The Terror of Progress

This morning I had a very minor car accident. I bumped into a parked car and caused a dent in their bumper. It wasn’t anything special and I was quickly able to handle it, albeit after going to great effort to find the owner. I shrugged it off quickly and by noon barely thought about it.

This isn’t how moments like this have gone in the past. In the past my accidents, ones which are common and which everybody gets into, caused me to crumple. I’ve been unable to function, convinced I’d transgressed some great social norm. But today I was completely calm and not only handle it like an adult, but by going to great effort to fix thngs, probably handled it better than most adults. I didn’t even slightly freak out.

That’s a big deal for me and it gives me an opening to discuss the tricky subject of progress. There’s a great line in Tatsuya Ishida’s masterpiece Sinfest that nails the terrifying nature of this subject. A character falling in love notes “I met a boy who made me feel not so worthless… like maybe there’s hope for me… and it terrifies me.” This is the truest evocation pf this feeling I’ve ever heard. Hope is scary. Progress, which carries with it the hope of improvement, is thus terrifying.

See, progress carries with it the awareness that we’re advancing from where we were. We’re no longer trapped in the place we were. We see we can do better and grow. That’s scary because we know too that we not only can fail but will fail. Life isn’t a straight slope after all. It’ll hurt even worse when we fall.

As a result it’s become very easy for me to bemoan my dark patterns of behavior because I’m aware of them and comfortable with them in a sick way. But that’s not healthy. My therapist pointed this out and had further advice. He thinks I need to celebrate when things do work out for me. With my fatally low self esteem that isn’t my modus operandi but self-examination is.

So I’m fighting my fears and noting this. I had a moment of triumph today. I experienced a stressor and a moral dilemma that usually go very poorly for me and I faced them like an adult. I was able to do so because I’m in therapy which is giving me the tools to actively improve my life and I’m on medication that regulates my neurochemistry. Every day, I accomplish more and more in the quest to improve myself.

I am making progress, scary as that is.

The Virtues of Writing a Bad Script (And Other Failings)

This spring, I wrote a bad script.

This is not something I’m completely ok with admitting but it’s something I need to say aloud. I, Austin Shinn, wrote an utterly awful script. I wrote a piece that’s almost disturbingly self indulgent, dramatically inert, and even tone deaf about mental illness, the one subject I’m supposedly familiar with. I wrote a bad script.

It’s called The Wingwoman and it can be read by clicking that link. It deals with an agoraphobic who gets visits from a mysterious, beautiful creature who lives in the woods. The idea of it was a modern update of the Boggy Creek myths with a different angle, going with beauty instead of terror. It’s not a bad idea in its essence but it simply did not work in execution. It had no flow, my characters were thin, and it just felt like I was trying something that did not work. I wrote my draft and decided I was done trying to tell it.

Here’s the thing: I’ve developed it for years. Drafts of the script exist in various forms dating back to 2002. That’s a long time to cling to an idea and a short time to walk away. But I’m done with it. I’m burying the idea and moving on, much as I eventually did with Unworthy. I should be sad.

But I’m not. In fact, I’m genuinely happy with the project even though it didn’t work out. That’s the enigma of writing and in many ways life.

See, I had an experience. Writing the script felt great. I blazed through it almost without stopping, not an easy feat given that it was fairly lengthy and mostly visual, something new for me. There’s much less dialogue in the first half than the normal pieces I write and I found that invigorating. I got to have the fun of laying it all out.

That’s something I think we lose sight of when we work on projects. We focus so much on the reception we fail to consider if we had fun just doing them. I’ve worked on a number of large multimedia projects that died on release while a blog entry I impulsively spat out drew attention across the autistic community, even reaching a number of best selling writers. Truthfully, I’m happier I worked on the underseen projects because I had more fun doing them.

But that doesn’t seem to be the metric we go with. There’s this drive that we have to measure our satisfaction with our life experiences by the quantity of “things” we got out of it, be it awards or money earned or reviews. It’s not for nothing people fixate more on Rotten Tomatoes scores than on their own opinions. Quality of experience must be what we can point to at the end.

There have been experiences like that in my life, shopping trips where I’m let down because I didn’t get enough stuff. Yet when I stop to think of it, my most favorite trip I’ve ever taken I only walked away with a couple of issues of a comic and I’ve taken great trips on which I found even less. The quantity of things? Not much. The quantity of quality memories? Epic.

That’s what The Wingwoman is to me. It’s a great experience I got to have. It made me feel good to write it. I’m not blown away by it. But I’m glad it exists. I might’ve failed but hey, I tried something. That’s better than saying I didn’t. I did something and I’ll remember doing it.