Posts tagged ‘humans’

6 July, 2011

Visiting Old Ghosts

It’s hard to go backwards in time. Memory is an evil, evil thing, and if you’re like me, your memory has the added caveat of not being very good. I remember faces, places, and bits of conversation, but I forget big things. I forget, years later, about the important conversations, the things that changed the world. The funny thing is, I can remember where we were when we had these tremendous conversations, but the content is often lost.

I remember romantically. I wish I had better control over it, and a lot of the writing I do is designed to help me see the whole picture, especially when it’s about something that I know I’m going to gloss over, or ignore altogether, ten years from now.

When I was a sixth grader, I remember the strange sense I had that people were larger than life, existed somehow outside of space and time. They were all powerful. I now see how tenuous control can be, and why it turns certain people into monsters, and others into mice.

I remember the tennis courts, and wailing on the tennis ball as hard as I could, missing half of the time, usually for the specific purpose of getting it over the 15-foot chain link fence.

I remember the library– the book displays are the same, even ten years later.

I remember the couch in my 6th grade teacher’s room, and the trolls and the castle she had in one corner, and the time metal vases that made me want to go to Greece for the very first time. She was the person that put the first spark of Greece in my brain.

Every day is a microcosm. Everything is a big deal. And no one gets it. And everyone is annoying. And bullying is everywhere, and you don’t know what to do about it. Weird thing is, a lot of those things feel the same way on the other side, as a teacher. This becomes your life.

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1 May, 2011

Partisan

One of the questions I do battle with frequently is “Why read? Why study literature?

My answers vary depending on the day from a deplorable ‘I don’t know, best keep going so I can find out‘ to the self-indulgent ‘Life is short, best do what you enjoy‘ to the slightly less navel-gazing notion that ‘It’s a useful lens to view the world through‘ to what is currently my best answer– ‘It reminds me that there is a world outside partisan beliefs. There is something universal, and you are a part of it.

It is disconcertingly easy to get ensnared by the us-versus-them mentality that’s everywhere. Sometimes as Americans we think we’re the special snowflakes who have more opinions and chosen-sides than others, but in reality I’m pretty sure partisanism is pandemic.

I’m not above being partisan, mind you, far from it. I am, however, conscious of three things: (1) that I am partisan, for deliberate, researched reasons; (2) the “other side” is rarely composed of morons– they, too, are thinking, researching people, who frequently are separated from me by their priorities and beliefs; (3) these “sides” are often artificial– they are gross simplifications, and very rarely does the world fit neatly into two or even three “sides” of thought or action.

The second realization is especially important. It is easy to pick sides, and even easier to denigrate the worth of the other side. It is essential that we resist the temptation to do so. So much of our world could be improved by respect for differing perspectives. So much could be improved just by moderating ourselves.

You don’t have to agree. You just have to strive to be respectful– something I fear is becoming a more and more distant, abstract concept in digital culture.

Though the second is arguably the most important point, I think the third is the one that gets the most frequently ignored– it’s too easy to fall into the mythos of us versus them, too easy to buy into the oversimplification. I believe that most people, myself included, have to actively fight partisan thinking in order to see around it at all.

“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. ”

–Martin Luther King, Jr.

19 March, 2011

This is Water

I think sometimes it is just as important to hear an author speak as it is to read their words in print. This is why I love David Sedaris’s involvement with NPR, and why I love when authors (again, like Sedaris, and also Neil Gaiman) read their own works. It’s fantastic.

Here’s David Foster Wallace, giving a commencement speech that is about consciousness, essentially. One of my professors brought it to my attention via Facebook.

It’s long. It is also worth your while. Take some time and just listen. You probably owe yourself a break, anyway.

Also, for your pleasure:

David Sedaris on Easter, in Grammatically Unstable French.

12 March, 2011

Memento Mori

I think I have at least alluded to the pathetic state of my memory– it’s one of the reasons why I write. I write to remember. My brain is very, very good at forgetting. It has relegated important conversations to the space of dreams, and sometimes erased them all together.

Strange things get burned into my grey matter– I remember learning about cavities in kindergarten, and clouds in first grade. I remember being outraged at my kindergarten graduation present (Barney cookie cutters), but none of the names of my classmates. I remember learning the meaning of the middle finger, but still know the name of my first grade crush only because I wrote it down in a Lisa Frank diary with a bubblegum-dispenser-shaped lock on it. Needless to say, I broke the lock years later and devoured the memories hidden there (and then promptly forgot most of them again.)

I often wonder if there is a logic to what we remember and forget, or if the resonance is too abstract for even us to understand why some things get dutifully filed away, while so much is lost.

What will I forget, in a year? In a month? In a day? How long will it take me to forget, for example, the color of your eyes, or the incident with the cell phone? The time(s) time stopped? How long before even these obscure references don’t ring true? I leave myself these breadcrumbs back to my memories, hoping (usually in vain) that years later I’ll know. I’ll remember what I felt so strongly, what shook me to my core, and what adventures I had. Or, at least, that’s what I hope.

“Your memory is a monster; you forget—it doesn’t. It simply files things away. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you—and summons them to your recall with a will of its own. You think you have a memory; but it has you.” –

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

4 March, 2011

The American Skeuomorph

A skeuomorph is, basically, an ornament that imitates an earlier, functional incarnation of itself. It is something like the studs on your jeans–which once had a function but are now little more than a decorative accent– or the pocket watch pocket in pants and jackets. Like tiny ghosts, they slip under the radar, never questioned, never removed.

I’ve been thinking for several days about skeuomorphs now, since I stumbled upon them at the beginning of this week. Why do we hang on to these bits of antiquity? Why does the design feel so empty without them? Is it just tradition, or is it a subconscious demand to have something that places us as a link to the past? To something recognizable?

When you’re writing science fiction or fantasy it is always recommended not to stray too far from the familiar– readers need something to fit their fingers around. They need a schematic. Much like a skeuomorph, this schematic is only there as a link to something earlier. Something recognizable. Without it, you can alienate readers– effectively put them into something like culture shock.

Another thought: consider the jargon that gets used in American media all the time that places the United States as a firmly Christian country (despite declining church attendance and affiliation) and rhetoric that suggests we are the greatest world power, and always will be (despite the rise of other countries, such as China). As time moves forward, “old-fashioned American values” and “the American dream” have had less of a tangible role in coming-of-age in America, yet the language lives on. I expect it will continue to live on, as well. Like the pocket watch pocket, its function is minimal (and occasionally re-imagined), and yet, it endures. It is part of the standard design, and without it we would feel somehow incomplete.

“American Love; like coke in green glass bottles…they don’t make it anymore.”

-Alan Moore The Watchmen

 

This has nothing to do with my thoughts on Skeuomorphs, but I have been here, and so has someone else, apparently:

This has happened to me.

6 February, 2011

How about a little exploration of Emily?

What’s in a name, exactly? It’s incredible how many things can share a name. Are names arbitrary? Shakespeare famously says in one of Romeo’s lavishly cheesy entreaties to Juliet, “That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet,” but like so many things in life, names take on meaning because we, as humans, put that meaning there.

This started out in my head as a poetry post, featuring Emily Dickinson, and look what happened (dammit, brain!)

Names have meaning, but from where? Some names harken back to old languages– Melissa comes ultimately from the Greek word melitta, or “bumble bee.” Christopher literally means “bearer/carrier of Christ,” also from Greek. Some names are synthesized, created new by parents (or so they hope), perhaps in search of something unique that their child can have that is theirs, and only theirs. What a gift to give a child; what a burden. Having a history to your name at least gives you something to lean on, and humans love to lean. We love to be a part of something. It’s when we’re unchained that we tend to come unhinged.

Why do we track the popularity of baby names? Seriously. They put this stuff in newspapers. Why, though? I’ve always found it weird that people would want to know how popular the name they’ve picked is. Do you want an Emily, or do you want an Orangejello? What’s better? What’s worse?

At least if you’re Orangejello, you begin your own legacy. You might not be a link in a chain; you might be something new, shiny, and interesting. At least you don’t have a billion people, and at least a dozen songs named after you.

Let’s do some Emily-legacy, because this started out with Dickinson.

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16 January, 2011

Colliding Universes

Why is it that we, especially when we are young, do not want our friends to meet? Is it a selfishness, or is it some thinly-masked fear that they will discover we are more than one person?

We are not the same to all people, nor should we be. All people are not the same to us.

Do you wish to be great? Then begin by being. Do you desire to construct a vast and lofty fabric? Think first about the foundations of humility. The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation.

-Saint Augustine