Wednesday, November 2, 2016

VLOG Ep 1 "Where are you in your story?"

Let me introduce you to a rather well known modern literary character who is, by far and wide, one of the more beloved of his genre.

Now a father and husband, his career is both scandalous and prestigious. For you see, looking back, the man is a war hero, a solider, a commissioned officer and a one of the most influential counselors in a post-war government that he helped pave the way for. During a brutal war that started off as a desperate insurgency, his knowledge of the black market and its interconnected smuggling routes was put to good use moving and supplying men and women who were both fighting and dying against a brutally oppressive regime. While none in retrospect would doubt his credentials as a hero, even his own wife jokingly referred to him as a scoundrel a few times; a poetic reference to his time before their first, dramatic meeting.

But, for all of this flowery language and nod-and-wink referencing, the fact of the matter is that our hero had a truly dark background. A military officer, he deserted the Navy, and went into business for himself as an errand boy and freighter captain. When legitimate business didn’t pay enough, he went into smuggling and eventually filled his contracts with links to organized crime, including narcotics smuggling for several powerful and ruthless crime bosses. The characteristic pistol he kept at his side was hardly a decoration, and our yet to be named hero had seen more than his share of gunfights with little more than selfish motivation behind each pull of the trigger.

The turning point for our hero is a story worthy of legend itself, and this arguable highpoint is a literary narrative that has now spanned two generations and hundreds of languages. Pulled into a smuggling run with the promise of money and nothing more, our hero is offered a chance to turn his life around and become the leader he knows he can be. But instead, he grabs his reward and runs, seeking comfort in wealth, safety on solitude. It is only at this point, safe and removed from danger, that the weight of his decisions come to him, and rather than continue on the way he has, he turns and races back, arriving just in time to help turn the tide in a desperate last ditch battle.

For those of you why may be of a certain age, or those of you have parents who meet that criteria, you probably already know who I am talking about.

But for the rest of you, I, of course, am describing none other than the heroic scoundrel from a galaxy far, far away, Han Solo. An almost accidental creation on the part of George Lucas, Han’s character is so convoluted and over the top in many ways that even the actor who brought him to the screen didn’t care for him. Harrison Ford had repeatedly said that he was least impressed with this creation of Lucas’, and had little desire to revisit the character after the close of 1983’s “Return of the Jedi.” Ultimately, it took the literary power of authors like Timothy Zahn, Brian Daley, and Ann C. Crispin to give the character the emotional weight needed to earn him his rightful place in the hearts and minds of loyal Star Wars fans across three decades of readership.

But how did these master wordsmiths expand on our intergalactic cowboy? They did it by painting the picture of a boy, and then a man, pushed to selfish motives, with sketchy manners, and nothing but contempt for the law. They painted a person who deep down was honorable, but on the surface was nothing more than a criminal, and played the part with no break between acts.

It is only with the retrospect of that climactic scene in “Star Wars: A New Hope,” where Han Solo blazes in at the absolute last moment to clear the way for Luke Skywalker to destroy the Death Star, that we as an audience can allow ourselves to truly enjoy the stories of an unpleasant young criminal named Han. Only with knowing what he will eventually become, can we be allowed to enjoy the stories of his seedy and dishonest beginnings, cherishing every glimmer we see of the seldom seen hero that we know is buried within.

And while Han Solo is perhaps the most popular literary figure to wear the title of redeemed rogue, he is not the first.

The legend of Aladdin starts with a thief.

Sinbad was a pirate.

Jumping forward, even Disney’s Flynn Ryder from the 2010 movie Tangled has a backstory that could best be described as a cardboard cutout template for “Movie Bad Guy.”

We love these characters, all of them, because the power of the literary narrative lets us specifically see their acts and the motives in the same instant. We are welcomed into their hearts and minds selectively in a specific effort to tell a powerful narrative meant to engage the audience at an emotional level.

So, let me ask you this. What would you have said if you had first met our unscrupulous Han Solo a month before his faithful encounter at the Mos Eisley Cantina? How much adoration and respect would you have shown an underworld smuggler who’s idea of settling an argument was to blast his opponents before they could blast him. How much leeway would you have given him after seeing him shake hands and make deals with the Hutts, who themselves were slavers, murders, drug dealers, and the overall incarnation of the word “criminal.” What would you have said if you had not been able to see the hidden pain or longing behind Han’s eyes as he made his choices?
How long would you have sat there and talked with this common thief?

How long would you want to sit and talk with Sinbad, a pirate whose goal every morning was to rob and pillage?

How long would Flynn’s charisma had been able to mask his selfish and lazy lifestyle?

These people, and a great many more in Literature, cinema, religion, and even history, are seen today as heroic, and in many cases as redeemed rogues due to the retrospect of their story. That is to say that we can look at them in seconds and understand that their faults at one time were not the sum total of their character. And that even in their darkest moments, they were able, and they chose to make a change.

But this, here, is not literature, or scripture, or even a history textbook. This, here and now, is the naked, precise, imperfect reality that we live in today. We are gifted with hindsight that is not only 20/20, but the modern internet affords us information at levels and speeds our ancestors could never have dreamed of. On the past and present, none before us were ever so well informed.

However, we lack the perspective of knowing what change can and will happen going forward.

So, while we embrace the literary redeemed rogue, we are forced into the imperfect decision making process that is real life. We must evaluate people in the here and now, with only our best judgment and our perceptions, imperfect as they may be, to say what they are, and what they may become.

But perhaps most depressing of all, is that we must look at ourselves in the mirror with much the same blindness. We see only our current actions, and for many of us, we see only the crushing weight of our mistakes. Due to a cruel twist of fate, many of us are chemically predisposed to remember our faults, our wrongs, our shortcomings first and foremost when we look in the mirror.

Now, I want you to listen to me very carefully for this next part. I want you to think on this for a second.

In order to be a redeemed rogue, you much first be a rogue.

Let that sink in. I seriously want you to think about it because I have another thought for you.

Where are you in your story?

And that person you don’t like, that bully from school, that liar from work, that gossip from church…
That reflection in the mirror.

Is it possible, maybe, somehow, that they are someone trying to change, or someone who will try and change in the future?

Where are they in their story?

Where are you in yours?

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