Jason Ward

Getting Back To It

So there’s a pretty significant gap between this post and my last, and for a handful of reasons that are mostly good, with the down side being my near abandonment of Damn Short Stories. But you might notice, if you’ve kept occasionally popping in, that there is, today, a “content dump”. That’s because I’ve made a choice: Ugly Baby Studios will no longer serve as my outlet for blogs and other writings. I’m coming home, instead, to Damn Short Stories, because the truth of the matter is this: I need to be story focused, and when I write for this site, it forces me to think in stories.

Not that UBS is going away–on the contrary, it’s simply being repurposed. I’ve been working for some months now on building a small studio, suitable for filming independent videos of various sorts, and I’ll be using UBS as the branding for that effort. As such, that website’s content needed a new home, and since most of it was writing by me in one capacity or another, here we are. I’ll cull the chaff as soon as possible, but for now, here it is.

So what’s next for Damn Short Stories? First and foremost: a redesign will come soon, and then I’ll begin sharing short stories in a variety of ways, including some written as short screenplays. Should be fun.

See you soon!

How Spock Saved My Life

Of Star Trek, Stories and Leonard Nimoy’s Passing

If you’ve ever seen the documentary Trekkies, you know that Star Trek fans come in many flavors. Some are just generally weird and a little scary, while others are people for whom the optimistic message of the series is something of a lifesaver. I’m one of those people who rests mostly in the latter group. Except my left leg, of course; it’s stuck in the former.

When I was a little kid, perhaps five or six, I suppose, things at home weren’t always especially great. As a result, holding onto the positive things was especially important for me, and the brightest star in my sky was Star Trek. When my father was working, he worked a lot. Long hours, musty trucks and countless miles of road spanned the time between when he left and when he returned. And as any five-year old can tell you, the time when dad comes home is pretty important.

In those days, that time was just around midnight, which happened to coincide with the time that Star Trek reruns aired. He’d come home, take off his big, filthy trucker boots and heat up something on the stove (microwaves weren’t a household thing yet), and I’d tip-toe out of my bedroom and sit on the couch. He’d sit down, turn on the TV–which I’d pre-set to the right channel before bed–and we’d watch Star Trek and eat whatever it was he’d heat up. For some reason I’m thinking tamales, though I’m sure it must have varied.

Those moments were a bright spot. When days would come and work was short, home life was harsh and it was difficult to know whether we’d be living in the same place one month to the next or shuffled off to someplace new. There was the strange smell of pot or meth, shouting and bickering and, a little too often, the violent smashing of objects and people.

When the bad moments came, I’d retreat into the good moments, the times where Mr. Spock used his logical brain to solve a problem or shed some beneficial light on the situation at hand. Between his logic and the hell-bent optimism of Kirk, McCoy, Sulu and the rest, all focused on finding a positive outcome for the predicament of the week, I always knew that somehow, something better was out there, and if somebody would just focus on figuring it out, we could find it.

Of course, I was five or six years old, and logic doesn’t exactly come easy when you’re too young to really know what it is, to say nothing of the experience of feeling constantly afraid, unable to count on the continuity of almost anything or when you might say or do just the wrong thing. But there, too, Mr. Spock showed me something to which I could relate: an inner turmoil, two halves desperate to be integrated, yet seemingly torn apart by opposing forces.

But whatever struggle came, week after week, episode after episode, Spock and his space family always figured out a positive outcome, even when it seemed like none was possible. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was always hopeful, and it was always honest. Like a lot of us, Spock was often pulled in several directions, and he showed us how to persevere.

Since Leonard Nimoy passed away a couple of days ago, I’ve been reflecting a bit on just what it was that ever stuck out to me about Star Trek. The more I consider it, the more I realize that it’s that unwavering spirit, that unabashed view that no matter how difficult the trials we face may be, there’s always a way through, always a thought, a feeling, a moment of saving grace in which, if we look deep inside and pull from the best within ourselves, we can use to overcome hardship.

It’s been over thirty years since I was that five or six-year-old kid. In the time since, I’ve walked through more kinds of hell than I’d wish on almost anyone, but I’ve always come through, always emerged just a little better on the other side. And in the darkest moments, one thing that always remained constant, especially when I felt the most torn apart, the most ready to give up, was that sense that something better is out there, and I just have to figure out a way to get to it. Just like Spock always did. Just like Star Trek taught me, and now half a century of people, to believe. The best people in my life reinforce these ideas through their actions and examples.

So, thank you, Spock, and by extension the irreplaceable Leonard Nimoy, for giving me something beautiful and hopeful to hold aloft in my darkest hours. But for you, I don’t know if I could have seen the way forward, many times.

Goodbye, Mr. Nimoy. Wherever your journey now takes you, may the wind be at your back.

Six Twenty Seven

Originally, this was the final in-class writing assignment for my Creative Writing class: Write one scene using the following words: Money, ocean, planet, aggravate, grease, paddle, rooster, leer, gift, pillow, avocado, shoulder, wedge, planet, fortify. The first draft took about twenty minutes, and I polished this version with another twenty or so after I got home. Finally, I recently needed a story for a theater class I’m taking, so I revisited this one and added a little more polish to it. I think I actually kind of like this one. Tell me what you think in the comments!

Six Twenty Seven

“Six twenty seven.” Don thumbed through his wallet, counting what little money remained for food after buying his final bus ticket, the one that brought him here, to California from Kansas. This was the last leg of a three year journey that had taken him across continents in a quest to surf the waves of every ocean, on every coast it touched. He had exactly five dollars to his name, a pillow strapped to his back with a leather belt that had been a gift from his mother, and a simple digital camera, which hung from a strap on his left shoulder. From the corner of one eye he glanced toward the corner of the small building before him, where his surfboard leaned, its waxed and polished surface glinting in the evening sunlight as it rested comfortably on the warm, golden sand of the California coast.

“Six twenty seven. Please.” the cashier behind the counter of Mac and Dan’s Hamburger Stand said again, this time more insistently. Don counted the bills in his wallet once more, but they’d stubbornly refused to multiply since the previous count. He considered his options.

“What if we take off the avocado?” he asked, hoping that minor adjustment might lower the cost of the meal into his price range. He looked past the cashier, at the cook behind him. His gaze seemed lost in the bubbling grease of the meat-covered griddle while his hands, unwatched, lazily dismembered a wilted wedge of lettuce. The cashier sighed, cleared the transaction and started again. Don noticed a logo on the cashier’s shirt, a simple illustration of a rooster and one of those strange sets of toy wind-up teeth that automatically bite and vibrate along the floor. He smiled and considered that in all the states and countries he’d visited all across this little blue planet called Earth, he had never seen such a logo.

“What’s your shirt mean?” he asked, “I’ve never seen a rooster teeth logo before.” The cashier rolled his eyes and looked at Don—though it seemed more like a leer, Don thought—and half barked his reply.

“It’s not rooster teeth, it’s cock biter. They make machinima movies. Noob.” Apparently losing his place in the calculation of the pre-avocado cost of Don’s meal, the cashier banged his hand on the cash register and started over once more. Don smiled, hoping a little kindness might go a long way.

“Listen, I apologize. I’m new here, I didn’t mean to aggravate you, my friend. I’m just hoping to meet some new buds, fortify my stomach, paddle out a bit and catch a wave before calling it a night under the stars. I’m Don, if you’re interested.”

“Yeah, yeah, that’s nice, buddy, but I don’t give a flyin’ fuck. That’ll be four ninety nine.” The cashier put out his hand and glared. Don’s heart sank, then lifted; at least he’d have a meal. Without another word he paid the cashier and collected the small paper bag that contained his burger and fries. He stepped toward the corner where his surfboard stood, and glanced at his watch: Six twenty seven. He chuckled and breathed the crisp, salty air of the Pacific Ocean. He admired the gleaming body of his surfboard and smiled even wider, happiness swelling in his heart one last time before the long dormant aneurism in his brain burst, and he fell dead on the golden sand of the California coast.

13 Years Later…The Tick Returns!

The Tick. Patrick Warburton. Oh. My. god.

I don’t often have them, but tonight I had a “Squee!!” moment. Why? Because somewhere in the universe, a quantum fluctuation happened and now we’re getting, at the least, a new pilot for a reboot of the live action series “The Tick”, starring Patrick Warburton himself, in the title role.

If you didn’t see The Tick back in 2001, I have to tell you: go. Run to your nearest Netflix-enabled toaster and watch the living shit out of that show. It won’t take long: there are only 9 episodes, and they only last about 20 minutes apiece. But they are hilarious, as you’d expect from the likes of Barry Sonenfeld (of way too many funny things to list). The costume was amazing. Warburton’s delivery of the hapless titular “hero” was impeccable. Yes, it was stupid, but man was it the best kind of stupid possible.

I can’t wait.

Violence Against Women: Lazy Storytelling Tropes

Or: Why Writers Must Do A Better Job

I stumbled across this article at video gaming site Kotaku, and it highlights some issues I’ve often had with not just issues of depicting violence against women, but of lazy storytelling in general. The video (attached), by scholar and critic Anita Sarkeesian, spends considerable time highlighting the many ways in which videos games often use grotesque depictions of violence against women as a shorthand for saying “This is the bad guy. Kill him!”

The problem with these kinds of depictions isn’t so much in that these kinds of acts are depicted at all, of course. It’s that when they’re depicted, it’s usually against some “fluff” character whom the player never sees again, or for whom the depiction is really there for no other reason than to set mood or highlight how “bad” the bad guy is. Drawn differently, these depictions of violence against women could be used to a much more positive effect.

Take, for example, a woman caught in a bad relationship, perhaps she’s abused by her husband. Rather than have her die gruesomely just to demonstrate his badness, or to save her only to never see her again, what if she had a story arc that continued on, in which the protagonist played a role in helping her break free and become a stronger character? Maybe she could become a partner, or a hero in her own right, whose path sometimes crosses with that of the protagonist. Or maybe she could, herself, become a player character with an entirely different kind of mission that thematically ties in with that of the main protagonist? What if her character were developed to a significant enough degree that she could become the protagonist of the game’s inevitable sequel, or a spinoff at least?

As Sarkeesian comments in her critique, it isn’t enough to simply show a female character being abused, one has to critique it in a meaningful way. Doing this in a narratively meaningful way is certainly not an easy task, but it’s one to which writers of any kind of media, games or film and television, really ought to devote some of their time and energy.

Film, television and video games are stuffed with clichéd writing that takes a lazy approach to depictions of women, and it’s high time we all take a breather and realize that each time we write something that falls into this “trope trap”, we’re betraying our own art and letting our skills go soft.

We can do better, and part of that means honoring the experience of women, and celebrating the heroes they can be.

Check out Ms. Sarkeesian’s video for a more in-depth discussion of this significant problem. Then think about ways you can make a difference.