One of the concepts that I'm currently fascinated by is identity. In other words, what makes me... me?
Or, perhaps more accurately, a better question would be, "How did I become who I currently am?"
Naturally (since I'm supposed to be a writer and whatnot) this is a question that I tried to explore through my writing, and while I certainly didn't arrive at any answers, I hopefully took the first steps in that direction.
What is identity? How is it achieved? Can it be changed?
My first answer would be experience. I believe our identity is constructed, at least in part, as the sum total of our life's experience. At the high school where I teach we hold an annual "Parade of Champions". It's a nice idea to honor the various achievements of students at the end of the academic year, but when the parade arrives I always (only half-jokingly) ask the students why they're champions. What did they win? Everybody wants to be a "winner" but you can't just claim the moniker because it makes you feel good. At some point you would actually have to win something. So we are, at least in part, defined by our past. It's the old adage that "Life is a journey". That journey is our experience.
But experience alone isn't enough to define identity. It removes any sense of responsibility. It turns into the rote "Nature vs. Nurture" argument which I find terribly boring and insufficient. We weren't placed on a set of rails at birth (either by DNA or upbringing) and now we're destined (or doomed) to live out the experiences in front of us. We are active participants in our life -- not passengers along for the ride. So identity is also created by choice. I gladly concede that DNA and upbringing can make some choices easier or harder for an individual, but my point is that it's STILL a choice. In other words, we are who we choose to be. Go back to our "Life is a journey" philosophy. If I choose to go west to Philadelphia, my life's journey will look very different than if I chose to head east for the shore.
But is that enough? Can we define identity by experience and choice? I don't think so. If experience represents our past and choice is symbolic of our future, I think the third part of identity -- the present -- is defined by our relationships. It's not just about where we choose to go, or what we experience on our journey . . . it's about WHO we choose to walk with on the way. Those other people (good and bad) become part of our identity. They influence our choices. They shape our experiences. They make us who we are.
And I'm once again (sadly enough) reminded of the lines by John Donne: "No man is an island, entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main . . . any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
If you come closer I'll tell you a secret . . . The Walking Dead is NOT about zombies.
There are certainly zombies on the show. Lots of zombies. And they seem to get grosser with every passing season as their humanity continues to rot away. . . but that's not what the show's about. Not even close.
The zombies are there as a backdrop. They're part of the setting. They are the blank canvas upon which the real story of The Walking Dead can unfold. The zombies are a MacGuffin.
For the uninitiated, a MacGuffin is that most-paradoxical item in all of literature. A term popularized by none other than Alfred Hitchcock, the MacGuffin is both essential to the plot and completely irrelevant. It is the Maltese Falcon, the mistaken identity in North by Northwest, the plans for the Death Star hidden in R2-D2.
It's the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant, the Sankara Stones, and even (regrettably) the Crystal Skull. Take any of those treasures away and you're still left with Indiana Jones.
In The Walking Dead it's zombies. In ANOM: Awakening it's genetic anomalies with super-human powers.
So what is The Walking Dead really about if not zombies . . . ?
It's a story about relationship.
Minor Spoilers ahead for The Walking Dead season 4
I'm a big fan of The Walking Dead but the latter half of season 4 is hands-down my favorite. In the final episode of the first half of season 4 (episode 8 titled "Too Far Gone") the relative safety of the prison is shattered and our rag-tag band of fearless survivors are scattered to the wind.
Thankfully, in episode 9 titled, appropriately enough, "After" the survivors start to find each other again. They form up in groups of two or three, and the rest of the season is spent with these smaller groups trying to reconnect and find each other.
But in these imperfect relationships - the survivors are thrown together out of circumstance rather than their choice - character is revealed. Those relationships are the universal truth in the series - the reality that everyone can understand. It's family, and friends, and strangers, and enemies . . . all thrown into stark relief BECAUSE OF the MacGuffin (in this case the zombies).
By the time the season ends at Terminus, we all understand what Rick means when he says, "They're fucking with the wrong people." That line is powerful because (thanks to the events and relationships revealed over the course of season 4) the viewers understand exactly what kind of people Rick and his group are.
How does that apply to my novel ANOM: Awakening?
Just like The Walking Dead, my book is about character and human relationship. It's about intentionally choosing the kind of people we want to be, and it's about everything that can get in the way of those choices. That's the universal truth, and just like in The Walking Dead it's revealed through the MacGuffin.
So is it a book about superheroes? Yes! But hopefully it's so much more. Hopefully it's a book about relationship, because strong relationships make strong stories. The MacGuffins just get you started.
There's been a lot going on over the past week and I want to take a minute to update all of you regarding the book business.
Last week I had the opportunity to have my photograph taken around town by my friend and professional photographer Kristy Straub. These photographs will be used on my website and, eventually, on my Amazon author page. The ordeal of having my picture take was, in a word, weird, but Kristy did an excellent job of making me feel at ease. She was good enough to share some of the early returns, and I've included one of the photographs here. For more examples of her work you should check out Syllipsi Photo.
Vanessa and I have found the perfect venue for my launch party on June 25th. Alaura's Kitchen is a local ice cream shop (although they also offer homemade caramels, hotdogs, and the best french fries ever!). We've reserved the date with the owners Patrick and Michelle, and lots of details will follow in the weeks ahead. Needless to say, you're all invited and if nothing else. . . we'll have ICE CREAM!
I finally started on the first draft of the ANOM: Awakening sequel. There's a feeling at the start of any novel that's hard to describe. It's equal parts excitement and terror -- excited for the adventure that lies ahead and scared to death that I'll fall on my face in the attempt. There's a long way still to go before the rough draft is complete (it took me more than a year to get the first one finished) but I can share my working title: ANOM: Legacy.
I saved the best for last. The "proof copy" of my novel arrived in the mail today from Createspace.com. It wasn't a perfect representation -- it was missing the page numbers -- but even holding this incomplete copy felt like a small victory. It was one more reminder that this whole journey I'm on is REAL. . . and now I have the real book to prove it.
Confession time -- I don't really like Facebook.
Let me back up. What I mean to say is I don't like posting on Facebook. I've discussed my preference for keeping my life and my writing very private in previous posts to my blog (You can read them here).
I guess you can call it introversion, if you like. It's certainly one of the things that I love most about writing. In my imagination, the perfect weekend is spent alone in a hoodie and virtual silence as I type away at my computer. Posting on Facebook is the opposite of that ideal. I just don't see the appeal of throwing your life's business across the internet for relative strangers to gawk at and comment on to their "friends".
Of course that hasn't stopped me from writing one of these blog posts every week. It seems the one pearl of wisdom that every self-publishing-website has in common is that a writer must generate "buzz" for his or her book. Start a blog. Get a Facebook page. TWEET!
Before I went public with all this book business, I used Facebook in the way God intended: to quickly share pictures with my family and friends, and to stalk my old acquaintances on the internet -- all the people you're curious about, but not close enough with to actually stay in touch.
Honestly, even with that limited usage, Facebook still has a lot of negatives:
But then, on Friday, I experienced one of the true joys of life . . . and it was all thanks to Facebook! I found myself at the center of the "web-of-life".
Full disclosure: I don't know if a "web-of-life" is a real thing or not--I just made up the name right now-- but I know they happen, and I know they're rare. They usually happen at big events, like at funerals.
A web-of-life is when all of those old acquaintances -- the countless people who fill our everyday lives --go out of their way to express their gratitude, encouragement, and support. They go out of their way to express their love.
It happened for me on Friday. That's when I announced the release date for my book. That post was subsequently flooded with "likes" and "loves" and comments. I got comments from my wife's relatives across the country. I got likes from my ex-teachers and comments from families who go to the same martial arts school with me. I got a phone call from a colleague, and a text message from an old youth leader. I was contacted by friends of friends who I've only met twice. I got messages from ex-students (one from New Jersey and one from North Carolina). The whole experience was humbling.
And at the end of the day what I realized was it had nothing to do with my book. None of those people cared about the book! They were all writing because they cared about me. In that one post I could look back and see the threads of my life -- the countless people who have filled my days. It was a gift -- a gift from Facebook.
So this week, I wanted to use this space to say "thank you" to all my Facebook friends (even the liars and the trolls). Friday was a celebration that I will carry with me for a very long time. Thank you, thank you, thank you.