Game of Thrones: Some Final Thoughts and Questions…

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Spoiler Alerts

It was only this past March that I started binge-watching Game of Thrones in preparation for the launch of Season 8. My hat goes off to the legion of fans who tenaciously worked their way through the show over the better part of a decade. I don’t think I would have weathered all the waiting in-between. The good thing is that all the story and character arcs were still fresh in my mind as the series wound down.

That being said, I was able to buy into many of the developments that most fans seemed to hate. Yes, Daenerys went bad all of a sudden in reaction to the brutal loss of people closest to her, but the seeds of her destructive nature took root little by little over many years. She was the daughter of an insane king and as they say, the apple falls close to the base of its tree, just as Jon reflected the benevolent nature of who his father truly was.

I think Cersei’s death was metaphorically satisfying with the weight of her transgressions raining down on her. It also saved any other character from being labeled a baby killer. I can even buy Jaime holding true to his warped sense of love and going against all the years’ worth of hard earned redemption. People do that sort of thing, it’s human nature.

A couple of the things I had hoped to see in the end were the knowledge of Jon’s true identity becoming common knowledge. Who was Varys sending those letters to? Had all the other kingdoms’ representatives understood Jon had the clearest claim to the throne (Gendry Baratheon notwithstanding), it might have ended differently? And then there is “Chekov’s Gun” principle. Why did they concentrate on Varys removing his rings and placing them in a cup, what was that all about?

I have to concur with so many fans in my disappointment that Bran became king of the now six kingdoms. Brava to Sansa for withholding her consent to remain part of the larger realm. The thing is, I don’t see how Bran as a character earned the right to be elected. To my mind, Tyrion would have been the correct choice. The roles should have been reversed. Bran would have made an excellent hand given his vast knowledge of the past and his ability to warg his way into seeing what everyone else was up to. Also, I think the collective voices voted in the affirmative for Bran way too easily – most of the time, these people can’t agree what day of the week it is.

It was difficult to swallow Jon’s banishment to Castle Black. What purpose does the Night’s Watch even have at this point? Surely they could have found a better way to deal with him. Regardless of his true parentage, Ned Stark’s sense of honor shines through Jon and you would hope he might pass that along to his own children. Jon did the world a favor and is being punished for it, why, because a newly insane leader of the unsullied needs justice? Grey Worm’s uncompromising devotion to follow madness, up to and including slitting the throats of prisoners, should deny him the right to call for anyone else to pay a price.

And Drogon, how do you not love that beast? I had hoped in some way the one remaining dragon and Jon would develop a relationship in the end. They’re first cousins after all. I know Jon killed his mother, but I think Drogon understood. It’s why he melted the Iron Throne and left Jon uncrispy.

Regardless of the pitfalls faced by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss in concluding this body of work, I must applaud them for creating the stunning visual representation of George R.R. Martin’s incredible stories. As a writer of fantasy, I am inspired and further educated in the art of good storytelling. Yes, there are areas that might have been better written. I think HBO should have allowed for a couple more episodes to flesh out the events taking place in the final season. Looking back, however, we have 73 episodes of jaw-dropping production quality and sublime acting from one of the largest casts of any show in the history of television. I’m pretty sure I’ll never see anything quite like this again.

 

 

Mental Health: The Dark Side Of Creativity

photo-1496188757881-c6753f20c306Photo by Andrik Langfield on Unsplash

When I first established a writing blog, the intention was to offer commentary on the journey of being a writer. After a lifetime of doing everything but writing, I felt my path was clear, especially after the wonderful experience of securing an MFA in fiction. It wasn’t that I needed a degree in order to write, but the entrance to that creative community meant everything.

Emboldened by the confidence in my understanding of craft, and two completed manuscripts waiting to be revealed, I continued writing blog entries and working on four other novels. I blamed my lack of writing from birth to age sixty on the notion that life gets in the way. It can and it does, but I thought I’d garnered the tools to succeed going forward.

I was wrong. I underestimated what I was up against.

Just when I thought I’d secured a lock on life and had set my feet on the path; LIFE reappeared, wagging its bony finger and whispering: “Au contraire.”

May is mental health month, so it seems fitting to pen something about the subject from within the community of writers – as a representative of the larger community of artists. Yes, it’s cathartic, but it might also serve as a warning label that by proceeding, it’s fair to expect some level of anguish in your future or possibly as a reminder you’re not alone in the quagmire. It should never mean the path is to be avoided, but each of us must find a way to use our mental state to an advantage – as J.K. Rowling created Dementors as a metaphor for the depression she suffered. It’s easier said than done, but that’s why she’s J.K. Rowling.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that, as a percentage, creative people are more prone to mental health issues than the general population. I personally believe it stems from an enhanced sense of empathy and a greater sensitivity to worldly conditions. Everyone has major problems in life. For me, it was a succession that consisted of the collapse of my career and financial world following the sub-prime mortgage crisis, mounting debt, a personal bankruptcy, losing my home, being hauled in front of the NYC District Attorney’s office to give information about a former employer, the draconian measures of the New York State Income Tax Department, the IRS, having to rely on supplemental food programs, and working to rebuild a world decimated by faulty choices and horrific karma. When prone to depression in the first place, that kind of life mimics the torture endured by Theon Greyjoy at the hands of Ramsay Bolton. Through it all, I’ve tried to write.

But, perseverance comes at a price.

A writer strives to overcome life’s obstacles while they write, query, read, edit, and write some more. Precious few are fortunate to garner a book deal, land an agent, or find some modicum of success through self-publishing. Perseverance though is risky, because weighed against all other complications, creativity is the one thing that stems from passion, the essence of the creative mind, which makes all else, can I say tolerable? The inherent risk of such doggedness is the possibility that self-perceived failure in your creativity spreads like poison, and at the very worst – as has happened to me – results in the death of passion. It’s as if passion is the muscle, the source of strength, used to keep pace, but endurance is not limitless. When the moment you recognize that loss arrives, it destroys all vestiges of one’s sense of purpose; depression metastasizes like an unchecked cancer. I say this because every artist who ever lived has faced that moment when they consider their creations worthless. You’re left feeling directionless and without the will to bother getting out of bed.

In the past three years, I’ve read only two books – even though I worked quite a while in a book store to make ends meet. I struggled to complete a third novel as the sequel to one I had published, but it was by rote. I felt like a car rolling slowly to a stop after running out of gas. I mourn the loss of those moments when my brain would visualize, with startling clarity, the nuances of a story idea, the exchange of good character dialogue, the satisfying connection of one plot point to the next. I still yearn to tell stories; much like a body tries to breathe. My greatest hope is that my sense of passion returns someday, a well-rested muscle ready and able to create new work. At the moment, it seems hopeless – a major side-effect of depression. The cycle is perpetual and ultimately diminishing.

I’ve read many articles that appeal to writers about never giving up, about finding the method that works best to succeed, to write even a little every day. There’s NaNoWriMo to encourage everyone who aspires to communicate by the written word to sit down and do it. These are all valuable and inspiring, but every once in a while, a reminder is necessary of what the dark side has in store. Mental health issues, especially depression, are a common disease amongst us, and you need to understand it will lurk in the recesses of your genes, ready to blossom at an unsuspecting moment. Forewarned is forearmed, and being forearmed is to put a support system in place.

I cannot stress in strong enough terms the requirement to seek out people who can appreciate the subtle differences between those with creativity at their core with those who aren’t. People with no exposure to the ways of the artistic mind are likely to brand one who is as introverted, weird, stand-offish, even snobbish. We’re difficult to put up with; we’re nearly impossible to endure on a daily basis. I’m fortunate to have a significant other who gets it, and I experience unrelenting guilt over the fact she does endure it. The argument could be made that I might have stopped drawing breath but for her. Help is mandatory, as expressed in all warnings about depression and suicide awareness campaigns. It doesn’t have to come in the form of a wife, or husband, or partner – it can come from connecting with others in our community, but the support system must exist in some way.

Protect your passion, for us it’s our life-blood. If you’re new to this, be prepared. If you suffer like I do, remember you’re not alone.

Jesus Christ Superstar: John Legend’s Revival

Jesus Christ Superstar

 

As one who wore out multiple cassette tapes (yes, remember those?) listening to the original 1970 concept album for Jesus Christ Superstar, I planted in front of the TV on Easter to watch John Legend tackle the revival. It was a little confusing, given the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber play never deals with Christ as a divine figure, for it to appear as a feature on Easter. The particular notoriety of the day is to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. The end piece of music titled John Nineteen Forty-One references the biblical chapter and verse:

“At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had even been laid.”

The play never goes beyond his death. At the time of the album release, I was a PK. That means, I was a priest’s kid, living in the rectory of my father’s parish church. He and my mother held a dim view over the play’s treatment of the Apostles and the fact the true aspect of Christ’s “superstar” status resulted from his rising from the dead. They didn’t enjoy the concept that Christ should have picked a more suitable time, one with the power of modern media coverage to debut his message, that he was merely a societal sensation two thousand years ago.

As for me, I loved the music and the vocal performances of Ian Gillan, Yvonne Elliman, and Murray Head. I wanted to hear those songs performed again. I never saw the original play, I only had the album, so I couldn’t compare acting performances, but I could compare how the old vocals would stack up against the new ones by John Legend, Sara Bareilles, and Brandon Victor Dixon.

As the play unfolded, disappointment grew. First, the acting wasn’t good. I’ll leave it there. I wanted to experience voices that recreated the range the music demanded, those visceral screams only a rock-and-roller can muster. Ian Gillan sang with Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. When he sang The Temple, his vocals touched every nerve in your spinal column. Similarly, Murray Head dropped the mic with Damned For All Time on the original album. Both Legend and Dixon have beautiful voices, but this kind of production did not fit their vocal style. If called upon to cast the role of Jesus for this rock opera, American Idol alum, Adam Lambert would have been a first choice. His vocals are ridiculous, and the restoration of Superstar would have been complete.

Most of the reviews for this production have been positive. Taking nothing away from John Legend as a singer, younger people should grab the music service of their choice and check out the 1970 original. For this revival, I have to cast a dissenting vote.

Book Review: The Trees Beneath Us

The Trees Beneath Us

A man named Finn goes for a walk, a really…long…walk; a hike actually, along a fifteen-hundred mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail. As stories go, one might think it a yawner of a novel, but in the superbly capable hands of a master storyteller like Darren R Leo, it becomes a journey, not just of time and distance, but one that reaches into the soul. Leo leads a sojourn to the headwaters of emotion and treats us to the purest form of contemplative reflection on life and joy and heartache.

Like the switchbacks of a trail into the mountains, the book juxtaposes life along the path with snippets of the one left behind; the serenity of the forests, the perfect backdrop to sort out the experience of a lifetime in consideration of the question: “what do you do when you’re done living before your life is over?”

Readers who have suffered forms of clinical depression and anxiety, will instantly relate to Finn. Readers fortunate enough not to have suffered forms of clinical depression and anxiety, will have the opportunity to experience that cloud of darkness, which is the great gift writing such as this offers.

It’s hard to imagine how this book has not risen to the top of an Oprah booklist, or missed landing on the shortlist for any number of prestigious book awards. It’s said the true success of a book can be measured by how long the story will stay with you after reading the last page. This one might alter your DNA.