Changing your stars
I love "A Knights Tale."
It's a bit of a guilty pleasure, but it's also one of the most underrated movies of all time. The acting? It's okay. The scope? Not terribly epic. So what is it about this film that makes me sit down and watch it to completion (every time without fail) if I come across as I'm changing channels?
It's entertaining, sure, but that's not it.
It's how I identify with the main characters (William Thatcher, played by the late Heath Ledger) quest to rise above his meager upbringing. As a child, his father instills in him the belief that he can "Change his stars", and it is a belief that he convinces his two friends to go in with in a plan to impersonate a nobleman and compete as a traveling joust champion.
I'm not going to ruin the movie for you, because if you haven't seen it already, I want you to go do it now, I think it's on Netflix. No, seriously, go do it now, and come back.
Okay, now that everyone is on the same page, I'll continue.
The idea that someone can significantly improve their way of life used to go by another name "The American Dream." It's a dream that most people view with skepticism nowadays, but it can still be had. It can be extremely hard to rise above your station and live a better life, because the system seems to like everyone right where they are. There isn't room for everyone at the top, etc. Sometimes, it feels impossible. I mean, it SHOULD be difficult, or else everyone would do it, and the top wouldn't be the top anymore, it would be the new normal, and you wouldn't really be improving your quality of life comparatively to the rest of the population.
That's why the saying, "Change your stars" rings so true. For astronauts to reach the stars, it takes a huge amount of rocket fuel and courage to get there. It takes a leap of faith, and alot of hard work. Much like in life. Surprisingly enough, it's not the hard work that stops most people. We're americans, despite popular opinion around the rest of the world, we know how to work hard when we need to. It's the leap of faith that we have a hard time with.
Hope is in short supply, and without hope there can be no vision. Vision is the ability to see where things are going, or where you want to be. If you don't think it's even possible, you don't even bother to look. I'm rehashing alot of themes here repeatedly, but it's important that everyone understands what I'm talking about before I move on, because I'm about to go off on one of my tangents before I bring it all full circle and explain why I'm even talking about this on my writing blog.
People can get used to oppression. They can be taught that their hope is useless. They can be taught that a life of honest hard work is really the only honest way to live, and they will believe it because that is what everyone else believes. The system is geared to keep you from getting ahead by working harder. It will not let you win, not because it's evil, but because it's just the way things need to be for it all to work.
In order to reach what I call "escape velocity", like the rocket that an astronaut might take to space, you need a transformative event in your life. The most obvious one is winning the lottery. It's popular because the risk you take in playing it is small, usually a dollar or two per ticket, and the potential payoff is usually huge, like the $550 million dollar Powerball payout that someone in Florida recently won.
$550 million dollars will change just about anyone's life, or at least give them the tools to change it for themselves. Not every lottery winner ends up happy though. Often, the money brings out the worst in the people around them, and the worst in themselves. They become petty and narcissistic. It removes the natural tendency we have to earn our way in life, even though some of us work harder than others. I am historically not an extremely hard worker. I tentd to look for the most efficient way to do a job and take it. Some people appreciate that, and some people are angered by it and call it being lazy.
Sometimes, they get REALLY angry that you found a way to do something that works alot easier than the way they did it, and they really would just prefer it if you did the way they understand. Hidden in the back of that fear of the unknown is a small amount of malice for all of the times that they did it the hard way.
And that is another tool of our system that keeps everyone in line, the middle management approach. If you insulate the top from the bottom with enough layers of management, the middle layers will do the job of keeping the lower class down for you, out of their own self preservation. That's the genius of middle management in the first place, and why many times they are left in place by the higher ups even thought it becomes hard to justify the additional levels of bureaucracy. They are good at what they do, even if all they do is prevent the little people from gumming up the works.
I know this is starting to sound a little militia-ish, and that's not my intent. I merely want to set the stage for what everyone is up against. People don't like change, they like the security and comfort of the status quo. They give up rights that previous generations have died for just to sleep a little better at night. This is a topic that I have been exploring in my current WIP. My main character is caught up in this system, and it is threatening to cost him everything he cares about because he is not an important enough person to move the needle.
When he decides to take matters into his on hands, committing an act that is as illegal in 2037 as it is today, he takes a leap of faith. Now, I'm not recommending that everyone start trying to know off banks. Not everyone is good at crime, and those that are are already going to try.
But everyone has the ability to dream, and whats more, we all used to know that. Somewhere along the way, we've decided that it's too much effort. Just give me my clean sheets and three squares, throw a little television in the corner, and I'm happy, they say. Well that's great, but that's what they give criminals serving time for murder and assault.
Just like the cages that hold our criminals in record numbers, our minds can lock away our ambition, our creativity, and our ability to dream. I used to be one of those people. I had a family, I had a car, a house, and a mortgage, and I was happy. I didn't need any more than that, and if someone else hadn't had either the courage or selfishness to want more for themselves, I might still be in that position.
A funny thing happens to someone who finds themselves having to rediscover who they are at age 31. They have to face themselves in the mirror, and when they do, they realize that the old habits and limitations that they placed on themselves might not apply anymore. Some people do crazy stuff like take up extreme sports or use it as an excuse to ignore those around them and live the elfish, hedonistic life that they feel like they missed out on at some point.
Me? I started writing. I had alot of emotion to process, and I decided that putting it down on paper and working it out that way made alot more sense than any of the alternatives. I put alot of my anger, fear, and spite into the main character of my upcoming novel pre://d.o.mai.n, and it's been hugely cathartic to combine my "moon shot" (writing), with his (stealing millions of dollars from the federal government to fund his mothers cancer cure and save her life).
I think we all need our moon shot, our one direction where we can channel our energy and resources and take a leap of faith.
I have no idea if everyone is going to love this novel as much as I do, but I'm taking that chance. I've devoted a year of my life to seeing it though and as I near the end of the creative process, I don't regret it for a minute. If you want to understand people, don't listen to what comes out of their mouths, pay attention to what they do. If the height of their existence is to have a cold six pack of beer every night and that their sports teams win everything this year, then our civilization is going no where.
We need to create, we need to dream. Those that say they "Wish I was creative like that", just haven't found their medium yet. Everyone has something to contribute, everyone has that one thing that they can do so well that people will pay them millions of dollars just to see or hear about it. The trick is to DO IT.
Take a chance, go for it and have no regrets. There will always be jobs for you to work for the next 40 years if it doesn't work out, and in most cases, you can even work a day job while creating your dream. Step outside the expectations placed on you by our system and be one of the few able to question whats around you, see how fake most of the limits are and take your leap of faith. Change your stars.
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