LOST: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

The other day I was thinking about the special books I’ve read during my lifetime—and by special, I mean those I enjoyed enough to read multiple times. As a young girl, I loved the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys stories and read them countless times during Wisconsin’s hot, humid summers. I also adored every book in the Black Stallion series by Walter Farley—a prized collection that still claims treasured shelf space in my office today. As an adult, my special list includes Ordinary People (Judith Guest), Colony and Outer Banks (Anne Rivers Siddons), Saint Maybe (Anne Tyler), Something Wicked This Way Comes (Ray Bradbury), Lost Boys (Orson Scott Card), Hearts in Atlantis and 11-22-63 (Stephen King). Okay, so I haven’t reread the latter yet; I know I will eventually, so it makes the list.

What it is about the books on my adult list that lures me in for a second or third read? Without a doubt, the combination of great storytelling and memorable characters. Which brings me to the heart of this post: Jody and I are watching LOST all the way through for the third time.

As unbelievable as it is, we continue to pick up clues, bits and pieces that make the LOST experience more engaging than ever. We are midway through season 3. So far, we have debated the following: Was Locke taken over by the smoke monster during that first encounter in the jungle, way back in season one’s fourth episode (Walkabout)? Did the monster sense something about John’s character during that meeting that would make inhabiting him an easy task? The first time through, Locke was one of my favorite characters. I loved how he embraced the island as magical, how he believed in hope and destiny. But seeing him now, there are obvious clues he was being manipulated into thinking that way, in much the same way he allowed his father to control his life before the plane crash.

Our other main question is, has Ben relived all of these events before? Is that how he knows so much about the plane crash survivors? We see Desmond moving through time by the second season, which explains how he knows Charlie is going to die. In fact, Desmond’s time travel actually dates back to the first episode of Season 2, where he meets Jack on the stairs of a stadium while running. (“See you in another life, brother.”)

I could detail at least half a dozen more scenarios we have been pondering, but here’s a suggestion: relive the magic that is LOST for yourself and make your own list of questions and possibilities. You’ll be glad you did.


The Drive to Succeed

I used to consider myself a very driven person, the type who maps out goals and does whatever it takes to reach them. Back in the late 80s when I first started writing on a serious basis, meaning I actually believed I could write a book and sell it, I became pretty consumed. I read and read and read. Books on writing, books on editing, books on marketing. Competitive titles within my chosen genre and outside of it. Often times, I was reading three or four books at the same time. In between those efforts, I wrote and wrote and wrote some more. I was determined to make it as a writer.

Although my determination hasn’t wavered over the years, it has mellowed. I reached my initial goal of selling a book with the 1999 Nixon-Presley title, and followed that up with Hoop Lore in 2007. What I haven’t done is sell a novel or reach the point where I can make a steady living as a writer. Maybe someday I will, but if not, I don’t plan to spend the rest of my life bemoaning my so-called failures.  

Everyone has goals. Whether those goals are obtainable or not depends largely on how hard we’re willing to work to achieve them. Or more to the point, whether we’re willing to make achieving them the most important thing in our lives. Elvis made music the most important thing in his life and the lifestyle surrounding that thing killed him at 42. Kobe Bryant makes basketball the most important thing is his life. Kobe seems too obsessed with being and staying the best NBA player in the world to get swallowed up by the fast-paced lifestyle that surrounds him the way Elvis did, but I often find myself wondering whether number 24 ever has time for anything but thinking, breathing, and playing basketball.

Say an angel drops out of the sky and offers me the chance for a do-over in which I become a bestselling author. Do I jump at the chance? Sure, until said angel adds that the do-over entails erasing everyone and everything else that has made me who I am today. “You’ll have to concentrate 100% on your writing,” the angel explains. “You won’t have time to get married or raise a family. There’ll be none of those needy, furry, four-legged creatures running all around the house saturating your carpets with hair and your heart with love. You won’t spend sunny mornings puttering around in the garden. You’ll never get addicted to Elvis Presley or the NBA, and you certainly won’t waste your evenings watching old TV shows on DVD.

Say what? No Jody? No Katie or Carrie? No Jose or Michael? No Dr. Kookiehead??? (Please see my Photo Flap page for more information.) Not get hooked on Elvis? No NBA? And what was that about gardening? (“No need,” says the angel, “you live in a condo.”) A condo! No. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. (“Yep. A condo with no TV.”) What? Surely this angel is out of its mind. No basketball? No Mary Tyler Moore and Chuckles the Clown? No J.R. and Dallas? No Star Trek? No Battlestar Galactica? And, oh my God, no re-watching every single episode of LOST four or five more times? Seriously?

“Time’s a wasting,” says the angel, tugging on its wing. “Ten seconds and counting.”

I need only one. “Thanks,” I say, nursing a twinge of regret, “but on second thought, I’m pretty happy with how things turned out the first time around.”

LOST Finale: Final Take

I waited a week before re-watching the LOST finale to see if my first impressions changed, only to find that my original conclusion—the show was all about the characters—is even more obvious the second time through. I had a tear or two in my eyes throughout that first viewing, mostly during the final few scenes. Last night, I was in tears for most of the final hour, and many spots during the first. All of the characters I had grown to love and care about over the past six seasons, each of whom was indeed “lost” when they arrived on the island, found their way to redemption. Jack saved the island, ensuring that life would go on and in the process finally accepted that death is a part of life; Kate proved to herself that she could be a better mother than her mother was; Sayid accepted he was a decent person worthy of forgiveness despite his past transgressions; Sun and Jin proved true love never dies; Sawyer learned how to trust; Hurley became the caretaker he was always meant to be; Locke’s faith was rewarded when he believed enough to let go; Ben learned he still has things to learn.

Fans will continue to debate the overall message of LOST for years to come, and none of the conclusions that evolve from those discussions will be proven right or wrong. We all take away from the show what it gave to us on an individual basis. There is no absolute interpretation—and therein lies the point. As in real life, LOST was about life, death, and everything that happens to us in between.  

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Disney and ABC studios for seeing what I know was an incredibly expensive and risky project through to the end. So often good programs appear and then disappear without warning, leaving fans frustrated. As incredible as it seems, LOST never achieved a regular spot in the top 10 or even top 20 shows for much of its run, yet ABC stuck with it, just as they promised they would. I’ve watched an incredible amount of television over the years, but I can say here and now without a doubt that I never enjoyed any program as much as I did LOST. And so, as Elvis would have said, thank you, ABC. Thank you very much.

The Lost Finale and Why the series didn’t have to end.

I cannot imagine how any writers who have followed the Lost series to its conclusion could fail to have found it a stimulating learning experience.  While viewers debate the meaning behind the Scriptural names, the river of light, the plug in the hole, the various realities, the ancient mythological themes, the time travel and shifting relationships (who loves whom? Should he or she love someone else?), and Connie ( hat off to you, Friend) admires the depth to each character and how each one changes hues, prism-like, with our further scrutiny (ah how like real life, real people), what struck me most, overall, was the use of analogy.

When I say analogy I want to rope in every synonym: allegory, metaphor, variation, symbolism, etc.  Call it any one or more of those things; it is one of the greatest of writer’s trick. (Why I don’t remember to use it myself more often beats the hell out of me.)

It is also the most easily forgotten secret. And such a valuable one, too.  A writer using symbolism can give meaning even when he or she isn’t sure what that meaning really is.  The power is shared between writer and viewer.

Plato knew that when he wrote “The Allegory of the Cave.” (Granted, It might have helped generations of students, perhaps, if a few of the people chained in the cave had fallen in love with each other.) Kafka knew that when he wrote “The Metamorphosis.” (That cockroach can symbolize every teen’s worst phobia, the fear humans have of becoming unrecognizable in extreme old age, or . . . whatever you can think of. ) Allegory/ symbolism, etc. lend themselves to the use of strong imagery, which stays in the memory–and then the story does too. How clever is that?

In my opinion, Lost could have gone on virtually forever.  While survival was always the main theme, the second theme was the characters finding themselves—nothing like the perfect title to remind you what you’re writing about (or help you decide). Obviously the Lost screenwriters had to come to some sort of agreement on an analogy they could use for the “other” reality—firm enough, anyway, so that viewers would see that there was an attempt to explain life and death and tie things up.  But if the writers had not been forced to make some meaning clear in the conclusion, I see no reason why the series could not have gone on for several more seasons.  (Part of me wishes really badly that it had.)

Thanks, writers of Lost.

LOST finale proves good storytelling is all about the characters

Like millions of others, my husband Jody and I watched the series finale of LOST last night and came away a bit dazed. My first thought was that Jack had saved the island and thus his island comrades—and I’m still leaning in that direction. Jody’s first take was they were and had always been dead. Further reflection this morning gave me another theory: that all the people who crashed on the island were in their own personal Purgatory; that each one’s individual mission had to be completed before they could move on to the happily ever Afterlife. Later this morning, I’ll surf about the net and read what others are saying, but for the purpose of this morning’s post, what’s important is what I and millions of other fans took away from the story on a personal level.

Prior to the beginning of this final season, Jody and I re-watched the first five seasons. If you haven’t yet done so, I highly recommend it. You’ll pick up a lot of little things you missed the first time through that just might change your entire outlook. Take Sawyer’s character, for instance. The first time through, I hated him with a passion. On second viewing, he became one of my favorite characters. And in fact, I loved ALL of them more the second time. Each one filled with human flaws, yet always able to rise to the occasion when the moment of truth arose. Charlie sacrificing himself in hopes it would save Clair and Aaron; Sayid finding himself able to deeply love and thus worth redemption; Hurley realizing he has so much more than money to offer to the world; Kate being able to forgive herself; Sawyer realizing he can love and love deeply; Sun and Jin’s tragic but remarkably romantic, teary ending; and, best of all, Jack’s leap of faith from reluctant to insistent hero. My only character complaint resides with John Locke. I think he deserved better than to die so the smoke monster could use his body, but perhaps after I have time to analyze and re-watch the show again, I’ll figure out why that had to happen to save him. And oh yes, Ben. The much hated, despicable excuse for a human being Ben. How wonderful to see him being a decent person in the sideways universe, and his ultimate decision to stay out of the church and the journey to the light until he has figured himself out. Well done on that one, LOST writers. Very well done.

Not everyone will agree this was a satisfying finale. Some will complain of too many questions left unanswered. What about the theories surrounding the mysterious island, alternate universes, and time travel? Naturally all of those elements added depth to the show, but in the end, who really cares? We watched LOST because we cared what happened to the characters. The people we came to know and love will live on in our hearts and minds for many years to come. And therein, of course, lies the key to great storytelling for without such characters, they can be no great stories.

Writers and the technology trap

There’s something about modern technology that sends writers running for cover. If we were characters in LOST, we’d know exactly why we wanted to get back to the island—as long as the timeframe we landed in was the 1970s. Like Sawyer and Juliet, most of us would embrace the simpler lifestyle those days provided (less the weird Dharma Initiative folks, of course). Alas, the world keeps changing, pushing us forward. Writing a book is no longer the end of our journey, it’s merely a step along the ever-lengthening path. A path where new obstacles seem to appear every day.

Back in the 90s, when MP3 players were first coming onto the scene, I asked both of my daughters if they’d like one for Christmas. Each carried her CD Walkman with her most where ever she went. Given how CDs required a bigger or extra carry case and were easily stolen or lost, I thought the idea of having a tiny device that held more music without the hassle of CDs would be a huge hit. Instead, they rolled their eyes and told me MP3 players were stupid, and no one wanted one.

Now of course, both girls have numerous devices that make MP3 players seem like dinosaurs. CDs will ultimately go the way of vinyl and cassettes, leaving us with the digital only format for music. Regular DVDs are being replaced by higher quality Blu-ray discs, which in turn will eventually give way to digital downloads. Analog TV is out, high-def digital is in. Next up, 3-D TV, complete with those silly 3-D glasses (only they won’t be so silly at $500 a pop).

As much as we might wish it were so, the publishing world is not immune to technology. Many well-known newspapers have folded in the past five years. Those that have survived supplement their hardcopies with on-line versions. Most publishers have added e-books to their printed catalogues, and new e-book readers to compete with Kindle arrive every few months. As Spock from the old Star Trek series might say, logic would dictate it’s only a matter of time before those printed catalogues disappear entirely in favor of digital books.

There are tons of writers and readers out there who will scoff at that prediction. I used to be one of them. And some days, I still am. After all, I did use a notepad and pen to jot down notes for this article over breakfast this morning. Old habits die hard, don’t they?

Elizabeth Gilbert and creativity

While I did enjoy listening to a famous writer openly contemplate the possibility of not living “up” to her established genius (clearly demonstrated in Eat, Love and Pray, and most easily proved by its sales figures) in any subsequent endeavor, what touched me most about Gilbert’s sincere declamation was her acceptance of her accomplishment as–I will say the word again– “genius.”  It took her a while to get to the possibility that we all have genius inside of us–so long, in fact, that I began twitching in my seat.

I remind myself she is young–only 40–for so much luck.  That kind of luck  is bound to go to one’s head.  What other excellent writers know who have NOT hit the, ahem, “big time,”  is that there is such a thing as chance. Good Luck.  Having the right work out there at the right moment with the right agent. Being born at the right moment, in the right country–nay, in the right city!

As Connie, esteemed literary judge and my devoted friend, reminded me  (and I hope she keeps on reminding me) yesterday after I had submitted a 10,000 word nonfiction piece to a contest and had duly written out my check to send along with it, “You do deserve to win, and you should feel that way. Once we stop believing we’re good enough to belong at the top, we lose our edge. I doubt any writer has made it who hasn’t felt that way most of his or her life.”

The question is, dear reader, how would you react to great success?  Would you feel like Hurley/Hugo–after he won the lottery and landed on the island in TV’s Lost series? How set apart from others would you feel?

The recently deceased J.D. Salinger decided he had had it with success after Catcher in the Rye.  (Stopped wanting to have anything to do with the world in the mid 60s at the height of his fame.  In the 70s he stopped giving interviews and in the 80s he appealed to the Supreme Court to prevent a British critic from quoting his letters in a biography. But you can google all that–) Note this: he did not stop writing.

Gilbert is right about a person needing a philosophic construct–though I was actually surprised to hear her say that after describing her epiphany (you gotta read the book!) of faith. I thought spiritual faith and philosophic constructs were package deals.  Silly me.