In order for this post to make sense, you’re gonna have to watch this video:
There’s something to be learned here. Actually, maybe there’s a few things to be learned here.
I like J.J. Abrams and his work, I think he’s extraordinarily talented and he’s a fantastic visionary. But there’s something even more admirable about him that becomes apparent in this video. Perhaps the reason why Abrams’s work is so great (aside from the technical execution) is because it is honest work. He has always been in love with mystery and the unknown, and through this video we learn why.
Abrams’s concept of the mystery box is awesome. Not necessarily because the box itself is awesome, but because he took something of importance in his life and he used it as a technique to help tell his stories. All of his favorite stories are infused with some sort of mystery or surprise, and after learning about his grandpa and the mystery box, it makes perfect sense.
What I want to do is discover my own mystery box. What is the thing in my story that holds so much dramatic weight? And what is it about my story that makes it worth telling?
And so with all of that said, I would encourage you to find your own mystery box. Find the thing in your life that makes you passionate about your own story, and use it. Share it. Employ it. Do stuff with it. Tell stories with it.
Tell your story with it.
What are we if not stories?
Stories bring people together. And good stories make people feel more human.
In the last year or so of my life, I have become keenly aware of the “story” of my life. I have gained an awareness that has allowed me to contextualize the events and decisions and people in my life into stories. And all of these stories play their own integral parts in my life; they define my identity, they make up my story.
And the best part about “my story” is also the best part about yours: stories don’t just happen, they are written by the storyteller. And all of us have our own story that we get to write. We get to define our character, make decisions that reflect who we are, and no matter what the circumstances, a good character will always live a good story.
The title of this blog is called “Super Human,” not “superhuman.” I mean it would be really awesome to be a superhuman, but that’s a very unrealistic goal to set for myself. What I want to be is a super human. I want to be awesome. I want to be the hero that I would root for. I want to look back at my decisions and choices and be proud of the ones that I made, even if they didn’t get me to where I wanted to go. I want to look back at the people I’ve met and the friends that I’ve made, the supporting roles, if you will. I want them to be awesome too.
This blog is dedicated to exploring what a good story is. What makes a story interesting? What makes a character interesting? And most of all, how are we going to share our story?
What is your story?
My parents offered me this truism growing up: “You can’t always pick your circumstances, and you can’t always decide what happens to you, but you and only you can define your character.”
Character drives plot, not the other way around. And a character’s decisions reflect who that character really is, or at least they should. And so, in an attempt to demonstrate the importance of character-driven action, I give you a “Create Your Own Adventure” story presented in screenplay format.
Stories are everything. And any story can be awesome if you tell it the right way…
Perhaps the single most valuable thing I’ve learned this semester is the lesson of specificity. Be specific, Blake! Be deliberate! Who are you writing for? Who are you writing to?
I wrote a handful of articles and stories and blogs this semester, and they were all catered to an “audience of storytellers,” which is a pretty vague audience. And when you’re audience isn’t specific, your work has a hard time finding its target. In other words, there is really no exigence to your work – there’s no purpose. When something belongs to everyone, it belongs to no one. Communism, you know?
Let’s get back on topic…
At the beginning of the semester, I was told to identify which online (or offline) community I belonged to, and then find where my community’s discourse was taking place online. As a screenwriter, I had a hard time finding the “conversation.” Sure, stories existed online and they were being told in a million and a half different ways. They were being told through videos, they were being written on blogs, and they were even being told in .gif format, but there wasn’t anything happening in the online world of screenwriting. Scripts still adhere to the efficient (and archaic) format that began over a hundred years ago.
In short, I was fairly convinced that my community’s “online discourse” didn’t really exist. And if it weren’t going to exist for me to find it, I would just have to create it. And that’s exactly what I did, or at least that’s what I’m trying to do with my final project: create the online discourse for the community that I belong to.
During the last five months, I discovered that stories exist online to be read by everybody, but the storytellers themselves only exist behind the scenes. They write stories to bring readers together; to bring people together. Unfortunately, however, this phenomenon doesn’t bring the storytellers together.
But hopefully, that’s all about to change.
Because as much as storytellers enjoy experiencing stories, we enjoy creating them even more.
Everything I’ve learned this semester will hopefully be displayed through what I call the “Interactive Character Study.” Through this final project, I want to create a community in which story can be experienced and created at the same time. I want to create a community in which story is king, and the audience has just as much say in the outcome of the story as the writer. Why? Because the audience is the writer.
So that’s that.
I’ll go ahead and say it – I really don’t like TED Talks. I don’t get them. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the occasional TED Talk every once in a while, it’s just that I don’t know what they’re supposed to be. People talk about them like they’re the greatest installment in the education system since the whiteboard, and yet not one of these TED fanatics can tell me what a TED Talk really is. I mean, are they lectures? Videos? Stories? Motivational speeches? A combination of all of the above? Has anyone ever even been to a TED Talk? Do people even go to these talks at all? Because I’ve never seen a shot of an audience member in one of these videos. And what the hell is TEDx? A niche subcategory of a TED Talk? And how can you have a subcategory of something that really can’t even be categorized? I want answers! What are you, TED?!
I like to think that this guy shares my frustration.
Finally, someone realized the ridiculousness of this TED Talk institution and decided to tell the world.
I don’t want to discuss this video a whole lot, because I want you to watch it for yourself, but it is clear that this guy is having an absolute blast.
First of all, he comes out wearing a costume that’s essentially a miserable excuse for a Spartan Warrior. And then he starts talking… about everything. Or nothing, depending on which way you look at it. And the best part is how aware he is… He knows exactly what he’s doing. He has two audiences: the first audience is people who love TED Talks and will eat up anything he says because, well, he’s giving a TED Talk. The second audience is people like me – people who don’t really understand the first audience. And he caters to both of them so well for two completely different reasons.
And it is for that reason alone that renders this the most effective and groundbreaking TED Talk ever created.
This story starts with a phone call from my good friend Luke.
“What are you doing tonight?” he asked. “Please say you’re not busy…” Luke doesn’t say this to me very often, but when he does, it means one of two things: either he’s desperate for someone to cover his shift, or he’s doing something really fun and wants to include me. Normally I’d tell Luke that I wasn’t sure what my plans were for the evening – “There’s a few moving parts and I’m not exactly sure what my evening looks like,” I would say. I do this so in case he asks me to do something I don’t want to do, I have an out. But I was feeling rather optimistic in that moment, so I responded: “I’m free, dude. What’s up?”
Worst mistake ever.
“I’m going on a date with this girl. She’s gorgeous, man. I need you to come with me.”
“I don’t think that’s how a date works, Luke.”
I could almost hear Luke’s eyes rolling at my smartass remark. “Here’s the thing,” he started, “I met her on Tinder. We started chatting a bit here and there and I asked her out on a date. She wants to go, obviously, but she said she doesn’t know how comfortable she is meeting up with a guy that she just met on Tinder.”
“Then why does she have a Tinder account in the first place?”
“That’s not important, Blake.”
I completely disagreed, but I humored him. “Then what’re you asking me here?”
“I need to go on a date tonight but she insists that we each bring a friend – you know, make it a double date just so she feels more comfortable. That’s why I called you. Be my wingman?”
To be fair, it sounded fun. I like dates. Who doesn’t? Plus, I was flattered that Luke wanted me of all people to be his wingman. Good wingmen are hard to come by, I know this first-hand. So I agreed to Goose his Maverick and wingman the shit out of him that night. He thanked me, gave me the details on where to meet, and left me with these words: “I owe you one, dude.” If I had known how the night was going to turn out, I would’ve told him that he owed me like 5 or 6.
The evening rolled around and I began my pre-shower poop. In the spirit of the night, I decided to go on Tinder. For those of you unfamiliar with how this “gem” of an app works, Marie Claire describes it pretty well.
First girl came up and I swiped LEFT. Second came around, I swiped LEFT. The third, fourth, and fifth came up – and to all, I swiped LEFT. I’m very picky when it comes to Tinder because I can afford to be. People don’t know if I’m swiping them left, so why settle?
Girl doing some sorority pose: meh, swipe LEFT. Girl on horseback: really beautiful horse, but I dated an equestrian once and that’s when I found out I was allergic to horses, but that’s a story for another time – swipe LEFT. Girl in a sundress: whoa. Gorgeous. I looked at her other pictures to confirm. Yep. She’s stunning. Smile, hair, and a memorable tagline – she’s got it all and I’m into it. Swipe RIGHT – a match! I smiled. I decided to stop there and end on a good note. I’ll come back to you later, sundress woman…
I arrive at the sushi restaurant feeling pretty excited about the night. I was excited about the date, sure, but I was more excited by the fact that I didn’t have to sit at home all night. Had it not been for a last-minute wingman call, I would have probably ended up at home watching Netflix sharing a six-pack with myself.
I spot Luke standing with two girls outside the restaurant. He’s dressed well, clean-shaven, and I can smell his cologne from a few feet away. He must really be into this girl. “There you are!” Luke turns to greet me and then immediately introduces me to the girls. He calls over his date: “Amanda, come meet Blake.” And she turns around to shake my hand when I notice her smile… fuck. It’s the girl in the sundress.
She shakes my hand, and I try to play it off like we didn’t get a match a few hours ago. “I’m Amanda,” she says. And I wonder if she recognizes me. I can’t tell – she’s acting so naturally. Or is she acting at all? When was the last time she went on Tinder? Does she know that we’re a match? Does she even remember swiping RIGHT on me? Jesus Christ this is uncomfortable. “And this is my friend, Danielle.” She introduces me to her friend – cute in her own way but far from my type. I smile pleasantly at her as she shakes my hand. She doesn’t seem all that excited to be here. In fact she looks like a deer in headlights – like she was scared of me or something. I ignore it.
The night goes on and, I have to admit, everything went surprisingly well. The sushi was great, the sake bombs were better, and Luke seemed to be having the time of his life. I was happy for him – Amanda seemed to be having a great time too. But I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that something was off with Danielle. I tried making small talk with her, and she seemed frustrated by it. She seemed shy and a little guarded, so I decided to do most of the talking. I didn’t mind, because I can talk about anything and everything, especially after a few drinks, but Danielle just kept averting her attention away from me. She would avoid eye-contact, fiddle with her drink, and continually try to weasel her way into Luke and Amanda’s conversation – something that I could tell was frustrating Luke. I decide that now is a good time to be a wingman: “Danielle, come to the bar with me. Let’s get a drink.” Danielle looks to Amanda for verification, and Amanda nods: green light.
Danielle and I get to the bar and I order us some drinks. We were only coming up on maybe our third or fourth round, but for whatever reason, I felt like I was approaching the back nine. “They seem to be having a pretty good time, don’t they?”
“Yeah,” she said.
“I don’t know about Amanda but Luke’s pretty smitten. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him like this.”
“Yeah, Amanda seems happy to be here.” She seemed to be implying something with her tone. It was the way she said her name – “Amanda.” The gears in my head started turning. Maybe Amanda did remember me from Tinder. And maybe she told Danielle about how me and her were a match and now Danielle feels left out. She’s not having a good time. I can tell. And now I’m gonna look like the asshole in this situation because I’m Danielle’s date and I’m supposed to make sure she has a good time. God this shit is exhausting.
I go for the empathetic approach: “Hey, you and me are in the same boat. I know you probably got roped into this date thing against your will. I did too.” That’ll get her to open up. And it did, but not in the way that I had hoped.
“You don’t recognize me at all, do you…?” I froze. I shot my sake. I ordered another.
“I don’t think so.”
“God, all you guys are the same. You’re all so superficial.”
Now I’m offended. Who does this Danielle chick think she is anyway? First she’s gonna be a negative-Nancy humdrum piece of shit date, and now she’s going to blame the “bad night” on me? Oh hell no. “Well that’s a little rude, Danielle.”
“No, you’re the rude one. How could you not remember me? We were a Tinder match in November and I started a chat with you but you didn’t reply.”
I’ll be honest, I thought she was bluffing. There’s no way she could remember some Tinder match from four months ago, by that point I had already forgot the first sushi roll I ordered. I was cornered. I had to say something, but nothing felt like the right thing to say. “I’m sorry,” I said. Pathetic.
“No you’re not,” she replied. “All you guys do is just look at our pictures and judge us by our looks. And you might think we’re attractive for a second, but the moment a more attractive girl rolls around, we become nothing. Forgettable. You’re so shallow.”
I couldn’t help but giggle at the irony of her little schpiel. And for a moment, it reminded me of that story about the two fat ladies who sued McDonald’s for making them fat. “You can’t eat Big Macs every day and then get mad at McDonald’s for making you fat.”
“Are you calling me fat?”
“No. It was an analogy. Also, I think I’m drunk.”
“Are you serious? You’ve had like 3 drinks.”
She was right, it wasn’t much, but I still felt like I was going to throw up. “Excuse me, Nancy.” I said. I don’t know why I called her Nancy.
I made it to bathroom just in time to yak, but not in time to get it in the toilet. I puked in the urinal. It wasn’t my proudest moment. I felt so ashamed. I locked eyes with the powder-blue urinal cake which was now covered in pieces of a rainbow roll. Some of the once-drank sake had made it onto my shirt and there was regurgitated soy sauce everywhere – I had turned that urinal into a Jackson Pollack painting. It was maybe one of the lowest moments of my adult life, and it was still better than talking to Danielle.
After throwing up, I felt better… but only for a moment. Suddenly I felt sick again, but this time, I wasn’t sure whether to kneel before the throne or sit on it. I wasn’t drunk, I had food poisoning. So by this point, I’m on the toilet for the second time that day and it’s much less pleasant this time. Luke comes into the bathroom: “You okay, dude?”
“Nope. Take me home, I’m Jackson Pollack.”
Luke stifled a snicker because he thought I was hammered. “Sure thing, buddy. I’ll be waiting in the car outside. Hang in there.”
God, he’s such a good wingman.
In the final moments of my diarrheic episode, I did the one thing I knew would temporarily ease the pain: I pulled out my phone and opened up Tinder. But this time, I didn’t swipe LEFT or RIGHT – I deleted the app. Tinder ruined my life. I hated it. And I hated Danielle too.
There was too much drama – too much assuming and unassuming and not enough organic interaction. The only reason I made it to that sushi place was because a photo of some girl stimulated Luke’s libido. And the only reason I made it out of that sushi place was because I managed to stop puking and shitting for like 3 minutes and make it outside to the car.
It was a really bad drive home. I made an ass out of myself in front of the cute sundress girl, I pissed off Danielle, I was a horrible wingman to Luke, and my iPod died so I had to listen to the radio. Nothing went according to plan. “I’m sorry for ruining your night with Amanda,” I said.
“I should be thanking you. She was so boring, man. Not an interesting thing about her aside from her smile.”
I chuckled. He could’ve just been saying that to not hurt my feelings, but Luke’s too honest. He meant it. I guessed we all learned something that night.
I never found out what happened to Amanda or Danielle or the unfortunate soul who had to clean the bathroom of that god-forsaken sushi restaurant, but I did learn a valuable lesson: in real life, you can’t swipe left.
A while back, I saw this strange phenomenon circulating around the internet. Until this point, gifs had become quite an integral component in online pop-culture – and someone upped the ante. Instead of telling a story through a singular gif, someone came up with this brilliant idea of combining multiple gifs to tell a story.
The premise of this strange storytelling device was simple: the user had gathered a collection of gifs (particularly comprised of people’s candid reactions) and synthesized a sort of comical storyline, using each gif as a beat for the main character. The flow of the story was simple: the user would identify a common social interaction, followed by a prompt – “At first I was like… and then I was like….” And between each of these statements was a gif that expressed the thoughts and attitude of our main character/storyteller.
When I first saw this story, I wasn’t a fan. I was like,
But then, I realized the idea behind the whole thing was actually kind of clever. Then I was like,
I was particularly amused with how this storyteller could extract moments from real life interactions and repurpose them for the sake of a clever online story. There was something really impressive about the whole thing. I mean, first, you had to come up with a story. Then you had to find out which facial expressions and/or reactions were crucial to telling that story. And lastly, you had to actually browse the internet for these gifs and sew them together to make them work as one, singular story. Brilliant, right?
And then I witnessed the device being used in different ways. Some people were using gif stories to tell a personal story, others were using them to describe a historical event, and one user even traced the political atmosphere of the US through Toy Story gifs. Check it out:
Well, like most internet phenomena, this whole gif story thing went from being clever and creative to overused and beat like a dead horse in the span of like five minutes. It’s not that the gif story format suddenly became uninteresting, but the whole format was trapped in one tone. Nobody seemed to venture outside of the whole “OMG Becky” high school melodrama tropes – all of the stories were one-dimensional. I suddenly lost interest. I didn’t think anything more of it.
The next day, I was sitting in the Piazza enjoying a sandwich. A few girls sitting nearby were having a conversation – I couldn’t quite catch the gist of it, but it sounded very… freshman… Not particularly in subject matter, but in tone. It went something like this:
“Oh my God. He did what?”
“Yep. Just like this. And I was all (insert overdramatic facial expression here).”
“Holy. Shit. That’s insane. I would’ve been all like (“ “).”
I had to turn around….
I did, and what I saw was basically a tit-for-tat turn-based facial expression-off of conversation about something I couldn’t piece together to save my life. But for some reason, the two of them were so amused by their conversation (told entirely via visual storytelling, mind you). I laughed. It was fucking hysterical.
Now I’m confused. I find myself caught in this chicken and the egg situation. I don’t know if these girls are aware of the gif story epidemic and are trying to emulate its humor in the way they’re telling a story, or if the gif-story-humor works so well because this is how some people actually communicate. I considered both options, and I was disgusted. By both.
But suffice it to say that it left me very intrigued… and a little scared at the same time. Intrigued because I was shown the potential of online communication – more specifically, online storytelling. Regardless of which came first in the aforementioned chicken and the egg situation, the sort of multi-modal capabilities of the internet allowed for a whole new type of communicating.
I don’t like the gif story thing anymore. It’s boring and overdone and the pages take way too long to load.
The next time I see a gif story, I’ll probably be all like: