The Matrix is one of my all-time favorite movies. I actually went to the theater and paid movie ticket prices to see it—albeit 1999 movie ticket prices—but I shelled out the clams, nonetheless. That’s rare. With the quick turnaround from theatrical to dvd release, as well as the low retail costs, I usually don’t mind waiting the additional few months before they’re marketed for the home. In other words, I’m cheap very frugal.
But with The Matrix…well, for some reason, that movie was different. I had to see it at the movie house, as if compelled by a higher being—Divine Intervention, one might say—and on the last blustery day of March, I braved the crowds and waited an hour before settling into a burlap-covered cushion of The San Diego Cineplex.
The lights dimmed, the previews played, and the soundtrack took lead with its now-familiar oscillating chord. A blinking cursor on a blank computer filled the big screen. After seven of the most gripping opening minutes of any movie I’d ever seen, I knew my life was about to change dramatically.
Wake up, Mike….the Matrix has you…follow the white rabbit.
Two hours and nine minutes later, while passers-by bumped my knees wriggling to get out, I sat dumbfounded, unable to move—awestruck. I actually had a spiritual awakening of sorts, and was enlightened in a way no other film had done before, nor any film since.
Perhaps it was the intricate tapestry of philosophies woven together in a well-written Messianic journey, or it could’ve been the futuristic love story of two people fated to explore their destinies together, or maybe it was the never-before-seen spectacular visual effects. Regardless, it spurred an awakening within me.
However, this article is not a review or dissection of the movie. Today, as part of my Insecure Writer’s Support Group post, I’ll be discussing Socrates’ philosophy, “Know Thyself,” and how that knowledge can turn one into a more confident and secure person, and thus, a more confident writer. Please take a moment to watch the clip; it’s under two minutes and integral to the rest of the post. Besides, it’s a damn good scene.
Know thyself—what a concept!
This scene inspires me every time I see it. Here we have Neo seeking clarity and direction from The Oracle.
“Do you think you’re The One?” she asks.
“Honestly, I don’t know.” he says. She then refers to the sign above the door that reads, Temet Nosce, or Know Thyself.
Without saying another word, but pointing her cigarette and lemonade laden hand to the sign, she essentially tells him, when you know yourself, you don’t have to ask that question. You just…know.
But she says it anyway.
“Being The One is just like being in love. No one can tell you you’re in love, you just know it, through and through, balls to bones.”
I love that line—balls to bones—classic. However, to expound on this, “Knowing thyself (i.e., being and knowing you’re The One, as in Neo’s case) is just like being in love. No one can tell you…you just know it, through and through, balls to bones.”
She holds his hands to get a reading and, because Neo does not yet know or believe in himself, tells him that he is not The One—he “is waiting for something…his next life, maybe.” In truth, he is waiting on self-awareness and an awakening. He will not fully become The One without a firm belief and inner knowledge that he is The One.
When are our doubts most prevalent?
I hate to generalize, or give a one-reason answer to a question when many are possible, but as a writer, my doubts crop up most when I put a new piece up for scrutiny; when I expose to the world my wildest dreams in story—because oftentimes those dreams are far-removed from who I am as a person.
Sometimes those dreams are fantastical. Sometimes they’re wholesome and family-friendly. Sometimes, raw and gritty. They run the gamut. But never have they been a direct accounting of my life. On the contrary, I tap into shared emotion rather than circumstance, although the circumstance may have been something I’ve witnessed in my life.
The reason I bring this up for IWSG, is recently, I shared two pieces on my blog: an excerpt from my WIP started in November, and a thousand-word short last month as part of Composers for Relief. It’s been awhile since I’ve done that, and boy, were my insecurities knocking at the door. Heck, pounding is more like it. My works were extreme opposites of each other.
Exposure of the latter made me nervous because I was touching on newly healed wounds, and although the story was fictitious, with reality ten times more painful, getting the feelings just right was crucial—and heartbreaking all over again. I wanted to do a good job.
As for the excerpt, that shook my tree for an entirely different reason—it contained cussing. And not just your run of the mill “damn” or “hell” or “a-hole,” but the F-bomb. After the first few paragraphs, much to my surprise, it slipped out of my main character’s mouth and dropped like an Atomic Bomb, mushroom cloud and everything, followed shortly by his father’s irreverent use of “GD” and “Chrissakes.”
That is so unlike me.
You see, in real life, this man behind the words is a Christian. I may not be a saint or your typical devotee, but I don’t really cuss, even though I know all the terms and have used them a time or two, usually for humor. Heck, I was in a fraternity and the Navy. But I wasn’t raised in a cussing household and was taught that someone who swears has an underdeveloped vocabulary and can’t think of the appropriate word.
But for story, sometimes profanity is the best choice, for not everybody is like me, such as the characters in my novel.
When two worlds collide
When I write about something that contradicts my own values, of course it makes me a bit uncomfortable, but where would literature be if we stayed in our comfort zones? Where would the world be? How would growth and change ever occur? For it is through new ways of thinking and radical approaches in conveying those ideas that changes are made.
My work-in-progress is a redemption and reconciliation story. I want to show major growth: what things were like, what transpired to make them different, and then the final transformation—a complete metamorphosis. But it’s not your typical pantie-waist story that the religious sect puts out to later showcase Kirk Cameron in the movie version. The affair in that story was no more torrid than a healed hemorrhoid. The author (and later, director) showed no real change, no heart-tugging reconciliation between father and daughter, no real depth throughout the book or movie. No wonder they were Left Behind.
Why? Because many times fellow artists (authors, actors, directors) who are Christians are too afraid to get their hands dirty, they don’t want “to go there” or feel it necessary to be that extreme; they are too worried what their church brethren will think. And in turn, they only reach people like themselves; they preach to the choir. The Matrix showed real vulnerability of characters, growth, salvation—and reached multitudes. That’s the kind of story I want to tell.
I want to reach the masses, the unchurched, the ones who speak in the words of my characters and act like them and endure the painful lives they lead, and oftentimes, those lives are totally different than people who’ve had a religious upbringing. To do this, I need to get down in the trenches.
Knowing Thyself is important in order to write with such grittiness and literary abandon and not lose yourself in the process. And with a strong belief system as an anchor—no matter your belief system—it quiets the criticisms and calms the fears when exposing yourself and your readership to all the “uncomfortable” stuff. Only then will self-doubting questions such as, “If I write that, what will my church family, or people in general, think of me?” fall by the wayside.
Because I believe that my God, creator of the universe, is smart enough to know what I’m doing. After all, he’s the one putting the words in my head.
Know thyself, Neo. It will free your mind. This, I truly believe.[youtube.com/watch?v=8H31mmbN6Rk]
This post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. We post the first Wednesday of every month and share our solutions to common difficulties, encourage other writers to meet their insecurities head-on, and seek supportive shoulders when we’ve received one too many rejections. If you’d like to join the group (and we’d love to have you), follow the link to the IWSG website, grab a badge, and put your name on the list. I’ll see you next month!
ML Swift is a writer of Middle Grade, Young Adult, and Adult fiction, although he dabbles in many genres.
An Alzheimer’s caregiver for the past ten years, he has published several articles on The Alzheimer’s Reading Room, the largest online website catering to that community, and plans to write a novel about his experience in caregiving.
He resides in Florida with his dogs, Rameses and Buster, attempting to reclaim his side of the bed.