I have to return to Cliché—or now as it’s known, Alumnus—and finish what I’ve started. Revisiting a place of your past is extremely telling, because as Holden Caulfield noticed in his trip to the Museum of Natural History “Nothing’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you.”
So, let’s get started shall we? I’m interested to see what’s changed, what’s changing and what remains the same…
This letter is my acknowledgement that, for me, writing is a convenient construct to allow me to play pretend in adulthood. As such, all my work will be washed with nostalgia, the struggle against maturation, and mild escapism and fantasy fullfillment. Should it be any other way?
Interestingly enough, I still find myself struggling to grow past the Alumnus world. I’m still mildly in love with Mason Black, and constantly use these characters as template in my other works. I wonder sometimes if I have any other story to tell, or if I’m stuck forever with these imaginary friends.
In finding this letter, however, I think I’ve found an important exercise to help me start a new project. The articulation of intent acts as a contract of content, a promise to yourself that you are moving on to a new oeuvre adventure. For an extra dose of fun, seal the letter, and only open it at the project’s completion. Did you stay true to your original idea or did the process take you somewhere entirely new?
God. This is starting to sound like an awful how-to-write blog. Gag me. Remember in the beginning of this post when I chided artistic processes and hippy rhetoric?
TALK ABOUT BETRAYING YOUR ORIGINAL INTENT. UGH.
Anyway. For wishy-washy writers who can’t quite commit to a new cast of characters: write yourself a letter. Write your project a love letter. Not only will it help you kick-off the process, but it’ll give you an easy-bake blog post a few years later.