Steampunk Got Me Excited For Fairy Tales!

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La Cité des Enfants Perdus (City of Lost Children), directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, was one of the most exquisite movies I saw in the ‘90’s. I was so excited about that movie I went to it countless times because I dragged everybody I knew to go see it.

 

I didn’t even realize it was steampunk. I didn’t even know what steampunk fantasy was. All I knew was that this movie was a fairy tale, and very much an adult story.

 

Without giving too many spoilers, the villain is kidnapping children to steal their dreams because he’s aging quickly. He steals the petit frère (little brother) of the strongman named One, who is determined to get his petit frère back.

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The strongman teams up with a thieving orphan named Miette in his quest to save this child that can’t stop eating. Of course, the hero who saves petit frère from doom is Miette.

 

Other features in the film are the brutal and malevolent army of Cyclops, who kidnapped petit frère and the clones of a mad genius who all argue over which one is l’Originale! 

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It was set in an alternate world of the past and the future, with intricate movie sets, Victorian technological elements, simple yet effective costumes, and moody atmosphere.

 

This film is dark and creepy and mysterious and stunning. If you’ve never seen it, rent it and project it on a wall. It should be seen on a big screen.

 

My partner took me to it recently because Portland loves to feature movies from former times. It struck me how dated this film was. At the time it came out, the direction and cinematography was revolutionary. I had never seen anything like it.

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As a parent, my partner had a hard time with the movie, but she admitted that she would have loved it before giving birth. As a mother, it freaked her out.

 

But what had gotten me so excited in the 90’s was that this amazing film was a fairy tale. And that gave me permission to write them.

 

In the 90’s, I was more of a wannabe than a writer. I talked about this dream of being a writer all the time, as I floundered from job to job. The only problem was that I didn’t know what to write about.

 

Like most recent college graduates who had taken creative writing courses, I was filled with this yearning desire to write “The Great American Novel” or “The Poignant and Heartbreaking Coming of Age Story.”

 

I had no idea what Great American Novel I had in me, and Coming of Age was a concept I didn’t fully understand. Do we come of age when we first start having sex?

 

In my search for what to write so I could be a writer, I had taken the Writer’s Program at UW, Seattle with Margaret Grossman, Jack Remick, and Robert Ray as my teachers.

 

I learned a lot, and Margaret was one of the most inspiring writing teachers I’ve ever had. I took her in the first capsule.

 

But the program ended on a very sour note for me on the last day. Jack and Robert gave me an outline they made up for my first novel that bore no resemblance to what I had written. I had made an attempt at a mystery. They were right that I had no business trying to write mysteries. But I didn’t see how handing me my first plot would help me grow as a writer and figure out what I will write.

 

So between the lofty ideals of the Great American Novel, the Coming of Age Story, and the formula outline of a novel my teachers made up for me, my spirit was broken and I wasn’t even inspired enough to suffer the writer’s block of no inspiration.

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And then that amazing remarkable movie came out. I absolutely loved it, and the right direction to my path gained some clarity.

When I finally found my voice as a writer, “Ella Bandita and the Lone Wolf” came out effortlessly. It was an adult story and very much a fairy tale.

When the Rhinos F*ck the Cows

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An acquaintance of mine from Portland shared an article her husband wrote about finding one’s voice as a writer. Since he’s published and I’m not, and he is a very nice man, I read it and a line in there reminded me of the most extremely short-lived job I ever held in my illustrious career of job-collecting.

Since this was commission-based, I made no money at this. Promotions in Motion was the worst of the worst sales jobs. We went door to door at various businesses, ignoring “no soliciting” signs to interrupt people at their work to sell them something they don’t need. The vast majority of the time, we were told no anyway. Fortunately, most people were pleasant about it but it was still embarrassing.

I don’t even remember what we were selling, but I vaguely recall a promotion for an obscure comedy club. I trained for two days and decided to bail. My first trainer had been a stripper before this job. She was pretty cool and I had fun while I trained with her. The next trainer was nice enough, but he had a lot to say about our POC supervisor who was making it “in a white man’s world.” He spent the entire drive back to the office trying to convince me to stick it out with a psychological head-trip of “It’s not easy being a leader.” But I’d already figured out that such a job would have been a daily exercise of humiliation where my dignity chipped away to nothing. Later, I met somebody who worked for them for about a year. He said he “made money,” but he also said he worked well beyond the 9-5 time slot, and often went to homes and businesses until 9 at night to make about $1500 a month. (This was in the 90’s btw.)

They didn’t tell me that when they were selling this job to me. 

So how does this have anything to do with the title of the blog or the article my friend’s husband, Johnny Shaw, wrote about finding your writer’s voice? Patience, please, because I’m getting there.

On my first day of training, the former stripper told us about their morning meetings where they get pumped up with a Rhinos vs. Cows cheer. We were the “Rhinos,” of course, and everybody else working a regular job with guaranteed pay and some benefits were the “Cows.”

“Rhinos fuck shit up,” she said. “Cows just graze.”

On my second day of training, I got to experience this for myself. All the door-to-door sales associates were there and the POC supervisor who was making it “in a white man’s world” started the cheer.  

“WHO ARE WE?” he roared.

Everybody made the “hang loose” sign - aka “shaka” in Hawaii - with one hand. Then they defiled this expression of mellowness and peace by putting thumb to nose so their fist and pinky finger made a facsimile of a rhino horn.

“WE’RE THE RHINOS!!” they called back.

“WHAT DO WE DO?”

“FUCK THE COWS!!”

“I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!!”

“FUCK THE COWS!!”

“SAY IT AGAIN!!”

“FUCK THE COWS!!!”

“GREAT! NOW GET OUT THERE AND MAKE SOME MONEY!!”

Yeah. It would have been the wiser choice to bail right then and there, but I’m a firm believer in stepping outside of one’s comfort zone to find inspiration. This was one of those moments. Experiencing the sheer lunacy of people was priceless.

Johnny Shaw’s article made a reference to fucking a cow too, but that was for the sake of artistic merit. If you would like to know how his article triggered this memory when I was young and clueless, check it out here. I don’t know if this experience helped me find my writer’s voice, but perhaps Johnny’s professor would have been gratified to know that such a story was out there.