A Cool Writing Phenomenon in M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘Split’

If you haven’t already, please see M. Night Shyamalan’s new film Split—not just because it’s great, but because you shouldn’t read this blog post if you haven’t seen it, since there will be spoilers at a certain point. (I’ll let you know when.)

There’s a thing that happens when you write a thing, and go through drafts of writing a thing, where sometimes you have to entirely scrap major plot stuff that, while great, for some reason isn’t structurally sound and unfortunately can’t be fixed. The thing is though, because it was ever there, it’s kind of always there—erase all you want, there will still be the marks of it, like when you squint at pencil you’ve erased and can see the indents of the marks in the paper.

Because of that, I’ve decided to call this phenomenon (which I don’t think has ever had a name) erased pencil marks.

Split has some significant erased pencil marks in it. And yes, M. Night is a twisty filmmaker, but no, this isn’t the case of a red herring deliberately put in the film in order to mislead the audience. I mean, sure, it may effectively do that for a few viewers (probably just me) but unintentionally so.

If it were intentional, the plot he chose over this one would have been more interesting, more clever, rather than simply less clever (but apparently more functional, since he used it instead).

Because, by their very nature, the erased pencil marks are so hard to see, I’ll tell you them. And once I do, you’ll never not see them when you watch the movie, and hell, never not think about them when you even think about the movie.

*SPOILER BUFFER SPACE*

*SPOILER BUFFER SPACE*

*SPOILER BUFFER SPACE*

Kevin is Casey’s older brother.

That is why, when he hijacked the car, he sprayed the two other girls and only sprayed Casey when he she tried to escape and he absolutely had to.

She is not as nervous as the other two when held captive because she believes he won’t hurt them or touch them inappropriately. She doesn’t tell them he’s her brother because she thinks she can reach him, can get him to let them go, without having to. And, she is not even sure how far gone he is—he may not even recognize her anymore.

The flashbacks throughout the film of young Casey and her father hunting are to underscore the fact that she had a strong relationship with her father and her brother didn’t. He missed out on all that bonding due to his mental illness. (These scenes are also, of course, about more than just hunting—he’s training her to be able to defend herself against her brother, i.e., put him down like animal, if ever it should come to that.)

The whole reason for hiding his last name until the third act was so that it could be revealed, as the twist, that his last name is same as Casey’s, and is her brother. This adds deeper meaning to the fact that in order to defeat him she has to say his full name—acknowledging, out loud, who he is, which she has fear about. (The twist also gives the audience a delayed ‘eww!’ as they remember the scene where they kissed.)

Cool, right?

Very cool, but didn’t fully work apparently or else M. Night would have done it. Like I said, sometimes great ideas just have to get axed for the overall sake of the thing.

I of course have absolutely no proof this plot was ever even swirling around in M. Night’s head. But I’m pretty sure it was—it’s too good an idea for someone working on the story to not have thought of it while working on it. If I ever cross paths with him, I’ll ask him.

Neal Brennan’s New Comedy Special ‘3 Mics’ is a Thing of Beauty

3 Mics‘, Neal Brennan’s new comedy special on Netflix, is a thing of a beauty. Not only is it funny and moving, but it feels important in a way that a lot of comedy specials, however entertaining they may be, simply don’t. It’s daring, innovative, and fresh—which is what we always look for out of comedians as far as the actual material that comprises their specials, but rarely demand of their specials themselves. After this one, we may start to.

When it comes to comedy specials, we’re typically content with a comedian, a microphone, an audience, and a curtain. 3 Mics has all those things—plus, simply, two more mics. But that little addition, and how it is utilized, takes it to another level.

At stage left is a microphone for one-liners.

At stage right is a microphone for stand-up.

And at center stage is a microphone for what Neal has termed ’emotional stuff’.

I knew this going in, but how he’d be using the different mics was a mystery to me. Would he be constantly darting back and forth between them? How exactly was this going to work, and more importantly, would it work?

The way Neal switches between the three microphones is through what could be called chapters. After a chapter at one microphone, the lights go down, the audience applauds the end of the chapter, and then the lights come up and Neal is at the microphone that his next chapter takes place at.

The one-liner mic is used as a palate cleanser after ’emotional stuff’ sections, which are mostly laugh-free (by design). Then it’s off to the stand-up mic for a while, and then back to the ’emotional stuff’ mic.

The pattern may be simple, but it’s effective and never monotonous. And the idea of combining three different stand-up styles and having them work together to create peaks and valleys is ingenious. This is serious ‘why hasn’t anyone done this before?’-level stuff.

While the stand-up material itself is quite good, it’s all made even better buy the presentation, or rather, the orchestration. You simply laugh way harder and more cathartically at one-liners after you’ve just heard a long story about depression than if you were to simply hear them in a vacuum. And you’re more apt to listen intently to a jokeless story after the ice has been broken with some standup bits.

This is truly a standup special that is greater than the sum of its material, and I hope comedians who see it are inspired by it to innovate. It’s what the art form has needed for quite some time.

With my own standup—and my own standup special to be filmed later this year—I’ve been looking to innovate as well. Seeing this special has helped me feel a bit less alone in that pursuit, and has been confirmation for me that I am on the right track as far as my impulse to do so.

I hope you enjoy the special, and I hope you enjoy mine too!

I Write Poetry Every Day And You Should Too

Most of my friends know this on Facebook, but I’m not sure how many people outside of there know it, so here goes:

I write at least one good poem every single day.

Now, by that I do not mean that I believe every single thing that comes out of my fingers and is poetry is good. What I mean is that I hold myself to the standard of writing at least one good poem a day. If I sit down and write a poem, and it sucks to the point that I can’t even make it not suck by changing around words in it, I delete it and start over. Rinse, repeat, for as long as it takes for a good poem to come out of me.

You probably have an image in your head of me obsessively writing poems all day long, maybe amidst a sea of crumpled up papers.

That could not be further from the truth. I would say that 95% of the time or maybe even higher, I bang a good poem out in one shot.

This is somewhat due to the fact that I’ve been doing this for quite a while now. I began this journey on September, 26th, 2014, and since then I’ve written over 1,200 poems. (1,217 to be exact—as of the writing of this blog post.)

Two years and change might not seem like ‘quite a while’, but when you’re forcing yourself to write one good poem every single day, it’s damn sure quite a while. At this point, it feels like I’ve been doing it my whole life.

I should mention though that I have been writing poetry ever since I was about 13 years old, so this isn’t a form of writing I just picked up. But, I wrote poetry very sparingly over those many years, and the quality was inconsistent. Like most creatives, I waited for ‘inspiration’ to strike me—which is to say, mostly I just did other stuff. That was until 2014, when my entire attitude towards creating changed.

In 2014, my mom and best friend in this world was diagnosed out of the blue with Stage 4 breast cancer. She passed away six months after her diagnosis, after a hard-fought battle. I was with her every single day as her caretaker. It was the hardest time of either of our lives.

After that harrowing ordeal, my entire creative philosophy changed. I realized that none of us has any idea how long we have in this world. For all I know, this blog post could be the last thing I ever write. For all you know, this blog post could be the last thing you ever read. Literally all any of us has is the present. We aren’t even guaranteed one second from now. All we have is this.

For me, as a creative, to spend even a single day of my life not creating suddenly felt like a complete and utter waste of time. That feeling hasn’t shaken from me yet, and I hope it never will, because I have created more and better creative work in the last two years and change than I have in all the years I’ve spent on this earth prior to that.

In the last two years or so, I have written and published seven books of poetry, one novel, one book of ten short stories, and one novella. That’s 10 written and published works. And it’s all because of deciding to write one good poem every night, and holding to it.

Holding myself to at least one good poem every day was my way of reconnecting with my muse, which up until then I’d had a rocky, on-and-off relationship with at best. Most artists do. They booty call their muse once every few weeks, if that, and expect her to be instantly willing and in the mood, which she often isn’t. (And can you blame her?) I didn’t want that anymore. I wanted a serious, committed relationship, which is what she has always wanted, and has always deserved.

So, every day (or rather, every night—I write my poems before bed) I showed up and wrote a poem. And right away she could sense a true difference in me, because what came out was great. The best poem I had ever written. (You can read it in my first poetry book, Legitimate Forms of Cum. It’s the first poem in there.)

We’ve been inseparable ever since. And on top of that ritual, whenever I am writing a novel or a short story or a novella, I force myself to write at least one page of it a day, on top of writing one good poem. (Notice I didn’t say one good page a day—novels are they’re own beast, and I’ll talk more about them in another blog post.)

This has worked wonders for me, and I know it can work wonders for anyone. I believe that this ritual can help anyone who wants to accelerate the quantity and quality of their creative writing. Just start slow—a poem a day—and then you’ll start doing more and more creative writing as well, and it’ll flow great and be great. It has absolutely changed my life, and the lives of friends who have taken me up on it.

To those of you who have perhaps never written poetry before if your life, I’d say don’t even hold yourself to one good poem a day. Just write a poem a day. Hold yourself to just that bit of diligence, and you will get better over time and a voice will emerge and all that.

In closing, here’s the poem I wrote today. It will be in my upcoming poetry book, due out sometime in the Spring or Summer of this year:

No, It’s Not Okay To Sucker Punch People (Even If They’re Nazis)

Over the past day or two I’ve watched friends of mine—people I know to be non-violent in their day-to-day lives—throw their better nature out the window and instantly collectively hive-mind to believe that sucker punching people is okay, so long as it is a nazi that is being punched.

This prompted me to take to Twitter and Facebook and remind them that, no, sucker punching people is not okay, no matter what. What happened to Richard Spencer is not cool, or funny, or valiant—it is senseless, unprovoked, cowardly violence. And it is behavior that any group should never condone, and always actively self-police against.

Liberals should be decrying this. Instead, they’re crying with laughter, meme-ing the video like crazy, and even meme-ing the entire concept of unprovoked assaults against nazis as some sort of fun, positive, encouraged thing. (I will not be linking to any of that stupidity here—if you want to see it, follow pretty much any millennial liberal on Twitter and you’ll see plenty of it.)

The only time it is acceptable to use violence is in self-defense against violence. Words—even absolutely horrible ones—should be met only with words. How this is suddenly a controversial position is beyond me, but believe it or not, today I’ve lost Twitter followers, and even actual friends over it. Over espousing non-violence!

I’ve been called a nazi sympathizer over my position on this issue. I am not. I am a champion of freedom and equality—which means defending the rights of even people you absolutely do not agree with. I do not at all agree with nazism, but I will never not defend a nazi’s rights as an American.

If we only defend the rights of people we agree with, that is literally mob rule. That is chaos and tribalism. That is viewing rights as privileges to be fought over. Rights are not that—rights are inalienable. Rights are for all.