Creative Control

Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist

My life, the hackneyed plot device.

brainI’ve never taken Writing Mediocre Drama 101, so I can’t confirm this, but I have to believe that one of the chapters in the textbook is about brain tumors.

You know what I’m talking about. Person A in Riveting TV Drama begins to act completely out of character. This character switch may last the entire season. There may or may not be a reason for this change–sudden emotional or physical trauma occurring in the life of this character, for example–but this, I assure you, is a red herring. Really, the character has changed because of a previously unnoticed brain tumor. And at the end of the arc, either this character will collapse and be treated for the tumor, after which he’ll be good old likeable Person A again, or he’ll simply die, and Persons B-Z will realize “Oh, that’s why he was such a jerk all this time. How sad. I miss the person he once was, and I even miss the person he became before he died.”

I’m not saying that there’s no potential for effective drama to be found here, nor am I saying that a brain tumor is any laughing matter. However, it can often feel like the Brain TumorTM is little more than a convenient excuse to toy with a character the writer has grown bored with. I also wonder if, on certain occasions, it operates as a deus ex machina for those writers who actually had no good reason to change a character, and only realized that after the fact.

I have a point here that goes beyond complaining about lazy television writing.

The weather in Chicago has been cold and gray all week, which means it has been cold and gray all year. It’s made me feel antsy and edgy and simply put, not quite myself. It’s not that I currently have the Brain TumorTM, it’s that I in fact want the Brain TumorTM, that I want some sort of excuse to behave in a manner outrageously different than my own.

Even though I have a wonderful fiancee, a decent job, a great gig with a stable theater company, many wonderful friends and family members; there’s this tiny, impish part of me that wants to run off to Rio de Janeiro without telling anybody about it. To throw it all away for some kind of cheap visceral thrill, or perhaps to throw it all away because that would be the cheap visceral thrill. I’m sitting here at work on a gray and white day and I want to do something scarlet and orange instead.

But I want to be able to blame it on a Brain TumorTM.

I must make it clear what a tiny part of me this is, and how easily and often I can beat it when it challenges me to an arm-wrestle. It has learned, I think, that January is the best time to toss down the gauntlet, but that doesn’t mean it gets very much closer to victory.

I worry that as I get older these spiritual muscles will atrophy while the impish part simply gets stronger, and that at the fateful moment where those two progressions meet I’ll get a mistress and a sports car and become that worst sort of human being…

…the Cliche.

I don’t to my knowledge have a brain tumor, and I don’t to my knowledge have a Brain TumorTM. Any such notions are only attempts to justify less pleasant subdivisions of my thoughts, the same way we try to pretend that folks like Jeffrey Dahmer and Adolf Hitler weren’t just human beings like the rest of us–because we don’t want to have to take stock of how close we are to that abyss ourselves.

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This entry was posted on January 8, 2006 by in Critique, Mental Health, Television, Writing.
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