Things I’m Learning About Stories

If I’m going to keep up blogging once a week, I need to change things up. It usually takes me about two hours to write and publish a post. That’s too slow. So this is going to be a highlight reel of recent things I’m learning, specifically about storytelling.

Be open to anything. 

Fear kills creativity. Too many times I shy away from an idea because I don’t fully understand it or how to execute it. I have too many questions. Will it be interesting? Will people like it? Hate it? Will this be a giant waste of time?

These fear-based questions that prevent me from being truly creative and bold with my stories. Or worse, they prevent me from telling a story entirely.

Pace your edit. 

Rushedstoriesarentgoodstories. Youredeliveringanexperiencenotjustinformation.

Editing is important, but there’s a difference between editing and ripping the soul out of your movie. Sometimes a five second establishing wide shot isn’t enough to bring your audience into the scene.

Take one of my favorite scenes of all time, the argument between Bob and Helen in the Incredibles:

It takes a full twenty-two seconds for Bob to enter the house and start fighting with his wife. It’s not just him walking around either. That’d be boring. He sees a piece of cake, is enticed, then eats it. Okay, maybe that does sound boring in writing. So why is it there and why is it important?

There’s something about simply being with a character that helps the audience empathize. When writing, it’s important to have both the boring moments along with the intense to create contrast.

Ugh, I feel like explaining this concept further, but this is supposed to be highlights, people. But here’s one last prime example of what I’m talking about.

So here we have a scene with just the antagonist. He’s a murderer. We don’t like him. So why, when the car stops sinking midway, do we feel tension? Shouldn’t we want him to fail?

We were with Norman as he sank the car. We were with him as he tried to hide the evidence. Storytelling can take you to unexpected places and allow you to experience emotions with people with whom you wouldn’t normally associate. And that’s power.

Sorry if this feels more like clip notes and less like an actual blog, but honestly this is mostly for myself as I try to understand narratives better.

Stories are about two things: empathy and danger.

This is pretty straight-forward.

If you don’t care, you won’t be interested. Empathy.

If nothing important is happening, you won’t be interested. Danger.

Yeah. That’s about it.

Josh out.

Church Actually Helps

I used to love church.

I was one of those kids who couldn’t wait to go to church every Sunday. If that sounds strange, maybe it is. I know a lot of people who hated church. People whose parents would drag them by their feet into service. And I understand. Not all churches are the same. Some are toxic environments disguised as sanctuaries. It truly sucks.

My first church was CEMC, Chinese Evangel Mission Church. For the first seventeen years of my life I called it home, and still do. My parents met there when they were teenagers, new to the faith. The generation before me created a space where I felt loved and accepted, a safe place for me to grow spiritually as a child. I made my first movies here. I made my childhood friends here. Most of all, I learned who God was and what He meant to everyone around me.

My second church was LCC, Life Covenant Church. As I grew up, so did my faith, and Life was the perfect catalyst. Here I encountered God’s tangible presence for the first time. I could list all the times I knelt on the floor sobbing, overcome by the Holy Spirit. If that sounds weird, it probably was. Yeah, we were a little charismatic. Jesus wasn’t just a historical figure to be studied. He was someone real and alive, and I discovered that being a young adult at Life.

Then I moved to California.

I visited several churches and liked a lot of them. They had good music. Engaging speakers. Friendly people. I tried serving at one of the churches for a few months.

Remember how I mentioned kids whose parents drag them by their feet into service? That was me in Los Angeles, except my parents weren’t here. My spiritual ghost would drag me to church, telling me I needed to go because church was important. But my heart wasn’t there. One Sunday, I drove half an hour to church, slept for the entire service, then drove straight home. It was getting ridiculous.

Was it the church’s fault for not being “right” for me? Well, I’m supposed to serve the church, not vice versa. Should it matter that I didn’t feel comfortable in the community?

I called my mom the other day. She asked if I was going to church. I told her no. I sometimes played a Francis Chan sermon on the TV and I went to bible studies on Thursdays, but that was it. I wanted something like my home church family, but was too lazy to invest in one. During our conversation, my mom pointed out that all the churches I had been to were megachurches, ranging from five hundred to thousands of people. Yet all my life I had never been part of a community larger than a hundred or two.

It suddenly hit me. I had a friend in Torrance who is a worship pastor. Why don’t I just attend his church?

I didn’t tell him I was coming. When worship started and he saw me in the crowd, he smiled. Mind you, there wasn’t more than a fifty people in the service. We started off with a praise movement song for the kids. Wow. I hadn’t done hand motions to a kid’s song in a while. It felt weirdly…freeing.

The pastor was great. I noticed how much he talked about supporting missionaries. It impressed me, considering the church wasn’t huge, how dedicated they were to missions. Like CEMC.

As we went to the closing worship songs, I felt an invisible glue drip over me, stiffening my movements. I realized I hadn’t been in a worship service in a while; at least, one where I felt comfortable in. One that was a simple band playing songs to God, not some EDM concert that felt designed to please the congregation instead of their Creator.

I often get this picture in my head whenever I’m in worship. I imagine the world around me dissolving into millions of tiny cards, flipping over, transforming my reality into a blank, white void. In that moment, all distractions fade away. I see Jesus, standing before me. Nothing exists except Him and me. And I worship.

My body loosened up. I raised my hands and sang.

I still love church. It helps my life, it really does. Something mystical happens there, not because a song had the right lyrics, or the pastor said something that related to my life. But it’s because I encounter the presence of God there.

And that changes everything.

Gotta Take Leaps Of Faith Sometimes, Bruh

A few days ago, I got boba with a friend who noted how much I had changed in the past three years. Not change as in, “Oh, you grew your mustache.” Change as in, I’ve matured a lot. Mainly in the way I handle relationships.

Filmmaking used to be my god. My master, or whatever analogy works. I used to suck at collaborating because I liked being a one man show. Yes, it was stupid. I remember pacing back and forth, alone in a room, after a fight with my editor. He thought I was being too controlling, practically editing the entire film for him. I didn’t trust him. I didn’t just want the film cut my way; I wanted to cut the film myself. Enter my internal monologue.

SMEAGOL-JOSH
Look, you idiot. This isn’t the first time this has happened to you. You need to stop being so power-hungry and let others contribute to this project.

GOLLUM-JOSH
HE’S RUINING THE PROJECT, PRECIOUS! Your editing is so much better! This film could be our ticket to success, and you want to leave it at the hands of this dude we met a couple weeks ago???

SMEAGOL-JOSH
You were once a bad editor as well. How do you expect people to learn if they aren’t given the chance? Besides, what’s more important? People or the project?

GOLLUM-JOSH
THE PROJECT, ME PRECIOUS PROJECT!

SMEAGOL-JOSH
(sigh) You’re hopeless. You need to make a decision. Like, right now. Either trust your editor and let him do his work, or completely take over the film and ruin your friendship forever.

GOLLUM-JOSH
WE KNOW WHAT TO DOOOO!!!

SMEAGOL-JOSH
Someone get this dude a breath mint.

Sadly, this wasn’t too far from the actual dialogue inside my head. It took a while, but I finally understood how unimportant projects were compared to deep friendships and great collaborations.

You know, come to think of it…I’m not sure if I ever officially apologized to the editor. I’m going to do that right now.

(break)

Okay, I’m back. Apparently I did apologize already, and that was kind of awkward and kind of funny. We’re still great friends.

I never want to hold back from apologizing, though. Never. Especially to Jenine. Wow, I’ve owed her a lot of apologies.

Being that she’s my first official relationship, I was bound to make mistakes and I knew it. The problem was that her previous boyfriends were pretty awful, making it easy for me to go, “Hey, at least I’m not doing what so-and-so did!”

It took a while for me to learn that being “not as bad” doesn’t make you “good.”

I thought I was self-sacrificial. Humble. Godly. But my definition of those words came from a twisted narrative that put me in the spotlight. This was MY story, and everyone else was a side character.

For example, my definition of humility was someone telling me, “Wow Josh, that was such an amazing film you made!” to which I would reply, “Oh, it was nothing. God gave me the gifts!”

Pause. That’s not actually humility. I’m still getting praise and glory. Yet I lived in this egotistic bubble for quite a while.

The big change in my life was moving to California. I always knew it would be a huge transition, but I never realized how much moving to the other side of the country would affect my emotional and spiritual maturity. In fact, I barely recognized it as it was happening.

See, it was easy to be surrounded by friends and family who knew and loved me since I was a child. And I knew them as well. I knew the right things to say that would make them go, “Josh, you’re a great guy.” I never had any major conflict that would push my limits of being a good person.

I’m not saying I was a total a**hole. I’m just admitting that I had a lot of growing to do. And still do.

It’s scary, isn’t it? To realize that you’re not going to be the same person in a few years that you are today?

Or maybe you will be. There’s a way that can happen. Stay in your comfort zones. Live within your limits. Surround yourself with people who are easy to love. You’ll feel like a fantastic person.

When I moved to the West Coast, I met a lot of people. More new people than I had ever met in my entire life. EVERYONE I met was a new person, except for Brian. Many of them were not like me. They weren’t all Christians. They weren’t all Asians. They weren’t all homeschooled or had an East Coast mentality. Yes, most of them were filmmakers, but that’s beside the point.

For the first time in my life, I had to deal with people who didn’t know me as Josh Jackson from CEMC, or Josh Jackson from Life Covenant Church, or Josh Jackson, friend of my relative, relative of my friend, and so on.

They just knew me as Josh Jackson, stranger. I had a lot of first impressions to make and relationships to build.

It was difficult. But it formed me. It made me realize that not everything, ha, is about me! And I’m so thankful that it did.

I still can be a selfish person, but I’m slowly becoming more aware. And like they say, knowing is half the battle. One that I intend to fight.

But none of this would’ve happened if I hadn’t moved out of my comfort zone, or taken a leap of faith. I am so grateful for everyone in my life, family and friends, old and new, who have stuck with me on this journey. Thanks to you, I think I’m finally learning what it means to love without limits. My friends on the East Coast gave me the foundation. My friends on the West Coast helped me put it into practice.

Anyhoo, enough about me. I hope you all have a fantastic day or night, depending where in the world you are. I want to make a joke or something to end this on a light note, but…nah.

Josh out.

Plumber Loco

I said something was plumb loco the other day, and no one knew what it meant. Not even Faith, who’s read more books than half the human population. Shocked, I was.

To elaborate, if something is plumb loco, that means it’s crazy. Now you get my title pun.

Anyhoo, my shower drain clogged. Some time ago, my hair catcher disappeared and I neglected to buy a new one for ages. As more and more people used the shower, something was doomed to happen.

I’ve never had a Tinder account, but I imagine it’s similar to messaging multiple businesses on Yelp, trying to figure out which service had the lowest estimate. After swiping right on ten different plumbers, I found one that would clear my drain for fifty-nine dollars. Cool. Within a few hours, the plumber lumbered into my house. I showed him the rising water in my shower. He noticed a guitar in the house.

PLUMBER
You play?

ME
Yeah, I used to lead worship for my church back in Jersey.

PLUMBER
Oh wow, I’m actually part of this outreach progra …

The fifty-year-old Mexican dude began to share his entire testimony with me, how he used to be a meth addict, lost his wife and kids, then eventually found Christ. It was pretty dope. Felt nice to talk to a fellow believer while getting my shower cleaned.

Bad news. The plumbing situation was worse than I thought. It would be a hundred and eighty dollars instead. Eek.

The plumber got to work. To clear the drain, he used something that looked like a jackhammer with a long snake at its end. I could hear him grunting and sweating from my room, adjacent to the bathroom. I guess I’m really getting my hundred and eighty bucks worth, I thought to myself.

Hours passed. I walked over to check on him.

ME
How’s it going?

The plumber stood in a filthy mess of dirt splattered all over the shower.

PLUMBER
Let’s test this baby out.

We ran the water. It rose. Even quicker than before.

PLUMBER
Well, it’s almost six. I gotta get going, but I can come back tomorrow and finish the job.
(beat)
Really sorry about this.

ME
Uh yeah, sure. Whom do I make the check out to?

PLUMBER
Oh, don’t worry about it, just pay me tomorrow. Is eight in the morning good with you?

ME
Sure.

Not paying him in advance turned out to save my butt.

I talked to my roommates. They were perturbed that this guy spent hours in the shower and couldn’t fix the drain. Apparently he was going to bring his boss tomorrow, who had more expertise, and they would fix the problem for sure. But alas, my faith in this company was shattered.

We decided to call my landlord’s plumber instead. Probably should’ve done that to begin with. My roommates called to cancel the original appointment while I watched Avengers with Faith.

I didn’t sleep at all that night. Not because I was thinking about the plumber, but because I had a video to edit for Jubilee. Sorry, misleading. I worked until five in the morning, then immediately left for another freelance gig. Welcome to the exciting, sleepless life of Josh Jackson.

My phone rang while I was at the office. It was the Plumber.

PLUMBER
Hey dude, I need your credit card info.

Bad start to the conversation.

ME
For what?

PLUMBER
For the service we provided.

ME
Well, is it possible to get a discount on the service? Since, you know…you didn’t actually clear my drain.

PLUMBER
Ah, let me get back to you on that.

He hung up. I had no intention on paying him anything.

A couple minutes later, my phone rang again. It was a manager from the plumbing company. I had talked to her yesterday when first booking the appointment.

MANAGER
Hi, is this Josh?

ME
This is me.

MANAGER
Could you explain what happened yesterday? I’m getting multiple stories and want to hear it from you.

I explained what happened. Not very complicated.

MANAGER
Ah, I see. I’m very sorry you had this experience. We understand if you decide to go with another plumber. I know you talked to (the Plumber) and he said he’d offer you a ten percent discount?

I didn’t remember saying anything about ten percent.

MANAGER
The best we can do is lower the price to fifty-nine dollars, which we originally agreed upon.

ME
I can’t really agree with that.

MANAGER
Well, we did send a guy out and provided a service for you.

ME
Okay, say you ordered a pizza from me. Say I spend the time and resources baking the pizza, putting on the pepperoni, etc. Then I drop the pizza on the floor. Would it be fair for me to charge you for that pizza?

The manager’s tone became more frenetic.

MANAGER
Sir, sir, we’re going to send another person, and we guarantee he’ll fix your pipes for fifty-nine dollars.

ME
Well, how does that make me feel as a customer, knowing you sent someone incompetent at his job before sending out your actual plumber?

MANAGER
Sir, we feel like we have a responsibility to finish the job. We can do it for only fifty-nine dollars instead of a hundred and eighty.

She switched it up on me. First, it was going to be fifty-nine bucks just for their plumber to do some cardio in my shower. Now it’s fifty-nine bucks to have the second plumber come and fix it. Slick.

We argued for a few more minutes before I told her that my landlord had final say on which plumber came to the house. Click.

My landlord’s plumber came later that day. He fixed the drain in fifteen minutes flat, then left.

I spent the rest of the night cleaning the mess the original plumber made. Ultimately, I’m grateful for my roommates who prevented me from hiring a fraudulent plumber. They really did me a solid. Don’t really know how to end this blog, so uh, the end.

Josh out.

Processing Some Stuff

You know what I haven’t done in a while? Blog. I did thirty days in a row, then got tired. It’s okay, though. I’m committed to blogging at least once a week. More if I feel like it. This shouldn’t be a scheduled thing.

I have a bunch of unfinished drafts. I started writing my thoughts about turning twenty-five, but then I got busy, life passed, and now I don’t feel like writing it anymore. I do like that I can blog about whatever I’m feeling at the moment. This is raw stuff, baby. Granted, this “rawness” needs to be filtered and edited so that it’s not just me typing “la di da” onto my laptop.

So let’s talk about some feelings. Process this ish.

Dude, I’m lazy. I am so, so lazy. Even telling myself that I’m lazy doesn’t prevent me from being lazy. Being active is not my natural state. It’s like I got to psyche myself up to DO STUFF.

That’s why I try to fill my free time with stuff that motivates me. Like blogging. And vlogging. I’ve been uploading these thirty second vlogs to Instagram. They’re quite fun to make (follow me @jdjackson126). Playing songs on the guitar also helps ease my mind. Or just playing music off Spotify. I find that when there’s a soundtrack in the background, I’m suddenly motivated to get work done. At least I know that about myself.

Man, maybe I should’ve gone to college. I wonder if that would’ve taught me more self-discipline. Eh, I know a lot of people who went to college and still don’t have self-discipline. But they still got debt. Come to think of it, I did dodge a bullet there. I’m not sure if having debt would’ve motivated me to get a better job, but honestly, I’m just glad to be debt-free.

If you’re reading this, sorry for the rambles. I’m just using this blog to process my thoughts, and I encourage you to do the same. It’s kind of freeing, writing something you know the public can see? Sure, I could just write in my own private journal, but it would be barely readable.

Alright, enough blogging for tonight. Just wanted to get a quick post in.

Josh out.

I Don’t Have Time

Man, oh man. In a perfect world, I could relax in a cabin somewhere in the Poconos, sip a glass of orange juice, and just write to my heart’s content. With lots of naps in between. I would wait for inspiration to hit.

I have jobs. Freelance gigs. I have responsibilities. Things I promised others. There are a couple things on my toodoo list that are a couple months old. Ouch. What’s preventing me from just…doing it? Laziness? That’s it, right? Just…laziness.

I was supposed to apply to Buzzfeed as a visual effects artist several months ago. I haven’t. I need to revamp my resume for that to happen. And that’s just not…interesting to do.

You suck. You really, really suck, Josh. You can’t do a simple thing like revamp your resume for SEVERAL MONTHS?

After I finish writing this post, I’m probably not going to revamp my resume. I could. I totally could. It’s within the realm of possibility. That’s one of my favorite things to say, that something is within the realm of possibility. It reminds me the only thing preventing me from making something happen is myself.

I feel like I don’t have time. The reality is I have the same amount of time as everyone else. And it’s time to start moving.

Josh out.

Love Doesn’t Have Opinions

Ugh, I probably shouldn’t be blogging at three in the morning when I have to be up in five hours. I’m seeing Avengers at ten thirty tomorrow…well, technically today, and I don’t want to fall asleep for a second. Not that I think I will. Sorry, off topic.

I’ve been reading this book called Everybody Always by Bob Goff. Just a simple book reminding me to love everybody. Always. Hence the title. But a small line in the book blew my mind.

We start to see that our time here isn’t meant to be spent forming opinions about the people we meet. It’s an opportunity to draw the kind of circles around them that grace has drawn around us, until everybody is on the inside.

I have a terrible habit. Whenever I meet someone new, my mind starts flagging them for good or bad qualities, like a TSA agent scanning for metal objects. This helps me form an opinion about their character, to see if they’re someone I’d like to hang out with in the future, or avoid.

Does this person seem like they have an agenda? Red flag. Are they talking about themselves too much? Red flag. Do they not have a sense of humor? Red flag.

I tell myself I do this out of self-defense, but really it’s just fear.

I don’t always do this. Sometimes I pour myself out to people when I feel like it. I have a lot of great friendships that were born this way. One time, I was at a party where I knew mostly everyone, except this new guy. Let’s call him Hester. Hester only knew one person at the party. For some odd reason, I decided to strike up a chat and be the friendliest, most welcoming person I could be. I honestly have no idea why. It was one of my good days.

Hester continued to come to our future parties, even when the one person he used to know moved away. He’s just a really cool dude who’s fun to hang around.

I never did my flagging thing with Hester. We just got to know each other as friends.

What if I treated everyone like that? Even people I might have heard iffy things about.

What if I stopped trying to form opinions about the people I meet and just tried loving them instead?

I think I’d have a lot more positive encounters. And a lot more friends.

Josh out.