Archive for July, 2011

Continuity = Human

Every now and then there are moments in which you discover a truth.  Survival of the soul depends on such moments occurring frequently—-and yet, their rarity adds to their inexpressible quality sometimes.

About two weeks ago I opened a book that had arrived in the mail for my mother.  (With her consent, of course.)  I don’t remember the title well enough to quote it to you, but it is the primary book describing the Suzuki method for musical training.  (My sister started piano lessons again.)

I flipped through the pages, and, like most people who love to read, I began reading without even knowing where I was reading and why.  But what I read startled me and literally changed my life.  (A timely word is life to the soul indeed.)

Doing something three times amounts to nothing; it is through doing it continuously that anything is finally achieved.

That’s my own paraphrase, but I know I’ve got the most important word right: continuously.  It is the action of continuing that makes life as great as it is.  A continuing, a continuity, a continuum.  All the connections, the sinews, between one second and the next.  Our decisions dwell in the seconds, in the gaps between.  We live in Scott McCloud’s “gutter”—the space between the panels in the comic strip of our sequential activity.

The power of life is in the continuing of it.

And so, each moment now, I choose.  I continue.  I live.

Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (Umberto Boccioni, 1913) = HUMANS

Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (Umberto Boccioni, 1913) = HUMANS

What Driving Does to You

I wonder what driving is doing to my brain and my personality.

Have you ever thought about that?  There has to be some material effect of the fact that I spend 21 hours a week in my car.  Here’s a few contemplations for consideration:

  • Your car is always traveling forward in a “straight” line, rarely backwards.  There is no “give” or “flexibility” in a steel frame.  Does this make us feel like hamsters in a wheel?  Running and running and never actually moving?
  • We have to stay between the lines, but we enjoy crossing them.  Weaving through traffic is so fun!  But it’s dangerous—both to the body and to the wallet and legal record.  Does this make me feel like a criminal on the run all the time?  Wanting the security that conformity brings but feeling stifled and “unreformed” in my relationship to my surroundings—yearning to be “free”?

    structures, barriers, lines, cities

    structures, barriers, lines, cities

  • There is always threat of violence.  Some idiot could come out of Nowhere and kill you.  There are no guarantees on the road: we are driving towards each other: two parallel lines.  By definition they don’t ever intersect, but can you always draw a straight line, even on a piece of paper? Does this constant imminent danger increase our adrenaline?  Stress us out?  Change our view of people?  We always have to be on the offensive or the defensive.  There is nothing collaborative about driving—-even yielding is seen as a failure to bully your way through.
  • You can’t legally multi-task (or drive barefoot, by the way), but a commute is seen as a waste of time…so you feel compelled to eat in the car, make phone calls, check emails, listen to music, play stupid road games, read billboards, etc, etc, etc.  Therefore, are we in constant internal tension?  And—the more appropriate question—is that the tension that wears us out so that we are so tired that we fall asleep at the wheel, swerve, and otherwise wreak havoc in our multi-ton vehicles?
  • A car is a sacred space, the ultimate personal bubble.  It insulates us from the world around us—which is going by so fast that if we reached out to touch it, it would tear us apart.  How does that affect our willingness to connect with our fellow man?  For example: Pedestrians (humans) become an inconvenient interruption to our linear progression, a source of anxiety because of the threat of bodily (flesh or fiberglass) harm, and an Other who exists in a world we cannot touch.
just keep speeding, just keep speeding

just keep speeding, just keep speeding

Well.  Perhaps my 45 minute commute is getting to me.  Too much time to think.

But then again…is that all it’s doing to me?

The False Adjustments We Make

I’m very fond of saying that everything in life is a choice.  And The Adjustment Bureau played out in real dialog for the first time.  My favorite part?  It exposed all the false dilemmas by which we cheat ourselves out of all that we can be.

***spoiler alert***

love the cant---the tension of who we are and who we see ourselves becoming

love the cant---the tension of who we are and who we see ourselves becoming

David Norris loves Elise Sellas.  He wants nothing more than to have her next to him for the rest of his life.  He doesn’t care about his career—although he does a damn good job of furthering it, despite his weaknesses.  He cares a hell of a lot about her career—and it nearly costs them the most important thing: to learn to love and be loved in return.

The Adjustment Bureau has decided that David and Elise shouldn’t be together.  That’s it.  At one point they were supposed to be together.  And now, they’re not.  Sucks for them that there is residual attraction.  The management of this bureau succinctly explains to David that to be all that each of them are capable of being—President of the United States and world-renowned choreographer—they must consent to life without each other.  Life incomplete, full of a void that can never be filled.  A void that the script implies was created precisely because the ravenous hunger it engenders was the only force powerful enough to propel them to their full potential.

But what The Adjustment Bureau does not allow for is the possibility of being happy teaching ballet to six year olds.  The possibility of being happy alone and not in front of a nation.  Like the Jane Austen critics that I pick a bone with, The Adjustment Bureau mistakes silence for voicelessness, privacy for emptiness, and security for imprisonment.  Elizabeth Bennett’s voice did not disappear at the end of Pride and Prejudice because Darcy locked her away in Pemberley  as his wife; her voice disappeared because she finally had an ear that was fully given to her whisper.  And David and Elise did not loose out on the greatest part of their story because they fought for their love; they actually wrote the most glorious story imaginable because they fought for their love.

probably the best reaction ever: surrounded by men who want to kill you? kiss the one you love!

probably the best reaction ever: surrounded by men who want to kill you? kiss the one you love!

Whatever The Adjustment Bureau may be saying about Yhwh, Deism, Armenianism, or Calvinism doesn’t really interest me as much as what it says about humanism: humanity is worth fighting for.  All the reasoning of the Enlightenment and the mechanics of the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions cannot hold a candle to the ingenuity and fire of the human spirit in love.

10 Reasons I Love The Silmarillion

visual representation of word usage in The Silmarillion

visual representation of word usage in The Silmarillion

1. Any story that’s worth telling is worth telling many times, from many points of view, to many audiences–and spending your entire life in the telling of it.  See The Children of Hurin.

2. My life is epic because I love and I work and I fight with and against the Powers That Be.

3. Songs have more power than swords.

4. To live for love is worth losing everything—even when it includes some everything that doesn’t belong to you.

5. Friendship really does matter, and great renown is tied to being faithful.

6. Love triangles aren’t as unordinary as they seem, and the pain that comes with them is real.

7. Lineage preserves the ingredients, but you make yourself who you become in the end.

8. A halting step and lameness; the death of a friend; the betrayal of a brother; the fulfillment of a doom—all these are graven on the face.

9. Topography and geography matter, and the history that happens on land is written into its ridges and valleys, rivers and streams, trees and rocks, flora and fauna.

10. The word “fell” is perhaps the most poignant and appropriate word to describe the realness of Life.

Arien (by LadyElleth) --- how I feel when reading the Silmarillion

Arien (by LadyElleth) --- how I feel when reading the Silmarillion

It Can Be a Fair Game

where will we go from here?

where will we go from here?

At the end of Fair Game, Joe Wilson (Sean Penn) asks a straightforward question: How many of you know the 16 words in President Bush’s speech that led us to war in Iraq? No hands. How many of you know my wife’s name? All hands.

Valerie Plame—the beautiful CIA agent outed by the White House. The 2010 film recounting her story surprised me. What I expected to be an entirely political and propagandistic journey through a news story I vaguely remembered was actually a personal and inspiring interaction with my own Americanness. Valerie Plame’s life may have become fair game in the swirl of government and global relations, but there is hope for this generation to shirk off the embarrassment of American imperialism and participate in the fair game democracy can truly be at its best.

Yes, that was a rather sweeping statement, haha, but I think the film makes a strong case for participation in our government—or at least in the amplification of one’s voice that coalesces with other voices to make a government. And it pulled down grandiose abstracts—Freedom, Duty, Responsibility, Intelligence, and Patriotism—onto the intimate stage of interpersonal life.

where the world happens

where the world happens

Director Doug Liman expertly employed mise-en-scene to contextualize the American ideals in the American reality: the kids running through the kitchen, the dinner pot boiling on the stove, the patient hurrying out of the clinic, the lunchtime rush at a downtown restaurant, the babysitter coming and going, the cold hardwood floor at 3:45 a.m. You could listen to the dialog with your eyes closed and you would find an intriguing debate about the individual versus her government, but you wouldn’t really hear what the film is saying. You have to see it.

With each cut into action, each audio linkage, each carefully mixed ambient track, each fleeting glimpse of a ponytail, each just-out-frame introduction we begin to feel Valerie Plame’s life. Her life. No nation exists independently of the lives of its citizens. Whether they have a voice or are drowned out by power-mongering, those citizens are in fact that country. And this is what Fair Game reminds us.

Each person in the CIA is a normal person trying to be a loyal employee who is good at their job. (A generalization, yes, but one worth making because it is mostly true.) The more challenging implication is that people in power—such as Presidents—have just as much chance of being normal people making the best decisions they can to keep things moving forward as the CIA analyst. And the housewife. And the elementary school student. Life is damn hard, and making it through is a game of luck in which you collect as much information as you can and make the decision that is needed to move forward. Without forward motion, we die.

3:45 a.m.

3:45 a.m.

Now, that does not mean that Fair Game excuses the White House for what happened, for everything from the Iraqi War to the leak of “Valerie Plame.” It goes beyond mere smearing and challenges every citizen to hold its government accountable—to embrace the reality that we the people can make it a fair game once more. And the most beautiful scene is the one that reinforces that accountability and courage starts between two people: Valerie Plame comes back and refuses to let the fiasco steal her marriage to Joe Wilson. Making a name for ourselves within a marriage, keeping the word we have declared at the altar, takes more courage than managing secret covert operations for an employer that hasn’t pledged its allegiance to you.

I will acknowledge that this interpretation of Fair Game was deliciously influenced by screening Invictus earlier in the day. It is entirely opposite: Nelson Mandela has left his family to become the father of a nation. He has become the captain of his soul and taken the lowest road to greatness. Throughout the film, opposition accuses of him of being a self-promoting, distracted politician, and yet it showcases the depth of his leadership time and again. There were moments that reminded me of that glorious line in Batman Begins: if they need someone to chase, the people can chase me for a while. Batman allows the populace to think meanly of him when he is the only reason they have survived. Not because he has an inferiority complex, but because he is willing to absorb the high cost of change for a better world into his own person. That’s what Mandela did.

Invictus: politics is personal

Invictus: politics is personal

And he knew the power of inspiration. That’s why, the film tells us, he committed to the success of South African rugby. Just like Fair Game, Invictus understood that global realities actually form at the basic level of human experience: falling in love, having children, watching sports on TV, playing in the backyard, getting up in the morning, fixing dinner, having tea at 4 p.m. We have the power to change our world not merely because of the new channels of amplification—BBC, CNN, FOX, blogs, television, satellite broadcasts, YouTube, cell phones, high-tech communications—but simply because our world—food, shelter, warmth, clothing, love—is the world.

No, we cannot fully understand everyone else’s experience and it is fatal to assume that we can, but each person is in fact a human. And that makes all the difference.

Sometimes Wearing Shoes Helps You Find Your Way

the most beautiful filmic fairy tale

the most beautiful filmic fairy tale

The Red Shoes is quite possibly the most stunning surprise I’ve seen in months.  The exquisite cinematography kept me glued to my iPhone screen for the whole two and a half hours.  Yes, I did it the disservice of watching it on my iPhone, curled up in bed.  But I must say, that The Red Shoes ran away with my soul and will not come back.  I’ll be purchasing it on Blu-ray and sitting spell-bound in my theater room for years to come.

If you’d like to read an informative summary and review, I refer you to Roger Ebert.  But really you ought to simply purchase the film and experience it all by yourself.  It reminded me of why I like to read fairy tales and will continue to read them until I lay upon my death bed—and even then, provided there’s time between the lying down and the dying.

Fairy tales help us travel this difficult world by simplifying it for us: we can recite all the characters by rote—the hero, the villain, the damsel in distress, the comic relief, the love triangle, the wicked relation.  But just because we recognize them doesn’t mean we really know them yet, and throughout the reading, the archetypes becomes sign posts on the journey to understanding.

Fairy tales help us by elevating our world from the mundane to the magnificent.  Death can look utterly wonderful at the final curtain.  The tedious repetition of our decisions is compressed into dramatic climaxes—rising and falling action, twists and turns.  In a fairy tale, your decision stands and you move forward; there is no washing back and forth on the tossing deck of the ship.  Every moment is fatal—and therefore more worth the living.

The Red Shoes may at first appear to be a classic fairy tale about two loves—the older and the younger, the promising and the seasoned.  But really it ends up being a most unique fairy tale: about the two halves of life, the one of work and the one of the heart.  As it is about artists, the parable of the red shoes can demonstrate oh! so painfully how hazy is the devision between the two, work and heart.  You cannot do one without the other: to work you must care and to care you must actualize through activity.  But there is such a desire to be wholehearted that the division in which we live grows into an impassable schism—especially if you are a woman.

trying so hard to make everything work---but your feet are pinned to the charade

trying so hard to make everything work---but your feet are pinned to the charade

To put food on your table, clothes on your body, and a roof over your head, you must perform a certain amount of utility for the world.  You earn your place in it.  But, to perform a certain amount of utility for the world usually plays out as a sacrifice of the dearest things you love: the person eating dinner with you, complimenting your dress, and waking up in your bed.  Our modern economy and  mode of living is predicated on specialization.  That specialization demands isolation of unique skills, repetition of their performative utility, and exclusive positioning in a system of production.

Sound anything like a ballerina performing the reparatory of her company?

We think that the arts are our last bulwark of everything human—that which is cooperative, creative, and mutual—and yet, in The Red Shoes we discover that not even the arts are safe from the pressures of post-industrial mechanism.  And I, lonely though “I” may be, am not willing to give them over without a fight.  Thanks to The Red Shoes, I discovered I was marching down a road I did not choose to a beat I have not written.  Now that I know that, I can turn and run.

((( Voice )))

Hearing my voice on the radio today was quite the surreal experience.  It is said (perhaps only by me) that each person is a 1000 pieces at any given moment: who you are this second is who you were the next and no two seconds are alike.  Patterns emerge, and shapes form as recurring points in a given plane.  But really, people are the most elastic things on the planet.

What I sounded like recycled through my cell phone, the GA cell tower, the AT&T satellite, the host’s phone, the recording software, the editing software, the computer’s audio output, the radio website audio platform, and back through my own computer speakers was so other than myself.  But at the same time, me.  I was struck with how powerful my voice is.  It survived that harrowing journey!  And came out fresh and alive—like a person.

reflections on my self in Spring 2009Sometimes when my parakeets chatter too loudly.  When the commuter traffic drowns my gabbing.  When the stereo pulse absorbs my harmonies.  Sometimes in those moments I feel the strength in my voice rise to the occasion, and sometimes in those moments I feel its existence as intimately as the tree that falls in the forest that nobody hears.

But what’s absolutely, utterly glorious about the human voice is that it never really dies.  It is always amplified—reverberating through the plastic and metal universe we’ve built around our fragile bodies—and it reaches into your soul and says ” I am.”

There is nothing more comforting and ‘couraging than talking to yourself.